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!

A Healthy Death . . . .

When I picked up the phone, I thought it was going to be one of those “catching up” conversations that occur when longtime friends have not communicated for a while.  Straight off, Pat told me she had cried when she read our New Years letter about Luke and Shannon’s battle with cancer. Feeling bad about making her cry, I attempted to shift the focus from the pain of the previous year, to the hope we have as Luke and Shannon re-enter the normalcy of jobs and ordinary life. Then I heard Pat say:

“You aren’t going to believe this Kathie, but last October I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.  Regular exams and tests never picked it up . . . they think I may have had it for several years but just didn’t know it.”

Stunned by Pat’s words, I heard little else as the words stage 4 cancer assaulted my thinking.  No longer naive about what the term means, tears welled up in my eyes as inwardly I cried out, “Please God, NO!”

Pat and her husband Jim have been friends of our family for many years.  Pat served our community well as the Director of our local Pregnancy Help Center.  Jim was a Navy Chaplain before coming here to start Hope Counseling Center and eventually to Pastor a church.  I am especially grateful for the godly wisdom and insight Jim imparted to me as he oversaw my counseling internship when I was completing my degree.  I continued to work at Hope for many years under Jim; I continue to value his insights when facing difficult cases or personal challenges.

We focus not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  What is seen is temporary; what is unseen is eternal.  II Cor. 4
“We focus not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. What is seen is temporary; what is unseen is eternal.” II Corinthians 4

As Pat continued to talk, my mind spun in dizzying circles.  I thought about how Pat and Jim had dedicated their lives to Christ; how they sacrificed much to impact the lives of countless numbers of people for Him.  I found myself wondering, “Why must they have to face such pain and heartache?  Couldn’t they (and their family) be spared the ugliness of cancer?”  Inwardly I caved to the growing sickness I felt in my gut.  I searched for words to offer hope and comfort to my friend . . . but the pantry of my mind was sparse that day.

Then Jim got on the phone.  He admitted that they had both reeled with the unexpected news.  He then talked about how they struggled with the age old dilemma Christians face in times such as these: If we have the assurance of heaven, is it wrong to cling to life?   The Apostle Paul also wrestled with this question in Philippians 1:21-21:

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but . . . .”  

I appreciated Jim’s perspective when he answered my unspoken question by sharing how they had decided to pray:

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

I was pierced to the core as I reflected on the wisdom of Jim’s prayer for his beloved Pat.  Both HEALING and A HEALTHY DEATH honor Christ and keep Him in the center of their thinking.  They would continue to do what they could do to care for Pat as God opened doors of opportunity.  In the mean time, Pat was doing what she could do to encourage others as she passed on the wisdom she was gaining through this process.

When my husband and I went to visit Jim and Pat a few days later, we were blessed beyond measure.  Unable to walk because of the pain, Pat met us at the door on her little scooter.  Once settled in her special chair, it was hard to see her squirm as the pain came and went.  Even so, it was an afternoon I will not soon forget as we talked, laughed and reflected on God’s goodness.

Since our visit, the wisdom of the Apostle Paul in II Corinthians 4 has been a constant encouragement:

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed.
We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake,
so that His life may also be revealed in our mortal body.
So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”
(Verses 8-12)

Are you feeling “hard pressed . . . perplexed . . . persecuted . . . or, struck down”?  Then be encouraged that if you are in Christ, you are “not crushed, in despair, abandoned, or destroyed!” Truly, that is very good news!  But it gets better Friend!  As we take hold of the conclusion of chapter four, we discover the key to persevering through any hardship to the other side:

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away,
yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us
an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen,
since what is seen is temporary,
but what is unseen is eternal.”

(Verses 16-18)

All to His Glory!

A Timeless Hope That Lessens the Sting . . . .

I don’t remember the last time I was stung by a bee, but it alway surprises me when the intensity of the pain seems to take my breath away.  Almost comically, my next thought invariably is, “Man! I totally forgot how much a bee’s sting hurts!”

This past year, our family was stung hard by news that no one ever wants to hear.  Barely one year ago, our son Luke was diagnosed with cancer.  We had hoped surgery and radiation would take care of it, but this fall he had to receive twenty-one chemotherapy infusions.   The week of Luke’s last treatment, we were stung again when we learned that our daughter-in-love, Shannon (Luke’s wife), also has cancer that requires immediate surgery.

I have to be honest, when the paralyzing jolt of “cancer” hit, it stung us harder than anything else ever has. Feeling as if our world was falling apart, it was more than we could bear.  It was then, that we cried out, “Please God, help!”

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly He answers our cries for help; how His Spirit reminded us of Scripture that helped us through previous battles and how He brought to light new passages that have deepened our faith:

“Now HOPE does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
Romans 5:5, (NKJV)

“May the GOD OF HOPE fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him,
so that you may overflow with HOPE by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13

“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because,
having stood the test,that person will receive the crown of life
that the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.”
For God cannot be tempted by evil,nor does He tempt anyone . . . . “

James 1:12, 13

The rawness of life can sting us hard at times, yet, when we are knocked down and lack the strength needed to get up–God supplies.  He provides the perspective needed to enable us to stand, as He dusts us off and sends us in the direction He would have us go.  In Him we have a TIMELESS HOPE who will carry us through even the darkest hour:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.
Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers
of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes,
you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Ephesians 6:10-13

Are you struggling right now at the unfairness of life?  Do you find yourself grumbling inwardly as the sting of bitterness and resentment intensify and everything around you seems hopeless?  As a dear friend said to me many years ago, “Kathie, if you are talking to yourself when you are angry or hurt, you are probably sinning.  Talk to God instead and He will help you like nothing else can!”  I Peter 3:15 sets the tone well for switching our spiritual gears from hopelessness to a growing, intentional, God-centered faith that is bent on loving others:

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you
to give the reason for the HOPE that you have within you. But do this with gentleness and respect . . . .”

 I Peter 3:15

Transfer 6 034

As I reflect on the TIMELESS HOPE that is ours through Christ, my mind brings me full-circle.  Suddenly, I am back in the Garden before sin mucked everything up, wondering . . . “were bees in the Garden of Eden?”  Understanding their role in pollination and being appreciative of the natural sweetness of their labor (honey), I believe the answer is, “yes!”  Even as things are now, I admit that I enjoy watching them do their work in my garden–keeping a respectful distance of course!  But did they sting with such a vengeance then?  I think not.  As I look out to our garden, winter has barely settled in.  I do not know what the future holds, yet I already long for spring.  When I think about the sting of suffering and heartache that are so much a part of this life, I yearn for the return of Christ Jesus, when the Promise will be fulfilled and the sting . . . no more!

“And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’”
Revelation 21:5

Come Lord Jesus . . . COME!

 All to His Glory!

Spiritual Stepping-Stones . . . .

While thinking about spiritual stepping-stones earlier in the week, I remembered some very special stepping-stones off the coast of Cornwall, England.  Named after a legendary giant named Bedruthan, we took our children to see the rocky formations the giant supposedly used as stepping-stones to cross the bay. The view was spectacular as we stood on a cliff several hundred feet above the Bedruthan Steps–imagining the giant crossing the bay toward us against the setting sun.

Bedruthan Steps, Cornwall, England
Bedruthan Steps, Cornwall, England

The Bible does not mention stepping-stones, but it does talk about running a spiritual race that God has laid out for us.  One of my favorites is found in Hebrews 12:1,

“Therefore, since we are surrounded
by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders
and the sin that so easily entangles.
And let us run with perseverance
the race marked out for us . . . . “

Sometimes, particularly when we are feeling “stuck” in a situation, it helps to look back to where we have been to get our bearings.  Looking for a practical way to work this “looking back in order to move forward” idea, it struck me that to prayerfully identify meaningful events in our lives as spiritual stepping-stones, could be very helpful.  Here are some basics to enter into this process:

  • The process must begin and end with prayer to be truly effective.  (It is God who has established “the race marked out for us,” so it is entirely reasonable to look to Him for the practical insight we need.)  Ask Him to help you identify: a) meaningful events that have impacted you; b) the Scripture Marker you remember it by and, c) the Spiritual Stepping-Stone that helped you to move forward.
  • The first spiritual stepping stone marks when we embrace Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives.

To help you get started in this process, I am going to share five personal Scripture Markers that influenced my life and the resulting Spiritual Stepping- Stones that brought me to where I am today.  This is a very personal process so your list will look very different from mine–that is the whole point!  So don’t get caught up on what I have listed:

  1. Asked God to take over my life; to save me from myself.  
    • Scripture Marker: “Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again . . . no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit..”  (John 3:3, 5)  
    • Spiritual Stepping-Stone: Jesus became my resting place as well as my primary source of strength each and every day.
  2. When overwhelmed by the possibility of losing our third born, God quieted my heart with the assurance that His purpose (no matter what happened) was for our family’s good.  
    • Scripture Marker: Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  (James 1:2-4)  
    • Spiritual Stepping Stone: I found great comfort in God’s goal for me: “to be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  I embraced His goal as my own.
  3. When faced with the challenges of being a single mom (back when my husband was away much of the time) the Shepherd blessed me with this verse one Sunday morning:
    • Scripture Marker:  “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young.”  (Isaiah 40:11)  
    • Spiritual Stepping-Stone: I was greatly comforted by the assurance that my Shepherd was watching over me.j
  4. On 9/11/2001 I struggled all day trying to get my spiritual bearings as I watched the tragedy unfold.  I begged God for help that entire day, but it seemed as if Heaven was silent.  Late that night after finally turning off the TV, I went up to go to bed.  As I pulled back the covers to get into bed,  these thoughts ran through my head like an electronic billboard: “Hate what is evil: cling to what is good . . . GOD IS GOOD.”  
    • It was not until several days later that I found the Scripture Marker: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. “ (Romans 12:9)
    • Spiritual Stepping-Stone: I slept peacefully that night despite the grief experienced that awful day.  Since that time, I have learned to major on loving others, while leaning on the Lord to face- off evil in the world.
  5. When frightened because of personal health concerns I found myself gripped by fear as I contemplated my future. 
    • Scripture Marker: “This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength . . . .”  (Isaiah 30:15)  
    • Spiritual Stepping-Stone: God’s answer calmed my fears as I learned to stop running and intentionally trust Him more. 

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.  I was surprised by how the process came together once I got started.  If a Scripture Marker does not come to you right away, ask God to help you identify one that is meaningful to you.  (You need the Scripture Marker to provide your Spiritual Stepping-Stone to stand on.)  Whether you are facing a difficult situation, have an important decision to make or are at a relatively quiet place in your life, I encourage you to take time to do this for yourself.  Being able to view the Spiritual- Stepping-Stones of your life cannot help but strengthen you to finish the race God has marked out for you!

All to His Glory!

Prayer + “The Ripple Effect” = An Ocean Of God’s Love

I have to admit that I find myself cringing whenever I hear someone say, “Well, I guess all we can do is pray.”  I cringe, not because I am judging that person–God knows I have thought and said the same thing many times in the past.  No, I cringe because I have learned, in my thirty-plus years of walking with Christ and after twenty years of Counseling, that prayer must be our first priority and should never be left as a last resort.  When we are more about “doing”–and therefore make prayer secondary–we miss out on participating in the mysterious and wondrous workings of God.  The simple wisdom and counsel of Isaiah 55:6 says it all,

Seek the LORD while He may be found;
Call upon Him while He is near.

Seek the Lord NOW through prayer; call upon Him NOW!  When we seek God with prayers large and small, we become part of what I like to refer to as “the ripple effect.”  Ordinarily, the term “ripple effect” refers to when a stone is thrown into a still pond . . . after the ‘plunk’ comes the myriad of ripples that move across the otherwise still water.  Merriam-Webster.com defines it this way,

The Ripple Effect

Ripple effect: “a spreading, pervasive, and usually unintentional effect or influence.” 

In Christian circles, the term is used to describe when God works in an individual’s life . . . and how the resulting “ripples” from that action impacts the lives of many othersHowever, when God works in response to our prayers, there is nothing “unintentional” or random when it comes to the “ripple effect.”  One of the blessings of serving a God who is both Sovereign and Good, is in knowing that He is as much at work in the smallest ripple, as He is in the larger things.

Even though it has been thirty-four years, I still remember how profoundly impacted I was by the “ripple effect” when, at twenty-five weeks gestation, I was hospitalized due to complications with my pregnancy.  Back then, we were attending a wonderful church where we had met Christ a few years before.  Each Sunday my husband gave an update so people knew our specific prayer needs.  During the weeks prior to our sons birth, an interesting pattern emerged.  When things were looking bad, the fervency of people’s prayers never failed to carry us through.   However, when we did better and people eased up on praying, we seemed to go downhill.  When our pastor visited me in the hospital, he commented on how God was using our situation to teach our congregation about the importance of being steadfast in prayer.

As the days passed and Luke was born nine weeks premature, it continued to boggle my mind when I thought about God using our three-pound little boy (such a tiny little “pebble”) to ripple blessing to several hundred people who were faithful to pray.  Luke’s birth opened the door to a world of machines and buzzers, bright lights and busy doctors and nurses tending tiny babies in the hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).  Since our home was over an hour away, I was encouraged to stay in the hospital as long as they had a bed available. The nurses were especially kind and helpful, but that first week was rough.  All week, Luke’s nurses expressed concerns about his blood gas levels.  He had already received one blood transfusion of what they referred to as packed cells; yet by day seven, he was paler and seemed to be losing ground.

Realizing that I was becoming overwhelmed, my husband took me home for a few hours that evening.  I will never forget the night sky that greeted me when I went out to our backyard to pray.  I can only describe it as “expansive” as the darkness surrounded me and a myriad of stars shone down.  I prayed . . . confessing my fear of losing Luke.  I reflected on what my pastor said about God using Luke to encourage steadfastness in prayer in our church.  I was comforted as I recognized that, if God chose to take Luke back, his short life had accomplished what God intended.  With that realization, I surrendered Luke back to God.  As I did, a peace settled over me that freed me to trust Him no matter what happened.

When I returned to the hospital, Luke was asleep in his isolette and had a lovely rosy glow–the doctors had agreed to a second transfusion.  From that point he became a “grower” and several weeks later we were able to take him home at four pounds, two ounces.

The “ripple effect” of the prayers of so many and our learning to pray has continued to bless our family to this very day.  James 1:2-5 became a special lifeline during that time that has carried us though many a trial since:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

As I write this, our family is being carried by the prayers of countless people as Luke undergoes chemotherapy.  This time though, the ripples of the past have combined with the countless prayers being offered for Luke, his wife Shannon and our family resulting in a whole ocean of God’s love.

Wherever you are . . . whatever you may be facing . . . my prayer is that your faith in Christ will deepen and buoy you in the ocean of His love and tender mercies.  He is so very worthy of our trust!

All to His Glory!

 

Shadows . . . .

As a kid, I loved dreams where I went on crazy adventures and got to be the heroine–“Kathie to the rescue!”  In my teens, I remember waking up and trying to go back to sleep to continue an adventure that involved one or more of the Beatles–ala A Hard Days Night.  But not all dreams are created equal.  Even then, I dreaded those scary, shadowy dreams where the people I loved got hurt and I woke up filled with despair.  I remember resisting sleep after waking in the middle of the night while having one of those dreams–scared of what might be lurking in the shadows if I allowed myself to go back to the darkness I had fled.

There are seasons in life we wish were but a dream; when the lurking shadows of reality cause us to wonder where to turn next for the answers to our problems.  Part of my job as a Counselor is to help Clients face those menacing shadows with the light and hope of the Scriptures. As their Counselor I do not pretend to have all the answers to their problems . . . there is so much more to navigating the mysteries of life than that.  When it comes to understanding that making our way through challenging seasons is more than coming up with answers, Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias says it best with this observation:

 “Having the answers is not essential to living.
What is essential is the sense of God’s presence during dark seasons of questioning.” 

Living in the “information age” we crave answers; yet what is needed is that sense of our Shepherd’s presence.  It is our faith in the saving work of Christ, that moves us through the shadows and dark places of this world.  Psalm 23 is a reflection of such confidence in the Shepherd’s presence, as He guides us through seasons of shifting shadows:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me.
(Verses 1-4)

Whether we live in times of ease or we suffer severe trial, the Shepherd faithfully tends to His sheep.  It is no small comfort to know that even “the darkest darkness . . . is as light”* to the Shepherd of our souls.  We fear no evil, even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, because He is watching over us.

In Mark 4:15-17, the contrast of darkness and light take center stage with the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy** having been realized in the person of Christ,

“’Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.’
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Jesus continues to call all people living in the shadow of death to enter His light through repentance and faith. When surrounded by shadows and fear grips our hearts, Jesus urges us to cry out to the One who saves . . . confess your fears and receive His comfort and rest.

Just as not all dreams are created equal, the same can be said of shadows.  One of my favorite places to go is Psalm 91 (referred to by many as “the 911 Psalm“) as it calls God’s people to find refuge in the shadow of Almighty God,

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
(Verses 1 and 2)

Where is your dwelling place right now?  Are you frustrated at the direction life is taking you, perhaps fearful because of the direction the world appears to be going?  No matter how shadowy life may appear, give thanks to God for His Sovereign Goodness as He lights your way.  Looking for answers?  Look no further than Christ who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  John 14:6

Light penetrating shadows–by Jordan Ball

All to His Glory!

*Psalm 139:12

**Isaiah 9:2