Thursday, July 21, 2011

I set out to study the past, found comfort in the present

My column from today's Briefing:

I had an entirely selfish motive when I formed a summer Bible study group.

I wanted to learn more about the Old Testament Book of Ruth, and I wanted help. I found a study guide, chose six Thursday nights in June and July and invited friends to join me.

Ruth drew my interest because she was a widow, like me. Well, not exactly like me.

She and her husband never had children. After he died, she chose to follow her mother-in-law from her own country (Moab, in the modern state of Jordan) to a foreign land (Bethlehem, where Moabites weren’t exactly welcome). And she lived thousands of years ago.

Otherwise, she was kind of like me.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve satisfied my selfish motive. I’ve learned more about Ruth than any other Old Testament figure. In the process, I’ve filled other needs I didn’t even know existed.

When Steve was alive and healthy, in the blissful years of our marriage before his brain cancer, we loved to entertain. And I use “we” deliberately. We were a team.

Together we would plan and prepare menus and drinks. Clean the house. Maybe buy and install a new light fixture just hours before guests arrived.

In the moments before a dinner party would begin, Steve would force me to stop running around as if the queen herself were about to grace us with her presence. He’d pull me in to the family room or entryway, drape an arm around my shoulders and say, “I love our home.”

He loved the warm colors we’d painted and the art we’d carefully and frugally collected. He loved the lamps turned on and overhead lights turned off. He loved the sense of comfort and welcome that we’d cultivated.

I will never be able to re-create that feeling of standing next to my very best friend just moments before dear friends arrive. And I suspect that’s part of why entertaining has been a low priority since Steve died. (That and basic survival and lack of time.)

But I didn’t think of all that when I pulled a study group together. I just thought we’d sit in the family room and talk about the Bible.

Then I started to worry. I can’t have people over in the evening and not serve food and drinks. So I bought some wine and prepared a couple of simple snacks.

Which meant I needed to pull out platters and wine glasses. And pretty napkins. Before I realized it, I had prepped the house for a small-scale social affair.

Admittedly, it’s been a little rough around the edges. Some Thursday nights there are dirty dishes in the sink. Countertops aren’t spotless.

They’re my friends, though, and they’re not here for a House Beautiful photo shoot.

We eat, drink, pray, talk, debate, quote, cry and laugh. We veer off topic and back on again with ease.

As we’ve learned about Naomi’s journey from bitterness to gratitude and Ruth’s obedience to God and Boaz’s acts of kindness without expectation of reciprocation, we’ve also learned about one another.

Our own losses. Romances. Children. Expectations of ourselves and others. Struggles with following God. Celebration of answered prayer.

I’ve learned that I really needed these women in my family room on Thursday nights this summer. I needed their stories. I needed reasons to laugh until I wheeze.

And I needed a reminder that I can kind of re-create the sense of welcome that Steve and I created together. It will never be exactly the same. I’ll certainly never feel his arm draped around me again.

But when I stand on the front porch, waving goodbye to the last guests, I strongly sense his spirit and imagine him whispering, “I love our home.”

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Little things

This photo totally reminds me of Steve -- that stare over the spectacles, that smirk hidden by a straw. (It's from Saturday, when Cooper and Katie dressed as Harry and Hermione for a Harry Potter party at Barnes & Noble. Coop is drinking butterbeer.)


Katie was sort of dancing around the family room Sunday night before bed when she said, "Even though Daddy isn't where we can see him, he's still part of our team."


The pediatric practice that Steve helped to develop for Children's Medical Center (formerly Physicians for Children, now My Children's) is on track to open its seventh and eighth locations within the year. 

Thousands and thousands of North Texas children receive quality, consistent health care from excellent (and bilingual) doctors in these clinics. My Children's mostly serves young people who rely on Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program for their health care. The clinics keep children out of the emergency rooms. They offer preventive care and asthma care and nutritional counseling and so much more.

Steve devoted so much of the last nine years of his life to the practice -- it was his true calling. His legacy lives in those children. The very thought of it makes me cry with joy every time. 


Last week was packed with VBS and work and children's activities and more. Even with lots of help, I was seriously exhausted by Friday. 

It was the kind of week that makes this single widowed mom want to crawl into bed at 8 p.m. (though that is never an option). It was the kind of week that makes me miss Steve not just because he was my best friend and soul mate and hilarious and inspiring -- but also because he washed dishes and helped with laundry and fully participated in parenting. 


Steve would have loved this moment last night, when we devoured cupcakes at a new bakery in Frisco. Katie is often an all-or-nothing sort, just like her Daddy -- as illustrated by pink frosting not just on her lips but also her nose. He would have also loved the fit of Katie giggles after this photo was taken.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Love around the clock

Some of my friends hatched a lovely plan for July 2, our 17th wedding anniversary.

The idea was "love around the clock," and at least once an hour I received a visit, gift, card, phone call, email or text from a loved one.

The morning started with breakfast treats and my favorite Starbucks drink from Julianne, one of the masterminds behind the sweet, sneaky plan.

As the day progressed, there were more visits and treats from Liz, Shannon (via proxy), Jasmine, Melinda, Jackie, Sharon and Brenda, and most of the Mango family. We ended the day with a fireworks viewing with Julie and Allison and all the Damm-Spears-Earwood children.

I received a beautiful floral arrangement from my Bible study friends (plus Sarah). Lots of desserts. Cards with encouraging words. Sweet texts, emails and Facebook posts. A clock that will forever remind me of the love that surrounds me.

Cooper and Katie loved the parade of visitors and the special treats. (The day started, in fact, with Katie at my bedside: "Good morning, Mommy. It's a special day. Happy anniversary!")

Thank you to all of you (many not even mentioned) for clearing the gloom from the day with multiple acts of hesed.

Hesed -- my new favorite word, discovered during our group's study of the book of Ruth -- is a Hebrew word for kindness, but it's much richer and deeper. It's compassion that goes above and beyond what's expected, without expectation for anything in return.

I love discovering a word that describes exactly what sustained our family from the very first MRI of Steve's brain through today. There have been so many acts of hesed on our behalf; I lost track long, long ago. How blessed I am to raise my children in this community!


I've written off and on about people who seem specially placed in our path. I'm convinced that these relationships aren't coincidence.

I'm reminded of three just from Saturday's day of love.

Julianne is a mom at Bledsoe. She and I are serving together on the PTA board beginning this school year. But I knew of her long before I met her.

For a few years, I have been reading Chrys Mundy's blog (taken down recently for privacy reasons). Chrys was a friend of a friend; it turns out we have lots of mutual friends -- meeting and forming our own friendship was only a matter of time.

One of Chrys' friends is Rachel, who I would occasionally read about on Chrys' blog. Eventually I started reading Rachel's blog, where I would also occasionally see her sister-in-law, Julianne.

The same Julianne whose children attend Bledsoe. I sort of felt like I had been spying on her (though not intentionally) and was relieved to "come clean" a few months ago.

The third is Brenda. Brenda is a childhood friend of Sharon, one of my dear friends from the Dallas Morning News. (Sharon is also one of my current editors.)

Brenda teaches P.E. at Leon Heights Elementary School in Belton. Leon Heights is the school that I attended in third grade (and a week of second grade -- that's another crazy story). Some of my Belton friends still live there, and their children are Brenda's students.

Brenda and I have corresponded via email a couple of times but mostly hear about each other through Sharon. Brenda was visiting Sharon in Rockwall this weekend, and they decided to drive to Frisco to visit. It was wonderful to finally meet Brenda in person and give her a big hug.

Friday, July 1, 2011

17 years

Father's Day this year was tough for me. I kept thinking, "It's so unfair that Cooper and Katie would get the best Daddy in the world -- but only for eight and four years."

And now I'm even more selfish, thinking, "It's so unfair that I would get to marry the best possible person in the world for me -- but only for 15 years."

Our ceremony was at noon on Saturday, July 2, 1994, at Schreiber Memorial United Methodist Church in North Dallas, the church Steve attended in high school and the church Jim and Betty still attend.

I was barely 22. He was 25. (My goodness, I'm thankful that we married when we did. I can't imagine having any less time with him.)

Steve Damm was more than my husband. He was my soul mate and best friend. He was my shelter. He provided stability and strength that granted me emotional peace and rest. 

Most days I take comfort in knowing that we were blessed to be together even if only for 15 years. That together we created two amazing children. That I have a deep well of joyful, funny, spirit-strengthening memories from which to draw.

But right now I can't push aside the irrepressible ache from missing Steve. From wishing that we'd spend tomorrow together, celebrating our 17th anniversary with Cooper and Katie. From wanting to hear Steve tell stories about how we met (his version was always more entertaining than mine) and our engagement (and how I subsequently forced him to move to Lubbock) and our wedding day (Steve would always say that he was a wreck that morning, until he saw me).


Tomorrow won't be totally awful, of course. For one, I get to spend the day with Cooper and Katie. They both make me laugh all the time. 

Take last night, for example. After my Bible study, Cooper and I were visiting. 

"So, Momma, how was Bible study?" he asked. "Did you party? Or par-tay?"

It was exactly the sort of question Steve would have asked -- inflection and all.