Jesus

Those Things That Are Right

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Sunday we asked God to grant us the spirit to think and do always those things that are right. Our Old Testament Scripture reading gave us the example of Joseph.

You’ve likely heard Joseph portrayed as a braggart and a tattle tale, perhaps in an effort to explain his brothers’ jealousy.  Perhaps some teach him that way in an effort to justify their own jealous tendencies.

Some say Joseph bragged about his dreams.

But Scripture doesn’t say he bragged about them, it merely states that he reported them. And just because your brothers are jealous doesn’t mean you made them jealous.

Remember Cain? He was so jealous of his brother, Abel, that he entertained murderous thoughts.

God found Cain stewing in his anger and asked, “What’s your problem? If you do what is right, I’ll bless you, too.  Sin is crouching at your door, don’t answer it.”

But he did answer it. When given the choice between yielding his heart, mind and behavior to God and being blessed, or stubbornly holding onto his anger, he took the anger and killed his brother.  Abel wasn’t killed because made Cain jealous.  Abel was killed because Cain wanted to do what he wanted to do and be blessed anyway. And he hated that God doesn’t work that way.

The assumptions we make about how Joseph reported his dreams are shaded by the bits of our personality we project onto him. When I read the account of his dreams, I don’t imagine Joseph bragging at all.

What do you do when you have a really wild, vivid dream? Do you report it to whoever is at the breakfast table?

I think that’s what Joseph was doing, just reporting a couple of weird, amazing dreams and naively believing his family would be amazed by them, too.

What about Joseph as a tattle tale?

There appeared to be just cause right there in our bulletin: “Joseph brought an ill report of them to their father.”

That’s how all the modern translations I’ve consulted tell it. But the Septuagint – the original translation of the OT from Hebrew and Aramaic into Greek – tells a different story.

The Septuagint says it was the brothers who brought a bad report against Joseph. They were the tattlers. The exact wording: “And they brought against Joseph a bad fault to Israel, their father.”

“But,” Scripture continues, [in spite of the bad report] “Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age.” No reason other than he was born in his old age.

I keep hearing from friends who are becoming grandparents that grandkids are so much more enjoyable than kids. Perhaps because you can relax and enjoy children more when you are no longer striving for all the things for which youth strives.

In addition, Joseph as a braggart and snitch isn’t congruent with the character he displayed during the rest of his life.

Joseph was seventeen when his dad sent him to Shechem to check on the health and safety of his brothers. Some 17-year-olds would say, “No way! I’m not going. They hate me!” But not Joseph. He said. “Okay, (Septuagint: I’m ready).”

Being hated by your siblings is a long, lonely road to walk, and Joseph walked it, all the way to Shechem.

When he finally arrived his brothers weren’t there. At that point, some teenagers would shrug their shoulders, return home and say, “They weren’t there.” But not Joseph, he went the extra mile – the extra 20 or 30 miles to be more accurate – to Dothan.

That’s what always doing the right thing looks like – going the extra mile, even when you’re hated. Even when you’re really tired of being hated.

The rest of Joseph’s story reminds me of a book from my childhood. Remember it? The one with the guy in a parachute on the cover?: “Fortunately Ned was invited to a surprise party…” “Unfortunately the party was 1,000 miles away.”

Unfortunately going the extra mile got Joseph sold into slavery.
Fortunately “The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered and the Lord gave him success in everything he did.”

That phrase recurs several times throughout Joseph’s story. “The Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in everything he did…” Perhaps that is the key to always doing what’s right. Having the Lord with you, talking you through it.

But what came first, the chicken or the egg? Did Joseph always do what was right because the Lord was with him or was the Lord with him because he always did what was right?

Scripture tells us that God chose David to be the second King of Israel, because, as he said to Samuel, “He will do whatever I tell him to do.” Perhaps God chose Joseph because he was the same sort of man – one who could be counted on to do the right thing – to yield his heart, mind, and attitude to God.

So Joseph found favor in his master’s eyes and became his trusted attendant. But either Joseph was really hot or Mrs. Potiphar was really horny, either way, she pursued him relentlessly and when he wouldn’t acquiesce to her request, she accused him of rape and he wound up in prison.

Some people would be angry and bitter about now. But not Joseph. How do I know he wasn’t bitter and angry? He reached out to others, even in his own need.

The Lord was with Joseph in prison and Joseph was put in charge of all the other prisoners. One morning he noticed a couple of the new guys looking dejected. He sat down and asked them what was wrong. They had both had disturbing dreams the night before. Joseph said, “I’m pretty good with dreams, let’s hear ‘em.” After hearing the dreams he told the first guy that his dream meant he would be restored to his position as cupbearer to the king within three days. The cupbearer was thrilled and relieved. Joseph said, “When you get out of here mention to Pharaoh that I don’t belong here.” The cupbearer said he would.

But, he didn’t and Joseph languished in prison another two years.

Two more years of faithfully performing the duties placed in front of him. Two more years with his dreams on hold.

You can dwell on all the bad things that have happened to you – sold into slavery when you were just trying to help; exercising sexual integrity and being falsely accused anyway; helping someone who doesn’t help you back. You can rehearse all the injustices and conclude that God doesn’t care, or you can look for all the ways He helped you in the midst of it all and be grateful.

You know the rest of the story. Pharaoh had a dream that no one understood, the cupbearer finally remembered Joseph, Joseph interpreted the dream and even offered a brilliant plan to deal with the impending famine. He was made second in command of all of Egypt, was reunited with his dad, wrestled with prospect of reconciling with his brothers and in the end did the right thing.

And, if you know the whole story, Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, were greatly blessed.

What lessons can we glean about always doing right as we watch Joseph’s life unfurl?

  • Go the extra mile, even when people hate you. Be good for goodness’ sake.
  • Do your job well, even when you thought sheaves were going to bow down to you and you’re someone’s slave instead; give it your all even when you thought your life was going to be greater than it’s turning out to be.
  •  Take a compassionate interest in others, help them even in the midst of your own need.
  • Let God be with you, even when you are languishing for two more years. Let Him still be with you. Listen to Him, yield your heart and attitude and thoughts to Him.
  • Consistently do the right thing and your children will be blessed with a great legacy.
  • Trust that what the haters mean for evil God means for good. God always means for our good.

In order to trust you have to think right.

Which brings us to Sunday’s gospel reading (from Matthew 14).

Mark and John gave a slightly different account, but Matthew told us that Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to the other side of the lake.

He made them get into the boat. That’s an important detail.

After He dismissed the crowds, He went up the mountain by Himself to pray.

By the time He finished praying, the boat was quite far from land. The disciples had been battling wind and waves all night and they were probably exhausted by the time Jesus caught up with them. So when they saw Him approach – walking on the sea – they were terrified. Not because the waves were battering their boat – some of them were seasoned fisherman, they knew how to handle wind and waves. They were terrified because they thought they saw a ghost.

How do you think right when you’ve been up all night battling strong winds and now you think you see a ghost?

You look at the facts:
Fact 1: Jesus made us get in the boat. It wasn’t our idea.
Fact 2: Jesus sent us to the other side of the lake. He didn’t, as Beth Moore so brilliantly pointed out, send us to the bottom of the lake.

Conclusion: So what if it’s a ghost? The second Jesus sent us ahead to the other side of the lake our arrival was guaranteed.

Same right thinking applies when you are Peter, endeavoring to do what only God can do.

What God invited you to do.

Peter got out of the boat and started walking toward Him. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened and began to sink.

Peter had complete confidence in Jesus’s invitation until he saw the strong winds.

Reminds me of the first time I water skied: I grabbed the rope, the boat pulled me right up and I was skiing and having a really good time slipping in and out of the wake. And then it occurred to me that I shouldn’t be doing so well on my very first attempt, and with that thought I let go of the rope.

People can’t walk on water.

But when Jesus is the One doing the inviting, we can. So what if the wind is strong? His will is stronger. When He invites you to “Come,” He will get you there.

Or do you think He plays cruel tricks? Invites us and then lets us sink or swim?

When my first husband left me I spent many moons in a battered boat trying desperately to figure out what I had done to deserve abandonment. I rowed hard against a sea of accusations because Job wasn’t the only one who had bad friends. I evaluated my imperfections against the, in some cases, greater imperfections of my non-abandoned friends trying to make sense of it all. I felt like my life was doomed.

And then God climbed into the boat and reminded me of the facts.

He reminded me of that Sunday morning in April when I was getting ready for church, I was being baptized that day. And as I zipped myself into my floral dress, a thought floated through the air, “He’s going to propose today.”

He, I figured, was my boyfriend, who was also being baptized that morning. We had only been dating 4 months and we hadn’t talked at all about marriage so I just let the thought float right on by. I finished dressing and then practiced the Scripture verse I had chosen to recite before the dunking.

And sure enough, sitting on a sofa together in the pastor’s office – dry clothes back on, hair dried – waiting for the rest of the service to end, he did indeed propose.

And there were the facts: God knew that the marriage would end even as He floated that thought to me on that April morning. Perhaps that’s why He whispered it, So I’d remember that He was well aware that I was getting into the boat.

And even though He knew it wasn’t seaworthy, He didn’t try to stop me. He loves me and He didn’t try to stop me.

It’s not like I was rebelliously getting into a lemon of a boat. He was a christian, I was a Christian, his parents were happily married. I did my due diligence.

I hadn’t made a fatal mistake. I hadn’t married outside of His will. I wasn’t doomed. God knew and He allowed. He loved me and He still allowed. And if me getting into what He knew would turn out to be an unreliable boat was okay with Him, then from now on, it would be okay with me. I still couldn’t say the d word but I would trust that God meant it for good.

Praise God for always meaning it for good,
for speaking truth to our battered souls,
for taking the oars from our flailing hands,
for urging us on as we walk the lonely road,
for directing our thoughts as we languish for two more years.

Praise God for giving us the spirit to think right and do always those things that are right, even when life is habitually hard, that we, who cannot exist without Him, may be enabled to live according to His will.

Amen.

#unfurl

 

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the friends

One minute you’re getting your face bit off and the next minute you’re living in Hintzville.

One minute you’re sitting in a cafe with your mom basking in a glorious sunny, 61 degree day in February in Michigan and the next minute you’ve got mascara all down your tear-streaked face.

Because that gloriously warm February day reminds you of a similar unseasonably warm February day when you were basking in the excitement of a new relationship.

Which you loved.

And lost.

And still grieve.

And there’s really nothing you can say to grief while it’s barreling through like a freight train.

But what if you could stop it in its tracks?  What if, instead of looking back at last year’s happiness and grieving what you’ve lost, you could look forward to next year’s happiness in anticipation of what you’ll gain?

Because where you are is not where you’ll stay.

Dixie would tell you that if she could talk.  She would tell you that life can turn on a dime.  She would tell you that one day you’re living in a garage in Ohio, flea rash all over your hind end, getting your face bit off by a mean dog and then, a couple of months later, you’re going for a walk on a glorious day in Michigan.

And you’re eating organic, grass-fed, home-cooked meals and getting belly rubs and snuggling on the sofa. And life is good.

Dixie and her sister were found on the side of the road in southern Ohio when they were 3 months old.  Life must have looked bleak for those two babies. But then they were taken into foster care and Dixie was immediately adopted by the foster mom’s mom – Betty.

Apparently Betty treated Dixie like a queen.  She even cooked for her.  They lived happily together for about 10 years.  And then Betty developed dementia and was moved into a nursing home. And died.

And Dixie, near as I can figure, was bounced around from relative to relative and then eventually ended up back home at Betty’s house – where Betty’s grandson and his wife are now living.

But one of their dogs kept attacking Dixie – she has the scars under her right eye to prove it.  So she had to live outside and in the garage until she was finally surrendered back into foster care for her own safety.

For six weeks she lived in a foster home here in Michigan where, according to the foster mom, Dixie was heartbroken.

I wonder if, while being shuffled around this past year, she grieved the memory of her life with Betty. I wonder if she despaired ever curling up on a sofa or getting a belly rub or enjoying a home-cooked meal again.

But beagles are optimistic so I prefer to think that instead of grieving what was behind her she dreamed of the love that lay ahead.

And now here she is in Hintzville, curled up next to me on the sofa, her days filled with fresh air and exercise, love and really good food. She even has a gentle new brother, Max, who is so gentle that he just stepped aside and made room for her when she started eating from his dish after polishing off her own. (Of course I intervened on his behalf and reminded her of her P’s and Q’s.)

No one is going to bite her face off here.

Today I stopped to say thank you to God for providing for Dixie.  For Betty’s sake. For Dixie’s sake. For my sake. For Love’s sake.

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#AllthatglittersisGod.

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life

It’s a Battle, Not a Leap

You’ve heard the expression, “Leap of faith,” but it isn’t a leap, it’s a nearly bloody battle:

Dear Julie,

While reading keep in mind that although the use and abuse of alcohol began in the teen years, its all out assault began about 1975, and culminated in 1977.
Something was really pushing me to put all of this down on paper.  Having done it, I can see that the “having done it,”  and not the four pages, was the important thing…
Love,
Dad

Concerning Hope

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.  1 Peter 3:15

On the night of April 18, 1977, I was alone in my apartment, face down on the floor and immobilized.  For years I had traveled the road of addiction.  Alcohol was the propelling vehicle.  At the end of this road is death, and death was to be found in the bathroom which was but a few yards ahead.  One travels this road with companions who are faithful to the end.  The fellowship includes perfectionism, a law giver demanding consummate tidiness even in a terminal act.  Wrists slashed at the bottom of a filled tub preclude the washing of blood from walls and ceiling.

Born into a world of taste, touch, smell, sight and sound, the cry of an infant brings response and gratification to his demands.  Response and gratification instill a sense of power, and power promises hope.  But hope circumscribed by the senses is counterfeit hope and bears within itself the seed of its own destruction.  Despair is the short-lived child born to be the executioner of its father and he who gives sanctuary to the father.  Born there on the floor, despair matured quickly and, like a lemming, yearned to dash across those last few yards to hurl itself into the water of the tub.

But despair was frustrated.  Wanting to get moving, it found itself trapped within immobilized flesh.  The delay made the last few yards ahead the turf of terror for consciousness.  The road became clogged with figures which looked vaguely familiar – ghostly manifestations of unresolved issues, hit-and-run victims at various points during the long trip in the vehicle called alcohol.  They were singing a song, my song; that seemingly immortal lyric which says, “I’ll do it my way.”  They knew the tune well.  I was singing it as they were victimized.  For consciousness, the legacy of despair is the recognition that the last stanza is being sung.  The song was inspired by counterfeit hope, but manipulation was the talent which penned its innumerable stanzas.  Fueled by alcohol, years of practicing the art of manipulation had produced exhaustion and immobility.  Peter had been robbed to pay Paul and Paul had been robbed to pay Peter so many times that both had resolved to make a trophy of my hide.  Their breath was on my neck; I could see a noose suspended from the branch of a tree.  There was no longer a will to pen new stanzas.

At this point a word presented itself to consciousness.  The word was addressed: “You are said to be omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent.  If true, You are not light years away, but here with the prodigal.  If there is a road that does not terminate at the tub, You will have to pick me up and put me on it.  I give up.  God help me!”

This appeal came as an ominous threat to my hope.  A battle ensued in which consciousness was but a spectator.  Hope drew its battle line as it addressed consciousness: “You don’t need help.  Those ghostly manifestations out there need help.  They are the problem.”  Picking up the towel that I had thrown into the ring, the Word responded:  “You are the problem.”  Gravely wounded by the Word, but not yet dead, hope crawled from the field of battle.

In his book, Power of the Renewed Mind, Bill Bansky comments on this battle:

“God doesn’t speak through your mind, into your mind.  He speaks into your spirit that’s born again.  When God speaks to the spirit, the Spirit of God brings the thought into your mind, and then you know that God is speaking to you.”

Surrender gave birth to a new spirit which was to be followed by a renewed mind and a new hope.

Consciousness became aware that the telephone table was within reach.  A pull on the cord brought the receiver to the floor.  Names and numbers were beyond the grasp of both hand and mind.  After a number of misadventures, a finger found the “0” button.  My thickly muttered message to the responding voice was simply, “Alcohol!”  She grasped the situation immediately.  Learning that I was alone she asked if I could take down a phone number.  The long established habit of keeping a ball point pen in my pocket proved useful.  Laboriously and with much repetition, I labeled my arm with the phone number of a detoxification clinic.  Consciousness ended at this point.  During my long trip with alcohol, I had come to know periods of blackout.  This is not to be confused with passing out.  In a blackout one can act, but unconsciously.

With the return of consciousness at 3:00 A.M., I found myself on the porch of an old brick building which resembled an army barracks.  Later I would discover that it was one of several identical buildings which had once been a mental institution.  The buildings were on a large, secluded piece of property twenty minutes by car from my apartment.  It would be difficult to find this place at noon while sober.  The fact of having driven for twenty minutes in a blackout was not disconcerting.  That sot of thing had been part of my repertoire.  What was disconcerting was the realization that God was giving me what I had asked for.  He had taken my request seriously and had responded earnestly.  The plan was that I must follow Him on this new road one step at a time, one day at a time.  But false hope was not yet dead.  As I lingered at the door of the clinic, it strained to find something in the plan that could be manipulated.  There was nothing.  The absoluteness of this absence was depressing.

When called from the tomb by our Lord, Lazarus emerged looking like a mummy.  He was alive but still bound by the wrappings of death.  Similarly, having been resurrected from the floor to a vertical position at the entrance of the clinic, I was wrapped in my depression and essentially immobilized.  Though I lingered with fear and apprehension, this depression was something that could almost be enjoyed when compared with those ghostly manifestations at the end of the old road.  But if one is to cross the threshold and follow Him down a new road, depression is a barrier; a bitter fruit in a bowl designed for gratitude.  On the floor the reins had been relinquished to an omniscient God.  This omniscient and omnipotent God resurrected me and set me in front of doors which marked the beginning of a new road.  Depression is to doubt His wisdom.  Doubt seek alternatives, and alternatives are born of thought.  But there is danger in thinking with a mind whose only song has been, “I’ll do it my way.”  Such a mind entertains but one thought, “Take back the reins.”  A response to this temptation came as consciousness circumvented thought in contemplation of that resurrection from floor to porch; a resurrection hidden in the realm called blackout; movement void of thought and doubt.  Consciousness opted for thoughtlessness and answered temptation with silence.  Temptation relinquished the porch and departed for a time.

With the rejection of temptation, something washed over my depression, then receded.  Depression became the sands of an ocean shore.  At high tide there was “peace beyond all understanding.”  At low tide there was a return of fear and doubt.  As the wash was receding during a low tide, the tempter returned with a thought; “Lay hold of it and pull it back over you as you would a blanket on a cold night.”  Consciousness discerned this to be but a more subtle expression of the earlier thought.  Again temptation was answered with silence and from the depths came a voice, “Lo, I am with you always.   My ebb is the season in which vessels are to empty themselves of self.   My flow cannot fill a full vessel.”  With His words consciousness recognized that something which had washed against depression – a new hope.  I opened the door and entered the clinic.  I was on a new road.

As Lazarus stood mummy-like before the tomb, Jesus addressed those present saying, “Loose him and let him go.”  Upon entering the clinic, the first respondents to His command were the staff physician and a substance abuse therapist.  The therapist’s shift was ending and his relief had already entered the examining room.  Having completed a preliminary examination and blood work, the physician addressed the relief therapist saying,  “Stay on top of him for the duration of your shift.  Don’t let him sleep; he could slip into a coma and expire from alcohol poisoning.”  Apparently Jesus had already commissioned the first therapist.  He addressed his relief saying, “Get about something else.  This one is mine.”  During the following eight hours, and without additional pay, he nurtured this fragile new life.  Sometime late the following day consciousness recognized, received and embraced the loving care and concern with which the therapist had fulfilled his commission.  As I placed my offering in that bowl designed for gratitude, counterfeit hope expired, along with doubt and its depression.  The lemming was in the water.

With the surrender of self-will and death of false hope, sin ceased to be a lifestyle.  The weight of sin which had immobilized me was absorbed by Jesus Christ as He hung on the cross.  His cross is a point of orientation which sets the course for the journey down this new road.  The point of destination is that place where “I shall know just as I am also known.”  It is a place where I shall see Him who is the author of my hope. In his book, A Theology of the Cross, Charles Cousar speaks of death and resurrection:  “Easter does not erase or eclipse the godforsakeness of Good Friday.”  At the beginning of each day I position myself at a place where both His death and glorious resurrection stand between me and the point of destination.  This destination is seen through my sin which hangs there on the cross.  On the cross sin does not invite morbidity, but gratitude – gratitude for the fact that He took it and paid the price.  The price that He paid gives my sin transparency.  The view to the destination is not obscured.  At the beginning of each day I am grateful to find that my sin still hangs there.  That by His strength I had resisted the temptation to take it back.  At the beginning of each day I am grateful that the cross is there as a place to hang that which has been emptied from this vessel.

So what sustains hope, one day at a time, during the journey on this new road?  To focus on that future point of destination, through union with Him at the cross, gives sustenance.  Charles Cousar comments, “The future so impinges on the present as to give it a distinctive buoyancy.”  In this world our pilgrimage is through terrain which would have us to stumble and fall;  “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”  That “distinctive buoyancy” keeps us up and moving, if our focus stays on the destination.  In all things I give thanks, and praise His holy name.  Glory be to God!

I first published my dad’s story in January 2015 in two posts:
Concerning Hope
Concerning Hope part 2

And then I told you how it played out for me:
Grateful

Back then I said I inherited two things at his passing: His hooded sweatshirt and his Bible. But I also inherited his love for Jesus, passed on to me by his prayers.

He is one of a great cloud of witnesses, still sharing his testimony, and I’m hoping it speaks to someone today.

 

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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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Light

Rushing Wind

Wally over at Truth in Palmyra wrote a devotion on revival today. It brought to mind a story I sometimes share when I speak to middle and high school students. The story is from a book entitled Innocence Lost, Hope Regained, by Richie Lambeth (with Scott Tompkins).

The book is a collection of true stories gathered from Richie’s years as a youth pastor.

The story I share with the kids is about a high school boy – a gifted ballplayer – who disappoints himself and his parents by slipping into sin. It’s a good story and the kids – especially the boys – seem to identify with it.

Here’s the part that came to mind this morning:

          I got up and walked to the front of the church. I asked the pastor if I could share something. He knew God was doing something special in me so he said yes. I had always been so concerned about what people thought of me, that it had ruled much of my life. But right now I simply didn’t care. I just wanted to be right with God.

          I went to the pulpit and took the microphone, “I have to ask you all to forgive me for I have sinned a terrible sin. I have betrayed my family, my friends, myself, and most of all, God. I have committed fornication, and I am so sorry. Will you please forgive me?” I didn’t know what to do next as this had never happened in our church, so I started to walk back to my seat. Everything was real quiet and I started to think I had made a big mistake. But then the pastor called me back and put his arm around me.

          “That took a lot of guts Eric,” he said, “And I’d like to give the church a chance to respond.”

          What happened next blew my mind. Some people started speaking out and saying, “We forgive you Eric.”  Some people started crying and some people started softly singing, “Amazing Grace.” God seemed to fill the room. I had never felt His presence like this.

          Then another teenager came up and handed the pastor a bag of weed and confessed that he had been smoking pot. Then an old man came up and confessed to being cruel to his wife. All of a sudden there was a line up to the pulpit and one after another began to confess sin and we prayed for each other. It was the beginning of something incredible at our church. People were being real with each other like they had never done. The love at our church was so thick you could almost cut it…

Scripture says judgment will begin with the house of God, so I’m thinking that until we get it right, there will be no hope for anyone else.

Revival, to me, means removing the log from my own Christian eyes, speaking the truth (about myself and God) in bold, clear, humble, redemptive love and, thereby, unleashing the Rushing Wind.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

Then maybe others will want clean hearts, too.

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faith, Jesus, Light

This is the Flat-Out Truth

Alexandre Prevot, Creative Commons

Alexandre Prevot, Creative Commons

I glanced in the rear view mirror and there he was, pulling up behind me in a red sports car.

It was late summer and my one year stint working as a messenger in a law office was just about up.  I had taken the messenger job while I applied to law schools, just to make sure law was what I wanted to do.

I had dreamed of being Perry Mason when I was a child. I loved how he uncovered the TRUTH by the end of every weekly episode.  I loved how everything worked out fairly and squarely and dramatically. But my Perry Mason dreams were deflated that year. Immersed in that firm – in the day to day nuts and bolts of the law – it seemed that the legal practice was much more about posturing, winning at all costs and making money, money, money than it was about uncovering the truth.

I suppose I could have gone the route of public interest law or public defender or non-profit, but still I would be operating within a system that would make my head explode.

So I said no to the schools that accepted me and took a job as a social worker instead.

But before I left the firm, on that late summer late afternoon, something unforgettable happened.

One of the partners had asked me to drive to Lansing to file a motion with the Michigan Supreme Court.  “You can take my car,” he said.  “But you might want to get the oil changed first.”

Get your own stinking oil changed, I thought, sweetly.  I was barely going to have enough time to get there before it closed as it was.

I took his car, made the hour and a half drive, stood in a long line, filed the motion just-in-time and headed back to the firm.

I was on a fairly deserted stretch of expressway, about an hour from the office, when the engine suddenly seized.  I coasted to the shoulder and stopped.

Glancing in the rearview mirror I saw a red sports car pull up immediately behind me.  Ordinarily I would have been very wary but, oddly, I wasn’t.

We chatted as the very pleasant-looking owner of the sports car drove me to the nearest exit with a service station – about 20 minutes away.  My knight in shining armor just happened to be an attorney.  He told me his name and the name of the firm for which he worked.  He said he specialized in environmental law so I told him about an environmental case one of our attorneys was working on. He gave me a piece of information to relay to that attorney, saying it might be useful to his case.

When we arrived at the service station, Mr. Handsome with the warm, winsome smile arranged to have a tow truck pick up the car.  “You’ll be safe now,” he said as he drove away.  There was something so likable about him that I was a little sad to see him go.

The next day I relayed the info he had given me to Jerry – the attorney on the environmental case.

About two or three weeks later Jerry approached me and asked, “What was the name of that attorney again?”  I told him.  Then he asked, “Are you sure you had the right firm?”  I rummaged through my purse:  “Yep, I wrote it down right here. Why?”

Jerry said that piece of information was about to win his case.  So he called that firm to thank that attorney and was told that there was no one in that firm by that name.

This is why I am CONVINCED that angels sometimes drive red sports cars:

  1. The complete peace and lack of fear I felt in the company of the mystery attorney.
  2. The perfect piece of information he gave at the perfect time.
  3. Jerry was representing a Christian couple who lived in Ohio.

I love how God kills two birds with one stone – looking out for a couple of His kids in Ohio by bringing an angel to the rescue of one of His kids in Michigan – using an attorney who NEVER gets his oil changed.

Three birds, actually, when you consider the impression He no doubt made on Jerry.

You gotta’ love Him.

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