When You Can Sing Again

Last Wednesday, nearly a week ago, we were invited to the home of a local friend for an impromptu singing. If you happen to know our family in real life, you’ve probably found out that we love to sing—so it wasn’t likely that we would be missing this chance! It was a lovely evening of praise to our Lord and Maker, and I think we all came away feeling refreshed. One song we sang that night, though, touched the deep chords of my heart.

It is the last song I remember singing with Seth.

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We had been at a concert put on by all the families of our homeschool group, and as our family has done for the past 5-7 concerts we’ve attended, we sang a couple songs together and shared a short poem. The songs and poem all spoke of loss, but beyond that—of hope after loss. I had invited a dear friend of ours, a recent widow, to the concert, hoping that our words—however trite they might come across—would be encouraging and helpful to her in her grief.

I had no idea then that the very words which I was hoping would be an encouragement to her would become a lifeline of a memory, a grounding pillar to me, exactly a week and a half later.

It’s bittersweet to look back on now, knowing that my last memories of singing with him were singing together about the Lord’s healing and help in the middle of struggles we don’t understand. It was—is—powerful to think on.

After the funeral, when life is supposed to return to normal, I remember noticing my singing had stopped. Dried up. Daily chores that had often found me humming favorite melodies were now unusually silent. My heart was just too heavy—overwhelmed—to attempt to even consider finding something.

During those days, I could only cling to the Lord and my family. Together, we discussed our fears, shared our pain, and prayed…a lot. All we had then were God’s promises to cling to, and they became enough. Every time whys surfaced, every time the grief got too hard to bear, He was there to bear it. He took it. And I could sleep each night in peace, knowing that the Lord was there with us in the mess.

Then, one day a week or two later, I caught myself singing again. It’s then I knew I could hope. If that part of me could come back, a new normal could follow.

I don’t know what you’re facing today, what trials are burdening your heart and bringing pain-filled tears to your eyes. But dear friend, may I encourage you to look up? Even if your heart and throat cannot express yourself the way you’ve always known, do know that the Comforter is right there for you. He loves you. You! You might not feel able to grasp that right now, but that’s okay. Cling onto one more day, one more moment. The One who created the universe knows what you’re going through, and He does care.

That song that we sang last Wednesday, the one we sang as a family? I’m thankful I can still sing it today. And it’s become even more precious than it was back then. Here’s our family’s version of it—admittedly not that great, but that’s okay too.

Blessings on your day, friend!

Have you ever been in a place where you just couldn’t sing? How did the Lord help you out of that?

When Real Life Hurts

I never thought, that morning in early October 2016, how quickly my life could be tossed into a tailspin. I had no clue then how much pain and loss can be crammed into a few minutes—a few seconds—in a day. I also had no clue as to how much the Lord’s presence could be felt even when you’re facing your worst nightmare.

Raindrops on flowers

I had no idea. And in many, many ways, I’m glad I didn’t. But as I’ve thought back on the day my oldest brother committed suicide, I’m often struck not with the ugliness and agony of that day (although that was most definitely there), but more with the love—the love that can only come from Jesus—that flowed to, over, and around us in that time.

It still makes me want to cry when I think about it. His love is beyond explanation.

I didn’t—don’t—want to write about this detail in our family’s history. It’s ugly. It’s awful. But at the same time, as month after month slides by, I’m coming to realize that not talking about a thing (surprise!) doesn’t make it just disappear. This is what happened. And as I’ve been pondering and praying about what to blog about, this is the detail that I keep coming back to:

God is good, even when life is a horrific mess.

Just recently, I was reminded of those beautiful verses in 2 Corinthians 1:3–4 that go like this:

“Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.”

God’s comfort toward us was shown in a very mighty way over the months following my brother’s death. While I don’t want to “glorify” his death in any way, or “rub it in your face”, so to speak, I do think I’m going to talk about it sometimes from here on out. Because I know this is something—as ugly as it is—that I have learned a lot from, and if my experiences can be helpful to just one person, if these painful moments can help to comfort you in what you’re going through, I’ll count my time more than worthwhile.

I don’t know a lot. But I do know one thing: God is good. And I’d like to share just a little of that with you over the next while.

Have you been through some tough stuff in your life? Did you experience the Lord’s nearness in that? What did He teach you in that time?

Faithful in the Middle of the Storm (a Farewell)

There are some things in life you could never see coming. Some things that you know could—will—come eventually, but ones you never expect until you’re much older. Wiser. More able to cope, or at least accept. But death is no respecter of persons, whether old or young. I just never thought it would come so soon.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016. 1:00 pm.

The date and time are stamped in my memory forever. That was when we found out that my oldest brother—only sixteen months younger than me—was dead. And more than that, that he appeared to have taken his own life.

Snippets of the day remain, pieces of memory that typify the day our family was turned upside down.

Mountains

Seeing a friend who works as a volunteer on the ambulance trying to get onto the radio, hearing the chatter of who knows how many other ambulance personnel (none of it as serious as our case) from all over this side of the island, trying to break through with the message—“Patient status zero. Call off all other responders.”

The incredible local volunteer fire crew, many of whom we know—some even personally. Many came out to be with us, if only for a little bit in those first dreadful hours.

Looking at the clock and knowing someone ought to call the family in the States, and soon—they’d be going to bed before too long—but knowing that you didn’t want to do it. But someone had to, someone who could still talk, so I volunteered. I hope I never have to deliver such painful news again.

The post on Facebook an hour later, asking for prayer for our family, and the instant almost overwhelming but oh-so-comforting messages that began flooding in. The bittersweet knowledge that many, many people were offering up prayers for us, for our situation—it was humbling. And so, so encouraging.

The nurses, who stayed around with us—just being there—until the police came to talk to several of us for their reports.

The friend who came as soon as she realized what had happened, providing a shoulder for Mom to cry on and just being there for us. Because she loves us. She made time in her day, even though she had a big trip to prepare for. What more could you ask of a dear friend?

One of the many dear friends of my brothers, who also came as soon as he heard…but couldn’t stay to talk, because of other things going on. Who then came back later when things had cleared a bit, and just listened and was here for us.

The many other friends that came that afternoon and evening as soon as they heard, telling us that they were praying for us, talking about now-precious memories, and overall just being a physical visible wall of support for us.

Path

The path ahead looks steep, but there’s One who has already traversed it for us. Glory to His Name!

So many snippets. So many little conversations in the midst of the murky confusion of that first and the following days as we—I—tried to come to terms with the fact that my brother was actually dead. I remember that first night clearly, as I lay down and burst into tears. “Oh, Lord, I’ve lost my brother!” And as that long night drew on, I finally asked Him—the One who knows all better than any of us could—to take it. To use it as He saw fit. And most of all, to help us heal.

Faithful. Many times, at different stages, I’ve wondered what it would be like to go through something really, really hard. I knew that I could praise God in the midst of everything going well; I often took time to do that simply because a heart of gratitude needs an outlet and I was so, so thankful. I knew I could find beauty in normal, everyday life. But I wondered if I could still do the same in the midst of heartbreak. If I could find beauty in the middle of brokenness. Well, I found out—and yes, you can! Our God is so, so faithful. Faithful to heed the tears and inward pleas from hearts torn with grief, faithful to point out simple, small blessings, faithful to be there, to be the solid rock even when the storm is raging. He is faithful.

So as I sit here tonight, just over three weeks past that initial shocking day that has changed our family forever, I’m still thankful. Thankful for the time I had with Seth, thankful for the blessing and sharpening he’s been in my life in the past, thankful for the many little memories I have of our time together. Two things stand out especially—our trip together to the US (almost exactly a year ago), and that time we went out for coffee “just because” only eight weeks ago. Both were firsts for us, and both were memory-making ventures that I will always treasure.

Sheep

“I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine….” (John 10:14) I love thinking of Jesus as our Shepherd, especially through times like this.

The pain? Yes, it’s still there. I’ve lost my brother, one who was probably my closest playmate in my early years. We did everything together, and still have done a lot of that even up till now. We’ve had to rearrange so many things since he’s gone—the hole in our family, in our hearts, is huge. Just the other morning I was redoing our cleaning roster, and deleting his name in order to move things around felt like deleting a part of something that has always been…and I knew would never come again. But God’s grace and love are still there, still holding us ever closer together. We can ask “why?” and “how?” all we’d like, but in the end although this wasn’t God’s original plan we know He allowed it. And by allowing it, I trust that He has a bigger, better “why” for us—all of us—in the end. We haven’t seen the completed puzzle yet.

For now, it’s taking faith and patience. Yes, we miss Seth. Terribly. But there is One who is supreme, and can—and I believe will—turn even this into something beautiful in His time. God loves us, and although we can’t understand the depth of that very well, I can testify to the fact that that has been revealed over and over throughout this whole ordeal.

Praying friends, all of you who have spent some time offering up prayers for us over this time, thank you. We still covet them—the path to healing is looking very long. Thank you for your support—we feel it. May the Lord richly bless every one of you.

Kowhai flower

The Kowhai tree out in front of my house finally started blooming—only about 2 weeks later than all other trees! Still, I’m thankful. Isn’t our Lord good?

My dear brother Seth, I miss you. You’re now gone, leaving us the chance to see how much you did for us on a daily basis. Not only that, but you’ve left us with an even deeper appreciation for each other. You meant a lot to us in your short sixteen years. I’m going to miss your love of coffee, your willingness to help with just about anything, and your determination even in the midst of difficulty. There’s so much I could say, but I won’t. Just know that I’ll always treasure the memories I have of you. You’re gone now. Gone to the God that we’ve been taught of and loved all our lives. I release you to Him—He loves you so much more than I ever could, and I have hope of seeing you again one day. Farewell, brother. Thank you for the determination you’ve left with me to love the Lord more, and to get to know His Word even better than I have before. Thanks for all you’ve taught me. Love, your oldest sister.

Goodbye for Now

I’ve been debating whether or not to share this, but I’ve decided I will. Death eventually happens to all of us—as Ray Comfort likes to say, ten out of ten people die. Over the last few months, two good friends of ours, both older Christians, have gone on to glory. Here are my goodbyes to them.

The following was written the evening we heard of Barry’s passing on.

I knew, when the phone call came in at 9:45 that evening, what it would be—even before Mom hung up and told me the news. The time had come to say goodbye. It hurts. We’ve seen it coming for years, and yet the pain is still there. Saying goodbye to someone dear is one of the hardest things any of us can ever do.

He’s been a close friend—surrogate Grandfather—for almost six years now. We’ve grown to love him, he us, and although we’ve had many differences over the years I think it’s probably always been obvious that he brought things up out of love and concern for our spiritual well being.

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Picture taken in September 2010. Barry loved all things trains, and made several steam engines of his own. Here, he is showing one of them to us.

I will always lovingly remember his example, his unwavering truthfulness, and his commitment to Jesus. I’m going to miss his messages to us, his sincerity, and the reverence he paid to the Lord. Not just me; we’ll all miss him a lot. It’s going to be hard to go to church and know that he’ll never come through those doors again, briefcase in hand, ready to share his most recent findings in Ephesians. Or Hebrews, or Genesis—whatever portion of scripture has recently captivated his attention.

At the same time, I am so happy for him. He no longer has to endure the intense pain from his many illnesses, no longer has to go through surgeries or see specialists he doesn’t want to see. No longer does he have to worry about his health and feeble body. He has gone to rest, a soldier of the cross to the very end.

There are some things I wish I could have said to him, some things I’m glad I told him. As a brother in the Lord, a teacher of the flock, and grandfather to more than just his family, he will be missed by many.

Goodbye, Barry. I’ll see you on the other shore.

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My sermon notes from the last message Barry shared. Looking back, it was incredible to realize what his last testimony to his church family contained. He was so happy then, even though he had been so sick. God was definitely with him the last few days and weeks he had on this earth.

My goodbye to another friend, Daryl.

It came as a shock that he was sick. We had seen him not too long before, healthy, happy, trusting his Lord. He had come up one Sunday morning to worship with us, and we had had a sweet time of fellowship—the kind that only can come between fellow believers. That day, we practiced the John 13 admonition to “wash one another’s feet”, something that I had never had the privilege to participate in although I was familiar with it from the believers we worshiped with in the States. It was a precious bonding day.

Now he was sick, and no one knew if he’d pull out of it or not. Then came the news that the family had to move, but thankfully they didn’t have to go far. Dad and my brothers went to help him butcher a few sheep, and when they came back we were saddened to learn how much worse his condition had gotten since our last meeting.

Soon, he was even worse. We visited briefly a couple times. The last time we saw him was a week and a half before he died. He was still the caring, loving man we had always known. Despite his condition and the fact that he was getting quite tired, he asked my brothers what they had been creating the last while. He still cared about our lives—even when his body was giving out. We prayed together one last time, although none of us knew then that it would be the last. We all hoped and prayed fervently that he would be healed. He had become a good friend to all of us.

Not long after, we heard that he had gone to glory. A terrible blow to the family, and one that rippled through all of us as well. He touched many lives. He gave himself tirelessly to point everyone to Jesus, even when he was sick. He will be missed—even by those of us who haven’t known him very long. He was a prayer warrior—a faith warrior—to the end.

Goodbye, Daryl. You will be sorely missed, but your legacy, your faith, your example, will not be forgotten by us.