Guest blog: Groundhog Day

This is my first time sharing a guest post from someone I’ve only met virtually.  My family has graciously received story after story from friends around us of their shared experience losing a parent and the grief that follows.  My brother, Michael shared with our family when Troy’s mom’s cancer continued to spread.  We prayed for her knowing the pain of losing a parent.  Troy’s mom soon lost her battle to cancer on this side of Heaven.  Michael shared when he and Troy met, they both hugged with no words, but eyes full of tears.

We would have never anticipated the stories we would hear and share this year with new friends and old.  May we slow down our own plans and priorities and attune ourselves to receive and share in life’s joys and sufferings with those who God brings in our path.  Thanks for sharing, Troy.


troy blog

(taken October 23rd 1988, on my way to boot camp)

The world somehow feels different now. Every day I wake up, there is an unexplainable emptiness –an emptiness of having lost one of the greatest gifts of life -a parent’s unconditional love.

The emptiness feels like a small child who ventures out from safety, then they return to home base for a safe reunion.  For me, home base was my parents.  As we get older, we venture further from that base.  One day, we leave for good to start college or in my case, to join the Navy.  However far away we go, that familiar comfort of home base will always be there when we return.  Even in my midlife, I have a loving family of my own away from “home”, yet I know there is a home base beyond the four walls I now call home.

I knew home and its dependability, but the security of having a home base died for me on Feb 15th at 11:05pm when my mom took her last breath.

The gravity of such a loss threw me into stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, in that order – or so I think.  8 months.  8 months since her diagnosis with pancreatic cancer. I guess the grief really began then, June 28th, 2016.

I thought at the time, of writing this piece, I was reaching acceptance.  I am only just now accepting the diagnosis. This could not possibly happen to my mother and definitely not the end result.  It still seems so unimaginable.

The very week of Christmas we learned that chemotherapy was having no affect on the tumor.  In fact, the tumor had grown and spread to other organs.  The doctor recommended that my mom surround herself with loved ones and enjoy each day until the end.  She still seemed so full of life.  It just couldn’t be real.

Each week she became weaker and weaker.  Each passing minute, a hopeless step closer to the inevitable.

In the last 3 weeks of her life, I woke up everyday to confront and face the reality again and again. It felt like the movie Groundhog Day.  Each day, I began the process of grief again.  Every morning, it felt new and still so unbelievable again.  By the end of the day, there was peace.  And then just like clock work, I would wake up and feel the same sadness I had the morning before.

On the day she died, I have never felt more relieved.  Then, the relief was replaced with gravity.  Gravity of my “home base” being lost forever.  Again.  Every morning new and empty.  Of course, my geographical “home” will always be in the same place, but my safety of my mother’s unconditional love will be missed forever.

Today is March 3, 2017 – a whole 2 weeks and 1.5 days since my mother passed away and every morning it is new.  New and empty, the pain repeating itself and then the peace, followed by another painful morning.

I miss you, Mommy.

-Troy Willis

Guest blog: Summer to Winter

My guest blogger today is my very own big brother.

screen-shot-2017-02-18-at-4-09-49-pm

Michael is 6 years older than me and over 6 feet tall.  He has always been the big and strong brother, but in the past year has been brave in whole new ways.  I remember the very first night we were in the hospital together.  Michael and I got locked out getting something from the car and had to take a long way around to get back to the small room our family would be sleeping in that night.  Michael told me he was feeling the pressure to be the strong one, to be less emotional and more fearless, despite the fact that he was just as scared as the rest of us.  I was so proud of his openness and have only been overwhelmingly proud since of the courage he has taken to be angry, hurt, broken, and lost, because that’s the road grief walks you down.  Michael got all of the creative genes in our family as you’ll see in his writing style.

Thankful for you.


“Learning to weep, learning to vigil, learning to wait for the dawn. Perhaps this is what it means to be human.” – Henri J. M. Nouwen

This summer – I was reeling from the loss of my father, but found myself having to still do my job. I had flown to California for our largest annual event and had been assigned to filming and conducting some really personal interviews.

In this process, and between interviews, I overheard a conversation begin with a gentleman I did not know, about how his mom had just been diagnosed with cancer. So early in the process that they had no action plan yet, no treatment arranged. Just the sudden weight of it.

By the time we actually introduced ourselves to each other, it was a hug and not a handshake. And we were both in tears.

He and I have kept in touch, often, since that day in the summer. Me to check on his mom and his family, and he to check on mine.

Thursday night, I found out his mom passed away.

I wept for a woman I had never met.

I wept for my friend and his family.

I walked to dinner with my head swirling, unable to be a part of the conversations around me.

And when I made it back to my bed I turned out the lights and typed this note on my phone.

How do you offer “hope” when you can be so certain it cannot yet be felt?

Perhaps “hope” in these moments, is that you don’t hurt alone.

And that maybe, hurting is such a deep part of being human.

——
Weep. Mourn. Wail.
Freely. Openly.
Let no man question you for this.
Let no man doubt your marrow.
There is so much strength – in coming undone.
I was told grief is love’s receipt.
And I let it wash over me. Still do.
Wave after wave.
Left rooms to weep in solitude.
Restaurants. Bathrooms. Hallways. Pulled over and bottomed out. Head on my steering wheel. 
Stood sobbing in the shower. 
Still do.
The friends that know that broken, will stand tall when you cannot. 
Texts. Calls. Dinner. Silent moments sitting. Pain filling their eyes. 
An overflow of their own.
These moments are pure. 
Be carried and baptized in their wholeness.
And throw your rocks at the moon. 
Every question and hurt and pain and doubt and fear hurled into the night sky. 
Full force. 
Core to extremity. 
Unleash. 
Til you collapse exhausted on a tear dotted pillow.
And wake up only to find the first fleeting moments of the day, where you actually have to remind yourself how much you have lost. 
And how much you hurt. 
And you sink back into your mattress…
To weep. Mourn. Wail. Freely. Openly.

-Michael James Dalton

Women of Valor

This month’s guest blogger is Tonja Smith.  There are so many things I can say about Tonja and it is all too difficult to sum her up in just a few sentences.  Tonja is a mother of 4 and has her own medical transcription company.  She is an activist in her community and leads a group for single moms in my home church.  Furthermore, Tonja was my discipleship leader from when I was 12 years old until 18.  We met each Sunday night and she had to put up with all kinds of crazy from my group.  Tonja has definitely been a spiritual mama for me, she has prayed big and fierce prayers for me, and truly inspires me in her passion for studying Scripture.  I pray you enjoy the wisdom she shares in this post as it is just a glimpse of the wisdom she has shared with me over the past 10 years. tonja


 

God’s ways are higher than our ways, His plans are always the best plans to follow, and they are laid out for us in His Word. The Tabernacle in the Wilderness is described in 50 chapters and is a shadow of the Heavenly sanctuary, which is why Moses was given a specific pattern to follow. Hebrews 8:5 says, “They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: ‘See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” It’s a copy of the throne room of God, and the High Priest, Yeshua, is wearing the priestly garments.  In speaking of the Heavenly pattern, women have a specific role to play in building and serving in the Tabernacle.  The women, whose hearts were willing, gave materials used in the Tabernacle to make the coverings, tapestries, curtains, the bronze laver and the priestly garments.  Under the direction of Moses, and the Spirit of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge given to Bezalel (in the shadow of God) and Oholiav (Father’s tent), everyone who the Lord gave ability to do the work of the Sanctuary worked together.

Exodus 35 gives this description in verses 25-26: “All the women who were skilled at spinning got to work and brought what they had spun, the blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and the fine linen. Likewise the women whose heart stirred them to use the skill, spun the goat’s hair.” The Tent of Meeting consisted of several layers of materials with the Tabernacle being the inner layer made of wood, silver, and gold, and the walls lined with the finely woven linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, with cherubim woven into them. The vail that covered the entrance was also of this same woven material with cherubim woven in. The next layer was a tent over the Tabernacle which is made of curtains of goat’s hair.

Exodus 38:8 says, “He made the basin of bronze with its base of bronze from the mirrors of the women serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting.” This bronze basin, or laver, was used by the priests to wash their hands and feet before entering the tent of meeting. Exodus 39:1 says, “From the blue, purple and scarlet yarn they made the garments for officiating, for serving in the Holy Place and they made the holy garments for Aaron, as Adonai had ordered Moses.” Exodus 39:27-29 says, “They made the tunics of finely woven linen for Aaron and his sons, the turban of fine linen, the linen shorts, and the sash of finely woven linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, the work of a weaver in colors – as Adonai had ordered Moses.”

The Lord stirred hearts and gifted people to do all the work for the sanctuary, and women were very much a part of this.  You can see echoes of this in Proverbs 31, in the woman of noble character. “She procures a supply of wool and flax and works with willing hands.” (vs 13). “She puts her hands to the staff with the flax; her fingers hold the spinning rod.” (vs 19). “When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. She makes coverings of tapestry for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple…She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.” (vs. 21-22, 24). This woman is described as an entrepreneur and caretaker of her family and those around her. Strength and honor are her clothing.

Ruth is also described as a “woman of noble character” by Boaz. This term in Hebrew is chayil, which means army, strength, valor, ability, wealth, and is most often translated as army. When Boaz covers her with His garment as her Kinsman-Redeemer, it is a marriage proposal and it is a picture of our Redeemer who covers us with his Robe of Righteousness as spoken of in Isaiah 61, His priestly garment that fills the entire Heavenly Temple as described in Isaiah 6.

1 Peter 2 says those who come to Yeshua the Messiah are being built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices. Women are part of this service, part of this Heavenly army. Women of valor working in the Kingdom of God as a warrior bride, weaving the threads of Spirit and Truth into her family and those around her. This is her garment of praise. 

Eve played a role in sin in the garden of Eden, leaving the cherubim guarding the way back in to the Tree of Life.  Women are given the task of contributing to weaving the tapestries on the walls of the Tabernacle, and the curtain of separation containing the cherubim. This is the curtain that was torn as the Messiah gave His life to save ours, granting a way back to God’s presence.  When He was crucified, His garments were divided between the soldiers, and “They also took the tunic, which was seamless, woven in one piece from the top.” They cast lots for this garment and did not tear it. (John 19, Ex 39:22-23?). This was a priestly garment. Perhaps it was Mary who wove this garment for Him. It was a woman who washed the feet of Yeshua with her hair before His sacrifice and entry into the Holy of Holies in Heaven. Women were the last ones at the cross and the first ones at the garden tomb to see the stone had been rolled away by the angel of the Lord.  They were the first witnesses to the resurrected Messiah.  “Adonai gives the command; the women with the good news are a mighty army!” (Psalm 68:11). Indeed this is what it looks like to minister at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and we are invited to come all the way in, beyond the curtain to dwell with the One who came to Tabernacle among us.

We are to have our garments ready, as spoken in Revelation 19:

“A voice went out from the throne, saying,

‘Praise our God, all you His servants,

You who fear Him, small and great!’

Then I heard what sounded like the roar of a huge crowd,

like the sound of rushing waters, like loud peals of thunder, saying,

Halleluyah!

Adonai, God of heaven’s armies, has begun to reign!

Let us rejoice and be glad!

Let us give Him the glory!

For the time has come for the wedding of the Lamb,

And his Bride has prepared herself –

Fine linen, bright and clean has been given her to wear.”