Two Sides of the Same Coin

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Sometimes my daughter gets scared to go down the slide.  She climbs all the way to the top, looks down and suddenly starts her descent down the stairs.  “Let’s go together,” she’ll say, and one of always obliges.

When we get back up to the top, she’ll look down and then up at my face.  “Let mama go with me.”  She’ll start climbing on my lap, and squeal with glee as we make our way down the slide.

What’s scary and seems unsafe suddenly doesn’t seem as bad when plopped on her mama’s lap.

And so it is with us sometimes and our Heavenly Father.

I love this quote from Perry Noble’s book, Overwhelmed:

Well-intentioned people all too often try to reduce Christianity to little sayings and formulas that are absoutely ridiculous.  Most of the “Christian” bumper stickers out there are pretty off base.  The one that bothers me most, however, is the one that says, “The safest place to be is in the will of God.”

Doesn’t that sound so beautiful?

So poetic?

So inspirational?

But SO WRONG!

If the safest place to be is in the will of God, then what do we do with Jesus?  No one on the planet has ever been more in the will of God than He was, and He wound up beaten, mocked and crucified.

God’s will is good, but it’s anything but safe.

~Perry Noble, Overhwhelmed (p. 214)

Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den– ultimately an extremely dangerous place to be!  But God.  BUT GOD!!!  But God closed those lion’s mouths and revealed His glory, His power, His purpose.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into a blazing FIRE so hot it killed the men throwing them in!  I’d say that’s slightly unsafe. 😉 But God shows up again, literally in the fire with them, and His purpose prevails as always like He says it will.

Job lost everything.  EVERYTHING.  His house, his job, his family, his health.  But God again shows up and blesses him even more in the second half of his life than in the first.

Don’t even get me started with the Israelites and Moses…  Stuck between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s vast army?  NOT SAFE!  Death seemed imminent!   But God swoops in with his ever abounding love and performs an incredible miracle in their lives.

Pretty much we can expect to experience trials of many kinds.  James 1:2-4 says: “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 in nothing.”

On one side, we can be sure that the life God calls us to is anything but mediocre, boring, or even safe.  Yet on the other side of the coin, we know that the same God does not sleep in his watching over us (Psalm 121).  Ultimately, everything that has been committed to Him truly is safe because it is under His control and His perfect purpose.

What’s hard for me to grasp is that the God who did these amazing things in the bible is the same God working in my life, too.

He is the same God in that fiery furnace, in the lion’s den, at the red sea…  If He did it for them, He can surely do it for me, amen?!  Even so, I have to be in a place where– with reckless abandon– I trust and give and allow God to come in and do His miracle.

Had Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego caved and obeyed the king, God never would have had the same opportunity to walk with them in a blazing fire.  Had the Israelites not trusted God to lead them out of Egypt, they never would have seen the parting of the red sea!  Had Job followed his wife’s advice and just killed himself after all his “bad luck,” God never would have been able to bless him so much more in the second half of his life than the first.  We’ve got to get to a place where we give Him a chance to do His miracle.

Just as my little girl fears the slide at times, knowing she is with her parent gives her the courage to take that plunge and experience something so wonderful.

Yes, I’d agree with Perry Noble on this one.

We’re not safe, yet we’re so, so, sooooo safe.  You get me?

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Much More

But a man of God came to him (Amaziah) and said, “Your Majesty, do not hire troops from Israel, for the Lord is not with Israel.  He will not help those people of Ephraim!  If you let them go with your troops into battle, you will be defeated by the enemy no matter how well you fight.  God will overthrow you, for he has the power to help you or to trip you up.”

Amaziah asked the man of God, “But what about all that silver I paid to hire the army of Israel?”

The man of God replied, “The Lord is able to give you much more than this!”

~2 Chronicles 25:7-9, NLT

Today, lets take a breath and a step back.

Deep in the throws of fighting, it’s easy to get caught up.  Whatever it is you’re fighting, I’m sure it is a good cause.  Amaziah’s was too.  It’s so easy to keep plodding full steam ahead with tunnel vision towards the goal in mind.  Let’s stop for a moment and consider…

Our ideas may be honorable, noble, bold even.

God can do much more.

Psalm 127:1 reads, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (ESV).  Oh how I do not want to labor in vain!

The goal may be very worthy.  The end result may even be what God’s calling and leading us towards!  But are we missing out on much more because we’re so set on our way of getting there?

Amaziah was worried about 7,500 pounds of silver he paid to hire 100,000 experienced fighting men from Israel.  I have no idea how much money that is, but I’m guessing that since he was king and he stopped long enough to consider it, it must have been a significant amount.  Even if it wasn’t, though, the amount really isn’t the issue.  The issue is that he’s going about his business as king, doing what he thinks is appropriate to conquer those pesky Edomites, and he’s halted in his tracks by a man of God who provides Godly wisdom, truth and reminds him…

God can do much more.

He’s worried about silver?  God can do much more.

We’re worried about what– money?  Marriage?  Jobs?  Babies?  Graduation? Health?  We may have great ideas!  We may be executing those ideas well!  Yet if we see God pulling us in a different direction, we must remember!

God can do much more.

I am learning this right now, trusting that God is working behind the scenes; learning that although my ideas may be good, God may have something else in mind– something much more.

It is crazy how a little paragraph in the huge bible about a man named Amaziah can suddenly stop me in my tracks, realign my thought process and cause me to take a big breath and a step back.  Oh Lord, may I give you room to do much more.

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Behind the Scenes

 

 

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Photos by Sweetlife Photography (www.lovethesweetlife.com)

I will never forget the wisdom passed on to us during a very difficult time, from very close friends.  Jake and Anna came to visit us in the hospital the day Maya was born (and would take her newborn pictures a week later!  If you’re in the Portland area and in need of photographers, they are truly the BEST in the biz and you won’t be sorry you hired them!).  It was the day before she began experiencing complications and had to be transferred to the NICU.  The next few days that followed were a blur of doctors, little sleep, tubes and tests for our little girl.  I don’t think I’ve cried so much in my life, yet I don’t think I’ve ever felt so supported and cared for in all my life.  People all over the country were praying for our sweet Maya, and our church community (which Jake and Anna were a big part of) was right there along side us the whole way.
0512_Liilard-Maya_37I remember talking to them afterwards, explaining how the doctors really couldn’t find anything and somehow Maya just kept improving enough to the point where they sent us home.

We were amazed at all the drama that ensued only to lead us to the doctor’s prognosis of “I guess she just decided to puke green stuff.  It’s odd, we don’t know why, but she’s okay.”  And she was.  Even though generally a newborn who is less than 24 hours old and has not swallowed meconium should not constantly projectile vomit bright green (we were told most likely she had an intestinal blockage and would possibly need immediate surgery), she suddenly began slowly holding down milk and spitting up much more normal colored spit up.  She no longer gagged all day long.  By day four, we were about ready to be discharged…  This time WITH a baby!0512_Liilard-Maya_56

“I guess it was a fluke thing,” I remember David and I telling Jake and Anna one afternoon.  “She just stopped vomiting green, and it became like normal baby spit up,” we continued.  “It must have just been a really weird fluke thing.”

Then Jake said something I will never forget.

“You don’t know that,” he said, looking at Maya.  “You had a loooot of people praying.  You never know what God was up to behind the scenes.”

It was as if a light bulb went off in my head.

Wisdom, straight up!

This has become one of my life’s mantras, no joke.  We seriously don’t know what God is up to behind the scenes.  We do know that He is good (Psalm 116:5), He loves us (Romans 5:8) and has plans to give us a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).  He is sovereign (just close your eyes and turn to any psalm, you will see “Oh Sovereign Lord” written on every other one!), His purpose prevails above all (Proverbs 19:21) and all things can be used for his glory (John 9:1-3).  He is at work even when we can’t see (Numbers 22:31)!

0512_Liilard-Maya_02Krista already shared about Elisha the prophet and his assistant when they were being chased by the King of Aram.  When surrounded by the king’s army, the young man trembled in fear.  Yet God opened his eyes and he saw far more of the Lord’s army ready to fight than the King of Aram’s.  God was working behind the scenes, and when He allowed the man’s eyes to open, suddenly everything changed.  The king’s army was the same, but the circumstances were substantially different.

The same kind of thing happened with Balaam in Numbers 22.  He was frustrated that his donkey would not do what he was commanding it so he began beating the poor animal!  Little did he know that the Lord was working behind the scenes…

31 Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the roadway with a drawn sword in his hand. Balaam bowed his head and fell face down on the ground before him.

32 “Why did you beat your donkey those three times?” the angel of the Lord demanded. “Look, I have come to block your way because you are stubbornly resisting me. 33 Three times the donkey saw me and shied away; otherwise, I would certainly have killed you by now and spared the donkey.”

34 Then Balaam confessed to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned. I didn’t realize you were standing in the road to block my way. I will return home if you are against my going.”

God can still do this today.  He may or may not open our eyes to physically see what He is up to– he may or may not invite us into the script to know exactly what it is He’s up to– but we can be assured He still works behind the scenes.

As Perry Noble would say in his book Overwhelmed, “It may be time to stop praying, ‘God, get me out of this’ and begin praying, ‘Jesus, let me see You.'” (p. 81).

It is a peaceful, all consuming, overwhelming, ABUNDANT feeling to truly know that God is working behind the scenes on our behalf.

It is also incredibly life giving, gracious, and precious beyond words to have friends who speak wisdom into our lives, even in the hardest of times.  We are so thankful for Jake and Anna’s friendship.  And they take pretty amazing photos too :).

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***This post is not sponsored by Sweetlife photography; all these opinions are purely my own.  Like I mentioned, if you live in the pacific northwest and need photography for any reason, these guys will beyond impress you.  Not only are they incredibly talented, but they are so. much. fun. You won’t be disappointed!  Check them out at www.lovethesweetlife.com

I Quit (And Why You Should To!)

I QUIT

I am an above average quitter. In my years, I have quit a variety of things, not limited to cheerleading, playing the flute, couponing, and subscribing to Netflix. 4 times!

I have also quit Jillian Michael’s Level 2 more than I’d like to publicly admit, and am known to quit checking my voice mails once the number gets too high (…currently there are 9!)

I also semi annually (Read: Every other week) consider quitting writing. Like, forever.

But this last week I quit something I will never regret.

It started when I avoided a phone call from my dad.

I knew he was just checking up on me, but I literally COULD NOT talk about this any longer – Not about my problems, not about what I feel I should do in the future, and/or when I should do it… Notta! Even small talk was out of the question!

“That’s exactly why I need to talk to you,” he responded, “I have an idea…

He had my attention as he began to describe an intriguing idea that was as profound, as it was nutty.

… An idea to QUIT!

To throw your hands up, and give up! To quit talking, quit thinking, to even quit WRITING about my problems! …Don’t lie, you just let out a sigh of relief… And if it makes you feel better, I’m just as sick of hearing my sob story as you are! 😉

You see, people all over the world ‘fast’ from things like Facebook, vanilla lattes, or the likes of Salted Caramel Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nuts, but that night my Dad and I made a decision to fast… from our PROBLEMS!

Even further, we are asking BEGGING God to do a miracle in our lives in the next 30 days! Because boy, do we ever need one!

Every time our trials creep into our minds (which is on average every 23.6 seconds) we will do our best to stop thinking about it and give it to God and ask Him to work a miracle on our behalf…

Every time those closest to us check in and ask how we’re doing, to ask them instead, to lift us up in prayer every time they think to ask…

Every time the panic sets in, and our hearts get restless… when we can’t make sense of this mess and can’t help but question what God is doing… we will throw ourselves at the Lord’s feet each and every time, in hopes that by the end of the month we will see Him more clearly.

In James 1:5-6 it says, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God and He will give it to you…”

It’s simple, just ask! And in my case, if you need 5 TRILLION TONS of wisdom ask over and over, every second of every day, for 30 days straight! 😉

It goes on to say, “…but when you ask Him be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver.”

The only requirement to gain the wisdom that we are so desperately searching for, is to trust IN GOD ALONE – Not in our common sense, (which I pride myself in) not in our preferences, our ability to ‘fix’ things, or make good decisions. Not in our closest friends, our parents, or our spouse. In Christ. PERIOD!

In the last couple months I have found this to be true, because while I have an amazing support system in my life (and equally amazing blog readers!) in spite of their undeniable love and support, constant phone calls, great advice and care packages, (Double Stuffed Oreos anyone?!) I am still just as stuck as I was before, and haven’t budged even in the slightest!

While I ultimately desire the life the Lord has for me – and while in the past I have followed Him devotedly – this current journey He has me on, has me traveling uncharted territory, out of my comfort zone, and even more, against my will! I am scared to death, and let’s be honest, if there were a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card, I’d play it… Like, yesterday!

So the question is, if I’m up against the wall, with few options and even less hope…

if I’m paralyzed in fear and at the end of my rope…

Than seriously, why am I still trying?

Why not quit?

Why not give it to the one who is far more qualified to get me out of this blunder? The one who doesn’t tremble at the magnitude of the mountain I’m up against? The Lord isn’t surprised by the state of my life, He knew I’d be right here… right now… and that I’d want to puke! Even more, He knows when deliverance will be at my doorstep! (Here’s hoping it’s sooner rather than later!)

Our God is more than capable to do a miracle in 30 days!

… But will He?  That is the question!

One thing is certain, God can do more with our problem in 30 days than we can!

So join me in quitting….

Join me in putting our lofty dreams, big decisions, and looming deadlines on the back burner! To quit keeping ourselves up late into the night and talking ourselves TO DEATH in an attempt at doing this in our own strength! And instead give it to the Lord and ask Him to guide our every step – our every thought – for the next month!

And while I have no idea what is going to happen in the next 30 days – or even worse, what I’ll do if He doesn’t show up! (Don’t be surprised if in a month I post some bogus recipe for homemade laundry detergent or something!)

…I know that if I don’t take this leap of faith today, that at the very worst,  I will be exactly where I started yesterday.

And so I have nothing to lose…

I quit.

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Give Me Faith (To Trust What You Say)

THIS. Is better than anything I could write.

I don’t care how you listen to it, JUST DO IT! I promise, you wont regret it.

Listen to it while you brush your teeth, or as you comb your hair. Put your phone in a bowl – yes, you heard right! – to amplify the uh-maziness and transform your bathroom into that of a worship concert complete with mood altering lights, and worship pastor’s wearing hipster beanies and skinny jeans!

(And by the way, if you haven’t tried the phone-in-a- bowl- trick then you have NO idea what you are missing! Hint: The bigger the bowl, the bigger the dance party!  #YouCanThankMeLater)

You can listen to it as you eat your wheaties, listen to it during a tantrum (hopefully your child’s, and not yours!) listen to it as you make dinner, as you sort laundry, or between watching reruns of the Real Housewives of New Jersey! You know you do it!

Listen to it in a bowl,

in a dish,

with a fish.

In a bar,

with a car.

Listen to it ANYWHERE,

wherever you are!

Seriously, I need to lay off the Dr. Seuss. And for the record, don’t try listening to it in a dish… that wont work. Nor would listening to it in a bar I would presume, but I wont judge!

Just listen to the dang song, and LIKE IT!

Or I wont like you!

I’m kidding… 

sort of.

I may be weak,

But your spirit’s strong in me.

My flesh may fail,

 My God, you never will!

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When God Prepares You For The Unimaginable

I can remember, closing my eyes as I listened to my husband’s heart beat the night before I was to drop him off at camp. I would keep myself up late that night in an attempt to savor every last moment with him.

Grabbing his bags out of the back of the car, I can recall how strangely hard it was for us to say goodbye that day. I remember struggling to make eye contact with him for fear that he might see my uncertainty.

The sun was to be my clock that night, and I knew very well that I needed to get through the desert valley before it got dark. I knew I should’ve headed out awhile ago, but it had been difficult to leave my husband’s side. He would stall also, finding silly excuses to tell me one more thing, and to sneak in one last hug.

It was only seconds after we had said our goodbyes, and after I had made him pinky-promise that he would be safe, that I made my way down the gravel road to head out on my 3 hour journey back home.

I will forever remember the last thing I saw as I left the campsite – over 100 counselors collectively gathered together in an open barn under the stars, arms outstretched to the heavens, singing praises to our Lord!

I took a deep breath as almost to reassure myself that God’s presence, was so obviously with them. I had nothing to fear.

Even still, I cried the whole way home. My heart was terribly troubled and I couldn’t understand why.

It was only after I came upon one of the most captivating back drops along my drive, that I’d at last, be able to calm my restless thoughts.

Not more than an hour into my journey and just as I neared a mountain up ahead, the sun began to set picturesquely beside it in a way that illuminated it’s peak in the most stunning shades of blue that I had ever seen!

And as far as I could see, I was the only one driving through the expanse of the valley that night.

The setting was all for me, it seemed.

I smiled to myself, upon hearing the chorus of a song playing softly in the background…

“Savior you can move the mountains,

My God is mighty to save,

He is mighty to save.”

“That’s cute, God…” I thought to myself, and of the mountain-themed coincidence.

And yet, as I hummed the lyrics that I had no doubt sang hundreds of times before, the words began to come alive to me in an entirely different way that night.

Because as I looked up at the greatness of the mountain ahead of me, there was no denying how truly massive it was!

It felt as if the Lord was intentionally illuminating the entire mountain – all the way to it’s utmost peak- as if to allow me to fully grasp how incredibly enormous of a mountain it really was!

So that He then could declare, that this mountain in it’s entirety -and any other mountain for that matter- were never too large for Him to move.

He was mighty and able to save!

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He spoke this so clearly to me that night, that I took this picture to remind me of my moment alone with the Lord in the desert.

But I could never have known when I casually snapped this picture, what the Lord was ultimately preparing me for.

Only He who knew the magnitude of the mountain we’d be up against , when just a day later, we would face unimaginable tragedy in our youth group.

Only He would be able to foresee the very same counselors, that I had last seen lifting their hands and voices in worship, hours later,  falling to their knees at the foot of the cross in complete anguish.

And yet, my God did not cower in fear at the sight of the mountain ahead of us!  (-the way I so badly wanted to-)

The promise He made remained; ” I am mighty to save”

I am eternally grateful that God prepared my heart that night.

Because just a day later, I would get a phone call from my husband in a voice of hysteria I could barely recognize. The words he spoke, would be so awful and unbearable, that I can recall having to repeat them back to him in an attempt to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

It felt as if my mind was refusing to recognize what he was saying – refusing to believe the heartbreaking end to the days events – as truth.

…But He was mighty to save.

When Caleb’s family asked Ricky to speak at his memorial, close family friends would come to me privately, overwhelmed with a deep concern that it would be too much responsibility for someone in such a fragile, emotional state.

I would hear out their concerns, but ultimately would look back on my encounter with the mountain that night – remembering how impossibly huge it was – and how even then, the Lord never waivered.

I would choose in that moment, to believe that God was going to use this irreparable loss to move some miraculous-sized mountains. And that in the process, I wasn’t going to be the one to hold Him back.

And so I would choose to believe that my husband could. And for the record, Ricky proved he damn well could! 😉

I will never forget how stunned I was to hear a message of boldness and strength from a person who was no doubt, void of either at the time!

But again, just like He promised, the Lord showed up in a room of Caleb’s closest family and friends, and He indeed, was mighty to save!

Even as I observed my husband struggling to write out his deepest and most private thoughts for last weeks post – tears streaming down his face as he read it aloud to me – I would be lying if I said I didn’t question whether it was wise for me to have asked him to write from a place of such immense pain and tragedy.

And yet, 3 days later we stood in awe at the computer screen! Eyes wide in disbelief at the realization that his post was read by over 1,000 people all across the world!

People in:

The United States

Canada

Germany

Mexico

Japan

Finland

Singapore

France

Malaysia

Russia

Turkey

Mongolia

New Zealand

Australia

Togo

Spain

South Africa

Slovenia

Switzerland

1,000 people in 3 days heard of last summer’s unimaginable loss and yet, God’s unmistakeable presence in the midst of it!

Our Lord, is without a doubt, mighty to save!

And my encouragement to you, is that no matter how massive of a mountain you have found yourself up against today –  no matter how long you have stood paralyzed in fear, staring up at it wondering if this is the one, due to it’s enormity, that He can’t move on His own – I want to assure you that the very same God that met me in a desert in Oregon, will again remain faithful and true to you!

In the chaos and confusion, I know You are sovereign still.

I will trust in You, Lord.

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Moments That Span Into Eternity…

So how do you write about something you wished never happened? How do your describe something that felt so dark, but in reality was actually illuminating? Where do you begin?

I guess I’ll start from the beginning…

imageSunday, July 8th around 8:45pm – First Day of ETV Summer Camp 

It was a typical tent-discussion with a handful of 9th and 10th grade boys following the first message from camp…”What’d you like? What didn’t you like?” etc., etc. One comment stood out from the rest…It came from a boy entering the 10th grade named Caleb Justice. In a conversation about the relevancy of God and the Bible, Caleb spoke up and said, “It doesn’t surprise me that God’s word still makes sense to us today [after being written some 2,000+ years ago]…I mean, He’s God and that’s just what He does…”

It’s amazing how enlightening a single statement can be. Words have a way of doing that…to inspire…to reveal truth…to stick. Caleb’s words stuck. I left that conversation thinking about the nonchalant, “no duh”-type of way that Caleb spoke about God.

“What else did I expect? God always works. He never fails. Every year at ETV, He does something amazing. Yeah…this is what He does.”

Little did I know that God would begin to work in ways I could have never imagined. But this wouldn’t be the kind of work that was easy or brief. This was to be a work that would involve pain and loss. A work that work that would require faith and courage. A work that would require sacrifice…

Monday, July 9th around 11:00am – Arriving to the Lake

My main responsibility for the week was to oversee all of the lake activities – we had a great week planned with multiple boats for students to go tubing & wakeboarding, we had water polo goals for the shallow water, countless water floats for the students to use and enjoy, and we even had fried chicken for lunch (which is way better than the usual ham & cheese sandwich with no mayo)! So it was set to be a great week!

For months I had been preparing for the week of camp. I had several areas of responsibility that I was overseeing for the week and I wanted to make sure that I was as prepared as possible to lead and serve well.

One of my areas of responsibility was the Lake Team…I know, I know – tough gig, but somebody had to do it 😉 Like I told the ETV Leadership Team, “If somebody needed to suffer in the sun and make sure the lake was covered, I would be willing to ‘take one’ for the team.” So I did 🙂

I planned for a great week at the Lake with lots of fun activities, but I learned quickly that you can’t plan for the unexpected. Within a matter of hours everything would change.

Looking back now – a full year later – it seems as if this was a “small” microcosm of what to expect over the next year. Life is full of so many twist and turns – almost all of which are unexpected. It’s as if we set our plans only to appease our minds and give us some sort feeling of control.

It’s interesting really – with so much being out of our control, we fight and struggle for every little bit of control that we can muster. Now I’m not advocating abandoning plans, or saying that plans don’t have purpose, but it’s foolish to think that because we plan things will unfold the way we expected. If there is anything that I’ve learned in this life it’s that few things go the way I plan.

Proverbs 16:9 says, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.”

Only God knows fully our exact steps and the direction of the paths we journey. All that we experience and all that we go through are part of God’s plan and His purpose.

This is the foundational truth that I’ve held onto over the last year. It’s what has brought me peace amidst turbulence. And it’s been the light that has guided me through darkness.

And darkness was certainly looming…

Monday, July 9th around 2:30pm – “The Phone Call”

The shore was silent…the music had stopped…the “vibe” was changing…not a problem. I would simply get my iPhone, restart the playlist, connect it back to the stereo dock, and the beach party would resume. As I reached for my phone, I realized that I had an incoming call – it was the Camp Director, Mathias Califf – unassumingly so, I answered the phone. What was said to me was not what I expected – how could anyone ever expect what happened next…

Mathias: “Hey, do you have a moment?”

Me: “Yea, what’s up?”

Mathias: “Listen, Greg (Goosetree) just called me and there is a situation happening at the waterfalls. I don’t have all of the details, but Caleb Justice slipped off a rock into the river. Brett McLean went in after him but neither of them have come up yet and it’s been about 5 minutes.”

Me: “What do you mean? Did they get carried downstream?”

Mathias: “I don’t know man. I don’t have all the details, but it sounds pretty scary. I’m on my way there now, so I’ll call you as soon as I have more information.”

Paralysis can be defined as a state of powerlessness or incapacity to act. I’m not 100% sure that this is what I experienced, but it definitely captures how I felt in that moment. I suddenly became overwhelmed by a flood of emotions…fear, uncertainty, disbelief, hurt, and even anger. Each emotion reared itself, making me well aware of its presence.

Yet, amidst all of those feelings I had a sense of hope. Uncertain hope, but hope nonetheless. “Maybe they’re just around the bend…They should come up any moment now…When Mathias calls back, everything will be ok…There’s no way that this could happen at camp.”

It was that small measure of hope mixed with the other wild emotions that led me to prayer. I mean prayer like I never prayed before. It was a desperate prayer. A prayer like I’ve only prayed maybe once before. I longed for the best, but I feared for the worst.

It makes me wonder – in that moment I begged of everything from God…I believed in His ability and in His power maybe more than I’ve ever believed – so why is it that we don’t seek God in this way even in the smallest of matters?

To pray with that same level of burden, to believe with such a deep sense of conviction, to trust with the highest degree of reverence – this is what I’ve learned. That in all things God desires for us to seek Him in this way – even when the outcomes are not what we desire.

Monday, July 9th around 3:00pm – “Cruel Reality”

The phone rings. Mathias Califf calling. Swipe to answer.

Me: “Hello…”

Mathias: “Hey Ricky…man, I don’t even know how to tell you this…”

In that one, half-sentence I knew…more was said, but it didn’t matter. As cruel as it seemed, reality set in. Things would be forever different. 

Mathias: “Do you want me to call the parents? Or is that something you think you should do?”

Me: “No, I think I should call them. I think it would be better for them to hear it from me.”

That 30-minute window felt like eternity times three. It’s funny how we can want something so badly – in my case this phone call – yet when we receive what we “wanted” it ends up not being what we wanted at all.

As soon as those words were uttered my heart sank. This game of life had dealt it’s cruelest hand – death.

Brett McLean and Caleb Justice

Brett McLean and Caleb Justice

As reality set in, I couldn’t help but feel as if someone was playing a cruel joke on me. That day at the lake, I did my best to make sure that everyone was safe. I watched the shore to make sure no one was too far out. I kept an eye on every person – I didn’t want any accidents happening on my watch.

Yet here I was having to face a situation in which I was unable to protect one of my own students. In all honesty, I felt like a failure. Doubt began to creep it’s way in, ”If only I had been there – maybe I could’ve reached him. This happened because I wasn’t there. This was my fault…”

As foolish as it may seem, these were my honest thoughts in that moment. I don’t know how long those thoughts lasted, but it couldn’t be very long. Within moments I had to muster the courage to call Caleb’s father and break the news to him. There was no room for doubt or self-pity. Courage was what was need. Yes, courage.

Yet again it seems that this moment – when all of life seemed still – served to be a reminder of a greater lesson that God would begin to teach me.

You see there are situations that we experience far more consistently than we’d like to acknowledge that cause us to doubt. They have to do with relationships, with family, with work, with school, with ourselves – and they all cause us to doubt. We doubt who we are; we doubt what we’ve learned; we doubt what we’ve become; we doubt the process that has led us to this moment; we doubt our decisions; we doubt the decisions of others; we doubt God.

But it is in these moments, these seasons, of doubt that God is often times pulling us forward, urging us to live with courage. He’s at work within us stirring up the courage that will drive away the doubt; courage that will fortify who we are; courage that will cause us to overcome.

It is this courage that allows us to face all of life’s cruel realities, even when we don’t know how…

Monday, July 9th around 3:05pm – “The Conversation”

Search contacts. Locate Shawn Justice. Take a deep breath. Say a prayer. Dial mobile.

Shawn: “Hey Ricky!”

Me: “Hey Shawn. Do you have a minute to talk and can you sit down?”

Shawn: “Yea, sure – what’s going on?”

Me: “Shawn, I don’t even know how to say this but…Shawn, today Caleb was at the river near the waterfalls. He was on the rocks around the pool and he slipped in. Another leader was nearby and he went in after Caleb to try to reach him. It’s been over 30 minutes and neither one of them has surfaced. Shawn, I’m so sorry…”

Shawn: Pauses. Deep breath.

Me: “I’m so sorry Shawn…I’m sorry…”

Shawn: Exhale. “Ricky, it’s ok, just pray…I’ll get Sara and we’ll head up to the camp.”

End conversation.

Just typing this very conversation is incredibly difficult. With each keystroke I relive the conversation. Moment-by-moment, line-by-line, sentence-by-sentence everything comes back. This is a conversation that I’ll never forget – and trust me, for good or for bad, I’ve tried to forget. But my mind won’t…it can’t…let go.

It’s a conversation that has been re-played in my mind every week for the last year. 52 weeks. Every. Single. Week.

How do you tell the father of a 15-year old boy that his son has just passed away in a drowning accident at summer camp? Better yet, how do you respond to his sense of peace and understanding?

As I’ve said before, I wouldn’t wish this conversation on my worst enemy…

There is much to be learned from this conversation. While I’ve learned some things, I’ve not fully extracted all that is to be gained from this brief phone call. In fact, when I think of this conversation it only leads to more questions and more learning.

How does one maintain a measure of calmness when you’ve been dealt terrible news? At what point in my relationship with God will I begin to know and understand God in such a way that I am not panicked about life’s troubles? When I face an unbelievable challenge or reality – do I think to pray? Or why think at all – why not pray?

I’ve had a year to think on these things and to be honest this is still in “process mode”. I haven’t arrived yet. I haven’t figured it out yet, but I’m working on it. This conversation that I sometimes wish I could let go of, has become a source for deep introspection and self-evaluation. So for that reason alone, I will continue to replay this conversation and relive possibly the most difficult thing that I have ever done in my life.

Monday, July 9th around 3:30pm – The White River Falls

Right after calling Shawn Justice, I was on my way to the waterfalls. While the distance was only 7 miles, the entire drive seemed to move in slow motion. 

Upon arriving to the falls I saw Joshua, Caleb’s older brother, who was just yards away when his brother slipped into the falls. I could hardly bring myself to look at him as I still battled feelings of guilt and failure. 

I walked towards the White River Falls – a set of falls so gorgeous, hidden in an Oregon desert valley. I had been to the falls many times before. I always stood in wonder and in awe of God’s creation. 

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It was here that I was able to gather myself for a few moments. Emergency crews were on the scene and the state park was now closed as rescue crews sought to retrieve the bodies of Caleb Justice and Brett McLean. Still I was able to sit silently, to reflect, to talk…

I found a place of solace – a place where I could approach God and talk with Him about what had occurred. He already knew, but I knew He wanted to hear it from me. It was there that I told Him all about Caleb and Brett. I told Him about how Caleb once tried to play “Hide and Seek” with me even though I didn’t know I was playing, plus he was hidden in plain sight. I told God about the time Brett and I sat in a pizza shop and laughed because we were two young guys with matching “doulos” tattoos on our left wrists sharing a vegetarian pizza.

I told God that on the surface Caleb and Brett appeared to be polar opposites, but that in reality they were very much the same – both were risk-takers; both had a passion for life and even more passion for Jesus; both had unique personalities with their own quirks; and both were comfortable being who God wanted them to be. I also told God that I would miss them dearly.

Yes, it was at the White River Falls – the place where the waters roared loudly and violently – that I was invited to talk with God.

Psalm 27:8 – “My heart has heard you say, ‘Come and talk with me.’ And my heart responds, ‘Lord, I am coming.’”

Over this last year I have found God’s invitation to talk to be one of the most comforting things in my life. In God, I have found a friend that I can approach about anything at anytime. He’s worthy of being trusted with deepest hurts and our darkest fears. He’s gives us reason to celebrate and provides us with great joy. No matter my situation, I take God up on His offer to talk and many times this is exactly what I need.

Monday, July 9th around 5pm – “The Message”

After some time at the falls, Mathias and I began to talk about the rest of the day and evening – what would be the plan? Who do we communicate to? What do we communicate? How do we let the other students know that haven’t heard yet? 

With several other youth pastors unaware of what was going on, and with Mathias having to stay with the emergency crews and law enforcement, I headed back to the camp to take the lead on communicating to the students and to the volunteers. 

I’ve given dozens of speeches and I’ve preached hundreds of messages in my life – many of which I’ve prepared for hours, some I’ve done ‘off the cuff’ – but none were as conflicting as what I was about to say. It was up to me to tell about 150 high school students and 100+ adult staff & volunteers about the incidents of the day. I didn’t know what to say exactly, but I knew two things: they needed the truth and they needed hope.

So on the drive to the camp, I began to think. I gleaned on an experience that occurred just 9 days before the tragedy at ETV (which I wrote about here) and I knew that despite the tragedy, the call had to be to worship and to love.

To worship because the day we arrived to camp we celebrated God’s greatness and how good He was; and if God was good yesterday, then the truth still remains that God was still good on this day. Like David when he lost his son in 2 Sam. 12, the only appropriate response seemed to be worship. The beauty of worship is that it requires a total surrender of one’s self in acknowledgment of One that is bigger, or superior. Despite our troubles, I knew God was still in control.

And to love because this was an experience that we all went through – it wasn’t just me, everyone at camp was going to go through this…together. And since we were going to walk through this experience together we needed love. Love for our brothers, love for our sisters, love for our Creator. It was love that was to become the pillars of support on which we would stand.

So this became our “rally cry” of sorts: To worship and to love. That night we broke into groups, told stories, laughed, cried, supported one another, exhorted each other, and sang songs…we worshipped and we loved.

Singer/songwriter Reuben Morgan from Hillsong United once said, “When we are more aware of our weaknesses than our strength, it is ok to sing out of HOPE rather than certainty.”

Although two friends were lost, we all sang out of hope.

It was in this moment that I learned I could worship in any and every situation. That worship of the one true God is not dependent upon my circumstances. No…God is far greater than that. He is much more deserving of that.

Only a God so gracious and so loving could receive and accept a worship so broken yet so pure.

Monday, July 9th to Tuesday, July 10th – Reflection

The 24 hours that followed felt like I was in the twilight zone. All of it felt like a whirlwind…I remember looking at my watch exactly 24 hours after I received the first phone call and thinking how fast, yet how slow, time had moved. So much had happened in such a short span of time. Little by little I began piecing together my thoughts and looking for what God was doing in me and around me…

I’ve always been a “big picture” kind of guy. I’ve always tried to step away from a situation and see how everything was coming together and try to assess what could be. This has always come very natural to me – even when I was a young teenager.

This situation was no different. As time passed, I began to step back and look for what God was doing. He was doing something and it was BIG. All over the world people were becoming aware of what had occurred and they began reaching out and praying together. God’s people were rallying together and sending their prayers and support our way. At the camp, there was a spirit of unity and humility. God was at work and I began to see bits and pieces of what He was doing.

I went from looking around to looking within – what was God doing in me? I wasn’t sure, but I had questions…Why was I chosen to be at the center of these events? What did God want me to see about Him? This wasn’t a short-term learning experience, so how would this affect the rest of my life and my ministry?

In this last year, I’ve walked through all sorts of challenges and I’ve faced countless situations that have required reckless faith. I’ve had people tell me that they know God is going to do great things in me and that they can’t wait to see the story God has written for me. I’ve pursued dreams that I’ve had for 10 years and I’ve seen God honor that in my life.

But why?

One reason: I’ve sought every opportunity to be used by God and I’ve accepted every situation that He has presented me with.

There’s no magic here. There’s nothing special or unique about what I’ve done. It’s something that every single person can choose to do. No matter who you are, you can decide to embrace everything that God puts before you and learn to see it as an opportunity to bring honor to Him.

My Continuing Journey…

Sadly, many of us don’t choose to be used by God in this way. We choose comfort and convenience over character. We settle on contentment rather than growth. We look for shortcuts rather than trusting in the process.

It’s certainly not easy, nor is it always fun. There are many seasons where you truly walk by faith not knowing where you are going – but that is the essence of the Christian belief system. It’s Faith.

Hebrews 11:6 says, “It is impossible to please God without faith.” 

It doesn’t say that your chances of pleasing God are reduced…it says that it is impossible. Faith isn’t an option, it’s a must.

Not only is this the chief lesson that I have learned, but it is what was exemplified in Caleb’s life.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It’s not the length of life, but the depth.”

Through all of this, I have discovered that the key to depth is not possessions, pleasure, or even experiences; but rather the key to depth is faith. You see I’ve learned that faith is what leads to a life that is full of depth, meaning, and significance.

It really is amazing how much you can learn in a single day. There are some things you learn that will stay with you forever – you’ll never forget them.

Funny isn’t? How some moments span into eternity…

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