Suffering: A journey into the deep

{by Heather Spring Gilion}

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People always say that tragedy changes you. It does. It has.

Fourteen years have come and gone. It’s been fourteen years ago today when I changed. I’m not the same girl I once was. Maybe she went underground when I buried James. I don’t know.

Most of the time it feels like an entire lifetime has passed when I stop and reflect on the Other Heather and the Other Heather’s life. And yet there are fleeting moments that it feels like just yesterday I was standing in my sister’s cute, little house in Calais, Vermont, pulling my hair back into a ponytail to get ready for another day as camp guide for a bunch of campers at Pathway Ministries.

I had no idea that the day would end with so many questions.
When someone you love goes missing…
When you wonder if you’ll ever see them again…
Surely you’re going to see them again? Right?

The fact is, when the life you’ve been living becomes a pile of ashes, there’s no going back. There’s no “undo” button to push for a do-over, as much as you might want one. It’s not an option.

Married one moment. Widowed the next. That was my story, and my sister’s.

But it’s been fourteen years. I never thought I’d be able to say that. But look at that!

{Last year on the anniversary I wrote on coping with hard days on the calendar: No-Good-Rotten Anniversaries. It’s been one of our most read and shared posts, so obviously there’s many of you out there wrestling with some of the same things we are. Feel free to go back and read it if that interests you.}

Holly and I have some new friends from Africa; two women, who are as close as sisters, who lost their husbands in the same accident this year. These widows are beginning their journey among their ashes, weeping more than they’re laughing, aching more than they’re sleeping, but trusting in a God that is near the brokenhearted. I recently got to Skype with one of these lovely beauties. We laughed. We cried. I listened. She listened. She reminded me of me. As I prepared for our conversation I thought, “What would I have said to me? What love was spoken over me in my darkest hours?” She made me remember my journey. She’s broken but she’s clinging. I’m proud of her. Oceans between us, but the hug felt the same.

She said, “I know the answer to this question… I mean, I know God is sovereign and good, so I know the answer to this question,” she repeated, “but… is it going to be okay?”

With tears streaming down my face, I could confidently say, “It will be.”

Today is yet another anniversary where I remember when everything changed. Over the last few days I’ve found myself in deep thought. So here’s what I want to say on today of all days… and I’m praying that it will be a blessing to some of you out there as you journey on. For those who have walked through tragedy, you’re going to get this. Whether loss, rejection, suffering, torment, warring internal or externally—however your “tragedy” may have played out, you began a journey into the deep. This journey would forever change you. In honor of my journey, I want to share a few key lines from a movie I just watched with my boys.

Noah is crazy about turtles. So after a “turtle” search on Netflix we stumbled upon—Turtle: The Incredible Journey.

It is the story of a little loggerhead turtle that begins life on a beach in Florida. The narrator takes you through the turtle’s life into the sea with all its perils and hardships. “But the odds are stacked against her; just one in ten thousand turtles survive the journey through the deep.”

On a side note, I paint as a hobby and I’ll admit, I originally turned on the movie for the boys because I had a pallet to paint. I was enjoying listening to the boys rooting for this turtle. But as I painted, I listened. The narrator may have been talking about the turtle, but I felt as though she began telling my story. Line after line, I took it in. I was rooting for her—for me.

And so she becomes an ocean traveler. Her flippers are made for going not staying.

There was a moment, wounds and all, that I moved into the waters. I was not made to stay. I was made to swim—to swim in the deep. But living after your life is wrecked is not the easiest thing to do. You want to shut down. You want to hide under the covers. You want to run to whatever doesn’t make you feel the pain… even if it’s for a second. But there was a time when I started swimming again, because that’s what I was made to do. I wasn’t made for staying. I was made for going. You were too. So you go. You may cry as you go, but you still go, for you are not alone.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” {Isaiah 43:2}

Time is for her to grow strong, for her shell to harden, for her skin to thicken.

I was growing and didn’t even know it. Obstacles would come, such as sleeping alone, making decisions, fighting off tormenting thoughts, serving others in need, grocery shopping by myself, getting a job, mowing my grass. All seemed like small, meaningless tasks, but God was using each to grow me up. I remember talking to a pastor who reminded me that when his son broke his arm; he obviously couldn’t use it for a while. He had to wear a cast for an extended amount of time. But when the time was right the cast was taken off and he started using it again. At first it felt awkward and a little stiff, but as time passed, he entered back into his normal rhythm of life—pre-fracture. He reminded me that broken bones actually grow back thicker and stronger than they were to begin with. His words gave me a small glimmer of hope. Could that be possible in me? Will it be okay? I mean, I know it will, but how?

She takes her place among the other travelers of the blue highway.

I wasn’t alone. I’m not the only one trying to survive. I’m not the only one fighting for my life. I learned who to “swim” with. But there were others in the waters that at times I couldn’t avoid. Unfriendly travelers I had to face straight on, whether I chose to or not.

The Blue Shark is here too. But the turtle is no longer afraid of her. Her shell is harder.

I remember the time I felt confident in my singleness. There was a strength within me that can only be attributed and explained as an anchor in Christ. A relationship with God had developed that satisfied my longing for a man to call me his bride. I was already “taken,” “sought after,” “redeemed,” “loved,” “cherished,” “His!” So when the enemies of the deep, a.k.a. my Blue Sharks: loneliness, bitterness, solitude, jealousy, anger, memories of my past—as they taunted me to give up or as they tried their best to swallow me whole, I was no longer afraid of the fight. For my shell was harder. I was ready come what may. I was confident that there was indeed One fighting for me, through me, and with me.

The storm threw her off course. But she is not lost. She’s never lost.

At some point within the first few years, new dreams would rise up. Dreaming again was a scary thing for me. To watch your world go up in flames and then to rebuild among the ruins was scary to say the least. But little by little, I would swim in one direction, only to have a storm push me around and seemingly thwart my course. Sometimes there were tears, wondering why I ever dared to dream again! Other times, there was a reassurance within my soul that nothing was lost, because He was in charge of my path. I could count on that. Reassured that He would never leave me or forsake me, I would press on. Pressing on by pressing my ear against His chest. Listening to His heart. Striving to follow His leading. I wasn’t lost. I was never lost.

“And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.” {Isaiah 30:21}

The Loggerhead Turtle’s journey was emotional for me. But just as I finished painting the piece I was working on, I heard this line,

“If she had come here before now she never would have survived.”

I sat there for a moment, my paintbrush hanging on the last stroke. And ever so kindly, I heard God speak to my heart. “If you would have come here before now you never would have survived.”

I sat back and looked at my painting. It was one of those moments for me.

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It was all too much. He’s too much. His kindness to this loggerhead turtle is just too overwhelming. Most turtles die on their voyage. Why am I here? How did I survive? It’s not because I was strong enough or read the right self-help books, or memorized the right Scriptures, or sang the perfect songs for what I was going through… although God did use all of those things at pivotal times along the journey through the deep. I’m alive because of His great love for me. For HE knows the plans HE has for ME! I can only boast in one thing.

“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” {Galatians 6:14}

I know for me, today, I’m reflecting on my journey in the deep. There’s purpose in the deep. There’s purpose in the pain. There’s purpose in every leg of your journey. And at just the right time, you will be able to look back and see His hand along the way. This turtle’s journey into the deep has forever changed her life. I’m different now. I’m stronger. A little wiser. A lot bolder. I see life a little more clearly. I love differently. The Other Heather is dead and gone, but new life has risen in her place as today I celebrate the ashes He’s made beautiful in His time.

To my fellow turtles out there: swim in the deep. Your flippers were made for going, not staying. There will be predators that threaten your life. There will be storms that try to throw you off course. You will wonder if it’s worth the effort. But as one turtle to another—swim! Go deep. For He has plans for you… an unforgettable, purposeful journey.

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Want to hear more of the story?
Holly and I wrote a book about our journey called Dancing On My Ashes.
It’s a beautiful picture of restoration, and recounts God’s faithfulness on every page.
Prepare yourself to weep and rejoice with us.

You can also watch our 3 minute story here.

P.S. Dancing On My Ashes is ON SALE for a limited time

when you order through us:

Paperback $9 {+ shipping/handling} & the first 100 ebooks sold are ONLY $3. Click HERE!

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I do. I still do.

by Heather Spring {Gilion}

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Nine years ago I put on a white dress.
I was teary. You were too.
Joyfully we said, “I do.”
I still do. Tomorrow I will too. And the next day, and the next, and the one after that.

There are still days that I get overwhelmed that God wrote you into my story. Man, He’s a good writer.

You are my Boaz. My love. My best friend. A companion for the unknown road. You were “that guy from church” that mowed this widow’s yard. And then you became my guy… the one chosen to awake this Sleeping Beauty (as you like to say). Dallas, thank you for waiting for me, pursuing me, and giving me time to see what God was doing. I was a bit slow… but you didn’t mind. You learned more about patience—you’re welcome.

As I reflect on the last nine years, I am humbled. We’ve shared dreams and pursued those dreams. We’ve laughed and wept together. Words of courage, challenge, confession, and admiration have left our lips. We had a baby boy…

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…and then another!

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Our two little blessings!

We’ve moved houses. We’ve disagreed and then agreed… to disagree. You talked me into liking coffee and I grew out your hair. You smell like campfires and I smell like tanning cream. Remember that time I got mad at you because coffee is hot? Remember when you caught our neighbor’s fence on fire? Remember when I bought $200 worth of frozen meat from a drive-by salesman that we didn’t eat because it was inedible? Remember this morning when we opened our eyes and didn’t say anything but we just smiled? Yep, I do. I still do.

As great as you are, thank you for not being enough. Thank you for the times when you’ve unintentionally broken my heart. Thank you for being flawed. Thank you for being a work in progress. Because, Dallas, it’s in these moments that I’m reminded that you make a crummy God. Don’t get me wrong, you are my Mr. Wonderful, but it’s in your imperfections that I’m reminded to release my grip on you and come to grips with the reality that you do not, or will ever, complete me. You may not complete or be able to fix me, but as we allow God to do the completing and fixing and molding and shaping, we walk hand in hand, finding our security in His grip.

“We love because he first loved us.” {1 John 4:19}

It’s been just shy of a decade that I walked down the aisle with glassy eyes and a pounding heart and vowed to be your wife. I see ever so clearly God’s grace and extravagant love for me through your eyes. More than ever, I do. I still do.

So here’s to the next chapter. What will lie before us? Where will we go from here?

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All I know is that there is still much to learn from one another. There are things in our marriage that need work, areas that need grace to abound, places that need attention… and your new motto is running through my head, “I can’t just speak things into existence, I’ve got to lead in the change.” I will gladly follow and pursue more for our marriage and our family.

When we were holding hands last night, I noticed our hands have aged! And you of all people know that I religiously apply my anti-aging products morning and night, but last night, I loved our aging hands. Absolutely LOVED them. Growing old with you is priceless! So… happy anniversary, my love! May our hands get old and our laugh lines grow deep. May our knees know wear and our vocal cords tire as we talk to God on behalf of one another. May our car’s odometer wrack up more miles and our tires lose their tread. May we lace up our tennis shoes, or strap on our snow boots, or sit on the beach as the water steals the shore. May we serve friends and strangers. May we model a covenant marriage to our boys. May we dream, flirt, steal kisses, and hug long. May our cheeks hurt from smiling all the days of our lives and may our hearts never lose the awe of God’s glorious Story.

May we continue to choose to love. My promise remains—I do. I still do.

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{Heather Gilion coauthored the book, Dancing On My Ashes. To learn more about her God-story go here. The E-Book is on sale through November!}

No-Good-Rotten Anniversaries

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by Heather Spring

There are good anniversaries and ones that feel… ummm… well, not so good.

Holly and I wanted to write a little something for those that might be in the same boat as we—the “man-that-day-really-stinks boat.” We said goodbye to James and Scott on August 1, 2000. And ever since, that day hasn’t been the same. We’ve traveled to many a place, sharing our story, and we’ve met many others that have their own day—those no-good-rotten days that linger on the calendar, staring us in the face, begging us to crumble under the pain they symbolize.

We’re sharing this post on our “day” in hopes that we can speak a bit about what we’ve learned over the past 13 years regarding difficult anniversaries. Wow, I need to pause for a moment…
Has it really been 13 years?
God is good.

Four years ago, on this particular day, I was nine months prego, and had this amazing moment with God. My no-good-rotten day had actually snuck up on me. That was a first for me! On top of that, some of my good friends were throwing me a baby shower to celebrate Zachariah’s soon arrival. I had agreed to this?! What was I thinking? (a.k.a. baby brain) This all occurred to me on my fifth trip to the bathroom that night. (a.k.a. baby kicking bladder) So all of a sudden I sat there, wide-eyed, in shock that I had not been dreading the day. In fact, I was planning to celebrate on this day! Woah! Talk about God’s redemption at work. As my head pressed against my pillow, in the wee hours of an August 1st morning, I started running through my usual pattern of “anniversary” thought. I recalled what I had done that morning in 2000. I cringed again about the argument James and I had before he left the house. I remembered watching the clock for his return so that I could apologize. I thought about how I went to bed that night not knowing that he was already holding the hand of Jesus… his faith had been made sight. I recalled the waiting, the watching, the bargaining with God, and the “whys.” I remembered the moment when our worst fears were made reality as over 24 hours later we received the news that there had been an accident.

Sigh. Deep breath.

All these memories were running through my mind on that morning four years ago as I curled up underneath my covers. All this remembering created a very odd feeling in me, to be honest. I sat there going through the fatal turn of events, just like I always seemed to do on that day, yet at the same time, my heart’s voice whispered, “Lord, is it okay that I’m remembering?” As quickly as I had uttered those words, another memory transported me to my past. I was on a hillside. I could almost feel the stillness of that dark night as I stood questioning God. Etched into my being, alone before the King of Kings, I came to understand comfort that is not of this world. A broken and desperate widow experienced God’s nearness that proved He indeed loved this seemingly insignificant human being.  He spoke over my life in my darkest hours. Grace upon grace.

“God, I’m remembering… is that okay?” You see, I was conflicted. I almost felt guilty about reminiscing. A few inches to my right was my husband Dallas. I could hear him inhaling and exhaling. I couldn’t be more thankful for the gift God had given me in his companionship. And then to my left was a monitor that hummed with sounds from my son Noah’s room.

“Lord, You have never left my side. Your plans are completely beyond my wildest imaginations!” I said, as I ran my hand back and forth on my round abdomen that cradled Zachariah. “Lord, Is it okay that I’m remembering?” Sometimes you can’t help but sound like a broken record.

In God-fashion, at the perfect moment, He answered my question with a question. (Another one of His specialties.) “What does the name Zachariah mean?”

I was silenced and awed as I recalled my many Google searches, desperate to choose the perfect name for our little boy. I responded, “Zachariah means God remembers.”

GOD REMEMBERS!
GOD remembers!
God REMEMBERS!

God spoke into my August 1sts and wanted me to know that not only should I remember; but I need to understand that He remembers. He remembers those moments even clearer than I do. As I close my eyes and mentally walk the roads of my past, I dare not miss the moments He carried me… us. His otherness still leaves me speechless. And as I linger on each moment in time, He desperately wants me to understand that His love for me has never failed, that He is enough for ANYTHING that I would and will ever walk through, and that He is a God that doesn’t forget. And as I remember, I can rest in the truth that He remembers me… the gal that gets it wrong more than she gets it right. This heart wanders, only to be reminded that His cross is more than enough.

You know I had thought Dallas and I chose Zachariah’s name… but we didn’t. He did. God picked it out and blessed me with the revelation that the sweet little smile I would come to know is actually a daily reminder that God remembers.

It might sound odd, but I can’t stop thinking about Easter today.

Easter is really the only thing that I can think of to compare to tough anniversaries.

Good Friday: complex emotions over the death of one you love.
Saturday: grieving, processing, holding out hope for the promises spoken about Sunday! We wait and hope—believing that LIFE will come from death!
SUNDAY: Our hearts leap as the day breaks on Easter morning and we celebrate the empty grave! Christ completed what He was asked to do on the cross. ONLY GOD could tell death to “shove it!”

August 1 is not the end to our story… or James’ or Scott’s. It’s part of the story, but the story is SO much bigger than that! There are places in me, and maybe you, that beg us to get stuck in our Fridays. We mourn. We don’t move on. We can’t look forward. We get stuck in the pain, trapped in the sorrow of Friday. But we can’t miss out on Saturday! I know Sunday’s the BIG day, but a lot can happen in us on Saturday. It’s a testing of faith—of living out what we believe—of hoping that indeed Sunday will come! We cling to the promise that He will come for us! There will be an end to our suffering, the injustice, the tears, and the horrific news stories! Sunday will be AH-MAZ-ING! But we can’t miss living anchored to hope while we endure Saturday.

With all that said, we share with you 3 things to think about on your no-good-rotten day(s):

1. Remember your Friday. Don’t fight the desire to remember or “busy” yourself in an effort to ignore this natural response to loss and disappointment. If we strive to disengage our heart, we miss moments of growth. So go ahead: remember, talk about it, re-live moments. BUT… don’t get stuck in your “Friday.” At some point, you stop looking back, and you set your eyes forward.

2. Make Saturday your Thanksgiving. You might think it would be a hard thing to do on a day that your heart is so heavy, but I promise thanksgiving is key. Whether it’s mental or you choose to sit down and put pen to paper, once you begin a list of thanksgiving, you may be surprised at how quickly you’ll see the presence of God even in the midst of your darkest day. Gratitude is good for the soul and it is healing to recognize, verbalize, and credit the hand of God. When we focus on our pain, we can get jaded and angry. Thanksgiving opens up our eyes to see life from an entirely new perspective. While you dwell in your Saturday, awaiting the promise of Sunday, build your faith by recognizing the blessings all around you.

3. Set your heart on Sunday. I’ve spent some anniversaries lingering on #1 waaaay too long. I’ve wallowed, licked my wounds, and drug others down with me. If you are a believer, then get this IN you: THIS IS ALL TEMPORARY! This is not our forever home! Eternity is set in our hearts (Ecc. 3:11). Do you feel it? Let the promise of Sunday usher in peace as you are reminded that the suffering we endure here on earth will be incomparable to the hope and glory that will be revealed on Sunday! (Romans 8:18)

Lastly, we wanted to highlight 3 anniversary surprises:

1. Sometimes I cry, sometimes I don’t. Don’t feel bad either way. Most of the time I don’t and it surprises me, it might be because I’ve cried off and on the week that leads up to this day. My emotions are on !HIGH Alert! the entire month of July and then when I expect total meltdown, I have a peace that passes all MY understanding! He’s good like that.

2. Irritability. That’s just a nice way of saying that I can be a bit grouchy and easily angered leading up to my day. (Holly more so than me—just kidding!) Little things that shouldn’t be a big deal suddenly become a BIG DEAL! I call it “subconscious grieving.” I’m thankful for a God that understands our weaknesses and brings healing and freedom from even a July-hot-head. It’s been good for me to understand this “anniversary surprise” so I can fight against it. My sweet hubby and children have shown me much grace and love as they live with this sporadic “side-effect”.

3.  You don’t have to hide. You might be surprised by this, but it’s okay to let others know that a painful anniversary is coming up. I’m not saying you need to post weird, mysterious, FB statuses, but I am saying call on a friend. Be vulnerable. I know you might say, “different strokes for different folks,” but the fact is God calls us to community. We need one another! Don’t wait for someone to magically “remember” your hard day. Invite someone in. Maybe it’s someone you know really well, or maybe it’s someone who “knows” what you’re going through because they’ve experienced something similar.

I know this is a longer post than usual, but I hope that it encourages you on some level today… or on your no-good-rotten day! He can REDEEM your Friday!

If you don’t know our whole story, here’s a link to the book, Dancing On My Ashes. OR Go here for to purchase the book!