I have decided something. As I begin the second year after my girls' deaths I have decided to take a different approach. I am a woman on a mission. Last year I was more like a woman lost in the wilderness or stranded at sea. There was no plan. Simply surviving took all the energy I had and I often felt overwhelmingly lost and broken. But I am in a different place now. More importantly I am a different woman now. Although I remain a work in progress there has been a transformation is my heart that I can barely describe yet am unable to deny. Don't get me wrong, I still miss my girls. I didn't wake up one year later cured of the pain I felt as I kissed each of my girls goodbye. It is still there pricking my heart daily as I continue to learn to live without them. But along side that pain is a peace I can only describe as miraculous. With Christ as my comforter I have undoubtedly learned to suffer well. I can't wait to tell you all about it. And I promise I will...but for now I want to tell you about my tool belt.
First let me introduce myself. I should have done this a year ago and I hope you can all forgive me as I wasn't exactly thinking straight. I appreciate so much how you have joined me on this journey. So many of you have come along side me, a complete stranger to many of you, to walk with me through the darkest time of my life. And I just want us to get to know each other better. I want you to know who I am, and more importantly, who I am becoming, as this journey unfolds. And I want to know you too. I want to know who prayed for me so I can tell you that God answered (and continues to answer) your prayers and so I can say a very sincere thank you. So email me please. It would be my honor.
Ok, lets get back on track. Me and my tool belt...
I was born on March 13th, 1980, in Durango, CO. My parents named me Rachel Marie Tenpenny. I was their first child. My mom saved my life by agreeing to an emergency c-section. It is a long story, but trust me, she saved my life. It just so happened that March 13th is also my grandmother's birthday. She always jokes that I was her best birthday present. My dad has always told me this story that when I was born the nurse handed me to him and said, "This is a very special little girl." He said as soon as he held me he knew that the nurse was right, that God had a special calling on my life. Now that I am a mother I know that all parents feel this way about their children, but growing up it sure felt amazing to know that my dad felt that way about me. As you can see I was loved very much from the moment I was born. And what a blessing that love has been to me throughout my life. You see, I didn't know it then, but that was the first of all the tools God was adding to my tool belt as I made my way through life.
I have to comment here that my dad will be very proud of my tool belt analogy. I sort of stole it from him anyway. Not only is he a skilled carpenter by trade but he used to tell me how my parent's job was to fill my tool belt with as many life skills as possible because we never know what life will hold for us, but with a full tool belt we can handle anything that comes our way. As a young girl I used to smirk a little at the idea of this figurative tool belt. But with more life under by belt so to speak I value my tool belt greatly, as well as the parents that dedicated their lives to helping me fill it.
After me came two more girls. My mother had three girls in three years. And she took it all in stride. We often wore matching clothes my mom sewed for us herself and had the BEST birthday parties any kid could ask for. Mixed in with all the fun was plenty of drama any household of all girls would have. But it was all normal, healthy, and makes for funny stories. I see now that my sisters were tools in my belt all along. They both stood by me unwaveringly through my grief, and continue to do so. Those silly little girls that used to push my buttons turned out to be two of the biggest blessings in my life this past year. It is amazing how God sets everything up.
At age seven I gave my heart to the Lord. The most important tool in my belt. I know that seems young, but I was completely aware of what I was doing and vividly remember wanting Jesus to be Lord of my life. I was at my church's Kids Crusade week and I remember Salty the Parrot asking me if I wanted Jesus to live in my heart. Oh Salty. I loved that parrot.
I knocked my two front teeth loose on three different occasions. My mom didn't have a drivers license so she pulled me to the dentist in a wagon. She was amazing like that. Lesson learned: don't walk up a slide. Another tool.
I never broke a bone, but I did have my appendix out when I was 16 after being forced to run the mile at a track meet because my coach did not believe me when I said my stomach hurt REALLY badly. I did learn how to push through pain though. Tool. It was my best mile time ever. And I got stitches in my eye after taking an elbow to the face in a basketball game with boys. Dumb boys! Yet another tool.
I had braces for more than five years. Yep really. My original orthodontist retired before I got my braces off. I remember having these ridiculous arguments with my mom because she wanted me to wear my headgear to school and I wouldn't. And I had to pay for my retainer when I lost it. Irresponsibility is expensive. Another tool.
When I was 12 years old I met a man named Steve Edwards. He was my youth pastor until I was 18, and has stayed in my life ever since. This man and his wife Peggy poured into me a passion for Jesus that changed my life. Talk about filling my tool belt. Just recently I had a conversation with him to say thank you for all he invested in me all those years. He taught me God's Word, he took me all around the world on missions trips, he brought me to church camp after church camp, and he prayed for me and with me countless times. The miracle is I was listening. I really was. I didn't understand why at the time, but after my daughters died I had to dig deep into my tool belt and so much of what I pulled out were the things he poured into me all those years. Life saving tool after tool after tool.
My life has been filled with life changing experiences. More than I could ever write here. And for 28 years I put one tool in my belt after the other, not aware that there would come a time in my life when I would use every single one of them and still need more. Sure, I had used one here or there. My life wasn't perfect. And when something unexpected or difficult would happen I would reach confidently into my belt for a tool or two. But whatever it was, I figured it out, and in the end the experience only added more tools to my belt.
And then it happened. The unimaginable. My sweet babies died. Saying goodbye to my baby girls remains the single most impactful event of my entire life. More than the healthy birth of my son. More than getting married. More than anything before or since. There were not enough tools in the world to prepare me for this. I remember laying in bed at night asking God how I was ever going to get through it.
Then I remembered my most important tool...my Jesus.
I didn't have to have all the tools. I only had to have the One with ALL the tools. God was going to have to get me through this because I just couldn't. It no longer mattered that I was unprepared and ill-equipped. My Jesus had everything I needed. And when I needed a tool I no longer went to my belt, but to my Jesus. Sometimes Jesus lovingly guided me back to one of the tools in my belt inspiring me to draw on past experiences with Him and rely on what He has hidden in my heart all these years. Other times He gave me a brand new tool, a God-breathed instrument of grace, to carry me just one more step down the path of healing and restoration.
I can't lie and say that I graciously accepted all God's tools. Sometimes I didn't want His tools, I just wanted my babies back. But after lots of honest venting God would comfort my heart and convince me of His love yet again and I would accept His help. Sometimes I would set the tool to the side and just be with Him. The best thing He ever gave me was Himself. He is truly all I need.
So here I sit, a year later, with only one tool left. And no, I have not run out of tools. I have learned that I don't need my tools the way I thought I did. I only need my Jesus. I don't have to work so hard to equip myself because Jesus will. I don't have to know how to survive the deaths of my daughters because Jesus does. And I don't have to save myself because Jesus already has. My tool belt has taken on a whole new meaning to me. I guess empty is the new full.