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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...

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.

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