The Corn and The Casket

One year ago on Labor Day weekend our extended family, numbering about seventy, stood on a hill overlooking a corn field. Our heads were bowed, preparing for the final goodbye. In contrast the stalks were tall, green and healthy looking. Waving in the breeze, the corn promised a rich and plentiful harvest in the near future.cornfield Within our immediate vision was another sight, the copper casket of the one-hundred-year-old matriarch of our family, Grandma. The victory celebration (funeral) had been the day before at church. We were now at the cemetery, laying our loved one to rest.

As I was holding our grandson, something came to me about the connection between the corn and the casket. The corn had once been a dead-looking kernel, small and insignificant, waiting to be planted. The casket held our loved one's body, lifeless and waiting to be put into the earth. Although one may think the connection ends there, it doesn't.

What I told our grandson as he viewed the casket was absolute truth. "Great Grandma's body is going to be 'planted', like a kernel of corn or a seed in your garden. In time, Jesus will come back to wake up Grandma, and we will see her again. Jesus rose from the dead and we will, too. In time, Jesus will transform Grandma's lifeless body into a beautiful new body that will never die again. That's a promise and the rainbow is a reminder of God's promises."

Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel ...falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me." John 12:23-26

One day, according to God's promise, Jesus will honor the ones who love and serve him. Yes, they will have to follow him in death. But soon their lifeless forms will rise in the resurrection. When that happens, all believers in Jesus will receive glorified bodies like the body Jesus displayed after his resurrection.

Here is the paradox of faith. When we ask, how long will our Grandma have to stay there in the ground, the answer is this: not even one minute! She is with the Lord now. While we see the death of the body, another promise of Jesus reassures us:

Jesus answered him (the criminal crucified next to Jesus on the cross), "Today you will be with me in Paradise." Luke 23:43

When God taps us on the shoulder to bring us home, we will pass immediately from this life to eternal life with him. Read about it in John 11. Jesus comforts Martha after her brother dies. He shows his almighty power over death and life.

What amazing promises from an amazing Lord! What comfort the promises give when our children cannot make sense out of death. Jesus has conquered, gone before us, is by our side, brings us home, and will transform us to be fully alive, soul and body, forever.

With God's help we can see beyond the corn and the casket to the promise of a beautiful harvest in heaven! With ancient Job we also can say and sing:

I know that my redeemer lives! Job 19:25

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A Monday Like No Other

Early that Monday morning, I awoke to the beeps and whirrs of machines, muffled voices and muted lights. My clothes were binding me as I rolled over in a bed crackling with the sound of plastic underneath my body. I stole a glance at the bed next to me to assure myself that she was still there. Exhausted as I was from the endless questions created by the concussive state of her mind, I managed to breathe a prayer: “Yes, Lord, I know. She’s alive. I thank you for this gift to her and to us.” Less than 24 hours before, everything had been within our normal routine for a warm Sunday in May: church, lunch and a few moments of rest before a trip back to church for the afternoon confirmation service.

Then the phone rang. My husband answered and immediately walked to the bedroom as he often does for important phone calls. I heard him asking a few pointed questions which I could not fully hear. Immediately he was standing in front of me. What he said next changed my perspective on life forever.

Our daughter was in a flight-for-life helicopter on her way to the hospital. Reeling with disbelief I numbly followed my spouse to the car, hopped in and asked what had happened. The car lurched onto the road before he was able to speak.

He choked out the fact that our daughter had been involved in a freak motorcycle accident during the training that she was attending. Her bike had gone out of control and launched her off the machine and face-first into a tree. Classmates and her instructor had found her unresponsive. They gave her CPR. After just minutes and a flurry of activity she was on the helicopter.

All this was going through my mind as I lay there trying to figure out if this was a bad dream or had truly happened. The dread in the pit of my stomach told me the truth; this was anything but a dream.

What do you suppose was going through Mary’s mind on the Monday after the Sunday we now call Easter? As a mother of a child who was severely injured, recovered and lived, it is incredible to think of what Mary witnessed and endured during the first Holy week. Jesus had his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the last supper, the trial before Pontius Pilate, crucifixion, and burial. Had Mary witnessed many of these events first hand? Scripture tells us she was stationed at the foot of the cross. The words of aged Simeon,

And a sword will pierce your own soul too... Luke 2:35b

must have reverberated loudly in her ears as one injustice after another rained down upon Jesus.

And then the fantastic news came early Sunday: the empty tomb, the confusion of John and Peter, the claims of Mary Magdalene and the joy-filled message of the disciples of Emmaus. Was Mary there in the upper room when the Lord appeared? What did her heart feel while her head was trying to make sense of it all?

And now it was Monday. This day was a Monday like no other. I imagine Mary and all the disciples rushing to the temple to share their experiences with all the others who were hearing the rumors and wondering if the impossible stories were true. As she gathered a new chapter in the life of her marvelous, amazing Savior Son, I wonder if the words of the angel Gabriel came back  to Mary:

For nothing is impossible with God. Luke 1:37

Perhaps Psalm 46 came to her mind over and over again. It definitely entered my brain during  the tough time with our child.

Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10

How is it possible to be still and let God do his thing when your child is hurting or someone else is causing him pain, or when both are at another’s mercy? For me, standing in the emergency room with our daughter, and watching all that was going on around us was surreal. Like her, I may have been in shock, but no one and nothing could have taken me away from her during her time of need. Feeling helpless, I tried to pray, but prayers of the Holy Spirit were the only ones I could formulate.

One thing I do know is this: when you are still because there’s nothing else you can do, the Lord will comfort you. He will fill your heart and mind with courage to face the trauma. He will send your mind one scripture verse after another to share with your loved one or to calm your own soul. He will put just the right people in the right place at the right time so that even though you are not thinking of your own needs at all, they are being met.

I watched every one of the few hundred or so stitches that reconstructed her face and God gave me the courage to do so. After she was taken to recovery and I was told, “No, now she rests,” some kind man came out of nowhere to ask if I needed a hug. I had a good cry and uttered my mantra again, “Yes, Lord, I know. She’s alive. I thank you for this gift to her and to us.”

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Easter is past and gone. Now it’s Monday, but since the first Easter, every Monday will be a Monday like no other. What a glorious day it is! What a wonderful day every day is! Because of what Jesus did for us by dying on the cross and rising again, we can get through any trial, temptation, horror and worst nightmare. God does have our back. He IS God. We can be still. He has given us the power to trust him. We can marvel at his plan of salvation and we can tell everyone else we meet about our Savior. Most of all, we can say with certainty and joy, “Yes, Lord, I know. You’re alive!”

The resurrection changed my perspective on life forever. How about yours?

Dearest Lord, we praise you for your ever-present love and care for every aspect of our lives. Most of all we stand in awe of your resurrection from death and redemption of the world. Even with your amazing display of power over life and death, we are being true to our own nature when we are afraid during times of trouble or uncertainty. We begin to doubt your love for us. We forget to ask for your help and we try to control situations that we are powerless to remedy. Forgive us, Lord, for our lack of faith and trust in you. Renew our sagging spirits and fill us with the joy of your salvation. Deliver us from the evils that surround us and instill in us a desire to help others during their time of need. We ask all this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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** Picture taken at Mount Rubidoux in Riverside, California where the first sunrise service in America was held back in 1909. 

When you Lose your Best Friend // Thankfulness in Suffering

Givethanksheader Sometimes, life throws you curveballs.

You lose your job. Your marriage splits up. There's more money going out than coming in. Your child gets very sick. You get the idea. Our lives, our world, is full of tragic things.

When I was in high school, my sister died in a car accident. It was a pretty hefty curve ball at the impressionable and fragile age of fourteen. I didn't always handle it well. There were times of depression and times of anxiety. There were periods where I felt like I was losing hope. There were occasions that it consumed my life. Despite it being almost 14 years, despite growing up, despite starting my own family, it still hurts. A lot. Sometimes it hurts so badly my insides feel raw. Sometimes I am so broken hearted, I just want to crawl into bed and ignore the day. Sometimes I am just so incredibly sad. I have a hard time finding much to be thankful for from this part of my life.

When rotten things happen in our lives, it can be hard not to lose hope. It can be hard to trust that God knows what is best for us.

Writing this post has given me the opportunity to think of all the things I am truly thankful for having gone through this tragedy.

I am thankful for the time we did have with her. She was only seventeen when she died, but I have seen families lose babies and toddlers. I am reminded what a blessing seventeen years was.

I am thankful that God chose me and my family to be hers--what a blessing she was for our family!

I am thankful that God was there for us, and that he gave my family the strength to continue living even after death. I have seen families broken by tragedy and am so grateful that wasn't us.

I am thankful for how rock solid her faith was, that we never have any question where she is. She believed in Jesus.

I am thankful for having an experience such as this early in life, allowing me to have a different perspective while growing up.

I am thankful for the many, many awesome memories that I have.

I'll be honest. I am still not happy about it. I never will be. I don't think God expects us to be happy in times of tragedy. Even Jesus wept when Lazarus died. God expects us to look to Him for guidance, to look to Him for reassurance, to trust that His plan is better than our plans. If we are honest with ourselves, sometimes even "normal" days get in the way of our thankfulness and gratitude to our Savior.

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Even though we may not always be happy, we can have joy. Joy in knowing that Jesus is our Savior.

Job 19: 27, "I myself will see him with my own eyes--I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!"

I have joy in knowing that my sister and I will meet again someday. Heaven is our home.

I'm but a stranger here; Heaven is my home. Earth is a desert drear; Heaven is my home. Danger and sorrow stand Round me on every hand. Heaven is my fatherland; Heaven is my home.

Therefore I murmur not; Heaven is my home. Whatever my earthly lot, Heaven is my home. And I shall surely stand There at my Lord's right hand. Heaven is my fatherland; Heaven is my home.

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But A Breath

image-13 A few nights ago, I took my dog for a late evening walk. With the sun setting in the distance, casting a warm glow across the brilliantly decorated trees, the scent of campfire hung in the air. A thick warm sweater, hand knit wool hat and gloves, and bright orange scarf kept me warm and cozy against the refreshingly cool wind. My dog and I strolled slowly around the block, reveling in the soft clicks of leaves meeting pavement, crunching piles of them underfoot as we walked. The evening was as perfectly Autumn as they come.

Caught up in the beauty and wonder of God’s creation, I felt the sudden urge to use my body to the fullest of its capabilities, and I began to jog. The dog and I ran the length of 3 blocks before slowing to a walk again, panting slightly as we caught our breath together.

I stopped at a corner to stretch my muscles, surprised at how limber and able I felt. It had been well over a year (possibly two) since I’d run like that, and several months since I’d managed to even walk without waddling. Toward the end of my recent pregnancy, I had endured chronic hip pain, severe heart burn, loose joints, insomnia, and extreme fatigue. I had slept on my side while wishing I could sleep on my stomach, caught myself panting after climbing a normal set of stairs, and held on to furniture for dear life as I struggled to put weight on my legs without pain first thing every morning. Now, just a month and a half past the birth of my fourth child, those problems were largely gone or disappearing. Not only was my physical strength returning, but my mental clarity as well. No longer pregnant, I once again had the stamina to do more with my days than nap and mope.

In retrospect, I can see that my “preggo problems” were zapping my energy and preventing me from accomplishing things my non-pregnant self easily accomplishes. For nine months I lived in something of a fog, unable to meet deadlines or keep commitments or remember what I ate for breakfast. My children went through periods where they watched a lot of tv so that I could rest, and we only ate healthy food for dinner if my husband made it. (Which was often. Thank goodness he likes to cook!).

Despite the hip pain and heart burn, if you would have asked me during my pregnancy how I was feeling, I would have told you, “pretty good! Can’t complain too much!” I had normalized and accepted all of the pain and discomfort of pregnancy to the point that I might have even told you I was rather enjoying being pregnant. At times during my second trimester I even thought with delusion how nice it would be to remain pregnant forever. I wouldn’t have to endure the pain of childbirth that way! ;)

But pregnancy does not exist for pregnancy’s sake. Pregnancy was designed to develop and nurture a beautiful person created by God. Lord willing, the physical pain and discomfort of pregnancy does not last forever, but is replaced by a new life with a baby and a body on the mend (albeit stretch marked and saggy!).

Just as I enjoyed my pregnancy, accepting the pain and discomfort I lived with daily, I often find myself enjoying this world as I willfully ignore the pain caused by sin all around me and within me. Sometimes I even think with delusion how nice it would be to live here on earth forever. I wouldn’t have to face death that way! I cling to this life as though it’s the best there is, as though I don’t hope for something greater to come.

But this world is not all that God has planned for us. This temporary life of pain and sin will eventually be replaced with a new, perfect, eternal life. God has Heaven in store for us after our earthly death! When we compare our time in this world to the one God has in store for us, this time is so brief. The Bible refers to our life as “a breath.”

Psalm 39: 4-5 “Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.”

As Christians, we can approach this short time we spend on earth surrounded by sin and the pain of death much the same way an expectant mother suffering from “preggo problems” views her pregnancy: focused on the end goal. Just as a mother yearns to hold her baby in her arms at the end of her gestation and labor, we can yearn for our heavenly father to embrace us one day at the end of an earthly life of suffering and death.

Acts 20:24 “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me-the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”

Rather than cling to the pain that we know, we can cling to the hope that we have.

Hebrews 6:19a “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”

How do you feel about death and the life to come after it? Are there times when you cling to this imperfect life fearfully as though it’s all you’ve got? What reassures you of the hope and assurance of eternal life with God that we have as Christians?

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