Amanda and I worked together for a little over a year at an office in California. Both being transplants from the South, we realized we had some common connections back home and sat down for lunch together one day. She has been dear to me ever since.
I was immediately drawn to and intrigued by Amanda’s depth and authenticity. She is both creative and logical, adventurous and ambitious, honest and kind. We quickly learned that we shared a faith in Jesus and a wacky sense of humor. Soon after our initial conversations, we moved desks and I had the privilege of sitting on the other side of the cubicle wall from her.
Amanda is loyal and dependable and real. It was a blessing to sit next to her and observe her living out her faith every day through her work ethic, innate gift of leadership, and her ability to remain positive in more trying circumstances. I loved how she spoke about Jesus and marriage and community, and I will forever admire her quiet confidence and generous heart. She is truly a treasure, just as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside.
Amanda is a precious sister, a brilliant writer, and has a heart full of love for Jesus and for others. May her testimony and her Spirit-filled words humble our hearts and give us eyes to see beauty in our brokenness as we seek a stained glass perspective.
You Are Loved,
May God himself,
the God who makes everything holy and whole,
make you holy and whole,
put you together – spirit, soul, and body
– and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ.
The One who called you is completely dependable.
If he said it, he’ll do it!
– 1 Thessalonians 5:23-28 (MSG)
I’ve grown up mesmerized by the beauty of stained glass windows. My church never had any, but I always admired them in other churches. The artist takes small pieces of glass that come in different shapes and sizes and delicately places them together to make a masterpiece. If you look at a stained glass window from just inches away, you see only one vignette, or perhaps just broken glass, but take a step back – a different perspective – what do you see? You see the whole picture; you see something beautiful. Looking back on my testimony I realize that we are all those pieces of glass, up close we seem to be broken or even without purpose, but when we take a step back we find that the artist, God the creator of everything, in fact makes beauty out of all.
My dad passed away May, 18th 2011, just over a year after his diagnosis. The day he left us I was rushing to work and didn’t tell him I loved him when I left the house. When I received the call at work, I raced home, called my best friend in a panic and tried to make it before his last breath. I pulled up to the house and my sister stood outside shaking her head. I dropped to my knees as the hot summer sun beat down on me, in denial that he was actually gone. My heart still aches thinking about that day, thinking about the last words I should have said to my dad. Everyone says, “your dad knows how much you love him,” and they are absolutely correct. My dad knew exactly how much I loved him, but in my healing I have to come to terms with the fact that we have regrets, and things we wish we could change. I don’t want to make myself feel better about it or make excuses. I want to live differently because of it.
“My heart still aches thinking about that day, thinking about the last words I should have said to my dad.”
My freshman year of college my mother wouldn’t let me attend spring break with all my friends. I was eighteen and clearly not pleased with her decision. I thought she was just being over-protective, but I soon found out, something was wrong with my dad. He was having trouble with fine-motor skills and they thought it was possible he’d had a stroke. As a naive millennial living in this quick-fix society, I figured he’d go to physical therapy and get over it. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I received a call from my mom a few weeks after I returned to school that my father was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, also known as ALS. I didn’t know much, but I knew my grandfather died from it and now my father would have the same fate.
Lou Gehrig’s disease is a progressive disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. The brain loses it’s ability to control and initiate muscle movement, thus people start to lose their ability to speak, eat, move, and eventually breathe. My father was forced to leave his work as a computer contractor before these symptoms crept up on him. This forced my mother, sisters, and grandmother to become full-time caregivers. My mother would stay up all night with him only to go teach school the next day to provide for the family. The year was exhausting for all of us, but for my mom it was excruciating. With each passing day, she watched the man she’d loved for more than half her life lose more of his independence and slip further away from her. First he lost his ability to drive, then his ability to walk. When he started to choke on his food, we knew it was time to put in a feeding tube. In his final months, he lost his ability to speak or write. He was completely dependent on us for every basic human activity we take for granted. Caring for my father physically was harder on me than I like to admit. It wasn’t a pride issue. It was that every time I wiped his mouth or helped him use the bathroom, I was face to face with the harsh reality that I was losing my daddy. ALS made me want to get under the covers and never come out. My heart broke a little more each time I saw the disease capture another part of him.
“It was that every time I wiped his mouth or helped him use the bathroom, I was face to face with the harsh reality that I was losing my daddy.”
Before my father’s illness, my faith was dormant. I went to church but I couldn’t tell you anything about the gospel. Growing up I saw God as angry or wanting me to stay within the lines. Through the year of watching my father wither away I sought answers, clarity, and peace. I always portrayed myself as strong and poised; I rarely spoke about my father’s illness because I didn’t want to let anyone in. That led me to a really lonely and dark place. I’d drive around in my car and all of the sudden just break down crying because my emotions had no where to go. I was so broken beyond just my father dying; I was a hot mess. I was tired of trying to act like I was strong, like it’s admirable or something. I needed more out of life, I knew there had to be more. I turned to God because, quite honestly, I had no where else to turn.
I felt a deep yearning to be whole like the people placed in my life who had a relationship with Christ. I heard Jesus was pretty good at putting people back together. I took a leap of faith to go boldly in prayer and ask Jesus for things small and large and you know what he did? He showed up. He answered each time I asked. People say prayer is powerful, but not just because of healing and miracles. It’s powerful in the way it changes your heart. Having the humility to go to the heavenly Father and ask for something the way you ask for things from your earthly parents transformed the way I viewed God. He was no longer just a sky deity wanting me to turn or burn. I saw the father that he is—a father with whom I can share my most trivial and deepest desires—and he wants nothing more than for us to live bold, radiant lives.
“I felt a deep yearning to be whole like the people placed in my life who had a relationship with Christ. I heard Jesus was pretty good at putting people back together.”
The semester before my father passed I somehow thought it would be a grand idea to take the most hours I could. I prayed for strength to finish the semester strong, and its like God created more hours in the day for me to accomplish all I had to do. My family also dealt with a lot of financial stress: I was trying to study abroad, my dad was obviously out of work, and my mother was making an Oklahoma teacher’s salary. I consistently prayed for his provision and he showed up. The numbers added up, each and every time. I even asked God to take my dad sooner rather than later. I know that may sound cruel but my dad wanted to enjoy his life as much as possible. The sad reality would be that eventually, like many people, he would be stuck in a hospital bed with little to no movement. None of us wanted that for him, so I prayed, God please take him before he’s too far gone. And you know what? He did. I had so much peace when he passed. I knew he was no longer in pain. He could go spend eternity with Jesus where ALS and disease have no life. I thank God he was able to leave this world still enjoying his days.
People often ask me how I was so strong through it all? I wasn’t. I may have appeared to be but that was all the Lord. The burdens I carried were all too heavy, but Jesus whispered, “Let me.” So after a long battle, I handed my life over to him: worries, fears, and the whole messed up bundle. Now don’t get me wrong, there are days I still struggle, but day-to-day I am reminded that I am a child of God. For when I am weak, He is strong. My strength is not self-made, it is not a bi-product of anything I have done, but a part of the inheritance and gift I receive by claiming Him as my one true King.
The burdens I carried were all too heavy, but Jesus whispered, “Let me.”
In the midst of it all it was hard for me to see through the fog, but now I have so much clarity as I step back and look at the season of my dad’s sickness and passing from a different perspective. I see that Jesus is the grooved lead holding all the broken shards of glass in the exact spot they need to be to tell his story. When I look at my whole stained glass picture I see more of Him than anything else. Losing my father was no doubt the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced and though I miss him more than I can describe, I am thankful that God made beautiful things out of the pieces from that year. He used tragedy to humble me, pain to draw near to me, and love to commission me. This world broke me down and showed me I can’t do things on my own. Many people say Christianity and God are for the weak, and they’re right. I am weak, I have always been weak; I was childish to think I could ever do life on my own. I need more of Him and less of me.
We are broken people and this is a broken world. Sometimes when we’re in the midst of the muck and mire it can be hard to look at our situation with a bird’s eye view. God sees much more than we do; He sees beauty among the broken. When we break something and glue it back together it may be whole again – but it’s always going to leave a scar. As many of you know, that is what it is like to lose a loved one. In time we heal but we’re always a different person after the fact. Thank you Jesus for filling in my broken spaces, thank you for answering prayers. Thank you for using my father’s death to break me and call me home. Looking at my father’s death up close is devastating, but looking at it from a distance, with a stained-glass perspective, I see the beauty. I see the person I am today, still broken, but saved. Thank you Jesus for turning the shattered pains of my life into a masterpiece of faithfulness. We are messy. We are broken. We are beautiful.
“Thank you Jesus for filling in my broken spaces, thank you for answering prayers. Thank you for using my father’s death to break me and call me home.”