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Archive for the ‘family’ Category

~ Written by Cassie Rayl

We had planned to mourn our daughter’s death in private. At 26-weeks gestation, our perfectly-healthy baby girl stopped breathing, and we were told the operation to deliver her would take mere minutes, leaving us with the hearts of parents, but no child to raise. We knew we’d mourn her passing, but we planned to do it alone.

That’s what we planned, but that’s not what happened.

We ended up telling our pastoral teammates about Faithe’s death, thinking they would be the only ones to actively carry our burden. Standing in their kitchen, we wept together as our friends promised to carry us through the heartbreak to the best of their abilities. That was the last thing I consciously remember.

The next thing I knew, I woke up in a hospital an hour away from home, hooked up to an IV drip, unable to speak, barely able to move, and still very, very pregnant. As I searched the hospital room for my husband, I made eye contact with him and a handful of other church members who had taken it upon themselves to actively stand with Peter and I as we said goodbye to our daughter. It took one phone call, but my hospital room was never empty. We were never alone.

What was supposed to be an afternoon of pain was actually a five-day journey fighting for my life as I succumbed to preeclampsia and my body refused to admit Faithe had passed away. Anytime I woke up from my magnesium-induced partial paralysis, my husband was being loved on, fed, and comforted by our church family as he vigilantly watched my vitals. My Christ-family gently walked Peter and I through the implications of Faithe’s death and the possibility of my own. At night, they took turns sitting by my bedside, while the others camped out in the hospital hallways and on guest couches.

A nurse leaned over my bedside one afternoon while I was lucid and whispered through tears, “These people aren’t your family, but they obviously love you and they keep talking about Jesus. I’ve never seen a family act more like a unit than you all, and it doesn’t make sense. I thought the Church had lost its effectiveness a long time ago. It’s so hard watching you grieve, but it’s so powerful, too.”

Our grief is still tender and raw, but the death of our daughter taught us one very clear lifelong lesson: Our faith in Jesus may be made up of an individual choice to follow Him, but it is kept alive because we stick together with other believers. Our daughter’s death made us unbelievably weak—in many ways, we still are—and yet our church Body held us together even when our grief made it impossible to hold them in return.

That’s what the Church is supposed to be, and that is what we need to become.

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~Written by Erin Shuler

Over the past month, I have gone through many transitions and big life changes. Between quitting my job, planning a wedding, and moving across the world to Uganda, two simple words—let go—have been following me around a lot lately. Several weeks ago, I started having anxiety attacks. I’ve struggled with anxiety for a long time, but not to a point of being crippled by fear or sobbing uncontrollably. The attacks came out of nowhere, and I had no defense for them.

Letting go didn’t feel possible. Right before I moved, a friend suggested that I should “let go.” God was in control. I finally realized there was nothing I could do about the circumstances themselves, but I could change how I responded to them. After that, when anxiety hit, I started praying through the attacks. I came out on the other side of an attack feeling closer and more connected to God. He was using my fear and my anxiety to draw me closer to himself and all I had to do was let go.

My anxiety wasn’t gone but it wasn’t as severe. As I learn to let go, I am learning to lean on God. As I left the USA and moved to Uganda, I was once again reminded I’m not done learning the lesson of letting go. I was going to be traveling with another family to Uganda, but a few days before our departure, I got a phone call saying circumstances had changed. Because of circumstances out of our control, I would be making the trip by myself. Deep breath. Let go.

I got to the airport and my first flight was delayed, made it just in time to board the next flight and then sat for over an hour as the flight crew was dealing with baggage issues. Sigh. Let go. I made my next connecting flight just to sit on the runway for another hour and a half. Let go. When I finally arrived, I was exhausted and was without my luggage because it didn’t make the connecting flight in Amsterdam. Okay, God! I get it. I need to let go. I’m clearly not in control!

After sleeping through the night and partially through the next day, I sat on the front porch and drank in the stillness and the quiet. I decided to take time to process and do something to calm my anxious thoughts. Flipping through a coloring book, I found a page which read “Let Go” in big bold letters. As I sat coloring and listening to worship music, the same reoccurring phrase played song after song. Can you guess what it was? Let go.

So, I’m sitting here, working on letting go because my God is never going to let go of me.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

“I love how you work to serve the ‘least of these’ just like Jesus!” I heard that sentiment quite often working with the homeless community. There was a certain romance people envisioned when observing those of us who ran the shelter. We got to rock babies, love on parents, and see the gratitude on kids’ faces when we provided them new shoes, or a brand new toy. Who wouldn’t love doing that for a living?

What most of our observers didn’t understand was in order to bless the least of these, in many ways, we had to become like them, too. We had to learn how to look at a dumpster and see the treasures. We had to learn why an iPhone was more important than a house. We had to stop expecting them to uphold our moral compass, and had to learn what they determined was right and wrong.

Only when we had done that could we gently nudge our friends to make beneficial changes. It took a lot of work. We were constantly walking the line between compromise and sacrifice.

While working within our homeless community, I learned so much about how gentle Jesus is with those of us who may not see ourselves as the “least of these.” He was willing to become like us to reach us. Although He never sinned, He learned our ways in order to gain our trust.

How is it, then, that we often forget to do that for those we are burdened to love?

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~ Written by Viki Rife

At 16 I graduated high school and got a job at a local hospital. One of my responsibilities involved making sure the radiologists had film cassettes loaded with new film.

One afternoon I got a call from a radiologist who was using the portable x-ray machine in the operating room. He needed more cassettes. I was to meet him in the scrub-room to deliver them.

When I walked into the room, my eye caught sight of the steel counter to the left. To my amazement, it contained five or six dead infants in various stages of development. I remember one had black wavy hair. My first thought was, “how could that many stillbirths occur in one day in our small town?” My teenage mind was horrified.

Just then, a nurse came out of the OR. She saw me staring over at the counter and frowned. “I don’t know why people can’t clean up after themselves,” she grumbled. She went over to the counter, grabbed a trash can, and with one quick move swept all the little bodies into it. Then she pulled out the bag and tied it shut.

I remember thinking, “How will the parents know which child is theirs when they’re ready to bury them?” My mind absolutely could not absorb the fact that the recent ruling of Roe vs. Wade had anything to do with it.

I hid the trauma deep inside and never told a soul.

But my heart was left very vulnerable when it comes to baby deaths. I grieve them with an intensity that has always seemed more than what the average person does. When my own granddaughter died in the womb the week before her due date, I was absolutely numb for two months. Something painful was stirring. It took me a while to figure out what it was. It was the memory of those beautiful dead babies.

Finally, as part of grieving my granddaughter, I allowed myself to examine the incident from so long ago and started processing the emotions that surround it. I was eventually able to share that operating room experience with my husband and a few trusted friends. They have been balm to my aching heart.

I thought I had worked through the trauma. Then last month a couple very close to me lost their baby at 25 weeks. The mother was induced, and I waited in the hallway while the baby was delivered. I saw the doctor leave the room, and a few minutes later a nurse came out carrying a tied trash bag.

The memory from that long-ago day hit like a fist to the stomach. I ran to the bathroom to throw up.

At that point I realized that my horror of living in a society that throws away its children is never going to go away. Thankfully, I soon was able to go into the room and see the baby in her father’s arms. She had not been in that bag. Her tiny body was being treated with dignity and respect by her grieving parents. And, in a strange way, I found the scene comforting. Parents should care that much about their child.

We cannot change our society, no matter what laws we pass. New York’s recent legalization of full-term abortion is only a symptom of our disease of devaluing human life. May God’s people go to our knees in prayer for our society, and may we reach out to help people see the God in whose image they’re made!

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

I was six the first time my great grandfather handed me a polishing rag. He stood me in front of his silver collection and stated proudly, “You can help me make these beauties shine again.” I was responsible for a silver horse that had most assuredly seen better days, but my “Gramps” treated it with such treasured respect, I knew it had to be special.

He never told me the stories behind his collection. Born into a poor family and with only a 2nd grade education to his name, I can only imagine how priceless his three-tiered display case felt to him. As we worked together on his silver, he’d occasionally chuckle as he wiped grime off a certain piece, but the stories stayed safely in his mind.

That afternoon, sitting near one of my spiritual giants, I got a better glimpse of what it meant to first serve out of love. Even at six, I thought polishing silver was a waste of time. Yet I didn’t find myself asking hundreds of questions as to why I had to help. Gramps wanted to spend time with me, and polishing silver was important to him, so therefore, it became important to me. I didn’t need to know why. I knew Gramps and that was enough.

What would happen if I lived my life with Christ in the same way? I find myself peppering God with endless questions when He asks me to do something. I want to understand before I say yes. But too often, when that is my initial response, I miss out on sharing Jesus’ joy. What if I trusted Jesus enough to trust there was beauty in His presence, even when the task feels mundane?

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~ Written by Viki Rife

“I don’t know what’s wrong with my husband,” the woman told me with tears in her eyes. “I thought he loved God, but I don’t see any evidence. I don’t see him praying much, or reading his Bible very often.”

Something in her comment hit a nerve. It sounded way too familiar. Those words could have come out of my mouth at one time.

When it comes to our spiritual lives, my husband and I are opposites. I feel closest to God when I’m praying alone; he draws great satisfaction from corporate prayer. He worships best with a whole congregation singing; I prefer to sing at the top of my lungs when no one’s home.

I like to read whole chapters at a sitting; he can mull over the same verse for days. I commune with God best through my journal; he does it on a riding mower or a walk in the woods.

If I judge by my relationship with God, it looks to me like he doesn’t have one. If he judges me by his, it looks like I’m too introspective and self-concerned, maybe even holier-than-thou.

Over the years, I’ve been learning to trust the Spirit of God at work in the man I love. I need to respect God and my husband enough to let them work out what his faith should look like, just as He does with me.

When I back up and look at it from God’s perspective, I’m thankful we are so different. It offers each of us a fuller dimension for our faith.

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~ Written by Viki Rife

The best example of discipleship I’ve ever seen came from a three-year-old. At least, the best example of a discipleship mentality.

I was all set to talk online with my granddaughter Eva. When she came on camera, she had her two favorite dolls tucked under her arms, as usual. When I asked her what she had been doing that day, she said, “Well, I have kids, don’t you know.” Her dolls occupy her mind no matter what else is happening.

Just the other day I asked her in our online chat what she’d been doing, and she answered, “Teaching my kids to ice skate.” Then she told me how she could slide on their new wood floor in her socks, and proudly explained that she had socks that “look just like ice skates.” But of course, she couldn’t just experience it by herself. She was conscientiously teaching her “kids” to skate also.

We might laugh, but I wish I had the same commitment to discipling others. Am I aware of opportunities to help them learn what I’m learning? Do I care about living human beings as much as a child cares about her dolls?

Eva is always aware that she is responsible for the care of her dolls. May we have that kind of enthusiasm for those God gives us the opportunity to disciple.

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