Joyful Suffering

April 20, 2017

My alarm went off at 3:00 this morning. I brushed my teeth and my hair. I threw some make-up on, finished packing my bag, and walked out the door where my friend was waiting to take me to the airport. Yesterday I got the call I had been dreading. My dad told me there weren’t many days left. I got the quickest flight home. My parents picked me up at about 8:30 Oklahoma time, next stop: the hospital.

Today was a rough one. Today I saw my aunt, my second mother, in so much pain she was incoherent. The cancer was literally eating her bones. Her lungs were full of fluid. She could hardly breath. I watched her grasp for air, hold her cancer ridden rib cage, and heard her moans of pain. I watched a woman, who I had leaned on for strength more times than I could count, strain to recognize me as I attempted to convince her to drink some water with childish choo-choo noises (she was coherent enough I got a version of an eye roll for that).

Today was a rough one. Today half my heart was shipped overseas to serve our country. Today I cried tears as I saw pictures of him boarding the plane for what would be his “home” for the next 9 months, pictures of the rifle he’d be carrying, pictures of the boy who had to become a man. I watched the man I have loved, fought, and relentlessly prayed for leave me with a phrase I will cling too in the few messages I got the night before he left: “You’re strong hun, you can handle anything thrown at you”. That phrase and a hoodie was all I was left with. He left behind a single, broken-hearted girl who was forced to become a strong woman.

I’ve shed more tears in the last few days then I care to admit. I have found myself praying in any quite moment I might have. I cling to my phone waiting for the next aunt or deployment update. I have found my stomach churning as I see a Snapchat story instead of receiving the text from him that I desire on his whereabouts and his safety. I have been a hot mess express. The anxiety is high right now. I wonder when I got old enough to handle all of this as I help my mother take care of business for the upcoming experiences my poor cousins are going to have to face. I didn’t really have a choice, I was called to grow up and be mature for my loved ones.

May 16, 2017

I got to Oklahoma at 4:30 this morning. I was up by 8. I had errands to run before I met the family for lunch. I put my dress on, fixed my hair and make-up and met my parents down stairs to head to the funeral home. I didn’t get to make it for family night so my dad took me to see her before we ate lunch. Cancer had eaten away the beautiful woman I once knew but she looked good. My brother kept his sun glasses on. I cried, but I held back so many tears too. I had to be strong. I was about to see my cousins and they had just lost their mom. I was about to see my grandparents and they had just lost their daughter. They all knew how close JoAnn and I were but still I felt the need to be strong for them. I walk in and my papaw hugs me and kisses my forehead. That was something I hadn’t experienced before but I knew he was struggling to express himself. He wouldn’t shed a tear the whole day.

From the moment I walked into the funeral home and saw how many people were there the tears began to flow. I sat between my dad and papaw. My dad hugged me the whole time. I can still count how many times I have seen him cry on one hand, but that day was different. He lost his little sister. I grabbed and held my papaws hand through the whole funeral. It was happy, it was sad, and they played the rock music just like she wanted. It captured her beautifully. My dad walked me up to the casket to see her before we left. I just started bawling and hugging him. When we hit the people outside the emotions just kept coming. I couldn’t hold back the tears anymore. I was told I had to breathe or I would hyperventilate many times.

May 31, 2017

Its been two weeks since the funeral and I still feel the urge to pick up the phone and call her. I put off writing this because I just didn’t know what to say. Aunt JoAnn is in a better place. She asked my dad to take care of her kids so that means I gained a brother and sister. We were really more like siblings anyways. I’ve seen my family take care of each other in the most inspiring way. Although we grew closer as a family it still doesn’t take the pain away.

I beg God to enlighten me on what his plan for my life is. I have experienced so much loss this year that the weight upon my shoulders is making me question if I am strong enough to handle all of it. How could God put the two things that I have been dreading the most on the same day? How could he put my brothers wedding and my aunts funeral in the same week? God what are you doing?!

Here I am reminded of Hannah. Hannah was verbally taunted by her sister wife because she could have children but Hannah could not. Her husband, Elkana, favored Hannah regardless. Hannah went to the temple weeping and begging for God to give her a child. Eli, the priest, saw her and in her distraught state thought she was a drunkard. Eli tried to get rid of her but then quickly realized the situation. He then proceeded to bless Hannah; he said:
“Go in peace. And may the God of Israel give you what you have asked of him.” 1 Samuel 1:17

Then came the waiting period. 1 Samuel 1:20 says that before the year was out she conceived. As I’ve read this passage before I have always been like “wow how miraculous it only took a year!” As I read that now and go through my current life situations I am like, “holy cow, how did Hannah do it?” I have almost no patience. I have been in my current struggle for months and still I feel distraught, I am still wondering when this wave of bad happenings is going to end. Like most people in my generation I want what I want when I want it. I am so used to having almost everything I need at my fingertips. Have a question: Google it. Want to talk to my family from 12hrs away: pick up the phone. Typically these things are simple. So, when it comes to God answering my prayers I think that it should happen right now too. I know just like Hannah the things that He has promised me. I know this without a shadow of a doubt! I understand I am being bold but I just know! Yet, I have not mastered the art of joyful suffering (James 1:2-4). Crying is my new norm.

Here I desire to be more like Hannah. I want to joyfully suffer because that is what God is asking of me. I want to lay my worries down at his feet and leave them. Why should I worry if I know what God has promised? He promised He would always protect me and I could take refuge when I need strength. He told me that when I couldn’t be strong that He would be strong for me. He knew this time was coming. He knew I’d be tested to the point that I was unsure if I was strong enough. He knew that I would need the confirmation that I was strong enough from the person that means the most to me. He was answering my prayers, just not how I thought He would. My goal: although I may be facing some of the most difficult life situations in my young life, I will suffer with joy that only comes from my Heavenly Father.

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4

A Letter to the Struggling Loved One

To my struggling loved one,

For the first time in months when I looked at that picture of us I smiled. I didn’t feel hurt or pain. I simply smiled. That picture was the start of something wonderful, and glorious, but also something extremely painful. The last four months have been agonizing for me. Like my heart was yanked out of my chest. I wasn’t sure what else there was for God to teach me through hurts because I have been hurt so much in the last year. I have lost one thing after the other and honestly have faced some of the most terrible times in my life. I have fallen to the floor in uncontrollable sobs, cried myself to sleep, and called my mom and bestfriends crying more times than I would like to mention. This year my strength has been tested but I also watched my prayer life with God grow. I had forgotten that throughout life you are always learning; there will never be a time you are not learning. I made a prayer wall. I spent hours upon hours upon hours praying for you, my family, and friends. I start my day with a prayer. I sit in my office and type it out every morning because most of the time if I speak it, it just comes out jumbled. I not only learned to pray but I learned to listen to God too. I learned from times in the past where I thought I had heard God and was wrong and now as I listen I can hear him ever so clearly. He’s given me visions of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. God has revealed how He will bring some of my hearts deepest desire, desires He planted in my heart, to fruition. He is teaching me faith and patience as I wait for those visions to be fulfilled and to be blessed with the things he has promised me. Waiting isn’t easy. Matter of fact it is the hardest thing I have ever done. I trust God. My God is a BIG God, but sometimes I still cry. After all I am only human. But when I start praying and a sense of peace washes over me because I remember what I have heard. This hasn’t been easy for me. People say that if we trust God then we shouldn’t worry. I lay down my worries at his feet constantly. I have to do it over and over and over again but I also have to fight doubt with myself. I fight the doubt in myself that Satan has planted and continues to plant as other people question whether I heard God right. I’ve heard God wrong before, maybe I heard him wrong this time too? Then it goes away, because I have never been so certain about something in my life. I pray that you develop the same relationship with God as I have. I know you’re struggling right now too. I know that the reason you have hurt me is because you are struggling and “Hurt people, hurt people” – Levi Lusko. I have a very forgiving heart. I have already forgiven you. Can you forgive me for the times I have put you down when I became angry with you? I hate the animosity that has developed between us when we used to have so much fun together. I miss you. Just because I don’t talk to you doesn’t mean I don’t miss you. I just can’t get through to you anymore so I choose to do all my fighting through prayer. I lift you up in prayer daily. Do you pray for me? I hope you remember how much you are loved. I hope you remember that you deserve to be happy. I hope you find your way again. Most importantly, I hope you turn to God to lead you. You can always return to God. His arms are always open. He is waiting for you.

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.” Luke 15: 22-24

Sincerely,

Someone who cares about you.

Don’t Ignore God’s Call

This picture was captured in a moment of pure bliss. Should it have been? Probably not. A friend and I were unloading trash out of the back of my truck into the trash pile behind my house and I might have accidently closed the tailgate on their finger. At the moment in this picture they had locked me out of my truck. They might have been a tad salty that I was laughing so hard at what had just happened. To be fair I was laughing at their reaction, not them getting their finger smashed. They took this picture of me as I was trying to catch my breath and attempting to get into my truck; and I have to say, it is one of my favorite pictures.

This picture to anyone else would just seem like any normal picture but for me, knowing the backstory it is a moment that captured the wholeness of God’s beauty. I don’t mean that in a conceited way, bear with me. This picture captures the raw beauty of love and friendship. It captures mistakes and forgiveness. It captures caring for one another. It captures the simplicity and joy of life, right before it all came crashing down. You wonder how do I get that all from a picture? Well I lived it. When I look at this picture these are the things I am reminded of.

Love and Friendship

I didn’t have to help this person haul off trash that day. I could have done anything else. They didn’t have to help me later on that week clean out an old disgusting house I had promised to clean out for my dad or go “treasure hunting” in an old falling down house on one of our places. They could have been doing anything else too!

Mistakes and forgiveness

I didn’t mean to smash their finger nonetheless it hurt them. I humbly said I was sorry (I might have been giggling when I did so) regardless they forgave me and it became a laughing point for both of us later on.

Caring for one another

We had a blast simply working together. Yes, we could have been doing anything else but because we cared for each other we took the time to help each other out. That is what you do when you care for someone.

Simplicity and joy of life

We didn’t have to spend any money, just working and being together was enough. We laughed, we made fun of each other, we pulled chunks of wood and old paint out of each other’s hair. Simply spending time with those you care about can make all of the difference. Money or even alcohol doesn’t make a moment special, the people you spend it with do and those are the moments that you are going to remember as the “good ole times”.

All of this wrapped up in one picture and there were many more moments like it. The most difficult thing is that sometimes, as humans, we fall into a difficult time of life that pull us away from each other. When you care about someone though, you don’t just walk away and that can be quite challenging. God puts different callings on each of our hearts, and just because someone else hasn’t received the same calling as you doesn’t mean that what you have heard is wrong. For as long as I can remember I have prayed that God use me as a tool to spread his word. Our goal as Christians should be to be Christ-like and bring others to know and walk with Christ. God is simply using me as I prayed He would, though at times it becomes very challenging. So when it has been put on your heart to help someone and be there for them do not let others discourage you. Friends simply want the best for you and seeing their friend get hurt can be tough, but search out the will of God. Continually pray that you are on his path and He will guide the way.

For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

Letting Go

I was a born fighter. I am known for getting back up swinging after being knocked down. As a high schooler that fight was mainly focused on my dreams and goals; things like winning livestock shows and speech contests, and I was very successful. But as I’ve matured and do almost no competing I have found that the fight has shifted somewhere else. I have this thing where I don’t give up on people easily. Although, I have also found that my control over this is far less than the control I had at being successful. I would say my speech to my dad in the living room 9 times in one night. We would write down questions as we were driving from place to place so I could spend my Ag period at school looking up the answers. When I was finished with my work in Trig I’d write my speech in the back of my notebook making sure I had it down to a “T”. While I couldn’t control how the judges chose or how much someone else practiced I could control how prepared I was when I walked into the room. With people it is far different.

img_8649Koda likes to join in on prayer time!

I’m a believer in the whole “cross oceans even if they wouldn’t do it for you” theory. I want to be a Godly example of someone who cares, but caring often leads to hurt. Tonight I did my best to let go of that hurt. You see that hurt made me angry, and that anger weighed me down. That anger was only hurting me. As a Christian I sought council for guidance to help me let go of the feelings I was harboring. After a conversation with my youth minister’s wife I sat down and made two lists: a list of hurts and list of all the things I loved about the person who hurt me. You know what? The list of loves was significantly longer than the list of hurts! It is so easy to focus on the bad that we forget the good we see in people! When I finished my lists I taped the “love list” to my prayer wall and I burned the hurt list. Yes, I burned it, in my sink, I was safe I promise! I prayed that as this list disappears so do all of the feelings I’ve been holding onto. It’s called GRACE and God freely gives it to us!
img_8648-1Koda on his rug by my prayer wall… he doesn’t leave my side! 

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9
We do not deserve God’s grace but he gives it anyways. In our walk to be more like Christ, we should also do the same for others.
img_8650-1My prayer wall. 

I heard this quote several days ago:

“The only thing harder than forgiveness is asking for it.”

Maybe for some people, for me I find the act of forgiveness far more difficult. Regardless God calls us to forgive. When you do you’ll find this amazing weight lifted off your shoulders (or maybe it’s just the endorphins from catching stuff on fire, only God knows!)
img_8644-1When you’re done all your left with is ashes. You can’t make heads or tails of once was, it has all been burned away.