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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...

Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Solstice

1 John 1:5
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light;
in him there is no darkness at all.

Today marks the second anniversary of Andrea's funeral.  Yes this is a great week in my life.  As many of you may know we lived in Alaska for six years.  We loved the summers there and we endured the winters.  Although I did enjoy the snow, the guaranteed white Christmas and snowboarding with my boys Andrea was not too much of a fan of the Alaska winters. The winter days can be cold and dark and it was the darkness that really bothered Andrea. 

As a pilot I remember we would fly in the winter and almost without a doubt we would climb though the clouds and eventually breakout and see the sun.  It felt so good to fell the sun shinning in your eyes.  I would tell Andrea even though it is cloudy and dark down here the sun is still shinning you just have to get through the clouds.  Sometimes when life is difficult we need to remember that the sun is still shines.

Andrea loved getting her daily dose of Vitamin D.  During Andrea’s treatment in Alaska if there was a sunny winter day I take Andrea for a drive and park the car facing south and let her feel the sun through the windshield.  In North Carolina she would go and sit in the “Brick Oven” which was the brick wall of our house that faced south.  She would take a blanket outside and sit against the brick wall and absorb the heat of the sun.  We had been known to sit out there and fall asleep. I sure the neighbors thought what are the Ravellas doing now!  But the rare sunny day in Alaska was little help to Andrea who did not have an F-15E she could jump in and get her daily fix of sunshine.  So to help her I bought her a special light to put in the house to trick her body think it was daytime.  In the winter she would set it up in the kitchen and when you walked it was so bright that if you ever turned it off even with the regular lights on it seemed dark.  Forget the fact that the label said only use it for 15 minutes at a time, Andrea would live it on for hours. 

Dec 21st is the winter solstice a day Andrea always looked forward to when we lived in Alaska because it signified the end of winter.  Well actually "winter" carried on until around April but Dec 21st was the shortest day of the year.  Starting on Dec 22 the days started getting longer and that always made Andrea happy because she knew it signified the beginning of the end of the dark days.

There are many symbolisms to me in Andrea's funeral being on 21 Dec. Not just because it is the shortest day of the year and as the shortest day of the year my suffering was limited. But because it was the day when the earth begins its shift back towards the sun.  In a way I feel a comfort that Andrea was laid to rest on the shortest day as if God gave me that little gift to say, “I was not going to change the day I took her but I will limit the time you will suffer, for tomorrow the light returns.”  The earth turning back towards the sun, as Andrea went to be with the Son.  Darkness starting giving way to light.  Life continued and a faithful God was with me, as sure as the sun will rise each day, He was still with me.

I will celebrate another anniversary this month,  Dec 25th the day Ginger and I met but I will save that for another blog.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Three Choices

I reality I began this blog last Sunday in Church. Okay maybe I was not paying attention to the sermon but I have learned when a blog comes to me I have to write it down or I will totally forget it. Anyway I brought it with me to work on Dec 17th thinking I would post it on on the anniversary but when I sat at my desk "I Remember" just came to me. So today I decided to post this blog.

I often thought about the reactions I have seen in peoples lives to the death of Andrea. I have thought even more about how to reconcile the outcome with the fervernt prayers of so many people.  How could this have been the outcome? How could such a Godly woman not be healed?  What did it mean to my faith when I saw Andrea who had so much more faith then I die?  I thought about it every time someone gave a testimony in church of an answered prayer.  There was an uneasyness listening to the happiness in their voice as they told of getting what they wanted while I sat with Andrea, wearing her scarfe.  We were praying so how hard and had been for years for Andrea to be healed but the cancer continued to progress.  Why?  What was happening?  How did this fit in with my faith in a loving God?  You hear this most often in the question, "How can a loving God allow this to happen to?" 

To me it came down to three choices.

1)  God does not exist and the Bible is just a bunch of stories or God lied
2) My faith was lacking, and God was punishing us
3) God was in control, this was in fact an answer to my prayers

Suffering seems to make the church uncomfortable because it does not fit in with the our modren definition of God.  Suffering comforts the unbeliever because it confirms in his mind that God does not exist.  But

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I Remember...

Two years, 730 days, 17, 520 hours, 1,051,200 seconds, a lifetime.  Today marks the two year anniversary of Andrea’s passing.  There are some events in your life that you will forever remember; of course Dec 17th is that day for me.  I can close my eyes right now and relive that day to the smallest of details.  I remember driving to the hospital that day, praying “God, I don’t want to ever have to make the decision to remove Andrea from the vent.”  I did not want to have to live with the thought that I gave up on her.  I remember walking in that morning and finding the doctors trying to wake Andrea up, pushing on her chest trying to get her to respond, as they tried to determine why she had taken such a turn for the worse.  I remember walking up to her bed, and calling her name, she opened her eyes just for a moment, and I knew she heard me.  I remember telling the doctor I needed our Oncologist to help me understand what to do.  I remember calling our Oncologist in North Carolina.  I remember him telling me what I had to do.  I remember calling family and friends.  I remember calling Nic telling him to get Anthony out of school and get up to the hospital, because “It looks like today is the day.” I remember the doctor explaining what was going to happen.  I remember Nic coming out of Andrea’s room with such a scared look on his face because Andrea was spitting up blood.  I remember rushing in and wiping her mouth.  I remember knowing it was time. 
I remember the nurse unhooking Andrea’s IVs.  I remember when the vent was removed and Andrea had to breathe on her own.  I remember they turned off all the monitors in the room.  I remember the room lost its sense of hope.  I remember it was 12:25.  I remember the nurse walking in with the Morphine.  I remember it being a glass IV jar.  I remember how free Andrea looked when all the wires were removed.  I remember the boys and me standing by her bed.  I remember praying in Andrea’s ear.  I remember singing to her.  I remember looking up as the doctors walked in and told me she had passed.  I remember it was 1:07. I remember her body no longer looked like her.  I remember the coolness of her lips when I kissed her.  I remember not knowing what to do.  I remember feeling lost and alone.  I remember feeling inadequate as a man, and a father.  I remember packing her clothes away.  I remember the depth of pain and grief as I packed away the nightgown she wore on our honeymoon. I remember that was the saddest I have ever been.  I remember how easy it was to slip into the pit of grief.  I remember feeling as if I had lost my identity our hopes and our dreams.  I remember how I regretted leaving the hospital her last night.  I hoped she did not wake up and need me.
That is what I remember about Dec 17th 2007.  But it is not all I remember about Andrea. 
I remember how wise she was.  I remember her praying in the night when she was hurting.  I remember waking up in the night seeing the closet light on and knowing she was in there praying.  I remember her always praying for others before she prayed for herself.  I remember her laying on my back trying to stop me from crying when the doctor told us her cancer was incurable.  I remember her hand rubbing my arm and her soft voice in my ear saying, “It’s going to be okay" over and over.  I remember her falling on the floor in tears thanking God when she was told she did not have a brain tumor.  I remember thinking she has not given up, she wants to live. I remember hearing Andrea vomiting in our bathroom. I remember thinking I needed to go hold her.  I remember walking in and seeing her sitting on the floor after she threw up and raise her hand and praise God for all He had done for her. I remember thinking I had never seen such faith as that. I remember how we laughed when she went to look at wigs and the salesman thought it was for me.  I remember how she hated that wig.  I remember all her scarves and how she always matched it with her outfit.  I remember how she was always so beautiful to me.  I remember how naive we were the first time in the chemo room.  I remember seeing the red  chemo drug flowing down the IV tube the first time.  I remember how final it seemed, that we could not turn back now.  I remember wanting to rip the IV out and run.  I remember staying because we had to.   I remember the “Chemo Girls” and all they did to lift Andrea’s spirits.  I remember watching them with Andrea and thinking how much they loved each other.  I remember how those women taught me to love someone. I remember a friend gave us a digital picture frame in the ICU that was loaded with pictures from our computer.  I remember lying on Andrea’s bed in the ICU and talking to her about each picture remembering our life together.  I remember laughing as we relived the moments, I remember crying as we relived the moments.  I remember her strength as she laid in the ICU for 23 days.  I remember her squeezing my hand when I asked her if she still wanted to fight. I remember the first time I visited her grave.  I remember wanting to dig and get her out.  I remember falling on my knees and sobbing.  I remember seeing her tombstone for the first time.  I remember running my finger across her name carved in marble.  I remember missing her.
I remember her smile that took away every worry I had.  I remember her touch that calmed me when I was unsure, scared or afraid.  I remember her faith that was a beacon to me as a young man.  I remember her last words to me as I took her into the ICU, “Jim you have to be strong now.”  I remember her when Nic was born, and when we adopted Anthony.  I remember seeing her for the very first time and knowing I loved her with all my heart.  I remember her beautiful blue eyes. I remember how she never looked small to me.  I remember folding her clothes and thinking how little her clothes looked.  I remember her walking in the house after working in the garden, her dirty hands, how she wiped the sweat off her brow.  I remember she was always happy working in her garden.  I remember her telling me she would go through all the chemo, all the horrible treatments, even die if it leads one person to Christ.  I remember she told me that after 2 years of treatment.  I remember her wish that her boys would have a relationship with Christ.   I remember so many friends helping us, praying for us. I remember the hope I still have in Christ.  I remember knowing He did not leave me. 
I remember so many things about Andrea but in the end I remember her telling me not to worry, I remember her faith, her unwavering trust in God, and I remember that she is with the Lord today.
I remember to Andrea my two years, 730 days, 17, 520 hours, 1,051,200 seconds is just a blink of an eye. 
I remember I will see her in a little bit.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Come With Love

I was sitting in the pew at church that morning with chills running down my arms and tears streaming down my face as I listened to our friends, Dan and Christina, sing one of the most beautiful songs I had ever heard. It was a Sunday in October 2006. I was growing weary of the single-parenting gig and tired of going to church alone, of being alone. Troy had been deployed for almost 2 months. It seemed like a lifetime. Now that seems absurd. The lifetime apart hadn’t even begun. I missed him especially that morning however. Dan had been Troy’s good friend for quite some time and we didn’t even know he could sing. The song was titled “Come With Love” by Travis Cottrell from the Christmas soundtrack, King of Glory King of Love. It touched me so. The words were tender, as if spoken by the Lord..”With love you call me in the beauty of your holiness, With love you call me to Your side, You draw my heart and You shower me with tenderness, Your loving arms are open wide … “ Mmm. The words were full of peace spoken to my soul.

It only seemed fitting that since Troy never heard it in this life, he should have the chance to hear it in the next. So, after Troy passed away, I asked Dan and Christina and the entire church worship team sang it at his memorial service. The rest of the lyrics suddenly spoke a different kind of peace to my soul. “When the night is falling and the day is done I can hear You calling, come. When the night surrounds me and my dreams come undone. When the night would hide my way, I will listen until I hear You say, How I love you, child, how I love you. When this life is over and the race is run I will hear you calling, come. I will come while You sing over me”

There is speculation about what happens when we die and go be with the Lord, or as my friend Sherry put it “our homegoing” (I like that). I know it happens in the blink of an eye. (Scripture) I do picture Jesus singing over Troy in those last seconds before he crashed or in Andrea’s last few breaths. Rejoicing as He brings us into His presence forever. Knowing our pain, struggles and strife are over must make the divine sounds just that much sweeter.

I pulled out the book, “90 Minutes in Heaven”. I found the first 3 chapters intriguing and comforting to hear how much love and peace the pastor felt as he entered Heaven. All the gorgeous sounds he heard, the singing of the saints, beautiful musical instruments, the whoosh of angels’ wings. There is nothing that makes me doubt any of that is untrue. If I can be so moved sitting in that pew here in this desperately ugly place we call our temporary home then I simply cannot fathom the majesty of what we will hear when we “settle down for good” in our eternal Home.

This song also tugs at my heart when I question God’s love for me. Even when He allows the bulldozer to roll into our lives and crush our carefully constructed plans, He does not do it without love or without a purpose. This is a concept I continually work to understand. Because it seems so contradictory to what our feeble attempts at common sense can conjure up. The eternal question, “If He truly loves us, how can He let the unthinkable happen?” Don’t look to me for the answer. Look to the Scripture and what it says about the character of God. (Scripture) Christ loved us enough to trade His life for ours.

Christmas reminds of us of that. He left the peace, purity and perfect splendor of Heaven to enter our mucky world. Did God not love His own Son, when He asked Him to do so? I know He loves His Son.

John 3:16

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Did God not love Jesus when He let Him suffer and die on the Cross?

1Job 4:9

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

His heart broke but He had a plan and that plan was for us. To come with love, to die with love, to invite us to fellowship with Him in love and finally to call us Home with love. He never said there would not be pain in all of those things. Praise God the pain ends there though. For those without Him, the pain is eternal.

Friday, Nov. 27th, marked Troy’s 3rd anniversary living with the Lord. We continued our tradition of writing him notes, attaching them to balloons and letting them go. Oh and we eat Troy’s favorite thing in the world, brownies. I didn’t read the boys’ notes as I wanted them to feel like it was a private conversation they were having with their dad. But I knew Bella wouldn’t mind if I read hers. I am glad I did. It gave me a little window into her world. She is just learning how to write sentences and her unique way of sounding words out l is still so funny. But it was precious. She said something like this, “Hi Daddy. I am 6. We live in Florida. We are sending you notes today. Please tell God I am so happy. I miss you. I love you. (lots of hearts). But we are coming there soon!”

I worry about Bella. She is strong and tough yet delicate and fragile. It is a difficult combination to know how to parent a child with so much going on inside of her. I often wonder what Troy, with his gently firm hand and loving wisdom, would have me do with her sometimes. But that is where I must trust that God has equipped me and Jim or will equip us with the right tools needed to do the job well.

We are headed home from Thanksgiving in Texas with my family. I am thankful for the many loving emails and texts and calls I received from good friends on Friday. But one extra special thing that happened was a student of Troy’s from the B course at Luke mailed me a gift. That gift was a guest book signed by some of the folks that have been through Troy’s Place at Balad Air Base in Iraq. While Brandon was deployed there last year he left it out for others to write down what their time at Troy’s Place meant to them. There were a couple of guys that wrote messages whose names I recognized. But most were strangers to me. Many referred to it as a refuge to them in the desert. I can see it is a place where the airmen can go to have coffee, read Christian books, have a snack or light meal, listen to Christian music and just take a break from the war for a bit. But it was heartwarming to hear that it provided comfort and a home away from home for some of them. I was taken aback when many of them thanked me for my involvement in it. I wanted to write my own note back to them saying I had nothing to do with it. The idea of Troy’s Place was born out of the hearts and minds of good people there in Balad who wanted to honor Troy’s memory and his own spirit of volunteerism there at the hospital. I am humbled and thankful to all those who have collaborated and volunteered to make it that refuge. I am thankful I was married to a man whose sweet spirit is still reverberating in the hallways of buildings halfway across the world. There was something extra special to be thankful for this year.

I began the second half of this blog a couple of weeks ago in the car. We were headed to Disney. I wasn’t sure whether to separate it from this one I am now writing. I decided not to because I think the message is the same though the subjects are different. Life is hard. Parenting well is difficult. The future is uncertain. The road ahead is unclear. The past is unexplainable. But the Lord comes to our aid with love. He comes to help us, parent with us, rescue us, walk with us along the dark paths and answer our prayers. So in the spirit of backtracking I will close with the blog I wrote weeks ago:

I seem to only find time to write blogs while we are on roadtrips. We are headed to Disney World. The kids and I have never been. I believe Jim has been once or twice. He has an unusual aversion to all things Disney. He doesn’t like the monopoly of tourism or commercialism or something. He refers to it as the “mouse trap” and jokingly told the kids he is just going to hand the mouse his wallet when we get there. I am not sure where his opinions have come from but I intend to ask his aunt and cousin tonight as we are going to have dinner with them. PS they LIVE in Orlando so maybe they don’t mind Disney. We’ll see.

I hurt my ankle about two months ago and was put in a walking boot this week. So walking the 45 acres of the Disney Empire should be interesting. I will have to post a pic of me in the motorized wheelchair on the last day. Ha. The kids are looking forward to going and the excitement of the family adventure. Vacation fun and food are to be had. We have been eating Long John Silver’s fried fish and Little Debbie’s chocolate cakes along the way. We are going to have lunch with the princesses and ride rollercoasters ‘til our heads spin. The happiest place on earth, supposedly. I guess that depends on who you ask. 

As I woke up this morning I gave thanks to the Lord for all He has done over the last three years to bring us to this place: our first real family vacation. Normalcy. Boston was smiling and laughing as he opened his birthday presents this morning at the breakfast table before we left. He turns 12 years old tomorrow. Bella now the age Greyson was when Troy died. She’s reading chapter books. Greyson now is the age Boston was when Troy died. He is artsy and intelligent and wanted to talk about the ingredients I was putting in the lemon blueberry muffins this morning. The twins got themselves dressed. They were a little younger than Troy’s sister’s twins are now.

Rhonda, Troy’s sister, brought her boys, Colten Lee and Landon Troy (7 months old) to our house for a visit the week before last. They are precious. Rhonda has that familiar look of exhaustion I remember all too well. But she is a loving mother and so thankful for them after so many years of infertility. As I helped her with them I found myself feeling sad. I couldn’t put my finger on why. I just adore them. I am so happy for her and her husband. Then one night as I was rocking Colten to sleep in the dimly lit room with soft classical music softly playing in the background I began to cry. With tears streaming down my face I figured out what was wrong. I never really had many of those moments with my twins. Those moments of sheer bliss. Of the tenderness, peacefulness and loveliness that is the essence of holding your own little baby. That slipped out of my hands with Aspen and Annalise. Some of it was due to the fact that they were the last of five kids, not the only ones I had. Some of it was that Troy and I were so busy and exhausted with kids, life and his pending deployment that we were just trying to keep everyone clean and fed. Some of it was the fact that once he was in Iraq I just had to get by the best I could until he returned home. But most of it was when they were just tiny babies I became a casualty from the avalanche of grief. Buried alive. There was no rocking a sweet baby to the symphony sounds. The sound of my own heart breaking pretty much drowned everything else out for quite some time.

I wanted to love them wholly but my heart wasn’t whole without Troy. Everytime I looked at them I saw constant reminders of his absence and a mountain too steep to climb. As any mom of multiples can tell you, the physical demands of caring for two babies is not twice as much as caring for one, but often feels like ten times as much. You get one settled, fed, bathed, changed,etc.. and then suddenly there you find yourself doing it all over again! With caring for three other small children the twins were already stretching us. But, at least there was an us. Now there was a me. Not just me, of course. Because God always always provided help. But now there was just me to watch them grow and change and become little people just like our other three had.

I watched Rhonda and Shane sweetly savor every slightly new development. I have even enjoyed watching their boys’ development. The tears streamed down my face. As I gently rocked Colten in the darkness I tried to pretend he was Aspen or Annalise. What did they feel like, smell like, etc? It was all such a blur. I was planning funerals, crying myself to unsleep, making arrangements for our future and our finances. How could I mother them like I had their big brothers and sister? I couldn’t. I didn’t have the time, energy or motivation. And that brings me to talking about something in this blog that few people know. I have thought about this a lot because I know many people will not understand what I am about to write. I know many people will judge me for my thoughts penned in ink. I know our blog reaches around the world and back. And that point is exactly why I am going to speak of it now. I know the Lord called Jim and I to ministry because of our grief, not in spite of it. In our loss, amid our pain, in our tragedies and through our struggles I know He has asked us to be transparent, open and honest. I know that with confidence. As the Lord instructs us, we should obey:

II Chronicles 1:3-4:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

With what I am about to confess, I hope to help someone who is wrestling today with the task God has put before them. I hope to encourage someone who is questioning how the impossible can be done or why the impossible has even happened. I hope to come alongside someone who is afraid to voice their deepest darkest thoughts for the fear of what people might think. What God might think. I can tell you it was easy for me to be more honest with God when it occurred to me, once again, He knows every thought that flies through my head.

A few months after Troy died, when the darkness of depression began to enfold me, I thought, “Lord, could it be that Aspen and Annalise’s best chance at a wonderful life could possibly be without me in it?” That might sound like crazy talk. Before Troy died and I was forever changed, I can promise you I would have been aghast if I would have heard that statement come out one of my super-mommy -friend’s mouths. Possibly only the sane know how crazy they really are. And I felt crazy at that time. I knew how high my standards always had been. I knew how to be a great mother. I had learned how to meticulously love and care for a little one. But I didn’t know how to do it without Troy. Sometimes I speculated that I was only a good mom because he was such a great dad. When he was no longer there rubbing off on me what would I be like? I knew I wanted the best for them. And frankly the best didn’t look like me. As I have mentioned before I never slept or ate. I looked and felt like a deflated balloon. At my weakest moments an idea would drift into my sleepless dreams: Would letting someone else adopt the twins be the best option? Maybe that was the most selfish thought in the world. But maybe, just possibly, it was the most unselfish. I was always an all or nothing kind of girl. If I couldn’t do something really well then I just wasn’t sure it was something I should be doing. And though I knew I could do this mothering thing well… Well, that was before. Before Troy died. Before terrorists took my lifelong love. Before I was a single mother. Before I was being sent books about daughters without dads. Before I questioned who God was. Before.

The thoughts came and went. I prayed fervently God would give me the strength to do what seemed implausible and insurmountable in my mind: raise three little kids and two babies with only half of me left. I didn’t want to give them up or split up our family. But I wanted them to have all that we had given the other three. And without Troy I just didn’t see how the math would add up. Me minus Troy had to put us in the negative. Yet, Scripture says that me plus God equals more than I could imagine. Each and every day I would read the inscription on my favorite bracelet:

Philippians 4:13

“I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength.”

And I held tightly to this onto this one:

Mark 10:26

“Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Though I felt like a failure for even having these thoughts, I knew the Lord was for me. I knew that if He and I could do this thing; raise these babies without Troy then He and I could do anything.

My heart ached that they never said the words “Daddy”. Was I going to show them pictures of him and teach them how to say Daddy that way? That seemed ridiculous. That’s how they were learning to say puppy, kitty and banana. They should be saying Daddy to someone. Because they could touch and feel him in real life and not in the pages of a book. That just seemed wrong to me.

Last week, Jim and I telephoned Brad, our friend who just became a single daddy himself to his baby daughter, Chloe. We wanted to check on him. See how he was doing now that it has been almost 2 months since Sara passed away. He continues to trust the Lord though he has no more answers of why she was taken and why he was left alone to raise his sweet baby girl. But he told us of his realization that his baby’s mommy is not there to share this new journey with. We talked about his friend, another pilot, who just lost his wife and is now left alone with his two boys, a 2 year old and a newborn. There seems to be so much tragedy that has happened in just our F-16 community alone.

They must now learn how to be both a mommy and a daddy. I guess thinking of them is what prompted me to share these thoughts. I don’t know the extent of their pain or the nature of their fears. But the longer Jim and I walk this road and talk to other people we find that though circumstances vary, there are many similar struggles we all have. The biggest one is how do I do this thing, this most impossible task, God has asked me to all alone? The beautiful thing we have found is He doesn’t ask you to ever do anything without Him.

I Titus 5:5

“The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help.”

Hebrews 4:16

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. “

And sometimes He comes in the form of friends, family, even strangers. I can give you many examples of people who stepped up and were used by God to bring me to this place I am at. This comfy passenger seat on a normal family roadtrip to Disney. An outsider could be looking in our car right now and never know the pain and suffering yet the growth and healing that has brought us to this bittersweet place. But we know. I know that I know that I know. That our God is bigger than the mountain. I heard the story of many who stood at the opening of a long path and were asked to carry a heavy wooden cross for many miles. All carried it but one. He refused saying there was no way. It was impossible to carry something that heavy for that long. The others stumbled and struggled but they bore the weight of the log and carried it. The one man who refused to carry it walked easily. Then suddenly the path ended and there in front of them was a canyon. They stood there discouraged and afraid until the first one walked up to the steep edge and laid his log across it. He had a bridge to the other side. They all followed and did the same, laying their log across the open divide. Except the one man. He was unwilling to carry his cross. It seemed too difficult in the beginning. But now it would have helped him get to the other side.

Behind me are two sleeping three and a half year old little girls dreaming of Disney World tomorrow. They colored some pictures on the way and are giving them to Jim’s cousin tonight at dinner.

Taking care of their needs when my own were so numerous often felt a lot like that heavy cross. I did not want to carry the load I had not signed up for. It seemed way too heavy. Yet each and everyday since Troy died the Lord has either provided help or given me the abilities I needed. And then the Lord answered my specific request for my children to have another amazing father. I remember praying those exact words. And then there was Jim…. He loves all the kids so much. And he and Andrea had always wanted to have a daughter. Now God gave him three! God always does more than we can imagine. What we see as void, He must see as opportunity.

As I rocked one of my twin nephews and the tears streamed down my face, I grieved for the time with Aspen and Annalise that I lost for that year and that Troy lost forever. But suddenly I realized that I wouldn’t be grieving over it now if I didn’t love those girls totally. I heard that grief is the cost of loving someone. There are no truer words than those.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

We’ll Still Celebrate

It wasn’t exactly déjà vu.  It was more like experiencing the same feelings through familiar eyes but finding it hard to believe it was really happening to me.  Kind of like last week when I dreamt I was Katie Holmes and married to Tom Cruise but I really knew it wasn’t me it was her.  I was just there as a very attuned observer.  Maybe I shouldn’t read People magazine right before bed anymore.

Yesterday I was standing on a stage at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, AL speaking to an audience of family, friends and Air Force Officer Trainees.  Fourteen years ago I was there as the wife of a young freshly commissioned second lieutenant named Troy Gilbert on his graduation day.  Yesterday I was there to dedicate the academic building, Gilbert Hall, in his memory.  We walked into the beautiful new auditorium and there he was, big as life, on the jumbo screen.  With those amazing green-hazel eyes looking over the crowd.  A photograph taken of him in the Czech Republic next to his jet.  His name in big letters stretched across the building front. 

I remember just being so proud of him that cold January morning of his graduation.  He was a distinguished graduate.  I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant but he did look awfully distinguished in that uniform so I would concur.  My absolute favorite photo taken of us was snapped that morning of graduation.  It has always seemed somewhat timeless to me.  

 Now, years later, he and I living worlds apart.  He in Heaven.  Me on Earth.  He in a place where time stands still.  

II Peter 3:8

“But don’t forget this one thing, my dear friends; With the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day.”

As I walked up to the front of the grand building amid visitors, guests, media, etc… a young woman up to me.  She handed me a lovely card and bracelet.  She told me her name, JoRie, and that her husband was at Maxwell right now in school.  I could tell she thought I recognized her and then she could tell by the blank look on my face that I did not.  She sweetly told me she was the little sister of DeLynn Jeffries.  The fog started clearing and I realized who she was.  Her big sister, DeLynn, was one of my 1st grade friends in Portales, NM.  During that school year, DeLynn was hit and killed by a car as she ran out in the street chasing a ball.  I clearly remember my mom unloading the dishwasher and hearing her talking on the phone to another mother in our class.  When she hung up she sadly told me that my little friend had been killed.  I was Bella’s age.  Wow.  And then 33 years later here is her little sister standing before me so thankful to share a part in my day.  Her card read that my family and I had been in their prayers continually.  She had married a fighter pilot as well and made the connection of who I was when I lost Troy.  She heard about the building dedication and decided to come.  What a blessing to me.   I explained to her I have told my children the story of her sister to remind them to never run into the street chasing anything.  I am sure I am not alone in that.  JoRie and DeLynn’s mom has always kept up with me.  I would occasionally bump into her while I was still living at home in Clovis, NM and she would hug me tight.  I knew she must always be imagining what her own daughter would be like as she did so. 

Imagining what they would be like.  What those that have gone before us must be thinking or feeling or seeing.  I couldn’t help but speculate as to whether Troy was looking at this huge building with his name and photographs and story covering its’ walls and wondering what all the fuss was about.  He was a humble guy.  Not self-seeking or self-serving.  I guess that’s probably the whole reason he is the one whose name is up there in big giant letters.  If he had been self-serving that day in late November in the battlefields of Iraq, he would have flown high above the fray and out of harm’s way.  He knew it was dangerous to be doing what he was doing but he did it in anyway.  He was about others.  Always.  Sometimes that used to get on my nerves.  He would put someone else’s schedule at work before his own.  He would come early and stay late at church to help with set up because someone didn’t show up.  I should have appreciated that trait in him more. 

I am thankful he was recognized, yet again, for his devotion and sacrifice.  When these moments of dedication for him occur, I always wish he was there to see all these fabulous honors he has been bestowed.  Yet, truthfully, I doubt he cares much now.

II Corinthians 5:8

“We are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these bodies, for then we will be at Home with the Lord.”

We talk a lot about what Daddy in Heaven sees.  I have to say I do tell the kids he is watching and he is proud.  I am not sure that is biblical but it is comforting.  There are a couple of scriptures that seem to touch on the topic.

Isaiah 65:17

“Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.  The former things will not be remembered nor will they come to mind.”

This one makes me think no, those that have passed away before us will not.  Yet this one makes me wonder if they do:

Hebrew 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.”

I’ve read commentaries on this scripture that point to the great heroes of our faith being witnesses as if they are on a stand testifying about their experiences of living and dying in faith.  Their lives say to us, Faith works.  God keeps His promises.  Heaven is worth the wait.  The are examples, not onlookers.  They witness to us the value of placing all our hopes in God’s promises.  (taken from The One Year Book of Hope by Nancy Guthrie – an awesome devotional!)

But I have also read that these witnesses are those Believers, specifically I would assume the ones we know and love, that are in the grandstands of heaven peering through the clouds and cheering us on as we run the race of life on earth.  I know they do see the bigger picture so I would imagine it has to be possible for them to look down on us through Jesus’ eyes and with full knowledge of the entire grand story of our lives and not be sad. 

Revelation 21:3

“And I heard a loud voice (God’s) from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them.  They will be His people, and God Himself will be with hem and be their God.  HE will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Call me crazy but I think God still sends us signs, messages, encouragement in the form of real everyday events.  Yes, I think we can falsely attach the Lord’s name to things that He has nothing to do with but I do know He cares about us deeply and is going to reveal that to us in the times we need it most.

Yesterday, after the ceremony and the reception I was trailing behind everyone and ended up alone in the foyer of the building.  Suddenly it came to my awareness that a familiar song was playing throughout the hallways.  I waited to see if it really was the song I thought it might be.  Indeed it was.  Chris Daughtry’s hit song, “Home”.

“I'm going home to the place where I belong
where your love has always been enough for me
I don't regret this life I chose for me
But these places and these faces are getting old
So I'm going home
I'm going home to the place where I belong
Where your love has always been enough for me”

I know he wrote this song for his wife about what really mattered to him as he was hitting the road to perform.  But I have always thought it sounded a little bit more like what we say to Jesus right before we leave this earth.  Jim and I always find it a little perculiar that both Andrea and Troy were both big Chris Daughtry fans.  We were all watching American Idol that year.  2006.  Troy died that year.  It sounds dumb but I always wanted to Troy to know he made an accurate prediction – Chris kinda made it bigtime.  And when his song, “Home” came out… well, I just thought those words could have come out of Troy’s mouth.  And there they were, playing over the loudspeaker just for me and Troy’s photo wall.  Except I had to go get Jim just to make sure I wasn’t going crazy and he heard it too!  He smiled and couldn’t believe it after the many conversations we have had about Troy and Andrea and Chris and that silly song that seems to say more than it really does.

Troy just had to reassure me, he’s right where he belongs.  He’s home.

We went to eat after the ceremony.  A big group of 20 of us.  The girls all dressed up.  Greyson wore Troy’s tie again.  The waiter asked Jim if there was a special occasion we were celebrating.  Jim explained that we had been to a building dedication in honor of the children’s father who was killed in combat in Iraq.  The waiter graciously offered us all the free appetizers we would like and said, “We’ll still celebrate.”  I thought that was a fitting tribute to the day.  Though we lost so much.,  we’ll still celebrate.  His legacy.  His Homecoming.  And as Greyson prayed last night; “Thank you that we know that Miss Andrea and Dad are in heaven.”  Amen Greyson.

Link to photos taken from the dedication: (if clicking on it doesn't work, then copy and paste it)


My speech for those interested:

As I was preparing for the words I would give you today I thumbed through Troy’s photographs from OTS, Class 95-02 and I reflected upon the journey the Air Force has taken us on since that cold January graduation morning almost 14 years ago.

Troy grew up in a proud and loving Air Force family.  His grandfather served in _the army WWII and his father retired as an AF Senior Msgt in 1993.  His mom, Kaye, for years worked on base as a secretary.  Troy, his sister Rhonda and his mom, Kaye, were a picture of that devoted military family.  Just like many that see around you today. 

I met Troy in college in Texas and he seemed so worldly and mature because of his military travels and experiences versus my small town upbringing.  Military life was a completely foreign concept to me.  After graduating from college, marrying and both us beginning careers in the civilian world, he found himself longing to have that military life back.  He said he missed it.  I can concur.  When I lost Troy in 2006, after 10 years of being a military wife, I found one of the many extraneous things I grieved for was knowing the Air Force lifestyle I had grown to love – that unfamiliar thing that had become so familiar to me would be changed or possibly lost forever.  That thought made me sad.

My love for the Air Force grew from Troy’s passion for it.  See, once he set his mind on serving he had some obstacles to overcome.  He walked into a recruiting office in West Texas ready to apply for OTS and he was told his best route would be basic training and to enlist.  Troy knew he was dealing with someone who had never handled an OTS package before and that the bulk of the work would now be on his shoulders if this was really something he wanted to achieve.  So, as usual when Troy was faced with an obstacle he began looking for ways to overcome it.  He made the phone calls, did the research and completed all the paperwork involved in the application process all by him.  It took dedication for a civilian to maneuver their way in and around the military system.  After months and months he finally got accepted.  And around that same time he got a great job offer in Canada working in the natural gas industry.  But he felt called to military service and turned down what seemed like a dream opportunity with good pay and travel benefits. 

What inspired Troy, however, was not money or glamour or glory.  He was inspired by people, by service and by the mission.  His parents and I recalled how they dropped him off here at OTS in the fall of 1994.  And when we all drove out three months later to meet him for graduation he seemed to have grown.  Not physically mind you as he was at the lowest weight he would ever be.  But mentally and emotionally, he was stronger.  OTS introduced Troy to a taste of what the AF would ask of him.  And he responded with a dedication to country that I had not seen in him prior to that.  As his family knew well before I did, Troy was always the very focused, driven and determined one.  Okay, maybe just a teensy bit stubborn.  But all of those traits became fine-tuned here at OTS.  Yes he wanted to be a pilot.  He wanted to fly.  But above that, he wanted to be an AF officer.  At that point in AF history, there was a low demand for fighter pilots.  So he knew going in that though flying was his dream, he would do whatever the AF asked of him.  That is exactly what he did.  He left here and became a personnelist and then a protocol officer. And then with much determination and most of our second lieutenant salary he got his private pilot’s license at the Aero Club in Lakenheath England.  After almost four years of dutifully serving in a non-flying position his lifelong dream of becoming a fighter pilot in the AF became a reality.  But he knew he was a better pilot because he knew it took much more than just pilots to run the AF.

Troy never looked at his career in the military as a job.  He looked at it as a way of life and what he was meant to do.  Troy’s core was solid.  His heart and motives were always pure.  His priorities were always in the right place.  He put God and family first.  But what OTS and the Air Force did was help refine and give direction to the mission and path that was meant for him. 

I will never understand why such a godly man, loving father and husband and great AF officer was taken Home so soon.  But I know he left an amazing legacy behind.  For his children.  For the men and women of the Air Force.  Big footsteps to follow.  But would any of us really want to follow anything less?

I am a blessed woman today.  God provided a new and different but wonderful life for me and for the kids with another amazing godly husband and father.  I remarried a year and a half ago.  His name is Jim Ravella.  And wouldn’t you just know he is another Texas boy.  Another son of Air Force family.  Another graduate of OTS.  Another AF officer.   Another fighter pilot.  This Air Force thing gets in your blood, I guess.
We never know what direction our lives will take or what the future holds.  But today, in this place, we can see that what we do with the time we have on this earth matters.  Troy’s heart for service began here at this training facility at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery AL.  Obviously it was much less grand at the time.  But never the less it began here and continued on until the afternoon of November 27th, 2006 near Baghdad Iraq when again his tireless dedication for the people of the AF motivated him to perform courageous feats to save their lives.  And that he did. 

Thank you for all who worked so tirelessly to bring about this very special day for me and for the rest of Troy’s family.   We wholeheartedly agree that Gilbert Hall was the very best name you could have chosen for this magnificent AF facility. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

“See you in the Morning”

Now, pick yourself up off the floor. I know I haven’t written a blog in a loooong time. Moving to Florida this summer kind of took a chunk out of my “me” time. It isn’t that I haven’t had many thoughts penned in my head or I haven’t wanted to pour my heart out in ink. I just simply haven’t had many spare quiet moments. There comes a point though that I know I MUST write or I will not be serving God in the way I promised Him I would. He knows my hectic schedule. He knows my many demands. He knows how many boxes I just unpacked. He knows I have 5 kids and a husband to care for. But His grace is also sufficient to have allowed me some time right now in the car to type while Jim drives. His sovereignty brought us to another crossroad of life today; the funeral of a dear friend taken Home too soon. The first funeral I have attended since my own sweet husband’s. The first funeral Jim has attended since his own dear wife’s.

Not too long ago I mentioned an amazing young woman named Sara Sullivan. She was in her twenties. She was a cancer patient. She was a fellow F-16 pilot’s wife. She was an expectant mommy. She was a faithful servant of Christ. She was my new friend. Only a few short months later, she is gone. Not from cancer. Not from childbirth. But from a massive stroke just two days after bringing her premature, yet perfectly healthy baby, Chloe, home from the hospital. She didn’t even know she was fighting for her life. She was just figuring out how to feed her little baby. Her husband, Brad, did not know that morning when he woke up next to his beautiful wife that it would be their last morning to do so. And that evening that he would climb into an ambulance next to that same beautiful wife begging God for her life.

Brad and Sara’s story is told best by them. Their blog site is bandssullivan.blogspot.com. If you haven’t been on their blog yet I highly recommend it. Reading the Sullivan’s blog is akin to taking a vitamin boost for your faith. Suffice to say their story, in some ways, combines my and Jim’s stories. It has many common themes. Cancer. Sudden and unexpected death. A married couple trusting the Lord in sickness. Parents of a sweet baby girl. A fighter pilot and the wife who loved him serving their God and country. Sound familiar? It did to us. Life came full circle today. We just weren’t sitting in the first pew. We watched someone else’s life in a slideshow. Hope and sorrow on the face of a hurting Believer who just gave their spouse back to their Creator. A traveler about to go on a weary journey. We were there….just farther down the road and looking back. Brad is a new widower and a new daddy but he certainly is not a new Christian. He may not know much about changing diapers but he knows the God he serves. He will be okay. He will see light again. Morning will come. But he will walk in the dark for a while. I cried knowing that road will not be easy. It will be excruciating. I held sweet Chloe and praised God for the chance to witness a bonafide miracle. The doctors told Sara and Brad to abort the baby because Sara had to go through surgery and round after round of chemo. They gave their baby to the Lord, placing all their trust in Him. She is perfect. Brad took care of her all by himself last night. He said it was a sweet time. Just he and his baby girl. Jesus must have wept as He watched. Yet He knew this world would have burdens. Christ walked this world for 33 years. He saw it the struggles on the faces of the people He knew. He felt our sorrows on the cross. He knew Brad would be walking the floor with Chloe at 3 am. He knew I would lay in my closet crying until I couldn’t breathe. He knew Jim would sit in a chemo chair and hold his tiny faithful wife while the pain ached deep in her bones. He knew all these things. He knows all your things. I struggled awhile back with the fact that He knew all this was going to happen yet would do nothing to stop it. I know people sat in that church today and wondered the same thing. I couldn’t have stood up there in front and given them the answer. But I know now, more than ever, that everything doesn’t have to make sense to me because I am not God. I don’t qualify for the job. I don’t see the other side of that tapestry He is constantly weaving. All I know is He keeps His promises to walk with us. I thought the pastor today said so many powerful things. Obviously, many about Sara and what an incredibly glorious way she lived her life all the way until her death. But he also have a beautiful explanation of some verses of Psalm 23. They are familiar verses we read without possibly understanding fully the comparison David was making between us, the sheep and the Lord, our Shepherd. I won’t say it as eloquently as he did but I must give it a shot because it was SO good. A message so full of hope and healing on such a sad day.

Psalm 23

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for You are with me. Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

David was many things. A giant-slayer. A shepherd. A warrior. A sinner. An adulterer. A fugitive. A Believer. A musician. A poet. A king. A man. David stood on the top of the mountain and walked in the deepest valley. David was us. A little bit of a lot of different things. Some good and some not so good. I love David. David was an emotional guy. David expressed what was on his heart. He shared what was on his mind. He knew, in the end, it really wasn’t all about him. There is a reason the Psalms are so relevant. David was so relevant. Relevant to who we are and what we struggle with. Life and death. Joy and sorrow. Pain and comfort.

The words he wrote in Psalm 23 were of comfort. The picture he painted was of peace. Not comfort and peace when life is easy there on the mountaintop. But comfort and peace in depths of the valley.

The pastor today gave us the historical background of what prompted David to write this particular Psalm. David was a shepherd early in his life. There was a dark and difficult path he had to lead his sheep through to get to safety on the other side; the valley. Death was all around. The mountains on one side were too rugged to cross. The other side was desert. Both equally dangerous with darkness lurking alongside the narrow path. Yet the shepherd would send out someone ahead of them to make sure their was enough food and water and no predators for their passage. He prepared for their arrival. Just like God prepares for our tomorrows. The shepherd’s rod protected the sheep from harm and the staff kept them on the path so they didn’t wander into the wilderness or the desert. He cared for them so they wouldn’t be afraid of what was ahead. Just as Christ cares for us when the shadow of death is all around us. The shepherd put oil on the sheep’s heads to keep certain pests out of their ears. In other words, our Great Shepherd takes care of the things that “bug” us along the way. At His table we are always welcome with a warm welcome and a full cup. He won’t let us go on down the road on empty.

Death of a spouse casts a long shadow over your past, present and future. There is no part of life that that death does not permeate in some way. We live in a fallen world. We live in a world that is not nearly as much about what we see but about what we don’t see. Remember it was hard for the sheep to see in that dark valley. They HAD to trust their shepherd. We HAVE to trust our Shepherd even in the times we cannot see that any of this journey makes any sense or is even worth going on.

Ezekiel 34:11

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says; I myself will search for My sheep and look after them. 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.”

When I first married Jim and he would kiss me goodnight, often he would say “See you in the morning.” It was a simple statement to me as he closed his eyes. He probably didn’t even think much about it. But as I laid there I couldn’t help but think how comforting those words were to me. Each night after Troy died when I laid my head on the pillow for another sleepless night I began to dread the next morning. Because the next morning meant more of the same; another day without him. I knew going to bed lonely would only lead to waking up lonely. So when Jim first said that to me, I thought to myself how lovely and sweet those words were because that meant that in the morning he would be there. I had something to look forward to when I woke up. Day was a happy time all of the sudden.

The deep pain and stinging sorrow inside of a broken heart stops making it worth waking up in the morning.  But, with the Shepherd’s help, it will be worth it someday. We don’t have to do much at first. Just wake up. Just put your feet on the floor.  Like the pastor said today; Just Walk. I remember my dearest encouragers reminding me to keep walking. Morning will come they said. I couldn’t picture it. I couldn’t even imagine the hole in my heart being healed enough to want to live again or be a good mother again. I knew what God promised me in Psalm 23 but I just didn’t know what the other side of the valley looked like or how long He wanted me to walk through it. Those thoughts terrified me.  But I had to trust Him. Even sheep are smart enough to know they are too dumb not to follow the Shepherd.

Today Brad begins that same walk Jim and I went on. As we stood with him next to Sara’s casket, he said he felt he belonged with us now. We told him we were sorry he did. But we know he won’t walk it alone. And we know that someday his mourning will to turn to morning. In some way there always will be morning for those that love the Lord. Sometimes that morning is in heaven like it was for Troy, Andrea and Sara. Sometimes that morning will feel like hell on earth, like it was for me, Jim and Brad. But for those that serve a mighty God, morning will come and it won’t even resemble night at all. 

As we walked out of the church after Sara's service I couldn't help but notice this big sign in the foyer.  Doesn't the fact that the word DOES is underlined say just what we need to be reminded of in times such as these?  He does love us.  He does stretch His mighty arms down from heaven to hold through the pain.  He does bring us sunshine again.  I snapped the photo and reached for Jim's hand and we walked out the door knowing the sign spoke the truth; morning comes.

I love that God chose to raise His son early in the morning on that Sunday 2000 years ago. I think it was symbolic that night was over forever. Satan would never have the last word. He may whisper in our ears that there will never be another glimpse of sunshine in our life. That it’s over or at least not worth living for. But Christ’s victory over the grave forever says to us, “Keep walking, I am with you and I will see you in the morning, my child.”

Lamentations 3:22-23

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”

Tonight, as I finish writing this blog, Brad and Chloe return home after burying Sara today. My heart is heavy for Brad. It’s unbelievable how significantly enormous the absence of someone can feel. Yet, it is equally unbelievable how weighty the presence of the Lord suddenly becomes when you need it the most. Grief can dull the senses in one way. Yet, in an another, it shines a light on God’s goodness and mercy. I know Brad must feel both as he rocks their precious baby girl to sleep tonight.

Sara gave me a candle right before I moved. I had been saving it for some unknown purpose. I began lighting it last week as I prayed for her healing. I remembered she said it was her favorite scent. My friend, Angela, also received one from Sara and she brought it my attention that the scent of the candle is "Bird of Paradise".  How fitting.  Paradise.  Sara's new home.  The same address as Troy and Andrea.  How they all must soar now - birds in Paradise.  I burn it now most every night, knowing the fragrance is even sweeter now that she is gone.

Isn’t that just the exact same way we want our lives to be remembered and our legacy to be carried on? As a pleasant bouquet that lingers in the thoughts and hearts of those we leave behind? With tears filling my eyes I listened to the pastor speak of Sara in much the same way that Pastor Steve spoke of Troy. I so desire those same words to echo again, someday, when my loved ones are gathered together to celebrate my coming Home.

Until then, I will seek to love, live and forgive. I will keep walking. Peaks. Vallleys. Whatever the Lord asks me to do. And only with His help.

Oh and I will probably find out where Sara bought me that candle and order another. The candle reminds me of her light and her light reminds to continue to trust God, no matter what.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding but in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Rich Young Man

I went through a lot of struggles as I tried to understand and reconcile Andrea’s cancer and her near constant bad test results. I had prayed for years for Andrea’s healing only to find no relief. I had asked for healing in every way I knew. I had pleaded, begged, and promised all to no avail. I had asked so many times I started to think I was bugging God with the same request over and over. I constantly struggled with asking for the desire of my heart and Allowing God to be sovereign and trusting Him. Was I lacking faith in God by constantly asking for healing? Did He really need to hear me over and over, sometimes 100s of times a day ask for the same thing? Was God hard of hearing or was I not using the right words. Was I being a nuisance to Him? Was I lacking faith by not believing for healing? Should I have taken a stand and just said Andrea is healed and not wavier or was I shutting the door on God’s will, just trying to shout so I did not hear what I did not want to hear? The stakes were so high, life and death for my best friend and the most important person in my life. How does God’s will and my will intermesh? That really was the question. I wish I could tell you the answer. All I know is what I experienced and that is what I’m trying to express in this blog. The answer is mine alone I do not think this is a one size fits all response from God. It was a custom fit for me and it had to do with my life, experiences, my strengths and my weaknesses.

I learned many things during the 4years and 4 months of treatment Andrea endured and truthfully I always felt a little guilty growing and learning and becoming a better person while Andrea suffered and died. But not as guilty as I would feel if I did not learn, change and grow from that experience. It is hard to pick the most important lesson I learned but certainly one of the most important is God’s place in my life which I have written about in previous blogs. This blog a slightly different angle on that subject.

Mark 10: 17-31
The Rich Young Man

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother." "Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."

Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!" The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."
Peter said to him, "We have left everything to follow you!"

"I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first."

Why did Jesus ask the rich young man to not only obey all the commandments but also sell everything he had? Why doesn’t Jesus ask this to everyone? Why such a strict standard for this young man? We are told this is a rich young man, why so descriptive? He is not only rich but he is young. If he were alive today I picture him as a Harvard grad, always at the top of his class, used to accolades and rewards. He would be well known due to his wealth at such a young age. He would be used to having what he wanted when he wanted it. I think the descriptive words we are given help us understand why Jesus asked him to sell it all and give it to the poor. I think like today’s rich, successful young man he would derive a lot of his security from his success. He would be prideful of his accomplishments and probably very self reliant.

As I reflect back on Andrea’s treatment I remember Andrea’s first round of chemo in Alaska. It was hard, very hard in fact and we prayed and sought God but truthfully it did not demand us to totally surrender. In the beginning you find some comfort in your doctor, certainly in the medicine, and at times in the facts of cancer treatment. You see yourself as one of the __% that will be healed and in that mere fact you hold on to a portion of your life. There are portions that exceed your ability to control and I definitely sought God in those moments but there were times when I found comfort in the treatment or in watching Andrea’s strength or at times in the inability to believe that death could actually come to Andrea. She was too young, too faithful, and too “good” of a person to die.

Most of those footholds crumbled beneath me when Andrea’s cancer returned in 2005. When a doctor tells you the cancer is incurable you suddenly realize those things that you were holding onto vanish as the words flow the doctor’s lips. You feel naked, vulnerable, scared and totally alone as the words sink into your mind and you try to process the meaning of his words. Intellectually you understand the facts, but it takes time to fully absorb the impact.

Rather quickly Andrea and I began the process of facing death. Death was no longer some future event, something we would deal with when our hair was grey or our dreams fulfilled, our bodies tired, almost seeking relief from this life. No it came when we had many things to accomplish, kids to raise and the joy of grand kids around the corner. We had trips we still dreamed of taking; our retirement home still was an idea in our minds, all we knew was it had a big porch where we could watch the sunsets. Death had somehow leaped forward and landed right in front of us, we stood face to face with death and somehow we had to reconcile this fact with the faith we had professed.

Soon afterwards I began to hear, to sense or maybe feel God prompting me. His message, “Let go and Trust Me.” Those who knew me knew that I loved Andrea and we had a very special marriage. She was my life, my source of joy and happiness in life. So when I ran to Jesus I was not expecting to hear, “Give up your wife and follow me.” I felt what the rich young man must have felt, “Are you kidding me?” The rich young man had poured his life into his work and his money was his reward and his security now Jesus told him he had to sell it ALL and follow him. It was eerily similar to how I viewed Andrea in my life. I poured all my effort into our marriage and I was reaping the rewards of my work. Andrea and I loved being together, we were best friends but for me she was more than that, she was my security.

For the rich young man this demand seemed a little excessive I’m sure. He had kept the commandments, surly he could give the required 10%, maybe half of all he owned. Surly that was good enough. Like ourselves we sometimes face a trial and look around us and see plenty of people who deserve to suffer far more then we do. I asked myself why such a demanding requirement for this rich young man? If I had to guess I would say it was because if he held onto any of his wealth and possessions he would always place a portion of his own security in them. God knew that his source of security was intertwined with his money and as long as it remained in his life he would find comfort there. He would never live totally a surrendered life as long as he felt security in his possessions. How bad did he really want eternal life? When Jesus told him to sell all he had and give it to the poor, He forced the Rich young man to look himself in the mirror and choose his source of security. Who was his god?

The seemingly unfairness of this demand spoke to my heart when I struggled with why Andrea had cancer. The most faithful, honest, God fearing person I had ever met, yet for some reason she was being ask to give her all, and in doing so I was asked to give up my wife. For me that meant giving up all I had known and the one person I had intertwined my life and my security. When Jesus asked me to let go and trust him, I too was being asked to give away all my possessions, my security, and follow Him. I too was sacred and walked away sad at this seemingly high standard.

Like the rich young man I had misplaced my security in something other then what God had intended for me. Like the rich young man God saw this as a hindrance to my spiritual growth. The process of me understanding this did not occur overnight; in fact it took over two years for me to grasp what God was trying to teach me. Did I really trust God and if I did then what could this world do to harm me? Could life be difficult? Yes. Could life be hard? It was. But did God love me? He certainly did. Could I trust Him even when life was turning in a direction I did not want to go? In time yes.

God continued to speak to me until and one day as I pulled into the driveway I told Andrea I had to let her go. I had placed Andrea and our relationship above God in my life. I have written this before and I’m not trying to be prideful in my words but I was good at being Andrea’s husband. We had an amazing marriage and I was proud of my love for her. So when God told me to let her go I was a little confused. Didn’t God command me to love my wife? Didn’t he give her to me? Didn’t He ask us to become one flesh? The answer to all the above is yes, but He also told me to put nothing before Him and to “First, seek His kingdom and righteousness and all these things would be added.” Did I believe that? Did I trust Him enough to act out what I professed to believe?

I will tell you after 27 months of fighting cancer you find yourself at the end of your abilities. No longer can you hide behind temporary strengths or mere determination, reality hits you and you have to fess up that you cannot do this alone. We have many crutches in life, things we use to hold us up when we lack the strength or ability to do it ourselves. Our crutch could be possessions like the rich young man, or a relationship like mine with Andrea. God’s desire is that He be the only crutch in our life.

I think the progression to the point of surrender is reflected in our prayer position. You begin by praying quick prayers, most often while you are engaged in other tasks usually as you stand. The obstacle is a mere bump in the road hardly worthy of your precious time. As it becomes more serious you may stop to pray even sit down to devote all your attention to praying. You begin to focus on the potential enormity of the task ahead of you. This is when you see a hint that the problem you are facing may just maybe exceed your ability to handle it. Maybe outside help will be required, but the odds are low at this point. At this point you start to feel a ting of worry. If the prayer goes unanswered your fear can grow. You had counted on this being resolved long before this point but for some reason this has not occurred. Now you will kneel to pray. This may be a first for many people and it reflects a definite escalation in the matter. The probability that you will need outside assistance is likely. Usually at this point you take your concern public and begin to seek outside advice, or ask friends and family to pray for you trying to get the odds in your favor. Surely the support of more Godly people can sway the tide in your favor. Finally, if things continue and you have not won the battle, you will find yourself face down, prostrate before God, hopeless, and incapable of finding your way out of the situation. You have exhausted all your options, expended all your talents and abilities to no avail. All your talents, securities have proven inadequate; they are as filthy rags before the Lord. If you get to this point you no longer utter words in your prayers you just lay there stripped of all pride or reliance on your own abilities. You are nothing and you need Him. God brought me to this point in the summer of 2006. I was finally ready to listen, even if I did not want to hear what God had to say.

Slowly I let go of my crutches, actually at time I did not let them go but felt life kick them out from under me. I will offer this one observance, when we face a trail in life and we look with horizontal viewpoint the trail can seem unfair, undeserved and unjust. When we look with horizontal eyes we tend to say things like, “This is unfair.” We tend to compare our situation to others seeking those more “deserving” of our predicament then our self. Our focus in on why this should not have happened to us. This horizontal view can lead to bitterness, anger and resentment and unfortunately it is our eyes natural viewpoint. This viewpoint is focused on this life.

Psalm 144:4
Man is like a breath;
his days are like a fleeting shadow

However, when we look vertically we see our life in relation to eternity. When I knelt at the cross, look up and saw my savior nailed to the cross, beaten, bleeding, and suffering and in that moment I lost all my “rights” to an easy life. I looked at my savior who suffered far more than I ever will so I might have eternal life with Him. This life and its trials shrunk in comparison to what Christ did for me. I saw this life as a vapor when I put my focus was on Christ, who loved me and loved Andrea more than I ever did or ever would. I was learning to trust Christ, even when life was spinning out of control. I had to look vertically not horizontally. I will never fully understand why I lost Andrea but I am confidant one day I will, and it will all make sense. For me it came down to this and I don't mean to over simplify a very complex issue, but God was either God, in the totally of what it meant to be my creator, or it was all a lie. Simply put I was not willing to give up on my faith because I Andrea's cancer was beyond my understanding. I may not have understood it all but I knew the character of God and somehow this all fit together. I was just going to have to wait to understand it.

That is where I was when I told Andrea, I have to let you go. I was not giving up on her healing and letting her die I was submitting to God’s authority for my life. I was letting her go as the source of my security and placing God in His rightful place in my life. Relying on Andrea was my personal struggle, my weakness. If you knew her you would better understand. She was so full of faith, so different from anyone I had ever known, it was easy for me to fall under her faithfulness and inhibit my own relationship with God. This was a four year process, but in the end I found myself a far different person then I was on Aug 22 2003 the day before Andrea found her lump.

I will share it with you my last moments with Andrea because I think it shows how far God had taken me on this journey. I had not really realized it myself until I was telling this to my friend and I began to form this blog in my mind.

Dec 17 2007

When I arrived at the hospital I found Andrea in a coma like state, her body swollen from her liver failing, her breathing labored and I knew she was telling me it was time. I loved her far too much to cause her to suffer for my selfish desires. I think my greatest act of love for Andrea was to let her go when all I wanted was for her to stay. Love is not about what I want but what was best for her.

At 1225 I told the doctor it was okay to remove the breathing assistance from the ventilator and Andrea began breathing on her own for the first time in 21 days. The boys and I stood by her bed. I bent over her and whispered in her ear. I prayed with her for the last time. I assured her we would be okay. Then I sang a song in her ear. It was a song we sang at our church in North Carolina and it was about surrendering our fears. I changed the word “fear” and substituted “wife” and I sang this in her ear. This is how it goes:

Here’s my wife, I lay her down, I lay her down.
Here’s my wife, I lay her down, I lay her down.
I surrender her all to You; I surrender her all to You,
I let go and give her to You.

When I finished those words in her ear, I stood up and the doctors were walking in the room. I asked. “Is she gone?” and they said, “Yes.” I looked at the clock on the wall, it was 1:07.
When I told that story to a friend it hit me how much God had changed me during those 52 months. I had gone from a man to afraid to think about losing my wife, to a man whose last words to my wife were surrendering her. I had sought God with all my heart for relief, for healing, and finally just for His will; His answer remained constant, “Let go and Trust Me.” Like the rich young man I was asked to give up everything I valued in life although my first response was much like the rich young man my face fell and I walked away sad, but God did not give up on me. He pursued me until I was ready to understand that Christ did not die for this life but for the life that is yet to come.

Psalm 138:7-8

Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve my life;
you stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes,
with your right hand you save me.
The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me;
your love, O LORD, endures forever
do not abandon the works of your hands.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Other Side of Chick-Fil-A

This weekend Ginger and loaded up the kids and headed to Montgomery Alabama for Boston's first soccer game with his new team. (They won both games) I've found I'm a huge fan of the DVD player they put in the cars these days. Although I'm not sure Boston and Greyson enjoyed Beauty and the Beast as much as the girls. We managed to arrive in Montgomery on time, in fact we were there early so we decided to get some lunch. I found a Chick-Fil-A thinking this is at least healthy fast food. Chick-Fil-A happened to be Andrea's and my favorite fast food places. In a previous blog, "Be Bold" I wrote about an encounter Andrea had at Chick-Fil-A.

Like most fast food chains the physical layout of every Chick-Fil-A is always the same. You enter and on your left and right there are a booths and tables but there is a difference. The left side is quieter, mostly adults. On the right you will find the families with young kids and the kid favorite playground. There is always much more activity on the right side as the kids pour out of the playground to eat their lunch or parents pleading with kids to get out. It is usually louder, more hectic and messier on the right side.

Andrea and I had graduated to the left because our kids were grown and long past the height requirement to play in the gym. Not that I did not love the left side. I once threw off my shoes and jumped in the bin of colored balls with Nic. Andrea snapped a picture that day and all you can see is our heads and smiling faces amongst the red, blue, green and yellow balls. It is one of my favorite pictures of Nic and I. But that time in my life had long passed and we had moved to the left side, where conversations shifted from Sponge Bob to current events.

However, yesterday Ginger and I were ordering and we told the kids to go find a seat, a booth more specifically. When I got the food and went to sit down I saw the kids sitting not only on the right side but at the table up against the glass wall of the playground. For an instant I glanced at the quietness and neatness, cleanliness, and calmness of the left side and it was appealing to me. But when I looked back to the left I saw five little kids talking, yes mostly all at once , and yes in an ever upward spiraling volume as they try to be heard, but all with smiles on their faces. I heard the laughter and joy of kids running to and from the playground not the noise. I saw the excitement of kid's opening the surprise toy that came with lunch, not the mess. My life is on on the right side once again. As I sat with Ginger and we discussed this shift in life style she said, "But you like the right side don't you?" "Yes, Yes I do."

The rules have become much more stringent then my last time I sat on the left side, and I doubt I will ever be able to sneak into playground and go down the slide and spill out into the thousands of brightly colored balls as I did with Nic. But this past summer I came home from work on a hot summer day and the kids were in the pool enjoying the cool water. As I watched them playing and laughing I took off my boots, removed my wallet and phone from my flight suit and took off running and leaped into the pool. I can still see the shock on Bella's face as she saw me hit the pool in my uniform. It was a look of disbelief and happiness that was soon followed by laughter.

I know it will be all to soon when Ginger and I move to the other side. I do look forward to our time of uninterrupted conversation but I will also look back to the other side with a slight ting of longing.

As I was finishing this blog Aspen walked in, her beautiful smile and amazing blue eyes, gave me a hug and said, "I love you Daddy." I wish I could capture the softness and sweetness of her voice in my typed words but I guess you just have to be here. I can assure you it was in that moment that I remembered the honor and the joy of sitting on the other side. I know how fast they go up and you miss miss the innocence of a child, the unconditional love, the simplicity of life to a little girl and the adornment you feel as a father. I know the time will come far too fast when I'm replaced by some young man that catches her eye.

Well it is Saturday morning and I have three hungry girls climbing all over me asking for "pan-a-cakes" so I will close. I always remember howAndrea loved to make the kids pancakes. She always took the time to make shapes and the boys would try to guess. I think in honor of Andrea I will do that today. I know Andrea would love to be in my place this morning. I can picture her bending over and asking the girls "What shape would you like?" Andrea had the most gentle spirit and she loved being with kids especially little girls. She loved the left side of Chick-Fil-A and I do to.

Okay I just finished making breakfast. I guess this is my first a real time blog as it happens. I did my best to make a heart, a car, a bus, boat, a fish and of course a snowman. The kids seemed to like them and I thought I was representing Andrea pretty good. Then Aspen came up and asked, "Daddy is there an Elephant?" No I said that is out of my league but I knew someone who probably could have made that happen.