Sunday, June 09, 2013

What Happens Next?

Life has been a whirlwind since my last post. It was the first of May - and May ended up being one of the busiest months I've had in a long time. On the 4th of May, my dear friend and sister Kari went home to be with our Lord. She passed very early in the morning, and things were just as she had wanted them: her family all around her, except for her kids, who were each with a non-family "family" member. She didn't want them to have to see her in that state, and it was her wish that they not have to go through that part of it. Things were just as she wanted. She was completely coherent until the moment she went home.

I got to see her on the afternoon before she passed; she was alert and coherent; however she was unable to speak (unless it was *absolutely* necessary). She "spoke" with raised eyebrows or short vocalizations. She just didn't have the energy. And that was ok. Because we all knew that she knew exactly what was happening. I got to talk to her a bit, pray with her and for her. I thank God for that privilege.

The next week was when the whirlwind started. Because Kari was a part of a quartet that we sang in together, we were asked to sing at the memorial service. 4 of us gals got together for a couple days before the service to practice a song to sing. At different points in the quartet's history, there were 5 of us who sang at different points in time. We've become a little family. This quartet is one of the greatest blessings God has given me in music. The song we chose was "Circle of Friends", because 1), she was such an important part of our lives, 2), we knew how large a circle she had touched, and 3), it was a song that we knew and (some of us) had sung before and could prepare quickly. :) What a blessing, to be able to sing at the service, and God held us up through the entire song - we made it all the way through without any tears. I know there's no other way *I* would have made it through. (Thank you Lord!!)

So on Wednesday we had the memorial service at our church, and what an amazing sight to see how many people her life had touched. The place was packed, standing room only. There were probably over 600 people there. There were people from all walks of life, and so many people had wonderful things to say about her and how she touched their lives. I think every one of her girlfriends felt like Kari was her best friend. That's just how she affected people. I'm not usually one to claim a "best friend", except for my husband. But I know that for me, she was definitely one of my best girl friends - really, she was a sister. I've said it before. It's simply true. She was one of the people who I felt knew me for who I *really* am - not who I used to be, and not what they *think* I am. Just who I am, now, who God has made me. I appreciated that so much about her.

The day after the memorial service, 3 friends and I got in a van and drove to Montana, to be with her family at her graveside service on Friday afternoon. It was one of the most amazing times. On the 8-hour drive (each way), the four of us bonded, shared memories about Kari, and had a wonderful time sharing "Kari's Montana" with each other. The weather couldn't have been more perfect, and what a blessing to be counted as her family, *by* her family. We were so blessed.

The graveside service was very special; the pastor of her parents' church gave a wonderful message, and a gentleman sang "It Is Well With My Soul" afterward - what a sound, hearing all these people, including many family members, singing along, and the truth of the song ringing through the air. It really *is* well with my soul. God is in control, and for some reason, unknown to us at this time, has a purpose to taking Kari home at this time in her life. Although we have to now live with that "unknown", we still have peace because we understand that God's plan is perfect. We trust in him. It is will with our souls.

After the service, as is a tradition in their family, the sharpies came out and everyone who wanted to was allowed to write a little note on the casket. That was so special. At first I wasn't sure what to think about it, but as it turned out, it was amazing. What a wonderful way to send off one more last tangible thought - to say one "last word".

Later that day we returned to Kari's parents' house up on the hill...they have a beautiful place. We sat on the porch, visited, just had a good time sharing together. Later that night we got to experience another family tradition: Pinecone Baseball. What a fun time together with this family that we love and that accepted us as part of their family. When the day was over and we drove back to our hotel, we all agreed that it was one of the best. days. EVER.

Honestly, I wasn't sure I really needed to go on this trip, I felt I probably had enough closure at the memorial service. But I'm so glad I went, it was so healing, and a wonderful way to bond with these 3 amazing women who I also count as very dear friends. I am so thankful for them, even more now than ever, since we had the experience together saying goodbye to our friend and sister, Kareen.

The next day was my birthday; my girlfriends took me to breakfast, and then we "crashed" a birthday celebration to surprise Selah (Kari's youngest daughter, born on my birthday 12 years ago). After that, we drove the 8 hours home and again, had a wonderful time together.

Kari's Montana: Circle of Friends

The next three weeks were filled with busy-ness! I'm not complaining; don't get me wrong. Not at all. It was just busy. And honestly, I'm not used to "busy". Life is not usually like this for me. :)

First, there was a Classical Conversations Parent Practicum. In a nutshell, it's a parent teaching session for our homeschool community. That weekend we went to Dallas (Oregon) to the Parker Estate (my parents' house). We celebrated Emma's 14th birthday on Saturday, and took in one of my mom's band concerts. The next weekend was my annual yard sale, which is always fun, and since Kari was always involved with us, it was another few days of memories (and garbage trucks). The week after that was the last week of May (thank goodness!). A couple of those days included homeschool testing. The state requires us to have our kids tested every year. So by the end of that week, which was the end of the month, I was so ready for May to be O-VER.

I know it's silly, it's just that I felt like once May was gone, I could relax a little bit. And it's true - June has been much better so far. :) I still have to get my house clean this week, but I feel like it's a job that can be done without quite such a busy schedule.

So that's it. That's what's happened since my last post.
It's been a whirlwind, but it's ok. It's life. Full of ups and downs!

So here's my question: What happens next?

What happens after you lose a friend and sister?
After so many of your friends have also lost the same friend?
After people who are family to you, have lost a wife and mother?

Well, what happens next, is that we keep on keepin' on. We keep moving forward, we keep living our lives. I will live one day at a time, and see what happens. I'll pray that I can be a good wife and mother, friend and sister, by the grace of God. And I will remember that He is in control.

I will remember that no matter what, this fact remains:

God is good, all the time.

It's just a fact.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

What it's all about.

What started out as a Facebook status update soon became the beginning of a blog post. So I have brought it here to share. Unfortunately, it's a bit long-winded, but please stick with me, I pray it will be worth the read.

Please pray with me for my friend and sister, Kari, and her family. This woman is one of my closest friends. She is like my sister, her husband is like my brother, we are like second moms to each others' kids. This family is our second family. Diagnosed in late September with aggressive stage 4 uterine cancer, she has been fighting hard for about 7 months now, and it looks as though the end is coming near. And we continue to pray. We pray for healing, for her family, for her to be comfortable, for so many things.

God *can* heal her, we know this is a fact, but will he choose to do so? Of course we selfishly pray for such a miracle. But regardless of how we feel about his plans, we know that they are perfect. He is perfect. He is the blessed controller of all things. His ways are not our ways. We know and trust that he has a perfect plan, and though we pray for healing, and trust that he can do it, we also know that he may not grant that prayer.

We trust in him, and even if we don't get the outcome that we really want, we will trust that he knows best. We will continue to tell ourselves that truth, even if we don't feel like believing it for a moment. Or for several moments. But we will come back to the truth. We'll be real, and because our human, sinful, selfish nature wants to be mad at him for letting this horrible thing happen to our friend, we will still trust in him and believe that he knows best and has our best interests at heart. We will come back to the truth. 

We could choose to spend our days full of sadness that we may soon lose a friend, but I'm not sure that's the way for us to glorify God in this situation. Feeling sad is fine, but I think we are supposed to also figure out what God is teaching us through this. He's been preparing us for this loss for months now, and has been teaching us how to be selfless and helpful and think of others through hard times.

He wants us to see the truth. The truth is this: our lives are but a whisper, a grain of sand, chaff in the wind. We are nothing; he is everything. We deserve hell; he has given us the gift of eternal life. The truth is, he loves us immensely. The truth is, he desires good things for us. The truth is, he is constantly teaching us, molding us, yearning for us to seek him. Our desire should be to become more like Christ through every. little. thing. that happens in our lives. There is no such thing as coincidence. Every moment of our lives, driven by the choices we make, are filtered through God's hands. He will not give us anything that he hasn't allowed to be in our lives.

So what do we do with this? What do *I* do with this? I can tell you what I have been doing with it. All the while praying for God to heal her, either completely or in part, I've been simultaneously mourning the loss of my sister. I've been trying to figure out whether or not that's complete trust in God, or whether it's simply allowing myself to cope. I think it's both. God knows my heart. He knows how much I trust in his miracles, his healing, and his love. He knows, so I really am not worried about what anyone else thinks about how I've been dealing with this. I just pray that in my sharing about it, I can help someone else cope. Even if just a little bit.

Here's the deal. God tells us not to worry. Philippians 4:6-7 have been verses I've strived to live by for almost 20 years now:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

So I take my concern, lay it at the foot of the cross, let the blood of Jesus cover it, and I let. it. go. Of course there are times when that doesn't happen, let's be straight. I'm human, I make {many} mistakes, we all do. But when it comes to this, here's my mindset: I have been commanded not to worry. So I'm not going to spend my days being sulky, sad, mopey, grumpy (or any other dwarf), about this situation. I will mourn. I have mourned. I have moments of despair and sadness. But I will *not* let it bring me down permanently and cause me to believe that God has lost control of the situation.

**Nothing that has happened has been a surprise to God.** 

Satan wants me to believe the lies that I need to make this all about me. He wants sadness and despair to control my life. The blood of Jesus has given me power over those lies, and I will claim that. I will strive to be a positive example for my children, teaching them how to deal with the realities in life. It's ok to feel sad, and to cry, and to mourn, but it's not ok to let it control our lives. God is our refuge and strength, our ever-present help in times of trouble. (Psalm 46:1, most likely a combination of translations.) :)

So as I continue my mourning process, all the while praying for God to miraculously heal my sister so that she can continue carrying on the amazing life she has lead so far, I also continue trusting that God knows best. He *can* heal her, but if he chooses not to, I will trust that he knows what he's doing. No, I don't like it. I don't like the thought of losing a friend, a sister. I don't like the thought of my children losing a "second mom". I don't like the thought of her kids being left without their mom, or my brother without a wife. These people are family to us. And no matter how many times we try to tell ourselves that she'll be going to "a better place", we don't like it.

But, no matter how much I don't like it, my job is not dependent on whether I like what God does. My job, my main goal in life, is to glorify God. My life is supposed to glorify God. Does it glorify God if I'm sitting around, sulking, and selfishly believing lies? I think not. God is not glorified when we let our pride and selfishness rule us. So we trust Him, His power, His majesty, His mercy, His grace, everything that HE is, and we carry on. Blind faith, you say? Maybe. But I'd rather be led by God through blind faith than be led by anyone or anything else. 

Yep. I'm rambling again. It's gotta get out of my head somehow, and this is as good a place as any. I pray that you, the reader, will take something positive from my ramblings. Maybe you're where I am, and you're on the brink of the possibility of losing a loved one - the same one as me, or a different one. Maybe you don't know them, but can just pray for James and Kari's family, and for those of us who are in this situation.

Maybe you have other things that are more pressing in your life, and you'll find some encouragement here. And maybe you and God aren't on speaking terms lately. Whatever the case, I pray that you will see God's hand in your life, that you will see the difficulties in your life as God's way of attempting to bring you closer to him.
Because without him, you won't ever have true happiness or contentment, you'll always be searching for it.
Trust me, you won't find it any other way. If you don't believe me, try it. What have you really got to lose? 

This started out as a quick post to ask people to pray for my friend, and for my family and all of us going through this trial. But you know what? It's not about me. It's not about me at all. God wants me to share this with you, and he wants *you* to see his love for you. That's really what this whole thing is about. God uses stuff like this in our lives to point us to him. It's all about him. Our purpose in life? To Glorify God and Enjoy Him Forever. We glorify God by accepting his love, by sharing it with others, by being examples of his love to others.

This is what it's about.

If you're not familiar with my friend Kari's story, please see her CaringBridge site for more info and the latest updates. Please pray for her situation, especially her family, all of whom are so special to us.