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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Point of View

I wrote this blog on Nov 12 2005, four months into Andrea's treatment for metastatic cancer.

Andrea's tumor marker was up yesterday to 180, 40 more then when we started over 140 above "normal." It was hard to hear and I felt sad for us and for Andrea. Then I got on my knees with Andrea and we had a great time of prayer and Communion. Problems just melt away when you get on your knees and pray. As I prayed I thought of this, what did Jesus think and feel as He looked down from the cross, and what did the Disciples think and feel as they looked up at Jesus. In those moments what went through their minds?

What did Jesus think as He was led away to die? What did He think as He was nailed to the cross in front of everyone. What did He think as the cross was stood up and he hung there to die? I imagined He just wanted to say this to the disciples, "Wait." All while He had to watch them scatter as they ran away with a feeling of helplessness. He tried to tell them what was going to happen. If they had listened they would have faced the events of Jesus' trial and death for what they were, necessary and temporary.

Jesus knew what they were about go through. He understood the emotion of loss. He knew they were going to be confused, angry, alone wondering what was happening, why, doubting all they had seen and heard. He knew Peter would be so sacred and confused he would deny Him. The same Christ Peter vowed to die for. What did Jesus think as He looked down seeing all this take place, knowing all this would take place. I think He hurt more for them then He did for His own suffering. I think He wanted to say, "Don't worry and don't doubt, remember, remember who I am and what I told you. I will be right back, and this pain is only temporary."

Yet the disciples had to go through this. They had to see Jesus handed over, beaten and killed. They did not have the faith to lead the church...yet. They did not fully understand who Jesus was...but they would. They would see Jesus resurrected His hands His feet and then they would understand.

Imagine the emotions the Disciples felt in those three days. After watching Jesus taken watching Jesus helpless before man. What did they feel hearing the crowds praise Jesus as He road into Jerusalem then hearing the crowds cry out "Crucify Him!" What did the Disciples feel watching Jesus hang on the cross slowly dying right before their eyes? Did they doubt? Did they believe what the people were saying, "If you are the son of God save yourself. You saved others why can't He save Himself?" Were they struggling with what they were seeing and hearing with what Jesus did and said in the past? Was it hard for them to reconcile Jesus walking on the water with Jesus hanging on the cross?

Do we feel the same way in our own life? Have we experienced God in our life, had prayers answered? Those times where we knew God was with us. Maybe when we got the job we wanted, the raise. Maybe it was healing, a safe return from the war. Maybe it was a good nights sleep, or a good grade on a test. What did we do when we "Saw Christ on the cross?" When life did not go as we anticipated? Did we scatter and hide? Did we deny Him? Did we question Him? Did we doubt, wondering why God was silent as we called out? Why do we face this trial, this cancer, this illness, this death? Where is God? Does He not love us? Is He powerless or defeated?

This is how I felt at times during our trial. Christ seemed to be nailed to the cross before me, and I was left alone. It seemed as God was silent, just as Christ was silent on the cross. I like the Disciples had to go it alone for a time. Just like the Disciples at times I was scared, confused and fearful.

Yet lets finish the story. We left off with Jesus hanging helplessly on the cross His disciples scared and hiding. What did Jesus tell them to do? He told them to Tarry, to wait. Jesus knew the confusion they would face but He also knew He would be raised from the dead and return to them. And when He saw them again He knew all He had told them would become clear.

Now how does Christ look at us when we face a trail? When He sees us scared and doubting when we think He is not there or does not hear us. When we think this world is greater then the God we serve. I think He feels the same towards us as He did His disciples. He looks down and wants us to remember all He said and all He as done. I think He wants to tell us to wait. The victory will come.

Lord Give me the patience and strength to wait. To know You hear me and to know You will come. Father I ask you to send the Holy Spirit to give us comfort. I pray we will keep our hearts and minds on you lord and not cancer. I pray we will not be distracted from the truth you have shown us. May we serve you Lord faithfully, from the pit and from the mountain top.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Your Normal, My Dream

Jim is leaving Phoenix today and I am sitting here on the bed watching him fold his clothes and repack his suitcase. I am enjoying watching it in the same way I enjoyed gazing at the snow-covered Alps that Thanksgiving in Switzerland; simply captured by the splendor of the scenic moment. No, actually, I think hanging out listening to praise music and just "being" on this cloudy Sunday afternoon is more majestic than those mountains ever were.

I believe only those who have brokenness due to loss, suffering, life being suddenly interrupted, sickness or tragedy can truly appreciate what it feels like to not be "normal" anymore. When you are in the throws of raising small children together in your thirties, working hard to make ends meet and advance your career and celebrating wedding anniversaries in the double digits without the time, energy or money to do them justice, it sometimes feels like you are drowning in the mundane. And I remember thinking, in those days, that someday there will be a time when we will really have some excitement again. I remembered reading in a mothering book once that as you changed the umpteenth dirty diaper you should be encouraged to remind yourself of the scripture:

Colossians 3:17
" And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him."

Even changing diapers for the last 10 years?! Come on Lord!
It's easy to get so wrapped up in the living that you don't even notice how nice it is to just "be". Be focused, be carefree, be engaged (in life), be in tune (with other's needs), be attentive, be driven, be responsible, be happy, be a part, be a team, be kind, be empathetic, be alert and just be alive. After Troy died, I couldn't "be" anymore. I lost all ability to fit in with the outside world. Heck, I didn't even fit in in my own skin. I felt as if the Lord was speaking of me when He comments about the only way we ever truly "fit in" is "in Him".

Ephesians 2:19
"So you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone..."

I remember walking around places, looking at other people and envying their normalcy. There was no part of my "new normal" that I felt comfortable in or wanted AT ALL. I didn't see my place in Christ's love as being enough.

I always sat on the front row of church so I wouldn't have to watch all the husband's with their arms around the back of their wife's chair. I cringed when I would hear a child call "Daddy!" on the playground. I heard a jet and no longer felt pride and comfort knowing that was the sound of my husband living out his dream. I felt like all I heard was the roar of the plane that took his life. I remember dropping off my girlfriend, Christy, at billeting (temporary housing on base) that night, telling her good-bye, staring at their U-Haul and knowing they were PCS'ing (moving) to the new base and new adventure that Troy and I were supposed to have had. Left Behind. That is what staying on this earth feels like after your spouse goes on to be with the Lord. All your hopes and dreams are raptured. That is what it FEELS like but our feelings are not always the TRUTH. I often "argued" with God, telling Him He let the kids and I feel like we went down in the plane crash that day Troy died. But why was He being so unmerciful to have not let that really happen. Wasn't all of us going together to be with the Lord so much better than staying here broken, bitter and wounded?

I have never shared any of my journals over the last year with a soul. Unlike Jim, who wrote often and spoke of his great faith and trust in the Lord. I wrote seldom but wrote when the pain became so unbearable the only thing I knew to do was to try to purge myself of the poisonous despair by putting pen to paper. I want to quote to you a little from one of my journal entries. My hope is that it will be evident that God "drew me out of the pit" as He promised.

Psalm 40:1-3
"I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire;
He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord."

April 17, 2007-
"I honestly don't know what else to do. I am at my rope's end. I am hanging on for dear life. Though life doesn't seem so dear. So I wonder what the use is hanging on. My life feels pointless, dried up, over for the most part. My energies are spent. I haven't slept hardly at all in the last 4 months. Everything is futile. Everything is pointless. Not even the necessities of life come easy for me now. I can't sleep. I am rarely hungry. I long for Christ to show up and do something big to help me out or for Him just to show up and take me Home. I really pray for the latter. Home, Heaven- the place Troy now lives without me. We are living separately. How did that happen? We were always sharing one roof, one heart, one soul, one life... No wonder I feel so lost. I can't find the other half of myself. My other half lives at his new Home and I don't have the address. I actually have the address, I just don't have a way to get there."

Those were the words of a hurting woman written at 2 a.m. and wanting to die. Others know I have always been this optimistic, look on the bright side, make lemonade out of lemons, kind of girl. In the midst of the reality of my situation I didn't even recognize myself. How come I couldn't get by on my sunny disposition or even my spiritual bank account of being a Believer for the previous 28 years? I ran out of steam about January of last year. I used up all my resources and had no choice but to surrender and seek out the One Resource that I knew never became depleted, Christ. His strength comes from the One True Source, God our Father. The spring never dries up. So I fell at His feet and said, "Lord, you have to do this. This thing in me that will give me the desire to live again. I cannot. You can. Please help me." I remember being so far at the bottom of the pit that I literally could not pray anything but, Help Me Lord. And He did. Bit by bit. Pebble upon tiny pebble He built me back up.

I began this blog the other day to try to convey my message to encourage everyone to appreciate the normal things of marriage and life because when tragedy strikes, you will crave that normalcy like nothing you have ever craved before.

But I end this blog with the desire to tell you about the beauty of the "no-longer-normal life". What could possibly be beautiful about the ugliness of watching one's life fall apart? Well, watching what God does when the pieces are crumbled around one's feet. That is a beautiful sight. There is barely a person close to me that did not see the many ways God reached down to me and held me close to Himself. It is not normal to have total strangers praying for you day and night. Not normal to watch 50 fighter pilots and teams of girlfriends join together and pack, paint, load, unload, clean and organize a huge move from one house to another with a few days notice and no help from the dibilitated person they are moving (me). Thank you Amy (who had strep and just came for a visit) and Robb (who had an entire life he put on hold and beforehand had a clean truck and a good back)! Meals being delivered to my house not one, not two, but FIVE months-worth! Family that flew to Phoenix more than they ever cared to. Husbands taking off work to take care of their children so their wives could come out and help me. Friends calling to keep the kids, take them fishing, bike riding, to concerts, to sporting events; anything to simply let them be kids and give me a break. A full-time college student/nanny that NEVER ONCE complained that she was raising 2 babies at once (love you Becky). Guys that showed up with hammers, nails and smiles on their faces no matter how many times I called with a request. Strangers from around the globe that gave money, often anonymously, to make sure we weren't wanting for anything. "Team Ginger"- scads of friends selflessly serving and giving their most coveted possession, their time. While I hated my new normal, I couldn't help but see the "un-normalness" of God's outpouring of provision and blessing. I remain constantly humbled that I was lonely yet never once walked alone.

Now, as I see my new normal (this time a breathtakingly appealing one) I still remain humble that God would care about my needs and my wants equally. I embrace His plan for me. It's not normal. It's better.

Faithful In An Unfair World

I'm going back and posting some blogs I wrote and for some reason did not post. This blog was written in Sept 23 2007. I wrote this after I was reading the accounts of faith in the Bible and as I read I wish I had such faith. Then I realized I was focused on the part of the stories when all was right, the happy ending if you will. So I went back and read the whole story. The part when it was not so happy or easy. I wondered if I would have been able to make it through the difficulties to enjoy the rewards of faithfulness.

I want to be the Joseph who ruled, am I willing to be the Joseph in Prison? Am I willing to be the Joseph who forgave his brothers?

I want to be the David the King, Am I willing to be the David in the wilderness?

I want to be Paul the great preacher, Am I willing to be the Paul in prison?

I want to be Peter the leader of the church, Am I willing to be martyred for what I believe?

I want to be the Daniel who was made ruler over the entire province of Babylon, Am I willing to be the Daniel taken into captivity?

I want to be faithful, Am I willing to endure suffering as Job?

I want to be in a position of respect, Am I willing to wash the feet of others?

In each of these examples God used everything in their lives to make them the example we look up to. Both the good and the bad, the blessings and the difficulties.

Although the Bible is complete God is not done writing stories to encourage others. The question is are we willing to be used by God? Are we willing to endure difficulty to allow God's love to be seen to others. Are we willing to lay down our life for future generations for those you will never meet? When Christ asks do you love me, are we willing to stretch out our arms as he did and say, "Yes Lord, I love you this much."

This past week I began to think of my favorite person of the old testament, Joseph. I love his story because he is a man of faith when life did not go the way it should, but in the end you see God's plan. You see how God used the difficulty in Joseph's life to do His will. You see a man faced with injustice yet still faithful. Joesph's story is one full of examples and hope. A story with a happy ending, so happy we tend to overlook the complete story. Like when Joseph is put in prison after being falsely accused.

Where do we look for encouragement. Do you think that for the past 2000 yrs there hasn't been any examples like Paul, David, Joseph? Do you think there is no need for examples of faith today? Do we somehow think we can not be one of these examples ourselves? Do you think we are not an example to our children? How about to those we work with or our neighbors? Do we think stories of faith are complete, that we have all the examples we need. Do we think we owe nothing to those who follow us? Our lives are chapters and verses that are being written today. How would our story read? Are we faithful in the jail cell, in the well or in the wilderness? Are we equally faithful to God when life is difficult as when life is easy? Do we view God as good when we get what want and bad when life is hard?

Am I ready to have my life's events written down for others to read? My life does not need to be one of perfect faith to be used by God to encourage others. Andrea's was not yet she touched so many lives. Sometimes we think if we can't do it perfectly then we need not try at all and that only limits our effectiveness. God uses "all things" in our life. The blessing and the curses. The rain and the drought. Though it all we learn and grow in our faith and become more and more Christ like. Never attaining yet always striving, knowing God is using all we experience for His glory. Knowing we serve Him when we suffer as much as when we are blessed. Sure one is easier and more enjoyable then the other but both are service to the one who gave us salvation, the greatest gift of all.

Monday, February 25, 2008

What Happened?

I wrote this blog on Dec 19th, two days after Andrea passed. I don't know why I never posted it, I guess I just forgot. Anyway I just got back from Phoenix it is 1am and I'm trying to wind down from the flight. As I read this blog I could not help but think how my life has changed in the 2 months. God has blessed me beyond measure and replaced the depth of my pain with hope and joy.

Psalm 27:13-14
I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.

Today began with my first meeting with the grief I knew awaited me. I saw Andrea's toothbrush and I was overcome with the fact that Andrea was gone. It seems silly as I write that, just a toothbrush. Not how I thought grief would find me. I think it was not so much the toothbrush but me needing to let myself go where I had fought so hard to stave off. I missed my wife and she was gone. Her toothbrush never to be touched again. Her hands never to hold it again. Her voice never to be heard again. Her smile never to calm me again.

I know she had not been home for 22 days but she was still here. I could go to her, now she was suddenly out of my reach. I could not get there. Andrea was gone. It is the difference between being away and being gone. It was hard. In the back of your mind you think she will be back. I think in part because we in the military are used to being separated and maybe this is what I relate to. But she is not away for a while, she is gone.

I have a friend who also lost his wife and we were talking one day in my office and he told me, the depth of your grief is proportional to the height of your love. I thought I'm in trouble! But I'm thankful I was blessed with a love so grand, it was worth the fall in order to see the view from that mountain top. I would not trade my love for Andrea to avoid this pain.

Some of you have sent me emails or blog comments that say you feel guilty for having gained through Andrea's suffering. I understand that feeling, I to have been blessed and benefited from the sacrificial love of Andrea. I have often said I would not trade this experience for a life without it. As hard as cancer was to watch, I was a better person for having gone through it with Andrea. In a way I guess that does make me feel guilty. To have benefitted from Andrea's suffering. But you know what; Andrea was honored to pour herself out to make us better. She was not prideful but she was proud of each of us.

Losing Andrea has revealed a gaping void in my life. I miss my best friend. I miss my wife. I miss Andrea. I miss talking to her. I miss helping her.

It has been so long since our life had been normal. It was Aug 2003 when Andrea told me she found the lump. I had just returned from a four month deployment in June so our last "normal" life was around January 2003. Think about all you have done, all you have experienced since Jan 2003. That was the last time we simply lived. I hardly remember just living. What did we even do with our time? What did we talk about? What made us laugh or cry? I really don't remember. Isn't that sad? Cancer just became our life. It consumed our time like it consumed Andrea's body. Then in an instant at 1:07 on Dec 17th it was gone. As fast as it came it was gone and it has left my life empty. Cancer changed our life and took away what was normal. But God replaced it with a life that was better. Love was more intimate. Conversations more meaningful. Laughter more satisfying. Time spent together more valued. Touches more savored.

As I look back at our life I realize that I really don't want what was "normal." Our life was special and cancer only intensified the great parts of our relationship. Cancer put life in perspective, and what our priorities should be.

Today I was faced with a seemingly insignificant item, Andrea's toothbrush and it brought me face to face with the reality of what happened on Dec 17th, but it also reminded me of the uniqueness of what we had.
I choose to look at what God gave me vice what I lost on Dec 17th.

Psalm 33:19-21
We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

It's Not That Hard

I wrote this blog after visiting Andrea's family this past weekend.

I went to church today with Anthony, Andrea's niece, her husband, Andrea's nephew, and his girlfriend. It was hard. I think it was the culmination of the whole weekend back in Wichita Falls. Just so many memories. Everywhere I looked I saw something that reminded me of our life together. Andrea's Mom still lives in the same house Andrea did when we met in 1980. I slept in the same bed we always shared when we came home for a visit. Went to all the same places we would visit. Went to our rental house, remembering Andrea and I picked out the plans, and watched it being built. Then I went to church where we would go on our visits. And as they say, that was the straw that broke the camel's back. The sermon was on marriage, and like every sermon I've heard on marriage it started with, "Marriage is hard work." I always hated when marriage is represented that way. It puts a level of expectation that marriage is supposed to be difficult like being sentenced to hard labor I know there are times where it is hard but I don't like the fact that marriage in it's entirety is presented as "hard work."

I just wanted to jump up and say "I disagree, marriage is not hard." It's not hard when your marriage is built on trust. A trust I felt the moment I met Andrea and Ginger. A trust that allows you to be yourself, to be accepted, to know you are safe. This is your most prized possession in a marriage and it must be protected at all cost. Trust is what frees you to love unconditionally. Trust is what allows you to love unselfishly and this does not just apply to the wife. As a husband I must love unconditionally. I must love Ginger as Christ loved the church. Husbands should think about what that means before they start thinking how great a submissive wife would be. To love your wife as Christ loved the church is to be willing to lay your life down for her. What desire do you have as a husband or as a person greater than your life? What do you most want in life? Whatever that is you must be willing to give up for your wife. I know the thought of giving of yourself can be scary. I know it is risky to open yourself up in this way to another human, especially if you have been hurt in the past. That is why trust is crucial to it all. It enables you to lay your life down. I do not think a truly submissive wife exists without a husband being submissive first. It first takes a submissive husband for a woman to fulfill the role God has for her. And when you experience a love like this you find marriage is not hard work but effortless. Things in marriage may be hard but marriage in itself is not hard.

This is what is hard.

Your husband being killed in war.

Watching your wife die of cancer. Watching her lips lose their color, and the feeling of her skin go cold. A final kiss.

An Air Force Chaplin and a Squadron Commander showing up at your door in their service dress to tell you there as been "an accident."

The numbness you feel at the funeral.

Standing before a casket.

The realization that it is not a bad dream.

Having to tell your children their dad is not coming home.

Having to tell your kids Mom is not going to make it.

Watching the chemo slowly dripping into the IV.

Watching a video of your husband made only weeks before the "accident."

Waiting for CT results.

An empty side of the bed.

Being a single parent.

Walking down the card isle on Fathers day or valentines day.


Getting sympathy cards instead of sending them.

Going to sporting events alone.

Learning to say I instead of we.

Eating out alone.

Cooking alone.

Anything alone.

Getting a package from your husband days after you learned he had died.

Looking into your kids eyes knowing you do not have the strength to help them.

Seeing pictures of Andrea or Troy.

Packing away their clothes.

Trying not to remember someone you never wanted to stop thinking about.

Any holiday or birthday and worst of all anniversaries.

Stating a new life.

Feeling guilty for being happy.

Crying till you hurt all over, and the headache that follows the next day reminding you of the pain in your life.

Keeping your faith.

Going to church alone.

Feeling like everyone is looking at you.

The silence at night and the silence when you first wake up.

Feeling lonely.




Knowing one of us will face losing a spouse again.

That is what is hard, being married is easy compared to this. We would trade you in a second for one "hard" day of marriage.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Tent Living

Psalm 33:18
But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love

I write this blog on a Saturday morning in Wichita Falls Tx, in Andrea's Mom's house, in the room Andrea and I slept when we visited. This is my second time to be back in Wichita Falls since Andrea passed. The first time was on Dec 23rd, two days after the funeral and I think I was still numb from the previous month. My journal whcih became this blog started in this house. After Dr Atkins told us Andrea's cancer had spread to her bones and she would have start chemo on the following week on July 5th we decided to come home for a few days. And it was on a Saturday Morning just like today that I awoke early and went outside to read my Bible. It was then that I began to write down what I was feeling and the words I felt God placed on my heart. It was those writings that were the begining of this blog. And now I once again find myself on a Saturday morning writing down my thoughts only this time life is so different.

I came here to bring some of Andrea's personal belongings to her Mom, Sister and Niece. I came because I wanted them to have some things Andrea has touched, held or worn some things for them to remember their daughter sister or aunt. I did not think about what it was going to be like for me to come home again. It was not until I was about two hours away on the drive last night that it began to hit me. I was going home without Andrea. Really this was our home. We spent the majority of our Christmas' in this house. I think we came home every year except when we lived in Turkey. We certainly came home every time we moved. No matter where the Air Force took us we would always come back to Wichita Falls and this house. As I have said before Wichita Falls and this house in particular is where Andrea and my lives began. This is where she lived when we met. I remember dropping her off from a date and sitting outside until her bedroom light went off and I knew she was asleep. I'm in the same bed we slept in every visit, in the same room. There is no where I look that I don't have a memory of Andrea. And that is hard. It was hard last night at bedtime when I had to be alone and face my feelings. I called Ginger and we talked until 1 or 2 am. That is a bad habit we have gotten into but there is so much we have to say to each other there just is not enough time in day. Last night, like many times before one of us is struggling and needs to talk. Last night it was me who was having a hard time and I needed to talk about Andrea and Ginger being my gift and my blessing from God listened to and helped me work through my thoughts.

I will share what I felt having not fully understood what it all means. I miss Andrea so much and naturally I drift to memories of her. I want to remember Andrea. Because of the closeness we shared as husband and wife the memories are more detailed, abundant, personal and intimate. I soon found out that my memories, the very thing I sought, tormented me. I miss Andrea and I naturally think about her but when I do it hurts so bad I want to run from her memory. Then I feel bad for not wanting to remember my wife, the woman I loved so dearly, so deeply. It is as if I have no place to exist. I can't remember her, yet I can not forget her. What once gave me joy, security and hope now brings sadness, worry and fear. And being back in Wichita Falls and especially in this house triggers memories of almost 28 yrs of our relationship.

Lately, praise God, I have been able to remember Andrea without feeling such a deep grief that I wanted to run away. I guess that is a sign of how life will be when I "adjust" to life without Andrea. But there are days and times where the memories trigger such grief I hate to remember her. I hope that does not sound cruel, I do not intend it too. Last night was one of those times. There are so many memories they just overwhelm me. I find I have no where to escape. It is always hard when my mind focus' on the physical aspect of losing Andrea and not the spritual truth of where she is and the faithfulness of God I witnessed everyday.

Last night I was looking at pictures with Andrea's mom and I came across on of Andrea in Turkey. She was walking and talking to a Turkish woman on a muddy dirt road. I told June about the picture. It was taken after the huge earthquakes Turkey. I think the death toll was around 30,000 and maybe as high as 50,000 but don't hold me to that. The bottom line is there was a lot of destruction. Andrea the boys and I went with some friends to a village that was hit very hard. Our friend, who is a missionary, was helping get trailers to the people who lost their homes and we went along to hand out candy to the kids and visit with the families. I remember driving around and seeing all the houses and apartments that had collapsed but more then that I remember the blue tarps of make shift tents that were outside the homes that were not destroyed. I asked my friend why the tents. He told me it was because the people feared another earthquake and were too scared to live in their houses. I understood the people who lost everything living in tents, but I thought is so strange that even the ones who were fortunate enough to still have a home were living in tents. You would see a perfectly intact house and there in the yard would be a tent made of any scrapes they could find. They were so scared of going to sleep in their house for fear it would collapse on them that they would rather sleep outside on the wet ground. Really who could blame them? They had just experienced the earth shake and there was no certainty in life for them. Their home was stripped of its protective nature and what was once seen as their shelter and protection had turned into their greatest fear.

I thought about that last night as I told June about the picture of Andrea. I thought how at times I allowed fear to force me away from the security of my faith. It seemed so irrational for those people to sleep outside in the wet and cold when within 50 feet sat this perfectly good home with the comforts of heat, running water, and warm beds.

Isn't that just how we are at times in our life? We have all we need in Christ yet we choose to allow fear to steal our security from us. We choose to live in a tent when we have a home. We allow our fears to make what is secure seem insecure. We allow fear and worry to cast a doubt on what God has promised. We become suspect of the greatness of God. We allow ourselves to be convinced God is too good to be true, or God that not care about this in my life, and so we live in a tent just outside a palace.

Psalm 90:14
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Whose Valentine am I?

I, Ginger, am sitting down to write my first blog without doing it together with Jim. This one will probably take on a more feminine perspective. It's Valentine's Day today. This sweet yet odd holiday's history is a little obscure. One legend has it that there was a priest that lived in the 3rd century in Rome. Emperor Claudius II was the ruler at the time. The country was at war and he determined that unmarried men made better soldiers so he outlawed marriage to all young men in the land. The priest, a godly man with the last name Valentine, (an obvious romantic) deemed this to be an injustice so he secretly continued performing marriages to young lovers. Eventually he was discovered and put to death. Gotta love happy endings! Wonder if that was really how this whole day came to be? I only ponder the thought for about a minute tonight in between baking frozen pizza, cutting up orange slices and managing the always-romantic dinner time with 5 children under the age of 10.

After my minute history lesson is pondered and my other "dateless" friends and I choose which movie to go see later, I looked back over today. This is the first Valentine's Day with Jim in my world. Coming into a relationship later in life is full of interesting twists and turns. Jim and Andrea and Troy and I all began dating as teenagers and married the second we all got out of college. Therefore we pretty much grew up together, became adults together and established our own traditions as couples. Troy, like Jim, was a romantic at heart. He and I always celebrated Valentine's Day in some way. Jim's philosophy, however, is "why do I need someone to tell me that this is the day I should tell my wife how much I love her...that should be everyday"?! I would totally agree with his theology on it, but still I have to admit my childhood adoration for all things rosy pink and laced with hearts on Feb. 14th still tickles my fancy. So we have giggled about it this week. I sent him not one but TWO Valentine cards, sent his sons Valentines and my kids sent all of them ones too. He wrote me a beautiful love letter on notebook paper and slipped in a Starbuck's gift card and wrote "just because" and not because of the day. :) Jim and I will enjoy continuing to explore who one another is and what makes us tick. I love that we will make our own unique memories and we will challenge each other to think outside our previous boxes.

My first instinctive answer to the question, "who is your Valentine?" would be Jim. Then I would describe my Valentine of the last 18 years which was Troy. Both loving and attentive men. As Jim and I say alot, look what God has done for both of us twice in a lifetime! Blessed be the name of the Lord. Last year, I had no Valentine. I had no one on this earth to single me out. I remember, as with all holidays (Mother's Day and Father's Day the worst), walking past the Hallmark card aisle seeing all the red and pink lovey dovey cards and just wanting to have amnesia. I didn't want to remember Valentines past and the sweet things Troy did for me. Amnesia would have been a welcome relief at that point. It physically hurt so much to not have Troy anymore. You can't buy a greeting card for a memory. You can't wrap your arms around a memory. No matter how powerful that memory is.

But as a Believer in Christ, how can I ever think I have gone one Valentine's Day without a lover? From the day I accepted the Lord into my heart and into my life, I have had a lover. A lover of my soul. My bridegroom is Jesus. It's all a little abstract as you can't take the Lord to Macaroni Grill and the movies but none the less, He's as real as me sitting here typing this blog.

My sweet realtor here that helped sell my house last spring sent me a gift yesterday in the mail. It was a neat book and a sweet Valentine. The card really made me think.

Here is some of what it said, "Your Divine Valentine.. A Valentine may play a love song for you, but God sings you the sweetest love song in the universe....
'The Lord your God will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing. Zeph. 3:17'
...A Valentine may take you out to dinner, but God has invited you to the most amazing feast ever given...
'Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!' Rev. 19:9...
...A Valentine may bring you chocolate, but God provides you with something even sweeter, His Word...
'How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth.' Psalm 119:103...
...A Valentine may love you for a lifetime but God loved you before you were born and will love you for all eternity...
'Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love, with lovingkindness I have drawn you.' Jer. 31:3.

Wow, powerful promises and heart-touching analogies from the One who wrote the greatest Love Story ever told, Jesus. Last Valentines Day, I am not ashamed to tell you that I was angry with God. He had allowed the most excruciating pain into my life by taking Troy away. Maybe that card would not have comforted me last year. It probably would have made me even angrier as I thought, "great, just me and You, Lord today!". In my human mind, that seemed like it just could not be enough. But, in spiritual truth and faith, He is all I needed. He was what I needed last Valentines Day. Another man and even dare I say, having Troy still alive, would not have helped me to grow my faith in the darkest times. I am a woman who really enjoys being adored, cherished and loved by a man. I am meant to be part of a team; half of a whole. I know God made me who I am, so nothing I can tell Him about me, He does not know. But I have continued to have to make the choice to trust Him. To know that somehow He would provide a way where there was no way. He would be my stream in the desert. No man, no matter how wonderful, can meet the deepest thirst in your soul. I had to be okay if for the rest of my life, God had been my only Valentine. And though I couldn't fathom it, I knew if called me to that, He would enable me to accept that and have a full life. I am a woman. I know there are many women, maybe men too, who are wondering tonight when their Valentine will come. Well, He already came. Two thousand years ago in Bethleham. He loves us so much, He left the perfection of heaven to come to this most hideously painful and ugly world. He suffered physical, emotional and spiritual pain on the cross because He wanted to woo us to Him.

"We love because He first loved us" I John 4:19.
"And so we know and rely on the love God has for us" I John 4:16.

I can tell you, my heart has been broken and He has glued the pieces back together. It is possible.

"For God is greater than our hearts and He knows everything" I John 3:20.

I have been wooed and pursued by two wonderful men on this earth now. I praise the Lord for that daily. I thought I would be loved on this earth by the first man for the entirety of my life. I was wrong. I hope the second one will be on this earth long enough to love me until I am old woman. But if I am wrong again, the Lord forbid, I must know that my God, the Alpha and the Omega, the Mighty One who pursued me with His life, will love me for eternity.

P.S. Happy Valentines Day, Jim!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Small Stuff

No this blog is not in reference to Andrea's height. It is about doing the small stuff of life and that through the small stuff we really see our character. I thought that sometimes we tend to over look the little things we can do in life and seek the grand events to prove our value. But really that is not the case, it is the daily events of life that really speak to our character and what we believe. It is in these small consistent acts that speak to others.

Andrea and I had hoped and prayed and believed she would be healed. We would think of the great praise and glory God would receive in this miracle. I imagine some of you thought that yourself. Did you think of the lives that would have been changed when Andrea was healed? When her life was snatched from the clutches of certain death. Trust me I did. I thought what better way for God to revel Himself, what could be more perfect then for Andrea to stand before a crowd and be a witness of God's amazing power. In my mind there that was the perfect outcome and I just wanted to write the script and hand it to God as if to say, “Here you go I have it all worked out, just wait for this ending!”

But it was not His will, and many of us struggled with this. She seemed like the perfect candidate for a miracle didn't she? She had so much faith in spite of all her suffering and she never quite praising God. I remember one day in particular. I hope I never forget it. Andrea was sick once again. Her bouts with vomiting were back again. I don't even remember what drug she was on, but I think it was around February 2007 when she was on a new chemo treatment which particularly hard. Anyway it was a Saturday and Andrea felt sick to her stomach. I walked back into our bedroom and heard Andrea in the bathroom throwing up. I went in as I always did to rub her back, pray for her and just sit with her. When I walked in she was sitting on the floor exhausted from vomiting. It was then that I witnessed one of the most powerful examples of her faith. She went to vomit again and in between throwing up she would stop and thank God for His blessings and praise His name. I went to her and held her and began to pray for her but I will never forget walking in on her and seeing her vomit and then praise God at the same time. She refused to give into the sickness. In that small act I saw the character of Andrea.

I thought this week about how I had envisioned God's perfect plan, Andrea being healed and her being in the spot light giving glory to God. I could not help but think back to that moment in our bathroom. I thought which instance really spoke louder of who Andrea was and the God she served? Then I realized that God does not need the spot light to bring attention to Himself. I found this sentence I had written during church in 2006:

Our failures do not limit God
Our successes do not enable God

Although what I had hoped would be, was not. I realized sometimes it may have been more about my pride of wanting to be in the spot light then it was about serving God. Now God has asked me to serve in a way I would not have chosen. Sometimes our loudest statement about who we are can be spoken in the smallest of acts. And that is what I think about when I think of Andrea's life. It was never my desire to write this blog, but I do. I do so knowing God used Andrea's death in ways I never understood and I know in ways I will not see until I stand before Him.

Last Friday I saw a practical example of this during our weekly PT run at work. I had finished my run and was trying to recover from my blistering 10 min mile pace. As I sat down to catch my breath I watched Lance our PT leader. He had finished his run which is usually twice as far as my run and somehow he seems to finish in less time. As each person approached the finish line, about 100 yards out, Lance would run to meet them and pace them for the last part of their run. As he dropped of each person at the finish line he would turn around and go meet the next person. He did this over and over until everyone had finished their run. At the same time Rene, our other PT leader, would cheer each person as they crossed the finish line.

As I sat there I saw how these simple acts by Lance and Rene spoke so much about their character. They are both great workers and given any task their skills shine. But I doubt anything could speak to me louder to me then what I saw that day because it was not done for anyone to see. There was no personal gain in their actions; it was a simple act of service which I doubt many people even noticed. As I got up to go home I thought about how Lance and Rene were much like Andrea. Their acts of service were not for the praise of others, it was just to serve. It was not done in the spotlight, but in the background.

I thought that all of us have this opportunity every day and sometimes we miss them when we see our only value in the grand acts of life. I realized it is in the small stuff that what we believe really comes out. I think about how I would imagine what I would do if I won the lottery. How I would give to those in need but really that would not happen unless I'm that way right now with the small amount of money God has entrusted to me. Why do we sometimes think who we are or our character will change? I venture to say we would act the same if we won 100 million as we do with 100 dollars we have right now.

Mark 12:41-44

Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.”

We need to remember is that God does not need us in the spotlight to serve nor does our worth need to be in the grand. That sometimes He just asks us to just live to be a witness. And that is really how we show our true character and our true beliefs. As the saying goes,

“Always be ready to preach and if you have to use words.”

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Two Rivers

You will notice I have changed the "About us" section of the blog to reflect both my and Ginger's stories. This is our first blog we wrote together. It is about my experiences while meeting the kids, Boston 10, Greyson 7, Isabella 4, Aspen and Annalise 2, for the first time. It grew into the first shared story of Ginger and I.

I wrote this blog as I traveled to Phoenix this past weekend. I finished this on the flight back to San Antonio. This was my first time to meet the kids and the incredible friends that supported Ginger over the past 14 months. It was an emotional weekend which began with a trip to the Troy Gilbert Memorial Bridge. Seeing his name written in brass was overwhelming to me. I saw a physical reminder of what it cost for me to be there. I entered the lives of the five wonderful children, each so very special, each a gift from God, conceived in love, once the center of Troy’s life. I watched as the twins celebrated their second birthday. Ginger and I took Boston to soccer practice and watched Greyson play basketball. I heard Bella call me daddy and seek out my affection. I tucked her into bed and tried to answer her question, “If God made everything, who made God?” I stood and held Ginger’s hand as we worshiped with the families that prayed over Troy before he deployed and never returned. I felt the pain they all experienced when they learned of Troy’s death.

I thought of Troy as this was his place. I thought of Andrea as this was her dream. I thought of Ginger and I as this is our life. I was humbled to be given such a gift and such a responsibility. Who am I to be showered with such blessings twice in my lifetime? I thought of my boys and my desire for all of us to be a family. I prayed Nic and Anthony would know I entered this new life believing God’s plan is for them as much as it is for Ginger and me. I pray they know Ginger has been called to love them as I know I am called to love Ginger’s children. I hope my boys know I do not run from them but desire to bring them along into our new family. What I seek is for us all to become a family, not two separate families but a continuum of a family. We understand the pain they have suffered in losing their mother and father and that Ginger and I offer all we have to help each of them understand the pain they face both now and in the future.

By the grace of God Ginger and I have been blessed with a relationship that is humanly impossible. This relationship that is as hard for us to explain as it is for our family and friends to comprehend. But through it we are now able to reach out to our children and lead them as parents should. To take the lessons we have learned and pass them onto your kids is that not the role of a parent? Our desire is that Ginger and I can take what we have learned and lead our kids out of this storm to a place where the assurance of life is restored. Where faith replaces fear and trust enables God to use us all, to a place where God replaces pain and confusion with joy and clarity. All of us have felt our share of pain. Our children, spanning from 2 to 22 yrs old, have had to experienced far too much of it at far too young of an age.

As I wrote on the flight back to San Antonio I also reflected back the flight out to Phoenix. Below are some my thoughts as I went to meet Ginger and the kids as well as Ginger's and my experience with grief.

I sit on a plane; flying to life, to a life still unknown to me yet a life soon to be mine. What is unknown will soon be known; what is uncommon will soon to be my everyday life. What is a question will soon be an answer. What is a mystery will soon be reveled.

Will I be the father they need? Do I possess the ability to teach them and lead them? Will they see Christ’s love in me? Are my faith and my knowledge sufficient? God, you are asking me to be a father to the fatherless, a husband to a wife, a friend to Your daughter, a spiritual leader in their home an anchor in their lives, a beacon to a relationship with You. I ask You supply my every need to fulfill these roles. I pray for the unity of our families and that the blessing of our relationship will cascade down to our children. I lay prostrate before You, knowing only You can make me ready for these roles and prepare the hearts of all those involved. Father, I lay my life down I submit to you my God, my King, my Savior, my Comfort, my Shield, my Deliverer. It is in You alone that I trust.

What joy awaits our new family? Will we laugh together? What memories will we forge together? What dreams will we make together? Will we embrace as we go through life’s challenges? What pain lurks in the darkness? Is there a loss or suffering? God forbid it. I know the risk of loss is the price we pay to love again. I know that unless Christ returns, one of us will suffer the grief of burying another spouse. Yet life cannot stop for fear of loss. What God has laid on our hearts is to serve Him with the life we have remaining. As long as there is breathe in our lungs we are asked to serve the One who created us.

We are at the confluence of our lives, like two rivers that flow into one. What was once separate, exclusive, private and personal, is now mixed. We are thankful to our friends and family who met a need, filled a void, carried the load, shouldered the burdens, partook in the suffering, felt the pain and offered us comfort. To them we are forever grateful, and indebted. We survived because of their faithfulness. A friendship expressed in selfless love, self sacrifice and a commitment to someone suffering. They were God’s provision when life offered no hope. They were the hands and feet of God.

It is a dark and scary place we went to grieve. Hopeless grief is the natural place to go when you lose a spouse and a young age. Hardly any effort is required to fall into that pit. Just a step and gravity takes over. Before you know, you’re falling into the darkness and that natural pit becomes your home. In a cruel twist you soon find that getting out of that pit takes far more effort then falling into it. You fall in effortlessly but you struggle to climb out.

At this time is when you feel God’s provision; when those around you who come to met you in the pit. Or even better when they drop a line and climb down to rescue you. They accept the risk that if you fall they fall with you. Life is no longer isolated. There is a hand on yours and a word of encouragement in your ear.

We thank you human angels of a faithful God, for your willingness to go into a dark place and be a volunteer in the battle. Yours is the most precious gift of all. Ones who do not need to suffer such pain yet do. That is a gift that can not be repaid. Each attempt we make to express our thankfulness will forever be lacking.

I think of our God who reminds us He is the faithful One. Though, at times, His words were drowned out by the grief and His promises hidden in the darkness. His voice was masked by the ripping sound as what was one is torn in two. Strands woven separately into a single cord now torn apart. A foundation once secure is now shaken. Certainties are now doubted. Life’s promises now in question. Children’s questions no longer answered with a simple promise, “It will all be okay.” A child’s simplistic view of life is taken and left with an incomprehensible void. Their minds ill-equipped to handle such truths as death. They are robbed of the gradual realization that life is hard and far crueler then fairy tales. To be a kid, and lose a parent is to be caught between two worlds. A world of total security and a world of scary uncertainty. A world their friends do not understand or even know exists.

As a grieving parent trying to reach out to a grieving child we find ourselves facing a task we are unprepared for. We try to explain to them things we are still confused by ourselves. We come to offer help, but we are often sinking in our own despair. We have little to offer at times as we only seek to take our next breath.

As a grieving spouse you find your life is spinning out of control. Your mind entertains thoughts you would have never allowed. Life seems not worth living, as life offers nothing of value. Satan torments you with a plausible solution to end your suffering. As life seems to offer no escape and only in our own death could we find relief. Ginger clearly remembers flying on airplanes wishing the plane would go down taking their lives. These are not suicidal thought but an expression of total hopelessness.

However, God tells us He never leaves us or forsakes us.

Joshua 1:5

No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.

More then any other verse, these words come into question when life offers no light but only darkness. How can God be in this? How can such a feeling of hopelessness exist if He is with us? In the midst of this suffering there are no answers. The only solution is to take God at His Word. Though God may seem silent or his voice barley a whisper this is the place where God draws nearest to us.

Psalm 147:3
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

How will we ever know our capability if we are unwilling get in the game? Is talking about our faith the same as using our faith?

Is professing a belief in Christ the same as living it? Is saying I will go where You lead the same as taking steps on an unfamiliar path?

Isaiah 42:16

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.

Is a willingness to run the race the same as running it?

Hebrews 12:1
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

Is the idea of following Christ and taking up your cross the same as exchanging your own dreams and desires for His?

Matthew 10:37-39
"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Is there a part of our life we fear God will ask us to give up? Is there a part of our life we hold in reserve? Do you know if God asks you to do something He will provide all you need to do it?

Philippians 4:19

And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

Do you know the only thing you will regret is the part of you that you do not give to God? That no matter how hard you hold on or how much effort you put into your own life it will never equal what God can do in you. He awaits your willingness to trust Him. He longs to take you into a relationship with Him that will exceed you wildest dreams.

The suffering and pain we have described is not what we wanted or ever thought we could endure. We did not enter into these trials feeling up to the task. But we leave it knowing God filled every void, every gap between our own abilities and our desperate needs. We stand on the verge of a new life knowing He never left us alone. We leave this season much more prepared for the inevitable challenge life will bring, knowing what we do not possess He will provide. It is that faith that allows us to love again. It is not because we now have all we need to face it, but because we have the knowledge that all we lack He possesses, and all we need He will provide.

Philippians 4:13
I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.

After talking about our journeys of pain Ginger and I discovered we had both written scriptures on 3x5 index cards to reference when we were hungry for words of hope. God’s Word supplied our needs when this world offered no relief from our pain.

Matthew 4:4

But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”

We threw ourselves at the foot of the cross because we could not solve the questions that exists between a mysterious yet loving God and our lives here on earth.

Isaiah 55:8-9
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts declares the LORD.

We accepted the gift of Christ’s shed blood and we entered into a relationship with our loving Father. Will not the same God who loved us before we were saved love us that much more as His children? Would He provide the answer for your salvation and leave us incapable to deal with life? Was His gift some cruel joke? We should not fear what you can not do, for God does not ask us to succeed by our own abilities. That would only point to us. May in our victories people only see Christ’s love and provision. But in a life laid down He sees the canvas of a surrendered heart where He begins to paint His masterpiece. And His promise is it will not be left incomplete.

Hebrews 12 :2
Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Philippians 1:3-6

I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.

Ginger and I praise God as we stand in awe as we watch the Master at work in our lives, and we await the reveling of His masterpiece called our family.

Monday, February 11, 2008

I Only Ask That You Trust Me

If you have not read the updated version of "About Me" at the top of the blog you may want to do that before you read this entry. It explains the changes in my blog and relates to what I have written today. Every blog I have written and every experience I had with Andrea as I dealt with the drawn out process of losing her and every experience Ginger had as she dealt with the sudden loss of Troy as made us the person we need for each other. Unfortunately we have the complete grief story, one sudden, one drawn out, one with small children, and one with older kids. This unique story is for a reason. Today I begin to share where I feel God is leading me. To seek the reason for the pain we endured. To honor Andrea and Troy for the life they lived, a life submitted to God, even though He asked them to lay their life down. Ours is a story of service to God, of thankfulness for His provision and the outpouring of blessings in our life.

This is the first blog about Ginger's and my relationship. Many of you know God brought Ginger into Andrea's and my life in Jan 2006 via emails we exchanged. Since Jan of this year we have found our common experience of losing a spouse has formed a much deeper relationship. Our plan is to be married on Jul 5th 2008. We ask for your prayers as we enter this relationship, especially for our children. We feel God has brought us together to share our unique story in hopes that it helps others who may have lost a spouse or face any difficulty that seems overwhelming. Life can be hard, and losing Troy and Andrea was as hard as it gets, yet God did not end the story there, and this is the first in the account of our continued journey to healing.

This is a letter wrote to some friends about Ginger. I had not intended to post this on the blog as it is personal but what of my blog is not personal? So I'm going to do what I have always done and that is be honest with my life and who I am. I hope it helps you understand me and my relationship with Ginger. I have talked to my boys and I will not comment on their feelings as those are theirs and it is not my place to speak for them. As a parent I do understand the pain this causes them. I understand the issues in bringing two families together. And I understand the risk I take. My prayer is they will be able to understand and accept what Ginger and I feel is God's leading in our life. But I feel God not only has plans to bless us but also the children. We are all included in this joining of two families. I want you to know I understand that is all happening fast, and I understand your concern for me and my kids. I do not enter this relationship without considering the children, in fact both Ginger and I enter this as much for the kids as for ourselves.

It is an amazing story that we hope to share with you through this blog.

I love you all. This is a hard subject to talk about via electronically. I know there are far too many chances of being misunderstood and becoming upset. So I ask that we filter what we read through two through these two thoughts. First, that we love each other as brother and sister in Christ. Second that we know each other, our character and our beliefs. I ask that you trust me knowing who I am and what I believe.

I understand your feelings, I too am grieving about losing Andrea and having my life move on. And not just in the sense of Ginger, I mean having my life move on in the smallest of terms. Going to a movie, laughing at a TV show, talking to Nic about his future, taking Anthony to have a tux fit for a formal event he will attend, seeing our friends, going to church, cooking a meal, or just going grocery shopping. Everything I have done since Dec 17 has been a memory all my own, no longer shared with Andrea. I have struggled with each and every moment of my life and I have learned to deal with each of these events as well as countless others. With each day these events become easier, as I do them alone and I become just Jim. I still feel a little uncomfortable feeling this, because I feel I'm doing this against Andrea. Maybe you feel the same feeling about Ginger and me. But I realize I'm not doing this against Andrea for Andrea is no longer here. I do not say that to sound cruel or insensitive to a woman I loved so deeply as if I want to run from her memory. I say it because it is the truth. Yes you see me as Jim and Andrea; everyone does, for that was my identity. Did I want this? No. Did I ask for this? No. Did God ask me to do this? Yes. When He asked Andrea to lay down her life, by default He asked me to do this. It is not what I wanted it is what I have. I sit on the plane returning from her memorial in North Carolina and I look out the window thinking in some silly way I'm just a little closer to Andrea. I want to hear her, I want to see her but I cannot, for she is gone. Again I'm reminded of who I now am. Jim with a memory of a once great marriage to a once perfect woman. But God still expects me to serve Him and love Him. He still has a plan for me and my future. If God was done with me he would have taken me with Andrea. Yet I remain, sometimes it feels cruelly to live on. But not when I think that God loves me and I Him, I still desire to serve Him, to take the life I had with Andrea, the suffering we endured and use it for His glory. This is still my passion. And if God's will is for Ginger and I to combine our pain and suffering then our story will be that much more powerful. There in lies the struggle for me and for you. It is this time when her memory is close and we long to be with her, yet we know she is gone and we must live on. God did not guide my life and now suddenly leave me alone. One day about a year ago, I pulled into our driveway after Andrea's chemo. I stopped the car and the Lord was talking to me. I looked at Andrea and I said, "Andrea God is telling me to let you go." I was unsure of what this meant and I told Andrea this. At the time I felt it was speaking to me about my dependence on her faith in my life, that I needed God to be the focus of my life, my number one love. I took that as a correction in my walk with the Lord. But now I think it was more then just that, it was also about preparing me for this time of my life. And Andrea's last words to me, "Jim you need to be strong now" were a continuation of this thought. Let her go and be strong. I believe this was God calling me to my own life of faith; it was the parallel work in my life as He was working in Andrea's life. For her to die for me to go on a serve. Why I do not know, but could His plan for Andrea be so right and mine be so wrong? Should I accept by faith the suffering of Andrea and the trial we endured as I watched the love of my life die and now refuse His blessing? I know you want me to be happy, I appreciate that, I really do. I know it is only out of love that you want me to be careful. I appreciate that as well. I did not tell you enough to let you respond in any other way. I understand that. Let me explain my feelings towards Ginger. First, I want you to know I understand that me in another relationship is difficult for others to see, especially my boys. And they are my number one concern. I pray daily for wisdom for me and for their hearts to accept my new life. I do not believe God would put Ginger and I together without including in that plan the children. He does not bless us and curse us at the same time. So as I know it will be difficult for my boys no matter when it happens I also know God has a time that is best for it to happen. But I know it is God's plan.

And that is part of the story I did not share with you. I tell you this not to cause you any pain or disrespect for Andrea. But I felt and still do feel the same connection with Ginger as I did with Andrea. I just know it is right. Yes I know you worry about me and my ability to think clearly right now. All I can tell you is I'm thinking as clearly as I know how. I feel this not in my heart or with my eyes but I feel this with my soul, deep within me, deeper then the surface of my emotions. I would not do this if that was not the case. I would not do this if it was not after a time of prayer, I would not do this just to be with someone. I did not love Andrea that way and I do not intend to love Ginger that way. I offer you only this. Know who I am. I guess I'm asking you to trust me. I did not seek this relationship, but I accept it. I thank God for blessing me with Ginger. I in no way leave behind my love for Andrea. Nor does Ginger leave behind her love for Troy. Both Andrea and Troy made us who we are; they will always be a part of us. It is like a good friend told me, "Jim you are single now, that is who you are. You did not break your vow with Andrea; God did when He called her home." That is what I'm adjusting to as I live now. I am Jim not Jim and Andrea. It is as hard for me as it is for you, if not more for she was who I was not who I saw I was. I loved Andrea as much as I knew how to love and I will love Ginger the same way. I don't write that to belittle my love for Andrea but try to express the depth of my love for Ginger in a way you can relate to. And I thank God and accept from Him the gift of a Godly woman who loves me. I want you to think about Ginger and I. Is this really a physically relationship, me running far to fast to a woman? Would Ginger run to a USAF pilot, a man who will most likely be sent to Iraq in the near future, a man still grieving over losing his wife, who reminds her of the pit of despair she just left? Do I sound like someone she would seek? Think about the fear she feels knowing I may go to Iraq. Would she seek that? Think that she is committing to a man who may deploy and leave her not only alone but now alone with a 15 yr old son away from her home town and all her support. Does this sound like we are running off like two teenage kids thinking only that we are in love? We deal with all these realities and they are not easy and we are not ignorant to them. Would I as a 46 yr old man seek a woman with 5 kids. I have 2 yrs until I was done with kids, a retired Colonel able to do anything I wanted to do in life. Is she the woman I would pick if it was just up to me? Neither of us are what we would seek, but we are exactly what we need. God is asking Ginger and I to take on these roles, as difficult as this may be if it is God's will then it is right. God will equip us with everything we need. I believe that with all my heart. I want you to know Ginger loves me unconditionally. This is not easy for her. She is still dealing with her loss in some ways. She is opening herself to possibly of suffering the same pain by falling in love knowing she could lose me. I know that may seem strange to think about but after you lose a spouse life certainties are suddenly uncertain. And we both deal with that as we fall in love. Yes it feels good to be in love and have someone but it comes with the reality that one of us will face this pain again. I'm trying to say is that we do not enter this relationship lightly or with our heads in the clouds. We are both to near the pain and loss to be so naïve.

We know the risks of the kids coming together so soon. We pray and seek God's will and wisdom each and every day, knowing He will provide. God did not bring us together and forget the children. We are all part of this plan. Not that we think it will be easy or perfect, but it will be right. It is the best for all of us, difficulty and all. I understand you asking if she really is the "one." How could I know so soon? I only tell you I do. I know to the world it is crazy to "know" already. Was it crazy when I asked Andrea, the first girl I dated, to marry me two months after I met her? Absolutely, to everyone else, but not to us. To us it was the sanest decision we ever made. I feel the same about Ginger. I know it seems crazy to the outside, and trust me I'm not out to do something crazy. I'm not scared to live alone or afraid to wait to be married. But when we have prayed and when we both feel God is leading us together, when we feel so comfortable together, when we talk and feel a closeness that exceeds the time we have know each other, when I hear in her words of love for me that humbles me, when I hear her voice and all seems right in the world, when I feel joy in my heart, when I hear her pray for me and with me and I feel God with us, it is then I know she is the "one." But most of all when I feel God confirming our relationship how could I run from that?

Does God need additional time to answer a prayer? Am I afraid to accept this as His will because it involves happiness and I somehow am not allowed to feel this now? Can God's will not be for me to be happy right now? Was over four years of suffering not enough? Do I owe more time in this prison named grief? I know I'm asking you to move on sooner then you are ready. I don't want you to skip any part of your grief nor do I want to skip any part of mine. It is necessary. I need to enter my relationship with Ginger complete with my dealing with losing Andrea. And I understand that I'm further along in my feelings for Ginger then anyone else.

I just want you to know I love her as I loved Andrea, no less, and prayerfully I hope even more. I loved Andrea more every day and I expect I will have the same experience with Ginger. I pray I would never be at the pinnacle of my love when we met only to decline throughout our life together hoping not to run out of love somewhere along the way. These are my feelings; this is where I am in my life. This is my future and I embrace it. Yes I know I have more grief to deal with and I embrace that as well. But I do it knowing where my future lies. That is a great gift from God. I hope you understand my feelings for Ginger and I have given you a sense of why I feel this way. I hope it helps you know I'm not running into this without thought and more importantly without seeking God's will for the children, Ginger and me. I ask you to pray for us, for this relationship and for the children. My desire is to serve God in my life. I feel this is where He is leading me so I follow. I know nothing else to do, no other way to live, I know no better way to honor Andrea.

In Christ,

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Love for My Wife

I wrote this in the summer of 2005.
I think I have talked about this lesson in other blogs. This is when I first wrote about it.

It is about my growth and priorities in life. It is about receiving God's promises.
When we found Andrea had stage IV cancer we were overtaken with many emotions, after hearing the Doctor say, “I’m sorry but the cancer in her bones.” I found out a small fact that day. When the doctor is about to tell you bad news he gets a cassette tape out and begins to record the session. Why? Because he knows you are not going to hear nor remember what he says after the moment he says “cancer…” But Andrea and I remained somewhat calm as he began to explain the CT scans, pointing out the black spots in Andrea’s hips and lower back. I sat there looking at an x-ray of Andrea and there before my eyes was this simple looking black spot but it had the power to take her life. It seemed disproportionately small to the threat it posed. We left the office and drove home. I don’t really remember anything we said or if we even talked at all, but I did not want to go home. I knew that if we went home we would have to face what we were just told and I was not ready to do that alone. I drove to Lori’s house. Andrea sat in the car and I went in to break the news. All I remember is breaking down as I told her Andrea’s cancer was back. Ever since that day Lori, has provided a calming spiritual strength that we have relied on many times. After that it was time to go home and face this together, alone. All I remember is going to our bedroom and having a breakdown. I was lost in despair, fear, sadness, and grief. As I laid on the bed crying until I felt sick to my stomach, Andrea laid on my back crying as she was tried to calm me. She began to tell me not to worry, God is in control. I can’t describe to you what a woman of faith she is. There are not enough words to capture the faith of Andrea. The reality is Andrea was just told she had terminal cancer, and she is comforting me telling me it will be okay, and I’m lost in my despair.

As we began our journey, I began to look at my life. Of course you go through the expected thoughts, is this because of my sin? Is God punishing us? I did not linger on those thoughts too long, but I did begin to look at my life and my sin, not as a bargaining chip with God and not because I thought if I changed some things God would be obligated to heal Andrea, no I did it because I decided I did not want to live outside of God’s will for my life. I was ready to submit to Him. More than anything it was the fact that I was faced with a situation I had no control over. There was nothing I could rely on at this point but God. Even the doctor told us Andrea needed a miracle. And I needed God to be God and that started with my relationship with Him. Right now there is no cure for Andrea. Dr Atkins hope was to stabilize her condition to keep her alive long enough until a cure was developed. I’m not an expert but that is not good news. But it made it very clear where we needed to place our faith. As I told the doctor, “So you are saying there is no cure for Andrea, good then when she is healed you will know it was God.”

As I began to look at my life I quickly saw a sin I had to deal with. In fact God brought this to my attention during round one of the cancer but I did not deal with it. I loved my wife too much. That may seem like a strange comment so let me explain. Andrea is very strong in her faith, in fact I saw it the moment I first met her. It was something in her eyes. I saw all I needed; I saw kindness, love, and gentleness. I saw the spirit of God, and I wanted it in my life. Well I found it very easy in life to rely on Andrea’s faith. I think if I was at heaven's door and I was asked why I deserved to enter, I would say, “Well did I mention I know Andrea.” I failed to develop my own faith and my own personal relationship with Christ. Now it was time to face the fact that Andrea was an idol in my life. I had placed her above God. I worshiped her more than God. I put all my effort into building my relationship with Andrea at the expense of my relationship with God. And to be honest I was good at it. I received many compliments and praises that I found rewarding. So I found myself seeking the praises of men and before I knew it I was full into idol worship, and it was perfectly disguised.

As I began to step out from under Andrea’s faith and develop a deeper relationship with my creator, I was able to see my sin and repent. It hit me one night after Andrea and I had prayed, she said, “Jim what are you going to do when I’m healed? If your relationship is only built upon the intensity of this trial, what are you going to do when it is over? You need to have a faith of your own, a faith built upon your own relationship with God.” Andrea is a very wise woman of faith, and God used her that night to speak to me. When I was freed from my sin and I had God in his proper place I have found that my love for Andrea is deeper and more satisfying than ever before. God promises us life and a more abundant life. That is so true, what I thought was perfect love for Andrea, turned out to be as much about my own selfish desires as it was about loving Andrea, but now I have experienced a love for Andrea far beyond anything I have ever known.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

My Eulogy of Andrea From The San Antonio Service

Two Sides of a Coin

Two Choices,
Fear or faith
Worry or Trust
The physical or the spiritual

This is what Andrea faced every moment of every day for 4 yrs and 4 months.

This is what we face today. I’m not saying there is no grief in Andrea’s passing, that to feel the pain is somehow wrong. The grief we feel is a reflection of the love we had for Andrea. It is a God given emotion in response to a God given love. As our old pastor used to say, “Don’t hear what I’m not saying.”

All I want to say today you and to myself is as difficult as this day is, and the days that lay ahead for me and the boys, we have to remember to look at the other side of the coin. The side Andrea lived by. It was her witness to us. It is how she carried her cross.

This is how Andrea faced this trial; it is how she lived her life. She loved God so deeply there was nothing she would not do for Him, even suffer cancer.

Nic reminded me of something Andrea told us when she was first told she had cancer. She said “I don’t want to die but if God could use my death to help us (our kids) understand how much God loved us or help us grow in our relationship with Him she was willing to die”. She always believed she would be healed but she accepted the reality of her death. She did not see death as a negative because she knew God would use whatever happened for His glory, and therefore she was not afraid.

There is nothing she would not do for any of us. That is why she suffered in silence. Yet all the time she was helping us shoulder our own burden. Those who were blessed enough to sit with Andrea in the chemo room witnessed this. Not only did she carry her cross by faith, she also had the faith to reach out to us. It was opposite of what you would expect. So many came to Andrea with the intention of helping her face this cancer, and left realizing it was Andrea who had them.

As she laid in the ICU for 22 days, her concern was for us. It was why she told me to be strong when I took her to the ER. It was why she waited on the edge of the bed for me to come to terms with taking her to the hospital. I have no doubt when I walked out, she prayed for my faith and my strength. She needed me to fall back on my faith, to be strong. I think she knew I would be okay, as if she saw that moment as a final exam in my class titled faith. One day I was struggling with my faith and Andrea said to me “One day Jim you have to have your own faith, if your faith is wrapped up in me what will you do when this is over?”

She was always drawing us into a deeper relationship with God, and she willingly laid down her life to do it. There was nothing she would not do to make me a more Godly man, father, and husband.

She felt the same about everyone she met. No matter where you were in your walk with God. When I would read her the emails of how people were praying and their accounts of how Andrea had changed their lives, she would smile and nod, yes, yes. As if to say, yes this is worth it. In your lives she saw purpose in dieing. When Christ came to her and asked, “Andrea how much do you love me?”
She said, “With all my heart, with all my soul with all my strength, and with all my mind.”
He said, “Will you stretch out your arms for me?”
Without hesitation Andrea said, “Yes Lord, though my desire is to see my children’s children, thy will be done.”

That is what we witnessed these past four years. A life laid down, in faith and we all benefited from her sacrifice.

I want you to know Andrea carried her cross by faith. Her example is one of Christ’s love. Not a love judged by what she gained on earth, but a loved measured by what she has now. A love we were all blessed to witness. A love when understood not in the physical but in the spiritual draws us into thanks and praise to a loving God for having chosen us to be a witness to Andrea’s life. God loved Andrea in her death as much as He did in her life.

A love that helps us right now when we face our grief and our loss. How do we respond to a life taken far to early in human terms? A life of such faith seemingly unfairly taken. How do we respond? We choose to see life and death from an eternal perspective, form God’s view point, and in doing so we see the other side of the coin. The side that reminds us where what is really important in life. That was Andrea’s example to us, two sides of a coin, 2 choices, the physical or the spiritual the flesh or faith. Andrea faced every day with reminders of her battle, yet she chose to see her life and death in terms of God’s promises. Promises that are not about making her life on earth comfortable or easy that fade in value but in terms of eternity. For her faithfulness she entered the presence of her savior at 1:07 on Dec 17th 2007. In that instance time no longer existed for Andrea, and on her head was placed a crown of glory whose value far exceeded anything of this life we fought for over the past four yrs and four months. In that moment Andrea’s choice to see the other side of the coin was rewarded.

I will close with another entry from Andrea’s prayer journal written on Aug 19th 2005

Deuteronomy 30:19-20
This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life.

Lord, you’ve taught me how to live and I choose you. And by choosing you I choose life. I love you and worship you. I believe, I choose life. I love you, Andrea.
That was how Andrea faced this trial, as a choice and in her mind she chose to serve the God she professed her entire life, she chose faith over fear, trust over worry, and the spritual over the physical. She chose Life.

Life With Cancer

I found a book where Andrea wrote down how she was feeling. I kept asking her to write down how she was feeling to help us identify what was a symptom verses a side effect. It looks like it started in January 2006.

Thursday Night - 2 Tylenol, slight flu like symptoms.

Friday - No side effects - felt great!

Saturday - No side effects - felt great

Sunday - Early am hot spots - night sweats

Monday - Flu like symptoms aching all day, especially my trunk. chest, lip, and knees. Swelling still down my hand. Still have neuropathy. Aching in my pelvis.

Tuesday - Less body aches, neuropathy in hand, heels are so tender, have been for about four days. A little tired

Wednesday - Not much aches until 4pm. Then chest legs shoulders. A little tired in the pm. Nap for 1 hour.

Thursday - Chemo day, Abraxine, Gemzar, double dose of Herceptin. Palettes were low. Very little aching. No fever tonight PTL (Praise the Lord) My hair on my head and eyelashes appear to be coming back! PTL, please God let it continue to grow and not fall out. 1 1/2 hour nap.

Friday - Some aching tired. Saturday - No side effects, tired

Sunday - No side effects, PTL

Monday - No side effects! Healed jaw, PTL.

Tuesday - Tired, took nap in the afternoon.

Thursday - My stomach has been hurting all day.

Friday No bleeding today.

Saturday - 1 1/2 hr nap. felt good

Monday - No side effects neuropathy bad in the pm Voice good PTL! No nap, no bleeding

Thursday - Chemo day fever, fatigue, neuropathy

Friday - Aching in my knees stomach hurt, took a nap

Saturday - Felt great in am, got to clean the house today. Nose bleed aching in trunk and legs, 1 hour nap, voice not to bad, neuropathy

Sunday - No aches in am. Aches at 4pm, took 1 1/2 nap, voice not as good as it has been

Monday - Aches tired voice better

Tuesday - Aches especially in the knees

Wednesday - Aches in afternoon tired

Thursday - Chemo day - Still have neuropathy voice problem eye problem but my mouth is fabulous

Friday - Tired aches

Saturday Tired aches

Sunday - Very tired, slept through sermon. Sweat a lot at night

Monday - Very tired slept till 10:45, got up for 1 1/2 hr slept another hour or so. Aches in hand knees and calves.

Tuesday - Felt good, no nap little aches

Wednesday - Got shot for low blood count. Some bone aching after the shot. Slept until 11:00 nap for 30 minutes.

Friday - CT scan nothing PTL

Saturday - Felt great, slept 30 mins,

Sunday - Felt great no nap, Monday - Felt extra great No nap Scan results, very good! Few questionable spots on liver and lungs. Spleen and lymph nodes were great.

Friday - Felt good, just tired. Slept till about 11:30. Took 2 hr nap. Some aches around 5pm, Some more bone came out of my jaw. PTL Sunday - Forgot to write but I think I felt good

Monday - Very tired

Tuesday - I feel great. I took chemo last Thursday, took double Avastin and Herceptin since we are going on a trip to Texas next week. I feel really good today.