How We Do Health Care

How We Do Health Care

Hey guys and gals — I’m interrupting the regularly scheduled 31Days posts (but not skipping a day — I will post again tomorrow!) just to share a bit about how we do health care. I started a post about this topic in February of this year… yes… but finally decided, with a nudge from the legislation of el gobierno, Okay, I’m getting too many questions NOT to write this post. (Otherwise I’ll be answering the same questions over and over, right?)

So with no more than eight months’ ado, here’s the skinny on how we do Health Care:

We are a part of a Christian Health Care sharing ministry called Samaritan’s Ministries International. {Not affiliated with Samaritan’s Purse or Samaritan’s Feet…} Their system is pretty simple and we love it, because it feels like we are a part of the body of believers in a great, tangible way.


{Image from a card I received from a fellow SMI member when my Dad died. Source.}


Each month, SMI sends a newsletter with the name of a person who has had a health care issue, explains the issue (not in great detail – that might be weird) and sends their address. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to pray for that person, and send your ministry “share” (your check) directly to that member who has a need. Our share is $370 per month — and (bonus for us) this amount does not change regardless of the number of children you have.

You send your share to a fellow member 11 months a year, and directly to the SMI offices to cover administrative costs 1 month a year.

So, for example, the month I started writing this post we were sending our check to a couple in Asheville — the husband recently had surgery for prostrate cancer. And when I submitted the doctor’s bills for the Belle’s pregnancy and delivery, we began receiving checks from other members with notes of encouragement and so on, to cover our bills.


When you have some sort of health-related issue, you simply pay the bill yourself (or wait, if needs be), submit the need to SMI, and then “reimburse yourself.” Or, if you’d rather, you can wait until the funds come in from your SMI submission, and then pay the bills. {Just keep in mind sometimes you get a nice discount for prompt payment, which is kind of better for everybody, if you can swing it. But sometimes it’s good to wait longer — it seems like discounts are sometimes easier to negotiate when you’ve taken your time about paying a bill. Hard to decide what to do sometimes! SMI folks can help if you’re in a conundrum.}


In SMI speak, Making a Claim is called Submitting (and Publishing) a Need. (An eligible need is “published” when it is sent to other members of SMI so that they send their gifts to cover your need.) Needs are only publishable if they are:

1) Over $300 (up to $250,000)

2) Not needs that you had before you became a member of SMI.

Because SMI is less expensive than most traditional health care options, you do have to budget for the fact that a routine doctor’s visit will not be covered, unless it’s more than $300. (But what doctor are you visiting whose routine visits are more than $300??)

But because SMI is not Health Insurance, you are considered self-pay and usually receive a very significant discount because of that. (i.e., the Belle’s $128 baby check-ups are often reduced to $58. Which to me indicates something is wrong with the health care system in general but never you mind.)


In many cases, you are able to negotiate discounts on health care costs. For example, by offering to go ahead and pay three different bills related to my pregnancy with the Belle, the company I needed to pay for the lab tests (or whatever) was willing to knock something to the tune of $600 off the total amount owed. When I submitted those bills to SMI, and indicated that I received that discount I negotiated, the $300 deductible was reduced to nothing. Better explained:

If you are able to negotiate a discount off your bill, that amount will come off the standard initial $300 deductible, and you’ll just pay the remaining amount you owe. If you negotiate a $50 discount, you’ll just pay $250 out of pocket and the remaining amount will be published by SMI.

I ended up paying about $0 for my pregnancy and delivery with the Belle.


On months where the total amount of needs being submitted is higher than the number of shares scheduled to be sent, the needs are prorated to cover as much as possible across the board. For example, SMI might only be able to publish 90% of the amount of your need. Members are then encouraged to send an additional amount if they are able to. You might be able to negotiate additional discounts if you haven’t paid your bill yet. One way or another (Keep Calm and Trust God) it generally works out. And if/when people do make additional gifts to cover pro-rated needs, SMI will touch base to see what happened and if you need additional funds.


In March of this year, my Dad, who had not been an SMI member for very long, suddenly had a heart attack, spent a week in the hospital in the Cardiac ICU, and then I saw him for the last time I’d see him this side of heaven and he was gone.

About $140,000 worth of medical bills were left behind.

Nearly $17,000 was knocked off his main hospital bill because he was an organ donor, which was awesome. (And guys, please consider being an organ donor. It blesses me to know that a woman with three grandchildren received a kidney transplant when my Dad died — something positive out of something so hard.)

But, for you non-mathematicians out there, we still owed… 100,000 + 3700 + 4,000… um, a LOT.

When the bills came in, I gathered them up, filled out the necessary paperwork (which by the way is impressively little) and submitted the need to SMI.

Needs are usually published around 30 – 60 days after their submission, and it took me a while to get everything together (the hospital actually took a long time to send the main bill???). So, in September of this year, my Dad’s need was published and hundreds of checks began to arrive in our mailbox in the days that followed. Many of them complete with beautiful cards, prayers and notes of encouragement and Scriptures — and WOW did it mean a lot to me.

The knowledge that so many people had prayed for my family was very powerful, very meaningful. The checks have been deposited to the Estate’s bank account, and I will be paying the bills in the days ahead.

Because the need was such a large amount, even though September was a month where they needed to prorate needs, SMI decided to divide my Dad’s need up and publish it over two months to make sure we got the full amount. Which was HUGE. And just blessed my soul.

To me, it is absolutely evidence of the body of Christ in action.

Every time I called SMI to get their help in the process of submitting needs after my Dad’s death, someone ended the conversation by asking if they could pray for me. EVERY time. It was such a gift, and though it often brought me to tears, it often overwhelmed me with the knowledge that the Lord was with me through that very challenging time.


This is by no means a comprehensive explanation of SMI. You’re welcome to ask questions in the comments but I would love it if you would first visit their website and especially check out their detailed FAQ page.

Here’s my little Pros & Cons breakdown:

The Pros:

  • It is not as expensive as health insurance, and we love the “vision” of Christians sharing with one another as they have need.
  • They cover almost any medical needs, except for ones that existed before a person became a member with SMI. If there are large needs that existed before the person became a member, they will often still send out “Special Prayer Needs” and ask members to give something if they would like to and are able to help.
  • As previously explained, the first $300 of any need is to be covered by the member, so if you have a $75 doctor visit, you’ll be paying that out of pocket. But, if you submit a need over $300 and you’re able to negotiate a discount, the discount you negotiate will reduce the deductible. (And when you explain to a health care provider that you are self-pay, they often have a discount — even $75 bills have been reduced for me just because I’ve asked about this.) Since we negotiated multiple deductions for my pregnancy and delivery, we haven’t had to pay anything.
  • They give you a monthly prayer guide, so you are praying for other SMI members with medical issues around the world each day. It is a beautiful connection in the body.

The Cons:

  • It can sometimes take time for the need to be submitted and for you to begin receiving shares. So this could either affect your cashflow or you could have a special savings account just for medical expenses… or you could use a credit card if you willing. Or you can just wait to pay the bills… we have had some of our bills reduced just because we took our time about paying them!
  • Not having coverage for smaller doctor’s visits can be a bummer if finances are tight — but budgeting for this when possible should make that okay.
  • It is probably easier to pull out an insurance card than to have to keep track of shares and submit medical bills. (But remember — convenience often comes at a price and I think our country is feeling that price right now. )
  • If there are more needs than shares in a particular month, your need might be “pro-rated” and only be covered 80-90%. In this case, they often encourage people to give a little extra to help cover things.


Overall, we have been EXTREMELY happy with SMI. It is perhaps a little less “convenient” than health insurance, but since it seems like the health insurance system is a mess that’s only getting worse, and we are very happy to be doing it this way – probably saving a lot of money, and participating in a church-minded way of bearing one another’s burdens as we are encouraged in Scripture.

You can check out their website at to find out more about how they work. And if you do sign up, please let them know Caroline Collie referred you — one of our monthly shares will be discounted as a result, and since I spent a gabillion hours trying to write all this in a blog post, that would be awesome!



Ears Wide Shut

Ears Wide Shut

I occasionally marvel at the incredible ability my children sometimes have to hear something coming out of my mouth but not listen to a single word I’m saying. We might be in close proximity, or I might be calling from the other room — somehow they are born with an in-built ability to completely tune out the sound of my voice once they reach eighteen months or so.

I was contemplating my own listening patterns this morning, however, and realized my children and I have something in common. Sometimes I sense the still, small voice of the Lord whispering something to my heart, but I want to keep doing what I’m doing, so I don’t give it any of my attention.

Over the weekend, I was busy getting a bunch of stuff done around the house that needed doing. My Mom had come over to help and we were knocking out laundry by the basketload, I was scrubbing tubs, she was changing sheets — it was a very busy morning, but it felt so good to be getting so much accomplished. During an eager floor-scrubbing session, I sensed the whisper of the Lord, almost one of those taps on the shoulder that you feel in your heart. It seemed like an invitation to sit still for a moment.


I’m sad to say I kept on working. My Mom was helping, I was eager to get stuff done, perhaps I was afraid the Lord was displeased with me and didn’t want to hear what He had to say. But looking back, and knowing how good and sweet His words are, how full of life, I realized it was a missed opportunity.

I forgot that, in my case, (I can’t always say the same for my children), communing with the Creator of the Universe is a privilege not to be taken lightly.

Sarah Young points out in Jesus Calling that “Kings who reign on earth tend to make themselves inaccessible; ordinary people almost never gain an audience with them.” But how glorious is it that the Lord, though King of the Universe, is totally accessible to you and me, and is with us wherever we are! (p.281)

And Isaiah 55:3 says,

Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen and you will find life. I will make an everlasting covenant with you. I will give you the unfailing love I promised David.

God’s invitation to come includes promises like rest for the weary, an easy burden and a light yoke, grace, mercy that’s new every morning, compassion that never fails.

I wonder what marvelous gifts from the Lord’s heart I’ve missed, all the times I’ve decided to close my ears and just “do what I want to do.”

In the case of my kids, the number one solution I’ve found to the ears wide shut problem is often asking them to look at me. I usually say, “[Kid name] look at my eyes.” I wait for them to stop what they’re doing and change their gaze to meet mine, and then I am able to communicate with them whatever it is I want to say.

And perhaps there’s a very good parallel to hearing from the Lord. That still small voice can’t be heard if your own voice is shouting, your own heart is beating loudly from exhaustive efforts, your own hands are working and making a din of their own.

Sometimes, He does whisper while we work. But sometimes, we must be willing to come with ears wide open, to put down the  dishcloth or the iPhone, the expense report or the dirty laundry.

He’s asking us to Be Still and Know {Ps. 46:10} and if we can’t be still, then we won’t know.

Have you sensed that gentle nudge, that shoulder tap, the warm sense in your chest lately? Don’t be afraid to stop what you’re doing and turn your gaze to meet that of your Creator. Put down what you can for a while, and let the eyes of your soul rest on His.

Listen, and you will find life.


That Still, Small Voice

It all started with two completely different incidents that told me the same thing. First, there was a book a friend thought I should borrow. Someone else had recommended it back when my Dad was in the hospital. It was about a doctor who had a near-death experience and spent an extended period in a coma. When, against all odds, he regained consciousness, he had a story to tell about the experience “on the other side.” Since two people had recommended it, I figured it was worth giving it a read.

A few chapters into the book, something just started to seem off to me — and with a nod at giving as much respect as possible to the experience this guy says he had, something in my gut was just going Uh-un. {Let’s also acknowledge another fact that I had to come to terms with — this guy was in a coma for seven days and had a miraculous recovery, and my Dad was in a coma for seven days, with a very different ending.} By the time I was almost midway through the book, I sensed this whisper — that quiet voice where you’re not sure why, you just know it in your knower. And the whisper said, “Stop reading this. It’s not good for you.”

Being the very sensitive and thoughtful gal that I am, I promptly reasoned out why I needed to continue reading the book in my own mind. My counterarguments included the fact that I would have to tell the truth if my friend asked what I thought: “Um, thanks but, I kinda dropped that book like a bad habit” and another thought, which I rarely live up to, “it’s good to finish things, you’ve started, right?”


But a chapter or two later the whisper was unmistakable — and I finally closed the book and only opened it again to remove the business card I’d turned into a bookmark.

Over the next few days, I pondered the reason why I needed to close the book, and it became clear that the guy was describing an experience of the afterlife that doesn’t line up with Biblical Theology. In contrast, if you read Heaven is For Real, for example, the things that Colton Burpo describes about his near death experience agree with descriptions of heaven in the Bible. The encouragement about the beauty and greatness, and goodness of Jesus in that book strengthened my faith and encouraged me to dig deeper, celebrate more, remember again how great and powerful, and how kind and loving God is.

This book, instead, left this icky feeling in my gut, as if I was trying to build a brick house with sand instead of bricks — trying to pull together something that was never going to build anything, never give me a firm place to stand. And it just made me feel bummed I lost my Dad, really.

But a redemptive purpose was at hand — the bigger lesson behind the experience. The real sermon in the nutshell was:

The Holy Spirit is speaking. I might hear, but I am not listening or obeying.

A few days later, a completely different encounter seemed to whisper the same message. I am still juggling many tasks surrounding the settling of my Dad’s estate, and picking up an estate-related check at a lawyer’s office about twenty minutes away was on the list. I decided on a whim, about forty minutes before lunchtime, to throw the kiddies in the car and quickly run this errand before lunch. And — maybe I should mention — I didn’t know exactly where the lawyer’s office was.

Sometimes stupidity looks a lot like bravery.

I loaded the small people into the van with no small amount of effort, and was eventually ready to go, after running back inside to grab something and something else at least twice. Neither of those something elses were a diaper bag, by the way. I didn’t even remember that.

Finally pulling out of park and into reverse, I glanced over my shoulder to see a big red truck in the driveway. I put the swagger wagon back in park and hopped out to find out Who and What. A roofing estimate was ready and the gentleman who’d done the estimate dropped it off personally to explain a few things. I thanked him for the estimate, and after a brief chat hopped back in the car to get going.

And there was that whisper again.

This is not a good idea. Put the car back in park and take the kids back inside. Don’t.

But brave (stupid) me, being the sensitive and thoughtful gal that I am, promptly reasoned This needs to get done. And, it’ll be really quick. And, I’ll feel like thebombdotcom if I manage to cross another chore off the list with three kids in tow. And, I’ll call the hubs and he can help me navigate my way there since… look at that… Google Maps doesn’t actually know how to get me there.

An hour later, I was back where I started. In the driveway at our house. With a crying baby, two whining and hungry kids, and no check. I never found the lawyer’s office. Google Maps and Bing completely failed me. An extended detour wasted a good twenty plus minutes of my time. It. was. a. stupid. waste. of. time.

And there the message was again, a solid sermon in a nutshell:

The Holy Spirit is speaking. I might hear, but I am not listening, or obeying.

We took a trip up to the mountains a few weekends ago celebrate our anniversary. In six years of marriage, we’ve lived in three countries, had three kids, and called about six different places home. There is good cause for celebration.

I decided to “unplug” for the weekend. My laptop stayed at home, my phone was only used for the purpose of calling or texting, and I kept that to a minimum. And I learned a few things in the process.

First, if you can figure out where your heart is by observing where your mind is, my mind wonders where my phone is, and not where my heart is, no less than twenty times a day. If HH walks out of the room — even just to the loo — I immediately grab my phone to glance at how my game of Words with Friends is going, the time, maybe my email, or … you guessed it… Facebook.

And I mean what I say — if my mind immediately thinks PHONE before I sit down to nurse a baby, before I change from one room to another, anytime someone exits the room, or when I’m about to go to the bathroom — my phone is where I am devoting a heap of my time and attention.

Here’s some scary sauce for you. It’s the definition of worship:

The reverent love and devotion accorded a deity, an idol, or a sacred object.

My pattern is clearly one where I show more love and devotion to this sacred object that I constantly keep in close proximity, rather than the Deity — the Lord, my God, my Savior, the One I want to call my All in All.

If step one is diagnosing the problem, step two is finding the solution.

I started by apologizing to God. Lord, You’re the best thing that ever happened to me, and I’ve repeatedly sold you out for an extra half hour of youtube before bed.

And then I apologized to my Words with Friends buddies, acknowledging that if I don’t have time for my Lord, my Bible, or prayer, then I don’t have time for Words With Friends. Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That, replied my understanding friend, Mona.

I proceeded to begin deleting apps my from my phone. And I began to feel a great weight lifting. The self-inflicted pressure of keeping up with social media fluttered away. No, Pages Manager App, I don’t care that we got new likes. Sorry, Facebook, you are no longer allowed to notify me every time anything happens. To anybody anywhere ever.

But more important than the removal of the things that are not beneficial is bringing in the things that are. This means renewing my commitment to choose a reasonable bedtime over an episode of whatever show it is at the moment we’re barreling through a season of on Amazon Prime. What a novel idea — to get up early and be with the Lord, rather than to stay up late just to be entertained!

My Dad would’ve turned 65 today. And dealing with losing him is a constant reminder that we don’t know how much time we have — and time is the one thing we can’t buy more of — so it’s in our best interest to give ourselves a good long look in the mirror to ask — what am I doing with the time I’ve been given?

Just as the bucket empties just the same whether you knock it over or it has a slow leak, I am praying for help as I slowly take baby steps toward re-focusing, re-centering, and re-committing to live a circumspect life with Jesus at the center. He will fill up the cup to overflowing again, He will show me what to do with the time that I have. Thank heavens for a God who comes near to the contrite (Psalm 34:18) — I regret allowing urgency to determine my daily course of action, and allowing entertainment to pretty much fill all the space between one urgent task and the next one.

More thoughts on this Re-centering are on the way, but in the meantime, I’d love a slice of your story. Do you feel like you’re making the most of the time that you have, or do you feel caught in a cycle of distraction?



P.S. Thanks so much for your prayers when I shared a message about my Dad on Father’s Day. If you’d like to hear it, you can download it here. I kept it together – and I know prayer had everything to do with that. Thank you.

Messy Grief

For the first time last night, I had a dream with my Dad in it, and I understood, in the dream, that he was no longer alive. But then the strangest thing happened. Somehow, in the hodgepodge blur I remember, he wasn’t alive, but I could still see him, as if he was, and we were dancing.

And strangely enough, we weren’t dancing, like I might remember as a little girl, with my feet on his, or like I might remember from my wedding day, when my fluffy dress made me feel like I was floating on a cloud, and I paused a few times in our dance to get my steps together again, with a little side to side arm action and a twist thrown in, with hopes that it didn’t look like I was a mess.

It wasn’t a classy snapshot memory at all. Instead, we were on a tennis court, but I think indoors, and I think at a party, and he was at least ten or fifteen feet away from me, and we were doing the electric slide. But that line down the middle of the tennis court was between us, and neither of us could cross it. But it was still somehow good, us both dancing.

I have absolutely no memory of my Dad doing the electric slide, ever. But I have to admit, in my dream last night, he was throwing some sweet shapes on the dance floor. And he looked younger and he had more hair, and, it’s honestly hard to believe, he did not have an ECU baseball cap on.

I suppose it’s safe to say this little snippet of my life, this snippet of a dream where I felt confused but I think happy at the same time, is a bit like grief itself.

Strange, and messy.


I’ve cried more tears than I thought I was capable of crying. I’ve laughed harder, fuller and deeper than I thought I would for a while. And somewhere in between trying to figure out the work of settling an estate and supporting my talented hubs (you need family pictures soon, right?) and loving and nurturing and raising three kiddiddles, I am walking the road of this really messy thing called grief.

‘Messy’ is as best a term as I can muster – for when you will erupt in tears at a simple question for no particular reason, when you will avoid things you know need to get done {ahem, thank you notes} because you just know they’re going to be less cathartic than you hope, and really just downright hard. For when you find yourself simultaneously wanting to cheer and to cry when you realize your two-year-old still sometimes pretends to call G-pa on his “cell-phone” {calculator} or he cheers when he sees G-pa’s picture on your Facebook profile.

Grief is just plain messy.

At this stage in it, I’m running more errands than I want to and writing a lot less than I want to. (And probably need to.) But I’m focusing on staying focused, {ironic, hey?} and trying to make sure the tasks on the estate-settling list get crossed off, and I still get wholesome meals on the table. But sometimes it’s Dominos.

The busy is probably good, even though it’s hard. And the memories I’m making with my kids, cherishing them and creating opportunities for love and laughs and learning, this is where the best stuff, the most-healing stuff is happening.

God whispers gently: there is so much good still to come. He is also whispering hope and life and faith, through the voices of Sunday sermons, blog posts, His amazing Word and strong and solid teachings, like this gem by A.W. Tozer.

The most beautiful reminder of all, in my Dad’s absence, is the constant reminder of the Lord’s presence. I’m aiming to fix the gaze of my soul on God. {Thanks, Tozer.}

Perhaps it’s a valley I’m walking through, that somehow still has some beautiful hills to climb — it’s messy to describe, but it is a place where I know there is a God who makes every path smooth by His grace.

Next Sunday I’ll be sharing about my Dad’s faith journey at the church he called home for a good while. Appropriately, it’s Father’s Day. My heart is certain there are some stories to tell, my hope is that the Lord will give me the grace to tell those stories — and communicate the greater truth behind them — well. {I’d appreciate your prayers, and if you’re local, you are welcome.}

Right now the truth I’m aiming to cling to that I offer to you as well is this: He loves us. Oh, how He loves us.

That night, in the hospital, when the end was beginning and everything was a messy blur, this was the Word, when I opened the Bible on my phone:


He was there for me, an abiding Presence, through the toughest week of my life.

Friends, He loves us. Amen.


On Writing, And Not

I haven’t written lately. I suppose sometimes it’s good to start by stating the obvious.

I haven’t written lately because the thoughts seem to be swirling around in my mind, most times too quickly for me to catch them and pin them down.

I haven’t written lately because there are diapers to change and booboos to kiss and juice cups to fill, and there’s a part of me that wants to make sure I’m doing this living thing right, even after coming to grips with the dying.

I haven’t written lately because for a while I tried piling so many things on my plate we almost ran out of toilet paper.

And when that momentary clarity that death brings passes, sometimes things seem to look hazy for a while. You’re forging a new path and the way forward isn’t clear — you want to make sure some things change, you want to make sure some things stay the same — and you want to try to handle the things that are going to change whether you want them to or not, well.

I now have a gorgeous six-month-old baby girl. She was only four months old at the big goodbye. She is a daily reminder that life does go on, will go on.

And I have a four year old who is about to finish his second year of pre-school, today. And it feels like yesterday and a million years ago, the day he started the three-year-old class, fresh out the gates from South Africa, when we flew in over the weekend and he jumped in, a week late, on the Monday.


His little brother is now wearing those shorts.

The thought comes in spells, I’m sad to say fewer, but still, where I remember faces, like The Girl in the Pink Coat.

iaminhereyesAnd I think about the privilege I have of raising kids and knowing we have food to eat every day and a safe place to live and a comfortable bed for every person. And reconciling these gifts with what I’ve seen — those faces, those feet — I find it hard to keep going in comfortable North Carolina sometimes. What do you say to the kid you sponsor through Compassion?

Your life is hard. My troubles pale in comparison. You are full of joy. I want to pour my life out for Jesus and the fear of comfortable almost keeps me up at night.

I cling to a few simple truths, in the midst of the haze, and perhaps they’ll be useful for you. First, a friend of mine reminded me the other day that you don’t always know what you’re doing, what it means to the people around you. Keep doing good because it’s good. Especially when your right hand doesn’t know what your left hand is doing — your Father does. I find that encouragement enough to keep loving, to keep giving, and to wholeheartedly keep seeking the kingdom first.

God is still on the throne. My parents have always felt like the two pillars that the platform of my life balanced on. Losing one has made me wobble. But we can always only ever find a firm foundation in Jesus. Keep seeking the kingdom first.

When you aren’t sure what to do, when bare feet in SA are on your heart, but dirty floors in NC are in your face, do your best to do the thing in front of you with love. And keep seeking the kingdom first, to help you know what that thing is.

If I can love the one in front of me, as Mother Theresa put it, maybe he or she will be the one to get on a plane and go back to some of the places where I’ve left pieces of my heart, and to love the people there. Or he or she will love someone who’ll love someone who’ll love someone who will. And Lord willing, we will love there again, too, and love here, in the meantime.

Catch my drift?

With Love,


When Theology Meets Reality, Part III

This post is part three of a wee series. Part One is here and Part Two is here. If you’re keen. 🙂

Losing someone you love doesn’t cause you to ask a question no one has ever asked before, although it can sometimes feel like it. I think most questions about God can basically be summed up in just a few, and this is one of them:

If God is good, then why do bad things happen?

And here’s my best attempt at explaining what I believe about how this bad thing has been allowed to happen inside the will of a good God.

In this case, the bad thing was the loss of my Dad just now, at the age of 64, when I wish we’d had more time, when I felt so much good stuff was still to come. When I was counting on writing the book he inspired by simply speaking words of life about my gifts to me, and when I was planning on dedicating that book to him. And when these little grandkids were just getting to know him. And I kind of felt like I was, too.

{I still will dedicate that book to him, in case you’re wondering.}

Dad & Bear

{Dad & the Bear, before my sister’s wedding in 2009}

There’s a basic building block on which a lot of things hinge for me. And it’s the belief that free will is a dignity bestowed upon us by a God who loves us enough to let us choose whether or not to love Him back. If I held a gun to your head and said Tell me ya love me, sweetheart, you’d probably oblige me pretty quickly. But the intrinsic value of your answer — my guess is it’d be pretty meaningless. Right?

Love can’t be forced.

So, in the wisdom of God, He created a world where we all have the ability to make choices. Lots of different kinds of choices. Like the choice to exercise, to eat peanut butter and jelly or ham and cheese, to name one of our kids Hamish or Apple.

One of the choices my Dad made was with regard to his health. He was working toward getting healthier — trying to diet and exercise — but he didn’t really listen to the warning signs, the bells and whistles his body was sounding off to say “Things aren’t right! Things aren’t good!”

These were signs like shortness of breath and chest pains, the inability to walk uphill for an extended amount of time without losing his breath and needing to sit down for a while, issues with his blood pressure.

I guess he thought he could take matters into his own hands, and he tried hard: but counting calories and pedaling on his bike each day wasn’t enough.

There’s a very real possibility that my Dad’s decision not to go to a doctor when he was exhibiting signs of heart disease cost him his life.

Knowing this, who is there for me to shake my fist at, except my Dad, really? Yes I wish I’d said more, cajoled more, made a bigger deal about it when I was first told that he was having chest pains and I talked to him about going to the doctor and he said “He’d get around to it.”

I have regrets.

Ultimately, a 64 year old man who is exhibiting chest pains and showing other concerning signs needs to do the grown-up thing: visit a doctor. But my Dad didn’t.

He exercised free will. He made the choice to postpone, to procrastinate, to put off.

To that, I don’t feel right about saying Why, God, why?

The appropriate thing to me is more like Why, Dad, why?

For the sake of further explanation, let’s say the circumstances were different. Let’s say he was minding his own business, driving home one evening and an absentminded driver was texting instead of steering, shot through a red light, and that was the end of the story.

Well, I’d still point to choices. I’d still point to free will.

It would’ve been someone else’s free will, in that scenario — but still, I’d point to free will instead of our Maker.

Of course, your next question might be, there’s disease. There’s famine. There’s poverty. There are hungry kids dying… whose free will do we point to then?

And the thing is, if I believe the account of creation that starts with In the beginning, then I believe that God created a world that was really, very good. Paradise even.

Our own decisions, one after another, from the beginning, contributed to the fall — the change from Paradise to arguments about gun control, hunger, disease, a bomber at the Boston marathon.

It all started with one big word I can’t escape using: Sin.

The decision to deliberately choose something other than God’s goodness completely changed the game. Changed the world forever. Introduced not good into a world that had previously been always only ever wholly good.

And our individual, daily decisions affect each other more than we realize. We want to buy clothes at a good price, so manufacturers look for cheap labor to fit the bill. Sure, you and I don’t want children in Thailand to head to a sweat shop for the sake of our cheap t-shirts. But, we’re more connected than we think, and in a way, we’re all partly to blame.

Our individual decisions to use disposable diapers for decades could mean a world-wide problem for centuries. Our individual decisions to vote like this or like that have consequences that affect us all.

And for a very long time, the world has been full of people, making their own choices. Our choices are often not good, and the consequences, well, they naturally follow suit.

I hope you hear me. I think this is big.

So now, I sit on the other side of this loss, and this experience like nothing I’ve ever felt before. But I don’t see God as the problem — I am certain He is the place from whence come the solutions.

Am I disappointed a miracle didn’t happen the way I hoped?

For sure. I really loved my Dad. I don’t want to live the rest of my life without him.

And there is still an unresolved why? I think there always will be. Why did I bump into an old friend at the hospital whose Dad had a heart attack the same day? Why did she get a miracle… and why didn’t I?

But I have tasted the sweetness of redemption before. I know the Redeemer, and I picture Him at the loom, already weaving this dark, harsh thread into a bigger tapestry, and it’s something beautiful.

He didn’t cause this. In infinite wisdom, He did allow this. He can use this to create something beautiful.

Dad & Asher

This morning I danced in the living room with my boys. And when I say I danced I mean I all-out danced. Like no one was looking. Hair-flying, kid spinning, air guitar rocking, sore-cheek grinning.

I breathed deeply, excited about the possibilities of life that lay before my little family.

I will cry some more. But I will laugh more, too.

From loss I already see so much gain — there’s fresh purpose in my heart to guard the relationships with my Mom, my siblings, my husband, my precious kids, recognizing we will only walk the road together for so long.

I am hungry again to refuse a faith that goes through the motions, to plunge deep into the bottomless well of God, to drink deeply and to love the world around me fully again.

It’s as if this cloud descended, and I got wrapped up in the minutia of life, returning to North Carolina and trying to figure out how to do life again here.

But as the grief lifts, little by little, so the clouds lift with it. I’m looking up more than down.

And with wholehearted assurance my Dad is in a better place, I look forward to the day when I see him again, the day when there are no more whys for asking.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. {I Cor. 13:12}

If you’re reading this, and you’re also grieving, I hope you believe me when I say life is still beautiful. Hold on to the things that are truly valuable — and take the time to figure out just what those things are. Guard your heart, put your hope in the right place — let it anchor your soul through the storm.