Searching

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Something I enjoy, that I don’t have much time for these days, is antiquing. Wandering through those shops, reminiscing about items on the shelves gathering dust that were once in my room, brand new and valued, conjures up memories, some good and some better left forgotten, but all the same, I enjoy it. Never do I leave an antique mall, whether here at home or on a trip, that I don’t stop in the art section and check the paintings for the Lady In Red.

She was a mystery. She hung on the wall in my family room until I was a teenager. I would sketch her or pretend I was in her room, watching her put her makeup on. I made up stories about who she was and why she was wearing that ball gown. She looked over her shoulder right at me, and so I felt like I needed to give her a story, give her some truth or identity.

My dad, Peter Pochodaj, sailed on the General M L Hersey from Bremerhaven, Germany, where he was born and spent the first 2 years of his life. My grandfather Petro, and my Oma, Elfriede, were with him, along with his sister Irena. They were leaving behind a very broken country, in the aftermath of WWII, looking for a place to better their lives and raise a family, without the bruised identification that came with being German. My grandparents left behind paintings and rugs, dishes and silver, and a life filled with suffering and secrets. I often wonder if landing on Ellis Island all those years ago made them feel like everything that they left behind would maybe just stay there. It didn’t because the past may be behind us, but it is also who we are, woven into us, it walks with us and often haunts us until properly dealt with, and even then, it doesn’t actually leave us.

So they ended up in Detroit. In order to make the money they needed, as an immigrant family, my grandfather went to work in a factory and my Oma opened a German novelty storefront shop. She gathered art, rugs, dishes and knick-knacks most likely things similar to what she had left behind and she sold them. From that shop came the Lady In Red. She was not the only painting my father acquired from his mother, there were many others on our walls growing up. German villages and streets, castles in Switzerland, and rolling hills and mountains, most likely someplace in Austria, but none held my attention like her. Owning his own business though, finances were never guaranteed, and when it came down to providing for his family or selling some of those paintings, my dad did what he always did, he chose provision for us, and many of the paintings were sent to a consignment shop. And so I search for her. I don’t expect to find her, but I will continue to browse through the musty smelling sections of any antique shop I’m in, on the off chance she is tucked away somewhere.

There is a part of me that searches for Grace and I probably always will. When the three of us get in the car, I still look in the rear view mirror to see if both of them are buckled. Any family gatherings we have, extended or not, before we pray, every single time, I want to stop the person about to pray and tell them that not everyone is with us yet. When my sister and I used to take the girls places, we would just count, 1,2,3,4,5 heads. Always counting. I still count. When Evelyn struggles with friends, I search for the tactful words of my oldest, who made a joke about so many things, making light of heavy situations because she was a master at breaking up tension. I search for her presence every day, in small insignificant things and huge, overwhelming things. I still cry myself to sleep some nights because at the end of the day, no amount of searching will recover what I’ve lost.

There is a truth to that that weighs on my soul. It pulls me, sometimes jerks me, in a direction of pain, sadness, and despair. I fight that battle often, if I’m being honest. It’s easier to fight when I’m not thinking about it, and easier to not think about it when I keep extremely busy, but when this locomotion, that moves at full speed, has an obstacle in the tracks, let me tell you, derailment is not far behind.

I know the truth of what my life is. I know that my search will continue. I know that my emotional state will always be a little like that train. There are days, weeks and even months now, that I can be on track (pun intended), speeding along, actually enjoying my life, broken as it might be, and before I know it, something falls in my path and slows the whole thing down, and it takes me time to recover. But recover, I will continue to do.

Why? It’s not mental fortitude. It’s not because I have a great husband, family and friends. I do, but that’s not what keeps me recovering. It’s not because I can look down the line and see an end, because I don’t, there isn’t an end to grief, it just looks differently as the years race by.

Jesus is my truth. And considering “He is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), I have no reason to not recover. What He did and said and paid for to rescue me from sin and death, gives me every reason to continue recovering, no matter the difficulty. God does not derail me, my emotions do, my grief does, life’s hardships and struggles, stress and sometimes people can derail me, but God never does. He holds my hand and helps me clean up the mess, and then shows me how to get back on track.

I will continue to search for the Lady In Red. I will continue to search for pieces of my Gracie girl that are left all over (yes, like glitter), but I will never search for an answer. I need no answers to why or what if. I have the only answer I will ever need, and He is not a mystery or hiding somewhere out of reach. Jesus is my answer. That search ended the moment I found Him.

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Searching

Engage


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There were some things that were very important to my dad. My sister and I knowing how to drive a manual or stick shift, was among one of them. I’m not sure why, but knowing my dad, it was probably so that, in case we ever found ourselves in need of “borrowing” someone else’s vehicle, for an emergency of course, we could drive whatever we hopped into. And so my first truck, a Jeep Comanche, was a stick.

My dad bought me that truck a few weeks before I turned 16. He and I practiced the basics of how to handle a stick shift in the driveway and we took it out a couple times on our road, but I like to learn things quietly and alone, so when I got my license, on my birthday, I decided that I would not only know how to drive it, but I would excel at the skill. Every day, I would get done with my school work, jump in my truck and drive the dirt roads until I was low on gas. There were a few weeks of bumpy rides, stalls, rough gear grinds, and tire squeals, but after some work, I had it mastered. I can remember my dad saying each time I would stall, “Sara, take a deep breath, be patient and wait for the transmission to engage.” I had the distinct pleasure of then teaching my group of friends how to also drive a stick. The final test was always at the railroad tracks, stopping on a hill, and then taking off over the tracks without stalling. Proud to say, they all passed. 

It had been so long since I drove a manual, but then one of my best friends bought one recently. I again got the chance to help someone learn how to drive a stick and I have to say, my dad’s words flooded over me again and again as I told her, “be patient, wait for the transmission to engage.”

Yesterday, during one of the songs we were singing at church, I heard similar words, only this time it was coming from my heavenly Father, “Engage.”

Bob Goff says in his book, Love Does that “being engaged is a way of doing life, a way of living and loving.” Jim read this book recently and he liked it enough to share it with me. It is filled with so many good stories about being a part of people’s lives, showing the love of Jesus, without necessarily using words. Engaging.

It is extremely easy to disengage in life. We often do this when we get tired or overwhelmed, but it is dangerously tempting to disengage fully when life stalls, like it did for us a few years ago.

Losing Grace, almost 3 years ago now, was and still is the most heart-breaking experience of my life. All this time later, I weep over the loss of, not only my beautiful teenager, but the life she would’ve lived. The son-in-law I could’ve had, the grandbabies I was sure to have cuddled with. So many things were stolen on that night in January, but do you know what wasn’t stolen? My ability to engage.

“God comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from Him.” 1 Corinthians 1:3-4.

We love and comfort because we have been loved and comforted by a Father in heaven that was willing to be patient with us as we learned how to engage in life again, only a new life, one that we didn’t know how to drive, one without our Grace. The last 3 years have been filled with bumpy rides, stalls, and times when we disengaged completely, only to sit back, take a deep breath, and be reminded by our Father to be patient, and try again.

Engage. In your own life, but more importantly, in other people’s lives. This is how they will see Jesus. Love and comfort in your brokenness, because while you learn how to engage in the middle of your tragedy, you may just be teaching someone else how to engage in the middle of their own.

Thank you for your prayers this week and always. We truly do appreciate the love that we so often are surrounded with.

Engage

Darkness

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This past Monday, the 25th, marked exactly 2 years and 5 months since my Gracie girl finished her earthly race, way ahead of the rest of us. Can I be honest? It’s been such a hard couple days, wait, weeks, forget it, if I’m being honest, nothing has been easy since that day. I have lived in a sort of darkness, with pockets of sunshine here and there, but the night settled over me almost 3 years ago, and I don’t know if it will ever really be true day again.

When I was little I couldn’t sleep without the hallway light on, unless I had a warm body next to mine. My mom would call it the “Nighttime shuffle.” After the last person went to sleep, they would turn the light off and in the darkness I would lie until I finally decided to move on. I would leave my room (the one I shared with Lisa, who didn’t really want me close), and I would make my way to Amy’s bed. Being 6 years older than me, she didn’t really want my cold little body in her bed either, so after just a little bit, she would push me out, and I would then knock quietly on my parent’s door until given the ok to enter. There I would stay until the first sign of morning, or until my mom or dad moved my sleepy body back to my own bed.

I hated being alone. I hated being in the dark. I’m not entirely sure what scared me about either. I wasn’t allowed to watch scary movies, so I didn’t really have images of any monsters or the like, but my mind was and still is an arcade of thoughts and feelings that can be totally fabricated, by me, and the fabrications and imaginations can multiply much more quickly when the darkness surrounds me.

Almost 2 ½ year ago, someone shut off the hallway light. I sat in the ER waiting and I could almost feel the darkness sweeping over me, like when the sun goes down and you can follow the shadow to where you stand. I recall looking around me at the sea of faces, tears stinging everyone’s cheeks, and I remember thinking very clearly, and actually saying to my sister “please don’t let me sink, I think this could be the end of me.” It very nearly has been too, not physically, but in nearly every other way. I battle fear, every day. I battle pain, that overwhelms my spirit, every day. I battle bitterness. I battle anger. I battle the unknown. I battle.

Things no one tells you about tragedy or loss.

  • It won’t go away. You sort of live with it, co-exist with the grief, become acquainted with sorrow and pain in ways you would never imagine, and in ways you would never wish upon anyone.
  • The faith that you have, that appears so strong to most everyone, ends up making you feel somewhat like a hypocrite. You will ask yourself if you are actually as strong as people tell you that you are. You will ask yourself countless times, if people only knew how often you questioned God or got mad at Him, would they really see strength? Or would they see weakness? This weakness that only you know about isn’t a physical or mental weakness, it’s in your soul.
  • Grief, any which way you look at it, is a lonely road. You can have the best therapist, you can have the best of friends, you can have the best outlook on life, but you still have to walk with your thoughts and your grief alone. No one is going to understand exactly what you are going through. Stop looking for those people. The ones you think are out there, that can completely identify with you. They don’t exist. I have great people in my life. People that will sit down and let me talk or cry or whatever I may need to do, but when the conversation is over, I am left with me and my personal loss, my personal struggles, and the only One that can help me fully heal from them is Jesus.

This is not meant to discourage you, especially if you are in the midst of grieving. I will be the first to say that it does get better, at times, and then it will get worse again, unexpectedly. Remind yourself often that you are no longer who you once were, and what you are experiencing is all a part of learning who this new you is. It’s not a sprint, it’s not a race, it’s a journey, one which will take the rest of your life. Surround yourself with people that are willing to embrace your mood shifts, your inability to verbalize what you feel or your need to just sit and cry.

And….if you don’t know or understand who Jesus is and what He has done for you, in the love that He showed on the cross, your journey through life will be much more difficult. Can I just tell you, make room for Him. Ask, seek, knock.

When the lights were out and I had gone from one room to the other in search of comfort, I would almost always end up with my daddy. His arms just made me feel safe. There will be no comfort in the darkness that you feel until you learn to rest in the arms of God the Father, by way of His Son Jesus. It won’t make the darkness disappear, but I promise you, only there will you find peace.

Darkness

Access

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I spent a little time this morning, on my drive into work, worshipping the Lord. I recently found a new song that I quickly identified with and so it was easy to sing the words to my Savior, easy to enter into worship, easy to come before Him with my praise. Easy to worship my Heavenly Father, with no hesitation and no invitation necessary.

My dad was a machinist, a tool and die guy. He owned his own company from the time I was little. Before that, he worked at a couple different shops, but quickly realized that, as a chronic workaholic, he was never home, and having the 3 of us girls, he wanted to be around to watch us grow up. So he started P & M Machine (Pete and Marge, in case you were wondering). He built a garage on our property at the very back of the yard, moved all his machines in, and from then on worked in that little shop on Pound Road.

My dad wasn’t like everyone’s dad. He was strong and focused. He loved us and was a great provider, but he had a past, one that very few knew about. One that still leaves us with questions. His past was riddled with pain and suffering, not only as he grew up in an alcoholic, dysfunctional home, first in Germany and then here in the states, but then as a teenager, in a POW camp somewhere in the Vietnam jungle. His return from the war was not a kind one. There were no parades to honor those men, instead there were shouts of hatred and anger. So much of who we are stems from our life experiences, doesn’t it? Life taught my dad at a young age, that people couldn’t be trusted. Not only people that were presented as his enemy, but unfortunately, people that were presented as his friend.

So, back to the shop. I can remember people coming to see him for jobs or to get hired or to visit. Most often, unless they really knew him, they stopped at the house first, making sure he knew they were coming, because you see, not everyone was welcome. My dad did not like to be surprised. He needed to know who was coming and when they would be there. He didn’t want anyone catching him off guard (there were reasons for that, but we just don’t have the time to go into them). Not everyone gained access, not everyone was invited.

But….I never had to ask. I never had to be invited. I could surprise my dad and I had no fear or doubt that he would be thrilled to see me. I was his child. I had privilege. I had gained access because I was his.

So this morning, while I worshipped, I thought of my privilege, my rights as a child of the Most High God. I am always welcome in His presence. I was invited and I gained unlimited access before His throne when I accepted His Son and the work He did on the cross.

How wonderful is that? I mean, really?

Let’s not take it for granted today. I am going to make an effort to give more back to Him. More worship, more words, more adoration, more time spent in His Word, getting to know Him. He is so worthy and so good at loving us and giving us free access to His presence. He has made the way, He invited us, let’s spend more time daily, reveling in our privilege as children of our Perfect Father.

Access

My dearest grieving friends

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There is so much I could tell you, so many things that I’ve learned, but I know that, unfortunately, this is a solitary road and you will often feel like you are walking it alone.

But I am writing this to hopefully remind you that no matter what you feel, you are normal. It’s been felt before, it’s been said before and it’s been thought before.

In the beginning you will feel very confused. You will be sad, but the sadness doesn’t yet take hold of your daily life. You are in shock. Some days you will wake up and it will take you a moment to remember what happened. Your entire world just came crashing down, it takes awhile for the dust to settle.

You will count the days at first. It’s been 4 days since I’ve seen their face. It’s been 7 days since I’ve heard their voice. Soon it will be weeks that you count and then months, but at some point, you will lose track and when that happens, something else inside you breaks. This is your normal now. Evidence that time really does make you forget and that will hurt. Get used to random things hurting. This doesn’t fade.

You will run into well-meaning people that will, honestly, try to make you feel better with all sorts of well-meaning words. Some things will help, but most often it will just make you want to run away from the situation, hide your face and your feelings from the world. Don’t feel bad about that. You have an open wound, one that needs time to heal. What most people don’t understand is that the looks of pity and the questions about the pain just reopen a wound that you are desperately trying to keep protected. This will get easier.

There will also be people who will tell you that they understand your loss because they lost something too. I could give you an endless list of what people have related my loss to. A job, a dog, a great-aunt who was 101. Sometimes this will make you angry, but try to remember this one thing, they don’t understand, because no one can. The relationship you had with your loved one was unlike an other relationship you have ever had and will ever have. No one can completely understand your loss. I can meet someone tomorrow whose daughter was tragically killed in a car accident at 17, and guess what? They can sympathize with me on a level that most cannot, but they didn’t lose their Grace Elizabeth, their first born, best friend, with the sweaty nose and heavy feet. I can’t fault anyone for not getting that. Your relationship was special and unique. This will eventually give you comfort.

The five stages of grief are not complete and are not gospel. They are a guideline, one that was established for terminally ill patients nearing death, not necessarily a grieving heart. I can say, from experience, you can go through all 5 stages in a matter of minutes and you can probably add like 10 more. Don’t get stuck in what a book tells you to feel. Don’t let anyone tell you what your grief walk should look like. Respect the journey. The highs and lows alike will be unique to you, but let yourself feel them all. Don’t allow yourself to check out. When it overwhelms you, be overwhelmed, it’s healthy and natural.

There will be days when it takes everything in you to simply get out of bed. This won’t necessarily be in the first months. Studies show that it take about 6 months for the initial shock of grief to subside, and some say that the 9 month marker is the worst. People will tell you the 1 year anniversary is terrible and still others will say the second year is the hardest. When it hits (and it might be multiple times) it will hit hard. It can consume you. There were nights, if I can be honest, that I hoped with everything in me that I didn’t wake up in the morning. That may seem incredibly selfish, considering what I have to live for, but when all you want is to wrap your arms around the one you lost, your life loses its value and eternity becomes very appealing.

I could write pages, probably a book, of things you might feel, of things I have felt. The days that seeing her picture makes me smile, or the days that I avoid seeing anything that reminds me of her at all. How good it feels when someone mentions her name or tells me a memory, but the sting that accompanies it every single time. Learning that it’s ok to laugh again. Letting God place particular people in your life, maybe completely unexpected ones, that end up becoming your greatest support. Learning who you are all over again. Staying in comfort zones, where people know you, they know your story, so you can avoid the overwhelming anxiety of talking to someone new and the possibility of them asking any questions that might require you to talk about it. The fear that you will never be the same again. The pain, that slowly fades, but still remains, with every breath, with every sigh and with every memory.

Write down a list of what you know to be true. It can be anything. The first thing on our list, a week after the accident, was that it was cold out. We knew that for sure. Our list went on, though, with other things that we knew were true. God was still on the throne and we still loved Him. We knew that we were surrounded by people that loved us. This will help.

My dear friend, you are not alone. Many have been on this road, I have been on this road. I’ve walked it, I’ve crawled it, I’ve been carried a time or two, and sometimes, still, I just lay down, unable to move forward at all. You are normal, this is necessary, but God is near

All my love, as we journey together.

My dearest grieving friends

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

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