On Support

Many of you sent a word of condolence and support to Celia following the loss of her mom, Carolyn, on January 22. Our devotional thoughts this month are thoughts of thankfulness for the support of The Community in our lives. Celia’s mom’s passing was unexpected, Celia will tell the story someday in the newsletter. The outpouring of support has been more helpful than you’ll know–thank you.

I will tell some of my story here. On Tuesday evening January 21, (not knowing it was Carolyn’s last night–we thought things were on track) as we were leaving hospital room, I asked her if she wanted me to leave the window blinds up so she could watch the sunset–it was a beautiful sunset. She said yes, and I’ll forever remember walking away from her with the picture of her taking it in. I hope I take the time to marvel at the sunset on all my days on the planet–including my last. The folks in Key West do that sunset thing right.

Celia did end up canceling a weekend date, but we’re so thankful for the flexibility in our lives (and the understanding of the folks at Lake Junaluska) to do what we felt we needed to do. We were able to spend some extended time with Celia’s family. Her dad, Bill, even came home with us to TN for a few weeks and joined us at the Extravaganza in Atlanta with 600ish Lutheran Youthworkers from across the nation. He said it was good to be with young folks (they were all adults who love kids). I’ll add that it’s good to be with The Church. Bill will go with us to Lake Junaluska next weekend. We’ve had a rich time together and Max and Zach love having Pawpaw around.

People have asked Celia why and how she sings at times like this. I guess you do what comes naturally–and for Celia there’s nothing more natural than singing. So the song goes on.


On July 2, 2002, my sister, Grace Ellen Sirman Marcel, unexpectedly left this earth. From all that my family has learned, she died in her sleep. The Sunday before her death, she had gone to church, read scripture during the service and sang in the choir. That evening she e-mailed family and friends and had dinner and watched a movie at a neighbor’s home. Remembering a loved one after they are gone is one of the best tributes I can think of–the little things about them, the things that carry with you for your lifetime. So if you’ll allow me a moment of personal privilege, I’d like to tell you about Grace. I called her Gracie. She was almost 11 years older than me. Here are some of my memories from when I was a kid:

. . . looking up to she and my brother David. They got to play in the deep end of the pool with the big kids, while I had to stay near the steps in the shallow end. One day I’d be big too.

. . . sharing a bedroom when I was little. Each night we’d try to get the other to get up and turn off the lights.

. . . learning to ride a bike as she and David helped me. Down our street we’d go… all three of us… me screaming don’t let go… eventually one of them would let go and I’d go flying.

. . . playing dress up with her clothes and make up. There’s nothing like a little sister getting into all your stuff.

. . . writing in books I wasn’t supposed to write in–books that she and my brother had with their names in the front. I scratched over their names and wrote my own…. colored in them… stamped pictures in them. I’m sure there were times that she thought none of her stuff was sacred.

. . . watching her dance in the living room one year when she was home from college. It looked to me like she was just marching around, but I remember her insisting on teaching me her dance. I was the only kid in 4th grade who knew how to do the hustle.

. . . going to see gymnastics at the Superdome in New Orleans–Olga Korbut and Nadia Comaneci–Grace took me. I thought I was in heaven. It was the most inspirational thing I’d ever seen.

. . . watching her plane land when she’d fly home from college and thinking one day I’ll fly, too.

. . . knowing she was in the audience at musicals I was in and at my graduations.

We also shared the love of music. Our family sang together both informally in the living room and for all kinds of occasions. I thought all families sang in 4 part harmony. Even during tough times we would come together and there was peace around the piano. It was the one place that other things didn’t matter: age, tastes, personal differences, paths determined by life choices — our differences faded as we sang together. We each had a part and we all had something to offer. Grace loved music–she loved singing songs of faith — singing in the choir, singing in the contemporary service at her church, learning new pieces, singing at Cursillo and Walk To Emmaus retreats. She also loved listening to music. I found music everywhere–in her house, in her bedroom, on her computer desk, in her car, even in the trunk.

As adults, Grace and I would visit over holidays or when I was singing near her, but mostly we’d talk by phone, and she loved to forward emails she’d think I’d enjoy. She loved being an aunt and she loved pictures that I sent of the boys.

As I remember Grace, there are a flood of things that come to mind. Our common past, last conversations that we didn’t know were last conversations, last visits, things I’d like one more chance at, dreams we shared, hopes for the future. I remember her fondly and I will miss her.

I know God is in the midst of this time. Her faith was something we talked openly about and I trust she is in heaven in communion with the saints. One day I’ll join her to feast at that heavenly banquet.

Smokey Whitler

November 17, 1985 – Easter Sunday April 23, 2000

We called Smokey the wonderdog. He joined me (Ron) in the fall of while Celia and I were single. We were both busy working and building separate lives. Smokey went to youth group camp, to parties and to work at the church. As the years passed, he welcomed Celia into the family and they actually shared a house in Louisiana when I went to Texas to start work there. Celia and I counted his vocabulary once. He understood quite a few words. It’s amazing what a difference having lots of discretionary time to invest makes. One of my favorite memories of Smokey was of him singing with any choir that he heard, whether it was on the radio or on television. He declined kind of slowly and eventually died in our arms on Easter Sunday before our oldest son Max was born. There was something providential about losing such a great friend on the day we remember the Resurrection. Some friends came out to the spot by the Harpeth River where we laid him to rest on a beautiful Easter Afternoon. Smokey was the dog of “Dog Not Included,” the name we give our song publishing.