Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Summer's End

Click to play August 2008
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It has been such a bittersweet summer. I have cherished these days of playing outside, warm weather, pig roasts, catching fireflies and watching the stars, swimming, camping, and ice cream cones. There's been sadness, too. Steve and I are traveling to Portland, OR this weekend for Bridget's memorial service. Emotions are so close to the surface these days for both happiness and sadness. Usually I'm pretty good at being a tough guy. This month has definately led to a lot of growth.
At the beginning of August, Steve, the kids, and I traveled to the upper penninsula with friends from our small group Bible study and about 25 high schoolers. The trip was a biking trip with service projects interspersed. Going into this "adventure" both Steve and I were skeptical at best that this would be a positive experience. But God blessed us beyond what we could have dreamed. We camped at an amazingly beautiful and secluded location called "A Solitary Place." With only one shower and two toilets (one being a 5 gallon bucket in an outhouse) for about 35 people, we all had to learn patience and graciousness quickly. I would have expected a lot of complaints about the ruggedness, but I can honestly say there were none. Maybe we were silenced by the beauty that surrounded us. At night, there were "fireworks" in the sky without any bangs. The sky is so black that the stars litterally dance. One of the youth shared a devotion stressing that God knows each star and placed them in their exact locations, and this same God knows each of us by name and loves us so intensely.
There was lots of biking going on. Steve rode about 101 miles over the course of 3 days, with 66 miles being in one day - out to Whitefish Point which is on Lake Superior. Not having trained at all for this massive trip, he didn't figure he'd make it, but he did!! It was definately a test of perseverence and he learned to lean on others to make it. I rode the final 17 miles alongside him to draft and give him encouragement (that was the extent of my biking, I'm not a big fan:)) It's a great life lesson to realize how difficult it is to travel along alone, but when someone is riding by your side, holding you accountable and encouraging, you can do more than you imagined was possible. In between biking trips, we cut a lot of wood - many people and churches up there use wood as their sole source of winter heat, dry-walled for a handicapped man, helped with some projects at a crisis pregnancy center, and weeded a random business.
Being with the youth group kids was a ton of fun, too! I forget how much energy and intensity I had back then. They were great to interact with and watch as God worked on their hearts as well. I was so impressed by their servant hearts and their lack of complaining even when they were physically pushed to every limit.
So then you come home from this high experience and it's so easy to get caught back up the the daily grind and forget the amazing lessons learned. Steve and I both heard the Spirit's leading with such clarity on this trip, but then back at home there is so much noise I think we often miss that "still, small voice." It's a challenge to keep that roaring fire from becoming a smoldering ember. When Bridget passed away a few days after we got home, it was a test of faith and continues to be. I'm so thankful for those special days up north where God felt so close, so that when these difficult times pressed down, I can reflect on that trip.
In the last couple weeks, Steve and I both read the book "The Shack." It is a fictional book, but a unique and breathtaking view of the character of God, why He allows suffering, and His amazing love for us. This book was actually recommended to me by my aunt and uncle, who read it after Bridget had read it this spring - before even being diagnosed with cancer. It seems ironic and amazing to me that so many things have come full circle. But then maybe it's not just irony, but the hand of God at work in the world around me. I just want to have eyes, ears, and heart open to hear that "still, small voice."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Last night Bridget defeated cancer. She is now enjoying that eternal victory in heaven with Jesus.

Let me tell you, this is not without a lot of tears. Her fight touched my life in ways I wouldn't have expected. Although I was never super close to Bridget due to the fact they lived so far away, she had this amazing effect on those she came in contact with. The VanderMeulen clan has historically been pretty reserved and quiet - a perfect example of the Dutch Christian Reformed heritage we proudly carry on. But when Bridget joined the family several years ago, she brought dancing to the family - literally! I fondly remember her dancing round and round with Gabby singing and laughing with joy. She has now given our family an amazing legacy of her faith and courage through one of the toughest battles I could even imagine.

If you have the time, I really encourage you to check out Steve's journal page (the link is in my contacts list). Throughout this whole time, their desire is to see their trials be used to glorify God. Glorify God - what does that mean? I always kind of equated it with honoring Him or a form of praise/worship. But a couple weeks at church I was struck with the literal translation of the term glory/glorify and it means to reflect or shine a light on something so it can be seen more clearly. Bridget and Steve have definately been this kind of reflection. How can I live my life in more of a way that would make others see a reflexion of Christ through/in me? God has been doing some amazing things in Steve (as in hubbby not cousin) and my lives in the last few weeks. I'll get more into that at a later date.

I'll wrap up this tribute post with the song that is hopefully playing. I was driving to work this morning at 6am with tears streaming down my face. Why God? Couldn't you have used her more in life than in death? What will poor Steve do with no mommy for his little girls? How do you tell a 2 1/2 year old her mommy is never coming home? So many tough questions. But lately I have been reading through the book of Job. His sufferings were comparable to what Steve and Bridget have gone through. It wasn't because he was a bad person. In fact, it was due to his faith and love for God that Satan wanted to test Job's faith and God allowed it to occur. Job lost all his worldly possessions, his entire family, and was afflicted with terrible sickness. But through all these struggles he was able to say "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." Job 1:21

So as I switched the radio station, this is the song that came on.

I really like the chorus that says "You give and take away. You give and take away. My heart will choose to say, Lord, blessed be your name." God doesn't make us think one way or another, we have a choice. That's the beauty of a relationship with Him, we have to choose to enter it and make daily choices to follow Him. So even though it is extremely difficult and against my human nature, I am choosing to say: Lord, you gave us a beautiful woman in Bridget and you allowed her to be taken away. Blessed be your glorious name!"