From the Limo to the Gurney!

01/23/2008

From the limo to the gurney…I got this title from my daughter-in-law Holly, who came to visit me the other day. She came to bring dinner, and the grandkids, because I was down for the count. We joked with each other…as we are known to do, and we talked about how when I turned 50 last year I rode in a limo to dinner, and this year as my 51st birthday approaches, I rode on a gurney instead!! We both agreed the limo was much more fun!!

Remember my last message to you entitled Feelings? Remember when I wrote, “I pray because life is full of good things on this day for me personally, but it hasn’t always been this way, and it won’t always remain this way…I know that all we have is this day, until God does give us our full rights as His children, and then life will be good forevermore!”

Well, by the time you were reading that message, I was on to being stretched and grown in a whole new way by God for the next message…because that’s the way it works. By the time you read what I have written, I have been there, done that, and I’ve moved on—hopefully taking what God has taught me and then weaving it into the next part of the journey of life…and so it goes.

And so it went, and I went from “life is full of good things on this day for me personally,” to riding down the corridors of Valley Care Hospital in Pleasanton, California, to my room for the night, where they would continue to infuse me with two units of blood since I was a couple of quarts low…due mostly to the fact that I am almost 51, I am female, and parts start to wear out around this time in life. How do I know that? Because, this is not only happening to me, but many of my friends of the same age have the same “discomforts” in life. We don’t sit around talking about changing diapers and sleepless nights like we used to back in the day…we talk about the change of life and hot flashes during the night…with our glasses on the end of our nose, our gray hair being covered with a bit of color, and discussing our grown children stepping out on their own and how those new challenges in life keeps us on our knees in prayer!

Anyway, after life had been so very good for a while, off to the hospital I went. At first I protested…oh, I more than protested, I flatly refused to go! But God had “set me up.” About a week before my admittance to the hospital, He had me arrange to have lunch with my sister. We attended Bible study together that morning, and then drove in our separate cars to go have lunch. I figured all I needed was a hot bowl of soup to cure what ailed me! I ordered up, and when it came, I asked Karen if I could say the prayer and get on with eating…and then proceeded to tell her that I really wasn’t feeling very well. Her eyes were opened to my distress as we sat across the table from one another…and she began to try to convince me that I really needed to go to the ER, and I tried to convince her that I didn’t! For a moment, I thought the soup helped! I perked up, and thought…oh good, this worked…and then I crashed. It was like God was saying, “Oh no you don’t!! You’re not walking out of here to go home and take a nap like you have planned.” It was then, through His “prompting” that I relented to have Karen drive me to the hospital, where I was admitted and given a little boost in the blood department!! That’s how I ended up on a gurney just before my 51st birthday. And as I write this, I’m still recovering, slowly, and will probably be experiencing another ride on the gurney soon, as I re-enter the hospital for an operation. We shall see…

The highs and lows of life… When the storm comes we like to hope it will be the last one and that maybe life will get easy again—that no more big storms will blow through where we “live.” I don’t mean to be pessimistic here, but I think we’re mistaken…I think this is life, what we’re all experiencing, and it includes many storms! I think the sunny days are wonderful, and to be embraced, but I think the storms that were more off in the distance in our younger years, move in more quickly and frequently as we get older. It’s like we’ve moved from San Diego where the temperature is pleasant almost year round, and the rainfall is not so often, to England, where the wind usually blows, the rain usually falls, and when the sun does come out…it’s never taken for granted!!

My best friend is in England right now. She is visiting her daughter who moved there, and she e-mailed me the other day. She said, “How did you ever live here?” I said, “Well, I did a lot of drawing, and I gained weight. And then when we moved to Germany after that, I played ball and traveled.” And she said, “Ahhh, those were the days!” That’s where she and I met, when our husbands were private contractors over there on an American military base. Now she lives in Florida, and I live in California, and her daughter is grown and has moved overseas…what goes around, comes around!

I was thinking this morning…about those sunny days in the Alps in the 1990’s, when she and I skied together. How life can be so good…how we would sit side-by-side on the chair lift, singing, going up high into the mountains, and then skiing back down on the crisp white snow. We would then stop for lunch in a Gasthaus on the hill, ordering Kaiserschmarren to eat and Spezi to drink. The views were spectacular as we sat outside and talked and laughed!! The beauty of the blue sky against the snowy white mountain peaks took our breath away, and sometimes we were even able to see from there down into the valleys below, where stark white houses sat among rolling hills…hills that stayed green all year long. It seemed we were close to Heaven on those days…oh, how we’d like to hit “Pause” when things are that good, wanting it to never end...

And then I thought about my best friend flying out to California in 2001…I remember her sitting beside me again, only this time it was to be with me at our son’s memorial service. What had happened? Where had “Heaven” gone? Was it still there? As she sat on one side of me, holding my hand, and Jim sat on the other, holding my hand…the once joyous ride through life had turned into a nightmare. The songs we sang had changed from the fun songs on the mountains of joy to the mourning songs in the valley of grief. I didn’t know if I would ever be happy again…oh, how we’d like to hit “Fast-Forward” during those difficult times…

Mrs. Charles E. Cowman has another view of hills and valleys. She writes: “The land (our life) is a land of hills and valleys. It is not all smooth nor all downhill. If life were all one level, the dull sameness would oppress us; we want the hills and valleys. The hills collect the rain for a hundred fruitful valleys. So it is with us. It is the hill difficulty that drives us to the throne of grace and brings down the showers of blessing; the hills, the bleak hills of life that we wonder at and perhaps grumble at, bring down the showers. We cannot tell what loss and sorrow and trial are doing. Trust only. The Father comes near to take our hand and lead us on our way today.”

And so it goes…the ebb and the flow of life here on earth...As God comes near to take our hand and lead us on through the smooth and rough stuff of life. As life will do, good days turn into tough days and back to good days and back to tough days…and we begin to wonder, is this really what life is all about? We sometimes question God and tell Him we’re having some disappointment with this arrangement. We wonder, couldn’t He come up with a better plan than this? After all, it is His design. Was He thinking ahead in the game? Does He have strategic moves that He’s making here? We’re having a little trouble seeing where God’s going with all this…even when we read about Paul’s trials in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 (NLT):

I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.

We might wonder why God would put him through so much? After all, Paul was a very faithful servant…where’s the rhyme and reason in God’s plan for Paul’s life? For our lives? Can we really know while we’re still on earth? Is God so many moves ahead of us on the “chess board” of life that what seems like a mistake today actually does make sense when the game is finished and The King is victorious over all? We have to believe this is true, that God really is that far ahead, and then cling to it with all our might…but that’s so hard sometimes, so we need to help each other. When another’s hands are slipping, we need to be the hands that God will use to help them hold on….and they can also do that for us when we’re tempted to let go.

I am excited today because I have not been out of our RV in five days and today I will venture out again—and it will be good. I have received some much needed helping hands along the way with prayers, and meals, and visits, and notes, etc…and today Jim and I are going to the movies for a little pick-me-up. We’re going to see, “The Bucket List.” It will probably very appropriate for this day…there’s so many things most of us would like to do before we leave here, places we’d like to visit before we kick the bucket. People we’d like to see. We may be given the time to do some of those things. We may not. Our son had a list: Hot air balloon ride, Hawaii, Monterey Bay Aquarium, etc…it was a pleasure to provide those excursions for him. They are priceless memories now from the midst of the storm.

This is my command—be strong and courageous!
Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord
your God is with you wherever you go.
Joshua 1:9 (NLT)

A friend directed me to this verse a few days ago, and it is a good one. I have had my times of being afraid and discouraged this last week. I have been down very low physically, I have experienced things that were seemingly easy to be bold and courageous about when I stood strong and healthy beside someone else’s bed, but when I was the one in the bed facing some of those same things…wow, it was a lot harder to be strong and courageous! As one of my 50ish-year-old friends wrote to me this morning who is dealing with her own health issues, “It is different from the ‘weak’ side of town isn't it?  You are right, it is HARD.  It's another way that God is teaching us and sculpting our character.(gulp)”

Here’s what Paul had to say about weakness in 2 Corinthians 12:5-7 (NLT):

“I am going to boast only about my weaknesses. I have plenty to boast about and would be no fool in doing it, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it. I don’t want anyone to think more highly of me than what they can actually see in my life and my message, even though I have received wonderful revelations from God.”

Paul knew how weak he was, and he knew how strong His God was, and as God goes on to say in verse 12:9, “My power works best in your weakness.” Paul’s reply was, “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me. I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

During our son’s weakest days, I stood by his bed and encouraged him about how great Heaven is, and how loving God is. I saw his fears rise as he neared death, and I read to him God’s Word and watched his fear recede as he absorbed God’s power, only to see the fear creep back in again as he thought of leaving this world—we would repeat the process over and over in his final hours. I have stood by a friend’s bed as cancer quickly consumed her body, and I once again encouraged her that Heaven is a good place, that she wouldn’t be disappointed—and she tried to believe the words I spoke, although she was so very weak. I have spent time with a friend in need of a double-lung transplant, a woman short on breath and energy, just trying to hang on…and when I was down and out of breath and energy this last week, I realized I couldn’t even call her to tell her so because we’d be two women on the phone unable to converse without exhaustion setting in. What a weak pair we made!

Yes, it’s easy to be bold when we are strong, to say, “Here, read this! Listen to this! Watch that preacher! Pray that prayer! Believe it’s all true! No need to fear…” And then we can find ourselves as a big SPLAT…no longer standing on the Rock of Jesus Christ beside someone else’s bed, but thrown down upon that Rock, in the bed with no strength to stand, or to even sit…only to lay there and look around that hospital room in the middle of the night when we can’t sleep, and think about God.

Oswald Chambers writes: “We imagine we understand where the other person is, until God gives us a dose of the plague of our own hearts.” (My Utmost…Jan 13th)

That’s where I found myself last week, getting a good dose of the plague. I was not in pain. I was in no discomfort, and I was very thankful for that. But I was so depleted that all I could do “actively” was listen to music on my iPod. And I did, all…night….long… I listened to great worship music to help the hours pass by.

The TV seemed invasive when I was there, the noise too exhausting. Talking was pretty much out, especially on the phone. Reading even took too much energy for me, an avid reader. I joked that if someone would just hold the book for me and then kindly comprehend what I was reading, I could then “read.” And prayer? It was not that I felt far from God, it was not that I didn’t look around that room and know that He was right there with me, in me and surrounding me, but I couldn’t pray long-winded prayers to Him even in my head, it seemed too exhausting. It was more like, “Well, here we are, together, you and me God, okay then…” I was very thankful for the faithfulness of friends and family who had me covered in prayer. I was not depressed, not sad, but more wide-eyed at my predicament, making mental notes as a writer does of where I had just landed! I was a big SPLAT on the Solid Rock, in a “classroom” that was very instructive on my journey with God!

The next morning, the fear started to move in, and I found it could be so gripping! As I thought of when the doctor would arrive, what he would need to do, what tests he might want to put me through, what would be found…my mind starting running away with me, and it’s not that I enjoyed it, I certainly didn’t, but I learned from it…I learned that it is HARD to be in that position! It’s hard to pray, it’s hard to focus, it’s hard to stay calm and “fear not.” I’m not saying it’s impossible, because I truly believe all things are possible with God, but I do know it’s vitally important to get to know our Savior very, very well in this life…so when the darkness that longs to consume us moves in—because it will, especially in times like these—it can be controlled by the power of God within. My heart breaks for those who get lost in this darkness. Our enemy, Satan, is vicious. We need to know that, and we need to know how he can be defeated at the Throne of Grace!

When I was finally able to read again, I started to enjoy a book that came highly recommended called “The Way of the Heart” by Henri J.M. Nouwen. It had this to say about prayer:

“The literal translation of the words ‘pray always’ is ‘come to rest.’ The Greek word for rest is hesychia…A hesychast is a man or a woman who seeks solitude and silence as the way to unceasing prayer. The prayer of the hesychasts is a prayer of rest. This rest, however, has little to do with the absence of conflict or pain. It is a rest in God in the midst of a very intense daily struggle.”

Wow, we could all use that kind of rest couldn’t we? This life is full of intense daily struggles for many of us! We’re tired! As I told my mom this morning, I’ve been feeling like one of those cartoon characters that was run over by a steamroller. I was flattened out, and I have had to wait while my body takes shape again. It’s coming along…

Joshua 1:9 says, “The Lord is with you wherever you go.” He was with me in the Austrian Alps, He was with me at Phil’s memorial service, He was with me in that hospital bed…but my oh my…our Father certainly changes the scenery along the way, and it’s not always beautiful, or easy, or fun. Some days it’s “Disneyland,” and some days it’s Hell on earth! Most days, hopefully, we are somewhere in between…and finding rest in prayer in the midst of it all is essential to make it through this life in one piece!

We watched the movie, “Unbreakable” again just the other day. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a man who is very breakable due to a medical condition. His bones are as breakable as glass, as seen when he tumbles down some stairs, dropping his glass cane…we hear him enduring the pain in the fall, as his cane shatters on the way down. In the movie, he’s on a quest to find someone who is Unbreakable in life. His thinking is; if he is so breakable, there’s got to be the complete opposite end of the spectrum out there—a human being who never gets hurt and who never gets sick…he eventually finds that person in the character played by Bruce Willis.

It’s hard sometimes in this life, to understand how differently God has designed all of His children, and all of our circumstances in life, really. When life is going very, very good…we seem to “get it.” But when life turns very, very bad it can seem much more confusing. When we are strong, we have a hard time understanding when others are weak. When we are weak, we are perplexed by those with seemingly superhuman strength. And in our misunderstanding it becomes easy to judge one another, and to even judge God. But when truth be told, we are all just making our way through this life as best we can, and in all of it, God does have a perfect plan.

I have the privilege in this season of my life to sit with some moms who are in the process of learning to live life without their children here on earth. For many reasons, in many different ways, God has brought them into a time of life that is beyond human reasoning…one that can shatter the human heart like it is made of glass. There are very few totally “Unbreakable” people when it comes to saying good-bye to their child, no matter what age that child might be when they leave here. I just heard of a woman in her 90’s suffering from Alzheimers…when told about the death of her son, she died not long after that.

But even in loss, there is every variance on that spectrum of mourning and grief. What should grief look like? How long should it last? What steps should be taken? Where will those steps eventually lead? It’s easier to stand “beside the bed” and say how we’d do it…but when we’re “in the bed,” things are very different. We may find a strength that is superhuman, supernatural, full of the Spirit of God and ready to fight the good fight! We may find that we collapse from the grief, unable to move or to breathe, unable to speak, unable to pray, unable to even accept the help of others that we desperately need, and not wanting to go on. However people grieve, we need to be very careful, and very loving, and overly kind and sensitive…and when all is said and done, we need to have been quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry with ourselves and with others.

I want to share something here with you, but I need to keep it very anonymous because I don’t know this person well, and I want to respect the time we spent together. Recently, I was given a glimpse of myself six years ago in a woman that I met, a woman who is suffering a great loss. She came in and greeted me, and gave me a strong warm handshake. She looked very healthy and seemed to smile easily, and then we sat down to talk. She was not short on words about what had happened, and the tears were there, but as she spoke I saw myself and my “just do it” attitude in her, which I wrote about years ago. And it scared me! Why? Because I saw how easy it would be to pass over the pain this woman was in and only see the strength she was showing…it would be easy to think she will move through this grief quickly, easily, that her faith will carry her and it won’t be long and she’ll be her old self again. Some may get the impression that with God, it can be easy for her! But what I have found in the last six years is that with God, it is possible, but I don’t believe losing someone we love is ever easy for any of us—and the thought of ever being our “old self” again…I don’t think so. These things don’t happen in life so that we can stay the same…we will be changed through it, that’s how God designed it. And at the heart of it all, we’re all the same and yet all unique, and it’s in our uniqueness that misunderstandings can arise.

In God’s design, we will “wear” the things of life differently. Some will feel physical pain quickly and easily, and then some will go on as if not much has happened. Some will endure emotional suffering with barely a whimper to the outside world, or maybe even to themselves, while others will let the world know that IT HURTS!! Some will appear Unbreakable, while the seemingly Breakables in the world appear shattered. In actuality, we’re all broken, the pain runs deep and we struggle to know why we’re doing the things we’re doing. Is it right? Is it wrong? Will we be judged? By God? By others? Let me explain…

Years ago, a friend of mine lost her son. She was a great help to me in working through losing Phil, in a way, but in another way, it made me question what was wrong with me? Her reactions to some things were on one side of the spectrum, while mine were on the other. Because of our differences, I was sometimes uncomfortable with my “design.” Why did she collapse at the graveside service, while I wrote a poem and read it? It’s not that there weren’t tears, but still…was something wrong with me and the way I was grieving? Was something wrong with her? We are both strong believers in the Hope of eternity, and yet our grief process was very personal to us—I’m finding out more and more that if we’re not focused completely on our Lord but instead listening to the lies of the enemy, the pit of despair can be deeper and darker and lonelier than ever. We can feel isolated in strength; we can feel isolated in the weakness…it really doesn’t matter to our enemy, as long as he can keep us isolated!

In God’s perfect timing, I just received my daily Purpose Driven Life Devotional by Jon Walker. This is what he had to say today:

Just be who you are, a frail human designed by God to reveal his glory. Frankly, we could use a whole lot more authenticity in the church. If you’re hurt, say it; if you’re angry, resolve it; if you’re in love; show it; if you’ve made a mistake, confess it; if you’re in need, reveal it.

Say it, resolve it, show it, confess it, reveal it…and the list could continue, add your own actions to it. I’ll add mine on this day…rest in it, open my eyes to it, accept it, be compassionate through it…to myself and others!

…We have now returned from seeing “The Bucket List,” and I’ll finish writing these thoughts to you on the storms of life…

“The Bucket List” was quite a movie about life, death, and what we might want to do and think about on our way out of here… One character in the movie loved God, one did not. As they sat on top of the Pyramids of Egypt discussing the way to Heaven, two questions were asked that one religious sect believes is our entrance through the Pearly Gates.
They are:

Did you find joy in your life?

Did you bring joy to the lives of others?

If the answer is yes to both, it is said we can go on in and enjoy an eternal future. As I think about this and whether or not it matches up with Christianity, I believe it does. I get tired of the enemy stealing what God gave us and labeling it under someone else’s “wisdom,” as it was labeled in this movie. I want to take back what is ours as God’s children, and I believe this is ours. It belongs to God, because joy belongs to God, it comes from God, and can truly be found no other way. Joy is given to us when we love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength and with all our mind. And when God’s joy flows through us onto others, that’s when we’re loving others as we love ourselves—it is the only true way to bring joy to the lives of others on planet earth. There is no more real, authentic way of living a joy-filled life!

These two men in the movie were facing the storms of life together, at first as strangers, sharing a hospital room—and they were bewildered, distraught, and fighting back. Then as they become friends, they decide if they’re going out, they’re going out with a bang! Big adventures, big fun, good food, the works…the difference was, one was leaving here knowing His God, the other was not…What do we do when the storms hit our friends, our family, and they don’t love the Lord God, or perhaps they do but they’re having a hard time seeing God for a time? It’s hard enough for us to be in these storms when we are clinging to God! How do we help those who don’t love God, or are just having trouble finding God’s hand to hold in the storm? I think Morgan Freeman’s character showed us what that CARE towards another looks like, how to be a hand that reaches out and helps to open the eyes of the heart of another to the power of God. CARE could be described in this way:

C-Coming alongside others in their pain
A- Allowing God and time to work in the process
R- Refocusing the eyes of our heart on Jesus
E- Experiencing how the Lord becomes our Victory

One of my favorite scenes in the movie was when they were talking to one another in the private jet. And Jack Nicholson’s character says this about his death, “If I don’t believe in God, then I win.” And Morgan Freeman’s character calmly looks out the window and quietly says, “I don’t think it works like that.” Throughout their adventures, Freeman’s character came alongside Jack, he allowed God and time to work in the process, he kept refocusing on the Truth, and he had an assurance that Victory was his. Yes, the storms still raged, they were still dying—but the joy of the Lord ran deep in Freeman, and he gave it to others along the way.

Jack was of the misnomer that so many are in this world, that they can enjoy all the blessings this life brings without acknowledging God and giving Him the glory—thinking they’ll outsmart God. Many think if God does exist, they can spend their whole lives loving this world more than Him—and then a truly loving God will still provide Heaven at the end, forever and ever. But as Freeman’s character said, it just doesn’t work that way. The entrance to Heaven will be closed, shut up tight, if we won’t acknowledge what Jesus has provided for us before we leave here. Like it or not, that’s the way our Creator has designed it!

In thinking about this, we might want to agree to do things God’s way for 90 years or so, in exchange for an eternity in Heaven with Him. And when we do, we will begin to realize that the really great part is we are free as God’s children to enjoy all the very best that our Father has made! We can have all this world if we want it, and God too. We can have the private jets, the fun vacations, the fancy clothes, the expensive jewelry—God’s not saying we can’t have these things, don’t touch, it’s off limits to you! No way! Morgan Freeman’s character was every bit as free and more so to go and enjoy all the good things of life, while also making wise choices about what those “good things” really are and living in the fullness of God each day. And, he also could have answered those questions posed about joy with a definite, “Yes!” which is the greatest gift of all! Jack, on the other hand, wasn’t sure what real joy was or if he’d ever given it to another…there is a huge emptiness inside a soul with no true joy. I’m not talking about a happiness that’s external, but a joy that comes from deep within. In a stormy world, we need to CARE for each other until we can all answer those questions about joy with a resounding, “YES!”

In this story, it’s not that one was saved from the storms and the other wasn’t, they both had terminal cancer. They both would eventually die at their appointed time. It’s that the true question was, in the midst of the storm, were they able to rest in God? Did they know they were already the winner Jack’s character wanted to be? Phil, our son, posed his statement another way as he was dying. He said, “I’d rather believe in God and be wrong, than not believe in God and be wrong!” Exactly! As I’ve seen on a bumper sticker, “If you don’t believe in God, you better be right!” I’d rather be wrong for 90 years here, and say, “Oh well,” rather than be wrong for an eternity lived out in Hell and say, “OH NO!”

The storms will come and go, always, in all different sizes, shapes and ways that the wind of God will blow, but so will the good times. It’s called life, and as I’ve heard it said, “None of us are getting out of here alive.” So in the midst of it all, we need to know there is Jesus, a Savior, a Hope, and the strength we need to keep on keepin’ on through it all.

Christ is not weak in his dealings with you:
he is a mighty power among you. Although he died
on the cross in weakness, he now lives by the mighty
power of God. We, too, are weak, but we live in him
and have God’s power—
2 Corinthians 13:3-4a (NLT)

When we go from the limo to the gurney to the limo to the gurney in life, let’s make sure our Traveling Companion is Jesus Christ! When we are weak, He is very strong—and the joy He fills us with will be authentic joy, full of His love and compassion…something we desperately need along the way, and something we can then offer to others we meet. And whether those we meet appear Breakable or Unbreakable, or anywhere in between, it’s not up to us to decide if it’s right or wrong. It’s up to us to CARE—so much so, that everyone’s heart will be opened to an eternity lived with God in Heaven forevermore!

Until we meet again,
Diane