Sunday, September 28, 2014

Free to Grieve

I keep seeing her face.

I met her only briefly at a family event at school just a scant 24 hours before the accident, and I picture her in my mind's eye - frozen in that lighthearted moment. Like the calm before the storm, in that minute when not one of us knew what trial was about to blow into her life like the Great Wind that left Job fatherless in a moment.

A week of sleepless nights in a hospital room, then her precious boy slips into eternity.

photo credit
It does not seem possible that three years have passed since I wrote The Death of a Child, yet here we are again. Two more teens from my children's school have died tragically in the past two months.

I think of the mother in the movie Steel Magnolias shouting "I don't understand" as she leaves her daughter's grave sight. No matter how many times you see that movie, you cannot stop the tears from flowing. Death is so heard to deal with, anyway. But the death of your own child...?

There are no words.

What can you say to a parent who just put their child into the ground.  As irrational as it sounds to me now, I remember thinking that I just wanted to go and dig up my son's body and bring him home - as though it had never happened. Leaving your child in the ground goes against every parental intuition. It is the worst feeling.

As odd as it may seem, grief is God's gift for coping with loss.

Death has never been God's ideal for us - His plan is for abundant life (John 10:10). But because death came hand in hand with sin (Romans 5:12), God gave us this tool to give us relief from the emotional pain.

Grief is characterized by a series of emotions including anger, sadness, denial, and even second-guessing (if only...). Unfortunately, we often try to suppress these feelings as though they are not good. Many of us who are Christians feel that it is sinful to be angry at God for allowing the loss, or believe that if you are really a Christian, you should never have any reason to feel depressed.

God is a able to handle all of our feelings. He created them!

Most people are familiar with the shortest verse in the Bible, "Jesus wept." but often do not realize that he was grieving the loss of a dear friend with the man's family - even though He knew that he was going to raise him from the dead in a few minutes!

Not only does Jesus condone grief, He felt it!

Looking back, I can recall several times when friends and loved ones, filled with compassion, said, “I wish I could take away your pain.” Yet even at that time, I had an understanding that I could not go around it.

I had to go through it.

I had to feel the loss and sadness. I had to wonder if there was something I could have done to prevent it. I had to listen to the stories of others in their pain…

…So that I would understand that bitterness is a choice and choose not to become bitter and frozen in my misery. (Job 21:25, Ephesians 4:31)

…So that I would accept that all of my child’s days were written in God’s book before the first one even started. (Psalm 139:16)

…So that I would remember that God would be able to use even something this terrible for good in my life. (Romans 8:28-29)

…So that I would heal from my pain and be able to empathize with and comfort others in their pain. (2 Corinthians 1:4)
photo credit
So...

What would I say to a parent who has just placed their child in the ground and had to turn their back and walk away?

I would say: 
Welcome those emotions.
Cry all of your tears.
Write out all of your thoughts.
Voice all of your complaints to God (He can handle it and won't even hold you at arms length as other friends might feel the need to do at this time).
Remember that your child lived ALL of his days - and God was there for each one of them. He did not turn His back on that fateful day.
Choose not to become bitter and close yourself off to others and to God. Bitterness is toxic. No amount of time can heal that infected wound.

I would say, Give yourself permission to grieve.


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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Peace Child


Kaiyo reached down and picked up Biakadon. Alone in the empty longhouse, he held the soft, warm, gurgling body of his son close to his chest one last time. He thought of the grief his deed would bring to Wumi, but there was no other way. Kaiyo looked toward the bright doorway at the far end of the longhouse, and began to walk toward it, his limbs trembling, his visage contorted by the conflcting emotions raging within him.

Biakadon’s mother Wumi stood in the midst of the jostling, shouting crowd, absorbed in the common suspense of wondering whether there would be peace or not. Naturally if anyone would bring himself to the point of handing over a child, it would be someone who had many children and therefore would not miss one of them too badly. That was the reason it was out of the question for Wumi and Kaiyo to consider giving Biakadon.

“But,” she wondered, “where is Kaiyo?” He had been standing right there beside her a few moments before. With a twinge of unease, Wumi’s black eyes flashed toward the longhouse, just in time to see her husband leap down from the far end and begin running toward Haenam with Biakadon in his arms!

For a moment, Wumi stood frozen with shock and disbelief, telling herself it was only a coincidence that Kaiyo was heading that way with Biakadon. Then suddenly the knowledge that it was not a coincidence struck her with crushing weight. Wumi screamed and ran after Kaiyo, pleading with all the force of her soul.

But Kaiyo never looked back. His broad back kept growing smaller with distance as he raced ahead of her. Wumi felt her feet sinking in the mire of a small bog. In her anquish, she had missed the trail.

There was no hope now. He was too far ahead… With a piteous cry, Wumi let herself collapse into the slime in which she had become mired. Writhing uncontrollably, she kept repeating plaintively, “Biakadon! Baikadon, my son!”
                                                                           *   *   *   *   *

The tears ran freely as I sat in my beach chair reading these words – perhaps an odd sight at the beach. I had selected the book Peace Child by Don Richardson for my beach-read this summer, and my intrigue intensified as he set up the true story of his arrival as a missionary with an appalling description of the lifestyle and philosophy of the cannibalistic, headhunting people of pre-civilized Netherlands New Guinea (now called Irian Jaya).

I was captivated by how this author (a linguistic specialist whose initial quest upon arrival there was to decipher and document the language of the people) told the story in such a beautifully descriptive way.

I felt his frustration as he agonized over the fact that treachery was the most revered character quality – the men had been thrilled with his account of the betrayal of Jesus by his disciple Judas Iscariot. How to overcome their idea that Judas was the hero of the story? He wrestled with the thought that throughout history, God had instilled word pictures, ideas, and traditions into different cultures that could be used to explain His plan of salvation - - but as far as Don could see, this culture had nothing with which to enlighten its people.

photo taken from the book

The people seemed to want to live near to him and his family, yet it was a constant struggle to keep the animosity on an even keel. They simply could not get along! He knew that it was a just a matter of time until fighting broke out, someone was killed, and the never-ending cycle of revenge would begin again.

Finally he told them that he and his family must leave – they would not be responsible for starting another blood-feud. This announcement set off a tumult of discussion among the people, and they pleaded with him not to leave.

“Tomorrow we are going to make peace!”

No one slept that night, and Don and his wife Carol wondered what the morning would bring. As the sun rose, they were met with the shocking scene of the exchanging of infant children. Fearing the worst, Don took a young man aside and asked what was to become of the babies.

Tuan, you’ve been urging us to make peacedon’t you know it’s impossible to have peace without a peace child?”

He went on to explain that among the Sawi, every demonstration of friendship was suspect except one: If a man would actually give his own son to his enemies, that man could be trusted! That, and that alone, was a proof of goodwill no shadow of cynicism could discredit.

The knot in my stomach over the grief of the mothers gave way to amazement at how God had prepared this example in the lives of the Sawi in order to show them that He loved them so much that He sent His one and only Son to be the permanent Peace Child.
Both for them..
               ....And for ALL of us!
 
"For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peaceThere will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever..."
Isaiah 9:6-7
 

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Friday, August 8, 2014

Every. Single. Day.

No matter how old I get, I will always want my parents. In the past I have joked about how I knew that I was a real adult and ready to be on my own. - - It was when I realized that I could handle being sick without needing my mother!

A couple of months ago, some childhood friends lost their dad to heart problems, so when my own parents were scheduled to come out to Michigan in July, my sister and I (who live about 3 hours from each other) figured out a way for each of us to get more time with them. We had both been feeling that loss so poignantly that we just wanted as much time as we could get. Usually Mom and Dad spend a few days at each of our houses, but this time she brought her kids up here for several days so that we could all be together for part of that time.

I am glad that we did.



My amazing parents
My Excellent Parents
Last Tuesday, my own wonderful father suffered a massive stroke. By the time my Mom was able to get ahold of me, he had been in treatment for about an hour and was responding well - the prognosis was good, yet I hung up the phone shaken by the near loss of this precious man.

Over the course of the next two days, bits and pieces of the miraculous story whirled around in my head. My mom had just spent a week at my sister's house, helping her recover with a newborn baby - the stroke did not happen while she was gone. He had returned from work later than usual that day - at the exact same moment my mom arrived from her volunteer work at a nearby children's camp. If he had come home earlier, he might have fallen asleep since he was not feeling well, and my mom would not have had the opportunity to observe the symptoms. Dozens of little tiny details that all led up to a happy outcome rather than a sad one.

I've had an especially busy week bussing the kids around and, though I keep the kitchen radio tuned to the local Christian radio station, let's face it - I'm not standing in the kitchen really listening to it all day. On Wednesday, the time in the car afforded me the unique privilege of actually listening. As I drove my son to work, a man was talking about how every person has a purpose EVERY. SINGLE. DAY of our lives. He said that people in their 60s, 70s and 80s come to him thinking that their time is past. That they are too old for God to use them. He mentioned how the scriptures say that when David had fulfilled all of God's purposes for him, he died.

A verse immediately popped into my head - probably written by David, himself:

 "The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me;
your love, O Lord, endures forever."
Psalm 138:8

I knew that was a message to me about my Dad. God still has purposes to fulfill in his life.

My husband (who works in the medical profession) keeps reminding me that my dad is not simply "back to normal" and that life will not go on for him business as usual. "This is a life changing event," he says.

I know.

It will likely affect his ability to continue doing his job. But it has the potential of being life-changing in other ways, as well:

God may be freeing up his time to fulfill his purposes.

On Thursday, I went grocery shopping in the evening and caught In The Market with Janet Parshall. She had Babbie Mason on the program talking about how her life had been spared from a car accident when someone ran a red light while she and her husband were crossing the intersection. They had not felt the impact of the car, but had felt the impact of the "what if," and that had inspired her to write her new devotional (complete with music) This I Know For Sure. One song especially stood out to me.

There is a God in Heaven, and I am in His plan;
He will forsake me never, my life is in His hands.
His boundless love will lead me as long as time endures.
This I know for sure.
Babbie Mason

Click here to watch the first Bible study and listen to the song (beginning at minute 18:30).

 * * * * *

One more thought danced around the corners of my mind.

What if instead of death or a near-full recovery, God had chosen to allow my father's body to be permanently disabled, or brain damage had occurred, as often happens to victims of stroke? I could not escape the thought of this realistic possibility, and choked back tears as my mind's eye created pictures of that outcome.

Joni Earekson Tada answered that for me on her 5 minute radio program when she read these words from a listener:

“From Joni and friends devotional this morning, ‘Satan schemed that a seventeen-year-old girl named Joni would break her neck, hoping to ruin her life; God sent the broken neck in answer to her prayer for a closer walk with Him.’” And then Katherine wrote “Now here is my version: ‘Satan schemed that a 26-year-old girl named Katherine would have a massive, near-fatal stroke and subsequently become severely handicapped, hoping to ruin her life and steal her joy, but God sent the brain-stem stroke and the handicapped body in answer to her prayer for a closer walk with Him.’”
(To read or listen to the entire program, click here.)

Even if that had been the outcome, my Dad's life would STILL have a purpose for each and every day.

What about you?

Have you wrapped your mind around this concept?
God has a purpose for YOU!
Every.
Single.
Day.

"The Lord will fulfill His purpose for ME;
Your love, O Lord, endures forever."


Photo Credit: B Inspired Photography

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"Children Tie the Feet of the Mother"

"I just feel like I'm locked in the house with kids most of the time. I crave adult conversation!" I said in response to my husband's inquiry about why I enjoy staying late after the church service has ended to chat with people. During the summer months, especially, he prefers to get outside as soon as possible. Here in the great white north we get such a short summer season that he wants to soak up every available drop of sunshine.



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For the past couple of years, I have had enough daycare children to prevent me from being involved in MOPS and other things. For a while now, I have been able to see that my children are a valid ministry for me, not an inconvenient interruption to my ministry opportunities. - - And I've been learning to view my daycare children in the same way.

 The other day, I thought of some books that I've had for several years and read before, but now I want to read them to my younger children. They are a short series of excellent, character quality books; well researched and based on the lives of missionaries and evangelists who accomplished great things for/with God. I picked up the first volume of Hero Tales and began to read.

One of my little daycare girls latched on to Amy Carmichael when I told her how, as a child, Amy had wished and prayed that God would give her blue eyes instead of brown but it had never happened. Later, she was able to disguise herself as an Indian woman and rescue temple children.

I read a story of how Amy and her group of women had a ministry traveling the countryside, sharing the gospel, but one day when she returned from traveling, a temple child came to her, seeking safety. Soon other temple children came. She wondered how she could continue her ministry - then it became clear to her that she must stay and make a home for these children. That they would be her ministry. I felt the tears well up in my eyes as I read these words:

An ancient Indian proverb says, "Children tie the feet of the mother" - meaning a mother is not free to come and go as she pleases. Her duty is first of all to her children. Amy let her feet be "tied" because she had compassion on the temple children...She let her compassion for them change her life." Dave and Neta Jackson

I thought of the one little girl, especially, and how her heart is so tender toward God right now. She comes from a very mildly religious home and soaks up every little bit of Him that she can. She is always asking me questions, choosing religiously themed books from the children's book shelf and reminding me to read the Bible to my own children if I get overwhelmed in my day and forget (she likes to sit in on this).

Most of the children who come here are from single parent homes, some broken, some never having been an intact home at all - just shifting from one "family" to another. I have been entrusted with the sacred duty to be a mother for them in their own mother's absence. My home, in some cases, has been the only stable home they have known or experienced. And my faith might be the only faith that they have seen lived out in their short lives. Already, my compassion for these children has affected my life and tied my feet.

As my youngest child heads off to school this fall, I have considered a career change. A chance to be around grown ups again. But after further consideration, it is still clear that this is where I need to stay.

And have my feet tied for a little longer...



How beautiful upon the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who proclaims peace,
Who brings glad tidings of good things,
Who proclaims salvation,
Who says to Zion,
“Your God reigns!”
Isaiah 52:7

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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Love Mom

When I got up this morning and turned on the living room lamp, a sale flyer that had slipped to the floor caught my eye. It was upside down from where I was standing, but I could still read the words LOVE MOM printed in large type at the top of the page.

Obviously, they want you to buy something from their store to show love for your mother, but the words of John 14:15 immediately popped into my head, “If you love me, keep my commands."

I thought of some frustrating moments over the past few days, trying to get my children to follow through on what had been asked of them.

"If you love me, keep my commands." Just seven simple words, yet they sum it all up.

photo credit

My children are old enough now to understand Mother's Day, and they always want to do something special for me on that day. They give a gift, they make dinner so I don't have to cook (usually with a great deal of help from Dad), and they are extra sweet...

On THAT day.

I realized this morning that what I really want for Mother's Day is the essence of those seven simple words.

"If you love me, keep my commands."

I don't want a gift - I want obedience.

I don't want a special dinner - I want help with dinner each day.

I don't want platitudes on a special day - I want peaceful attitudes every day.

It occurred to me that that is exactly what my Heavenly Father wants from me!

In 1 Samuel 15:22-23 God is speaking to King Saul through His prophet Samuel. Saul has willfully defied God, yet he believes that he can still just put on an aire of worship and everything will be fine. This is what God has to say about it:

But Samuel replied,
“What is more pleasing to the LORD:
your burnt offerings and sacrifices
or your obedience to his voice?
Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice,
and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.

Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft,
and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.
So because you have rejected the command of the LORD,
he has rejected you as king.”
1 Samuel 15:22-23

God does not want me to sing praise to Him on Sunday and ignore Him on Monday.

He does not want me to say I trust Him, but stay awake at night worrying.

He does not want me to obey when I think that someone is watching,
but compromise when I think I am alone.

He wants me to LOVE Him

 - - and PROVE it by the way that I live...

In the same way that I want my children to love me.

"If you love me, keep my commands."

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Monday, April 21, 2014

King of Glory

"It's OK," my husband reassured the choir members.  "My wife knows this song."

We had been at church all evening for the regular choir practice but I had been with the children's choir and had not realized what was going on with everyone else. The song scheduled for that Sunday was a solo by a young woman whose daughter had come down with pneumonia and was in a children's hospital two hours away. My husband had spent the evening throwing together a last minute substitution - one in which the choir only had to learn a few lines at the very end of the song.

I took the sound track and headed home. As I listened to it in the car, the realization hit me that I did not know the song! As Minister of Music, my husband spent hours listening to music and selecting appropriate (and doctrinally sound!) music for each service. The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir has always been some of our favorite music for that very reason. It occurred to me that this song was on an album which we had recently purchased, so I was not familiar with it yet.

I spent the next two days with it, listening again and again until I could nearly sing it in my sleep. On Sunday morning we did the final run-through - - which was really the one-and-only run-through. My husband read the scripture and I began to sing. Apparently, the choir had not heard the song in it's entirety up to that point, and the tears began to fall.

It has become one of my all-time favorites. Sometimes I pop the CD into my car and listen to it, then repeat it and listen again. I had it on in the car again the other day. When my little boy heard the mournful minor chords early in the song he said, "This is when Jesus died on the cross." He had been learning  about it in Sunday school as Easter was approaching.  In the middle of the song, as he listened to the music crescendo, he announced, "This is when Jesus rose from the dead!"

Yes, it is, my precious boy! Yes it is.



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Thursday, April 3, 2014

To See or Not to See the Noah Movie: That is the Question

This is an interesting year in the film industry. I have heard it referred to as "the year of religious-themed movies." 

I am not the kind of person who goes out to see movies every week for reasons that you could easily guess. One of those reasons is the fact that I am particular about my film choices. I usually listen to what other Christian people have to say - even checking the opinion of Focus on the Family on their media review site pluggedin.com.

As a believer, I agree with the idea of "voting at the box office" to encourage the making of more family-friendly films (though I rarely am able to actually do this). But I also believe in the very opposite - to vote at the box office by NOT attending those films which are in opposition to everything connected with Christ. I rarely have trouble differentiating between the two and making a decision.

But the movie Noah has me stumped.

photo credit

I am well aware of the controversy surrounding this film.

One day as I listened to the Christian radio station, I heard a group of people discussing this movie. One of them said that the movie's producer had visited a pastor's convention and had shared how he felt that the movie would be true to the Biblical story. This pastor was not opposed to seeing it, nor was he inclined to discourage his congregation from watching. A woman mentioned how she had seen Jesus Christ Superstar as a young, unsaved woman and that movie, strange depiction of the Saviour though it was, opened the way in her heart to find the real Saviour.

It reminded me that God really can use anything to bring people to Him.

IN THE SAME DAY, I heard Ray Comfort discussing the reasons why Christians should NOT be inclined to see the movie.

Normally, this would not affect me, since we rarely attend movies, but the Noah movie showed up on the list of possible things for our church youth to attend, so I began to wonder whether I should allow my children to see it.

Some of the points of contention over this movie have been the obvious omission of God from the entire story (!) and the fact that the purpose of the flood has been changed from the judgment of said righteous God on the wickedness and depravity of humanity, to a resulting consequence of mismanagement of the environment.

My typical reaction would be to steer clear, but there has been one nagging thought in the back of my mind.

One of the objections to this movie had to do with the fact that this is the way in which many people (especially Christians) get their theology so muddled!

We have become such a lazy society, so concerned with what people think of us, so enamored with ease and comfort, that we have allowed our theology to be shaped and formed by popular culture rather than truth. We do not put any effort into finding the truth, living in truth or defending the truth!

My husband and I are committed to teaching our children HOW to "be in the world, but not of it." I am more terrified of the alternative since I have seen so many families shelter their children from the world so entirely throughout their childhood, that when they do go out into this big, scary world, they are either completely unprepared, or they easily succumb to temptation and go full-tilt into a life of evil.

So this is what I have decided to do. We will "vote at the box-office" by NOT seeing the movie when it is out in theaters, but I WILL allow my children to see it later on television - with one caveat:

That they first seek out the truth.

My Mom always told me that when bankers teach their tellers about counterfeit currency, they do not show them all of the known versions of the counterfeit, they show them the real thing. They are expected to familiarize themselves completely with legitimate currency - - how it feels, how it looks, how it smells...  so that when something illegitimate passes through their hands, they can tell the difference.
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Think about how differently you view a movie made from a book you have read. If the producers stay very close to the original story and seem to depict it accurately, you are delighted (like the A&E version of Pride and Prejudice). But if they take too many creative liberties or veer off from the story line (like the Disney/Walden version of Prince Caspian), your stomach tightens and you find yourself correcting the movie. Out loud. To the dismay of everyone else in the room. (Am I the only one who does this?)

That is the reaction that I want my children to have. I want them to be so familiar with the truth that they can spot a lie a mile away.

How will I go about doing this?

By handing them The Book, then going back to middle school English class and asking the pertinent questions:

Who?
What?
Why?
When?
Where?
How?

I want them to know who so that they will spot the fact that God (a KEY player) has been omitted.

I want them to know why so they will not think that all of this "global warming" is going to produce a similar event - they will know that the great flood was a judgment of God on the wickedness of mankind.

I want them to know how so that they will see that, in His mercy and grace, God made a way of salvation for anyone who would believe and enter into that ark - just as He did for you and me through Jesus Christ who said, "I am the door, if anyone enters by ME, he will be saved." John 10:9

Maybe you, your children, or someone else that you know is planning to see the movie. If so, take a moment to familiarize yourself with the true facts of the story so that you will be prepared. It could be an excellent teachable moment, an interesting Bible study, or it could simply equip you to have an informed conversation with a co-worker or friend.

For a printable "cheat sheet" of these questions and answers, click here.

...And if you like to see a movies in the theaters, "vote at the box-office" with movies like Son of God and  God is not Dead.



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