Spring and Life

Spring is here. This past Sunday I sat out on my back patio and, despite the wind, enjoyed the sun and the view and did some reading and writing. It was wonderful.  Sure it was breezy enough that some of my tools were moving around on the back table, but it’s nice to have one of these Spring days where sitting outside is comfortable and enjoyable.The trees (as you can see in the picture below) are still pretty bare.  Soon, though, there will be buds and then leaves and the ravine behind the house will explode with color…mostly green of course. After dying in the fall and lying dormant all winter the first will be full of life.**

The seasons we have cycle through, year after year, reminding us of life and death. And Spring is that bursting forth of life from the dead, much like the resurrection we look forward to someday.  Continue reading

Memories, Traditions, Swedish Christmas Eve Dinner, and Jesus (Christmas Post the First)

My friend Seth and I go way back.  I’ve known him and his family longer than any of the spouses of the siblings.  His dad used to be my pastor, and it’s partly my fault that he lives here in Illinois now.  We’re really not just friends anymore, the Ben-Ezras and Lansberrys are family and have shared traditions together, including Christmas Eve dinner from Seth’s mom’s family traditions.

For the first few years we were married, we didn’t celebrate Christmas, and now it’s hard for me to graciously remember the young, persnickety man who refused celebrate the incarnation in a beautiful way.  I can’t blame him (me)…he lacked the wisdom that came later.

Seth posted last night a commemoration of Kaldolmar (the most labor intensive part of the dinner we’ll eat tomorrow) making over the years.  It was long, disjointed and sentimental.  But it was beautiful.  You should read it and consider your family history, traditions, and the love that God has showered upon us by sending His Son to reconcile sinners like you and me to himself.  Here’s a snippet and the link (and a picture of Kaldolmar when finished):

No, rather, I wanted to commemorate some of those who have gone before me, who trod the pathway of faith even when it grew dark, who honored their God even in dire straits. And it’s in traditions like this that they still speak.

They remind me that I am part of something larger than myself, a lineage of faith handed down, one generation at a time.They remind me that our Father is honest and trustworthy, and that His revelation is sure.

They remind me that what I have been handed is worth preserving and protecting.

They remind me of the core of the faith that was handed down to us: our Lord Jesus Christ, come into this world to save sinners like me.

They remind me that there’s further to go, but that, if I’m faithful to Jesus, He will be faithful in return.

Source: Kaldolmar night | A Dark and Quiet Room

He Sets the Boundaries

A few weeks ago a friend posted something on Facebook about people talking about natural remedies for cancer.  The friend’s post was (as a PSA) encouraging people who like alternative care to make sure they’re not implying “If _______ had tried _______ they’d still be alive today.”  And the reason my friend was concerned was that they’d lost a family member not terribly long ago to cancer.

Full disclosure:  My older sister died of cancer a couple of years ago and was not yet 50.  It was almost 10 years, on and off, that she was battling various forms of cancer before she finally went home to be with the Lord.  She went through a rough time, especially at the end, but God used her death and her life in some amazing ways.  And now I have to wait a long time to see her again.  Today’s her birthday, and she would have been 51 if she was still around.

The first thing I want to say is that if you’ve ever said something like what’s in the quote above you should be ashamed of yourself.  And if anyone ever says that to you about a loved one you’ve lost you have my permission to slap him.  Unless it’s me.  Ok…even if it’s me.  It’s just rude and unkind and really has no purpose.

Second point:  God determines when people die.  So the statement above, in addition to being stupidly rude and mean is theologically incorrect.  Here’s Paul speaking in Athens:

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us

Source: Acts 17:26-27 ESV

God determined the allotted periods of each of our lives, before the world began.  Where we would live.  When you were born.  How long each of us will be here…every breath is counted.  When someone dies there is never an “if only ______” left.  Those of us who believe must trust in God’s goodness and grace in that.  He is sovereign over life and death.

The third thing I want to mention is that you need to be charitable with one another.  I know it’s hard, but if someone says “I think that chemotherapy is harmful and I wouldn’t do that to myself” it is not the same as the statement above.  Don’t assume that your friend is making a conjecture about your loved one’s death.  Sometimes people don’t know.  Sometimes people aren’t as careful with the words they use as they ought.  But all the time we need to believe the best (“love believes all things”) about other Christians and assume they don’t mean harm unless it’s spelled out clearly.

Sure, sometimes it’ll bother you and you’ll have to ask.  And that’s how people learn to be more careful in their speech.  But try to find the best possible way to take something when it’s said.

I am a big fan of alternative care in many cases.  But I don’t give unsolicited advice about health care, finances, or child-raising because I’m also a firm believer in liberty.  We’ve made a lot of mistakes in our lives, my family and me, and maybe someone else can learn from some of them.  But if you don’t ask my opinion about a specific you won’t get it.

But that’s not the same as saying here that I’d personally never get chemotherapy.  That I believe that the health care industry perpetuates bad treatments that make money sometimes and has little interest in finding cures.  That drug companies manipulate the governmental systems to make more money (they’re not alone in that, by the way).

I have strong opinions and so do you.  And one day you’ll die and so will I.  And the fact that I can’t stop that doesn’t mean I don’t take my asthma meds and it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t perform CPR on you if you had a heart attack in front of me.  It does mean that once death occurs we need to trust God’s timing in it, and to remember that everyone, all of us, will die. There is no health care service, conventional or alternative, that will stay off death.  Only when Christ returns will death die.

The Death of Death

A couple of times I’ve had an opportunity to preach or teach from Psalm 23.  The verse I tend to spend the most time on is “He prepares a table for me in the presence of my enemies.”  I then compare that to the verse in 1 Corinthians 15, “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

Death is our enemy.  And one day death itself will die.

I don’t know about you, but that sends chills up my spine.  I remember vividly a sermon in the PCUSA church I grew up in when the pastor harped on death coming.  I’m not sure he believed in heaven or hell or anything that I do today, but in that day I gained a fear of death.  I remember in my early teens being so afraid that I would die in my sleep.

And now…death looks welcome to me.  It has no sting (1Cor 15:55).  Death cannot hurt me.  And every week God invites me to His Table where He feeds me in the presence of my enemies, including death.  The seven children we lost, my sister, my grandparents:  all gone.  And death, while powerful for now, is going to itself die.

I can’t wait.

Falling into Beautiful Death

Oh how I love autumn. The humidity starts to drop and the temperatures, at least for a few weeks, hover in the 50s and 60s. The leaves begin to turn colors, the birds haven’t left, and being outside is enjoyable for a time.

I really hate humidity. You really can’t understand how much I hate it. It’s uncomfortable and awful and I avoid it at great costs. (“At Great costs” = I turn on the A/C and turn it down to 62 if necessary to dry out the air in the spring when the humidity arrives).

A couple of Saturdays ago I realized that it was cool enough to sit outside and write. The back patio at my house is up against a ravine filled with mutiple kinds of trees, and I’m as separated from civilization as I want to be while still receiving a wifi signal from my basement.

In addition to the weather moderating itself, I love the beauty of autumn. The green trees begin to turn red, purple, orange, yellow, brown (ok maybe not purple) and the leaves begin falling to the ground. Autumn is a time when many green trees begin to hibernate and the leaves begin to die.

But oh how that death is so beautiful. And that is one thing that makes me in awe of God above so many other things: God loves beauty so much that He has chosen in this fallen world to even make death beautiful. The leaves, before they fall to the ground and die, become more beautiful than they were before.

This is my desire for me and for my family and all those I love. That, by God’s grace, we may be more beautiful as we die than at any time in our lives. That as we die we can give glory to our Father and our God who has loved us so much.

Lord, let my death, whenever it may be, be so beautiful in the sight of your saints that You are glorified in their lips.

Good-Bye, Einstein.

This week we lost a friend.   Einstein

Our dog Einstein, who has been with us since the fall of 2000 (he was a rescue dog, but still a puppy), died Wednesday night.

For a long time I wasn’t sure I’d be able to tolerate this hard to understand puppy.  He took a long time to bond, but once he did, he bonded so tightly with Theresa that he would get very upset at anything that bothered or threatened her.

All of us grieved together at his grave on Thursday, and we will miss the messy-haired up.  He lived a long life, and was struggling at the end, and his memory is cherished.

Here’s Elsie’s post from after the burial:

Last night at about 9:30, my dog Einstein left this world. Me my sister Moriah, my brother Toby, and my parents stayed up late into the night crying and sharing memories. He was beautiful dog, and we all loved him. It hurts that he’s gone. He was a part of our family, and he died. This morning we told me little sisters and buried him in the back yard. We sang Amazing grace as we lowered him into the hole we dug, and I held a crying 4 year old girl in my arms. It hurt. A whole lot. I helped put the dirt over him,

via Keep Calm and Beethoven On: RIP.

…and something Moriah wrote a couple of weeks ago about Einstein:

Ballad for a faithful friend

Hello old dear

I don’t know what to say

Except through it all you’ve been by me

Through those nights

When I cried myself to sleep

And you came to sit by me

Comfort me

With your warmth

via Symptoms of Writesanity: Ballad for a Faithful Friend.

For the little ones, they’ve never known our family without him.  He’s been a part of our home longer than the youngest five of the nine.  And Clara and Margary in particular are still taking it hard as we weep together.

One day, death itself will die.  Until then, we will have frequent cause to mourn.

A Sad Anniversary

I’m in class today, but I’d rather be in New Hampshire.

A year ago today I was in New Hampshire, at my sister’s deathbed.  I watched her husband and her sons weep and my parents and my siblings shed tears as we watched my sister fade into glory.  She is with Jesus now.  Resting and worshiping and waiting for the rest of us.

Today my brother-in-law and my nephews and many of her friends and family are hosting a celebration of her life again as they mourn her death on its anniversary.  Aylmer (the aforementioned brother-in-law) is one of the strongest people I’ve ever known.  I have thought through what I respond like if my wife died.  I have no idea how I’d recover or have the presence to push on in the immediate days following.

Aylmer was present.  He was strong.  He wept and held his sons, and planned a funeral, a celebration of her life and the ways God used her.  He, by God’s grace, acted in every way like I hope I would be able to act should Theresa die before me.

I miss her.  I can’t imagine how much Aylmer must, of course, but I miss her just the same.  It still hits me every now and then that I’m not going to see her again until after I die.  That she’s gone home and I have to wait to follow.

So today, in spirit, I’m in New Hampshire with Cindy’s family and friends celebrating her life and the ways God used her.  I can’t be there right now personally, but I hope that the day is filled with joy and tears and memories as they remember what a phenomenal woman she was, and as they rest easy in the knowledge that she’s home with Jesus now and no longer feels the pain of the cancer that ate away her body.

I’m sure sometime today I’ll shed tears for her.  My thoughts and prayers stay with Josh and Brandon and Aylmer as they continue to learn to live without her, and to wait for the day when they’ll be reunited.

Pain and joy, mixed in the memories and the hope of what’s to come.