It was mid August, late on a Friday night. I was just leaving the Mt. Juliet High School football game. It was my first football assignment of the year. Mt. Juliet had won easily; the lighting was good. Sometime during the 1st quarter, I watched the sun dip over the fence and disappear into the west. It was warm and comfortable. Fall seemed so far way. I was struck by the contrasts of the evening - one team elated in victory, the other despondent in defeat.
I probably mused at how fortunate and blessed I was. Early in the year as I enjoyed the beauty and majesty of the Oregon Coast, this game was not a part of my plan. When we returned from our Oregon trip, I had made plans for income possibilities - but for the most part, the plans did not materialize. In early spring, the last thing I could imagine was working for Lifetouch Photography.
The trip to Oregon had been planned. We stayed for a month on the Oregon Coast, blessed to have lodging right on the beachfront at a cost that was well below our budget amount. I had felt that this might be the lat time i would have a chance to revisit my home state, and wanted to spend as much time as I could there. It only took a few days to understand that we were going to return again.
Our extended stay in Oregon should have been easily the most memorable event in 2012, but God had much different plans.
Lori and I began, in the heat of a record-breaking summer, to plan a return trip to Oregon - not for a month, but for six months. As I type, this plan is still moving forward - although shortened to 4 and half months. Like the past trip, the money-making ideas I planned seemed to waver. Yet the Lord has been so faithful to provide for us!
In early August, I was offered a position photographing high school sport events for Lifetouch Photography, a company that provides schools with gallery photos of their students, senior photos, and provides some yearbook images, as well.
The income from this easily made up for the income that my plans did not provide.
This first football game of the year gave me plenty of time to consider all the ways we had been blessed.
It had been a good summer, with the exception of the heat. Through our church, its family, through Jim and Becky, through my wife's love and service, I felt I was continuing to grow in grace and mercy. I was quite proud of my willingness to avoid tedious political and theological arguments. I was able to start a small Bible discussion group that met regularly, and several of us have grown quite close in our friendships with each other. Lori and I were blessed with a larger car that came with its own lessons in patience and forbearance. Lori's sister, Kelli, was expecting their first child in late August. We had just had a wonderful visit by Lori's sister, Debbi, her husband and their eight children (yes, eight). We met the youngest child (Elijah) for the first time. I mostly remember a smile that started on the right and gained momentum 'til it ended on the let side of his face, and eyes that sparkled with amazement and wonder at everything they gathered in.
Yes, that summer afternoon as I walked into the parking lot ahead of the crowd which would soon break loose, life was as comfortable and assured as the shirt-sleeve weather and the sight of the sun making its daily trek in the sky.
The phone rang. I scarcely heard it at first, and when I answered it was Lori. I knew it was Lori because the Caller ID said it was Lori, but I could not understand what she was saying. It was evident that something had happened, something...bad.
It took me several minutes to comprehend that our youngest nephew, Elijah, who we had just seen packed into the family car a few days ago, had died. Drowned in a tragic accident at their Missouri home.
The sun would rise in the morning, but Elijah was with the Lord. Tears, prayers, hugs, phone calls - the next few days a blur... So much grief poured into those days. The family buoyed by faith in God's sovereign grace, struggled to be sure with this great sadness.
A few days later, Elijah was laid to rest; the same day, Kelli gave birth to Naomi Faith, our youngest niece.
Out of great joy, great sadness; out of sadness, great hope.
Psalm 65:8: The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.
It's November now. Naomi Faith is three months old. Debbie is expecting a child. Lori and I are planning our trip to Oregon, with a side trip to San Francisco. Elijah's smile is a precious memory.
The sun moves daily from East to West. Each day we are closer to His return!
The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. But HIS great mercy endures forever!
If you've read Kenn's letter already, you know it's been a difficult year. And I cannot be as incredibly eloquent as he, so I'm not going to try. It's the first time our family has suffered an unexpected loss; I know how blessed I am to be as old as I am and be able to say that. And God has used it to bring my family closer together, something I didn't expect but can't stop praising Him for!
It's been a busy year for Heavenly Perspective Photography, and I've taken it much easier with Stampin' Up! to be able to be more flexible. One of my best customers and dear friends retired and moved away this year, so it's been a struggle - but I have some other customers/friends who get together with me and stamp and order, and we have a WONDERFUL time! I'm so grateful for them! And they were so supportive when we lost Elijah.
As were many of you. Thank you for your support and prayers and encouragement and HUGS. You know who you are. :)
And Kenn has been so supportive, too. I still have my teary moments - especially when I'm tired. (I'm sure none of you know how that is... :D ) And Kenn just lets me have my moment. He's taken such good care of me this year, and has been such a help when I need him - I'm SO grateful for him.
As a matter of fact, I have so much to thank God for! I am blessed beyond measure; I can't help but thank Him for everything, big and small, that surrounds me.
And as we look forward to next year, I'm already grateful for the chance to plan several things: ~ a family reunion ~a driving trip to Oregon, which means ~visiting several friends and family members along the way ~being in Oregon during the summer ~having time when it's just Kenn and me, no responsibilities to others :D ~starting graduate school for a Christian Counseling degree
And finally: if you're reading this letter, it means you're involved or have been involved in my life. And that means I'm grateful for YOU. I am and have been so INCREDIBLY blessed with people who love me. It never ceases to amaze me!
Merry Christmas, dear friend(s). May you be aware of His grace, mercy, and incredible love for you more and more as we celebrate the end of 2012, and the beginning of 2013! Love, Lori
Kenn & Lori Stilger * 615-497-4532 * firstname.lastname@example.org See our photos at: http://heavenlyperspective.shutterbugstorefront..com Email us for our blog information, too! :)