Grief, Uncategorized

Birthdays in Heaven

img_5265Today is my dad’s 70th birthday. It’s a little different for our family now that he is celebrating birthdays in heaven. We celebrate his birthday by knowing that he is finally able to eat all the ice cream he desires and maybe even partaking in one of his favorite past times: playing a little baseball with some of the greats that have gone before him. If there are rocks to skip in heaven, that may be where you will find my dad. I would like to think that skipping rocks in heaven would be somewhere on a beautiful shoreline filled with he most perfectly shiny smooth pebbles. Just one easy flick of the wrist and that pebble would glide across the top of that majestic water finding it’s resting place at the bottom of the crystal blue shallows. Or perhaps he is blissfully waiting along the waters edge of some sort of heavenly tropical beach, with the bottoms of his jeans cuffed just perfectly so not to get them wet. “Meet me at the beach” is what he would tell my mom before he passed away. I guess he wanted my mom to know where to find him when she entered through the pearly gates, I can’t think of a better meeting place. If he were here, he would start the day by making a larger than life batch of pancakes for the grandkids… pancakes were about the only culinary delights he would attempt in the kitchen. Cooking was not his thing, but his “flapjacks” would make the grandkids come running and demanding more. The last several years, we ended his birthday by taking in a Tide’s game, it was his favorite past time. He was a darn good ball player in his younger days, but his last few birthdays spent at the ball field were a terrible struggle for him because of the ALS. I remember as a very young girl watching him play slow pitch with the ball the size of a grapefruit. I could never figure out how in the world you could ever catch that thing, it was ginormous! The last year that he was able to make it to Harbor Park Stadium proved to be an enormously challenging outing for his tired and withering body.
As we have just recently passed the 1 year mark of his passing and celebrate his birthday today, I have been reflecting so heavily on precious memories that are more valuable than any rare jewel. I’ve been reflecting on grief, trying to process his last seven years on this earth. And I’ve been reflecting on what it means to move on, to continue this life without someone you love so dearly.
Grief is a funny thing. I thought when my dad passed on that we would have a sense of relief, that we would start the process of living our lives again. Picking up where were left off so to speak. But it hasn’t been like that. I guess I thought we had grieved so much over the years and had faced so much loss that possibly those days of sadness were coming to an end. I was wrong. There is so much to process these days that my head spins much of the time. Now that my dad’s suffering has stopped, we are relieved…but now what? The sadness that blanketed our family during the first several months after his passing was brutal. There were glimpses of hope and happiness that surprised me and caught me off guard at times. I remember being so thankful for those moments that reminded me of that strange thing called “happiness”. On the other hand, some days brought much heaviness and sorrow; trying to wade through and process the many questions felt overwhelming. Why did we feel so isolated and alone for so much of those seven years? How long will we carry this heavy baggage of this terrible loss? There were many wrestling matches with God during the last couple years of my dad’s life. Trying to come to terms with the “whys” but realizing it’s really about the “why nots?” Now I wrestle to overcome bitterness and overwhelming sadness that come in terrible surges like the powerful but frightening waves of an angry ocean.
Oftentimes, while in the midst of our trial, I was embarrassed of my sadness and felt apologetic for my feelings. I don’t anymore. I would find myself in places where I should have felt loved, accepted and safe with my emotions. Instead, I would feel judged, misunderstood or even disregarded. People would look at me funny, or not look at me at all which was even more painful. I still feel that way much of the time, I really wish is didn’t. I tried to bury my grief after my dad passed away, wanting to magically move on and live a normal life again. I didn’t understand that although we’ve been through a never-ending tsunami of suffering, now there’s a different kind of grief period.
But today is my dad’s first birthday in heaven…. so what do I do now? I know that my dad would not want me to stay this way, so I won’t. I know that my dad would want me to love people, so I will. My relationship with God is much more vibrant and pure than it was just a few months/years ago. Somehow when God seemed silent and absent in our situation, He was somehow the most present. He was working His greatest, most refining work I could have ever imagined. I don’t fully understand the theology behind it, but I just know, “His ways are higher”. To go through something like this and not be changed for the better would be calamitous. Thankfully I feel that my senses are much more attuned to those struggling, when I look into someone’s eyes I want to know their story. I want to know their struggle, their pain, or how they overcame or how I can come alongside them in their journey to provide support. Although I have many setbacks as I try to traverse grief, bitterness and loss… I also know that a new day is coming when things will get easier, life will get sweeter and the world’s colors will come back in all their fullness. I also know that one day I will be sitting on the beach with my dad, or maybe watching him play slow pitch again… I will search for the perfect pebble on the heavenly shores of majestic rivers and partake of the calorie free / fat free deliciously fluffy pancakes. Until then, I will keep living, I will stay on my journey that Christ has set before me and I will go to Cracker Barrel on my dad’s birthday and order the highest stack of “flapjacks” they have on the menu.

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Live, Uncategorized

The Prince of Peace

The word PEACE is often used in our vocabulary as the absence of conflict but in the context of scripture it means complete or whole, a state of completeness.  To make complete or to restore.  The Jewish people thought Jesus was born to bring them political restoration.  Jesus’ plan was much bigger, His purpose was to restore mankind to Him.

Unfortunately, I try to find peace in this troubled world in my own wisdom and strength. Instead of just trusting in the fullness of Christ, I want Him to fix my earthly problems, much like the Jewish people in their hopes that He would overthrow their government.  I’m so busy focusing on the here and now that I don’t see the bigger purpose, the eternal plan.

Last Christmas our family was clinging to the last few excruciating weeks of my dad’s life on earth.  Only then, almost a year ago, as we gathered each day in my parent’s bedroom around my dad’s hospital bed, did I finally learn what true peace was.   Even in our struggle and trauma that life can bring to us….Jesus is enough.  As we watched my dad slowly slip away day by day, there was nothing we could do.  In those moments, we only had Jesus, and that was all we needed.  Somehow in the sadness and desperation of our situation, Jesus gifted us with His powerful peace.  I don’t understand it, I struggle to articulate it but the restoration and wholeness of Christ brought miraculous peace into an otherwise devastating circumstance.  As terrible as those last couple of months were, I  am humbled and thankful for God teaching me the true meaning of peace and the shift from an earthly perspective, to a heavenly one.

The following two paragraphs are my mom’s words about our time as we, as a family, had the privilege and holy experience of watching God usher my dad into His presence and the peace that we felt in such an unexpected place…

Somewhere along the line of our journey with ALS, our bedroom became transformed into a hospital room.  All the equipment needed to care for Gary took over the room more than we liked but it was all part of the process.  Our master bedroom (turned in-home hospital room) became our place to live, read God’s Word, pray, sing,  greet friends, laugh, cry, worship and fall more in love with each other and Jesus.  We also learned to be more eternally minded rather than focused on earthly things.  Learning to cherish every moment given and doing the best to make the most of each minute of every day.  Our bedroom became a sacred place where we lived out those last precious months with Gary.  It was where we held hands and remember our lives together.  We shared our love for one another and our hopes and dreams for our children and grandchildren.  It was in that room that we said our goodbyes and shed many tears as God ushered Gary into His eternal presence.

It was strange after Gary was gone how quickly our bedroom was transformed back to it’s original purpose.  The hectic daily routine of nurses visits, aids giving showers, medications being administered, tube feedings prepared, and visitors ceased and it was as if my life stopped along with it.  Now our home is quiet and feels so very empty.  No more hectic daily “care routines” or the sounds of the struggle for life.  Only stillness and loneliness fill the void.  Life will never be the same again in that sacred room.  Neither will the battle for life there be forgotten.  Yet in that room I still meet with God and cry and rejoice over life and it’s challenges.  God has given us a promise of hope.  He tells us we will be together again for all eternity.  So you see, our trials here on earth are but a vapor…  Here one moment and gone the next.  Our promise is for “eternal life” with our God and King.  It’s like Gary said when he was given his diagnosis…”We are all terminal”.

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Photo by Daniel Reche on Pexels.com

“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace”

(Isaiah 9:6).

As Christmas approaches, let God in His eternal completeness bring you miraculous peace.

Jesus is enough.

 

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One Day at a Time…Part 3 (Living with ALS)

WHAT ALS CANNOT DO…

The following is an email my dad sent out in January of 2015.  This would have been right in the middle of his ALS journey.  He underwent a very invasive surgery a couple months prior to this email to insert a trachea tube in his throat.  He was in the hospital for about three weeks following that procedure with tremendous difficulty adapting to it, yet he maintained a thankful and tender attitude toward God.  If  you are facing difficult circumstances, please read the following and let God speak to your heart as you enter this Christmas season…

Greetings to all of you.  My prayer is that you had a wonderful Christmas and a Happy and Blessed New Year.  God is faithful and His mercy and love are new every morning.

Recently my brother-in-law, Tom, who is battling lung cancer, gave me a saying that I thought was very good.  It’s title was “What Cancer Cannot Do.”  In my case I would like to substitute the word cancer and replace it with ALS.  You can do the same thing with what you are struggling with.

WHAT ALS CANNOT DO…

ALS cannot cripple love

ALS cannot shatter hope

ALS cannot corrode faith

ALS cannot destroy peace

ALS cannot kill friendship

ALS cannot suppress memories

ALS cannot silence courage

ALS cannot steal eternal life

ALS cannot conquer the spirit

Like I say, you can substitute any sickness or struggle you are going through.

In October, I had a trachea tube installed.  It’s purpose is to connect to a ventilator while I am sleeping at night.  The trachea tube was a real challenge for the first eight weeks, but now I have adapted fairly well.  I do rest better with the vent at night and wake up more refreshed.  Vickie and I continue to keep our eyes on Jesus and walk day by day with Him.

“His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor His pleasure in the legs of a man, but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in His steadfast love.”  Psalm 147:10-11

We are not going to let ALS rob us of our peace and hope.  Thank you so much for your prayers and support.  It really means a lot t us knowing you are praying.  God is faithful.

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One Day at a Time…Part 2 (Living with ALS)

TERMINAL

The following is part 2 of “One Day at a Time”. It is one of my dad’s letters upon getting the confirmation that he was indeed diagnosed with ALS. Although he wasn’t speaking well at this point (he would later lose his speech altogether), he was able to write. As his journey with ALS was just beginning, these were his thoughts. He would go on to endure 6 more years of agony but still never wavered from an attitude of thankfulness. These are all his words, they bring me such comfort even now as I can rejoice that he will be celebrating his first Christmas with Jesus in heaven. This is what he wanted all of us, his family and friends, to understand and I am so grateful to have these precious words from him…

On July 2012 my wife received a call from the Hampton VA Medial Center with some words that no one wants to hear. The health official said, “I am sorry to inform you that your husband has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).”

It was really not a total shock to us because for eighteen months they had been testing me and the handwriting was on the wall. I am the fifth person in my family to have ALS. When it comes to treating ALS, all the doctors can say is “I’m sorry,” and they informed us that there is no further treatment and no cure…this disease is terminal.

As a Christian, I thought about the word terminal and began to think about what that means here on earth. Yes, we will all die someday a physical death. But for the Christian, the word “terminal” does not apply.

Jesus said to Martha in John 11:25-27, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

Martha answered Jesus, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

This is good news for all of us! You may be a picture of health but no one can live forever in our earthly bodies. So those who are in Christ will live forever and the word “terminal” has no affect. In 1972 I received Christ as my Savior and was taken from darkness into His marvelous light. Be of good cheer! Death has lost its sting and we will live forever with Him!

Vickie and I again say thanks for all the support, encouraging words and prayers for our family. We find strength in God to live each day and live it to the fullest.

Gary Tingwald

Just a Note: What is the definition of a good day? Here is my definition: Knowing that God is there every moment and I can breathe. That is a good day.

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One Day at a Time… Part 1 (Living with ALS)

The following is a short letter my dad wrote right after he was diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a motor neurone disease, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease).  This letter was published in the SCM News (Southeastern Correctional Ministry) in June of 2014, a ministry where he served as Senior Chaplain until his disease took away his ability to speak.  He passed away in February of this year and we miss him terribly but treasure the words he left behind as an encouragement for all of us.

Joyce Everett, current Senior Chaplain of SCM wrote:

“In life we meet so many good people that love the Lord Jesus and serve him with all their heart. The former Senior Chaplain of SCM, Chaplain Gary Tingwald, is one of those people. He is such a blessing. Once you meet him your life is never the same.

I have been senior Chaplain a little over a year and I have received so many calls asking about Chaplain Gary, I felt led by God to ask him to address the SCM family in this months news letter edition and this is what he wanted to say to all of you:”

A NOTE FROM CHAPLAIN GARY:

I wanted to give all of you an update on what has been happening. Some one asked me, “how are you doing”?  This is my answer: “I’m doing fine but my body has a problem.”

I am no longer able to talk or eat.  All of my nourishment comes by way of a stomach tube and I have devices that help m15235664_10211303763934484_3329934996245866820_oe communicate.

It is not as bad as you might think because God’s presence is always with us.  We are traveling to visit family in many different states and God uses Vickie and I to minister to them.  God has blessed me with a wonderful wife and supportive family.

I really miss the jail ministry and seeing all of you.  Our prayers are with you as you continue to bring the good news to the jails.  God Bless.

“So we do not loose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light monetary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison…”  2 Corinthians 4:16-17a

Chaplain Gary

It is not as bad as you might think because God’s presence is always with us.