When we fully understand

Owen with his PaPa, September 14, 2016

Owen with his PaPa, September 14, 2016

“When we fully understand the brevity of life, its fleeting joys and unavoidable pains…it should make us more kindly and considerate of each other.”Clarence Darrow

The photo above was made at Drew and Megan’s Atlanta home, just ten days before Jeff checked into Walter Reed Bethesda with breathing problems, never to return home again. None of us dreamed it at the time, even though he had been fighting cancer for more than four years. He was so amazingly strong that even when he was near death, we had no way of knowing it.

No one can take life for granted, of course. Beyond a reasonable caution for safety and concern for healthy living, let us not translate that uncertainty to anxiety that hampers our appreciation of life. One of my greatest consolations is knowing how fully Jeff lived his life to the very end, in spite of the malicious disease that ate away at his physical strength and stamina. His refusal to let illness take his spiritual fortitude and mental tenacity will always be an example for me through the difficult days ahead.

Instead of allowing life’s inevitable brevity to make us fearful and morose, let’s  reflect on what Darrow said about translating that awareness to a compassionate and sympathetic spirit. Every person we will encounter today carries the same sentence of mortality; it’s just a question of time. When I think about it, I realize I want to add to the fleeting joys, not increase the unavoidable pains. I’ll try to remember that next time I’m annoyed or short-tempered.

Here’s hoping we will find creative ways to fill each day with joy, however fleeting, and to help others do the same.


  1. Amy

    This is beautifully written and it breaks my heart. I will try to remember to savor the moments even when I am angry or sad. Here’s to kindness.

    • Amy, you are one of the kindest people I have ever known. ❤ ❤ ❤ Especially to Matt. ❤ ❤ ❤

  2. Good morning, Julia! What a precious photo that is!
    I think I remember in “Surprised by Joy” Joy explained to C.S. Lewis that the good times are part of the bad, and the bad is part of the good, that they come together in this “bundle” that we call life. (If I remember correctly) “That’s the deal,” she said.

    • Yes, I have thought of those words many times over the past 4 years. Most of us would never dream of giving up the joys in spite of the pain. Lewis was as eloquent on this subject as he ever was, which is saying quite a lot. The quote linked is one of my favorites from the vast stores of his wisdom I’ve treasured for many years. It manages to be comforting, chilling and convincing, all at once. Quite a feat.

      • Yes, Julia, the first time that I read “The Four Loves” I remember that paragraph starting with “To love at all is to be vulnerable….” convinced me to avoid such pain, but then Lewis dashed my hopes with the next paragraph, describing the consequences. Well, I suppose we can’t have that going on in our hearts; we were not created to be isolated and hardened. So I (rather grudgingly, I’m sorry to say) determined to love, despite the risks.

        • Susan, I think most of us who choose that path do so at least a little bit grudgingly, and a surprising number of people (ever more, apparently) don’t choose it at all. Technology has given us many forms of “artificial company,” right up to and including lifelike robots, so those who don’t want the trade-offs involved in relationships, or don’t want the risk, have many substitutes for real live human friends and loved ones. It’s scary, though, for the reasons Lewis describes so eloquently. Sometimes I think the most disturbing stories in the news are rooted in that form of self-preservation that renders the heart “not broken, but unbreakable.” You are right in saying love involves determination. It’s not something that happens to us; it happens inside us.

  3. Ann

    What wonderful picture. The quote and your thoughtful comments come at a special time for me. I share your goal for the day.

    • Thank you, Ann. I’m so happy you are here.

  4. Lani Beagle

    Julia, what a deep and meaningful concept to ‘add to the fleeting joys’, rather than hurt and pain. If only we could always keep this in mind. Thank you for yet another insightful perspective on life.

    • Thank you, Lani. It is such a joy to be in touch with someone whom I’ve known for almost as long as I can remember! ❤

  5. Cherie

    Julia, I have been thinking of you this past week and pray you feel my love coming over to you. Jeff showed us all the strength we can have in dire circumstances. I hope to have such strength. I pray your life is going good. Keeping you and Matt in my prayers. Love and Light! Cherie

    • Thank you, Cherie. I think of you often, always with gratitude, and pray for your health and happiness. Your warm wishes and prayers have been a true solace for me.

  6. Julia, your love and admiration for Jeff comes through with every word you write. I’ve never known a man who was as fierce in living life and yet so very humble in his walk with the Lord. God bless you and all your shared memories with Jeff.

    • Thank you, Roger. When Jeff died, I found I was quite unable to write an obituary for him. It was impossible to capture him in words. He was such a private person that I am torn between honoring his preference for keeping things modest, simple and concise, and wanting people to know the extent of his integrity and dedication. As Harold Hazelip said about Batsell Barrett Baxter, a man not unlike Jeff in his quiet demeanor and gentle spirit, “The closer you got to him, the more real he became.”

  7. Hi Julia, We met at a writer’s conference at Wheaton. I have followed your blog and pray for you often.
    I’ve tried to email you a couple of times recently, but I’m not sure you’ve received the emails.
    Would you consider sending me your current email address?
    I have a couple questions I want to ask you. Thanks! my email is faithtmcdonald@gmail.com

    • Faith, of course I remember you! and I’m delighted you are here. Yes, I did get your email. My inbox is sadly backed up, but I checked and it is there– and I did read your blog and quite enjoyed it– wish we could enjoy another long lunchtime chat about your topic. 🙂 Feel free to email me at that same address, and this time I’ll be watching for it. My lunch with you at Wheaton was one of my favorite parts of that entire conference. Thanks so much for your prayers, and I hope to hear from you soon!

  8. I too want to add to the fleeting joys – what a wonderful aim to have in life…. let’s all do that!

    • Maybe we can start a trend. 🙂

  9. Carolyn

    What a great way to start my day. Julia your blog was so moving ,as well as yesterday’s, Jeff put up a good fight for four years and now we all have wonderful memories. The picture is so good ,Jeff with his great smile and sweet Owen. Time right now is hard for you ,but with God ,family and good friends it will get easier. We all love you and the family. How is Matt doing.? I am happy that we were able to meet for a visit in 2014. My next check up is first of May , hope all will be good. March will be the start of my five years cancer free. Pray that it stays that way. You take care of yourself and Matt. Love and hugs .

    • Carolyn, I have thought many times about how glad I am that you and Terry were able to visit in 2014. It is such a lovely memory and I would have been so sad if you had not been able to see Jeff before he came to the end of his own earthly battles. Matt is doing OK. He and I both have our good days and bad, but overall I’d say he has done better with it than I have– of course, that may be because I can see myself on the inside, and can’t see what he may be thinking and feeling. Love and hugs to you too– thanks for being with us!!

  10. Janet

    Julia, Thanks for this.

    • 🙂 Love you Janet.

  11. MaryAnn Clontz

    What beauty & depth you express today! I want to follow your example “to add to the fleeting joys, not increase the unavoidable pains. I’ll try to remember that next time I’m annoyed or short-tempered.” Lord, may it be so!
    Thank you, Julia~~

    • MaryAnn, you are great at adding to the joy in life. It’s quite hard to be gloomy in your presence for very long. You radiate enthusiasm! Love you.

      • MaryAnn Clontz

        My wonderful encourager!

        • 🙂 ❤ I'm very sad and weepy tonight and your comment lifts my spirits. So you are my encourager too. The auto spell check is telling me that's not a word but it just doesn't understand.

  12. Linda Blackford

    When I wrote a book of Nicky’s sermons and my memories, the first sentence was: “Life is a gift, made more precious by its unpredictability and its brevity.” From that time on, I’ve had such a sense of living my life for both of us, as I know he’d want me to. That attitude has helped me in so many ways, especially in my determination not to cling to old slights and bad memories, but to move ahead, open to joy which is always somewhere near, if we just pay attention. Your determination to defeat despair is remarkable! Not even knowing Jeff, I can see the strength and love in his eyes in the picture with your grandson. I can see he didn’t waste the gift of his life, and that’s the attitude we all need to have!

    • Thank you Linda. It helps so much to hear from others who have survived the loss of someone near and dear. Their examples continues to bless us as we somehow manage to keep on keeping on without their earthly presence. As you say, it’s so dependent upon what we choose to pay attention to. Thanks for being here with us.

  13. Harry Sims

    I’m so glad you’re here.
    And by the way, thank God for every one of us.

    • Amen to that, Harry. “Without me (or you) there could be no everybody.” 🙂

  14. Michelle Prendergast

    Beautiful! Gosh Matthew definitely has his dads smile! Thinking of you both and sending my love.

    • Thank you Michelle. I hope we will get to see you before too long. Thanks for being so mindful of us in so many ways. It has meant a lot.

  15. Sheila

    Julia, this has been such a gray weather day! More so than usual, as it threatened to dampen my spirits! Yesterday was the opposite, with most of our family together enjoying the inauguration! 🇺🇸 I often laugh about “no two days are alike”! 💛 This photo, as well as the precious moment, will only become more priceless with time. Although you mentioned many times that Jeff was very private, I suppose he allowed you to share his story, in hopes that it really would “Defeat Despair”! We can only imagine what you have been through and I really do pray that the days ahead will be better and easier! 🙏 Thinking of you and Matt this evening! Love, Sheila

    • Thank you, Sheila. The weather is dampening my spirits too (insofar as anything can lower them even more than they already are) but your continual expressions of care much needed and always appreciated. Thanks so much for being here and for being YOU. ❤

  16. Patricia of the Texas Gulf Coast

    Julia, what a beautiful reflection, one I needed to hear. These are such turbulent times, we so need to understand even their brevity and focus on the fleeting joys in them. May we all contribute to those joys. My prayers are for your strength, emotional and physical. Thank you for your gift of words.

    • Thank you, Patricia. Your prayers for emotional AND physical strength are greatly needed and appreciated. I don’t know which part of my health is in worse shape now, my physical health or my emotional health, but of course the two are tightly linked and really, I think, inseparable in the long run. I appreciate your words of encouragement – they are timely!

  17. The last sentence resonated the most for me. As I come to the winter of my life, I look at things with so much more respect and awe. Losing my first husband at 42, I learned early to appreciate life but even more so as I’ve aged. It is the small joys that carry us. Hang in there. Those grand-babies are a good dose of joy.

    • Thank you, Marlene. You’re right; age sharpens our appreciation even as it hands us ever more trials to endure. Thanks for being with me. Sending giant grateful hugs! 🙂

  18. blseibel

    What a blessing to have that wonderful picture for Owen. And a great reminder to live every moment as Jeff did. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • You’re welcome! Thanks for being here. Hope you are doing well, or at least OK. ❤

  19. Amen, Julia. Make the most of our time. It is truly fleeting.

  20. Ellis Anderson

    Thank you so much for writing, my noble friend.

    • Ellis, you probably can take more credit (or blame) for my writing than any other individual. 🙂 You totally understood that part of me and gave me some great examples to which I could aspire.

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