Tag Archives: dying

5 Friday Faves – LOTR’s “May It Be”, Easter Reading, Forgiveness, On Death and Dying, and Music in the Family

1) LOTR’s “May It Be”Classical guitarist Nathan Mills, at Beyond the Guitar, and singer Malinda Kathleen Reese previously collaborated on a beautiful cover of May It Be. This week, he arranged, performed, and posted a full rendition of “May It Be”. Take in all the beauty here.

2) Easter Reading – Every year, sometime early in Lent, I pull out the books below to read in anticipation of Easter. Rich and inspiring.

This year, I added Timothy Keller‘s new book Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter. Wow! It is taking time to read because every page is full of meaning…requiring savoring and reflecting. Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Church in New York City (since 1989). Since 2017 he oversees the work of Redeemer City to City – teaching, mentoring, and writing. The book Hope in Times of Fear was written during the year of COVID-19 (2020) which is also the year he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Hopefully God will give him, and us, many more brilliant and beautiful books. For now, this is my new favorite. Thanks, Dr. Keller.

Just here you will find one of the stunning passages in this book:

“The claims of Jesus Christ, if they are truly heard for what they are, never evoke moderate response. Jesus claimed to be the Lord God of the universe, who had come to earth to give himself for us so that we could live for him. That is a call for total allegiance. You will have to either run away screaming in anger and fear or run toward him with joy and love and fall down at his feet and say, ‘I am yours.’ Nothing in the middle makes any sense. Unless you are running away from him or running toward him, you actually don’t really know who he is. Peter has done both. Because of the instruction that he has received from the risen Jesus, Peter now knows enough about the gospel of grace to realize he has nothing to fear from Jesus’s divine presence. But there is a great deal of unfinished business between Peter and His Savior.”Tim Keller, p. 98, Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter

3) Forgiveness – I don’t have a lot to say right here. To me, it’s so clear. We are wise if we forgive. We are wise if we ask forgiveness.

This past week, I listened to this old Eagles song “Heart of the Matter”.  It’s a sad song…about regret. The focus was the need to forgive…before it’s too late.

It reminded me of a blog I wrote some time ago (I’ve written many about forgiveness or the lack of it).  Singer songwriter Matthew West wrote a really beautiful song titled Forgiveness, out of a story of terrible loss and extravagant forgiveness.

I just want to leave the lyrics right here:

It’s the hardest thing to give away
And the last thing on your mind today
It always goes to those that don’t deserve

It’s the opposite of how you feel
When the pain they caused is just too real
It takes everything you have just to say the word…

Forgiveness
Forgiveness

It flies in the face of all your pride
It moves away the mad inside
It’s always anger’s own worst enemy
Even when the jury and the judge
Say you gotta right to hold a grudge
It’s the whisper in your ear saying ‘Set It Free’

Forgiveness, Forgiveness
Forgiveness, Forgiveness

Show me how to love the unlovable
Show me how to reach the unreachable
Help me now to do the impossible

Forgiveness, Forgiveness

Help me now to do the impossible
Forgiveness

It’ll clear the bitterness away
It can even set a prisoner free
There is no end to what it’s power can do
So, let it go and be amazed
By what you see through eyes of grace
The prisoner that it really frees is you

Forgiveness, Forgiveness
Forgiveness, Forgiveness

Show me how to love the unlovable
Show me how to reach the unreachable
Help me now to do the impossible
Forgiveness

I want to finally set it free
So show me how to see what Your mercy sees
Help me now to give what You gave to me
Forgiveness, Forgiveness.*

Why Do We Add to Our Trouble? – Tim Challies

YouTube Video – Forgiveness (live) by Matthew West

Story Behind the song “Forgiveness”

4) On Death and Dying – Having been a cancer nurse, I am familiar with this topic more than most maybe. However, it is never an easy one, given we don’t want to lose people we love nor do we want to leave people we love.

It is important for us to talk about death and preparations for dying, even if it is uncomfortable. It is a loving thing to do. My husband’s sweet dad, John, prior to having surgery some years ago, executed an advance life directive spelling out his wishes for end-of-life. He did great through that surgery and lived many healthy years afterward. Julia, his wonderful wife, didn’t think about it again. Then after years of poor health with Parkinson’s, he had a massive stroke. We were so grateful that the medical staff were able to retrieve a forgotten document that made decisions regarding his care so much easier for us. John had made decisions in his love for his family… years before. Because of this, we got to bring him home, with hospice support, and be with him, caring for him, until he died a week later.

With COVID, and now even with vaccines, we have had to take a clear-eyed look at death. When my neighbor, who is a bit older but as healthy as me, told me she and her husband had met with the funeral home to do their planning, I was a bit stunned. Yet, it is important and such a loving thing to do for a family.

Julia, my precious mom-in-law, and I, on a visit last year, had challenged each other to complete our own advanced care (or end-of-life) directive. We haven’t done it yet. Either one of us. So I pulled it up again…and hope to finish it this weekend.

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, one of President Biden’s medical advisors on COVID, has been very public in his desire not to live past 75. Of course, he is only 63, this year. 75 may not seem as young to him as it might in a few more years. He talks about the diminishing returns of getting older, and that it its own loss, for the person and for those who would care.

I don’t care for Dr. Emanuel’s take on this, but I do very much agree with the following:

  • Think seriously about your beliefs in God and what happens in the after-life.
  • Get right with God and reconcile with those you are at odds with…especially family members. For them, if not for yourself.
  • Decide what your wishes are about end-of-life. Write it down. Tell your children or medical representative.
  • Make whatever arrangements you can while you still have your health.
  • Be sure your will is clear and understandable to those for whom it will matter most.
  • Then live your life in all its beauty. When dying begins, it can have its own meaning and purpose. I think of Kara Tippetts and so many others who died as they had lived.

What else should be added to these points? Please comment below.

The Hope That Sustained Tim Keller Through 2020 – Matt McCullough

Growing My Faith in the Face of Death – Timothy Keller

20 Quotes From Tim Keller’s Short (New) Book on Death – Ivan Mesa, Tim Keller

Passing On – Documentary – Arizona Public Media – thoughtful documentary on end-of-life planning. Also the complementary film “Dying Wishes”

The Passing On Movie – a Documentary – on disappearing traditions of Black funeral homes

Advanced Life or End-of-Life Directive – State of Virginia – pdf

Kara Tippetts and other stories of redemption – Deb Mills Writer

Photo Credit: Screenshot, Life in the Labyrinth

5) Music in the Family – Wow! Don’t know how I missed the Kanneh-Mason siblings until recently. They have been playing, both together and as soloists, since at least 2017. Ranging in age from 11 to 24, these seven are incredibly talented and hard working in their craft – playing either cello, violin, or piano. When the COVID pandemic hit, they were all home together, in Great Britain, and made even more music together. The video below of them playing Redemption Song is how I first heard them. Wow!

The Kanneh-Mason Website

We are a musical family as well. Not world-class maybe (yet…who knows?!). However, we do know what it is like to hear music all the time and to always have an audience or somebody who plays alongside. The Kanneh-Mason siblings have really benefited from growing up together with supportive parents. Read this great piece to find out Everything You Need to Know About the Kanneh-Mason Family.

I have in my to-buy wish list their beautiful album Carnival of the Animals.

Raising The Kanneh-Masons: The World’s Most Musical Family – Jessica Duchen

That’s it for this week. Thanks so much for stopping by. It means a lot. Enjoy the weekend and those you love. Keep the door open…

Bonuses:

Banana Pudding – Karen Burnette Garner

YouTube Video – I Waited For You – Janette…ikz Wedding Vows

Photo Credit: Facebook, Tropical Life Food and Fun

My Favorite Things for a Civilized Life – Sally Clarkson

YouTube Video – A Song for Mama – Boyz II Men – This song is new to me. Heard it this past week as part of a funeral to a mom who died of early-onset Alzheimer’s. It was a fitting tribute by her two sons.

Worship Wednesday – the Faith to Believe

Photo Credit: Flickr

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

Love Is a Laid-Down Life – Slowing Down For a Season

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“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends…I have called you friends.” – Jesus (John 15:13, 15b)

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.1 John 3:16

My father has Alzheimer’s, and his cancer has recurred. His hospice team says he has weeks, maybe days, to live. Of course, they could be wrong. As I look at his sweet face, he seems so ready to go. When we put ourselves right in front of him, he sees and smiles and welcomes us into his love. When he lies alone in his experience, it’s like he is waiting. For how long…we don’t know.

I haven’t stopped to count the number of weeks over the last two years that trips to Georgia have punctuated life. Time with Dad is worth the interruptions. No question.

The women’s event where I was to be the keynote speaker…and I was so looking forward to being with old friends that weekend. Not happening…well, it’s happening, but I won’t be there. Just heard about a job (the third one this year) that had my skill set and giftings so woven into the job description it could have been written for me. Three different times. Not for me; not now. The high-dollar certification course to teach English as a second language – gave me the content and prized certificate…but must wait for another time. Even volunteering with refugees demands more of a commitment than I can give for the moment.

All these pieces of life are laid-down for now.

Something more important…something that can’t be easily calendared is priority right now.

How thankful I am for:

  • This time with Dad. To savor the memories we have together. To remind him of those memories since Alzheimer’s has clouded his.
  • Family members who have stepped into his care with generosity and humility. They work their own schedules around his needs. I am with him for days….they are always with him. Period. Full stop. What a blessing – I’m sure…for him, and for them. Still, I count the cost of that and am so grateful.img_9580
  • Friends, colleagues, and family here who flex in my absence…who watch out for and check on Dave while I’m gone…who fill gaps I must leave unattended were it not for them…who pray for Dad and us…who forgive my fatigue and dullness…who stretch to reach out to me when I don’t have it in me to reach out to them…even when I long for nearness. Thank you for holding space for me until I am back to myself.
  • Hospice workers and pastors who come often to serve Dad and all the rest of us. Gentle care. Encouragement. Wonder. Laughter. Scripture promises. So many touchpoints to reassure us Dad is not forgotten.
  • God who has shown so much of Himself in these days. When I was leaving Dad for home this last time, the tears finally came. I had wondered if I would ever cry again. Watching him lose his independence and seeing the cancer advance…painful experiences for us. Dad seems to bear it all with so much grace. God has answered our prayers in that. How grateful I am that when the time comes, we know that we will see him again. God’s peace is tangible evidence of His presence with Dad…and with us.

I heard Elisabeth Elliot* speak one time on “Love Is a Laid-Down Life”. Blog - Elisabeth Elliot - photoShe talked on how Jesus’ life wasn’t taken on the cross…He laid down his life for our sake. Going through this slowed-down season, I’m reminded of how parents do so much for their children growing up. Seeing our children with their tiny ones, I see that sweet sacrifice as they slow down their lives to give their children time for naps and toddling. It is love. Love is a laid-down life – our desires, our ambitions, our druthers…put aside for something far better.

Now Dad needs us to slow our lives down…for him.

We are also watching a beautiful picture of this in our other family – Dave’s folks. Parkinson’s Disease is taking its toll on Dave’s sweet dad. Watching Dave’s mom live out “for better, for worse” is such a witness of the love we’re meant to have for the older ones, the weaker ones, the sicker ones. I’m learning from her deep love shown in her resolve to be there for her faithful husband of over 60 years. Not on her terms, but right where he needs her to be. john-julia-60th-anniversary-2016

As I’m away from Dad this week, catching up on life back home, I’m glad to be here for now…and thrilled he has family with him. As the women’s event looms this weekend, and the planners wisely and mercifully (towards me) execute their plan B in my absence, I’m glad for that. There will be other times together, I’m trusting.

For today…it’s grace upon grace. Learning to live each season in ways that allow love to grow as we are called to lay our lives down for others and the God of this universe uses our hands and our words to administer that love beyond our imagining.

I have certainly experienced that kind of love through you.

 Will You Lay Down Your Life? – My Utmost for His Highest

*On the Passing of Elisabeth Elliot – Love Is a Laid Down Life – Deb Mills

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Worship Wednesday – In Suffering – Where Were You?- by Ghost Ship

blog-where-were-you-tumblrPhoto Credit: i-love-to-love.tumblr

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.” – God (Job 38:4)

Then Job answered the Lord and said: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”…and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.Job 42:1-6, 9b

I don’t cry easily. Maybe it’s all the years of cancer nursing where my tears were spent. Or having already lost loves of our own has drained them. Or this broken world has finished off my tears.

Or so I thought. This morning has brought tears as my sister-in-law texts with me about Dad. He is in his last weeks…days…we don’t know. This funny, intelligent, extraordinary and simple farmer’s son…this man who took in four more children when he married my mom…this man who has always been strong as an ox even in his 90s…this man who fiercely loves his family and friends…this man is winding down in this life.Dad and Debbie - July 2016

I don’t ask God “Why?” about Dad’s dying…he’s lived a full and amazing life. My prayer has been that he can enter the healing of Heaven without the terror of late Alzheimer’s or the pain of cancer spreading. So far, he still knows us all and has sweet moments of reflection…when he wakes from his long naps. The pain, like the cancer, is growing, but so far, with medication and the close care of family and hospice, he is managing to be comfortable most of the time…and we’re thankful.img_9067

The part of life, for any of us, when suffering looms large does cause us to ask “Why?” sometimes. This past Sunday, at Movement Church, we sang Where Were You. We are in an Explore God sermon series along with several other churches in the Richmond area. This Sunday the topic was “Why Does God Allow Pain and Suffering?” [You can listen to that podcast here.]

The issue of suffering is a very personal one. It’s really a wonder, in such a fallen world, that there is not more suffering. God has always been intimately present with us in times of loss and suffering, and I hope to be able to trust Him in future hard places.

The song Where Were You? is taken directly from the book of Job. He suffered enormous loss and physical pain which could have entirely shaken his faith in God. The book describes his wrestling with the “why’s” with the help of three not-so-helpful friends. Beginning in Job 31, Job makes one last appeal to God to satisfy his questions. Before God speaks, another friend, Elihu, shows up and offers a glorious defense of God’s character. He speaks through 5 chapters of Job on God’s behalf. Then, God Himself, makes the closing statement to Job (Job 38-41). It is thrilling to read. God is the answer to all our questions…if we will listen.

Worship with me to the words from Job by the Christian band Ghost Ship.

I said God I do not understand this world
everything is dying and broken
why do I see nothing but suffering

God I’m asking could this be Your plan
Sin has taken hold of this whole land
Will You not say anything else to me?

He said where were you the day that I measured
sunk the banks and stretched the line over
all the earth and carved out its corner stone?

Where were you the day that I spoke and
told the sun to split the night open
caused the morning dark with its light to show

Who shut in the ocean with stone doors
marked the reach of tides on those new shores
hung the day the waves rose and first broke forth

Have you seen the springs of that great sea
walked the caverns carved in the black deep
through the gates of darkness there on its floor

Have you seen the armory I hold
snow and hail are stacked up in silos
for the times of trouble and war and strife

Can you raise your voice to the storm cloud
would the thunder answer and ring out
does the lightning ask you where it should strike

Who has cleft the channels for torrents
rain to sprout the desert with forest
in the wilderness that my hand has built

Can you hunt the prey for your lions
can you use the cords of Orion
is this whole world bending beneath your will?

I spoke of things I did not understand
things too wonderful for me
although I had no right to ask
my God knelt and answered me*

We are not alone in our suffering. There is plenty of great teaching on suffering elsewhere (including John Piper’s article linked below). For me, for today, thinking about and praying for my dad…this song was a just-right reminder of God’s power and His goodness. He can do all things and His purposes are not thwarted. Hallelujah!

[If you’re reading this just after it’s been posted, we would appreciate your prayers for our dad and for those most closely caring for him. Thank you.]

*Lyrics to Where Were You?

YouTube Video – Where Were You? – with Lyrics – Ghost Ship – Mars Hill Music

YouTube Video – Where Were You? – Lyrics without Images – Ghost Ship

Video Collection – Why Does god Allow Pain and Suffering? – Explore God

Job: Rebuked in Suffering – Job 32:1-37:24 – John Piper

Today is What We Have – Fight for a Soft Heart Today – Praying for Kara

Blog - Kara with hairNo posts from Kara & Company over the weekend, and I was holding my breath. Kara Tippetts is one of the loveliest women I’ve never met. She is a Christ-follower, pastor’s wife, mom of 4, writer, and amazing sister and friend. How I know her is through the cancer she battles, through her faith,  and through her writing…this is how I know her and how I love her.

Today, exhaling, a post came up on her Facebook page. She was writing about a friend, Jay Lyons, who was producing a documentary about her journey through cancer. She linked to the documentary as will I.

In the documentary, she talks about having to leave the party early.

[Sidebar: I write about sad things sometimes. Don’t leave the party early yourselves, dear readers. Her life is so rich, so real; I want you to know Kara. So hang in there with me. Her journey right now is so much more than sad; she has so much to teach us about life…don’t miss it.]

Kara says, “I know I’ve got cancer. I know I’m going to die of it, but I also know I have today, and so in this today, I get to live well.”

She talks about her husband, Jason. “Jason shows me the best of what life has to offer mostly in encouraging me to fight for a soft heart.”

Finally, she talks about the cancer and her Father, God: “I want to be able to share this story, that suffering isn’t a mistake and isn’t the absence of God’s goodness, because He’s present in pain.”

When Kara talks, those who doubt the goodness of God have no place to speak into her experience. She trusts God for today.

Pray for Kara and Jason today. Pray for a soft heart…for her, for them…for all of us.Blog - Kara & Jason near the end

Kara Tippetts – Facebook page

Kara Tippetts Blog – Mundane Faithfulness

Dying with Grace – By Faith Magazine Interview with Kara

Kara Tippetts Documentary Trailer

Kara’s book The Hardest Peace

Documentary Indiegogo Project Funding

Photo Credits – Kara & Jason Before Chemo and Kara & Jason After

Passionate Living & Glorious Passings – 3 Women Who Are Teaching Me About Living…and Dying

Blog - Sunrise by Alicia Bowman“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us…if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” – Romans 8:18, 25

For half my adult life, I was a cancer nurse. In those years, when the question came up, “So what do you do?”, my profession was sometimes a bit of a conversation-stopper. Talking about working with patients and families in such great crisis does not lend itself to casual conversation. As I write today, I hope you will lean in to what you might struggle with at first – the reality of beautiful young women dealing with cancer and dying. If you pause to hear a bit of their stories, you will not be the same after. It was that way for me.

I didn’t meet these women in a cancer center. They came to me via Facebook of all places. In fact, I never met them face-to-face. Yet, they are as real to me as sisters, or nieces. I will only introduce them to you. Read more of their stories as they tell them themselves. Two are already with the Lord. They lived passionate, faithful lives and gloriously passed into the presence of God. One is still living, though dying. I ask you to read and learn from her…and pray for her. All three you will love to know.

[You men, if you’re still reading, will also be glad to know them. Their husbands, fathers, friends, and brothers could use men of understanding in their lives. Let their journey with God and these precious women guide you how to be such men.] Blog - Abby

Abby Smith – so much joy and love and faith in this one. She died in December, 2013, at 24 years of age. I thank GOD for her. Watch the two videos of her below. Stunning. Her love for Jesus and the joy she had in Him, even in suffering gives me so much hope.

Here is a bit of her testimony: “If I could go back and tell myself what the hardest struggle was, it wouldn’t be cancer. It would be myself because I almost made it out to be even worse than it was. I was constantly having to deal with feelings of anxiety, fear, and all these things. If I would have only taken it one day at a time, only one minute at a time, one hour and put my complete trust in Christ. That is what I have learned to do and am learning to do each day.

Sometimes deadlines are great reminders of how short our time here on earth is anyway. However, I firmly believe that God is all about postponing “deadlines” too! As long as He gives me breath, I want to be shining brightly for Him and helping those who are hurting to experience the love He has for them. Going through this has made me realize more about who I am. This is the one life I get to live. The only thing that matters more than anything else is how I live it to glorify my Creator, Savior and King, Jesus Christ.”

Blog - Kelsey Kelsey Kennedy – such great faith and fight in this one. She taught me so much about keeping the door open for God to work His miracles. As He chose. When Kelsey got too sick to write, her husband Chris kept writing. So thankful to him for that. Kelsey is whole in Heaven now, but she still ministers to my heart and the many who knew and loved and prayed for her.

“I have said more than once along this journey there are times I haven’t “felt” the Lord’s presence. I know the passage in Hebrews 13:5-6 (and so many others) promises He is with us – always – but it sure doesn’t always feel like it.

And yet, it is often when I feel most alone, a dear friend (or quite honestly a person I don’t even know) will encourage me with a timely scripture, a hand-written note or a simple text letting me know I am not forgotten. It is then I realize Christ’s presence is often “felt” most strongly through His body of believers. It’s as if He’s whispering to me, “You see, daughter, I do love you. I know you don’t think so, but I’m pouring out my extravagant love on you through others. They know and I know what is going on. We ache with you. You are not alone.”

Although, I continually ask the Lord to remove this painful thorn from my life, I am grateful for the ways He manifests His presence to me (through you) in the midst of great darkness. I know I never would have experienced His presence in this way otherwise. Truly, truly – we are never alone.” Pray for Chris, and their little girl, in these days…God keep them near to Him.

Blog - Kara Kara Tippetts – living for God, even with cancer, as hard as she can go. Kara is a young mom with a husband and 4 children in this life and battle with her. Along with a ton of friends and family. I just met her (through Facebook) a few days ago.  So enthralled with how she lives with joy and perseverance and hope. She is not afraid to talk about dying, and yet she is living to the full every moment she is. Just wow!

No quotes from Kara here – go to her blog. Like her page on Facebook. Pray for her with every prompting from God. Every day is precious. Thank you, Kara, for living and loving and writing about it.

Thank you, Sisters. Thank GOD for you.

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died. We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:11

There Will Be A Day by Jeremy Camp

Mundane Faithfulness – Kara Tippetts Facebook Page & Website

Amazing Abby – Abigail Smith – She Lived and She Loved

Vimeo Video of Abby’s Journey of Hope and Video Earlier in Her Journey with God Through Cancer

Praying for Kelsey Facebook Group Chris Kennedy (Kelsey’s husband) & Blog

YouTube Playlist of Encouraging Songs Vimeo – Shane & Shane “Though You Slay Me” (featuring John Piper)

Tom’s Dad Is Going Home…and for the Rest of Us…the Hope of Finishing Strong

Blog - Tom Elliff & his dad

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell.  For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.  – the Apostle Paul in a letter to the Philippians; 1:21-23

Mr. Elliff is dying…or really, finally going Home, at 97 years young.

He is the father/father-in-law of our dear, dear friends Tom & Jeannie Elliff.

Tom describes this as only he can…don’t miss this brief story of a beloved father and a redeemed life – Dad is Going Home.

I never met Mr. Elliff but I know him through Tom’s stories of him. I also know more about the stewardship of whatever comes our way, again, through Tom’s stories. Not just through his stories, but through the lives of Tom and Jeannie.

Blog - Tom & JEannie at Christmas

When we think of someone dear dying, we think of others living with the prospect more real…as with a recurrent cancer. I saw my mom go through it in such a way that every day of her 3-year battle brought glory to God. That was all she wanted. There are others we love going gloriously through cancer and its treatment…by God’s grace and in the joy of the Lord…and we ourselves are changed. This is a picture of the God we love, who loves us more…this view of God in Tom & Jeannie Elliff’s life (life, not lives…because “if ever two were one”, then surely [they].*

Blog - Tom & Jeannie

“Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.  And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith,  that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again.” – the Apostle Paul again – Philippians 1:24-26

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. – 2 Timothy 4:7

For us…for now…we remain…for there is still a race to be won.

Praying for you, Tom and Jeannie.

Tom Elliff Website & Blog

If Ever Two Were One – Puritan Poet Anne Bradstreet

Photo Credits – Jeannie Elliff & Family

 

Finishing Strong – On the Anniversary of My Mom’s Glorious Homegoing

Mom pictures for website 012

We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed – always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. – 2 Corinthians 4:7-10

My Mom was a young 72 when she was diagnosed with cancer. We were overseas at the time, and I wanted so to be home with her. She was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma – supposedly “the best kind of cancer you can have”. Highly treatable. Long remissions. Often cured. Mom would die after 3 years of intensive, and sometimes experimental, chemotherapy. She never caught a break. Yet, she didn’t look at it that way.

Her journey with God in those days was other-worldly. The Mom I knew loved to serve people, and cancer would not stop that. She had grown up poor and with a dad who could be mean when he drank. She dreamed of college but it was never meant to be. Instead she became a student of life, and she never tired of that. She was a beautiful blend of Mary and Martha – wholly satisfied whether “sitting at the feet of Jesus” or serving the needs of those around her. I love that she was my Mom.

She taught me how to live…and she taught me how to die. We were home in the States when Mom’s cancer finished its course in her. She never spent a night in the hospital throughout those three years.  She stubbornly guarded her time at home and had the will and the support (of my Dad, family and friends) to endure from home…and there was God, holding her tight against the storm.

Fuji002 152a

Mom never prayed for healing, but we did. Mom prayed that this cancer, the illness and all that was part of it (including a devastating Shingles-related neuralgia), would bring glory to God. Her prayer was answered, and ours, ultimately, in Heaven.

Her dying took three days. If you had known my Mom, you knew a person that was all about life – helping and encouraging others, pointing them to God, determined, in faith, to make sense of what seemed utter nonsense. She continued to be about that until she went into a coma the last day. While she was awake that final weekend, I asked her (over and again) how she was. One time, I remember, she nodded a bit, and whispered, “I’m O.K.” It was her face that spoke volumes. Forehead lifted, blue eyes bright, an almost sunny expression. That “I’m O.K.” was accompanied by an almost delighted look of marvel…of wonder. Like, “Wow! I’m really O.K.!” God was meeting her at the point of her greatest need.

Mom and I have always had amazing talks about the deep things of God and life. She told me one time that she envied us our certainty of His call to a life overseas. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard God speak so clearly to me,” she lamented. In the last days of her life, it came to me to ask her if she heard God speak to her lately. She answered right away, with that same look of wonder, “All the time!” If cancer had to be the instrument of such grace, then it became a gift to her.

Mom entered Eternity during the reading of 2 Corinthians 4:7-10 (see above). Her young pastor and his wife came unexpectedly that evening, rushing in, wide-eyed, as if on a mission. We brought them back to her room, and they sat with us, around her bed. She had been unresponsive all day. Her pastor opened his Bible and began reading. Mom had this sweet habit of knitting her forehead and shaking her head, in response to something that touched her heart. As he read, after being quiet and still all day, she knit her forehead and breathed her last. We all felt transfigured in that moment.

Today marks 12 years since Mom went to be with the Lord, and I miss her today and every day. She was so spent when she left us, yet gloriously whole at the same time. A bit of prose from Henry Van Dyke always comes to mind in thinking of her Homegoing.

Gone From My Sight by Henry Van Dyke

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side, spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says, “There, she is gone.”

Gone where?

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me — not in her.

And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,”
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”

Mom taught us how to live…and she taught us how to die. She “fought the good fight…finished the race…and kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7). For us, there is still a race to be run.

Thanks, Mom, for showing us how it’s done. See you at the Finish Line.

Mom pictures for website 014a

When it’s all been said and done
There is just one thing that matters:
Did I do my best to live for truth, did I live my life for You?
When it’s all been said and done
All my treasures will mean nothing
Only what I’ve done for love’s Reward
Will stand the test of time.

Lord, Your mercy is so great
That You look beyond our weakness
And find purest gold in miry clay
Making sinners into saints

I will always sing Your praise
Here on earth and ever after
For You’ve shown me Heaven’s my true home
When it’s all been said and done
You’re my life when life is gone.

Lord I’ll live my life for You.

Lyrics & Music by Jim Cowan © 1999 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music

Mom pictures for website 003Mom’s Irises

YouTube Video – When It’s All Been Said and Done

Memory of Mildred Byrd McAdams

We Are Not Our Own – Thoughts on Physician-Assisted Suicide

Worship Wednesday – Tribute to Kelsey Kennedy & Matt Redman’s Never Once

Blog - The Kennedy Crew -  Kelsey, Chris & Alexa Kennedy

And the Lord, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.” – Deuteronomy 31:8

I’ve never met Kelsey Kennedy, but she is dear to me. Five years ago, she was diagnosed with epithelioid sarcoma. This is a rare cancer of the extremities that occurs in young people and spreads aggressively to other parts of the body. From the beginning, Kelsey must have known what a relentless cancer this was, and yet she faced it with great courage and faith. Thanks to social media (Facebook, in particular), I am a small part of a huge army of prayer warriors who have been committed for months/years to pray healing over Kelsey and grace for her husband, Chris.

For the last several weeks, I’ve been praying for her (having discovered a Praying for Kelsey page through a friend’s Facebook wall). Kelsey’s tenacity, in the face of a cancer that continued to spread despite the best treatment, was unflagging. She had so much to live for – a sweet husband, darling little daughter, family and friends who adored her, and a God she wanted to glorify for years to come…a lifetime to come.

Cancer nursing is my background, and even as I prayed for complete physical healing for her, as she had asked us all to pray, I struggled against the knowledge of what a dismal prognosis she had. Yet, she kept her focus on life and she fought for it. Not just for herself, but for those she loved. And even in this past week, what would be the last week of her life, she poured grace on all who came to encourage her. She encouraged them, and she encouraged all the rest of us – who didn’t know her, but loved her. She pointed us to her Saviour…and now she sees Him face-to-face.

I don’t understand why this lovely young mother had to die at 35 years old. It is not for us to understand. Having lost family members myself, and not sure I would be able to manage after they died, I understand the great reality that God doesn’t always heal on this side…but He heals all of us ultimately. And as we go through the dark valley of dying or watching someone we love die, He never leaves us to take this journey alone. He is very near…and that is what got Kelsey to Heaven at the end of her battle…and His presence is what will get Chris to tomorrow…and the day after. By His grace.

After hearing (through the Praying for Kelsey Facebook page) that Kelsey had died, hundreds of us expressed our condolences through postings on this page. Several folks included links to praise songs that had comforted them and hopefully would comfort Chris and the rest of Kelsey’s family. The song that came to mind for me from Kelsey’s life was Matt Redman’s Never Once.

Never Once

Standing on this mountaintop
Looking just how far we’ve come
Knowing that for every step
You were with us

Kneeling on this battle ground
Seeing just how much You’ve done
Knowing every victory
Was Your power in us

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Kneeling on this battle ground
Seeing just how much You’ve done
Knowing every victory
Was Your power in us

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Never once did we ever walk alone
Carried by Your constant grace
Held within Your perfect peace
Never once, no, we never walk alone

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Every step we are breathing in Your grace
Evermore we’ll be breathing out Your praise
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
You are faithful, God, You are faithful.

[Writers: Ingram, Jason/Redman, Matt/Wanstall, Tim]

In Chris’ blog posting  the day Kelsey went to be with Jesus, he quoted a favorite short piece of mine (which I found at the time my Mom died):

“Final thing to share, as we close out the first chapter of Kelsey’s life – a neat illustration which was written in a pamphlet about the final days of life:

“I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says, ‘There, she is gone!’

‘Gone where?’

Gone from sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and she is just as able to bear the load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at the moment when someone at my side says: ‘There, she is gone!’ there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout: ‘Here she comes!’

And that is dying.”

— Henry Van Dyke

Never once did Kelsey or Chris walk alone through this…never once.

So thankful for a God who never leaves us or forsakes us…ever (Deuteronomy 31:8).

Image Credit – Christ > Cancer: Kelsey’s Journey to Healing

The Kennedy Crew Blog

Kelsey Kennedy – Obituary

Never Once by Matt Redman live

 

YouTube Video – Story Behind Never Once

 

Godtube Video of Never Once – Slideshow with Lyrics