His name was Earl

[Re-post from March 24, 2014]

Good Morning. This blog post has been on my heart for a few months now. I wanted to wait until the perfect time to share it.  Today is my birthday.  And because this true story I am about to tell you was a gift to so many I thought this was the perfect day to share.

Please grab a cup of coffee and some tissues.  You’ll need the tissues. 

2014-03-21_0002When I was in elementary school I had a little friend named Earl. We were in the same class in both 3rd and 4th grade.  Earl was an ornery little guy with a squeaky voice and a contagious laugh.  His favorite song in music class was “We all live in a Yellow Submarine.”  Each week in music class he would request it.  Sometimes the music teacher let us sing it and sometimes not.  Earl was a funny guy.  He made all of his friends laugh.  Our teachers loved him.  I especially remember Mrs. Rush – our 4th grade teacher – getting a kick out of him.

One thing that I specifically remember about Earl was that he taught our entire 4th grade class the ABC’s in sign language. He brought in a little chart and Mrs. Rush made copies for each child so we could learn it.  I learned to sign the alphabet right then and there – because of Earl. And to this day I remember it and think of him every time I use it. You see the entire reason Earl shared sign language with the class was because he had an older sister who was deaf.  Sign language was something that his family used and he wanted to share it with us.   We never met his sister but he talked about her and we all knew that she was important to him.

Then things took a sad turn. 

One evening I received the worst news ever.  Earl was tragically killed in a car accident just a short distance from his house.  The funeral was held the same week that our 5th grade school year started.  It was a very deep thing for our young class to go through.  I remember going over to his viewing and seeing my tiny friend laying there with his rosary in his hand. To this day I remember it vividly.  I didn’t attend the funeral – just the viewing.  The first day of school I asked Mrs. Rush if she had heard about Earl. She put her arm around me, hung her head and with tears in her eyes said that she had.

Since I didn’t go to the funeral itself I didn’t know where Earl was laid to rest.  But there is a church about 30 minutes from my house where there is a cemetery.  I go by it often. It’s in a tiny town in Ohio (I live just a few miles from the Ohio line).   Every time I drive by… and I do mean every time for the last many years I think to myself, “I think Earl is there.”  I’ve never stopped to look but just always felt that.

Even though Earl was on this earth for only 10 short years I have never forgotten him, his squeaky voice, the fact that he taught us the alphabet in sign language and that he loved “We all live in a Yellow Submarine.”  He made an impact on me and all of his friends.

Take a deep breath:  This story is about to take a turn.

As I said, I’ve never forgotten how to sign the alphabet.  I’m not fluent in the language at all, just the ABC’s.  And every time I use it I think of Earl. 

On December 7th, 2013 I photographed the most beautiful wedding.  Bryce and Renee were married on that beautiful December day.

Just as I was about to set-up the photo of Bryce, Renee and his God-parents, Lori, the mother of the groom came to me and explained that Bryce’s God mother, Terri Lynn, was hearing impaired. I looked at her and asked if she could read lips. Then I said “Hi” to her in sign.  Terri Lynn smiled big and then signed “I love you” to me. I signed it back and we hugged.  It was a sweet connection. But it was all due to my little friend Earl and the fact that he had a sister who was deaf – that I was able to communicate with Terri Lynn. Just after that I had Lori come interpret a really special story to Terri Lynn about another wedding that I photographed years ago which included the wedding vows being said in sign language.

The wedding went on and it was such a joy.  When the evening came to an end I said my goodbyes to the bride, groom, their families and also Terri Lynn.

Deep breath…………

That night as I was lying in bed I was thinking about the wedding and how beautiful it was in every way. Then I shot up in bed and thought. “WHAT IF…………. What IF………….. Terri Lynn was my friend Earl’s sister?”  I have goose bumps right this minute as I am typing it.  I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  I told my husband about it.  The next morning at church I shared it with a friend, including my pastor and his wife.  I just couldn’t get it out of my head.   How strange would it be if Terri Lynn was Earl’s sister.

The next morning I couldn’t get to the studio fast enough.  I grabbed the program from the wedding to look up the names of Bryce’s God-Parents.  I couldn’t believe it when I saw that Terri Lynn had the same last name as my friend Earl.  I grabbed the phone and called Lori – the mother of the groom, sister of Terri Lynn.

I shared the story of my little 4th grade friend with Lori.   Then there was silence…. Lori said, “That was our brother”.  Right now I have goose bumps reliving this moment and it has been over 3 months!

She shared how losing Earl rocked their world.  I assured her that he was never, ever forgotten and that he was even on my mind as I was talking with Terri Lynn at the wedding.  I told Lori that he was so special to all of his friends in school and also to his teachers.   We were both emotional on the phone.  I think that even though I had processed this entire scenario and ‘what if’ Terri Lynn was Earl’s sister – it was just such an overwhelming feeling to hear Lori say, “that was our brother.”

We continued to talk.  She asked if she could share this with her family. BY ALL MEANS yes! It was so important for them to know that the dear brother that they lost so long ago did make an impact on this world and he was never, ever forgotten.

As we talked I had to know about his final resting place. And as this story would be… he WAS indeed laid to rest in the tiny little Ohio cemetery that I’ve driven by many times over the years. Are you crying???  I have tears and goose bumps reliving this.

I share this story with you for a number of reasons.  But what I want to say is that each day matters.  What we do today matters, what we did in elementary school matters.  Sometimes we look at life like a big quilt. But we forget that the quilt was made with many threads.  Each day is a thread.  Who knew that the day Earl taught us sign language would impact his family so many years after his passing.  His little life was a part of the big picture today.

Have you ever heard of a God wink?  It’s God’s special way of showing us that He is looking out for us and cares about us in little ways.  A few years ago I read the book When God Winks by Squire Rushnell.  It confirmed my perspective on ‘coincidence’. This story was a God wink.  It wasn’t a coincidence. It was a gift to Earl’s family and also to me.

Two days after my precious phone conversation with Lori I got a call from a local Moms Support Group called MUMS (it stands for Moms uplifting Moms).  I was asked if I would come speak to the group.  I knew that I had to share about God Winks.  I looked forward to that January day when I could share with the ladies.  I shared several incidents in my life that were indeed God Winks. I saved the story of Earl for last.


Right before heading over to the church where the group meets I pulled up Facebook.  There in front of my eyes was this.  The status update from the Berne Chamber of Commerce.

I looked Heavenward and said, “ok buddy, I’ve got it!” I immediately emailed Renee and told her that this story just doesn’t stop!  I was encouraged knowing that I was meant to tell the story of Earl to the MUMS group.  As I shared Earl with the group of ladies I saw many eyes filling with tears as they were also reminded how each thread of our lives is woven to make a quilt.  Life is about the little moments (the threads) and also about the BIG picture.

I have this photo on my desk as a daily reminder of this special series of events in my life.  “Coincidentally” enough 2 days ago I had a bride and groom here for a wedding consultation. The groom Pete went to elementary school with Earl and I.  Pete was actually one of the young boys who was a pallbearer for Earl.  I told Pete and his precious fiance Camille that this story just does not stop.  Again – it is all part of the threads of life.

So today, with permission from the family I share this story with you. I hope it gives you joy. I also hope that it gives hope and comfort to those who have lost someone they love.  Somewhere on this planet someone is always remembering them. Just as I have always remembered Earl.

With Much Love,