Tag Archives: heaven

Grief.

21 Mar

My mom is dead. My mom died.

I keep repeating those words in my head, unable to comprehend this truth. We knew it was a possibility, even a probability, for so long and yet now that it’s happened, it doesn’t feel real.

Other times it feels like a stab in the heart. Or like an elephant sitting on my chest. Like a nightmare I can’t outrun. Like someone else’s life I am observing. Like the whole world is different. Like the world is the same and I’m different.

With two young kids, I don’t have the option of sitting around grieving. And to be honest, even though spending extra time in bed or on the couch sounds appealing, I want to keep moving forward with life – if for no other reason than my mom would’ve wanted me to. Even in her last weeks and months, she was worried most about how her death would affect us, how we would handle the gaping hole she left in her wake. She was concerned about other people so much that it drove me crazy sometimes!

She loved being a mom, and for the past four years, a grandma. There is hardly any aspect about mothering now that does not remind me of her. When I nurse Annabelle, I think of my mom nursing me until I was over 2 (so she said, I don’t remember it). When I rock either girl in my arms, I think of my mom, who loved, loved, loved rocking babies (no sleep training for that woman!). When they cry, I think of how she wouldn’t have been able to stand it—her momma bear instinct was too fierce.

Those reminders of her make me want to be a better mom. A mom who is more patient, loving, kind, gentle, self-controlled and self-sacrificing. I want to “major on the majors” and make sure I find time for the most important things, not let my days get eaten up with things that don’t really matter (even if they’re things I enjoy). I want to live my life with joy and passion, to pursue my dreams, to make the best use of my days. I want to enjoy being a mother, to truly embrace my role and not just view my girls as impediments to my freedom and personal time (which I do sometimes because I’m selfish). I want to be compassionate and patient with my girls, to hold them when they’re crying, to get on their level and understand what’s wrong instead of getting mad that they’re being difficult. Because life is short, and I want to look back on these years able to say that I loved deeply and lived well.

As we sat by my mom in her last hours, my dad, older brother Jeremy, sister-in-law Jen, younger brother Chris, and I all took turns rubbing her arms and hands. Her freckled hands were as familiar to me as my own. They were her instruments of serving and healing. Those hands cared for us, patched wounds, massaged backs and legs, changed diapers, blew noses, washed bodies, applied sunscreen, dried hair, cooked meals, wiped tears.

I find myself wishing I could talk to her in prayer like Jesus. Even though we were blessed with time for saying goodbye in long, heartfelt conversations, I find myself replaying what I said and wondering, “Why in the world didn’t I bring up more fond memories, instead of her being left alone with all the kids for hours by my dad and grandparents, and her throwing the hairdryer in anger at me when I was being extremely difficult? Did I even tell her that I thought she was an amazing mom and friend, and loved her to the core of my being?” So I ask Jesus to tell my mom that I love her and miss her, and that those aren’t what I think of when I remember her.

Instead, I’ll think of how she was my favorite person on earth next to my husband and babies. I’ll think about how familiar and dear she was to me, and how genuinely I enjoyed being around her. Yes, it’s true her worrywart tendencies drove me crazy sometimes, but isn’t that a mark of true intimacy? I’ll think about the weeks last summer that the girls and I spent with her while Travis traveled. Precious memories. I took them so very much for granted. If I had known then that she’d be gone by now…

But here’s the thing about watching someone die from cancer or disease: you often don’t know what to do or say. Even as a Christian with the greatest hope in the world, I stumbled through conversations and interactions because I just didn’t know. You can’t fully understand what the other person is experiencing, and you’re dealing with your own hard, mixed emotions about the whole situation. You want to be positive, but not Pollyanna. You want to be encouraging, but realistic. You want to empathize with their sorrow and fear, but not contribute or add to it. You want to ask about the situation, but you also want to distract them from it.

What I decided early on, especially since it was my mom, was that I was just going to show up and be real. I was going to try hard to point her to Jesus, and remind her of the hope she had in Him, but if I didn’t have the words, or know what to say, I’d just be there anyway. And I’d say, “I’m not sure what to say.”

Same with being by her side in those last days. What do you do in that situation? I wasn’t sure, but before I even left my house, I determined that I would not let my weird hangups or fear of awkwardness make me regret not doing something for her or with her at the end of her time on earth. So I sat by her on the bed, holding her hand. I hugged her, and rested my head on her shoulder when I saw tears in the corners of her eyes as she listened to a music therapist named Julie sing Beyond the Sunset with just her voice and an acoustic guitar. I wiped her mouth, dotted chapstick on her dry lips, and told her through sobs that this wasn’t the way I’d remember her—that there was this picture from the Mexican family reunion where she was playing a guitar made out of a skewer and aluminum sheet pan and laughing. That’s how I’ll remember her.

My brother Chris called the Tuesday before she died. “They don’t think she has long left,” he said. Even though I had visited her in the middle of January and said what I wanted to say, how do you not rush to the bedside of one you love so dear? So I packed up and hit the road with Annabelle (Travis would follow with Tina Tornado on the weekend so that I could have some quiet time with my mom), arriving in Rochester Tuesday evening. As I was unloading the car, my dad took Annabelle up to see my mom. He said she just lit up when Annabelle entered the room.

That night and Wednesday, she was alert for 30 minutes or so every few hours. Wednesday night, my dad woke up Jeremy, Jen and me in the middle of the night, thinking that the end was near. But her heart was stubborn and held on for all of Thursday too. That was a long day. Some extended family came to visit. The music therapist and hospice nurse came for a bit. Several times, we thought the end was close, but she recovered, heart beating, lungs breathing.

Thursday night, we went to bed around 10:30. About 12:15 am on Friday, I woke up to my dad nudging me and he simply said, “She’s gone.” I got up and followed him into the hall, where we talked to my brother and sister-in-law a bit. We said good night and headed back to bed, but the second I got under the covers, I was like, “What am I doing? I can’t go back to sleep right now!”

So I headed upstairs and asked if I could see her. And it was true: she was gone. Just the shell of her earthly body remained. Her soul, the real her, was in heaven with Jesus. Chris said truthfully, “Now we’re the ones to feel sorry for.”

My dad called the funeral home and they said they’d be out in 30 minutes to take her body. So Chris went and got Jeremy and Jen, and we all stayed in the bedroom until the funeral home people arrived.

While they carried her body out of the house, the rest of us moved into the kitchen and Chris jokingly suggested taking shots of pickle juice (one of my mom’s favorite things) in her honor. “Let’s do it!” I said. So the five of us said, “Cheers,” and drank shots of pickle juice at 1:00 in the morning.

Early afternoon on Friday, Travis and Emma arrived, and the rest of our time down in Rochester was a blur of funeral preparations, seeing extended family and chasing wild kids. That was one of the hardest weeks of my life, and I was relieved when I could finally retreat to my own home and familiar comforts. I see vaguely now that part of the reason was that I wanted to escape the relentless reminders of her absence, a luxury my dad doesn’t have.

Two weekends ago, I returned to Rochester for the first time since my mom died. As I walked in the door of my parents’ house and saw a peace lily from the funeral my dad had placed on the piano, it hit me afresh that my mom was gone. It was just his house now. Little by little, evidences of her decorating, organization, presence will disappear. We boxed up unused medical supplies and sorted through her clothes, personal items, jewelry, shoes, and purses while I was there, making piles of things to keep, things to sell, things to throw. I know it’s time to do these things but it still just feels too sudden, too soon.  I haven’t been able to delete her contact from my phone because it feels like I’d be erasing her. I know it’s not… but still.

Grief is a process, and as the hospice chaplain told us, it’s different for everyone. When I focus on this earthly life, I am devastated my mom died. But when I remember the hope of heaven, and the fact that she’s there now, I feel peaceful. As one of the wonderful sympathy cards we received says (in the words of M.B. Anderson): “God confidently assures us—in the great symphony of life, the final refrain for the believing heart is triumphant, everlasting JOY.”

We’re sad on earth, but my mom is celebrating in Jesus’ presence. We saw her earthly life end, but she is living a glorious beginning.

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Cor. 15:54-57)

My body is not who I am.

1 Oct

 

Last Tuesday, I went to the second meeting of our women’s book study at church. The study I chose is Love to Eat, Hate to Eat by Elyse Fitzpatrick. Even though I had found peace with food back in December of 2009 and I like to think that I have healthy eating all figured out, food and body image are still a struggle for me, and have been for a while.

It started the summer after I graduated from high school. I was bored because I only worked 20 hours, my boyfriend was gone for the summer and all my friends were busy. So to pass the time, I started exercising intentionally and counting calories for the first time in my life.

I took a detour my freshman year of college, when I became a pothead and gained 20 lbs from the munchies. By my sophomore year, I was back down to my previous weight, but more obsessed about diet and exercise than ever.

After becoming a Christian the summer after my sophomore year, things got better but this struggle continued to be a roller coaster.

I tried to dethrone my idol of thinness in 2008.

I swore off counting calories in 2009.

I talked about accepting my body shape in 2010.

I thought I had discovered the solution to emotional eating in March of this year.

But here I am, still struggling. That’s why I signed up for the book study. In all the years of my dealing with this, I had never talked to another Christian woman about it. I advocate vulnerability and transparency in all areas of life. I have been very open in talking about my life before I became a Christian and the body struggles I had then. But I have always conveniently glossed over my current trials.

Because I’m ashamed. This is an ugly sin. It’s judgmental and critical and harsh and unforgiving. It makes me feel superior to some and inferior to others. I have really good days when I think, “Oh, I must be over that struggle.” And then there are bad days when I think, “I’m so fat and disgusting and I feel like a blob.” Then there are days when I wake up and feel good about what I see in the mirror but after eating a little too much at dinner, I swear to never eat again.

I have tried almost everything I can think of to conquer this demon. I’ve reminded myself of truth – that God created me this way and I’m beautiful to Him. I’ve tried to be inspired by other women who are confident in less-than-perfect figures. I’ve ditched the clothes that make me figure-conscious and instead donned clothes that I can feel comfortable in. I’ve traded in my bikini for a tankini. I’ve sworn off sweets for months at a time. I’ve sworn off having rules about eating at all.

And here I still am.

I think this book study will be good for me. I know God wants to change this area of my life (because it is nas-tay) and I have long been trying to fix it myself (like I always do). I think it will not only be good to have other women to talk to about this, but also to have a meeting every two weeks to keep my mind focused on this. And this time, I am not expecting any quick fixes. I am not expecting this problem to be solved overnight, or for me to able to remind myself of truth one morning and have my struggles vanish into thin air. This will take time. This will being reminded of truth over and over and over and over…

The truth that is helping me refocus right now came from John Piper’s sermon called Staying Married is Not About Staying in Love Part 2: Our bodies do not represent who we really are. All along, I have been operating under the purview that I am only as good as I look.

But that’s not the truth – about me or any other person. The truth is that our bodies don’t have the glory they were supposed to have. We lost that glory in the fall. These imperfect bodies remind us that God will someday give us new bodies – bodies that are perfect and beautiful and free of sin. These bodies are vessels that house our souls, which cannot be seen but are precious.

“Let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:4).

Trials in our lives remind us that we don’t belong on earth and someday, we will be with Christ in perfect joy. In the same way, imperfect bodies can remind us that we will be glorified one day – but not today, and not here. Instead of chasing peace and perfection on earth, I can let these trials redirect my gaze to the greater reality of heaven and a new body.

I’m sure this is just the tip of the eating/body issue iceberg so there will be more to come.

What truth helps you accept your body the way it is?

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Keeping an Eternal Perspective: Health

4 Aug

I was listening to a sermon by Tim Keller the other day about idols and epidesires (“over desires,” from the Greek word epithemia). Keller defined them as anything that if you lost it, would make you not want to live.

My initial reaction was “I’m not attached to anything that strongly,” since I’ve read his book Counterfeit Gods in which he illustrates this point with examples of CEOs and CFOs that committed suicide after the stock market tanked in 2008. I am definitely not attached to money, fame or success like that.

But since I admit my status as a sinner and try to catch myself when I start thinking I’m “above” anything, I thought about this idea more. There had to be something in my life that was an epidesire.

And then I figured it out: my health.

I love being active. I spend many hours a week exercising. Travis and I like to do active things together. If I stop being active for even a week, I feel like a blob and am itching to get back at it.

I also have to admit that I love being a healthy weight. I can easily find clothes in my size, I (for the most part) like the way I look, and can wear a bikini with just a smidge of self-consciousness. (I don’t think I’d be human if I had none!)

One of my biggest motivators for staying active and eating healthy, though, is the desire to avoid major health issues and be able to hike and run when I’m 70 (like I see so many elderly people doing out here in Colorado!). I don’t want to have diabetes or take 20 minutes to walk 10 feet. I want to run around with my grandchildren, go swimming at the lake, and enjoy life!

So, what if all that changed? What if I had to take a medication that caused me to gain 20, or 50, pounds? What if I got into an accident and lost the use of my legs? What if I got breast cancer, like so many other women do, and had to have a complete mastectomy?

Would I still want to live?

Would I still rejoice at life and be joyful? Or would I pity myself? Based on my track record, I’m guessing the latter.

Like everything in life, there’s a line between health being a good thing, and it being an ultimate thing. That’s what Tim Keller is getting at when he talks about epidesires. It’s good to want to be healthy, to be good stewards of our bodies through diet and exercise, and to be consistently mindful of those things. God created our bodies to function best when they’re used through physical activity and fed with natural foods.

But it’s easy for health to turn into an ultimate thing. How many sleep-deprived mornings have made me angry, assuming that my lack of sleep was going to make me sick? How many days does my harsh assessment of my body shape make me feel depressed and unhappy? How many times have I felt superior to people who aren’t healthy and in shape?

The truth is, we’re not in control of our health. We can direct its general course, but God has the ultimate say. One of our friends (who I have mentioned on here before) was a non-smoker but just got diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer. Life — and our health — are fragile.

Same thing with body shape — we can keep our weight at a healthy level and develop muscle by strength training. But we can’t alter our body shape. That was determined by God when He knit us together in the womb. (Something I need to be reminded about often!)

Living a healthy lifestyle isn’t a get-out-of-cancer-free card. It’s not a guarantee from God that we’re never going to get sick, be hospitalized, or lose the use of some of our faculties. Our bodies are like the rest of the world: falling apart. This whole world is falling apart. It wasn’t meant to last.

I sometimes get frustrated at the transient nature of things. Happy moments don’t last. A clean house doesn’t last. The pristine condition of something new doesn’t last. Everything ends, falls apart, breaks, or gets beat up. That’s the nature of the world we live in.

I am learning to let those frustrations push me into the glorious hope of heaven, “where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal,” instead of into a bitter mood or cynical outlook. Because of what Christ has done, when we find a new wrinkle, or lumps where before there were none, or we don’t have the endurance or speed or flexibility we once had, instead of lamenting our demise into old age, we can glory in our hope of being raised with imperishable bodies. I’ll end with this extended quote from 1 Corinthians 15:

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body… The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory?

O death, where is your sting?”

 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Happy Freedom Day!

1 Jul

I will be leaving early tomorrow morning to go backpacking with Travis, the pooches, and two friends and their pooch. So I won’t be blogging (until next week when I’ll post pics of our adventures!).

But have a GREAT weekend and enjoy yourself (safely)! Go watch some fireworks, which is my most favorite thing about this holiday (though my husband does not share that fondness)!

I can tend to get wrapped up in the fact that it’s a 3-day weekend filled with fun festivities that I forget what we’re actually celebrating: being a free country. It is such a huge blessing to live here and be able to walk down the street without fear, attend church publicly every Sunday, and not worry about where I’m going to sleep or what I’m going to eat.

This day of freedom also makes me think of the Ultimate Liberator: Jesus Christ. Without His death on the cross, we would all still be captive to sin and Satan, destined for an eternity in hell. But because of His sacrifice, we can have freedom when we trust in Him for salvation! Freedom from sin, self, this world. Freedom to love God with all our hearts, enjoy fellowship with Him and one another, and do fun things like watching fireworks, all the while knowing that this world is temporary and the real celebration will happen someday soon in heaven.

How do you use holidays to remind yourself of the gospel?

Keeping an Eternal Perspective

30 Jun

This is the first installment of a weekly series I am going to start on my blog called Keeping an Eternal Perspective. Ever since I started back to work full-time at the beginning of May, God has been reminding me to keep my focus on eternity and the rewards He has promised to me there, as well as the blessings I receive by living a life that glorifies Him here.

I wanted to share a story I read in my Girlfriends in God devotion this morning:

A wealthy man prayed and asked for permission to take his earthly wealth with him when he died and went to heaven. An angel appeared to the man and said, “We heard your prayer, but I am sorry. You simply cannot take it with you.” The man pleaded so passionately that the angel said, “Let me see what I can do.” When the angel returned, he reported, “Good news! God has made an exception for you. You may bring one suitcase with you when it is your time to go.” Delighted, the man packed his one suitcase and went on with life. Several years later, he died and appeared at the Pearly Gates where he was met by St. Peter who took one look at the suitcase and said, “I am sorry, sir, but you cannot bring that in with you.” The man protested, “But I received special permission.” Just then, the angel appeared and said, “Peter, it is true. He has special permission to bring one suitcase in with him.” Curious, Peter said, “Do you mind showing me what is in the bag that is so important to you?” With a smile, the man replied, “Not at all” and proceeded to open the suitcase to reveal stacks of gold bricks. Peter’s face said it all, “Pavement? You brought pavement with you?” 

I loved that story because it shows how skewed our view of reality is. To echo one of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

We are not aware of the immensity of the joys to be given us in heaven: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9). We don’t often focus on the joys that come to us in this life as a result of living for God’s glory and not for our own: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

Throughout my Christian walk, God has called me to give up good things (like shopping) for greater things, even if that greater thing is only my own personal sanctification. My time reading through 2 Corinthians has reminded me that not only are those sacrifices worth it because they are an outworking of obedience, they are also producing “an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” I am not fully aware of the work God is doing in my life through these circumstances but the promise that He is using these things to sanctify me and glorify Himself through me is everywhere in the Bible.

So that is where my heart is resting today.

A heavenly country

20 Feb

Everyone has their own interpretation of heaven. Some people think that it’s an endless expanse of sky with white puffy clouds and nothing to do but play harps and eat Philadelphia cream cheese. Others think that heaven doesn’t exist at all. Once you leave earth, there’s nothing. Or maybe they think that heaven is part of earth, like the white sandy beaches of the Cayman Islands. Some people might think heaven is whatever you loved on earth all together in one place, like in the movie What Dreams May Come.

But for Christians, it’s none of those things. Instead, it’s a city where the streets are gold and there are no lamps and no sun; nevertheless, it is always day because the light of the Lamb reaches to all places. It’s the presence of God, intimate and forever. It’s no longer having sinful flesh but rather, gloriously resurrected bodies. It is perfection beyond any human expectation or imagination.

That’s what I have to look forward to. That’s what makes my life here on earth worth living and indeed, worth enduring. Even though my daily troubles seem puny compared to the human suffering I hear and read about–like just tonight, I read about female genital mutilation in countless third world countries–my life wouldn’t be worth living if I didn’t have such an end. I am always confounded by those who don’t believe that anything happens when we die. My roommate in college believed that. What do we have to live for if there is nothing after this life?

Moreover, if the glorious new earth described in the book of Revelations is not true, and if Jesus Christ did not die and rise again for the forgiveness of sins, we who are Christians have nothing to live for either. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15: “…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” Christians–and I believe all people–need something to live for beyond this life. For “…If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people to be pitied,” because this life is hard and messy.

I have felt that truth about life living out in Colorado. I love my job and the people we’ve met and I’m with my wonderful husband. So I have a lot to be thankful for. But I miss my friends more than anything. Humans were made for community. Not just Christians but humans in general. I believe that God designed us to need each other. So leaving behind my very best friends has been very hard.

I feel at times like Travis and I are going through life alone, just the two of us vs. the Great Big World. It may be because when we became Christians 4 years ago, the first Body of believers we plugged into was a group fully bought into the value of discipleship. We had the importance of one-on-ones and intentional relationships drummed into our heads day after day. And I loved it. I loved being in a discipleship group and meeting once a week with a group of my girlfriends. We talked about boys, bodily functions, random things, and the Bible. We related our insecurities, our longings, our struggles, our joys and successes. I felt so close to those girls, not only because we shared the bond of the Spirit but because they bared their hearts to me and I to them.

But out here, I have not found this. I have met some great women through our church that I am excited to get to know. But it seems that the potential of that deep relationship forming is small when we only get together once every other week and everyone has husbands, kids, and full-time jobs. It looked different as a college student in a campus ministry.

So I have been delighted by the reminder of my real home: heaven. C. S. Lewis writes in his book The Great Divorce, “I believe, to be sure, that any man who reaches Heaven will find that what he abandoned (even in plucking out his right eye) has not been lost: that the kernel of what he was really seeking even in his most depraved wishes will be there, beyond expectation, waiting for him in the ‘High Countries.'” The fellowship I so desire, the bridge over the gap in human intimacy and vulnerability, will be waiting for me in heaven. And more than that, it will be beyond expectation: all believers will be together in perfect union as we worship and adore the Lamb of God forever.