Monthly Archives: April 2017

Traversing A Tornado – When Life Seems Like A Whirlwind

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This past week, I cannot count the number of times I heard that it just felt like we were being caught up in a whirlwind. I can relate. 

You see, my big brother died last week. There are still more questions than there are answers. The pain associated with his death seems unbearable some moments.

 

When I look at this picture, and one I’ll share in a few moments, I’m a mixture of emotions. I smile, and I cry. You see, he was just 40 years old. He’s supposed to still be here. My big brother. 

I wrote, and had the honor of reading a eulogy at his funeral. It was not without tears, but it was also not without giggles. Fitting for the dichotomy that walks alongside losing someone you love. The following words are my hearts voice: 

Steven was a lot of things to a lot of people. To me, he was my big brother. He is a son, a grandchild, a nephew, husband, daddy, an uncle, and a friend. He was my friend. 

If you knew him, you’d know he wasn’t any cookie cutter mold of what society thinks of as normal. But, that’s what made him, well, him. He could be out there at times, but he was passionate. He had such a tremendous heart. He loved his family deeply, and he valued himself as a protector. He would do just about anything for those he loved. 

I know that many of us feel like this is a nightmare, one we wish we could simply wake up from. It feels so surreal, and it’s hard to even believe at this point. 

In his honor and memory, I would like to ask and challenge each person here to live life on purpose. Be intentional with your time. Love people like tomorrow isn’t promised. Tell them you love them. Make sure you know what they mean to you. Treat people with compassion and kindness, and make sure people know their value. 

None of us know how much we mean to others. But when I looked around the room last night at the visitation, and I look around the room right now, I see love. I see people who my big brother touched in some way, shape or form. He had a tremendous impact on this earth, and his absence this side of Heaven leaves a giant Steven shaped hole in a lot of hearts. Nothing can or ever will take his place. And it shouldn’t. 

One of the last things I want to leave you with is a reminder. It’s okay to not always be okay. It’s okay to hurt, and to mourn a loss of someone pretty incredible. Just don’t stay in that place forever. Connect with other people, and connect with hope. Celebrate that he lived, don’t only mourn that he died. 

Please, do not ever forget my big brother. Let’s always strive to remember all the good, or even downright amusing moments that bring joy and make us smile or laugh. Those same moments may also bring tears at times, and that’s okay. 

Heaven welcomed an incredible person, and I’m proud to be his little sis. I know we’ll all miss him greatly, but we’ll be okay somehow, because we have each other, and none of us will carry his loss alone. Thank you.

I meant every word. Though miles apart, we knew love. He often joked that I was his little big sister, because he was able to come to me with “some really big shit” and he knew I would be honest, and I would help him in any way I could. He also knew he could trust me to tell him the truth, even if he didn’t really want to hear it. 

That’s what love is. Love does. It’s an action word. My brother walked through hell on earth, but he wasn’t alone as he traversed his tornados. Even literal tornados – just ask me about his treehouse one day. 

Just as he wasn’t alone, none of us traverse life’s most difficult whirlwinds alone. 

I won’t lie though; right now, life feels really heavy. It hurts. I think of Heaven, and I long for the reunion(s) that will one day happen there. But, reality then sets in, the here and now reminds me that life isn’t always fair, fun, or even good – and sometimes I’m just sad, really sad. And, I know that’s okay too. 

I will echo something I’ve said a lot of times. I firmly believe we were created as community people. To know others, and to be known. To love, and to be loved. The key here is: not alone. I’ve been reminded a great deal very recently – it’s okay to not always be okay. 

Grief needs to happen, and what grief looks like is very individual. If you’re sad, know that it’s okay. If you’re hurting, know that the pain won’t always feel as intense as it does in these moments. I’m there. I get it. These words are as much for me as the next person reading this. 

With that all in mind, let me share an open invitation: please walk with me. Don’t greet my pain with silence. Give my heart a voice, even if that voice may be a little shaky. I need you. 

And let me offer that same hand of friendship – If you need someone who won’t ever give up on you, and who will simply sit with you in your pain- allow me that honor. 

The Date That Would Alter Realities

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 This is the face of hope…of courage…of faith. This is my beautiful, then 4 year old daughter, Janet. Until this day, she had never had a hair cut in her life. Cancer treatment would take her hair away, and eventually her life. But, the smile you see here – it never really faded. She had a smile that could melt an iceberg.

This day in history. On some calendars, it is merely but a day. On mine, it will forever mark the day (four years ago today, if you’re reading this in 2017) – that our lives changed forever. It was this day, 2013, that our sweet little Janet was diagnosed with a brain tumor. That was the day that life as we knew it – it would never be the same. The normal we once knew, would never be heard from, or seen again.
 
From that day forward, however, we would also learn an indescribable love.
Yes, this journey would become not a sprint, but a marathon. A journey of epic proportions. A journey so painful, it is hard to breathe some days…but so full of love. It would be the beginning of our journey fighting childhood cancer alongside Janet. She was so very loved, and never alone — and knew both of these things to be truth.
 
With all the love in the world, it’s still a journey marked by intense pain and heartbreak. This day, 2013, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor…and three years later, she would breath her last breath this side of Heaven. Friends, I hate the fact that this is our reality. It shatters my heart, and I wish with everything I am that life wasn’t this way.
 
But, it is…and here we are. Continuing to breath, and continuing to have a heart that beats. I made some statements and promises to Janet just before she died. I told her that we were going to miss her like crazy, like there’s no tomorrow…and that it would hurt when she was gone, but that we would be okay, because we’d be together. I did tell her that we would ALWAYS #RememberTheLove. And, that is a promise I will never break.
 
For those of you following, and who share love and support – and also prayers, it is with heartfelt gratitude that I say thank you. Please, please don’t ever stop.

This Is What Compassion Looks Like In Real Time

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So, today is Resurrection Day. It’s Easter.  A day of hope rising, and of life. A day where hurting gives way to hope.

Today was good, and today was hard. Both. I find that’s a dichotomy I live with routinely.

I went to church, and I could not have predicted or in any way prepared for the rush and sheer flood of emotions that followed my just walking in the door. This is what grief does, folks. It just shows up, like the unwelcome guest that shows up unannounced to your celebration. 

It started with a hug from a precious little friend. I love her hugs. She was close to my daughter, and to our family. Her hugs are beautiful, and they’re magic. Then, I found out a beautifully touching moment from their lives this week. They had a little bunny that died. And, their mama shared with me about how my daughter now has her own little Easter bunny. It was an incredibly sweet moment for me. It showed love unlike many other things. But, yes, it also tugged at my heartstrings. Then I walked into the bathroom, and there were beautiful flowers. All I could think was that my daughter would have loved them. More tears.

A random assortment of hugs later, I went into the service – just as the beginning of the service, the songs were starting. As I walked to my seat, again with the emotions. Tears streaming down my face. Unstoppable emotion flowing freely from my eyes. I cried lots of tears. Sitting in front of me was a man with two beautiful girls. So sweet. I could see my daughter in the innocence and playful nature of the youngest. She was a sweet girl, full of smiles.

After a very good, and also challenging service, I exited the auditorium and walked around – just connecting with people. Lots of hugs, and so much love. Did it solve all the worlds problems, or my heartache? No. But, did it act as a balm to some open wounds? It did do that. I did leave in tears. It had been an emotional morning, to say the least.

As I started on my way towards getting lunch and heading home, I ran over the edge of the shoulder as I wiped away tears that were randomly escaping my eyes. At this exact moment, a police SUV going the opposite direction happened to be passing. Yep, you guessed it. It wasn’t long that the very same officer was in my lane, behind me, pulling me over. Cause that seems like a fun addition to Easter.

But, what happened next was unexpected. The officer walked up to my window, and told me why I had been pulled over. He asked if I was alright, and if I could explain what had happened. I shared with him my pain, the loss of my daughter, and the rush of emotions that have been present today. His response was one of compassion. He asked about her – how she died, how old she was, how long it has been, etc. He listened, and he cared. He could see my pain, but didn’t ignore it, or run from it.

I did receive a warning for my driving infraction, and I’m sincerely grateful for the grace that goes along with not actually getting a ticket. He inquired about my plans for the rest of the day. He asked if I was okay, but didn’t stop there. He asked the questions he was trained to ask – the hard questions. He asked if I was really okay, and if I had thoughts of hurting myself or of suicide. I explained that I’ve had those thoughts before, but that I think every human being alive would be hard pressed to say they never have. He not only made sure I was safe, but that I remembered (and no, I haven’t and won’t ever forget) I have two precious children waiting at home, and that need me. He reminded me that they (the police department) were there – just a phone call away if there ever was a need. His concern is only one reason that I stand by the fact that we live in a community I’m proud of – backed by a police force I’m sincerely grateful for.

While there is a lot of pain attached to any day (Easter, or otherwise) – there is also a great deal of compassion and love. It is those things alone that keep any version of hope alive.

Waiting On Sunday To Dawn

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Today is Saturday. Yes, it’s the day of the week, but it marks the beginning and end of so much. It’s the day after Good Friday. Let’s take a look at that. 

The death of Christ ushered in grief unspeakable. Saturday became a day where many lost hope in all they knew. The Savior of the world, now dead. All people knew was the hope of the world, their world, had suffered intensely and then died. What is good about that? 

Good Friday would NEVER in a billion years be considered good…unless you knew Sunday was coming. The grief of Saturday, and the tears of pain and heartache – those would give way to life. The impossible. The good became part of Friday when the Savior of mankind rose from the dead on the third day. 
That is one of the most general looks at the Christian story of Jesus being crucified, dead and entombed, and rising from the dead – leaving an empty tomb. He had risen, and hope restored. 

This season of my life is arguably the most difficult and painful of any I’ve ever walked through. Some days the guiding force of life seem to be pain, grief, and hopelessness. Those things dictate the way I feel and relate to life on a given day. 

Today is my Saturday. The biggest motivating force that keeps whatever hope alive is that Sunday will dawn. Just as those in Jesus day found hope was in fact alive, I have to believe that there is life yet to be lived; life still possesses the possibility of hope for something beyond pain. I have to believe that Sunday will dawn. I’m not there right now, and frankly, I don’t know how to hold onto that hope. 

Today is Saturday, and I will perhaps learn to embrace the whatever is, right now. When I feel like life is impossible, and don’t know how to keep walking, I’ll just know that maybe – just maybe, Sunday will dawn. 

When The Case For Christ Isn’t Enough – Warning: Movie Spoiler Alert

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Silence gripped the theater, as those in the audience sat watching the depiction of Lee Strobel’s defiance of Christianity as his journey to uphold his views of atheism plays out. As Lee’s character set out to save his marriage and family from this cult like entity, from those who profess to know Christ and His saving grace. His journey took him to every avenue possible to discredit what he felt like was robbing him of his wife and family.

As Strobel set out to discredit and disprove Christianity, he found insurmountable evidence of the very core of Christianity: Jesus Christ’s death on a cross, and subsequent resurrection. Time and time again, he ran into proof beyond doubt that the historical accounting of this specific event was more than just overwhelming; it was undeniable. Lee Strobel could not discredit the event of the Christ crucifixion and resurrection. He simply could not find adequate (read: any) evidence against this historical event’s actual occurrence. There were concocted theories, but none that held water. His unbelief was met with facts. His inability to discredit or disprove it became his ability and allowance in giving God a chance.

As powerful and transformational as this movie is, my response might shock some.

Aside from a bit of confusion, I say “so what!?”  Lee Strobel was able to wrap his brain around something because he couldn’t disprove it’s existence. Good for him.

Here is my problem with it all. Not with the movie, and certainly not with Lee Strobel.  But I went to this movie hoping for something. Something that met my questions with answers, and met my disbelief with belief. Instead, I saw a somewhat emotional journey of a man finding faith in a God he desperately wanted to be proven not real. My issue is this. I do not struggle with the belief that Christ was real, and the depiction of His crucifixion, burial and resurrection being real. I simply have no problem with that. It’s history. It happened. Moving on.

My struggle is with relationship. Just because something is real, doesn’t mean it feels real. Just because Jesus was a real person, known as the Son of God – just because He was put to death as such, and the supernatural and miraculous happened – doesn’t make Him any more real to me in the here and now. Yes, He existed. Yes, He died and was entombed. Yes, he rose again from the dead. And? So what!? Don’t get me wrong; it was miraculous and awe inspiring.

I don’t, and never have denied that. It just doesn’t seem to add relevance to my story. So this dude, known as the Christ, died and rose again. That was more than two thousand years ago.  (I do want to say that I recognize that Jesus is more than just “some dude known as the Christ” but I say that because it makes a point.)

Back to the struggle with relationship. This same Jesus of the Bible that Strobel couldn’t discredit is said to be a loving and perfect entity – One who desires communication and relationship with me, and with you. He is said to love each and every one of us with a love undeniable. A love so present, that once encountered – a person is changed forever. Undeniable change.

I am at a place where Jesus being real and existing two thousand years ago doesn’t equate to me today. The God of the Bible is said to be unchanging. He is thought to be the same yesterday, today, and will remain the same tomorrow. He changes not. Again, with the “so what” mentality.

I think the painful part of my journey of faith, or sometimes the lack of faith, is that I want it all to be true. I want all the blind faith I followed from my youth to all be real. But, I cannot say that it is. Or that it isn’t. I can say that I am sometimes feeling pretty lost, confused, and overwhelmed. My faith isn’t what it once was, and I suppose I should be grateful. I want a faith that is authentic, and that is able to grow it’s own roots. I want to be able to own the beliefs I have, and know why I believe them. I’m just not sure I can do all that right now. Instead, I’m met with more questions than I realized. Yes, I understand that the very definition of faith is not having to have the tangible as proof. Faith is the evidence of the things unseen. I get that. I don’t NEED this proof that Strobel uncovers to have faith. But, I’m finding that I don’t have any idea what TO believe some days.

I want to believe that the same God I prayed to, to heal my daughter from cancer is the same God who didn’t heal her, this side of Heaven. I want to believe that He is still as good, and in control now (after her death) as He was then (when I was busy praying for her healing.) My faith does not hinge on my daughter’s life, or death. But, it did help me ask a bunch of hard questions. It made me realize that so much of what I believe is or was based on blind faith. I want to believe the things I once did, but I simply cannot believe those things in their entirety.

So, where does that leave me? I have no idea, if I’m being honest. I do want the faith that is unshakable. I want to believe that the God that created me and you, and all of creation loves me and wants relationship with me. I want to believe those who say that I am His child, and he delights in me — instead of my belief that God must see certain people and shake His head – wondering where he went wrong with THAT one. With me. I often feel as if I must be a disappointment to Him. Me with all my questions. Me with all my pain. I want to believe those that say His love for me is vast, even in the times where I struggle with my faith. It is said that God welcomes all, and has outstretched arms, asking us to come to Him. From exactly where we are. No matter where we come to Him from.

I want to believe all that. But, in the interim – when I struggle to see these things, I welcome those of you with this faith to believe it for me until hopefully a time I can wrap my brain and heart around it all again. I go back to the Bible, in Mark 9:24 where I also ask God to help me in my unbelief. So, if you believe these things – or any version of them, tell me about it. Don’t give up on me. Care enough to keep speaking what you feel is the truth, in love. But, understand that I am unsure of a lot right now. And, that I have to believe that’s okay for the time being. Guess it will have to be. But, I do welcome your prayers, love, and your encouragement. And your hugs. Always the hugs.

When Jesus Takes The Wheel

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Two days ago, I posted the above status picture – without further explanation, and had to process what happened. This is that story…

So, as I set out on my travels, it wasn’t storming. I’m a poster child for not being stupid, and staying safe in storms. I was driving down the road, and it was as if the heavens opened up, and explosions of thunder and rain poured down. It was really bad for a few moments. 

What I came to realize, though, is that I was about to drive into a situation I really did not like. Standing water on the highway. As quickly as it came, and as unavoidable as it was, I hit that water and be began hydroplaning. That was scary, as there was literally no control. None. 

My car, floating on its own, was heading directly to the wall that would separate someone from plunging over it into the eastbound traffic. I just said, “God, help.” It was as if the red sea parted. Suddenly, behind and in front of me were clear of all traffic. They were there, but not in the immediate vicinity of my now out of control floating car. At this point, my car made a right turn, and started to almost spin. It veered my car towards the center lanes, and I drifted over two lanes of what should be pretty full traffic. But there were no cars within collision distance. 

As my car is about to spin completely around, it was rectified, and put back on a forward motion path. I hit nothing, and nothing hit me. I was safe, and on my way – traveling slowly and attempting to see through the monsoon like downpour. My car was safe, and inside it – I was too. 

No matter whether you believe in sheer coincidence, or angels, or the hand of God – I know that something bigger than me was in control, and protected me from the elements, the concrete wall, any other drivers, or any other peril in that moment. That whole concept of “Jesus take the wheel” – it happened. 

When A Concert Is More Than Just Good Music

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I went to a concert last night. I didn’t have the money to get in the doors, but I still went. I wanted to be there, and I knew I needed to be there. Music is one of a few safe places in my life right now. There was an individual, my friend Dan (from DCA Events) who knew a bit of my story, and invited me in. I didn’t have the money, and he knew it. He said words that probably set the tone for the entire evening. He said this, “It’s not about a concert. It’s about Jesus.” I already had tears streaming down my face at this point, and he invited me into the concert and (without a seat at the time) I just stood at the back. I watched, and I cried. Concerts are also something my daughter and I very much enjoyed going to before she died last year. So, the emotions surrounding that also were fighting for their place. I think I cried more last night than I have, ever, in any concert. It was healing, but it also hurt.

This is a tour called Worship In The Round, and featured Building 429, Josh Wilson, and Chris August. I’ve seen Chris August a couple of times before, but never the others. There was also a guy, Adam Weber, who I’d later learn was the pastor of a church with multiple campuses out of state.

Something happened there though. In my heart. Sadly, I didn’t magically find all this hope that has seemingly gone on an extended vacation. But, what I did find was a safe place. Music is still that. I heard words and messages of hope. Of love. Of faith. Of Jesus. I heard all those things. The only dilemma I have right now, is finding the strength to keep holding onto those messages. I need them to be more than great words that exist in the here and now, but vanish like a vapor. At an intermission of sorts, I saw a friend from church. When she saw me, she made her way over to me, and she gave me a hug, and simply held me as I cried. And cried. That was kind, and so needed. I didn’t know how much it was needed until I just sat there in tears.

What happened after the show, more than any moment during the concert itself, is what sparked something in my heart. The guys were all out signing autographs. I took the time to make my way to each one, including the dude I came to realize was a pastor. The show itself was incredibly impactful, but what happened after became personal.

You see, I’ll start with him. Adam Weber. I actually ran into him before the show, or before I went in. In passing, he asked if I was okay. I didn’t lie. I told him I wasn’t and he said something about all having days like that. I had no idea who he was at that point, just some dude passing in the hallway. But, from the stage, he was talking about prayer. More than that, about how prayer was not some foreign language we have yet to learn. Instead, it’s carrying on a conversation with God, as if He is a friend sitting next to you. He shared a few thoughts, and I listened to every single one. My heart was open to the hope in his words. So, afterwards, I took a few moments and I talked to him. In a brief nutshell, I shared where I was with my daughter having died, with hopelessness in ways, and with my faith. Had I known he was a pastor, I am not sure I’d have said all that. But, it didn’t matter. I did. He wasn’t condescending, but his words were filled with love. He asked if I had told God all those things. More than that, he thanked me for sharing the things I did with him. He valued our conversation, and that was special.

Next, I had the opportunity to talk to Chris August. First, I showed him a silly picture of him and my son from 2011. He signed his forehead, and it was a fun, candy filled memory. (My son had every visible part of him – his face, neck, and his arms signed that evening.) He mentioned that he doesn’t always remember everything from all his shows, but that one still sticks in his memory banks. (It might or might not have anything to do with the fact that Timehop reminds me of these things, and so I share with him each year. haha) But, I was able to just be real. I showed him a picture of my sweet little girl, and shared the pain attached to her death. I talked to him briefly about my life, and what led me to where I was and some of the why. He took the time to listen, and to let me know that where I was, was okay. I was able to do something I’ve wanted to do for some time, simply say thank you to him. His heart is for and with people.

Then I had the opportunity as Jason, from Building 429 was about to walk out of the room – to talk to him. I felt bad, cause I knew he was getting ready to leave. But, I asked for a moment of his time. I wanted him to hear my words. Mostly my thanks. I didn’t have anything for him to sign. I told him thank you for doing what he does, and he asked what was going on with me. His fault. He took the time, and he asked. haha. So, there were the tears from the whole evening. Back again like a faithful friend. He asked if he could give me a hug, and briefly held me as I just cried. Poor guy. That was not my intention, but nor could it be prevented in that moment. I explained some of the why behind the pain, and where my hope was, or wasn’t. And, my faith too. It was a brief, but very transparent and I guess pretty vulnerable conversation. He asked about what support I had, and then he asked if he could pray with me right then. That was powerful, and the tears refused to not overflow. The prayer itself was powerful, sure, but that he simply took the time. He reminded me that I was not alone. He asked my name, and then shared that they’d pray for me on this tour. Tears aplenty.

After more of the crowd vanished, I saw the opportunity to also speak with Josh Wilson. For an odd change of pace, I was somewhat speechless. It was a fight with those tears. They wanted to be known too. All I could manage to say was thank you, for his music and for sharing his story. It wasn’t a star struck sort of speechless either. There were tears. It was an overwhelming feeling, hard to put into words, culminating from the entire evening. I was feeling some sort of stirring. Something in my heart. There were, again, tears that refused to not make their presence known. I did manage to share some of my struggles with him, even feelings not of suicide, but of wishing that I was already in Heaven. And, like the others, he listened. Mostly, he reminded me that it’s okay. Where I am right now, it’s okay. The pain I have, it’s okay. If my words forgot their filters, he wasn’t offended, and heard my heart, and pain. And, he also reminded me that God has broad shoulders, and can take it too. If I’m mad, it’s okay. If I hurt, if…any of those ifs…to talk to Him about it. I might or might not be at a place that I can do that right now. But, the point all boiled down to the fact that the things I felt, the emotions I had, they were okay. I’m not broken beyond repair, even though it often feels that way. He, again, reminded me that life is precious, and that I am too. That people need me, that I am here for a purpose, that I matter, and also that I’m not alone.

The one constant thing amongst conversation with all of them was this. They were unafraid of my tears and my pain. They didn’t run for the hills, and they didn’t hide. They saw me. It wasn’t a ton of time, but they took the time to just be with me in those moments. My seeming lack of faith didn’t make them look at me as less of a person. They were bold, encouraging, and they heard me. I can’t explain what that did in my heart, but it was undeniable. I was no longer alone in a giant crowd of people. They became the hands and feet of Jesus, in human form. They reminded me that, even if I couldn’t see beyond the pain, that it was okay. Ultimately, where I am right now is okay. In different ways, each one of them reminded me that life continues to be worth fighting, worth living, and that even if simply putting one foot in front of the other and continuing to walk was all I could do – that it was enough.

So, folks, that’s where I am right now. You can take a look at yesterday’s post and get a general feel for where I am in general, and why last night’s concert was as impactful as it was. If you pray, I welcome those. If you have hope, I welcome you to hope. Even during the moments I can’t…I ask you to hold onto those things for me cause maybe there will be a time they exist again in my life. Whatever you do, and wherever you are, I welcome you to join me. I know there is strength in community, and I know there is healing and hope also found there. I may not have a good grasp, or none at all, on some of these things right now, but if you do – please don’t let go.

And for any musician apt to play shows or concerts – this, friends, this is why what you matters. This is why a concert is so much more than just good music, or great music in this case. It’s more than entertainment. The simple gestures, hugs, moments in time that you offer or share – those change lives. Those share hope with the hopeless. What you do is life changing for some, life-giving for others, and even life-saving for some. Please know that music is a place where people can feel safe and seek refuge. I am that person. Music is a safe place. Thank you for that gift.

And, to DCA Events, thank you for playing your part in making concerts like these happen. To quote what Dan says of himself and DCA Events, “….As a believer and follower of Christ, it’s what we are called to do. Dca Events is here to bring Jesus to the hurting & lost, our concerts are about promoting positive influence thru music. That positive influence is Jesus.”  Dan, and DCA Events, thank you for the mission you have, and for doing it well. Like I mentioned before, this shows me who Jesus is, in human form.

I still have many questions, a lot of pain, and a faith and life with so many questions and concerns – but I am not the same person I walked into the concert as. I don’t know what that means, but I do know that I’m grateful to have had the experience, and for the safe place it provided.