Never Alone

I’m not sure how the car even made it to the police station. Surely this was all a dream, a nightmare, and I would be waking up soon. Only, it was all too real. Life seemed to be moving in slow motion. I was dazed. Confused. In shock. Feeling so alone. More than anything I wanted Kevin by my side to help me navigate this horrific experience. But he wasn’t coming. The police officers confirmed what I already knew in my heart. Kevin had been pronounced dead at the scene of the accident. I wanted to throw up. I wanted to scream, “NO!!” How did this happen? Where were the kids? Were they badly hurt? How was I going to tell the kids that Daddy was dead? How do you even say those words out loud? How do you say them to a child? Did they already know?

At the police station I was told that my kids had been taken to two different hospitals. Two of the girls were life-flighted to a city hospital that had a pediatric intensive care unit, and the other four kids were taken by ambulance to our local hospital. I was torn. Where do I go first? I just wanted all of us to be together. I needed to see them all. I needed to know that they were all ok. The same prayer continued to ruminate in my head, “Oh God, please let all of my kids be alive.”

Isaiah 40:29
29 He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.

I needed strength. Supernatural strength. Walking into the first hospital, I was filled with dread. I was completely in shock. Kevin was dead. I had no idea what I was about to face. I needed power. I needed God to completely carry me. I have never felt so weak in my whole life. I was flanked by some of my dearest friends, but I still felt so alone. My other half was gone.

Pulling back the curtain to the sterile hospital room that housed my two sons felt completely surreal. Their faces. Their fear. Their eyes were screaming panic. “Mommy,” they chorused, and we grabbed onto one another with a fierce embrace.

And then the question came from their mouths that I feared. I held the key to the answer that would forever change them. How I answered this questioned mattered. All of the years that Kevin and I spent professing our faith in God to our children hinged on how I answered their question. In the midst of this darkness, I wanted them to feel the presence of Jesus. I wanted them encounter His realness.

“Mommy, where is Daddy? Is he ok?” they asked.

The unknown is so scary. How do you even take the next step when you don’t even know where you are going? When the world around you seems so dark and hopeless with nowhere to turn, what do you do? When you have to think on your feet and you’re put to the test, how do you respond?

That’s how I felt when the boys asked me about Kevin. There was no time to compile some kind of “counselor approved” answer. I was a wreck myself, and so the words just tumbled out of my mouth.

“Daddy is with Jesus.”

They were silent. Tears filled their eyes. I felt like I needed to fill the space with words.

“He was hurt badly, and they couldn’t save him. But he’s with Jesus now and isn’t in pain anymore.”

It was all truth. And yet it stung. Those words pierced all of our hearts like an arrow shot at close range. But in the midst of all of those words and all of that fear and all of that hurt and all of that shock, Jesus never let go of any of us.

Deuteronomy 31:8
8 The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

I had no clue what I was doing. This was such unchartered territory for me. But looking back, I can take comfort that God was going before me. He was holding on to all of us tighter than even I was holding on to my kids. He wasn’t going to leave. He was with us, every single step of the way.

Never do we have to walk anywhere alone. Even in our darkest moments when we are feeling lonely, God is there. In the midst of our most horrific losses, God is there. When we feel lost and without hope, God is there. I think that so often those words are so casually spoken, “Oh, God is with you.” It’s a trite answer that so many people say when they don’t know what else to say. It makes them feel better I think. But the thing is, He really is there. There’s such truth in that. Our feelings lead us to believe that we are alone, but His promises tell us otherwise.

After I told the boys about Kevin, I still couldn’t breathe. There were four more kids to tell. It seemed like an insurmountable mountain to climb.

The two girls were in the room next to the boys. I could hear the muffled sobs of the boys through the curtain as I answered the girls question, “Mommy, is Daddy ok?”

“Daddy is with Jesus,” I repeated, “He was badly hurt.”

The two girls sprang from their beds and gripped on to me, hugging me, crying. One of the girls pulled away and looked me right in the eyes and asked, “Are we still going to Disney World?” She was five. Her brain could not possibly wrap itself around this whole experience. The innocence of a child. My heart was breaking. Truly, this was more than I could bear.

Psalm 34:18
18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

And He was close. When I look back, the only explanation that I can give for my surviving that night was Jesus. He rescued me. I was depending on Him without even realizing it. He gave me strength to speak the most unfathomable words that I could ever imagine saying to my kids. I often have described that I felt like I was floating that night, almost like I feel when I dream. But for me, that points to Jesus truly carrying me and covering me with His grace. It’s a beautiful picture, yet horrific at the same time. I think that’s how God works though. In the midst of what would appear to be crushing circumstances, His beauty and grace radiate. His presence is felt. His realness is tangible. These glimpses give us the strength to take the next step even when we don’t know where we are going or how we will get there. It doesn’t matter. He knows the way. He sees the big picture. He is the leader. We just need to trust Him enough to follow Him.

I wish I could say that I always trust Him like that. It’s hard. In my humanness, I want what I want, and I want it when I want it. I don’t like to be dependent. It’s almost like I want to prove that I am strong and can make it on my own. Sometimes I feel like there’s an internal battle that exists that seeks to pull me away from True North. I wrestle and struggle, and in the end I realize that if I would just surrender it would be much easier. Not that the circumstances would necessarily change, but rather my load would be lighter and my anxiety lessened. In other words, the pressure would be off of me. In some situations, like this night at the hospital, it was a no brainer. I surrendered. I felt lost on my own. But I was not alone. He was leading me.

After talking with the two girls, it was as if reality punched me in the face with a crushing blow so hard that it nearly knocked me over. I still had two more daughters at a hospital that was at least 45 minutes away. They were taken by helicopter. That meant that they were badly injured. To what degree, I had no idea. I remember truly breaking down, swearing to a friend of mine that those two had died and no one was telling me the truth because they wanted to protect me. Fear filled me like a raging river. I felt like I was coming apart at the seams. I needed to get to them. I needed to know. I needed to feel held by God more than ever. Again, my prayer was, “Please let my girls be alive.” My friend assured me that they were alive. But I needed to see them to believe it.

Have you ever needed to know that God was close? Have you ever walked through a circumstance where you felt alone? Have you ever struggled with wanting to be in control of your circumstances? Have you ever doubted that God was trustworthy? Tell Him what you feel. Be honest with Him about your doubts. Confess to Him that You need Him. He promises that He will give you strength in your weakness and go before you. He will never leave you. He is close to you. He will never leave you alone, even in your darkest moments.

The ride to the city hospital was oh so long and again felt like a dream. I still can touch those feelings of anticipation, having no idea what I was about to face…

But I wasn’t alone.


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When the Bottom Falls Out

It was just an ordinary day.

“I am trying to reach Suzie Lawyer,” a man’s voice said with a direct and urgent tone. “There’s been an emergency involving your family, and I need you to call me at the following number.”

The number was not one that was familiar to me, but this man had tried to call me several times. The world stopped moving. Everything faded out of my peripheral vision. My hands were trembling, barely able to hold the phone. My chest felt as if my heart was going to explode. It was beating so fast. Or maybe it wasn’t even beating at all. I couldn’t breathe…

The call. The dreaded call. The call that changes your life in an instant. For me it was this call to tell me that my family was involved in a terrible car accident. This phone call still echoes in my head. Still. 8 years later I hear that voice. That dreaded message. Maybe for you it’s a call to say that you have lost your job. That the lab report shows cancer. That your spouse wants a divorce. That the unborn child isn’t thriving. That the doctors have done all that they can. So often this call is our biggest fear. Yet to prevent ourselves from being overcome with paralyzing anxiety, we try to downplay it by convincing ourselves that this call won’t happen to us, only to other people. But then the call comes. It hits too close to home. It hits us. Me. You. And it hits on just an ordinary day, without any warning.

What do we do when the bottom falls out?

John 16:33:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

We will have trouble. The bottom will fall out. Our dreams will be shattered. It happens. And it wrecks us.

When I heard the words that my family was involved in an accident, my initial response was panic and doubt. Maybe he had the wrong number? Maybe his information was incorrect? Maybe? I needed to know more. The man on the phone did not want to reveal to me too many of the gruesome details. He did, however, tell me that some of my children were badly injured. When I asked about my husband, he went silent. The kind of silence that is thick. The kind of silence that a knife would not be able to penetrate. That sound of silence is the loudest sound that I have ever heard. And still, 8 years later I can hear it. But I knew. In the deepest recesses of my soul I knew that Kevin had died. So my voice got louder and more direct as I asked the dreaded question, “Is my husband dead?”

Nothing in life can truly prepare you for these bottom falling out moments. No matter how strong you are, no matter what’s in your bank account, no matter how many degrees you possess, no matter how many friends you have… in these moments it’s just you and God. That’s it. And when the bottom falls out, can you trust God enough to include Him in the pain?

About a year or so before Kevin died, I made a little vow to myself that I was going to read my Bible everyday for 365 days. Yes, it’s legalistic, and I am so not legalistic! It wasn’t my goal to read the whole thing, but rather to intensely study and apply what I was reading to my own life. It was a challenge, but I am competitive and OCD! That’s a great combination for achieving a personal goal. And the thing is, not everyday was a huge spiritual encounter. I confess that some of the days I read just to check it off of my list. My intent though, was to use God’s Word to help me overcome some challenging circumstances from my childhood. I wanted to really know and understand God’s promises to me. The daily reading accompanied with regular counseling sessions was invaluable. What a year it was! I learned and grew so much. As I look back, that year was a crucial piece to the framework of my faith.

Matthew 7:24-25:
24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”

So that ordinary day in February of 2008 turned into an extraordinary one. It was over the top. More than I could even bear. Harder than I could even imagine. It was sickening. Horrific. Terrifying. Lonely. Truly my worst nightmare. The rains came. Torrential rains. It was the biggest storm ever. But by the grace of God, the ‘house’ did not fall because its foundation was built on the Rock. The ‘house’ sure teetered many of the days. There were moments when I felt like the ‘house’ would come crashing down. I am sure it was very close many many times. But it did not fall!

I would like to say that my heart and mind were ‘prepared’ in that year of study to trust God no matter what – so that in the midst of that tragedy my default would be Jesus. Did I succeed at that? No. Did I fail at that? No. There were moments where I felt like Jesus was so far away that I felt as if I was forgotten. And at other times, I felt like Jesus had the tightest grip on me, feeling so secure and protected. And then there were times when I decided that I knew best and could do things on my own. But that’s the journey of faith, right? The ordinary times spent reading God’s Word, living life, praying, and attempting to seek God’s purpose grow into extraordinary encounters with Him when we are truly vulnerable and authentic with Him.

You see, living a life of faith does not take away the pain or hurt. At all. Rather, it gives you a framework to process the pain. Faith gives you a place to lay the pain down because it’s too much to carry alone. Jesus tells us to come to Him weary and burdened so that He can give us rest. So we can breathe. So that He can carry our loads. Jesus never tells us to brush away the pain or deny it. Jesus wants all of us. The good. The bad. The ugly. He wants us to be authentic. There were moments when the bottom fell out that I shouted. I wept. I cursed. I screamed. I punched. I ran. I proclaimed that it wasn’t fair. I didn’t deserve this. I was angry at God for allowing this to happen. I was so wounded, hurt, and angry. In fact, I still struggle with these moments and feelings today. Emotions are so sneaky and yet can be so predictable. God wants us to be this real. It’s how we grow. He does not want us to deny our feelings, but He does want us to keep coming back to the truth of His promises.

That’s how my year of reading God’s Word prepared me. My pain was so tangible. But because of God’s truth, the healthiest way for me to deal with it was to lay it at the feet of Jesus.

Matthew 11:28-30:
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

So the truth of Jesus’ promise is this – He wants us to come as we are and trade in our burdens so He can replace them with His peace. That requires faith. And when we view our circumstances through a framework of faith, it doesn’t change the circumstances. It just gives us HOPE to endure and the strength to continue to move forward. Hope keeps us from giving up.

There were so many times that I wanted to give up. If I’m honest, there still are those times. Thankfully, those moments aren’t as frequent as they were right after Kevin died. And I wish I could say that I always default to Jesus. I don’t. I’m human. But again, it’s a journey. Have I continued over the years to read my Bible every single day? No. I haven’t. Have I gone through times when I turned my back on God? Sadly, I have. Again, it’s a journey. It’s growth. A few steps forward and then a few steps back. But at the end of the day, I know the truth. I know that my hope comes from Him alone.

What are you doing to prepare? The call will come. There will be tragedy. The bottom is going to fall out. How can you begin to develop an extraordinary faith so that when the time comes and it’s just you and God, you will be able to trust Him?

The man on the phone never answered me directly when I asked him if my husband had died. His answer, however, spoke volumes to me.

“Ma’am, you need to go to the police station right away.”

That moment altered the trajectory of every dream and plan that I had for my life and for the life of my family. It was an extraordinary moment that defined who I was to become. It was the moment where I had to say, “God, I need You to carry me. I need hope so that I can take my next breath…”

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Sacrificial Mites

8 years.
8. Years.
Kevin, my sweet husband, died 8 years ago today.
February 21, 2008.
How can that be possible?
8 years ago I was 36. Now, YIKES, I am almost 45!

In so many ways 8 years seems like a blink of an eye. But in other ways, 8 years feels like an eternity. A. Really. Long. Eternity. In fact, it almost feels like a different lifetime.

Don’t get me wrong, there has been a lot of JOY in the past 8 years. TONS! But for so many of the days, I have felt like I was just existing. I love my 6 kids fiercely. I love being a mom. But to be perfectly honest, I NEVER wanted to do it alone. It is hard. Really challenging. My hands have been thrown up in defeat so many times, more than I can even count. I so often feel like I have failed. That I have screwed my kids up. That I am totally worthless. That I haven’t done enough or become enough. And after screaming, cleaning (it’s how I vent), getting frustrated and angry with my kids or dogs, I remember that I am not alone. I remember to look up. To cry out to Him. To surrender all of the pain to Him.

And Jesus, in His ways that so often don’t even begin to make sense, has led me to this:

Mark 12:41-44
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor WIDOW came and put in two MITES, worth only a few cents.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but SHE, out of her poverty, PUT IN EVERYTHING—all she had to live on.”

As I read this Scripture, what stood out at me is that this widow GAVE EVERYTHING that she had. All of it. She spared none. These 2 mites were a sacrifice for her. They were her ‘skin in the game.’ She felt this. She could have used those mites for so much more, but she still gave it all away. I have always thought about this passage in reference to money, specifically 2 mites. But this time when I read it with fresh eyes, as a widow myself, I thought about this sweet lady giving more than just money. I pictured her to be exhausted, lonely, desperate, longing for more. So for her to give above and beyond her capacity is a complete sacrifice on her part. I’m going to call it the widow’s Sacrificial Mite.’ And as I applied this new phrase to my life over the past 8 years, I looked at my Sacrificial Mites.’ Where have I truly given it all? Where is my ‘skin in the game?’

Here are a few:

*Being the only parent to clean up puke in the middle of the night (More times than I care to count! In a future post I will tell you about the missing iPod that was thought to be in a garbage bag with puke rags. Let’s just say it wasn’t in the bag! EWW!)
*Endless hours of driving
*Saying yes to friends coming over even when 6 was more than I could handle
*Sitting up late at night talking with my teenagers about real life issues
*Holding my kids while they cried for their dad
*Saying “I’m sorry. Will you please forgive me?” like 100 times in a day
*Dealing with broken appliances
*Being Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and the Birthday Shopper all by myself so that the kids could still enjoy gifts and traditions on holidays
*Teaching 4 kids how to drive
*School programs
*Dental surgeries and orthodontist appointments (Big reminders that Kevin isn’t here)
*Graduations, Proms, Homecomings, College drop-offs
*Taking the kids on vacation
*Sports practices and games (This is basically torture for me because I hate sports!)
*More endless hours of driving

Now trust me. I may have given. Sacrificially given, even. But I haven’t always had the energy, strength, or even the desire to give in these ways I mentioned. My Sacrificial Mites have not always had the best attitude accompanying them. On more occasions than I care to admit, I have been ticked off that I have even had to do them, and most of the time I would strongly prefer doing other things instead. And trust me, I NEVER SIGNED UP TO DO ANY OF THESE without Kevin. EVER. As a result, I may have had a meltdown about that more times than not as well.

So in order to survive the past 8 years, I have had to admit that I am weak. There’s a zero percent chance that I could do these things totally on my own. Zero percent. I’m not a math person AT ALL, so I’m not sure if there can be negative percents, but if there could be, I would most definitely fall below zero percent! What was required of me to make these Sacrificial Mites’ MIGHTY was to fall on my face before Jesus, get real, and tell HIM that I needed to trust Him to provide for me. I needed energy. Strength. Endurance. Patience. Rest. Balance. Some time for myself. And then some more strength.

2 Corinthians 12:8-9
8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My GRACE is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Like Paul, I have pleaded with Jesus to take it ALL away from me, though I am sure that I have begged more than just 3 times!! And I have to continually ask Him for strength. I am weak. Really weak. I blow it all of the time. But when I turn my gaze upward, admit where I fall short, the grace of Jesus gets me through. And it’s in these times where my Sacrificial Mites’ become MIGHTY!

This is a daily battle. Selfish, prideful Suzie wants to win. But it’s when I truly surrender that I MORE than just exist. This is where true life is found. This is when I can say that I possess a ‘Widow’s Might.’

The story that God is writing in your life is different from mine. Some of you may be struggling with sickness, divorce, loss, abuse, emotional struggles, doubt, shame. Whatever your hardship, I encourage you to get real with God. Pour out your heart to Him. Acknowledge to Him that you NEED Him. His grace is sufficient. It won’t erase your pain. He may never take it away. But His power will be perfected. He will sustain you. His peace will surpass all of your understanding. I can tell you that this is the ONLY reason that I am still standing. It is only by God’s MIGHT that my ‘Sacrificial Mites are MIGHTY. It is by His strength alone that I am able to put skin in this game, to totally give it all. It is only by His grace that I am even still alive. I would have given up long ago. It’s just too much for me. I am way too weak. But He is the MIGHTY warrior who saves.

I am so excited to share with you more about this journey of healing, grace, and redemption that God has me on. Throughout this past year, my heart has really begun to stir, longing for more and wanting to make an impact in the lives of people who are hurting. I have felt restless, questioning my purpose and feeling like I was created for something, but unsure of what. I know that God has written a story in my life that is rippled with all sorts of twists and turns. It is messy and raw. It is tainted with poor choices as well as victories. The tapestry that he has woven together is the epitome of ashes to beauty. Lately I keep coming back to the first 2 verses in Psalm 105. The psalmist says, “Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim His greatness. Let the whole world know what He has done. Sing to Him, yes, sing His praises. Tell everyone about His wonderful deeds.” I want to use my story to glorify Him and to encourage others walking though dark times. He is the only source of my hope, and He is faithful even when I am not. I want to thank you so much for reading this and for being willing to walk alongside me. This journey has been an adventure. And while I have not exactly enjoyed every minute, I am grateful that I have grown in my faith and am a much deeper, braver, and mightier widow for Jesus.