Friday, March 21, 2014

He is not here ...

The day of my cousin's funeral was by far the very worst day of my life to date.  For months afterwards, I would have a PTSD/anxiety type reaction at the memory of walking into our church lobby -- the very place where I had seen him last, alive, vibrant, strong, brave -- and seeing memorial photos of the one for whom my heart once leaped with pride and joy.

Up until that point, I had lived in a state of voluntarily suspended disbelief.  Maybe they had been wrong.  Maybe, if his name wasn't on a list, he hadn't really died in Afghanistan.  Maybe our "I love you" and "Thank you for your service" and hug goodbye hadn't been our last.  But those photos were there, in my face, telling me that the stories I had heard were true.  Right there in my face.  This was real.  This was really happening.  And the crush of well-wishers threatened to swallow me whole.  So my husband wrapped his arm around me and hustled me like a linebacker through to a seat where I could sit and shake and clutch at tissue papers and try not to lose my mind.

At the very end of the service, one by one a somber line approached the flag-draped casket to pay their respects.  My feet were lead, but I willed myself forward and forced my hand to stretch out over the casket.  My mouth could barely form the words.  "Goodbye, Ryan," I whispered.

I turned as I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder.  It was my Aunt Carolyn, the gold star mother, dressed in black from head to toe, wan with grief.  "Katherine," she said, soft and low, yet almost a reproof.  "He's not really there, you know."  She locked her sad eyes with mine, and a small smile crept across her face.  "You and I -- we know where he is."

Up until this point, I had never known my aunt to be a practicing Christian.  God was not often mentioned in their home, unless by kooky relatives like me.  But Ryan had broken out of that, and had given his life to Jesus Christ.  And now, here was my Aunt, reminding me of the faith that my husband and I had shared with her son.  She was right to rebuke me.  In that instant, I had been grieving as one who had no hope.  But my hope -- Ryan's hope -- and now, apparently, miraculously, my Aunt Carolyn's hope, was in Jesus Christ and His resurrection power ... in his life and death and atonement on the cross for our sins, so that we could have eternal life with a Holy God.

That's not to say that we didn't grieve.  Or that my heart didn't collapse inside of me as I watched my Aunt clutch that folded flag to her chest and sob.  For weeks afterwards -- and TEN funerals later (ten!  In just a few short months!) -- every time I stared at the communion table at the foot of our church's stage, all I could see was a coffin.  Ryan's coffin.  Or Gene's.  Or Brian's.  Or Anna's.  Or ...

But then, one Sunday, I stared at that wood and glass communion table.  It's rectangular shape.  It's notched edges reminiscent of casket handles. I remembered Ryan's coffin -- the young Marine who had traded his San Diego sunsets and young marriage and dreams of fatherhood so that I could live safe and free and happy with my own little family.  A man who had laid down and sacrificed his blood for mine. And I read the hand-carved inscription on the front.  "This Do in Remembrance of Me."

Ah.  So it was a coffin after all.  A coffin that sits there every Sunday reminding me of the ONE who laid down and sacrificed His sacred blood, His precious body, for a sinner like me.  And instead of fearing that coffin, I fell in love with it all over again.  Because this coffin, like the cross above it, was empty.  And because it was empty, I knew where Ryan really was.  My beloved cousin and friend Ryan was no longer physically here.  He was with my even more beloved brother and friend Jesus.

In just a few hours, I am going to face another one of the worst day of my life to date.  I am going to go and be faced with the memorial photos of my friend Shawn.  But this time, I'm not going there to say Goodbye to Shawn.  Because as cheezy as it sounds, I know that Shawn is not really gone.  Not at all.  And I'm just not saying some pie-in-the-sky platitude about it being a "Celebration."  Because that's what it really is.  A place to remember Shawn's earthly life, and to remember how God used that life here for His glory.  And to CELEBRATE the precious, precious time we had with such an amazing Light, and an earthly job well done.

But I can't say goodbye to Shawn forever, because soon enough, before I even know it myself, I will be with him again.  Because it is true that he is not here, not physically.  And neither is Ryan.  Or the fifteen other friends and loved ones I have said a quiet Godbewithye to in the past two years.  But as time goes on I'm not really as convinced anymore that they are as far away as we seem to make it out to be.

Because they ARE here, somewhere in that fourth dimension of time and space where God intervenes in the hearts and souls of men, and the great cloud of witnesses cheers us on.  And now that I know that Ryan and Shawn are in that dimension with Him -- well -- it seems like a place I really, really want to be too.  Even if heaven isn't as Colt so wisely said, "Like a fun house without all the bouncy stuff, but everyone's soul is like a 7 year old so they can just play and have fun."

Those guys didn't just putter through a meaningless life.  They RAN THE RACE marked out for them, in joy and parties and life and in suffering, too.  And through it all, they ultimately trusted that Jesus was waiting for them at the finish line.  And in the end, from our earthly point of view, we can see it all come together so clearly.  It is my life's work to study the lives of others.  Who is wise?  Whose lives have meaning?  And over and over and over again, in the micro of real life and death, am seeing it.  Fifteen friends in two years and more besides ... those that die in Christ, well, many of their stories make sense.  Not just later, but now.  I don't like the endings -- I HATE the endings -- but the endings make sense.  And they are beautifully, masterfully written.

So write my ending, Lord, and cheer me on, my dearly beloved boys who have gone on so far ahead of me (and all those loved ones in Christ beside -- I miss you all terribly!).  Today's earthly race marked out for me is a brutal stretch for my heart, but I will face it with courage as I follow your examples. I will grieve deeply, but grieve with the greatest of HOPE in the One who walked this path before us, with our cross upon His back, and conquered death so that we all might truly live.

And when my own race ends, and I finally set down this cross I bear, I hope my friends and family say of me in hope and with a smile on their tear-streaked faces, "She is not here ..."

"The angel said to the women, 'Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: "He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’" Now I have told you.'" -- Matthew 28:5-6

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Most Beautiful Woman in the World

I have this picture in my head that encourages and challenges me every day as a mom.

The memory is a little fuzzy, but it is of a Young Life Leader's wife -- young, vibrant, beautiful, sprinting off out of her cabin at camp and down the hill to go and find her three young sons so that she could play with them because she missed them. That image reminded me of how I can also look if I choose to -- not an old "mom self" weighed down by tiredness and a baby bjorn, but by "normal self" , unfettered, active, playful, fun galloping off to play with my babies because I want to, not because I have to.

(See? Even Baby Bjorns can be beautiful when worn with love and a smile!)

It wasn't about what she was wearing, or how beautifully decorated her home was. She had no make-up. But at that moment, she was the most beautiful woman in the world, and she gave me hope that my children will see me that way if I show them that side of myself, too.

That image has stayed with me for over two years now. And even now, it was so beautiful and inspiring that it makes me weep.

And even though every night, as I tuck my five babies in bed, they whisper, "You are the best mom ever!" I don't believe them. So I pinterest and magazine and facebook images to help figure out how to organize better, clean better, shop better, wear make-up or clothes better. I want to be the most beautiful, organized, put-together woman in the world! I compare and contrast shred my soul over a pound of baby fat or a sink full of dirty dishes.

(My kitchen on a daily basis.  I wish I was exaggerating, but that section is probably the "clean" part)

And I wrestle with the worlds of I Peter 3:3-4, because a big part of me doesn't believe them either. "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight." 

I know in my soul that God's Kingdom is the "upside down Kingdom", but those verses don't make sense when I look at what "the world" is looking at as the standard for beauty. I'm not advocating frumpiness, but in my culture it is very difficult for a woman to be truly respected without outward adornment of self and home. But the paradox is that kind of introspection and self-centeredness doesn't create beauty. It creates ugly. Grumpy. Dissatisfied.

A woman surrounded by beauty and the capacity to be beautiful, but refusing to engage or enjoy it. Kind of like this:

(Three exhausted babies (and one grumpy mommy!) at camp ... definitely NOT as beautiful as my friend that day!) 

But then I remember her -- the most beautiful woman in the world. And I remember my own mother -- her soft arms, her sweet voice singing me Jesus songs to sleep, the stunning beauty of her youth -- the stunning beauty of her later years -- and I know with all my heart what that verse means.

(My beautiful Mommy and my nephew Liam)

I'm not beautiful like that every day. Or even most days. But just a few weeks back, after church, at a luncheon, I sat back, fiddling with my smarphone, and watched my children play in a moonbounce. Like most times, largely disengaged. Holding back, preoccupied with my social image or our ever important schedule. And all of a sudden, I remembered that I wasn't in fancy clothes -- just jeans and a t-shirt. And I thought of my friend, and how beautiful she was.

So I dropped to my knees and crawled on the ground, roaring like a lion and chasing after my children with all my youth and energy. We dissolved into kisses and hugs, chucked balls at one another, and I gave them all horsey rides til the hole in my ripped jeans ripped even deeper.

And for one, sweet, proud instant, I, too, became the most beautiful woman in the world.

There, in the shadow of the doorway, stood another mom, watching. Weary from her own toil and struggle and comparison war. And when I rose, panting with laughter and the heaviness of my riders ("The horsie is tired!"), I felt strong enough to encourage her with her burdens -- and she, a stranger, felt bold enough to share those burdens with me.

She spoke with longing of a new wardrobe, and I laughed right along with her. But I hope that just as I carry the image of my friend with me, she will I hope that she will carry that image with her -- a disheveled, ripped jean mom (dressed in her Sunday best, somehow), glowing with beauty and power and the love of Christ.

I hope she will see herself the way her children see her. The way I saw her. The way God sees her. I hope that she, too, will know that as she comforts grieving adopted children or changes diapers of babies born back to back, as she teaches them of Jesus and models His love to a dying world, that she also is one of the most beautiful women in the world.

And I pray one day -- gently, quietly, glowing with the love of Christ -- you will stop fretting about gold or braided hair or pinterest-perfect, and shall join us, racing towards others with gentle, quiet, joyous love, and transform (if even for an instant!) into one of the most beautiful women in the world, too.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

“I will build you up again and you will be rebuilt, O Virgin Israel. Again you will take up your tambourines and go out to dance with the joyful.” – Jeremiah 31:4
Dearest Friends,

We have so much to be thankful for.  Three of Katherine’s brothers were married this summer to amazing women, God brought two new little nephews into our lives, we celebrated our 12th anniversary, and our screenplay, The Senior Prank, was filmed this summer.  The children are excelling in school, swim, and soccer.  To add to our joy, we will be expecting the newest little Craddock (a boy!) this coming April.

 In fact, had we written this letter this summer, with the exception of the passing of Katherine’s boss and mentor Chuck Colson, life would have seemed close to perfect.  But in one day, all of that changed when we learned that Katherine’s cousin Ryan had been killed while serving in Afghanistan.  Ryan had been one of Chris’ very first Young Life “kids”, and we both adored him.  He was our personal American hero.  We take comfort in knowing that our last words to one another were, “I love you.”

When someone gives their life, their dreams, their future in exchange for yours, nothing will ever or can ever be the same again.  We now have a whole new understanding of Christ’s sacrifice for us.

With Ryan’s death, it was like a set of dominoes had been ticked off.  Our dear friend Gene Heck planned Ryan’s funeral, and just a few short weeks later he was also called Home to be with our Savior.  Unbelievably, even more funerals of friends and loved ones followed – in one instance we attended a funeral three out of the four weeks of the month.  This year truly has been a time to mourn.

Through it all, God has been more than faithful.  Each time we feel as if we are about to drown, He has thrown us a life preserver – a trip to San Diego, Chris’ golf coaching job, Katherine’s acceptance into UCLA’s professional screenwriting program, Katie's spot on a travel soccer team, a surprise romantic getaway to New York City.  Not one day have we been fearful of the provision of our daily bread.

Therefore we do not lose hope, and lean heavily on our Shepherd to guide us through this shadowed valley.  It is in times like these that we are so deeply moved by the love, prayers, and encouragement of loved ones like you.  We trust in the Lord that we will be stronger for this journey, and that His promise to us in Jeremiah 31:4 will ring true in the year ahead.

Love in Christ,

Chris, Katherine, Katie (8), Colt (6), Christian (almost 5), Blaize (1 ½) and Baby Boy Craddock (due in April)

Monday, August 20, 2012


R-Y-A-N.  It was my younger cousin Ryan Jeschke who taught me how to spell my middle name, huddled over toys in my family's playroom, long before Kindergarten, or high school, or war.

The name was a family name.  A warrior name from the long list of legendary fighters from which we both descended.  Our patriarch, John Ryan Devereux, served our country in the Army Medical Corps during both the Spanish-American War and World War I.  He was a professor at Georgetown, assisted President Hoover, and did relief work for Pope Pius.  His brother was the Archbishop of Philadelphia, and we all were descended from an ancestor who was an officer in the army of Louis XVI of France.

We had a lot to live up to -- for that ancestor was only the beginning of the warrior legend.  Our great-grandfather, Richard Hall Sr., was a Brigadier General in the USMC.  He was awarded the Legion of Merit and the Croix de Guerre, and helped plan the D-Day invasion of Normandy, for which he accepted an award from President Eisenhower on behalf of the entire USMC.

His brother-in-law, Brigadier General James Patrick Sinnott Devereaux was the "Hero of Wake Island" and survived the Death March to Bataan.

Our grandfather, Richard Hall Jeschke, Jr., retired a Colonel in the Marine Corps.  He served in both the Pacific and European theatres of World War II, and in Korea as well.  He was awarded the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star with a combat "V".  One of his last honors was to be selected as a reader for the 75th anniversary of Iwo Jima at the National Cathedral.  And, in a twist of God-ordained fate, was the Marine mentor to another one of my heroes, Charles Colson -- but that is a story for another day.  I called him "Grandad" and Ryan called him "Gramps".  He was our hero.


I write all that to say this -- Ryan was a warrior born into a line of warriors.  It was a part of his undeniable DNA.  He had the Jeschke "look", which two of my brothers also have.  He had their seriousness, focus, and drive.  He had desire to serve, to help others, and to sacrifice their all for our country.  My dad loves to tell the anecdote about how Ryan was originally not allowed to play with toy guns or swords.  So Ryan made his own weapons -- out of sticks and stones.  The warrior spirit pumped through his veins.  Irrepressible.  

He grew up in a rough side of town, so he learned to defend himself and his two younger sisters through martial arts training.  From his mother, a collegiate swimmer, he was gifted with Aquaman-like skills.  In other words, like it or not, Ryan was born and bred a Marine.

All these things I loved about Ryan.  But I, Katherine Ryan, loved him for more than just that.  I know Ryan as the little boy who taught me to spell my name.  Every time our families would get together, we would sneak off and find a place to talk and play.  At the time, I was a tomboy with two sisters, and he also had two sisters and no brothers, so we would take any chance to ditch the dolls and tea parties to play more athletic/rough-and-tumble stuff.  

It was at the home of our ancestor, the original Ryan, though, that I sharply remember a moment we had together on the stairs.  "I know you are younger than me," I admitted, as children and old people swirled around us, "but you are my favorite cousin of all."  In hushed tones Ryan responded: "Same."  

You see, whenever I was with Ryan, my heart was at rest.  I felt safe.  We understood each other.  No pretense, no expectations to live up to, just open admiration and trust and a sense of peace.  With Ryan, I was myself.


I think the biggest gift in all my grief is the knowledge that my husband Chris loved Ryan as much if not even more than I did.  Ryan and I were family, but Ryan and Chris were FRIENDS long before Chris and I got married.  When Chris first started out leading Young Life back in college, it was at Herndon High School, and when I mentioned that my cousin Ryan was there, Chris sought him out and Ryan became one of Chris' very first "Young Life kids".  In fact, on my very first trip to Young Life's Rockbridge camp, Ryan was there on the bus with me -- or rather with Chris' sister Jackie!  Ever since their brief dating history, our family has had a wonderful time teasing that the Craddocks find Jeschkes irresistable ... since both Chris and Brian married myself and my sister Cheryl, and Jackie dated my cousin!  Weird, but true.

When Chris and I were engaged, I joined on as a Herndon Young Life leader, and got to witness Chris and Ryan's bond firsthand ... mostly them wrestling each other EVERY SINGLE YOUNG LIFE meeting, and breaking people's houses in the process.  Chris assures, me, however, that aside from wrestling, there were also much more serious conversations taking place, day after day, month after month after school -- discussions about life, and manhood, and Jesus.  And sometime during that time frame, with my dad, Ryan prayed to receive Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.

In the twelve years since, many a young teenaged buck like Ryan has challenged Chris in wrestling, and all have lost.  Chris even took down a five man squad that tried to kidnap him as a prank one night (true story for another day).  I think that the fact that Chris could beat Ryan earned Ryan's lifelong respect.  "But," Chris admitted to me just the other day, "there was only one time a teenager has ever beaten me in wrestling."  That teenager was Ryan.

("I was beating him," Chris insists, "but the only reason I tapped out is because he cheated!  He grabbed my finger and nearly tore it off.  I HAD to tap out, or he would have broken it.")

I'd like to think that Ryan flew cross country for my wedding just to see me, or stopped by our "Love Shack" apartment after September 11th to boast about his intense Recon training for my benefit.  But I know, deep in my heart, as Ryan sat in our hideous 70s orange chair and recounted how he would survive if water-boarded, that he hadn't returned just for me.  He was there to see his friend, his mentor, and one of his own personal heroes, my husband.

The truth is, Ryan may have looked up to Chris and I, but we also looked up to him right back.  His war exploits and training were the subject of every Thanksgiving and Christmas discussion, his face my prayer through every "Star Spangled Banner."  

"When I was little my cousin was one of my biggest heroes," my brother Brendan wrote in a tribute on facebook.  

"If I could turn back time, I would. Ryan Jeschke is and has always been my hero.  He died so that we may be free and now he is alive in heaven with Christ who died for him," blogged my sister Christen.


Over the past 12 years, Ryan was deployed so much that we rarely got to see him in person.  He never saw my new townhouse, or my current "big house."  He never met my dogs.  And it wasn't until last summer when my family was visiting San Diego that he finally met my four children, and we finally met his bride, Sheila.

From the second he saw them, Ryan adored my crazy kids.  He hugged us all and swooped them onto his shoulders.  He didn't mind that they were a little loud at the dinner table.  In fact, he reveled in it.  And the fact that we had adopted a child that was of a different race didn't bother Ryan in the least.  In fact, he was totally in love with Christian, and peppered us with questions about adoption, parenting, and how to be a good dad.

The thing that struck me most about our all-to-brief time together was how much Ryan adored Sheila.  His arm protectively around her, his eyes drinking her in.  He had fought hard to win her heart, and he was never, ever going to lose her again.  We couldn't help but fall in love with her, too.  Most importantly of all, we saw and heard for ourselves Ryan's passionate commitment as a follower of Jesus Christ.  He was reading the Bible and faithfully attending a vibrant church.  Jesus had saved Ryan, and Ryan's marriage.  And, like anything in life, he was going to pursue his faith full throttle.

"This is going to be your last tour, RIGHT?" Sheila said with a smile, patting his leg.

"We'll talk about it," Ryan conceded.  But as he looked at me across the table, I could see the twinkle in his eye.  As much as he loved and adored Sheila, the Marine corps was in his blood, and he could not refuse his country's call.  He was a warrior, from a line of warriors.  He was a Ryan.


The last time I saw Ryan was God's precious gift to me.  God knew that I needed that gift, and I can barely tell or write the story without breaking down once or twice.  It's hard to find the words to match the story in my brain, but I'll try.

I was standing in the lobby of our church, The King's Chapel, chatting mindlessly and making small talk, in my ordinary world.  Sunlight poured through the windows.   And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw him.  My American hero.  My cousin.  My Ryan.

The conversation melted away in that instant.  I ran across the room and threw my arms around him.  "RYAN!" I shouted, my sheer joy in seeing him overpowering any embarrassment at the exuberance of my greeting.  Nothing else was important as that hug.

We chatted happily about his deployment, his arm cuddling Sheila close.  Sheila's eyes were rimmed with tears, but even as Ryan talked about returning to one of the most troubled regions of the world, his voice was steady.  He had been there before, he had a job to do, and he was going to do it.  For the first time, it hit me what he was sacrificing -- the soft San Diego breezes and a wife's embrace for the harsh sands and disgruntled people of Afghanistan.  And he was doing it for me, and my family.

The words felt cheesy, because it was my own cousin I was talking to, but I said it all the same.  I stared dead in his eyes and said, "Thank you, Ryan, for your service."  As we said goodbye, we wrapped each other in a long, warm, tight hug.  "I love you," I said aloud, spontaneously.  I surprised even myself, but shrugged it off in my head.  Well, I did love him.  So there.  "I love you, too," he said.

We didn't know it then, but I know it now.  Our last words to each other on this earth were "I love you."  My precious gift from God.  And with that, Ryan headed out into the sunshine, off on one last adventure with his brother-in-law, one last tour of duty, one last sacrifice for you and me.


Everywhere I look, I am reminded of Ryan.  American flags, Marine Corps emblems, uniforms, anthems.  Breezy, warm, soft days that remind me of San Diego.  And most of all, I think of Ryan as I watch my daughter bop around the grassy-green soccer field, free and happy and safe because of his service, and his sacrifice.

Next week, he will rest with our ancestors ... the many warriors of our family (and their beloved wives) who have made Arlington Cemetery, our nation's finest resting place, their final earthly dwelling. 

As I come to grips with the reality of Ryan's earthly absence, I miss the cousin whose heart beat along with mine.  The cousin who shared my name.  The cousin who -- among many accomplished cousins -- was our family's PRIDE.  I miss my husband's friend, our Young Life kid, his wedding picture on my refrigerator that I put aside because "I'll always see Ryan another time."  And I will, of course, because I KNOW where the real Ryan is, because we both loved Jesus.

But the thing I miss most about Ryan, the thing that chokes me with tears at the memory, isn't a label, or a story, or a memory.  It's a feeling.  It's that feeling of sheer joy bubbling up and overflowing when I saw him that last time -- when I saw him every time.   That calm, happy, synchronized wave of joy, and peace, and trust and safety.  The feeling of mutual adoration, and the silent understanding of shared warrior DNA.

R-Y-A-N, greet me again.  When I get to heaven's gate, greet me again. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Monday, June 4, 2012

An (Amazingly Good) Onomatopoeia Poem by Katie


by Katie Elizabeth Craddock, Age 8

In the class, we do work.
Go the erasers on the math test.

Now it is time for writing.
People zip like race cars to get
Paper ... before it is all gone.

Time for lunch
SCREECH! Go the shoes to line up.
Slam! Go the doors of the cafeteria.

Munch!  Sip!
Slurp!  Smack!
Is the sound of the eating children.

Drip.  Drop.
Goes the kitchen sink.
PLOP! Goes the spilling yogurt.

Ding dong! Goes the dismissal bell.
Time to go home!