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!

When Life Gives You Lemons . . . .

“Life is hard, but God is so very, very good . . . .”  It is a saying I have repeated to myself and to others in recent months after witnessing horrific ugliness on the news, while counseling hurting people or absorbing devastating news from friends and family.  In such seasons, when bitterness threatens to overtake us and fear grips our hearts,  it is important to remember that no matter what happens, we have options:

Option One:  The world offers popular sayings such as, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” or “Grin and bear it!”  According to Wikipedia,  such sayings encourage “optimism and a can-do attitude in the face of adversity or misfortune.”  However well-intended, such sayings lack comfort, wisdom, direction or even a glimmer of hope. When life turns sour, we can no more will ourselves through a mountain of heartache and trouble, than we can will into existence “lemonade” that is palatable from a bowl of lemons!

Compounding the impossibility of making palatable “lemonade”,  the “water” the world offers is tainted with pollution and the artificial sweetness of saccharin can never dissipate bitterness or generate hope.  

I appreciate the the directness of Jeremiah 2:13, where God straightforwardly declares the foolish consequences of living apart from Him:

My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken Me, the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

Option Two: We can look at the same mountain of challenges (“lemons”) through eyes of faith; allowing God’s Spirit and the Scriptures to minister to our brokenness.  There is no substitute for drinking in the sweet water of the Scriptures, where conviction by the Spirit cleanses and  brings nourishment to the soul.  Are you looking for assurance in a dizzying world filled with darkness?  The opening words of Genesis cut through the darkness as it speaks light and truth, assurance and hope with this thunderous proclamation:

“In the beginning GOD . . . . “

No matter how bad life appears, God is in control. Since time began; His design and purposes have continued to be worked out in good times and in tragedy.  When the world proclaimed defeat when God’s Only Son suffered and died on the Cross two thousand years ago, Christ was raised in victory as the Savior of all who would trust in Him. (I Corinthians 15:20-22)  God’s Plan will not be thwarted!

Picture of Cross found after the 9/11 attack at Ground Zero. Picture taken by Anne Bybee  3 weeks later.
Picture of Cross found after the 9/11 attack at Ground Zero. Picture taken by Anne Bybee 3 weeks later.

Is life giving you “lemons”?  The Bible is full of wisdom, encouragement and hope for those who seek God in honesty and in faith.  Give thanks to a loving God who has a plan and purpose for your life both now and into eternity with Him.

” . . . but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.
Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 
John 4:14

All to His Glory!

 

There’s No Place Like Home . . . .

Call it what you will–

Utopia . . .

Heaven on Earth . . .

Paradise . . . .

There is a longing in the human heart to regain what was lost at the Fall when sin entered the world.  Humanly, we go to great efforts to construct our own version of “home”, but it can never last apart from being reconciled to our Creator through the saving grace of Jesus Christ.  I have had to break this news to many a struggling Client (and have reminded myself when dismayed by the attitudes and/or actions of myself and/or others): “This is not heaven!”  

In the final hours before His arrest, Jesus talked to His disciples about HOME in John 14:1-3.  Knowing He would soon be leaving them and the world He had dwelled in for thirty-three years, Jesus encouraged them with these words:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in Me.
My Father’s house has many rooms;
if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am.”

It is our hope of heaven that gives us peace in trying times . . .

In Christ we look forward to what, one day, will be our Forever Home

Truly . . . there’s no place like HOME!

But what about now?  How are we to respond to the pain and suffering of those we love brought on by disease?  What are we to do when men blatantly commit unspeakable acts that overwhelm our human sensibilities? It is scary to face the realities of pain and heartache in this world; to think about evil and the end times,  Yet the Bible speaks of such things to encourage and strengthen God’s people.  I found comfort in the words of Jesus that in previous days have made me uncomfortable.  Jesus sought to enlarge the vision of His disciples’ thinking about HOME in Matthew 24:

Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  All these are the beginning of birth pains.  Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of Me.  At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.  Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.  And this Gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (verses 7-14)

There's no place like HOME!
There’s no place like HOME!

The Apostle Paul underscored the temporariness of our earthly bodies by referring to them as “tents.”  In II Corinthians 5, verses 1 and 5, Paul ministered to the hearts and minds of his fellow-servants of Jesus Christ with these words about our Forever Home:

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God Himself and not by human hands. . . . God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee He has given us His Holy Spirit.

No matter what you are facing or may face in the future, hold fast to the faithful provision given us by God through His Son, our Lord Jesus.  Truly, there’s no place like 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!

 

With Problems Come Opportunities ~ Part Two

Switching Gears to a Deeper Faith: Sorting Out Facts From Feelings

The first time I saw tears in my dad’s eyes I was seventeen.  I am not sure why Dad decided to teach me to drive “stick shift” that morning, but we were about seven miles into my “lesson”–grinding the gears of our old Volkswagen van and stalling at every intersection–when I made a left turn in front of an oncoming car!    Thankfully, the driver of the other car managed to avoid us, but as soon as I could I steered the van to the side of the road where the engine ground to a stop.  It was then, when I looked at my dad, that I saw his tears.  Not a word was said as we each got out of the van, exchanged places and Dad re-started the engine to drive us the rest of the way to work.  Years later, I learned to drive “stick shift” without grinding the gears or stalling, but it took a while before I was even willing to try again!

There are times in our Christian walk when we can grind to a halt spiritually and find ourselves stuck for a variety of reasons.  I learned early in my walk with Christ that with problems come opportunities for spiritual growth we would never otherwise have gained.  Remembering this in no way negates our suffering, but it does keep the light of hope shining during those dark days.

People who are spiritually stuck often have:

  • Experienced deep hurt inflicted by someone else and the problem never resolved
  • Become discouraged by the direction their lives have taken and lost sight of hope
  • Witnessed someone else suffer unjustly and their abuser appears to go unpunished,
Humanly speaking, becoming spiritually stuck is understandable.  
However, the danger of  remaining in such a state is that the more we fixate on the problem, 
the more distant God appears to us and the more we doubt His goodness. 
When we perceive ourselves as victims, we lose sight of the victory that is ours in Christ. 

So is there a way to get unstuck?  Yes.  But it often requires the same concentration and finis as it takes to learn to drive a “stick shift” vehicle.  To learn to shift those gears takes practice and determination not to give up. It calls for accepting that mistakes will be made along the way, but chooses to learn from those mistakes rather than giving way to defeat.  In my last post, I wrote about switching gears by putting off old ways of responding and putting on new attitudes and actions that reflect Christ. (Ephesians 4:22-24) I wrote about switching spiritual gears by replacing our  “self-talk” with “God-talk” (prayer).

In this post I will write about another aspect of switching spiritual gears:

Learning to stand on the facts of what Scripture teaches, rather than allowing feelings to run us and weaken our faith.

Fact number one: This is not heaven!!!  Jesus said in John 16:33,

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

All too often we crumble when bad things happen or our efforts are thwarted. We forget that life on planet earth is temporary, that eternity is yet to come.  Rather than giving way to discouragement when hurt or believing God has abandoned us, it is at such times we are given the opportunity to switch gears by going back to the basics of Scripture:

“Now faith means putting our full confidence in the things we hope for,
it means being certain of things we cannot see.”  
Hebrews 11:1

Faith is not static or dormant.  Faith, according to its biblical definition, is practiced and lived out on a daily basis.   Over time, as faith is practiced it is strengthened and tempered to reflect the beauty of Christ’s presence in the heart and mind of the believer.  Faith trusts increasingly in God’s character for our future and is the basis for enduring hope.

Feelings are not static or dormant either.  However, there is a problem with feelings because they can tend to run counter to biblical faith.  Instead of being God-focused, feelings are run by our emotions and tend to be self-absorbed.

Facts stand alone for all time and are not subject to “interpretation.”  The Scriptures are the major resource Christians have to identify the facts that faith is build upon.  It is as we rely on the truth/facts given us through the Bible, that our faith is verified and strengthened.

Faith lived out greases the gears of a healthy, vibrant relationship with Christ in good times and in difficulty. That is why I encourage Clients to begin to move forward spiritually by encouraging them to do their daily praises and acquainting them with the character of God in Scripture.  God’s purposes are accomplished in us when we rely on the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit to guide and teach us.  II Timothy 3:16,17 says it best,

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

 Whatever you may be struggling with the one thing you can be confident in, is God’s call to shift your spiritual gears in Isaiah 30:15,

“In repentance and rest is your salvation;
in quietness and trust is your strength.”

 Repentance . . . rest . . . quietness . . . trust . . . an opportunity for personal growth and a relationship that is out of this world–so what are you waiting for?

All to His Glory!

Humility: Key to Helping Relationships of the Cosmic Kind

 

In my last post, Listening Isn’t Everything, I wrote to encourage you to be more than “good listeners” when someone is hurting.  I challenged you as servants of Christ, to follow His example by asking soul-challenging questions that provide not only better understanding for you, but also that help the person in trouble to look at themselves and their circumstances more objectively–as God perceives them

In this post I write to offer a Scriptural perspective on the value of humility in helping relationships of the cosmic kind.  You may well be wondering what I mean when I refer to relationships of the cosmic kind Simply put, I am referring to when we enter into God’s presence through the miracle of prayer.  I think of my first prayer as a child, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep . . .” and the prayers of now–prayer that cries out to God for loved ones and prayers of thanksgiving for His love and mercy–all miracles that stretch across the cosmos to connect us with God Most High.

I love the picture painted in Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10 and 12 of caring human relationships that ultimately have the potential of becoming cosmic in nature:

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up . . . .
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Initially, it is a very practical picture of the vast benefits gained through caring relationships“pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” However, the best (and by far the most interesting part) is reserved for the last nine words as it alludes to the entrance of the supernatural:  “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Suddenly, the heavens are opened up with the addition of that “third strand” and the scope of relationships is broadened to cosmic proportions as “we” becomes “three”–nothing short of miraculous!

It could be tempting to become cocky at the idea of having such a connection when it comes to helping others, but Jesus reminds us of our need for humility in Luke 6:42,

 “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’
when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye?
You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye,
and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

I think about Jesus’ admonition every time a new Client comes to my office.  My inward prayer,  “God help me to see and hear this person with Your eyes and mind rather than my own . . . to communicate Your love and mercy.”  Every Client is given the opportunity to ask questions about me personally and professionally–they deserve to know who they are talking to.  I talk about my role as a Counselor, admitting from the outset that despite my twenty years of counseling experience, I do not have all the answers to their problems.  However, I then add that I do know the One who can and will bless them with His presence and His peace as we work together. 

Is there someone on your mind who needs help?  The pattern for helping that friend or family member is the same.  In humility:

  1. Rely on God prayerfully from the outset, to see and hear that person with His eyes . . . mind . . . love . . . mercy.
  2. Be willing to make yourself vulnerable; refuse any pretense about having the answers they may be looking for.
  3. Give testimony to the One who can and does bless us through the challenges we face–our God of Hope.

It is as you focus on your God of Hope in humility and in faith that you will see the beginnings of a relationship of the cosmic kind start to build.  It can be risky business when we offer ourselves to others, but I have learned to stay close to Him and marvel at His goodness no matter what happens–we do serve a God of miracles!

In my next post I will present a very practical tool that I have shared with many Clients and have also found personally helpful.

All to His Glory!