Jesus, Light

Love, Regret & Pure Rapture

My heart was caught up in a beautiful rapture this morning.

The hub and I were standing shoulder to shoulder singing one of my favorite worship songs when I noticed the elderly gentleman sitting in front of us was quivering. My heart was drawn to him. The quivering increased to what appeared to be silent crying. I didn’t know whether he was in distress or whether he was just moved by the song.  Often when I went to church with my dad, he would cry during worship, so I knew being moved to tears was a real possibility.

But just in case, I put my hand on his shoulder and said a prayer.  Almost in unison, the hub put his hand on the other shoulder.  Then his sweet wife noticed and took his hand. The beautiful clasp of their long-married hands is one for the memory album.

That precious snapshot was the prelude to an even more beautiful moment.

We next sang, Come Worship the Lord.

The young worship leader’s rich, able voice stirred the air as we sang the chorus again and again:

Come, worship the Lord,
For we are His people,
The flock that He shepherds.
Alleluia.

And I thought about my sister, Laura.

I thought about one of the last conversations we had before she died.  She asked me about my church. I told her I hadn’t been going.  She looked alarmed. “We’re just taking the summer off,” I assured her, “we’re going to start visiting churches in the fall – look for one that fits us better.”

“It’s the singing I miss,” she said.

Many years earlier she attended an Assemblies of God church with my dad. Back then I attended an Evangelical Presbyterian Church, but I would come and worship with them occasionally, especially when Laura was singing a solo.

She had a beautiful voice. The only one of us seven sisters who could sing.

Then she remarried and no longer went to church, hadn’t been, as far as I know, in about 25 years.  She told me, once, that she wanted to, but her husband wasn’t willing.  He was interested in more of a Native American spirituality which she adopted, and which gave her much comfort, in her battle with cancer.  And she never stopped believing in the God she worshiped in church.

She missed the singing.

And as I stood in the midst of the rapturous, glimmering, Spirit-filled air this morning, I wished it had occurred to me to say, “Let’s sing now.”

I’m tone deaf, so I would have sung along very quietly.

The two of us all alone in her house singing as many worship songs as she could remember.  Perhaps they would have stirred the air, enrapturing both our hearts.

I went to the funeral of a stranger.  I witnessed his family gather around his casket, which stood in the center of the aisle. They laid their hands on the casket and they kissed it and they prayed.

As I watched, I thought, “I would entrust my funeral to these people, to this pastor.”

This morning I wished Laura’s funeral had been entrusted to them.

This will likely offend some in my family, if they were to read it, but there is a deeper, higher, broader, sweeter, whole other layer of spirituality in worship and in the gentle giving of last rites and in prayer that my sister missed out on. Perhaps she wouldn’t have wanted it. Perhaps she would have asked for it if she did. Perhaps she didn’t know it was available for the asking.

I didn’t, until I witnessed it at that stranger’s funeral and until I was so moved by it today.

All I know is that Laura missed the singing and, if I had that afternoon in her living room to do over again, I would sing.

I want my death to have a soundtrack.  I want to walk to the gate with music playing – music that reminds me that I am one of His flock, and He is my Shepherd; music that affirms that even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, He’ll never let go of me.

I want this song on my dying breath:

 Worthy is the, Lamb who was slain, Holy, Holy is He…

I want to be surrounded by those who will sing it with me. Or for me, if I haven’t the strength or the consciousness to sing.

Then there was the sermon. It was one of his last in a series on the Apostle’s Creed.  The pastor explained the meaning of the holy catholic church and the communion of saints – including that great cloud of witnesses that has gone before us.

And again my thoughts turned to Laura.

When Abraham and Ishmael and Israel and others of the Old Testament died, Scripture says they “breathed their last and were gathered to their people.”

I’ve always loved that phrase, “gathered to their people.”

Shortly after my sister died, I had a dream about her. She was sitting under a tree with an open book in her lap.  From a distance it looked like the hardcover yearbooks we purchased in high school. People were sitting and milling around in the background, blurred, and she was sharply in focus in the foreground.  The scene looked and felt like a family reunion from our childhood.

Laura looked down at the open page and said, to no one in particular, “I really like her.”

It was as though she was being introduced to her people, sitting there under her family tree.

I know she’s fine now and I’m fine, too, and this morning my heart was full of love and regret and pure rapture.

Holy, Holy is He.

 

#breath

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faith, Jesus, life

Great Expectations

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C called early in the morning on Saturday, August 22.  She asked whether I was planning to visit Laura that day.  I was just getting ready to head over there.  Friday had been a very rough day, Laura had been very angry and C was concerned that Laura was losing her faith.  C had been staying at Laura’s house overnight all week to help care for her.  She was taking the weekend off and she wanted me to talk to Laura.

Laura and C shared spirituality.  Many of their visits over the course of Laura’s illness included discussions of authors who write spiritual things – borrowing concepts and even direct quotes from the Bible, but usually not giving the Bible credit.  When they spoke, they spoke of the universe giving good things.

Laura and I shared faith in God.  When it was just the two of us, we talked about peace, prayer and healing.  We spoke of God giving good things.

When C and I visited together, which was often the case, the conversation was a hybrid of faith specifically in God and general spirituality.  I didn’t split hairs because it is the Holy Spirit’s job to guide each of us into all Truth, not mine.  I just conversed according to what I believe.

When I got to Laura’s that morning, there was no sign of physical, emotional or spiritual distress.    She raised her head slightly, waved at me and smiled when I entered.

Her husband told me that he had read to her the night before from one of Gary Zukav’s books.  He told her she was going to be a spirit guide for others.  Her husband likes American Indian spirituality.  It seemed to have brought her peace.

A little while later I asked her whether she had been talking to God.  She nodded yes.  I asked whether God had been talking to her.  She nodded yes and then whispered, “Somewhat.”

Then she lifted her head, and with more strength to her voice, asked, “Do you know?”

“Do I know what?,” I asked smiling.

She waived her hand as if to say, “Never mind.”

“No, Laura, I want to understand and I am in no hurry, so take your time and tell me.”

“It can wait,” she smiled.

She was weak and she slept a lot that day, but she appeared at peace.

I stayed home Sunday.  I knew she would have a lot of visitors.  Too many visitors, I guess, and a lot of back and hip pain.

Monday she slept all day.

Tuesday my mom and I rubbed her legs.  I whispered good-bye at the end of the day, whispered, “I love you so much, you are so wonderful.”  She whispered, “I love you, too.”

Those were her last words to me.

Wednesday morning I received a text from C.  She asked me not to come for awhile because the hospice nurse was coming at 11 to put in a port for a morphine drip.  Laura was in distress. Her husband had gotten little sleep.  He had been administering pain meds every four hours.  Hospice came at 3 am to help.

C woke up at 6 that morning to the sound of moaning and tearless crying – a very disturbing sound.  The hospice nurse returned and said she didn’t think Laura was in pain, since the increased morphine didn’t seem to be making a difference.  She gave her Ativan, which calmed her down.

She was unresponsive when I arrived just after noon.  She died just after 2:30.

I thanked the hospice nurse as we both walked to our cars.  She said Laura was a real fighter.

The hub had to leave the visitation early to feed the friends so C gave my daughter and me a ride home.  It was our first chance to really talk since Laura’s passing. I asked her about Wednesday morning.  I shared that sometimes a side effect of morphine is nightmares.  Did she think Laura was having a nightmare?

“No, she just seemed pissed.”

C went on to say that she had been having a hard time with it.  She expected Laura to go peacefully but perhaps her expectations were faulty and that what transpired was just life.

I said I expected her to go peacefully, too.

And as we drove along I silently thought about those expectations.  I thought about the stories I heard over the years from friends as they sat with dying parents.  Stories of hymn singing and final moments of suddenly brightened faces and words of greetings to loved ones who had gone before.

And that’s what I imagined.  I imagined Laura’s face suddenly lighting up and her mouth uttering a joyful, “Hi dad!”

But there were no words.  Only a silent, sleeping face, labored breathing and then no breathing at all.

I sat in the passenger seat wondering whether Laura’s hybrid faith had been enough.  There was plenty of evidence that it was – all the conversations we had had, her firm assurance that she was going to heaven, that everything was going to be okay.  She said she had accepted it, that she was ready.

So why was she so angry on the morning of her death?  C thought it was because she wasn’t really ready when it came right down to it.  I thought maybe she was angry that her very well-meaning husband was giving her pain meds every four hours that she didn’t want, didn’t need.  That would be so Laura.

The obituary said she died peacefully, surrounded by her family.  Is it really dying peacefully if it is a drug-induced peace?  I thought about all the times I’ve read those words in the obituaries of others.  Were they all lying?

But I didn’t say anything.  I just wondered whether a completely peaceful passing is only had by those who are surrounded by hymn singing.  Spirituality doesn’t seem to get the job done.

In those last days I had suggested putting on some soft music.  Laura’s husband gave me a stack of her favorite CDs, none of which contained spiritual songs.  I wish I had been bold enough to bring over some of mine, bold enough to risk offending everyone but her.  In one of our last conversations Laura asked me about my church and she said she missed the singing.  She had a beautiful voice.  Looking back now, I wish I had taken that statement as a request, but I didn’t make a connection.  Now I’m regretting my cluelessness.  If I weren’t so vocally challenged, I would have certainly sung her some hymns.

When Laura was still alive, I felt her.  I felt her spirit when I was sitting with her in her living room and I felt her spirit when I was at home.  I carried her with me every minute.

But after she died it seemed her spirit had been obliterated.

I didn’t feel her at the visitation.

I didn’t feel her at the funeral or at the luncheon at her house after the funeral.

And I wondered whether a hybrid of faith and spirituality is enough.

Her daughter asked if any of us Aunties would be willing to read at the funeral. I said I would.  I assumed she would have me read a portion of Scripture.  But when I was handed my script at visitation, I saw that I was to commend her spirit to the “Spirit of Life”, while having the attendees repeat some meaningless words.  I couldn’t do it so I bowed out.

His name is Jesus.

I don’t know the Spirit of Life to which the script was referring, I only know Jesus.  There is no other Name by which we are saved.

So I left the funeral kinda’ mad at my family.  Mad that Laura’s funeral was performed entirely by people who don’t know God.  Mad that the only mention of Him at all was in the showing of Carrie Underwood and Vince Gill’s video performance of  “How Great Thou Art” – shown only by Laura’s request.  Mad that the eulogy included no mention of her faith.  I felt like her faith had been ripped from her; like she had been ripped off.  And I was mad that she was nowhere to be found.

It wasn’t an ordinary, on-the-surface mad, it was an unusual, vague, deep-within-my-spirit kind of mad.

During my conversations with Laura, I rested in the thought that faith + anything else is still faith.  Driving home from the funeral I wondered if that was a faulty equation.

Disturbed and disheartened I wrote His Name is Jesus and then I asked God to tell me something, show me something about Laura.

Late that night, just after I had gotten into bed, I felt her beside me.  Suddenly, there was a slight shimmer in the room and I could feel her spirit; my heart could see her broad, beautiful smile.  Her smile filled the room.  And I knew without a doubt that she is okay.  I can feel her again.

Jesus died on a Friday and no one saw any sign of Him until Sunday.  Laura died on a Wednesday and I didn’t see any sign of her until Saturday night.  Maybe we’re really busy for a few days when we arrive in heaven.

Perhaps we have to sign our golf card before we can celebrate.

Laura was in my dream the other night.  It was so good to see her.  In the dream, she was looking through a book – perhaps a photo album.  She looked up at me, smiling, and said, “I really like that woman.”   And all was well with the world.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “No Cliffhangers.”

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Jesus, life

His Name is Jesus

She died on Wednesday, just before 2:30 in the afternoon.

Her funeral was on Saturday at 10:00 in the morning.

I left the funeral and the post-funeral luncheon disturbed and disheartened, not liking my family much.  All kinds of thoughts swirled in my head and in my spirit.  Thoughts that have been swirling these four days since she passed.  I sat down to tell you about them, and now I’m thinking I’ll wait until they land.

But since many of you have been offering your kind prayers, I want to at least tell you that she passed.

An old friend of Laura’s, who worked with her way back in that doctor’s office I mentioned in the last post, offered her condolences at the funeral.  She shared that she lost her sister two years ago, and she’s lost both of her brothers since.  She is the only sibling left.  I offered my condolences right back to her.  She said there is something particularly hard about losing a sister and she just wanted us to know that she understands that.  She said, “No one writes about that.”

I might.  When I can.  When it all lands.

Laura posted this video on her Facebook wall last November and wrote, “My friends, what could make you feel closer to God? This was not about Carrie, it was about her relationship with God. That’s what makes it so beautiful.”

Amen, Laura.

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My sister, Laura
December 28, 1956 – August 26, 2015

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You Either Have Faith or You Don’t

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They were locked in a tight embrace, wailing, when I entered the living room.  I had made a beeline to the powder room as soon as C and I arrived.  What could have happened in such a short time?

“Don’t mind us,” Laura said, “we’re just a couple of blubbering old ladies.”

“Did you have a rough night?”

“No, not a rough night, but a rough day yesterday.”

“What can we do for you, Laura?,” asked C, as she released her embrace.

“Just be with me.”

So we sat with her and talked quietly.  Her husband was working from home – his computer and papers spread out on the dining room table.  He came in to ask her if, based on their conversation the night before, she still wanted him to call hospice.  They had put hospice in place when she left the hospital, but they had not yet needed their services.  Laura nodded yes.  It was time.

She dozed off and on all day.  Whenever she dozed, C and I took her dogs into the backyard to play.  Or we sat with them on the porch.

On the porch I asked C why she and Laura were crying earlier. She said the sight of Laura’s skin – so much more yellow than it was the last time C saw her – brought an instant flood of tears.

All that dozing must have been good for Laura because, by late afternoon, she began to perk up a bit.  Which was good, because her son was on his way home from college for the weekend and some very close friends were coming over to grill “Jeff burgers.”

Before we left, C asked Laura if there was one thing she learned through all of this that she wanted others to know.

“First of all,” she said with her weak, raspy voice, “I have absolutely no doubt about where I am going.”  She scratched her ultrashort, newly-regrown-in hair-covered head and continued, “You either have faith or you don’t. Through this whole thing I always knew that whatever happened, I would be okay.”

She had always been afraid of cancer.

And it was cancer that tested her faith.  Six years ago, alone in her hospital room, after the surgeon delivered the horrible news and all of us had gone home.  Fear overcame her, just for a minute, and then a palpable peace came and pushed it away.  She knew she was going to be okay.  Her faith was proved genuine that day.

“We have it backwards,” she said, “we should be mourning birth and celebrating death.”  She is right.  Though this life holds many beautiful sights and wonderful blessings, it also holds a lot of sorrow.  When you have no doubt that you are going to a place that holds only beauty and blessings – a place with with no heartache at all – death is reason to celebrate.

“It would be easier to celebrate your death if you weren’t so young,” I whisper/sighed.

I told her what I had been wanting to tell her.  I told her (no offense, C) that she had always been my favorite sister; that I had always looked up to her; that I had always loved her SO MUCH.  And then I apologized for making her cry.

C told a parable about a man who was going on a journey up a mountain.  He could hear his family and friends weeping and wailing and shouting their goodbyes as he climbed.  But, as he crested the mountain, he heard cheering and glad hellos coming from the other side.

“Give dad a big hug and a kiss for me,” I said, “I can see him, greeting you with a big smile and wide open arms.”

“It was a good visit,” she whispered as we hugged her goodbye.

On the journey back to my house, I called my mom from the passenger seat of C’s car to let her know how Laura was doing.  When I mentioned that hospice would be coming over the weekend, she started to sob. “I’m sorry, mom, maybe I shouldn’t have told you.”  “No,” she said, “I knew it was coming.”

I told C how glad I was that I got to tell Laura how much she meant to me.  And I started listing all the things I have loved and admired about her over the years.  And then I sobbed, too.

The tears felt good as they washed against the healing underside of my eyelid.

On the way to Laura’s that morning, C and I stopped at the ophthalmic surgeon’s office for my follow up appointment..  The pathologist’s report held good news.  The lesion was “nothing scary.”  Just inflamed tissue – no one knows why it happens and, unfortunately, it might happen again in another spot.

But at least it’s not cancer.  And that was good news.  Because my 85 year old mother could not take any more.

Thank you for all the kindness you’ve extended to me, blogging friends, and for all your prayers for my sister, her family and me.  I’ve been thanking God for the blessing you all are to me.

And now may the Lord bless you and keep you and make His face shine upon you and give you peace.

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Jesus, life, Light

God is Always Good & We are Always Loved

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I read the second half of John 4 the other day and thought of my sister as I watched Jesus move from spiritual healing to physical healing:  After He gave eternal life to the woman at the well, He spent a couple of days in Samaria and then continued on to Galilee.

A royal official in Galilee, whose son was near death, begged Jesus to come and heal him.

Jesus replied, “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe.”

In Sunday school, Jesus’s statement here (and similar statements elsewhere) were always taught with annoyance in Jesus’s voice.  But I don’t think He was annoyed.  After all, He came to heal and set free and to show us what the Father is like.

I don’t think He was speaking with exasperation, I think He was telling the official why He was about to do what He was about to do:  “Your family won’t believe unless they experience a miracle, so I’m going to show them a miracle.”

And then Jesus assured the official, “You may go. Your son will live.”

And He was right.  The man took Jesus at His word and departed.  And when he learned that his son was alive and realized that his condition improved at the exact time Jesus said, “Your son will live,” he and all his household believed.

Jesus knows who will be impressed by a miracle and who won’t.  And when He knows a miracle will yield belief, I can’t imagine that He wouldn’t be very happy to perform it.

But He also knows that miracles don’t always yield belief.

Remember what Abraham said to the rich man in Luke 16?  “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

Miracles are apparently wasted on some people. And I doubt Jesus, being perfect in every way, is wasteful.

Maybe that’s why some people are miraculously healed and others are not.

My sister, Laura, and I had a peaceful visit yesterday.  We watched her favorite movie, ate soup, talked and then she napped while I prepared their dinner.  It was just the two of us.  Her husband went in to work for a few hours.

I asked her how she is doing spiritually, emotionally, mentally.  She said, once again, that she is not afraid to die.  She said her family is handling it well and her son is beginning to come to terms with it.  She said she has accepted death – that acceptance is a grace that God gives at the end.  I was grateful to hear that.

She said that even though the end came on quickly – she was just enjoying Mackinac Island a month ago – she can’t complain.  She has had a lot of fun and done a lot of traveling in the six years since her battle began.  The doctor’s didn’t expect her to live nearly this long.

She has always been a doer, so life on the sofa is no life for her.  She is ready to go.

My sister is near death.  And it might very well be her time, or it might be time for a miracle, not for the sake of her belief, because she already believes, but perhaps for some in our family.

So my prayers are conflicted.  She has peace, acceptance and she is ready.  But if she could be healthy enough to get off her sofa and enjoy life, she certainly would choose life.

I believe that Jesus can certainly bring her back to health.  And it doesn’t hurt to ask.

So every night I ask Him to give her a restful, healing night’s sleep.  And every morning I ask Him to give her a peaceful, comfortable, even joyful day.  And if a miracle will yield belief in those who do not yet believe, then yes, please, Jesus, reach down from heaven and touch her with Your loving hand.  Allow her husband to enjoy some wonderful retirement years with his wife.  Because You came to seek, to save, to heal.  Amen.

God is always good and we are always loved.

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life

The Laundry, National Donut Day and a Mere 45 Minutes

We missed her by forty-five minutes.

I don’t check Facebook all that often, but since it’s the primary way my sisters and I communicate with one another, I try to remember to check it once or twice a week.  Yesterday a group message from one of my sisters informed us all that our beloved Aunt Stella was dying.

So this morning one of my sisters and I drove an hour out to see her to say goodbye.  We missed her by forty-five minutes.  Our Aunt’s happy, social, fun, full life was over.

The hospice nurse was still there when we arrived.  She told us that our Aunt went very peacefully.  And that she really enjoyed caring for her because she was so much fun.  Just two weeks ago she said Stella was all dressed up and heading out with some friends to a reunion.  Today she is reunited with her husband in heaven.

We missed our cousins by just a minute, the nurse said.  Two of them had been there with her when she passed.   They must have been pulling out as we pulled in.  One was heading to the airport to catch a flight back to Santa Fe.

We learned that there will be no funeral or memorial service.  Stella’s five kids are scattered – one in New Mexico, one in Arizona, one in Colorado, one in Michigan and one in New York.

So that was it – our one last look at her and our one chance to say good-bye.

My sister and I kissed her forehead and told her how much we love her.  I hope she could feel our love all the way in heaven.  The hospice nurse invited us to stay for awhile but there was no point, Aunt Stella wasn’t there.  We were very grateful for the kindness the nurse showed us and especially for the kindness she showed our Aunt.

From the nursing home we drove to nearby Fenton and had lunch at The Laundry.  Afterward we walked a few blocks to The Crust.  Stella was a wonderful baker so we bought baked goods to take home, as a tribute to her.  (Since tomorrow is National Doughnut Day, I bought a couple of doughnuts for the hub and I to have with our morning coffee, and a pain au chocolate for my daughter because that’s her favorite.)

As my sister and I walked along the river, we reminisced about all the childhood fun we had at Aunt Stella’s house.  We remembered last autumn when we took her to lunch and how she laughed and took it in stride when she wet her pants as she got up from the table to leave.

It isn’t tragic to lose an Aunt who was in her eighties and who had lived a fun, full life.  But it is the end of an era.  And we will miss her.

And as we reached my car, we both resolved to live our lives to the fullest, too.

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Stacking Stones: My Cousin Jim

In uncertain times it helps to remember Jim. I did not see him often because he grew up in Florida and I grew up in Michigan.  My family visited his family each year, but he was a few years older, and a boy, so we didn’t interact much.

When Jim was 19 his face was smashed in a bad automobile accident.  His father – an oral surgeon – and a team of plastic surgeons put his face back together.

And then he dove into a gravel pit to help his girlfriend, who was tangled in a branch, and he broke his neck.

In the hospital, on life support, my cousin Jim kept asking his mom to make sure the machines keeping him alive were securely plugged in to the wall sockets.  He worried that someone might trip over the cords and pull them loose.

And then one morning, as my aunt entered his hospital room, she saw peace on her son’s face.  He told her that an angel had visited him.  He was going to die and it was okay.  He was not afraid.

Jim died that afternoon.

But that morning an angel gave a gift to him, to his mom, to me and now to you.  I treasure that gift in my heart and pull it out whenever I need a reminder.

Fear not.

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