Finding Happily Ever After

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gabe

A person can be defined by many aspects; a job, a family, a hobby, even physical appearance. All of these attributes can generally be found on the cover of our individual life books. If not, they are easily redeemable within our foreword or introduction. Many readers choose a novel by its appearance, introduction, or recommendations of others. These descriptions help us decide whether that book is desirable and we allow these attributes to captivate, entertain, and inspire.

Within the core of every good story is something deeper than that surface level description. We come to loathe the antagonist and praise the protagonist. Suspense grows within our own gut only to find a beautiful conflict resolution at the conclusion. We find striking satisfaction in happily ever after.

Like many readers, it is crucial for me to read a book from cover to cover. Each page should be read left to right, and oscillating sections or omitting stanzas is not permissible. Often times we encourage ourselves to do the same with people. We look at the cover and grab all of the commendable pieces in our initial introduction. Sadly, as soon as that person expresses their emotions, experiences, or grief before we have been well endowed with a decent plot, we quickly shut the book in fear. Suddenly, we cannot visualize this story with the happily ever after conclusion.

As a child my story was unique yet charming. I was the middle child of five, and the only girl. My older brothers were sixteen and nineteen years older than me, and my little brothers were three years younger. Our father was a pastor of a small country church, and our mother was best known for her wonderful home-cooked meals. Our family was slightly poor, yet humble, and I never felt as though I needed anything more. Through my childhood there were many times that my parents grieved but they never pressed the burden on me. It wasn’t until I was much older that I was able to get a true sense of some of their pains. They had an unwavering ability to keep moving forward to the next plot twist.

When my younger brother Levi was born, the doctor explained to my parents that he would never live a normal life due to his Down syndrome diagnosis. I was too young to remember my parents’ pain in the loss of opportunity for Levi. But after his birth they moved forward and adopted another boy with the same disability, Eric. Eric was a bit of a handful. In addition to Down syndrome, he was additionally filled with ADHD, RAD, and a sad history. My parents tried to make lemonade out of the disability diagnoses, but they had little knowledge on the amount of zing that Eric packed.

Other grief moments made the glue to our family frame. My dad lost his job as a pastor and my grandfather passed away shortly after. At age seven I still had little understanding these losses, but my dad always lived by the motto of keep on keeping on. His persistent hope always allowed me to trust that everything was going to be ok.

As I grew older my family continued to play an important role in my life. I loved spending time with my younger brothers, teaching them and teasing them. But my older brother Gabe was who I adored. With the sixteen years between us, he was just diving into the prime parts of life. He started dating, he went to college, and he got married. Through all of these life decisions, he included me, his annoying baby sister. He gave the same advice any parent would give, but it always sounded better coming from him.

On October 21st, 2006, Gabe was killed in a car accident. The dual emotions of disbelief and anger fueled my body. I looked at my dad. My dad was the problem solver, the fear snatcher. This time, my dad’s ability to keep on keeping on was gone. My brother lost his life, my dad lost his hope, and I lost my faith.

While reading a textbook for one of my MSW classes, I found an important passage, “Perhaps we must speak of death in order to understand fully what it means to be in the presence of grief. And to speak of death is to enter the realm of the supreme mystery, that of the unanswerable questions.” (Hooyman and Kramer, 2008, pg. 5) But humanity strives to comprehend every answer to whatever extent possible, and to seek understanding is equally substantial in our grieving process. I dove deep into my brother’s past longing to find for a reason why divine intervention, fate, or karma might have ended my brother’s story as it did. Through family stories, pictures, and memories I could only discover that Gabe was either genuinely good, or he had an extreme ability to mask that he was not.

As the daughter of a pastor, my life was surrounded by the notion that there was a God, and he was loving and just. As I continued to search for a reason for my brother’s death the idea of a God was plausible to me but not in a way that I wanted. When searching for a rational reason for the demise of a good person, it’s easy to place a seemingly irrational variable in the picture to solve the question. The idea of a God, though not proven nor disproven, suddenly places a divine control over everything. But why would I want to believe in something that not only did not intervene in the death of my brother, but actually could have caused his death purposely? That picture is not loving nor just, but rather shows an analogy of a victim constantly running back to her controlling abuser.

For the years following my brother’s death, I ran from the idea of a God. The grief of Gabe’s death followed me but I was able to mask that pain in self-harm, counseling, and prescription drugs. Over time, I began to see more clearly, and I even welcomed the idea of a God back into my life. Though angry, I started to open my mind and read Gabe’s story more intently. I thought back to Gabe’s funeral. It was in the chapel at Cedarville University where he was a computer science technician. That chapel was filled with more people that day than my dad’s little country church would see in a month. Gabe had made an impact on so many people in thirty years. He died a good man, and he left with no conflict of his own to solve. He was young, but he discovered happily ever after. I realized then that it was never Gabe’s story that upset me; it was the end of his book that simply opened a new chapter in mine.

There are no facts or statistics that I can sho
w that prove the existence of a God. Whether God is real or not, the idea of Him gave me hope. It is a simple way for me to cling to an idea that I will see Gabe again. I may be the author of my own story, but God is my publisher, my agent, and my mentor.

Just as Gabe’s death began a new chapter in the middle of my book, many individuals come to us within the core of their story. Conflict roars and their agony overcomes us. I also think about Gabe and his unwavering ability to guide me through life. Even in his death I would try to do everything to help others as he did; because Gabe strived to help others as Jesus did. But it is important to think back to our own story so we can be inspired by the hope we once found. We cannot predict the future and we do not know what anyone’s book truly holds within the next chapters. We cannot write the novel of each person we meet, but we can work as a helpful traveler along their road. We can inspire each author to keep going, constantly building the hopeful road to happily ever after.

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Miranda and the “In Crowd”

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This summer we added another addition to our family. Miranda, one of the sweetest clients at our farm moved in with us this June.  But behind this stunning 21 year old is a long list of hardships. From the demise of her father at a young age, to her step father’s death this summer, she has built a heart of steel that still continues to flourish with inner beauty. She is not bitter, and she fills her surroundings with love.

One of my favorite verses is Ephesians 4:2. It reads:

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

In this chapter of Ephesians, Paul is explaining about how we should act, though Christ is no longer on Earth as our example. The passage is saying that though Jesus isn’t here, we, as followers of Christ can still show Jesus’ legacy through our own lives. Though I try and exhibit Christ in my daily life, I don’t always give 100%. And this is where Miranda steps in.

Like I said, Miranda has not had an easy life. But she is not bitter. In fact she is a prime example of the verse in Ephesians:

Miranda is humble: Our day program is a lot like high school in some ways. Though everyone has their quirks, the clients make their own rankings of who is smarter or more talented in different areas. Truth be told, Miranda is far above average for our day program, but she doesn’t brag about it.  She can read and write, she is creative, and she is even learning to drive. And though all of these things place her at the top of the desirable list for the “in crowd”, she continues to be friends with everyone. She has a willingness to help in any way that she can, and she doesn’t need to be praised.

Miranda is gentle: I’ve seen this more and more since Miranda has come to live with us. I think one of the biggest examples is how she works with Eric and Levi. She is conscious about their feelings and she has become one of their friends. One day this summer one of the girls at the farm was flirting with Levi, and they decided that they were dating. Miranda texted me right away. She told me she didn’t want Levi to get hurt, because this girl was also dating two other guys at the farm (again, high school). She didn’t know how to tell him, and she didn’t want to lose a friendship with the other girl either. I talked to my mom, and I’m not entirely sure how but the issue cleared. I had jokingly told Miranda to tell the girl, “be careful, you don’t want to hurt the boss’s son!”

Miranda is patient: I’d say Miranda’s patience shines most clearly with Randi. Randi, my other sister, absolutely adores her. Every time I see Randi all she can do is talk about Miranda. She tries to dress like her and act like her. Randi would spend every second with Miranda if she could. And Miranda adores her just as much.

Miranda is loving: Miranda had dated a guy at the farm for a while. But when he made a bad decision their relationship ended abruptly. Yes Miranda was upset, but unlike other girls, Miranda didn’t sulk and she didn’t try and find a new guy to fill her void. She continued to be her. Now maybe she has learned that things you love, leave. But she doesn’t dwell on it. She still loves life, and she still shows love to everyone around her.

I think every person that God puts in my life helps me learn something. The verse in Ephesians is one of my favorites because I can put it on my daily to-do list. I can’t always say I’m humble or patient. And though Miranda may not meet these goals everyday either, she certainly keeps me in check. See in all of the daily drama of life, the bible says we are in this world but we are not called to be of it. At the farm you may look around and say Miranda is in the “in crowd”, but she is not in the “of crowd”. She doesn’t have to have all the boys. She doesn’t have to prove she is the best. Miranda constantly shows that your beauty is not your image; it is your character.

Finding Narnia

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My brother Levi has quite the imagination. For example, he has about two-hundred figurines, (elephants, cows, power rangers, little cheap kids meal toys, you name it!) On a daily basis he will act out some sort of story with them. Sometimes there is the power ranger that has to save the poor elephant from being tortured by villains, or there is the cat and two dogs that will take their homeward bound trip across our entire front lawn.

Levi also loves his movies. He likes the action movies, The Hulk, Avengers, Fantastic Four, and Power Rangers of course. He likes the teenage dream in High School musical and Camp Rock. When Levi watches a movie, he will watch it over and over and over again. He will watch one particular movie so much that I have them all memorized just from walking in and out of the room! It’s like he studies them so he can memorize every step; so he can be completely engulfed in the story line.

One particular movie, The Chronicles of Narnia, took Levi on a special mission. My dad and Levi were picking some beans in the garden. My best friend Heather and I had just gotten done horseback riding, and mom was watering her garden. I remember our neighbor coming by to talk for a bit. But after a while, we noticed Levi was gone! He wasn’t in the yard. He wasn’t in the pool. He didn’t sneak back to his T.V. Where did he go?!

Here is a bigger glimpse of our setting. Our vegetable garden is right next to a large cornfield owned by one of our neighbors. While the rest of the family continued to search the yard, my friend Heather set foot through the cornfield to see if that was where he wandered to. Finally after about a half hour, Heather came back through the ears of corn with the adventurous Levi. “What were you thinking?!”, we asked. Levi said in a matter of fact tone, “I was looking for Asland!” (Asland is the lion in Narnia, in case you haven’t seen the movie.) He had traveled a quarter of a mile through the cornfield all the way to the tree line, seconds from venturing into the great forest of Narnia.

Though Levi had all of us in a bit of a panic, he taught me another one of his little life lessons that day. Levi may have been completely entranced in a movie, but he had one goal, finding Asland. Though everyday in our household is a bit of an adventure, I thought how often we go through the motions of life. Lucky for us Eric and Levi never leave us without a bit of spice in our lives.

You see, Levi wasn’t running away from home. He wasn’t just going on a nice stroll through the corn snake valley to the forest of coyotes. He had a goal. And he wasn’t going to stop until he achieved it. (Or until Heather set him straight back down the narrow cornfield row.) He showed me that once you have a goal in mind, nothing can keep you from working towards it.

Therefore I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating at the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. –1 Corinthians 9:26-27

In The Orphan’s Eyes

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If you read a few of my other blogs you will get to know Eric (Try the Chronicles of Eric or When Life Gives You Lemons…). He is my nineteen year old brother with a spunky personality, a few freckles, and an adorable smile. Everyday Eric surprises me with a new twist in our journey.

A couple days ago I picked Eric up from his drum lessons and we went to Buffalo Wild Wings to hang out with a few of my friends. (He is so much fun to hang out with! He always adds a little comedy to our mix.) But on our way home we had a little heart to heart. He started talking about how he has bad dreams. Eric says that a lot. Finally I had the courage to ask him, “Do you dream about your family before you were adopted?” He said yeah. Eric started off naming a bunch of names of his old family members. And he said I have two moms and two dads! I honestly had never asked him before. I mean he was adopted when he was four, how much could he really remember?! He quickly changed the subject to talk about his day and his drum lessons.

Then today. We went to a worship night where our high school church band played an amazing hour and a half of crying out to the Lord. (Now hold up! I know you might be thinking, “Great. Another Jesus Freak blog.” Just bare with me here!) After my talk with Eric the other night, the worship service added an entire new dimension. You see, Eric has always loved music. He played drums in his high school band and he loves to sing. But today it really hit me. His cries to Jesus during worship weren’t an act to get attention. It was raw emotion.

In front of the entire gathering of about a hundred people, Eric laid hands and knees in front of the band, crying out to God. He didn’t care what anyone in front or behind him thought. It was his moment with God. We were just singing the words, “I believe You are my healer. I believe You are all I need.” Eric sunk in every word.

Going through struggles, I empathize with Eric. You get in situations where you think, “What are you doing God?” or “Just let me do what I want. Don’t give me the challenges. Just let me have fun. I don’t need you.” I’ve been there, trust me. But there was Eric. Laying down before God, with more baggage in nineteen years than some people experience in a lifetime. But he gets it! He sees God is his healer.

After that night I talked with Eric, I thought, “How many times have I said, God just let me do my own thing. I want to be like everyone else around me! I want to go to college parties or date different people. I don’t want your dumb life lessons. I want to live my life!” My mind went back to Eric. He was taken from his family, passed from foster home to foster home before he was four. Now he was in our family. We had love…tough love. I am so selfish: I go through every different experience in life thinking, “my way is the best way”. But I realize now, I am blessed to have wonderful parents. Sometimes we have disagreements, but they always know what’s best. Sometimes they give me challenges, but they make me stronger.

It is difficult to understand the concept that God is our father. But my brother gave me a bigger picture. Our world and all of the exciting adventures are so inviting. It is so easy to drop everything and say, “I want that, not what God wants.” I realized, it might be difficult to listen to that nagging voice that says don’t do that. But in the end I would much rather go through life listening to the encouraging words of my dad. Eric knows. He knows what it is like to walk through the world as an orphan. He knows what it is like to experience life without someone to say they are disappointed. He knows that behind disappointment is love. The orphan that was trapped inside my little brother sees that you can do all of those inviting little temptations, but none of them are as rewarding as the security of love from a father. 

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke,  because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. –Proverbs 3:11-12

The Rocky Road To Independence

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This blog is a little out of date from when it should have been written, but trust me, it’s still good! On Monday of last week, our family packed up one of our business buses with luggage, kindles, dvds, and whatever else we could find to pass the time on our 12 hour drive to the cheese state. Here are some things that kept our wheels turning on our adventure within our journey through a special world.

Why Wisconsin?–24 years ago my parents left their dairy farm of about 250 cows to move to Ohio. About twice a year we take a trip to the dairy land to see my dad’s seven brothers and sisters, my 22 cousins, my 28 second cousins, and of course my brother, sister-in-law, and my two adorable nephews. (We also saw my mom’s four sisters. And if you think my dad’s side of the family is huge, you should see my mom’s side!)

On the Road Again

The little guys—On this adventure, we picked up a couple of mini hitch-hikers. If you read my previous blogs, you know that I have a brother that passed away about 7 years ago. He also left behind two adorable boys, Sam, age 9, and Seth, age 7. This year we took the little guys to see their giant family that they have no memory of.

The drive alone was a riot! Ok just imagine, four adventurous boys cooped up in a bus for twelve hours. Luckily, I was stuck in the middle of it all… Eric was singing at the top of his lungs because he couldn’t hear how loud he was with his headphones on. Levi was yelling “hi-Ya” every time a power ranger did a roundhouse kick to the villains trapped in his portable dvd player. And the other two played level after level of “Where’s my Perry” on the kindle fire. We had breakfast at McDonalds, lunch at Culvers, Dinner at McDonalds (again), various bathroom breaks and gas fill ups, oh and a couple stops to fill up on Green Bay Packer gear and Duck Dynasty attire. And we finally arrived at my brother’s house.

Just when I took a deep breath from the trip, I realized the adventure had just begun!

Side Note: I haven’t talked a lot about my oldest brother, but let me give you a quick run-through on their journey through a special world. A few years back, my brother and his family moved back to Wisconsin so he could drive his souped up Peterbilt truck for my uncle. (Long story short, when my dad left Wisconsin, the family farm began to focus entirely on grain processing. Now the farm is a multi-million dollar corporation with 11,000 acres of land.) Ok back to their story. My brother and his wife have two adorable sons, Zach, age 12, and Cody, 8, both of which have autism. As far as schooling, these boys are right on track. The oldest is definitely above average when it comes to the finest details in plumbing and electric. Zach has given me an entire run-through of what every pipe in the basement is for, and he has invented an eyeglass washing system that he presented to his class. Oh and both the little guys love music. I stayed with them last summer for a couple weeks and they definitely helped me prepare for my college senior recital. I had to give them a presentation everyday!

The biggest day of our little journey was July 4th. While we were in Wisconsin we used the convenience of everyone being in town for the holiday to have another graduation party for Eric and Levi.

Independence

Since we had the boys’ party on the 4th, I couldn’t help but notice the importance of this celebration. Obviously it is Independence Day, the day that we celebrate being a free country. It is a government for the people, by the people. (okay I’m done with the third grade history lesson) But we were also celebrating my little brothers’ graduation. It is a commemoration of their independence from school. And I just have to say I am so glad that I have watched them grow into the strong and independent boys that they are. They have their own apartment together, they do all of their own laundry, they clean, they cook, they are independent, but that still took work.

I also thought about Sam and Seth. This was their first time traveling back to Wisconsin in five years, and they were without their parents. (My sister-in-law has remarried since) They were away from what they knew, in an independent situation from what is their norm. But they still depended on our guidance.

Then there is Zach and Cody. Zach doesn’t need any guidance with creating his unique inventions, and the two of them certainly have no difficulty filling their knowledge with YouTube videos on plumbing and electric. I see them turning into the strong and independent boys that I know are within them. I can see them owning their own engineering business or something because they are so smart! But how much guidance will they need before they can become that independent?

Then there is my Grandma. We celebrated her 95th birthday while we were in Wisconsin. She is a strong and brilliant woman. All of her intelligence is still there. (In fact she can tell you all the names and birthdays of her children and their spouses, grandchildren and their spouses, and great grandchildren!) But she has lost nearly all of her sight, she has trouble walking; she is deteriorating. It has to be difficult to have done so many things that she used to do independently, but now these tasks are slowly sneaking out of her grasp.

The fact is, we can grow our independence in many areas, but we still have little things that we must depend on others for. I depend on the knowledge of my professors so I can complete my business degree. My parents depend on employees to keep our corporation running smoothly. I’m sure you can think of something you depend on too. But there is one thing that we can depend on that will never steer us wrong: God. I can say there are many things where we ask Him, “What were You thinking there?!” But overtime we can see the importance behind his zany yet brilliant plans. Romans 8:28 says, In all things, God works for the good of those who love Him.

And back to July 4th. On that day in 1776, we became an independent nation from Great Britain, and we designed a nation of the people, by the people, but it was also a nation built under God. I think our forefathers were right on key here. No matter what you run from or fight for, you always have something that you must lean on.

Build Your House on the Rock

24 z“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like aa wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” –Matthew 7:24-27.