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Ministry direction

Wow! We have been so crazy busy! This isn’t unusual but we have been on the very fast track.  As we pause and reflect, I am looking at the direction that God is asking us to be proactive in.  Our passion together is for marriages!  If God changes a marriage, He changes a legacy.  Generations will be on a new path.  Children, Grandchildren and Great Grandchildren will be given a new vision for their futures. This is what drives us. As we continue to walk out this mission in our life we are choosing how to expand our sphere of influence.  Our sphere of influence starts at home then moves outward. Our church family, the friends of our church family and so on.  Meeting new people in all areas of Richmond is our expanding ministry. We are getting involved with other churches through our volunteer time with Family Life.  Our marriage team in Richmond is amazing. The heart for helping other people is one that we are all passionate about!

As time goes on, the sphere of influence also includes the women I have met through Umbrella Ministries.  How I wish I could have met these families before the death of their child. What a blessing that would have been. But God has been using the death of our daughter, Tonia, to increase His kingdom. This sphere of influence holds such a special place in my heart.  To hear the stories of loss and struggles in their marriages breaks my heart! What a joy it has been to share some ideas and tools to strengthen their marriage and their walk with God.

Every day brings a new dimension to our life.  Our biggest challenge is knowing when to say no!  We have to keep reminding ourselves that we are not doing this on our own strength but through the power of God!

What is your mission field? Who is in your sphere of influence? Let me know!

 

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This past weekend I attended the West Coast conference of Umbrella Ministries. What a blessing! I was asked to share a little bit of our story and I got to hear the stories of so many other moms.  I made some new friends as we shared our hearts, our tears, our laughter but especially we shared our children! I got to hear from Kelly, Kim, Bernadette and Marigy as well as so many more. They shared how they our dealing with the death of their dear children. They shared their struggles and their triumphs. Their stories have become a part of mine.

I was also asked to lead a discussion group on Marriage & Grief. Wow! I knew that the statistics of divorce were high but seeing it first hand was like being slapped in the face.  So many of the women were already divorced and remarried. They were struggling how to grieve with a spouse who wasn’t the father to their child and in some cases never even knew the child that died. So many of the moms were trying to figure out how to communicate their pain with their husband. They were trying to learn how to share what they are feeling with their husbands and learn how to understand him.

Marriage is hard work. After the death of a child it becomes even harder. There needs to be a stake driven into the ground stating that they are committed to their marriage and to each other.  In order to get to this point someone has to say. “Stop, we need to get off of this roller coaster and think about what is happening now!”

During a crisis of any kind it is difficult to see the Hope of the future. But I know from my own experience that the future although different can still be beautiful! During the weekend Rick and I celebrated our 28th anniversary.  Despite our differences, despite our pasts and despite Tonia’s death, today we are holding onto God and onto each other.

Don’t give up! Commit to each other. Hold fast to God. Think about your spouse before yourself.  Love each other. Forgive each other.

I can’t wait for the next 2o years.  The roller coaster continues….

God’s Plans

A very dear couple we know awaited the birth of their 2nd child last year. Due to complications during her birth she has some brain injuries.  The doctors are helping this family learn and grow together during the process of waiting to see what the future holds. Sometimes it is hard to watch them go through this season without being able to fix everything.  Their hopes for a perfect child were dashed but their joy with this baby is also magnified.  They know that God is holding them all together and that He has a plan and a purpose for this young life. But some days are tough. Anger and tears come at a moments notice. But they continue to hold tight to God. They go sledding with their other child, they attend church where they both serve others,  they learn new medical procedures that they never expected to need, they buy groceries and have dinners together. The future according to the world is uncertain yet the future according to God has already been written. For this minute that is all they need.

For me watching this family I feel useless yet I also see glimpses of God’s glory.  When we moved to Richmond we build our house to be wheelchair accessible.  We thought we knew why we designed our home with these extra features but now I see a glimpse of the possibilities.  This young child will probably need a ramp to get into our home to visit, we have that ramp. The bathroom is wider and has support handles around the toilet and tub to assist. There are no barriers to this dear family visiting us! How wonderful to know that we can have them over and they won’t have to think about these things.  It is just a reminder that God gives us little gifts during our struggles.

I have learned that in the darkest times there is a light but I have to look for it and I have to be able to adjust my thinking. God is always by our side, no matter what the circumstances. This makes all the difference!

To our dear friends: we love you all!

So much has happened in our life over the last few months. 2013 was a year of changes. We moved into a new home, led several marriage events, started mentoring several young couples and so much more. We are so blessed.

2014 is already going to be a wonderful year because we are adding a daughter to our family! Sean & Yelena will be married on March 10 in Carmel, CA! I am so excited for both of them. They have been saving and planning for a very long time and it is now 25 days away! I hate shopping but a few weeks ago a dear friend spent the entire day with me so I could find a dress to wear to the wedding.  I actually came home with two dresses.  I haven’t decided which one to keep yet! Our plane tickets are purchased, our hotel room is booked and we are counting the days!

We were able to spend Christmas with Sean & Yelena in Chicago. We celebrated at Yelena’s apartment. we opened our stockings first and then Yelena made french toast for breakfast! Presents came next and the wrapping paper was flying. We had the best day with them! A new tradition begins!

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In the meantime, we also added another new girl to our family! This one is a beagle mix puppy. Her name is Gracie and she is around 6 months old. She is a huge personality and her training is going well. My goal is to get her Therapy Dog certified so I can take her into hospitals and nursing homes to love on others.

Our New girl

Our New girl

Our future is forever changing but one thing I know, God is in control and I can trust him! More to come….

July 1, 2013  Six years! So many emotions continue to run through my head and my heart. One comment that I have discovered to be so true; you never “get over” the death of your child, you “get through it” with God’s strength. I am finally ready to share our story.

The day after Tonia died I started writing. It started out in a blog post just to keep friends and family members informed about the facts. Facts such as when and where the funeral would be held and what was happening in court. I discovered that the more I wrote the more I was able to see God. My journal became my therapy. My way to ask the questions that had no answers. I was able to get angry and then work through my anger. I was able to share my broken heart and lean on God to begin to heal me. I started to write down stories about Tonia that I didn’t want to lose. I truly believe that we all have our story and that when we share it with others we also share God.

I have combined my blog and journal into one unit.  It has not been professionally edited or condensed. It is my thoughts and emotions as I experienced them. When Tonia died we had so many questions. How do we cope with planning a funeral for our child? How do we handle talking to the media? What can we expect from the legal system? How do we respond as Christians? How do we even survive the loss of a child? How can we hold on to each other so our family remains intact? Who do we turn to?

We looked for answers to these questions in books, from blogs, from our Pastors, from other parents, and from the legal team working with us. It was a painful process. We stumbled so many times. Grief caught us unaware. Through the years we discovered that we could survive and even thrive with God’s help. Friends prayed for us. Friends cleaned our house, made us food, gave us a gift of a weekend away, and sat beside me waiting for the phone to ring. My journal shares our journey.

I have decided to release my book as a print on demand book and as an e-book.  The proceeds will be going to Noble Warriors.

You can order a copy here

I am sharing this publicly with the prayer that if it can help just one person navigate through a storm in their life by leaning on God, then it will, in our small way, glorify God. Thank you for sharing our journey!

 

Navy ODS Graduation

On June 14 we were able to attend the graduation services at Naval Station Newport in Rhode Island. Sean graduated from ODS, Officer’s Development School, as a Navy Chaplain Candidate.  God continues to mold him into a man of God and we are so proud of him! He has such a wonderful year in front of him. He will be getting married in March, graduating from Seminary in May and then starting a new job. His graduation from ODS is a wonderful step into a future that God has planned for him.  He has blessed us so much.

Ensign

Family at ODS graduation

Father and Son!

A bouquet of Thorns

I do not know where I got this story but I wanted to share it with you. As life goes on I have become more aware that I have drawn closer to God in the valleys. During the times when I am reduced to nothing, God has become essential in my life. So today I will give thanks for the thorns!

Thorns

Sandra felt as low as the heels of her Birkenstocks as she pushed against a November gust and the florist shop door.  Her life had been easy, like a spring breeze.  Then in the fourth month of her second pregnancy, a minor automobile accident stole her ease.

During this Thanksgiving week she would have delivered a son. She grieved over her loss.  As if that weren’t enough, her husband’s company threatened a transfer.  Then her sister, whose holiday visit she coveted, called saying she could not come. What’s worse, Sandra’s friend
infuriated her by suggesting her grief was a God-given path to maturity that would allow her to empathize with others who suffer.

“She has no idea what I’m feeling,” thought Sandra with a shudder. “Thanksgiving?  Thankful for what?”  She wondered.  “For a careless driver whose truck was hardly scratched when he rear-ended her?  For an airbag that saved her life but took that of her child?”

“Good afternoon, can I help you?”  The shop clerk’s approach startled her.
“I…. I need an arrangement,” stammered Sandra.
“For Thanksgiving? Do you want beautiful but ordinary, or would you like to challenge the day with a customer favorite I call the Thanksgiving “Special?” asked the shop clerk.  “I’m convinced that flowers tell stories,” she continued. “Are you looking for something that conveys ‘gratitude’ this Thanksgiving?”

 “Not exactly!”  Sandra blurted out. “In the last five months, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.” Sandra regretted her outburst, and was surprised when the shop clerk said; “I have the perfect arrangement for you.”  Then the door’s small bell rang, and the shop clerk said, “Hi, Barbara…let me get your order.”  She politely excused herself and walked toward a small workroom, then quickly reappeared, carrying an arrangement of greenery, bows, and long-stemmed thorny roses.  Except the ends of the rose stems were neatly snipped: there were no flowers.  “Want this in a box?” asked the clerk.

Sandra watched for the customer’s response.  Was this a joke? Who would want Rose stems with no flowers!  She waited for laughter, but neither woman laughed.

 “Yes, please,” Barbara replied with an appreciative smile. “You’d think after three years of getting the special, I wouldn’t be so moved by its significance, but I can feel it right here, all over again.” She said as she gently tapped her chest.  

“Uh,” stammered Sandra, “that lady just left with, uh…. she just left with no flowers!”  “Right.  I cut off the flowers.  That’s the Special.  I call it the Thanksgiving Thorns Bouquet.”
“Oh, come on, you can’t tell me someone is willing to pay for that!” exclaimed Sandra.  “Barbara came into the shop three years ago feeling very much like you feel today,” explained the clerk. “She thought she had very little to be thankful for. She had lost her father to cancer, the family business was failing, her son was into drugs, and she was facing major surgery.”
“That same year I had lost my husband,” continued the clerk, “and for the first time in my life, had just spent the holidays alone.  I had no children, no husband, no family nearby, and too great a debt to allow any travel.”

“So what did you do?” asked Sandra.
“I learned to be thankful for thorns,” answered the clerk quietly. “I’ve always thanked God for good things in life and never to ask Him why those good things happened to me, but when bad stuff hit, did I ever ask! It took time for me to learn that dark times are important.  I always enjoyed the ‘flowers’ of life, but it took thorns to show me the beauty of God’s comfort.  You know, the Bible says that God comforts us when we’re afflicted, and from His consolation we learn to comfort others.”
Sandra sucked in her breath as she thought about the very thing her friend had tried to tell her.  “I guess the truth is I don’t want comfort. I’ve lost a baby and I’m angry with God.”

Just then someone else walked in the shop. “Hey, Phil!” shouted the clerk to the balding, rotund man. 

“My wife sent me in to get our usual Thanksgiving arrangement…twelve thorny, long- stemmed stems!” laughed Phil as the clerk handed him a tissue-wrapped arrangement from the refrigerator.  

“Those are for your wife?” asked Sandra incredulously.  “Do you mind me asking why she wants something that looks like that?”  

“No…I’m glad you asked,” Phil replied.  “Four years ago my wife and I nearly divorced.  After forty years, we were in a real mess, but with the Lord’s grace and guidance, we slogged through problem after problem.  He rescued our marriage.  Jenny here (the clerk) told me she kept a vase of rose stems to remind her of what she learned from “thorny” times, and that was good enough for me. I took home some of those stems. My wife and I decided to label each one for a specific “problem” and give thanks for what that problem taught us.” As Phil paid the clerk, he said to Sandra, “I highly recommend the Special!”  

 “I don’t know if I can be thankful for the thorns in my life,” Sandra said to the clerk.  “It’s all too…fresh.”  

 “Well,” Jenny replied carefully, “my experience has shown me that thorns make roses more precious.  We treasure God’s providential care more during trouble than at any other time.  Remember, it was a crown of thorns that Jesus wore so we might know His love.  Don’t resent the thorns.”

Tears rolled down Sandra’s cheeks.  For the first time since the accident, she loosened her grip on resentment.  “I’ll take those twelve long-stemmed thorns, please,” she managed to choke out.  

“I hoped you would,” said the clerk gently.  “I’ll have them ready in a minute.”  

“Thank you. What do I owe you?”  

“Nothing: Nothing but a promise to allow God to heal your heart. The first year’s arrangement is always on me.”  The clerk smiled and handed a card to Sandra.  “I’ll attach this card to your arrangement, but maybe you’d like to read it first.”

It read: “My God, I have never thanked You for my thorns.  I have thanked You a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my thorns. Teach me the glory of the cross I bear; teach me the value of my thorns. Show me that I have climbed closer to You along the path of pain. Show me that, through my tears, the colors of Your rainbow look much more brilliant.”