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

Rescue

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I was asked to substitute teach the 4th/5th grade class at our school a couple weeks ago. They behaved, which I didn’t doubt, but one of the ways that I kept them focused is by promising to tell a story to them every time they got their work done and had some extra minutes. A story from when I was little. “Raise your hand if you want to hear about the time I was dared to run across a swamp or the time I was attacked by a dog or the time I was challenged to swim across the neighbor’s pond?” Hands went up for each tale, and by the end of the day, we got through all three and I think I managed to add in the one about the time I got stuck at the top of a tree playing hide and seek.

My childhood stories, as I’ve already shared, were one of Grace’s favorite things to listen to. And I have so many. So, because you are reading, and I am feeling the need to write, you are in for another story.

There are two very distinct memories I have of almost drowning. The first happened while my friend and I were playing in the creek behind her house. It was winter and we were stomping through the ice. Most of the creek was fairly shallow, and we knew where the deep spots were, or so we thought. I remember her walking in front of me and I watched as she jumped up and then came down hard, with both feet, crackling the ice into what seemed like a million pieces of shattered glass. Her feet would quickly fall through and there she stood, ankle (or sometimes knee) deep in freezing water. We were prepared for such an adventure with snow boots, strategically lined with bread bags, to keep the water from soaking our clothes. She would giggle, jump, turn around and smile at me every time. I would do the same. Trying to find spots that she hadn’t already broken through, I moved a little further to the middle. I shouted out her name, jumped high, pulled my knees up and came down hard on the ice. I heard the cracks and prepared for my 6 inch slip to the bottom, but I had moved too far out, and the fun that we had been having, came to a screeching halt. I remember feeling very cold, instantly. Freezing water was stinging my face as I reached around, trying to get a hold of something sturdy. Ice breaks so quickly when you are in a panic. I tried to calm myself down in order to think clearly about what to do next, when I looked up and saw my friend’s face. She was laying down on the ice, with a tree branch held out to me. I grabbed the branch and then her arm and she slowly backed up and brought me out of the water. She rescued me. We walked home that day, at a much quicker pace than usual, trying to get out of the cold and into warm clothes (undetected by our parents, so we didn’t get into trouble), and I don’t even remember saying thank you. It was just what she did, she was my best friend, and she rescued me from drowning that day.

The second memory I have of almost drowning was at a family friend’s pond. My whole family was on one of those big black inner tubes. We were laughing and bobbing up and down, in the middle of the pond, when I slipped off the back of the tube. Time really does slow down when something like this happens. I remember sinking, eyes wide open but unable to see anything due to the dark and murkiness of pond water. I felt something grab the back of my swimsuit and I was quickly jerked back to the water’s surface. My dad had went in after me, reached down, felt my body and just grabbed a hold. I sputtered water out as he hoisted me back to the top of the inner tube. Again, I don’t think I ever said thank you. It was just what he did, he was my dad, and he rescued me from sinking that day.

There is a song called “No Longer Slaves” that was released by Bethel’s worship team. In it, there is a line that says “You rescued me so I can stand and sing, I am a child of God.”

I’ve thought about that line so many times the past couple years. Rescued in order to testify. What have we been rescued from and are we doing a proper job at standing and proclaiming our thanks, our gratitude, to the one who rescued us?

2 Peter 2:9 says “…the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from their trials.”

If you know Jesus as your Savior, trust Him to rescue you. He has rescued me, over and over again. He has pulled me up from deep despair. He has held out His Hand when I couldn’t think clearly. He has put the right song in my heart, the right person in my path, the right verse on my mind. But when you do feel the rescue…thank Him, but not just in words, thank Him by letting people know that you have been rescued by the only One who can truly rescue you for all of eternity. Don’t be afraid to tell people. There are so many people drowning. In addiction, despair, depression and anxiety. In family circumstances that leave them feeling like they can’t see in front of them because it’s all too dark and murky. In lies that are spread that make them feel like freezing water is stinging their face. When He rescues you, and He will, let people know.

Tell the story about the rescue that saved your soul.

Rescue

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

Thrive

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If you asked Grace about her greatest regrets in life, she would rattle off a few, but then she would pause and tell you about her biggest regret, the one that would almost bring her to tears every time she retold it, the one about the frog.

She must’ve been around 8 or so. I was working in the yard and she and Evelyn were playing in the sandbox. They both came running over to me, extremely excited about something. As they each pulled a hand of mine in the direction of the sandbox, I started to realize what was going on. Grace had caught a frog. The sand bucket was tipped over, trapping the terrified amphibian, and as we got closer, they began the routine, the one heard by all parents a time or two, of can we keep him.

Here’s the thing, I hate to see any creature suffer or die. I will capture spiders in my house and release them. My family has heard me say countless times, “just leave them be, they aren’t hurting us.” I once had a daddy long legs lay eggs and have its little spider babies in the corner of my bathroom. I made Jim and the girls promise not to pester that little spider mama. I watched them all grow up and then one day just disappear (I realize this is probably making some of you very uncomfortable  ) But considering my weird compassion for those little pests, my girls knew the answer I would give them.

“You can keep it in the bucket for one night. Give it some grass and bugs to eat. Tomorrow morning, it has to be set free though. It may survive locked up, but it can’t thrive.”

So back to her #1 regret in life. She did what I said, but the next day she told me that she had let him go, when in fact, she added more grass and hid the bucket in the garage. She had every intention of checking on him and feeding him daily, but she forgot. When she came to me a couple weeks later, bucket in hand, with tear filled eyes, she confessed to me her lie, and the fact that her lie resulted in the frog’s death. Taking every opportunity I can to interject a good God lesson, we had a chance to talk about honesty, confessing our sins, forgiveness and why that little frog couldn’t make it in a bucket when it was created to be free.

So here we are, 2018. I feel like maybe some of you have wondered how our holidays were, maybe some of you haven’t given it much thought, and maybe there are some of you that haven’t even thought about it at all (and if that’s you, it’s totally understandable, I really expect nothing else), but for those of you that did wonder, it was pretty awful, again.

A couple weeks before Thanksgiving you begin to hear it in the distance. It’s like a train. You know it’s coming, you can hear the whistle, but you have to wait for the train to pass by. You really have no choice. Thanksgiving hits, as the train engine blows by, and you can feel the power of it. Then the month of December, each day another boxcar of the train. Some people will look for the end, others will just close their eyes and hope it finishes quickly, and still others will give up, whatever that may look like. Christmas and New Year’s wrap up the holiday grief train, and you are left feeling beat-up, your face stings from the harsh winds and the dust that the train kicked up, and it takes work to move forward. Unfortunately for us, we have a January train that follows right behind.

So we made it through the past couple months, and we will make it through the next one, but is just making it through what God wants for us? Yes, we survived, but have we thrived?

I was thinking about that frog the other day. How he probably could’ve survived in that bucket had he had someone feeding him daily, but that would certainly not be where he would’ve lived out his best frog life. He wouldn’t have thrived.

Surviving is when you let life happen to you.
Thriving is when you make life happen for you.

We have survived these past two years, and there is nothing wrong with staying in survival mode for some time after loss, but as believers, Jesus has called us to so much more. There comes a point, and it will be different for everyone, when you have to decide if you are going to allow your circumstances to define you or drive you.

John 10:10 says that the thief (Satan) comes to steal, kill and destroy, but Jesus came to give us life in abundance.

As I talked with Evelyn the other night, she told me how sad it is that people miss the big picture. She talked about how short life really is and that we tend to focus too much on the little stuff. The big picture being eternity, she said, and helping and loving people. The little stuff being literally everything else. And I know, you have a story, a loss. It may be a person you loved, depended on, needed. It may be an innocence that was stolen from you. It may be that the life you expected to have, the one you want so desperately, isn’t falling into place like you planned. Whatever it is, God wants you to begin to thrive again. That’s what He has called me to do in 2018, and I’m planning on being obedient. Care to join me?

Thrive

Marble Hope

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It took much longer than I had anticipated. We sat down with the funeral director over 10 months ago picking out the shape, the color, what the words would say, which picture would be etched in the marble. Then spring blossomed and bloomed, the summer breezed through, and the fall left its color. The few times I would visit, the only marker was a small plastic plaque with just a name and two dates. One date carrying with it one of my greatest memories, the other date, my worst fears realized.

They told us it would take a while. They said the type of stone we chose would have to be shipped in from overseas, but I needed it to happen, and I can’t even explain why.

So on Tuesday, this past week, we got the call. The area had been shoveled out from the recent snow storm, and the stone was set in place.

I was hoping that it would give me peace, a sense of completion, I guess, and it did, sorta.

I waited until Wednesday to see it. The black marble heart is visible from the road. It stands out like my beautiful Grace did. The words, etched in the stone, Love God, Love Others, were the very words she lived by. And the picture, taken in the summer of 2015, reflects the joy that poured out of her on a daily basis.

It’s perfect. It’s beautiful. It’s exactly what I had hoped it would be…

But, it’s cold. It’s marble. It’s a stone and the emotion that overwhelmed me was not peace.

A sense of finality rushed over me. The last piece to this tragic puzzle had been put in its place. I have nothing left to accomplish for my girl. It’s done. Now memories become my task. Making sure I don’t forget her voice, her walk, the way her nose would bead with sweat.

And oddly enough, while I knelt in the snow, with my fingertips numb from the frozen stone and my forehead pressed against her picture, my thoughts settled on Christmas, at least why we celebrate this season.   

Death entered this world through the fall of a man, but death is not the end because of the birth of a man. God desired eternity with us and so we celebrate Jesus. Isn’t that really what we rejoice in?

The fact that even in grief, there is hope. Even in tragedy, there can be peace. Even in the middle of a cemetery, surrounded by empty, soulless tombs, the promise of eternity can cause a flame that will burn at the hearts of man, melting away the ice of death.

I found myself hoping again. It’s always there. Sometimes the hope can be strong and thick, sometimes, it just barely flickers, but it’s always there.

Hope for a future home. Hope that my arms will hold my Grace again. Hope that death holds no victory.

Hope…wrapped up and laying in a manger.   

Marble Hope

Who Is God?

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Yes, I believe God still heals. I believe He completely restores health, at times. I have seen it happen. I have known, first hand, people who have gone back to the doctor after already receiving the dreaded diagnosis, only to hear, “we don’t know how this happened, it’s just gone.”

I have also fervently prayed for a miracle, believing a healing would come, only to sit at the edge of a bed, holding the callous hands of the first man I ever loved, as he slipped into eternity.

I also believe God saves and delivers, at times. My dad was in a head-on collision when I was a little girl. Both vehicles were going highway speed, my dad was not wearing his seatbelt, and to everyone’s amazement, he walked away, with nothing more than a few scratches. When he got home, he relayed the story to us, and we sat in wonder as he said, “I saw nothing, but I felt someone strong, pushing on my chest and keeping me in my seat.”

And, as you all know, at times, that’s not always the story. As I sat next to my first born in that hospital, looking at her silent face, with the only visible injury being on her forehead, I asked God why? Where was her rescue?

The questions will always be asked, the answers may never come, but none of the doubt or blame pointed at God, changes who He is and what His intention is for His children.

Faith will always be based on who we understand God to be, not on the situation we are facing. If we seek to understand the why of everything that happens here, I really think, we could drive ourselves mad.  There will always be death, there were always be abuse, there will always be injustice, because there will always be a fallen nature, sin will always be present, during our time here. However, who is God? Is He a loving God who seeks a relationship with His children, or a God whose character changes depending on what situation you are in?

God doesn’t change, ever. He is the same loving God that rescued the Israelites from slavery. He is the same loving God that walked in the furnace with the three Hebrews. He is the same loving God that created a way for us to be saved, by grace, through faith in His only Son. And He is the same loving God that held my heart, as it broke so many months ago.

Ask your questions.

Stand and shake your fist at Him in anger, He can handle it.

When all is said and done, remember He hasn’t changed, your circumstances may have, but He remains the same.

Charles Spurgeon once said “It’s not the strength of your faith that saves you, but the strength of Him upon whom you rely.”

Allow Him to be your strength today, tomorrow, the rest of this year. He handles your pain with the same loving care that He handles your joy. Trust Him today with both.

Who Is God?