Tag Archives: death

Sunday Reflection on a Very Present God and the Faith to Believe

Photo Credit: Flickr

[Adapted from the Archives]

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.Ephesians 2:8

For the first twenty years of my professional life, my great privilege was to have close encounters with people in deep crisis and five life-changing realities. It was a season of caring for cancer patients and their families – when their diseases were raging and in the final days of life. These experiences galvanized my faith in God and how his image is embedded in us – his creation. These realities are:

  1. Courage in exceedingly hard places
  2. Deep enduring love across a harsh illness and when time is fleeting
  3. Hope mingled with humor
  4. Death isn’t final…our spirits go somewhere (for sure, they leave the body)
  5. Faith to believe

Caring for patients receiving chemotherapy and other treatments for life-threatening complications can prompt an intimate caring relationship. To watch patients (and families) deal with such hard and to be in a position to help them through it gave me a window to extend love and honor to dear ones in crisis.

Was there always courage? Was love always expressed between us all? Was humor or hope or faith a constant?

No…but remarkably, more often than not, this was what I observed… especially in those sustained by a relationship with God.

In the last couple of years, I have personally experienced a cancer diagnosis and a couple of respiratory emergencies that brought those same realities into my life. In such times, much in life gets clarity…a sharper focus, a deeper understanding.

Breathe has been a theme in my life for over a year now…put that together with the title of a film starring Andrew Garfield…and it caused me to NOT “skip the ad” on YouTube.Photo Credit: Breathe, YouTube

The film Breathe tells the story of Robin Cavendish. He was a Brit who developed polio at the young age of 28. He was paralyzed from the neck down and required a ventilator to breathe. In those days (1958), he would have been confined in a hospital for the remainder of his days. However, he nor his wife, Diana, would hear of it. After a year in hospital, he went home and adjusted to this very different life, as only Robin would. They had a child and he would be able to see him grow up (in fact, son Jonathan Cavendish produced this film). Robin was a pioneer in advocating for the disabled, especially those like him needing more extreme measures to live a more normal life. He died at 64.

[Since my years in graduate studies in rehab and cancer nursing…the courage I saw in so many patients and families…courage in struggle…has never ceased to inspire me.]

“Based on a true story” films are intriguing. Reading up on Robin Cavendish’s story, my heart soared and then sank…fullstop at the short statement below:

Cavendish was an atheist.Wikipedia

I have never understood atheism. Even during spiritually flat and confusing times in my life, the existence of God put me to puzzling but ever so briefly. In a matter of moments of reflection, the fact of His presence blew past the questions.

Especially watching beloved believing patients at the moment of death…their faces relaxing and their bodies emptying of who they really were. We don’t just stop existing…life here stops and starts at exactly the same moment…There.

Now that I know Robin Cavendish, he has my admiration and respect at how he took back his life and helped others do the same. I wonder if, before his life was done…he had the faith to believe. One line in his obituary reads:

It is a strange irony that, though professing to be an unbeliever himself, he had a capacity for making other people feel closer to God.*

*Obituary – Robin Cavendish – Alice and Tim Renton

What a great gift is faith to believe. We don’t conjure it up. God Himself presents us the faith to believe…it is ours to reject or receive.

Worship with me. Below you will find two songs – Faith to Believe by Shane & Shane and Jesus Is Better by Austin Stone. Choose either or both in celebrating the God who gives us the faith to believe. [Then scroll down to the prayer at the end.]

YouTube Video – Shane & Shane – Faith to Believe – (with lyrics)

Give me the faith to believe You
When I’m stuck here in my fear
Give me the strength to trust You
When my vision’s blurred by tears
Give me a hope for tomorrow
Because today has gone so wrong
I’m on my knees
Give me the strength to believe

Even when I cannot see You
You’re still shining, You’re still shining
Even when I cannot hear You
You’re still calling out my name
Even when I cannot see You
Your arms are open
Always holding on to me
Give me the faith to believe

You say You’ll never leave me
Your love will conquer fear
You say Your day is coming
When You’ll wipe away my tears
Give me a hope for tomorrow
Because today has gone so wrong
I’m on my knees
Give me the faith to believe

Give me the faith to see the invisible
Give me the faith to believe the impossible
Give me the faith to receive the incredible
Oh give me the faith to believe it**

There is no other so sure and steady, my hope is held in your hand
When castles crumble and breath is fleeting, upon this rock I will stand
Upon this rock I will stand

Glory, glory, we have no other king
But Jesus Lord of all
Raise the anthem, our loudest praises ring
We crown Him Lord of all

Your kindly rule has shattered and broken the curse of sin’s tyranny
My life is hidden ‘neath Heaven’s shadow, Your crimson flood covers me
Your crimson flood covers me

Glory, glory, we have no other king
But Jesus Lord of all
Raise the anthem, our loudest praises ring
We crown Him Lord of all

In all my sorrows, Jesus is better – make my heart believe

In all my victories, Jesus is better – make my heart believe

Than any comfort, Jesus is better – make my heart believe

More than all riches, Jesus is better – make my heart believe

Our souls declaring, Jesus is better – make my heart believe

Our song eternal, Jesus is better – make my heart believe

Glory, glory, we have no other king
But Jesus Lord of all

Glory, glory, we have no other king
But Jesus Lord of all
Raise the anthem, our loudest praises ring
We crown Him Lord of all

Glory, glory, we have no other king
But Jesus Lord of all
Raise the anthem, our loudest praises ring
We crown Him Lord of all***

Photo Credit: Flickr

Maybe this is the first step for atheists, too (it was for me)…so thankful for the faith to believe…to see the truth and beauty of Scripture. The Word of God walks us right up the staircase to be with Him – now and forever.

Thank You, God, for the faith to believe. With my whole being, I’m sure you daily, moment by moment, extend grace to all of humanity to know You, through one witness of Yourself or another. Help us to receive this grace. God, give us all this faith to believe.

**Lyrics to Faith to Believe – written by Shane Everett & Phil Wickham

***Lyrics to Jesus Is Better – written by Aaron Ivey & Brett Land

Worship Wednesday – Gratitude Flattens Fear – Great Is Thy Faithfulness

Photo Credit: Interrupting the Silence

When I am afraid, I will trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?

You yourself have recorded my wanderings.
Put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?
Then my enemies will retreat on the day when I call.
This I know: God is for me. – Psalm 56: 3-4, 8-9

When I am afraid..when I am afraid…when I am afraid…I will trust in You, God…This I know: God is for me.

There’s a lot of fear in the air these days as the Coronavirus pandemic makes its way across our states and the world’s nations. We hear a lot about flattening the curve of the new cases and mortality rates. What we need to flatten as well is the strangling fear that rises up with the COVID case numbers.

Fear is an enemy to our health and to our hearts.

Fear may also look more like anger when people politicize the problem or rail at the why’s of this disease we are facing.

Blaming, fault-finding, nay-saying.

Both fear and anger have negative impact on our immune systems and sense of well-being – both of which are vital to staying healthy.

How about our faith? Is there a way we can flip fear as believers?

Absolutely. When we shake ourselves out of the “what-if’s” and into the “what-is”, our thinking clears. Our shoulders drop. We breathe. We remember.

Whatever the enemy…human foes or COVID-19…God is present with us and He is for us.

Psychologist Gregg Jantz Ph.D. reminds us that Gratitude Is an Antidote for Anger and Fear. In his article, he states,Gratitude is an antidote for fear. Fear focuses on all the things that could go wrong. Gratitude focuses on all the things that have gone right. When our gratitude is based upon the power and promises of God, we have an abundance of things that have gone right!”

This morning I came across the Reba McEntire 2017 song Back to God. Early in the video, she sits in an empty church.Photo Credit: GodTube

The story in the video begins in a cemetery and then moves to an empty church (which looks normal to us now with COVID). As Reba sings, we see individuals and small groups dealing with losses. There is sadness, isolation, anger, fear. Something like we are feeling in our current situation.

When we find ourselves, because of this pandemic, without work or school, facing ruined plans, or worse…unable to delay deaths of people we love…we are prone to default to fear.

Throughout Scripture, God calls us to remember. Remember who He is and how He has moved throughout history and in our own personal lives. To pull ourselves up out of fear and take a longer view of gratitude for a good and gracious Father God. He is for us. He stands with us, in whatever feels like it is overtaking us.

Reba’s song is an anthem for us who say we believe…to pray like we do…whatever it takes to turn our fear, anger, loss…and unbelief…to a loving God. We want to hold this life, our loves, our preferred “normal” tightly in our hands…but.

Because He is good, and we remember, we open our hands, and trust Him with what He gave us in the first place. Whatever comes, He is faithful in His love and at His word.

Worship with me with the help of this great old hymn and remember that God is ever and always faithful:

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
there is no shadow of turning with thee;
thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not;
as thou hast been thou forever wilt be.

Refrain:
Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see:
all I have needed thy hand hath provided–
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
sun, moon, and stars in their courses above
join with all nature in manifold witness
to thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love. [Refrain]

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside! [Refrain]*

At the end of Reba’s video, the church building goes from her alone to being filled with all those who had experienced anguish and loss… a church filled with worshipers. People praying and praising God. All together.

That’s who we are and who He calls us to be. We may, for a season, be physically distanced from each other, but we are still in this together, and Him always with us.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.Revelation 21:3-4

*Lyrics to Great Is Thy Faithfulness – Songwriters: Thomas O. Chisholm and William Runyan

Worship Wednesday – When Storms Come, We Still Have a Good, Good Father – Chris Tomlin & Pat Barrett

Worship Wednesday – No Matter What I Will Trust in You – Lauren Daigle

Saturday Short – Give This World Back to God – Reba McEntire – Deb Mills

Jesus and Holy Week – Saturday, Day 7 – Black Saturday – the Silent Tomb

http://debmillswriter.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Blog-Holy-Week-Black-Saturday.jpgPhoto Credit: Catholiclane.com – Garden Tomb, Jerusalem

[Adapted from the Archives]

As I write this morning, it is quiet outside. Very quiet. Lonely quiet. This is the morning of exhausted grief. Jesus, the Messiah, God’s Sent One; His Only One lay dead in a tomb. Dead. How is this possible? The disciples, his family…those followers whose lives were transformed must have been numb with the stark reality that he was not with them…not on that Saturday. What would they do without him? What would happen to them? What? What? What?

There is only one scriptural reference to this day and it relates to the threat to some of Jesus’ power and influence, even in death:

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. – Matthew 27:62-66

The tomb was sealed. Guards were placed. Jesus would be no more trouble….

“He is dead: this man from Nazareth, the Messiah of Israel, the Lord of the world.

With His dying breaths, He spoke words of forgiveness, finality, and faith.

But now the breathing has ceased, and the lungs that exhaled forgiveness are deflated. My Jesus – dead.”* – Trevin Wax

Read the rest of this gripping poem here.

We today have the great knowledge of the risen Christ, but his followers, on that Saturday, only had dim recollection of his words of promise. Shrouded in grief, they found themselves quite “in between” – in between the death of their Savior and the life of his glorious promises.

“Because of the interval that is Holy Saturday, the hope of Psalm 139 is now grounded in Jesus’s own experience: “If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” (Psalm 139:8). Jesus descended into death. He made all that darkness his own. Death captured Jesus as he entered it fully. But then, in the great reversal, Jesus captured death. In his rising, Christ filled that darkness with the light of his presence. He dispelled that gloom forever for those who trust him. So when we consider the crossing into of death, we can now hold fast to the truth, “Even darkness is not dark to you” (Psalm 139:12). Just as Jesus took our sins, so he has taken all our lonely dying as his own.” – Gerrit Scott Dawson

“Saturday is the “in between” day: in between despair and joy; brokenness and healing; confusion and understanding; death and life.” – John Ortberg

A dear friend of ours, Beth Wayland, shared with us this message by John Ortberg (quote above and passage below) from a conference where he spoke on Black Saturday, well, “Saturdays” in general. He describes so well this day in between.

“Saturday – the day between the crucifixion and the resurrection. What do you think the disciples were doing on Saturday? Here they have seen their friend and their Master killed the day before but also have this vague promise, which probably seemed ludicrous at the time that he would rise again. So what do you think they were doing on Saturday between the tragedy and the promise?

Most of life is Saturday. We`re in a terrible position, but we have a promise from God that we only half believe. It`s after the doctor tells us we have cancer, but before we`re cured or find a new depth of faith to cope with it. It`s after the marriage breaks up, but before God heals the grief. It`s after we`ve been laid off, but before God uses our gifts in a new place. Most of life is Saturday. It`s waiting in faith and hanging onto the promise that God is going to come through for us in spite of how bad things look. Most of life is Saturday. — I don`t know where you are this Holy Week. Maybe you`re in a Palm Sunday kind of mood wanting God to get on board with an agenda and maybe he will, but if he doesn’t, know that his plans are always good. Maybe you`re feeling a little unlovable because of something you`ve done or haven`t done. Maundy Thursday means that God loves us no matter how dirty our uniform gets from the game of life. Maybe you`re in a Saturday kind of place – between a hard time and a promise you only half believe. Know this for sure that God`s Easter irony is still at work, and he can use even the worst tragedies for good, and he always has at least one more move left. No matter how bleak and dark Saturday gets, Sunday`s coming, and it`s coming sooner than you think. “John Ortberg

http://debmillswriter.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Blog-Garden-Tomb-from-imb.org-Holy-Week-Black-Saturday.jpgPhoto Credit: IMB Resources

Holy Week – Day 7: Saturday in the Tomb – Mary Fairchild

Question: What is Holy Saturday?

Anxiety & Holy Week – Beth Wayland – With, Inc.

YouTube Video of John Ortberg on “Saturdays” – American Association of Christian Counselors Conference, October 2011 (starting 5 minutes in)

The Day Jesus Stayed Dead – Waiting in the Heartache of Holy Saturday – Gerrit Scott Dawson, Desiring God

*My Jesus – Dead by Trevin Wax

Experience Easter – Somber Saturday – KLove

YouTube Video – Jesus Paid It All (lyric video) – Fernando Ortega

YouTube Video – How Deep the Father’s Love For Us written by Stuart Townend – with David Wesley

Story Behind the Song How Deep the Father’s Love For Us by Stuart Townend

YouTube Video with lyrics – In Christ Alone  written by Stuart Townend & Keith Getty

5 Friday Faves – Coronavirus Panic, Hans Zimmer’s “Time”, Unless U, Community, and Signs of Spring

It’s Friday! Hope your workweek is ending well and the weekend looms lovely ahead of you. Here are this week’s favorite finds.

1) Coronavirus Panic – I’m not an alarmist. Alarm and panic is wreaking havoc in the US (and maybe around the world) related to the spread and morbidity of the Coronavirus (Covid-19). We all want to contain it and hope not to get it, or worse to spread it to others. Is there reason to be alarmed at present?

OK…so we can’t predict the future. Shaming those around us who are feeling panicky helps no one. Maybe some of us aren’t vigilant enough and may need the advice of those cautious to a fault. We learn from each other.

Five Reasons You Don’t Need to Panic About the COVID-19 Coronavirus – Ross Pomeroy

Pandemic Panic? These Five Tips Can Help You Regain Your Calm – Allison Aubrey

Pandemic? Don’t Panic – Dr. Cathaleen Madsen

While working at home this morning (in a very low-risk setting compared to some of you), I caught a bit of an interview with Dr. Drew Pinsky. It was so helpful. Listed below are his 7 action items. Simple and easy to put into action.

  • Don’t do unnecessary travel.
  • Use your Clorox Wipes wherever you go.
  • Wash your hands.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Get the flu shot.

Dr. Anthony Fauci on Social Distancing Not Yet Needed Nationwide to Fight Coronavirus – Today Show

What to Do If You’re Boarding a Plane in the Age of Coronavirus – Harriet Baskas

2) Hans Zimmer’s Time – This is a big week for Nathan MillsBeyond the Guitar. He has launched an Arranger’s Academy for guitarists to have the skill-set to take music they already love to arrange for guitar. [His launch with its reduced membership rate is only for a few more hours. Check it out. Later in the year, he will again take new members at what will be the usual cost].

In the midst of the launch, Nathan also arranged, performed and posted composer Hans Zimmer‘s beautiful theme “Time” from the film Inception. Enjoy.

Nathan Mills Live – Concert March 29 2020

3) Unless U – What can one person do? Here’s a story. Lindy Cleveland is the little sister to two treasured old brothers – one of whom has Down’s Syndrome. It was hard for Jordan as his brother and sister went off to college. He missed them and he wished for some of the experiences they were having. This touched Lindy’s heart so deeply, she had to act. Then others began to show up…

She was able to spark a grassroots movement of fellow educators, family members, and passionate donors and volunteers to create a continuing education campus experience for students with learning difficulties (special abilities). She named it Unless U.

“Unless you [Unless U] get involved, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”Lindy Cleveland

Here’s the story of Unless U:

TEDx Talk – Unless Someone Like You Cares – Lindy Cleveland

4) Community – We are grateful for community, whatever the experience of it. With community, we have a sense of belonging, of being seen/heard, of caring and being cared about. Thanks to Trevin’s Seven, I discovered this thought-provoking article below.

What is Community? An Illustration – Seth Kaplan

Dr. Kaplan‘s definition of community involves: “commitment to a certain social order—and, crucially, a place…We must also be available to help others—mentoring youth, donating money, volunteering for work. To earn acceptance and respect, we model good behaviour… Community formation cannot be easily explained or laid out in a plan of action. At times, it is more mystery than mechanics, subject to a wide range of factors that are beyond the control of any one actor. In general, groups begin as a product of strong, overlapping, interpersonal relationships… Keystone actors and institutions emerge as central supporting hubs, working to break down barriers and integrate disparate parts;…foster(ing) relationships and partnerships that together create a systemic effect well beyond the individuals directly involved. All these activities build trust where it may not have existed.”

This week, a devastating tornado cut a killer swath through middle Tennessee. It happened so fast that little could be done to get to safety for those in the path of this storm. At least 24 are dead and many more injured. One neighborhood in Cookeville, Tennessee, suffered great loss. 8 persons killed. All on one street. Devastating.Photo Credit: Baptist Press, First Baptist Mt. Juliet Facebook page

Within minutes, first responders arrived to help survivors injured or in shock from the deadly disaster. Then, so true to the Volunteer State of Tennessee, people kept showing up. Neighbors, student groups, local volunteers and folks coming from several states over. Then, of course, state and federal agencies, and government leaders.

If there wasn’t community before, this town, this neighborhood is forever changed. In the aftermath of this horrific storm, community showed itself strong…and true.

[There are various ways to give support to these survivors. Here and here are some.

5) Signs of Spring – We’ve had a relatively mild winter in the US, and with that an early Spring. Closing today’s Friday Faves with these signs of Spring.

Bonuses:

Corelle Recommends Using Their Pre-2005 Dishes as “Decorative Pieces” Due to Concerns for High Levels of Lead – Brittany Hambleton

Death on Demand Comes to Germany – Wesley J. Smith

Abortion and Eugenics – Justice Clarence Thomas

Hallmark Channel Censors Pro-Life Movie “Unplanned” From Its Annual Awards Show

12 Survival Skills Your Great-Grandparents Knew (That Most of Us Have Forgotten) – Sarah Schafer

Monday Morning Moment – Life

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Life…it’s precious. It’s what we know. We depend on it. We think it lasts forever. Here. In our best health. Surrounded by our people.

The thing is, what we also come to know is life’s brevity. The Bible calls it “a vapor, a mist, a breath, a passing breeze.” Yet, life is also described as something beyond our finite understanding – beyond our wildest imaginings – in its possibilities, its purposes. It stretches across into eternity. Nothing is wasted. All of life is meant to be lived fully – the great good of it along with the sudden sorrows.

Life – Bible Study Tools [short article; worth the read]

America was rocked this weekend by the helicopter crash that killed athlete and philanthropist Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gigi, two of her basketball team friends, parents, coach, and the pilot. One very famous person but also eight others who all leave families and friends grieving their instant deaths. Life is precious.

Then here in Richmond, a man in his early 40s in a near neighborhood also died this weekend. He was crossing a busy street at night, on his way back home from a store, and was hit by a car. It was fatal. This man had, months ago, left his friends and work in another state and came here to care for his grandparents, in their 90s and frail in health. Like the nine people above, this man also died suddenly. Leaving behind those who will grieve him, too.

Photo Credit: Flickr, Robert Kuykendall

I contrast these two because in life and in death, we matter, whatever our circumstance. To each other and to God. Our lives matter…and when death interrupts…it affects us…even when it happens to strangers.

Today, a friend of ours is undergoing surgery for cancer. For several hours he will be in the operating room, surrounded by an excellent surgeon and staff specialized in his particular kind of surgery. Family and friends wait outside…praying. We are all praying. He is young and we are praying for him to do extraordinarily well.

As you read this, your own stories may come to mind. People who make life what it is for you. By faith, trusting in God for good outcomes. These are the kinds of stories and situations that give us pause and move us toward gratitude for this life.

Our wee grandchildren live near us. It is a joy to see them often. Their take on life is much simpler than ours as their adults. Their joys are simple, too – time with their people, a favorite toy, snacks they get to choose, a hug and kiss for comfort, a new discovery, any cause for laughter.

They don’t understand death…but neither do we, really.

I’m re-learning from these grandchildren to squeeze all the goodness to be had out of this life. Being older and understanding that death comes, I also get to look forward to what comes after… life forever with a God who is good and who is love, and with all those who went before us.

Choosing life…here and there.

Photo Credit: C. S. Lewis, Good Housekeeping

Worship Wednesday – Reflecting on a Funeral – Worshiping God for His Gift of Friends – Michael W. Smith

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.Romans 12:10-11

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.1 Peter 4:10

This week has had its sober moments. A dear dear aunt is failing in health and hospice has been called in. Then this afternoon, we got word that a friend, who had struggled victoriously with cancer for years, has died. Both of these ladies are beautiful believers.

I’m just reminded once more at the great gift of the people God places in our lives… Losing such treasures stokes the fires of faith for me. I don’t understand how people can believe that life is over forever when this life ends… Heaven becomes more and more real as we say goodbyes to such vibrant friends and family who show us how to love like Jesus.

With permission, I want to share a tribute that Dave Lyle, a pastor friend of ours, shared on his Facebook page. His friend, Donnie Goodman, must have been bigger than life. I would have loved knowing him…one day in Heaven, it will happen.

Reflecting on a Funeral, Donnie Goodman, and Where My Life Is Heading

The last couple of days were spent hanging out with family and friends of Donnie. They’re an interesting bunch, often with not a lot in common except for that most important factor- all loved the man. And so we talked, cried, laughed, and hugged. It is just hard to believe he is gone. The funeral and graveside memorial were, like Donnie, strange and wonderful. The casket was embossed with the logo of the Alabama Crimson Tide. He had drumsticks in his hands, and a letter from dad. One of the songs involved a repeating theme about sitting back, reminiscing, and drinking a beer. And at the graveside, final tune, they played Freebird by Lynyrd Skynyrd– the shorter, 9-minute version. None of it screamed conventional. But for this guy it was OK. I was not a speaker at the service, probably could not if asked. But I had the honor to grieve. I say honor because usually I am too busy trying to help others, trying to give the deceased an appropriate sendoff. But this time I was able to sit back and let it hit me. And that it did, and hard. At the end of the day, I was so very tired. Grieving is not easy. I guess it cannot be. Unexpectedly, unfairly, I lost a great friend. In many ways Donnie was the man I am working to be- kind, smart, full of love, always making time for people, just the most earnest and real of a person. I think, in these and other ways, he reflected my Lord Jesus. I believe the common folks liked to be around Jesus. He had a twinkle in his eye and enjoyed life. My Lord was quick with a smile, and slow to condemn, and ready to forgive. That. too, was Donnie. Now the guy did not walk on water, didn’t even go to church like maybe he should. But he knew how to love people! And in my opinion, the outward sign of a man whose heart is right with God is this amazing characteristic, to love others.

Now I want to talk just a little bit about my response to all this. I will not be the same. Indeed, I do not want to be. For far too long, I have had absolutely too little to do with those amazing people in my life such as Donnie. God has gifted me with the finest of people. But, too often, I have been too busy and too self-focused. These people are precious, but like most things that are valuable on this side of eternity, they can slip from your grasp in the matter of unseen seconds. So it was with my dear friend, Donnie. And I just do not want it to happen again. So my intent is to quit thinking that I live too far away, stop waiting for the other guy to make the first move, stop worrying about rejection, and especially stop thinking I am too busy for anybody. This is because, in reality, life and friends are too special to allow myself to ever again think I am that busy. Of course, if I could talk to Donnie and try to explain, this guy would not let me wallow in pity. He wasn’t much of a philosopher, instead a man of action. He would say forget it, let’s go do something! So, such is what I will try to do- not live with regrets, but instead do something about it.

Likely I will never again hear Freebird or the Alabama Fight Song played at a funeral! Donnie was one of a kind. If someone makes you a better person, indeed he is special. It is your fortune, your honor, to know him. Thank you, Donnie, for being special, nice, easy-going, gifted, just a little weird, a Christian, and the finest of men. My friend.

Dave Lyle

This old song by Michael W. Smith came to mind as I read Dave’s tribute. If you don’t know it…you might enjoy listening, and remembering the great gift of friends in our lives. Thank You, God.

Roll Tide!

Remembering 9/11 – and the Day Before – a Story of God and a Girl

[From the Archives]

Today marks the eve of the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 bombings in the US. We all have our stories of where we were when we heard that terrible news. I heard the news as an elevator door opened in a hospital emergency room in Cairo, Egypt. The surgeon watching for us to deliver the patient walking into the elevator, saying, “I am so, so sorry.” I thought he was referring to the precious one on the stretcher beside me, so small and injured from a terrible bus accident the day before. It turns out he was talking about the news that traveled instantly from the States about the bombings. I’d like to go back to the day before. For us, it would help to go there, before I can ever process the grief of this day that we all share.

It was like any other Monday, that bright, warm September 10th in Cairo, Egypt…until the phone call. Janna was on the other end of the call, telling me that Genessa and April had been in a bus accident on the Sinai. April had called her and relayed their location, at a hospital in Sharm el-Sheikh. These were girls in our Middle Eastern Studies Program, and they were finishing their time with us, taking a vacation together. They would re-trace some of their experiences in Bedouin villages across the Sinai and then enjoy a few days on the Red Sea. They were to return that Monday, traveling in on one of the over-night buses across the desert.

Details will have to wait for another time, but with this information, my husband, Dave, left immediately with Janna and a local Egyptian friend who was also one of our language coaches. He took these two women because of their relationship with each other and with all of us. He also understood that there were two injured friends hours away in a hospital who would need women to minister to their needs. I would be praying and on the phone the rest of the day with families, other friends, US Embassy people, and our other young people in the program. I can’t begin to describe the emotional nature of that day…not knowing, hoping, praying.

When Dave and our friends arrived at the hospital, he was directed to April. She had painful, serious injuries, but none life-threatening, praise God. Then he was escorted into the critical care area to see Genessa. To his horror, it wasn’t Genessa. It was another young woman, unconscious – an Italian tourist, who rode in the same ambulance with April. April, lucid and still able to communicate, had tried to comfort her on that long dark ride to the hospital. Personal belongings were all scrambled at the wreck site, and the authorities made the mistakened decision that because April was speaking to her, she was Genessa.

Then Dave went on the search for our dear one…somewhere else in the Sinai. He back-tracked toward the site of the accident, checking other hospitals where other injured were taken. At this point, he was also talking to US Embassy staff, as he drove through the desert. Just shortly before he arrived at the hospital where he would find Genessa, the staff person told him they confirmed her identification from a credit card she had in her pocket…in the morgue of that small village hospital.

Dave, our Egyptian friend, and Janna, that friend who received the first phone call, stood beside this precious girl’s body, to make the formal identification…to know for sure that this was Genessa. And it was…and yet not. She, the luminous, laughing, loving girl we knew, was gone. It was more than any of us who loved her could take in on that Monday evening in Cairo, Egypt…the day before 9/11.

http://debmillswriter.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Genessa-with-team1.jpg

As they left the hospital to return to April, two more friends joined them from Cairo to help. For any of you who have been completely spent in every way by such a day, you can understand what it was for them to look up and see Matt and Richard getting out of a car. God in His great goodness alerted them, stirred their hearts to drive all those hours…and then to arrive…just when they were most needed. So many arrangements had to be made…and most importantly, at that moment, to get April back safely and quickly to Cairo for surgery.

She came into Cairo on a plane near the middle of the day of 9/11. By the time we got her from the airport in an ambulance to the specialty hospital to get the further care she needed, a series of horrific events had begun taking place in the US. We would hear of them from this caring Egyptian surgeon…who had no idea how numb we were from losing Genessa and how concerned we were that April got what she needed as soon as possible. We were already so drenched by grief, this unfathomable news about the bombings washed over us without understanding the scope of it…the pain of it…for all the rest of America.

Later in that day, with April receiving the best care possible, and me watching by her side, I could take in some of the loss coming at us on the small t.v. mounted in the hospital room. Egyptians were telling us how so, so sorry they were for us (as Americans). If they only knew, they were our mourners for our loss of Genessa, too. In the din of world-changing news, and a country brought together in grief…we grieved, too, a continent away…for the losses of 9/11 and the day before.

That was 18 years ago…April healed from her injuries (only she and God know what all that took on the inside), the other young people in our program have gone on to careers and families across the US and around the world. We have also gone on…back to the US for now, and to other work.

Two things have not changed…a beautiful girl, who fell asleep by the window of a bus in the Sinai night and woke up in Heaven… and the God who welcomed her Home. There is so much, much, more to this story, but I have to close with this. As her family back in the US were pulling the pieces of their lives back together, and going through Genessa’s things, they found a little cassette player on her bed…there left by her, two years before, as she left for Cairo. In it was a cassette where she’d made a tape of her singing one of her favorite songs, I Long for the Day, by singer/songwriter Dennis Jernigan. If we look at Genessa’s life through the lens of some American dream, then we would think how tragic to die so young, so full of promise. Look through the lens of how much she loved God, and knowing Him was what mattered most to her…and all who knew her knew His love through her.

This God…and this girl.  Genessa

 I Long for the Day by Dennis Jernigan

I long for the day when the Lord comes and takes me away!

Whether by death or if You come for me on a horse so white

And anyway You come will be alright with me

I long to just hear You said, “Now is the time. Won’t you come away?”

And I’ll take Your hand, surrendering completely to You that day!

And no, I can’t contain the joy that day will bring!

Chorus:

When I get to see You face to face

When I can finally put sight to the Voice I’ve embraced

It will be worth all the waiting for that one moment I’ll be celebrating You!

When I get to feel Your hand in mine

When I can finally be free from this prison called time

When You say, “Child, I’ve been waiting for this one moment of celebrating, too!

For this one moment of celebrating you!”

O Lord, while I wait, I will cling to each word that You say.

So speak to my heart; Your voice is life to me, be it night or day.

And anything You say will be alright with me.

You see my heart’s greatest need

You and me, walking intimately.

You’re my only love, and I am waiting patiently for Your call.

When You call me to Your side eternally.

(Chorus Repeat)

Lord, I celebrate You!

Forever with You! No crying there.

Forever with You! No burden; no more worldly cares.

My heart is anticipating eternally with you celebrating You!

Forever with You I long to be;

Forever worshipping, knowing You intimately!

When You say, “Child, no more waiting” [No more waiting, children]

I’ll spend forever just celebrating You.

I’ll see all my loved ones gone before

I’ll get to be with them, laugh with them, hold them once more

There’ll be no more separating! [No separating]

Together we will be celebrating You!

Together we’ll worship You and sing.

Forever praising Lord Jesus, our Savior and King.

When You say, “Child, no more waiting” [No more waiting, children]

Enter your rest, and start celebrating, too.

Forever Lord, I’ll be celebrating You.

Chorus Repeat:

When I get to see You face to face

When I can finally put sight to the Voice I’ve embraced

It will be worth all the waiting for that one moment of celebrating You!

When I get to feel Your hand in mine

When I can finally be free from this prison called time

When You say, “Child, I’ve been waiting for this one moment of celebrating, too!

For this one moment of celebrating you!”

Dennis Jernigan, from the album I Belong to Jesus (Volume 2)

Worship Wednesday – Though You Slay Me – Shane & Shane

Photo Credit: Beth Taylor

The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.  Job 1:21

 Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day.  For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.  So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.2 Corinthians 4:16-18

We make assumptions about life, don’t we? We assume we will live long and healthy.  We assume “speed kills” only if someone else is driving. We assume if we eat healthy we won’t get cancer. We assume we will make it home after Happy Hour. We assume if we pray our hearts out, cancer won’t take our loved one. We assumed we will have time to “do the right thing” how ever we define that. We assume our children will outlive us. We assume we will have our beloved spouses with us into old age.

Sobering, I know…It has been for me this week. Still, it’s helpful to reflect on our assumptions… especially in a season when they might still hold up. We are in a season of loss around here. Dave’s dad died a week ago, and since then two more friends have died in shocking and bewildering situations. They are both believers and are with the Lord now. No more details here.

When we lose someone in a way that shakes our foundations, we look to God for answers… They don’t always come. Then we look to God for comfort…He is faithful to come Himself, bringing comfort with Him.

Shane Barnard of the singing duo Shane & Shane talks about the his father’s too-soon, too-quick death. [Watch the whole of his back story linked above and below.] His mother railed against his father’s passing, shaken to the core at the stark reality of it. As Shane held her, she finally quieted in her crying over the loss of her husband. In the smallest of voices, broken in tears, she sang bits of a song. A song God brought to her mind in that dark moment. “He gives…he takes away…blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Only God gives us “songs in the night”…even in the night (referencing Job 35:10). He alone is faithfully and thoroughly with us through the losses…He will see us through. I know this because He promised it. I know this because it is my experience of Him.

Songs in the Night – Sermon by Charles H. Spurgeon

As we are confronted with assumptions blown, with incomprehensible losses…we find a God who is true… Our spiritual work is to turn to Him…and not away… as Shane Barnard’s beautiful and poignant song speaks from his heart to ours…from His heart to ours.

Worship with me…the God who brings a song to us, even in our darkest nights.

I come, God, I come
Return to the Lord
The one who’s broken
The one who’s torn me apart
You struck down to bind me up
You say You do it all in love
That I might know You in Your suffering

Though You slay me
Yet I will praise You
Though You take from me
I will bless Your name
Though You ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who’s all I need

My heart and flesh may fail
The earth below give way
But with my eyes, with my eyes I’ll see the Lord
Lifted high on that day
Behold, the Lamb that was slain
And I’ll know every tear was worth it all

Though You slay me
Yet I will praise You
Though You take from me
I will bless Your name
Though You ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who’s all I need

Though tonight I’m crying out
Let this cup pass from me now
You’re still all that I need
You’re enough for me
You’re enough for me

Though You slay me
Yet I will praise You
Though You take from me
I will bless Your name
Though You ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who’s all I need
Sing a song to the one who’s all I need*

Josh Pinkard was one of the victims of a workplace shooting this past week. Here is one of the Facebook posts his wife, Terra, wrote afterward:

“Friday afternoon, the day after Valentine’s Day, was a literal nightmare. I received a text at 1:24 from my precious husband that said I love you, I’ve been shot at work…I lost the love of my life yesterday in a tragic workplace shooting. The world is darker and more sad now. A huge bright light has left this world. But God. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. I am lost and devastated beyond words. Things that mattered yesterday do not matter today. I will praise the Lord for giving me this mountain of a man. I will praise the Lord for the children we have together. And I will cry out to God during this immense time of sadness and need. Please remember us in the coming days, months, and years. We are scared and are trying to catch our breath and just putting one foot in front of the other.”Terra Pinkard, February 16 & 17, 2019

‘I Will Praise the Lord’: Wife of Aurora Shooting Victim Pens Heartbreaking Tribute – Will Maule

We have this hope as an anchor for our lives, safe and secure. – Hebrews 6:19

You know that expression “It’s all good.”? I’ve never cared for it.  Because it’s not true. Everything that happens to us is not necessarily good. God, however, is good, and He works out all things for our good (Romans 8:26-28). We have the choice of walking away from God in our heartache or clinging to Him through our healing.

Praying right now for those grappling with that choice… He is near.

*Lyrics to Though You Slay Me – Songwriters: Joshua David Moore, Bethany Joy Barnard, Shane Barnard, Lauren Walker Chandler, Brian Woods

Shane & Shane (Shane Barnard and Shane Everett)

YouTube Video – Though You Slay Me – Shane & Shane – featuring John Piper

YouTube Video – The Story Behind “Though You Slay Me”

A Song for the Suffering (with John Piper) – Marshall Segal

YouTube Video – None of Our Misery Is Meaningless – John Piper

Songs in the Night – Sermon by Charles H. Spurgeon

Monday Morning Moment – Lessons on Life From a Grieving Husband

Photo Credit: National Institute on Aging

Time can be so fluid…like water in our hands. Hard to hold onto. This is evidenced often in this blog as Monday Morning Moments are posted on Tuesdays at times, and Friday Faves don’t make it up until Saturday or Sunday…or not until the next week.

Life happens…and is punctuated by significant and not-so events. One full-stop experience is the death of a loved one. It stops us in our tracks. We are shocked by it even when we see it coming. Death turns our feet into concrete and yet at the same time moves us to action. Necessary action that drags us forward in dealing with the loss of that one so important to us. Someone has to make arrangements; someone has to make decisions.

When that someone is you, a grand narrative is born in the darkness of loss. It is a gift from God in the wake of bereavement.

We who are bystanders, or close watchers, in the company of one grieving can learn so much about life…and the attentiveness of God over that one in distress.

In Genesis, an account is given, centuries ago, of the death of Sarah, the beloved wife of Abraham. This Abraham is considered the founding father of three major world religions today. In the Scripture he was considered a friend of God (James 2:23), and his faith was counted to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).

The lessons on life that we learn from this husband grieving the loss of his wife include the following:

  • Death of a loved one reorients us to the transient nature of life. Even though Abraham and Sarah had been married for 90-100 years, the day would come that death would separate them. Their lives had taken them far from their home of Ur, in Mesopotamia. For many years, they lived in Canaan, always in tents. Always “foreigners and outsiders” (Genesis 23:4). As Abraham wept over the loss of his wife, he realized he had no place to bury her. Should he take her back home or make some provision for burying her where they lived? No matter how long we live, how long we may be married, or how wealthy we are…in this life, in many ways, we are simply sojourners…passing through.
  • The loss of someone we love moves us to put down a stake. In Abraham’s situation, this was a literal “planting a stake”. He negotiated with the men of Hebron to purchase a burial cave (and the land surrounding it) to lay his Sarah to rest. This was huge for him because, although he was wealthy, he had not bought any land, waiting on God. God had promised the land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants. Now, because of the necessity of a burial tomb, Abraham would stake claim to God’s promise by exercising his faith that Canaan would be his family home for all time. The cave for Sarah would also be where he and others in his family would be buried as well. In this land, Canaan. For many of us, the reality of losing a loved one brings into sharp clarity what all is lost with them. My mom was an incredibly faithful prayer warrior for her family and friends. She also lived a life of self-less service to others. It was joy for her that God would allow her such a life of purpose. When she died, I realized that putting down a stake, in her passing, would be to enter into the spiritual work she left behind. Taking hold of the baton my mom passed to us. Praying for and serving others. I’m not where she was in that…but growing.
  • Even in our pain, we can trust God to give us wisdom and care in dealing with those around us. When we are grieving, life doesn’t feel normal. It’s as if we operate on slow-motion. Our thoughts are muddled. People are saying things to us but we can’t seem to hear correctly. In the depth of his grief, in order to secure a burial place for Sarah, Abraham had to deal with people not like him in a culture not his own. Yet, he negotiated with sensitivity and clarity. In fact, the way he did his business that day is a lesson for any of us in working with others. He was gracious and generous. The sale of that land to Abraham went very well for the seller, and the ownership of it should never come into question in the future. When we are faced with responding to others, in the midst of our grief, we can take his example. God will lead us to be our best selves, even in the hardest of situations…if we keep our eyes on Him and we treat those in front of us in good faith. When we lose someone, people usually mean well…even when motives are suspect, we can respond graciously. If, like the owner of the property Abraham would buy, the person seems focused on their own gain, we can act with wisdom and expedience. Abraham needed a burial place that would forever be considered his property. He did what needed to be done…and God gave grace.
  • Lastly, whatever the loss, we can look to the future in hope and confidence. Abraham had a great promise from God for the future. He had only begun to see the promise unfold, but he trusted God for the rest (see Hebrews 11:13-16 below). When we lose someone the idea of never seeing them again would be horrific. In fact, I don’t see how people, who believe that this life is all we have, can survive the death of a loved one. Everything in this life gives evidence that we are made for eternity. I rejoice in the knowledge that this life is not our forever home. We have another homeland…a better place. God has it ready for His children – for that loved one we are mourning now and for us on another glorious day.

“These all died in faith, although they had not received the things that were promised. But they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they were thinking about where they came from, they would have had an opportunity to return. But they now desire a better place—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”Hebrews 11:13-16

Made of the Stuff of Eternity – A. W. Tozer

Our Hope in Grief – Ross Rhoads

Dealing with Death – Bob Deffinbaugh

Death of Sarah and Abraham – Ralph F. Wilson

Mourning the Death of a Spouse – National Institute on Aging

Worship Wednesday – I Am Broken at Your Feet – Alabaster – Rend Collective

Photo Credit: The River Walk

Within two days of Jesus’ crucifixion, just hours before, a woman would anoint his body for burial… Here is the strange and glorious account of that event:

 It was two days before the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a cunning way to arrest Jesus and kill him.  “Not during the festival,” they said, “so that there won’t be a riot among the people.”

While he was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured it on his head. But some were expressing indignation to one another: “Why has this perfume been wasted? For this perfume might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they began to scold her.

Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a noble thing for me.  You always have the poor with you, and you can do what is good for them whenever you want, but you do not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body in advance for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” – Mark 14:1-9

Our pastor Cliff Jordan’s sermon on Mark 14:1-11 brought this account alive again to us. [Listen to the podcast linked above.]

The woman who poured out her treasure – possibly all she had in the world – in worshiping the Lord – was no stranger to him. She was Mary, sister to Lazarus and Martha – friend and follower of Jesus.

Surrounded by the disciples at his host’s table, Jesus was enjoying the company of these men so close to him. Mary entered the room without ceremony and straightaway broke open an alabaster jar containing this expensive perfume. [That jar was like her security – equivalent to a year’s wages in that day – “compared to her love for Jesus, it was nothing”, Cliff preached.]

She would pour that extravagant oil over his head. She then took the dripping oil into her hands and rubbed it on his feet. Drying off the excess with her own hair. The men in the room took loud exception at what they considered her frivolous act…but not Jesus.

Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a noble thing for me.  You always have the poor with you, and you can do what is good for them whenever you want, but you do not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body in advance for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

Two days later, Jesus would give his all on a cross. Beaten and bloody he would die…for us…holding nothing back. It was a Friday, and Passover. By the time his body was released to be buried, his followers had to rush, because of the late hour, laying his body in the tomb, wrapped but without anointing oils.

No worries. In the quiet of that Passover evening, Jesus’ body, caked with blood mixed with his sweat, the fragrance of Mary’s love offering must have remained…must have sweetened the stench of his death. He gave his all for us…she gave her all for him.

“Love is a laid-down life.” (Elisabeth Elliot) – We experience that in Jesus, those of us who know him. We see that in Mary.

Pastor Cliff asked the questions: “What is my alabaster jar? Where do we place our security? What can’t we imagine life without?”

I can’t imagine life without Jesus and knowing his love and his great gift of salvation. Everything else pales.

___________________________________________________________________________

From our years living in Egypt, we have kept two small alabaster votives. The light they emit is both enthralling and beautiful…so like the act of Mary’s giving all she had to her beloved Jesus.

Worship with me to Rend Collective‘s Alabaster.

I am broken at Your feet
Like an alabaster jar
Every piece of who I am
Laid before Your majesty

I will bow my life
At Your feet, at Your feet
My lips, so lost for words
Will kiss Your feet, kiss Your feet
Yeah

Oh, the gravity of You
Draws my soul unto its knees
I will never be the same, no
I am lost and found in You

And I will bow my life
At Your feet, at Your feet
My lips, so lost for words
Will kiss Your feet, kiss Your feet

Oh, I will bow my life
At Your feet, at Your feet
My lips, so lost for words
Will kiss Your feet, kiss Your feet.*

* Lyrics to Alabaster by Rend Collective

The AlabasterJar – The River Walk

YouTube Video – Alabaster Box – Cece Winans