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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{Story5} A Journey to Adoption: “I would not change a thing”

Through the month of March, we’re going to do a series called “This is my story, this is my song.” There are personal journeys of hope, victory, courage, and redemption that you need to hear!

I (Heather) am about to introduce you to someone very, very special. She is not only my pastor’s wife—but my friend. She is one of those women in my life that I love watching. She makes serving and loving her husband, her children, and her church family, look easy peasy. She’s probably the first face you’d see greet you if you were to visit Lifepoint; with her welcoming smile and sweet southern accent, she invites you into the family. This lady juggles a great deal with ease and smiles as she strives to abide in Christ. I joke with her that on days I have too much to do, I whisper to myself “What would Christin Harrison do?” {So, for all you momma’s with growing “To do” lists, the “WWCHD?” bracelets will be made available soon! heehee}

Maybe I’ll have her share some of her organizational secrets in another post… but for now, you’ve got to hear a piece of her journey that led she and her husband, Lane, to adoption.

So, have you ever wondered what it would be like to write a letter to your past self? What advice would you offer? I asked Christin what she would tell her 20-year-old self about the journey “past-Christin” was about to embark on. I know this will encourage hearts… and maybe, just maybe, cause you to write your own letter. What would you say?

Here’s Christin’s letter…

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Dear Christin,

So you are about to get married. You have so many exciting days ahead as you look towards your future and all that the Lord has in store for you and Lane. You may think the future is going to be easy, fun, romantic, full of wonderful adventures… and at some points in the journey, it will be. But oh how the Lord has an adventure set before you that you can’t even begin to imagine.

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On your journey, you are going to experience your first hardship even before your wedding can happen. At a routine doctor’s appointment, you are going to find out that you have two eight-pound tumors inside that have to come out immediately. But this surgery will not be your last. Five more will come your way during the first seven years of being married, which will even result in a hysterectomy at the young age of 28. It is going to hard. Painful. You will think that you can’t endure the pain your body goes through, the emotional toil that it takes on your spirit, and the sadness that seems to take root in your soul. But you know what? You will endure—the Lord will give you His strength. You will grow in your walk with the Lord during these years. The weeks, even months, of quiet recovery will be times of growth in your love for Jesus. The Lord will be your Great Physician and you will learn to trust Him with your health. Your marriage will be strengthened from the very beginning when you are just newlyweds. You will learn that Lane loves you unconditionally—no matter what—and those years will be what build the foundation that keeps your marriage strong in the future.

During these same years, you and Lane will be praying and planning to have a family. Doctors will tell you that there is a chance to conceive a baby with the small, one-third ovary that you have left before, but eventually, that has to come out too. Those months of hoping that you will find a positive sign on a pregnancy test will come and go and the disappointment will be there with each negative found. But over time, the Lord is going to do something in your heart. You and Lane will feel the Lord leading you to adopt…EVEN while it may physically be possible to get pregnant. That fact alone will shock many people. They will wonder why you would abandon your desire to get pregnant. That desire will not leave, but instead, your desire to be a mom to a child that is already somewhere in this world will be greater than the desire to wear maternity clothes. You will gladly exchange those maternity clothes for traveling clothes and trade the big belly for a big three-ring binder of adoption paperwork.

You know those children of whom you have always dreamed? They are going to come from two different parts of the world! You, Christin, the girl who loves to be home and is not a big fan of risks, are going to board a plane and travel to Russia to become a mom for the first time. You will be scared. You will wonder if this child will love you. You will wonder if you will have a “motherly instinct” without giving birth to this child. And in one split second, at the very moment you see and hold your baby for the first time, these fears will vanish. Instantly. This little blonde haired, green eyed, malnourished, eight pound, six-month-old little boy will change you forever. You will no longer wonder what it is like to be a mom. You will now know that there is nothing like it. This boy will be kind, tenderhearted, love you and all his family, and be filled with a desire to learn about everything. But most of all, he will love Jesus and serve Him and others faithfully.

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The day will come again for you to become a mom for the second time. This will be the result of many prayers. Not only those prayed by you and Lane, but also by your precious two-year-old son who wants to have a sister.  He will pray faithfully for her. The Lord is going to answer those prayers and be the Provider of all the details involved in this adoption as well. Once again, you will board a plane for yet another country, this time to the country of Guatemala. It is there that you will meet your princess! The moment you see her, your heart will overflow with love. That motherly instinct that you no longer worry about, will abound for this precious child. Just like her brother, this curly, brown haired, brown eyed, petite, six-month-old little girl will transform you. This little one will be caring, filled with love for people, and will want every day to be a party! And like her brother, she will love Jesus from an early age, which will enable her to love others even more than she loves herself.

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So, dear Christin, when the road that you travel gets tough, don’t lose hope! The Lord is in control of your life. Just release your grip on anything else but Him. At times, it will be hard and you will want to change His plan—or even give up! But the Lord will be faithful. Trust Him. His desires for you will become your desires. He will take your worries, your sadness, even the pain, and turn it into complete joy. You will wonder if it will all be worth it. Looking back, in complete confidence, I say, “YES!” I would not change a thing—nothing. Nothing. Just like Isaiah 55:8-9 says, ’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’ (ESV) That is the truth. His ways and His plans are far better than anything we could ever conjure up.

Love,
Christin

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If you are new to this blog, follow Holly and Heather by clicking the “follow” button at the top of the screen!

Read up on their story: here!

And read why they wrote Dancing On My Ashes.

If you want to know more about who God is go here!
I hope you’ve been encouraged today!

 

 

New Year’s Resolutions: Being okay with not knowing where you’re going

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by Heather Spring {Gilion}

We’re a week into the new year.

On December 31st, I asked my husband if we should make any New Year’s resolutions. He thinks they’re dumb. I think they’re kinda fun, but then again I’m a little bit on the competitive side. So mine are really contrived from a game-mentality. When I make a resolution I go through the entire year trying not to lose against myself. On January 1, I glare at myself in the mirror. Threatening myself, “It’s on like Donkey Kong!” Now, the hubs, he’s not competitive by nature. In high school he decided he wasn’t going to play basketball anymore because he just wasn’t “into it,” he had other scholastic aspirations. But what’s one of the first things I hear when someone meets him? “Dude, I bet you played some serious ball in school!” Why? Because he’s tall. He’s so tall when he gets frustrated at me he says, “Don’t make me come down there!” {I’m kidding. I’m kidding. He only says that to the kids.}

So Dallas may not be competitive, but he’s a planner and he’s constant. {He’s also constantly planning, but that’s for another blog.} Like, it’s silly to ask if he’s going to work out or read his Bible or mess around on his guitar or eat oatmeal or give me a hug and kiss when he walks in the house. Or will he call me right when I pour the milk in my cereal? I know the answer to these questions. Of course! He’s constant. He’s my steady-teddy. So, in his mind there’s no need for silly “new year’s resolutions!” If he sees a reason to add something, he adds it. If something needs to be subtracted… done… did it yesterday. “Lasterday” as our four-year-old says.

But for me—change—it takes me a minute. I don’t want to make a promise and not keep it. {Been there, done that.} I weigh the decision—the pros and cons. I have even been known to grieve what I know will be in my best interest. {Like the time I gave up Dr. Pepper. I still meet you in my dreams.} And some “resolutions” I know I’m about to make are not just for a year, but for life. Internally there’s a bit of a fight. I’ve been known to get a little grumpy with those around me when I’m making a change. Change always requires something from us. Time. Learning new habits.  Abandoning “ease” to take on a season of planning and structuring for the new. Giving up or giving in or doing away with or adding onto, it all takes work to arrive at a new normal. Sacrifice.

So, my man didn’t engage my “New Year’s Resolution” talk, {I was thinking about giving up almonds, I don’t like them much anyway}, but he came to me with a New Year’s Evaluation List. It was intense. It covered our relationship with God, with one another, with our children, our roles, our jobs, our dreams, our goals, vacation plans, expectations, and much more, because like I said he’s a planner and he’s constant. {Yet another reason I think he’s constantly awesome!} Dallas led us in a time of reflection and discussion and prayerful evaluation as we embark toward what God has for us in 2014. We’re still discussing. The self-evaluation is still happening. But as two very different people, we must come together as one so we can support and encourage one another when distractions and other “good” things tempt to steal from what we know to be our calling.

I’ll spare you all the things that are swirling around in my noodles and give you the “peak” in all my self-evaluation for 2014.
{peak = the thing that is beyond me but that is luring me higher.}

There are some specific questions I’m asking the Lord, regarding my time and what I spend my energy on. I want to be in-line with His will for my life. Desperate for it, really. And I know myself; I can get a bit distracted at times. But this question seems to have become what lingers at the top of this year’s mountain. It’s what’s haunting me and drawing me all at the same time:

Will you go without knowing?

Because I’ve been asking God a lot of questions lately.
“What are You going to do with this?”
“If I do this, how’s it going to end up?”
“What are You going to do with that dream?”
“Am I waaaay off base spending my time on this?”

Will I go without knowing how things will turn out?

Can I? Will I?

God does not tell you what He’s going to do. It’s taken me a long time to get this. I still catch myself asking for the outcome and begging Him to reveal details. But He answers my questions in a very unexpected fashion: He reveals Himself. He shows me WHO He is and surprisingly, with that, my heart is settled and my faith increased as I go out in confidence. Laying down my expectations and my agenda, this is my daily battle.  But as I understand more of the character of God, I need not wonder if I’m out here alone. I’m not. I don’t have to fret about the details. I just need Him. I place my ear upon His heart and I listen. I open His Word and I breathe Him in. I hold fast to His still small voice that’s ever with me and I obey. I need to be still and know that He is indeed—GOD. I need to trust when He says, “Hang a left,” that the best way is left. I need not fight to turn right.

When I wake each morning, will I go out? I can re-evaluate. I can make a plan. {And my tall hubby is more than happy to help me make one.} Again, there’s nothing wrong with making a plan. But will I be dependent upon Him, come what may?  Will I be flexible, scrapping my plan for His? Will I go and do and be without knowing how this will all play out?

I’m trekking up the mountain, whispering my vow: I will.

I’m Yours.

I’ll go.

I trust You.

I know You are good.

You alone satisfy my soul.

I don’t need to know the how’s or the why’s or the when’s, I just need to, with each step up the mountain, anchor my hope in You. For You, my Lord, will not disappoint.

He alone knows what 2014 holds for me and I’m okay with not knowing… because I know HIM. I will go.

 

“When I grow up I want to be…”

by Heather Spring {Gilion}

Do you remember what you wanted to be when you “grew” up?

Me? “Dad, I want to be a country-western singer just like Crystal Gayle! And I want to be a body-builder that works part-time at Piccadilly.” (Loooong hair, bulging biceps, and mashed potatoes! What little girl doesn’t dream those kind of dreams?!)

Here’s what I would have looked like if my dreams would’ve become reality!

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Scary!

I’m so glad that God knows best. His dreams for us are so MUCH BETTER than what we dare hope for. Did you know that God is a good writer? Yep, He writes the best stories!

He’s written me into His Story. And by His extravagant grace, I’m still learning and growing and changing.

Today, my story continues…

I’ve been wife.
I’ve been cleaner-upper.
I’ve been school lunch preparer.
I’ve been soccer mom.
I’ve been runner.
I’ve been nurse.
I’ve been cook.
I’ve been referee.
I’ve been writer.
I’ve been friend.
I’ve been not-so-good friend.
I’ve been procrastinator.
I’ve been the tickle monster.
I’ve been a light.
I’ve been a stumbling block.
I’ve been a sister.
I’ve been a servant.

And that’s just today.

We wear many different hats. Some we gladly wear, others we take off as quick as we can.

But over the last 13 years I’ve stepped into a couple roles that I NEVER dared to dream. I’ve come to realize that they were dreams that were dreamed for me, before the beginning of time… dreams too wild, too beautiful. Chapters written before my parents first held me in their arms and said, “She should be called Bubba.”

God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. (Ephesians 3:20 MSG)

God has directed my steps and I’ve strived to follow Him as He whispers to my heart where to go next.

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. (Isa. 30:21 ESV)

It’s not been easy. I’ve said “yes” reluctantly. I’ve said “yes” when I wanted to say “no!” I’ve been scared. I’ve trembled. I’ve questioned whether or not I heard Him right. I’ve begged Him for different dreams! But if you’re not (at least a little) scared, you’re not following hard after Him. Because He calls us to do things that are BEYOND us! To accomplish in us and through us, things that are not in our ability to accomplish. Works that can only be traced back to someone BIG ENOUGH to pull them off.

Don’t hear me wrong. It’s not that I think I’ve “arrived” by the world’s standards, but I have arrived in this perfect storm of where my insufficiencies pair with His divine Story to make Himself known by using a simple, willing jar of clay.

A couple of years ago, I was invited to speak at a University to college students, professors, and their local community about how I came to write Dancing On My Ashes. As the kind, complimentary emcee of the evening’s event announced me as an author and speaker, I started laughing. Yes, out loud. And I was looking around like an idiot wondering who else was laughing with me. But no one was. I quickly composed myself, but in all honesty, I have those moments ALL THE TIME! The reason: I never dreamed of this.

I never constructed a dream board.
I didn’t meditate my way here.
The fact is God dreamed this for me. He accomplished this. I cannot boast or brag. I just said yes and have been obedient.

I understand my role in this process. I am nothing without Him. But He equips me. He gives me the knowledge, the ability, and this fire in my bones to stand and live this thing out. I can now look back and see the hand of God training me and leading me toward these things.

I don’t know what the rest of my life looks like—but He does. And that’s good enough for me. He has placed vision upon my heart. New visions. Am I scared? Yes! But that healthy fear makes me press into Him all the more. My faith has grown over the years and my yeses come more easily and quickly. He will continue to guide me. I’m confident of that.

A Word for the dreamer:
• God will never give you a dream that contradicts His Word.
• If you sense He’s leading you to do something and you keep saying “no” to Him, because you’re just plain scurred: You are missing out! AND others are missing out! He doesn’t have to use you… He wants to! Take a step of faith. Will you trust Him?
• Stop living in self-preservation mode. Stop holding too tightly to what you are dreaming for your life?
• Be encouraged. Be brave. His way is so much grander than yours.

“Be Strong and courageous.” (Deuteronomy 31:6 ESV)

1. Is there something you feel like He’s leading you to do?
2. If you sense this is from God, what are you going to do about it?