Thoughts on Life and Death

The plight of a middle aged woman… a new season is upon me. I’ve blogged quite a bit on it recently. My life is transitioning. I’ve went from minivans, toddlers, chauffeuring the kids to summer swimming lessons… to a sports car, kids in their 20’s (one teenager left), and spending the morning at the bedside of my mother in love in long term care as she lies here going through her own transitions as well battling the final stages of cancer.

Watching her as she steps one by one into the final stages of death has brought me to a place of great contemplation. (There’s plenty of time to think as you sit in the quiet watching someone breathe). When I was younger I was fairly certain I was the master of my destiny, or at least I had a pretty good say over it. Do everything just right, speak the right words, confess the right scriptures, and do the right stuff. Things will go my way and I will change my world. It’s easy when you’re in the middle of building your life: cars, houses, careers, kids, etc. Making decisions and taking action to forget how much you actually control. It’s funny, (not ha ha funny) that we can so quickly forget what we actually control until pain comes, tragedy strikes, or we sit watching a loved one slip away into eternity. The list of all the things we think we are in control of dwindles down to little or nothing. Thankfully God truly does control it all.

I’ve often objected to such a view of God because I felt it reduced me to nothing more than a pawn in God’s chess game of life. The older I get, I see the comfort of knowing that God truly has every aspect of my life in His hands.

It’s easy, as the self made woman, when things are going my way, to feel good about my smart decisions, my fortunate circumstances, and how I deserve to pat my own back. When it all falls apart, I look around wondering where God was and why He didn’t bail me out. Questions and mistrust come in the wake of such circumstances. Knowing that God is in control in both the good and the bad, the big things and the little, brings peace. Because I am sure that the same God who values my life enough to send His son to die and pay the price for it, is the same God who values me and my broken heart more than I could ever know when I walk through pain and sorrow. He doesn’t leave me or forsake me. He has all this and eventually it will turn around for my good. Even if “my good” is leaving behind my temporary home, my body, by dying. It is then I receive my eternal body, my eternal home, The ultimate good in store for those who are in Christ.

Sitting here today has brought to mind that it would do me good to not be so attached to all the things here. I am passing through. The focus that brings peace is a life centered on the Holy One, Jesus, who assures me that this earth is not the end all. He has went away to prepare a place for me so where He is I can be there also.

Even though there is much here I love about my life and many more joys I plan to experience here, this cannot compare to Heaven. This life I live right now is just the prelude to the “Masterpiece of Heaven” God has written for my life to play a part in. For my mother in love, lying in front of me, the full orchestra of her life has only heard the tap of the conductor’s baton. The beauty of the Eternal Concert in Heaven has barely begun.

(Much comfort was found looking at this book that was placed in my Mother in Love’s hospice room.”Hope in the Dark” by Bart Larson. Years ago I knew Bart’s wife. I knew he was a hospice chaplain. That piqued my interest. It is where I found these quotes. Once again God weaves the details of our lives together. It is a good read.)

We are Never Forgotten

This morning my coffee and Jesus time was interrupted by a call from my mother in love from the nursing home. She had a hankering for a breakfast burrito from McDonald’s with mild picante sauce. Since eating has been hard for her and she has lacked desire, I combed my hair, brushed my teeth, put on some day clothes, hopped in my Charger and drove into town to purchase the desired meal and drop it by her room. I left my time with Jesus contemplating a verse that stuck out to me in my daily Bible reading that my husband and I are doing together from the Bible app. Psalm 105:42 “For he remembered his holy promise given to his servant Abraham.” The word “remembered” jumped off the page at me, which usually means I need to run it through the Bible Hub App and check out the meaning in the Hebrew with the Strong’s Concordance, and if that isn’t enough to settle the question marks flashing in my mind, Webster’s 1828 Dictionary can shed some light too. There are several references to God “remembering” someone or some promise. Genesis 8:1 “God remembered Noah…in the ark.” In Exodus 2:24 God “remembered his covenant” after hearing the groaning from the oppression of the Hebrew slaves. It hit me. If God “remembers” does that mean He “forgets”. I know that an all knowing, all powerful God cannot “forget”. I know this in my heart, but at times the 18 inch jump of this reality from my heart to my head does not quite make it. I can get caught up looking at circumstances, feeling my feelings. Then the question, “Has God forgotten?” starts to rumble around inside of me.

Webster’s 1828 defines “remember” as “to bear in mind, to attend to”. When God remembered Noah in the ark, He “attended to” or He “thought about” Noah . It wasn’t a case of God looking at other details in the flood and Noah just “slipped His mind.” So He needed to remember Noah. Or when God “remembered” His people who were enslaved in Egypt, He hadn’t been too busy thinking about what was going on across the globe in another land, and happened to let His very own people be abandoned and “forgotten” by His inattentiveness. He was there all along, working out the details of their deliverance. He was bearing in mind their situation, their cries, and their desire for freedom. He was working out His plan of deliverance.

It is easy in a difficult season to feel like God has forgotten us. Our earthly limitations don’t allow us to see everything as God does, and it is hard to understand “the why?”. “Why hasn’t God done something about this?” “Why have I had to struggle with this for years and years and years?” “Why is there pain?” “If God were actually looking at me, He wouldn’t let me go through this. Maybe He’s forgotten me…” But we are assured, God “remembers”. He bears in mind our circumstances and He attends to the details of our lives. He never forgets.

Nine years ago today my nephew was lost at sea while serving in the Navy. It is presumed by the Navy that He fell overboard in the Gulf of Aden near Yemen. I used to close my eyes and picture him buried deep in the under currents created by the large carrier he was serving on. No one saw him. No one knew. His disappearance became known when the daily roll call occurred and he was not present. The ship was searched, and then the waters. Matt was gone. This was not because God had forgotten to keep an eye on Matt and had no idea where Matt was. God was there attending to Matt’s needs as Matt stepped across the great divide from earth to heaven underneath the waters of the Gulf of Aden.

The Memorial Service for Matt aboard the Boxer.

Nine years ago on July 9th my father in love drew his last breath after suffering greatly with cancer for over a year. God had not forgotten him. I’ve often thought of what Gene must have seen as he uttered “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” before drawing his last breath. God had not forgotten him as he laid on his bed unable to speak or move. He was there attentive to his care and bearing him in mind as he took Gene’s hand and led him into the pure presence of Jesus.

God has not forgotten my mother in love as she continues her fight against the disease that has ravaged her body. He has not forgotten me as I struggle to understand. I am assured that the questions in my heart, the anxieties I fight are under His attentive care and He knows exactly where I am and bears my situation in His mind. He is in control. I may not understand or see. but God never Forgets!

“The Blessing”

“…And this is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each one with his own special farewell blessing. Then he instructed them: “I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave which is in the field of Ephron the Hittite… Jacob finished instructing his sons, pulled his feet into bed, breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.”
‭‭Genesis‬ ‭49:27-33‬ MSG

What a whirlwind this day has been! It started with a phone call from my mother in love regarding a need she had at the nursing home she is at. I quickly got around and headed there. Then it was a day of fielding calls, talking to hospice, nurses, and trying to alter her nightgowns to be more suitable for her needs. With my limited seamstress skills that was a feat. After lunch I sat at my table with my head in my hands and tears began to flow. Then it occurred to me. A trip to Hobby Lobby would help me feel better. It soothes the soul. So off I went, and I was right.

The facts of the matter is my mother in love is down to a few days. Knowing this has prompted family to come. Sisters, children, grandchildren, nieces, etc. They have come to spend some time with a woman who is very much loved. When I told her about people coming to see her, she told me weakly she was tired, and I told her I knew she was, but it’s tough being as popular as you are. The company did perk her up today. It was a good day for her.

Grandma Praying for each Grandkid individually

COVID 19 has made it hard for a family, and in this case a very large family, to spend their time with the one they love. Two by two they were allowed into her isolation room, with health screening , temperature check, escort to and from the room, and face mask the entire visit. She enjoyed her time with family in between naps and moments of being quiet. Although the restrictions have been hard on us all, I saw the most beautiful thing tonight that will mark my heart for the rest of my life, Grandma’s Blessing.

Two of my kids receiving “The Blessing”

One of the nursing home’s generous accommodations during this time of quarantine was to allow visitors to stand outside her window and talk to her through a screen. Some of her grandkids arrived for a visit there, and that is where “The Blessing” began. One by one they stuck their head in the cranked open crack and told their Grandma they loved her and bowed their head as she held a hand toward them and prayed. Grandkids ages 15-25 coming for their blessing from a woman who had sown seeds of God’s love into them from the day they were born. It was beautiful. It felt like I was watching the scene of Jacob blessing his sons, but with a southern Missouri woman’s style. Then the time came for her kids. As I stuck my head through the small crack to receive my blessing too, I thought of how blessed I have already been. Some 28 years ago our lives as mother and daughter in love began. I can only hope to be half the mother in love that this woman was to me for my son’s wives in the future. But may I, in my time raise my hand to my grandkids and proclaim, “May His favor be upon you to a thousand generations. To your children, and their children, and their children…” -(“The Blessing” Elevation worship). And may I leave an impact on my children and grandchildren, like she has on them that they would be willing to stand outside a window on a hot summer night, in order to receive “The Blessing” from the hand that held them close when they were babies many years before.

Grandma Evie with hand raised in prayer for the Generations to follow her. “The Blessing”

““ ‘ “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” ’”
‭‭Numbers‬ ‭6:24-26‬ ‭NIV‬‬

“but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
‭‭Exodus‬ ‭20:6‬ ‭NIV‬‬

“Farther Along”

I grew up the daughter of the church pianist (my mom) and grand daughter (my grandma) of the church song leader, what they used to call worship leader in some churches back in the day. As the regular part of church worship service, someone would come prepared with a “special”. Usually a hymn or song that they sang solo or duet with someone. With all the music running through my family line, I would be asked on the regular to sing or play something on the piano. It wasn’t my favorite experience since my fingers would shake so hard on the keys of the piano from nerves. I usually had a few screw ups in each song. The small church of 30 or less would talk about how wonderful I did when I sat down. (Very generous of them)

My mom and grandma usually sang a special every week. Their voices blended smoothly as they sang songs outside of the usual congregational music, hymns, that were sang.

Frequently, they sang this song , “Farther Along” (a little differently) as a “special” when I was growing up. Since I was an “80’s Rocker” in my teen years, I didn’t really think too much about it. It wasn’t my style. Funny how things change… I often think of them singing this song now. I finally get why Grandma loved the words of this song.
I came across the verse above this morning in my Bible reading. I’ve had a hard week. My mother in love has spent this week in the hospital after a fall that broke her femur. Cancer has complicated things and we have been left with a great need for a miracle.

There has been a wide range of emotions within our family as we’ve tried to help her and be there for her the past few days. Probable one of the hardest things is not understanding why.

Suffering is hard to wrap your mind around when stacked up against the fact that God is good and He loves us. There’s been many books written, sermons spoken, and ideas expressed on the “Why?”.

I’ve had to conclude during my 49 times riding around the sun that it’s ok to not understand everything that happens on earth. I’m not God. I am finite. I don’t see the full picture. The comfort is that that when I see Jesus, I will understand. Because I will finally see Him as He is and all the secret things will be revealed. Quite honestly, when I do see Him all the things that I didn’t understand won’t matter so much any more. Because it is then that I step into the place where there will be no more pain, no more crying, no more dying, etc and I experience fully without anything holding me back, God’s love: the heights, the depths, the length, the width of its infinite bounds.

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.””
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭21:3-5‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Jesus Intercedes

I remember my first experience with labor pains. The best way to describe it is the feeling of such deep pain that you can’t think or talk. It didn’t take me long to figure out an epidural was the mode of pain control I wanted to experience. Feeling nothing. I can also remember a time of such fear I experienced. I couldn’t think or talk, just freeze. Lay still and wait for the threat to pass. Then there was the time of such emotional pain that I couldn’t think or talk, just cry. It was a chore to put one foot in front of the other to go on. I think experiences like this are part of the human condition. They occur in our lives when our world seems to be out our of control. It is in those gut wrenching times that I felt alone, abandoned and out of sorts.

This week has been a week. I’ve had to at times stand off to the side and hear the cries of pain as someone I love has endured physical and medical trials. It’s not been easy. One morning I sat down in my recliner with a cup of coffee to clear my head and spend some time with God. My devotion was about Jesus interceding for us. (Hebrews 7:35) my first thought was, “what exactly is interceding?” I’ve pondered that thought a lot the past few days.

Prayer in my life is a lot like conversation. Those prayers are awesome. They are the part of a relationship that I’ve experienced with God. However, I’ve had my times that I’ve kicked it up a notch and continually prayed for someone asking for God’s intervention. I’ve done it with feeling and with urgency. Not my typical dialog I have with God. It’s the “God they need you to step in! God this cannot go on! God we need your help” kind of prayers. I believe that is what intercession is. It’s when the person I pray for can’t pray for themselves, so I will- kind of prayer. “Going between” – “intercession”.

Then it hit me. Jesus intercedes for me. The time the physical pain was too much, the fear was too overwhelming, and the emotional turmoil was too great for me to even be able to think to utter a word. He was there. He was going between me in my situation and the very throne room of God where all I needed in that moment was being released on my behalf. He intercedes. What a comfort this past few days! Life sometimes takes us down paths we never wanted to step upon, but when I find myself there not sure what to do, Jesus intercedes for me.

As I sit here writing my thoughts, I am with someone I love watching her sleep on the oncology ward of a major hospital for my area. Away across the hall a man is moaning in great pain. I don’t know who he is or anything about him. But I pray, and then I said, “Jesus you know him. He’s unable to do this on his own. May your intercession be for him as well.” Because Jesus loves us all and when we can’t He can. It’s who He is and what He does. He intercedes.

Things I Need to Say

It’s been a long four year battle with multiple myeloma cancer for my Mother in Love. She’s faced many difficult decisions bravely and has fought with ever ounce of courage she could muster throughout all the difficult treatments: stem cell transplant, radiation, chemo etc. A position she couldn’t have ever conceived being in before she got sick. I’d say she’s one of the toughest women I’ve ever seen.

Road trip to Ashes to Beauty Women’s Encounter

Today I opened my Facebook. One of my memories from six years ago was a picture of us. As I looked at the photo, memories of the years we’ve known each other flooded my mind. Twenty- eight years ago we were introduced in the living room of her home. I’m not sure what she thought of a 21 year old college girl dating her 19 year old son. She has often retold our first encounter of me doing the “Kitty Rap” and her and my Father in love getting up out of bed to go and meet Richard’s girl friend. As she puts it, I am the one she had prayed with Rich about, when he asked her to pray one late night. He wanted for God to show him which girl he should pursue at the Christian Campus House I lived in. Eight months later we were married. So I’m glad God heard her prayers.

Memory from 6 years ago today.

The day of our wedding as I stood in the reception line, she gave me a hug and told me, “I’ve had him for 19 years. He’s yours now.” I kind of wondered what that meant. It was almost passing off the prized pet or something, but now I understand. She never interfered in our marriage. She just wanted to be my friend. In fact, from the beginning she made sure I knew I was another one of her kids.

That probably didn’t sink in to my head until my husband and I had been married for around 5 years, and we had to move back to his hometown for a job opportunity. He took a pay cut for a job that had insurance, permanence, and opportunities to grow. It also meant we would have to live with his parents for a few months. Something that I was less than thrilled about. I kind of liked my space… But it was in those three months, while my husband was off to work and it was me, my two year old son, and her around the house, that I realized that she was another mom to me, and just how blessed I was. Us Laying out together in her yard and getting sunburned while my toddler took a nap is one of the first memories just how crazy and fun loving she could be.

Biscuits and Gravy Christmas tradition

For years we did a lot together: Trips to the Mennonite and Amish communities to shop their bakeries and surplus stores, camping, shopping, going to the nursery to buy plants, vacations together, Christmas morning biscuits and gravy (she cooked) , etc. She even hopped in the “Tilt a Whirl” with me at the State fair one time about 10 years ago. She laughed and laughed as the ride jerked us around and she practically ended up in my lap. Then there’s the photo op with the Oscar Mayer Wiener Mobile. We’ve had lots of fun times through the years.

Watching a Great Grand pet a deer at a deer farm with me

My Mother in Love has tried hard to be a good grandma, and she has been to my kids. When my husband worked 12 hour shifts 6 days a week she would watch them for me so I could go grocery shopping on my own. She kept them for overnights so my husband and I could get away on our anniversary every year. She thoroughly enjoyed my kids telling her that she could peel apples better than me and make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches better than me too, not sure how that is accomplished but my 25 year old son would still attest to her PB&J making expertise. She’s got 18 grandkids total and I’m sure if polled they would attest to what a wonderful Grandma she has been.

Great Grandma with my Grandson

Our trips and experiences lately, haven’t been as fun although we’ve tried to make the best out of them we could. When she was diagnosed with Cancer, she could barely walk. I took her to appointments at the oncologist and others. It was hard on me. I’m not one for doctors, needles, and such. Sitting in the waiting rooms watching the people go by. Some looking like they had recently been diagnosed with fear in their eyes. Others looking like a miracle would be all that could help them as they had lost weight, strength, etc. My mother in love however did her appointments with grace visiting with everyone in the waiting room and smiling all the while. She’s a fighter and she fought back. She ended up walking into the clinic by herself after driving to the city from our small town for treatment by herself. (something she probably never thought she could do) And she did so for a few years, until recently when the treatment options have run out.

My Mother in Love is a woman of faith. Ten seconds with her and you would figure that out. So her fight has been with God fighting for her. She still stands believing that God is not done though the doctor says he (the doctor) is. She believes for a miracle and trusts God when many would be tempted to give up.

I tend to be an “I want to know the details” kind of person. Hoping to understand what’s going on so I can know what to expect and make good choices. Sometimes this has ran up against her desire for me to “just believe and trust God for healing”. Throughout this whole ordeal I have often prayed and asked God to give her what we all desire, her healing. I know He is able and He is good.

Wednesday the doctor did not say the things we had hoped he would say at her appointment. Her condition has come to a place where it has to be God for her to be whole. I told her a week ago that I knew no matter what she was in a win/ win situation. For her to live here on earth is Christ, being able to show all those around her God’s love and faithfulness she has experienced in her own life. But for her to die is gain. I can’t think of anything more wonderful than leaving all the pain, sickness, and sadness we experience to be with Jesus. That is truly a gain. She told me she knew that was true, but she felt like she wasn’t done. So many more prayers to pray. So many more people to point to Jesus with her light.

This morning when our photo of us in front of the Wiener Mobile popped up on my Facebook page memories like I’ve just shared flooded my mind. The words I’ve written above overflowed in my heart and I began to think of all the things I need to say/ write. Things like, Thank you for being a wonderful mom to my husband and me. Thank you for being the best Grandma you could be. Thank you for modeling how to love your husband. Thank you for being there for me the past 28 years. Know that I’m asking God for more years and I know He has you in His hand. I love you! Just wanted you to know. These are the things I need to say.

Pain into Pulpit

 

Four years ago my Mother in Love became sick.  We discovered after a hospital stay with complete renal failure that she had Multiple Cell Myeloma.  Months later she went to the city to have a stem cell transplant at one of the nation’s leading hospitals. Her time there was as she has described it her time of “being the closest I’ve ever been to death.”  In the four years since it’s not been an easy road for her.  Monthly and sometimes weekly or more appointments at the Cancer Center, changes in treatments, side effects in medicine, sleepless nights, and sometimes just feeling plain old crappy.

Yesterday, she calls me after returning home from another appointment with some good blood report readings and some not so good.  She relays all that, but then begins to share about a woman that sat by her in the waiting room, probably in her 30’s, recently diagnosed, and scared.  You’d have to know my Mother in Love.  She’s never ever really met a stranger. So she strikes up a conversation with the girl, and then begins to take the pain that she has walked in for these past four years and turns it into a pulpit.  She shared about how God saw her through treatments, transplants, radiation, sickness, it all.  She talks about how faithful and close He is, how much He loves, and how much He loves that girl and that she doesn’t have to be afraid.  Then my spunky 73 year old Mother in Love goes through the rest of her appointment and drives home, a challenge for her but as I tell her jokingly, frequently, “She’s a tough old bird.”

I was out running errands for her today, and thinking about all this and some of the personal challenges I have faced and am currently facing in my life.  Then this verse from Philippians 1 crossed my mind. “…Everything happening to me in this jail only serves to make Christ more accurately known, regardless of whether I live or die. They didn’t shut me up; they gave me a pulpit!” Philippians 1:20 The Message.  It occurred to me that a stranger sitting next to my Mother in Love in a Cancer Center is probably feeling things pretty close to what a Centurion Soldier in Paul’s time must have felt chained up next to Paul. You either love it or hate it, but you for sure are going to hear about Jesus and everything He’s done. Paul reports to the Philippians that during his time in prison he has told everyone around him that he could about Jesus.  Many in his captive audience wanted to know more about this Jesus that turned Paul’s life upside down and changed a persecutor of Christians to a preacher of Christ.  Although beatings, chains, dirty prisons, poor food, and fellowship with rough cut prison guards were Paul’s daily life, he had taken all this and turned his pain into a pulpit at which he proclaimed the Goodness and the Love of God.

For four years my husband and I had been involved in a ministry called Encounter Ministry.  Every month they have had a weekend get away at a small rural church campground.  People from many different denominations of the Church come.  There are several sessions about different topics that typically start with a testimony of what God has done in the life of someone who has struggled.  I’ve heard women at the Ashes to Beauty Encounters speak about losing husbands, children, drug addiction, porn addiction within their home, marital unfaithfulness, PTSD, suicidal intentions, abortions,depression, anxiety, abuse- verbal, physical, mental, and sexual, etc. They talk about how they had suffered such great loss and pain yet they have found peace, joy, love, forgiveness, etc. in Jesus and how much He has changed their lives.  Once again they have taken their pain and turned it into a pulpit to declare a God who understands our weaknesses and wants to reach in and raise us above them.

I’m certain that life in Jesus  is a series of victories over struggles. I know I won’t totally arrive until I arrive i.e. see Jesus face to face.  I have been very aware, as of late, of some of the hard things I have had to walk through in my life.  I know several people who become aware of that and then freeze only to be stuck in the Pain.  I was praying about this as I drove from point A to point B on my outing today.  Suddenly it occurred to me, “What if the hell we experience here on earth, the teeth gritting hard stuff, are the very things that enable us to help some one experience the eternity of heaven?”  My mother in love has not enjoyed the pain of sickness, but what if all that was to reach that young woman at the cancer center with heaven’s hope in eternity for her? Paul didn’t enjoy the things he suffered, but what if the hellish torment he endured was the very thing that spread the gospel to a descendent of the Europeans that went down the line to finally give hope to a small town American girl, me, in the 80’s? There are countless accounts of martyrs, missionaries, and ministers that have endured much to be able to proclaim loudly from the pulpit built upon their pain.  My resolve must be that “what the enemy meant for evil, God will turn for Good.”  Hoist myself on top of it and proclaim from the very tip of the pain the God who Heals.

I’ve been kind of stuck on a song by Elevation Worship as of late.  It’s called “Graves Into Gardens”.  The chorus says, “You turn graves into gardens. You turn bones into armies. You turn seas into highways. You’re the only one who can… You turn mourning to dancing.  You give beauty for ashes.  You turn shame into glory.  You’re the only one who can.”  This same God who does all these things as we let Him into our lives, is the same God who turns the pain we have walked through into a pulpit. That we can proclaim all that Jesus has done for us.  He’s the only one who can!