Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Traveling Song

Whereupon Jesus said to them, My time (opportunity) has not come yet; but any time is suitable for you and your opportunity is ready any time [is always here]. John 7: 6

Today, my son texted me, "What's the name of the vacation song?"
That song, better known in our family as "the traveling song" was one of our family favorites.  As we would pullout of Vegas, Layne would put that song on and we would play it often on our vacation.  He especially liked for us to play it as we wound our way up the coast.  He felt that the piano strains and the rhythm kept with a rain stick were perfectly tuned to the coast.  In one part, the song sings "Alleluah...." and Layne swore he could hear angels singing that on our last trip as we traversed the twists and turns of highway 101 in as the fog settled in. 

I can't hear that sound without thinking of peace...the peace that Oregon brought to us.  And of Layne, and his love of Oregon

Today, Matthew, my youngest, makes his way to Yachats for the first time since we laid his dad's ashes on his favorite spots:  The Heceta Lighthouse, the cabin, our bench...and of course, "the edge of the world," our favorite piece of the Oregon coast.  

I would like to think that Layne heard that he met his Savior...and completed his travels here on earth.

In life, we take a lot of roads. Some of them are difficult and filled with breakdowns, and some are boring.  But around each corner is an opportunity for excitement, for something greater...if only we will be open to those new experiences.  In our family, we call these "adventures."

God has so much for us.  Sometimes we get stuck in the commute of daily life, going back and forth, back and forth, but never noticing the world around us.  We don't take the time to slow down and notice the adventure in each day.

But that is not how it is supposed to be.  Our business gave us opportunities to reach people.  Our journey with cancer gave us opportunities to meet even more. 

Today, God has penciled a few things in your schedule.  Perhaps that breakdown is a chance to meet someone.  Maybe the woman smelling cantaloupe along side you in the grocery store needs a friend.  Maybe you are supposed to learn from the fast food worker, if you'd only listen. Every day we have divine appointments.  Let's not overlook those in order to meet some earthly mission.  

The traveling song is playing...where will the journey take you today?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Ring of Truth...

It actually made headlines, in a world where people are shooting innocent victims in colleges, and Christians are being beheaded on seashores, Kathy Lee Gifford made headlines but doing the unthinkable only seven weeks after the passing of her husband of 29 years, Frank Gifford.

She appeared in public without her wedding ring.

Immediately, people began to talk "It's too soon."  "She got over him quickly."  "Is she dating already?"

I shook my head and poured in to the Bible where I read:  "You shall not afflict any widow or orphan.  If you afflict him at all and he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; and my anger will be kindled..." (Exodus 22:22-24a)

I have never met a widow (or widower) who expected to become one.  We don't get up one day and say "I think I'd make a great widow, I have a lot of little black dresses, and I think I can handle this house on my own."  The situation is thrust upon you, and even those who lose their spouses due to a lingering disease hold out hope that widowhood will be forestalled for a long while.  

We aren't taken to a back room and told how to prepare.  In the days of the civil war, there were rules to these things.  But even then, life dictated that the strict rules bend.  When the war began, social mores indicated that men were to mourn for six months, and then they were expected to quickly marry.  Women mourned for a year for a spouse, and were even in partial mourning for the spouse of a widower they married for a year after the death.  These rules relaxed as the war dragged on, and in one town, the mayor actually asked that women quit wearing their mourning clothing, as the entire town seemed to be cloaked in black.  

In modern times, many of us don't even wear black to our spouse's funeral.  In my case, I didn't even hold a "funeral", I held a "celebration of life," because that is what Layne would have wanted.  A celebration of the man he was. 

A good friend who I met through our Carepages, became a widower shortly after I was widowed.  He is an amazing man, who cared faithfully for his wife, who succumbed to cancer. He stepped in to be a mom when his wife could not be one to his daughters, and he was a servant to his wife, whose needs were numerous.  I recognized the progression in the photos, as she moved from walking and getting about to a wheelchair, his eyes began to have dark bags and his expression, though outwardly smiling, held a shadow of sadness.  

Within three months of the death of the woman to whom he had pledged his life, with whom he had brought children into the world, built a life, and worked in the world of missions, he met another Christian woman.  He put a ring on her finger and brought her home, where the children welcomed her, and she became their new mom.  I'm sure people talked.  I'm sure they thought it was "too soon"...but there is no denying the life that this new spouse has brought to my friend's life.  

The circles beneath his eyes are gone.  There is excitement in his reporting of daily events.  The children are growing into lovely young ladies...and there is happiness.  Does he love his former wife any less?  No.  Love that deep never goes away.  And now a second woman is blessed to have a husband who she is certain will love her through it all, till death they do part.  They shot family portraits recently...and this shot of "togetherness" I think, speaks volumes.

And yet, tongues and heads will wag, I'm sure.

But my friend was not given a rule book stating he had to remain a widower and alone for a certain amount of time.  God did not say to him, "You must be sad for longer."  God sent him a help meet...and he is grateful for that gift.

If they fall down and struggle, I would hope that instead of saying "I told you so" that his friends and the church would say " there, but by the grace of God go I," and extend a hand to lift them both up.

So Kathy Lee Gifford has removed her ring.  It's a ring...while a symbol of a relationship that she saw through to the end, it is not her husband.  She did not choose for him to be taken from her life.  Her husband will remain in her heart forever, I would imagine.  The shared memories that meant so much are now housed only in her mind...she is the lone keeper of all they shared intimately.  It would be so wrong to deny her any act of healing that she needs to embark upon life alone.  We will never know the strength it took to remove those rings, or the tears that fell as she did so.

It is not necessary to "afflict her" with our second guessing, gossip or sideways glances.  

As I said to all who didn't like how I "did" widowhood...when your chance comes, I pray you do it better than I.  It has been the hardest thing I've ever done in my life.  

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

One Call from Our Knees

She got the call today
One out of the gray
And when the smoke cleared
It took her breath away
She said she didn't believe
It could happen to me
I guess we're all one phone call from our knees
We're gonna get there soon

If every building falls
And all the stars fade
We'll still be singin' this song
The one they can't take away
I'm gonna get there soon,
She's gonna be there too
Cryin' in her room
Prayin' Lord, come through
We're gonna get there soon

Last night, I treated Tony to not one but two movies.  We saw the movie Captive, and the movie "90 Minutes in Heaven."  

When the wife in 90 Minutes in Heaven is called to her principal's office...and told about her husband's accident, I was there with her.  I've been there.  I've stood in a hospital hallway, being told that my life was about to change.  

Most of us don't realize it, but we will all have our moment, our call.  Either we will be the reason for the call, or we will be the one being informed.  It might be an accident, or cancer, or ....there are so many dark things that come upon us in life.  We're told that the rain falls upon the just and the unjust.  Life is hardship, and loss.  

From the moment of that call, that moment, you will mark time.  Every patient or caregiver understands this.  The moment it all changed.  The moment the world stood still.  

The question is, what do we do when that happens.  What are your first thoughts going to be?  Will you rail at the doctor?  Or will you be in shock?  Will you fall to your knees and beg God for mercy, will you question him?  The truth is, no one knows until they come into the situation.

The same is true for those who surround a person for whom that moment arrives, the "social circle."

I was encouraged by the folks who came alongside the family in the movie.  But in reality, while I know most of my churched friends will find this hard to believe, many families in crisis I know would not say this is what they experienced.  In fact, if it had not been for my homeschool family, I am not sure what would have happened to us.  

Now financially, people gave, but hands on help, well that is often hard to come by.  We needed help getting children to homeschool events, and just keeping up on the house.  We needed people to drop over and just TALK to Layne, and that seemed the hardest thing to get people to do.  We would see people we knew in the store, and they would scurry the other way after spotting us.  They didn't know what to say.  They didn't know how to help.  Those who did begin helping us, within a short period of time, when things got hard, walked away.

Unfortunately, this is what my boys saw of "the church."  They came to believe that when their father could no longer give thousands, that he became unimportant to the body.  They saw our struggles to get him anointed, and they took that all in.  And today, it affects them all.  They remember that those who should have, if they were living the word they loved to talk about, reached in and held us up, mostly shrank from the task.  When Layne passed, no men from the church stepped in.  One family friend did come talk to the boys once, but that was the end the interaction.  I appreciated the attempt, the boys remember being dropped.

What the church, what we as Christians, do in cases of tragedy is very important.  How the family is embraced is something those little ones will remember into their adulthood.  They see with clearer eyes sometimes, the hearts of people.  They know who speaks the words and who walks the walk.  Are we walking out our faith?  Or do we only talk it ("Let me know what I can do?") when others are in earshot?  The impact that is being made on those tiny of an eternal nature.

We are our brother's keeper.  Those children are your children.  They need help with homework, they need a place to go and get away.  They need food, they need rides.  They need an open heart and a shoulder.  They need to know that their parents are still important to you.  Important enough for you to give up things to care for them, to be sacrificial in giving time and attention.  

We needed our small group to step up, not to disband.  We needed the believers who loved us to show up at the office, and pray with Layne.  A few did, and I'm thankful for Terry Wright, who stood by Layne until the end as a brother, and others.  But most people, for whom he had done much, were just "too busy."  I believe they were overwhelmed by the reality of the situation.  But we don't have time to be overwhelmed. When the world is unsure what to do is just when the church, the believers, need to step in.  That's how you know Christians.  It's by their love.

It was love that brought two families, the Wellmans and the Kedziorskis, to my home to pack boxes during our move. It was love that caused good friends to fly across the country, just to give a hug or to open their homes.  My boys came to realize that Christ is not really housed "in a church", He is housed in the hearts of those who give Him room. 

In Acts, we learn that the church grew because "the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them."  We can't grow until we are willing to be our brother's keeper.  Are we really ready to walk the walk?

Monday, September 21, 2015

Running from grief...running to God

For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.”
Isaiah 41:13

My tennis shoes beat out the rhythm of the song that played in my earphones. 

(Held (Writer: Christa Wells    Performed by: Natalie Grant)

 "Who told us we'd be rescued, what has changed, and why should we be saved from nightmares?  We're asking why this happened, to us who have died to live, it's unfair.  This is what it means to be held how it feels when the sacred is torn from your life and you survive.  This is what it is to be loved and to know that the promise was when everything fell we'd be held."

It's a smooth rhythm.  And when I ran to the song "Held", I was able to talk to God, and remember, that truly "If hope was born of suffering, if this is only the beginning, can we not wait for one hour watching for our Savior?"  

I had asked my "whys".  I had railed against God one night on a jog around my neighborhood when the news first came.  "How could you God?  How could you do this to our family?  We had always done everything that you had asked.  We had given time, money, talents."

I wanted the all powerful God to step down from His mighty heaven and appear to me--with a promise of a miraculous healing so that all would know He was God.  I wanted an explanation.  I wanted God to be who I felt He should be, and like a petulant child, I demanded that He do as I expected.

His answer?  "He's my son, and you are putting him above me and my will.  You need to, much like Abraham was asked, hold him out for me to take if I want him back.  I love him even more than you can.  So trust me with him."

In the end, I placed Layne into God's hands, and unlike Abraham, God did not stay the hand of death.  He took him home, and left me to deal with the aftermath.  

And so I ran, and I ran and I ran.  I talked to God.

The tragedy didn't end with Layne's death, either.  Our family was ripped apart by Layne's loss and the broken hearts it created, our business was decimated, our home left underwater in payments, and my naive self was taken advantage of by a con artist in my grief.  Later, I was nearly killed in an bicycle accident, and had to learn to walk, and even stand, all over again.

It seems that this is the way that it happens in life.  We'll be faced with tragedy, and it often seems never enough to face one loss, generally, losses compound themselves until you feel as if a tsunami of sadness is enveloping your entire world.  These times separate us from others, who struggle to understand the enormity of pain.  But if we can hold on, even with our God, He alone can float us above the tragedy.  Waves may toss us, but He has his hands under the boat. Truly, the promise is we will be held.

I don't know your personal storms.  I don't know how high the water in your life is right now.  But when it all comes down, there are arms to run to that wish to hold you.

That's the promise.  That when, not IF, everything falls...we'll be held.

Friday, September 18, 2015

James 1:27

"Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this:  to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world."

I've been very burdened lately, that it is time to get back to the one promise I made Layne that I have not kept--to write the book "Our Journey In His Hands".  It's time.

I have put it off for so many reasons.  I know the inner strength it will take to go back through Layne's journals and my own, and to re-live that time when cancer dictated so much in our lives.  I also know that when I begin to write it, I'm going to face a lot of challenge from Satan, and let's face it, the past few years in my life have had enough trial and tribulation without calling out the enemy for face-to-face combat.  I also know the time commitment, and I run a business and a household.  Last but not least, who knows if I write it, if anyone will ever read it.  Can I get it published?

But I realize that it's time.  I know it was God who laid the book on our hearts.  It was Him who put the love of writing and tools for that in my heart at a young age.  I know also, that when He gives you talents, He expects that you will do more than court reporting or writing about the local diners with the gift.

But most of all, I'm realizing there is a gap that is not being filled by our churches.  It's a huge gap, because it's the essence of pure religion according to the writer of James.  We aren't serving our widows.

There are ministries for everything:  Promisekeepers is for men, Women of Faith for women.  There are youth ministries, homeless ministries, ministries for those with addictions such as Celebrate Recovery.  There are so many ministries, but this one thing that the church barely mentions.  Yes, there are grief ministries, but they don't really "care for" the widow.

I know that we are overlooked as a group because the women who are widowed have begun to care for one another.  There is an amazing blog called "A Widow's Walk" and another "One Fit Widow" that reach out to thousands of those left behind to finish their walk on earth alone.  Yet there is no church-wide movement to care for those mentioned so often in the Bible as the charge of the church.

Why should the church care for widows?  Because we simply cannot preach that women should take the biblical role of a help-meet, making her primary job caring for the household (though many women today also work) and then, if her husband is taken before her, kiss her on the forehead and wish her well.

In my own experience, most churches and Christians are at a loss as to how to handle a widow.  They aren't sure how to care for them, and when you call on Christian men to step in, they struggle to find the time.  In addition, we really aren't preparing Christian men to think about their wives--and what happens if tomorrow, the Lord calls them home?  Preparing for the possibility that you are not here, through journals so that your children can know your heart, education of your children in the ways of the Lord, and of course, financially, is of utmost importance.

Cancer has a way of making you a "widow" or "widower" even before your spouse is gone.  You lose the ability to share openly with them--most spouses don't talk about their fears with the spouse who has cancer, as they have their own fears.  You may lose their income, and their true personality due to some of the drugs that they must utilize in the fight.  We really need, as a church, to be reaching into homes where there is cancer, and serving them in so many ways, most of which cost nothing.

In addition, there is so much to say about the God did indeed show up, and that death is not "losing" or "lack of faith."  It is graduation into the arms of a loving Savior.

So, it's time to write about our journey.  You can help in so many ways:

1.  Prayer--this needs to be a book about what God did and what He can do
2.  Support by sharing the blog
3.  Encouragement --hold me accountable to write, and encourage me.  Writing is a lonely occupation and it is very easy to say "Oh I'll do it tomorrow, who will know if I don't write?"

I hope that this book will help so many reach back to their Savior, who is the great physician and the husband to the church.  I hope that any opportunities to speak will help to provide for widows of the future, and provide hope to those with cancer, that God holds their journeys and knows their tears.

With much love,