Grief is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as a “deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement.” And bereavement is defined as a “deprivation or loss by force.”
In other words, an intense sadness (or even pain) over the loss of someone or something.
Over the last number of years, Emily and I have gone through different seasons of grief.
In 2014, we grieved over losing what we knew as our life. We lost what was becoming our home due to war. We lost our apartment (with most of our belongings), our ministry, and many of our dreams and hopes of what life and ministry would be like in Donetsk. It was a painful season of grief. One that really knocked us down. Yet the Lord set us back on our feet.
In 2017, we grieved the health of Emily’s eyes when we received a scary diagnosis. Would she lose her eyesight? Would this cause us to leave the mission field? We had many tearful nights after that diagnosis. And it was a painful season of grief. Yet the Lord strengthen our hearts. (By the way, He also healed Emily’s eyes! She received a clean bill of health two years after that diagnosis).
In 2018, we were led to begin the adoption process when we heard of a sweet little baby girl that was abandoned in a hospital near us. A few months later, we were told that we were not allowed to adopt this baby girl. Another painful season of loss, grieving the reality that we wouldn’t be able to hold and care for the baby we fell in love with. Yet the Lord gave us hope and joy as He directed us to continue the adoption process from a different county. (By the way, pray with us. We are getting closer in the process!).
God has shown Himself strong our our behalf. He has proven over and over again that He truly is faithful. That even when we walk through the darkest valleys, we need not fear, for He is close beside us. If we go up to the heavens, He is there. If we make our bed in the depths, He is there.
And what I am learning, is that as we walk with a limp, with grief, with pain and hurts and disappointments… God is strong and faithful. That in my weakness, His power is made perfect. And in Jesus Christ, there is still wonderful joy, and hope, and a peace that passes all understanding.
On July 31, 2019 my father committed suicide. It’s a grief and a pain that has surpassed all other grief and pain. Words cannot describe the pain suicide brings.
Yet, God continues to show Himself strong on our behalf. God's Word describes Him as “the Father of mercies and all comfort.” He comforts us in our affliction. In our pain. In our grief. The idea of this word “comfort" is not just an easing of pain or trouble. To comfort actually doesn’t mean to take away the burden or ease the pain. It is not just about soothing sympathy. God’s comfort does something far greater: This comfort from God is the idea of strengthening and building us up.
In my grief as a human, I feel weak, hopeless, and torn down. But despite my grief, I have Jesus, who is my strength. My hope. And He builds me up.
Friends, in your grief, run to Jesus.
On August 31st, I returned to the ministry which God has graciously entrusted to me. I taught the Word for the first time since the death of my dad. It was a very difficult day for me, but I see the Lord working all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
Please listen to my message by clicking HERE. I believe God has a word for you in that message.
And if you are struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, reach out. Tell someone. It’s not a shameful thing to have that struggle. It’s very real. But suicide is not a way out. Please reach out and get help.
I am available for you and I can direct you to someone in your area for further help. Please don’t hesitate to write me: email@example.com
You are greatly loved by Jesus Christ. Run to Him.
On October 2nd, 2012, we boarded a plane bound for a new world. On October 3rd, we arrived in Kiev, Ukraine. We were scared, we were excited, we were every emotion in between. I never expected that 6 years later, I would still be on this crazy ride.
Before we moved from Colorado to Ukraine, our missions' pastor back home had told us that we needed to commit a certain amount of time to missions before the Lord, and his recommendation was to give missions a minimum of two years. I remember him saying, the first year is the honeymoon, the second year is when reality hits. If you quit after one year, you never really gave it a chance.
We prayed about it and decided to commit two years to the Lord, and boy was it a good thing. I remember our first week in Ukraine, laying on the couch, unable to sleep, and thinking to myself, I may have made the biggest mistake of my life. Our internet wasn't working, we had no idea how to feed ourselves (none of the foods were familiar), we could barely speak Russian and then ended up living in a city that only spoke Ukrainian. If we hadn't had that 2 year commitment in mind, it's very possible I would have just grabbed my bags (They were still packed, I was too depressed to unpack them), booked a train ticket for Kiev, and caught the next flight home.
Byron - 2012
Fortunately for us, our first week in Ukraine was really one of our worst weeks in Ukraine, and it got much better from there. Overall, we've loved our time here, and I'm really thankful I didn't quit right away. And now, six years later, I can say that we completed our two year commitment, and we're just living day by day, waiting for the Lord to tell us what happens next.
But that first week, and many different situations over the last 6 years, have all taught me a very valuable lesson - it's easy to agree to do something when you think it will be easy, or at the very least, not that bad... Which brings us to the idea of faith.
Is faith really faith if you if you step into the unknown only because you suspect the path ahead won't be that difficult (Yikes, chew on that sentence for a minute...)? Yes, I'll do it, but only because I'm sure it's not going to be that bad.
I've learned a lot about faith over the last 6 years. What it is, what it isn't. And most of my definition of faith has come from defining by the negative as I've processed the mistakes and wrongful assumptions about faith that I've made in my own life.
Faith is not:
-Seeing and believing
-Doing something because the people around you support you
-Doing something you're guilted into
-Doing something begrudgingly
-Stepping into the known
-Having an end in sight
-Being able to control things
-Doing the most logical thing
-Counting the days until it's over
-Magic that eliminates suffering in your life
-Agreeing only if you can do it on your own terms
I'm still learning about faith, and I don't have it all figured out. But I am so thankful that the Lord decided to bring me to Ukraine so that I could really experience faith. I often joke with people that the Lord didn't call me to missions because I'm some super Christian. He called me because I was willing, and also a little too stubborn to allow the Lord to fully captivate me while I was in the States.
Byron and Emily - 2018
I think the Lord has even used the mission field to teach me about faith and marriage. I had my own idea of what marriage would look like when I entered into that covenant with Byron. I believed marriage was two people who loved each other and both worked 9 to 5 jobs, had dinner together on the evenings, spent time together and went to church on the weekends, always with a 10 year plan in the back of their minds.
But instead of my marriage playing out in America, the Lord brought me to Ukraine, where He changed my understanding of marriage, love, and even what a healthy marriage should look like daily. We spend our 9 to 5 serving in ministry side by side, eating ALL our meals together, and not being able to plan more than 2 months ahead! Our marriage is nothing like what I had imagined, but it is so so so much better, and it's all because of faith in the Lord. Of the nine years that we've been married, three of them were in Colorado and SIX in Ukraine! The Lord has used missions to redefine every aspect of life, even my preconceived ideas of what marriage looks like. And honestly, I'm glad.
Calvary Chapel Zaporozhye
I'm glad that my life is different than I imagined because I have this simple finite mind! And as I let go of control more and more, I put my life into the hands of the One who created the heavens and the earth. That's pretty cool actually, and His creativity will bring something way more special into my life than my own, frail, human creativity could concoct.
2018 Emily would definitely tell 2012 Emily to go for it, to follow the Lord. And I'm telling you that too. Go for it, follow the Lord! Don't hold onto your own preconceived ideas of what your life should be. Don't do ministry or missions on "your terms." Just go for it. Enjoy the breath that you have and chase after the Lord's vision - we just don't have time enough time in life to simply walk - Run after everything the Lord has for you.
Here's to completing our 6th year of missions, and by faith, many more!
Over twelve years ago, Emily and I walked into a church service held at a middle school in Aurora, Colorado. We were in high school and recently just started dating each other. Looking back now, the Lord’s sovereign hand was guiding us right into this church. For a number of months, as our relationship was growing as a couple, we realized that we needed to find a church and make it our home. Bumper stickers, signs on the street, and even coworkers all said one thing: Calvary Chapel Aurora. God had caught our attention.
“A man’s heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.” Proverbs 16:9
The Lord so clearly directed our steps specifically to Calvary Aurora.
I remember two things about our first visit to Calvary Aurora: 1) Pastor Ed was teaching from the book of Romans and 2) I heard the phrase, “Win - Disciple - Send.”
At that point in my life, I wasn’t really walking with the Lord, but He was starting to get my attention. Pastor Ed's teaching verse-by-verse of Romans really opened up my eyes to how Jesus wanted to speak to me, even that very morning, through His Word. Also, I had no idea that little phrase “Win - Disciple - Send” would become such a part of my life, specifically the word “send.”
As we made Calvary Aurora our home church, Jesus began to do an incredible work in our hearts. Our hunger and thirst for the Word increased. Our love and passion for Jesus grew. We started serving in various ways. I got baptized at Calvary Aurora. We got engaged and began pre-marital counseling at Calvary Aurora. We got married there. Jesus was building our lives upon Him and His Word.
Early on, God stirred our hearts every time the word “send” was mentioned. Pastor Ed was always faithfully teaching us that the church should be a sending church. We wanted to be a part of sending people out. But we also wanted to be sent ourselves. Our prayer became, “Lord, how do you want us to serve you? We’re ready to give everything to you.”
God was working in our hearts, something that only He could do. A heart for missions. A heart to be sent.
“Also I head the voice of the Lord, saying: ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I! Send me.” Isaiah 6:8
As God developed our calling, He used the local church to equip, encourage, and send us out for Jesus Christ.
It’s so cool to see how the Lord works. Because now I am in a place, pastoring a church that the Lord entrusted to me, and He has the same vision for our church. Calvary Chapel Zaporozhye is a sending church. Our vision is to look unto Jesus as we win, disciple, and send for Jesus. The Lord sent us out years ago and now He is using us to equip, encourage and send people out for the Gospel here in Zaporozhye, Ukraine!
We were in America over the summer. We spent as much time as we could at our sending church, Calvary Aurora. And the Lord is still faithfully sending people out through that church. Jesus continues to be glorified as they faithfully teach the Word. And Pastor Ed and the pastoral staff continue to pastor and care for us, as we pastor and care for the people in Zap. Just because I am a pastor now, doesn't mean I don't need a pastor myself. I am so thankful for my pastor.
When the Lord directed our steps into that church so many years ago, I never would have believed what the Lord had in store, even if you would have told me.
“Look at the nations and watch, and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” Habakkuk 1:5
I am so thankful for my pastor and our sending church. The Lord has used them in incredible ways in our lives and in so many other’s lives.
Pray for your pastor. Pray for your church. And watch the Lord do amazing things in and through His church, worldwide!
Sleep is an essential part of life. You can't just stop sleeping, even if you try. Eventually, your body will require sleep. It's not something you can simply give up, like going on a "sleep fast" or quitting sleep "cold-turkey." Sleep is necessary, and that's a fact!
Not too long ago, there was a video going around Facebook about the different stages of sleep deprivation. If I remember correctly, after 5 days of not sleeping, you start hallucinating, you start having heart issues and respiratory problems, and then by day 6, you die. YOU DIE! Too long without sleep equals death! That's how seriously we need sleep!
Sleep has always been hard for me. Let me be clear - I love sleep, and I need about 8-9 hours a night or else I just don't feel good. But throughout my life, I've struggled with nightmares, night terrors, and weeks at a time when sleep eludes me.
My first night terror, that I can remember, happened when I was 15 years old. I had gone to see The Passion of the Christ at a movie theater with a group from my church, and I had a night terror every night for a week after seeing the movie. It was one of the hardest weeks of my life. I was terrified to go to sleep, but my body was desperate for rest. By the 6th night of having night terrors, I remember bringing my pillow and comforter into my parents room and sleeping on the floor next to their bed, desperately hoping for safe sleep. Even though I knew my parents couldn't protect my mind while I was asleep, I still felt safe simply being near them.
After that week, I had nightmares, but didn't have another night terror for a few years.
What's the difference between a nightmare and a night terror? Maybe it's different for each person, but for me, nightmares are just really scary, vivid, bad dreams, and I don't know I'm dreaming while I'm having them. And when I wake up, I understand they were just bad dreams and I can fall back to sleep afterwards.
But night terrors are exactly that - terrors. Whenever I start having one, I can feel it coming on, and once it begins, my whole body feels paralyzed. They're almost always real memories, or take place where ever I'm living (IE: my night terror takes place in my apartment), and they always have demons in them. Usually, I consciously know I'm having a night terror while it's happening, and I beg my body to wake up, but my mind stays trapped in the terror, and I can't wake myself up.
After I was 15, the next night terror came when we first moved to Ukraine. We were living in Ternopil and I had a night terror about my grandparents. I was back in their house and everything was so vivid. I was walking around their home, watching them live their lives, and remember special moments between us. But the special memories passed quickly, they got old, and died. It was just like it happened in real life - like I was reliving every detail of them getting sick and dying. And the grief I felt in my night terror was overwhelming, as I had to experience them dying over and over again. All night long, I kept reliving their death and the emotional pain that followed. The grief that I felt in my night terror was so strong, I started weeping.
I was crying so hard in my night terror, it passed from my mind to my reality, and I started weeping in my sleep. It woke Byron up, and he understood something was wrong. He started shaking me, trying to wake me up, but I couldn't pull myself out of the terror. I could feel him shaking me, I knew he was trying to wake me, but I was stuck, paralyzed in this world of grief and fear. Finally, I was able to will myself to open my eyes. It was a dream, but it was also very real, so much so, that I continued to cry for a few minutes after waking up.
Over the last few years of living on the mission field, I've been able to start making connections between night terrors and spiritual things happening around me. And since I've been able to make that connection, I've been able to learn how to pray during my night terrors (Because I'm aware that I'm having a night terror while I'm having one).
Last year, I had a night terror where demons were clawing at the unlocked front door of my apartment, trying to get in. This was the first time I was in the middle of a night terror and realized I could pray. In my night terror, I cried out to Jesus to help me keep the door closed. Suddenly, a bright light illuminated the corridor of my apartment and locked the front door (still all during the night terror). I was safe, the door was sealed, and I immediately woke up. I don't always remember to pray when I'm having a night terror, but when I can remember, I'm able to get out of the night terror faster.
When we're sleeping, we're in our most vulnerable state. We can't control what we hear. We can't really control what we think. We're pretty helpless. And when you have a bad dream, or something wakes you up, you feel like you've been robbed of your sleep, you feel violated, and you suffer the effects of that for days afterward.
This summer has been particularly hard for me when it comes to sleep. Because it's hot, we sleep with the windows open. But over the last month, there has been activity in the courtyard of our apartment complex almost nightly, and the sounds of whatever people are saying or doing outside creeps through our window and into my mind as I sleep. After about a year of no night terrors, I've had two this summer, and a few different nightmares too. The fear of having another night terror, or the lasting effects of just coming out of one usually keeps me from sleeping the rest of the night.
And lately, I don't even need dreams to steal my sleep. If I fall asleep with the window open, strange sounds from outside will simply wake me up, preventing me from resting at all.
As I write this, I'm already at 3 days with little sleep. My eyes seem unrecognizable to me, with dull colors and dark rings hang under my eyelids. My body feels weak and my mind feels foggy. I feel emotionally unstable and just generally exhausted.
But through it all, the Lord's lovingkindness has reached out to me. Yes, I feel frustration and exhaustion, but because of this hardship, I've been blessed to experience love and comfort from Jesus. Just yesterday, I was reading in the Psalms and Proverbs, and every chapter I read had Bible verses about sleep! What a sweet gift to know that the Lord sees and understands my need for sleep, and that He cares enough to speak to me through His Word.
Proverbs 3:24-26 says, "Then you will walk safely in your way, and your foot will not stumble. When you lie down, you will not be afraid; yes, you will lie down and your sleep will be sweet. Do not be afraid of sudden terror, nor of trouble from the wicked when it comes; For the LORD will be your confidence, and will keep your foot from being caught" (NKJV).
Psalm 3:3-6 reads, "But You, O LORD, are a shield for me, my glory and the One who lifts up my head. I cried to the LORD with my voice, and He heard me from His holy hill. I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the LORD sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around" (NKJV).
And finally, Psalm 4:5b-8 states, "Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the LORD. There are many who say, 'who will show us any good?' LORD, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us. You have put gladness in my heart, more than in the season that their grain and wine increased. I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety" (NKJV).
I am certainly not the first person to have sleep problems. And judging by what we know about David, he probably had more sleep issues than I do. People actually sought to kill him, whereas I am just having bad dreams. But the main idea stands for David, for me, and maybe even for you... we all need sleep, and there's only One Person that never sleeps and can stand guard over us - Jesus Christ. And I can't think of a better Shepherd to watch over me while I sleep.
I'm hopeful that tonight will be full of sweet rest for me, and I pray this post finds you sleeping well, committing your steps to the Lord, and encouraged.
Six weeks in the States might not seem like much, but it's a lot - or at least enough to remind us how much we miss our families. Usually, we keep these emotions inside of little boxes, tucked away in our minds so that we can keep going. But after six weeks with our parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, nephews, and niece, the boxes have blown open and the emotions are stirred.
It's a strange thing when you feel such deep love for two different places. And not only that, but two places that are thousands of miles apart. When I'm in Ukraine, I can't imagine a life anywhere else. And when I'm with my family, I can't imagine leaving them again. And yet, here I am, writing a blog from my apartment in Zaporozhye, only 24 hours after getting off a plane that put distance and time between us and our families.
It's raw and it's painful, remembering the deep conversations I had just mere hours ago with my mom, dad, and brother, and then now facing the realization that those conversations will only happen again through a garbled internet connection.
My eyes sting with tears thinking about the goodbyes I said to my nephews and niece, who will all be a foot taller and years more mature by the next time we see them again. Even more painful are the goodbyes I didn't get to say. People that passed away while we've been on the mission field, or worse, ones that have walked away from the Lord and aren't interested in seeing us anymore.
Wounds are supposed to heal with time, so why is it that every year we're away from home, these painful goodbyes ache with a deeper hurt, one that seems to being all the way down in my soul?
And yet, with all this hurt, with all this sadness and emotion, am I willing to give it all up? Am I willing to let go of Ukraine and go home?
I guess this is the part that might seem a little backwards, but I believe that giving up Ukraine and moving home would be the same as giving up on the promises of the Lord. As hard as things are, as much as the goodbye stings in my heart, I know the promises of the Lord and I know the callings He has placed on my life. He is close to the broken hearted, and that means He is close to me right now. And I know he's close to our families too.
"And He [Jesus] turned and said to them, "if anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it - lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish?' Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.'" - Luke 14:25-33 (NKJV)
This passage used to be a stumbling block for me. I used to really struggle with what was written, that we should hate our mother and father? What could this possibly mean? I don't think I could really understand the meaning of these verses until recently. It's not that I'm to hate my family, but that I'm to choose the Lord over them. It sounds backwards and wrong to those that don't follow the Lord, and even some that do follow the Lord would argue with me on this. But the Lord is supposed to be in the first place of our lives. And if He really is kept where He belongs in our list of priorities, our lives will show that and our decisions will reflect it. If God is really in the first place of my life, I can't be in Colorado, no matter how much I want to be there. I MUST love God the most, more than Byron, more than my parents, more than my family, and even more than my own life. I must forsake all.
I know it sounds radical, but it's true and it's fact. That is the life that we, Believer, are called to live. And if we're not willing, we're just lukewarm, and that's a life I refuse to live.
I'm reminded of the conversation between Jesus and Peter in John 6. Jesus had just said some pretty radical things to His followers and skeptics, and it offended a lot of the people around Him.
John 6, verse 60 reads, "Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, 'This is a hard saying; who can understand it?'"
And just a few verses later, we read, "From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more (John 6:66)."
I know the context is a little different, but doesn't that kind of sound like some of our reactions to the "hate your father and mother" verses? It can offend us and rub us the wrong way. What do you mean, hate my mother?! But do we really trust the Lord? Do we really believe that He withholds NO GOOD THING from His children? That He has GOOD PLANS for us? If the answer is yes, then we have probably had a conversation with Jesus in our prayer lives similar to the one between Jesus and Peter had right after many of the other disciples walked away from Jesus.
"Then Jesus said to the twelve, 'Do you also want to go away?' But Simon Peter answered Him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God (John 6:67-69).
To whom shall we go?
It brings me to tears just typing this out. I understand Peter completely! Yes, the words are hard. Yes, the command is difficult. But WHO ELSE has the words of life? Where could I possibly want to be more than in the will of God? I have come to believe and know that He is the Christ, and because of that, my life must reflect that. I must live out my response. I can't live with that knowledge and not be changed.
So with that, there is comfort for me. Sometimes, it's hard for me to let people into my life because I know that so often my hello quickly becomes a goodbye. But with the eternal hope of life with Jesus in heaven, I know that most of my goodbyes aren't goodbyes forever. And as much as I can care for my family, I know that Jesus is a greater caretaker and protector than I could ever dream to be.
Luke 9:62 reads, "'No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.'"
I want to be fit for the Kingdom. And so, I cast my cares upon Jesus, giving Him my emotions and my pain, trusting the Lord to care for my heart like no one else can. I will keep my hand to the plow and continue following the Lord, for I believe and have come to know that He truly is the Christ.