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Posts Tagged ‘learning from trials’

If you had told me in January of this year that today would be so full of joy that my heart would overflow and I could hardly keep the smile from my face as we drove home from church, I would have rolled my eyes and said in a sarcastic tone, “Yeah right…”.

Let me back up…here is a run-down of 2012…My cousin, John, passed away from stomach cancer in January. Blane graduated from high school, changing my life as a mom. My dad passed away in June. We moved Blane to college two weeks later. In August the wife of Freddo’s co-worker died; she had become my friend over that last year and a half of her life, and we were there when she passed away…bringing with it all the sights and sounds of my dad’s death… In November a very close friend of mine died. I went to see her on Friday. She couldn’t respond to me, but when I told her I had to go and prayed with her, and that I would be back the next day, she got restless and started making noises for the first time since I had been there…if only I had known that she would pass away the next morning…I would never have left…

All through this process I spent time each day searching for gifts, and I journaled them. Honestly, this daily moment by moment act and praise music were like my life lines through the dark days. I knew God was there, but because of the pain my heart was in, I couldn’t see Him, or feel Him. (I recently learned that “feeling” my way to God is not biblical.) I developed a very discouraged and rebellious attitude. I didn’t care much about anything. I struggled to find joy in each day and I still laughed and smiled upon occasion, but I felt lost.

In December of 2013 Bob’s dad was diagnosed with Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma and was given “months” to live. In January of 2014 we moved into their home to assist in his daily caregiving needs and stayed with them until a week after he passed away at the end of March.  In February Freddo and I resigned all of our “positions” of ministry at our church, since we didn’t know how long this would go on. Our hearts were so sad and discouraged, and yet we KNEW we were right where God intended us to be.

I learned so much during this time! One thing was… that a few clothes, my own pillow, my tablet, my Bible, a book called “Becoming More than a Good Bible Study Girl”, and my hubby was really all I needed from home. We have always tried to live a “simple” life, but this really was simple. I recall thinking, “All that stuff at our house, all the decorations, the dishes, the clothes, jewelry, furniture, tv, etc., none of it means anything.” I guess God really changed my heart about our possessions during that time. Now, to be honest, I still struggle with contentment, and I think I always will to some degree, but there had been a definite shift in my thinking.

Freddo and I struggled about where God wanted us to worship from here on out. We worshiped with his mom at his folk’s church for some time, and while our hearts were so encouraged by the love and support from their community, we never had a peace that we were to leave our home church. So we decided to go back to “visit” our church. We sure felt on guard during that time, and I can’t tell you the exact Sunday that we knew what God’s plan for us was, but I can say we were convicted during worship one Sunday morning. On our way home we agreed that if we were going to worship at HBC, we were going to get back into serving the Lord there. And that exact week, God opened doors for us that we had never imagined. We decided that we would serve God with our hearts, wholly surrendered to Him, despite the cost.

Today, August 24, 2014, I can tell you that for the first time in a long time, I walked away from a full day of service to the Lord with an overflowing heart, so full of love for His people. It would take a while to go all the joys God blessed me with today, but I do want to testify that God has renewed my heart and healed it. It has been a slow, long, painful process, but I can at this time thank Him for all the pain of these past few years.

If you are discouraged by the trials in your life, let me encourage you to not give up the fight. Seek God. God’s Word says in Psalm 53:2, “God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.”  After reading this verse, I realized that I want to be one that God sees who understands and who seeks after Him. Don’t you?

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Well, my sweet friend, it has been a year since I stood at your bedside, singing a song in your ear and praying with you. If only I had known it would be my last chance to speak to you… I have to wonder what I would have said differently??? If only you could have spoken on that last day. I have a strong feeling you knew I was there, that you could hear me, cause you became so restless when I told you I had to go.  I wonder if God had already told you that you would be going home so soon…is that why you were so restless?

I have spent too much time this last year thinking through the “if onlys” of that day, and the months prior to your death. But God has constantly pointed me back to the positives of what had already passed. Our talks on the phone, our times of spiritual accountability, our moments of encouraging the other during the hard days, the times we talked about your double lung transplant and the hardest parts of those days, the cards and scrapbooks that we made while we were together, the love for music that we shared, the fears that we both had, the laughs we had over our boys, the talk of Bible studies and learning together about God, our times of prayer, our quest to live boldly for God and our frustration with never doing enough for Him, the list goes on and on. I try to dwell on all those memories of the great times.

So often I wonder how your “days” play out now? Can you see me? Do you know of my struggles and my tears? Do you understand why your mom and my dad passed in the ways that they did? Does your illness make sense to you now? Does it matter if we have our quiet time in the morning or at night (lol)? Do you have all the answers to the private things we discussed between the two of us?

I am incredibly grateful that you are no longer suffering and when I think of being in the presence of God I am at complete peace, but when I lose my focus and think of myself and try to figure out the days without you here to talk to, I get a bit discouraged. Oh how many times I have wanted to talk to you… About envelopes, where do I buy them? Where did you find those keys that you put on that plaque? What was that recipe that we made for that family? What were your plans for some of the projects that you had started? How I wanted to cry to you like we have done before when the days have been hard. I have never lost of friend before and I miss you like crazy!

I am so grateful for the things I learned during your life…

-my struggles or frustration usually come back to a heart issue

-never take your friends for granted

-don’t judge your friends, let them be vulnerable about whatever is on their heart and just listen

-it’s okay for be afraid, just don’t give in to those fears, always look back to God

-when I fail at my having my quiet time, I just start again tomorrow

-never give up hope, God is working

-germs…they are everywhere…lol!

-how your death has caused me to lean even more on the Lord, trying to understand and trust His will, especially when it hurts, even when it’s hard

I did do the Ann Voskamp study we talked about doing together in January. I was a good study, but I still wish we could have done it together!

I will forever be grateful to the Lord for your friendship and for the times we shared. Remembering you today, a little more than usual, and rejoicing in God’s will with tears in my eyes…

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Fall is, by far, my favorite season of the year. The cooler weather, breezes blowing through the trees, bon fires, the changing of the leaves…bright yellows, magnificent oranges, and fiery reds…what an amazing array of colors that warm my heart in a way that no other season can.

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Despite my love for this time of year, there have been many things that have happened throughout the years that have threatened my joy during this wonderful season. But God (which is an amazing statement alone) has taught me to “Choose Joy Now”, no matter what may be happening around me. One way I have learned to do that is to find things to be grateful for, even during the toughest of times. Often these are obscure things that are hard to notice without careful attention, other times God displays them proudly, right in front of me.

It’s almost as if He knows I need to see His Hand at work. I know He understands fully my need to trust Him even deeper than yesterday. Trust…it has become my word for the last few years, it has been a long journey, but one that has not quite come to an end just yet. And in all honesty, I can say I am glad that He is not yet content with my trust in Him.

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Recently my friend’s husband left home for a one year deployment to protect our country’s freedom. My heart has been heavily burdened for them as they waited for the day of his departure to arrive. I have been praying, but God was pressing me to do more, so as I left for work this morning I asked the Lord to show me a different Bible verse each week that I could pray for my precious friend and her family. As I was praying, I jokingly mentioned that God would need to be creative in how He showed me a verse this week, as I have not been the most diligent each day to read His Word. I finished praying and began singing praises to God as I continued my drive.

When I walked into work I began coughing, so as I was digging through my purse looking for a sinus pill, I came across a small yellow paper that was crumpled and a bit worn.

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On the paper was,

Isaiah 41:10
“So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

 

As soon as I read it I began to smile…I knew this was the verse that God intended me to pray for my friend and her family this next week. It took me a while to take all this in, because, as you see, I had written this Scripture on the torn half sheet of yellow paper back in March of this year (2013), when I was struggling to trust God with a difficult situation that was happening. That verse came to me as a welcomed relief back in March when I heard it and I quickly jotted it down on the scrap piece of paper. I was reminded back then how much God must love me to give me that verse at that exact moment when I so desperately needed to know that He was holding me…did I mention that was SEVEN months ago…??? This morning when I found this paper in my purse, I had this overwhelming sense of peace of God’s love for me and for my friend as I wondered how exactly God had gotten that piece of paper into my purse after all of these months…?? I clean out my purse at least once a month. I KNOW I had taken this paper out, but for such a time as this, God saw fit to get it back into my purse so I would find it this morning. He knew that on the way to work I was going to ask for Him to show me a verse to pray. I just shook my head as I took all of this in this morning…and by the way, my coughing, which is why I got into my purse to begin with, has stopped by this time…

 

So I quickly shot my sweet friend an email to explain to her how much God loved her (explaining the story to her quickly. Imagine, if you can, how encouraged my faith was when she sent the following text and then email to me…
“Isaiah 41:10 is the verse we are “claiming” as a family for this deployment. The boys’ necklaces say “FEAR NOT” and [my husband] wrote out that verse for them right after we found out about his deployment. We both came across Isaiah 41:10 as a verse we should use separately. God reminded me when you sent me this verse that He knows me. He is good.”

 
The following came in an email…”I don’t feel like my text adequately explained what a gift this was. Instant tears came to my eyes as soon as I saw the verse…not out of sadness, but out of humility that all mighty God cares for me that much. I shared it with the boys this morning. I want them to know God is here and at work, and that He loves us. If in the end they have a better knowledge of Him and His faithfulness, then all of this is worth it. Thanks for praying and asking God for guidance. Oh, what a difference it makes. Love you much. “

 
Honestly, there are not adequate words to color for you the joy, faith, comfort, peace and love that flooded my heart when I stepped back and took all this in. There were so many cool things that God brought together in these precious moments this morning. I was even able to go back and thank God in a different and deeper way for the trial that we went through back in March, for if we hadn’t walked through it, I wouldn’t have been desperate for that verse and I wouldn’t have written it down. God just set me at awe this morning. I never cease to be amazed at Him.

 

As I sat there taking all this in, God brought a song to my heart that I began to sing. It is a song that God used to encourage my heart after my dad died. Click on the following words to hear the song:

 
“Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Never once did we ever walk alone
Carried by Your constant grace
Held within Your perfect peace
Never once, no, we never walk alone”

 
I smiled as I considered that God loves my friends so much that He is demonstrating His love for them as they begin this journey.

A journey that will be long and hard.

A journey that will require much faith and tenacity.

A journey that will test them in ways they’ve never been tested before.

A journey that will grow them in ways that nothing else can.

A journey that only God can walk them through and bring them out better on the other side.

And the cool thing is that they will never walk alone throughout the whole journey, even though they are apart from each other! God is good, just as my friend said.

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The last few days I have spent so much time thinking about my dad and how my heart misses him so deeply.

The Christmas season wasn’t as hard as I anticipated it being, since it was our “first” since he died. I was kind of breathing easy since it had come and gone and all seemed to be okay.

This past Saturday Freddo and I were in the kitchen cooking, when I rattled off one of the things that Dad and I used to sayto each other. I would say, “Hey, Poncho” and he’d say, “Hey, Cisco”, then we’d both say, “Hey, Hey, Hey”. It was just one of those things that we have always done. Dad had a lot of sayings.

Even at the end of his days on this earth, I could see his eyes react when I would say both of our parts (cause Dad lost his ability to talk toward the end).

Well, on Saturday, I just rattled that saying off and not one thought of my dad entered my mind until Freddo said, “I bet your dad is laughing at you about now, since you are still saying that”.

My heart was devistated that I said it and didn’t think of him…

Well, I pushed that out of my mind for the remainder of the evening and all seemed fine (avoidance is a tactic I often use)…until we turned off the lights to go to sleep. All of a sudden my mind went directly to the fact that I had “forgotten” my dad, and the tears began to fall. Memories of him at the nursing home flooded my mind like a still shot motion picture, full color, words and all, and for the first time since he died I entered the “guilt” part of the grief process.

When we put him in the nursing home I knew it was God’s plan. Even though I didn’t like it one bit, I never questioned it…until Saturday night. I even entertained thoughts of how awful I was for encouraging my mom to put him into the home. I thought in those brief moments that he very well might still be alive if I hadn’t intervened. I cried the most Saturday night that I have cried at one time since Dad died.

Grief is like that, you are going along fine, then BAM!!! It stops you in your tracks, and plows you right over. My mom calls these times “ambushes”.

Freddo reassured me that it was all a part of God’s plan, reminding me of all that I already knew to be true. But it didn’t change the guilt that flooded my heart in those few hours Saturday night. In my selfishness all I could think of was that I wanted him back…

I decided to go back through some notes that I wrote on Facebook when Dad was sick this morning. And it sure was an encouragement to my heart. I am going to copy and paste one or two of them here, so that you can see a small glimpse of what our family’s journey with Lewy Body Dementia looked like.

This entry was dated August 16th, 2011:

When we decided to have a facebook account a few years ago, we said that we want to use it for God’s glory. So I would like to share with you a bit about our lives. Some background: My (Sheila’s) Dad was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia a few years ago, and up till now my Mom has cared for him at home.  It is with heavy hearts that we applied for him to live at the Veteran’s Home in Mexico a year ago (2010), because his care is getting too much for my mom to handle.  We asked God to take his placement at the home out of our hands and to work it out in the way that He sees fit.  The time has come for him to be admitted, cause his name is very near the top of the waiting list, like within the month, which is much earlier than we had planned. We have cried and struggled much with this decision, even asking God to change the course that we are to be on. So that basically brings you up to speed on where we are.  So please read the following about how God is continuing to work things out in His way.

When I woke yesterday morning I had no idea the day that God had planned for me.  I read my Bible and prayed.  As I prayed I asked God to help me to accept it in my heart what seemed to be His plan for us to move Dad into the Veteran’s Home, so that I wouldn’t become angry when that time came sometime later this month. 

I desperately needed God’s perspective, because so far my perspective was leaving me wanting. God showed me a bit of His vision yesterday morning that I will share with you now.

God allowed me to see that, yes, Dad is going into a nursing home, but that is not the proper perspective.  Dad really is just moving to the mission field, outside of all of our comfort zones.  And we (the rest of the family) get the privilege of visiting that mission field anytime we want to and will be able to share the love of Christ with those that are there. 

Many of you have known my Dad and know that it was his dream to retire and to become even more active on the mission field in Haiti.  When his health began to decline after his early medical retirement, that dream seemed to die, and a part of my Dad seemed to go along with it.  For when he talked about Haiti, it brought out a passion in him.  He loved serving the people there.

So you can imagine the peace that began to overwhelm my heart when I allowed God to remove sadness of “putting him into an institution”, taking him away from his comfortable home that he loves, and to see it as this incredible opportunity for him to move into this place that God had prepared for him to serve the Lord.  Dad still loves to talk about the things of God on his good days.  Not everything he has to say always make sense to the average ear, but when you listen knowing his heart, you hear the message of hope that God has given him and you are able to see Christ in him.  Well, at that point yesterday morning, I briefly thought about it, said thanks God, and moved on.  I had no idea that in a few short hours I was going to be allowed to share that vision with my Dad through tear filled eyes.

Dad had an appointment with a doctor yesterday; we were hoping that she would be able to convey his need for that level of care for him, since until this point he would not accept that information from us.  Well, when the doctor brought it up he became angry and she backed off and said, “Well, if it is not what you want, then perhaps you and your family should reconsider and wait to place you there when you are ready.” 

I thought then, “Okay, Lord, this is not going as I planned”. 

So we left the office and I took Dad down the hall, I stopped and got on the floor beside his wheelchair and asked him what he thought, to which he replied in a very stern and a fearful tone, “I don’t want to go there, I am afraid to be without my family. I don’t want to live with people that I don’t know.  That scares me.”

I shot a quick prayer to God and asked for wisdom.

I said with tears flowing, “Dad your disease is getting worse and it will continue to decline. What I am about to tell you is hard and I really need you to try to understand…You are going to have to go into the Veteran’s Home when they call, and they are going to be calling soon.” He began to cry, “I don’t want that”.

And I told him through my tears, “I don’t either, I have asked God to do something so that I didn’t have to place you there, but God said I was going to have to.”

Then I began to share the vision that God had given me that morning about the mission field and how he loved to tell people about Christ, and how the people at the home need him to be there to learn about Jesus.  It might be the only way that some of them ever get to hear about God.  I told him that God was going to use all of us and missionaries have rough roads that they don’t really like, but they willingly walk them, cause it is necessary for God’s kingdom to be furthered.

Next I used the new phrase that Dad loves, “We are going to have to ‘adapt and overcome’.”

(Mind you, I haven’t really had a normal conversation with my Dad in MONTHS, cause he doesn’t really live in reality much.)  But yesterday all day from that point on my Dad, the old Dad, that I know and love was there.

He, Mom and I talked and cried for a long time sitting outside at a picnic table at Culver’s.  It was the most exhausting, beautiful, painful, God-filled hours I have ever had in my whole life.  

Through those long, long moments Mom and I were able to reassure Dad of the many things that concerned him about moving there.  We told him we will be able to come any time of the night or day, it’s only 20 minutes.  He can call us anytime he wants.  

He asked if they would celebrate his birthday.  We assured him that they and we would do that.

I have never seen pain on my Dad’s face like there was yesterday.  It was so tough, but God was so faithful!!  

I can’t even begin to tell you how He met me right where I was and gave me every word I spoke.  Bob has a saying that he learned a few years ago, “God gives you exactly what you need, just when you need it.”  He reminds me of this often. And that phrase was true yesterday.  

I have been anxious many a day as we have looked forwardly to the day, wondering whether we would have to place Dad in someone else’s care, it wore on my mind and I couldn’t figure it out.  I knew I wasn’t to worry, I knew that I needed to trust God.  I was worried about how we would convey this to Dad and how he would handle it. Yesterday after it was all done and I was thinking over it all I thought of the following analogy from Corrie Ten Boom.

“When Corrie as a child asked her father, Opa, to tell her about sex, he made her try to pick up his heavy suitcase on the train. When she couldn’t do it, he said that the same was true in life: there are some things too heavy for us to know until we are old enough to bear the burden. The heavy suitcase is a metaphor for the burdens of life…….”.

God, as my Father, knew that the answers to the questions that I sought were too heavy for me at the time; and yet, yesterday, before I knew that I had need of that answer, God supplied my every need.  He showed up with exactly what I needed, just when I needed it!  

We are so blessed to serve a loving God that is so faithful.  I also know that God doesn’t allow things into our lives by accident; He wants us to use them to give Him glory and to encourage others.

I’m not sure what questions you are seeking of God, but I pray that this will encourage you to wait patiently on Him to answer you in His timing and to continually seek Him while you wait, because He alone knows when you need to have the strength to lift the suitcase. Please remember that above all you can trust Him with EVERYTHING!

These pictures were taken between Thursday, August 18 and Sunday, August 21, 2011. All of our family stayed those days at my folks, spending every last moment we could together before Dad was moved into the home on Monday.

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We spent some time singing praise songs to encourage our hearts.

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These two pictures were taken on Sunday just after we told Dad that he would be going to the home the next day. He handled it so well. We all cried. He just hugged and hugged on mom and they cried together.

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Freddo and Dad played Connect Four, which was Dad’s favorite game. It was always a hoot to play with him. So often he would accuse my mom of cheating when they played together, which made it even funnier.

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While Mom was working to get Dad’s clothes ready, Dad and I made homemade pizzas. Below he is chopping the olives for me. He sure enjoyed cooking.

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This entry was dated August 21st, 2011, the day before we took Dad to live at the nursing home:

“I read something from a caregiver’s devotional this morning. I think it really fit my thoughts and prayers as I think about and feel anxious about tomorrow. I have been wondering how God is going to work out all that concerns me.  “I have learned that even though the world is a tangle of paths and highways, avenues and streets, my Father knows them all, so we needn’t fear finding our way. My family is on a journey together, and whether or not we’re skittish about seating arrangements, we’re confident we’re heading toward a pre-determined destination. My earthly father has relinquished the driver’s seat, but he is confident, as we are, that our heavenly Father knows each turn on the horizon and the secret shortcuts. Our perspective is eternal- we have a view from above.”

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm to, plans to give you a hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:11-13″

I find it interesting that God allowed me to write these notes about Dad entering the nursing home with so much detail of how He had worked in all of it to bring us to the point of placing Dad in the home. Only God could have orchestrated all of that, including me documenting in the fall 2011, the very thing I would need at the start of 2013 to reassure me of His plans and free me from the guilt phase of my grieving process.

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I love you, Daddy…with all my heart!! We all miss you like crazy!

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Gary B. Whitehead, my dad, went on to be with the Lord on June 12, 2012 at 11:35 am. We celebrated his life on June 16th  at 10:30 am. The dates and times are forever etched into my mind. His death affected me much differently than I imagined it would.

I wanted him to be out of pain, as the past several years had been so hard on him. His mind constantly lied to him, because of his Lewy Body Dementia (LBD). And yet, when that moment came to truly let him slip completely into God’s Hands (figuratively), I wanted more than anything to selfishly say NO!! I even whispered in his ear, “I really don’t want you to go like I said before. I am really going to miss you” just before he died.

I found an audio Freddo recorded of Dad while he was talking to one of his friends on the phone back in March of this year. At first I didn’t remember when it had been recorded, but as the call went on everything came back to me.  His pain, his anxiety, his sorrow, his fear, his loneliness, his strength, his faith, how hard it was every time I had to walk in the door wondering what I would find and how incredibly difficult it was to walk away, not knowing what might happen while I was gone…and my eyes leaked a bit as I pondered all of it.

The season of this Lewy Body Dementia disease that God allowed in my dad’s life was where my faith in God was tested…maybe developed is a better word, or perhaps it was both…

Everybody has a “faith developer”, so to speak, in their life. A storm that shakes all that can be shaken to help us to realize what cannot be shaken.  There are many ways to respond to them, not all are healthy.

I asked God over and over not to waste Dad’s disease. I wanted Dad’s trial, which was also our trial, to bring about whatever it was that God desired most in my life. I didn’t want this pain, that was Divinely allowed, to be wasted.

Although within that process that meant I would need to follow Him, trust Him and obey Him with an open hand, through the laughs, the frustration, the fear and the tears.  Looking back I can see God’s Hand all through this journey to joy.

His celebration was such a blessed time. As I look back I am amazed at how God covered us through those days. It was so easy because of God for us to be strong and receive all that came to honor Dad that Friday night, to collect all the pictures, to write his eulogy, to bury him then go back to the church to celebrate his life and worship our Lord. We were blessed to have a couple of family members that were thoughtful enough to snap some shots of his military burial, which is still yet a huge blessing to us.

Last night and today have been more difficult days within this journey; partly due to finding that recording, but also since today they set Dad’s tombstone today. Veteran’s Day was always held in high esteem by Dad, in his honor Mom has pushed to have his tombstone set before November 11th. By God’s grace they were able to get it set today.

I went by today after they were gone. For many days after Dad’s celebration I went and sat beside his grave, read my Bible and prayed. I knew he wasn’t there, but it was the last place I had known his body to be. Somehow going there, sitting, reading, and talking to God there brought me peace. Then it became hard to go there…not really sure why, as I have done my best not to think of why I avoid it. But today, yes today, I forced myself to go, knowing full well that it would bring a fresh reality that I truly cared less to entertain.

A reality set in today that I wished weren’t true. In my mind I knew that my dad’s casket and his physical body were below that dirt, but without his name on a stone above it, somehow I was able to avoid the final feeling that arrived at my heart today. The memories of him are my lifeline most days, having an audio of his laugh and videos of him praying, they keep me smiling despite the longing in my heart to have him back. I have gone back over all that happened in the last 7 years and despite that love that we had and the laughs, I truly would never be so selfish as to want him to come back. He is in heaven now, his every fear, pain and ailment has been alleviated by his sovereign Lord, and that brings me so much peace. He is whole for the first time ever in his life, he is with His Father. Now He has met my only sibling that my parents lost during Mom’s second and last pregnancy. It sure leaves me with a wonderful smile and joy in my heart to think of all Dad is experiencing now…how could I ever want to bring him back?


I decided to attach a link to Dad’s Eulogy for those of you that would like to see it. All you have to do is click on the following links. The eulogy is divided into a Part 1 and Part 2.

 

 

 

 

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