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Archive for the ‘Death’ Category

MB900316860[1]Sometimes it’s hard to figure out if your life is one of peace interrupted now and then by crisis or one of crisis interrupted now and then with peace.

Our family is certainly in the middle of crisis at the moment with a granddaughter facing surgery and our fear of test results. As any medical situation, this has been going on for what seems like forever but is actually about two months. Appointments, tests, test results, more appointments – it’s endless and frays the nerves to the breaking point.  

When someone you love is suffering, you suffer. But what about when it is not necessarily someone you love?

 In the midst of our overwhelming crisis comes the Boston Marathon bombing. People I’ve never heard of dead and horribly injured. Families shocked and grieving. Friends trying to make sense of a nightmare.

And then just a few days later an explosion in Texas causing widespread devastation with the same result – death, destruction, pain, anguish, grief.

When you are mired in your own personal heartache it’s hard to read the stories. My brain wants to say that in the large scheme of things my problems are small. My heart speaks louder crying out “But this is my grandchild, not a stranger.”

And yet, I don’t ever want to become calloused when it comes to feeling compassion and heartbreak for God’s people.

The prophet Jeremiah actually prayed for a greater capacity to grieve.  “Oh, that my head were waters, And my eyes a fountain of tears, That I might weep day and night For the slain of the daughter of my people!” Jer 9:1

It’s not like Jeremiah didn’t have enough to cause him grief. He was the ultimate misunderstood, mistreated and unappreciated prophet. Yet he longed for a much larger resource to provide the tears he wanted to shed for God’s people.

Psalm 35:13-14 says “But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth; I humbled my soul with fasting; And my prayer kept returning to my bosom. I went about as though it were my friend or brother; I bowed down mourning, as one who sorrows for a mother.”

I love that – I went about as though it were my friend or brother. My pastor’s wife shared with me yesterday how they just received news that their very good friends have lost a son.  She said their shock and grief goes so deep “We feel as if we have lost our own son.”

If only we all had the kind of love for mankind that caused us to grieve in a manner where an onlooker would think we’d lost a loved one or a close friend.

Because when we are that tender to the hurts and needs of those around us we are stifled in our ability to hurt those around us. Imagine a world where people could only act out in tenderness, a community of kind, generous souls unable to be anything but loving because the sight of a hurting human brings them to their knees.

I would love to close my own life by repeating Job’s statement to God as I enter His presence.  “Have I not wept for the one whose life is hard? Was not my soul grieved for the needy?” Job 30:25

Let’s inscribe that on the walls of our hearts and live the legacy.

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Hand ReachingI love the way friends and family rally around when there’sa  big crisis. We pray, we bring food, we give words of encouragement, cards, little gifts, offers of help and anything else that comes to mind because we recognize a critical need.

But sometimes the smaller challenges go unnoticed and yet are often the sandpaper that wears the body down leaving it raw and open to depression and despair. An outsider might look and wonder how something small in comparison to what others are going through could have such impact.

I’m afraid I have been guilty at times of brushing off what I considered lower priority battles.

When my friend went through cancer I was there for her, constantly trying to think of new ways to encourage and give hope. I jumped in and rallied others to do the same. It’s not hard to be inspired into action when someone you love is facing a life and death situation.

But what if it doesn’t look like a life and death situation? What if it’s not big on the Richter scale of crisis but it’s huge on the personal scale of an individual’s limits at that moment in time?

I learned a great lesson summer before last when I severely damaged both my feet in a fall. The first few days were certainly noteworthy on the crisis scale. But after that, life settled into ice packs, crutches, physical therapy, the inconvenience of not being able to move as fast as I wanted and the insult of ugly shoes. (Yes, I am a cute shoe fanatic.)

When I looked around, there were people with much more serious injuries, illnesses or life challenges. Still found my small scale troubles pushing me into depression.

I think my biggest problem was feeling I didn’t have the right to complain or whine or get discouraged because my problem wasn’t that big. Of course, the size of a crisis doesn’t always determine the size of its impact. It made me stop and look around at what was going on in the lives of those closest to me. Were any of them where I was – minor trouble, major impact?

I’ve seen people sail through stuff that would bring a prize fighter to his knees. And I’ve seen people crumble under what appeared to be a minor annoyance in the scheme of things. I think I was almost one of them the summer of the foot fiasco.

Through that experience I have gained a great appreciation for waves of life that keep washing over the solid rocks on the shore. You can be rock hard and still be worn down by constant pressure no matter how gentle a disguise it comes in.

Every time that rock enjoys a little drying out in the sunshine, it once again gets a good soaking. I have friends who are like that rock. It seems that each time they get their head above water, they get soaked again. It’s seldom a tsunami. It is more often a shower. But after a while, a person can get waterlogged and the moments of sunshine are hard to enjoy. Please God, give me insight when they get to that point.

Here’s to my friends who have not gotten the cancer diagnosis or lost the loved one or faced the giant mountain of a lost job or something equally monumental but who still face challenges every bit as life threatening.

I recognize your daily struggle trying to slog through the paperwork for the divorce, the dissatisfaction with the job you have, the annoying health challenge, the trying marriage, the chronic pain, the never-quite-enough money situation, the tough decision making, the acceptance of things not going the way you want them to again.

Don’t discredit your need for help, encouragement and support. Don’t belittle your reaction to what others might consider minor worries.

If it makes you sad, if it makes you tired, if it makes you want to give up and cry – I understand. I’m praying for you. I’m reaching out to you and I’m ready to jump in and do what I can to help.

Just think of me as the very absorbent pink fluffy towel standing ready for the next dousing.

You just call out my name and you know wherever I am, I’ll come running (Carole King, 1971)

When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. Psalm 34:17 (God, from the beginning of time through forever)

 

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MB900422771[1]With this being the 40th anniversary of Roe versus wade, the news has been filled with commentary from both sides. You can read the pro life side and you can read the pro choice side and both have parts and pieces of logic.

I firmly believe the reason we can’t come to an agreement on the issue is because we have never had the right to even have a choice in the matter. Only God has the knowledge and foresight and vision to know whether a life is valid. And since He is the one who creates that life in the first place, He is wise enough not to create something of no value.

All of the arguments aside, I got a practical lesson on the whole issue this week. It was a beautiful illustration of life value and I wish I could pass it on to every pro-choicer out there.

The real story began over 60 years ago when a baby boy was born to the parents of one of my best friends. He was severely handicapped from the start, his body twisted and useless. And though normal communication was not possible, it soon became apparent that his mind was sharp and comprehension of the world around him keen. His fierce determination to fight for life earned him the nickname of Tuffy.

For 60 years his family has faithfully loved and cared for him. They were his advocates when the long term care facility was giving less than adequate care. They went out of their way to make sure he spent holidays with the family. They visited regularly – almost every day – for 60 years to make sure he knew he was loved. They managed to understand his method of communication and did everything they could to address his needs.

I have seen them kiss him and hug him, shave him and joke with him. I have watched them turn his chair for the best view out the window, readjust his pillows to assure comfort, get in the faces of medical staff to get them to listen, and nurse him through fevers and infections.

My precious friend has her own serious health problems, has a very challenging marriage, lost a daughter in her twenties to cancer and fights every day to keep her head above water. Never once have I heard anger, bitterness, regret or impatience over the demands of keeping Tuffy safe and secure. While from the outside this did not look like a regular, gather around the dinner table every night kind of family, it was no less a family because of Tuffy. In fact, the extra effort needed to hold them together probably made it more of a well bonded family than most.

Several times, especially in the last few years, Tuffy became critically ill. Never did my friend wish for it to be over. Her prayers were always for comfort and healing. She never asked that her life be easier, only Tuffy’s. 

Tuffy passed away this past week and my friend along with her family have deeply grieved.

To my friend he was never a burden, he was a brother. His life served a purpose regardless of his ability to walk and talk in a “normal” manner. I believe Tuffy’s life made her kinder, more thoughtful, more compassionate, more tolerant and more thankful than life without him would have.

Was their life easy with a child like Tuffy? Not in the furthest sense of the word. Was their life better because of Tuffy? You bet it was. He brought a light and a love, a focus and family closeness, and  lessons beyond measure.

Tuffy was different but no less dear to his family than any other son or sibling. I rejoice that he is free of his twisted body and running around heaven shouting and singing today. And I thank God for my friend and the life lesson she passed on by embracing what others might have called a life of little value.

If we could all let God handle life and death and just tend to the things He gives us control over, events like Roe versus Wade would not exist. Instead, love and compassion would take their place.

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. Psalm 139:13-16 

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MB900431278[1]Our Christmas program at church took place yesterday. It was filled with music, a little drama and a bit of narration to tie it all together.  I composed the narration and as I wrote in an earlier blog, I agonized over every word, praying it would be exactly right to bring people closer to Christ.

I want to share with you a piece of that narration I never could have known would have much deeper meaning in light of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.

To introduce the part of our program that emphasized the birth of Jesus and led into a touching rendition of “Isn’t He Beautiful”, I wrote the following:

What child is born that a mother’s heart doesn’t melt the moment she sees his squirming wrinkled body?   What long anticipated newborn comes into this world that a mother’s love doesn’t overflow in a flood of emotion?

The weight of carrying, the pain of labor – all forgotten in the moment of that baby’s first cry.  A mother’s heart swells and she is convinced at that moment that her child is more beautiful, more perfect, more amazing than any other.

Mary was no different than other mothers in that respect. But when she gazed upon the infant Savior, she was consumed with much more than motherly love.

Mary saw a miracle, a mystery,  a majesty far beyond anything she’d ever experienced.  And at that moment, this woman of grace exhaled her last normal oxygen filled breath, and inhaled a new life.

Never again would her lungs expand without the presence of Jesus filling them.

Never again would she speak without the experience of Jesus softening her words.

Never again would her arms reach out without the feel of Jesus in them.

And this is the same for each and every one who lays down the former life and embraces the Christmas miracle.

As those words were shared during the program Sunday, my heart rushed to the parents grieving for lost children in Newtown, Connecticut. A senseless, tragic, unimaginable few moments have left them shattered. There are no words of comfort that could ease their pain, no quote of scripture that will cause the tears to stop falling – at least for a time. Grief, while it may soften, will be their constant companion for the rest of their life.

But the words God gave me for that narration reminded me of what we take for granted every day.  We have nothing except what God gives. The people we treasure in this life are merely on loan, sent by God’s grace to enhance our experience. Mary certainly discovered the truth of this when she watched her Son die.

Here is a wonderful reality in a time of great loss.  The physical presence of a loved one is gone, but God makes sure the memories are left behind to carry us through our time of grieving.

Like the words in the narration, here is what those parents are left with.  They will never again take a breath without the presence of their child filling it, never again speak without the experience of their child softening their words, never again reach out their arms without the feel of their child filling them. The experience of a child, regardless of how short the time span, changes us forever.

Nothing justifies the evil that took those children away.

But God, in His great compassion, will not leave those mothers and fathers bankrupt. He is prepared to fill their emptiness, catch their tears, heal their hearts and gently care for their children until they are reunited in the moment He chooses to bring them together again. Let us pray that through the cloud of pain and grief, they can see the hand of God extended.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Rev 21:4

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 This morniMB900262644[1]ng I was looking out the large window of my office, watching eight deer forage for food under a light covering of snow. Graceful, beautiful creatures in a winter landscape worthy of a Christmas card cover.  I’m sure my face reflected the peace and sense of contentment the scene outside my window evoked.  Psalm 42 immediately came to mind.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” Psalm 42:1

Shattering that peaceful reflection just minutes later, I caught a news flash of the shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut leaving twenty seven dead, eighteen of them children. I am sitting here now with tears streaming and a million questions running through my head.  How can something like this happen?  How can anyone feel anger so deeply it would lead them to this type of action?  I’m so confused. And I find myself crying out to God. 

“Why, God?  How can you let something like that happen?  I get that we live in an imperfect world and I get that you never promisCed us smooth sailing or lives exempt from sadness or pain.  But this? 

I am thousands of miles away from the tragedy and I want to run out of my office, pull my own grandchildren out of school and shelter them forever. I don’t want them to have to grow up in a world so ugly and so evil.

I am furious at the 20 year old shooter, angry at whomever or whatever brought him to this point, and to tell you the truth – I am upset with God.  I want Him to turn back the clock, bring those children home tonight to the parents who sent them off to school this morning never dreaming what lay in store.  I want the world to stop hating and hurting people. I want the peace on earth that songs of this season harmonize about and that the Bible promises.

The hardest part for me is being lulled into a picturesque, isn’t it pretty, all is well state of mind when at that very moment unspeakable tragedy, chaos, and ugliness was taking place.  Where is the justice in that?

The rest of Psalm 42, when I take time to read it, speaks to my mood.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Where can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” Psalm 42:2-3

These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng. Psalm 42:4

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 42:5

This is a “yet I will praise Him” time for sure. I can’t make sense of what happened this morning, or for that matter on any given day when the world out-shadows the glory of heaven.

Sometimes I praise Him with joy so overwhelming it lifts me off my feet and threatens to rupture my heart muscle it is so powerful.

Sometimes I praise Him when I’m walking through a ho hum time, my emotions too lazy to cause a ripple on an ekg.

And sometimes, like right now, I praise Him even though I’m weighed down and weary with crying.  Even though I am crying out “Why”, I am still singing “How great Thou art”. When fear and doubt and anger and confusion play basketball with my soul, I choose to see myself on the winner’s bench with my Coach’s hand on my life and on the dysfunctional world in which I live.

My soul does long after you, God, more than it longs for understanding or explanations when horror happens. I am hungry for your touch, thirsty for your living water, and desperate for your strength and your love to help me overcome the battles of life is this harsh world.

Please join me in praying for the families who are living this latest tragedy, for a society where this type of thing happens all too often, and for each of us individually that we might be a healing salve in a mortally wounded world.

By day the Lord directs His love, and at night His song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. Psalm 42:8

 

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Thanksgiving rolls around again bringing with it the scent of pumpkin pie, the sound of family interacting, the feel of damp late fall days, the sight of autumn on the grass and snow on the hilltops, and the taste of turkey smothered in rich gravy.  Of all our holidays, this one stirs the five senses like no other.

Oh that it would stir our hearts into a frothy mound as high as the whipped cream we pile on our desserts.

We are such a people of plaintive nature, freely expressing our complaints about everything and anything.  I’m up to here, especially after the exposure of an elections year, with negativity. I want my heart to feast this Thanksgiving day, not my stomach.

I want to look around the room at my precious family and swell with the melted butter glory of God’s goodness. I am not alone and I am ever grateful. Many are and my heart breaks for them.

I will bask in the hugs and laughter and I will treasure the memories dripping with whip cream wars, lumpy gravy, rolls that forgot to rise, pumpkin pies missing a key ingredient (sugar) and Grandma Mae’s boiled turkey that ended her career as hostess for our family dinner.

I will remember with tears the Thanksgiving my mom passed away but will smile at the grace and strength she showed in the process.

Like salt and pepper on a green bean casserole I will be blessed by the changes in the past year evidenced around the table with taller children, more seasoned marriages, talk of a new driver’s license, a High School graduation, a new job and so much more my ears will be busier than my elbow lifting the fork.

I will thank God as I look around for taking a bunch of oddly shaped potatoes and helping them to soften into a fluffy mound of family, still bearing a few lumps but for the most part, all mingled together with mouth watering love.

I will be sad for the ones who can’t be here this year, happy for the ones who can, and nostalgic for the ones who never will be again.

I’m going to try to put a lid on any simmering political discussions. I’ll sprinkle sugar on sour grapes, turn down the stove before a conversation heats up and stuff a piece of pie in the mouth of sibling rivalry.

When it’s all over and I’m slumped in my rocker by the fire, I’ll pat my way too full heart and thank God for the millionth time for what I have, for what He has done and for what is yet to come.

 Psalm 34:1  I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.

P.S. You may have noticed I’ve missed a couple of Monday posts. Between trying to write a 5,000 novel in November, writing the Christmas pageant script and surviving this very busy open enrollment period at work, I’m going to have to back off the blog a little.  So I’m going to once a week for the rest of the year. 

 

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Our autumn rides hold a special place in my heart.  While the air is crisp, requiring an extra layer of clothing, the view from the back seat is glorious.  Here in Yakima and the surrounding countryside the trees are fighting each other for attention, flashing their shades of gold and green, russet and rose.  Along the river the sumac is dressed in red while the birch trees have chosen bright yellow gowns.  I can smell the fall and it’s moist and earthy.

The autumn season is short and I always feel like we have to hurry and enjoy it before it’s gone.  There is such a contrast in the blinding sunlight and the cool air, almost like a warning.  If you’re inside looking out, it appears to be warm.  But step out the door without a jacket and you’ll shiver immediately.

Huddled on the back of our Harley with my leather clad arms wrapped around my guy my thoughts are bittersweet. I wouldn’t trade the beauty of autumn for anything but I’m sad for the signs that our riding season is almost over.  There’s always that distant thought of what will next year bring? 

Having recently experienced the sudden and unexpected loss of a good friend, it’s hard not to reflect on the uncertainty of life and the certainty of death.  The trees know truth – our life is for a season.  Autumn comes and the best thing they can do is go out in a blaze of glory. The most beautiful, eye catching time of their existence is the beginning of their death – not forever but for a time.

What a lesson for us.  We won’t be green and full of energy forever.  We must take all we can from the joy of our branches dancing in the breeze, birds singing us a morning song, friends relaxing in our cool shade.  At the same time, we must make plans to go out in a blaze of glory.

Is your house in order?  Have you served in such a way that people remark on your golden generosity?  Are you touching lives and sharing some of your rich red life lessons, your russet blessings, and your bright yellow joy of a life well lived? 

We don’t know for sure what tomorrow will bring but we can certainly take measure of what impact we had yesterday.  I want someone to reflect on their ride though the canyon of life and I want a memory to flash back of me beside the river reaching out with beauty and thoughtfulness, making their day a little richer.  I want them to hear the roar of a Harley and smile because it brings to mind a picture of Christ shining like the autumn sun from my face.  

And when my glorious colors fade, please remember I have died not forever but only for a time.  My resurrection colors will make the autumn season look like a black and white movie!  Praise God for that promise.

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.  Isaiah 55:12

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