The "Good" in "Goodbye"

       No one knew, but I climbed in under the blanket on the side of the bed where my husband had taken his last breath and covered myself up so that the fabric of what touched him last, was touching me. 

Certain goodbyes mark time forever, not because they ease the transition into the next thing, but because they feel like the perpetual film glitch at the Saturday matinee when you were a kid. Those goodbyes make you want to scream. 

Our word “goodbye” literally comes from “God be with you” and as all true definitions, this one begins and ends with God. For most of us, saying goodbye to our beloved (and all that is connected to their life and death) is seldom good, but when we put God into the picture, when we insert His inscrutable name into the goodbye and dare to believe, perspective changes. I’ll show you.

When the unthinkable or unbearable happens - a final earthly goodbye, our limited humanity leans into the microphone and asks “WHY?” We want someone to step up and give the explanation; as if an explanation would be enough. If God is good, why? If the goodbye that just tore us into pieces too small to ever be put back together is good, why does the future look uninhabitable? Let’s say you and I have just met. I’m wearing boots, so you assume I’m a cowboy. Not only would you have the gender wrong, but you’d be wrong as to my profession. Let’s say because I’m wearing boots, you decide I have a terrible skin disease and don’t want to show my legs. I don’t have a skin disease. Do you see? When our knowledge of someone is entirely based on one small bit of information, we are always wrong. Believer, if we base our knowledge of God and His “goodness” on one piece of information, lack of information, or circumstance, (cowboy boots, skin disease or whatever,) the rest of the particulars are faulty as well, and the whole answer is void of truth. That’s why Jesus gives more…much more, than an answer, because one answer to one question wouldn’t be enough. 

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Our children don’t understand why the pretty glowing stovetop is off limits and elicits a passionate display of what every momma knows to be one of passionate protection - often several times before a little one stops the attempt to touch. But, they learn to trust us without ever (hopefully) experiencing the burning ramifications of curiosity, rebellion or disobedience. Do you see? We know something they don’t, and what they may view as cruel and heartless, is really love, and in the process, trust grows. Our misunderstood act of love is complicated in contrast to a two-year-old’s comprehension of such “extremes.” 

Extreme love to be sure. We resort to violence (a hand slap) to redeem those under our sanctuary of care, and Jesus did the same on the cross for us, even at the risk of being misunderstood and maligned for His actions. 

In the Romans 11, we hear of the “kindness and severity” of God, pressing His way into our brokenness to teach the necessity of grafting because we have been broken off from Him through sin. But, for a graft to be successful, it must be pruned, and if we are to know God, we must be grafted into The Vine. If we are grafted in, we must say goodbye to things that otherwise would render us crippled, barren, and left for dead in our grief. 

The painful pruning for a Christian produces health by removing dead or dying branches injured by disease or storms…. or death. Pruning protects others by removing dangerous branches that could otherwise fall on the loved ones standing by while we do the work of grief. Pruning removes limbs that can obscure our vision and encourages the development of a strong structure and, prevents deformity. There is even a method of pruning called “renewal and rejuvenation pruning” requiring cuts very close to the ground resulting in the sacrifice of that year’s flowers - but the benefits far outweigh the temporary loss, guaranteeing an abundance of flowers and fruit in the future. Believer, it is the same with our grief; it must be pruned, otherwise we open ourselves and our loved ones to more pain, and that my Friend, is not good. 

The recent sale of our home, the one where the kids and I said goodbye to husband and dad, necessitated pruning. I held onto it for a time and for reasons God approved and affirmed, but circumstances confirmed what I knew and God granted the wisdom and courage to allow the pruning. We had rented our home out to several needy families, but as time unrolled itself, the pain of keeping it intensified. I needed an expert to make the cut. God was faithful, we said goodbye, and it was good. Painful, but good, and the fruit….. oh my. This goodbye stands steadfast and tall, stares satan in the face and smiles at the future. This goodbye says, “Watch this.” This “goodbye” assures God is with us; the promise of our Emmanuel. 

In John 16:7, Jesus says, “…I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away, for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.” 

Our Savior’s goodbye turns out to be the very tool with which satan and death is thwarted forever. Now we live not only with the one and only true God beside us, but IN US! This is the victory of “goodbye.” 

After 9/11 I saw an ad displaying a lovely row of houses that could have been Anywhere U.S.A. The caption said something like this: “The terrorists thought they would change America forever.” The next picture was of the identical row of houses, but something was different. Every home now displayed an American flag, and the caption underneath the image said, “They did!” 

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Grieving Friend, this is when we stick our quivering chins out, straighten our bowed and bent shoulders and stare death in its ugly face and say, “What satan meant for evil, God meant for GOOD!” Nothing… NOTHING could stop Him. Nothing will EVER stop Him. This is the “good” in “goodbye.” God not only re-weaves what satan incompetently and unsuccessfully tatted for evil into good, but evil’s attempts backfire and in God’s hands, produce glorious fruit from what satan left for dead! The enemy thought he would change us forever….. he did.

I slid out from under the blanket of the past; you can too. God will prune your grief and you will bear fruit and flourish because God is the good in goodbye - Emmanuel - God with us.

The Dis, Un, and En in Courage

My brother arrived after the police, but thankfully, before me. I walked through the door of her apartment and stood by his side. He slipped his arm around my shoulder and kept it there without leaving any gap between our emotions. Mom had shot herself several hours before, but my brother’s arm steadied me then, and the memory of it has ever since. Literally, we stood in each other’s courage even though neither of us felt we had any at the time. 

The night before my husband died, my best friend sat in the hallway in front of our bedroom where I had been for endless hours, way beyond the end of myself. She was praying. I opened the door from our room to find her there and knelt down on the floor without strength or hope or answers. I don’t know how long I had been “without,” which I suppose is one of its character traits. There was no telling how long it had been since I had eaten anything either. True besties somehow always know about those things, and while my head and heart were weighted and bent, she lifted food to my mouth and held it there for me to eat. The moment still nourishes my soul. Literally, we knelt in each other’s courage that night - no gaps between us - and still do. It was the kind of courage that lays one out on the floor of a hallway. It didn’t feel like courage at the time. 

A few nights after he died, our three kids and I sat in the living room without any gap between our emotions and questions and hunger for his presence. We were listening to songs. We had to decide which ones to play during his memorial; which ones would measure up to the legacy of his life. We cried, and I think we laughed some too. That night, we hurt beyond what should be possible, and we did it in the brokenness of each other’s courage. Courage played its tune that night in the notes and melody of a dirge; far from any “Glory, glory hallelujahs” or “Fight, fight, fight” songs. But we did it together.               

Un” means “not.” It’s usually the opposite of what we want. Think of it in these words and muse about how you feel when you consider them: unfair; unfelt; unseen; unheard of; unrest, unnerved, unfaithful.  “Un” feels like you have no home, and it unravels whatever is left of courage. “Uncourage is not a real word, but it is for me. Maybe it’ll show up in a dictionary one day, though for now, that’s the “unknown.” “Uncourage” is the hole in between encourage and discourage, and I think it better describes what happens to our courage when it is just undone by circumstance or another person. The face of it smirks condescendingly and is always somehow taller than we are.  

In the King James Version of the book of Isaiah, the prophet cries, “Woe is me! For I am undone…” Parallel versions use the words - ruined; doomed; lost; destroyed. “Un” is usually, not a good thing. 

In contemporary lingo - to “dis” someone doesn’t engender any homey feelings either. In Latin, “dis” means to reverse whatever force was present and at work. If you’re feeling affirmed, you become disaffirmed. Steadfast belief melts in the heat of disbelief, contentment shrivels into discontentment, and the swollen heart of soaring victory now cowers behind the shadow of disheartenment. To “dis” someone is to take their courage and grab it by the shoulders, turn it around, slap its behind and shove it off in the opposite direction. “Dis” is generally not a good thing either, especially since it oftentimes comes from somewhere below us, like a slithering, wallowing serpent. And… it snickers - with contempt. I despise it.

On the other hand, to “en” someone, as in “encourage,” is to cause them to be “in” courage. it means “on all sides,” with the sense that a person becomes encircled, enclosed, and entwined in courage with a transition to come. To encourage a person causes them to stand upright in courage, wrapped up in it’s strength and hope, fearlessness and nerve, audacity, grit and heroism. That’s quite a transformation from the vile stranglehold of the death and dirge of this life. Encouragement lifts the head, kneels alongside, steadies shoulders, and is the beginning of a new song even though the melody may begin as tears and a desperate whisper or gasp for air.

Encouragement comes close. Very. It steps inside another’s situation, no gaps, and its source is The Living God - The One Who conquered death and all the “uns” and “dis’s” of this life.

My favorite part of the “en” in courage is that when it’s real, it doesn’t pretend to be higher or stronger or better or smarter. It quietly, gently, humbly comes into and alongside. In it’s tenderness and incompleteness, when joined to another’s brokenness and breathlessness, it becomes real courage for both parties who stand in the frailty of their humanness. Real encouragement is selfless because it knows we have this treasure in earthen vessels so that the power may be of God and not of us. That’s worthy of a “Glory, glory hallelujah!” 

To encourage doesn’t require courage. Nor is expertise a prerequisite; just humble willingness. The quiet action of it always speaks of the goodness of God and the future, but it doesn’t have to involve words. To encourage another, we go “in” to their life and encircle, enclose and entwine them in the love of Christ - not in our ability, and in return, we are mysteriously encouraged too. 

The alternatives? “Un” and “dis.” 

 “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him — a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 ESV

 

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PRESSED

My best friend told me, a long time ago, that when her dad Joe took their family on walks, he would sometimes stop and take a leaf or flower from along the way and press it between his strong and gentle fingers. Then… they could smell the aroma of whatever it was. She knew soon enough in life, that the message of “pressing” told of a greater Truth. 

After the “pressing” there was a giving back; something sweet or savory that filled the air and a child’s memory, and which could not be contained. All of creation declares the glory of the Lord. 

The thing is, sometimes, or more, if I erringly press myself in between the idolatrous fingers of my own effort, I’m always exhausted, and hurting, and can be… (you’ll be shocked to hear) self-centered, left staring at “me.” A poor substitute for God. 

But God has His plan. 

The fragrant aroma wafting up and around from what floats out of creviced and fragmented emotions requires no muscle of our own at all. When pressed, the aroma from our wounds is a sweet fragrance not only to God, but is mysteriously diffused to onlookers as well. In other words, no matter what satan or this world do to you or me, if we are in Christ and abiding, the result is glory given back to God; and somehow, it doesn’t reek of sin. 

Here, listen:

“But thanks be to God, Who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” 2 Cor. 2:14-15 NAS

How?

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.” John 15:4 NAS

That’s how Joe pressed fragrant offerings from foliage — they had been attached to the vine. Had the offerings jumped off their source, and decided to live on their own, life expectancy would be short. 

Dear Believer, how is it, in the heat of this life and its battles left seemingly half-fought and half-won, and so often poorly at that, are we able to abide and to be pressed into fragrance? How can there be a “giving back” born from no effort but the resting in God’s care? How are we not crushed beneath it all and left to perish on the trail?

Because there is a promise; His sure and victorious promise.  

Andrew Murray says it as beautifully as ever a man’s hand could:

“…the abiding in Christ is just meant for the weak, and so beautifully suited to their feebleness. It is not the doing of some great thing, and does not demand that we first lead a very holy and devoted life. No, it is simply weakness entrusting itself to a Mighty One to be kept — the unfaithful one casting self on One who is altogether trustworthy and true. Abiding in Him is not a work that we have to do as the condition for enjoying His salvation, but a consenting to let Him do all for us, and in and through us. It is a work He does for us — the fruit and the power of His redeeming love. The grace to come and the grace to abide are alike from Him alone. Our doing and working are but the fruit of Christ’s work in us.” **

And then… the fragrance. There is no giving back to anyone unless and until we first give back to God, and it begins with the abiding surrender of “pressing.” He does it. His hands are strong and gentle. 

And so the season for joyful melancholy and contentment is here. Like every season for the Christian, our hearts burn with mixed emotions of the past pressing into the present and around the bend of the unknown, and we surrender one more time and confidently climb into the hand and between the pressing fingers of our almighty Christ, and give back. 

“…your gift will return to you in full — pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap.” Luke 6:38a NLT

 

** “Abide In Christ” by Andrew Murray. Whitaker House 1979

Years Closer


11 years without you.

11 years closer to feeling your arms around me again.


Our son Benjamin ended a recent and heartrending tribute with those words. Eleven years since his dad went Home, and the touch of an imperfect life, honorably lived for the glory of God continues to wrap its arms around us all and hold us close.

The day he died, joy was the farthest thing from our minds and hearts and unraveled emotions. I assumed it just dissolved, left us and this earth, and arrived safely into eternity with him. I was wrong.

The writer of Hebrews 12:2 tells us that Jesus, “…for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame…” I’ve never been able to get out of my head the uncomfortable truth that enduring and joy seem always to be mentioned together, like parallel rails on a train track. The natural inclination would seem to be for each to travel in direct opposition to the other. How are we to simply consider it all joy when we encounter various trials just because it produces endurance? Why is the joy of The Lord strength? Why doesn’t the strength of The Lord produce joy?

Merriam-Webster says to “endure” is to undergo something without giving in; to remain firm under suffering without yielding, flinching, or breaking. It is to successfully control the impulse to resist, avoid, or resent, and in Hebrew, to endure means “to take one’s stand; hold one’s ground.”

Joy, a “settled state of contentment, confidence and hope” * cannot be held in one’s hand or intellect, yet is warm to the touch of a frostbit and wounded soul, and cool relief to the desert-worn traveler. It is an internal acquisition of faith; immovable, unwavering, and gurgling up from an unseen but intimately known Source. Kay Warren says it is “settled assurance, quiet confidence, and a determined choice.” ** And somehow it is, without exception or alternative, what compelled our Christ to endure the cross without giving its accompanying shame the time of day.

  And so, for the joy set before him, a son endures and aches with unquenchable love for the touch of his father.

More than two thousand years ago, Mary Magdalene longed to “touch” her Savior after His resurrection. The reality of the word “touch,” much like Ben’s words, means more to “cling to or lay hold of,” but Jesus had not ascended yet. He knew he had to go because the next time they met, they would never be parted again.


For her joy to be made full and her longing truly satisfied, she would
have to endure time and the limitations of what we can’t see with the assurance that sight can never see as clearly as faith.


Sons and daughters and mommas and dads and all of earth’s grieving occupants look ahead to the joy of arms around them again and finally. This is a joy we understand. A love temporarily lost but waiting at the finish line is reason enough for a son to endure past, present and future and fix his eyes ahead to what has been promised. The joy of a family reunited after life’s greatest violation is life’s greatest motivation to endure, and… it was enough motivation for our Savior too. No wonder the joy of the Lord is our strength.

Dear Reader and Friend, the Joy of The Lord isn’t going anywhere. Fix your eyes on Jesus… and run!

“…and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Hebrews 12:1b-3 NASB

 


* Theopedia.com
** “Choose Joy: Because Happiness Isn’t Enough” by Kay Warren. Baker Publishing Group 2013

A Widow's Valentine

Evidently, females purchase approximately 85% of all Valentine cards.

When I was little, we made paper Valentine’s Day pouches at school. I couldn’t have been more than 5 years old but the pressures of Kindergarten love were already looming in a world of disposable Cupids and the world’s gratuitous fascination and fidelity to a holiday earmarked by candy. It may be why, to this day, I am not a big fan of chocolate.

Or maybe it’s because Valentine’s Day reminds me of the moment I walked into my Kindergarten classroom and saw that little paper pouch tied around the back of my chair. I remember it clearly, because my little pouch was empty.

I didn’t understand the intricacies of love at the time, but somehow, the empty pouch spoke to my empty heart and said I was not loved. I did not know the Truth….yet.

John tells us in his Gospel, when speaking of the devil, “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)


Of this fact, Brennan Manning said, "He (the devil) prompts us to give importance to what has no importance; he clothes with a false glitter what is least substantial and turns us away from what is surpassingly real. He causes us to live in a world of delusion, unreality, and shadows."


Valentine’s Day is one of those things that glitter and can press any of us, widowed or not, to turn from what is surpassingly real, true, and important and live in the shadows. But it does not have to be so.

There are differing opinions as to how and when Valentine’s Day began. At least three different saints are noted to have had the name “Valentine” or Valentinus; all of whom were martyred. Not a good start to romance. One legend has Valentine imprisoned, and who, prior to his execution signed a note to his love, “From your Valentine.” Others condemn the holiday’s history to the celebrating of Lupercalia, a fertility festival, and yet others declare February 14th as the first day birds begin to mate. And so it goes.

That day in my Kindergarten class, I stealthily (for a 5 year old) passed by my empty paper pouch as if nothing had phased me. Later, I was happy to find plenty of belated Valentine wishes tucked inside – my heart and future secured; or so I thought.

Until I met Jesus, love was as easily torn and discarded as was the paper pouch and its Kindergarten contents. When my husband died, my heart felt like paper again, as did yours. And Valentine’s Day became not a romantic fulfillment of all our hopes and dreams, but a mockery of what was lost.

How can a day of paper Cupids and candy define love? How can it hold such sway and power? How? Because the devil is a liar, remember? He gives importance to what has no importance, and he makes it glitter.

I didn’t know, back then when I was 5, that I would be writing to you today. But now I do know that paper hearts and candy don’t fill my emptiness. Only the Risen Christ can do that, and He has left no doubt or option.

So the day you dread has arrived…. but your Risen Christ says do not fear, what can mere mortals, or Valentine, or Cupid, or Lupercalia do to you? Your Risen Christ reminds you this day:

“I Am your light and salvation – do not fear. From everlasting to everlasting My Love is with those who fear Me, and My righteousness with their children’s children. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified…, for I will go with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, do not fear; I will help you. Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood. And even though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, fear no evil, for I am with you.”

So, go to church, go out to eat, buy yourself some flowers or some candy; chocolate if you have to. Stand tall, even when others don’t quite know what to say to you. You have loved, and do still. You have been loved, and are still. Plan for a few tears, or maybe a good cry, and when the day has passed, you’ll look back and you’ll know – “Cupid didn’t get the best of me…. Christ did, and His Word, the greatest love letter ever written tells me so.” *

“Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world.” (1 John 2:15 HCSB)

Ps. 27:1; Ps. 103:17; Deut. 31:6; Is. 42:3; Is. 54:4; Ps. 23:4

Where Nobody Sees

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I’m not saying I was actually lost… but if I was, what I found there was worth it. What I caught out of the corner of my eye while looking for another way was worth my foot hard on the brakes. What I almost missed; what the sun shone onto as a spotlight and what the gray alleyway tried to hide, was growing where no human had sown.


I’m not saying I was actually lost… but if I was, what I found there was worth it. What I caught out of the corner of my eye while looking for another way was worth my foot hard on the brakes. What I almost missed; what the sun shone onto as a spotlight and what the gray alleyway tried to hide, was growing where no human had sown.

The rest of Tolkien’s thought:

 
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
— The Fellowship of the Ring – The Lord of the Rings

We live in West Michigan where summertime shows off in midwest neighborhoods of neatly trimmed lawns and colored blooms around borders and under windows. The beauty of it all is wonderfully conspicuous and a lovely reward for the caretaker and onlooker alike. Even more conspicuous is the “wildness;” the space. Lots of it – rolling and meandering, meadow and farm, woods, sand dunes and lakes and mile upon mile as far as far can go of trees that swoon under ever-billowed sky.

And… there are wildflowers. Everywhere.

Most females know the fashion directive: after you’ve gotten dressed take off one piece of jewelry. Apparently a lady would never want to appear over-bangled or too jing-jangled, but I’m glad to say that God doesn’t look to be into the minimalist approach to accessorizing when it comes to the landscape. His warmth and whimsy extend to humanity through the display of what is a somewhat lavish immodesty; an extravagant embellishment of earth’s real estate. He piled on the jewelry when it came to creation.

That day, behind a local coffee shop and small-town suburban version of a strip-mall, was what could have been a view from the yellow-brick road on the way to the Emerald City. A small meadow, colors too beautiful for words, standing as royalty but carefree as a child, stopped me cold and dropped my jaw. There was nothing else but a dead-end street, a few Monopoly-style houses in the near distance, and cement. Where none but the lost, or, heh-hem, wandering would stumble was a show for the eyes and a symphony for the soul. This is a particular beauty that only grows where nobody sees and is perhaps even more beautiful because it is set against the backdrop of the painfully common day-to-day-ness and oftentimes severe ambiguity of life and death.

My Friend, it is true that death can make “lost and wandering” the rule for the grieving saint, but “Christ in you, the hope of glory”* is the believer’s reality, and says that your beauty is growing where nobody sees; at least not yet. But it is, nonetheless… there and growing. The work of its toil must be done behind the facades of life and alongside the gray where other aching saints and sinners feel lost and wandering too. They will see your beauty where nobody else sees because they walk where you walk, and the seed that is sown when you are spent will gently cling to their pain and spread alongside their journey to bloom and flourish when the season comes.

And then… your beauty will shine as if under a spotlight and others will put their foot hard on the brakes too just to gaze at the glory that no human could have possibly sown: “where a light from the shadows shall spring.”

 Wait for it; it’s coming.

 Wait for it; it’s coming.

“For the vision is for an appointed time; It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; For it will certainly come, it will not delay.” (Hab. 2:3 NASB)

“And the Lord will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.” (Isaiah 58:11 NASB)

“Consider how the wildflowers grow: they don’t labor or spin thread. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these!” (Luke 12:27 HCSB)

"This is for You, Sis" (by Dr. James Schaap)

Once upon a time, while I was going on and on about my very first new grandchild, an old friend pulled a quip from his back pocket and wryly gave me a line I’ve never forgotten, not because it’s true in my case–it isn’t–but because it’s probably true in every case.
“You know why grandparents get along so royally with grandchildren, don’t you?” he said.

I shook my head.

“Simple,” he said, “mutual enemies.”

I know, I know–it’s a dirty rotten thing to say, but you got to admit it’s funny.

The very first time I held a grandchild is a picture on the first page of the scrapbook my memory keeps. Twice, I stood beside my wife while she gave birth, but those precious moments aren’t framed in gold the way that one is. If we were in Lynden, Washington, right now, I’d take you past the house. I could show you the room. I could point to the rug and tell you exactly where I was standing.

Last night at a choral concert, that granddaughter and her brother, my grandson (I have no clue about where I stood with him in my arms for the first time) sang gorgeously. I understand that I’ve no right to use gorgeously because my grandparent genes bushwhack judgment something awful. I don’t care. I’ll use it anyway because we have rights, after all, us grandparents; and there’s endless forgiveness, as you know.  So I’ll keep that word there–forgive me, but that grade school concert was perfectly beautiful.

We didn’t know he was going to be featured in a little quartet, and neither did his parents. But there it was on the program–Pieter, one of four, the only boy–featured in a song the director claimed was the class favorite. And that’s how it sounded too.


My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation
I hear the sweet though far off song
That hails a new creation:
No storm can shake my inmost calm,
while to that rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is lord of heaven and earth
how can I keep from singing?


There he stood, up front, singing those words.

So how on earth was I supposed to stop from tearing up? He hadn’t bothered to mention his being featured; in fact, his mom and dad only came to understand he could sing a couple of weeks earlier when his teacher mentioned he’d asked Pieter to join a summer choir. Anyway, there he stood, up front, singing (gorgeously) those words, that song, making music with a soul that is the very foundation of his own Christian education.

Then, he and the three young ladies with whom he was singing walked back into the choir and happily took up the next verse.


While though the tempest loudly roars,
I hear the truth, it liveth.
And though the darkness ’round me close,
songs in the night it giveth.


Now everything I’ve said would be cliche if there weren’t more to the story, as you know. You would simply excuse my bliss as the everyday braying of an audacious grandpa who truly believes there ain’t a kid in the world who can rival his own. I bet your’re thinking I wasn’t the only one with cloudy eyes in a crowd of a thousand other grandpas and grandmas, at least some of whom were also yawning away tears through the verses of that winsome hymn. Had to be.


No storm can shake my inmost calm,
while to that rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is lord of heaven and earth
how can I keep from singing?


All of that’s true, I’m sure, but I sat there hoping that through some divine intervention, my mother was listening too because nothing would have pleased her more, this side of the great beyond, than hearing her great-grandson sing–and sing those particular lyrics.

And I got it on video. I had my phone along. And that was another reason I was wiping away tears because I knew–thank you, You Tube–that I could post this whole gorgeous performance where my sister could hear it too because I know my sister, and I know she’ll well up and drop a few salty tears herself when she sees it, when she hears it, because two weeks ago today she found herself in an ambulance beside an EMT who told her kindly that her husband of 47 years didn’t make it through the accident they’d just suffered on their way to celebrate their own grandkids’ birthdays.

So this is for you, Sis. The kid who stood up front and made me shed tears isn’t your grandson; but ours, right here, is saying something you believe, a particular faith and creed your own husband gave his life to, the love and regard we have for the King of Heaven and Earth, in whose love we live, day by day by day.


No storm can shake my inmost calm,
while to that rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is lord of heaven and earth

how can I keep from singing?


You’re a singer, Sis, and once upon a time, years ago, you told me that your favorite choral anthem of all time was a piece by a Russian composer named Pavel Tschesnokov, “O, Lord God,” a majestic prayer which includes a soaring testimony just about halfway through that suddenly steps out from the music in triumph and exaltation: “I will sing to the Lord as long as I live.” Even if you don’t, I remember you telling me how much you loved that music.

Pieter and his classmates weren’t doing Tschesnokov last night, but he and his friends were singing the very same thing–gorgeously, I might add. But then I’m his grandpa.

Our Mom would have loved it. So would Larry, your husband. I’d like to think they were both there.

So this is for you, from us and from Pieter and his classmates in the kind of Christian school you and your husband served all your lives long.

 

Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth

how can we keep from singing?

Mastering Grief

It was as if he had made them. He was… their master, but he was the most unassuming one in the room. He didn’t need to prove anything to anyone because he didn’t NEED to. He was the master.

From the moment we arrived, his name stood out. His name will always stand out, but I’ll be honest – we had never heard of him before that day. Yo-Yo Ma – yes. Ricky Skaggs – yes. Sting? Ok, I confess, but the gentle man in the plaid shirt… he was considered an authority though his name – his greatness, were unknown to us.

When he sat among his peers, considered to be some of the most accomplished, they deferred to him. If the instrument he held in his lap had legs and a will to get up and move, it wouldn’t. If his instruments had faces, they would possess a sublime look of ultimate contentment; as if they were home.

The entire music festival felt as though it was holding its breath, and the hour was late whenTim O’Brien finally took the stage; but no one was leaving. When he began to play, nobody moved.

On the drive home, my husband and I tried to come up with words to describe what we had just witnessed. Neither of us are accomplished musicians, but we knew there was an obvious chasm between the gifted and the gift itself; if that makes sense? The gift that night was embodied in a mere human – no cape, no red carpet, no drama, no parade. He fulfilled his calling by knowing. Yes, he knew how to woo the song from each of his hewn proteges, but the difference was that somehow he seemed to “know” them… almost like they were people and he was their creator.


He knew them as if he had made them.


Inside and out, every fiber, vibration and vibrato; wood, metal and veneer… he MORE than played them. He joined them – as if they were one. The patriarch of the evening knew what his beneficiaries were created for, and He knew their potential. The end result was effortless; just… effortless. One did not end where the other began, but were each the extension of the other. Neither resisted the other, even when the master began to play notes and chords that were unfamiliar to the instrument’s usual and familiar calling. I’ll even say that the two seemed to enjoy one another though the instrument was inanimate and without feeling; or so I thought. It was as if one reflected the brightness and best in the other, though one was clearly the master of his companion’s expression and fate.

Tim O’Brien brought melodies out of his instruments that we didn’t expect; sounds we didn’t know they could make, and sounds that only come from walking down a few long, hard, winding roads of friendship together. That’s when the real music begins to play.


That’s when the pains of this life transcend hopelessness and turn to beauty.


Even the instruments seemed pleasantly surprised.

The greater the complexity of the song, the more astounding was the master’s ease of effort. The music extended past what the instrument was normally expected to play, and with it grew the magnitude and beauty of its expression. The instrument told a story that would never have been uttered on its own, and if questioned beforehand about the likelihood of its ability to perform such a complex musical selection, it would have denied the possibility.

Believer… do you know how I know? It turns out, Tim O’Brien is naturally left-handed, but he plays his instruments right-handed. What seemed an unnatural impossibility became his glory. It is the same with your grief. Your life before your loss played a certain melody that now seems as though continuing on in the same manner as before is an unnatural impossibility, and there aren’t any options in sight. But God is ambidextrous, and because He is your Master and Creator, He knows you. Every fiber, vibration and vibrato; He knows you. You reflect the brightness and best of Him when you rest your grief in the care of His expertise. He will accomplish what you don’t expect and orchestrate your future into a type of music you didn’t know was possible, even though the notes and chords are unfamiliar to you now. Grief has up-ended you and turned you on your side and you’re facing the other direction now, but remember, the greater the complexity of the song, the more astounding the Master’s ease of effort. What seems unnatural will declare His glory and the magnitude of your pain will transcend your hopelessness and turn to beauty.

Defer to him. He is The Master and He knows you. He made you. The new song will come.

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The People Who Wear Their Bodies


“Remember those in prison as though you were in prison with them. Call those to mind who are afflicted, as if you are the people who wear their bodies.”

(Hebrews 13:3 Aramaic Bible in Plain English)


Everyone was anxious. As soon as the wheels touched down, they had their phones out calling those who were waiting or depending on their arrival, and I don’t think anyone else noticed the scene playing out through the window to the right of our plane as we taxied to the gate. Our flight had taken off late, which changed everyone’s plans.

The scene to the right told me that plans for the grieving onlookers had recently changed too, and nothing would ever be the same again.

The small crowd gathered there stood motionless, as if statues rooted to the ground. My second glance confirmed my first, and time, only a few hundred yards away stood still for a military family whose loved one lay there in a coffin, draped in red, white and blue.

There were no banners, no streamers or posters saying “Welcome Home.” No trumpets or drums. There weren’t any balloons. No confetti. No T.V. cameras. No parade.

The grieving onlookers held their united breath with the Honor Guards’ salute, and with the “at-ease” released them. The contrast was stark between the up-right military and bent-over civilians, but I could feel the common thickness of their pain even as we passed out of the moment’s view. The burden of it lingered and decided to stay, but that’s ok, because the comfort God has given me, makes room for another’s without yanking out my own grief, throwing it on the pavement and backing over it. Think of it like a sponge. God soaks up the saturated mass of my strain and sorrow; the part that yields no good fruit, places the burden of it on Jesus, which then leaves my “sponge” able to soak in another’s burden, which is really a gift to us both!

The Psalmist tells us: “Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you.” (Psalm 55:22 NASB) At the same improbable time, the Love of Christ also asks us to “bear one another’s burdens…” because Love always “fulfills” or “fills-full” what is lacking in us, and in others. (Gal. 6:2)

The casting of one’s burden must be done before one can “bear” another’s. In Psalm 55, “burden” means “thy gift.” It seems as though the possibility of viewing a burden as a gift must be pre-empted by the casting of it into His care. Then the capacity and willingness to take on someones else’s gift of “burden” is born.

In the book of Revelation we are told: “Blessed is the one who watches and keeps his clothes ready.” (Rev. 16:15b) Our wardrobe? We are to put on:
“… the armor of light”*
“… the Lord Jesus Christ”*
“… the new man”*
“… the whole armor of God”*
“… tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, long-suffering”*
“… the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation.”*

And… we are to “call to mind those who are afflicted, as if [we] are the people who wear their bodies.” What an ensemble!

There will come a time, after you have wept and grieved, that you come across someone else who is hurting.

Keep your clothes ready.

 

 

 

Romans 13:12b*
Romans 13:14; Col. 3:27*
Eph. 4:24*
Eph. 6:11*
Col. 3:1*
1 Thes. 5:8*

God in a Lightbulb

Two of the three light bulbs over the mirror in the bathroom were out, but I didn’t replace them. Navigating was obviously strained from the lack of light, but I don’t know why I didn’t see the urgency of swapping them out. Nobody else did either. The longer I let it go, the more I got used to being without, and the more I got used to groping. Without light, life is oddly difficult to navigate because light helps us see what we’re reaching for, and… it helps us see what we really look like.

Scientists say that light moves. A few have tried to stop light but when they thought they had succeeded, realized that when the light stopped, it wasn’t light anymore.

Light is both obvious and mysterious. Mirriam-Webster defines light as “the form of energy that makes it possible to see,” but some light is invisible to the human eye and said to be “above the range of visible light.” I like that; it makes sense when I think about God —- The Light of the World. We also know that when light hits a surface, (or a heart) it bounces off and spreads. I like that too.

Light shines and dazzles and is a source of illumination in the midst of chaos. It can light a path, warm cold hands and heart, start a fire, and give life. Light clarifies things, lifts a person’s spirit, and kindles hope.

Oddly enough, included in the list of light’s antonyms are the words “obscure” and “nobody” meaning that the opposite of light (no light… or darkness) can mean “unknown” and “unnoticed.”
Darkness hides value, but the opposite of light is anything but unimportant because you and I have felt the weight and obscurity of darkness before, and we know that being in utter darkness intrinsically causes the urgent, frantic desire to get out of it. This tells us something vital to our living and healing. It tells us that God has put life – eternal life – in our souls. He has put the need in us to grieve the loss of a life because death is a darkness we were never meant to experience.


We “walk” through the valley of the shadow of death; we were never meant to live there. It is in Him, the Light of Life, in Whom we are to live, move, grieve, and exist, not in death’s charade and gloom.


Death and its accompanying darkness & pain are an obscene mockery of Life and God’s accompanying light and healing. It is life’s antonym, but it does not have the last word because The Word, the First and Last Word became flesh and dwelt here, then left His Spirit to continue on in us as The Light to mankind.

I decided I didn’t want to grope anymore. I wanted to see and not strain; I needed to know if it was toothpaste or Aspercreme I was putting on my toothbrush, and I definitely wanted to know what I looked like.

I did finally change the bulbs in the bathroom. The funny thing was… nobody else noticed. Nobody else noticed – except the darkness. That alone was worth it.

Grieve in The Light today, Dear Believer. Keep doing the work of it, but mourn your loss in The Light. Then, even in the midst of your pain, you won’t be groping. You’ll always know what you’re reaching for, and you’ll be able to see what you really look like.

“The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:16 ESV)

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” (John 1:5 NLT)

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life.” (John 8:12 NASB)

“Those who walk in the darkness cannot see where they are going.” (John 12:35c NLT)

Do The Next Thing


   Said to be one of Elisabeth Elliot’s favorites.


“From an old English parsonage, down by the sea
There came in the twilight, a message for me:
Its quant Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
Hath, as it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.
And on through the hours the quiet words ring,
Like a low inspiration: Do the next thing.

Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, guidance, are given.
Fear not tomorrows, Child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus. Do the next thing.

Do it immediately: do it with prayer:
Do it reliantly, casting all care:
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command,
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
Leave all resultings. Do the next thing.

Looking to Jesus, ever serener,
(Working or suffering) be thy demeanor.
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance be thy psalm.
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing!
Then, as He beckons thee, Do the next thing." 

(Source Unknown)

Fast Grief

Cold, thick, dewey glass, and that red iconic label everyone’s familiar with. Santa Claus, Mean Joe Greene, Max Headroom, and Polar Bears love it. So do I, but I try not to indulge – too often. Coke is not *good* for you, even though EVERYTHING goes better with one. And somehow, the icy dark caramel color and crisp bubble of it makes the whole world sing because…. it’s the “real thing.” (In perfect har-mo-ny!)

Every January our church bands together and does a Daniel Fast. In a way, fasting is a reset button for me. There is never a moment of its duration when I don’t think about it or feel it – emotionally, physically, spiritually. Before the fast begins, I’m faced with what I won’t have for the next 21 days: a Coke. In life’s daily goings-on, I usually don’t crave the stuff, but when it’s gone…. when it’s eliminated from a possibility… when it’s out of arm’s reach…… then….

What’s surprising is that time and distance don’t make it easier to live without what I want… what I crave.

The Bible assumes we will fast.


when you fast, anoint your head
and wash your face.”

(Matt. 6:17 ESV)


But… there’s nothing “fast” about it. Science cannot prove what those of us who fast are certain of: fasting makes the clock tick slower; so does grief.

Those who have not endured such a permanent fast don’t understand the contradiction: sometimes, the longer we are without the loved one we crave… we crave them more.

The world seems to rush about in a blur while the griever stands still in their craving, and for the grieving clock-watchers, each tick-tick-tick pushes us farther away from the hour we last saw our beloved’s face; the hour the clock became heavy and its weight chained itself to our hearts. Life feels like the battery just ran out and the proverbial “ticks” that used to proclaim your future are stuck. You hear the sound but the hands don’t move.

Believers fast for varied reasons. We fast for guidance, for protection, to show humility and repentance, for spiritual strength and power, and as an act of intercession or worship, to name a few. When believers fast, the time is holy. For the grieving saint, the fast comes when the clock has stopped and its face stares at ours.

When Nehemiah heard about the destruction of Jerusalem, he wept and grieved before the Lord for the sin of his people. His pain was so profound that prayer alone would not suffice, and so… he fasted as a way to express his grief. After the Israelites’ loss in battle to the Philistines, all the people wept and fasted, and when David heard of the death of Saul, his son Jonathan, and the Lord’s people, he and his army wept and fasted.

A few days without bread or water or nourishment would normally result in certain dehydration and death, but when Moses fasted, he did so in the cloud and fire of the sustaining Presence of God.

Old Testament scholar Nahum Sarna said, “Moses had a transformation of his self, transcended worldly constraints and was absorbed into the Glory of God.”

Grief has caused you to lose your appetite for life, and circumstance has insisted now that you live “without.” But Dear Friend, something else happened to Moses after his time of without…


“The skin of his face shone…”


 So will yours.

Sounds of the Mourning, Sounds of the Night

It’s very early… 4:00 am. – the only time I seem to be able to forget about every other distraction and write.

Hot tea happens every time I’m up. Earl Grey. Cream and sugar.

For some reason, tea always tastes better brewed hot from a whistling kettle and poured into something flowery and china. Microwaved… it just doesn’t have any romance.

I love the sounds. I love the sound of cold water from the faucet filling the kettle; I don’t know why for sure. Its music is familiar and holds such promise. The snap-snap-click of the burner turning on, and the first soft rustle, swish, and whir of the water… there’s comfort in the familiar; it lets me know what’s coming.

I can hear the hum of the refrigerator and the creak of the wood floors as I pad through the house to the kitchen. Sometimes the plumbing randomly does something like a “whoosh” sound, but I don’t know why. If it’s frozen outside, sometimes the plumbing just moans.

My husband always got up early, especially on workdays when he had to drive the long winding highway of the “Grapevine” down to the fire station in the city. He tried to measure his movements out of bed, to the bathroom and out to the kitchen as quietly as he could, but even in his quiet, he had a sound. His routine had a rhythm and my memory recorded what I heard and without ever having opened my eyes, I could see him there, going about his morning business.

Coffee and the soft ker-thump of the recliner leaning back, God’s Word in his lap, I heard the soft, worn pages turn and saw the motion of his hands and fingers in my mind. The memory of it is still there.

I could even count on the sounds of his departures; I knew them so well and by heart.

After he made his last departure, the comfort of his sounds became void of his presence and I wonder even now – what fills the space he used to occupy in this world?

For us, the mornings became like the night and were filled with the sound of pain and immeasurable, overflowing emptiness.

You probably know what I’m talking about – the pain and its stabbing, uninvited ever-presence.

The sounds of your morning have now become the sounds of your mourning and there is no amount of cream and sugar that will help.

In heaven, the beloved-in-Christ lost from this world fill the holy realm with a new sound that no other occupant has expressed before their arrival. There’s a surprising kind of comfort to the truth of it. Your beloved still has a voice… and so do you, it’s just a different voice now. Good to think about.

The sound of your mourning will become the new sound of your morning, but the winter of it will soften and the pipes won’t moan as much. The warmth and life of the one you love will soon speak louder than the cold and death of their departure. The night will welcome instead of threaten, and you will rest.

In the meantime, take friend or family out today or tomorrow to the nearest antique store or a favorite nearby shop, and find one of those lovely china tea cup and saucer combos, and bring it home. Fill it with tea and cream and sugar and hope. Cry some too, but every time you sit with your new find, it will be a start and reminder that even your porcelain emotions hold the warmth and hope of Heaven.


“Then your light will break out like the dawn, and your recovery will speedily spring forth; and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.”“Then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom will become like midday.” (Isaiah 58:8 & 10b NASB)