You Make Me Brave

This is usually one of my most favorite times of year. That week between Christmas and New Years where the kids are engrossed with new toys and I get the urge to organize and dream.

This year not so much. This year when my favorite annual goal setting posts popped up in my RSS feed I didn’t even click it. I couldn’t bring myself to plan and dream right now. But then another blog popped up today, one about choosing a word for the year. And I remembered what I’d chosen last year.


I’d had a lot of anxiety surrounding the move…Questioning why we were here, terrified to attempt to speak Italian, and fearing something terrible would happen to a family member. At first choosing the word meant that I’d will myself to be brave in the new year. Then a few months in I realized I had to trust the Lord to make me brave.  There’s an incredibly popular song floating around in the Christian Music world that I listened to on repeat during my times of fear. I slowly realized it’s not me making myself brave, but leaning into the strength of God that does. Trusting that he’ll be my rock in the storm – be with me through the fears and then again when I come out on the other side of them. Sometimes he helps them fade faster, and other times I just hang on to him while the waves crash.

Who knew that the word brave would carry me through a year of anxiety and small panic attacks, and then up to the tragedy we faced on December 18th? Who knew my constant questioning of why we felt lead to move here would be answered on December 18th?

God did. 

He knew.

He knew our family needed this year with Steve and Patti before they passed. He knew I needed to work through some of my fears and theological questions during this last year before I could face their passing. He knew all the things. He always does. My hope and prayer is that I continue to trust that he knows even when I don’t. Even in the small things, that I trust he’s there leading, guiding and loving as I seek him and his word.

And while I’m choosing to trust, there’s still grief and sadness in their passing. The overwhelming constant tears have started to fade, but there will always be moments of sadness and they will forever be missed.

For those of you who haven’t heard the story of their passing…allow me to share…

On Saturday we went out to the Christmas markets with Steve, Patti and Nick’s sister’s family. Patti paid for all the kids to ride the swings – three times. Steve went on and on about our Minnesota girls out ice skating – he’s a proud Minnesotan who grew up on the ice. We hugged and kissed them goodbye as they headed out. We don’t always give hugs and kisses, but I’m so glad we did this time. Later that day Patti messaged asking if they could come over after church the next day so she could sew Christmas ornaments with the girls. “Sure!” was my response. That’s the last we heard from them.

That night they had friends over for pizza and went to bed. We were told a short circuit set off a spark near the Christmas tree around midnight setting the house a blaze. At some point Steve woke up and ran out of the house. He was honking the horn of his car and shouting for help according to the neighbors. A car drove past and stopped. By the time he parked and got out of his car, Steve had gone back in for Patti who was still upstairs. He didn’t make it back upstairs for her. He died a hero who loved his wife and could’t live without her.

At 6am Nick’s phone rang. A number he didn’t know so we didn’t answer. He looked up the area code and saw it was Venice. The number rang again so he answered. It was our brother in law and he didn’t know much. There had been a fire at Steve and Patti’s house. “It’s bad, you have to call the fire department”

The dog was awake, the girls were awake. Nick’s frantically writing down the numbers and running upstairs to call. The girls are crabby and we snap at them to stop. While Nick calls, I explain to the girls why we were snappy – there was a fire and Nonno and Nonna’s and daddy’s calling to find out what happened. We prayed for them not knowing it was too late.

Nick came down with the news “They didn’t make it. They’re gone.” I can’t describe how terrible those words were and how we felt. We had to tell our girls right away since they knew it wasn’t good news from our cries. Then Nick had to tell his brother and sister. Chris was a phone call to the US and Alicia was a five minute walk around the corner. I can’t imagine how he felt as he faced that.

The morning was a blur. Nick and Alicia had to visit the police station. We were supposed to have church in a few hours. The shock of it all. It was terrible. Church service was a time of mourning and prayer and remembering. It didn’t seem real.

But it was, and these last two weeks have been strange and sad, while at the same time we have been loved and cared for. We haven’t needed to cook as we’ve been blessed with meals. Friends helped take care of the first memorial service for us when we couldn’t think straight. There are still many things to settle over the next few months, and like I said the grief will never completely fade.

But we have hope. Hope that we’ll see them again. We know they lived a life committed to the Lord and sharing him with others while here on earth.  Steve’s theme for the church this past year was “driven by eternity”. He spoke about living a life focused on God and prepared for our last days. They passed away on what he’d deemed “Celebration Sunday”. He spent it with his wife celebrating in eternity with the Lord.

And so I’ll finish up this year bravely with my family. And maybe in a few weeks I’ll be ready to sit down and dream and plan for 2017.

6 comments on “You Make Me Brave

  1. Lara says:

    What a year you have had. Sending prayers your way and so much love!

  2. I’m so sorry for your incredible loss. Praying for you, Nick and the girls as well as your extended family. Losing someone is so incredibly hard at times especially around the holidays. I lost my Grandpa, cousin and Aunt within days of each other this time last year. It’s so hard. But when we know they are with Jesus it makes it easier to grieve, rejoice and pray. Big hugs for your family today!!

  3. Judi Morris says:

    Thanks for sharing your heart. As we sit here in the states and try to understand. It helps that you speak to us and let us hold you close in our hearts. We need to know how you are and what your feeling. We are here for you and love your family very much.. It’s going to be an interesting new year. Love, Judi.

  4. Carolyn Escue says:

    My dear sweet Rachel,
    I wish I could hold you tight.
    Thank you for sharing your heart.
    All the Gray children and grandchildren will by God’s Amazing Grace and tender loving care be with each one of you in His tender gentle loving way.
    God will take care of you always.
    LOVE, HUGS, KISSES to All…
    Grandma Escue

  5. Sharon Robrahn says:

    You are in our prayers and thoughts frequently.
    Much love and hugs to each of you.

  6. Amanda Puzic says:

    Rachel- I have no words except thank you for sharing! I just read part of your post to my family. Mom cried. I’ve been so sad for all of you but then knowing that none of this is a surprise to Our Lord…it’s a hard thing. Please know I’ve been praying for you guys!