Happily ever after

My life story was written by the sovereign pen of God. Surely “a man’s steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way?” – Proverbs 20:24

There are dog ears folded in the pages of our autobiographies. Bookmarks in life that changed our hearts and changed the narrative.

In my story, like in everyone’s story there are blessings and testings that make and shape the saga.

For me those bookmarks include marrying Stacey Philo on September 17th, 1988. Add three markers for the births of our children Jordan, Jacob and Jared.

Add three more when I gave my daughter to her husband and gained a son. When I gained a daughter at Jared’s wedding and most recently added the blessing of our first grandson Eli Michael Ritter.

My story became our story and like all stories there are dark chapters interwoven throughout the goodness life brings.

May 15th 2013 began a difficult chapter that culminated in the graveside committal of 3 loved ones exactly one year to the day later.

Our son Jake, nephew Justin, mother Linda, and grandmother Marjorie. That year and those losses were written by God into our story.

The Lord truly gives and takes away. All these events penned down and foreknown by God before the opening of my storybook.

These are a few of the days that changed my storyline. Events that are bookmarked. Some I turn the pages back to and others I cannot bear the thought of doing so.

One date stands apart in my timeline that changed everything forever. Literally.

It was 25 years ago this week on February 5th 1996 that God wrote redeemed into my script. At least on my calendar he did- on his I was there from the foundation of the world.

I was in a bad place in life at that time. For sake of time the details of how I got to that place cannot be stated but just know that much was unraveling around me.

It was evening and I was cleaning the junior high school wing as I had been doing for the previous 8 years.

God was hounding me. My heart was heavy and on that winter night. 25 years ago this week my pride was broken and I humbled myself before God.

In a classroom, at a desk, in tears at about 7:00pm God laid down his pen and revealed himself and his son to me.

I met the author and finisher of my faith that night. Nothing would ever be the same for me. All that was to come afterwards would be seen through the lens of faith.

This awakening changed everything in my life. God began to shape me and change my thinking, attitudes and behavior.

That day was and is the best day of my life. Above all days, this day made the good days doubly blessed and the difficult ones filled with grace, mercy and love.

25 years ago this Friday God called my name and wrote my name in his book of life.

My story is still being revealed to me. I have read the ending already. He has revealed to me his good intentions and I am currently living in the happily ever after.

I have been graced with eternal life and for this I give him thanks.

23 “Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book!

24 Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever!

25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.

26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God,

27 whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me! – Job 19:23-27

Thank you Jesus for a life full of your amazing grace and love. Thank you for 25 years of friendship.

Thank you for writing in the happily ever after.

rest in the desert

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All sunshine makes a desert, but when in the desert look for an oasis.

I guess if I could define my life before grief I could use the word sunshine. Three healthy kids, a loving wife, stable jobs and a cape cod in the country.  Life certainly wasn’t without trouble but overall we enjoyed mostly sunny skies and only a chance of rain.

But somewhere between heaven and hell I find myself in a desert wasteland called earth. My wilderness storm came suddenly and without warning, leaving the landscape of my life barren and stripped of the comforts that sunny days provided. The eye of the storm has passed followed by dark overcast skies over the last 18 months. I am starting to see some breaks in the clouds, the wind seems to be dying down a bit and I feel I can come out of my shelter for a walk around.

Being a Christian didn’t give me a free pass on suffering in this life. Jesus suffered and so will I. He said, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) What about me, how can I endure the storms and be an overcomer? John tells me, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world- our faith.” (1 John 5:4)  I look to Jesus, the author and finisher of my faith. He has both killed death and provided me life, holding my hand in all my desert wanderings.

All sunshine makes a desert, but when in a desert look for an oasis.

430 years in Egypt and the time of the Jews deliverance came as promised to Abraham by God centuries before. Moses was sent to deliver them from the bondage, and by faith he kept the first Passover and that night were delivered from the hand of their oppressors. By faith Moses led them through the Red Sea  and by his faith he led them into the wilderness towards the promised land. Three days into the desert and there is no water to be found. Water was then found but they found it bitter and undrinkable. “And the people complained against Moses, saying what shall we drink? So he cried out to the Lord and the Lord showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters the waters were made sweet.” (Exodus 15:22-25) What can I learn from their wilderness experience?

As a Christian I have been delivered from death by Christ who is my Passover lamb. (1 Corinthians 5:7) By faith I follow him out of bondage and start my journey to the land of milk and honey by following the Good Shepherd who gave his life for the sheep. (John 10:11)

In the journey I can expect desert wanderings and come across bitter water to drink. Some of my most basic needs in my journey can be the greatest tests along the way. We come to pools of bitter water, we are thirsty beyond measure and all we do is complain and never pray. We forget that the tree of the cross has been thrown in the bitter waters of life and made them sweet for us. In all our sorrows we have a savior.

“Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35) The Lord invites the thirsty to drink from his sweet pool. “Come everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money , come, buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isaiah 55:1-2)

All sunshine makes a desert, but when in the desert look for an oasis.

After the bitter pool of Marah the Israelites traveled on in the desert journey. “Then they came to Elim, where there were 12 wells of water and seventy palm trees ; so they camped there by the waters. (Exodus 15:27)

After coming to the bitter waters, after the bitter pools are made sweet and as you continue on your wilderness path remember to look up. There is always an oasis in the wilderness for the people of God. It is a place of shade and sweet relief from the blistering sun. The water there is refreshing and plentiful restoring the weary soul.

It’s been 18 months since my son died. I guess if I wanted I could stay at the bitter waters, complaining, prayerless and faithless. Or I can remember Jesus who makes all my bitter waters sweet in my journey of grief and follow him to an oasis of rest.

I feel I am at an oasis at the moment. I am truly thankful to God for this time of rest for my soul. But like the Israelites of old, the time at the oasis will end and they must enter into the wilderness and move towards Canaan. Most of that generation died in the wilderness because of unbelief. But by faith Caleb left the wilderness and obtained the promises of God. God commends him by saying, “But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land which he went, and his descendants shall posses it.” (Numbers 14:24) 

There is much to learn from the examples of the Hebrews. One thing that God will not tolerate forever is a complaining and grumbling spirit in our wilderness journey. Be thankful for the bitter pools that God has made sweet. When trials come, afterward look for the oasis of rest. When all are afraid and fearful to enter into Canaan by faith remember the spirit Caleb which God notices and rewards. And always try to remember…

All sunshine makes a desert, but when in the desert look for an oasis. 

Laughter is the best medicine

When laughter stopped

I have always been a cut up and totally appreciate a good belly laugh. My laughter was silenced for a long time after all the death of my son and 3 other loved ones. I had to think deeply as to the last time that something made me laugh hard enough to make me cry. Then it came to me. We had just finished watching an episode of Bob’s Burgers and were ready to call it a day. The Family Guy came on as we got off the couch and I was about to turn off the TV. I decided a long time ago to not watch this show because it goes over the edge too much for me. Peter Griffin happened to catch my attention that night. I watched about 90 seconds of the episode, turned it off, laughed till I cried as I climbed into bed for the night. The whole thing was a spoof on grief and total nonsense but it made me and my wife laugh hysterically. You may not appreciate it but I still giggle a little when I watch it. Grief needs levity and the sorrowing need their funny bone touched on occasion.

When laughter is inane

There are times in grief that laughter is a great antagonist to the sorrowing. We have days when nothing seems funny. There are solemn days when the laughing people and what they laugh about bring me great irritation. Those times are fewer as I move forward in my journey. I understand better the wisdom of Solomon who said laughter is vainity and madness.  (Ecclesiastes 2:2) The king would also record, “Even in laughter the heart may ache and the end of joy may be grief.” (Proverbs 14:13 ESV) 

When laughter is medicinal

There are certain people I need to see and hear from when I am down. I seem to run into them at the most needed times of my grief journey. These are male friends who have wept with me and have laughed with me in one sitting. A couple of them in particular lighten my heavy load and have a way of extracting laughter out of my soul like a turkey baster. These people are a medicine to me that cannot be purchased over the counter or prescribed by a physician. “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22 ESV) Somehow these friends make me laugh and refresh my heart when I need it most. I am so thankful to have a few funny friends. Certainly Readers Digest knew something of this natural remedy for sorrowing hearts. I love to read their articles, Laughter is the best medicine

When laughter leaves us

I battle depression from time to time, I have been struggling with it of late. When depressed I lose my laugher. I determined early in grief that I wasn’t going to use medications to help me to cope. Not that I oppose it for others but I personally decided to endure the pain and not sedate it. Why did I make such a choice? Because Jesus Christ endured the sorrow, pain and grief of the world without narcotics or anti-depressants. Isaiah records, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; on him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5 ESV) Grief, sorrow, stricken, smitten, afflicted, pierced, crushed, chastised and wounded all without pain relievers. Read on.

Isaiah wrote of Jesus 600 years before Bethlehem and the Psalmist records his experience looking down from the cross centuries before the tree ever gave root into the dry ground. “Reproaches have broken my heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none, and for comforters but I found none. They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine.” (Psalm 69 20-21 ESV) Poison was offered to him but the poison was refused.

Some time ago I had the medical marijuana subject defended by a young user who was not ill or in pain. He made the defense that since the herb is natural that surely God would be supportive of him using. I pointed out the fact that God certainly would never roll a fatty with him and here is the reason why. On the cross while being crushed for the sins of mankind Jesus began to thirst. “They offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it he would not drink.” (Matthew 27:34 ESV) Jesus was offered a mind altering drug to ease the grief and pain and he refused it. I personally think it best to refuse it too.

When laughter is restored

I believe God has provided us with laughter. But it is somewhat odd to me that Jesus is never recorded laughing in the scriptures. However as a man I surely think that he did laugh. But he is remembered as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Our sorrows and our griefs he carried so someday all sorrow would fade away.

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.” (Revelation 21:4 ESV)

Perhaps laughter is the sound of joy that flows from our contented souls. I want to laugh, I need to laugh but laughter for those who grieve children is slow in restoration. Somehow I know that the laughter I once knew will never be restored as it was. But I also know that I can smile and I can laugh more and more as days go by.  Laughter truly is the best medicine but for now my dosage is small with the expectation of more belly laughs are in my future. Someday all I will ever know is joy, till then I have his joy in my heart with an occasional   chuckle to help me along the way.

These things I have spoken to you that you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation;

but be of good cheer

I have overcome the world- Jesus

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Me not laughing 🙂

 

 

 

 

Living like a rock star

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Lake Michigan- Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore

I walked on a nearby beach for the first time recently. It is a beautiful place near our home that has been enjoyed by others for years but for us it was the very first time. We enjoyed every step along beautiful North Bar lake near Empire Michigan. Beach chairs in place we then took a stroll along Lake Michigan that runs parallel with North Bar. How often we take for granted the Great Lake in our back yard but not this day, we were taking it all in.

There are many lessons we can learn through God’s creation if we will only hear his voice in those contemplative classrooms. The following is what nature showed me as I considered my surroundings.

There is a wind cut sandy berm and the beach is littered with smooth stones perfect for skipping across the water. I picked up a few that caught my eye because of their color and beauty. Others I kept, tossing them across the waves that crashed at our feet. The variety of stones are endless, all had a different shape, a different color; many were dull and gray and really went quite unnoticed as we walked over top of them last Saturday. Others were full of color and sparkling quartz, one I picked up looked like a Leland blue stone but I decided it wasn’t and returned its sandy home.

Leland Blue

Leland Blue

Every stone had one thing in common on that beach. Each one was smoothed by the millennia of storms and waves that have crashed over them since God called them into existence. If they could speak what stories could they tell? Would we care to listen and would their journey matter to us at all?

I wondered, do we see people like we see the stones? All are very similar yet unique in themselves. Ordinary and gray, walked over, stepped on and unnoticed by the those who care to walk their way. The pretty ones get noticed and ugly ones get thrown aside and thrown into the sea of waves, forgotten by all and never to be considered again. I was struck by the thought considering all these stones that I am like them in many ways. The waves of trials in my life are shaping me, they crash on me and have been smoothing my edges over time. I noticed again that the water brings out the unseen beauty in the stones and they catch our attention. How I respond in trials is being watched, it can be ugly or it can be beautiful.

Trials shape our lives. I have reflected back on myself before the troubles came into my life and remember a hard stone of a man unshaped by any storms. I saw things in black and white, I was ridged with sharp edges but I guess there is always a hidden beauty in every stone that God has created. I am in God’s rock tumbler, I am in his polisher and the experience has been up and down and round and round. If I could go back to the old me that predates all the trouble I would decline the offer. Why? God has purpose for the pain and the polishing though difficult as it is brings out the hidden beauty in the stone. Not that there is anything beautiful in myself; it is Christ who alone who is beautiful. I’m rather ugly honestly but God recreates ugly stony hearts and reshapes them in his workshop of trials and through the renewing process of his word.

My New Testament given to me by my parents in 1996

My New Testament given to me by my parents in 1996

Trials in a life can embitter us, they can make us angry and resentful if we let our minds go to unhealthy places. But for the Christian we are to, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4ESV) Trials have their place in bringing us to completeness but without the knowledge of God in the hardship we are left confused in our circumstances. To understand suffering we must understand God and how God uses it in our lives. This can only be discovered in the word of God to us. Jesus fully understands our pain, for he was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. (Isaiah 53:3)

The attached photo is of my Bible, it is dated one day after Jacob died. There is a process in place, there is an end in view for me and for you as a Christian. My enemy is seeking to eat me up and spit me out, to sift me as wheat but like Peter we have something incredible taking place in all our temptations, trials and testing’s. Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, satan has demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith not fail. And when you have returned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32 ESV) The shocking thing is that Jesus let satan go after him, but the prayer of Jesus for him and for us guards us from failing faith. Peter did return and he did strengthen his brothers after his testing’s.

Sunset on Lake Michigan near Empire

Sunset on Lake Michigan near Empire

Peter’s words are very helpful to me in this difficult stretch in my life. He tells me to be prayerful in my trials, clear-headed and alert, in humility resisting the devil. (James 4:6-8) Understanding that we are not alone in our troubles and that God’s grace is sufficient for every suffering saint. Christ himself stands with us in our purposeful suffering to “perfect, establish, strengthen and settle you.” (1 Peter 5:10-11) “To him be the glory, and the dominion forever and ever. Amen”