Sunday, April 28, 2019

Remembering Grandpa (Oh, Cripe!)

This past week has been a blur. I feel like today has been a mirror of Monday and Tuesday when the grief was fresh and unprocessed. Being with my wonderful and loving family all week made me feel insulated from it all. All the love, prayers, fellowship, and other bright spots in the darkness, helped to create a safe place that made it easier to be "strong" and soldier through. However, now that I've come back home and am resuming my daily life, I feel more aware of the fact that my heart hurts. I feel like I just woke up from a very long dream and I'm trying to remember what has happened.

At my Grandpa's funeral, I sang "Tell Your Heart to Beat Again" by Danny Gokey; which had been suggested by Gianna when I was considering song choices. Even now, I feel like it was a God-thing for Him to have stirred her to mention that song because I'm still repeating the lyrics to myself. All who grieve have to take it one day at a time; telling their hearts to beat again. We close our eyes, breathe, and try to leave the sadness in the shadows and step into the light of grace; because we don't live in the closed doors of yesterdays. Life is a continuing journey where we have to move forward and allow the pain, sorrows, and scars shape us rather than break us.

This blog post is as much for my grief-processing as it is for anyone that knew my Grandpa. It is a blessing to me that my family finds comfort in the ways that God enables me to put my heart on paper. Therefore, I'll share the words I submitted for pastor Clark Stoller to read at the funeral so that it's here for people to read. I had also made a brief slideshow of some of the pictures of him that I had (and my cousin, Nikky, made the longer one that was shown at the funeral home):

Ask anyone who knew my Grandpa, and they would likely say that he was a "character". I couldn't agree more and I don't think there's a better word to capture him than that. 

Grandpa was a son, brother, husband, father, and grandfather. All of these roles he did well and with that sense of humor that he was known for. We loved his funny and silly ways. Sometimes, you could just see the orneriness in his face during a conversation because you knew he was waiting for the opportunity to interject a goofy comment or something completely random and nonsensical. It was even funnier if Grandma was around because she would often reprimand him and say, "Wayne, cut that out!" However, that usually didn't dissuade him from misbehaving; or even making a silly face at her. That usually earned him the bonus comment of, "you're so childish."

I am at a loss for words when it comes to describing him beyond the "character" that everyone knew, because I don't think many people knew the character behind the character. He didn't usually exhibit any mushy emotions very well; though he didn't mind if people made a fuss over him. He often pretended to escape your affections and would give you an "oh, cripe!"... but he enjoyed every second of it. Grandma always told me that he was her "biggest baby"; and she usually said it with fondness. He loved attention from others; even though he didn't usually reciprocate it in the same ways. Yet, he was still so easy to love because he was entertaining and good company. In that way, he gave as much as he got.  

I'm thankful to have had him in my life as long as I have. I'm blessed to have tons of memories, pictures, and videos with him in it. When you have that, a character never dies. "Boy oh boy...." that humor and personality lives on! We all love him and will miss him so much,...for "criminey sakes". 
Grace and peace to you, my friends! My heart and prayers go out to those of you that might be reading this and are dealing with grief of your own. Don't go it alone! Stay connected with family, friends, and church family that will lift you up (and I also suggest this short and powerful book that I can never recommend often enough!). God bless you all!

Friday, March 8, 2019

Mining for Gold

This has been a difficult, painful, emotional, and draining kind of week (or two) in so many ways. There were a lot of surprising, frustrating, and unexpected things that have occurred that have been very disappointing, shocking, and blood boiling. Though, there have also been good things that have also happened because of the unexpected. It's all a picture of how God truly does work things out for good for those love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). 

I'm glad I took this day off of work to rest; not only because I knew that I would get home late from last night's Casting Crowns concert, but because of the need to hit the "pause" button. I've been reflecting on everything with a lot of tears and intense emotions, but then it caused me to ask myself a few questions: Is this the lens I want to see this through? Is this what I want to dwell on and remember?
 
No, it isn't. In the mines of this current time, there are nuggets of priceless and precious gold. The dirt and darkness are part of the experience, but not the focal point. The objective is always to persevere through the tough stuff; the rock and the hard places. You find the gold when you don't give up and use the Light to banish the darkness. Jesus always illuminates the way when you carry Him with you and before you. He is the One that makes it possible for you to see, move, and push forward. Without Him, you're stuck; you can't get to the other side of the tunnel (and you certainly won't find any sparkling treasure to excavate). 

My daughter, Gianna, praising Jesus.
I'm choosing to look at the "haves" rather than "have nots"; the gems and not the pebbles and rocks. Yesterday, for example, didn't go as planned (over an hour jammed in traffic, among other things). We missed the first half of the concert. However, it really is about quality over quantity. The part we got to enjoy was so deep and rich. Our hearts were still full and the girls and I were blessed to share it with my Aunt Jennie. Apparently, she had had a rough day at the "mine" too, so we were all refreshed together by what we DID get to enjoy. We still heard some of the most touching songs ever; LIVE! I still got to see the peace and joy on my girls' faces as they soaked in God's presence and worshiped Him. I also got to unexpectedly share it with a family member that I love, treasure, and don't get to connect with very often (though, Gianna hogged her to herself as much as possible... but who can blame her lol?). Aunt Jennie is so much like Grandma; inside and out. The familiar warmth of her smile, hugs, and laughter was salve to my soul and her positivity and encouragement help lift the sadness from my day. That's what Grandma was always good at; she sure was a good "miner". I know that both of us strive to be the same way; and that only comes from the faith in Christ that we all share. Priceless and precious indeed!

Grace and peace to you, my friends! If you've been having a tough time in the mines too, I encourage you to focus on the gems rather than the dirt and rocks. Christ is the light! In Him, there is no darkness (1 John 1:5). Read the first chapter of 1st John today and be encouraged! There is light! There is hope, joy, and redemption! There is Jesus! God bless you!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

When It's Hard to Find the "Wonderful"

For many people, Christmastime is "the most wonderful time of the year." For others, those song lyrics are the last thing they want to hear because for one reason or another, it's hard to get excited about Christmas. Personally, every time my co-worker mockingly and randomly sings that line to me, I give him a "bah, humbug" kind of look.  It can be a struggle to have the Christmas spirit when you work at the Salvation Army and the "wonderful" time of the year is the most crazy busy time of the year.

As exhausting as all the busyness is, I know it's all worth it. Struggling families will be getting assistance and generous donors are ensuring that I still have a job to do as I process monetary gifts and take care of business. The ministry goes on because of this "wonderful" but busy time of year. God supplies all the strength and endurance I need to persevere through a long December; even with an ongoing cold & cough that is only now starting to taper off. I truly can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13). Jesus is the one that propels me onward. He keeps me looking forward to the mystery and hope of the upcoming new year as the current one wraps up. What a blessing it is to see the world through "Kingdom" lenses; an eternal perspective. Christ is my confidence! He gives me peace and joy even on the most weary days. 

The only thing that sometimes gets me down is when I become aware of the emptiness and sadness of others. Christmas and New Year's doesn't look bright and shiny to them. Fear has drowned out Hope because they have forgotten (or don't know) His name. The holidays have come at a bad time because they've just lost a job, a home, a loved one, or maybe more than one of those things at once. They may be dealing with a severe illness or injury, an addiction, or financial struggles. They may be a veteran struggling to overcome PTSD and are still fighting a war; the fight for the will to live. Some have buried parents, siblings, and even babies and children. Others have friends and relatives who are incarcerated; whether literally, figuratively, or both. 

The scenarios I mentioned all have names and faces attached to them; most of them are the people I listen to, hug, and pray with when they're coming in for help. You may not know the ones I know, but chances are you know someone who is going through this kind of pain and grief (maybe it's you). It's far too easy for Satan to use these tragedies for his gain; all he has to do is keep the focus on the problems rather than the One who solves them. He cleverly keeps our attention fixed inward rather than upward; on that next fix, hook up, lottery ticket, shopping spree, or alcoholic beverage. It's all about keeping you obsessed with filling the void; returning to empty wells or salt water that can't quench or satisfy. In fact, some of those wells are downright contaminated with poison; yet the compulsion to draw from them remains and the cycle continues. The negative emotions and depression deepens and digs its hooks deeper into your soul; becoming more and more of a stronghold and stumbling block.

The good news is that there IS "good news"; "tidings of great joy" for ALL people (yes, YOU too)! It's the Gospel message and the whole reason this season is truly "wonderful": Jesus. I can vouch for the fact that He is the only One that can rescue and restore a heavy heart and weary soul. He is the key to freedom from those strongholds! I've been to the empty and toxic wells as much as anyone else. Because of my own struggles, I can promise you that Hope really does deliver, because that deliverer's name is Emmanuel; "God with us." He is the way, the truth and the life, who gives us living water. Turn away from the kind of water that isn't good for your soul and turn to the one and only pure water source. Christ's living water is fresh, pure, and sustaining. HE is the answer you seek. Be a wise man (or wise woman) and journey towards the Savior who has come to rescue and restore you! Fall on your knees before the Savior. Humble yourself before the One who humbled Himself as well. Our Creator came to Earth in the very human form in which we ourselves are made. God came to be with us so that He could also die for/deliver us, and then live IN us through the Holy Spirit. He was forsaken so that we would never have to be. In your greatest need and brokenness, He is with you. Draw near to Him and He will draw near to you. You are not alone! What a most wonderful time of year it is indeed! HE makes it wonderful!

Grace and peace to you, my dear friends! Please, pray for those that are seeking, hurting, grieving, and needing to know the hope and joy that the Prince of Peace brings. In this season of giving, look for every opportunity to do the most good. Give spare change to the Salvation Army red kettles (or volunteer to ring the bell!!), adopt a family for Christmas, donate food to the pantry, smile at strangers, visit a nursing home, etc. As John Wesley said: "Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can." Don't waste a moment to make an impact! Be the hope of Jesus everywhere you go; through your words and actions. Love well! Additionally, if you are reading this and are desperate for the hope and peace I've shared about, please comment or contact me. I would love to listen to your heart, hear your story, and pray for you! God bless you!