Posted in Comfort, Death, Loss, Love, Ministry, The Unexpected, Why

Leave Your Shoes At The Door

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Two weeks ago, we received the very sad news that a young woman, a niece of one of our church members, had died suddenly. Until very recently, she had been a healthy young mother of 3 young children all under the age of 8. When this news came to us, immediately our hearts hurt for the family – especially for the young children who had lost their mother.

After Sunday service, a day or two after hearing the news, we went with other church members to the “kilio” (wake) where friends and family had gathered. According to custom, men sat outside in chairs that had been quickly set up under a makeshift tent. Women and children filed into a small front room from which all furniture had been removed. There were woven bamboo mats lining the floor where everyone sat. Most of the senior ladies sat closer to the bereaved, while those who weren’t so close as well as children sat along the opposite side of the room.

I followed the line of ladies into the room designated for them and brought my 10-year-old daughter along with me, we all left our shoes at the front door as it is customary to remove shoes when attending a wake. It may sound strange that my daughter accompanied me, however, the church member who we were visiting whose niece had died, is our children’s church director.It was only natural for children from church to come and show their love and support for their leader who is very much loved. This wake was the first time my little girl had experienced anything of this kind and I wondered how she would react. My worries were soothed when I watched her follow her friends and remove her shoes as they did, and sit on the floor with all the other children. I told her it would be alright if she wanted to sit with me but she declined, she wanted to be with the other children. Her bare feet mingled with those of her friends and her eyes took in the setting. Indeed, the Kingdom of God is seen in the children and I saw it that day when in the rawest of settings, my little girl embodied the love of the Kingdom when she sat to comfort those who mourned.

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We all took turns, one by one, hugging family members; the inevitable flow of tears and sobs ebbed and flowed throughout our visit. The children even took their turn to give their condolences and theirs was perhaps the most appreciated by their teacher as she talked with each one and took in their hugs and love ever so deeply. I understood even more on that day the priority that children take in the Kingdom of God.

Luke 18:16 NKJ“But Jesus called them to Him and said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; forof such is the kingdom of God.'”

Not many days after our visit, we drove to the graveyard and laid this young mother’s remains to rest. Present were her children, husband, and hundreds of friends and family. The weeping at the site is one sound I’ll never get used to and neither should I. The pain felt in those left behind is very real; if we ever become accustomed to the sound of death and the pain felt by those losing loved ones, how can we ever comfort them? We do know that life apart from the body is lived in God’s presence (2 Cor. 5:8), but there remains a real loss for those left behind. This is why we are told to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). This “ministry of presence” brings strength to those whose strength is depleted when death comes knocking as it does for everyone, even multiple times, during our lifetimes as loved ones leave us when eternity comes to call.

Still, it remains in my mind some days later, the picture of the children’s shoes outside the front door of the house on a warm Sunday afternoon. I can feel the warm breeze blowing through the front door, hear the weeping of children, and feel the sting of death – and there was my little girl in the middle taking part in the “ministry of presence.” 

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Posted in Death, Grief, Loss, Missions

It Won’t Come Easily

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Loss. It’s a subject that no one likes to think about or even talk about; our silent hope is that we’ll learn as we go when we experience it. Everyone handles loss differently and not everyone agrees on the “right” way to walk through a season of grief. How can anything be “right” when grieving?

Usually, when the word “loss” is mentioned, we immediately think of the grief we feel when a loved one has passed away. To know the grief experienced when losing a loved one can only be understood by going through it – and that is an experience few, if any, of us will escape in this lifetime.

As I’ve been pondering loss in my lifetime, my thoughts have been moved to areas not usually associated with loss. Grief occurs when we lose something or someone that we had grown to love, correct? We can therefore say that grief isn’t limited to losing loved ones; its scope is much farther reaching than that. We can be grieved when we lose visions, hopes, and dreams.

The mission field has taught me a great deal about loss; I’ve learned to breathe in and enjoy every moment as we have them for we have no assurance what tomorrow may bring. We comfort ourselves by saying that we have the assurance of God’s presence – for it is all we need – but the truth of how much we believe that statement will come only when tested. Those tests don’t come easily; we are tested by loss of dreams for the future, loss of financial support, loss of emotional support, loss of family and friends that are left behind.

For obvious reasons, our family has always had an affinity for missionary stories. We have our heroes: David Livingstone, Amy Carmichael, Jim Elliot, and most recently, Adoniram Judson. Judson, together with his wife, was the first missionary from the States to Burma. (You can read more about his story by clicking here.) They endured loss after loss, yet persevered to see – not thousands, no, not even hundreds – come to the Lord in their first 5 years of service. Not a single soul came to the Lord during that time; in their 6th year, 2 came to the Lord, and the progress continued thus for many years. Even though their “progress” was slow, their dedication was steadfast. They put themselves in the impossible position of going somewhere that was nearly impossible to leave – they chose to stick it out before they knew what they would face.

The choices we make on the front end of a journey have lasting repercussions that will inevitably result in loss. Loss of loved ones, loss of experiences, loss of relationships, and the question we have to answer before knowing what will meet us on the other side of our choices is this: can we rise to the level of our choices?

Of course alone, we can’t possibly manage the losses ahead of us, but the unseen “secret sauce” we have that others don’t is God’s presence.

Exodus 33:12-14 ESV Moses said to the Lord, ‘See, you say to me, “Bring up this people,” but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, “I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.” Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.’ And he said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’  And he said to him, ‘If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.’”

Moses is not one we think of when the word “loss” is mentioned. However, he lost a great deal in his lifetime: his family (when raised in Pharaoh’s household), his identity when he fled Egypt, all he had was his relationship with God as he stood leading millions of Israelites in the wilderness. He refused to move forward without that relationship intact.

It is inevitable that we will face loss as we move forward in the will of God, either through death or other circumstance. It will be painful, it won’t come easily, but there’s a way through the pain if indeed we believe His presence is all we need. With His presence, we can walk through that wilderness, like Moses did, and find our paths to our Promised Land.

Open your heart; don’t allow any kind of loss to rob you of a relationship with the only One Who can fill the emptiness you’re facing. It’s never too late to begin again.

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