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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We are Called to do Hard Things

This year as we have endured some very tragic and difficult circumstances, because of this God has been teaching me some very critical spiritual lessons. One of them is that we are called to do hard things.

I thought about so many larger than life examples in the Bible of people doing hard things.  The Bible is filled from cover to cover with inspirational stories of perseverance, faith and courage. But I’ve really been thinking a lot about young Esther. Esther was called to do something remarkably hard that required sheer bravery, skilled planning and ultimately displayed a deep love for her people. This young inexperienced girl found herself in a role she didn’t want as queen and in a situation that required exceptional bravery . So much so that an entire book of the Old Testament was named after her and her story.

I was reading through the book of Esther recently hoping to gain fresh insight on how she was able to face her problem head on with such strength, grace and wisdom. Esther was a Jewish orphan being raised by her Uncle Mordecai, she was thrown unwillingly into the role of queen because of her beauty after her predecessor was disobedient to the King’s orders and de throned. Esther was a Jew, the King was Persian and unaware of his new bride’s Jewish heritage. Because of some very bad advice from the Kings most powerful advisor, Haman, the King agreed to destroy the Jews in all the empire. Haman’s hate for the Jews was simply because of Mordecai’s love for God and refusal to bow down to Haman.

Mordecai asked Queen Esther to approach the King on behalf of all the Jews facing annihilation and ask for the King to revoke His decree. Unfortunately for Queen Esther it was a veritable death sentence to approach the King without being summoned. Many amazing circumstances happen throughout the rest of the story. Spoiler Alert…Esther lives and she and her uncle both find extraordinary favor with the King and the Jewish people are saved, while their persecutor, Haman is not. Please read the book of Esther, YOU WILL LOVE IT!

It’s a short but intense book in the Old Testament, one that has many twists and turns. There’s extreme irony in the conclusion and God uses a young naive and probably “scared out of her mind” Jewish girl to save her people. I came up with a couple of observations about this story of Esther and her calling to do hard things.

First, there was Preparation. Esther was orphaned and raised by her Uncle Mordecai who taught her to love God above all else. Once Esther was chosen to be presented to the King, she had to go through a long twelve month process of beauty preparations.  During this time she found favor with Haggai, the eunuch in charge of the concubines and the Bible tells us, “with everyone else who saw her”. She ultimately won the favor of the King and she was chosen to be his queen.

Mordecai finds out about the plot to kill the Jews and goes into a time of desperately seeking God’s help. Scripture tells us he goes through a period of fasting and prayer. I can’t think of a better way to prepare for the challenges that lie ahead.

Second, there was Obedience. Esther obeyed Mordecai when he asked her to approach the King on behalf of the Jewish people. She clearly was frightened at the thought but trusted Mordecai and ultimately obeyed God’s will for her in that moment of terror. I love the fact that she listened to Mordecai and had confidence in his wise counsel.

Esther knew her survival rested on her faith and in her God to save her, she understood the importance of being prepared for the challenge. It was crucial that she be obedient to God and to Mordecai who gave her sound advise and a divine call to action. Without the strategic timing of the events that unfolded, the King would not have accepted Esther into his courts and sadly thousands of Jewish men, women and children would have been slaughtered.

Esther wasn’t hasty in her reaction to the potential destruction of her people, but she was methodical and let the Lord guide her. She took each step of her interaction with he King and her adversary, Haman, very carefully, not wanting to get ahead of God’s plan. How many times do we find ourselves in a challenging situation and just want out? Oftentimes thinking we know better than God and don’t want to wait around for His perfect timing because it’s just too hard. The most well-known verse in the Book of Esther is found in chapter 4 verse 14, “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

God has called us to do hard things. If we are followers of Christ we will be challenged in our faith, possibly even persecuted. We will face times of terrible suffering and pain. But have we gone through the process of preparation? I think that is the key…it’s not if trials come, it’s when. When hard times come, are we prepared to face them? Have we studied Scripture and know God’s Word in our heart? Are we active in our relationship with Christ and with those around us that can help us in our spiritual journey? There will be times we will need to fast and pray desperate prayers.

God placed Esther in a position of leadership to fulfill His plan of saving the Jews in peril. Esther was tasked with embarking on a journey that would most likely end her life. She was called to do something extraordinarily hard, choosing between possible death for herself and that of her people. She listened and obeyed those wiser and older than she, Mordecai spent time fasting and praying and they were both obedient to God and His perfect timing. Don’t be afraid to do hard things, be spiritually prepared for difficult circumstances and be obedient to God’s timing.

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I Choose Suffering

Isaiah 51:6 “Lift up your eyes to the sky, Then look to the earth beneath; For the sky will vanish like smoke, And the earth will wear out like a garment And its inhabitants will die in like manner; But My salvation will be forever, And My righteousness will not wane.

Have you ever felt like a sinking ship being tossed to and fro in a relentlessly angry sea? I have. I feel quite certain that I am not alone, I’m sure there are others that are sinking in the raging waters even now. Sometimes we face the ugly reality of suffering because we have made a bad or possibly several bad decisions, facing consequences that we must resign ourselves to. What happens when the harsh pangs of suffering find us because of circumstances outside of our control, like a ship sailing perilously into unavoidable winds. For the past several years (seven to be exact) our family has been flailing in the open waters of a raging sea, clinging with every bit of strength we can muster to a water logged life preserver. You see, my dad was diagnosed with a monster of a disease called ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). This was a death sentence that slowly robbed him of his ability to speak, eat, move and sometimes even breath on his own. My mom spent her days tirelessly but lovingly caring for him until the very end. The past couple of years of his life were absolutely excruciating for him, he had constant issues with bed sores and excessive weight loss, pain meds were unable to keep us with his dreadful discomfort. He was trapped inside his own torture chamber day after agonizing day. Even in the midst of the myriad of feeding and ventilator tubes in his make shift hospital room in their home, there was a strange peace that accompanied his mighty tempest of suffering. The peace was one that could only be gifted from one source, Jesus. My dad was a pastor before being forced to retire due to his inability to speak not long after his diagnosis. This was a man that had always walked out his faith, he was an unassuming shepherd that loved God and people passionately. His ability to minister to others was done with a uniquely quiet strength that I have never seen in another individual. So, that is how he faced his dreadful last few years, choosing suffering with a quiet and peaceful strength that only comes from God. I learned so much watching his love for Jesus and others around him- even while he was on his bed of affliction, a prisoner in his own body, those who came to visit him would find themselves leaving encouraged and strengthened in their faith.

Life is strange sometimes…

Life is so strange sometimes. I wish my dad wouldn’t have spent the last few years of his life the way he did, I wanted him to be able to throw the football with my boys, to wrestle on the floor and chase them around the house until they were out of breath from laughter. But that wasn’t the life we were given. To say I spent many hours questioning and wrestling with God would be a gross understatement. Somehow through the pain and suffering we had countless holy encounters with our creator, times that only He was able to issue the strength, courage and ability we needed to keep moving on this terrifying journey. My faith was reinforced and even invigorated even in the sadness and constant sorrow of loss. It was an unexpected and divine gift that came out of an atrocious season of suffering. My heavenly father faced suffering I can’t even imagine. My earthly father faced suffering that I could barely find the courage to watch toward the end. Not only did Jesus endure horrible suffering for us but he chose it. He chose it so that you and I could be free from sin. I don’t understand it, but I am so humbled and grateful for it.
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I choose suffering because it was and is God’s plan, I choose suffering because He met me at that place of exhaustion and made me a better follower of Him. He used my dad as a beautiful vessel to teach me and countless others the lesson of loving Christ deeper even when suffering. I live by the ocean. It’s beautiful and frightening at the same time. This life is beautiful but suffering will come, embrace it. Learn from it. Be stronger because of it. Allow Christ to meet you in your most dreadful storm that life will certainly throw at you. My dad did and he taught me to embrace it through the power of our heavenly Father. The Prince of Peace.
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