Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Found in the Aftermath

Everywhere you look this week you see news of Hurricane Sandy and now the aftermath of the storm. And I have found that some of the descriptions of life after the "Perfect Storm" I can definitely relate to. In fact, some of the headlines could be the headlines to my own life: Life After the Perfect Storm: The Aftermath. I know what it feels like to think this would never happen, to have everything lost, to live through the fire of life, and the floods that come when you least expect it. I looked up the meaning of aftermath in the dictionary and reads: "A period of time following a disaster or misfortune"... I couldn't have said it better myself. Life as I knew it is gone and I'm lost, left wondering how to go on, missing so much what I had before this storm. I wonder how long this period of time will last, I fear it is forever.

I have been reading through the gospels in the Bible this month and have seen that Jesus' disciples know a bit about life in the aftermath. The days following Jesus' death the disciples locked themselves in a room and were devastated. In fact, when Jesus met two of his disciples on the road a few days later:

             "The two followers stopped, looking very sad... They said, "About Jesus of Nazareth. He was a
               prophet who said and did many powerful things before God and all the people. Our leaders and
               the leading priests handed him over to be sentenced to death and they crucified him. But we were
               hoping that he would free Israel."                                                               Luke 24:17-21

They too were not only grieving the loss of a teacher, friend, and father, but also the loss of hopes and dreams.

Horatio Spafford, the writer of the hymn It Is Well With My Soul, and his story have been on my mind a lot this week. I had heard it before in Church growing up, but it means so much more now. The following is the story:

Horatio G. Spafford and his wife, Anna, were pretty well-known in 1860’s Chicago. And this was not just because 
of Horatio's legal career and business endeavors. The Spaffords were also prominent supporters and close friends of D.L. Moody, the famous preacher. In 1870, however, things started to go wrong. The Spaffords' only son was killed by scarlet fever at the age of four. A year later, it was fire rather than fever that struck. Horatio had invested heavily in real estate on the shores of Lake Michigan. In 1871, every one of these holdings was wiped out by the great Chicago Fire.

Aware of the toll that these disasters had taken on the family, Horatio decided to take his wife and four 

daughters on a holiday to England. And, not only did they need the rest -- DL Moody needed the help. He was 
traveling around Britain on one of his great evangelistic campaigns. Horatio and Anna planned to join Moody in late 1873. And so, the Spaffords traveled to New York in November, from where they were to catch the French steamer 'Ville de Havre' across the Atlantic. Yet just before they set sail, a last-minute business development forced Horatio to delay. Not wanting to ruin the family holiday, Spafford persuaded his family to go as planned. He would follow on later. With this decided, Anna and her four daughters sailed East to Europe while Spafford returned West to Chicago. Just nine days later, Spafford received a telegram from his wife in Wales. It read: "Saved alone."

On November 2nd 1873, the 'Ville de Havre' had collided with 'The Lochearn', an English vessel. It sank in only 
12 minutes, claiming the lives of 226 people. Anna Spafford had stood bravely on the deck, with her daughters Annie, Maggie, Bessie and Tanetta clinging desperately to her. Her last memory had been of her baby being torn violently from her arms by the force of the waters. Anna was only saved from the fate of her daughters by a plank which floated beneath her unconscious body and propped her up. When the survivors of the wreck had been rescued, Mrs. Spafford's first reaction was one of complete despair. Then she heard a voice speak to her, "You were spared for a purpose." And she immediately recalled the words of a friend, "It's easy to be grateful and good when you have so much, but take care that you are not a fair-weather friend to God."

Upon hearing the terrible news, Horatio Spafford boarded the next ship out of New York to join his bereaved 
wife. Bertha Spafford (the fifth daughter of Horatio and Anna born later) explained that during her father's voyage, the captain of the ship had called him to the bridge. "A careful reckoning has been made", he said, "and I believe we are now passing the place where the de Havre was wrecked. The water is three miles deep." Horatio then returned to his cabin and penned the lyrics of his great hymn.

The words which Spafford wrote that day come from 2 Kings 4:26. They echo the response of the Shunammite 
woman to the sudden death of her only child. Though we are told "her soul is vexed within her", she still maintains that 'It is well." And Spafford's song reveals a man whose trust in the Lord is as unwavering as hers was.                                          (

In these stories the storms of life threaten to take away all hope with their devastation but each story encourages me that there is hope in the aftermath. Horatio's song has comforted thousands: "When sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, It is well, It is well with my Soul." And the disciples went on to reach thousands with Christ's story. A song I have loved through my storm is Aftermath by Hillsong United. The song, along with it's lyrics can be found:

When we hear the word aftermath, we think of devastation, which is one of the definitions. But there is a second definition of the word, found in the dictionary as follows: "A second crop/ New grass after mowing." And I am clinging to that definition of aftermath for my own life right now. That is my hope, that new grass of joy is springing up where the old was cut. A second crop is growing where the first is gone. And that is where we can be found... in the aftermath.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Taking the Cup - A post from Quinn's Dad

God, how do I take this cup from you?  The night when Jesus was betrayed by Judas, Jesus asked the father to take away his cup.

Matt. 39 "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will."

He was so crushed in his Spirit that he asked God to take it away multiple times.  Three times he got up to go and see if the disciples were keeping watch for him.  All three times he found them fast asleep.  In one of his darkest hours he had no one to share in his sorrow.  Three times he realized how very much alone he was and would be in his final hours.  It was in that moment that he had this revelation and then acceptance.  This was God's plan and there was nothing he could do to stop a plan God had written long ago.  It was a perfect plan that he had been building for centuries.  Jesus soul was overwhelmed with grief and in this moment he spoke one of his most faithful of words.

Matt. 42 "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done."

Jesus already knew the outcome.  He knew the betrayal and suffering that would surely follow.  He knew he would be alone.  Most importantly, he knew of his pending death and yet he uttered those words.

Just like Jesus prayed to his father many years ago to take his cup away, here I sit praying to my heavenly father that he would take my cup away.  This cup that Ali, I, and our families have been given is almost too much to bear.  It is terribly bitter and the last thing we expected in our lives.  I also find that my soul is crushed almost to the point of death.  It is comforting to know that Jesus knows what we are going through.  Some of you reading this can probably relate and have asked many times for God to take your own cup away.  A cup that is also very bitter and one that you never dreamed of asking for.

I feel like their are two directions we can go from here.  Either fight and do all we can to not drink this cup that God has given us, or we can learn one of the most important lessons that the greatest teacher ever taught us.  To drink, and faithfully say, "my Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done."  This is still an unreal and overwhelming thing to state and actually believe in.  It is tough when we don't know the plan that God has for us.  Jesus had faith that his Father's plan was bigger and better than any other alternative.  His death is the reason for our hope, the reason that I can sit here and type these things.  His death teaches us a great lesson, a lesson we can see in Hebrews 5:7-8:

"While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could deliver him out of death.  And God heard his prayers because of his reverence for God.  So even though Jesus was God's Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered."

Even though Jesus didn't want the cup he was given, he was obeying his heavenly Father.  Similarly, though I do not want this cup, I will daily and momentarily lay down my own plans and dreams and say I will drink the cup that God has given me.  I will daily strive to obey my heavenly Father, not because it is something I want to do, but because I have faith in a plan that was written long ago by a God who understands.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Living in the Moment

Where do I spend most of my days?  Am I stuck in the past of the "good ole days" when life was a lot easier? I look at pictures of us before Quinn died and I think... "You poor girl. You have no idea what is about to hit you. You are about to be struck with great sadness." WM. Paul Young describes this great sadness perfectly in his book The Shack. He states:
          "He ate, worked, loved, dreamed, and played in this garment of heaviness, weighed down as if he
           were wearing a laden bath robe- trudging daily through the murky despondency that sucked the
           color out of everything. At times he could feel The Great Sadness slowly tightening around
           his chest and heart like crushing coils of a constrictor, squeezing liquid from his eyes until
           he thought there no longer remained a reservoir."
That is a lot of what my days now consist of. I have laughed again and I have dreamt again, but not without a garment of heaviness. It is as if I am captive to this sadness. It is my ball and chain and even if I do go about my normal day, my grief is always there. Physically it feels like I'm never getting a full breath, like my chest is just so tight and heavy.
But the future... that is where I spend most of my time contemplating. Will I feel like this forever? When it is Quinn's 12th birthday will it still hurt like it does now? What if I'm in the same place? What if this is the end of our story? What if we never have any more kids? What if the same thing happens to future children? I fear the future. I think I am trying to plan ahead so I can avoid feeling like this years down the road. But what I've recently realized is that when I look to the future and fear, I forget one key piece of the puzzle of life- God. God is not part of the future I fear. I talk, sing, and write about God's love that never fails me, and yet I don't allow it to follow me into the future. He is already there.
Most importantly, this is not where God wants me to live. He wants me to live in the present. The verses I've always liked, but are vital for my survival in this circumstance come from Matthew 6:33-34:
      Seek first God's kingdom and what God wants. Then all your other needs will be met as well.  So
      don't worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will have it's own worries. Each day has enough 
      trouble of its own.
I wrote in an earlier blog about facing the darkness, experiencing the grief so that healing may begin. Part of that facing the darkness is experiencing the grief that today brings and taking it moment by moment. This is all part of the journey. As Christians we think we should handle suffering differently, that God will heal us of it sooner than the rest of society. That when we pray for those we love we should pray the suffering out of their life. When really that is not always what we need. Suffering is part of our journey to our best selves, it is part of the journey to coming to a spot where we are leaning not on our own understanding, but on God. Larry Crabb in his book Shattered Dreams writes this from the perspective of God,
       "I have called you not to the secular journey where you must make everything in your life now as
       pleasant as possible. I have called you to the spiritual journey, to a process of enlarging your heart
       to desire Me above everything else. Do not be troubled by all the dreams that will shatter while you
       remain on earth. You will feel deep pain. But every sorrow you experience will be used by My Spirit
       to deepen your desire for Me."
So daily I have to remind myself to just get through the trial of this moment. That even though I am experiencing deep pain, that it is all part of the journey. And that someday I will experience what Isaiah 61:3-4 speaks of:
        I will give them a crown to replace their ashes, and the oil of gladness to replace their sorrow,
       and a garment of praise for their heaviness... They will rebuild the old ruins and restore the
       places destroyed long ago.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Beautiful Mess

Broken. That is the only way to describe me. Just when I think healing is starting to begin something happens to shatter all the pieces of my life again. Today Quinn's headstone was laid on her grave.... and here it comes again. My whole world is imploding, crashing in on me. This is real. This is permanent. These moments are like the aftershocks of an earthquake. Just when you feel like the worst is over, there is more to come. I still don't realize how deep the denial runs. A small part of me still feels like I am going to wake up from this. But seeing a headstone with her name on it and my name makes it all too real. Then I look a few stones down and see a birthday balloon for a baby that would've been 15 and I think, "I can't do this... this is too much."

On Sunday I had a sweet quiet time. A time when I couldn't write fast enough for the words that were flowing. Today, I'm not really that fond of what I wrote, it is hard for me to read because it is so opposite of what I am feeling right now, but God is laying it on my heart to write it and proclaim it right now so here it goes...

Jerimiah 32:40-41 "I will never stop doing good to them... I will rejoice in doing them good."

Larry Crabb in his book Shattered Dreams writes,
       "There is never a moment in our lives, from the day we trusted Christ till the day we see Him when
        God is not longing to bless us. At every moment, in every circumstance, God is doing us good. He
        never stops. It gives Him too much pleasure. God is not waiting to bless us after our troubles end. He
        is blessing us right now, in and through these troubles. At this exact moment, He is giving us what He
        thinks is good."
So it is time for me to examine what I believe is good. It used to be getting what I wanted. But everyone who is a parent or teacher knows that giving children what they want is not always what is best for them. Am I shallow enough to think that anything that feels good is good and anything that causes pain is bad? Working out causes pain- does that make it bad? No. So after I learn about it then I get to change my mind? My reasoning is sounding less and less reliable. But if I admit that God's ways are higher than my ways, then what I view as good or bad for my life is so much more than what "feels" good or bad. Feelings fail us God doesn't. What does God think is best? Being in an intimate relationship with Him.

I will never forget the day I was talking to by dad about his best friend from childhood who had developed Leukemia. My dad was very empathetic for him, but by the end of the conversation my dad said something that forever changed me. He said, "Ali, you know what is the craziest thing in all of this?" Now I thought he was going to say something about how terrible Leukemia is or how great of a person Tom is, but he said this, "I am actually jealous of his Leukemia because of how close it has made him with the Lord." I still think about that statement. Leukemia is the worst possible thing to wish for and yet, it was the means by which one person became so intimate with God that it made others yearn for it. This is so hard for me to wrap my head around and I still can't fully understand what is good and bad in life. How can my only daughter, the joy of my life, being taken from me at 4 months old be good? I don't know, but I can tell you that nothing stands between the Lord and I right now. I have never in my life yearned to be with Him, read His word, worship than I have right now.

I have been thinking about how my relationship with Quinn teaches me about my relationship with God. As Quinn got a little older I started laying her in her crib for naps and bedtime. She would lay in her crib and cry a little bit. It killed me to see this as I was standing right beside her crib, just out of her view. It pained me, not because she was hurt or in danger, but because I knew in her little brain she was crying because she thought she was alone, that I had left her. It pained me so much that sometimes I would cry, even though I knew my purpose- getting her to learn to fall asleep on her own. I wanted to give my daughter a precious gift- the gift of sleep. Quinn did not know my purpose, and there was no way of me explaining it to her, because my brain was more advanced than hers.

I have told many people how odd it is that in an instant I have switched from being a caregiver to needing to be taken care of. I have found myself in Quinn's role, feeling alone, not understanding. But God is here with me, just out of view, crying with me because he knows I don't understand- nor is there any way I ever will- His ways are higher than mine. But I have to believe that he is trying to give me a precious gift in all of this. Larry Crabb states that,
      "The highest dream we could ever dream, the wish that if granted would make us happier than any
        other blessing, is to know God, to actually experience Him. The problem is that we don't believe
        this idea is true. We assent to it in our heads, but we don't feel it in our hearts."

2 Corinthians 7:10-11 states,
       "The kind of sorrow God wants makes people change their hearts and lives. This leads to salvation,
         and you cannot be sorry for that... See what this sorrow- the sorrow that God wanted you to have-
         has done to you; It has made you very serious. It made you want to restore yourselves, It made
         you angry & afraid. It made you want to see me. It made you care. It made you want to do the
        right thing. In every way you regained your innocence."

    -Larry Crabb, in Shattered Dreams writes:
      "One way He works is to allow our lower dreams to shatter. He lets us hurt and doesn't make it better...
       In fact, what he's doing while we suffer is leading us into the depths of our being, into the center of our
      soul where we feel our strongest passions. It's there that we discover our desire for God. We begin to
      feel a desire to know Him that not only survives our pain, but actually thrives in it until that desire
      becomes more intense than our desire for all the good things we still want. Through the pain of shattered
      lower dreams, we wake up to the realization that we want an encounter with God more than we want
     the blessings of life. And that begins a revolution in out lives."            

Even though I have written all of this, I am still in a world of hurt, and would give all of this up in a heartbeat to have my baby back, the way it used to be. I believe what I wrote to be true, but I am human- It sure doesn't feel like I am being blessed. But I am continuing to trust that God was good 3 months ago and God is still good today. As crazy and as reckless as it sounds, I am choosing to trust that God has my best in mind. That his desire is to bless me, bless me in ways completely different than I think of as blessings but that he is in control. That I am broken to the basic core of who I am, but that he is going to restore me in His way, in His time. This is the darkest time in my life, but I believe that someday, when I get to heaven, I will look back on this time in my life and see that I had it all wrong. That this was not the darkest time in my life, but that it was the sweetest because this is when I met God.