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.
That was my cue to exit the church service before anyone could see my fragile state, or worse – try talking to me on my way out. I drove home in a fury, and as soon as the tires touched the driveway I bolted from the car into the house. Once the door closed behind me, I fell to the floor in a heap of tears.
Just as my knees had given out, so had my spirit.
On the ground, I raised my hands to signify my physical surrender to my circumstances. I couldn’t go on like this anymore. Adamantly I pleaded with the Lord for relief. Knowing there was no end in sight, I literally cried out in distress.
Is this what my life had amounted to?
“Just left something for you on your doorstep.” said the text message.Confused and shaken I quickly picked myself up fearing that my sobs and hysterical pleas had been heard by someone nearby! Relieved to see no one there, I opened the front door to find a book on the step. As I bent down to pick it up, a piece of paper fell delicately from it’s pages.
In disbelief I read the title of the loose sheet of paper, “It’s Not Over Till It’s Over.”
Comparing this mess called ‘Life’ to a long movie, the author writes these words,“…as the curtain falls and I think to myself, this is a strange way to end. I look again and see God pointing to the screen as if to say, ‘This my child, is not the end, but an intermission…’”
Just seconds after being in a fit of tears , the author’s next words, almost felt like they were instructing me in that exact moment. Like they knew…
“Can I encourage you to sit down, take a deep breath, stretch, and regroup? The story’s not over yet. Perhaps you are just at an intermission. We shouldn’t put a period where God put a comma.”
Holy mother of Abraham Lincoln… that just happened!
If that wasn’t God speaking to me, I don’t know what is!
As I sat on the steps of my front porch taking in the depth of those words, I was reminded of yet another powerful story that I had heard years ago…
Alter Weiner, a Holocaust survivor, described the unimaginable circumstances he had endured in the 35 months he spent in concentration camps.
He spoke of how by March 1945, that he was so emaciated and weak as a result of starvation, that he could no longer work due to his frailty. The Nazi’s saw no purpose in a Jew who couldn’t work, and so he was sent by train to a neighboring concentration camp where he would be killed.
He described standing in an endless line with other battered and beaten Jews – all hopelessly watching groups of Jews ahead of them being ushered into gas chambers, their lifeless bodies emerging moments later as they were carried away to be cremated.
Feeling the weight of his reality with each step he took – stepping closer and closer to his imminent death.
In his book, “From A Name To A Number” he explains being both utterly terrified yet filled with a deep desire for the pain and torture to cease – even if it meant his life having to end to do so.
He couldn’t do it any longer.
“I was standing in line for the doomed, waiting to be gassed and cremated. I sniffed the offensive odor of burning flesh. I felt downright scared. The thought of being so close to death sucked the life out of me.
Then a German civilian approached me. My heart stopped. He shouted at me, “Get out of line, young boy! You can still work!”
You can imagine the tension in that moment: not knowing whether you should shout for joy at the thought of another day, or if in complete frustration you should cry out to God for punishing you even longer! After all, he was saved, but only to be sent back to another concentration camp!
But Alter’s story was no where near over yet…
Amazingly, less than 8 weeks later – in just two months – Alter’s concentration camp would be liberated by the Russian Army! He would be set free from the torture, and suffering he had endured over the years at the hands of the Nazi’s.
While Alter stood weary and hopeless in that line just weeks ago – coming so close to death that he could literally smell it – he most certainly believed he had reached the end.
And yet, it proved to have only been an intermission.
I wonder how many of us could identify the same desperation and emotional emaciation in our own lives. Our circumstances leaving us so frail and weary, that we are no longer recognizable to ourselves.
I know I can’t be the only one who has found myself a midst a raging storm in my life .
One so long and so hard that I have fallen to my knees, arms outstretched in surrender as I pleaded for the winds that were threatening to overtake me, to cease.
If that is where you have found yourself today, then please remember :
This is not the end, it is only an intermission…
The story is not over yet!
Your Liberator is coming for you!
In Isaiah 41:10 its says, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
The Lord is making a series of promises.
I am with you…
I will strengthen you…
I will help you…
I will uphold you…
I think we could agree that the idea of Christ being ‘with us’ is a nice thought – kinda makes us feel all fuzzy inside – but if we are really honest, hasn’t the Lord also seemed so silent at times?
It’s like He is passively holding out on us, while in desperation we wonder:
When will His strength come?
When will His help deliver us?
And why – in this very instant – isn’t the Lord choosing to make His presence known by rescuing us from our current heartache like a prince on his stallion? Like now!?
Yet I have found that when the flood waters have risen; when the heat has been turned up to the ‘oomph’ degree; when the burden has become too heavy for me to bare on my own -THAT is when God has brought the deliverace that I have so desperately needed.
The Lord speaks about this in Isaiah 43:2-3
When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
In our darkest days, these verses can offer an undeniable comfort. The comfort in knowing that even when we have fallen to the floor in a fit of tears with no hope of ever having the strength to get back up again, when we find ourselves so badly bruised and beaten that we are almost positive we have reached the end – even amidst the most unimagenable of circumstances – that the Lord our God will meet us there in our pain, and never leave our side!
And we will not be consumed!
Dear friends, I pray that each of us would come to fully grasp the fact that we are not alone, and that He is not done!
Wait expectantly on the Lord…
For your Liberator is coming for you!
** And make sure to check back here next Tuesday for something really special. My husband has agreed to take over the reigns, and share his heart on the 1 year anniversary of a tragedy that broke our hearts and tested our faith in a way nothing ever had before! You wont want to miss it! **
My eyes open to the sound of my toddler stirring in her bed. I close my eyes again and picture her stretching her limbs to get ready for the day. Oh no you don’t! I fling the weight of the covers off of myself and hastily make for the door. Over piles of laundry – against any obstacle – I make my way around the bed. I stop suddenly when in sight of her crib, and at the risk of her seeing me, I army crawl my way along the cold wood floors towards my only chance of even the slightest motivation for the day- my coffee!
It’s funny because I have never been much of a coffee drinker.
I made it through college, and worked for years at schools – where it could be argued that coffee was more key to survival than air itself! I even made it though my daughter’s first year of life without ever having as much as a sip of the good stuff!
So why do you ask, have I finally given in to the madness?
It’s kicking my butt and it’s not letting up, no matter how loud I plead “Mercy!”
The plus side of my daughter’s new developmental stage however, is that we have been able to immerse her into an abundance of worship music lately. (I like how when I say that it makes me sound suuuuuper spiritual, when in reality it’s just proven to be the best way to drown out the tantrums!) It’s genius really – allowing you to be both in a constant state of worship while encouraging you to lower your escalating heart rate as your child screams bloody murder in the background!
And so it’s no surprise that after a week full of ‘the need for worship music’ (if you get my drift) that I found myself bolting for the kitchen every morning – in hopes of even just a mere 15 minutes – where, with coffee in hand, I could be alone in my thoughts.
With each sip, my thoughts would turn to daydreams….
Daydreaming back to the days when I had the time to do my hair and when the wind, or incoming subway, wasn’t always threatening to mess it up…
Relishing in the happiest of memories I shared with all of my pumps – who are now uniformly lined up in my closet with no hopes of ever being worn again…
Then after a few moments on Facebook – and after seeing all the beautiful babies being born – I would then begin mourning the baby my daughter wasn’t anymore.
Wishing for a laundry basket full of little onesies in every color of the rainbow, and the feeling of having a sleeping baby nuzzled in my neck, legs curled up under their bums… For a moment, I even missed the newborn cry (but it didn’t take long for me to come to my senses about that one!)
I swear though, while enjoying my coffee just a day later, my daydreams would be about the exact opposite!
Looking forward to the day that with a little more age, my daughter would be more self sufficient!
When maybe she could help me clean up or at least carry her weight (like literally, and preferably down the subway steps!)
My heart ached also at the reality that I might never experience having another child. Not because we wouldn’t love to, but because our new life in Manhattan doesn’t allow for that… comfortably.
My thoughts then wandered to whether Gia would be socially dysfunctional due to her future solitude as an only child… I then chuckled to myself knowing that according to a large amount of American moms she already will be – considering my decision to get an epidural AND to not breastfeed her as a baby! Which makes me smile because ‘realistically’ then, I have nothing to lose!
As I continued to sip my coffee, I casually flipped through a book and came across this poem which silenced my daydreaming completely.
It was spring, but it was summer I wanted; the warm days and the great outdoors.
It was summer but it was fall I wanted; the colorful leaves and the cool dry air.
It was fall but it was winter I wanted; the beautiful snow and the joy of the holiday season.
It was now winter but it was spring I wanted; the warmth and the blossoming of nature.
I was a child but it was adulthood that I wanted; the freedom and the respect.
I was twenty but it was thirty I wanted; to be mature and sophisticated.
I was middle-aged but it was twenty I wanted; the youth and the free spirit.
I was retired but it was middle-age that I wanted; the presence of mind without limitations.
My life was over but I never got what I wanted.
This poem spoke loud and clear to me.
I mean we all live this way, right? I know I do! I was doing so in the exact moment that I came across it!
We could even continue the poem on to say…
I wanted a fresh start in a new city, but now I miss my friends. I wanted a job promotion, but now I am working too hard. I was engaged but then I wanted to be married. I was married, but I wanted to be a parent. I wanted to get pregnant 3 months ago, but… I was a parent of one child, but I wanted another…and another. I had a family, but now I just want some peace and quiet – even better, a hot date!
I realized that what I had originally entertained as ‘harmless daydreaming’ was not that at all… My heart was directly in the center of a raging battle of discontentment!
I had restlessly been longing for something else, something better – only further proving that my daughter wasn’t enough just the way she is.
Even worse, proving that God – who in all His mighty power was able to create the heavens and the Earth – was somehow wrong in the way He designed my life!
I knew in my heart that I didn’t believe that to be true…
I thought back to Psalm 18:30, which is a verse that has been penned countless times on the palm of my hand in an attempt to get me through some of my most difficult days. Its profoundness lies also in its simplicity.
God’s way is perfect…
The word ‘perfect’ is undeniable!
And because of it, we can rest in the truth that when God calls you somewhere, or to do something, that you are in His PERFECT plan for your life!
Still, I found myself perplexed as I pondered this verse over and over in my head…
If I know I am within God’s perfect plan for my life, why does my heart still feel so restless, even unhappy at times?
I decided to take a look at that verse more closely.
I was surprised to find that over the years, there was a part I had missed entirely!
God’s way is perfect….He is a shield for all those who take refuge in Him.
The key to finding contentment in our current circumstances is as much about believing that God’s plan for our lives is perfect in its entirety, just as much as it is knowing that the Lord is available to be our greatest source of comfort – a place where our hearts can find what they so desperately need to be made whole again!
He can be… that is, “For all those who take refuge in Him”
This verse requires action. And it is our choice where – or whom – we find our refuge.
I pictured myself earlier that morning… Realizing then that I needed to choose to run to Him – in that same desperate way at times – and throw myself at the foot of the cross, and not just the coffee pot.
Our hearts have failed in an attempt to find refuge in many other things as well. As women we have looked for it in our significant other – or lack thereof – falsely believing that true contentment will be found when someone “puts a ring on it” if you will…
In boredom, we have turned to Facebook, but then are surprised when our discontentment escalates as we begin comparing our happiness and successes to that of our friends…
On Pinterest, we have made ourselves believe that a bigger house, a vacation to go zip-lining in the Swiss Alps, making our own laundry detergent, or incorporating the’ Victoria Secret Angels work out’ is going to bring greater significance to our lives…
We could have the perfect career, have gotten married to someone far out of our league, had a family, bought the house and have all the pictures hung, and yet even still, we will be restless and longing for more!
The truth is, I have no doubt that even when I am in the ‘sweet spot’ of God’s perfect plan for my life, that even then the Lord will keep me a little less fulfilled than I would most desire – whether in my marriage, in my confidence as a parent, and in any life circumstance that comes my way – Always withholding a little of what I believe I so desperately need at the time, in an attempt to keep me in a constant awareness of my ultimate need for Him, and only Him!
As I leave you today, I would ask you to search your heart for what it is that you have aimlessly attempted to take refuge in? What is it that has hindered you from embracing the perfect way God has laid out for you?
I pray that God would help us to savor the season of life we find ourselves in – even if they are chalk full of tantrums and chaos- laden mornings!
I can promise you this: Living God’s way doesn’t always mean you will get whatever you want… But I can assure you that you will indeed, always have everything that you need!
I use the term ‘fascinated’ very lightly and a little – if not completely – sarcastically.
You have heard me say that I often feel like I am living in a foreign country, and that would be because everything from the way people in Manhattan park their cars, to the languages they speak, even the water they drink is different!
I often find myself thinking,
Like for example, when you come across a sign like this.
Coming from Suburbia you might stare at this sign with complete and utter confusion like I did at first. But in time, a man walking his dog will come by and flawlessly illustrate for you what “curb your dog” actually means.
Because in fact, what the sign is really doing is telling you what not to do -which is not to allow your dog to pee on the grass, flowers, or god forbid, the trees!
Conveniently that narrows it down to only allowing your dog “to do their thang” on nothing more than the sidewalk directly in front of the people walking behind you!
And if you are even luckier to be one of those people traveling up hill – or even at the slightest incline – you may even get to dodge pee streaming down the street from the dog doing his business up ahead!
I like to think of it as a more raw, “urban version” of the Subway Surfer game- merging the stroller quickly in and out of groups of people on the streets of New York City, and receiving double points for successfully dodging the golden stream of urine flowing down towards both me and my offspring!
And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what the streets of Manhattan often smell like on a hot day…
Like I said, “what -the- heck?!”
Or the fact that in this city, it is a rarity to ever find a high chair -And changing tables, almost don’t exist entirely!
I remember the first time I had this realization while having lunch with my family at Mcdonald’s one day, and the full blown meltdown that ensued soon after – not from my toddler – but from me!
And I have no doubt that this moment of pure regret of ever having moved here, will make it’s way into one of my husband’s sermon illustrations someday.
But don’t worry, I have since come to embrace the lack of those suburban conveniences in my life, and yet, I have no doubt that one of the better questions to ask a Manhattan Mommy might just be, “where’s the most random place you’ve ever had to change your child’s diaper?”
The answers would be endlessly amusing, I’m sure!
I also find it fascinating that it isn’t unlikely to find a man in his 90’s with more attitude than a 16 year old!
I had a run in with one of these lil’ fellas at the Post Office this last week! And was forced to make the decision to leave package-less when his cursing rants and raves towards another man in line went a little too far -even for my 2 year old, who if I am completely honest, was listening to the unedited version of the Black Eyed Peas while still in the womb!
I also remember the first time I saw ( not to mention, smelled ) Manhattan’s system of taking the trash out each night –>
And the moment I became fully aware that the average mom with a child the same age as mine is going to be 10-15 years older than me! ( you would probably wait that long too if you knew there wasnt going to be any high chairs and changing tables! )
Or the moment I first realized my grocery store was both underground and had an elevator!
Even more “fascinating” was while shopping, seeing items like parsley for $3.00! A single frozen Digiorno pizza for $8.00! And a package of double stuffed Oreos for $6.00!!!
No really… What-in the-Heeeeeeezy is a stay-at-home mom supposed to do without a package of double stuffed Oreo’s hidden away in her pantry like a well guarded treasure?!? You know, just in case. And no doubt, only to be savored come nap time, so help me Lord Jesus!
<– Or how about the first time I saw cars parked like this!
Or the moment I walked onto the playground and found myself a midst a sea of nannies!!!
And deciding the only logical thing you can do is to play a light-hearted game of “Where’s Waldo?” like me and Rachel so often do – but instead of looking for Waldo, we look for a ‘Real Mom’!
I wish I could tell you that I was kidding…
Or that it wasn’t as much fun as it is!
Even funnier though was the time, my husband was questioning how I was “soooo sure” that the young blonde wearing sweatpants and pushing a stroller with a black haired child that looked nothing like her was a nanny…
Only to notice in that exact same moment, that my young, blonde haired self, was both wearing sweatpants and toting my daughter around -who indeed looks not even the slightest like me!
But For the record, I still stand by my assumption regardless! She had N –to the– ANNY written all over her!
But unfortunately, there is no denying, that indeed so do I!
Now for just a moment, close your eyes and think back to my now infamously tiny apartment, and the kitchen that looks like it was plucked straight from the glory of the 1980’s! ( or if you were lucky enough to forget, click here and take a quick trip down memory lane! )
Now, did you know that the average MINIMUM price for a one-bedroom NYC apartment is $500,000?
Half a mill, baby!!!!!
And MY little gem of an apartment, would actually be worth even more!!
(You know you want to say it…) WHAT. THE. HECK?!?
Did you also know, that in NYC there are over 200 languages spoken?
Which means it’s not unlikely that while in an elevator you could hear 3 different languages all being spoken at the same time! And if you are like me, you will sometimes find yourself having no idea what languages they are!
Even more fascinating, according to http://www.nyc.gov, about 1 in every 39 people living in the United States reside in New York City!
That means, that here in NYC there are more people than 39 out of the 50 states!
I love those last two facts because while complaining to your husband, “why eeeeeveryone in the world has to be in line at Trader Joes at the exact same time!”, you are actually exaggerating much less than he will say you are…
Now before I go, I feel it is my duty to inform the masses of the “fascinating” epidemic that is sweeping the city…
Patterned pants and sparkling water!
My silly, suburban self unknowingly seemed to believe that things like water in it’s original state, and that pants – minus the vivacious floral print – could still fully serve it’s purpose…
But apparently, I am sadly mistaken!
Yet, one thing is for sure…
I Will Never
Less Than Fascinated
Late last Saturday after everyone else was fast asleep I found myself wide awake, tears streaming down my face, and consumed by a fear that I had never experienced in my life…
Earlier that day my family and I were exploring the Union Square area of NYC. One of the places we went to was the Grace Episcopal Church.
We stopped in our tracks right when we laid our eyes on it – the soaring steeple peaks painted across blue skies, the chime of church bells echoing down Broadway Avenue, the Gothic design & architecture that draws you into a state of reverence…It was one of the most stunning cathedrals I had ever seen!
And when we spotted a sign welcoming people in to pray, we decided to go in and check it out – even if we had little, or no, intention of actually praying! We just wanted to take a look and maybe get some good pictures!
(Gasp!) I know, we are hoodlums. But it’s probably best you know that about us right off the bat anyway! 😉
When we walked inside, we were both awestruck by the captivating beauty of it’s architecture.
It’s splendor almost demanded that you pray! And believe me, when a church with ceilings that tall demands you pray, you do what you are told!
We walked down the aisle nearing the front, there stood an easel with an old prayer book open to a page where many others had written out their prayers before us.
Dear Heavenly Father,
I pray that you use us in New York City
We are willing…
Might seem like a simple prayer to you, but for me it was an offering of complete surrender – one that I had made years before when we first began our ministry back in Washington.
5 years later, I can remember the exact moment the plane lifted off and soared over the sun setting on the Columbia River as our flight left Washington and we headed for our new lives (and ministry awaiting us) in NYC. I recall looking down at all the lights twinkling below and remembering each relationship we were leaving behind, and reminiscing each moment that my husband and I were able to see God work in miraculous ways during the years we served there.
I remember rubbing my tired eyes in an attempt to disguise the tears grazing my cheeks, but truthfully there was no denying the emptiness my husband and I both felt.
It was as if our hearts were left back on the runway…
We had given everything we had to the community we lived in – walking people through their lingering questions about the Lord, supporting couples as they struggled through conflicts within their marriages, unexpectedly visiting families in the hospital, or making home visits to those who had suddenly lost a loved one. We even did the best we could to walk alongside our church last summer as we, together, faced an unimaginable tragedy.
We would have had it no other way – leaving our hearts back in Washington – but as our plane lifted higher into the air I questioned whether I had anything left to offer the people of New York.
Having spent my life in the “ministry business” as both a pastor’s kid and then a pastor’s wife, I was all too familiar with the fact that serving the Lord in full time ministry – no matter where the location – required nothing less than what Jesus so graciously gave until his very last breath. Everything.
Ultimately, I knew that God could use us in New York City just as he had in Washington.
We just had to be willing.
It was about an hour or two after our visit to the Grace Episcopal Church, that we met up with Rachel and David for the remainder of our day. And while the guys were in a nearby store, Rachel and I stood outside on the street, our little girls giggling and eating snacks in their strollers, as we caught up on each other’s new lives on the east coast.
At some point during our conversation a young man approached us casually asking for 25 cents to help him go buy some liquor in the store next door.
We apologetically told him we didn’t have anything and casually dismissed his request while joking among ourselves that at least he was honest.
He disappeared for a few minutes and then returned suddenly once again only to ask again, this time a little more desperately, and for $1.00. Although we could both sense something wasn’t right, we politely denied his request and told him once again that we had nothing to give him.
We went on with our conversation, only to have him come back once again!
This time coming a little closer, a little more aggressively, and now asking for $2.00! Rachel could see him eyeing my purse…
(What happened next would shock anyone that knows me really well…)
Although I’m known for being deathly afraid of confrontation, I very calmly but boldly called the man out!
“Excuse me, you have asked us 3 times for money! We don’t have anything, so you need to leave us alone now.”
He argued with me, so again I respond, this time more sternly, “You need to walk away right now!”
I remember him saying something along the lines of how he didn’t like the tone of my voice.
“Would you like me to go get my husband? ” I snapped, as I motioned to the store he was in.
It was obvious that the request infuriated him but I continued, “If you don’t walk away RIGHT NOW I am going to go inside and go get my husband!”
His yelling became louder but he indeed started to walk away…
And then luck would have it that at that exact moment, both of our husbands popped up right behind us as they were exiting the store they had been shopping in.
The smiles on their faces and their light conversation were interrupted by Rachel’s attempt to quickly fill them in about what had unfolded, all while the persistent man stood a good 15 feet behind us, still watching every move we made.
The man then quickly ran up behind the guys, and started yelling and cursing at them – specifically at David, and directly in his face! I can remember clearly the look of terror on Rachel’s face as we attempted to walk in the opposite direction only to have him follow us and make physical threats that could only be made out of pure rage and insanity!
All this while pushing our precious baby girls in their strollers!
The man let up at some point…How long it took?? I don’t know.
And I will admit, I was the first to dismiss it humorously apologizing for all of the “loonies” in NYC and reassuring them – and quite honestly myself – that moments like these don’t happen often around here.
But once the night had come to an end and I crawled into bed with what should have been a heart filled with the joy after sharing an amazing day with my closest friends, I was instead consumed with an immense fear that I couldn’t shake. I felt almost haunted by the clear image of the man’s face.
I could hear the intensity in his voice rising, the tension increasing…
Coming closer…and closer as he spoke.
I could see his eyes on my purse…
And I found myself left with one lingering question ”Did I do the right thing confronting him?”
And then thinking of my purse, or even worse, our baby girls – I pondered the even scarier question, “What if I hadn’t?”
The fear within me swelled to the point that the tears flowed freely down my face.
In the darkness of our room, I felt my husbands arms wrap around me. He held his hand to my cheek, sadly confirming the tears that he sensed, and he began a prayer of thankfulness to the Lord for keeping us safe and then requested protection over my dreams that night.
I savored the solace that his touch and the comfort of his words brought – but only for a moment.
Then I could feel an almost sinister thought remind me that the constant strength I found in my husband, the same undeniable faith that I had in my “back up plan” when I motioned to the store and threatened to go get him had that man refused to leave us alone, is the exact person – the same protection – that I would be without tomorrow.
My heart began racing as I thought back to countless other times in the last few months that fear began to make its way into my heart…
I remember watching the coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings, and the security measures that were instantly put in place in New York City because of it, only serving as a reminder that my new home is so often the “bull’s-eye” on the target for those looking to create a catastrophic attack against our nation.
I also remember the day after the bombings, before it was revealed that there was a planned attack on New York City, my husband arrived to his office a little over a block away from Times Square where he saw swarms of police officers wearing tactical gear and holding machine guns.
Throughout the day I recall praying to the point of tears for my husband’s safety.
Even last weekend, while taking the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty, take in the scenic views, and snapping family pictures in front of the city skyline we were eerily escorted back to Manhattan by the US Coast Guard boat wielding a machine gun due to “heightened security”.
I didn’t realize it, but over the past 3 months my fear had been surmounting!
If I’m to be honest, in that moment curled up in my bed, my heart did not portray the same willingness I had offered up to the Lord just hours before.
Basking in the Cathedral’s grandeur, the sunlight reflecting down through the faceted stain glass and the stillness that seemed to offer the perfect environment to embrace the Lord’s divine presence, it made it almost simple to offer Him all that I knew He deserved from me.
But in a quick moment of complete chaos, when the glamour and bright lights had faded, and the city has reared it’s ugly face, it became difficult for me to stand by my words and continue to be wholly surrendered to the city that the Lord had so clearly called me and my family to.
While restlessly tossing and turning that night, John 10:10 came to mind,
[Satans] purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. [The Lord’s] purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.
Without a doubt, I know that the Lords purpose for us is to live a rich and satisfying life – a life ‘worthy of a story‘ like we had talked about previously – but what I failed to grasp was that there are forces oftentimes working equally as hard to destroy the same plans the Lord has so intricately and amazingly designed for our lives.
Those plans are perfectly outlined in Jeremiah 29:11 when the Lord says He has “plans to prosper you, and not to harm you. To give you hope and a future.”
As I meditated on these verses, I realized that the same fear that had suddenly taken a hold of me was also threatening to steal, kill, and destroy ‘the good story’ the Lord was rooting for me to live!
I love the way Joyce Meyer’s defines fear: “Feeling fear is simply the temptation to run away from what we should face and confront. I learned that I had to stop running and stand still long enough to see what God would do for me if I let my faith in Him be larger than my fears”
No matter how great or how small the fears you are currently facing in your life right now – whether it’s fear for your safety or for the safety of the ones around you, fear that the Lord wont be able to provide for your every need, even the fear that you aren’t smart enough, beautiful enough, or successful enough – whatever it is, I pray that instead of believing the lies of the enemy and cowering down in fear by running from our insecurities, that together, we would have the courage to seek out the rich and satisfying life that only the Lord can offer!
God desires to use us in miraculous ways,
We only have to be willing…
To do for yourself the best that you have it in you to do -to grit your teeth and clench your fists in order to survive the world at its harshest and worst- is, by that very act, to be unable to let something be done for you and in you, that is more wonderful still.
The trouble with steeling yourself against the harshness of reality is that the same steel that secures your life against being destroyed, secures your life also against being opened up and transformed. – Beth Moore
You know the ones where your toddler pees on the couch, eats your makeup sponge, and sneezes yogurt all over the place because you mistakenly thought her open mouth meant she wanted “more yogurt” when really, she just had to sneeze!
…And its only 9 in the morning!
And yes, there is yogurt E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E! Praise Jesus!!
So because I foresee this being the kind of day where my daughter and I both don’t get out of our pajamas, this post is going to be a way more pictures than profound words. So bear with me my friends.
Last week I had a dream that my husband said we were moving back to Portland!
What took me by surprise most was that not only was I super bummed, but I was extremely mad at him!
I couldn’t believe it, but I adamantly did not want to leave New York City!
When I woke up, it got me thinking… If in my sub-conscious state I love this city, then maybe I truly do enjoy New York more than I had originally thought.
And so for the last week I have been venturing out around town, jotting down thoughts and taking pictures of all the things that set New York City apart from anywhere else I could ever live.
And ultimately I found that in fact, I do, sincerely love so many things about this new life I am living.
Here are a few reasons why:
1. You can have literally anything delivered to your door!
You can do your grocery shopping online and have it delivered to your apartment. OR you can actually go to the store and do your shopping like normal, but once you’ve paid and are ready to leave the store, they’ll take all your purchases and then deliver it to you in a few hours.
We personally, have done similar things like this at places like Trader Joe’s, Bed Bath and Beyond, and even Costco.
McDonald’s even delivers! Not that we need it because I know for a fact that I can literally walk there and back without my fries getting cold. But it is indeed available should my heart desire a greasy burger that I am too lazy to walk a block to go get myself.
Even better though, I have an app on my phone that allows me to order takeout without ever having to talk to someone! You literally search for any type of food you want- look on an online menu- check everything you want- pay online- and it will be delivered to your door in 30 minutes!
I may or may not have tested this system out in the name of “studying” for this post!
The things I do for you guys… 😉
2. This. —>
Go ahead, click on it! Its fascinating, I don’t care who you are.
And if you tell me it’s not, you lie!
(And because we are all about being honest here, I will admit that because I live on 84th and 2nd Ave, it’s possible that I have stalked Madonna’s apartment- but only because my husband suggested it!)
Quite possibly the most fascinating thing about so many celebrities living here is that they walk around just like everyone else! Whether it’s shopping at Whole foods, or strolling through Central Park. They look totally normal!
And people here, let them be normal!
New Yorkers don’t run up to them asking for autographs and pictures- they treat them like everyone else! Maybe only saying something cool and composed under their breath like, “Good game last night.” Or, “Love your show” (no high pitched screams included!)
That is, until they leave their presence! Then as fast as their fingers will let them, they text as many of their friends that they can!
“You wont believe who I bumped into….”
I am not gonna lie, those are my favorite texts to receive from my friends.
And while on the topic of celebrities,
(and because you and I are such good friends now…)
You might find it just as amusing as I did that my husband’s (church) office is 1 1/2 blocks from Times Square and is on the same floor and directly next to one of P. Diddy’s recording studios!
Pure awesomeness, I tell you… pure unadulterated awesomeness.
3. I also love my apartment!
Yep. You heard right! That apartment I had nagged about earlier… (You know the one without the garbage disposal, closet space, oh, and any space to breathe-) it does have one major thing going for it!
If you walk directly out of my apartment, you are in exactly what you would imagine New York City to be like -Complete with way too many people, an insane amount of taxi cabs, and an energy like no other.
Our apartment is literally right around the corner from stores like H&M, GAP, Urban Outfitters, and Barnes and Noble. And right across the street from adorable family owned diners on every street corner, and one of the most delicious bakeries in town.
Not only that but we are conveniently only 126 steps from the grocery store.
Ha, Don’t ask me how I know that.
4. I love the view from my living room window.
Although it is much less tradtional than the suburban spacious backyard, it is still charming nonetheless!
I love peeking out the window at night to see lights strung overheard, music softly playing in the background, and people laughing and passing big plates of food around the table to the ones they love.
I know it’s not for everyone – considering you might very well think having a restaurant out your window would be a nightmare- but for me, it is one of the little things I cherish that always seems to bring me a surprising amount of unexpected happiness.
That is until someone climbs up the fire escape and knocks on my window! In that case, I am moving back to Washington or getting a tazer!
5. Central Park!
I have to share with you some of the pictures we have taken because unless you have been there yourself, its likely you have yet to see how truly breath taking Central Park is. And because it is only a short 8 minute walk from our apartment, we have already made many memories as a family here.
6. And lastly, I love the way the city has the ability to give you butterflies each and every day -if you allow it!
I have my 16 year old brother to thank for teaching me this lesson.
After first moving here, my little brother was asking me about any and everything! Wanting every detail, even down to how I got to church.
Although I was confused, and questioned where exactly he was going with this, I outlined each step for him;
-I take the subway from my house to Grand Central Station…
-Then take another train to Times Square…
-Then another to where Madison Square Garden is, and our church is located directly across the street.
He squealed with delight!
His reaction took me aback, and at first, I struggled to grasp what it was that I had said that deserved such an over exuberant response!
I quickly realized that in just a short period of living here, I had already allowed the exciting and the monumental, to become mundane.
I needed to be reminded that, people spend their whole lives dreaming about coming to NYC; scribbling in their journals about their hopes and dreams to ‘make something of themselves’ in this majestic city who’s opportunities are unparalleled.
The rest of us, myself included, have saved endlessly so that we can vacation here just long enough to feel the heartbeat of the city that has captivated so many generations before us.
I realize now, that every day I should feel honored that I have been given the chance to live here in New York City!
And so I pray that I never take this amazing opportunity for granted!
I pray that the immensity I first felt staring up at the magnitude of the Empire State Building never fades, and that the sound of the pilot’s voice over the intercom announcing our final descent Into New York City- and the instant realization I had, that This is home- will never cease to give me butterflies!
New York City, I think its safe to say you are growing on me…
Some of our greatest accomplishments and feats, are often things my husband and I have done together. Even some of our most mundane daily tasks are made better when done together.
Like in the upkeep of our home. He took care of the outside of the house, while I took care of the inside.
When entertaining guests, I was in charge of making the meal and cleaning the house, while he was in charge of lighting the candles and later, making the witty remarks and sharing humorous stories while passing the peas. Once the night was through and the goodbyes were said, we would always end the night doing the dishes together.
Even once we had our first child -in what we were warned would be the dreaded ‘newborn stage’ that threatens to steal your joy, and transform your weary state into that of a zombie- we found it be anything but!
(I know, I know, you hate me now… but for us it was true!)
We took turns getting up and feeding our daughter throughout the night but would often find that although it only took one person to do the job, we would both end up getting up together.
It often times felt like a sleepover! An excuse to stay up late, and an almost giddiness that came out of not wanting to be asleep for fear of something awesome happening that we might be left out of!
People would ask us how we were doing… you know the way they do when they are almost implying you are doing terrible! Only to end their question with a lingering look of pity to heighten the implications of the awfulness they were so sure we felt.
Everyone was always astonished when our response was, “We are doing great!”
And we really were doing great! Not because we had a perfect marriage, because on the contrary, we can bicker like nobody’s business, and I occasionally have to talk myself down from changing the locks when I find him leaving dirty q-tips around the house! And its most definitely not because I was a natural ‘super mom’ because I still often find myself having no idea what I am doing even to this day!
It was because we were in it together. We were always such a great team no matter what life threw at us!
I reminisce about these past moments, because these days, I know more about what its like doing things alone.
With my husband’s new 6 day work weeks and often late hours, I have an entirely different reality of quiet meals alone just me a Gia, and errands that need to get done whether my husband is home to lend a hand or not. (Remember: ‘extra hands’ have a whole new value when you don’t have a car, and both your groceries and 26lb. toddler have to be brought up to a second floor apartment!)
And it’s true, I could very well wait for him to get home and take down the trash… I could even wait for him to make us some new friends… and wait for him to get home till I venture out, that way I don’t have to risk getting lost in this scary big city by myself.
But that would indeed be a lot of waiting, and waiting doesn’t make for living a good story!
The term “Living a good story” has become common language in our house ever since first reading “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” over four years ago.
Donald Miller’s whole premise is that life is best lived when it tells a Good Story… That, in fact, God has created us to live Good Stories -Stories that are filled with meaning, discovery, and purpose.
But, as we all know, in any Good Story there is always some sort of conflict -conflict that seeks to deter, discourage, and even destroy.
But what makes a Good Story “good” -just like in life- is when a character experiences major conflict and chooses to overcome it with courage!
Miller reveals how a new life can emerge from even some of our most boring realities, and transform into a “meaningful narrative”! And he ultimately compels his readers to live a life worthy of a good story.
All I can say is, that book messed us up!
After we both had savored the words of each page of this book; high lighting each meaningful phrase and scribbling thoughts into the margin as we searched for its significance as it related to our own lives, we found ourselves no longer content just watching reruns of Dateline NBC, or walking the aisles of Kohl’s on rainy weeknights where you could easily make the excuse that there was “nothing better to do”. We also no longer saw the purpose partaking in shallow friendships that only selfishly satisfied nothing but the most shallow parts in ourselves.
We wanted something more! We wanted to laugh harder, and love others in a way that made us cry more often. We wanted to embrace God as the master story teller of our lives! And that meant embracing every PERSON that God placed in our path, every TRIAL, and every MOMENT as a chance to live life so fully that it would be almost contagious to others!
I would be lying however, if I told you that after making that decision, that it has been roses every day since! Too often I have found myself playfully smacking my husband and mumbling under my breath, “See what happens when you want to live a good story…”
Or once, when I got this random idea that I wanted to replace the front door of our house with one a little more contemporary, I remember my husband jokingly responding “yeah! lets save all our extra spending money for the next few months so that we can replace a perfectly good door! That would reeeeeeally make for a FASCINATING story!”
The reality of making a decision to live a good story was that it couldn’t help but to permeate every single area of our life- even down to how our extra money would be spent! And after making fun of me endlessly, he encouraged that maybe we could use that money towards a vacation of some sort.
Ironically, that same money I was going to use for my beloved door, we ended up using for my first trip out to New York City that summer!
Years later we have found ourselves living in that exact same place that we had visited years ago. And I have recently wondered if we would still be embarking on this journey -that is far bigger than our small town roots ever prepared us for- if it wasn’t for that initial decision to live a good story that we made as a family years ago!
I have wondered also, if in this new life that I am living, if I have the courage to live in that same way Sunday-Friday when it means I have to do it all by myself.
Sometimes I feel like the odds are against me:
It’s just too hard to raise a family in NYC…
I feel like I am living in a foreign country…
With all the time I’m spending with her, I’m going to mess my daughter up:)
There is just SO much to learn…
I can’t possibly do this by myself…
But then I always think back to a story that I once heard a pastor by the name of Perry Noble tell.
While visiting Atlanta, he and his wife decided to go out to dinner. Although it was getting late, afterwards they decided to make the most of their time in the city and decided to venture out and explore the surrounding area before they left the next day. Soon after though, they found themselves in a seedy area that they instantly got the sense they shouldn’t be in.
Interestingly enough they decided to keep walking instead of returning back to the hotel.
The next day Noble was telling a man, born and raised in Atlanta, about the previous night. When he told him where he had gone, the man was shocked that they had kept walking in THAT area!
Noble then surprised the man further by saying that the reason he hadn’t been worried was because his wife had a black belt. He went on to say how surprising it is when you find yourself having the courage to do things others couldn’t imagine themselves doing -not because of your own ability, but because of the confidence you have in the ability of the one you are with!
In Matthew 28:20 The Lord says, “Behold, I am with you always…”
I have had such an immense amount of peace these last couple of weeks, as I rest in the truth that I am indeed, not alone even when I most feel like it! Even better, is that the Lord is the one continually by my side, and He possesses all that I am lacking at any given moment. With His strength, I can do things even I, could never have imagined myself having the courage to do…
Even when it means choosing each and every day to continue to live a good story -even on the days spent apart from my husband!
We must remember that the Lord desires to write a magnificent story in each of our lives! Better than one we could ever write for ourselves! A story of tragic lows and overcoming highs. And like me, a story of new beginnings and sold out abandon to Him -and only Him!
It’s as simple as ’embracing the potential greatness of the story we are actually in’ and learning to trust The Lord in a way that allows for us to let go of the pen just long enough, for him to actually begin writing it.
Who knows, maybe you will find yourself living somewhere crazy like New York City 😉
There is a force in the world that doesn’t want us to live good stories. It doesn’t want us to face our issues, to face our fear, and bring something beautiful into the world. – A Million Miles in a Thousand Years