My family and I just recently returned from our first vacation since moving to New York City!
We were able to spend the week in beautiful Rhode Island -and let me tell you friends, it was pure bliss!
And here is why…
For one, we had a car!!!!!
And while I’m sure that doesn’t sound like a big deal to most of you reading, maybe it’s time you get a fresh perspective on why that hunk of metal you drive aimlessly from errand to errand, is a god-send that should have you on your knees daily thanking the Lord God Almighty for all the blessings he has bestowed upon you!
Because although I am honored ( ha! ) to ride public transportation every day (via the subway, train, and bus) it’s not that much different than taking your child on an airplane – only minus security!
Those same prayers you say to yourself as you enter the aircraft with your little one, are the exact same ones we manhattan mommy’s pray every. single. day. as we cram into an overpacked subway with some of America’s most over-worked and moody individuals!
(And I can assure you that even the most intimidating woman from Texas sitting next to you on the plane, – who rolls her eyes when your child makes even the most miniscule of sounds -has got NOTHING on nearly anyone you are going to sit by in NYC!)
That being said, the beauty of having a car while on vacation is that, not only can you let your child scream their head off without getting even the slightest look from someone else – except for the one you and your husband will give each other when out of the corner of your eyes, and without words, you will communicate, “who’s idea was it to pro-create?”
But having a car, also means your child will be perfectly confined to their car seat, all while being entertained as they look out the window until they peacefully doze off into oblivion!
On the contrary, in the city- if it keeps your child safe, keeps them entertained , and puts them to sleep, than its probably a nanny!
When on vacation, I thought I was in Heaven when I remembered that cars also hold your luggage for you, your coffee, even your sunglasses! And thanks to the AC and heat, I never had to worry about not being the perfect temperature at any given time!
In Manhattan the only equivalent would require a salary and would be called your personal Assistant!
Bet that hunk of metal is lookin’ a little better to yah now, isn’t it?
Another thing I loved about our stay in Rhode Island, was that although we were warned by locals how busy and hectic it would be, we found it be pleasant and slow paced compared to the intensity of NYC!
Only when Buddy from Cake Boss was in the local park giving away 10,0000 free cakes, did it look even remotely familiar to our life in the city!
During our stay, I also came to appreciate even the smallest of things:
like not having to sleep with my head smashed in between two pillows- thanks to the trucks fighting it out in a honking war outside my window at 3 in the morning!
And not having to turn every light on when I get up in the middle of the night- for fear that a mouse is going to jump out in front of me!
(Yes, you heard right! We have mice in our apartment!
Mice. as in plural!
And for the record, I do think God is punishing me!)
I also enjoyed dining at half- empty restaurants with no wait
and leisurely walking down streets where you don’t have to dodge people with your stroller
I loved how people greeted each other kindly as they walked passed one another
and how EVERYTHING was So. Dang. Cheap!
I loved hearing the birds chirping, the waves crashing, and – secretly enjoyed even more – the sound of my husband calling out to my daughter in an attempt to get her to cooperate!Told yah! Sucker…
In the end though, Rhode Island proved to be nothing less than a peaceful getaway in which our family could reconnect.
I truly enjoyed our vacation! But if I’m honest, maybe too much!
Comparing my ‘real life’ to that of our vacation had me at one point, in tears in an empty parking garage, and filled with frustration! ( all of which helped me write last weeks post! )
Wishing my life in the city was easier…
Wishing to enjoy even the simplest of pleasures, like being able to roll down the windows of the car on a nice day,
Missing the convenience of putting items in the trunk of the car, and not have to lug them around myself- along with my feisty toddler!
Reminiscing back on the times where I was able to walk the aisles of Target, thumbing through the clearance rack, scoping out my next shade of nail polish. Oh, how I miss Target…
But most of all, I missed the amount of time that I used to spend with my husband!
There were so many things about Rhode Island that made me miss some of the most mundane things that my old – more simplistic – life back in the Northwest offered!
I realized my attitude needed a check, when one night, we met a group of the darn cutest old ladies -straight out of the YaYa Sisterhood – who were out on the town and had offered to take our family’s picture in front of the river.
When they asked us where we were from, they were completely taken aback when we said New York City!
“But you guys don’t live IN the city, right?” the leader of the clan said eeying my daughter in her stroller – and probably questioning the sanity of anyone who would choose to raise a family in such madness!
“Yep!” My husband said delighted that they asked, “We live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan!”
I probably rolled my eyes.
“Oh! How terribly exciting!!!!” one of the women squealed
Then turning to me, tightly gripping my arm, another one asked, “Do you absolutely LOVE your life there?”
“It’s different…” I would say, as if to dismiss her intrigue.
I doubt that’s the response she was looking to get out of me, but that truly is so often how I feel!
My tune desperately needed to change! And luckily it began to,over the course of the next few days….
Like when we decided to walk the half mile, it would take to get to a localdiner for breakfast one morning!
Why not walk right? I mean we do it ALL the time!
But something was different this time… it felt like the blocks never ended! And that we’d been walking for what seemed like forever and a half!
Later, we realized we were unable to recall nearly anything that we passed along the way!
We laughed to ourselves, as we passed the syrup and attempted to name off as many places that – were not only within just half a mile of us – but were both, connected and within a block of our apartment back home!
A Jewish Deli
An Italian Restaraunt
A paint store
A Mexican Bbq Restaurant
And a French restaurant
Only then did we realize how awesome it was to be surrounded by so much in NYC! Not to mention, so much variety!
I thought to myself how much more fun it is to walk in Manhattan than anywhere else!
And seriously… I have a frickin’ McDonald’s attached to my apartment! Is it even possible for life to get more uh-mazing than that?
I think not.
Rhode Island: 9 NYC: 1
Then the quietness and slow pace of Rhode Island – which was at first so refreshing and peaceful – then began to ‘irk’ us!
We started complaining that there was less energy on a Friday night than when it’s 5 in the morning in the city! Which surprisingly, wasn’t as big of an exaggeration as it sounds!
There were also no amusing people to watch; only normal civilians and homeless people! – Which in NYC, its the people in between that are most fascinating!
Rhode Island 9 NYC:3
And then the night before we were to head back to the city, while laying in bed and scrolling through my friend’s pictures on Facebook.
I noticed my friends back in suburbia posting pictures of things like:
the ginormous loot of produce they brought back from the farmer’s market that day
the homemade butter they made
Their kale, blackberry, and coconut oil smoothie
My friends in the city however posted these pictures:
I couldn’t help but to laugh out loud at the complete difference!
And to the farmers market phenom- please take no offense! I love the farmers market just as much as the next person!
And I am happy for you really! I mean seriously… you got 62 tomatoes, 4 watermelons, 43 peaches, and a onion for less than I could get a toothbrush in the city!
But what I realized that night, was that maybe I fit in better in the city than I sometimes give myself credit for!
That maybe I relate better to randomness, than to ‘pinterestish-ness’!
And the next afternoon after we had said our farewells to Rhode Island and headed back home, It was when we neared Manhattan and were able to see the city skyline peaking out of the fog up ahead, that I was surprised to find myself getting butterflies!
Partly I am sure, because deep down I still question whether I can make it in this unruly city, but also because something undeniably inside me truly missed it!
I thought back to the fun loving old ladies and about their remark about living In the city, and smiled to myself knowing how truly honored I should feel – not only to live near, or on the outskirts – but IN arguably one of the greatest cities in our country!
And upon returning to my apartment -and after double checking to make sure the mice hadn’t made babies in my couch while I was away- I indeed did feel like this was my home!
That night in honor of our homecoming, my husband and I planned a night on the town -in true NYC fashion- to go see Jay Z and Justin Timberlake in concert at Yankee Stadium.
And I attempted once again, to embrace this crazy city that God has led me to!
And the moment the beat to Jay Z’s “Empire State of Mind” filled the air, I sang along with the other 20,000 voices
Because I get it now..
The only thing better than leaving the city, is coming back to it!
It seems like ages ago, when as an acne faced 18 year old girl, I stood before my graduating class in heels that had me wobbling up to the stage, to open up our Baccalaureate ceremony.
“Well, here we are…” I said nervously, pausing just long enough to question why I’d volunteered to speak infront of so many of my peers in the first place.
I continued, “Most of us have spent countless times sitting next to each other, either as good friends or fellow classmates. While others of us are sitting next to each other for the very first time. But together, there is one thing we have in common- we have all shared many memories over the years.
Maybe you remember Elementary school, where your popularity was determined not by your social status or amazing good looks and charm, but by whether you got to sit in the back of the bus and by which boy you had chasing you around at recess pulling your hair… We know who you are! “I said eyeing the culprits who were sitting among us.
“Luckily in Middle School, the boys came up with a less excrusciatingly painful way of showing their affection. How could we forget the ‘Do you like me? check yes or no’ love letters that were usually thrown at our heads in the form of paper airplanes!
Yet before we knew it, we were walking the crowded halls of high school, where it’s not unlikely that some of the wisest things you learned were things you read scribbled on the bathroom stall.
These were the years where we made the grade, broke a record, found love -or were just lucky enough to find a prom date!”
I spoke with certainty as I closed, “But as the day gets closer to graduation, who knows what memories we have yet to experience in this next stage of our lives? In Jeremiah 29:11 the Lord says, For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
We have been given a future in Christ, and by following the will of God we are not only going to hit the target, but the bulls eye!
(I’m sure when I said that last sentence, I thought it sounded waaaaaay cooler than it actually did!)
So as your fellow classmate and friend, I would like to encourage you to remember this… God is there for you and always will be no matter what the future holds!
I look back on that speech often, and smile to myself as I picture an awkward girl standing before her peers, firmly believing what She thought God’s plan’s was for her – when in reality, she had no idea!
I was going to go to bible college in Florida for a year, and then transfer to a university in Washington State to get a master’s degree in teaching.
I wasn’t going to get married until I was in my late twenties…
and as a lifelong pastors kid, my only major requirement was that he NOT be a pastor!
(haha… it’s humorous, really!)
Once the marriage license was signed at age 20, and I found myself hitched to a man who was equally as passionate about me as he was being a pastor someday, the plans I had for my life evolved once again…
I wanted 3 kids all by the time I was 30 and no more than two years a part.
I wanted a Red Porsche SUV,
and a kitchen table that could fit 8 people comfortably for a dinner party.
Its laughable, because look at me now: Married young, and to a flippin’ pastor!
and no doubt, in over my head with only one kid!
And thanks to my new life in Crazy town USA -aka Manhattan- I am without a car, and with little room for even the smallest of gatherings in the 650 sq feet apartment my family calls home!
It’s obvious really…
I need to stop telling God what to do!
Just like in the Story of the Two Monks:
“I need oil,” said an ancient monk, so he planted an olive sapling.
“Lord,” he prayed, “it needs rain that its tender roots may drink and swell. Send gentle showers.” And the Lord sent gentle showers.
“Lord,” prayed the monk, “my tree needs sun. Send sun, I pray thee.” And the sun shone, gilding the dripping clouds.
“Now frost, my Lord, to brace its tissues,” cried the monk. And behold, the little tree stood sparkling with frost, but at evening it died.
Then the monk sought the cell of a brother monk, and told his strange experience.
“I, too, planted a little tree,” he said, “and see! It thrives well! But I entrust my tree to its God. He who made it knows better what it needs than a man like me.
I laid no condition. I fixed not ways or means. ‘Lord, send what it needs,’ I prayed, ‘storm or sunshine, wind, rain, or frost. Thou hast made it and Thou dost know.’ “
~Calm My Anxious Heart by Linda Dillow~
So often our prayers consist of us telling God what we need – pleading with him even- like we know better than He does!
I have experienced a lot of this during my last 5 months in New York City- where in a moment of overwhelming emotion, I cry out in a panic,
“No!! don’t let THAT happen God!”
“Haven’t I sacrificed enough?”
“Why can’t My life be more like so-and-so’s?”
“This is not how my life was supposed to turn out!”
And the truth is, as an 18 year old girl, this wasn’t how I envisioned my life turning out!
Not even in the slightest.
But in Proverbs 3:5-6 it says,
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.”
I need to be reminded that all seasons of life -the storms, sunshine, wind, rain, and frost- all serve a unique purpose.
And that if I seek the Lord above all else, and still find the path leading me in an entirely different direction than what I had originally planned, its not only ok -but it’s divine!
Even more, maybe it’s what I needed to thrive!
We need to be less interested in getting our way, and more interested in fulfilling the Lord’s will for our life!
And while I don’t know exactly where my place is, in this brutally large city that He has led me to…
Or why he chose a person like me, who admittedly was perfectly content living a comfortable life in suburbia.
I do know I need to entrust each and every day of my life to it’s maker! And to pray less for merely just what I want, and more for what only He could possibly know that I need!
I can remember, closing my eyes as I listened to my husband’s heart beat the night before I was to drop him off at camp. I would keep myself up late that night in an attempt to savor every last moment with him.
Grabbing his bags out of the back of the car, I can recall how strangely hard it was for us to say goodbye that day. I remember struggling to make eye contact with him for fear that he might see my uncertainty.
The sun was to be my clock that night, and I knew very well that I needed to get through the desert valley before it got dark. I knew I should’ve headed out awhile ago, but it had been difficult to leave my husband’s side. He would stall also, finding silly excuses to tell me one more thing, and to sneak in one last hug.
It was only seconds after we had said our goodbyes, and after I had made him pinky-promise that he would be safe, that I made my way down the gravel road to head out on my 3 hour journey back home.
I will forever remember the last thing I saw as I left the campsite – over 100 counselors collectively gathered together in an open barn under the stars, arms outstretched to the heavens, singing praises to our Lord!
I took a deep breath as almost to reassure myself that God’s presence, was so obviously with them. I had nothing to fear.
Even still, I cried the whole way home. My heart was terribly troubled and I couldn’t understand why.
It was only after I came upon one of the most captivating back drops along my drive, that I’d at last, be able to calm my restless thoughts.
Not more than an hour into my journey and just as I neared a mountain up ahead, the sun began to set picturesquely beside it in a way that illuminated it’s peak in the most stunning shades of blue that I had ever seen!
And as far as I could see, I was the only one driving through the expanse of the valley that night.
The setting was all for me, it seemed.
I smiled to myself, upon hearing the chorus of a song playing softly in the background…
“Savior you can move the mountains,
My God is mighty to save,
He is mighty to save.”
“That’s cute, God…” I thought to myself, and of the mountain-themed coincidence.
And yet, as I hummed the lyrics that I had no doubt sang hundreds of times before, the words began to come alive to me in an entirely different way that night.
Because as I looked up at the greatness of the mountain ahead of me, there was no denying how truly massive it was!
It felt as if the Lord was intentionally illuminating the entire mountain – all the way to it’s utmost peak- as if to allow me to fully grasp how incredibly enormous of a mountain it really was!
So that He then could declare, that this mountain in it’s entirety -and any other mountain for that matter- were never too large for Him to move.
He was mighty and able to save!
He spoke this so clearly to me that night, that I took this picture to remind me of my moment alone with the Lord in the desert.
But I could never have known when I casually snapped this picture, what the Lord was ultimately preparing me for.
Only He would be able to foresee the very same counselors, that I had last seen lifting their hands and voices in worship, hours later, falling to their knees at the foot of the cross in complete anguish.
And yet, my God did not cower in fear at the sight of the mountain ahead of us! (-the way I so badly wanted to-)
The promise He made remained; ” I am mighty to save”
I am eternally grateful that God prepared my heart that night.
Because just a day later, I would get a phone call from my husband in a voice of hysteria I could barely recognize. The words he spoke, would be so awful and unbearable, that I can recall having to repeat them back to him in an attempt to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
It felt as if my mind was refusing to recognize what he was saying – refusing to believe the heartbreaking end to the days events – as truth.
…But He was mighty to save.
When Caleb’s family asked Ricky to speak at his memorial, close family friends would come to me privately, overwhelmed with a deep concern that it would be too much responsibility for someone in such a fragile, emotional state.
I would hear out their concerns, but ultimately would look back on my encounter with the mountain that night – remembering how impossibly huge it was – and how even then, the Lord never waivered.
I would choose in that moment, to believe that God was going to use this irreparable loss to move some miraculous-sized mountains. And that in the process, I wasn’t going to be the one to hold Him back.
And so I would choose to believe that my husband could. And for the record, Ricky proved he damn well could! 😉
I will never forget how stunned I was to hear a message of boldness and strength from a person who was no doubt, void of either at the time!
But again, just like He promised, the Lord showed up in a room of Caleb’s closest family and friends, and He indeed, was mighty to save!
Even as I observed my husband struggling to write out his deepest and most private thoughts for last weeks post – tears streaming down his face as he read it aloud to me – I would be lying if I said I didn’t question whether it was wise for me to have asked him to write from a place of such immense pain and tragedy.
And yet, 3 days later we stood in awe at the computer screen! Eyes wide in disbelief at the realization that his post was read by over 1,000 people all across the world!
The United States
1,000 people in 3 days heard of last summer’s unimaginable loss and yet, God’s unmistakeable presence in the midst of it!
Our Lord, is without a doubt, mighty to save!
And my encouragement to you, is that no matter how massive of a mountain you have found yourself up against today – no matter how long you have stood paralyzed in fear, staring up at it wondering if this is the one, due to it’s enormity, that He can’t move on His own – I want to assure you that the very same God that met me in a desert in Oregon, will again remain faithful and true to you!
In the chaos and confusion, I know You are sovereign still.
So how do you write about something you wished never happened? How do your describe something that felt so dark, but in reality was actually illuminating? Where do you begin?
I guess I’ll start from the beginning…
Sunday, July 8th around 8:45pm – First Day of ETV Summer Camp
It was a typical tent-discussion with a handful of 9th and 10th grade boys following the first message from camp…”What’d you like? What didn’t you like?” etc., etc. One comment stood out from the rest…It came from a boy entering the 10th grade named Caleb Justice. In a conversation about the relevancy of God and the Bible, Caleb spoke up and said, “It doesn’t surprise me that God’s word still makes sense to us today [after being written some 2,000+ years ago]…I mean, He’s God and that’s just what He does…”
It’s amazing how enlightening a single statement can be. Words have a way of doing that…to inspire…to reveal truth…to stick. Caleb’s words stuck. I left that conversation thinking about the nonchalant, “no duh”-type of way that Caleb spoke about God.
“What else did I expect? God always works. He never fails. Every year at ETV, He does something amazing. Yeah…this is what He does.”
Little did I know that God would begin to work in ways I could have never imagined. But this wouldn’t be the kind of work that was easy or brief. This was to be a work that would involve pain and loss. A work that work that would require faith and courage. A work that would require sacrifice…
Monday, July 9th around 11:00am – Arriving to the Lake
My main responsibility for the week was to oversee all of the lake activities – we had a great week planned with multiple boats for students to go tubing & wakeboarding, we had water polo goals for the shallow water, countless water floats for the students to use and enjoy, and we even had fried chicken for lunch (which is way better than the usual ham & cheese sandwich with no mayo)! So it was set to be a great week!
For months I had been preparing for the week of camp. I had several areas of responsibility that I was overseeing for the week and I wanted to make sure that I was as prepared as possible to lead and serve well.
One of my areas of responsibility was the Lake Team…I know, I know – tough gig, but somebody had to do it 😉 Like I told the ETV Leadership Team, “If somebody needed to suffer in the sun and make sure the lake was covered, I would be willing to ‘take one’ for the team.” So I did 🙂
I planned for a great week at the Lake with lots of fun activities, but I learned quickly that you can’t plan for the unexpected. Within a matter of hours everything would change.
Looking back now – a full year later – it seems as if this was a “small” microcosm of what to expect over the next year. Life is full of so many twist and turns – almost all of which are unexpected. It’s as if we set our plans only to appease our minds and give us some sort feeling of control.
It’s interesting really – with so much being out of our control, we fight and struggle for every little bit of control that we can muster. Now I’m not advocating abandoning plans, or saying that plans don’t have purpose, but it’s foolish to think that because we plan things will unfold the way we expected. If there is anything that I’ve learned in this life it’s that few things go the way I plan.
Proverbs 16:9 says, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.”
Only God knows fully our exact steps and the direction of the paths we journey. All that we experience and all that we go through are part of God’s plan and His purpose.
This is the foundational truth that I’ve held onto over the last year. It’s what has brought me peace amidst turbulence. And it’s been the light that has guided me through darkness.
And darkness was certainly looming…
Monday, July 9th around 2:30pm – “The Phone Call”
The shore was silent…the music had stopped…the “vibe” was changing…not a problem. I would simply get my iPhone, restart the playlist, connect it back to the stereo dock, and the beach party would resume. As I reached for my phone, I realized that I had an incoming call – it was the Camp Director, Mathias Califf – unassumingly so, I answered the phone. What was said to me was not what I expected – how could anyone ever expect what happened next…
Mathias: “Hey, do you have a moment?”
Me: “Yea, what’s up?”
Mathias: “Listen, Greg (Goosetree) just called me and there is a situation happening at the waterfalls. I don’t have all of the details, but Caleb Justice slipped off a rock into the river. Brett McLean went in after him but neither of them have come up yet and it’s been about 5 minutes.”
Me: “What do you mean? Did they get carried downstream?”
Mathias: “I don’t know man. I don’t have all the details, but it sounds pretty scary. I’m on my way there now, so I’ll call you as soon as I have more information.”
Paralysis can be defined as a state of powerlessness or incapacity to act. I’m not 100% sure that this is what I experienced, but it definitely captures how I felt in that moment. I suddenly became overwhelmed by a flood of emotions…fear, uncertainty, disbelief, hurt, and even anger. Each emotion reared itself, making me well aware of its presence.
Yet, amidst all of those feelings I had a sense of hope. Uncertain hope, but hope nonetheless. “Maybe they’re just around the bend…They should come up any moment now…When Mathias calls back, everything will be ok…There’s no way that this could happen at camp.”
It was that small measure of hope mixed with the other wild emotions that led me to prayer. I mean prayer like I never prayed before. It was a desperate prayer. A prayer like I’ve only prayed maybe once before. I longed for the best, but I feared for the worst.
It makes me wonder – in that moment I begged of everything from God…I believed in His ability and in His power maybe more than I’ve ever believed – so why is it that we don’t seek God in this way even in the smallest of matters?
To pray with that same level of burden, to believe with such a deep sense of conviction, to trust with the highest degree of reverence – this is what I’ve learned. That in all things God desires for us to seek Him in this way – even when the outcomes are not what we desire.
Monday, July 9th around 3:00pm – “Cruel Reality”
The phone rings. Mathias Califf calling. Swipe to answer.
Mathias: “Hey Ricky…man, I don’t even know how to tell you this…”
In that one, half-sentence I knew…more was said, but it didn’t matter. As cruel as it seemed, reality set in. Things would be forever different.
Mathias: “Do you want me to call the parents? Or is that something you think you should do?”
Me: “No, I think I should call them. I think it would be better for them to hear it from me.”
That 30-minute window felt like eternity times three. It’s funny how we can want something so badly – in my case this phone call – yet when we receive what we “wanted” it ends up not being what we wanted at all.
As soon as those words were uttered my heart sank. This game of life had dealt it’s cruelest hand – death.
As reality set in, I couldn’t help but feel as if someone was playing a cruel joke on me. That day at the lake, I did my best to make sure that everyone was safe. I watched the shore to make sure no one was too far out. I kept an eye on every person – I didn’t want any accidents happening on my watch.
Yet here I was having to face a situation in which I was unable to protect one of my own students. In all honesty, I felt like a failure. Doubt began to creep it’s way in, ”If only I had been there – maybe I could’ve reached him. This happened because I wasn’t there. This was my fault…”
As foolish as it may seem, these were my honest thoughts in that moment. I don’t know how long those thoughts lasted, but it couldn’t be very long. Within moments I had to muster the courage to call Caleb’s father and break the news to him. There was no room for doubt or self-pity. Courage was what was need. Yes, courage.
Yet again it seems that this moment – when all of life seemed still – served to be a reminder of a greater lesson that God would begin to teach me.
You see there are situations that we experience far more consistently than we’d like to acknowledge that cause us to doubt. They have to do with relationships, with family, with work, with school, with ourselves – and they all cause us to doubt. We doubt who we are; we doubt what we’ve learned; we doubt what we’ve become; we doubt the process that has led us to this moment; we doubt our decisions; we doubt the decisions of others; we doubt God.
But it is in these moments, these seasons, of doubt that God is often times pulling us forward, urging us to live with courage. He’s at work within us stirring up the courage that will drive away the doubt; courage that will fortify who we are; courage that will cause us to overcome.
It is this courage that allows us to face all of life’s cruel realities, even when we don’t know how…
Monday, July 9th around 3:05pm – “The Conversation”
Search contacts. Locate Shawn Justice. Take a deep breath. Say a prayer. Dial mobile.
Shawn: “Hey Ricky!”
Me: “Hey Shawn. Do you have a minute to talk and can you sit down?”
Shawn: “Yea, sure – what’s going on?”
Me: “Shawn, I don’t even know how to say this but…Shawn, today Caleb was at the river near the waterfalls. He was on the rocks around the pool and he slipped in. Another leader was nearby and he went in after Caleb to try to reach him. It’s been over 30 minutes and neither one of them has surfaced. Shawn, I’m so sorry…”
Shawn: Pauses. Deep breath.
Me: “I’m so sorry Shawn…I’m sorry…”
Shawn: Exhale. “Ricky, it’s ok, just pray…I’ll get Sara and we’ll head up to the camp.”
Just typing this very conversation is incredibly difficult. With each keystroke I relive the conversation. Moment-by-moment, line-by-line, sentence-by-sentence everything comes back. This is a conversation that I’ll never forget – and trust me, for good or for bad, I’ve tried to forget. But my mind won’t…it can’t…let go.
It’s a conversation that has been re-played in my mind every week for the last year. 52 weeks. Every. Single. Week.
How do you tell the father of a 15-year old boy that his son has just passed away in a drowning accident at summer camp? Better yet, how do you respond to his sense of peace and understanding?
As I’ve said before, I wouldn’t wish this conversation on my worst enemy…
There is much to be learned from this conversation. While I’ve learned some things, I’ve not fully extracted all that is to be gained from this brief phone call. In fact, when I think of this conversation it only leads to more questions and more learning.
How does one maintain a measure of calmness when you’ve been dealt terrible news? At what point in my relationship with God will I begin to know and understand God in such a way that I am not panicked about life’s troubles? When I face an unbelievable challenge or reality – do I think to pray? Or why think at all – why not pray?
I’ve had a year to think on these things and to be honest this is still in “process mode”. I haven’t arrived yet. I haven’t figured it out yet, but I’m working on it. This conversation that I sometimes wish I could let go of, has become a source for deep introspection and self-evaluation. So for that reason alone, I will continue to replay this conversation and relive possibly the most difficult thing that I have ever done in my life.
Monday, July 9th around 3:30pm – The White River Falls
Right after calling Shawn Justice, I was on my way to the waterfalls. While the distance was only 7 miles, the entire drive seemed to move in slow motion.
Upon arriving to the falls I saw Joshua, Caleb’s older brother, who was just yards away when his brother slipped into the falls. I could hardly bring myself to look at him as I still battled feelings of guilt and failure.
I walked towards the White River Falls – a set of falls so gorgeous, hidden in an Oregon desert valley. I had been to the falls many times before. I always stood in wonder and in awe of God’s creation.
It was here that I was able to gather myself for a few moments. Emergency crews were on the scene and the state park was now closed as rescue crews sought to retrieve the bodies of Caleb Justice and Brett McLean. Still I was able to sit silently, to reflect, to talk…
I found a place of solace – a place where I could approach God and talk with Him about what had occurred. He already knew, but I knew He wanted to hear it from me. It was there that I told Him all about Caleb and Brett. I told Him about how Caleb once tried to play “Hide and Seek” with me even though I didn’t know I was playing, plus he was hidden in plain sight. I told God about the time Brett and I sat in a pizza shop and laughed because we were two young guys with matching “doulos” tattoos on our left wrists sharing a vegetarian pizza.
I told God that on the surface Caleb and Brett appeared to be polar opposites, but that in reality they were very much the same – both were risk-takers; both had a passion for life and even more passion for Jesus; both had unique personalities with their own quirks; and both were comfortable being who God wanted them to be. I also told God that I would miss them dearly.
Yes, it was at the White River Falls – the place where the waters roared loudly and violently – that I was invited to talk with God.
Psalm 27:8 – “My heart has heard you say, ‘Come and talk with me.’ And my heart responds, ‘Lord, I am coming.’”
Over this last year I have found God’s invitation to talk to be one of the most comforting things in my life. In God, I have found a friend that I can approach about anything at anytime. He’s worthy of being trusted with deepest hurts and our darkest fears. He’s gives us reason to celebrate and provides us with great joy. No matter my situation, I take God up on His offer to talk and many times this is exactly what I need.
Monday, July 9th around 5pm – “The Message”
After some time at the falls, Mathias and I began to talk about the rest of the day and evening – what would be the plan? Who do we communicate to? What do we communicate? How do we let the other students know that haven’t heard yet?
With several other youth pastors unaware of what was going on, and with Mathias having to stay with the emergency crews and law enforcement, I headed back to the camp to take the lead on communicating to the students and to the volunteers.
I’ve given dozens of speeches and I’ve preached hundreds of messages in my life – many of which I’ve prepared for hours, some I’ve done ‘off the cuff’ – but none were as conflicting as what I was about to say. It was up to me to tell about 150 high school students and 100+ adult staff & volunteers about the incidents of the day. I didn’t know what to say exactly, but I knew two things: they needed the truth and they needed hope.
So on the drive to the camp, I began to think. I gleaned on an experience that occurred just 9 days before the tragedy at ETV (which I wrote about here) and I knew that despite the tragedy, the call had to be to worship and to love.
To worship because the day we arrived to camp we celebrated God’s greatness and how good He was; and if God was good yesterday, then the truth still remains that God was still good on this day. Like David when he lost his son in 2 Sam. 12, the only appropriate response seemed to be worship. The beauty of worship is that it requires a total surrender of one’s self in acknowledgment of One that is bigger, or superior. Despite our troubles, I knew God was still in control.
And to love because this was an experience that we all went through – it wasn’t just me, everyone at camp was going to go through this…together. And since we were going to walk through this experience together we needed love. Love for our brothers, love for our sisters, love for our Creator. It was love that was to become the pillars of support on which we would stand.
So this became our “rally cry” of sorts: To worship and to love. That night we broke into groups, told stories, laughed, cried, supported one another, exhorted each other, and sang songs…we worshipped and we loved.
Singer/songwriter Reuben Morgan from Hillsong United once said, “When we are more aware of our weaknesses than our strength, it is ok to sing out of HOPE rather than certainty.”
Although two friends were lost, we all sang out of hope.
It was in this moment that I learned I could worship in any and every situation. That worship of the one true God is not dependent upon my circumstances. No…God is far greater than that. He is much more deserving of that.
Only a God so gracious and so loving could receive and accept a worship so broken yet so pure.
Monday, July 9th to Tuesday, July 10th – Reflection
The 24 hours that followed felt like I was in the twilight zone. All of it felt like a whirlwind…I remember looking at my watch exactly 24 hours after I received the first phone call and thinking how fast, yet how slow, time had moved. So much had happened in such a short span of time. Little by little I began piecing together my thoughts and looking for what God was doing in me and around me…
I’ve always been a “big picture” kind of guy. I’ve always tried to step away from a situation and see how everything was coming together and try to assess what could be. This has always come very natural to me – even when I was a young teenager.
This situation was no different. As time passed, I began to step back and look for what God was doing. He was doing something and it was BIG. All over the world people were becoming aware of what had occurred and they began reaching out and praying together. God’s people were rallying together and sending their prayers and support our way. At the camp, there was a spirit of unity and humility. God was at work and I began to see bits and pieces of what He was doing.
I went from looking around to looking within – what was God doing in me? I wasn’t sure, but I had questions…Why was I chosen to be at the center of these events? What did God want me to see about Him? This wasn’t a short-term learning experience, so how would this affect the rest of my life and my ministry?
In this last year, I’ve walked through all sorts of challenges and I’ve faced countless situations that have required reckless faith. I’ve had people tell me that they know God is going to do great things in me and that they can’t wait to see the story God has written for me. I’ve pursued dreams that I’ve had for 10 years and I’ve seen God honor that in my life.
One reason: I’ve sought every opportunity to be used by God and I’ve accepted every situation that He has presented me with.
There’s no magic here. There’s nothing special or unique about what I’ve done. It’s something that every single person can choose to do. No matter who you are, you can decide to embrace everything that God puts before you and learn to see it as an opportunity to bring honor to Him.
My Continuing Journey…
Sadly, many of us don’t choose to be used by God in this way. We choose comfort and convenience over character. We settle on contentment rather than growth. We look for shortcuts rather than trusting in the process.
It’s certainly not easy, nor is it always fun. There are many seasons where you truly walk by faith not knowing where you are going – but that is the essence of the Christian belief system. It’s Faith.
Hebrews 11:6 says, “It is impossible to please God without faith.”
It doesn’t say that your chances of pleasing God are reduced…it says that it is impossible. Faith isn’t an option, it’s a must.
Not only is this the chief lesson that I have learned, but it is what was exemplified in Caleb’s life.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It’s not the length of life, but the depth.”
Through all of this, I have discovered that the key to depth is not possessions, pleasure, or even experiences; but rather the key to depth is faith. You see I’ve learned that faith is what leads to a life that is full of depth, meaning, and significance.
It really is amazing how much you can learn in a single day. There are some things you learn that will stay with you forever – you’ll never forget them.