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!

Hiding in Plain Sight . . . .

 When it comes to finding something that has been lost, my husband is far better than I am at staying on-task.  Yet for years, he has insisted that there is a conspiracy against him when it comes to finding something he is looking for.  On countless occasions, he has called me into a room (after he has torn everything apart) to help him find something he knows is there but it’s hiding and he just can’t see it.  There are times when it has been hard to resist a giggle, as I casually reach over and hand the lost item to him.  More often however, I join him in the hunt and we both end up frustrated.  In recent years we have learned to actually ask God for help in those situations and the outcome has been far better!

Sometimes people hide in plain sight–knowingly or unknowingly.  Clark Kent comes to mind– living a very ordinary life outwardly (thanks to a pair of glasses and a suit) but who whizzes around saving the world as Superman.  I love the cartoon that depicts him on a crowded bus sitting between a dozing Superman-want-to-be and a young boy trying to alert his mom to Clark/Superman’s presence–but she doesn’t want to hear it.  It makes me wonder how much of “life” I miss just trying to focus on my “to do list”  like that boy’s mom?

Superman–hiding in plain sight!

Do you ever hide in plain sight?  Until recently convicted, I never realized that I have that tendency.  What does hiding in plain sight look like?

We hide in plain sight 
when we go through the motions of what is expected, 
but our hearts and minds are not really engaged.
There are times when we hide in plain sight,
as we await God’s answer to our prayers.
We hide in plain sight,
when we distance ourselves from people we ordinarily trust– 
because we are afraid our tears will betray us.
We hide in plain sight,
when we throw ourselves into an activity–
to create a buffer between ourselves and the pain of loss or change.
We hide in plain sight,
when we stop doing what we believe we should do,
because it is too painful to continue.

 The common denominator of hiding in plain sight in these instances?  Fear . . . worry . . . the avoidance of pain and . . . the hardest of all to have to admit to . . . PRIDE.

Hiding in plain sight in the short term, can be helpful, as it gives time to process whatever weighs heavy on the heart.  For me, hiding in plain sight in recent weeks has given me time to sort out my thoughts and emotions when I think about my dad.  Three thousand mile separate us so I have always been grateful for our phone connection.  Recently though, I have ended up in tears as some days he seems to fade away, has put the phone down and forgotten to pick it up again.  Oh how I would love to be Superman and rescue my dad . . . but it just is not that easy.

There is a danger in hiding in plain sight for too long– becoming self-absorbed.  Many times hiding in plain sight for an extended length of time can deepen depression, increase anxiety and rob us of the hope God has for us as we learn to trust Him more.

This past week I found comfort in the words the Apostle Paul wrote to his friends in Corinth.  II Corinthians 2:4 helped me come to terms with my fears and concerns for my dad and the family I hold dear.  Referring to a previous letter expressing deep concern for them Paul wrote:

“For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears,
not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.” 
(ESV)

As I read Paul’s letter the words affliction, anguish of heart and tears jumped off the page before me as they captured the essence of my emotions as I think of my dad.  Such emotions are painful . . . no one wants to endure such suffering!  Yet, I found encouragement as the words, abundant love flew at me like a banner of hope!  What do affliction, anguish of heart and tears have in common with abundant love?

Without the tension of the first three ingredients, there is no way of realizing our capacity to love as God has loved us.   
It is always the love of God that will ultimately reveal what is hidden, to bind and strengthen our relationships with Him and with others.

When it comes to finding what has been lost, God is the Primo Expert of all.  Have you been hiding in plain sight, perhaps struggling with disappointment or loss?  Be encouraged in knowing that God sent His Son to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10) . . . even when they don’t know they need to be found.  Pray about all that is on your heart . . . dig into His Word . . . and give thanks for His abundant love!

For thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. 
As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep,
so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day.” 
Ezekiel 34: 11, 12

 All to His Glory!

The Clarity Faith Provides on Suffering . . . .

 
” . . . though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 
These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold . . .
may be proved genuine . . .
for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 
I Peter 1:6b-7a

Fleeing the dangers of gangs and drugs pervasive in the city she grew up in, single-mom Debra moved with five of her seven children to our area about two and a half years ago.   Unable to find a job, Debra attended a Jobs for Life course offered at a local church where she not only gained job interview skills, but was touched by the spiritual caring and encouragement she received.  It was the folks at Jobs for Life who connected Debra and I to begin a Counseling relationship that has been truly special.

That she came from a rough background was apparent but from the beginning her focus was on getting her life straight with God.  As we worked together phrases such as,”I’m confused” or “I must have done something really wrong,” were expressions Debra frequently used as she tried to make sense of her upside-down world.  Week after week we met, pouring over the Scriptures together to sort out the constant challenges of Debra’s life–when one son was incarcerated, her landlord took advantage of the situation by raising her rent.  Pressure from other family and tense relationships with several of her co-workers workers seemed constant.  Still, Debra found courage and strength in Scriptures such as:

Psalms 46 and 139
Hebrews 12
I Peter
James and
Isaiah 30:15-22 . . .
became her lifeline . . . 
        to a Sovereign and Good God.

As time passed, Debra continued to express gratitude for God’s provision and protection over her and her family with a decent paying job and numerous Christians who reached out to her.  At the conclusion of every Session I asked the same question, “Are you loved?”  Every time she would look at me and smile shyly . . . “Yes, I am loved.”  It was with that assurance that Debra continued to do the best she could with what she had.

Last week when we met she had yet another story to tell.  Having moved herself and her two youngest children into the basement of a co-worker several months ago, she was hopeful that she had finally found a house to rent.  She also told me about the encouragement she received from her pastor’s sermon on suffering the previous Sunday.  As she spoke, I was awed by her thoughtful countenance as she quietly resolved, “I will never go back on my faith again.” 

To continue to broaden the scope of the beauty worked out through suffering (and discipline) in the hands of our faithful God, we read Hebrews 12:7-13.  Verses 10a-11 stood out mightily to Debra:

” . . . but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 
No discipline (or suffering) seems pleasant at the time, but painful. 
Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace
for those who have been trained by it.”

The beauty I witnessed, was the transformed outworking of that “harvest of righteousness and peace” being manifested by Debra’s faith in a Sovereign and Good God.  Ah yes, the wondrous clarity faith provides in suffering is totally out of this world!

Whatever challenge you may face, take heart as the God who loves us so completely watches over you . . . no matter what!

All to His Glory!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the God of Jacob is our fortress.

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

All to His Glory!

The Mysterious Love of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All to His Glory!

Defeated by Chance?

Recently I experienced what can only be described as a “burning bush” moment– like when God first spoke to Moses in Exodus 3.  What led up to my “burning bush” experience?  Last weekend my husband Marshall and I were away camping.   Marshall is a wonderful man who has the heart of an inventor–he loves to tinker!  He is thoughtful, generous and rarely gets angry at people but when “things” frustrate him . . . look out!  As we were setting up our campsite, Marshall got frustrated and then angry as he was trying to fix something–I honestly do not recall what.  Talking about the incident later, he said that when he gets frustrated, anger builds and is almost always rooted in the thought that he is “being DEFEATED by CHANCE.”  I realized that he had expressed this before but, I had never taken it to heart.  I thought about the times when I have been upset, slamming doors to emphasize my frustration.  Thankfully those instances are rare but still . . . I’m embarrassed to have to admit it at all.  I wondered:

Is the thought of our lives being thrown into disarray and defeated by “chance” at the root of much of our frustration and feeling victimized?

More to the point, the question my heart asked:

 Can Christians be defeated by “chance”?

The next morning, with these questions still on my mind, I thought about how often the Bible talks about the mysterious ways of God.  I thought about how the wisdom and perspective of Psalm 139 was instrumental in helping me appreciate God as Sovereign and Good.  Verse 16 in particular has been a special encouragement to me in my walk with Christ:

“All the days ordained for me were written in Your Book before one of them came to be.”

For many years, when I had to fly (the majority of my family lives 3,000 miles away from where I live) I would board a plane always feeling inwardly defeated by fear.   Verse 16 challenged me to surrender my fear as I embraced the assurance that there was nothing that could happen to me apart from God’s divine will.  The next time I got on an airplane, I thanked God that He was with me and that He was in control.  Since that time I have actually come to a place where I enjoy flying–sort of.  Verse 16 settled the question of my vulnerability to “chance,” as my faith in Christ overtook the fear that had plagued me for so long.

As I continued to ponder the mystery of God’s will, I checked my concordance.  I was dumbfounded when I noticed that myth was listed immediately after mystery–enter the “burning bush” moment!  Intrigued by this, I looked up one of the references to myth in I Timothy 4 and was hit hard as I read:

“Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather train yourselves to be godly.  For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”  (I Timothy 4:7 & 8)

I felt like I had stepped onto holy ground at the realization that “chance” fits into the category of “godless myths.”  There is no place in God’s world for “chance” (or coincidence for that matter!)  To yield to the idea of “chance” is to lose sight of God and to believe a lie.  With the lie exposed I wondered, “Where do I go from here?”   Bad things happen that we can’t make sense of; life often is not fair.   It was then that I remembered the wisdom of James:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  (1: 2-4)

James assures followers of Christ that God allows trials and suffering to draw us closer to Him.  He is saying that the testing (tempering) of our faith gives opportunity for our  being strengthened into maturity, confident in His loving purpose being worked out in our lives.

So how does this answer our question?  Can Christians be defeated by “chance?”  Not if we keep our focus on what pleases and honors God.  There is no such thing as random chance in God’s Creation, but we certainly are vulnerable to being overwhelmed by the ugliness of sin (our own and the sin of others) when we doubt God’s goodness.   Feeling overwhelmed by life?  Turn to Christ with eyes of faith and give thanks that “today” has not come as a surprise to Him.  Thank Him for His promise that,

“In all things God works together for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Then walk in the confidence that our present and our future are secure in Him.

All to His Glory!