twelve stones: stone #2

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         Meet my friend Josie.  A few years ago, I was blessed to be introduced to this sweet woman by this amazing story of God's grace.  I am so very thankful for Josie and the support and encouragement she's given me as I walk a similar road to hers.  Today Josie shares her stone as part of this Twelve Stones series.  Please take the time to read this miraculous story...

          In the middle of the night on June 23rd the doorbell rang.  I climbed out of bed in confusion at who could possibly be at my door at this hour.  Did my husband’s garage door opener malfunction? Was it a prank perpetrated by one of the neighborhood children?

            I scanned the peephole and saw a group of dark shadows standing outside. I opened the door to a group of friends from the 421st fighter squadron. Devastation marked all of their faces.  At that second, I understood why all of these people were standing at my door at this time of night. They were there to tell me that my husband, Capt. George-Bryan Houghton, left this world to be with the Lord in Heaven. George, an F-16 pilot for the 421st squadron at Hill AFB in Utah, was scheduled to fly in a night training mission to prepare for an upcoming deployment. It was his final flight in the F-16. His plane crashed in the Utah Test and Training Range.

            The next few days and weeks were a blur in my memory. I remember emotional pain so intense that it literally would take my breath away. This pain alternated with periods of numbness when I felt nothing. I was an empty shell most days. During this time I was inundated with the “business” of death. I helped the squadron with pictures and music for the memorial service, signed official military documents, met with the casualty officer, and many other tasks.

            People from the squadron started bringing me George’s belongings. First, I was given the contents of his locker. I rifled through his belongings searching for only one thing; George’s wedding ring. No luck. Later they drove his car home. No ring. A few days later, I was given the contents of his locker. No ring. The last of the items was brought to me by Maj. Bob Ungerman, the liaison from the 421st assigned to me to help me through this process. He gave me an envelope with objects found on George at the crash site:  patches from his uniform, his driver’s license, a few damaged dollar bills. I sorted through these objects and felt grateful to have these last precious tokens of him. However, I noticed there was still that one thing missing that my heart yearned to have.

            I asked Bob if he had any idea where the ring might be. He looked at me with a broken heart and told me that it had most likely been in his flight suit pocket. If it was not in the envelope in front of me, then it was probably somewhere on the ground at the crash site.  I felt a wave of disappointment at the thought of never seeing the ring again. I do not know what the compulsion was to have it in my possession. I just knew I had a deep desire in my heart to see it again.

            I must have had quite a pitiful look on my face when Bob told me the ring was still missing because he started on a serious mission to recover it for me.  This incredibly thoughtful, compassionate man organized a search of the debris at the Utah Test and Training Range.  The search party consisted of airmen and civilians from Hill AFB as well as an adventurous group of individuals from the Trails West Artifact Society who used metal detectors to hunt for treasures as a hobby. They jumped at the chance to hunt for this precious treasure for the sake of a hurting widow.

            On October 17th, a good four months after the accident, these amazing volunteers searched the crash site. Considering that the area was roughly the size of eight football fields, I can imagine how intimidated they must have been. They soon discovered that they were searching for a needle in a haystack. The metal detectors were not much assistance because of all the shrapnel. It was a hunt to find metal on metal. Switching tactics, the team started a visual scan of the area. The day passed with no sign of the ring. Just after 4:00 pm the crew was going to pack up and head back to civilization. It was decided to do one last visual search. Shortly after this decision, Lt. Col. Sean Keene spotted a small round metal object in the dirt. At first he thought he was seeing a mirage because he and the rest of the volunteers wanted to find the ring so badly.  He picked it up and sure enough there was the ring. It was unscathed, the inscription still as legible as the day I put it on his finger.

“I found it!” he said.

            Some volunteers did not believe him at first, thinking he was joking. When the ring was spotted in his hand, people began to gather around him to witness this amazing miracle. God was truly with these people from the beginning to the end. Now there was only one thing left to do; give the ring to me.

            I flew into Utah for the squadron Halloween party later that month. Bob and Karen Ungerman had invited me to stay with them and I joyfully accepted. They fetched me from the airport and took me to their house to drop off my luggage. I took my bags to the guest room. On the bed was a jewelry box and note. The note, written by Bob and Karen, said how happy they were that I was in Utah and that I had been missed. Then it stated in the black jewelry box was a chain and there was something to put on the chain under the pillow.

            I started shaking as I saw a ring box under the pillow. I slowly opened the box and there was the object for which my heart had been longing. In my hand was George’s ring, in excellent condition, just like the last time I had seen it on his finger. I burst into tears and sat down on the floor. I felt overwhelmed with happiness and gratitude. Having that ring symbolized the wholeness of our marriage. It filled the gaping hole in my heart and gave me a sense of peace and closure.

            I realize later that my longing to have the ring did not come from me; it was God given. I had felt abandoned by the Lord and deeply upset that He would allow me to go through such intense agony. It would take a miracle to restore the trust I once had in Him, and a miracle is what He provided. He put a burning desire in me to have the ring and provided the most benevolent group of people I have ever known to find it. The circumstances were impossible, but God works best in the realm of the impossible. He guided a team of people to find a tiny metal ring four months after the crash in an enormous field of metal debris. And, to really show off, He preserved the ring in a perfect state while all the other metal found around it was tarnished, rusted, and malformed. If that was not a miracle, I don’t know what is. From this miraculous act of love, God expressed to me that when I was hurting, He was hurting. When I wept, He wept with me. And, when I was at my weakest, He was the one giving me strength and comfort to get through the day. I pray that the blessing of this miracle does not stop with me and that it continues to impact those who hear about it to the glory of our Precious God!

no idea

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“I have a really bad feeling about today,” I told Garrett the last few minutes I got to spend with him on this earth.  I had woken up that morning with a dark cloud hanging over me; an incredible heaviness I just couldn’t shake.  “What exactly are you going to be doing today?” I inquired about his third and final day of water survival training.  As he explained the events of what would be happening, never did he say he wouldn’t be coming back to me.  He assured me it was a safe, routine course, and no sharks were going to get him, as he knew I worried about sea creatures.  But I just couldn’t shake the feeling.

“Well, give me a long hug…just in case,” I breathed out as I leaned into him; my arms folding around his narrow waist. He wrapped his arms around me, tucking his chin over my head, and held me like a familiar, cozy blanket.  My cheek rested on the patches of his flight suit and I breathed in the moment.  We were together.  We were safe. 

But I had no idea.  No idea that this hug really would be my last embrace with him here on earth.  No idea that my sacred love would be ripped from my hands.  If only I had known, I would’ve held longer.  I would’ve held tighter.  I wouldn’t have let go. But I had no idea.  And I had to let go.  We have to let go. So we said our goodbyes…and he was gone.

I had no idea God was going to give me this cup in life.  This lose-your-amazing-God-loving-husband-with-two-young-boys-under-the-age-of-three cup.  No idea that life was going to look like this for me.  I can’t quite wrap my mind around all the whys of my life predicament.  I really have tried to figure out the mind of God on this one.  God continually hears my grievances and questions…

Why?  I think Garrett had such incredible potential; so much he had and could have offered this world.  Why would He allow this??  It just doesn’t make sense to me when I think of all Garrett could’ve done with his time here compared to the average Joe that’s still walking around on this earth.

God continues to remind me of one word when I start to go down this realm of thinking….Jesus. 

Jesus, who died at the age of 33, could have done so much more had God allowed Him to live longer.  But God had a specific plan in mind and who wants to thwart the plans of a Holy God?  I surely don’t.  That plan ended up being the most beautiful love story we will ever know.  It changed the world forever.  Yet as Jesus’ followers watched Him carrying the cross up to Calvary’s hill to His impending horrific death, they had no idea how this was going to work itself out.  I’m sure they thought to themselves, God what the heck are you thinking?!?  How could any good come from this?   It must have been the worst day of their lives; watching the hope that they clung to and the Savior they believed in being crucified before their very eyes. 

But we have the benefit of knowing the whole story.  They had no idea.  If we could time travel back, we could have confidently whispered in their ears, “Do not fear.  This is a perfect plan.  God knows what He’s doing.  You’ll rejoice when you find out what He is up to here today.”

I recently heard something in a sermon from Tim Keller that really resonated with me:  God answers our prayers the way we would want Him to, had we been able to see the whole picture that He sees. You thank God before you make the request because you are saying whatever you do in response to this request is good.

I prayed fervently for Garrett’s life to remain unharmed; for my precious family of four to be kept safe.  God’s response to those prayers was to take Garrett away from us.  This is not the way I wanted our story to go; a line I share with God almost every single day.  But, I liked Tim’s point that had I been able to see everything that God sees, I would have asked God for this.  That’s a really hard pill to swallow.  In fact, my mind cannot wrap itself around it.  But it gives me an unsurpassable peace and joy that one day I’ll say that this is well with my soul.  Like Martin Luther said, "These pains and troubles here are like the type that printers set.  When we look at them, we see them backwards, and they seem to make no sense and have no meaning.  But up there, when the Lord God prints out our life to come, we will find they make splendid reading."

I have no idea what God is up to in my story, or in yours.  I have no idea what tomorrow holds.  I look forward to getting all the answers on the other side of this life.  But until then, I am clinging to the hope that God is up to something bigger and better than we can imagine.

And could people time travel back to me on the day I gave Garrett that final long hug, I know they would’ve confidently whispered into my ear, “Do not fear.  This is a perfect plan.  God knows what He’s doing.  You’ll rejoice when you find out what He is up to here today.”

twelve stones: stone #1

“Natural childbirth?!?  You’re crazy!” I remember spouting off to my mom when she told me she had both my brother and I without pain medication.  I thought she was even crazier when I found out I was pregnant with my first child.  No way was I going to have this baby without the help of an epidural.  But that all quickly changed when I watched a documentary that transformed my ideas about childbirth.  I became very passionate about my desire for a natural birth.  So Garrett and I signed up for a 12 week course to prepare to do just this.  We were fully dedicated: reading, studying, and practicing our laboring positions and relaxation techniques each night.  We decided to commit to praying every single day for our baby’s life and the specific details surrounding our pregnancy and delivery.  We shared these requests with many of our friends and family and asked them to join us in praying for:

  1. first and foremost, a healthy baby
  2. that baby would stay in the womb until December (I was high risk for an early delivery)
  3. a natural delivery with no pain medications or Pitocin
  4. a quick labor (hey, if I was going natural, I was hoping for labor to be as quick as possible)
  5. that my placenta previa diagnosis would resolve so I could go naturally, instead of having a c-section

There were so many dramatic ups and downs during my pregnancy.  It seemed like every time we would receive good news, we were hit with another round of bad news.  I felt like I couldn’t leave the doctor’s office without some other thing that was wrong.  I just couldn’t wrap my mind around why my pregnancy had to be so difficult when I had specifically asked God to work on these details.  There was such a small percentage of women who had placenta previa.  Why did I have to be the one??  But we continued to cling to our faith and pray through these trials. 

At 37 weeks, I went in to have my placenta checked one last time before scheduling a c-section.  I was told there was NO way I was able to deliver naturally because I still had a serious level of placenta previa.  The placenta was down too low and my doctor and perinatologist said that it would not be moving this late in my pregnancy.  Although I was upset, I told my doctor I was still hopeful and still praying.  She laughed and said, “Honey, there’s no hope anymore. It’s not moving.  It’s not possible this late in the game.  You’re going to have to schedule a c-section.”

I wholeheartedly disagreed.  Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move.” So I knew if Jesus was talking mountain movement, He could easily make a little placenta movement.  I knew with God, all things are possible.  But ultimately, it was up to Him.  I really had no control.  All I could do was pray, and trust Him regardless of the circumstance.  Trust Him with the unknowns.  Trust Him even if He was writing a different story than I had in mind. 

The very next week, I had a technician check me again, during my routine monitoring.  He said he didn’t see any signs of my placenta previa diagnosis. Garrett and I beamed with excitement at what we just heard.  Did God really just answer our prayers??  Or did this technician have it wrong?  I had my doctor called, who said that was impossible, and that I needed to go to my perinatologist to get checked.  With all of his fancy equipment, my perinatologist took measurements and confirmed that I could deliver naturally without any concern at all.  He said had never seen anything like this in his 12 years of working in the profession.  We were over the moon!  The Lord heard us and answered our prayer. During the visit, we found out I had high blood pressure so I had to go to the hospital to get checked.  My doctor decided to induce me because she worried about a deceleration on the rate of the baby’s heartbeat during monitoring at the hospital.  I was induced around 6pm and told around 130am that I was still at one centimeter and I hadn’t made any progress towards active labor yet.  The doctor said, “You need to throw all your natural methods out and if we need to intervene, that’s what we’re going to do.” She went on to tell me I would get Pitocin at 6am and then she would break my water a little after that. 

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Shocked at all that had just transpired, I knew all we could do was pray and trust the Lord, despite this situation.  God had just shown us that things are hopeful, even when they don’t look hopeful.  So what did we do?  All we could.  We prayed and enlisted many people to continue to pray along with us.  After my doctor left the room, I started having extreme contractions very close together.  The nurses told me I was going into active labor.  I thought to myself, Wow, if this is only the beginning of childbirth, I won’t be able to make it without the medication!  But turns out it was so intense because I was nearing the end; another answer to prayer!  I was checked only an hour later and went from 1cm to 10cm dilated and was ready to push.  Talk about a quick labor (thank you Lord!)  Our precious baby was born at 4:04am on December 1st, just less than two hours before I was scheduled to receive Pitocin.  He was a healthy boy, scoring 9’s on every part of his APGAR test.  I love that Beckett was born in the early morning hours of December 1st.  It was like the cherry on top of the cake; every single request was answered!  God blessed us with a healthy baby boy born on the very first day of December by a very quick and natural labor and delivery.  God gifted me with such an amazing stone; an extraordinary altar of remembrance to His faithfulness and power.

Looking back on this story, I find it interesting to note that the rounds of bad news I had to endure throughout my pregnancy was ultimately a means to His glory.  During my pregnancy, I just couldn’t wrap my mind around why God was allowing such difficulties, when I had made my prayer requests so specific.  But because of the roadblocks, I was able to see God’s hand move in more powerful ways.  If I never was given the placenta previa diagnosis, I wouldn’t have been able to witness the power He displayed.  If I wasn’t told my baby had a risk of being born prematurely, I wouldn’t have prayed specifically for the baby to stay in the womb until December, and in turn, celebrated his birth date with such joy.  What a reminder it is for me, and I hope you too:  to remember God’s power and faithfulness, to trust Him when you have to suffer, to trust His plan over our own, and to know God can be intimately involved in our lives if we just ask him to.