In the Valley of the Shadow

Though Thanksgiving is one of my absolute favorite times of the year (second only to Christmas), it has a shadow cast over it this year. Holidays are all about family, and if a huge part of your family is missing....celebrating can be hard. Most days, though, I am doing well. I am doing better than I ever expected. For that I am very thankful.

I just read C.S. Lewis' "A Grief Observed," which is a short collection of notes from his journal after his wife died on cancer. I think it is the best possible book on grief, because it is not trying to comfort or explain or is simply his raw, unvarnished thoughts in the midst of extreme pain. This passage really spoke to what exactly I feel right now:

"Getting over it so soon? But the words are ambiguous. To say the patient is getting over it after an operation for appendicitis is one thing; after he's had his leg off it is quite another. After that operation either the wounded stump heals or the man dies. If it heals, the fierce, continuous pain will stop. Presently he'll get back his strength and be able to stump about on his wooden leg. He has "got over it". But he will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones; and he will always be a one-legged man. There will hardly be any moment when he forgets it. Bathing, dressing, sitting down and getting up again, even lying in bed, will all be different. His whole way of life will be changed. All sorts of pleasures and activities that he once took for granted will have to be simply written off. Duties too. At present I am learning to get about on crutches. Perhaps I shall presently be given a wooden leg. But I shall never be a biped again.....
How often--will it be for always?--how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, “I never realized my loss till this moment?” The same leg is cut off time after time. The first plunge of the knife into the flesh is felt again and again."

i need to remember this every day

"Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength."

Corrie Ten Boom

good words for a hard day

"Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself."
-Thomas Merton

"Would you lose your sorrow? Would you drown your cares?
Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea;
be lost in his immensity;
and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest,
refreshed and invigorated."

-Charles Spurgeon

For Caleb

My precious, sweet little brother passed away suddenly on Monday morning, at the young age of 16. He was taken in his sleep with no advance notice, no time to prepare for this staggering loss. I got the call as I was about to go into work and suddenly my life was forever changed. My heart will forever be heavy with grief at the enormous hole he has left in my life, but I am full of rejoicing and peace knowing that he is resting in the arms of his Savior. It's all Caleb would have wanted. I know I will have more words to say as time goes on, but for now, I will just share the eulogy I wrote for his funeral Thursday night. These words seem horribly inadequate to honor the memory of someone so wonderful and so dear to me, but I know if he was here, he would just grin and tell me it was great.


Last night, as I began to write down what I was planning to say tonight, I found myself staring at a blank white page for what seemed like hours. How can you even begin to describe a person like Caleb? There never comes a day when you wake up ready for your little brother to die. There is never a day when you wake up ready to write his eulogy. I cannot do him justice with my words, but I hope to share with you a brief glimpse of the incredible life my brother lived. I am proud to be his sister, and grateful to have been his friend.

Caleb was a better person than I can ever hope to be. God gave Caleb a special heart, and even as his older sister, I have always looked up to him. Whenever I describe my family to people, I have always said that Caleb was the best one of all of us. That was hard to explain unless you had met Caleb, and then you knew. You knew he lived with a love and maturity beyond his years. As many of you know personally, Caleb was a light to so many people. Whenever anyone was feeling down or discouraged, Caleb always had a cheerful word or a comforting thought to say to them. He had a smile that would light up a room, and you couldn’t help but smile back at him. He made a conscious, daily decision to greet every new challenge and every new person with a positive attitude. He spread joy to his family and friends continually, even when he was not experiencing joy in his own life.

Caleb experienced many struggles in his brief 16 years. His seizures caused him a great deal of physical and emotional pain that most people never saw. His epilepsy brought him challenges academically and on the playing field in lacrosse. He often came home from school weighed down with anxiety and sadness. He rarely felt like he fit in with other kids his age as well as he would like. It broke my heart sometimes to see the burdens he carried at such a young age. He often told me how he wanted to be close to more kids his age, and yet, as I look out over this crowd, I know he was deeply loved beyond what he could have ever imagined.

If you were to meet him, you would probably never know any of these struggles. I never, ever heard Caleb complain. He never pitied himself, and he never blamed others for his pain. I never heard him speak out in anger or retaliation against anyone. Instead, he always wanted to know what he could do to be a better friend. Rather than focusing on his circumstances, Caleb spent every waking moment at home making sure his family was okay. He cared so much more about us than about himself. He always asked us about our day before telling us about his own. He always asked how he could help when he could see one of us feeling stressed or sad. He would come and give my dad a hug, or offer to help my mom in the kitchen, or make me a cup of coffee. He never went to sleep without hugging us all goodnight and reminding us once again how much he loved us. He poured out so much love on me, my parents, and my brother Josh through his sacrificial service every single day, without ever asking to be served in return. He truly had a servant’s heart, more so than anyone I have ever known.

When I saw Caleb, I saw Jesus. Caleb not only loved the Lord with all his heart, but truly lived in a manner worthy of the calling of Christ. He befriended those who no one else would befriend. He was drawn to reach out to those who were lonely and isolated. He loved unconditionally, without judgment and without the expectation of being loved in return. He lived every day with unbiased compassion. His life is the most pure and beautiful picture of the love of Christ I will ever know in my time on this Earth.

It is hard to imagine how my life will go on without my little brother. The painful road ahead seems too immense to bear. Yet, by the grace of God, the intensity of my grief is matched by the depth of my joy. I rejoice with Caleb in the truth that his physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual struggles have all ended as he rests in the everlasting arms of his precious Savior. Caleb often spoke of his longing for a deeper relationship with the Lord, and I now know that prayer has been answered. He is finally experiencing perfect peace, perfect joy, and perfect love in the presence of his heavenly Father. Since Caleb’s passing on Monday, I keep thinking of what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Caleb had the most pure and childlike heart I have ever known, and He is now seeing God face to face. His faith has become sight.

As my family and I deal with the devastating grief of losing a beloved son and brother, we press on with the knowledge that Caleb’s life and death has touched hundreds of people in ways we will never begin to know. We can only express gratitude for the 16 years we were allowed to have this precious gift in our lives, and for the multitude of beautiful memories we will treasure until the day when we see him again. His example of love, joy, humility, patience, kindness, and gentleness is the greatest gift God has ever given us, and we are forever thankful. I will miss him more than words can say.

One Cup of Tea

One of the best things about my job is the variety. Some days I sit at a desk typing on a computer for hours, and other days I am racing around like a mad woman. The best days are the ones when I get to spend time with the refugees themselves, when I can actually share a few minutes or a few hours of someone's life with them. A few days ago I stopped by to visit some Bhutanese clients and they invited me to sit down on the couch. We sat around mostly in silence, except for their few phrases of English and my three words of Nepali, just this big refugee family sitting and staring at me. They brought in a plate filled with small cups of tea that was unlike any tea I've ever tasted....very milky and sweet and incredibly spicy. They taught me how to say "hot tea": tatu chia. They clapped and laughed and cheered when I strung these two simple words together, and it made me wonder if anyone has ever down that for them when they learned two words of English....I doubt it. I said it over and over again. Tatu chia, tatu chia, tatu chia, and each time they were more delighted. "You are so smart," they said happily, and tapped my head. "You remember good." They have probably experienced more trauma and pain then I will ever know, and yet they are here with me, smiling and laughing.

So I have these beautiful moments. They aren't the norm, but they are always a joy and a gift, and they remind me why I am here. These are moments when I think, "I can't imagine being anywhere but here. I can't imagine doing anything but this." I know I am where I am supposed to be.

21 Highlights of my 21st Year

1) Turning 21 in Prague. This was amazing not only because its my favorite city in the world, but the friends who made it special. And the most yummy birthday meal ever.

2)Living with roommates who have cats/kittens. None of these have been mine, but playing with Babar and Italics on a regular basis has been a highlight of my days (besides getting bitten a lot).

3) Learning to cook. I'm no gourmet chef yet, but at least I'm doing more than microwaving these days.

4) Living in Glasgow, one of the coolest, edgiest, hipest cities ever, for four months. Even just walking to get groceries was a thrill!

5) Eating crepes and bagettes in Paris by the Seine. Ahhhh....

6) Seeing the Swell Season and Sara Groves perform live....two of the best concerts I've ever had the pleasure of attending.

7) Reading Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools, and Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns. Go read these books.

8) Seeing the grave of Geoffrey Chaucer in Westminster Abbey.

9) Camping under the desert stars in the New Mexico wilderness

10) I became a college graduate! Not that it means much these days...

11) Experiencing a snowstorm in the middle of June in the Colorado Rockies.

12) Eating Dijon mustard in Dijon, France, and a hamburger in Hamburg, Germany.

13) Meeting my Scottish friends Roddy and Fiona, witnessing their engagement, and being a bridesmaid in their wedding in Scotland, all in one year. I couldn't have imagined anything so wonderful :)

14) Meeting new friends from Scotland, Germany, France, India, New Zealand, Poland, and America, to name a few. The best part of traveling is getting to know so many wonderful people from such wildly diverse backgrounds!

15) Having one last semester to really savor and appreciate the fact that I was studying two subjects I loved. I miss both Dance and English classes these days.

16) Working with refugees as a volunteer, an intern, and now as a full time case manager. It is both the most challenging and most rewarding thing I have ever done.

17) Eating fresh vegetables from our garden and homemade barbeque this summer with my family. Yummy!

18) Reuniting with one of my best friends after over a year apart. This is a testament to the love of Christ being strong enough to cover all wrongs and heal all wounds, and I am so eternally grateful.

19) Getting a job that pays the bills. These are hard to come by these days, so I am really thankful. I have the added bonus of doing something I'm passionate about, which is incredible.

20) My new apartment, with two wonderful girls who just took me out for pumpkin chocolate chip cake to celebrate my birthday!

21) Over the course of this year, I have had big fears, big adventures, and big joys, and I have seen God's hand in every one of those. I am thankful for another year of growing closer to Him and seeing his provision in so many ways.

Here's to year 22!!

Work and Rest

This week, I have experienced so many different emotions in the course of a few days on the job....excitement, fear, stress, anxiety, and confusion, to name a few. Working with refugees is a scary thing, because it's sink or swim, and if you sink, it feels like you're drowning your clients along with you. I have come home the past few nights feeling so burdened that I was afraid I might snap or cry if someone tried to talk with me....and I have not begun to tackle the truly difficult elements of my job yet. One night I was watching a movie with my new friend/co-worker, and she saw me trying to work on my to-do list. Her reaction was the best possible thing for me: she promptly threw my list and my planner across the room and forced me to simply relax instead. I can see how easily people become workaholics and why it's so hard to turn that part of your brain off when you leave the office.

These days, I have been thinking a lot about peace and how much I lack it. I am hungry for peace, for a deep soul rest that permeates my long days and busy hours, that guards my anxious mind and my hurting heart in a work environment where I daily see injustice and experience frustration at the systems of this world. My pastor recently made an interesting connection between peace and gratitude, which makes so much sense to me the more I think about it. I want to be grateful for the good things I see in this job and grateful for the opportunities I will have to change the bad things. If you are someone who prays, pray for peace and gratitude to fill my life and overflow into the lives around me.

Here's the great thing: so far, I have woken up every day feeling happy to go into work. Exhausted, yes, but determined and excited to tackle the day. Not optimistically, naively happy about somehow changing the world, but ready to do whatever I can to help transform my own tiny corner of the world. There is a great sense of contentment and joy in doing what you know you're supposed to be doing, in extending a chance for survival and hope into a person's life, in knowing that you are spending your days working towards something that is at the very heart of God. I know that positive emotions such as these can never be the motivation or the end goal of such work, or they will only lead to burnout and bitterness.... Nevertheless, they are such a blessing in this realm which often seems so bleak, a daily grace in a world where grace is so scarce. I am so helpless in all that I do without the grace and peace of Christ.