Last night my mom and I attended a grief recovery meeting intended to help those of us who have recently lost loved ones to cope with the holidays. We were the only ones present who had two candles to light, representing loved ones recently lost.
Thinking about our first Christmas without my dad, my mind went back to last Christmas Eve. I stayed withmy precious papa, so weakened with cancer, while my mom and the rest of the family went to church. I knew it would be my last Christmas Eve with him.
I savoured every moment.
Today, I read these words in Isaiah 37:35. “For my own honour and the sake of my servant David, I will defend it (Jerusalem).”
I am certain I have been blessed “for the sake of God’s servant Gerry.” My dad loved the Lord with his whole heart. Everything he did was affected by his desire to be faithful to God. I can think of at least two times I was in grave danger of being sexually abused as a child. I believe that my parents’ and grandparents’ prayers were what kept those men from exploiting my weakness and naiveté. Who knows how many other dangers God protected me from for the sake of his servant Gerry.
I am so grateful for the legacy my parents have provided of devotion to God, prayer for loved ones, and faithful obedience. My life is richer for it. I am challenged to pass on that beautiful heritage so that one day, my grandchildren think of me and realize they are blessed for the sake of “God’s servant Donna”.
As we walk through these last moments with my Dad I am comforted by words and thoughts that have been shared with me over the years. I recently came across another poem my dear friend Sonja sent to me years ago. How I am blessed by my friendships.
A Friend – by Jane Toote
My soul cried
The driving winds and rains lashed fiercely about me
I stumbled, searching wildly in my mind
Reaching out from the confusion in my heart
And she was there
And cried with me
My soul gazed up
The raging winds were stilled and the cool calm
Dark of night, surrounded me. I looked up.
And spoke to God and felt his peaceful presence there.
And she was there
And prayed with me
My soul soared
The wind blew soft and cool against my face
The misty clouds drift over a silver moon
And thanked God for the ecstasy of love
And she was there
And smiled with me.
As I was clearing off my desk earlier this week I came across this poem that my dear friend Sonja wrote to me many years ago. And even more precious is that I have a copy written in her own handwriting.
You and Me
A ray of sunshine on a cloudy day.
You give me joy.
I tell you all my sorrows,
You laugh with me,
cry with me
pray with me.
And you never tire.
You never say no when I want to talk.
I often yell and seem impatient…….but please
Don’t think it’s because I don’t care
The love I have for you is as deep as
Anything between two friends can be.
People say someday we’ll
Maybe that’s true
But in our hearts, we’ll always
Be close together.
Our paths may separate
We’ll go our different ways but
One day we’ll meet again in a
Place far from here
A place made especially for friends
With dreams and
For other people who love each other as
I love you.
Just weeks ago, my beloved sister, Debbie, passed into eternity after a 16 month journey with cancer. During her illness and in its aftermath, Debbie and/or her family were able to disperse information about her condition to (and receive encouragement from) hundreds of people using, social media. With the clack of a few keys and the click of a button– whoosh…the information was released to more people than we could have communicated, with face to face, in a week.
I love what technology can give me. What I don’t love is what it can take away. Reading that my friend had cheesecake for breakfast and despises her boss is a poor substitute for looking into her eyes and hearing her heart. Online, I can click that I “like” her breakfast menu choice and LOL at her tirade about her boss. But face to face, I might discern what her unhealthy diet and emotions are really saying about her well-being.
Social Media provides the perfect camouflage for hiding in plain site. We reveal to our “friends”, however many hundreds we have, exactly what we want them to know. Usually, it is far too much and not nearly enough. Many posts are dripping with drivel but completely void of authentic disclosure of who and how the writer really is.
It may feel good in the moment to present a false face to the world–to believe we are being perceived as successful and happy. But what we really want at the end of the day, is someone who knows us intimately, truthfully, and accepts us completely.
Technology is useful and Facebook is fun, but social media should never be allowed to crowd out face to face friendships. There is no substitute for real relationships with real people in real time.
I have never been to Europe and have always longed to go. When my little sister was still in her teens she had the opportunity. When I saw her pictures I was so jealous that she had actually seen the Parthenon and Chartres Cathedral and many of the other edifices and artworks I had marveled over while studying to become an interior designer. When I asked about the subjects of her photos she admitted that she had no idea what most of them were or what they represented. She just figured that they must be a big deal since everyone was taking pictures of them. (She has since returned to Europe with a much greater sophistication and appreciation for its art treasures.)
A few years ago I was planning a speaking trip to South Africa. I guess I knew as much as the average person about the end of apartheid and the leadership of Nelson Mandela. But I also knew the trip would be much more interesting and meaningful if I learned a lot more. One of the sources of my research was Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. It not only was a long walk, but also a long book. I guess it takes quite a few pages to tell a story decades in the making. And when you spend 27 years in prison, there’s time to recall and document a lot of detail. It was a very inspiring read. As I anticipated, it made the trip fascinating. I recognized the names of streets and places as the names of Mandela’s partners in the struggle for equality. I understood the significance of locations and why people of colour were welcome in some churches and not others. Learning about the country made it more excited to go there.
These days I am learning more about heaven. After all, I have a one way ticket to that place. And two treasured members of my family will be traveling there sooner rather than later, I think. Here are some lovely words I came across recently.
Heaven… is that place-
Where everything lasts forever,
Where love fills every heart,
Where praise never stops,
Where pain never enters,
Where joys never cease.
These are not words based on wishful thinking or vague hopes. They are words based on terra firma from the Bible. They are words of hope and joy I reflect on as I grieve the impending temporary separation from those I love so dearly. And I am reminded that because of this heaven, this place Jesus died inviting me to, my grief is tinged with hope:
And now, brothers and sisters, I want you to know what will happen to the Christians who have died so you will not be full of sorrow like people who have no hope.
~I Thes. 4:13 NLT
10 Things I Love About Fall:
- Crunchy leaves
- Brilliant colours
- Harvest moons
- Flannelette sheets
- My down duvet
- New TV episodes
- No mosquitoes
- Fires in the fireplace
- My husband lives at home…a bit more
I’m really a summer person. My favourite places are beaches and patios. I have to really talk to myself to avoid feeling depressed when the days get shorter and colder and the green grass disappears under a white blanket. But this year I really have no right to complain. We had an extra full month of beautiful summer weather and I soaked up every drop of it. When you get more than you’re entitled to, you really can’t complain when it’s gone.
As my family and I walk this sorrowful road of cancer we’re on I am reminded that I have no right to complain. Don’t get me wrong – the journey we walk is terribly painful. Every time we get bad news about my sister or my dad’s cancer progression I grieve deeply. It feels like getting my arm amputated one inch at a time. But I am aware that when you have a lot to lose, it’s only because you had a lot in the first place. Of all people, our family has been blessed. We enjoy close and loving relationships; we have traveled widely and experienced more joy than anyone has a right to. We can’t ask “why me?” Why not us? Who is richer than we are? Our God walks and weeps with us. He is helping us shoulder this load of sadness. And He reminds us that this life is just the prelude. No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared…1 Corinthians 2:9. I am grateful. I am blessed.
Last week I met a remarkable man. Because of a diving accident in his youth, he had been a quadriplegic for most of his life. But Walt doesn’t consider this a reason to see life through dirty lenses. Each day when I saw Walt and I asked, “How are you?” he responded, “Absolutely Spectacular!” Thursday he must have been having a bad day. When I greeted him he downgraded his response to “Nearly spectacular.”
Walt reminds me of a lawyer I met who directs a child development project for Compassion in El Salvador. This man only practices law two day’s per week so that he can give the alpha dog’s share of his time to the children. His challenges are as persistent as mosquitoes. Yet when this man of faith is asked how he is faring, his response is consistently, “Always in victory!”
These days I find myself struggling to keep my breathing apparatus above the waves in very rough waters. I don’t feel very victorious or spectacular. As I’ve weighed my response to the inevitable “How are you” question, in light of these remarkable men I’ve met, I’ve wondered how to respond authentically while keeping my outlook positive. How can I honour both my feelings and my faith?
In reality, I’m not always noticeably in victory. I’m not absolutely spectacular. But I am always, ALWAYS, blessed! I am surrounded by supportive family and friends. I live in a great country and enjoy a lofty standard of living compared to most of the world. I am involved in work that is making a difference. And even if all of this were not true or were suddenly removed from me, the bedrock of my blessing remains. I have been adopted into God’s family. My Papa-God walks beside me and will never abandon me. He constantly supplies me with the strength for whatever lies in the path ahead. I am blessed every moment of every day. If I’m grieving, frustrated, or nearly spectacular – I am always in victory – whether I feel like it or not. I am blessed.
Today I had the remarkable experience of receiving what I hoped for in two situations where that outcome was unlikely. I was prepared to politely accept refusal, but I still had to ask.
I had purchased the econo-size of a food product which I didn’t realize was not what I wanted until I opened it. Great, I thought. Now I am stuck with an enormous quantity of something I don’t like! With a fine thread of hope, I returned to the store where I had purchased it, explaining that I had made the mistake because it was not on the shelf where it was supposed to be. Amazingly, the manager made the exchange without even asking to see the receipt I offered!
I went from the store to garden centre where I had been short-changed by $20. Now that is something that is hard to prove. I approached the counter saying, “I hope that you think I have an honest face…” Wonder of all wonders, my money was returned to me after a quick browse through the computer revealed they had not balanced the day before. Sometimes you just have to ask for what you want.
Last evening a good friend shared that her daughter informed her that there is no point in her attending church anymore since she no longer believes in God. She told her mom that she has come to this conclusion because God never answers her prayers. That amazed me, because I know this young woman has a great life, overflowing with successes and blessings. I wondered what she’s been asking God for that he hasn’t given her.
Jesus’ half-brother James said this:
… you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. (James 4:2,3)
Sometimes we just have to ask! And sometimes we have to ask ourselves, Why do I really want this?
Our God wants the best for us. We can go to him to ask for anything. But like a loving parent, he will say no sometimes. Always for our benefit. So go ahead and ask – but then trust him with the outcome.