Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Gold Seal

I hope you’re prepared for Christmas. Ready or not, here it comes. You may still be looking forward to giving thanks, but Target and WalMart have moved on. Everywhere you go, decorations are going up. I am usually diametrically opposed to bringing out the Christmas stuff before the turkey is digested, but this year I decided that starting the celebration a little early wouldn’t hurt a thing. Caroline and I made a Christmas playlist on our iPods last night. The worshipful music of Christmas really gets me in the mood.

For our family, a typical Christmas season includes at least one trip to Hallmark for cards and wrapping paper. In my opinion, greeting cards are one of the biggest rackets on the planet. Those suckers can cost upwards of $5 a piece! But, can’t a well-timed and well-worded card just make your day? Maybe even your year? I think so. And, you know it is a Hallmark card when you see that gold seal on the envelope. If you don’t recognize the gold seal, you probably didn’t grow up in America. If there is one thing we are good at as a nation, it is advertising. We know our brand names here. And, Hallmark’s signature is that gold seal. It is supposed to be a symbol of the quality of the card—a mark of its worth and value.

But, have you ever thought that the gold seal might just be a little misleading? The outside may have a gold seal, but it doesn’t guarantee that the card inside is truly a Hallmark card. Even if it is, the card inside could be less than tasteful . Or, maybe, the person giving you the card has ill-intent. Maybe what they wrote inside the card wasn’t very nice. My point is you really don’t know until you open the envelope. The outside of things can be very misleading. Things aren’t always what they seem.

On the day that we buried Audrey, I faced the cemetery with trepidation. I had been in so much shock that I had wanted nothing to do with the physical aspect of the funeral preparation and burial. It was just too hard for me. Bryan and our dads did the difficult work of meeting with the funeral director and making decisions. So, while I helped plan the celebration of Audrey’s life that we held in the church, I had essentially no idea what was going to take place at the cemetery. Feeling like a lamb walking to the slaughter, I took a deep breath and approached the tiny coffin under the green tent, all the while trying to understand that it was really my little girl inside. I don’t remember anyone else around me. I hope someone held my husband’s and my children’s hands. Maybe I did. All I remember is making a beeline for my baby.

I had chosen not to see her after the accident. I had put her in the car seat of my friend’s van on that morning, kissed her goodbye, and blown her a kiss as I watched the vehicle drive away. I remember very clearly the smile on her face. That was the last time I laid eyes on her physical body. There had been three days of separation from her since that fateful moment, and I was coming near to her body for the last time on this earth. It was surreal.

At the side of the casket, I collapsed to my knees and placed my arms over it. I remember asking the orientation of her head and feet. I wanted to hold her so badly. My mother knelt down beside me. All at once, I remember being aware of the casket. It was white with a textured fake-velvet look to it. It felt like a cheap box of chocolates. I was horrified. I shot a distressed look at the man from the cemetery. It seemed like such an unfit way to send my child out of the world. I was always fastidious about the way I groomed and dressed her. The three matching dresses I had just purchased for my daughters for Christmas that year—smocked with snowmen—had arrived just in time to bury Audrey in one. My airways were constricting as I came to the realization that I was going to have to bury her in this crummy, cheap box. Sensing my disgust, the funeral director said, “Ma’am, I’m so sorry. It was all we had in stock. We just don’t need coffins this size very often. I told your husband that we could order something better, but we would have had to delay the funeral.”

Letting that news sink in, my mother and I knelt in silence for a while. Then, I saw her reach around the side of the coffin and pick at something. She began to chuckle. “Oh, God,” she said, “There is a gold sticker on the side of this thing! Do you mind if I take it off?” Some of the last few minutes at my daughter’s side were spent picking a stupid little gold sticker off of her coffin. It was one of the weirdest moments of my life.

I wish that were the end of the weirdness at the cemetery, but it wasn’t. Our pastor said some lovely and truth-filled things (that I admittedly don’t remember), and that was the only good thing about the burial. After his brief sermon was over, an odd woman emerged with a cage full of white pigeons. (Apparently, this is a service offered free of charge by the funeral home and was billed as something that may be “concrete” and meaningful for my children, so my husband, in his grief, said, “Why not?”) The woman made a corny speech about releasing the birds and symbolically releasing Audrey’s spirit. Then she proceeded to pull out a battery-operated jam box and play the reggae version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” (About now you may be thinking, “Are you kidding?” Trust me, I wish I was.) I wanted to shove the woman, bless her heart. She really was trying to help. But, this could not have been more incongruous considering the hopeful, Biblical service we had just had at church. And, it could not have been less of a representation of our family’s heart or personality than it was. The woman handed the birds to Bryan and I and the girls and then coached us when to let them go. I hate birds, by the way. I didn’t want to touch them. But, I was trying to cooperate. I think I may have shaken my head and laughed. Again, I was horrified.

I don’t want to give the impression that any of the weird things about the burial were Bryan’s fault. Really, he was merely letting the funeral home do what they were supposed to do best. But, it was devoid of the meaning we needed to feel victorious over the death of our child. In short, it felt like a cheap representation of the truth. The irony was that a gold seal, which usually indicates quality and worth, symbolized for me the utter emptiness of the world’s take on death.

Things aren’t always what they seem. Never had that been so glaringly apparent to me as it was kneeling next to my baby’s coffin that day. God was already helping me to see that though this looked like the end, it was indeed the beginning of something very significant. Not only was it the beginning of Audrey’s eternal life unmarred by sin and death, but for me it was the commencement of a journey to gain an eternal perspective and to live with eternal hope. It looked as if I were putting my daughter into the ground in an ugly cardboard box, when the truth is that she will be coming out of that box in a glorified body on resurrection day!

I don’t think I had ever given that a thought before. Not only does the Bible promise Heaven for those who trust Christ, it also promises that when Christ returns, there will be bodily resurrection for believers. And, it promises a human existence on a resurrected earth—the New Earth. Read Paul’s diatribe on bodily resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. He says we are to be pitied more than anyone if we only hope in Christ for this life and we do not believe we will be raised just as Christ was raised (v 19). Verses 42-43 say of the resurrection of the dead, “Sown in corruption, raised in incorruption; sown in dishonor (as I feel Audrey was buried), raised in glory; sown in weakness, raised in power.”

That gold sticker has come to symbolize for me the stamp of the world on death. It is the world’s seal of approval on the hollow (or, at the very least, shallow) explanation of what happens to a person after they die. There are many beliefs, but only one that is true, only one that comforts. And, I have found that even amongst Christians, we have not spent near enough time studying the subject. It is uncomfortable and inconvenient. We figure we can put it off. But, our hollow explanations do not cut it when we are putting a loved one’s body in the ground. We must know more. That is why I have made it a passion of mine to study what the Bible has to say about what awaits us. And, I am so excited about what I have learned. It has changed my life. Will you let it change yours?

As we approach Thanksgiving, I hope you will join me in celebrating the amazing gift of eternal life we have inherited as believers in Jesus. “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” (Hebrews 12:28)

And, as we approach the Christmas season, let us do so with great joy. Let us remember that Christ’s birth was the answer to the world’s groaning since the first sin. Emmanuel: God with us. The fulfillment of God’s promise to send the Messiah is proof that He will also fulfill His promise of Christ’s return. May we learn to long for it!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Does Time Heal All Wounds?

Bryan told me that our friend Tim recently took his 11-year-old, Hannah, to a homecoming rally. Tim lamented that, instead of hanging out with her like he expected, he ended up waiting for her while she talked with her friends. Poor daddy! I remember sitting next to Hannah’s car seat when we first became friends with Tim and Bethany. Hannah was just a 10-month-old, chubby ball of cuteness. I loved everything about her. (Still do!) She learned to walk on top of my kitchen table in our first apartment. We fed her Oreos late into the evening to keep her occupied while we played cards. Probably not the most responsible thing, but we adored her! I wanted a baby of my own so badly then. That was when Bryan and I were just wide-eyed dreamers. Laughing about how things change, Bryan commented, “We are old now.” Yeah, in some ways, I guess we are getting there. But, it’s against my will! Lately, I’m so mad about time passing the way it does! But, I’m not mad for the reasons of the average Joe.

One night, as I was taking a bath, I thought I heard and saw one of the kids at the bathroom door. They often get out of bed after being tucked in. But, I realized I was just imagining things. My mind ran away from me and began to draw pictures and create scenes…I wondered, if it were Audrey at my door, how tall would she be? Would her head now be doorknob-high or higher? I tried to imagine her standing there in her nightgown. What would it be like if I could still call her name out loud, even if I could call it in my “mom” voice? I’d say, “Audrey, why are you out of your bed? I just tucked you in.” And, she’d say something like, “Mommy, I’m really thirsty,”…to which I’d reply, “Go get yourself a sip of water, and then get back upstairs.” As she scuttled away, I’d yell after her, “I love you! I’ll be there to check on you in a few minutes!” Then, I’d go up in my nightgown and hug her one more time and smother her with kisses for good measure.

Coming back to my cold, hard reality that night, I began to ponder the passing of time and getting “old”. I do the same today. Today is Audrey’s Heavenly birthday. It is the day we struggle to celebrate, the day she entered glory and ran into Jesus’ embrace. Since Audrey’s death, three years have gone by against my will…three years of time and space traveling in the wrong direction. Three years far away from the time I could remember what it felt like to hold Audrey and hear her voice. Three years since I took care of her every need day in and day out. Three years since I saw her play with her sisters. Three years since I had three children and the world seemed right to me. And, contrary to the wisdom of the world, I am not one step closer to accepting her death. If you read my very first blog, then you know that last year, at the second anniversary of her death, we had not yet purchased a permanent marker for her grave. Another year has gone by, and still I cannot bring myself to buy one.

Sure, I can function. I eat and sleep…most of the time. I hold down the fort and even want to think about my future some days. I hope for more children. I figure if that doesn’t happen I can live with it. I find joy in things. I cry a lot, but I can manage it, even if I have to live this way for the rest of my life. I have loads of fun with Caroline and Mary Claire. I dream about Bryan and I finally moving along in the same groove for the same kingdom purpose, and I get excited about what God has in store. Nevertheless, I think to myself, “I would love to know what my life would be like now if the accident never happened.” When I start to try to imagine it, I feel defeated before I begin. It is a useless train of thought. Agitated, I begin to rage helplessly against time-- not because I care that I am getting wrinkles or that I can no longer tolerate caffeine after 4 p.m. if I want to get a good night’s sleep. I rage against these three years because they seem to have taken me farther and farther away from my baby. It’s like I was put on a boat I didn’t want to get on and set adrift, only to float far away from where I wanted to go.

They say “Time heals all wounds.” Uh, no it doesn’t. “D-U-E, duh!” Caroline recently said (and so hilariously misspelled). No, time has not healed this wound. And, I don’t think it will. I’m not being pessimistic or fatalistic. I’m just being honest. I know what people mean by this phrase. I have experienced other deaths in my life. And, to some extent, time has lessened the sting. But, those deaths were in the proper order of the universe. And, those people were not essential to the fulfillment of my every hope and dream. I have experienced other kinds of loss—even great loss—but so far I have had either the hope of earthly restoration or the promise that another dream will be able to fill the shoes of the one I could not have. Not so with my precious baby girl. Nobody, no thing can take her place. How is time supposed to make me more ok with this?

If time won’t heal this gaping wound, then what will? We know Jesus was a great healer. But, we probably recall how He made paralyzed people walk, gave sight to the blind, and even healed a woman who had been bleeding for years. That really isn’t the kind of healing I need. My heart is irrevocably broken. Good thing God remembered to mention that Jesus heals broken hearts, too. In fact, God says that is one of the reasons He sent Jesus in the first place. Isaiah 61:1 says, “The Spirit of the Lord God is on me (Jesus) because the Lord has…sent me to heal the brokenhearted…” That is good news. I don’t have to count on time to make things better. God has planned for a real, live person (a loving and omnipotent one at that) to take care of my heart. Psalm 30:2 says, “Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you healed me.”

If Jesus heals the brokenhearted, though, then why do I still feel so awful? I know I belong to Him, and I have cried out to Him time and again to heal me. Why do I still grieve as I do? Why does it feel like I am walking along in life with a gaping hole blown through my chest? I think it is because I am. Other translations of Isaiah 61:1 read, “The Lord has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted.” And, Psalm 147:3 says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Based on my personal experience, this wording makes more sense to me. Binding up a wound is a lot different than making it magically go away. Eventually, the wound closes up. The bleeding stops. Maybe the pain subsides a bit. But, at the very least, the scar remains. The bigger the original wound, the bigger the scar. I don’t know much about major injuries, but I don’t think I am wrong in assuming that sometimes, if you survive a terrible injury, you may have lifelong pain associated with it. It may not have killed you. The doctors may have wrapped it up, put it in a cast, or even performed surgeries. But, that wound may not be totally healed this side of Heaven. And, so it may be with a broken heart. At least it seems that way to me.

I really don’t mean that to be a downer. If God wanted to wave a magic wand and make my pain go away, I am sure He could. But, I am learning that if I can understand what God promises me—what I can count on Him to do—and what He doesn’t promise me, then I can live with less disappointment and bitterness and instead see God as loving and sovereign. I can see Him as someone who made plans to address my needs (and Audrey’s) and who has much bigger plans in mind for me than what I can perceive now.

Knowing what I do about God being the “binder of my wounds”, I still have a love/hate relationship with time. On the one hand, it has taken me far away from the dream I once had and has been the bearer of empty promises to heal me. But, on the other hand, time is the one thing taking me into the future God has in store for me. And, that future includes my baby girl! Though it is contrary to everything I can perceive and feel, the more time that passes, the closer I am to Audrey. Every day I live I am one day closer to seeing her again. One day closer to watching her walk through my doorway and hearing her ask me for something only I can provide. One day closer to seeing her daddy toss her in the air and kiss her cheek. One day closer to seeing Caroline’s and Mary Claire’s arms lovingly wrapped around Audrey’s neck so tight she cannot escape. One day closer to introducing her to adorable cousins who have been born since her death. One day closer to telling her everything I’ve wanted to say…like how desperately I tried to protect her, how sincerely I enjoyed her, how completely I wanted her, and how resolutely I am looking forward to everything God has planned for us…

When I consider that time is the only thing between me and my future with Audrey, time looks less and less like the hapless boat that took me away from her. Instead, the years ahead start to look like the hurdles I have to clear before I reach the finish line. Maybe someday I’ll be able to face the anniversary of Audrey’s death and see these hurdles in my rearview mirror as accomplishments instead of ominous reminders of what might have been.

Again, I let my mind wander. I imagine running and running, bounding over giant hurdles, year by year, sweat beading up on my forehead, gaining momentum with each step, all the while keeping my eyes on the prize: my beautiful little girl, smiling from ear to ear, shouting my name. She is waiting for me. She is cheering for me. Her arms are open wide.

Bring on the wrinkles!

I love you, Audrey. Happy Heavenly birthday! I am too weak of heart and mind to imagine all of the good things you are up to, too full of doubt to believe God in every moment as I would like, and too selfish to be as happy for you as I should. But, thankfully, God won’t let that keep you from enjoying His perfection until I get there and see it with my own eyes. Tell Thomas I’m jealous! Tell Jesus I need to touch His hands! Say a little prayer for Mommy. It’s hard waiting down here. But, there’s only time between me and you, and time is in God’s hands.

(This video was taken at Mary Claire's preschool Thanksgiving program just two days before Audrey died.  Bryan said, "Audrey, sing Daddy a song."  And, this is what she sang.  Many, many of our friends and family members have enjoyed this video with us.  I will always consider it a gift from God and a reminder that He is indeed "Strong!".)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Battle for my Heart

Our family has a new obsession: snakes, cockroaches, rodents, raccoons, alligators, and wasps. Weird? Yes, but nothing less than cool when they are removed and relocated by the nicest punk biker dude in Louisiana. Billy the Exterminator (on A&E) has been visiting our family room every evening for a few weeks now. My girls just love to watch him catch icky critters. Bryan hates snakes, but he also has a strange attraction to being scared by them on TV. I can play along, as long as I don’t have a need to call Billy to MY house.

Wouldn’t you know that last week I started hearing suspicious scratching and scampering noises in the attic over my bedroom! The first time I heard it, I nudged Bryan, “Do you hear that?!” I asked. He snored on, largely ignoring me. I thought to myself, “I have got to quit watching that show.” Then, again the next night, I heard the same sounds. This time, I made sure to wake Bryan up for the action. Yep. Definitely something up there. We began to imagine what kind of awesome creature might have found its way into our house. Maybe a possum? A raccoon? We decided we needed to investigate. Bryan texted me the next day, “Billy is out killing roaches in a mobile home. Do you have the number to another exterminator?” We coped with humor until we found out that our visitors were not so cool. We have rats. Come on friends (who make a little fun of me for keeping my house so clean) (you know who you are), laugh it up. I am the neatest neat nick on the planet, and I have rats. Yuck!

Maybe I would have kept laughing, despite being grossed out, if the next day had not added more trouble. I swear, when it rains, it pours. November is already a hard time for us, as we face the anniversary of Audrey’s death on the 14th. So, when we found ourselves responding to my eight-year-old Caroline’s severe abdominal pain with a trip to the ER, you can imagine where our minds went. We suspected that the antibiotic we had given her may have been making her tummy hurt, but we were surprised by the crocodile tears that preceded vomit and pain so great it made her yell, “Oh, God, let me die! Somebody help me!” Those are words that would break any mother’s heart and buckle her knees. Caroline looked pretty sick, and my mind went all kinds of places it shouldn’t have gone. As I watched her lying on the x-ray table, her face a pale shade of gray and her eyes rolling back in her head, I fought the fear of losing her, too. It was excruciating. Thank God for my strong husband who was also struggling but who helped to hold me up. With raised eyebrows, he firmly encouraged me to “keep it together.” By the grace of God, a little IV fluid and some anti-nausea drugs seemed to get things under control. After I knew the real danger had passed and Caroline was acting like herself again, I began to ponder how much one person can take. God, how much can one person take?

When we got home, Caroline was feeling great, but I collapsed on the couch. We had just picked up Mary Claire from a friend’s house, and she was anxious to tell us about her school day. She had been the “star student of the week.” On Monday, she took a poster full of pictures to school and shared about her family, friends, and interests. Then, at the end of the week, her teacher directed her classmates each to write her a personal letter. Bryan, Caroline, and I all lay on the couch like battle-weary soldiers while Mary Claire, grinning from ear to ear, sat on our fireplace hearth reading the letters to us one by one.

I could not believe the fearless way these children expressed themselves. Whether they were discussing common interests (“I am a Longhorn fan, too. They really need to do better.”), lavishing compliments (“I like your hair. You do make people laugh. You have a good voice in music. You rock me out!”), expressing sympathy (“I am so sorry that your sister is at Heaven. Do you miss her?”), or providing encouragement (“You spread joy in the class. I like that in you. Keep it up!”), they did it with abandon. The simple purity of these children’s soft hearts broke my heart, increasingly hardened by the day’s events. As I listened, I wept, and God’s Spirit began the work of mending the damage incurred.

During the next few days, I found myself still feeling traumatized by the trip to the ER. Then, the exterminators showed up with traps. Oh, yeah…on with the business of getting rid of the rats. As my mother said, “Off with their heads!” I asked the professional rodent trapper, “Will I hear the traps shutting?” He said, “Probably not. But, one man did hear it and then the rat flopped around for a while.” Are you serious? I was going to be sleeping in a house of horrors. I was totally disgusted. And, again, I was asking God, “REALLY?????” To top that off, the exterminator said to me on the way out of the door, “You should probably call a plumber today. Your hot water heater is leaking.” Sure it is.

Weeks like this make me want to crawl in a hole. Pull the covers up over my head. Wave the white flag. Cut my losses. In short, they make me lose heart. But, I consider the precious letters written by Mary Claire’s classmates and I am reminded that at one time my heart was purer, more hopeful, more willing to risk, more free. And, I see this whole thing for what it really is: a strategic, sustained assault on my heart. I have often been called a “Pollyanna”. Indeed, I am most inclined to look on the bright side of things. But, instead of that being a quality that people admire, it has often been criticized. I have been told to “manage my expectations” and have been called naive. From the beginning, there has been a steady assault on my heart. To this day, Satan is trying hard to squash what God created in me. The enemy wants me to give up, quit hoping, quit believing God. At the very least, he wants me to be so afraid to try anything or take a risk that he can keep me at bay. Well, I’m onto him. “Nice try, Satan,” as Joyce Meyer says.

I’ve talked before about Satan’s goal for those of us who are already saved. If he cannot win our souls for eternity, then while we are here he wishes to render us useless. He wants to take us out of the game. Essentially, he wants to kill us while we are still alive. How does he go about accomplishing that? He assaults our hearts. The Bible says to “guard your heart, for it is the source of life.” (Proverbs 4:23) Did you catch that? The source of life. The enemy wants to crush the very LIFE that God intends for us. Jesus said he came that “we might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) We have lost the ability to experience abundant life when we have lost heart.

Some may ask, as I have, “Why should I keep trying to guard my heart when there is a constant barrage of difficult circumstances that I cannot control?” Some may lament, as Bryan did this week, “It feels like I am fighting a war with a cardboard box for a shield.” But, I am encouraged by Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8) We may feel like we are hanging on by a thread, but if we can see Satan’s schemes for what they are and if we can refute the lies we hear, we can keep our hearts pure. We can continue to believe the truth and to hope and to risk. And, then we can count on the glorious reward promised to us: We will see God. I think that is as much a promise for the present day as it is for our future in Heaven. If we can ward off the assault of the enemy, we can see God, even in the midst of the most challenging circumstances. And, He is beautiful.

So, call me Pollyanna, but I am going to recount the story of my week from a different perspective. I am really grateful that we have the money to pay the exterminator and that there is somebody out there crazy enough to catch rats for a living. The ER doctors and nurses were absolutely wonderful with Caroline and gave us everything we needed. Despite all of the complaints, we still have access to excellent medical care in this country. I may not like the governmental ideology of “redistribution of wealth”, but if God decides to help out the urgent care center, the hospital, the pest control company, and the water heater company in one week with our money, who am I to complain? He gave the money to us anyway. And, I am overwhelmed by thankfulness for our church family who responded immediately to my request for prayer while Caroline was sick. They have been tremendously encouraging, knowing that we are facing the anniversary of a tragic death and battling many fears.

Yes, my heart is under attack. But, I can see it for what it is. And, I know I have to fight with all that is in me. I heard Sarah Palin speak at the Women of Joy conference in October, and she said, “Overcomers keep a soft heart in a tough world.” This kind of attitude is not for the weak. But, I want to be an overcomer, not a victim. God is calling me personally to a life marked by a deeper thankfulness and a closer walk with Him. He is calling me to prayer. Not the kind I already know how to do, but the kind that is disciplined, fervent, and recorded for the purpose of watching for results. God is aware of the assault on my heart, and yet he is drawing me under His wing, asking me to let Him keep it pure so that I can see Him. How about you?

(We would all do well to remember a time when our hearts were not sin-free, but soft. I have included the following letters from Mary Claire’s classmates because if I don’t repeat them in their entirety, I cannot do them justice. I hope that reading them will bless your heart, maybe make you shed a tear like they did me, and make you wonder why we don’t talk to each other like this every day. Guard your heart! Blessings to you.)

Dear Mary Claire,

I did not know that you like animals. I am so, so, so, so, so sorry that your sister Audrey passed away. I have a baby cousin, too. You bring joy to us! I love the picture that you drew.

Your friend,

Dear Mary Claire,

I did not know that you like cats. You are a nice friend. You do your best work. I like dogs and cats, too. Do you like rabbits? Do you want to come to my house? Do you like the beach? I do like the beach. I like the picture of the kitten.

Your friend,

Dear Mary Claire,

I am sorry about your baby sister. She is so cute! I learned you like dogs and cats. Do you like dolphins, too? You are very helpful and a good friend. You are also compassionate, pretty, and joyful. I love art, too! Do you want me to make a self-portrait of you when I get home today? I like the picture of your dad and your sister.

Your friend,

Dear Mary Claire,

You like kittens. Why? You are helpful and sweet. We are Longhorn fans. They have got to do better! I like the firework picture!!!!!!! I like your hair!

Your friend,

Dear Mary Claire,

You spread joy around the world! What flip were you learning in gymnastics? You are the best reading buddy in the whole world! Your drawing is the best! Did you like the Washington Monument?

Your buddy,

Dear Mary Claire,

I did not know that you had gymnastics lessons. What is it like there? I think that Audrey was very sweet. You are very funny. I cannot believe we both went to Washington, D.C.! My favorite picture was the fireworks behind the monument.

Your friend,