Choose Happiness

Our lives are like scrapbooks, memories frozen in time on pages preserved in our hearts and minds. With every breath, every step, and the passing of time, those pages turn capturing the laughter, the tears, the joy, the heartbreak, the pride and the disappoint of days gone by. Sometimes I envision it something like a dream catcher, analyzing our thoughts, reading our emotions and casting its net to gather up all the shreds of our existence to file away only to be called upon with a familiar smell, feeling, or desire.

I treasure those pages, perhaps now more than ever, as they bond me closer to the pieces of my heart that belong to those I’ve lost. But what it also does is help me become keen to those moments as they happen; my senses acute to a touch or a feeling I’m bound to treasure forever. It’s incredible to me how time can sometimes stand still when you’re caught up in a moment, how you feel like you’re surrounded by a blur of emotion as you narrow in on a memory in the making. It does my heart good to slow down and take in the aroma of a sweet gesture, the twinkle of a bright eye, or the ring of laughter. Especially amidst a world that seems to challenge any brightness that exist, threatening to extinguish it, or worse, paint it gray.

As I call upon my pages at times, I am often speechless at the caliber of memories and happiness they hold. Sure, there have been tears, fears, and struggles along the way. But the pure joy and innocence that roll off the pages remind me of how truly blessed I am. I think it’s easy sometimes to get lost in ourselves, to focus on the hurt and the pain. To revel in the disappointment and loss. But it takes effort to really stop and allow the gratitude to creep in. Perhaps it’s because when we welcome it into our hearts, we compare those sweet moments of light to the multitude of darkness we face and it stings just a little more to see the darkness for what it truly is, a valley.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21

But what Matthew tells us is that where our treasure is, there are heart will also be. And while this verse is most often associated with the lesson of serving two masters, today my heart applied it in a different way. Today, I found it as a message to not dwell in the sadness, to not allow yourself to bed down in the trenches. But where your focus and attention lie, that is where your heart will find rest. So if you are experiencing loss, if you are walking through the valley of the shadow of death, if stress and worry is trapping you, if that is where you let your mind wander, it is there where your life song will be.

I have so many people around me experiencing things that break my heart. Every day I am faced with a story, or a bit of news that twists my heart strings threatening to disengage them completely. And while my heart aches for them, my mind churns with how to fix it, how to make it better. And naturally so, I’m a solver. I don’t always say the best things to comfort people, I don’t always give great advice. And I mourn in the least desirable ways. But where I find refuge is solving problems. Fixing worry, relieving stress. I run on order, to-do lists, and small successes.

So as I racked my brain for a way to bring peace to those I love that hurt, this verse laid on my heart. It’s always been a favorite but today I saw it in a new form. I saw it as an invitation to extend to those I love, a challenge to search your heart and it’s landing place. I saw it as a a chance to encourage those around me to find the strength to heal inside themselves. For as the verse says to us, what you treasure your heart will take up.

My prayer today is that for each of you hurting, for each of you who feel the darkness pressing in on all sides, that you choose to plant your flag in your happiness. It’s true that days are dark, but hidden in those pages of our scrapbook are good memories, happy memories that can carry us through the darkness. And all though they may be long gone, or seem like another lifetime ago, they can act as a bridge to carry us over troubled waters. And for every hard time we go through, there is a sweet moment waiting for us around the corner. It may be small, and you may be hard pressed to see it, but it’s there.

Our Savior promises us that we will experience nothing that we cannot handle. And just as the wonder that I wish for to heal my heart, I know that what we need to truly heal is found within us, we need only to call upon it. Take advantage of a holiday that focuses of thanks and gratitude and whisper a prayer of thanks to him for the beautiful life you’ve lived. Open your heart to your scrapbook and let the pages flood you with the joy you deserve this thanksgiving. May God grant you peace to embrace today, and every day.

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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

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