Out of suffering

Jeff at Dachau, Germany, August 2005

Jeff at Dachau, Germany, August 2005

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”Kahlil Gibran

This photo is rather odd, but it seems fitting as a symbol for where Jeff is now, in a place of past nightmares and trauma, somehow surviving (thus far) life-threatening complications and tremendous pain, holding on in a position where his strength is likely to fade quickly.  His stamina and endurance are unbelievable, but insofar as any human has limits, we have to fear that he is surely approaching his.  We continue to need and appreciate your kind thoughts and prayers.

About the photo: when we visited Dachau with our friends in August 2005, we drove around searching for the parking and main entrance.  It was quite obvious from the walls and barbed wire that we were at the camp, but we weren’t sure where to start touring.  Steve and Aaron got out to inquire, going through a gate that looked too small to be an entrance, and when they did not return after a few minutes, Amy and I convinced Jeff to see if he could find them.

We didn’t mean “look over the wall” but that’s what Jeff did.  Instead of going through the same gate Aaron and Steve had entered, he walked over to the wall and somehow jumped to a position where he could pull himself up to look over.  Amy and I were in the car cracking up. I don’t remember how long Jeff was up there, but naturally I went for my camera and got a shot of him scanning the grounds of Dachau, looking for Steve and Aaron.  Our visit to Dachau was sobering and unforgettable, but this photo survives as the only note of levity of a day spent in a heartrendingly tragic setting; a flash of laughter in a day devoted to the remembrance of seemingly endless tears.

I am comforted today by this reminder of strength and humor in a desolate landscape. Like those who survived Dachau, Jeff will bear forever on his body the marks of what he has endured.  May he live many years to reflect on blessings and joy that lie on the other side of his pain.

One year ago today:

Two things stand


  1. If “hanging on the wall” is where Jeff is now, then consider that the rest of us are where Steve and Aaron were – having just gone where? Through a gate too small.

    • They eventually found the main entrance, and we all went through it. I would not call it a fun day, but it’s one I wish everyone had the chance to experience. What we learned there, and remembered, and carried with us afterward, is best summed up by two words of warning (or avowal?) on one of the monuments inside: “Never Again.”

  2. Judy from Pennsylvania

    Julia, I read all of yesterday’s very touching comments last evening before going to bed, and as my head laid on my pillow I prayed for Jeff and for you. This morning when I awoke, my first thoughts were to continue with those prayers. Now I read your post for today and my heart is filled with compassion. May God surround both of you with His strength and love as you go through these most difficult of struggles. May the memories of suffering soon fade away, may your days be filled with new blessings, and may Jeff and you have an overflowing abundance of joyous tomorrows. The prayers of many people are with you both.

    • Judy, thanks so much for being with us here in your thoughts. It means a great deal to me. Since you sent me the lovely photo of you I can think of what you look like and be with you in thought too. We appreciate so much the concern, support and prayers of so many in this online community. I honestly believe Jeff is getting better and I pray we will have more and more good news from here on in. I am so glad you have been with us!

  3. Ann

    I join you in your prayer for Jeff, stated so eloquently in the last sentence of today’s ‘ blog.

    Your friend, Ann

    • Thank you Ann, I appreciate your friendship and support and especially your prayers!

  4. That really is an amazing jump and that he held himself there for some time is amazing. Let’s pray it is symbolic of strength he will need to get through this healing time. I love you.

    • Amy, it’s so nice to have someone who was THERE to remember this with! Since you saw it in person, you can remember it as vividly as I do. I will never forget how tickled you got and how we laughed. Thanks for being there AND here, cheering me up since 1990!

      • 1990!!! It seems like yesterday. Amazing. Our babies are grown up and one even has his own baby. Grady is about the age now that Katie Beth was when we first met. She may have been 8 mths so a bit older I guess. WOW!! Take care of you and love to the family. That trip has so many memories for my family too.

        • I think Katie was 8 months going on 3 or 4 years! She was always so smart and funny. Like her Mom. I am so glad we got to see you at your lovely home in Germany and someday I’ll post the photo of me enjoying the view from the balcony off “our” room (my expression says, “Did we get lucky here or what?”). We have had a lot of memorable times, my friend. I look forward to more of them for ALL of us! Love you.

  5. There with you…

    • Thank you, Denise! I really do feel the presence of our online friends, with us in spirit. Words are inadequate to express our appreciation.

  6. Linda Shepard Lester

    Julie, my heart hurts for you all. I went to high school with Jeff and lived around the corner from him and his family. Of course, all of us girls thought he was cute, cute, cute! But in looking back, I remember also his calm, peaceful, kind manner. Jeff didn’t always have reasons to be that way but at his core he is that way. Your words reflect the years you have spent loving Jeff and being loved by Jeff. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

    • Thank you, Linda. I read your message to Jeff (I’m sitting beside his bed now) and though he’s groggy, I think he understood at least some of it. The latest good sign: he actually turned on the TV to watch. I never thought I’d be glad to see that :-). Thanks so much for visiting us here online and taking the time to comment. I agree with your description of Jeff — he was (and is :-)) cute, cute, cute! and his stability has been a true gift to our sons and me. We are so grateful for your prayers; please continue to knock on heaven’s door for us!

  7. Janette Roberts

    I lifted Jeff,you and your family when I woke up this morning. Know you are in my prayers often during the days ahead.

    Lovingly, Jan

    • Thank you, Jan. I feel so strengthened to hear that others are praying for us. Over all the years of dealing with Matt’s illnesses, I often felt that I could literally feel — in an almost tangible way — when people were remembering us in prayer. Thanks so much for being among them during this, our greatest challenge!

  8. May your husband Jeff be made whole. I pray for his recovery and also for you as a caregiver. May God bless you both. Cherie

    • Thank you, Cherie, for remembering us both. Since Jeff was first diagnosed, I have prayed that this illness ultimately would result in peace, growth and healing for BOTH of us as we age and grow weary of so many years among doctors and hospitals (mostly related to Matt and his cardiac situation). We continue to need and appreciate the prayers!

  9. raynard

    Good Eveing Julia. The only the “Black about”Black Friday is the bottom of my shoes lol.I avoided going anywhere near any road by a mall. Just got back from NJ. BTY We visited the Holocaust Museum in DC back in 2007. It was a “deep& moving experience for me, just like when I visited the USS Arizona@ Pearl Harbor Hawaii.Oh about the strawberry cake I baked last night. You should of seen me, I looked like”The Swedish Chef on The Muppet Show( never will I use that Pam Spray crap with the flour already included..( I did dip the strawberries in chocolate). Please let Jeff& Matt both know that they are in my prayers and”you are one tuff cookie.( glad you are not a “twinkie or you would be on your way to”the cookie factory riding via “the twinkie mobile lol. Question , I could use your journalist opinion.I wrote and published a blog yesterday. Could I get you to offer constructive criticism or advise( and yes I have plenty of “tissues lol) be blessed

    • Hey Raynard remind me where your blog is – I don’t know if I have it on my reader. I have been to the Holocaust Museum several times and it never loses its impact. It’s one of the most well-designed museums I have ever seen. That last room is what I remember most. I felt the same way about the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. Unforgettable. This might be the first Black Friday that I not only didn’t go to any stores, but didn’t even look at any ads. Last night my sister, sons and I had Domino’s pizza for Thanksgiving, take out that we ate in the ICU waiting room. Domino’s was the only place open in Bethesda at 8 pm on Thanksgiving. Not turkey, but still a dinner to remember! We did snap a photo in front of a pretty Christmas tree in one of the shopping arcades in town. We went on orders from Jeff who had woken up enough to start insisting that we go out and get something to eat. 🙂

      • raynard

        Julia “i’m so”pizza out”( is that a word yes I made it up lol) Did you hear the one about “you’ll never see a cat hanging around a chinese resturant?( something about”chicken chow meow lol) If you are “one those “Anti-Facebook ” /Twitter people, you can find my blogs at http://www.christianblog .com( my screen name is my first name or the beginning of my email address. If you are also on Google plus, I’m on there also. Wish you could do a short video on Jeff and post to youtube or fb.. Simple after you make it, press share button, then send it where you want it to go. Some trivia and history for you. Did you know that Stevie Wonder makes albums every 10 years? Thats how I approach my writing taking my time, like a good recipe maybe one a month .ShortURL: http://christianblog.com/e085 here is the link to the blog I was telling you about..Enjoy your day no matter what you do, it sounds like a good hot soup and cup of tea day right? be blessed

        • Hi Raynard, I’m not an “anti-Facebook” person although I do find it bewildering at times and not really suited to my gabby personality. Too quick for me. I’m kind of slow in terms of keeping up with everything outside my own head (partly because inside is going too fast all the time). I tried to get Jeff to let me take a photo of him for the blog yesterday and he INSISTED no, no, no, so I didn’t. He wouldn’t even let me send a photo to our close family members. Even the photos I posted in the past year on the blog were put there under his protest, but I finally convinced him that I cannot write about my own life without writing about his. He doesn’t share my need to connect with others, but he acknowledges it and generally lets me post what I really want to share. But I’m afraid we are a long ways from a video and I don’t want to violate his need for privacy. It does sort of freak me out sometimes how public everything is online; it was very hard for me to get past that at first.

          No, I didn’t know that about Stevie Wonder! I think some of the other celebrities could take a cue from him, they seem to burn out pretty quickly but he definitely has staying power and that may come from pacing himself.

          I went to your blog and loved it. I had been there a couples of times from UR but had forgotten where it was. I could not begin to try to give you any sort of editing because your blog is so unique just as it is; I think you come through in it, and to try to correct everything would sort of spoil the overall effect. I’m sure you’ve noticed that cyberspace is rife with disregard for grammar anyway! So if you had in mind that sort of advice, you might need to consult someone else. I loved your profile page and your story. When I read the list of titles of your blog posts, I almost laughed out loud. I had a professor in grad school who was crazy about analogies. He was generally a tough and demanding professor, but if I wanted to get a good score from him on a research paper, all I had to do was cook up some really original analogies to throw in, and that would do the trick. He would have had a field day with your writing because you have some of the most creative analogies I’ve ever seen.

          YES it’s a hot soup and tea day! I plan to sit here by Jeff’s bed and sip all day long :-). Thanks for being here and you be blessed too!

          • raynard

            Julia your response was very encouraging. I write as God moves my heart and use the talent and gifts he gave me.Humor, history and trivia to me are good ways “to break ice and there is always commonality in”keeping the simple things simple.I use fb, twitter and google plus as ministries to reach souls. I’m very careful/picky who I allow on my pages to include family members( As they say where I’m from “Save the drama for your momma and your issues need tissues.. lol( sorry Oprah ) How’s that song go”Conjuction Junction, What’s your function.( I like the other one better “Interjection lol)( and my wife just wanted to know why I was laughing till I just watched the video on youtube…

            • Well you know what they say, Raynard…”Be yourself! Everyone else is already taken.” 🙂 Seriously, I think humor, individuality and faith will always find an audience. I am so happy that this amazingly far-reaching technology is being used by people who have good hearts and good intentions, to counteract all the bad stuff. I hope you have a blessed Sunday tomorrow!

              • raynard

                Julia is the Fisher house the same as the McDonald house? Is it just me or Ronald McDonald doesn’t hang with a crowd anymore? I digress. Just finished a new blog . please if you get a chance and read it. .I wrote some of it two years ago and just got up enough nerve to publish it.Have to check on my laundry in a few. Yes some of us on this side of the water is domesticated lol be blessed

                • Raynard, Fisher House is the equivalent for military hospitals that Ronald McDonald House is for children’s hospitals. Over the years we have been so thankful for the Ronald McDonald House and their compassionate help in giving us a place to stay near Matt after his open heart surgeries. Fisher House stays full all the time with all the families of wounded warriors who are brought here, but since it was Thanksgiving weekend there were some openings and the hospital social worker was able to get me a room here when an overly strict nurse started telling me I couldn’t sleep in the waiting room (which I did in May and nobody complained about at all). Fisher House is very nice and it is easier to sleep on a bed than on chairs I pull together in a waiting room! But in any case I would have stayed at the hospital those first couple of days anyway, as the territorial nurse discovered. I read your blog – did that story with the burning apartment and window and dog really happen? If so, I am sorry you had to give up your dog at such a traumatic time. You are right that most anger is basically FEAR. I really believe that.

  10. John M.

    I’ve only been here for a few weeks and feel like I know you and many of your contributors. If most of our sin is virtue gone bad, then certainly at least this particular technology application hasn’t been corrupted yet. I think you’ve got many pulling and praying for you all. May peace and healing and joy rule your days and weeks ahead.

    • Thank you, John – I’m so happy you feel at home here. I discovered the power of online communities way back in 1994, when I was at grad school for library science at the University of Hawaii. The internet was still text-based at that time; Mosaic, the first browser, was just coming out, followed by Netscape, but the graphic files were agonizingly slow to download, so text was all that was practical. But through online listservs I became acquainted with librarians all over the world, and they were valuable resources in my research and coursework. I even had a really good university job waiting for me when I arrived in San Antonio just after graduation in 1996, which I found via internet contacts I was in touch with months before we moved from Hawaii. So I believe strongly in the power of the internet and its ability to be used as a tool for good. As with any tool, it can be a force for evil as well, but I rejoice that there are so many of us who are determined to even the score and maybe overcome some of the darkness. Thanks so much for joining us here!

  11. A beautiful testimony of strength and grace.

    • Thank you. I’m happy that you like it.

  12. Sheila

    Julia, I’m smiling as I think “odd” situation but not unusual that you snapped a photo. Of the many pictures that you have shared, so many of Jeff, this really presents the man that can climb a wall, look over, see the other side, and show strength that is truly God given. I continue to pray for strength and healing. Rest my friend, Sheila

    • Thanks Sheila. Now that I have a room at Fisher House and can sleep in an actual bed, it makes a HUGE difference. Although I had gotten pretty good at converting the flat-board “chair bed” into something tolerable with my roll up foam topping and pillows – but it’s much easier and more comfortable to just dash over to Fisher House and go to sleep. Jeff actually “kicked me out” of his room at 10:30 last night and told me to go sleep. He’s giving more and more instructions, which is a good sign :-). Thanks for being with us!

  13. Maggie

    Love you both. Sending hugs and prayers.

    • Thank you Maggie. Love you :-).

  14. (((((Julia)))) and ((((Jeff))))

    • And all their wonderful FRIENDS!!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • raynard

      Julia hope today was a restful and peaceful one. Yes the dog I mentioned in that blog was real. His name was Benji and he was a black terrier.I use to keep him in my room and was the only one he would listen to.For today being December 1st looks like all our weekends this month are booked. Just finished reading a article about Hawaii. I miss it after21 years ago I was there. Thinking about going back if my daughter who was born there wants to visit her homeland lol.thank you for sharing your gift of writing and story telling.Now when you make the cover of Mad Magazine err I meant Life Magazine dont forget about us little people lol.be blessed

      • Raynard, believe it or not, being on the cover of Mad Magazine would be a dream come true for me! I bear a slight resemblance to Alfred E. Neuman anyway. To be featured in that magazine would be so appropriate, as it, more than any other publication, has been most responsible for who I am today. Seriously, one of may all-time favorite gifts was when my siblings chipped in to get me a year-long subscription so I didn’t have to pinch pennies to be able to buy the occasional newsstand copy. WOW, I am so sorry you had to give Benji up. Those who have had a dog know how painful that must have been. I do think you would enjoy going back to Hawaii. They have the H3 finished and now people can go from Pearl Harbor to the north shore in just 15-20 minutes! Although I used to love driving the Pali highway, it would be nice not to have to devote an entire day to visiting the north shore. Send us an Aloha if you make it over there. I think you might could get a hop from McGuire, although your daughter probably couldn’t ride with you.

  15. thinking of you always, amiga. am up for a fast gulp of internet before being offline again. i am with you and jeff and your family.


    • Thanks so much for being here, Lisa. I know you must have so much to catch up on. I appreciate your visiting with us here and in spirit! Hope all is well in your world. Love and cyber hugs!

  16. Hey there’s two of my favourite ladies to greet me this morning with their bright shining faces xo, I vote for a group hug 😀

    Alys’s message illuminates my feelings for you both too. I held my breath through parts of your message Julia. I will be brief in saying we are all hoping you both will look back on these difficult days with a large dose of cockiness knowing that you fought hard and kicked butt. That photo of Jeff amazes me, who is strong enough to do a pull up and just hang there?

    • (((((GROUP CYBER HUG!!!))))) I have often been described (mostly by my older son or other family members) as a butt kicker– in the figurative sense of course– but it is Jeff who truly deserves that accolade (insofar as it is an accolade!) because of his unfailing stamina and stability. When he first got diagnosed I was telling a friend why I feared what would happen to me if something happened to him – I told her “without Jeff I would be like a body with no skeleton” and that’s about the best analogy I can come up with. I am all motion and emotion and electricity, but he is what grounds everything. Appearances can be deceptive, and it’s easy for people to get confused and think the vocal person is the strong one – but anybody who knows Jeff well (and very, very few people truly do) knows that he is about as unshakable as human beings come. Thank God for that, since I tend to be over-reactive and hysterical at times.

  17. 🙂 Honestly Julia, I could have wrote those words about myself. Yes, I have been called emotional, but that’s life as an open book. When I love, I love long. When I cry, I cry uncontrollably. When I laugh, I sometimes snort. There’s no mystery, as Popeye says, “I am what I am”.

    I love this line from a country song: “like a tree, out in a garden, who’s branches are never broken by the wind. Our love, will last forever, as long as we are strong enough to bend”. It’s been pretty stormy in your life this year but you are anchored to a strong man. That’s a good place to be.

    • I find it so reassuring that you see yourself in my words. Your blog and your crafts are so exquisitely purr-fect (as Blossom or Petals might say) that I can’t imagine you ever being as frantic as I get sometimes. I admire people who can be stoic but I just can’t do that. I would make a lousy poker player because I’d be immediately exclaiming about every card I pulled (as I do when I play Spades). As I always tell Jeff and others who find my “candor” (nice word for it) a bit unsettling, at least nobody ever has to wonder where I stand :-). It’s interesting, though, that my greatest earthly sources of strength right now are the same ones they’ve always been: my husband, my sister, Jeff’s aunt, and my parents…all of whom are dealing with significant health concerns of their own, but who specialize in worrying about other people more than they worry about themselves. What a gift, and what an example each of them has given me!

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