Dear Woman of Grace

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Dear Woman of Grace,

We were so young, you remember.  We made decisions we had no business making, which in turn involved people who never deserved to get involved. My head was in a cloud of confusion and delusion and I made a series of poor, poor choices.  It was the first time in my 22 years that I recognized the domino effect that one poor decision could have on not just one life, but multiple lives.

The walls I had constructed with such recklessness came tumbling down around me and I felt overwhelmed at the rubble.  I wanted to crawl into a dark place and never come out.  You see, I had always been the example, the leader.  I had maintained my mask of perfection for many years.  Maybe no-one else bought it, but I did.  When I saw the rubble surrounding me, it wasn’t just my life that was a wreck… it was my identity.

And your loved one got hurt.  An innocent bystander was wounded by the chain of events that I initiated.  The guilt and embarrassment took my breath away.

Then there was the baby that was on the way.  In the midst of such chaos, God blessed Jimmie and me with a pregnancy that we so desperately desired.  With the news came immense joy.  Joy clouded by the guilt of a series of poor decisions that hurt and disappointed many.

It was hard to look you in the eye.  When our paths crossed, I avoided you.  I had no words  that adequately described my regret.  Then came the moment I will never forget.

We practically bumped into each other and when I looked up and saw your face, sobs emerged.  Intelligible sobs.  The words may have not been clear, but the meaning of my sobs was evident.

I’m sorry.

And you, woman of grace, you swept this young woman into your arms and forgave.  You poured out your grace on me in a way that so closely resembled the grace of God, I knew it to be a supernatural event.  My heavy sobs melted away into your loving embrace as you firmly said,

It’s okay.

I knew you meant it.  You told me to move forward and to take care of that baby growing inside me and that’s what I did.

Do you understand what you did for me 10 years ago?  Your forgiveness set me free.  That was a pivotal moment in my life.  Had you not responded to me with the love and grace of God, I could have been set upon a path marked by failure.  Instead, you forgave and set me free to advance in my ministry and calling.

My dark days were illuminated with forgiveness and hope.  Hope that you offered by the grace of God.

I have never forgotten what you did for me.  Your demonstration of forgiveness has shaped the way I respond to those around me.  It has kept me humble.  It is a constant reminder of the grace that our Savior shows to us all.  When I look at my beautiful family, I am reminded of your advice to move forward and take care of my family.

You could have told the world how our decisions impacted your family.  You could have made us your enemy.  You could have shamed us, shunned us and undermined our every step.  Instead, you have been a support and encouragement every step of our journey.  Our story will remain secret to most, but I want to broadcast to the world the impact you made on my life in a brief, 5-minute conversation.  You are a woman of grace and I honor you.

With gratitude and love,

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Dear Dad, Letter 4 (on cancer and trust)

(I debated whether or not to share this publicly.  Obviously I landed on doing it.  I want to be an open book and always hope that my transparency will encourage someone else.)

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Dear Dad,

Yesterday was one of those days when I would have given just about anything to have you with me again.

I have heard some words over the past few days that are still a bit surreal.

Suspicious.

Skin cancer.

Biopsy.

I’m pretty sure I inherited my rational brain from you.  Most days logic rules in my life.  Even so, here is how my brain was working during a lapse of sanity:

skin cancer = cancer = 9 year (often horrifying) battle with cancer = death at a sadly young age

Add to that Google searches which tell me those who develop non-melanoma skin cancers have a 50% greater risk of developing other non-skin related cancers.  In addition, if the person diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer is young (say, 32), the risk of developing other types of cancers jumps even higher.

Thank you, Google.

I recognize that all of this worry was premature considering I won’t know the results of the biopsy until Wednesday and it could be nothing.  And yet, I worried.

I don’t fear death.  You taught me there is nothing to fear.  I do worry about the implications of cancer to a 32-year-old mother of two who also happens to be immersed in a church plant and missions work in Cuba. So day one I was perfectly fine and on day two, I flipped.  On day two, I needed my dad.

I needed you to talk to me rationally and be my pastor.  I needed you to lay your hands on me and pray for a miracle.

Thankfully you taught me some valuable lessons while you were still here, and I have even learned some on my own since you left.  I knew I couldn’t live in a state of panic for five days, and reached out to God for help.  Help came in an unexpected way.

See, I have this friend.  You would love her.  She is spiritual and wise and selfless and caring.  She persisted in making sure I was okay, and eventually I let her know I wasn’t.  She told me I had permission to worry.  I told her she was setting the bar too low for me.  She responded that there is no bar for me until Wednesday and that I could react however I wanted until then.

It was in that moment that I realized just how wrong she was.  (Don’t feel bad, spiritual, wise, selfless, caring friend.  We are all wrong sometimes.)  I had a moment of clarity and responded with this:

“I have a bar.  I need to be trusting in God.  I don’t get a free pass because something scary is on the horizon.  What kind of follower would that make me?  I know God allows lament and questioning… for a period.  But I also know he demands trust.”

What kind of trust do I possess when I trust God only during times of health, wealth, prosperity, joy and plenty?  Isn’t it in times of sickness, struggle, poverty, famine, lament and sorrow when my trust is truly tested?

I felt better after that conversation.  I felt even better after my church gathered around me and prayed to God on my behalf for health, healing and a good report.

What really made all the difference was my conversation with Jesus last night.

I don’t have you, Dad.  But we both know I have something even better.  I have the Holy Spirit on the inside that is my Comforter.  I serve a gentle Savior who speaks peace to storms and who bore stripes for my healing.  I don’t have you, but you introduced me to Him.  For nine long years, you modeled unshakable trust in Him and I choose to follow in your footsteps.

My prayer and hope is that this is nothing and that it leads to nothing.  I know that I don’t get a free pass on suffering while on this earth and that my days are numbered only what God permits.  I also choose to have faith and trust that my future is not determined by genetics (as your son Michael so graciously pointed out yesterday) but that a righteous woman’s steps are ordered by the Lord.

I woke up this morning with a peace that passes all understanding.  I will walk in that peace and trust until Wednesday and beyond, wherever this road may take me.

Thank you for teaching me by example.

Your girl,

Rachael

Want to read more letters to my dad?  

Dear Dad, Letter 3

Dear Dad, Letter 2

Dear Dad, Letter 1

 

Dear Dad, Letter 3

Dad

Dear Dad,

I wondered how October would feel when it came around this year.

Your absence is always felt on the 5th.  I spent the day wondering what we would have done to celebrate your birthday.  You were not a man of celebrations.  I can’t seem to recall even one birthday celebration for you.  I’m sure we had them, but perhaps your lack of enthusiasm keeps anything from standing out in my mind.  So what would have been your 71st birthday passed and was fairly uneventful.

Sunday marks 16 years you have been gone.  A few years back I began wondering what this landmark would feel like.  This year, Dad, is the year that marks you being gone for half of my life.  I am 32.  You have been gone 16 years.

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I learned not to be afraid of death.  I learned that lesson at a young age and you were my teacher.  I can’t recall whose funeral it was, but I vividly remember you making me touch the dead body.  I wasn’t resistant, just curious.  When I felt the cold, unnatural skin, you explained that the soul had left the body, and that the soul is the essence of a human.  What was left was a shell, nothing more.

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“What’s the worst they can do?  KILL ME?”

I heard this line so many times during your sermons and lessons.  It was often in reference to passages about persecution.  Even as a young girl, I could come up with things worse than being killed.  But I knew what you meant.  You didn’t fear death and your fearlessness made you a hero to me, strong and courageous.

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Do you remember the day I came into the ICU alone?  You had suffered beyond comprehension.  Every organ seemed to be failing after the bone marrow transplant.  Mom was spent.  The future was unclear.  Prayers were rising up as a continual vapor on your behalf, but the suffering seemed never-ending.  It was rare for me to have a moment alone with you.

Do you remember what I said?

I spoke truth from my heart.  The words came easily.

“It’s okay, Dad.  You can go.  I will be okay.”

I wasn’t afraid of death.  I was only afraid of my life after your death.

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People have called me morbid.  As a student of sociology, I took classes like sociology of death and dying.  I can talk openly about my own mortality.

I recognize on a daily basis that my future is unknown.  I could live into my 90’s like your dad.  I could die of cancer at 55 like you did.  My life could end Thursday on my commute to work.  My life is a vapor.  Your death taught me that.

I don’t see this as a problem.  I see this as a gift, Dad.  A gift you gave to me until you breathed your last breath.

In recognizing that my every breath is numbered, I choose every day to live.

When you came to the end of your life, you had lived more than most live in a lifetime.  You loved well, had a beautiful family, a successful career, traveled the world and were adventurous.  Most importantly, you spent your life for the Kingdom of God.  You built a church, poured yourself into making disciples, loved and studied the Word of God, prayed without ceasing, and knew the Savior.

You knew Him all the way to your final breath.  You trusted Him with your future until the moment He called you home.

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“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life?  For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes….” (James 4:13-14)

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I’m not afraid of death, but I am afraid of not living.  When I come to the end, I want to breathe my last breath having spent myself tirelessly and completely for Kingdom purposes.  I want to know my Savior personally.  I want the Word to live and breathe through me.  I want to be like you, Dad.

So this month I celebrate your birth and life, mourn your death, and celebrate your resurrection into eternal life.

And through it all, I miss you.

Love,

Rachael

Dear Dad, Letter 2

Dear Dad, Letter 1

 

Dear Juan

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Dear Juan,

I find myself praying for you in the mornings before the sun rises.  I whisper your name and pray for blessing, encouragement and provision.  Mostly, though, I pray for God to put a new song in your heart.  I remember those early mornings when your face was the first thing we saw at our door….. face beaming in the already hot, tropical sunlight.  You were aglow, knowing you were loved because God had given you a new song in the early morning hours.  And so I pray for new songs, whispered by the breath of God, come alive with your gift of music.

You played for me, entertained us for hours with your gift.  I loved making beautiful harmonies with the melodies you sang out.  You filled our house away from home with music, life and laughter.

You became my teacher.  I couldn’t ever quite grasp the Cuban rhythms or phraseology of some of your songs… but you taught me of simplistic faith.  Stripped of luxuries, comforts, conveniences and companionship, you were a shining beacon of simple faith.  You showed me what it means to follow Jesus without baggage and with total abandon.

You became my friend.  You took such care of our family, always putting us first.  You asked for nothing in return.  I crave the meals you made for us….. your meals taste like Cuba to me.  Mostly, though, I miss the hours spent around the table, talking and praying, playing and laughing.  Those were holy moments.

You became my brother.  You were the form of the body of Christ at her best…. laying aside all self-interest and loving me, your sister in Christ, as yourself and more.  I never doubted you would lay down your life for me, not even in the beginning.  I don’t know the exact moment we became family.  Maybe it was my life-altering moment on the roof?   But I feel that you are my brother with every fiber of my being.  My brother.  My brother.  My brother.  What more fitting a label than that?

I miss you.  We all do.  Our family talks of you often.  We wonder what you’re doing, who you’re with, whether you have food and money for transportation.  But I know down to my core that wherever you are…. whatever miles you are walking on long dusty roads to serve…… I know that you are not alone.  I know your Savior walks with you, and I know he is giving you songs.

I only wish I were there to hear you sing them.

Your sister in Christ,

Rachael

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Missed any posts? Here are the most recent:

A Gathering of Prayer Methods

Using the Lord’s Prayer as a Pattern

Dear Dad, Letter 2

Dear Dad, Letter 2

Dear Dad,

I have seen the photos so many times…  you as a little boy, living in a foreign land I couldn’t even fathom.  The stories of your childhood delighted and enchanted me, although you were never the source of the magnificent stories.  They usually came from Grandma or Mom, glimpses into a life that seemed impossibly far from the life I shared with you. You were quiet about your undeniably challenging childhood.  But those stories I heard made you superhuman to me…. special, special, special.  I wanted to be like you.  I wanted people to tell stories about my life in a faraway land, full of challenges and adventure.

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It was a typical day for us in Cuba…. October 29th, 2012.  You had been gone for 15 years and we had been traveling to Cuba for the past five.  Our little family was bouncing along the Cuban roads in a church van filled with various Cuban pastors and friends.  One of them?  Your friend, Armando Roca.  He has become a friend to us, Dad.  He has been our guide, translator, cultural adviser and endless source of entertainment.  I had asked Bro. Roca several times to take us to the house where you lived in Cuba.  He always assured me it was so close, yet he always postponed it for another day.

This day was different.

Sometimes I wish I had a little warning for the big moments of my life, just so I could prepare myself emotionally and mentally.  I had no time to prepare for turning the corner and seeing this house.

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The funny thing, Dad, is that this house was within walking distance of the house where we always stay in Havana.  I had probably walked and driven by it multiple times.  But this was the moment that God chose to introduce me to my past.

Do you recognize it?  In spite of the weathered exterior, the unsightly fence, damaged roof and the overall neglect…. surely you recognize your childhood home.

I can’t describe the depth of my desire to sit down and talk with you about your life here… the very same town where we do much of our work in Cuba.  I know bits and pieces… how you went to an English school, played on the grounds of the famous Tropicana, the way you could hear the music late into the night.  I know about the humidity and the hard work of planting a church, the language that was as natural to you as English.

But Dad, I long to know what it was like for you.  Did you love Cuba the way I love Cuba?  Did it feel like home the way it feels like home to me?  Did you realize you were right in the middle of history and a brewing revolution?  Did you leave behind people you love the way I have left behind those I love?  Did you walk along the Malecon, breath taken away by the magnificent beauty of the ocean beating against the sea wall?

I had mere minutes at your house.  Some day I will go back, introduce myself to the owners and stay to soak it all in.  On October 29th, 2012, I had brief, hurried moments.  You can tell by the photos how rushed we were, what a whirlwind it all was.  But our photo, taken just steps away from your photo, is a prized possession.

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House 3511.  In a city we both call home.

Love,

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Read Dear Dad, Letter 1 HERE!