Monday, October 26, 2015

This Ministry of Reconciliation

Ours is the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18, a frequent mention in yesterday’s sermon).  It doesn’t seem like the church believes that though. Too many of us are as full of grudges, resentment, and hostility as nonbelievers. There’s something seriously wrong with that. There's a leak in the dam, and it's leaving us lonely and separated, tearing us apart. Church, we're better than this.

We are one Body, but we walk around like islands (some bigger, more deserted, or harder to find than others). We ignore that vital truth of our oneness. What’s wrong with me is what’s wrong with you.  What’s wrong with you is what’s wrong with me—because we are one Body. Christ is the only Head of the only one Body. It is the work of the enemy to make us exclusive from one another. As much as God desires reconciliation and healthy relationship, the enemy desires utter devastation.  "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10).  Let that make us hate our defeated foe enough to yank any success from him.
  • Don't judge me because my sin is different from yours.
  • Our past mistakes are meant to guide us, not define us. 
  • How many of you have deeply offended someone? How many of you meant to?
  • Don't desire that I grovel. Desire my restoration and healing.
  • If you're feeling animosity toward someone, redirect it at God, because He's the one who allowed it to touch your life. Nothing of any eternal good comes from making it a horizontal thing. If you have a beef with anyone, ask Him what He wants to do with it in your life. Make it vertical.  There's the eternal good.
  • Deny your "self", that natural man of our flesh. True discipleship requires it. We cannot understand spiritual things apart from our spiritual selves, the self God indwells and communes with.
Acknowledge the log in your own eye before you stone me.  Take up His heart, join hands with me, and dive into the wondrous grace of this ministry of reconciliation that is ours. He gave it to us, and He only gives good and perfect gifts. Embrace it. Own it. Model it. Promote it. Withhold from the enemy yet another victory.

From Corrie ten Boom:

‘You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,’ he was saying, ‘I was a guard there.’ No, he did not remember me.

'But since that time,’ he went on, ‘I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein,’ again the hand came out—‘will you forgive me?’

And I stood there—I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow, terrible death simply for the asking?

It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.

For I had to do it—I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. ‘If you do not forgive men their trespasses,’ Jesus says, ‘neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.’

I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.

And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘… Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’

And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’

For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then.

This glorious story of forgiveness and reconciliation from the life of Corrie ten Boom gripped me from the moment I heard it, and I knew I wanted it emblazed in the marble of my character (not saying that's a finished project, mind you).  I have experienced both sides of the miracle of extending a wooden hand and having it become an arm of forgiveness in full and genuine measure. She was an incredible, imperfect human who believed God at His word, and the fragrance of her faith still perfumes this needy world.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

100 Things I Learned From My Dad

I don't or can't necessarily DO all these, but they are things I learned from the first greatest man in my life.
  1. Work hard.
  2. Rest when your knees hurt.
  3. Say Thank You.
  4. Take care of your family.
  5. Love God.
  6. Ask for help.
  7. Pray.
  8. Animals deserve our compassion.
  9. Serve your wife.
  10. Make gifts for your loved ones with your own hands.
  11. Be on time.
  12. Say “I love you” often.
  13. Pay your bills.
  14. Don’t eat too much.
  15. Discipline your children.
  16. Use the same old, used up line because it makes you laugh.
  17. Watch “Mash.”
  18. Study the map before you get there.
  19. Eat ice cream and cookies.
  20. Encourage others to eat ice cream and cookies.
  21. Tithe.
  22. Respect your elders.
  23. Plan for the future, but don’t let it worry you.
  24. Help your kids with the daunting task of moving.
  25. Listen to one another at the dinner table.
  26. Go camping.
  27. Go fishing, even if you can’t eat the stuff.
  28. Give generously and with no strings.
  29. Pepperoni pizza is the best.
  30. Watch the news, but don’t believe everything you hear.
  31. Make up nicknames for children.
  32. Eat the green beans, even if you don’t like them.
  33. A lot of pain right now is better than a little pain over a long time.
  34. No one is above the law.
  35. Don’t be so self-conscious. No one’s thinking about you as much as you are.
  36. Buy your wife the car she loves, except if it’s literally a Sherman tank.
  37. Drink coffee every morning.
  38. Pancakes for dinner is fun.
  39. Bacon and eggs every morning for a week is fun too.
  40. Mow the lawn.
  41. Clear snow from the driveway.
  42. Get the mail.
  43. Don’t waste unused stamps.
  44. Vote.
  45. You can’t have too many hammers, magnets, flashlights, or ice cream buckets.
  46. See your doctor if your wife insists.
  47. Get up early.
  48. You only need two sets of sheets.
  49. If the soles of your slippers blow out, use duct tape.
  50. Make letter openers and marshmallow sticks out of car antennas.
  51. Pass out gobs of pens with your name on them.
  52. Clean under your nails with a pocket knife.
  53. Stay sweet when you’re old.
  54. Use super glue as a liquid bandage.
  55. Appreciate Christmas carolers.
  56. Keep emergency cash in your glove box.
  57. Honor this country.
  58. Silence can be golden.
  59. Actions speak louder than words.
  60. Buy your daughter a horse when she cries herself to sleep for want of one.
  61. Err on the side of compliance when you’re not sure you’re right.
  62. Have picnics with your pardnur and his mom in the back of your pickup at work.
  63. Keep several pairs of gloves in at least two places.
  64. Get around stupid city laws as often as you can.
  65. A toothpick can be used as a tiny shim.
  66. Do the upright thing, even if it costs you.
  67. Record your children's voices when they're little.
  68. Bag balm cures skin cancer.
  69. Passing the phone to your wife when your daughter is crying is a good idea.
  70. Coffee and root beer are the only liquids you need to drink.
  71. When you retire, be prepared to be busier than ever.
  72. Stick to your guns, even if he’s wearing a badge.
  73. Tell your daughter often how beautiful she is.
  74. Brag on your sons in front of them.
  75. Have your mother-in-law live with you if that’s what your wife desperately wants.
  76. Send your female loved ones home with a freshly cut rose.
  77. Press cider with your family.
  78. When you make a mistake, don’t make excuses.
  79. Send care packages.
  80. Laugh at yourself.
  81. Know your strengths.
  82. Work on  your weaknesses.
  83. Cheese is a food group.
  84. Fly the American flag.
  85. Forgive, and don’t bring it up again.
  86. Carry a hanky and an extra one for someone else.
  87. Save your coins, then give them away.
  88. Manners are about respect.
  89. If you make a mess, clean it up.
  90. Tend a garden.
  91. Send Christmas and birthday cards.
  92. Make a list of all the most important phone numbers.
  93. Stay up on technology.
  94. Keep up the maintenance on your cars.
  95. Make your words mean something.
  96. Don't go on about yourself.
  97. Allow your wife her piles and just keep your own space orderly.
  98. Be a good steward.
  99. Most things can be fixed before they have to be thrown out, including people.
  100. Listen to a good preacher on the radio if you can’t make it to church. 

Some of these are cliches, but cliches stick around because of their truth. Many are specific to him, and the blend of both make this a personal and meaningful tribute to him in my heart and life.

There is only one thing on this list I learned to do because Dad did not, and that's to ask for help. His generation is one of privacy and independence. It was Mom who would call us to explain the problem or project Dad was working on all by himself, which usually ended up taking two or more of us to help him complete. He was always so thankful.

My dad was a good man. I will miss him everyday for the rest of my life. My gratitude for him being my father goes magma deep. I will always treasure that the last conversation I ever had with him was our regular greeting and benediction:

Dad:  I love you much.
Me:  I love you mucher.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Some Stuff I've Learned

My mom passed away in one sudden moment. My dad's passing was a more gradual, lingering journey. It may sound odd, but I have the privilege of having experienced both ways to lose a parent. Fortunately, my dad's lingering was really short compared to some--only a month. Through their deaths, I have experienced a few new things.

1.  There is a beauty in fragility. Pain brought out the sweetest trust in Jesus in my mom. She wrote this on a tablet by her chair, "Please Lord heal me. But if that is not Your will, then please Lord grant me the strength to accept it. Amen." With my dad, not eating caused him to lose a lot of weight. He was never a large man to begin with, and he'd already started to thin way down when he was still at home. His malnourished body and loss of teeth caused his cheeks to shrink. His vulnerability was exactly like that of an infant. Unable to speak or to even make minor body adjustments as he lay there, everything had to be done for him. That helplessness evokes compassion and the desire to comfort--both beautiful Christlike traits.

2.  There is no uniform way to grieve. The news of my mom's condition as my dad informed me by phone landed on numb ears. Even after I hung up and said the words out loud to Kev, I felt nothing. Can tragedy have an anesthetic effect? We all left her room when attendants came to disconnect the respirator. Afterward, I asked Dad if he wanted to keep waiting in that room or go back to Mom's room. I'll never forget the depth of despair on his face when he answered, "It doesn't matter. Nothing does anymore." I walked in and saw her still body and Wayneen's tears. I ran to her side and kept repeating, "My mom! Oh, my mom!" as I ran my hands over her arms and face, tears raining down. We were all crying silently as we left the hospital en masse. Grief would ambush me after that. I never knew when it would overpower me like a flash flood--no warning, no mercy. I still don't know how I completed her obituary or arranged for her memorial service. A picture, a note, a memory, or a fragrance could pull the trigger. It was the hijacking of grief. It was the hammer of loss. It was my way to mourn.

Grief over the loss of my dad came like a tsunami--crushing, devastating, and pounding. My cries were primal, and I was unable to do anything but cling to the kind, comforting soul holding me as I grasped for something solid to land on. My body tensed with the force of a seizure, and all I could do was ride it out and hope for dry ground soon. I spent the month after my dad's death exhausted, nauseous, and asleep. It was the sleep of sorrow. It was the fog of grief. It was how I mourned the last four years of investing in my dad's well-being and living with no regrets. It was my way to grieve.

3.  God's Presence is never nearer to me than when I am helpless. There was never one moment during these two experiences that I did not feel His Presence, save those blinding, deafening minutes I just described. Even then though, I never felt alone. I know I was cocooned by Love, enveloped in Tenderness, and cared for by Mercy, safe in the Rock.

4.  God's timing is flawless. I was able to ride into town with Kev or one of the kids the first week Dad was at Regency. It worked out that well. We had such a mild winter with fog instead of snow, so the roads were always good, not the norm for our January. Friends visited or wrote something encouraging just when I needed it. A song would play on the radio with lyrics written specifically for me. Kev received some really uplifting remarks from students who wanted him to come back. That was a 2-for-1 blessing for us both. Brett and Lydia were living with us at the time of my dad's stroke and decline. They took care of everything and everyone when we couldn't. Lydia had breakfast and dinner for us nearly everyday. They made three offers on three different homes, and they all fell through. That was the limit they set before deciding to rent, but Kev encouraged them to keep looking. As my fog began to lift and I began to feel human again, the fourth house became their new home. Lydia had been praying that I would be functional by the time they left, and indeed I was.

5.  There is a chance to encounter Jesus in every moment. When Dad started going downhill, I asked Him to "please help me eat and drink at this table He set before me, just as He has helped me with every other table in my life. There is food and drink and His heart to take up in this, no matter what my eyes and ears tell me." I saw Him caring for my dad in the hands of the nurses and aides. I heard Him in the warm words people offered. I felt Him in the many reassurances of love from friends and family. I smelled Him in our fresh country air, in the dryer vent with its clean clothes, in the sweetness of the hugs from my friends who all bear His fragrance. I even tasted Him--in the scores of meals Lydia made with such love, the ginger ale from Tina, and the coffees, gifts, treats, and sandwiches from loving souls. I wish I was always aware of encountering Him, but I forget. Thankfully, He never does, and the opportunities are always there.

6.  When people offer their help, they really mean it. We're so used to either going without or cramming it into our schedules, so most of the offers of help go unused. I decided to start saying Yes. The first things I asked for were lip balm and mints. (Thank you, Cheryl!) The second thing I hinted at was another necklace with beads and doodads. (Thank you again, Cheryl!) The next thing was ginger ale. (Thank you for both those times, Tina!) The next thing was offered to me so I didn't have to ask, but I did have to accept, and it was my first Jimmy John's sammie. (Thank you, Betty!) The next thing was also offered--a Ya-Ya visit at Regency complete with British fascinators (although I forgot mine... Thank you, Glenice!). They indeed fascinated wherever they went! Rosie visited my father twice, and both times I missed her. She read to him and left me the sweetest note. I couldn't have asked for a more thoughtful gift. Lydia and Barb both brought me coffee.

These weren't humongous things, but I wanted to start somewhere, and I will treasure every remembrance of them. (What I actually need is help cleaning my house! A month of sleep and five dogs have left it in desperate shape.) We truly do want to help someone going through difficulty, but most of the time we don't know what to do. Experiencing the other side of the fence opened my eyes to the opportunity that asking or saying Yes gives to people. We both win.

I'll learn more stuff as time goes on, but I wanted to list these while they're still fresh on my mind. I'm grateful for the insights and the garden of truth they are in this potential time of drought. How kind He is. Always.

Monday, March 09, 2015

To Strangle

Worry:  Old English wyrgan ‘strangle.’ In Middle English the original sense of the verb gave rise to the meaning ‘seize by the throat and tear,’ later figuratively ‘harass,’ whence ‘cause anxiety to’.

I did something foolish, something I know better than to do. A dear friend unburdened herself and shocked me with a terrible secret. I promised not to tell anyone, not even my Kevin. Instead of leaving it at lifting her up in prayer, however, I slung her on my back and started carrying her around. By the next night, I was a basket case. I couldn't stop crying. I was so bone weary that when I stood to get out of bed, I fell.  I have a bruise the size of a grapefruit on my hip with every color in it. I bruise easily anyway, so this is a doozy.

Kev reminded me of something I learned and practiced years ago--not to take on other people's burdens, no matter how dear they are to me. We were never designed to play God.  Only He can help her.  I can take up up His heart for her and commit to pray, and that's enough.   I did no one any good by worrying myself sick. I didn't make her feel better. I didn't solve her problem. I caused my husband stress. In fact, it ruined our evening and what could have been a really sweet time.

Okay, lesson learned.  Again.  I have an owie now to remind me.  Help it stick.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

They're Just Things

We were cleaning out some stuff from my dad's garage the other day when my sister-in-law said, "This is exactly what you don't want to do to your kids."  My dad was the most resourceful person I've ever known, but part of that superpower came from never throwing anything away. Pieces of pipe, drawer handles, string, rug scraps, dowels of every shape and length, buckets, jugs, cartons, plastic edging, eroding lawn chairs, and don't get me started on nails and screws. They're all there in living color. We took three truckloads to the incinerator, but there's still a whole lot more to go. At least we cleared out most of the stuff in the camper over the last few years. At one point, Mom had it filled literally full of blankets, gallon milk jugs, stuffed animals, toys, and coolers. It's only one little corner, but at this point, even small dents count.

There have been fun moments though, like when Alan handed me a wee oil can to go with my rusty tinman.

Finding our baby books was especially sweet, although I've since misplaced them, so I hope to find them a second sweet time. Going through vinyl LP's with Terry was a hoot. Trudy volunteered to go through the pictures and organize them by family. I don't think she expected that we'd keep finding album after album.

The business of disbursing Dad's belongings has gone really well so far. If there's been something both Alan and Kev wanted, Kev always defers to Alan. As far as I know, everyone has gotten whatever was requested and there have been no hurt feelings. The kids haven't asked for much. Ryan wanted a tool, Jylle some kitchenware, and Brett has a brief list. Only two of Alan's girls wanted things, and everyone was in agreement. I know it's not always as great as this, so I am thrilled. Both Brett and Jylle said they were able to have a relationship with my folks like Alan's girls couldn't, and they count that as absolutely priceless. If my kids got nothing, they wouldn't bat an eye. In the end, they're just things.

In processing the loss of my parents, I can rejoice in the fact that nothing went unsaid. Saying "I love you" with hugs and smiles galore happened every time we were together. It was a running joke that we had to start leaving at least 30 minutes before we actually needed to in order to leave on time because of all the last minute gifts and affection. We encountered it every single time. The hospice pastor told us what an extraordinary treasure we have in having heard those three little words from both our mother and father. It can leave such a raw, gaping hole in someone's heart when that was never experienced. A miracle in itself, given that neither of my folks ever heard them from their own parents. It was my dad who taught me to say "I love you." I would say it to my mom, but not to him. I was about nine when he said those words to me one time. He hugged me, and he said, "Now you say it to me." I have no idea what my problem was, but I felt so uncomfortable. He urged me again, so I finally said it. He hugged me again and said, "I love you too." I still remember thinking That wasn't so bad!  Odd child.

We do have a lot of stuff to sort through, but how blessed to know it's the unimportant, tangible stuff. The "things". The gold and precious gems stored up in my heart would make a dragon jealous. They are the legacy my parents left me. Two hearts that were totally for me, who knew in their untaught deeps what the true treasures of life really are. The "realest" things.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Wooden Steps

My dad passed away on February 2. Now I'm an orphan.  No matter how old you are, that's a really weird feeling. I'm simply living one hour at a time, astounded... Like What the heck is this...  Just like my Jesus to be so very present in this though. There are gifts He brings me even as I turn my head aside, trying not to notice, trying to pretend this isn't happening... I can't stop singing about Your love. Your gifts are present, obvious, and extravagant. I just don't want this to be happening.

I was honored and privileged to be there for a neighbor friend last night. We had imposed on her earlier in the day to see their little calves, but she stayed on my heart. Lydia and I baked some scones for her and took them to her. She dissolved and told us about the great sadness she's been going through. My heart broke for her all night long. I can't stop thinking about her. My heart broke with blessing when Kev said this morning, "Let's get her in there! Let's just pay for her PT treatment!"  How profound is MY blessing in this...! How healing and satisfying for me to be able to show love to someone else in need right in the middle of my own! We were made for this. This moment is not about me--it's about Jesus, as is every other moment in all of forever.

I am learning of Heart as I step through this. Sometimes the steps are wooden, but sometimes they're light and free. I strive to see Beauty in all of it.  I know it's there, even in the fog of grief.  My dear, sweet, wise friend Susie told me to keep writing as I process this. There is healing in it for me, I know, even if it's twaddle to some... I beg indulgence as I write my heart and mind without edit.

When I was in college, I found a poem by May Sarton about her father. It touched me even then when my dad was all strength, clear mind, and hard work. I'd forgotten about it until I came across it as I perused my past posts. Except for the parts about him being unhurried, liking donkeys, children, awkward ducks, and then him being undiminished, it's a pretty good call.

Most of the time I'm okay. The times when I curl up and howl are what take so much out of me. But I know it has to be this way. This is the way I process. This is the way I'm made up. Anything less would be suffocating what I'm feeling, and I so don't want to do that. I learned this from my Jewelee when she lost her husband in a tragic accident--I want to do this right the first time because I don't want to go through it again.

I'm having a hard time losing my dad. He was really a wonderful person, even if only a handful of people ever got to experience that. My mom saw it. My brothers and I experienced it. And Jesus knows it. That's all I run with right now.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

A Stroke of Bad News

We were out of town for New Year's, visiting Amy's family. I called Dad to wish him a happy new year on the 1st, and he just did not sound right. I called Alan, and he went over there. He found Dad with a skinned, bloodied nose and a bad gash on the inside of his left arm below the elbow. He cleaned him up and had him sit on the edge of the bed to have him change shirts. After he did, he laid back on the bed, exhausted, and said he just had to lie down for a bit.

We were all four there the next day, and Dad sat in his chair and slept the whole time. He opened his eyes and smiled, but said nothing. I'm not sure he ever went to the bathroom. The guys swapped out his recliner for the one my fake grandma gave us that lifts a person get up and out.  Alan took this picture. My dad never goes unshaven. It's not event the terrible scab that gets me about this photo. It's the measure of bewilderment in his eyes. My dad was always quick-witted, clear-headed, and certain, so this physically hurts me.

By late afternoon, we all realized he had to go to the ER. They helped him to Alan's car, and I rode in back to keep an eye on him. I remembered to grab the handicap placard out of Dad's truck first.

Because of the stroke symptoms, he was seen immediately. A CT scan revealed older strokes and some plaquing. He would have to stay the night for observation and more tests. We left about 10:30, and Alan stayed until 11, letting us know the room number before he went home.

The MRI showed evidence of a recent stroke, which made sense of the exhaustion and terribly slurred speech. He was cranky about having to be there and wasn't afraid to let us know.

He ended up at Sacred Heart until today. It was the most heart-wrenching conversation, but after many tears and prayers, Ryan and the PT were able to get Dad to the place where he was compliant. Dad's actually the one who opened the door when he said, "I don't want to burden anyone." They told him it would be a burden on Wayneen and me because we'd have to stay with him 24/7 if he went home. There was a look of resignation on his face when he said to that, "I'll do whatever they say." The PT emphasized that it'd only be for 7-14 days of rehab to get him strong enough to go home and get around safely.

The timing of losing his hearing right at this time is rotten. It makes communicating so much more difficult, and I think it leaves him feeling a greater sense of confusion and helplessness.  When we got to the nursing facility, he was still on the gurney when he looked at me and said, "Sure wish I knew where we are."  That's when I started using the speech to text feature on my smart phone. I held it up so he could read it. I wrote, "This is the rehab place where you'll get stronger so you can go home."  He wanly smiled like "Whatever."

As I said goodbye tonight, I told him I was going home to get some rest and to love on Ladybug. I would be right back in the morning.

Help me, Lord. This is completely new ground for me. I trust You to hold us tenderly and to lead us through this haze. Protect my sweet dad. Comfort him with Your felt presence.