Rising From the Ruin

10 07 2014

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“For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains.”

C.S. Lewis

If I asked you to define a “good gift,” what would you say?

Feel free to press pause on this blog post to ponder that question for a while. It’s an important one. Your answer colors the way you view God and His promises and everything in life that is out of your control. (Which is, by the way, everything in life.)

At this point I could ramble for a few paragraphs about what generally constitutes a good gift, but I hope you won’t mind if I cut to the chase. Because I’ve come to believe with all my heart that God is sovereign over all His hands have made, He is always only perfect love, and everything He chooses for His children is a good gift. Every. Single. Thing.

Suppose He has closed every door you so desperately wanted Him to open. He has pruned your branches with such fury that you look in the mirror and see only the raw stubs of what was once your pride and glory. Your body aches, your wallet is empty, and your relationships are a mess. Your dreams have shattered into a million tiny pieces, and you hold no hope for their restoration.

C.S. Lewis would say now is the time to bless His Name.

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We can’t help it. We love comfort, we crave acceptance and approval, we long for success, security, and safety. We view the events of our lives through the grid of our expectations and desires, and we assume the “good and perfect gifts” God promises to give will line up with our personal longings and agendas.

But He loves us too much to give us what we think we want.

In the days and weeks that followed Jacob’s near drowning, I struggled to understand what good purpose God could possibly have in the devastation of his body, brain, and potential. I knew God was right there when Jacob went down, and I knew He could have prevented it. I knew He loved Jacob and had created him for His pleasure and glory. But I didn’t see how any of this could possibly fit into “plans formed long ago with perfect faithfulness.”

From where I sat, the future looked unbearably long and hard. But the ripples had already begun.

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* * *

For a year and a half after Abby’s birth, Dina and Nurmat kept her condition a secret, even from close friends and ministry supporters. They were both mature Christians and had served as long-time staff with Campus Crusade in Kyrgyzstan. Their faith assured them their daughter was a gift from God, but they knew all too well what other people would think. Even their doctor suggested they place her in an institution. She would only be a burden, he said, and isolate them in a culture where disability is considered a curse or a punishment for sin.

Abby’s birth plunged Dina into a long, dark season of confusion and depression. She and Nurmat had spent years building a ministry in this country — establishing relationships and nurturing trust. Why would God complicate their lives and cripple their ministry by giving them a child with Down Syndrome? It made no sense.

No doubt many well-meaning believers would ask the same question. After all, Dina and Nurmat are uniquely gifted and qualified for the work they’d been doing. He’s a native of Kyrgyzstan and she’s from Kazakhstan. They know the culture and language. They’re intelligent, creative, passionate, and friendly. Years of training, prayer, and discipleship had prepared them for a lifetime of fruitful service.

And then Abby happened.

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If we believe that God is the Author of our stories, we must believe that He writes each page with purpose. We may think we know what He is after — why He gave us certain abilities or blessed us with certain opportunities. We may think we know why He calls us into a certain profession or lands us in a certain city. But God is always doing much more than we can begin to fathom. And sometimes the very thing that appears to be our destruction is God’s gracious provision to steer us out of ourselves and into His higher plan.

Abby wasn’t a curse. She was the key to the next door.

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And this is where stories collide, and God gives a glimpse into mysteries, and we fall on our faces with the wonder of it all — for His goodness, His grace, His unshakable purposes, and the crazy beautiful way His upside down kingdom busts wide open the narrow confines of our expectations.

Last summer Dina came to Kazakhstan to translate my messages to mothers of disabled children. And as she spoke to them, she spoke to her own soul. Chains fell off. Faint glimmers of hope burst into flame. God ignited a fire in her soul that she carried back home. She’d already begun to seek out other families with DS. Now she took her search to the media, appearing in print and television interviews, providing her personal phone number and welcoming calls.

More than a hundred families have contacted Dina and Nurmat in the past year. They’ve hosted seminars and provided helpful information and resources. The entire thrust of their ministry has shifted to this particular community — many of them Muslims or atheists — all united by a love for someone with Down Syndrome and a desire to make their lives as healthy and happy as possible.

And so, this year when we made our plans to return to Kazakhstan for another special needs camp and mom’s conference, several of us tacked on a few days at the beginning of the trip, and we crossed the border into Kyrgyzstan to conduct a two-day seminar for Dina’s families.

I shared our story, and Lindley — a precious young mom from Memphis whose fourth and youngest son has DS — shared hers. We also spent a lot of time listening to these dear parents and answering their questions. Lindley even had the opportunity to pray with one mom who battles extreme fear for her child’s future. They all received Russian copies of Parting the Waters, and many had begun reading it before our time together ended. Two of those moms followed us back across the border and attended the conference in Kazakhstan.

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10449191_10152264014694385_3505579048671367080_nThe two Kyrgyz moms who came to Kazakhstan, Dina, Abby, and Lindley (Lindley’s photo)

And once again Dina translated. In Kyrgyzstan to the dear families she has come to love, and in Kazakhstan to a new group of moms whose stories are yet to be told. Once again she spoke to them, and once again she spoke to herself, and God continues to work as only God can. Doors open, branches thought dead explode with fruit, and the shards of old dreams take new form, pieced by the Master Artist, lovingly set according to His design, catching His light and scattering it like stained-glass laughter on a gray and weary world.

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Before we left to return to America, Dina handed me a mug with a map of Kyrgyzstan on it. “From Abby to Jacob,” she said. “Tell him the ripples continue.”

And so they do, quiet, relentless, crossing oceans and language barriers, laden with good gifts from a good God.

Let the ruin fall.

* * *

(Lovely friends,
Please click here if you’d
like to make a donation to
Dina and Nurmat’s ministry.

Thank you!)





Border Crossing

8 07 2014

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This wasn’t part of my plan.

Once upon a time, if God had asked my opinion on the course my life should take, I would have suggested that He reveal His love to the world by making me a shining example of favor and grace. My marriage would be so happy, my children so beautiful and brilliant, and all of our endeavors so very successful, everyone who beheld our awesomeness would line up to follow Jesus.

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But God didn’t ask my opinion. On the contrary, every day ordained for me was written in His book before I was born to have or give an opinion. Every day written with divine purpose and with perfect love.

And so, my life unfolds as written, and the day came when the page turned, and He took my hand and led me into a world I never would have chosen to enter.

The world of the disabled. Of hospitals and nurses and therapists and wheelchairs. Of dire predictions and long sleepless nights and a thousand questions echoing into the dark unknown.

The world of those who know they are broken.

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Maybe you’ve heard the story — how a good shepherd loves a wayward lamb enough to break her legs, carrying her on his shoulders rather than leaving her to perish in her foolish wanderings. The brokenness is her gift. Her salvation.

This is my story. And it has become beautiful to me. To be broken and carried, emptied and filled, to gladly give what I cannot keep to gain what I cannot lose.

And the pages turn, and we board a plane, and we land in a place where my smallness is magnified. I know that I know that I am not sufficient for these things, and this is my joy.

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Because God meets us on the pages of our stories. Meets us in our limping weakness and sweeps us up in His magnificent strength, taking us where we never imagined we would go. We wheel suitcases full of hope across borders where x-ray machines are out of order and guards just happen to be on break. We declare good news to a people whose language we can’t speak, and we are heard and understood. We dance with them, dine with them, laugh and cry with them. We look into the eyes of women whose homes and culture and daily lives are worlds apart from our own, and we see a family likeness. Light shines in darkness. He is here. The Lover of their souls. The Writer of their stories. The One who makes all things new.

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I spent two weeks in Central Asia, carried by the Good Shepherd. To those who prayed, thank you with all my heart. God answered. The ripples continue. I’m bowed low with the wonder of it all.

Once upon a time, if God had asked my opinion on the course my life should take, I would have suggested that He reveal His love to the world by making me a shining example of favor and grace. Now I understand that’s exactly what He has done.

Stories to come.

 

 





We believe

29 05 2014

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IMG_1179We believe in a God enthroned, who calls the stars by name,
and sees when a sparrow falls.

We believe in a God who was and is and is to come — the eternally present,
who created time and reigns above and in it.

We believe in a God who does all things well, whether He gives or takes away,
never changing in His love, His holiness, and His goodness.

We believe in a God who always acts in accordance with faithful plans formed long ago.

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No one can hinder Him.

No one can find fault with Him.

No one can cause one word He has spoken to fail.

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IMG_0957And so we go.

And so we speak.

And so we dance.

We laugh and cry.

We listen and embrace.

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imageWe believe the cross is the measure of God’s love,
and the price of a redemption meant for the ends of the earth.
Who are we to keep it to ourselves?

And so we go.

Small, we go,
our comfort in knowing that
the weak confound the mighty,
the meek inherit the earth,
and the pure in heart see God.

IMG_1771compWe go in the confidence that we are sent.

And the rest
belongs to Him.

* * *

Dear friends,

On June 16, I’m returning to Kazakhstan. Lord willing, I’ll be gone for two weeks and will speak seven times to three different groups.

Like last summer, I will share our story and God’s grace with moms of disabled young adults.

Like last summer, I’ll encourage them to look for the beauty in the gifts God has chosen for them, teach them a dance they will perform for their children, and lead them in morning exercises on the beach.

And like last summer, I’m bowed low with the sense of my utter insufficiency for these things. But I’m also filled with hope. Because I’ve been before, and I’ve seen God come, seen Him move, seen Him lift heavy hearts and strengthen weak knees.

Unlike last year, we’ll be traveling into Kyrgyzstan to speak to parents of children with Down Syndrome. And we’re also planning a reunion with the moms who attended last year’s conference.

So, I’m asking you to pray — no, I’m begging you to please pray for me and for our team — that our good and gracious God will provide safety in travel, good health and stamina, sensitivity to His Spirit, anointing, favor with local authorities, open hearts, and — above all — that the plans He has ordained will be fully accomplished, according to His power at work within us, and for the glory of His Name.

And, friends? If you (or someone you know) might be interested in financially helping these moms or their precious children attend camp, you can give online through Orphanos. Simply click this link, then scroll down the page, select “Partners in Asia” and, from the drop down menu, “Kazakhstan Young Life” (as indicated on the screen shot below).

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I know there are thousands of beautiful ministries out there deserving of your support, and we all have to ask God to lead us in our giving, so please don’t feel any pressure here. But if you know of someone whose heart is especially inclined toward serving the special needs community or declaring good news in Central Asia, please share this opportunity. $250 sends one mom or special friend to camp. Gifts in any amount are deeply appreciated. Thank you!

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We believe.
We really do.
And our hearts burst into singing.

 





all means all

4 05 2014

psalm145pmResting in truth today.
Praying it is well with your soul.

* * *

 

Jumping Tandem




What if we really believed the truth?

2 05 2014

DSC_0055Jennifer’s printable graphic and the brochure for Christ EPC’s Women’s retreat

Sometimes a book comes along that lines up perfectly with what God has been whispering to your soul. In fact, you almost wonder if the author spied on your innermost thoughts, took notes, and then transcribed them to the page. But she didn’t. What she did do was allow God to search her own heart and reveal the idols holding her captive. She believed His promise of something better, took the keys He offered to unlock her cage, and walked free.

She could have stopped there, reveling in sweet deliverance. She could have pretended those idols never existed, because who wants to admit sin and selfishness? But she knew there were lots of other people locked in the same cage, and God had showed her the way out. So she swallowed her pride, gathered her courage, and stepped bravely into the light.

That’s how Love Idol was born.

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If you struggle with a constant need for approval, then please read Jennifer Lee’s wonderful, honest, liberating book. Read it, and believe what God has declared about you. Because the truth is, we really are pre-approved by God. We’re adopted, cherished, known, and loved — His works of art created for His pleasure and glory.

But that’s not all. We’re also called to serve and build each other up in love, and as long as we’re spending all our time and energy trying to build ourselves up by feeding an insatiable desire for other people’s approval, we’ll never be free to love others well.

This is the thing God has been laying on my heart over the past few months. And now Jennifer’s new book has landed on it all like a big, fat exclamation mark.

Here’s the deal. The best way I know to learn something is to try to teach it to someone else. And apparently God really wanted to teach me about this, because I was asked not once but twice to speak at women’s retreats this spring on the topic of women nurturing other women — to examine and expose what hinders us from really loving Christ and each other well.

The remainder of this post contains photos I took during one of the retreats and edited excerpts from my speaking notes. I share them here in honor of Jennifer’s excellent book (which you should read and believe), and in gratitude for the way God reinforces His beautiful truths again and again.

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2 Corinthians 4:7 says, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels.” Only problem is, our treasure gets buried under layers of junk.

We live in two kingdoms. We’re in this world, but not of it. We’re citizens of earth, but we’re called to live here as citizens of God’s upside-down kingdom, and the two operate on opposing principles and laws. We may know what God’s Word says about us — that we’re created in His image, covered by the shadow of His wing, held in the palm of His hand, fearfully and wonderfully made, and chosen in Him before the foundation of the world — but thanks to mass media, we’re constantly bombarded with the world’s ideas about what our life should look like.

Think about the headlines on the magazines in the grocery store check-out line. What are some of the messages our culture sends to a woman? She should be thin, young-looking, rich, powerful, in charge of her life, pretty, fashionable, well-educated, independent, equal to men, sexy, sexually uninhibited, reproductively free, economically productive, athletic, confident, assertive, and free to pursue her dreams no matter what they are.

And there are plenty of industries and businesses determined to make sure we buy into those messages, including plastic surgery, diet products, clothing, make-up, jewelry, home decor, automobiles, fitness products, organic foods, etc.

Are all these things bad? No. Can any of these things become a distraction or, worse yet, an idol? Yes.

God always looks at the heart. If we’re motivated by culturally dictated lifestyle goals, we’ll be much too busy trying to achieve them to pursue the kingdom of God. We need to recognize that our culture is selling us lies. Even though many of these things are not necessarily sinful, none of them will bring peace, satisfaction, or purpose.

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But culture isn’t the only culprit. And here’s where it gets personal. Our treasure is also hidden behind the masks we wear. Consider these questions:

Do you have secret sins or habits that you hide from your Christian friends?
Do you feel like those friends would no longer like or respect you if they found out about your secrets?
Do you struggle with guilt, shame, or embarrassment over things you did or that were done to you in the past?
Do you ever feel like you’re the only person you know who can’t seem to get victory in your particular battle?
When people ask you how you’re doing, do you lie because you don’t want them to know what’s really going on in your life or relationships?
Do you feel like most of the other people at your church have their lives all put together and only yours is a mess?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, the first thing you need to understand is that you’re not alone. In fact, I think it’s safe to say the majority of Christians struggle with one or more of these things on some level. We wear masks, because we don’t want people to know how broken we are, and yet the church is the very place where we’re supposed to be real with each other.

Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” And what is the “law of Christ”? Simply this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And here’s the problem with all this hiding behind masks. The only way we can love well is if we bear one another’s burdens, and the only way we can bear them is if we know what they are.

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Our treasure is also buried under selfish ambition and competition. The pursuit of personal success is a birthright in the western world. Parents push their children to excel, telling them they can be anything they want to be if they’ll only work hard (or, in some cases, cheat well or kiss up to the right people). It’s unrealistic and sets people up for disappointment rather than encouraging them to actually discover their real abilities and find contentment in pursuing them.

If we embrace the law of the upside-down kingdom, instead of selfish ambition, we’ll pursue compassionate service. Instead of competition, collaboration. Consider others as more important than ourselves. Work together for the good of all. These values are all over scripture, but they’re sadly lacking in way too many Christian homes and churches. Lots of people want to do “great things” for God, but few want to handle the messier, hidden tasks — to love the unlovable, to listen to the lonely, and to serve the least.

Compassion is the law of the upside-down kingdom, and when it’s real, it’s knocks the teeth out of selfish ambition. Collaboration is the law of the upside-down kingdom, and when the body functions as a body, the work of the kingdom is accomplished. But when we’re all competing for the spotlight, nothing of eternal value gets done.

Selfish ambition can be tough to spot in ourselves, but a good diagnostic is the presence of jealousy. If I feel envious or jealous of another person’s role in the body, chances are good I need to ask God to replace competition with compassion for those He desires to love through me, and to replace envy with intercession for those He has placed on the front lines of ministry.

And then there’s comparison.

Comparison either says God short-changed me or God short-changed you, and neither of those is the truth. God created women in all shapes and sizes with all sorts of personalities and talents, and in every single case, He knit them in their mothers’ wombs and knows their thoughts and numbers their days. In every case, He looks not at the external things but at the heart.

Comparison by its nature takes our eyes off of Jesus and puts them on each other, not for the purpose of loving and serving, or learning and imitating, but for the purpose of elevating or demeaning. As long as we’re measuring others and striving to measure up ourselves, we’ll never love well. But when we ask God to open our eyes to the beauty of diversity, and we choose to look for His creativity in others instead of comparing ourselves to them, we’ll be free to embrace our own gifts and purposes and to celebrate His glorious design for others. And what’s more, when we learn to see as He sees, we’ll start looking beyond the externals to the heart, and we’ll realize that, in the things that matter most, we’re more alike than we ever imagined.

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One more layer of junk burying our treasure is entitlement. This, too, is rampant in our culture. It’s all about standing up for our rights. It’s the spirit of entitlement that makes us furious when someone cuts us off in traffic, or when someone else receives the promotion we felt should have been ours, or pretty much any time we mutter under our breath, “How dare you!” Entitlement is so much a part of our society, we may think it’s a good thing. It may sound like fairness or justice, but what we really mean is, “Fair is when I get what I think I deserve, and justice is when you aren’t allowed to get in my way.”

And the cure? Well, this one is actually the biggie. It’s the ultimate cure for all of these diseases. The cure to entitlement is remembering what we really deserve — death and separation from a holy God — and that Christ took our place on the cross. The cure for entitlement is dying to ourselves, our rights, and our expectations. It’s knowing we’ve been bought with a price, and we are not our own — that we’ve received mercy instead of justice and grace upon grace.

The cure to entitlement is taking our eyes off of ourselves entirely and setting our minds on Christ and His kingdom. We have no right to ask for anything, and yet we’ve been given eternal life with God and untold blessings this side of heaven.

DSC_0068The beautiful women of Christ EPC with Jennifer’s “PreApproved” Graphic,
because it fit so perfectly with our theme.

The more we die to ourselves, the more we live to God, and the more we live to God, the more joy, peace, satisfaction, and true contentment we find. Yes, it’s upside-down. And it’s glorious. God pre-approves sinners. He adopts rebels. He redeems us while we’re His enemies and renames us His friends. And He gives us the beautiful gift of genuine friendship with each other — a gift we miss all too often because we can’t get our eyes off the mirror.

So, what if we really believed the truth? That we’re loved? That we matter? That no one else can fill the shoes He created just for us to fill?

What if we smashed our idols, and walked out of our prisons, and made it our one aim to love Christ and each other well?

We’d turn the world upside-down. And I can’t think of a single thing the world needs more than that.





Remembering A Long Good-bye

28 04 2014

DSC_0104Patsy Harper Leftwich
July 2, 1932 – April 28, 2013

Shortly after Mom died, one year ago today, I promised I would share in this space some of the beautiful ways God worked during the final weeks of her life. Well, now I’m finally making good on that promise. I had the privilege of speaking at the beginning and the end of Mom’s memorial service. What you’re about to read is mostly copied from the thoughts I shared that day. It blessed me to re-read these memories today, and I hope this glimpse into our journey will bless you as well.

From the introduction:

It was probably twenty or twenty-five years ago that Mom heard about a lady who had planned her own funeral before she died. If you knew my Mom well, you won’t be surprised to hear that she loved the idea of wielding artistic control over her own grand finale. So she started a file. And whenever she heard or remembered something she wanted included at her funeral, she added it to the file.

We’re going to honor her wishes today. All the Bible verses you will hear and the two hymns that will be sung were specifically chosen by Patsy. You will also hear lots of stories and a few other songs that she didn’t choose. We as her family members put those in — partly because she’s not here to stop us, but mostly because we love her and these things remind us of her.

Some of you might listen to these stories and observe the obvious love and closeness of our family — you might consider all the talents Patsy possessed, the tender faithfulness of her devoted husband, and all the many, many blessings that were poured out on her in the course of her beautiful life — and you might go away thinking, “What a lucky lady she was!” And yet. Not one of us would listen to a gorgeous symphony and walk away saying, “How lucky that all those notes came together in such a wonderful way!” No. We would leave the concert hall filled with admiration for the musicians, yes, but with an even greater awe and gratitude toward the composer whose heart first dreamed the music and whose mind crafted such a magnificent work of art. We wouldn’t have to see the composer to know he exists and to recognize his presence in the music.

As you listen to the beautiful music of Patsy’s life, our prayer today is that you will recognize the strong hand of love hidden in the shadows. The Almighty Composer is here, even if we can’t see Him.

And with that thought, I give you the first of Patsy’s chosen Bible verses, Psalm 118:24: “This is the day which the LORD has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it!”

Let the celebration begin.

5699_10200257852348983_169056786_nSetting up for the service

1014371_10200257852188979_778986930_nJimmy and Dad

993780_10200257853189004_38159046_nCurtis and Grace singing Corcovado

179782_10200257855189054_140023456_nDad with his children, children-in-law, grandchildren, grandchildren-in-law, and great grandchildren
(all of the above photos from the memorial provided by my cousin, Patsy Keller)

And from the closing:

During the summer of 2010 two things became inescapably evident. One was that Mom had some form of dementia and it was getting worse. The other was that something was causing extreme pain in her right leg. Soon we had answers on both accounts. Alzheimer’s and cancer.

Today we’re celebrating Patsy and the beautiful gifts, talents, and relationships that enriched and defined her life. But if we chose to ignore the last three difficult years, we would also miss some of the sweetest mercies she and our family ever received. Because the truth is, no life is all parties and laughter, and that’s ultimately a good thing. There are gifts we receive in the hardest seasons of life that can’t be given any other way, and it’s usually in those times that God’s strong hand of love is no longer hidden in the shadows, but rather, is plainly seen — comforting, upholding, and providing what we may not have even known we needed. Mom’s final years were hard on her and on all of us who love her and suffered with her. They were hard, but they were also richly blessed with beautiful gifts, big and small. It would take far too long to detail every mercy, but I want to take a few minutes now to share some of the bigger gifts with you.

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-17With Harper Sparrow in 2010

Throughout Mom’s illness my father was the picture of patience, devotion, and tenderness. One by one he let go of his freedoms to take care of Mom, and he did it without complaint or bitterness. But anyone who has been a primary caregiver knows that after a while, the walls begin to close in. As Mom got worse, Dad became a prisoner in his own home. He was determined to keep her there, but he also knew he needed to protect his health and sanity, for her sake as well as his own. And that’s when the first big gift was given.

DSC_0014Mom, Luke, Sarah, and Dad. Housemates.

I wish I could take the time to unfold the series of events that led to Luke and Sarah moving in with my parents, but I will only say that there was no mistaking God’s strong hand of love in every detail. Not that things suddenly became easy for anyone. Mom still had cancer and Alzheimer’s. She was confused and at times unpleasant, and trying to meet her needs was often very stressful, but now there was community to share the load, and with that community came love, laughter, music, and prayer. Several months after they moved in, Naomi was born, bringing new life and unspeakable joy into the home.

DSC_0314June 5, 2011. Naomi is born.

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It was still very hard. It was also very beautiful. But it couldn’t go on that way forever. Mom finished her cancer treatments and started regaining her strength, but her confusion got worse. Naomi grew and was underfoot, and the time came when Luke and Sarah felt it would be best for everyone if they moved out.

And then the next big gift was given. A house across the street became available, and George, Jacob, and I moved to Dallas. Luke and Sarah bought a house five minutes down the road, and now we had four generations living in close community. Lois also joined us for two months during the summer of 2012, and other family members visited as often as they could.

-8My parents and their four children at our house in Dallas

We settled into workable routines, but new challenges kept arising and many new decisions had to be made. We’d never walked this particular path before. How does one know which home health care provider to choose? And what do we do when Mom is angry and lashes out and refuses to let anyone touch her? As some of you know all too well from your own experience, the constantly changing unknown is an intimidating place to be, and the knowledge that your loved one isn’t going to get better but continually worse and worse makes it even heavier. We tried a few things that didn’t go too well, and I admit we were getting tired and frustrated, and then?

Another big gift was given. A young woman I know heard about our situation and sent me a Facebook message. She told me about her mom, Angela, who lives in Dallas, is an RN certified in elder care, and owns a company that exists specifically for the purpose of helping families like ours make a care-giving plan.

We contacted Angela, and she walked us through figuring out what Mom needed and where to find it. She also educated us on what to expect down the road. She asked good questions and empowered us to make informed decisions, and when Mom started sleeping a lot more and eating a lot less, she suggested that there was probably something other than Alzheimer’s going on. She arranged some tests and then a doctor’s appointment.

That’s when we found out Mom’s cancer was back. Her doctor recommended hospice. And Angela walked us through that process as well.

DSC_0177With Naomi, Easter 2013, less than one month before Mom died

And that brings me to the last two weeks of Mom’s life. We didn’t know it was the last two weeks, but we knew she didn’t have long.

Even before we discovered that Mom’s cancer was back and her prognosis was only a couple of months, Lois had planned to spend her spring break in Dallas. She arrived on April 12th and spent the week helping with Mom’s care. She got to lie down beside her on the bed and hold her hand and say everything she wanted to say to her. While Lois was in town, Sharon, Glen, Nathan, Meghan, Brandon, and Molly also came over, and we all gathered around Mom in the kitchen and sang some of her favorite songs. Knowing this would be her last good-bye, Lois left on April 21st.

On April 22nd, Grace and Curtis and their children arrived, and on the 23rd, Mom sat up in her wheel chair in the living room to listen as they sang some of the Brazilian jazz songs she loves. She commented and clapped after each song, and smiled with delight whenever she looked at baby Malia.

IMG_0535April 23

That was the last day Patsy was able to speak or get out of bed.

Friday, April 26, a bunch of family came to town for Harper’s 3rd birthday party. Jimmy, who had been in Taiwan on business, flew directly into Dallas to attend the party and then spend the weekend with Mom and Dad. Deb drove up from Austin and met him here.

Saturday afternoon, Angela stopped by Mom and Dad’s house because she was in the neighborhood, and after checking on Mom, she sat down with me, Dad, and Jimmy and gently explained that Mom probably had only a few days. She mentioned some specific bodily reactions to watch for, and also told us exactly how things would unfold with hospice once Mom died. Later the same day the three of us were taking care of Mom and noticed some of the symptoms Angela had described.

I’d already begun looking through Mom’s funeral file in preparation for writing her obituary and planning this service. Saturday afternoon I pulled out the typed pages containing the scriptures and hymns you’ve heard today, and that evening, Sharon and I sat on the bed with Mom. We read the verses and sang the hymns. We told her what a good Mom she had been to us, and how much we loved her. She couldn’t speak, but she reached out for our hands. We told her that we knew she was dying and that Dad knew she was dying, and that she didn’t have to hold on for him or for us. We reminded her that Christ had died on the cross to provide her a way to heaven. If she was ready, she could let go.

When I walked across the street to go home that night, I had the strong sense that my father was about to have his last conversation with my mother, and I prayed for him, that he would be able to say everything he wanted to say to her.

The next morning I attended the early service at our church and then drove straight to their house. When I arrived around 10:30, Jim and Deb were there with Dad, and the three of them were having breakfast in the dining room. Before Dad even spoke, I knew what he was going to say. Mom was gone.

And this was another big gift. He hadn’t had to face this moment alone.

While we waited for hospice to arrive, I slipped into their room. Mom had died in her sleep. Her eyes were closed, and the look on her face was relaxed and serene. For the past year and a half, I’d had a front row seat at this final movement in her life’s symphony. I’d walked with her through the valley of the shadow of death, and now she’d reached the other side. I wasn’t sure what to expect in that moment — wasn’t sure what I should be feeling or thinking. What I did feel was the quiet, calming presence of God, and what I found myself thinking was not about my loss or Dad’s loss or all the suffering and pain Mom had endured, but rather the faithfulness, mercies, and goodness of God throughout the past three years, His grace in offering her the free gift of salvation, and His kindness in allowing so many of her loved ones the opportunity to say good-bye.

And in that moment, the natural response was worship. I bowed my head and commended her soul to the Lord. Then I lifted my hands and sang the song you’re about to hear now.

983585_10200257854029025_529560384_nAt this point in the service, all of my mother’s grandchildren and their spouses sang “Restoration” accompanied by me on the piano, Nathan on the guitar, and Luke on the cajon. In the video below, we only had about half the grandchildren, but we tried our best to reproduce the moment.

Mourning into dancing, weeping into laughing, sadness into joy. He really does make all things new.

Hallelujah, hallelujah.

* * *


I realize this is long for a blog post. This one is mostly for posterity
and, of course, for anyone else who wants to join us in remembering Mom.

Thank you for your patience, friends.





A very good place to start. Again.

25 04 2014

IMG_3632When Maria Von Trapp wanted to teach the captain’s children to sing, she decided to start at the very beginning. It’s a very good place to start, after all.

And sometimes it’s also a very good place to start over.

IMG_3753Last night Willow graduated from Puppy Training Classes. Hooray. She is now an official puppy I suppose.

I confess, I was pretty proud of the way she handled her test. There were five orange cones marking the stations where she had to perform a task at my command, and she completed them all, no sweat, just like a puppy pro. This morning I was thinking about the labels on each of those cones, and it suddenly struck me how much simpler my life would be if I’d practice those same skills with the Lord.

So, it’s back to remedial puppy class for me. Here’s what I need to learn all over again.

SIT.

You’d think this would be an easy one, given the way I linger over my morning coffee. But for some reason, instead of sitting and waiting patiently for the Lord, sometimes I run full speed into my own plans and then expect God to follow behind as the divine blessing bestower. I know it doesn’t work that way, and I can’t imagine why I . . . Squirrel!

Oh, right. So that explains the second orange cone.

WATCH ME.

It’s all about focus. My eyes on His face, watching, listening, waiting. He is the never-changing, sovereign, loving King of the Universe, and I am His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for plans formed long ago. He’s not trying to trick me or frustrate me. He wants me to know and do His will, and He’s faithful to reveal it in His time. He also understands my weaknesses — that I’m made of dust and easily drawn away after my own lusts, and that’s why He’s given me the third instruction.

LEAVE IT.

Just like Willow, I often have to walk past an array of tempting toys and treats to reach the next goal, but in His Word, God has clearly revealed what is and isn’t good for me. And I can trust He is always only good in every single “leave it” He demands, no matter how desperately I may think I want the forbidden thing. If God says, “leave it,” that means there is something unspeakably better for me — something for my very best good and His glory. But I won’t know what I’m supposed to leave if I don’t listen to what He says.

Which brings me to the next two commands.

COME and STAY.

Daily enter His presence in unhurried prayer.  Abide in His Word. There is one Truth. One Authority. All around me a million voices shout a million opinions, but the only way I can know if they are reliable is to measure them against the Bible. And the only way I can consistently do that is to habitually marinate in it, beginning to end. I need to plant my feet on the one Rock — Jesus, the Living Word — to build my house on His unshakable foundation, and to refuse to budge, no matter what culture or popularity or anything else demands.

And then? I shall know the truth, and the truth shall make me free to follow the final instruction.

SHAKE.

Once I master the basics — sit still and await His leading, keep my eyes fixed on Him, leave the lusts of the flesh behind, come into His presence in prayer, and abide in His Word — then I’m free to reach out and shake hands with the world, engaging others with sincere love and selfless abandonment. I’m free from fear of man and finally able to really see others with eyes that look beyond masks and masquerades. Free to truly listen without feeling threatened or offended or compelled to prove myself right. And free to extend a sincere hand of friendship or compassion or encouragement or even gentle confrontation, whatever is needful for the moment.
IMG_3738

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Sit. Watch me. Leave it. Come. Stay. Shake. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Basic training.

One thing’s for certain. It’s a very good place to start.

Again.








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