Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Little Taste of Heaven

I recently came across a familiar face in the obituaries. He was the father of five of my best friends in my grade school years. Oh, the fun we all had!

We'd been neighbors with this nice family years ago. There was always something fun to do while living the country life, some adventure to be had. Our families' ages were well-matched and our values were so similar. We met as kids on the school bus and soon got our parents to be fast friends too. We were like one big family – picnicking, swimming, biking, sledding or just working around the farm or in the garden. This family was always so thoughtful of others, and we loved our time with them.

After they moved away, we stayed in touch awhile, but somehow 30+ years had gone by since we had connected!

When I showed up for the funeral and saw them all together – now all grown up but amazingly familiar – a ton of sweet memories came flooding back. The service was very well attended for this much loved man and was a celebration of 77 years of a life well lived. Each person in attendance had their own memories of how one man made a difference. In my life, he made an impression by loving his wife and children and modeling the way to live with honesty, integrity and generosity. Now I saw these qualities living on in the next generations.

The looks on each face when we greeted one another were priceless! After long embraces and brief conversations with each sibling, my spirit was full to overflowing for days following. I realized what an extraordinary blessing it was to have had them as neighbors, friends and positive role models in those early years. God gives good gifts.

Seeing these dear friends after all these years was truly a little taste of heaven itself. Will this be some of what we'll experience when we step through the gate into eternity someday? It gives me just a glimpse of the joy we'll feel when we meet Our Loving Father face to face and see all that He has prepared for those who love Him.

Is there someone with whom you'd like to reconnect? I am so thankful I made the effort.

God, thank you for the rich friendships you've given us while on this earth. Jesus, I love that you are preparing a place for us to be with you for eternity. (John 14:2 NIV) We'll be so excited to see "things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him." (1 Cor. 2:9 NASB)

Monday, August 22, 2011

With Every Breath

Earlier this summer, I almost lost Ted as we navigated the choppy channel of his severely restricted lung capacity. (We later learned his oxygen levels had been so low they could have sent him into a coma!)

As I watched the rise and fall of his chest after a difficult surgery, I was thankful for his every breath. Later, as he fought to be successfully weaned off the breathing machine, he became keenly aware that every breath was a gift from God. Many, many people were praying and we witnessed a miracle that day and throughout the turbulent recovery period to follow. We know that God still has plans for us!

Facing a life-threatening situation surely serves to sharpen perspective. The whole experience seems "surreal" to both of us. In these few months of healing, we have had much time to reflect. We've been asking ourselves:

  • Have we truly been living life to the fullest?
  • Are we investing well in the relationships that matter most?
  • Am I pointing people to Christ?
  • Are we wisely stewarding the time, talents, money and material things God has given us?
  • What kind of legacy would I be leaving?
We talked of things done well, things we wouldn't change. We didn't mind at all that we haven't gotten around to replacing carpeting, organizing closets or buying a better entertainment center. What matters most is who we've been with and the quality time we've spent together. Of course, we'd always want more of that! We see our most important mission in life as living authentically for Christ and loving others with every breath we're given.

Besides being ever so thankful that Ted is alive, there have been several relationships enhanced through our trials. Some have told us they love us, others have told us more often, and still others have surprised us with care and compassion we never knew. We have learned to receive (when we'd been more comfortable on the giving end), and we are learning to give from a new place in life.

As we look back on the rough waves we've survived this summer, we are ever more aware of God's awesome presence each and every day. The more we experience His love, the more we can pass on to others.

If you were facing your last breath, what would you wish you did more of? less of?

Lord, thank you for life. Thank you that you have come so that we may have life and know its fullness (John 10:10 NIV). Continue to shape our perspectives so that we do not become distracted or busied by the things of this world. Instead we want to focus on the surpassing worth of knowing you as Lord (Phil. 3:8 NIV).

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Facing Trials of Many Kinds

I've been keeping vigil on Ted's health all summer and it was starting to take a toll on me. We'd been through some difficult trials, and I got behind on sleep.

When sleep-deprived, ever notice how your whole outlook changes? Doubt and discouragement creep in. It is a tool of the enemy to steal our hope and joy.

The Bible tells us to “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds, because the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4 NIV)

Sometimes it is hard to make the leap to “joy,” but I do know I want mature faith. I tell myself I need to persevere so I can be complete, not lacking anything. It will all be worth it. The joy will come again. I’d say, “OK, Lord. If that’s what it takes, then bring it on. But, help me persevere.”

I’d be strong one moment, and then doubt would enter in. I’d think of how long a road this has already been and how little progress I’ve seen lately. I’d start to wonder if Ted would ever get off oxygen again. Would we ever be able to sleep in a tent and hear the sounds of the crickets or the loons singing on the lake? Would we ever feel the peaceful glide of our canoe on the water? Would we ever enjoy a late bonfire, watching the last few valiant embers fade? These are the things we love. We’ve enjoyed the sweetest of outdoor memories together, but what if that’s all we have now – just memories of doing these things?

I struggled and wrestled. What if this were God’s will for us? I cried out to God. I grieved the loss of my summer, the loss of the life we knew. Finally, I told God I would accept whatever He has for us and I would still praise Him. I’d have to adjust, but I’d still love Him and praise Him, whether in the valleys or on the mountaintops.

After my prayer of surrender, God began to encourage me. Ted’s strength increased a great deal in a few days. Yesterday, he got to turn his oxygen down a notch, and his blood counts show the infection is going away… yes, progress! (I celebrated by bringing him flowers from the farmers market and a loaf of his favorite bread – yes, he can have carbs again!)

This morning I opened my Bible to read where I had left off, at the story of David and Goliath. Once again, God reminded me of how we can conquer the giants in our lives – beat incredible odds – if we just trust in Him. We must not focus on the giant, but on God.

Do you have a “giant” that is trying to discourage you?

Oh God, you are so good and you are faithful beyond our comprehension. I trust you with whatever you allow to happen in our lives, because you are in control. Thank you for the glorious hope we have in knowing you.