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.)

While others sleep in the cold…

The white christmas lights on the mantle glowed and gave the room a warm feel, even in the midnight hush. Alannah tossed again and settled with her heels in my back. Little one inside stirred too and jabbed me deep in the gut with her tiny heels.
I pulled my blanket up a little closer, and closed my eyes again.

Christmas Eve sleep overs on the living room rug are a great idea. Just not super comfortable. But more than the hard floor pressing back at me were the images of others sleeping on the ground tonight.

We chose to do this to make a fun memory for the children. You would think that beds were out of style as excited as they were to plop pillows and quilts on the floor and snuggle in. I imagined the hard Grecian ground, the cold reaching through cardboard, clasped hands with the chill of fear already pulsing through the veins of those trying to sleep.

I thought of Mary, her body aching with sore muscles of just having given birth. She may have slept on the ground too.
I wonder if she got cold. Or if she was hungry.

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Neighborhoods around here are lit up with the festive Christmas colors. Plates of cookies and candies are given and carols sung. My children’s eyes gleamed as I handed them their wrapped gifts last night.

We are keeping Christmas simple this year, but the $6 blankets that I gave the kids delighted them. They stroked the soft fleece, and their eyes glowed. “This is better than a dream!” Weston smiled. Tirzah pranced around with the thick softness bunched high around her shoulders, stroking the velvet feel, “I can’t believe my BODY!”
They were so delighted with the simplest of things.

I fingered my blanket and wondered how many blankets could be stowed into a container, or a suitcase. How I wish I could reach across the ocean and pull a dripping child out of the chilly water, or grasp the hands of a terrified mother clutching her child and provide a bit of warmth, safety, love.

In a strange way, I feel connected to those refugees. They drink deep of pain and loss. They are on a journey, a desperate, life-changing one.
They leave behind things once dear, in exchange for something more important.
For freedom. For their children. For a new life.

We are each connected… We are brothers and sisters.
On this place called earth,
we are all one flesh, longing, hoping, waiting for something better.
When one hurts, we all hurt.
The chill they feel creeps up my spine, and I wish to pull them close. To help my fellow humanity.

Today marks the anniversary of when my friend’s baby entered heaven. Christmas mingles such salty memories for her, and I wonder again how we can keep breathing when air only comes in jerking gasps. Each year I wonder how to be the support she needs, the comfort, the understanding friend who has never lost a child I’ve held in my arms. There are many refugee mothers who could identify. But I lay here on the floor, surrounded by my slumbering family, and feel a pang of guilt.
For having.
For holding close.

I know Mary watched as Jesus grew, and pondered so many things. And all the while she knew a sword would enter her heart. This child who she held and loved and nursed, would be taken in the most brutal way. Yet, at the same moment, this child would bring breath and life and hope to all man kind. Her sacrifice is staggering, and her words of worship ring deep and true though the hard questions we ask as the world falls apart around us. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

In a world where she knew she would be shattered, she chose to embrace God’s way. Far beyond her human understanding, she chose to agree with God. She found peace, not in the circumstances around her,
but in who God is.

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A new year is just a few days’ reach away. With all the unknowns and the darkness of the world around me, I find a beautiful peace in pausing and being reminded that our lives are in God’s hand.
Our children are really his.
And each of my dear friends with hurting hearts – and those facing such trauma each day just to survive – are held.
Kept.
Preserved in His care.

May the joy of the Lord carry each one of you, and turn your tears to glory. Welcome to a new year of grace and of finding God to be more than enough.

Caught in the Inbetween

Clouds hang heavy in the sky, and air is hushed.
Rain from the last several days and nights has left the yard saturated, and puddles in the driveway reflect the grey sky. There is an air of subdued expectancy, of waiting with baited breath.
My heart feels the pause, and hesitates too.

Today depicts perfectly the last two years.
The unimaginable horror when the blissful honeymooning couple stumbled across burglars looting their home. His care in dropping off his pregnant young wife at our house, with a promise to be right back. And then the crack of the bullets breaking the silence. And he wouldn’t answer his phone.
Her terror multiplied, her prayers prayed in jerky, desperate breaths as she ran across the field toward where the sounds came from, then hid behind a hay bale lest the robbers shoot at her too. The hours of waiting as Marcus’ car was finally located in the woods,
yet she wasn’t allowed to go to him.

Waiting.
We sat in that horrid waiting room at the hospital, things looking as dark as the night time darkness that enshrouded the world, and our hearts. We prayed and wept.
Oh God, HOW could this have happened to such a sweet, happy couple who loved you with all their hearts?

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Days pass.
Monitors beeped and pressures fluctuated, making our hopes rise and crash back down with them. We whispered in the waiting room, brought in food, kept the praying world up to date, and believed that God meant what he said when he said “Ask in faith.”

He had a calling on his life.
We knew it, we saw it, we felt it as we worked with him in prison ministry and in youth activities.
How could it all be over, before it had even really started?
That burning passion in his heart that he talked about, what was it about if his life was over?
We pounded heaven in faith, in tears, in questions and in brokenness.
We longed to see him meet his son, that grew and kicked in his mother’s safe womb. She smiled, she prayed, she trusted, but she was numb.
We all were.

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God set the stage for something amazing.
And just like today, the world sat watching, waiting, holding our breath to see what God would do. And just like the disciples wept and followed as Jesus’ battered and unrecognizable body was taken off the cross and wrapped in linen, we were speechless as they took him off life support and his strong heart beat for just a few more moments.
And then stopped.

I know people die. I know even young people die.
But when there has been this much brooding – this much groaning in heaven – to drop it all and bury the promises? I can only imagine the betrayal the eleven felt as the stone wedged over the mouth of the grave, obscuring the one they knew brought life, now held by death.
All the teaching, all the hope, all the promises; what now?
I feel the subdued weight crushing their hearts, crushing mine.

The sound of dirt hitting the coffin,
the wail of his new born son,
the agony of the day his wife and child moved away.
God, how can this story be over?

We are caught in the three days before Jesus rose,
the pain of death shrouding our eyes,
the coldness of that stone is all we feel when we reach for our loved one. The chill creeps up our arms and threatens to turn our hearts cold and cynical of all that burned so passionately just days ago.
Like Mary Magdalene, we run stumbling toward to tomb, our hearts and lives shattered, everything smudged by salty tears.

But our vision is blurred by mortality, and just across the line of life and death everything clears. God listens as satan whines about how protected, how biased God has been toward Job.

God looks long and hard, and finally says,
“You can touch all he has,” and even eventually “his body,”
in this trial of Job’s life.

And Job sits in the pile of rubble, his children dead, his riches gone, his life shattered. Even his wife spits in the face of his faith and tells him to turn his back on God, who obviously has done him no good now.
This place of waiting, of silence, before redemption happens, is a long one.

We see it, we turn the pages, and we pause.
What conversation is happening in heaven over Marco, over Maryann, over your heart, and mine?
There are answers we crave, and yet, in the stepping back, in the shifting our eyes to God instead of our own need for understanding, we stumble across something big.
Something alive.
Something real.

It is the fact that our lives rest in God’s hand.
And He is writing a story much bigger than the one we thought he was weaving. We gasp as the light breaks just a touch. We catch a fleeting glimpse of Marco, more alive than ever before.

We silence the questions burning on our lips, and we choose to agree with God. We submit our limited understanding to the Master Creator of all, and we find there,
in resting and trusting, we are carried.
We are held.
We are safe.

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In the receiving…

I rolled over in bed, and tried to pretend I was sleepy.
After all, it was 4:30 AM.
We play tricks on ourselves, we pregnant mommies.
But the clock ticked loudly,
and my toddler sighed heavily in her sleep from her crib in the corner.
My husband slumbered away next to me, and I gently turned onto my other side. The tiny little one inside me tumbled and flailed on,
and my fingertips wished they had eyes to see through the layers of skin and muscle…

Finally I gave up.
Today is a big day, with multiple house projects and long awaited things to do. “Why waste time in bed when I can get a head start on the day?” I whispered to myself. But before I padded downstairs, I sat on the top step and let yesterday replay in my mind.

Seasons change, and we change.
My oldest has been facing a lot of changes lately, and his almost eight year old mind has a lot to grasp right now. He is caught between two worlds, one of carefree childhood, where life is best swaying at the top of the poplar tree or tearing through the yard with his puppy nipping at his heels.
And then there is this tedious, intriguing world of adults, and comprehension of much bigger ideas and realities larger than he ever dreamed of before, of eternity, and the choices he makes today and how they affect everything.

I pray for this child.
I beg for forgiveness in how I have failed him,
failed to understand his heart, and chose frustration in his maturing process. Being a mother has laid my heart bare so many times.

It boils down to the raw ugly truth. I am broken.
1J4P0419I am a needy person, trying to wear big shoes, and trying to do it well.

I saw in my son’s eyes yesterday the tears of disappointment.
They stung my eyes too. Salty.
Painful, this thing of life.

We are called to a high calling, to be holy, to live life here on earth as Jesus did.
I find myself with a foot in two worlds, just like my son.
The seesaw, a pile of dirty dishes contrasting with the warm cuddles of my children and sweetness of God’s word. The wanting to do the best I can.
The slap of failure and enveloping discouragement when I fall.

It can be so tumultuous, this thing called life.
Mountaintops abruptly followed by deep valleys, and labor and childbirth followed hard by the ecstasy of holding a new and breathing life.
How can the human heart take it all in,
and keep breathing?

I long for some brilliant revelation to help me grasp how to better walk today.
How to say the right thing each time.
How to have a heart that genuinely honors God, and those around me.

And the answer comes in meager and small words.

In faithfulness.
In the small things.
In the little moments.

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I am amazed that Jesus celebrates the journey, and not just the arrival.
How, oh how I have wished that this journey of life could be traded today for the reality of eternity. I remember standing on the edge of the river that only hours before had taken my brother from me, and heaven felt so close.
So alluring, so real, so near.
It was as if I would only jump in, then I, too, would burst through eternity’s dazzling gates. But I stood landlocked in the blistering sun,
so close, yet so far.

God knows how impatient I am.
I want eternity’s fingerprint all over my heart, now.
I want to be made like Jesus, now.
I want to be the perfect wife, friend, mother, now.

I look in the mirror and study the person looking back at me.
She is on a journey.
A long one.

And today, Jesus doesn’t expect me to sing in heaven’s tongue perfectly.
He looks at where I am today, and smiles.
And he invites me into his presence that changes and purifies me,
as I sort the smelly laundry and listen to childish squabbles.

Here, on the unswept floor of my kitchen, badly needing to be mopped,
it is here, that Jesus invites me into his presence.
Here, in my messes and needs, is the best place for me to be made into his image.

In the little steps today, I will receive from him.

And in the receiving, I will be able to give my children what they need.
Not because I have it all, but because I too am being carried, and taught.
_J4P0160Tears sting my eyes again, but this time tears of gratitude.
When we see we are loved in our need, we see how deep this love really is.

Love that reaches past my failures and loves me anyway – this is what changes me.

Celebrating my dad, and missing him too…

Morning light sifts through the sheer curtains,
but my room is filled with even breaths of four other people. It doesn’t seem to matter that two of the figures sprawled across the floor have bedrooms of their own downstairs. Somehow, most of the time, they manage to drift up the steps in the middle of the night and crumple in a pile on the floor in my room. I know soon we may need to put a stop to it.
The eldest IS going on 8, but I can’t blame him.
I always felt safest when Daddy was home too.

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I remember as a child sneaking down the hall and peering silently around the corner to catch a glimpse of my dad, sitting at the dining room table, book spread out under him, his tired eyes poring over the page. I’d tiptoe off down the hall, hoping no boards creaked and slide under the sheet, happy.
Life was good.

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So this morning when I got a text, there in that hushed bedroom,
and read my Mom’s words: “Today your Dad would be turning 59…”
And she proceeded to tell me how proud he would be of me, how he would tease and laugh with me, and dote over my children…
And tears streamed into my pillow, and suddenly I’m not the mom of three and wife to an amazing man.
I’m just a little girl missing her Daddy.

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I remember him taking me to a sporting good store and picking out a softball glove. Back at home in the yard, he stepped farther and father back, throwing the slow arching ball. I was scared after a poor catch where the ball hit my face. But he wouldn’t let me quit,
“Step toward the ball, not away from it.”
Toward the danger, the risk, to enable accomplishment.

Those words have followed me all through life.
Later,  holding my hand as I cried, Isaac would reiterate them,
“You cannot run away from your problems. You have to face them head on.”
To ask the hard questions. To plow through the muck,
determined to get to the other side and see what God sees.

It’s been a long time. I was only twelve when he died.
And I tried to be strong for everyone as we faced those days of gloom.
The clutch of cancer reached past my dad’s starched white lab coat, and grabbed the surgeon in his prime. Thirty-nine is very young to die.
And my dear mother was widowed, and with six children overnight at the age 38.
But I smiled and bounced and played with the kids. Someone had to smile. Someone had to remind everyone to live.
Life would get good again, only I couldn’t imagine how.

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I’ve wished for his presence so many times in these 19 years.
I wished to have his input as I dated and married.
I longed to have his arm around me, to let me bounce ideas off of.
To hear him say what I know, that he loves me.
Is proud of me.
To watch him play on the floor with my kids
(Uncle Neal, do you have any idea how much that meant to me while we were at your house? My kids adore you).

But I think I wish for him now, more than ever.
To watch my younger sisters have him guide them through life, to offer advice, to be a safe place.
And my dear mom… We watch old family videos and stumble across a scene with Dad in it, his voice sounding strange and unfamiliar. Guilt pierces deep and I wonder how I could ever have forgotten my own dad’s voice. But Mom is where we all pause, in the video Dad grabs her and dances teasingly across the floor. She laughs, and joins in his goofiness.
To see her carefree. Weight of life lifted off her shoulders.
She was a trauma surgeon’s wife. Life looked good, in spite of the 16 years of grueling school schedule.
But just as it was over, and things were looking up, he was gone.

Scan 9

She has smiled and plowed on,
but she gets on her knees and scrubs other peoples toilets to put bread on the table.
I would give almost anything for her to be able to stay at home,
to have free time to go visit the ladies in the nursing home and not worry about the bills.
Daniel recently asked me what I would do with a million dollars. And the biggest thing to me would have been to be able to set her free of work. For her to stay home and do what she loves; to cook and write notes of encouragement. Today, on my Dad’s birthday, instead of feeling sorry for herself, she wanted me to know how proud he would be of me.
Her life is so selfless.

But today, Dad would be providing so much more for her than just financially.
He would laugh with her, and help her to see life a bit more lightly.
He would grab her and make her dance across the kitchen floor, her soup spoon still in hand. He would dote over her beauty, and hold her hand.
She would not be alone.

My dad worked hard. He studied hard, and expected a lot out of himself.
But he was not a perfect man. He fell, and he fell hard. But he let God remake him. I remember in the weeks before he died, when skin hung on his arms like a concentration camp victim, and his eyes had the deep hollowed look only the dying wear, he wept loudly sitting on the edge of his bed.
Shanna and I rushed in, wondering if he needed more pain medication, which he hated.
He just shook his head,
“How I have grieved God with my life!”

He saw how his sin had pierced the very heart of Christ.
And of all the things my daddy gave me, this horrible, painful moment seared on my memory is somehow one of the dearest. My daddy saw his sin, and agreed with God. It all comes down to this; what does God see when He looks at my life.
For God is all that really matters.

Scan 6

Someone told me recently that growing up without a dad doesn’t have to cause pain, but I can’t shake it…
A dad is supposed to be there, cheering for us and encouraging us as we learn to take our first step, make our first wobbly bike ride, read our first book and eventually walk down the aisle into the arms of our groom.
Yes, growing up with out a dad hurts more than you can imagine.
It creates a vacuum and you watch everyone around you take their dads for granted.
We cannot pretend it does not exist, that the wound is not there.
It is part of our deepest being.
Breath taking, some days the pain nearly knocks you flat.

But this piercing is a gift.
Not having my dad to coach me through life has brought me face to face with my need from my real Father, the One who doesn’t die.
In the long dark nights, He WAS there, holding me even when I felt alone.

Honestly, sometimes the easiest thing is to run from the pain.
To be strong and happy and keep life going.
God didn’t create us to be miserable creatures, after all.
But the more I see, I understand we need to embrace our shattering,
and find the beauty amidst the rubble.

I’m learning to face it, to step toward the ball head on. Face the risks.
‘Cause life is worth living with all of our hearts.

Into the deep

I stepped into the raft, balancing myself and finding a place near the front, or so I thought. One by one, the other five fully helmeted, paddle clad people climbed in after me and our guide looked us over.

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“I bet we look like an unlikely crew,” I thought.
Three men, all strong and capable looking, and three women, each with slightly uncertain looks in our eyes.

Don’t get me wrong.
I was ridiculously excited about battling the white water rapids.
Daniel and I had each been here before, the US white water rafting olympic training ground, but never together, and we knew that one day we wanted to do this, together.

But even while the excitement was high, there was a teeny tiny question mark in a dusty corner of my mind.
Was I really strong enough to be an asset here?
And what if the boat flipped?

You know, the scenario they talk about in the warm up talk, describing what to do if you come up under the boat and need to get out fast?

But I smiled, wedged my foot under the support brace and gripped my paddle firmly. We would get this. DSC03138_2 I looked over, and could see the delight glittering from my hubby’s eyes.
He simply could not wait.

But the guide paused. He looked us over.
“Bummer,” I thought, “he looks too cautious. Maybe he will try to guide us over the calmest places.”
Which, in spite of my fears, isn’t what I really wanted.

“So what kind of ride do you want?” he had asked.
“Wild!” Daniel quickly answered. I nodded, mostly meaning it.
“Just shy of a concussion!” the tall guy shouted who had never before been over white water rapids.

He was big. Tall. The kind of man you would want on your side. A law student, we later learned, eager to fight crime and injury and make the world a better place… He wanted a challenge.

“Let’s switch the two of you on the middle row,” the guide decided after a trial strokes of our paddles. The lady with the big guy couldn’t figure out how to hold hers. She held a baseball grip instead of hand over the T. I cringed. She would need to know how to use the thing when we faced the real deal.

But in a few moments, and after a bit more instruction, we must have passed the test. The guide stood up and walked to where Daniel and I were, and we were suddenly in the back.

They call this “Big Water.”
It’s when they open all the pumps on this white water course. What before were placid rapids turn into fuming, foaming waters. You have to be at least 16 to even be allowed out on this, I later learned. IMG_0505 But there were lots of other boats out here, so it was all cool.
And our guide had never had a raft flip on Big Water.
So how bad could it really be?

“Three forward,” the guide commanded and our paddles dipped deep.
I worked to match my strokes to Daniel’s. Ahead were the first rapids, and they looked easy. The kind I would inner tube over. In a few moments, we shot over them, with just a small spray hitting us in the face, and suddenly we were looking at white foam and churning whirlpools.

The guide yelled something, but I couldn’t hear him over the roar,
even though he was right behind me.

Then we hit it.
I hadn’t seen it coming.
You couldn’t see it, the rock under the water, but it caught the raft.

All I knew was that the impact launched the guide suddenly off his seat and across my lap. In a split second the raft leaned heavily to the left, and catapulted us all out into the swirling mass.

I felt people under me, a leg kicking, water swirling in my face.

My first thought was, “Where are the kids?” and then remembered they were safe at home with their grandmother.

The water pulled and tore at me, pushing me down the rapids.
“Stay calm,” I told my panicking self as I fought to get a mouth full of air.
“Let your feet float, lay on your back, swim to the side,” they had instructed.

But the water kept crashing over my face. The lifejacket seemed waterlogged,
and I had to fight to keep my face up, out of the water.

I was alone.
I grabbed a glimpse of the guide behind us, trying to get back to the raft. I couldn’t see Daniel at all, but I wasn’t worried. He would be fine.
But where was Gretta?

My sister, the one who also has lost a brother to drowning. I caught a glimpse of her, and her strong boyfriend confidently holding onto her lifejacket.
I knew she was in good hands.

“Just get to the side,” I told myself.
But the water grabbed at me, trying to keep me in the current.
The concrete side, though just a few feet away, looked tantalizingly calm.

I pushed past the current and in a few moments threw my hands up onto the concrete and curled my fingers over the ledge, pulling myself out. Daniel swam up a few seconds later, and crawled out, smiling widely and his face mirroring the exhilaration he was feeling.

Within a few minutes, our guide had four of his six passengers back in his raft, and we waited for Gretta and Merlin. The raft hugged the side of the waterway, where the water played and lapped calmly at the concrete side. Our eyes scanned the bend, around which the water must have carried the two. I learned later that Merlin had pushed Gretta out and got swept further down the rapids. But soon they came, dripping and ready to climb back in. IMG_3139 I’ll admit. I was a bit traumatized.

We had just barely started down the course and the first real rapid got us.
Like really got us. And we were in for hours of this?

“Are you ok?” I asked Gretta. She nodded and smiled, but her eyes didn’t look quite so assuring.

The irony of it struck me.
Why would two sisters, whose only brother lost his life in white foaming waters, choose to go white water rafting?

Why on earth would we put ourselves in the position to have to fight the angry foaming water?

Our seating was all rearranged now, any careful placing was lost as waterlogged people had slopped back into the raft. Daniel and I were now at the front of the boat, not the back.

The raft shot out into the middle of the course, the calm open space where the rapids were left far behind. We laughed and chatted and found out how the unexpected dumping had hit each of us. And then our raft went up the long conveyor belt, and headed back to the beginning of the course, where we had been high and dry, just a few minutes before.

We were heading right back to the site of our dumping. Heart thumping, I followed the guide’s instructions to paddle towards the foam.

“Oh God!” the lawyer quivered.

The roar surrounded us; Daniel and I were first into it. And we shot past it, up over the raging white water and on to the next. We all cheered, we had conquered what had conquered us last time. It was thrilling.

Then they opened up the channel, where the boulders squeeze tight and the water pulls deep and sprays high. Here the adventurous kayakers hang out, dancing and flipping and playing in the powerful water. Our raft entered the channel and I felt us get pulled into the fast current. Ahead the waters merged and a wave three feet high reached for us.

“Paddle hard,” he yelled from the back and we dug in. We hit it a little to the side, and the raft dipped and leaned hard. My body collided with Daniel’s. “Lean LEFT!” the guide shouted. “Which left?!” the lawyer moaned.

But we all leaned hard and the raft righted itself. People standing by the side of the course cheered. Usually a rafting trip includes four trips through the rapids, two through the first stretch and two through the channel. But as we came around after the second time in channel, our guide said, “I think we have time for another.”

So we plunged down again, muscles straining and eyes glued to the water. Our guide directed us nose straight onto a rock and we spun around, our tail now the head.

“Keep spinning!” an onlooker yelled, smiling. This was all play to them, these techniques each with names and practiced many times. We shot down a deep fall backwards. I smiled, it was almost easier going backwards, not seeing how big it was till we were past it.

We sucked into a side eddy, and got lodged on a rock. A boat behind us flipped. Three staff members ran, throwing tow lines to the swimmers. We waited it out, ready to pull a swimmer in, if any came down the big rapids.

“I wouldn’t want to have to swim down that,” I thought as I watched the water leap down and churn angrily. But no swimmers appeared, and we pushed off the rock and in seconds were out on the calm water again.

“Hey, the channel is still open!” our guide shouted when the ride should have been over. “Wanna go?”  We all cheered and paddled toward it, the fourth and last time.

The water raged, and as we shot down into the biggest rapid, something in me snapped. I raged with it, I dug my paddle into the foam and I roared back. No one could hear my war cry over the noise, but it was a God moment for me.

I wasn’t gonna let the water, and all it has torn from me, be a conquering fear.
I would fight back, and win.
We ripped through the sticky spot and cheered.
I lifted my paddle toward heaven and roared triumphantly.

That last round was a second bonus.
The guide didn’t have to do it.
God didn’t have to do it.
But there was that moment, that war yell,
that “I will be with you in the deepest waters,” from God.

“Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.

My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.

My tears have been my food day and night,

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.”

(Pieces from Psalm 42)

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This morning is normal life again.
The children are sleeping in.
Daniel has gone off to work, our coffee mugs emptied.

I have a few muscles squeaking from the strain of yesterday’s adventure.
But would I turn around and do it again today, if I could? Of course.
Would I remember the terror of that first dumping, the struggle to keep my face above the water, the exhaustion after climbing out? Most certainly.

But today, God calls me to look my fears straight in the eye.

Not to dodge them.

Not to run from them.

Not to hide.

He is that kind guide, choosing to take me out of my comfort zone,
into the deepest rapids, to feel the foam on my face.

He gives me a paddle, a promise, and a strong husband on my side.
And he gives me a war cry, in that moment of terror.

He is there.
And He is proud. IMG_3140 (All the images in this post are of the Lempa River, where my brother left this world behind and entered Heaven’s gates. I will forever miss him, and his presence in my life now, but daily God uses his death to change who I am, and to see life through new eyes. And some day, the tears of now will be gems of gold, for the lessons we learned through them.)