Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Glimpse of Heaven: on Death, Faith and Miracles

I just got back from traveling long distance to my grandmother's funeral.  When you have lost a spouse, funerals are not a easy.  They bring back so many emotions and memories, yet I felt compelled to go to comfort my grandpa and my mother.  I was expecting it to be hard, but it was a sweet and tender experience to be there. One that taught me that miracles still occur....

My grandmother had suffered several strokes and was on hospice.  We received word on Sunday that she was no longer able to swallow and take fluids.  Knowing that a healthy adult can only survive a few days without water, the funeral was planned for Friday and flights were arranged for Thursday.  Family was praying for her to go peacefully and quickly.  She did not seem in pain as she quietly breathed in a unresponsive state.  As the week progressed, my grandmother continued to hang on.  Her body began to show signs of eminent shut down, yet morning after morning I awoke to news that she had lasted still another night.

My mother called me often during the week struggling with the situation. I could tell that she wished to be there when her mother passed, but living so far away she did not think it was possible for that to happen.  She began to worry that the funeral may have to be delayed, and that our trip would be for naught. Thursday arrived and we continued with our travel plans, learning on the way to the airport that my grandmother had miraculously made it through yet another night.  That day was my grandparents 64th wedding anniversary.  As I thought while I drove, a very distinct thought formulated in my mind...
"Grandma is waiting for my mother to be there."
I voiced my thought on a family text and another sister confirmed that she had felt the same. My mother was making the 1300 mile trip by car.  I called her and told her that I believed that her mother was waiting for her.  My mother broke down in tears and confessed that in her heart she had wanted to be there, but she didn't even dare pray that such a thing was possible.

Our whole family changed our prayer.  We prayed that grandma would have the strength to make it until that time.  Then we acted in faith to get there as quickly as possible.  Hour by hour she miraculously was sustained by something other than natural laws.  Her frail less than 90 lb body could have never survived on its own for such a time period without fluid.

Some how in her comatose state, 
she was aware of her daughter's secret prayer.  

The daughter who lived so far away and who wished so desperately to be there. Some how in that state she was aware of her anniversary date and wanted to be there with grandpa through that day.

My mother said they were able to drive with very little stops, and they arrived and hour and a half earlier than expected, ahead of those of us who were flying.  My mother hurried to her mother's side and gently cupping her mother's cheek whispered with tears in her eyes...

"Mother, I'm here.  It's Janette.  I know what you've done, I know the sacrifice you have made to stay here.  I love you and I'm so thankful for that.  You can go now."

Within a few minutes of my mother's arrival my grandmother's peaceful breathing changed.  A pained expression came on her face.  It was as if her spirit had been allowed to leave that sick body during that peaceful time and now had to reenter, feeling the pain again.  In less than 5 minutes my grandmother quietly slipped away.

My father standing at the foot of the bed remarked,

"She was waiting for you."

A little over an hour later, my sister's and I arrived at my grandparents home.  With my husband's plane accident, I had not be able to witness that point when the spirit leaves the body, and in my heart I had wished to be there to experience that spiritual moment.  Yet I had also felt that the presence of too many of us would have distracted my mother and the siblings gathered at her bedside.  It was not what God had planned for me that day.

As I entered the room a sweet calming feeling filled me my head to my toes.  I could feel what I have come to refer to as "presence" in that room.  It was full of love.  It was full of family.  We quietly hugged my grandpa and went to my grandmother's bedside.  I touched her cheek and kissed her forehead which was still slightly warm.  She was so thin, but looked like an angel.

The tears began to flow. 

Not tears of sadness, but tears of gratitude...
for the wonderful person she was, and  
for the example of faith that she had set in her life.

As I quietly gazed at her still frame, I was filled with overwhelming love for my grandma and a deep understanding of the person she truly was inside.  A being not touched by mortal frailties.  I found a rocking chair and just sat, soaking in the love in the room.  I did not want leave for it so reminded me of heaven.  It was as if the door was still swinging from her departure and glimpse of light were still streaming into the room.

We gathered around her bedside and said a family prayer, and then it was time to leave.  As I left the bedroom, I left that feeling behind.  To me it was so stark when I crossed that threshold.

Sometimes there are things that we cannot explain.  They defy what we think of as normal.  We read the bible and believe that miracles occurred in those days, yet cannot fathom that they could still occur.  On my grandparent's 64th wedding anniversary when my grandmother departed this earth after 5 day of no fluid and only 10 minutes after her daughter's arrival, I can attest that a miracle occurred.

God is mindful of us.  He hears those secret prayers and longings of our hearts and is willing to compassionately grant them if we have been obedient to Him.  He loves those who are willing to serve him.  My grandmother was one of those people and so is my mother.  I am forever grateful for both of their examples to me.  They have taught me faith and obedience, and those lessons have carried me through the last 21 months.

Thank you grandma,  I love you!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Why would a loving God let us suffer?

I am writing a follow-up post on my previous blog, "Is it easier to believe that God does not exist?" to answer a comment from one of my readers who is also a widow. 
 She says, "OK...I believe. I know God is here along with my husband. I know he loves me. BUT...why would he, if he loves me like a Father, make me hurt the way I do? Why would he let us have this much pain? I know as a Mother I would NEVER, EVER want to cause my child to feel like this. Yeah, it's not for us to know yet. Or "Everything happens towards good things." It still hurts. Above you said "He will never force us to do something we don't want to do." Well...I sure don't want to live this life I have now. Why won't he come and get me too?"
First, I am not going to say something magical in this post that is going to instantly change all of those feelings.  The things she shares are things that everyone who looses a spouse feels.  Even people who have faith in God feel this way at one point.  I know I felt like this too.  

Second, I think these feelings can be echoed by anyone who has experience major hurt.  Trials, loss, pain, and suffering are so hard, and it is human nature to desire an easy way out.  We wish to escape anything unpleasant, even if there is an opportunity for learn and growth...

With grief and loss we all need time
 to process and to come to acceptance.  

That takes time...  

It takes thought and searching... 

And it takes willingness to change 

None of which happens overnight, but it does happen.   

I want to share a story from my past that may help this process...

When my oldest son was little, he was obsessed with flying.  He wanted to fly soooo badly, and he was sure that he could build a contraption to allow him to do it.  He studied about planes and drew designs.  With access to cardboard boxes, 2 liter plastic bottles and tape he built a rocket jet pack.  Proudly he came to me wearing his creation and announce that he needed the ladder so that he could jump off the roof.  I'm sure that I looked at him in total disbelief.  Being very practically minded, I inadvertently squelched his dream of flight, by telling him that his rocket jetpack would not actually function, and that it would not keep him aloft. (Looking back, I probably should have broken the news to him more gently)
Alex was crushed... 

Not only was he crushed, but he was really angry, 

and he was angry at me.  

He could not even begin to understand 

why I would not let him realize his dream. 

In his young mind, I was all that stood between despair and  happiness.

 I share this story because it illustrates perspective...

The different perspective of a parent and a child.

I do not want to minimize my sons feelings, because they were legitimate and real.  However, as his mother, I had greater understanding and the foresight to know that his plan would not bring him the greatest long-term happiness and would not be best for his longterm health, growth or development. 

At this point, no amount of calm reasoning would have appealed to his limited understanding of flight dynamics and propulsion.  Alex needed more experience before he was ready to accept that his creation could not fly.  Fortunately he has since arrived at that knowledge and now concedes that his mother did love him when she would not let him jump from the roof.

Another story...

My children took a very long time to walk.  They were all over 14 months.  For months I walked hunched over allowing them to grip my fingers as they toddled along.  Eventually it was time for them to let go and learn to walk on their own.   I crouched a few feet from the couch to coax my son into letting go and coming to me.  My young son, in perfect trust and with a big grin on his face, awkwardly teetered into my arms.  Over and over we repeated this scene as I moved further and further away.  On about the 5th attempt, Eric in his anxiousness to get to me led with his head and not with his feet.  Helplessly I watched him fall and his big grin turned into a disbelieving wail.   
"How could you let me fall?"  His face seemed to say as he screamed wide eyed at me.  I pulled him into my arms and soothed the hurt.  At first he resisted, feeling that I was to blame, but as I talked to him in an understanding voice his tears soon subsided.  I placed him back at the couch to try again. 
How could I do that?  

As a loving mother, how could I place my child
 in a place where he would definitely be subject
to further hurt and injury?

Why did I not just go back to forever holding his hand?  

Certainly that would be much kinder.  

He would never have to hurt.

But that is not how a loving parent acts.  We warn, we teach, but we cannot shelter or over protect our children.  Sometimes we have to let them fall so they can learn to walk on their own.  Even though we know that they will hurt.  We hurt with them.  We try to comfort them.  We try to show them the easier way, but sometimes we know they just will fall.

I want to share something from a widower who has been a mentor to me.  His words shortly after his wife's death have given me comfort and direction, and I find great wisdom in his counsel.
"When you face adversity, you can be led to ask many questions. Some serve a useful purpose; others do not. To ask, Why does this have to happen to me? Why do I have to suffer this, now? What have I done to cause this? will lead you into blind alleys. It really does no good to ask questions that reflect opposition to the will of God. Rather ask, What am I to do? What am I to learn from this experience? What am I to change? Whom am I to help? How can I remember my many blessings in times of trial? Willing sacrifice of deeply held personal desires in favor of the will of God is very hard to do. Yet, when you pray with real conviction, “Please let me know Thy will” and “May Thy will be done,” you are in the strongest position to receive the maximum help from your loving Father." - Richard G Scott
I have lived by these words and I can tell you that these are the questions that have...
brought me peace and 
brought me understanding and 
brought me answers.

He continues saying...
"To exercise faith is to trust that the Lord knows what He is doing with you and that He can accomplish it for your eternal good even though you cannot understand how He can possibly do it. We are like infants in our understanding of eternal matters and their impact on us here in mortality. Yet at times we act as if we knew it all. When you pass through trials for His purposes, as you trust Him, exercise faith in Him, He will help you. That support will generally come step by step, a portion at a time. While you are passing through each phase, the pain and difficulty that comes from being enlarged will continue. If all matters were immediately resolved at your first petition, you could not grow. Your Father in Heaven and His Beloved Son love you perfectly. They would not require you to experience a moment more of difficulty than is absolutely needed for your personal benefit or for that of those you love."
Somedays it would be nice if He would come and get me...
 if I could be done with the difficulties and struggles of life... 
and someday it will be my time too....

But for now His answers are that I still have... 
more to learn,
more to do, and
more people to help before I'm through.

That takes me back to the name of this blog...

There is a picture I hold in my mind.  When I finally do get back to my husband, I will run and fall into his arms and he will swing me around.  I don't want him to say, 
"You wasted it, all that time we were apart.." instead I want to hear him say,
"You did it.  This was worth it. It was not for naught."

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Is it easier to believe that God does not exist?

You may not believe in God, or you may believe that He is a governing force that started this world into motion but cares very little about any of us individually.  All of the bad and evil in this world may lead you to believe these things...

"How could God let bad things happen?"  

"If, He really cared, if He was really there,
 then why doesn't He stop these things?" 

Maybe your questions are more personal...

If God is there then...

"Why does He let me suffer?"
"Why did everything fall apart in my life?" 

"Why is my son sick?"
"Why am I in physical pain?"

"Why did my husband have to die?"
"Why doesn't He just give me what I want? Can't He see what I need?...God must not be there..." 

I have been there before, I have asked those same questions...

"When all of my life I have tried to be good,
why is this happening to me?"

After the birth of my 4th child when I struggled with depression for 5 years...

When my husband and father-in law died in a plane accident....
Then the hospital my husband worked for and the company that serviced the plane filed lawsuits against his estate...
Then lightening hit the pool pump, a deer ran into the side of my car, and my air conditioner broke all within a few days...  
Then my house wouldn't sell, and the work to take care of it was so overwhelming...
Then I hurt my knee and back making doing the work I needed to do more difficult...
The list could go on and on...
What is coming next?
At times I wanted to shake my fists at heaven and cry out...

"Really?  Isn't it enough that my husband is gone?  
Do I have to deal with all of this as well?" 

Maybe it would be easier to believe that God does not exist... then I wouldn't have to wonder why He lets me struggle and suffer, and why it seems that I keep getting kicked while I am still knocked down...

I get it, I really do.  In those moments of suffering of pain and despair, the heavens can often seem closed...
but is it the heavens that are closed, or is it our hearts?
The last 21 months have been rough... the very most heart breaking and difficult in my entire life.  Yet, through it all, through those moments of despair, I have learned undeniably that...
God is there.
He does care, and
He is the only way up and out of despair. 
"How can this be?" you may ask.  "How with all of the hurt, can you even feel that?"  Maybe you are struggling too, and the heavens still seemed closed.  Maybe you are wondering how to find your own relief.  Maybe you are trying to reconcile your pain with a God that is supposed to love us.

This is what I have come to understand...
God wants something more for us than a carefree life with all of our wants, needs and desires met.  
He wants us to grow. 

He loves us enough to know that spoiling us would not be in the best interest of our character development.

He lets us face the consequences of our choices, He lets us face sorrows not of our making, He even allows other's poor decisions to impact us all for the purpose of personal growth.

Without tasting bitter would we know sweet? Without knowing sorrow how could we appreciate real joy?

Life was intended to give us these experiences so that we would experience personal growth....

  • Sometimes that growth is in gaining empathy and understanding for others who are suffering, so that we can be used to succor them, lift them, and help to bear their burdens.  So that we can learn to turn from selfishness to selflessness.
  • Sometimes that growth is in realizing that our priorities are not based on things that are lasting and that really matter... wealth, power, beauty.  Our trials give us the perspective that initiates change. They help us realign and refocus on the things that really bring happiness... family, helping others, strong character.

He loves us enough to encourage us to turn to Him for help.

So instead of viewing all of those things as punishment now, I see that...
God was asking me...
begging me...
to reach out to Him.
He wanted me to know Him.

All of my life, I thought that I was so smart, so good, so hardworking, so talented.  I always thought that I worked my own miracles. It took being humbled through trial upon trial to admit that I was incapable of solving my problems on my own... I had to get so low that I finally asked for help.

I had to open my heart to God's ability to help me,
 and I had to pray and ask for that help.

I had to accept that his help was NOT
 to change my circumstances but 
to enable me to deal with what I needed to face.

Maybe that is where the real test of faith lies.  Maybe that is the reason people choose to believe that God does not exist.  Maybe we are so caught up in wanting our struggles removed that we are unwilling to consider that going through them is better for us in the long run.  

God knows this, and eventually we come to discover this truth as well.

God does not delight in our suffering... 

He knows that it serves a purpose, but He is also willing to help us through.  However, He can't until we turn to Him and ask for that help.  He will never force us to do something we do not want to do.  There is no growth when we are forced, we must choose.  
We cannot hear His words of comfort if we close our ears,
We do not notice His tender mercies if we close our eyes, and
We cannot experience His added strength if we refuse to feel.
When we choose to open our hearts, our eyes, our ears and our souls to Him, then we discover that He has always been there... patiently waiting for us to discover the hand that has been stretched out all along.

So even though the last 21 months have been rough... the very most heart breaking and difficult in my entire life. They have also been the most miraculous, light and love-filled months of my life.

Because in my need, I have learned undeniably that God does exist, and more than that,  I have felt His personal love for me and His personal care and help.

As you read this I hope your heart, ears and eyes have been opened to this truth.  I hope you will search and pray and discover for yourself that His love is real.  It is amazing and it can help see you through your struggles too.

So is it easier to believe that God does not exist?  
Only if you want to do this life on your own.