Courage to Carry On: Finding Hope When You’ve Lost Everything

Courage to carry onCourage is something I’ve thought about often during the past month–a commodity sorely needed by victims of Hurricane Harvey and Irma. Like many of us, I’ve witnessed the heartbreaking devastation of these storms as news channels have broadcast moment-by-moment updates. At times, I felt like I was watching a natural disaster movie. It all seemed surreal. But to the people of Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and other areas where there’s been massive flooding and wind damage, it’s all too real.

To say I even begin to understand is an understatement. I have no idea what it’s like to lose everything you own. Sure, it’s easy to say material things are just “things” and don’t matter. What’s really important is our loved ones. And that’s true. But putting your life together after such a disaster is painfully difficult.

I’ve experienced the anxiety and terror of wildfires burning close enough to our home that you see flames. Three years ago, a wildfire burned more than 250,000 acres in our beautiful Methow Valley in Washington state, and destroyed more than 300 homes. We watched our friends reel from their losses. We also watched as they courageously began to rebuild their lives. Two years ago, another fire devastated our area and claimed the lives of three brave firefighters. The tragedy shook our entire community. Several hundred friends and neighbors gathered in the community park for a vigil. The stillness of that August night was lit with the glow from flashlights, cell phones, and glow sticks. Suddenly, material possessions seemed insignificant.

The things that matter the most in this world, they can never be held in our hand.
                                                                                                                     -Gloria Gaither

Believe

A few years ago, I did a word study on courage. In these times of unspeakable tragedy, courage is what will carry us forward. For me, courage is built on a foundation of faith. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it’s looking at your fears full-on and saying, I believe! I believe God is with me through any circumstances I face, no matter how difficult. Whatever situation you’re facing, just breathing the word courage can help you remember God is with you. He is the source of your strength and the reason why you can be courageous.

When I think of courage, people like Corrie ten Boom come to mind. She and her family made the bold decision to hide Jews in their home during World War II. Corrie, her father, and sister were sent to a concentration camp when they were found out. Only Corrie survived to tell the story. She proclaimed God’s faithfulness in the midst of tragedy for the rest of her life. Countless people heard her story–including a former Nazi guard who came forward and asked for her forgiveness. Offering forgiveness to someone who has caused so much pain takes courage to an entirely different level.

And then there are heroes of 9/11–too many to write about in this short blog. The courage of people like Welles Crowther, who is known as the man in the red bandana, inspire us. Welles was twenty-four years old when the plane crashed into the World Trade Center where he worked. He managed to get out safely. But then he ran back in numerous times to save others, accompanying them down forty floors to safety. Welles lost his life that day, but his story lives on. Courage has a way of leaving a legacy.

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The Bible talks a lot about fear. In fact, the words do not fear appear at least 366 times. What that tells me is having courage and not being afraid is important enough that God inspired the repetition of that command. Sometimes we think courage is some kind of bravery we have to muster up in our own strength. Not true! Courage is a by-product of faith. The antidote for fear is faith. 

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying,  I will try again tomorrow. -Mary Anne Rademacher-Hershey

That’s what will make the difference for hurricane survivors. Having the courage to believe they can take the next step, and then the one after that, one-day-at-a-time. They need courage to believe they can walk through this difficult time and come out on the other side–probably with a story to tell and being different from when they began this unwanted journey.

Walk Through

To carry on is the courageous keeping on with whatever is at hand, whatever is next in importance to do. During World War II, when London was bombed by the Luftwaffe for 59 straight nights, the city never shut down. The people of London went to work and kept their daily routines. That’s remarkable!

I would have been tempted to stay in bed with the covers pulled up around my head. Courage says to keep going, to walk through those deep valleys.

Courage is not having the strength to go on; it is going on when you don’t have the strength.

-Theodore Roosevelt

That’s the bottom line. From somewhere deep inside, you find strength that you could never have imagined and the courage to carry on.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9 (NIV)

We are praying for everyone who has been affected by the hurricanes. May the Lord give you His peace that passes all understanding.

Life Lessons From a Dog Named Kramer

I knew the day was coming, but I didn’t expect it to arrive so soon. “Soon” is relative, because 15 years can seem like a long time or pass by in a blink. It’s the blink side6 I’m experiencing today. We said goodbye to our faithful canine friend, Kramer, two days ago. The years had taken their toll and Randy and I couldn’t bear to watch him struggle. Nights had become nearly impossible. Kramer paced incessantly through the house, getting stuck behind furniture or in corners, not seeing well enough to find his way out. Our hearts ache as we try to adjust to life without him. Anyone who has had a long-term relationship with a dog will know exactly what I’m talking about.

Kramer came into our lives on a July day in 2000, just before our 30th wedding anniversary. We drove two hours to the breeder’s home. We’d planned to only “take a look” at the Jack Russell Terrier puppy who bounded up to meet us. It was love at first lick. And then we were driving home with the unexpected 3-month old pup passenger curled up on my lap. We decided he was our anniversary gift to each other.

And what a gift he’s been! Our lives were turned upside down and our hearts inside out with love for this little guy who we christened as “Kramer.” He needed a Hollywood name since Randy and I owned a video store in our small town. Every day, Randy packed up Kramer and his puppy paraphernalia and took him to our store, much to the delight of our customers. “Is Kramer in today?” they’d ask expectantly.

When Kramer turned one year old, we celebrated with a party at the store. Kramer secretly told me he wanted a chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting which was a big hit with his guests. They brought dog biscuit gifts and even called on the phone to wish him a happy day.

Kramer enjoyed stardom in our town’s annual ’49ers Days Parade. We drove the parade route in Randy’s old ’89 Lincoln Town Car festooned with Kramer banners and balloons. Children lining the one street through town squealed, “Look, there’s Kramer!” Randy and I tried not to let it get us down that no one seemed to notice us.

As we grieve our loss, I’m reminded of how much we learned from Kramer’s terrier traits.

  • Live every moment to the fullest!  Kramer lived at”turbo speed,” throwing himself wholeheartedly into  quests for chasing chipmunks, digging holes to hunt for mice, or attacking the garden hose while we attempted to water the plants or wash the car.
  • Don’t ever give up!  We marveled at Kramer’s tenacity and what one small dog could accomplish. One day, he was intent on capturing a chipmunk that was hiding in an irrigation pipe. “Great,” we thought. Kramer was occupied and we didn’t have to worry about him for a while. Only problem was that after several hours of tussling with the pipe, he literally wore off the black part of his nose! Our vet assured us it would grow back.
  • Love without stopping! What we’ll miss most is having this sweet dog with bright brown eyes filled with pure love, greet us at the end of every work day. No matter what kind of day we’d had, it was always better because Kramer was there to welcome us home.

I can’t help but think that God sent him to us at a time when we most needed him. As Randy and I stood by his grave the other day, I realized how far we had come in 15 years. We had learned volumes about what really matters, the value of persevering, and how to love each other well. In this sad moment, we had leaned into the pain together. We stood with arms draped around each other, praying a farewell prayer to our faithful friend. Even though our lives will never be the same, we are grateful for God’s special anniversary gift to us and memories to last the rest of our lives.

Remembering Dad: Navigating the First Year Without Him

My brother posted this picture of our dad on Facebook on what would have been his 87th birthday.  Dad passed away on January 1 and it still doesn’t seem quite real that he’s gone. Friends who have lost loved ones have told me the “firsts” are the hardest. The first birthday without Dad, the first Father’s Day with no dad to buy a card for, and then my recent birthday, the first one in my whole life without talking with Dad have been difficult milestones.

I remember my birthday last year. Dad was living in a dementia care facility. The day seemed empty. I felt sad because I hadn’t talked with him. My husband Randy who’s always coming up with practical solutions said, “Why don’t you call him?” What a great idea!

The person who answered the phone at Dungeness Courte was more than happy to locate my dad and put him on the phone. It took a while, but I finally heard his familiar voice which I mentally tried to  record. “Hi, honey.”

“Dad, I had to call you. It’s my birthday.”

“Oh yes,” he chuckled. “I think I had something to do with that!”

Dad was always joking. I smiled as I realized that not even dementia could rob him of his sense of humor.

On his birthday in June, I decided to walk the mile or so to our small town to enjoy the flags waving from each business. Dad was born on Flag Day. Growing up, he thought the flags flew in his honor. I snapped a few pictures. Then I walked to the bakery and bought blueberry muffins for Randy and me. Dad would have approved. He loved anything baked with blueberries. My heart felt glad that I’d taken this time to remember him.

Now it’s November. Glorious fall colors fade to brown. Trees are bereft of leaves. A raw chill penetrates the air. As I turned the calendar page today, a pang shot through me. It’s almost a year since I was with Dad.

I know that grieving involves feeling the sadness of losing someone who was such an important part of my life. I also know that celebrating the blessing of having a wonderful father is comforting and even healing.  

I believe Dad and I will have a beautiful reunion someday. I will hear his familiar voice again. “Hi, honey. Welcome home.”

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Revelation 7:17

How are you coping with the loss of a loved one?

 

 

A Holy Comfort for Our Grief

There are times when you know you’ve encountered a holy experience. Two weeks ago, on a Friday evening, friends gathered to remember our friend Melissa. She lost her agonizing battle with depression and took her life on a Saturday morning in early December.

We who knew her have reeled with shock and grief over her tragic loss at only 38-years old. A service was held in the new community where she and her family had relocated in October. Several close friends felt it was important to honor Melissa here, where she had made her home for at least a decade.

About two dozen of us sat in a large circle in the church fellowship hall. A slide show flashed pictures of Melissa and her family. We each told how we had come to know and love her. We cried and even laughed together, remembering the happy times. 

What could we have done differently? How could we have helped her through those dark times? Questions hung in the stillness. But each person spoke comfort where answers are hard to find. God is faithful, no matter what our circumstances, one close friend reminded. She talked about how Melissa’s new church, a group of people who barely knew them, had rallied to support the grieving family. Another friend mentioned that Melissa’s oldest son’s teacher had also lost her mother to suicide when she was a child. God is certainly with those who are brokenhearted–even when we are at a loss to understand.

We held hands, sang a song together, and prayed for God to do what none of us can–to bring healing, peace, and comfort to all who grieve. Melissa’s close friends had packed up all of her clothing and brought it to the church. Please take something, they urged. Her husband wanted it that way. When I walked into the hall and saw the tables of neatly folded and sorted clothing, I broke into tears. How could I take anything? I saw Melissa in so many of those garments. Then I sensed that it would be wrong not to take something. I picked up a raspberry colored top and instinctively held it close. Her friends had given me a precious gift.

A favorite place

Maybe you’re walking through a season of grief, wondering how you’ll make it through the next moment, not to mention a lifetime. I pray you’ll know God’s faithfulness and be comforted, just as we were on a cold, January night. 

 

   

Blessed are Those who Mourn

I’ve heard it said there’s a point in time when we become a parent to our parents. I know this in my head. My heart doesn’t want to accept this role reversal. I’m only too aware that we’re all aging. Years have passed by in a blink. I’m resisting. I want to be the child, not the responsible grown-up.

My parents are in their mid-80’s and both are facing health issues. My father was diagnosed with Pick’s Syndrome(a form of dementia) about six years ago. The disease has progressed slowly, but steadily, without compromise. My self-assured Dad whom I’ve loved and always counted on is slipping away. I came across a letter he wrote me before dementia took its toll. Dad, I miss you!

My mom has been his primary caregiver and she’s understandably exhausted. Taking care of dad has been grueling. Once there was a season to focus on marriage, children, careers, social events, being part of a church family. Then one day you wake up to a parade of doctors appointments, pill-taking, cleaning up incontinence messes and washing soiled linens and clothing. It’s painful to watch your parents struggling. We’ve asked the typical questions: What should we do? How can we help? Is it time for Dad to be in a nursing facility? Lord, please give us wisdom, strength, courage.

My friend Sarah lost both her parents during the past two years. She has been a source of comfort and strength. Last weekend, we enjoyed an oasis of rest and refreshment. A new friend I met in May at the Northwest Christian Writers Renewal invited me to come visit and bring a friend. So I did. Little did I know how Divinely appointed our weekend would be.

Sarah asked if I minded visiting her parents’ grave with her. The cemetery was located in a nearby town. First we stopped at Joanne Fabrics to pick out silk flowers. We found the perfect bouquet of pink azaleas–60% off. Sarah

commented on how her parents always liked a good bargain. It felt good to laugh.

We stood together looking at the simple headstone with two names carved in granite. A photo of a young obviously-in-love couple made me smile and cry at the same time. I cried for myself, pre-grieving the loss of my parents. But feeling more strength to step into the caring role God has for me in this season of life.

I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.Philippians 4:13

God’s Presence in the Dark Night

It’s Saturday morning and I’m still wrapped in my bathrobe. Really, my favorite time of the week because I can sit quietly, no place to rush off to. Oh, there’s plenty to do…get ready for winter projects, housework, all those chores that beg attention. But for this moment, I’ll enjoy looking out at the dazzling blue skies, feeling a warm breeze through the open window. I’ll soak in every moment of this final “summer” weekend. October is imminent and the weather here usually changes like clockwork. 

In this morning’s quiet, I’ve been reading Deb Watson’s incredibly touching book, Kiss Goodbye: The Story of God’s Presence in the Dark Night.  I’ve read her story over several weeks, and each time I pick up her book, I feel as if I’ve been invited into a sacred and holy place.

I first “met” Deb on Twitter. I was scrolling through the daily tweets and saw one from Deb Watson who reported her excitement about her first book being published. I think because she and I share the same name and I know the feeling of a first book coming off the press, I twittered back to her.

Congratulations, Deb, I wrote. I pray your book will be successful! 

Then the conversation began. Deb answered that her book was about the death of her 19-year-old daughter. I felt the pang that only another mother can understand, even though I have never journeyed to the depths of grief as Deb and her family have. After I watched the book trailer for Kiss Goodbye, I emailed Deb again. She graciously offered to send me a copy of her book which I gratefully accepted.

I knew this would be a difficult read, but I had no idea how Deb’s telling of her family’s loss of their beautiful daughter and sister, Cathy, would completely draw me in as if I were there with her as a friend. Sitting in the livingroom with them in shock and disbelief the night of the tragic accident, anticipating all the “firsts” of those weeks and months after Cathy’s death, or the longing for one friend to call or stop by on that first Christmas Eve without Cathy. And no one did.

Deb pulls aside the curtain of private family suffering and with her real and honest writing style, allows us to glimpse the intensity of raw pain in coming to terms with the loss of someone we dearly love. That she invites us complete strangers into this sacred, intensely personal place, is truly courageous.

In reading Kiss Goodbye, there is no doubt where this courage comes from. Woven through the anguish, is the inspiring message that God is faithful, no matter what our circumstances. We may each know that on different levels, based on our life experiences, but the Watson family’s story underscores the truth of God’s presence in any dark night, especially in the midst of unimaginable suffering–and that offers much hope and comfort to us other pilgrims on life’s journey. For it isn’t a matter of if we will ever experience the pain of losing someone we love, but when.  Deb’s example gives me courage to believe that with God’s grace and the support of loving family and friends, I too, will be able to walk through the valley of the shadow of death and come out on the other side.

Since I received Deb’s book, I’ve had the wonderful privilege of talking with her on the phone. Hearing her voice resonate with compassion for others who are suffering, yet with unmistakable joy in living life as a devoted follower of Christ, is more solid evidence that the Lord does indeed use all things for good, even the most heartbreaking and hard to understand circumstances, for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.

Thank you, Deb, for your sharing your story and your friendship!