Don’t compare your real everyday life with someone else’s highlight reel. That’s good advice I heard once about social media. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can be comparison traps. What most of us post are the good moments, the vacation photos, the happy birthday group shots, the days off, the kids graduating or performing or doing something cute. We don’t usually post the flat tires, the grumpy days at work, the late payment credit card statements, the cat’s poop on the carpet, or pics of our kids in time-out in tears with angry faces.
It’s easy for us to forget that other people are posting their best stuff and envy can start creeping in as we scroll through picture after picture, post after post. We become discontented with our own lives and fall into the mucky muck of self-pity. Not that I’ve ever done this, of course!
Father’s Day is today. Are you a dad with a broken heart? Is it weighed down with pain, worry, fear, and rejection? If so, Father’s Day can be hard. Positive memories from when your son or daughter was young and innocent flood your mind. Negative memories and their associated emotions overwhelm you.
Men tend to hide their emotions, but this is different. Tears are close to the surface 24/7. Oh God, please don’t let anyone ask me about ________, or how I’m doing. There’s a lump in your throat—but you hold back those salty rivers. You can’t let anyone see you cry. You’re a macho man, right? Besides, if you let them come, you might not be able to stop those salty rivers.
Can’t I get a free pass for Father’s Day? you wonder. Most of your friends have plans with their families. How you envy them. Their children enjoy being with them: cookouts, camping and fishing trips, beach or boat outings, theme parks, gifts, dinners . . . except for you. Perhaps you have other children who will be thoughtful, but not them—the one you ache over and can’t stop thinking about.
“What are you doing for Father’s Day?” Change the subject as fast as possible. Hope they don’t notice your avoidance maneuver.
On Monday, co-workers will most likely inquire, “How was your Father’s Day?” That’s the open door for you to brag on how loving your children were. Everything in you wants to slam that door and run. A made-up response slips from your lips as you slink away with a fake smile on your face.
You’d give anything to be reconciled to your child or just hear their voice.
Some of you don’t even know if they’re alive. It’s agony.
I remember how difficult Father’s Day could be for my husband. If he didn’t hear from our daughter my heart would ache for him. At first he tried not show his true feelings, but it was hard to hide them. Knowing he was in pain hurt me, too.
The day became a bitter reminder of what he didn’t have anymore—of the one who was missing. It made him long for the past when our daughter wanted to be with him. When he was her hero.
Can you remember those days? What happened to our beloved children?
Drugs and alcohol happened.
Bad friends happened.
Depression and self-injury happened.
Suicide attempts happened.
Arrests and jail time happened.
Lying and cruel, wounding words happened.
Same-Sex attraction and pornography happened.
Anger and resentment happened.
Nothing’s the same anymore.
Hurting dad, I hope your son or daughter will at least call to wish you a Happy Father’s Day, even if they aren’t ready to say “I love you”. But if not, remember this is just one chapter in their life. It’s not the end of the story—not yet.
Like in the parable Jesus told about the Lost Son (Luke 15: 11-32), there’s always hope.
One day your child could come to their senses, do a turn-about and be restored. Next month they could come to you and say, “I love you, dad. Please forgive me. I’m sorry I’ve been such a jerk.”
However, you may not hear those words next month. The wait could be long. You might wonder if it will ever end.
When I was on the verge of despair, a wise friend said, “As long as your child’s still breathing, there’s still hope!”
Dear dad, step-dad or grandpa, keep on keeping on. Don’t throw in the towel and walk away. Don’t despair or quit praying. Trust God and learn how to fight for their lives on your knees. Thank him for what you do have to be grateful for. Get busy helping someone else to take the focus off your situation. Limit the amount of time you allow yourself to worry and never give up. You have no idea what Father’s Day next year could bring.
I really like this Bible verse. It gives me a tremendous amount of hope:
“This land that was laid waste has become like the Garden of Eden” (Ezekiel 36:35).
Anything is possible.
And two great books that offer hope in life’s trials are Holding on to Hope and The One Year Book of Hope by Nancy Guthrie.
Heavenly Father, comfort every hurting, disillusioned dad who reads this today. Remind him that you see his pain. You understand and you care. Renew his hope that better days may be ahead. But if not, help him continue to trust, pray with faith, and keep his eyes on you. With you anything can happen. A ruined life can become something beautiful again.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Dena is co-founder of Hope For Hurting Parents and is affiliate staff with CRU. You can follow her blog or sign up for her encouraging emails on their website: click here
Florence Rose Neal was born into a large and loving Norwegian family on Camano Island, Washington, in the Pacific Northwest, an idyllic spot encircled by Puget Sound and stately Douglas firs, and watched over by the distant snow crowned Olympic Mountains. Her hardworking parents spoke Norwegian and they all learned the hard language of living off the land.
While still a child, the family moved to Colorado where life was demanding and money was tight. At fourteen Florence went to work so her youngest sister, Peggy, could graduate from high school.
One day a handsome, young evangelist named John Neal drove up to the boarding house in Uravan, where Florence worked. He was ten years her senior, but his deep faith and snazzy new car won her heart. When John left town, the spunky and fair nineteen-year-old left with him as Mrs. John Neal, her name from then on.
John was a warm hearted, charismatic man with black curly hair and dark Cherokee skin. He abandoned a lucrative career as a tool and die maker to follow his call to ministry, and for the next fifty years, Brother and Sister Neal became the spiritual force that would bring hundreds into the Kingdom in southern California, Oregon, and Washington. They had five children: John was first (after this dad was “John A” and son was “John R”) and the twins, Karon and Karl, arrived three years later. Peter and Rodney showed up twelve and fifteen years later, rather like a second family. Their ministry blossomed as the children grew. They built churches and potlucked their way into the lives of many who still cherish their commitment and uncommon hospitality.
Those were the days when men were the breadwinners and made the decisions. Wives kept house, cooked, and raised their families. Pastor’s wives also ran the Women’s Missionary Society, the local PTA, sang in the choir, and made home make chicken and noodles for church dinners. If she could have played the piano, she probably would have done that, too.
Florence was the consummate pastor’s wife with her bubbly personality, outgoing hospitality, and overflowing love of people. Above all, she was a prayer warrior. She and John A., who also had a contagious, enthusiastic faith, saw many divine healings and marvelous salvation experiences. Many men and women credit the Neals with their call to ministry.
As often happens, life became more complicated as the children grew up. John A. briefly changed careers and then moved into and out of a grueling pastorate unlike those of his early years. Karon and Karl had four different high schools. John R moved on. John A. and Florence maintained their pattern. An opportunity would come up and, although Florence prayed with him about it, John A. made the decisions and she followed. It wasn’t her place to question but to follow.
Lodi, California (where I met them all), Salem, Oregon, and then Seattle Washington ensued. There were rewarding milestones along the way as the older kids married and started having families, but pastoring was becoming more difficult and it was taking its toll. Peter and Rodney were growing up and in high school. In Seattle, Mom began working full time to revitalize a day care at the Seattle church. Frankly, she was magnificent! The day care flourished remarkably. With her eighth-grade education, state licensing could have been a problem. However, she so impressed the examiner with her know-how, administrative skills, and curriculum development that they approved her—and the Day Care—with flying colors. Meanwhile, Pastor Neal struggled with depression, frustration, and conflict within the church. Seemingly endless rain and the dismal gloom of sunless days weighed heavily on him and they returned to California. Brief pastorates followed there and in Nevada—with another declining day care for Flo to revitalize—but Dad’s age and fifty-three years of pastoring caught up with him, and they finally retired.
A second start
With minimal social security and an insignificant pension, they had to find an economical place to live with some way to earn additional income. Karl lived in Sierra Vista, Arizona, which was the perfect spot. They bought a few acres of land and set up a mobile home park that would support them. The freedom from pastoring, abundant sunshine, and the wide open spaces of the high desert brought healing. Florence (few people called her Sister Neal any more) worked as a nurse’s aide and did the bookkeeping for their business. Dad found derelict mobile homes in the classifieds and together they cleaned them up, and built porches. Dad clambered onto rooftops and repaired swamp coolers and Mom fumigated desperate appliances and restored them to a pristine and sparkling state. On Sundays Dad filled in as interim preacher. Life was good for the next few years.
Failing health and bad knees eventually forced Dad off the roofs and they sold the mobile home park and moved to Tucson. This would be their last move together. Decreasing mobility from Parkinson’s disease and increasing dementia (Alzheimer’s was never formally diagnosed) crippled Dad. Mom barely escaped an emotional and physical breakdown caring for Dad, who no longer recognized her, referring to her as “that woman who works so hard.” She dressed him and made sure he always looked good. Weeks of little sleep and Dad’s unpredictable behavior pushed her to the breaking point, yet she soldiered on. It never occurred to her to find a facility where he could be cared for by professionals. She was the wife. It was her obligation. At the breaking point, she finally arranged for a hospice facility, but just one week after taking up residence there, he passed away. It was February 11, 1994. For the first time in her life, she was alone.
For the next three years, Mom—like most widows—struggled to find herself. Profound loneliness descended upon her. She had always been Mrs. John A. Neal, and John A. was gone. Who was she? How would she survive? After a couple of years, she was floundering. Then, three years after Dad’s death, her granddaughter, Jodi, and her husband, Tom, invited her to live with them and help care for their two little boys.
It was a godsend; an important step in establishing her new identity. She had a family again and the little boys were a breath of fresh air each day.
In 2002 she moved across the country to Anderson, IN where we lived, and took an apartment at Harter House, a retirement community where two meals were provided and yet she had her independence. She established herself at South Meridian Church of God where we were pastors, and developed some strong friendships. During the next couple of years she became a vital and positive force in the Harter House community, but she began to realize that she was not ready for group housing and, when we moved to Columbus, Ohio as pastors at Meadow Park Church of God, she followed, renting an apartment overlooking a small lake and not far from the church.
Just call me Flo
Columbus was a new place and Flo emerged from the ten years of becoming. It isn’t that being Mrs. John A. Neal was bad. It’s that she discovered a whole new person inside that was not tied to a profession or another person. As we introduced her to everyone at church, she responded with, “Just call me Flo!” She had been learning many things along that path. We watched in amazement as she taught us what she was learning.
It’s okay to be yourself. It’s all right to have an opinion and to voice your preferences. It’s okay to set boundaries. In fact, it’s critical to mental health. She learned to say “no” to those who would abuse her generous spirit, leaving her broke on more than one occasion. After so many years of squeezing into the role of pastor’s wife and putting the expectations of others ahead of her own needs, she chose to minister where she wanted, and not in the places others said she should. She was more than Mrs. John A. Neal now; she was Flo, pure and simple.
Not setting boundaries had almost destroyed her. Caregiving is exhausting and can be perilous. Mom’s generation grew up with a profound sense of duty, sometimes to the point of self destruction. There’s much to celebrate in this attitude, and many of us have benefited from those who have served us so faithfully. However, setting boundaries is crucial to mental and physical health, especially with loved ones. If we don’t take care of ourselves, no one will.
Mom discovered that certain things she had always done could now be done without the encumbrances of being the pastor’s wife. Her gift of teaching evolved into being an active participant in an adult Sunday school class. (She said she was too nervous to teach any more.) There she shared the spiritual lessons she had learned in a lifetime rich with experiences and wisdom. Many in the congregation benefited and grew to love her.
Always a prayer warrior, she enlarged her focus, keeping a three-ring binder jammed with handwritten requests that she jotted on bulletins and that people slipped into her purse. She especially focused on three areas: her apartment building, the youth in our congregation, and those who were discouraged or ill that could use a visit. She and a friend from church regularly visited those on the church prayer list. People began to come by her apartment for prayer, or bring others for encouragement. Over Scrabble, she counseled young mothers and new Christians. (That didn’t mean she would cut you any slack if you misspelled a word!)
Flo heard that the youth group needed counselors. She was the oldest person to volunteer! Of course, all-night lock-ins and paintball excursions were beyond her. She couldn’t sit on the floor anymore. But she could attend meetings and activities where she ate pizza and kept notes in her prayer journal. She invited some of the youth to her apartment on Sunday after church, where she had prepared special treats and introduced them to Scrabble (no doubt beating them soundly).
Her deep passion to win others to Christ was evidenced in her supreme joy of living, whether riding a roller coaster
or greeting all of the employees by name at the local Kroger store. And at the bank. And at the filling station. She felt that God was inviting her out of her comfort zone and she began to reach out to the many Asians moving into her apartment. Her unique introduction to a new resident was to take them a dish of Jell-o along with a big smile. Her bubbly personality and that Christ-filled smile overcame many a language barrier. Two young Korean men in Columbus enrolled at the Ohio State University became her adopted sons. She brought them to church and, when they graduated, was invited to the celebration dinner with their parents, who flew over from Korea (the only non-family present)! She took books to an elderly Indian neighbor who she was delighted to discover was not only a Christian but also an avid reader. All day long he had sat alone while his adult children were away at work—until Flo showed up, God’s sunshine to a stranger in a foreign land. She hosted a Bible study in her apartment and became friends with a young Japanese woman hungry for friendship. That young woman accepted Christ and later drove all the way from Cincinnati for her memorial service.
In short, Flo, an eighth-grade graduate, a pastor’s wife with five children, a day care and preschool director who brought in educational curriculum that was the best in Seattle, a nurses’ aide in Veteran’s Hospitals, the local Florence Nightingale in her Arizona community, a beloved prayer partner to scores of people, a beloved grandma and great grandma (known simply as “Great”)—that Flo—became more passionate, effective, and loved in her eighties than most of us become in our entire lives.
December 20, 2007, was going to be a full day. She had attended two Christmas parties that week and was going to meet Karon to attend a third. But she never arrived. On the way she had a heart attack that allowed her to slow down, steer off the road, miss fire hydrants, cars, and telephone poles, and come to a stop on the grass across from the church where she stepped into heaven at the age of 86. At her memorial service, just three years after arriving in Columbus, over 250 stayed after the service for a potluck dinner (several brought Jell-o in her honor) where they took two hours at the open mike telling what she had meant to them. One gentleman concluded by saying, “Life is best when you ‘go with the Flo!”
“The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to him” is attributed to the great evangelist Dwight L. Moody, who lived his life with the goal of seeing what God could do if he were totally committed to him. Some of us were blessed to witness God’s light shining through another committed person: a woman named Flo, who wanted nothing more than to be a witness for Christ. And to win at Scrabble.
Are you fascinated with how people age? I am. A popular Internet feature called, “Where Are They Now?” features photos of show business legends when we knew them and as they look now. Usually the changes are dramatic. After fifty years, some people are unrecognizable. Others look almost the same. Why is that?
Well, there’s genetics, skin tone, and, with the complexity of the human body, multitudes of reasons for this. Ultimately, does it matter? Some say yes. They feel that their looks are too important to allow nature to take its course, which explains the surging worldwide phenomenon of cosmetic surgery and why Hollywood stars seem almost ageless.
But only for a while. Clearly, growing old is inevitable. Our bodies were never intended to live forever. Have you noticed that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead once, but not twice? Lazarus died like the rest of us will. It’s inescapable.
The question is not “How can you look good as long as you live?” but “What can you learn about being truly ageless?” Being ageless is a matter of the spirit, not the body.
Becoming ageless is the exact opposite of looking as young as you can for as long as you can. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take care of yourself or that you should dress sloppily. Rather, we must change our focus from the physical to spiritual. Dr. Paul Brand, trail-blazing hand surgeon who did groundbreaking work with lepers in India, was son of missionaries. Long after most people would have retired, his parents stayed on in India. And, after his father died, his mother flatly refused to move back to England and take up residence in “one of those graveyards for old people,” remaining until her death in a remote village in India where she continued her loving work among those to whom she had given her life. In later years, she disliked how she looked as she grew older and so she removed all the mirrors from her house so she could concentrate on her beloved villagers. They never saw an “old person,” but only a woman alight with Christ’s love and the Holy Spirit who lived with them until she was finally carried out on a stretcher. She clearly was ageless.
How vastly different from those around the world today who are obsessed with appearance: looks, and above all, a carefully crafted public image. Was there ever a time when more people spent more time creating a facade that they think will impress people but which is, in fact, far from reality? Besides the political and entertainment personalities who do this, don’t many of us put pictures and information on Facebook and Twitter that we think will impress people? Not to mention dating sites, where 10% of dating profiles have been determined as fake, particularly from men.
I am trying to pay less attention to the way I am aging, but I confess that I am way too aware of my wrinkles and loss of muscle tone. It’s vanity, plain and simple, and I’m working to shift my focus. This is what God is telling me: He chisels away our mortality so we can reveal his image. This has to do with aging, healing, sickness—everything. The purpose of aging is to abandon the physical. When we expend Herculean effort to look young and vibrant, we miss the purpose of aging, which is spiritual vitality. Have you considered that feebleness is really a gift? We are given youth only long enough to learn that our bodies are not the place to invest. The death rate is 100%.
As a pastor I was sometimes given a window into the true nature of the physical. I watched a beautiful young woman in her late twenties decline shockingly from aggressive cancer. As her abdomen swelled with the virulent malignancy, her muscle tone and body fat elsewhere was cannibalized by the awful disease until she became skeletal and almost unrecognizable. Just as extraordinary, however, was the spiritual growth that blossomed within her ravaged body. When I saw her just before her death, I could not hide my immediate dismay at her awful appearance. She smiled and said, “It’s okay, Pastor. I’m abandoning this house very soon for one that is both perfect and eternal.” She glowed with an inner light that moves me even now as I recall that sacred moment. I could almost see the exchange taking place as her spirit outgrew and displaced her body. I have never forgotten this moment when the true nature of physical life was laid bare before me.
God makes everything new.
In the film The Passion of the Christ Jesus says to his mother on his way to Golgotha, “I am making everything new.” These words of Christ actually come from Revelation 21:5, although I found them deeply moving and fitting during this scene. It is the risen, glorified, and resplendent Christ who explains heaven in John’s vision. This is not just an overhaul, or a sprucing up of things that need repair. No, this is absolutely new, never before witnessed creation, just like at the beginning of time. In this way Time Works Backwards. All the way back to Genesis before the fall. Unspoiled. Unpolluted. Untouched by sin. Forever beyond the ravages of time, because time will be gone. Forgiveness, grace, acceptance, and healing will have finally and completely accomplished their purpose. And we will have a new body, not a clumsy remake!
“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20).
“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven….Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3).
If you want to keep moving, you have to keep moving. My determination to be strong and keep moving as long as I can motivates me to really dig in and work out regularly. The trick has always been getting into a habit of it. Once I do that, the rewards of exercising keep me […]
Have you ever awakened from a vivid dream that seemed, after you were conscious, to be totally ridiculous? As I was growing up, I often dreamed that I was flying, an exhilarating experience swooping up and over treetops and soaring high above the clouds with the birds. I wish I could lasso that dream again! Sometimes I dreamed that after tying up snakes they grew legs through their ropes and ran after me! As I grew older, I began to have that awkward dream in which you find yourself naked in a crowd.
In my teenage years my dreams included sexual fantasies that embarrassed me upon waking up. Usually they included no one I knew. Only once do I remember a truly frightening dream. Our family was being chased by a crazed madman with a knife through endless rose gardens and mazes of a huge mansion. I woke up right after I had stabbed him to death. I was out of breath and wet with perspiration.
One of my most memorable and revealing dreams occurred as I was sinking into major depression. I was on a high suspension bridge over a murky river at the bottom of a rocky gorge. The cold water was foaming and churning far below. Many people were on the bridge with me, all members of the church I was pastoring at the time. One young woman ran to the edge, climbed over the railing and jumped, plunging like a rock. Most of those on the bridge rushed over to me, calling out that I should to jump in after her to save her. I knew that my jumping could not help her, and probably would be suicidal. Even so, after a moment of agonizing indecision, I jumped. I woke up as I was falling.
Today my dreams tend to end in frustration: e.g., I am ready to officiate at a funeral and look in the coffin only to discover that I have no idea who the person is; or I open my Bible to preach in front of a large crowd and my notes are completely blank. For several months last year I had severely troubling dreams which left me feeling hopeless and lost.
Where do dreams come from and what do they mean?
The Bible sometimes describes the purpose of dreams as the foretelling of some future event, such as Pharaoh’s dreams that predicted seven years of famine. Daniel was able to tell Nebuchadnezzar the meaning of his fantastic dream which explained the future downfall of his Kingdom and the eventual rise of the Kingdom of God. Joseph, Mary’s husband, was directed specifically through dreams both before and after his marriage.
Modern psychology has opened doors to dream interpretation. It seems that our subconscious mind uses sleep to process our experiences and emotions. Many dreams are shared by people of all nations and generations: they include falling, flying, being chased, taking a test for which we’re not prepared, and that dream about being naked. Generally, these dreams are easily understood, as they express feelings common to humankind. Normal dreams are forgettable, often nonsensical, and of little consequence. However, dreams can be complex and difficult to understand. Dreams can also be frightening or bothersome, leaving you troubled and fretful. Traumatic experiences often replay over and over in dreams, further exhausting us. War experiences, abuse, deprivation—all of these slog their way through our dreams. And dreams occasionally reflect darker events that reflect severe emotional imbalance, psychosis, or even demon possession.
The Elephant Whisperer
John, a pastor friend of ours, said recently that our emotions are like an elephant and we are the rider/handler, or mahout. The rider has the implements of control, yet sits in a precarious position because the elephant is much stronger. Most mahouts today live in India and Thailand. A recent study of these mahouts divulged that most of them were raised with the elephants they handle, and all of them claimed a deep love for their animals. Yet an overwhelming 91.7% have been attacked/injured by their elephant. Among the mahouts who have been attacked by an elephant, 56.7% were attacked more than three times and remaining 35% were attacked one or two times. According to the nature of injuries sustained, 45% of the respondents received major injuries, 26.7% sustained minor injuries, and the remaining 20% of them were grievously injured with a resultant handicap.
Our emotions are like those elephants. We are familiar with them since they’ve been around as long as we can remember. Yet they can catch us off guard, wound us, or even provoke despair and sadness. Dreams move like shadows, nighttime waves on an ocean shore, difficult to understand because of the darkness of the subconscious. They are unpredictable reflections of our elephants/emotions but often reveal what we cannot see in our waking moments. Dreams are neither right nor wrong. They rise in our deepest psyche where our truest personality resides. Can their meanings be harnessed? Is it possible to tame their frightening episodes or banish their lusty images?
A horse or dog whisperer is someone who has an almost mysterious ability to communicate with horses or dogs. They can communicate on equine or canine levels to bring difficult animals under control and to rehabilitate animals that seem beyond help. Jesus is our elephant whisperer. He not only can tame our emotions but he brings sense out of them and orders them into life-giving patterns. Furthermore, Jesus moves effortlessly through our subconscious world and clearly sees the sources and meanings of our dreams. He can help us control them, banish them, and learn from them.
Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 2 that because of the Holy Spirit, we have access to the very thoughts of God. In chapters 14-16 of his gospel, John explains the work and purposes of the Holy Spirit: God’s constant companionship, his desire to open our hearts and minds to God’s truth, and his superhuman ability to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Paul teaches that those whose lives are under the control of the Holy Spirit—our Elephant Whisperer—will enjoy love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control (Galatians 5:22-23).
But back to dreams…
Remember my disturbing dream of the bridge and the jumper? I was led to a godly counselor who helped me understand that this dream revealed that I had the Messiah Complex: I was operating with the unconscious belief that I was personally responsible for the decisions and actions of my church members. If they did well, I rejoiced. If they made bad choices, I took the blame. The counselor helped me see how ridiculous this was, and I, in turn, have been able to better manage my life. Depression was the end result of this complex, and now I lead a more normal life with the help of medication.
At bedtime I ask God specifically to control my dreams. That children’s prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I ask the Lord my soul to keep….” is a good idea. God revealed to me that I should ask Karon and my children to pray with me to help control my severely troubling dreams that oppressed me for several weeks. I also have learned to wake myself up if a dream begins going toward that bad ending.
I said earlier that dreams are neither right nor wrong. But they can express horrible emotions or gratuitous sexual fantasies that feed the evil tendencies we all find within us. In that same nighttime prayer—or perhaps throughout the night—ask God to remove all that is profane from your dreams. (For ideas, read Galatians 5:16-21).
How about your dreams? Perhaps the Elephant Whisperer will open a window for you into this mysterious world.
July 28, 2015 our sweet black Scottish terrier, Maggie, slipped through the fence and was gone…forever. She was a hunter and loved to chase jackrabbits. That’s all it would have taken. We scoured the property and the surrounding desert. We left her bed and a dish of water at the place someone said they saw her. We took her picture to all of the neighbors, local businesses, and the post office. We checked in with the animal shelter day after day, but she was gone.
If you love a dog you understand what we’re going through. You’d think we’d be over it by now. After all, it wasn’t a child (thank God). We still look for her and can almost see her trotting back proudly from dispatching a jackrabbit, her tail in the air and her pink tongue hanging out. We think of her every day when we feed Molly, our little white dog. Yesterday, we talked again, Karon and I, about how much we still miss Maggie. As an experiment, I called Maggie’s name. Molly immediately jumped down from my lap and looked in every corner of the yard and then in the house. She misses her too.
I don’t think we’ll get over it.
Every loss is significant.
Mom and Dad lived into their nineties. Dad died at 93. Mom lived until 97. They lived wonderful lives and were citizens of the world, missionaries to the Caribbean and equatorial Africa. If you’ve read my other blogs, you know that as I grew older abandonment issues and many other things distanced me from them emotionally to the extent that when they died, my overwhelming feeling was relief.
To my surprise, I feel a greater loss as the years go by. I especially miss my mother and our first thirteen years in our West Indian home (when I knew her best). I see her hanging out the wash, her arms tanned from the tropical sun. I see her playing the piano and watch her keeping books for the mission. I remember when she picked me up from school and I shocked her with, “We’re going to have to hurry like hell!”—a phrase I obviously picked up somewhere other than the staid Shultz residence. We shared a deep love of color and beauty, so profuse in the tropical flowers with which she surrounded us. And I understand her so much better now at this stage of my life, a woman transplanted far away from her family that she never saw and separated from the two children that she loved because of duty and obedience to God. I would like to ask her about all of that, and, perhaps in heaven, she will again remember the things that I remember, and we can enjoy those memories together.
Many of us grieve fractured relationships. People we loved and trusted have disappointed us. Grown children live irresponsibly and discard our most deeply prized values. We mourn relationships we have lost or have been unsuccessful at saving, and we still remember the good times with those people or with those children when life seemed simpler and our world seemed safer. We remember the dinner table when we all laughed when one of the children passed gas. We can see the sunlight in their hair and hear they innocent chatter as they play on the monkey bars in the back yard. We remember family get-togethers when there were no political issues to separate us or illnesses to leave empty chairs where smiles used to be.
We mourn the loss of bodies that moved easily or without pain, and yearn for the days when getting dressed in the morning took five minutes instead of forty-five minutes. We miss the “good old days,” days perhaps different for each of us, but remembered in a golden glow of nostalgia.
How to handle failure and loss.
1. Remember and enjoy the good things.
Last night we saw the 1951 movie David and Bathsheba and I found it surprisingly moving and insightful. When David was confronted by Nathan and the full realization of his failure and sin was overwhelming him, he collapsed in prayer. In those moments, God reminded David of the good times in their relationship: when God called him by Samuel’s anointing, when he saw God in every star, lily of the valley, and care of his sheep, and when God helped him, not the least of which was killing Goliath. We cannot bring back the one who has died, but we can find joy in recalling the laughter and joy we shared together. We cannot undo the time we failed, but we can remember the hundreds of times we did not fail!
2. Remember that everyone deals with loss, even Jesus.
Madeleine L’Engle, in Walking on Water, describes the first time this realization hit her.
“One timeI was talking to Canon Tallis, who is my spiritual director as well as my friend, and I was deeply grieved about something, and I kept telling him how woefully I had failed someone I loved, failed totally, otherwise that person couldn’t have done the wrong that was so destructive.Finally he looked at me and said calmly, ‘Who are you to think you are better than our Lord?After all, he was singularly unsuccessful with a great many people.’
“That remark, made to me many years ago, has stood me in good stead, time and again.I have to try, but I do not have to succeed.Following Christ has nothing to do with success as the world sees success.It has to do with love.
Jesus’ losses and disappointments were massive: (a) the loss of divinity and heaven during the Incarnation; (b) the death of Lazarus; (c) the intense humanity of the disciples (“Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? [Matthew 23:40]); and the failure to succeed with many people: the Pharisees, the rich young ruler, and Judas, to name just a few. But Jesus did not allow his losses to define him.
3. Remember that God is always with us.
A secondary result of salvation—wonderful beyond description—is God’s continual friendship and presence with us. He cares deeply for us and is intensely interested in the tiniest details of our lives. Before Jesus departed this earth, he told the disciples, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Comforter, who will never leave you….I will not abandon you as orphans (John 14:16-18).
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. (2 Cor. 1:3)
A book which always encourages me is that ancient classic The God of All Comfort by Hannah Whitall Smith. The language is dated, but Ms. Smith’s insights are simple and remarkable. For example,
“A wild young fellow, who was brought to the Lord at a mission meeting, and who became a rejoicing Christian and lived an exemplary life afterward, was asked by someone what he did to get converted.
“‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I did my part and the Lord did His.’
“‘But what was your part,’ asked the inquirer, ‘and what was the Lord’s part?’
“’My part,’ was the prompt reply, ‘was to run away, and the Lord’s part was to run after me until He caught me.’ A most significant answer; but how few can understand it!
God’s part is always to run after us. Christ came to seek and save the lost….This is always the Lord’s part; but in our foolishness we do not understand it, but think that the Lord is the one who is lost, and that our part is to seek and find Him.
We must simply believe what the Bible says about God’s love for us and His determination to be with us and to help us. We don’t have to explain it, feel it, or defend it, just accept it.
4. E + R = O (Event + response = outcome)
This formula was concocted, or perhaps repeated, by Matthew Cornell, a man whose blog I read the other day. He struggles with imagining the worst possible outcome, always reacting negatively. For example, when he receives a letter from his insurance company, he immediately imagines that he is being canceled or that his rates are going up, and dreads opening the mail. It’s easy to imagine the worst when we lose something important to us or when we face an embarrassing situation or failure. But such events, losses, or failures do not define us. Our response defines us. My granddaughter, Krissy Klotz posted this on Facebook recently: “There are always going to be hard days. The way you respond to them defines you.”
As I mentioned above, Jesus suffered unimaginable rejections, disappointments, and pain. But he did not let those things define him. When bad things come our way, we need to learn to respond with a childlike innocence and curiosity instead of imagining the worst right off the bat. What can we learn? What good and positive thing is God going to bring from this? (Romans 8:28) It may take months—or years—to get to the point where we can see it, but God promises that it will come.
Most everyone, it seems, believes in angels. Popular American culture has encouraged this view with classic Christmas films like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and “The Bishop’s Wife.” Today in 2017 scores of current television shows and series have angels as their primary theme. An ABC news poll in 2008 found that more than half of all adults, including one in five of those who say they are not religious, believe that they have been protected by a guardian angel during their life. An AP poll in 2011 found that 77 percent of adults believe that angels are real.
Do you believe in angels? I do.
Angel Number One
In 1970 Karon, I, and our two girls were attending the Oregon State camp meeting. We had borrowed a large and luxurious Oldsmobile from Karon’s Dad so we could pull a small trailer we borrowed from L. T. and Helen Flynt. (We were always borrowing things in those days.) One afternoon we were on the way from the somewhat isolated camp ground to town and the car died. Nothing we could do helped and all of my mechanical knowledge could fit onto the head of a pin. We sat by the road for quite a while, now and then trying to start the engine again. No luck. Interestingly no traffic went by at all. We were getting increasingly frustrated when Mimi, our four-year old, suggested that we pray about it. Of course! For some reason, I said, “Good idea, Mimi. Why don’t you pray?” And she promptly prayed a simple, faith-filled prayer that, as I remember, went something like this, “Dear God, please fix this car and don’t let it stop any more. Amen.” That was it.
Shortly thereafter we noticed a man walking towards us down the road, the first person we had seen. He walked over to my open window and asked what was wrong. I told him. He offered that he was a retired GM mechanic and if I would release the hood, he’d take a look. In a few moments, the engine was running, and “it didn’t stop any more.” The man laughingly refused any compensation and walked away. We were able to take our outing, finish the camp meeting, and return the car and trailer without incident. Who was the man? No one at the camp ground knew of a retired GM mechanic. What are the odds of such a person showing up at just the right time? Karon and I are sure that he was an angel who came in answer to a child’s simple prayer of faith.
Angel Number Two
Our first pastorate began one year later in Culver City, California. We were young and inexperienced, but we never doubted that God had called us to that church or that he was working among us. Our church building was on the corner of two busy four-lane boulevards. A KFC, gas station, and a Jack in the Box drive-in sat on the other three corners. Fire engines often roared screaming by during worship services. Our congregation was made up of two main groups: longtime Christians and baby Christians. We never knew what was going to happen. We even had an encounter with a demon-possessed woman. However, before she started attending, we had a much more wonderful visitor.
When you entered the church, stairs led you either up to the sanctuary or down to the basement where there were classrooms and a kitchen. Sunday services took place in the sanctuary. Wednesday evening prayer meeting and Bible study was held in the basement and was a much smaller, more intimate group. After a short Bible study, we spent our time sharing prayer requests, holding hands, and praying aloud. Our eyes were shut when we heard someone open the door upstairs, come down to the basement, and take a seat in our circle. When there was a break in praying, our unknown visitor began praying for us. It was a beautiful, powerful, and altogether heavenly prayer prayed by someone who knew us intimately but also knew that God was at work. His words were filled with power, hope, and strength. He prayed that God would anoint us, use us, and protect us in our fledgling ministry. When he said amen, someone else began to pray. Later, when we opened our eyes, he was gone.
It’s only as I write this, forty-six years later, that I realize that this unseen visitor, this angel, prayed for us before the demon-possessed woman arrived. Her stay among us was brief, maybe six months, but when she was present, worship was interrupted, hymnals dropped, babies cried, and a chilly spirit settled over us like a pall. Karon and I visited in her home one day—I think to pray with her as she had been ill—and as we prayed for God’s Spirit to heal her, Karon opened her eyes to see the woman glaring at us with uncanny, deep hatred. That was our confirmation of the demon possession, which explained so many things. Thank God she never returned, nor did the chill she brought to worship. Our heavenly visitor prepared us for that experience with his powerful prayers. Karon and I are sure that he was an angel.
Angel Number Three
Ten years later we were living in Anderson, Indiana. I was doing a lot of traveling and speaking at missions’ conventions. It was mid-March and normally tulips and daffodils would have been pushing up through the soil by then. But it had been an unusually cold and snowy winter, and a freak blizzard had almost stranded me on the way home from the Indianapolis airport at 2:00 am one morning a week earlier. This week I was driving back and forth to North Webster, Indiana for nightly meetings. The last night as I left the church for home, a two-hour drive, I heard ice hitting the windshield. For the most part, however, the roads were passable, and I continued home without incident until the last thirty minutes or so. Just south of Marion I hit a patch of black ice and my car began sliding sideways across the road at about 40 mph. Thankfully, there was no traffic at this late hour. The two-lane road fell away on both sides and was lined by huge trees and the occasional billboard. As I slid out of control I saw the large iron posts of a billboard careening toward my window and I braced for the inevitable crash. The car lurched to a stop, spilling the hot coffee I had just bought at a Marion drive-in. I quickly realized that I was okay. I jumped out to see if the car was damaged. It was not, having stopped less than six inches from the huge iron post supporting the billboard. Immediately I had a vision of an angel standing between me and the billboard pole as he stopped the car in safety. There could be no other explanation as the ground was slick with mud not yet frozen with no boulders or trees to break the onward rush of my car. I believe that angel saved me. (However, he did not help me find a telephone or summon a tow truck.)
Angel Number Four
My parents, Clair and Retha Shultz, recount the following experience in their book, Tracks of God. They were in Africa, far from home, having traveled to see a doctor. Before returning home, they spent the night in a guest house. “During the night a hard, lingering rain came down. Roads in the country are usually just dirt roads. When the roads are dry they are very dusty, and rain turns them into very slippery mud. The next morning we saw the road was bad, but thought we could go on, so we started. Soon we started up a slight incline and the car began to skid sideways and even turn around. When we had come to a complete stop we saw a man walking a short distance ahead of us, coming toward us. He came over and spoke to us saying there was no way we could drive on the road. He reminded us that there was another way that would take us to the highway, but it was a tricky road to follow, and we might get lost. He said, ‘If you want me to, I will get in the car with you and direct you so you can reach the highway. When we get there, I will walk back and finish my own journey.’
“He helped me turn the car around, traveled with us, told us to turn here and there, with no road signs to guide us and finally, with his help, we saw the paved road just ahead. When we stopped the car, he got out, said goodbye and started walking back to his former place on the road. Who was he? We had no idea. Did he ask for a tip or money? No! It was a bit strange that he happened to be right there when we were sliding off the road, even helps reverse the car, so it slid over where it should be, and then acted as our guide to the highway.”
I believe that man was an angel.
What does the Bible say about angels and their interaction with us? They…
are curious about Jesus’ intervention for us (1 Peter 1:12).
encourage Christians in dangerous times (Acts 27:23-24).
are interested in the human mission to spread the truth about Jesus (Luke 15:10); and
they care for Christians at death (Luke 16:22; Jude 9).
The following two references bring me great encouragement, and not only in times of trouble.
14 Therefore, angels are only servants—spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation.
If you make the Lord your refuge,
if you make the Most High your shelter,
10 no evil will conquer you;
no plague will come near your home.
11 For he will order his angels
to protect you wherever you go.
My brief but unforgettable encounters with angels—and those of others—remind me time after time that God is aware of my needs and takes the initiative to provide for me and my family. It comforts me to remember this because sometimes I forget that God is always with me.
I’m thinking that you, too, have had angelic encounters. Why don’t you share them with me and with others? These stories can only bring encouragement and hope.
The door swung open and we stepped across the threshold of another new year.
Close your eyes and imagine yourself standing at the doorway to 2017. Were you someone eager and hopeful, tiptoed or even crouching, ready to skip or leap with a grin into the open space like a little child ready to get outside and make footprints in fresh, undisturbed snow? Maybe you were reluctant and even afraid to step out, like someone standing under a ledge watching a downpour, not wanting to get drenched in the run to your parked car on the far side of the big parking lot. Some of you might have stared vacantly at the open space ahead, taking great effort to just take one step. Maybe your heart is numb, worn out or depleted from challenges, disappointments, even grief you walked through in 2016. You might have marched through, slamming the door…
I am thinking today about Percy Bysshe Shelley’s sonnet, “Ozymandias.”
“I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—’Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.'”
Shelley–and the Bible–remind us that even the mightiest human kingdoms are temporary. I remember this as I ponder the direction of our nation. I celebrate being anchored in eternal truth and remember that when Jesus says (in Revelation) “I make all things new” He is not talking about this election…or this nation…or any nation. In God’s Kingdom there is no deceit or narcissistic power-grabbing; but what our hearts long for: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.