Lent Day 19: I could never capture it all……

San Angelo

How can I ever capture what today was? It was joy, tears, memories, laughter and stories all wrapped up in a wonderful day that I can’t fully capture here. Bobby and I took a walk along the Concho River this morning that runs by the Hotel and got a little snatch of nature while listening to the birds. Elaine, Bobby (Elaine’s brother) and I picked up their cousin Gerry…..after that the laughter just kind of continued throughout the day. I won’t even try to explain it. I don’t think I could fully do it justice, maybe someday I will try for now I am simply played out.

We did end up visiting Mt. Carmel Hermitage Monastery and also Our Lady of Grace Monastery, both courtesy of Gerry Dupree. The day started with own ceremony of bringing Vernon Curtis Dupree back to his homeland and beloved Texas which he loved. It was a privilege to be able to take part in this journey and final stop for him until that final Resurrection Day of the Lord which is our hope.

All in all, it was a day that will live in all of our memories because it was full of some of the very best this life has to offer, a few tears, many memories and much more laughter to hold it all together.

My words are few tonight, I am still full of voices and stories that are far too colorful for me to capture here…………but I leave you with a few words from the vestibule at Our Lady of Grace Monastery:

God of Love, through this Lenten journey, purify my desires to serve you. Free me from an temptations to judge others, to place myself above others. Please let me surrender even my impatience with others, that with your love and your grace, I might be less and less absorbed with myself, and more and more full of the desire to follow you. in laying down my life according to Your purpose.

And thank you Lord, for the dear lady who came graciously out when she saw our car and let me in to see the beautiful church……I felt an immediate kinship.

Thank you Bobby (who walked the stations of the cross with me) and Elaine who drove us miles to get there, and to Gerry for showing us these treasures. I love you all……….

The veil has holes

My walk in the woods

Last night was a very strange night. I cried almost all the way home and didn’t know why. I had a sense of foreboding I couldn’t shake. This school shooting has weighed heavy on my soul. Just too much heartache there for one incident. Too much sorrow for one town to carry. So I thought it was maybe that.

Then I thought about Elaine’s folks. I remembered the times when they were healthier and they would go to church with us. I still remember the day we almost dropped our teeth when her Dad unfolded his wallet and put money in the plate. We have both heard them say many times that “churches are only after your money.” Her Mom was even talking Baptism.

I asked God how it is that somebody can get so close to seeing a better way of life and turning away. To stepping all the way up to the river of life and then turning back around….leaving thirsty. 

Then I remembered how many times I had done just that.

When I came through the door Elaine was teary-eyed as well. “I think Mom’s having a heart attack…..what should I do?” She has been through this with her Mom already years ago. And she knew what to do, she just needed someone else to help her carry the load.

“Nothing,” I said….we do nothing because that’s what she said she wanted.

Her Mom’s own words were: “I don’t want to be cut on anymore.” And I can see why. She has been through cancer twice, including a mastectomy, chemo and radiation, 2 heart attacks, and a triple bypass. As a nurse, she diagnosed herself with Alzheimer’s around 10 years ago.

She is done with treatments. And hospitals.

But when you are the one standing there with life and death hanging in the balance, it’s not that easy. Our first instinct is always to do something. But sometimes the right choice is to let nature and God choose. Giving someone what they have chosen is the hardest thing to do because it’s right.

The reason Elaine knew that there was really something wrong was because her Mom didn’t fight her on anything getting ready for bed, and lately that has been the norm.

She went on to tell me that both cats acted strangely all evening. As if they knew something was wrong. Briggs wouldn’t let her Mom alone, he kept following her to her room and jumping on the bed. She finally had to close the door.

So we watched TV and prayed. Elaine had asked her Mom if when the time came, that she would ask God to take her soul. Her Mom said yes. There was no need for a big theological discussion. She knows where salvation comes from, she was raised on it.

And all the while, I remembered how last Christmas was spent in the hospital with her Mom, alone…and I vowed it would never happen again.

Today when I called at lunch she said they were at Subway and her Mom was eating and felt okay, with no recollection of ever feeling bad.

And today, I am feeling how just thin that veil between life and death can be.  Any one of us could be instantly on the other side, and not necessarily who you might expect.

The most important thing I may never tell you

To everyone I care about and even those I don’t know or love:

I want you to go. To Heaven that is. And no matter what you may have been taught or believe. It exists……..and believe me, you will very much want to go there. You will not come back here again as something else, this is your one chance.

Behind every moment eternity rests. Eternity awaits…….

I am telling you this because I care. And as I was praying this morning, and thanking God for the assurance that I am going there, as will most of the people I love, I thought of you. And I knew that right now if something happened, you wouldn’t.

And more than anything else? I want you to understand that it is not for anything I have done that I go to that wonderful place, that place of unapproachable light, but only for what Jesus did.

For me…..For you.

And that other place? You really don’t want to go there. No comfort from friends waits for you there. There is only the absence of everything good, everything you ever loved. And forever is a very long time to gamble on. I hate writing this……hate to think that people are dying right now and will miss out on something eternally good, because no one told them.

Because they ignored the voice that spoke in the quiet.

Day after day.

Because they never got a letter like this.

Please know, that it doesn’t have to be. You have an incredible opportunity to be with the God who created you for all eternity. He wants you with Him…….

And no, we won’t be floating around on clouds playing harps. It will be as real a place as you can possible imagine. In fact, the Bible says we don’t even have the capacity to know just how good it will be, only that it will exceed our wildest imaginations.

That light that you see every morning and every evening? Those planets? Those were set there just so. As reminders of where we come from and where we are going back to someday.

And it may be very soon. The tragedy is that you will never see this letter. It will most likely remain right here, because you see, I don’t want to offend you. The truth is, I would rather see you go to hell than offend you, because I really like you……

I just don’t love you enough.

Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens.

Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Psalm 8, proof that He loves you.
Still counting the gifts, every day, every Monday too……

The race worth running

I sometimes think of her when I see a little girl of four or five. She was my Grandma and Grandpa’s first child. I have her name in between my own first and last, and maybe that’s why I wonder after so many years, who and what she would have become.

That day must have started out like any other. Rising early, they would have had their chores. My Grandmother had given Annie a task, to put the wood on the stove and dry it out. Annie forgot about it, as a five year old will and Grandma had scolded her. After that she went outside to play with the little boy, a foster child they had taken in.

And propped up against the building was the shotgun my Grandfather had left out. Back in those days you needed guns handy then, kept loaded for coyotes, wolves…..predators that would attack your cows, horses, chickens.

The boy picked it up meaning no harm, they just were playing after all. And he was so young himself, he couldn’t have known what he was doing. He pointed, and the gun went off, hitting Annie in the stomach and I can’t even think of what my Grandfather thought as the shot rang out. I can scarely imagine the horror of what they found.

Back then, there were no ambulances, no 911, no cell phones, no help.

My Grandmother, held her as she suffered and died. And my Grandfather, grief stricken, went after the boy and couldn’t find him. And oh how he must have suffered a lifetime of guilt after that, for leaving that gun out. I am not sure my Grandmother ever forgave him.

He died when he was only 64, of stomach cancer when I was only two. He loved me, I know this for sure. He called me his “Blonden Engel,” that’s blonde-haired angel in German and I hope that when he looked in my eyes, he saw a bit of her. I hope that I eased his pain just a little bit, this good and Godly man who always asked strangers if they knew the Lord.

And I think of my Grandmother, and how she must have felt holding her little girl and knowing there was nothing at all she could do to save her. And of the guilt she must have felt the rest of her life for scolding her that day. And I wonder about that poor boy who fled. How his life turned out……he was never found or heard from again to my knowledge.

I think of the current battle over gun ownership and gun control, and how passing laws and restricting gun ownership will never keep accidents from happening, or madmen from going on shooting sprees. The criminals will still have them.

And in the final analysis, it’s not guns or gun control that will ever save us, it’s Jesus.

Always Jesus. And no matter how hard or crazy things get in this world? He assures me it’s worth it. Because of Annie, because of my Grandpa, because of so many others.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. Hebrews 12:1

What He said

No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. Romans 8:37

I had a rough start this morning. I was feeling under the weather, but I successfully made it out the door. I have one more day and then I get on a plane to go see friends and family and one little girl who has been very excited that I am coming. Every day for a month she has been asking…..”Lori come today?”  It is somewhat bittersweet……it is hard to leave when I know how difficult it will be without me here. But I have a very gracious friend, and she knows how important it is for me to be there too.

I gave out a relieved sigh as I got in the car and buckled in. I slid the CD into the player, the one I picked somewhat blindly since I didn’t have my glasses on. As the notes filled the car I felt the beauty played by Phil Keaggy flow through my soul. Healing…..incredible, the power that music has to heal.

As I watched the light fill the sky and turn it every different shade of violet, I remembered what I heard last night from Ellen Johnson, president of the American Atheists,  as interviewed by Barbara Walters.

“Heaven doesn’t exist, hell doesn’t exist. We weren’t alive before we were born and we’re not going to exist after we die. I’m not happy about the fact that that’s the end of life, but I can accept that and make my life more fulfilling now, because this is the only chance I have,” she tells Walters.

No, I thought, I don’t accept it, absolutely not.  And everything I see and hear and feel around me tells me otherwise. This is the tip of the iceberg, my friends. And to me, this morning, Heaven felt more real than anything else. And besides, as Elaine said, if we are wrong, then we have simply lived a good life, but if she is wrong……I said, “Yeah, it’s gonna be a very long eternity.”

I have seen people die with Christ, and I have seen people die without Him, and I can tell you this for sure. The ones with Christ have the lights of Heaven reflected in their eyes when they go, I have seen it myself.

I believe the proof I see all around me, and I take Jesus at His word that Heaven is very real indeed. When people ask me what I believe about Heaven, all I need to do is point to Jesus and say…”What He said.”

This is only the beginning.
“But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,”What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” 1 Corinthians 2:7-9

Beside the still waters

For the Scripture says: “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed”………Romans 10:11
Last night I stayed up most of the night to take care of a sick little cat. He has been coughing and hiding under the bed. I really thought that today he would be the day to take him in. I know many people, even Christians who make light of the sickness or death of a beloved pet. “It’s not the same,” they say, “as when a human dies.” They make light of the grief…..
But one thing I know. Death feels like death, and grief feels like grief…….It’s the same blackness, the same hell we escaped from….just barely.  It’s the same tears spilling down…..it’s comfort that is needed, and to do anything less is to ignore Holy Scripture…..for this is the truth of it:
“Now we who are strong ought to bare the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.” Romans 15:1, 2
And, also:
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2
And you just don’t know, there may be an ocean of events leading up to this one thing that brakes the back of the camel……
As I tossed and turned last night, all I could think of was all the other grief, from all the other times. Funerals, memorials, big ugly flower arrangements and holes in the dark cold earth. They all mean the same thing. The thing that should never have been. But the thing we must live with every day until Jesus comes again.
I thought again how very unnatural illness is, how foreign death was when the world was new. And how very wrong.
But on the opposite corner stands Jesus and He is our life……Thanks be to God!
I recited the 23rd Psalm as I waited for sleep to come. I thought of a little white cat lying down beside me in green pastures……I pictured us sitting on the shore, watching the quiet waters lap upon the shore.
I am happy to say, this morning Sydney is still with us. He sat on my lap for awhile this morning and ate and drank water. He is back under the bed but the coughing has subsided for now.
And with the morning came grace for awhile yet.

When God Speaks

I was going to write about something entirely different today, but then I read Duane Scott’s post over at Michelle’s place. I remembered something my Dad told me when I was back home this last time……As I read about what Duane so rightly calls, the hard hallelujah, 24 years fell away and I thought about my own period of deep grief and all the events that threatened to swallow my family whole.
Dad told me about the night that God spoke…….It was a Tuesday evening and he was getting ready for a prayer meeting he usually attended. Something kept holding him back. He chalked it up as laziness and continued getting ready. But there was a weight, a heaviness that seemed to be holding him back.
He went but didn’t participate in the prayer……He sat quietly in the back, trying to pray, but feeling like he wasn’t supposed to be there.
Oppressed by a darkness he couldn’t explain.
He says it was as if a strong undertow was pulling him back home. The voice, the Holy Spirit within him was growing louder and more insistent as the night wore on. “Go home and go quickly.”
It wasn’t audible, it didn’t have to be.
Right after he got home the phone rang. It was me calling from Mexico and to this day I don’t remember either calling, or the conversation. What my Dad did understand was that the man I had just married three days before had died in an accident and I was left alone…..in a country not my own.
On what was supposed to be my honeymoon…….
If my Dad had not heeded God’s voice, my Mom would have had to take that call alone. I don’t think she could have handled it.
So while the glow of the wedding was still bright and fresh, the bouquet still in bloom….while relatives had barely had time to get home, they had to come back for a memorial.
And I had to figure out what to do with a future I had all planned out.
The grief was so deep I thought I would never get out. It affected us all. God watched me mess up, veer wildly off the path at times. He watched me deal with the grief all wrong, and that must have been painful for Him to watch…..But in all that time, He never left me.
There are no words for sadness that goes so deep. I remember we all said, “How can the birds still be singing?” In all of our hard hallelujahs no words of comfort ever sound right. But now that I am so far on the other side of that grief, I can comfort others in a way someone else can’t and I know it.
But how to comfort when there are no words? The best thing can be just your presence, a hug….shared tears. A listening ear……..Stopping by after everyone else goes away.
You might ask the question, “Well, if God spoke once, why didn’t He speak another warning? Why didn’t He intervene in the big thing that happened…..Why didn’t He prevent it?”
There is an answer that comforts me, and I know it to be true. I know my God. There is a reason He didn’t intervene, but I don’t know what it is. Maybe it was because He was saving me or someone else from an even greater grief further down the road. That is what I choose to believe….it’s how I find comfort.
I didn’t always have peace about it, but I do now. All these years later, the “why” question matters less and less. Heaven is not nearly as far as we think. The joy that springs up in the heart even in the midst of unbearable sorrow is proof. For we know where they are…….

Though He didn’t keep the awful event from happening, I know He loves me more than anything, and I know He was with me every step of the way.

The death of a child is much harder for me to understand. I can’t imagine that kind of grief.

All I know is that He loves us so very much, even more than we can imagine, and He loves our loved one even more than we do.

Whoever reads this, please whisper a prayer for Duane, the grieving parents of his nephew and all the family. Thank you Duane, for such a beautiful and real post today and thank you Michelle for sharing it.

Louis and Jesus

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:7,8 

When you spend any amount of time in a rest home, you get to know some of the residents. You walk the halls and notice things, people. You are grabbed by the desperation that seems to live and breathe there…..Many times the vacant stares we are greeted with make us want to dash out the door and take a deep breath of the fresh air of the living. We recoil at the bleakness of it all and none of us wants to think about the possibility of going there someday. I call it God’s waiting room.

It was on such a walk through the halls, that Elaine met Louis. He was sitting in the doorway of his room reading His Bible. It was the Bible she noticed first. She greeted him in the engaging way she has…..she is a real people person. He brightly said, “The book of Numbers!” She noticed his sweet spirit and the light in his eyes…..the gentleness in his soul. There was hope there. He said, “I read this Book everyday.” She told him how wonderful that was. His walls were adorned with Scripture verses, pictures and books. Louis was still very much in the land of the living.

She made a habit of looking for Louis every time she went in. One day she wanted to introduce me to him, but he was out. His family had come and taken him visiting. Louis told her that he came from a long line of Preachers. His Grandfather, his Dad and he were all Pastors, and so were both of Louis sons!

One day while they were having church in the main hall, we spied Louis sitting in back……his well worn Bible open on his lap.

After being gone for awhile, we went back looking for Louis but he was nowhere to be found. The nurse said that about 2 weeks before, he had died peacefully in his sleep…… Louis is with Jesus now. We rejoiced for him. He knew where his strength lay and where his hope rested. His happiness and joy didn’t depend on his circumstances. Instead of spending time wishing he were someone else, he communed with Jesus every single day in that rest home. Louis, like Mary, chose the better portion. He spent his days listening to voice of Hope.

So much of it is about choice, isn’t it? Life and death. Some have continued to choose life and some have given up and closed themselves off to it.

Louis chose life.

“Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, between prosperity and disaster.” Deuteronomy 30:15
Each day brings forth the same choice, life and death. To dwell on all the riches of God’s blessings, or to dwell on everything we don’t have or feel cheated out of. To be grateful or miserable. Really, we are all in God’s waiting room, whether we know it or not. One small step away from eternity.

We will miss seeing Louis there reading his Bible. It was an encouragement to me, just to know he was reading those words of life, still trusting in His savior. But now when I think of Louis, I smile…..knowing that the waiting for Louis is over. He is basking in Godlight.

With every Monday that rolls around, I am amazed that I still have so much to thank Him for:

The best night’s sleep I have had in awhile…..fresh okra from the garden…..people who speak life to me everyday….hope for the coming cool weather….piles of books that speak encouragement…..shelter from the unbearable heat outside….the end of another week’s work…..time spent just hanging out, laughing, talking with my best friend who is so grateful for me, and tells me so often…..a beautiful awe-inspiring sky coming home from work…..being able to buy special things to send to my family, along with my love. #701-712

Upside down justice

“Can anyone teach God knowledge to God, Since He judges even the highest? One man dies in his full strength, being wholly at ease and secure; his body is well-nourished, his bones rich with marrow. Another man dies in the bitterness of his soul, never having enjoyed anything good.” Job 21:22-25
Does it ever seem like we are living in an upside down world? Evil acts go unpunished. Something in us wants, craves justice. Sometimes we feel like taking matters into our own hands. There have been several movies that portray someone doing just that. The other night I happened upon one. I was over at someone’s house and a movie started. There was a heartfelt scene with a Dad and his daughter lovingly interacting. Then it all went terribly wrong. A home invasion. Three men burst in, killed the wife, kidnapped and later killed the daughter. The father barely survived. It was merciless, they killed without remorse. I left after the first scene.  
I later found out what happened. The “perps” got off, so the Dad ended up finding all three and ingeniously divising each one’s torturous death. He ended up terrorizing the whole town and in the end, he was blown up. Death by napalm. It wasn’t a satisfactory end for anyone. No one got justice, and nothing he did gave him any satisfaction in the end. He died clinging to a necklace his daughter made for him. It was hopeless.
We may say about someone, why is this person still taking up air? They do no good for anyone, they are miserable and life seems like a chore to them. There is no joy in their days, and they weigh others down with their bleak outlook. Why, we wonder, can’t they just die peacefully in their sleep? But thankfully, that is not up to me to decide. I am sure I would get it all wrong.

When my thoughts meander in that direction, the only way I know to get peace is to give God back His sovereignty. At times like that, it is tempting to wrestle it away from Him. But He alone has control of how many breaths, years, months, anyone has. We must give back to God’s what is God’s. When I let it rest with Him, He blesses me with the peace and strength I so desperately seek.

My thoughts calm.

I don’t have to worry about justice. I know that belongs to God. All that is wrong will one day be made right. And in the meantime, I will rest in Him. I remember how mercifully He has dealt with me.

The Word is a tremendous comfort in times like these. When I read these words in Job today, I was reassured. Others have felt the same way down through the ages. But God doesn’t change. And one thing is for sure. I can rest in His justice, and mercy. For really, what does any of us deserve?

It is because of His great love and mercy He has saved us from what we all deserve.

Because of His love for me, I get what I don’t deserve.

The Final Frontier

One sings in her wheelchair as she is pushed along the halls, mostly Que Sara, Que Sara, sometimes Amazing Grace. She has an amazingly strong voice. We try to meet all their faces as we pass, and say hello and smile. You have the sense of wanting to give them back their humanity in this land of the seemingly lonely and forgotten.
When I first started to do the nursing home thing again, I recoiled. It felt like the Land of the Lost. My friend calls it the Roach Motel. You check in but you don’t check out.
Where my Uncle is staying there is a gentleman there who insists that he will get to Heaven by train. When my Aunt sees him, he makes the announcement, “I have my ticket, I am leaving today at three o’clock.” Hey I kind of like that idea, like going to Heaven on the Hogwart’s Express! One lady, mutters constantly….”I don’t know what the hell I am doing in this place.” Once she never stepped out of her house looking anything less than dressed to the nines with hair perfectly styled. Now my Aunt says she looks like a street person. Unrecognizable as the woman she once was.
They give these places fancy sounding names like “Rehabilitation Center” “Care Centers” “Guest Homes.”
I have to say, now that I have been “doing the circuit” again, there is something else that is clear to me. It is not all hopeless. I walk past rooms that are decorated in pictures from home, their pets, Scripture verses, shelves of books, colorful quilts in bright colors.
All in all, I have made up my mind that you die the way you lived.
If you are positive when you were young, you will be positive all the way to the end. Unless you don’t have your mind, that is. Then it’s different.
I walk along the halls and see signs of life and hope, and see signs up giving up.
It all comes down to life and death in the end.
I am determined that I will choose life no matter what. That is the hope I have in Jesus. That is the hope that Henry has. Elaine met him walking the halls. They got to talking and he told her he comes from a long line of ministers. He told her with a sparkle in his eye, “Today I am reading the book of Numbers!”
If I ever end up in one of these places I want to be like Henry.
Or the guy waiting for my three o clock train to Heaven.
And honestly, sometimes it doesn’t sound too bad. No responsibilies, a shelf full of books, three square meals….I just really hope that I can keep my eyesight and my mind.
“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow–not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.” Romans 8:38