Fingerprints on the Heart

hug_therapy“Everyone makes someone happy: some by arriving, others by leaving.” When I first heard this, I laughed because it is so true. And then I wondered, Which am I? Which are you?

Like fingerprints, each of us leaves behind evidence of our presence. Like fingerprints, we may not realize they’re being left behind—everywhere. Unlike fingerprints, the evidence we leave behind is on people’s hearts and lives, not their doorknobs.

Recently my pastor said, “Whatever Jesus touched, he transformed.” So true. He left fingerprints everywhere: fingerprints of healing, love, joy, and hope. Like the fragrance of bread baking in the morning or the lingering scent of rose petals, the beauty of a gentle and loving spirit makes life full-bodied and wonderful. The opposite is also true: a disapproving or angry spirit poisons the atmosphere like an unpleasant odor.

Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

The master of ceremonies and bridegroom at the wedding in Cana of Galilee didn’t know where the excellent wine came from, but the servants knew. They had, at Jesus’ request filled six huge jars with water and suddenly the water became wine. Did they ever forget that moment? (John 2:1-10)

Jesus and the disciples were caught in a vicious storm on the Sea of Galilee. Their boat was awash and almost capsizing when the disciples, although experienced fishermen, frantically awoke Jesus. He stood in the wildly pitching boat, quietly speaking to the storm. “Be quiet! Hush!” The wind and waves ceased. “Who is this man?” They were stunned and afraid. “Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Matthew 8:23-27)

“Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached him and knelt before him. ‘Lord,’ the man said, ‘if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.’ Jesus reached out and touched him. ’I am willing,’ he said. ’Be healed!’ And instantly the leprosy disappeared” (Matthew 8:2-3). Likely this man was universally shunned and abhorred. But Jesus touched him. Unforgettable.

Even during and after the inhumane flogging and brutal crucifixion Jesus left his fingerprints behind. “Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, truly this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54).

Whether it was the mothers of the children that Jesus welcomed, tousling their hair, (Matthew 19:13-14) or the woman caught in adultery to whom he said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more,” (John 8:1-11) Jesus’ purposeful kindness and warm welcome was an unexpected wind straight from heaven, refreshing everyone that was near him.

I remember a couple of my college professors who left fingerprints on my heart. Because of reasons I won’t go into here, I dropped out of college during my senior year. I had to get the signatures of each of my professors to complete the process. One professor in that Christian college was extremely disappointed in me, and said something to this effect.” You came here to serve others, and now you’re going to serve yourself?” The second professor was surprised, but not disappointed in me. He said, “I believe in you, David.” Those reactions are as fresh in my heart as the day those comments were made, and I’m eternally grateful to the second professor who valued me more than my decision.

texy box

We don’t even have to be the ones involved in an interaction to be affected. Years ago, at Walt Disney World, we were waiting in line after a long day for the monorail to take us to the parking lot. Everyone was tired, but most of us were managing pretty well. One boy, about ten, said something to his father, who began yelling at him. We are all instantly uncomfortable, and horrified when the father cuffed the boy on the side of the head. The look of humiliation and anger on that boy’s face sticks with me still. That father didn’t only irreparably harm his son, but left a sickening cloud over the rest of the day for hundreds of people.

Interactions don’t have to be huge like these. Just a friendly smile in the cashier’s line at Walmart or a long stare at someone who’s obese can leave joy or pain in our wake. Thoughtless comments linger after we’ve left like a stench, but warm acceptance brings joy.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

Here we go again! A polar vortex is swirling down from the north and arctic air blasts those in its path. Temperatures plummet to bone-chilling numbers that don’t even register on thermometers. Window panes chatter in the unrelenting blast. Cars refuse to start or helplessly slide off the road into snowbanks only to be buried by snowplows before they can be extricated. Thousands of airline flights are cancelled, adding chaos to the subzero days and nights.Shoveling-Snow-Cartoon

This is nothing new. I remember my Dad telling about being stranded on the freeway in a raging blizzard as he was driving to Michigan to join my Mom and sister and her husband for my niece’s birth. He ended up spending several nights in a service plaza on the turnpike with hundreds of others. I ended up driving at a snail’s pace for five hours from the Indianapolis airport to Anderson, Indiana, on snow-clogged, unplowed freeways in a blizzard, normally a drive of one and a half hours, at most.  We’ve witnessed wind chills of minus 60 degrees, snow drifts that didn’t melt until April, and huddling around fireplaces when the electricity was off for days.

I sympathize and empathize with you ice-bound refugees surviving like lost arctic explorers in an endless snow storm. I pity you when your fingers and toes go numb as you shovel the driveway again after the snowplow creates a worse mess than you just cleared.  the curse of the snowplowI’m sorry you have to wade through ankle deep slush or watch helplessly as garbage trucks slide inexorably toward you on ice-covered roads. I remember the sinking feeling I used to get when the meteorologists would gleefully announce an approaching subzero disaster.

I do understand. Yes, I do. I endured thirty-four years of terrible winters and gloomy springs and the endless dreariness between January 1 and May 1 that torpedoed my mood until Eeyore seemed positively cheerful in comparison.

But…no longer! When we retired, we moved to Arizona! Today, January 31, Karon and I played tennis under sunny skies. I actually look forward to getting up each day where the sun shines over 300 days a year. Yes, it gets chilly here with the occasional hard freeze, and it can get toasty in the summertime (it’s a dry heat), but blizzards are a distant memory and I haven’t driven on an icy road in almost a decade.

Contrary to what you may be thinking, I’m not gloating. It occurs to me that we hear of a somewhat similar scenario in the Bible. In Genesis, the problem is not the cold, it’s godlessness. We learn that Lot, Abraham’s nephew, in selecting the best grazing land for his flocks, opted for the lush fields near Sodom and Gomorrah, and that’s where he moved his family. Perhaps he was unaware of the moral climate there, or thought it was unimportant. Like a polar vortex, godlessness swept goodness out of Sodom and Gomorrah like an arctic blizzard. Year after brutal year the evil worsened until no vestige of common decency was left. It’s worth noting that only God’s direct intervention helped Lot understand what was at stake. He barely escaped with his life.

Many people and places today are morally bankrupt with never a thought about goodness or God. The majority of our entertainment is empty of moral value, or introduces even baser lifestyles. Even innocuous distraction can clog our hearts and numb our souls. Social media can be wonderful, but a lot of it is depersonalizing and sinks to the lowest common denominator. The winter of godlessness is upon us and shows no signs of abatement. Nudity, violence, tasteless humor, and crime have become not only our entertainment but our lifestyles. Those who suggest fidelity, purity, and right are bullied and ridiculed.

It’s time we recognize what this blight is doing to us and choose to live differently. We must escape the soul-suffocating atmosphere and find warmth and light.

Not everyone wants to move to sunny climates, nor should they. There are many reasons to live where winters are difficult, like work and family. Some people like winter, so they say. Spiritual winter, however, is far different. There are no redeeming qualities in godlessness. Nor is there any hope where God is abandoned.

What is your climate of choice?

 

Who Will Be in Heaven?

Heaven is as real as potatoes. I’m as sure there’s a heaven as I am that the sun will come up tomorrow. Heaven is wonderful beyond human imagination and will fulfill our deepest longings. It will surpass the beauty of earth because it is new and unspoiled, an uncontaminated Eden without pollution or destruction. We will have perfect, imperishable bodies untouched by sickness or deformity. No one will experience sadness, pain, or loss because blight and evil are altogether unknown. Above all, Heaven lasts forever because our host is God, Himself. Heaven is his and it is pure as He is pure.

The older I get, the more I long for Heaven. William Wordsworth famously complained that “the world is too much with us,” and I couldn’t agree more. It isn’t just that I’m older and weaker, although I am that. My heart aches for right in a world that seems overwhelmed by wrong. I crave kindness, love, and gentleness, but the world seems to praise the rude, arrogant, and godless. I’m weary of headlines brimming with murder and crime, and I’m so done with our society’s ridicule of what is wholesome and pure.

Could those of us who long for heaven be simply creating a dream world? Are our ideas merely the result of poor education and lack of sophistication, the hillbilly concepts of backwoods snake handlers? After all, on every hand brilliant scientists with their astute minds pooh-pooh the existence of God. How can I integrate my belief in Heaven with that? And—can my belief in an exclusive heaven survive alongside the teachings of the world’s other religions? Is heaven even real?

The Bible Teaches Heaven

Yes, Heaven is real. I make that claim because that’s what the Bible teaches. It’s important, though, to understand if what we believe about heaven is what the Bible actually does teach. What many people today believe about heaven is a conglomeration of the Bible, popular culture, superstition, and even other religions. What is it you believe?

The idea of an afterlife seems to have been around as long as the human race. People are fascinated with it. The spark of human personality is so compelling that we cannot imagine this short life will end it. The afterlife is invariably linked to our understanding of the soul, that part of us that surpasses the physical and sustains the human spirit beyond the grave. Common among various religions is the idea that eternity is a place where we will pay for our sins or be rewarded for our goodness. Many eastern religions understand the afterlife as a place where one is in transition from one life to another or as a condition in which we continue to improve or regress.

Most religions teach, in one way or another, that people die in various stages of readiness for the hereafter.

  • Hinduism teaches that you have to achieve perfection to earn heaven. Reincarnation gives each person endless chances to “keep trying” to get it right. This can go on forever.
  • Buddhism teaches that each person can ultimately achieve Nirvana, but that It is neither justifiable or reasonable to believe in an eternal heaven or hell. Meditation, good works, and kindness help each person find inner peace and transcendence from the physical world.  “The wise man makes his own heaven while the foolish man creates his own hell here and hereafter.”[1]
  • Islam teaches that a physically rewarding heaven and horrible hell are real. Allah will compensate the faithful for what they did, or did not do, on earth. The virtuous will go to heaven; those who don’t measure up to the Quran’s teachings, to hell. In other words, going to heaven depends on what you do.
  • Mormons believe everyone will go to some level of heaven, and even that marriage will continue (for those who were wed in a Mormon Temple.)

Fake Heavens

 Today many people prefer to create a heaven with which they are comfortable. The recent flood of books and films that describe near death experiences and visions of heaven have clouded biblical teaching. Rob Bell, who famously founded the Mars Hill Bible Church later said that his book, Love Wins, led to a fallout with the congregation and forced him on a “search for a more forgiving faith.”[2] He now believes everyone will be saved and that orthodox Christianity is unpalatable.

He’s not the first—or the last—of a swelling number of Christians who are moving away from any idea of hell. God is perceived as “too loving” to send people to hell. Besides, any teaching that claims any lifestyle or habit is right or wrong is politically incorrect. I allege that a significant percentage of Christians have utterly abandoned any concept of living a holy lifestyle different from the lifestyles of non-Christians. Their “OMG” lifestyle contains just as much alcoholism, adultery, pornography, and self-indulgence as the rest of society. They ignore or explain away New Testament teaching that clearly labels sin for what it is. Is it any wonder that Christians like this readily follow the idea that what is “justifiable” or “reasonable” takes precedence over what scripture teaches about being a Christ follower? Such believers cannot imagine that they, their children, or loved ones might be excluded from heaven for any reason. They have therefore created a God who overlooks sin. But if God overlooks sin, Calvary was totally unnecessary.

What did Jesus teach?

Jesus said told Martha after Lazarus died, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.  [John 11:25}. He told his disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them so that they could live with him in his father’s house [John 14:1].

 So far, so good. But Jesus also told Martha, “Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.” To the disciples he added, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. [John 14:6]. He also warns us, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” [Matthew 7:22-23] And that is a warning not just for ourselves, lest we deceive ourselves into thinking we are following Christ when we are not. It is also a warning that we not be sentimental as though everybody who is a good person who died is going to be in Heaven.[3]

Here’s the real issue: sin. Neither good works nor being a good person erase sin. Meditation is useful and can bring a more serene lifestyle, but by itself does not take care of the sin problem. God’s heaven is exclusively for the sinless. This is not snobbishness or saying that Christ followers are better than other people. Christ provides a way through his sacrifice. “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation” [Romans 5:6-9]. God is just and merciful. His overwhelming love sent His sinless son, Jesus Christ, to forgive our sins. Who could be more forgiving than that? But hear this: rejecting this last and best option will keep you out of heaven.

“If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved” (Romans 10:9-10 NLT).

Ultimately, I agree with C. S. Lewis, who said in The Great Divorce, “If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell…. There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it.

 

[1] https://www.budsas.org/ebud/whatbudbeliev/303.htm

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rob_Bell

[3] From an interview with John Piper https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/can-loved-ones-in-heaven-look-down-on-me

Just call me Flo

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.

flo's family copy
The Karo family. Florence is upper right.

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 and Florence Neal 1939
Rev. and Mrs. John Neal

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.

john, flo, and kids copy
John R. standing up, the twins are on laps.

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 Neal (center) South L.A. Sunday school celebration 1951
Florence, center

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.

Change

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.

John, Mom, Karon, Dad, Karl, Pete, and Rod August 1965
Dave and Karon’s wedding day: back, l. to r: John R., Florence, Karon, John A., Karl; front, l. to r: Peter, Rodney

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.

John and Flo 1986 Dad's 75th birthday
John A. and Florence 1986, Dad’s 75th birthday

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.

 Transition

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.

TJ and Curtis 1997
T.J., left, and Curtis: 1997

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.

Karon and Mom April 27, 2002
Karon and Florence at a welcome party in Anderson

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

Flo on ferris wheel Columbus, OH 2007
Flo at the Ohio State Fair

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.

Flo, John, Karl, Karon, Pete, & Rodney 2004 60th b-day K&K 001
Flo and her five kids at Karon and Karl’s 60th birthday party; l. to r: Karl, John R., Flo, Karon, Peter, Rodney in 2004

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.

Flo Christmas 2006
Flo  at Christmas 2006

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How to Handle Failure and Loss

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.

maggie-and-molly
Maggie (left) and Molly (right)

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 time I 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.[1] 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.

 

[1]  http://www.matthewcornell.org/blog/2005/10/9/e-r-o-event-response-outcome-dealing-appropriately-with-crin.html

You Matter to God

Does God really care about all of the details of your life? After all, our world’s population is increasing at 80 million per year! The headlines scream about refugees, wars, terrorism, hunger, and that we’re running out of clean water. With so many big things for God to take care of, how can he possibly care about my MRI or your granddaughter’s college tuition? Well, he can.

God is up for it.

  • collage for DNA copyWhen you think for a moment about our world, it’s quickly apparent that the world’s Creator has no trouble with details. In fact, He obviously has a passion for details! (Stay with me for a moment!) Our world’s vast and impossibly complicated ecosystems function in scientific and biological precision to support life in millions of ways. For example, the earth is exactly the ideal distance from the sun to support life. Think of all of the details that have to be just right for life to exist, whether it’s gravity, sunlight, the salinity in the oceans or composition of the soil, it all works perfectly together. Supporting this whirling planet overflowing with vibrant life forms is the mathematics of God. When we tap into the tiniest part of it, we find things like this. (There are endless examples.)Plants almost seem to perform mathematical calculations, allowing them to use up their starch reserves at a constant rate so that they run out almost precisely at dawn when photosynthesis can begin again.
  • Ram's hornsRam’s horns grow in a precise spiral and geometrical alignment to the animal’s head so that, even though they can weigh thirty pounds (more than all of the animals bones weigh together), the animal is never unbalanced.
  • fibonacci1The centers of sunflowers and daisies grow in opposing spirals. They are not only beautiful to look at, but mathematically perfect, allowing the maximum number of seeds to grow in the least possible amount of space. Some sunflowers have 55 different spirals going left and 21 going right.
  • DNA is the genetic code that makes every living thing either an animal or plant. The arrangement of DNA in that meticulous double helix determines whether a plant will be a geranium or soybean and whether an animal will be a fish or an amoeba. I’ve added an endnote with a layman’s explanation of this[1], but let’s just say that God creates and arranges these unbelievably complex cells so that we, every person, animal and plant, is unique. 7.4 billion people—and counting—and none of us will ever be like another, each of us has unique fingerprints, tongue prints, toe prints, and capillary patterns in our retinas, among hundreds of other unique features.
  • starsGod has named every star. “He determines the number of the stars: he gives to all of them their names.” Psalm 147:4 (Science’s best guess of how many stars are in the “observable” universe: 10 trillion galaxies times 100 billion stars in each galaxy…and no one knows how large the universe is…)
  • God catalogs every single creature. “I know every bird on the mountains,and all the animals of the field are mine.” Psalm 50:11 (8.7 million species and counting. Again…an estimate)
  • hair“And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” Luke 12:7 (NLT) (The most recent estimate I could find is that each of us has about 37.2 trillion cells in our body)

 

Not only can God do it, He loves to do it…

God is crazy about us

God misses nothing and has planned every detail of our present and future. He takes supreme delight in doing this and has been doing it since before the dawn of time.

How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. [Italics mine] (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son (Ephesians 4:1 The Message). 

That lavish gift-giving culminated in our glorious and incomparable Christ.

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him (John 3:16 NLT).

God’s fabulous purpose in all of this was to remake Eden, i.e. heaven, where humankind would dwell with him in a perfect world at last. Jesus explained this to his disciples in John 14:1-3:

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am (NLT).

So what does this mean to you?

  • You are not alone and you never will be alone.
  • You never need to wonder whether your tiniest thoughts, desires, or hurts—seemingly unimportant to anyone else—are too insignificant for God. If He even keeps track of the hairs on your head don’t you think that he wants to know everything about you?
  • God longs for your most intimate friendship. He looks forward to every word you tell him. In other words, when you spend time with him, you make his day. So few people, even Christians, care about God as a friend. Millions of Christians seldom think of him except on Sunday. Millions more only think of him when they are in crisis. Even so, He welcomes every thought of him and daily sends his Spirit and His angels to and fro throughout the world to bless, encourage, and open the hearts of children, men, and women because He doesn’t want anyone to perish apart from Him.
  • God’s intense longing for intimacy with us is fueled by his keen knowledge of the unspeakably agonizing and lonely eternity for those who refuse his love. If everyone were going to be saved, God never would have bothered sending Jesus Christ to die for our sins.
  • Your friendship and relationship with God is capable of endless enrichment, but only if you consciously cultivate it. Your peace in life is in direct correlation to the amount of time you spend with God.

Don’t wait another moment. Start the conversation. You don’t even have to tell him your name. He already knows everything about you.

___________________________________________________________father hugging child

[1]  Deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA is a molecule that contains the instructions an organism needs to develop, live, and reproduce. These instructions are found inside every cell, and are passed down from parents to their children.

 

DNA STRUCTURE: DNA is made up of molecules called nucleotides. Each nucleotide contains a phosphate group, a sugar group and a nitrogen base. The four types of nitrogen bases are adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G) and cytosine (C). The order of these bases is what determines DNA’s instructions, or genetic code. Similar to the way the order of letters in the alphabet can be used to form a word, the order of nitrogen bases in a DNA sequence forms genes, which in the language of the cell, tells cells how to make proteins. Another type of nucleic acid, ribonucleic acid, or RNA, translates genetic information from DNA into proteins.

The entire human genome contains about 3 billion bases and about 20,000 genes. http://www.livescience.com/37247-dna.html

 

Why you must do what gives you joy

Three years ago Mike Meadows, 47, had a game-changing heart attack that resulted in open-heart surgery and six by-passes. May 2, 2016, on his fiftieth birthday, Mike wrote the following on his Facebook page. (You can read more about the details of his cardiac wakeup call at the end of the blog.)

Mike Meadows' cubicle on his 50th birthday cropped
Mike at work on his 50th birthday.

“I want to say a big thank you to everyone for the warm birthday wishes for big 5-0. Not to get too philosophical on you, but I promised myself something almost three years ago after heart surgery and this birthday was just cause to renew that promise.

” With the realization that I have more years behind me than in front of me, that promise was to spend more time doing those things I love without having a detailed plan in place. Not that there’s anything wrong with goals, mind you. But far too often in the past I’ve said, “One of these days I want to….” or “I wish I could do this but…” and then find some excuse for not doing it. I always wanted to see down the road and see where things were going before stepping out just doing it.

“That all changed with that promise. That’s why I’m on the Humane Society board. That’s why I continue with photography—canines, weddings (This year will be my busiest year.), families, seniors, and so forth. And that’s why I finally started playing the piano for college music students again. I’ve been trying to get on the roster of accompanists for the last couple of years, and I finally got on board for the fall semester of 2015 and continued this past spring semester and hope to return again in the fall. It’s certainly been a breath of fresh air and a stress reliever for sure.

“So it was very fitting that on my birthday, I had the opportunity to play for a young lady’s cello recital on my birthday. It’s been a real privilege to work with some really talented young people and awesome instructors these past couple of semesters. I am very glad to be playing again at this level and in this capacity.

“I have a quote on my computer at work that says, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now.” And that’s pretty much the way I’m approaching life right now. Life’s too short to put off the things that bring us joy while we keep ourselves busy with “life.” Where will it lead? Who knows? But you’ll never know until you start.”

 What gives you joy?

Mike has discovered a wonderfully freeing truth, and I applaud him for recognizing it and doing something about it. That moment of recognition he experienced, and the resultant promise he made himself, reminds me of a marvelous poem I read years ago.

 sunny-windowI lost my soul today

For the sake of cleaning and computers and junk.

It was a wonder-day of beauty.

Rapturous leaves afire in the sun entreated me;

Butterflies beckoned, birds entreated with song;

The great sky, wide and blue as the ocean,

Implored me to drift on the miracle tide

Of gladness and renewing.

But I turned away.

There were chairs to be dusted, floors to be vacuumed…

Floors, mind you! Common carpet and dirt

That must absorb my being.

And the ecstatic world without

Pleaded with me in vain.

A book lay open on the table.

In it were hidden jewel-truths

More wonderful than gems in the depths of the earth.

”Gather us! Take us! Be comforted and inspired!”…

But there were keys to strike on a computer,

Documents to be typed and files to be sorted;

Papers, mind you, which must absorb my soul!

A Master Musician there was—

I might have heard Him had I paused to think it

This golden afternoon, the music of angels….

But there was junk in the garage that must be cleared away—

Junk, mind you! Stacking newspapers, sorting recycling, and categorizing things for my garage sale

That must smother my soul.

And the Great Musician played, unheeded.

Had I moved a few steps, I might have listened;

Had I gone a few paces from the cluttered path….

But I lost my soul today,

For cleaning, computers, and junk.

There will be many days when I may organize and type and clean.

I traded Beauty for an hour of cleaning

I sold my birthright to meet one more deadline.

O Beauty, stand once more upon my threshold!

O Day of Wonder, beckon me again!

That I, the penitent, may open wide my dwelling

And plead with Loveliness as she has pled with me.

—adapted from a poem by Angela Morgan

The first time I heard mental health connected with things that give us joy was in 1999 when I agonized about my career and read the book, What Color is Your Parachute? [1] The purpose of this book is to help you find a career you love. One of the most memorable exercises for me was to think back through your life and remember the times you were happiest. What were you doing at those times? What brought you the most fulfillment? In what activities were you most likely to lose track of time? Those are the things that give you joy.

Following the path of joy means I must stop doing those things that frustrate me and emotionally bankrupt me. I now leave committee and board work to others. I am very selective in my viewing habits, including Facebook, and am good friends with the “off” button. Violence, blatant sin, and rude disrespect drain my soul and I no longer tolerate them. The things I love that make the day worthwhile are being with my wife, observing nature, gardening and bird-watching, playing the piano, writing, and something new: coloring.

What about you?

 

Epilogue: The rest of Mike’s story

It all started on the day after Thanksgiving, 2012. Yes, Black Friday has new meaning to me. I was working at my computer one minute, and the next I found myself kneeling in the floor, clutching my chest in severe pain with all the classic symptoms of a heart attack. I sent my son across the street to my in-laws for aspirin, chewed a couple of them, and then got to the hospital. Within an hour or two I found myself looking out the window of a helicopter on my way to Indy.

After a heart catheterization to determine where the blockages were and to what extent they blocked blood flow, it was determined that I had a multitude of blockages but specialists weren’t in agreement regarding my readiness for surgery. Apparently, if you do surgery too early in the process, the grafts don’t mature. The diagnosis as I heard it: “You are now a ticking time-bomb.” Or as my family doctor succinctly pointed out when he saw the report, “Wow, your heart’s a mess!”

Upon my very anxious query, I was told by the doctors that if I were to start having heart issues again, then I would probably have similar symptoms to those I had on Black Friday. I guess the operative word here was probably. Fast forward eight months to late July. We had been experiencing a triple-digit heat index in Indiana for several days. I noticed that climbing the back stairs at work left me unusually winded and with a slight but vague tightness in my chest, but I attributed it to the smothering humidity and the heat of summer in Indiana. In the back of my mind, I wondered if my heart was acting up, but since I had no pain or other symptoms, I tried to ignore that little voice. A couple of weeks later I had finished shooting a wedding when the vague tightness in my chest returned. I thought it rather strange because it hadn’t bothered me all day, and the weather was cooler. I went home, started working on the wedding photos, and fell asleep. When I awoke around 3:00 a.m. the tightness was back and didn’t leave.

I jumped online and tried to self-diagnose and talk myself out of any misgivings I was having, but around 5:00 a.m. I told my wife that I thought I should get to the ER merely as a precaution. I figured they’d run tests and send me home. Within about twenty minutes of my arrival, they informed me they were sending me to Indy in an ambulance…my blood work showed that I was having another “cardiac event.” Upon arrival in Indianapolis, they immediately performed another heart catheterization, and it showed multiple blockages with the most serious being each of the main arteries feeding each side of my heart, which were both 95% closed. I guess if I had ignored my non-symptoms, I could have easily dropped dead without further warning.

They informed me that prompt surgical attention was a necessity and they started pulling a team together for the next morning. When they completed the surgery, I had six bypasses to call my very own. It’s certainly not something I would have wished for, but due to family history, it was something that wasn’t totally unexpected either. The thing that surprises me is that while I escaped further tragedy by a narrow margin, dodging a bullet wasn’t something that lingered too much in my mind. What I couldn’t shake was the nagging urgency that life now seemed to possess: the realization that life is really finite and there is an ending point of our time here on earth. No longer was the future just an open-ended question mark with a vague, fuzzy date of completion. If I wanted to make the most of my time here before the transition of death, then I needed to do something about it. Now.

[1]  An updated edition is available each year on Amazon.com.

Letting Go

letting go
Seven days ago was that perfect day gardeners dream about: sunny, a light breeze, time on my hands, and work that needs to be done. This is what I love and have always loved. I remember even as a child the satisfaction of sweeping dead leaves from the sidewalk and weeding flower beds so they look better. The love of growing things and landscaping yards has been my hobby for as long as I can remember. I have scoured plant catalogs for days as spring approached and woefully discovered that what arrives in the email rarely bears even a slight resemblance to the bountifully blooming plant pictured on those pages. Nevertheless I persevered: fertilizing, spading, weeding, and planting. I drew landscaping diagrams on graph paper and witnessed the circles and lines transform into flowering crab apple trees and beds of brilliant tulips. I wore out wheelbarrows and shovels and frequented local nurseries so much they knew me by name. I designed pergolas in California and rock gardens in Arizona. And I loved every minute of it.

Seven days ago Karon also answered the gardener’s call and tackled a project that involved moving rocks, a furniture dolly, and a wheelbarrow. Not that long ago I would have been the one moving rocks and wheeling them to a new spot with the furniture dolly. Seven days ago, not so much. Work like that now disables me for several days and so, much to my chagrin, I step aside and let Karon do the “big” jobs. Instead, on that perfect day, I settled for a less arduous task of trimming last fall’s dead foliage out of the planter and around the bird feeders. I felt the warm sun on my shoulders and listened to the house finches fussing over the sunflower seed in the feeder. My favorite music was playing from Pandora in my back pocket. Yes, it was a glorious day. In about an hour I had filled up the trash can and slowly stood to view my handiwork. Yup, it looked great!

The next morning it was hard to stand up and I reached for my cane. Burning pain accompanied those familiar aches in my back and down my legs. It subsided long enough for some tennis with friends, but by afternoon I knew that my evening plans would not materialize. Karon went to the church dinner without me. My pain sidelined me from our Sunday service, too. Odd, sitting home on Sunday morning.

 

A Painful Realization

Later, as I sat reading the Bible and writing in my journal, I sensed that another milestone was arriving that I don’t want to acknowledge: soon I am going to have to give up gardening. I can hardly even write these words because it’s inconceivable to me that this day may be near. But I’m afraid it is.

As we age we start saying “goodbye” more and more often. The children grow up and leave home. The grandchildren grow up, too, and get married. We retire and leave meaningful work we loved. We sell the house and downsize, probably the first of other such moves. We attend more funerals than weddings. We adapt to hearing aids and patronizing strangers. We catch a look at our reflection in the Walmart window and see our father or mother instead, stooped and wearing big tennis shoes. Can that be us? Yes. I’m afraid that very few of us look like the “vibrant” older adults on the cover of AARP magazine.

Socrates quote

I’m learning that letting go is part of aging: we must let go of the demand that everyone agrees with us, looks like us, or thinks like us. We must let others—even our children and grandchildren—be themselves. I must let go of my perfectionism. (I know, I know. But it’s so hard when everyone needs my advice and so many pictures need straightening.) I must let go of things that are not good for me, and now—sadly–that includes some of my favorite things.

Many people—some not that old—face difficult change. Even children cope with cancer, cystic fibrosis, autism, and their parents’ divorce. Thousands face eviction, evacuation, or the catastrophic loss of life and limb in natural disasters and war. If we don’t die first, we will all grow old.

Our national and world situations seem worse than ever, and there is a lot of discontent these days on the Internet:  people rail at change and post online about being “mad as hornets” about this and that. I admit that I am disgusted along with the psalmist who pleaded to God, “Don’t let liars prosper here in our land” (Psalm 140:11). I fear America no longer even faintly resembles the America I know and love, and the majority of voters share neither my ideals nor my hopes. Every generation faces similar wars, losses, and personal disappointments.

If all we get from disappointment and aging is bitterness and anger, are we not missing the most fertile years of our life to become like Christ? We can learn to face loss without becoming resentful. We can learn to accept change without blaming others or God.

 

Good from Loss

I remember hearing a missionary friend once tell me that his life had been characterized by lots of goodbyes: goodbye to friends, favorite restaurants, familiar neighborhoods, and family. But he went on to say that he discovered there also were many hellos: new friends, new foods, and new things to appreciate. Maybe we can learn to look for hellos: more time for reading, perhaps; or more time to pray. Some may face the frightening prison of Alzheimer’s disease, but most of will always be able to pray. God is endlessly creative and has the knack for making things out of nothing. (Read Genesis.) Cannot He create fresh ideas in our aging minds and bring us to refreshing discoveries about transferring our reliance from what we have lost to what we still have; and ultimately to God alone?

We must learn to let go. These are the years to get rid of our controlling demands and our stubborn wills. Have you ever thought that anger is a demand? These are the years to take time—we have plenty of it—to cherish others and find ways to encourage them and help them to feel good about themselves. These are the years to finally study the Bible and ask God to reveal himself to us in different ways. Now is the time to learn contentment and to accept—with joy—what each day offers.

Perhaps every generation is surprised by aging. Even though we as children have seen our pet turtles and goldfish die and, more recently, our parents fail, it’s a shock when we are the ones who hurt every morning and walk everywhere with aching feet. Perhaps being forced to let go is God’s way of gently forcing us to prepare for the transition from a physical world to one of the spirit, from being independent to interdependent to dependent.

let go and let God copy

Last year one of my first blogs was about my mother’s transition from life to death and her phrase,” That was then. This is now.” My mistake was thinking it was easy.

 

No Curses Remain

 

family hug
God’s everlasting blessing

May God bend close to you today and hold you tightly in His big arms. There you will find endless peace, wonderful comfort, and limitless grace to face whatever comes your way. At times it seems that physical bodies are sabotaging us,  My degenerating spine and resultant pain remind me to contemplate Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4:7, 16-18 (NLT) “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves….Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”

You and I may never meet on this earth, but we joyfully look forward to that Day when Jesus Christ will make everything right and new. In that Land where God Himself is light and all darkness, sin, illness, and death are forever banished, we will dance and never grow tired, we will sing and never lose our voices, we will visit new friends and old, and we will finally understand every marvelous nuance of God’s Word because we will sit at His feet and He will explain all things to us. We will live in that new Eden where we visit with God in the cool of the evening. There God’s angels will show us “a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. We will see it flowing down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grows a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. These trees produce healing for all physical, spiritual, emotional illnesses. We will all splash like children in those waters [1] (which are the source of those miraculous healing pools of Bethesda [2]).

No curses remain. There are neither genetic defects nor agonizing memories of abuse. No bullies, hatemongers, or tyrants will be present. Never again will we see, experience, or even hear about wickedness, evil, murder, or war, for God is the King and this is His Kingdom where the wolf and the lamb will live together and a little child will lead them[3]. The throne of God and of the Lamb is there, and his servants worship him. And we will see his face and there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on us and in us. And we will reign forever and ever.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

[1] Adapted from Revelation 22

[2] John 5:2-4 Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda, with five covered porches. Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches waiting for a certain movement of the water, for an angel of the Lord came from time to time and stirred up the water. And the first person to step in after the water was stirred was healed of whatever disease he had.

[3] Isaiah 11:6

I Will Take Care of You

In earlier blogs I have talked about my pain from a degenerating spine. Surgery in October of 2014 promised relief which did not materialize. More recent tests have revealed multiple issues and my surgeon has declined further surgery at this point. For the last year I have managed pretty well with pain medicine and even enjoyed a trip to Florida for our fiftieth wedding anniversary. In recent days, however, new pain episodes have occurred which impeded walking. Fortunately this pain has been temporary and passed in a day or so.

These episodes have made me think. If you’re like me, you usually jump to the worst scenario. Will I have to use a wheelchair? Will I be able to walk? Will we have to sell the house? The fact that my mother spent the last twenty years of her life in a wheelchair lurks darkly in the back of my mind.

My wife, Karon, is always super helpful at times like this to keep me level-headed. She is good at balancing compassion with level-headedness, and and so I am going to return to the doctors and see about additional spinal injections. Yet I wonder…

God speaks

light streaming through forestA couple of days ago I went into the bathroom late afternoon for medicine. My hamstrings were aching terribly and the new pain was on my mind. Out of the blue God spoke: “David, I will take care of you.” I have learned to recognize these rare moments when God intervenes with a word for me, but these unexpected words of comfort were clear and incontrovertible. They were not whispered but almost shouted into my ear.

I don’t know if you believe in things like this, but I do. I am immensely grateful for such undeserved moments. Why the Creator of the Universe should care about me, much less communicate His care, is inexplicable. But God wasn’t done yet…

Quite often I waken in the night from troubling dreams. I think perhaps that my medication makes them more intense. These dreams are all similar: in every one I am in an exasperating situation, like showing up to preach a funeral only to discover I don’t know any of the people there, including the deceased. At times I am traveling and get lost in a large foreign airport teeming with strangers, or I arrive to speak at a convention, step to the podium, and discover the notes I brought are blank paper. My entire career involved preaching and traveling and perhaps my subconscious mind is processing years of unspoken fears. Occasionally I have enlisted prayer support from my wife and children when the dreams become darker and scarier.

God’s gift

Just one night after God’s message to me, “I will take care of you,” I had a vivid, brilliant, and completely different kind of dream. I found myself in an extensive building with soaring ceilings and beautiful appointments. An ingenious blending of indoors and outdoors gave the impression of timeless wonder. Wide corridors lined with planters and fountains opened into spacious rooms filled with light and peace. Everywhere there was a sense of tranquility, holiness, and safety. Beautiful, ethereal music somehow interpreted what I was looking at.

Tall windows looked out onto breathtaking views. Behind three churchlike windows tall trees in the bronze of autumn color stood majestically. They were backlit with the light of dawn. A gentle breeze drifted through their branches and leaves floated quietly down, spiraling, twisting, hovering, and sinking. The slightest tinkle of wind chimes could be heard in the distance.

Behind a wall of the palest aquamarine glass was a huge aquarium in whose transparent waters floated exotic fish and coral fans swaying in the warm current. There was no sound, but the movement of the fish and the corals seemed to produce their own music.

Hallways and alcoves were covered with iridescent mosaics that shimmered in hues of pale green, blue, and mother of pearl. High windows slanted light and shadows into the rooms and hallways where benches offered a many places to sit in contemplation.

There were many people present who met me with warm smiles and kindness; but no one intruded into my thoughts or interrupted my observation. I felt almost as though I were in a large hotel where the muffled sounds of conversation mixed with the clinking of silverware and china in a nearby restaurant. It was a holy and indescribably beautiful sanctuary that went on forever without effort, maintenance, or care. There was no hurry. There were no expectations. No lost notes. No pain. Only wonderful beauty, light, peace, and uninterrupted serenity.

As I awoke from this dream I again heard God’s voice, “I will take care of you.” I am not sure whether, for this blissful moment, God gave me a vision of heaven, that unimaginably beautiful place where death, fear, pain, and tears will be banished. Maybe God created this vision of the things I love, the world that feeds my soul, and beauty that transcends pain in order to let me know that the desires of my heart are important to him. But I know this, I am not alone and the One who redeemed me also cares for me now and forever.

I know something else. God cares for you, also. He will speak into your life and your pain if you will listen for him. Have you noted that in Scripture, whenever an angel came to someone, the first words were, “fear not?” This is God’s first and deepest desire for you. Jesus said, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am” (John 14:1-3).

He will take care of you.