I don’t usually post these two weeks in a row, but I came across several good reads this week, and some pertain to Easter.
Despite Loving Christian Parents, I Left the Faith, HT to Proclaim and Defend. Good tips for parents at the end.
I don’t usually post these two weeks in a row, but I came across several good reads this week, and some pertain to Easter.
Despite Loving Christian Parents, I Left the Faith, HT to Proclaim and Defend. Good tips for parents at the end.
I found a lot of good reads the last week or so:
Who Is the God of Mormonism?, HT to Challies.“One thing you’ll discover as you’re talking with your Mormon (LDS) friends is that though we use the same terms, we often mean very different things. Mormons have different definitions of Gospel, repentance, salvation, grace, Hell, and nearly every term you’ll be using in your conversation.”
5 Things That People Who Are Dying Want You to Know, by Kerry Egan, HT to Lisa.
How to Choose Worship Songs. Yes, to all the points mentioned here.
How Do I Fight Pride When Competing in School, Business, and Sports? HT to True Woman. “If we are better in some subject than someone else, God made us better. And his reasons for doing so are not pride and boasting and elitism. His reason for doing so is that we might use our competencies for the good of others.”
In Defense of Evangelicals Who Support Trump, HT to Proclaim and Defend. Interesting, whichever side you’re on. Not written by an evangelical but by a Jew who acknowledges that “It is usually easier for an outsider to defend a person or a group that is attacked than for the person or group.” As he also says, “Character is a complex issue.” I’m not willing to say it’s not a factor at all – far from it, and I don’t think he’s saying that, either – but it’s true that some people with awful personal lives can be good leaders. But if we acknowledge that on one side of the ballot, we need to concede it for the other as well.
The Benefits of Listening to the Elderly, HT to Challies. “Why might the Lord, in his grace, cause the aged to repeat themselves as they do? What is the Lord showing us through it? Rather than rolling our eyes or thinking ‘Here goes Grandma again,’ what can be gained from these times?”
The Incredible “Mehness” Of Social Media, HT to Challies. An aspect we don’t often think of. Even if much of what we do there is harmless or even interesting, how does that impact our everyday lives and responsibilities? Do those things impact those with whom we have to do or take our attention away from them?
And in the “Seriously?” category: There’s a Reason using a Period In a Text Makes You Sound Angry, HT to Lisa. I never knew this was an issue – and it shouldn’t be. A period is just the end of a sentence, not the end of a conversation or an indicator of anger, disinterest, or insincerity.
Hope you have a fine Saturday!
(Links do not imply 100% endorsement.)
When one of my sons was a baby and was intently staring at the ceiling, as babies are wont to do, my mother-in-law remarked that she thought when babies did that, they were looking at their guardian angels. We smiled – I think we even chuckled. I think she got a little embarrassed, but insisted, “No, really, I think they do see them!” We always kept that as a sweet memory of a sweet thought, and often when we saw a baby staring at the ceiling, we’d observe, “There they go looking at their guardian angels again” with a smile.
When we brought my mother-in-law home from the nursing home four years ago, we thought we were bring her home to die. She was down to 90 lbs., very fuzzy-minded, and not very responsive. But one-on-one care, especially in relation to feeding, and getting her off the narcotic drug we had not even known she was on until we brought her home, all improved her general condition dramatically. She’s 89, though, and one can’t stop the ravages of time. After maybe her first year or so at home, she began to decline more and more, moving less, sleeping more. Over the last year or so, she has become less interactive. She stopped speaking about a year ago, but we could tell by her eyes that she recognized us and followed what we were saying. She’d smile, nod, or shake her head. Though sometimes she still does, more and more lately there’s no light in her eyes when she looks at us, no response.
As we got her ready for bed last night, I noticed her staring intently at the ceiling, and that old sweet thought came back: maybe she’s watching her guardian angel.
Who knows what little babies and elderly people actually see when they fixedly stare at some point like that. I don’t know if each person is assigned a guardian angel, but the Bible does say that God sends angels to help us in various ways. Our pastor saw angels before he passed away, and I’ve heard similar things from others.
There is a sense in which all who know the Lord are getting closer to heaven every day, but the older and more frail one gets, the more imminent it seems. “For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:2, ESV). Some day she’ll cast off this silent, crumpled frame and see, not just angels, but the One she has loved and faithfully served for decades, the One who loved her, died for her, redeemed her, and made it possible that she and the family she so loved and prayed for could be with Him.
For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:53-57, ESV
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3-5, ESV
I don’t usually do these two Saturdays in a row, but I came across a lot of good reading this week.
Why We Don’t Need to Fear the Moment of Our Death, HT to Challies.
Advance in Favor. Sometimes an “I don’t care what people think” attitude helps when standing for right and truth when others are not. But the Bible says Jesus increased in favor with God and man. I appreciated this article on what that means.
Infuse Your In-law Relationships With Grace and Love. I am happy to have good relationships with both my mother-in-law and daughter-in-law.
At the bottom of the above link is this video, worth the 12+ minutes to listen:
I’ve discovered some great reads around the Web recently. Here are the latest:
Treat Yourself to the Voice of God. “We’re prone to take one of the single greatest gifts available to us and treat it as a life-sucking obligation rather than a life-giving opportunity.”
The Whole Sentence Matters. An illustration of the above, how one “popular” verse changes meaning a bit when read with the verse above it.
Kindness Changes Everything, and it’s different from just being “nice.”
On Empty Nests, Christian Mommy Guilt, and Misplaced Identity by Jen Wilkin. “It’s as if our love is a cosmic batch of heart-shaped cookies we must divvy up. Give anyone more cookies than Jesus and your identity is misplaced. But shouldn’t there be a way to give Jesus all the cookies without depriving our families as well?”
A Prayer For Kindred Spirits. “The nurturing of just one kindred spirit can be enough to keep the voices at bay. It’s as if this secret I’ve been carrying around, afraid to share, has been loosed into the world, and it’s okay. There’s nothing like the deep, soul hug which takes place when realizing you’re amongst those who know the kind of person you really are. And it’s okay.”
The High Calling of Bringing Order From Chaos. Sometimes I feel frustrated that this is such a constant battle, but this helps give it perspective.
Permission Not To Change a Thing. With all the nice photos on Pinterest and plethora of decorating and house-flipping shows, sometimes we feel a constant urge to do something to our homes. It’s certainly not wrong to redecorate or freshen things up or even do a grand remodeling. But it’s also ok not to.
With the 15th anniversary of 9/11 tomorrow, there are a lot of articles about it. I’ve only read a couple in depth so far: “We’re the only plane in the sky” about the president and those with him the first 8 or so hours (warning: a bit of bad language) and The Story Behind the Haunting 9/11 Photo of a Man Falling From the Twin Towers.
That’s it for today – hope you have a good Saturday.
Some of you may know the name Kara Tippetts. She was a young pastor’s wife and mom of four who blogged at Mundane Faithfulness, first as a mom blogger, but then sharing God’s grace in her diagnosis and battle against cancer. She passed away about a year ago and her blog now runs archives of her past posts. She came to national attention when, in the midst of her own battle, she wrote an open letter to Brittany Maynard, who was planning to employ physician-assisted suicide to avoid the downward spiral and suffering of a brain tumor, to beg her not to take that route, to promise that God would meet her in her suffering.
I didn’t read Kara’s blog regularly. I would look at the occasional post that someone linked to on Facebook or their blog. But it was too raw, too intense, too much (for me) to read every post.
But I got her book, The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard when it was on sale. And just recently someone asked me if I knew of anything to help a woman she knows who is struggling to face her own cancer diagnosis, so I thought I’d read this and see if it would.
Ecclesiastes 7:2 says, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” Nothing wrong with feasting (God planned some into Israel’s calendar, Jesus attended a wedding feast), parties, joy. But someone’s death or dying turns the heart and mind turn to the eternal like perhaps no other situation. We’re reminded that eternity is real, that life really is but a vapor, that Jesus provided a way for heaven, and not this world, to be our final home. That heaven isn’t a cheery add-on to a nice life, but it’s our real home, and this world is just one we’re “strangers and pilgrims” in.
And in Kara’s situation, it was not “just” illness, suffering, and death that she had to wrestle with. It was leaving her husband and children, and finding the peace to trust God that He would work this for good in their lives, and struggling to believe that this was His best for them, even praying for the woman who might some day take her place.
Kara gives us a brief biography of the kind of home she grew up in, of coming to know Christ as Savior, of going to work at a camp as a very raw, green, and unconventional recruit but experiencing life-changing growth in that place. Of meeting her husband and having to learn to put away the anger she grew up with. Of her four children, her husband’s ministry, a difficult church situation, moving to plant a church only to find their new home in a fire zone from which they had to be evacuated. And then receiving her diagnosis, fighting it with surgery and treatments, having it spread, and finally accepting that God was calling her home. She says in this trailer to a documentary made about her that she felt like a little girl at a party whose dad was telling her she had to leave early, and she was “throwing a fit” about it.
“Jason recently said in a sermon, ‘We want suffering to be like pregnancy—we have a season, and it’s over, and there is a tidy moral to the story.’ I’ve come to sense that isn’t what faith is at all. What if there is never an end? What if the story never improves and the tests continue to break our hearts? Is God still good?”
“It would be easier to shake my fist at the test results and scream that this isn’t the right story, but to receive—humbly receive—the story no one would ever want, and know there is goodness in the midst of its horror, is not something I could ever do in my own strength. I simply cannot. That receiving comes from the One who received His own suffering for a much greater purpose than my own.”
“That though the hard might come and our hearts be broken, that brokenness isn’t bad. The tears are evidence of our love for one another. They did not stop that day, and they will not stop in the days to come. But tears are a gift, not something to withhold or bottle up—they are the essence of the best of life.”
“Trusting God when the miracle does not come, when the urgent prayer gets no answer, when there is only darkness—this is the kind of faith God values perhaps most of all. This is the kind of faith that can be developed and displayed only in the midst of difficult circumstances. This is the kind of faith that cannot be shaken because it is the result of having been shaken. Nancy Guthrie, Holding on to Hope.”
“Sometimes the hardest peace to find is the peace in saying good-bye and leaving the work of justice and reconciliation to Jesus.”
“Hard is often the vehicle Jesus uses to meet us, point us to that peace, and teach us grace.”
“If the hardest is asked of us, we believe grace will be there.”
“Dear heart, the purpose of life is not longevity.”
“But because I believe God’s plans for me are better than what I could plan for myself, rather than run away from the path he has set before me, I want to run toward it. I don’t want to try to change God’s mind—his thoughts are perfect. I want to think his thoughts. I don’t want to change God’s timing—his timing is perfect. I want the grace to accept his timing. I don’t want to change God’s plan—his plan is perfect. I want to embrace his plan and see how he is glorified through it. I want to submit. Nancy Guthrie, Holding on to Hope.”
“Seeking grace has been a theme since I met Jesus, but it wasn’t the very air I breathed to get through each moment—each scary, hard moment. The looking has now become my practice. The names of the graces, the gifts I don’t deserve, is new to me. But I do not believe you need to face cancer to see the value of looking for and naming the graces in your own moments, days, weeks, lifetime. To capture this beauty in this weariness, even if your story doesn’t look like mine, will enrich your moments, give you a new perspective, and help you lift your head in the impossibility and pain in living. Hard is hard.”
So, yes, this was a raw, wrenching read in many parts. But it was still a good and necessary one, because we all have to face our own mortality, and there is no guarantee we won’t have to do so for 60-80 years. We need to be ready.
And whatever our “hard” is, as she said in the last quote, when we know Jesus, we can trust Him for the grace to meet it.
(Sharing at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)
Recently I was reading a few paragraphs about the brief life of William Borden. Instead of going into the family business and leading the privileged life of a millionaire, he wanted to be a missionary. Not waiting until he got to the field to begin to minister, he was known for his walk with God and his efforts to reach people all through his college and graduate years. Then he died of spinal meningitis at the age of 25.
That brought to mind others whose walk with God and service for Him in their youth have been exemplary, yet they died relatively young: Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Henry Martyn, Robert Murray McCheyne, David Brainerd, and others. The question comes unavoidably to mind: since they were so godly, so useful, so effective, why did God take them Home so young when they could have had decades of service in which to accomplish much for Him here?
I don’t know that we’ll ever have the answer to that: it’s wrapped in the mystery of God’s will and sovereignty. Somehow when someone like that dies, especially before their time, humanly speaking, somehow it does inspire others to try to become more like them, so that may be one purpose.
But I saw a new way to look at it this time. What if, instead of taking them home “early,” God had planned before they were even born that they would only live 25-30 years, and they just made the most of it?
Jim Elliot wrote in his journal, before he ever went to the mission field or heard of the people for whom he would give his life:
Seems impossible that I am so near my senior year at this place, and truthfully, it hasn’t the glow about it that I rather expected. There is no such thing as attainment in this life; as soon as one arrives at a long-coveted position he only jacks up his desire another notch or so and looks for higher achievement – a process which is ultimately suspended by the intervention of death. Life is truly likened to a rising vapor, coiling, evanescent, shifting. May the Lord teach us what it means to live in terms of the end.
He makes His ministers a flame of fire. Am I ignitable? God deliver me from the dread asbestos of ‘other things.’ Saturate me with the oil of the Spirit that I may be a flame. But flame is transient, often short-lived. Canst thou bear this, my soul – short life? In me there dwells the Spirit of the Great Short-Lived, whose zeal for God’s house consumed Him. ‘Make me Thy Fuel, Flame of God.’
God, I pray thee, light these idle sticks of my life and may I burn for Thee. Consume my life, my God, for it is Thine. I seek not a long life, but a full one, like you, Lord Jesus.
The ESV version of Psalm 139:16 says, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Some might live only a few hours, a few years, or several decades. God knows our days. We don’t know how many of them we might have. It’s vital to live them all for Him.
That doesn’t necessarily mean becoming a missionary. Not everyone is called to that. It simply means living in close fellowship with Him and being a light for Him in whatever He calls us to: being a student, raising little ones for Him, caring for loved ones, showing forth His love in the home, workplace, and neighborhood.
So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. Psalm 90:12
For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. James 4:14b
Sharing at Thought-Provoking Thursday.
I could wrap up my comments on Being Mortal by Atul Gawande succinctly by saying that if you plan on getting old or dying or helping a parent as they age, you need to read this book. But I’ll try to give you a bit more to go on.
I don’t know that I would have noticed this book at all except that Lisa and Joyful Reader both mentioned it. I knew they had dealt with deaths of parents and grandparents, Lisa’s mom had been in assisted living and Joyful’s grandmother lives with her, so with their experience, their praise for this book meant a lot.
I ended up marking many more pages than I can possibly share, but it’s safe to say that much in this book resonated with me.
The subtitle of the book is Medicine and What Matters in the End, and it’s a frank treatment of end-of-life issues. Medicine, Dr. Gawande asserts, is geared to fix things. But in some cases the treatment is worse than the disease itself. And this tendency is part of what had led to institutionalizing people as they age and making it a medical matter rather than trying to give people in such situations the best days they can have in the time they have left.
Gawande notes that until fairly recently, most deaths occurred at home. Now most occur in hospitals and nursing homes “where regimented, anonymous routines cut us off from all the things that matter to us in life” (p. 9). In addition, it used to be that, unless you had a long, wasting illness like consumption, most deaths came suddenly like a thunderstorm. Modern medicine has been a marvel and a gift from God: many things that used to be fatal can now be treated. But like any gift, there are good ways and not so good ways to use it.
“The simple view is that medicine exists to fight death and disease, and that is, of course, its most basic task. Death is the enemy. But the enemy has superior forces. Eventually, it wins. And, in a war that you cannot win, you don’t want a general who fights to the point of total annihilation. You don’t want Custer. You want Robert E. Lee, someone who knew how to fight for territory when he could and how to surrender when he couldn’t, someone who understood that the damage is greatest if all you do is fight to the bitter end.”
I appreciated his explanation of how the style of doctoring has changed over the years, from the authoritative “Dr. Knows-Best” who made all the decisions for you, to “Dr. Informative,” who merely laid out all the options and let you decide. The problem with the latter is that we don’t always know how to process the options. When the author’s own father faced a tumor in his spine, he, his father, and his mother were all doctors yet felt overwhelmed by the information and options they were receiving. A third kind of doctor is called “interpretive” and gives information as well as guidance after asking what’s most important to you and what your concerns are (pp. 100-102).
Gawande proposes a series of questions to consider when the diagnosis is terminal, questions concerning what’s most important, what one’s goals and fears are in facing the time they have left. One man said he wanted to continue to eat ice cream and watch football on TV, and he wasn’t interested in any treatment that interfered with those activities: life wasn’t worth living without them. Some are willing to live with different degrees of disability and pain: some don’t want to suffer at all. It’s good for a family to have these discussions so they have some idea what would be the most important to their loved one. Sometimes it requires more than one hard discussion: “Arriving at acceptance of one’s mortality and a clear understanding of the limits and the possibilities of medicine is a process, not an epiphany” (p. 182), and your preferences might change over time as well. But these discussions are necessary to find the best means of “living for the best possible day today instead of sacrificing time now for time later” (p. 229).
Gawande also details the journey from being independent to needing assistance to needing full time care that elderly and their families face. We’ve faced much of this with my mother-in-law over the last few years. I especially appreciated the history of nursing homes and assisted living facilities and the goals and purposes that Keren Brown Wilson, who “invented” assisted living, had when she started, and how those were originally implemented and maintained and then encroached upon to the point that she had to resign from her own board. Nursing homes themselves “were never created to help people facing dependency in old age. They were created to clear out hospital beds” (p. 71).
Many of the problems he lists in assisted living and nursing homes were the same as what we had found: loss of autonomy and privacy, loss of purpose, “tasks [coming] to matter more than the people” (p. 105), “safe but empty of anything they care about” (p. 109). “Making life meaningful in old age…requires more imagination and invention than making them merely safe does” (p. 137).
In older history and in other countries, the old are revered as having great knowledge and wisdom: “Now we consult Google, and if we have any trouble with the computer we ask a teenager” (p. 18). At least one sibling used to stay with the elderly parent(s) and help care for them, and then got a larger portion of the inheritance or perhaps the family home in place of what they gave up. Now both parents and adult children value their independence. But “our reverence for independence takes no account of the reality of what happens in life: sooner or later, independence will become impossible” (p. 22). Yet the author researched and visited several creative ways for an older adult to retain as much independence and autonomy as long as possible.
One problem is that even though geriatric specialists have been shown to enhance the lives of the elderly, geriatric units are shrinking or being closed rather than growing. “97 percent of medical students take no course in geriatrics” (p. 52). One reason is that it doesn’t pay well; another is that insurance doesn’t see the need for it. It remains for those of us who deal with the elderly or who look ahead to our own old age to be aware of issues.
When I was first looking at information about the book, I was wary that the author might promote assisted suicide for those with terminal illnesses. He does not promote it, but he would support legislation to enable giving people lethal prescriptions if asked, noting that half of them don’t use them: they just like the assurance that they could. He does note, though, that in countries where it is legal, use has grown: “But the fact that, by 2012, one in thirty-five Dutch people sought assisted suicide at their death is not a measure of success. It is a measure of failure. Our ultimate goal, after all, is not a good death but a good life to the very end. The Dutch have been slower than others to develop palliative care programs that might provide for it….We damage entire societies if we let this capability [assisted suicide] divert us from improving the lives of the ill. Assisted living is far harder than assisted death, but its possibilities are far greater, as well” (p. 245). (A good Christian source on some of these thorny issues is When Is It Right to Die: Suicide, Euthanasia, Suffering, Mercy by Joni Earacekson Tada.)
He also points out that it is difficult to know exactly where the lines are sometimes. “We also recognize the necessity of allowing doses of narcotics and sedatives that reduce pain and discomfort even if they may knowingly speed death” (pp. 243-244). Sometimes it is wrong to turn off a ventilator: sometimes it is right. If a 20-tyear-old was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and wanted to let “nature take its course” rather than treating the illness, we’d try to convince her that the quality of life she could have with treatment would be well worth it despite the complications: it would be ridiculous to die of diabetes when there is treatment available and the possibility of a long, productive, and happy life. On the other hand, when my father was dying of various other issues and they suspected he had colon cancer, they decided not to put him through what would be involved in diagnosing, much less treating it, because in the long run it would not make a difference in how long he would live and would only make his last months miserable.
The author writes from a secular viewpoint. As a Christian, I thought a lot about how a Christian worldview would affect this topic. As Christians we know where we and our believing loved ones are going, which takes some of the sting out of death. But we don’t take it lightly or flippantly, either. Death is still called an enemy. We hold life as a gift from God and believe He is the only one with the right to end it. It is to be given back to Him and used for His purposes. Sometimes that includes suffering, yet we’re also called to alleviate suffering if possible. While there are fears about loss of independence and abilities in older age, we can trust God to help us through that time: And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you. Isaiah 46:4. But issues and question the author brings up are needful to consider, preferably before crises hit. In some cases there is no one right answer for what kind of treatment to pursue: the answer will vary depending on a number of factors.
I like this summation near the end of the book:
I am leery of suggesting that endings are controllable. No one ever really has control. Physics and biology and accident ultimately have their way in our lives. But the point is that we are not helpless either. Courage is the strength to recognize both realities. We have room to act, to shape our stories, though as time goes on it is within narrower and narrower confines. A few conclusions become clear when we understand this: that our most cruel failure in how we treat the sick and aged is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer; that the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life; that we have the opportunity to refashion our institutions, our culture, and our conversations in ways that transform the possibilities for the last chapters of everyone’s lives (p. 243).
(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)
It’s been a couple of weeks since I have been able to share some interesting reads with you. Here are some standouts from my recent web reading:
The Memorial Service of Tom Craig, Our Pastor. Brad is a member of our church who has been chronicling the journey of our pastor and church every week since our pastor’s cancer diagnosis, and here he describes the events on the day of his memorial service as well as the service itself. Our church originally had a fundraiser that had been scheduled that morning weeks before, and there was much discussion about whether to postpone it since the funeral was scheduled for the same day. Thankfully they decided to go ahead with it, but that’s what the description of the run and bike rides are about. A recording of the memorial service is here.
Losing the Language. Apt analogy about getting away from church and the things of the Lord.
That Day I Wore Yoga Pants: 5 Myths About Modesty. Most posts/articles/books about modesty tend to lean either toward the woman’s responsibility to watch how she dresses so as not to cause others to stumble or the man’s responsibility to guard his eyes and heart. I thought this one was nicely balanced.
A list of things you may not have known about paralysis from a fellow TMer.
Dear Pinterest, We Need to Have a Talk About Bookshelves. Loved this fun, incredulous look at how people decorate their bookshelves with something other than the best thing: books.
I Quit Liking Things on Facebook For Two Weeks, HT to Kim, shows how what we click that we “like” affects what we see there. I’m not going to quit using the like button, but I am conscious that whatever I “like” feeds into algorithms to give me more of the same.
My friend Lou Ann sent out a survey to readers about decluttering and has posted a series about the results. My favorites are Finding Balance in Decluttering (it’s so easy to get off-balance even in good things) and Disadvantages of Decluttering (did you know there were some? There are! Or at least can be), probably because I rarely see anyone discussing those aspects. Other posts in the series are Advantages of Decluttering and Systems for Decluttering.
I think I have shared this before, but if you haven’t seen it, it’s the story of the pilot who was originally scheduled to fly one of the planes that was highjacked on 9/11:
My pastor, who has been battling pancreatic cancer the last few months, passed away last night.
It’s been hard to know how to pray the last few weeks as we’ve seen the effects of cancer continually decimate his body. We wanted him to have as many days with his family as possible, but we didn’t want him to have to suffer any more than necessary. My youngest son has frequently prayed that Pastor “would have as many good days as possible,” which I thought was probably the best way to pray in addition to asking for God’s will and grace for him and his family and all those who loved him.
As people arrived for prayer meeting last night, a few men were stationed at the church doors and would go out to greet people individually as they approached the building to let them know Pastor had passed away just a short time before. That was probably the best way to handle it rather than waiting for everyone to come in and then starting the evening with a shock moment, or having someone who didn’t know accidentally overhear it mentioned in the conversation of someone who did. This way everyone had a moment to react, absorb the news, and collect their thoughts for a moment before going in, and we could start the service more or less on the same page. One of our assistant pastors led us in singing a song Pastor Tom had requested often lately, “O The Deep, Deep Love.” Another of our men shared some Scripture, someone prayed, people in the congregation were given opportunity to share Scripture that was comforting to them, we broke up into smaller groups to pray, and we sang “O The Deep, Deep Love” one more time.
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!
The comforting and sharing have continued through the night and into this morning on Facebook. It has been a great blessing to me, and I am sure to many others, as we’ve shared with each other through this journey, particularly in the last several hours. This extension of community has been both comforting and edifying as I’ve seen photos and read various thoughts, memories, Scriptures, and bits of song that people have shared.
I’ve only known Pastor Tom for four years. Two main things stand out to me about himself as a person and his ministry. One, he continually led (even gently pushed) us to be deeply grounded in the Bible and in our relationship to God: to see Him in the Scriptures, not to “surface” read the Bible or pray in cliches. He constantly encouraged us to make it real and make it deep. Secondly, he had a true pastor’s heart. He deeply cared for his people, would be with them through any trial as much as he could. When we came forward at the end of a service to join the church, my mother-in-law was with us in her wheelchair. He got down on one knee to speak to her face to face and tell her how he wanted to be her pastor. When my husband was facing his kidney surgery (they joked about being in the “one kidney club” – Pastor also had a kidney removed when he was younger), we had told him that I’d probably be more comfortable getting lost in a book while waiting than having someone outside the family with me – then I’d feel pressured to keep a conversation going. He understood. But he showed up at the hospital in the early hours just as we arrived and signed in, and we had a few minutes to chat and pray before we were called back. That meant a lot to both of us.
Two verses came to mind as we shared during prayer meeting last night. One was shared with me when my mother passed away and it ministered to me greatly then: Psalm 119:76: “Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to thy word unto thy servant.” This, among other things, is what I pray for Pastor Tom’s family. I am so thankful he was able to walk his two older daughters down the aisle at their weddings this summer and that they were all able to be there when he passed. Though we “sorrow not, even as others which have no hope” (I Thessalonians 4:13), we do sorrow, “Sorrowing most of all …that they should see his face no more” (Acts 20:38) until we join him there. I know I felt it was much too soon when my mother passed away in her 60s: I can imagine that feeling is even more magnified when a father and husband passes away in his early 50s. Even trusting that this is God’s will and plan and rejoicing that he is with his Savior and out of pain, it still hurts in a way that only God can heal. Death is called an enemy (I Corinthians 15:26), and though its sting is removed and it’s “swallowed up in victory” (I Corinthians 15:54-57), grief is wrenching, and I pray for His special kindness and comfort for them and our church in the days and months to come.
The second was the verse I did share last night: not long before His own death, Jesus prayed, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). That’s where Pastor Tom is now – with Him who loved him since before he was even born, where he is, beholding His glory. Though we miss him, we rejoice and look forward to joining him there.
I once scorned ev’ry fearful thought of death,
When it was but the end of pulse and breath,
But now my eyes have seen that past the pain
There is a world that’s waiting to be claimed.
Earthmaker, Holy, let me now depart,
For living’s such a temporary art.
And dying is but getting dressed for God,
Our graves are merely doorways cut in sod.
When you sailors see the haven before you, though you were mightily troubled before you could see any land, yet when you come near the shore and can see a certain land-mark, that contents you greatly. A godly man in the midst of the waves and storms that he meets with can see the glory of heaven before him and so contents himself. One drop of the sweetness of heaven is enough to take away all the sourness and bitterness of all the afflictions in the world. ~ Jeremiah Burroughs