Hope For Tomorrow . . . .

I was three years old when my dad returned from Korea.  I still remember him, so handsome in his Marine dress blues, picking me up in my shyness on that November afternoon in 1951.  There was much that I did not understand back then, how the impact of war on Dad would haunt him for years to come.  The one thing that I did know was the security of being lifted up into his strong arms, I was glad he made it home!

Now . . . a lifetime later I continue to celebrate God’s goodness for the gift of sixty-plus years with Dad,  Over the weekend he seemed to lose the strength he had gained with his physical therapy the previous week.  By Monday morning he was obviously weaker.  To say that it was hard to say goodbye is an understatement.  The truth is, I bawled like a baby and stayed with him until he fell asleep.  (I could not bear the thought of him seeing me leave.)  It had been  a joy to visit him each day; to tell him I would return the following day.  This time though, I was leaving to return to my home three thousand miles away–I could make no promises about tomorrow.  It was probably one of the most emotionally charged moments I have ever experienced–my elderly father using every ounce of strength he could muster, reaching up from his bed to put his arms around me.  I settled myself down next to him, sobbing at the thought of never seeing him alive again.

So precious to see Dad stronger three days before I had to say goodbye.
So precious to see Dad stronger, three days before I had to say goodbye.

When I was sure he was asleep, I quickly walked down the hallway of the skilled nursing facility,  With every step I took I saw the years between Dad’s hugs appear to melt away.  I felt every bit as vulnerable as that shy little girl waiting on the Navy dock for her daddy, this time knowing that he could not hold my world together.   I quickened my pace as I thought about how much I hate death and the pain that is part of living on this earth.  It was at that point that I recognized the choice I had to make:

Give myself over to despair . . .
or to the Eternal Hope given us by Jesus.

It was not a difficult choice, but I started to choke up as I remembered the Hope given to all who face such moments in Revelation 21:

 ” . . . I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God.   He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  (Verses 3, 4–ESV)

It was then that the loving arms of my Heavenly Father enfolded me with Hope.  I thought about the myriad of saints who have gone before us, broken by deep sadness but who found Comfort and Strength to meet each day with the miracle of His Hope.  The words of a Charles Wesley hymn surged through my soul:

O for a thousand tongues to sing
my great Redeemer’s praise,
the glories of my God and King,
the triumphs of His grace!

I received word a few days after returning home that Dad is being treated for pneumonia again.  What the immediate future holds for him I do not know, but God has been faithful to provide care for Dad as it has been needed.  I do not know if I will see my dad again in this life, but because God is faithful to keep His promises, I trust that I will enjoy Dad into eternity.   

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part,
but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.”  
(I Corinthians 13:12)

I share my story to offer you the courage and hope I almost lost sight of at the thought of losing my dad.  The lesson I learned, was that when we turn to God in our pain, He provides the courage and determination we need to walk by faith. God’s Spirit and His Word reminded me of the Hope of Heaven that calls us onward and upward.  Hope for tomorrow?  Oh my yes!

All to His Glory!

When It Hurts So Bad That It’s Hard To Breathe . . .

“On a scale from one to ten (with ten being the worst)- how painful is this?”  It is a generic but surprisingly helpful question asked in medical situations.   Asking such a question helps to bridge the gap between the individual in distress and the helper.  For the patient, it helps take a small step away to make a more objective evaluation of their physical pain.  It also is a practical means of communicating the pain level to the caregiver; information that can be very valuable in prioritizing treatment.

But what about measuring emotional pain?  Can we use the same scale?  I thought about this after talking on the phone to a woman calling to make a counseling appointment.  When I asked her the nature of her problem she said, “I just found out my husband has been having an affair and is leaving me.”  My heart went out to her; I could hear the pain in her voice.  It was what she said next though that really touched me, “I don’t think anything in my life has ever hurt me so deeply.”  Somehow the clinical question, “On a scale of one to ten . . .” misses the mark completely when it comes to measuring pain experienced in the human heart and mind.  

For me, the ultimate “ten” on the emotionally wounded scale is when it hurts so bad that it’s hard to breathe.  That depth of wounding almost always is tied to a broken relationship or loss.

Such pain often tempts the wounded one to build barriers of protection (hardening the heart)to avoid being hurt again.   Sadly, the fruit of such action complicates matters, as those emotional barriers isolate us from other people and from God.  The better way to deal with the emotional “tens” of life is to run to God through prayer and the comfort and perspective of the Scriptures.

Joseph is an example of someone who was hurt so bad it was hard to breathe numerous times in his life.  (To read about Joseph’s life see Genesis 37,39-50, it will be well worth your time)  Joseph was number eleven of twelve sons and the doted-on favorite of their father.  His jealous older brothers sold 17-year-old Joseph into slavery and let their father believe he had been eaten by wild animals for over twenty years.  The interesting thing about the Genesis account of Joseph’s life is that it says little about his emotional ups and downs of being sold into slavery, of being falsely accused of a crime he did not commit and then winding up in an Egyptian prison for the next thirteen years of his life.  What the Bible does speak of is God’s faithfulness to Joseph during his years of suffering and how Joseph was eventually released from prison and made second in command over all of Egypt. Eventually God sees fit to reunite Joseph with his family.  Joseph forgave his brothers and blessed them and their families by bringing them out of the famine to the shelter of Egypt to settle.  In the final chapter of Genesis we are given one last look at the relationship between Joseph and his brothers:

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.  (50:15-17)

Where did this emotional “ten” come from?  Why do you think Joseph wept?  The Bible does not tell us, but my thought is that after choosing to be a blessing to his brothers and their families for so many years, it hurt him to realize that his brothers believed the worst of him.  God had blessed Joseph with a heart willing to forgive and love his brothers, but his brothers never changed.  It was a painful revelation for Joseph.  Here is the final account of Joseph’s dealings with his brothers:

His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.  But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.  So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.  (16-21)

In a letter written after 9/11, Queen Elizabeth of England wrote, “Grief is the price we pay for love . . . “.  Joseph grieved for his brothers but chose to trust God by continuing to forgive and love them all of his days.  Are you hurting so bad that it’s hard to breathe because of what someone has said or done to you?  Perhaps there are barriers you put up long ago that need to come down?  Or, are you still suffering the loss of someone you held dear and you do not have the strength to move forward?  Believe me when I say that I understand on all counts!  Yet, I write to encourage you to learn from Joseph’s example to trust and honor God even in your grief.  Life IS hard, but God is always good when we choose to trust and honor Him.

“This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.”  
I John 4:9

All to His Glory!

The Value of Remembrance~

What is it about loss that opens our eyes to the value of what we no longer have?  Three days ago my brother and I helped our elderly father say goodbye to our mother, his bride of 65 years.  Surrounded by loving family and friends, it was a hard day but God was very, very good.   The thing that hit me immediately as I entered the chapel for Mom’s service, was the absence of her laughter.  I realized the loss of her humorous outlook and outspokenness was going to be huge for our family.  Thankfully, stories about funny things that Mom said or did are already being collected to help us remember her.  One of my favorites was actually an interview recorded in their Senior Center Newsletter several years ago:

QUESTION:  What is the best costume you ever wore on Halloween?

MOM’S ANSWER:  My birthday suit, because I was born on Halloween!

The lesson that stands out is that, while suffering the loss of a relationship we value can be devastating; remembering their memory becomes vital.  Whatever financial or material gain realized with the loss of a loved one, does not compare to the value of their being remembered.

The importance of remembrance is not a new concept.  In fact, remembrance is a key element to growing a personal relationship with God.  As Moses prepared the Israelites to enter Egypt he gave specific instructions as to how they were to remember God as their Blessor and Provider:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.   Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. (REMEMBER!)  Impress them on your children. (REMEMBER!)  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (REMEMBER!)   Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. (REMEMBER!)  Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.  (REMEMBER!)

When the Lord your God brings you into the land He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build (REMEMBER!) ,  houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant (REMEMBER!)then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  (REMEMBER!) (Deuteronomy 5:4-12)

The words of Jesus, as He prepared His disciples for His death also gave pointed instructions on how they were to remember Him.  In Luke 22:14-20 we read,

When the hour came, Jesus and His apostles reclined at the table.   And He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

 After taking the cup, He gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you.   For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

 And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.

 In the same way, after the supper He took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you.” 

In Old and New Testaments, God calls His people to REMEMBRANCE HIS FAITHFUL PROVISION IN GOOD TIMES AND IN DIFFICULTY.  It is in our remembrance of Him as the Shepherd of our hearts that we discover our resting place.  Such is the value of remembrance!

Yesterday I called Dad before getting on an airplane to fly to my home.  As he talked about how much he misses Mom I encouraged him to remember the 23rd Psalm:  “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want . . . .”  Later, as I wrote about our conversation in my Journey Notes, it struck me that whatever comfort to be found when we loose someone we love, is not so much in our remembering them but in holding on to God’s comforting love for us.  In Jeremiah 31, God promised a repentant Israel (then living in Babylonian exile because of their rebellion against Him) a future of restoration and hope as they remembered Him.  I was especially touched by verse 13B:

“I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.”

It is in remembering God’s faithfulness throughout the ages as the Shepherd of our hearts, that we are comforted and discover joy in remembering those we have lost.  If you are going through a time of suffering loss or disappointment, join me in giving thanks to the One who is faithful no matter what!

All to His Glory!

Suffering Loss With The Comfort Of The Shepherd~

I received a phone call from my brother Norm earlier this week with the news that Mom did not wake up that morning.  The assisted living staff where my parents have lived for the past two years found her while Dad was still asleep.  Thankfully, Norm was able to be there when Dad woke up so that together, they were able to say tearful goodbyes to the wife and mother who we now sorely miss.  

What is it about death, even when we know it is coming, that is still so very shocking?  Mom was 87 and had been increasingly asleep since she had a stroke a week before Christmas.  During our visit a week and a half ago she slept almost the entire time.  Even so, the thought of not having her with us is difficult to comprehend.  The larger question that keeps running through my mind since that morning phone call is, “How does one suffer the loss of a parent?”  There is no way to practice for this and I cannot tell you that I have a definitive  answer to that question.  What I can share with you is the wisdom and comfort that has been shown me by the Shepherd, as I began to mourn the loss of my mom.  

The process began with my brother’s phone call.  As I sat in the den trying to take in the news, my mind went in a myriad of directions.  I realized I would miss her laugh and her very quirky, outspoken ways.  I worried about my dad.  When I talked to him on the phone he kept saying, “It’s too soon!” and “I don’t know if I can live another ten years without her!”  I told him what I was holding onto, “Today is a gift, Dad.  Let’s just trust God and take it one day at a time.”  As I reflected on my conversation with Dad, I realized that even though my parents were married almost 66 years, death would always come “too soon” from our very human perspective.

I remembered a song that was a favorite of mine when I first gave my heart to Christ Jesus.  I looked up the words to the song and found comfort in the wisdom of Jeremiah recorded in Lamentations 3:22-24,

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    His mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is Your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in Him.”  (ESV)

When we suffer loss it is no small comfort to remember that we are not abandoned by God.  What a blessing to be reminded that in the midst of suffering loss, God’s love is “steadfast” and it “never ceases!”  As I reflected on Jeremiah’s words I thought about my relationship with my mom.  I would love to be able to tell you that it was all wonderful, but I can’t.  There were times when our relationship was very rocky; times when I knew that living three thousand miles apart was actually helpful.  But God used my mom to scale down the pride and unforgiveness I carried in my heart for many years.  In the end, God freed me to love her in ways that I never thought possible.  I have been grateful all these years for that gracious freedom.  As I reflected on the miracle of love granted me by such a faithful Shepherd, the wisdom of Jeremiah pulsed through my mind and heart . . . HOLD ON TO THE GOOD . . . HOLD ONTO THE COMFORT OF THE SHEPHERD OF OUR SOULS!  

This morning I am giving thanks to God as my faithful Shepherd.  The thought of the coming days without Mom is still difficult to think about, but I am grateful for His steadfast love that keeps me on the right path.  If you are struggling with the loss of a loved one or friend (or perhaps you are struggling with regrets that you can do nothing about) then join me in running to the Shepherd of our souls for the comfort and perspective only He can give.

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.
  He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
 He restores my soul.
He guides 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.

 You prepare a table before me
   in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
   my cup overflows.
 Surely goodness and love will follow me
   all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
   forever.

All to His Glory!

Silence in Waiting Birthed Holiness Profound . . .

My Praises today:

  1. Less is More . . . .
  2. Faith is deepened as priorities are simplified . . . .
  3. Silence in waiting birthed Holiness profound . . . .

After days of sadness at the ugliness of sin that has wrecked havoc on so many, I remembered the evil of a long ago time that impacted families and friends in much the same way:

“. . . an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the Child and his mother and escape to Egypt.  Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the Child to kill him.”

 So he got up, took the Child and His mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod.  And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my Son.”

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.   Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
 “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

To mourn what is lost is necessary and absolutely right; our comfort is in knowing that His Love will prevail.

I was grateful to awake this morning with the quiet and hopeful words of Silent Night wafting through my mind:

Silent night, holy night,
  all is calm, all is bright 
   round yon virgin
    mother and Child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
  sleep in heavenly peace,
   sleep in heavenly peace. 

Silent night, holy night,
  shepherds quake at the sight;
   glories stream from heaven afar,
    heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ the Savior is born,
  Christ the Savior is born! 

Silent night, holy night,
  Son of God, love’s pure light;
   radiant beams from thy holy face
    with the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth. 

Silent night, holy night,
 wondrous star, lend thy light;
  with the angels let us sing,
   Alleluia to our King;
Christ the Savior is born,
 Christ the Savior is born!

Silence in waiting birthed Holiness profound . . . a Hope-filled Manger . . . Peace for all who Trust in Him . . . .

All to His Glory!

Calm After a Storm?

I grew up hearing the phrase “calm before the storm” but never thought much about it.  This past week, as we watched the weather reports of an encroaching storm, there was NO “calm before the storm!”  Fear of the unknown was really more what ruled my heart, with a dash of wondering, “Will we get through this one okay?”  With every waking moment trying to prepare, it was a very intense week.  Then there was all the waiting . . . hour upon hour . . . as the storm neared, stayed around far longer than we were used to and f-i-n-a-l-l-y passed.

Our area was largely spared the loss and suffering experienced by so many living just north of us.  It has been hard to even know how to pray for those neighbors who have been stripped of family members or everything they worked many times a lifetime to attain.  After watching hour after hour of news reports I wondered, “Where is fairness in all of this chaotic mess?”  

Still battling this confusion, yesterday afternoon my husband and I drove down to a local beach to check on a friend and to survey some of the damage.  As we traveled, I was comforted by the bright light shining through a sky still full of banks of gray clouds that swirled over the passing countryside . . . I was struck by an unmistakable quietness of mind and heart.   The feeling was somehow familiar. . . CALM AFTER A STORM?  Yes!

There it was . . . that calm I have experienced during a multitude of life storms, when hanging on was all I could do.

There it was . . . breaking through solitary moments, a quietness of mind and heart that in past days had faithfully calmed my mind and heart, even as those seemingly devastating  storms stripped away all that I tried to hold onto.

There He was . . . finally revealed as all was stripped away.   My faithful God forever offering His strength . . . His peace . . . His amazing grace!

As His calmness tended to my confusion and heartache for so many impacted by this dreadful storm,

There it was . . . a calm full of HOPE!  

This morning, still pondering the blessing of yesterday, the words of an old hymn flooded my soul afresh with a balm of calmness to face this new day.  I offer the words of Katharina von Schlegel, that have encouraged many through a multitude of storms.  I especially offer it to those of you who are facing or are persevering through storms of many kinds, praying that His calm will prevail over your minds and hearts no matter what:

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on your side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to your God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: your best, your heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: your God will undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shall you better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe your sorrow and your fears.
Be still, my soul: your Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Katharina von Schlegel, 1752
Translated by Jane Borthwick, 1855
Tune: FINLANDIA, Jean Sibelius, 1899

“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.”  I Thessalonians 5:23

 All to His Glory!