Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Skipping Sunday

Someone recently asked me if I hate Tuesdays. I answered, “Yes.” Doug died on a Tuesday and they will be hard for me for the foreseeable future. As I thought more about that conversation I came to realize that Sundays are even harder. I would like to go to bed on Saturday and not wake up until Monday. I would like to skip Sunday.

We were together on Sundays more often than any other day of the week and when we returned to the US it was difficult for me to go and sit in a church service and not participate in some way. However, my ministry role had transitioned from that of pastor’s wife to full-time caregiver and I could not slack. I had to be content with sitting in a service when I could and allow others to minister.

Since Doug’s Home going, Sundays have become even more difficult. Songs of worship often bring on tears; especially the ones that address the resurrection. When someone prays, I find myself reaching for Doug’s hand. When the pastor makes an interesting point, I want to lean over and make a comment. I realize I’m sitting by myself and it’s not because my husband is preaching.

I’ll be honest, there are many Sunday mornings I don’t want to get up for church. But, I do because I need to. I go to church because it’s the right thing to do. I should be with fellow believers in Christ. I should sing through the tears. I should open my heart to the preaching of the Word. I should be there because it’s a haven. So, I go. I drag myself out of bed, get myself ready and I go.

Pastor has been preaching through the book of Revelation recently and, even though it mostly addresses the end times, I find one recurring theme; the result of great tribulation is great worship. I’ve seen it over and over throughout the few chapters he’s preached so far. It was captivating to picture the tribulation saints that were under the altar in chapter 6 suffering great torment clothed in white robes and singing praises to God in chapter 7. And, there are other records. Noah built an altar to the Lord after the flood. Joshua built an altar of remembrance when the Israelites crossed the Jordan. Job fell on his face and worshipped when he lost everything.

This constant reminder is bringing me around to where I should be. I lost my husband, but I can worship God. I’m not sure where the Lord is taking me in ministry, but I can worship God. Sundays will continue to be difficult, but I can worship God. So, more and more often I find myself doing just that. It helps me through the sadness, pain and uncertainty because I focus on Him and not myself. I think in time I may be ok with Sundays again and even look forward to them.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Rip Current of Grief

When our nephew passed away suddenly in 1999 I remember his mother describing how the grief would come in waves. I grieved for James then and it did come in waves, sometimes when I least expected it. But, losing my husband, my life partner, my counselor, the man with whom I spent more than half my life, the man I loved more than any other brings an emotion much more profound than grief. As I wander through my days in a haze I am reminded of a time I was caught in a rip current while swimming in Lake Erie as a teen. I wasn’t far from shore and I don’t remember all the details, I just remember being pulled under every time I tried to surface. I eventually did surface and swam to shore to my friends. No one knew what I’d been through.

Since that experience I’ve learned that freeing oneself from a rip current requires a tremendous amount of energy and strength. Poor swimmers are especially vulnerable to drowning in these circumstances. Others say not all currents will come back around toward shore. Whatever the situation, they’re all fighting for their lives. There are many articles on how to survive a rip current, most of which give the same instructions: stay calm and swim parallel to or diagonally toward shore. One researcher suggested just allowing the current to take you because it would eventually circle back around toward shore. While many disagree with his suggestion, I’ve decided that it is the best approach to handling my grief.

All researchers and rescuers agree that one should stay calm. Panic and agitation will only make it more difficult to break free. This past year has had so many ups and downs with emotions ranging from complete despair to extreme hopefulness. Every time Doug had a crisis with his health, anxiety assaulted me and pushed me into action on his behalf. When Doug was feeling more normal and coasting along I could relax and enjoy spending time with him. When his scans showed that he was improving in January we were both so hopeful and resolved to continue the treatment course. But that’s when things started to become difficult again. I look back on it now as the start of his decline. However, I clung to the hopefulness gained from those scans and invested every ounce of energy I had into his care. Still, he had setback after setback and by the time he went back to the hospital only four days after coming home from rehab I was utterly exhausted. When the doctor told me on Monday there was nothing left to do but to make him comfortable I accepted it without question. For the next 24 hours, surrounded by family and friends, we waited for him to pass into the Lord’s presence. It was the culmination of a year’s struggle pared down to a single moment in time. He was here, then he was gone.

During this past year, as I grappled with my emotions, the Lord brought me to a passage in Isaiah several times. I took that as a clear sign He wanted me to learn something from it. Chapter 43: 1-3a states, “But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the Lord your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior;’” For many months I claimed the promise of these verses thinking Doug would survive his cancer. Frankly, I had no reason to think otherwise. Since he entered the Lord’s presence my perspective has changed…drastically.

I realized I had been focusing on “the waters shall not overflow you” part and believed Doug would be healed in this life. After all, God parted the Red Sea for the Israelites to pass through on dry ground. I felt He would do the same for Doug. What I neglected to notice was the part about God being with me. I mean, in my mind, I understood the promise. I claimed it especially as it relates to my salvation, but I didn’t fully understand it until I had to face the reality of life without Doug. So here my grief assaults me, threatening to pull me under and carry me away as I struggle to get out of bed in the morning and face the challenges of the day. Who knew it could be so hard to wash and dry one load of clothes? But as I feel it pulling me under, only now am I able to look toward God, accept the calming assurance that He is with me in all things. The grief won’t carry me away to oblivion if I cling to the promise that I am His and He is with me. Does it make it any easier? Not really, but it does make it bearable. And it makes me appreciate all the people who have walked the road and told me with confidence, “It does get better.” I’m counting on it.

Friday, April 14, 2017

     This week in Doug’s rehabilitation has shown steady improvement, but it has not been without discouragements and little setbacks. I’ve watched him struggle with his emotions as he desperately tries to recall a word that used to be on the tip of his tongue. I’ve watched him grunt as he uses every ounce of strength to lift is leg off the mat. I’ve watched him teeter as he reaches for an object on one side of the table and moves it to the other. And, I’ve watched him as he takes unsteady steps while supported by his therapist. He has managed to improve despite a blood transfusion, clots, fatigue, pain, anxiety, insomnia, lack of appetite and depression.

     As I watched I struggled with my own emotions, fatigue and discouragement. My prayers have been desperate pleas for his recovery. I lie down at night wondering if he’ll get any sleep. I wake up in the morning knowing I’ll have to prod and coddle to get him ready for the day. By the end of the day we’re both exhausted and about to give up. 

     Tuesday, the 18th marks the one year anniversary of Doug’s cancer diagnosis. The weeks following were filled with activity, anxiety and a lot of disappointment. Then he started chemotherapy and things settled into somewhat of a routine. A look at the statistics for pancreatic cancer reveal that he has already lived far longer than he should have. We got encouraging news in January relating to his cancer, but since then he has had a number of other setbacks with infections and, most recently, his stroke. It’s been an incredibly difficult year and I don’t anticipate a reprieve any time soon.

     I often wonder if God is telling me “His grace is sufficient for me” as I plead Doug’s cause before Him. However, I count on Him for daily strength because I’m just that exhausted. I count on Him for daily grace because I’m just that discouraged. I count on His promise to not abandon me because I very often feel alone. And I count on His Word because it gives me comfort. 

      My Bible reading today took me to Ephesians 3:20-21 - “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” These verses of encouragement have come up many times during this journey as have many others. I’ve claimed them and I cling to them. Along with that I pray that our lives will glorify the Lord even in the trials. I pray the Lord will have mercy on us and heal Doug. Mostly, I pray God will accomplish His purpose soon. I’m so weary.

Friday, January 30, 2015

And Yet Another Blog on Marriage

My mother forwards emails to me every so often. Some are informational, but most are just entertaining…like the one I got last week. It was a review of emails circulating during 2014 with all that information that turned us into a paranoid mess and left us almost paralyzed. For example, I no longer ask for lemon slices in my water at restaurants. I’m really afraid to put most anything in my mouth because it’s probably on some “no eat” list somewhere. I’m terrified to touch any public door and am seriously considering buying a box of latex gloves to keep in my purse.

Of course, it’s not just the emails that are passed around. Facebook is just as inundated with articles and blog posts warning us of this or that. If I had small children I would be in such a quandary about vaccinations. That pendulum seems to be swinging back, though, which gives me no end of relief. My kids’ shot records are three 8 ½ x 11 pages full of stamps and signatures. My goodness, what have I done to my children!?!

I’m also not sure how many on Facebook are my true friends because I didn’t repost that status testing their loyalty to me. I may have no real friends. Probably, I would rather not know. 

And don’t even get me started on the yoga pants articles circulating right now.

My biggest pet peeve, though, has to do with the myriad articles on marriage. Is my husband my soul mate or not? I’m afraid to answer that question because I’ve seen blog posts on both sides of that argument. Then there are the 53 things I should be doing to make my marriage better, be a better wife, make my husband happier, ensure that he’ll only have eyes for me, you name it. Honestly, if I acted on some of those recommendations my husband would think I’d become a total nut job. I’m convinced there’s a blog somewhere out there on why we should share the responsibility of the garage door opener in order to strengthen our communication.

So why do I subject myself to the constant barrage of information? Well, as incredible as it may seem, I read these articles because I know there’s always room for improvement. My husband and I have been at this for 28+ years and we are not perfect. And as a teacher of women I’m always looking for material and illustrations for lessons. Recently, I find myself just plain frustrated because I feel I can never be the woman in the article. I have never read through a list and been able to say to myself, “Whew! I must be doing everything right.” But, then I realized that, once again, I’m losing perspective on what’s important in a marriage. I’ve allowed the voice of man to obscure the voice of Scripture.

Over the years I’ve discovered that having a healthy relationship with my husband is really quite simple and the principles are found in Ephesians 5:22-28. 1) Wives submit to husbands. 2) Husbands love wives. It sounds pretty cut and dried. Paul also gives us several reasons for this divinely established standard, the most important being that it is a picture of Christ’s relationship with His Church.  It’s basic and it’s foundational to a strong marriage.

Now, is it easy for me to submit? Well, I’m a sinner and so is he, so, no. We both make mistakes and sometimes there’s a power struggle. However, it’s easier than it used to be because I’ve grown over the years. Nevertheless, there are days when I’m submitting while clenching my teeth. I’m doing things that I would rather not do, I’m saying things I really shouldn’t say and I’m acting downright childish because I can’t get my way. But, I’m learning.

How about for him, does he love me? Well, yes, he does, but it’s not always easy. I know because I know me, sometimes I’m not that lovable.  But he’s also grown over the years. I can tell you this, we communicate better now than when we were first married, we understand each other better, we know each other’s likes and dislikes and we tolerate each other’s idiosyncrasies more easily. It’s been a good 28 years—not perfect, but good. I can’t imagine spending my life with anyone else.

So, is my husband my soul mate? Is he the love of my life? I hate to reduce my relationship to a cliché. Let me answer it this way, I know what he likes, I know how he thinks, I appreciate who he is and who he’s become, I respect his leadership and we’re pretty much joined at the hip. I’d rather be with him on any given day than with anyone else. I know that I would die for him and he for me. I guess, yes, is the answer to both questions.

When it’s all said and done, though, I’ll keep reading articles and blogs on marriage, clichés and all. Most of the time I find something I can apply to my life. I’m still growing. But, I will also remind myself that the standard for a healthy marriage comes from Scripture. I will persist if for no other reason than my love for Christ and a vow I made to my husband all those years ago. Everything else is…well, it’s just food for thought. I’ll look at it. I’ll probably sniff it. But I may not always bite.

Oh, and I will definitely keep up on that yoga pants debate…

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Christmas Lights

One of the things I enjoy about furlough is seeing the Christmas lights and lighted decorations on lawns. People in Brazil may hang a string of lights on their upstairs window, but nothing compares to what Americans are able to do simply because they do not put a wall around their houses. Shrubs are covered with the lights that seem to form a blanket over the top. Windows and doors are bordered with multicolored lights that outline the house. Some have the lighted reindeer and Santa lawn decorations. One house down the street even covered a large anchor in the yard with white lights. It seems there is no end to options if you want to put out some Christmas decorations. And, I can best enjoy them while riding down the street at night. They can make a trip to the local Walgreens a pleasure and I’ll miss them when they’re gone.

It seems to me the lights take on a whole new measure of “prettiness” when they are covered by a blanket of snow. Last night was our first significant snowfall and I did not venture out, but I would like to this evening just to ride around and look at the lights under the snow. They glow differently and add an extra measure of beauty to the Christmas decorations. As I was thinking about these lights I was reminded of the fact that our Savior came to this world as a light. John 1:4-5 say, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

I keep several flashlights handy. I even had one that had a magnet stuck to my refrigerator. I keep them in the kitchen and on a large dresser under the stairs. Anyone that borrows them has to return them to those spots. Why? Because when the power goes out I want to be able to find them! You can imagine how irritated I get when they’re not where they’re supposed to be when I look for them. But, I digress… Anyway, I also use them when we are doing small repairs because sometimes you just need a little extra light when trying to put something back together. These flashlights are indispensable to me because they guide me in the dark. When the power goes out it’s nice to be able to see a few feet in front of me. I hate running into walls! I can save myself a lot of time if I can see what I’m doing when I’m putting that appliance back together. The light is a guide.

However, this is not some great revelation on my part. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my pathCross references:.” (Psalm 119:105) God’s Word does the same thing and the Word was personified in the person of Jesus Christ. His Word guides me. He guides me. He lights the way so I can see where I’m going and keeps me from getting myself in trouble. I’m kept from running into the walls of sin and guided to not waste my time on trying to decide between right and wrong. What’s right is clearly illuminated.

When we are at camp the generator is turned off every night which plunges the island into darkness that can be quite thick if the moon is not out. Before the lights go out, though, I usually have to make a trip from the canteen to my cabin or to the court. The path between these locations can be pretty dark and I get a little nervous if I don’t have my flashlight. Did I mention there are snakes at camp? So, I focus on the light at my destination. The court lights shine brightly ahead of me and I keep my head up and look at them as I walk. I take comfort in the fact that I will be there soon and I will be safe. I know that the light is a refuge if for no other reason than I will be able to see what’s in my surroundings.

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27:1) Again, I am trumped by the Word. I take great comfort in seeing the light at my destination or even the proverbial end of the tunnel. Why is that? Because I know that my salvation is there. I won’t be in the darkness anymore and the uncertainty of my surroundings. The light reveals all. Jesus Christ has revealed all about how my life and practice should be. There’s no mystery there. It’s all in plain black and white and I take great comfort in knowing the certainty of the Truth.

As I think about these two great truths for my life I am challenged to also be a light. Jesus told the multitude, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14) When we are arriving in Petrolina at night at the end of a trip I can see the glow of the lights from a long way off. As we get closer I begin to distinguish the dots of lights. It can’t be hidden and it invades the darkness. When the Lord applied the metaphor of Christians being the light of the world He meant for me to stand out, to guide unbelievers, and to beckon them with the comfort salvation brings. It’s both practical and profound and I have to ask myself if I am shining my light with enough dedication that it can be seen even under a blanket of the snow of this world.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Missions--Beyond Geography

My father-in-law, a 60 year veteran of active missionary service, made an interesting comment in a recent conversation.  He said, “In our day missions was about geography.” I’m inclined to agree with him. Fifty or sixty years ago missions was about geographical locations. Missionaries went from church to church and presented the need for the Gospel in Africa, South America and Asia. It was about geography. This got me to thinking about our role in missions today and made me wonder if we’ve lost sight of the true purpose of missions.
So, I went back to the father of New Testament missions, the Apostle Paul. He made three missionary journeys recorded in the book of Acts. My Bible even has a map of the route he took on each journey. We read the accounts of what happened in many of the cities. And, we logically conclude that missions is geography. We go to a location, preach the Gospel, build a church and then move on to another location.
But then I read the books of Romans and 1 and 2 Corinthians. Paul is writing to established churches just like he did to the Ephesians, Galatians and Philippians. And what about the Pastoral Epistles? 1 and 2 Timothy are a pastor’s instruction manual. Most of these letters were written after he completed his missionary journeys. This was missions beyond geography. So, why the change? I mean, besides the fact that he was in prison.
Here are my thoughts. In the early years of missions in Brazil the missionaries concentrated on geographical locations because they were reaching people who had not heard the Gospel message. It had never been presented. They were starting from square one. Naturally, they chose to reach cities that had been neglected by previous efforts. In other words, it was about geography.
The following generation comes along and sees that the need for establishing new churches in a particular area is being conducted by the previously established ones that have grown to maturity and autonomy. So, what’s a missionary to do? Go home? Are we finished here? I’d like to think not. I’d like to think there is still something that can be done in these places where the Gospel is firmly planted and growing.
We’ve become creative now with our missionary efforts. We’re seeking new ways to further the Gospel efforts here in Brazil. One way is to mentor and facilitate the national missionary workers by raising funds for construction projects and encouraging them in their work. Another is by establishing a Bible institute for the men and women actively serving in our churches, but not called to full-time ministry. We serve our mission in administrative roles. We involve ourselves in camp ministry with our colleagues and area churches. We encourage and mentor the younger pastors. We partner with the churches in their efforts to reach new neighborhoods in the outlying community. We’ve gone way beyond geography.
I don’t think we’ve lost sight of the true purpose of missions, though. I believe we are where Paul was while he awaited execution in Rome. He was availing the time to encourage and exhort the churches he’d established during the geographical portion of his ministry. The advantage he had was he saw it all in his own lifetime. Many of our first missionaries have been called to Glory without seeing what their efforts have brought. It will be nice to meet up with them and tell them what we were able to do because of their desire to reach those unreached places.
However, I have to say that we have not lost sight of the fact that missions is also still about geography. As I write, a missionary colleague is house hunting in a city that has been untouched by our mission agency. Missionaries in the south of the country are attempting to reach the ever-growing populations. And we are striving to bridge a gap between two valleys that have seen the Lord’s blessing in establishing strong Bible believing churches. The cities between the valleys were not targeted for the Gospel until recently. The difference is that now the national churches are picking up the map and they are perceptive of the need. They’re also making the plans and carrying them out. What do we do? We encourage, guide, raise funds and sometimes even chauffeur them. What can I say? It’s missions beyond geography.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Eternal Optimist

                I’ve been working with a personal trainer for the last several months. He’d been working with my husband for several months already and it was making a definite difference for him, so I decided I would try it. My initial emotions swung on a pendulum. They started with, “Are you kidding me? I can hardly move.” to “OK, I guess this is not so bad.” One day as Marcos was putting the weights on the leg press I gave him a dubious look and said, “You, my friend, are an eternal optimist.” There were 50kg of weight on it that he expected me to lift. He laughed and said, “Sit down.” Turns out I was able to do it and he probably could have added another 10kg. I keep this in mind as he barks at me like a drill sergeant while I do ab crunches on the mat.
            The fact is that these few months with the trainer have made a difference in several areas. First, I’m losing inches fast. He targets the areas that need the most work and combines the right amount of weight with the ideal number of repetitions. Second, my posture has improved and pain is limited to the ache of just having not used a particular muscle for a long time. Third, he pushes me to do more than I would if I were doing it by myself. I would probably quit after one rep.  And fourth, it relieves stress which has been the most beneficial effect of all.
            My life is stressful. I know there are others who deal with stress and still others who deal with issues that are even more stressful than mine. Stress is part of life and it will always be there. But, let me give you a peek at my life for this week. My husband’s away taking care of business for a couple of days. I’m here taking care of my mother in-law who has some serious health issues. She fell trying to get to the bathroom the other night. There is a young people’s purity seminar this Saturday and we will be housing the guest speaker and his wife. I’m also cooking the meals on Saturday with another local pastor’s wife. My children are both in the States working and going to school and regularly have issues that need our attention. My in-laws and parents are both making some major decisions that may not directly affect me, but are on my mind. And so it goes…
            A facebook friend posted the following quote by an unknown author, "Those who bless God in their trials will be blessed by God through their trials." I immediately thought of Job. He had some serious stress in his life compounded by grief. Job was a good example of righteous suffering. However, he was not without his low points. A Bible college professor once commented, “It did take him 42 chapters to get through it.” I sometimes feel a little like Job, but I also try to remind myself that many times I’m just feeling sorry for myself.
            So, I think back to the personal trainer and the benefits of working with him. Is there any correlation? Is there any way to handle stress in a manner that is pleasing to God? Well, I’m losing interest in the enticements of the world and a carefree life. He never said life would be easy.  My posture and dependence on God are improving and becoming stronger. It’s only by His grace I’m not in the psych ward of the hospital. God is pushing me past the limits I had perceived for myself. It’s at those times I am reminded that I’m not alone. And, when I give the burdens and stress to Him there is a peace that comes that I cannot explain.
            Last night I thought I was at the end of my rope. I really thought that the Lord had handed me more than I could bear. I spent a lot of time in prayer and it would be nice to say I slept like a baby. I didn’t, but I can make it through today. I did ask Him to please bring verses to mind that would help me get through this crisis. This morning I remembered this.  “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” (James 1:2-3, NKJV) OK. I’ll do it, but as I face the leg press of life I can’t help but send a dubious look toward Heaven and say, “You, Lord, are an Eternal Optimist.” I picture Him smiling and saying, “Sit down.”