For you, daddy.

I’m not ready to write this, but then again I don’t think I will ever be. This past week was one of the hardest things I have ever experienced, and yesterday I spent Father’s Day in a funeral home making arrangements to bury my daddy. It is only by the grace of God that I am still standing on two feet today; but here I am.

Grief is an odd thing. It comes in waves that drown you, then recedes back down into your soul, leaving behind this hazy fog that makes you question whether what you are experiencing is just a dream. But tomorrow, I know that fog will part and I, alongside my family, will have to face the truth; he’s gone. And while my heart is shattered, I can’t help but praise God for the nightmare that we experienced last week. Because in the midst of that darkness, I found the strength to do something I never thought I could do; say goodbye to my daddy.

My prayer from the beginning of this journey has been for God’s will to be done. As hard as it was to not beg and plead for him to just get better, I spent many nights lying in bed just praying that God would allow his good and perfect will to be. And that it was. He needed Daddy in heaven more than we needed him here and he prepared me for what was coming by allowing me to be with my dad the final days of his life, surrounded by the people I love most. We sat by his side, we talked even when we wasn’t sure if he could listen, and we let our hearts be known to God in the most vulnerable way. And in return he gave us the most precious moments we could have had together and the strength to say “You can let go now, daddy.”

There is nothing that can take this pain away and life will never be the same without him, but I smile a little every time I remember that my father and my Heavenly Father are now together watching over me. With that kind of love watching over me, what could I ever fear?

The darkest days are yet to come as we face life without him. But I know without a shadow of a doubt that we will get through this, and we will see him again one day. Until then, I will treasure every  memory I have of him and every glimpse of him I see in my own face. One of my favorite song lyrics of all time is from a country song and says “When somebody says I hope I get to meet your dad, I just smile and say you already have.” We shared a special bond because of the part of himself he bestowed to me. I loved how we could communicate without talking, and that understanding could be left unsaid because we knew it hung there in the space between us. And sometimes that space was bigger than I wanted it to be, as miles separated us. But I always knew he was only a phone call away. I have always valued every piece of me that came from my dad, and today I hold those pieces even closer than before. My only hope is that I can be half the person he was, because he was one of the best people I have ever known.

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lordand on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water

that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” Psalm 1:1-3

I may be a day late, but that would not surprise him. After all,  I am always late, for everything. But yesterday I just couldn’t find the strength to post this. But today, I woke up and put two feet on the floor. The pain that had pooled in my veins while I slept rushed through every inch of my body, and my heart broke all over again. But I got up, I thanked God for another day and I let him carry me, because that’s what he does when we can’t walk on our own. And today, he gave me the strength to say, Happy Father’s Day daddy, this is for you.

 

Tony Alan Cruse – June 22, 1957 – June 17, 2017

Daddy was a man of few words, but those that he spoke left imprints on the world because they were full of knowledge, justice, and love. He was strong, on the inside and out, and served as the fortress of our family. There is not a moment of my life, looking back, that I don’t remember leaning on him. He loved his family deeply, and he was loyal to those who he cared for most and kind to those he didn’t even know. He was intimidating at first, but once you knew him, you knew a soul that loved deeper than most people I’ve have ever met.

His work ethic was unmatched, and he worked hard for everything he had. He had a knack for taking a stone and building a rock, and fixing a splinter into a bridge. His hands and boots were worn, but that’s how he liked them because familiar was his safe place and labor was his tonic. To some, land is simply an existence of nature, but to him it was a haven. Farming was leisure and though his land was not vast, what he had was his heritage and it stood for all he had done. 

He was the husband that women pray for each and every day. He put his family first, and treated his wife as the queen of his heart. He did for her all he could, and loved her to his death. He put her before himself, and saw in her what God had created for him from the start. He was the father that God called him to be, caring for his children as if his own livelihood hinged on their happiness. He taught them to trust, to love, and to labor. He showed them how to live, how to have courage, and how to be proud of who they are.

He was inquisitive, and always wants to know how things worked. He would take things apart just to put them back together. And just as he could assess the most minute problem on one of his flea market treasures, he could detect a restless heart with just a glance. He always knew when someone needed him, and he was always there when they did. He took broken things, tractors, machines and other toys, that most had written off and brought new life to them. His knowledge was not just great in value, it was tremendous in expanse, for he knew something about almost everything. Although many knew little about him. 

But what everyone who knew him could attest to was his integrity and the truth that clothed his being. He was honest, fair, and wore the full armor of God every single day. He was who he was, and to him that was enough. Those who knew him were blessed to do so, and those who loved him are better because of it. 

I love you daddy, and I will miss you everyday.

 

*Lyric from “Song for Dad”, Written by Keith Lionel Urban • Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group

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I Will Praise You in This Storm.

As I write, I am sitting on the couch, in the darkness, watching dad sleep. It’s quiet here, no sounds of cars passing, only deafening silence. The silence is almost comforting, even dad seems at peace right now. But as if boasting the very definition of irony, it is here in the quiet that a storm is brewing ever so slightly beneath the surface of my heart and it is here in the darkness that I let the tears fall.

My heart breaks as I watch my dad void of strength and search for a way to find some myself; any shred of courage I can muster up for the days to come. But as the dark clouds swirl overhead, waves of grief fill my soul. There is nothing in life that can prepare you for the ache in your heart that watching a loved one suffer from such a thing as cancer can bring, and I can honestly say this is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. But as I let the sadness churn inside of me, I know without a doubt that God is filling my heart and mind with light and love. It is only by his grace that I know I will be strong.

All day I have had these words swirling around in my head, “I will praise you in this storm.” And it was only after I had stared at my homework for the past 10 minutes without making any inclination to actually move my mouse that I felt a tug at my heart to post. It isn’t Monday, I should be sleeping, but my heart is calling me to put onto paper exactly what I am feeling. And yet those words have already been written, by someone far more qualified than I am to attempt to glorify the wonderful Savior we serve. And so at 1:15 am on a Monday night, I post these words. May they comfort you if you are hurting, guide you if you are searching, and strengthen you if you are failing.

How my heart clings to every, single word of this song.

I was sure by now, God you would have reached down
And wiped our tears away,
Stepped in and saved the day.
But once again, I say amen
That it’s still raining
As the thunder rolls
I barely hear your whisper through the rain
I’m with you
And as your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise
The God who gives and takes away
And I’ll praise you in this storm
And I will lift my hands
That you are who you are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise you in this storm
I remember when I stumbled in the wind
You heard my cry you raised me up again
My strength is almost gone how can I carry on
If I can’t find you
As the thunder rolls
I barely hear you whisper through the rain
I’m with you
And as your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise
The God who gives and takes away
And I’ll praise you in this storm
And I will lift my hands
That you are who you are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise you in this storm
I lift my eyes unto the hills
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord
The maker of heaven and earth
I lift my eyes unto the hills
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord
The maker of heaven and earth

 

And I’ll praise you in this storm
And I will lift my hands
That you are who you are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise you in this storm

And though my heart is torn
I will praise you in this storm

 

Written by John Mark Hall, Bernie Herms • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Capitol Christian Music Group, performed by Casting Crowns

The Tapestry We Weave.

If you had to write down your five favorite memories, what would they be? More importantly, who would be in them? Every day amidst the storm that is dad’s cancer, I am learning more and more how truly important the people and blessings in life are. But when the woes of the world are weighing on you, it is sometimes easy to forget how truly blessed you are. I love to stumble across small mementos of the laughs and smiles of days gone by, and I cling to the memories we are making now. With the technology available to us, and the camera we keep tucked away in our pocket at all times, perhaps today more than ever we are able to capture moments that we cherish and hold them close to our heart, both physically and emotionally.

But why does it seem that every time the darkness and ugliness of life threatens to darken our door step do those moments seem so far away?

The truth is, next to God and his love for us, the relationships we build in this life are the closest things we will find to treasures on this earth. And God called us to to find those treasures and cherish them.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:12-14

We see over and over in Psalms and Proverbs instructions on the type of people to yoke ourselves to. God calls us to find those that can hold us up when we stumble, who can help us in our times of needs, and love us always. I can’t even put into words the amazing people who have graced my life. I have some of the best friends I could ever hope to have, including those I grew up with, met in school, or those who I have struck a friendship up with as I have gotten older. But perhaps what is the most stellar thing of all, is the impact that every single person I have encountered in my twenty-six years has had on me and my path.

A dear friend once described it to me as a quilt and how each person and experience we have with them is like a thread that is being woven into this wonderful tapestry that we call life. It’s a beautiful picture to paint, thinking of each person I have had the opportunity to know and make memories with, and what color thread they would be. Of course there are those thick stitches, the very fruit of your existence like your parents, siblings and immediate family. But as you branch out from that dominating pattern, you see these smaller threads start to take shape. Friends you met in school, past relationships, co-workers, mentors. Their vibrant colors bring life to the quilt. But even those occurrences and encounters that left you feeling a little broken, they are there too. Maybe they are a bit darker thread, maybe a little tattered. But all the same, they still are a very important part of your story.

There are so many amazing accounts of relationships and friendships in the Bible, but perhaps one of my favorite ones can be found in the book of Ruth. I invite you to turn to the brief book and read the story of Naomi and Ruth. Naomi is a woman who suffers great loss in her life, she has to bury both her husband and two sons. She is also living in a time of great famine. But what we see is a beautiful relationship develop for her from an unlikely place. See, after Naomi’s sons had died, her and her two daughters-in-law set out to return to the land of Judah, as God was providing for his people there during this time. But Naomi told her daughters-in-law to return to their home land, praying for kindness and a good life for them, as they had shown her sons. But both women wept when they were told to leave her and told her they would travel with her. But Naomi insisted that they return to their own homes, that the Lord’s hand had turned against her and all that was left was a life of bitterness for her. She wanted more for her daughters-in-law.

So one of the women finally said goodbye and started her journey home, but Ruth, the other daughter-in-law, refused. She clung to Naomi and uttered one of the most prominent verses in the Bible…

“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me,” Ruth 1:16-17

Take a moment and reread that verse. What a powerful testament of dedication and loyalty from a person who wasn’t even a blood relative to Naomi. But her devotion to her friend did not stop there, Ruth even went on to provide for Naomi, who eventually called herself Mara, by gleaning behind the harvesters in the field. But what happens next is part of the magic of this book that warms my heart to the very core, from Ruth’s kindness to Naomi, she receives kindness herself. Boaz, the owner of the field that Ruth visits, reaches out to Ruth, offering her water to drink and a place with the women who work for him.

While humbled, Ruth wonders why she has found favor with Boaz, for as a foreigner in this time, it was uncommon. But what Boaz tells her is what makes this lesson all the worthwhile; he tells her that he has heard about the kindness Ruth has shown Naomi, how she left her parents and homeland to come to a foreign land to take care of her mother-in-law when she had no one else. I read this and I smile because it truly speaks to the kind of life we all should strive to live, and how kindness is always repaid, perhaps when you need it most.

As you continue your journey through Ruth, you will see how the story only gets better and ends with what we would call a happy ending. But above all else, it is the friendship between Naomi and Ruth that truly tells a story.

I encourage you, no matter what season of life you may be in, to remember those who mean the most. Cherish every second you have with the ones you care about and hold them close to your heart. Train your eyes to seek goodness in every person you meet, and be cognitive of how every single experience in your day, good or bad, is shaping your life. Things you brush off as just another encounter, those moments that seem so small, one day will come full circle and make more sense than you ever thought possible.

And those people in your life, they are weaving threads that will bind you to who you are for the rest of your days. Those lessons your dad teaches you, that will be your guiding light. The fight you had with your best friend, how you overcome will teach you things about yourself that will bond you to them for life. And even those times that it feels like your heart is breaking, those moments when it feels like your world is slipping away, those too are melting a color into your tapestry that will complete the scene one of these days.

Trust me, I know its hard to see now, but every single day of your life is coloring a world for you that you have yet to fathom. And every person that is in your life, is there for a reason. Open your eyes to the blessings you have and cling to them, they are your treasures here on Earth.

Living Life with No Filter.

As humans, it is our nature to hide our flaws and cover ourselves to prevent our vulnerability. And as we live in a world of technology, we now have the guise of a computer to hide behind as we project the image of ourselves we want others to see through social media. But what if you stepped away from the computer, striped yourself of the coverings, and stood in the presence of others as you are, with no filters…what would they see?

While the revolution that is technology has reached a climax in our current day and age that has produced incredible advancements in fields such as medicine, it has also brought with it the likes of social media. There are refreshing aspects to our time online, like keeping up with friends and sharing our lives with those who may be far away from us, but it also brings with it a devastating mindfulness of our flaws. By having the ability to broadcast every second of our lives to those whose opinion we value, we enable ourselves to find a filter to put on our life that projects perhaps a happier picture of ourselves, a healthier picture, or a more acceptable picture. It allows us to pick and choose who we are to others.

This can be absolutely devastating to our spiritual lives as that mindset tells us, I can hide the things I don’t want others to see. I can cover up the bruises and imperfections and no one will know what I hide. But the truth is, your Heavenly Father knows your heart, your mind and every hair on your head. There is nothing you can hide from him.

“You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.” Psalm 139:1-5

I am currently diving into a study by one of my favorite Christian authors, Angela Thomas-Pharr, entitled “Redeemed.” In one of her sessions, she was talking about selfies and social media and she said something that struck a chord with me, “living life without a filter.” As I worked through the rest of the lesson, I circled back to that phrase and sat on it for a bit. What did that mean to me? As a professional in the world of marketing and public relations, social media is a part of what I do. I am continuously learning and soaking up any knowledge I can about a piece of technology that is ever-changing. I am always strategizing, calculating each move I make on Facebook, Twitter and the likes as to how it will represent the brands I am a part of. And then I looked at how much time is spent by myself and others each day, creating just the right post to capture the attention of the people we follow. How much time is spent picking out just the right photo filter on Instagram to mask imperfections in our photos, from our photography to the glimmer of chaos that is caught in the frame. But what would happen if those filters suddenly disappeared, and we were left with just the raw film of what is taking place in front of us. Would our world look differently to those who see it through social media?

“But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” Isaiah 59:2

I wonder if sometimes we get so caught up in building this brand for ourselves online, that we forget who we are on the inside. That we allow our desire to please mankind to separate us from our Heavenly Father. In truth, the opinion of man will give us nothing but a belief in God, and striving for his kind of perfection will give us eternal life.

As humans, vulnerability is naturally a scary thing. We are inclined to protect ourselves and hide our hearts from the rejection or distaste of those here on Earth, a desire that came to us from our ancestors of the Garden of Eden. If you visit Genesis 3 in your Bible, you will read the account of Adam and Eve and how their disobedience to God led them to the knowledge that they were naked. They sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves and their shame, and even hid from God. Our sinful nature is reflected in that of the first man and first woman put on Earth. God being a gracious ruler gave us free will, he gave us the power to choose to love him or choose to sin against him. That is why Adam and Eve were able to disobey him and because of it, were forced out of the paradise of the Garden of Eden. And today, we still struggle with the same temptations that they did. We are surrounded by influences that force us to judge our bodies, our hearts, our minds, and others. We are constantly gaging how we measure up to others and completely ignoring the glaring reminder that God gives us that we were made in his image. Rest on that a moment.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27

The Lord of Lords, the God of ALL creation took his time and made you specifically in the image of himself. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that God created any other living, breathing thing in his image. Only male and female.

How special are you that the Creator of Earth wanted you to be like him, the very definition of perfection?

And yet we struggle to accept ourselves, to accept others. We spend time staging just the right look, just the right pose, in just the right setting to fit the brand we want for ourselves that we think is pleasing to our fellow man. But what happens if you strip away those filters, and you are left with the raw film of your life. What does it look like? Are you happy with the stripped down version of yourself?

If you were forced to take a candid picture with no filters, and write a true, honest caption that represented your life, what would it say?

Maybe you are reading this today and you say, you know what? I am happy with my life. I have a great family, I have wonderful blessings in my job and home. I am happy right where I am and would show anyone that life in a moment’s notice. My question to you then would be, what if Jesus was at your door? In the midst of the chaos you don’t post on line, when you have had it with the day before you, you feel defeated and are at your absolute worst, the Lord and Savior shows up at your door. What would he find? Would you find a servant living their life as best they can for him? A Christian praying for peace and guidance in an upside down world? Or would he find a human that has strayed from their Heavenly Father, just trying to make sense of things and keep up a façade that makes everyone believe you’re ok, because you’re supposed to be ok?

Or maybe you are reading this today and tears are streaming down your face. Maybe you are sitting there saying, “I’m lost.” You recognize that you have strayed away from your Heavenly Father and have been working for men, not for him. That the happiness you just can’t seem to find is because you’ve been chasing the wrong joy. You’ve been looking for fulfillment in the things this Earth tells you should make you happy instead of filling that God-shaped hole in your heart with prayer and his word.

Whichever category you fall into, it is ok. God loves you regardless and he wants to help you. He doesn’t care about that blemish on your face, or the extra pounds you have gained. He doesn’t care that there is a scar on your body from where you took out your frustration on yourself. He doesn’t care that there are bruises, physical and emotional, on your body and in your heart because of the evil of another person. All he cares is that you love him and you want him to be in your heart.

Now I am going to ask you to do the one of the hardest things you will ever be asked to do. Take just a moment of your today and peel back all those layers. Delete those filters from your life. Scrub away every mask you have painted on in the name of survival. Now look at yourself in the mirror. Who are you? Is that person who you want to be?

I will tell you exactly who you are, you are a child of the Creator of everything. You are loved by God, who is the Alpha and the Omega and he is yearning for you to rest in his love. He is craving your desire to follow him and he is standing right there beside you, just waiting for you to give in to his glory. Let him take you, and make you new. Let him erase the past, and provide you with a future that is brighter than you can ever imagine. I can promise you that when you have a relationship with the Lord and Savior, no human attention or approval will match the tremendous joy that fills your heart, mind and soul. You are perfect in his eyes, let him love you.

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19