It Hurts to Write These Words…

“Ben died…”

Those were the first  words I read  upon awakening  this past Friday.

“May he rest in peace and rise in glory”

I hail from a large extended family and some I know better than others.  Ben, not so well.  But, his father, my cousin, is like a brother to me, having lived in our home for a substantial  period of time when I was growing up.  He gave me my first Beatles album.  (Rubber Soul)  He let me drive his pink corvette one day.  He has an infectious smile and laugh.  I have a million memories of and with him.  Like each  of us, he has strengths and weaknesses.  Like me, He loves Jesus.   I have dearly loved him as long as I can remember.  Although he is miles away, I am grieving with him today and will be in the days to come.  There is a hard road ahead.

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Ben was his youngest.  His one and only son,  from a mother I have yet to  meet.  He was the child who most resembled him,  from where I stand. He was the husband of   a kind and  beautiful wife who loved him and a sweet daughter he claimed.  He had siblings who also grieve.  Shockingly,  his exit from this life on earth has been splashed across television screens which omit his name,  for now.  A devastating end to a sometime tumultuous life. But then, whose isn’t?

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In the wee hours of the morning while riding his motor cycle on a deserted street in a town I once  called home, Ben was struck by a car.  His broken body slammed to the pavement and abandoned.    A helmet lay on the ground near a single white shoe.   A lone witness called for help as the driver of the car fled the scene, no doubt fueled by sheer panic and fear.

Emergency crews arrived to  transport him to a local hospital, where a kind young woman tried to reach my sister, several states away,  via Facebook.  Having found Ben’s ID, she searched for his name there and and saw my sister as a friend and attempted to reach her in the hours before dawn.  The kindness of strangers. 

In a sterile emergency room, surrounded by the good people who worked hard to save him, Ben breathed his last breath.  And now,  we, his extended family grieve, praying that he crossed over to glory.

The witness at the scene of the accident shared information allowing  the police  to identify a  suspect early on.  He was urged  to surrender and  tell his story.  His  car was found, windshield shattered and other damage to the front.  But he was in the wind.IMG_1324Truth be told,  there was no where to run.   Adding more sorrow to an already tragic situation,  he was found dead,  from what is assumed to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  My mind shouts “senseless-tragic-why?”   But- I am not God, hence I cannot comprehend the whys.  But, what I do believe, is that God will somehow use it all for His purposes and our good as this sad story continues to unfold.

There is more “collateral damage” than is known to us.  Both of the dead  were 41 year old- young men who  were sons and fathers,  loved by those who suffer in sorrow  today and who will grieve for many days to come. No doubt many  will ask the perennial question, “why?”  1 Peter 5:8 reminds us  that we have a ruthless enemy, described as “a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” He is always anxious to tear us away from everything that is good, every  gift God freely offers us.   By all we can see, it would that the enemy and his lies seem to have  won this battle.

But, God… DSC02948

 

Here’s what I know for sure:

  1. In God’s economy, nothing is wasted or lost.  His Word says that when we submit ourselves to Him, we can move forward from any situation, confident that He will work every situation, every loss, every tragedy and every triumph for our good. Romans 8:28 assures us He uses all things- the good, the bad and the ugly, for our good and His glory.
  2.  God knew both of these men’s hearts and He was there with both of them in their final moments.   While I do know Ben heard the Gospel and acknowledged  the emptiness of a God shaped space in his heart,    I cannot speak for the other victim in this tragedy.   But, God. God knew and knows. By His grace, up until the final  moments of life, He hears the cry of a sinner surrendering to him and responds with forgiveness and mercy, just as He did to the thief on the cross beside him, when he said,  “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
  3. As we grieve we all  have a choice;  either to grieve as those who have no hope, (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) or to grieve in expectation of being reunited with those we have loved here on earth, changing a hard good bye to a confident,  “I’ll see you in Heaven.”  After his infant son died, David said in 2 Samuel 12:23 that “some day I will go to him, but he cannot come back to me.” 
  4. When we suffer such great loss, (and we all will)  we must never forget that He still has work for us to do.  We must war against allowing  our sorrow to consume us.  When it’s time for us to be reunited with those who have gone before us, He will then  bring us Home. too.  Until then, we can either be paralyzed by grief or we can use it for His good, by serving as He calls us, waking every morning with the mindset of a soldier reporting for duty, asking for marching orders.  This is our great challenge and the proof of our faith.  This faith trusts in Him more than in the emotions that might derail us from his plans and purposes for our individual and collective lives. It’s us saying, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)

A mere three days into what might  aptly be described as a nightmare,  I have seen God’s hand at work in so many ways…in  the kindness of strangers…in the emergency workers at the scene of the accident…in the  witness who acted so quickly to call for help and to share information with the authorities… in the  media professionals who withheld Ben’s name so as not to be the first to notify loved ones of his death…in the many who have reached out to both grieving families and– in the visit between a father and a son so recent  that it had the finger prints of God all over it.IMG_0960

It is no coincidence that come July, this extended family of Ben and of mine, will once again gather together for a long ago scheduled reunion.  We will  celebrate an imperfect, unpredictable family that reaches far and wide across our country and the love and legacy we share. Unbeknownst to us until now,   we will also  grieve and celebrate Ben.  Some of us  will come to  know him better in death than we knew him in life as we share stories and remembrances from those who knew him and loved him best.  It is going to be a glorious time of remembrance, sprinkled with some grief, but not without joy.

And I, for one, can’t wait.

 

P.S.

The joy of the Lord is our strength.  If you are grieving, and in need of comfort and encouragement, please won’t you open your Bible (or your device) to the following encouraging Words from the God of all comfort. It is  my experience that

| JESUS NEVER FAILS. |

Please Read This and let me know how I can pray for you today:

Joshua 1:9

Psalm 28:7

Psalm112:6-7

Nehemiah 8:10

Isaiah 41:10

Exodus 15:2

John 14:27

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Never Forget

On this morning 17 years ago, I awoke to my radio alarm announcing that the World Trade Center had been hit by a plane.  In my half conscious state, I stumbled out of bed and walked across the hall to my office where I turned on a television in time to see live, the second plane soar into the second tower.

9/11 Tribute Sounds of Silence (Doninic Bukuski)

IMG_4002For me, the world changed forever that day.  An evil I had never known existed became a part of the fabric of my life.  It had existed no doubt from the beginning of time as we know it, but, it entered my world that day and since then, I have walked through life differently.  Not, in fear or in anxiety, but in the realization that evil is all around us in this broken world and that life is fragile.

May we for this one day,  set aside our weapons of disagreement and strife and name calling and honor those who were taken?

2,974 Lives

2603 in the TwinTowers

351 Fire Fighters/EMTs

246 on Planes

125 at the Pentagon

60 Police Officers

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Photo by Sharefaith on Pexels.com

May we take a moment to honor them and their unplanned, unexpected sacrifice and the sacrifice of all who loved them?  Might we put down our disagreements and the political rhetoric long enough to agree that evil was present that day in a way most of us had never personally experienced before?  May we grieve the losses and give honor?  May we take comfort in the fact that such evil cannot consume us when our hope is in the One who made the ultimate sacrifice for us on the cross, that we might forever be free of the sting of sin and death?  And may we be thankful for the freedoms we enjoy and the blessing we’ve been given by being citizens of this imperfect country?

Now, take heart.  We do not walk in fear, but in confidence and in victory.

“Don’t be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies.  There’s nothing they can do to your soul, your core being.  Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life–body and soul–in His hands.”

~Matthew 10:28, The Message

Don’t be deceived.  There IS an enemy.  The Bible tells us clearly in 1 Peter 5:8 that our enemy the devil is like a roaring lion, seeking whom to devour.  He is real.  But, in Christ, we have victory over him.  He roars loudly, but, this lion?  He has no teeth.

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This lion?  He has no teeth.   (Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Comforts of Community

Feeling more than a wee bit smug, I  put the finishing touches on my presentation about persevering through the storms of life. (I should’ve seen those yellow warning lights flashing, right?) I was scheduled to speak  to a gathering of women at my church  in 7 days  and was elated to have completed the preparation. (‘So unlike me to be ahead of the curve)  Except for that  nagging little voice in my head  telling me  there was still  something I needed to add. Never the less,  I  had a week to polish and prune and a wide open schedule if adjustments were needed.  No problem.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Right…

I arrived home that  Thursday evening  to find my husband in significant pain, but chalked it up to the fact that he had consumed an entire container of salsa with chips, so  we went to  bed praying he’d be better by morning.  When the sun came up, it was clear that was not the case.  His pain had intensified.  I called his physician and although he was overbooked for the day, they fit us in.   His pain was off the charts by the time we arrived at his office and his doc. urged us to go immediately to the ER for further evaluation.

We arrived to a bustling ER and were seen immediately, despite a lobby teeming  with sick and injured patients. He was quickly evaluated and though there  was “no room at the inn” he was moved into the patient area  where he was put on a gurney, in a hallway just across from the desks where nurses and physicians took calls and input information onto their computers. Eventually he was whisked off for an ultrasound and later a CT scan.  Blood was drawn and pain medication was administered.  And we waited.  For hours and hours.

The thing about an emergency room is that you are reminded that many others are far worse off than you are and that gives valuable perspective.  As results came in, it became clear that his gall bladder was the offending organ, an uncommon form of infection as most are caused by gall stones. He had none.  The CT scan showed a lot of inflammation around the gall bladder-  known as acalculous. Initially we expected surgery that night or early the next day.    It needed to come out immediately, but, because of a daily  medication he took, we would need to wait 5 days until that medication was out of his system in order to avoid excessive bleeding.   His white count was 29 which is 3 times the ideal,  indicating a serious infection was raging.  Although the surgery was impossible in that moment, the inflammation needed to be addressed.  As we approached midnight, he was moved to the med-surg  floor and prepared to be  taken into radiology, where a catheter was inserted to draw out infected fluid in order to bridge the situation until surgery was prudent.  The procedure had similar risks, but because it was less invasive there was less risk involved.  It was a short term fix.  In the days that followed, there were heavy doses of antibiotics, painkillers and  intravenous hydration.  Three days later, his  white count finally began to descend.

Over the next several days, I spent long days that morphed into nights at his bedside.  In the midst of this I learned a little more about the meaning of persevering through storms.  I learned that there are gifts to be found.  I learned that the gifts of community are in full bloom when we are confronted by such storms.  Via text messaging, I started three prayer/update chains, one for immediate family, one with Bible Study friends and one with some cousins.  The responses and reassurances of prayers going up on Mike’s behalf were an enormous comfort for me in the long hours I waited alone. Although I wasn’t able to respond in detail, I was able to show my appreciation quickly in most cases.

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By Sunday, the word was out.  Our senior Pastor came and spent an hour with us, encouraging and praying for healing.  Over the next days multiple church staff members came to pray, deliver chocolate and bring encouragement. My girl brought hot tea.    My sister-in-law and niece came briefly, and later delivered a sumptuous meal for me to take home. And one  night when I left the hospital after nearly 12 hours, I asked a security guard to escort me to the 3rd floor of the parking structure. His name was Jesus.  The significance of that was not lost on me.

So. Much. Kindness.

So. Many. Blessings.

The hospital experience was spectacular. The nurses, the nursing assistants, the physicians, the respiratory therapists…without exception we were bathed in kindness and grace. Each new morning I was made  aware of everyday heroes, quietly doing their jobs and blessing those  in their path with  their faithfulness to the tasks given them: worker bees, all –  nursing staff, housekeepers, facility staff, volunteers, cafeteria workers, security guards, parking attendants, lab technicians and pharmacists- the list is long.   Even as I rode the elevators up and down, every employee made eye contact and spoke intentionally. Every single one.  It was like it was a job requirement.  Volunteers played piano in the lobby as I entered each morning and one such morning I found myself singing along…

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God bless the volunteers…

“Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, everything’s coming up roses, everything’s going my way.”  Bringing joy and uplifting hearts, one song at a time.

Over the next week, my  days were spent spoon feeding my patient  bland, pureed food, assisting  with grooming , adding blankets and taking them away, adjusting heat and bed up and down,  calling for more medications or to stop beeping machinery,  meeting with physicians and sending out updates to our prayer partners.  Friends and family came bearing  chocolate, hot beverages, books, cards , plants, dinner and prayers. One such angel walked and fed our pooches twice a day as I manned my post at the hospital.   Encouraging texts flowed in throughout each day, surrounding us with friendship and love even though I was hard pressed to respond with specific updates.  Prayers from Montana, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, California and more and phone calls from concerned friends and family.  We were so covered and felt so loved.

Although he was assigned a shared room, we were blessed with privacy for the first five days.  It was a blessing to have time  and space to spread out with my books and laptop and a chair to rest in.  Then, by divine intervention, an 85 year old Syrian man came in to claim the other bed.  His daughter visited her Father that night and overheard a conversation about my niece who had visited earlier. When the woman got up to leave later, she apologized for overhearing but she had heard the names I mentioned and wondered… long story short, we realized she had actually cared for my nieces two decades earlier when they were very young.  Though she no longer  lives  in the area,  she  had come to see her Father in the hospital and our Heavenly Father ordained that he should be placed in the bed next to my husband. Another reminder that our  God  is in the details of our lives.  She  shared with me that my  nieces had recently been on her mind and heart and after I updated her on their lives she vowed to keep them in her prayers, knowing the Lord is faithful to provide for all their needs. Isn’t our  God so personal  and so kind? I am astounded at His intervention in our lives.

Six days after we first arrived at the hospital, a successful surgery was performed and on day seven, the patient came home, very grateful to be sprung from the annoyances of hospital life while appreciating every individual there who made his return home possible.

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Sometimes community springs up where we are, as it did in the hospital that week. But, deep community is built in the monotony of everyday life when things are going well.  It happens in our neighborhoods, in our churches and in our interactions with others.  But, it doesn’t happen without our making the effort .  The time to build community is now, not when you’re en route to the hospital in an ambulance.  Because when you’re sitting in a hospital and day becomes night and then day again, that’s when your community will prop you up.  When you are fatigued beyond your breaking point, they will deliver a much needed cup of coffee when you don’t even realize your body is craving caffeine or,  a meal when you didn’t realize how hungry you were.  They will close the windows you left open in your mad dash to get help and they will walk your dogs when you can’t get home to do it yourself.  More importantly, they will send up prayers on your behalf when you are at a loss for words to pray yourself.  They will bring comfort by waiting with you in the surgery waiting room and be a balm to your weary soul.   These are the priceless gifts of community.

Get one.

Build one.

 

Enter one.

Tomorrow you may well reap the benefits from the one you built today.