Monday, May 2, 2016

Lessons from The Fire: 1 year later

On May 1st, Joe was gone for an all-night youth group event. I never enjoy it when Joe is away overnight, but that night I was extra uneasy. I laid awake for hours; unable to go to sleep with a heightened sense of fear. So to calm myself down, I started quoting scripture. The very last passage that I remember quoting was Psalm 23. “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me…surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” I didn’t know it then, but God was preparing my heart for the trial that lay ahead. I was about walk through the valley, but he gave me the promise that He would walk through it with me. It was with a peace-filled heart that I fell asleep.
Not even 2 hours later, I woke up to a very faint beeping sound and Evelyn’s cries coming from the baby monitor. “Why is she crying now? What is that beeping?” Confused and disoriented, I made my way downstairs. As I reached the bottom of the stairs, I knew that something was wrong. I had figured out that it was the fire alarm that was going off, and I could see a bright light shining through the opening of the bedroom door. I ran into the room and took in a scene that will stick with me for the rest of my life. There was a fire burning in the middle of a box fan and smoke was filling the room. And in the middle of it all, not even a foot away from the flame, lay our precious baby girl, screaming in fear. I snatched her up and ran back to our room as quickly as I could.
After calling Joe and making sure Evelyn was ok, I ran back down to the bedroom with a fire extinguisher. I tried to pull the pin so that I could put out the fire, but the pin would not budge. By that point, the smoke was getting so thick that I could hardly see or breathe. It was in that moment that I knew our lives would never be the same.
Before you have a fire, you think about what you would try to save before you would leave the house. I had always planned on taking the home videos, pictures, a few special family items, and my wedding dress. But when the moment actually happened, all I cared about saving was our children. I know the Lord was with me that night as I calmly picked up Evelyn, woke up a very sleepy Fletcher and Sophie, and got as far away from the house as possible. I never had a thought of grabbing keys, coats, or even shoes. All I wanted was to get our babies out safely.
As we waited for Joe and the firemen to come, I desperately wanted to quote scripture to the kids as they sat next to me, cold and scared. I have memorized hundreds of verses in my life, but in that moment, I couldn’t think of a single one. I tried racking my brain for a comforting verse, but in my traumatized state, nothing came. Finally, a verse that had been reiterated in my head for so long that it had nearly lost its meaning overflowed out of my heart with a beautiful freshness. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me…surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”  Christ, my Good Shepherd, had been with me every step I took that night, and he was not going to leave us in the days ahead. And just like a police officer hunts down a criminal, God’s never stopping, never giving up, always and forever love was chasing us down, lavishing undeserved grace on his children.
The following day, my body went into a post-traumatic state. I felt as stiff as a board, unable to relax. Any time I thought about the fire, I had to tell myself to breathe. I would try to rest, but all I could hear were alarms going off and Evelyn’s cries coming from the monitor, even though she was fast asleep next to me. I was terrified of going to sleep for fear of waking up to flames. My thoughts were in a constant state of the possibilities of what could have happened instead of what did. My mind was so much in that state, that my reality had become losing Evelyn to the fire, even though God had miraculously spared her. So while I was holding her in my arms, I was mourning her death at the same time.
When I realized where my mind was living, I had to force myself to think on what was true. Truth was that God had woken me to a quiet alarm sound, a woman who normally sleeps through thunderstorms and ringing phones. Truth was that even though Fletcher and Sophie, who had never been close to the flames, reeked of smoke, while Evelyn, who had been surrounded by the smoke, smelled as if she had just gotten out of the bath tub. Truth was that God had given me peace and a sound mind so that I could make wise decisions to get our little family to safety. Truth was that God had shown Himself to be a mighty rescuer. When I chose to meditate on what was true rather than making the what-ifs my alternate reality, fear and anxiety were replaced by joy and peace. God deserved all of the glory for what had happened. He was the one who had said “yes!” to life, and my fear was robbing Him of the glory that He deserved.
And then, God continued to lavish us with grace through the love of His saints. You, God's people, wonderfully overwhelmed us with clothes, groceries, meals, clothes, phone calls, visits, clothes, money, gift cards, and did I mention clothes?! You wept with us and got down on your knees for us. I would later find out that the first night after the fire, God had woken up women in the church in the middle of the night, burdening them to pray for us. As I heard the different accounts, I realized that at least one woman was praying for us every hour all throughout the night. God had set up a prayer warrior night watch on our behalf!
I will never be able to adequately thank everyone for all that you have done for us. You have rejoiced with us in our greatest blessings, and now you have come alongside us to weep with us. It has meant more to us than we could ever express. I am confident that someday when you throw your crowns at Christ’s feet, you will ask, “Lord, when did we give you toys, or wash your garbage bags of filthy laundry, or make you meals?” He will answer, “When you did it for the Groppels, the least of my children, you did it for me.”
For the past few years, I have made it my goal to read through the bible in a year. In the chronological plan that I use, the month of May (the month of the fire) is spent reading the Psalms. I see this as another gift from the Lord. The fire could have taken place during any month of the year, but God sovereignly allowed it to happen in the time that I was in a beautiful book about the power, majesty, and splendor of God. I experienced a sweet fellowship that I have never known before as I was saturated with these truths. I needed to be in God’s Word. It was my source of comfort and strength when I was at my weakest. It truly is sweet to walk with Christ in the valley.
The physical item that has been the hardest thing for me to lose is our home family videos. We had been given a fireproof box last Christmas, but I had just never taken the time to put anything in it. So instead of our memories being placed in that box, I had put them on a shelf right above the box fan where the fire had started. There have been many times when my foolishness has tempted me to nearly scream out of frustration. But each time, Joe lovingly encouraged me, “Becky, God just didn’t want us to have them.” That was exactly what my heart needed to hear. God is always sovereignly bringing about his plan, and the loss of our home videos was no different.
I had never understood the apostle Peter’s statement, “Lord I believe. Help my unbelief!” But through this trial, I learned exactly what it meant. I believed that God was good, He was always with me, and that everything He did was for my Christ-likeness. But as I waded through piles of burned clothing, I didn’t believe that God was good. When I begged Joe to look just one more time for the lost home videos, it didn’t feel like God was with me. So, I pleaded, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!” And although it is still a constant struggle, he has been faithful to answer that prayer. I will never again watch videos of Joe and I bringing our precious babies home from the hospital or seeing them eat their first birthday cake. But even if I don’t ever understand it, God knows that I can be more like Christ without those videos (and everything else that we lost) than I ever could be with them safely placed in a fireproof box. It may not every make earthly sense, but He loves me too much to let that happen.
As the weeks passed, I began to feel very homesick. 3 times a week we would pass the parsonage on our way to church. As we drove by, I would look through the windows. The couches were still there, the girls’ bows were still hanging on the wall, but everything we had owned was now completely unusable. I could see my home, but I couldn’t enjoy it with my family. I longed for a place to call home, but there was no way for that to happen. It was then that I finally recalled the last part of Psalm 23. “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” I realized that the very thing that my heart was longing for was already mine. Christ had paid for my home, a perfect, un-burnable one, with his very own blood. I might not have had a home on this earth, but Christ had already purchased one for me where I could intimately know and enjoy Him forever. Christ is better than a house made of brick. A house on earth could never satisfy the deepest longing of my heart. Only my Savior could do that.
Even though I have experienced losing it all, through it I gained much. I have learned that my deceitful heart is prone to doubt God during times of trial.  It is easy for me to trust God when I am living in comfort, ease, and happiness. But my trust quickly turns to anger when He brings about pain.  Again, I have to pray constantly that God will help me believe what I know to be true: loss is gain, brokenness is healing, and God shines brighter in the darkness. His grace is sufficient to help me choose trust rather than doubt. Trust will always be the more joy-filled option.
I have learned to think with a more eternal, Kingdom mindset. Physical things can be taken away in an instant, but souls will last forever. I can either spend my life gathering and loving stuff, or I can invest in the lives of others. I can either worship my things, or I can worship the God who gave me those things to enjoy and point back to Himself. I have learned that no one is promised tomorrow. We never know how long we will have here on earth or how long we will have with our children.
I have learned the importance of enjoying every day that He gives me with my family and to use it for His glory. It used to be such a bittersweet time for me as our children grew out of one adorable stage and began an equally adorable, but more grown up one. But the fire changed everything. Now, I am able to thank God for the stage we just enjoyed, and praise Him for letting us watch the next one happen. What a gift!
A few days after the fire, Fletcher said to me, “Mommy, God gave us the fire so that we would know that He is great.” What a blessing our little boy has been to his weary mommy! His child-like faith was able to look beyond the circumstances and see the God who orchestrated them all. It has been my prayer that my heart would echo both Fletcher and King David who said “Let those who love your salvation say, ‘God is great!’”

I wish I could stand before you and say that I went through this trial with a complete trust in God and with fullness of joy. But I cannot. I have struggled my way through it all, constantly fighting for joy and a peace that passes all understanding. But what I can tell you is that when I was faithless, my God remained faithful. And before He ever formed time and space, he looked beyond my shaking fist aimed right at him. Instead of punishing me like I deserved, he chose to love me anyway because of the beautiful sacrifice His Son made on the cross, paying for my rebellion in my place. And for that I am thankful.

Monday, October 14, 2013

"Mommy, What's for Dinner?"

For the past several months, Joe has been wanting to take me to a new pizza place he discovered. Unfortunately, whenever we get the rare chance to have a date night, we are not quite in the mood for that type of cuisine. This is because our  motto is quickly becoming, "When life gets crazy, we eat pizza!" Let me explain...

 Our days are chaotic. Even as I write, my kitchen is in dire need of sweeping due to the phenomenon of more cereal ending up on the floor than what was originally in my children's bowls before breakfast started. Our little people need to be clothed, fed, washed, entertained, educated, and basically kept alive on an hourly basis. Joe and I have filled-up calendars and to-do lists stacked so high it could rival that of a highly suspenseful Jenga game. So as dinner time quickly approaches, the easiest thing for me to do is throw that Italian pie in the oven and call it a day.

A midst this wild, pizza-eating season of life, Joe and I have been meditating on Psalm 23:6.

"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

This is a verse I have known nearly my whole life but never really grasped its meaning until recently. The word "follow" can also be translated as "to pursue" or "to chase down." We moms know this kind of pursual:
It's the feeling you get when you try to sneak off to the bathroom for just one moment of privacy. It isn't very long before you hear little feet pounding down the hallway at an alarming rate and see tiny hands scraping the floor underneath the closed door in a desperate attempt to get to you. They will stop at nothing until they once again have you at an adorably chubby arm's length (or even closer, in most cases).

What is it that is following us in this persistent, determined, relentless way? It is the faithful loving-kindness of our Savior. The Jesus Storybook Bible defines this kind of love as the "Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love."  What a beautiful description of the favor that God has for those who have placed their hope in Him!

So when you and I are digging blue play-dough out of the carpet, God's loving-kindness is chasing us down. When we're sitting in front of a mountain of laundry and we'd rather be at the park with our kids, God's goodness won't stop coming after us until it finds us. When that "spill proof" sippy cup decides to pour out all of its contents during a long doctor's appointment, God's faithful love is hotly pursuing us. And when we forget about the church pot luck lunch until 11:00 on Saturday night, the "Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love" will be right by our side.

Joe and I are seeking ways to make our life more simple. In the meantime, life is hectic. We're eating a lot of pizza. But we're thankful for each day He gives us to be with our family and church, resting in God's faithful loving-kindness he has graciously lavished on us. I'll take that over a fast, cheap, pepperoni thin crust any day!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Reckless Abandonment

On Saturday, July 27, a bus filled with excited young people and youth sponsors from Colonial Hills Baptist Church were heading home from a week of camp. Less than 2 miles from their church, the bus lost control and ran into a median. This deadly collision claimed the lives of a mother of 5 (Tonya Weindorf), the church's youth pastor (Chad Phelps), his wife (Courtney), and their unborn baby girl. Chad and Courtney left behind their precious son who will turn 2 in October.

Being a young pastor's wife and mother of little ones, this tragedy has hit very close to my heart. I have been reminded that no one is guaranteed tomorrow. Not even young wives. Not even mommies. Every day is a gracious gift from God. This gift should be received with a spirit of thankfulness and bent on using it to the fullest for His glory. 

In January of 2013, just six months before he would take his last breath, Chad Phelps wrote this powerful statement on his blog: 

"Will you pray with us in regards to this summer? Start praying even now.
Pray that God will revive our youth group and give us a passion to live for Jesus
and follow Him with reckless abandonment.
That's how we believe He wants us to live. Pray that we will seek to find our
satisfaction this summer in Him and Him alone, not in any of the cheap thrills 
that the world has to offer."

Our lives are short. I ought to use the days I am given with "reckless abandonment" for Christ because I don't know when those days might end. As a follower of Jesus, I need to be willing to take risks and do hard things for Him with the goal of making a lasting impact for eternity; to lavishly spend and be spent for the sake of the gospel. I need to hold on to earthly treasures very loosely, remembering that every good gift is from God and ultimately belongs to Him. 

While we may never fully understand why this tragedy took place, we can know with certainty that God is still seated on His throne and will use this "for the good of those who love Him." He will continue to show Himself faithful and good, enabling the hearts of His people to "find our satisfaction in Him and Him alone." 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Happy Birthday, Sophie!

It's hard to believe, but one year ago today we held our brand new baby girl in our arms for the first time! It has been such a joy getting to know this precious baby and having the opportunity to love on her. We are so very thankful that God is allowing us to parent Sophia. She is a heritage that we do not deserve. We pray that the Lord will give us the grace to be faithful in teaching her about Christ and that she will grow up to love and serve Him with all of her heart. Daddy and Mommy love you, Baby Girl!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day!

"Motherhood is not a hobby, it is a calling. You do not collect children because you find them cuter than stamps. It is not something to do if you can squeeze time in. It is what God gave you time for."
~Rachel Jankovic

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Moms of a Mom, part 2

"Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
'Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.'"
~Proverbs 31:28-29

Today, I would like to honor the mom who has known be from the beginning: my "Mommy Dearest," Mary Palma. Most life skills that I possess have been handed down by my mother - playing the piano, how to teach someone to play the piano, the ability to ensure that a mischievous baby will stay in their jammies, and much to Mom's patience, the definition of a preposition ("Becky, Becky. Over, under, around, and through!"). 

There is no one like my mom. I could go on forever about all the funny things she does, sings, or says. (In fact, she even has a friend who is documenting all her hilarious sayings!) I could spend paragraphs writing about all the care that she has lavished on me, my siblings, and now my husband and children. I could tell countless stories of all the fun we had growing up and how we have never, ever doubted her love for us. Hopefully someday I can tell you more about those things.

The picture of my mom that I have most firmly printed in my mind is that of her kneeling next to her bed in prayer. From the time that I was a very little girl, I can remember walking past her room and finding her on her knees. Every morning. Without fail. I have never met anyone who is as fervent in prayer as my mother. 

What does she pray about? Well, if you have ever had a conversation with Mom that has lasted longer than 3 minutes, it is probably safe to assume that she is praying for you every day. It never ceases to amaze me when I hear her tell yet another person that she is praying for them. She loves to go before the throne of God and give requests on behalf of others. And when Mary Palma prays, mountains move! I firmly believe that babies have been born, lives have been spared, and people have come to know Christ through the faithful supplications of my mom. This spiritual discipline stems from her unwavering faith in God and His desire for her to "taste and see that [He] is good."

Thank you, Mom, for your godly example in my life. I love you so much!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Moms of a Mom, part 1

"Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
'Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.'"
~Proverbs 31:28-29

In honor of Mother's Day, I wanted to celebrate my own mothers whom God has graciously blessed me with. I would not be the mom that I am today without the two, faithful women who have first mothered me.

To begin, I would like to praise Roberta Groppel, the woman who became my mother the moment I said "I do." If you know Roberta, you know that she has a deep love for her grandchildren, waxing her wood floors, and making scads of delicious cookies at Christmastime. As her daughter I have gained countless tips on what to do when my children are sick, the best ways to keep up with laundry, and how to make those fool-proof Christmas goodies. But the thing that I have learned most from Roberta is the meaning of a servant's heart. Anytime that there is a need, Roberta meets it. Whether it's providing food for a church function, wiping down tables, or comforting someone who is hurting, she is there to help.

She is also so faithful to help her children anytime, anywhere. Countless times I have watched her drop all of her own plans in order to help one of us. Often Roberta serves without ever being thanked or even noticed. But that's not why she does it. She serves because she loves her Savior and wants to show others that same kind of love. I am so very thankful for her godly example. (And I will forever be grateful that she raised such a great son!)

I love you, Roberta!