Perspective on: “A Healthy Death . . . .”

“Perspective is everything.”  I don’t know where I picked it up, but it is a phrase I find myself repeating a lot these days.  Yesterday, as I prepared to make the half-hour drive to attend the funeral of my friend Pat, I remembered back to when she told me she had cancer, two and a half months ago.  (Even then, that conversation was so remarkable that I decided to share Pat’s story with you in, A Healthy Death.)   In that conversation, still shaken by the news of Pat’s battle that had been ongoing for three months, I found comfort and blessing as Jim (Pat’s husband) told me how they had decided to pray,

“This is what it boils down to, Kathie,
we are praying for HEALING or . . . for A HEALTHY DEATH!”  

Since writing that post, I have thought often about writing its follow-up . . . hoping to write to you about Pat’s miraculous healing.  Yet inwardly, I also wondered, “If You decide to take Pat Home, Lord, what would You have me write?  What exactly does a healthy death look like?”

As I drove to the funeral home, all I could think about was the pain of separation being experienced by Pat’s family and friends.  It was good to greet and feel the hugs of friends I had not seen for many years.  It was also amazing to see the crowds of others, whom I had never met, but who also had been touched by Pat’s life.  As I watched Pat’s family offer comfort and reassuring hugs to all who came, I was struck by how they reflected the love and strength of the One carrying them.  This, I realized, was my first lesson on what a healthy death looks like–the Body of Christ ministering to one another.

The Service for Pat began with this simple story:

Around 125 A.D., a Greek by the name of Aristeides wrote to one of his friends, trying to explain the extraordinary success of the new religion, Christianity.  In his letter he said, “If any righteous man among the Christians passes from this world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God, and they accompany his body with songs and thanksgiving as if he were setting out from one place to another nearby.”

I was struck by how very much the Christian walk is about pilgrimage–then and now.  The pain of death is nothing new.  However for Christians, the sting of death has been taken away, because of the Hope we share from this life into the next.  In fact, the second lesson on a healthy death, relates to it’s uniqueness to the Christian faith.  There is no possibility of experiencing a healthy death apart from the saving work of Jesus in the heart, mind and soul of the individual.  

During the Service, hearts were ministered to as some of Pat’s favorite songs and hymns were sung. I found the wisdom and perspective of the Scriptures shared to be strengthening and uplifting.  Certainly tears were spilled and will continue for some time, as we remember Pat.  However, as we rely on the Hope embedded in the Resurrection of Christ–promised to all who trust in Him–we are strengthened to persevere on this journey and into the next.  What the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21 reflects our third lesson on a healthy death: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

This morning, I thought about Pat as I remembered the words from an old hymn:

” . . . and when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on!
And when from death I’m free I’ll sing on!”*

The thought of Pat presently experiencing such freedom brought fresh delight to my soul.   This rendition of Fernando Ortega’s, “What Wondrous Love Is This” is a favorite of mine.  I offer it to those of you who may be suffering loss or who are facing uncertainty in your life right now.  What does a healthy death look like?  Take a moment to reflect on this question as you marvel in His Wondrous Grace.  Truly . . . PERSPECTIVE IS EVERYTHING!

“All the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.”
Psalm 139:16b

All to His Glory!

*What Wondrous Love Is This, Author: Unknown, first published 1811.

A Faith That Soars . . . .

It was one of those rare moments when all the pieces fell into place in one full swoop.  We were in the Counseling Room talking about faith.  My Client, having grown up in a loving, Christian home, expressed her longing to regain the “warm fuzzies” of the faith she enjoyed in her youth.  Presently in her early thirties, and having made choices in her young adulthood she deeply regrets, I could see that she was at a spiritual crossroads . . . unsure of the direction she needed to go.

Suddenly, this question wafted out of my mouth and across the room before I even had time to think about it, “Lisa, tell me everything you know about eagles . . . how do they learn to fly?”  Looking at me quizzically, it took her a moment to begin processing the question that appeared to come out of nowhere.  Rephrasing it slightly, I again asked, “What do you know about how eaglets learn to fly?”  

Obviously wrestling with the relevancy of my question to our discussion on faith, Lisa replied, “Well . . . I don’t know . . . I . . . .”

I leaned forward, sensing a growing excitement that the Lord was about to reveal something really special to us.  As I did, I remembered the words of Isaiah that describe God in all of His majesty as He surveys His Creation:

Transfer 5 1012

“Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
Isaiah 40: 22-23

As I thought about God observing us from on high, I measured my words carefully, “Lisa, an eagle’s nest is very large, comfortable and safe for the newborn eaglets.  But as they grow, their parents remove the comfortable stuff to get them to begin to exercise their wings and learn to fly. In fact, they also limit their food by holding it high above them so they have to reach for it.  Lisa, eaglets that do not learn to fly cannot survive.

Thoughtful, as she reflected on our previous conversation about faith, Lisa responded, “Are you telling me, that to continue to long for those warm, fuzzy feelings I enjoyed for so long is somehow wrong?”

I looked at her and felt a smile working outwardly across my face as I said, “Lisa, faith is so much more than a feeling!  God wants MORE for you and I when it comes to growing a mature faith.  God wants you and I to implicitly invest ourselves into knowing the Scriptures and rely on His Holy Spirit– whether the feelings are there or not!”

As I spoke those words, they came at me in a new and fresh way.  For so many years I have listened to Clients struggle with what they call, a “disconnect” in their faith.  Many yearn to go back to those “warm fuzzy” days in their walk with Christ.  They mourn their loss of the feelings that had accompanied their faith before the ravages of “life” assailed them.  In all the years I have sought to walk by faith, it never occurred to me what a detriment to faith our feelings can be.  In no way do I mean to assert that feelings are bad.  However,  I do believe that to measure the strength of our faith by our feelings is a grave error.  The litmus test of a mature faith that pleases God, boils down to Jesus’ declaration recorded in John 14:15,

“If you love Me you will obey My commandments.”

As Lisa and I continued to talk, the concluding verses of Isaiah 40 opened yet another door in my mind, shedding light on the kind of faith every servant of Christ should ascribe to:

“Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and His understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”
Isaiah 40: 28-31

 A faith that soars cannot rely solely on feelings– such a faith
comes dangerously close to becoming self-centered rather than focused on Christ.
Just as eaglets must trust their parents to learn to fly,
a faith that soars must also learn from the loving obedience of our Savior.
 

In those final moments in the Counseling Room, the walls fell away as Lisa and I considered the limitless possibilities of a soaring faith . . . .  No matter where you are right now in your faith, be encouraged–God has a plan and purpose for your life.  No matter what you have said or done in the past, resolve to look to Christ rather than to your feelings as you make choices based on loving obedience to Him.  You may not realize it immediately but I guarantee, your faith lived out in obedience will enable you to soar beyond your feelings, to a glorious eternity with Him.

All to His Glory!

Good Friday . . . What’s So “Good” About It?

The water was perfectly still as we passed the lake yesterday afternoon–reflecting the heavy layers of dark and foreboding clouds that filled the sky.  The scene struck me as being very appropriate on this day of remembrance–Good Friday–when Jesus was crucified:

“From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land.  About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lemasabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”

Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink.  The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He gave up His spirit.”
                                                                                                     Matthew 27:46-50

Picture taken by Heidi Viars~~

During the candlelit Good Friday service at my church, there was a wooden cross draped in black erected in the center of the Sanctuary.  Many Scriptures were read and hymns sung, as candles were snuffed out one by one.  It was as if we had entered into the events of that awful day . . . events that were the fulfillment of a prophecy written hundreds of years before:

But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on Him,
and by His wounds we are healed.

Isaiah 53:5

 Good Friday . . . what’s so “good” about it?

Sunday is coming!

Safe

Kathie at hisglorysm:

Need encouragement? Then be blessed by the assuring reminders of God’s tender mercies extended to His people. (Life is hard, but Resurrection Sunday (Easter) is coming!

Originally posted on Wings of the Dawn:

march 31st sunrise 031

No matter how deep the pain you endure,
The presence of God, your Healer, is sure.

No matter how strong the snares that you face,
The power of Christ has conquered the grave.

No matter how lost you might think you are,
The love of your Maker is never far.

No matter what troubles threaten to harm,
Today you’re safe in His strong, loving arm.
~
Psalm 91:1-4 (NASB)
 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
 I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
My God, in whom I trust!”
 For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper
And from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with His pinions,
And under His wings you may seek refuge;
His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.
~march 31st sunrise 058

(Pictures…

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A Comforting Grace . . . .

“It’s hard, but God is good.”  Those are the words I find myself repeating when a friend mentions the loss of my father. Some look at me quizzically and a silence lingers as they wait for me to offer more– that I know that he is in a better place (which I do.)  The problem is, when I say anything more I find myself battling unwanted tears welling up in my eyes. The odd thing is, until a week ago, I would have told you that I was, “Doing just fine.”

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Christmas, 1953

Few of us escape seasons when we find ourselves battling emotions that appear to come out of nowhere.  To say that I have been surprised by grief is an understatement.  When I received word that Dad died, it was not unexpected. Dad’s health had been declining for several years, to the point where he was confined to a wheelchair the last time I saw him.  Living three thousand miles apart, my brother Norm has been extremely good to let me know about Dad’s overall health–the good days as well as his drastic decline three days prior to his death.  When I said goodbye to Dad last fall, I knew that it was likely the last time I would see him.  I was grateful Norm was there too . . . grateful to see Dad bask in the loving care he was receiving.

That Dad is in a better place is without question.  Yet, despite knowing this, I STILL MISS HIM.  I miss hearing his voice and seeing his face light up when I came into his room.  The one Scripture that truly speaks to the emotional loss I am presently experiencing is, “Jesus wept.”  (John 11:35)

It is a comforting grace to know that Jesus,
not only walked among us, but He wept for and with us. 

This especially resonates when we read about the death of Lazarus in John 11.  Jesus did not weep when He informed His disciples that Lazarus had died–in fact He initially told them Lazarus had fallen asleep. (verses 11-14)  It was not until Jesus saw Mary* and others around her grieving, that He was brought to tears:

“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled . . . . Jesus wept.”
John 11:33, 35

We talk about this in the Counseling Room.  When we find ourselves on an emotional roller coaster after suffering a loss or when experiencing anxiety and/or depression, it is a comforting grace to know that God is not offended by our struggle.  In fact, when we find ourselves colliding with trouble, the Bible assures us that He has compassion on His people. (Matthew 14:14 and 20:34; Mark 6:34)

Yet God does not want us to remain spiritually frail.  During the twenty years I have been privileged to Counsel, I have repeatedly marveled at God’s faithfulness in transforming human brokenness into a loveliness and strength that is fully of Him.  The key to that transformation? Time after time it has consistently occurred in those who embrace the Authority of the Scripture as God’s Spirit has tended to each heart.  Jesus continues to call us to Himself, offering His Comforting Grace to all who seek Him:

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.…”
Matthew 11:28,29

Yes, I still miss my dad and trust that I will for some time.  In fact, as I have been able to identify the blessing of His Comforting Grace being worked out in my life right now, I give thanks to God for the sweetness of memories that can never be taken away.

All to His Glory!

 *The sister of Lazarus who would soon anoint Jesus’ feet with perfume and wipe them with her hair– John 12:3.

A Simple Faith: Connecting-the-Dots As God Intends . . . .

A favorite pastime I enjoyed as a child was working connect-the-dots puzzles–the greater the difficulty the better.  Back then, I found the process of locating the starting place and carefully following the numbered sequence to reveal the image inwardly satisfying.  Often the picture that was revealed was, at best, a rough skeletal image. What gave me the greatest pleasure was going back over the image exposed by my pencil, to soften the lines and make the picture a more realistic likeness.  If I really got into it, I used my colored pencils to enhance it even further.

Until recently, I never thought about how strongly my approach to living and problem-solving relate back to that simple pleasure.  When counseling I listen for the essentials, many that at first glance appear unrelated.  I ask questions to clarify and better understand how my client perceives their problem(s).  What I find most helpful, in connecting-the-dots as I work with Clients, is in paying attention to how they respond to the Scripture we read during the session.

It is our response to what God says that determines
how accurately (or inaccurately) we will “connect-the-dots”
to learn life lessons as God intends.

Several months ago I received one of those rare connect-the-dot gifts that has blessed me in countless ways.  It was a book containing a collection of letters written in the 1700’s by John Newton* about faith.  Newton, who prior to his conversion was involved in the slave trade, wrote of his relationship with the God he came to love and serve with these words:DSC02073

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home . . . .

The wisdom of Newton’s “Amazing Grace” has continued to resonate from generation to generation.  What I have discovered in reading his letters, is the timeless beauty of a faith fully invested in trusting God.  It is Newton’s insights, written to encourage others so long ago, that have broadened and deepened my own understanding of what he referred to as, a simplicity of faith:

 “Our hearts are very dark and narrow, and the very root of apostasy is a proud disposition to question the necessity or propriety of divine appointments. But the child-like simplicity of faith is to follow God without reasoning; taking it for granted a thing must be right if He directs it, and charging all seeming inconsistencies to the account of our own ignorance. (p.116)

Although “grace” is not mentioned, it certainly is implied.  It is fully by God’s Grace that we are able to connect-the-dots to embrace a humble faith.  These are the “dots” that helped to deepen my understanding of Newton’s “simplicity of faith”,

  1. “Our hearts are very dark and narrow . . . a proud disposition (that) questions (doubts)” God’s Authoritative Goodness.  Apart from the transforming work of God’s Grace in the human heart, we remain condemned and without Hope.
  2. “But the child-like simplicity of faith is to follow God without reasoning; taking it for granted a thing must be right if He directs it . . . .”  I am struck by how often my mind goes to Isaiah 1:18, where God says, “Come now, let us reason together . . . .”  I  must confess that I am quite comfortable with the notion of a “reasonable faith.”  However, Newton’s assertion denies the veracity of a faith built on reason.  Such a faith is not faith at all, having lost sight of our great need for forgiveness and mercy before a Holy God. 
  3. The last “dot” points to the necessity of humility as being essential to maintaining a simple faith: ” . . . and charging all seeming inconsistencies to the account of our own ignorance.”  When we forget the corrupt state we were saved out of, arrogance assumes equality with God.  There is no room for a meaningful faith apart from a humble, grateful heart. 

The Apostle Paul affirms all of this in Ephesians 2: 1-10 where he wrote:

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air . . . . Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions . . . . For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

It is the final verse that brightens and lightens our vision, to appreciate the way God works in the hearts and lives of His people through a simple faith:

 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Ephesians 2:1-10

A dear friend once told me that Paul’s reference to “God’s workmanship” actually means that we are “God’s poem.”   As we continue to walk in simple faith we find rest in God’s Sovereign Goodness.  I love the notion of being part of His Divine Poetry as He connects-the-dots toward the light and hope of our future with Him.  

All to His Glory!

 *Letters of John Newton, With Biographical Sketches and Notes by Josiah Bull, first published 1869, First Banner of Truth Edition 2007.

Lost and Found . . . .

 

Yesterday I received a phone call that I hoped to never hear: “Hey Kath . . . are you sitting down?  Dad died this morning . . . .”  

How does one prepare for the pain of losing someone you love?  I have faced that question with many a Client; searched the Scriptures for glimmers of hope when darkness threatened to overtake me.  When feeling lost in a sea of emotion, my thoughts inevitably run to the wisdom of Scripture,

My sweet dad . . . three weeks ago.

My sweet dad on “Mustache Day”. . . three weeks ago.

“Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.”
Matthew 5:4

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  

I Thessalonians 5:16-18

“And God shall wipe away all tears . . . and death shall be no more,
nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more,
for the former things are passed away.”

Revelation 21:4

My mind ran in snippets yesterday as I remembered my dad as a much younger man.  He was number five in a line of six children, grew up during the Depression on a farm in Pixley, California.  He was loyal, dedicated to loving his family, and was never afraid of hard work.  My first “real” memory of Dad goes back to when I was three years old, after he returned from the fight in Korea.  I remember the strength of his arms when he picked me up and held me close.  The following years are a blur of Dad working hard to care for our family–even as he struggled with the aftereffects of war.  A memory I especially cherish, is of walking down the church aisle on his arm, to marry my husband of (now) forty-four years.  Even sweeter were the decades that followed, when he embraced his role as, “Grandpa Clyde”. . . priceless!

While desiring to find a a resting place for all the thoughts and memories that whirled through my mind, I could not come to terms with the harsh reality of being separated by his death.  This morning, God’s shepherding hand touched my mind and heart through a post written by Heidi Viars.   In her post, Heidi describes a scene that took place in a parking lot on a freezing cold day.  After coming out of a store, she noticed a store worker, standing out in the cold without a coat.  After loading her packages into her car and seeing the woman still standing there, this conversation ensued:

 “‘Are you OK?’, I asked.

She looked at me and said, ‘Yeah, just cold.’

I realized she was watching the car next to us. A man in his eighties, maybe nineties, was occupying the passenger seat. His eyes were sad and his head nervously moving back and forth.

‘I saw him wandering in the parking lot. He was lost and I helped him get back in his car. I think he has dementia. I am just waiting for someone to return for him.’ the woman said.”

I was struck by how the lost elderly man reminded me of my dad in recent years.  Age definitely took a toll on Dad as he fought to retain his independence.  It was hard when he had to admit that he could no longer take care of Mom by himself.  I wanted them to move closer to where I live.  Dad rightly refused the offer, citing his desire to stay closer to his sisters and the rest of the family. The move proved to be a good one.  Mom and Dad benefited from getting their medications on time, eating healthier food and enjoying visits from family.  Even so, the bitter reality of dementia robbed him of the joy of being able to drive when he became hopelessly lost in what had been familiar places.  When Mom died two years ago, Dad’s lostness increased.  “I miss Mama,” were the words he most frequently uttered when anyone tried to talk to him.  Even so, we noticed a sweet gentleness emerge in these final years, more in keeping with the farm boy he was when he gave his heart to Jesus at age thirteen.

Time has slipped away all too fast for our family, but the words of the woman standing watch over the elderly man in the parking lot brought a comforting perspective, “I am just waiting for someone to return for him.”  In a sense, that is exactly what has happened these past two years with Dad.  We have enjoyed him to the best of our abilities as Dad has waited in hope for the return of His Savior.

Christ suffered for our sins once for all time.
He never sinned, but He died for sinners to bring you safely home to God.”

I Peter 3:18
(New Living Translation)

Of the snippets that continue to run around in my head, the words from John Newton’s, Amazing Grace, come continually to the forefront,

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

Feeling lost?  Desiring to be found?  There is no one greater than the Good Shepherd of our hearts, to lead us safely HOME.

All to His Glory!