Monday, December 7, 2015

A Look at Death Through Faith

What Mom Wants You to Know...

Mom's Bible - Psalm 139
A wise friend recently described the absence we face when a loved one dies like a missing limb in our lives.  Dealing with the aftermath of deep loss, learning to live without someone who is a part of who you are, it hurts beyond what you could ever imagine until you have been through it.  It's the worst.  And yet faith in Jesus, His empty tomb, assures us that the "worst is not the last (Rev. Gary Bullard)."


To all who are reading this—those hurting and dealing with death, whether it’s been days, months, or years, my sister and I are praying for you.  Or maybe, you are reading and death isn’t personal at this point, but it scares you out of your mind.  We hope that Mom’s story will lift you up, strengthen you who are hurting or afraid, and shine some light to see beyond the devastating sights and feelings death brings to the unseen peace and hope and life that only God can bring.

Death comes.  Long expected and suddenly surprising, death catches us off guard with its disgusting, light-draining abilities.  The familiar disappears as the yellow-blue darkness swells and blinds our mortal human eyes.  Dreaded and freeing death comes.  The day and hour we don’t know until it’s all we can see, invading hearts that touch ours.

Watching someone you love die brings indescribable pain, no matter how or why it happens.  

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

Mom knew God, and she knew God completely knew her, though it is impossible to understand it all in this earthly life.  

Part of God working all things for good after Mom got sick was God drawing her closer to Himself.  She talked to Him all the time and learned to listen to Him more and more.  She loved reading His Word, especially in her comfy chair.  With PJs on, hair a mess, and kitty curled up in her lap, Mom would read and read, coffee in hand, filled to the brim.  And if it was cold, the fire burned.  That was Mom’s sweet spot.

God knows her whole story and how it fits into His larger love story.  He knows our story together.  After all, He is our creative Author.  And the three of us, daughters and mother, we talked about our place in that love story often.  Though, admittedly, it had not been that way before Mom’s battle with cancer, that became our treasured normal.

I think this is the part of Mom’s story she wants us to keep sharing with you.  She would say, “Look at what God did for me.  God is so awesome.  He really is so good even though this world can be a disturbing, heartbreaking, confusing, ugly mess.  He loves us so much, more than I love you girls (that is a lot, trust me).  And there was a time in my life when I allowed the busy world and my fear of keeping it all under control get in the way of letting God’s huge love completely fill me and change my life.”

God is with us even when our minds don’t realize it, or accept it, or fully soak it in.  God has His hand in our lives even when our hearts are stubborn to God’s hemming us in, behind and before.  The world will be just a giant, exhausting distraction from what really matters in this life if we are complacent about God.  There is more to this world than meets the eye.  And I don’t know about you; but I look around, and I am thankful for that.  

If you think about it, normal is relative in this life.  Normal is what we make it, and it’s dependent on the time that binds us here.  All of us have choices about what we allow our normal to be day in and day out.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

No matter where we go or what we face, God is reaching for us, coming for us, holding us, guiding us because He knows us and loves us.  He has a clear viewpoint, bigger than ours, of our place and purpose in His love story.  And that is what Mom would tell us to remember— to trust in God’s perspective more than our own.

On Saturday, September 12, about the time my sister and I were thinking about dinner for our young families, we got the phone call we never wanted.  Mom was at home in her favorite chair, taking a nap, resting, gradually unresponsive to the voices around her. 

It had been a rough and exhausting day for Mom.  Chemo after chemo after chemo made her so tired at week’s end, eyes too heavy to keep open, weak, steps unsteady and slow.  Her body was working hard to keep going, to get rid of the cancer none of us ever invited.  

Chemo does that.  It unleashes a fight within, in hopes of the good stuff in us outliving the dying off of the bad.  And sometimes, unpredictably, the good stuff doesn’t win.  The fleshly body loses and becomes like Jesse’s stump cut short.  Cancer is stubborn and mean that way.

Just like that, as Mom rode off in an ambulance five hours away, Mere and I found ourselves together, again driving, crying, and pleading with Our Father, heading to a place and time we didn’t understand.  

The fear poured out of us, unbearable and consuming.  

But Mom’s soul, even on that hard day, was well and without fear, a doctor later told us without our asking—not knowing Mom’s fearful history.  Evidence of God’s miracle work.  Mom’s body may have been beaten and broken, but her soul was healthy, healed, strong, and full with hope.  And that hope is a life-line, nurturing the branches left behind, ever so few, that will keep growing in God’s promises for generations to come.

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

Psalm 139 reminds us that if we are here, God thought about us and formed us into existence.  He who made the heavens and earth wonderfully and fearfully made you and me with all that we need for the days ahead and His plans.  There is not a single day that goes by that God has missed in His book of life.  Nothing surprises God.  He who thought it all, sees it all.

My sister and I made it to the hospital in a blurry rush of mercy and grace, hands together and tight, pausing for desperate parking deck prayers of thanks and guidance and strength.  Many more would follow. 

The pause is so important in these kind of moments.

Because in our racing and anxious uncertainty, we put our faith to work in the pause, trusting in the certainty of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with us.

We hurried inside to get to Mom, and we were greeted with the hugs of Mom’s dear friends who have become her family, our family, over the years.  They were the love, and the hands and feet that would carry us in the days ahead.  

We just needed to see her, but we were forced to wait in that place we didn’t want to be, the place that gives intensive care to those who are most sick.  A nurse said they were finishing up.  We had no idea what that meant.  The unknown was almost unbearable.  Though Mom had regained consciousness by the time she arrived at the hospital, her lungs had to work too hard.  They were tired and needed to rest.  And so, the nurse explained, they were getting her comfortable.  Mom had just been placed on a ventilator.  We missed hearing her voice one more time by about 5 minutes.

That was hard, but, still, we had faith, hope, and love.

We had no words when we finally saw Mom lying so unnaturally in that hospital bed tangled in tubes, her lungs forced to take breaths that were so obviously not her own.  There are still no words.

Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your name.
    Your kingdom come.
    Your will be done,
        on earth as it is in heaven.
    Give us this day our daily bread.
    And forgive us our debts,
        as we forgive our debtors.
    And lead us not into temptation
        but deliver us from evil.
    For Yours is the Kingdom, 
        and the power, and the glory forever.

Only, another pause, putting our faith to the test. 

Through shattered hearts, holding mom’s swollen, clammy hands in ours, we remembered how Jesus taught us to pray.  We had practiced those words so many times before, and that mattered.  Because in that dark moment, we did not have words of our own.  

In unison, The Lord’s Prayer was all we could manage to speak to our Savior.  The words poured out with our tears as the two of us gathered around Mom in His name, “Our Father who art in Heaven…Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”  Those words came hard and true, finding new meaning for us that day.

God was there.  Amen.

Doctors and nurses told us what we already knew to be true.  Mom was very, very sick, but she was in good hands.  

The bad stuff was winning for the moment.  Mom had fluid on her lungs, pneumonia.  Her heart wasn’t keeping up, and her kidneys were struggling.  But, doctors hoped after 24 hours on antibiotics, the right dose of blood pressure medication, fluids, and some drug-induced rest, we would see improvement.

And so we waited in hope, lifted up by our faith, and comforted in love.  
More pausing.  More talking to God.  More listening.

We watched as the sun came up.  It was Sunday, September 13, a holy day reserved for rest from our labors.  We saw more of what was not working, more pausing and prayers, more tears.  Doctors with gentle, concerned faces circled and prepared us for future, life-ending decisions.  

We held mom’s hands, by then splotchy and cold, Mere on the left and me on the right. Holding on and remembering, soaking in the human touch of our souls connected.  Our thankful hearts wide open, broken, and full of the love the three of us share.  We held on to each other in that dark and heavy pause while God held us together in His bigger arms, gifting us with a glimpse of our future glory days when we would be together again.  

Like so many mornings before, we read our daily devotional aloud with Mom and prayed.  And as we did, Mom began moving her hands in ours, wrapping her hands around our hands with strong intention and unexpected excitement.  Mom heard us!  And she was definitely happy.  The words that made her lift her head even though she still couldn’t speak or open her eyes?  They were Peter’s:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

Mere and I breathed in God’s presence there with us.  Still connected by our hands, the three of us holding onto each other, we prayed more hard words, life-giving words aloud with new, unrecognizable strength.  We prayed for Jesus to wrap Mom in His arms and take her to the place God prepared for her, where all tears are wiped away and mourning, crying, pain, even death, are no more.  We prayed Mom home with help from our unseen prayer warriors.  And we assured Mom, with confidence, that we would be okay.

Medicines and machines were maxed.

As our world came crashing all around us, God’s imperishable truth, words flowing to Mom and to us, assured us of God’s goodness and power in the midst of the ugly mess.  We were not alone as Mom peacefully took her last breaths and greeted her Savior— carried by faith, hopeful, surrounded in love.

Our prayers were answered. 

If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.
Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Mom’s life is not over.  It is a new beginning.

And Mere and I have to tell you what Mom knew.

Our faith matters.  Your faith matters.  

Faith in God awakens our todays and heightens our awareness of all that is good.  Faith in God is what covers and protects us with God’s power until we are there with Him, in our eternal home.  Faith sees us through struggle, grief, questions, and the heartaches that crash and overwhelm.  Faith helps us see past the “if onlys” this life brings.  

Faith in Him is our channel to the hope we need in order to live fully in the days God has designed for us.  

And love matters the most because it never ends.  Love lives on in those of us left behind, fueling our days, and love remains in those who are with God in heaven, binding us to each other forever.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 

Faith, hope, and love—grace gifts from God.  

Death is not the end.  It’s a passing away of what we can know and see and touch of a finite earthly life body into the free and everlasting life with Christ fully known.  The reward for faith.

Mom is our hero.  Not because she was perfect, but because she let us see the power of God at work in her life.  She let us share in her faith as she navigated God’s path for her, letting Him use her to touch others.  She allowed us to have a front row seat to the realness and majesty of God’s grace.  Mom showed us how life-changing nurturing your faith and following Christ’s call can be.  And Mom gave her family and friends the gift of knowing that she was not afraid because she chose to love and trust God who first and forever loves her. 

The reconciling love God worked in Mere, Mom, and me, in His time, it matters in this life and the next.  If you know even some of what we have been through in the past three years, you know how amazing that is. 

As Mere and I try to grasp Mom’s dying, her smiling face and warm body not being here for us to hug, we cling to our faith.  God points us to His Son, a baby born in a manger, our Savior, who also died.  It was a painful, terrible, inconceivable death.  

On the cross.  
Body broken.  
Blood shed.  
For you.  For me.  

It is a scene we are not meant to forget or fully understand from where we stand, but it serves as an ugly and beautiful reminder of the bigger love story of Christ’s coming for all of us.

Mom wants people to know the everyday realness of God, not only in her life, but especially in their lives, in your life.  Mom’s story is an invitation to believe.  Wherever you are, whatever is on your heart, we pray for God to wrap you in His arms right now, reminding you that you also have a place in God’s bigger love story.  There’s more to this world than what you see. God promises.

The way we love, as thankful participants in God’s story, that is what matters. 
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2 comments:

  1. Oh Lindsay, tears are streaming down as I read this. You have written this beautifully. I loved the part that said...
    Mom is our hero. Not because she was perfect, but because she let us see the power of God at work in her life. She let us share in her faith as she navigated God’s path for her, letting Him use her to touch others. She allowed us to have a front row seat to the realness and majesty of God’s grace.
    You are so right Lindsay that it isn't about being perfect...it's about grace & His power to change us and love us right where we are.
    I love you!!

    ReplyDelete