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.  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, 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 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!

The Prayers of the Saints . . . .

 
And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints,
ascended before God from the angel’s hand.” 
Revelation 8:4
When I last visited my dad, his once six-foot-four frame was bent and crumbled in his bed from the effects of aging and pneumonia.  Many of you prayed for Dad so I thought you would appreciate this update–the prayers of the saints do touch God’s heart!
So grateful for time with my dad!

My dad is still alive!  When I had to leave him eight months ago I did not expect to see him alive again.  Though very frail, he was dressed and sitting in his wheelchair watching the television when my sister-in-law and I walked into his room last week.  When he saw me, Dad grabbed my hands as he looked into my face repeating softly, “You’re beautiful . . . you’re just so beautiful!”  With tears in my eyes and a grateful heart all I could say was, “Oh Daddy, I love you too!”  We visited until it was time for him to go to lunch, knowing that he would probably need to sleep the rest of the afternoon.  When we left he gladly joined his seatmates as we promised to visit again the following day.

Later that night, my brother received a phone call informing him that Dad was being transported to the hospital emergency room.  Fearing a repeat of the last time Dad was rushed to the hospital, we prayed for Dad as we wondered . . . what was going to happen this time?  The emergency waiting room was overflowing when we arrived; we were told that we would have to wait to be called back to see Dad.  When we were finally called back, instead of seeing him terrified and confused as he struggled to breathe, Dad’s eyes and words met us with marked irritation, “I have been here for an hour and have yet to see a doctor . . . what the heck am I doing here?!!”  My brother and I resisted the temptation to laugh, both of us relieved that this definitely would not be a repeat of what happened before!

We ended up sitting all night with Dad, waiting for the results of tests that would help determine what his doctors thought was the best treatment plan for Dad.  The odd thing about it was that he was more awake and talkative than I had seen him be in over a year!  Several times, worried that he needed to rest, I closed my eyes with the hope that he would follow my example.  When I opened my eyes to see if he was asleep, I was startled to see his eyes staring into my face!  It was as if he was intent on drinking in all that he saw to be savored at some later date.  In the end Dad was released to go home at about four in the morning; but because he is wheelchair bound we had to wait until eight to arrange transportation to return him to his apartment.  A special bus finally arrived to return him to his apartment.  As he was being raised in his wheelchair on the bus’s elevator I was gifted with this most precious sight:

My eighty-seven year old father with his arms raised in victory like Rocky!
 Having endured an “all-nighter” in the confines of a local emergency room . . .
he was happily escaping to return to the place he has come to call “home”. . . .

As he continued to wave and the bus took off, I felt as if we had somehow switched places, as I remembered the day I climbed on the school bus to attend my first day of kindergarten.  Back then it was me, waving happily at the start of a new adventure.  I did not have a camera to take his picture, but it will remain etched in my mind so clearly that I know I will never forget Dad’s joy-filled victory.

It ended up being a wonderful week of blessing for me and my family.  When I left it was a teary but joyful goodbye as I entrusted my dad and family to God’s loving care.

Thank you for your kind prayers, they mean more than you can ever know!

“But thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ
and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him.” 
II Corinthians 2:14

All to His Glory!

 

“Quality of Life?” It’s All In How You Look At It ~

 
“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build . . . .”
Ecclesiastes 3:1-3

As I sit in Intensive Care watching my dad breathe on his own, I am overflowing with gratitude for God’s merciful love–no more tubes! .  It has been  six days since he was rushed to the Emergency Room; six days since my brother and I were confronted with making a life or death choice.  The options my brother and I faced were to treat the pneumonia or watch our father die within a few hours. The question we were asked was, “What is his quality of life?'”  Certainly, at eighty-six Dad has slowed down considerably and on some days demonstrates signs of dementia.  But just six hours before, as I left him at his assisted-living apartment, he winked at me and said, “I love you” when I knew he was feeling lousy.

It is funny how the mind works during times of crisis.  As I watched Dad struggle to breathe through the night, I saw flashbacks of him in my mind–black and white photos of him marched through my mind as a much younger man playing his trumpet . . . as a machine gunner in Korea . . . and as a hard working husband and father,  Losing Mom eight months ago was hard, but he had responded well to the outreach of others and seemed to be doing well until he got sick three weeks ago.  He had been using a walker but became so sick and weak he had been using a wheel chair the previous week.  “Quality of life?”  It’s all in how you look at it.

I also thought about my friend and fellow blogger Bill, at Unshakable Hope.  Bill was diagnosed with ALS sixteen years ago.  Through his illness God has used Bill to love and encourage his family, friends and countless people around the world with a message that underscores God’s faithfulness.  In his most recent post he wrote a wonderful tribute to his wife Mary as the greatest Christian he has ever known.  “Quality of life” for Bill?  I cannot presume to answer for him, but I believe it would be safe to say that Bill’s courage and determination to trust in the God he loves has made an incredible difference.

As night turned into morning, even as Dad’s numbers improved on the myriad of machines that surrounded him and he began to respond to the antibiotics–we struggled–were we doing the right thing?  Prayer kept us moving forward but we worried, “What if he ends up needing oxygen for the rest of his life . . . or worse?”  It was at that point when I wondered, “How did we get to the place where death has become the preferred option in the name of ‘quality of life?'”   

Still in ICU but making great progress!
Still in ICU but making great progress!

In our cultural preference for youth and all things material, it seems we have lost sight of God’s orderly plan for the seasons of our lives.  That long dark night with my dad, when I fretted about making the wrong decision, I lost sight of God’s perfect plan being worked out for our family.  Even so, God continued to work despite my fears and doubts, bringing us to a deeper appreciation for His faithfulness.  This morning, as I reflect on the past week I have regained that strength and confidence that rests in His Sovereign Goodness.  Psalm 46 is a Psalm that ministers to those in crisis as it directs us to find rest for our souls in Him:

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
 
There is a river whose streams make glad the City of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
He lifts His voice, the earth melts.
 
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations He has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
He burns the shields with fire.
 
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord Almighty is with us;

the God of Jacob is our fortress.

“Quality of life?”  It’s all in how you look at it!

All to His Glory!

The Mysterious Love of God

For weeks I had struggled . . . my heart and mind still hearing Dad’s labored breathing as he whispered, “I love you” three thousand miles away.  Wanting to be with him, yet having to wait until the time was right (God’s mysterious love working good things out), it was painful to finally see him face-to-face: changed yet still offering that gentle smile that said, “I love you.”

I left him in the late afternoon, looking like he was feeling better after a breathing treatment had been applied. Yet hours later, we received a call telling us that Dad was being taken to the Emergency Room–struggling to stay alive.  What we saw when we arrived was a Dad we never wanted to see–our Dad silently experiencing a nightmare of unbelievable proportions written all over his face.  We wondered, “Is this the end?” for our gentle Dad who so faithfully tended to his family all of his life?  We waited . . . we prayed and we wondered . . . what would God have us do as death loomed larger than life over this man we are privileged to call “Dad”?  At eighty-six Dad has lived a good life . . . was it to end like this?

I thought of Jeremiah’s hope expressed in Lamentations 3:22-24,

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
   for His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
   great is Your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
  therefore I will wait for Him.” 

It was a long journey through that night . . . Dad hung on and we continued to wait for God’s direction.  When morning arrived we continued to wait, dreading the thought of having to “pull the plug” on the life we held so dear.

Finally, it was as if the heavens opened up when we were told there was an option–to treat the pneumonia that had gotten really bad.  It was only a shot but we decided to try to treat the pneumonia and trust God for the outcome.  Right now I am in ICU with Dad, grateful for the quiet shelter provided us.  As nurses, technicians and doctors come and go, I wait and trust as I listen to his quiet breathing.  What God has in store for us I do not know, but I trust in His mysterious love being worked out in Dad’s life for our good and to His Glory.

Are you in a place where the Journey is rough and you do not know how much more you can take?  Be encouraged as I am, by the wisdom and hope given us by Jeremiah:

“The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.” 

All to His Glory!

The Secret to Aging Well . . . .

If old grapes become prized as fine wine after aging over time and old furniture  increases in value as it is deemed to be antique, why do we have so little regard for people as they age? Living in a culture that celebrates youth and regards aging as something to delay or stop altogether, I fear that we have lost sight of the wisdom and perspective that can only be gained with time and experience.   I wonder if:

  • In our quest to avoid appearing older, we do ourselves a disservice in denying not only our own mortality but also our Creator?  
  • As we absorb ourselves with appearing outwardly young, are we leaving undiscovered the potential richness of character grown over time as we entrust ourselves to God as we age?
  • Have we, in our self-absorption, not only lost sight of God with our warped outlook but also lost the secret to aging well?

Of course, not all grapes become fine wine and most furniture either breaks, is worn out or discarded long before it could be categorized as antique.  The same can be said about people, except that inanimate objects have no choice as they age but you and I do.  The Scriptures teach that at the end of our days we will have to give an account to God as to how we have lived and the choices we have made.

So, is there such a thing as aging well?  I cannot speak to you as any sort of authority except to say that, like you, I continue to be a work in process.   However, the Scriptures have much to teach us to help keep our priorities straight:

  1. In I Samuel 16:7 we gain insight into how vastly different God’s priorities are from ours:  “But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him.  For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”  Our lesson?  Go to God with an open and contrite heart; admit your need to for His help to make your heart right before Him.
  2. Starting NOW, give thanks to Him for the hope that is ours because of what Jesus accomplished on your behalf and mine.  Determine to live each day as Jesus directed in Mark 10:15, 16, “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And He took the children in His arms, placed His hands on them and blessed them.”  

There is no formula or magic potion to help us age well, but attitude is certainly important.  What truly pleases God (no matter what our age) is a simple, trusting faith that opens heart, mind and soul to Him.  I don’t know when or how I learned it, but I have found this classic children’s prayer to be helpful for nearly six decades when life has been especially tough and I have been at a loss as to how to pray:

“Now I lay me down to sleep,
    I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
    I pray the Lord my soul to take . . . .”

It is a scary prayer to pray, sobering even for a child of seven.  I still hesitate before reciting the words, “If I should die before I wake . . . . “  as I am reminded of my own mortality before a holy God.  Part of me wants to pull back out of fear, but I am still compelled to push past those fears because of Christ’s faithfulness.  Even now, as I pray those words I choose to trust my Creator, surrendering my body . . . my mind . . . and my soul to Him.

So what is the secret to aging well?  I believe it is the mysterious working of God’s Spirit and His Word in those willing to trust Him:

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”  Hebrews 4:12, 13

It is faith lived out on a daily basis that demonstrates a life lived well at any age.

“May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.  I Thessalonians 5:23, 24

All to His Glory!