Friendship

I opened my email this morning to find this picture sent from one of our friends. It made my day! We were in small group with these friends in Virginia (not sure where one of the guys is in the picture — if he was taking the picture or off on a military assignment at the time).

Our small group and best friends from our Charlottesville days

We have all been through so much together — hard things, unexpected, even unusual things. One of our friends in the picture is already with Jesus, having faithfully journeyed through cancer and death’s dark shadows while rejoicing in God his Savior. Jeff gave us an example to follow.

I can’t see this group without reflecting on God’s faithfulness to us and the joy of Christian friendships to go through life together. And also with a touch of sadness as I remember our friend and brother in Christ. We will see him again and look forward to it! Thank You, Lord!

We ended this day by going to our current small group of five couples here in the area where we now live. It’s been several months since we had gathered, and it was good to be together again in a warm, inviting home and share the latest about the things going on in our lives. Again, it made me grateful for the gift of friends and being able to journey through life together. I’m grateful to start and end the day with two different small groups that have meant and mean so much to us.

Our God Is in Control

“This is not how it should be.
This is not how it could be.
But this is how it is.
And our God is in control.
This is not how it will be
When we finally will see
We’ll see with our own eyes
He was always in control.
And we’ll sing Holy, Holy, Holy is our God
And we will finally, really understand what it means.
So we’ll sing Holy, Holy, Holy is our God
While we’re waiting for that day…
Our God is in control.”
Steven Curtis Chapman
If you read my blog, you may have seen we were praying for a friend who had brain cancer. He lost that battle last Wednesday night after 10 months. We traveled to the funeral in Tennessee on Saturday.
My husband has lost a close friend, someone who enjoyed hiking the world with him. I feel the loss, too. Jeff was patient, kind, gracious, humble. He lived as a man of God and honored Him in life and death.
We will miss Jeff.  We don’t understand why, but we know so many people prayed and asked God to spare his life, but God had other plans. One day we will see and understand. Today though, we trust Him. We trust our heavenly Father who is good and loves us. Can I praise Him in this, as I praise Him when I see healing here on earth? Yes, Lord, I praise and bless You. “You give and take away; my heart will choose to say, Lord, blessed be Your Name.”
Thank you, Father, for the hope of heaven, that Jeff is not dead, but alive with You. We know we will see him again! He is healed now fully and experiencing what we can only begin to imagine, all because of Jesus and Jeff’s faith in Him. Thank you for saving faith, resurrection life. We grieve with hope. Thank you, Jesus.
“We can cry with hope,
We can say goodbye with hope,
‘Cause we know that good-bye is not the end.
And we can grieve with hope,
‘Cause we believe with hope,
There’s a place where we’ll see your face again.”
Steven Curtis Chapman

An Expectant Heart Filled With Hope

A high school friend Terri has hosted an Advent E-vent on Facebook for all the days of December leading up to Christmas. She asked different ones to write and assigned us dates. Today was my date, so I thought I’d share my Advent reflection here on my blog, too.

Romans 5:5 “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

This Christmas, I find myself filled with a sense of sadness. When I think I’ve pulled it together, it creeps up on me and hits me all over again. You see, my husband and I are losing a close friend. Unless God miraculously intervenes, he will not be with us much longer. Even typing those words weighs heavy on my heart.

It reminds me that the Christmas season is often a hard time for many people who have lost loved ones during the year or who otherwise struggle with sadness. It’s cold and dark outside. So many are celebrating with parties and decorations, some perhaps without a reflection on the true meaning of Christmas, while others lack the enthusiasm to participate. The commitments of time and resources can be demanding, and there is pressure to keep up, and to be “joyful” – or at least appear so.

Many are despairing. Many are discouraged.

It calls to mind the despair the Israelites felt as they waited for their Messiah, longing and groaning and waiting for deliverance.

But there is HOPE!

As we live in the season of Advent, we are reminded we need not wait in hopeless despair. The Savior did in fact come! We have a God who kept – and keeps – His promises.

When I lift up my eyes and see, when I bow my knees and pray, when I speak the truth of who He is and what He has done, when I still my mind to worship and praise and rejoice, I find comfort and rest. I am reminded that the God who came still comes. He has purposes in things we cannot see. He can meet the longings and needs of every human heart. We can trust Him, no matter the circumstances around us. This fills my heart with true joy, hope and peace as I know and trust Him.

As we celebrate Advent, the past Advent, we remember another one is coming! Jesus is coming again! We have a future hope and we can wait with confident expectation that He will again be true to His promises and that His Word is true.

As we look forward to celebrating Christmas, perhaps we can look around and find people who need encouragement and extend the love of Christ to them, invite them to church with us, share the good news of the gospel. For it is more than words. This is a true and living reality that should fill our hearts with hope, with confident expectation. And if He seems silent, keep believing, waiting and seeking. He will come when we least expect it!

Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Prayers for Jeff

This is our friend Jeff.

He and my husband hiked the Alps back in 2007 and again in 2009 when my husband was researching the trilogy that he is now near completing. (Convenient, wasn’t it, that he set the books in a place like Switzerland that required several “research” trips!)
It takes a good friend to go up in a helicopter like this in the Alps and fly down into the mountain canyons and against the steep slopes! I think they both thought the pilot was going to crash a few times!
Jeff’s wife Elizabeth and I have said we all 4 need to go to Europe, but our children were rather young then, and we weren’t up for that much hiking and adventure! We’d travel a little differently, I’m sure.
We met Jeff and Elizabeth when we all lived in Charlottesville. They were doing their medical residencies and working while my husband was working on his Ph.D. in Religious Studies. We were in small group together with them and 3 other couples.
Here is most of our small group at a Tennessee football game.

Here we are hiking in the Smokies together.
Hiking was a huge part of my husband’s life until living in the Midwest! Chicagoland is not like Virginia or East Tennessee where he lived in the mountains as much as possible through college and grad school.
As the years passed, we kept in touch more with Jeff and Elizabeth because we all had family in Memphis, and they lived in TN, making it easier to connect. They were there with us around the time our daughter was born 3 months early while we were in Memphis. I flew down to St. Jude when their son was diagnosed with leukemia. Jeff has visited us in Chicago when in town for medical meetings. We’ve overlapped our trips in summers and holidays in Memphis where we’ve had countless dinners and times where we talk about a lot of theology or medicine.
Jeff and Elizabeth recently adopted a little girl from Ethiopia. While there, he got sick, was taken to the ER where they discovered a brain tumor, and he was medically evacuated back to the States and told to undergo emergency brain surgery upon arrival in Washington DC.
7 months later, we are still praying for a miracle. We went to visit them this last Thursday (Thanksgiving) and Friday for just about 24 hours, a quick flight in and back out the next evening. It was good to be with them and see and understand more of what they are experiencing.
When I think of Jeff, I think of the verse in Micah about what the Lord requires of us: but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. I think that verse well describes Jeff.
As Jeff wrote in October:

“I continue to pray for complete healing and am still thankful for every moment God gives. This is a challenging prayer because, at least at times, my logic and God’s logic do not match up. Then I must rely on Him.

‘… yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.’ Habakkuk 3:18″

If you are one of the few people who read my blog, please say a prayer for Jeff and his family if you think about it.

Brevity of Life

Last May, it seemed like everywhere I turned, I was running across passages on the brevity of life:

Psalm 103:15-16 “As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.”

I Peter 1:24 “For, ‘all flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off.'”

Psalm 144:4 “Man is like a mere breath; his days are like a passing shadow.”

There were others, but you get the idea. As these passages kept coming before me during my time in the Word, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Lord was preparing me for something, and I didn’t like the thought of what that might be, so I kept pushing the thoughts from my mind.

This summer, when I started some Scripture memory, I was randomly selecting passages and some of the first ones I memorized, without remembering their content, were James 1, I Peter 1, and Psalm 103. As I memorized these passages, all containing verses on the brevity of life, I came to see that the last year has been filled with lessons in this truth:

  • My father-in-law retired last May.
  • My step-father died last July.
  • Our very close friend was diagnosed with the most aggressive form of brain cancer in the prime of his life.
  • I left a job I had loved and was called to in 2005, one that had brought me great joy and close friendships.

Retirement, death, sickness, job change, loss.

This phrase from Psalm 103: “Its place remembers it no more.” I drop my kids at school and watch the others who are now doing my former work. I’m glad for such great new additions to the school. It is, though, as I knew it would be — once you are gone, new folks take your place, and “its place remembers it no more.” That’s just life. I’m not even bemoaning these facts or sad about them, but merely acknowledging them.

What it has done for me is have me ask the question: What counts? What matters? What is my purpose? Is there any purpose in what I am doing? I pour myself into something for 5 1/2 years, and in an instant, it’s over. Whom did I do it for? Did I do it well? Was it worth the sacrifices? Did it bring God glory?

Now theoretically and intellectually maybe I know the answers. But I really want them rooted in my heart. If I’m not doing everything for the glory of God, does any of it matter? Probably not. But there is a resounding “yes” that there IS purpose in this life and that we find it in Christ, but what does it look like? What is it like to live in that truth daily?

Last week, as I began putting all of these thoughts finally together in my mind, the Lord took me to Psalm 90. It is on the transitoriness of man and the eternality of God. It began to give me some answers:

“So teach us to number our days,
That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.
* * *
O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness,
That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
* *
Let Your work appear to Your servants
And Your majesty to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us;
And confirm for us the work of our hands;
Yes, confirm the work of our hands.”

I also see that in Psalm 103 and I Peter I, after talking about the grass withering and the flower fading, they immediately tell though what lasts — the Word of the Lord (I Peter) and His mercy that is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him (Psalm 103).

I feel a bit like the Lord has had to undo some things in and around me to open me up to see things more clearly, to be filled more with His purpose. I feel like He’s beginning to teach me anew now that I am ready.

In the midst of my thoughts these last couple of weeks, our pastor began a 7-week series on revitalizing your life. It began with “Purpose” and then “Challenge” the first two weeks. Jesus asks us to “follow Him.” Will I follow Him wherever He leads? Do I find Him worthy of giving him ALL that I am?

I am so grateful for what God has done for me, how He has led me this last year as my Shepherd, for how He has positioned me in something new and unexpected, and no doubt right and good. I wouldn’t change a thing. I am processing it all now, but so excited to see what He will show me, as well as where He will lead and what He will do as I seek to follow Him and live life with His purpose.

I hope this post won’t be seen as depressing, because for me, it is actually full of hope. It’s not the mid-life crisis that it appears to be! It’s wrestling with biblical truth, but it’s a good thing. I am thankful.

Entering Heaven

I may try in the next days to share why I’ve not been blogging lately! All good things. But for now, I am remembering 4 years ago this week when my grandmother “MaMa” died. All of my other grandparents had died when I was young, and she was the only one to live so long. As she aged, she had what seemed like Alzheimer’s (though I don’t know that it was diagnosed that way).

MaMa was from south Mississippi, and we grew up visiting her every summer. My sister and I often rode the Greyhound bus from Memphis, and she would give my mom a much needed break. I’m sure losing her son (my dad) when he was 27 in a car wreck was something she never got over, but not something she spoke of.

So 4 years ago, I was in Memphis when I learned that she had had a stroke and wasn’t expected to live much longer. I wanted to try to go down to Mississippi and see her, but wasn’t sure if I would make it in time, didn’t think she would be conscious, and didn’t know about leaving my kids to travel alone. But if I could have the opportunity, I wanted to talk to her about Jesus and heaven. She had always been quiet about her faith, so I somehow wished I could encourage her in these things at this time.

When I did decide to go, I got in the car, still unsure of the decision, and began praying about what I was doing because I didn’t have any clear answers, but was just feeling led. After praying, I turned on the radio, and this was the song that was just starting. It said,

“Let it be said of us, While we walked among the living,
Let it be said of us, By the ones we leave behind,
Let it be said of us, That we lived to be a blessing for life.
Let it be said of us, That we gave to reach the dying,
Let it be said of us, By the fruit we leave behind
Let it be said of us, That our legacy is blessing for life.
This day You set life, you set death right before us, This day
Every blessing and curse is a choice now, And we will choose to be a blessing for life.
Let it be said of us, That our hearts belonged to Jesus
Let it be said of us, That we spoke the words of life,
Let it be said of us That our heritage is blessing for life
For your Kingdom, for our children, For the sake of every nation.”

The words as they played were so perfect – go and be a blessing to the dying (my grandmother) and choose a legacy of blessing.

When I arrived at the hospital around noon, my aunt and uncle were there. (My dad was 1 of 3 children — he had had a brother and sister.) When I saw MaMa, she never opened her eyes, and she seemed gone already. I began to wonder why I had come all this way.

I went outside to call my mom, and I was telling her how gross this hospital was and how I knew the Lord did not call me to be “comfortable,” but to obey, but this was hard to be there all day, just sitting and waiting for death. As I was talking, I noticed a car sitting out in front of me waiting, and I peered through the side window and noticed that this lady’s t-shirt said, “Believe in Miracles.” Like a poster board for me, how weird, I’m standing there, second guessing what the Lord would do, and when I saw that, I wondered if that was a reminder!

We found out that my grandmother might live another week or so, even as sick as she was, so everyone made plans to leave that next morning and come back when it was over. I spent the night at my aunt’s house and just prayed that God would guide my steps, even when I didn’t know the ones to take.

At my aunt’s house the next morning, she had a bracelet on her shelf that said, “Expect a Miracle.” Even though I was convinced MaMa would never have another wakeful moment and my faith was failing, there was just a small thread of belief and wondering about those reminders and saying to myself, “keep standing.” But overall, I was ready to go to Memphis and forget about it!

Everyone started getting ready for the day, and I had about decided to drive back to Memphis without stopping by the hospital. My cousin told me I should just run by and say good-bye to her mom (my aunt), and somehow, my sister ended up coming with me.

When we arrived, my aunt had gone home to shower, but my grandmother’s one eye that was not paralyzed was open! I knew this was my time to talk to her. I asked my uncle if I could go over and talk with her or did he or my sister want to. My uncle said they had had times like that earlier in the week, and for me to go ahead, if she could even hear me.

I went over and began talking as though she could hear, see, and understand. I began to quote Scripture, everything I could think of from Psalm 23 to things about heaven. I told her that she didn’t have to be afraid and that Jesus would take her to heaven if she had trusted in Him. As I talked to her, she got her other paralyzed eye open, and she squeezed my hand. Her hand went from being gripped tight to loose in mine, and her forehead and brow began to move and furrow. I can only believe she heard and understood.

My sister would periodically come over and say a word or two about childhood memories and how she loved her. My uncle went in and out of the room. When I would ask him if he wanted to talk, he would say “no” and wanted me to keep talking to her.

Everything about those moments seemed sacred to me. Had my aunt been there, I wouldn’t have had the courage to speak so boldly to my grandmother because I would have been intimidated. God put the right people there at that right moment.

Finally, the nurse came in and said they were going to give her a bath and we should leave for a few minutes. As we exited the room, the thought came so clearly, “say anything else because this may be her last conscious moment.” I leaned down close in her ear and whispered, “I love you.” With that, I followed my uncle and sister out of the room. It seemed within seconds of getting out of the room that the light above the door began flashing on and off. People started running in and out, but didn’t say anything to us. We waited on what we thought was the bath, but also had a funny feeling. My aunt arrived, and we waited.

They finally came out and said she was gone. She had died the moment after we left the room. We all went back in, and there we stood, my aunt, my uncle, and my sister and me (representing my father). We hugged and cried. She was truly gone; there was no life there.

What a blessing to be the one to stand beside her and walk her as far as a human could walk, to say Scripture and pray and say the last words of “I love you.” God gave me everything I asked for and more, even though I didn’t deserve it. I praise Him for that, for these memories this week, for the many other ways He acted that I wouldn’t even have time to detail here. He was so gracious and merciful and revealed His presence so clearly. Thank you, Lord!