Even in Tragedy, God is Good

On Monday, May 4, 2015, I was enjoying a beautiful homeschool day with my four children and my nine-year-old niece. The girls had spent a couple of hours in the back yard building houses from sticks, berries, acorns, leaves, and such. Around 1:45 in the afternoon, I took pictures of their creations and shared them on my Facebook wall.

Before I closed Facebook, I saw an urgent post from one of my friends that went something like this: “Please pray!!!! I just witnessed a bicyclist hit by a truck in Braselton. The truck left the scene, and the bicyclist is unresponsive.”

My heart started pounding. You see, my dad lives in Braselton and he had in recent years taken up cycling for recreation and exercise. I immediately feared the worst.

I tried several times to call my friend who witnessed the accident, but she didn’t answer. I tried to call my dad multiple times. No answer. I called my sister, who lives close to my parents. No answer. I then called my mom at work and asked her if my dad was riding right then. He was. I told Mom about the post on Facebook and said that I would keep trying to reach my friend who had witnessed the crash. I called my husband and asked him to pray.

In the meantime, I rushed downstairs and told the kids to get in the car. I told them that someone had been hit riding their bike, and I wasn’t sure if it was Papa or not. When I was about to walk out the door, my friend called. Sobbing, I asked her if it was my dad. She told me she didn’t see his face, so she didn’t know. She tried to assure me that lots of people ride bicycles around Braselton, and Braselton is a really big place. She said that it happened on the Oakwood side of Hwy 53 in Braselton (hoping, I suppose, that he didn’t ride in that area), and I told her that my dad lives around there. She said they were doing CPR on the man. She said she had described my dad to the investigator after she listened to the message I had left her and asked him to call her if that matched the victim. He hadn’t yet called, so she thought that was good news. She then prayed with me and for me and for the bicyclist, asking God to breathe His breath of life into him.

My dad wore a GPS tracker when he rode, so I called my mom back and asked if Dad’s ride was still going. She checked it, and it had stopped–on Hwy. 53. So Mom left work immediately and rushed to find where he had stopped riding.

I had a 45-minute ride down to Braselton. While I was driving, I called my sister. Her husband went to check things out. A little while later, I called my sister back to see if Mark had found anything. While we were talking, he beeped in, so she switched to his call. When he hung up and her phone came back to my call, I heard the worst screams and sobs I could ever have imagined. I hung up immediately, knowing that my dad was dead.

My focus then was on getting the five children in my car safely to my parents’ house. I feared that I would faint on the way, so I tried to keep my emotions in check. My mind was reeling. The kids kept asking if I knew anything yet, but I told them that we just needed to get to Mimi and Papa’s house.

When we pulled into the driveway, my mom had just arrived from the scene of the crash. She opened the front door, and we held each other and sobbed. I told my kids that Papa had been killed, and we all held each other and cried for what seemed like forever. My husband came in from the crash scene, sobbing. My sister came in a few minutes later, and then her husband. We all sobbed while my mom called my two brothers to tell them the news.

A little while later, the coroner and a sheriff’s deputy came to ask some questions. They told us that they had the driver in custody. I walked out with the deputy to get my dad’s cycling shoes and sunglasses. I clung to the shoes and sobbed.

Anguish was the word of the day.

My dad was 64. In great health. With a wife of almost 46 years, 4 kids, 11 grandkids, his parents, four siblings, brothers- and sisters-in-law, countless nieces, nephews, cousins, 10 middle school students, multitudes of church friends, and on and on and on.

People started coming in that afternoon….church friends, aunts, uncles, my grandparents, cousins. It was the most surreal and unimaginably horrible day of my life.

That night, I hardly slept. I would doze and then immediately wake up, hoping desperately to be having a nightmare. I was devastated each time to realize that the nightmare was real.

The next few days, we spent a lot of time at my mom’s house, hugging, crying, talking. We had to wait until my dad was released from the GBI crime lab before we could make arrangements at the funeral home, but we began to plan his funeral. Heartwrenching doesn’t come close to describing this time.

We found out that the driver was charged with multiple counts, including DUI, first degree vehicular homicide, leaving the scene of an accident with death, open container, failure to maintain lane, failure to leave a safe distance, and improperly transferred plate.

What do we do with that? To lose my dad suddenly was bad enough, but to lose him at the hands of someone who took substances into his body and chose to get behind the wheel of a vehicle multiplies the layers of yuck in this whole situation. Someone is responsible for taking away my dad. In addition to all of the things that go along with losing a loved one, we are dealing with state patrol investigators and district attorneys and a likely trial and sentencing and on and on. I feel as if I’ve been robbed.

I’m sure that many of you have had to say “goodbye” to someone precious to you. Although I always felt sympathy for others who were grieving the loss of a loved one, I couldn’t truly understand their pain. I had never experienced anything like this before. I had lost a couple of good friends and had miscarried a baby, but that was the extent of my grieving. Nothing could have prepared me for this.

I know that I’m biased, but my dad was hands-down the best dad I could ever have hoped for. He and my mom got married when they were 18 and have been married almost 46 years. I have two brothers and a sister, and between us we have 11 children. My dad was the most amazing Papa to those 11 children. They adored him, and the feeling was mutual. It was evident to everyone who knew him. Catch a glimpse of his awesome life from this short tribute video.

My dad was my pastor. He was my counselor. He was my oldest child’s middle school teacher. He was my occasional babysitter. He was my theology “professor.” He was my go-to guy for technology questions or issues. I would call and chat with him while I was taking walks in the evenings in my neighborhood. He was my blog post proofreader. He was my biggest cheerleader. He was one of my very closest friends.

He was my rock.

We all have a huge, gaping, bleeding, festering hole in our lives now. My dad kept my sister’s kids while she worked as an RN. My older brother called him after every UGA touchdown and after all of his sons’ ballgames. My younger brother rode bicycles with him. He and my mom have had “dates” every Friday night for many years. He paid all of their bills online, took out their trash, handled house maintenance, and on and on. He came to karate tournaments and piano recitals and baseball games and basketball games and soccer games and plays and such. He was there for all of us. Always.

And now he’s not.

I know that I have just barely begun to grieve, yet I’ve shed a million tears. There will likely be many emotions and many, many tears yet to come. But as strange as it sounds, I want to tell you that God is good, in spite of and even in the midst of this tragedy. He has already shown His goodness and mercy in many ways since my dad’s death, that He’s in control and He will take care of us. Here are a few examples:

1. A few days after my dad was killed, I called the witnesses who were listed on the crash report. I wanted to thank them personally for how they helped my dad and the role they played in assisting the authorities with apprehending the driver who killed him. After talking with one witness and hearing his story, I learned that he was a pastor. Another witness, who administered CPR to my dad, was such a sweet Christian young man. He was with my dad when he left this world and entered the presence of Jesus. I mentioned above that one of my friends, a precious sister in the Lord, witnessed the crash as well.  I’ll always be thankful that my dad was surrounded by fellow believers when he took his last breath here on earth.

2. I mentioned that my dad taught at our homeschool academy, so we would need to find someone to replace him, and soon. I knew that we could find someone to teach, but I was so sad that the middle school kids would be missing out on the pastor’s heart that Dad brought to his students. Do you know who God sent, almost immediately after Dad’s death? Two people: A pastor friend to teach our Bible classes and Dad’s brother….another “Mr. Fitz” (a long-time middle school teacher and then elementary school principal), to teach math and science. Even in this incredible tragedy, God showed us his faithfulness and goodness.

3. Dad’s funeral was a beautiful celebration of not only my dad’s life but of the goodness and mercy of God. We have heard multiple stories of people who were touched and changed by being in the service that day.

4.  God is opening doors for our family to tell others about Him through this tragedy. We’ve been making many calls to cancel services or subscriptions or to get help with billing questions as my mom tries to work through all of the legal and business issues she is left with. Over and over again, as we explain what has happened, we are able to share that God is with us and is taking care of us. He will not let this tragedy go to waste. He will use it to further His purposes and to touch lives for His Kingdom.

So even now as my heart is shattered into pieces, I choose to trust in my “Abba Father,” my Heavenly Daddy, to fill the holes and to carry me through this life. Although right now it seems like forever until I will see my Dad again, I know that in God’s timing it’s only the blink of an eye and we will be reunited.

I’ve always been afraid of dying and leaving this world. It’s natural to fear the unknown. But I’m no longer afraid, because I know that my Dad is there waiting for me. I’m eager to join him there, to worship my Awesome God for ever and ever.

This pain and heartache was not in God’s plan for us. Because of sin, we live in a broken world and we all suffer. But soon God will send Jesus for us, the church, His Bride, and we will be with Him for eternity. Everything will be made right.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

As I’ve never prayed before, I say, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

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My precious Mom and Dad. (Click this picture to watch his tribute video, produced by my sister’s husband Mark.)

See Dad’s obituary here.

See the news article here.

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What Good Are Dads, Anyway?

Kingdom Crossing:

I never imagined when I posted this piece last year on Father’s Day (see below) that I would be fatherless this year. Everything I wrote is still as applicable today as it was a year ago. I have to trust that my Heavenly Father will indeed be “a father to the fatherless” and “a defender of widows” for our family going forward (Psalm 68:5).

Originally posted on Kingdom Crossing:

What Good Are Dads Anyway

In honor of Father’s Day, many of my Facebook friends have been changing their profile pictures this weekend to photos of their dads. I love to see all of the precious pictures of dads—some who are still with us and some who have gone on to heaven. There’s nothing quite like a father.

If you pay much attention to popular television shows, you have probably noticed that dads (and men, in general) are more often than not portrayed as bumbling idiots. They are shown as dumb, lazy, out of touch, and even unfaithful. I despise the message that this sends to a generation of young people who, maybe more than any other generation, desperately needs to see hard-working providers. They need to see men who stick around, in spite of the difficulties, because that’s what dads and husbands do. They need to see men who are strong and brave and who protect their…

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Please Pray for My Family

My dad was hit and killed this week while bicycling near his home. My husband wrote the following beautiful tribute to my dad’s beautiful life.

A Legacy of Love

 In the How to Manage Your Money Bible study by the late Larry Burkett, while discussing wealth and stewardship, Larry noted that, once we leave this world, what we will be in eternity is decided forever. And the only things that will matter are the things we did in the name of Jesus. So often in his sermons, teachings, counseling sessions, or simply everyday conversations, my beloved father-in-law, David Fitzpatrick, would urge us to say the things that Jesus said, and do the things that Jesus did. Jesus was his standard–always. David didn’t simply tell others to do and say such things, he modeled this behavior with his own life. Whether giving away grocery bags full of items that couldn’t be purchased with food stamps (soaps, toilet paper, toothpaste, and the like) at one of the Gainesville area housing projects (a service he performed for well over a decade), preparing and delivering sermons, counseling young couples looking to marry, helping to plant churches in South America, supporting Choices Pregnancy Care Center, offering prayer to strangers in public places, being overly generous to those who waited his table in restaurants, keeping his grandchildren while their parents worked or ran errands, pouring life and truth into the middle school students that he taught, and on, and on, and on, David was very busy being the hands and feet of Jesus.

“Papa” with 3 of his 4 children (along with their spouses) and 10 of his 11 grandchildren this past Christmas.

As a result of such a walk, David’s life was rich and full of joy. I almost never saw him angry. (Something with which I sometimes struggle. Thus, I will continue to look to his life as a reminder of how I can do better as a husband and father.) He was certainly one of the kindest and most generous men that I’ve ever met. (I’m nearly 46 years old–and I’ve been married to his oldest daughter Michelle for over 17 years now–and he still insisted on getting me a birthday present every year, while also taking my whole family out to dinner on each of our birthdays!) David and Margie went to their grandchildren’s birthday parties, baseball games, karate tournaments (he and Margie traveled to Ellijay this past weekend to watch Caleb, Jesse, and Caroline compete in karate), piano recitals, horse shows, and the like. However, after his relationship with his creator and Savior, David was most devoted to his wife Margie. This devotion was clear to all of us who knew him best. This is perhaps his greatest witness. With such devotion, David has made an eternal impact on his children and grandchildren that we will remember for the rest of our lives. I’ve often said that, after our relationship with our Creator, the most important relationship in the universe is that between a husband and wife. David’s love for Margie was as precious and proper as any marriage I’ve ever known. (As an aside: Leading up to the legal arguments on marriage made before the U.S. Supreme Court, and answering Ted Cruz’s challenge to preach and teach on marriage, the last two Sundays in April of this year, David’s sermons were on God’s plan for marriage. He spoke the truth well.) Additionally, David LOVED to “get lost” in musical worship. He craved it. It was a point of emphasis while he was a pastor on this earth. However, he knew well that a life of worship went far beyond the songs we sing on Sunday morning. This life of worship would certainly extend to showing love and forgiveness to the man that struck and killed David as he rode his bike near Braselton. This man must answer to the law, but in no way would David have us wallow in hate or anger in this tragedy. In fact, David would have us pray that God would reach down into Mr. Bowers’ life and bring hope and healing. Thank you, Papa, for a life full of love. I, and many others have reaped much, and will continue to do so, from all of the love that you’ve sown. This is only goodbye for now. All who know Jesus will see you again. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!!! Copyright 2015, Trevor Grant Thomas At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason. www.trevorgrantthomas.com Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World tthomas@trevorgrantthomas.com

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My Romantic Valentine’s Day

hearts

Do you have romantic plans with your sweetheart for Valentine’s Day? A special dinner out, perhaps, or did he surprise you with flowers and chocolate?

I remember when I was in high school, “the thing” was for the girls to receive flowers or balloons at school on Valentine’s Day. I recall dropping some not-so-subtle hints to my parents about it, and they were very kind to bless me with a special vase or balloon. You see, I didn’t want to be the one who went home empty handed (although I’m sure there were many who actually did so). Even though I knew that people loved me, I had a desire for others to see that someone went to the expense and trouble of sending me a token of love on Valentine’s Day.

This is now my 17th Valentine’s Day married to Trevor, and we decided long ago that we wouldn’t make a big deal of this day…..mostly because we’re so frugal (aka cheap) that we can’t stomach paying full price for flowers and cards and candy. To us, it’s seems like an occasion manufactured by card and candy companies to increase their sales. We know that we love each other, and we don’t need to be pressured into buying things on February 14 to show it….we should show it all the time.

But that doesn’t keep us from taking advantage of clearance candy deals after Valentine’s Day. :-)

With all of that said, I want to tell you how my husband is being romantic and showing me true love on this Valentine’s Day. I’ve written before about how tight our budget is lately. Some of it is just life….things break; people get sick; the economy fluctuates. Some of it is our choice: we’re making sacrifices and scrimping so that we can afford the kids’ homeschool academy, karate classes, and piano program. For us, it’s worth the belt-tightening because we feel that we are doing what’s best for our children.

Trevor is a hard worker and a wonderful provider for our family. He’s a public school teacher, so his income depends a lot on whether the economy is robust or poor in a certain year, and unlike the corporate world, there’s little opportunity for economic advancement.

Lately Trevor has accepted some outside tutoring requests, for which I’m very thankful. And he was given the opportunity to work the gate at a basketball tournament this weekend to earn some extra income. So this morning, on Valentine’s Day, he left to tutor for a couple of hours, and he will then work until 10:00 or so tonight at the basketball tournament. I’ll hardly see him today.

It’s not fun being away from my soul mate all day on Valentine’s Day (not to mention having the kids by myself all day), but in my opinion he is doing the most romantic thing he could do for me….bringing home some extra “bacon.” And for this vegetarian, that’s a pretty yummy thing!

So, Happy Valentine’s Day, Trevor, and thank you for working so hard to care for our family!

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)

 

 

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16 (Now 17) Years

On the day I graduated from high school, in June 1992, I remember looking out of my bedroom window and thinking to myself, “This is it. The next thing I know, I’ll be graduating from college, then getting married, raising kids, and before I know it my life will be over.” Deep thoughts for an 18-year-old, huh? But in that moment, the brevity of life really weighed on me. I realized that “life is but a vapor,” and time really does fly.

A couple of years after I graduated from college, I met my Knight in Shining Armor. I was 23 and Trevor was 27, and we were fixed up by mutual friends. We both were sick of dating the wrong people, and we both knew right off the bat that God had brought us together. We had a brief, whirlwind courtship and married exactly seven months after we met— 16 17 years ago today. (For more juicy details, check out my book.)

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I would be lying if I told you that we rode off into the sunset and have lived happily ever after. Our first two years of married life were anything but bliss, and the next several weren’t exactly anything for the books, either (Among other things, we were digging our way out of debt and building a home ourselves. Then we added four children in rapid succession.). Our families of origin would be quick to tell you that Trevor and I are both very strong willed and opinionated, which isn’t the greatest combination sometimes, and we tend to butt heads. A lot.

The good news is that we have worked through a lot of the kinks in our relationship, and the last few years have been much better, for the most part. Of course, all marriages have “issues,” but we have matured, mellowed, and meshed through the years. We’ve learned that we each have strengths and weaknesses, and God intends for the strengths of one of us to compensate for the weaknesses of the other, and vice versa. We still butt heads and probably always will (“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17), but I like to think that the conflicts help to mold and shape us more into the image of Christ than if we were doing life on our own. God has a purpose for everything, even conflict.

Trevor and I now share many goals, such as raising godly children, making a real difference in the political arena, and doing all we can to encourage and strengthen the Body of Christ.

We are learning to use the strong wills that God gave us to fight against the schemes of the devil, instead of each other. Well, most of the time. And here’s an interesting thing about our strong wills—maybe the most important thing: when we said “I do” 16 17 years ago, we meant it. And we’re stubborn enough to make our marriage work, no matter what. We’re sticking together through thick and thin, or “for better or worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.”

I have to say that the Lord knew what He was doing when He gave Trevor to me. As much as I’d like to send him to the dog house sometimes, I don’t know where I would be without him. I’m thankful that he works hard to provide for our family so I can be home to raise and educate our children. I’m grateful that he stands up publicly for The Truth, knowing that he will be criticized and attacked at times. And I’m humbled that he still loves me, even after 16 17 years of seeing my faults and experiencing my failures. He’s committed to the Lord, and he’s committed to me, to us.

Trevor tells me that I’m spoiled, and maybe I am. But he is, too. And that’s okay, right? I’d like for us to take the next 16 17 years and figure out how to spoil each other even more.

Here’s a poem that my precious sister wrote for my wedding day. It still brings tears to my eyes…..

wedding poemWe’re in it for the long haul, and that’s a really good thing. Happy Anniversary, Sweetie. :-)

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Happy New Year 2015!

Happy New Year!

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Have Your Way With Me

kids fighting

Hello again. First I must apologize for my extended absence from the blogging world. I really don’t have a good excuse. I have started working outside the home for the first time in over 12 years, so that has been an adjustment. I also have been taking time to read more (Stay tuned for book reviews!), which I haven’t done in many years, either. I’m enjoying both, but my poor blog has been quite neglected.

As many of you know, my four children attend a local homeschool academy on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays each week, and I teach them at home on Mondays and Fridays. They love their homeschool academy. They have wonderful friends, amazing teachers, and a precious Christian environment where they can learn and grow.

My children behave extremely well at their homeschool academy. They almost never get into any trouble there. They are respectful, kind, obedient, and diligent, for which I’m very thankful.

On school at home days, my children leave their bodies and monsters take over.

You think I’m kidding, don’t you? My sweet little angels couldn’t possibly behave poorly, could they?

I won’t terrify you with details, but suffice it to say that it seems as though they bottle up all of their badness during the week and then release it all on Mondays and Fridays, just for me.

Last Friday was a particularly bad school at home day. Maybe it’s because Christmas is just around the corner, and everyone is “over” school. I don’t know for sure, but I found myself locked in my bathroom, wondering what in the world I’m doing wrong to cause such madness.

I’ve been pretty discouraged lately about this parenting thing. It seems that instead of getting better, some of the issues with my kids are going in the opposite direction. Sometimes I lose my temper with them, which makes things even worse. I couldn’t agree more with the title of James Dobson’s book, Parenting Isn’t for Cowards. A coward is exactly what I feel like sometimes in this parenting journey. It’s hard and I fail a lot and at times I feel like giving up. I won’t give up, of course, but in my flesh I often feel weak and defeated and overwhelmed.

I was listening to worship music this evening while I was dipping peanut butter balls in chocolate. The house was quiet. My husband was gone with the younger three kids, and my oldest was reading on the couch. As one of the songs played, I feel that God spoke to me. He seems to reach me often through music, when I get quiet enough to listen.

If you’re struggling with any part of your Christian walk, see if these lyrics might touch you, too. It’s called “Have Your Way ” from the Sweetly Broken album by Vineyard Music:

In my own strength I’ve tried

to live a holy life, struggling till the end.

Then you find me on my knees,

praying “God forgive me please.”

And “I’ll try again.”

So when will victory be mine?

I’m running out of faith and time.

To live on a mountaintop, it takes more than a will to climb.

So have Your way with me.

Let Your strength be what flows from me,

and let the blood that ran down Calvary run through me.

Oh, Lord, have Your way with me.

 

It seems like self never dies.

The harder I try, it comes back for more.

There are times I lose this fight

before the battle has begun.

And Your blessings must wait once more.

So when will victory be mine?

I’m running out of faith and time.

To live on a mountaintop, it takes more than a will to climb.

So have Your way with me.

Let Your strength be what flows from me,

and let the blood that ran down Calvary run through me.

Oh, Lord, have Your way with me.

 

Though this flesh is what covers me,

Holy Spirit take control of me.

When I want to give in,

don’t give up on me.

Cause where grace abounds, there I want to be.

So, have Your way with me.

Let Your strength be what flows from me,

and let the blood that you shed for me run through me.

Oh, Lord, have Your way with me.

Yes, Lord. Have your way with me. You gave me these four children to raise, so give me the strength and the wisdom to parent them as You direct. Give me patience and let your grace flow through me into their lives day by day by day, for the days are short that they will be in my care. Amen.

As we celebrate the birth of Christ this week, may we focus on our walk with the Lord and all that He means to us. May His joy fill us to overflowing, so that our problems and struggles fade away. That’s my prayer for your family and mine. Merry Christmas to you all!

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