Wednesday, May 21, 2014

We Remember With Hearts of Thanks 1 Year Later

Yesterday was hard.

Okay, yesterday was really hard. Excruciating at times, but it was also rich and healing.

The night before as I got the kids bathed and ready for bed, I had Caleb in my bath tub. He was floating his Legos airplane and making the take-off sound effects, then letting it crash into the water. He kept giving me the sweetest, sideways grins. And I thought I could actually feel my heart break inside my chest. Because there were seven other parents who had done this same routine that night one year ago--get the kids bathed and ready for bed--yet they had no way of knowing it would be their last night of such a gift.

The morning began at 5:00 am for me. I lay in bed, staring at the piercing red numbers on the clock, wishing for more rest because I knew I would need it a few hours later. Once I pulled my weight out of bed and I straightened myself, I felt the heaviness settle in. It settled hard and fast, and things began to spiral in a persistent, downward motion all morning. I couldn't explain my emotions or even my thoughts. I had imagined the day would be spent with so much joy bursting from the seams because this was, after all, the day that God had chosen to preserve our lives. Gratitude was not lost on me.

Yet, I could not will my eyes to dry up. They poured, and when I thought for sure that I had exhausted every last tear, they poured some more. The heaviness on my chest was so thick, I literally labored to breathe. A number of times I just walked back to the bed and got in again. I was powerless to this indescribable sinking. I scolded myself because I had so much to be thankful for, yet there I was sobbing uncontrollably. I resolved to quit every ministry effort I had attempted since I clearly was not fit to handle the gospel. My phone buzzed with Facebook messages about the eBook and how strong I was, how faithful I have been. I wanted to yell, "No I'm not! You guys have no idea how weak and fickle I can be!" I blubbered through a shower and finally ended up on the floor of the closet, desperate for God to lift my heart.

Then my phone rang and through a sweet friend's voice, God began to gently whisper that He is near, and He cares. He saw me flailing in my own confusing sorrow, and He knew better than I why my heart trembled in my chest. After a sweet encouraging talk from my friend, I decided maybe God does still have a plan for me and that tomorrow will be better. So I retracted my "I'm quitting everything" declaration and resolved to live the rest of the day in an act of gratitude for all God did for us on this day one year ago.

The kids and I traveled to Moore to attend the Plaza Towers Remembrance ceremony. It was beautiful, excruciating, and healing all at once.







Keagan and Kate were thrilled to see their teachers from Plaza Towers. I could see the healing on their little faces as they hugged and caught up on the past few months with them. I am so blessed to have gained new friendships here. These women love their students so much and are among the bravest women I've ever met. I'm so honored to know them.


                            


Kate was ecstatic to see her little buddy Lily and especially that Lily remembered her!



We released 7 white balloons in honor of the 7 sweet children lost at the school. It was beautiful.


I think the hardest moment was hearing the other kids sobbing, remembering their classmates. Like I said, excruciating, but beautiful.

The high school did some gorgeous sidewalk art in honor of each child. Sydney was our neighbor and I still think about her riding her skateboard in front of our house. I will never forget the afternoon we met her. We were walking home after school and she whizzed past us, heading to her own house. Keagan literally yelled at her, "Hi! I'm Keagan! What's your name?" And her sweet little voice squeaked, "Sydney." And she smiled while Keagan gawked over her cool skateboard and told her how talented she was on it. That is one of the reasons our family simply could not rebuild there. Memories like that are just too much for us.




The kids were given little Plaza Towers panthers from the principal and wanted a picture with her. This woman is phenomenal, truly. Her heart is so genuine, so authentic. Every time I see her on the news, I can tell she doesn't want to be there. She did not seek her platform; she was placed on it and stands to face the impossible with such bravery, grace, and reverence. Thank you, Mrs. Simpson, for still loving on my kids.



After our Plaza reunion, the kids and I decided slushies would cool us from the surprisingly hot day and maybe even ease our hurting hearts. They wanted to see the school that's being built in place of the one they knew, so we took our slushies and drove by. Then we went a few streets over to our lot for a look around. 

I still can't believe what God did there!



After taking the above photo on the curb at our number, Keagan asked if we could walk the land and remember. Not even one minute later, he bent down and said, "Mom, look at this!" There in his palm was a Lego piece caked with dirt. Not just a Lego piece--it was one of his Star Wars ship pieces. I know this because his ship was a very specific, rare color of brown that regular Legos are not. Before my heart could even process this miracle, I heard Kate from a few feet away yell literally the same thing: "Mom, look at this!" She held in her hand a bent up brown plastic cup. I grabbed it and turned it over, examining it with my heart pounding. It was her little Tupperware cup that her Grammy had given her a few years ago! She had found it sticking up slightly out of the ground and here it was in her hand...One year later. ONE YEAR LATER! You have to understand that this lot has been combed over, dug up, basically tilled, and yet...God somehow saved these two small treasures for my children? I still can hardly believe it even as I'm typing this! 




My skin warmed and goose bumps swam over my body. I felt His touch and His tender voice say, "See? I still care."

With hearts exploding in gratefulness, we snapped this picture of us just before we stopped and prayed to tell Jesus THANK YOU for what He did for us one year ago at that exact time of day. He rescued us, and there are no words to personify our thanks. We will do our best to personify this gratitude with the days He has granted us.



The evening was spent in pure celebration for all that God has done for us. We took the kids to Chuck E. Cheese (which we have done a whopping two times, ever)! We played, howled with laughter, and even got to see some friends there (I'll get to that in a minute)!











We spotted this beautiful flag at half mast and I just had to get a picture of it. It reminded me that the state mourns with us, but that our loss could have been the unimaginable. Please know that I get that. It's honestly why I spill so many tears over it. My heart can hardly take how blessed we are, how it so easily could have been our children that day. I feel incredibly unworthy and to be honest, I deal heavily with survivor's guilt.  




While at Chuck E. Cheese, some precious friends (the one who God used to rescue me off the closet floor that morning) showed up to snag our house key because they had a gift they wanted to leave there for us. When we got home, we found ice cream, hot fudge, caramel, whipped cream, and cherries waiting for us! Friendships like this are what keep us going on days when it hurts to remember.




And that's how God carried us through the first anniversary of the day that changed us forever. The newspaper certainly did get it right with their headline: "It Changes You." Yes, it does and it has. May we never go back to the way we were before, taking the very breath in our lungs for granted. After our ice cream, the kids ran around the house squealing and cackling with laughter--that deep, belly laugh. I couldn't stop smiling and whispering in my heart, "Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, though I don't deserve this. Thank you."

And thank you to YOU for lifting us up in prayer, for texting or calling to let us know you were thinking of us. I have learned so many rich lessons along this sometimes treacherous road and one of them is how to respond to others who are grieving. Simply acknowledging someone's grief is tremendously loving. So many of you have done that well and I want to thank you. Thank you also for sharing the book and all the incredibly uplifting comments about it. I hope it blesses you and please continue to share it. You never know who else may need to hear the message of hope and healing. And if you donated to one of the adoption causes, THANK YOU. 
Peace of Christ to you,

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

God, Why Did A Tornado Steal My Toys? eBook

Today as we mark one year since the May 20th tornado completely changed our world, I want to finally share with you the children's eBook I've worked on over the past several months. I already shared how the book came about HERE, so I'll keep this introduction short. :)

I believe all of us have been affected by storms, and I pray that this story brings you and your family peace, hope, and maybe even a smile. I pray that it uplifts your spirit and nudges you one step closer to the arms of our Great God who understands and can heal our every heartache.

You will need a PDF reader on your computer or device to download this eBook. If you do not have a PDF reader, you can download: Adobe Reader or you can use Google Chrome browser with built-in PDF reader.

Please feel free to print this eBook out if you would like a hard copy. I recommend a color printer since a couple of the illustrations are in color and might be hard to see in black and white. Click on either the link or the book cover to download the eBook and enjoy! (And if you do, please come back and leave your thoughts in the comments.)

Okay, one last thing and then we'll get to the book already! :) Many have asked if this book is truly free and if so, why? Simply put, it is my gift to the children (and parents) who need this message. But if this eBook blesses you and you wish that you could somehow contribute in a way, then I want to offer a couple of ways to do so. Below you will find a link to two separate fund raisers both for a cause that is indescribably precious to my heart: adoption. Both links lead to families who are desperately working toward the calling that God has placed on their hearts and any donation at all to either cause would triple the joy I feel in releasing this eBook today.




If you enjoyed this eBook, would you consider donating to one (or both!) of these causes? Both donation sites are secure and safe to use. Thank you and God bless.

The Frye Family Adoption Fund

The Mays Family Adoption Fund
Peace of Christ to you,

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Squeak


We had worked hard, my husband and I, at ripping out the foul, aged carpet in the living room and replacing it with fresh laminate wood. It was an event the entire family revered. Oh wait—that was just me. I was the giddy one who could see nothing but the future beauty of our labor and my husband could see nothing but the laborious servitude to which he'd been assigned. There were grumpy attitudes, a few slammed doors, and a bit of silent treatment, but we trudged on. And that final piece of the floor puzzle was laid with exhausted smiles. We stood back and gloated at our magnum opus.

But no more than two weeks later, one stubborn plank obnoxiously decided it didn't want to obey. To defy our back-breaking work and obsessive care over detail, it one day protested loudly as I pressed my weight across its face. Squeak. I backed up, stepped again. Did I hear right? My still-fresh labor was working against me? It was the little walkway space between the couch and recliner where the kids barreled through in games of tag or to see what was on the T.V. Of course it couldn't be next to the wall where it wouldn't be heard. I glowered at it from that point on, each time when my foot forgot and provoked its anger.

I wondered what we could do to fix the annoyance, to silence the board that wouldn't blend with the mass. Why does this board refuse to be normal? Why won't it just shut up and lie quietly like the other boards? My mind worked feverishly on a plan to fix this vexation without tearing the entire floor apart. But I knew I was helpless in its resolution and instead resigned myself to tread lightly over the tender plank.

Not even a full month later, I stepped up in bewilderment onto the cement slab of what we had been calling our home for the most of a year. My heart quaked with shock and disbelief. No walls to feel, no front door to open. Just wide open nakedness, ravaged and used. There was no fruit to be seen here. It didn't matter how I had agonized over cornbread yellow or canary yellow paint, over picket fence white or soft white for the kitchen cabinets. It was as if it simply had not happened.


My borrowed sneakers were one size and a half too big, and I clumsily faltered through the waste. The floor transition between the kitchen and living room was barely visible—matted with a mud-insulation-dry wall cocktail—as I made my way toward what was the fireplace wall.

Squeak.

I stopped, cold and still. I slid my feet back, pressed my weight down again.

Squeak.

A chill tickled my spine. It had survived. The thing I hated so much because it wouldn't relent, had survived an EF 5 tornado. The wind that dissolved my painted walls and swept the brick and mortar of our home down the road...had somehow left untouched the floor that was not even glued down. And the one piece that I wanted to tear away was suddenly a lyrical masterpiece to my ear—odd comfort, like a fleece-lined straightjacket.

It didn't make sense, but it survived. Somehow.

I stepped cautiously across it again and again, my ear its captive audience. And each time it squeaked the same as before. Maybe even more than before. I stood in the one place, bouncing up and down now while laughter spilled out from the bruised, broken places within my soul. Wouldn't you know our God has a sense of humor after all? He had been crafting a tiny piece of comfort for the unfamiliar places we'd walk through only weeks later. Of course, I couldn't see it then. All I could see was imperfection—a distraction from the beauty of a masterpiece I so feverishly labored toward. And all the while, He was working on His own masterpiece—one where He would rescue our very lives and put laughter in our lungs.

Isn't it funny how a single, sobering event can brush the disappointment off a circumstance and reveal the treasure underneath?

To think that God cares enough about me that He would use something as silly and minute as a single, squeaky board and that He would allow its preservation just to bring laughter to my tear-drenched lips. 

I think of the stubbornness of that board and I can't help but laugh. Because the board and I, we're a pair and I can see it now. I don't want to blend in. I retract when forced to quiet myself. I'm loud and annoying, persistent and desperate for more. I want to be crafted for His great masterpiece, not someone else's. I want more than my wildest dream could conjure. I want His hand over my head, giving His blessing. I want His wink, His smile that says, “Go ahead and squeak. It's what I made you to do.”

Peace of Christ to you,

Thursday, May 15, 2014

In Which I Announce That I've Written a Book (and when you can read it)

Well, the cat has scratched a hole in the bag and is demanding to be let out, so this post will let that poor thing out already! Many of my friends have asked if I will be writing a book, and I can finally tell you that the answer is yes!

I am guessing that from your side of the computer screen you can't see my heart drumming out of my chest? Well, rest assured it is. Because it's a little scary putting something I've created and can in no way blame on someone else out there for everyone and their Grandma Ruth to see! But here we go!

Let me tell you a little of how this project was birthed. Last summer while we were still reeling and walking our children through excruciating questions and sobering moments, I began receiving requests from other parents on how to help their children who were grieving and asking the same questions that mine were asking--the kind of questions that leave you wondering if you've been right about this whole God thing or if it was just a nice little illusion. (Can I be honest?) They rocked me, and thus began the journey of dipping deeper into my soul than ever before. I knew that God was good, but Keagan had a point--Why would God let this happen? And did He make it happen or did it just...happen?

The hours of sleep lost, the gut wrenching sobs alone in the shower--God used these to draw me nearer to Himself.

I begged Him to give me the answers I desperately needed. Some He did, but some He did not. And I must very humbly and honestly tell you that for a while, I was not okay with that. Instead, He reminded Keagan and me both who He is and what His word says about Him. And slowly, I began to accept His answer and surrendered to the story He wanted to tell rather than the story I wanted to tell.

The desire began to literally burn deep within me to reach out to other children in the community, in the state, in the country who are hurting and seeking to know who this God is as they wade through questions 8 year olds shouldn't have to ask. So I recorded some of the most delicate, honest moments of transparency between Keagan and me and have shaped it into a children's ebook.

This ebook is not the magic key to our deep, insatiable questions. Truly, I don't believe we could handle them if they were lent us, could we? But here is what this ebook is:


It is my gift to the children of Moore (and other cities of natural disaster as well) who, like Keagan, may still be searching for peace in the midst of chaos and for answers to their burning questions. I pray that it brings comfort and hope for the future. I pray that it beckons them one step closer to trusting in the God who created this world where we experience both joy and sorrow. My hope is that it will better equip parents to humbly travel this journey of healing with their children and remind them of specific scriptures to which they can wholly cling.

The ebook will be posted here at carayakel.com for downloading on Tuesday, May 20, 2014. Please come back and download your copy to share with children and parents you know whose lives are different because of these storms. Maybe your life is different because of them. If so, I pray that this project feeds your soul and points you to our God who knows your heart ache and will carry you through to the other side.

Here is a sneak preview of the cover.



Please, if you will, share this post with your friends so those for whom this book was written will know how to find it!

Peace of Christ to you,

Monday, May 12, 2014

Fear Draws Us Near

Today I'm guest blogging at The Living Room, an honor of which I am completely unworthy, but somehow they are allowing it! :)

My post is titled Fear Draws Us Near and I hope it speaks to you today in the season of life you are dancing through (or maybe like me, your dancing oddly resembles limping)! No matter your means of transportation, hop on over at the link to continue reading my post:

Fear has long been part of my story. As a little girl, I feared so many things—cows, big dogs, car rides. And as much as I wish I could tell you that I've been beautifully freed from them, the truth is I haven't. I am still afraid of those very things. They look a bit different now as a 30-something year old, but they haven't moved out entirely.


And you know what? I think that's okay. I'm not saying we should live in fear of everything. Not at all! Scripture says that God has not given us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7). But the truth is, I also still have this human side that, despite my best intentions, still fears. So I want to focus on what good God can bring out of our fears.


Peace of Christ to you,

Friday, May 2, 2014

Your Part In The Great Second Chance

I'd like to introduce you to a family you may not know. Or maybe you do know them, in which case I'm certain you will agree that they are no ordinary family.



I have known Jon and his wife Mandi to be incredibly generous, humble, and serving people. It's no wonder the Lord has invited them to join Him on a road so difficult yet wildly exciting as adoption. They will get a first hand glimpse at how God has rescued us from the cycle of sin and death, calling us His own and giving us a new name and a new legacy--one of eternal life. This is purely remarkable because only God can do something so powerful and life-changing as this.

But God doesn't stop there. He is not a selfish God; I fully believe He wants us to experience this joy of giving as well. And so He allows some of us to get an even deeper, truly tangible view of this incredible rescue effort by asking us to do as He has done--to bring the abandoned, the fatherless, the misused into our own families. It is risky. It is messy. It is uncomfortable. It is inconvenient.

But it is love, and it is how the heart of God beats.

Please know that I can write these words and fervently mean them, because I was one of those abandoned, misused, neglected children. I had no hope and I didn't have the chance of a legacy of renewal, of eternal life. Had my parents not taken a great risk in opening their world to me, I would be...well, I don't know where I'd be.

But I know where I would not be, that's for sure. I would not, most likely, have a healthy marriage, three precious children who have a father who tucks them in bed each night and prays over them. I would not have the intense understanding of what it means when scripture tells me that He has adopted me and called me His own, and that my old way of life has passed away and I have a new life in Christ Jesus--that it doesn't matter who I once was because I'm brand new and I have a new name.

What if we could have a hand in making this redemption possible for someone else? What if something really small that we can do today could turn into something HUGE for someone else for an entire lifetime?

You can. I can. We can.

Jon, his wife Mandi, and their two children are extending their arms in an invitation to offer this same hope that I was given as a child--this same hope that God calls pure and faultless (James 1:27).

I don't know about you, but I want to be a role in this beautiful story of redemption and grace!
Will you join us in supporting the Mays family on this adventure? Follow the link below to directly get your hands dirty in this thing called a second chance. 

I promise you won't regret it.

https://giver.io/jon-steven-mays/2051796742/mays-family-adoption-fundraiser
Peace of Christ to you,