Good Mourning

Few people know this about me, but I love to listen to rap while I’m on the road. Andy Mineo, Lecrae, and Trip Lee take turns riding shotgun during my short daily commutes to school, work, and home. The other day, Andy Mineo’s “You Will” started playing on my Spotify, and tears started rolling down my face. Immediately, my thoughts went something like “What is wrong with me? This is rap. This is upbeat. Why can’t I hold it together? I’m crying over nothing.”

I must have played that song on repeat a dozen times during the eight months my father received cancer treatment, and I owned every line of the lyrics. I believed my father could be healed, and I believed that my Father in Heaven would if His will allowed it and my faith was strong enough. The song hit home, and it hit home hard.

It became evident to me at that moment how much I have been neglecting my journey through grieving my father’s death.

I have a difficult time allowing myself to grieve. Not only do I not allow myself to grieve, but if I’m being honest with myself, most days I just don’t want to. I don’t want to face the fact that he’s gone and I’ll never share another memory with him. I don’t want to face the fact that he spent his life believing that I would be great and make a difference, but won’t be able to see me live that out. I don’t want to face the fact that my children won’t know him.

It’ll be two years next Thursday, March 3rd. In the nearly two years that my father has been dead, I have filled nearly every moment of my time with stuff so I wouldn’t have to think about him.

I think I’m protecting myself from hurt, but I’m really not. I’m hurting whether I like to admit it or not. If I don’t confront my hurt, it’ll eventually come out whether I like it or not.

Like while I’m jamming to Andy Mineo in the car.

Or while I’m pulling shots of espresso and it’s so evidently written on my face that my co-worker and dear friend pulls me aside and asks if I’m okay. Or when I zone out during a lecture at school and the professor assumes he’s said something that really worried me. Or in the hospital room when I obsessively check a patient’s oxygen saturation because I spent the last 48 hours of my father’s life looking at his fluctuate until he passed away.

It’s the elephant in the room. The spirit always remembers, even if the mind tries to forget.

I’m kidding myself by thinking I can just fake it until I make it. I can’t. None of us can. It’s a lie. When we’re not okay, we’re just not okay, and that’s okay.

Because what am I really doing to myself when I refuse to grieve? I’m robbing myself of joy and I’m robbing God of His glory.

When I’m so caught up in not wanting to face never creating new memories with my dad, I rob myself of the joy I shared with him while he was alive. I should be intentionally remembering him and enjoying all those moments. There is healing in that.

When I’m so caught up in thinking about how my dad isn’t around to see me get through nursing school and become the healthcare professional he believed I could be, I rob myself of feeling good and proud about myself. It should be enough to me that my wife is proud and God is proud. It should be enough that my dad would be proud. I can’t be afraid of graduation just because he won’t be there. I can’t just refuse to walk that day. I have to confront this head-on before I let it rob me of all the good that God intended for me to enjoy.

God intended for us to lean on him while we mourn. He promises to be there. Neglecting my journey through grief is robbing myself of His comfort, and robbing Him of the glory that will come through my faith. Jesus says it plainly:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
– Jesus Christ, from His sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:3,4)

By avoiding the issue, I’m not giving God an opportunity to comfort me. I’m not claiming my inheritance – the Kingdom of Heaven. Who am I to turn away the Creator? Especially when He intends to do good to me? I’m undermining the healing power of the Gospel. I’m denying others around me and the kingdom of God the testimony of a Christian mourner. I’m like Rachel, who turned away her comforters because she felt as though her loss was inconsolable (Jeremiah 31:15).

But it is not. No loss is inconsolable.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
– John (Revelation 21:4)

In His revelation to John, Jesus offers us complete healing, comfort, and joy in the life to come, despite all the sin we may have let ourselves fall into. He not only forgives, but offers us the most precious gift – Himself for eternity in paradise.

How can I appreciate this amazing grace and gift to come if I don’t acknowledge it when I’m going through something that – for lack of a better word – just plain sucks? I can’t claim a promise if I don’t realize that I need it.

I mentioned in my post entitled 2015 that though I failed to last year, I want to be more intentional about confronting my journey through grief and share my experience with those around me.

This isn’t me asking for attention or sympathy at all.

This is me, laying it all on the table.

Maybe you’ve been through a loss, too. This is me saying to you that you’re not alone. It’s okay not to be okay. We’ll get through this together, and it will be good.

As in all things, there is good in mourning.

IMG_6618

“Lord, there’s nothing you can’t do, / [There’s] nothing in this world too big for you. / So when they say you can’t, / I know you will. / I know you will.” – Andy Mineo

Advertisements

Sin Left A Crimson Stain; He Washed It White As [Diamond Pearl]

My dad always told me not to forget to wash my car or change the oil. One of the very last memories I have of him involved him teaching my brother and I how to change the oil in a car by ourselves. He had stage IV cancer, was on oxygen, and yet, during a cold winter day it was important enough to him to get outside and walk us through it. Ever since, I make sure I get the oil changed every 3-6k miles in my car and my wife’s truck.

Washing my car, though, is another story. No matter how much he told me to keep my car looking nice, I tend to keep it on the back-burner. If you saw my car lately, you probably wouldn’t have described it as Diamond Pearl. You’d think of it as more of a… Tree-Sap-And-Bird-Poo Grey. Embarrassing, really. I went to my first hospital clinical rotation today, and I don’t know if I was more anxious about seeing patients for the first time or the possibility of someone wanting to carpool with me.

So, I made it a priority to wash it today, and I was amazed at how much junk had built up and how harder it was to wash it all off compared to if it had been just washed a week or even a month ago (instead of only-the-LORD-knows-how-long ago).

But, it got me thinking.

Sometimes, I treat my faith the same way I treat my car. I go days or even a week without really sitting down with the Father. Junk builds up – some of it without me even knowing. It gets harder and harder to face Him because I’ve gotten out of the routine of it. I start to realize I’ve slipped a little off the path. When I finally pour my heart out to Him and ask Him to forgive me and guard my heart against the Enemy, I feel so much relief and peace. A burden lifts off my shoulders and Jesus washes my junk away.

Not all routine is legalism. My faith could use some routine. Just like how washing my car regularly prevents me from having to scrub so hard to get the junk off, maybe if I came to Him regularly, my junk wouldn’t build up so much and it wouldn’t get harder to get over myself and face God with my imperfections. We all need Him daily. We have to fill up on the Spirit if we’re to pour His love out to others and guard ourselves against the Enemy.

Praise be to God, though, that even when I fall… even when I fail to seek Him daily, He still is faithful to forgive me. Jesus said on the cross that “it is finished,” and he meant it (see John 19:30). How amazing is that grace? I am so undeserving.

Sin left a crimson stain.
He washed it white.

Thank you Jesus, for Your amazing grace.

Psalm 51:10-12

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” – Psalm 51:10-12

Finding God’s Will

I like to journal as a means of communicating to God my prayers, my questions, my praises, and my frustrations. One question that I have asked God over and over is a classic: “What is Your will for My Life?” While reading through my journal, I came across this entry dated February 2nd, 2015:

Maybe I am asking the wrong questions. I ask You what Your will is for my life, but I already know that. Your will is for me to make Your name greatly known to the ends of the Earth and back. The real question I (maybe) should be asking is “what do I desire to do?” Not as a selfish question at all. Just as a way to ask myself what desire you placed in my heart. I can do Your will no matter what I do, but will I be serving with a divinely established passion for the work set before me? LORD, as I try to discern what to do, search my heart and get rid of any selfish motives or ideas. Show me the passion and desire that was given to me by you.

At the time, I had several equally appealing paths before me. I was finishing pre-requisites in my pursuit of a BSN. I was also a GACE certified middle grades teacher at the Montessori School of Rome, where I was pretty much promised a future in teaching if I desired. If I wasn’t torn enough, a friend of mine offered to sell me her business (a very successful business, of which I was very familiar with and could confidently run).

Three roads diverged in a Roman road.

As my journal entry illustrates, I stopped asking God what His will was and started searching within myself. God placed desire and joy in every one of us. The pursuit of joy is not a bad thing! We just have to place our ultimate joy in Him. It didn’t take very long for me to find out which road I was meant to take.

My desire to serve in healthcare started long ago, when I attended a medical mission trip to Mexico. At the time, I was studying as a pre-med major at Shorter College. Upon graduation, I applied for medical school. Two years in a row, I got to the interview stage, but was either rejected or wait-listed both times.

During my second interview cycle, my Dad was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. As I spent the last 8 months of his life in hospital rooms and, eventually, with hospice nurses at my parent’s home, I realized I might have been pursuing the wrong profession. Physicians are amazing, important, and I have the up-most respect for them, but I hardly ever saw one at the bedside in the hospital.

I did, however, spend a lot of time around nurses. It was the nurses that took care of my dad at the bedside, sometimes around-the-clock. It was a nurse that put a smile on his face when he needed one. It was a nurse that he called when he needed help or had a question about his treatment.

It was a nurse that asked him about his family in the recovery room and not only listened to his stories, but asked if she could come to his patient room to meet us. That moment helped him hold on more than she’ll ever know. She probably knew he wasn’t going to make it, but she treated him like a person who mattered. He lit up introducing her to us all, and showing her pictures. He had a good time, and he needed that.

Those experiences showed me the importance of the role the nurse plays, and that if I desired to be at the bedside, nursing was a profession I should consider. But I wasn’t ready to commit just yet. After my father died, I decided to take a year off to figure things out. I got a job teaching middle school students and became certified to teach math and science in Georgia.

Later, in the fall, my wife, inspired by a sermon by our pastor at West Rome*, asked herself (and later me): Why not now? If God might be leading me to a career in nursing, why not pursue it now?

Can I just take a moment to say that I am married to such a Godly woman, and I don’t feel I deserve her? She tends to be more sensitive to the Holy Spirit than I am, and I’m grateful God let me have her as my wife and help-meet. It’s moments like these that help me realize what God meant when he said “its not good for man to be alone.”

Being a staff member at Shorter University, she used her free time to look into everything it would take for me to apply to their nursing program. As fate would have it, all the prerequisites I didn’t complete in my first bachelor’s degree were offered the following semester, could be registered in a schedule together, without conflicts, at times that still allowed me to keep my teaching job. If that’s not proof of a living God, I don’t know what is. She helped me register and I was enrolled as a pre-nursing major within a week.

Yet despite all this, I was still asking God a few months later what His will is for my life.

Really?

I think maybe we, as Christians, make that question too complicated. At times, I know I was even obsessed with knowing the answer. I don’t think it’s supposed to be so hard. Perhaps, God has already equipped each and every one of us with the knowledge, desire, and gifting to choose the road designed for us, if we’ll just see it for what it is.

Maybe you’re asking God the same question I did.

So, my question for you is this:

What desires has God placed in your heart? What do you love to do? What are your passions? What have you been through that gives you a venue or opportunity to serve people?

Chances are, the answers to those questions are the key to finding out what God would love for you to be a part of.

I know that certainly was the case for me. With God’s help, I can do just about anything I set my mind to, but it was important for me to ask myself what I like to do. God cares about what I like to do. God made me to like what I like to do.

I’m excited to be where God designed me to be. I love people, and I have a strong desire to serve them at the bedside. And even though nursing is certainly not always a glamorous profession, perhaps God saw me through some tough times so that I could help shine a light on others through theirs, using my story as a testimony of His goodness.

Whatever is ahead, I am ready and equipped.

IMG_6790

* Coincidentally, my Church’s mission statement is “Helping people find and follow God’s plan for their lives.”

Hold me, LORD! [Things My Father Taught Me: Part 1]

I have a confession to make.

While there are so many shows that I openly and proudly express my appreciation for (Monk, White Collar, The Andy Griffith Show), there are also those that I hesitate to admit to liking. Guilty pleasures, to put a dramatic label on it. We all have them, right?
When I saw the pilot episode for Once Upon a Time, my first impression went something like:

I think this may be the most ridiculous show I have ever seen; I guess I’ll just have to endure this for the sake of spending some quality time with my incredible wife.

None-the-less, I gave it a shot. A few episodes in, and the unimaginable happened: I became hooked.

I know you’re judging me right now. It’s a great show, I swear. You just don’t even know. And that’s okay.

Anyway. So in one of the episodes, a young boy named Henry is dealing with some pretty strong emotions surrounding his father’s death. The character he is confiding in tells him this:

“The best way to show your love for those who are gone is to tell their stories.”

I shouldn’t need a quote from some show to motivate me to tell stories about my awesome dad, but it sure did the job. I’ll start with one of his last, since it is still so fresh on my mind. Continue reading

Tales of a Nicaraguan Missionary Journey: Part 1

Goodnight1… it’s been a while since I’ve updated this thing! Writing/blogging is something that I really enjoy, but spare-time seems to have evaded me recently. If I ever do come across free time, I like to spend it with my wife anyway, so the blog unfortunately gets shoved to the back-burner. It didn’t help that until yesterday my computer hasn’t worked reliably, either. My shift at the bakery shifted back to the early morning (5am – 1pm), and I reformatted my laptop, which worked like a charm! Long story short, I now have the time and the laptop to dust off this blog and crank out some posts**. Here goes nothing…

As the title suggests, I have done some missionary work in Nicaragua since my last update. I might as well shut this thing down if I don’t share that journey on here! God rocked my life so much that week that if it doesn’t inspire me to write, nothing will. Kaitlin and I (yes, we BOTH got to go! It was our first time as missionaries serving together. Awesome! Just awesome. Anyway, this parenthetical situation is getting a little out of hand…) served in Nicaragua during the week of June 9th, but our journey getting there began about a year earlier, when God started putting a strong yearning in our hearts to find a mission trip to go on together. Later that year, our church, West Rome Baptist, announced several mission trips taking place during the summer. We just knew God had a place on one of those trips for us. We decided together that day that we would go on one of them, but had no idea of the obstacles in store for us. This brings me to the first lesson God taught re-taught me:

If God calls you somewhere, He’ll make sure He gets you there.

In December of that year (2012), two car accidents less than two weeks apart totaled both of our cars. The second accident sent me to the hospital with a broken leg, and put me out of work for nearly three months. The driver at fault in the second accident was driving under the influence of alcohol, and had no insurance. Not only did we have to buy two cars, but also carried the responsibility of the hospital bills. He didn’t have insurance, and the uninsured motorist policy on my wife’s car did not include medical payments. We were on vacation, and lost the amount we paid in advance for the remaining three nights there. Needless to say, it was a hard situation to soak in. At this point, with all the unexpected expenditures and lost income, saving up for a $2800 mission trip seemed way way out of the picture.

However, God doesn’t really care about any “picture” we conjure up in our minds. He doesn’t see things the way we do.

Our insurance company didn’t budge on covering the medical bills. We couldn’t blame them, though. We didn’t have the coverage. If you are reading this and are unsure if your uninsured motorist policy covers medical payments, FIND OUT ASAP! It’s definitely worth the extra $20 per six months, and the percentage of people who drive without insurance is getting pretty ridiculous. In the United States, 14.29% of drivers are uninsured. That comes to about one in seven drivers! In Georgia, that percentage is about 16% and in Tennessee (where my accident took place), it spikes to 24% (ranking third in the nation!)2. Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more likely that the person who hits you on the road has no insurance, so please, I encourage you to get as much coverage as you can afford.

Our insurance company was very generous, however, in reimbursing us for our totaled vehicles and letting us use rental cars for as long as we needed. We were given more than the cars were worth, and were able to quickly use that money on new cars and medical bills. My agent even listened as I vented about the situation when it was going on, and we were able to carry a great conversation. He followed up and showed he truly cared! If anyone out there is looking for some great, affordable coverage, Liberty Mutual insurance is where it’s at! My agent is Crawford Adam. You should look him up! I don’t usually advertise or anything like that, but my insurance company took care of me when I needed it the most, and that says alot!

About a month after the accident, our growth group3 at West Rome Baptist got together to fellowship. Ever since the accident, members from our group showered us with love. They took turns bringing us dinner, prayed for us constantly, and never stopped encouraging and caring. We didn’t think any group of fellow believers could ever match the faithfulness and love of ours, until we went to that night of fellowship. There they presented Kaitlin and me a check. It was for $2300. Yeah, that’s $2300, not $230. Two zeros! We were overwhelmed by their generosity and sacrifice. They collected money within the group without us knowing, and were able to bless us far more than they would ever know!

Not too long after that, I got a phone call that turned things around for us even more. At the time of the call, I was helping my friend Marigrace make her wedding invitations. Being out of work and bedridden drove me insane; it was a blessing every chance I got to get out of the house, and I was very grateful for her family, who not only offered to let me stay with them during the day, but picked me up and gave me a ride whenever I needed one. I was sitting at their table, taping pictures to cards, when I got a call from my wife, who told me that her boss wanted me to work at her school until I went back to my usual job. Her boss, Mrs. Shemi Kumar of the Montessori School of Rome, had been diagnosed with breast cancer a year prior and was cancer free, but still finishing up treatment. She had to leave for a while as she recovered so she hired me as her substitute. The very next day, I was grading papers and teaching anatomy to a classroom full of 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. The unexpected income was definitely an answered prayer! Sharing the commute to work with my wonderful wife was an added bonus =]. In no time at all, the doctor cleared me to go back to work, and I returned to my job at Great Harvest Bread Company. My boss was so gracious to hold my position, and I am very grateful for her for that.

Needless to say, God provided for us during our time of greatest need. We knew in our hearts that He was calling us to missions in the summer, and that He would provide for the costs of that as well. There were two trips, one to Mexico and one to Nicaragua. After days of praying, God broke our hearts for the people and nation of Nicaragua. I put in my request off from work, turned in our applications, and paid our deposit. We had NO idea how God was going to provide for the remaining $2500 balance, but we knew He would!

While I was still working at the Montessori School of Rome, Kaitlin and I were contacted by a man who we house-sat and pet-sat for last year. He wanted us to watch his house and animals for two weeks in May and offered to pay us over $1000. Is God not amazing? Our family also provided very generously for our trip, and with a little sacrifice on our part, we brought our balance to zero with weeks to spare before our flight.

Sure, there were setbacks. Major setbacks. Accidents, loss of income. Hospital bills4. I left out the part where we found out that tax increases (and increases in our income) caused us to owe over $400 in state and federal taxes this year. Also, the man didn’t tell us that one of his three horses is a mustang that takes hours to be caught and put in his stall, while another of his horses founders frequently (and did so on our watch). That last setback wasn’t financial, but it still kinda sucked. Throughout the whole journey, though, was God’s reassuring voice of promise, His unfailing shower of blessing, and His passion in our hearts for missions. He never let us go, and certainly provided for us in miraculous ways.

God always provides. Even in the face of extreme tribulation and seemingly hopeless situations, God’s promises are sure. His love never fails, never gives up, never runs out!

The LORD called us to Nicaragua, and He was faithful to get us there, despite everything the Enemy could through at us. How great is our God?

Taken of a storm coming at Fort Mountain State Park5. The view was so much more beautiful in person. It turned out to be a powerful storm, but watching it coming we couldn’t help but be reminded of the power of our Creator. Even in the midst of a storm, His greatness, power, and beauty is evident.

To be continued…

-Zack

**Blog posts subject to change. Mostly grammar corrections, which I usually make as I catch them, which can happen suddenly without notice, perhaps in the time it takes you to read this. If you see changes, do not be alarmed. You are not crazy. This has been a public service announcement.

1. Meant as an exclamation, not a greeting.

2. Insurance Research Council data from 2009. That was four years ago. I am far too lazy to find current data. Does that make me a lazy blogger? Probably.

3. Fancy word my church uses for Sunday School. We do, however, experience a ton of growth together.

4. We still haven’t seen even the tip of the iceberg of those, even 7 months later. But we know God will provide! He is so good!

5. Fort Mountain State Park is located in Georgia, not in Nicaragua. Just for the record.