Presence in the Void

Happy birthday, Dad!! It’s been awhile since I’ve written to you, but it’s not because I haven’t been thinking about you. Quite the opposite actually… I think about you all the time. There really isn’t a day that passes without thinking of you. It’s hard to believe that you would have been 64 today. It’s even harder to believe that it’s been nearly 7 years since your passing. 7 years… wow… 7 years… where have the years gone…?

But today is your birthday, and I choose to remember and celebrate all the great times we shared. I always loved your birthday because it usually meant doing something fun, like playing baseball, a weekend get-away to the mountains, a nice steak dinner, and of course a delicious chocolate cake. But you’re not here now, and I’ve found myself celebrating in new ways. Today my wife and I enjoyed a beautiful hike and an afternoon in a quaint, country New York town.  (Yeah, I didn’t know those exist either, but they actually do!)  It was the kind of day you would have loved.

In writing that last paragraph, perhaps the thing that surprises me the most is that I used the word “celebrating.” For many years I couldn’t really celebrate this day because it was overshadowed by grief that you were no longer hear.

I remember the first birthday after your death. The day felt more like torture than celebration. I was in Texas doing my last fourth year medical school away rotation. I tried doing everything I could to distract myself. I went to a park. I went to Starbucks (I know- I hate Starbucks…). I went to another park. Nothing helped. I tried to celebrate your life because I knew that’s what you would have wanted, but it was hard. The void you left was too big, too glaring, too suffocating. I missed you. A lot…

Now flash forward seven years and I still miss you. As I said before, there’s not a day that goes by without me thinking of you. So much has happened that makes me wish you were here. I’ve graduated medical school. I’ve completed residency. I’m in fellowship and about to embark on a career as an orthopaedic surgeon just like you. I got married. Britt is due with your first grandchild in just a few weeks. All of these things make me feel the void, but there’s something different now. I don’t just feel the void anymore.

When these events happen, I can now celebrate the fact that I am where I am today in large part because of you. I am an orthopaedic surgeon because you inspired me to be like you. I’m married because you encouraged me to grow as a man and to learn from your mistakes. I wouldn’t be where I am without you, Dad. You and mom taught me to persevere, to never give up, to trust in the Lord always and to always serve others before looking out for myself. I’m so blessed to have this foundation.  Thank you a million times over.

It may have taken seven years and too many tears to count, but the void no longer has a claim on me or this day. It is finally overpowered by the celebration of your life and the profound impact it has had on mine. I rejoice because through the lens of Christ, I have finally found your presence in the void.  Hallelujah a million times over.

Advertisements

Today IS My Wedding Day!!

I have been waiting to write this post with much anticipation and longing for over four years now.  This post is the much anticipated follow-up from the most popular post of my blog (and second place is not even close).  It was one of my original posts, and even though it was my hardest post to write, it was honestly the reason I started this blog.  The post was titled, “Today Was Supposed to Be My Wedding Day.” It started off a little something like this…

“It’s one of the hardest things for our hearts to grasp.  If nothing else, it’s certainly one of the most painful things for our hearts to experience.  When a dream is left unfulfilled, it can be like an earthquake with the potential to produce shock waves in our hearts for many years to come.  An unfulfilled dream can leave us broken, scarred, afraid, angry, bitter, and regretful.  I personally find fewer things more difficult to deal with than when my dream is not part of God’s plan for my life.  We have all experienced this kind of heartbreak in one form or another.  Indeed, these life altering events provide a common thread that binds us together.”

But if an unfulfilled promise is one of the hardest things to navigate, I think the joy of a promise fulfilled is one of the greatest experiences to receive from the Lord.  And that is one of the MANY reasons, I am overjoyed to say that today (FINALLY!) IS MY WEDDING DAY!!!  This morning one of my groomsmen asked me to summarize my emotions in three words.  My reply… “Supremely overflowing joy!!”

From that last post 4  years ago, the Lord has brought both me and my soon to be bride (IN 4 HOURS!!!!!) on an incredible journey.  The Lord took us the long way, but it was his mercy and grace that did so.  He was holding us every step of the way, and today we get to celebrate HIS steadfast love and faithfulness.  Today is not just about me and my marriage.  It’s much more about my God and his faithfulness, His never failing love, and his grace…  Grace upon grace upon grace.  When you look at my story, I hope you see the Gospel.  I hope you see the truth that God can redeem any mess.  I hope you see and believe in a God who truly saves and redeems and does so without measure.  I hope you see that God NEVER fails us.  Never forsakes us.  Never lets us go.  Never.  No matter what.

I could go on and on (and sometime when life slows down I really hope to).  But for now, you will have to excuse me because I have an altar to get to, a bride to meet there, and a covenant to proclaim in front of God and our closest family and friends because today… well, today is my wedding day!!!  Praise God from whom all blessings flow!!!!!!

 

:

Prayer For a Friend

Father, God, I wanna lift up my friend to you in prayer

Cause right now he’s feeling heavy from the world and all its cares.

This guy is close to my heart, but I’m concerned about him the most.

On the outside he seems clean, but the inside is kinda gross

Like the Pharisees you speak of in Luke chapter 11

And half the time he relates more to Paul in Romans 7

Cause the good things he wants to do he doesn’t quite do them

But he makes the time for all the grime that tends to consume him

Like doubt, worries, lust, and idols just to name a few

And I’m worried cause some of the time he hangs with the wrong crew.

But, I know this guy is a brother in Christ- He says he really knows you

His life’s been changed, he’s not the same, you’ve even grown his faith too.

He believes your Gospel and it’s power in the life of all his friends

He’s quick to share your saving grace and redemption to no end

But when it comes to applying this love and grace to his own self

He gets hung up and doesn’t really believe it for himself.

He knows your love is big enough to cover any sin

But somehow he still doubts this truth when applying it to him.

His heart is slow to believe what his brain is trying to say

Which makes him get caught up in trying to earn his own way

So he walks in the shadow of everything that he’s ever done,

Failing to look at His Savior who has already won

His forgiveness and acceptance and a fresh start for his life

But instead he chooses to live under the shame of all his strife.

Oh, Father God, I really really pray that you would help him see

That when the Son sets you free, then you’re really free indeed.

The same truths he’s quick to pray over his fellow brothers

Are also true for him just like they are for one another.

You didn’t die on that cross to leave us all hanging

Your own hanging took care of that, so that’s why we be sanging

A new song to Jesus Christ, who not only paid our debt

But took on our shame and guilt and even death’s final threat.

So now we have a new song that you’ve put into our hearts

That sings of our freedom because Christ fully did His part.

But back to my brother now cause there’s more I wanna pray

You see he does a lot of outside works but inside struggles away.

He prays a good bit but deep down knows he can do more

Because his mind gets too busy when his feet hit the floor.

He serves a lot but doesn’t always do it for the right motive,

Looking for a chance to be well liked or possibly self-promotive.

He reads your Word but knows he should be reading a lot more

Cause I think half of the time he kinda views it as a chore.

I mean he seems to like it well enough but doesn’t always love it

But he often gives his love instead to other things he covets

Like sports, his job, his own comfort or even to his friends

He’s always striving for the approval of other ladies and men

Despite the fact that your approval is all that really matters

Oh, God, please change his heart so that he no longer loves the flatter.

Deep down I know he really wants to be a man after your own heart

He knows the calling you’ve given him, but fails to do his part

So free him from the same patterns and cycles that always hold him back

Refresh his heart, redeem his mind, and help him find no lack

In following you and giving his all to Christ every single day

And restore to him the joy from the fact that you made a way.

In this new way, help my friend find peace and joy and grace

And please make him to see your mercy and the radiance of your face.

So Lord, I lift my brother up, and to you I humbly pray

Please change his heart, redeem his life and keep Satan at bay.

But before I go, there’s one more thing, I hope you help him see,

That this friend that I’ve been praying for… well… well, that friend is really me…

The Last Day

I’ve been planning to write this blog post for years, but every time I tried, I couldn’t bring myself to write it.  Honestly, even as I sit here I can feel so many emotions flooding my mind- grief, numbness, pain, yet also joy, happiness and even some peace.  Usually I share a post on New Year’s Eve that helps me remember the yearly mark of my dad’s death.  This year I want to do something different.  I want to write about the last day I spent with my dad.  It has been seared into my mind for years because the Lord in His sovereignty so uniquely provided me with the love and encouragement I needed from my dad before his departure.  I remember so many of the details from that day because I have clung to those memories as I’ve had to walk this road of life without him.  These memories (plus many, many more), often seem like all I have left of my dad.  Luckily for me, I’ve been blessed with some amazing ones.

*                          *                         *

December 30, 2011.  It started off like any other Friday during Christmas break.  I was a third year medical student, and the reprieve from third year rotations was more than welcomed.  As I journeyed deeper into the field of medicine, it seemed like my relationship with my dad was growing deeper as well.  This was one of my favorite parts of medical school.  That day my dad and I were going to spend the afternoon playing pool, which was a favorite activity of ours.  My dad was an exceptionally talented pool player.  I was good enough to hold my own and beat most average joes, but I rarely could beat my dad.  Our games weren’t about the wins though.  They were about being father and son together.

As we were walking from the car to the pool hall, my dad was very short of breath.  He had been struggling with this all week.  I thought it was odd.  I remember asking him if he was OK.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” he replied.  “I just can’t shake this bronchitis.”  He then slowed down to catch his breath a little bit.  “Well, come to think of it, my calf is kind of sore…  Man, if I was in the Emergency Department, they would put me in the CT scanner to look for a PE (pulmonary embolus) with a story like that.”

“Well do you think that’s what it is?” I asked.  “Should we go to the ER?”

“No, no, my calf is sore because I sprained it at the gym the other day, and my shortness of breath is from my bronchitis.  If I’m not better by Monday, I’ll get it checked out.”

That day was Friday.  Unfortunately, my dad did not have until Monday.

These words are hard for me to type because if I had just insisted that he go to the ER, then my dad would probably be alive right now.  Few people know this story, but I’ve had to live with it every day for the past six years. Of course I regret with every ounce of me that I didn’t insist on going to the ER, but as weird as it may sound, I don’t beat myself up over it.  The day my dad died, my mom and I promised each other in between sobs that we wouldn’t let each other blame ourselves for dad’s death.  I made that promise, and I’m not going to break it.  We both believe in a sovereign God with perfect timing, even in death, so there’s no room for self blame.

*                          *                         *

That day my dad dominated me per usual, but I had a great time getting my butt kicked.  We talked about life, about being a man, about how to navigate conflict as a man, and how to navigate medical school.  I always loved talking to Dad about my life because he had a way of listening without judging.  He was able to analyze a situation and provide sound wisdom, great encouragement, love, and affirmation no matter what.  Honestly, not having this input in my life has been one of the biggest gaps since his death.

I remember so many parts of our conversation during the ride home.  At the time I was stuck trying to figure out which area of medicine I wanted to pursue.  I so badly wanted to pursue orthopaedic surgery like my dad and follow in his footsteps, but I was still unsure if this was my passion.  My dad never pressured me to pursue orthopaedic surgery.  In fact, he never even pressured me to pursue medical school.  All he ever wanted was for me to follow my dreams and be happy.  I remember what he told me after I hashed out all of my concerns.

“Beamer, you will find your passion in medicine, and when you do, pursue it.  I love the patients I serve.  I love the people I get to work with.  It’s like I never have to really work because I enjoy it so much.  No matter how much health care may change, at the end of the day it boils down to you helping patients.  I don’t care how much they do or don’t pay me because helping patients is what I love to do.  Whatever makes you feel that way, then go do it.  If it’s orthopaedic surgery, then go for it.  If it’s something like pediatric nephrology, then go out and save all the little kidneys in the world.”

The day of my dad’s death, I knew deep down what my passion in medicine would be.  I was born to be an orthopaedic surgeon, and now I have the honor of carrying on my dad’s legacy.  Every day is a mission to make him proud.

I also remember thanking my dad for all of the support he had given me throughout my medical school journey, including financial support.  Virtually no one knows this, but my dad paid for my medical school.  Between the money I saved him with undergraduate scholarships and some extra money he saved, my dad was planning to pay off my medical school.  I remember thanking him for this immense gift and saying that he didn’t have to do it, and his reply blew me away.

“I know I don’t have to, but I want to.  Some people invest in cars or boats or second houses.  I chose to invest in my kids, and I know that’s the best investment I could make.”

Every day I try to live in such a way to prove my dad right.  I am beyond thankful for his amazing gift.

Lastly, I remember talking about some of the struggles I was having at the time.  I remember telling my dad that I often feel like I don’t measure up as a man or that I get stuck on my mistakes.  My dad’s response was honest and real.  It has stuck with me to this day and has given me hope as I’ve continued my journey.

“I also know that I’ve made a lot of mistakes, Beams, and you’ve had to see those.  They’ve affected our family in some negative ways.  I’m not proud of them… but I know you have what it takes to do better… and I know that you will do better.  I have no doubt in my mind about that.”

I often find myself going back to these words.  My whole life I think I just wanted to know and hear from my dad that I had what it takes to be a man and to break some of the dysfunction that hurt our family.  I’ve been afraid of repeating those mistakes in my life.  It may have taken until our last day together, but I was very blessed to have finally heard this from my dad.  Again, the Lord knew just what I needed before his death.

When we got home, I thanked my dad for spending the afternoon with me.  He gave me one of his classic, big hugs.  (Gosh, I really miss those hugs so much!)  As he hugged me, he said “God only gave me one son, but He blessed me with the best son ever.”  Those words made me teary eyed back then, and they still make me teary eyed today.  I’m blessed I had a dad who told me that often.

*                          *                         *

That night we shared dinner as a family.  I remember being in the office, working on a small project for a friend when my dad called out to me to say goodnight.

“Good night, Dad!  Love you!” I called back.  I made a mental note to go downstairs to his room to say goodnight in person and give him another hug.  I always made sure I said goodnight in person before going to bed.  Always.

Except that night…  It somehow slipped my mind… And it still bothers me to this day.  I don’t know why I didn’t.  I wish with every fiber in me that I had done so.  What I would give now to have one more chance to give my dad a hug and tell him that I love him.  Of all the nights to forget…

I remember finally making my way to bed that night and having the weirdest feeling ever.  It was like all of my peace exited my spirit.  I was more restless than I had ever been.  My heart was racing.  I couldn’t sleep for a long time, which is not typical at all.  My spirit was bothered, and I didn’t know why.  I had never experienced anything like it before.

Eventually I fell asleep, and when I woke to my mother’s screams the next morning, I knew why I felt that way…  and I knew that it was a pulmonary embolism and not just bronchitis.

*                          *                         *

As I reflect on my last day with my dad, I realize that it wasn’t a perfect day, but the Lord still perfectly provided everything I needed. We serve such an amazing and sovereign God. He truly is a good Father. Through the lens of Christ, God always provides what we need- both in life and in death.

Through the lens of Christ, I also know that I will see my dad again one day. And when I do, I will finally be able to give him the hug I owe him from that night…

 

The Journey of Singleness

News Flash:  I used to be engaged.

Ok, sorry, I guess this really isn’t a news flash at all, especially since my most popular blog post (by far) is the one titled “Today Was Supposed to Be My Wedding Day.”  Every time I go to my blog’s home page, it’s always sitting atop my “Most Read” list.  If only my other blog posts were that popular then I could probably quit my day job…

It’s a funny thing because I started this blog after my engagement was called off.  I needed something productive that would keep my mind from dwelling on the fact that I was in a new town, sitting alone in my apartment with very few friends.  I needed something that would help me grow closer to the Lord and hopefully help others do the same.  Writing has always been that outlet for me.  I have so many journals lying around my apartment: my grief journal, relationship journal, church journal, counseling/mentoring journal, autobiography/testimony journal, growth as a man journal, but I digress…

My failed engagement isn’t something I readily advertise.  In fact, I really shy away from it even though it’s the reason for this blog.  I’ve always felt uncomfortable talking about it because I have struggled with feeling like it’s a scar from my past that I would rather hide.  It seemed just too painful with too many layers of brokenness to share with the world.  For quite awhile I felt like I had a big scarlet letter on my chest that I was trying to hide- kind of like I was damaged goods.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that for the longest time I felt like a failure.

Since that time, I have remained single.  Heck, before my dating/engagement season I was single for all but 3 glorious months during my freshman year of high school. (I say “glorious” because what’s more glorious as a high school guy than having a girl to hold your hand in between classes and take to the movies after getting dropped off by your mom?!  The answer is nothing, but now I really am digressing…)

Anyways, the point I’ve been trying to make this whole time is that I’ve been single for a really stinkin long time.  People are always asking me why I’m still single, and my response is usually something lighthearted like, “well, it’s not for a lack of effort…” which is mostly true.  Others try to cheer me up and ask what kind of girl wouldn’t want to date someone like me, and I quickly reply, “Oh don’t worry, there are plenty…” which is completely true.  I’ve even had some friends joke that I should start a separate blog titled #reasonswhyI’mstillsingle because I have so many funny/unfortunate series of events along my futile journey to the promised land of marriage.

All joking aside, when I re-entered the all too familiar territory of singleness, I figured that this was going to be like a season of timeout.  My thought process was a little something like this… “Clearly things didn’t go well with my engagement, so now I have to be single to figure out where things went wrong.  I need a season to grow and make myself better- you know- fix what’s wrong with me and learn how to avoid such a situation in the future so that I don’t make the same mistakes again.  I gotta spend my time thinking about what I’ve done wrong and then fix those things… kind of like an adult version of timeout.  Once everything is fixed, or at least on the way to being fixed, then it will be my time to date again.”

The only problem was that days of “fixing myself” turned into weeks… and weeks turned into months… and months turned into a year… and a year turned into *gulp* years… and then I turned 30 this year, which is like 3-4 years past my personal “due date” I set for myself in college for when I would be married…

My singleness timeout was becoming way more painful than I remembered the timeout sessions my parents put me in as a kid.  Eventually I got to the point where I was really getting discouraged.  I remember thinking to myself, “Man, I must have a lot to learn… or perhaps I’m just really bad at learning these lessons…”  Eventually, I had the terrifying thought, “or maybe both?!”

Then one day the Lord put a new thought in my mind.  It was like a gentle whisper from the Lord… “Or maybe neither…”

And with that simple thought, the Lord started changing my attitude and perspective.  He helped me see that my season of singleness was never designed to be a timeout.  Sure, there are some lessons I needed to learn.  I needed to grow as a man.  More importantly, I needed to grow as a follower of Christ.  The point of my single season wasn’t to force me to somehow check off the boxes and pull myself up by my proverbial britches and self-actualize myself into a better version of myself.

The point of my single season has been much deeper than that.  It’s been about relying on the Lord and trusting Him to provide for all my needs, even in the driest of seasons.  It’s about developing a greater hunger for the Lord because only a long drink from Jesus’ well of living water can truly satisfy my heart (John 4:14).  A girlfriend or wife certainly can’t do that nor should I expect her to.  This whole season was never meant to be a timeout at all.  It was meant to be its own journey… and what a journey it’s been…

So where does that leave me now?  I dunno… A whole lot closer to God but no closer to being married, I guess.  And I’m OK with that.  I’m glad that I’ve been able to learn these lessons that I never would have learned if I was already married.  I know it’s grown my love for the Lord and my dependency on Him.  God knows the plans He has for me.  He won’t let me down.

After my engagement fell through, I felt like I was set on a huge detour because I made so many wrong turns.  I felt like I was hopelessly lost and would never be able to find my way back on track.  However, just like our earthly GPS systems, my Heavenly Father still knows my destination and has no problem recalculating my path.  The funny thing is that it may seem like a recalculation to me, but often times the detour was God’s plan all along.

Through the lens of Christ, sometimes the Lord takes you on what feels like a detour, but really the detour was the actual journey.  My job is to trust the Lord to bring me to the right destination and enjoy the ride in the meantime.

Gardening with Dad

October 13 is my dad’s birthday, and I always looked forward to this day for many reasons.  First of all, it was my half birthday, so I would always try to sneak my way into the celebration.  I mean, when you’re growing up, there’s a big difference between 8 and 8 1/2.  Second of all, (no offense mom) but Dad’s birthday was always a little more fun because it meant a great dinner (usually involving steak), a chocolate cake and something random and fun, like a weekend getaway.

In honor of my dad, I want to share some great memories I have from spending time with him in his garden.  First let me just say that my dad’s garden wasn’t just an ordinary garden.  My dad not only had a green thumb.  He had two green hands.  Think of any type of garden and we probably had it growing up.  Shade gardens, sun gardens, cherry trees, rose gardens, lavender, herb gardens, orchids, and even the big giant ugly thorny bush that my older sister rode her bike into the first time she rode without training wheels.  Of course, I fulfilled my little brother duties and just laughed at her from the side. (sorry, Britt!)

The garden was a source of peace for my dad.  It gave him a refuge from the hectic pace of working as an orthopaedic trauma surgeon.  I think it was also a way for him to feel connected to his deceased mother who also loved to garden.  It’s kind of ironic because now gardening helps me feel connected to my father.

Looking back on my childhood, the garden wasn’t just a space for the flowers to bloom and flourish and grow.  It became a grounds for me to learn many life lessons that I am now very thankful that I have.  Below are a few of my favorite ones.  Hopefully they can encourage you as well.

The value of hard work

Every summer growing up I wanted a  new baseball bat for the summer All-Star league.  I would beg my parents each spring until they finally gave in.  However, my dad never just gave me the bat.  We always had an agreement that I would have to do chores in his garden to “pay off” the bat.  So every morning during the summer I would wake up and find the sticky note my dad would leave for my daily garden chores.  Regardless of the day, there was one chore I had to perform daily:  watering the plants.  That’s right.  Every.  Single.  One.  I don’t think there’s a word in the English language to adequately express the amount of sheer hatred I had for watering my dad’s plants.  My dad had more plants than I could count, and I had to stand outside with a hose in my hand while the hot summer sun beat down on my face.  I was bored out of my mind.  I may or may not have resorted to such drastic measures as singing and dancing the Macarena song to pass the time.  Some plants needed a little bit of water, some needed a lot of water.  I hated them all.  Some were in locations the hose couldn’t reach so I had to refill a watering can over and over and over again.  I also hated those plants.

Yet, without me knowing it, my dad was teaching me more than how to water plants.  He could have just given me that bat, but he never did.  He made me earn it.  He taught me that you have to work for things you want in life, and often times that work is not particularly fun or enjoyable.  However, if it is worth it to you, then it’s worth working for it.  I’m glad that my dad loved me enough to teach me the value of hard work.

Patience

I don’t think I was ever described as patient growing up.  Heck, I rarely get called that today, but I’m working it!   My mouth spoke at a million words a minute and I wanted things done on my time.  When my dad got home from work, I always had a ball and glove ready so we could go outside and play catch before dinner.  My goal was to intercept him before he went to his garden to water the plants.  I had been waiting all day, and the last thing I wanted to do was wait an extra 20 minutes.  Sometimes I was successful and other times I would have to wait until he tended to his flowers while I threw the ball in the air to myself.  He would always come to play catch when he was done though, and each time I learned a little more patience along the way.

Pruning is necessary

The pride and joy of my dad’s garden were his roses.  They were incredible.  Roses are known for being a very finicky plant, but my dad could grow them all, including rare types.  My dad never had to spend money at a florist because he had better looking flowers in his own yard.  I particularly loved my dad’s rose garden.  They were beautiful and always gave off a sweet aroma.  As the spring transitioned to summer, they would be in their full glory.  Neighbors would stop to look at them.  Friends would beg for my dad’s secrets for how to grow them.

Yet, as the summer came to an end, my dad would do something unfathomable to me.  He would take his shears and start pruning them, and I’m not just talking about a little bit of pruning.  He would cut them back to little, unrecognizable nubbins.  I could hardly believe it.  Sure, by that time of the summer the roses weren’t as beautiful as they were a few months ago, but they still had a few nice flowers mixed in with the not so nice ones.  So why would he prune them?  They were still good enough and better than anyone else’s roses.  Now you couldn’t even recognize them as a rose plant.

One day I asked my dad why he was chopping the rose bushes back to unrecognizable nubbins.  His answer has stuck with me to this day.

“So they can grow better next year and be even more beautiful.”

I was shocked.  It seemed so paradoxical to me at the time.  That year I watched those rose nubbins with great intent during the winter and into the following spring.  Sure enough, the roses came back, and they were even more full and even larger than before.

One reason I love these lessons from my dad’s garden is because I think they are parallels for the lessons God tries to teach me.  He’s the master gardener, and we are his roses.  We need to be watered.  We need Him to tend to us.  And sometimes, we need to be pruned to the point where our lives seem unrecognizable from what they once were so we can be stronger and more beautiful on the other side.

I’m thankful that our heavenly Father loves us enough to prune us back to nothing so we can be more beautiful in His image.  I’m also thankful for my dad who modeled these great characteristics of God’s love for me.  Happy Birthday, Dad!!

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

On August 12, 2017, a small US town once ranked “the happiest city in America” was splintered by one of the worst race riots this country has seen in recent memory.  This small city was Charlottesville, Virginia, and it also happens to be the city I live in.  Unfortunately domestic terror and riots have become increasingly common, yet the effects are much more real when it’s happening in your own backyard.  It’s taken me awhile to process the events and aftermath of that Saturday.  This blog post has been my ongoing attempt to do so.

I was horrified as I helplessly watched the events of that weekend unfold.  That Friday  night I got home late and felt exhausted after a long week of work, so I did what I tend to do on such Fridays.  I made some nachos and watched one of my favorite shows (Blue Bloods), followed by the 11pm local news.  Some Friday night, eh..

#reasonswhyI’mstillsingle…

As the local news quickly split to cover the torch rally I could tell by the undertones of fear in the live reports that this weekend was going to be filled with darkness.  I just had no idea that the darkness would be so profound.

I don’t know if I’ll ever forget the images I saw that day while I watched my city fall victim to terror.  Senseless violence.  Absurd bigotry.  Hatred literally spewing from the mouths and fists of the rioters.  Sure, I had seen coverage of previous riots and terror attacks, but this felt different.  This one was happening about 2 miles from my apartment, allegedly over a silly statue that I drive by every day on my way to work.  I still feel a shadow of grief every time I drive by that statue.  The black tarp that now covers it has become a symbol for the pain and grief that we all experienced that weekend.

As the day went on, the grief kept stacking up.  I watched fights break out on the streets I commonly walk.  People getting the snot beat out of them in the parking garage I park in when I go downtown to meet up with friends.  The sounds of helicopters and sirens just a few miles away from my apartment complex.  And then the worst of all… seeing that car pummel into a crowd of anti-protesters at an intersection that I frequently pass.  Seeing those bodies fly into the air like rag dolls literally made me feel sick.  The news outlets kept showing the footage over and over and over again.  One death was reported, and my heart plummeted.  A young woman from my city now dead.  Shortly thereafter, two police officers were killed when their helicopter crashed.  My heart grieved for the parents that would have to bury their daughter.  My heart mourned for the two wives who were now widowed and their young kids who now have to grow up without their dad.  And for what?  Over a statue?  Over hatred and racism?  It made no sense.  Evil was on full display, and it covered our city like a black sheet of doom.

I gathered with some friends at our church that night.  We didn’t know what else to do, so we sat in silence as we processed our grief.  We cried.  We prayed.  We called out to God for freedom and justice.  We cried out for salvation.  We called out for his promises to stand true even during these darkest of times.  We prayed for the victims who died or were alive but injured.  In addition to our time of grieving and praying, we also worshiped and lifted up songs proclaiming God’s sovereignty and goodness.  Only in the house of God with the body of Christ can you grieve, mourn, cry out, and worship all at once and still be so right for doing so.  It was one of the most unique worship experiences I have ever had.

I remember lying face down, praying and thinking about what it would be like if every rioter in my city that day knew Jesus.  What if all the hatred was replaced by the love of God?  What if instead of evil and fighting and death, there was goodness and peace and life?  The thought was almost unfathomable, but then again, that’s what heaven will be like.  My heart longed and cried out for God’s kingdom to come and to come soon.

I spent most of that weekend praying and mourning because I knew that these attacks would become much more personal starting Monday morning when I returned to work.  I’m currently on my trauma rotation, so as the orthopedic trauma chief resident I spent the next two weeks literally putting these victims back together.   These weren’t just random, nameless people on news clips.  These were my patients.  I spent time with them everyday, coached them along their recovery process, talked with them about their dreams and goals in life, and in many instances performed surgery to fix their broken bones.  They were an extremely generous group of patients, and they were extremely strong as they began tackling their long roads to recovery.  Playing such a central role in their healing gave me a unique sense of pride that I was helping undo some of the terrible effects of the evil from that weekend.  That’s what I love most about my job- every surgery is a push back against the brokenness we now experience because of sin.  This time the push back just seemed more personal.

One morning following the rally, I had some unexpected time off, so I went to the memorial for Heather Heyer and the other victims of the car crash.  It’s a memorial that I now pass any time I drive by the downtown mall on my way home from work.  I wanted to pray for my city and the victims that were now my patients.  Despite the frenzy of news cameras around the memorial, I cherished a few minutes to pray for my patients by name along with the other victims and their families.  As I was walking away, I noticed a young father walking towards the memorial with his little daughter holding his hand.  Before I left I doubled back to watch this father and daughter.  What I saw touched my heart, and I feel like it truly embodies the real spirit of Charlottesville.  This father took time out of his day to be with his daughter and take her to the memorial to teach her why it’s important to mourn during a tragedy and to chose love over hatred and evil.  I don’t know who this man is, but I’m thankful for him.

Memorial2

Through the lens of the news cameras that day, the outlook for my city was extremely grim.  My heart broke as I watched my city become ravaged by the most vile form of evil we can know:  hatred for your fellow man/woman leading to murder.  Though everything seemed hopeless through the lens of evil, I’m thankful that I have a different lens through which to view the world.

Through the lens of Christ, there is hope.  There is hope for my city.  There is hope for you and me.  There is hope for the white supremacists that spewed their hatred up and down our once peaceful streets.  There is hope because Jesus came and promised a renewed heart and eternal life to all who put their trust in Him (1John 2:24-25).  There is hope because Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).  There is hope because Jesus came to overcome the world (John 16:33).  There is hope because Jesus could take even the most hate filled Christian killer in Saul and completely turn his life around, give him the new name of Paul, and transform him into the greatest evangelist of the early church (Acts 9).  There is hope because he proclaimed that blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (Matt 5:4).  Oh Lord, we look to you.  May we feel your comfort…

When the Wind Keeps Blowing

There are certain moments in our lives that I like to call “offering plate moments.”  Essentially, these are the moments that can make or break our current path in life.  We are faced with a major decision- which college do I attend? which job do I take? do I marry this person or not?- and the outcome of the decision will drastically alter our life trajectory.  I call these moments “offering plate moments” because in these moments we must fully surrender our goals, dreams, and even our very desires in order to obey the Lord.  An offering plate moment is rarely just a moment.  It tends to be an intense season filled with prayer and labor to find where the Lord’s peace is leading us.  The hardest part is that whenever the Lord gives us peace, we have to be ready to follow, even when that means going against our desires.  It’s the ultimate moment of trust.  That’s where the “offering plate” part comes in.  Only by surrendering everything can we really submit to the Lord’s will and be able to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, and furthermore, actually obey that voice.  Sometimes we don’t want to leave our job, or take on the new role at church, or travel across the world (or the street) to share the Gospel, or break up with our girlfriend/boyfriend, or open our hearts to love again… We’d rather just keep living in our comfort zone, even when we know it isn’t God’s best for us.  Alright, I’ll quit the whole “we” thing… I’d rather just keep living in my comfort zone, even when I know it isn’t God’s best for me.

I’ve always found it to be a rule of thumb that when I arrive at an offering plate moment and when I do surrender to and obey the Lord despite how challenging that may be, I am often met with a relatively quick and reaffirming sense of peace and intimacy with the Lord.  I know our obedience doesn’t earn God’s love.  He gives us that no matter what.  However, I do think that there is something about obedience to God and being in line with His will that fosters a certain sense of peace.

That is, until I’ve had to wrestle with experiencing the exact opposite.

I recently found myself at an offering plate moment, and after much struggle, prayer, and counsel, I knew the Lord was calling me to make a decision that was going to be hard and against my desires.  Nonetheless, I knew I had to make this decision because if I’m going to do this whole Christ following thing, then I need to follow Christ in everything and not just when it’s convenient for me.  So I made the decision.  And it was extremely hard.  Gut-wrenching, in fact.  In the following days I took time to process and then waited for the Lord’s peace to rush in like it always had.

There was only one problem though.  His peace never rushed in.  So I waited… and waited some more… but still no rush of peace.  Instead, it seemed like the exact opposite was happening as more and more clouds and storms kept blowing into my life.  The winds kept blowing, and they seemed to be blowing harder.  The storms kept coming, and they seemed to be bringing heavier rain.  Nothing catastrophic was happening, but very few things seemed to be going my way.

Where is my turnaround?!” I kept thinking as I became more and more exasperated with each passing day.  New day, new heartache.  Another new day, more pain.  Yet another new day, still more frustration.  I felt like I was losing over and over and over again.

Nothing about this situation made sense to me.  I had an offering plate moment, and I offered my life to the Lord because I felt like that was His calling.  Instead of the usual peace after such a moment, my life felt anything but peaceful.  It was rocking my faith in both the Lord and in my decision.  Sure, I still felt the Lord’s presence, but it was muffled by the howling winds and the raging storms I had to keep walking through everyday.

I eventually became so exasperated that I began praying (begging, really) for the wind and the storms to stop.  I didn’t see an end in sight.  I felt like I was reaching my breaking point.

Please, Lord, just give me a break from the storms!  Please make the wind stop!!  I know you can do it.  You can do anything.  Please, just make the wind stop…

Day after day this was my prayer.  Day after day I felt like it wasn’t being answered.  Day after day the wind kept blowing.  Until one day, I felt like the Lord was finally giving me an answer deep within my heart.  I never heard a voice per say, but in my soul I felt like the Lord was giving me a clear message.

Keep blowing, wind.  Beamer, I love you, and you’re my son… But right now, you need the wind to keep blowing…

And so the wind is still blowing.  I wish I had a silver lining to the whole story, but sometimes there isn’t one (or at least not yet).  I know God has his purposes for telling the wind to keep blowing even if I don’t know what they are.  I know God is telling the wind to keep blowing because He knows that’s what I need in my life right now.  I need my idols to be ripped away and blown over.  I need to cling to the anchor of Christ during the toughest of storms.  Perhaps I need to discover that the intimacy with the Lord during and after a storm is greater than the intimacy given without tribulation.  Or perhaps, like Job, I need to know that God is God and I am not.

I don’t know exactly what lessons the Lord wants to teach me in this season, but right now, I know the lesson is that the wind needs to keep blowing.  So let it keep blowing.

Through the lens of Christ, I will fix my eyes on the Lord… even when the view is blurry from the wind and the rain.

 

 

The Road Without a Map

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

-Psalm 147:3

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”

-Psalm 34:18

I’m just gonna be honest and say that for the first time in the history of this blog, I really don’t know what to say.  This whole week my mind has been a mix of restless racing and numbness.  I had what I thought (and still think) are amazing ideas for blog posts to honor my father and the fact that he passed away on this day 5 years ago.  But here’s the thing… I couldn’t bring myself to write any of them.  Every time I tried, I felt the same restless feelings of sorrow and grief creep into my mind.  I wanted to write about the last day I spent with my dad.  I remember the day so well- so vividly.  God’s grace covered that day in so many great ways.  I had the whole post practically written in my head, but the thought of sitting down and reliving that day was too much grief for me to bear- so much so that I didn’t even try to sit down and write it.  Not even once.

This whole basket of emotions now has me thinking… I’ve now been walking on this road of grief for 5 years, and it is still a very hard road to walk.  I think the hardest reason is because there is no map or guide to help navigate my way.  I remember in the weeks after my dad’s death, I was given so many different books that people said were “the key to understanding the grieving process.”  I was given “Jesus Calling” like 3 times and quickly threw it against the wall after reading two lines of it.  Somehow, imagining that I was “walking in a golden field of radiant sunshine while hugging Jesus” (not an exact quote but the general gist of what I remember the book to be), did nothing but incite anger over my grief.  (As a side note, I actually have some other issues with that book, but that’s a blog post for a different time.  I’ve just refrained from writing it because I’ve been too concerned about ticking people off…)  After I threw “Jesus Calling” against the wall, I began to read C.S. Lewis’ “A Grief Observed” because I love the works of C.S. Lewis and thought that surely he would provide great insight for how I can overcome my grief.  Instead, I found the book suffocating and too realistic.  I quickly placed it on my night stand and never picked it up again.  I don’t even know where it is anymore or if I still have it.

The road of grieving is tough.  We are thrown down this road without notice and without our permission.  Then we find that we are stuck on the road… well… kinda forever.  Sure, I’m not crying every day like I was for the first month or two after my dad died, but there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think of him and how much I miss him, and how I wish I could stop reliving that day over and over and over again.  I mourn the loss of what was, what could have been, and now what never will be.  The pain is not nearly as severe, and it’s largely overwhelmed now by amazing memories and feelings of thankfulness for the many blessings I have from my dad.  However, the road of grief is fickle with random triggers.  One moment I feel fine, and the next moment I’m balling my eyes out as I watch a segment on SportsCenter featuring kids that get surprised by their dad returning home from serving in the armed forces overseas.  (That’s a true story- I literally cried for like 5 minutes after watching that story).

The road of grief has no map.  There’s no survival guide.  There’s no manual.  There’s no single way to do it.  Honestly, after 5 years of walking along this road, I still don’t feel any closer to being able to write one myself.  How could I?  Everyone’s journey along this road is different.  Sure, some general themes are the same, but grieving is unique and it doesn’t play fair.  You don’t know what it’s like until you are forced to walk it yourself.  You have to live the struggle 3-4 months later when everyone else has moved on but you feel trapped because the reality of your grief is finally settling in.  You live the awful “year of the firsts,” and being constantly reminded that your life is now different.  Now the hardest part is that every year, on the anniversary of the day, the depth of grief returns to nearly the same level as that fateful day.  My mind races, my heart is close behind it, and it’s almost impossible to find peace.  The restlessness is almost intolerable.  I try to find anything- ANYthing- to distract myself, but any attempt is futile.  5 minutes feels like 5 hours.  All you want is for the day to be done, and all that happens is the day drags on and on and on.   Oh, the road of grief.  What a mysterious road it is…

Though there is no map, I’m thankful for all of my family and friends who have chosen to walk by my side along this road.  I’m always overwhelmed by their love and support, and I’m extremely indebted to them.  Most of all, I’m thankful that the Lord is my true guide along this road.  He chose it for me, and I know He will see me through it.  I would like to think that I am a much stronger man because I have had to walk this road.  But even if I’m not, I know that I’m much closer to my God and Savior because of my journey, and that’s good enough for me.

I wish I could come up with a fitting ending to this post, but honestly I can’t think of one.  Perhaps that’s appropriate for the road of grief…

Shame

My alarm goes off, waking me up from my sleep

I startle awake as I feel the shame start to creep

Into my mind as it fills every cranny, crevice and nook

Cause last night I fell hard by taking a bad look

At some junk online, and I knew it wasn’t right

But my flesh got to working, and it messed up my sight

Now I feel the weight of what I’ve done crush my spirit in two

Wishing I could go back to last night and start over anew

But I can’t. And now I’m lying here feeling so numb

As the guilt rushes in and has me feeling so dumb

Like how could I do this and find myself here once again?

I mean, I should be past this foolishness and never fall again

But here I am at the bottom of the same old pit

As the shame is drowning me and giving me fits

I wish I could do something to help me get over this pain

Instead of being owned by my shame- I think I’m goin insane.

I finally throw myself out of bed and fall to my knees

Cause I know I gotta pray to help my heart unfreeze

But as I throw up my prayers it feels like a pointless race

As if my prayers bounce off the ceiling and hit me back in the face

I know this is wrong to think and not really the case

But I can’t see past my shame and all of my disgrace

I don’t feel like I deserve the Lord to hear my prayer

Like He’s got bigger fish to fry and I don’t deserve his care.

My prayers feel weak, so I rise to eat some food

Hopin that maybe this will put me in a better mood

I stumble to the kitchen then grab some food off the shelf

But my shame reminds me of how much I hate myself

I shove the cereal down and then head over to the shower

Feeling terrible, remembering that church starts in less than an hour

I don’t wanna go to church, I just wanna run and hide

Though I know I need God’s presence and in Him abide

But my shame has me rebellin as it pulls at my side

Makin me feel entrapped and like I just wanna ride

Away from the place that can offer me God’s peace

Cause I feel like a phony while this shame won’t cease.

 I brush my teeth, wishing it was any other day

As if more time would some how make all of my shame go away

Then I step into the shower to wash my skin clean

Wishing it could go deeper and wash away the obscene

Images and idols that I have stored in my heart

Because I wasn’t able to escape Satan’s flaming darts

If only I could get free, then everything would be better

Instead of sitting in this shower like a shameful debtor

I feel so stuck, trapped, and like no light is gettin in

Plus I now hate myself for fallin to the same old sin

I didn’t wanna do it, God, I really really promise you that!

Though I know I fell again and in the process I spat

On your face like all the people there at Calvary

I’m really no better than them, and this is the truth I see

Because my heart is being torn up like Paul in Romans 7

Wondering if I’m even a Christian and really goin to Heaven?

The water keeps runnin down my face as I continue to search

For excuses I could use to stay away from church

But church ain’t for the healthy, no it’s really for the sick

And right now it’s the only hope for my heart of brick

So I rise up and get dressed though I still feel like dirt

Wondering if the shame will ever relent of its hurt.

When I arrive to church I place on my familiar mask

Cause pretending like I’m perfect is always my task

But it’s an exhausting act that’s got me feelin worn down and beat

Cause I’m dyin inside and need relief from all this defeat

From my shame and guilt that is having its say

If only I could be free and find a better way

But I drag my feet into church and put on my fake smile

So I can hide from everyone all of my shame and trials

I find my friends and settle into my normal seat

As worship starts with the drop of a catchy beat

Hands go up in praise but mine stay down by my side

Cause if I raise them up now I would feel like I lied.

Finally after a few songs, it’s the time to pray

Please forgive me, God, I’m sorry, please forgive me I say

Over and over again to myself like I somehow gotta earn it

Cause I grieved the Holy Spirit and can’t really discern it.

As the sermon begins my heart still feels in a rut

But the pastor drops Gospel truths and it starts to cut

Into my heart and get my focus away from my sin

And instead turn it to my Savior and that in Him I win

All of God’s mercy, love, peace and beautiful grace

Cause He hung on the cross and He took my place

As He absorbed all God’s wrath so I could be His son

I owe it all to Christ because of all that He’s done

To make a way for eternal life and to set me free

Cause when the Son sets you free then you are free indeed

His mercies are new every morning, and He wipes the tears from my face

He lavishes me with kindness, love, and all of his grace

He has removed my sins as far as the east is from the west

He desires to prosper me and only give me His best

I didn’t earn any of this, it’s all because of His favor

That I’ve been set free and can finally savor

The promise that my debt is paid in full because of Christ’s blood

He’s washed away all my debt with his graceful flood

And He sealed me with His Spirit so I certainly

Have been saved and take part fully in His eternal victory

My heart is now finally melting like the last spring snow

As I finally feel the clarity of which way I should go

I resolve to confess my sin to another Christian brother

Cause we are called to walk in the light with one another.

Be free, O my soul, cause His yoke is easy and light

He has crushed sin and death by His glorious might

So get off me, shame, you really have no further place

Cause my Savior broke my chains by His amazing grace

So when I feel temptation tryin to creep its way back in

I’ll fix my eyes upon Jesus who put an end to my sin.

The service ends and I walk out with a real smile on my face

Cause I’ve been redeemed and set free by the good Lord’s grace

Thank you, Jesus, for giving me a brand new start

And creating in me a right spirit and a fully clean heart

Praise be to God for His salvation through His perfect Son

All praise to Jesus, my Savior, the truly glorious one!