Here's the quote that inspired this blog...
- Theodore Roosevelt
I thought the 'David & Viola' story would have been announcement enough, but for the many people who didn't read it, I proposed to Marilyn May 2nd, and we got hitched on June 14. I feel like a guy that never played the lotto, and mistakenly bought a ticket along with his groceries one day, and hit the biggest power ball winner in history!!!! She is incredible! She's funny, smart, good looking, mature, she's fit, fun loving, and loves my kids already, SHE LOVES JESUS!, she's organized, and messy at the same time, she's entertaining, engaging, and ready to take on life together with me, it is an incredibly wonderful feeling, something I never ever thought possible, nor did I realize how much I had to unravel from Lynn's memory for it to be possible. But here I am, as happy as I've ever been, I'm once again looking forward to each day and laughter, silly, bubbly laughter, has invaded my life like smelling salts awakening a fallen athlete. It all started in the middle of February,...well, really it all started twenty years ago!
I met Marilyn on a teen missions trip to Africa when I was 16 and through mutual friends we were made aware of the challenges that we both faced as we walked with our spouses through cancer. We exchanged a few encouraging emails while both our spouses were still with us, but never really talked again until the middle of February when I heard of the terrible news that Marilyn's husband Andrew had died three and a half months prior. I literally cried as I remembered how dark and terrible it was as I tried to pick up the pieces of my life and continue on without Lynn. I asked for her address and sent her a card to express my sympathy and hopes that God would use her experience for His glory.
After a couple polite emails, much to my relief, Marilyn poured her heart out to me, and so doing, gave me the go-ahead to do the same to her. This started two months of daily emails between us, there wasn't much we left unsaid, and there weren't many emails without tears. It was so relieving to talk to someone that had lost their best friend in the whole world, someone who wanted to die, someone who just wanted their friend back. To hear someone reciprocate all of the hurt, all of the despair, all of the lost hopes, broken dreams, and tomorrows that will never be, was absolutely relieving.
You can imagine the emotional ties that we built as we grieved together, and shared our inner hurts. You'd get a lot of this in the 'David and Viola' story but really had a hard time picturing life without Lynn, I wanted Marilyn to live with me in my sorrow, I thought we'd be crying together for a long time, but that wasn't something that Marilyn could do, she looked at life with a glint of hope, and in the end she passed that on to me, and I couldn't be more thankful. She is literally the most fabulous woman alive.
Much like me she's been broken by cancer and loss, she's leaned on Christ through the storms, and she loved her husband passionately. Like me, she was married for 14 years, most of which was spent under the dark cloud of cancer, she provided for her family when her husband couldn't and she walked him to death's doorstep with much love and grace. We're excited about our new family, not only does everyone share deep feelings of loss but we can all move forward with excitement about our unknown future together. We both had great marriages before and are excited to build another one together. So without boring you to tears with my excitement, and how absolutely beautiful she is here's some pictures…
I talk to God as I put together two tiny socks, and my heart breaks at how much I love those tiny feet. I have prayed for the ones that God has put into my care as I have stood beside my dryer. Each item that is retrieved from it, gives me the visual reminder that my children are getting bigger, that my husband needs new socks, that the worn out knees on my son's pants mean he is healthy, and I thank God.
I have told God many things by that dryer, and He has spoken very clearly to me through the heaps of clothing. On the days that I grumbled about my never-ending 'to-do' list, I would pull a pair of Andy's jeans out of the dryer and with a humbled heart, I would thank God that Andrew was still here.
The smell of the campfire and bug spray would fill the laundry after we got home from a weekend away, and it never failed, every time that I would be stressing about having so much to do after a long drive home from camping, I'd dump out all the laundry and that smell would crash over me with a wave of gratefulness for wonderful memories made. The sticky remains of marshmallow on shirt sleeves brought a smile to my face.... still does ;-)
Folding clothes has always brought the attitude of thankfulness to the forefront in my heart. I see the way that God has provided so abundantly for us.... often times through the 'hand-me-down' clothing that others have given to us. Usually, I am alone by the dryer; no one wants to interrupt for fear of being asked to help ;-) The quietness brings on the reflective thoughts, and as I touch the old favorite t-shirt, or fold that sweatshirt that we got on that trip to 'such and such,' I see how God has filled up my life with good things and His love for me is overwhelmingly clear.
Tonight I was folding clothes.. thinking of how strange it was after Andrew died, ... the adjustment, the painful visual reminder it was for me to have only 3 piles of clothes. The loss I felt when I could no longer pull his clothes out of the dryer. It was beside the dryer that I told God that He could take my husband home. He didn't need my consent - I realize that. But I surrendered Andrew in my laundry room... through tears and clenched teeth.. I said 'you can take him now God.' It was a selfish thing too... it was because I couldn't bear to see Andy suffering anymore.
As I folded clothes tonight, I thought about the many piles that will soon be. I think of the privilege it will be to pray for each person as I match up socks. I want to love you better than any earthly person ever has Walt. I want to take all that I have learned in this life and apply all the good stuff to you!! I want to be your best friend, best lover, best partner, best teammate, best sounding board, best prayer partner, grounding place, solace, calm in the storm, your BIGGEST FAN! That's what I want ;-) That's the vision I have for us.. that's what I'm moving towards... because YOU are sooooo worth it!! I love you!
David, breathed in deeply, so deep he thought his lungs would explode, he fell to his knees and wept as the sun shone down on his back and his fingers touched the lush carpeted grass. How long had it been? How long had it been since he had last felt like this? Distant forgotten memories were now eclipsed by the true, rich, vibrant feeling he now inhaled with all of his might, though bubbly cleansing sobs that spoke of relief he thanked God for life again.
David's decent beneath the surface was ever so gradual, almost imperceptible, he didn't have much of a choice, the king had commissioned him to work beneath, and so he did. He loved the king and knew that he had been chosen for a special task and so, each day, David went below, to tend to those who were hurting, those who could no longer stand in the sunshine and breath in the fresh breezes that filled the land with life.
David, tired of traveling so far each day, soon moved closer to one of the many entry points to the world below where he was needed. He would clean and tidy, straiten and sweep, and found that he did a lot of good there, fetching fresh water, bringing in fresh produce from time to time. He found himself spending more and more time below, learning the ways of sorrow and hurt, broken dreams and yearning hope. He fell in love with those people, those people that once danced in the meadows just above and splashed in the sparkling waters meandering through.
He threw himself into his work, descending lower and lower with each new challenge, with each new need. It wasn't long before David lost the desire to bask in the sunshine, and run through the meadows, he rarely even took the long walk to get a breath of fresh air. Soon David decided to just move in, he took everything he treasured and held dear and hewed out of the bedrock a place of his own, a place where he put all of his memories of the life above and yet never have to leave the deep truths of the this dark place that seemed to hold everything together.
David, watched as his most dearest friend breath her last down there, where only memories remained of the life that once was. David loved her so much, he love everything about her, and he loved everything she left behind. Although David's commission was over, he felt the strong desire to serve in these corridors that had become his home and as the weeks turned into months, and the months turned into years, David found that he just couldn't stop himself from sitting amongst her things for hours at a time. He would run his hands over the bed rails, he would smell her cloths, he would do everything he could do to feel close to her. Pictures were hanging on every wall of this room that he spent so much time in, reminding him of what it looked like outside and the wonderful feelings that he once experienced. And he knew that if he ever were to venture out there again it would look different, it would feel different, and it would be entirely different than the way he remembered it, and that terrified him, he wanted the outside to look, feel, and taste the same way he remembered it when he left.
So David all but gave up the hope of ever venturing out again, he would often catch pieces of conversation from the outside world, little snippets of news, and some unpalatable propaganda that the underworld he called home didn't even exist. This made David all the more determined to live there, he despised people who could be part of the world that he once knew and enjoyed and not know about the world that he now felt that he could never leave. To think that life could be so carefree was hard to stomach, and to think that people could just live their entire lives without the slightest inkling of what it takes to live in this place made him despise those people all the more.
David longed to talk to someone about the convictions that he had developed about his life of sorrow, but no one seemed to be able to identify with him in his hurt. Once in a while though, he noticed someone else opening the entry far above him, and bring in fresh water. She too must have been commissioned by the king to serve down here, why else would she leave the world above? She never stayed too long though, and she had this funny habit of leaving the door open just a crack while she spent time with her loved one. She was one of the few from the outside who knew what life was like below, and yet allowed some light from outside to shine in. Few ever made it out of this place, and David felt that if he ever left he would betray those who had become his closest friends.
David started talking to this strange new woman who was one of the few who were willing to come down to where David lived, and see the rooms that he spent so much time in. She was willing to watch and listen as David ran his fingers across certain picture frames, and explained why each memory was so important to him. She understood the feelings that engulfed him as he sat in silence amongst the memories of a world that could no longer be. She touched David's treasures as if they were her own, she ran her hands across the backs of chairs as she walked through and deeply breathed in the musty scent of bottled life. She told David of her own place, and of the stacks of neatly folded cloths, and pictures that she dusted each day, she too had lost a life and yearned for it back. Though she didn't share the same determination to live here, to live with what was left and never return to the kingdom above.
David thought her to be shallow to ever want to leave, to ever want to go outside, but began to enjoy her company in a strange way, he thought that maybe, just maybe, if he would ever venture outside again, she could make it look just like he remembered it, just like when he left. He began to think of her in his imaginations of his old life, he pictured her the way he pictured his best friend whom he had lost, but she insisted that when she danced again, when she climbed those mountains high, it would all be different, it wouldn't be the same. David just couldn't understand why it would need to be different, why would she want it to be different?, "It has to be the same!" argued David, "if we go out there together I have to know that it's going to look just the way I remember it!" but she would have no part in this fantasy, she pulled back from him and left, up through the long corridors, hearing her steps fade into the distance David wept as he thought of everything that Viola was not. He wondered about her too, did she really learn the lesson of this dark place or was she some short timer who was going to forget what she owed to the places filled with tears, pain, and loss?
Several days later, Viola convinced David to come up from the lower regions and to let his eyes adjust to the light she let in through the crack in the door way. After much discussion David trusted and came up to allow his eyes adjust to the whisper of light she let in, for the first time David caught a glimpse of her, she was stunning, like a crushed flower wanting so desperately to bloom again. She, kept talking about looking for work at the palace, her commission was over and she didn't have to work here anymore. David didn't understand how she could go work at the palace, he couldn't believe she would have the desire to leave when all that she cared about seemed to be in the same dark place that he called home. Viola insisted that her time here was short, she knew that one day she would no longer need to sweep, tidy, straiten and fetch fresh water, she was almost excited about going out there and never coming down for long visits again.
David walked out there with her one day, and felt the fresh breeze but wasn't sure if it was right, everything he loved and cherished was beneath him, and she wanted him to forget that? How absurd! he walked right back into that hole and slammed the door behind him, ready to go back to work straitening pictures that didn't move, folding cloths that weren't worn, tidying up for guests that weren't going to come, but his eyes had adjusted to the light and he tripped, he walked further downward and fell, he bumped into things and just couldn't find his bearings, he was so frustrated, everything was neatly in place when he left and now he was making a mess of everything, everywhere there were things knocked over or spilled, he slipped and found himself on the floor just wishing he hadn't been so stupid to walk out there with her and believe he could experience what he had before he came here. He was still holding in his hand a flower that Viola had given him outside, he tossed it into the corner and cursed at himself for joining her in her fantasy.
FINE! David thought in a prideful sort of way, 'HE' at least had a firm grasp on reality, 'HE' could survive down here, 'HE' could live here and 'HE' would be just fine. He prided himself in being able to exist in this place and thought everyone on the outside (save a chosen few) were all caught up in themselves, ignoring the dark realities that held the universe together. They wanted to float on clouds, get stoned on dreams that wouldn't last a second beneath the surface that they took for granted, at least 'HE' knew of these forgotten truths that fastened the world together with iron cords between happiness and sorrow.
Viola didn't stop coming to David's world though, she paged through some of David's writings and felt like she could never embrace such, conviction and determination to stay here. David despised all things that couldn't exist below the surface, all trite anecdotes, all philosophies, all theologies everything that couldn't withstand 10 seconds below the surface. He reveled in the fact that his views gained strength down here, his views carried momentum here, but Viola challenged him to think what he might have done, had he created a world, had he been living within a system that couldn't survive OUTSIDE of this dark place? could all his dearest ideals withstand the light of the sun? This challenged him, it even scared him to think that in all his time below the surface, he may have been hiding from the sun, hiding from the light of day and developing a venomous distaste for all things bright and new. He was frightened to realize that he may have developed such a distaste and distrust for anything that offered happiness that he might be doomed to spend the rest of his days in this dark, musty hole that had become his home ever so slowly.
Why couldn't he have died down here, why did he have to face the light again, why, why couldn't he have been taken captive, imprisoned against his will, why was the door left open for him to venture out, he liked this dark place, he liked everything and every reason that brought him to this point. He was commissioned by the king to go here, he was here for a reason, he thought he had been given this gift to exist beneath the surface and the thought of going out and leaving everything terrified him, he thought it would be a compromise, he thought he was being unfaithful, was he buying into that flaky, weak, philosophy that the king just wants everyone to be happy? The thought that the king's son suffered and died just to make people happy made him want to vomit, but could it be beyond the king to delight in happiness? After all, David would have never sunk so low if it weren't for the highest of highs he experience in the lush valleys of life, where the sun shone, and fresh breezes filled the air.
Somewhere along the way, Viola stripped David of his ability to embrace his life as he was living it. She forced him to abandon his acidic distaste for all things that could bring color into his world. And now he found himself torn between two worlds that had been separated so completely for so long. Viola longed to dance in the meadows, she knew it would be different, but she was excited about the adventure, yes she would risk returning here but she thought it would be worth it. Voila left David in silence with these thoughts and shut the door on her way out, David, thinking he had to get everything back to the way it was couldn't even see, Viola had always kept the door cracked open and now that it was shut his eyes couldn't get used to the complete darkness, and the silence was deafening, it was terrifying, David cried out in panic, VIOLA, COME BACK! DON'T LEAVE ME HERE! I WANT TO DREAM! I WANT TO LIVE AGAIN! I WANT TO LOVE AGAIN!
David dropped the picture of his once perfect life, and as it shattered on the floor he raced upwards, up toward the door Viola had always hoped he'd come through, with more energy and excitement than he'd felt in years. Beyond that door was life, beyond that door was happiness, beyond that door was something different, something new, and something exciting. He had never been able to see it that way until now, he had never been able to let go of everything he wanted back and embrace the uncertainty of a new world that could potentially be just as wonderful as the one he left, tears rolled down his cheeks as he burst through the door and ran into the meadow to find her. And when he did, he breathed in deeply, so deep he thought his lungs would explode, he fell to his knees and wept as the sun shone down on his back and his fingers touched the lush carpeted grass. How long had it been? How long had it been since he had last felt like this? Distant forgotten memories were now eclipsed by the true, rich, vibrant feeling he now inhaled with all of his might, though bubbly cleansing sobs that spoke of relief, he thanked God for life again.
I wrote most of this when Lynn was still wounded by my side, and I finished it after the wind cleared the smoke off the field and she was gone.
When people ask me how things are going I often reflect on how battle worn soldiers answer that question because I feel like my life echoes that of a soldier's out on the front lines. I often envision myself struggling to hold myself up on some sandbags strewn with cartridge belts waiting and empty shells littering the lonely foxhole that my family and I call home. If you can draw this mental picture, (and I have a lot of them) you'd see my most precious friend, head wrapped in blood soaked bandages, lying by my side attached to an IV bag hanging from her rifle. An M60 would be perched on top of those sandbags, dirt and smoke marking my face, a cigarette hanging from my lips and an overarching look of exhaustion to finish the scene.
And then the question comes, 'how are things going?' Well that's a loaded question, if it were someone in the next foxhole over perhaps there could be a coherent exchange but I don't think anyone can understand what it feels like to live in a constant state of readiness, or in constant anticipation of impending death. To live in a place where the bridge to eternity is so close is not only extremely clarifying but it is also extremely freeing. You see when you're out on the front lines and life is reduced to me or him, live or die, eat, sleep, breath, and survive, life suddenly takes on another dimension, a dimension that most people run from and want to get away from, but one that breaks down life to it's final common denominator and makes perfect sense to those who are there. We've heard of the culture shock soldiers face when they come home from those front lines, some of them wanting immediately to go back and be in the struggle of survival with their friends, and some who just want to forget.
I am one of those soldiers that wants only to rejoin my fallen comrade on those front lines where life was reduced to the irreducibles, where the struggle for survival was all consuming, and retreat was not an option. You can imagine the hallow feeling of victory and the emptiness that I carried with me that day when there were no more attacks, no more emergencies, no more pills, no more volunteers, no more wheelchairs, no more throw-up bowls, no more potty breaks. Apparently the war was over, but everything I cared about had died out there on that field. For years I called this outpost my home, I ate, drank, slept, and breathed it, it may not have been comfortable, but it was home, and we were out there together.
Part of this mental picture continues in the torn feelings that I get every time I have to face life without her. I resent having to grit down on my cigarette and do what needs to be done, no-matter how hard, uncomfortable, awkward, and tough the job is. As much as I want to stop and sob over my fallen comrade, life offers me little time for that luxury. I've got to man my post and confront the challenges that we used to face together. And so, despite my sorrow, despite my sadness, and despite my weary body, I must, through gritting teeth and unfeeling action, stand up, and fire upon the enemy that launches daily attacks with unfeeling relentless and monotonous action that can only be met by one that can put his diary, dreams, and heart filled with emotions down and fire upon the enemy lest be overcome by him.
It would seem that many pastors fall all over themselves trying to reassure the unsure that their salvation is secure. They go to great lengths to explain the free gift of salvation and the unmerited reward of grace but they don't allow the natural uneasiness of a sinner or a casual Christian to bear the fruit of change. Eternal security gets equated with mustered up feelings of nostalgia rather than being ratified by human action, and insecurity on this matter is something that never propels 'would be' believers into active pursuers of Christ.
People get upset when someone's salvation is called into question, citing the verse that warns us not to judge, but doesn't that verse work the other way round? Isn't assuming someone is saved, just as much a judgment as telling them they aren't? Yea, let's not be so quick to judge, because I'm afraid that we may be giving comfort to those who rightly feel uncomfortable in their sin and complacency. Let's also not be so quick to assume that just because someone's in church, sends you a Christmas card, knows the right answers, and puts on a good show when the conversation turns religious, means that they're living a transformed life in response to a genuine acceptance of Christ's work on the cross.
Making someone feel insecure about their salvation is by far better than giving them the impression that they've got their ticket stamped when they really don't. Nobody can make that judgment except God alone; for it is alone we stand trial before God and when that day comes all the pretense in the world isn't going to help. But pretense is all there is with hordes of people that consider themselves Christians because they've never allowed the gravity of the scriptures to weigh on them and motivate them to make their calling and election sure (2Pet 1:10).
Our desire to escape pain overshadows our desire to simply be comfortable. That's why you would find more energy to run from certain death than to catch the guy running away with your safe deposit box. And that is why, 'God Loves you and has a wonderful plan for you life' isn't half as motivating as 'God is a just judge and will not let the guilty go unpunished'. Both statements may be true, but only one has the kind of teeth that can penetrate the self-centered heart.
A little eternal insecurity would do wonders in a church culture that has completely lost sight of the necessity for continual Christian grown in a believer's life. (James & 2Peter) Being a little insecure about my ability to follow through, means that I'm faced with a life long challenge to pursue God on a deeper and more passionate level, it means taking my gloves off, getting off my couch and making my Christianity cost me something.
If we're talking about balancing my eternal security with a little insecurity than I'm in, there's nothing more exciting and motivating than a gift that requires a response to validate it's true acceptance. Shoot, I'd rather be a little insecure about my eternal future, than to sit and rest in my perceived eternal security only to find out in the end that it required action to be validated.
If your Christianity hasn't changed you're life, do you really think that it's made a difference to your eternal soul?
Though it's extremely easy for me to find occasion to think about Lynn and to reflect on the gaping hole she has left behind, her birthday this year was different. This time it was the boys who asked if we were going to do anything to remember her and the more I thought about it the more I thought it would be good for all of us to give vent to our feelings and ponder the wonderful gift that God graced our lives with.
And so, after schoolwork was done, I announced the plans for the evening, we would start by reading the pieces we wrote in mommy's funeral bulletin, and then we would watch a video of her, and close the night out with dinner at one of Lynn's favorite restaurants, the Texas Roadhouse. I remember Jack saying, 'This is going to be hard' after he realized what we were about to do.
It isn't often that I get to go down into one of those all to familiar dark valleys of grief with willing travelers that can appreciate the deep ruts in the path, the hollow echoes of our footsteps, and the well worn touchstones of the past that my hands can't seem to resist. So we all tried to read through what we had written about Lynn, not one of us could read our parts of the bulletin without going through several tissues, and stopping repeatedly to gain some composure. I started out reading about 'My Biggest Fan', something I could never have read at her funeral because it is impossible for me to hold Lynn up in my mind as my one true fan and not break down into tears, even while I write this tears are rolling down my cheeks.
After everyone tearfully finished reading aloud, we sat and cried some more as we watched some of the most precious moments of mommy caught on tape. It was a good thing for us all to cry together again, it was also good to experience the latitude that was available within our circle for everyone to let open their emotional floodgates.
There are sharp edges to this experience of loss that challenge me to think and there are always those facets that burst with light from above, but there are those inseparable facets that cast those dark shadows of loneliness, sadness and sorrow. Facets that I often gaze at through tear filled eyes, and I know the boys consider in their lonely moments.
Lynn's birthday party was different this year but it still felt good, we didn't wear our happy faces nor did we take any pictures but we celebrated with hearts full of love in the shadow of her absence. Through tears and sobs the boys and I allowed those dark shadows to pass over us as we wept together and silently remembered the greatest woman to ever touch our lives.
If your mind defaults to off, if your body consistently retreats to the couch, and your Christianity never reaches your actions, there is nothing more Satan needs to do, he is never too busy to rock the cradle of a sleeping saint. Though the size of the cradle may change, the principals remain the same, keep the baby happy and satisfied with as little as possible, only add more toys, trinkets and distractions if necessary and you won't have to worry about the baby affecting anyone.
When you boil your day down you really only have a few hours to demonstrate to the world and to God what you value. You only have a few hours to change the direction and course of your life. And it is in those defining hours that we determine who we are, what we'll be, and where we're going, in this life and in the next. It is in those quiet moments alone, and in those reflective times of thought that we can begin to see clearly and commune with Christ. Who is the Creator of the universe, the coming judge of all those who were too distracted to care about their eternal soul and the rewarder of those who used their free time to store up treasures in heaven.
Free time is a luxury that our society has fought hard for and has produced droves of people who really believe that they 'deserve a break today.' Nobody deserves a break today or any day for that matter, what we deserve are the fires of hell, and that is exactly what we'll get if we don't recognize that what we do with our time validates what we say we believe in our hearts. If we say that we have a relationship with Jesus Christ, shouldn't we be spending time with Him, learning about him and striving to glorify him with our time?
Shouldn't our minds default to Christ and His word, and our bodies' retreat to doing things that affect eternity or at least point us in that direction? When Paul talks about putting off the old man, he's talking about putting off all these habits that numb our eternal awareness and excite our worldly passions, we as Christians need to enhance our eternal awareness and numb our worldly passions in our pursuit of Christ. This is the mark of a true Christian, this is the mark of a living, breathing, viable relationship with Christ which is going somewhere, becoming more mature, taking on new challenges, it is exciting and it takes work. Christian maturity isn't going to reach out of a screen and infuse itself into your life, it takes effort and deliberate choices about how you spend your time.
It isn't easy, far from easy, following Christ may prove to be the hardest thing you ever attempted to do, and if it isn't hard for you, if you're not constantly being challenged, changed, and pushed, you may want to check if your even moving. A tree that stops growing is dead just as well as a Christian that stops maturing.
Can you remember the names of all 4 of your grandparents?
Ok, most of us can if we try hard, how about the names of all 8 of your great grandparents?
I didn't think so, in two generations your own family won't even remember you!
What are you doing in your spare time that will be remembered in eternity?
Over the years I've grown more and more unimpressed with the attitude of 'let the professionals' handle it. 'You can't teach, you're not a professional, you're not qualified', 'you can't take care of Lynn, you're not a professional, you need professionals to do this.' Early on in Lynn's challenges with cancer I accepted the fact that professionals are people, they have families to go home to, bills to pay and dreams to pursue. They make mistakes like the rest of us, they look forward to vacations, they forget things and they argue with their spouses.
Leave the professionals to their professions
Give me someone who cares
I'd rather be bumped and bruised by those who love me
Than a thousand experts with their questionnaires
Leave the specialist to his specialty
And the certified behind his desk
I need hands that love me
With arms that help me dress
Don't get me wrong, there's a need for doctors
And all professionals in the fray
But I need someone to walk with me
As well as someone to point the way
That first summer in 2003, when Lynn became disabled by her cancer, I watched as doctors and nurses tried and tried one medication after the next until we finally struck a med combo that allowed Lynn to have some comfort. It took all summer though, and working with doctors and nurses who can't observe daily reactions can be extremely slow, especially when you are in a lot of pain. Lynn and I have worked with all kinds of medical professionals some that expressed kindness, and others that seemed very clinical but never anyone, and rightly so, that had as much vested in Lynn as me.
The more I cared for Lynn the more I grew to trust my own instincts, judgments and experimental findings. Being with her all the time and experiencing all the different aspects of her health along side her made me the sole expert on her. Lynn's care, her medications, the dosages, the combinations of meds, her reactions to them and everything that comes with trying to strike the right combo with the right dosage became something of an all consuming science project for me. I took notes, I watched for her reactions, I kept track of her body functions, I took the liberty to change dosages and run experiments to see if we could decrease the medications. Through all this I became the 'go to' person for the results and analysis and ultimately helped the doctors help Lynn get what she needed as quickly as possible. So I can't simply say, leave the professionals, because professionals are needed, but there's only so much we can expect from a professional and to realize that can prevent a lot of frustration.
I've observed 'professionals' taking care of people, and if there was anything that I didn't want for Lynn, it was 'professional' care, or as I've observed, professional carelessness. Professionals are people and you cannot expect them to extend the love and thoughtfulness that can only come from someone close. Not to mention the expression of love that is afforded to those who have the chance and privilege to help someone who can't help themselves. I say leave the professionals to their professions because we shouldn't want to miss the chance to express love in a caring way. And although being helped can be such a humiliating experience, it also can be an incredible device that God can use to force us to recognize how helpless we truly are before Him.
Oh God, if you so choose to crush me, please give me the strength and humility to be helped, help me remember your desire to refine me and to use my needs to bring my loved ones closer to yourself.
Appearances, regardless of time period, culture, or social strata have long since been a point of tension between the boundary testers and those who like things the way they were. Parents have been fighting battles over wardrobes and hairstyles for centuries and will continue doing so with every new fad that arrives on the scene. How do we as Christians deal with the changing social climate, the changing styles and the new fads that are influencing our world? How do we view tattoos, body piercing, baggy pants, suggestive shirts, short skirts and the thousands of other ways people present themselves? Do we argue against tattoos with Leviticus 19:28 and then try to find a different way to explain 1Cor 11:5-6 when Paul explains how the Corinthian women should dress?
Yanking a proof text from scripture is far too simple and narrow in scope, I will assure you there is nothing written to address saggy pants and tong piercing. However, 'Cloths and company tell true tails about character' and for the Christian this issue of appearance has much broader implications and farther-reaching consequences than many would care to think. Parents, by and large, sew the first thoughts as to how their kid should present themselves to the world. Some parents will unfortunately answer with baffling silence, others will frightfully embrace the latest trends, but a Christian who takes seriously the call to be an ambassador for Christ must once and for all decide who he wants to represent.
You see, every Christian has been called to be an ambassador (2Cor 5:20), and if we are earnest about being Christians than we must ask ourselves how seriously we take that call. I don't think any world leader would pick Homie the Clown to be their ambassador, complete with red afro, oversized shoes and a pokedoted jump suit. No, of coarse not, all that getup would serve no other purpose than to draw attention and be a constant distraction away from what he was sent to communicate. Ambassadors are chosen because they strive to get their leader's point across without drawing attention to themselves or distracting people away from their message.
When we get dressed in the morning we are making a statement, we are projecting an image out to the world, we are communicating to those around us something about what we value and who we are. Some people put so much time and energy into their statement that it's virtually impossible for others not to contemplate what is trying to be said. Some people alter their appearance so much or wear such revealing clothing that its all some people can do not stare at them.
When Christians leave people with more questions than they bother to answer, when their presentation of themselves just draws attention, when their cloths, piercings, tattoos, cars, lifestyle, makeup and all manor of expressions, all of which masquerade as personal taste and style, rear their head in Christian circles than the question must be asked, 'Is this how an ambassador for Christ presents themselves?' It may be difficult in some instances to show that certain things are in and of themselves wrong and anti-Christian but it takes little effort to see that they are distracting and confusing, they add nothing to Christ's message and serve only inflate our pride.
Ambassadors for Christ want to be know for their character, not their clutter, they want people to see Christ in them so they strive to limit the amount of layers people have to peal back before that can happen. Ambassadors strive to communicate clearly with words, lifestyle and dress and they are quick to abandon those things that just add static and noise. This poem says it well,
We are the only Bible, this careless world will ever read.
We are the sinner's gospel, we are the scoffers creed.
We are the Lord's last message, given in deed and word.
What if the type is crooked? What if the print is blurred?
I remember writing most of this in my notebook at Raytheon as I was walking between buildings trying to find a way to express the treasures of memories that Lynn and I alone possess together.
Have you ever had a place, a secret place that no one knew about except that one special friend? A place that the two of you would frequent and live through adventures together, conquer entire empires together, and then sit and survey vast valleys that you planned to travel through together? Have you ever shared a special place that nobody else had seen, nobody else had imagined, and that nobody else would believe existed let alone believe the adventure stories the two of you could tell. Only your friend could share with you in the excitement and prospect of returning there.
Lynn is my special friend, and oh… the places I could speak of and the adventures I could tell. I could bore you to death with stories of what Lynn and I built there, I could put you to sleep with tales of cities we founded and civilizations we discovered. I could tell of shipwrecks, sea monsters, and towering giants, I could describe grassy meadows, snow caped mountains and more, but only she would be able to join with me in the excitement because she was there, every step of the way, every rocky noel, every new horizon, and every newly laid brick, she was there.
The place I speak of cannot be seen, the city streets cannot be walked on and yet when I go there I still can see the cities, nobody lives there anymore though I can still see the skyscrapers we once built together,… standing there,… lonely,… as weeds and vines try to hide them, I sit and survey the vast valleys that we had planned to explore together, yet I no longer have reason to nor the capacity to explore them without my special friend, who alone can make those valleys team with life and make those rivers overflow with the springtime rain, she alone can dance with me over past victories and climb with me those mountains high.
She was my special friend, and I miss her.
To many people 'planting roots' means staying put, to become part of the community, to make a home and leave it that way. I remember a former neighbor telling us how proud she was that she had lived in her house since she first got married, raised her family there, and how she would be buried in the back yard (so to speak). She went on to say how shameful it was for people to move from place to place, discarding all the memories those places made possible and never really becoming part of the community, or as some farmers would say 'part of the land'.
This all sounds romantic in a way, it even strikes within me a cord of nostalgia, to call one single place home and be able to say this is where they'll burry me. This whole idea has been romanticized in movies, and lived out in a number of peoples' lives, how people and their land or home are inseparable, and how the land or home is passed on from generation to generation. There is this gravitating full-circle feeling of living and dyeing in the same place that your ancestors lived and died in. There is the reassuring feeling of seeing generations go on before you into the same plot of ground you expect to be buried in and watching younger generations grow up under you and know they will be there when you're gone. There is something in this that seems to settle people as they contemplate their lives and their choices. Indeed I find it tempting to use these settling feelings as guiding points for my own decisions.
I remember agonizing over where or what we would do when Lynn passed away, I went through every scenario I could possibly think of, should I bury her body in Texas where it all started, at the graveyard next to the church where we were married, should I take her ashes and sprinkle them next to a special waterfall in the mountains, should I put her remains in a stone so as to always have them with me. Oh, I envied the pioneers in the 1800s that had no choice but to bury, to bury fast, and to bury wherever they were. I think people get weird with dead bodies, trying to squeeze out of them more meaning than there really is. I think dead bodies are a reminder to the living that death is coming, and the fact that bodies rot is a reminder that while physical death is ugly and literally stinks, spiritual death is exponentially worse. Death should send people away thinking deeply about their own lives, and coming deaths. But sadly, people are all to quick to find another distraction and get on with their lives before the reality of death ever provokes them to prepare for it.
After I graduated, Lynn and I, very quickly, set off on a new adventure, with a new job, and a new income. We settled into Tucson never for a moment thinking it would be the last stop for either of us, and never realizing how providential it would be. Like most people, death was the furthest from either of our minds, and 'planting roots' was certainly not our intention. What we soon experience though, were roots shooting out everywhere, little emotional attachments to places, to friends, to neighbors, to doctors, even to our routine. The real roots though, were those that dug down spiritually and tapped into the river of life that lies beneath life's most desolate landscapes.
So as the boys and I start a new chapter in our lives here on earth without Lynn and leave a place that is replete with memories of her, we're reminded that those emotional attachments point us to the fact that this life isn't it, we're not here to find solace in our surroundings and comfort in our lives. We're here to be shining lights in dark places, beacons of truth to a sinful world, we're here to be ambassadors of a kingdom that is not of this world and any ties, roots, or emotional attachments we have here can potentially blur our view of this realty if we don't deliberately focus our lives on Jesus Christ and determine to be rooted in Him.
Seated one day at the organ, I was weary and ill at ease,
And my fingers wandered idly over the noisy keys.
I do not know what I was playing, or what I was dreaming then;
But I struck one chord of music, like the sound of a great Amen.
It flooded the crimson twilight like the close of an angel's Psalm,
And it lay on my fevered spirit with a touch of infinite calm.
It quieted pain and sorrow, like love overcoming strife;
It seemed the harmonious echo form our discordant life.
It linked all perplexed meanings into one perfect peace,
And trembled away into silence as if it were loathe to cease.
I have sought, but I seek it vainly, that one lost chord divine,
That came from the sound of the organ and entered into mine.
It may be that Death's bright angel will speak in that chord again,--
It may be that only in Heaven I shall hear that grand Amen.
- by Anne Procter
The day after Lynn died and the ensuing week was full of decisions, phone calls, preparations and thought. People were already asking about the funeral on Sunday so Monday was a high-pressure day. I had to talk with the cemetery, the funeral home, the church, the community clubhouse coordinator, and set a date. In the end the availability of our community clubhouse pushed the day to the following Thursday and once that was settled I sent out a mass email and let out a big breath of exhaustion. Now I could focus my thoughts and energies on how the service would be run, who was going to be involved, and ultimately how to adequately honor Lynn.
I realized that if this was going to be done right I couldn't let the flood of emotions that engulfed me move me in a direction that would prevent me from representing her effectively. I also realized, a long time ago, that I wasn't going to be able to please everyone, so I proceeded with the determination that if her funeral was going to please anyone, it would have pleased her and her Lord. After all Lynn and I have been through together it was an easy thing for me to not even consider what anyone thought, at the fore front of my mind were two questions: 'Would this honor Lynn?' and 'Would this honor Christ?' Outside of those two questions I really didn't worry about what anyone thought, nor was I going to confuse myself by giving audience to everyone's opinions.
Amidst all of the planning there were some points of contention and wrinkles that if focused on would have eclipsed Lynn's memorial and taken away from the point of it all. I had to make up my mind on this as well, that those wrinkles would not upstage Lynn, nothing was going to upstage Lynn, even though there were things that didn't fall out the way I wanted I just had to accept that the world wasn't going to stop for Lynn, but I'd be dipped if I was going to let any reasonable thing in my power slip by.
During the weeks that transpired between the news of the new tumor and Lynn's death I had to come to grips with some of the decisions that I had been putting off for so long. Lynn never really wanted to talk about or plan for her own funeral, as few I would imagine do, so the details and logistics of it were rightly left to the living as they always are. While indecisiveness may be a viable option for those who have time it really is an impossibility for those who don't, and being faced with the impossibility of putting these decisions off any longer I began the arduous process of making the choices that were before me as we anticipated Lynn's death.
With a thousand different thoughts and emotions pulling me in all kinds of directions the one that emerged and influenced me the most was the desire for Lynn's funeral to be a moving experience. If nothing else I wanted the boys and I to have the distinct and tangible privilege of carrying her body down that aisle, follow it in a procession to the graveyard, watch it slowly be lowered into the ground and to then fill the hole where her body would decay and await the resurrection.
I did know that for some this would just be another funeral and for others it wouldn't even be worth their time, so I simply decided that if it was just the boys and I and nobody else we would honor her and Jesus Christ by what was done and said that day. And although Lynn wasn't important enough for some, I knew she would be important enough for the King of Kings to stop and sit with us and consider what a deep and meaningful footprint she left on our hearts.
I have to admit that busying myself for Lynn is something that I relish. Several times as I ran errands for the funeral I broke out into sobs as I realized that this was going to be the last time I was going to be busy for Lynn. I just wish I could look forward to doing something for her again and busying myself with preparations for something special for her.
From the picking out of the stationary for the bulletins, to the selection of songs we would sing, to the words that I would say, to the obituary, to the background music, to her video, to the police escort, to the limousine, all of it, every last drop of it was my attempt to honor her. I wish I could have done more, I wish I could have stopped the whole world if just for a moment and shown them this person, this great treasure, this jewel that I was saying goodbye to. I wish everyone could have the same deep appreciation for her as I have but I know that's impossible save for God alone who has the capacity to love her even more than me.
Almost eight years ago Lynn and I set off for Tucson to restart life together with my new career as an engineer. We thought our lives were going to get easier but we soon realized that God was interested in so much more than our comfort. We didn't think we'd stay for very long as neither one of us was excited about living in a desert, but I have come to believe that there are incredible lessons for us in the deserts of life. Just think of how a parched landscape stirs within us the desire for water or how sickness, disease, and heartbreak rouse a thirst for supernatural water that promises to quench our deepest longings. For the past eight years I have not only had the advantage of living in a desert but experiencing one in my own life, drinking from the watering holes of friendships, splashing in the bubbling brooks of laughter with our boys, basking in the lush oases of relational growth with Lynn, drawing from her well of love and contemplating the vast wastelands of human experience that have intensified my yearning for life eternal.
Despite this constant yearning I have, when I wake up each morning I'm faced with the reality that Christ isn't done with me yet. During our years here in Tucson it hasn't been hard to recognize what God wanted me doing, as we didn't have much of a choice, but since Lynn has gone on ahead of the boys and I, I've been faced with the looming question of what my next assignment will be or how God would have us structure our lives without Lynn.
As the weeks rolled by and these questions weighed on me along with the absence of Lynn, I found myself being driven to prayer and driven to pour out my feelings to Christ. My prayer times had been getting increasingly desperate throughout the fall of '07 and the second week of November I recorded this in my journal:
Feeling empty, purposeless and without direction I fell to my knees after the kids went to bed and pleaded with God to provide direction, fill me with his spirit, and show me what He wanted, where He wanted me to be and to do. This is what happened on Tuesday 11/6/07. Over a year after I posted my resume on monster.com, (Lynn and I were looking to make some changes) I got an email from Syracuse NY for an interview. I've responded to it and my mind has been racing ever since. Could this be my next assignment?
I remember sitting there dumbfounded, as I realized how shockingly direct God had answered my desperate prayers for direction. It was as if I had been pleading with God for an answer and when He knew I was ready for one, He then answered in a very unexpected way. It was as if He sat back, crossed His arms and said, 'Well you asked, and I answered, now what are you going to do? Are you going to back peddle now as so many people do, are you going to rationalize this away, or are you going to bow-up and obey?'
Well to make a long story short, Lockheed Martin flew me up for an interview, offered me a job and we're moving next month. We drove through Liverpool over Christmas break, stopped at a house, the agent stopped 30 seconds later and we'll be closing on house in a couple weeks. My commute will be cut from 40min to 4min and there's a church we'll be serving at a mile away. The first person I asked about renting out my Tucson house had just given notice to her landlord, was looking for another place and was thrilled at this opportunity.
Interestingly enough, I purposefully hamstrung my resume by listing it under part-time employment, I never updated it, checked on it, or reposted it, it has only been viewed 33 times, and Lockheed Martin was the only company that ever approached me about a job. I totally gave up on the idea of pursuing any major changes in our lives apart from the clear direction of God and this is about as clear as it gets.
Tucson will always be a place where I remember growing up in big ways, growing up to see life as the wisp of smoke that it really is, growing up to see how fragile superficial happiness can be, growing up to see past myself and to the needs of others, growing up to see the advantage of suffering, pain and loss, and growing up to see that Christ's power is truly made perfect in weakness.
It is truly bittersweet leaving this place that has tied to it so many memories of growing up with Lynn, and moving forward as God directs our lives. I don't know what the future holds for us, but I know who holds the future and I trust Him completely.
Our new address will be:
211 Donlin Dr.
Liverpool NY 13088
There's a guest apartment in the basement so we'll be expecting lots of visitors.
Our neighbors are throwing a farewell party at our infamous community "Recreation Center" at 4pm, Saturday the 23rd of February, so come join us if you can, and feel free to bring a side, we'll be barbequing.
Some of the words of the 'Ballad of Ira Hayes' were weighing heavily on me as I tearfully began to rewrite this sad song in light of my 'Sweet Sweet LynnMarie.' I invite you to gather around me and listen to the story I would tell, about a beautiful young woman that you should remember well.
If you've been caught in the quagmire of modern day Christian life and have wrestled with burnout, frustration and lack of motivation, chances are your focus is off. This sermon by Paris Reidhead has helped me tremendously and I'm convinced that if we, as growing and active Christians, capture what he has to say we'll be propelled into a lifetime of service that will never loose it's momentum.
Don't turn it off half way through because it just keeps building steam until the end.
It is amazing how life takes on a whole new dimension when there is someone experiencing it with you. I find that even. with my own kids, if there's just one more boy added to the mix the dynamics of the group are brought to another level and what was once boring suddenly becomes novel. At the end of the day, no matter what you have accomplished, no matter what you have done or achieved, no matter what you have seen or enjoyed, if there is nobody there to share it with, the whole experience rings with an eerie hollowness. We are all keenly aware that life's experiences transform themselves into meaningful memories inside relationships. 'Did you see that?' 'Wasn't that sad?' 'Do you remember when?' these questions mark our lives with significance because of our relationships.
There is really no other relationship that has the potential to bring us to another plane of living quite like marriage. And it is the marriage relationship that God alone ordained, called 'good,' and claims as His own picture of Christ and His people. There is no substitute for marriage; nothing comes close to the kind of comradery that can be forged between two people that are true to their vows and actually forsake all others. Companionship. Comradery. Friendship. These words are laid heavy with meaning against the backdrop of the commitment, love and oneness that can be found in marriage. Marriage then, as God designed it, is the crowning jewel of all human relationships because within it are the very shadows of Christ and His Church.
As I reflect on my marriage with Lynn and all that God walked us through I really feel like I've actually had the rare opportunity to behold that crowning jewel, to gaze upon its facets with fascination, to look into it and see true love, if just for a short time to see marriage as God designed it, and to experience marriage deep within my soul. Lynn and I have, what I think, one of the richest history's known to marriage, of course I'm biased and I do hope that others would contend for that same statement but I'll make it anyway. I simply cannot imagine reaching the depth of love and understanding with any other person save Lynn alone. We had true riches; we shared richness together as we joined with each other to build one life out of two. We shared a common history; we had long standing disagreements and inside jokes, we loved our kids with the same unmatched passion and wanted to see them grow as we grew old, we depended upon each other, helped each other, encouraged each other, aggravated each other and made each other laugh. We, quite literally, had it all, but even ending up with a great marriage is still no good reason to glory in this life because there is more.
If anyone thinks he has reasons to glory in this life, I can boast of more: I was married for fourteen years, to a woman who truly loved Jesus, she was gorgeous on the outside as well as the inside, as for friendship ours was as deep as they go, I had a friend of all friends, a true comrade, in regard to the love, we experienced selfless love, as for passion my heart breaks for her now; as for commitment I still feel one with her, I had it all! But whatever was to my profit I consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss, even my passionate love for Lynn, compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, who allowed me these experiences and for whose sake I will gladly loose more. I consider these experiences rubbish compared to the prospect of gaining Christ in a deeper way and to be found in him, not having a deep found richness of my own that comes from the God given pleasures of life, but the richness that comes through faith in Christ; true richness that doesn't pass away, the richness that comes from complete trust in God. (Inspired by Phil 3)
Lord, help me live from day to day
In such a self-forgetful way,
That even when I kneel to pray,
My prayer shall be for "Others"
Help me in all the work I do
To ever be sincere and true,
And know, that all I do for You
Must needs be done for "Others"
"Others" Lord, yes, "Others"
Let this my motto be,
Help me live for others
That I may live for Thee.
by Charles D. Meigs
This little poem/prayer has done much to epitomize the focus of a life lived for Christ, and helps clarify and bring the focus of Christian service back to Christ. I first heard this in a Chuck Smith sermon, he said he had to learn in a Bible club in school. I’m continually reminded at how great men of faith seem to always have these amazing little poems or axioms in their back pockets to help bolt down eternal truths.
You may have noticed that many pictures of Lynn's last winter here are sprinkled with knitted hats. Those hats kept her busy for several months and were not only the source of much activity but also the source of much pride and accomplishment. Sometime during the fall of '06 Lynn's friend Lynnette came over and showed her what she had been knitting on her nifty knitter and after seeing that she started to contemplate the possibility of knitting herself. It wasn't a day or two after Lynnette's visit that Lynn insisted on going down to the craft store to pick out a 'nifty knitter.' Well, after we got home we all realized that it was easier said than done, after several failed attempts we broke down to read the directions and before too long we were on the phone with Lynnette who came over and showed us all how to knit on this knitter.
It was nothing short of incredible to see Lynn knit; she would be deep in concentration, wrapping that yarn, turning that knitter and keeping the spool straight. Picking out new yarn, deciding on colors, selecting textures and choosing who the next hat would be for was a whole activity in itself. We would be at the craft store as she would hem and haw about all the decisions that needed to be made, and on more than one occasion we had to turn back and exchange the yarn for a different color or texture. And then were those times where she would make some mistakes and we would have to unwind some of the hat and start over, other times the yard was too fuzzy and soft that she had a terrible time keeping track of where she was.
As our plans for Christmas break started to materialize and Lynn was again trying to decide who the next hat would be for, I suggested making one for all the relatives in NJ. This suggestion turned into a month long endeavor for Lynn who dove into it with great enthusiasm. We must have counted and recounted those hats and all the relatives three or four times a week, she made small, medium, and large ones, some had folds but thank goodness she stuck to one type of yarn for the girls and one for the boys.
Lynn has always liked giving gifts and has always challenged me to be a cheerful giver. Her desire and impulse to give has often superseded her recollection of our bank account and has often been the source of contention over the years but I am a blessed man for having shared my life with someone who really liked to give. Giving, giving of yourself, giving of your time, your talents and your resources, is really at the heart of God, who wants to lavish on us gifts that will bless us for all of eternity. As I watched God lavish his gifts on Lynn the last year of her life, I saw Lynn grow into a spiritually mature lover of Christ who lived each day to get to know him more.
As she gave those hats to everyone, the joy in her eyes and the cheerfulness in her heart was obvious. She was giving of herself to people that she had come to love and in a way she was expressing the love and desire that God has for us all. I am just so thankful that God graced my life with someone who thoroughly enjoyed giving.