As most of the world knows by now, a false alert was pushed out to cellphones across the state of Hawaii last Saturday morning warning of an incoming ballistic missile. Panic ensued for nearly half an hour before we were all assured this was a mistake and there was no real threat. But I’ll be honest, Aaron and I were never worried. While the rest of the state was thinking they were about to die, we were sitting on the couch, cozy, drinking coffee, probably scrolling Instagram. And this isn’t because we’re just steady, calm people, not prone to panic and worry (do you know me at all?) -  we just didn’t get the alert on our phones. We were absolutely oblivious until my friend sent this text:


When I opened Twitter to see that no major news outlets were reporting it, and we never heard any sirens – which were tested as recently as December – our original theory was that someone made the graphic as a joke (a terrible joke, by the way). But then a couple of minutes later, a Hawaii news station I follow retweeted Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard saying the threat was false. So that was it. There was no point in time where Aaron or I ever thought the threat was real.

But as the news started pouring out about the alert, we quickly realized how it affected everyone around us. Saturday night we were at a bonfire with friends and nearly the only topic of conversation was the false missile alert. Did you get the alert? Where were you? What did you do? Several friends drove to a military base. Others saw people running toward Diamond Head for shelter. Another watched as frantic tourists bombarded helpless police officers. 9-1-1 lines were jammed. People were scared for their lives. I know that had we received the alert I would have probably lost it. Goodbye, emotional stability! Farewell, sanity!

I don’t know how often you all think about death, but I think about it a lot. I’m not trying to be morbid or anything, but I just feel like I think about it more often than the average person. It might have something to do with the fact that I lived next to a cemetery for seven years. You can’t escape thinking about it when everyday there is a new plot of dry earth dug up near your parking lot. Last Saturday, a lot more people were thinking about their death, and probably in that span of 30 minutes, the whole of their lives and whether or not they did it right. This is so cliché – I know that. But the truth is a lot of people thought they had 15 minutes to live on Saturday. A lot of people were running for their lives, trying to figure out how to protect their children and themselves. A lot of people were resigned to the fact that it was over. And that's when you start to think about your life.

While we were home in Nebraska, we recently heard a sermon on Ecclesiastes. Solomon, the writer of this particular book of the Bible, was the richest man in the world. He had everything – you name it, he had it, and if he didn’t have it, he could get it in overwhelming abundance. Even still, at the end of it all, he looked back and thought it was all worthless. It meant nothing. All the wealth and prestige and stuff he had accumulated was garbage. So in light of his revelations, the focus of the sermon was on living for the moments that matter. Making our lives count. It's not about possessions and money and power. It's about not missing moments with our people. Not giving our lives over to bitterness, anger, addictions, feeling like a victim, being a slave to our pasts, but instead moving onward and forward and not missing the life that’s happening right now, in front of us, today. Moments that we’ll never get back. Moments we’ll never experience again.

I’ve missed a lot of moments in my life. I know I have because I was wasting my life wishing to go back and make choices over again. Wishing my life hadn’t gone the way it did. Wishing away all that I had been given with an ungrateful heart, nursing my wounds and remembering all the ways I had been wronged. I missed moments with family and friends. I missed opportunities. I missed them because of stored up hurt and anger and bitterness. I missed them because I was striving for what I thought life should be instead of living in the reality of what was. 

I wish I wouldn’t have _________. 
My life would be different if only _________.
My life would be better if __________.

Do you ever rehearse your answers to these kinds of statements? Mentally fill them in whenever you're reminded of a certain person or scenario or life event? Use them as an excuse for where you are in your life? I used to spend a lot of time on these kinds of thoughts – imagining these kinds of scenarios. Meanwhile, my real life was passing me by. In her first book, Cold Tangerines, Shauna Niequist highlights this idea perfectly – about life and moments and not living in the past. Because we can rehash our stories and look back at our choices or the choices made for us by other people and see our narrative as tragedy, or we can move forward with forgiveness and grace and love – for others and for ourselves, realizing that we'll never get our moments back again. Shauna calls this kind of thing letting them off the hook. She has a whole essay about it in her book. She writes,

“When I’m trying to forgive someone, I picture myself physically lifting that person off a big hook, like in a cartoon. I never want to. I prefer to stew and focus my anger on them like a laser pointer and wish them illnesses and bad skin. I hope that they will get fat and people will talk behind their backs and their toilets will overflow and their computers will crash. I work on my anger toward them like I’m working on a loose tooth with my tongue, back and forth… “

But there comes a point when you have to let all that go – when you have to let that go so you stop missing your life. So maybe today you need to let someone off the hook for all the ways they wronged you – and I’m not talking to you if you are currently in a situation where someone is wronging you – abusing you in some way, physically harming you – you DO NOT let those people off the hook. You tell on them and you get help. But I am talking to you if you are hanging on to the past in some way. If you’re letting bitterness and anger tell your story. If your whole life is seen through a lens of, “Yeah, but my life would be better if ______.” I’ll never forget what my dad said to me one time, “Life moves fast. Don’t wish it away.” Don't wish it away! Not parts of it. Not whole chapters. Not current circumstances while you wait for the next thing. I'm here to tell you that one minute you're 21 thinking you have all the time in the world and then you're 33 and you're wondering where time went and my dad is 58 now and he feels the same way and now I sound like that Five for Fighting song. But your life is right now. Let yourself off the hook. Mentally pick yourself up off that hook every single day if you have to so that you don’t waste your life and miss the moments happening today all around you. Let your parents off the hook. Let your ex off the hook. Let your kids or your neighbor or whoever wronged you off the hook so you can move forward and live the one life you've been given. 

Faced with our own mortality, like many felt here on Saturday morning, do you really want to look at the whole of your life and feel like you missed it? Wasted it? Watched it go by while you worked on your anger and bitterness like a loose tooth? Sacrificed your family and friends on the altar of power and prestige? I don’t. I want to get to the end and know I gave out every ounce of love and grace and forgiveness I could possibly muster. I want to make a career out of letting people off the hook. I don’t want to miss any more moments - any laughs or smiles or opportunities to be an encourager, a comforter, a hug. I want to live each day in all its sweetness and difficulty and trial and triumph. I want to feel each moment and squeeze the life out of it. Capture it in my heart, undistracted by the past, laser-focused on all that's ahead. So that when it is my time to head on home to glory, I don't feel like I missed it all.

In another essay in Cold Tangerines, Shauna writes,

Today is your big moment. Moments, really. The life you’ve been waiting for is happening all around you.... This is life in all its glory, swirling and unfolding around us, disguised as pedantic, pedestrian non-events. But pull of the mask and you will find your life, waiting to be made, chosen, woven, crafted. 

Your life, right now, today, is exploding with energy and power and detail and dimension, better than the best movie you have ever seen. You and your family and your friends and your house and your dinner table and your garage have all the makings of a life of epic proportions, a story for the ages. Because they all are. Every life is. 

You have stories worth telling, memories worth remembering, dreams worth working toward, a body worth feeding, a soul worth tending, and beyond that, the God of the universe dwells within you, the true culmination of super and natural. 

You are more than dust and bones. 
You are spirit and power and image of God. 
And you have been given Today.” 

Life moves fast. Don't wish it away. It'll be gone in a moment. Don't miss it.

Dear Grandpa.

Almost three weeks ago, I sat in my grandparent's living room and talked and laughed with my grandpa and gave him a hug and told him I loved him. And then last Friday, I stood in that same living room with my family surrounding him as he drew his very last breath. It's devastatingly strange how life can change so quickly. 

I know that I am fortunate to even know my grandparents. Many people don't have that opportunity. But I have lived my life up to this point with all four of my grandparents, and even had the sweet privilege of knowing five of my eight great grandparents. The blessing of this is not lost on me. The greater gift has been watching them all walk with grace through life's joys and difficulties, loving the Lord and their families well. 

Over the last couple of years I have been reminded often about the brevity of life - maybe this has something to do with living next to a cemetery, or more so watching several families walk through heavy grief of their own. But I just want to plead with you to remember that life is so short. Don't wait to make amends. Don't wait to say the words, "I love you," "I miss you," "I'm sorry," "Forgive me." Don't let your pride or your anger or your fear hold you back from connection and relationship. Use your words to speak life as often as possible. It will all slip by so fast.

My grandpa lived a good long life, but it doesn't change the sadness I have felt. And while my family has hope in seeing him again - knowing he's more alive right now than ever before - I read one time that, "hurting with hope still hurts." This is the truth I've felt this last week. And since I don't know how to process things except to write them down, I'm sharing with you the letter I wrote and read to my grandpa the day before he died. I held his hand and read it to him so that he would know the truth about everything before he went home to Jesus. More than anything I want to share this with you because his testimony is one of faith and if that's not the point of this life, then I don't know what is. 


Dear Grandpa,

We found out from the doctors this week that you’re not doing too well. We knew you didn’t feel very good and you kept going to the doctor and they kept telling you they didn’t know what was wrong. I’m a little mad at them for that – for not helping you feel better or finding the cancer sooner. So I’m sorry you have felt sick for so long. I wish there was something we could do but they tell us there is nothing more.

I could tell you didn’t feel well last week when I was over at your house, but you laughed just the same as you always have when you recounted life on the farm where you grew up. You knew exactly what I was talking about when I asked about your childhood home outside of Hickman and you could describe it just as well. I left your house that day thinking that we should have spent more time talking about your childhood – more learning about where you grew up and what your life was like so long ago with all your siblings and your parents. You were growing up during World War II so I imagine your childhood was a bit of a wild ride. We should have spent more time talking about when you met grandma and what your young love was like and what went through your head when you found out she was pregnant. We should have spent more time talking about those kinds of things – the hard things and the ways they forced you to learn and grow. I think we all like to hide those parts of our stories, but I’ve found it’s best if we talk about them a little more often.

There are other things I wish I knew more about now that I’m looking back on all that I’ll miss and all that we won’t be able to ask you anymore. I wish I knew more about your job as a mail carrier – you spent so many years riding the same route. I remember we used to borrow your uniform for a Halloween costume sometimes and you used to tell stories of people on your route leaving you gifts in their mailbox at Christmas. I wish I knew more about the trips you took to Estes Park with my dad and his siblings when he was younger. I just went there for the first time last year and it’s so beautiful. I can see why you liked it so much. I wish I knew more about the things that made you laugh and made you cry and the moments that you were filled with so much joy you could burst.

Grandpa reading to me and my older sister. I was obviously super into it. 

Grandpa reading to me and my older sister. I was obviously super into it. 

But what I do know is that you have a really good belly laugh. I have always liked when someone – usually one of your kids – says something really funny and you tip your head back and laugh. Mike or my dad could usually make you do that. But oftentimes you were the one making us all laugh with a quick-witted remark. I know you are the reason we throw around single Dutch words as if they’re a regular part of conversation. I know you love a good slice of sweet dessert and a cup of coffee on Sunday afternoons. I always liked coming to your house and sharing that with you because you never made me feel bad for wanting a second slice – you just joined in. You love Husker football and Everybody Loves Raymond and I’m fairly certain you’ve watched that Chevy Chase Christmas Vacation movie more times than anyone else. You love to talk politics and your conservative values have rubbed off on all of us. And I think you’re probably like my dad in that you know more than you ever say, but we have always needed your words and appreciate them more than you may have ever believed.

Grandpa, did you know that I remember walking paper routes with you and grandma in the summer time when my parents had to work? We were walking in the heat of the day in north Lincoln, slinging papers on to doorsteps and I’m glad I have that memory with you – of how you were a hard worker. I remember you working at the polling station at church during each election. It was nice to see you there, serving and setting a good example. I have always known the importance of voting and participating in our country’s elections and I know part of that is because of you. I remember growing up and having Christmas dinner in the basement and opening gifts and Aunt Colleen reading a funny poem or story that she wrote for us. I remember how grandma always made sure we had drumsticks in the basement freezer if we wanted one – but I think that was mostly for you too because she knows all about that sweet tooth of yours.

Grandpa, one thing I’m really thankful for is your decision to take your family to Lincoln Berean Church one Sunday morning so many years ago. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for that choice because my dad met my mom in youth group at that very place. I don’t know what led you there, but I know you stayed faithfully for many, many years and I am so thankful for your example. I remember when you were on a video in the main service talking about tithing and how the Lord always provided for you and grandma. I felt really proud of you for that. You showed us all what it means to trust God and if you didn’t do that we wouldn’t be here today – none of your grandkids or your great grandkids. We’re all really lucky to have you, Grandpa. I hope you know that.

I’m also thankful for your example of marriage. Over sixty years with grandma and I’m sure there were hard times and great times and times that made you cry you were laughing so hard. I’ve seen some of those. But as I enter my own marriage I am feeling the weight of its importance. The weight of what it displays to the world – a picture of the gospel. So I’m thankful that even in the hard times, you stayed. You and grandma always stuck by each other and in a world where that is less and less common, I’m just thankful for your steady heart toward hers. I know you weren’t perfect, but you did the best you could to stay obedient and love well. I read one time that life is all about “faithfulness where you are, a day at a time,” and I think you did that really well and displayed that to all of us.

A couple of years ago, when you first got sick, I wrote in my journal that I was kind of sad I wasn’t married or seriously dating anyone yet because I really wanted that person to meet my grandparents. I know that many people don’t have the luxury of having their grandparents in their life like I do, but since you have been such a big part of my life, I really wanted my husband to meet my grandparents and that was starting to look less and less likely as we all got older and I spent another year alone. I had sort of let that dream go, but the thing is, we have a God who is near and who hears our cries. So when Aaron got to come over to your house and meet you a couple of months ago I felt like that was just the sweetness of the Lord in that moment. You asked last night at the hospital if we were going to have the wedding right then and there and I so wish we could have so you could be there to witness it.

I guess what I want you to know the most is that we’re thankful and we love you – all of us. Your whole family. We’re thankful for God’s gift to give you to us as our dad and grandpa. And we’re so proud of you. I don’t know what Heaven is going to be like, but I was sitting outside today on my break at work – the sun was shining down on my skin and there was a cool breeze floating through the air and I was just hoping that that’s the kind of sweet peace we’ll all feel in Heaven. I know it will be more than we could ever imagine – more glory and comfort and peace. I know that when you get to walk through the gates, you’re going to feel at home – more at home than you have ever felt here. We’ll miss you, that’s for certain, but the real truth of it is you have more life ahead of you in eternity than the 87 years you’ll leave behind. And it might feel a bit scary and unknown right now but I am full of faith in knowing that Jesus will take your hand soon and say, “Welcome home” and any of that fear will be impossible to recall.

You are leaving a legacy of faith and a family coming behind you preaching the same gospel you lived every day. So you should be proud, Grandpa. It’s the most important thing you could have ever done on this earth. I know that when you see Jesus, he will tell you the same. That he’s proud of you. That you ran your race well. That you were a good and faithful servant. Thanks for showing us all the way.

We’ll see you soon. We love you.

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