Thursday, April 23, 2009

Absent From the Body...

...present with the Lord. I have often wondered over the years what Pat Peckham's memorial service would look like. I have pictured all the women and men who have been touched by and taught by her over the years filling the rows of the chapel and spilling out into the foyer and out the door. She was such a blessing, and even in the past few weeks as she lay dying she gave me wise counsel about a situation I was faced with. She told me that I wouldn't have to visit her for more than six months, letting me know that there was an end date in sight for the trouble of visitation. See the thing is it wasn't a bother or trouble for me to visit her. It was a privilege. I learned so much from her about how to live out my faith and she started me on the path of walking in freedom. She was always gentle and kind to me, even when she spoke hard truths.

When I think of her I think of lavender and white, pale aqua and blues, pastels and feminine without being too cutesy. Very elegant and dignified, she always dressed nicely and her hair was always lovely. She was such a gracious woman, though she would chasten you if you really needed it, but it was always done with gentleness and care.

My friend, my mentor and one of my "other mother's" went home today, just as she has been asking. I know her son's will grieve for her, as will her husband. She was a rock, and such an encouraging person. She adored her sons and spoke of them with such loving pride. The son closest in age to me, Jeff, always carried himself with such self-confidence, even at ages where no one is self-confident, he was. Though he was often disliked for it or mocked, as it was sometimes mistaken for arrogance or pride, he was friendly and I never saw him be unkind or looking down on anyone. I think that is because Pat instilled in her boys that she had total confidence in them. She placed a burden of trust on them, but also required them to do certain things to show care for her. In her lifetime, if she ever pumped her own gas, you would never get her to admit it. I don't think she ever did pump gas. If the tank ran out, she would call her husband or boys to come and get her and to take care of it. It was understood that gassing the vehicles was their job and if they drove the car they were to bring it back with enough gas in the tank so that she wasn't stranded. It was very old-fashioned of her, but for her it was a part of being cared for and ensuring that her boys understood that there are some things you did for your wife simply to show her your care.

I find it hard to imagine that either of her daughter-in-laws leave all the gas pumping to their menfolk, but there may be things that for them they do not wish to do because they are women and prefer not. I would imagine that Jeff and John were trained to understand and to take care of those things.

I cannot do justice to Pat here. I only know a part of her life, and while she shared stories with me over the years, I'm sure there are so many more that I do not know.

Mother's Day is coming up and will be bittersweet this year. I sometimes would bring Pat a card or a flower to commemorate her place in my heart, such as I would bring or send to my own mom. My children do not understand what happens in the heart of a mom when their kids remember them, so I have tried to busy myself and care for others on that day so that I don't let unfilled hopes ruin my day. I want to treasure what they DO, not spend time being upset with what they do not do. It isn't always easy, but I think Pat would approve of removing my expectations from them and living in a little place I like to call reality.

This is a bit rambling tonight, as I try to pull together the many thoughts I have running through my head. It's not easy to condense the tremendous impact Pat had on me in one small entry. What did she teach me? One, to relax a bit. Two, to be realistic and biblical about what I should expect from myself, from others and from God. Three, to be more real with others around me and not to pretend that things are okay when they are not. Four, to be less concerned about what others thought or their criticism, but to think instead about what I should do or shouldn't do, what I was designed and gifted for regardless of what others reaction might be. Five, that there are some things that you cannot change, and when you get to those, you better quit beating your head against a wall and wishing they were different. Live in the real world! Six, to be kinder to myself. Seven, that God loves me and is delighted by me. I didn't really grasp this very well, but I tried.

Oh and she taught me to patiently wait while God does what he wishes in our lives. We do not have to understand our trials, but we need to accept that they come from the hand of a loving God. Pat did not understand the long time she was forced to sit in a chair day after day, nor did she understand when she went into hospice, what she was doing laying there so helplessly. She didn't like those things, but she accepted them with grace. Not that she was perfect, but she trusted God no matter the hardship.

Her service will be in a few days and I wonder, will all the men and women she touched be there? Will they honor her with their time as she poured her time into them? Many will find themselves too busy, others will not see the point, some find funerals too uncomfortable and so they don't go, but I believe that we are taught differently. Ecclesiastes says that it is better to go to a house of mourning than a house of mirth because a wise men will take it to heart. A wise man will understand that the end of all men is the grave and will take it to heart. Many people avoid funerals and memorial services. Do they think that by turning away from it that they will avoid death in the end? Or do they love the foolish way they are spending their days so much that they do not wish to examine it? I couldn't tell you. My bible teacher shared this verse with me in high school and it has stayed with me all these years. When I have the opportunity to go to the funeral of a loved one or to the service of the loved one of a friend, I always go. I go for a few reasons. One, I believe that it is one concrete way you can show that you care. Two, I think it is a comfort to me to be in the company of others that loved the one I loved. Three, it does cause me to consider my life and the days I have left, and re-order my priorities. There are many pieces of equipment that require periodic recalibration. Funerals are one of the ways my spirit gets re-calibrated, that my choices are examined and my priorities get tweaked.

I am terribly conscious that I have fewer days ahead than I have behind. The choices I make are so important now, more than ever before. I am on the countdown side of things, on the downhill slope. If there is a chance to become a truly godly woman it is imperative that it be now. It cannot wait.

We all need the reminder of the death of a loved one to teach us to number our days rightly. I may not look it, but I am in the middle of my life. I have past the midpoint. My dear readers, please take the opportunity to decide how to spend the only life you have. Determine what is truly of worth and set your aim there. Yes there is a lot to juggle, but when you have your gaze set firmly on where you need to go, it does make it a bit easier to make choices. Well, I have gone on long enough this evening. I have passed midnight and am into Friday. Whew!

Please leave me a comment. I know there are some of you reading this, but I'm not hearing from you. If nothing else, please let me know who is reading. Since comments are moderated, just put a note in if you do not want your comment published. I understand. And...if this is of value to you to hear what is on my heart, please share these posts with others. Thank you very much for the time you are giving to my words.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Thoughts on death and dying

My friend, mentor, and second mother lays in a bed tonight and likely will breathe her last in the next several hours. Her road has been a long one, and over the last few years has been difficult. She has had a bleeding aneurysm in the brain for a while, a slow seepage or trickle that caused her to have a terrible fall a few years back with breaks in the thigh from the hip to the knee, requiring hours of surgery, multiple pins and much physical therapy. She has never been the same. At some point she had a stroke which caused her to lose function of her left eye and the right side of her body from the neck down. She could feel touch, but could not move her arm or leg.

PT determined that nothing would restore the function, so she was helped to get up, dress and helped to walk to her chair where she sat for day after day, unable to cook or clean, and requiring help for many personal functions of life. I don't know why she had to endure this. Her brain was still doing great, but her voice became softer and her strength waned.

I was priviledged to visit with her since her fall on many occasions. I wish I could say I was faithful, but sometimes months would pass between visits, yet each time I drove the major roadway between her house and mine I would try to figure out when I was going to be able to see her again.

It troubles me, but such is the way of the working, that her best times for visiting were during the work week, at times of the day when it was terribly difficult to get away. I should have set aside a weekend a month to get to visit her, but often I did not.

Still, when she got to hospice I visited her quite frequently, and when she was moved from there into a more long-term hospice/nursing facility, I was priviledged to be able to visit her nearly every week. She was so good to me over the years, it shames me that I was not more faithful.

The beauty in watching my dear friend withdraw from this life is that it helps me to "number my days aright" as it says in Psalm 90. I have fewer years ahead of me than behind, in all likelihood, so the time must be spent wisely and in pursuit of things which truly matter.

Pat invested her life in people. She was kind, wise, organized, insightful, had a great sense of humor, loved music, loved to read mysteries, kept an orderly household, and despite what she may have thought was a good student. She ran businesses efficiently and she did what is a great thing. She obeyed what she knew in Scripture. She may not have known everything, but what she knew she obeyed. She and her husband are known for that.

Sometime very soon, Pat will have slipped the bonds of this earth and will be face-to-face with Jesus. She will be dancing and singing and clapping and enjoying the heavenly choir as she worships with them with such joy.

I will miss her, but she has taught me so much that I can remember and fall back on. I truly do not want her to suffer and be trapped in her mortal body any longer. I don't want her to struggle to make her needs, wishes and thoughts known anymore. I don't want her to struggle to have a drink, or to suffer the indignities of her condition any longer.

I hope, dear friends and my dear children, that you find people throughout your life that you can learn from in this way. I don't know if our marriage would have survived without Pat's gentle teaching, showing me how to navigate the troubled waters we were in. I don't know if I would have recovered enough to have known happiness and contentment again. I have been blessed by knowing some wonderful people along the path who helped me in difficult times even when they did not understand what I was going through. Several times one wonderful person or the other helped me through a really trying patch in our marriage. Mostly, they have helped me to see that my unhappiness was only partly about my husband. Most of it was about the anguish of my own heart, my own sin, my own selfishness, and my own damaged spirit. These people have each shown me something of God I did not know before, or shown me what truth looked like when you lived it.

There is a sweetness to the pain and loss I feel tonight. I am happy to go through the sorrow, because it means that I knew and loved such a wonderful person. My thoughts are on heaven tonight and I pray that her suffering will soon be over.
My hope index is up today, brought on by spring. A few days of temperatures in the 60's and 70's, a bit of time spent clearing the dead leaves out of the garden beds and planting the first of my lemon balm--ah, life begins anew. With it my allergies soar, my sinuses fill, and I have a headache which will last until the dead of winter returns, but I am reminded that all things begin anew.

Disturbing some of the plants to clear out the debris released the fragrance of sage, lavender, lemon thyme, sweet woodruff and mint, and the joy that comes from the scent of things to come...

I am reminded that much in this world is merely the scent, or the promise of things to come. There is coming a day when this earth shall pass away, with its sin-stains, sorrows, sickness and grief, and a new earth will be formed in perfection. C.S. Lewis said that the wistful longing, the tears that come in the midst of the joy of a beautiful sunset or a striking scene of natural beauty is because there is something in us that longs for that in its perfected state which is to come.

I don't know about that, but I know that these things remind me of what I have already learned of God and hint at wonders I have yet to discover. As I stir up and remove the debris of the past, the fragrance of hope at what can be is released and my soul, my very being rejoices that I can be renewed, healed, restored.

There is a portion of my garden that was fouled by an oil spill a few years ago. At first it smelled and killed the herbs growing there. I removed as much of the fouled earth as I could without killing the plants, and have waited to see what will happen. I had read a report of an oil spill, where the seas and sands have been cleaned by natural processes without human help, and I wondered what would happen.

For the past couple of years, the area that was spoiled was simply dead. None of my plants seemed to recover, though the roots and the dry tendrils remained, but this year there are small signs of life in that previously dead-looking patch of ground. I'm not entirely sure what has happened, whether the plant is rejuvanating, or if the parts that were still alive elsewhere are simply spreading into what was defiled, but either way there is life beginning where there was death.

So I am thinking today about renewal and cleansing and fresh starts. Forgiveness for the past, looking forward to the future. It's all good.

Some damage goes deeper than a bit of motor oil, like the scars from strip mining on the front range, visible from many miles away. These scars, this spoiling and desecration, takes much more concentrated and deliberate effort to restore but there is progress being made there. The scars are still visible, but less so, and perhaps one day they will be unrecognizable, perhaps not. I am thinking though that no matter how deep the damage to us, even though there may be scars, our scarred and ruined places can be redeemed if we are willing to work at it and speak life into the lifeless places. How? Well, we must examine old ways of thinking, patterns we developed in childhood or in poor relationships, things we told ourselves, vows we made to protect ourselves from further hurt, and rebuke them, change our thinking through the deliberate memorization and meditation on Scripture, choosing to think and act in healthy ways.

I used to have written on my bathroom mirror, "Do the healthy thing." It was a reminder to me that to become healthy, in our physical, emotional, mental, spiritual or social beings, we must emulate what healthy people do. Does a healthy person eat salad instead of fries? Then we choose to eat salad. Is a healthy person super-sensitive? Then we choose to tell ourselves to get over it. Whatever that choice is, we emulate a healthy person. Eventually, eating a salad will become the normal thing for me; ignoring small slights will become normal; taking a walk becomes normal; turning off the TV becomes normal; getting out of bed, taking a shower and getting dressed when we are depressed becomes normal, and helps beat depression. Whatever the healthy thing, whatever the good thought, the better choice becomes more and more normal for me as I practice healthy living. For me, that is the way we bring life to the deeply scarred areas in our lives.

I refuse to be depressed anymore. That refusal is not a mere "I won't," it is a determination with a plan. For instance, I will wash my hair every day. That may seem like a silly thing, but for me, it is an important sign that I will not neglect taking care of myself. I have to be deathly ill before I will allow myself to stay in my pajamas all day. Some of my friends stay in their pajamas on a Saturday as their de-stress thing. For me, getting dressed is a sign to me mentally that I will not be a sloth, particularly important with my physical difficulties.

These may seem small, but they are some of the things I do to heal those "scars on the mountain" in my life. Some of those things may always be visible to others, but I am actively choosing life over death, victory over defeat.

And that is what Spring reminds me of...that life returns, that death doesn't win. The past is just that, the past. Hey, I've got enough to deal with just living in today, right?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Even Christ

If even Christ pleased not himself, why am I so intent on pleasing myself? Am I the maker of the universe? Am I the creator God? Am I capable of my own salvation?

How I Read the Bible

There are many plans out there for reading the Bible and they are all good. They accomplish what is important, which is actually reading the word of God. Some of them feel more like a cram session to me than really reading and learning what God has to say to me and how to live that out. Genesis 1-3. Check. Psalm 100-105. Check, check. Now a 2 minute speed prayer, check. Okay, done with my spiritual duties for the day. It doesn't have to be this way, but it feels like an enormous obligation to me and I'm reading my OT, skipping to the Psalms, then my NT portion for the day. Whew! I made it today.

What I really want is to have it get into my heart. For me, the speed reading doesn't work that way. If you want to know the author's (God) intention, and to figure out what they are saying, perhaps I need to read a book through from start to finish. You don't have to do it my way, but take a book like Philippians and read it through as you would read a letter, for that is what it is. I like Phillips translation for that, though you don't need that.

I have decided that I have been missing out on a lot because so much of the focus has been the NT, so I have started in Genesis and am reading my way through, trying to really capture the events and what God is doing. I have been doing this for a while and I will admit that I haven't gotten very far. I am still in Deuteronomy after nearly a year. I read and re-read, sometimes flipping back to see something I may have missed, and sometimes taking a week or even a month to meditate on one section or to revel in what God has said to me through his word.

I feel as if I am getting a bigger picture of themes, concepts, of majesty, of wonder, of the nature of sacrifice, of the working of God. As I am in church, go to a small group, or am challenged in some other way to read some other part of scripture, I am finding that what I'm reading in the OT points forward, and what is in the NT is echoed from the OT or a fulfillment of what was mere temporary, substitutionary or foreshadowed in what I've read in the Old. From the advent of sin, God's Guys, the prophets, the Levites(priests of Isreal), usually had no portion with the others, but lived off what was provided them through the gifts of others. Prophets were told, "your my guy" and given a mission, and suffered imprisonment, scorn, beatings, and worst, often no one listened to them. When I see what most of the people called to ministry live on, I am reminded of the tradition that God set up. They live off of the gifts of the people. Most of these guys and gals will have no inheritance for their children. Many of them are mocked or ignored, even though they are right where God wants them.

When I say I want to be God's Gal, his totally sold out servant, I do not say it without an understanding of what this means. When I gripe about my physical condition it is because I do not truly grasp in that moment how God is choosing to use me for his glory. When I want to get healthy, mentally and emotionally and even physically, it is not merely for myself anymore it is so that I can better serve. But, I will say that if he has designed the path of pain for his glory, let it be. I choose to be happy. I have determined in my heart that my maker, the all-loving, all-wise God, my creator, my savior and my friend wants this for me, then I will take it with joy.

Well, I gotta run and get my Yukon checked out, so I'll talk more about this later.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Just a thought...

Today I am thinking about the gift of music. I am just revelling in the music from worship yesterday and what a joy that was for me. I had scripture running through my head throughout the morning and was enjoying such a sweet time of loving communion and praise to God. I was unable to stand for the service elements, and could barely even sit on the stool, I was so terribly uncomfortable physically, but the sweetness of the praise, the wonder of being able to call out "Holy, Holy, Holy" to the Lord God Almighty and to the Lamb, just as the seraphim do... I have a hard time describing it.

Tonight I went to see one of the young men from church in his school's presentation of "Beauty and the Beast". It was such a pleasure to see, and the music, though flawed, was wonderful and the acting was quite good. It reminds me of how great our maker is. He invented music, he invented dance and movement. He created us for such sweet moments with himself and with others. We are to glorify him, and he seems to delight in providing sweetness for us.

Thank you, Father for such sweetness. And thank you for allowing me to sit next to the precious baby and watch his delight and wonder, when I am so very far away from my grandbaby. It brough me such pleasure to watch him and to think about how much fun Timmy would have had tonight.

Goodnight children, goodnight friends. You are in my thoughts tonight.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Grabbing the Rudder

This blog has been an aimless pursuit for far too long, but I intend to change that. The only thing of any eternal value in this life is the pursuit of God and the changes that result from a life wholly devoted to finding out who he is, finding out what he wants and doing it. Really, what else matters?

I will soon turn 45, and I have noticed the years are likely fewer from here on out, unless I live an unusually long time. There are things I have done well in my life and things I have done poorly. I have striven to do what God wants for most of my life, without a clear understanding of what that looked like, and though I don't mean to hurt those in my past, but I wasn't taught well how to live out the Bible in my daily life.

Of all the things I have done, my greatest regret is that I didn't do a better job teaching my children, not just about God, but how to know him and how to follow him. It is my fervent prayer that through these writings I can share my heart with my children and anyone else who would care to follow along my journey. I kept my thoughts deep inside of me and rarely shared anything of depth with anyone in my family. I had a difficult childhood (sorry Mom and Dad, but it's true), and one of the things I gained is a fear of telling anyone my thoughts for fear of criticism and shame. I would talk about actions, but not discuss the real motivations of my heart, nor discuss what I was learning from God, never mention my fears, my failures, my hopes, etc.

I am so sorry, Kristen, Craig and Alex. I never felt that anyone would want to hear my heart, and once I gained friends with whom I could share that part of me I simply didn't know how to talk that way with you. I guess I still don't, which is why I'm writing to you this way.

I have spent so much of my life afraid of falling short of the mark, and knowing I would fall short and waiting for the retribution of a God who could not possibly have truly forgiven me. I how I want you to know the forgiveness that God has provided. The Bible says many times and in many ways that God is gracious and merciful and has carried our sins away, or covered them or washed them. It is poetic language to describe something we have difficulty understanding. One of the reasons to read the Old Testament is to understand that God always provided a way for man to have a relationship with himself despite our sin. He covered sins, he carried them away, like the scape goat which carried away the sins of the people. He covered them in the blood of sacrifices, all pointing to the time when he would remove our sins as far as the East is from the West. He would hurl our sins into the sea, it says in Micah 7.

Oh if only I really understood this truth more fully. He didn't just use a ledger book to account our sins to the account of Jesus, He didn't just mark the bill "Paid in Full", he, the righteous and holy God, the one whose perfection is so far above our understanding we will never truly know it, whose purity we cannot comprehend, took all our sins and impurity, all our guilt and stain, all the stink of our sins, of our pride, our lies, our greed, our gossip, our sexual sins, our covetousness, all of it--he took all of our filth on himself. "He who knew no sin became sin for us."

His purity, his sacrifice, his blood was the necessary remedy for sin. He was the cure that eradicates the sin of his people. Oh I wish I had begun to understand this sooner. I would have been a different mom. I would have been more merciful and forgiving, I would have been kinder, and I would have allowed you to know me.

Oh, you may never really like me. I still have a lot of messed up history to be redeemed and from which I need healing, so I will be dreadfully imperfect, but I intend to have the courage to speak to you and to be myself with you, to no longer hide the depths of my heart from you. You are my precious children and I love you with a love I cannot describe.

I intend to make the rest of my life count for God. Period. He has redeemed me and removed my sins, remembering them no more and even the stink of them he has removed from me. Past, present or future, I am forgiven. Totally. Completely.

Read it for yourselves. I have 2000 or so books on my shelves, but none has had the impact on me that the Bible has. God will show you in his word such truth, such depth and such healing that you can even get over being raised by me!

So...I intend to continue this blog with thoughts from my heart, be they meditation, prayers, mentions of God's goodness, scriptures that are terribly meaningful, examples I want to share. If you would know the heart of your mother, read along. When I get to the end of my life I intend to be able to say to you, "I've shown you how a Christ-follower lives, now let me show you how one dies." I intend to finish the course well and never, ever, ever lose my faith or fall away. The one who paid such a high price for me deserves my trust in the midst of the darkest times.

Even though there may be dark times when I don't feel like it, with my heart, with my mind and with all my strength I will say with Job, "Thou he slay me, even then I will trust him." I may have my fist shaking in defiance of the fear that would steal my heart away and the evil one who would seek to shake me, but I truly have nowhere else to go. If God is not who he says he is, then I am utterly miserable and lost. Has he not shown us his goodness in the earth? His grandeur in the stars? Has he not watered the earth from his storehouse of snow? Has he not shown his power in the thunder and in the raging storm?

I long for you to know him more than anything. I could die happy tomorrow if I knew that you were all following after Jesus with your whole hearts. It is the only thing of any value I have to give you.