Thoughts About Death

As I write this post, it’s the last day of July and I must say that death has been on my mind all month.  This is the month when my mother passed away in 2001, also a very close friend, Marilyn; our beloved dog, Holly; and now there are two more to add to the list — our pastor’s wife, Lynn; and our dear friend Jalan’s son, Dylan, at the age of twenty-five.

The death of Lynn this summer brought these matters back into focus for me.  She’d had a return of cancer (like my mother) and did not even have as long as we’d expected.  The moment of death was also delayed by a few days, making it really hard for the family.

But in the midst of this, God was speaking in my regular readings of the day.

Dying and dissolution continue to strike fear in me. Death itself does not. Ten years ago if somebody had offered me a vigorous, healthy life that would never end, I would have said yes. Today I think I would say no. I love my life as much as I ever did and will cling on to it for as long as I can, but life without death has become as unthinkable to me as day without night or waking without sleep. Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life, pg. 172

We find by losing. We hold fast by letting go. We become something new by ceasing to be something old. This seems to be close to the heart of that mystery. I know no more now than I ever did about the far side of death as the last letting-go of all, but I begin to know that I do not need to know and that I do not need to be afraid of not knowing. God knows. That is all that matters.

Out of Nothing he creates Something. Out of the End he creates the Beginning. Out of selfness we grow, by his grace, toward selflessness, and out of that final selflessness, which is the loss of self altogether, ‘eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man’ what new marvels he will bring to pass next. All’s lost. All’s found. And if such words sound childish, so be it. Out of each old self that dies some precious essence is preserved for the new self that is born; and within the child-self that is part of us all, there is perhaps nothing more precious than the fathomless capacity to trust. –Ibid, pg. 174

This is what we can do as Christians — and we do — trust.  Because of that trust there’s a deep sense of peace that no one can take away from us.  It’s a foundation to our lives that covers all areas — death, life, fear, disappointment.

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created things, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. –Romans 8:37-39 [NASB]

Crushed with Pain

Here are the final quotes this week on my Word of the Year — “Pain.”  I have certainly been experiencing this word recently, both due to physical pain and emotional pain for the deaths of others we have seen recently.  I’m so thankful God has been faithful to give me just the encouragement I need each day, even in the midst of painful circumstances.

Note:  This is what the Prophet Micah said to Jerusalem, just before they were taken away captive to Babylon, due to their persistence in bowing down to idols.  I love Eugene H. Peterson’s translation of this verse in The Message:

Well, go ahead — twist and scream, Daughter Jerusalem.  You are like a woman in childbirth [i.e., in pain].  You’ll soon be out of the city, on your way and camping in the open country.  And then you’ll arrive in Babylon.  What you lost in Jerusalem will be found in Babylon.  God will give you new life again.  He’ll redeem you from your enemies.  — Micah 4:10 [MSG]

Judgment is painful.  But the pain is purposeful.  It isn’t like the pain of passing a kidney stone and having nothing to show for it.  It’s more like the pain of childbirth in which you have everything to show for it.  After the pain, you’re able to cradle new life in your arms.  And wrapped around that new life will be a blanket of deliverance from your enemies. — Eugene H. Peterson, Conversations, pg. 1425

Good for you.  More it hurt more better it is.  Can’t nothing heal without pain, you know.  What you wiggling for?  — Toni Morrison, Beloved, pg. 92

Pain entered into, accepted and owned, can become poetry.  It is no less pain, but it is no longer ugly.  Poetry is our most personal use of words; it is our way of entering into experience, of inhabiting it as our home, not just watching it happen to us.  — Eugene H. Peterson, Conversations, pg. 144

…how like Father Zossima kneeling down at the feet of Dimitri Karamazov because he sees that great suffering is in store for him and because he knows, as John Donne did, that suffering [pain] is holy. –Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life, pg. 170

Still, the most amazing quotes on pain are from a portion of the book of Isaiah that describes the Messiah in perfect detail.  This was written 700 years before the birth of Christ.

The servant grew up before God…There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look.  He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.  One look at him and people turned away.  We looked down on him, thought he was scum.  But the fact is, it was our pains he carried…But it was our sins that did that to him…He took the punishment, and that made us whole…We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.  And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong, on him…He was beaten, he was tortured, but he didn’t say a word.  Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered and like a sheep being sheared, he took it all in silence…Still, it’s what God had in mind all along, to crush him with pain.  The plan was that he give himself as an offering for sin so that he’d see life come from it…He took on his own shoulders the sin of the many, he took up the cause of all the black sheep.  — Isaiah 53 [MSG]

It doesn’t get any clearer than this — mysterious as it seems — Christ took all our pain on his shoulders and purposefully endured the punishment of our sins so that we can have eternal life.  What a great Savior!

 

Wishing Pain Away

Here are some more quotes I have come across this year regarding my Word of the Year — “Pain.”

When Miriam’s bones were breaking, for instance, if I could have pushed a button that would have stopped not her pain but the pain of her pain in me, I would not have pushed the button because, to put it quite simply, my pain was because I loved her, and to have wished my pain away would have been somehow to wish my love away as well.  And at my best and bravest I do not want to escape the future either, even though I know that it contains what will someday be my own great and final pain.  Because a distaste for dying is twin to a taste for living, and again I don’t think you can tamper with one without somehow doing mischief to the other.  — Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life, pg. 146-147

We don’t become cheerful by avoiding what is painful.  In fact, one of the surprising things is that some of the most cheerful people you meet are those most often confronted with tragic circumstances.  The source of the cheerful heart is the conviction that the world and our existence is, at the center, good.  That God is working continuously not only for good but for our good.   That beneath all the misery and pain of our common lives is the reality of grace working toward a predestined good.  If you can believe that, you can maintain a cheerful heart that will be medicine both to you and to everyone around you.  –Eugene H. Peterson, Conversations, pg. 961

 

 

Pain and Trouble

I told you earlier that my Word of the Year for 2015 is “pain.”  Well, it certainly has proved to be an appropriate word for me now, for many reasons.  I have many friends that are suffering from physical pain, emotional pain, the pain of the death of a loved one, relational pain, fear of the future, and the list can go on and on.

In addition, I have personally been experiencing more physical pain than usual due to the Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy in my knee, fibromyalgia, and because I didn’t keep up the physical therapy exercises I needed to continue at home when my formal sessions ended.  The muscles in my knees have atrophied (again) and my left kneecap (the same knee that has RSD) has moved back out of place, causing a lot of discomfort.  Although I continue to ride the stationary bike (or my real bike) and the elliptical every day, it hasn’t been doing anything to help keep the kneecap in place, of course.  For that I needed to do the other strengthening exercises I’d been given.  So I’m going to start that again now.

In the meantime, I can tell you that although my body has been in pain, my spirit is healthy and strong because of the faithfulness of God to give me the exact words I need for each moment, from the various sources I happen to be reading each day.  It’s amazing how each quote fits something specific I’m dealing with at the time.  I’d like to share some of these “pain quotes” with you this week.  If you are hurting in any way (and it seems everyone is), I hope this will be an encouragement.

“Even the weariest river winds somewhere safe to sea.”  It had been offered as consolation, a reminder that even the most pain-racked life finds ultimate release… –James Michener, Centennial, pg. 917

If ever there should turn out unbelievably to be a God of love willing to search for men even in the depths of evil and pain, the face of Jesus is the face we would know him by.  –Frederick Buechner, The Faces of Jesus, pg. 132

I’m hurt and in pain; Give me space for healing, and mountain air.  Let me shout God’s name with a praising song.  Let me tell his greatness in a prayer of thanks.  –Psalm 69:29-30 [MSG]

The Word of God isn’t about somebody else.  It’s always a personal address, never a general, abstract truth.  The biblical revelation is never a commentary or ideas or culture or conditions; it’s always about actual people, actual pain, actual trouble, actual sin.  –Eugene H. Peterson, Conversations, pg. 461

Woe to those addicted to feeling good–life without pain!  Those obsessed with looking good–life without wrinkles!  –Amos 6:6 [MSG]

When the worst happens –whether war or flood or disease or famine — and we take our place before this Temple (we know you are personally present in this place!) and pray out our pain and trouble, we know that you will listen and give victory.  –2 Chronicles 20:9 [MSG]

In closing, here is another great reminder about pain.  Look for more of the many quotes God has been giving me in recent weeks in my next two blog posts!

 

 

Mentors for Children

Here is one more video of Compassion alumni, related to the people that became mentors for them when they were children. I love this video!  Take a look at it now — I guarantee it will cause you to smile and giggle a bit!

Sponsor Letters Matter

Here is a really fun video from Compassion that features several formerly sponsored children — we call them “alumni” of the sponsorship program.  You will find this very interesting, as they talk about how much their sponsor letters meant to them.  Sponsor letters matter!

If you have not written your child for a while, please click this link now and don’t put it off another day.

Rohit’s Story

Here is another great video from Compassion, related to Water of Life:

Here is the link where you can give to Compassion’s Water of Life program. Don’t hesitate today; your donation may save a life!  Thank you!