At work, I deal with financial planning and investing. Usually, this is a hope-filled occupation. Investors optimistically put their money into various funds, expecting that they will have earned more money when it is time to take it out of the fund.

But there is another side to my job. When an investor dies, the family calls me because our office is responsible for appropriately distributing the money to the existing beneficiaries. Since the beginning of April, there have been an unusual number of deaths, and as a result, many families have called the office or walked in to let us know.

I've never had to face death before. My older sister died, but that happened before I was born. My grandma died when I was sixteen, but we lived in New Jersey and she lived in Illinois. I had never spent a lot of time with her, and even though her passing hurt, it hurt more in terms of lost opportunities than in terms of a relationship now missing. I feel ill-equipped to comfort or empathize with the raw grief I am facing on a daily basis.

A 92 year old mother of six grown children passed away. Her oldest son walked into the office on a sunshiny day in April and blandly announced, "Mother's gone." I gazed at his face while my mind absorbed his words. His voice graveled out as he explained, "She passed on just after midnight yesterday." He paused, cleared his throat, forced air into his lungs and raised his head determinedly. "Thought I'd better let you know."

A man in his fifties shook when he told me that the sick mother he had cared for over the past ten years was finally at peace. That was over three weeks ago, and he has come into our office many times since then just because he has no one else to talk with. Without the frail patient in his life needing constant attention, he is lost. He has known nothing else for the past decade.

Craig attended the funeral of a 24 year old man last week, and yesterday a father called to tell me that his youngest daughter died on Saturday. Her two, young children are now under their grandparents' guardianship. I listened to the heartbreak in his voice when he told me. The tiredness. The unfathomable grief. The disbelief. I jotted down the relevant details so that we could perform our financial duties for him appropriately, and I told him, "Ron, I'm sorry."

I'm sorry.

How does that help? It does not even begin to convey my real feelings, my real, deep sorrow for the families left behind. And if it doesn't cover my small measure of grief for the family of a person that I had never met, how can it assuage a minute portion of the grief of the person I say it to?

I am saved. I am saved from Hell, from the cost of my own sin. I know this because I have trusted God to punish His Son Jesus for my sins instead of punishing me. I know that when I die, I WILL be in Heaven. I WILL be better off. I know that my family will miss me, but I know that if they have accepted God's power to forgive their sins, I will get to see them again in Heaven when they are finished living on earth.

But how can I apply this to my clients? I'm not worried about my own future; I know that it is secure. I am grieving for the families left behind, and for the loved one whose future is now present. I don't know where they are, and I don't know what to say to the client on the other end of the phone or on the other side of the desk. Yesterday, I hung up the phone, put my face in my hands and cried.

I'm sorry.

A hug.

It doesn't go away. It might fade for me, but there is a hole in a family now that will never again be filled.
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Jackie and Dave's wedding was absolutely wonderful! God gave me several new friends, and an amazingly fun time with new experiences that I loved. Today, I'll talk about the new experiences and tomorrow I'll tell you about my new friends.

New Experiences:
On Friday morning, all of the bridesmaids went to a nail salon and were pampered. I now have gel nails, a french manicure with a pretty design and a pedicure. Alan painted my nails, and he and his wife, Leah, own the salon and work there together. He told me that he used to be a graphic artist, and Leah worked at a nail salon. She suggested to him that they open their own store, and he said that he jumped at the chance because that meant that he would get to work with her. Yay!

Later that afternoon we practiced at the rehearsal, and all of us bridesmaids got to meet all of Dave's groomsmen. They were a pretty fun bunch of guys, always laughing and joking around. We got to meet their wives and girlfriends too, but more about that later.

After the rehearsal, we drove to the hotel where the reception would be held. We ate dinner, and I got to meet all of Jackie's extended family whom I have heard so much about through my years at college with Jackie. It felt wonderful to finally meet these people whom I felt like I already knew.

Once dinner was finished, the bridesmaids headed upstairs to the ballroom to decorate for the reception. We had been there for approximately an hour or so, when the wives (and a fiance) of the groomsmen burst through the door. They laughed and talked and worked with us. Together, we made the room beautiful, and we made new friends. I know that Jackie had been worried about moving away from her close-knit family into a place where she may not know anyone, but since many of Dave's groomsmen are also his co-workers, that meant that Jackie had automatically made friends with several of Dave's co-worker's wives. I wish you could have met these ladies. They were so fun, friendly, energetic, and silly! I wished that I were the one who would be spending more time with them. At one point I asked, "You guys act like you are more than just co-worker's with each other. What's the deal?" And they all responded at once, "We ARE more than just co-workers and wives. We're one big family." I am so thankful that God has provided another close-knit family for Jackie to be part of. He is so great!

Now that the reception room was beautiful, we bridesmaids had a job to do. We handed Jackie the car keys and told her we were on a scavenger hunt. We all piled into a car that was built for very skinny people. Amidst lots of laughter and tangled bodies, we were finally able to close the doors, and we told Jackie that her first assignment was to find a swing set. She quickly drove to a nearby park filled with wooden playground tunnels and swinging bridges. We climbed over the equipment to the swings and posed for the camera over and over.

Barefoot, we slung our sandals (renamed grassdals) over our fingers and sloshed through the sandy playground towards the car. We noticed a police car in the parking lot with it's blue lights flashing, and we decided to give Jackie her next assignment immediately--have our pictures taken with a police officer. We changed directions and walked to his car. Jackie was too nervous to talk with him, so I became the spokeslady. I explained that we were having a bachelorette party, and we needed to have our pictures taken with him. He suspiciously questioned us, but Jackie was wearing a tee-shirt that said Soon to be Mrs. L. and the wedding date was printed on the back of the shirt. He smiled handsomely, and once the flashes had vanished, he said, "Now you can put on your list that you were kicked out of the park." It turns out, the park had closed at ten pm.

We merrily squeezed into the car and found a McDonald's with a playland. We sat on Ronald's lap and climbed through the equipment, documenting our progress along with way with film. One of the workers came out, and we thought he was going to ask us to leave. Instead, he calmly began sweeping the floor, not sparing a glance for the crazy group of women climbing through the plastic tubes with shrieks of laughter.

We ended our party early at Walmart (where every party should happen) since we were all so wiped out from the previous all-nighter, and we finally climbed into our respective sleeping places around two in the morning, knowing that we needed to wake up at four in order to have our hair and dresses ready for the photographer before the wedding.

The wedding took place on Saturday. I've never been in a wedding before, so that was pretty cool for me. (Well, I was a flower girl when I was four, but I don't remember much about that except for my beautiful dress and flowers.) Amazingly enough, there were no mishaps. That's kind of sad for me also, because I enjoy funny disaster stories to tell. My dress needed to be hemmed a little more, but it was too late for that. So I informed my groomsman that I needed him to walk slowly to give me a chance to kick my dress out of the way at each step. He very obligingly crept along. His name was Rich, and he was a detective. I tried to think of a good mystery question for him to figure out during the rehearsal, but I couldn't come up with anything great.

At the reception, the bridal party walked in to the Star Wars theme song. That choked me up for a few minutes, because it made me long for Jeremy who had stayed home in Iowa with Kim and Libby. I ate the most WONDERFUL Chicken Cordon Blue that I have ever had in my entire life, and I dropped three forkfuls of salad on my dress. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am smooth.

Two groomsmen toasted the bride and groom during dinner, and I was just getting up the nerve to stand and toast, when Jackie and Dave left the table to mingle with their guests. I had a pow-wow with two of the other bridesmaids to determine if I could still make a toast even though the bride and groom were no longer at the table. We couldn't come to a satisfactory conclusion, so I asked the DJ and the photographer who were standing together chatting. (I figured they had been at enough weddings to know what would be appropriate.) They told me to wait until Jackie and Dave returned. I waited and waited and waited. Finally, they started back to the table. Just as they arrived, the table clearer took my toasting glass, along with the toasting glasses of everyone at the head table! I stood to my feet and attempted to discretely flag the lady down to ask for our glasses back, but she was not listening to me. I sank back onto my chair and laughed with the bridesmaids about the situation. Then I decided to toast with the water goblet that was still left on the table. I pushed out my chair and headed towards the dance floor with butterflies flapping away in my tummy. As I got there, the DJ pulled his microphone in and said, "Now it's time for the Father/Daughter dance." I stood at the edge of the floor in dismay and watched as Jackie and her daddy danced to "Butterfly Kisses." Then Dave and his mom danced, then lots of people danced, and I finally gave up my dream of toasting the bride and groom. It was a very sad moment for me.

But I got over it quickly when Faith and I and several of the groomsmen and their wives sneaked out to the car to decorate! I'll post pictures as soon as I have some. It was pretty awesome!

Tune in later this week for part two - "The Wedding: New Friends"
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I will be leaving for my friend Jackie's wedding in Florida, and I will not return until Monday. Woooo-peee! :-)
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Kimmie's birthday party this past weekend was a hit! Five teenage girls stayed up all night on Friday, and on Saturday we opened presents, played, then hit the mall for some major shopping.

Friday night was uneventful for me. Jeremy and I hid in our room around 9:30 PM and gave the girls the run of the house. They watched a few movies (3), ate a few pizzas (4), drank a few 2 liters of Mountain Dew (6), and did not sleep at all. (Big surprise.) I fell asleep around 10:30 or so, and Jeremy (who normally works night shift) got up to watch movies with the girls. He was really trying to steal the Mountain Dew.

Around two or three in the morning (as I heard the story), Jeremy said, "Who wants to go to Walmart?" So they all piled into the car and headed for Walmart. We won't discuss the terror striking deeply into the hearts of the Walmart employees as they heard the group entering the store. I still haven't heard all of what happened, but it was loads of fun, apparently. And of course, the girls (and Jeremy) had to obtain more Mountain Dew.

I woke up around 6:30 in the morning on Saturday to feed Liberty, and two of the five girls were already up. Kimmie was one of them. I made scrambled eggs and waffles for breakfast, and found out that the fruit salad planned for breakfast had been eaten in the middle of the well as the veggie tray that had been planned for lunch. In fact, when I surveyed my kitchen, I realized that I had not invited girls over for Kimmie's birthday, but locusts disguised as girls, Men In Black style.

Around noon, we had cake and ice cream and opened presents. One of the girls had given Kimmie several water guns. The girls squealed and immediately filled the guns at the kitchen sink and raced outside. Jeremy and I stayed behind to clean up the mess in the kitchen, but my heart was outside with the girls. After a few minutes, I found out that Jeremy was thinking the same thing, because he said, "I wish I had a water gun to surprise them with."

I wriggled my eyebrows mischievously at him, "We have a garden hose."

His face lit up. We huddled together, plotting how we could pull the hose from the garage and hook it to the outside water faucet without being caught. We finally decided that Jeremy would pull the hose from the garage into our bedroom. I would casually wander outside to "check" on the girls, and he would lower the hose through our bedroom window until I could attach it to the spigot on the outside of the house.

Our plan was working wonderfully, until we got to the dining room. The girls had split into two warring factions, and team one suddenly burst through the sliding doors on the deck and into the room. We thought they had discovered us, but they were too preoccupied with filling their guns up at the kitchen sink to notice us frozen in the middle of the room holding coils of the long, green, garden hose. After considering the situation, and realizing that team one was in the kitchen and team two was in the back yard, Jeremy and I raced for the front door, desperately hoping to reach the outside faucet before any scouts discovered our plan.

We screwed the hose to the faucet and were adjusting the sprayer for optimum fire-power when Kimmie walked up to us. Our backs faced the lawn, so her voice made us jump, "When you're finished hooking that hose up, can we have some water, please?" she asked, so politely.

"Why, sure!" I sweetly responded. The poor girl didn't realized what she had just asked for. Jeremy and I grinned at each other.

"AAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!" I yelled as I spun around with the sprayer flowing full-blast. The semi-circle of waiting girls scattered before us!

"Aaaaahhhh!" They all screamed as they ran in various directions around the yard. Jeremy kept my hose from kinking as I chased them back and forth. Finally, drenched, they sought sanctuary at the neighbor's house across the street.

A successful ambush = a successful birthday party!
Here are some pictures from a couple months ago. Libby is currently seven months old, but in these pics she is five months.

Our mystery mountain has turned into a mysterious pathway of mud.

I came home from work on Thursday, and the mountain had been used (by a machine that left giant tread marks) to fill in a trench that had formed in our front yard. I'm guessing that our builder was the one who brought the mountain and turned it into a pathway because another house in our neighborhood that was built by our builder also had a large machine pushing dirt around in its yard when I drove by.

I wonder if he is allowed to come onto our property without permission and fill in our trench? I am also missing our trench. It provided hours of entertainment for our family in the form of jokes and stories created starring The Trench. Now that it's gone, what will we do for fun?

Ooh, I know! We can dig it up again!
Yesterday afternoon, Kimmie fed and played with Liberty while I attacked the rain forest in our front yard with a lawn mower.

Recent rains (read torrential flood waters) have transformed all grassy areas into swamp-like mush, but our yard has dried out enough that I was able to push the mower and only sink up to my ankles in the mud. What I did not realize was that the self-propulsion part of the lawn mower is not working. This means that I get to pull out my manly upper arm muscles (I keep them in the top drawer of my dresser) and wrestle the mower up and down the steep valley that leads into our ditch. Oh, and throw my back out.

We now have a beautifully manicured front lawn. Well, mostly. The machine ran out of gas about three quarters of the way through. And boy, was I ever glad! I looked like a garden statue water fountain with all of the perspiration (girls don't sweat) running in glistening rivulets from my forehead. (See, even that can sound beautiful! Just don't come close enough to smell me! :-)
I thought I wouldn't be able to post until Monday, but I have a few minutes and I want to share a conversation that Kimmie and I had in the car on the way into town.

Kimmie and I were playing the "Glad Game" where I say something really bad, and Kimmie has to respond with something happy about it.

Missy - "Oh no, it's raining today."
Kimmie - "Oh, good! Now we won't get sunburned!"

Missy - "Oh no, our neighbor's house burned down."
Kimmie - "Oh, good! Now they can stay with us and we can become better friends!"

Missy - "Oh no, a meteor just hit that business and smashed it to pieces."
Kimmie - "Oh, good! Now we can have a rebuilding party!"

Missy - "Did you know we're going to eat green beans tonight."
Kimmie - (silence)

Missy - "Kimmie?"
Kimmie - "Well...I just can't think of anything good about that."
I love living and working in a small town.

Our town is preparing for a three day celebration that attracts tourists from all over the world. This means that all other aspects of life stop so that we can focus only on what is important -- The Festival.

For example, our little office, normally known for it's financial aspects, has become a trading post over the past three days. It began on Monday morning with Jody, a short, vivacious, poodle-haired woman in her early thirties who bounded through the front door and called, "Yoo-hoo! Cra-aig!" She lofted a real bowling pin painted metallic gold and tied with a red, white and blue ribbon over her head and performed a quick victory dance. Craig emerged from his office with a bemused smile on his face. "Hi, Jody," he greeted her. Once he sighted the bowling pin, he grinned widely. "I've heard about that! So this is it, huh? The famous trophy." I squinted from my office to read the placard fastened to the pin. It read

1st place:
Mother - Son Bowling
"Ty will be so proud," Craig was telling Jody. Ty is Craig and Kathy's youngest son; he is nine. Jody announced that the pin was designed to be placed on the fireplace mantel at home. I smothered a laugh as I imagined Kathy's reaction to the hideous gold bowling pin sitting on her mantel forever. Craig quickly rescued Kathy's home decor by telling Jody that the pin would have to stay in our front office for a while so that he could show it off to all passing through. I'm sure Kathy properly thanked him that afternoon when he told her the story at home. She came in on Tuesday to view the trophy and laughed with me over the idea of keeping it on her mantel at home.
The next visitor to our office brought a bag full of costume accessories for the parade. The bag made its way home with Craig that night.

Our third visitor stopped by to ask it we had a hat he could borrow. I wondered why he would think that we would have a hat in our office, when lo and behold, Craig pulled a dark blue hat that snapped in front out of his desk drawer!

On Tuesday, Jody stopped by again. This time with another lady named Amy and an eight year old girl. "Yoo-hoo! Cra-aig!" Jody yodeled. I rolled my chair back from my desk so that I would have a better view through my office doorway. I had already learned that where Jody is, the action is. "We need a Dutch costume." I heard her loudly and clearly...our neighbors across the street probably did also. The hat incident on Monday had already taught me not to doubt the power of Craig's desk, so I waited for him to emerge with a costume. Instead, he groaned, prompting Jody to harangue him good-naturedly about responding "how high" when she said "jump." She also spoke volubly to Amy about any subject that popped into her head. I found myself giggling as her sentences went on and on. She poked fun at herself so easily and joked and TALKED. A constant stream of fun proceeded from her mouth while Craig escaped to his car to find a Dutch costume. Once back in the office with a costume on a hanger, Craig told the eight year old that she needed to try the outfit on and do a Dutch dance for us all. The girl peered up at him with serious blue eyes. Really? Her countenance spoke for her. Craig laughed, "I'm just joking." The girl did try the costume on over her clothing and jumped around slightly. We all laughed and clapped. And the trio left, their liveliness echoing behind them.

Kathy breezed through the door next, bearing large black wooden shoes. I assumed they were for Craig, but she told me, "Someone will be by to pick these shoes up soon. Blom is their last name, I think." She hurried out.

Amanda came by, her light blond hair cut into a cute bob. "I'm just dropping this off for Kathy," she sang out and handed me a small plastic bag tied shut with Kathy's name scrawled on the outside. "She knows I'm dropping it off." She smiled at me and was quickly gone.

Craig's parents came next carrying lawn chairs. "We're just leaving these here ahead of time for the parade," they explained to me. They took our full recycle bin out with them when they left.

Kathy rushed in again. "Oh, Amanda was here already?" she said as she saw the plastic bag bearing her name. "Well, I have something for Amanda, too." She left another small plastic bag in my care for Amanda and departed.

"Hi, I'm here for some shoes?" a young woman said as the bells on the door jingled behind her. Her short reddish brown hair styled softly around her face and accentuated her light tan. Her blush colored shirt and khaki shorts seemed perfect for the sunshiny day. I examined her broad face quickly and decided that she looked like a friendly person. A comfortable air surrounded her. I considered challenging her for the password Blom, but instead I announced with a smile, "I've got just the pair!" and I turned to the black shoes on the counter behind me. They were heavier than I thought they would be, and they were warm, rough and comfortable feeling when I slid my hand inside them and lifted them into her waiting hands.

Amanda came in as the young woman was leaving. "Did Kathy leave something here for me?" She asked as she searched the front desk for a package. "She did," I replied. "Hold on just a minute." I walked into my office and picked up the new plastic bag from my desk. "Here you go." She took the bag with thanks and quickly left.

Today, Kathy breezed in with a load of drinks. She stocked the office refrigerator in preparation for the parade tomorrow, and invited me to use the office as our family's base camp during the next few days. "Feel free to change here, store things here and keep any food or drinks that you want in the fridge." When I passed that information on to Jeremy, he scoffed. "They don't know the purpose for celebrations like this, do they?" he questioned. His mind is fixated on all of the good food that we can buy from the street vendors. He's not going to be eating food from a fridge.
Yesterday around 8:00 pm, as the girls and I drove home from Kimmie's tennis game, we passed a mysterious mound of dirt in front of our house. This mound is about four or five feet high and maybe six feet wide. Just thick black dirt sitting mainly in our front yard and slightly on the road as well.


Why is it there?
Who put it there?
When did it get there?

These are all viable questions to ask...but who should we ask?

Oh, goody! I get to be a detective!