Lost and Found . . . .

 

Yesterday I received a phone call that I hoped to never hear: “Hey Kath . . . are you sitting down?  Dad died this morning . . . .”  

How does one prepare for the pain of losing someone you love?  I have faced that question with many a Client; searched the Scriptures for glimmers of hope when darkness threatened.  When feeling lost in a sea of emotion, my thoughts inevitably run to the wisdom of Scripture,

My sweet dad . . . three weeks ago.
My sweet dad on “Mustache Day”. . . three weeks ago.

“Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.”
Matthew 5:4

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  

I Thessalonians 5:16-18

“And God shall wipe away all tears . . . and death shall be no more,
nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more,
for the former things are passed away.”

Revelation 21:4

My mind ran in snippets yesterday as I remembered my dad as a much younger man.  He was number five in a line of six children, grew up during the Depression on a farm in Pixley, California.  He was loyal, dedicated to loving his family, and was never afraid of hard work.  My first “real” memory of Dad goes back to when I was three years old, after he returned from the fight in Korea.  I remember the strength of his arms when he picked me up and held me close.  The following years are a blur of Dad working hard to care for our family–even as he struggled with the aftereffects of war.  A memory I especially cherish, is of walking down the church aisle on his arm, to marry my husband of (now) forty-four years.  Even sweeter were the decades that followed, when he embraced his role as, “Grandpa Clyde”. . . priceless!

While desiring to find a a resting place for all the thoughts and memories that whirled through my mind, I could not come to terms with the harsh reality of being separated by his death.  This morning, God’s shepherding hand touched my mind and heart through a post written by Heidi Viars.   In her post, Heidi describes a scene that took place in a parking lot on a freezing cold day.  After coming out of a store, she noticed a store worker, standing out in the cold without a coat.  After loading her packages into her car and seeing the woman still standing there, this conversation ensued:

 “‘Are you OK?’, I asked.

She looked at me and said, ‘Yeah, just cold.’

I realized she was watching the car next to us. A man in his eighties, maybe nineties, was occupying the passenger seat. His eyes were sad and his head nervously moving back and forth.

‘I saw him wandering in the parking lot. He was lost and I helped him get back in his car. I think he has dementia. I am just waiting for someone to return for him.’ the woman said.”

I was struck by how the lost elderly man reminded me of my dad in recent years.  Age definitely took a toll on Dad as he fought to retain his independence.  It was hard when he had to admit that he could no longer take care of Mom by himself.  I wanted them to move closer to where I live.  Dad rightly refused the offer, citing his desire to stay closer to his sisters and the rest of the family. The move proved to be a good one.  Mom and Dad benefited from getting their medications on time, eating healthier food and enjoying visits from family.  Even so, the bitter reality of dementia robbed him of the joy of being able to drive when he became hopelessly lost in what had been familiar places.  When Mom died two years ago, Dad’s lostness increased.  “I miss Mama,” were the words he most frequently uttered when anyone tried to talk to him.  Even so, we noticed a sweet gentleness emerge, more in keeping with the farm boy he was when he gave his heart to Jesus at age thirteen.

Time has slipped away all too fast for our family, but the words of the woman standing watch over the elderly man in the parking lot brought a comforting perspective, “I am just waiting for someone to return for him.”  In a sense, that is exactly what has happened these past two years with Dad.  We have enjoyed him as Dad has waited in hope for the return of His Savior.

Christ suffered for our sins once for all time.
He never sinned, but He died for sinners to bring you safely home to God.”

I Peter 3:18
(New Living Translation)

Of the snippets that continue to run around in my head, the words from John Newton’s, Amazing Grace, come continually to the forefront,

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

Feeling lost?  Desiring to be found?  There is no one greater than the Good Shepherd of our hearts, to lead us safely HOME.

All to His Glory!

Waiting in Hope . . . .

The diagnosis of cancer for a second family member hit our family hard.  The fact that it involved Luke AND Shannon (married eight years) cast our experience into a realm all its own.   For me, there are moments when I look at them and my mind goes back to their wedding–a day of promises and hope.  During the service, I remember watching their faces as Luke sang a song he wrote for his beautiful bride and watching them recite their vows: “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health . . . .”  Little did we know how vividly those vows would become the standard for living out each day.

Indeed, life has been hard for our family in many respects . . . let’s face it, who would ever sign-up for a double dose of cancer?!! Yet even so, we can say that God has been very, very good to us as we continue to count our blessings.  I suppose that is why this verse from Isaiah has become so dear to me in recent weeks:

 “Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides 
You, who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.”
Isaiah 64:4

Waiting is never easy, especially in this “fast-paced, gotta have it NOW, ‘time waits for no one'” world.  I tend to think that the management of time and our frustration inherent in waiting is more intense now.  However, Isaiah proclaims that our times are not unique when it comes to waiting. I  cannot help but marvel at the patience of a God who continues to reward “those who wait for Him.” 

Waiting in Hope . . . .
Waiting in Hope . . . .

In an odd way, it was a relief as we gathered in the hospital waiting room, trusting that our Shannon was in good hands.  Hours passed . . . almost surreally . . . as we talked, read, shared stories, played games, snacked and watched the Surgical Update Board change as the progress of every patient having surgery that morning was listed. We bore the assorted fears that go with every surgery–but the truly heavy weight we bore was wondering what was to come after the surgery.  Having learned over the past year that with cancer, fear lurks to pounce on even the most stalwart faith.  So . . . we waited in hope, knowing that God will continue to work out His Perfect Plan in each or our lives.

Finally, Shannon’s surgeon walked briskly into the waiting room–we followed like ducks looking for crumbs; wary yet hopeful into the conference room.  What came next was a lesson on what I can only call, “productive waiting” that gave us direction and hope.  He started by telling us about the surgery:

  • The surgery went very well–it was minimally invasive and the “mass” was removed successfully.
  • He saw no other evidence of cancer but admitted that we will not know anything about future treatment until the pathology report was returned.
  • He explained cancer “staging” and how it ties to treatment success rates.

Here is what he said and did that helped our family in the moment and gave us a vision for the weeks to come:

  • He smiled at us with kind eyes, as he shook our hands one-by-one.  (Totally bringing us “on board” as a team.)
  • He told us our primary role should be to help Shannon get well enough that she would be able to leave the hospital in three to five days.
  • Tying in with that, he told us to do everything we could to encourage Shannon to allow her body to rest over the next two weeks.

This may sound silly, but by equipping us with hope and direction in supporting Shannon AND Luke, our load was lightened immensely.  When he left us, we felt energized as our fears slipped away!  I thought about how the direction he gave us reflected the wisdom of Jesus regarding worrying:

“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.
Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Matthew 6:34

It has been eight days since Shannon’s surgery.  She came home on “Day Five” and continues to gain strength each day.  Family and friends have reached out in a multitude of ways as we prepare for the Celebration of Christ’s Birth.  We still wait on the pathology report–not anxiously but in faith–trusting in God’s perfect timing.

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me if Shannon having surgery would “ruin” our Christmas?  I must admit that I was grateful for the question as these words came out of my mouth: “Not at all!  If anything, Christmas has become more precious to us as God has been with us every step of the way.”  It’s absolutely true!  We wait as the ancients did, on the only God who continues to care for His own.

We wait in hope for the LORD; He is our help and our shield.
In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name.
May Your unfailing love be with us, LORD, even as we put our hope in You.
Psalm 33:20-22

Merry Christmas All!

All to His Glory!

A Timeless Hope That Lessens the Sting . . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James 1:12, 13

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

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

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

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

 I Peter 3:15

Transfer 6 034

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

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

Come Lord Jesus . . . COME!

 All to His Glory!

“The Quiet of Now . . . . “

“The quiet of now . . . .” It is a simple phrase that tumbled into my mind one morning as I was writing praises to God in my Journey Notebook.  I remember being struck by how it expressed the delight in my soul as I was aware of His Presence.  “The quiet of now . . .” is not so much about silence (although there may be a “hush” that accompanies it) but has more to do with the cessation of physical or mental busyness.  It can be experienced in times of blessing as well as in the midst of trial and heartache.  “The quiet of now . . .” refers to those rare moments when the world becomes distant as God awaits our stepping through the doorway to Him.  It is in such moments that Hope reigns supreme to both delight and comfort the soul.

Yesterday morning was one of those times when “the quiet of now” entered the forefront of my praises to God.  Our home had rocked for a week as our family of eight adults and seven children enjoyed the rare treat of spending time together.  Laughter, good food, messiness of varying degrees, old friends dropping in and a beautiful snow were the hallmarks of our week.  Several times, I found myself thinking about Mary who, after all the events that occurred around Jesus’ birth, “treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)  In like fashion, I tried to store away odd moments in my mind to be savored later:

  • The way our kids and their spouses enjoyed each other.
  • Watching how the three oldest cousins sensitively played with their younger cousins.
  • The laughter shared by the five bigger boys while sharing stories about sledding one afternoon afternoon.
  • The two youngest leaving gooey fingerprints on our den windows as they excitedly watched the squirrels and birds romp around the bird feeder in the snow.

Yesterday, with everyone gone it was quiet–almost too quiet,  It was then that I pulled out those freshly stored memories and laughed “in the quiet of now.”  (I laughed even harder last night, when I noticed those gooey fingerprints still gracing our den windows!)  It was truly lovely to share those memories with the One who ordained them from the beginning of time.

Are you yearning to experience such a moment?  Perhaps you are feeling harried by the craziness in your life or are discouraged by the seemingly quirky unfairness of how things are right now?  Psalm 46 lays out a helpful formula to lead us to “the quiet of now . . .” when life is falling apart.  It concludes with this direction:

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

Consider this breakdown–

Step One:

~ BE STILL ~

Step away from what you are doing when you can; ask Him to help you see a window in time to be with Him,  (I guarantee He will help you to do this!)

Step Two:

~ KNOW ~

 Stop focusing on your problems and discouragement.  Focus instead on the One who loves you.  Ask Him to help you to know Him more intimately than you do— He will help with this one too!

Step Three:

~ I AM GOD ~

Bow before Him as you give thanks that HE IS GOD, AND THAT YOU ARE NOT!  (It is always such a relief to set that one straight!)

Step Four:

~ I WILL BE EXALTED! ~

If you got steps one through three in order, then enter His Gates (“the quiet of now. . .”) with thanksgiving and praise!

One final thought on entering “the quiet of now . . . .”  Since the fall of man we have sought and failed to create our own heaven/peace on earth apart from God.  The Bible makes clear, we cannot enjoy such quiet/peace apart from the Peacemaker–Christ Jesus–who unabashedly pointed to Himself as the path that leads to quiet we crave:

“I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  
John 14:6

All to His Glory

Simple Anticipation . . . Profound Peace

Anticipation: to look forward to as certain; pleasurable expectation; visualization of a future event or state 

Anticipation–there is a loveliness to this word as it rolls off the tongue that delights my heart . . . especially at Christmas!  For many, the anticipation of Celebrating God’s Gift of our Savior King is the highlight of the year as we remember:

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.”  
Luke 2:8-11

Remembering God’s faithful provision of our Savior Redeemer is reason enough for our hearts to overflow with joy-filled anticipation of the Season.  Yet, there is a darker side of anticipation that can steal our joy and our peace–the dark stain of DREAD.  As the pressures of shopping, finances being pushed to the limit and a myriad of activities and social obligations threaten to overwhelm us, we lose sight of the simple joy of remembering God’s Goodness and have no peace..  

Many complain that living in convoluted times has caused DREAD to darken the door of ANTICIPATION when it comes to Celebrating God’s Amazing Gift.  We blame culture for robbing us of the PEACE that is rightfully ours in Christ. 

I accepted such arguments in years past, and felt defeated and depressed. However, I have since decided that neither the times nor the culture have power to rob Christians of the Peace that is inherently ours in celebrating Christ’s Coming.  In fact, rather than shifting blame to outside influences, we need to take responsibility for the choices we make as we reel-in the stresses and strains that can lead us to dreading Christmas.

I write this to encourage you to take an honest look at where you are one week into the Christmas Season.  On a scale from one to ten, with joyful anticipation at number ten and dread at number one, where are you?

Before going any further, let me share something very simple yet surprisingly profound that helped me to adjust my number on the anticipation scale this past week.  The insight came as I prepared to lead the Advent wreath workshop at my church.  I felt privileged to have been asked to lead the workshop, but inwardly . . . I quaked for weeks as I anticipated (dare I admit . . . I dreaded?!) blundering my way through presenting something I felt ill-equipped to do!  I repeatedly asked myself, “Who am I to instruct a group of people who already know what they are doing?”  In fear, I did what I generally do . . . I started researching everything I could that related to “Advent wreaths” on the Internet!

Not having grown up observing the Advent tradition, I understood Advent to be part of a church service–more formal. What I learned in my research was that the Advent wreath was originally meant for use in Christian homes and was not used formally in Church services (in a broad sense) until the mid-twentieth century.   What a revelation!  With that insight, I realized that, instead of placing our Advent wreath in the more formal setting of our dining room table (where it has been largely forgotten and unused in past years), it would be far more fitting to put it on our kitchen table for daily use.  So . . . that is exactly what I did.

DSC00129

The result of making this simple change?  Amazing and unexpected.  This past week when my husband and I shared our main meal (which varies with his work schedule) we lit the first candle, prayed and read the Scripture to each other as we ate. (The paperback we are using [found stuffed in amongst some Christmas dishes and decorations] is one we used when our children were young.)  After doing this three days in a row I realized how much I looked forward to sharing time with God and my husband each day.    Reflecting on it now, I marvel at how the simple shift from a formal mindset to daily use increased my level of anticipation as the days lead up to Celebrating Christ’s Birth.  Along with the higher level of anticipation, the result has been a greater inward peace as the dissonance/noise of Christmas pressures are put (essentially) on the “back burner” each day.

In the past, I looked at Advent wreaths as “one more should” to be saddled with.  However, what I discovered is the benefit of setting aside the “noise” of the many demands that surround Christmas with the simple lighting of a candle (a reminder that Jesus is the Light of the world) and savoring the Scripture over a meal–profound peace.  Wherever you are on the anticipation scale it is never too late to make adjustments to move away from dread toward joyful anticipation.  It may sound silly, but I am actually looking forward to lighting the additional candles!  Simple anticipation . . . profound peace . . . rejoicing in Him!

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!