Dad and Grandpa Jerry, October 2013
In early January Chris' great-grandma passed away.
A week later my Dad was diagnosed with stage four throat cancer.
A few months later Chris' Grandma was diagnosed with lung cancer.
And in October my Grandpa (my Dad's Dad) was diagnosed with stage four stomach cancer.
Never in my life have a dealt with more death and serious illnesses in my family. And all in one year.
I can remember back in summer, only halfway through the year, telling Chris that I just wanted this year to be over. That it was the worst year. That I was tired and angry and frustrated and sad and I couldn't handle anymore.
And then I found out about my Grandpa.
Early on in the year I had a lot of hope. I can remember one morning shortly after my Dad told me he had cancer, I was in the shower crying (I spent a lot of time there. I think it was easier for me to cry in the shower.) and praying out to the Lord that he would save my Dad, that he would spare me from this pain, that someday my future children would be able to have a beautiful relationship with their Poppie, just like I was able to grow with my grandparents by my side. And in one of those mornings the Lord gave me hope. Pure hope that He loved my Dad even more than I did and wanted to care for him, whatever that meant. It wasn't hope that my Dad would get better, but hope that he was in control and loved him.
I left that shower feeling refreshed and hopeful.
I spent the next nine months alongside my family supporting, encouraging and caring for my Dad, whether that was in distance through cards and encouraging coffee mugs or whether that was in Seattle tagging along behind him to his radiation appointments. We were there.
And we were all overjoyed in September when he was declared cancer free.
But then when the news came about my Grandpa my heart was broken. I felt uncared for and abandoned by the Lord. I didn't understand why He would allow so much pain and heartache and sadness for one family in such a short time. My heart broke for my Dad, who just going through his own battle as a 52 year old knew how difficult it would be for a 72 year old. My heart broke for my Grandma who just celebrated the thankfulness of life for her eldest son only to be faced with the reality for her husband of 53 years.
It didn't seem okay. It didn't seem fair. I was convinced that the Lord didn't care about me or my family. My heart grew bitter.
Around this time I had found out I was pregnant. At first it was difficult to be excited because I was convinced the Lord would make this difficult for me as well. And sadly I was faced with worry on a daily- probably every minute basis- that the Lord would take this joy from me as well.
And in this bitterness, I began to see the Lord as the enemy.
And that is somewhere I had never been before.
Early in November I had an opportunity to hang out with some friends from college. These were girls that were a solid part of my life early on in my walk with the Lord. Through conversations, scripture and even a song I left that night feeling the same hope that I had felt early on in the year. I awoke the next morning and went to a coffee shop, my journal and bible in hand. (This, which was once a custom, had become somewhat foreign to me in the previous few months).
That morning I asked the Lord to give me something from his word to cling to. Something that could give me hope. In the midst of struggling with bittnerness toward Him, distrust in Him and feelings that he didn't want to give me anything good I needed something to cling to as a reminder.
The Lord gave me this:
Return, O my soul, to your rest;
for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.
This verse hit me at the core. For so many months I had given up rest in Him out of the bitterness that had grown in my heart. For so many months I had struggling with thinking that the Lord was out to get me and didn't want to give me anything good but only the bad and the hurt and pain, when all along the Lord was challenging me to return to Him and His rest because despite what I think the Lord does care for me and my family and wants to bless us.
And that was when I realized it all. Up until this year, my life had been pretty easy. There have been big challenges for sure, but never such hardness and sadness and all in one small lump of time. And I realized that in the core of my heart I believed that I deserved to have a happy and easy life. I deserved to have things go my way and for my life to be all good and lovely and beautiful. But the reality of living a life in the Lord is that he does not guarantee life to be easy and wonderful and pain-free. In fact, he says specifically that those who follow Him will face challenges and persecuration and pain.
And that's when I realized that it wasn't about me. It was about Him and His glory and His goodness and the way he can use pain to shape us and mold us into the most beautiful humans he can that reflect Him. And that was when I realized also that how I choose to respond in the most difficult season of my life could bring him so much glory, honor and praise. If I would choose to return to him and rest in him and convince myself that He has dealt bountifully with me in my life, He would care for me and bless me in the ways He desires to. And He has.
From that point on I began choosing the joy, seeing the joy in my life. Whenever I could find it or notice it I sketched it down in my journal or whispered my excitement to Chris or thanked the Lord in small silent prayers.
And last week when we buried my Grandpa, in the midst of the sadness and pain I was able to thank the Lord for giving me such a wonderful man to care for me, to be His hands and feet in loving me from as early as I can remember. I was able to be thankful for the beautiful relationship the Lord blessed me with in my Grandpa Jerry, rather than sit bitterly through the visitation and funeral.
This morning I woke up late and went downstairs to watch my beloved Today Show. (Man, I love that show). One of the reports they were covering for New Year's Day was encouraging people to choose one word for the 2014, rather than listing a ton of goals that are hard to achieve. They encouraged that choosing one word it can be focused. It can be a simple, constant reminder of how you plan to change and live out your life in the 2014 year.
Today I have decided that my word for the year is return. I am returning to Him this year. Even if that means I have to choose to do this on a daily basis, that is what I will do. Because even though following Him does not guarantee an easy, pain-free life, it does guarantee a live of being loved by Him, a life of joy and thankfulness and beauty in Him if we will choose it.