Stories

6
 
In some houses, the nighttime routine would sound something like this…
 
“Read me another story.”
 
In our house, at least for a while and especially with Grace, it sounded more like this…
 
“Tell me another story. Something you did when you were a kid.”
 
I’m not sure what she was so fascinated with. I do believe that I learned from my daddy how to tell a good story, but when it’s your own story, somehow it doesn’t seem as interesting.
 
But I would oblige, sometimes, and I would tell her stories, my stories. Ones about my inability to say no to a dare, leading me, often, into precarious situations. One of her favorites was the time I was dared to run across a murky swamp. Thinking the green muck that coated the top of the water would be sturdy enough to hold my 9 year old frame and not wanting to turn back and seem afraid, I charged across. Perhaps the first few steps were simply shallow, but around the half way point, I began to sink. I ended up neck deep in the most disgusting mix of water and slime imaginable. I lost my shoes in that swamp, but I emerged with my dignity. I walked home barefoot, covered in a thick coating of green ick, proudly telling the neighborhood kids “I told you I would do it!” I remember being hosed off by my mom, as she gently reminded me that it was okay to just walk away from a challenge now and then.
 
Sometimes I would tell her more serious stories, ones about some of the stupid decisions I made as a teenager. Staying in an unhealthy relationship for far too long. Getting in a friend’s car, knowing that he was planning on proving the speed of his Mustang compared to the speed of another friend’s Camaro, on a well-traveled country road. Or keeping friends around that were very clearly pulling me away from the Lord, because once I make a friend, I usually have a hard time letting them go. I didn’t tell her all of the mistakes that I made, she didn’t need to know the details, but I guess I hoped that my stories would help her make wiser choices in her own life.

Isn’t this kind of the same as what the disciples did in Acts, or what Stephen did before the Sanhedrin? Told stories? They told of mistakes that had been made, poor choices that resulted in unavoidable consequences. All in hopes that hearts would hear and lives would be changed.
 
This isn’t doctrine and I know that everyone has an opinion, but when Paul talks about the thorn in his flesh, I’ve never seen that as a physical ailment. He very clearly says that it was a messenger of Satan, sent to torment him. I’ve always felt that a messenger does one thing, carries a message. What could that message have been for Paul? Oh, I don’t know, maybe it could’ve been a guilty reminder of who Paul was. A man who tracked down Christ followers and ordered them to die. Someone who stood by and not only approved of Stephen’s stoning, but watched it take place. And torment, my friends, comes in many different packages. I’ve had chronic pain, physical problems that don’t go away, no matter how many doctors I see, but nothing I’ve experienced in the physical, matches emotional or mental torment. There is no relief, no escape, no rest for something that plagues the mind. But Paul pressed on. He continued to tell his story. After pleading with the Lord to remove the messenger, God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in your weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)
 
What’s your story? What part of your life could you share with someone that needs to hear redemption? What weakness have you struggled with, that maybe you’ve beat at times, but maybe at other times, it has beaten you?
 
Sometimes I feel like I could write a list. Need to hear my story about friendships that end abruptly? I’ve got a few. Or how about the one about listening and believing deceptive lies, coming from the boy I thought I loved and was supposed to marry? I’ve got one of those too. I could tell you the story of watching helplessly, as the man that raised me to be dependent on no one, lay in a hospital bed, completely dependent on those around him. Or I could tell you my most recent story. The one about the greatest loss of my life. The day my world fell apart and my faith was tested beyond what I ever thought I could endure.
 
My stories could have titles like Depression, Anxiety, Fear or Loss, but there is redemption in each of these stories. There is hope and love, forgiveness and pain. Jesus is in my stories. Jesus will always be in my stories.
 
Tell your story. Don’t be afraid of it. Someone needs to hear it. Someone feels alone and lost and in the middle of their story and perhaps they don’t see an end, at least not one with joy.
 
Maybe, just maybe, Jesus can use your story to reach them.

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Stories

Splinters

Grace

My mom says I was seven. We were part of a tiny house church. My mom decided that the Lutheran Church we had been attending was no longer meeting our family’s spiritual needs. She was invited by someone who went to this house church and so we visited and found it exactly what we needed. I rarely made friends with girls. Growing up, there was one across the street from my house, but she enjoyed the same things I did, exploring, playing in ditches and creeks, and climbing trees. So when we started going to this new church, my best friends quickly became Joshua and Timothy.

We were inseparable. Josh was a little older than me and Timothy was a year younger. My mom would go to Bible studies during the week and I was always in tow. The family that owned the house that the church was held in, also ran some sort of construction company. The garage and shed areas were a playground of building supplies and tools, which we were, of course, given strict instructions to stay away from. Once Bible study would get under way though, the three of us would sneak out the back door and find a way inside the restricted areas and explore.

The incident happened at Timothy’s 6th birthday party. We were playing on piles of lumber, running back and forth, balancing and hopping from one stack to the next. I remember very vividly chasing one of the boys, when I came to an abrupt halt. Never having shoes on (I know, big surprise), I had slid my foot right over a loose piece of wood and it wedged itself firmly into my skin. It was such a large piece and I was moving fast enough, that I actually had to lift my foot to break free from the lumber, leaving a good portion of it still in my skin.

Making the walk back to the house, getting injured doing something I wasn’t supposed to be doing, was not a new experience for me. It was one I had made before, and one I would make many more times. Ask my poor mom. This time, however, I was wobbling with one foot on the ground and the heel of the other foot trying to offer balance.

It may not have been hours, but it felt like it. I was propped up on the kitchen counter with my foot dangling over the sink, while every strong, able-bodied man tried desperately to dislodge the splinter. I screamed, they tugged, I cried, they yanked, and I squeezed my mom’s hand while they worked, but no one was able to pull it free, it wasn’t coming out.

I’m not sure who decided that I needed a break (probably my mom), but I remember laying down in their screened-in front porch, with my head on my mom’s lap and my feet propped up, when a woman that I had not seen before came walking in. She sat down at the end of the couch that I was laying on, and she just started to talk to me. She asked me questions about my family and my sisters. She talked about her life, her family, her job as a nurse. At some point, she asked if she could see the splinter that was causing me so much pain. I lifted my foot up and rested it on her lap and we continued to talk. After about 30 minutes of enjoying this woman’s company, she stood up and held in her hand the sliver. I’m not sure I even remember her tugging at it. She put me at ease with her sweet spirit and that, along with my mom stroking my hair, ended the trauma, and I could walk on both feet again.

Loss can be like that stubborn sliver. You can be running along in life when abruptly, something stops you. It can be so debilitating or paralyzing, that you literally stand still, maybe out of fear, shock or sadness. Well-meaning people will try to remove the splinter. This comes in so many forms. It can be the reminders that your loved one is in a better place (any place that’s not next to me is not where I want her). It can be the unstated pressure to either feel better or maybe take something (as if any pill will make me forget what I’ve lost). Or it can be the “encouragement” that once you hit the one year mark, things will start feeling better (or it might hurt more as the days, weeks and months without her, have now turned into years). I realize that all these people want to help and I truly appreciate it (really I do, this is in no way an indictment on anyone’s kindness), but there comes a point, maybe out of sheer exhaustion, when it’s time to just lay your head down and rest.

Can I tell you what happens? 

The kindest, most patient Physician, will come to your side.  He will begin to comfort you with His words. As you get to know Him better, He will hold your wound in His Hands, and over time, it will begin to heal. There will always be a scar and there will always be the memory of the trauma, but at some point you will lift your head and see the splinter in His Hands.

And you will get up. You will walk on both feet again, I promise, but only if you don’t rush the process. Don’t allow outside sources to give you a timeline. Rest your broken spirit and allow the Great Physician to begin His work.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3

Splinters

Stalemate

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My dad was a tool and die guy. He owned his own company and for most of my childhood, his shop was located in a garage in our backyard. We spent countless hours in that shop. Working on the drill press, or shining some steel that needed to be packed up and sent away. We could make a few dollars cleaning up the endless amount of steel chips that covered the concrete floor or sit by the Bridgeport and tell him about our school day while he worked. My dad liked to create things. It came with the work, I suppose. I remember one time he proudly came into the house to show Amy and I the new earrings he had made us. It was one of those moments where you smile and say thank you, knowing full well you would never wear a pair of earrings made of scrap steel to junior high. The teasing was bad enough as it was, without homemade jewelry.

My favorite homemade creation of his though, was a chess piece he made to replace the rook we lost. The rook is the corner piece, the tower. Although, if I remember correctly, our rook had a face and arms. He looked more like a statue from Easter Island, but we needed him. Often, after a long day at work, my dad would come home, eat dinner and then challenge either Amy or I to a game of chess. This didn’t happen every night, but when it did, I would quickly find something, anything else to do. I loved setting up the board, but I hated playing the game. A few reasons, I think. First, my dad never just let us beat him. He was not the type to worry about us needing a win here or there. He wanted us to know the game and fight for our victory. Second, I’m not a fan of competition. I don’t like the way it makes me feel. I understand that some people thrive in that environment, but I don’t. I know that about myself, and I’m ok with it. And finally, chess frustrated me. It wasn’t the losing, the check or checkmate that irritated me, as much as the stalemate games. The ones where you are left with no more options. It’s not good, it’s not bad, you didn’t win, you didn’t lose, it’s nothing. A stalemate. Restart the game.

Grief takes you on so many different roads. For months I was a wreck. I cried all the time. I woke up with puffy, swollen eyes each morning, and learned how to apply eyeliner on uneven lids like a prize fighter. There were months that I spent angry. Little things would make me upset. I’m pretty good at keeping my words in check, but I would hit our punching bag until my knuckles bled. Then there were days, sometimes weeks of feeling sorry for myself, hating the life I was living and wishing it had been me and not her. Often these roads, or stages like some call them, would repeat…still repeat. Sadness, anger, self-pity, and so many more, in that order or out of that order, lasting for days or months or maybe just hours. Looping around, for who knows how long.

But my least favorite road, the one that I’ve found myself on sometimes, completely without warning, is numbness. This is not listed in the 5 basic grief stages, so if you find yourself here, please know, it’s normal too.

In my life it looks something like this….

A very sweet friend of mine passed away last week. She was older and she had spent the last 8 months of her life in and out of rehab and in a lot of pain, but as I sat at her funeral recently, I felt nothing. No tears, no sadness, nothing. I’ve been here before, so I know when this wave subsides I will again feel the normal emotions that come when a person you love passes away, but for now, no win, no lose, stalemate.

This is not to say that I’m feeling nothing about anything. I found Grace’s old iPod the other day and after charging it, I was overcome with joy, amidst the sobs, when I found video and audio of her that I had never before seen or heard. Minutes of her voice, her smile, her laughter. Things I miss more and more as each day passes. So I feel, I cry, I’m sad, but only about this loss. While I’m on this path of indifference, it’s like I can’t handle any more than just this one thing.

These are the days I depend on the Truth, what I know to be real. The love of my heavenly Father and the love of my family and friends.

So many times since my dad’s death, I have wished that I could make the short walk from our house to the shop, sit on the work bench next to the Bridgeport and just talk to him about life and the twists and turns it’s taken. He would listen, like he always did, until I was all done, and instead of trying to fix the problems, he would hug me and tell me that he loved me. He understood that while he could fix the chess board or fix us a pair of earrings, he could not fix our hearts. That was something only God could do.

Sometimes in life, like in chess, a stalemate is called. There are no more moves to make and no clear winner can be determined. It might be frustrating and I might hate it, but I’ve learned, especially in the last 18 months, to just clear the board and start again.

 

Stalemate

Polarity

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I love the sun. I love  the warmth of it on my face. I love the way it gives me a less pale color and how the Vitamin D provides me a better outlook on life in general. I also know that too much of the sun can be damaging. I know that, while it has so many positives, the negatives can be easily matched. 
It really is like so many things in life. It can be beneficial, and  incredibly harmful. Simultaneously, two complete opposites working in the same place, at the exact same time.
This is my life. 
My sister-in-law is having a baby. Holding this beautiful baby boy soon…joy. Grace would’ve loved this baby, he would’ve been all she talked about…sadness.
Our school play was a couple of weeks ago. Evelyn did a great job, I was so proud…joy. Grace would’ve been helping anywhere she could’ve. She loved the school plays…sadness.
Another holiday awaits me tomorrow. I will, no doubt, receive some love from my beautiful Evelyn…joy. Grace would’ve pressed her forehead to mine, our noses touching, as she told me I was her favorite mommy…sadness.
I live in this constant state of polarity. Always trying to thank God for what I’ve been given, while constantly missing what I’ve lost.
Can I just say, it’s exhausting. I’m tired. 
Some say the second year is more difficult than the first. I’m not sure it’s more difficult, necessarily, but it’s more permanent. Finality courses through your thoughts, it undercuts your reality. This is real, this is forever. You no longer stand and wonder whose life you’re living, you know it’s yours, you know it every minute of every day.
Did I already say it’s tiring?
Isaiah 40:31 – “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.”
If I know one thing for sure, it’s hope. 
Hope for a better tomorrow. 
Hope that one day this won’t sting as much.
Hope in eternity.
Hope in salvation.
Hope, like an anchor for my soul, firm and secure (Hebrews 6:19)
Hope that the sun will shine again tomorrow…and hope that I won’t get too burned.
Polarity

He Gave

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Remember those fancy old phones? They were antique looking, if they weren’t actually antique, often with gold or bronze finishing, and they were extremely heavy. Keep that image tucked away, as I back-story a bit.

Before Grace was born, I took a job as a nanny. I went into that position knowing the family from the day care center they attended, and I worked at. When I first began this job, there were two little girls, but a little boy was on his way.

I remember being so excited about the opportunity, because I’ve always loved working with kids. They ask very few questions (well at least not the dig-deep kind), and they don’t judge, they just love, and that’s pretty much all I want to do too. Plus, the added bonus was, I was going to be married soon, and I knew I wanted to be pregnant right away, and being a nanny gave me the chance to bring my baby to work. It was a perfect fit.

I couldn’t have predicted, on my first day of working there, that those three kids would become such a part of my heart. I loved them (and still do) as if they were my very own, and when Grace was born, her early years were spent with two older sisters and an older brother. I still thank God often that He blessed me with this specific family. The parents allowed me to help raise their three beautiful children, all of which I still brag about and love and consider my “first babies.” I’m extremely proud of the adults they have become and I like to think I helped a little in the process.

So the phone, still hanging onto to that image, right?

It was a favorite toy of Grace’s when we were at work. She and Nick would play with it and answer calls to each other on it, until one day it fell from the desk onto Grace’s little 2-year-old toe. She had a high tolerance for pain, so when she didn’t stop screaming, I packed everyone up and headed to the doctor’s office. It was just a short 20 minute drive, but by the time I got there, her big toe nail was completely black. I held tight to Grace while they cut under the nail to release the blood that was building up. She cried, I cried, and for the first time, I truly wanted to take someone’s pain and bear it myself.

Watching her suffer, scream in fear and agony, gave me a more intimate understanding of what unselfish love looked like. And true to my nature, I looked into how I felt, and dissected it, because that’s what I do. I remember walking out of that clinic and feeling a new connection to my Heavenly Father. I realize how vastly different the pain of her toe was compared to the pain of the cross, but I was able to grasp a little better what it must have felt like to watch your only child suffer, and how badly God the Father must’ve wanted to just ease the pain.

And then 2016 came upon us, and within 25 days of that new year, I again, felt an immediate new connection to my Heavenly Father, but now, it was because I was face to face with the death of my child, a pain that only few have ever felt.

Last Easter was difficult for so many reasons. It was the first Easter we didn’t make up baskets. Evelyn wasn’t feeling it, and I wasn’t about to push through on something I really didn’t want to do either. It was a holiday, and if you’ve lost anyone close to you, you understand that holidays are no longer filled with the joy they once were. And it was the first time that I could relate to God the Father, on a very personal level.

He gave His Son for us…gave. Let that sink in. I lost my girl, but I would never have given her up for anyone. His love for us was so great, so vast, and so unconditional, that He endured the death of His only Son, so that we would be able to experience a right relationship with Him. Not one that was based on what we did or could do for Him, but based simply on the covering or atonement of the blood of Jesus.

I’ve been asked by many people how I make sense of this past year, and I can honestly tell you, I don’t. None of it makes sense. I feel like we did all the right things. We prayed for safety, all the time. We dedicated that little life over to the Lord when she was just a baby. We had plans for her future, we had hopes and dreams. We trained her to love her family, which she did. We trained her to love God with her whole heart, which she did. If there was a handbook on how to raise up a good kid, I think we followed it pretty well, but with all that, this is where our lives are at.

Does that scare anyone? It scares me still. It reminds me that so many things are outside of my control. That the protection that we pray over are children, should be focused more on the protection of their souls, rather than the protection of their physical bodies. It reminds me that nothing earthly is promised to me. Not prosperity, not happiness, not health and certainly not safety from any bad thing ever happening.

Although, it also reminds me that I worship and praise my God, not for what He can do for me, but because of who He is. If nothing else “good” ever happens in my life, God is still good, regardless of any situation I might find myself in. If everything I hold dear is stripped away from me tomorrow, God is still good. If I find myself broken and depressed, again, God is still good. He does not change and neither does the amount to which He loves us. When we are lost in battle, whether in our minds, our emotions, or our souls, He watches, He knows and He loves.

Praise Him this weekend, tell Him how much you love Him in the way you love others. Give Him the glory that He deserves, not because your circumstances are perfect, but because He is God, and He is worthy of whatever we can offer back to Him.

Easter morning service will come around in just a few days. I will, hopefully, have the opportunity to worship with two of my three “first babies” and countless others that I know and love, but no matter who is standing on your right or left, keep your eyes focused on the One who never changes. Keep your eyes focused on the One who gave up His life so that you could have a life that never ends, keep your eyes focused on the Lord, His eyes are always focused on you.

 

 

 

He Gave

Highway Miles

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It has a name, of course. Everything has a name these days. Most of us have experienced it, some more than others. You leave work, get in your car and head home. However many minutes later, you pull up to your house and realize you don’t remember any part of the journey. You remember putting your keys in the ignition and putting it in drive, but everything after that is a blur.

Are you now wondering what the name is for this phenomenon? It’s called Highway Hypnosis. Evidently, your brain has the ability to focus on the subconscious and the conscious at the exact same time, causing you to be able to arrive somewhere, without giving much thought to the process to which you got there. 

Saturday morning I woke up, checked my phone and looked at the date. I stared at it for a couple minutes trying to remember why it looked familiar. With the life we lead, I went through my mental checklist. Was there something planned for Ev, soccer, the play, an appointment? Was it Jim? Something at church or work? Did I have a party to go to, did I have something to plan? I couldn’t put my finger on what I was supposed to remember about that day, until later on that evening when a friend asked me how I was doing, considering it was the 25th.

It was the 25th. For 13 months, the 25th rolled in like a wave. The first nine months or so, more like a tsunami. As the months have progressed though, the waves have become less violent and now, I stand ankle deep in a tide that is somewhat steady.

As I thought about my inability to remember the significance of that day, I wondered how I had arrived here. Much like a ride home that remains a mystery, my journey along this road of healing still catches me by surprise at times.   

The birds are chirping this morning, something I couldn’t hear last March.

Laughter fills my home again. Genuine laughter, not the nervous, awkward kind that becomes normal when what you’re saying and what you’re thinking are so vastly different, you can do nothing more than giggle uncomfortably.

I’m falling for my husband all over again. Not that there was ever a time in the last year that I didn’t love him, but survival mode often leaves you clinging to what is safe and secure. Clinging is bad. It creates a dependency on a person, a human being, with flaws. God created us to love and share life with others, but He also created us to be dependent on Him, and Him alone. As I loosened my grip on Jim, I was able to watch our relationship grow again. Releasing my hold allowed essential nutrients to flow from our source, the Lord.

Again though, these changes happened over the course of this last year without me really recognizing the process. And there are countless others.

I heard a song the other day that I didn’t agree with (big surprise). The lyrics had something to do with God giving us a new heart when ours gets broken. God gives us a new heart one time, when we confess our sins and acknowledge our need for a Savior. Ezekiel says God puts a new heart and a new Spirit in us (His Spirit). But a broken heart, that does not get replaced, it gets repaired.  God will bind your broken pieces, if you allow Him, and almost always it will take longer than you want it to. I am beginning to see some of the restoration, some of the mended pieces of this broken heart, being sealed back together. God is faithful and He is trustworthy.

This is in no way saying that our hearts are fully restored. Jim and I will often look at each other and ask the obvious questions, why us, why are we living this life? We may still have more bad days than good ones and reality sinks a little deeper each time we hear her beautiful name, but God has never left our sides.

One of my all-time favorite verses comes out of Deuteronomy 31. Moses is speaking to the people about Joshua taking his place. Moses says “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you or forsake you.”

Even though there are parts of this road to restoration that I don’t remember, aspects that remain a mystery, I know who is leading me, and in His mighty hands, I will rest.

Highway Miles

Professor

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It’s like sitting in a college class you never signed up for. As you look around, every other student looks just as bewildered and unsure as you. Some look more beat-up and battle wearied, while others look put together, almost normal, but somehow you can see it in their eyes. The eyes don’t lie. They didn’t sign up for this class either, they never asked to sit in these seats, they never wanted this professor.

As he approaches the front of the room, you hear deep sighs released from a student in the back, you see tears streaming down the face of a grown man in the front row, and all the while you’re wondering what twist of fate, what plan of God landed you here, a pupil in this class.

Complete silence falls over the room as he begins the lesson.

“My name is Grief. Some of you have just joined my class for the very first time and some of your faces I have seen for years. As we begin today’s lesson, please know, weeping, wailing, fits of anger, rage or confusion, moments of laughter, sneak peeks of joy, and smiles, brought on by memories that flash before your eyes, are not only welcome, but encouraged. Everything you feel today, tomorrow and forever, has been felt and will be felt by countless others.

You Are Not Alone.

You are not alone when you feel guilty for having fun.

You are not alone when your heart hurts so badly, you can feel the physical pain in your bones.

You are not alone when you feel that your very identity was buried with your loved one.

You are not alone when you count the days your eyes have remained dry.

You are not alone when you get angry for allowing tears to fall in front of people.

You are not alone when you lay awake at night wondering how this happened.

You are not alone when you wish you wouldn’t wake up in the morning.

You Are Not Alone.

Before I begin today’s lesson, please stand up and walk over to someone you don’t know and tell them your story, and listen, with painful ease, to their story. Transparency will be your strength in the coming days, months and years. Hear their pain, share your own. Allow your broken heart to find unity with other broken hearts. Wrap your trembling arms around their trembling frames and remind them that they are not alone.

Class, you will forever be my students. You don’t graduate from my class. One day you will look back and see how far you’ve come. You will be able to speak of memories without your eyes welling with tears. You will wonder how you made it through what could only be described as the very fires of hell, but you will make it. Allow each lesson to teach you something about yourself. Allow me to change you. Become more compassionate. Become full of mercy and full of love. Don’t shut yourself off to those that haven’t filled seats in this class. They might not understand your pain, but God can use them to carry your burdens.

We will cover every topic you could ever imagine in this class, because I will affect every area of your life, but who you become as you learn, will be entirely up to you. You can allow this experience to make you bitter and resentful, or you can allow it to shape you into someone that’s cloaked in empathy and peace.

We will now tackle today’s lesson, one that I know you will need to hear more than once. One that will make you lay awake in your beds at night, when sleep seems as far away as the soul you long for.

Today, our lesson is titled…

Why?

Let’s begin.”

 

Professor