Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Making Sense

It was over 25 years ago, during a time of intense upheaval in my life, that Psalm 27:13 became my lifeline.  I clung to its promise with a tenacious grip of faith even though my circumstances shouted a lie to the contrary.  Just this week I read the Psalm again and that same verse rang with a new slant to it.  "I would have despaired unless I had believed I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living."  (Psa. 27:13)  The land of the living . . . the land of the living.   

I wasn't going to write about this again, the death of my sister-in-law, but here I am, a broken record.  I thought I was over it and moving on with life.  Yet it remains close to the surface, popping up here and there in unexpected places.  I've been disoriented since I've been back home, trying to keep up with responsibilities and rushing like a roller coaster towards one of the busiest months of the year for our family.

But as I read the verse mentioned above I could not help but remember the faithfulness of God in the past to indeed show us His goodness in the land of the living.  Sure, I know Sheri is with Jesus and that she lives, but we are still here.  I know God is good in the land of the "dead", who actually aren't really dead, but very much alive . . . the land of heaven.  Yet here, in this land of the living, in the lives of us left behind, in this day and the days ahead, I once again cling to the promise that we will see the goodness of the Lord. . . somehow, someway, we will see it because He has promised we will.

The upheaval which came upon our family many years ago resulted in a move halfway across the country.  And it also included my youngest brother Jasper, (Sheri's husband).  As we set out to travel away from my childhood home, I still remember my Dad driving the family renowned rickety blue van packed with all our belongings.  Jasper rode shotgun beside him with our black lab in his lap, the one friend he could take with him, trying to hold back the tears as he buried them in the fur of that dog.  I rode with my Mom in the car, supporting the plants draped over my lap, shocked because I don't ever remember seeing my little brother cry before.  Perhaps that is why it is etched so deeply on my memory. 

We camped in the Blue Mountains that night, the same mountains which recently provided us with a dark snow storm on our way to his wife's funeral.  And I couldn't help but remember the darkness of those days behind us years ago.  I remember crying out to God in the privacy of my heart, tears streaming down my face, "What on earth are You thinking, God?  How could any good come of this situation?  Your name has been dragged in the dirt.  How could You have allowed this to happen?"  Our hearts were hurt, but I wonder if the wound of that day did not prepare my little brother, a tiny bit at least, for the pain of this day.  

It was in my fourth year of Bible college that my class was given the assignment to write a paper on the very source of my upheaval.  I expressed my predicament with the professor who fully understood my situation and so gave me an alternate subject.  However, he still encouraged me to write on the assigned topic as he thought it would help me to heal.  I chose the healing route and wrote the paper, ending it with a verse of triumph, "I would have despaired unless I had believed I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living."  (Psa. 27:13)  Through the writing of that paper God worked forgiveness in my heart like never before and 'took the sword out of my hand'.  Indeed, I had seen the goodness of the Lord!  (And I got an A++ on the paper by the way)  But that was not to be the end of it.

After graduation I went home to a place that didn't seem like home (because I hadn't grown up there), where God provided a job opportunity which led me to a gift.  It was a gift I may not have found had our family not gone through such turmoil resulting in a move.  That gift was my husband.  His name means "peace, complete, whole, or rest" . . . Jeff, who has been instrumental in drawing me into the immeasurable grace of God, in a place where I could realize it . . . see it.  God has proven faithful in the past and I know He will do the same for us today.  By faith I will not despair, but rather believe that we will see God's goodness in fullest measure.

I hurt for my brother, but know God will not let him fall by the wayside.  He will do great things through him, for "the world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully committed to Him." (D.L. Moody)  Joy does comes in the morning, just in time, but sometimes . . . the night is beautiful.

"He will conceal me...when troubles come;
He will hide me in His sanctuary. 
He will place me out of reach on a high rock.  
Then I will hold my head high
above my enemies who surround me. 
At His sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy,
singing and praising the LORD with music."
Psalm 27:5,6

Monday, April 16, 2012


When I'm shaken with a tragedy it forces me to come to grips with what I really believe about God.  Sometimes I am not even aware that I've not been fully trusting and have instead been placing my security in other things.  There is a fine line between God's sovereign control and our part in how that turns out in our lives.  I am a firm believer in cause and effect, sowing and reaping, because it is a Biblical concept.  But man's free will and God's sovereignty has been the debate of the ages.  I'm not here to solve that puzzle.  And I'm okay with not fully understanding how these two concepts coincide.  The fact that my brain cannot fathom the union of these truths is further proof of God's superiority. 

But sometimes our response to difficult circumstances are expressed through blame and accusation as seen in Job's friends.  I believe they meant well, but confused by Job's loss, lashed out at him as their way of processing the unexplainable events which had happened.  When we see others suffer, we want explanations . . . resolution.  We are quick to make assumptions based on our perspective. 

I have no doubts in my mind that even before Sheri was born, God had 32 years planned out for her, to the day.  He knew that April 2nd would be her homecoming.  He even prepared us for that specific date.  The weeks and months before Sheri's death God orchestrated her schedule to say her goodbyes to the family, even though we didn't realize they were goodbyes.  I sense this as God's tender touch towards us.  God knew her time was coming.  And God knew we needed those moments with her. 

Perhaps the most profound, was that her death was timed precisely such that her memorial services would be over Easter weekend.  I believe this to be no accident, and was also the tender touch of God, giving us encouragement and hope.  Yet there are still some who would "shoot from the shadows at those whose hearts are right." (Psa. 11:2) My heart goes out to those who accuse.  They do not even realize that is what they are doing; they are simply responding to their pain, wanting resolution.

But those who cast blame may not be aware that these statements display a lack of faith in God's sovereignty.  Do we really believe that "the LORD is in His holy Temple; the LORD still rules from heaven."? (Psa. 11:4)  How then can you say to me, "flee like a bird to the mountains for safety!" (Psa. 11:1)  No, God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  He will stand beside us and be our Rock of protection, our strong tower against the foe.  God means Sheri's death for good . . . it already has been and will continue to do so.

After the resurrection, two disciples of Jesus were walking along the road to Emmaus.   Jesus appeared among them, but they did not recognize Him. The Scriptures tell us, "we had hoped..." (Luke 24:21)  They had expectations which were crushed.  The similarities to the events of the past week are striking.  We had hoped for so many more days with Sheri.  What joy it would have been to see her and Jasper as new parents.  What fellowship we anticipated.  But it was all disappointed with her death . . . shocking disappointment.  Now we know how these two disciples of Jesus felt.

When the disciples got to Jerusalem and realized it was Jesus they'd been talking to, they were amazed and said, "did not our hearts burn within us as we were talking on the road?" (Luke 24:32) Jesus Himself had been speaking with them!  Likewise, this disappointment of our expectations has drawn us into the presence of Jesus like none other.  We have tread on holy ground.  Jesus is calling our name.  He is reaching out to us in a special way, grabbing our attention, because He wants to reveal Himself to us!  Wow!  That thought amazes me.  Really?  Jesus would desire to draw near to us with such intensity? Yes, for He would not leave us stagnant or let us down.  He wants to show us something.  He wants us to see Him and to know His presence in a very real way.

In my continued study on the book of Ruth I cannot help but see the parallel of this past week with her story.  And it makes me excited.  If God had such good things in store for Ruth after the death of her husband, then what things might God have planned for my brother!  Is this only the beginning of His blessings on Jasper's life?  And ours?  But if Ruth had chosen the road of bitterness, regressing into the past, I'm not sure she ever would have seen the glorious future God had in mind for her.  Naomi and Ruth together started down the road that led to Bethlehem.  And together we can join with Jasper and choose the road of God's sovereignty and will in taking Sheri at this time, and believe that "all the days ordained for [her] were given before one of them came to be." (Psa. 139:16)  Surely, our days are numbered and none of us knows how many we will be given. 

I know, this is all easier for me to say because I'm not as close to the pain as some.  But we are, after all, only aliens and strangers in this land.  How deep have we set our roots into this earth?  I hope I'm not getting too attached to my agenda, my deadlines, my stuff, my plans, because when I meet God face to face, the primary thing that will matter is my relationship with Him.  Some view Sheri's death as a tragedy.  And I would not deny that from a human perspective, it is.  But Sheri is in the presence of God.  This is what we are made for and what we all long for.  Those who die without the life of God within, without Christ . . . that is tragedy.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Like None Other

My heart is so full it could almost burst, brimming with the touch of God.  I've seen the King, the King of glory high and lifted up in the place meant for defeat.  I have just experienced an Easter like none other.  In real, life size, vivid pictures, I've tasted of the passion week of Christ and His resurrection.  I was not so much an onlooker gazing in, as I was personally experiencing the drama, drawn into its reality.  

My two youngest girls were bemoaning the fact that we would be traveling on Good Friday for the memorial service of their Aunt Sheri to be held the next day.  Normally we would be attending an "Experience the Passion" exhibit which our church hosts as an interactive reflection on Jesus' last week leading up to the cross.  Since we couldn't be there for that event, we decided to look for things along the road, somewhat like a game, if I can say that respectfully, and find all the things which reminded us of Jesus' passion week.  And what different, amazing pictures God gave us!

We started our drive that day early, while still dark, and there on the horizon was a full moon . . . awesome.  It caught our attention.  We were reminded of the passover celebration where the people ask, "Why is this night so different?"  The cars on the freeway continued their endless pursuit.  The trees and hills whizzed by as usual . . . but this night was different because of our grief for Sheri.  And some 2,000 years ago the night was like none other because Jesus was about to die for the sins of the world.
I fell asleep for awhile and woke up with a start to see snowy roads.  I did not expect this.  Fear and panic washed over me because I knew what was ahead; steep grades which came down off of these blue mountains.  The women at the cross were afraid, and likewise the disciples who had gathered in the upper room.  And I was anxious of what lie ahead, facing the sorrow and the sorrowing.  God gave us a taste of fear on this downcast mountain perhaps that we might know the fear of that day.  But we were brought safely through and reached the bottom of the hill.  I knew God would go before us in the midst of the ominous cloud of grief.

At one point, we came around the corner and were shocked to see windmills . . . huge in our faces. . . blatant.  They could not be missed.  And all the way from Colorado to Oregon we saw these windmills in various places, sharp. . . harsh against the land and sky, like cactus pricks. . . the crown of thorns in the face of Jesus.  The curse of the ground which could not be ignored, abrupt against God's perfect creation.
Then came the moment where we met the Columbia River, and followed its path for miles and miles.  How I love to see that mighty river working its way to the ocean.  The rock cliffs were littered with streams and tributaries, rushing to the river, joining its awesome force in their trek towards the sea. It reminded me of lives gone before, joining with the great cloud of witnesses toward heaven's gates.  Each of us, rushing like a stream over rocks and moss, through forest and meadow, and plunging in faith towards the river of God. . . full of light and life.

The blood of Jesus runs down, pouring out for us as a result of the fall, the curse.  His blood flows down, touching each of us who believe, for just one drop can wash our sins away.  But it is not a drop, but rather buckets and buckets, continually available for our cleansing.  The blood of Jesus flows with life, our eternal life.  He offers it generously and fully.

We look only unto You, Jesus.

All eyes look to You.
Yet to bring us that life, Jesus bore the curse in His own body, on the tree.  The tree also gives its life, stripped of its branches, that it might support the Son of God.  Yet, Jesus was stripped of His glory, cut down in His prime, cut off from His descendants, that He might bear the burden of the sins of the world.  He carried our grief, our sorrows.  (Isa. 53) The cross held the Christ that He might hold us.

Arriving at my brother's house, we were intrigued by these cork boots, unique in their function.  Once bearing the weight of their owner, falling mighty trees, holding great purpose, but now only a place for humble plants.  The glory of the boots has been laid aside while moss and succulents are placed in the forefront.  As Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, He went beyond the call of duty, laying aside his glory in order to serve.  He touched our filth, just as these boots touch the dirt, serving even after being spent.

The morning of Sheri's service, we were up early to see the fog had rolled in.  It was beautiful and still, like a garden with droplets hung in the air, obscuring our view.  I was reminded of the women going to the tomb of Jesus, their hearts clouded with the confusion of his passing.

We searched a flower shop for an offering, the garden, something to give in comfort for the living, like the women bringing spices to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus.  But when we got to the church I was surprised to find there was no casket.  "Where have they taken the body?" the women at Jesus' tomb asked. (Luke 24:3,4; John 20:2)  And it was the question I was wondering of Sheri.  I knew she was to be buried in Manitoba, her homeland, but did not realize her body would not be present at this service.  It was a vivid picture of the resurrection.  "He is not here.  He is risen, just as He said."  (Matt. 28:6)  And Sheri is not here, she has risen. Her body remains on the earth for now, but she herself . . . is not here.
We were all surprised when my brother, Sheri's husband, stood up at the funeral and read a prepared speech he had written.  It was filled with hope and encouragement for the rest of us who might be struggling with the whys.  I was so proud of him.  If he could display such courage in the face of death, surely we could have none less. 

But at one point he broke down and struggled to finish what he was reading.  And silent prayers from the heart cried out, "Jesus, help him!"  I was reminded of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, crying out to God, interceding for his own who would not understand his death.  Jesus was about to go through great suffering, and my brother, who was suffering deeply, was encouraging us, just as we were interceding for him.  The younger leads the elder.  Jasper was leading all of his family as well as everyone else at the service, into acceptance and victory.
The fog had lifted by mid morning.  God provided beautiful sunshine for Sheri's day.
Jesus, in His death, became the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  But the Lamb of God sits on the throne.  This Lamb died that we might reign with him.  Jasper was reigning with Christ in His victory over death.  And he was leading all of us to take our positions at the throne and to be more than conquerors through Him who loves us.  Death would not defeat him.  He would reign over it.  He would persevere until we all reach the portals of heaven.

At last we dipped our toes into the Pacific Ocean, that glorious, vast expanse of water.  It seemed endless, a picture of heaven, and all rivers this side of the divide run into it.  This is what we run towards to gain the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.  Wave upon wave flows toward us, God's love . . . grace, reaching over and over into our hearts, while at the same time, the undercurrent, the desire of our hearts, pulls and calls us out toward our true home.  

So often we resist these arms held out to us.  We run from them in bitterness or anger just as we run from the waves in fear of their engulfing.  But God would fold us into His arms and hold us close to his heart.  God does not beg.  No, He has given us a royal summons into His presence, into relationship with Him.  There in His presence are treasures unending which He longs to reveal to us.

As I visited familiar sights of my childhood, I was reminded that Jesus has walked before me. He was there all along and will be with me still.  His sufficiency and presence travels into the places I have been.  Jesus walks today where I walk.

And when at last I come to my Father's house, His acceptance will pour over me like a flood, because Jesus gave His life, that I might live.
Sheri has given my family a window into heaven.  This weekend we saw Jesus.  Sheri, a lily white in fullest bloom points us to come and see.  Just before Sheri passed away, my youngest daughter came running into the house all excited and out of breath.  "Mom! Come quick!  I want to show you somethin'!"  I dropped everything and followed her outside.  There in my back yard, was a glorious hyacinth in bloom.  Likewise, Jesus takes our hand and calls us to come and see.  Look at this life.  Just as the open tomb was God's invitation to "come and see", so Sheri's life has drawn us to drop everything and come running to see Jesus.
But oh the sacrifice to make that happen!  The sacrifice of pain which my brother and others must yield.  He gave his beloved so we might see Jesus.  But isn't that what God has done for us?  God gave His beloved so we might look into the face of Christ.  "The wall of the city, [the new Jerusalem], was built on foundation stones inlaid with twelve precious stones:  the first was jasper. . ." (Rev. 21:19)  Jasper surrounds Sheri like a wall, but lays down the foundation that we might draw near to the glory of God. We look forward to that city not made by hands, whose designer and builder is God.

The road of suffering.
But a road marked with victory.

After the memorial service, we walked into the dining hall and noticed a table reserved for family where we each had a place.  We were all included.  Sheri, clothed in white for her wedding just six months prior to this, is dressed in white again for the wedding feast of the Lamb.  We are not there yet, but God has a spot reserved just for us.  Save a place for us Sheri, we'll be there soon.

Come Lord Jesus.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Tempest

It was a strong wind.  The valley clouded with haze as dust swirled on its way to no where.  We had planned an afternoon hike and debated about going, the girls and I.  But the tempest beckoned and in spite of formidable conditions, we headed for the hills.  It was glorious!  I love the wild feel of a storm in the strength of the wind.  As we rounded the corner of a rock face, my youngest was almost knocked over by the force.  But there was no great danger and it made my heart glad to see so many laughs from a gaggle of girls! 

But I was unprepared for the tempest which raged today far away, yet reached across the country, even into our hearts. It was the last day for my sister-in-law, her final fight against the pull of sin's force.  I'm always amazed at how far a life impacts . . . the blessing received by even a slight touch of another.  I hadn't known her very well.  My brother had only been married for six precious months.  But in the short time I knew her, my life was built up.  She was that kind of person.  A perfect fit for my brother. 

Last weekend I purchased adorable little notebooks for each of my girls.  Today was our first day to begin logging our blessings, as per Ann Voskamp's book entitled, One Thousand Gifts.  One item we listed was the wind of yesterday and the lingering clouds of today.  Little did I know how grateful I would later be for those same overcast skies because it seemed the clouds shared in our grief.  And I know it was a gift from the heart of God.  It seemed as if He were closer today somehow, through those clouds, like His tender touch of sympathy.  Yet, simultaneously, the trees all decked out in their blossoms with sprigs of green took my breath away. . . stunning.  And I think of Sheri in the very presence of God and I am jealous.   

My brother spent many years of his life in this part of the country where I live.  He knows these mountains backwards and forwards and has hiked them extensively.  Hunting season usually brings him back seeking the rack of a trophy elk, of which he's succeeded in tagging several times.  But last year was different.  It was the first time he had a wife to roam the hills with him. And the best part was that she loved it!  Having only been married a month, the joke was, "we interrupt this marriage for hunting season."  However, I think it was the first year he'd gotten skunked.  But it was intentional.  They were so in love that he no longer cared about the hunting so much.

I know God loves Sheri more than we ever could, just as he also loves us who remain.  Our purpose is not yet finished, but Sheri's purpose continues as well.  She has only been transplanted.  Shortly after getting married she started a blog about her transplant from the flatland to the land of the trees, the Pacific Northwest.  She was in awe of her boot being dwarfed by the size of a maple leaf.  (It's practically a rain forest over there and they grow them trees big!)  She took delight in her new surroundings, exploring the countryside and quickly making friends with her new family.  I know she is doing the same in the land of the redeemed; meeting her mother-in-law for the first time, and her unborn baby.  But most of all knowing joy in the presence of God. 

I sent Sheri some pictures recently of a few houses my girls were building.  She wrote back telling me how much she loved their houses made of cardboard, sticks, old rags, and mud.  How these pictures tickled her, reminding her of blissful childhood days.  She recently transformed her own house with her touch, making it a haven for her groom.  And in heaven she's found a place prepared just for her.  I know its a perfect fit created by her Maker, because He's promised to have a spot waiting for us.  

Just this morning I finished my study on the book of Job.  I don't understand all the battles that rage in the heavens, nor everything God does, but I do know that He is still good and that He is still in control.  I do know that this tempest will not last forever and that sometime the refreshing rains will come.  Death does have sting.  Death is not natural as many would claim.  We are made to live.  But here's the clincher.  Death is swallowed up in victory.  Even death itself will be thrown into the lake of fire.  And I'm so glad of that!  Jesus lives    . . . and because He lives, we too have life everlasting.  Yet not the kind of living we do here, but real life, without the presence of sin. This is one reason we do not grieve as those who have no hope.  Meanwhile, we're still growing here, waiting for our transplant.