Going Home

Today I am going to say goodbye to my friend.

Just a week ago, I sat in the hospital with my little brother, anxiously awaiting news on each of the tests they were running, hoping for answers to what was wrong in his body.  After two days, no immediate answers arose, and he was sent home.  As we pulled out of the hospital driveway, I read on social media of a friend whose son had been delivered by helicopter to the same hospital, with his neck broken in two places.  We texted back and forth, and I offered her encouragement and prayers.

And now I’m about to embark on a 300-mile road trip to hold the hand of my friend near the end of her life.

It is ironic and interesting how God seems to prepare you for some of these moments in life.  Three years ago today (yes, really.  Weird, right?)  I shared an overnight vigil in the hospital with a student/friend as his mother, surrounded by her friends and family, was sweetly ushered her into heaven.  I remember keeping the night hours, waiting for a last handful of family members to arrive from the airport-a four hour drive away-to be able to give their in-person goodbyes.  It was an honor and a humbling experience to be given permission to share such a raw, intimate moment in a family’s life.  Despite the pain of loss, this precious lady drew her last earthly breath with at least 10 people in the room, at least as many in the hallway, while Chris Rice’s voice sang the simple melody of his song Untitled Hymn;

“And with your final heartbeat…kiss the world goodbye…Then go in peace and laugh on Glory’s side…Fly to Jesus…Fly to Jesus…Fly to Jesus and live.”

I know how I hoped and prayed that this friend, finally set free from a body that refused to function normally since high school, was comforted and at peace about making that transition to heaven with those she loved encircling her in body, mind and spirit.  It was a learning experience, and a tearful but beautiful one at that.

Fast forward two years, with a very different scenario.  Another  friend, very independent and somewhat estranged to her biological family, but not to her church family.  When my best friend shared about she’d been caring for our mutual friend to fill the gaps that were left by hospice, I was blessed to be able to work remotely and spent much of those last days filling in so my bestie could get sleep, food and a shower.  Together in that last few days we stayed, caring for our mutual friend in her own home, giving pain medications every two hours, ensuring our friend’s dignity, contacting relatives and friends.  Several friends came to visit; they sat and talked quietly, read the Bible aloud, or sang hymns. When it was apparent that Jesus was beckoning her homeward. the few of us there just sat around her bed, holding her hands, reassuring her it was OK to let go of this life and step into the arms of her Savior.  A privilege, to be allowed to serve someone in their most raw and vulnerable moments on this earth.

And now it is my turn.  My close friend.  The one who encouraged my relationship with my husband of 21 years.  The one whose grandson played with my son for hours while we two talked and played cards.  The one who screamed excitedly in the foyer with me moments after I became Mrs. James Shown.  The one who labored with me to choose just which shade of Miss Clairol was appropriate for my hair.  So many memories of dinners, shopping, laughter, tears, support, love.  Precious to me.  Even more so to God, I know.

I know my heart with be wrung with grief all of the 5 hours of the drive north.  I know that when I arrive, I will talk, and laugh, and hold her hand.  I will remind her of that funny things we’ve done, no matter if she’s confused from all the medications or if she is peacefully resting.  I will kiss her cheek and touch her hair-the hair she was never happy with.  I will want to linger, but other responsibilities will drag me away, back to my schools, back to my family.  I’ll leave a huge piece of my heart there.  And I will cry all the way home, I’m sure.  But I will be grateful to say goodbye.  Grateful that her biological family and her church family is at her side to care for her.  Centered in the peace that knows she’s just a few breaths from Heaven.  And that Jesus is there with her, and will hold her hand across the divide when mine can’t be there. Especially that we share the eternal hope, and that we will see each other again, in a place far better than this.

Fly to Jesus, my friend.  I love  you so.dove

 

Suddenlies

12109850_10206578038801189_8319968653287991060_o (1)One missing letter changed the whole meaning of my professor’s note to me.  “God work.”

I was reading my grading notes from my graduate level special education courses when I came upon this profound comment.  My teacher couldn’t even know how true the statement was.  In a week’s time, my life was completely changed in direction, in a miraculous moment that could only be described as a “suddenly”-a moment where the timing of God and the purpose of God intersect. And for me, that suddenly was, well, sudden.

When we’d moved to Oregon, I has told my mother-who also happens to be my neighbor, our houses separated by my landlord’s home-that I would stay for 9 year.  That time frame would allow my youngest son to complete school in one place.  I had no idea how accurate that prediction would be.

For 9 years my husband had worked out of town, 3 hours from home.  He’d head home on the weekends, and then regretfully leave back to his little trailer park single-wide bachelor pad to work for the week.  Despite the prayers of dozens of friends and prayer warriors, each opportunity he took to apply for work in our home town ended in rejection.  The disappointments always left us questioning why.  And, of course, those answers never came.  Until the suddenly arrived, a mere month after our 9th year was completed.

It so happened that my employer reduced my hours and I began to look for other work.  I had worked in the Special Education field as a program coordinator for the region, helping parents and others learn about special education issues, laws and procedures, as well as a home visitor for families of children 0-3, and a special education paraprofessional.  One afternoon, my husband called me unexpectedly with one of his famous “got a question for ya” calls.  He proceeded to tell me he had mentioned  my looking for work in his office (a regional education service organization covering several small rural counties) and his coworker asked if I would be interested in becoming a Special Education Teacher for them.  They would pay for most of my education to get my Master’s level endorsement for Special education and needed coursework for my initial teaching license.

Stunned silence.

20 years prior, I’d had every intention of becoming a teacher.  However, divorce and single parenting had impacted my education and I completed my Bachelor’s degree without continuing on to getting a teaching certificate.  I’d even made an attempt to go back to college to earn my education degree while my children were all in school, but the needs of my own children in special education had intervened.  My heart’s desire has always been to work full time as a children’s and families pastor, but it has always been a bivocational practice for my husband and I.  But with our youngest son entering college, we were entering a new season of life as it was.  We had begun to consider what new avenues our life could travel.  This one was a surprise for sure.

So, we discussed and prayed about this opportunity with family and close friends, and answered yes.  Within 3 days I was interviewed and was offered the position, and another week later was living with my husband 3 hours from our home, serving families in some of the poorest and most remote areas of central Oregon.

“God work” indeed.

My professor’s note continued. ” Whoops, I meant to write “good work”! Though teaching is perhaps God’s work as well, but I’m not the one to say, lol.”

I wonder what he’ll say when I tell him just how accurate his mistake really is…

 

 

 

 

 

 

This entry was posted on March 20, 2016. 1 Comment

Happy Holidays

1782160_10204445583371136_52937631862740586_nHappy Holidays.

I had the experience of encountering someone who “corrected” me when I told them Happy Holidays this week. They said that Merry Christmas was their preferred greeting. I was kind of surprised by that response.Yes, they are Christians. So am I. I get what they were alluding to. But I’m not on board.

Christians may have done their witness some damage by the “It’s Not Happy Holidays It’s Merry Christmas” campaign.  (You could say that about the whole Starbucks Red Cup brouhaha too.)  I get it, really I do.  I even agree with the motive behind it-that Christmas is about Christ.

But maybe, just maybe, the statement is as simple as grammar:  Wishing you joy for more than one holiday.

The challenge for me is that the month of December is a month that contains multiple holidays-holidays that peoples across the world celebrates.  Sometimes saying “Happy Holidays” is a genuine offering of a season of celebration-St. Nicholas Day, Winter Break, December Birthdays, Christmas, Channukah, New Year.  Happy Holidays isn’t a greeting intended to exclude the Christ of Christmas.  It’s simply expressing joy for a plurality of holidays. After all, it is a mouthful to say, “Merry Christmas, Happy Birthday and Happy New Year”-which is the holiday greeting that best fits my family’s experience of celebration in December.

The reaction that many Christians have to being greeted with “Happy Holidays” is really what is at the heart of the matter.  And that reaction is a heart matter.  What is our heart?  Is it our heart to doggedly reject an expression of warmth and community because we think it is part of a politically correct systemic removal of Christianity from public view?  Is it expressing the peace and joy that life in Christ can bring?  Is it being loving to those around us, as we are continually admonished to?  Our reaction to “Happy Holidays” says a lot about us, both as individuals and as Christians.

Maybe we should do a little less reacting, and a little more responding. I think Jesus would like that.

Oh, and by the way, Happy Holidays.

 

Cabin Leader 101

Camp Crestview, 2011

Camp Crestview, 2011

In a couple of weeks, I’ll depart to serve my 8th year at our regional church camp.  This is, of course, after 9 years attending camps as I grew up, and multiple retreats and overnighters at several other churches where I’ve served at over the years. I love camp, and I am passionate about how this can impact lives of the next generation.  My psychiatrist also is teaching me how it impacts the adults who volunteer.  I’ve compiled a list of important things I’ve learned, some the hard way, so that you won’t have to.

1.  Febreeze.
And I don’t mean the little travel sized one.  350 people, 90+ degrees and 30% humidity.  Stuffy, airless cabins with windows that face the west.  Trust me on this, get the pet odor version.  It’s the best weapon you’ll have.  Sneak in to the cabin during chapel and douse every student’s clothes with it.  Especially middle school boys.

2.  Overpack.
Between the “dump the flour on the cabin leader” game, the kid who throws up on you, endless water games and games that involve _________ (insert your worst nightmare here-pork & beans, pudding, raw eggs, a Happy Meal milkshake…) you will need to change at least 3 times a day.  You might even want to shop for your camp wardrobe at the second hand store.  Bring a bag for your gross, dirty clothes too.  Better yet, just trash them.  There’s just no saving them after 4 days and a hot 6 hour car ride home in a black garbage bag.

3.  There is no time to poop.
Camp food is constipating.   That is really a good thing.  Because when you’re with your campers 23 hours a day, grabbing 10 minutes of stall time is charted as a camp miracle.  I mean, really, how can you relieve yourself with 85 little girls in the bathroom with you?  And when you think you’ve hit the golden moment when they’re all asleep and you can sneak off to the bathroom, that’s when the homesickness breaks out.  You might start limiting your intake the week before camp, so your system isn’t shocked by the sudden absence of toileting.

4.  Did I mention Febreeze?

5.  Sleep (or rather the absence of it)
You will be sleep deprived by Day 2.  Nights are short, made even shorter by the 3 hours it takes to get everyone quiet and asleep so you can finally take a 3 minute shower with lukewarm water and fall into your bed.  A bed that must have come over on a Conestoga wagon over the Oregon Trail because it still feels like the floorboards of the wagon.  If you’re lucky enough to have remembered an extension cord for your fan (because there are only 2 outlets in the cabin, both at bed level across the room) you may be able to move the stagnant, stifling air enough to breathe your way to sleep.  And your alarm goes off 3 hours later.   That’s just night one.  Then there’s the “late night games”.  A word to the wise:  Pack your Keurig or load up on Starbucks Via or Refreshers.  Or Zip Fizz.  Or Monster.  Whatever you use to feel energized.  Ask your friends to send it in a camp package to you.  Lack of sleep will even drive a middle aged woman to become a Mt. Dew junkie for the week.  (I like Code Red, by the way)

6.  Pre-Camp Conditioning
Camp is not for the faint of heart or the faint of body.  Our children’s pastor and I were recently discussing our pre-camp conditioning.  It usually starts in January.  At least we start thinking about it in January.  Even for the marginally fit, camp is a constant whirlwind of activities and games that will result in your body being flexed or bent in a way it was never designed to go.  Women of ample proportions may find they are chafing in places they’ve never known existed.  Your body needs to be ready for anything.  Pack your own stash of Muscle Rub, ThermaCare heat pads, wrist, ankle or knee braces, Aleve and Tylenol.  You’ll need it.  Start stretching, bending, training at least a month before camp.  After all, just because you sprain both knees on the slip and slide on the first day of camp doesn’t mean you get to go home.  You still have four more days to go.

7.  One just for the ladies-Undergarmets
I hate to bring up such a sensitive subject in mixed company, but it needs to be said.  You need the proper foundations to make it through the week.  With all the jumping, running, diving, rolling, you need support and comfort.  Go shopping.  This is not a week for cutesie lingere.  Tidy whities, cottons, full figured support or sports bras are the order of the day.  Your body will need the breathability under garbage bags while you’re being turned into a human hot fudge sundae.  And white cotton is a lot easier to bleach.

8.  Snackage
You may want to bring your own stash of comfort food snacks.  You may get hungry because camp food disagrees with you.  (It disagrees with everyone-refer back to #3)  You may need a boost in your protein level.  Or, you might be a basket case, experiencing your own homesickness, or need a distraction from the obsessive compulsion of tying little Johnnie to a tree and leaving him for the bears.  At any rate, secure a good hiding spot away from your cabin.  Kids can sniff that stuff out.  Try locking it in your car if you can.  If you can’t, stash it in a hollowed out King James Version Bible.  They’ll never look there.

9.  Febreeze
(Trust me, you’ll need it on the way home too…)

It is my hope and prayer that this will help the newbie camp volunteer be more prepared and secure in their role.  Camp is the most amazing, exhausting, inspiring week in the world.  And it can change a life.  Even without Febreeze.

Knowing The Flame

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Renewing Fire
 
Local grass seed farms burn the fields to restore minerals and health to the land.  The fire burns up any impurities that are buried within the top layers of the soil and “sterilize” the land so that no hidden disease or fungus will damage or destroy the future harvest. 

God is symbolized as fire in numerous instances in the Bible:  The altar fire that consumes the offerings for sin and atonement, the pillar of fire leading the people of Israel in the exodus to the Promised Land, the fire of wrath and destruction to the enemies of God’s people.  When we willingly submit ourselves to His care and supervision, we will undoubtedly go through seasons that appear from the outside to be destructive, but are really beneficial and life-giving in the long run.  Psalm 119:156
Lord, how great is your mercy; let me be revived by following your regulations.

Releasing Fire

Controlled burning or wild fires can stimulate the germination of some desirable forest trees, thus renewing the forest. Some cones, such as those of Lodgepole Pine and Sequoia, are serotinous, meaning they require heat from fire to open cones to disperse seeds. (Wikipaedia)

As humans, especially as women, we tend to hold on to things quite tight-fistedly.  Many find difficulty relinquishing control-of our homes, our children, our rights, our dreams-to a God who promises to never leave us and to always have our best interest at heart.  Sometimes our grip is so tight in an area of our lives that God has to actually allow us to be put “in the hot seat” to force us to open our hands and let go of what we were so desperately clinging to.  In our everyday lives, this may look like fearful, scary situation—Doctor’s reports, financial issues, relationship difficulties or failures, legal or social consequences for our actions.  The results of this releasing are twofold:  It gives us the opportunity to grab hold of the next task or blessing that the Lord has in store for us, and what we release to God can be 1) consumed if it’s unhealthy or: 2) reproduce exponentially in faith and blessing in our lives, our community or even complete strangers. Isaiah 43:2  When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.

Restraining Fire

One of the most effective tools of fighting wildfires in the forest and range lands is the concept of back burning.  In essence, crews are put in front of an oncoming forest fire and go to work using small, closely managed fires to burn up the grasslands, trees and shrubs.  By doing this, the fire crews are eliminating the fuel in front of the blaze that keeps the fire uncontrolled and constantly in motion.  When there are no trees or grass for a fire to consume, it dies.  If the fire line is too small, or the wind is too strong, the fire can jump the “fire line” and continue to blaze unchecked, putting property and lives in peril.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus gives us powerful and effective tools to restrain ourselves from dangerous, harmful or sinful situation.  Firstly, He gives us the Holy Spirit as a comforter and guide, speaking to us and directing our paths away from danger.  One example of this is during the early years of my second marriage, when my husband was asked to quit his computer support job working for a large city in Washington state because his pornography addiction followed him to work.  As we worked through this situation, God gave me words of reassurance to speak to my husband-certainly not what I wanted to say!  The Lord wisely reminded both of us that when a sin is uncovered and fully exposed to the light, it can no longer be used as a weapon against us.  Part of supporting and restoring my husband was having an opportunity to ask him how he was dealing with his struggle, and asking him how I could, as his wife, support and pray for him.  Partnering with him in his “recovery” from this addiction was the love coupled with accountability. Secondly, we are told to ask for wisdom, and that God will provide it for us when we ask (James 1:5)  We should also be asking for discernment, or the ability to hear and understand what God is speaking to us about situations, circumstances and people.  This allows us to make decisions in our life that keep us healthy, safe and following the commands that God has laid out before us.  Thirdly, God can and will use situations or circumstances to move us on or keep us still—keeping us in a spiritual “ring of fire” to protect us from an enemy or situation that will bring harm or destruction to us, or a ring of fire to keep us from going out and engaging in activities that would damage or harm us.  God quite literally led the Israelites through the desert by appearing as a pillar of fire at night.  Sometimes we may never know that a delay on the freeway prevented us from being in an accident, or when that still, small voice inside of us tells us not to respond to the taunts and threats of a mean-spirited co-worker.
James 3:5-6  In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire.  And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.

Refining Fire

The process of refining gold, oil, and other valuable commodities is a process called refining.  It involves taking the raw product, combining it with heat and sometimes other chemicals or elements, and removing the impurities, so that the product becomes pure.  It is a multi-step process, and it takes repeating the task over and over again, until all of the impurities are removed.  This leaves us with the purest product possible.

God often takes us through familiar situations and scenarios to refine us.  He realizes the human condition; that when we are under heat or pressure, whatever is within us comes out.  The “trial by fire” is designed to draw impurities out of us; bad habits we need to replace, fears, anger, complacency.  While this can feel like punishment, it is not.  It can be painful, but it is necessary-like any medical treatment that causes temporary pain for long-term gain.

Zechariah 13:9  I will bring that group through the fire and make them pure. I will refine them like silver and purify them like gold. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘These are my people,’ and they will say, ‘TheLord is our God.’

, 1 Peter 1:7
These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.

Ravaging Fire

There are fires that burn out of control, destroying and consuming every living thing in front of them.  We see this often in the news, especially during fire season, where hundreds of homes are simply wiped off the face of the earth.  Despite the efforts of trained professionals, life is destroyed.

God promises a day when the same will happen to this earth.  Everything we know and understand will be destroyed by fire.  When that moment comes, will you be protected by the flames or consumed?  The fires of destruction were where three Hebrew youths were placed, but God protected them.  The only promise of passing through the flames, is to be protected by he who created the flames.

2 Peter 3:10
But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment.

Reacting Versus Responding

IMAG4318-1I was doing a training for families of children experiencing disabilities about behaviors at home and at school.  We were discussing different methods to try to change the behavior-guessing as to what was triggering it, dealing with the underlying issue, trying new tactics, etc.  As the conversation turned to specific behaviors in specific homes, I recognized one family’s challenge was not that their child’s behavior was atypical or developmentally inappropriate-more so, it was that the parents’ reaction to the behaviors had created a negative pattern of responses from the child.  I gently questioned the parents about what they did when the child behaved this way or what they said.  The parent’s had no idea what they said or did, so I encouraged them to use their phone’s video camera and record the next tantrum and the parents’ response to it.

When we got together another time, we looked at the video together.  As I talked with the parents about how they interacted with their child, they slowly began to see how their reactions “stirred the pot” each time the child acted out.  They had never even realized what they were doing, let alone the effects that their behavior had on the immediate circumstances.

This was a lesson it took me some time to learn as well.  An emotional creature since birth, I have always been a “fighter”. I enjoy arguing, have a deeply imbedded  need to be right, and often my mouth has things to say before my brain can intercede.  But as the parent of a child with severe medically-induced behaviors, I didn’t understand that I had a huge part in whether the challenge would end peacefully or with a blowout that resulted in broken doors, windows, dishes and hearts. Over the long season of learning to observe my behavior as well as my son’s, I began to make some progress on responding rather than reacting.  The outcome was less brokenness.

Jesus was a master at responding versus reacting.  As we observe the classic Holy Week story, there are numerous moments where he thoughtfully answers questions and moments where he intentionally doesn’t.  When one of his disciples reacts and cuts off the ear of a servant, Jesus chides him and responded by bringing healing to that wound.  He brings that same lesson to us each day; to be aware of what we are doing (in words, in actions or in thoughts), to request from Him the best response for the situation, and to then thoughtfully and prayerfully RESPOND-fully controlled, fully intentional.  May we each be given the awareness to notice what we do each day and respond accordingly.

Loving Through the Hard Stuff

March for JesusMy husband and I are privileged to work with a unique ministry that reaches out to the non-traditional and unchurched. Together with an amazing team we care for and love on children during our faith-based recovery group and our Friday night gatherings.  This experience can bring some of the most troubling and the most satisfying experiences that working with children can offer.

We love it when we get the rewarding smiles, the giggles, the first steps, children remembering “Jesus loves me”, asking Jesus into their hearts every week you offer the opportunity.  We live to successfully soothe a crying toddler, make boo boos better with a wet paper towel and joyfully praise every type of artwork imaginable.  We have deep, serious discussions about the colors of a bubble, if unicorns can really fly and how jelly and pickle ice cream might taste.  But we sometimes forget the other side of the spectrum.

We cry for the children that  may be returning to homes that are far from safe.  Homes where the priority is drug use, not child care.  Families where fear, pain and beatings are a daily occurrence.  Houses where toddlers are left to their own devices to feed and diaper themselves.  Children whose only affection is limited to a mere 90 minutes in the basement with people who embrace them because of the love and healing they’ve received.

I was recently moved to tears when a toddler with challenging behaviors walked over to me at the end of the night and sat next to me and laid his head in my lap.  As I stroked his soft brown hair, I wondered about the home he lived in and what kind of influences he underwent every day.  It was a reminder that we never know what is happening outside our brightly painted walls, and how patiently we need to love.  We can’t know if a behavior is because of an abusive home, or neglected affection, or hunger, or disability.  We have to open our heart to love, without applying labels and without knowing if or when it will stick.  Not always the easiest thing to do.  It especially requires us to restrain ourselves from the habitual practice of making excuses why we shouldn’t have to love these children.  But hope was offered to us, once.  Hope without conditions.  And we need to offer that hope just as freely.  And put our feelings aside.  Except for the love.

This entry was posted on March 23, 2015. 2 Comments