And Suddenly, It’s Here

I knew when THEY started dating six years ago that it was a possibility.  But SHE was going off to college in Texas to become a nurse and HE was headed for boot camp.  So, why worry about what might happen.  They were just dating.  And so young.  And both had commitments to follow through on.
I knew when HE came to ask Michael and me for permission to propose that this was a real possibility.  But the engagement would be for 18 months, and HE was stationed conveniently close by.  There was so much excitement about wedding plans and setting up a new home that there hardly seemed time to ponder about such things.
I knew when THEY said their vows a year ago that HE was scheduled to receive a new assignment.  THEY talked about adventures in new places, far and near.  THEY wondered where and when and how life would change when THEY finally got their orders.  But it was all speculative.  And SHE had landed a great job in a local hospital.
I knew when those orders came in the spring time that it really would happen – THEY really would move and find a new place to live.  And in the process THEY would discover new jobs and opportunities, friends and churches, neighborhoods and pastimes.
I knew when we travelled 1400 miles north eight weeks ago that it was getting closer.  I was honored to tag along to help THEM search out a new place to live and different surprises in their new city.  THEY discovered there would be new challenges to face – like subfreezing temperatures, snow tires, hilly streets and houses with basements.
I knew when the moving van loaded their furniture and all their belongings two weeks ago, that it was going to be a reality soon.  But for the next few weeks THEY would move in with me and we’d have time to laugh and visit and talk about all the things coming up.
I knew that HE had three more days to work at his old assignment and THEY would be leaving at the end of the week.  So I began to prepare my heart.  Then HE came in, in the middle of the first day, and said – “I’m finished. Let’s go.”  The military officers had decided that HE was finished a few days early.

And my heart sank because this was it.  It was real.
So here we are.  One last hug.  One last kiss.  One last “I love you”.
And suddenly, it’s here – and THEY are gone.

IMG_1659 IMG_1669

Moving Up, Moving Over, Moving On

All living things move.  I remember learning this in my high school and college science classes.  The movement may be incredibly small or imperceptibly slow, but the movement is there.   And so my family finds itself in a place of movement.
One daughter and son are moving UP – moving to a new northern home, over 1300 miles away, courtesy of the United States Coast Guard.  It’s an exciting time that they’ve anticipated for several years, and will probably be their home for the next three years.  For them this will mean new jobs, new friends, new church and new routines.  Not to mention new weather.  Rather than eight months of heat they will be living in eight months of cold temperatures.  There will be snow tires and snow plows in their future, and they will be trading in their flip-flops for snow boots.
Another daughter and son are moving OVER – moving over to the next county to a brand new home.  It’s an exciting time to move into a home they’ve been working on for the last year, after lots of planning and budgeting and thousands of decisions.  It’s a dream come true as they’ve outgrown their current home.  For them this will mean a new neighborhood and some new routines, but the luxury of keeping their same jobs, church and friends.  It will be nice that they remain only a two hour drive away.
For all of us, we are moving ON – moving on to a life of new milestones and memory-making.  As we approach the second anniversary of Michael’s death, we look forward more often than we look back.  More and more we create family memories that Michael is not a part of.  Family vacations and celebrations which he cannot attend.  New experiences that we would love to have him here for – for his humor and his wisdom, for his uncanny way of putting people together to accomplish the goals before us.  But the choice was not ours.  Yes, we are moving on.
(Just for the record, if someone had said to me a year ago that “life goes on”, I may have punched them in the nose.  Just go back to some of my early blog rants about the things people say if you want to hear my outrage.)
Yes, it’s true.  Live goes on and we move on.  It’s not that we have forgotten the ones we love or no longer miss them.  We certainly do miss their presence with us.  But we carry them in our minds and hearts everywhere we go.  We sometimes talk to them as if they are here, and we imagine how they would respond in different situations.
It’s not the same, and it’s not what we would choose.  But we are living creatures and all living creatures move.

In Other Words

In the last few months I’ve gone back to studying the Bible.  I’ve not returned to the exact same methods I used in years past.  It’s been a more casual setting with new and old friends from a variety of backgrounds.  And I’m learning so much.  I think most importantly over the last few months I am gaining a new appreciation for scripture, and it’s coming from two distinct experiences.

The first situation is happening right in my own living room.  Each week a group of friends is gathering for study, discussion, sharing and plenty of laughter as we study together.  In the process of coming together, several members of our group mentioned that they didn’t have a Bible of their own.  After talking about it within the group they each went out and bought a new Bible to read and bring each week when we gathered together.  For many of them, this is their first personal copy of the Bible.  We’ve talked about how the Bible was written, its contents, different versions, how to find things, and how to use it.  And they are so excited.  Each week they are reading and learning things they’d never heard before.  As for me, I confess that in recent years I have become quite accustomed to using the electronic Bible I’ve downloaded on my phone and on my tablet.  And while there’s certainly nothing wrong with this (I do love the convenience), I have a new appreciation for the feeling of the pages in my hands, for the sound I hear when turning the thin paper, and going through the names of the books in my head as I look up a verse.  It’s been like being reacquainted with an old friend; especially as I reread so many old notes from past sermons and studies.

The second situation is going on thousands of miles away.  Last month I had the opportunity to attend a conference dealing with Bible translation.  Now this isn’t a discussion of the New American Standard versus the King James Version.  This is the process whereby the scriptures are translated into the languages of people around the world.  And the things I learned were amazing.  Like, the fact that there are almost 7,000 known languages in the world.  And of these languages, nearly 3,300 have no Bible in their own language.  There are millions of people around the world that not only don’t have a Bible, but are unable to have a Bible in their language because it simply doesn’t exist!  In addition to the 3,300+ languages that have no Bible, there are another 2,000 known languages that have only a portion of the New Testament translated.  Can you imagine?

What’s more — traditionally the Bible translation process has taken approximately 25 years to complete in a new language, at a cost of about 2 million dollars.  About 20 years ago some changes were made in how to best accomplish this task and the process was revised so that a new translation would take only about 10 years to complete at a cost of $200,000.  Great progress!  But in the last three years, as a result of technology and the local churches getting involved in translating into their own heart languages, some translations are taking as little as a few months or even weeks to complete a New Testament in their local language.  This is amazing!  Because of these latest advances, it is very possible that all the known languages of the world could have a Bible translation available to them by the year 2025!  How incredible is that!

And so, I have come to a new personal appreciation for having a Bible to read.  It’s my “go- to” place to seek wisdom and to be uplifted.  Whether it’s an electronic image on a screen, a pocket New Testament or an old leather bound red-letter edition, I’m more and more grateful that I have the privilege to read these words, hide them in my heart and be comforted by their message.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.   Revelation 7:9

Returning to Old Routines

I’ve never been trained in grief counseling or the stages of grief.  I only know what I’ve learned through my own experience.  But I’ve also learned that my experience is not unique.

I’m not sure if grief ever completely goes away.  It seems to me that it comes in waves.  Most days the waves are small and just lap at your feet – just enough to let you never forget.  And then somedays the waves are larger and they rock you, make you feel off balance and you struggle to stand upright.  Then there are the BIG waves – the tidal waves, the tsunamis.  These are the kinds of waves surfers search for – the kind that can move land masses and have dangerous undertow that you drown in.  And even if you get to come up for air you’re not sure you have the strength to swim to the shore.

While I’m not sure that the waves ever end, thankfully, they don’t come as frequently as they once did.  And you learn to dip your toes in the water just enough to enjoy the familiar sensations and the memories that come with them.

It’s been almost twenty-one months that Michael has been gone.  It’s been longer than that since he was here in this house, or at our vacation spots or favorite restaurants.  Throughout this time I’ve found myself learning new things, searching for new experiences and wondering who I would be when I one day grew up.  And so often I find myself feeling as though I’m living someone else’s life.  But it’s amazing how life turns you around, and then around again, and you find yourself in many of the same places — sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously.

Like when you’ve decided on a new hairstyle and each time you go into the hairdresser she helps you to make adjustments for longer or short, lighter or dark, etc.  And then on one visit as you ask her to snip a little here and there, you hear her say, “Yes, We’ve been here before.”  And you look up in the mirror to see that you’ve managed to return to the same haircut you’ve had most of your last two decades.  Oh, well.

And then you consciously think you’ll return to a ministry you’ve been a part of for over twenty years — leading Bible studies.  You think this will be different though.  You go for a different venue, different topics and literature, and a different group.  You put yourself out there, wondering if there will be any response.  It’s been over two years since you’ve done this and you’re feeling so incapable and kind of sick to your stomach and that this was probably a big mistake.  You’ve known that God gifted you in this area before and yet you wonder if that gift was for another time and not for now.

And then in your door walk a dozen wonderful people who actually look forward to seeing you each week.  They bring great encouragement and enthusiasm to your life and treat you with love and respect.  Suddenly you remember why you did this for all those years.  The thoughts that maybe God had given you this gift for some other time in your life falls away, and you remember what it’s like to share His word with others and be a part of learning and growing together.  And the laughter and hugs shared between you will carry you for days ahead knowing that you are a part of God’s plan for each of us to grow together as His body.

And here you are – back to a distantly familiar practice.  Back to feelings of joy and encouragement that you haven’t felt in a long time – finally returning to old routines.

More Than Either Or

On this Easter weekend, I have naturally been thinking of Jesus’ last days.  The highs and lows of his time with his family and disciples.  The drama and horror of his trial and death.  The burial process.  And how his family and disciples must have felt in those last days.  They didn’t know how the story would play out, like we do.  They had expected an earthly political king, leading an earthly government in which all things would be set right over their civil and religious adversaries.  But instead of victory, they were given defeat.  Instead of dancing, they mourned and hid.  Historically, their possibilities were to either be a victorious nation under their new ruling king, or to lose their one chance to be free from the tyranny of worldly leaders.  They didn’t see any other possible conclusion – because they knew only what was happening in the moment, not what God had planned for Sunday morning.

When I think back to the last days of Michael’s life there are several things I recall.  Among them is the long night beforehand.  The night before he died I already knew of his decision to discontinue his medical treatment.  The kids had come and gone from the hospital, each one having a chance to speak to him and hear of his decision.  I stayed in his ICU room for the night.  There was no sleeping.  But as I laid there all night I prayed.  I prayed over and over again asking God for one of two things – that Michael would either change his mind, or that God would simply stop his beating heart (he had already agreed to a Do Not Resuscitate order days before).  I knew that if neither of these things happened during the night, in the morning I would have to tell the doctors of his wishes to discontinue all treatment and support.  And I couldn’t bear the thought, couldn’t imagine the strength, couldn’t conceive of how I would be able to go on without him, knowing that I was the one to convey these decisions for him.

The next morning, when the team of doctors came in, they asked if the kids and I would like to discuss Michael’s case there in the room or down the hall in a conference room.  Michael was awake and I asked him if he would prefer we go to the conference room down the hall, thinking he would nod one way or the other.  Instead, Michael looked right at me and mouthed the words, “I’ll tell them myself.”  And he proceeded to relay his feelings, his plans and his wishes for the hours ahead.

I retell this story because each time I think about that morning, that encounter with the doctors and Michael, I am reminded that too often I give God my either/or situation.  I lay things out to God – whatever my need or dilemma is – and tell Him about the possible solutions.  Will God choose either left or right?  Will God say either go or stay?  And much like the disciples some two thousand years ago, I can only see the present with my limited eyes.  I don’t appreciate the additional possibilities that God may have in mind.  Instead of my options for a way to avoid my nightmare, God steps in to give Michael the strength to tell the doctors himself how he wants to proceed.  Instead of the disciples’ ideas of being new world leaders or being hopelessly lost, God steps in to raise Christ from the dead, offering freedom and forgiveness to all the world.  Who saw that coming?

So here’s the lesson I’m learning today.  Don’t sell God short.  Don’t box Him in with option A or B.  Just when I start thinking I have all the possible alternatives figured out, is when God shows me that He is infinitely greater, He is infinitely smarter and He is sovereign over all my worries and fears.  He has solutions that haven’t even occurred to me yet, because I can only see the present.  But He sees all the pieces – from my past, my present and my future.  He works and weaves them together for my best when I trust and rely on Him.  And as I ponder how this week’s problems will possibly resolve themselves, I am reminded that God’s solution may not even be something that I’ve thought of yet.  But it will definitely be the exact solution to fit me where I am and move me to where He wants me to be.