Monday, September 30, 2013

Through the Valley's of Shadows

I miss him. There's not a day that goes by that I don't miss him. Outwardly I press on and I see my kids press on. I see our family and friends press on, but we all still ache and will continue to ache for a long time to come. It's like a cloud has made it's home over our heads, and we always know it's there. I have my good days, and I have my bad days for sure.  I have days where my heart is full of rejoicing at the thought of Jay's eternal home, and then I'll have days where I pass by his picture--one in particular by my bed, and I say, "I'm mad at you today". I of course immediately retract that and recognize it as pure jealousy. He got to go home to be with the Lord while I have to stay here and feel his absence. No matter what mood I'm in, God is there. He's reminding me of His faithfulness and He's guiding me through the unknowns as I walk in territories yet to be understood.

Part of this guiding began to take place one particular morning when I would wake up to make a big decision. I had decided, "no". That's right, I had decided "no!". I decided I wasn't going have it; I wanted Jay back and his dying wasn't in my plans so, "no!". As this thought gained momentum in my head I found myself acting out my frustrations in the form of a fit. I smacked every limb as hard as I could into my mattress giving it a good beating. I grabbed my pillows and beat those too! I yanked and pulled on my sheets until I was pretty much tangled in them, and then this time [out loud] I firmly said, "no!".  After all, I needed God to know I meant business. Yup, I threw a fit with God. I honestly haven't thrown a fit like that since I was five! The whole thing was pretty interesting to me and I laid there out of breath feeling exhausted and defeated. Jay was still gone despite my demands and there was nothing I could do about it. I looked up at God huffing and puffing and said--"What was all that about?".

The bible says that God counts our tears. You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. Psalm 56:8 One commentary explains it in this way- "David's point is that God cares. He knows what is going on and He hasn't forgotten His children or lost track of what has happened to them". God was not at all surprised by my fit, and he cares about the pain I felt that led me to it. He's bottled up every tear I've shed because it matters to Him that I'm hurting. I was able to curl up in my tangled sheets with the comfort of knowing that He understands and that He'll guide me through every step of my grief, but I still had fear and pain in ways I had never known, and I wasn't sure if I would ever feel different especially now that my "no" didn't really have much of an effect.

These feelings of uncertainty and fear began to overtake me. I kept my thoughts on God, read His word, and sought His help, but still my anxieties grew and I was confused about it. I was buckling at my core and I needed help; I needed His direction and yet I felt alone. Yes, it was so good to know that God cared about my pain and that he was storing up my tears--but where was He? My body was shaking now for two days in a row and I was having trouble breathing and focusing my thoughts. I was scared, and my body was letting me know it. Feeling at a loss for answers I felt the Lord calling me to come to Him in a face down kind of way-- you know, the full surrender thing. I listened. I felt depleted, and I had to trust that my God could revive me. I went to bed that night doing what most believers do in this kind of situation. I listened to Psalm 23 over, and over, and over again. Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me... and yet, I was very full of fear.

That next morning I woke up, dreading another day of the "shakes". Lying in bed I started to follow my usual routine of grabbing my smartphone to listen to some scripture before starting my day. I always go to becuase they have audio and I find it to be a very useful tool. But on this morning, my brain was feeling pretty fried--I thought I'd attempt to jump start it by checking out my Facebook wall first. It turns out that this decision was actually an act of God. He had something waiting in my news feed for me to see-- it was a thought that He'd want me to consider, and a work that He would equip me to begin. It was a quote from my favorite author-- "Fears are facts. There is a danger in saying that because a thing is wrong, it does not exist. Fear is a genuine thing; without it there is no courage. The courageous man is the one who overcomes fear. There are things in life that make us hold our breath, then in faith we look on to the end. "-Oswald Chambers

Through this message God was guiding my thoughts to give me a new understanding in this unknown territory I'm in. I felt a type of renewing happening inside, an assurance of who I am in His eyes, and then He spoke a further direction into my heart. I heard the words "gird up". As I heard these words my thoughts flooded with memories of my past. The valley's, the mountaintops. The long periods of silence, the waiting, the seeking, the hoping--the banking everything on a reckless abandon to Him which at times made no sense in my circumstances--and now He's saying to me, "I have been refining you. You are not who you used to be. Gird up". This was a gentle command to see past the shadows of death and to recognize--"...for thou art with me". He's always been, and He always will be.

"Thank you Lord for your faithfulness. No matter how lonely the valley or how deep it will go, we, your children, will never be without your light". Amen

God is good...
Bebo Norman-Drifting

Monday, September 16, 2013

Quiet meant time to think...

The days following Jay's funeral were the hardest. We all needed rest but rest meant quiet, and quiet meant time to think--and to be honest--that scared me. I knew that I would miss Jay even more as things settled down and that I would rely on my images of our life together to bring me comfort, but from the moment I had found out that he was gone, images of our life together seemed to be something my mind would not produce. I couldn't picture him walking around the house or playing with our dog, sitting in his office, walking up the stairs.. nothing.  I thought for sure that when the world stopped spinning and the quiet came that my memories of our times together would come back naturally, but they didn't. I tried to stir up my thoughts by thinking about some of our favorite moments together but my memories were more of a fog that didn't seem real, and my images of  Jay were fuzzy and unclear. It disturbed me, but I knew it was my mind's way of protecting itself and I had to trust God with whatever process He saw fit, and thankfully that would soon be revealed. 

There was a spot in our bathroom and every time I'd cross over it I'd begin to cry. It started out as a cry that I could quickly gain control of, but slowly it progressed into something deeper. I often would have to sit and ride it out, but still I couldn't understand why it kept happening. All I knew was that I hurt, and crossing over this spot made me feel the hurt over and over again. I had gotten myself into the habit of avoiding the area as much as possible, but one day being in a rush I crossed over it unexpectedly. It was in this moment that God would reveal to me what my mind was now able to handle. This was the spot where Jay and I connected every morning. No matter which one of us made it to their sink first to get ready for the day, when the other came in, we'd meet in the middle [the spot] for the good morning hug. Just like that I could see him standing there holding me. I could feel him, and it hurt. The cries I let out before this moment, every time I passed over this spot, prepared me for this heartbreaking picture in my head and it gave me the ability to withstand the images of what I had lost. I was able to embrace the pain and the tears of my reality as God had brought them on slowly for my sake. I believe it's important to embrace pain with the trust of God's presence. He will always be faithful. 

As time began to move forward without Jay, getting back into the routines of life made no sense to me. How could the world keep moving when my world and the world of my family's had completely stopped?  But the truth was that the world didn't stop. It kept spinning and I no longer felt a part of it. Hearing people laugh, and seeing the energy of people as they hustled through their business, became a path I simply had to cut through to accomplish what I needed to get done each day. It exhausted me, and it made the smallest tasks seem like the biggest endeavors. Going to the grocery store was about the only thing I could handle for a while and I wasn't very productive with that. I would head out with a list of grocery items that were pretty basic, and I would be lucky If I could manage to get one thing. I would feel fine leaving my house but by the time I'd get to the parking lot, all of my energy would dissolve and so would my productivity. 

One day as I headed out to run an errand I could feel my "energy dissolving" as I got closer and closer to my destination. I considered turning around this time but there were things I had to get done. As I pulled into the parking lot, the Lord put a scripture on my heart. It was Hebrews 13:2-Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. This was a beautiful thought to me: to consider that angels are roaming the earth, and that they truly exist. I found myself calling out to God, proclaiming this truth, and asking him to put angles in every direction of my path. As I drove through the parking lot, every person I passed appeared angelic to me and I found a new source of strength from within. This beautiful picture of angels surrounding me gave me the energy to get done what I needed to get done and at times I even felt carried. It was a very productive trip to the store that day and it continued to be that way throughout the rest of the week as I called out to the Lord for His help. 

I had told my daughter Danielle about what the Lord had shown me, and how I had been able to get through my week trusting in God's promises, and believing that His angels were present to help get me through my days. I could tell that the thought comforted her, but as God is so intimate and personal with his children, He would have His own plan to show her directly what I was talking about. Days after I had shared my angel story with her, we went to the grocery store to pick up some weekend supplies. We were in the fruit section coming around a corner display when we bumped into, dare I say it, a jolly old man. We laughed as we almost hit each other with our carts and then we quickly moved out of each other's way. As Danielle and I rounded the next corner, we bumped into our jolly old friend again. This time we laughed even harder, and finally he said that since he kept bumping into us he wanted to tell us a joke. The first joke was corny but so cute, and his charm worked it's magic on us as we laughed harder than what the joke itself was really worth. Then he asked us if he could tell us one more. "Are you church going people?" he asked. "Yes!" we said. He then asked us what God's first name was. We were stumped. Outside of God, I had no idea what to guess. He said, "It's Andy!". My daughter and I looked puzzled, and he went on to explain, "Andy walks with me... Andy talks with me..." It was so precious, and it gave us a good laugh. We needed that reminder that God is always with us, "walking with us, and talking with us". We're never alone, even when it feels so quiet, God is always there.

I told my daughter that I really believed that God had surrounded me with his angels  all week, and that I wouldn't be surprised if this jolly sweet man was an angel himself. My daughter was so excited remembering that I had shared all of this with her a few days before, and now she was witnessing an experience to call her own. This sweet man made us feel so good and so encouraged. He was just what we needed at the end of a long and challenging week. We went on to get our shopping done, and headed home on an angelic high, and both of us were praising God for His faithfulness. If this sweet jolly man wasn't an angel, he certainly was to us on this day. How much more should we value the opportunity to be someone's joy and encouragement--someone's reason to honor and praise God?! I want to make someone smile who needs it, or make someone laugh if they've been crying all day, or remind someone that God is with them even though they feel alone... I want to help carry someone through their path. I should be so fortunate to be mistaken for an angel. God bless that man, whoever he was! 

"Thank you God for bringing back the images of Jay that I hold so dear, and for preparing my heart to withstand them. You are my sole strength. Your angels have carried me, but you are my great caretaker who sets them on my path. I trust you, and I praise you wholly". Amen 

God is good...

Thursday, September 5, 2013

I felt profoundly calm...

The day of the funeral there was still so much to get done. As soon as the day started we were still printing out pictures, gathering paperwork, and making sure our check lists were complete. Everything was moving so fast as we worked against a ticking clock, and then suddenly it all just seemed to stop. The fast pace seemed to come to a standstill  as we were faced yet again with another level of acceptance--it was time to go to Jay's funeral. My thoughts were on my kids as they were about to say good-bye to their dad. They were so young, and it felt so wrong. I didn't want this for them, and neither did he.

When we got to the chapel, we were able to have a moment alone with him [Jay] before the funeral service began. Being near him, made me feel so at ease, I literally felt like I could pull up a chair and just sleep. My kids (all adults) were so strong as they faced this moment of truth. I kept wanting to see them as little girls and boys but they weren't, and they were having to grow up even faster now as they processed their grief. I felt both heartbroken, but also looked upon them with a sense of pride for who they were. As I watched them I saw strength, unity and courage. I was witnessing what Jay and I, in our life together, had instilled in them. What I was seeing was a legacy left behind by their dad and I felt proud. Proud of them, proud of Jay, and proud of us. 

As everyone began taking their seats, I mentally started arranging where my kids would sit. I was keeping the spot at the head of the pew open (just out of habit) for Jay. When I realized what I had done, I told my son Ryan to sit next to me in his spot. It just felt right.  The service began, and Jay's life began to play out as stories were told. The pastor leading the memorial service was our dear friend Steve and a special part of Jay's life. The men who gave the eulogies -Mike, Chris, and Ben- were men who represented the friendships that Jay had formed from the very early years to date. Along with Pastor Steve, every era of friendship was represented, and the common thread that all of these men shared with each other, was that in their friendships with Jay, God was in them all. This thought comforted me because I knew that Jay was a man who was continually working out his faith. Jay's twin sister then got up and shared (as only a twin sister could), and then our children. How many times can I say how proud I was to see our children so strong, and so mature? They talked about their dad, made us laugh and cry, and I saw Jay in each one of them as they carried themselves through it all with strength and poise. Everything was beautiful--everything felt right

When it was time to go to the grave site, our boys Ryan and Trevor took front positions as pallbearers as they carried Jay carefully to his final resting spot. I wanted to protect them both from the pain somehow, but I couldn't. They were doing what they needed to do, and they did it well. At this time people had an opportunity to come up and share any personal thoughts or stories. A friend of his named Gaddiel spoke and said something that I'll cherish forever. What he said about Jay was that, "he saved marriages". What a great thing to have someone say about you when you leave this earth. It was another honorable moment for him. I was so proud of this man!!

When the time had come to lower him into the ground we were able to have a moment of privacy once more. One by one we came along side his coffin and just held onto it, not wanting to let go. Eventually we all took our seats so they could begin the lowering process but I felt an overwhelming need to be with him one more time, alone. I realized that this was my last moment with him and that there was still more I needed to say. I had to tell him I'd be okay, that the kids would be fine, and that we'll make him proud. I had to tell him that I'll continue to fight the good fight, and that we'll be together again soon. They say that  funerals are for the living, and this moment was definitely for me.

We had his favorite CD playing (Good Monsters by Jars of Clay) while they lowered him into the ground, and I felt profoundly calm. Oh death where is your victory, oh death where is your sting? (1Corinthians 15:55) Jay was gone, but not. His body no longer here, yet he was still very much alive. That is the redemptive power of the cross. I'm not going to make it sound easy because it's not. Jesus cried when Lazarus died. John 11:35 says He wept. Death is the result of sin. Simply put, our world is broken, which means we're broken too, but we're not abandoned to that state. God gave us a way, and that way is through the cross. Yes, I felt the victory, and yes I also felt the pains of death at my own personal loss, but victory conquers death! As much as I have sorrow, I have 100 times more joy because my faith in the cross drowns out that sorrow. This was Jay's faith as well, and his journey on this earth reflected that. In his short 50 years of life his story was now complete , and so was the story of our marriage.

I love Jay with all of my heart and value our journey together both as man and wife, and as two broken people seeking God's truths. We are an unlikely love story that almost didn't happen, but we fought. Only by the redemptive power of the cross, were we given a love that developed in the realms of God's majestic design. This love became something deeper than what we both had ever thought possible. We found ourselves in this last year very grateful for it but not really understanding it, that is until now. Simply, God is faithful.

"Enjoy your rise from the ashes my love. I can't wait to be with you again and celebrate together in the light of His glory".

God is good...