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A Biblical Thought On Death and Dying for Which We Can Be Thankful

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Many of us this Thanksgiving Day are grieving lives lost far too soon or living with the gaping hole and profound silence that remains after a lifetime of togetherness is severed by death. Babies born still, children and teens afflicted by disease, cancer or an incurable infection, those killed in accidents or military service, by their own hands or as a victim of crime, substance abuse, and old age. Regardless of the length of the relationship or the age of the deceased, those who are left behind grapple with questions, emotions, and spiritual issues that are overwhelming.

If you have read blogs I have published in the past you know that I believe that even the shortest life, including those who expire in the womb, have a living legacy due to the way parents-to-be are altered by the awareness of the child growing within the mother’s womb. Whether the parents are excited or horrified by the positive pregnancy test, changes in thought, attitude and actions result and carry forward touching the people the parents interact with in some way forevermore.

When death comes to call we struggle to find the comfort and consolation the Bible speaks of. Men and women well grounded in their faith may be afraid to admit that there are times when knowing that they will be reunited with their loved ones in Heaven is little more than a cold comfort. We know it to be true, are thankful for that truth, but it just doesn’t leave us with warm fuzzy feelings.

Maybe that’s the problem . . .

We interpret comfort as warm fuzzy feelings instead of the confident assurance that God’s eternal promises will come to pass . . .

and when those warm fuzzy feelings cannot be found, we believe ourselves to be abandoned without the promised comfort of the Lord.

Death is yet to be swallowed up in victory. It’s one of those finished, but not yet fulfilled, promises of scripture.

Death still stings.

And our comfort, whether we recognize it or not, is the confident assurance of every eternal promise in scripture.

That’s what comfort is—not warm fuzzy feelings.

The bereaved straddle the fence between resisting any explanation for the too soon parting of those they love and embracing the comfort the exact same scriptures provide in anticipation of their own death.

img_3173-1A fellow loss Mom recently shared Acts 13:36 with me. It says that when David had served his purpose (and in at least one translation—when he fulfilled God’s will) for his generation, he fell asleep and was buried (and my least favorite part) saw decay. That verse is immediately followed by one that tells us that Jesus never saw decay, which is, of course, the reason we can be assured that this parting is only temporary for those who are in Christ. Isaiah 57:1 says (I’m paraphrasing again here) that when good men die, no one understands that God is rescuing them from the evil to come.

When I think of those two verses together, knowing that this world is filled with evil that touches us every single day, I have to believe that God does not dilly dally, He does not let the children He loves linger and languish in this world of sin, one moment beyond the point in time when they have served their purpose in their generation. I believe that our final day is preordained so that we are not exposed to the sin of this world and denied the pleasures of Heaven, for one moment longer than required to fulfill God’s chosen purpose for our individual lives.

IMG_6453I’m making a bit of an assumption here but really, is that not consistent with the nature and character of God? Why would the long-suffering God of 2 Peter 3:9, who holds back the second coming of the Lord for the sake of that one final sinner to receive salvation, allow a single one of His children to live in a world tainted by sin one moment beyond the fulfillment of their worldly purpose? Not only does Heaven and all its wonders await the believer but don’t you think God the Father, and Jesus Christ His son, have longed for and lived in anticipation of their first face to face meeting with each of us?

Is it so hard to imagine that possibility?

Scripture tells us that everything created was created for God. We are His treasure. The apple of His eye. He has heard His children cry out in desperation, “Where are you?”, and, “How long, O Lord”, time and time again.  In response, He has drawn near to us and spoken to us, if we have ears to hear. And the Holy Spirit, who resides within, has offered comfort while Christ has interceded countless times from the throne of grace. But we, His children, have never experienced that moment when we’ve looked upon His face and seen Him as He is. We’ve never touch hands—only hearts and minds. How many times have we just wished we could talk to God face to face?

I attended a conference for bereaved parents in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in early October of this year. The conference was awesome and good for me in so many ways. I knew it would be, but the one thing that made me jump through all the hoops required to attend the conference was the opportunity to meet a fellow blogger, a fellow loss Mom and her amazing daughter, whom I had become friends with online through a grief support group. I knew Melanie and I knew Fiona before we ever met face to face. I knew their hearts and thoughts and the way they spend their days and even their nights. I knew of the challenges they face and the pain they bear and the strengths and weaknesses of their faith in God, but I didn’t really feel like I knew them until I met them face to face. Finally, I could hear the sound of their voices, watch a smile bloom or tears fill their eyes, and hug them close. The internet is a blessed substitute for a face to face relationship.

Scripture, prayer and the inhabitance of the Holy Spirit within allow us to develop a relationship with the triune God and come to know His thoughts, ways, character, love, and power. But as thankful as I am for all of that, it all pales in comparison to finally meeting face to face.

I know it sounds as if meeting God is far more exciting for us than it is for Him, but truly, if we were created for His pleasure (as scripture tells us) don’t you think our pleasure brings Him pleasure?

Have you ever bought an extravagant gift for a loved one that they’ve wished for but never really expect to receive? It’s a total pipedream. Pure fantasy. You scrimp and save, purchase it, wrap it and maybe even plan a special way to give the gift and throughout the entire process, your excitement grows and grows. But the greatest enjoyment comes the moment they open it, squeal and jump up and down, or fall to their knees in shock and pleasure when they receive it.

Can you imagine that the God in whose image we were made, might actually feel that same way about that first moment He meets us face to face? That He anticipates seeing your excitement and awestruck pleasure at the sight of Heaven—His gift, His reward—prepared specifically for you? Can you imagine His rumbling laughter as you leap around, hugging Him and the loved ones who have gone before and gathered for your welcome home party? Can you picture it? Can you imagine the joy He feels at finally having you home where you belong?

As Lisa, my Life Group Leader, reminded the women’s class at church Sunday, our individual lives touch innumerable other lives. We may never know the purpose and power of those individual touch points. A brief conversation with a stranger in a grocery store gives hope to a hurting heart. The man who sweeps the floors in your office sees the way you treat others, and unbeknownst to you, it makes a lasting, behavior altering, difference because you modeled your Savior and it’s completely unlike anything he has seen before. How amazing is it to think that all those seemingly insignificant encounters have a God-ordained purpose? They all matter – not a little but a lot! Somehow, the most minor and innocuous of interactions believers have with others are necessary, absolutely necessary (can you grasp that?) for the fulfillment of God’s purposes? When a loved one lingers in a less than comfortable condition you can be sure God only allows it because His child has not yet fulfilled His eternal purpose for his generation. That knowledge doesn’t make watching our loved ones suffer hurt less, but it does remind us how incredibly valuable every life actually is for all eternity. Every moment, every encounter is highly significant.

I am comforted to know, that the God the Amplified Version of the Bible says exercises extraordinary patience toward the lost sinner also does not delay in rescuing His children from the evil of this world. He doesn’t wait to bestow the reward of Heaven or the ultimate joy of that first face to face meeting our hearts long for. God, in the act of forming us in our mother’s wombs, foresaw the moment yet to come in your life and mine, when we will finally fulfill the entirety of our purpose in this generation and numbered our days to coincide with that precise moment.

You will not likely find this bereaved mother oozing warm fuzzy feelings about this truth, but it is a consolation my mind appreciates and clings to, embraces and even finds fantastically awe-inspiring. It is an intellectual comfort to my grief-ravaged heart.

I hope it is for you too.

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2017 in Faith, Grief

 

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Graceful Gratitude

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Thanksgiving started early for me this year. 2:15 a.m. to be exact.  That’s the time my cell phone rang alerting me that Gracen was in need of some help.  Following her call, I hurried to the bedroom next door to find Gracen flat on her back, thirsty, hot and trapped under her covers with her knees bent and sore.

I peeled her covers back and removed the new knee-high AFOs (Ankle/Foot Orthotics) she now wears to bed nightly. Then I helped her to straighten her legs out by pulling her ankles toward the end of the bed and simultaneously pushing down on her knees one at a time before getting her some water.

Through all that, she accepted help without one complaint, in spite of the fact that I slept through two text messages before she called my cell.

Then I kissed her goodnight for the second time and crawled back in bed hugging my pillow to my chest; and I thanked God for Gracen’s attitude and for the grace she demonstrates in the face of debilitating disease.

As I lay still waiting for sleep to once again overtake me, I absorbed the most recent physical changes in Gracen’s body.  It hurts to watch her body continuously fail her.  And I thought about gratitude. One thing I’ve found in the face of the deaths of my oldest and youngest daughters, Gracen’s injuries and progressive disease is that others, in sincere compassion, try to make me feel better by reminding me of the many blessings in my life.  It’s almost as if people believe that counting your blessings negates your sorrows; which is categorically untrue.

Gracen’s diminishing physical abilities actually set the stage for thankfulness for it is in light her losses that I find myself grateful for much simpler things.  In the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning I found myself thankful for my graceful daughter precisely because she has every reason in the world to be angry and resentful.

The point I’m trying to make is that gratitude is experienced in contrast to those things for which we are not thankful.  Andrew Downs said it far better in his book  Alex Hollick:  Origins:

“To walk in the shadows is not a curse and to walk in the sun is not a blessing.  They are simply relative points of harmony, by which we can appreciate what we have, what we once had and what we hope to have.  The sun means nothing without the shadows, nor would shadows without the sun.”

So, by all means, count your blessings; but don’t beat yourself up for the normal emotions that arise from trials and loss.  God doesn’t tells us to suppress our emotions.  He tells us to bring our burdens to Him and when we do, gratitude will likely follow as we witness His care and provision.

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2015 in Chronic Illness, Faith, Grief

 

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Thanksgiving 2015

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This Thanksgiving we will return to Kansas City as we have for the last ten years. Every time we choose to go “home”, we pass the accident site twice. In fact, we rarely drive north unless we are heading back to see family and friends. The crosses usher in a heighten level of anxiety for the painful moments that are simply unavoidable. And the return trip heralds in memories of where it all went so wrong. To say I need to emotionally prepare myself for these trips is an understatement of gigantic proportions. But staying home – being alone in our unnaturally quiet house – is exponentially worse.

Gratitude and grief co-exist within my heart. Therefore, this year I plan to allow myself permission to do something I’ve never permitted myself to do in the past. If I feel overwhelmed, if the sight of healthy intact families, and bright futures pinch just a bit too much, I will slip off and ensconce myself in the room we make use of when we are in town.

I will not make myself be strong when I feel weak as I have done in seasons past. I will not force myself to wear a mask in order to make others comfortable in my presence. I’ve long been aware that I’m not responsible for how comfortable others feel with my grief, at the same time I’ve always assumed responsibility for shielding others from my emotions, for their sake and mine.  Frankly, an open display of my vulnerabilities is abhorrent to me. In the past I’ve felt as if leaving the room was just as bad as crying in public. Doing either draws attention and leads people to talk. Now, I’m just tired. I also realize that it’s not unreasonable or shameful to remove myself from a situation in which I’m uncomfortable. To remain, to pretend good cheer, that’s a burden too great for me to bear and this year – I just don’t have the energy.

Small talk is chief among my personal anxieties. I can talk about Gracen. I can talk about David; but I cannot talk about myself. I have absolutely nothing to share. So if conversation stalls, I will remind myself that I am not individually responsible for keeping the conversational ball in play. If asked questions that are awkward, I will, for the first time ever, say, “This is not a good time to discuss that.” or “I don’t want to talk about that.”

Deflection, a highly valuable social skill, is not one I’ve ever become adept at using. Over the years I’ve been put on the spot and found myself exposing vulnerabilities to family, friends or mere acquaintances to my personal detriment. In the coming weeks I will practice simply not answering a direct question by responding with a question of my own.

Grief is teaching me a world of useful and unexpected lessons and fiction has provided a multitude of examples from which I intend to draw. (I knew I’d eventually uncover a completely reasonable excuse to justify the inordinate amount of reading I indulge in.)

Most importantly, I will remind myself of this truth:  Honesty does not require transparency; nor does it require vulnerability. It is my right to choose both when and what I feel comfortable sharing and with whom I wish to be transparent and vulnerable.

I don’t want attention or pity: I want privacy and understanding. I don’t want others evaluating how I’m doing based upon their personal perceptions. If asked, I’ll share what I’m comfortable sharing and hope if others later inquire, that no more than what I’ve shared will be disseminated. Anything more is little more than fodder for gossip.

I will never forget how gutted I felt when I bumped into a friend following the death of my son and she said, ‘I heard you weren’t doing very well.’ What was worse was realizing that the person who reported on my well-being had never asked me how I was doing; they simply watched me and drew their own conclusions.  Gossip hurts.  While long forgiven, and completely beyond my control, I remain hypersensitive to how I am portrayed to others. It’s my reputation and it’s my heart that suffers for idle words spoken.

While the things above may seem simple to many, they are challenging for me. So this year, I will keep the commitments I’ve made to myself and will do my best to let go of the things I can’t control. There is grace and forgiveness for those things.

Of the many things for which I’m thankful – the blessings among the thorns, I’m most grateful that I still have David and Gracen. However, I dread that moment that often occurs at Thanksgiving gatherings when asked to share that for which we are thankful. To express my thanks for my husband and daughter draws attention to those who are missing. It’s awkward – for me and for everyone else. While grief may overshadow my gratitude, that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize and appreciate my blessings. So this year, I will give thanks, but I might not have a happy Thanksgiving. Contrary to what the Veggie Tales teach, a grateful heart is not always a happy heart; and that’s OK, gratitude is sufficient.

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2015 in Grief

 

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