Friends on Purpose


ruth scripture

My friend, Denny, is finally coming back to us for a visit. On this eve of her arrival, I thought I’d post a journal entry about our friendship. I can’t wait to see her. Oh, and I posted this picture, because we have often seen a lot of Ruth and Naomi in our friendship. Of course, I’m Ruth, because I’m younger and cuter. Just sayin’…

We had become friends almost instantly;  too quickly, according to some of our individual friends. Not that it mattered too much what others thought, because God was obviously and determined to put us together. And, neither of us were brave enough—nor willing—to say no to Him.

Of course, to begin with we both had questions, a lot of questions. Who wouldn’t, given the way we’d met and the fact that we had been drawn to one another practically from the get-go? How could an anonymous, virtual game of internet Scrabble, a chance meeting on a social networking site, lead to such a deep, tangible and very real friendship? What could God have possibly been thinking by pairing the two of us together and for what reason?

From the outside, we were just so different. Two very different women with different pasts and different presents. One, a single mom with two jobs and the other a semi-retired housewife. What’s more, we lived what seemed like a world apart—one in western Canada and the other in the southeastern United States.

But, on the inside, well, that’s where it all began to make sense. For on the inside, we were practically twins, soul mates whose bond was quick, yet undeniably powerful and steadfast. So powerful, in fact, that even against our common nature, we were drawn to each other, spending hours truly getting to know one another from the inside out. We talked about everything, from our childhood, to our adulthood, our pain and sorrow, our hopes and dreams, and most especially about God, who we both loved with all our hearts and who continued to make it abundantly clear that He wanted to be at the helm of our lives and that he wanted our lives to be intertwined forevermore.

No, there was absolutely no way this was a chance meeting. For two ordinarily private people highly skilled at hiding behind humor to finally lay down their weapons of defense—the very masks they used when they thought the rest of the world was looking—this most definitely had to be a God thing.

The next seven-plus years would prove that over and over again; and is the basis of a story that God has placed in my heart; a beautiful,  unbelievable, but very true story that is sure to touch hearts and to help people for years to come. And, though life keeps getting in the way of actually getting that story set in ink, it is with pen in hand that the journey of purpose continues. One day…prayerfully soon…you will be able to read it in its entirety.

In the meantime, welcome back, Denny. My heart and home are yours. Amen and Ehmen!

Flying High: A True Story of God’s Presence, Love and Promise


A true story of God’s presence, love and promise during a period of earthly sadness and tragedy. Thank you, God, for writing me into this story and for always “showing UP” when we need you most. Amen and Ehmen. Neil and Barbie,  you left us 4 years ago and are both missed immensely. Until we meet again…

Neil, you know I’ve written more in the last few years than I have my vapor trail and neil for blogwhole life. We talked about it on more than one occasion; about how clear it was that this was what God had purposed and how it was, undoubtedly, the reason for the eternal friendships that He had so carefully orchestrated between you, me and Denny.

In five short years, I’ve written page after page of happy things, sad things; of tragedy and hope. It hasn’t always been easy, but God always seems to take over and the ink will suddenly freely flow.

But, when it comes to recounting that day, now two years past, tears have always seemed to drown out the words.  And, yet, I know must try. It’s too important. It’s critical that others know just how real God is and how He orchestrates events for our greater good. The story of December 8, 2011 is proof of such. May I never forget or take for granted the love and responsibility with which God has gifted me.

The story actually started in early October when I began searching for air-fare to come for a visit just before Christmas. I was planning to fly in on Dec. 10th, which also happened to be my 50th birthday. Already struggling a bit with this milestone birthday and not wanting Denny to feel like she had to put together some sort of celebration, I thought it would be easier to just travel that day.

To paint the picture more completely for you, I had been bidding on tickets through Priceline for several weeks trying to get the best deal. For those of you who haven’t ever used Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price,” you have to submit a method of payment along with an offer for airfare on selected travel dates. If your offer is accepted, your credit card is charged and you are the sole owner of a non-refundable airline ticket.

Anyhow, somewhere around mid-October—after two weeks and a dozen or so rejected offers —I decided to try one more time, after which, if unsuccessful, I would just outright buy a ticket. I logged on and filled in all the information along with an even lower price than I had attempted before. It was a long shot, but I figured I had nothing to lose. I was ecstatic when it was accepted at almost 40 percent less than the going ticket price. God had answered yet another prayer! My desire to be there with my friends obviously lined up with His will for me.

But, wait. The departure was 7:05 a.m. December 8, 2011. December 8th?  It was supposed to be December 10th. December 10th was the dreaded birthday and the date my work vacation started. God, however, obviously had another plan and what I thought was a mistake turned out to be yet another affirmation that He is always, and in all ways, in charge.

And, so, in the early morning hours of December 8, I sat back in the seat thankful that even on a full flight I had somehow managed to get a seat all to myself. Again, there was God, showing me that He was always looking out for me and that He knew I had much to think and pray about, especially on this day.  Like how in the world I was going to get through this trip.  Barb was gone. You were very sick and Denny was quickly slipping into a pit justifiably described as hell on earth as everything she knew and loved was systematically being stripped away from her.  She was looking more and more like a female, modern day version of Job. I hurt for her, to the core of my being, I hurt.

As the stewardess stopped momentarily in front of my seat to close the overhead compartment, she gave me a sympathetic nod. My pain, obviously visible to even a stranger, quickly liquidated and turned into a stream of tears.  I had so hoped that I would get there in time to say goodbye to Barb, but instead would be attending her funeral.

Oh, my dear God, how quickly life can change. Not just Barbie, but you too. Just a few months before, you were both so full of life, running circles around me, all the while smiling the most infectious smiles I have ever seen. Now, I was on my way to Canada to say a final farewell to Barb and to be by you and Denny’s sides as you both continued to maneuver your own deep, dark valley.

I sat back in my seat, ear buds tucked tightly in my ears and cranked up the Christian tunes. There was time for a lot of prayers between the airport runways of Atlanta, Georgia and Edmonton, Alberta.  And, as soon as the plane took off, the praying commenced.

During a short layover in Denver and before boarding the final leg of my day’s journey, I texted Denny to see how she was doing. She had been pretty emotional the night before when I talked to her, but was adamant that she would be the one to pick me up at the airport. I begged her to let one of our other friends do it, but, as per usual, she got the final word and she would be there waiting for me.  Period. She didn’t reply to my text, however; and I presumed she was probably busy with Barb’s funeral planning and taking care of you.

Back on the plane, I started to get more and more anxious. Denny was going through so much heartache and seemed to be beginning to struggle a bit with her faith.  She was finding it hard to fight anymore; her strength understandably gone. Just as this illness had stripped you of your physical muscles, Denny was feeling stripped of her spiritual muscles. She still loved God. She still believed in Jesus and she still believed in heaven. In fact, those were the only things that made any sense to her at all anymore. Yet they seemed so far away and her heart continued to crumble under the weight of it all.

And here I sat on this Canada-bound airplane wondering why God would possibly interject me into the world of such wonderful people, just as your world’s began to unravel. What could I possibly do to help? What was His plan? Why you? Why me? Why now?

My mind, my heart and my emotions were swirling like a hurricane as the plane taxied down the Denver tarmac and I again turned on my music, once again getting lost in my own little world of praise, worship and prayer. About halfway through the four-hour flight, “Hold My Heart” by Tenth Avenue North came on and I was immediately transported back to exactly one summer before when my previously-planned visit turned out to be a time of support as Denny’s brother, Stevie, had tragically drowned just the week before.

“One tear in the driving rain, One voice in a sea of pain Could the maker of the stars Hear the sound of my breakin’ heart? One light, that’s all I am Right now I can barely stand. If You’re everything You say You are Won’t You come close and hold my heart.”

As the song pervaded my heart on that day in late June, I turned every word into a fervent prayer for my friend, Denny, pleading with God to please—just as the song beseeches—to come close and hold my friend’s heart.  As the song continued, I began to feel a sense of peace and then an inexplicable nudge to open my eyes and look out the window. When I did, I saw something that I shall never forget. Right there, on a canvas of deep blue sky and billowing clouds, were clouds in the distinctive shape of two strong hands gently cradling a heart. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and quickly reached for my camera, but when I looked back up, the image was gone. I may not have gotten the picture with my camera, but it was forever etched into my memory and heart to be recalled many times in the days and years to come—including that December day in 2011 as I traveled once again to see my friends.

Leaning forward in my seat, I wondered if perchance God might give me another sign. Praise and worship lyrics still dancing in my ears, I studied the clouds, but no matter how hard I tried, I saw nothing. I then looked towards the ground, thinking perhaps I would see something there. Still, nothing. I settled back into my seat disappointed, but continuing to pray when I decided to try one more time.

Sitting forward once again, I pressed my forehead to the window pane and gazed at the sky like a kid waiting for Santa to appear in the Christmas parade. The sky at this point was cloudless and there was nothing really to see when all of a sudden a streak of white shot across blue sky. It happened so quickly, I almost gave myself whiplash snapping my neck to the left to see if I could see the plane that obviously just left this trail. However, I saw nothing.  “Man, that was way too close,” I thought to myself. I didn’t think planes were allowed to fly so close to one another.  Not to mention, that thing must have flying at the speed of light. I settled back into my seat quite perplexed and a little nervous. If that was a mistake by air controllers, perhaps I should be worried. And, if it were a message from God, I didn’t get it. It was not near as obvious as my previous experience.

As I continued to ponder what it could have possibly been, the flight attendants began preparing the cabin for landing. I turned off my iPod as instructed and began stowing all of my belongings for landing. In less than a half an hour, I should be on the ground and on my way through customs. My emotions shifted from anxiety to more excitement as I knew I was about to see the people who had become so near and dear to me.

Having visited several times before, I had become somewhat of a pro at maneuvering through customs. I breezed through and, luggage in tow,  followed my fellow travelers through the concourses and hallways leading to the lobby where you and Denny usually waited for me.

Walking through the doors, I looked around for Denny. Not seeing her right away, I figured she was probably hiding around the corner and laughing at me looking around like a lost puppy. She loved to make me look like a dork and, to be fair, I often did the same to her. I loved when we would make you laugh with our silliness, and when I knew all you could do was shake your head, it made me laugh, too.

In a calculated effort to outsmart her and maintain at least a shred of my self-professed coolness, I stepped to the side and looked down at my phone. As I peered back up, I saw a couple of familiar faces walking towards me. It was Alex and Trina.

“Good,” I thought to myself, Denny had decided to take a break and ask for help. We exchanged hugs and I started into my story of how customs didn’t try to give me the third degree for once. As I used Neil’s name a few sentences in, I noticed Trina’s eyes filling with tears. Alex’s face grew dim and right there in the middle of the Edmonton Airport, I heard these words, “Brenda, Neil passed away this morning.”

Neil, I’m telling you, the world came to a screeching halt right then and there. It just couldn’t be true. Maybe I had fallen asleep on the airplane and was having a nightmare. There was no way that you could leave this earth this soon. There was no way you could leave your wife or your struggling church. There was just no way.

I began to hyperventilate as my sweet friends, themselves sobbing, guided me to a nearby chair. And, right there, in that moment, it all became clear.

I looked down at the airline ticket in my hand. The December 8th Priceline ticket I held was far from a mistake. I was pre-destined to fly in on this very day as support for my dearest friend now plunged into the darkest hour of her life.

And that streak against the sky; that was you, my sweet friend; it was you, doing a fly-by and letting me know that you were indeed ok.  I could always see the passion in your eyes when you spoke of flying; how exhilarating it was for you to play high above the earth, amidst the clouds and along the very threshold of Heaven.

Yes, my dear Neil, every single time I see an airplane etching its own beautiful, feathery brushstroke of white amongst the clouds, I think of you and I know in the deepest reaches of my heart that you live in a constant state of that same exhilaration multiplied by infinity. I thank our awesome God every single day for writing me into you and Denny’s story and for this new symbol and hope and joy.

Keep flying, my dear friend. We love you. We miss you. We will see you again, but not before we fulfill this purpose that God has placed before us and for which you played and still play a pivotal role.

But please, Neil, please ask our Dad in Heaven to guide Denny’s hand to the rip-cord on her own chute. I know that I know that she will safely land on her feet, but the freefall sometimes takes her breath away and, even today, two years later, she seems to forget.

Let this day–December 8, 2013, be the day that she feels your love and His love to such a degree that she can once again see life from your high-flying and heavenly perspective.

Sending much love from earth to heaven,

–Brenda (aka, wife number two)

 

Update: I’m happy to report that, today, yet another two years later, Denny has finally found the rip-cord on her parachute. God has replaced her sadness and loneliness with joy and a brand new love…and to me, He has given me a purpose that can’t be denied. Have a blessed evening and a Merry Christmas.

 

 

Tell Them That I Love Them…


Writer’s Note: This is a letter I wrote to my dear friends after he was diagnosed with a rare, life-threatening illness. Though it and the years that have passed since have been among the most difficult I could imagine, God has been there, always showing up whenever He was needed…such as in the writing of this letter. When my heart was bleeding for my dear friends, He took my hand and directed my pen. I sure love Him!

September 10, 2011

So, I sit here staring at my computer screen, praying for God to give me just the right words. What do I say to the two people on earth that have become closer to my dear godheart than a brother and a sister? What do I say to the two people to whom I have become eternally bonded; what do I say to them, O Lord, when they are facing this difficult time.

And then I heard Him speak, whispering ever so quietly deep in my spirit:

“Tell them,” He said, “Tell them that I love them. Tell them that they are not alone, nor will they ever be alone. Tell Neil that I am proud of him; the man he has become; a faithful servant and a soldier in My own army not afraid to take a stand against a shepherd that has lost his own way. Tell him that, though I know the pain and burden has been so very heavy through all this, that it WILL be worth it in the end. My WILL is always worth it. Tell him that this was a part of his purpose here on earth. Tell him because of his firm stand that My Glory will be fully restored in My Church. Tell my son that I am so very proud of him.”

“And tell my daughter,” He continued, “tell my sweet, sweet daughter who never fails to make me smile that I am right here collecting the tears of her heart, pouring each and every one into the well of life where millions of my other hurting and lost children will find comfort and ultimate restoration. Tell her that this is what it is all about. This is HER purpose. Tell her that, though I know the pain and burden continues to be so heavy, that it WILL be worth it in the end. Tell her My WILL is always worth it and that through her My Glory will shine for the world to see. Tell my daughter that I am so very proud of her.”

“And, you, My child. I am collecting all of your tears, too. You know your purpose and one day will quit fighting it. Like Peter, you have made that first step out onto the water, but, like Peter, you have been distracted by the storms raging around you. The day is nigh, my daughter; the day is nigh. And, as for your friends and soul mates, you know deep in your heart that “I have this”. I have been giving you visions of me as a superhero for a reason. I AM the ultimate superhero and I, indeed, “have this”. Now, I will thank you to please quit imagining me in tights. The Creator of the universe does not wear tights! But, I do want to thank you for your sense of humor. Laughter is good. I love you all, my dear children. All of you, just stay focused on me. Keep your eyes right here. I will not let go!”

And, with that said, the voice in my spirit quieted and I sat here again watching the cursor blinking on my computer screen. Off and on. Off and on. I love you two with all my heart and soul. And I commit to you that I will follow God’s lead today and forever and that I will do my part in our God-created friendship. I will be here for you until death do us part. And, then, when our time is up on this earth, I will be there with you basking in the light of His Glory and savoring His words, “Well done, good and faithful servants. Well done.”

I love you. Forever and ever. Amen and Ehmen!

In the Face of Depression


Writer’s Note: As we approach the first anniversary, I thought it appropriate to post something I wrote a few days after Robin Williams’ death shocked the world. It struck a deeply personal nerve for me, just as I know it did for the many who have lost friends and loved ones to depression and/or battled it alongside them.

Aug. 16. 2014She needed something bigger than both of us

The recent death of Robin Williams has stirred up many feelings and emotions for many people around the globe, myself included. Suicide has taken or threatened to take people in my own world and so I know, firsthand, how very hard it is and how deep the wounds of those left behind. They not only are mourning the loss of their loved one, but they often are left to wonder if they somehow failed. If they knew there was a problem, why couldn’t they help? If they didn’t know, why didn’t they recognize the signs? Surely, there were signs.

The truth is there are some people you simply cannot accept at face value; those people who have become so skilled at hiding their depression and true feelings that others have difficulty seeing the reality of a hurting soul trapped in darkness. At least to those outside their inner circles, this seemed to be just such the case with Robin Williams as well as a young man with whom I worked. To the world, both were extremely outgoing, funny and loved by many. I can’t help but wonder if they hid behind a smiling mask because that is what the world expected from them. Did they feel responsible for being the happy one, even when they were feeling just the opposite inside? Did they help and inspire others, while all the while desperately needing someone to help them? Had the very thing that they had become known for become the burden that finally broke them?

Personally, I could see how that could happen. My friend whom I have come close to losing several times in the past few years became highly skilled at wearing a mask when in public. Thank God, she would occasionally slip it off, where we could try to bring everything she was hiding deep inside out in the open. It was hard. It was ugly. It was heart-wrenching. And it was impossible for her to shoulder alone.  She needed something bigger than both of us combined. She needed God. Of course, God was always there, but sometimes she just needed someone to remind her; to help clear the fog and smoke so that she could see His sweet, sweet face; however many times it took.  That’s where we can help. Is it easy? Absolutely not.

I can’t tell you how many mornings I felt a pit in my stomach wondering if this day would be the day I got “the call.” I felt helpless and imagined that this must certainly be what it feels like to have a loved one in a war zone. I suppose in a sense she was in a war zone. She was fighting for her very life, entrenched in heavy battle with satan and his evil army of demons. They surrounded her and, although they couldn’t physically lay a hand on her, they made so much noise and created so much smoke and fog that, alone, she found it hard to see her Creator. What she really needed was to be reminded that satan only turns up the heat when he sees time running out and her victory imminent. It’s his hail mary pass; his last ditch effort.

The thing is, we all have to remember that amidst all that smoke and noise, God is ALWAYS right there. He never leaves. Not even for a single second. Thank God, my friend found His hand again and made it back from many, many days, weeks and even months of wandering in a desert of hopelessness, darkness and despair. She made it to the other side of a very dark night and is today basking in the sunshine once again.

My prayer tonight is that the noise satan so loves to make will be squelched and the smoke dissipated so that all can see Him, in all His Glory. May God’s love and peace be with us all. Amen and Ehmen.

Love goes with you…


A snapshot of Ross and I when I first met him in person. He loved God, his friends and his bikes. When this was taken in the summer of 2009, he had not been able to ride for quite some time. Our prayer during that time that God would shower him in both peace and comfort as he continued his battle with cancer and that pray that he regain enough strength to ride his bikes again. God answered those prayers and Ross took a little excursion on this very Chopper a few months later....God is good!
A snapshot of Ross and I when I first met him in person. He loved God, his friends and his bikes. When this was taken in the summer of 2009, he had not been able to ride for quite some time. Our prayer during that time was that God would shower him in both peace and comfort as he continued his battle with cancer and that he would regain enough strength to ride his bikes again. God answered those prayers and Ross took a little excursion on this very Chopper just a few months before he passed….God is good!

Writer’s Note: Besides Denny and Neil, Ross was one of the first across-the-border friendships I forged. We talked back and forth online and on the phone for quite some time as he battled cancer and it was so special to finally get to meet him in the summer of 2009. What is below was written after my daughter and I visited him again, just six months later in December 2009. This time he was in the hospital and he passed just a month or so later. In our many conversations, he always made me promise I’d write a book one day and include his story. Below is an excerpt of the “Ross Chapters” from that future book. What an awesome soul this man had and, though his battle was hard, his transition to his heavenly home was peaceful and beautiful just as we had prayed…thanks to our Heavenly Father and his dearest earthly friends.

He sat in front of us, cloaked in robes and blankets. His skin was pale with a yellowish tint; his face sunken and pinched. The smell of sickness permeated the hallways, freely flowing into the room and assaulting our senses, trying boldly to break our spirits and our hearts during this most wondrous of seasons.

And, yet, peace—a heavenly, sweet peace—radiated from his very being. At a time when you would expect him to be experiencing relentless pain, he smiled gently and contentedly as if he himself were sitting in God’s lap. He was living completely in the moment and enjoying the love of his friends and family, while at the same time seeming to live in another dimension secretly basking in the glory of God and enjoying his new life of no pain.

His face would especially light up when his “earth angel” was near. It was obvious God had introduced Denny and Ross at just the right time nearly five years ago. His beloved son was lost and Denny and husband, Neil, were the only shepherds that could help him find his way home. God knew it. Ross knew it. Thank God, Denny and Neil knew it too.

And, what a journey it had been. Many miles they had traveled together, wandering side-by-side through many a desert and dark valley. Sometimes Denny led with the other two in tow and sometimes it was Neil. And, then, there were days like today, when it was obvious that Ross was at the forefront where he belonged—the promise land in his sight.

*******

Neil gently laid his hand on Ross’ forehead as Denny leaned over to kiss him tenderly on the cheek. Ross’ breathing seemed to stop as if trying to hold onto the moment; to absorb and pack away as much love as possible to take on his journey. Love, after all, was all that he could take with him on this final leg. Fortunately, it was all that was needed.

Speaking of love, it was through friendship and circumstance that this trio had learned the true, biblical definition of love. Sure, each of them had felt and given love before, but not like this; not the kind of love that Jesus gave; the kind that would make each one willing to lay down their life for the other; the kind that was just as important in death as it was in life.

It’s always pretty spectacular when you realize that God has been working in your life; when you begin to see what seemed like the most horrible of circumstances becoming one of the most beautiful things you’ve ever known. It makes it hard to be sad when you look at it that way—through God’s eyes.

The challenge then becomes to take what you’ve learned and make the world a better place. Not to let all that love be buried or put away in a scrapbook somewhere, but instead to keep it alive; to keep Jesus alive by continuing to love completely and unconditionally.

Flying High: From Earth to Heaven.


vapor trail and neil for blogWriter’s Note: As I stepped outside, my eyes were automatically drawn heavenward. Blue, it seems, is the color of this beautiful May day as nature celebrates with a sky clothed in the most brilliant hues of blue. But even the sky in all its splendor isn’t what really caught my eye. Instead, it was the feathery white brush stroke left by a big metal bird that appeared to be heading south for the summer. Now, I realize that vapor trails are a common sight on any given blue-sky day, but they hold special meaning to me. They remind me of my good friend, Neil, who left this earth way too soon; but, more than that, it reminds me that God is real. Like the rainbow is a symbol of a promise to all of us from God, the white brush stroke of an airplane is a symbol of a promise to me—a directional arrow perched in the heavens and pointing to my purpose here on earth; to write, a specific story as well as other words that lead people to that place inside themselves where God is patiently and lovingly waiting. If you haven’t already read this piece, I hope you will take some time today. It’s a true story. I know because I lived it. Oh, and, Denny found the ripcord on her parachute. God made sure of it.

Neil, you know I’ve written more in the last few years than I have my whole life. We talked about it on more than one occasion; about how clear it was that this was what God had purposed and how it was, undoubtedly, the reason for the eternal friendships that He had so carefully orchestrated between you, me and Denny.

In five short years, I’ve written page after page of happy things, sad things; of tragedy and hope. It hasn’t always been easy, but God always seems to take over and the ink will suddenly freely flow.

But, when it comes to recounting that day, now two years past, tears have always seemed to drown out the words.  And, yet, I know must try. It’s too important. It’s critical that others know just how real God is and how He orchestrates events for our greater good. The story of December 8, 2011 is proof of such. May I never forget or take for granted the love and responsibility with which God has gifted me.

The story actually started in early October when I began searching for air-fare to come for a visit just before Christmas. I was planning to fly in on Dec. 10th, which also happened to be my 50th birthday. Already struggling a bit with this milestone birthday and not wanting Denny to feel like she had to put together some sort of celebration, I thought it would be easier to just travel that day.

To paint the picture more completely for you, I had been bidding on tickets through Priceline for several weeks trying to get the best deal. For those of you who haven’t ever used Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price,” you have to submit a method of payment along with an offer for airfare on selected travel dates. If your offer is accepted, your credit card is charged and you are the sole owner of a non-refundable airline ticket.

Anyhow, somewhere around mid-October—after two weeks and a dozen or so rejected offers —I decided to try one more time, after which, if unsuccessful, I would just outright buy a ticket. I logged on and filled in all the information along with an even lower price than I had attempted before. It was a long shot, but I figured I had nothing to lose. I was ecstatic when it was accepted at almost 40 percent less than the going ticket price. God had answered yet another prayer! My desire to be there with my friends obviously lined up with His will for me.

But, wait. The departure was 7:05 a.m. December 8, 2011. December 8th?  It was supposed to be December 10th. December 10th was the dreaded birthday and the date my work vacation started. God, however, obviously had another plan and what I thought was a mistake turned out to be yet another affirmation that He is always, and in all ways, in charge.

And, so, in the early morning hours of December 8, I sat back in the seat thankful that even on a full flight I had somehow managed to get a seat all to myself. Again, there was God, showing me that He was always looking out for me and that He knew I had much to think and pray about, especially on this day.  Like how in the world I was going to get through this trip.  Barb was gone. You were very sick and Denny was quickly slipping into a pit justifiably described as hell on earth as everything she knew and loved was systematically being stripped away from her.  She was looking more and more like a female, modern day version of Job. I hurt for her, to the core of my being, I hurt.

As the stewardess stopped momentarily in front of my seat to close the overhead compartment, she gave me a sympathetic nod. My pain, obviously visible to even a stranger, quickly liquidated and turned into a stream of tears.  I had so hoped that I would get there in time to say goodbye to Barb, but instead would be attending her funeral.

Oh, my dear God, how quickly life can change. Not just Barbie, but you too. Just a few months before, you were both so full of life, running circles around me, all the while smiling the most infectious smiles I have ever seen. Now, I was on my way to Canada to say a final farewell to Barb and to be by you and Denny’s sides as you both continued to maneuver your own deep, dark valley.

I sat back in my seat, ear buds tucked tightly in my ears and cranked up the Christian tunes. There was time for a lot of prayers between the airport runways of Atlanta, Georgia and Edmonton, Alberta.  And, as soon as the plane took off, the praying commenced.

During a short layover in Denver and before boarding the final leg of my day’s journey, I texted Denny to see how she was doing. She had been pretty emotional the night before when I talked to her, but was adamant that she would be the one to pick me up at the airport. I begged her to let one of our other friends do it, but, as per usual, she got the final word and she would be there waiting for me.  Period. She didn’t reply to my text, however; and I presumed she was probably busy with Barb’s funeral planning and taking care of you.

Back on the plane, I started to get more and more anxious. Denny was going through so much heartache and seemed to be beginning to struggle a bit with her faith.  She was finding it hard to fight anymore; her strength understandably gone. Just as this illness had stripped you of your physical muscles, Denny was feeling stripped of her spiritual muscles. She still loved God. She still believed in Jesus and she still believed in heaven. In fact, those were the only things that made any sense to her at all anymore. Yet they seemed so far away and her heart continued to crumble under the weight of it all.

And here I sat on this Canada-bound airplane wondering why God would possibly interject me into the world of such wonderful people, just as your world’s began to unravel. What could I possibly do to help? What was His plan? Why you? Why me? Why now?

My mind, my heart and my emotions were swirling like a hurricane as the plane taxied down the Denver tarmac and I again turned on my music, once again getting lost in my own little world of praise, worship and prayer. About halfway through the four-hour flight, “Hold My Heart” by Tenth Avenue North came on and I was immediately transported back to exactly one summer before when my previously-planned visit turned out to be a time of support as Denny’s brother, Stevie, had tragically drowned just the week before.

“One tear in the driving rain, One voice in a sea of pain Could the maker of the stars Hear the sound of my breakin’ heart? One light, that’s all I am Right now I can barely stand. If You’re everything You say You are Won’t You come close and hold my heart.”

As the song pervaded my heart on that day in late June, I turned every word into a fervent prayer for my friend, Denny, pleading with God to please—just as the song beseeches—to come close and hold my friend’s heart.  As the song continued, I began to feel a sense of peace and then an inexplicable nudge to open my eyes and look out the window. When I did, I saw something that I shall never forget. Right there, on a canvas of deep blue sky and billowing clouds, were clouds in the distinctive shape of two strong hands gently cradling a heart. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and quickly reached for my camera, but when I looked back up, the image was gone. I may not have gotten the picture with my camera, but it was forever etched into my memory and heart to be recalled many times in the days and years to come—including that December day in 2011 as I traveled once again to see my friends.

Leaning forward in my seat, I wondered if perchance God might give me another sign. Praise and worship lyrics still dancing in my ears, I studied the clouds, but no matter how hard I tried, I saw nothing. I then looked towards the ground, thinking perhaps I would see something there. Still, nothing. I settled back into my seat disappointed, but continuing to pray when I decided to try one more time.

Sitting forward once again, I pressed my forehead to the window pane and gazed at the sky like a kid waiting for Santa to appear in the Christmas parade. The sky at this point was cloudless and there was nothing really to see when all of a sudden a streak of white shot across blue sky. It happened so quickly, I almost gave myself whiplash snapping my neck to the left to see if I could see the plane that obviously just left this trail. However, I saw nothing.  “Man, that was way too close,” I thought to myself. I didn’t think planes were allowed to fly so close to one another.  Not to mention, that thing must have flying at the speed of light. I settled back into my seat quite perplexed and a little nervous. If that was a mistake by air controllers, perhaps I should be worried. And, if it were a message from God, I didn’t get it. It was not near as obvious as my previous experience.

As I continued to ponder what it could have possibly been, the flight attendants began preparing the cabin for landing. I turned off my iPod as instructed and began stowing all of my belongings for landing. In less than a half an hour, I should be on the ground and on my way through customs. My emotions shifted from anxiety to more excitement as I knew I was about to see the people who had become so near and dear to me.

Having visited several times before, I had become somewhat of a pro at maneuvering through customs. I breezed through and, luggage in tow,  followed my fellow travelers through the concourses and hallways leading to the lobby where you and Denny usually waited for me.

Walking through the doors, I looked around for Denny. Not seeing her right away, I figured she was probably hiding around the corner and laughing at me looking around like a lost puppy. She loved to make me look like a dork and, to be fair, I often did the same to her. I loved when we would make you laugh with our silliness, and when I knew all you could do was shake your head, it made me laugh, too.

In a calculated effort to outsmart her and maintain at least a shred of my self-professed coolness, I stepped to the side and looked down at my phone. As I peered back up, I saw a couple of familiar faces walking towards me. It was Alex and Trina.

“Good,” I thought to myself, Denny had decided to take a break and ask for help. We exchanged hugs and I started into my story of how customs didn’t try to give me the third degree for once. As I used Neil’s name a few sentences in, I noticed Trina’s eyes filling with tears. Alex’s face grew dim and right there in the middle of the Edmonton Airport, I heard these words, “Brenda, Neil passed away this morning.”

Neil, I’m telling you, the world came to a screeching halt right then and there. It just couldn’t be true. Maybe I had fallen asleep on the airplane and was having a nightmare. There was no way that you could leave this earth this soon. There was no way you could leave your wife or your struggling church. There was just no way.

I began to hyperventilate as my sweet friends, themselves sobbing, guided me to a nearby chair. And, right there, in that moment, it all became clear.

I looked down at the airline ticket in my hand. The December 8th Priceline ticket I held was far from a mistake. I was pre-destined to fly in on this very day as support for my dearest friend now plunged into the darkest hour of her life.

And that streak against the sky; that was you, my sweet friend; it was you, doing a fly-by and letting me know that you were indeed ok.  I could always see the passion in your eyes when you spoke of flying; how exhilarating it was for you to play high above the earth, amidst the clouds and along the very threshold of Heaven.

Yes, my dear Neil, every single time I see an airplane etching its own beautiful, feathery brushstroke of white amongst the clouds, I think of you and I know in the deepest reaches of my heart that you live in a constant state of that same exhilaration multiplied by infinity. I thank our awesome God every single day for writing me into you and Denny’s story and for this new symbol and hope and joy.

Keep flying, my dear friend. We love you. We miss you. We will see you again, but not before we fulfill this purpose that God has placed before us and for which you played and still play a pivotal role.

But please, Neil, please ask our Dad in Heaven to guide Denny’s hand to the rip-cord on her own chute. I know that I know that she will safely land on her feet, but the freefall sometimes takes her breath away and, even today, two years later, she seems to forget.

Let this day–December 8, 2013, be the day that she feels your love and His love to such a degree that she can once again see life from your high-flying and heavenly perspective. Amen and Ehmen!

Sending much love from earth to heaven,

Brenda (aka “Wife Number 2)