Take the risk

It’s a hard day today in the camp.
His bright smile, his sunshine and support, his depth and strength through the pain is gone. His papers finally came, after weeks of lines and waiting and uncertainty. His journey finally led him beyond the camp gates.

He wept as he left his close friends behind. He had already lost so much.
His girlfriend tried to protect a family from ISIS’ hand and been ruthlessly slaughtered. Most of his family is on the other side of those beautiful but angry waters, a rubber raft and orange life vest and world separate them now. He will never see many of them again.

Today is a new day for him, full of opportunity and hope.
But it is mingled with pain. With loss. With sacrifice.

Camp life goes on.
My sister reaches for a child and holds her close, watching the mother smile in gratitude. The courage to still smile after having lost all. Giving, giving, giving when you know these faces will leave, and a new wave of stories and souls will arrive tomorrow.
It takes courage to love again, to pour into a bottomless ocean of needs.
It takes courage to give.

“I could never do that.”
Foster. Adopt. Advocate for people. Stand up for the unseen. Speak to a crowd.
The list is endless. Things that the risk of failure is too high.
But in the light of Jesus’ love, His grace that reaches past my inabilities and makes Him tangible.

One friend waits to meet her daughter from China, her heart already burning with mother love for a child she has never met.
Another is in the long process of getting cleared for fostering, for holding close children that come from turbulent waters and broken homes.
New chapters, big risks, everything at stake.
This is our life, if we dare to move past the numbing state of our comfort zone.
That place that feels so safe yet lulls us to sleep and keeps us from really living.
Living on the edge looks so precarious and dangerous, when really it is the only way to really live.

Risk your heart today. Invest, even when you know there will be no return.
Maybe it is pausing at the grocery store and looking into the eyes of the cashier, and seeing the person, not the employee.
Perhaps it will mean pulling your child closer and taking the time to hear their heart, and the words they might not have spoken.
Maybe your hand will be the one to reach through the darkness and bring light to some hopeless soul.

Offer hope.
Extend love.
Take the risk.
Love is worth the sacrifice.
Jesus led the way.

We cannot change the world on our own.
But by taking the risk, we can change this moment.
We can offer hope that is bigger than we could have imagined.

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A small gift of love (chocolate, Olive branch and a note that my sister is giving one of her friends who lives in the camp)

” Alone I can’t change the world, but I can throw a rock in water, which will cause many ripples” – Mother Teresa

The calling in the mundane…

They were just doing what they always did.
Fishing was how they brought bread to the table, how they survived, but Jesus paused and called. Sweat dripping down their backs, they stood and wiped their brow as his voice penetrated their concentration.

It rose above the sound of the waves, above the demands of their day, this voice, this calling.
“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

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He beckoned them from a regular life to follow him in a unique calling.
To something they had never known before. And he saw their potential while they sweated over the fishing nets. I can’t imagine that they were especially poetic or spiritual, but he knew their hearts and abilities.
In fact, I think he had prepared them for this day.

My todo list today is full.
Tomatoes sit in boxes in my kitchen begging to be canned.
My bulging fridge needs to be cleaned.
My four children will need to be held, fed, guided through the day. Squabbles settled, attitudes guided, chores accomplished and stories read.
Cleaning, working, raising hearts. But it is here that he calls me, in my normal day.
To something deeper. More meaningful.
Something eternal.

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Let’s embrace this calling, right in the midst of our messy day.
Let’s live well, with all our hearts.
Such menial, little moments in which eternity is lived.
It is for moments like this that we were created.

Bound, but forgiven

The room was hushed and the framed face of an austere judge stared at us, missing nothing. Up front, attorneys whispered and shuffled through papers. Badges flashed and I wished I could remember where I had seen the female investigator before.
She looked so familiar.
Was it at the crime scene?
Or at the hospital during those first terrible hours?

A door at the front of the room opened and a man in orange, his hands and feet shackled, was escorted in. I recognized him immediately, the subject of many photos and news articles.

Suddenly we were all standing as the judge entered and a court officer droned,
“O yea, o yea…”
We were seated and court was in session.

The prosecuting attorney read page after page of documented facts,
the breaking and entering, the stealing of the weapon, the few words that Marcus spoke before the shooting began and his attempt to escape before he was shot,
the squealing of tires as the burglars left the scene.

I remembered the two weeks we spent waiting at the hospital, the long late hours, the unending prayers, the tears, the hard waiting room chairs. The praying for the impossible, and the day the monitors went silent.

The jurors’ chairs sat empty today.
In fact the court room fairly rattled with emptiness, except for a small crowd on each side of the room and the officials up front.
But this day had been two years in coming.
Two years of tears and grief, two years of remembering that fateful sequence of events.

Two years of his family learning to live without Marcus, of letting go, and choosing to rest in God’s plan for one side of the room. Two years of visitation and court hearings and lawyer appointments for the other. Both men’s children now growing up without their father, the one in the grave, the other behind bars.

All because of a “senseless mistake.”
A trigger pulled, a young life snuffed.
We can go over the details again and again, but nothing can undo what was done.

Death penalty.
Today he was pleading guilty to all charges to settle for life in prison to avoid the jury and possible death penalty.  I stole a glance across the aisle, and wondered who each one was.
I saw their sober faces, carved deep with pain.
It was a heavy day for all of us, but how grim the expressions on the other side of the room…

We’ve been told the defendant has a praying grandmother.
Our prayers have mingled with hers, begging God to soften his heart and bring him to repentance.
That the darkness would give way to light.
That Jesus would shine from eyes now clouded with guilt and sin.
One crime committed on our quiet country road two years ago has impacted so many people. Our sin DOES hurt those around us.  The repercussions of these actions live on.

“You are sentenced to life in prison,” the judge looked down at the shackled man, and gave additional years on top of that for additional counts. Her words were final, the handcuffs were for life. As we were ushered out, a wail rose from the other side of the room. Mother, sisters, relatives wept at the verdict. That sound haunts my soul.

The news lately has been covered in bloodshed and anger and racism. Protests and mobs, and shootings. On every side of the globe, the same story is playing out. This group against that one. This color against that. Jealously, anger, murder. The sin from the garden goes on and on, the first murder of all time duplicates itself today, blood stained hands and a defensive “Am I my brother’s keeper?” rings loud in the courtroom even now.

The color of history glows ugly red with abuse. Slavery and anger. People sold as bodies and possessions.  I’m ashamed that my great grandfather grew up using racially derogatory words freely, not treasuring the value of these precious people. I am horrified that police officers have all been classed as brutes and beasts. I am devastated at the massive divide between people today, all uniquely created in the image of God. White, black, red or yellow – all lives matter, and all are loved by God.

I’ll admit, since that shooting two houses down from mine two years ago, I’ve seen prejudices in my heart that were hidden to me before. Are my children safe around that person? Am I?

But recently I had a conversation with a friend – a friend whose outward color is not like mine – and he reminded me, “It is wrong to judge a whole race by one man’s sin.”
Truth rings loud and clear, dissolving bias and fear.

It boils down to something much deeper than skin color.
Our hearts are all desperately wicked. We all need a Savior.
Yesterday I got to see grace lived out,  and forgiveness chosen in the face of staggering loss.

Marco’s father and mother stood up front in that courtroom and said,
“I forgive you.”
Nothing can bring their son back, and in spite of all the tears, they are choosing life.

12742082_10205997581120471_1378097518164027249_nMaryAnn stood and looked into the eyes of the man who murdered her husband, and said not only
“I forgive you,” but,
“I’m not angry at you.”

He nodded and accepted it. Though his hands are bound, and the rest of his life will be behind bars, he has been released. Forgiven.
And throughout the courtroom tears flowed as we all felt the power of those words.

We can’t always see it down here on earth. Choosing forgiveness isn’t the easy way, but it is the only right way. And someday we will see it as clearly as we saw those handcuffs yesterday.

I wished we would have been allowed to step across the aisle yesterday. To hold tightly those dear, hurting people, who are losing a son or brother to a life of incarceration.

Today we get to all embrace each other, all of us different and yet all of us the same. We are all valuable, all made in God’s image, all desperately needing forgiveness.
Let’s stretch out our hands to extend forgiveness and love.

Light is stronger than darkness.
Sin crumbles to forgiveness.
Love wins over hate.

It is to this we are called…

(Pictured is Maryann and Landon)

 

But God…

He picked blackberries, which gave him an idea.
He got the ice cream out, and scooped it into a small bowl.
He pulled a frozen fruit slush from the freezer.
He mixed “mocha” chocolate milk, and added a straw.
He ran to the yard and pick flowers, and arranged it all so beautifully. 
Then he brought it upstairs where the baby and I were resting and presented his masterpiece…

Later he told me it was a thank you for “all the messes” I clean up.

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Lately motherhood has been hard. The messes have reached into every area of my life. Attitudes and spilled milk, unkind words and childish squabbles. I’ve been broken and needy and ever so aware of my failures. The tears have almost equaled the joys. BUT GOD.

I love how He changes the whole story. Turns right side up what has flipped onto its head. Breathes life into what is old and dry. Brings hope when our failures leave us gasping and shattered.

Motherhood is an invitation to lean hard into God, and find He IS always enough. 

The Guest at Breakfast

He is real. Breathing. Alive.

He has feelings, and he understands ours.
I’m on a quest to invite him to live and breathe with me, in the most normal moments of my day. In the grimy and mundane and the glittering happy moments.
I want Jesus to be included in each moment.

On a whim this morning I set a place for him at the breakfast table.
Breakfast tends to be a place where squabbles break out, messes made and the day rolls out on the wrong side of the bed. I wanted my little people to have a visible reminder that Jesus IS here, listening, loving, waiting to help.

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He isn’t angry, or waiting to condemn. He is just longing to help with each little struggle -mine, and my children’s. Somehow we think that obeying Jesus can be a negative thing. But that is just a lie from the enemy to keep us from expiring the sweetness of fellowship and safe relationship with Jesus.

He didn’t eat any cereal, or leave a mess at his place.
But he WAS there, and my day is already different.

And if not, He is still good

It was a dream.
A crazy, impossible dream, but there nonetheless.

He’d sat on the hard packed compound floors and watched bare feet pound the dust into the late hours of the night. Sparks surged into the dark African sky, and he knew he wanted to live his life touching these lives.

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We married, and moved not to Africa, but the rural mountains of Honduras where he spent hours in the clinic, translating for the English doctor. The dream grew stronger, to go to school, and touch human bodies with souls for eternity. But it seemed so far out.
So impossible.

And one day, in a strange twist of events, the missionary he had followed down those narrow African paths, and who we named our first child after, spoke a message on giving up our dreams in exchange for God’s dreams.
Sometimes God asks us to let go, even to the best of dreams.

I remember clearly the battle in his face and in his soul, this husband of mine. It was almost part of his DNA,
this love for Africa,
this dream to get into medicine,
to go.

It was while we still lived in an adobe house in the Honduran mountians, and our first child was months old that God won, and my husband’s heart rested in God’s plans.
He surrendered that dream.

Our trail twisted and turned, and led us through many dark, long nights. The drowning of my only brother, challenges with the mission board, the far off feeling of being misunderstood while giving all we had on the mission field. Finally we returned to the States to be there for my widow mother, as my older sister and her new husband moved, of all places, to West Africa.

Healing began, and God gently led us and deepened us, and restored hope and relationships in our hearts, far beyond what we even imagined possible. And of all crazy things, the thing Daniel NEVER dreamed of and instead actually ran from, God laid squarely before us: to be in the ministry.

Oh, he had been ministering for years, but the official office? We love people and working with the youth, and hearing hearts, but being ordained? It was a struggle. After all, He grew up as a preacher’s kid.
It was a strange place, the calling he wanted he had to lay down.
And the one he had vowed never to do, now was asked that very thing.
But God was gentle, and persistent.
And He won.

For several years Daniel has served in this role, I have watched something happen. Like a little spark in that dark night sky, the medical dream revived in spite of its impossibility.

Our dear friend and neighbor Marco was shot, and we spent days in the hospital, praying for a miracle, for life that hung in the balance. Daniel interceded by the bedside, and watched the numbers on the monitors, and spoke with the nurses. He watched their every move and saw how they had opportunity to minister, to touch lives in such pivotal moments. “YOU should be working in here,” they told him.

The spark grew into an ember. But the numbers on the monitors went still and we buried our friend, and all our prayers of intercession were laid on the altar of trusting through tears. Through it all, somehow, God was still good.

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I knew that Daniel’s job of construction was not what either of us wanted for the rest of his life, and stood back as that little fire grew in his heart. It was still impossible.
How would we pay for school?
Who would take care of my mom?
Go to school? Now, while we have small children?

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Then we met him at a wedding reception. He was part of a group from Togo, here in the States to attend the wedding of a mutual friend, who had served with him in at the Hospital of Hope.

His warm eyes made him a safe stranger to visit with, and when I heard that he was a PA, I said, “Oh! My husband dreams of becoming a PA!” His eyes lit up, this man named Todd, and he began asking questions.

I told of our years in Honduras, of Daniel’s 16 years in construction but knowing he was called to something else. The dream that grew while we were in the hospital with Marcus. But now, the vast world of not knowing how to proceed.

“He can totally do it!” Todd nodded. We managed to sit with them over dinner, and the words and hope that flew back and forth were all it took to fully reignite this dream in Daniel’s heart.

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Todd too had become a PA. And God was using him mightily, both on the ground there in Togo and also here in the States, inspiring and recruiting others to go. “You should come to Togo!” he urged Daniel. And before we knew it, within a month, a ticket was bought and Daniel joined a team over there on a work project installing solar panels.

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But they flew through it, he assured me on the phone, so the rest of his time was freed to spend in the hospital, shadowing Todd. Daniel’s birthday was spent in the OR, wearing scrubs watching multiple surgeries, and he could not have been happier.

I could hear it in his voice.
I saw the gleam in his eye when he finally stepped back on US soil.
The dream was back.

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(Hospital of Hope, Mango, Togo)

Maybe, just maybe we would end up in Togo with Todd and his family someday. We looked into schools, and sat through PA program overviews. We felt God nudging us to step away from the business of all these years, and start preparing. We are working toward getting our house on the market next year so Daniel can start school in the fall. In the meantime, he has switched to an office job and we are exploring all our schooling options.

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A couple days ago we heard Todd was sick. Was it malaria, or typhoid, they didn’t know. But he wasn’t responding. We prayed. Hard. Surely God couldn’t be done with this incredibly talented man. He seemed to be the heart and soul of the Hospital of Hope.

But he kept getting worse. They prepared to evacuate him to a hospital in Germany. Sleep suffered and the nights were broken in to small increments of waking and pleading with God till the words became chewed and worn. How could a man I’d only met once in my life impact me so deeply?

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All day yesterday, our breaths came in the form of prayers, prayed silently, mumbled as I did laundry, as we ate supper, and we planned our upcoming youth conference.

A verse that has meant so much to me in the past kept coming to my mind. As Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stood before the angry king and the furnace seven times hotter, they spoke these words,
“And if God chooses not to save us, He is still good.”

Still good.
God is still good, even after choosing not to answer our prayers to heal my dad, a skilled trauma surgeon, dying of cancer at age 39.
Still good when my mother found herself a widow with six young children.
When he could have kept my brother from drowning.
Or saved Christopher from Cerebral Malaria while his family served in rural Benin.
Or spared Marco’s life from the one bullet that changed everything.

Here again, we stood with uplifted hands and desperate hearts, pleading for a miracle.
And this morning, after another fitful night, I woke and scoured for another update.

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There it was. The update I didn’t want.
Todd has entered heaven’s gates.
We lay in bed, and wept.
All these prayers, these dreams, these tears we offer to God in such brokenness.

This God that is worth living for is also worth dying for.

And while I weep for Todd’s dear wife Jennifer and their four sweet boys, I know they are some of the richest in the world. They have been chosen to taste and see that the Lord is good, even through the ultimate sacrifice.

So we stand with them today, tears staining our cheeks, our arms around them as much as we can from the other side of the world, and we choose to say with them;

“And if not, He is still good.”

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(The plane airlifting Todd to Germany for treatment yesterday morning)

We find HE is our breath

The tile was cool under me, and the tropical birds called loudly from the mango tree. Sounds of an old truck lurching and jolting down the pathetically paved cobblestone road filled the air, just like they have for years. I think donkeys found the old dirt path smoother than the vehicles find the road, ever in hideous disrepair.

I held a warm mug of freshly roasted and brewed coffee in my hands,
and we chatted with my husband’s cousin and wife.
These tiles, the teeny bathroom with its narrow door, the remodeled kitchen I had helped design: it was all so familiar.
We had lived in this house, made so many memories under this ancient, leaky teja roof.
My son learned to crawl on these worn floor tiles.

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And then the phone rang and we quietly sipped coffee and listened to one side of the conversation. I could tell by the words that something was wrong.
Very, very wrong.

They went out on the lake. Three row boats. Swimming. Jumped in, and swam a bit.
Got tired. Sank. Can’t find him. An hour ago. Still nothing.

Oh God. Not again.
I sat here, on this same porch, seven years ago and heard nearly the exact same words. Only it was my husband on the other end of the phone, talking about my brother. “Melissa, I think Isaac just drowned.”

I will never forget the coolness of the swirling tile as I sank down, reaching up and wrapping its icy fingers around my heart.
The desperation and urgency in my prayers as I begged and pleaded for the impossible.
God could still bring my only brother to the surface.
God could do it.

I turned to my little sister and grabbed her shoulders,
“Promise me, if he doesn’t make it, that you will still trust God!”
She nodded numbly.

The moments and hours that followed are like an old fashioned reel of pictures,
snapping past so quickly, so loudly, emotion hung frozen in time.
Losing my dad to cancer and watching him fade before my eyes was so very hard.
But the sudden shock of having my brother, in the prime of his life, so full of dreams and questions and energy, gone in an instant was more than I could absorb.

And then the agony, the mind-splitting, heart-rending agony as the search for the body stretched out on and on, past day light and on into the second night.
It was a nightmare that felt like it would never end. One that I couldn’t wake up from.
We were trapped in this treadmill of impossibility.
This story couldn’t be real. God had taken again.
We were shattered, again.

We bumped out those awful roads in silence, headed to the lake, a year ago today.
There was nothing we could do besides join the search for the body.
We arrived in the town, our friends there smiled and hugged us gratefully, but their eyes were haunted.
They retold the story for the hundredth time,
some of the details worn so familiar that they ceased to feel real.

I saw it in my husband’s eyes. Again.
He HAD to go out and join the search.
The old memories, the responsibility of having walked this exact path before weighed heavy on his mind. He kissed me and the children and hurried off.
I knew it would be a long day. And it stretched out into the night.

For the second time, Daniel searches for a body in the dark waters.
Flashlight beams dart here and there in the water, and one wonders how anyone can ever thoroughly search in the ever changing, never-the-same surface of water.
I see that haunted expression in his eyes, and I beg God to let him find Peter.
To be the help, the support, the stability that he needed so badly seven years ago.

And I sit and wait. Praying, yet feeling so helpless. Again.
We make food. We drink coffee, handle phone calls, tear laundry off the line before a sudden rainfall soaks it all. We watch the kids, and try to keep things as normal as possible.

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But oh, what haunted me was Peter’s family.
God only knows how desperately I wanted to spare them this journey.

God was there, carrying me and reminding me of His faithfulness seven years ago in the shocking, sudden wake of my own tragedy.
But the years ahead of tears and heart ache and missing and questions?
How I wanted to shield them.
To wipe away the pain and reality of the new normal.
I wanted to fix it.

But I didn’t know best.
I would never have chosen this path for my own story.
No one would ever wish for this.

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Yet I have tasted, and seen, and felt God in the face of the raw shattering.
Deeper than my devastation was his faithfulness.
Fuller than my love for my brother was God’s love and wisdom in allowing my best friend to drown at the age of 19.
Higher than my own thoughts and dreams were God’s plans,
reaching farther than I could see as my eyes strained at the shimmering,
lovely yet relentless water.

They came, Peter’s dear family from so many states and even countries,
arriving before the body was found.
I met them on the steps, our eyes speaking what our tongues could not.
We wrapped in tight hugs, his sister I knew and the ones I didn’t.
We were wound into a strange familiarity in a story none of us wanted.
In this loss and agony, we were one.

It felt helpless, bringing platters of fruit that no one really felt like eating, brewing another pot of coffee when all they wanted was their brother.
But the one thing I could offer was assurance.
Proof that one can face shattering, and survive.
That God is big enough for our hardest questions.
That we can have the very breath knocked out of us, and get up and walk again.
To find life is worth living, and living with all our heart.

Words at a time like this are so small.
But BEING? There is where we see grace.

A.W Tozer knew it well when he said,
“It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.”

For them, this last year has been hard.
Packing up his clothes, his house, wrapping up the million little details of his story here. But I have witnessed his family facing the salty spray head on.
Of choosing the truth of God’s goodness over the gaping pain of their own loss.
Of carving words of courage and surrender onto the tablets of their hearts.

Today, one of Peter’s sisters is among the throng of a refugee camp in Greece, passing out warm cups of tea and comfort to those whose lives have been turned upside down. She wades out into the uncertain waters and reaches for little ones being handed off rafts, shivering in the cold, and grasps the hands of mothers whose eyes tell stories we can only dream of.
I’ve read the words another sister has written, the anointing and presence of God so real that I am deeply moved.

Wayne Grudem wisely said,
“…God’s purposes in present grief
may not be fully known in a week, in a year,
or even in a lifetime.
Indeed, some of God’s purposes will not be even known
when believers die and go to be with the Lord.

Some will only be discovered at the day of final judgement
when the Lord reveals the secrets of all hearts
and commends with special honor
those who trusted him in hardship
even though they could not see a reason for it:
they trusted him simply because he was their God
and they knew him to be worthy of trust.

It is in times when the reason for hardship cannot be seen
that trust in God alone
seems to become most pure and precious
in his sight.

Such faith he will not forget,
but will store up as a jewel of great value and
beauty to be displayed and delighted in on the day of judgement.”

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I would have written the story differently.
I would have made the road less painful.
I would have spared them this shattering.
But I sit back and look over this last year alone, and I see God’s handwriting all over their lives. I would have deprived them of such a deep measure of God if I had made it all easy.

God’s story isn’t done yet. Words are still being prepared and written.
Hands are being offered to those who so desperately need them.
There is something so powerful about ministering through our loss,
of reaching out and touching others.
And I see Peter’s family finding healing as they minister that same healing.
The comfort they are finding, they discovering the beauty of being able to minister from.

I read these words I wrote in those days of waiting for Peter’s body to be found,
and I rest in God’s goodness.
Even in the unfinished story.

January 23, 2015

And in this moment
of the water closing over our head,
Nothing sure under our feet,
When the noise of life is silenced,
And life as we know it slips out of control;

We discover we are carried,
That in our lostness, we are found.

When we gasp for air, we find HE is our breath.
And that here, this place of utter devastation,
is actually the threshold to REAL life.

And here, there is peace.

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(For those that do not know the story, Peter went down for a short trip to Honduras, right over the time of our brief visit last year, and drowned while on the lake. Daniel was right there as his body was found three days later. Peter’s family has been a beautiful testament to God’s grace in the face of such pain.)