Numb

When I go to the dentist to have work done on my teeth, with the exception of a cleaning, I get a shot of Novocaine.  For about two hours, I don’t have any pain.  It starts out feeling pressure and then moves to a tingling sensation until finally, I get the feeling back in my mouth.  On another occasion, I got a shot to numb an area on my face.  And still several more times, my eyes have gotten drops to numb them for laser surgery.

Numb is good most of the time.  It helps us not feel physical pain.  But when we talk about numbness because of a tragedy, there is a dark side too.  If being numb means we don’t feel pain, that can be a blessing.  But otherwise, numbness can keep us from feeling anything.  We can’t think clearly, we are distracted, we sometimes … don’t care about much.

Numbness blocks memories too.  When grief runs deep, some people can’t remember the funerals of their loved ones.  The blurred memories usually never become clear.

How do we get the feelings back that so deeply desire?  The medicine wears off.  But it isn’t as simple as that with our emotions.  Perhaps we should do what David did after his infant son died.  We should get up and worship God (II Samuel 12).  Maybe we should recognize the presence of God and cry out to Him (Psalm 18:6).  God doesn’t reject our cries.

Will we ever get over being numb?  It can disappear in a short time… like Novocaine.  It can stay with us for a long time like a physical wound that is healing.  Eventually, we will feel again.  And we will still remember.

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Preparing for Loss

Almost every time I meet with a family to discuss the funeral of their loved one, I hear the memories come flowing out.  I don’t necessarily have to include everything they say, but some of those memories are important to share.

Most everyone will chuckle of Jeannette’s love of the QVC network or when Joe accidentally put transmission fluid in the oil reserve.   Families will be reminded of Grandma’s mashed potatoes and German chocolate cake; how brother Ted could fix anything.

The best thoughts are about the infectious smile, the generosity, the love of animals, the kind word, the wisdom of age, and the commitment of prayers for the family.

The reason for these memories is because they have become the foundation of the lives well lived.  There will be nothing to remember if those things were not done.  But they were.

And while we engage in life together, the stories are being written only to be told at the funeral (albeit a summary), and then cherished for other people to read or hear about in the future.  Tell the young ones over and over.  Let them be part of the family while family is still living.  Then let them be reminded as they grow older.

My in-laws are getting older and they are having a harder time getting around.  They are now in Assisted Living.  My wife and I prepare, but not because we think their time on earth is over soon, but because that’s what families are supposed to do.

I lived 20 years of my own life before I met them.  And in they years following, I can remember my mother-in-law’s understanding of what gifts to buy for family at Christmas; my father-in-law’s shared thoughts on what he watched on the Discovery Channel.  So many more chapters and each with a special message.

When the eulogy is preached, you’ll reach into the recesses of your minds and hearts and it’ll come to you… the things you prepared for that day.

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Suddenly!

My friend “J” died last week, suddenly.   She was a tough woman on the outside, funny, straight-forward.  There wasn’t a fake thing about her.  She told it like it was.  And then there was the soft heart many people did not know.  There were things she’d tell me about her life and they mirrored a lot of mine.  We talked about her faith and how different it was from “churchianity.”  She really did love Jesus.

But she died and it was a big shock.  No more talks about things that she needed to talk about.  She IS in the hands of our Savior.

I told her brother that I pray for God’s Perfect Peace for the family.   Then, I thought, Can we have God’s perfect peace and grieve at the same time?  Oh, I already know the answer, because this is not the first time a friend, or a family member, has died and I’ve had to grieve.

Grief is real and it’s expected.  It may mean heavy hearts, lots of tears, and an emptiness that will never be filled.  But it also can mean a “strange” sense of joy… no more pain, no more sorrows, no more anguishing for that loved one.  They are free, we say.  More than that, though.  In the hands of Jesus, we find comfort.

So, the question again… can we have God’s perfect peace and grieve at the same time?  The answer is “YES”!  Notice the emphasis I give.  It’s a resounding YES.  That’s because we still have hope apart from this place.  If we’re going to leave it, we want to go someplace better.  And that’s what God through Christ offers.  We grieve because we’re told in the Bible that we can (“mourn with those who mourn” — Romans 12:15).  But God’s perfect peace takes us through that rough time.

Suddenly…”J” died.  Just as suddenly, she’s in God’s hands.  I pray for His perfect peace for all of you who read this.

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Stories Keep Getting Told

My friend James was a cheerleader.  No, not that kind.  He’d never have looked good in a skirt.  Not sure he could have done flips either, but I never asked.

Instead, James was a cheerleader-supporter of so many things.  He was honest in the things he did and it showed by the things he was involved with.  He was a cheerleader for the local sports teams.  He lived his last couple of years in the house where he was raised– right behind the high school football field.  Even if he didn’t attend a game once in awhile, he’d walk over to the concession stand to buy something so he could support them that way.

He was a cheerleader for friends.  It was easy for James to make friends.  He was a simple guy who didn’t look for trouble.  He was a tall man who towered over everyone, it seems.  It was like he was protecting them somehow.  He’d laugh along with the rest of them.   It’s no surprise that people came in great number to his funeral.

James was a cheerleader for his community.  He’d come to many of the events whether it was in a church or outside in a park.  He was friends with just about every council member and the mayor.

He cheered for his wife of almost 28 years.  He cheered for his dad whom he loved deeply.  He let his mother-in-law live in a house that he moved out of so she wouldn’t have to pay rent anymore.

He was also a cheerleader for the church.  He attended Sunday School and worship.  He was excited and honored when he was chosen to be a Deacon.  He’d serve communion, read Scripture, and pray.  He’d greet people no matter who they were.  He came with his wife to special events.

But most of all, James was a cheerleader for God.   He talked about God to his friends without shame.  He prayed for people and he asked for prayers for himself.   When he’d come to Bible study, he’d usually have a question that would be meant to draw him closer to God.

That was his foundation for life — God.  Now James is walking with God for eternity.  And he leaves story after story behind for his family and friends.

What about YOUR story?  Who or what are YOU a cheerleader for?  When it comes to the end of your life, will your family and friends say you were a “good and faithful servant”?

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A Reunion

Kathy was my step-sister.  Her dad married my mom in 1971 in the greatest little chapel in the world… our living room.  That’s where a lot of family weddings took place.  Kathy sat next to me during the brief ceremony and we gave each other a look that would say, “Ok, we’re related now.”  We teased each other often.  She was a junior in high school and I was in 6th grade.  She rolled her eyes a lot in the time she lived in our house until she left and got married (in our living room).  Our parents divorced, but we didn’t.

Time.  Very fast forward,  because I didn’t see or hear from Kathy until I got acquainted with Facebook.  Then, it was like we picked up where we left off.  Our talks were comfortable and full of teases.  She liked beer and I’d always say, “Yuck.”

Then, Kathy got sick.  She battled cancer and had major surgery.  I prayed she’d get better from the surgery and I told her so.  But things just got worse.  Her husband died.  She mourned his passing.  And she got sicker.  Kathy asked if I could come see her and I found a way.  She was in a rehab, learning to use muscles again, including walking.  We visited for a couple of hours, reminiscing about our teen years.  We talked about our reunion we had three years earlier when my mother passed away.

I left Kathy that day.  My last words to her included the only prayer I had ever had with her.  Then a hug.  And I headed back from South Bend, Indiana to my home in Cincinnati.  Two weeks later, I got word that Kathy had passed away peacefully.  Her sister Janine told me that my visit gave her the comfort she needed for her last day.

My trip back to my home town in Michigan came a few days later.  I met many of Kathy’s family, some I hadn’t seen in nearly 40 years.  The memorial service was very personal and I went away cherishing our reunion and our last time we spoke.

It is a time like this that all of us need to treasure, because life is really, really short.

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When Peace Like a River…

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When Peace Like a River…

The author of this great and touching hymn, wrote it after his four daughters died at sea. He was not with them.  His wife alone survived the tragedy.

The writers of Psalm 46 (noted as “the sons of Korah”) understood the heartache of loss.  So the following words were written:

God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
Even though the earth be removed,
And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
Though its waters roar and be troubled,
Though the mountains shake with its swelling. 

A violent storm arises.  Everything falls apart and our grieving emotions take control.  There is nothing left, we think.  How can we deal with such destruction of our hearts?  And yet, it’s reasonable — even though difficult — to agree with the songwriter with what he says:

“When peace like a river attendeth my way;
When sorrows like sea billows roll.
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
‘It is well, It is well with my soul.”

I would like to think that if I faced a tragedy more than I have already, I’d be prepared to trust in God who is the only One who can give me the comfort and compassion as complete as I need it.  God uses others around us to help us know His peace.  Words.  Prayers.  Hugs.  Assurance.

The storms that rage are real.  They are “elephant on the chest” painful (as a friend of mine said just today).  And harder yet is that we can do very little to nothing about it.  I can be fully aware of Jesus, who walked on the violent sea to get to His disciples.  And I can be a little like Peter who was the only one to venture out of the boat to walk to the Savior.  Then, even as a human I might fail a bit, Jesus will calm the storm.

Psalm 46 finishes with these words:

Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!
The Lord of hosts is with us;

Most comforting, isn’t it?

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