Those Last Tenths of a Mile Before Heaven Began

 

before Heaven

It’s the route that we take when we remember those lives before Heaven.

The roads on this route are full of curves and hills. Each homeowner/store owner remembers those days in 1998 and 2011. We do, too.

A few weeks ago when Dave traveled out of town for a meeting, he mapped out the route we’d take this Saturday for the annual Jerrel Good/Paul Slabach Memorial Bike Ride.  (You can read more about the people in this event here.) He stopped at each place we’ll visit and scouted the surrounding area for safety issues for the two dozen bikers who will be on this ride. He’d taken his weed eater and trimmed around the edges of the bank where the cross we’d place a few years ago could hardly be seen for the weeds and brambles.

Dave took the time to cross the road to visit with the store owner – who recognized him and marked his calendar for the event this year – June 17, 2017.

before Heaven

Because he traveled the route alone, Dave had a lot of time to think.  If you know Dave, you’ll know he’s a thinker, and you’ll understand how this route caused him to think. I wasn’t with him, but I am as sure as I can be that he also cried.

On Sunday when he continued his messages on the Lord’s Prayer and shared from Thy Will be Done on Earth as it is in Heaven,  he shared. That poignant sharing came from the depths of his heart.

We see life on this earth from our human perspective. As parents, we want to offer the best for our kids. We want their happiness, their health, and their success, and strive to help them achieve those goals.  Then, when “bad things happen to good people,” we don’t get it because we’re looking from our perspective as parents and not from the perspective that our Heavenly Father sees. The Eternal View.

“I watched the odometer as I neared the crash sites.  These guys had no idea that they were nearing the place where God would call them Home in a matter of minutes. They had no idea, but God knew. Five-tenths . . .  four-tenths . . . three-tenths . . . two-tenths . . .  one tenth, and BAM!  It was over.”

As he recounted those scenes, he cried. So did we.

“But THEN I remembered that it wasn’t over. It was only the beginning!”

That is why we ride.

This Saturday when we ride, we’ll certainly be remembering. We will remember the ripping rawness, the horrendous ache, the harrowing questions, and definite uncertainty. We will remember asking Why? over and over again.

This side of Heaven, life often doesn’t make sense – and sometimes it’s so unfair. Before Heaven, we wrestle and we groan.

Then comes Heaven – where there are no more tears, no more pain, no more sorrow. Where the old things will be passed away and all things will be new.

I’ve learned that when we answer the questions of our kids – and even questions of our own – it helps solidify our faith. We find answers to our own questions when we have to contemplate the ones others are asking.

This I also know: we can look back and see that God continues to be good, even when life hurts and doesn’t make sense. We know that His will is done here on earth – as it is in Heaven. Truly, reaching Heaven is really what this life is about.

before Heaven

 

So we ride and we remember. We will not forget the ache, the sorrow, or the pain.

 

before Heaven

before Heaven

 

Yet, more importantly, we will remember the faithfulness of the God we serve.

We have traced His hand in the years since Heaven claimed our guys.

This we will remember: that our God has been faithful.

And He is always eternally good.

 

 

 

 

 

Pinterest Before Heaven

Surprised by Grief

grief

Grief hits us sometimes when we least expect it.

There is no easy way to walk through that mountain of heartache and pain. Within a six-week span in 2010, Dave and I became orphans when I lost my mother and he lost his father. That first year, like a tsunami, the waves of grief came and went, leaving us surprised by grief.

This story tells a little bit about our journey in losing Pop Slabach – and what it’s like to experience the faithfulness of God. It was written eight months after we buried Pop. If you’re grieving, don’t be surprised at the grief that hits you from time to time. Like the waves of high tide, grief will hit you full force, knocking you down. Then, surprisingly, the waves will calm down and you will experience low tide again. A few days later, you’ll be knocked down again as more waves invade your soul. Each time, the waves won’t be quite as high or as strong. Each time, low tide will bring respite. In time, healing comes even though the empty ache is always there.

Surprised by Grief

grief

I have been surprised, again, by grief. 

Sometimes I am blind-sided because it is least expected.  Other times, I am more (somewhat) prepared. Like this past week. Prepared? I really thought I was. Surprised again?  Yes indeed. Again.

Three years ago this month, we moved into our new kitchen.  It was a six-month process from start to finish.  In late spring, Pop came from Ohio to help us get started.  Ever since we bought this house, Pop fussed about our upstairs steps. They were too narrow and too steep.  He was a contractor, and he would never have built steps like that.

Never mind that our house was built in the 1920s and other folks who lived in this house and raised their kids survived those stairs.  Never mind that those stairs never bothered me. They bothered Pop, even if he didn’t live here. Never mind that Dave said he wasn’t going to undertake such a project.  If no one else was going to do it, then Pop would, because somebody had to do it.  And he did.

grief

Tim came from Christiansburg for a week to work for his older brother and help his father. The kids thought climbing a ladder to get to the upstairs would be great fun for a few days. I slept downstairs for two nights because I was not going to climb a ladder to go to bed. Going up wouldn’t have been so bad, but coming down in the middle of the night in case of bathroom necessity was out of the question. Pop just smiled when he saw me come downstairs the morning of taking-out-the-stairs-day with my stash of clothes.

The three stooges ran into more than a few snags doing those steps. (Why am I not surprised?) Fortunately, we were going to lower the ten-foot dining room ceiling anyhow, so the steps could extend into the dining room. Other discussions took place, and once they pulled off the job and worked on something else for a while as they ruminated how to solve problems with those steps. You could see the wheels in Pop’s head just a-turning as he worked out the problem in his mind.

grief

Pop and Tim also took out the four windows in the east playroom and installed patio doors in their place.  Never mind that we didn’t have a deck and wouldn’t have one for another year; those doors were installed as plumb as possible considering the age of the house and the uneven floors and ceilings. Pop’s only regret that week was not having time to help take out the wall between the dining room and the playroom for the new kitchen.  Every time he came to visit, he had to come check the progress. Once I even told Dave that it seemed Pop came more to see the house than to see us!

grief

Born and raised Amish, Pop came from a culture where parents did not compliment their children verbally; to do so might instill pride in their offspring. Yet he’d tell other people about his kids and what they were doing, and we knew he was pleased. The first visit he made after we were (finally) in the new kitchen, he walked from wall to wall, ran his hands up door frames, opened and closed drawers and cabinets, checking for ease and making sure things were level. That carpenter-look was evident as he cocked his head, squinted his eyes, and eye-balled everything. While he never came out and said so, it was obvious he was impressed with the completed kitchen and the fact that his son had done the work — and done it well.

Eighteen months later, he came again — this time to inspect the deck Dave and the boys had built Thanksgiving weekend. Our sons followed him around as he ran his hands across the railing, pushed on boards with his shoes, and listened to them tell their version of helping to build the deck.

And always, there was the discussion about our next project: making a master bedroom and bath out of the upstairs sun porch. Some day.

grief

                                              Pop with his bucket truck.

This past February, Dave decided it was time. We moved everything off the sun porch (my attic) and they knocked off the outside walls and began building the floor. We talked about seeing if Pop could come to Virginia again and help with this project. We knew he would because he had as much as said so. Dave knew his father’s experience would be invaluable and he’d enjoy the work. It would take some engineering to build the floor so no support would be needed below since we were extending the addition.

Before Dave made that phone call to set a date, Pop had a massive stroke.  Nine days later, he went to Heaven.  You know the first thing I thought about when we knew that, barring a miracle, Pop would not get better?  That sun porch addition. How were we ever going to do that without Pop?!

We didn’t — for six months.  The “addition” sat there all summer, covered by a black tarp. We’d pull it up on sunny days and lower it when it rained. Like a massive curtain, we had to find our way through that tarp when we wanted to get inside in pouring rain. I confess I was getting pretty tired of that tarp slamming me in the face when I tried to find my way with bags of groceries in tow.

It helped when Dave and I talked about the reason for the tarp. Continuing the addition was too painful at the moment. Oh sure, Dave could have made himself complete it. Yet waiting allowed him time to process his pain. Dave’s grief was more important than any addition on our house, and I was more than willing to wait.  [It helped that cash flow was a little low at the moment as well. :-)]

I came to realize that the black tarp symbolized our grief. With the loss of Pop, we had lost a dream. Sure, we would miss him as the father, grandfather, and great-grandfather of the family.  For the immediate future, we missed his expertise. On “sunny” days, I’d didn’t think about it much and Dave didn’t mention losing Pop.  Then, like a stormy cloud, the grief surge would hit again.  I wondered — some days — if we’d ever get the addition finished when I observed another gale as it sent more grief waves. Yet I knew the question was not if, but when.

grief

And I asked my Father to help me remember to hide under His wings instead of fighting the storm.

A few months ago, that tarp was pulled up for the last time. Walls, windows, insulation, sheet rock, (most) electrical, and (some) plumbing are complete. Paint choices have been made and the floor has been ordered. The job is still not done, but we’re nearing completion.

grief

           The addition that Pop never helped build.

Last week, on October 27th, we remembered Paul (Pop’s middle son) on the 12th year anniversary of his arrival in Heaven. On the 28th, Pop celebrated his first birthday in Heaven. I watched the tsunami of grief hit Dave – and felt its aftermath in me — as my husband finished sheetrock alone.

I have been surprised, again, by grief. How can finishing sheetrock bring such pain?!

I have found that remembering brings healing. I have learned that acknowledging releases pain. I have experienced reprieve as I have hugged the Rock and basked—again—in the goodness of God, even in my grief.

Pop would say, “We go on.” And we do. It still hurts, but we go on. We go on, because the God we serve is a Shelter in any storm, a Haven for any heartache, and a Comfort in every care.

Dave reminded us yesterday that our grief and its aftermath of fear, dismay, and human weakness find a solution in Isaiah 41:10: “Fear thou not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed; for I am thy God; I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”

On that promise, we walk through our grief even though we continue to be surprised by grief. We go on, and we are not alone.

Pinterest grief

 

“Sweet Through It All”

When I started to pray, “Please keep me sweet through it all,” it changed my focus from me and my pain to God and what He could do.

Forty years.  It’s been forty years since I got that letter from a friend, a note of encouragement during an upheaval in my life.  At the end of the note, she wrote, “I pray God that He will keep you sweet through it all.”

That became my prayer, and this poem was birthed from that prayer from that note.  It’s been my prayer many times since when I’ve been caught in the riptide of a trial.

A few days ago a friend asked me for a copy of this poem.  She remembered it from a devotional I had shared twenty-plus years ago but couldn’t remember all the words.  Of course, I’d be glad to send it to her, I said.

Then I thought  .  .  .  maybe there is someone else out there who needs this poem today.

Here it is, my friend.  Just for you.

Keep Me Sweet

The tree beside my window has a story to tell

Of storms and cloudy weather – how it stood and never fell.

Forgiving, believing and trusting through it all.

Let me, like my tree, grow stronger through it all.

A rainbow in its beauty is seen through eyes of tears,

And the diamond of stones after the toil of many years.

I would be a tender blossom through summer, spring, and fall –

Sending sweetest fragrance through it all.

There are questions, there are heartaches! I have wept in bitter tears.

Heal my spirit, touch me gently, brush away all my fears.

Keep me beautiful and yielded – let me Your life recall,

And somehow, keep me sweet through it all.

sweeet-diamond

Transform in me Your image – Your pearl of great price;

Though I’m just a tiny vessel, I’m a diamond in Your eyes!

Use these trials to develop eternal qualities in me.

Dear Jesus, through it all, keep me sweet.

sweet-eternal-quality-red-flower-water-drops

Keep me humble and willing this cross to bear;

Keep me holding Your hand, let me know that You care.

Keep me trusting and believing, whatever may befall,

And Jesus, keep me sweet through it all.

Lord Jesus, keep me sweet through it all.

Sweet, sweet Jesus, keep me sweet through it all.