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!

Resurrection Day!

Our Easter weekend began on Friday with the Good Friday services at church. We followed Jesus to the cross through reading the gospel account in Mark, had communion, then left quietly in the dark.

We attended an Easter service on Saturday night at an area church that our friends attend. They invited us because the pastor was using some video from our friend who is now in heaven. She bravely fought cancer, but went to be with the Lord exactly two years prior to the service on April 23, 2009. I had met her exactly a year prior to that on April 24, 2008, when she visited our school to see about enrolling her boys.

We loved being at this Easter service with her husband and boys and other families from our school who have walked through this with them. Her videos were such a powerful testimony to the hope of the believer when facing death and the meaning of the resurrection. In her video, Beth shared how at some point in the battle with cancer, it ceased to be important whether the report was good or bad, but all that mattered was the presence of the Lord with her.

Beth also shared the words of the apostle Paul in Philippians 1:21, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” So she concluded in the days prior to her death, “I can’t lose.” Indeed, she did not lose, but gained heaven and the eternal presence of her Savior! And despite grief, her family and friends have the hope of eternal life with her one day and seeing her again. Thank you, Jesus!

Our children wanted to go to the Sunrise Service at church on Easter Sunday at 6:30 a.m.! So we made it, but realized it was an abbreviated service of only 30 minutes, which completely makes sense as I thought about it. I turned to my husband at the conclusion of the service and said, “I have to go to the next service.” I just couldn’t bear the thought of missing the Hallelujah Chorus on Easter — my favorite service of the year at our church. My husband replied, “I knew you were going to say that.”

He and the children stayed home, but I loved going to the 8:00 service, singing In Christ Alone and the Hallelujah Chorus. So beautiful! I listened to it all over again on the radio back at home during the 9:30 service. A very full Easter!

We celebrated Easter with my husband’s family at my in-laws house, then the cousins all played at our house until dinner, then we were all back together for a pizza dinner. A very full day. We enjoy having Easter Monday off at our school after a long weekend.

I loved reading the gospels again about Jesus going to the cross for our sins, taking our burdens and guilt, and rising again to give us new life in Him. His Word is true, and it offers hope, eternal hope. Yes, thank you, Jesus, for giving us new life, eternal hope, and the promise of heaven and life with you forever.

Faithfulness and Friends

I love seeing God’s faithfulness in the smaller details of our lives. When I flew down to Memphis for the funeral this summer, I realized I had nothing appropriate to wear to a funeral. I had a picture in my mind of what I would want — just a plain, basic black dress, sleeveless, knee length, fitted. As I considered where I might find it, Talbots was the only store I could think of that might have it. I dreaded spending the money for a dress.

I mentioned to a couple of family members that I would have to go out and get a dress. The next day, the day of the burial, my cousin walked up and said to me, “We’re bringing your dress over after this.” “What did she mean?” I wondered. “We have a dress we think will work,” she explained.

They walked in the house later and handed me a plain black dress, sleeveless, knee length, fitted, with a Talbot’s tag and my exact size on the label, exactly as I had pictured! What a blessing from the Lord! The very dress I imagined, I now had without spending a dime!

The morning of the funeral, my sister and I ran out to grab a couple of things we needed, one being shoes to wear with the dress. We ran in Dillard’s, and they had the perfect pair of black heels for $90! No, couldn’t do it, but I also didn’t want to drive around the city or shop.

My sister wanted to run in Target and suggested I glance at their shoes. We found shoes there identical to the ones at Dillard’s — leather black heels — exactly the same, except these were $25! I was so excited for this provision. I scanned all the boxes only to find they did not have my size. We asked for help; she looked in the back, found nothing, and printed a list of other stores. I was so disappointed. I knew I did not want to be out shopping and circling the city for every Target to find these shoes.

I left the aisle and went to another one and started to pray. I felt like the Lord had led us to these shoes and was making a provision for me. He knew our needs and that we did not want to be out shopping. I knew He was able to supply me with those shoes and meet that need. I asked Him to do so and wanted the faith to believe He would. I knew those shoes weren’t there, but I knew He could make it so they were.

I finished praying and went back to the shoe aisle to find my shoes. I began lifting shoes out of each and every box, no matter what size it said, and comparing sizes with the sizes listed on the box. And there I found my shoes in a 6 1/2 box! I was so thankful to the Lord for giving me exactly what I needed.

It also made me wonder about something: what do I not have because I have not asked? It’s not that God is just sitting there waiting to give me whatever I ask for; I understand that. But I so easily could have exited the Target store without asking or believing Him to do a thing. I could have traveled to more Targets until I found something, and maybe never known that He could have done this for me. What do I not have because I have not asked? I want to pray for faith to believe Him more.

One other sweet provision during this time were my friends. I have 3 friends whom I have known almost since birth; we all went to school together, graduated together. They all 3 live out of the state or country, 2 very far away. In God’s perfect timing, 2 were in town (or close enough to drive) at the time of the funeral, and my 3rd friend changed her day and drove over from Arkansas.

I really thought it wasn’t a big deal if they couldn’t make it — would never have even thought about it — but it was so dear to my heart that they all came! When I was standing in the receiving line at the church and looked up and saw the 3 of them together, I just burst into tears. How could we all have been apart for so long and all be standing together at one time? And how special it was to me that they would come to be with us on this occasion, that this mattered to them.

One of them commented to me later, “We think this is what heaven’s going to be like when we are reunited with so many.” I think she’s right. So thankful for lifelong friends. I don’t know how common it is to have these kinds of friendships, but I cherish them all greatly. I praise the Lord for His perfect provisions in my life, from the most significant one of rescuing me from my sins and giving me salvation through Christ, to all the little details of life. Thank you, Lord.

A Summer to Remember, Part II

After my husband and I traveled through Switzerland and France in June, we returned home to Chicagoland, and I flew to Memphis the following day to pick up my children. I was so anxious to see them after a 9-day separation!

Once in Memphis, I had a virus, I’m sure from international travel, and was too sick to drive the children the 9 hours home. My children and I ended up staying in Memphis with my mom and step-dad for another week.

During the week in Memphis, God was so near. Every night when I would wake up sick, I would go out and sit on the sofa and read from my Bible study. It would be on exactly what I needed, like God being Jehovah Rapha, the God who heals thee. Verses that I would be pondering during the day would show up in the study.

I enjoyed spending time with my mom and step-dad, sitting together at dinner time, watching the news together, listening to a sermon together. My step-dad, who had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure in early June, was so peaceful. Though he was older, he had always been in wonderful health, always doing projects, strong in body and mind, driving, and so there was rarely a thought about him not being with us, even though we knew he couldn’t live forever. I specifically noticed this trip, though, my step-father was so full of peace and contentment. I had the thought, “He is ready to die.”

When I had 1st taken the kids to Memphis two weeks’ prior, I had the thought that this might be the last time we would see Poppy. I had never really felt it or thought it like this. I went to a Bible study with my mom one night (yes, sick, but able to get out), and we were broken into groups. When her group had to share, they designated her to talk, and I sat there looking at my mom, thinking how nice it was to do things together and how so many moms and daughters have that opportunity. I thought about how nice it would be to live in the same city and enjoy that kind of blessing. In all my years living in different cities, I’d never given consideration to that, but suddenly, it didn’t seem like a strange idea, but was rather a new and welcome one.

While I was there, my mom had recently finished cleaning her attic (with my sister and me over Spring Break), and she was shipping a lot of her furniture out to Montana to my sister. The movers came, and after they left, I sat in her now spacious den, empty of so much furniture, and I wondered if there was a reason her home was now so clean.

All these things, all these thoughts, so small individually, but collectively, such preparation. It was such a sweet time with them both.

By the time I was able to drive, my husband was traveling to St. Louis for a book convention. He recently authored a fiction book, and he was taking part in some events there. He suggested I drive to St. Louis, spend the night there, and we’d all drive home to Chicago the next day.

We ended up having a wonderful time in St. Louis. Here my children are re-united with their dad after a full month of separation:

We then went to the arch:

From there we went to dinner, then my husband and son went to a Cardinals’ game:

The following morning, we took the children to the City Museum, a unique museum with all kinds of tunnels and places to explore:

Those are my children above, crawling through the outdoor tunnels at the museum.

We drove home that afternoon, only to have to turn around the following day and drive to Wisconsin to the lake to meet my in-laws. They were retiring and had 4 days left at a cabin, after which we could no longer use it. So now having traveled to Europe, Memphis, St. Louis, and finally home, we spent the night and drove to Wisconsin.

A picnic with smores:




We had a wonderful trip to Honey Rock, where I was able to rest and get through most of the rest of my strange virus. From there, we finally headed home, so thankful to be home for the rest of the summer, so thankful to get back to routine, so excited to unpack!

3 days later, after unpacking and getting organized, having re-entered normal life, I received a call from my mom. She said, “Tom is dead.” She told me the paramedics were there, she had just come home and found my step-dad on the floor by the bed. I tried to grasp what she was saying; it all seemed such a blur! No matter what you might expect, you are never ready for this.

I began packing and making my plans and flew back out that night, down to Memphis, to spend the night with my mom, her first night alone. It was so surreal. My husband, kids, and his mom drove down 2 days later, and my husband delivered the message at the funeral. Life can change in an instant, but somehow in the midst of it, we all saw God’s hand, felt His presence, sensed His goodness and timing and ways. It’s not that it wasn’t or isn’t painful, but there is such a difference when you are confident with hope that you will see the one you love again and that he is in the presence of his Savior. Thank you, Lord!

I remember saying, after hearing the news, “Lord, we give thanks, we rejoice, and we praise You.” And I remember a few moments later thinking it all through and saying, “Praise You, Lord, for that virus!” Had I not gotten sick, I would not have spent a week with my step-father just a week before he died. My kids spent two weeks with him. We enjoyed those moments, those conversations, like watching a little bird (who had made her nest in their front door wreath) and her babies.

Yes, thank you, Lord, for the virus. Thank you for your good and perfect ways. It was a small glimspe of how something that seems bad was so full of reason and purpose. If I could only always trust God in moments like that and remember His promise that all things do, in fact, work together for good to those who love Him.

I have one more post about the summer I’ll save for tomorrow, but I wanted to collect these memories in one place to remember what great things God has done. To God be the glory!

Lessons Learned

The mom at our school that I had written about in a couple of my earlier posts went home to be with the Lord yesterday. What a joyous, yet sad, day. There is such a dichotomy at work in death, it’s hard to comprehend. The certain hope of heaven for those who believe in Jesus and the joy of seeing Him face to face, yet the grief in the here and now for those left behind, especially young children. We weren’t meant to die. And for those in Christ, we never will. Absent from the body, present with the Lord. We will see her again. But the pain in the here and now for those who remain is harsh.

I was thinking about the lessons I’ve learned from watching this woman of God for the last year. I met her exactly one year ago today, April 24, when she came to look at the school. I didn’t know that one year later, I’d be watching her children playing at a park after school, experiencing their first day without their mother. My heart breaks.

The first lesson I learned is to treasure the time with my family and invest in my children. From the day her children were born, she read to them from the Bible. That was convicting to me when I learned that. I haven’t done that. She had likely read 4000 hours from the Bible to her oldest child! Amazing! That will not return void!

She was a woman who feared the Lord, and His promises are mercy to her children’s children. I love it that we can watch with expectation to see what God has for these precious children, even with her cruel absence in their lives. I trust we will see them like a tree, firmly planted, yielding fruit in season, with roots going down deep, becoming oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor. He can bestow a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

When I find myself distracted with my work, thinking of myself instead of my children during my time with them each day, I have been thinking of her and making a choice to live differently as a mom because of her.

A second lesson I saw in her was an extraordinary faith. I’ve written about that in earlier posts, but she truly was an uncommon woman of extraordinary faith, a faith her husband credits our extraordinary God with. She lived her life in light of His truth. She never complained or doubted. She believed. Like the song says, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.” She never turned back, even when life became very difficult. She pointed people to Christ and proved His worth, that He was more than enough for her. He met her in those deepest places and she did not falter or fail in her faith. I want that kind of faith, given as a gift of His Spirit.

When I think of her, I think of Psalm 40:1-3: I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD.”

I believe many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord because of her example. She was glad to be wherever God wanted her to be, believing His ways and His plan to be best. That’s a third lesson I’d like to learn, to not complain, but to trust His plan. She was not offended with God and His plan, but reflected Him to a watching world.

She now sees Jesus face to face and is receiving the goal of her faith. I praise Jesus tonight for dying for our sins on the cross, so that by faith in Him, we might never die, but live.

These are the verses her family has shared and that we as a school prayed for her:

I Peter 1:3-9

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”