Retreat – To the Shores of Lake Superior

This past weekend my husband, siblings (their spouses), and myself headed up to Madeline Island, Wisconsin. A vacation that we had planned for several months was a very welcome distraction and came with perfect timing! We were able to share memories, and also spend the majority of the time goofing off as siblings do! It was such a welcome distraction from the non-stop feeling that my world is falling apart.

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I have a bit of a confession. I’ve heard from many of you who have admired my strength and my faith, but to be raw, and honest, and real… this past week I had been fretting over answered and unanswered prayers. Does God even hear me when I pray? Does he even care about my will, or is it all up to him? I laid awake last Tuesday night in hysterics thinking that God doesn’t hear me at all, and what even holds our universe let alone world in balance? I imagined our planet flying through space, and wondered desperately what holds us together? The prince of darkness tried to drench me with his lies that God is far away, and that he doesn’t care about anyone. But in an instant I was sobered when I took pause and read verses like:

Luke 12:24-34:Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life ? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? “Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.

Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Philippians 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I even felt better when I read the words of Jesus when hanging on the cross cried out to God saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Matthew 27:46.  Even Jesus himself questioned the Father, and He was not offended.  The feeling is normal. Asking questions is completely normal.

The prince of darkness tried to make me stumble and fall, but I have the strength of Jesus Christ on my side, and have the treasures of His word in my heart.  I know the real truth and the real story is that God loves me. He loves my dad, and He loves my family. It wasn’t Gods aim to make us feel like our world was falling apart, to cause us angst, or worry, or despair. But God loves us through it all. Through these messy times where we question him, and even wonder if He hears us he Loves us. When I doubt that my will is ever done He loves us. When we question if anyone in this world matters He loves us.

He is not offended by these questions, or when we stumble and fall, He is there to catch us, not stand by and be offended. He loves us, He loves us, He loves us!

Here is the back story on the song “How He Loves” which is a lot like my own story.

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Take Heart

Everyone asks how I am doing….

I don’t know…. how do I possibly answer a question like that? I could say, “I’m doing fine, or pretty good” but it honestly depends moment to moment. Mostly though, I would say I am okay.  My life has been changed, and although time will loosen these knots inside of me… right now I realize I am changed. I’m quieter and at times prefer time to reflect. This blog is such a blessing to me. It helps me say the words I want to cry out to everyone I see… words that are stuck tight inside of my throat. Such a weird place for me, as I’m never without words, yet I find myself so taciturn.

Work is pretty busy right now, but sometimes I need a quick break away. This past week I found myself driving for a break and came across this secret garden. This beautiful place of hope that I never knew existed. Somehow my car drove me there, and this is my spot when I need to catch my breath…re-calibrate. Bumble Bees kissed the earth, and monarchs fluttered about… I spent about 20 minutes there quiet… and came back to work refreshed. This. is. my. spot.

The nights had been especially hard. My mind is as if it is on a mouse wheel, turning and turning, and thinking and thinking…. What does it feel like to choke? Was my dad terrified? Was Jesus with him in that moment saying, “My good and faithful son, I am here, take heart and take my hand?” I’m unsettled by the fragility of life. I know that there is life after this, but I find myself afraid of leaving everyone behind, and does death hurt? Is it terribly painful?

All of the distractions of this world fail me in the evening while laying in bed, and all of the memories, and questions, come flooding at me. I’m forced to stare Jesus in the face… as if he is on the other side of a tight rope, and I have to just look at him should I loose my balance and fall.  I’m reminded of a time when I was in high school that I chose to stay out the entire night. My parents were particularly worried, and on this particular night rain was falling. I will never forget when my dad told me that he kneeled down in the middle of the road in the middle of the pouring rain with his arms stretched out and cried out to the Lord for my safe return. I did come home unscathed, and this imagery caries through now. When I close my eyes I feel myself in the middle of the road during my own rain storm with my arms stretched out to the lord and thankful that he has overcome, and has my father tight in His arms.

The past several nights I’ve taken extreme comfort in listening to this song; like a lullaby to my soul.  In John  the author says, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33 (NIV). It brings me such comfort and grace that I’m able to loosen the knots, and relax and drift peacefully to sleep.

Should oceans rise and mountains fall He never fails ~ So take heart, let His love lead us though the night. Hold on to hope, and take courage again.

Begging God

I was never one to beg to God. Yet there I was in the hospital waiting room blogging on Caring Bridge about my father clinging to life, with such little hope, and yet I felt so perverse for writing it. Had I given up hope, in the God who said in Luke, “For Nothing is imposible with God.” Luke 1:37?  I believed it, and I believed it to my core. I still believe it.

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I had my bible with in the waiting room. It was actually in my purse. Last year I had boughten a thinner bible that I could keep with me in my purse and I transferred over every highlight and every underline from myriad other bibles I owned into my new bible. I began paging through the Word of God on Wednesday July 2nd after the ICU doc came in and told us that in uncertain terms… my father was not going to come out of this.

I began frantically paging through my bible in a desperate search for something. I didn’t know what, but I have enough highlights that I was begging the Lord that I would find something that would comfort me, or help me. I came across the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 17:21:22, “Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again. And the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.”  After I read that I waited for a time that nobody else was in the room with my father, and I too laid over his body three times and begged God to save him. Perform the miraculous, and beat the odds and bring him back to life. Give it all to His glory the saving of my father.

I waited. But nothing happened.

A let down for sure, but still a hope in the Lord that he had a plan. Was my father already with Jesus in heaven? Is that why he couldn’t come down? Had my father been given the choice, and then deciding after seeing Jesus face to face that he could not turn away from his savior? A verse sits on my desk that I remind myself of every day, “Many are the plans in a persons heart, but it is the Lords purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21.

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Surly I had plans, my mom had plans, and my siblings, and his countless family members and friends had plans… but ultimately it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. In the Lords prayer we pray that, “Your will be done”, not mine… and although I don’t understand this plan, I still believe to my core that Jesus who is Lord in heaven has a plan, and that he is sovereign and in control. I do not understand it, but to lean into Jesus this much feels a tad liberating. I don’t have to have all of the answers, but bless the Lord of heavens armies that my faith is so strong that I look up and say, God… I do not understand this, but I believe with all of my heart that you do, and that my father’s passing after just 65 years on this earth was timely in your eyes.

I’m reminded of an example that my pastor told once… when we look at life and our story… its like looking at a huge canvas that fills the entire room. Perhaps at first we see but a speck….

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Sure it looks pretty, or we think, okay, i’m going to look at some pictures of some clouds, and blue sky. This picture is undoubtedly a picture of the sky and clouds. I have all of the answers and I know better. But when we step back to the whole view… of the whole story of what God sees, is this picture not more beautiful then we could have imagined?

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If all I am focused on is what I want, and my plans, and what I can see, I miss out on the entire picture. Though I begged for MY will to be done, God had a plan, and ultimately it is his purpose that prevails. I think its okay that I don’t understand, but I’m so blessed that I don’t really care.

The First Stitch.

All is quiet now. The phone is quieting down, and the pomp and circumstance of all the funeral arrangements are now complete. I’m left with a quiet house, sweet memories and a knot inside of me.

The days leading up to the services and the planning that is involved was absolutely taxing. I’ve never been involved that much with the process of planning a funeral and a visitation before, but it felt as though we were planning for a wedding on five days notice. The funeral home that we went through was very good and helpful, and a family friend from church helped us to plan things out for the church service and luncheon. Trying to decide how many people were actually going to attend the luncheon was difficult. Its not like you send out invitations with an RSVP for a funeral…  Other obligatory duties like picking out a casket, to the songs we wanted for not only the service but also the video, and finding all of the photos, oh and do you want to add this, or that, and don’t forget the $300 + it costs to place an obituary in the newspaper was enough to make your head swim.

The visitation was so surreal, and unreal… Since last Tuesday (July 1st) i’ve had this nervous knot in my stomach. Mostly I don’t know what to do.  Do I want to sit or stand, or be alone, or be surrounded by people? I don’t know. I can feel this knot called grief twisting inside of me. Part of this fear in anguish is the shocking reality of the brevity of life. I’m reminded of what David says in the Psalms, “Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered – how fleeting my life is. You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand. My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; at best, each of us is but a breath.” ~ Psalm 39:4-5. I’ve read that verse a hundred times, and thought previously, okay, live life to the fullest now, because life is short. Everyone says life is short, but the sobering reminder that tomorrow really is not promised to anyone takes my breath away.

So many people came out to pay their respects to my father, or to my siblings, my mom, and myself. I was blown away when I saw my old co-worker, and some high school friends walk in, and know undoubtedly, even if we don’t talk every day I’m loved. Love was certainly the theme of the past few weeks be it love of friends, sharing memories about my dad on how much he loved, or the love that God has for all of us that he took our place on the cross so that we could spend all of eternity with him.

There was a constant flow of people hugging me, and asking me how I’m doing. That had to be the most difficult question in the world, because I didn’t know, and I still don’t know. Depending on the moment, the mood, and my surroundings I can be in the acceptance stage, the denial stage or the anger stage, and sometimes all at the same time. I think there are more than five stages of grief, and so long as you’re not acting destructive to yourself or others, I think any feeling is game. I felt a perverse horror come over me when one friend was hugging me and crying and I just broke out in an uncontrollable laughter.I had to keep most of it in, and couldn’t believe that I was laughing, because the situation was certainly not funny, and we weren’t sharing a funny memory either. Freud may argue that it was a coping mechanism but I think at that moment the fact that my dad was in the front of the church in a casket was so absurd and unreal that I couldn’t believe the situation I was in. Perhaps if I laugh this will not be my reality and I will finally wake up from this terrible nightmare.

The morning visitation was a different feeling all together. The visitation was in the side chapel, and instead of stationing myself out with the masses I sat in the chapel and stared at my dad the entire time he was in there. I was inconsolable, because I didn’t want to be. Tears poured out of my eyes like Niagara Falls, and I just wanted to stare at my dad and will him to get up and walk and live.  Knowing that this was my last time seeing his face was just unbearable. I couldn’t talk and when people asked how I was doing I just shook my head giving them a silent, “Not good at all”.  This was time for me… where I didn’t have to talk to anyone, or be that, “Strong Christian Woman”. I couldn’t do it any longer. Not that I am or was being a pretender, but this was a moment for me, to feel exactly however I wanted to feel.

When it was time to say our final goodbye, and close the casket I covered my mouth with my hands. I think I let out a gasp because reality had stung like a bee. My siblings, and mom and husband and all clung to each other so tightly. We placed the paul out over the casket, and walked with tears in our eyes to the front of a packed church. The songs and readings we had picked out were such a blessing to us. We chose Psalm 23, Isaiah 40:28-31, Romans 8:31-35, 37-39, and John 11:17-27, and Gods truth that heaven is a real place, and that through the love of Christ my dad gets to spend forever there. I have to trust that God is sovereign and has a plan in why the medics and nurses and doctors could not save him. In America we are offered the best medical care in the world, but when its our time, it is our time.

After a luncheon which offered us a brief moment to thank everyone for coming out we headed out to Fort Snelling for military honors service. We invited the Patriot Guard to come out and stand in a flag line as well. Most of whom were veterans themselves it was an amazing sight to see.

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Both the beautiful promises from God during the mass, and the honors my dad received from the honor guard and patriot guard helped to cast the first stitch in mending my broken heart.

 

Where Feet May Fail

My favorite song for the past several years has been Oceans (where feet may fail) by Hillsong United. It always strengthens my faith, and I suppose you could call it my life song. I’ve been listening to these words and asking God to strengthen my faith to a point where my trust in Him would have no bounds. Take me to a place that though my feet may fail… my faith will not…

I was listening to it the morning of July 1st. I was listening to it very loudly in my car on my way to work that morning, which I often do – when I saw that my mom called. I decided to let it go to voice mail and that I would call her back when I got to work. I was deep in the heart of worship asking God to allow my faith to go where it never had gone before…  Again she called, and again I let it go to voice mail continuing to worship, and sing with the lyrics.

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I was literally crying out ~

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters Wherever You would call me

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger In the presence of my Savior.

Little did I know that fate was about to lead me to a place where my trust in the Lord would have to have no borders. I had to trust Jesus Christ as Peter did in Matthew 14:22-33. When Peter said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” wherever you would call me, “Come”, said Jesus. When Peter saw the immense waves upon him he became terrified and began to sink and cried out, “Jesus save me”…. Jesus saved him and said to him, “Why did you doubt me” ..

I never could have imagined that I would be in a place of deep uncharted waters. A place where Jesus was going to say, “Come”… The third time my mother called I decided I should answer it.

My dad had some toast and milk for breakfast and grabbed a handful of mixed nuts. He began to choke, and lost consciousness despite my mother’s, neighbors and medics help… he never did regain it.  The news she shared crushed me. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders and screamed out to God on top of my lungs, “Please God, nooo, Please Jesus Jesus rush to the hospital and save him, save him Jesus Jesus”.

He went into a coma with a significant brain injury, and herniation where we had to make the unbearable decision to remove life support.

I’m mere days into this from the time of the phone call, and my faith that I am relying so heavily upon had been made stronger since the several months ago that I began praying this prayer and I absolutely feel that I am in the presence of my Savior. I am walking on Holy ground, and its a humbling place to be.

My pastor always said, that we will go through rocky times. Up until now, my life has been pretty care free. I’ve lost a few aunts and uncles and grandparents, but loosing a parent is something new and terrifying. Just last Sunday, June 29th my pastor talked about “Getting out of the Boat”… making your faith so strong that you would get out of the boat even though it may not make sense or be comfortable. Though I didn’t know it at the time… two days later I was going to be getting out of the boat.

During the time of his coma we didn’t know if he was already with Jesus, or still here, but we knew that his soul was still alive. I prayed that God would lead him safely home and that his trust in God would help him get there.

My dad meant everything to me. I was born on his birthday and always felt very special because of that, like I was his ultimate present. I know that he loved my siblings as much as me, but I always did feel so special to my dad. We shared so many of the same passions, and often had deep philosophical conversations, and could talk matters of faith for hours. My dad was a man of deep faith, and though he was humble when I told this to him on Fathers Day this year, he really did try to imitate Christ the Father as he was a Father. He was just, but just as he was fair in all things, he was mightily merciful. He was playful, and he was strong.  So many people have asked me how I am. I can honestly say… I don’t really know. I’m in a real different place right now and am feeling such a flurry of emotion that I don’t know. Everything is so bitterly raw right now. I am in a haze, and I know once it lifts, and the people go away, I will be able to feel much more than I do right now.

I hope you continue to follow my journey as I go through these emotions, and if you are in a place that is on similar ground I hope you find some encouragement here.

The outpouring of support we have received has been breathtaking. I always knew philosophically that people would rally around you when tragedy struck, but the outpouring of support we’ve received has been so incalculable its taken my breath away and has made me feel loved beyond measure. If anyone wonders if they should send a message, or comment on Facebook, or show up to visitation or the funeral – please yes do… it means the world that you think enough about my siblings, and mother enough to send us a note or come and show support.

The past few days have been a blur with funeral plans. We feel like we’re planning a wedding on five days notice, and I am sure that at the end of it we will be exhausted, and left alone with memories that will sink in and sting. Though I have hardly gotten any sleep since last Monday night because of the sheer whirlwind of emotions, planning, and shock of it all I know that next week reality is going to sink in. I’m scared of where that place is going to bring me, but I know that Jesus draws near to the broken hearted, and gives strength the the weary. Isaiah 40:29-31.

He gives power to the weak
and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired,
and young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.

My feet find themselves on ground where they’re apt to fail. But through my faith in Jesus Christ my Lord may my faith grow stronger in the presence of my savior, and may the Lord of all healing, and hope carry me through this.

Revelation 21:4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
The outpouring of support we have received has been breathtaking.