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

Leave Your Shoes At The Door

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

DSCN0830

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.” 

IMG_6030

Posted in Faith, Fasting, Journey, Missions, New Year Fast, Questions, The Unexpected

A Zacchaeus Moment

angel-oak-2018822_1920

I have a friend who loves to put puzzles together; she’s amazing. She has the patience to work any puzzle to the end. She will often talk about her puzzles, describing how long she works on them to complete the picture. Every piece is studied and put aside on the table – to be used when it fits in its rightful place. Oftentimes those pieces won’t fit for days or weeks as other pieces have to be fit first. In due time, the puzzle is completed and every piece in place.

I’ve had things happen to me in life that I couldn’t explain and there are still some things I can’t explain; they still don’t have a place to fit into in my life. So, those pieces just sit out on the periphery of the puzzle, waiting to be fit at the right moment. They are prepared for the time they will be needed. Yet, until that moment comes, those pieces won’t make sense. Like my friend, they have to sit on the side of the puzzle table until they fit.

Jesus went to a city called Jericho (Luke 19:1-10) and in that city, there was a man named Zacchaeus. I remember being a young child in Sunday School singing, “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he! He climbed up in a sycamore tree the Lord he wanted to see!” The problem Zacchaeus had was greater than his lack of height; he was a tax collector and leaping over his despised status among his countrymen was no small task (pun not intended).

How was this short man, who no one wanted to help (really, even today who wants to help a tax collector?), supposed to get a glimpse of the Lord Jesus as He passed by? He didn’t even consider that Jesus would stop to change his life forever – that would be impossible for he was nothing but despised by all who surrounded him. Why would Jesus consider stopping for him? However, Zacchaeus did hope to at least get a glimpse of the Lord as he passed through the city.

If you read Luke 19:1-10, you’ll see that Zacchaeus climbed a tree to see Jesus as he was quite short – he needed a boost. Sitting in the tree, Jesus drew near to him and engaged him in conversation and from that point on, Zacchaeus’ life was forever changed. He restored money to those he had stolen from, his character changed from the inside out.

But have you ever considered that long before Zacchaeus climbed the tree, God planted it to meet his need? He placed a piece of the puzzle in the right place so at the right time, Zacchaeus would encounter Jesus. Until that time, it was a random tree that at best offered shade for weary travelers on warm summer days. It wasn’t until Jesus walked through Jericho and met Zacchaeus that the real purpose of the tree was revealed: it was meant to bring Zacchaeus closer to Jesus.

I imagine Zacchaeus had no intention of even speaking with Jesus and might have even scurried off in fear had Jesus begun walking towards him. In the tree, Zacchaeus was cornered on his branch. He had nowhere to hide.

There are pieces of the puzzle that will fit into our lives just at the moment they are designed to fit; we simply need to leave the pieces alone until the Zacchaeus moment arrives.

It will fit perfectly.

_____________________________________

Psalm 18:30 NLT “God’s way is perfect. All the Lord’s promises prove true. He is a shield for all who look to Him for protection.”

 

Posted in The Unexpected, Unknown

The Pork Roast Disaster

I’ve been in situations in my life when some backup would have been nice. You know, someone to supply a safety net when I’m in a situation that I need saving from.

Some years ago in Burundi we were having visitors over for dinner. I fussed and fussed – I felt a bit insecure in my cooking abilities;  I had challenged myself by putting a new item on the menu: a pork roast.  As I look back on that roast experience, I ask myself what in the world was I thinking when I planned that meal? I can’t remember that beef wasn’t available at the butcher’s and we have never been much on eating pork. Why a pork roast?

Anyway, the roast did smell good as it cooked in my little gas oven. Our visitors arrived, the house smelled of roast, and I managed to get the table set and have everything just about ready…until it was time to remove the roast from the oven and make the gravy.

Back then, our kitchen sat off the living room. In fact, you could see into the kitchen from the living room and the little dining area was set off to the side of the living area. You have to know this little detail to understand how what happened as I took the roast out of the oven.

I reached ever so gingerly into the oven to remove the roast from the oven to make the gravy and as I did, I slightly jostled the roasting pan. The unthinkable happened and the little round roast (was nice and round like a soccer ball) rolled out of the pan and before I could do anything about it – bounced on the kitchen floor and rolled out into the living room right in front of everyone.

Major disaster! And there was no backup plan, no one there to rescue me!

Tears stung the back of my eyes (I was still in my perfectionist stage of life when I found it difficult to laugh at moments like these) and I ran after the roast and scooped it up with as much grace as a water buffalo can muster (i.e., no grace whatsoever) and rushed back into the kitchen.

I rinsed off the little pork roast/soccer ball and let it cook for a few more minutes before resuming gravy-making status. We ate dinner, everyone seemed to sense my horror and spared me from any comments!

The moral of this story? Close the kitchen door before attempting to remove a pork roast from the oven.

Isaiah 50:7 NLT “Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore I have set my face like a stone, determined to do His will. And I know that I will not be put to shame.”

Each day comes with its own set of possible “unknowns” attached to it: flat tires, unexpected colds, surprise phone calls, and pork roast disasters. Our Father is there for us, even at the most unexpected moment.

Such potential disasters are specifically designed to get us off course – but we do well to remember at any given moment He is there and has our back and won’t allow us to be shamed.

If, this week, you find yourself facing the unexpected, trust in Him who you follow and whose will you are committed to. He has your back, He will hold you up and help you pick up your pork roast.


Note – I haven’t cooked a pork roast once since this disaster!

Posted in The Unexpected

The Last Load of Laundry

I originally wrote this two years ago and it feels like yesterday. I am still missing Matthew.

_________________

I wasn’t expecting this today.

It’s New Year’s day, 2015. My little one is 7 and has been getting over a tummy bug so I kept her home today and spent the day housecleaning. The kids tease me about my cleaning obsession – but I don’t feel at rest when the house is upside down, My husband and son helped as well and cleaned the garage.

Something I hadn’t considered when asking them to clean the garage was a suitcase filled with my brother’s clothes as well as a bag of clothes he wore to the hospital last year just before he died. I had placed these two items, the suitcase and plastic bag in the corner behind some boxes a few days after he died. Someday, I thought, I would pull those things out and wash them. I knew my father wanted some of the things at some point – I just didn’t know that today I would confront the suitcase and plastic bag.

His passing last February was unexpected, quick, and of course very sad and traumatic. The events that occurred after his passing, the memorial service, closing of his affairs, are all a bit of a blur. Five days after he died, life called and I picked up the pieces and carried on with meetings, visitors, and raising my little one.

Every once in a while, during these months, the suitcase and plastic bags would catch my eye. The laundry needed to be done.

Bills began pouring in and we began the long process of notifying all creditors he had passed. It took a number of phone calls over the course of several months to convince the hospitals and physicians’ offices and labs that he had indeed died – I faxed and refaxed and even asked a friend to help fax the certificate multiple times as proof of his death. The phone calls, despite our concerted efforts to let everyone know in a timely fashion of his passing, seemed to be unending. Finally, the final death certificate was faxed, the last phone call was made and all notices of collection stopped.

He had nothing left from his estate – how could anyone collect something from nothing?

So this morning when I went to the now clean garage, I saw the plastic bag and suitcase sitting conspicuously out in the open.  I knew it was time to do the laundry. I sat on the floor and opened the bag and suitcase. I remembered seeing him in the outfit I pulled from the bag, the shoes were worn according to the way he walked and I pictured him as I best remember him: on the track field.

My brother, Matthew, was a runner when he was younger. He still holds a local 5k record – a fact that I quickly announce to any running enthusiast who will listen.

I pulled shirts, shoes, trousers, shoes and a belt from the suitcase and tried to smell them to see if the scent of the cologne he loved lingered in them. No. They smelled musty from being in the garage. My eyes then moved to the airline sticker still on his bag from his last flight to Florida. I cried and remembered that he came back to Florida just weeks before he died.

As I loaded the washer with his clothes, I said, “Matt, this is the last time I’m doing your laundry!” As kids I would often wash his clothes and was always irritated when mom asked me to do his laundry. There won’t be another load, there won’t be another stain to treat.

Matthew’s home now. That’s what I texted to our family members the night he died and that’s what I type today to remind myself that all is well with him.

But I still wouldn’t mind doing another load of laundry for him.