The bigger, more beautiful picture

Pat and me at their family reunion in northern Virginia, July 2017.

“When we do the hard, intimate work of friendship, we bring a little more of the divine into daily life.  We get to remind one another about the bigger, more beautiful picture that we can’t always see from where we are.”Shauna Niequist

Okay, so imagine you are traveling across several states to northern Virginia, to attend a family reunion of 110 people– that’s right, one hundred and ten— coming together from all over the country, as far away as California. Let’s say you only have a couple of days there. What would you do? Visit with family? Go tour the monuments? See a bit of the Smithsonian? Help your friend with her research paper? Hmmm, how did that one get on the list?

You might want to ask Pat. She’s your neighbor here at Defeat Despair, and she shows up on a regular basis, though you will seldom see evidence of that unless you look for the little green and white quilted square that became her Gravatar the first time she clicked “Like.” Pat is not one to comment much online, as she has mentioned before, but she’s very faithful to read the blog and let me know she’s been there by clicking “like” to leave her little quilt emblem, like a friendly secret handshake.

She’s also wonderful at keeping in touch the good old-fashioned way…postal mail, and sometimes its closer cousin, email complete with digital photos now and then.  Pat and I have been in touch for somewhere between four and five years now, and if you’ve been in my home, you’ve seen bits and pieces of her gifts to me. Cute postcards, a cheery fridge magnet, a book of inspiring quotes with a personal history behind it, a CD of songs composed by her late mother, who was a gifted musician…Pat often senses that I’m in need of uplifting thoughts or an encouraging word or two, and she’s filled that gap for me more often than I can remember.

And now you get to see her in person! Well, almost. After years of knowing her only through her words, gifts and occasional photos, I was overjoyed that she chose to spend one of her precious two full days in the DC area with me. I was able to meet many of her family (and to congratulate the people who put that amazing gathering together) before whisking her away to my favorite little cafe, La Madeleine, where we celebrated Bastille Day with a tasty brunch and little blueberry/strawberry tarts made for the holiday. Pat’s multilingual and speaks fluent French, so that made it even more fun.

Pat and me, just before we said goodbye after meeting face to face for the first time, July 2017.

Then she went back to our townhouse and let me interview her for my research project on letter writing. Although it was a fun topic, it’s not what a lot of people might define as a preferred way to spend a rare vacation day. But she somehow made me feel she enjoyed it almost as much as I did, not to mention giving me some great ideas to incorporate into my paper. That’s the sort of thing that Niequist might include in her reference to “the hard, intimate work of friendship:” answering a lot of questions about your personal habits and opinions, knowing that there’s absolutely nothing in it for you. There was plenty in it for me, though, on so many levels.

The highlight of the day for me was when I was dropping her back off at the hotel and we had to say goodbye. We prayed together and as she walked me to my car, she spontaneously burst into a beautiful gospel song we sing at church sometimes. I knew then that she had inherited her mother’s gift for music. That song of praise rang in my mind for days, a gift that kept on giving, a reminder of the bigger and more beautiful picture. I still can’t see it very clearly, but Pat helps me keep believing it is there.


  1. raynard

    Julia ” just what the Dr ordered. No I don’t play one on T.V and I still remember” Dr Marcus Welby’s black bag ” reminded me of” Felix the Cat Bag.. I digress. As my wife and I get ready for my family’s first ever family reunion. To be honest, I’m not excited just nervous about” cooking for people I never cooked for. If time permits” I might ” whip up a cake I’m know for ” around these parts.. I humbly said that this past birthday was one of the best in years.There was ” so much love” that it couldn’t be put on a Hallmark Card”.. I have a ” make up day with my daughters as” I got too full ” like the Goodyear Blimp with” chicken and waffles when we went out to breakfast’.I’m still resisting the ” dye in my hair and the suspenders thing. I digress. Next Cannonball Run after the reunion which by the way is in Upstate NY, might be down your way. I will have 3 weeks vacation this year. Thank you for your continued friendship. I just sent you a picture of the cake I baked last night. Be blessed..

    • Raynard, I did get the cake photo and it looked yummy. I’ve been buried under the schoolwork but I just had to take a break here to answer some comments. I hope your family reunion went well. I’m glad you and Mary still manage to make some Cannonball Runs. Wow, upstate New York is quite a drive! With 3 weeks vacation you just might get down this way again. Be sure and pick a day with no beach traffic this time and I will be sure that I know how to answer a new cell phone if I have one. I still tell people about how Mary had to show me how to answer a smart phone. Thanks for being here and have a wonderful weekend coming up!

  2. cclemon78209

    I believe God has sent you one of his angels to help you along the way. Thank you for sharing the blessing. I love all your posts.

    • Thank you! I am so happy you enjoy the posts. It does my heart good to write them and remind myself of the angels who come our way.

  3. Cherie

    Oh! How nice to have Pat visit you and help with your research project! Friendships are sometimes more powerful than family connections. At least, it has been for me! You, my dear friend Julia, are a perfect example of that! I love you! Love and Light! Cherie

    • Well, as it says in Proverbs 18:24, there really is a friend who sticks closer than a brother, sometimes many. We are blessed to find such friends and I don’t know how I would survive without them. Matt and I pray for you and Ron each night! Thanks for sending us your love and light. ❤ I am so happy you are here.

      • Wow! Julia, Pat and Cherie, you and Shauna have put it all together for me:
        Even though there’s a “friend that sticks closer than a brother,” they can show us the things that “we can’t always see from where we are,” because even as they stick close, they aren’t standing in exactly the same place … so they have a different perspective! The way that Pat shares her vision with you, Julia, is a beautiful thing!

        • Susan, great point – I never thought of it that way. Pat has a lot of wisdom about many things– I hope and trust that I’m not the only one who gets the benefit of her faith and joy! BTW you help me see things from new angles too. This blog has been a real blessing to me, and continues to be. Thanks for being part of “us!”

  4. Rene

    Friendship is hard work & I need to get to it.

    • Rene, it can be hard work, but for me the rewards are worth it. Don’t be too hard on yourself, though. Rest is important too. 🙂 ❤

  5. Carolyn

    Good morning friend, this morning has been great, but heat is coming back for a few days. We did enjoy the porch awhile Sat. Not tea but coffee. I hope one day we could enjoy it together,if not you are in my thoughts. Not much going on right now with us. Take care and sending you and Matt love and hugs..

    • Hi Carolyn, our heat is back too, but not quite as hot as it was. Some mornings I fancy that I feel a touch of fall in the air already. Not sure if I’m quite ready for another winter, though. Yes, I do hope we can enjoy that porch together one day. Sooner or later Matt and I might get down to your “neck of the woods” and visit. I imagine things have changed so much we might not recognize it. I’ll give Matt some birthday hugs from you tomorrow when he wakes up. Today was his birthday and it was a tough one for us, but I think he handled it better than I did. Love to you and Terry.

      • Carolyn

        Happy Birthday Matt🍰🍰🍰🍰🍰🍰

        • Thank you Carolyn!!!

  6. MaryAnn

    The overused “priceless” & “precious” fit your joyful experience with Pat! How this moment in time will be treasured & cherished! I am so happy for you. What a blessing this gift from God is to both of you! WOW!

    • Thank you, Mary Ann. Pat gave me a much-needed infusion of strength and heart. Just when I feel down God sends me signals from the mother ship. That’s what has kept me going so far. We think of you every day when we use our “mug rugs.” 🙂 Matt loved his birthday card and proudly showed me where he put one of the stickers you sent on his calendar for today. ❤

      • MaryAnn

        That fills my heart to overflowing joy! When you need more “mug rugs”, please let me know. It will be fun to make some representing things you & Matt like. So let me know favorites. I KNOW Matt loves Stars & Stripes. You like wolves, good to know because I sent one. 🙂 What others?

        • Mary Ann, I like so many things, its probably easier to say what I don’t like. However, if we are talking about the kinds of motifs that show up on fabric, I suppose (as all who read this blog will know) those would include teacups, books, animals of all kinds, flowers of all kinds, seashells, and designs by Mary Englebreit, Susan Branch, Debbie Mumm or Katie Daisy…just for starters, hee-hee…and yes, that wolf is a lovely sight early in the morning. You are so generous that I feel greedy even answering your question. But thanks for being you!

          • MaryAnn

            Great list! Feel loved!

            • MaryAnn

              Your design list makes me think you sew? Terri Wallacker taught me about some of these designers.

              • Mary Ann, I used to sew many years ago, but haven’t for a long time. I need to get a new machine for mending, if nothing else. Those designers are mostly graphic artists, I think, but they became so popular that their artwork was featured on all sorts of products. I never tire of any of them. So cheerful!

            • As Jimmy Durante might say, “I got a million of ’em!” 🙂

  7. You look like you are having a wonderful visit and everyone seems to be enjoying your company as well. I know you are a good and loyal friend. Letter writing seems to be a lost art though I still send a lot of cards. My handwriting and spelling have become questionable over these last few years so I tend to type out things and put them the card with a short handwritten note. I’ve received so many notes from older friends that were positively illegible so I want to make sure what I say is clear. I’m going to send this before this clunker eats the comment.

    • Marlene, my goal is to get to some mythical place in time where I can sit down and write a letter every day while my handwriting is still legible. I do find that I make a lot of careless errors now & have to scribble things out. I read some research recently that found reading print that is less easy to read actually increases comprehension and retention. They speculated that it was because the brain could not rush through it. But you’re right, positively illegible is not good either. Plus in my case it’s not a good match with my (very gradually) fading eyesight. I plead guilty to keyboarding and printing things out. I can type faster than I write and I like playing with fonts sometimes. But I always try to scribble my own name. I’m thinking of you often and fondly! Matt and I are keeping you in our prayers. ❤

      • Rene

        My constant careless error is writing “withe” instead of “with the.”

        • Well, maybe that’s just your brain taking a shortcut. The error I keep making is transposing letters, which means scribbling out since I write in pen. That transposing stuff is something that has only crept in during the past 5 years or so, which makes me think it’s either age or stress related.

      • I think you are right about how the brain has to work on illegible handwriting. It’s even more fun when it’s not in English. 🙂 Many of my letters go much older people with visual difficulties like mine. I use a 16 pt font so I can see what I’m writing. Looking forward to hearing more from you soon. You are both in my daily prayers as well.

        • Marlene, how thoughtful of you to use a large font. That’s such a simple fix and lots of times we don’t think about it. I remember when Matt was in high school, one teacher or therapist or someone mentioned letting them use a large font on the computer when they were composing a paragraph. I think it really helped Matt to do that. Thanks for your prayers for us! Let’s keep lifting each other up.

  8. You have been on my mid a great deal over the past week and I have realised that I have not yet written you that long-promised letter. This is one of the things I really want to do in August… and in it I will explain why it has taken so long.
    I’m so happy that you’ve had this lovely visit – it has clearly brought some light and joy into your life, which makes me very happy.

    • Hey, that sounds wonderful. No rush though — I know how it feels to have a mountain of letters I really, really want to write. I am curious about the explanation though…but the longer I wait to find out what it is, the more fun it will be! Thanks for being here. It’s always so good to hear from you.

  9. Sheila

    What a beautiful post of such a special friendship to share with the friends and acquaintances here. Pat is beautiful, inside and out. That must have been quite the reunion with 110 in attendance! I’m so happy that Pat spent time with you, helped with your paper, and gave you lasting memories. What could be better? Thank you, Pat!

    • Sheila, I agree, and Pat’s photos don’t do her justice. Some people just radiate life and joy and Pat’s one of them. On a related but I hope not too morbid note, it reminds me of something Drew said at Mama’s funeral. He remarked how stark a difference it was, more so in her case than in others, to see her body after her spirit was gone. He said she was one of those people whose spirit so animated her appearance that there was such an obvious vacancy in her face. I had not thought about it but I know what he meant. Hope you and Bill are well. BTW the Verandah is PERFECT. I didn’t see how August could equal July, but it does. “To everything there is a season.” 🙂

  10. Patricia

    Julia, I am so thankful to see your post today and read yesterday’s with the good news of your and Matt’s “well being”. Your blog is such an inspiration. Isn’t it wonderful to meet friends like Pat! I’ve been reading Jeremiah 29 this morning, and I know His plans for you will be a blessing to all of us.
    Sending love your way,
    Patricia of the Texas Gulf Coast

    • Thank you so much Patricia. This blog has been so good to me and good for me. I am happy to know that others enjoy visiting me here. That passage in Jeremiah was one of Jeff’s favorites. I can’t write that without feeling pain but also joy at who he was and at the memory of his steadfast faith. I so appreciate your faith, love, and presence in our lives! ❤

  11. Amy

    What an awesome lady. God bless her always.

    • Amen to that!

  12. Julia, what a special day for both of you. Everyone needs a friend like Pat in their lives. I’m so glad you could spend time together, and that she was a happy participant in your research. And she sings, too! Lovely.

    • Thank you Alys! Yes, Pat sings beautifully. Even though I don’t know all the words to the song she sang, I know enough of them that I went around singing what I knew of it myself for days.

      That research project (which thank goodness is now finished, for better or worse) took a lot out of me, but it was so rewarding. If you want the transcript of our interview, I’d be glad to send it to you. I know I will keep it always as a souvenir of an conversation that, though the questions were mostly scripted, was still spontaneous thanks to your answers– and so much fun. ❤

      • I’m happy thinking of you singing to yourself, Julia, especially a song that uplifts. I’ve been known to make up words or just go with the “lad dee da” version to get me on to the next set of lyrics. I’m really happy to hear that the research project is complete. I had a lot of fun answering the questions and hope to one day read your completed paper, thesis and all. xo

        • Thanks Alys, I’m glad you enjoyed our conversation. If only everything about school could be that much fun! I too make up words, and lately I’ve been singing my to-do stuff to myself as a way to counteract that familiar “now what was it I came into this room for?” syndrome. Sometimes I make up the tunes and sometimes I borrow them, especially if I’ve been listening to a song that is stuck in my head. Putting stuff to music really does help me remember. It must work for other people too, or we wouldn’t have the old A-B-C song…do kids still sing that? I wonder.

          • Singing is a wonderful way to remember things, and poetry too. “I before e” and “measure twice, cut once” come to mind. Perhaps not true poetry, but useful rhymes.

            • Yes, I used to make up rhymes and songs to help Matt memorize his school work before a test. To this day I sometimes have to sing the ABC song in my head when I’m trying to figure out exactly where something comes when alphabetizing random items.

          • Julia, Chris taught me about this. I think you’ll enjoy it, too.

            • Alys, what a fascinating article! Thanks for sharing it. I t’s a relief to know I’m not the only one who walks into a room (or goes upstairs) and forgets why on earth I did. When I read the article, I thought of how we always loved going home to York County together on the weekends. In spite of traffic, which was sometimes HORRIBLE (especially before we figured out when to not even try it) it was still an amazing respite from the weekday cares. From what this article says, it was not our imagination that we seemed to leave most of our worries behind every weekend when we went back to our York home. I think that’s why people enjoy having a vacation home, whether owned, rented, or towed behind a car, that they return to frequently. Any sort of trip or vacation is great for the same reason. It really does help to change the scenery sometimes. If I am working on something portable (computer or mending or fixing an object, etc.) I often find that taking it into another room lessens the frustration or drudgery of it.

  13. Wonderful post Julia. Welcome back to the blog world. A post about friendship is so appropriate for your return. Because like your friend Pat, you have many here as well. The bigger beautiful picture is still there, my friend. Day by day the fog will continue to lift.

    • Hi Alan, it’s wonderful to “see” you here. Thanks so much for your words of encouragement. Today was a tough day (Matt’s first birthday without Jeff and some stressful stuff along with that) but I keep hoping that fog will roll away. Hope you are doing well.

      • I do know those tough days. Hang in there kiddo!
        I’ve been well. Recently was inducted into the Fairfield County Athletic Conference Hall of Fame in Ct. for my years of coaching girls high school volleyball. Other than that: same old, same old. Which is what I like most.

        • Alan, congratulations! And what a special honor to claim. Women’s sports have come a long way, and you have had a significant role in that history. My high school had only one female team of any kind — basketball. But some of the most popular girls were athletic types, and though I was never skilled in that way, I’m glad others have better opportunities to use their gifts.

          I totally agree with you about liking the same old same old. That’s what I miss the most about life without Jeff, or Mama and Daddy. I used to always tell people “boring is good.” But in truth I can’t remember ever being bored by life. Perhaps by a specific job or a dry assignment, but generally bored – never. Life itself is full of wonder which is sometimes paradoxically easier to discover when set into “everyday” life.

          • Unlike too many, Julia, you’ve found the secret.
            p.s. Than you for the kind words as regards the award.

            • Alan, you’re welcome! And some days I do better at remembering that secret than I do on other days. 🙂

  14. tpeastin

    Thanks, Julia, for the post (I had a GRAND time with you!)…and to everyone else for their comments. 🙂 Pat

    • Pat, you’re welcome. What a challenge to capture that wonderful day in a relatively few words…You helped give me the energy I needed to push on through to the finish line for this semester. Next time will be a free-for-fun day with no work involved! 🙂 But thanks for being with me through this latest milestone.

  15. What a wonderful and special visit and friendship. Pat sounds like a dream. I’ve said this so many times it becomes a mantra, but WordPress is a community like no other. Having the great and good fortune to have been your guest, I’m certain there were many laughs and Pat is still talking about your visit and/or planning the next. I really enjoyed your quote on this day too Julia! It really is a ‘big picture’ worth putting yourself in xo K

    • You are so right about WordPress. It amazes me when I think how many wonderful people I have met, in person or only online, through this blog. Pat really is a joy. She’s one of those people with such fascinating experiences and insights that it’s easy to talk to her for hours. You would love her.


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