Saturday, October 10, 2015

Going Home

This has been a great trip. My travel was (almost) easy, I made every connection (barely) and my luggage and I arrived safely. I've spent three days with people I dearly love. 

We've caught up on each other's lives, worshipped together, prayed together, and considered the weightier matters of life. We've enjoyed updates from the Focus on the Family ministry staff and been awed by how God has worked since we've been here last.

Every day has been a treat, but today is the day to which I've been looking forward since I left my house.

I'm going home.

This will be a long day of travel with a drive to Denver, flight to Minneapolis, long layover, then another flight to Memphis, followed by the drive to Blue Springs. 

It doesn't matter how long or how arduous the journey, because I'm going home.

My house is not the newest, the biggest, or the most elegant, but it's home and I can hardly wait to be there. I want to snuggle with my dogs, walk by the lake, sleep in my own bed, drink my own coffee. I want my routine.

As I was packing my suitcase this morning, I was reminded of the journey I will eventually take, the one that carries me to my "real" home. Before He left, Jesus promised His disciples that He was going ahead of them to His Father's house. He'd prepare a place for them, and one day He would come back for them. 

Jesus is preparing a place for me, too. One day, He's coming back for me, as well.

When that day comes, there will be no hesitation. I'm going and will be glad for the journey, because there is nothing better than going home. 

I don't know what I'll see first, but I'm hoping for the great white throne of God with Him on it and His Son by His side. The emerald rainbow. The thunder rolling and lightning flashing. The wild and worshipping lion-calf-eagle-man creatures flying about. The crystal sea and the tree of life. The multitudes singing Holy, Holy, Holy and worshipping at the feet of Jesus. 

When I get there, I'll be joining that multitude, worshipping and praising God. 

Nothing else will matter. 

Of course, I want to see my family and friends that have gone before. I want to meet Enoch, that great man who walked with God and was not, because God took him. I hope to find George Muller and William Tyndale and tell them thank you for the lives they lived and the examples they set. 

Most of all, though, I want to see Jesus, because He's the point. He's the reason I've walked this life I'm living, made the choices I'm making.

Jesus is the most important part of this life and the next. 

If you haven't realized that yet, now is a good time to consider your life - both this one and the next. One day, we will all see truth. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. One day...

There's good news. We don't have to wait for "one day".  We can know Him now, serve Him now, and wait with expectation for that glorious day when we leave our troubles and sorrows and pain and suffering behind.

One day, we'll be going home, and when we do, there is nothing in this world that can hold us, nothing we can take along. 

It will be all about Jesus, because it already is. 

#heaven #goinghome #Jesus

In case you missed yesterday's post about attitudes, here's the link:

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Costly Bad Attitude

Last November, I attended a conference in Nashville, Preparing Communities of Refuge, sponsored by CRI. I packed my cutest clothes and far more "stuff" than I needed and headed to Tennessee. 

The information packet they sent mentioned a "new" facility. When I read "new", I expected a building in pristine condition. Something a little like a Holiday Inn. I did not expect an old hospital in the process of being sold for demolition. 

My first hint that things were not as I expected was the non-functional elevator. I usually take the stairs, but not when I'm hauling a suitcase, a backpack, a sleeping bag, pillow, purse and a bag of snacks. 

When I look at the picture of mattresses on the floor now, they don't seem so unusual, but at the time, they shocked me. Four to a room. I would be in a room with three women I'd never met? 

The bathroom left me dumfounded. We had a shower that worked and a toilet that didn't. The commode was wrapped in black plastic and secured with duct tape, the words "Out of order! Do not use!" printed in block letters on the tape. In addition to whatever the black plastic hid, there was a leak. A plastic box was taped to the side of the toilet to catch the water that dripped from the faulty fixture. They weren't planning to repair this?

It was raining outside when I arrived. It was raining in the dining room, too. Large plastic boxes were positioned to catch the water from two leaks in the roof. I was shocked. 

I immediately assumed I knew why the building was in such poor repair. These people must be terrible stewards of what God has given.

My assumptions nearly drove me out the door. I considered leaving, and almost did. God had brought me to this? It seemed unthinkable.

My critical, judgmental attitude nearly cost me one of the most life-changing blessings I've ever had.

The next day I learned that the ministry was a guest in the building. The conditions were "rough" because no repairs were being done in anticipation of demolition. The ministry wasn't being a poor steward of resources. They were embracing an opportunity God had given. 

Nothing was as I assumed.

As I think back on that day and the critical judgmental attitude that nearly robbed me of an experience I will never forget, I wonder what that same attitude has cost me in the past. 

What have false assumptions and inaccurate judgments cost me? How often have I walked away from a blessing in disguise because I didn't like the packaging?

Not every gift comes wrapped in a shiny paper and a sparkly bow. Some gifts from God come with leaky toilets, dripping roofs, non-functional heating systems. 

When difficult situations cause us to see our heart as God sees it, they are nothing short of gifts from above.

It was twenty degrees in Nashville that week. It wasn't much warmer inside than out, and I carried my sleeping bag around like a spare jacket, wrapped myself in it when we sat down. It was cold. Very cold. I look back at that time now, though, and remember the cold and the army green sleeping bag with fondness. 

They were gifts from God because He used them to show me my heart and change me to be more like Him. 

Are there difficulties or unpleasant circumstances in your life? How is God using them to make you more Christlike? What is He showing you, teaching you through those circumstances?

Instead of jumping to conclusions or running for cover, let's ask God to reveal His will and His ways through the difficulties He sends our way.

If we allow Him to transform us, those difficulties can become some of the most precious memories of our lives.

"'I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.'" Jeremiah 29:11 nasb
#disciple #badattitude

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Living after

Tuesday afternoon, not quite 24 hours after Jamie took her last breath in this world, the minister finished his beautiful, love-filled sermon, said a prayer, and pronounced us "dismissed". We were free to go. 

Of course, we didn't go. We milled around, chatting, hugging Sam, and whispering behind his back. Every whisper was some variation of "Is he going to be alright?" I wanted to say, "Of course, he's going to be alright. I'll take care of him. I won't let him be anything but alright." I know that's a ridiculous answer.

It may sound like pride talking, but it's not. It's fear. 

I fear the living after, for sometimes spouses who remain find that the living after is too hard. They can't muster the will to press on and, before you know it, the one left behind gives up and dies, as well. 

I fear Sam will be one of those too-quickly-gone surviving spouses.

In the midst of my occasionally messy life, I've learned a little about loss. It's always hard, and losing someone we love is especially hard. It hurts a long time. When you least expect it, the pain of loss will jab you in the heart and nearly knock you off your feet. A few times, that sneaky pain-jab has not just knocked me off my feet. It laid me flat on my face, and it was a good thing. 

Face to the floor, I poured the pain in my broken heart before God and He took it. He adjusted it. He made something new. He brought me through.

I cannot bear, not even for one second, the thought that Sam might give up and die. That he might not find the will to press through his loss is unthinkable. I know it happens, so don't tell me. I don't want to consider it, not even for a minute. 

The truth, though, is that we will all die, including Sam. One day, the loss I'm grieving will be the man I love the most. Sam's been my daddy, my granddaddy, my dearest friend, my wisest counselor. He has taught me truth I didn't know I needed. He's gently molded me into the woman I have become. 

He's filled some mighty big shoes, and he's done it with more grace than I deserve. 

I love this good man and, as I escorted him into the home that has been filled with so much love, the home that now seems like an empty shell, I choked back tears. Other than Ryan, I love Sam more than anyone else on this earth. His joys are my joys. His sorrows are my sorrows, and this week, his sorrow is overwhelming. 

Most of the people at the funeral knew that I was leaving town the next day. Most people asked, "How can I help?" To every person who asked, I said the same thing. "Go check on him." 

When we are grieving, the thing we need the most is not platitudes. The thing we need the most is for those we love to surround us. To be quiet with us. To weep with us. To be present with us. To help us find our way from grief to life again. 

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." Matthew 5:4

Comfort. That's what Sam will need, and I left town knowing that I can trust those who also love him. The good people of Blue Springs will stop by his house, spend a few minutes at the store talking with him, take him some supper. They will comfort him with their presence and surround him with their love.

The blessing of community is invaluable, but there is even greater help available. I'm counting on the God who has sustained Sam through every other loss he's endured to carry him through this loss, as well. 

"He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." Psalm 147:3

There is no wound we have that God cannot heal, no sorrow He cannot comfort. Sam knows the truth of that promise and so do I. We're counting on it to carry him through. 

Here are the links to previous posts in this series:  The eternal destinationThe VigilA Little Help from My FriendsKeeping My WordDeathbed PrioritiesDeathbed Priorities, part 2Death is Not The End., and Shifting Our Sorrow. 

#grief #griefrecovery #comfortthosewhomourn #Jesus #community

Thanks for traveling this journey with us. There's more to come, and tomorrow, we'll have something other than sorrow to celebrate. I don't know what yet, but I'm sure we will. See you then.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Shifting Our Sorrow

(Note: I leave for an early flight today, so this was written last night.)

Monday, Sam sat at the bedside of his beloved wife, Jamie, as she breathed her last breath and entered eternity. Today, he sat by her casket as friends and family members came to share his grief, offer their love and condolences, and participate in the funeral service that followed. 

The "living after" we feared has begun.  

This afternoon, Sam returned to the home that has been filled with love for more years than he can remember. Now, it seems an empty shell. Tonight, he'll crawl into an empty bed and try to sleep without the consolation of his friend and companion of the last sixty years. I hate this emptiness for him. I'd fill it for him if I could, but sometimes, we have to experience the empty to understand the fullness that will, eventually, come.

It's been a hard week, and we're only two days into it.

Sam's learned about loss in his eighty-five years and there's one thing he knows for sure. 

Only God can bring him through. 

Many of us would be tossing and turning at night, but not Sam. He slept well last night. In his own words, "I went to bed, prayed for a while, and went right to sleep." The night his wife of sixty years died, he handed his sorrow, his fear, and his pain to His Lord and went to sleep. Tonight, he'll do the same thing again. 

Sam understands two very important truths that made his restful night possible, and we would do well to embrace them ourselves. 

We do not grieve as those who are without hope.

Sam is confident Jamie is with God and equally as confident that he will see her again. This is an agonizingly difficult separation, but it's only a temporary one. 

As surely as the sun will rise tomorrow, joy will follow even our deepest sorrow. 

God is in the healing business, and He loves to heal broken hearts. Sam can't see what it will look like, nor when it will come, but He knows, without a shred of doubt, that his God will bring him through. On the other side of this sorrow, there will be joy again. It may not be the joy he expected, but it will be joy, and more than enough.

Tonight, my heart breaks for Sam. This is too much pain for one frail, dearly loved man to bear. As I pondered how in the world I could possibly help ease his suffering, I prayed, "Lord, I'd take his pain if I could." As soon as those words left my mouth, I remembered, Someone already did. Just as Isaiah promised, Jesus came and bore our griefs, carried our sorrows, accepted our sin as if it were His own, and justified us by His precious blood. (If you haven't read Isaiah 53 lately, you should. It's a beautiful passage, and full of hope.) 

Jesus has already carried Sam's sorrow and it did not defeat Him.

I'm holding to that truth tonight. Sam's sorrow is not too big for Jesus, and neither is mine. When I finally crawl into my bed this evening, I'll do the same thing Sam will do. I'll pray until I have peace, then go to sleep.

Tomorrow, the sun will rise. 

There will be grief to hand over, sorrow to shift to Jesus. We'll start the process all over again. When we do, it will be with the same confidence we've had today.

Jesus has carried our sorrow (and yours) before, and He's more than willing to do it again. 
Here are the links to the others stories in this series: The eternal destinationThe VigilA Little Help from My FriendsKeeping My WordDeathbed PrioritiesDeathbed Priorities, part 2, and Death is Not The End.   

Thank you so much for walking this journey with us. Your prayers and encouragement have meant so much to us. Don't leave yet. There's more to come, and it won't all be hard or sorrowful. You've changed us, and we are grateful.
#livingafter #grief #overcominggrief #Jesus #hecarriedmypain

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Death is Not the End

Yesterday, on one of the most beautiful fall afternoons we've had this season, Jamie Wiley took one more breath in this world and stepped away. Her very next breath was taken in eternity. She went so quietly that Sam, sitting at her bedside, already grieving his loss, didn't realize she was gone.

In the short span of eleven days, Sam's world (and mine) spun out of control and, it seems, took on an orbit of its own. From the moment she slid to the ground because "my knees wouldn't hold me" to the moment when, instead of returning to the hospital to drive her home, I returned to help Sam decide about life-support, it's been a whirlwind of devastating surprise and tragedy. Even when we left her at Hospice House for the first time, we flirted with the idea that she might recover and come home again. Little more than twelve hours ago, we left her at Hospice House for the last time. 

This has been hard. 

It's not that we didn't know, at 85 years old, that her time was short. It's not that we feared death. We knew. We understood. What we feared was the surprise. What we feared was the living after.

Yesterday, I took Sam back to the home they've shared for decades and gathered her best clothes (her new blue jeans and favorite red gingham sleeveless shirt) to dress her one last time. As I sorted through her closet and rummaged through her drawers, Sam sat quietly on the end of the bed they'd shared, a stunned expression on his face. 

The grieving has begun, and life will never be the same again.

He knows it, and I do, too. Somehow, Sam will carry on, because that's the kind of man he is. His God has sustained him through the loss of a tiny baby daughter, through the tragic death of his brother, through struggles common to us all. Now, His God will sustain him through this greatest loss imaginable. The One who said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you" has neither left him nor forsaken him even once. 

Death seems so final.

It seems so final, and it is, in a way. Jamie will never again laugh with us or make the best biscuits in the world or bake her famous chocolate cake. Not in this world. Instead, she is in a place so rich that gold is used for gravel. The leaves on the trees have the power to heal the nations. There is no sorrow in that glorious place. No tears. No darkness. God, Himself, is all the light anyone will ever need. 

The description of heaven given in Revelation 21-22 is so beautiful, you should read it for yourself. It's a glorious place, and I am certain Jamie is there, because she turned her life over to the only Savior she ever needed, Jesus Christ, and trusted Him to do with her life as He saw fit. When he chose to take her home, she didn't argue a bit. She went. I imagine she's glad she did.

One day, maybe when we least expect it, our appointed time will come and we, too, will step into eternity. We, too, will meet the Lamb of God who has taken the sins of the world on Himself. We, too, will reach our eternal destination. 

We have a choice to make and it's the most important choice of all.

We can choose darkness or light. Forgiveness or not. Cleansing or not. Jesus or not.

The eternal destination of an "or not" decision is not one I want to consider, and you shouldn't either. Cleansing and restoration of all the sin and hurt in your life is one bent knee away. It's easier than it should be and hard only because we make it so. A loving heavenly Father longs for His children to come to Him. 

Just as Jamie chose the freedom of Christ, so, too, you can choose all He offers. Reach out to Him, admit your sin, and embrace His cleansing. It makes all the difference, in this world and in the next.

The loss Sam sustained yesterday is not the end of the journey. Today, from 1-3 pm, friends and loved ones will gather for visitation and the funeral that follows. We will celebrate the good times and laugh, then cry for our loss. We'll go home to try to live without her. In the midst of our sorrow, we'll celebrate the joy we knew and the reunion of which we are certain.

Your kindness in participating with us through this difficult time has been a surprise to me. I didn't understood it, at least not at first. What I've tried to do is what God does best, make beauty from ashes. (Isaiah 61:3) I'm taking your response as an affirmation of that effort. 

I invited you into our journey and you came. Thank you for joining us. Don't leave us now. There's more to come, and it won't all be hard. After sorrow, joy comes. I plan to share that with you, too. 

Here at the links to the others stories in this series: The eternal destinationThe VigilA Little Help from My FriendsKeeping My WordDeathbed Priorities, and Deathbed Priorities, part 2.  

#thisisnottheend #eternity #griefshared #JesusChrist

Monday, October 5, 2015

Deathbed Priorities, part two: My own priorities change

I wrote about death bed priorities yesterday. My neighbor is at Hospice House and is slowly dying. It's hard to watch her go and even harder to watch my dear Sam grieve. That sweet man made his wife a priority sixty years ago, and he's kept her a priority every day since. Watching them has caused me to examine my life all over again.

As promised, here's a little bit of history on how my own priorities changed. I didn't really want to write this, but it kept me up part of the night, fretting about it. If I want any sleep tonight, I'd better get with it. (There's more to come tomorrow.) 

When I found out I was expecting Ryan, one of my patients said, "You are about to find out what real love is. In fact, you're about to learn about God's love, too." I smiled and thanked her and secretly thought I knew plenty about love. I'd been in Girls' Auxiliary in my church and memorized a mountain of Scripture. I thought I knew plenty about God's love, too.

Then, I spent five and a half months on bed rest because of my blood pressure. Despite the patients waiting for me in every one of my exam rooms, my ob-gyn told me to go home and stay there until the baby came. I could see the ones in rooms and no more. I was shocked and saddened. It felt a little like all my professional dreams evaporated on the spot, but I did it, because I wanted to protect this tiny child growing inside me more than anything else in the world. 

That little baby was too small for me to see, but he was more important than my career, my dreams, or my life. 

I went to bed.

It was hard. I checked out mountains of books from the library every week and read voraciously. I read every book in my house. There's not much else to do when you're in bed, lying on your left side. I read the Warren Report from beginning to end. I learned more than I wanted to know about Castro and the Cuban Missile Crisis.  

I cried a lot.

I grieved for the life I knew that was slipping away. 

I dreamed of the life that would come, that little baby whose arrival would make all the hard times seem like nothing more than a moment of discomfort.

At last, the day for my C-section finally arrived. Things didn't go like I expected. I felt myself sliding into a deep, black tunnel. There was not a glimmer of light in the darkness. When I heard the anesthesiologist shout, "Get the baby out. I'm losing her," I realized I didn't just think I was dying, I knew I was. I'd heard about the light at the end of the tunnel (whether it's a true thing or not, I don't know). There was not a bit of light in my tunnel. 

I was terrified and I cried out. "I don't want to go to hell. Save me, Jesus." And He did.

I've never been the same.

When the nurse put that beautiful blue-eyed boy in my arms, I understood what my patient had said. I finally knew what love was and, in that moment, I began to understand a parent's love for a child. I wondered, "Does God love me like this?" No. He doesn't, I began to learn. He loves me more. 

It's impossible for me to comprehend that God loves me more than I love Ryan, that He loves Ryan more than I love Ryan. He does, though. The only appropriate response is to love in return.

Learning to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength became a priority and it changed everything. It made me a disciple. Loving my son became a priority. I couldn't save my marriage, but I've loved God and Ryan the best I could, and every other priority took a back seat to those two.

Both my Heavenly Father and my son are more important than my medical practice.

I know people thought I was irresponsible and a little crazy for taking a break from medicine more than once. Think what you want. When a child weeps when the phone rings because he knows his mother will be called away, the thing causing that phone to ring has to go. It did. When a teenaged boy needs his mother to help him through the difficult journey of puberty and his high school years, she has to be there. And I was.

I could have made much more money if I'd spent those years practicing medicine instead of making pottery and writing, but there is no amount of money that would replace the time I'd have lost with my son. I know some people think I could have touched many more lives in medicine than at home, but no life is more important to me than this one life of my son. No heart matters more. 

I set my priorities and I lived accordingly. It hasn't pleased everyone, but it's been worth it.

As we face death, it's common to realize we could have lived differently and probably should have. The wonderful thing about priorities is that, as I've seen over the past few days, it's never too late to change. Why not take a look at your own priorities? What occupies first place in your life? Is that what should occupy first place? 

There's one thing I've learned that has helped keep me on this path. When my priorities are right, everything else falls in place

Jesus tried to tell us, but it takes living it to understand."But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." Matt 6:33 nasb
Here are the links to the rest of the series: The eternal destination, The Vigil, A Little Help from My Friends, Keeping My Word, and Deathbed Priorities

#priorities #disciple #JesusChrist #lifewelllived

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Deathbed priorities

After I finished at the Women's Conference at Hope Church yesterday, I stopped by my house to eat and let the dogs out for a few minutes, then hurried (never over the speed limit, of course) on to Hospice House. Sam was sitting by Jamie's bedside with the saddest look I've ever seen. She'd slept most of the morning, so all he'd done for hours was watch the woman with whom he'd shared the last sixty years inch her way toward eternity. 

She woke up while I was there. I offered to feed her and, to my surprise, she ate. We started with chocolate pudding. She thought it was delicious. I'm a fan of chocolate, so that made sense to me. When I removed the lid, the applesauce filled the room with the aroma of apples. It tasted "so good", she said, and I understood that, too.  

I fed her the first bite of pureed peas, and she whispered, "That's good." I like peas, but I don't like pureed peas. The "old Jamie" would never have eaten pureed peas. She would have had plenty to say about them, but it would not have been "that's good". She ate every bite.

Something is different in her. She is staring death in the face as it draws ever closer. The trivial no longer matters. Her priorities have changed and she is changed, too.

Having loved ones near matters. The texture of peas does not.

I wish Jamie had experienced these new priorities sooner. Her life would have been so much more joyful. She'd have had fewer arguments and more laughter. She'd have had more love. More peace.

I don't mean that all Jamie's priorities were wrong. They weren't. She loves Sam and she is a generous woman, loved by many people. She's had a good life.

Jamie, though, is just like the rest of us. She likes what she likes. She wants what she wants. Just as I do. Just as you do.

The problem comes when those things we like and want assume a higher place in our priorities than they should. 

Maybe you've never had a problem with priorities, but I have. Maybe you've never preferred something so much that nothing else would do, but I have. I've wanted it, and worked hard until I got it. It turned out, though, that getting the thing I most preferred never made an eternal difference. 

Only Jesus can do that.

It's easy to forget that priorities determine how we live our lives. They direct our every step. The things that matter most to us, in the end, shape the course of our years and our families, even our careers. When work is more of a priority than family, our spouses and children suffer. When financial security is more important than our faith, everything else in our lives takes a back seat.

Priorities matter, and we would do well to get them in order now, rather than on our deathbeds. 

What does a changed priority matter if we wait until our last few days to change it? Not much. It doesn't improve the quality of our lives or the lives of our family or the world around us. 

If we want a life that matters, we need to start living that life now. 

Love more. Laugh often. Spend less. Give freely. Reach out to all you encounter, the most beautiful and the most unlovely, for all of us walk a treacherous and difficult path through this life.

Today, take a look at the life you are living, at the priorities that drive you. Is this how you want to step into eternity? Is there something that needs to change?  Then change it. 

Stop waiting and start living.

Jesus had some suggestions about lives lived well, and He summed it up in two sentences we'd do well to emulate. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Love your neighbor as yourself." (Matt. 22:37-40)

That's enough for now. Tomorrow, I'll tell you about how my priorities changed. For today, let's ask ourselves, "On my deathbed, will I be glad I've lived my life this way?" If not, it's time to change. (we'll talk about that tomorrow, too.)

Thanks for joining me on this journey through life. I'm glad to be sharing it with you. Let's live it well.
Here's the links to the other stories in this series:  The eternal destination, The Vigil, A Little Help from My Friends, and Keeping My Word

#deathbedpriorities #priorities #Jesusisallthatmatters #disciple