Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Color Purple

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What hole do I seek to fill this morning? My friend has gone home to be with Jesus. The ache in my heart feels like a big black hole has been blasted through my chest.

She’s in glory; at peace, without pain of any kind. She’s whole now. I’m filled with joy for her. Yet, I grieve. I’ve let go of such a great treasure.

Her love and friendship will always leave its impact in my life, and right now, the only words I come up with for how this feels are “hole” and “vacuum”.

She’s been sick for months now. Unless God intervened with a miracle of healing in her body, this was inevitable. Yet, shock somehow sucked the air out of the room when I got word she was gone. It became hard to breathe as my mind tried to process the words.

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Over the last two decades she’s poured into my life in ways God purposefully chose to use her for. Through her, God taught me so much and cultivated a precious, caring love in my heart, taking me to new levels of ability to pour out this caring love in new ways and with new courage and vulnerability. My heart shares in her ecstatic joy as much as I’m able while still wrapped in this earthly flesh.

Still, I weep. Many tears.

She wore many smiles. Her truly happy, laughing smile; the one where she threw her head back to catch her breath whether the laugh came out, too, or not. Her “I’m trying to show my joy” smile; the one she wore when she was going through something tough. Her simple smile of contentment. Her “devilish” smile; the one she tried to hide behind when she said or thought something she knew she should have kept in. Her smug smile, the one she flashed after sticking her tongue out at you.

She also wore scowls and anguish from time to time, like the rest of us.

The hardest expression she wore was the empty one; the one we just quietly waited through, the one I didn’t know what to say in response to. She wore that one the most when she was tired; mentally, emotionally or physically.

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But no matter what she wore on her face, she was always – wearing purple. I never met anyone more fanatical about their favorite color. Have you ever seen a purple microwave? She had one. A purple television set? Yep. A purple ceiling fan? Yeppers! Plus, a closet full of purple clothing. Purple suited her well; the color of royalty perfectly fit this daughter of the King.

Over the years, we laughed together more than we cried together. We prayed together, we contemplated scripture together, we confided in each other. Sometimes, we rode along in the car in silence. You know you’re with a friend when you can do that.

Several years ago we walked together through her journey of healing from colorectal cancer. That included chemo, radiation, radical surgery and severe infection. She fought it well and God provided the healing she sought. Last summer we received the news that cancer was again attacking her; a different kind of cancer, in different parts of her body. This would be different.

Ironically, a purple ribbon was symbolic for pancreatic cancer awareness.

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This time, I believe God allowed her to lay down her battle and choose to join Him in the heavenlies. I’ll greatly miss you, my friend.

“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” – Psalm 116:15 (KJV)

He’s welcomed her home.

When my father-in-law passed away last month, I shared pictures and memories, feeling that liberty to do so, because he was part of my family. This time, it’s different, my friend belongs to another family and their loss and memories take priority right now. My heart surrounds them all with my deeply felt love and my compassion commands prayers on their behalf. Our hearts hold hands right now.

Friday, February 13, 2015

You and Me

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Today’s blog post is probably more for me. I love you and I’m here to help in so many ways, but…..

I’m not here to do it for you.

What a liberating thought!

I’m not here to learn it for you. I’m not here to rescue you. I’m not here to “do life” for you; to save you from the hard stuff or clean up your messes.

I am here to go through life with you. I’m here to learn with you, to wrestle with you, to laugh with you – to travel this journey with you!

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If you recall, months ago I mentioned reading a book called Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. (Find it here. Or at your local second hand store.)

The book was great. Not always easy, but great. Now, the ripples it’s making in my life are very energizing and empowering. Just to rehash, one of the main benefits to having boundaries is knowing where I end and you begin; seeing that circle drawn around us, and recognizing that I’m not responsible for your actions, or even for your re-actions to life as it unfolds around you. I’m responsible for me.

Sounds a little selfish at first.

I’m here for you; I’m here to support you or to help you, perhaps even to instruct you in some manner. I can be here to hold you and help you pick up the pieces. But, you’re responsible for your circle of life; for what you do and how you respond to what you encounter.

Liberating? Yes! I am not responsible for saving the world! Yay! It intrigues me that so many people already knew this; and that so many more don’t.

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Does that mean I can just withdraw into a hole and hide from everything?

Absolutely not.

I’m still a vibrant part of everything that goes on around me, including what goes on in your circle.

But, I’m not here to fix you. I’m not even here to point out what’s wrong in your life!

I am here to love you.
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I am here to stand with you and encourage you and walk beside you.

I am here to pray for you, to intercede from time to time, to share what I’m learning and to share in what you’re learning.

I’m often tempted to intervene for my friends and “do it for them”….. I’m sorry. That’s denying you the privilege to do it yourself and gain all that comes from that accomplishment, that step forward…. I never want to hold you back, but, I’ll always lend a helping hand – as God directs!

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Jesus is our help, our salvation; always. No one else can dictate how He’ll help or rescue us, no one else can determine who He will or won’t use in our lives, what methods He’ll contrive to reach us and to deliver us; God alone is the Master of His Plan.

There are scriptures which appear to contradict each other. Two such scriptures are these, found in the book of Galatians:
“Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
“For every man shall bear his own burden.” (Galatians 6:5)

Studying these verses, we’ll find that verse two refers to burdens that would crush us, while verse five refers to burdens that we may squirm beneath, but that are ours alone to carry. Sometimes we think those burdens are too heavy to shoulder alone. But, think about it – the stories and movies we love the best, involve someone overcoming something they thought would destroy them. We’re so much stronger than we know; there’s so much more to who we are than we dare imagine. And God never really leaves us alone, He’s always with us – always enabling and empowering us, always helping us.

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If we leave the room and miss a part of one of those great “over-comer” movies, where the hero rises up to accomplish the impossible, we’ll ask, “How did they do that?” and are often compelled to watch the movie again.

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Whether the burden will crush us or define us, God is our help. Yes, He uses those around us, but He alone is the source of our strength.

Psalm 54:4 – “Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.” (NIV)

Thursday, February 5, 2015

How Much White Will She Need?

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I was thinking. I know, I know – don’t be scared, I wasn’t putting too much effort into it. 

When you picture a plant leaf in your head, what color is it? When you look at a real plant leaf, what color is it? When you look at a painting of a leaf, what color is it?

When I think of a plant leaf, I’m likely to tell you it looks green. But, for an artist to paint the very leaf I’m picturing in my mind, she won’t just be using green, even if the entire leaf is a perfect, green leaf. She’ll need white paint, too. The white paint will be used to show us where the light is shining on or through the leaf and reflecting off of it. If the light shining on it is brilliant, the artist will use more white paint, perhaps more white paint than green.

Hmmm. The Light that shines on and in each of us is the most brilliant light ever. How is it that so much of the colors that make us individuals still shine through?

I’ve been told that darkness is merely the absence of light. So, without light, we can’t see, not because we’re blind, but because our sight can’t fall on something that isn’t revealed by light.
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The Light of the world shines on us, brilliantly. But, He also shines brilliantly through us. His intent is not to diminish our colors, but to enhance them! He made us each individually, and distinctly different, no matter how much we have in common. He doesn’t take His Master paintbrush and blend us all together into some muted color. He wants us to stand out, as individuals, none of us any better than another.

Some of us are better off than others. But, according to whom?
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I’ve seen poor Christian Southerners made the butt of many jokes. “Why would they believe in a God that’s treated them so badly? Why would they praise a God that can’t even provide a decent roof over their heads?”

Ponder that for a moment. How do you answer those questions?

If you’re one who would mock right along with the others, are you simply praising your Maker for what He’s given you? Do you believe in God because you consider yourself to be well off enough to not complain, even though there are many around you with more wealth and riches than you have?

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God shines more brightly through a poor, toothless grin that’s worn on the face of one who truly loves Him for Who He is, than through the $1000 tithe check dropped in a collection plate by one who gives begrudgingly or out of habit.

Joy and peace come from that place where we honor God for Who He is – not from trying our human best to walk in obedience; joy and peace make us shine!

Do we rejoice in our Creator because of Who He is – or simply for the things He can provide for us?

If we’re celebrating Him for what He gives us, our colors aren’t enhanced or nearly as brilliant as they can be. Like a plant leaf hidden in the shadows, not much white would be needed in a painting of our likeness.

If we’re celebrating Him for Who He is, no earthly artist can capture all our colors.
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If we’re not celebrating Him at all, though we may have a colorful personality (because God created us to be like Him) – any light we exude will too quickly be extinguished like a child’s puff on a tiny candle.

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We were made to shine!

I know an artist who would love to paint your portrait. How much white should she bring?

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Assault of Anguish

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Processing. Processing. Just what is it I’m supposed to be processing? Life? Death? Gracefully transitioning through one and then the other? Or simply the idea of watching it unfold before me?

My brain seems to be in shut down mode more than processing mode tonight. Is this denial, not wanting to see the reality that’s before my eyes? Fear? Some version of panic? All of the above?

Blood. I’m not good with blood; not good with it at all! I’m not good with the smells that come with death, the stench of what the body is doing as it shuts down, the odors that permeate the air around those preparing to leave this world. My thanks and praise and honor go out to all of you called to careers that wholeheartedly embrace this part of reality, knowing that you’ve got gifts of mercy and endurance far beyond what my puny brain can fathom. To you, the doctors, the nurses, and mostly to the aides that get the bulk of the stinky work and the children taking care of their parents and the parents taking care of their children, I love you all from the bottom of my heart.

My blood is quivering in my veins. My throat is closing. The air is thin and hard to breathe in. My heartbeat is either pounding so loud I can’t stand it, or it’s so quiet I question if I’m awake. Burning tears bulge the skin around my eyes, but don’t fall. My eyelids bat at them, urging them to cut loose. A few make their way down my cheeks. My head can’t decide if it wants to burst from this profound pressure or just accept a headache. I sniffle. I feel a whisper of nausea washing over my body and the heat of fear flooding my face and neck.

My thoughts are so very unclear. How can I process what’s happening? Should I even be trying to make sense of this? Or is that better left to those of you in the healthcare fields? How do you make sense of this?

It’s one thing to get a phone call in the middle of the night, even when you’ve been waiting for it. But, it’s quite another to sit with and care for one I’m about to lose to the other side of eternity. She’ll see Jesus face-to-Face before I will. Probably.

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Why can’t it always be a quiet slipping away while wrapped in slumber, dreams and conversations with our Creator?

No, sometimes great pain, discomfort and ugliness, swallowed up in blood and odors and weakness engulf both the one passing and those who love them.

Sleep. No wonder she wants to sleep. Her sleep consumes most of her day and all of her night. Perhaps there she’s able to forget the frustrations and sorrows and fears of her waking moments. When she’s sleeping, no one is trying to coax her to take a sip of water, or nibble on a snack; no one is trying to change her clothes or clean her body; no one is disturbing her peace. In her slumber she’s not forced to see what’s happening to her; she can drift off to another time and place if she chooses. Yes. I think I would sleep, too.

When she’s awake, it’s an effort to smile. I don’t dare ask what she’s thinking. Is she upset because she thinks others have given up on her? Or is she upset because she’s giving up on herself? Is she just annoyed because her body insists she’s tired and needs to be sleeping even more? Is she frustrated with those of us trying to help? Is she angry that this is how her life is ending? Does she wish it would end quickly, or does she grasp for each sunrise, even though she doesn’t seem happy to see it? Is she looking forward to “the other side”? If she is, she doesn’t show it.

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She does smile, on occasion; at the sight of her puppy shaking his tail off because he’s so happy to see her – then, even though it’s out of love, he’s in her way. She smiled at the package of cookies a held before her, and then sighed at the chore it became to eat one.

She’s glad to be in her own bed. I ponder over what great solace this brings her, and squirm over the idea that she may not sleep there long. She needs more care than her home environment will allow. Unless, in His mercy, God takes her soon, she may find herself sleeping in a hospital bed or in a care facility of some sort. That, too, will steal any fleeting smile from her lips.

I wrestle with “how would I feel” – but, the truth is, I can’t know how I will feel until I get there. And right now, it doesn’t matter at all how I would feel, what matters is how to comfort her through what she’s feeling. Honestly, I can only imagine what she’s thinking or feeling; I actually have no clue what’s going through her pretty little head.

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Wait. The pressure in my face is increasing, for some reason the tears that are building up inside there somewhere are being held prisoner. The occasional loss of one tear or two doesn’t help.

Wait. Rest isn’t coming. I need to go home, to my own house, my own bed, the arms of my own husband.

Wait. My own sniffling is driving me crazy. But, I don’t want to disturb her sleep with one of my notorious nose-blowing escapades.

Wait. The flowers around the room don’t bring any cheer to my heart.

Wait. My body can’t decide if it’s hot or cold. The water from my bottle doesn’t satisfy my thirst.

Wait. Listen. Breathe…..Pray.

As I invite the Holy Spirit into the room, into my head, my lungs, and my body – a peace begins to wash over me. Now, yes, now – my tears fall. Something is releasing; something is being freed.

“Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance. Selah.” Psalm 32:7 (KJV)

Wait. I will wait on God, whether understanding comes with His peace or not. Selah.