I Want to Live Like That

 

JonandGingerThis week I lost one of my best friends.

Monday morning I woke to one of Ginger’s encouraging texts. That afternoon she slipped quietly off to heaven while she was at home. Her death came as a shock but not a total surprise. About a year and a half ago, she survived a deadly hemorrhagic stroke.

After making a miraculous recovery, Ginger invested her stroke and recovery to begin an endeavor called This is What After Looks Like, a line of clothing that opens up opportunities for people to tell their unique before-and-after redemptive stories.

Ginger served, loved, and gifted our large church with her sweet spirit for decades. During that time she influenced countless lives. I was always surprised to learn how many people in our church of over 2,000 people knew her and had been mentored and encouraged by her.

She was 100% servant, heaping love on everyone she met. 

Not just people at church. People she met in the community. People she sat beside. People she met at work. People in her neighborhood. People who often went unnoticed. Anyone she happened to meet on any given day.

Most of all, her family

Ginger used every gift and talent, every job, every day of her life to show Jesus’ love to others and point to Him. She lived with a vision every minute of her life. She knew who she was and what she was here to do–to point people to Jesus in EVERY breath she drew.

Even in her worst moments as she teetered on the brink of death. As she fought back from her stroke. As she and her husband walked through personal crisis. None of it was about her–it was all about God’s bigger plan.

What if we all lived like that?

If we lived with the clarity of vision my friend Ginger possessed, the world would be changed.

More than 600 people stood in line for nearly an hour to tell family members how she had changed their lives. Most of those people hope to carry on Ginger’s legacy. More than 700 attended her funeral the next day, not simply to pay respects, but to honor the role she had played in their lives.

During her life, my friend shaped an army of people more devoted to God, more like Jesus, more able to share Christ’s love with others. It may take a thousand of us to do what she so artlessly accomplished with such grace, devotion and love.

I want to be like my friend when I grow up.

Vision-driven. Unshakeable. Grace-filled.

She showed us all how:

By understanding what humility is and living humble lives.

By trusting Jesus to be all we will ever need.

By loving people with all our heart, soul, and mind.

By loving our neighbors and even our enemies the way we want to be loved. (That encompasses everyone. Ahem.)

By being an embodiment of Jesus to everyone who encounters me.

To see more about Jon and Ginger’s testimony following her first stroke, click HERE.  

 

 

 

 

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Simple Ways to Support Those Who Are Suffering

woman_sad1. Let those who hurt express their pain.

Don’t feel compelled to offer answers, a solution, or Scripture. Let God be God and the Spirit speak. Pain and suffering, questions, and grief don’t insult God. He welcomes our transparency. Our questions are the momentum that moves us forward him in our faith walk. One of the things that frustrated me most in my work with teens over the years is that many Christian adults became angered by young people’s honest questions and regarded them as rebellion. If we don’t allow genuine expression of pain, struggle, and grief, we experience a shallow faith.

2, Practice the power of presence.

Your presence is enough–your hand on a shoulder. The power of eye contact. A hug. Sitting in the silence. Crying with someone. Experiencing shared grief honors their pain.

3. Listen.

Let them express their story. Or rant. Or question. Or weep. Or be silent. But bring yourself to those moments–not so you can interject an opinion or theological viewpoint on suffering or loss. Simply listen and be WITH them in their sorrow. Honor their loss as if if were your own. Listen to the pain behind the words as much as the words themselves. God cares about the most intimate details of our grief, suffering, and sorrow. We should reflect his compassion and love in the way that we listen.

4. Honor who people are.

Does your friend value privacy? Are they a talker? A hugger? Do they love flowers–or would they rather have a card? What does support look like to them? Don’t be afraid to ask. They may need space, or they may need a few close friends to surround them. Just be sure to connect and remain in touch for the long haul. Express your love in ways that meet their specific needs. Have they lost a spouse? How is that loss reawakened every time they’re with couples? How can you offer compassion in those moments? Has their life been changed by chronic illness? What losses are they grieving, and how has illness forced them to make adjustments? How can you help meet them in those places?

May we all begin to engage with our world with true compassion and concern, as our eyes and hearts open to the heartbeat of the hurting.

Love Notes from God’s Heart: #1 I See and Know You

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On June 1st, Love Letters from the Edge releases. Over the next ten days, Wanda and I will be posting notes to the brokenhearted from God taken from Love Letters.

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Have you ever wondered where God is when all the horrible things in life happen to you?

Have you ever felt abandoned and alone? Have you ever prayed a thousand times for the torture of your life to stop until your prayers seemed to stick in your throat?

If you’re like most people I know, the answer is Yes.

Here’s God’s love note to you.

My Beloved Child,

I understand why the world doesn’t make sense to you, and I understand your rage and pain. As you come to know me better, you will recognize that trying to understand answers beyond your comprehension is less important than trusting my character.

Rescue is not always about taking out and taking away. Rescue also comes in gifts of presence, endurance, and purpose.

You didn’t see me. You didn’t heart me. And you didn’t feel me in your pain. But I was beside you, holding you close to my heart, loving you, and wiping away every tear. I came for you, and I have never left your side. –Your Loving Father

Photo Credit: TweenyRandall.com

Lament: The Caregiver’s Chorus Book

Lament

Guest posting by Dave Beach, author, licensed counselor, ordained chaplain, and spirituality coach. You can find more information about Dave at Soul Seasons. Dave is co-author of The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms

When I was a boy, I learned so many nice choruses in Sunday school. One started something like this: “I’m in-right, out-right, up-right, down-right happy all the time.” Another went similarly, “I’m H-A-P-P-Y happy all the T-I-M-E time.” For most of the first 30 years of my life, I believed I should, would, and could be happy all the time.

So when my first wife was diagnosed with stage-four lymphoma, I kept trying to practice happiness all the T-I-M-E time. Finally, after six long years of caregiving and feeling powerless to stop the onslaught of disease, I began to feel keenly the need for a different chorus book in my heart.

At night, sitting in the St. John’s transplant house near a Mayo Clinic hospital in Rochester, MN, I met an old “new” chorus book – the Psalter. For the first time in my life, I felt my desperate need for new “songs,” songs that “give sorrow words,” as Shakespeare wrote so long ago. Words far more ancient than Shakespeare, words that have voiced the sufferings of the faithful for millenniums.

The language of lament.

Language of protest and faith together.

Language filled with questions that press through and grab a hold of God and pull.

“Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” Ps. 10:1 (NIV)

“Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” Ps. 88:14 (NIV)

These laments pushed my faith out into the deep, which felt congruent with my soul. And there I met the man of sorrows acquainted with grief; he’d been waiting for me there for a long time.

After my wife did not survive the bone-marrow-transplant process, I needed them even more.
I keep looking for collections of songs for caregivers. Collections that balance so appropriately lament with praise, like the Psalter. We need faithful people who have traveled the paths to the ICUs and cemeteries to write new songs, songs congruent with the suffering faithful, songs voicing the questions, the grapplings, the “whys” and “how longs.”

I can’t sing those old choruses anymore; I have an affinity for the blues at times. I often wonder, where is lament in worship; where are lament’s questions given voice in our churches today? I’ll keep looking, listening, hoping, and waiting. And I’ll keep following the man of sorrows, singing his songs.

Lean on Me: Letting Go of the Losses

old-couple-holding-handsMany things about my mother’s Alzheimer’s broke my heart. Few things more than the toll the disease took on my father’s spirit.

In the more than twelve years my mother suffered with the disease, my father refused to leave her side. He cared for her in their home until the battle nearly broke his own health. Then he unflinchingly agreed to sell his beloved home and move in with his children, where he and Mom could receive more support.

Later, as Mom continued to decline, he relinquished his “right” to move into an independent living home, but chose instead to live with my mother in a small residential facility for those with Alzheimer’s. She was seldom out of his sight.

There were many things about Mom’s Alzheimer’s Dad struggled to understand. Why a “good Christian woman” who had scolded her children for saying the word “darn” had developed the vocabulary of a sailor in her golden years. Why a woman who had prepared beautiful meals for her loved ones began eating with her fingers. Why had a woman who had always dressed impeccably had become inclined to disrobe in public. No amount of explanation could answer questions like these in my father’s black-and-white engineer’s mind. The enigmas of neurological disease were not a sufficient answer.

All my father ever wanted during those years my mother was ill was to be at her side and ease her suffering. His greatest joy was to hold her hand as he sat or walked beside her.

Then came the day when a hospice nurse called me aside and told me what I already knew. My mother’s gait had become increasingly unstable. She had to be walked slowly and steadily, always in the company of someone who understood how to match her halting and wavering pace. But my father, in his unswerving belief that he could encourage Mom to get better, sometimes tugged her when she balked. Hospice nurses told us we would have to tell him that for Mom’s safety, he could no longer hold her hand and walk her.

I could barely hold back the tears as the hospice nurse broke the news to my father in the most gracious way possible. He stood silent and never asked a single question before he turned away.

For my mother’s safety, we tried to honor the request. But as family members, we also were compelled to honor my father’s commitment to his wife and our mother. Over the next months, caregivers walked my other each day. But as often as possible, dad also walked Mom with her too, clinging to her hand as he always had, while a family member steadied her on the other.

Thank you, Dad, for teaching us to lean into the arms of those we love in our times of loss.

Why It’s Hard to Pick Up the Phone

sad_older-Woman-430x279

My brother Paul doesn’t call often. Not because he doesn’t like me, but because he’s a busy guy with more to do than he has time for. But when he does call, my heart stops until I hear his first words.

My thought is always the same. “Is Dad gone? Was it today?”

In a few short months, Dad will be 92. He survived one open-heart surgery well into his 80’s, and he’s been in slipping downhill ever since–especially since my mother died.

I can’t bring myself to erase the faltering sound of his voice mail messages repeating the same questions, giving me the same quiet assurances that he’s okay when he’s not.

I am already broken at the thought of losing him, knowing my life will change in one sentence.

Perhaps tomorrow. Perhaps next month.

I do not erase email messages. I do not turn off my phone at night or on trips. And I never say good-bye without saying “I love you.”

I don’t think we can ever say it enough.