death

Poetry

Shotgun Start: A Poem About Progress

When was the shotgun start
Who started the rat race
Where are we headed
When will it stop?

Observation.

Here at the
Tip of the spear
I question this faster ideal

Wheel to the hyperloop
Race to fill every niche
Tripping steam engines
With a side of quiche

Ingenuity fuel, or a
Desire to run away
Somewhere not here
Do not be still, I pray

Lean startup A/B test
Productivity or regress
Polyphasic sleep rest
UBI for all but the best

Matriculation downstream
Chasing that USA dream
I’ve been to their mecca
It’s not what it seems

Digital global infection
Tech company affection
Never been more dejection
Can’t discern text inflection

Corrupt system election
Home is now abroad
Hacking social webs
Subvert flows and ebbs

Modern stories we tell
Time lapse traffic b-roll
Crosswalk people scurry
That chopper rap flurry

News cycles spinning
Not sure who’s winning
Fact check for integrity
They are dead to me

Friends in the hundreds
Nobody here now though
Geospatial analysis
How am I missed?

Stomach this FB feed
A toxic baby formula
Science diet suicide
Bitten apple of pride

To go far go together
Go fast go alone
How are we so far from
That naked start in a garden

30,000 foot view here
Next time you jet set
See cities touch the sky
Wonder with me why
Babel didn’t fly?

Adventures in Faith

I Wrote My Eulogy for My Birthday

After a battle with illness that lasted over ten years, during which, according to his wife Whitney, “he thanked God for the illness and how it helped him to be more present with people and to really listen,” Ryan JonPaul Derfler, left his flesh last Tuesday, July 3rd, exactly 60 years after he was baptized.  

Ryan was born in 1981, the son of Monique Anne Balcavage (nee) and John Dennis Derfler, and has a brother, Daren Lee, and his sister, Danielle Jacqueline, preceded him in death. He grew up in central Pennsylvania, and often talked of his childhood in the rural small town of Montgomery. He relished his simple, country roots, love for nature, and was a self-described “late bloomer.”

Ryan is perhaps best known for his dramatic stories about how Jesus is alive and actively involved in the intimate details of life. He published over 2,500 short stories including a series of controversial books for adults and children.

He once said, “Looking back, God always had a hand on me, that much is clear. But it was when I met my wife in 2010 that it clicked that I needed to take my faith seriously, and I then began a personal relationship with the living God.”

In 2012, Ryan married the love of his life, Whitney Elizabeth Miller, who he often wrote about for her faith, wisdom as a mom and friend, and her beauty. She survives him in death.

Immediately after being married, Ryan and Whitney moved to Silicon Valley, California, where Ryan took a position working for a ministry, Cityteam International, serving the homeless and addicts. The juxtaposition of living and working among both the wealthiest and poorest in society, as well as the disciple-making training that Cityteam provided, had a deep impact on Ryan. 

For over 30 years Ryan worked for Geneva Global X, a consulting firm that drove massive collaboration among social service partners, especially within faith-based groups across many denominations. The work resulted in the transformation of millions of lives in a dozen regions around the world.

Whitney and Ryan have two sons, Boden Wiley and Lukas Elliot, a daughter, Scarlet Elizabeth, three adopted children, Joseph Jordan aka JJ, Maria, and Angel; and they fostered or provided care for dozens of orphans. Their farm in the suburbs of Philadelphia, nicknamed “Still Waters,” became a respite for many people and animals.

Ryan was a lifelong artist producing mechanical sketches as a child, human figure drawings in college, and gripping scenes of what he described as “Heaven On Earth” later in life.

A passage from his last short story, published the day before his passing, reads, “my work, feeble as it may be, was designed to be, in total, a big red arrow to a supremely loving God, and a vitally helpful way to both learn to love oneself, one’s family, and one’s neighbor.”  

Ryan will be buried on his farm with a celebration to follow on Saturday, July 7th. Gifts in memoriam are requested to be sent to the Ministry Defense Fund for Persecuted People, ℅ Boden & Lukas Derfler.

Adventures in Faith

In Memory of Helen Marie Derfler

At 1:30a on Tue., April 18th, 2017, my grandmother, Helen Marie Derfler, took her last breath. 

What a tragedy--because our original design is not to die, not to be separated in this way, and when a person is here in the flesh one day, and gone forever the next, it is always a shocking reality.

What a blessing--because my grandmother, I called her Nanny, was for years ready to leave this world. She would tell you as much! She missed her husband, John, who passed away more than 20 years prior as a result of a heart attack he had while they were dancing. 

Anyway, let me tell you a bit about my Nanny in a way that both honors her life and also gives you a flavor of who she was:

First, I think it's telling that since I met Whitney, my wife, in 2010, she's heard pretty much every year since then that Nanny wasn't doing so hot and it might be her last year. I don't know how many ambulance rides Nanny took to Pottsville General Hospital, let's just say it was enough to become a little humorous in our family. Maybe also it was because the hospital was only a few blocks from her house, and also because for the most part, whenever we saw Nanny, she seemed pretty strong for her age. I don't think it would have surprised us if she lived to be 90 or even 100. Needless to say, it's kind of like when you think something might happen for awhile, and it doesn't, but then it does, it's almost even a little more surprising.

My memories of Nanny go back to my earliest memories, here are some of the highlights:

As a wee little guy

Crawling around her house as a kid as young as 4 or 5, I remember the turntable, wanting to touch the records and the needle, it was this big cabinet. I remember hiding under her big dining room table, it was my fort!

Getting back scratches! Nanny had long finger nails and she loved to just scratch my back, she'd do it for longer than anyone else too! Just that physical affection stuck out to me from the time I was a little guy to adulthood!

Nanny's love language had to be gifts, because she loved to give them too. I remember getting these little pencils from her that were printed: "You are loved by Helen M. Derfler." 

The gilded age

Nanny in her salon.

Nanny in her salon.

There's a part of Nanny that was all feminine and beauty and glamour. She was a beautician for years after all! She liked jewelry and sitting around talking with the ladies! I always asked her how she was doing and she'd talk about her girlfriends. 

One of my best memories of Nanny was shopping--she loved shopping. And as a kid, that's what we did best. We walked the mall like a pack of high rollers, and snapped up shoes, clothes, games, toys. And this was when Michael Jordan started putting out shoes, so I was an early adopter of the $120 basketball sneaker. After visiting Nanny, I went back to school walking on clouds.

A hobby when visiting Nanny was looking through the Speigel catalogue, and circling the things I wanted, and Nanny would proceed to order those things. A Sega Genesis with games, clothes, you name it. One time we went to the Pottsville Hadestys Electronics store and Nanny bought three of their newest TV's, one for each grandkid. While Nanny had money, she threw caution to the wind and she spent it, and I remember those days with her, and we sure had fun with it! 

As an adult

But when the money thinned out and she was no longer buying shoes for me, she'd send me cards just to say, "I love you." It was never unclear to me, Nanny loved me. She said it so many times.

She'd also call me to leave messages like this one:

A Great Grandmother

Nanny with Boden in 2014

Nanny with Boden in 2014

When Whitney and I had Boden we lived in California, and there was a stretch where I wasn't sure Nanny would get to see her great grandson, the next line of Derflers. When she did though, it was such a special moment for me, and for her too. So much that she really couldn't say anything, she just had this big big smile.

 

My Nanny, in her 88 years of life, gazing upon her great grandson, just 1 year of new life, there's something so striking and rich and sobering about that. 

 

Nanny loved being a great grandmother, in fact, when I spoke with her, we'd mostly talk about the kids. She loved to hear about what they were doing, and she would just make these happy sounds and say things like, "they're so precious," and "he's such a doll!"

Nanny and Lukas in 2016

Nanny and Lukas in 2016

She loved to hear about her great grandkids, it brought her such joy. So, one year for Christmas Whitney and I knew just what to get her, a photo book full of the latest pictures. She told me she looked at it all the time, and showed all of her friends when they visited.

Nanny also left me encouraging messages like this one:

And now, eternity

When someone dies, I think it's natural (or at least prudent) to wonder where they've gone. And we probably all look for some answer that is going to bring us peace, we cling to the good things, we memorialize them. But being a Christian, as I am, there's also this realization that none of us "measures up," none of us are worthy of the glory of eternity in the presence of God. And yet, we have this gift to be able to have that, if in our heart we just accept that, and when someone does, their life should look different, certainly to God, and probably to men too. So let me tell you what I know about my Nanny's faith in Jesus...

I know that we talked a lot about prayer, and she told me that she prayed often, many times in a day. 

Nanny certainly had a lot of the trappings of a Catholic faith, the rosaries, the prayer cards, the candles, the Bible's, and things of that nature laying around. 

I know that she had a good discernment about situations. When my sister was killed and in the years since, we would sometimes have really honest conversations about how people were doing, how they were handling that death, especially my parents, and it occurred to me that Nanny had wisdom and discernment about that. 

While to many Nanny could appear to have a sort of simple, unaffected, even comical exterior, one that would act as if nothing bothered her and things were no big deal with a wave of the hand, there was another side to her, a much more serious and introspective side. In the last five or so years, I started to talk to Nanny about Jesus, prayer, and death, and I saw that side. 

In closing, as I'm sitting here writing this after a solid day of thinking about Nanny and praying for her soul to be received mercifully by the Lord just now, I said to God...

"Dear God, I cannot understand your ways and I do not know how to encapsulate the life of my dear Nanny, I don't know what to say about the most important thing, her soul, her eternity. I don't know how to bring it to a conclusion. And this is the case for me with every person, for who knows a soul but you God alone?! You made her, and in your image, so Father, in this moment, God, tell me something, some whisper about these deep matters that we now ponder over facing her death."

..and just then the lyrics from a song playing in the background ring out at me, and I am warmed over listening to them, especially in light of what I've written here, and I thank God for my Nanny, for her life, and for her eternity. Listen to this song...

Below is a picture of Nanny with her sons (Left of Center, in yellow polo, Jack [my dad], and behind him in the blue polo, is Tom [my uncle]), and extended family.

Adventures in Faith

Man, There Is Death All Over the Streets of San Francisco

I had two hours free in San Francisco before meeting friends for dinner, and I thought I should go to the Tenderloin.

The neighborhood is known for its open air drug deals, prostitutes, government subsidized SRO's (single resident occupancy units) where many of the residence are sick or dying. 

I would have been easier to check-in to my hotel early and freshen up before dinner, but this "random" Facebook moment popped up on my phone:

Okay God, I hear ya, and I took the 5th Street exit, made my way to 6th and Howard, and pulled into the first spot I could find.

Thank God I saw a woman passed out on the curb with half her body laying in my spot before I ran her over; I found another place to park.

I walked the block, through the pot smoke, past hooting and hollering clusters of men and women. People leaned against buildings to avoid falling over, heaps of dirty flesh lay on the ground in various states of undress. I rubbed my shoulder to discover that I had been crapped on by a bird perched on the building above me.

For most people The Tenderloin can be overwhelming. It feels dangerous because, frankly, it is. People high on drugs, desperate and dying, in a fragile mental state are all around. 

The environment itself bears witness to the darkness that rules the day. Look around and see used condoms, beat up hookers loitering outside sex shops, human feces in the corner, bodies gaunt from years of drug abuse. 

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I decided to pray with people and give whatever money I had. But when I tried to enter a "hotel" I had been to several times I learned that the residents were all evicted as it was being converted into an SRO. Okay, God, why do you have me here, I asked?

A group of Christians came out of another hotel and we exchanged stories of the darkness in the area and ways we've fought it and have ministered to people. 

I walked the block and saw a woman who was being held upright by her friend. Every time he tried to leave her, she would collapse to the ground. He kept saying, "I don't know you." She was totally out of it, he kept holding her up. They propped up against one of many demonic murals in the area, which looked as if it wanted to devour the young life. 

You can see the two off to the left in this photo.

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Here's another awful mural. It shocks me that this is a city, a society, so calloused to the reality of spiritual darkness and oppression that they would allow this as their public art. There are literally scores more packed with skulls, demons, death--satan has clearly marked his domain here.

Up ahead I saw a pair of legs jutting across the sidewalk.

I didn't plan to stop and talk to this guy. But as I stepped around him, I looked into his eyes, and he in mine.

There was a sparkle of life.

He asked for a cigarette, I don't smoke I said. We bantered back and forth, I asked for his name, he said it was Lance. I shook his hand, crouched next to him, and asked him to tell me his story.

As he began, I drew out more details with questions. Deeper we went into his life, he'd served in the Gulf war, was a track star, then I learned about the source of his pain, the blow from which he has never recovered.

He was in a car accident and his wife and daughter were killed. The only survivor, Lance blamed himself; he could have told them to go slower to avoid hitting black ice. He blubbered with tears and snot as I held him close.

Lance went through the windshield, and has had seizures ever since. He lost his family home, their car, his job, pain killers don't work anymore, only a constant supply of alcohol to numb the pain. He wants to die, I fought back and told him he's awesome, I spoke life to him. Then I asked him if he wanted to say anything to the world, he said yes, this is what he said.

Lance said he never learned in school how to deal with death like this.

At one point, as he looked at my phone, he said he hadn't seen his own reflection in a long time. He called me an angel that came from out of nowhere. I repeated my advice to him, talk to God, read his Bible, go to Cityteam. Then I left.

I ran into a guy I know from Cityteam, an addiction recovery program, but had relapsed. He commented about living in the Tenderloin, he said it was the darkest area he's ever been in. He said the spirit of death and Satan is everywhere, like Legion demons from Luke Chapter 8 waiting to sweep into the next person. Without God, he remarked, nobody out here has a chance. 

We talked about how with God, there is no fear in the Tenderloin. It didn't even occur to me to be afraid. I gave him a hug and blessed him in the fight for his life. 

I made my way to ritzy Nob Hill for dinner, parked my car, and wasn't shocked to see skulls and cross bones all over the place. San Francisco has invited Satan and his beasts with open arms, socioeconomic status makes no difference.

This is a dark city in need of God, I'm certain of it now more than ever. The darkness is not confined to the Tenderloin--not even close--here's what greets you entering a swanky apartment building.

Lord help San Francisco. 

In the spirit of victory of Jesus, who overcame the world and death, the same victory that enables me and anyone who knows Jesus to walk into the darkness with no fear, I leave you with this.

Adventures in Faith

I Want to Die

Every week I get to a place where I'm desperate for the Word of God. Sometimes I don't get my fill and the desperation grows. I know that the longer I stay away, the more I'm doing things in my own power, in ways that make sense to me, and the risk of being outside of God's will scares me.

Eventually I succumb and collapse at the feet of God. He's so gracious He's always there to pick me up, invite me to sit on His lap, and gently instruct and guide me. 

The point is that there are so many forces pulling me away from God. Yet, I'm already tuned into His Word, I've had a taste, I've submitted my life to Jesus, and there is no turning back. But staying there, well, its a daily battle.

The further I go into my faith, the more I see the miraculous unfolding in and around me, the more intense the battle rages. I get emails now from people who say my words or prayers or something I did brought them healing, it stirred up their interest in Jesus. I know this is God, just my making myself available to Him in some small way.

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You'd think that with these kinds of things happening that I would be ever so committed. And in some ways I am, but in other ways I feel the opposing forces growing ever greater. I'm like the Stretch Armstrong doll being pulled to the limit, until I finally get the wisdom and courage to shout to the enemy "let go, out of here, in the name of Jesus!" Then I go springing toward the prevailing force, that of my savior. 

Is this all about shaking my hand free from the enemy that's trying to pull me away? I think that, rather, its about choosing the hand that is outstretched to me so fully that I no longer have an open hand to the enemy. 

This isn't easy. I mean, on one hand (excuse the pun) it IS EASY. But then again, no, it's not. This is a struggle because I am at war with my flesh. I am at war with the world. I become interested in the pleasures of the world. The comforts of it. Even the comforts of the church and what I see and hear preached.

Lord, help me, save me, show me YOUR WISDOM. Not the wisdom of men.

I saw this sermon by Francis Chan. This brother, well, just listen to what he says about the church in China. That desperation, that abandon of self, I crave that. I crave to give up my life for Jesus.

I was thinking this last night. Then I cracked open my Bible to pick up with my reading this morning, and the verse that I read is John Chapter 10. You should read it, anyway here's a verse that jumped out at me:

The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.
— Jesus speaking in Matthew Chapter 10, verse 17-18

So, here I am, sitting before my computer, and before God, and before you, and I'm asking, "What does it mean for me to die to myself?" I have a couple ideas, here they are:

  1. Die to wasting time with mindless activity, and replace it with studying God's word.
  2. Die to over indulgence and comfort that robs early morning hours in prayer.
  3. Die to the sense that I can manufacture success, and bathe every effort in prayer.
  4. Die to the obsession with my self and own image, and seek instead of build up others.
  5. Die to free spending on things I don't need, and give more money away.
  6. Die to my instinct to criticize, and instead practice holding my tongue.
  7. Die to shortness with my wife, and practice assuming the best and active loving her.
  8. Die to the apathy I have that God is moving and drawing people all around me.
  9. Die to my lack of focus on learning songs of praise and memorizing Scripture.
  10. Die to judging those who wrong me, and instead pray for and seek to bless them.
  11. Die to the lust of the flesh and focus heartily on my wife, purity, cleansing in the Word.
  12. Die to avoiding service to the church and rather build it up right where I am.
  13. Die to favoring quick and dirty responses to the issues of the day versus being rooted in the bigger picture and more sustained faithful efforts.

I've had a taste of most of these things at times, and it is gut wrenching. I have a sense about the direction God wants me to go, the direction he's pulling me toward. I've gone down these paths, sometimes only to turn around the other direction. Or I go but look back. Or I go and lament going for a time, I grumble. Or I go, and sometimes, I embrace the great escape, the freedom, the power of overcoming the world, overcoming my own self, overcoming death for life, and in doing so, the Gospel and my faith comes alive.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
— Jesus in John Chapter 10, verse 10

People Getting It Done

Jack McCall: Fool for Christ

Jack and I first met when I attended a 6:30 am Christians in Commerce Meeting at the San Jose Chapter. I can't recall entirely how it worked out that we ended up grabbing lunch together soon after, but we did. Jack is the refreshing type of believer who lays it all on the table, his shortcomings, his struggles, and mostly, his praise. 

I've come to Jack with some of my own struggles as a result, and he is a rare person in that he shies away from giving advice. He wrote to me once:

"I'm not one to give men advice, because God has assured me that His voice to each heart is far more impacting than any knowledge I may impart. He does use me to speak to folks, but not usually in the way of advice." 

He may share a relevant story, but usually doesn't say "do this or do that." I've found that when I go to Jack, the Holy Spirit moves through him to me in a profound way.

Jack and I have had several such "Holy Spirit exchanges" between us over the past year or so. One such case was a breakout of prayer in the middle of a Denny's restaurant I wrote about here. Most recently, though, the Holy Spirit moved through Jack as he spoke at his wife's funeral. She passed away unexpectedly, after 40+ years, I grieved in my heart for him, and I knew that God would use this difficult trial for his glory. Jack's words were profound, about his failings and love for his wife, it became clear their marriage was a great testimony even to, no, especially in, the last days. 

Jack has a website where he blogs and provides resources online here. I really like his "Appointment with God" outline he has posted online here. As Jack shifts from career as a successful salesman to spend more time in ministry, I expect God is going to do amazing things through him, I know he is going to finish the race running hard. 

Adventures in Faith, Most Read

A Near Death Birth Redeemed by God

Just a heads-up this post contains some graphic details of the birth--if you get queasy around medical stuff, you might want to skip it. 

Look at the circumstances, the excruciating labor, emergency surgery, near death of the baby, scary hours after the birth, one might find it tough to understand how Whitney and I could say God redeemed the birth experience for us, and yet, that's exactly what happened.

For context, the birth of our 1st son Boden was rough. 30 hours of labor, head was stuck, wife's cervix swelled, heart rate dropped, an emergency cesarean delivery required. The baby ate every hour for weeks = serious sleep deprivation. The recovery for my wife was painful and in many ways robbed her of the joy of being a new mom. A month after we took him home our landlord went through a divorce, had to sell our condo, and we were evicted without any family around to help. 

So, for nine months leading up to the birth of baby boy #2, we prayed "Lord, please redeem this experience for us." Midway through I got an overwhelming sense in prayer that God was going to do just that. Not wanting to be wrong I was tepid to report this to my wife; but, I kept getting it so eventually I told her this time it's going to be different.

With every doctors visit, my wife Whitney and the baby were the picture of good health. And yet, the doctor had to tell us about the risks of a natural birth after a cesarean (known as a VBAC), the possibility of a ruptured uterus, and worse. 

Her belly grew ever larger and the idea of birth pains gave Whitney anxiety. I knew that this pain could not be avoided, so I asked God to draw her close and grow her through it. In the week or two before the delivery my wife told me that God had given her a song, she even began to refer to it as her birth song--here it is:

The day after her due date, Whitney began to have contractions. Excitement--the time had come! We prayed as a family in the living room--thank you God for the medical care, for my mom who flew out to help with our toddler, for giving this son a name, and so much more.

Whitney labored at home as long as she could; we expected her to get to a few centimeters dilation and when she could take the pain no more, we went to the hospital. In the five miles between our house and the hospital she had a few more contractions--they picked up in frequency and ferocity fast--she writhed in pain with each one.

Upon arrival she asked for an epidural--the nurses scurried around in preparation. They reported she was 8cm dilated, very close to birth. The heart rate monitor put on her belly revealed a baby inside with a low heart rate. This coupled with her more complicated VBAC delivery led the nurses to move her to the operating room (OR) for delivery. As they wheeled her away, the doula (a birth coach we had join us) told me that this was all normal, that as the baby enters the birth canal and is squeezed the heart rate often drops.

I was told to "suit up" so I could enter the OR for the birth, which I did quickly since I was an old pro having done this once before. I ensured my phone camera was handy to capture those precious first moments of life.

Nurses entered and left the operating room in a flurry, then one came out and said that a c-section was going to be required. I could hear my wife groaning in the room and the news hit me with a wave of concern. What happened? I thought she was ready to push the baby out? Our doula looked upset. 

Then I stopped hearing Whitney's groans and instead I heard another nurse request a "crash cart." What was that, I asked the doula? Again, her look said it all, then her words confirmed, it wasn't good--it's used to resuscitate a baby. I became confused, it didn't make sense, God told me everything would be okay, He even gave me a name for this baby. If the baby died, I would be left with so many questions, it wouldn't make sense.

I was numb with emotions. Still holding onto the hope that God had given me, yet now also fearful with the reality of what was happening, feeling foolish for having already documented the story about God naming the baby, terribly concerned for my wife--was she okay, was she in pain, was she hearing all of this and afraid? I couldn't even pray in that moment, thankfully our doula began to pray and I listened to her and agreed with every word she said.

Then we heard a crying baby--the doula broke out in praise to God. She told me this was the best possible sound--I praised God too. They brought him to me and congratulated me. I walked with him to the nursery, and the details about what the doctor had found began to emerge.

I learned that the baby's heart rate dropped again and did not rebound. For six minutes it was under 50 beats per minute, a grave concern. The epidural Whitney received did not take effect quickly enough for surgery so she was put under general anesthesia. When she was opened up, they discovered that her uterus was in really bad shape, stretched as thin as a sheet of paper, so much so it was translucent and the doctor could see her instruments through it. Even worse, the baby had the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and there was what's called a "true knot" in his cord. The doctor later described this as a "triple whammy." 

I learned that a true knot is rare and often deadly. They're formed early in the pregnancy when the baby is small enough to swim around to tie a knot. They are one of the leading causes of still born babies. In our case, as the baby was being born and pulled down the birth canal the knot tightened cutting off his blood and oxygen. One of the nurses later fetched the cord and showed it to us, several standing around remarked that they'd seen only a few of them in their long careers. Then the nurse who was holding it in her hand had me put a glove on to feel it and she said that even with the knot the cord has a spongy covering over a smaller life delivering tube inside, which serves to protect against these kinds of things. She concluded by saying, "Isn't it amazing how God designed all of this?" 

In the nursery, Lukas went through his first weigh-in, bath, and warm up under a heater. A special doctor was called in to review his blood gas scores. For babies who face the kinds of challenges Lukas faced, time without adequate levels of blood and oxygen, they have to determine what the effects will be. She explained to me that Lukas was on the borderline in a couple of categories, but that they were hopeful he'd be 100%. Then she remarked that if we had come to the hospital even a few minutes later it could have been a very different outcome--you had a guardian angel she remarked. 

I hadn't heard an update on Whitney yet. When our first son was born I wasn't in the nursery near as long before we were ushered back to meet mom. I felt like my new son and I were missing the most important part of our family. I asked a nurse and she called for an update, then she passed on that Whitney was still in the OR. It seemed strange to me that over an hour after the birth she'd still be in that room.

I kept praying, "Lord, save Whitney...keep her in the palm of your hand." The thought crept into my mind that nothing is guaranteed, maybe she was in trouble, then again, wouldn't they tell me? There was nothing I could do except embrace this little miracle baby in my arms and pray and trust God.

Both Lukas and the reality of what happened settled into me. The news kept coming, I learned that our doctor didn't make it to the hospital in time, the procedure was so urgent the nearest doctor was called in. One nurse remarked to another something about good thing the small hospital started keeping a doctor round the clock just a year ago, had she not been there, who knows...

Just then the operating doctor came to see me--before we went to see Whitney she wanted to tell me that we would likely not be able to have children again. Whitney's uterus was too fragile, she'd never seen anything like it, a miracle it didn't rupture, and had she delivered the baby naturally it most likely would have had to be removed. I was just glad to hear she was alive--thank you Jesus, the rest would all be dealt with later. 

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
— Matthew 6:34

We walked to see Whitney and she was loopy from a concoction an epidural, spinal tap, and general anesthesia. The nurse reported that the first thing Whit said when she woke up was, "How is my baby?" When she saw Lukas she cried, moved slowly to put him on her chest, and he quickly burrowed in and began feeding. I was choked up. 

The nurses kept checking my wife. One tried to take her temperature and seemed frustrated. Then she asked another nurse to help because the thermometer wasn't registering. They realized her temperature was under 94 degrees--too low to register. They fetched heated blankets and switched her to a warm intravenous drip. Due to the drugs her body couldn't regulate itself--they said the baby on her chest would help to warm her too. 

Eventually Whitney warmed up, we moved to a room to recover just as the workday began. The full picture of what had happened over the past few hours sunk in, at least for me. I started to tell Whitney the details and I got choked up over it. I thought to myself, why can't we have a normal delivery without all of the trouble?

And yet, as Whitney recovered, amazingly she said to me later that she felt as though God had redeemed the birth experience for her. I listened carefully to what she had to say knowing that in this moment I would learn something from my wife about the deep things of God. As she was wheeled into the OR writhing in pain she prayed and God whispered to her, it will all be okay and He gave her great peace. Yes, she said, God had comforted her despite the pain and the turmoil around her and now she felt much better than she had last birth. She felt so bonded to the baby, she couldn't wait to hold him next. Then she told me that it was as if the baby saved her, his heart rate dipping to avoid the natural birth which would have most certainly caused many more problems. 

Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
— Philippians 4:7

I considered her words carefully. Here was this brave woman who had gone through so much, and while on paper it looked like this was a far worse experience than our first birth, God had changed the whole conversation. While I understood what she was saying and I was elated that God had drawn her close to himself all the way through, the drama of the night before stuck with me. I decided that, yes, God did redeem the birth experience because if that's what my wife felt then I would believe it too. I thanked God and adopted a celebratory attitude despite not feeling it 100%. 

In the day that followed we had sweet visitors who offered up prayer for us. One, a dear friend to Whitney, in her prayer she thanked God for having Mom and baby to work together, to preserve them both. Another, a dear friend to me, prayed a blessing over the family and asked for healing and thanked God for what he had done. Friends brought sushi and candy and a gift for big brother Boden. Another stayed for many hours and took beautiful photos some of which are included in this post. My mom extended her stay to help care for Bo so we wouldn't have to coordinate for his care. Whitney's regular doctor came to offer encouragement that it might be possible to have children again.

A day later Whitney posted on Facebook that she was so at peace, and I knew that behind that post was so much prayer, great trials, but an even greater move by God. He had done something amazing in our midst, even more than deliver a miracle, he had taken my wife through her greatest fear and he spoke to her and delivered her on the other end full of strength and peace and with a wonderful testimony about how great God is, something she and I both know full well she could not have done on her own. 

In conclusion, as I sat in the recovery room holding my precious newborn son in my arms and basked in the reality of a redeemed birth experience I prayed and had a revelation that brought this birth into the light for me. The Lord reminded me of one of the most telling prayers I've ever had for my wife, a prayer that lasted hours while at Bethel Church in Redding, CA. While there, the Lord showed me how he wraps my wife with love and gentleness like a soft warm blanket. That prayer has stuck with me and I've attempted to emulate the approach, which has proven effective and to speak deeply to my wife's soul. I saw that through this pregnancy, through the labor and delivery, God had done just that--he swaddled her tight and cozy and warm to insulate her from all that was happening around her. It was so clear now, from the peace of the worship music in her heart and the whisper going into the OR, the warmth of the baby on her chest, the rest and sweet visitation by family and friends, and an extraordinary bonding with baby Lukas, who Whitney in turn wrapped in a blanket of love herself, yes, it was clear that God's redemptive cover had fallen on my wife and in turn enveloped our family.  

People Getting It Done

Touched by the Suffering of Jack McCall

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
— Psalm 23:4

Jack and I first met when I attended a 6:30 am Christians in Commerce Meeting at the San Jose Chapter. I can't recall entirely how it worked out that we ended up grabbing lunch together soon after, but we did. Jack is the refreshing type of believer who lays it all on the table, his shortcomings, his struggles, and mostly, his praise. 

I've come to Jack with some of my own struggles as a result, and he is a rare person in that he shies away from giving advice. He wrote to me once:

"I'm not one to give men advice, because God has assured me that His voice to each heart is far more impacting than any knowledge I may impart. He does use me to speak to folks, but not usually in the way of advice." 

He may share a relevant story, but usually doesn't say "do this or do that." I've found that when I go to Jack, the Holy Spirit moves through him to me in a profound way.

Jack and I have had several such "Holy Spirit exchanges" between us over the past year or so. One such case was a breakout of prayer in the middle of a Denny's restaurant I wrote about here.

The Holy Spirit moved through Jack as he spoke at his wife's funeral in the Fall of 2014. She passed away after 40+ years of marriage, and I grieved in my heart for him; I also saw God use this difficult trial for His glory. Jack's words were profound--about his failings and love for his wife--it became clear their marriage was a great testimony. 

In the days after Jack lost his wife, he was understandably shaken. He grieved tremendously, and publicly to those who know him and follow his blog. In the midst of this great trial in his life, I saw that God was doing deep and wonderful work in his life. The words he was writing cut right to my heart, I'd often tear up while reading them.

I reached out to Jack to see how he was doing over breakfast a month or two after his wife's passing, I just had a sense I needed to pray with him. When I did, the most miraculous thing happened, I wrote about it here. This was God using Jack's suffering to bless others.

Not long after Jack's wife died, his mother died too. I learned that his brother had died within a year or so prior to his wife's death. He had also dealt with a challenging sale of a business he had built over many years. To look at his life from an outsider's perspective, one might have great pity on Jack. But I know Jack and I know better, and I saw how there was treasure in the midst of the brokenness. In fact, I texted and emailed Jack that on several occasions. I couldn't hold back from telling him how clear it was to me that even while he was numb and grasping most days for a way to get by, his continued faith and obedience to God's word was serving as a great sermon to most everyone around him. 

Now, months later, I've been able to witness Jack start to become outrageously blessed in the wake of all the loss and mourning. He is literally a man dancing with joy at how good God is, and to say that is a real miracle. I know many who have faced this kind of loss and are derailed if not wrecked by it. Jack has been sustained by his faith, and out of his sufferings he has emerged in a deeper walk with God and having impacted many through his walk. 

In closing, Jack has a website where he blogs and provides resources online here, register to receive his blog posts, which I always read when I receive it in my inbox. I really like his "Appointment with God" outline he has posted online here. As Jack shifts from career as a successful salesman to spend more time in ministry, I expect God is going to do continue to do amazing things through him. 

Real Relationships, Most Read

A Woman I Met Once Impacted Eternally?

 

Essential to walking in God's will is that you become interruptible. God will do it OVER AND OVER again. You have your day or your hour planned out and then you get presented with an opportunity.

  • It could be someone sitting next to you in the coffee shop or on the bus who tries to strike up a conversation.
  • It can be someone who catches your eye that you KNOW you should go talk to.
  • An email that looks too long but you probably should read and process it.
  • A prayer you know you need to do now and should not put off.
  • A favor someone asks of you that is terribly inconvenient but that you can do.

You get the point.

This happens to me ALL THE TIME. Why am I yelling you ask? Because even though it happens to me a lot, and I have learned to (mostly) go with it and trust God, its still very often an internal struggle, its gut-wrenching, I don't want to do it lots of times.

Then things like this happen. Check out this email I got from a woman who stopped by my office at Cityteam to drop off clothing. Mind you, its not my job to greet people who drop off donations. The woman at the front desk was new and she didn't know who else to call, so she called me to the lobby to help this woman. When I saw she wanted to donate clothes, inside I was thinking, boy, I got up from my important time-sensitive work to do this??? 

But I saw something in this woman's eye. God told me to engage her. And so I did, and one thing led to another and we poured our hearts out to each other, and we prayed together, and I think we were both choked up and really encouraged. So much so, she sent me this email later:

Hello Mr. Derfler:

I don't know if you remember me, I was in a couple weeks ago to donate some clothing and gowns. We spoke regarding the gowns being used for the Ball which makes me so very happy. My friend would have been so glad they were being put to good use and I am sure she is smiling down from Heaven.

I do apologize it has taken me so long to get back to you. We also spoke about my brother, who is homeless and mentally ill. I wanted to take a moment and thank you again for your kindness. Not many people want to hear about this topic or are very understanding.

You took the time to speak to me, give me information and most importantly, pray with me. Noone has done that before and you need to know how much it was appreciated. Such little acts of kindness can go a long way.

Please keep up the good work you and City Team do, the community is blessed to have you! Sincerely, Lisa S.

 

Now, is it just me or is it CRAZY that NOONE has ever prayed with this woman? I mean, she just lost her best friend (who's gowns she was donating), she has a homeless brother, and I'm sure a ton of other burdens she is bearing in life. And nobody around her has prayed. 

We have work to do church. Listen for God to whisper in your ear who you gotta talk to. Take time with people. Pray with them. That's how the Holy Spirit moves y'all.

Peace and love to you from me.   ~R

People Getting It Done, Miracles

Jack Deere: Spirit Led Man

I first met Jack at the New Canaan Society, and in the hallway he spoke to me like a friend. His calm approachable spirit struck me; with people eager to speak to him, we had a leisurely five minute conversation. Me a young man who knew nothing of his journey, his books, anything.

After that conference, I learned that Jack had a son who went through Cityteam's addiction recovery program, was clean for awhile, then relapsed. When he did, he was discovered in a park by a wealthy Christian family in Silicon Valley that took him in to live with them. Somewhere shortly after that, he committed suicide. 

Jack's story intrigued me, and I've attended his workshops and have picked up his book, "Surprised by the Power of the Spirit," but admittedly, have not read it yet. When he preached at the NCS conference in Washington, D.C. the Spring of 2014, he laid his heart out before 700 men in an intimate and graphic way regarding the near death of his wife, his struggles before God all the while, and now his care-taking of her. 

Currently, I see Jack is posting about caring for Leesa on a Caring Bridge site here. Jack is a soldier who's wrestled with his faith publicly, he's stared death in the face, he's pastored churches, he's cared for many, and I see a man who is bearing himself naked before God, and before others to the glory of God. 

Adventures in Faith

Minister to the Dying

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"For who knows a person's thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God."  1 Corinthians 2:11

In early November, I learned via Facebook that a favorite professor of mine from college, Dr. Markowicz, was on his death bed, with only a couple of days to live. Dr. M. was notoriously difficult in the classroom--he would fail a major assignment for a simple grammatical error. After about a year of thoroughly not enjoying his methods, I realized that his high standard would elevate my skill set, and I requested that he become my assigned faculty advisor. Over the years, I got to know Dr. Markowicz outside the classroom as well. I invited him to lunch at my apartment, and he came. He invited me to play tennis, and I went. He came to my graduation party at my parents home, I saw him around town occasionally, I emailed him for advice and he answered. And so when I learned he was in his last days, I was truly saddened.

On a phone call with my father, I mentioned the professors condition, to which my dad replied that I should call him. Ah, the wisdom of a man who has been stung by death.  After I hung up with my Dad, I felt a strong nudge to call Dr. M., and even more so to ensure he knew there is a God in his last days. Mind you, while I love Jesus, I have never ministered to or prayed with the dying and the idea of it freaked me out. What will I say? What if he doesn't know God? With my heart beating hard, I told my wife I needed to leave the house to make the call, and I went into the car and prayed, "Jesus, help me now, give me some words." I turned on the radio for a minute of inspiration and I heard this verse from Matt Redmond's "10,000 Reasons":

And on that day when my strength is failing

The end draws near and my time has come

Still my soul will sing Your praise unending

Ten thousand years and then forevermore

And so I had a peace that on Dr. Markowicz' last day, I was going to call him for no other reason than to praise God. I called him, and he picked up right away.  I introduced myself and between coughs he told me that he was about to leave this world. I told him how much I appreciated him as a teacher and he replied that he appreciated me too. He brought up my sister who was killed when I was a freshman, and he said he knew what my family had gone through, and that he had followed my travels online.

I told him my life was exciting now mostly because of what Jesus had done in it and I said that I cared for him enough to want to be sure he knew there is a God. Then, I asked if he wanted to pray and he said he was good on all that spiritual stuff. I told him I wasn't sure how to say goodbye, and I wished him great peace. I hung up and wanted to cry, not because I was sad at being rejected in a way, but because God showed me His heart for this man, and showed me how important it is to minister to the dying, to simply be there. The weight of it pulled in my gut like never before.

Over the next couple of days, I kept thinking about Dr. M. I prayed for him and two days later he died. When I told a friend about this phone call, he said that above else, I was faithful to God's tug on my heart to call him, and to rest in that. I had a sense that there was a bigger picture, one that I could never see fully. I was happy that I got to talk to him, I thought it was a beautiful exchange with a dear man, so much so that when a memorial cropped up online, I wrote a short post about my talk with him:

Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 4.01.24 AM

Then, I let the sadness of his passing go. It felt good, it felt right, he was at peace, so was I. Then a month or so later, I happened upon an obituary for Dr. Markowicz on the college's website. As I read it, I cried because it became clear to me that this was a man of faith and all of a sudden things became clear to me, and I felt I knew him better than ever before.

Dr. Markowicz, it turns out, had gone through seminary, but he was denied ordination. This was a man who, like Jesus, was rejected by the church, and organized religion very likely did not sit well with him. He had a healthy skepticism of it, he held his faith close to his heart, its likely that many did not know. He was even ministering to the homeless as part of his extracurricular activities, he launched programs to help people. I'm certain many did not know these things.

Never was it so true to me what it says in Proverbs 20:5 "the purposes of a man's heart are like deep waters..."   I found myself praising God for Dr. M. anew. I found myself praising God for the lesson that I learned, a lesson about holding the tug in my gut from God lightly, not presupposing I know what it means, even if it seems clear. I learned I cannot judge how God is using someone, whether they want to pray with you or not.

Adventures in Faith

A Tribute to Susie Afflerbach

Susie and Gregg saddled up to the copper bar I tended while working my way through college, and I've never been the same. I'm not being overly dramatic given the fresh sting of Susie's departure from this Earth, she was really someone special.

The two of them, Gregg doting on his beautiful bride and smiling all the time, Susie with her soft-spoken yet friendly way, they let a young guy into their lives at that bar. It wasn't too long before we'd hit a gallery together, they'd show up at charity events I was a part of, they'd later come to my college graduation party, my wedding. 

Lots of times they'd tell me about a musician they were going to hear, and I'd meet them on a deck for a beer to listen and catch up. When I decided to create a cd of local musicians as a fundraiser, they invited me to their house to help sort through the submissions. Once in their cozy place, Susie introduced me around to people in the photos, her cats, more of who she and Gregg were. We sat and listened and laughed and it was a simple act to invite me in, but it's a defining characteristic of who Susie was, she invited you in, be you a college kid, a wounded deer, or a fierce wolf that would frighten most.

It was a pleasure to watch Susie emerge as an artist. I think I was among her first customers when she painted on rocks, I ordered a set of the family pets for my Mom. She captured the eyes so beautifully. Then, I asked her to paint my brothers French bulldog, her paintings became an instant treasure to the recipient.

Even after I moved to Philadelphia, when I came back to town, I'd give the Afflerbach's a call, on the off chance I could catch them around town. And when I did, we talked about life including my love life--or lack of one as it often was. Gregg and Susie were so encouraging to me, they told me about how they met in Philadelphia, and how I was going to be like them and meet someone in Philly, they were sure. When I did meet a beautiful blonde of my own in Philly, they were so happy for me. 

When I met Whitney, who I just knew would be my wife, Gregg and Susie could tell, they'd never seen me so excited. Soon after we'd met, Whitney's dear cat Tyler died suddenly, and she was really upset, he was one awesome cat. I didn't know her too well, just a few months at that point, but I called Susie and asked her to paint Tyler. What she sent me in the mail was remarkable, my wife looks at it and gets tears in her eyes to this day. She called me to see how it was received, she was so upset for the loss too, and she told me Gregg had framed it, he learned how to frame, they were a team.

And yet, it was more than her friendly spirit, love for music, encouragement, or ability to paint that makes me say that Susie changed my life. No, what endeared me to her was the sense that she was truly a kindred spirit, that somehow, in some way, we were close, we were one. It was this spirit in Susie that led her to call me RyRy, a name only my Mom called me, and it just felt right, as if she was close to me like a member of my family. It was that she left the most heartfelt messages on my Facebook page, or that she noticed Whitney had "liked" a recent painting of a set of little chics she made, and when our baby boy was born, she surprised us with it in the mail. It was how she never forgot my birthday because hers was two days before, and she'd talk about how we were similar in so many ways. There aren't many people in life you just connect with like that, and even fewer when you see them once a year you pick right back up, Susie was one of those people in my life. 

I believe that man and woman, we are created in God's image. I think with Susie the God in her was just easier to see than you experience with a lot of people. And when I look at the book of Galatians 5:22 and read what are called the "fruits of the spirit, "love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control," well, Susie is one of the few people who I think you could really see all of those things in her life quickly. With a lot of people, even really faithful people, I don't always see a gentleness or a love for creation like you could see in Susie. 

In closing, my heart aches for you Gregg. Boy oh boy, brother, how to go on... There is no right answer, people will try to tell you, and comfort you, but we all ache, we cry, we ask God why. We weren't created for death and separation like this, and missing Susie will hurt. But, and this is a big huge but, deep down inside me, despite the empty pit in my stomach and the tears over this loss, I smile, I smile because I know that I will see Susie again, for all eternity in fact. There's comfort in that, we're here just a short-while and I am a happy guy having met Susie. I will remember her often, I will cherish her paintings in my home, I will think of her as I embrace nature, and I will do it with the same sentiments Susie expressed when faced with the loss of "My Girl":

It was a privilege to have had her as my friend for as long as I did. I thank God for that experience. And I also know I will see My Girl, and all my other wild friends who have passed on, again... when I cross over the Rainbow Bridge. I know they will be there to greet me and we'll be together again forever.

Adventures in Faith

The Death of My Sister (and a Heavenly Vision)

But, as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him." 1 Corinthians 2:9

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The phone rang, it was late, I heard one of my parents get up to answer it in the hallway just outside my bedroom door. Then rustling around and footsteps down the stairs. Back to bed, though I didn't really sleep, already eery. Then more ringing, I hopped up and answered, I heard my Dad say come to the hospital. Got Daren out of his bed, into the car, driving and praying, not sure what's going on, hypotheticals in the mind.

Arrive, park, into the building, somehow it seems we know right where to go, people have looks in their eyes like they know something we don't, the hall opens into a lobby, our parents are sobbing, immediately we are awash in sorrow. Not sure what's going on, told it's not good, she doesn't look good, a decision to pull her off support will have to be made, let's go in to see her.

Tubes, machines, swollen, black, blue, a sight i will never forget, make your way to the side of the bed, hold her hands boys, they are so swollen, as soon as we do, she dies.

Everyone crying, doctors, nurses, parents, me. A blur of tears. A blur of everything. Eventually, we exit the building, into the parking lot, the sun is coming up, traffic is building, cool air, the Earth is still spinning, it feels odd that it is.

Drive home...ringing, many phone calls, soon many flowers, it smells like a flourist. People visit, so many people, they bring food. They cry. They sit and talk and listen. So many cards in the mail.

Soon a funeral. A flood of tears, I learned to cry so hard. Damn, man, my sister, my big sister, she's not showing up anymore.

Days, a daze. Enough for me, I need to get back to something. I need to get back to college, my freshman year. How will I sleep? I can't sleep. I haven't slept for a week. I'm going to try...I lay down to sleep, and I do.

And then I'm awake. Oh my God! Hop out of bed, right next to me, there she is, my sister in full color! Immediate tears. I'm sobbing. I wrap my arms around here as tight as I can. Right away I ask over and over, "Are you okay?" She says nothing. I keep asking, she keeps saying nothing.

Then I lift my head and turn right to see her, to verify. I look right into her hair. It's glowing and flowing. Oh my God! She's wearing a red Gap hoodie, the same one she is known for wearing, we buried her in it. This is unreal...even as I type this, the words cannot express the sight, the feeling, the realness.

Then, she asks me one thing, "Where is Daren?" I tell her I don't know, and then, she's gone.

I jerk awake...sit up completely. I am completely shocked. What just happened. My sister is not in the room, but something is. There is a breeze...a poster hanging above my bed has a corner loose, it's waving in a breeze that otherwise does not exist. I wipe my face, which is soaked in tears.

On my God! I notice the time, just after five in the morning. Do I write this down, will I forget? I can't move for an hour. And yet eventually I return to sleep.

The next morning, I get up, shower, dress for school. I go down stairs to leave the house. I walk past the family room, and I see my brother Daren sleeping on the couch. It hits me like a wave...a sense of emotion and peace and understanding and so much more washes over me. Daren, my brother, is known for always sleeping in his bed. Many sleepovers growing up, Daren always retreats to his bed. Many guests visiting the house at this moment, they all insist we sleep in our beds. And yet, there is Daren sleeping on the couch, he's not in his bed, this is completely abnormal. "Where is Daren," the question Danielle asked me now makes complete sense to me.

I walk over to the whiteboard in the kitchen, and I write Danielle is okay, tears flowing from my face.

Off to school, walking on air, because I have an unexplainable sense that my sister, who had died one week earlier (and I would later confirm this vision was exactly one week to the minute after her death) was okay, she was in Heaven.

__________________________

Another week goes by. This time, I'm out driving with friends. This is what we do to "get away," we drive around the back roads of Lebanon County, PA, not caring if we get lost, and it's not too hard to get lost because there aren't many landmarks when it's all fields and pitch black. We just drive, listen to tunes, shoot the breeze. So, I'm driving, one friend up front, another in the back, when I make a right hand turn, and then all of a sudden, it happens.

High above me, and yet visible to me even as I'm driving, my sister, again. She's glowing, she's white, she isn't really a figure anymore, but more of a presence in the clouds. She's clearly in another place, again, words don't work to describe this. And she says to me, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry this happened. Tell everyone I'm sorry. And then, she's gone. All this while I'm driving, and just when it ends, I look up to see a road marker and realize this all happened right when I had turned onto the same back country road where she was killed, just a mile down the road.

__________________________

These two things that I saw, what happened to me in this story, this gave me the most incredible sense of peace I could ever have over my sisters death. Even more importantly, it gave me a 100% certainty that there is a Heaven. And later in life, I started to work backward from this belief in Heaven to analyze the reality of God, the Bible, and Jesus Christ. Even though I was raised going to church and learned the lessons, it never really sank in to a soul level, it didn't sink in until I later poured over it, questioned it, and experienced it in this way, and many other ways since. Now my faith is central to who I am, I know that even through the death of my sister, God is so good, and his plan is far greater than I can understand. I now believe that God works through visions like these all the time, and he does miracles far greater than we will ever understand. And so, my sister's death, while a terribly sad occurrence that changed my family forever in deep ways, is also part of the foundation of my faith, and in that way, it is among the biggest gifts I've ever received.