April 4, 2012
Laus Deo! Laus Deo! And I say again Laus Deo! For the last seven days. The first time I really noticed this phrase it was in an email Glenn Beck sent me. The salutation said simply Laus Deo! When I saw it I thought I should probably know what it meant but couldn’t quite place it. So I googled it. Laus Deo is Latin for Praise Be to God and it is also the inscription on the top of the Washington Monument. I loved it and from that moment on I stole Glenn’s idea and began to include the phrase in my correspondence.
For the last seven days those two words keep coming to mind. As you read through this you will not understand at first but hang in there you will.
A lot can happen in seven days. It was exactly one week ago today that I was sitting just where I am now tired and frustrated asking God for something new. Later that night I told friends about my frustration and how I had sat that afternoon for an hour on the bridge over the creek that runs through our property just praying. I was restless. After twenty-eight years my job no longer felt right. It was a good job though with great perks. I could never walk away.
The next morning one hour into my shift I was told to join a conference call at ten. I did my updates, which consisted of recording traffic reports for Memphis and Nashville then dialed into the call. Within about sixty seconds of hearing who else was on the line I knew. I had just aired my last traffic report on a station that had been as much a part of me as my trademark name, U-Turn LaVern, for over twenty-eight years.
From that initial, “we’re going in a different direction…” I heard little else. My friends asked me if I saw it coming and honestly? It’s radio. I had seen it coming since I started the job in 1984. There was never a guarantee.
The rest of the day was spent on the phone letting a few friends know what had happened so they would hear it from me, not the wind. It wasn’t until the next day, after signing my separation agreement that it really sunk in. I was off the air in Nashville for the first time in nearly thirty years.
The next twenty-four hours were tough. Slowly I began to resolve the circumstances in my mind. I had asked God for something new. I was just hoping to find it on my terms. Since God appeared to be insisting He knew best, I prayed for direction and started looking through the job listings.
As Sunday rolled around part of me just wanted to stay home. I teach teens at my church and I knew I would have to fill them in. I didn’t want to. They thought my job was cool.
I walked into the church looking for my son’s coach. I knew I needed to get upstairs to talk to the kids but my footballer had been at a football combine all weekend. I wanted to give his coach an update. As soon as he walked up I started filling him in. My son had done well and I was anxious to see a big smile on the coach’s face but instead he just stood there. It took him a moment but he finally said “Did you get a text this morning?” I am sure from the look on my face it was obvious I hadn’t so he continued. You could tell he had something to tell me that he could hardly bear to say. He told me one of my son’s teammates had been killed in a car accident the night before. Matt Waller, Gator to his friends, just sixteen years old had lost control and hit a tree.
I couldn’t wrap my mind around what he was telling me. It didn’t seem real but as he continued, relaying what few details he knew it started to sink in. I gave him and his wife a hug and told them I would see them later in the day at the high school.
I had to let my son know. He was still at the combine with his dad. I called my husband and he assured me he would wait until he could get our son alone to give him the news. Then I went upstairs to see if the news had made it to the teen center. It had and the kids were having the same reaction as me. A look of stunned silence wrapped around them. As we started the class telling them about my job situation was completely forgotten.
As it so happens, the lesson for the day centered on how sometimes bad things happen for good. The obvious focus quickly became, how do we see that now? I agreed with the kids. I could not step away from the hearts of the parents that had just lost a son. I told them it may be in heaven as they look back on this life before they can smile and say, “I see,” but I said we will see great good as those who loved Matt encircle his family and friends and love them through this.
Still the questions and focus returned again and again to the horribleness of it all. Finally I shared with them an illustration, one of the best I have ever heard but I hate to use. It seems when this story comes up it is because something terrible has happened and we are trying to make sense of it all.
It’s a story told to me by a grieving mother. She had just lost her six-month old son to SIDS, a son that ironically would be nearly the same age as Gator right about now.
As I visited with her after her son’s death I was struck by her strength. I was a mess, absolutely overcome with grief for my friend. As we stood there talking she told me a story her pastor had shared with her that week. She said we have to think about life as a river. It flows easily along most of the time but occasionally a ripple will form from the pebbles that fall into every life along the way. At times there are splashes when larger intrusions fall into our lives and occasionally there is a boulder so large it threatens to stop the flow of the river forever. But the river of life is strong and as time wears on even the edges of the boulder will smooth as the water struggles at first but continues to flow. She said those boulders are always with us. They are not forgotten like the splashes and ripples of life but even their edges smooth and so do our hearts, changed forever but able to continue on.
As we dismissed class I decided to tell the kids about my job. I wanted them to see how extraordinarily insignificant it was. It was nothing more than a ripple or a splash and maybe even a blessing and an opportunity to take in the view from a different path.
That night we all converged on the High School, Goodpasture Christian School. The only thing tougher than watching children grieve for one of their own is watching parents and siblings grieve for a child taken long before their time.
The evening was long and difficult as the long goodbye began.
The last few days have been filled with stories, tears and overwhelming grief. The kids have spent much of the last few days sitting in Gator’s empty parking spot at school. It has become a makeshift memorial to the young man with the mischievous smile.
They put a cross in front of the tree that claimed their friend. Car and truck windows are covered with messages of love and remembrance and they are now preparing for the funeral that is being held at the high school. Matt and all the football players will wear their jerseys to the memorial and I suppose the number 59 will be retired as Gator takes it to heaven.
The last seven days? The primary election continues. Tornados hit Texas. There was a campus shooting in California and the Wildcats won the NCAA.
And so I say…
Laus Deo! For doors that close as gates are thrown open.
Laus Deo! For friends who hold us up when we don’t have the strength to stand on our own.
Laus Deo! For the God in heaven who smoothes the edges of the heaviest boulders that crash into our lives.
Laus Deo! For the precious souls that pass through this world and let us see heaven in their smiles.
And with a heavy heart of grief I struggle but still I say… Laus Deo! For the last seven days.
September 26, 1995 – April 1, 2012