Three Steps Back…

when we find ourselves relearning what we thought we already knew

I flipped the closet light on and scanned the high shelves. There it was, the new box, only now quite old, that sported a picture of a 30D Canon. I pulled it down, and dusted it off, this old friend of mine.

While it should have been exciting, it stung.
Pulling this old thing down actually hurt, because it reminded me of what I had lost.
I was having to downgrade, step back and face my loss, my mistake.

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You see in January we took a sudden trip to Honduras, and of course every time we visit my brother’s grave on that wild, windblown hill in Carrizal, I want to document it for my mother who has not been back to her only son’s grave since his burial seven years ago. Some day I hope she will have the opportunity to sit there again herself, but in the mean time, I always make a point of capturing her grandkids crawling all over the river rock head stone (yes, we let them crawl on it- Isaac LOVED kids, and he would be delighted to know his grave is a place we let them play) or place bouquets of wildflowers gathered with childish hands.

Instead of renting a truck to make our trip back those bumpy roads, we chose to save a bit of money and take the bus.
“Plus” I told myself, “I want the kids to get to taste real life down here…”

So we took the three kids, and a backpack and my shoulder bag and piled onto the bus.
Daniel and I both have bussed extensively, and we have traveled Central America a LOT. We know how to do it, we know to watch our bags. We knew that adding three kids into the picture would get a bit hairy with busy bus stops, long waits, nasty bathrooms.
And it did.

Either during the long wait, or on the cramped bus ride, somewhere it happened.
I have revisited every possible moment, but at some point,
my SLR either fell out or was slipped from my very carefully watched shoulder bag.
Gone.

I am not an overly sentimental person.

In fact, years ago, I would have said I was not sentimental at all.
But Daniel had surprised me with this camera, a significant upgrade, for my birthday.
It was a camera for a much more qualified photographer than me, someone who still grapples with aperture and ISO. And pictures are one thing that I have learned to treasure. Moments and memories, and people forever gone from my life make pictures so much more important to me. But this camera represented what I hoped to become,
and motivated me to try harder, to reach for skills I only dreamed of.

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Six months had passed since I took a picture.
But yesterday I blew the dust off and turned it on.
And I snapped. It felt good. I played with the settings and snapped again.
Such a happy feeling.
A few more images and then the age old “Error 99” popped up on the screen.

I had forgotten.
This camera and lens have issues.

Just like me.

I’ve got issues that I forget about. And they pop up in the most unexpected places.
And at the most inconvenient times.

This last year, I’ve found myself revisiting emotions and places in my heart that I thought were chapters of the past. Stuff I thought I had faced and processed long ago suddenly feel fresh and raw. When I thought I had taken five steps forward, suddenly I had to acknowledge it, I had slid three steps back. Things I had worked so hard for, now I was grappling to grasp again. Facing forgiveness and choosing things I thought had become part of the fabric of my being is just plain rough.
And I hated it. I hated what I was feeling. I hated who I was.

One evening last week I looked up into Daniel’s face and said it.

Words I hadn’t even known were there, but were burning a hole in my heart none the less.

“Do you think God is angry with me?”
He replied so fast it shocked me.
“Of course not.”

I just stared at him.
I know Daniel loves me, through my ugliest moments, through the thick and the thin.
But how could he be so sure?
How can God NOT be angry with me when I feel so disappointed with myself?
How can it be ok to take three steps back,
to have to learn to use an outdated and problematic camera again,
to face heart turmoil ages old?

Because He knows the plans He has for me.
They are plans for peace, to prosper me.
To give me hope and confidence in the future.
Because He sees the bigger picture.

Years ago, on a rare family vacation, we were playing in the pool in the hot California sun, and while I loved to splash and play on the steps, the rest of the pool was deep and scary. I’d venture out for a second, depending heavily on my orange arm floaties, but a few kicks beyond the steps and I’d be turning around and frantically heading back into the shallows.
Back to where I felt safe.

But my dad scooped me up with a twinkle in his eye, and walked to the other end of the pool; to the deep. There was not a thing in the world I could do but scream at the top of my lungs, both in delight and terror, as he pitched me into the middle of that deep, deep end.

For all I cared, it was 100 feet deep, and I flailed and kicked and somehow, amazingly enough,
I reached the side.
Alive.

At the moment it seemed like a miracle that I survived, but I knew even then, in my five year old mind, that he was watching. He was ready to dive in the moment I needed him. But he loved me enough to know I needed to be tossed out into the middle, beyond any safety, where there was nothing to hold onto. Real love doesn’t always keep us safe; sometimes it takes us to the deepest element of terror. Because there we learn how much stronger His arms are than we ever imagined.
We learn He is ALWAYS there.
That He ALWAYS keeps His promises.

That feeling of terror still sweeps over me when I jump in deep, even though I can swim.
When I can’t feel the bottom of the pool and all is so, so quiet.
It’s there, the terror, the fear. But He is there too, and that makes it all ok.

It doesn’t make it safe, but life isn’t about being safe. It’s about walking with God.
It takes my breath away, His giving us this eternal treasure in simple jars of clay.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed.
Perplexed and confused at times, but never to the point of absolute despair.
We go through shattering times, but we are never truly forsaken, crushed but not destroyed.
It is in these times that we discover that we carry in our body the death of Jesus, so that His life may also come out of our temporal, human bodies…

Because of this, we don’t loose heart.

Our bodies, and all we feel, are wasting away, but at the same time, our soul is being renewed, refreshed, made alive, day by day. And when we see it like it really is, we understand that these are simply momentary groanings, preparing us for the eternal glories that cannot even compare to anything we have ever known down here. It’s all about seeing the eternal more clearly than that earthly…

(2 Corinthians 4:7-11, 16-18 paraphrased)

Somehow, this amazing God of ours loves us in the journey. He could have skipped this whole thing of life, and just taken us straight from salvation to eternity. But He sees something priceless about the process.

And sometimes that means letting Him take me back, to face old things, to relearn,
to accept my need afresh.

So today I’m taking a deep breath and turning that camera back on.
There are moments to capture. There are lessons to learn.
And I’m learning that’s ok. God loves me here, in my need. It’s not about my need, really.
My life is about Him.
And sometimes we learn best who God is when we see what He can do with brokenness.
When we see what He can do with us. After all, this is His name, our Redeemer.

“Let the words that I speak, and the meditation of my heart,
be acceptable and bring you glory today,
Oh Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

Nine years…

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I opened my eyes and he whispered, “Happy Anniversary!”
My sleepy eyes looked into his and we smiled. The brown curly headed angel sleeping between us sighed in her sleep, and he gazed at her proudly… There is something so amazing about watching the man you love father your children.

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Nine whole years… Years of more joy than I could imagine.
Even in seasons of such deep loss that I could hardly take a breath, he was always there, holding me.

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Daniel has been such a tower of strength and stability.
A calm when life felt so uncertain. A joy when tears were my only language.
Daniel has been such a safe, safe place. He has illustrated so well who God is to me.
Daniel, you have been God’s hands and feet to me.

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Marriage gets messy.
Living with someone day to day has a way of pulling out of you those hidden issues you wanted to pretend weren’t there.

Being married forced me to see how selfish a creature I was. I am.
But this man has taken me, loved me, forgiven me, and carried me away in his passion for life, and for God.
Having kids, sharing a bathroom, a bed, a life…
It takes sacrifice. It takes grace. It takes humility.

And Daniel has done it well.

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He has many demands resting on his shoulders. But he takes time to grab those little moments with the children, to make them laugh, to kick a soccer ball around. To be more than a father, he is establishing a relationship with them. He is a Daddy.

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Here is to many more years together.
More camping trips, and beach trips.
To dates to Lowes and family suppers at Domingo’s.
To comfortable silence as we sip coffee together, to laughing at our crazy kiddos,
to perhaps adding a few more rambunctious ones to the bunch.
And of course, to endless love.

Daniel, You are my dream come true.

And as always, special thanks to grettagraphy.com for her skill and ability
to catch those little moments in life that are really the big ones.

Joy, she wears it well…

Goblets sparkled and candles flickered.
One hundred and twenty or more widows were escorted to their beautifully decorated places at the tables.
The meal, so carefully planned and printed on the menu was served by formally dressed young people, feeling a bit starched but smiling. Carefully made corsages were pinned on their blouses, and each one was welcomed warmly.
It was our annual widow’s luncheon, and each year the group swells a bit from the previous one.

They come dressed in their best, leaning on canes or some walking with a limp.
I always love watching how well they dress, how carefully their hair is curled, their make up applied.
The colors and styles tell how much they really care. They are women of dignity, these widows.
They have seen so much, loved so much, and lost so much.
And now here they are, for a few hours of our time; listening.
It is our turn to give back.
We serve them food. We have a speaker, one who walks in their shoes. We sing.
We want them to know how much we care, how much we appreciate them.

I’m always blown away at the thought that what brings this unique group of women together is loss.
Each has a husband buried, each has wept late midnight hours, and sleeps alone.
Most have given life, reared children and guided children into adulthood.
But here they are today, leaning hard on the arm of one our young people, being helped to their seat.
They are alone.

Of course I am biased.
My mother sits in this crowd each year,
but only after she has gone around and spoken individually with as many as she can reach.
She is beautiful, her hair has silvered with time.
She looks regal, because she is. I think she is the most beautiful widow in the crowd.
I look up from where my husband and sisters and I are singing, and she nods and smiles.
It’s a look that says, “You are doing wonderful. You sound great. I am proud of you.”
And of course, afterwards, she finds her way to my side and says all those words.
She has always been my cheerleader.
Always.

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Life hasn’t been fair to her.
As she raised six lively children with the man she loved, and then lost.
And then as her life spiraled out of control and she found herself on the strangest journey ever.
A 15 passenger van loaded with all her earthly belongings and her six children headed to a land where she knew no one, and a language spoken that she didn’t understand. Then being caught, thrown in prison, the miraculous expunction and relocating to the east coast, far from Texas and the land she was raised in. And then the staggering and sudden loss of her only son.
How does one keep breathing after so much trauma?
Keep smiling? Keep living?

It is hard to see time wear at her.
To see her fingers touched with arthritis. To see her go to work to pay the bills when I wish she could just stay home and cook meals like she loves to do… I wish Dad were here to care for her.
To delight in his lovely little wife. To see how well he had chosen.
To grow old with her.

But God has been good. He has been gentle. And she has been faithful.
He asked, and she followed. He took, and she said, “Blessed be his name.”

Nineteen years ago yesterday, my Dad entered eternity, and my mother began this journey of widowhood.
She smiles. She cries too, at times.

But Joy is her name, and she wears it well.

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_______

If my mom has blessed you in your loss, or carried you in a special way;
feel free to join me in blessing her by leaving a comment below.

“Don’t be afraid of your hard…”

The light above the stove glowed warm, and pots clanked as we cooked together, this sister and I.
“Is Kara still alive?” she asked quietly,
about a woman who neither of us have met, yet whose story has become very dear to us.
I nodded, “But it won’t be long…” My words trailed off.
We hate this thing of dying, all of humanity does.
We fight for life with all we have. Life is so, so, dear.
It is all we know. Or we think so…

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She has been shaped by death, this little sister of mine.
Grew up with just flashes of memories of Daddy, the kind man in scrubs who would throw her high in the air, and alway be there to catch her. He would be there for us, making Sunday lunch when we returned from church, since he had been on call and couldn’t drive far from work to church.
He was there. Good, loving and kind.

Except then he wasn’t.
My childhood memories take a drastic turn to cancer treatments and beeping monitors and then kind hospice nurses training me how to flush his feeding line. I helped keep him alive a little longer, but he wasted away before my eyes. His strong arms that were always there to catch me shrunk to just bones and skin hanging.
His eyes got that distinct “deer in headlights” look that only the dying carry.

I was naughty, even at his bedside.
I remember I had been outside playing, but it was my turn to come in and give Mom a few minutes break.
It was just to sit by his side and read some verses of comfort, but I was in dress up clothes and the game outside went on without me. I pouted and read hurriedly.
He looked over at me and said something about reading cheerfully.
I tried, then.

I wish I had understood more fully what was really happening.
Does a child ever really understand death when it happens daily in front of their eyes, to their Daddy?

This morning Kara’s four beautiful children woke up for the first time knowing that Mommy was not there anymore.
Yesterday her long struggle with cancer ended, and she opened her eyes in heaven’s glory.
It is such a mixture of emotions, this joy for her, and the ache for her family…

The road ahead is not easy. I wish I could spare them the years of growing up with just memories. A child craves the physical presence of their biological parents. But my daddy didn’t choose to leave. And Kara wished to stay and watch these four grow into beautiful adults who would love God more than anything.

Last week I was at a family reunion and Daniel and I found ourselves in a conversation with a couple who lost their only son to cerebral malaria.
On the mission field. Far from family. It is shattering.
But in the same breath, we smile. Our eyes glitter with the reality of Heaven pressed deep into our core.
We dream. We wonder. “Do you think in Heaven they…” We are changed.
Eternity becomes the new reality. It is where God dwells with us.

“He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more,
neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who was seated on the throne said,
“Behold, I am making all things new.”
-Revelation 22:3-5

Yes, we have lost. Death has changed forever who we are. And really, it is a priceless thing.
You see, when the dagger of death pierces our life, we never recover. In an instant, our lives are forever changed.
This rushed and crazy life down here slows and looses its importance as we see through new eyes.
Eternity is just as close as Kara was yesterday, here in our arms and hearts.
And suddenly, we realize that life is more than we knew.
That eternity is looking over our shoulder, and it is to be embraced.
That here, in our tears and shattering, God IS.

I stood there, in that room bustling with people, tears persistently sliding down my cheeks.
I felt a tad ashamed. After all, I hardly knew their son.
It seems strange to feel so passionately the loss of a stranger.
But really, in loss, none of us are strangers.
His mother and I both stood there, hot tears dripping off our chins, together.

We cringe from this place of our shattering, and long to be whole again.
But it is here, in our brokenness, we find we are not enough.
And it is only here that there is room for God to fill us, to truly carry us.
Our strength comes in being channels of His presence, not in being enough.
We are strongest when we learn how to weep with those who weep.
For here it is not our strength at all,
but His.

Today my sister and I, and you and each of us have questions bigger than our answers.
But here in the not knowing, in the missing and the journey, Kara’s words remind us of reality:

“Hard and suffering is not the absence of God’s goodness…
Don’t be afraid of your hard.
Let it encourage you to know God’s goodness even more in your life.
And look for it. ‘Cause it’s there.”
-Kara Tippets

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Photos from Kara’s Facebook page, Mundane Faithfulness

You can read more about her story by purchasing her book, The Hardest Peace.

The best is yet to come…

It was late as we drove home last night. Again. We have been burning the late candle constantly this past while. Youth Bible School, a birthday party, a few other projects thrown in, and while it’s been really, really good,
it gets to you after a while.

I blinked into the darkness, and told Daniel, “I feel so… exhausted.”
“The kind that a night of sleep won’t fix?” he asked.
He knew the answer already. I nodded.

I want to hit these anniversaries with a special strength, and preparedness that will help carry me through.
But today hit me totally off guard.
Seven years ago today, Isaac slipped into the depths of the Lempa River and emerged on the shores of Heaven.
We want to think that as years pass, we will become more able to face the pain, the rawness, the ache.
And the edge does fade, some. But there are times when it is so raw and fresh,
it knocks the breath out of you and leaves you gasping.

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This morning we taste tears again, and miss that laugh all his, and wish our kids could grow up crawling all over him… He loved kids so, so much. But through blurry eyes, I find true rest in looking to the Author of this story, the One who sees all, and does everything well. Looking here, at the pain and loss, it is confusing.

But when I look deep into the Creator, I find rest for my weariness, and peace for this aching heart…

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“Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord
We will wait upon the Lord, we will wait upon the Lord
Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord
We will wait upon the Lord, we will wait upon the Lord

Our God, You reign forever
Our hope, our Strong Deliverer

‘Cause You are, You are the everlasting God
The everlasting God
You do not faint
You won’t grow weary

You’re the defender of the weak
You comfort those in need
You lift us up on the wings
Like eagles

From everlasting to everlasting
God, You are everlasting”

-Chris Tomlin

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“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18

Through the tears, yet there is peace. We are only in the middle of this story. The best is yet to come.
And again, I am grateful.

How much do I love you? Let me count the ways…

My Weston Boy…

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Seven years ago, you changed my life forever.

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 I never dreamed how much a child would change me, day by day.
That my child would become my teacher.
To notice, to listen, to feel more deeply than I ever had before. IMG_2623.JPG

God knew that in my days of deepest grief, that your eyes would glitter the joy of heaven.
I always thought that babies were held to be comforted,
but I discovered that I was the one comforted when I cradled you…

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I see flashes Isaac in your expressions, and it is such a gift and joy to me.
Heaven is a normal conversation around here,
and I wonder how God will use all the loss in your life to reach others…

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Your fresh perspective, the moments you stop and notice the way the moss grows on the tree,
the sunlight floats down through the trees, reminds me to slow down and enjoy these little moments.

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You make me laugh.
Again and again.

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You stretch me, make me need new answers from God, find grace in new places, and let God grow me even when it hurts.
But mostly, you are my sunbeam and my Energizer Bunny, never, ever running out of steam.
You live life 100%, nothing held back.
And I love you.

The world is ahead of you, buddy. God has big plans, and they start today.
Even in the little things, He has a purpose.

It’s simple:

Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.
He will never ask you to do anything that He won’t be right there, just waiting to help you.
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Happy birthday, my sweet Weston boy. I love you with all my heart,
Mommy

Broken Pieces

We stood in a circle and paused.

The busyness of the day was past, and night hushed around us, here on the back porch.
Evenings in Honduras are beautiful, tropical, and mysteriously wild…
The bare bulb glowed warm above us, and the night sounds surrounded us.
I looked around at our circle; a small group of people all waiting expectantly.
For communion.
To take part in this moment of breaking bread. It’s something we do, together.

“Take, eat,” Jesus had said, after blessing the bread, “for this is my body.”
And then He gave thanks and handed them a cup of wine, saying
“Drink, all of you. For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for the forgiveness of many…”
(Matthew 26:26-28)

I’ve often pondered this thing of communion. It makes me squirm.
Why did He say to take and eat His flesh, to drink His blood?
This crushing at our hands, this being poured out like wine, feels so cannibal like.
Why does He ask us to remember Him constantly in this way?
But He hands us the cup and asks, “Will you share in my sufferings, even unto the death?”

I’ve never viewed it in the same way since we lost Isaac.
This thing of death, of burying.
Even planting tulip bulbs is different now, the sound of the shovel reminds me of that long ago burial.
I place the bulbs deep in the cold earth, and take a deep breath.
We are so temporary. Just a breath. Like a flower, lasting a day or two.

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Daniel asked Peter to lead a song, and the small little group pulled a little tighter.
Our voices blended in the cool night air, and it was beautiful.

“Would you be poured out like wine upon the altar for me?
Would you be broken, like bread, to feed the hungry?
Would you be so one with Me that you would do just as I will,
Would you be light, and life, and love My word fulfill?”

We sing words, breathtaking words of commitment, many times without even thinking.
But the plea was clear, and we answered it,

“Yes, I’ll be poured out like wine…
Broken like bread…
So one with Him that we will do whatever He asks…”
It’s a big thing, this commitment to do whatever He asks.
And it is a blind thing, for we cannot see what tomorrow holds.

None of us knew that in two days, Peter’s body would begin that process of being broken.
That in a week’s time he would be buried, dust returning to dust.
And not one of us dreamed that in less than 72 hours, Peter, in a new eternal body, would be standing in the presence of God, caught up in the heavenly song of praise.
Just knowing that would have knocked our breath away.

But God knew. He saw how fragile we are, and knew we could not bare to see what the next week held.
But He invited us into this, His suffering. His brokenness. His agony.
And we look and gasp.
We crumble.
The reality of death and separation shakes us to the core.

We forget. We get lost in the night. In the saltines of tears. And the empty bedroom, the untouched clothes.
We forget that we too, are just one breath away from heaven, and Peter just beat us too it…
We forget that joy comes in the morning, that God sees a bigger picture than we right now.

It’s a small thing, this taking a little piece of bread and breaking it.
But it’s a bitter thing to actually do it. To follow Jesus in His sufferings.
To say “yes” when our whole being screams “no.”

I remember another time Jesus fed people. He looked around at a ragged and tired crowd.
Mothers held fussy babies and men carried weary children. They needed food, but that is not what they were following Him for. He offered them something they had never experienced before.
They wanted His words of life.

Jesus looked at the crowd, and asked, “Where can we buy enough bread to feed them?”
It was a preposterous question, and He knew it. It was impossible.
Not only was there no store nearby, but passover was just around the corner, and everyone was purging their homes of leavened bread. And that is just what Jesus was looking for; bread.
He wants something we can’t provide.

Five small loaves were nothing in light of this crowd.
Nothing. Just crumbs.
But this is where our Jesus delights to be, in a place of impossibility.
He takes our brokenness, our neediness, our shattering, and makes it a platform of glory.
The impossible becomes the miracle. Our brokenness becomes an opportunity for Him to shine through.
For where we can’t, He can.

Jesus took those insufficient loaves, that meager offering, and thanked God.
He took them, blessed them, and broke them.
Again, we find ourselves catching crumbs, broken pieces, and fragments.
But the strange thing is that after Jesus broke them and they were distributed, the people were filled.
There was plenty, left over even.

And here, in our place of brokenness, we taste just the beginning of His fullness.
In tasting His shattering, we partake in His wholeness. This is what Peter saw, when he said, “Rejoice when you taste these sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is made plain…”

It is bitter, this communion, but it is also sweet.
For passover is coming. Death is just a moment, an evening before the dawn.
Today our tears sting, salty.
They burn down our cheeks and carve canyons in our hearts.
But soon those caverns will overflow with joy, and this shall be a place of breathtaking beauty.

Welcome to this place of loss, for here, in Him, you shall be found.