wear the helmet, carry the sword

This morning, as I sat on my couch and watched the world come awake out my front window, I felt the weight of 17 months of grief.

I saw, for the first time, these beautiful purple flowers blooming in my front yard and realized I must have missed them last year. I heard happy birds and saw the promising signs of spring in front of me.

But then, I just so happened to glance at the clock at the exact minute, 17 months ago today, that Mason left this earth.

And I am instantly back in that room. His tiny little body, so full of laughter and naughtiness just hours before, lifeless in front of me.

Seventeen months completely evaporates and it feels like it just happened this morning. That it was just yesterday that I touched him, heard his little voice, watched him running at soccer practice, read books with him in the rocking chair.

There simply are not words that really express the depth of the ongoing pain, the void left behind at the sudden loss of a child.

I just want Jesus to come back already. Is that too much to ask?

As I have navigated this valley these past months, I have seen God guiding me, protecting me, equipping me. And when I haven’t seen him, when it has been too dark and suffocating to see anything, I have felt him.

He has never left me.

Not for a second does this mean it has not been painful. It has indeed been a horrific journey. But it does mean there is hope, there is comfort.

It means, in some supernatural way, when my heart is breaking and life is crumbling, there is still overwhelming peace.

Peace that doesn’t say, “Hey, everything is all ok!” But rather, peace that says, “It is not ok. None of it. But I am here.”

And now, almost a year and a half after losing my child, I am facing other things I do not want to face. Admittedly, nothing as severe as the death and pain I have tasted, but unwelcome nonetheless. Things that come attached with deep sadness and require sacrifice and faith amidst the uncertainty.

Things that make me want, much like most every day of the last 17 months, to just lock myself in my room and pretend that surely, this is not really happening.

But while I would like to live in denial and seclusion, this life keeps going. And my kids need me. And seasons change, and well, this world has troubles.

This life cannot be a pity party. Eternity hangs in the balance and there just is not time for it.

And I remember that what I tell my own children is true for me too.

This life is not about you. 

You have a purpose.

And it is not success, wealth or even comfort.

It is not your happiness or your accomplishments.

Your purpose is to glorify God.

He wants to use you for his kingdom.

And although this life feels impossibly long and the pain makes each day stretch into seemingly unending drudgery, in reality, in the scope of eternity, it is nothing.

It will not be that long before I find myself before the Almighty God. Where every moment of this life will be brought into focus… every choice, each sacrifice, the moments of deep pain and obedient perseverance.

And, as I tell my kids, the most important goal to have in this life is to hear in eternity, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

I want to see Mason. I long for an end to weariness and pain and tears. But the beautiful news is that it is coming. And I know I can hope for that with certainty.

But until that day, I persevere. Because in this life, trials and troubles will come. No matter the depth of present suffering, the pain of current circumstances, trials will continue to come.

What have I found persevering to mean practically?

It means I immerse myself in God’s word. Focus on truth. Pray constantly.

And then repeat.

In the words of Charles Spurgeon:

“Do not think that as you grow in grace your path will become smoother and the sky calmer and clearer. Quite the contrary. As God gives you greater skill as a soldier of the cross, He will send you on more difficult missions. As He more fully equips your ship to sail in storms, He will send you on longer voyages to more boisterous seas, so that you may honor Him and increase in holy confidence.

You would think that in Abraham’s old age – after he had come to the land of Beulah, after the birth of Isaac, and especially after the expulsion of Ishmael – he would have had a time of rest. But “it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham” (Gen 22:1). Let Abraham’s story warn us to never plan on a rest from trials this side of the grave.

The trumpet still plays the notes of war. You cannot sit down and put the victory wreath on your head. You do not have a crown. You still must wear the helmet and carry the sword. You must watch, pray, and fight. Expect your last battle to be the most difficult, for the enemy’s fiercest charge is reserved for the end of the day.”

The trials of this life are weary. And at times, never-ending. But there is hope. And until that day, when Hope is ultimately victorious and all the tears have been dried… with God’s grace, I will persevere.

Read God’s word. Focus on truth. Pray constantly. And then repeat.

Wear the helmet. Carry the sword.

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Mason’s Place

On a special New Years trip to Mammoth in 2013, Anthony took Mason out for a “planning meeting” over candy and hot chocolate. He talked with him about setting goals for the year.12.27.12-5a copy

He was 5 years old. And we couldn’t possibly imagine we were looking at our final months with him.

During their time together, Anthony encouraged him with goals that would challenge him, develop character, help him to mature, and ultimately, to know God more.

Little did he know at the time, Mason would know God in perfect and beautiful ways in less than 10 months.

His goals that day contained a variety of things. Many things encouraged and directed by Anthony, such as finishing his Awana book and learning to play an instrument. But some of them were solely dreams of Mason’s. Out of nowhere, Mason added to the list, “And fly in a plane to India.”

Um, where did that come from?

Anthony fought back a smile, added it to the list and said, “I really don’t know how we will achieve this goal, but I’ll write it down and see what the Lord has planned.”

Days after Mason’s sudden death, dear friends of ours, completely unaware of Mason’s goals, approached us with a dream to establish a home for orphans in India, in honor of Mason. Generous donations were given, contacts were made and trips were planned.

And Anthony remembered a special time with Mason in a coffee shop in Mammoth and a dream that seemed so far from the realm of possibilities. And we just looked at each other and tears filled our eyes and we marveled at a plan bigger than we could ever imagine. A dream that had been planted in some small way in the heart of a 5 year old long before we knew what the future could possibly hold.

16 months after our lives changed forever that Sunday morning, after much planning and numerous trips by key decision makers, Anthony boarded a plane to India. A country he has never visited, one that I deeply love, and one that was placed on Mason’s heart before he left this earth.

As Anthony walked through the gates of a large compound named in honor of our son and as he looked into the eyes of orphans who are being loved and cared for, he was humbled by all God has done. He took pictures and video and as I watched them, I was overwhelmed with so many emotions. Emotions felt so deeply there are not words to identify them. But the one emotion that bubbles to the surface, the one that overcomes that pain and heartache and reminders that Mason is gone…

… is Hope.

“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Is 43:19

God is doing something new. He has made a way for hope in a place that seemed too broken, too impossible. But as we have surrendered to God’s sovereignty, we have seen Him move in beautiful and amazing ways.

Mason’s Place is now home to these beautiful girls.

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It is located on more than 6 acres and includes a school with 170 students and a home for the elderly. There are plans for growth and expansion as well as improvement on some of the existing structures. (More information can be found here.)

(Every time I look at this picture now, my eye is drawn to the sassy girl in the top left… throwing down the “I love you” signs. Her spunk reminds me a bit of the boy her home is named for. And it makes me smile.)

In His goodness, God shows me over and over again what He is doing through our loss. On my darkest days and my most suffocating moments of ongoing pain, He brings me gifts. Glimpses of hope.

Meeting a new person and finding out they have been interceding for my family for the past 16 months. Seeing a nurse from CHLA who tells me about putting gifts from Mason’s birthday in the hands of patients and watching their parents cry grateful tears, so moved by Mason’s legacy. Emails about how Mason’s story has transformed the lives of people who never even met him. And now, seeing precious faces of children on the other side of the world, without parents, who are now not without hope.

When I pray over Mason’s Place, I am overwhelmed with awe. Awe at many things… the vision placed on the hearts of others, the generosity to make it a reality, those willing to give of their time and resources to travel and plan, the details of everything falling into place so quickly. I am in awe as I see these children living in a home established, not just in memory of my son, but in recognition of the Author of his short life and the plans He has that are greater than we can imagine.

I still deal with the shock of losing my child every day of my life. I wake up and realize all over again that this nightmare did indeed happen. I face the painful reality of only setting out 3 breakfast plates every morning. I see kids Mason’s age lose their first tooth and think about how the tooth fairy never came for Mason. The pain is still so, so raw. But yet,  I am still in awe that God has made so much beauty with such wretched pain.

I look at the faces of Mason’s Place and hear God’s reminders of hope and promises of redemption.1.23.16-4.jpg

I just finished reading through the book of Acts. More so than any other time I have read it, I really saw that it is not as much about the early church or the disciples or Paul or the spread of the gospel after the death and resurrection of Jesus. These are all key players and important stories, but they really point to the main character of the book. The Holy Spirit. The healing, the powerful testimonies and sermons, the peace and joy… these things do not point to the men God was using, they point to the God who was working through the willing hearts of his people.

And as I read Acts these last few weeks, I began to pray that God would descend upon Mason’s Place as He did upon those early Christians. We serve the same God, the same Holy Spirit. His power is real and His promises are still true. And so I pray…

That Mason’s Place is not about the children, the orphans, the staff, the school, the elderly home… that it is not about the boy who inspired the name and whose tragic story inspired a movement.

I pray that Mason’s Place becomes, always and forever, about a sovereign God who makes beauty from ashes. Who answers prayer. Who heals the broken hearted. Who puts the lonely in families. Who is powerful and just. Who is loving and merciful and full of compassion.

I pray that the Holy Spirit fills the hearts and the minds of these precious children. And He fills the hearts and minds of those whom He would call to partner with us… through praying, or serving, or giving. That what is done at Mason’s Place has a beautiful impact not only today, in this generation, but that leaders would arise from this home who would go out and share the hope of Jesus in a dark and hurting country.

I pray for more children in need to come and find a home here. For healing and hope and love to transform their lives and a vision and purpose to be put in their hearts to share this hope with others. I pray that out of Mason’s Place, God would bring world changers and He would use them as instruments in the story He is writing.

I pray that God does more than we can possibly imagine. That someday in eternity, when I see my little boy again, with his huge smile and his energetic bounce, he will be pointing and saying, “Look! Look what God did! Look who is here! And look, all that pain, all that heartache, all that deep grief that you felt for so many years without me, He has redeemed it. All of it! And mommy, all your tears… He is here to wipe it all away.”

9.10.14-12a.jpgI pray with confidence that we will see in eternity how God redeemed all of this pain for so, so much more.

Everyday, when it still hurts to breathe, I remind myself with this truth: “What is seen is temporary, what is unseen is eternal.” Eternal.

Eternity is my prayer for each of these kids.