Sinking Sand

I wasn’t sure what there would be left to say today. These last two weeks have left me feeling emotionally drained, numb even. Some days it still feels like a dream, like I’m watching it happen to someone else. And other days, the heartache is a raw, nagging pull that leaves me looking for a piece of daddy anywhere I can find it. Some of the hardest moments are those where my mind has tricked itself into forgetting, until a memory, a smell, or something that reminds me of him brings my conscience slamming back to reality.

Grief can teach you a lot about yourself. It is not until your heart and soul experiences overwhelming grief that you realize just how powerful of an emotion it is. If you let it, it can wreck your existence and leave you feeling empty and neglected. If you spend your days dancing around the edge of its cliff, pretending it’s not there, you will eventually suffer a misstep that sends you flailing into the very pits of its darkness. And if you fight back? You’ll win, for a bit. But your energy will dwindle and when you are at your most vulnerable layer, it will strike with a vengeance.

So how do you cope?  This post isn’t a message to those mourning, telling you that you’ll be defeated by your grief. It’s not a post to say that it never gets better and you’ll spend the rest of your days plagued with sadness. I am writing it to tell you that grief is something that you cannot manage by yourself, something that we as human beings do not have the strength alone to handle it. It isn’t something you can just push aside for another day, hoping that time will take the sting out or knock the edge off. It’s sinking sand, and the only way to survive is to keep your head above the sand.

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

For me, that wood plank that I am teetering on is made up of grains that represent my relationship and faith in our Lord and Savior, and the love and prayers of the people in my life. I can’t imagine anything more humbling than what I have experienced over the past few weeks, and throughout this journey from those that care about me. The unwavering support, concern, and love has lifted my head off my pillow on the days that I just wanted to give up. It has given me strength to stand on days my feet failed me. And it has held my hand while my Lord and Savior has carried me through these past few weeks.

I was taught to pray at a very young age. I attended Sunday school, church, vacation bible school, all of which helped ingrain in me a knee jerk reaction to pray in times of strife, and in times of need. Over the years, I have grown in my relationship with Jesus and every day we talk. Sure its praying, but I have evolved to a place in my heart where I talk to God about my worries, my fears, my pain and it’s a place of comfort for me there in conversation with him. But what I now realize is that I have never quite grasped the power of other people’s prayers until these past few weeks. But believe me when I say that I felt every single prayer that was uttered on behalf of daddy, me, and all my family. Those prayers, on their way up the heavens, reached out and touched my heart as they passed by. They provided protection from the grief, a cushion to soften the blow. They were a blast of strength when I needed it most, even if I had no idea where it came from at the time. Coupled with the love that so many people have shown us, it is so humbling to consider the effect that the support of friends, family, and those who loved daddy have had on my life.

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” 1 John 5:14

So today, I say thank you to anyone that has prayed for us. For those prayer warriors who have spent hours on their knees praying for God to comfort us. For those who included us on their church’s prayer list and asked complete strangers to pray for our family, and in turn those strangers who felt compelled to prayer on behalf of us. And for those who just simply whispered a prayer when they heard the news. I truly felt every single word you uttered. I could never find the words to say thank you enough.

Sometimes it is hard to find the flower for the weeds, but if anything has come from the loss of daddy, I pray that his life was a testimony to those who may not have the love of Christ in their hearts. I hope the faith and humility with which he paved his journey with cancer speaks to each and every person whose path he crossed. And I truly think it has. I don’t know why God has laid this on my heart, but I can’t help but wonder if maybe for some of those folks who have been praying for us, this is the first time they have talked to God in a while. Maybe they felt so strongly about helping us, that they realized the Lord is there when there is nowhere else to turn, and nothing left you can do. And so now it’s my turn, to pray for all of you.

“I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.” Psalm 17:6

I pray that God continues to touch your soul in a way that only he can do. I pray that if there is anyone out there questioning if they prayed enough, or said the right things, that you know without uncertainty that your prayers worked. For it wasn’t the end result that you were praying for, it was the comfort as God’s will for daddy’s life unfolded exactly in the fashion that he had written for him before he was even born. I pray for comfort for you, as you mourn the loss of a great man in your life, as well as in mine. For I know the impact he had on those he met was great, and that you are grieving with me. But most importantly, I pray a prayer of thanks to the gracious Heavenly Father, who has seen enough favor in me to bless me with each and every one of you. From the bottom of my heart, I love and am thankful for you every single day.

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,” Ephesians 1:18

Advertisements

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

In Loving Memory…

Death hurts. Not for those who pass on, but for those of us who are left here picking up the pieces of a shattered heart, trying to figure out how to move on. This week I sat beside one of my very best friends with tears streaming down my face, trying to find the words to say to comfort her as she laid to rest one of the most important people in her life.

But sometimes there aren’t words. Sometimes there is a just a feeling of loss and despair that you can only acknowledge and offer a shoulder to cry on. I remember when I got the text message of the news, I was at work and completely shocked. I stood over the phone where I expected to see just another notification from my favorite store and instead read one of the most heartbreaking text messages I have received in my 26 years.

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26

If you had told me ten years ago as a high school junior that she and I would be facing the things in life that we are now, I would have chosen not to believe it. I would turned my head and pretended that such heartbreak didn’t exist and that the worst thing we would ever experience would be the woes of teenage love. Yet here we are, saying goodbye to people we love, along with so many of our friends. And had we known, what would we have done? Would we have lived our lives differently? My heart clings to the fact that our Lord and Savior knew our teenage hearts , and he knew what was ahead for us and he let us live our innocent lives, all the time preparing our hearts for what would come. Because what I would have believed had you told me this ten years ago, is that we would be here for each other through all the hardships in our lives. And what I know now is that God is our Savior, our ever-present help in times of need. And it is only through his love and salvation that we can lay our head down at night.

Wednesday I wanted to cry, I wanted to sit down right there in the middle of the floor and break down. But I didn’t, I sat my phone down, I took a deep breath and I walked away. But as I did, I started praying for my friend, for her family, for their loss, and for their comfort. I started praying for strength to help her through this, and grace to handle it in the way God would have me handle it. And I ate a little more ice cream that day, because the world just seems a little easier to handle when you have ice cream in your belly.

People always say that time heals, but maybe it doesn’t. Maybe each day that we live past the hole left in our hearts from loss, especially a daddy-shaped hole, we learn that we can still wake up everyday, put one foot in front of the other, and make the most of what we do have. The Lord gives us an amazing strength when we need it most, it is the love of God that holds us up during times of grief. And I saw that in full force at the funeral home as I saw the strength with which my second family carried themselves through one of the hardest days of their lives. And I know that it is only for the love of God that they were able to do that.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3

Mourning is something that there is no recipe for making it easier. There is not material things, or vice that will allow us to move on faster or easier. It’s an ugly process but we have the Creator of Heaven and Earth to lean on during those times. He can’t take the pain away, but he can hold you, lift you up, and find a way to remind you of the life your loved one lived. And the life that my best friend’s dad lived was a glorious one. He was blessed with a beautiful family, enough love to build a bridge to the moon, and most importantly the grace and Holy Spirit of God. The only sadness he had at the end of his life was that he couldn’t do more for the Lord as his time here on Earth was cut short. What an amazing testament of a man he was. And because of that, the ones he left here on Earth know that his heart is shining with the love of God in Heaven today.

At this stage of my life, I don’t have the knowledge to write about how to make it through grief. What I do know is that the only reason I am able to pick myself up after things like this is because I have my Lord and Savior close to my heart. But I was reminded of perhaps one of the greatest hymns of all time that speaks to the true purity of a heart of God and is the best representation I could come up with to honor someone that I thought so much of. It comes to mind from one of the most powerful testimonies I have ever experienced from a man who attended Living Hope Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky. He told of his battle with cancer and his decision to be at peace with whatever happened to him. He played the most glorious performance of this piece that I have ever heard on the piano and it struck my soul. I can’t think of more fitting words to honor those we love who have passed on. So, I pray today for my dear friend and her family, and I leave you with this beautiful tribute. Share it, cherish it and remember it, because this is the life he now has. May God bring us even a taste of the peace he has.

“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 21:4

In loving memory of Garry Caswell.

It is Well with My Soul

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul

It is well
With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul

It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul

It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul

It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul

Written by P P. Bliss, Gloria Roe • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4

Days of Doubt.

I’ve struggled with what to write about this week. Not because of writer’s block or a lack of content, but because I have battled with how to put on paper exactly what has been laid on my heart. My dad has prostate cancer, a very advanced form of it, and right before my eyes I have watched a strong, healthy man suffer not only from the disease itself, but from the treatment. There are so many loved ones in my life who are either battling cancer or watching someone they love fight and it breaks my heart. I struggle for words every day to say to them and to my family to comfort them.

What do you tell someone who’s life has been ripped out from underneath them like a rug when they get yet another dose of bad news? How do you remain positive for them but be respectful of the fact that their heart is literally breaking in front of you?

And while it seems that every human instinct in me should be questioning why such a horrible thing is happening to people I love and care about, good people, instead my heart seems to draw closer to the Lord every day. It is so hard to explain to people how I can keep my faith, because the last thing that crosses my mind is to question God’s will. In fact, the question that is constantly on my mind instead is what do people do who go through these things and don’t have God to lean on because they don’t have a personal relationship with him? As I searched my heart for answers, I continued to pray to God for strength, for myself and for those I love. And that’s when Psalm 23 crossed my mind.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” – Psalm 23

The magnitude of comfort that this Psalm brings is me indescribable. I have heard this preached, and taught, and recited since I was little and yet never has this passage meant more to me than now. I often describe the Bible, as many people do, as Christ’s love letter to us as Christians. Imagine sitting down and putting into a book everything that you ever wanted to tell or teach your children. How incredible this piece of literature is, as it is Christ’s personal instructions to us as to how to live life and survive whatever may come our way.

This Psalm in particular, to me, is so stripped down and honest that it resonates with my soul. Here is how I break it down and keep in hidden in my heart.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

Wow. To take this line and apply it to your life really reveals the life Christ called us to live. The Earth is our physical home for now, but we do not belong here. God has destined us for a far greater home with him in Heaven and in this verse we know everything we need to know about life with God. Though our egos and our human nature demands that we have worldly possessions, though we judge our success by our things, and our value as a person by the opinions of others, this verse tells us that if we have God, if we allow him to lead us through life, we will be ok. God has provided us with everything we could possibly need to survive and thrive with him. We lack nothing.

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.

For me this part is twofold. One, this part of the passage says to me that God will satisfy every need we have if we allow him to be Lord of our lives. The Psalm as a whole equates God to a shepherd and us as his sheep. As a shepherd, he knows what is best for us, he knows how to help us steer clear of harm’s way and he will always provide for our physical and spiritual needs. We all know those people who seem to be constantly searching for something in life, they never feel fulfilled. They buy Earthly goods, or seek the companionship of others, thinking that it will leave them filling whole. But in truth, that fullness can only be felt when we put our trust and hope in God. He will provide for us in a way that no one else can.

This part of the passage to me is also God’s way of saying he knows what is best for us and sometimes that means lying down in green pastures. As humans we are driven to fix problems, to control situations and often times it is a true struggle to just be still. But that is what God calls us to do in certain instances in our life, to just be still and let him work. Just as a shepherd will give his flock rest as he prepares for the remainder of their journey.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

This right here is the most precious part of the entire Psalm to me. God promises us as Christians that no matter how hard things are, no matter how absolutely terrified we are, he is always there. There is nothing in our lives that we should fear, or worry about. Not even the evil things of this world or death itself, for if we are living in the glory of God, he will protect us and lead us through the hardest and most difficult times of our lives. For me, this is the passage I want to repeat every single day to my dad, and to those around me who are suffering as well. There are dark times in our life, God never promised there wouldn’t be. He equates those times to the valley of the shadow of death, teetering on the edge of the demise of our physical being, and yet there even still he remains with us, guiding us with his light and his staff until we can make it to the other side of that valley. But what may be perhaps the most difficult thing about this, is sometimes that outcome, that ascent from the valley is not what we want. It is not the answer we search for. But what it is, is God’s will for our life and it is far better than anything we could have ever planned ourselves.

He knows every single second of our lives before we are even born and much as a storyboard is laid out for a movie, he knows what scenes come next. Take comfort in the fact that our all-knowing and ever-present God knows what lies ahead and he knows exactly what lies beyond and he will get us there, one way or another. We only need to trust him and take comfort in his presence.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Again, the Lord shows us that we will encounter enemies, whether physical or spiritual. There are beings and things that will drag us down and threaten our spiritual well-being around every corner. But he is quick to show us that not only will he help us merely survive those times, but he will provide everything we need to go through them and then some. We can compare the description of “preparing a table” to laying out a feast for us. He will not merely provide a slice of bread to keep us moving, but will fill us with all of our desires.

Anointing our head can only be described as a Biblical practice that was used to honor and dignify a person. God does that for us by allowing us to live a righteous life through him. Despite what evil and darkness we may find in our lives, God always promises a robe of white and a life of goodness and mercy if we trust in him. So much so, that as described in the Psalm, it will run over and burst from its container. For me, this is every time I read his word or worship him through song, I truly feel like my heart may burst from how much happiness and true love he gives me. When I think about the people that have been placed in my life and the impact they have had on me, I feel full to the brim.

Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

And our final promise from God is what we can expect from a life with him, if we trust in him with all our heart and lean on him, goodness and mercy, love and protection, will always be a part of our lives. He promises strength for the times that are hard, and mercy for when we fall short. The house of the Lord to me in my relationship with him through the Holy Spirit. Because I accepted Christ so long ago, his spirit has been within my heart, guiding me and protecting me. The fact that I will have that for every day to come is what helps me pick myself up and put one foot in front of the other, each and every day.

God never promised that our time on Earth would be free from suffering and pain. What he did promise was eternal strength and love through him at all times, especially those days when we need it most. He promised fulfillment and satisfaction in everything through him. We must only seek him and his will to fill the fullness that we are programmed to yearn for. And not only will God provide for us, he will give us more than we deserve. Not in physical worldly possessions and measures of happiness, but in every Heavenly desire our heart, mind and soul can crave.

Some days are just hard. There are times I just want to stay in bed, cover my eyes, and lock the world out. I want to be selfish and run from everything that threatens my happiness. I sometimes feel like the world is closing in on me and the heaviness of the weight I carry is suffocating me. But in those moments of doubt, in those seconds of anger, my God is always with me. He is whispering in my ear, “Be still child, for I am here to comfort you, to love you, and to guide you through.”

God loves you, and he understands that we struggle to grasp his grace and goodness. He gets that there will be days of doubt. But he calls us to never let those emotions win, to fight against them with the grace and love he has tucked away in our hearts. I encourage you, when you struggle to find your way, pick up your Bible and remember this passage. For our God is an awesome God and his word is true and good.

He will never, ever forsake you.