George and Bernie and Love

November 7, 2012 | My Jottings

On January 10, 1997, Michael and I went out to dinner with some friends. It was ten degrees below zero that night (minus 23 Celsius), and after our nice restaurant meal we drove back to their house for some homemade cobbler and warm visiting.

The hours that followed that dessert will stay in our memories like a brand that takes a long time to heal and raises a scar that will never fade. At 10:00 p.m. a police chaplain from our city’s police department knocked on our friends’ door; he had been attempting to track Michael and me down for a few hours. He walked to the table where we sat, and kindly but bluntly announced that Michael’s parents, George and Bernadine, had both been killed in a car accident near their home about three hours before. Michael cried out, “No No No!” but when the chaplain laid George and Bernie’s driver’s licenses in front of us on the table, we knew there was no mistake.

I cannot even begin to describe all the ensuing hours, days, weeks, months. Michael has a younger sister named Patty, and he was in no condition to call her with the news. So after the chaplain said a prayer for us and left, our friends prayed while I called Michael’s sister with the news, and then George and Bernie’s many siblings.

After driving home in the frigid cold, Michael and I went to bed, but sleep was elusive. Shock, disbelief, weeping, crushing sadness; these were our bedfellows that night.

The next day was filled with the flurry and numbness of double funeral preparations, plans for the visitation, dozens of phone calls from sympathetic friends and family, non-stop visits from folks with meals, cheese and meat platters, desserts, cards, and wordless, tearful hugs.

Over 500 people attended George and Bernie’s visitation and the day after that, the large church where their funeral was held was standing room only. They were a couple with many friends.

George was a very fit and young 70 years old. He was an avid golfer, power walker and bowler. Bernie was also so active it betrayed her 69 years. She liked to walk and garden and she loved children. They had been driving home from an evening with friends, spent over a pizza dinner. They were about two miles from their home near a beautiful lake in our city. They had stopped at a highway intersection for a red light, then had proceeded into the intersection when the light turned green. A 17 year-old boy (whom we later learned was a troubled soul) was driving 50-60 miles per hour, ran the red light, and his truck slammed into George and Bernie’s Oldsmobile on the driver’s side, pushing them into a stoplight and flattening it all the way down to the street. They were killed instantly. They both had seatbelts on but were so severely injured they could never have survived the accident. Days later Michael and I went to retrieve their personal items from their car and we were both overwhelmed at the damage to the vehicle. I have never seen a car so crushed.

It was one of the most terrible things I’ve ever known to see my husband grieve that sudden, horrible loss. It was so hard for him to grasp that he would never fish with his dad again, never help his mom in the garden again, never spend Christmas day with them again, and that they would never see their grandchildren again. So many nevers, so much pain, so few answers.

We knew we would have to begin our own new Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions with Michael’s parents gone. We had always gathered at their small, comfy home, and that could never happen again.

During that whole first year without them, I was more aware than ever before of how quickly our lives on this earth can end, how swiftly things can change forever and the chances for love and tenderness can be lost. I remember the first Christmas as a family without Bernie and George, I found myself still pondering and weighing the events and lessons of the previous eleven months. Life seemed surreal in many respects. But I was so struck by how fleeting a person’s life and passing can be, and I wanted to learn and change from what our family had gone through.

And now as I post this picture of my dear in-laws, I see that even after fifteen years, I’m still fairly adept at pondering and utterly lame at changing. When my own mother died suddenly in 1993 I resolved then to live in such a way that I would have no regrets if my life ended unexpectedly or someone else dear to me was taken. Why now, all these years later, do I find I haven’t been very successful in that resolution, that I continue to have some regrets and that my good intentions are often only that?

I can still remember the last time I saw Michael’s parents. It was on December 25, 1996, and sixteen days later they were gone. Our Christmas day with them had been a nice one and when we left, I kissed and hugged them both and thanked them, and said I’d talk to them soon.

As I said goodbye to their bodies at their funeral, there were so many things I wished I had said to them. Thank you, George and Bernie, for loving me and accepting me so lovingly into your family! Thank you for never calling my older daughters step-grandchildren, but always your grandchildren! Thank you for how generous you were with us! Thank you for your son Michael, who is the best gift of a husband to me! Thank you for all the Sunday chicken dinners! Thank you for everything…..I would have discarded the reserve and politeness that too often dictates our best behavior, and I would have grabbed them to me and held them and planted kisses on their faces. I would have said more, so much more. Looking back I could see that I missed many opportunities to be an encouragement to Michael’s mother. I saw that it had been easier for me to make small talk with his father rather than risk embarrassment by attempting to talk about deeper things with him. I am certain that George and Bernie knew I cared so deeply about them, but I’m not sure I ever let them know how much I loved them. Yes, of course I had said the words, but I think there could have been more actions to follow up the words. Words are easy for me. Sometimes living a life of real love is not.

Do you ever feel like there’s something in your life that you’re supposed to learn, yet you keep going around that same mountain over and over again, without ever really getting to the top? Oh, how thankful I am that God doesn’t have a Six Times Around the Mountain and You’re Out! kind of plan. His patience with me is so humbling, and sometimes it’s hard to fathom that He’s willing to work with me after so many failures.

I do know that if you and I are still alive, He’s trying to teach us how to love. He wants us to come to Him and place our trust in His Son Jesus, He wants us to love Him, He wants that love that He so freely pours into our lives to spill out onto others, and He wants us to be changed.

Most people are familiar with God’s definition of love in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13 — it’s often read even at non-religious weddings. I wonder if people truly understand that the kind of love we’re called to, is quite impossible to live out, without God’s presence and work within us? If you don’t believe that, just read the words below and then try to walk in that kind of perfect love toward every person you meet, for one day.

Here’s part of the love chapter from The Message Bible:

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies.

*       *       *       *       *       *       *

So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

That is scripture.

Today, I will be going once again to the foot doctor to have the new viral outbreak of plantar warts on the sole of my right foot frozen. If you never got to see the charming photos from my first momentous visit, you can click here if you’re brave.

So this means, to my knowledge, that today I will have contact with my husband, my youngest daughter, my two Fosters, and the people at the doctor’s office. I know that if I stay close to the Lord, ask Him to fill me with His Spirit and presence and power this morning, and help me be sensitive to His promptings all the day through, I will be able to love the ones in my life in an extraordinary way. A smile, a fervent, silent prayer, a touch, an extra bit of patience, an unkind word not spoken….only God knows what kind of love He’ll ask me to give today.

The last time I was at this doctor’s office, the two women behind the front desk were unhappy and bitterly complaining to each other about someone else in the office. Their conversation made me sad. I have no idea how I could make any difference in a situation like that, but I can ask God to fill me with His love and presence, and hope that somehow a bit will spill out on them today.

My husband Michael needs my love as he deals with Parkinson’s. He’s like a sponge for my love and for God’s love. When I pour out my love and kindness on him, I can almost see his heart and spirit swell with hope and joy. When I’m distracted and inattentive to him and weary of his neediness, I’m sorry to say I can almost see his soul and spirit shrivel.

Who are the ones in your life that might be a tad difficult to love? I’ll bet a face or two comes to mind as you read this. We are bankrupt without love. And the kind of deep, sacrificial love we’re called to exhibit cannot be mustered up. There is no deep, untapped well of life-changing love within each human soul. The only real place to get real love is from The Bank of God. If we’ll go to Him and admit how parched and barren our lives are, and ask Him to pour His love into us, He will. But to keep going back to Him again and again requires humility, honesty and relationship.

This might sound very cliched, but that person in your life, the one who sometimes irks you to no end? You might not have him/her tomorrow.

I would never want to come across as preachy — I hope my words convey to you that I write about things I wrestle with in my own life. But I hope today you’ll allow me to encourage you, as someone who has been there, that there will be people around you today who need your love. And if you feel totally incapable of loving them, God is waiting for you to ask Him to help you do the impossible.

I must go and make breakfast now. The sun is coming up and the new day is beginning. On my way to the kitchen I’m stopping at The Bank of God to make a withdrawal. I’m bankrupt this morning and need some resources. Did you know there are Bank of God ATMs all over the world, even in your own house and car? There is never a line, and you don’t need a special card. There is always one within reach when the sincere words, “God help me to love!” are uttered. You never have to remember your PIN, and the reserves at The Bank of God never, never, ever run out.

God bless you all today,


  1. Helen in Switzerland says:

    The second time in two days where I’ve read what you’ve written and just sobbed. This really puts all my stupid little problems into perspective and I know clear as day who the person who is difficult to love is and what I need to do about it. God is working through you these days my dear friend and is touching lives all over the world.

  2. Just Julie says:

    Oh Helen, your words are always so uplifting to me. Thank you. I send my love and prayers today, my dear English/Swiss friend. xxoo

  3. Carey says:

    Beautifully said Julie! I was just about to get busy with my day of frantic activity, but am now reminded that it’s time to stop what I’m doing and head to the Bank of God ATM for a withdrawal.:-)

  4. Pat says:

    Julie, that was just awesome and inspiring. I am going to ask God to help me love as I should. Your words help me start my day on a brighter note. Thank you.

  5. Just Julie says:

    Carey and Pat – thank you for stopping by. I have experienced God’s love in my life through both of you, countless times. LY!

  6. Kay in UK says:

    I am suitably chastened. And rightly so.
    Thankyou,dear,sincere friend.

  7. Just Julie says:

    Thank you for your love, Kay…sending mine right back to you today. xxoo

  8. Linda says:

    Ohhh Julie…..All I could think of after reading your post was the story below I just read this morning. I am more committed than ever to lift you up in prayer. For selfish reasons too….because I so need to learn what God is teaching you in your trials that you have been faithful to share with us; and reminding me that we just can’t love without daily withdrawals from our Jesus account! The knowledge of such inexhaustible provision is humbling.
    ……love you….

    The Cross Room:
    The young man was at the end of his rope.
    Seeing no way out, he dropped to his knees in prayer.
    “Lord, I can’t go on,” he said.
    “I have too heavy a cross to bear.”
    The Lord replied,
    “My son, if you can’t bear it’s weight,
    just place your cross inside this room.
    Then open another door and pick any cross you wish.”
    The man was filled with relief.
    “Thank you, Lord,”
    he sighed, and did as he was told.
    As he looked around the room he saw many different crosses;
    some so large the tops were not visible.
    Then he spotted a tiny cross leaning against a far wall.
    “I’d like that one, Lord,”
    he whispered. And the Lord replied,
    “My son, that’s the cross you brought in.”
    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
    When life problems seem overwhelming,
    it helps to look around and see what others are having to endure.
    Then you may see for yourself that you are more fortunate than you realized.

  9. Just Julie says:

    Ohhh, what a wonderful story, Linda…and so true. Sometimes I think we have a little too much on our plates, but then I look around me at what so many others must endure, and am content with what the Lord has allowed. Thinking of you every single day…. xxoo

  10. Larry says:

    When you said in your blog “When I’m distracted and inattentive to him and weary of his neediness, I’m sorry to say I can almost see his soul and spirit shrivel.


  11. Just Julie says:

    I guess I do have a shriveled soul and spirit sometimes, Lar. I’m thankful for God’s new mercies every morning! xxoo

  12. Ember says:

    Hiya. Been involved in things and not been keeping up with blogs – just been reading through your posts, catching up. I love what you write. God bless the memories, the prayers, God bless the love that makes all the happiness and all the sadness.


  13. Just Julie says:

    You are so gracious to say what you have, Ember. Thank you for stopping by here. 🙂 And how true it is, that the love is what makes all the happiness and the sadness. I’ve never thought of that before.

    I’m looking forward to your next book’s release!! I have already pre-ordered mine. xxoo

  14. Savannah says:

    I love you two chibben and fee!!

  15. Just Julie says:

    I love you two chibben and fee too dear niece!

  16. Ganeida says:

    The world is full of madness & mad people running every which way doing who knows what, but it is the slow the quiet the thoughtful that has depth & resonance ~ & you have all that & more.

    I too know how suddenly a life can be cut off but I am what I am. I am not my brother & I don’t have my brother’s gifts. I have to remind myself about that quite often. Sending cyber love your way. xxxoooxxx

  17. Just Julie says:

    Thank you for your comments and love, dear Ganeida. Have you heard the quote that begins with, “Measure thy life by loss….”? I’ll send it if you haven’t. xxoo

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