Friday, December 13, 2013

Six Months

Christina looking forward with her Auntie Jen

Christina went to be with Jesus six months ago today.  In many ways, it seems like yesterday and yet it seems like so long ago, we were wondering how long she would be with us.  We were walking day by day with no idea which day would be her last on this earth.  Her last day came on June 13th, 2013.

After many delays, Christina’s memorial headstone was put in place this week.  I have visited the cemetery so often and hoped every day that I would see that stone in place.  Finally on Wednesday, it was completed.  I got the call and burst into tears.  My sister, Jennifer and I bundled up Isaiah  and drove quickly to the cemetery and met my husband, Doug there.  More tears.  Finally.  The remembrance stone that tells her story.

I have loved walking through cemeteries for as long as I can remember.  Not because I am morbid, but because I love people and their stories.  I love to honor those that have completed their lives on this earth by standing for a moment and wondering—

What was their life like?
Did they love life?
Why did they die so young? 
How did they live so long?
Does anyone still remember them?
Did they know the One who made them?

I love headstones that tell a story.  Of course, not all the details but enough to know the essence of the life lived. 

Doug Nevill, Doug Ahmann (too many Dougs) and I labored over this stone.  We wanted Christina’s life to be understood by those who stop to read.  We wanted it to reflect her joy, her courage, and her wonderful God.  We wanted Isaiah to understand a bit of his heritage as he grows.  We thought it important that “mother of Isaiah” was part of her permanent history.  Little Isaiah will see his name there and know that he had a mom who was proud of him.  It is the only other name on this stone besides her own.
The tree on the front is an artist's rendering of the tree on our bluff that Christina loved so much.  She had a drawing of that tree on her wedding invitations.  It is a bit of what she loved in this world.

And  we have her life verse.  Timid by nature, she learned to trust God with her whole self because, “God did not give us a spirit of timidity but of power, and love, and a sound mind.”  Because God spoke that verse into her heart, she chose courage over fear many, many times.  She faced cancer with courage.  She faced marriage with courage.  She faced motherhood with courage.  She faced death with courage.  All because she knew the One who gave her power and love and a sound mind.

Her joy is represented by the statement—
The Joy of the Lord is Our Strength

Anyone who spent just a few moments with Christina could see her joy.  She met often with Jesus to talk about trusting Him and living for Him and He freely gave her His amazing joy.  The miracle of her joy is that even when she was placed on hospice care with just weeks to live, her joy increased.  To watch her worship, you would never have guessed she was facing death.  That is the miracle of God pouring out joy and it becoming our strength. 

On the back of her headstone is a quote from her first few months into her cancer journey.  It is there so that people can understand in her own words that her faith was real, her life is not over, and she is very excited to be with Jesus.

It says--I am okay because my life is not my own.  I am okay because my joy does not come with the 'joys' of this life.  Philippians 1:21 says, "for to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."  I am excited to live in Christ joyfully and with full abandon as long as He has me on this earth, and then for goodness sakes, I'm excited for eternity too!

The eagle is a constant symbol to all of us that “Those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.  They will mount up with wings like eagles.  They will run and not be weary.  They will walk and not faint.”  Isaiah 40:31

I pray that everyone who stops for a moment to wonder about this 31 year old woman will be able to piece together enough of her life to see her courage, her joy, and her faith in a very great God.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Letter to Doug and Christina

Dear Doug and Christina,
November 26th, 2013 would be your second anniversary.  It was such a short time you had together.  From your first date to the day Christina left to be with Jesus was two years and three months.  You lived a masterpiece in that short time.  You laughed, you loved, you cried, you prayed.  I remember the night of the proposal.  So full of hope and joy. Your wedding was everything you had hoped.  It was intimate--tucked away in the Lake Quinault Lodge.  The honeymoon of your dreams in Kauai was a great start to your days together.

Doug, you entered Christina's life at one of her weakest times.  You wanted to be her encourager and much, much more.  Not only did you encourage her, you led her into marriage and into the "no fear" decision of having a child.   You did what few young men have to do.  You learned to care for Isaiah in the NICU.  You were the first to change his diaper.  You learned how to speak softly in order to let him sleep and grow.  You learned to touch him gently and firmly--to give security but not distress him.  You were the "Isaiah" expert.  And you cared for your beautiful wife through two surgeries, two weeks apart.  You moved between Isaiah's hospital room and Christina's hospital room, caring for both. 

It was a sweet move back to Port Angeles--bringing Isaiah home for the first time.  Isaiah grew and you and Christina enjoyed your first months of parenting.

Too soon, you learned that your young wife would be leaving this earth. You talked about your shared dreams for Isaiah, you comforted her at night when she was confused.  You prepared her food just like she liked it and you kept track of all her medications.  And you did it selflessly.  No one would have blamed you if you had said, "I can't do this."  But you did it.  All.  Beautifully.  You have moved into a place in my heart forever.

Christina, you let someone into your special world--a world that contained a radical walk of faith, cancer, and plenty of uncertainty.  You let go of the idea that you could protect everyone from feeling pain as you left us.  You loved Doug and Isaiah--to the very end.  You prayed so often for those two that I can picture those prayers as incense still before the throne of God.  Nothing wasted.  

Christina, when you shared with me that you were so sorry you had never had time to make Doug a wedding album, I wondered if I should do it.  I thought about it but it felt wrong.  Small.  So instead, I made Doug and Isaiah a little book about your life together.  All two years and three months worth.  It is the story of a first date, a proposal, a wedding, a birth, and a walk right into eternity.

I want to tell you both--well done.  Thank you for trusting God.  Thank you for loving each other.  Thank you for the gift of Isaiah.  Seldom does life come with such beautiful closure--but I feel it.

Christina, you live on with Jesus.

Doug, you live on here with joy and strength--forever changed because of your 2 years and 3 months with Christina.

Isaiah, your adventure continues--fueled by the prayers of your faithful birth Mom.

Much Love,

Mom (Grammie Jo)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

How to Pray for Your Children--Christina's Last Message to Isaiah

Opening his presents:)
This past week, we celebrated Isaiah's first birthday.  November 1st brought a flood of emotion for me. It's the anniversary of the start of Christina's final days with us.  One year ago, we were told that the UW medical team was ready to move.  A C-section, a NICU (newborn Intensive Care Unit), a brain surgery, and chemo all came into focus.  We were jolted into action.  My own faith was stretched as I watched my 7 week early grandson struggle to breathe.  I watched my beautiful daughter cry over her new son and wonder if his struggle to breathe was all her fault.  I watched son-in-law, Doug, cope with a new reality that most 26 year old men never face.  He moved between the NICU room of his new little son to the different hospital rooms of his young wife.

In the midst of it all, we saw God move and felt His strong hands hold us.

To celebrate Isaiah's birthday, I watched the last video we made of Christina.  She was a couple of weeks into hospice care and we knew we would not have her with us for many more days.  I had no idea how much longer she would be able to express herself well.  We had a beautiful time together.  We asked her questions and she answered--with clarity and humor and love.  Here is the last question I asked her that day.

“If you could speak to Isaiah as he’s growing up, what would you tell him?  What do you want for his life?  What are your hopes for him?"

With a long pause and then tears, Christina said,  "I would say---Isaiah, you are so loved.  (More tears)  There is great purpose for your life and you are loved most strongly, passionately, intensely, intimately by our Heavenly Father, and that will never change.  

Your Mom and Dad love you very much.  The most amazing miracle in our lives is you.  One we didn’t know how to pray for, ask for, hope for, but God knew and He had a plan specifically for you on this earth and in our lives.  

You have been the scariest part to surrender--your little life.  It feels out of our control.  But our lives aren’t in control anyway and our Heavenly Father is the one who ordains our journeys.  I am so excited for your journey and that I got to be a part of it, no matter how long it is.  From sweet belly rubs and prayers to cuddling with my newborn and seeing your smile light up a room and envelop your whole body.  You need to know that there is no greater blessing in my life and your dad’s life and in our family, grandparents and friends who get to observe our family’s life and what that has been.  

So for you, with greatest prayer always, my hope is for you to be deeply intertwined with the Spirit of Jesus and you feel Him from the beginning.  From now, you are already tapped into the Spirit, and I really feel that.  My prayer is that it just continues.  That He always has a hold of your heart and that you always give it to Him fully.  I can’t wait to see what that looks like and I pray for those things over and over again.  It is so fun. 

My most favorite prayer is that you will be a leader.  

You will be filled with compassion. 

I don’t see arrogance in you.  You’re just a baby right now (laughter).  It’s hard for a baby to be arrogant probably. 

I just see a lover of God and a lover of people.  I don’t know why I see that, but I do.  I love praying that prayer for you.  

I can’t wait to see what God does and how He works in your story to reach whoever He may put in front of you.  Whether that has to do with this story or whether that has to do with  your own things that come up and how you choose to enter in with the Lord and enter in with people and their journeys.  I can’t wait and

 it’s totally unlimited when you choose to follow Him."

Monday, October 21, 2013

Continuing Gifts...

Christina and Stacy
This past week, one of Christina's good friends spent the week with me.  Stacy became Christina's friend through mutual cancer diagnosis' in the fall of 2007.  Stacy was overseas and was being sent home for treatment.  She and I spent some time on the phone and then one year later, I invited Stacy to our home to meet me face to face and also to meet Christina.  I didn't even know if they would like each other.  Apparently, Stacy was not too thrilled with Christina's blog.  She was not sure Christina was for real:)  Well, it all worked out in their first 5 minutes of comparing stories, encouraging one another, and laughing together.  I still remember one snippet of conversation when Christina mentioned how tired she continued to be even a year after surgery and radiation.  Stacy said, "That is completely normal.  You know that don't you.  You don't know that?  How could you not know that.  Of course you should take naps--lots of naps."  What freedom for Christina.  It was the first time she had ever talked to another young cancer survivor.  Yeah for naps!  Lots of naps!

Stacy also happens to be a hospice nurse and has attended many brain cancer patients.  We talked through Christina's last weeks.  Stacy had visited twice during those last 11 weeks but was not here when Christina died and was not able to attend the memorial service.  So, we talked through it all.  What a gift to my heart--to share again the things that stunned me, that made me laugh, that made me cry.  Stacy opened my eyes a little further to the miracle of Christina's last days.  It was quite unlike what Stacy has seen in other patients..  For Christina to be aware to the end and to even be able to communicate at all in the last week was truly a gift.  I see again that God gave Christina exactly what she asked for--an answer to her entire prayer.  I posted the prayer on my first blog entry but it bears repeating because it is so amazing to see God answer so specifically.  It was a prayer from April 16th, 2013--two months before she moved into the full presence of Jesus.

"Lord, can I ask a simple, maybe even selfish request until the moment I go home?  Will you somehow miraculously allow me to stay vibrant, coherent, clear minded, and fully able to feel you, express you, and maintain my own personality in this process?  Oh, Lord, I can't imagine a better way to end my days--besides perhaps getting to lead someone to the Lord personally somehow.  I pray that the way I go is not traumatic to anyone who might have to witness it.  May it be peace, peace, peace.  May it be a time where your presence is so beautiful, thick, and joyful that no one witnessing it or even hearing about it would ever deny you.  Lord, please put the exact people to be there that need to be, for their own hearts, for mine, and for your biggest glory to be known.  I so deeply trust you with this too, Lord.  I don't wish to die, Lord, but I do long to see your face, and I feel it stronger every day.  To be swallowed up by life, REAL LIFE.  Thank you Jesus for this excitement.  It gives me a bit of a skip in my step, even with an 'ouchie' back.  :)
I never expected or even knew that I could experience it now and in this powerful way.  You are so kind, my Jesus.  So kind.  I love you."  Christina

Christina, Christy Meyer Wilson, Jesse (high school years)
Another gift I never expected came a few months ago.  Christy Wilson, author of The Serpent and the Sparrow, sent me a beautiful set of CD's that contain the hours and hours of interviews that she did with Christina in order to write that beautiful book about Christina's first two years of her cancer journey.  I sat in my kitchen and listened to a very articulate Christina describe in detail how she felt, what she thought, what she hoped for, and a thousand other little details.  These are recordings I have never heard.  My overwhelming response is absolute joy that her struggles are done and she is with Jesus.  I love having her voice fill my kitchen and I love being challenged by her focus of letting her life be known publicly so that Jesus can be made famous.  She shared everything freely, honestly--holding nothing back.  Wonderful.

This past week, I also had to rely on some video responses that Christina had allowed us to record back in April.  Someone asked me why Christina had to die so young and did not get to enjoy much of life.  I played Christina's response to the question, "What would you say to someone at your memorial service?"  She talked for about 10 minutes about this question but here are some little piece of her response--

"Have some pie.  It's probably good.  (laughter)  I think the main thing would probably be, for sure, I am so happy where I am.  If you could see what I'm seeing now, you would understand. Us being separated by death is the hard part but Jesus died so that we don't have to have that.  Don't be sad for me....Death is hard, because of that temporary separation but you have to know that I didn't come to an end and I am living the ultimate life.  Be not sad for me.  Ever.  I love all that life is...The blip of life on earth that we get to experience drawing us into Jesus--there is nothing more beautiful but then moving into eternity--there is no better place.  No better."

Such beautiful thoughts and magnificent gifts. 

 Lord, help me to see more of your generosity and goodness
 in all the hard things I pass through.  
You are truly present and powerful and more generous than I can imagine.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Turning the Corner Quickly

I have been away for a week and had time to look at one of Christina's journals from the fall of 2009.  She was two years into her cancer journey--one brain surgery completed and radiation done--and still very little energy.  My heart hurt as I read her words of frustration.  Here is a peek--

 "Wow, what do you have for me?  I can't even imagine.  Why am I alive, Father?  That's the hardest and most tender subject to my heart.  Why am I alive?  I want to live my life SOLD OUT for you...what is that supposed to look like?  Life can be exciting Father, just you and me.  Why am I all of a sudden feeling lonely and like I need companionship?  There is no doubt you are providing for me, Father.  I am so grateful.  But I still feel like somehow you must be disappointed in me.  How do we overcome this, Father?  How do I live in freedom, working hard, but being OK if it's not the results (financial independence) I was hoping for?"

And then...

"Jesus, let's do this thing! Let's thrive as a team.  Let's do things that strengthen me in You.  Let's try things that don't come easy.  I wonder if you want to speak to me through dreams.  I always thought that would be cool.  Lord, show me where to read in your word.  Show me how to pray.  Show me how to best spend my time.  I am excited to thrive together, Father.  Oh, how I need you. I love you!"

What challenges me, as the reader of her journal,  is the way Christina moved from deep struggle to deep trust in the space of one journal entry.  As I continue to read, I see the pattern.  Pour out the heart--especially the hard stuff.  And then turn to the Source of Life--Jesus.  Let His refreshment, His peace, His purpose flow in.  Turn the corner quickly.  Don't get lost in the dizzy swirl of confusion and struggle.  Reach out and grab the hand of the One who walks on water.

Another example--

"Oh life... What does everything mean?  Where do I go?  What do I do?  Where do I belong?  Do you have a purpose for me, Father?  Am I just taking up space?

I know you must have a plan Father, I just don't know what I'm striving for.  With limited energy, and limited funds...and not much clear direction...What is this supposed to look like?

I so trust your plan but I feel blind, or like maybe I'm missing something.  Lead me and I will follow, Lord.  I feel like right now I'm just guessing.  I love you.  I trust you."

And then this scripture written out in her journal--

"But you are a shield around me, O Lord; 
you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.
To the Lord I cry aloud, and He answers me from his holy hill.
I lie down and sleep; 
I wake again, because the Lord sustains me."

I think the thing that speaks to me so strongly is that she trusted her Jesus completely.  As I read one of her journal entries, I noticed the date--November 1st, 2009.  Exactly three years later, not only was she married, she was giving birth to her beautiful son, Isaiah.  She could never have guessed that portion of the story.  And before she got to that beautiful moment she had suffered a bout of deep depression brought on by an anti-seizure drug, another brain surgery, and a move back to Port Angeles to see if she could marry a wonderful young man.

No matter how confusing or difficult our journeys look, we only know a small part of the story. In my own life, I loved being Christina's mom.  That part of my life is now complete.  I wonder what God has in store.  What is my purpose?  What new adventures lie ahead?  I will join Christina in turning to the One who has my days numbered and live each one for Him.  

Again from Christina's journal...

"This moment is all we have!
It is all we are responsible for!

We can spend half our lives waiting for hard phases to pass and easy/good ones to come along. 

But then we've wasted....hmmm...half our life.

We are not granted tomorrow, meaning we are not guaranteed the next 'easy/good' phase we are waiting for.  So what does that make this moment--our last moment....absolutely empty.

How unbelievably sad...fear, disillusionment, neglect, avoidance, disengagement...

The cool thing about flourishing is, we don't have to just hunker down and 'survive' life..
  • We get the choice to stand up, take in every moment, and THRIVE in it!
  • We get to shine light in the darkest caves.
  • We get to charge our fears with sword in hand.
  • We get to be squished and then regrown.
  • We get to stare ahead at a scary future with a pounding heart, trembling knees and a smile our faces wondering how in the world God is going to direct this journey for His glory."

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Rich and Full Life

Christina's Dad (Doug) and I just returned from Christina's grave.  It is a beautiful spot overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  It is a place that draws my heart to God.  Sparkling water, glowing sunset, and unhurried calm.  We talked a little about Christina and then sang a couple of songs she loved.  The last song we sang was an old one from Christina's childhood--"You are My Hiding Place".  We have a recording of our little family singing it when Christina was about 3.  "I will trust in Youuuuuuuuuu, I will trust in Youuuuuuuuuuu...."  Christina loved listening to that recording.  We always laughed and laughed at our vigorous, slightly out of tune rendition.  Singing it reminded me of the day she died.  That morning I was singing to her and she was very peaceful and quiet.  It seemed like any other day.  Sing to Christina.  Pray over her.  Tuck her pillows around her.  I decided to sing her childhood favorite to her.  As I began, she rustled a little and then she began to vocalize along with me--not words, just her sweet voice moving along with mine. Not really in tune but it didn't matter.  She was with me.  It was a very special moment.  Though she hadn't communicated in a couple of days, her spirit was singing along.  Just a few hours later she was fully in the presence of Jesus. Her deepest longing and prayer had been answered--she had ended her life praising Jesus.  I think it was a miracle.  

Her amazing husband, Doug, shared with me another fully answered prayer.  He told me that for the last year of Christina's life he had prayed daily that her life would be rich and full.  "Please God, give Christina a rich and full life." 
Christina would look at him and say, "Don't you think my life is rich and full?"
He just realized this week that God had answered his prayer completely.  She did have a rich and full life.  Every minute was used well.  She lived life to the fullest.  She was fully present at each conversation.  She could experience more joy and fullness in one afternoon than most people find in a year.  He said, "I just had a different definition of rich and full.  I thought rich and full meant a lot of years.  But a rich and full life has nothing to do with the number of years--it is the quality of every moment."  Amen, Doug!

Speaking of rich and full--I love my time with little Isaiah.  I arrive every morning at 7:15.  Usually he is awake in his crib.  As soon as I say his name, he pulls himself up, holds on to the rail and starts jumping up and down, smiling and laughing.  Then he throws himself down, laughs some more, pulls himself up and starts jumping up and down again.  I am thankful to the core of my being that I get to share a little bit of my life with Isaiah and his Dad.  What follows is the morning cooking show (me mixing up Isaiah's cereal as he watches from his high chair while nibbling on a Baby Mum Mum--who invents these things?)  We then move to the dining room where I say grace and we begin shoveling in the food--Isaiah loves to eat.  Daddy Doug has joined us by then with his coffee and cereal and we talk about Christina or work or lessons we've learned or we just make faces at Isaiah.  It's all good. 

God has whispered to my heart, 
"Enjoy every moment of this season.  It is a special gift." 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Love and Forgiveness

Two incidents (one in Christina's journal and one in her final weeks) have challenged me over and over again.  Someone had hurt Christina and, as her mom, I was feeling a bit protective.  She walked out of her bedroom shortly after the incident and grabbed my hands.  She expressed her hurt and anger and realized that she needed to go in a different direction.  She said, "I don't want to make this all about me. I need to forgive right now and so do you.  We cannot afford to carry this into these next weeks.  We need freedom."  
Oh, how I felt like we both deserved to be
angry and unforgiving.  And yet, I knew she was right.  Carrying the offense one more minute was not going to be good for our hearts.  Anger would lead to bitterness and bitterness prevents the joy of Jesus from filling us.  And so, right then, we both forgave and then experienced the freedom of love.  Love does not flow well through a bitter and angry heart.  I cannot imagine how different the last weeks would have felt if we had exercised our "right" to be angry and bitter.  How much of God's blessing would we have missed.  Looking back, I would not want to trade the beauty of Christina's final weeks for our "right" to bitterness.
The other incident from Christina's journal also continues to instruct me.  She processed so many of life's events in prayer--written out in her journal.  She described an incident--the hurt--her effort to look like Jesus--to listen to Him carefully.  After the incident, she wrote about what was so hurtful to her,  why it hurt, and the questions she struggled with.  But then her very next sentence surprised me and instructed me.  "How do I move forward in love in this situation?  What does love look like?"
She didn't ask how to get even or how long she could be sullen.  She didn't move into a posture of despair or manipulation.  Just--How do I love?
I have been thinking how different all of our relationships could look if we would forgive quickly and ask, "What does love look like in this situation?"
This is not easy.  We live in a world that wants to claim our rights.  We think that we will lose part of ourselves if we forgive too easily.  God sees it differently.

Ephesians 4:32   Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

As we forgive and choose to love, we receive from God
His peace, power, joy, and love.  Quite a good trade off, I think.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Growing Old

It may seem strange to talk about growing old when Christina only lived to be 31.  But I watched her carefully and was with her daily through her last several months.  And I learned.  I learned what it looks like to let go with grace.  Here are a few observations.
1.  Christina slowly gave up many things in the last few years. 

She gave up living alone in Portland.
She gave up her motorcycle.
She gave up half her eyesight.
And with that she gave up driving.

And with all that decrease of ability, 
she did not give up loving people. 
She did not give up reaching out.

She carried on the most amazing conversations.

She wrote many, many encouraging e-mails.

She loved her husband well.

She cared for Isaiah as much as she possibly could and then graciously let others help her.

And as the end drew near, she gave up more.

She gave up being able to move very much.

She gave up being able to care for Isaiah at all.

She gave up all her eyesight.

And still, if you spent time with her, she did not complain.  She asked how you were doing.  She knew the issues of your life and wanted the details.

And though she couldn't see or move, she rejoiced hearing her close friend Mandy was pregnant and joked about naming the baby Georgie.

She told our Pastor Mike, (who had just had a heart procedure and some stints put in place) "Be careful, don't pop any stinties!"  

The last time Christina was able to hold Isaiah.
2.  Christina made much effort to stay engaged even though it was very taxing.  Near the end, she said, "Tell everyone I am trying really hard even though it doesn't look like it."  It would have been much easier to just quit and become silent and sullen.  She fought the silence and withdrawal with every breath.  

3.  She spent no time talking about increased pain or decreased ability.  Not one time did she complain about not being able to see.  She seldom complained about pain--we had to figure it out by observation.

4.  She graciously accepted help for all the things she could no longer do for herself.  

And so, I think about my next years.  If I live much longer, I will be facing the decreased ability brought on by the aging process.  I long to be a person who engages the world around me and notices other people.  I will try to keep my various physical failings in the background. I will try hard--just like Christina.  I will celebrate what I can do and not become bitter about what I am leaving behind.  And if I need help, I will accept it with grace and courage and remember the beautiful example that Christina lived for us.

Monday, September 2, 2013

A Letter to Isaiah

Lori's Daughter Luci enjoying her book:)
Christina had many wonderful friends.  One of those friends, Lori Lester-Brown, sent a letter to Isaiah along with a book The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name.  I have asked Lori's permission to share her letter because it describes Christina and her life in such a full and refreshing way.  This letter is a treasure to my heart and I am sure it will be held close by Isaiah as he grows and can understand the beauty of his mom's life.  Thank you, Lori, for taking the time to invest in Isaiah.

Dear Isaiah,

I am sure that you have a lot of great books already but I wanted to send you one more.  Someone gave me this book for my daughter and I started reading it to her before she was born and as I did I thought about your mom.

I met your mom during college when  we were both studying the human body (How God made it, how it works, and how we could have jobs to help people's bodies work well).  Then we got to share a bedroom for a few weeks before taking a trip to a country called Guatemala where we worked with little children who needed some love.  After that we got to spend a year together living and working in a dorm with younger students as Resident Assistants (RA's).  During this time I realized that you mom is pretty amazing for a number of reasons:

     1)  She loves people deeply and well. She listens to them and holds them and cares about how their bodies and their hearts are feeling.  She showed this in college by the way she took care of the girls who lived with her when she was an RA, and in how she chose to use her skills as a massage therapist to bless people who were hurting and in how much she loves you and your dad.

Christina with Isaiah in his first big boy bath.
     2)  She is full of life.  You probably already know that she has a huge smile that is hard not to catch.  She also loves adventure and sometimes she does things that people think are silly because they are fun and they let her experience things more fully (like having a fun wrestling match on the lawn of a convent in Guatemala or climbing into the bathtub with her clothes on for your first bath).

     3)  She is faithful.  Your mom has been blessed with an amazing family, lots of good friends, may fun adventures and also some really hard times.  In all of these things she has walked with God, thanking Him and trusting Him along the way.  I think sometimes that was easy to do and sometimes that was a struggle but she held on and in the process got to know God better and feel His love more deeply.

There are a lot of other things I love about your mom but I know that there are a lot of amazing people in your life who will tell you more about her as you grow up.  I want to tell you why this book reminded me of her.

Sometimes when people make Bibles for children they use the stories in it to try to teach them manners or simple lessons:  like "Be nice to your friends" or "Listen to your dad".  I do think that Jesus wants us to care for people and listen to our parents but there is something way more exciting in the Bible for kids and adults too.  

The Bible is a story about God's love for people and about the amazing adventure He has been on with His people since he first created them.  Since the beginning of time He has wanted us to get to know Him and trust Him and be close to Him but people walked away from Him and into a world that has sadness and hurt.  God didn't want us to live apart from Him and hurting forever so He put in motion a Super Rescue Plan so that people could be with Him again.  This book tells the story and it is a story your mom knows really well.  She knows that God wanted to know her and save her with the Super Rescue Plan and she said "Yes!" so even in the hard times she has known the Adventurous Life and the Comforting Love of Jesus (He's at the center of the Rescue Plan!)  and she has never been alone.

Isaiah and Doug enjoying his book:)
Some people think that the story is just about them and God, but your mom figured out something else important:  She could be a part of God's Super Rescue Plan for other people too.  So she shared her love and her time with people and when she got sick she was honest about the journey and told people how hard it was and she told them that what gave her peace and joy in the middle of it was knowing the Rescuer.  

People from all over the world (Really!--other states and other countries) have heard your mom's story and have come to better understand what God's Rescue Plan means for them and how they can love and trust God the way your mom does so that they don't ever have to be alone and so that they can love God and feel his love forever too.

My prayer for you is that as you read this true adventure story and as you grow up that you would get to know and love the Rescuer the way that your mom does and that you would know that you are never alone and always loved by God.  I pray that you will love people well, and live life fully, and be faithful just like your mom.


Lori Lester-Brown

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Tears in a Bottle

The dying process is not an easy one.  The end of the story is unknown.  It is a "one day at a time" existence.  The limits of energy and endurance are all too apparent.  No one knows which walk is the last one or which word is the last spoken until the last breath is taken.  Those helping and watching cannot predict the time or day that the journey will end.  It feels like the world is holding its breath and waiting...just waiting.

I remember my sister, Loralee, with tears in her eyes as she took a picture of Doug and Christina out on an evening walk. She wondered if she would ever photograph them again.

Each word Christina spoke was noted carefully.  Would it be her last coherent thought?

Each visit with her might be the last.  Should we say our goodbyes now?

In the midst of all these uncertainties, we talked about what was certain.  We talked often about Jesus' care for her--that He was right by her side.  Psalm 23 was quoted often.  Knowing that Jesus was walking through the valley of the shadow of death with her brought her great comfort.  

Near the end (May 30th), she asked about the Bible passage that talked about Jesus carrying her.  I read out loud Isaiah 40:11.

"He tends his flock like a shepherd;
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young."

She said, "I am a lamb so He is carrying me.  I can feel it."  And then, "I have young.  Isaiah.  So He is gently leading me."

I was amazed that she put that all together.  Her mind functioned best when she focused on Jesus.  She said, "I am so weak.  Maybe if I raise my hand up, Jesus will gently lead me."  She asked me to help hold her hand up.  I, of course, wondered if Jesus was going to take her at that very moment.

The next day she grabbed my hands and asked me if I could feel "both".   She said that she wanted me to feel "both".  I believe she was talking about being held by Jesus and being led by Jesus.  She knew that Jesus had spoken to me 5 years earlier about leading me (as a mom) through this cancer journey with my "young".   Truly, what He was doing for Christina, He was doing for me.

On June 1st, she said, "Tell everyone that I am trying really hard, even though it doesn't look like it."  Christina was making a supreme effort to stay conscious.  She had multiple tumors eating away at her brain and she fought like a warrior to keep her thoughts from becoming muddled.  Scripture, worship, and prayer always brought her back from the edge of confusion.  What a great gift to our hearts.

That night, I prayed through many things and I asked, "Lord, are my emotions OK?  Too much?  Not enough?"

There is no handbook for appropriate emotion in situations like this.  The next day (June 2nd), I was sitting on the bed next to her.  To my surprise, she began to try and move herself closer to me.  She eventually managed to sit up and lean fully against me with her head on my shoulder.  I wrapped my arms around her and she began to massage my arms.  (She was always a giver.)  I began to recite in her ear all the scripture we leaned on so heavily.  And then I began to sing the worship songs we depended on.  
I sang "There is a Redeemer" by Keith Green.
I started with
There is a redeemer,
Jesus, God's own Son
Precious, Lamb of God, Messiah
Holy One.

When I got to the chorus,

Thank you, Oh my Father
For giving us your Son....

I burst into tears.  I could not stop crying.  I began to worry that this would upset Christina terribly.  
Christina said calmly
, “He wrote that prayer for you.”
I said, “What prayer?”
She said, “The one you just sang.”
 Then she reached for something and said, “I am supposed to gather these up.”
I said, “What?”
She said, “These tears.”
I said, “Oh.   Jesus gathers our tears in a bottle.”
She said, “Yes. And He said these ones are special.  Be sure to gather these up.”
I said, “Jesus, told you that?”
She said, “Yes. We have little conversations now.  This is new.  I can talk to my daddy.  In a little while, we are going to have convos (conversations) all the time.”

I was astounded.  God answered my prayer from the night before through Christina.  My tears were not only noticed.  They were special.  They were gathered.  Jesus sees and knows and cares.  Even today, as I cry, I know He sees and knows and cares.

Psalm 56:8
"You number my wanderings; Put my tears into Your bottle; Are they not in Your book?"

Revelation 21:4
"And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying."

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Dock

One day, in her last weeks, Christina said, "I have a really cool dock."  I thought I had not heard correctly.  "Dog?"

"No, DOCK!  I have a really cool dock."

It took me a minute.  "You have a really cool dock in heaven?"
She said, "Yes but it isn't quite finished." I asked her if Jesus was telling her about her place with Him.  Her response was strange.  "No, we're working on it together.  We're talking back and forth. I have an island.  He knows just what I like.  Water, outdoors, exploration, eagles, and small animals.  It's a lot of work for Him."

I assured her that Jesus was a carpenter and very strong and could handle the job.  

The next day she calmly told us that there was room for everyone.  It was a very large dock.  We should all visit.  

John 14:1-3
Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.  In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

I Corinthians 2:9

However, as it is written:  "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him."

"Discovering Freedom" by Colt Idol

Saturday, August 17, 2013


Large group worship was a very important part of Christina's first two weeks on Hospice care.  Many people had gathered and we had some rich nights of worship.  It was Christina's greatest joy to sing her heart out to the Lord.  Her stamina and capacity far exceeded mine in those days.  She often kept us going with, "Just one more, please."

One of those evenings, Christina's cousin, Chris Newbury taught us a song that was new to us--"Your Presence is Heaven to Me" by Darlene Zschech.  We loved the verses--

Who is like You Lord in all the earth
Matchless love and beauty, endless worth
Nothing in this world will satisfy
Jesus, You're the cup that won't run dry.

Treasure of my heart and of my soul
In my weakness, You are merciful
Redeemer of my past and present wrongs,
Holder of my future days to come.

All my days on earth I will await
The moment that I see You face to face
Nothing in this world will satisfy
'Cause Jesus You're the cup that won't run dry.

Then there is a beautiful chorus--
Your presence is Heaven to me
Your presence is Heaven to me

Oh Jesus, Oh Jesus
Your presence is Heaven to me.

We were a large group, worshiping together.  During the singing of the chorus, I heard a beautiful sound. It was really otherworldly, an amazing blending in with us, with a clarion quality that is almost impossible to describe but I can still hear it in my head.  I was seated next to Christina, and looked at her.  She heard the same thing as did my friend seated on the other side of me.  The only explanation we could think of was that the angels were joining in our worship.  

We had been feeling protected and surrounded by some of God's angelic army.  It makes sense that at such a time as this they would just join in.  Worship is one of the beautiful, consuming parts of heaven.  

Revelation 6:11-12

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand.  They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.  In a loud voice they sang;
"Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, 
to received power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!"

Christina had been hearing the name of Jesus echo through heaven and now we were hearing the angels singing the name of Jesus. 

Some weeks later, after Christina had explained her window (see my previous post), she said, "I just want to see the face of Jesus and hear the angels sing."

I assumed that this would all happen as her body quit working and she moved on to heaven.  So I told her, "You will see Jesus' face and hear the angels really soon--when Jesus takes you to heaven.  It won't be long."   (Oh me of little faith.)

A few hours later as I was getting her comfortable for a morning nap she asked, "Who is that beautiful male voice--singing.  It is so deep and rich."

The room was silent.  I said, "There is no one singing.  It is all quiet."

She said, "No, listen.  It's so beautiful."

I finally got it.  "You must be hearing an angel.  You asked for it.  Listen."

She laid back in bed and said, "Listen to those harmonies." 

I said, "There's more than one?"

Christina, "Oh there's so many.  It's so beautiful."

And so we watched her listen to the angels.  She was shining with joy and we were amazed.  After a time, she said it was fading out and she peacefully went to sleep.

Later in the day, her husband Doug asked her if she had seen the face of Jesus.  Her answer.  "Oh yes."

And so, Christina asked to see Jesus and hear angels and all was answered before the day was over.