When The World Around You Crumbles . . . .

I saw it in her eyes . . . a glazed fatigue that said she was just barely hanging on.  After stowing her backpack under the seat in front of us, she settled next to me with her 17-month-old daughter and a paper cup filled with a large scoop of ice cream.  Perhaps seeing the concern in my face or . . . just needing to talk, she said softly, “We have been flying for the past thirty-six hours . . . from Kathmandu.”  Having watched many reports of the devastating earthquake all week, the only thing I could think to say was, “Welcome home.”

Popular 200 ft. tower landmark in Nepal, gone in an instant.

As she fed her daughter spoonfuls of ice cream (the only thing the worried mother could get her little one to eat on their long journey) she talked about her experience.  She and her daughter had flown to Nepal to attend her sister’s wedding.  When the quake hit, my seat mate was the only one in the house–the rest of the family (including her daughter) was out in the back garden.  She said several times, “I thought I was going to die,”  before adding,  “My only comfort was in knowing my family would take care of my daughter.”  

Thankfully, she survived.  But I could tell she was still reeling from having seen the world she had known since childhood literally crumble.  She described “the wind that seemed to form with the quake”, filling the air with all sorts of dust particles that made survivors prone to eye and respiratory problems for days after.  Over the next three days, she and her family “camped” (along with countless others) in an open-dirt area with no power, water or even a blanket to form a shelter.   Finally, she and her daughter were admitted to the American Embassy, where they stayed two more days until a flight out was arranged for them.  (Her comment here, “I have never been more grateful to be an American citizen!”)

She spoke softly about the historic sites as well as the majority of the city being flattened.  To help me appreciate the significance of what she had witnessed she said, “Imagine the White House in Washington, DC, being demolished in just a moment . . . that is the magnitude of what has happened in Nepal.”  

How does one respond to a story such as this?  It took some careful thought before I responded with, “During times when I have felt like my life was crumbling, the Bible has provided me with the strength and courage I needed to continue moving forward.  Psalm 139:16b is one of my favorites,

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

A gentleness settled across her face as she said, “I know that what you are saying is true, that God can often bring much blessing out of tragedy.  That is what I am clinging to right now.”  We spoke for some time about the blessings that could come out of the catastrophic shift that had taken place.  Soon, as her little one finally relaxed and fell asleep in her arms, she also closed her eyes and drifted off in exhaustion.

I watched them as they slept, grateful for the privilege of hearing their story as they traveled this final leg home.  I thought about her husband,  waiting at the airport, hungry to see that his wife and daughter were truly alive and safe.  Sitting there I also thought about how “life” can crumble around us in a myriad of ways–relationships broken, dreams squelched, a devastating health reversal, missed opportunities never to return . . . .  The truth is, life on this earth is full of danger.  I remembered the words of Psalm 46, where I have found comfort in the midst of trials:

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.
(Verses 1-3)

There is no tower we can build that will be high enough, nor any wall we erect that will be broad enough to keep trouble away from our door.  Only God can provide the comfort and shelter we need during such storms.  I love how the rest of Psalm 46 draws us ever closer to the God who is our only Hope and Sure Shelter:

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.
(verses 4-11)

When the plane finally landed she opened her eyes and smiled–HOME!  They were finally home!  Doing what I could to help, I gladly held her little one briefly as she gathered their few belongings.   Then, almost in an instant, they were gone.  Only when they were finally out of sight, did I realize that I would never forget her–even though I never learned her name . . . .

All to His Glory!

Perspective on: “A Healthy Death . . . .”

“Perspective is everything.”  I don’t know where I picked it up, but it is a phrase I find myself repeating a lot these days.  Yesterday, as I prepared to make the half-hour drive to attend the funeral of my friend Pat, I remembered back to when she told me she had cancer, two and a half months ago.  (Even then, that conversation was so remarkable that I decided to share Pat’s story with you in, A Healthy Death.)   In that conversation, still shaken by the news of Pat’s battle that had been ongoing for three months, I found comfort and blessing as Jim (Pat’s husband) told me how they had decided to pray,

“This is what it boils down to, Kathie,
we are praying for HEALING or . . . for A HEALTHY DEATH!”  

Since writing that post, I have thought often about writing its follow-up . . . hoping to write to you about Pat’s miraculous healing.  Yet inwardly, I also wondered, “If You decide to take Pat Home, Lord, what would You have me write?  What exactly does a healthy death look like?”

As I drove to the funeral home, all I could think about was the pain of separation being experienced by Pat’s family and friends.  It was good to greet and feel the hugs of friends I had not seen for many years.  It was also amazing to see the crowds of others, whom I had never met, but who also had been touched by Pat’s life.  As I watched Pat’s family offer comfort and reassuring hugs to all who came, I was struck by how they reflected the love and strength of the One carrying them.  This, I realized, was my first lesson on what a healthy death looks like–the Body of Christ ministering to one another.

The Service for Pat began with this simple story:

Around 125 A.D., a Greek by the name of Aristeides wrote to one of his friends, trying to explain the extraordinary success of the new religion, Christianity.  In his letter he said, “If any righteous man among the Christians passes from this world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God, and they accompany his body with songs and thanksgiving as if he were setting out from one place to another nearby.”

I was struck by how very much the Christian walk is about pilgrimage–then and now.  The pain of death is nothing new.  However for Christians, the sting of death has been taken away, because of the Hope we share from this life into the next.  In fact, the second lesson on a healthy death, relates to it’s uniqueness to the Christian faith.  There is no possibility of experiencing a healthy death apart from the saving work of Jesus in the heart, mind and soul of the individual.  

During the Service, hearts were ministered to as some of Pat’s favorite songs and hymns were sung. I found the wisdom and perspective of the Scriptures shared to be strengthening and uplifting.  Certainly tears were spilled and will continue for some time, as we remember Pat.  However, as we rely on the Hope embedded in the Resurrection of Christ–promised to all who trust in Him–we are strengthened to persevere on this journey and into the next.  What the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21 reflects our third lesson on a healthy death: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

This morning, I thought about Pat as I remembered the words from an old hymn:

” . . . and when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on!
And when from death I’m free I’ll sing on!”*

The thought of Pat presently experiencing such freedom brought fresh delight to my soul.   This rendition of Fernando Ortega’s, “What Wondrous Love Is This” is a favorite of mine.  I offer it to those of you who may be suffering loss or who are facing uncertainty in your life right now.  What does a healthy death look like?  Take a moment to reflect on this question as you marvel in His Wondrous Grace.  Truly . . . PERSPECTIVE IS EVERYTHING!

“All the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.”
Psalm 139:16b

All to His Glory!

*What Wondrous Love Is This, Author: Unknown, first published 1811.

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!

 

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!

The Problem With Running . . .

Countless times I have witnessed miracles in my office as God’s Spirit and His Word have worked in a hardened heart.  Last week, a young woman walked into my office angry . . . and rightfully so.  Married with two small children she felt:

Taken advantage of . . .

Unappreciated . . .

Disrespected . . .

Worn out.

Rather than argue I empathized . . . I confessed the times when I have wanted to run away too.  We talked about how the decisions made today will impact our lives and the lives of those we are tempted to leave behind.   She was at a crossroads and ready to run.  How did I know?  As I have told many a client, there is little that comes through my office door that I have not had at least a taste of in my own life experience.  I well remember those times when I have been DONE with life .  . . ready to escape the burdens that seemed impossible to bear.  How about you?

The challenge in counseling this angry young woman was to convict rather than condemn; to help her to realize the grave danger she was in. That is where the beautiful working of God’s Spirit and the Scriptures come in.   I shared a bit of my testimony, how to this day my  children (now grown and with families of their own) are grateful for how God stepped into my life, sparing our family from the tragic consequences of my abandoning them.  When God wakened me to my anger He helped me to see the dangerous possibilities my sin could cause.  The problem with running is that the consequences eventually will catch up with us.

We turned to the Scriptures for the perspective we lacked.  Considered to be the last letter written by Paul, the apostle poured out everything he had left in him because he knew his time was short.  Writing to a young man named Timothy (who Paul thought of as a son) it is a letter that speaks to the very soul of an individual.  I listened as she read:

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

She stopped reading and looked at me wide-eyed saying, “How could God know so well the depth of our depravity?”  She shook her head and continued on:

“They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.  Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.”  (II Timothy 3:1-9)

She spoke quietly as she shared her first impressions ;  “‘Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God . . .’ that is surely me.”  She shuddered as she then whispered, “I don’t want that ‘weak-willed woman’ to be me!”  I watched as the hardness left her countenance and she grabbed a tissue, grateful for a God who saves us from ourselves.

Life experience has taught me that it is far better to run to God with problems than to run away from them (and Him.)   Next Session we will probably turn to God’s Counsel in Isaiah 30:

“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.
You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’
Therefore you will flee!
You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’
Therefore your pursuers will be swift!
A thousand will flee
at the threat of one;
at the threat of five
you will all flee away,
till you are left
like a flagstaff on a mountaintop,
like a banner on a hill.”
Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore He will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for Him!
People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you.  Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them.  Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”  Then you will desecrate your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, “Away with you!”  (Verses 15-22)

No matter what difficulty you may be facing, give thanks to God for the clean slate of today.  Run to Him in repentance and faith as you trust Him to help you stay the course you are on.  Give thanks to Him for His love and mercy; give thanks that He has not abandoned you.  Then watch, wait and listen for the direction you need . . . in the confidence that He is worthy of your trust.

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!