In Honor of Brad

I normally use this blog to focus on ministry, but as you can tell sometimes just share what’s going on in the adventure of life.  We’re whole beings, after all, and I think that all of life should be centered on Jesus–the mundane and epic, the trials and the victories, the day in and day out.
Today.  There was ministry stuff.  There was me videoing myself reading books to a 3-year old audience I can’t see.  But that’s not what I want to focus on in this post.  Today is my little brother’s birthday.  He would have turned 30 today.  
Still learning how to grieve, but it’s helpful to remember and celebrate life along with shedding tears.  For that reason, I‘m going to post the “family reflection” I gave at the funeral service as a way of remembering and honoring him on this day.  Once again, a big thank you to so many who continue to pray for my family.  It has truly made a difference.
Note: Couldn’t get the formatting (spacing) right.

I’m speaking on behalf of my entire family and would like to thank everyone for the overwhelming response of love that we’ve received from all of you this week.  We’ve been inundated with visits, food, flowers, phone calls, cards, texts, prayers, FB posts, and offers to do anything.  Thank you so much.  Thank you especially to St. Michael’s Church who has been incredible.  It’s really helped carry us during our time of need. 

I remember my parents telling me, Ashley, and Frederick right after Hurricane Hugo that my mom was going to have a baby.  What a surprise, but how special and exciting it was to us when Brad was born.  

When Brad was little, we would take turns trying to put him down for a nap.  My tactic was to tell incredibly long and uncreative stories to lull him to sleep by boredom.  One time when he was around 3 years old, Ashley and I were together with him on the bed.  I made up that some character was taking a very long road trip and started listing every state I could think of very slowly.  I started with SC, NC–about that speed–and went up along the coast.  His eyes were already closed, and he was drifting off by the time I got to the northern states.  When I said New York, his body jolted and eyes sprung wide open, and he said, “New York City!,” a line from the Pace Picante Sauce commercial.   

That was so Brad.  He was quick and so funny even at that age.   He had a way with words and could make everyone around him laugh.  That’s one thing I’m going to miss so much is Brad’s hearty laugh along with his sheepish smile.   


He was intelligent, way smarter than me.  He had the ability to memorize large amounts of information and then regurgitate it, even verbatim.  He was incredibly thoughtful and caring, especially in his gifts, which he often made himself, including the choker that I’m wearing right now. 
 

He was also protective.  The first memory I have of this particular trait was when Brad told a lifeguard at the pool that I was 16 instead of 21.  At first I was bothered that he would lie and asked him why he would say that.  In front of the guy, he said, “I didn’t want him talking to you.”  Then I knew that my little brother at age 11 had my back.  Speaking of backs, he was a sucker for back rubs.  His hugs were great, another thing I’ll miss about Brad.  

There were hard times—some really hard times—that we went through as a family, but we had some fun, special times as well.  We shared vacations when we were younger and many holidays and birthdays together.  This past Thanksgiving was especially memorable sharing childhood stories in front of the fire.  Like when Brad was on a hunting trip in Africa with Dad at age 12, and Dad got Brad to have a little fun with his fake tooth retainer.  Brad convinced the African children he had magical powers when he smiled with a mouth full of teeth, then discreetly removed the retainer so that the tooth seemed to disappear.  

Brad worked really hard to overcome the past and to be involved with family.  He loved children so much, especially his niece Grace and nephew Nicholas.  He had such an incredible heart for people and for animals.  His dogs, Gypsy and Obsidian, were everything to him.    

I’m thankful for the one-on-one times with Brad when he was younger, but especially the past few years swing dancing, the Pour House, Farmer’s Markets, and Pho Saigon, the Vietnamese restaurant on James Island.  I didn’t join him for any camping trips and music festivals he loved, but I know that many of you here have lots of memories from that. 


I knew before, and I know now that Brad loved me and my family.  He made sure to say that he was proud of me, and I made sure to let him know that I’m proud of him and love him.  I admire his endeavors to learn about greenhouses, growing different types of vegetables and herbs, owning his own businesses, but I am equally proud of his side jobs delivering wine and washing dishes because he was displaying humility and taking on responsibility. 
 


Within the past year, Brad shared with me how he really wanted to help people who had been in his shoes, so to speak.  He didn’t want people to have to suffer and knew firsthand the damage that addiction can do personally and relationally.  I really admire his heart to help others and try to make the world a better place.  
 

I wish so much that Brad could have known the peace, love, and acceptance that only Jesus can give while He was here with us on earth.  But I know God to be a God of hope and of infinite last chances.   Brad’s last week of life, he made every effort to make peace with friends, family, and God.  Brad literally reached his hands out to my parents and asked them to pray for him, which they gladly did and affirmed their love for him.  He contacted so many friends and family to settle things and make sure there were no problems with anyone.   

 When I learned what happened, I was devastated and even felt a little angry and definitely disappointed at God because I really believed in Brad and especially in God to get Brad through.  When I reread a poem I wrote for Brad in 2011, though, the Lord gently reminded me that we only truly reach our full potential when we join Jesus together with all of those He has rescued because that is the real destiny that God has for us: to be in relationship with Himself.  That is when we’re complete and the only place where we’re whole, free of pain or sorrow, full of perfect, pure love. 


While it’s so painful to lose Brad when he seemed to be okay and planning his future, let’s thank God for the good times.  Let’s thank God for Brad’s life and all who he touched during his time here.  Let’s thank God that there is hope, and let’s go to God to heal our pain.


We will love you, forever, Brad.

In Our Spare Time?

Two weeks ago, I started a very part-time temporary job.  It’s a long story, but I was needing something more consistent than dog and house-sitting as a source of income during my time in Charleston.   The Lord directed me to an assistant position in a 3K class at a local Anglican Day School.  In fact, when I contacted the director, they had not posted the need, but in fact did need a new assistant.   Just three mornings a week and no prep or take-home work, which would leave me with plenty of time and energy to focus on ministry.
I wasn’t sure how I would make it my first day (which was extended a week because of my brother’s death).  That Monday and Tuesday were really hard, and I couldn’t imagine starting a new job.  I woke up feeling ready, though, and what a blessing!  It’s the perfect setting because my mind was focused on 8 little ones who are precious and brought me laughs and joy.  That lasted two days before school was officially closed because of COVID-19.
I started the first week off with a stomach bug, but isn’t it just like the Lord to use that to reset my prayer life, which had gotten out of whack in the previous couple of weeks.  I felt zero condemnation and was still communing with the Lord, but staying in bed for a couple of days really got me to go deeper.  I’ve spent a lot of time in prayer both for my personal life as well as for our nation and the world.  I’m thankful to have leadership who has called for national days of prayer and have participated in that.  
That first day of prayer and fasting, March 15, I received a verse from Isaiah 26:20 which says “Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the fury has passed by.”  This helped me to go with what our leaders began recommending that very day (with school and other closures), and I’ve stayed put other than getting essentials when absolutely necessary and neighborhood walks.  
I’d like to share a link to an article I really liked this morning.  I think the article hi lights hidden sins (we probably wouldn’t call them that unfortunately) that we need to repent of both individually, as families, and as a nation.  Let us use this unique time where we are forced to slow down and be still to draw near to the Lord and seek Him with all of our hearts.  Let us pray for those who are on the other end of the spectrum like medical workers, first responders, and food industry among others, who are working overtime.  
Back to my personal life: by the grace of God and I believe the prayers of so many, I am doing okay emotionally regarding the loss of my brother.  That said, I think it’s been helpful to have a slower pace and also to be able to spend time with family whether in person or over the phone.  As always, thank you for your care and for your prayers.  The Lord be with you!

The Worst of Times and the Best of Times

I’m not even talking about COVID-19, which is the talk of the world right now and the cause for our nation’s Day of Prayer and Fasting today.  May we accept our role as God’s people to humble ourselves before the Lord and repent of our individual and nation’s sins.
I’m backing up to three weeks ago when I was getting ready to go to North Carolina for a security training.  As I packed and drove, I thought how it was the scariest thing I’ve ever knowingly entered into, at least that I can think of.  It wasn’t the fact that I’d signed consent forms to be yelled at, (lightly) slapped/hit or roughed around, sworn at etc.etc.; but I had read between the lines and deduced that I’d have to stay up all night out in the cold.  Those last two things are torture enough for me; and I prepared by memorizing scripture and asking for prayer.
It was indeed quite an intense week, though I felt so thankful that I was there and doing it.  We learned a lot of “common sense” safety and security measures for everyday life, as well as uncommon situations for more hostile environments.  I won’t get into everything and quite honestly haven’t even been able to debrief yet.  The rest of the group did our final morning, February 29.  It was supposed to be a day of celebration for having “survived” the training which I did, thanks to your prayers.  Instead, it was the worst day of my life.  I didn’t even go to our last class (to debrief) because I woke up to the news that my little brother, Brad, had died the night before.  It’s surreal to be writing on my blog as one of the events of the past few weeks.
It was a shock on so many levels.  My head was reeling with so many questions, thoughts, and emotions as I drove back to Charleston.  As real and stressful as the challenges I had just faced and as thankful as I was for having made it through, everything I’d experienced was based on made-up circumstances.  My little brother’s death was real, and I couldn’t get out of it.
The next week was a whirlwind with many, many visitors, little sleep, and making funeral arrangements.  My family was overwhelmed with love from so many: old friends, new friends, family, and especially St. Michael’s Church who has been such a huge support and help in my family’s mourning, grieving, and healing process from Day One.  The Lord has poured out His grace, power, comfort, and love as He continues to work good out of a very tragic situation.  
Ironically Friday, March 6th, the day of Brad’s funeral, though a very difficult day, was a very good day.  Over 500 people attended the funeral, and every single person I’ve talked to said how beautiful it was, even the most beautiful funeral they’d ever been to.  There was so much love and a message of hope.  From start to finish, God’s Spirit was there, and the Gospel was proclaimed.  It truly was beautiful which is strange to write, but the most fitting word. 
Thank you so very much for your prayers for me during two challenging events–one that wasn’t even real, another that I wish so much were not.  Perhaps I can share in more detail another time (perhaps not), but please know that your prayers were felt and known to me during the training and especially the week after, not just by me but by my whole family.  I worship the Lord with thanks for each of you–for your lives and your prayers.  Thank God that we have hope that no matter what tragedy or pandemic we’re faced with, that we have a God who is faithful and that “the best is yet to come.”  

Encouragement

Speaking of encouragement and support, it can take on so many forms.  For example, a friend of my mom’s who participated in several of St. Michael’s GIC events kept telling me that she had a book that she wanted me to read.  She would lend it to me if I thought I had the time, and there was a list of others who would also like to read it.  I agreed and am so incredibly grateful that I did!  It’s called The Insanity of God by “Nik Ripken.”  
I try to regularly read missionary autobiographies.  Not only do they provide wisdom, experience, insight, and inspiration; they also address the challenges, hardships, and struggles.  Even more, the book of Revelation assures us that followers of Jesus overcome Satan by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony. (12:10).  When we share our stories with others, we are putting God’s Word into practice and doing just that: overcoming our accuser and adversary, the devil.
One nugget (of which there were many!) was the power of praise through song.  Maybe it stood out so much because we were also talking about this in the Bible Study I’m doing.  Then I noticed that the Psalm I read a couple of mornings ago was addressed to the “director of music” or “choirmaster” depending on the version.  How cool if you’re a worship leader for some of the Psalms to be addressed to your vocation!  
It’s also encouraging as next week’s security training approaches to be mentally preparing with a read like this that has hopefully toughened me up so that I don’t cave on Day 1 (prayers highly appreciated!).
It’s not an easy book to read, but it is incredibly powerful and inspiring and challenging in the best way possible.  It’s more than one man’s story, but a compilation of stories of our brothers and sisters throughout the world who have overcome and need our involvement and prayers.  In my own effort to encourage you, I highly recommend it and will link his website: https://www.nikripken.com.  

Much to Be Thankful For

Things have started picking up as far as support goes.  I have a long ways to go, but I’m a “glass is half full” type. :).  I was so encouraged at a party a friend hosted a couple of weekends ago.  There was a nice turnout with 4 out-of-town friends who came and some others I don’t get to see too often!  I was regretting having taken on making a Boba tea station for everyone to make their own as it gave me a lot of extra things to do on a very busy weekend.  Then again, it was so fun to introduce a room-full of people to an Asian beverage which has hit the streets of Charleston the past couple of years.  Another fun thing is that since even friends don’t know my exact location, I can get away with representing different countries with my attire or snacks. 🙂
As far as the presentation part, I guess it’s the teacher in me, but I really do like sharing with others.  There’s so much I have to learn myself, but I focused on unreached people groups, the Anglican Diocese of Singapore (which is the Diocese I will be a member of), as well as some of the personal challenges I’m either going through or expect to.  I always like sharing, but to be surrounded by friends who have known me for quite a while was extra special.
I was also encouraged that a couple of friends at the party have offered to host another party for me, one of which we’re in the thick of planning. :).  In the meantime, I’ve had a couple of donors increase and/or double their giving and several unexpected donors.  I am so grateful for the various ways that our God provides.  I’ve also been invited to a women’s prayer retreat in March for them to pray for me during their Prayer for the Nations.  Just wanted to take the time to celebrate and thank God for His answered prayer, provision, and blessing and many ways that He’s at work!  Thank you for praying!