A Graduation and a Funeral: Two Different Beginnings

“Where have you been the last few weeks?” some may be asking. It is my intention to write a post weekly, however two of life’s biggest moments have overtaken me in the last weeks keeping me from the computer screen—a graduation and a funeral—neither of them mine. The irony of the juxtaposition of these life events has not escaped me. Graduation, or commencement—the beginning—and a funeral, death or the end. As I was mulling over this thought, God reminded me that in actuality death is also a kind of commencement, as the Bible tells us that death is not actually the end, but the beginning of eternal life.  Romans 6:23 states that, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And perhaps one of the most beloved verses of all time reminds us that, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). So, you see, I have actually been busy with two commencements lately—one considerably more joyous than the next.

Saturday, May 17, 2014, I celebrated the immense achievement of my amazing husband, Dan Wilton, upon his graduation from Moody Theological Seminary with a Master’s of Divinity. And because he would never, ever toot his own horn, the Lord has placed me in his life to do it for him. Therefore, I will now share with all you fine folk that he was awarded a special recognition from all the graduate faculty for excellent achievement in Theological Studies! Woot, woot! Go, Dan! I am so proud of my husband for the countless hours of preparation, study, toil and strain he has put into this accomplishment. It has certainly not been without it’s sacrifice from our entire family. Those countless hours he spent studying also represent the time the kids and I did not have him with us. I wish I could say I handled it all beautifully, with a perma-grin on my face, however that is not the truth. There were many, many a moment that “the Brat” in me reared her ugly, little head, stomping and pouting and frowning. Near the end here, it became especially hard for me to be gracious, as now we have two babies to care for and my health is always a bit shaky. But, so as to not completely punish myself, I also must say that I had my few shining moments as well, all due to the power of Jesus Christ my Lord. There are those nights that Boaz would wake up and somehow I’d find the strength and energy to go comfort him instead of Dan. And there are the times that out of nowhere God would grant me the gumption to take the kids on a “benture” as my sweetie Michaela calls it, a.k.a. “adventure” so Dan could have the house to himself to study. Or there are the moments that I’d want to be a help to Dan, a sounding board for his Greek lesson or “Fear of the Lord” paper…thank You, God, for bringing out “the Blessing” in me at these times.

Yes, five years ago, Dan and I started the seminary journey. We were 25 and 29 years old. We both worked for The Salvation Army, lived in Michigan, had a little house in Clawson, no children, two golden retrievers and a lot of excitement for the future. Five years later we are now both thirty-something, Dan is an associate pastor and I work at a school. We have finally sold that little house in Clawson, MI (thank you Kevin Stewart Team at Remax!!), and now own a slightly larger one in Peoria, IL. We are down to one golden retriever, but we have since had three children—one of them in heaven with Jesus. We still have a lot of excitement for the future. God does a whole heck of a lot in five years, friends. We are ready to commence. Bring on what’s next.

So, today, May 30, 2014, I sit here seven hours away from the funeral of my Uncle Glenn Walker. He was my mom’s brother, died at 72 years of age. The extenuating circumstances of his death are a tragic one, to be sure. His life’s end has brought in family from all parts of the United States—our family and my Uncle Jim & Aunt Shelley Walker have driven in from Illinois. My Aunt Betty Griffin and her daughter and son-in-law have driven in all the way from Alabama. And my cousin/sister-in-law, Allison Wilton (I’ll tell you about that another time, but I assure you we are legal) spent the entire day yesterday waiting on standby at the airport in Colorado to fly out. She made a flight, praise be to God. We are here because those who are still living here on earth need our support. They need our love, and they need a shoulder to lean on.

Unlike my husband’s graduation day, my Uncle Glenn’s commencement is an occasion that we cannot rejoice in. It’s been a struggle for me to find any consolation in his death. And to be sure, without Christ, there is none. But God in His great goodness and extreme graciousness to me continues to bring me back to the Gospel, because that’s what our fragile life on earth is all about anyway. So, for those of us who are alive and remain, please hear me when I tell you that, “Just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:27-28). Oh, friends! We all will die. All of us will have this flesh on us wither away and our bones become dust. But this is not the end of life, it is the beginning. Where we spend the rest of our lives, lies in the hands of a good Father and at the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. When our bodies die, our souls can live because Jesus paid the price for our sins on the cross of Calvary. And if you put your faith in Him, you can join the rest of us who eagerly await his return. Maranatha, Lord!

One last thought. These two commencements—a graduation and a funeral—remind me of the only True Beginning…and the only Actual End. In Revelation 21:6-7 God says, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”

 

 

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Life’s what happens, when… (Part One)

We were busy making plans. I was just about to quit a high-stress, not fun job. Dan was getting ready to submit paperwork to join the Air Force Reserves as a Chaplain Candidate. We were living right outside of Detroit, MI, but had recently been led of the Lord to make a move to Peoria, IL. It was a big step for me—for us, certainly—but for me, especially as I was 30-years-old and had never lived anywhere but the Motor City. My family and friends were there. I knew no one in Peoria. But, we had clearly heard the Lord tell us Peoria was the place to be. Our idea was to relocate in January when the weather would be terrible, and it would be good and depressing. Like I said, we were busy making plans.

My sister-in-law, Marci, had invited me to go to Chicago for a girl’s weekend with some friends. It was November-ish 2009. She had recently given birth to her daughter, Bella. Dan and I had talked about kids; we knew we wanted some. When was unclear, but we were nearing the 2 ½ year mark of our marriage, and that seemed to be ‘round about the time people we knew started popping out babies. No, if everyone else jumped off a cliff, we wouldn’t follow. But, you know, it made us think about it more. I definitely liked kids. I started babysitting when I was thirteen, and continued until I graduated high school. In college I nannied a bit. I was an aunt. But, I had never sat and dreamed of only being a mother. I hadn’t planned out what age I’d be, or exactly what stage of life I wanted to be in when the munchkin would enter the world. For the planner that I am, I was remarkably UN-planned about the kid thing.

Anyway, so there I was in Chicago trying to have some fun. Marci and I had just finished dinner, and I joked to her, “Man, I am SUPER bloated. I think I’m growing a food baby in here!” I’m not sure if it was the way I said it, her hormones, or if I looked bloated, but she decided we must get a pregnancy test before the night was out. I reminded her that the definition of a food baby is when one has eaten more than what is humanly possible and one’s tummy has expanded to such proportions that one indeed looks as if one may be pregnant, but is not, in fact, pregnant. This reminder made no impact on her plans, because as if by magic a pregnancy test materialized.

I knew there was no way. I mean, c’mon. I had only recently gone off the pill, and it took my mom five years to get pregnant with me. And once I was born, her uterus decided there could be no improvement upon perfection (haha), and no other children came about. So, I was pretty sure the impregnation thing was going to take awhile. However, Marci was relentless, as were the other girls, so I took the stupid test. As I sat on the edge of the bathtub in the hotel room, I spent the two minutes fantasizing about what it would be like if there was actually a baby in me. I started seeing my big baby bump, fashionably clad, of course, in some sort of trendy something or other. I began trying out different names. I tried not to peek. It was a long two minutes. And then it was time to look. One hundred percent sure I was going to see nothing but a minus sign, I held it up to my face and took a gander. There was a plus sign. Holy cannoli.

Marci, with a joyous crow, said, “I told you so!” And in a stunned stupor, I just kept repeating, “I can’t believe it.” Because this is the 21st century, I decided to announce this epic news to my husband via text message. Marci took a picture of me holding the stick, and I wrote, “Guess what?” next to it. I immediately received a phone call from Dan, confused, because he did not know what it was that I was holding. I told him that I was pregnant, and in typical Dan-like fashion, his response was fairly even-keeled. Underwhelming for my liking, if I remember correctly, as I am a person that makes a pretty big deal about everything. However, Dan, on the other hand has emotions that are as steady as a surgeon’s hand. It’s a source of contention between us. Yet, I overlooked it that day, as I was excited enough for the both of us. We said our “I love you’s,” and hung up for the night. I tried to sleep, but only thought of pacifiers and onesies every time I closed my eyes. I couldn’t wait to get home and start making baby plans.

Another reason I felt so very excited about this glorious news, was that I saw this pregnancy as God’s approval, His hand of blessing on our lives. As I said earlier, He had told us to move to Peoria. However, we had no jobs, no home, and no money that we were moving to. We were modern day Abraham’s just going because God told us to, not knowing the final where or how, but trusting in His faithfulness. So, now there was a baby. And, to me, that was His stamp of approval on our big move of obedience.

Fast-forward about 6 weeks, it’s the dead of winter, a blizzard to be exact, and I’m in a black Malibu Maxx with my puppy, Delilah, following a giant, yellow Penske truck, driven by my husband, in the middle of the night. It’s New Year’s 2010, and we were on our way to Peoria. We rolled into my in-law’s house, and made our way to their basement—our new home. Was I scared? Yes. But, I was more excited. I knew God had told us to do this, and now I awaited His blessings to be bestowed upon us. About three days later, I started bleeding. I knew enough to know this was not good, however I had no doctor. I had just moved! I found myself in the emergency room. I kept thinking, “I have no insurance!” as the sign above my bed said something about how they were required to treat everyone whether we could pay or not. The resident, who looked to be little older than I, came in to tell me something about how they really couldn’t tell for sure if I was miscarrying or not. Huh? Miscarrying? That couldn’t happen. Nuh-uh. God had given me this baby as His blessing! His approval on our big faith step! Nope, not miscarrying. The child-doctor told me I should see my ob-gyn. Ha, ha, joke’s on her! I don’t have one! This is what I felt like saying.

Because my mother-in-law loves me, she did all the leg-work and found a way for me to have temporary insurance, AND found a great obstetrician for me to go see. Dr. Kindred (I liked him right away, who wouldn’t with a name like that?) was indeed kind. He took some blood and told me he was going to do some tests. Then, he did a sonogram. He explained that even though I was only six weeks, we should definitely be able to see a little heart beat, much like a spark on the screen. We would be able to hear it too. As he lubed me up with the goop on my belly, I remember thinking over and over in my head, “C’mon, let’s see that spark! C’mon, let’s see that spark! Please, please, there has to be a spark!”

There wasn’t one.

A few days later, it was a Wednesday, January 11, he called me to say that my test results came back and I was indeed miscarrying. I had just come from the Secretary of State’s office, where I got my new Illinois driver’s license. I flipped the plastic card around haphazardly as I took in the information. My smiling face stared back at me. I hate my driver’s license picture. It’s fuzzy, the rest of the details. I don’t even remember if Dan was with me. He had started classes at Moody Theological Seminary in Chicago, so I think he was probably three hours away at school. I think my mother-in-law, Karen, was with me. I think I remember breaking down.  But then I don’t remember much about the following days. The only thing I clearly remember is waking up in the middle of the night having incredible pain like I’ve never felt before, radiating from my back. I cried out, screamed. Dan ran to get his mom, a nurse. She said she thought I was probably contracting, but called Dr. Kindred. He confirmed what she said. That night I went through my first labor pains.

And then there wasn’t a baby anymore.

Emptiness. Rage. Confusion. Despair. Devastation. It simultaneously ripped through me. I could barely deal with life. The blackness that cloaked me completely took over. Dan has said he felt as though he not only lost his first child, but he felt as if he also lost his wife. And for a time, he did. I do feel as though I stopped living. I did not care if I had friends, if we would make a new life in Peoria, if Dan would find a job, if I would find a job. I cared little whether I ate or not, or what anyone thought of me at my new church. All I knew was the blackness. And the blackness turned to hate. I hated everyone. Especially God. It was His fault. How could He do this to me? He had promised! I felt like stamping my feet and jumping up and down. I probably did.

But then, something started happening. Out of nowhere, women from the church began to call me. Truthfully, at first I was annoyed. Didn’t they know I just wanted to be left alone? But then, meals started showing up. Gals I did not know invited Dan and I to their homes for dinner with their families. Women prayed with me and for me. Some sat and just cried with me. This was the Church, Christ’s body, mobilized to love me in my darkness.

One night, a night between my emergency room visit and waiting to hear from Dr. Kindred if I was miscarrying or not, Dan and I sat talking and praying. Forever the optimist, Dan was trying to encourage me to just believe. Trust that it was all going to be okay. At the time, I translated that to mean believe the baby would live. Now that I know my husband even better than I did four and a half years ago, I know the meaning of what he said was either way, life or death, believe in His goodness. As we sat there talking, we began writing a song together. One of the many talents my husband has is songwriting. This is the song we wrote that night:

Verse 1

Little One you kept us up all night

And everyone is praying that you’ll be alright

God has plans for you

And He will help us through

Little One please don’t give up yet

It would break our heart to say goodbye before we met

 

Chorus 1

We’re just waiting for a spark to start your little heart

We don’t want to be a part

Jesus help us with

Jesus help us with

Jesus help us with our broken hearts

 

Verse 2

Little One it seems wrong that you are gone

But we know one day we’ll hold you in our arms

God has plans for you and He will help us through

Little One make the Lord your home

and when we come you can show us all the ropes

 

Chorus 2

We’re just waiting for a spark to start your little heart

We don’t want to be a part

Jesus help us with

Jesus help us with

Jesus help us with our broken hearts

 

Chorus 3

I’m just waiting for the spark to light my heavy heart

I don’t want to be a part

Jesus help me with

Jesus help me with

Jesus help me with my broken heart

I’m waiting for a spark

 

 

To be continued…

To be brat? To be blessing? That is the question…

When I was a little rug rat, my cousin Debbie used to call me brat. Incessantly. Every time I saw her, there would be the semi-affectionate, “Hello, Brat!” In fact, I’m not sure she knew my actual name until about 20 years later. Now, yes, this moniker may have been called for at times, but boy, did it bug me. This memory hit me the other day as I was journaling my prayer to the Lord, and I wrote, “Father, in your power, please help me quit being such a brat and be more of a blessing!” I then remembered Debbie’s voice, the dreaded title of brat, and knew maybe not so much had changed in the decades since I’d last been called this.

This blog is my quest to be more of a blessing. To quit being the brat my flesh so desperately enjoys being. As a daughter of the risen Lord Jesus Christ, honestly, this is not an option. I am called to live in the spirit, not the flesh. 1 Peter 4:6 says, “For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.” (ESV) I want to live in the Spirit.

So, here’s my confession to you…I have been urged of the Lord to share the experiences He’s brought me through with whoever it is out there reading this for some time now. I’ve done my best to ignore this urging, giving way to insecurities, fears, and what-ifs. Do I really have anything interesting to say? Does the world need another blog? Isn’t there someone else with more exciting adventures to share? Apparently, the Lord does not care about any of those things, but what He does care about is obedience. Gulp. So, here I go.

What you can find here is honesty. “I is who I is,” said the wise philosopher, Popeye. I will share with you openly my mistakes, trials, victories, and triumphs in the Holy Spirit. Not because I think I am so great. Not because I think you really need to hear about my life. But because I think He is really great, and because you really need to hear about what He can do in your life. As I continue my journey from brat to blessing, I invite you to join this Daughter of the King, on the adventure towards joy in Him. We can do this together. We can be the mommies, daughters, wives, aunts, sisters, friends that He created us to be as we urge each other on to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). Love you!