Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Sylvestri Family

A Memorial to Julie

For those who regularly stop by here, you know that recently our dear friend Julie went Home, after succuming to cancer at age 36. She has been on my mind as much this past week as all the weeks during the past year that we were praying for her. She was a remarkable young lady, it was a priviledge to be her friend. With this in mind, I wanted to share with the rest of you portions of the remarkable eulogy delivered by her husband, Tony this past Sunday at her Memorial/Celebration Service, at which nearly 1,000 people attended. I have never heard anything like it. I have never met anyone like Julie.

As you all can imagine, this is one of the hardest things a person could ever be called upon to do. Almost twelve years ago I stood with Julie right here. It was the happiest day of my life. I held her hands, I put this ring on her finger, and promised her that I would honor her, stay faithful to her, to cherish her as a priority always, for better or for worse, in sickness or in health, until death do us part. My sweet Julie--you know now that I meant it, and that I love you.

Julie graduated from the Buckley School in 1986. Her mom, Darlene, was a faculty member there, and Julie developed warm and loving relationships with many of her teachers, many of whom would become her colleagues years later. Many are here tonight. She was particularly fond of her Latin teacher, Ms. Shipley, who inspired Julie to major in classics when she went off to UCLA. Even before Julie graduated from college, her desire to help and serve others led her to learn sign language and become an interpreter for the deaf. She worked helping deaf students receive vocational training. She would have to go through the training with them, and interpret for future evaluations. She did everything from Burger King to the LA Zoo. She made quite an impact on these deaf students. One of her numerous bridesmaid experiences was at the wedding of one of these students, and years later when we were at the zoo with Thomas a deaf employee recognized her and rushed up to us to thank her and talk to her.

God inspired Julie to replace her retiring Latin teacher at Buckley in 1992, and that's when we met. We clicked instantly and were married within a year of our first date. Our interests, sensibilities, likes and dislikes, goals for the future all were so similar, I often thought we were the male and female version of each other. We truly were partners and true companions.

We lost our first child without even knowing we were pregnant. So when Thomas came along, we were so excited. Julie was amazing during her long labor, calm as a zen nun--Sparky can attest to that. But in the midst of our joy, the doctors discovered a large tumor in her abdomen, and our cancer journey had begun. She was worried about having chemotherapy solely for its effect on the possibility of having a second child. We knew our Emma was out there waiting. So God spared her reproductive system entirely. We began to realize that Thomas was a miracle baby-that his late arrival of 11 days prompted the doctor to perform that one last ultrasound which found the tumor. We praised and thanked our merciful God for allowing us to catch this cancer early. Ovarian cancer usually goes unnoticed for a very long time. At this point Julie would probably want me to encourage all you women to get CA-125 blood tests, and to work hard to find a diagnostic test which can detect it earlier until we find a cure.

After her treatments were over we had five wonderful years. Years filled with Julie's recovery and hope for a long future, Thomas' toddlerhood, Emma's miraculous birth, and all the wonderful joys and exasperations of normal life with two little kids. In the midst of all this, Julie sought to make sense of her experience with cancer in a way which helps others. She sought out other moms who had cancer, or who had been recently diagnosed. She would send them these care packages, filled with scripture, affirmations, poetry and
encouragement. Kaiser would even call her when a new mom was diagnosed. She would go and pray with them, give her care package, and follow up with them regularly. We understood her cancer as an opportunity
for ministry and caring for others. It awakened and quickened our faith in amazing ways. Giving and serving others was her way. Those years also saw Julie return to teaching at Buckley. She told me often that the
accomplishment of which she was most proud was instituting the "Gratitude Month" custom at Buckley of filling out thank-you notes for all those folks on campus who did something special for you. These thank you notes, designed by Julie, are still used as a cherished tradition at Buckley.

We were beginning to settle into a beautiful routine as partners, parents, and colleagues when she started feeling pain in December of 2003. She taught and parented through the pain, thinking it was caused by the way she held Emma, by the way she slept, or even by sciatica. But in the back of our minds, we feared that the cancer had returned. The struggle of body and spirit that followed was well-documented in what turned out to be a blog, an email diary of Julie's search for meaning. Most of you received this email, and you have heard some of it shared tonight. Her emails were sent out, then ended up being forwarded to thousands of prayer warriors all over the world. She had all religions praying for her, on all continents, all sorts of people young and old. We got an email once from the Singapore Gay Men's Chorus telling us that they were praying for her. Secret pockets of Christians in China were praying for her. Kids in Ethiopian Sunday School were praying for her. Presbyterians in Connecticut, Catholics in Rome, Jews in Israel, Methodists in Kansas, Baptists in Mississippi, Orthodox Christians in Washington, Sikh, Hindu, and Muslim friends all were fasting for her and praying for her miracle. It truly boggles the mind. Hear, O Israel--the Lord is ONE!

Her emails went all around the world, touching so many, and ministering to them in wondrous ways. That was her hope--that sharing the chronicle of her journey might inspire others to deepen their faith in a loving and personal God. And Glory to God, it has done just that. We prayed so hard for a miracle. But we tried to tell God the form that miracle should take, to force the hand of God, as it were. We tried everything. But in the end, nothing we did or did not do could change the sovereignty of God. No amount or form of prayer, no nutritional supplements or treatments, no doctors, no alternative therapies, no labels, no rituals could change what God had ordained as the length of her days. For me there is comfort in this, because it means we continue, we persist in the grace and presence of God even though He decided to take her home.

Her last day was very hard, and she clung to life so desperately. As the end started to draw near I began to sing to her. I didn't even think about it. I began to sing Great is Thy Faithfulness, her favorite hymn. Soon Doug (her Dad), Margie and others were singing too, and the room changed from a place where anguish and death were happening to a room in which the Comforter was present, a room where something important and wonderful was taking place--her homecoming, her real birthday.

During her last few months, as Julie began to realize that her condition was worsening, she struggled with the
conflict between her faith in a miracle on the one hand and her need to take care of me and the kids and make preparations for us should she die on the other. She really worries that preparing for her passing somehow showed God that she didn't trust Him to heal her. She spent time preparing scrapbooks, journals, videotapes for the kids. She even made a special box for Emma to open when she has her period, complete with heating pad, pampering items, books, and a long letter for her to read. She made baby quilts for our grandchildren. For me she had a ring made. I opened it on Friday after we buried her. Through my tears I saw that she inscribed on the ring a line from of a gospel song we listened to a lot this year--the ring is inscribed, JOY COMES IN THE MORNING. This is the message she chose for me to read a hundred times a day after she was gone--that I should not be discouraged, that joy comes in the morning. But the best way in which Julie thought to provide for the kids and me is all of you in this room--the legions of people touched and moved and inspired by her to help others, to love the Lord, to think to do little things for another's comfort. Her ripples will extend long after she is gone, all over the world. There are angels saying to each other, "That Julie--what a special beautiful soul she is."

Julie was a fighter. She was afraid of pain, but had a tremendous capacity to endure it. Her disease proved stronger than her body was, but her faith never faltered; she never doubted that she could be well, even to the very end. She even wanted me to pray for a resurrection after she was gone. It is clear to me that the Lord wanted her to join Him in Paradise. Why, I don't know, and will never know, until I ask him myself when I am standing with Julie again. (And from Julie's perspective, I and the kids will be with her in just a moment). She would want you to know that she now has no pain, a new body, a restoration of her beauty, her long hair back again instantly. She would want you to know that God reigns, and does things His way in spite of what we
want. She would want to remind you of the mystery of it all.

One of her favorite female saints, Julian of Norwich, wrote a quote which was so important as a personal motto for Jules, ever since she was first diagnosed with this horrible disease--"All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well." It is this motto that I had inscribed on her grave marker. And all SHALL be well. Julie loved you all. Please honor her and what she meant to you by renewing your faith in God, in a God who heals and a God who answers prayer, even if not in the way we hope.

All SHALL be well, because joy comes in the morning.

Why I Support Young Life

Young Life Shaving Clinic - Personal hygiene is Important!

Yesterday, I had lunch with two fellow members of my local Young Life Committee. During the conversation I was asked to write up a brief piece on why it is I support Young Life. And so, I will share with you my reasons.

The Need
I recently read Chap Clark's remarkable book, "Hurt", which should be the one book that parents, educators, and youth workers should read to understand youth culture. Clark managed to get inside the world of US teenagers and reveal the depths of angst, pressure and loneliness they feel. What I learned, and what I am learning daily as the father of two girls, aged 11 and 14, is that there are many layers of teen culture, including places where adolescents are most honest and vulnerable. Todays youth are a tribe apart, and it is we adults who have abandoned them.

By the time adolescents enter high school, most have been subjected to at least a decade of adult-driven agendas. We all know of coaches who are so invested in winning at youth sports that they leave mediocre athletes on the bench or pull them off the team, or perhaps the once playful dance classes that somehow morph into intensive dance training and regional competitions. Or the high school junior who faces a nightly four-to-five hour marathon of homework only to rise at 7 a.m. for morning band practice before AP calculus. And what of the kids that merely blend into the woodwork; who come from families of fractured marriages, or who feel too big or skinny, too tall or short, or are not part of the "popular" crowd. As this critical stage of life, who will befriend them, who will tell them that they matter, that each of their lives have infinite value?

The Solution
Most of Clark’s research took place in Crescenta Valley High School in north Los Angeles County. One might wonder how a middle-aged dad could get inside the heads of so many teens from so many walks of life. He did this by doing what most adults are unwilling to do, by spending time with teens and asking questions, by showing a genuine curiosity in their world and a willingness to hear their answers without judgment. Not surprising, Clark comes from a long background of ministry to youth, most notably with Young Life.

This is the solution; taking the time to be with kids. To enter their world, to listen, to befriend, to walk with them on the bumpy trail of adolescence. This is what Young Life is all about - simply spending time with junior and senior high kids. Since the ministry began in 1941, Young Life leaders have been leaving the comfort of their adult worlds and entering the arena of high school and middle school life. You will find Young Life leaders sitting in the stands at football games, walking the streets of inner-city neighborhoods, driving carloads of kids to the shopping malls, or simply listening to the stories of kids at the local burger place after school. Young Life leaders model trust, respect and responsibility to their young friends, and they do it within a meaningful context, within the context of a teenager's world.

At Young Life, we follow the example of the most remarkable man in history. Jesus came to be among us, to spend time with us, to hear our stories, to heal, and to point the way to a loving God. This is what we are about in Young Life, listening, caring, becoming part of kids lives, and showing the way.

This is why I love Young Life.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...