Featured Post

Perfect Imperfection

Tonight we put up our Christmas tree, the first Ravella/Gilbert tree. Actually we have two trees. One is artificial. It is perfect. It has p...

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Happy Birthday Andrea

Today March 29th, was Andrea's 46th birthday. It was as hard of a day as I thought it would be. It was the loneliest day of my life.

I started off by running in the Koman Race for the cure then stopped by the cemetery to sit with Andrea and ended the day at Anthony's track meet.

This is my first race shirt and number. I wore Andrea's "Life is Good" hat in honor of her. The hat was stained from her brow. It was sokaed from my sweat when I finished. She wore this hat all the time. It made me feel closer to her.

All day I found myself incredibly lonely in a sea of people. There were 28000 runners/walkers in the race and I was totally alone. Have you ever heard the old Temptations song, "I wish it would rain?" That is how I felt. The song is about a man who wants it to rain so when he goes outside no one will know he is crying. I found myself waiting for the race to start unable to look at anyone. I signed in and pinned on my official number for the first race of my life. I could not help but think how I had changed since Andrea died. I was never a runner, yet there I was approaching the starting line, in a way so out of place, wishing Andrea could see me, hoping in some way she could. Was proud of me? Thankful to Gina for planting in me the idea of running after Andrea died.

I chatted with Ginger today and this is what I told her was hard about today.

All the survivors being announced, seeing them in pink tee shirts, wishing Andrea was there. The loud speaker calling out for survivors, 1 year, 5 year, 10 year...each call like a punch in my stomach, each call bringing tears to my eyes. I'm happy there are survivors and I don't mean to wish anyone would die from this disease but today I was not in the mood to hear how happy they were for "winning" the lottery.

Running when it hurt, making it hurt by running as fast as I could. With every step I thought of all the pain Andrea had to go through.
Being so alone in such a crowd of people.
No one knowing who Andrea was only seemed heightened my sense of loneliest. Her story lost in this sea of people who were affected by breast cancer.
Crying in public, because I could not find a place to be alone.
Wanting to leave but needing to stay.
Listening to Andrea singing in my i pod as I ran.
Hating cancer.
The insanity of buying flowers for her grave on her birthday.
Realizing it is my job to keep her grave pretty. I want people to see Andrea's grave and think "She must have been a special person."
Finding it a strange job but somewhat soothing to sit and pick up leafs and rocks off Andrea's grave. Thinking my cleaning habit makes me do weird things.

All that was sad

By the time the race began I was emotionally exhausted, but thankful it was time to start the run. My goal was a 30 minute time and I made it in 24:55.

I finished the race and headed for my car to get flowers for Andrea's grave. When I was at the store I saw the blood mobile and decided to donate in honor of Andrea and the two transfusions she had. After a visit with Andrea and placing the flowers on her grave I left to go to Anthony's track meet. There again I found myself alone in a crowd. Watching Anthony, remembering when Andrea last sat in the bleachers for Anthony's football game. Remembering how weak she was, barely able to walk to the seats, having to still carry that oxygen bottle. Thinking how proud she would have been to see Anthony run. Watching Anthony win and cheering for him alone. Doing everything alone. Crying again in public. Having to wear sunglasses on a cloudy day hoping others did not notice.

Anthony getting ready for the 4x400 relay. They won first, and Anthony got a medal in all three events he entered. One gold, one silver, one bronze.

Today was just a lonely day in every way.

Fittingly I end the night alone. I let Anthony go to a hockey game with a friend. I figured he should be allowed to escape the empty house. Dinner was take out, ate while watching a movie in our chair and a half. The TV my only relief from the silence of the house.

Part of what made this week hard was that Ginger is away visiting Israel and we have not talked other then "chatting" on line a couple of times. But I think this was God's plan. I think I needed this time alone. In part to help me with my grief, but also I think to understand a little more what Ginger had to go through over the last 14 months. I know my week is a drop in the bucket to what she endured for months, but I feel I understand just a little bit more Ginger and the depth of pain she endured as she waited for God to bring us together. It made me hurt for her knowing how awful her life must have been. Thankful to all those who supported her and the kids. Actually they did more then support her they literally carried her. I will always be indebted to them.

So I end the day with a terrible headache and incredibility tired so I will call it a night. But as I do I have to express how thankful I am that Andrea was and Ginger is in my life. God has truly showered blessings upon me by giving me two such wonderful women, both love me in ways that at times overwhelms me. Yes it was a sad and lonely day, but the sun will come up tomorrow and life will continue to slowly regain normalcy.
This is what Ginger said after I told her what made my day so hard.

" I know you are thinking of Andrea at every turn. I hate for you to hurt. But I can tell you that walking through really hard "anniversaries" is just something you can't go around, you must go through. I prayed you would find comfort and strength and healing today."

Ginger's words offer me hope and comfort because they come from someone who has walked where I am walking. But more importantly because they come from someone who loves me. She is my gift from a loving God. Ginger is an answer to a prayer I had not yet prayed, a need I had not yet expressed. Ginger exceeds every prayer I could have prayed, every need I could have expressed. In a way I think God planned it that way to remind me that He truly does bless us beyond what we could ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Martha Martha

I wrote this on Nov 30th 2006
It was just a small reminder to me that no part of my life is too small for God

Today Andrea contacted our friend Daniel. She had felt a leading to call him. She was not sure why and she did not feel this was a requirement, but an act of obedience to the Lord. Andrea called and left a message. Tonight Daniel called back. I was busy in the kitchen making pasta sauce for our Christmas party while Andrea was in the living room talking to Daniel. At some point she left the room and back to our bedroom. I continued to work and clean not noticing Andrea has even left the room. (I know that comes as a shock to those of you who know me) Then as if someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Martha Martha what are you doing?" I stopped cleaning and noticed Andrea was gone. I went to the bedroom and found Andrea on he knees praying still on the phone with Daniel. When Andrea saw me she lifted up her hand to me indicating she wanted me to knell with her. I knelt and prayed with Andrea and Daniel. When Andrea hung up she said, "I prayed you would come to me when Daniel began to pray with me."

How awesome is God? How real is He, and how amazing is God to be involved in our lives in such a personal way. It is humbling and it reminds me that God is not far away and detached from our daily life. When life seems so out of control and when your prayers seem to go unanswered, it is then that God gives you a moment like this. Like a soft nudge on your shoulder God reminds you, "I'm right here." And in that moment I knew that despite how life is going it does not mean God is not there, I need only to trust.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Greatest in status or authority or power Supreme or highest in power;

Superior to all others

The right of God to do as He wishes with His creation

Romans 9:21

Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some Pottery for noble purposes and some for common use

I (Ginger) am typing this blog on an airplane enroute to New York and then on the the Holy Land. As a I so suavely pulled out my laptop and begin typing away I can't help but laugh inside a little. Me, the stay at home mom of 5 little kids who only a year and half ago didn't know what an ipod was, had no clue how to text message and thought myself incapable of using the internal mouse on a laptop. I never even planned on owning a laptop. Ah, that is the key word - plans. I have been thinking on this subject so much lately and knew it would be the jumping off point to the next blog I would write. Depending on how long the remainder of this plane flight is, it might even be a two-parter, who knows?

Plans are a sketchy and exclusive thing. We make them, we map them out, we fret over them, we invest ourselves in them, they pretty much dictate our lives in one way or another every single hour of every single day.

Have you ever known what it is to have your plans washed away as quickly as the tide wipes out a sandcastle. One big wave and poof! All your hours and hours of labor in the sun vanish right before your eyes.

Anyone who has suddenly come face to face with a life altering event knows this sinking sandcastle feeling. Being a doer in life not just an observer usually played out to my benefit. It especially came in handy when I married Troy and became a military wife. My friends will be the first to tell you, I am not very organized but I am an accomplished planner. We military wives have to be. We have to map out our futures as they are usually hinged on a next move, next job, next deployment, next holiday spent far from family, next new friend we need to meet, in general the next thing is always right around the corner and we want to embrace it so we plan. I don't think just military wives are necessarily like this, I think it's sort of ingrained in lots of us as little girls. We like to plan our next birthday party (the day after our last one), we like to plan what we're wearing to prom in January, we like to plan our weddings before we get to the third date and we like to plan what our newborn baby will be doing after he graduates from college. We cook for a month in advance. We book our calendars chalk full. In fact, I remember looking back over my calendar the week of Troy's accident. There were a lot of plans I had made for that week. Losing my precious husband was no where on the list. Hopes and dreams and plans are just part of using our imaginations and creating our future realities.

But when those hopes and dreams hinge on things in this earthly life (admit it, 99% do) and suddenly that earthly life gets sucked down the big drain, then what? Those of us that has happened to know what happens next. We stand in the middle of the rubble that used to be our perfect life and wonder what in the world just happened. I often said for months and months after Troy died that all of my hopes went down in that airplane crash with him. They did. Or they seemed to. At least all of MY hopes and dreams did. I remember the first time I spoke to my good friend, Marlo, who lost her husband in a plane crash 10 years prior, we spoke of these broken and unfulfilled dreams. We talked about how we were supposed to grow old together as couples. We were to watch our grandchildren play on the front porch of our dream log cabin in the woods. All of the Air Force assignments we were going to take and enjoy. Marlo, much further down the road than I was, told me to consider that God obviously had other plans for me. She was so confident that her husband, Rick's, accident was a part of the plan God dreamed for her that she named her widow ministry, Dreamed for Me Ministries. She was in a place I could not be at the time and still struggled to comprehend sometimes in the painful moments - the place where we rest in the fact that not just our joys but our struggles are all part of His plan.

I spent a lot of time in prayer and study trying to reconcile that a loving God could not only allow but actually be the architect of such painful devastation as what I have experienced. It just didn't make sense that my Abba Father would hurt me like He was. Not just hurt me a little bit but rip out my heart and soul and lay on a bed of fire. I began studying Job, David,, Moses and found that I was having more and more in common with these great men of the Bible. We all felt God had forgot caring about us, instantly stopped loving us, erased our names from the palm of His hand. As I have mentioned before, I had to check my feelings against the Truth of Scripture.

Matthew 10:29-30

"Are not two sparrows sold for one penny? Yet not one will fall to the ground apart from the will of the Father.

Isaiah 49:15-17

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands

My nanny, Jessica, graduated from Bible college with a degree in Biblical counseling (she came to the right house!). As she watched me wrestle with trying to lean on the Someone I thought had let me fall, she recommended I read a book called "trusting God when you don't understand" by Jerry Bridges. I knew He had really blown my trust and that was the crux of my problem with Him. This book has captured me and I continue to not just read it but highlight it and study like a textbook. This book talks about God's sovereignty and who He is all the time, no matter what our circumstances He does not stop sitting on His throne, eyes wide open, not letting anything touch us, His children, without His permission. But if I believe he didn't turn His head or nod off then was He just being downright cruel to rob me of my future and steal every drop of happiness I had ever known?

Psalm 121:4

Indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep

This is when I began studying

Romans 8:28

" And we know that all things work together for the good of those that love the Lord and who have been called according to His purpose."

and clung onto
Jeremiah 29:11

"For I know the plans i have for you. plans to prosper you not harm you. plans to give you a hope and a future. these are things i will do, I am the Lord your God.".

But what if that was just for Isaiah and the Israelites? Not if we believe that these scriptures are all consistent with God's character. Not each of the stories or words in the Bible are specifically about our situations but all of them point to who our God, Jehovah is, all-mighty, 100% loving, ever-faithful, totally able.

I am certainly no Bible scholar but I did begin fervently reading my Bible and hanging onto His promises for dear life. I needed to know He was unchanging.

Hebrews 6:17-19

Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure

I needed to know that I could trust Him. He wasn't a friend that turned on me. He wasn't a moody or fickle bully. He was and He is the Great I Am. And at the same time, the gentle Shepherd.

Ezekiel 34:12

As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.

He did not stop working in my life when He took Troy Home. My plan was to be married to Troy until we were putting our teeth in jars next to our beds. My plan was to raise 5 kids together. My plan was to be a general's wife and minister in the AF alongside the love of my life- the one God gave for pete's sake!

My plan was not to bury my 34 year old husband. My plan was not to explain to my 5 little children that their daddy was never coming home but living with Jesus instead. My plan was not to be a widower. My plan was not to be a single mother. My plan was not to wish myself dead as a better alternative to getting up in the morning. My plan was not to be alone.

But the days (okay moments- let's not exaggerate) that I began to make the choice that I could trust the Lord again and to accept this was His will for me were the moments that I thought I might could go on. That I might could still feel like His hand never left the top of my head.

I have many more thoughts on this subject but I am advised turn off electronic devices. Wow, they're talking to me-the "techie" :).

Okay, I am now at JFK airport and awaiting my flight to Turkey then Israel.

Just in the last few weeks I have stumbled across several things that reminded me of Troy's plans. I found his "to-do" list from before he deployed to Iraq. He didn't have everything crossed off the list. Maybe he finished it in Iraq. Maybe he thought it could wait until he got home. He obviously finished all the work the Lord had for him to do, though.

As I was in San Antonio a few weeks ago I was at Jim's house looking for napkins. I found some beautiful napkin rings that Andrea had purchased at some point. The tags were still on them. She had plans to use them some evening. The Lord must have finished all the work He had for her to do.

Troy and Andrea leaving us was not our plan but the Lord's. It was our plans to have our time with them as our spouses forever. They left us way too soon. They were far too young. But for whatever reason, our time with them on earth was finished in God's eyes, and as Believers we have to accept that as His will though it was not ours.

Isaiah 55:8

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord

Well, we are beginning to board. My plan is to visit the birthplace of our Lord. My plan is grow in my walk with Him. My plan is to return and marry the love of my life in July and us raise our children together. But I must surrender always my plans to His will.

James 4:13-15

Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."

Please pray for safe travels for all of us.

I (Jim) am finishing this blog and posting it as Ginger's laptop has no power...little thing called 220v vice 110v. Anyway as I read this blog I was amazed knowing God was speaking to us both. We had not discussed this blog or what Ginger would write about but this week I had been thinking of writing a blog on God's sovereignty, which is what Ginger is writing about. I had been thinking how we need God to be sovereign. When things happen like Troy and Andrea dying I have to admit it makes you struggle with God's sovereignty just as Ginger wrote about. But in the end I really need God to be sovereign otherwise what do I make God out to be? What God do I serve if He is not in control? How can I trust Him if He only stands by and allows life to just happen. I can't ask God to be sovereign until a tragedy hits then deny him that right. Life is just hard at times and who God is and what we believe about Him can not be circumstantial. I do not look at Andrea or Troy's death as a reason to doubt God's sovereignty. I find comfort in the fact that God was in control every moment of Ginger's and my life. Even in directing our steps that brought was together to write this blog. God was sovereign over our darkest days as well as our joy we now share. I need Him to be all that He is. I need Him to be all that I am not. Because Only He can direct our steps with such love. Only He deserves our trust when I see a picture of Andrea or when Ginger looks into her children's eyes.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Great Calm

I wrote this journal entry on July 13th 2006.

Yesterday Andrea's Tumor maker came back. It was up again, from 198 to 257. Again not what we had hoped for but we press on.

Monday Andrea and I gave a talk at a local church. Anyway it was such an encouragement to share all God has done for us. Sometimes you forget and then you have the chance to share your story and you realize all God has done. We spoke for over an hour and we hardly scratched the surface of all God has done. What I remember the most was after we spoke they prayed over us, in a circle, with their hands on us. One woman prayed a simple prayer, "Thank you Lord for this night, this is just what I needed to hear." That was it. I knew she was the reason we were there.

Then last night after hearing the tumor marker had gone up we went to Wednesday night service at our church. What a service and time of worship! No sermon was preached, just the Holy Spirit moving in the room. God's answered to the tumor marker.

After getting the tumor marker I have to admit there was a wave of panic, regret worry and fear that came over Andrea and I. Panic as I thought I hope this does not mean that I think it might. Regret that more chemo was in Andrea's future and we are not as close to finishing as we hoped and prayed for. Worry about all of it. Fear about losing Andrea.

Then I read Matthew 8: 23-27, Mark 4:35-41 and Luke 8:22-25. These are all accounts of the same story.

Matthew 8:23-27

23Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Lord, save us! We're going to drown!"

26He replied, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

27The men were amazed and asked, "What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!"

I felt like I was just like the disciples running to the back of the boat in a panic hollering, "Lord don't you care Andrea is dying?"

The tumor marker was my storm and it's waves were covering me. The boat was all that protected the disciples from the sea. But the storm was greater then the capabilities of the boat, and so they feared. I think God planned it so they would be in the boat during the storm. I think He wanted them to be aware of how fragile there source of protection was. It was just some wood separating them from death, from the sea which represented something greater then themselves. Their only source of strength was the boat or Jesus. It was so easy to remove the illusion of safety the boat provided. It only took a storm. And thus Jesus was provided a opportunity to revel His power. whether Jesus caused the storm or just knew about it does not matter, He used it for His glory.

Wednesday I saw the frailty in myself and I saw God as my only source of protection, so I ran to Him. What I noticed about this story in Matthew and in my life was what Jesus did not say. He did not say:
Don't worry will make it.
Trust me it will be okay because I'm an experienced captain.
Don't worry we are in the finest boat made. Constructed out of the finest wood.
Don't worry if we all bail fast enough we won't sink.
Nor did He say abandon ship.

What Jesus did say was, "You of little faith, why do you worry?" Why wouldn't I worry?

As I read this story I heard those words as if they were spoken to me. And I knew I should not worry because Jesus was in control. Jesus did not call the Disciples to die on the lake. They had a mission, God's will and it was to spread the Gospel. This storm no matter how great could not sink this boat. The physical world around them told them the boat should break apart and sink. But God is not tied to the physical laws of this world. Everything we have heard tells us Andrea will die, that our storm will sink our boat. But then I remembered every miracle Christ did showed He was not bound to the laws of this world. Giving sight, raising the dead, healing lepers, have the lame walk were all impossible in human terms. Hence a miracle. So why do we worry? It seems like a logical question. God is on our side and He created everything, the sea, the land, the stars and the sky and Andrea.

So Jesus did what He does, He calmed the storm. Not just a clam but it was "completely calm." The exact opposite of the "Furious storm." So on Wednesday I ran to the back of my boat to inform God what was going on just in case He did not realize how serious the situation was, maybe He had missed the tumor marker or maybe the last CT scan escaped Him. Then I was reminded of who I serve. A tumor marker is not greater then the God I serve.

And then a funny thing happened, there was a great calm. Then we went to church and marveled at how great our God is.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Perfect Day Compliments of Lori Jo

This blog was written by Anna Duvall, Emmaline Duvall, and Jim Ravella

The perfect day begins at 3:30 am. Yes, that is what I said. I have never been to an airport that was closed, until this morning. We arrived at 4am and the ticket Kiosks were not even on. When I asked the agent he said, "They come on automatically at 4:15." After that we headed to security which had not yet opened!

This is what you do while you wait for the 5:05 flight to Hilo.

Anyway we saw the sunrise as we landed on the "Big Island" and after picking up our rental cars we headed to Ken's House of Pancakes for breakfast and then we were off to see Akaka Falls.

Akaka Falls drops 450 feet. Mike had read there is a neat visual illusion if you stare at a waterfall then look at something stationary the object will move upwards. It was so neat it made it look like the trees were growing.

The walk to the falls was amazing, we saw so many different plants and flowers. I thought this moss was so pretty with the water hanging on.

(Photo by Emmaline Duvall)

(Photo by Emmaline Duvall)

Our next stop was the lava tubes. One tube you can hike is about 1000ft long and around 10-20 feet in diameter. It was completely dark when you turned off your flash light. The tubes are formed when the lava hit the air and is cooled on top which encloses the lava that continues to flow like a river. This picture was taken at the very end of the lava tube.

Along the way to our next stop we saw the state bird of Hawaii, the rarely seen "flightless" Nene. Seeing these birds was one of LJ's dream before she moved.

We soon made the discovery that "flightless" was not literal. And we were soon to find out the bird is endangered and requires 60 ft of separation to a person. Well Anna is close to 60 ft away.

We then went to the Black Sand Beach. The "sand" is made from crushed lava rocks. Although the sand looks dirty, surprisingly it is not. We saw sea turtles (Honu's) swimming in the bay. The sand makes the water look dark and eerie.

(Photo by Emmaline Duvall)

(Photo by Emmaline Duvall)

The ability to take a nap on Lava is what happens to teenagers at about noon time after getting up at 3:30am.

Mike and Lori Jo at the Black Sand Beach just after Mike's near death fall into the ocean. Lori Jo's first reaction to seeing the love of her life falling into the rocky water was to grab the video camera hoping to capture a winning video for America's Funniest Home Videos. Thankfully for Mike his son Brack loves him and was willing to risk his own life to help rescue his dad.

After dealing with a dead battery on the rental car we headed to see the lava flow which had changed course and closed the road. It was a 15 minute hike to see where the lava flowed into the ocean. The trail was on top of old lava that was formed in the 1990s. Along the way the way we saw all different types of hardened lava.

This is the road that was closed by the lava. We debated making a run at it seeing as we were in a rental but we were unsure of the specifics of our USAA auto insurance in relation to damage by 2000 degree lava.
(Photo by Emmaline Duvall)

This is the lava flow hitting the ocean

I took this picture because it made me think of the determination of life to continue under extreme circumstances. I saw this plant as a reflection of Ginger and I and our life springing from utter disaster.

This is the end of our perfect day. Yes, Lori Jo scheduled us to get up at 3:30am but we ended up using every moment of the day to see all of these creations of God. In the end we were all still smiling and we all had to agree, it was the perfect day. Not to mention how good everyone slept that night.

I took this picture at dinner tonight. My last night of my perfect week. This is Lori Jo and Mike who made this trip possible. That is Diamond Head in the background. This was the perfect evening to end my trip. We had a lovely dinner with an unbelievable view. We talked about the past and the future and it was the perfect night. Thanks Mike and Lori Jo for this week. My first vacation alone was one I will never forget. As always you made me feel apart of your family.

I love you.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Dream Continues

Today we spent more time at the beach. We were at the house where Magnum PI was filmed. It was a quite beach that was mostly used by the locals. Anthony and Brack spent most of the time sleeping, evidence of a late night. Then we went and had the local "fast food" a plate lunch and some real shaved ice...ummmm good.

Anthony and Brack looking too cool for themselves.

He has adjusted way too easily to the Hawaiian life.

We ended the day with dinner at the O Club over looking the ocean and the sunset. The scenery was beautiful and spending time with friends made it perfect.

Relaxing in Paradise

Well Anthony and I made it to Hawaii it just took us 21 hours, but it is worth it! We are enjoying time with Mike and Lori Jo and the kids. It is so beautiful here, as Anthony said, "It is just as you imagine Hawaii." Yesterday we went to Pearl Harbour and the day before was Waikiki Beach.
Here are some pictures of the trip so far:

This is a picture I took last night. I just set the camera on timer and laid it on the ground in Mike and Lori Jo's front yard.

Anthony and I on the Battleship Missouri. Couple of big guns with some really big guns.

Thought this was a pretty picture of the trees and blue sky

Lori Jo said this is called Red Ginger. Kind of partial to the name.

Andrea's favorite plant. They grow everywhere and are huge bushes all over base housing.

The tress here are covered with Elephant ears. Really Pretty.

Another one of Andrea's favorite flowers

Monday, March 17, 2008


Today marks the third month anniversary (not really the word I want to use) of Andrea's death. Seems forever ago when we were at the ICU but then again it seems like Andrea was just here. Time really loses it's meaning after such a shocking event as death. It is hard to describe. Anyway, Anthony and I are at the San Antonio airport waiting for our 11:36 flight to LAX, it is 3:30. How we doing? We have missed two connections out of LAX to Hawaii so far but I think we have a chance now. We have a 21/2 hr layover in LAX. Plenty of time...right. Our original flight had an engine failure and divert into Tucson. Don't hear about that very often. So I have a little extra time on my hands and I decided to post a blog entry.

Anyway we are off for spring break and our good friends the Duvall's blessed us with the flight and a chance to get away for a week. I'm looking forward to being out of the house and just being with family, for that is what the Duvall's are to me, family. I know in a way it will be difficult to see them without Andrea. The Duvall's were our friends, Andrea and mine, and now it is just me. I know the void will be obvious and painful but I also know I will be with friends who love me like few in my life. I know the joy I will feel and the fun we have will be tempered by Andrea's absence, but I also know it will be okay. It is part of living and it can not be changed only endured. I also know how much Andrea would have wanted to go on this trip. She loved the sun, warm weather and beautiful flowers. This would have been Andrea's dream to go visit the Duvall's in Hawaii especially their two girls. I will miss her this week. I will try to post some pictures on the blog while we are there.

I wrote this journal entry after Andrea and I spoke at the Cancer survivors banquet in Goldsboro NC. This was a significant event for Andrea as public speaking was her #1 fear in life. So when they asked her to speak I was somewhat taken back when Andrea immediately said yes. Her only request was that we both speak. She said we had done everything together since this started so she wanted us to speak together.

As I read this entry and typed it today I realized how much I need this right now. I have been struggling this weekend with the loneliness of my life. I guess I needed to read my own words to remember what I have gained. It reminds me of Andrea's moment as she laid in the field and looked at the mountains and the grass in front of her, sometimes life depends on what you focus on. Hope it helps you in some way.

This past Thursday Andrea and I spoke at the cancer survivors banquet. There were many significant things about that night.

1. Andrea was still alive
2. We were speaking as survivors
3. It was a large crowd and Andrea and I both felt our job after the Air Force would involve speaking. We did not know how or to whom so when we walked into the room and saw all the people it was as if we saw a vision complete
4. The words that left our mouths seemed "normal" but the response came back was disproportionate. It was God's hand and it was awesome to see God use what seemed as nothing to us as such a blessing to those in the room

It made me think of how great this experience has been. Yes it has been hard very hard in fact. We have faced some very difficult times and we have had to stay faithful in spite of bad tumor markers, scans and reports that told us Andrea's condition was not improving. It has been a test of faith like no other and it is relentless. Everyday you fight it. It can be tiring but that just allows to cast your burdens on Him and to rest in the shadow of His wings. It allows you to live the words of the Psalms, it allows God to become real in your life.

The other day I thought of this in a different light. Not at what we had to suffer and how others must look at us and say, "I'm glad I'm not the Ravella's." I thought what would I have missed had I lived my life without this trial.

1. The closeness of God
2. Hearing God's voice
3. Praying and feeling His presence in our room
4. Letting go and being caught
5. Seeing the body of Christ in action and being on the receiving end of such love.
6. Being so close to God you could feel His hand on you
7. Finding out what's really important
8. Experiencing the words of the Bible and finding them to be true
9. Loving my wife, not for what I get from her but as my partner in life
10 Becoming more of a spiritual leader
11 The absolute joy of living in the will of God. A joy that never disappoints
12 The joy of having your steps order by God
13 Having the creator of all things hear and answer your prayers. The smaller the better
14 Looking back and seeing and knowing it was all God
15 Being loved by God, feeling it and knowing it
16 Learning that spiritual healing is more important then physical healing. One is eternal one is temporary.
17 Feeling insignificant and feeling like you are the only one that matters, all at the same time.
18 Watching Andrea witness in public, but more in private
19 Watching God work in your weakness
20 Ending everyday with God

If I could add to this list today I would add the following blessings:

21 Andrea did not suffer as she should have with her cancer. No unending pain of bone cancer, it never spread to her brain, and she was comfortable to the end and alert all but the last hours.

22 The boys and I were able to say goodbye, just us.

23 This is my greatest blessing. I had no regrets as Andrea died. I did not have a need to apologise for my past. We both knew how much we loved each other. We both knew we had placed our trust in Christ. We both had grown in our faith, we had talked about this day and we were okay. I did not have any regrets for misplaced priorities in my life. I'm thankful for bosses and a job that allowed me to be with Andrea in her treatment. I'm thankful I do not regret working instead of being with Andrea. But the thing I am most thankful for is there was nothing I had to say to Andrea. We knew how we felt and we expressed our love to each other every day. There was no need to "catch up" in the last minutes, leaving a feeling of missed opportunities or regret. That is a gift that has no price. That is what is truly "Priceless."

If I had one piece of advice from all this it would be to take the time to tell your spouse how much you love them, not sometimes, not only on birthday's or holidays like Valentine's day all the time. Do it just because. Leave a card or a note when you leave for work or go to the store. Don't let society, the movies/TV or this world dictate your priorities. Send flowers just because. Wish them a happy Monday and take them to dinner. Spend time alone if you have kids. Make plans to go out once a week. Go on a date with the one you fell in love with. Remember how you ached when you were apart even for a day and thank God you don't have the ache of being separated for the rest of your life. Don't be so practical that you forget to be in love. Be spontaneous, be a little silly and laugh together. Kiss them when they don't expect it, hug them when they need it.

Live life so you won't regret your choices. In the end there is little that matters. Your faith and relationship with God, then your marriage and your family, then your work. Many of us say this is our priority. My advice is let your life reflect it, it has to be more then just a slogan. Enjoy the love of your spouse, enjoy each other. Sacrifice for each other. I told Ginger my only competition I will have with her is to show her I love her more. So far she is kicking my butt. But I have the rest of my life to catch her, and I intend on spending everyday trying to express to her how much I love her and how thankful I am to God for blessing me with a woman who loves me so deeply and for 7 beautiful kids.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Reason Behind "To and Fro"

I have been transferring several of my old journal entries to the blog this weekend. I guess it was a quiet weekend and I found myself with lots of extra time on my hands. As I have been working on the Blog I went back and read my entry, "To and Fro." I thought some people may not understand this entry, so I thought I would try to explain what led to me writing it.

Last week Ginger was here so we could finalize our wedding plans and the house. Nic and Kate were also here and it was Anthony's birthday so all in all it was a busy weekend. But the first thing Ginger and I did was visit Andrea's grave. I think this event impacted me in ways I did not understand at the time. Any time I visit Andrea's grave is very emotional for me but this time as you might guess was very different.

We spoke very little at the grave site. We just sat there and I cried. I felt so many emotions, one was the thought of Andrea and Ginger meeting. I know had Andrea lived we both would have gone to meet Ginger when she was in Dallas over Christmas. It was so close to them meeting and then to have them meet this was, in a cemetery was overwhelming. After a while I went to sit in the car as Ginger asked to be alone with Andrea. I will never forget seeing Ginger kneeling at Andrea's grave, the wind blowing her hair. Andrea was gone and Ginger was here. It was a catalyst to a deeper understanding of Andrea being gone.

What I have learned over the past three months is there are different levels of dealing with loss. I think you always know someone is gone but as time passes and the days stack upon each other and the develops a deeper understanding of what it means for someone to die. There is gone and then there in never coming back. There is silence and loneliness and then there is living alone. My understanding of what it means to have lost Andrea is not stagnant, and with each level of understanding I find there is a corresponding level of pain. It is not a one time realization that Andrea is gone and a one time moment of grief and then life is back to normal as I initially thought. Everyone always says you will just know when you are done grieving. I guess I'm learning it is when I comes to terms with Andrea really being gone. It is not as if I expected Andrea to come back from the dead but there is a sense of closeness that seems to fade as time goes by. That closeness is not an expectation that I will have Andrea back but a closeness I feel just from 24 yrs of living with Andrea. I still see signs of her all around the house. I realized the other day that Andrea and I only lived in our house on Randolph for four months, and it has been four months since Andrea went into the ICU. So I have lived as long in our house alone as I did with Andrea. That seems crazy to me. I guess I did not realize how fast it all happened.

This past week seeing Ginger at Andrea's grave was a significant event for me. It made me come to terms with the fact that Andrea was truly gone. Seeing them "together" my past and my future, one alive one dead. The realization of how opposite they were. In my mind Andrea was still a with me in some way but in that moment I understood just how my life had changed. Andrea being gone became that much clearer to me and with it came a new depth of pain. It was out of this pain that I wrote "To and Fro."

This is hard because I know I have to reach a point where Andrea's memory no longer hurts and to do that I have to come to terms with her being gone. It is just that as I accept Andrea being gone it means she is gone. Does that make sense? I need to accept Andrea's death but that entails accepting Andrea being gone in every way. With each step I take on this journey I learn more about my past and my future and at times that hurts. It is not a reflection on my future, this is just the reality of losing my wife. Like I have said before I think it is different losing your spouse because not only do you deal with the thought of losing a loved one, you also lose the only person who really knew me, every secret I have, every mistake I made, and every weakness, every fear. Andrea knew them all, and she loved me. The loneliness of our bedroom is far deeper then then merely missing Andrea physically. I lost my soul mate.

I'm thankful in so many ways to God for placing Ginger in my life right now. I have found when I'm with Ginger I find the joy and happiness I once had with Andrea. But I have also realized that when I'm with Ginger I have been able to side step some of the grief of losing Andrea and when we are apart I thrown back into that grief I put aside. Hence, "To and Fro." Ginger and I will be apart for the next three weeks and I think this time is for me focus on understanding my loss and being ready to fully give myself to Ginger.

White as Snow

I wrote this journal entry July 16th 2006, one year into treatment for Andrea's metastatic cancer. These thoughts came to me as I cleaned a friend’s house. Yes that is the Ravella gene coming out in me again. It is a strange way to relax but I really do find cleaning very relaxing and so I found myself power washing her house and in the end these thoughts just flooded over me. It was an amazing time I will never forget.

Last Sunday Andrea and I went to Mary's house. I had offered to power wash her house the week prior. Mary lives in a white house and if you have ever lived in NC you know that after a while the humid environment can cause mold to grow on the houses. Mary's house was no exception and the once perfect white siding had a lot of black and green mold taking away from the intended beauty of the house. Mary was single at the time, and I felt God leading me to help her. So I offered to power wash the house knowing it was far to big of a job for her to do alone. I'm sure Mary felt I was blessing her, and I hope it did but in the end I was also blessed. Funny how God does that isn't it? Anyway as I was power washing the house these thoughts came to me.

I started on the worst part of the house that was covered in green and black mold. As i started spraying I was amazed how clean it became. The contrast from where I had cleaned and where I had not was amazing. I was instantly proud of my work. I thought this is going to look great! But as I finished the section and looked back over my work I suddenly noticed it really wasn't that clean. As I looked at it I started to notice a lot of spots and dirt remained. Where had all that been as I cleaned? It seemed pristine when I compared it to the original condition. So being a Ravella, I went back over the section again. And again it became whiter, yet dirt still remained. With each pass the house became cleaner but never perfectly clean. Relative to how it started it seemed perfect but without a portion left in the original condition the house just looked better, not perfect. I thought about leaving a small spot unclean just so when I showed it to Mary and Andrea they would remember what it had looked like and realize how clean it was.

At that moment I thought about sin in my life and how we tend to see ourselves. Do we feel clean relative to those around us? Do we realize that relative to God there is still sin? There is only one way to be perfectly clean, white as snow. It is the only way we can enter into the presence of our creator who is perfect in every way, who can not allow sin in His presence.

This made me think about the law, and its purpose. I have never really understood how the law fits into our life today. Was it abolished when Christ came? Was the Old Testament now null and void? I knew that could not be but I did not see its purpose in our "modern" world. I have to remind you I have not attended any seminary and therefore do not possess any degree that gives me the authority to explain such a complicated theological topic as this, these are just my thoughts that came to me.

Just as I tried to clean the house I keep finding dirt I was unable to remove, the law points to our inability to completely cleanse ourselves from sin in our life.

Romans 7:7
What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, "Do not covet

The law, given by God pointed out the sin in our life, it was not intended to be the source of our salvation. Salvation comes by faith.

Romans 3:19-25
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. Righteousness through Faith But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.

The law points out our sin by showing us our inability to live to God's standard of perfection. I had never known what clean was, had I never seen a "white" house I would not have seen Mary's house as dirty and in need of cleaning. Once I had knowledge of pure white, I was aware of dirt. Once the law made me aware of sin, I knew I had to find a way to be cleansed. So what are we to do with this knowledge now have?

One reaction is just what I did to Mary's house, I tried to clean it. We can use the law to make us aware of our sin and therefore try to fulfill the law to be clean. Just like I did as I tried to clean the house, we will find that the law only continues to point to sin in our life. And as we find ourself unable to completely cleanse ourselves we will think of new laws to obey as we attempt to purify ourselves through our own efforts. But just as I found with the house no matter how much I cleaned there was always some dirt that remained. With each new law we seek to close the gap and find some way to ensure a sin free life and thus fulfill the requirement for the law and provide us salvation, the right to stand before the God we serve.

There are some of us who are able to fulfill the law better then others and in comparison they seem "more righteous" then others and I guess that offers a sense of assurance that a "fair" God would take into account when He judges us. The problem is when God judges us He does not compare us to others but to Himself. The Pharisees tried to keep the law and they presented themselves as righteousness. They had dedicated their life to keeping the law and it was their security, so you can see why they were so threatened by Jesus who was saying you only had to believe in Him to be saved. The problem is when you seek purification by keeping the law you tend to become a judge. Your security that is based on your relative righteousness to others and there develops an attitude of superiority. Not to say that this same attitude can not exist in those who claim Christ as their salvation. Legalism exists in all religions and needs to be guarded against.

Matthew 7: 1-3

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

Fulfilling the law is a very outward form of righteousness and lends itself to judging others. It is more about what we show to others then what is in our heart. I believe that no matter how hard you try to obey the law, in your heart you know you fall short. Just like my attempts to clean Mary's house, even though my first pass produced some spectacular results there was still dirt left. Just because it was cleaner then before did not mean it was clean. If the definition of clean is no dirt then any dirt that remained meant it was dirty.

If the law was given to us to point out our sin but unable to provide us cleanliness that seems like a cruel joke by a perfect God. Where we given the law to let us know we are doomed?

The other reaction to coming to terms with sin in our life is to understand we are not capable of every being clean enough through our own efforts. To know we all fall short of the glory of God. I think the law was given to point out our weakness and inability to become clean through our own efforts. It was to point to the one way we are cleansed. To point to the only one who could pay the price for the sin we were born into, Christ who suffered and died so that the punishment the law demands was paid in full.

God did not give us the law force us to try then fail, only to try again and fail again, repeatedly beating our heads against the wall only to become frustrated trying to meet a standard that is impossible. The first rule of setting a goal in life is the goal must be attainable. But God never intended the law to be are source or way to salvation. He always intended us to be made righteousness through faith in Him.

Galatians 2:15-16
We who are Jews by birth and not 'Gentile sinners' know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.

Christ fulfilled the law and by placing our faith in Him we are made righteousness.

Hebrews 10: 1-4, 7-10

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, 4because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

I have come to do your will, O God.' "First he said, "Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them" (although the law required them to be made). Then he said, "Here I am, I have come to do your will." He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Abraham was counted as righteous not because he kept the law but because of his faith. God was not looking for perfection in an imperfect being. He was looking for someone who would trust and love God out of knowledge that he was imperfect and incapable of meeting the law. God still looks for that same heart in us. But we have the blessing of having the New Testament and the knowledge of God's plan and fulfillment of the law in Christ. We live under the new convent made in Christ's blood to look for the forgiveness of our sins. No longer do we need to offer a sacrifice every year to make up for our failure to keep the law. We trust in Jesus' sacrifice and we are born again, made a new creature and sin is dead to us. The law no longer condemns us, for we no longer live under the law. Though we will still struggle with sin in our life for we live in sinful bodies. (Unlike Andrea who has left her sinful body and sinful nature in the grave I visit, she is now made perfect in her glorified body...Praise God!) Our salvation and our promises are complete in Christ not in our works.

So where do works fit into our life as believers? Must we work? Once we accept Christ are we now indentured servants forever trying to pay back our debt? No not at all. James tells us faith without works is dead. To me that tells me that if I have faith in Christ and accept the gift of salvation yet do nothing with it then my faith is useless to anyone other then myself. And Jesus did not suffer and dies just for me. So we do produce fruit through our works. But these works are a result of our salvation not the source of it. Just as it is natural for a tomato plant to produce tomatoes, it is natural for a believer to produce fruit. If the tomatoes plant grows to record heights but does not produce a single tomato it is useless to the gardener. Just as if a believer understands and learns the promises of God written in the Bible yet never uses that knowledge to affect another person, he or she is of little value to God. They are like a dam in the river of living water keeping for themselves a gift given to them most probably through the faithfulness of a believer who helped them. The sacrifice of Christ has failed to spread through that believer to others. We are to be used by Christ for His glory. As we realize what was done for us on the cross we will see that there is nothing we should not be willing to do for Christ who first died for us. Even if He asks us to be a witness in cancer. Even if He asks us to die for Him.

So I ended my day of cleaning, four hours of pressure washing. In the end the house looked great compared to when I started. Mary and Andrea thought it looked great. I still saw the dirt. I saw my inability to remove the dirt no matter how long I tired. And I saw my own sin. I saw the gap between me and my creator. I saw that I could never bridge that gap on my own. Then I saw Christ who cleansed me.

Hebrews 10: 16-25

This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds. "Then he adds: "Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more. "And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

It was funny how God used this simple act to help me understand this complex subject. I know there are books and books written that try to explain the theological concepts have written about and I do not think for a moment I fully understand grace and mercy and all that Christ accomplished on the cross. But that is the fun of serving God, He longs for us to grow ever closer to Him to be more Christ like each day. His desire is for all of us to grow in our knowledge of His plan. He knows the more we learn we will only be that much more amazed by His love. What a gift we have been given!

I walked away from Mary's house with a better understanding that only Christ has the ability to cleanse us. No matter how clean I may look to those around us without Christ we are still dirty, and thus unable to enter into His presence, the one without sin. We are born into sin and the law points out our sin so no one is ignorant of the sin in their life. The law points out the hopeless condition we are in, but Christ is the grace and mercy to remove the hopelessness. We receive what we could never accomplish or buy from the one who was without sin, yet was made sin on our behalf. That is the only way we can be made truly clean the only way we can be made as white as snow. That is humbling. But that is our hope, what allows Andrea to fight on. Its what allows all of us to face life's challanges.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Heavy and Tired

I wrote this journal entry on Nov 22nd 2006 while Andrea and I waited an appointment with Dr. Atkins. Sometimes I forget how tired I was, then I read this and I remember.

It has been a long ten days since I have written in my journal. For some reason I'm tired. I'm tired of seeing Andrea sick. I'm tired of seeing her take chemo. I'm tired of driving to this office. I'm tired of running at 100%. Spiritually I'm weary. I'm tired of seeing sick people. I'm tired of my wife being one of them. I'm tired of thinking about death. I know what I need to do I'm just too tired to do it.

I don't think I'm doubting, I just feel tired and the longer we wait the longer the race becomes and the more strength I need. I just want to lay down. I just wish I could quit for a little bit.

Cancer is just so much a part of our life, it is all consuming and I need a break. I need to hear some good news, to see and know there is hope, that the end of all this is near. If I knew we had to run 26 miles then I could pace myself to finish. But cancer treatment is an open ended race and I don't know how to pace myself. We could be one day or one year from healing. In my mind I hope for the one day. Then when I see that is not going to happen I have to reset my expectations. Days turn into weeks and into months and there is no end in sight. There has been few physical revelations of when this will end. Most indications point to a longer race or an outcome I do not desire. Spiritually it has been an uplifting journey and we feel strengthened by God's grace. But if Andrea is going to be healed it has to show in the physical at some point. I guess I could say, "It could be worse." And maybe we are seeing many physical blessings then I realize.

Well our appointment is over and there was no news from the doctor today. Andrea's tumor marker was up but not too bad. Looks like we have to do CT scans a little sooner then expected to confirm what is causing the rise in her marker. That means three more weeks of waiting for news. Lord give me strength. I have none left and I don't know how to get any more.

Friday, March 14, 2008

To and Fro

Tossed to and fro

Acceptance and sadness
Faith and humanness
I seek comfort in memories but find only pain
Pictures that drain my happiness
A smile that still calls to me
I strain to hear her voice in the silence
Our life, our dreams, our hopes linger in my mind
What was my greatest joy is now my deepest pain
I want to remember but find it offers no relief
Memories only bring sadness

I miss my wife
I miss her smile and her laugh
I miss her comfort
I miss the calming touch of her hand
I miss her strength
I miss talking about life
I miss her love for me

I miss my life
I miss the strain of fighting cancer
I miss holding hands in the chemo room
I miss taking care of my wife
I miss being her strength on a difficult day

I miss her optimism
I wonder between loneliness and happiness
Life has lost its certainty
No longer innocent
I miss the simplicity of living without fear
Knowing strips away my protection

Her grave crushes me
The thought of my love there
How can it be?
So real yet so unbelievable
It forces me to acknowledge my life
It offers no gentleness
Its harshness brings me to my knees
I’m powerless against the sight of the tombstone
The grass, the dirt, the thought of it all
What happened to my life?

We could face any challenge together
Her faith for me when I had none, mine for her
Never weak at the same time we were stronger together
We were complete in each other

How did I not see this coming?
How could I have missed the pain I now face?
How did I live so close to this reality?
How did I find joy in my life?

I’m sacred
Scared to live
Scared of what I don’t know
Scared of pain
Scared of death coming back
Scared I don’t have the faith

A pain that makes life itself unbearable
There is no escape
Before lays a path that will not be easy
I take one difficult step after another
I find pain I did not see
I find help I did not expect

I long for this to end
But time does not answer to me
Healing does not come quickly
I have no choice but to suffer and wait
For time to pass and the edges to soften
Others tell me time will heal
I love her, yet I need to escape her memory
To come to grips that she is gone, never to return
To know this is not a dream
I can not change my life
There is no wish, no prayer that can make it go away
It is my life and I must deal with it
So I wait for the pain to ease
I drift between moments of living again and moments of intense pain
I’m tossed to and fro
I wait to drift past the turmoil of life
For the waters to calm and life to return to normal
Knowing normal is forever redefined for me

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Lesson From Paul's Journey

Late last week as I was talking to my friend and pastor who did Andrea's funeral he mentioned the story of Paul’s journey to Rome. I felt that was a nudge from God that I needed to write about this story. Then last night I was talking to a friend about how Andrea's death and how it was causing someone to struggle in their faith. Why did Andrea die? So many people have been lifting Andrea up in prayer her death came as somewhat of a shock to us all. I understand that feeling. I think Anthony summed it up best when I told him about Andrea's trach surgery and that Andrea’s survival chance was only 25%. He walked into my room with Nic and he said "I thought Mom was invincible." She sure seemed that way didn't she? She endured her pain with such faith that sometimes people did not realize how sick she was.

Well I want to talk about Andrea's death and God's will, our faith, and what I feel about losing my wife. Earlier I posted a picture of Andrea's tombstone. It was a sobering moment. The finality of the past 4 years etched in stone. "Andrea Ravella." I laid on her grave and felt her beneath me. I cried at the sight of her name on the stone. I tried to erase it with my hand, but the fresh edges of the stone cut at my hand as if to say, "I am here to stay." The sod had been placed over the dirt putting another layer between myself and the life that I once had. The sod now so fresh and still moveable over time will grow roots, becoming a more permanent barrier to my past. Each day roots grow deeper in my life without Andrea that forms a barrier to my past. Right now that barrier is there but still new, the concrete has yet to set. I drift back into our past but by the grace of God I'm able to do so with some amount of control so as not to drop into the pit of despair. As if I can come to the edge of the pit and look in but not feel the need to fall in. I will tell you there is a powerful pull to just jump in that pit. It is just the easiest thing to do. Funny in a way that it would be so easy to go somewhere you know will cause you pain. Opposite of how we live life everyday. Death is a strange companion, and his friend grief offers "relief" that is necessary can be addictive and destructive if left unchecked by faith.

It is my faith that lifts me from that pit. It is faith in God that reminds me the pain I feel is not the end of this story. I will one day see Andrea and I know she is exactly where she wants to be. Sometimes I look up at the sky and wonder where she is. I think about the concept of faith, God, and heaven. Is this all some ritual that we make up in our mind to ease the idea of losing someone? I don't mean to scare anyone by admitting I have these thoughts, for I know God can withstand my questioning; I am not the first or the last who will ask these questions. A faith that is unable to be questioned is a shell propped up with paper walls. Life can be confusing and working through something like Andrea's death will challenge what we all believe. In the flesh we ask questions like, "Why would someone with such faith die when there are so many around us who don't believe?" or comments like "Andrea could have been such a witness if she would have been healed why would she die?" We look at Andrea and we all agree she was "A woman of faith" as it says on her tombstone. If she, with a faith many of us feel is beyond us, could not get her prayer answered what chance is there for the rest of us?"

Well these questions and thoughts all seem legitimate but they are all written from an earthly perspective. What if in death Andrea accomplished more then if she lived? We tend to complete the story in our mind if Andrea had lived. It always involves Andrea healed, and being a powerful witness for God. It is perfect is it not? God is glorified and we still have Andrea. What could be wrong with that? What about all that we do not see? Like the boy on the movie "Christmas Story" who wanted a BB gun for Christmas, he imagined all the fun he would have with the gun, and never thought of the danger. In his mind the BB gun was the perfect gift that could only bring happiness. He disregarded the warnings; "You'll shoot your eye out kid" until he took his first shot and almost shot his eye out.

What if the best thing for Andrea and us was for Andrea to die? Can your mind and your faith allow you to entertain this thought? Can you let go of the idea of what is "perfect" and allow perfect to be defined by God? We all tend to read the Bible and find verses that point to how we will get what we want in life. What if God asked you, or me to do something we didn't want to do? Could we? What if what God was asking us went against all we knew? What if what He was asking us to do involved pain and suffering? Sometimes we think of our Christian walk in these terms, "I joined this team but I did not sign up to suffer. In fact I signed up for this team for the very purpose to get out of suffering."

It was these thoughts that drew me to the story of Paul’s imprisonment. Then today I awoke at 6am and I picked up my original journal. The one I started on July 3 2005 two days before Andrea stared chemo for metastatic breast cancer. Today I was flipping though the pages and found this entry from July 7th 2005 where I wrote about Paul's journey back to Rome.

There are many aspects of this story that I love. The same story I have felt God placed on my heart this past week. I was reading about the account of Paul's journey back to Jerusalem and his subsequent imprisonment and death in Rome.

Acts 18:9-11

One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city." So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.

Acts 20:22-25

"And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given methe task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.

Acts 21:4

Finding the disciples there, we stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem

Acts 2:10-14

After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul's belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, "The Holy Spirit says, 'In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.' "When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, "Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, "The Lord's will be done."

As I read these verses I thought why was the Holy Spirit warning Paul through other believers not to go and why did Paul go.

I believe Paul was being told in his spirit that this was what had to happen but to not fear. I think Paul’s friends felt this same prompting from the spirit yet looked at it from an earthly view. That is Paul went to Jerusalem he would suffer and in their flesh they did not see how Paul suffering and death could be what was best. Much like we do not see how Andrea’s death could be anything other then a mistake. It just does not make sense to us.

Remember in Acts 18:9-11

One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city." So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.

Paul had faced beatings and death before and Paul knew nothing was going to happen to him that God did not allow. In that Paul found security in his past experiences that allowed him to hear maybe what he did not want to hear. Like being told to go to Jerusalem knowing that others were warning him this would lead to imprisonment and death. Much like Andrea who had a peace about the path before her. Her personal relationship with God gave her the assurance that what she may not have wanted was necessary. I saw how much Andrea wanted to live. She did not walk around celebrating the possibility of death. I remember one day in particular it was the day Andrea had to have her brain scan. We went home and waited for the doctor to call us with the results. Andrea had a peace at the hospital while we waited for her turn in the CT. The Doctor called us at 9pm with the result, Andrea answered the phone and he told her, “Your CT was normal there are no tumors in your brain.” Immediately Andrea fell down and was crying thanking God that the cancer had not spread to her brain. I remember thinking no matter how much peace Andrea in this trial she still wanted to live. It was her desire that she never gave up on. As she would tell me, “I want to see my children’s children.”

Paul was an example to me of this kind of faith. The Lord told him to go to Jerusalem and Rome and being bound was how he would get there. And Paul was okay with that.

I’m sure I would think, “Well Lord I understand I have to go to Rome but I don’t see any reason for me to go all the way to Jerusalem to get there. That seems like the long way to go. Not to mention that if I go that way I will be bound and put in jail. How about I just go direct on my own and on the way I can visit with the churches I have established. I have so much more I need to tell them and this looks like the perfect opportunity to get all of this accomplished.” Isn’t that how we face Andrea’s death just a little? We have what seems like the perfect plan and we don’t understand why God does not do it our way. Yet we have to have faith that we do not see the complete picture and much like those who offered Paul advice I wanted to warn Andrea not to go into the emergency room that day. I knew in my spirit she would not come home again and I pleaded with her to please not go in. But Andrea much like Paul knew she had to go in. Andrea like Paul trusted God. It was a trust built on God’s past faithfulness. A trust that knew God was more powerful then this world and that the Roman authorities nor cancer was in control, God was.

So as I look back and work out the pain and sadness of losing Andrea just as many of you are or have done I remind myself that just because this did not turn out the way I had hoped in no way implies that God forsook me or lost control of the situation. Paul’s journey to Jerusalem and Rome remind me that God sometimes works in ways we may not understand. But that is His right, for we never see the complete picture and what may seem “wrong” may actually be the right way. Could Paul have done more by living, teaching and encouraging the new churches that were coming under attack? In my mind yes. Just as it would seem Stephen could have done more for the church by living then being stoned to death. Yet it was Stephen’s death that played a part in Paul’s conversion and it was Paul’s letters from prison that we read again and again to help us in times of difficulty. So who am I to question how things turned out? Andrea’s death may not seem the best answer, but somehow I know it is. And that is what carries me when I miss my wife. That is what allows me to miss her yet not fall into total despair and hopelessness.

Psalm 77

1 I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.

2 When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands
and my soul refused to be comforted.

3 I remembered you, O God, and I groaned;
I mused, and my spirit grew faint.

4 You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak.

5 I thought about the former days,
the years of long ago;

6 I remembered my songs in the night.
My heart mused and my spirit inquired:

7 "Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?

8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?

9 Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?"

10 Then I thought, "To this I will appeal:
the years of the right hand of the Most High."

11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.

12 I will meditate on all your works
and consider all your mighty deeds.

13 Your ways, O God, are holy.
What god is so great as our God?