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Thursday, January 22, 2009


We all scurry around like ants making plans, don't we? I find myself becoming a planner now more than ever. Which sometimes I think is all for naught because I KNOW plans change. None the less, in an effort to try to become more organzied and a better time mananger I am beginning 2009 with a plan. (Ginger here-now those of you that know Jim know he would not be making that statement as he got an "A" in time manangement. But I got an "A" in spelling and color coordination so we pool our talents.) Of course it started with a cheerleading session from Jim. Then my dear friend, Tami, came last week. She is naturally a cheerleader-type person but the problem is we root for the same team; The University of Mayhem and Sticky Notes. I used to get tickled at her in church for using the bulletin to make her to-do lists. She should be allowed, however, because she was our pastor's wife and had to (oops! got to) sit through two identical services. So by the second one she was moving onto her mental lists. Anyway, Tami is also working on this character flaw. Okay, honestly, I don't always see it as a flaw in either of us. I have prided myself in my abilities to be flexible, go with the ever-changing flow and put people over projects. But I am finding more and more now that with six children and a busy life I am in dire need of some organization and direction to my ever-changing flow. I spend much time just looking for all those darn little pieces of paper that I write things down on. I double-book appointments or don't allow enough travel time, etc.. I juggle so many different balls that occasionally an important ball may drop because I simply have only so much memory space left. At home, I have piles upon piles that need to be sorted through and since I don't keep up with it daily, it has now become a mini-mountain of misery for me. Anyway, Tami told me about this new planner that is supposed to revolutionize a busy mom's hectic schedule. I ordered it so we will see...It seems to incorporate all the right working parts needed but I don't deny I must be the master of that kingdom as it won't fill in the blanks by itself. Well, those are my first steps so I will keep you posted in my posts!

I am extending some mercy and grace to myself, as is Jim, because we have tackled more in the last year than most folks do in ten. We bought a house, planned two weddings, moved and cleaned out TWO full households, traveled, did additional construction on the house, got to know each other and seven children better, started new schools, new churches, new friends and threw in some grieving, suffering and massive amounts of adjusting just for fun! Hopefully this year will be less about bringing new things on board and more about refining our life and growing our gifts.

As I wrote the first line of this paragraph and metioned mercy and grace, I was just then reminded of a funny story. Troy and I first took and then taught the popular Christian parenting classes, "Growing Kids God's Way". One of the overlying goals is to encourage parents towards Biblical parenting. Reproducing God's Word and His behavior towards us in the way we raise our children. As Troy and I grew in our relationship with the Lord we became more and more aware of His gift of grace and mercy when we truly deserved punishment or consequences from our sin. So we achieved to pass that same principle along to disciplining our kids. There would be times we would tell them we would extend grace and mercy to them and they would not receive the spanking, etc.. One day when Boston was maybe 2 or 3 I went in to spank him for something or another and he pleaded with me to "put the praise and glory on him". I had no idea what he was talking about. Then I realized he exchanged praise and glory for grace and mercy! Of course I couldn't stop giggling and at that point just couldn't spank the poor kid.

Psalm 103: 8-14

"The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will He harbor His anger forever; He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him; for he knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust."

As I embark on my journey of organizational adventure (I have to at least title it something fun!) and fill my existing kitchen wall calendar with appointments and events I remember the day I found my wall calendar from 2006. I always save my prior year's calendar for awhile so I can transfer birthdays, phone numbers, etc... The fall of 2006 found me a very busy mom with Troy deployed in Iraq and I worked hard at keeping life straight on my calendar. I also just wanted to stay busy hoping that would make the time fly until his expected return after the holidays. Months and months after his crash I found this calendar. I looked at all the plans I had made for that week. I was active in Bible Study, preparing for the holidays and was to embark on a large interior design job. I sat there and just stared at the little numbered squares filled with my plans. That sunny Monday morning at 9:30 am all my plans can to a screeching halt. The calendar wiped clean in an instant. Of course I didn't record anything further but if I had I would have written things like news press conference thanking the public for their support, making memorial arrangements, picking out a dress for Troy's funeral, weeping until my soul spilled out of my eyes, etc... Our plans changed. Plans still change. They only change to us, however. They never change to God. It isn't like He has this big dry erase calendar and He constantly wipes off His plan and starts over. Before Genensis 1:1 was executed, His dry erase calendar was set in stone.

Psalm 33: 9-11

"For He spoke, and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm. The Lord foils the plans of the nations; He thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations."

Jim and I were sitting on the sofa in our master bedroom the other night talking about life. Our life, in particular. We are always discussing plans for our future. We are so thankful to have some happy plans on calendars instead of the blank sheets that we saw ahead of us after Troy and Andrea died. But the Lord made it clear to us that even though we only saw blank pages of a calendar, His was still right on track and full of richness.

I believe only a fellow soujouner in loss can truly understand this word picture. After Troy died, I felt like I opened my planner and everything EVERYTHING was erased. Everything from my plans for the holidays that year to my plans of Troy's big return from the desert to who would now walk Bella down the aisle at her wedding someday vanished. I had already begun mentally planning Troy's welcome home from Iraq reception at the airport full of family and friends. The kids would be holding a "Welcome Home Daddy" sign covered with their little handprints. I had all but bought the craft paint. We had just finished cabin plans for our land in Ruidoso, NM. Blank now. We were moving to Kansas that summer and I was already finding us a house on base and looking forward to some much-needed family time and exploring St. Louis and Kansas City. I was planning my after-holidays starvation diet so that I would have three weeks to get skinny and sexy for Troy's return. I was going to show him I had lost some of that baby fat I had before he left. He was going to be really glad to see the new me! Now the new me was a drooping widow looking down at my life's empty calendar, into my children's sorrowful faces and up at my God who had just erased it all. If I could paint a portrait it would be of this picture. But instead of God holding an eraser He would be holding His plans for me in one hand and reaching out to me with the other, sun rays beaming from behind Him. There would be a few rays peeking down through the thick dark clouds over my head. The scripture below the painting would read;

Jeremiah 29:11

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you," declares the Lord, "and will bring you back from captivity."

Maybe I will find someone to paint that for me someday.

How did the Lord make it clear to us the other night that, indeed, His plans for us were never scribbled over, crossed out and haphazard (like my own planner is)? Like I said we were sitting on the sofa in our bedroom. It's not particularly common to have a sofa in your bedroom so let me explain. When Jim and I were looking a buying a house together last year, our primary need was LARGE! Good lands we have an entire basketball team living here most of the time! We also had unique needs with the variety of our kids ages, etc... We walked into our home, which at the time was the model home for this neighborhood, and began talking to the builder's salesperson about the options in the neighborhood. They were frankly all just too small for us. She quizically asked, "just how many people will be living here?!" We laughed and explained our unique situation. That was when her eyes lit up and she told us she just had gotten permission to sell this model home and it was plenty big. She showed us the floor plan. We looked around, loved it, got a really nice deal and the rest is history. The master bedroom was especially inviting. It was painted a cool greenish/blue and was accented with a warm chocolate brown. It had lots of big windows, tall ceilings and pretty crown molding everywhere. We carried the floorplan with us as we went room to room. And I remember walking into the master bedroom and being surprised to find there was this added gorgeous sitting area complete with a granite-surround fireplace and tv area. Wow. This wasn't on the original plan. What a nice surprise in addition to an already nice-sized bedroom. In most of my former bedrooms I barely had room for my two big dressers so this was a bonus! Jim and I thought it was nice but a little unneccessary. Oh well, we'll take it anyway!

I cannot tell you how much time Jim and I spend in our cozy sitting area by the fire, watching tv and talking. Talking uniterrupted and unheard by the mass chaos of the kid kingdom lurking on the other side of the wall. We write in here. We cry in here. We can escape for a minute and just BE in here. It is perfect. Perfectly unplanned. Perfectly NOT on the floor plans or even our own plans for what we thought we needed in a bedroom. Someone building this house just threw it in at the last minute to show off the house better. But never underestimate the Lord's compassion or involvement in our lives.
He knew mine and Jim's needs and He cared enough about us to put us together and not allow years upon years of loneliness to mark our lives. He not only cared enough to make us a couple quickly but He cared enough to place us in a home that would include a refuge for us to have solitude and privacy to get to know one another faster and deeper. He cared enough to not just give us the space to know one another but to appeal to my love of beautiful surroundings and gave us this perfectly peaceful lovely nook in our corner of the crazy, loud messiness of this house.

His unseen hand works day and night to give us not only what we need but at times to give us things we want. Things we want in the very midst of THE thing we didn't want most. I have recently begun talking to another widow who lost her husband in a plane crash only 6 months ago. I have worked to encourage her but often find she encourages me. I hestitated to tell her about Jim in my life as I didn't want her to think I did not fully understand her grief and pain because of the blessing of him in my life now. I wanted her to know I, too, lost the love of my life and hit rock bottom before God buoyed me with healing and then a new love of my life. She was so kind about it. She sent me this quote and devotional reading yesterday because she said it reminded her of Jim and I:

"It is the nature of grace always to fill spaces that have been empty." Goethe

Not that we can't tell the difference. Not that we are being disloyal. But if life gives us something else to do with all those impulses toward the one no longer with us, how can we not be grateful? It's like an extra inheritance - a blessing, even - from the one we have lost, going to someone else who needs what we have to give. So we are refreshed by the memory of the loved one, and at the same time offering a gift, creating a new relationship.

It is the nature of GOD'S grace to fill the spaces. As I sat in church this weekend with both my precious friends, Tami and Amy who were in town, I remembered God's grace upon me even before I met Jim. These two women were the most actively, daily involved in caring for me and the kids after Troy died. They were not Troy nor are they Jim. They did not replace a husband or a father but they were pure goodness, pure love to us. Unequivacably the merciful hand of God making His very real presence known to me in those months while still preparing His next plan of putting Jim in my life. He's a busy God. He does this for everyone! He is behind the scenes working working for His glory and our benefit. I was angry with Him for a long time. Thinking Him cruel. Thinking Him neglectful and uncaring and uninvolved. Then I read a book that made a powerful impact on my thinking at that time. The book is titled "Second Guessing God" by Brian Jones. One particular chapter gave me more hope than all the books I had read prior. Here is the jest of it and I do paraphrase his words:

God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. After Moses led them to freedom, God instructed them to travel to land promised to Abraham, a place of abundance. But they had to cross over the Jordan River to get there. Not just the Jordan River but the Jordan River at flood stage during harvest. The Jordan begins in the Sea of Galilee and travels south where it dumps into the Dead Sea. Most of the year it is tranquil but during harvest it becomes a swollen torrent. Imagine millions of people holding the hands of their tiny children and fearing drowning would be their death. But God told them to cross it and the second the priests' feet touched the water it stopped flowing (see Joshua 3)! The Bible says the water stopped flowing upstream though. Not right in front of them. They stepped out when it was full throttle flowing. They never saw Him dam it up. It was a miracle but it was a miracle the people didn't witness with their own eyes. God performed the miracle upstream, out of their sight. The same situation still occurs in our lives today: God is always at work upstream in our lives. The only thing the Israelites could see was the problem right in front of them. They could have concluded that since that raging river was there, God wasn't acitively involved in their situation, but they would have been wrong. He was there; they just couldn't see Him at work. Theologians have a term for God working upstream. They call it the providence of god. Biblical scholar Bromiley defines providence as "the divine governance whereby all possible events are woven into a cohereent pattern and all possible develoments are shaped to accomplish the divinely instituted goal." My friend, Lee Ann, lost her precious husband, Dustin, just days after he preached a sermon on God's divine providence. He spoke words to her that she had no idea would echo in her heart forever as a promise directly from God.

Psalm 77:19

"Your path led through the sea, Your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen."

Romans 8:28

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose."

We all either know someone or are ourselves standing at the edge of some unknown tumoltuous waters trying to get to the other side. The other side of physical healing. The other side of emotional healing. The other side of peace. The other side of fulfillment. But we have to step out. We have to get out of bed. We have to show the Lord we are trusting Him in whatever way He asks us to. That's our part. He will do the rest. If I can encourage anyone with anything I have said in this blog it would be this truth; God loves you and even when you can't see or feel Him, God is continuously working out good in your life.
Like the story of Boston reminded me of; I want to trade His grace and mercy for my praise and glory to Him. For the sacrificial gift of Jesus. For Jesus's sacrificial death on the cross. For His faithfulness to show me tender love through friends and family during unspeakable nightmares. For a new husband who loves me unconditionally. For a new father who loves the kids tenderly.

For the beautiful sitting room with the misty green walls I type this blog in. For it all and so much more, I owe Him my praise and glory.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Cats in the Cradle

Tonight Ginger has one of her closest friends in town visiting. They are sitting in the living room talking about another dear friend who is sick. I was going to sit there and enjoy their company but to tell you the truth I found the conversation about hospitals, scans, doctors and sickness just hit a little too close to home. So I came back to our bedroom, my favorite room in the house, (not what you are thinking!). I love it because it has a sitting area with a fireplace and it is the most relaxing place to be. I lit about 15 candles, turned on the fire place and put on some classical music and decided to write a blog. It has been a while since I have written but life has been busy which leads me to what I wanted to write about.

This past Sunday Aspen and Annalise were sick and one of us had to stay. So I (Jim) decided to take the boys to try a new church. We had been wanting to try a new church in New Braunfels but after a summer of trying churches it gets hard to load up six kids and get them checked into Sunday school just to find out the church was not what you were looking for. So this Sunday seemed like the perfect time to try a new church. Perfect to me but maybe not so perfect to Aspen and Annalise. I relearned a lesson on the way to church and gained a funny memory for me and the boys. First the lesson.

I pretty much know one of my main weaknesses; I'm a Martha. Okay that looks funny when I see it in print and could be taken the wrong way after I said I decided to sit in my room with candles and classical music on...not that there is anything wrong with that. (a little Seinfeld humor for you) Did I mention I love football, Go Steelers!

I will tell you one thing about getting married for a second time. You may tend to think you have it all together and life is pretty much figured out, until you live with someone new. It turns out your not has normal as you thought! You were just used to yourself that's all. So Ginger probably could add a few more things to my list of weaknesses but I will leave that alone for now.
Luke 10: 38-42

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell
her to help me!"
"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

Anyway, Martha was caught up with the busyness of life and doing things. Which on the surface is not a bad thing but she was doing things instead of sitting at the feet of Jesus. Of course we cannot literally sit at Jesus' feet but we are called into a personal relationship which implies spending time with Him and in His word. For me, like Martha it is easy to put off that relationship for busy work. I first started to learn this about myself when I was a Wing Commanders exec, and I could not leave work until my inbox was empty. Now it is my email inbox but it is the same, I just want it all taken care of, things in their place and loose ends closed before I can relax and focus on other things like family and faith. But it seems there is always more to do, especially with six kids. I could pick up toys from when I get home until bed time and still have more to do. If I'm not doing that i find myself turning into my dad and hollering at kids to turn off a light or pick up their school back packs. If it is not that then it is helping Ginger with Dinner or doing dishes afterwards. All in all there is plenty of work in this house, and thus it is a Martha's dream and nightmare all at the same time. A dream because there is always something to pick up and always a visual reward of a job well done. But it is a nightmare at the same time because there is just no way to do it all and when you try you only frustrate yourself. There was a time when I loved Saturday mornings. I looked forward to sleeping in with no alarm set. But recently I find myself waking up around 7am and once I think it was 5:30am. But I awake with a to do list playing in my mind and off I go starting chores before Ginger and I even had a chance to talk.

Andrea noticed this trait in me as well soon after we were married and had Nic. In one of the many ways she taught me and encouraged me to be a better father. Whenever I started to spend a little too much time studying as a student pilot, or maybe working a little too long as an Instructor Pilot and even spending a little too much time on the golf course she would start to sing the song, "Cats in the Cradle" by Harry Chapin as a reminder that life is short. Andrea never nagged nor did she forbid me from playing golf it was just when she saw that I was misplacing my priorities as a father. It became Andrea's way of reminding me what was really important. Like they say no one ever died wishing they had spent more time at work. Andrea was a wise person, blessed with discernment and wisdom.

God blessed me again with Ginger who has many of the same qualities and Ginger noticed this same tendency in my personality and has mentioned it to me. Most recently was this past Saturday when I jumped out of bed already behind on my to do list. So I was aware that I was starting to let the Martha in me take over and was misplacing my time in the busyness of life. Andrea and Ginger gave me gentle reminders, as Jesus did to Martha,

"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

So back to Sunday. As I was driving the boys to church listening to my iPod I hear, "Cats in the Cradle." Like being slapped in the face I instantly realize what I have done. I look over at Boston and Greyson and know they could care less how clean the house is or how organized the DVDs are. What they want and need is just time, time to shoot some hoops or kick a soccer ball. I'm not saying I have not been spending any time with the kids it is just that I knew I had allowed my priorities to shift a little too far to getting things done vice just being with them. I had to look out my window as I drove to hide the tears in my eyes a little ashamed knowing they could understand the words to the song as I wondered if they thought I was the dad in that song:

When you comin' home dad? I don't know when, but we'll get together then son
You know we'll have a good time then

That was my lesson, sadly a lesson I fight to remember every day as I balance managing a house and being a dad. I'm not the best at this and the same trait that makes me successful at work makes me a poor father. The same thing Andrea and Ginger noticed in me and each helped me with. Losing Andrea reminded me of the wisdom of Andrea singing this song to me. So I try to remember this when I get caught up in cleaning assuming I will spend time with the kids or Ginger counting on "We'll get together then." Sadly Ginger and I learned that life does not guarantee us a "then."

Now the funny memory.

The church Ginger and I had been wanting to try was New Braunfels Bible Church and I had Googled it the night before to get the directions and times of the service. It was right off Hwy 46 and it began at 1030. So off we went, Boston, Greyson and me. I turned onto Hwy 46 and told the boys to keep an eye out the church should be close by. No sooner did I say that when Greyson said, "Is that it?" I looked to my right and there was New Braunfels Christian Church. I said nice job Greyson you found it. So in we went but as we sat down I thought this is not what I expected. And I leaned over to the boys and said I think we are in the wrong church. The boys looked at me like not wanting to be rude but also wondering what had their new dad drug them into. I think the average age in the church was about 65 so we stood out like sore thumbs. There was no doubt we were visitors and there was no way we could get up and leave now. When the music began it was songs out of the Hymnal. Greyson of course took one out, found the song number and started singing along. (he is our artist in the family) But I noticed Boston looking at this strange book Greyson had as if he was looking at some artifact from times long ago. I leaned over and said have you never seen a hymnal? And he said, No." So I decided to take advantage of the situation and teach Boston how to read and sing from a Hymnal. We listened to the sermon which turned out to be pretty good, meanwhile the boys we making some impressive paper airplanes out of the visitor information cards from the pew in front of us.

When the service ended we got in the car and had a good laugh. I immediately called Ginger to find out how I had gotten mixed up. It was then I realized I was looking for New Braunfels Bible not New Braunfels Christian Church. When I said that Greyson said, "Did you say New Braunfels Bible? There it is." Turns out it was one block from the church we had tried! We laughed even harder, so close but so far!

So back we well go this Sunday with all six kids in tow trying to find new classrooms, new procedures for getting them checked in, calming their uneasiness as we leave the twins and Bella with a group of kids they never met. But one thing for sure, I know how to get there. The hard part will be remembering how to keep my life balanced, and every so often leaving the dishes in the sink and color with the girls or watch soccer with the boys. Or if we are lucky get the kids tucked in bed and spend some time with Ginger. Unlike most couples who have six kids, I have to remember that we need time to get to know each other as well.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Jim and I just got home from the movies. It is, surprisingly, our second one in the last two weeks. Siskel and Ebert we are not and we chuckle that our movie reviews don't always coincide with everyone elses. I try not to dip into pop culture too often on the blog but here goes! We took the boys to see "Marley and Me" after Christmas. We had heard how great it was. How touching and meaningful. Now we may not be dog LOVERS but we are most definitely not dog HATERS. However at one point I looked over and Jim was checking emails on his phone and I was mentally making my grocery list. ha. We left surrounded by people with tear-streaked faces. We tried to respect their emotional states but honestly wondered what could possibly have moved people to tears over a bad, misbehaving dog dying after living a long full life with owners who exhibited more patience than Job himself? Now y'all are thinking we are being hard-hearted but really these people must never have lost a spouse or there would have been a little more perspective, don't you think? (Oh, I'm going to get some comments from writing these things!)

Now, tonight, we just returned from "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and cried all the way home. Admittedly this movie was too long. They dragged out the plotline an extra 30 minutes at least. It was definitely a far-fetched story. And I did find myself constantly waiting for Brad Pitt to grow into his present handsome self. But overall it was a touching moving about the fragility of life, death, love and the ever-moving hands of time. Four subjects Jim and I find ourselves talking about often. We got into the car and with tears in our eyes, looked at each other and asked the question "how did we get here?". And the looming always-unanswerable "why are we here?". I think movies like this are good to make people pause and ask themselves those same questions. Jim's time with Andrea and my time with Troy was cut so short. Abruptly. Mid-stream. Even though Andrea was sick for a long time, both deaths were unexpected. I remember when I couldn't type the word death in conjunction with Troy's name. There just didn't seem to be a way to connect the two without alot of pain in the middle. Early in the movie, a clockmaker, who has lost his son in the war, makes a clock whose hands go backwards instead of forward. He hopes this will help reverse the unfair hands of time. I am still not really sure how this linked to the movie but it did strike a cord with me. After I found out Troy's plane had gone down I distinctly remember thinking, "Can't we just go back to yesterday? Yesterday I was just a stressed out mom who was plugging along with the mundane irritations of being the spouse of a soldier deployed and the mom while the dad is away. I thought that was hard but TODAY today I would give anything to go back to yesterday, the day before the last day." For many many mornings after the news I would wake up after minimal sleeping (maybe for only an hour or so) and there would be this split second between subconsciousness and awakening when I wouldn't remember my new reality. It was the only 15 second reprieve of the day. Then I would fully wake up and the magnitude of the painful truth would crush me all over again. If I could have only gone back to that Sunday and stayed there everything would have been okay, I thought.

A tragic accident also happens in the movie and they walk back through the minutes prior to it and all the events that had to take place in an exact order and with exact timing to have contributed to the accident happening. This also resonated with me. Wanting to go back and reverse time or make different decisions is an inevitabality when you lose your loved one. I contemplated many things after Troy died that I could have done to have gotten him home early and thus avoided November 27th. (Read the blog "God's Eyes" for more on the truths I came to regarding this topic). I remember thinking I should have just emailed Troy at some point and told him I was going insane, couldn't function, couldn't take of the kids, something, anything... anything to have gotten him home first. This was not necessarily thinking in line with the truth of God's sovereignty but there was no way for the thoughts to have not entered my mind.

God orchestrated the time, the events, the cancer, the crash and thus Jim and I sitting in the car tonight holding each other and praying for a chance to grow old together without anymore tragedies or loss.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-14

" There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven. A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. A time to kill and a time to heal; A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance. A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones; A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing. A time to search and a time to give up as lost; A time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear apart and a time to sew together; A time to be silent and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate; A time for war and a time for peace. What profit is there to the worker from that in which he toils? I have seen the task which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves. He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one's lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor--it is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has {so} worked that men should fear Him."

We both recognize our time could be long or could be short. We both struggle with the fear of the latter. Do we stop loving because we are too afraid to lose? Believe me I have wondered that. But the answer always comes back a resounding no. Do I want Jim to fly again? No. To wear sunscreen? Drive the speed limit? Eat healthy? Yes. Yes, the Word says we must honor God with how we take care of ourselves and each other.

I Corinthians 6:19-20

"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God. You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body."

Here are my favorite quotes from "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button": (I have none from "Marley and Me").

"We were meant to lose people. How else would we know how important they are?"

“Life can only be understood looking backward. It must be lived forward.”

As Jim and I discuss the normal things couples and busy parents face like balancing our time together vice time with the kids, the best way to organize and run a hectic household, disciplining children, school issues, vacation schedules, etc... our pasts remind us we are not guaranteed our futures. So how we love, honor and cherish one another counts all the more. In the movie, the couple have a window of time (I am not giving anything away, the previews did that) to do those things. We aren't aging backwards but we all have our own windows. We should make the most of them.

Friday, January 2, 2009

God's Eyes

Greyson brought home a school craft project that evoked memories of mine (Ginger) from way back when I was his age; a God's eye. Jim didn't seem quite as familiar with it. I guess because he didn't grow up in New Mexico like I did. Making God's eyes to hang on the Christmas tree was a big deal for me. If you don't know what in the world I am talking about I will describe them to you. First you take two popsicle sticks and glue the center of them together so they make a cross. Then you take several different colors of yarn and intermittently wrap the colors starting from the inside of the cross out in diamond-shaped patterns until you reach the edge of the popsicle sticks. The joke is that I was always the one who decorated our Christmas tree and wrapped all the presents growing up. My mom was good at so many things but she wasn't exactly Miss Home Economics. So I remember being in charge of that stuff alot. And I definitely remember covering the tree in God's eyes one specific year. It was probably in one of my mom's "Proud to be a part of New Mexican tradition phases" or something like that. I do remember spacing them nicely apart so all the colors complimented each other and they hung facing out.

I read a little about them this year since Greyson sparked my interest in them again. They were actually an Indian craft tradition called "Ojo de Dios" or the "Eye of God". They were originally made to be placed on an altar so that their gods could watch over the praying people and protect them. Now, more often in our Christian culture, they are made to remind us that God looks with love on people everywhere. That is a nice thought, but is it true? I have often asked myself that question since Troy's death.

I find scripture mercifully addresses those type of questions with words such as these:
Hebrews 4:13
"Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is hidden and uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account."

Okay so I understand that He watches over everything but does He do it with love? I know I watch my kids play, eat, work, live but do I always do it with love? Most times yes but sometimes I am distracted, not really paying attention, irritated with their behavior or simply wishing I could be doing the zillion other things I need to be doing or the selfish things I would rather be doing. And sometimes, as often happens with toddlers, I take my eyes off of them and in a split second someone is crying, fighting, has a scraped knee or wounded feelings. And I wonder how that happens because I just took my eyes off them for a second? If parenting is supposed to be a similiar representation (which I am not convinced it really is because God is SO perfect and we are SO flawed) to the relationship between us and our Heavenly Father then does God do that too? I never questioned that once until He allowed Troy's plane to crash that day.

I grappled for a long time with the question of "Did God look away because He was busy doing something else and that was the second that Troy died?" Then when I would resolve the answer was no because His eyes are always upon us like the scripture said. Then I would begin the string of questions that always led to the even longer string of "Why's?". I praise the Lord for Pastor Steve's wisdom and vast knowledge of the scripture and who God is to continue to point me in the right direction. Even as a Believer it is so easy to fall prey to wrong doctrine when you are hurting.

Truth was, hard as it was to swallow, God Almighty does love us infintely AND allows devastion into the lives of His beloved. It is the very difficult concept that keeps people from seeking relationship with the Lord. Jim and I have one person very close to us who struggles with that everyday of his life. But our challenge to him and to others is seek Him and you will find Him.

II Chronicles 28:9
"As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father (David) and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever."

Therein lay the motivation for me, I had to seek Him and even more I had to find Him in the depths of the darkness. I had found Him, so to speak, when I accepted His gift of Jesus and became a Christian when I was nine years old. But I had to find Him, on an entirely different level when He let me down, took away the love of my life and left me with more brokeness and responsibility than I could handle.

After all the blame I placed on man, ie: the Air Force all way down to anyone who had anything to do with Troy flying that day. And then all the blame I placed on God. After all that I came to the place where acceptance and peace lived. The place where I knew God never stopped loving me or watching over me.

Psalm 121: 3-8
"He will not let your foot slip, He who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you, the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm, He will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore."

This scripture then made me question what is the definition of harm? Harm to me meant Troy crashing in a plane or disease in my children. This is when my study Bible and sought wisdom from others helped me to understand that when the Bible speaks of safety it is not always guaranteed in the physical sense but always guaranteed in the spiritual sense. Christ himself and many of his disciples would experience physical suffering and death. And who could God love more than His own Son or those few faithful left behind to spread His news throughout the world? Throughout history, many righteous people have tragically lost their lives and weren't rescued. Troy and Andrea immediately come to mind. The wicked do thrive and the faithful do suffer. But God does not abandon His people.

Lately I have found myself re-asking some of the same questions I settled a year ago in my mind. Two days ago, I met with Troy's wingman the day he crashed. He lives here in San Antonio but, despite his willingness, I just wasn't ready to talk to him. The time had come for us to talk. I knew it was something I needed and possibly something he needed more. He is a good man. It was a painful conversation that took me back to that utterly devasting day. Despite the answers to some questions I have had, the conversation raised even more questions in my mind. I know he was uncertain with what my reactions would be. He questioned himself and all those involved. I honestly told him I had done the same thing for many months and would have been unable to handle our exchange until now. Yes, I felt Satan circling and wanting (wants) me to place blame on this person or that. But as he and I cried, I grasped his hand and told him that though I wish the people and events surrounding all the circumstances before, during and after Troy's plane went down could and should have been vastly different, I still know that my God wanted Troy home with Him that day and He was going to take him despite the conditions of the moment. Beyond my heart and mind's comprehension, He was also going to allow his body to be taken from the crash site by the most evil of mankind. I still struggle with the hate I so easily can feel for them. I still pray and wait for Troy's body to return to U.S. soil. Jim saw many who beat cancer and who walked out of the hospital disease-free. Some faithless and godless women. I know there are soldiers who are wife-cheaters or tax-evaders or dead-beat dads coming home daily. By the world's standards they don't deserve the blessing. I cannot focus on these injustices. Jim helps me with that.His faith remains unshakeen and his heart is not bitter, either. He has always encouraged me with the enormous importance of this choice.

I turn to the book of Psalm 73:
vs 1-7: "Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity, the evil conceits of their minds know no limits..."

vs 13-28 "Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning. If I had said "I will speak thus" I would have betrayed your children. When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sancturary of God; then I understood their final destiny. Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed completely swept away by terrors! As a dream when one awakes, so when you arisee, O Lord, you will despise them as fantasies. When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant. I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel and afterward yo will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Those who are far from you will perish; you destory all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds."

His wingman told me he and Troy had breakfast in the chowhall at 5 a.m. that morning. That Troy prayed before they ate that God would grant them safety and would help us, their wives and children, with the challenges of them being deployed. Of all the things he told me about that day, this one meant the most to me. Troy sought the Lord's help that day just like all the others. I know he must have prayed in that jet as things became chaotic. Maybe a simple, "Lord, help me." like I have prayed so many times since. There was no doubt that Troy's faith and who he was greatly impacted his wingman that day. Just as Andrea's walk impacted the nurse that accepted Christ while taking care of her in the hospital. Powerful witnesses those two were. Will Jim and I be the same? I hope so. I pray so. Life is unfair. Will that unfairness make us stumble, lose our way or unforgive all the wrongs that occurred on that day in Iraq for Troy or those days in and out the hospital for Andrea?

My Bible has a powerful commentary on the above scripture I just quoted in Psalm. Here is an exerpt:

"Why does life seem unfair? Because we see only one part of the picture. It appears to us that success often has nothing to do with godliness: Those who ignore or even hate God may have more wealth and power than those who love him. Many Christians suffer while non-Christians seem relatively unaffected by life's difficulties. The writer of this psalm sturggled with such feelings. He saw arrogant, violent individuals who lived in ease and prosperity. What he saw even caused him to question the validity of his won faith. He felt cheated. Wy try to live right? It never seemed to pay off in tangible ways? But when he finally sat down to write, he wrote about how his attitude had changed. What had happened? He had begun to look at life from a spiritual point of view rather than from a worldly one. Life will always seem unfair when we measure it bey the earthly standards of health, wealth and power. But when we encounter God in a personal, intimate way-as the psalmist did in the sanctuary-we can gain a heavenly perspective. We'll begin to see the other part of the picture-that the rewards of this life are temporary and, as a matter of fact, can even hinder us from discovering what is really important."

It is a constant daily choice I must make to look at things from the spiritual perspective. From God's eyes. Not the popsicle and yarn version. God's eyes. The compassionate, loving, just eyes of a parent without imperfection or distraction or selfish motives.

I finally looked over the 5-inch-thick accident report that was handed to me almost two years ago. Like the decision to talk to Troy's wingman, it was time I opened it. Jim helped me understand the many flying technical issues it discussed. I looked at the pictures taken of the crash site. Many of which, I had disconsertedly seen for the first time on the evening news the week of the crash. Some of these photos I hadn't seen before. Ones taken from high in the sky that day overlooking the ugly brown sand fields and farms where Troy's plane went down. The black smoke billowing into the blue sky. Though I can't imagine birds would want to fly in that grotesquely forsaken war-torn landscape, I imagined this is what they would have looked down and seen. This is what God saw. Yet He is everywhere so He looked from above and was coinsidily in the cockpit with Troy. He loved and cared for Him til the moment He welcomed him Home. Not skipping a milisecond between or the hate-filled acts that followed in the aftermath.

Growing up Southern Baptist I still recall old hymns we used to sing. I rarely sing or listen to them now. But I am warmed when the lyrics will come back to mind. After viewing these photos for the first time and meeting the man that last heard Troy's voice that day, this one came immediately to mind. I couldn't remember all the words so I googled them. The internet is good for something! I will close this blog with the background of this hymn and the precious words it says. I am also reminded in Scripture, we are worth much more than sparrows.

"Early in the spring of 1905, my hus­band and I were so­journ­ing in El­mi­ra, New York. We con­tract­ed a deep friend­ship for a cou­ple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Doo­lit­tle—true saints of God. Mrs. Doo­lit­tle had been bed­rid­den for nigh twen­ty years. Her hus­band was an in­cur­a­ble crip­ple who had to pro­pel him­self to and from his bus­i­ness in a wheel chair. De­spite their af­flict­ions, they lived hap­py Christ­ian lives, bring­ing in­spir­a­tion and com­fort to all who knew them. One day while we were vi­sit­ing with the Doo­lit­tles, my hus­band com­ment­ed on their bright hope­ful­ness and asked them for the se­cret of it. Mrs. Doo­lit­tle’s re­ply was sim­ple: “His eye is on the spar­row, and I know He watch­es me.” The beau­ty of this sim­ple ex­press­ion of bound­less faith gripped the hearts and fired the imag­in­a­tion of Dr. Mar­tin and me. The hymn “His Eye Is on the Spar­row” was the out­come of that ex­per­i­ence."

by Civilla Martin

The next day she mailed the po­em to Charles Gab­ri­el, who sup­plied the mu­sic. Sing­er Ethel Wa­ters so loved this song that she used its name as the ti­tle for her au­to­bi­og­ra­phy.

Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home,When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He:His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.


I sing because I’m happy,I sing because I’m free,For His eye is on the sparrow,And I know He watches me.
“Let not your heart be troubled,” His tender word I hear,And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.


Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,I draw the closer to Him, from care He sets me free;His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.