The Happiest Place

As a little girl growing up in Southern California in the late 70’s, I used to make frequent visits to Disneyland with my family.   The park was less than 15 miles away from our house and getting there was not nearly as complicated as it is today.  Not to mention, it was way before a day’s admission felt like you needed to take out a loan. Back in the day (now I’m really aging myself), one could simply park a car in the parking lot right in front of the entrance of Disneyland – no tram needed, walk into the park and purchase books of tickets for individual rides.  The “A” tickets were the cheapest at ten cents and were for rides like King Arthur’s Carousel and Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.  An “E” ticket was for something far more thrilling, like the Matterhorn and Haunted Mansion.  So we would come after dinner, ride an “A” ride or two, a “B” ride if we were lucky, and then go home.  (Thus, the secret to how we could afford to go to Disneyland every so often.)

I had so many happy memories from my childhood of my trips to Disneyland that years later, I wanted to experience that same joy from the perspective as a parent.  Back in 2005, I spent months prepping my three-year-old son with Disney books, songs, and movies, so he’d know all the characters by sight.  I wanted him to be prepared for his trip to The Happiest Place on Earth.

The day came and Joseph took it all in stride.  He patiently waited in a long line for his beloved Peter Pan ride, sang along as we rode on the Pirates of the Caribbean (even though he belted out “Heigh-Hooooo”, instead of “Yo-Ho”), and had enough energy for eight hours of non-stop fun before he crashed in the Tiki Room.  It was a great day.

There were other trips to Disneyland over the years.  But perhaps none as significant as last year.  You see, Joe got to spend his final birthday on earth with his best friend at The Happiest Place on Earth.  He had talked about the annual junior high choir/handbell trip to California for months.  It was the highlight of his entire school year.  For his birthday, I wrapped up things he could take on the bus ride there:  Flaming Hot Cheetos, Coke, Kit-Kats, a puzzle book, and of course, spending money.  It was the first time I wouldn’t get to be with Joe on his actual birthday.  But how could I be sad knowing he was ecstatic to be going to his happiest place?  I remember him calling me on the phone that April 23 from Disneyland to check in with me – and so that I could sing Happy Birthday to him.  He was so happy.  And that made my heart happy, too.  And a little sad for not being there to share those birthday memories with him.

And now, a year later…life is so incredibly different in many ways.  Except one.

This year, my son isn’t just at The Happiest Place on Earth.  He’s in THE Happiest Place.  Period. And knowing he’s happier now than this world could ever make him does bring joy to this sad mama’s heart today.  I want to be there with him.  More than anything most days.  But I can’t.

What brings comfort to my heart, though, is this:  I know Joe was prepared for this trip he left for seven and a half months ago…not with food or movies, but with the things that mattered in this life.  The prayers we prayed together.  The devotions we would read at night snuggled up in his bed.  The many church services we went to together.  The tearful conversations we had about forgiveness and love.  The years of a Christian education and learning Scripture verses. The community of people who loved on my son and were models of Christian love.  But ultimately, with the grace of our loving Savior.

Today is one of those dichotomous days.  Celebrating and mourning.  Life and loss.  Happy and sad.  Laughter and tears.  The “year of firsts” continues.  Some days, like today,  are harder than others.  But each one brings me closer to being with my boy in The Happiest Place ever.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had passed away and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them.  They will be His people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

~Revelation 21:1-4

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Overwhelming Gratitude

Today is the day between Good Friday and Easter. Crucifixion and resurrection. It’s the in-between day when I don’t know whether I should be sad or happy.  Mournful or joyful. I’ve had several people ask me how I’m doing, sensitive to the fact that this is my first Easter without Joe.  And I honestly don’t know how I’m doing.  But it feels a lot like living in between the sadness of death and the waiting of resurrection.

Last week, our school had the amazing opportunity to attend chapel each day as the eighth graders presented the events of Holy Week.  As they led the Good Friday service, my heart was filled with a new sense of thankfulness that went beyond mere thanks for Jesus’ sacrifice.  It was an overwhelming feeling of gratitude that because of what Christ did for us, when He could have chosen to come down off the cross, I will get to see my son again.  Is there any greater gift a grieving mother could ask for?

But my heart was not prepared for the wave of emotion that overtook me as we all filed back in one final time on Thursday afternoon in silence and darkness to begin the Easter chapel.  As the organ dirge played on while we sat down, a lone voice from the back yelled out, “STOP! Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is risen!”  The lights came on, and the running of screaming eighth graders began as they held the altar items, paramounts, and white linen flowing cloth.  In that moment, my mind was transported back to just one year ago, as MY son ran into the church shouting joyfully, holding a golden candle stand, beyond excited to celebrate the Risen Savior.  And now? He now lives out the very reason for that same joy.  My heart was overcome again. Maybe with a little sadness.  Maybe with a little joy.  But….there it was, unmistakingly again:  overwhelming gratitude.  Gratitude that he had that opportunity to do what I had just witnessed moments before. Grateful for those who helped shaped my son’s faith life at this school.  Grateful that Joe joyfully lived out that faith with his peers each day.

Last December, I happened to be looking through Joe’s dresser drawers and came across a pile of journals he had saved from his eighth grade English class.  I remember being particularly surprised, because Joe never liked to save anything from school.  As I began to read through them, most were just mundane journal topics about school opinions or literature.  But towards the end, I found the final one, written in Joe’s own handwriting, instead of typed on the computer as the rest were.  It was titled, “I Am Loved.”

I Am Loved

For the past two years, I have felt God walk with me through the divorce of my parents.  I’m not sure how I would have turned out without seeing the love of Jesus in the teachers at Christ Lutheran, my friends, and God himself.

I can see the love of the teachers throughout both years.  Although I absolutely hate history notes, packets, and information-packed tests with Miss Weber, I can see how she changed my work ethic to become a hardworking student.  This is similar to the english and literature, lots of work is paying off for me to become a hardworking student.  Mr. Doyle has been a fun and interesting math teacher that has filled the role of teaching my favorite subject.  Science isn’t my favorite subject, but for the last two years, my three teachers have taught it in an interactive way.  Theology and advisory have been most valuable, teaching me how to spread God’s word and to show everyone how I love God.  

My education for the past two years has been priceless. 

So today, my heart is filled with overwhelming gratitude for the gift of my son.  For his life.  For his priceless education.  For those who showed and taught him the love of Christ.  For his faith.  But most of all, for the victory won on the cross, which was the most priceless gift of all. Because that gift will one day reunite me with my sweet son, with all the saints who have gone before, and with my precious Savior.

Forever.

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
~1 Corinthians 15:57

Running Without a Finish Line

I have a lot of respect for people who run long distances.  Or short distances for that matter.  I decided to try to become one of those people a couple of years ago.  You know, a person who actually enjoys running and is good at it?  I didn’t really have any strategy, except to run every day or so and to try to run farther and longer than I did the previous time.  That didn’t work out so well.  Some days I couldn’t go as far as I could the day before and I’d end up feeling defeated.  Some days I had lots of energy to keep going and felt encouraged.  At one point, I’m fairly certain I ran nearly two and a half miles without stopping.  (A pretty amazing feat for someone who couldn’t even run the half-mile in high school PE class.)  But despite all my efforts, I never really figured out how people could run and not get that stitch in their side. (You know, the kind that feels like a sharp knife digging into your ribs every time you breathe?) Or how one maintains an energy level to run for such a long period of time.

I never did become a serious runner.  But I am a teacher and I think in some ways, teaching a school year is a lot like running a marathon.  It starts off at a moderate pace for those two weeks before the kids arrive.  And then….well, you’re off and running.  There’s a lot of energy at first, but by about Thanksgiving, you begin to get weary and are ready for a break.  The rest station of Christmas is just around the corner, which provides enough motivation to keep going.  You come back in January renewed, ready to run again.  You push through till Spring Break and then you’re in the homestretch, right?  Wrong.  The final few weeks can be the most exhausting.  And you’re not only tired.  The kids are too. Everybody is counting the days until that finish line of summer break (37 to be exact…but who’s counting?) when we can all take off our running shoes and sit it out for a while to catch our breath.

Life is full of finish lines.  We count down to the next paycheck, vacation, birthday, graduation, anniversary, retirement and think, “If I can just make it till then…”.   And perhaps life is wonderful for that brief shining moment, until the reality of daily life sets in again.

But I’ve been learning over these last few months that in grief, there is no end.  There is no day that I will ever wake up and say, “Well.  I made it.  Glad that’s over!”  Because it isn’t.  And it never will be.  And that is a most wearying reality.  It goes beyond physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion.  It’s life exhaustion.

It’s like running without a finish line. 

Although “running” may not be the word I should use.  More like “limping” with a cramp in my side.  Multiple times I’ve googled how to get rid of those nasty side cramps when running.  According to womensrunning.com, the first thing is to NOT PANIC.  Focus on breathing, slow down, stop if you need too.  Put your hand and press on the part that hurts.  Ironic how one also has to do that in grief.

To not feel panicky and function in my day, I now have to take anxiety medication.  I have to hike and take long walks and breathe deeply to process all my thoughts.  I have to color in a coloring book with calm music just to settle my racing heart.  I have to take naps and rest, even when I know there’s work to be done.  Above all, I have to be patient with myself, because I can’t run at the pace I used to.  But putting my hand and pressing on the part that hurts?  No amount of medication or hiking trail or music or markers or breathing technique is going to do that.  That’s where God steps in, puts a gentle hand on my very weary and broken heart and presses in with the truth of His word.

My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.
~ Psalm 119:28
I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.”
~Jeremiah 31:25
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
~Matthew 11:28
 “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him.
~Psalm 62:1-2
 “Yes, my soul, find rest in God: my hope comes from him.”
~Psalm 62:5
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint. 
~Psalm 40:29-31

 

Those words don’t automatically make all things better.  They don’t change the reality of my life.  But they do make it bearable by assuring me that God promises strength, rest, and hope for my exhausted heart.  I’m thankful He sends people run the race with me and to be my cheering section by encouraging me to keep running this race.

May God give us all the strength and perseverance to make it to the ultimate finish line of heaven!

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. ~ Hebrews 12:1-3

This song has been a huge encouragement to me in the weary moments…praying it will be a blessing to so many I know who are also tired from running this race of life.

 

 

Stop the Ride….I Wanna Get Off!

If there’s one thing I knew about my son Joe, it’s that he was a roller coaster junkie.  The wilder and faster the better, as far as he was concerned.  Same goes for my fearless daughter.  The first time she rode Space Mountain at the age of 5, she laughed when it was over and wanted to go again.  It’s no surprise, though.  They came by their love of roller coasters naturally.  Since my first loop-de-loop at Kansas City’s Worlds of Fun, there’s never been a roller coaster I wouldn’t at least try.  (Although I’m learning my advancing age doesn’t always tolerate the bumps, jerks, and speed like it used to.)

Last summer, the kids and I enjoyed a day of thrill rides at Knott’s Berry Farm.  We had already scoped out which rides were the craziest, had the longest lines, and gave us the most bang for our buck.  It was a glorious day of beautiful California weather, poor nutrition, and all the screaming our lungs could take. (OK, so that was mostly just me.)  A running joke became my line of “Is it too late to get off?” after we were strapped in for what was sure to be another wild ride.  And my non-sympathetic children would just laugh and say, “Yep! Too bad, Mom!”  We left the park that day feeling exhausted, exhilarated, and extremely blessed for that time together as a family.  Life seemed good.  More than good.

But less than two months later, I was forced to ride a roller coaster I didn’t want to be on.  There was no line to wait in, because frankly, no one ever chooses to be on the “ride” of losing a child.  As if that’s not enough, life has lately been throwing in all kinds of drops, climbs, twists, turns, and loop-de-loops.  I feel I’ve been holding on white-knuckled for far too long.  Parts of it are occasionally thrilling, but most of it is downright….well, crappy, for lack of a better word.  And you can’t always prepare yourself for what might jolt you back into the reality of what’s been lost.

Last night was one of those jolts.  I popped into Joe’s room to hunt down a tissue box.  Unsuccessful, I turned to leave when my eyes met the open closet as it had so many times before.  The shirts were hanging as they have been, all cattywampus on the hangers (that boy never could seem to hang a shirt properly).  But that didn’t matter anymore.  I simply longed for Joe to wear those shirts again.  Looking over to the desk, the computer begged for Joe’s fingers to be on the keys, playing Minecraft much longer than he should be.  And then the bed…perfectly made, with no one to sleep under its covers.  How I longed to tiptoe over to that bed, see Joe’s sweet face sound asleep, and pray over him as I used to!  It was too much.  Too much pain.  Too much longing.  Too much emptiness in that room.  In that wave of grief, my mouth opened and out came the words that weigh on my heart far too often:

“Stop the ride, God.  I wanna get off. I’m DONE. Done with living without my boy.  I’m ready for him to come back home.”

Logically, my brain knows Joe can’t come home.  But it didn’t stop my heart from wanting it more than anything else in the whole world.  I’d love to say God spoke to me in this moment.  Whispered to my heart.  But not this time.  There was silence.

Painful, aching silence. 

I imagine Jesus felt like getting off the roller coaster, too.  In fact, the night before He died, He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane for His Father to stop the ride so He could exit.  “Dad.  I’m done.  I can’t do what you want me to do.  Let’s forget this whole dying business. Tell me there’s another way this can all go down.”  (OK, so I may have paraphrased that passage, but that’s the gist.)  And you know how God responded?  Me neither.  That’s because all four Gospels make no mention of God saying, “OK. Son.  I can see you’ve had enough.  You’re done.  I’ll find another way.”  Because He didn’t. Truth be told, there is no record of God responding.  Maybe He did and we just weren’t privy to that conversation.  But maybe…maybe there was silence.  You see, the part I failed to mention earlier was possibly the most important part of the prayer:  “yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)  Jesus submitted to the will of His Father over His own.  He wouldn’t get off the ride unless God said He could.  And God didn’t.  So Jesus had His answer:  He had to stay on, no matter how painful it would be.

I don’t know about you, but I am beyond grateful He did.  Thankful he continued on the path His Father chose for Him.  Because if He hadn’t, we’d be lost.  With no hope.  No eternal future.  No promise of being in the glorious presence of God someday. No chance to see those we loved so dearly again.  Like my sweet boy and countless others I loved.

We don’t always get to chose what this roller coaster of life does or where it goes.  We don’t know when it will end.  But we do have the assurance that God can be trusted and knows what He’s doing.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

~Proverbs 3:5-6

When life gets full of twists and turns and loop-de-loops, let’s hang on to our Father and the words He has given us: I cling to you; your right hand upholds me.” (Psalm 63:8)  Maybe our white knuckles can relax a bit, because we can trust in the Operator to take us where He’s planned for us to go on this side of eternity.  We can also trust Him to bring us back to the safety of His loving arms, where the ride all began.

Thinking back on my prayer, I knew asking God for Joe to come home wasn’t very accurate.  Joe is home.  So it’s not really me that’s waiting for him to come home.  It’s him waiting for me.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons from a Cactus

I’m a girl who was raised in the Midwest – rural Nebraska to be exact.  I grew up with scenery that included corn fields and silos and flat land for as far as the eye could see.  So it’s no wonder that even after living in the desert for nearly 15 years, I’m still fascinated with its landscape.  Some people don’t think there’s much beauty to behold in a desert, but I absolutely love it.  Especially when it’s springtime….little flowers of purple and yellow dot the sides of hiking trails, things seem (remotely) green, and there’s a buzzing of insects all around. (OK, so that part I could live without.)

There’s no shortage of trails to hike around the Valley and now that spring break is here, I had some time to try out a new trail.  Normally I’m not one to take photographs when I hike, but finding myself particularly drawn to the enormity of the Saguaro cacti on the trail, I channeled my inner tourist.  Every 100 feet or so, I’d find myself whipping out my phone for another breathtaking shot.

Now, you may not have time to research the Saguaro like I did (this is how you know I’m on spring break), so let me enlighten you on some amazing facts.  The Saguaro is the largest kind of cactus there is and it only grows in the Sonoran Desert.  (If you’re not from Arizona, think tall spiky green cactus with arms.)  They can live up to 200 years old and grow to a height of between 40-60 ft.  They grow incredibly slowly, only gaining 1-1.5 inches in the first 8 years.  It’s not until they’re 35 years old that they’ll even produce the beautiful white flowers that open up in mid-April.  And it takes nearly 100 years for the Saguaro to grow its first arm.  So, the more arms, the older the cactus is.  Are you fascinated yet?

Looking up at one of these majestic plants seems like it would be awe-inspiring.  But if you’ve ever been close enough to a Saguaro, you’ll notice it often has several holes bored through the flesh from where various birds and desert creatures have made their homes.  The base of the cactus has been eaten away from wild javelina and jackrabbits.  Occasional wildfires char the base as well.  Not only that, but the skin of the cactus is subject to sunburn and frostbite.  So how is it, after all a cactus has gone through, that it is still able to keep standing?

Because of what’s inside.

Internally, the cactus is strong.  There are long shafts of wooden ribs that run through the length of the cactus that are banded together.  You can imagine my delight, then, when I discovered how strong that wood is, right?  Wrong.  Turns out the wood is described as “lightweight” and “soft”.  That was slightly disappointing to discover.  And here I thought this was going to be the perfect analogy of how God is strong just like the inside of a cactus!  I nearly scrapped the entire blog post when I learned that.  But God put a familiar verse on my heart just then :

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am GENTLE and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden LIGHT.” ~ Matthew 11:28 (NIV)

OK, so maybe God IS like the inside of a cactus…just not the way I thought. And if God is like the inside, I can’t help but think how much I’m like the outside.  Full of holes.  Burned.  Eaten up by the troubles of this world.

I think we all can relate to that, can’t we?  We’ve all gone through trials in life, whether big or small, and if we’re blessed, we have good friends and family who come to our side to see us through and share words of comfort with us to let us know we’re not alone. Words like, “God is with you.”  Or “He’s right beside you.”  And while those are perfectly accurate truths about God that do bring comfort, they stop short of the most wonderful, crucial truth I am discovering:

God isn’t just with me.  God is IN me. 

Many people marvel at how I’ve survived burying my 14-year-old son.  They say, “You’re so strong!” or “I could never be as strong as you!”  Oh, friends.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  Yes, prayers have sustained me, music has spoken to my heart, hugs have brought me comfort.  But God IN me is the reason I’m still standing.  He is my day-to-day survival strategy.

It’s ironic how living in the desert is often about survival. You often hear of hikers who get have to get rescued because they didn’t bring enough water to last the trip.  Every desert dweller knows the key is always having enough water.  Even the Saguaro knows this.  It survives because it has a long taproot that goes down into the ground two to three feet. And it has extensive roots that branch outward to collect as much water as it can. I’m learning that I need that same root system for my life.  That long taproot delves into God’s Word and time spent in prayer.  The other roots reach out to our family and friends for love, support, and comfort. This is how we survive through any tragedy, great or small.

God faithfully promises to lead us beside quiet waters and refresh our souls.  But unlike the cactus adding to its weight when filled with water, our souls become lighter with God’s living water because He has promised that His burden is light.  Our burdens become lighter, too, when we spend time in His presence.  They will never fully go away – we aren’t promised that.  But they are easier to carry when we know the Lord dwells in us.

I’m not sure about you, but knowing that realization –  and TRULY believing it – makes me stand a whole lot taller.  It puts fear in its place. It gives me joy on my saddest days, hope in my despair, comfort for my sorrow, and purpose for my pain. It empowers me to know that I have a living God who makes me, a plain girl from rural Nebraska, HIS dwelling place.

“Or do you not realize about yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you?” – 2 Corinthians 13:5

I am crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” – Galatians 2:20

 

 

 

The Rocks in My Shoes

Last Saturday morning was an Arizonan hiker’s dream…not too hot, not too cold.  Clouds to block the sun and a slight breeze.  If there’s one thing you should know about hiking in Phoenix, it’s this: trails are ROCKY.  (And have an ample water supply…so, I suppose two things.)  Sometimes the rocks are small; sometimes they’re big; and sometimes they’re boulders.  But invariably, no matter how snug I put on my hiking boots, a tiny little rock or two will end up in my shoe.  It’s like the Murphy’s law of hiking.  And Saturday was no exception.

For the record, I didn’t start off with a rock in my shoe.    In fact, the first few minutes on the trail were really quite pleasant.  But once that rock (okay, so “rock” might be an exaggeration…a small piece of gravel, perhaps) found its way into my hiking boot, I began to step right on it.  And it HURT.  I tried to shift my foot around and move the rock. I really didn’t want to stop on the trail, untie the shoe, dump out the rock and retie.  Plus, there was no place to sit down – not until I reached the top of the mountain.  I had no choice but to keep going. Soon after, I felt a second tiny rock join the first one.  More shaking my foot.  More shifting my toes around to adjust the rocks.  More realization that those rocks weren’t going anywhere.  As I continued to walk, I began to get seriously annoyed.  How did these rocks get there?  Why my shoe?  Hadn’t I stayed on the trail? The journey to the top was hard enough without these rocks!

Grief is a lot like those rocks in my shoe.

Life started off just fine…it was pleasant in the beginning.  I had lots of energy and optimistic goals.  But then rocks began to creep in as the journey continued…small rocks like job changes and parenting frustrations and living on a tight budget. But there were big rocks, too. Miscarriages.  Divorce.  The death of my precious son. When they came, I didn’t have any warning.  Those rocks hit me all at once.  I don’t even know how I found myself where I was, when I had stayed on the path, had my shoes on tight, and even had Christian music playing through my earbuds.  It was painful. And many days, it still is.  A lot of days, I just want to sit down.  Stop moving.  Take the rocks out and give up.  Except I can’t.  I have to keep moving forward, constantly aware of the pain – sometimes easier, sometimes harder, but always there.  Sometimes it’s so hard, I have to stop.  And cry.  And take deep breaths.  And pray God will give the strength I need to keep going.  Miraculously, He always does.

Don’t think I haven’t pleaded with God to take away the rocks in my shoe.  More and more I identify with Paul when he begged God to take away the thorn from his side.  But I am learning to understand God’s and Paul’s responses even more with each passing day.

“‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Sometimes the rocks would shift enough so I could barely feel it.  Those moments of refreshment are a gift from God and I’m learning not to feel guilty for laughing and loving life some days. I’m thankful for those God has put on the path with me.  For those who share the pain they’ve also walked through, and for those who give me encouraging words and daily hope.  For those who willingly walk alongside me and listen to my stories of the rocks and how they just really hurt sometimes.  For those who cry with me and laugh with me and listen to me and love me through the pain as we journey together.  What a privilege it has become for me to walk alongside others with rocks in their shoes and encourage them as well.  It’s the buddy system at its finest…the way God intended it to be.

In case you’re wondering, I did eventually make it to the top.  Rocks and all. And the relief I felt when I took off those shoes?  Well, you can imagine it was glorious.  As I sat down to look back on the trail I had come along and the beauty all around me, I closed my eyes and imagined the day when Jesus will take off my dusty old hiking boots.  He’ll shake all those painful rocks out and smile at me and say the words I pray to hear:  “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  And then?  I’ll run barefoot on the rockless streets of gold.

 

 

Unfinished

Today I placed the last school picture of my son into the frame his grandmother had given him when he was in Kindergarten.  I can remember when there was just one photo in that frame and it seemed like a lifetime until it would be filled with pictures.  The years went by and more pictures were added.  I loved looking at that frame and seeing how my sweet boy had grown each year.  I’d read the familiar verse each time from Jeremiah 29:11 and pray about the plans God had for Joseph.  I couldn’t wait to see what God was going to do with his life!  And then September 5th happened.

The plan was left incomplete. Unfinished.

It is a difficult thing to accept that your child is no longer a part of your present.   But it’s an equally difficult thing to accept that your child will not be a part of your future. I had plans for my child, as I’m sure all parents do.  Joe was smart, driven, hard-working and I knew those traits would serve him well in his career someday.  I longed to see him graduate and tell him how proud I was of him, knowing all the sacrifice it took to get to that moment.  I imagined the day I would dance with him at his wedding and invite a new daughter into the family.  I dreamed about the day I would hold his son or daughter for the first time and beam with pride as a grandmother.  All of those are wonderful things to dream about getting to do.  But the harsh reality is this:

Those were MY plans.  Not God’s.

That is a hard truth to come to grips with.  One that I struggle with on a daily basis.  One I have questioned God about more times than I care to admit.  And one that requires a most extraordinary amount of faith and trust in a still-loving and faithful God.

I’m reminded of that each time I visit the cemetery.  Buried next to Joe is little Hannah Grace who died at 2 days old.  Just a few spots down is another little girl who died of cancer before she turned 6.  Andrew is nearby and didn’t make it to his 14th birthday.  All seemingly too young and leaving a life unfinished.  So many plans left undone.  I have so many questions for these families who have walked the road I’m now on.  I want to hear their stories and about the plans they had for their child, like I did. My heart quickly becomes burdened with so many emotions.

But in those moments of doubt and guilt and pain and grief, God has reminded me of these important truths:

  • Joe was never really mine.  He was on loan from God and I was blessed enough to be his mother while he lived on earth.
  • God sees the big picture.  HE has the plan, not me with my limited perspective.
  • Joe’s life was exactly as long as God meant it to be.  There is nothing I could have done to extend it, even by a second.

Job 14:5 confirms this when he says, “You have decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live, and we are not given a minute longer.” (NLT)   Even David declared in the Psalms, “You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.”  (Ps. 139:16 NLT) It is on days I doubt God’s plan that I need to hear these words the most.

God did have a plan for Joe.  And even though it wasn’t what I would have chosen, it was still the most beautiful plan ever imagined.  It’s the same plan He has for you and me.  It’s one full of hope and a future that began from the beginning of the world and was completed when Christ breathed the words, “It is finished.”  Because the plan of sacrifice, redemption and love was complete.

Each day I tell myself the words I’d always tell Joe when he didn’t want to get out of bed: “If God woke you up today, He’s not finished with you.”  And as much as it seems like it was Joe’s journey that was left unfinished, it’s really those of us still here on this earth who aren’t done.  Joe finished the race.  His victory was won.  His plan complete.

My hope and my future rests in the words of Scripture, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)  

Until then, there’s still work to be done.