Wednesday, October 28, 2009

These Days of Elijah

The song "Days of Elijah" by Twila Paris has always reminded me of my Mom. It's upbeat, it's joyful, it's uplifting, it's just like her. And it has always been one of her favorites. Whenever we hear it in church I know I can glance to the side and see her singing, lost inside the words, arms lifted in praise, experiencing God.

Seven months ago this song also became a song that will forever tie me to my father and the night we lost him. This was the song which was on the radio after we had gotten the call that he was nearing the end, and we were on our way to see him for the last time. This was the song that was playing in the car during that long, painful drive, when we were not sure what would be waiting for us when we would finally make it to his side.

I remember thinking how inappropriate that song felt when it came on. I was broken, beaten, shattered by the thought of losing my Dad. There should have been a song of sorrow being played, or even just silence. But not one of joy. No, not joy. Joy was the farthest thing from me in that moment.

When we finally arrived at the Hospice House, we found out we were just a few minutes too late. My Dad was already gone. I remember asking if he was still with us, the nurse sadly shaking her head at me, and then literally doubling over in pain, my breath stolen from me, a cry of despair leaving my body. It was hands-down the worst minute of my life.

But I wonder now if God gave that song as a gift to me. I wonder if while I was in my car, driving to see my dying father, if he was experiencing the words this song sings about, and God was giving me a glimpse of what my Dad had just seen, what he has since become a part of, and what is waiting for me someday.

And so now this song will forever remind me of both of my parents. One of whom is still here with me and who sings these words as a promise of what's to come, and the other, who's promises have been fulfilled, and who has personally experienced what it is to have Christ draw near to take him Home.

"Behold, He comes!
Riding on a cloud
Shining like the sun
At the trumpet's call.
Lift your voice,
It's the year of Jubilee.
Out of Zion 'till salvation comes!"

Dear Lord in heaven,
I pray this day amazed at how even seven months later I am still finding ways in which You showed You were caring for me during those toughest days of my life.
You were always there, weren't You? Even when I couldn't feel You, when I couldn't see You, when I couldn't find You, You were still orchestrating Your world to be kind to me, to comfort me, and to point me to You.

How awesome, Lord, that I have just a small visual of what my father was witnessing that night You came to take him with You. I love listening to those lyrics and picturing You as You approach him. Sometimes You're on a blazing chariot, sometimes You're surrounded by angels, and sometimes it's just You, quietly touching my father's cheek, waking him to his new Life, telling him he had done well and his rewards are waiting for him up in heaven, with You.

It makes me excited for when my own time to meet You face to face will finally be here. It makes me long to see Your glory, to see Your face, to see Your smile, to finally, finally hear Your voice as You whisper in my ear, "It's time to come Home with me, my beloved daughter".

Thank You, Lord, for taking the fear out of the unknown. For we know that at the end of it all, waiting with wide open arms, is going to be You.

It is as the song goes on to say, "There's no God like Jehovah".

Amen to that.

And Amen to You, my Beloved Lord.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Asking the Almighty's Advice

Can I just tell you how much I despise touching old food? I think it stems from working in a restaurant back in my high school and college days, and night after night coming in constant contact with someone else's leftovers. It was like a never-ending parade of half-eaten potatoes, cold and withered vegetables, and discarded steak fat. Just thinking about it is enough to send shivers down my spine and send me looking for the nearest bottle of Purell.

Couple this with how I absolutely detest having my hands wet without the rest of me being wet, and my poor husband ends up doing alot of dishes. I have been trying to get better though, and have pretty much taken on the whole daily "bottle-washing" routine, which simple as that may sound is actually a huge step in overcoming some OCD tendencies over here.

So anyway, this morning I found myself face to face with a big jar of moldy applesauce that had been forgotten in the back of the refrigerator. I had actually discovered it last night, and put it in a very prominent position on the counter hoping my husband would take the hint (and take pity on me) and discard of it himself, but lo and behold when I got up and went to make the kids breakfast there it was, all shiny and picture perfect on the outside, but hiding a whole host of nasty, smelly, skin-eating bacteria on the inside.

And do you know what my first inclination was? Obviously, to just get rid of it! Don my gloves, grab the tongs out of the drawer, and throw it out with the morning trash. (I should take this moment to apologize to my recycling-passionate husband, who I'm sure is absolutely appalled this thought ever entered my mind, and is wondering what happened to the environmentally-conscious woman he married.) And I actually did have this nasty jar on the way out to the nearest garbage can, when I heard a little voice inside my head, asking me if this was really the right thing to do.

Now, I'm pretty sure that God is not overly concerned with how I handle my rotten applesauce containers. I do feel it is our responsibility to tend to this creation He has appointed us over, and to that end I do recycle, and reuse, and reduce the amount of waste that my household generates. But come on, what difference was one little (disgusting) glass jar going to make in the long run, right? (I know, I know, terrible attitude. You're absolutely right. I do feel ashamed that this thought even crossed my mind.)

Well, this morning I had a feeling it wasn't so much about what I did with my applesauce, it was more about if I was choosing to consult Him and obey Him in the little things.

There are so many choices I make every minute of every day that I plow through without thinking twice. Things such as what to make my kid's for breakfast, what to wear, whether or not I let the dog out to terrorize my children right now or in ten minutes, the list goes on and on and on. But what if I started turning to Him and seeking His guidance in everything, instead of just in the major decisions that I face? What if along with asking Him to give us wisdom involving whether or not to sell our house, I also asked Him to give us wisdom in how to better organize what's within it? This may seem insignificant, but it could lead to the purging of things we no longer need being given to people who do. It would help us to become a better steward of the possessions He has given us. And it would lend itself to just an overall sense of orderliness and calm, resulting in a peaceful mind which is more ready and more able to listen to Him.

And what if it even went beyond that, and us going through our attic turned into these items we've parted with being an answer to prayer for someone who was looking for a reason to believe there really is a God who cares, and then he or she meets Him face to face for the first time? We will never know the ways in which God will use us to reach His children when we choose to obey Him.

This is just one small example, but my life is full of seemingly trivial areas that I tend to take care of on my own without even thinking of consulting the Creator of the Universe. I wonder how different my day would be if I turned to Him for everything. My initial thought is, "Oh my, He would get soooo sick of me. He has much better things to do then answering my questions about whether now is a good time to scrub the floors, or if I should wait to do it until after the kids go to sleep". But you know what? He wants to be involved in these decisions. As it says in His Word, "Pray without ceasing". And I'm sure that any request I make of Him which results in any answer He would give me would no doubt result in my glorifying Him for being a God who is with me. A God who listens. A God who is faithful to me in handling the small things when I am faithful in releasing them to Him. A God worthy of my praise.

And that's what we're here for, right? To glorify and praise His worthy, His excellent, His most holy name.

So what happened to the dreaded applesauce jar, you ask? You will be happy to know that is clean, mold-free, and sitting in the recycling bag awaiting a pickup.

And now I'm off to get my girl's a snack. Hmmmm.... what to make for them to eat.... Dear Jesus, what nourishment do my little one's need right now?

Dear Lord in heaven,
I pray this day seeking your guidance in all the little things. These seemingly unimportant decisions which somehow end up determining whether my day will end up chaotic or calm. I praise You, Lord, for being a God who is not only interested in the mindless activities and choices that make up our lives, but wanting to be smack dab in the middle of them all. Who could blame You for wanting nothing to do with the bland routine of our everyday lives? And yet You are here, just waiting for me to ask You for advice so that I may find delight in my days, and find peace, and find satisfaction, and find You.

You are a great God. A loving God. A God who truly understands how sometimes it's the little things that can be the most overwhelming, and the little things that will most easily distract us from what's important. Namely, You.

I give to You today my dinner menu, and my checkbook, and my children's bedtime, trusting that You will oversee it all, and leave me with time to spend joyfully in Your presence with a mind that is free from all unnecessary worry.

Thank You for showing me today that I will always have You right there beside me, even when my kitchen smells of old applesauce.

I love You, Lord.

In Your Name I pray,

Sunday, October 18, 2009

To Love Like Him

I went and saw my Dad yesterday. His headstone is now set up, which just seems to make his death that much more official. I don't think I'll ever get used to being there in that place, knowing his body is so close to me, yet also knowing he could not be further away. I found myself tending to his little plot, picking up an errant piece of paper that had blown over, wiping away the leaves and pieces of grass that had fallen onto his stone marker, making sure all the grooves and crevices were free of debris. Just still trying to take care of him and show him that I love him in the only way that's left for me to do.

I sat down upon his headstone (is that frowned upon? Sacrilegious? I don't know the in's and out's of graveyard etiquette. I just didn't want to get my pants wet.), and started talking to him. It felt good, telling him of the things that were going on in my life. I talked to him about Cora, and how much he would have loved watching her grow into the beautiful little baby that she is. I told him how just that morning Eliza had looked at a picture of him and said to me, "I love Papa so much". (She has never said this to or about anyone else that I'm aware of.) I informed him that Dana had been given her first bow and arrow set, and told him how hard he would have laughed at seeing her shooting her little suction cup arrows at her little plastic target. And every one of these recollections made me cry as I came to terms with the knowledge that our dialogue would forevermore be one way.

I cried alot. I wept like I wept the first day we lost him. And like I did at the four month anniversary of his death. And on his birthday. And when I held Cora and for the first time realized that he never would be able to know her snuggly, sweet-smelling newborn perfection. And the million other times I have cried in the last seven months when I thought of him, and remembered him, and longed for him to still be a part of my life.

And then today I watched his memorial service video. I haven't been able to play it since I watched it the week after he died. It seems as if the pain would have made more sense then. It was more raw, it was more recent, it was more wrenching. Until today I just couldn't bear to be so close again to the agony of those first few days. I was afraid I would get caught up in a downward spiral of depression, be suffocated by his absence, and become unable to breathe when once again brought face to face with that initial onset of his loss.

But I watched it anyway. It was just as hard as I thought it might be. I sobbed inconsolably as I saw pictures of him which I haven't seen since those first few days after his death. I literally felt my throat close up for a second as he was brought so close to me again, so close I could almost hear him, smell him, feel him, and then realized again that he was gone. My heart ached as I saw footage of our family from the service, almost unrecognizable in our grief, just trying to make it through to the next minute knowing that it was one more minute we would not have to live through again.

It was hard to watch, hard to sit through, hard to go through again. Now I feel spent, and worn, and sad. But there is one thing that I realized when it was over. I realized that I have been trying so hard in the last few weeks to feel close to my Dad again. I have been terrified of losing sight of the man he was, the father he was, and the servant of Christ that he was. I visited him at his graveside, looked at old pictures of him, and watched his funeral because I just needed to remember who he was to me, to others, and to his Lord.

And then another thing hit me. If I want to feel close to my Dad again, what I need to do is continue to love the person whom he loved the most. I need to follow in his footsteps, those footsteps that day after day took him to the foot of the cross. If I want to continue to know and remember my father, I just need to continue getting to know his Savior. Because that's who he was, that's all he ever wanted to be. A man after God's own heart. The times when I feel most near to my Dad are the times when I get a glimpse of the Christ he knew so well. Because he tried so hard, every day of his life, to be just like Him. The more I strive to learn about our Lord, and the more I delve into His Word and get to know His heart, I will be reminded of my own father's heart. My father's tender, compassionate, gentle heart, which so closely resembled the One who he tried everyday to model it after. This heart which loved me unconditionally, which concerned itself with every aspect of my life, which took joy in me, and encouraged me to find my purpose in life is not lost to me forever. It is found in the One who is the embodiment of Perfect Love, of Love Everlasting, in the Love of the One who loved my father, and continues to love me.

And loving Jesus like my Dad loved Jesus is something I can do. There are so many things I cannot do anymore. I can't call him on the phone, I can't email him, I can't hold his hand, or give him a kiss, or smother him with a hug. But I can love how he loved, and love Who he loved. And I know that this will bring me closer to him than anything else. It will remind me of his heart, it will remind me of his mission here on earth, and it will most of all remind me of where he is, that I can get there too, and that our future together is far from over.

Dear Lord in heaven,
I pray today thankful for showing me that my father is not lost to me, but rather can be found again in You. You continue to be so faithful to me, revealing truths to me when You feel I am ready to embrace them, learn from them, and appreciate all You have to teach me.

Thank You, Lord, for continuing to teach me. With every bit I learn, every new aspect of Your character I see, I realize how much more there is for me to be taught, and what a wonderful lesson is in store for me.

I see more clearly now than I have in a long time just how much You loved my father. You took such good care of him, until the very last breath he took. But it was because he loved You, too. It was because he took the time, everyday, to invest in his relationship with You. He showed up to listen to You, and read about You, and learn from You, because he knew it was worth it. He knew You would never disappoint, never not be there, never not be willing to bless him with Your wisdom and grace.

Help me learn to love You like he loved You, Lord. Give me the discipline to set aside time everyday to spend with You. Give me the desire to work on our relationship, knowing that it is the one investment I can make which is sure to give back eternally. Give me the drive to study You, and study what was important to You. Help me decide to make what was close to Your heart close to my own, and the dedication to put what I have learned into practice.

I am thankful, Lord, that You gave me an earthly example to observe and follow for so many years. He did a good job loving You, didn't he? Help me as I learn to love You like that, too.

In Your Name I pray,