steadfast love

Today marks two months since the accident; I'm already tired of counting the months, knowing just how many are yet to come. It still doesn't feel real to me yet, still feels like Dad will get home from some trip next week or something, still look at the pictures and feel like someone who is so foundational in my life can't just be gone, can he? There is so much life in those pictures; can it really have been two months? Why haven't we woken up from this bad dream yet? That is the inner battle, but there are so many other forces of comfort, encouragement, and truly steadfast love that have been the most incredible support.

In the aftermath of such a blind-siding tragedy, people kept telling us, "If you need anything, just let me know." I don't know if I really believed them. But I do now. In the last two months, the generosity of people who love Dad and us has left me speechless, bewildered, and unspeakably grateful. The fundraiser for my tuition has blown away all my expectations; just look at how incredibly generous people are, even anonymously! Mom has been working on projects all over the property, trying to maintain or finish things like the pool, the kitchen, the flooring, etc. There is too much for us to do, and honestly we can't even lift half of the tools we need to do these projects! But people have given hours upon hours upon hours of their time, energy, and sweat to make these things happen.

Yesterday, as we were preparing the living room for the new flooring to be laid, we wrote things all over the old floor boards as a way of blessing the future. I wrote a phrase I had read that morning, translated into English in so many ways. In Hebrew it's only three words, kiy le'olam chesdo. Kiy means "for," le is a prefix roughly meaning "until," olam is "forever," and chesdo is the noun chesed with a 3rd masculine singular possessive affix, making it something like "his steadfast love." This noun chesed is translated differently in each version of the English Bible, anything from "steadfast love" to "mercy" to "lovingkindness." The entire phrase is perhaps most commonly known as "His love endures forever," though the verb "endures" isn't actually found in the original Hebrew. Rather, the psalmist (Psalm 118) is reminding the reader that God's deep, steadfast, faithful, merciful love is already stretching out to... forever. Eternal. Never-ending. Adding the word "endures" might make it seem like His love for us is pushing forward, trying to make it, enduring and bearing with us despite ourselves. It could tempt us to fall into a rather self-depricating view of ourselves as recipients of begrudged love. But rather, "His steadfast love is to forever," in the present tense, means that there is no end, no bound, no escaping His love.

I wrote those words on the floor last night because that is what people have shown us these past two months. They've shown us free, unconditional love that is anything but begrudged and duty. From the person who anonymously paid for our new flooring, to the mom who brings us a meal, to the friends whose home is always open, I know I am loved. If I ever doubted it, God has been using everyone around me to prove it otherwise.

And I wrote Psalm 139 down as well; go read it - it is such a beautiful declaration of God's unfailing love.

Thank you. Thank you for your steadfast love. You are a glimpse of God, a taste of his kingdom, an in-breaking of his kingdom here and now.


psalm 42

I feel like I have nothing to write this week. It's been a week of ups and downs, laughter and tears. Please continue to pray for our family, that we would be able to love each other well. More than anything I want Jesus, I want to know my Father, I want more of the Spirit in me. I opened up to Psalm 42 this morning, and it continues to be true. 

Psalm 42

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”
These things I remember
as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
under the protection of the Mighty Oned
with shouts of joy and praise
among the festive throng.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me;
therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.

By day the Lord directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God my Rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?”
My bones suffer mortal agony
as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.


still - a psalm

I've always been told that you can find any emotion in the Psalms, and I'm sure that's true. But I've had a hard time finding psalms that match where I'm at right now. I'm not angry at God, I don't feel abandoned or alone, I just want... I just want. I'm not sure what. Dad back, probably. And just for this world to not be so broken. But I love my Father in heaven, even as I am bewildered here on earth. I couldn't find quite the right psalm or even many songs to sing. So I talked with a friend, and decided to try writing my own. I waited for two or three weeks, waiting for it to come, praying for it, listening for it, and this week it came. And it has helped me, given me words to pray when I didn't know what to pray. Maybe it will help you, or maybe you can write one too. 

still - a psalm 

I have fallen, fallen on a firm foundation. 

Oh Father, still I know you, 
Still I trust you, 
Still I love you.
Still I am torn and tattered by the fall.  

You have taught me who you are. 
You are my comfort; 
be my comfort.
You are my strength; 
be my strength. 
You are my hope; 
be my hope. 
You are my voice; 
be my voice.  

Find the depths of my soul and bring it to my eyes. 
Teach me to know myself so I can bring myself to you.  

Why do I still hold on to control? 
Why do I still live like I am God?  

Layer after layer, Father, you know.  

Deep, deep down I don't want this anymore, I don't want to learn the hard way.  

But deeper still I want you more than anything; still, even knowing how much it hurts, I would lose everything to gain you.  

Oh but Father, there are some prayers I wish you did not hear. 
But you hear. Oh Hearer of prayer, you are my lifeline; without you I am lost.
But with you I am still. 
Still, because my mind flies in all directions at once, and you are with me in the tension in the middle. 
Still, as my mind preaches to my heart that you are good. 
Still, waiting for your voice, your caress, your embrace. Knowing you come.  

I ask for results, not reasons. 
It wasn't supposed to be this way. 
This isn't supposed to happen.  

And you are not distant, you are not ambivalent, you are not stoic.  

You are the one who chases me with goodness and love. 

You are the one who weeps, who stores my every tear. 

You are the one who gave me hope before I ever knew how much I would need it.  

You are the one who makes all things new; oh Father, when will you make me new?


dear anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

Your kindness has overwhelmed me. Through the memorial fund and through raising money for tuition, you have blessed me with thousands of dollars, literally thousands. I am staggered by you. 

I want to, as personally as I can, thank you for your incredible generosity. Whether your gift was $5 or $1,000, your initiative and desire to go above and beyond to help me has made such a huge impact on me. 

Jesus said, "Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." (Matthew 6) I never put myself in the "needy" category before, and compared to many, many people all over the world, I am not needy at all. But I do need help to keep on the track that God has been leading me on, especially returning to school in the fall. You saw my need and stepped up, even knowing I might never know who you are. 

I started off this year in Hebrew class studying Isaiah 1, and put to memory the central theme of the chapter (and the book): cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, please the widow's cause. It wasn't until we were preparing the Scripture reading for Dad's memorial service that I suddenly realized that I am fatherless. Never without my heavenly Father, but without my earthly one. But before I had realized this, you had. Before I could begin to fathom the depths of change that would have to happen in my life, you were already stepping up to minimize those changes. 

Your gifts have blessed me in so many ways. 

First, to help me return to school means that I will be able to keep pursuing the path that I have been following God on for years now, to work in translation of the Bible and literacy among unreached people groups. And while taking a year off to earn money was an option, I was also blessed to be given the role of RA (Resident Assistant) at school this year, a leadership position that I have been so excited about for months because I will get a front seat to see what God is doing at Trinity Western University as I invest in a dorm of girls. I'm so eager to fulfill this role. 

Also, your gifts mean that I can step back from 60+ hours of work each week and just work one job. This means I have time to spend the evenings with my family, which is such a gift. During the day, it still just feels like Dad is at work. Mornings and evenings it is especially apparent that he's not here with us, and I'm so grateful to be able to be with my family during the evenings. Working just one job means that I have time to take a class online this summer so I can drop one in the fall, giving myself a lighter workload at school this coming semester. I'll be able to take a bit more time to rest, think, cry, pray, and do whatever I need to do as I process this loss. 

One of the most significant ways your gift has impacted me is simply in how I view everyone around me. I know I am not alone - so far from it! Because of your anonymity, everyone could be you. I have a beautiful debt of gratitude to unknown people, which means the way I view each person I meet has changed. Instead of seeming like "Anonymous" is a blur of no one, I feel like everyone I know has stepped up to say, "We're here for you." It's a little scary to think This coworker I'm standing next to might have given me $200, or to think, This friend I haven't texted back might have donated their own money to me. It's scary, but I know I can trust you. 

You have likely prayed that I would feel the love of my heavenly Father, feel his arms around me. I do. And you have been such a huge part of that. This blog post is just words, just the beginning of expressing my thankfulness. Thank you for coming forward to do what my Dad would have done. Our Father in heaven will reward you where I never could. 

Thank you, thank you, thank you. 




my dad and my dog

If you were following my blog around this time last year, you know that it was incredibly hard to say goodbye to Boo, my dog for fourteen years. It was hard for months and months - it's still hard. I still haven't opened the box of her fur, I still haven't read back through the post I wrote the night before we had to put her down. I still haven't decided if I ever want my own dog again because it was so hard to say goodbye.

She was "my dog," but who knows whether her favorite person was actually me or Dad. She adored Dad, and he loved her too. I'll never forget how I would know when Dad was awake in the morning; I could tell because Boo, laying at the end of the hallway, would start thumping her tail against the ground because she knew he was coming. He was so faithful to her; part of how I knew I could trust him was because of how well he took care of my dog. I remember when she stabbed her leg on a loose piece of fencing, you would have thought she was Dad's own child from how he cared for her and got her to the veterinarian and did whatever she needed to heal. For years I've said that I draw conclusions about men by how they treat dogs - now I know how I came to that conclusion. After we put Boo to sleep, Dad and I almost never talked about it. But I knew it was because neither of us wanted to; it was so painful. I rarely ever saw my Dad cry, but I remember the tears in his eyes that day. I had a ring made for myself with a paw print and "I'll always love you" inside the band; I showed it to him, and that may have been the last we really spoke of her. Until yesterday.

One of Dad's best friends, a fellow art professor, came over yesterday morning. He brought a gift in a bag and I thought it was for mom, whose birthday was yesterday. But he said it was for me. Puzzled, I read the note he put with it.

"Shelby, your father did a photo shoot for me at the beginning of last summer. He gave me an invoice but then said,  'You know could you please do this painting for Shelby for me? I don't know the cost, but I'll do another photo shoot or whatever...' I said I would but by the end of summer I had never gotten to it so told him I would just pay him. He told me, 'Please Tim, just promise me you'll do this painting, I don't care when you do it. Just please do this for Shelby.' I promised I would, and today I fulfill that promise. Lots of love, Tim Timmerman."

I had no idea what this painting was going to be, but I was already a mess of tears. Then I opened it.

I still don't have words to describe how much this all means. It is so hard to receive the most beautiful gift from someone you can't thank anymore. I so badly want him to know how perfect it is, how much I will treasure this, and how the greatest treasure of it all is to know that he wanted it for me, even months after we said goodbye. After four weeks of separation, it was like Dad was actually still there a little bit, there was fresh word, a new gift. So it hurt a lot to receive this gift, but I would not have had it any other way.

Isn't it perfect?

My God is so good. He has not forgotten a single tear I have ever cried. There were days I wondered if He cared, if He really loved me. But he does. He loves me and my dad and that dog. 

I did a national photo contest in 2008; Dad taught me how to use the nice fancy digital camera and helped me edit the lighting. The photo won first place. 

I've kept this photo with me in all my travels, from TeenPact to China to Canada and back. Two of the most special beings I have ever known and loved. Now they are together again. And someday I'll be there too. 

The theme was Faithfulness. Oh, my God is faithful. 


all about the light

One of the hardest decisions we had to make on May 23rd, when Dad passed away, was whether to allow two pieces of Dad's eyes to be donated. Yet it was also a clear decision; we all knew Dad would say, "Hand 'em over, I don't need 'em anymore!" And so we agreed.

This week, we received a letter from the donation organization that spoke of how Dad's gift has changed lives. Because of his donation, there are two people who have been able to regain their vision. We can hardly think of anything more bittersweet and beautiful.

How appropriate that the man whose life's mantra was "It's all about the Light" should be the means bringing literal light to two people who had been in darkness.

How beautiful that in a way Dad's artistic eye, his love to gaze into creation, is preserved in the eyes of other human beings; what a gift they've received.

Dad brought so much light through his unending humor, humble confidence, and genuine care.

But he also sought the true Light - Jesus, who brings the only eternal hope, the only real light.

I've thought of these verses from the book of John many times; they're referring to John the Baptist, but it seems like my Dad, John, just fits right in there too.

"There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know him. He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him. Yet to all who did receive Him, He gave them the right to be called children of God..." 
John 1:6-12 

Dad, you bore witness to the Light.  I have seen the Heavenly Father through you. You gave me so much; it feels like you gave me everything. My entire life I have watched you constantly giving yourself, your time, your desires, your money, and your heart to your girls here at home. And you gave yourself to your coworkers, and you gave yourself to your students, and so many more. And even now, more people are getting to see and experience life to its fullest because of you.

I love you, Dad. Happy Father's Day.


how are you doing?

It's the most common question I and my family have been asked lately. We are grateful for the many, many people who care for us so deeply and truly want to know how we are. Even so, the question can become overwhelming and exhausting, not because we don't want to share, but because we don't know the answer. There is too much happening in our hearts, minds, and lives to try to get it into any brief answer. And even with the abundance of emotions, there just aren't words or clarity enough to figure it out. But for those of you who have been praying for us and who dearly want to know how we're doing, I'm going to try to update a bit.

We're in shock. Or at least we must still be. Even as we have made long-term decisions, had financial conversations, performed a memorial service, and walked past the empty space in the garage, it still seems like this is just a very long drill. It's like Dad is frozen in time at work, on a trip or something. I think most of us have hypothesized in our minds what life would be like if we were to lose a family member; it feels like this is just a very extensive playing out of that hypothetical situation. Because this doesn't happen to a family like ours, does it? This is someone else's John Bennett everyone is talking about, not ours, right?

We're dazed. One moment we'll be totally normal, just washing dishes or something, and the next moment we realize we've been standing staring at nothing for who knows how long. I forgot how to use the microwave, just stood there looking at the buttons without any thoughts actually going through my head. I used to think people made meals for grieving families because it was just nice, but I realize now that the idea of planning and executing a meal was too much. But the daze, the shock, the fog is a good place to be in that it numbs the pain, the reality that we feel edging closer. Sometimes that numbness isn't just emotional, but even physical too. But usually being numb is more desired than feeling the pain. Being numb is the only thing that enables me to write this kind of a blog post.

We're supported. I can't say enough how grateful we are for the unbelievable support we have been shown. We've been given so many beautiful meals. We've had teams of men come to mow our fields, haul in firewood, fix our lawn mower, and so many other tasks. People have promised to be in this for the long haul, and it will be a long haul. Over one hundred people raised over $12,000 for us, most of whom are anonymous and all of whom went above and beyond; our church has supported us financially as well. We are overwhelmed by this monetary support that will help us so much in the future; I don't have the words to say thank you. And we know we are being prayed over constantly; we know because we can feel it.

We're hopeful. We have so many reasons for hope. The circumstances of the accident show that even in the moments of tragedy, God was already taking evil and turning it into something beautiful. But more than anything, we are firmly rooted on the foundation of Jesus. His salvation means that Dad is in Heaven now, we will see him again, and we will all be resurrected like Jesus on the future, perfect, New Heaven and New Earth. These are words and beliefs we have known for years upon years, but we really do believe them. We really do believe that Heaven is real, and Dad is there. It still tears us apart to not be with him now, to not have those moments with him that we had planned on and dreamed of, but Jesus gives us the ability to breathe. Jesus gives us the ability to actually say "It's going to be okay," even though we know that "okay" won't come in this life. I'm sure that it is the prayers of hundreds of dear friends that have laid these truths so prominently upon our hearts. We don't know what the next few days, weeks, months, and years will look like. We don't know if the biggest waves of grief are about to hit or are still far off. But in the waves and the storm that we know will come, we have this hope as an anchor for our souls.

Please continue to pray for us. Write our names on a bathroom mirror or put a post-it note in your car or set an alarm once a week on your phone - we boldly ask for your prayers because we know God will use them, and we can't do this on our own. Please pray for:
- Peace and confidence in the love of God
- Wisdom for decisions to be made
- Help in maintaining our home and property
- Safety and health for our family
And perhaps most of all:
- For Jesus to break into our hearts so that he can fill us in the ways we are empty, fill us with the love of a father or a husband, in the way no one else will ever be able to do.

Thank you all. We love you.