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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Value of a Smile

I really love retired life.  My days are full and I love the freedom it affords.  Even so, in a moment of  madness,  I accepted a short-term position which landed me back in the workforce for a period of six weeks. Three weeks into it,  I’m musing on the value of a smile.

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A happy face means a glad heart…  -Proverbs 15:13 The Living Bible

Each day of my assignment, I have been given the opportunity to interact with anywhere from  25 to 75 individuals for  a portion of my day and theirs.  What has repeatedly  pierced my heart in these interactions has been  the power of a smile and those who seem unable to give and receive them.

I have long been challenged by a desire to present a smile to all I come in contact with. The humble, quiet, smile can break down walls, lighten loads, ease anxiety, cheer the down hearted and comfort the hurting.  It can encourage the worried, create a safe space for the scared and elicit a mirrored response.  In that moment, all is good and right when someone smiles at you.

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A joyful heart is good medicine…  -Proverbs 17:22

I find it disturbing when humans, both young and old, walk around with blank, angry or hardened faces. These faces appear unwilling to make eye contact and unable to give or even respond to a smile.  They walk around with fences around their hearts that dare anyone to tear them down.  I weep, especially, for the young students I have seen these last few weeks, who enter a room face down, stone faced and unable to receive the warmth of a smile, let alone return it. A smile invites others into your life, if only for a moment.  It says, “you are welcome here in my world for this time we are together”.  It makes you accessible and allows someone to experience a moment of joy.

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If you’re happy, notify your face.  If you’re not, try to smile anyway.  It’s good for your soul.

If you refuse to receive and respond to a smile with one of your own, you are shutting those out who are purveyors of peace and joy. Perhaps fear, isolation or abandonment has caused you to shut others out for fear of being wounded by someone you once opened your heart to. Consider that a smile may well begin to heal what is broken and warm what has grown cold.

Let’s admit right now that it’s not always easy to smile.  Sometimes it is a sacrifice to set aside how we’re feeling inside and to go beyond those feelings to give someone else what they might need.  But let’s also be real.  It’s not that hard to turn up the corners of our mouths even when we may be hurting inside.  What does that old song say?

SMILE

This is some good advice friends. Take heed, because when we smile we not only brighten the person we’re giving it, too, but we are also notifying our own soul that there is still much to be joyful about and to be grateful for.  We cheer ourselves when we cheer others.

Take the smile challenge.  Make it your business to give  more smiles today.  Bless someone with a gift that costs you nothing but may be an encouragement to one desperately in need of it.

Just SMILE.

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Fighting for Marriage

This last week, the husband and I celebrated 26 years of marriage. ¬†Note, I did not say 26 years of wedded bliss. ¬†Marriage, without question, is the most challenging relationship on earth. The Bible refers to “iron sharpening iron,” ¬†and I find that mental image to be ¬†an apt one. Iron sharpening iron is noisy and hard and seems to be unyielding. ¬†Yet, ¬†as those two forces merge, both are polished to a smoothness they would never achieve on their own. ¬†This is marriage.

I am grieved as I survey the number of marriages crumbling around us.  Not just young ones who are more immature and who struggle through the inevitable challenges of  two lives coming together, but more mature ones who have raised families, served their communities, walked through the fires of life, instructed others  and celebrated decades of marriage, only to watch their own families implode. Not just a marriage, but a life, a family,  a home and a life time of traditions and more.   It is heartbreaking to me.

As a Christian believer, I view marriage as the merging of two souls into one, with Christ at the center.  Ironically, this is a commitment that requires more of us than any of us would fully yield to if we knew the scope of it.  We start out with stars in our eyes, but, over time the clouds cover those stars and it becomes challenging  to persevere.     It is hard work, but it is the good work of sacrificial love and a tenacity that can only be achieved by His grace and His strength.    It is a picture that Christ uses to reflect His own relationship with His church.  We are the bride of Christ and  He,  the bridegroom.  His enemy and ours, seeks to destroy that very reflection.  When we think we are safe, we are probably  at our most vulnerable and must be on our guard.

Author Madeleine L’Engle once said,

“No long-term marriage is made easily, and there have been times when I’ve been so angry or so hurt that I thought my love would never recover. ¬†And then, in the midst of near despair, something has happened beneath the surface. ¬†A bright little flashing fish of hope has flicked silver fins and the water is bright and suddenly I am returned to a state of love again–till next time. I’ve learned that there will always be a next time, and that I will submerge in darkness and misery, but that I won’t stay submerged.”

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Those “silver fins” just below the surface…

Sometimes it feels as if we really are drowning. But,  we can emerge from those dark waters. If only we could remember this, when we are tempted to yield to despair and throw up our hands surrendering to dark waters.

Divorce, like suicide is most often a permanent solution to a temporary problem.  I speak from experience.  You  see, the husband and I originally married some 40 years ago and divorced a few short years later.  Fortunately, we were blessed to be  reunited 26 years ago, older, wiser and with a firm commitment to enduring all things as we renewed our vows.   We did not expect  an easy road and it has not been one.  That said, it has been a road that has shaped us and has yielded the most beautiful fruit we could have imagined.

Our culture no longer honors marriage in the way it did in years past. ¬†People talk about “starter” marriages as if we are each entitled and even destined ¬†to make ¬†one trial run before getting it right. ¬†Promises are no longer kept. ¬† Many among us eschew marriage all together, viewing it as an unnecessary ¬†and outdated institution. ¬†Even in the church, marriages are crumbling at an alarming rate. ¬†As I think about my own community, I have visibility of ¬†three marriages on the brink…couples who have been married decades, who have served faithfully, been immersed in ministry and who have instructed others in the faith. One has ended in divorce, another is awaiting a ¬†final decree and the last couple are physically separated. ¬† The reasons are many, I know. ¬†Addiction, infidelity, anger, defeat, frustration and ¬†weariness all come in to play. ¬†And finally, one day, there is just no will to keep fighting for ¬†survival or we can’t bring ourselves to forgive what feels unforgivable. ¬† It just seems easier to give in and give up. ¬†We fall out of love instead of growing through it. ¬†Hence, ¬†we are all the losers.

Let me interject here that I don’t believe divorce to be the unforgivable sin– not by any means. ¬†I know there are situations that are untenable, particularly those involving physical abuse, mental illness and chronic unfaithfulness. ¬†While I have seen marriages brought back from the brink of despair, I understand that ¬†there are times when divorce is the last and final option. I also believe such cases should be ¬†rare. ¬† God hates divorce. ¬†But He loves His children and forgives our failures. ¬†His grace is sufficient when divorce is the only remaining option and we’ve made the most of every opportunity to reconcile. ¬† But, far too many marriages fail without having made every effort to save them. ¬†Those efforts may take time, effort, counsel, prayer and determination to stay the course until every roadblock has been cleared. And–it’s hard.

Even so,  there is hope even when it seems most hopeless.  I speak not as a Pollyanna, but  as one who endured years of seemingly hopeless circumstances.   If we are not actively fighting for our marriages, we will likely one day be tempted to surrender to divorce.  Sometimes we  need to set our emotions completely aside for a period of time and just commit to standing firm as we keep the promises we made at the altar. We have to guard our marriages, even when we think we are  most secure. We need to  encourage those on the brink to press on, to press in and to press through, while praying for our own marriages and those around us.   We are all one step away from a life-changing fall if we do not.  We are told in 1 Peter 5:8-10:

“Be self-controlled and alert. ¬†Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. ¬†Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”¬†

Note that we are not told we will have unending bliss at all times.  We are told that throughout the world, our brothers and sisters are also suffering.  Life is hard.  Marriage requires tenacity.  Suffering is a part of the human condition and our marriages are not exempt.  We need to know that hard times not only will come, but they may go on for far longer than we expect or believe ourselves capable of enduring.   Psalm 30:5 reminds us that,

“…weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

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sometimes you just need to dial 911

The nights may be long, but, if we will just hold on, the fever will break, and we can rise again to joy in the morning. ¬†Note that I said hard times¬†will come.¬† Even when it appears that all hope is gone, we cannot give in to defeat. ¬†We need to seek help before we are hallucinating from said fever. ¬†So, “dial 911” if you will–¬†seek counsel, pray hard and remember what you’ve built together. Pray for your spouse to change, but, and perhaps more importantly, ¬†pray that you will be changed. ¬† Be assured that your circumstances are more likely to ¬†change with the passage of time than not. ¬†Hard days may morph into months and even years. ¬†Yes, I realize that’s a hard pill to swallow. ¬†But, hold tight to the vows you made. ¬†Trust the God who knows the beginning and the end. ¬† When you are most weary, ¬†He is most present. ¬†He will make a way where there seems to be no way. ¬†Our job is to fight the good fight, never succumbing to despair, believing that He can heal what appears to be dying. ¬†He is in the resurrection business. ¬†When we see death, He sees another opportunity to bring a marriage back to ¬†life.

Mine is a marriage resurrected. ¬†I thank God for all the times we stood on the brink but chose to keep fighting for our life together. Decades down the road, I rejoice in what He has done, hard times not withstanding. ¬†Trials ¬†will come and they will go, but, ¬†by the grace of God and the prayers of the saints, we can endure and even thrive. ¬†Don’t accept a death sentence.

Rise up.  You are braver and more courageous than you know.

Press in. Press on.  Press through.

“One Good Decision…”

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all photos by hollykatephotography.com

“One good wish changes nothing. ¬†One good decision changes everything.” ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†¬†-anonymous

Forty years ago today, the husband and I stood together in front of the fireplace of our living room, and said “I do”. ¬† ¬†A small group of friends and family joined us that evening ¬†to witness two woefully unprepared ¬†souls coming together in the hopes of building a life that would endure. ¬†Who knew then, that it would mirror the name of my favorite ice-cream?

Yep.  Rocky road.

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Four decades down that road, this merged life has never been sweeter. ¬†Full disclosure: ¬†it’s often been more bitter than sweet. ¬†We’ve taken some pretty significant detours to get where we are today. ¬† Back roads which took us through ¬†infidelity, separation, divorce, ¬†addiction, re-marriage, rage, sorrow, hopelessness, futility and multiple mountain ranges of frustration. ¬†There have been hair-pin turns, comparable to the Amalfi Coast, where each curve left us gasping for breath, knowing one wrong move could plunge us over a cliff we might never come back from. ¬†There have been potholes the size of Montana and some ice that sent us spinning into guard rails. ¬†But, we are still standing on this side of those ledges.

I married an imperfect man and he married and imperfect woman.  He thought he could control me and I thought I could save him.  Obviously, we were both deluded.  So we went over the cliff and called it quits.  It was ugly.  I moved cross-country, seeking a new life as far away as I could get from the old one.  He stayed put, determined to salvage what was left of him.  By the grace of God, we both survived our mostly self-inflicted  injuries.

Then. one ¬†day, ¬† what had been legally pronounced dead, was resurrected. ¬†It was miraculous beyond anything we’d experienced, before or since. ¬†Twenty Six years ago, we stood in the garden of the same house and repeated vows much like those spoken forty years back. ¬† ¬†We began the long journey ¬†to rebuild what had ostensibly been destroyed. ¬†It sounds like a fairy tale, but there was no “happily ever after” in the immediate future.

It has, in fact, been the greatest undertaking  of our lives.  We have struggled to know and understand each other.  We have failed to fight fairly.  We have been selfish and angry and struggled with bitterness and hopelessness.    We have forgiven offenses, large and small.  We have yelled and cried (mostly me) and have been silent for inordinate amounts of time(mostly him).    We have teetered on the edge of giving up.  But, mercifully, we did not give in to that temptation.    We have stood firm, believing  the miracle that brought us back together would hold us together. And, it has.

We made a decision and we have stood by it.  Through all the heartache, tears, grief, arguments, misunderstandings, lack of communication and sorrows,  we have slogged through them all.  Because,  we made a decision.    The miracle of reconciliation.  The miracle of forgiveness.  The miracle of life made new.  The miracle of redemption and grace.  We have learned a lot about patience and endurance.  We have pressed in and through, knowing there was something worth all the effort on the other side.  We have worked hard when it would have been easier to give up and walk away.

We are slow learners, for sure.  We took the long and winding road to get here, without question. But we are here and we are  standing.  Through wind and rain and sleet and snow,  (what are we, postal employees?) we have endured.  And we are grateful beyond imagining.

What if we had ignored the miracle?  Common sense told us that to reconcile was folly.  Many loved ones called us crazy.  We were still two dramatically different people who seemed to be  traveling in opposing directions.  But we chose to move forward,  a little older and a little wiser, knowing it would not be easy.  We counted the cost and decided  it was risk worth taking, and so we dove in.  We have weathered many storms to get here.  We are both older, wear a few extra pounds and have a few more wrinkles and rolls, but,  we are still together, stronger and more in love than we ever thought possible.

We made a decision.  The  conviction that it was a wise and worthy decision, has held us all these years.  We are still held by it. We rest in it. We rejoice in it.

“The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the Everlasting Arms.” ¬†-Deuteronomy 33:27

The family the “decision” built.