Although this blog was started because of our upcoming adoption, I can hardly write any more entries without writing about the deep pain my family has experienced for the last 5 months.
Five months ago...it was March 17, 2012. St. Patrick's Day. We had a leadership team day retreat for our church. We had a wonderful day of prayer, fellowship, and seeking God for vision for the church. Our pastor led us in a prayer/meditation exercise on Mark 10:35-45 (definitely not a coincidence looking back on it). After the leadership meeting, we picked up our kids and went to Harrisburg to spend some time with my parents. We went out to eat and had a great evening. We talked about our plans for the summer and how we were looking forward to a great summer together with my brother Joel and his beautiful family. We were going to celebrate Joel and Janelle's 30th birthdays, go to the beach together, and just spend quality time together since Joel and Janelle were living Yemen. We went home, went to bed, and I specifically remember feeling joyful that night. I just felt grateful to God for all of His blessings. I was thankful for my family, thankful for wonderful friends, and for an awesome church family. I was excited for the summer since school would be out (I am a teacher), the auction would be over (Andy & I were co-chairs of a school benefit auction), and Joel and Janelle would be home.
March 18, 2012. My cell phone rings and wakes me up at 3:34 (yes, I remember the exact time). It was my dad and he asked if Andy was there and he wanted me to put him on speaker phone. My heart sank. I knew something was wrong. At first I thought it was my grandma. Then, my thoughts went to my mom (since I did not hear her in the background at first). My dad said, "Joel was involved in some sort of accident or attack in Yemen." I felt the pain in my stomach. I am thinking, "Is he ok." But then, before I asked, my dad said, "I'm sorry honey, he didn't make it."
"He didn't make it." He didn't make it??? Disbelief. Denial. Shock. I thought this must be a nightmare. I am just having a nightmare. Yet, I knew it wasn't a dream. The hours that followed included hugs, weeping, phone calls, the news media, pain, joy, and despair. It was surreal. As the news released more information, and we talked with Joel's friends in Yemen, we discovered the shocking truth that Joel was shot 4 times with an AK47 by 2 men on a motorcycle from a group linked with Al Qaeda. He was followed and targeted. He died instantly.
There are so many thoughts, too much to write in one blog entry. I will say that the last five months have been the most painful months we have ever experienced. While I know Joel is with Jesus, and I do find comfort in that, it does not take away the pain of such a loss. Joel leaves behind a beautiful wife and 2 precious sons. He was my brother and friend. My brothers and I were always so close growing up and even as adults. It felt incomprehensible that he was really gone. When I spent time with Joel, I always left feeling loved, accepted, encouraged, and challenged. He said the things that mattered. The last conversation I had with him we talked about the beach trip we were planning, we talked about our kids, and we talked about the adoption. He said he supported the adoption and was so happy for us. He said, "I don't know anyone with more of a mother's heart than you."
Joel was not perfect, but he was special. He loved with his whole heart. He genuinely cared about people and had a deep commitment to Jesus. I miss him. Today, at a teacher in-service for school we were asked what was the highlight of our summer. I had nothing to share. I didn't feel I had a highlight. This summer felt like a summer of loss. This summer I missed giving Joel a hug. I missed laughing about our silly inside jokes. I missed listening to him proudly talk about his sons. I missed going on double dates with him and Janelle. I missed throwing a party for his 30th birthday. I missed watching him and Andy pal around together in the waves at the beach. I missed his response to his son Liam as he said "Strawbebbe" instead of strawberry. I missed his excitement as we celebrated his son Valen's fifth birthday. I missed our dinner conversations, and I missed seeing the passion in his eyes as he talked about the Yemeni people.
Right now the only think I can cling to is God and his sovereign plan. I know there is good coming out of a terrible situation, but believe me, I have struggled with anger and questions. I keep reminding myself of Isaiah 55:8-9.
"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts higher than your thoughts."
I am thankful for a God who has compassion for us, and I am thankful for a wonderful family and church body who have poured out their love, prayers, and compassion for us. I wanted to end with something I wrote the day after Joel died. It is still my feelings today.
"How is it possible to feel such deep brokeness and yet immense joy at the same time?
I have been blessed with almost 30 precious years of memories,
laughter, joy, and tears. My little brother Joel was my hero in life
and in death. He lived his life without fear and followed the call
whatever the cost. Joel is a part of the "cloud of witnesses" in
Hebrews 11 and he is one of those "of whom the world was not worthy." I
will miss you my precious baby brother, but look forward to our sweet