Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Thanking God in the Wilderness

Barren is defined as a land too poor to produce much or any vegetation; a place that is bleak or lifeless.  I feel like God has dropped me off in a barren desert and left me here. A couple of weeks ago we sang this song in church and the chorus states, "Not for a moment, did you forsake me. After all, you are only good." And my heart and mouth would not sing it, I could only sob because I can't believe those words. To be completely honest, deep down I believe that I was forsaken by God. That He took my trust and crushed it in an instant. I can not say, with full belief that God is good. I know what the Bible says, I know what I've been taught over the years, but I can't help what my heart keeps telling me.
And because of this belief, something has crept in to my heart, a silent toxin that slowly oozes its ugliness onto everything... bitterness. I once read somewhere that bitterness follows unwanted experiences- failures, disappointment, set backs- that are perceived to be beyond our control.  It occurs when we believe that other people could have prevented the undesirable outcome. It is one step more complex than anger... it is anger plus helplessness. In the beginning I prayed against this bitterness and because I didn't experience it much in the first year, I felt protected from it, but the moment you think you are above something, that's when Satan sees your weakness and attacks. Bitterness has oozed its way in to my life by means of the other definition of barrenness. We are going on a year of trying to have another baby, with no success, and I can feel the bitterness creeping up- a student who didn't want to get pregnant has a baby, Facebook pictures of ultrasounds or kids birthdays, and I can hear my inner monologue saying, "Well isn't that just great for you."

I wish I could tell you that I am beyond this, that this character flaw is in my past. I wish I could just be a forgiving child and run to my Father in Heaven whenever I felt this way, but because I feel like God has forsaken me, like God doesn't love me, like all my trust in Him is gone, a painfully apparent division has formed  in our relationship and it makes this ultimately worse. I was talking to my mom on the phone the other night about some of my feelings and she said something that I've heard a hundred times in my life, but spoke to me in a different way this time. She said, "I know that those things seem true to you about God right now, but remember, 'We walk by faith, not by sight.'" And it struck me that by sight it may seem like God isn't good, that he doesn't love me, that he has forsaken me, but I need to go back to the Bible and write down what it says to the contrary and meditate on those verses until I can believe them again.

"Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."                                                            Deuteronomy 31:6

"I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with an unfailing kindness."        Jeremiah 31:3

"But Zion said, 'The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.'
Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palm of my hand."             Isaiah 49:14-16

"I will make rivers flow on barren heights and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs."                                                                           Isaiah 41:18

And as I am reading these verses it hits me. What has gotten into me that I have forgotten this steadfast love? Isn't this where all our sin originates? From the belief that God isn't good, that he has withheld something from us? In the garden- in perfect unity with God- Adam conveys ingratitude with his actions. One Thousand Gifts by Anne Voscamp states this so pointedly:

"I wake up and put feet to the plank floors and I believe the serpent's hissing lie, the repeating refrain of his campaign through the ages. God isn't Good. It's the cornerstone of his movement. That God withholds good from His children, that God does not genuinely, fully, love us... I say no to what He's given. I thirst for some roborant, some elixir, to relieve the anguish of what I've believed: God isn't good. God doesn't love me."

I am now painfully aware of how much I need to repent... repent of my jealousy, my coveting, repent of secretly desiring bad things to happen to other people so someone out there is more miserable than me, so I won't be alone. I want God to take away this bitterness and fill it with a sweet fragrance. I want Him to take this unhappiness and replace it with a joy that can not be shaken. I am sorry... sorry I am hard to be around, sorry if you have had good things happen in your life lately and you are scared to tell me or I have not reacted like you would've liked. To repent literally means to turn away. This bitterness is bigger than me so I will have to choose to turn from this daily. Sometimes I will fail, but if I make this public- it will hold me accountable. If I am turning away from bitterness then I am turning toward something. What am I turning towards? Gratitude. As I enter the months leading into Thanksgiving I have been reading One Thousand Gifts by Anne Voskamp which encourages us to enter into Eucharisteo (or the act of thanksgiving). She uses the verse in 1 Corrinthians 11:23-24:

"On the night when He was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to God for it."

See even when he knew the terror that was about to ensue, my Jesus thanked his Father...

"The act of sacrificing thank offerings to God- even for the bread and cup of cost, for cancer and crucifixion- this prepares the way for God to show us His fullest salvation from bitter, angry, resentful lives and from all that sin estranges us from Him."

Why haven't I seen this before? It is scattered throughout the Bible. The Lord's call to the Israelites was a call to worship and serve him in the wilderness (Exodus 7:16). Jesus' greatest challenge was to remain faithful when he was led into the desert to be tempted and the last thing he said in the desert was "You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him," (Matthew 4:10). Thankfulness is not just when things are going well, but the secret to a full life is when, in faith, we give thanks, despite what life throws at us.
Habakkuk 3:17-18 states:

"Fig trees may not grow figs, and there may be no grapes on the vines. There may be no olives growing and no food growing in the fields. There may be no sheep in the pens and no cattle in the barns. But I will still be glad in the Lord; I will rejoice in God my Savior."

Two Months from tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. In light of the scripture God has led me to, lately, I have decided, starting tomorrow, to find 2 things each day that I am thankful for and write them down, maybe even take pictures of them. It could be something big like my amazing family or the little things that bitterness tries to steal the joy from like sun shining through my curtains in the morning. I will not make it public on Facebook or Instagram but it will be like secret love notes of thanks to my Savior each day. My prayer is that by Thanksgiving, thankfulness will not be a choice, but my natural reaction to each day, that in repentance I will turn from bitterness toward thankfulness.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Year in Review

A year ago I wrote my first blog entry. Some days I think this grieving process has been so slow, that I haven't made it very far at all. But when I think back on that first blog, I remember I was in the deepest darkest place and I realize how far I have come. That step by step I have begun the healing process and that I have learned so much over the last year. Many times we learn from experience, but we can also learn a great deal from others who have traveled a journey that we might not have been given. So I thought I would write what I have learned this first year.

*Please know when reading this that I wrote this as what I have learned on my personal journey through grieving. Also, I did not write this with anyone in mind. *

What have I learned from Year 1...
1. There are good gifts and there are not-so-good gifts. Sorry to all of you who might feel offended by this, and I would've been in your same boat and given the same gifts had I not been here. After Quinn died we had so many cards and gifts pour in. All of which really were so thoughtful and I really do appreciate but when all was said and done, I was left with a storage room full of statues, figurines, and plaques that had some cutsie quote about losing loved ones. Those quotes are fine in cards, but having them around your house is a constant reminder that my child is dead and I was left not knowing what to do with them. Also, stuffed animals are not a gift you give to someone who lost their only child.  Good gifts were more practical- stamps, food, and gift cards for restaurants. To tell you the truth, some of the most meaningful things we received were heartfelt notes and cards. In the end, it really is the thought that counts.

2. You will not survive something like this in isolation. It is good to surround yourself with good people as a general rule, but look at the people you spend time with. Would they drop everything to help you? Will they be sparse when life is not one big ball of fun? I have been a less than desirable person to hang around with this year. I hate surface conversations, avoid talking about kids, and trying to make me laugh... forget about it. But I had friends, family, and co-workers who went beyond the awkwardness to truly be with me, encourage me, and love me through this dark year.

3.You have to do the hard stuff. You have to let yourself grieve... EVERYTHING.  If I had to title this year it might be titled "Trudging Through the Tough Stuff: All the Firsts." First time holding a baby, first time in Quinn's room, first time back at the hospital, first time someone asks you if you have kids... the list is so long the first year it is exhausting. The anxiety leading up to it is the worst, but I felt so relieved after it was done. That doesn't mean the 2nd time isn't hard, but it gets just a little better every time. Most people would tell me, "You don't have to do that." But I did. Because maybe today I don't have to, but at some point I will and then it might be harder or people won't be as supportive when you are breaking down doing something 10 years later. The longer you wait to do things that scare you, the more they take hold- they almost become an idol. Doing all this made the first year extremely hard, but it reminded me of Jerry Sittser's quote from one of my first entries, "The quickest way for anyone to reach the sun and light of day is not to run west, chasing after the setting sun, but to head east, plunging into the darkness until one comes to the sunrise." If I delay the hard stuff, I delay the grieving process.

4. Do not say you are praying for someone unless you really are. I am fully convinced prayers are what got me through this year, what got me out of bed each day. I didn't miss one day of school this year and I know it was because of prayer. I don't take it lightly. I heard, "I'm praying for you" so often that I cringed when I heard is sometimes because I thought, "Are your really praying for me or are you just saying that because it sounds nice?" If you say you are praying for someone, do it, because a lot of times they are counting on those prayers.

5. Do not be a fair weather friend to God. I am so thankful I grew up in a home that emphasized scripture because there were many days I couldn't open my Bible, but scripture I had learned as a child came to mind and got me through some really hard times. I can remember wanting nothing more, when I got home, than to spend time in the Word. My Bible is what got me through those times. This process would have been a lot slower had I not already had the foundation I did. It was like preparing me for the battle. Tim said the other day, "I have learned no matter how hard life gets, you will survive if you have a foundation in God." This is not to say that the pain isn't real, and that God makes you feel any better but he is our only hope.  The only hope we have of eternal life, a life with no suffering, reuniting with Quinn.  Without that comfort, life seems pretty dire.

6.You might think, "I don't know if I should say something to them about how they are doing or feeling.  What if they are having a really good day?" I found (and I know not everyone is like this) that I appreciated people who said something more than people who ignored the elephant in the room. I'm already thinking about Quinn 24 hours a day so bringing her up isn't like you just reminded me of it. Ignoring it sometimes felt like people were belittling what I went through like life should just move on. Sometimes people didn't say the right thing, but my perspective was "where love abounds, grace abounds." I had to have a lot of grace for people because they were just saying it because they loved me and didn't know how to express it. Which brings me to my last lesson for this entry which I feel really strongly about:

7. Do not reduce holy mysteries to slogans. So many times people don't know what to say so they came up with something cliche. Most of the time I had grace for them. But I want you to know, there is nothing you can say that will fix this. There is nothing you can say that can solve this holy mystery.  For example people would say, "God just needed another angel". How do you know that? I don't know why Quinn died. I don't know if God did it, or allowed it, or Satan won some battle. I won't ever know for sure. There are some things that are just a mystery.

Ecclesiastes 11:5 states:
"As you do not know the path of the wind, or how a body is formed in a mother's womb, so you can not understand the work of God, the maker of all things."

Job 11:7&8:
"Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the almighty? They are higher than the heavens- what can you do? They are deeper than the depth of the grave- what can you know?"

I like how the Message translates the following verses:
Matthew 7:6
"Don't be flip with the sacred....Don't reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you're only being cute and inviting sacrilege."

Psalm 40:1-3
"I waited and waited and waited for God. At last he looked; finally he listened. He lifted me out of the ditch, pulled me from deep mud. He stood me up on a rock to make sure I wouldn't slip. He taught me how to sing the latest God-song, a praise-song to our God. More and more people are seeing this: they enter the mystery, abandoning themselves to God."

I have learned that I don't have all the answers, none of us do. Sometimes we just have to accept that God is higher than us, that he knows the whole story. And we must "enter into the mystery, abandoning ourselves to God."

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Running Leap Into the Deep

William Taylor once wrote, "The strength of the vessel can be demonstrated only by the hurricane, and the power of the gospel can be fully shown only when the Christian is subjected to some fiery trial. If God would make manifest the fact that 'He giveth songs in the night', He must first make it night."  As I sit and reflect on the last year of our life, I could definitely call it "the night". A time of darkness and despair, a time of not seeing light in the distance. The gospel I have believed in since before I can remember has been more than subjected to a fiery trial. Hebrews 11:1 states:

      "Faith is being sure of the things we hope for and knowing that something is real even if we do not see it."

Faith is a hard thing to come by these days. Faith that God is real, Faith that God is good- all the time, Faith that He loves me, Faith that the things I hope for will come. Jesus said to Doubting Thomas in John 20:29

      "You believe because you see me. Those who believe without truly seeing me will be blessed."

And I want to be that person. The one who believes without the need to see anything, but I find myself so many times praying, "JUST SHOW UP!" Jesus' disciple, Peter, has been on my mind a lot lately. I keep coming back to 2 stories involving him. The first is when Jesus walks on the water to the boat his disciples are in (Matt. 14:22-36). The man whom they believe is the Messiah is doing something truly amazing and the first thing Peter says is, "Lord, if it is really you, then command me to come to you on the water." WHAT?! That is the last thing this wimp would say, but his doubt resonates withing me. It is a doubt I can relate to because he is testing the waters (literally) but also has great faith all wrapped up in this one statement. If Peter didn't have faith in this man he wouldn't  have walked on the water, but he also wouldn't have walked on the water unless he doubted Him either. The next part of the story really gets me. Jesus simply says "Come." This tells me even in my doubt with the stormy sea raging around me, he reaches out his hand to me  and says, "Come". And Peter does it. That is faith at its finest! But when he sees the wind and waves he becomes afraid and starts sinking. Matthew 14:31-33 states:

       "He shouted, 'Lord, save me!' Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught Peter. Jesus said,
       'Your faith is small. Why did you doubt?' After they got in the boat, the wind became calm. Then those
        who were in the boat worshiped Jesus and said 'Truly you are the Son of God.'"

I wonder why Jesus didn't calm the wind until after they got back into the boat? He so easily could have made it easier on Peter. But I find the strength of the "vessel" is tested by the "hurricane". And through both Peter's doubt and faith Jesus was glorified in the end.

The second story I've been coming back to comes at the end of the gospels, John 21:1:

           "'I'm going out to fish,' Peter told them, and they said, 'We'll go with you.' so they went out and got
             into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore,
             but the disciples did not realize that is was Jesus. He called out to them, 'Friends haven't you caught
             any fish?' 'No,' they answered. He said, 'Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will
             find some.' When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
             Then John said to Peter, 'It is the Lord!' As soon as Peter heard him say 'It is the Lord,' he wrapped
             his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water."

I love to see how far Peter has come... that wild abandonment. This time he leaps into the water after Jesus. Even more, what speaks to me in this story is that Jesus still wanted to fulfill the desires of their hearts and give them fish- he wasn't saying, "No", he was simply saying, "Follow me and the rest will fall into place." I have felt lately that God doesn't want to give me the desires of my heart. And in turn it has effected how I feel about his love for me and even more the faith I have in him. But this spoke to my heart that He isn't saying "No" he is saying, "Follow me and the rest will fall into place."

So today I choose to step out of the boat and onto the raging waters that surround me, to test the power of this gospel. Jesus hasn't completely calmed the waves and wind rising around me and I will most likely sink at one time or another. But I am hoping and praying that one day I would be able to take a running leap into the deep with a wild abandonment after my savior.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Letting Go of the IF ONLY'S

I turned 30 this past weekend and it was a bit hard for me. It was hard because I am not where I wanted my life to be at 30. If you would've asked me at age 15 where my life would be at age 30 I would've said married with 2 children. I most definitely would not have said grieving the loss of my daughter who died just short of 5 months old. It is as if the perfect picture I had of my life in a beautiful frame just fell to the floor and shattered into a million pieces, so many pieces that there is no way of fixing it. So 30 takes on a whole new meaning as a milestone when it stops becoming a milestone and has now turned into a deadline. My deadline is up and I did not meet my target and that is a hard pill to swallow. It becomes even harder when I could; in fact I SHOULD have a 3 year old and a 1 year old.

I have been reflecting a lot on time lately and how we humanly measure it. The chapter Ecclesiastes, in the Bible, kept coming to mind when thinking about how God thinks about Time so I decided to read it this week.  I originally read the chapter for chapter 3 the old Beatles song, "There is a time to be born, and a time to die... There is a time to cry and a time to laugh..." But the verse that came after that section in chapter 3 is what struck me this week. Ecclesiastes 3:11 states:

          "God has given them a desire to know the future. He does everything just right and on time, but
           people can never completely understand what he is doing."

This spoke to me because I often think if I just knew the future that would make this grieving process a whole lot easier. If God just told me that in 2 years I would find joy again, that I would have another child, that hearing people talk about their children wouldn't drive a knife into my heart, that would give me something to look forward to. But I am not alone. God has given us a desire to know the future. But in the future when I look back on this I will see that He did everything "just right and on time" even if right now I don't understand what he is doing.

Tim and I have also been really convicted about how we find contentment in this life. How do we rest in the stage of life we are in at the moment? As humans we are so fickle. We are driven by the "If Only's". First it is if only I had a job, then I would be happy, but then we get the job and instead of it bringing happiness we are onto the next "If Only". If only I was married and had someone to share this with, then I would be happy. Then we get married and we skip the happy and are onto the next "If Only". If only I had a child, a better house, could travel more- you fill in the blank for yourself. Tim and I have said we often think, "If only we had another child, things would get better." But I know plenty of people with children who are miserable. I don't want to continue this cycle in life until the day I am on my deathbed and then look back on my life thinking, "If only I would've found the joy at the stage I was at while I was there instead of looking forward to the next best thing, wishing my life away." In fact Ecclesiastes 5: 16 states:

             "This too is real misery: They leave just as they came. So what do they gain from chasing the wind?
              All they get are days full of sadness and sorrow, and they end up sick, defeated, and angry."

I am 30! And I've lived most of my life "chasing after the wind", thinking everyone who had the next thing I wanted possessed happiness. But the secret that Facebook and Instagram pictures don't show you is that behind that cute couple or beautiful family is a person who thinks that happiness is around the next stage in life. We are ALL chasing after the wind and if we take heed from the wisest man in history, we see the ending of the story... all we get from this are "days full of sadness and sorrow, ending up sick, defeated, and angry."
So tell me how I turn this ship around because that is not the direction I want my life going. Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 (The Message) gives us this gem of advice:
                  "After looking at the way things are on this earth, here's what I've decided is the best way to live:
                   Take care of yourself, have a good time, and make the most of whatever job you have for as
                   long as God gives you life. And that's about it. That's the human lot. Yes, we should make the
                   most of what God gives, both the bounty and the capacity to enjoy it, accepting what is given
                  and delighting in the work. It's God's gift! God deals out joy in the present, in the now."

It seems so easy. I need to take care of myself and I need to make the most of what God gives me, both the bounty and the capacity to enjoy it. I am not naive to the fact that this life brings sorrow and disappointment. But there is no use bringing more sorrow and disappointment to my life by chasing after the wind of my "If Only's". God has given me work, he has given me some really big and hard tasks, but my goal is to delight in the work.  And daily my goal is to remind myself that God is doing everything "just right and on time." And if I truly believe that, I can slowly start to let go of the "If Only's" and live knowing that He  is dealing out joy in the present, in the now. My only task is to open my eyes and find it, because it's there.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Just Enough

This week has been a hard week. I know I am making progress, but it feels like one step forward and two steps back and this week has been a week where it feels like we have taken two steps back. I still feel stuck in mud & miry clay, stuck in this grief. What makes this so hard is that I believe what the Bible says in Psalms 40:1-3:

" I waited patiently for the Lord; and he turned to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay. He stood me on a rock and made my feet steady. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many people will see this and worship him."

I believe with all my heart that He can lift me out of this pit I am in, but what hurts the most is that He hasn't. And my problem is, I don't always trust that He will. If I am truly being honest, I feel a little let down by God, abandoned by Him. It's really hard for me to believe that He loves me. Because this hand I've been dealt doesn't feel like love. I know how much I loved Quinn and I would never allow her to go through something like what I am going through if I had the power to stop it. I hear of 65 year olds who experience miracles of healing and instead of being amazed, it breaks my heart. Why didn't God choose Quinn to receive the miracle and live? It is humbling for me to write this for the whole world to read, but we are also trying to get pregnant again and it is taking a lot longer than expected and I hear my heart crying out to God, "Haven't we gone through enough? Can't something be easy?"

I was humbled when reading through Numbers 11 this week. The setting is the Israelites whom through Moses God brought out of slavery in Egypt are now wandering in the desert. They have been promised to be led to a land of Milk & Honey but they experience many set backs and continue to camp in a desolate area. There is no food in this area so God provides a miracle for them... Manna. Every morning a grain-like substance covers the ground to feed them.  And they are only given enough for the day. If they kept extra, it spoiled overnight. But after awhile, the Israelites start to complain. They miss the fruits & vegetables they were provided in Egypt and especially the meat. So they start to weep. I think when I heard this story when I was younger I thought that they were selfish. But now when I read it, I'm sure I would be one of the biggest complainers if I lived during that time. To eat the same food for 40 years sounds awful. I think the Israelites were feeling some of my same sentiments... abandoned, let down, questioning God's love and provision, knowing that God could provide more, but he wasn't. And yet, what the Israelites and I are both missing in the midst of it all is the miracle. God provided food for them in a desolate place. And He gave them exactly what they needed to make it through the day. And that is what I have to remind myself this week. That God is daily providing me a miracle of just making it through the day each day. Every day I think how am I going to make it through the next 50 years? And yet he gives me my Manna each day and I make it through another day. So this has been my prayer for the week, "Lord forgive me for my grumbling. Thank you for the miracle of getting me through the day with just enough. I know that many times I want more. But help me to be patient for the day when I will see what you have promised... the land of Milk & Honey."

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Beauty of Storms- Being Still

It started with a routine April rain, something that was supposed to happen. But then the wind started to blow and it got unusually cold. We woke up on Wednesday morning to a winter wonderland of icy trees. And Mother Nature didn't stop there, inches of ice began to accumulate and when She was done our city looked like a war zone. Trees that had been around 50 years were split down the middle, bending beneath the weight of the ice. And to add insult to injury the next night a fresh blanket of snow covered it all up. In all of my suffering these past months, I have been given a gift. I see things like this in a whole new light. Instead of being sad that we lost 3 trees, I see beauty in the way God works, artistry in many circumstances, poems made out of heartbreak. Every circumstance can be made into an analogy to teach me something, and this ice storm is no exception.

I have felt that I have come into a new season of grieving. I can feel that God is healing my heart ever so slowly. And just as the weather was starting to get warmer and the birds were starting to chirp. I could feel the ice that has formed around my heart, the ice that freezes anything good, the ice that burns and runs so deep, starting to slowly melt away. But just like you don't expect snow storms in April, my grief of losing someone so precious to me, sneaks up on me when I least expect it. I know for the most part that spring is coming, but I also know that unexpected ice storms will hit in the midst of this process. See, this wasn't supposed to happen. April is supposed to bring rain that helps trees bloom, not die. We are not supposed to have 3 snow days in the middle of April. Similarly, losing a child so suddenly was not supposed to happen. I am supposed to be spending my snow days with a child who is just starting to walk, not sitting in silence reflecting on life. And it is okay for me to grieve that. 

This storm has also reminded me of what William P. Young wrote about in his book The Shack:

“There is something joyful about storms that interrupt routine. Snow or freezing rain suddenly releases you from expectations, performance demands, and the tyranny of appointments and schedules. And unlike illness, it is largely a corporate rather than individual experience. One can almost hear a unified sigh rise from the nearby city and surrounding countryside where Nature has intervened to give respite to the weary humans slogging it out within her purview. All those affected this way are united by a mutual excuse, and the heart is suddenly and unexpectedly a little giddy. There will be no apologies needed for not showing up to some commitment or other. Everyone understands and shares in this singular justification, and the sudden alleviation of the pressure to produce makes the heart merry.”

If you didn't grow up in the Midwest you might not know that when we say the word snowday  it holds so much meaning. It is an excuse to be lazy. And during these last few days I have felt like God was reminding me to "Be Still." I said in an earlier post that I have started reading through the Old Testament and it has been hard to do blogs about what God is teaching me from reading through Leviticus... BUT when I read through Exodus last month I kept coming back to a verse that really spoke to me. The setting is the Israelites on their way out from hundreds of years in captivity in Egypt, being chased by their captors and coming to the Red Sea, feeling trapped. They say to Moses, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?" But it is not their panic that spoke to me most, but what Moses said in reply to them:

"Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still."
                                                                                                                                -Exodus 14:11-14
"Be Still and know that I am God."                                                                            -Psalm 46:10

It seems so simple, and yet we have such a hard time following it in our culture. Be Still. Yes, our city has been declared a state of emergency (my life is in a state of emergency). But the beauty is that it has reminded me that the Lord will fight for me. All I need to do is to be still and know that He is God.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Climate of Joy

My students were doing a project the other day on emotions and one group asked me if joy and happiness were the same thing. I said for the project's sake it was, but to me they were not. That happiness is temporary, but that joy is everlasting. I think this peaked their interest because they started asking lots of questions. One boy said, "So, do you think you can be sad and joyful at the same time?" And I replied back with such certainty, "I KNOW you can be sad and joyful at the same time." They sat for a moment pondering this and I thought the conversation was over, but then the same boy turned to me and said, "So... happiness is like the weather, and joy is like the climate?" I looked at my student and smiled, "Yes, that's perfect." I went home and looked up what the Bible said about Joy and all the verses containing joy revolved around what Jesus did for us and how we serve others:

Hebrews 12: 1-3
             "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything
              that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked
              out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the JOY set
              before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne
              of God."

Psalm 51: 10-12
             "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from
              your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the JOY of your salvation and
              grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me."

Philippians 2:1-4
              "If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any
               fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my JOY complete by
              being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish
              ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should
              look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the
              same as that of Christ Jesus."

Tuesday, with "Celebrate QUINNcidence" His joy was made complete and so was mine, even in the midst of sorrow. I could feel the "like-mindedness", the "same love", and people all over being "one in spirit and purpose". People put aside their selfish ambitions and put others in front of themselves. Most of you did not look at your own interests, but the interests of others. I know God was glorified Tuesday because those whom He created and loves came together for one purpose... to bless. I know I was not the recipient of all the random acts, but it didn't matter because EVERY LITTLE THING YOU DID for someone else touched my heart, and Tim's, in such a deep way that I could never describe in words. Yes, I was bold enough to put the idea out there, but God did HUGE things with it. Thank you for showing love in big and small ways, thank you for joining us, thank you for supporting us, thank you to those of you who know us and love us, and thank you to those of you who celebrated Quinn without knowing any of us. You will never know how much it meant to us. Quinn was NOT forgotten, Quinn was celebrated, Quinn moved people, people's lives were changed because of my daughter and THAT, that is the greatest birthday gift.

Yesterday, God brought the word "showers" to mind. The last 8 months have seemed full of gloom and showers of tears but just for a moment this week the clouds parted and God decided to shower down blessings through all of you.
Isaiah 45:8
              "You heavens above, rain down righteousness; let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open
                wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness grow with it; I, the LORD have created it."

So my prayer for all of you who joined with us is that you were showered with blessings and righteousness, despite the clouds in your life and that salvation and righteousness will spring up. That through the "weather" of rain you have a continual climate of joy. A joy that will not fade and is made complete through serving others. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for making our joy complete through your acts of kindness.

**I thought I would post highlights from the day below**
Here are students and staff who stayed after school to make posters to promote the day...

 This is what I came into when I walked into my room on Tuesday. 15-20 students and a few staff members came at 7pm the night before and decorated my room to show their support. It was beautiful.
 "We love you Terhorst"
"March 12th Quinncidence"
 "We are Washington"
 Random candy left on lockers with encouragement. This one says "You are amazing. Celebrate QUINNcidence"

 Students were asked to write down on a post-it note what they had done throughout the day and post it on the counseling windows.
 My Desk in our Teacher Planing Center
 A colleague's door that was decorated, she also handed out pink cupcakes to students
 The Counseling office windows towards the end of the day
 This is what I came home to... A dear friend had special kids (cousins, friends, neighbors, church friends) in our life that would've been invited to Quinn's Birthday write birthday cards for Quinn. She then hung them to balloons that represented the prayers gone up from their parents for us. We later released them in the sky.
  Flowers that had been delivered

A compilation of the day:
Now we get into the pictures of others who had posted them for us...
Quarters left in a college dorm laundry room

The following links are what was on the news about Quinncidence:

Blogs written about Quinncidence:

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Celebrate Quinncidence

As I look out the window at a fresh blanket of snow that has fallen over the great plains of South Dakota, I am reminded of the somber blanket that has fallen over my heart with the calendar changing to March. In just a week Quinn would've been one. It is so hard to wrap my head around. In my mind she is still a baby, I have a hard time picturing her eating birthday cake... she's not old enough to be eating cake! Tim & I have discussed what we are going to do on March 12th to celebrate Quinn's life. It is so easy to say that we are just going to stay in bed for the day and feel sorry for ourselves. But if I stay in bed, Quinn isn't getting what she deserves... I have this little light and I would be keeping it to myself. I have said time and time again that I just want my daughter to be known. I just want her life to affect others and if I stay in bed on the day she was born, her life and what she was to me stays in bed for the day and she deserves more than that. So on Tuesday March 12th Tim & I have decided to do random acts of kindness all day. We want to take the money we would have spent on cake, ice cream, decorations, and presents and bless the lives of others like Quinn blessed ours. At first we wanted this to be an intimate thing between the two of us, but the more we think and talk about it, the more we know that there are so many special people in our life that have walked this road with us that would want to do this with us. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but I now know that it takes a village to bury a child too. We couldn't have done this alone, Not without the support of so many special people that God has placed in our lives. So many people have told us if they could do anything we should just let them know. So... we want to open this up to you and we wanted to tell you in advance so you can start thinking & praying about what you might do. We are deeming Tuesday March 12th as "Celebrate Quinncidence" day. A day to celebrate Quinn, a day to celebrate her life, a day to randomly bless. It doesn't have to be big, you could write a nice note to someone who you appreciate, pay for someone's gas, coffee, or groceries, leave a big tip for a waiter, leave quarters on a vending machine or car wash, put flowers on someone's car, bring donuts to work, etc. I am opening this up my school, Washington High School, as well and will kick it off at the end of the week there. On Tuesday I will post pictures on the blog of what the students there did and how Quinn's birthday went. We would love to hear from you too and what random act of kindness you did on Tuesday to remember Quinn. Post it as a comment below.  And please keep us in your prayers for an abundance of grace this next week and a sense of peace in a time that feels so unfair. Thank you everyone in advance.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Battle of Our Lives

Quinn would've been 11 months old today. And I sit and wonder what she would've looked like...would she have looked more and more like Tim or me? Would she have had my dimples or Tim's eyes? What would she have sounded like... I imagine what it would sound like to hear her call out, "mama", to have her voice filling our home again. What would she be doing... I see pictures of friends who have children Quinn's age and videos of them crawling or walking around it is heart wrenching. I have prayed against bitterness, but I have found that it is always slyly lurking around the corner, waiting to sneak up on you the minute you let your guard down.  I am not naturally a bitter person. By nature, I am generally happy for other people in their success. But what I have discovered in my suffering is the nature of bitterness.  Bitterness is what happens to our bodies as a defense mechanism. It hurts so bad to know what other's have and I am without, that it is easier to just be bitter... to be angry with your lot in life. Because anger and bitterness are a whole lot easier than feeling what I feel every day, complete and utter loss and despair  It is something I have to battle everyday.  What I was not prepared for in all of this was the endurance needed to survive this tragedy and simply live. I am shocked at how much energy it takes just to be, just to live life, just to carry out day to day activities. I have come to the point, now, were I am beyond the heart crushing, raw pain of grief, but have entered a new stage of a continual state of dull heart ache at all times. It is like music playing in the background, sometimes you are conscious of it and at other times are you not cognitively aware of it, but it is always there. I know I will never forget Quinn and I will always love her, but I wonder if there will ever be a day when EVERYTHING doesn't lead back to her like it does now. All things in life now cause a twinge of hurt because they somehow remind me of Quinn.
I am, however, finding out that I am a survivor and I can do this. But I am not satisfied with being just a survivor, I want to thrive in this life I have been given. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I view this grief as an epic battle, something that I don't want to sit back and let take over my life. It is something I want to fight. And I hear the Lord say, as he said to Gideon in Judges 6:12-13 & 15-16...
                   "'The Lord is with you mighty warrior!' Then Gideon said, 'Sir if the Lord is with us, why are we 
                     having so much trouble?... How can I save Israel? My family group is the weakest in 
                     Manasseh, and I am the least important member of my family.' The Lord answered him, 'I will
                     be with you. It will seem as if the Midianites you are fighting are only one man."
I empathize with Gideon when he is confused at the trouble he is experiencing if God is with him. I can't count how many times I have asked God as to why are we having this much trouble and why won't he step in and rescue us? I can relate to being weak. There is no way I can do this on my own. I am fighting a giant and am a huge underdog. I woke up in the early morning hours Saturday from a dream and I felt like God was telling me that I am David and this grief and fear of the future is my giant. By all earthly standards I can never defeat this, it is so much bigger than me. And though my faith is thin, I am trusting that God is with me. I am hoping in the words of Jesus in Matthew 17:20:
                   "I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 
                    'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."
I am not ignorant of the fact that this is the greatest, most difficult fight of my life. And though the battle might change as life goes on, it will always be there. I need endurance and perseverance. 
Hebrews 10:32, 35-36, & 39 states:
                     "Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in
                     a great contest in the face of suffering... So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly
                     rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will
                     receive what he has promised... But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed,
                     but of those who believe and are saved."
I think of an epic tale like Lord of the Rings and feel like the following quote was made just for me...
                   "Frodo: I can't do this, Sam.
                    Sam: I know. It's all wrong. By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the
                    great stories, Mr Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they 
                    were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy?
                    How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the
                    end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And
                    when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you.
                    That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo,
                    I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only
                   they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.
                   Frodo: What are they holding onto, Sam?
                   Sam: That there is some good in this world, Mr. Frodo... and it's worth fighting for."
I sit and ponder this and it is true. All the great stories that ever moved me were those with an underdog, those where all hope seemed lost, and yet the characters stayed strong, they persevered, and they fought against all odds. So today I choose to fight... fight against bitterness, fight against feeling sorry for myself, fight to see the good in life... and know that it's worth fighting for.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

New Identity

Identity Theft...that is what has happened. 6 months ago I knew who I was. I was a positive person who loved to laugh, and who saw the best in people. I was a mother and a care-giver. I was a faithful believer in Christ sure in my relationship with Him. I knew who He was to me and I knew who I was to Him. Yet, in one life-altering event all of that was gone. I feel as if the whole ship of my life went down and I am floating on a raft in the middle of the ocean with nothing but water for miles. I look around me and see different parts of who I used to be floating away in the distance all on different debris in different directions. I can see them slowly floating away and there is nothing I can do about it.
I am so tired of being sad. This is not me. I just want one day where I can drop this longing and sadness off somewhere and forget about it, but sadness is my shadow- it follows me everywhere. I have a hard time looking forward to things. All I see in my future is dread- anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays- all words that were once cheerful words now make me clam up, make me recoil. And my innocence, my naivety all are gone. When bad things happen to other people, I am calloused to them. How can those things break my heart like they used to when my heart is already shattered? There are no pieces left to break.
Six months ago I was a mother. There are moments in my day or week that I try to reason with myself... "Alison, you lived 28 years of your life without Quinn. You have known living without her longer than you have known what is like to live with her. YOU CAN DO THIS." I honestly give inner pep-talks quite often. But then I remember. I remember how it felt to smell her, to hold her warm sweet body against my chest, how it felt to hear her breath, and coo, I remember the feeling my heart had when I saw her smile, when I made eye contact with her and she smiled in recognition of who I was and then I think... "How could I ever go back?" I can never forget how she made my cup runneth over and I am now so painfully aware of this empty cup. I know I am still a mother in some sense of the word... the mother who needs to go to the cemetery every day to make sure everything is ok, the mother who wakes up in the middle of the night when it sleets outside barely able to hold myself together knowing her baby is "out" in this, but being a mother is a verb to me. It is the day in and day out things you do for your child  and that...that is gone.
But the identity I mourn the most is losing the identity I had of Christ and who I thought he was. C.S. Lewis  echos my thoughts in A Grief Observed:
            "The conclusion I dread is not 'So there's no God after all,' but 'So this is what God's really like."

Why have I always secretly thought of God as my Holy Vending Machine? The God who, if I do good, will toll out blessings? And my trust in Him is so thin. When any opportunity for a bad circumstance arises, I have a hard time believing that the best is going to happen- at least what I think is best. Being in this position leaves little room for hope.
As I am beginning this new year the same few words keep coming to my mind and heart- restore and renew. I want to be renewed, I yearn for restoration.
Jeremiah pleads for it in Lamentations 5:15 & 20:
            "Joy is gone from our hearts; our dancing has turned to mourning (15)... Restore us to yourself,
             O Lord, that we may return; renew our days of old. (20)."

           "And the God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little
            while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast."                -1 Peter 5:10

            "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being
             renewed day by day."                                                                                   -2 Corinthians 4:16
My prayer is similar to David's in Psalm 51:10-12
             "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from
              your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant
              me a willing spirit to sustain me."
But I am so worn that it is hard to know where to start with the restoration. I was in the car this morning and the throwback song of I Want to Fall in Love with You by Jars of Clay came on and it hit me like a ton of bricks- I want, no, I need to fall in love with the Lord all over again. If I have discovered that I didn't really know who the Lord was... It's time to get to know Him all over again. My New Year's Resolution? To fall deeper in love with God.  In order for God to "renew a steadfast spirit within me" and "restore the joy of my salvation" I need to return to my first love- Him. God has written me 66 love letters... the Bible.  Like a woman waiting to hang on every word in writing from her lover afar, I should be hanging on every word of his love letters to me. I have made a resolution to start with Genesis and read 2-4 chapters a day and read the book 66 Love Letters by Larry Crabb along with the Bible when I start and finish a new book/love letter. In the beginning of a marriage- love is sweet, easy, and natural, but as the years go by it takes more work to keep the spark in the marriage. It is time for me to get to work to get the spark back. And I hear God saying to me,
               "I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness. I will build
                you up again and you will be rebuilt, Oh Alison. Again you will take up your tambourines and
                go out to dance with the joyful."                           -Jeremiah 31:3-4
And here begins the restoration of my Identity. Not of who I once was, but who I am in Christ.