Monday, October 20, 2014

In the Midst of Life........!

It was the worst of days, AND it was the BEST of days!  It was the day we buried my mother just a few weeks ago.  My mother was having the BEST of days as she began her new life in eternity with Jesus.  I wouldn't wish her back for anything!  Honestly, it was also the worst of days!  It was the end of having a parent on this earth.  I would never again hear her voice or kiss her cheek.  I would never again look into those beautiful blue eyes and know she loves me no matter what! Did I mention I HATE death! I even think God means for us to hate death. It's part of understanding how much we need Jesus!
The memorial service was in the morning and the graveside several hours drive away in the afternoon. We have lots of family!  I have 3 sisters and 2 brothers (one is in Heaven).  We all married, and my mother considered the children she got by marriage as much hers as the ones she birthed.  There were 21 grandchildren - all but 4 married.   There are close to 40 great-grandchildren with several on the way. All in all in round numbers it's right at 90 immediate family, and all were there for the memorial service except for 2 moms who had week old newborn babies, and one grandson's wife who is having a baby soon.  It's hard to be lonely in such a crowd of loving family! 
We were all walking into the service together, and my brother told me to go first with our sons, their wives, and our grandchildren.  Because John was helping with the service, I was alone.  I reached my hand back for a granddaughter to walk with me. Only one saw and took my hand. She not only walked with me to the front row, but she sat as close to me as glue the entire time hugging me and being hugged.
On a day like that day when death intrudes into life is when it's easy to be lonely even in a crowd of loving family. I was that kind of lonely, and I needed the touch of a hand and hugs. God sent me that hand and those hugs!  Thank you, Vania!  And, thank you all for your hands and hugs on one of the BEST-worst days of my life!
There's a lesson for my heart here that reaches out:  there is always someone who needs a hand and a hug but it takes eyes to see and a heart to understand!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Pink Clouds and Popsicles!

Happy October's Mother's Day, Jade Hooper Holmes! 

One of God's beautiful masterpieces in the sky as Vania & I were on our way to Mission Hospital yesterday... I told Vania look God made the clouds pink for you...She's my daughter-in-love, and she's a rock star mother juggling a late teens special needs daughter, a typical 3-year-old, two other boys (11 and 15) along with a dog named Reko, a black kitty named Esmeralda, Sally the coon dog, Mr. Turtle, assorted cousins, and sometimes a snake or two plus her SuperHubby and (Great-Granny) Nanny (age 98) all in the same little house tucked under the trees, rhodendron, and laurel beside a mountain stream.

Daughter Vania has had serious cardio issues since her birth 17+ years ago.  When she caught an upper respiratory infection recently, she got clobbered especially hard.  Finally two days ago she ended up at Mission Memorial Children's Hospital for respiratory and oxygen therapy. 

On the way Jade and Vania were stunned by the beauty of the sky.  Pink is Vania's favorite color, hands down!  Jade posted on Facebook what she told Vania: Vania - Look!  God made the clouds pink just for you!

Another post describes a midnight popsicle party with pictures!  ... in the hospital! 

October is Down Syndrome Awareness and Celebration month.  I celebrate the blessing Down Syndrome is in my life in the beauty of our sweet Vania and her very special mom!        (published with permission)

Friday, September 5, 2014

Kick the Can Down the Road?

What do we do with a heart so sad and scared that we hardly know how to stand under the weight?  What do we do with well-meaning advice to Buck up, my friend! or You just need to trust God!  It’s NOT that easy!  When a heart is bruised and broken, when the pain is crushing, and all but too great to bear – that IS when we are cast upon the rocky shore of keeping on!  What is a Christian to do with such a heart at such a time?  Denial kicks that painful can down the road for a short time perhaps but does nothing for the ole achy, breaky heart!

A game dredged from long ago memory is Kick the Can.  It’s a poor man’s Kickball!  Any metal can will do, and it’s played with two teams kicking the can and then running the bases to score runs baseball style.  Like most other games involving skill and balls, I certainly didn’t shine.  I didn’t even care all that much about shining!  I’d much rather read a book or watch others play.  It’s more difficult to handle life as a kick-the-can exercise.  There is no comfort in kicking a painful can down the road!  There is no closure in kicking the pain away temporarily only to have the waves of grief and pain plummet the heart and soul all over again in short order.

 What if some well-meaning someone counsels:  You just need to live in the truth that God is in
control and trust Him.  That is a very true statement, but it’s a process hard won in the daily battle with pain and loss!  It’s a terrible burden to dump such a seemingly self-righteous platitude on shoulders already slumped under the heavy burden of unexpected loss or the burden of constant barrage and assault. How is such counsel helpful to the grieving child whose parent is dying?  How is such advice helpful to a parent suddenly thrust into the world of special needs with their child?  What good does it do to speak such words in the face of devastating loss and even death?  What help does such a quick prescription offer in the midst of unrelenting, bone-wearing care-giving?  The blanks to fill in are almost endless and tailor-made for each individual sorrow.

Scripture has at least two examples of this sort of spiritual (?) admonition in the face of unrelenting, heart-deep suffering:  Job’s friends (Job 16) and the man who was born blind (John 9).  Job’s friends did come to sit in the town dump on top of the ashes with him, but they offered little in the way of REAL comfort and even implied that somehow Job must deserve his plight.  The man born blind received his sight when Jesus healed him, but some asked, Who sinned – this man or his parents – that he was born blind?  NICE! With friends like that………….
There is one more instructive Biblical example of desperation:  the father whose son had overwhelming special needs in Mark 9.  Dad is desperate for help and comes to Jesus as his last hope.  He begs Jesus to help – not even sure Jesus can.  He says, If you can do something for my son …   Jesus assures Dad that He can and will help.  Dad grasps at that glimmer of hope and says, Lord, I believe you can and then just as quickly falling back into despair that still clutches at the hope Jesus offers, Help my doubt! (Mark 9:24)  That may be all there is, but it is enough because of the One we come to for help and hope:

Help, God—the bottom has fallen out of my life! Master, hear my cry for help! … Listen to my cries for mercy.   -- Psalm 130:1-2, MSG

We don’t need to kick the can down the road! 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Finger Pointing when God Doesn't Heal

I haven't forgotten how I felt on that fall afternoon many years ago. Some weeks prior to that afternoon my husband and I were involved in a pretty serious car accident.  The injuries I sustained required a difficult, painful time of recovery.  There was nothing easy about the following months but that's a story for another day!  Many people were praying for me and our family asking Jehovah Rapha, the God Who Heals, to show up and do what only He can - make me well again quickly. 

That afternoon a friend stopped by our home.  She asked if she could pray for me.  I was happy for all the prayers I could get!  She prayed and asked God to intervene and bring healing and restoration. When she finished her prayer, she immediately asked, Are you healed  I knew I wasn't.  No healing miracle took place during her prayer. I said, No.

That was when the finger pointing began.  When I said NO, she said, Well, you just don't have enough faith.  I was astonished and offended. 

I pushed back with a question:  That's an interesting conclusion for you to draw.  Tell me, how is it that I am not healed because I do not have enough faithI know that you recently prayed for Mr. X [a certain famous someone who had a spinal cord injury after being shot].  You went to see him just like you came to see me today.  You prayed for him just like you prayed for me today.  He is still in his wheelchair.  He also was not healed when you prayed.  Is that what you told him after your prayer - that he did not have enough faith? 

O, No!  she said.  He wasn't healed because it didn't serve God's greatest good for him to be healed at this time.  I was startled!  I was angry!  I was not healed due to my lack of faith!  It was my fault!  The other person was not healed - not due to lack of faith but rather due to the plan and purpose of God.  The only difference I could see between the two of us by her measure was that he was famous and I was not.

Sorry, but the God I know doesn't operate that way!  He doesn't pick and choose only the wise, the wonderful, the rich, the famous on whom to bestow His favor! He says, I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. (Rom. 9:15)  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things ... so that no one may boast before Him. (1 Cor. 1:27-29) 

I took a deep breath, looked her straight in the eye and said, I agree that God does not heal at times because He has a greater plan.  But, my friend, faith is a gift from God.  Faith isn't something I conjure up or manufacture. (Eph. 2:8)   I know that God does not heal when He doesn't for His own good purpose and plan.  God does heal when He does also for His own good purpose and plan.  Healing comes from Him.  Healing depends on Him.  When God doesn't choose to heal me or anyone else, He has His reasons and that is enough for me! 

What a terrible burden to dump on a person in the middle of pain and loss - it's your fault! 

You aren't strong enough or spiritual enough to get what you need!  Pointing fingers, placing blame on the person God doesn't choose to heal is deeply wrong!  Point your finger at God if you must. Place the blame on Him.  He makes His plan.  He works His plan.  He walks with you and me in the pain.  Maybe He changes the circumstances.  Maybe He doesn't, but whatever He does is about Him.  It's His choice!  That's a very, very good and comforting reality!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Where is THE CHURCH?

Kids with IDD [intellectual developmental disabilities] pose a greater risk of sexual deviancy. They pose behavioral risks that hinder a youth group's normal functioning, making it difficult to minister unless they are removed-- an anonymous pastor  [for good reason, in my opinion]

There is a LOT of very sad news today:  Robin Williams committed suicide, ISIS is on the march in Iraq, Christians are under attack in many corners of the world, Ukraine is an explosion waiting to happen, and much more!  It sounds simplistic to summarize that we live in a totally broken world, but it's the truth!

For all the issues, THE CHURCH of Jesus Christ (His invisible body) MUST be the first in line! 
We must speak into hearts in desperate despair like Robin Williams'.  He gave such joy to so many people, and yet his own heart was so dark that he couldn't take it anymore because the pain just screamed for relief.

We must give and pray and even go to be on the frontlines where we can to be the hands and feet and heart of Jesus to people hated, displaced, and hunted for their faith!  Franklin Graham of Samaritan's Purse is on the front lines in Iraq providing shelter tents for many of the refugees who fled with only their lives.  I was so struck with the truckload of cradles just like this one I saw being unloaded in the tent city Samaritan's Purse is erecting in Erbil, Iraq.  What a sweet touch!

Two families who are friends have just in the last few days returned to ministry in Ukraine.  They have no idea what the future holds, but that's where God has planted their feet so there they stand to be salt and light in a very dark time for Ukraine. What the future holds only God knows for sure! 

All that and more seems far away and only comes close on our computer screens.  Then I read a quote like the one above from a pastor, no less, and my heart cracks more!  How can we EVER measure ministry by risk alone?  Of course, we need to be wise and prayerful, but LIFE itself is a risk from start to finish!  If we ever hope to walk in the steps of Jesus and do ministry the way He did, we can't sit behind a desk or hide with our technology and talk about  behavioral risks and IDD as an excuse for not living and loving as Jesus did! 

It was pretty risky from a human view for Jesus to land on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee on a dark night.  But, Jesus had a Divine appointment:
They went across the Sea of Galilee to the area of the Gerasenes. Jesus got out of the boat. A man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. The man lived in the tombs. No one could keep him tied up anymore. Not even a chain could hold him. His hands and feet had often been chained. But he tore the chains apart. And he broke the iron cuffs on his ankles. No one was strong enough to control him. Night and day he screamed among the tombs and in the hills. He cut himself with stones. - Mark 5:1-5
Jesus touched the leper. 
Jesus made blind eyes see. 
Jesus opened deaf ears. 
Jesus raised the dead. 
He didn't shrink with fear or disgust nor did he calculate risk. 
He calls us to be like Him! 
If we do ministry like He did, then it's messy and risky and has eternity in view!  And, the same Spirit who was in and with Jesus walks with us in ministry even and especially when it's messy and risky!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Heaven's Gate

Two years ago this morning marked the end of one of the sweetest experiences of my lifetime.  With my siblings (except for my brother Ed who had already walked through death into everlasting life) and most of our spouses, I spent ten wonderful days walking my wonderful Daddy right up to the gate of Heaven!  It was truly amazing, and a model for the death experience in a Christian family if circumstances permit.

I know circumstances don't permit in every case.  That August Saturday 23 years ago when Ed walked into Heaven, I was 3 states away and only got there after he was gone. His death taught me a lesson about death: that death (especially when it appears untimely from a human perspective) is HARD!  Ed was a Marine of Marines!  He was many other things too and my closest sib in age.  He had served in combat in many war theaters including Vietnam for 3 "tours" including one while he was still a midshipman at the US Naval Academy but that's an interesting story for another time.  He had stared death in the face with nary a scratch. 

Three weeks after he retired from the USMC he was bush-hogging his pasture on the farm where he retired with his family in NC.  He didn't know his life on this earth was almost over that Saturday morning.  He planned to begin the next phase of life with a new job and to continue building his farmhouse.  God had other plans:  the tractor turned over and crushed his chest.  He was in Heaven a few hours later. We celebrated his life and worshipped our great God who gave him life and then took it away at his memorial service a few short days later!  At the end of that service, we sang Handel's Hallelujah.  It was Hallelujah time even when it didn't feel like it!

22 years later on an August Tuesday we celebrated eternal life again at my dad's memorial service.  We sang hymns.  We were comforted with God's Word and truth as two sons-in-law pastors and another pastor led us.  We remembered a life well-lived!  For me, the memorable thing about Daddy's Heaven journey wasn't that worship service.  It was the days leading up to it.

July 26 my brother called and said Daddy had a large sub-dural hematoma (blood clot on his brain).  They were moving him to the main hospital and operating as soon as possible.  We begin the trek from Pittsburgh to SC early the next morning and went straight to ICU.  And, so it began........

Mother and Daddy were living in my sister's home.  After the surgery it became increasingly apparent that Daddy wasn't going to climb the huge mountain back to a measure of health.  It was just too steep a climb with advanced Parkinson's and all the rest!  A week later on August 1st we took him home in an ambulance with hospice. 

In the hospital and at home we were Team Robeson.  We walked shoulder-to-shoulder, heart-to-heart watching the winding down of Daddy's life on earth.  We prayed.  We sang hymns.  We cried.  We hugged.  We talked and remembered.  We said many things to Daddy and each other - those things of the heart that need words.  And, then early Sunday morning, August 5th, we all stood around his bed with our dear mother and waited at Heaven's gate for him to take that final step from this life to the next!

Death is what it is.  It was never meant to be in God's good creation.  Sin brought death.  And so, we all die.  But, for those who walk with Jesus who trust in Him ALONE, He is the Way to eternal life!  That's the comfort beyond death, and it IS enough!
*picture is from newspaper shortly after Daddy's return from war.  He is holding his Japanese sword and me.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Running on Fumes!

Are you a care-giver for someone with special needs - your child, spouse, friend or other?  If so, you know exactly what I'm talking about - running on fumes!  There's just not much left to give!  Respite or relief seems too far away to get there on the fumes. You begin the day more weary than you ended yesterday!  The days blur as they run one into another.  The needs remain the same or become greater.  It's just plain hard, and there's no gas in your tank!

The details are unique to your situation.  I don't have a special needs child in my home.  I do have a mother who lives many states away with rapidly advancing Alzheimer's. I am certainly not on the frontlines involved in her care. But, I do a LOT of care-giving!  That's what most of my life is about.  That's especially hard when there are only fumes in the tank. So, I get that part!

As a pastor's wife, I can't hide from people needs. My heart won't let me! Believe me that I have LOTS of stories of care-giving over the years.  Some of them are pretty messy! Some are short; some are VERY long!  Often there is no one else to help shoulder the need for even a little while!  And, always there's that running on fumes thing!

People talk about boundaries - healthy ones!  That's great, but once you or I are signed on for duty especially care-giving, there are few options beyond just doing what needs to be done even when you're running on fumes! Tired is a reality but quitting or just checking out to rest may not be an option for many care-givers.  The needs that require care-giving don't take a vacation!  They just keep coming day in and day out.

I don't have the answer for the running on fumes thing!  And, I have struggled for 5 days with how to end this post!  That's how low I am running on fumes!  THEN this morning it came to me:  even Jesus came to the running on fumes part.  That was when He knew He had to recharge/refill so He would trudge off and up a mountainside to be alone and pray!  He didn't have disposable time to go on a retreat or something.  People needs pressed Him on every side all day every day!  He sacrificed more and went without sleep to get alone and pray!  But, the end result was that His Father supplied the fumes problem every single time.  He will do the same for me and you!