Treasuring Christ

swbc-ladies-retreat-2017-4

A most lovely group of ladies

Below is the second session from the women’s conference in Memphis. It’s probably longer than the first one – way too long to be socially acceptable for a blog post. I contemplated breaking it up into smaller chunks, but decided to keep it all together for cohesiveness of thought. 

In the first session we talked about the trustworthiness of Christ. He is our Creator, and the author and finisher of our faith. He is capable and faithful to do all that He has promised. But this would be small comfort if we did not have the assurance of His goodness. This is my reminder often in the midst of confusing circumstances, “God is sovereign, and God is good.” So even if I do not have any idea what He is doing in my life, or in the lives of loved ones, I can be sure that it is for His glory and for the good of His people.

In case you haven’t noticed, I have not been consistent in speaking specifically of Christ in our discussion today. I float back and forth between passages that refer to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I am no expert on the Trinity. We have recently gone through an extensive study of this doctrine on Wednesday nights. We studied the book, Delighting in the Trinity a few years back in our women’s Bible study. Both of these studies were very helpful to me. But any time I try to express what I understand about the Trinity,  I am reminded of a time in college when Jim Carnes was helping me with a paper I was doing for my philosophy class about Thomas Aquinas. He would explain a particular aspect of Aquinas’ theology, and then ask me if I understood. I would say, “yes” and he would say, “Ok, then explain it back to me.” And I would give him a blank stare. What I think I can say is that while there are three persons in the Trinity, the attributes of God are shared by all three. So I can’t talk about Christ’s goodness apart from the Father’s goodness or the Holy Spirit’s goodness, because it’s all the same goodness. So as we talk about treasuring the things that are specific to the person of the Son, like coming in the flesh to make atonement for our sins, we have to remember that Christ did this in perfect agreement with His Father and with the moving of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. A greater theologian than I might be able to be more specific about how these treasures are manifested in the person of the Son, but I best be less specific to keep from falling into heresy.

To help us meditate on the things we can treasure about our Triune God, I would like for us to look at Psalm 103.

Psalm 103

Bless the Lord, O My Soul Of David.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!

2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
3 who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,                                                                                       5 who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

6 The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all who are oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
14 For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
18 to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
19 The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.
20 Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his word,
obeying the voice of his word!
21 Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
his ministers, who do his will!
22 Bless the Lord, all his works,
in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!

As we look at this Psalm, we see that David stirs himself (and us) to offer praise to God. Just as with the model prayer Jesus gave His disciples, we see in this Psalm the

starting point is “hallowed be Your name”. But where the prayer asks that God’s name be hallowed, David spends time reminding himself (and us) what it is that causes us to hallow His name. When we use the Lord’s prayer as an outline, we would do well to pause at this phrase and take time to remind ourselves of the reasons we have to hallow His name. We should take the example laid out for us here and stir our hearts to worship by meditating on the benefits that we receive as His children.

One of the most helpful traditions my husband established for our family was one of taking the time before each meal to name one thing we had to be thankful for. There were days when it was easier than others to come up with an appropriate response. On especially hard days when I would have to dig deep to come up with something to be thankful for, it would help to focus my mind on important spiritual truths. On our worst days, we have so many gifts from our Creator. Just in our bodies we can see the miracle of life in the fact that without a conscious thought our chests rise and fall with breath. The blood continues to course through our veins. As believers we have the assurance of salvation, which not only gives us peace with God here on this earth, but also promises us a better life to come, when we will be given new bodies that are not susceptible to decay, and complete freedom from the ravages of sin. Let’s spend some time looking at the list David provides of things to be thankful for today.

1. Who forgives all your iniquity and heals all your diseases. Surely this is a great treasure. Forgiveness of sins is freely given to the poor in spirit. Isaiah 64:6 “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags”. Isaiah 53:6 “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” We could stop the list right there. The great treasure of forgiveness should be enough to lead our hearts to bless Him with all that is within us. But what of this phrase about healing our diseases? Surely God is the great physician, He is the author of all healing. I am counting on that for my sister who is fighting a valiant battle with cancer. But to say that He heals all of our physical ailments this side of heaven leaves us with a problem. After almost six years, I have no indication that God will be pleased to heal the damage my husband suffered from his stroke. My father died recently after suffering with Parkinson’s for over 20 years. We are all going to die of something, and for many of us, chronic ailments are a part of this life. So what could this mean? John Calvin gives it this commentary:

The second clause is either a repetition of the same sentiment, or else it opens up a wider view of it; for the consequence of free forgiveness is, that God governs us by his Spirit, mortifies the lusts of our flesh, cleanses us from our corruptions, and restores us to the healthy condition of a godly and upright life.

Here is the closer inspection of this particular treasure: Not only are our sins forgiven, but He continually works to bring us, heart and soul, into conformity with His Son. While physical healing seems to be tantamount when we are facing big health issues, it is such a small thing compared to what is truly promised here. I want to tell you what a beautiful thing it has been to see the Holy Spirit at work in the heart of my sister through this difficult trial. She is being healed in the depths of her soul. She is learning of forgiveness, and trust, and rest, and peace that passes all understanding. And it is effecting the people around her. I want desperately for God to heal her body. I cannot imagine this life without her. But I am brought to worship as I see her become more and more like her Savior. Truly this is a great gift that He not only gives us forgiveness of our sin, but then proceeds to work His way through our hearts, weeding out all traces of the old man.

2. Who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy. We are reminded that we were dead in our trespasses and sins, and the Holy Spirit breathed His life into us that we might be brought to life through the blood of Christ. Thus we were brought from the pit of spiritual death and surrounded by His steadfast love and mercy. This thought should humble us. Our salvation is not something we accomplished. It is something that was done for us and to us. We were brought to life, our eyes were opened, and we received the free forgiveness of sins. But we were not left to our own devices at that point. He surrounds us with His love and mercy, morning by morning. Not a day goes by in the life of a believer when they do not have the Holy Spirit present to continue the work that was begun at the time of salvation- at the foundation of the world. We have this Comforter with us in our darkest hour – when we have been forsaken by our earthly friends; when we are in the midst of great trouble, when we are facing the valley of the shadow of death. There with us is the steadfast love and mercy of the Lord.

3.Who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like eagles. This reminds me of the precious gift God has given us in the establishment of His church. We are in the midst of a difficult journey through a difficult life. We are dragged down by the battle against our own sin. We are tried by the sins of others. We are frustrated by the cares of this world. And weekly we are brought by still waters and green grass to have our souls restored. God has given us this great feast each week in the gathering together of His people on Sunday for the preaching of the Word, singing of spiritual songs, corporate prayer, observing the ordinances and fellowship with our spiritual family. We are foolish if we do not take advantage of this wonderful treasure! Here is the place to renew our strength. Here is the reminder of what we have been given in Christ. Here is where we get and give the encouragement we need to continue to persevere through the coming week. Do you hunger to know more of Christ? Come, listen to the teaching of His ordained mouthpiece. This spiritual food gives us renewed vigor for the Spiritual battle that rages around us. How can we keep going? How do we continue? Our strength is renewed through the Sabbath rest. We live in a society that puts great emphasis on maintaining a youthful appearance. Imagine the amount of money and research that has been invested in finding ways to keep our skin and our hair and our bodies looking young and vibrant. I am going to tell you a great trade secret today. Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Your hair may turn gray, and your body may not be as strong and healthy, but you will have a beauty in your heart that will shine through your eyes. There is something very attractive about a person who has learned to rest in the Lord and is satisfied with the good things He provides.
4.The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. I am repeatedly reminded of the Beatitudes as I read this Psalm. In this instance, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets before you.” For the most part we live in a country in which we do not often suffer

for righteousness sake. We are free, to live by our consciences. However, this seems to be changing. There are forces at work to bring about many restrictions on the Christian faith in this country. We may see in our lifetimes, or in our children’s lifetimes the doing away of many of our religious freedoms. In many other parts of the world, Christians lose their jobs, their homes, even their lives for the sake of the Gospel. Sometimes we see the Lord work to bring justice on this earth, in our time. Certainly we should pray for this. But the promise we see in Matthew 5 is that their reward will be great in heaven. We may not see justice in this world. Certainly many have died unjustly. But we do have the promise that the day is coming when at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow. God has already passed judgement on His people and found them pardoned by the blood of His Son. But the wicked still have their judgement coming. We must continue to conduct our lives according to His precepts trusting that in His timing He will work righteousness and justice.

5. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. God appeared to Moses and made known to him the way of salvation for the children of Israel. These ways were communicated to the people through Moses and Aaron. So today God continues to communicate through his appointed leaders, through the preached Word each Lord’s Day. God has consistently provided a way of salvation for his elect. And He consistently provides a way of making this salvation known. We have the treasure of the written Word. We have faithful ministers who study that Word and bring explanation of it to us regularly. We have the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We have the gift of prayer both individually and corporately. These are means that we should be persistent to make use of. (Am I repeating myself? Well, it bears repeating.) I think we sometimes have a tendency to go about our daily lives quite oblivious to these priceless gifts until we come to a difficult decision or a particularly hard trial, and then we pray a frantic prayer and open the Bible without a clue where to look for answers. How much wiser would it be if we would diligently make use of the treasures provided for us here on a habitual basis? When we come every Sunday and apply ourselves to the preaching and teaching offered to us, and make use of the times for corporate prayer, then when hard decisions have to be made, we have a foundation from which to draw wisdom. I think about the passage in James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” We ask for wisdom thinking it will come upon us with a poof. God is giving it to us liberally every week when we gather together on the Lord’s day for corporate worship. We have the wisdom of the Holy spirit poured out through the preaching of the Word. We have the wisdom of fellow believers who have faced similar trials. We have the wisdom of our pastors who commit themselves to hours of study every week. Do the work of showing up and paying attention. Do the work of praying for your pastors as they prepare through the week. Over time, you will acquire the wisdom that is liberally provided for you.

6.The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in mercy. Have truer words ever been spoken? Look at the mercy of the Lord on the world in general; that he provides rain on the just and the unjust; that the earth produces food for all to consume, the sun provides warmth, that we have breath. That even those who revile His name are allowed to prosper in this life. He gives this and so much more to His chosen people. His great mercy toward us is that while we were still sinning He gave His only begotten Son to provide a legal pardon for our transgressions. And even as His children, we are so prone to doubt His goodness, and to disregard His right over our lives, and He is merciful in His fatherly discipline that brings us to repentance. Let us never forget how slow He is to anger. Abraham was told he would be the father of a nation whose number would be like the stars in the sky. I am just one of those many stars, and I know that daily my sinful heart would provoke him to great wrath. Multiply that to all His people, and you have some idea how slow to anger He is. Instead, He looks at us through the blood of His son and shows us mercy.
7. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. This fatherly discipline that God uses is not a reactionary thing like the anger we experience. We become angry in a flash because we sense that our rights have been violated or that we have been wronged in some way. Our anger makes us want to strike out at the other person. God’s anger is not like this. He does not strive with us out of petty offense. He is perfect and his anger is perfect. When He brings a sinner low because of his sinful acts, it is with the purpose of bringing correction. It is with the purpose of reminding us of our need for redemption and mercy. When His children are humbled before Him and cry out for mercy, mercy is what they receive. What a comfort it is to know that while my sinful rebellion against God’s law deserves His anger forever, He does not strive with me forever. How can this be? On my best day I deserve His wrath moment by moment. I am constantly choosing my own interest over the interest of God’s glory and His kingdom. But!
8. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. God is not only merciful, but He is just. He could not look on our sinfulness and say, “Just forget about it. It’s no big deal.” No, that would not be consistent with his character. So He graciously and mercifully provided a way to make atonement for our sins. He gave His only begotten Son. This Son met the requirements to redeem us from our just judgement. This Son was dealt with according to our sins. He was punished according to our iniquities. This act of redemption by Jesus Christ is the very thing that has removed our transgressions from us. So that now, God looks at us and sees the righteousness of His son. And as a result of that, we call Him Father. We are adopted into His family and receive the benefits of heirs.
9. As a father shows compassion to His children, So the Lord shows compassion to those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. God is described here using terms we are familiar with. When we as parents look at our children, we sometimes have great compassion for them. We remember that they are young and that our expectations for them need to be adjusted accordingly. I know with my own children that I could be pretty inconsistent with this. Some days I may have had the correct amount of pity. I made allowances for a child’s maturity or for such things as lack of sleep or sickness. Sometimes I had too much pity, excusing the child’s ill behavior or bad attitude when I should have taught them self control. Often I lacked in my own self control, dealing with them out of impatience or not dealing with them at all, out of laziness. God’s pity is not like our pity. His pity is perfect. He is not swayed by circumstances or hormones or lack of sleep. His compassion does not come from a place of emotion, so it never fails. What a great comfort this is to me, that God is not like me. There is never a day that He forgets to deal with His child with compassion. He always has a perfect understanding of our capabilities. He always remembers what we are as His creation. Luke 11:13 “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” So this verse in Psalm 103 is basically saying, “you know how you love your children and want to give them everything good in the world? God is like that, only perfectly.”
10. As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, And His righteousness to children’s children. I have been reminded many times in the past year of the frailty of our lives. We are here on this earth by God’s pleasure. Were he to remove His sustaining hand from us, we would perish in a vapor. We think we are invincible. We at least expect to live to a ripe old age. But we have no assurance of our next breath without the pleasure of God. An illness, an accident, a storm, a wicked act, any of these could take us in a twinkling of an eye. Even if we were to live to be 100, in light of eternity this is negligible. Most of us won’t be remembered beyond a generation or two. But God’s mercy is perfect. It has no end. He was mercy long before the earth was formed, and He will be mercy long after the earth takes its last rotation around the sun. As His children, we do not have to worry that He will ever run out of mercy for us. There won’t be a day when I will come to my Heavenly Father to be told, “Sorry, you have used up your quota of mercy.” No. Through the work of Christ, we have constant, eternal, perfect mercy. The only limit to His mercy is that it is offered in its fullness only to those who have fallen on the Mercy Seat, that is Christ Jesus.
11. To such that keep His covenant, and those who remember His commandments to do them. We can’t keep His covenant apart from the work of Christ. Ultimately, He is the one who has kept the covenant for us. But we are reminded in John 14 that if we love Him, we will keep his commandments. This is the fruit of salvation: that we seek to do the will of our Father. This is how we actively treasure Christ. We study His Word, and we seek to apply it in the day to day. We work to be salt and light in the world. We have a tendency to overcomplicate things sometimes. We want to find a way to see the big picture – “God’s will for our lives.” And by this we generally mean we want to know which job to take, whether to buy a house, who to marry. We want to know the events. This is God’s will for our lives – 1Thessalonians 4:2-12  “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us his Holy Spirit. But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you for you, yourselves are taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do so toward all the brethren who are in Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren that you increase more and more; that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing.” When we get this much down, then we can worry about the big picture. Instead of worrying about the details or events, we need to be concerned about how we conduct ourselves as the events unfold. Are we being sexually moral? Are we conducting ourselves honorably? Are we working to control our passions and lust? Are we working to have brotherly love? Are we aspiring to lead a quiet life? Are we minding our own business? Doing our work? As we go about our lives in obedience to the Lord’s commands, then we will have eyes to see the mercy of the Lord morning by morning.
12. The Lord has established His throne in the heaven and His kingdom rules over all. God is sovereign and God is good! He is on his throne ruling over all that He has created. We are citizens of this world in body, but citizens of His kingdom in spirit. Having just experienced the inauguration of a new president after a particularly volatile election, it is a comfort to know that this is all temporary. God raises up kingdoms and brings them down. We have no guarantee that our country will continue to exist for the generations to come. But God’s kingdom is eternal. We will benefit from the rule of our great King forever and ever.
13. Bless the Lord, you angels, Who excel in strength, who do His Word, heeding the voice of His word. Bless the Lord, all you His hosts, You ministers of His, who do His pleasure. Bless the Lord, all His works, in all places of His dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul! David calls roll to each type of creature who is part of God’s kingdom and calls them to worship. This reminds me of Psalm 150:6, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” I think perhaps as David enumerates all the benefits (or treasures if you will) of being a child of the great king, he knows he is not capable in himself to offer enough blessing and praise to God. He solicits all the help he can find. May our hearts respond the same way! May we leave here overflowing with praise on our lips and in our hearts. May we praise Him not only with our words, but with our obedience to His commandments. For Yours, O God, is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, Amen!
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Trusting Christ

I was given the great privilege of spending a weekend with some very lovely ladies from South Woods Baptist Church in Memphis, TN. They trusted me to come and speak to them on the recommendation of my dear friend, Nancy. The theme for the weekend was, “Trusting and Treasuring Christ.” The time of preparation for this event was of such great benefit to me! But I have to confess to feeling a bit like a pretender as I presented to these ladies bits and pieces of sermons and lessons I have been taught by the leadership of my church over the past few years. I can look through the remarks and see the influence of Pastor Larry here, and Pastor Jarrett there, Pastor Eddie in that place, and Brother Price in this and that. I realized once more how blessed I am to sit under such great teaching each and every time I darken the doors of my church. At the request of a few friends who weren’t able to attend the conference, I will post my remarks here, one session at a time. 

It is an honor to be here today. I pray that God will use what I say to encourage you, But I can say without a shadow of doubt that He has already used it to encourage me through the process of studying and calling to mind what I have been taught through the faithful ministry of my pastors. So for that, I thank you.

But let me tell you a little story before I get started. This story is about a young girl who grew up in Africa. And when I came of age, I returned to the United States to attend college. I had applied to Hardin Simmons University, primarily because that is where my sister was attending. When I arrived in Texas, I was informed by said sister that she had transferred to North Texas State, in Denton. Well, it was too late to change my mind, so I went on to HSU.
Now when I graduated from high school, I was given a copy of Spurgeon’s “Morning and Evening”. I cannot tell you what a comfort Spurgeon’s words were that first year. It was a difficult year in many ways, and Spurgeon reminded me of the truths of Scripture. I mention this because in my mind, this is what God used to lay the foundation for what was to come a bit later. Spurgeon taught me much of the sovereignty of God in all aspects of life.
During the first two years of college, I was asked to speak at churches about my experience as a missionary kid. I almost always referred to Psalm 139:16 “Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me when as yet there were none of them.” So I had a sense of the sovereignty of God, but I had never heard the term, “doctrines of grace”.
And then one day a friend of mine started talking to me about moving to Denton, Texas, where she would attend Texas Women’s University. She went so far as to do research about my desired career and informed me that NTSU (also in Denton) was the only University in Texas that had an actual BSW degree (Bachelor of Social Work). And so, I agreed to transfer after my sophomore year. As my sister had already been living there for two years, it was only natural that I would visit her church in my search for a church home. She suggested I visit a particular Sunday school class in the college department. This class was taught by one Jim Carnes, and he was making his way through Romans at a snail’s pace. I had grown up in a pastor’s home. I had been exposed to the scripture since my conception. But here in this Sunday school class I was hearing things I had never heard before about the sovereignty of God. Jim had printed notes for us each week, and I would take those notes home on Sunday afternoon and open my Bible and study through what he had taught that day. I know a lot of people struggle a great deal with the concept of God’s sovereignty in salvation, but for me it was like coming home.
I remember asking Jim, “How is it that I have never heard these things before?”
And he smiled, and answered, “That’s a really good question.”
Beyond the Sunday school class, Jim and Nancy befriended me. They gave me books to read. They referred me to a good church once I graduated and moved to Fort Worth. And they have continued to be my friends ever since. I owe them a great debt. So I am thankful for this opportunity to encourage people who are dear to them, and I pray that God will use this time for His glory and the furtherance of His Kingdom.

Our theme for today is “trusting and treasuring Christ”. In this first session I want to spend some time considering who Christ is, why He is trust worthy. Then in the next session we will talk of what there is to treasure about him, and how we can do that. Much of what I will say is basic to our faith. I believe it is important to remind ourselves of the foundational truths regularly. This is not an easy life. Or at least it hasn’t been for me. I have a tendency to trust what I see with my eyes and that can sometimes be a problem. So I must bring myself back to the basics andremind myself of the things that must be seen with the eyes of faith. Because if I trust only what I can see for myself, I begin to wonder, “is Christ really trustworthy?”

So who is Christ, and is He trustworthy? Well, to begin with, He is God. He is the Son, who is eternally begotten of the Father. He is the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us.

John 1: 1-5 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory and the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
From this passage we can see that Christ is God. He is eternal. He is the Word. He created us, so we owe our very existence to him. Because he created us, we can trust that He knows how to sustain us. He knows our needs better than we know our own. He has numbered our days, and we will live the exact number of days that are ordained for us. I playfully refer to myself as a hippie, because I am somewhat committed to a crunchy lifestyle. I eat organic when possible, I use non-toxic cleaners and toiletries, I drink tons water, etc. And as much as I believe this is a good stewardship of the life I have been given, I must regularly remind myself that I cannot do anything to add or take away one second of the days that are numbered for me. I must trust Christ to sustain me until that day when He will see fit to take me home to be with Him.

Secondly, He is our Savior. He did not create us and then leave us to ourselves. He became flesh and dwelt among us.
Philippians 2: 5 – 11 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the father. Here we are reminded that not only did Christ give us physical life, he also went to great lengths to give His people spiritual life. He became a man, lived a sinless life, offered himself up as propitiation for our sins through his death on the cross. He rose again, conquering death and is seated at the right hand of the Father. This accomplished our reconciliation to the Father. This is peace on earth, good will to men. The same information is given to us in:

Romans 5:6-11 “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through HIm. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.”

Not only can we trust Him because of who He is, we can also trust Him because of what He has done. Recently I have been exposed to a counseling concept called the “trust equation”:

Trust = consistent behavior/time
We can certainly look through history and see that Christ has consistently done what He said he would do. From the beginning He has provided a way of salvation for His people. We see this in

the Old Testament through the nation of Israel. God destroyed the world with flood, but he

preserved the life of Noah and his family. He called Abraham and Sarah out of a life of paganism, brought them to a land of promise, and provided a son for them from whom a great nation would be generated. He preserved Jacob’s life, though his deceitful and conniving behavior caused his brother Esau to desire his death. He preserved Joseph though his brothers wanted to kill him, Potiphar’s wife wanted to ruin him, his cellmate forgot him. Joseph was raised up and put in a position to be a savior (little s) for his people by providing a place for them to live and prosper in the midst of famine.
Then a new pharaoh was raised up in Egypt and the Israelites became slave labor. God provided Moses as a little ’s’ savior for His people by leading them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and on to the promised land. Throughout the following years Israel went through many wars, captivities, kingdom divisions, rebellions. And through it all God continued to faithfully preserve His people, continued to faithfully provide types and shadows of the coming Messiah, continued to provide a way of salvation. And then the Savior came, bringing peace between God and man through his death and resurrection.
I am struck by the parallels between the the history of the Israelites and my own spiritual journey. I see the hardness of my own heart in the story of Lot who had to be basically dragged out of Sodom because he lingered in the face of danger. I lingered in my sinfulness but Christ changed my heart of stone for a heart of flesh, and I was saved from destruction. I see my own propensity to be allured by the things of this world, just as the Israelites were allured by false gods. And Christ has provided His Spirit to discipline me, and deliver me from the evil one. I see the repeated sacrifices of lambs for the sins of the Israelites and am reminded of the constant need to come before the Lamb of God to repent of my own sins, knowing that I have the ultimate forgiveness of Christ’s sacrifice, but still having a battle with the old man day by day. I am privileged to see the continued preservation of God’s people through the ages, and am reminded of the way God sustains me every day.

But one of the problems of sweeping through thousands of years in a few minutes is that we lose sight of the time it took for the people involved. Yes, God provided a son for Sarah and Abraham, but it was when they were very advanced in years. They waited a long time for the fulfilling of that prophecy. So long, in fact, that it seemed absurd to them that it would be fulfilled. So long, that they tried to figure out a way to help it along. Yes, God provided a bride for Isaac, but not until he was 40, and then he prayed for a child for 20 years before Jacob and Esau were born. Jacob was promised Rachel for a wife, worked 7 years for her, was tricked into marrying Leah, and had to work another 7 years for her. (I couldn’t hardly get my husband to wait 6 months to marry me, not sure he would have stuck around for 14 years.) Sure, God fulfilled the prophetic dreams Joseph had as a child, but before he saw the fulfillment of those dreams, he saw the bottom of a pit, where he waited while his brothers argued over whether to kill him. He lived as a slave, he was accused of rape, he was sent to prison and forgotten. I do love Joseph’s story, though, because he gives us such an example of living patiently with integrity while awaiting the accomplishment of God’s plan. May I be so diligent with my life to serve God where ever He may be pleased to have me be at any given time. May I be more concerned with doing what He commands than with being rescued from the difficulties of this world.

I think ultimately the question I have to ask myself is not whether Christ is trustworthy, but whether I will trust HIm.
I have a 23 year old daughter who has struggled with chronic illness almost her entire life. We have tried all sorts of medical and alternative approaches to her care, and still there have been times when I thought she would die. There have been times when I have wondered how much one person could be asked to suffer. There have been sleepless nights for us both where we exhausted our arsenal for relief, and were left crying out to the Lord for help. Will I trust Him to

take care of my daughter? Will I trust that her days are numbered and that she is gently carried by her savior? Will I trust that Christ is completing in her what He began? Will I trust that he is bringing glory to His name?
I have a husband who had a stroke 5 years ago whose personality has changed, and whose body is still effected. There are days I can see no possible good in his life from his continued existence in this world. I have grown a thousand spiritual years through this experience, but my dear man seems incapable with his present disabilities to apply anything that he knew before the stroke. He is plagued with paranoia. He is unable to consistently work toward rehabilitation. He is unable to realize the damage that has been caused in his brain, and consequently refuses to believe that he is not thinking rationally. There are many days I leave his side and cry out to the Lord, “Why is he still here?” Will I trust that every day that my husband remains in this world is for his good and God’s glory? Will I trust that his days are numbered, and consequently that none of them is a waste?

I think that one of the reasons we have a struggle trusting Christ is that we don’t have a clear understanding of what we can trust Him for. We are so limited by our senses. We only perceive what we can see and touch and taste and hear. We become very dependent on these things for our understanding of the world we live in. They are great tools, these senses, but they are limited. We are not able to understand with our earthly senses the spiritual truths. We want to fix this world to appeal to our earthly senses. We want to be well. We want to be fed. We want to store up treasures that can be destroyed by moth and rust. But these things are only temporal at best. We need to be thinking in terms of the eternal.

One thing that has been very helpful to me this year is a series of sermons our pastor did recently on the Lord’s prayer from Matthew 6 (the first of the series can be found here). When I find myself in a situation where I don’t know what to think or do, I have begun to use this model prayer to help me not only know how to pray, but to bring my spiritual sight into focus. Can we say this prayer together right now to remind us of its content?

Our Father in Heaven,
Hallowed be your name
Your Kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts
as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For Yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever, Amen.

So when I pray, I start by reminding myself that God is our Father: mine, yours, my husband’s,my daughter’s, my church family’s, the universal church. This is important in a society that is all about the individual. We are a collective. We are connected in one body with Christ as our head. The most important thing is not my personal welfare, but the welfare of the church at large. Then I remind myself how this wonderful thing can be true, that the God of the universe is my Father. It is through the sacrifice of His Son that this sinner has been reconciled to the Creator. This Father is in Heaven. This doesn’t indicate distance from me, because He has sent His Holy Spirit to dwell in my very soul. What it indicates is that He is in the place of power. He is seated because He has completed His work of salvation and earth is His footstool. There is nothing that can defeat His will. I have no need to fret.

Then I pray that God would bring glory to His name through the situation at hand. That His will would be done, that He would use my particular set of circumstances to further His kingdom. (This always reminds me to pray for my pastors who are charged with the responsibility of preaching the gospel that Christ’s kingdom would come here on earth.) By this point in the prayer, I have already reminded myself that there are far more important things at hand than my happiness or comfort. I am reminded that my ultimate destiny is to live my life in such a way that others will see Christ in me. The focus begins to shift from the temporal to the eternal.

Then I pray for today. Take care of my needs today. Take care of my husband’s needs today. I remind myself how he has provided for my needs in sometimes miraculous ways. If he provided a way to pay my husband’s hospital bill and rehabilitation when we had no insurance, isn’t that harder than what I need today? Is anything too hard for God? I am reminded by this phrase, “give us this day” that I am not to worry about the things of tomorrow. I am reminded that God feeds the birds and clothes the lilies of the field. I am reminded that worry doesn’t change anything other than my ability to cope with life. Further on in Matthew 6 (where we are given this prayer as a model), we are told to seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these other things will be added. This prayer helps us do that very thing. Seek His Kingdom, and we are reminded that all these other things are secondary to real life.
When I get to the prayer for forgiveness, I search my heart for those I need to ask for forgiveness. I search my heart for those I need to forgive. I meditate on what I have been forgiven through the blood of Christ, and I ask that I would have mercy as I have been shown mercy – that I would remember my low and needy estate before a just God so that I could have a heart of kindness for those who cross my path (or make me cross) today.
I go on to pray that God would deliver me from evil. I know beyond a doubt that the first person He must deliver me from is me. You know, since my husband’s stroke changed his personality, I have had several people ask me why I don’t divorce him. I have had people tell me that now that he is in the nursing home, I should feel free to date. Neither of those things are really a temptation for me. I have wanted to run. I have wanted to die. I have wanted him to die.I have wanted to curl up in a ball and just stop facing life. But I am not tempted to divorce him, because I understand that he has brain damage and is not capable of being what he once was. I know that he needs me to manage his care, even if he believes with all his heart that I have abandoned him. Sometimes I can feel pretty proud of myself for that. Look at me, sticking it out in a thankless marriage. Aren’t I special? Oh Lord, deliver me from evil! When my eyes are on what is not tempting me, the things that do tempt me are gaining strength. I am prone to worry, and complain and despair of my life. I must fight against letting my anger lead me to sin. I am an easy target for Satan, because I am so easily distracted by the cares of this world. I must ask God to help me be obedient, and patient for HIs timing. I must ask him for grace and mercy. I beseech him to keep me from bringing shame to the name of Christ by my self-seeking tendencies.
Oh how thankful I am that I can trust Him to do these things for me. I can trust that His Kingdom has come, is coming and will come. I can trust that today as we are gathered here, God is working His perfect plan in the lives of His people. He is drawing us to Himself. He is fitting us for Heaven. He has provided peace on earth between his elect and Himself, which gives us the ability to pursue peace with each other. He will preserve my life every day until my days on this earth are done. And more importantly, he preserves my soul. He gives me the ability to continue to cling to Christ through all the trouble this world throws at me.
As I contemplate these things. As I meditate on how God is accomplishing this through whatever situation seemed so insurmountable in the beginning, it is only natural that my heart would then turn to praise, “Yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever! Amen”

But I will let you in on a little secret. There are quite a few days when I do not get past “thy kingdom come, thy will be done”. It is all I can muster. So it’s good that the prayer starts out with the most important thing – His glory and His kingdom.
So, my dear sisters in Christ, I ask you. Will you trust Him? We know He is trustworthy. He is the God of the universe. There is nothing too hard for Him. But will you trust Him? Will you trust him when you want to be married and it seems that all the decent men are already taken? Will you trust him when you get married and that perfect guy turns out to be not so perfect? Will you trust him when you want children and can’t conceive, or can’t carry to full term or lose them to premature death? Will you trust Him when your baby won’t stop crying and you are in such desperate need of sleep? Will you trust Him when your adult children seem to reject everything you taught them to believe? Will you trust him when your years are advanced and your body is having a race with your mind to see which will fail first? Will you trust Him when your husband has a stroke and becomes a very different person (oh wait! that one was for me). But what is it for you, today? What is there in your life that would make you doubt the goodness of God? Will you trust Him?
What we see with our physical eyes can sometimes be terribly overwhelming. It can distract us from what is really true. We must do the hard work of meditating on the person of Christ if we are to be able to cope with the disappointment of this world. We must avail ourselves to regular preaching and teaching from the pastors appointed over our congregations. We need to memorize scripture. We need to familiarize ourselves with doctrinal truth. My favorite tools for this are the London Baptist Confession of 1689, and the Baptist catechism, because they help me to think systematically through the foundations of our faith. I also love hymns and songs that are full of sound doctrine. As a side note, let me encourage you who are mothers to teach your children these things. Not only for their benefit, but also for yours. Because as you go through the catechism questions with them, or help them to memorize a verse, or teach them a song, you are committing them to your own memory.
Let us agree together as sisters in Christ to remember and apply the words we read in Hebrews 10:24, 25 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
May we remind each other of the greater things of the Kingdom when the things of this world crowd in to claim our attention. Let us meet together with our congregations to hear the Word proclaimed and to fellowship together with those who will help us think rightly about our trials. This is a journey through a foreign land. Let us march on to beautiful Zion united under the banner of His love for us. We don’t know the way. We don’t know what lies ahead on the path. But we do know the One who leads us. And we know that He is safe. He is trustworthy.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

In Retrospect

In January, I went on cruise with my best friend from 9th grade. Turns out she’s still best friend material. We had a great time. Her husband says I have ruined her, because she now wants to go on a cruise every year. Well, I am ruined too. If it wasn’t for my husband, children, and grandchildren, I think I would try to figure out a way to be one of those retirees who just go from cruise to cruise year round.

12615346_10153758085123190_1979408544600579704_o

Cheesy cruise picture holding parrots.

January also brought a really bad bout of flu.

In February, during my second bout of really bad flu, I found out that my sister had been diagnosed with a rare cancer – peritoneal cancer. By the time I dragged myself through to the other side of that illness, I had reached a breaking point as a caregiver. The balance had finally tipped so that putting my husband in a nursing home, knowing that he would never forgive me and would choose to be unhappy for the rest of his life, was the better option. This caused me to be overwhelmed with grief.

Somewhere around this time I became a part of a small musical ensemble which came to be known as the Tequila Mockingbirds. We began to practice singing together every Monday night. We started out as acquaintances that barely knew each other, but have become fast friends. This group has been one of the greatest highlights of 2016.

14650296_1137478606330835_3172704336749185245_n

The Tequila Mockingbirds making their debut performance, “Someone to Watch Over Me”

In early March I managed to get things arranged to transfer Strokeman to a nursing home near me. I had the support of my children and my pastors, and was ready to make the move, when the nursing home decided to back out. This added overwhelming depression to my overwhelming grief. I was not able to do anything other than the bare minimum – providing for Strokeman’s needs. I could not face the prospect of trying again. I could not talk about it. I stopped communicating with anyone, because all the energy I had was needed to just function minimally.

In April my daughter asked if she could take over the pursuit of nursing home placement, and I said yes. On the 19th my children, pastor, and I met with my husband around the dining table to inform him that we were placing him in a nursing home. My oldest son led the meeting, and I just sat there silently watching it all unfold. We transported him that day to a facility in a neighboring town. The rest of that month (and the subsequent months) was spent applying for Medicaid to cover the nursing home, which entailed a paper trail that would circuit the globe, spending down half our assets, and basically rendering us wards of the state. As predicted, Strokeman was angry. He still is.
As soon as I had Strokeman settled in his new room, I made a trip to New Braunfels to see my sister. This would be the first of many trips over the rest of the year to help with the care of my parents and sister.

In May, I started going to a woman counselor, to help me process some of the more personal and difficult aspects of my role as a caregiver. I continue to this day, although not as often or as desperately. I also began going to every possible church meeting and activity. This has been a joy beyond expression after years of sporadic attendance. I saw my youngest son married to his high school sweetheart. It was a beautiful way to end the month.

14046064_10154319679733190_3101157139022645491_n

Family picture at the wedding.

In June, my oldest son and daughter-in-law finalized the adoption of their two children, who had been a part of our family for a year and a half. I flew to Athens, GA to help celebrate this event a few weeks later.

In June I also started going to the local recreation center for exercise classes. I tried several, and determined that yoga was the class the seemed most helpful (and also the only one in which I did not want to punch the instructor by the time class was over). I began soon after to make pithy Facebook statements about my yoga experience. Apparently, they are a big hit. I came into yoga class one day unable to control my tears, and consequently met two women who have become good friends. We see each other at yoga, line dancing at the senior center, and Thursday nights at the winery for supper. They have been such a bonus to my life that I am now recommending crying in public to make friends.

I spent 4th of July in New Braunfels with my brother and nephews from Mexico. I went down again a few weeks later, and was able to be there for my sister’s birthday. It was this month that saw my sister’s tumor marker numbers begin to not respond well to the chemo.

In August my sister, mom and dad came up to my house for what would prove to be my dad’s last road trip. We met some other missionary friends and “kids” at an Indian restaurant in Arlington for a long visit. We also stopped by the hospital on the way home to see another missionary friend and family who had been deterred by some health issues from being able to come to the get together. Also in August, we learned that dad qualified for Hospice, due to his degenerative illness. This service added some much needed support in the home.

September brought more trips to New Braunfels. This was also the first month we took advantage of the respite program through Hospice, putting dad in a local nursing facility for three days in order to give mom and Cindy some rest. Have I mentioned how much we love Hospice? This was also the month I started helping in the 2&3-year-old Sunday School class. What can I say? It’s hilarious, exhausting, endearing, invigorating, and hilarious.

October brought more trips to New Braunfels. This was also the month of our Chorus performance called “Joe’s Place”. We dressed up in 1920’s costumes and sang songs from that era. Huge amount of work and fun.

Right before that performance I flew to a class reunion in Minneola, Florida. It was a great time catching up with friends. I spent time with a friend who had just come through a pretty rough several years, and I learned these things from visiting with him:
1.Googling someone basically gives you gossip, not real information. Even police reports and court reports do not tell the whole story. It’s always a good idea to listen to a friend’s own account of their story before drawing conclusions.
2. Even in worst case outcomes God is still sovereign. He is able to use us for His glory and the furtherance of His Kingdom in the most difficult of circumstances. When your life is virtually dismantled by the maliciousness of other people, you can survive, your marriage can survive, and there will be people who will continue to be your friends with much love and grace (I can’t claim to have been one of those friends in his life, but I witnessed others who were, and they put me to shame for not taking the time to be more of a friend).

14700861_10154481108998190_4660992990983536729_o

RVA class of ’80: we haven’t changed a bit!

In November I had a long talk with my dad about the fact that his body was failing him and his care was quickly becoming more than mom and my sister could reasonably manage at home. I told him how hard it is on a caregiver to finally admit they couldn’t do it anymore, and how my mom and sister would feel guilt and sorrow over having to put him in a nursing home when the time came. I asked him to lay down his life for my mom. He had what was one of his last moments of clarity, in which he told me he knew he was not long for this world, and was not afraid. He also said he would be ok if we needed to put him in a nursing home. He agreed to sign papers, or do whatever needed to be done to prepare for that time.

November brought Thanksgiving, and 4 of my five kids came with their families to my house. We brought Strokeman home for several hours to eat turkey and visit. It was a good time, considering all the various emotions that were being faced on this first family holiday post nursing home placement.

In December we put dad in respite care for a few days, and realized he was not going to be able to come home. He had become very disoriented and was falling several times a day due to forgetting he couldn’t walk. We had hoped to keep him home until after the holidays, but this was not to be. He forgot all he had said about it being ok to be in the nursing home. It was heartbreaking.

15443042_10210145787257202_7417537836537616055_o

One of the last pictures taken with my dad.

Christmas was hard. It was so hard I felt like I had become a Facebook status cliche’ about how holidays can be so hard for some people. We survived.

So now we are in 2017 and already many things have come to pass. My father died in January. I took a trip to New York with my daughters. Right now I am visiting my mom (who is doing great, by the way) while my sister and her husband visit the Cancer Treatment Center of America in Phoenix, Arizona. We’re hoping for good things to come out of that visit, but worry about the financial toll unconventional treatments can take on a family. On Thursday I will fly to Memphis, TN where I will be privileged to speak at a women’s retreat on trusting and treasuring Christ. I look forward to also visiting with long time friends while I am there.

My hope for 2017 is that I will begin to get some sort of a rhythm to my life. Medicaid makes it complicated for me to be actually gainfully employed at the moment, but I want my employment to be gainful in the sense that I want to be doing things that benefit me as a person as opposed to being lazy or aimless. I hope this means writing more consistently, working to rebuild relationships within my church family, practicing hospitality. I will need to sell my house (I know, I just bought it, but this was always the plan), and move into something smaller and more financially manageable. I have opportunity to try my hand at editing some sermons notes for one of my pastors in order to put them in book form. I have goals to exercise more in an effort to prepare for a possible mountain climb in 2018. Chorus practice has started back up, and so the Mockingbirds are making the transition from playing together to working together (which is really a lot like playing together). I am also looking forward to welcoming my army son home after 6 years away. And always, I will continue to work at tending to my husband’s needs as he lives out his worst nightmare in the nursing home.

Posted in The Story | Tagged , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

The Magic of Music

 

255663614_0a71104f63_m

Photo: CD01, flickr.com

He was born to a family with sparse resources, the eldest (and only son) of six children. His earliest memory is of riding atop the burlap sack his mom would fill with cotton during picking season. He didn’t own a pair of shoes.  Both his parents were limited on education, but had an ample supply of grit. They were simple in means, but grand in hospitality. For a time they lived in an abandoned gas station. People sometimes stopped by looking for gas or shelter from a hurricane, and found a cup of coffee and a place to wait out the storm.

I don’t know what his ambitions were as a young child. In his experience higher education meant making it to 9th grade. The only world he knew was hard work for enough pay to put food on the table. He traveled on a train once – to get from the panhandle to east Texas. Did this give him a sense of adventure? A sense of distant lands? I don’t really know.

What I do know is that his family loved music. And when his parents saw the Light and became faithful members of the local Baptist church, they learned the harmonies of the gospel songs and hymns. The family sang all the parts with all their hearts. So it only stands to reason that this country boy would take advantage of the school music program. He learned to play a second-hand tuba provided by the school. He joined the choir. He became the tenor in a male quartet. And that is where the magic happened.  

Somewhere back in 1910, 30 years or so before our story, University of Texas started their University Interscholastic League: a program to “provide educational extracurricular academic, athletic, and music contests” (http://www.uiltexas.org). So our boy found himself at a UIL competition in which his quartet was asked to sing while the judges tallied scores. After they performed, he and his buddies were pulled aside and offered a full scholarship to Hardin Simmons University in Abilene, Tx. There was a small problem though. All the other boys were seniors, and he was only a junior. So this boy who had never spent one second of his life thinking past a high school education enrolled in summer school, graduated early, and made his way to Abilene.

dads-quartet026

That snazzy dresser on the left is my dad.

This scholarship: It wasn’t just a means for a college education. It was a portal to a life he had never dreamed of. It was at Hardin Simmons that he met his beautiful bride, a girl from New Mexico who had a call to foreign missions. They married young and were soon expecting their first child. So the young woman dropped out of college to care for the child. She put her sewing skills to good use making doll clothes to sell, and she cleaned houses. He worked in the county health lab cleaning test tubes until he was called to be a youth leader and music minister at a local church. 

Once he got his degree, they moved to Fort Worth where he started graduate work at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He worked at a nearby dairy cleaning equipment. He had to wait until the dairy had shut down for the day before he started. He often worked till the wee hours of the morning, only to go home and study Greek before going to class. Two more children were born.

Once he graduated from seminary he served in home missions in both Arkansas and West Virginia. And a fourth child was born. It was in West Virginia that his bride finally saw her calling coming to reality. They applied and were accepted to the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board to serve in Tanzania, East Africa (where a few years later the fifth child was born).After almost 15 years overseas, they returned to Texas and helped plant Oakwood Baptist Church in New Braunfels.

This man is my father. In these latter days of his life, he and I have both marveled at his story. How could this young country boy ever know what possibilities would be opened up by a clear voice and a strong musical ear? How could he have foreseen the path on which he was set for the rest of his life? While he always sang, his preaching and teaching became the priority. He remains one of my favorite preachers.

Daddy has been fighting a battle against Parkinson’s for over 20 years now. In the past few years this affliction has taken much of his voice. He can’t preach or teach. He can still sing, but not with the clarity that caused his voice to be heard above the Sunday congregation. On the particularly hard days, he laments that his life has been stolen by the malady that wracks his body. But I don’t see it that way.

This gift of voice, this love of music, he hasn’t lost it. It hasn’t been stolen. He has given it away – to his children and his grand children and his great grand children. He has passed on to his descendants the ear to hear both melody and harmony. We sing, we play instruments, we dance. We have appreciation for a broad spectrum of musical styles from various and sundry countries around the world. We value the beauty of a good chord. And we will keep the magic going for generations to come.

I can’t imagine the sadness I would feel if I began to lose my own vocal capacities. I know it must be very hard to see these things slipping away. Parkinson’s is not a kind companion with whom to travel the road to the River Jordan. But one day that river will be crossed, and my daddy will be given a new body. I love to think his of clear tenor ringing out above the heavenly congregation. I imagine when that happens, all that has been lost on this earth will seem quite insignificant. After all, the most beautiful voice this world has to offer is like an old, out of tune spinet when compared to what is to come.

“When this poor lisping, stammering tongue

  Lies silent in the grave,

Then in a nobler, sweeter song,

  I’ll sing Thy power to save:

  I’ll sing Thy power to save,

  I’ll sing Thy power to save;

Then in a nobler, sweeter song,

  I’ll sing Thy power to save.”

                                                                       (William Cowper)

Posted in We Have These Moments | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments

It is What You Think

I have failed.

I failed to find the right amount of encouragement, grit and determination to propel Strokeman into complete recovery. I failed to even get him to be independent enough to stay home. I failed to find the right combination of supplements and exercises to bring back his mental capacity to a point of being able to come to proper conclusions about decisions that were being made on his behalf. I failed to explain to him adequately why he had to be moved to the one place he never, ever ever wanted to go. (And actually, I failed to get him placed in a nursing home – my daughter had to take that over for me). I have had to finally and completely give up on the dream that somehow I would be enough to make him better – that somehow I would be strong and savvy enough to be able to keep him home with me, and that he would be grateful and love me for it.

I am not enough.

My counselor gave me this analogy to describe where I find myself these days: Some women whose husbands have a catastrophic event are given what seems like a boulder to push, but they are at the top of a hill, and with just a little pushing, the boulder gains momentum and begins to roll down the other side. Some women are given that boulder at the bottom of the hill, and with a tremendous amount of pushing they are able to make progress in very small increments until they reach a summit of sorts. And some women (me) are given a brick wall at the bottom of the hill. And no matter how hard they push against it, it isn’t going to budge. These women have to find a way around the wall, or a door through the wall. According to her, placing my husband in the nursing home is my door.

This analogy was helpful to me, but to be honest, there are still days that I feel like I opened that door in the wall and found another wall. Every time he calls me to beg me to come help him because no-one is answering his call light. Every time he tells me that I have abandoned him. Every time I hear someone say things like, “Don’t ever put me in a place like that” or “I’m glad my mom didn’t do that to my dad”  it hits me in the face again – rough, hard bricks scratching and bruising and never budging.

And the guilt. The guilt of being able to be involved with our children when he is not. The guilt of being able to get in the car and drive to visit friends I haven’t seen in years, and family that I have not been able to spend time with. The guilt of spending like there is no tomorrow so that I can qualify for much needed help from government agencies. The guilt of relishing a bed to myself and a full night’s sleep. Why do I get to have the new car and the new furniture and the freedom to do what I want, while Strokeman is lying in a bed in a place that he never wanted to be, feeling neglected and abandoned? And while I’m at it, I may as well tell you: I don’t go see him every day. I just can’t.

If I let myself think about this too much, I find myself falling into despair.

And so. I set my sight on “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy…” Here is my meditation. (Philippians 4:8,9).

True: In accordance with fact or reality (New Oxford American Dictionary).

The reality is that I am not able to continue to care for Strokeman at home. The fact is that while the nursing home does not care for him the way I would choose, he is fed and bathed and cared for in an adequate way. The reality is that Strokeman’s brain is permanently damaged, so his ability to see things in a rational manner is impossible. I need to stop expecting, or even hoping for him to understand why I have made the decisions I have made. I need to stop expecting or even hoping that he will realize that I still love him and have always been faithful.
But all this is small potatoes in terms of truth. What is true according to the Scriptures is that I am not required to be successful in this life. I am not designed to be enough on my own. But God. Yes, this is the reality. This is the fact that keeps me from despairing:

“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of HIs great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in HIs kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:4-7

This is a comfort to me, not only in terms of my own life, but also in terms of my dear beloved Strokeman. The reality is that I don’t often see much in terms of sanctification in him. Once in a while, the window opens and I see his spirit being nourished by the Word, but the effect is usually short lived. Regardless of this, I am confident that He who began a good work in Strokeman will be faithful to complete it. The fact is that Strokeman is as safe in the arms of his Savior as he has ever been. Just as my standing in Christ is not dependent on my ability to live up to the expectations of myself, my husband, and the world at large, so my husband’s standing in Christ is not dependent on his ability to think rationally about life. This is true.

Noble: Honorable: proper motives, manners, and morals (William Hendriksen).

I have always strived to be noble, albeit in a fairly pharisaical way. I want others to see my good works and amazing wisdom and praise me. Well right now, the person on this earth whose opinion I value most thinks I am unfaithful and negligent. Who knows what the rest of the world thinks? Again I am driven back to the truth of scripture.

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. Colossians 4:4

Daily I must put to death that need in me to worry about what people think about the way I conduct my life. I have to do battle with myself every time I go to visit Strokeman and he reminds me of my many failures. I am not here to be a man-pleaser. I must do what is right to the best of my ability, and let people think what they will. If the truth be known, most people don’t take the time to think anything about my situation. But even if they do find time to pass judgement on me, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if it is good, it doesn’t matter if it is bad. God’s opinion of me is the only one that counts, and His opinion of me is one of no condemnation because of the blood of His Son.

Just: behaving according to what is morally right and fair (New Oxford American Dictionary)

I have been taught well by my pastors about what are my just desserts. I know that apart from Christ, I would deserve eternal separation from God. My sin has condemned me, and it is Christ who has paid the price. So I don’t often allow myself the “It’s not fair!” statement. But there are times when I see others who have been given the gift of 60 years of “real” marriage, or when I hear of someone coming back from the doors of death and disability to live a normal life, that I hear that little voice in my head. It’s not fair! Why my husband? Why my family? In earthly terms, it isn’t fair. OK. So what am I going to do about that?

“He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

While life isn’t fair, I can be morally right and fair in the way I conduct myself. Because I needed Medicaid to help me pay for Strokeman’s nursing home, I have submitted myself to this government bureaucracy. They have provisions for a “spouse in the community”, and for that I am grateful. But what I am left to live on is significantly less than what I am accustomed to. It’s a bit shocking to go from spending down assets in a matter of months, to living on less than half of your original income. I have to admit to spending way too much mental energy trying to find a way around the system. It’s amazing how deceptive my heart can be as I justify my courses of action by couching them in acts of benevolence and service. “I want to keep my big house so I can practice hospitality”, “I want a home with a guest house so I can rent to seminary students.” All the while what I want is a way to supplement my paltry income and keep my things.

This world is not my home. These things do not belong to me. So I am prying my hand open to let go of them. I know that whatever I am left with when this transition is over is what God would have me use for His glory and the furtherance of His kingdom. I lay it all down at His feet and pray, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done”.

Pure: wholesome and untainted by immorality (New Oxford American Dictionary).

In the writing of this blog, this is where I walked away for two weeks. This word has to do with being chaste. I have been chaste. I want to say that, and just leave it lying there and move on to what is lovely. But I have been accused of just about every immorality there is to be accused of. And somewhere along the way I began to carry around the guilt of these accusations, even though I know they are not true. I know that no matter how pure I have been in the eyes of man, I still come back to the inadequacy of my own righteousness. I keep trying to defend myself on my own merit, and I know that before God I have none. Oh, wait. Yes I do.

“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8: 1,2.

I must continue to come back to the One who has breathed life into my once dead heart. He is my righteousness. Had I done everything I have been accused of, it would have been washed away in His blood. I must not allow the accusations of man or the Great Deceiver to distract me from the Truth of my salvation. I have been bought with a price, and I am free.

Lovely: exquisitely beautiful.(New Oxford American Dictionary)

You know what’s lovely? (In no particular order)

Waking up after a good night’s sleep and having a cup of tea in bed.
Opening the blinds in the bedroom.
Making my bed (I never thought that was lovely until I went five years without being able to).
Spending time with my children and grandchildren
Line dancing and yoga classes.
Chorus and Ensemble practices.
Parties with friends.
Spending time with my siblings and parents.
New furniture.
New car.
Playing loud music in the house.
Being able to go to church and stay the whole day.
My pastors who have learned more about me than they ever wanted to know and are still the most tender, loving shepherds this little sheep could ever need.
Essential Oils and Ningxia Red.
Friends who love me patiently and fiercely.
A glass of wine and a piece of chocolate and a conversation about deep theological issues with friends.
The sweet and gentle love of the Great Shepherd who calls me by name and carries me when I can’t walk another step.

This is not a complete list. There have been so many lovely things in the last few months I sometimes think I am living someone else’s life. I want to meditate on these things. I want to savor them. I want to mull them over and inhale deeply the sweet aroma of them. I want to revel in them.

Good Report: A report that is good (my own interpretation – brilliant, right?)

When our kids were young, and we left them with a babysitter, I can still hear my husband’s voice telling them we wanted to hear a good report about them when we got back. So let me take this opportunity to give a good report about my children.

I marvel at the way they have come alongside me in this journey. They have done their best to respect my privacy and my right to make decisions for myself and my husband, while gently urging me to take care of myself. When things finally reached a breaking point, and I sought the help of my pastors, and I was encouraged to tell my children the gory details of what I was dealing with, they received it calmly and spoke their love and support of me. Many times they have positioned themselves between me and my husband and willingly taken the brunt of his words. They love me. They love me well.

I worked hard at being a mom. Strokeman was a good dad. But I gotta tell you. We failed a lot. I look at my kids and I cannot believe how very blessed I am. I can’t take credit for the way they have turned out. I know I am not capable of such greatness. God has been incredibly gracious to me to turn such feeble efforts into such beautiful results.

And then there is the good report that we call the Gospel.

How grateful I am for the goodness of God that He saw fit to save me from the depths of sin and hell and bring me into His family through the blood of Jesus Christ. This is the ultimate virtue and praise. All the rest of the things in this life are peripheral to my relationship as a child of the King. My failures are not noteworthy in the light of His success. My sorrows are nothing compared to the joy that is in Christ Jesus. This world is not my home. It is a place of preparation. So I strive to have a heart like Mary who said, “Let it be to me according to Your word.”

And so to Him I leave it all.

Posted in The Story | 22 Comments

I Will Be Here

1924100_33322108189_1905_n

Sorry, our wedding pictures are still in a box somewhere. This was at our daughter, Hannah’s wedding.

 

November 18 marks my 25th wedding anniversary. Wedding anniversaries are by nature a thing two people share. I know I should say our anniversary, but for the life of me I can’t. I have been married to the same man for 25 years, but I have not been married to the same man for 25 years. Anyone who has been married that long knows that none of us are really married to the same person we married however many years ago. We change. Life takes its toll and we change. I am not the same person I was 25 years ago. I would wager that I have changed almost as drastically as Strokeman has in the past four and a half years.

Part of surviving for me has been to detach myself a bit from my relationship with my husband. But however painful it is to grieve the loss of what was I don’t want to forget it. I want to remember who it was I fell in love with, so that I can continue to care for this man I am still married to with compassion and tenderness. I have to work at this every day – this balance between keeping enough distance to make it possible for me to exist in the role of caregiver to a man whose brain just doesn’t have the capacity to really see me, and staying engaged enough in who he was to remember why I am doing this. And so. For my benefit more than yours, I am going to remember those first days.

I was 28 and single. I was working as a medical social worker in Rowlett, Texas. I lived in Dallas, but had begun attending a church in south Fort Worth for reasons that started with a Sunday school class on Romans back in 1982. I know it isn’t fashionable these days, but all I really wanted was to be married and have kids.

There was this man at my church. I had heard about him for a few months on the prayer list – a divorce, custody issues, etc. Then I began to notice him sitting there on Sunday mornings with his daughter and son. What I noticed was how gentle he was as he spoke to his children. He seemed so tenderhearted with them especially his daughter. It won my heart. I mentioned him to my best friend, Jann, then dismissed it out of hand – he probably didn’t know I exist, and what would possess me to want to deal with an ex-wife and stepchildren? But secretly I dreamed of being the one to bring healing to broken hearts.

One Sunday he came to church holding hands with a pretty little blond woman attended by two sons. I heard through the grapevine that they were engaged. “So much for that,” I thought. I went back to working my career and pining away for the life I wanted. “I would be happy for the rest of my life if I could just get married and have children!”

A few months later I received a letter in the mail from Lillian, Texas. I thought it might be an informal wedding invitation. Instead, it was a letter from this man. “I have observed your ministry in the church among the children and the young people and have been greatly blessed by your singing…” Thus began an old fashioned correspondence between us. (Apparently things hadn’t worked out with the pretty blonde.) During this time we saw very little of each other at church. We each had obligations that kept us away.IMG_1907

Finally, after several letters had been exchanged, Strokeman wrote, “Would you like to have dinner with me?” My response was a snarky, “Don’t you think we ought to actually talk to each other on the phone or something?” That phone call! It was my first introduction to the fact that Strokeman doesn’t communicate well over the phone. We have laughed over the years about how we might never have made it to the altar if we had started with that phone call.

We continued to write, but added a weekly dinner date. Very soon, Strokeman began to make noises about marriage. I tried to be the voice of reason. We hardly knew each other! We needed to take our time. I managed to hold him off 9 days short of 8 months from the first letter. 6 months from the first date.

It didn’t take long to learn that getting married and having kids was not going to be the thing to keep me happy forever. It was a hard first year. I was selfish and set in my ways. He was wounded and insecure. But we made it. We made it, and we grew to love and appreciate each other. We built a beautiful, traditional marriage. He went to work and I stayed home and raised our children. We didn’t have a perfect marriage, but we did have a good one. I can remember more than one day thinking to myself what a blessing it was to be married to THIS man. I was thankful for all the good in him and in the way we worked through the problems and became best friends. He taught me to be loving and kind. I taught him how to appreciate a good pun (well, tolerate anyway) and how to come up with a song for any subject. He taught me to appreciate creation science, I taught him to enjoy layers of texture in food. He gave me his love for trees. I gave him my love for a good cup of tea with milk and sugar.

So here we are, 25 years later, and I still love him as much as I ever did. It hurts more now, but I still love him. His anniversary gift will come in the mail today. “The Midnight Special” – 11 DVD’s of music from the ‘70’s. It’s one of many things he sees advertised on TV that he thinks he must buy.

My little brother sang “I Will Be Here” by Steven Curtis Chapman  at our wedding. I didn’t realize at the time how this would all play out in our lives, but now, when Strokeman accuses me of never loving him and having been unhappy our entire married life, I just say to him, “Tommorrow morning when you wake up, I will be here.”

Posted in The Story | 29 Comments

Meanwhile….

Bringing Strokeman home from the skilled nursing facility was not a smooth process. The week had been filled with ice and snow. I feared getting stranded between there and home with him in the car. By the afternoon of his discharge day, things had melted off enough for us to make our way home. Strokeman is not an easy patient. He had alienated his caregivers in the nursing home, and they were not sad to see him leave. We were both happy to have gotten through the difficult month and were ready for the old normal.

But things did not go back to the old normal. While Strokeman had regained much of his strength, there were still issues to be dealt with that had not been part of the package prior to his sickness. He had been catheterized in the hospital, and while they had removed the catheter a week before discharge from the nursing home, there was still a bit of bladder training to do. He was much less stable on his feet, and fell several times over the next few weeks. One day I gave him a pill to swallow in the bed and he choked on it. I sat him up to help him cough it up, but he passed out and fell out of the bed, hitting his head on the bedside table on the way to the floor (picture me standing over him letting out repeated bursts of scream).

The worst of it, though, was the changes I saw in his personality. He was angry with me for having sent him to the skilled nursing facility, and fearful that I would send him back. His anger fed his tendency to be suspicious and wildly accusatory of me. He exhibited other behaviors that were uncharacteristic. I won’t go into details of all the difficulties that came. Suffice it to say that these things would have never been a part of his personality prior to the stroke. I was shocked, hurt, and confused as to how to reason with this person who was living in an alternate reality. I was quickly losing anything I had gained in terms of rest, as he would often wake me up at night to voice his grievances.

As I have many times before, I sought the aid of my pastor and his wife. While Larry visited with Strokeman to call him back to his senses, I poured my heart out to Cindy, confessing things about the past few years that I had not expressed to anyone else. How grateful I am for their love and support through this time! My pastor does his best to walk the line between being understanding of Strokeman’s limitations and not letting him excuse sin. He helps me see more clearly how I need to respond to the problems as they come. He does the hard job of saying things that need to be said. He is able, where I am not, to help Strokeman reign in the vain imaginings and enter the world of reality. Through Larry’s faithful ministry, Strokeman has come to be more subdued and manageable. Through Cindy’s faithful friendship, I have worked through much of the guilt and heartache and have gained the courage to keep moving forward.

At the suggestion of my pastor, I began to explore Strokeman’s medications to see if any of them might be causing the changes I was seeing. I asked pharmacists, read side effect lists, scoured online patient forums, and consulted with the social worker at the nursing home. There was no evidence that his medications were related to the behaviors that I was seeing. Instead, the evidence was pointing towards the area of the brain that was destroyed by the stroke. As I considered this, I realized that these behaviors had been in play on some level since the very beginning. It was as if putting him in the nursing home broke the last hold and all that had been festering beneath the surface came pouring out.

The social worker told me that it is not uncommon for things to get progressively worse. She encouraged me to start looking at the long term and begin planning for an inevitable nursing home placement. I knew she was right, but my heart still rebelled at the thought.

Meanwhile, my pastor encouraged me to meet with my children and give them a thorough understanding of all that was happening with their father. How I hated the idea of telling these things to my kids! I did not want to add to the pain that had already come to them through the events of the past 4 years. It was a difficult conversation. It confirmed for my children all they had been concerned about in January. They, too, encouraged me to begin working toward an inevitable nursing home placement.

I have to say that the realization of what I had to do was more devastating than the day-to-day trials of caring for Strokeman. It felt like ever so much failure. It felt like the opposite of “in sickness and in health”. The battle with depression was overwhelming. As I worked to get the house ready to sell, I grieved. Going through Strokeman’s closet was the hardest. I wept as I put his tractor overalls and work trousers in a box to discard. Every time I think there is no crying left to be done, another layer of grief rises to the surface.

My friend, and social worker, and chorus director, Lynda, gave me the name of a Medicaid advisor who would educate me on the laws surrounding spousal protection in the course of nursing home placement. I made an appointment to meet with him.  My oldest son, Caleb, flew into town to go to this appointment with me. Through this meeting, subsequent email communication and hours on the phone with my financial advisor, I have been able to come up with a plan to work within the laws to provide for Strokeman’s needs without becoming financially devastated in the process.

As with the idea of selling my home, this added burden of making financial decisions and working toward a plan that would only solidify Strokeman’s suspicions of me was overwhelming. But in each case, as the days unfolded, God’s grace was poured out in unbelievable ways. As I cried out to God with a million “how will I ever…?” prayers, He cleared the way for the next step. Things that seemed absolutely impossible have been accomplished with relative ease. Things are falling into place.

It can be done.

It can be done.

Posted in The Story | Tagged , | 27 Comments