Two Years.

Spring is poking through the ground. Today I reflect. It’s been two years.

Life changed forever for our family two years ago today. One never knows when that moment will come…yet it comes for us all. It’s that dreaded moment when you have a choice to completely fall apart or to forge ahead into the darkness and hold on in faith.

It started as a lovely spring Saturday in East Texas. We had no where to be that morning and worked in the backyard while our kids played. I spoke to my father-in-law who was 10 months post heart surgery, and he seemed to be doing well. He and my mother-in-law were burning the pasture to improve the grass for the cattle as they had done each spring for many years. After lunch while the twins napped, the neighbor frantically knocked on the door. The worker had fallen out of a huge pine tree…he had hit his head…the ambulance was called…Justin ran across the street and rendered care…and returned home, hands covered in blood. The man died. Justin showered and left to perform a wedding. Live. Die. Marry. Bury. The cycle of life that no one can predict. Details of that life-changing day that have faded in these two years.

It was 6:00 pm. Justin had returned from the wedding and the hospital where he visited with the young man’s widow. I left him at home with the kids and pizzas so that I could help paint a tree on the nursery wall at church. When he showed up I knew from his voice…another crisis. Who was it this time? Who was injured? Who had died? He was, after all, at his best in the midst of crisis. It’s really one of his finest strengths…comforting others in the midst of tragedy, providing direction and wisdom, handling ugly details, speaking the truth, remaining calm, giving hope, being 100% logical. Many, many times I had stepped in behind the scenes to fill in while he left to meet those in their greatest time of need…just as he had done earlier in the day. I knew this was another one of those times.

Except this time he said these words:

My mother is dead. Not my dad. My mom. I have to leave.

Here it was…the dreaded but necessary trial of life to test my faith. You never know when it’s going to come. Just as James had said. This wasn’t the moment to figure out what I believed…it was time to live it out in faith and find hope in those words from the Bible (among others):

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

and

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12

The crisis of losing Justin’s mother so tragically in the pasture fire was just the first of many. The following two months were full of many stays in the hospital for my father-in-law. He died 60 days after his wife. We drove the eight hour trip to Oklahoma countless times. Justin’s brother’s family had to fly home from China numerous times. After his death we were faced with the reality of shutting down a farming operation with significant debt. All while maintaining jobs and families and the normal things of life.

Dark, dark days.

Those trials and tribulations of life had come. The plan I had for my life was not working out. At all.

Two years ago I lived in Texas…where it was warm and beautiful and calm. I now live in Oklahoma…where it is cold and dead and windy (at least right now…sounds so drastic, I know).

Two years ago our family was surrounded by people who cared about us and we were “known” by many. Today we don’t know a lot of people around us and aren’t “known” by everyone in the community…anyone, really.

Two years ago our kids were in a great little school district. Today they are in a large 5A school.

Two years ago I had a growing photography business and 100’s of blog readers. Today I don’t have any clients and maybe have 20 readers.

Two years ago our kids had four grandparents. Today they have two.

Of course, those are the external things…jobs, community, schools. And truly, there are positives about all of those changes…things for which I am grateful.

But the real story lies within…the unseen parts of our hearts, minds and relationships. We have experienced hopelessness, anger, incredible grief, conflict, very little joy, hatred, bitterness, loneliness, hurt, thoughts of escape (death or divorce), exhaustion, failure and brokenness.

Yet we have survived. Life has a funny way of not stopping…I suppose that’s where the steadfastness comes in.

Two years ago I was not broken and liked to believe I was in control…and quite frankly, self-sufficient. My life is changing. Here are just a few of the things I’ve learned in these two years of  trials and faith-testing:

Know what you believe before the trials come.

Having a solid Biblical knowledge before a trial comes is essential to being steadfast in the midst of the trial. Many, many days when I felt as though God had abandoned me, betrayed me and could care less about me I had to choose to think about the truth that I knew about Him from the Bible. He is good. He is in control. He does care. He does bring blessing out of trials.

Keep track of the blessings.

It is essential to keep track of…WRITE DOWN…the good things that happen in the midst of a trial. These things/events were proof to me that God still cares about me/us…and gave me hope. Ann Voskamp‘s book One Thousand Gifts has been an incredible gift this year.

Choose laughter and fun.

Sometimes “counting it all joy” means taking a break from the pain and hard work of being steadfast in your faith. It’s too easy to remain in the depression and pain, so we’ve had to consciously choose laughter and fun. Joy shows up when we do. Life goes on after all, and kids don’t stop growing up.

I am not in control.

Obviously. And yet it is living through such huge loss, change, grief and pain that brokenness comes and with it the realization that I need Jesus to save me from me. I’m still working my way through this one, but Emily Freeman‘s book, Grace for the Good Girl has been amazing for me.

God’s grace is enough.

Truly. It is present in death and in life. HE is enough.

Choose truth over feelings.

The battle for my mind and heart…the battle for healing…is so often found in my feelings/emotions versus my mind/will/thinking. It’s a CHOICE.

As I entered the brokenness…and felt the PAIN and loss…I (eventually) chose to let go of self-sufficiency and perceived control and rest in Him.

As I felt HOPELESSNESS, particularly in the hard times in marriage…I chose to hold on to truth and logic (i.e., that now is NOT the time to make drastic…and sinful…decisions).

As I felt ABANDONED by God…I chose to remember truth…how He had cared for me in the past and what the Bible said about Him.

As I felt INSIGNIFICANT and like a “nobody” in a new town…I chose to rest in the truth of where my true significance was found (not in my husband’s job).

As I felt like a FAILURE as a parent and as a wife, I chose to remember I had the power of Christ dwelling within me and that He loves them all more than I do anyway.

As I felt ANGRY at God for the loss of my in-laws, I chose to trust that somehow this was part of His plan to bring joy, blessing and make us more like Him (even when I can’t see it yet).

As I felt SADNESS about leaving Texas and that Justin was in a different line of work, I chose to believe that God has a plan for His church and our lives and really can do it all without us anyway.

As I felt OVERWHELMED with stepping out and making new friends (as an introvert), I chose to pray that I would be less self-absorbed and ask more questions about them.

As I felt complete FRUSTRATION about leaving a thriving photography business and starting over, I chose to pick up my camera anyway and do what I love…and trust that God would eventually provide paying clients again (still waiting on this one).

As I felt UNCERTAIN about all of our life change (new house, community, school, church, town, etc.), I chose to trust that God had a purpose for us right here in Edmond, Oklahoma, and trust His timing in showing that to us.

As I felt NUMB from so many changes in life to process and from the journey to brokenness…I chose to carry on in my responsibilities with joy and a smile (at least I tried).

As I felt DISCONTENT and started wishing we were still in Texas, I chose gratefulness and to be fully present right here.

Peter Scazzero‘s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality has been great to help me process my emotions and thinking.

I don’t know why my in-laws had to die so young, and won’t ever know how Justin’s mom died that day two years ago. I cannot yet “count it for joy” and am definitely not “perfect and complete.” I am not yet thankful for the trial. It’s hard to live in Oklahoma and not think about what it would be like if they were still alive. We miss them. I don’t think complete healing has yet come from the process of living through the trial.

I am still making daily choices to think and trust in God and His Word. It is getting easier and I can definitely see God’s work in our family’s journey. I am past the anger and hopelessness that seemed to be constant in the darkest days. Truly, our family is doing well, our marriage is thriving, the kids like their school, we are all making friends, we live closer to our family, and Justin is enjoying a different career path right now.

I am completely confident that eventually the Lord will bring me/us to a place where we can say, “Yes, that was painful, but good came out of it.” I’m starting to see the light, but am not quite there yet. And that’s okay. I can look back over the last two years and truly see how God has provided for us, cared for our needs, and loved us in tangible ways. I’m content to continue this journey…

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24

This verse sums up our last two years…and I look forward to see the fruit that is to come. Only because of His grace.

  • Julie LareauMarch 6, 2012 - 9:15 pm

    This was inspiring…I can so relate to all you are saying. Thank you for sharing your heart.

  • MarshaleneMarch 6, 2012 - 9:18 pm

    Thanks for sharing your heart. Although situations are very different, I could relate with a ton of what you said with everything our family has went through in the last year and a half (leaving a job where I received praise daily and becoming a stay at home mom (feeling like a nobody at times), death of my Dad, husband’s major job change, etc.). Your words were encouragement to me. Praying for you and your family and thinking of Romans 8:28 tonight.

  • HeatherMarch 6, 2012 - 9:22 pm

    It’s always risky to share my heart online! Thank you, Julie!

  • HeatherMarch 6, 2012 - 9:24 pm

    Marshalene, one of the hardest things has truly been going from being “somebody” to a “nobody.” But ultimately who’s opinion really matters?!! Our husband & kids…I’m with ya sista!

  • HollieMarch 6, 2012 - 9:26 pm

    I’ve been thinking about you all and am thankful for a peek into your heart. I love reading your writing and seeing another part of you that doesn’t always come out…you write beautifully. You really should do more of this.
    There have been many times I want to ask how things are, but don’t want to always bring up a tender subject. I’m truly sorry I haven’t done it more often. Healing is such a crazy process that is different for everyone…so thanks for letting me see a bit of yours.
    I love you sis and I’m so encouraged by your journey. Thanks for giving me a glimpse…and for being an example of grace and perseverance.

  • LindsayMarch 6, 2012 - 9:57 pm

    Heather! Thank you for sharing. I love reading your blogs and looking through all the photos you post no matter where you are!

  • Sherry McMarch 6, 2012 - 10:26 pm

    I’m still here! And oh how I have missed your blogging!! Your bold truths remind us all of where we fall short in Gods eyes. Thankfully, He is a forgiving, loving, and healing God that looks past our doubting and feels our pain and is oh so patient with each one of us. What I have found through a lot of conversation and reflection with this great man……is that living in East Texas put me in a very secure comfort zone……by shaking my globe, and sending me West, He has once again shown me His purpose in my life and how very much I depend on Him! My globe is snowy most of the time, as He continues to grow me on a daily basis and for that, I am forever grateful.
    I pray for you tonight to find joy and peace one day with all the heartache and change that was “forced” onto you in the last two years, for a very special friend to enter your life soon, and for your photography business to take off this spring!! Thanks for your boldness and openness tonight….it does us all good.
    I love you and miss you sweet friend!

    “the joy of the Lord is my strength!” Nehemiah 8:10b

  • MimeeMarch 6, 2012 - 10:35 pm

    Tears fill my eyes and my heart, sweet daughter. Thanks for sharing from your heart. I love you.

  • Nancy CagleMarch 6, 2012 - 10:41 pm

    Heather,

    This seems very revealing. I hope this is a big part of the process of healing and becoming all of what God has for you. You are a very talented person with a beautiful family, but most of all you have Jesus. Obviously you know that from God’s Word, and once your heart and mind catch up you will be revived. Your sharing has to be helpful to many others who identify with parts of what you have been feeling and the answers you are (or not yet) finding. You have placed yourself on my heart tonight, and I will pray for you and your family.
    Love,
    Nancy

  • ChristieMarch 6, 2012 - 10:55 pm

    Heather, I look forward to your posts and read them all! I was praying for your sweet family just this morning. We miss you all!

    What profound and beautiful words you have written…and they are meaningful to all of us even though our circumstances are different.

    Lots of love from Texas where it is warm and lovely right now. Perfect for a visit :)

  • RoseMarch 7, 2012 - 12:19 am

    Wow! I remember standing in my office when I heard the news of Phyllis’ tragic death, and my heart was crushed. She was a beautiful person, both inside and out. And then an instant replay when I heard of the death of Alvin. I always loved his unique, sometimes dry, sense of humor. I knew them both, but separately, each from their work experiences. This is a powerful blog; a tribute to a couple of wonderful individuals, therapy to you and others, and a testament to God’s continual faithfulness. You and your whole family are in my thoughts and prayers today. Much love.

  • ChristyMarch 7, 2012 - 7:43 am

    Heather I can’t believe it has been 2 years. Thank you for sharing your heart. I will be praying for your family.

  • Norma MurrayMarch 7, 2012 - 9:37 am

    Beautifully written! Both Alvin and Phyllis were friends of mine back in the Custer County era of my life. I still am shocked when I stop to reflect on their tragic death(s). However, I know you will carry on . . . just as God has given you strength to forge ahead! God Bless all your family!!

  • Lisa in SeattleMarch 7, 2012 - 9:45 am

    I don’t know you but I have been so encouraged and inspired by your post. Beautifully written and obviously from the heart. So many aspects of your story spoke to my own circumstances, so I appreciate you articulating them in such a powerful way. My prayers are with you in your journey. God IS bigger than all of this and He is walking with us daily! Blessings to you and your family.

  • barbara cunninghamMarch 7, 2012 - 10:27 am

    Beautiful!

    It is an honor to have met you & Justin and also humbleing to see your strength and faith. We to often forget that we are not the only ones that have had unexpected losses way to soon. I hope that we can stay in touch and that you continue to find friends and comfort for you and your family here in Edmond and finally feel you are home.

  • eleanor vothMarch 7, 2012 - 1:39 pm

    So excited to see your blog, and I read it with tears in my eyes once again. Thanks so much for sharing your heart, Heather. I too just read Ann Voskamp’s book “one thousand gifts”,while home recuperating. God is so great and God is so good. I had asked Him to show me in 2012 some of what real JOY means and is. Eucharisteo. How amazing and blessing. Thanks again. Our prayers continue with you and your precious, beautiful family.

  • stephanieMarch 8, 2012 - 10:00 am

    Heather– I have had so many of your same emotions and not an “nth” of the tragedy you have been through has ever happened to me.
    I do know what it is like to feel “unknown” after being “known” for so long— Being away from everyone who “knows” you and then wondering if you are really the person they knew still?—Trying to figure out a new way of life….not all new but a lot new….I can relate on numerous levels and wish we lived close enough to process how God is changing us. Read Ann’s book too….Love you and Justin. thanks for sharing.

  • Lisa KennedyMarch 10, 2012 - 12:45 am

    Heather ~ thank you for sharing your heart. My life has mirrored some of your trials, and I walked alongside you through the death of your Mother-in-law and my very special friend, Phyllis. You are an inspiration to me and I always loved it when Phyllis would tell me what all was new in your life – and stories about Justin’s services or something the grandkids had done ~ she was soo proud of each one of you! I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to get to know Phyllis and to have her as such a close friend.
    Lisa

  • Christy H.March 10, 2012 - 1:08 pm

    Oh, Heather…the pain in your writing just breaks my heart. Just praying for you and Justin…and missing you…thankful that in retrospect, you look back and know that here was a place where you were loved and treasured. You still are.
    You are clinging to the only anchor there is. Don’t stop. My prayers and love, Christy

  • CherindaMarch 13, 2012 - 1:08 am

    Heather,

    I feel like I am right there with you. I am in a hard place in my life right now. My Dad and I were both diagnosed with cancer the later part of last year. It has been tough. I have cried a lot. I have prayed a lot. I have seen the goodness of God in the midst of something so horrible. And I’m choosing to stand in faith that by his stripes, we are healed. It isn’t easy.

    I live here in Tulsa, but grew up in the country on a farm. My parents are still there on the farm. I can’t imagine how tough it was to lose your in laws and to go through the process of grieving and taking care of shutting everything down. My heart goes out to you. Thank you for your honesty and transparentness and for showing us pictures of beauty in the midst of such pain. I need it and I know many others do to. Be encouraged to know you are encouraging us to keep going, too!

    Love and prayers.

  • Lisa KennedyMarch 14, 2012 - 11:38 am

    Heather ~ you are an amazing writer, photographer, as well as the obvious fabulous wife, mother, DAUGHTER-IN-LAW (as I had heard over and over from Phyllis), sister, daughter ….. I just want to encourage you to share this gift that God has blessed you with.

    Whether it be writing a book, speaker at women’s conferences … you would be absolutely amazing. I know you are so busy with your four precious children – but I think God is using you in amazing ways. YOU have made such an impact on my life.

    I loved what you wrote in your blog about living your faith and that through trials is proof of your steadfastness. I am writing the two verses down and putting them on my desk and at home. My “steadfastness” has lacked and I have not brought glory to God.

    I shared with you that I lost my parents in the tornado – and while I have made peace with it all, I don’t understand why Godly people – who LIVE the faith consistently and daily would have to die in such a horrific way. My parents were horribly mangled from the tornado and we never got to physically say goodbye – my amazing friend Phyllis (and your MIL) was burned by the fire. My only comfort in all three of their deaths is that it must have happened so quickly that they never felt the pain.

    I know that I am babbling – I simply wanted to let you know how comforted I was when I read your blog and your thoughts mirrored my own from this past year. YOU are such a blessing to me! Thank you so much and please keep that blog coming!!!!

    And – I ordered the two books that you mentioned on my NOOK – you’re like my “white Oprah Book Club” gal!!!!! :)Haha!!!!

    Because of your words, I am challenged to publicly live out the steadfastness of my faith – and that the deaths of my parents won’t be in vain, and that my life will be changed with the glory going straight to our Savior.

    Thank you, Heather! I’m so thankful that God brought Phyllis into my life, and that through her friendship I have met you! You are such an inspiration! Thank you!
    Lisa

  • Kim WierMarch 30, 2012 - 2:22 pm

    Surely God is in this place and I didn’t even know it. Genesis 28:16

    Thanks for sharing the good the bad and the ugly.

    Kim

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