Two weeks ago I was in Frankenmuth, Michigan with family. It was a great trip with several of my siblings and a whole crew of nieces/nephews. We had so much fun, but I couldn't help but remember the trip I took there several years ago with Paul, Ann, Uncle Mario, Aaron and our kids at the time. As we stopped in several places to take pictures with family, I was reminded of smiling at the same places with my dear friends, one who is now with Jesus. The day we left, I put the boys in their, ‘Uncle Paul’ shirts, you know the ones, the ones that have the date of his homecoming on the front, and a reminder to LIVE LIKE PAUL on the back. When the boys are dressed alike, I’m just gonna be honest and say they are ADORABLE, a woman saw the front of their shirts and said, “Oh January 20th, what’s special about that date?” She seemed embarrassed when I responded, “That’s the day their uncle went to heaven, but he was a really awesome guy, so we celebrate it.” We went on our way with smiles but ran into her again, and this time she saw the back of the shirts… “LIVE LIKE PAUL, “ she said, “Wow, your uncle sounds like a really great guy”.
So, it’s been six months since Paul took his last breath here on earth and his first breath in the presence of Jesus. That is SO.HARD. for me to believe. And yet, in these six months, like so many of you, I have been so blessed to see Paul making a lasting impact in the lives of others. I have witnessed it in so many ways, as people have used the hashtag #livelikepaul
His wife, Ann, lives like him every.single.day. Radiating a humble honesty as she reflects, often with joy about the tremendous impact of her husband. She gives updates about the kids, and shares pictures of little Paul “Blaze” Coakley, born at home a few months after Paul’s passing. Ann inspires me so much, in a particular way, to trust in the mysterious plan of God.
I've watched other people live like him too. People going on adventures. Living more joyfully perhaps than they would have six months ago. I followed on facebook as Ann’s cousins walked the Camino, all the while sporting their ‘Live Like Paul’ shirts. I watched his mom/sisters traveling to Alaska- enjoying their time together as pictures are displayed on social media. Father Jon made a few of us a mixed cd, filled with songs to remember Paul by. He also went out and got himself a truck, christened it the new “Josephine” and promised it would be full of adventures. I have loved reading updates on the facebook page of people living like Paul, and reading personal testimonies about how this man Paul, sometimes a stranger, has profoundly changed the way people are living.
But I have to ask the question myself- how has ‘living like paul’ impacted me in the last six months? I gotta be honest, the answer doesn't come that easily.
I’d love to say I have been more adventurous, challenged myself to take risks and do crazy things. But the truth is, I still kind of love indoors and fancy hotels more than I think I’ll ever like doing ‘outdoorsy’ or wild things. However, there’s a certain sweetness that perhaps the part of my life, the really crazy adventurous part, is protected in a place of lived memories with my dear friend Paul.
I’d love to say I have been a better wife, using the example of Paul and Ann to push me to choose more patient words when dealing with my ‘opposites attract’ husband. But, the truth is, in grief and in pregnancy I've probably been more short tempered with the ol’ husband than ever before. However, every time I read an update from Ann about the love Paul and her shared, I challenge myself to be better.
I’d love to say I have been a better mom, using Paul’s love for his children as an example to remember the most important thing I can give to my children is time and love. But, the truth is, I have done a lot of couch parenting as I work through this pregnancy and some days it’s all I can do to not irrationally yell as I park them in front of the TV for another show while I face rounds of nausea. However, I have often been able to tell them about their Uncle Paul, and, in their young lives, I have watched heaven become real as they talk about him with me.
Living like Paul in these last six months hasn't been obvious in the Wilkerson house. And, as I was reflecting on this blog, I was kind of feeling ashamed of that. Shouldn't my friend, my brother in so many senses of the word, have had a bigger impact in the way I am living from day to day? But then, the other night, I had this realization.
During the Eulogy I was blessed to give, I reflected on how I often wondered why Paul would choose to be friends with a big ol’ pagan like me. When I said that, several people in the Church laughed, (some more than others) leading me to believe perhaps other people had wondered the same thing;) You see, as you know, Paul and I were very, very close friends. As we moved through our early and mid-twenties, we lived so many memories together. We learned how to go from living in our precious little bubble of Franciscan University, to discerning how to love well in this big scary world.
But... he always did it better than me.
However, he always loved me. He loved me for exactly who I was and exactly where I was at, while inspiring me with the way he lived, to be better.
And so, as I go through this life with the knowledge that my dear friend is in heaven, I am continuing to strive to live like him.
I feel his presence so deeply when I tell groups of people about him during presentations. As I explain that living like Paul means living as God called you to be, and that call is NEVER boring. I feel his very real intercession as teens and adults I am with ask for prayers from St. Paul.
I hear his laughter when I mutter under my breath, ‘mother effer’ at the bee flying around my head as I suffer through playing outside with my kids.
I hear his correction, “MARY!!!!!!!!!!!!!” when I mouth off to Big Aaron, hearing the shock he would sometimes express at how UN-Christian I could be….and that was all he needed to do. No long lectures, but a firm reminder that I could do better.
I know he delights as I jam out and cry in my car to songs as cheesy as, “Life Goes On” by 2 PAC (edited version, of course); or as honest as, “Angels Calling” by the Tenors. And I know he sings along with me to “Devil Goes Down To Georgia”- and mimics the fiddle parts with me like we used to until my arms are sore, but his heavenly arms could keep going for eternity.
I guess the thing is, Paul always loved me, in a very real way, as I think Jesus does. Where I am at, while gently pushing me to be better…and as I reflect on the awesome gift of that, I realize I AM living like Paul, I've been living like Paul as I let his legacy continue to affect the person I am today and the person I will be in the future.
***During the next month, we will be encouraging people to post on the facebook page ways that they have been able to '#LIVELIKEPAUL', or been challenged to #'LIVELIKEPAUL' in the days and months since his passing. Please consider posting how Paul's death (but most importantly LIFE) has impacted you and the ones you love. You can do this by picture, by words, by links to blogs (my favorite), but help us to carry on his legacy by putting it out there for others to read***