Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Story of Otto

I know that the people who read my blog vary in their beliefs, but I wanted to share this story because of how personal and impacting it has been in my life this fall...

Many who have known me long have heard me talk or write at some point about my roommate and close friend in college who died in a car accident my senior year.  Her name was Sarah Warren, and she was hit head-on in her car while driving back to NAU from her hometown of Albuquerque.  She was hit by a drunk driver who entered I-40 going the wrong way just outside of Winslow, AZ.  She died instantly.  Her family was shocked, grieved, devastated, yet hopeful...and we, her friends at NAU suddenly grew up in measures as we had to notify her work, her classmates, her friends.  Our friends made meals for us in their dorm kitchens and our InterVarsity staff worker/mentor brought veggie and cracker trays over, gently instructing us that we would be receiving visitors and she wanted us to have something to offer them when they came.  The woman I was student teaching under gave us cookie dough--so we could fill our apartment with a good and comforting smell  as we baked them.  Friends came and cleaned for us and we couldn't bring ourselves to erase the last message Sarah had written in her own hand on our roommate whiteboard in the kitchen.  We read Sarah's journals as we packed up her belongings before her aunt came to get them...and in the journals, we had great conformation of Sarah's love for us and her faith in Jesus, who she trusted more than anyone I had ever met.  Her character was not without fault, yet her faith and purity of purpose were clear and sweet and more mature than her 21 years.  We wrestled with how God could be in this tragedy, and resisted the temptation to tie it up neatly in a little box with platitudes and empty consolation.  Yet in the midst of our tears and falling on the floor in sobs and lack of sleep there was a peace and a deep-down awakening.  Many of us who professed a faith in Jesus grew stronger as we saw proof in Sarah's belief taken from the Bible that "to live is Christ and to die is gain."  It was a significant time in my life, a pivotal cementing of the hope that I had in a God whose purposes are greater than ours and who offers inexplicable deep-rich-heartbreaking joy in the midst of suffering.

Sarah died in October of 1999.  Fast-forward to September 2012, when I am living a new life that has been harder than I imagined.  I still trust the God I came to know so intimately in 1999, but I am beginning to doubt his personal nature.  I mean, I still believe he has all of time and history in his hands and he knows the end from the beginning and all that, but I am beginning to question whether he remembers little old me or whether he still has a plan for me and my family.  The night of my birthday, a long-time friend (who has an uncanny connection to Sarah Warren's parents through a friend she met in Canada years ago) asked me if I had gotten the email from Sarah's father.  I said no, and she sent it to me the next day.  Can you imagine my reaction when I read the following story?  I think you might be able to imagine it if you read it for yourself:

September 10, 2012
Dear Family and Friends,
“God is able to do far more abundantly than all that we can ever ask or think.”  This is made clear in a recent development in the ongoing story of the legacy of our daughter Sarah, who went home to the Lord almost 13 years ago.  I was asked to document the following story in the hope that others might find it interesting and encouraging. 
Last week I received a call from our pastor Edwin regarding a call he had received from a man named Otto.  While I didn’t remember the name, Otto and I (John) had spoken briefly a couple of times in the days following the DWI incident in 1999 that took Sarah from us.  Otto was the investigating officer with the Arizona Highway Patrol.  At that time I requested details about the accident, mainly whether Sarah had died instantly, which Otto confirmed she had.  He had informed me that he had charged the other driver with 2nd degree murder but that he had died on route to the hospital.  The driver’s widow survived the crash.  As I recall, Otto was noticeably shaken and I informed him that we’d pray for him.  I told him that we knew Sarah was in heaven and we’d see her again and then asked him for the other family’s information so we could let them know that we had forgiven them and so that Sarah’s friends in Flagstaff could visit and comfort his widow.
Last week Otto contacted Edwin regarding getting in touch with us.  In my initial conversation by phone last week with Otto, he told me that Sarah had “led him to the Lord”, that he had surrendered his life to Christ a few months after the incident and that he credited his salvation to Sarah because of that fateful night in October, 1999.   I told him I was eager to meet him (albeit with some trepidation) to both hear more and share more of Sarah’s legacy.  The following is his story which I learned during a two hour lunch with him last week near the Arizona/New Mexico border.
He told me that when he arrived at the scene shortly after the collision he realized that Sarah had died instantly.  But, he said, although he had investigated hundreds of accidents before and since, there was something uniquely different about this one, a difference that would change his life.  He said, and these are his words, the presence of God was very evident at the scene.  He related that there was a striking sense of peace and serenity at the scene, in spite of the violence of the collision.  And he sensed that Sarah was surrounded by unseen angels who were watching over the scene. 
Otto was not a believer at the time but this whole experience made such a deep impression on him that he could not get it out of his mind.  His two conversations with me the day following Sarah’s death confirmed to him that there was something different and unique about Sarah.  He said he could not put it into words (though I thought he did a very good job of it) but that he wanted to convey, after all these years, that it was because of Sarah and the peace he felt at the scene that he was led to surrender his life to Christ.  We know that the peace of God that he sensed that night could only flow from the fact that Sarah had experienced peace with God through her faith in the finished work of Jesus.
I asked Otto why he hadn’t contacted us sooner.  He said he struggled these many years because he knew it might be painful for us to talk with him.  Recently however, having been asked to become a deacon at his church and needing to share his conversion experience with the church; and on the frequent urging by another older deacon that Sarah’s parents would want to know this story, he felt he had to seek us out in order to tell us his story.  We are very grateful.
I could not thank him enough for his persistence in finding us and for relating this remarkable story.   As I said, we talked for over two hours and I felt as if I had heard the most amazing chapter yet in the ongoing legacy of Sarah.  I told him of some of the other chapters and of the realization that DJ and I have come to, that Sarah’s death perhaps has had more impact than her life.   As some of you know, other chapters have been written around the globe in countries that have received short-term youth missions paid for in part by funds raised in Sarah’s memory.  We may never hear most of those stories but we know that the angels in heaven rejoice over every soul that surrenders to and receives Jesus.  I related that Sarah’s home church (Christ’s Church of Flagstaff) also has an ongoing mission program in her memory.  I told him also of the many couples we have had the privilege of encouraging, and being encouraged by, over these last 13 years who have gone through similar pain but who are now living in hope. 
The legacy of Sarah is living evidence of what Jesus said in John 12:  “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  Sarah’s life, having been surrendered to Christ, and her death continue to bear much fruit for the kingdom of God.  Our prayer is that this story might encourage or perhaps challenge you regarding the claims of Christ on your life.  We also want to let you know that you are free to pass this on to others in your circle of friends and family who may find it helpful or interesting as well.

                                                                                Yours in Him,

John and DJ Warren

  Do you get it?  Do you see?  God is doing things that we cannot see and do not understand, and yet he loves us enough to give us glimpses from time to time.  And he loves ME enough to have given me this glimpse at precisely the exact time I needed it. 

I think that's all I need to say, because Mr. Warren said it best.

P.S. Jeremy and I were some of the young people that were supported by Sarah's memorial fund, so we are firsthand witnesses of the ripple effect of one young woman's life across the globe and through the years.  How humbling and how wonderful!

Monday, November 12, 2012

My Love/Hate Relationship With Halloween

I guess Love/Hate is a little strong...the title should really be My Like/Dislike Relationship with Halloween. It's the time of year for super-cute pumpkins and scarecrows and carnivals and easy crafts to do with my kids.  And I've always loved putting together costumes with things we find around the house.

How did my children get so good at posing on command?

"Maybe I will kiss him, or maybe I will hit him with my frying pan..."

 So we did it big this year: A few pumpkin patch visits...

The boys went on these bungee cord trampolines--oh my goodness, the attendant made Evan fly so high I thought his eyeballs were going to fall out in terror!
Annie entered (and won!) her first costume contest.  I was the total stage mom who whispered in her ear to do a cute dance right before she went on stage. 
Sizing up the competition...
Following mom's "advice"


And hey, the free carnival ride tickets were totally worth it!

We watched the costume parade at Sam and Evan's school:
Hangin' out between a vampire and a banana, but it's cool cuz I got my hammer...

Sorry, Wylie, there's a new girl in Evan's life and she likes super heroes, too!
I made an appearance at both boys' class parties, mostly to spy on them by pretending to help.

The Halloween Parties at school were a showcase of Pinterest ideas and were quite extravagant in true OC style.  I'm glad I didn't sign up to be room mom!

Mummy juice boxes

On the night of Halloween, Sam and I made a little carnival on our was mostly a box maze, but we also had bobbing for donuts and a ring toss.  It was awesome, but since we weren't giving out full-sized candy bars and soda, the neighbors went elsewhere.  It's serious business around here, people!

We got all these yummy-smelling boxes and decorations out of the Pier One dumpsters
This is the part when I wore my prom dress and almost got a black eye on Halloween night.  I'll show it to you again in slow motion...
So what bothers me about Halloween isn't so much the witch costumes or sugar-overloading, it's that Halloween is the one time of year that people are willing to "talk" about death...but only in a total joking way, which isn't really talking about it at all.  In America, so many of us are sheltered from death and yet as far as I know, Halloween is mostly an American holiday (though other countries mimic our festivities--as I learned with sadness when I went to a Halloween party in Kazakhstan dressed as a cowgirl and bringing apples to bob for and pumpkins to carve, only to be greeted with seances, chanting, witches, and a mock happy scarecrows or hay-bale mazes, just darkness...and the awkwardness of them not knowing why on earth I would show up to my own culture's holiday party in such a strange and inappropriate outfit). So we go all-out and say that it's funny and just for fun, but no one wants to have their mortality or spirituality discussed on any other day of the year.  In fact, the school only has a "Winter Party" on the calendar for December in order to avoid making anyone uncomfortable, but my kid sat next to the devil, a vampire, and a banana on a whole school day given over to Halloween revelry.  (The banana wasn't really offensive, I just put it in there).

(You'll have to "forgive" my overuse of "quotations" in this post.  I am turning back into a "Valley Girl", you know.)

So, I guess I decided this year to have fun and participate in the parts of Halloween I like and to hope that somehow in the midst of all the sugar and fake blood and mock horror, people would actually contemplate the delicate nature of life and what comes after.  I hope Samuel's (and my) little carnival was a spot of light, warmth, and hospitality in our neighborhood...just as we hope to be every other day of the year as well.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Some Things That Have Happened

The kids started the same school I went to for my whole elementary school career. They even took a picture in front of the same wall I did as a kindergartner (when my sister was in 3rd grade and we had awesome hair).
He's happy about it, I promise!

I had a birthday. I turned 35. I feel middle-aged. I have wrinkles and age spots, but I also have friends that I have known since I was a kid and we are closer than ever, so I'm not going to complain too much!

My kids made some new friends...

Annie has a new best friend...

I didn't get a job at Disneyland. Therefore, we did not get free passes to Disneyland. But, we got to go to the local zoo and some Children's museums, so life's not too bad :)

We got to go to an Angel's baseball game for free...well, Jeremy and I had to give blood to get the tickets.  I mean, I would love to say that we were motivated to give for altruistic purposes, but it's just not true.  We did it purely to get the tickets.

We moved down to much better seats during the 7th inning stretch.
Jeremy's parents visited...

And Annie learned the perks of being the only child at home while her brothers are at school.
Annie also learned to do this:
And Sam is allowed to cross the street by himself or with his favorite little girl from time to time.

We've had fun exploring the OC and LA (and Jeremy finally admits that they are two different places).  We went somewhere that I had never even been before...because we thought he might have a chance at a job with views like this...but alas, it didn't work out. Boo.

And finally, I got a job at Kohl's, which is not deserving of a picture but is deserving of being mentioned in a post about "some things that have happened."  So there you have it!