A season of volunteering is a season of healing.

It has been almost a year since my high school best friend, college sweetheart, first and only man I ever kissed, and my husband of 7 years passed away. Chris died of Stage 4 skin cancer. He fought it for 10 years. He was a fighter, in everything; and he lived life with passion.

Four years into our marriage we were convicted to live differently. We were always taught about God since we were little kids, and we followed God when it was convenient and comfortable. Then we began to learn that what God wanted was for us to love and serve others. He wanted for us to love and serve others even when it was hard and messy and didn’t make a whole lot of sense. So we did. We became a family of 6 overnight by saying “yes” to becoming foster parents to 4 incredible, rambunctious, traumatized, confused but happy kids. This changed our lives in a very raw and non-glamorous way. It was hard, and we had to rely on God for strength but, it gave us an unbelievable joy that comes from serving and loving selflessly.

During the time we were foster parents we had an amazing miracle surprise, I became pregnant. Gabriella Grace was born into an extra loving and wild family. Not only was she loved on by her four brother and sisters, but she was the first grand baby and nothing could hold an adoring Grandma back from her long awaited miracle.

After a year and a half the four kids were able to return back to their Mom. We celebrated how much we had all grown, the kids, their Mom and us. We continued to see them almost weekly but our family of seven was now three. It was not even six months later that Chris passed away, and my family of seven was now a family of two.

I went to grief counseling, I blogged and talked about my story. I talked about Chris all the time. Then I developed a strong longing to be connected again to others who were hurting and struggling. I started volunteering at the hospital Chris was at for the majority of his last couple months. We became friends with a few of the nurses and staff, and the place almost felt like a second home. Before he began hospice, the staff at Sparrow Hospital helped us create a Super Bowl party where many friends said goodbye to Chris for the last time. It was so very special, and a night I will remember forever.

Now, I volunteer on two floors where Chris was hospitalized a year ago. I see nurses who I love and know from when they took care of Chris and I so selflessly. I have a family here, and it continues to grow. It grows when I sit by a patient’s bed and share my story of both pain and joy, it grows when a wife and caregiver sitting by her husbands side and understands me, it grows when a stranger I met a week ago runs up to me and hands me hand knitted washcloths. As I give of myself, I receive so much back in return.

I have countless stories of incredible, ordinary people who I have met. The reason they are so incredible is that they smile in the midst of life being so extremely hard and crummy. They remind me of Chris, strong and at peace. Despite the waves pounding their fragile body, their eyes radiate the sunlight and their mouths speak the promise of a rainbow.

It’s contagious, and I look forward to every Thursday when I volunteer at the hospital. I know the strength and encouragement I can be for others, because I am exceedingly strengthened and encouraged every time I am there.

To my little peanut

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Dear Gabby,

A week ago I weighed you at 23 lbs. Most people, when they first see you, mistake you for being younger. On the day you were born, everyone who met you for the first time couldn’t help but call you Peanut. The nickname has stuck to this day. But your size does not stop you in the least.

You are almost 22 months old. Most people who spend time with for more then a minute are surprised by this, not because you look younger, but because you act older. You are fast! Faster then most two year olds, and you keep me on my toes. You love other kids and you are not shy in the least. You have acquired quite a vocabulary over the last month and I hear new words every day.

Becoming a mommy to 4 kids before I met you, prepared me well for your fierce independence personality. I have learned to appreciate and know how to be patient with you in order to love and build you up. I’m still learning and Mommy is far from perfect but I know that God has given me what I need in order to be a good Mom to you.

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Although I welcome the breaks when Grammy and Papa have you for the weekend, I find incredible joy in the exhausting nights of holding you tight when your tummy hurts and you can’t sleep. And when all you want is a kiss and a hug after puking all over your bed, I don’t hesitate to comfort you and hold you.

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The love that I have for you is unconditional, and it seems to grow intensely when I see how much you are hurting. I jump at the chance of being your comfort. My heart aches deeply when I see the pain and discomfort you are in and despite the exhaustion, the smell and the extra laundry, I am thankful and joyful that I was given the chance to hold you in a scary and difficult time.

I imagine, my beautiful daughter, that this is the type of love that God has for me and the love that he has for you. He deeply hurts when I am hurting and when you are hurting. When I feel alone, he longs to be my comfort. When I am weighed down by hurtful words, it is God who whispers his love to me, “My steadfast love extends to the heavens, my faithfulness to the clouds.” Psalm 36:5 He wants to be your comfort too, always let him comfort you.

This week we both learned in Bible Study Fellowship that right from the beginning God calls his people by name. (Numbers 1-4) He knows you! He knows you and loves you Gabriella Grace. Your name proclaims that the Lord is your strength and a God who loves us when we least deserve it.

I will always love you Gabby, but I will not always be there for you. There will be times when there is no one who can be there to fulfill your need for comfort except for a loving and holy Father. God has given me you, as a gift, to care for and to love for a momentary time, and I will love you the best I possibly can. But you will always belong to God.

Trust in Him always, and allow The Lord to be your comfort and your strength.

I love you peanut!

Mommy

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A Gift

I have to apologize for not writing in a while. My life recently has been a whirlwind of emotions, mostly really good. I could easily compare it to a roller coaster. The last couple months have been extremely fun and exhilarating, but I feel like I am also trying to cling to God’s hand with anxiousness and fear and hope all at the same time.  My life is not incredibly busy, although running after my daughter has become a full time job, but my emotions and thoughts run me exhausted most days.

I will try and explain as best as I can 🙂

Meeting Tyler and getting to know him and falling in love with him has been a joyous and unexpected surprise. And I know not everything in my life is orchestrated by God, but I am completely convinced that God had this one planned out. I completely give God all the credit. Honestly, there were too many answered prayers to make me believe otherwise. Lets just say that Tyler brings me an incredible amount of joy, and every time he shows me love I am reminded of the love that God also has for me.

With all this new joy and love in my life also comes unexpected pain and sadness. Its like I have opened myself up to feel all the good, but I also feel everything else as well. Less then a year ago, Chris was my first and really my only. I married my high school sweetheart. And our relationship grew to be more mature based on the love and respect God intended for a husband and wife.  Now, in my new relationship, I know and feel love for another and it’s good and wonderful, but it also reminds me of the love I had for Chris and his love for me as well. This is a very good thing. Chris and Tyler share several similar qualities, and Tyler’s character often reminds me of Chris’s. I of course wouldn’t want it any other way, its why I haven’t looked back; but sometimes those qualities remind me of Chris, and I can’t help but miss him.

The only thing that is getting me through is sharing my thoughts and feelings to those who I trust, telling my story to friends or sometimes people who I just met for the first time, and realizing my struggle to a God who understands. About a week ago my good friend Bethany and I hosted a Christmas party at Dégagé Ministries in downtown Grand Rapids. Close to 200 men and women who, for whatever reason, have found themselves without a home, came to our Christmas party. I was able to catch up with some old friends who we knew from a couple years ago when we served at Heartside Park. I was also able to talk to several people I had never met before. One gentleman called me over to talk as I was passing by. He was an older African American who was missing most of his teeth but still had quite a smile. He started asking me several questions wanting to get to know me, and at this point I am very comfortable answering “I am widowed” when the “Are you married?” question comes.

I love this question actually because it makes the conversation go from surface to deep and intentional and real. I believe it’s the only kind of conversations we should really have as followers of Christ. I can immediately be open and real with a stranger, and when these conversations happen a stranger can become a friend in very short time. We talked for several minutes but the words that I remember the most from him is when he said, “Now listen, I can see that you have a lot of joy in your life, and I feel sorry for your husband who passed away because he doesn’t get to have that joy any more. But you find someone else that you can share your joy with, thats what your husband would have wanted.”

Its incredible what you can learn from those who you least expect.

I know that Chris misses me and all of us who he left, but I know that the joy he is experiencing is far greater then I can ever imagine. However, I never considered before that my life and the joy and love I have in life but also the pain, would be a gift to someone else. I never considered that I am a gift to Tyler. I realize how much he is a gift to me. He is the first person and sometimes the only who I share my deepest and darkest emotions too. He knows that I still miss Chris because he is there when I am sad, and he understands. I know my gift.

But I realized that day, from a man who did not have much to give, gave me a tremendous gift of realization that I am a gift to someone else.

Like the fall leaves, brilliant and changing

Right now I smell crisp air and burnt autumn leaves. I see the bright orange branches dancing against a brilliant blue sky. I hear the crunching of a thousand maple leaves as I speed past on my bike. I feel the wind rushing through my hair and I feel alive in a season that is revealing its beauty through change and loss.

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I wonder if a tree looks forward to its time where its color and brilliance leave us staring up in awe at the wonder of God. Or is it saddened knowing that all its leaves will soon be dead and gone? In a Bible study (Bible Study Fellowship) I attended this morning, I am reminded as God’s beloved daughter, my suffering and loss is for a purpose and it only lasts for as long as it’s necessary to bring glory to Him. I also realized that God is completely faithful. Of course He cannot prove his faithfulness to me if I am afraid to risk and step out in faith. And His light and brilliance will not shine inside of me if I am not willing to let go, to let go of my leaves and be naked and bare before Him.

I am studying Exodus right now. Its unbelievable the faithfulness of God. In Genesis 15:13, God tells Abram, “You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years.” God knew the hard future that lay ahead for His people. He also had a plan to deliver them and carried it out on the exact day that He had promised. Exodus 12:40-41 says, “The people of Israel had lived in Egypt for 430 years. In fact, it was on the exact day of the 430th year that all the Lord’s forces left the land.” The 30 years when the Israelites lived in the land of Egypt but were not slaves was the generation of Joseph and his brothers. (Genesis 1:6-8) God fulfilled His promise to His people on the exact day He declared. His timing is perfect and reveals to me that He is in complete control of those who love and put their trust in Him. 

I have experienced suffering and I have experienced loss. All of us have experienced suffering and loss and hardship. And I have realized that it can shine God’s brilliant glory and faithfulness if I am willing. I am continually changing and being refined by a designer, a healer, a teacher, a Father. He is creating within me a heart that is drawn to others who are experiencing suffering and pain, a heart that is willing to risk and love unconditionally and a heart that says yes to Him no matter the cost.

There was one more thing this morning that hit me and I want to share it with all of you just like if I was sitting down with you at Starbucks sipping on a Pumpkin Spice Latte. I would look at you with sincerity and share how I have realized that I am apart of God’s family and I will choose to always be apart of God’s family but the relationship that I have with the Lord Almighty can change. I can choose to become more intimate and more dependent despite my circumstances or I can choose to slowly drift away from His heart. After a pause of processing these words I would then tell you that I am going to choose to fight for that closeness, that complete dependence and that vulnerable and intimate love with God, my Savior, and I need you to help me and pray for me in doing this.

Pray for me friends that my life will be like fall leaves, brilliant and changing, that I reflect Him in all His wonder and beauty.

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Time and God’s faithfulness

There is something very strange about time.

It cannot be controlled, it is extremely unpredictable

but it is also completely constant and reliable.

I have felt both the burden and the gift of time so strongly through the loss of Chris.

The burden of time came well before Chris left me, left this earth. His clock was ticking and both Chris and I knew it. We talked and shared openly and I began to prepare my heart, because you cannot fight time. The burden continued after his death. The days dragged on, and it was almost as if time was playing a trick on me. When will I wake up? After three months of being alone and unmarried, time reminded me that it could never rewind. The pain of time continuing was excruciating. I could fight as hard as I wanted to, but time would force me to continue, to move on. I talked about this struggle openly to both God and close friends. And although God has complete control over time, He knows that my worst enemy will one day be an unexpected rainbow appearing after the rain.

So I waited and trusted, and doubted and waited and cried out that I would stop feeling that my heart was ripping out of my chest. In our world it’s very easy to distract yourself from reality. I distracted myself with noise. It was too much to be still, quiet. It always brought the raw pain. My evenings were watching TV by myself until I fell asleep. God called me out of myself and my loneliness and made it clear that He wanted to heal the hurt and pain. An engrossing show could numb me for a while, but, in time, it ultimately resulted in more harm than good.

So I turned the TV off and prayed. I trusted God to comfort me in the silence, so I committed to no TV for a month. It was a very difficult thing when you loath the empty silence of time after your daughter is in bed each night. It was difficult, but I stuck with it. Two days went by and my conversations with God in prayer became more frequent. Conversations with a new friend also became more frequent. I found that by day five I did not even miss the noise and slowly began to see time as a friendly face I could begin to appreciate in the future.

This new face, this new friend, was someone I met through people I am very close to and trust. Our beginning conversations were a continuation of what we all talked about with several other families every week. We continued to talk openly of our struggles and how God uses us in our pain and failures. We talked about how important it is for God’s people to serve each other and act as family. We talked about Chris and the loss I feel every day. We talked about Gabby, my joy and undeniable gift. We talked about God and his faithfulness, especially in the darkness and silence.

Every day I looked forward to talking with this person who God put in my life in order to show His faithfulness and His love to me. It was a completely unexpected surprise, and it brought me tremendous comfort, excitement, joy and freedom. I found that I was no longer kicking my feet and screaming at time for it to leave me alone, instead I started to see it is good. As I started to see this, I also stepped into the peace and love of God’s will.

Once I stopped trying to numb the pain, replace the hurt and trust that God will sustain me, He provides in His own way, a comfort and friend for me. Through this new relationship, God shows me that His way and His time is perfect, and I need not be afraid. In constant prayer about new feelings, new struggles and new direction, it became evident that both of our hearts desired to please God above all else, and we would follow His voice.

When feelings arose between us, I doubted its goodness. Should I really be feeling this way? When the honesty of our past and present were made known to each other, I feared those who would perceive me as ignorant or unwise despite the peace I encountered every time I prayed. When the pain of the loss I have felt for so long starts to dissipate, I question whether I even deserve this. Isn’t this pain suppose to last for at least a year? Isn’t that what everyone expects?

Then I stop and I am still.

Time continues, and now . . . I smile.

I want time to continue. It’s now a path laden with crisp fall leaves that I can’t wait to run on, it’s that sunrise you just can’t take your eyes off of, it’s that butterfly emerging from its cocoon. It’s beautiful and I am in overjoyed. Time can never let me forget my life and my love before this new journey, but now I can smile and laugh and take joy in all the memories while sharing time with someone else.

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Gabby and Grandma

Dear Gabby,

We are leaving tomorrow to go see your Grandma who lives in Pennsylvania. Your Grandma had cancer about 3 years before you were born and now she has it again. Your Grandma is a strong woman but cancer makes life hard and she will need us now more then ever. I will be there to take her Doctor appointments and make meals. I will be there to have late night discussions, to encourage and support. I will be there to assure your Grandma that in whatever circumstance I will be here to take care of her and she does not to worry.

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But you, my daughter, will be there to give your Grandma something I cannot give her. The incredible joy that you give to people astounds me. To a complete stranger you have a wave and smile. For any friend who comes into our home they are not left without little arms wrapping around their legs. And for Grandma, you give wide open mouth kisses over and over and over again. The two of you giggle until you have to catch your breath. The happiness and joy that you will bring to your Grandmothers soul is more powerful then anything I could ever say.

The reality of loosing your Daddy will always be with you, but instead of resentment and anger I encourage you to remember that you can be a brilliant star shinning brightly in the darkness of fear, sadness and pain. Your name, Gabriella, means, “The Lord is my strength” Let The Lord be your strength my daughter and the infectious joy that he has given you will radiate into the lives of everyone you meet.

There are a lot of people who are hurting because of cancer. Your life and your story connects you to those who are hurting and struggling with this disease in a very intimate and personal way. Some of your Mommy’s closest friends came from this shared struggle of cancer. And your Mommy knows so many people who have had to battle with this disease or walked closely with someone who they love so dearly go through its pain. When you’re older, it is likely you will know even more people than I. Take courage, my love, for we know that one day God will make all things new. Revelation 21:5

While we are anxiously awaiting, we are here in this world to love people unconditionally, to cry with people when they are hurting and laugh with them when they are, for that one day, feeling better. You’re only 16 months old, and I see already the compassion and love you have for people. Don’t hold back! Love God and love others, even when you might get hurt, it’s worth it every time. I John 4:10

What about the prayer of Agur

Today I received a devotion in my email. It was the prayer of Agur in Proverbs 30. If you’re like me you have never heard of Agur and the prayer he prayed. In Proverbs 30:7-9 he prays, “Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my Lord.”

Read this and then read it again.

Let it sink in, deep.

Is he really praying what I think he is praying? Should this be our prayer as well? Can it be our prayer if we live in abundance? Surely it is not a prayer we can really mean. The first request is reasonable, “remove far from me falsehood and lying”. I think we can all agree that is a good prayer to pray and one that God desires for us to pray.

Then there is the second request, “give me neither poverty or riches”. How seriously do we pray this prayer for ourselves? If we pray it, will God grant it?

Most applications I have read about passages similar to this will give a response such as the one below. Please read the devotion below sent by my church to understand my response.

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Would truly praying this prayer leave us with being thankful for what we have and saying “no” to one purchase we would normally make this week?

I understand it’s a lot harder prayer to pray when we have so much. It is a prayer prayed often by many of God’s people who rely on Him for their daily needs. We consider them poor, but perhaps God considers them rich.

Luke 6:20 “And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
Proverbs 16:19 “It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud.”

After reading this prayer over and over again I keep coming to the same conclusion. This prayer is really asking God, keep me away from telling lies, and keep me away from being rich. Please just give me my basic needs.

How did Jesus himself teach us how to pray? “Give us this day our daily bread,” (Matthew‬ ‭6‬:‭11‬ ESV)

It makes me wonder if we really should be praying, “only give me what I need for today, nothing more and nothing less.” What would happen if we actually prayed this? I am currently reading “Kisses from Katie” and it is an amazing true story of a 19 year old girl who left everything behind to follow God and love others. After living in Uganda for over a year and relying on God for her needs and the needs of her children she was caring for, she came back to the United States in order to get a degree. She accounts how she terribly missed relying and trusting on God for things we don’t even think twice about, food, clean water, education.

What has been the biggest shock to my system, the huge disconnect, is that I have stepped out of my reliance on God to meet my needs. I miss Jesus. He hasn’t disappeared, of course, but is feel so far from Him because my life is actually functioning without Him. In Uganda I was so physically “poor”, I was completely dependent on God and spiritually wealthy as ever. (Davis 121)

This is how I want to live and I am realizing that this is my prayer now in the very real and literal sense: give me neither riches nor poverty, only what I need for today.