Hilton Head revisited!

Yep, that's us.

Yep, that’s us.

Happy 36th to us (yesterday)! It has been a crazy, fun, daunting, challenging, exciting journey. At times difficult. But we’re here, filled with more love than ever. There is something about a road well-traveled that brings unbelievable contentment.

We had wanted to return to Hilton Head since we honeymooned there 36 years ago. When Sam ended up having a court case in Atlanta right around the weekend of our anniversary, he decided to surprise me. Such perfect timing. Our hotel was still there! Formerly Hyatt, now Marriott. We had heard it was torn down, yet it was still standing beautifully. Our favourite restaurant, the one we walked to almost every evening of our honeymoon (it was that good) was still there as well! So of course we had our anniversary celebratory dinner there, and it was still spectacular.

It’s surreal we are at 36 years. 36 years ago I would have thought 36 would be such an ancient marker. Today, I no longer feel that way. We are now looking forward to the next 36 years. I’ll be 92, Sam will be 95. Go us!

Sooooo grateful to an amazing partner in life. I’m not that easy to live with and he has done it with prodigious grace. Love you babe!

My guy.

My guy.

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36 years later, still hot.

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Then. Loving life.

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Now. Definitely still loving life.

 

Posted in Anniversary, Beach, biking, Empty Nest, Gratitude, Love, Marriage, Travel | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

seems so obvious

IMG_0815Some things regarding politics and Christianity seem so obvious to me. Such as, hateful and mean rhetoric is not something Jesus espoused, yet it permeates political speech. Or, how does ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ not translate into a generosity of spirit to those considered ‘others?’ And the fear mongering is out of control. Everywhere you look people are preying on the fears of those who have never quite understood, that perfect love drives out fear. Fear is a manipulative motivator that plays on the apathy and ignorance of people. Fear is promulgated by those who are not just ‘in the world,’ but ‘are of the world.’ Christians should not allow themselves to be in a position to help stir up hatred and fear toward any group, yet, there they are. Jesus taught, ‘love your enemies, and do good to those who hate.’ Juxtapose that against this political campaign season. It doesn’t jive one iota. This doesn’t apply to just the rhetoric either, it applies to policy as well.

I don’t want my heart filled with bigotry and prejudice against the ‘others.’ Consequently, I cannot be a part of a party that permits, without consequence, the hateful, ignorant, bigoted, and mysogynistic leadership. At times it is difficult enough for me to keep myself in check. They say you are known by the company you keep, and the last thing I need is guilt by association in the eyes of those looking for a better way. I want to reflect the one who said, ‘…but the greatest of these is love.’

“Finally… whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, …if there is any excellence and if anything is worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.”

Posted in Bigotry, Empty Nest, Fear, Love, Peace & Politics, Religion & Christianity | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ari’s turning 26?!!

This morning at 6:06 AM my second baby really did turn 26! It’s ridiculous how fast time travels! As I write this, it brings tears to my eyes; not from sadness, or worry, or any of those negative emotions; just overwhelming gratitude for the beautiful young woman she has become. She’s so full of hopes and beautiful dreams, and strong desire to simply make the world a better place in each moment. Everything she sets her mind to she does well. She’s a thoughtful friend, an amazing chef and baker, a wonderful daughter. Her compassion drives her, demonstrating sacrificial love doesn’t mean a burden, rather it creates joy. When my mom was in the hospital and rehab these past few months, both my daughters called to ask what they could do to help. They took time off from their jobs and traveled at their expense to help out, giving me and my mom wonderful support.

Ariana, I hope your birthday celebration in Montauk, Long Island is a wonderful celebration of you!  We love you and we look forward to celebrating with you too!

 

 

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On the fog of grief

A wonderful book by Dennis Apple, (a man I have never met, but my former neighbor & friend knows him well as a result of intense grief in her life) speaks beautifully on the subject of grief following the sudden death of his young son. After what my family has gone through since the beginning of the year I have learned that grief comes in many forms, and through many different circumstances. This excerpt from his book has so much to digest:

“WHERE IS GOD? 4/ 2/ 91 Tonight Buelah {his wife} asked the question that’s been bothering me for a long time: Does prayer really matter? Does God care about losses like this? Is He punishing us for something? I’m not sure of anything anymore. I simply don’t care! The most precious thing has been taken away from me, and I want to say to God, “OK—you win! Whatever you want, go ahead and take it. I don’t have the heart to care any more. There’s nothing left—go ahead and shoot me, too, if that’s what you want. You could have stopped this, but you didn’t. You let our precious son die, and here we are, empty-handed and broken.” If you go back and check the weather report for ZIP code 66062 on February 6, 1991, you’ll find that it was an extremely foggy morning. I noticed the dense, gray fog when I first awakened. I had no idea the fog would become symbolic of the deep spiritual fog I would soon enter.

The night before Denny died, Buelah and I knelt by the place where he was resting, laid our hands on his head, and prayed earnestly for his healing. As a pastor, I had done this countless times for people in hospitals, nursing homes, and in my office at the church. Since childhood, I had believed that prayer changes things and had listened to countless people witness to the answers they received in response to prayer. I had always trusted in the words of Jesus found in Scripture: “I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11: 24). However, on February 6, 1991, everything I believed about prayer was challenged when God did not respond to my most desperate prayer. As I recall the events of that morning, I noticed the thick fog and could barely see the neighbor’s house as I looked out our bedroom window. I prepared a bowl of cereal and then checked on Denny. It was at that moment when I discovered he was not conscious, not breathing, and it wasn’t long until, as described earlier, it was obvious that he was gone. In that tragic moment I felt as though God had abandoned me, and I identified with Jesus’ words when He screamed out from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27: 46). I would scream out those words several times in the days to come as the fog enveloped me and my family. I would never have said this out loud to anyone, but in my mind I had the mistaken idea that tragedies like this simply don’t happen to those of us who are ministers. I’m not quite sure where this notion came from, but I suppose it has something to do with the Old Testament story of the first Passover as found in Exodus 11-12. The children of Israel gained protection from the death angel as they placed the blood of the Passover lamb over their doors as instructed by Moses. The firstborn of all Egyptian families were slain on that fateful night, but the faithful Israelite families were safe. I thought we were safe too! Looking back, I have told others that I had the “Passover mentality” but realize now that being a minister does not exempt me from tragedy.

After serving nearly 40 years as a pastor, I’ve observed the different reactions of people just after they have experienced unexpected trauma in their lives. Some are drawn closer to God, and their faith is renewed as they move to a deeper level in their relationship with Him. On the other hand, there are just as many, if not more, who feel as though God has let them down when they needed help the most. Their cry, like mine, is “Why have you forsaken me?” My disillusion about the care and protection from God is very apparent as you read through my journal, especially the entry on March 9, 1991. It had been exactly one month since we had buried our son, so I made my way out to the cemetery alone. I stopped the car and walked the few feet to his grave. As I approached, I noticed a new grave. Someone else had been buried at the foot of Denny’s grave, and I immediately noticed that it was Rhoda’s grave. Rhoda was a sweet senior adult who died just days after Denny, but no one from the church office had notified me of her death. Perhaps they knew she was buried at my son’s feet, and they had compassion on me and kept her death from me. I knew her story and had been making pastoral calls on her for several weeks prior to her death. Years earlier she had been involved in a serious auto accident and, as a result, had to be given a blood transfusion in order to save her life. In those days there was only limited knowledge about HIV, and the screening procedures were very primitive compared to today. Many years after her accident, she was called by the Red Cross and asked to come in to their office so she could be tested for HIV. The results of the test revealed she had been given blood tainted by HIV. Over the years I visited her and watched as she grew weaker. I walked around both graves and thought about the unfairness of it all. 3/ 9/ 91 I stood by both graves, raised my fist in the air, and said, “Oh, God, you’ve got some explaining to do about this!” I was angry, confused, and doubted that God cared much about the innocent victims of these senseless tragedies and mistakes. I was still in shock, trying to understand all that had happened.

Perhaps this is a good place to talk about shock and what it felt like for me. I believe shock is a merciful thing God does for us when we experience the loss of someone we love. I compare it to the Novocain a dentist injects into a patient’s gum in preparation for treatment. The dentist is careful to numb the area so the patient feels no pain while the dentist does his or her work—usually with a drill. God protects us by placing us in deep shock when we experience tragedy. The length of time this shock lingers will vary from person to person, depending upon the circumstances of the death and the relationship with the deceased person. The “soul-numbing” effect of shock allows us to somehow make it through the planning of the funeral as well as the visitation and funeral ritual itself. Quite often the onlookers will observe the lack of emotion of a person in shock and exclaim, “Did you notice how well he [she] is doing? I didn’t see him [her] crying at all!” Little do they know that the survivors are in a deep, soul-numbing state and are not able to feel the full effects of their loss—yet. Looking through my journal, I noticed it was between six and eight weeks when the shock began to wane and the full force of our loss began to hit us. My wife and I were still in a daze. We were trying to understand what had happened to us, trying to make sense of this overwhelming nightmare. As you can see from the journal entry above, it was almost one month after Denny’s death when she looked at me through her tears and asked the question I also had been asking myself: “Does prayer really matter?” We would struggle with that question for several years. In those early days, I was having a difficult time concentrating, but I found myself reaching for books such as Philip Yancey’s Disappointment with God and Harold Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People. I wanted desperately to know why this had happened. At the same time, I struggled in my attempts to read the Bible and finally came to discover that I, too, was disappointed and angry with God. This became obvious whenever I heard someone talking about their guardian angels. Beliefs I had previously held about God were now coming up for a vote once again. On several occasions I could barely contain my anger as I heard others discuss how they narrowly escaped being killed in an accident because their “guardian angels” were watching over and protecting them. I tried my best to join them in their good fortune, but inwardly I was thinking, Where was my son’s guardian angel on the night of February 6? I was disgusted by their naive assumptions. I wanted to tell them that guardian angels were in the same category as Santa Claus and the Easter bunny.

As a pastor, I found myself in a spiritual dilemma. How could I continue my duties as pastor, trying to help others, when deep down I was strongly offended and feeling let down by a God who had seemingly ignored us in our time of deepest need? At first I decided to keep this spiritual dilemma a secret. I made my way through each day by performing the duties that were expected of me, visiting those in hospitals and nursing centers, counseling troubled persons in my office, performing funerals and weddings. In short, I was trying to minister to others but also attempting to deal with the question my wife had posed to me about whether or not prayer really matters. I held that question in my mind as I journeyed through those months—even years. Looking back, I call this my time of desert wanderings, and I’ve noticed that many other grievers go through this as well. To my way of thinking at the time, God had walked away from me, and I felt like an abandoned child. Dust formed on my Bible, and my faith was at an all-time low. I prayed only when it was expected of me, and I often walked out of hospital rooms after praying for the sick, wondering if God truly had an interest in the well-being of the person I had just prayed for or if this was simply a waste of everyone’s time. I’ve told others that at that time I felt like an offended child who had just quarreled with his father and announced he was leaving home. However, after packing the suitcase and opening the back door to leave, the child suddenly realizes he has no place to go. I felt as though I was hanging out near the back door of my faith. Everything felt dull, dead, lifeless. While others seemed to enjoy life in high-definition color, mine was like the steady rain on a gray tombstone at midnight. I had no direction, no ambition, and I didn’t care. Once in a while someone would ask me what I was experiencing and what it was like to grieve so hard. I thought about it and tried to come up with adjectives that could help describe this horror to them. I tried telling them, but there were no words to describe this sort of tragedy. The best I could compare it to was to say that it might be as if I were an astronaut on a spacewalk all alone while others were safe in the mother ship. When an astronaut goes for a space walk, he or she is always tethered to the mother ship by a cord that supplies the oxygen and electrical power needed for the tasks and well-being of the astronaut. I felt as though I was on a spacewalk and found myself without the umbilical cord connecting me to the mother ship. I was floating aimlessly in space. This continued for years, and I felt as though God was gone from me forever. The words of Job after he had lost everything seemed true for me: “If I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him. When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him” (Job 23: 8-9). I was alone with my questions. I didn’t know that God was doing severe work on my soul while I was still in the fog. In the spring of 1993, just two years into my grief journey, I was still struggling and simply trying to exist. The local hospital was offering a special hospice training course for ministers and chaplains, and I decided to take advantage of this training. It was a huge mistake. I sat and listened to stories of people dying and how to help them in their final days, and I left the training with more anxiety than I had before, but I didn’t know what to do with these feelings. I returned to my office and tried to help out with the upcoming Easter pageant. It was a large production that required the work of more than 500 people. Every staff member was expected to help, and I had taken on the job of coordinating the shuttle bus drivers as well as the traffic directors, all of whom worked outside the church sanctuary. It was simply too much for me to go into the sanctuary and watch the scenes portraying the death of God’s Son. When I heard the music and watched the drama, all I could think about was the death of my own son, so I chose to work outdoors and stay clear of those reminders.

On this particular day, April 7, 1993, I needed to talk with a university student who was helping me coordinate the workers outside. When I called and tried to reach him, I was told he was in choir practice and that the choir was practicing in the main sanctuary. I was told he would be available at the conclusion of choir practice at 1: 30 P.M. I waited until 1: 15 and made my way over to the sanctuary with a very heavy heart. I walked in through a back door and sat in the shadows, under the balcony. The choir was assembled off to the side, and neither the choir nor the director had noticed my slipping in one of the back doors to hear them finish up. The front of the church looked like something from the set of Universal Studios. Artists had been at work for several weeks, assembling huge decorative screens and sets in order to give the appropriate background and tell the story of the last week of Christ’s life. I sat there alone in the darkness, wondering if it was all a farce! I thought the choir had come to the end of its practice, and a quick look at my watch told me it was time for practice to conclude. However, the director had said to the choir, “I know we’re about out of time, but I want you to go over one more song before we dismiss.” I didn’t pay much attention to the song he had selected and was impatient that he was holding the students beyond the allotted time. As I fidgeted in my seat and wished he would hurry, the pianist played a strong introduction. Then I heard the first notes of the choir as they nearly shouted, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you!” These opening words shot across the sanctuary like an F-16 fighter jet making a low pass. The atmosphere suddenly changed. I knew immediately that God had placed me in this location for a special reason, and in a sanctuary that seated almost 4,000, I sat alone as a congregation of one. God had my full attention. I knew from years of Bible study that when God wants to say something important, He always begins with “fear not.” The lyrics were taken from Isaiah 43: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God…. You are precious and honored in my sight, and … I love you…. Do not be afraid, for I am with you (vv. 1-5). When they finished singing, there was a holy hush in the sanctuary, and I was almost afraid to breathe. God had just spoken to me, and I felt as if I should remove my shoes—I was on holy ground. I sat for several minutes, holding my white handkerchief to my eyes, wiping away the tears. Things were different now. Until this moment I had felt abandoned by God—alone in a fog of grief and suffering. Through this choir and His own words, God had revealed His love and concern for me. I felt Him saying to me, I know where you are and what you’re going through. I want you to know that I love you and that I am with you. God was with me! The knowledge that God was with me made all the difference in the world! David, in Ps. 23, wrote it and I had read it a thousand times: “for you are with me” (v. 4). I now had a personal confirmation at a time when I needed it most. God was indeed with me. This life-changing experience reminded me of the experience Isaiah had with God at a pivotal moment in his life. Isaiah experienced the presence of God in the midst of his grief after King Uzziah died. I had preached a number of sermons from this passage, but since Denny’s death I now see it in a different light. Isaiah had entered the Temple at a very low time in his life. The opening words of Isa. 6: 1 speak to me: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, seated on a throne.” It is believed the prophet Isaiah was a cousin to King Uzziah, so the untimely death of the king caused Isaiah to experience a deep sense of loss. When the Lord appeared to the prophet, everything changed, and it was in effect a time of commissioning for Isaiah. God asked, “Whom shall I send? And who shall go for us?” Isaiah obediently responded by saying, “Here am I. Send me” (v. 8). This experience, while not on the same level as Isaiah’s experience, was something of a call for me, and my ministry began to take a new turn. People were approaching me for guidance and counsel. In the days ahead I became more open about my doubts and questions, about my internal pain and homesickness for my son. As I shared this pain with others in the church, a new ministry opened to me. As one of my colleagues said to me one day, “Dennis, I believe God is using you to teach our church how to grieve.”

This holy experience was taking me in a new spiritual direction. However, I still had the questions about prayer in my mind: “Does God really care about our prayers? Does prayer really make a difference?” I pondered this for several more months and tried to gain more understanding. Gradually, I came to the place in which I accepted the fact that we live in a fallen world, a place where the rain falls on the just and the unjust. In the midst of my spiritual dilemma about prayer, I came to a crossroads and asked myself two questions: Do I believe there’s a sovereign God who knows and sees all, including my suffering over the loss of our son? Am I going to trust in this sovereign God whom I don’t always understand? I pondered these questions for a long time and finally came to the place in which I said through my tears, “Yes, I believe in Him, and yes, I will trust Him.” These days, when I pray for something or someone, I’m trying to follow the teachings and example of our Savior, Jesus. I follow His instructions in Matt. 7: 7 to ask, seek, and knock. However, I’m keenly aware He prayed earnestly, even three times, for the cup of suffering to be removed. Eventually He came to a place, as we all must, where He bowed at the altar of God’s will: *“Yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22: 42). After my Isa. 43 experience with God in the sanctuary, gradually the questions I had asked previously didn’t seem so important any more. Our great God had noticed my pain, my suffering, and used a choir to communicate this wonderful truth to me. I was not alone! I still felt as though I was in the dense fog, but I knew I was not alone any longer. Driving a car in the fog can be tricky, and there are a few things you need to remember. First, drive slowly and keep your headlights on low beam. Another trick I’ve learned is to pay attention to the white line on the right side of the road. That line is a reference point that will keep me on the road and in the correct lane. When it comes to the fog of grief, the rules are similar: go slowly and give yourself plenty of time. Keep your eyes trained on the lines that have served you well in the past. It may seem as though God has forsaken you, but He is still there with you, even though the fog may hide Him for a while.”

Life After Death by Dennis Apple

*just in case you’re wondering, God didn’t cause this tragedy, that is never His will.

Posted in Empty Nest, Grief, Grieving, Health, Heartbreak, Spirituality, Tragedy | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Good grief and what’s really important

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Mom & everybody boarding this little sea plane to get the birds-eye view of Coeur d’Alene

My mom said the other day ‘there’s nothing like paralysis to make you hyper-aware of what’s really important and what to let go.’ That’s a theme that has been on my mind for some time now, long before 2016 started. Not to minimize my Mom’s new paralysis in any way, yet in life we often encounter some form of figurative paralysis in all shapes and sizes. It is in this grief or grieving process we are moved to sort out what is truly important and what to let go. The grieving process is necessary to make sense of life. We sort through trash and all the treasures, leading hopefully to a life of truth and integrity.

Our of my best memories over the past 12 months was having my Mom (while in great pain) and Dad travel across the country to attend Samuel and Sarah’s wedding. The following day we drove to Idaho to the little city of Coeur d’Alene which surrounds a beautiful mountain lake. When Sam asked if anyone was interested in a sea plane tour of the area my Mom was a definite yes! I’m so glad we did that. The whole weekend was abounding in joy. Today that sea plane ride may be a little more difficult, but I believe with a ‘can do’ attitude much and more is possible.

Most of us have seen incredible art, whether in a gallery or in a photo, where literal trash is repurposed into a thing of beauty. The creative process undoubtedly took time; took a different way of viewing things; took an imagination to see something ugly transform into something of beauty. Some say ‘time heals all wounds.’ I don’t believe that. My Mom still tears up talking about her Daddy 26 years later. I do believe that in time we often find beauty has been transformed out of ashes. How and when that happens is different for everyone. We cannot really know the depth of someone’s grief. We can be with them in and through it.

My Mom and Dad’s world has been rocked, but they are still here and holding on to ‘the rock.’ Psalm 78:35 – And they remembered that God was their rock, And the Most High God their Redeemer. We are grateful and blessed to be walking this journey with them. We are excited to continue walking with them creating beauty along the way.

 

Posted in Beauty, Empty Nest, Gratitude, Grief, Grieving, Joy, Mom, Paralysis | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happiest of Birthdays!!! **29**

 

IMG_2564HAPPY BIRTHDAY ALLI! I am so grateful for you, and thrilled to see and know the person you have become. You are a talented, compassionate, intelligent woman, capable of great empathy. < In a world in which empathy is in short order.  As always, you inspire me to be a better person. Thank you for the gift you are to our family, and for this great gift to our family…..

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We love you!

Posted in Birthday, Children, Compassion, Empty Nest, Family, Love, Mom | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mom! You can do this! We all love you and support you! 78 is great! 

Happiest of birthdays to the most amazing woman, my Mom.

Image 2 - Version 2How do you sum up anyone’s life in just a few words? Mom’s life has been a complex journey through childhood, marriage (58 years and counting), motherhood (particularly when you have 5 little ones under 8 early on), grand motherhood and her faith. And her latest challenge as of 4 weeks ago, learning to live without the use of her legs.

I will attempt, on this her birthday, to celebrate her spirit, her character, her spunkification (a new word we coined over the past weeks), and the rich life of a greatly beloved woman.

She’s a cool Grandma. She’s clever, she has an amazing laugh, think shoulder shaking, she is one of those people who know how to love unconditionally. She is luminous in her love for others.

My Mom is beautiful in spite of her pain and her recent medical issues. Beyond her pain and heartache there is a youthfulness about her. Especially when she breaks out in one of those shoulder shaking bouts of laughter. We are looking forward to the return of the shaking laughter!

It has been an honor to spend the past few weeks with my Mom. Of course, a tour of rehabs and hospitals is the best idea of a great time, said no one ever. Nevertheless, it has been a wonderful blessing to talk, share memories, encourage, show love, and advocate for her. It has also been an unintended opportunity to spend time with siblings, family, and friends. A time to witness how well-loved she is.

‘In a way, life is a mosaic. God gathers all pieces, and fragments, our gifts, and our talents, our pain and heartache. He takes memories and experiences and assembles them into a beautiful work of art that declares the greatness of His plans and purposes for each of us.’ All of the countless moments in her life have joined and intersected to show us her true spirit and life. Her astounding sense of humor, in a situation that would beat anybody down, is evident to all who came into contact with her, from the custodial staff to the Neurosurgeons. Across the weeks there were many who cared so gently for my Mom, and others who continue to do so. We are grateful to them all, but none can compare to Wilma. We met her at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. She is a woman of faith who can give a pep talk like none other. We hope to carry her spirit with us in the weeks ahead. She will not be forgotten. Mom loved her.

Mom only loves unconditionally; everybody. Her strength is greater than I think any of us realized. She has dealt with pain for decades. At times it would get the best of her, but she continued to love. There aren’t many that can love so freely. She loves hard, never leaving anything until tomorrow to say or do. She fully embraces the people who are in her life. Having this time with family opens our eyes to the greatness of her soul. Not only does she whisper over and over her love for each of us. But her need to lift her weak arms and wrap them around us when we see her is comforting. She loves the wonderful people who have married into our family. They are her family and she loves them like her own. We are all grateful and privileged to give back to her a portion of what she has given to us.

My kids with my Mom & Dad Image 2 - Version 2 Image 28 IMG_4323 Image 16 Image 14 Image 13 IMG_4326

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She is deeply loved. And she loves deeply.

I wish for her on her birthday and beyond, the joy and peace that passes all understanding.

Love you Mom.

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Refuse fear, choose mercy

By Jeanne Damoff       via Ann Voskamp

What she said…^

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In a World of Increasing Terrorism, What is the Biggest Threat to the Church?

When Jeanne Damoff traveled to Kazakhstan in 2013 to speak at a conference for mothers of disabled children, she wondered how she would be received. She’d never shared her story of beauty from brokenness with women from a vastly different culture, many of them Muslim. But they not only listened, they welcomed her into their hearts and homes, and God began to dismantle the tidy boxes and boundaries she didn’t know she’d built. That happy shift in perspective has opened opportunities to embrace a wealth of unexpected “neighbors,” both around the globe and in her own backyard, where she currently volunteers with Seek the Peace, promoting literacy, building friendships, and serving alongside refugees resettled in Dallas. It’s the most humbling grace to welcome my brave and wise friend, Jeanne, to the farm’s front porch today…

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“Who is my neighbor?”

A lawyer asked Jesus that question, and as Jesus often did, He answered with a story.

A man was robbed and left for dead. Two religious leaders passed him by, but one man — a Samaritan — saw him and made a costly choice.

He chose mercy.

It’s hard to make sense of a lot that’s happening in the world right now, and the temptation is to follow the example of those religious leaders — to put on blinders and keep walking straight ahead, because what can we do in the face of so much suffering and fear?

Fear is a fog that clouds the brain and freezes the heart.

And before we know it? We’re like the lawyer in that story, desiring to justify ourselves in the limits we set on love.

A friend of mine sent me several reports from a Hungarian couple who are missionaries near Budapest and served the influx of Syrian refugees that arrived at the Keleti train station.

After days of providing food, clothing, and services to exhausted and grateful families, the wife observed a gradual shift in the appearance and behavior of some of the arrivals. “One thing we all have noticed. Some of these people looked different than the group yesterday, and all last week. Today’s migrants were mostly men, some who did not look that needy. Sometimes it was rather frightening. What do all these men want to do in Europe? We still served them with love.”

Reports like this weigh heavy on my heart, until I remember one, unchanging, overriding truth.

None of this comes as a surprise to God. And really? It shouldn’t surprise us, either.

Ever since our first parents were banished from Eden, humans have been aching for Home.

The biblical narrative reveals a long line of sojourners and exiles searching for a place to belong. From Abraham to the early Christians dispersed by persecution, God’s people have known what it means to be strangers in a strange land.

Human history is one long, epic story of the desperately needy seeking Refuge.

And God’s hand has been evident every messy step of the way. Indeed, God told Abraham it was His intention to bless all the families of the earth through him.

Though the scattered Christians probably would have preferred to remain in the Pentecostal glow of the Jerusalem church, God wanted them to carry the seeds of the gospel far and wide.

Sometimes we have to be shaken into our purpose.

We like our borders.

We crave stability and safety — the kind we can build a fence around and protect with security systems and strong locks on the doors.

But God consistently calls His children to live generous, hospitable lives.

With the doors open.

And when we choose to hide inside our blockades, He lovingly intervenes.

I recently heard a man say the biggest threat to the church isn’t the world’s brokenness getting in. She can build walls to keep the world out.

The biggest threat to the church is that she will succeed in building those walls.

We are His body, and regardless of what our governments do or don’t do, the church must welcome all comers. And yes, this means risk. It always has.

T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral is a play about the 12th-century martyrdom of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. As King Henry II’s soldiers approached, some of the priests locked the doors to the sanctuary in an effort to save his life, but Thomas commanded,

“Unbar the doors! Throw open the doors!

I will not have the house of prayer, the church of Christ,

The sanctuary, turned into a fortress.

The Church shall protect her own, in her own way, not

As oak and stone; stone and oak decay,

Give no stay, but the Church shall endure.

The church shall be open, even to our enemies. Open the door!”

The doors were opened — and Thomas was murdered.

In Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear, Scott Bader-Saye wrote, “Thomas knows that in some way his martyrdom will be gathered up into God’s purpose, made part of God’s great ‘figuring’ of history . . . . Eliot places in the mouth of Thomas his own conviction that God’s good and joyful purposes will finally be made complete. It is this conviction, this hope, this trust that allows Thomas to let go of the fear of losing his life.”

So, here’s what I want to know. What are we afraid of?

Are we afraid of suffering?

Because God has promised we will suffer, and when we suffer according to His will, we fellowship with Jesus.

Are we afraid of death?

Because death will eventually come to us all, but God is big enough to keep us in our obedience until His purposes have been accomplished in and through our lives.

Are we afraid for our children?

Because the best gift we can give them is to follow Christ’s example in costly obedience.

Are we afraid of engaging the “stranger”?

Have we become so settled and complacent that we’ve forgotten we ourselves were once separated from Christ, strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world?

Have we forgotten that —as long as we are here on earth — we, too, are refugees?

Are we afraid that they will invade our space?

That our comfortable, tidy church communities will get messy?

Because our churches don’t belong to us in the first place and were never meant to be comfortable or tidy. If the gospel is anything, it’s messy.

Do we really believe Jesus meant what He said? “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”

That Hungarian missionary wrote of the men who didn’t appear to be in need, “We still served them with love.” Then she added, “The best part of today was to see the body of Christ coming alive.”

But we’re not in Hungary. We’re watching the Syrian refugee crisis unfold from afar. How can we be “the body of Christ coming alive”?

What can we do to help?

First, we can refuse fear.

Politicians may leverage fear for their own purposes, but the church doesn’t trade in that currency. If we claim to be a people of love, then we need to embrace Jesus’ definition of that word. (John 15:13)

We can petition and pray for our government leaders. They need wisdom and courage, and they need to know we’re willing to do our part.

We can confess our selfishness, repent, and give sacrificially of our time and resources.

We can find out if there are refugees resettled in our area (there are in mine), and look for opportunities to get involved.

We can donate money or requested items through WeWelcomeRefugees.com or other ministries.

We can present our bodies as living sacrifices to God, lay down our willing yes, and then keep our eyes and ears open, because He will take us up on the offer.

We weren’t created for self-seeking comfort and ease. It lulls us to sleep.

We were made to shine light in darkness, to love and serve our enemies, and to wash the feet of the least.

Like the Samaritan, we can choose mercy. And if we don’t, can we honestly claim to love our neighbor?

Terrorism is on the rise, and the world is facing the worst refugee crisis since World War II, but none of this comes as a surprise to God.

And nothing is too difficult for Him.

We can be on the right side of His story — knowing our lives are gathered up into God’s purposes, and flinging our doors wide for such a time as this.

Because Refuge still waits with His nail-scarred hands stretched wide to welcome the sojourner Home.

Set our foundations on the holy hills;

Our city found

Firm on the bedrock of the Truth; our wills

Settle and ground.

Cause us to stand to our own conscious clear;

Cause us to be the thing that we appear.

~Amy Carmichael

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Jeanne Damoff is a daughter, sister, wife, mom, mother-in-law, and grandmother. Light has swallowed up her darkness, and she loves to help people discover beauty and purpose even in their most broken places. Her ambition is to be small in her own eyes, to be present in every moment, to see God’s image in every person, and to discover His gifts everywhere.

Jeanne is an exquisite author and speaker, volunteers with local refugee and special needs ministries, serves as intercessor and counselor for The Lulu Tree, and powerfully blogs for First Aid Arts and at The View From Here. Jeanne and I pray you’ll consider bravely & boldly joining us in truly miraculous places like Seek the Peace and First Aid Arts and the work of WeWelcomeRefugees.com.

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Advent Declaration on Gun Violence

Source: Advent Declaration on Gun Violence

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Falwell, Muslims & the Offense of the Cross

Another beautiful response. #hopeful

Faith Improvised

Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of Liberty University, an evangelical Christian institution, ignited a firestorm in his comments about carrying guns and killing Muslims:

“I’ve always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in,” he says, the rest of his sentence drowned out by loud applause while he said, “and killed them.”

“I just wanted to take this opportunity to encourage all of you to get your permit. We offer a free course,” he said. “Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.”

Some Christians may feel that comments like these are acceptable. Others who wouldn’t say such things aloud may share the sentiment.

We see a world in chaos. We see mass murder and violence. We hear of plans for domination in the name of Islam and our fears are ignited. We grow suspicious of…

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