Friday, September 11, 2015

September 11

If you're over the age of twenty, you likely have some memory of this date in 2001.

I suppose it's similar to the people who remember the attack on Pearl Harbor or the assassination of JFK. Those moments are seared into our memories because, in a way, the world stopped. We all froze in horror, wondering how such a thing could have happened.

My  mother said she remembers doing the ironing on November 22, 1963 when she found out that JFK had been shot. My dad was in the Air Force and my guess is that she was ironing his uniforms. My parents had barely been married for three months when the president was assassinated.

I spoke to my grandma about the Pearl Harbor attack. She told me a very simple story, but it demonstrated how her 1941 world reacted to it. My grandpa sat up in bed - perhaps it was after a Sunday afternoon nap - and turned on the radio. After hearing the somber news, he muttered, "Them sons of bitches." I can hear my grandpa's voice in those words, even though it was years before I was born.

I watched some of the September 11 footage again today and my kids asked me, "Why are you watching that? It's so sad! It makes me sick to my stomach." It is sad, but I'm not afraid of sadness.

I'm afraid of forgetting.

The morning of September 11, 2001, I was home with a baby and a toddler. I turned on some TV for them to watch morning cartoons while I got ready for the day. As I flipped through the channels, I caught sight of footage of an airplane that had crashed into a skyscraper. Assuming it was a tragic accident, I briefly thought, "How sad," and kept flipping because toddlers don't tend to be interested in current events.

A few minutes later, my husband called from work and said, "Turn on the news now. There appears to be some terrorist attack on the World Trade Center." In just those few short minutes from seeing that one plane engulfed in flames, embedded in the North Tower, most the world was probably with me in thinking it was a terribly unfortunate accident. Then suddenly we were all plunged into horror as we slowly, sickeningly realized that this was a terrorist attack.

I numbly went upstairs and found my father-in-law, who was staying with us for a few weeks, and told him, "Apparently, there's been a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center."

For the next several minutes, we sat and watched the gut-wrenching footage unfold. We watched the South Tower collapse in real time, as did millions of other Americans - and thousands watched it in real life. We sat there, speechless, until he finally mumbled, "All those people." Then the North tower went down. What else could we do but sit there and watch in dread as thousands of people died before our eyes.

Eventually, I realized that the kids also had their eyes glued to the television. Even though they were very young and couldn't really understand what was happening, it didn't feel right to sit there and let them watch. I called a friend and we got our three girls together at McDonalds PlayLand for lunch. The kids played and my friend and I sat there, numb. I kept thinking things like, "I'm sitting at McDonalds and thousands of people just died." Or "I'm shopping like it's a normal day and our country is under attack."

It was the most terrifying day in my life.

I might be tempted to say that the day Al had his stroke was the most terrifying - and there were certainly moments of intense fear in those first few days - but we were swept up by a wave of grace and had an inexplicable trust in God's goodness in spite of what was happening to him.

On 9/11, however, I literally felt like the world had just crumbled under our feet. It felt like evil had won. And it felt like God had abandoned us.

I was afraid of what was going to happen next: Were we going to war? Was our country being invaded? Were there more planes that were going to be hijacked? Were there terrorists planted throughout the country, waiting to strike? Where else had the terrorists infiltrated our borders and our security?

I was frightened of what my children's future would look like. Would they live in a war-torn country when I'd grown up in a predominantly peaceful time? Would there be another collapse of the country's economy due to war and hardship?

My terror gradually dissipated as I remembered, "God is still here. He's still in control."

A friend of mine spoke to my broken heart as I thought of all those fathers who would never return to their families, daughters who would never call home again, sisters, brothers, friends and co-workers simply vanished from the earth. She said, "We just have to remember that Christ was there, in each of those places, when those people died. He was with them, giving them courage and strength."

I think that simple reminder did something in my heart. God never leaves us or forsakes us. He promises that! In a moment of fear or terror, we are not abandoned. He reminds us of this in Deuteronomy 31:6, as well as all throughout Scripture. "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." 

I experienced that in a very tangible way when I faced the very real fear of losing my husband. God was there, right in it with me, not far off and unavailable. I have to choose to believe that the same was true for all who came face to face with terror on 9/11. 

For those grueling hours, watching the chaos unfold, it looked like the terrorists had won. Nineteen men led an attack that killed thousands. But what happened in the midst of chaos and for days and weeks afterward was a testimony that while we were shaken, we as a nation, as a people of God, were not defeated. God lived and breathed in the rubble as people risked their lives, even after escaping, to look for survivors. God gave firefighters and police officers courage to do their duty, even as many of them perished in doing so. God inspired many with a spirit of kindness and generosity around the world to create a new solidarity, one that said, "We will not be terrorized."

After Jesus had died on the Cross, it looked to his followers like evil had won. It seemed like what they were living for had indeed died. But it wasn't long before they saw the Risen Christ and what that told them and all of us was that Jesus Christ indeed conquered death! Once and for all!

Evil didn't win on September 11, 2001. Yes, it was an incredibly tragic event that shook our foundations. I believe that every single person who perished was given the opportunity to accept Jesus somehow in the moments before their death. Christ is always victorious; he will never let evil overpower Him. I think of all the acts of courage, selflessness, compassion and hope that came in the days, weeks and months following 9/11, and I can see that God is still alive in us.

That's why I don't shy away from the footage of that day. It was indeed terrifying.

But because of Christ, I refuse to be terrorized.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Steadfast and Pure

If you're like me, you might get a little bored of the same Scriptures for Ash Wednesday and Lent, the ones we read year after year, like Psalm 51. Just reading that probably prompted the words to start scrolling through your brain: Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

(By the way, if you don't read Scripture regularly, you should check it out. It's not nearly as boring as I just said it was...*laughs nervously*)

I feel fairly confident that I could recite the entire psalm from memory. Let me clarify my earlier statement: At first glance, it may seem boring. But the Word of God is living and active (Heb 4:12), which means that, even if I've read the same passage thousands of times in my life, I can still hear something new from the Lord when I read it again.

This morning, I decided to focus on verse 10, right in the middle: Create in me a pure heart, O God,  and renew a steadfast spirit within me. I usually read over this like a rote prayer, not paying much attention to the meaning of it. Today, I pulled out those two words and just did a little study on their definitions. (In case you haven't noticed, I'm an avid logophile, a lover of words.)

First of all, PURE. What exactly does that mean?

Here are the definitions I found on Free from anything of a different, inferior, or contaminating kind; free from extraneous matter, as in pure gold, pure water. Unmodified by an admixture; simple or homogeneous. Free from foreign or inappropriate elements. Clear; free from blemishes. Straightforward, unaffected (of literary style). Abstract or theoretical (as opposed to applied): pure science.
The part of the definition that caught my attention was that it's free from anything inferior. How often do I give inferior things a place in my heart? What kinds of things would be inferior to God's purposes? Well, pretty much everything: my favorite TV shows,  my obsession with YouTube, Buzzfeed, Vine, Pinterest, and Polyvore, trying to make my house look perfect; my inordinate concern for my weight and appearance, my worries about my personal (and often selfish) desires, a crush on that certain celebrity (ahem, that was directed towards my kids because I don't have any celebrity crushes), my fear about the future, my anxiety about how my children will turn out, longing for the day when one of my books will become a bestseller, and on and on and on and on. All of these things are inferior to God's purposes for me; while most of them are not inherently evil, still they're just not as good, and they take up a ridiculous amount of space in my heart and mind. Why fill my heart and my life with a bunch of inferior things when I have access to the best, the purest, the finest in all of creation? And (pay attention, you penny-pinchers), it's absolutely free!

Another definition says that pure means free from foreign or inappropriate elements. Wow. I could go on about that all day long. And that only addresses two of the definitions that I found. I think it will be enough to start with weeding out the inferior things that take up space in my heart.'s definition of STEADFAST is this: Fixed in direction, steadily directed as in a steadfast gaze. Firm in purpose, resolution, faith, attachment; as a person: a steadfast friend. Unwavering, as resolution, faith, adherence. Firmly established, as an institution or state of affairs. Firmly fixed in place or position.

In terms of vision or focus, it means to have my thoughts directed towards God at all times, to let that be the guiding force for my life, not focusing on wealth, fame, or anything else.

But the word that really captured my imagination was unwavering. When I hear the word wavering, I always think of strands of seaweed, being tossed around by the current at the bottom of the ocean, bending whichever way the water flows. It goes in almost every direction except straight up. Unwavering would be solid, straight, not bending to the influences of the world around, like a tree, the analogy that God uses repeatedly in Scripture. A tree stands straight and tall, and the stronger it's trunk, the less is sways in the wind. Sure, the leaves and branches move about, but the tree itself is steadfast, unwavering, solid.

Well, I think that just working on becoming more pure and steadfast during Lent will be enough to keep me occupied for 40 days. Most likely it will be much longer than that, but it's good to start during Lent, the time of repentance and reflection, grace and sacrifice. If you read yesterday's blog post, Do Not Dwell on the Past, you will remember that I'm expecting God to rebuild me from the ground up. 

Purity and steadfastness of heart seem like a good place to start.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Do Not Dwell on the Past

If you read my last post, "Happy" New Year, you will know that I was crazily overwhelmed during the months of December and January, with Christmas preparations, children going berserk, the house catastrophe and subsequent remodel. God is good and He always brings good out of challenging situations. But that doesn't mean I can handle it all. More likely, I handled it incorrectly. In any case, by the end of January, I. Was. Fried. My brain and my emotions were completely overloaded. I felt emotionally drained. Dead. Lifeless. Unable to take one more step.

What do you when you feel like that? I'm telling you, folks, this definitely wasn't a pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps type of situation. This was complete and utter brain failure in a way that I've never experienced before.

It took me a few weeks to recover, but when I first hit rock bottom, I cried out to God, begging him to please show me just one thing I could do to move forward, to fight my way back. As I prayed, one phrase from Scripture popped into my head: "Behold, I am doing a new thing." God almost always speaks to me through Scripture. People wonder how to hear God; for me, it's almost always through God's Word.

I looked up the chapter from which that one little sentence was taken, Isaiah 43. I read through the entire thing, carefully, and two things jumped out at me.

First, Do not fear, do not be afraid, (verses  1, 5).  

Okay, easy enough. God wanted me to not be afraid, and to not dwell in the past. The problem was that I'd finally admitting to myself that I was pretty ticked off at God. I mean, think about it: In the past four years, my husband was taken away in a sense. I've struggled painfully with depression and self-pity, and often left our children to fend for themselves or take more responsibility than they should have had to, and subsequently the kids have developed some behavior and emotional issues for which they need a counselor. We filed for bankruptcy, and we literally live paycheck to paycheck, sometimes just barely squeaking by. (For the record, God always, always provides! Did I mention that He always provides?) I lost my job and Al has had short periods of employment. I haven't found a new job yet because, as always, I took the time to get on top of some health issues - fibromyalgia, crippling depression and anxiety, and I got my gall bladder removed right after I was let go. I've also tried to use the time to break into my dream career of being a bestselling author. My first book has sold maybe 150 copies, so hey, it's a start. But this is while many family members and friends have made subtle (or not so subtle) remarks about the fact that I don't have a job yet, and, hey, wouldn't it be fun to work here or there? To top it off, during that period of a few weeks when I truly felt dead inside, a relative sent me a series of messages that all had some truth to them, but the delivery of those messages was extremely harsh. That caused me to spiral a bit into my lifelong struggle with self-condemnation.

Wow, okay, enough whining! My point is to say we've been dealing with a lot, not to throw a pity party. Seriously! Please don't have pity on me. I've had plenty of pity on myself to last a lifetime.

For anyone who says, "But your husband is still alive," I would respond, "Yes, he is and I am very grateful." But imagine this - your spouse or other close family member has suffered a debilitating illness or injury. Then, on top of the physical effects (which are both internal and external), he has altered brain function. It's kind of like my husband's brain had a "factory reset," meaning he still has some memories, although short-term memory is compromised in a big way, and he still has his same corny sense of humor. His emotions have been weakened and his personality is just...different. So, in a way, we've started over from the beginning, trying to figure out his deficits and treating our relationship as if we're each falling in love with a new person, choosing to love a new person because we're both vastly different than we were when we first fell in love.

Okay, rambling again, sorry. Remember, NO PITY! I'm just giving you the whole picture.

So, when God told me not to be afraid, I was challenged. I shot back at him (sarcastic, snotty little me), "Why would I be afraid? Because You've already taken away everything I loved, everything that gave me security?!" Thank God He is merciful because I am a spoiled brat sometimes. I always end up going back to Him and telling Him I'm sorry and asking for more grace to see things through His perspective. The idea has slowly been creeping up on me that my life seems like a heap of ashes right now; everything I planned or expected for my life has been snatched away. But that is okay, because now the rebuilding begins. God's purpose is to re-form me into what He desires and not simply to give back all of my wishes and dreams from before. It's extremely scary when neither my husband nor I have jobs or careers and the future looks really blank, as in completely unknown. He is having us walk step by step, moment by moment, day by day.

Rock bottom isn't such a bad place to be, in reality. I know (at least I pray and hope) that God will create someone better and stronger than who I was before. If I can't rely on what I wanted for my life, I can still rely on God's most perfect plan. (I kind of hope His new vision for me includes losing about 50 lbs. Nothing is impossible with God, right?)

"Do not be afraid; do not fear." Yeah, that makes sense now. Does it mean I have no more fear? Hell no! Does it mean I have to remind myself from moment to believe God and His Word? Absolutely.

On to the second part of God's reminders for me:

18 Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.

19 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland

I take this as a challenge to let go of my self-centered expectations for my life. To not cling to the pain of the past four years and allow it to make me bitter and resentful. He is willing to walk through it with me, healing it and helping me to let go.

Challenge accepted: This could be exciting, a new adventure. It will probably be difficult and I'll most likely want to quit and go back to my old self-pity. But God is pretty tenacious. I suspect that He won't let me give up. And He hasn't given up on me yet.

I'll leave you with this song from the late, great Rich Mullins, a man whose music was truly inspired.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

"Happy" New Year!

Yes, I realize that it's February, so it seems a little late for a post about the New Year, but it's not my fault that time keeps traveling faster and faster as I get older!

It's been far too long since I've posted here and I really want to become more faithful about posting. Because God is at work in my life, and I've always felt it would be selfish to keep His amazing work all to myself!

It's been a tough couple of months. Summer and fall of last year were good – I was happy to be at home, having more time to write and to self-publish a book on Amazon (yay me!). But as the holidays rolled around, money was extremely tight and cabin fever set in, our family was on edge, in an extreme way! I'm talking about unprecedented bickering, fighting, name-calling, slamming, and even some slaps and kicks. And that was just between Al and me.

Just kidding, of course, but our children's feuding was at an all-time high and I could hardly stand it.

As much as I try to avoid it, Christmas, unfortunately brings its own bit of stress with shopping and cooking and traveling. I didn't do very well this past Christmas. I had a few breakdowns and panic attacks, one of which kept me home from Christmas Eve Mass.

Christmas Day was peaceful, and the days following when we traveled to my parents' house, 400 miles north in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. There were sixteen of us crammed into their little house on the weekend and it was great fun; the grown-up cousins went outside and played in the snow with all of my kids, and my sister even joined in, being the snow-lover that she is. We cheered for the Packers from their cozy living room and celebrated Christmas together just like the good-old days.

But, after five days in close quarters, everyone was just a little more tired out and certain teenagers with our last name were ready to snap. We began the trek back to lower Michigan, only to be greeted with this news when we were about 40 miles from home: my good friend and neighbor, whose son had been looking after our cat and getting our mail, called me on my cell phone and gingerly explained, “There's a problem with your house.” She proceeded to tell me that the upstairs toilet tank cracked and had been running water continually into a large portion of our house for at least 24 hours, since that was the last time her son had come in to check on the cat. (When he told my kids about finding the leak, he said, “It was raining in your kitchen.”)

Naturally, I turned to God in prayer and calmly said, “Lord, you are good and faithful and I know You can handle this.”

Ha! I wish! What I really did was freak out and cry and hyperventilate a little and then freak out some more about the $500 deductible, which isn't too much, but it's a lot for a family with two unemployed parents right after Christmas. My neighbor prayed with me over the phone and then got to work. I continued to pray with much anxiety, saying, "God, you MUST have a way for us to get through this!"

By the time we reached home, our neighbor had called our insurance company and she had also telephoned our good friend who is a builder. They were both waiting in our front yard when we drove up, and shortly thereafter, we were greeted by a man from the restoration company that our builder friend had called. Another few neighbors were on hand to help with whatever they could, and the advice of others in my mind-numbed state was priceless: “Keep track of whatever you throw out so you can get reimbursed, move this stuff over here, find another place to stay.”


We were tired out and we just wanted to hang out at home with our cozy little Christmas tree and enjoy the remainder of the holidays. It hadn't even occurred to me that we would have to temporarily move out, but the extent of the damage was slowly settling into my brain – the kitchen ceiling had fallen in, the wood floor in the dining room was saturated, along with the upstairs stairway carpet. All along the walls that the water traveled, there was bubbling and peeling paint and parts of the drywall were simply caving in. And of course, the offending bathroom was unusable. That night, the restoration crew tore out our dining room floor and put in twelve industrial fans and three gigantic dehumidifiers. It was LOUD, to say the least.

We rushed to moved things out of the affected areas so that the work of drying and restoring could take place quickly. Then we put our cat and her food and her litter box into our bedroom, which was one of the few dry rooms. She was a bit shell-shocked to say the least and would hardly come out from under the bed. It must have seemed like the apocalypse to her with rain pouring down from the ceilings and pieces of the house literally falling down. But ultimately, she survived and doesn't seem any worse for the wear.

Kitchen ceiling (I didn't even manage to get the corner that completely fell)

Kitchen & Dining Room - the contractor put his finger right through the dry wall!

Kitchen in progress

Kitchen in progress

Dining room floor saturated

Dining room subfloor

Living room crammed with items from wet areas of the house!
(My son was attempting to play his new wii game from Christmas.)

 Pretty bathroom! 

But hark, there were blessings to be had.

ATTENTION: God Moment!

As we picked through the sopping wet mail that had been on our kitchen counter, I came across a simple envelope, similar to ones we've received in years past around the holidays. I carefully opened it and discovered a check for (remember how much our deductible was?) $500! It was from a lay brotherhood of men who are living single for the Lord. They've blessed us financially each year and prayed for our family in a special way, but this particular check was so perfectly timed that I laughed out loud and told God, “Okay, you can stop showing off now!” I paraded the check around to everyone in the house – neighbors, restoration crew, etc, because God's goodness should be shared and proclaimed, amiright?

It was then that I became excited about the fact that we were going to have a "forced renovation," even though I knew it would be very inconvenient for a while.

Anyway, that first night, which happened to be New Year's Eve, we stayed at our neighbors' house. They had plans, so it was just our little exhausted family sitting in their family room, eating whatever random snacks we could scrounge up without being too nosy, and drinking wine straight from the bottle.

The next few days were a blur, but we managed to get in touch with our insurance company over the holiday weekend and they made arrangements to put us up in a hotel. Now, I cannot complain whatsoever about the hotel – we had two apartment-sized suites, complete with separate bedrooms and kitchenettes. So the teenage girls got one suite to themselves, and it was a bit of fun for them to play house for a few weeks.

We ended up staying there for three weeks, which was a bit longer than we had first anticipated, even though the construction crew was quite expedient. Those weeks also blur together between meetings with the contractor and the insurance adjuster, and to make things more interesting, several trips to Urgent Care. The first one was on New Year's Day, and after that, everyone seemed to fall ill with this nasty upper respiratory virus that ended with a persistent ear infection and lots of coughing, and at least two cases of strep. There have been snow days and sick days aplenty since the beginning of our ordeal.

But now, we are finally back in our house with new walls, new paint, new carpets and hardwood floors in the kitchen and dining room, and life is starting to become “normal” again. Well, as normal as it will ever be.

So, I'll leave you with some fun pictures of the "new and improved" Yarrington house:

Kitchen looking into dining room - I am in LOVE with my new hardwood floor!

Upstairs bathroom with a new and hopefully long-lived toilet, and a new decorating scheme

We have new paint in our living room as well, but I'm not in love with it, so I won't post those pictures. Perhaps we'll pull out the paint brushes in the spring or summer and start over. Until then, we have much to be thankful for!

God is good.