A birthday gift


When she was born, on this date, I lived far away, so I can’t say if the heavens opened, or angels sang.

I don’t think newspaper reporters were gathered. As far as I know, the event was not televised.

Everything seemed normal. Another day, another birth.

She was the youngest of four children, forever after the baby of the family.

Her only brother, the first born, was 10 years old that morning. Her two older sisters were 7 and 4.

She wasn’t an accident, or an afterthought. It’s as if her mother and father knew their life’s work whispered a lyric in their hearts to have one more.

She was always independent. She was clearly adored.

It was obvious once she reached her teens, that she would be extraordinarily beautiful physically. Everyone said she looked like Farrah, with those glacial-blue eyes, the long blonde mane of hair, and the perfectly symmetrical features.

She was graced with the classic female figure, and was wooed to model and act, to use her rare perfection to help sell imperfect things.

But that never really interested her.

Perhaps, if she had been born in a different time, her life would’ve turned out completely differently. Perhaps that can be said of each of us.

In her case, devotion has always been more important than promotion, especially self-promotion. Because in her heart, she too heard a whispered lyric, the still, small voice most of us ignore.

So, while she could have gone anywhere, achieved anything, she chose to stay close to her parents, seeming to know at an impossibly young age that they needed her light in their lives.

All I really see is that what took me 35 or 40 years to grasp, she seemed to intuit 20 years earlier, the very age when I was the most self-centered and self-absorbed.

She realized without overt expression that her time with these people who gave her life would not last long. Decades seem impossibly brief only when we glance backwards.

And so she stayed.

She alone stayed.

If you ask her today, she will glow as she tells you of the blessings of her life. But she has known more loss and pain than I, more than most people I know.

Her older sister died in 1976. Her only brother died in 2008, on the anniversary of her wedding. Her father died suddenly, of a massive stroke; her mother, her sweet, loving mother, to whom she spoke daily all of her life, died slowly of lung cancer, with Shannon by her side.

And she was with each — except her sister, who died accidentally and alone — holding their hands, whispering words of comfort, reassuring them of God’s boundless love, as they exhaled that final breath and crossed the bridge of life.

She has only one sibling still living, her oldest sister, Ellie, whom she adores, living now in northern California.

Shannon, alone, remains here.

She, to whom family means everything, gave birth to a beautiful son 24 years ago.

And so, she had a new calling, a new focus of devotion, and she willingly, joyously, forgot herself once again to care for this precious gift.

When he was not yet two years old, she, with a mother’s sharp instincts, noticed something wasn’t right. Alarmed, she called me, and we drove him to the doctor, who sent us to the ER, as we each silently prayed that God would spare his life, take ours instead if a life was the only sacrifice that could save him.

He had/has Type 1 diabetes, and was only 22 months old, so caring for him, managing this disease became a 24-hour a day job.

She woke each night at 2am or 3am to tip-toe into his room, and listen to him breathe, to be certain he wasn’t somehow slipping silently away from her while she slept. To this day, she rarely sleeps through a night.

She gladly gave up her career to care for him until he was old enough to responsibly handle the hour-by-hour management the disease requires.

She never once complained. Not once!

She, who could have had anyone, chose me, an act of grace that only belief in God can explain. And so I, too, have been a focus of her devotion ever since, more than 42 years. Talk about blessings…

I wish each of you could know her as I do.

Then you would be celebrating today, as I am, for her presence, her love, her impact on every life she touches.

The skies may not have parted, angelic choirs might not have sung, but they could have.

They should have.

And so, today, is her birth day. She is the gift.

And I am grateful.







Shannie, you know I have always loved you.

And I always will.