After Failure and Repentance

Lord, you are so tender.

You see my heart as I sin against you. You see my filth, my defiance, you feel the whips and the shards of glass, the thorns crushed into your skull, the nails piercing through your hands and your feet, the agony as you struggle for breath, the cold darkness of isolation. Lord, you bear it all even as I doubt your love for me. Even as I blame you for my sin.

And you never change your mind.

You watch as I run from you and you chase after me, calling my name in the sweetest tone. And you never stop chasing me, no matter how far I run. No matter what choices I make, you keep loving me, you keep chasing me, you wait for my return, my surrender.

And when I finally turn back, you fold me into your arms and kiss my brow and not a harsh word is on your lips.

Lord, you are so kind. You are love. You are grace and mercy.

I’ll never deserve you, but I’ll always have you.

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Happy Birthday

You would have turned 60 today and I would have been trying to convince you that you’re not old. You would have loved the rain today. You’d wear your big coat and your pretty teal scarf. We’d go to Marie Calendar’s for dinner and we’d both order the soup and salad bar and perhaps some hot tea. We’d eat at least two of those little white bowls of potato cheese soup after finishing our mountains of lettuce and vegetables. We’d have chocolate cake that I’d make from boxed cake mix and it would be decorated poorly, but you’d love it anyway.

I’m not sure where I’d be if you were still here. I’m not sure who I’d be. You shaped and changed me in life and I changed when you died.

I’m not sure how different things would be and I don’t think I should dwell on it. What I do know is that you are still loved, still missed, still remembered. I’ll never get over you.

Happy birthday, Mom. I hope it’s a good one.

So…My Brother Got Married…

This post is a little late… I was going to post about my brother getting married like… maybe a day or two after the wedding… the wedding was January 31st so….

I’ve been trying to figure out just what I wanted to say and I’ve been having a bit of trouble. It’s weird but it’s not. It’s different but it’s comfortable. And then there are all these other things… well… See I already spent a considerable amount of time writing about how I feel about my brother and his bride, etc. because I had the privilege of giving a toast at the wedding. Let me tell you, getting up in front of all those people and crying like a baby while trying to read what I’d written was not easy. People later told me that it was good that I cried. I cried because I meant it. I cried because I felt it. I cried because I love my brother.

Anyway, I pretty much said everything I wanted to say in my toast, so that’s what the rest of this post is going to be. My toast.

It’s really difficult for me to say with words just what my brother means to me. God has blessed me tremendously by giving Daniel to me as a brother. He has been with me through the most difficult times of my life as well as some of the most fun times. While we certainly don’t get along 100% of the time, we have a uniquely close relationship that I treasure immensely. From the little things like our dumb, repetitive jokes or silly noises and dances, to the more meaningful things like telling me the truth when I need to hear it, even when he knows I might not receive it well, or hugging me when I’m crying even if he doesn’t know why, I will always treasure our bond and the kind of friend that he is to me.

Watching the Lord pull Daniel up from darkness and into the light of salvation has been one of the most awe-inspiring experiences of my life. I remember praying for him for so long and feeling so hopeless, but the Lord saved him when I least expected it, and I had the privilege of watching it unfold first-hand. Then, to watch him grow and mature so quickly afterward was such a great testimony of God’s power and faithfulness. When I really think about it and look back to who he once was and who God has changed him into, I am often brought to tears. It is truly amazing and I am so thankful for God’s work in his life.

I am also thankful for how Daniel has taught me and cared for me over the years. Even in my more difficult and unyielding times, he has stuck with me continued to speak truth to me. Because of this, I am confident that Daniel will make a good husband – he is faithful and he never gives up, no matter how difficult things get.

My friendship with Bekah has been an interesting one. It took quite a bit of time for us to get close and I believe we are still working on that. I think she will agree that the Lord has placed us in each other’s lives to teach us a lot about understanding others and about loving those who are very different from ourselves. I mean honestly, what better way to learn about those things than to be placed in such close proximity to our polar opposites? I have learned a lot from Bekah and greatly appreciate the times when she has shared hard truths with me as well as the times when we can just hang out and enjoy each other’s company. I know that we still have a lot to learn about each other and I look forward to times of bonding in the future.

My brother is a very unique person and I never imagined he would find someone who has so much in common with him – but here she is. God orchestrated this so well, as He always does. Daniel and Bekah are certainly well-matched.

Daniel, If mom were here today, she would be so happy to see the man that you are becoming and she would be crying her eyes out and talking about how her baby has grown up so fast. I know that she would be so happy for you and she would be eager to welcome Bekah into our family as her daughter.

May the Lord give the two of you strength and continue to equip you with faithfulness and diligence and every other tool that you will need in order to create a marriage that glorifies Him and paints an accurate picture of Christ and His church.

I love you both.

Let’s raise our glasses to Daniel and Bekah!

 

Beautiful Wedding <3
Beautiful Wedding ❤
My brother and Me
My brother and Me
My New Sister-in-law and Me
My New Sister-in-law and Me
After my Toast... couldn't keep it together :P
After my Toast… couldn’t keep it together 😛

Quick Snapshots: Serving With Joni and Friends

Last month (April 1-6), I had the privilege to serve as a Short Term Missionary (hereafter referred to as STM) at the Joni and Friends Family Retreat at Wonder Valley. Honestly, when I first agreed that I would do this, I wasn’t really giving it much thought…I just knew that I had the time, would probably be able to raise the funds, and could be of service to someone who needed it. I had heard about this camp before, having written about it for my church newsletter a while back, and I was interested in the things that they were doing there. So, I went into it thinking, “this could be a neat experience.” Let me tell you now, “neat” was a gross underestimation.

[I’ve broken this up into parts because that’s kind of how my brain works…]

Part 1: Leading up to camp

Wonder Valley

Let me start off by telling you a bit more about this camp, in case you are not familiar with it. Joni and Friends Family Retreats are week-long (roughly) camps for families who are affected by disability (whether it be physical, developmental, etc). Typically, it is one or more of the children in the family who have a disability, but the rest of the family is affected by this as well. Caring for these children is not an easy task and these families are on the job every single day. These retreats give these families the opportunity to have a vacation. Not only do they get time together as a family doing fun things that may or may not usually be accessible to them, but they also get some time to be around their own age groups, kids playing with other kids and adults spending time with other adults, and generally getting to be around people who can relate to them. One of the major ways that these retreats make all of these things possible is by assigning trained volunteers (STMs) to each family for the purpose of serving and aiding them throughout the week.

As the week of camp drew nearer and nearer, I started to think about what serving as an STM would require of me. I became a bit worried as I started to realize just how self-centered I am and how much I am used to taking care of my own wants and needs before considering others. This is a troubling thing to begin with, but it was even more disturbing to me as I knew that I was entering into a situation in which I would need a selfless, servant-hearted attitude in order to accomplish what I had signed up for. I did not want to be a poor representation of Christ to whomever I was assigned. I wanted to please the Lord by reflecting His character, and I knew that I would not be able to do so by my own strength and “will power.” Humility and servant-heartedness are things that do not come naturally to sinful mankind, but are only accomplished by the grace of God. And so, I prayed for God to change me, even if it were just for that week, into one who regards others as more important than myself (Phil. 2:3).

Part 2: Training and Preparations

The group of STMs from my church. We bonded together as we served over the week.

Arriving at camp, the STM’s had about a day and a half of training to get through before the families arrived. We bonded together, learning about various disabilities and how to deal with different things that we might encounter and so on and so forth. Something that really meant a lot to me and remained with me throughout the week, and indeed, after that week, was that in order to serve in such a way that would display the love of Christ, we must constantly come to Him in prayer and depend completely on the grace of God.

All throughout the first day (the day before the families arrived), I was nervous, not knowing which family I would be assigned to. I kept thinking that once I knew who my camper was and what disability my camper had, then I would know, more or less, what I was going to be dealing with and could start preparing my mind and praying more specifically about my assigned family. That night, when we got our assignments, I learned that I would be caring for a 4 year-old boy who had autism. My first thought was, “now I still don’t know what I’m dealing with.” As you may or may not know, autism sort of ranges from mild to severe and the affects of it vary from person to person. So, all I could really count on was that I would have to adapt and learn as I went. And so, I began praying even harder for the week to go smoothly and for my assigned family to be able to relax, enjoy themselves, and really experience the love of Christ. It was nice to finally be able to pray for them by name.

Part 3: Meeting my Camper/family and getting started

Left to Right: Fellow STM Rebekah, my camper Nathan, parents Edie and Bun, Rebekah’s camper Gabriel, and me.

As the time (the second day) for me to actually meet my assigned camper and family drew nearer, I became more and more nervous. Thankfully, I had many brothers and sisters in Christ around me who could encourage and pray for me. When I finally laid eyes on my precious little camper and his equally-as-precious twin brother, my excitement and joy won-out and my nervousness was no where to be seen. To my delight, the mother and father of my camper turned out to be very kind and loving people and I felt a connection with the whole family almost instantly. I quickly learned about my camper and his twin brother (who also has autism – he was assigned another STM and we worked together a lot of the time), their little quirks, cleverness, character, and the differences between them. By the end of that first day of serving my camper and his family, there was already so much love in my heart for them; all I wanted to do was spend time with them and help them with whatever they needed or wanted. I couldn’t keep from smiling as I realized that there was literally no place in the world that I would rather have been at that moment, than right where the Lord had placed me. The Lord had, indeed, already answered my prayer.

Part 4: The rest of the week/concluding thoughts

My camper, Nathan (right), and his brother, Gabriel (left), loved the wagon 🙂

All throughout the week, my days were very busy, and I noticed that I had a lot more energy and stamina than usual, which could only have come from the Lord. I remember feeling so blessed. It was so satisfying to spend my entire day serving someone else and not focusing so much on myself. I enjoyed watching the parents of my camper relax and enjoy themselves, having extra hands to take care of things. I loved looking around and seeing so many families in such a happy state, in which they did not have all the usual troubles weighing on their shoulders. It was so neat to be in a place where everyone could just be themselves. If a child began screaming or doing other things that would usually be considered “disruptive” or “rude,” it was received with understanding and grace rather than judgmental stares and ignorant whispers. If ever a parent felt overwhelmed, there was someone there to help lighten the load. All of us STMs worked really hard throughout the week, but it was some of the most satisfying work we had ever done. I know from my own experience, and from talking to other STMs, that we left that camp feeling as though we were more blessed by the families we served and the work that God had done in our hearts than we had even anticipated. I really did not want to leave that place. I had grown so attached to my camper and family as well as the overall environment of the camp – so much so that I had a good cry as I was leaving the camp to go back home.

It was truly an eye-opening experience that I will not soon forget. My whole outlook on service has been altered for the better, as has my understanding of families affected by disability. The Lord has used this experience to grow my desire for service and my love for others. I would urge everyone to prayerfully consider trying something like this at least once. I promise you, it will be an unforgettable experience that you are likely to carry with you for the rest of your life. And, if you are like me, you will quickly decide that this is something you want to be involved with every year.

If you would like to know more about Joni and Friends, you can visit their website at: http://www.joniandfriends.org/

Please feel free to ask/talk to me more about the camp if you feel so inclined 🙂 I was not super specific in this blog because I didn’t want it to be too long and also because I wasn’t sure how detailed I should get about my particular family and whatnot. However I am open to talking about it on a one-on-one sort of basis. 🙂

Precious boys ❤

At Least It’s Still February…

I have been thinking about Valentine’s Day… that is, I am still thinking about Valentine’s Day, even though it is long gone and I have many other things to occupy my thoughts. I have been meaning to share my thoughts on this holiday, but school has a funny way of preventing me from doing such things… such things as blogging, that is. As February 14th came closer and closer, I kept telling myself, “I’ll write a Valentine’s Day blog!” and as I stared the day right in the face, I figured, “I’ll write a blog a day or two from now, and I’ll call it ‘Reflections of Valentines Day,’ or something like that.” But then I just kept on walking, as the 14th waved me away. But I still have these thoughts that I think would make a decent post. And… well… at least it’s still February!

I have always loved Valentine’s day. Always. I have also always been single on Valentine’s Day – single in both the original meaning of being unmarried and the meaning that young people often use to describe a person who is not currently dating. I have never joined the bitter ranks who like to call it Single Awareness Day, snickering to themselves at the imagined cleverness of that acronym, SAD. I haven’t even joined those who brood at the fact that Valentine’s Day is a commercial holiday in which corporations brainwash men into thinking that they have to prove their love with diamonds, flowers, chocolates and cards… and those ridiculously large stuffed animals that nobody really knows what do to with. No, I have always found so many reasons to enjoy that day every year of my life. While I do strongly believe that we can show others that we love them every day of the year (and maybe, we actually should), I really like the idea of having a day that is a celebration of love. I like having a day in which I tell people how much I love them and why I love them. I like making cards for people (no matter how much I am lacking in artistic skill). I like eating chocolate with my girl-friends and watching cute movies. I like wearing pink and red and painting my nails just for the fun of it. I like letting my dad and my brother (and in the past, my mom) know, again that I love them and am glad to have them. I love looking through the Bible to find all the verses about love and praising the God who is, Himself, love. I think it is something my mother instilled in me. We always had cards, flowers, scriptures and little gifts between us on Valentine’s day. She always made it special, and I intend to keep it special.

I honestly don’t see why Valentine’s Day should be only for couples-going-on-dates, or elementary-school-children-giving-classmates-tiny-cards. I think our culture has a strange obsession with romantic love that completely discounts other types of love. While romantic love is a beautiful, wonderful thing, so is love between two friends and love between brother and sister or father and daughter. What is it about romantic love that makes so many people think it is the sole purpose for living? I notice so many people being depressed on Valentines Day because they “have no one,” but they are actually surrounded by people who love and care about them. I have never considered myself to be “alone on Valentine’s Day” and I don’t think that I ever will be. There is more to love than just romance and attraction.

… But anyway, I sort of ran out of steam there at the end, but I think you get my point. Perhaps I would have written this much better had I done it sooner while the thoughts were much fresher. Ah well…

New Light on Easter Weekend

Part One: Good Friday

On Good Friday I woke up a bit late, I hurried to get ready for a 12 PM church service. As I was finishing up with styling my hair, I imagined my mother knocking on the door and asking if I was almost ready. It struck me that this was going to be my first easter weekend without my mom. I thought back to last year: this time last year I had no idea that my mom would be gone in a little less than a month. I began to tear up. We should be going to this service together, I thought. My dad was at work, so, in my house, I was completely alone. The silence was really starting to get to me. I began to feel more and more upset, wanting so badly to have my mother there with me. As I continued to get ready for the service, I continued to cry about it all. I kept on praying for God to take my mind off of it. I asked Him to comfort me and help me to focus on what Good Friday was all about, because, clearly I did not have things in perspective. Then He brought a comforting thought to my mind: I’m celebrating Good Friday, the day that Christ died for our transgressions so that we can one day go to heaven and live in paradise with Him for all eternity. My mom is in His presence right now because of what He did for her…and someday I will be there too. How amazing it must be for her, to be with our Lord face-to-face! After thinking about all of this, I no longer wished that my mother was still with me. I became overjoyed for her. She made it. She’s there. Every follower of Christ yearns to be in His presence, and she’s there! What a blessing! With this in mind, I headed off to church and the Lord continued to bless me throughout the day. 

Part Two: Easter sunday

Waking up on Easter Sunday, again I began to feel depressed. I pictured my mom in her blue summer dress, asking me to help her pick out jewelry to wear with it (She used to always call me her “fashion consultant.” 🙂 ). I tried to cheer myself up by reminding myself of the things God showed me on Good Friday, but it only half worked. Holidays will always be hard for me. At church our pastor spoke of the meaning of Easter, which definitely helped me put things into perspective. I was reminded that the resurrection is proof of the accomplishment of the cross, and the deity of Christ. Something that I was also reminded of is that, because Christ rose from the dead, we too can rise and meet Him in heaven.
Sometimes we still get mail addressed to my mother. If it is anything church or ministry related, I take it and open it. A few weeks ago, a newsletter from a ministry called Hope for Today came in the mail for her. I went to my room and opened it. The things that I read from it were very encouraging. It was talking about how we, as christians, have hope beyond the grave. When we die, our spirits will rise to be with the Lord in paradise, just as Christ rose from the dead. It talked about how, if the rapture happens in our lifetime, those who have died in Christ will rise first, and then we will be taken up to join them! (1 Thess. 4:13-18). We will meet with them in the heavens! This brought great comfort to me. Another comforting passage that it listed was this: Revelation 14:13b- “‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors and their deeds follow with them.'”   -My mother is in a place of rest! And she is rewarded for her deeds!

Part Tree: Conclusion

So overall this past weekend, the Lord has blessed me in taking the basic things that I’ve known to be true and caused me to see them in a new light. My mom is an example of why Jesus did what He did, and having this example helps me to understand what that means for me. The gospel message has become more real to me now than ever before. Praise the Lord! 🙂

Parents and Children

Lately, I’ve been thinking about parents. There is something I find quite interesting:

When a couple has a child, it becomes their duty to raise them in such a way that they will contribute well to society and be a decent, respectable person; a person living a purposeful life. They go to great lengths to raise this child in the right way and often worry about whether or not the child will love them. Parents often feel that flaws in their child reflect flaws in their parenting. Meanwhile, this child is always seeking the approval of its parents.  We all just want to be certain that our parents really love us. We all long to hear our parents say “I’m proud of you.” Probably even more so the older we are. So, if you think about it, it’s like a strange cycle: parents are hoping to gain the love and approval of their child (as well as approval in how they raised their child), and children are hoping to gain the love and approval of their parents. This is all in a general sense, of course. There is something there between a parent and child. We need each other. We need each other until we have that final answer: Did I do a good job? Did my child turn out well? Did I make my parents proud? I think it is interesting that we find so much meaning in the answers to such questions. 

Even when a parent has died, as my mother has, one of the main things that floats around in the child’s mind is the question, “Did I make my mother/father proud?” To know that you did, makes all the difference in your coping.

And with parents that are still living, even if they have assured you that they are proud of you, you need re-assurance. Well I know I do, it may be different for others. I think it’s because things seem to change so much, we fear that nothing is constant. 

I don’t really have a point in all of this, it’s just something I was thinking about. I’m not really sure how to wrap this up… Well, if you have any thoughts on this, leave a comment, I’d love to read your thoughts. (by the way, I’m pretty sure  you don’t need to be signed up with this website to leave a comment, so go ahead!)