Let's call it, "The Brightest Day Awards." It's based on the middle names of our girls: Ava BRIGHT and Gwenyth DAY.
Because these are the people who, through their ongoing friendship with us, have turned a rough experience of ours into the Brightest Day we could possibly have. Just a few comments before the award ceremony begins:
1) These awards are purely subjective, based on no scientific criteria. I just want to put certain people at ease, you know the kind of Christian who says, "I don't want any rewards on earth because then I won't get them in heaven. So please don't thank me, don't acknowledge me, don't give me any credit because then God won't give me any credit." [a very kind and gentle sounding] Hahahaha! If that's YOU, stop trying to cheat the system! Besides, let's say we never thank you, never appreciate you, and completely ignore you for what you've done for us on earth. Yes God WILL reward you. But who is going to stop us from finding you in heaven and thanking you anyway? How sure are you that we won't be able to feed you grapes in heaven, with our three kids fanning you with a semi-slow breeze on a hot day? So if we WILL BE thanking you in heaven, how different is that from thanking you on earth?? So take it easy. Let me and my family, and everyone who knows us say, "THANK YOU!" You can stop averting your eyes and keep reading, People!
All kidding aside, there have been hundreds of people - we couldn't keep count. So many people have done so many different things for us. But there is not a single soul of any of them who is "trying to do a good deed," you know - to feel good about themselves or to be recognized in any way. Maybe a family with a sick child draws out the best people on earth. But I just want you to know that these awards are an attempt to capture the spirit of the people who have helped us. They describe what cannot be put into words, so we call them the Brightest Day Awards. It's therefore purely subjective without any standard of criteria.
2) The ceremony may never come to an end. As long as we're here, no matter what happens. This is the one constant piece throughout our journey. It's been UP for us as well as it's been DOWN, but the people surrounding us have stayed the same - reminding us of God's presence and grace. So we'll keep "handing" these awards out maybe monthly, weekly, hourly - whenever we can. It's an attempt to release the tension that exists from being broken and unable to keep up with everyone who has blessed us.
3) Unlike common award ceremonies, it may be a challenge to identify the recipients of this reward. No one's walking up on stage and getting their pictures taken! Names will rarely be used. Part of that is a protection of people's privacy and especially to keep people from being squeamish when they're singled out. But recipients WILL KNOW who they are, because they'll be notified of having won the award. (Someone from the Brightest Day team will make a personal call or send a card - and invite them to visit this blog.) We do hope most recipients will have at least a small circle of people who are able to say, "I know them!" and give a virtual applause.
Okay, here we go. For the VERY FIRST Brightest Day Award, it goes to...
It had been just six months since we moved into our home, and I'm not sure how our neighbors found out that Ava was diagnosed with leukemia. But I know their hearts sank, and they somehow knew what might help. In Seattle, someone came to visit us in the hospital. It was a woman who lost one of her children to neuroblastoma many years ago. She is our neighbor's best friend, who happens to live in Seattle and would often come to the hospital to cheer us on. Our neighbor found a way to keep being a neighbor during our darkest times. From there, when we were away for months on end, our neighbors collected our mail, mowed our lawn, parked his marked car in our driveway (our neighbor is a Cook County Sheriff) to further protect our empty home from opportunistic vandalism, and many, many other things. They pretty much kept our home from the things that could happen even if we were home, such as the pipes freezing and bursting, weeds spreading everywhere, stale air breeding mold on the walls... They did a complete landscaping of the front and back lawns, which were being terrorized I think by an invasive species from Venus. Interplanetary moss and shrubs can no longer return. A HUGE job that was. They loved and cared for our dog, making him feel like a king, taking care of all his needs and even giving him a new best friend by taking in a rescue puppy so that he'd have a social life. One of our neighbor's sons is a firefighter, whose crew came in and helped rearrange all the heavy furniture in our house before we came home from Seattle. Another son is a musician who will probably be famous one day but is willing to spend every weekend mowing our lawn before I can get to it - that's all throughout the summer and fall when we've BEEN HOME - right now even when I've been perfectly able to do it! Their 3rd son is away in college, who has tons of friends that sometimes have parties in their backyard. They talk to Gwen and give her something to look forward to, which is to have lots of friends who are good people and make a neighborhood come alive. It's great to be surrounded by such wonderful neighbors. You don't have to live with the sense that, if you had to defend yourself from the many threatening things out there in this world, you'd be all alone. With our neighbors, we believe that if anyone or anything were to come against us, they'd have to face some strong people first - they'd have to get past a circle of true patriots who know what they're doing and will fight and defend us with everything they have. We love our neighbors - they're the kind that we wish everyone had, the kind we aspire to be. They're the neighbors that make what you do more effective, like when you try and have the kids run a lemonade stand, they boost the sales. When you're looking for the best place to enjoy the fireworks, they save you a spot. When you wonder if your block is going to have anything to be proud of when it's Halloween or Christmas, their property has things going on that make up for everyone else's. So much kindness, strength, and dedication poured into our feeble lives.
That's Our Neighbors. This very first Brightest Day Award goes to you!