Even Though…

I love when God speaks to you so clearly through circumstances. If you come across a passage of Scripture once in a day you might read it and then move on. When it appears three times, separately, in three different books/blogs, you pay attention.

Today I was finishing up “Amazed and Confused” by Heather Zempel and began reading “Praying God’s Word” by Beth Moore. In addition to those two books, I read an excellent post by my friend Judy about rejoicing in God no matter what comes our way.

All three of these resources referenced and spoke about the SAME passage of Scripture.

What was the common passage?

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“Even though…”


Habakkuk 3:17-19 is not a new passage to me. It’s one I considered many times throughout our journey with Tori because it absolutely applied to our situation.

Habakkuk is stating that no matter what happens, no matter how hard things become, he would rejoice in the Lord and be joyful. 

Heather Zempel’s commentary on this book of the Bible – and on this passage, specifically – is excellent. Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

“God is still good, sovereign, and faithful, despite the circumstances we see around us, and is therefore worthy to be praised.” (pg. 153)

“We learned that faith was not about conjuring an idea in our heads and finding ways to fuel it; faith was recognizing that God always had something better in mind than what we could see in the present circumstances. We understood that perspective might not change the facts of our reality, but they certainly changed our perception of reality.” (pg. 156)

Through it all, we trusted (and continue to trust) the God who made us all, who sent His Son because He loves us lavishly, and the One who knows what the future holds.

“What’s the difference between people who face the unknown and see fear and those who see opportunity? What makes a person look at a dead-end and see open-ended possibilities? Story. The story we have been told will set the stage for what we expect in the next chapter and will inform us of the role we play.” (pg. 157)

“When Habakkuk came to a place where God’s actions collided with his expectations, he found the only hopeful response was worship that was rooted in an unshakable and undeniable awareness of God’s character, ways, and works.” (pg. 160)

“As we see God more, we are able to praise Him more. We more clearly recognize and acknowledge the hand of God at work in our lives, and the practice becomes an act of worship and a hymnal for worship in days to come.” (pg. 164)

“Habakkuk is not just comforting himself by playing with ideas; he is speaking of the things that God has actually done. The Christian faith is solidly based upon facts, not ideas. And if the facts recorded in the Bible are not true, then I have no hope or comfort. For we are not saved by ideas; but by facts, by events.” – D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (quoted on pg. 169)

“This brand of faith knows God can…believes He will…but worships even if He doesn’t.” (pg. 177)

“We can frame the character of God according to our circumstances, or we can frame our circumstances according to what we know of the character of God. We can let our circumstances inform what we know to be true of God or we can let what we know to be true about God inform our circumstances. As Warren Wiersbe said, “God doesn’t always chance the circumstances, but He can change us to meet the circumstances. That’s what it means to live by faith.”‘ (pg. 178-9)

God continually reminded the Israelites of the importance of remembering all that He had done for them, and yet they continued to forget. When they weren’t studying His word and their history, they lost sight of God’s goodness and plan and they strayed from His will.

As we said at the beginning of our journey, God has never been unfaithful to us, so why would He be unfaithful now? Because we have reminded ourselves for years of His wonderful works since the beginning of time and of those in our own lives, trusting Him with Tori came fairly easily.

“He works things together for His purpose and not our expectations.” (pg. 184)

“Whether He delivers from, delivers through, or delivers later, we know that He is always present.” (pg. 186)

‘His faith was not rooted in what he could see but in what he could not see in the moment. He anchored into the brand of faith that the author of Hebrews described: “Faith is the assurance of things you have hoped for, the absolute conviction that there are realities you’ve never seen” (Hebrews 11:1).’ (pg. 186)

Oh yeah, and Hebrews 11:1 (quoted above) was also the verse of the day on WordFM today so I heard it many times throughout my day.

“Sovereignty means that God is in charge. Eternally in charge. We need God to redefine our suffering against the background of eternity because eternity puts things into perspective.” (pg. 188)

When things don’t go as we had planned, do we run from God or run TO God? Why is it so easy for us to discard our faith just because things get tough? Why don’t we trust His proven faithfulness to be present in our own lives?

“I refuse to let what I don’t know keep me from worshiping what I do know.”
(pg. 190)

(I know it seems like I just quoted the entire book but I promise there is so much more wisdom to be gleaned – you should read it!)

This final quote is a great summary of our perspective on Tori’s short life.

We KNOW that there is ONE true God. We know that God is sovereign, that He is good and loving and gracious. We KNOW that there is a Heaven waiting for those who believe in Jesus and that this life is only the beginning. We are certain of these things!

We DON’T know why God chose us to be Tori’s parents, why He chose her to have Krabbe, and why He didn’t choose to heal her on earth so that she could grow up under our care. We don’t know what the future holds for us in regards to having more children. We don’t know. But, as the quote above says, we aren’t going to let these few unknowns keep us from serving and praising the One who does know!

We know that He has a plan for us and that Tori is waiting for us in Heaven. Whether or not God chooses to reveal to us His thoughts on this situation here or if we will find out in Heaven, it is still well with our souls.

Our faith isn’t blind, and it isn’t a band-aid. Our faith is the frame through which we view this entire life and it’s the source of our joy and our peace, and it’s the reason why we continue to praise God and choose joy “even though” we lost our only child. 

After all, our loss doesn’t change God’s character or His purposes for us. He is STILL good.

Fleeting Moments

Before Tori was born, many people told us to cherish the early years because they would go quickly, never to return.

After she was diagnosed with Krabbe the moments moved faster and there was nothing we could do to stop the momentum. The days were fleeting, and we wondered each day how many more days we had with our beloved daughter.

As a photographer, it was natural for me to take thousands (more like tens of thousands) of photos of her, every angle and perspective possible, hoping that I could remember everything once she was gone.

But, the problem is that what can’t be captured on film is what I miss the most.

I couldn’t capture how it felt to hold her – something I did for hours each and every day. How it felt to feel her breathing. Her smell. The touch of her soft, smooth skin.

I couldn’t capture her soul, the very thing that makes us who we are.


Miss Tori has been with Jesus in Heaven for over two months now and it is still strange. The impact she had on my life is still being discovered moment by moment, and I continue to be overwhelmed by gratitude more than any other emotion.

I think of her almost every waking minute. I now understand what my Dad has said my entire life – that I am always on his mind. I don’t even try to think about Tori – it just happens.

Yesterday, Brennan and I sat down together and watched many of the pre-Krabbe videos we have of her. Hearing her talk and laugh, watching her move freely, and remembering our precious girl before Krabbe took over her defenseless brain brought joy to our hearts. She had the BEST personality, even before she turned five months old.

And I’m still GRATEFUL. Her memory brings me joy, not pain. Peace, not grief.

The KNOWLEDGE (it’s more than just a “belief” as that word is commonly used today) that we will be reunited with her one day brings such excitement to both of our hearts. It won’t be that long in light of eternity!

Tori’s earthly life was cut short, but this life is really just the beginning for all of us anyway. I heard this song recently and I loved the lyrics (especially knowing that Steven Curtis Chapman has also lost a child and his words reflect his experience):

God’s plan from the start
For this world and your heart
Has been to show His glory and His grace
Forever revealing the depth and the beauty of
His unfailing Love
And the story has only begun

And this is going to be a glorious unfolding
Just you wait and see and you will be amazed
We’ve just got to believe the story is so far from over
So hold on to every promise God has made to us
And watch this glorious unfolding

We were made to run through fields of forever
Singing songs to our Savior and King
So let us remember this life we’re living
Is just the beginning of the beginning.

  • Steven Curtis Chapman, “Glorious Unfolding”

We’re still doing well. The fourteen months of preparation for her death certainly have helped in the two months without her physically with us.

We’re still surprised by how easy it is to leave the house now and how lightly we can pack, how quiet our home is without the humming of machines, how free we feel due to the lack of schedule that we have now…

We have our moments where missing her is something we feel physically. A great example of this was when I first heard the song, “Eye of the Storm” by Ryan Stevenson and I was caught off guard by this line: “When a sickness takes my child away and there’s nothing I can do, my only hope is to trust in You.” Powerful truth.

Sometimes it comes out of nowhere, other times it comes out of thoughtful remembrance of our adventures with her. We’ve both shed tears in the past two months during those moments.

But, because of God and who He is, we are hopeful above all else and remain joyful. God is doing amazing things in our lives and is still using our little girl to change lives, even after her death.

Tori was an amazing little girl and her legacy lives on. We have MUCH to be thankful for and will continue to focus on those blessings rather than her absence.

Those tens of thousands of photographs continue to make us smile as we remember the incredible life we lived with Tori, and we will continue living life abundantly until we are reunited with her forever. It will be worth the wait.

 

The Discipline of Gratitude 

I was taught a lesson (a discipline, really) during my senior year of high school that has had a profound impact on my daily life: the discipline of gratitude.

A wise woman in my church (named Vicki Allwardt) handpicked a few of us to mentor and disciple; our journey formally began on January 1, 2001 and ended when we all left for college, but I have never forgotten the wisdom that was conveyed.

She handed us all journals and asked us to write at least three things each day for which we were thankful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She included verses on colorful paper about thankfulness at the front of the journal.

I faithfully wrote in mine that year and sporadically the next. The entries are amusing at first, giving insight into my eighteen year old mind (I was very thankful for boys 😉 ), but a gradual shift can be seen as I fine-tuned this discipline of gratitude.

Looking back, it isn’t the specific things for which I was thankful that had an impact: it’s that I was taught to recognize God’s hand in my life in such a simple, yet incredible, discipline.

Now, fifteen years later, I am a thankful person most of the time and I don’t even have to purposely try to think of things for which to be thankful. It’s part of who I am.

Gratefulness naturally flows out of my heart because I have trained my heart to be thankful in ALL circumstances.

This goes beyond optimism. This goes beyond happiness. This is a form of worship because you are continually recognizing God’s presence and His faithfulness all around you.

 


Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.[a]

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

— Philippians 4:4-9 NLT

This passage from Philippians contains SO much wisdom about how to live life, but I want to focus on these three things:

  • ALWAYS be joyful. We are commanded to be joy-filled (remember, joy isn’t happiness) at all times, in all circumstances (v.6).
  • Prayer – including thanking God for what He has done – will be followed by God’s peace (v. 7).
  • Focusing on things that are good, true, and pure (in other words, God’s character traits), and continuing to try each day to live as Christ did will bring peace (v.8).

Joy + gratitude + Godward focus = peace.


As I started to write this post I did some quick research and found a couple of great articles about this discipline, and you can read them here and here.

The first article mentions suffering and why we should be grateful even during those times:

Ingesting life’s difficulties and tragic events can be overwhelming. Having a heart of gratitude, therefore, is not about looking at the bright side of things. And it’s not even acknowledging that things could be worse. Our thankfulness is never to be based on a set of circumstances. It’s based on a Person…

…Practicing gratitude rests soundly in the assuredness that God will ultimately redeem every horrible situation in this life or the next. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

I loved this quote from the second article:

“When we discipline our hearts and our lives to see that all is grace we are filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for everything.” – Sam Luce

When you are grateful, you are more likely to be:

  • humble
  • joyful
  • generous with what you have been given
  • content with what you have been given
  • focused on God and His sovereignty
  • at peace

This discipline of gratitude is why Brennan and I can be so overwhelmed by God’s goodness and grace even though He allowed Tori to have Krabbe…even though He took her to Heaven at such a young age…

“…even so, it is well with my soul.”

“Your grace has overwhelmed my brokenness…”
– Hillsong

We have learned to focus on all the good He did in our lives and in the world through Tori instead of on her earthly absence.

We have learned to praise Him for the time we had with her, for the memories we made, rather than all that we won’t experience with her.

After all, what good does it do to dwell on the things we cannot change?

We are not perfect, we don’t live this out perfectly, and there is certainly nothing wrong with mourning the loss of her and the life she could have lived. We did that frequently while she was with us, mostly in unexpected moments, and I know that we will grieve her absence at times throughout our earthly lives.

But, the discipline of gratitude has brought us such peace even in the midst of a parent’s worst nightmare, because we are focused on the truth of who God is – a loving, gracious Father who loves us more than we can fathom, and who works all things for our good. He is a Redeemer, and He will redeem all of this someway, somehow. 

For now, we thank Him for all that He has done and praise Him for He is worthy to be praised.


Six years ago I had the privilege of going to São Paulo, Brazil, to observe and serve alongside missionaries there. One conversation starter they often use is this: Where did you see God this week?

It doesn’t require a super-spiritual answer. Wherever you see goodness, joy, grace, kindness, love, peace, etc. (Galatians 5:22-23) you are seeing God at work.

God IS love, and He is kind, gracious, and just, so whenever you see those things in the world, you are getting a glimpse of His character, and it gives you fresh reasons to be grateful.

We’d like to encourage you to cultivate the discipline of gratitude in your own life, in all circumstances. Look for God at work all around you and write a few things down each day. You won’t regret it.

Thanksgiving 2015

We had a wonderful day today with Brennan’s mom, siblings, and their significant others.

We ate, visited, and enjoyed lots of laughter.

It’s the first time it’s been “just us” for a holiday instead of the larger extended family. ❤️ Brennan’s brother and his family graciously hosted and did a wonderful job.

  
This experience with Tori has really made us closer and it has been a positive in the midst of the negatives this year.

We’re so thankful to be part of such wonderful, loving families. ❤️

   
    
    
    
    
    
   

Day Twenty-Seven: I’m Thankful For…God’s Creativity.

Preface: Last year I decided to express my thanks during the month of November for something new each day, as so many others have done before me. I never finished this series, so that’s my goal this year. I am re-posting the ones I wrote last year and adding new ones. This one is new :)

I have had the immense privilege of being able to travel extensively around the U.S. (38 states),
and to five countries (#6 in February!) outside the U.S. on
three continents (and counting) thus far in my life.
And everywhere I go, God’s creativity is displayed so abundantly!

God could have made the world black and white.
He could have made everything flat and boring and we all could look the same.
And we would have never known the difference.

Instead, He CHOSE to use vibrant colors, thousands of plant and flower species,
mountain ranges, deserts, valleys, islands, trees, lakes, oceans, and so much more.

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We have drastically different seasons, providing new landscape every few months.

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He created sunrise and sunset to delight and inspire us.

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He created so many variations of hair, skin, and eye colors – all beautiful.

Haiti 2010

He created the zebra, the giraffe, the squirrel, the platypus, and thousands of other animals
– all so unique in appearance and purpose.

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God is the ultimate creative.
I’m so thankful that He created all of this for us to enjoy, and even more thankful that He instills some of His creativity in each of us.

Day Twenty-Six: We’re Thankful For…Our Home.

Preface: Last year I decided to express my thanks during the month of November for something new each day, as so many others have done before me. I never finished this series, so that’s my goal this year. I am re-posting the ones I wrote last year and adding new ones. This one is new 🙂

In September 2012, we were very content to continue renting and not be “tied down” anywhere. Our rent was cheap, our apartment was in an amazing location, and we were happy. But that all changed the following month…

Our landlord had recently placed a brand new manufactured home on our property and told us that he would be renting it for close to $1,000 per month. I was really surprised that anyone would pay that much to rent a 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom home (our rent was $550 for a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom top floor of a house)…so I started looking at property around our area to see if that was comparable or high. Turns out it was high. 🙂

During my search, an ad appeared on one of the websites that said something like this: “If this were your home, your mortgage would be ____.” Whatever that number was, it was low, and it made me consider the possibility of buying a house so that we could actually SAVE money.

Brennan and I started talking seriously about buying a house in October 2012. We had very few “requirements” – natural gas heat, central air, and lots of space. We saw six houses, and the last one that we toured became our first home together.

On November 1st, with my parents and his mom and step-dad, we toured a bank-owned, not pretty house. It had plenty of space (1,800 sq. ft, 4 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms on a 1/2 acre), it was in a good neighborhood, and it was incredibly inexpensive. It needed a lot of cosmetic work, but nothing major. So, on November 1st, 2012, we made an offer.

We closed on December 21, 2012 and immediately got to work by tearing up all the carpet in the basement. We moved in on January 20, 2013 and that’s when the work really began.

We are so thankful for the opportunity that we had to buy this house – especially because it is worth approximately $55K more than we paid for it. Selling this house will allow us to be debt-free as we could pay off our student loans with the profit.

We are also thankful for the amount of space that we now have for housing/hosting people! It was difficult to have many people over in our little 600 sq. foot apartment; now we can comfortably sleep TEN PEOPLE on couches and beds (and even more if we had more air mattresses!). We recently had a church event at our house and had over 30 people there, comfortably. This house has created such an opportunity for ministry (RYFO, church, etc.) and we LOVE it.

We are even more thankful for all of the people who selflessly donated their skills and time to help us do the work that was needed (my parents, Dan, Kim, Dean, Jason, Courtney, Tim, Stacey, Shannon, Jana, Billy, and so many more!) – we couldn’t have made as much progress without help! There is still quite a bit of work to be done (and yes, we still need a lot of help!), but as you can see in the pictures below, we’ve already accomplished so much.

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Thank you, Lord, for our beautiful home…

The Results of Being Thankful…

Yesterday, our pastor was discussing prayer and worship (1 Timothy 2: 1-8), and he said something that I had never thought about. Since I’ve been in church my entire life, it’s always great when God uses familiar Scripture to teach me something new!

Ephesians 5: 1- 4:

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children.  Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God.

Instead. This is how you could live, but instead, “let there be thankfulness…”

Paul is saying something so simple, yet so profound:
If we are thankful, it will be much harder to sin.

Think about it:

  • If we are thankful for all that God has done, we will love Him and no other false gods.
  • If we are thankful for our spouse, we won’t cheat.
  • If we are thankful for our job, we won’t be lazy.
  • If we are thankful for our “neighbors” and family, we will love selflessly and won’t harm them.
  • If we are thankful for what God has provided, we won’t covet/steal what others have.
  • If we are thankful for the mercy that God has shown us, we will show mercy to those around us more freely.
  • If we are thankful, we won’t be selfish.

I did a quick word study to see where the word “thankful” or “thanks” appears in the Bible, and this is what I found:

Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God,  and keep the vows you made to the Most High…giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honors me. (Psalm 50:14, 23a)

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart. (Colossians 4:2)
And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)
Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:7)
  • When we are thankful, we recognize that God is the provider of everything we have, which also humbles us.
  • When we are thankful for what we have, we are less likely to sin.
  • When we are thankful, we recognize that apart from God, we can do nothing…that He alone is God and we are merely human.
Sometimes being thankful is a natural response, and sometimes it is a sacrifice (as we see throughout Psalms) because it goes against our human nature and how we feel at the moment. Nevertheless, God is pretty clear about this concept: Be thankful ALWAYS, even when you don’t feel like it.