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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...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

God's Miracle, Our Family

Ginger has been away this weekend at a Church retreat.  It was a much needed trip for Ginger.  She was a leader in the woman's ministry in Phoenix and with our two moves in the past two years she has lost that connection.  For me it was a chance to spend a weekend with the kids, also a much needed time for me.  For those of you who do not know the kids it is hard for me to tell you what amazing kids they are without sounding pompous.  

I took the kids to church yesterday and the women checking the kids in said, "Well I so proud of you for taking the kids to church while your wife is at the retreat."  It struck we a little strange, where else would I be?  I would have told her how easy they are but she would not have believed me.  Church is a unique place for Ginger and I.  There are so many ties to Troy and Andrea there.  You always remember worshiping together because it is such a intimate place for a couple.  There you let down every wall with your soulmate and grow in your faith together. You become one spiritually.  But for me it is also a place to remember Troy.  Especially yesterday as I sang with Boston, Greyson and Bella I felt Bella lean into me, I knew she needed the comfort of her dad's arm around her.  It is times like this that I can't help but think of Troy.  There are a few times in our life that I know exactly where Troy would be and in some way know what he would have been feeling. Telling Ginger goodnight on her birthday was one, and holding Bella at church was another.  

Has I held her and thought of Troy, I thought of my role as their dad.  Sometimes that is hard to say because I know Troy was their Dad and even though I  adopted them all and legally I am their dad there is still a respect I owe Troy and I'm sensitive to that.  We talk openly about Troy and Andrea to the kids but especially about Troy because it is important to Ginger and I that we build in the younger kids a memory of Troy.  But God has called me to be their dad.  As we sang this verse came to me.  Now I'm not a Bible scholar and I could be taking this verse out of context but it spoke to me. 

1 Corinthians 3 5-9

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.

This verse helped me see Troy's and my role as the kids fathers.  He planted and I will water, together we are the kids dad and together we will raise them.  Our roles were different is many ways but similar in many others.  The goal the same, to teach the kids to love the Lord, to grow up and be Godly men and women.  So as I held Bella I held her as her dad, praying I would live up to the task I have been called to do.  I pray I will make Troy proud.  I know I will make mistakes but hopefully I have learned something from having already raised two boys.  I do know one thing for sure, the time goes by faster then you can imagine and our time to influence the kids is shorter then we think.  So I cherish this weekend, and the time I got to spend with the kids.  They are not a chore, they are my kids and they are a joy to raise.  

As I write this blog there in one last link to my past.  I have Andrea's old computer and for months I have been trying to transfer the files from it onto out new computer.  It has all the emails Andrea wrote as she went through her treatments.  There are pictures, words and music that define a time in my life.  As I type this I'm listening to a playlist titled "believe"  one I made for Andrea of her  favorite songs to encourage her faith.  They played many many times in our house. Another reminder of the immense cost paid for the life we now share.  

I will close with a very touching note from Annalise because I think it ties this blog together perfectly. It shows the uniqueness of our family and the amazing kids Ginger and I are so blessed to raise.  

The girls went to a birthday party yesterday and when they left the mom gave the girls each a helium filled balloon to take home.  This morning the girls were drawing and coloring while the boys and i did chores. (We have to have the house clean for when Mom gets home!)  Anyway, as I was working Bella asked me if she could write a note to God and tie it to the balloon and send it to Him.  This is a small glimpse of what I'm trying to tell you about these kids.  Anyway Bella wrote hers and sent it to God and then she wrote Aspen's and Annalise's for them, tied them to the balloon and brought them to me.  I wanted to read Bella's note but I felt it was personal.  I wish I had after reading Aspen's.  Aspen's said: "Hello God, How is heaven?  What do you wear?  How is daddy?  Tell him we said hello." Tears are in my eyes as I write this.  When Annalise brought me hers I decided to take a picture of it.  I wish I had done the same for Bella and Aspen.

Below is Annalise's note penned by Bella who said I wrote what she said.

It says:

Dear Dad How are you doing.  What do you hear.  Did you meet Ms Andrea.  It was our birthday on February 10, 2010.

Not many 4 and 6 year olds have to take the time to write notes to God and their Daddy in Heaven and even fewer would have the compassion to ask if he had met my wife. 

Monday, February 1, 2010

By the Grace of God, We Will Carry On

As we sang this lyric in worship last week at church, I never thought one week later I would be sitting on an airplane to go help a friend in need. But life is like that. Truly from one week to the next, or as I know well, one moment to the next, our lives can take an unexpected turn. Sometimes, it’s for the better. Like the moment I met Jim. Sometimes, it’s for the worst, like the moment I got that knock at my door. Often it comes in the form of a phone call from a friend. Jim and I received two such phone calls in one week. The second one is the reason I am on this plane. All I can say for now is I have some friends in marital crisis. I am no marital counselor but I can stand witness to them that God is BIG enough even when our faith isn’t and He can overcome the worst of situations for His glory and for our good.

The first phone call was to tell us that a good friend of Jim and Andrea’s was killed while jogging one Saturday morning. Her name was Terri. I met her only once yet she held a special place in my heart. Three years ago, almost to the exact day she died, she forwarded Jim and Andrea’s ICU email update to my friend, Jennifer, and Jennifer forwarded it to me. That email where Jim talked about God being God. And that no matter if our circumstances changed He remained the same. The day I first heard of the amazing, brave couple named Jim and Andrea Ravella. My fingers still easily type their names together as I remember emailing them that year. They are still written in my address book under “R” as Jim and Andrea Ravella. Troy’s address in Balad is still written in there as well. I can’t seem to make myself mark either of them out. Like doing so would be disrespectful or something. Strange, I guess. The other day I signed my name Ginger Gilbert. It’s habit from years of writing it. Occasionally Jim will call me Andrea or I call him Troy. We smile and correct ourselves. It’s all part of the new normal.

Terri left behind her husband, Dave and their three children ages 7, 4 and 3 years old. The youngest is a precious little girl with Down’s Syndrome. Terri was yet another amazingly strong Christian who left behind a legacy of faithfulness and devotion to the Lord. Troy, Andrea, Sara and now Terri. I didn’t know her hardly at all but I wept for Dave and their children. I wondered if Andrea would greet her friend at Heaven’s door or wait until after Terri spent her time with Jesus?

Now I sit on a plane wondering what on earth I will tell my friend to encourage her in her faith and in her situation? I put my trust in Jesus when I was 9 years old. And I am not stopping now. He, alone, can make all things new. He, alone, has enough mercy, power, strength, love and grace to help us carry on.

Is it just me or maybe I am just more aware of it now….? This world is painful! Praise God it’s only a temporary address. Maybe it has to do with age. (40 is knocking loudly on my door!) Maybe the longer I live I have now begun to accumulate stories of suffering. I am not sure of the reason but I see so much sadness all around me. However, I am confident, the One holding the hand of those in the midst of that pain is the Hand of the only One that can heal it.

Psalm 108:6

"Save us and help us with Your right hand, that those You love may be delivered."

Psalm 138:7-8

"Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; You stretch Your hand against the anger of my foes, with Your right hand You save me.  The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me..."

I remember reading this scripture and literally holding out my hand as I cried out to the Lord to grasp it. I remember wondering which hand do I hold out so that it will be His right hand that would grasp it. This thought proved to be challenging to me considering I was distraught, grief-stricken and tired that I couldn’t tell my right from my left. I was working at taking the Scriptures very literally so I certainly didn’t want to mess anything up on my end. I so wanted to feel His tender touch. The strength of His grip. My bony frail shaking hand enveloped in his mighty yet gentle reassuring touch. Did I ever feel Him stretching down from Heavenly places to do that? No. Well, yes. He did through other people, through the promises of His Word, through unexplainable circumstances of mercy or genorisity or compassion that would “touch” me or the kids in our weakest moments. Those things that get you through to the next moment where you can breathe a little easier.

Carrying on as it were. Don’t misunderstand. I did always want to carry on. When life punches us in the stomach and knocks the wind out of us, our first instinct is always “I can’t possibly carry on”. I can’t speak for anyone other than myself or Jim. But I can promise you, there wasn’t always the spring in our step we have today. I remember digging my heals in so deep I must have left marks in the carpet. I shouted to God. I DO NOT WANT TO CARRY ON! But, deep in my heart, I knew I had no choice but to carry on. My choice came later. HOW I carried on was up to me.

I drew inspiration from many others who walked my journey before me.  People like Pastor Steve, Marlo and others.  Characters in the Bible like David, Paul, Abraham and Job.

Job 6:10-11

“At least I can take comfort in this; Despite the pain, I have not denied the words of the Holy One. But I do not have the strength to endure. I do not have a goal that encourages me to carry on.”

I love Job. He just says it like it is. No dancing around the issue at hand or trying to fake it. Real honesty. But obviously as we read on, Job later chooses that he must carry on… Not that he doesn’t grapple with God’s ways or struggle with God’s decisions. He does.

Job 6:10-11
“At least I can take comfort in this; Despite the pain, I have not denied the words of the Holy One. But I do not have the strength to endure. I do not have a goal that encourages me to carry on.”

Job 30:15-16

“ I live in terror now. They hold me in contempt, and my prosperity has vanished as a cloud before a strong wind. And now my heart is broken. Depression haunts my days.”

Job 29:18

"I thought, `Surely I will die surrounded by my family after a long, good life.”

Job 16:2-5

"I have heard all this before. What miserable comforters you are! Won't you ever stop your flow of foolish words? What have I said that makes you speak so endlessly? I could say the same things if you were in my place. I could spout off my criticisms against you and shake my head at you. But that's not what I would do. I would speak in a way that helps you. I would try to take away your grief.

He listens to his so-called friends do their best to beat him down even further. He talks and talks and talks.

And when he is finished. God spoke.

Job 38:4

“Where were you, Job, when I laid the foundations of the earth?”

Job 38:24
“Where is the path to the origin of light? Where is the home of the east wind?"

God basically tells Job “I am God and you are not. So, in that, you must trust Me, no matter what. I have the answers and you don’t, Job. Now go pray for your miserable excuse for friends and hang on, because I am going to bless your socks off!” (This was my paraphrase of course)

Job 42:17

" Then he (Job) died, an old man who had lived a long, good life. "

I always remembered that Job questioned God but Job never denounced God. He never turned his back on God even when he felt God had turned His back on him. For that reason alone, Job gets an A+ in my book. I don’t think most people truly get Job until they feel like Job.

This Christmas, for the first time, I allowed the children to watch the video Troy had made of himself in Iraq. I have held onto it for three years waiting for the right time. The time when I thought the kids had healed enough but yet soon enough that they would never feel like I put their perfectly wonderful daddy on a shelf somewhere. Actually, when we had all healed enough to sit down together and soak it in.

As I have mentioned before, Troy made a video of himself to give to the kids for Christmas while he was deployed to Iraq. He mailed it the week prior to his crash. It was and will continue to be the last we moments we ever “heard or saw” of him in this life. He read books to the children that he had checked out from the Balad AFB library. He sat on the roof of a building with his mandatory machine gun strapped to his back, pulled up a metal folding chair and began reading “ Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus”. It was a sweet sight. He continued on from his bedroom/trailer and finished reading books to the kids and then the Christmas story from the Bible, which was our tradition. I remember the first time I watched it, I cried so hard that when I finally stopped and listened to the soothing sound of his voice it made me sort of calm and sleepy

Jim had a fabulous idea that we should hunt down each of the books’ titles on Amazon and pass them out to the kids before showing them the video. That way they could follow along as their dad read them stories for the last time. It was special to say the least. The kids and I laid on the bed and Jim sat beside us in the wing chair and we all shared a most unique experience of tangibly connecting our past and present in a very real way for the kids. Carrying on. By the grace of God.

I am returning home tonight. A long day. Visiting with my friend. Holding her. Crying with her. Listening to her. Praying with her. The on-your-knees-kind. She and her husband are like family to me. They were always there for me. Now it’s my turn. Though I have not been in either of their shoes, I know what walking around with your heart hanging out can do to a person. It’s exhausting. Though, I know God is able to carry us as we carry on. I reminded her God is still in the business of turning beauty from ashes.

Isaiah 61:3

“…and provide for those who grieve in Zion-- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.”