Sunday, January 18, 2015

God in the Gravy

"Friends are the family we choose for ourselves."

I can remember the first time I spent a holiday with Tommy Terrill.  I was filling a dual role: excited mommy-to-be, and bloated, beached whale.  Easter 2006 found me waddling up the driveway of my friend Sue's house, arms loaded with food {of course...what pregnant girl doesn't fit that stereotype?}.  My maternity clothes billowed around me, reminiscent of a partially filled hot air balloon, and my tree-trunk legs were still mourning the temporary loss of their slenderizing friend; the ankle.  Let's just say, I wasn't feeling like I had a snowball's chance at winning a pageant any time soon.

Not only did I look disastrous, my heart was hurting as well.  We had hardly been living in Colorado one year, and on our first Easter there, Randy was stuck logging wells in Utah.  I was feeling lonely, sorry for myself, and slightly excited about the idea that I could blame all of my candy-coated cravings on the baby.

So when I was invited to join the Terrill family in their home for Easter, I jumped for joy {not an easy, or attractive action at nearly 9 months pregnant}, because....people!  I would be surrounded by a family {albeit not mine--at the time}, but actual people with whom I could converse and laugh and feel included...and eat {score, pregnant lady...score}.

I don't exactly recall every detail of that Easter meal, but now I know it marked the beginning of a vital, comforting, God-given era in the lives of my family and me.  

Sue and I had worked together nearly an entire school year, and her presence in my life was integral those first few tender months of living so far from 'home': living as a new wife, living as a {surprised} expectant mom, living as a teacher who was feeling sub-par because of the 'newness', the unfamiliarity, the hard of education.  Sue and I became fast friends.  Her after-school hours were conducive to not only my loneliness while Randy worked, but also my loquacious personality.  Bless her heart for allowing me to spend countless hours, chattering her ear off while she worked hard to prepare her classroom for learning activities.  Her gift of time, along with a listening ear was one of the most generous gifts I could have ever received during that transitional time in my life.

Over the course of that school year, both Randy and I had been blessed to be introduced to the whole Terrill family.  Not only did Sue and Tommy; but Sue's husband Terry and their younger son Danny; serve as our 'movers' when we bought our first home in November, 2005, but Sue's dad Les had become a bright light I looked forward to seeing on the school days he volunteered his time to work with littles.

It was the way the Terrill family was--IS.  Giving, doing, sharing, listening, loving, volunteering, donating, serving.  Randy and I quickly became acquainted with--and fell in love with--their genuineness.  Over the course of our friendship, Randy and I have even taken to using the word 'Terrill' as an adjective for when we can't properly describe something that has a beautiful, wholesome, magnetic je ne sais quoi about it.  

Tommy was such a positive example amazing qualities his parents instilled in him, but even with all of that amazingness filling his soul, he still found room to fit more.  The unique blend of personality that Tommy possessed is one of those rare and beautiful finds that makes you pause for a moment to thank God for creating such a well-rounded, well-grounded, life-loving individual--and to pause for another moment to pray that He will create in you and others, more opportunities to be more Tommy-like.

That first Easter I shared with the Terrill family was life changing.  The laughs, inevitable.  The food, delicious.  The way Tommy made it feel so normal to have a random and overly-pregnant girl chattering away at his family's dining table; it's a quality that struck me and stuck with me.

When I was growing up, holidays were almost always spent with family.  Blood relatives, interspersed with the occasional 'outsider'.  It's not that my family wasn't accommodating to other people joining our celebration, it was more of a 'that's the way it is' type of mentality.  I had never really experienced a holiday with those who didn't fall under the umbrella of 'family tree material'.  

The course of that changed while I shared an Easter meal in the Terrill's home in 2006.  Welcoming arms, warm smiles, funny stories, and 'so forth'.  The era of the 'Terril-ley' holidays had begun.  Sharing time and stories, breaking bread, debating football, and Randy explaining to Les 'one more time' what his line of work entails {"that's a fact!"}.  Standard activities whenever we were all together.

Needless to say, our family's move to Texas put to rest an ongoing tradition that had brought us comfort during our tenure in Colorado.  Holidays now carry with them the longing not only for time with our 'family tree family', but for our chosen blended Colorado family as well.  The kids had never known anything but holidays with the Terrills, so it was {and still is}, a feeling of 'offness' for all of us knowing we won't be eating Jell-o salad, playing with the beagles, being surrounded by the comforting blanket of love that is the Terrill family.  Thank you, God, for the memories of those times that we can carry in our heart.
Thanksgiving, 2014.

My heart shattered as I stirred the gravy and heard my sweet friend's wavering voice on the other end of the phone, confirming that Tommy's life had tragically been cut short in an accident the night before.  Physical ache took over, stealing my ability to speak and contain the tears that poured from my eyes like a river.  Our family, our blended and blessed family, had been cracked wide open, a wound too great to ever fully heal.

Tommy was a comedian.  An outdoorsman.  A talented athlete.  He carried with him an arsenal of quick-witted cracks, deadpan responses, and wise-ass comments that inevitably left anyone within a 30-foot radius with sore cheeks and a quasi ab workout from laughing so hard.  

Tommy was devoted.  Not just to his beautiful wife, Snowden, upon whom he believed the sun rose and set, but to his family, friends, animals, and the random stranger with whom he'd interact.  Tommy was the epitome of someone who truly loved, appreciated, and cherished the human experience.  His time on this earth was overflowing with his positive energy and inspirational outlook that influenced and motivated so many.  

Tommy brought a level of 'real' to any situation.  His natural charisma was a key tool he used to give everyone in the room a feeling of comfort.  He was approachable and welcoming.  He adored my kids.  And my kids adored him.  Gavin especially took a liking to both Tommy, and Danny as well, because when we spent time at the Terrills, he wasn't so outnumbered by sisters.  Both Tommy and Danny made my kids feel comfortable and welcome.  They would play with them.  Acknowledge them.  Enjoy them.  From a mom perspective, I was grateful for not only the respite from being their sole entertainer, but more importantly for the positive and loving influence Tommy and Danny provided for my kids.  And even though Tommy was a bit hesitant and nervous to hold a squishy newborn Raegan back in 2011, I saw in him a heart that I knew would make for the most incredible father any child could ask for.

While Tommy was not given the opportunity on earth to have his own children, it does not in any way mean that his legacy will not carry on.  Friendships forged because of Tommy's presence will be forever encouraged by his compassion.  Husbands who knew Tommy will be inspired to love on their wives more deeply and all-encompassing because of the way in which he loved Snowden.  Anyone with siblings will be more inclined to dedicate themselves fully to the unbreakable bond that God created when he gave us brothers and sisters, all because Tommy exemplified what it meant to not only be a brother, but a best friend.  And sons everywhere will want to deepen their relationship with their parents because of the way Tommy loved Sue and Terry.  He was a dedicated son.  Like every child, he didn't always make choices that were a perfect example of common sense, but he possessed within him the positive, Christ-like characteristics that Sue and Terry impressed upon him throughout his beautiful life.  

There are no words for when tragedies like this occur in the lives of those we love.  No one-trick-pony way to encapsulate the sadness and make it go away.  The hurt will be there, it will infiltrate daily lives; some days striking us down to rock bottom, while other days serving as a minor affliction while we choose to focus on the positive.  That this world was graced with the presence of a man, the likes of whom are a rare and beautiful find, is truly proof that God does not make mistakes.  Tommy confidently walked this earth and charmed his way into lives and infiltrated the hearts of so many.  The smiles and happy memories he has gifted those who knew him, I believe, were his way of leaving behind something that will pave the way toward a place of heart-mending.  

My heart is still shattered in many ways, shards of it fell into our Thanksgiving gravy as I stirred that day in shock and disbelief.  But even in that moment, even with that horrific news shaking the core of our family, I still experienced a bit of God's peace.
It was Gavin's second Thanksgiving, and we were gathered in the Terrill kitchen, helping with preparations for the meal, nibbling the appetizers Sue had prepared.  Tommy stood at the stove, methodically stirring the gravy that would soon enrobe the delicious smelling turkey, and cover mounds of fluffy, white mashed potatoes.  I couldn't wait.  Afterall, gravy is one of the food groups when it comes to holiday meals.  

Sue had just placed a Pyrex dish, piled high with delicious homemade mashed potatoes on the stove top, as counter space was quickly reaching capacity as the final components of the meal came together.  Randy was breaking off pieces of cheese and crackers for Gavin to mush into his crumb-covered face when all of the sudden we heard an explosion, of sorts.  The brief moments of flourished activity now blend together in my mind, but in the aftermath, what we discovered was this:  a cool Pyrex dish does *not* like to be placed atop a hot stove burner, even if that particular dish was placed there in an oversight due to too many cooks in the kitchen {literally}.  

The Pyrex shattered.  Not just into pieces.  No, no.  The shards of glass that were the result of this lesson learned were so insanely small, so well-scattered throughout Sue's kitchen, that if you went there today, you might still be able to find one {even though Sue keeps a very clean home!}.  Pryex was on the counter.  On the stove.  On the kitchen island.  The floor.  In the folds of our clothes {but thankfully not embedded in skin!}.  It was in the corn, interspersed throughout the plates of turkey, and in.the.gravy.  

It was a total loss.  There's no real way to bring gravy back after it's become 'chewable'.  All that work, the attentive stirring Tommy had done became a thing of the past as we cleaned up the mess of potato and Pyrex.  The memory of that serves as an ongoing joke, a happily recalled story for the Terrill-Conley family.

Tommy was a bit perturbed his hard work was all for naught as the last of crunchy gravy was poured into the trash; but Tommy being Tommy, he found the humor quickly, and laughed it off, embedding it in each of our memories as a happy one.

As I stood at my stove, just seven Thanksgivings later, my gravy had an added ingredient as well.  The tears that fell from my eyes were of course liquid, but the pain I felt in crying them hurt every bit as much as shards of glass in my eyes.  But while I stirred and cried, cried and stirred, I couldn't help but find God in that gravy.  
God gave Tommy to the world, and used him in ways that are so far-reaching we may never truly realize his impact.  He used Tommy in big ways, in funny ways, in comforting ways.  But perhaps one of my most special ways to remember the way God used Tommy, was in gravy ways.

Rest peacefully, Tommy, the hole you've left is one the world will never be able to fill.

No comments :

Post a Comment