A Stronger Community: Recovering From Loss

Cruz Sisters(L-R: Jazmin (14), Niashia (13), family member (?), Shakara (9), Amunya (15), Nadia (10) & in bottom row)

As many of you know, our community is dealing with the loss of four beautiful children (Jazmin, Niashia, Amunya, and Nadia). They were coming home from Memorial Day festivities when the tread separated from their tire and they lost control of the car. Eleven lives were in that vehicle. Three died at the scene. One died at the hospital. One is in critical care and the rest have minor injuries. Miraculously, one of the passengers, a three-year-old, was thrown thirty feet from the car, over the interstate sound barrier, and survived only breaking a leg and a few other minor injuries. Yesterday their mother, the driver, said good morning to five beautiful daughters and today she said good morning to one.

It’s the kind of story that you see in movies or that happens to “other” people. But now it’s not. Now it’s our community and our loved ones in crisis. We feel the pain. We take the loss.

When I saw Niashia, Jazmin, and Amunya’s faces show up on my feed with the article of the accident at 7am, I was in shock. I refreshed. And refreshed. And refreshed again. I could barely get their names out of my mouth to tell Chris. I kept thinking to myself, “this can’t possibly be true…. I just saw them Wednesday.” I got a call at work saying Nadia passed at the hospital. My day was spent trying to process the loss. I did not want to be at work. I wanted to be at the hospital. If I was hurting, how much more is their mother? If I was angry, how much more is their father?

Situations like this really put in perspective how in a moment, all can be lost. One minute you’re singing songs in the car and the next you’re checking for pulses and listening to cries. It’s a reminder that our days are not promised and our loved ones are not ours. I don’t understand this but I don’t blame God, even though it would be easy. As difficult as it is to accept, this is (somehow) in His plan. I don’t believe God wanted this to happen and yet I know God could have prevented it.


The Cruz girls hold a very special place in my heart. I remember the first time I met them. It was during a Wednesday night service and they all looked shy and out of place. But slowly, they opened up and we saw them in raw form. Each so different and yet they were all so close. I love them like I love Addison and I wish for Shakara, the remaining sister, to be with me so that I can hold her close and tell her I love her. I wish that God would let me take her pain. I wish that I could carry her burden. But I can’t.

When I think about the Cruz girls, the first word that comes to mind is faithful. They were always faithful. Faithful to eachother. Faithful to the church. No matter what their situation seemed to be or what was going on in their personal lives, they were always faithful. Even when they got kicked off the bus for a week for talking back or fighting or whatever it was that week, they always came back. They always returned with a smile on their face and we would always greet them with open arms.

And I don’t know when we will see Shakara on the bus again, but I’m hopeful that she will come back soon. And when she does, we will greet her with open arms and lots of love.

Like these girls did, we serve a faithful God. Even when we get mad at Him, kick Him out, scream at Him, or whatever it is that week, He is still faithful to us and still greets us with love. It’s my prayer, and I know the prayers of others, to see revivial here in Leesburg. So many people are depressed, hurting, lost, distressed, and empty. Like we’ve experienced, death is swift. We do not have any garauntees here on earth.

There is a plan greater than us and our miniscule understanding of it. One thing I am amazed at is the amount of people rallying for this family. I mean, I’ve seen the church do this before but I have never sResteen our entire community grieve together and encourage eachother in the way it has today. The local news has been filled with violence and disunity between neighborhoods and families recently and it is more than beautiful to see us coming together in a time of great loss. It’s a joy to be part of a communty that takes what life hands it and becomes stronger.

It’s my prayer those girl’s faithfulness would be an example of what we need to do now more than ever. Even though we are grieving, even though we’re angry, we  have a faithful and loving God. We have a Savior who will make our burden light. We may not be able to control our earthly destiny but we can control our spiritual one. We all have a choice to turn from our sins and turn to Christ. We have a choice in how we act and react to what goes on around us. We don’t have to endure this alone, we can stand together with Christ.

Please donate to this family. They are looking at $50k for the medical and burial expenses. If you can’t get to a local WellsFargo in Lake County, please donate to their gofundme.

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Coming Up For Air: Living According to God’s Will

This seems to be the million dollar topic. Everyone wants to know the purpose of their life. Everyone wants to know what job they’re supposed to take so that they can live life to the fullest or what college they should attend to get their dream job . About two years ago, if you remember, Chris & I had a bit of a falling out with the church. We left hurt, defensive, and positive that we were not going back to get hurt that way again.

The whole situation left me so confused. You see, many years ago when I was camper at kid’s camp, God called me to ministry. I didn’t really know what ministry or any of the details at that time but over the years, I learned that God had given me His heart for children’s ministry, particularly children and families who are living in poverty or are low income. I don’t know what draws me to kids like these. You know the ones. The wild ones. The ones that run down the halls screaming. The ones who act out. The ones who cause the fights. The ones that say they hate you and don’t care about the rules. The ones that are not easy to love. God has given me His eyes to see past the hurt and the emotional walls. He has given me clear vision to see their potential in Christ and to see who He sees. My eight years working in kid’s church left me feeling constantly overflowed with God’s love serving this demographic. I may have felt physically exhausted but I never felt spiritually drained. And with one sentence, it was over.

When we took an extended break from the church, I tried to replace God’s calling on my life with a “good plan.” Maybe God only wants me to focus on being a good wife. Maybe God wants me to focus on being a joyful employee. Maybe God wants me to just be a witness to my coworkers. Maybe God just wants me to be a mom. Maybe God wants me to go back to college and work with non-profits. My mind was overwhelmed with maybes. None of those things are bad ideas and I do believe that God wants to use me to bless my spouse, my daughter, my coworkers, and my family. But having tried everything, I have been left feeling half full. Chasing the feeling over being overflowed.

I was made for more. God’s purpose for my life is not to shuffle back and forth between daycare and the office. God made me so that I can be used for something more. He did not make me for Chris or for Addison. They are part of His plan, but ultimately, I am made for Him. Living outside of God’s original will and purpose for my life has left me feeling frustrated and depressed. The past two years have been emotionally draining and yet spiritually enlightening. During this time my faith has grown beyond want I ever imagined. It’s been the worst and best two years of my journey. I had been in ministry for so long that I didn’t realize how essential it was to live within God’s will because I had never lived outside of it. Stepping out has left me feeling drowned. Most weeks I have gone to bed praying that I would not wake up the next morning because honestly, what was even the point of waking up?

This past month, I have heard from God crystal clear in regards to moving forward. I kept telling God, “I’m in a room with no doors! You say that there are open doors, but God, there’s not! I’m getting exhausted and frustrated. This isn’t fair! I thought I was called but look at me. How can I be called to ministry when I don’t even go to church?” That’s when God came to me and in a firm but loving way said, “Who un-called you?”

“In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” -Ephesians 1:11-14

I love how the Voice translation writes verse 11, “As His heirs, we are predestined to play a key role in His unfolding purpose that is energizing everything to conform to His will.” When you are called by God to play a key role, you cannot un-call yourself. You can not show up to the job, but regardless, it’s your job. Your job is key to the advancement of God’s purposes. Now He can do it without you, but He wants to do it with you.

I regret the years I’ve lost (I would have been ordained by now) and these thoughts do creep up in attempts to paralyze me like it has done before.

“Why bother when you’re so far behind now?”
“_____ and _____ are better options for the job. They’re literally perfect.”
“You know, just because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean anything. People are looking at you and they’ll see your past.”
“Too bad tattoos are permanent. You know that’s all people see.”
“If parents didn’t want you two years ago, why do you think they would accept you now?”
“You’re out of touch. It’s been too long.”

I’m sorry, but no. Those are lies. And I choose to move on. I choose to be better. I choose to forgive. I choose to believe what God says about me and not the running commentary in my mind. Knowing God’s will for my life has given me incredible determination to live in His will. I have lived too long outside of God’s will and I can’t live another day like that. Walking back into His will is refreshing and it feels like coming up for air.

P.S. If you’re interested in a seriously great sermon that kind of goes hand-in-hand with this (maybe you’re dealing with something like I was), then you need to listen to Pastor Steven Furtick’s message from yesterday.

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