She Was Brave . . . .

Bravery:  a quality of spirit that enables you to face danger without showing fear.
Synonyms: courage, courageousness
WordNet Dictionary

Over a lifetime I have learned that it takes courage and determination to love others well.  My cousin Janie was one of those brave individuals, who sacrificially gave of herself to bless those God put on her path.

Janie went home to be with her Lord on the morning of July 5th.  I wasn’t there but trust she was in much the same frame of mind as when I saw her two weeks before, concerned more for her family than for herself. Reading her obituary yesterday, I was touched by this very apt description of my dear cousin,

“Jane* was a dedicated and caring family woman and teacher,
full of love, pure goodness, generosity, enthusiasm, and the best advice.” 

There is no question that Janie measured up to those wonderful accolades.  But there is another attribute to add, that was foundational to her ability to love and impact the lives of so many: Janie was brave.  This is not to imply that she was never fearful.  It is simply to say, that Janie set aside her fears because she cared about people.  Here’s an early example:

She was brave . . . .
She was brave . . . .

My first clear memory of Janie was playing together on Grandma and Grandpa’s farm–I must have been about five and she would have been seven.  All the grownups were inside that late afternoon, enjoying the simple pleasure of “visiting”.  Outside I remember an undercurrent of competition between us cousins as we dared one another to climb higher and jump off some hay bales stacked to one side of the yard.  Not wanting to be outdone, I remember making my way up to the highest bale and then jumping off.  I hit the ground so hard that my legs buckled and I landed on my bottom.  Momentarily stunned, it was probably the first time I actually saw stars!

Then we made our way out to the pasture where the cows were.  Continuing to test our bravery, we ran around among the cows–until we saw one mean-looking bull standing off to one side.  Suddenly aware of the danger, we ran for our lives and ducked under the fence just in time . . . or so we thought.  When we turned back and looked, there was Bette Jo–no bigger than a peanut–still in the middle of the pasture!  As I looked on–too scared to move–Janie ducked back under the fence, ran to pick up Bette Jo and brought her to safety!  Embarrassed by my fearfulness,  it was then that I knew without a doubt . . . Janie was brave.

Looking back I see this pattern of living courageously throughout Janie’s life: sacrificially stepping in to help others, facing difficulty head-on as she made what were painful but right decisions, encouraging others with her humor and sense of irony.

When I first heard Janie was sick last fall, I messaged her through Facebook.  Fearing the worst, it was several days before I received this response:

“Kathie, what a prayer warrior you are!  
The doctors are amazed that I’m not experiencing more pain than I am,
but I know you’re praying for me–keep it up!”

That was pure Janie–taking the focus off of herself as she encouraged me to continue doing the one thing I could do living so far away–PRAY!  So that is what I (and many, many others) continued to do.

In May my husband and I (taking advantage of his recent retirement) began an adventure we’d talked about doing most of our married life: going to those “off the beaten path” places we never could go to before.  In the back of my mind I hoped to visit Janie when we got to California, but knowing she was so sick I tried not let my hopes get too high.13442057_10208969039816875_678463191_o

God was gracious in providing us the opportunity to get together one last time. As my husband and I approached the home where Janie was being cared for, I was excited but scared.  Deep down I was afraid of what I was going to see–a frail, weak Janie who needed rest far more than she needed to see me.

When I walked through the door and Janie spoke, it was as if we became those two girls looking through the pasture fence.  This time though, Janie urged me to enter into the safety of the pasture with her–the mean bull was long gone and her Shepherd was there!  She beamed as she told me how God was helping her to look for good in every single day (no matter what had taken place) and to leave the bad behind.  When I started to ask about a bad fall the previous month that put her back in the hospital, her eyes widened as she looked at me saying,

“No Kathie, we’re not even going to go there.  I have learned to trust God daily; to count my blessings and leave what happened in the past behind.  I admit that part of me is a little afraid of what may come tomorrow, but I have given that to Him as I give thanks to Him for the Gift of TODAY.”  

Appreciating her wisdom and courage we entered into the joy of the moment.  Our visit of two and a half hours could be likened to the “wild rumpus” of the children’s classic, Where the Wild Things Are.**  We laughed so hard that tears came and talked about many things.  When I asked her how she wanted me to pray for her, Janie got very serious again as she urged me to pray for those she would be leaving behind–“that their hearts would not harden toward God.”  Pure, wonderful Janie . . . putting her concern for those she loved above all else.

Since then I have thought a lot about Janie’s bravery and our “wild rumpus” celebrating God’s goodness together.  Pure and simple, it was a gift from God to be given a glimpse into Janie’s heart.  Something happened that was so much more than magical as Janie chose to live out the wisdom of I Thessalonians 5:16-22,

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all;
hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.”

Reflecting on the larger passage, I am struck by God’s goodness in providing Janie the courage to enter into His Pasture with an open and trusting heart.

“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!

*Most people knew her as Jane, but having grown up together as cousins, she has always been Janie to me and most of our family.
**Where the Wild Things Are, written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak, 1963.

When God Is Big And We Are Small: The Journey Continues . . . .

The old adage, “Hindsight is 20/20”, is certainly true when it comes to the way God works in our lives.  When my husband and I took off on our camping adventure seven weeks ago, we felt like a couple of kids cutting school.  For years we had talked about taking off to explore the places we never got to because of time constraints.  With my husband’s retirement, we realized that the time had finally come.  With our new smallish camper in tow, we were as giddy as newlyweds out on a lark.  Little did we know how God would deepen our faith through seemingly unrelated lessons.

In my last post I wrote about the tragic deaths of two young men in our church. Killed in separate accidents in the same week, we struggled to comprehend the reality that Josh and Heath were suddenly gone.  Three thousand miles from home, our “lark” quickly become despair. But God gently ministered to us in the enormity of the California redwoods through Psalm 46,  

“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 . . . .”

Where verses 1-6 spoke to the immediacy of our pain, it is verse 10 that continues to direct our steps:

Be still and KNOW that I am God.”

As the incomprehensible assailed us, Psalm 46 became a blanket that enfolded us with these tender assurances:

“Hush. Stop striving to understand what is far larger than you can comprehend.
Hush . . . be still.  KNOW that I am with you and in the coming days will carry you.
This isn’t the end of the story.
Hush . . . you must trust Me in this.”  

Reminders of lost loved ones suddenly taken . . . .
Reminders of lost loved ones suddenly taken . . . .

Looking back, we can see how God had been preparing us weeks before in our travels.  We had noticed them before we left–little “shrines” along roadways marking where someone was killed in an accident.  Typically a simple cross with a name on it; at other times flowers, teddy bears, and other personal reminders are placed as a memorial.  Our awareness grew as we traveled through Montana, where the State marks every life lost on its roads with a small white cross.  We began watching for them as we drove and were stunned when more than one cross marked a scene.  In this age of “political correctness” we wondered how long the practice of using a “religious” symbol would be allowed to continue. Looking back, it was then that what had been “a lark” became a journey within a journey.  It was as if the roads we traveled on, “scenic” or ordinary, became grim reminders of loss.

When we received the news about Josh and then Heath, we remembered those crosses. They were with us, full of life one moment . . . and then suddenly . . . they were gone.

So what does it mean, to “be still and know that God is God”,
when we are stung by such painful loss?
For us, the biggest thing has been to remember that God is Big and we are small.  

To be still and know is a call to humility.  James 4 speaks to the battle that is on-going in our hearts, especially when life hits hard:

“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”
Submit yourselves, then, to God.
Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Come near to God and He will come near to you.
Wash your hands, you sinners, and
purify your hearts, you double-minded.
Grieve, mourn and wail.
Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.

(Verses 6-10)

"Be still and KNOW . . . ."
“Be still and KNOW . . . .”

Since leaving Montana, we’ve driven through eleven more states.   In that time God’s incomprehensible enormity has been demonstrated in countless ways.  The day after receiving the devastating news, we watched whales basking in God’s Provision off Patrick’s Point and then appreciated the solitude of three days camping in the Avenue of the Redwoods–where God was indeed big and we . . . were tenderly cared for.  After that, visits with long missed family and friends ministered greatly to our hearts.

In the weeks since, we have learned that when life hits hard, it is tempting to doubt God’s goodness. But when we entertain those doubts, the world around us dims as we distance ourselves from Him.  Yet it has been through those struggles, that we have gratefully embraced the Shining Hope of the Gospel, as the Cross speaks:

Death, Loss and Eternal Darkness
for those outside of Christ,
but
Redemption, Hope and Life Eternal
for those who are in Christ.

Today, we continue to mourn the loss of two very special men along with family and friends.  But we have learned to give thanks to God:

  • For His faithfulness in loving us–even in our doubts.
  • For ministering to us–as we have been privileged to witness the enormity and ever-changing diversity of His Creation.
  • For Josh and Heath’s lives–and the assurance that they are safe with Him . . . .

When God is BIG and we are small,
doubt recedes as we find HOPE and SHELTER in HIM.
Giving thanks!

All to His Glory!

A Journey Within A Journey . . . .

It was a dream come true for us–embarking on this journey to explore the places we never made it to in our previous travels.  We purchased a smallish camper with a comfortable bed and just enough amenities to make it work for us.  In four weeks, we’ve traveled through over 5,000 miles of diverse, often spellbinding beauty.  We’ve learned to laugh at ourselves and “Hilda” (our GPS) when a wrong turn is taken and she “recalculates” our next move.  Best of all, we have started to become adept at enjoying what I like to call, “The quiet of now . . . .”  In short, my husband and I have slowly been uncovering the sweet loveliness of growing old together.

DSC01485
We beheld the Creator over His creation . . . .

Then less than a week ago, we were hit hard by the news that Josh, a young man in our church, was killed in a motorcycle accident.  We ached with Josh’s family and friends as we remembered the shock of losing my husband’s younger brother 45 years ago.  Vern was 19. There were no skid marks made by his motorcycle at the scene–indicating Vern didn’t see the car that made the sharp U-turn from the curb as he rode down the street.   We still wonder, “What would Vern have done with his life, if the guy had made his turn even a minute later?”  There’s no making sense of such tragedy.

We learned about the accident when we were headed toward the mountain that looms above all else in the Seattle/Tacoma area–Mount Rainier.  We stopped by the side of the road to process the news–the physical distance between us and home felt like a chasm.  Yet, as we began to lift up Josh’s family and friends suffering the shocking pain of his loss, the distance all but vanished from our minds.

After entering the national park, we began our upward ascent.  We stopped at one of those information kiosks–you know, those places that orient the public to things to look for in the area.  We were stunned when we read: “Considered one of the most dangerous active volcanos in the world, Mount Rainier has been the source of numerous mudflows, covering large portions of the Puget Sound lowlands.”  As we looked around we realized that the trunks of huge trees, broken off like mere toothpicks, served as evidence of those “numerous mudflows.”  Though acutely aware of the fragility of life at that moment, we continued upward, entering what became for us, holy ground.  With every bend we climbed, God allowed us to look with awe at the dangerous yet breathtaking enormity of Mount Rainier.  When we drove as high as we could go, we could see the turquoise of several glaciers above us.  As hundreds of people milled around like ants on a hill, our smallness and the enormity of our Creator registered powerfully.  That was the beginning of our journey within a journey . . . .

Two days ago, my husband looked at me in confused disbelief after reading a text message–death had struck again. It was Heath, the son of our closest friends.  We considered Heath one of our own.  Thoughtful, funny, smart–outspoken when it came to his faith in Christ–Heath was a big guy with an even bigger heart.  It had been a thrill to join in the celebration, the day Heath married Amy (another one of our own.)  Our daughters were in their wedding.  Over the years God blessed them with two wonderful kids.  What a delight it has been to watch their children and our grandchildren become friends, enjoying the wonders of life together.  We never dreamt all that would be shattered . . . that Heath and Amy will not grow old together.

Comfort waits in the shelter of His Hands.
Comfort waits in the shelter of His Hands.

After receiving the horrible news, we found ourselves off-the-grid, camping in the redwoods of Del Norte Coast State Park in California.  God ministered to us there as  we were awed by the enormity of the trees.  We set up our camper quickly in our need to take advantage of the remaining daylight.  As we hiked, we were grateful to blend into the lush landscape of giant ferns and other forest greenery amongst the redwoods.  However, we soon noticed a troubling pattern that amplified our grief.  It seemed as if everywhere we turned there was a giant stump of an ancient redwood–obviously cut down in its prime.  Each stump was surrounded by a circle of good-sized redwoods that grew directly from the base of the giant–like a fairy ring of mushrooms paying homage to the one that had been cut down.  When we found one of the ancient giants on our trail, standing freely on its own–I fell against it gladly.  It was there that God’s comfort–bigger than the sky yet tender to my soul spoke,

“Be still and KNOW that I AM GOD.”
 
Psalm 46:10

Feeling worn to the bone as we returned to our campsite, we welcomed the clear direction of our loving Shepherd as we found rest in the shelter of His Provision.

There is more to share of our journey within a journey that I will write about in my next post.  Still shattered as sorrow-filled tears continue to well to up without notice, we have taken a break from our traveling.  It is tempting to wallow in despair over the tragic losses that will continue to be suffered for a long time to come.  Last evening, this reminder from I Peter helped to quiet my heart:

“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold
that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers,
but with the precious blood of Christ . . . .
For, ‘All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field,
the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of the Lord stands forever.'”
I Peter 1:18, 19a, 24-25

How are we to get through the tragedy and heartache of life
that leaves us raging inwardly, yet feeling numb in our grief?  

It is not about what we do; it is about where we turn.

TO BE STILL BEFORE GOD: IS TO REMEMBER OUR HOPE OF HEAVEN,WON FOR US IN CHRIST JESUS.

(THE HOPE THAT IS NOW A REALITY FOR JOSH AND HEATH BY FAITH.)

TO KNOW GOD: IS TO HONOR HIM AS THE GREAT “I AM”–AS HE TENDERLY QUIETS OUR BROKEN HEARTS . . . LIKE NOTHING LESS CAN.

All to His Glory.

 

 

 

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.