Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Swallowed Up by Life

Christina's life was characterized by joy--but it was a joy that she fought for every day.  She spent much time with her Lord Jesus letting Him speak to her heart and fill her up with His joy and peace.  In the middle of April (two weeks into Hospice care), we had a very difficult evening.  Christina was obviously not experiencing peace or joy.  She was despondent over needing so much help.  She was discouraged about letting people down.  We tried and tried to assure her that there is nowhere else we would rather be.  Taking care of her was a supreme privilege.  She wasn't buying any of it.  She went to bed with great sadness in her heart.

That night, eyes wide open, no sleep coming, God spoke to my heart.  He said that this despair was not part of what He wanted for Christina and I was not to wait for her to figure it out.  He told me to get up and battle for my daughter.  I moved from little Isaiah's room to the living room and opened my Bible.  

My prayer was simple.  "You need to show me how to battle this cloud that is hanging over Christina. Please show me your truth in your Word."  The first place He took me was to Song of Solomon.  Our dear friend, Peter, had read this scripture on one of our worship nights.  Song of Solomon 2:10, 13

"Arise my love, my beautiful one, and come away, 
for behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone...
Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away."

This was a very personal invitation from the lover of her soul.  Christina felt His call very strongly and she longed to see His face.

The second scripture I turned to was 2 Corinthians 4 and 5.  Here are a few highlights from that middle of the night reading.

2 Cor. 4:14  We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.

We know!!!  No room for doubt here.

2 Cor. 4:16  Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

We do not lose heart!!!  Even when our bodies are failing in multiple ways.  When we can't see, or move, or walk, or eat, or even think clearly--we do not lose heart.  Why?  Because something much more significant is happening.  Our inner self--the part that lives forever is being made new.  Our inner self is learning and growing and talking to Jesus in new and closer ways.

2 Cor. 4:17  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

I have believed for a long time that trials are good.  We seek God.  We need Him.  We grow.  We become more and more like Him.  But here was another truth that struck me with new freshness.  Our trials aren't just growing us up, our trials are doing something in eternity.  Each trial is achieving something glorious and weighty in eternity.  Each painful day, each scattered thought, each moment of surrender was producing something in eternity that Christina was about to enjoy.  

2 Cor. 4:18  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Focusing on Christina's failing health, her weak body, her tired brain, was not God's best.  He wanted us to focus on the unseen.  The eternal.  The weight of glory.  The inner renewing.  All that we can see with our eyes is temporary. What we see feels so compelling because it is so obvious.  It was time for us to "gaze" at the unseen, eternal truth.  

2 Cor 5:4  For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life."

Christina did not have a death wish (we do not wish to be unclothed).  She had a life wish (but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling).  The physical nature of our body dying is (for the Christian) nothing more than being swallowed up by life.  Death is a defeated foe for the Christian.  John 3:16 ends with "whoever believes in Him, will never die but have eternal life."  

2 Cor. 5:5  Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

Hmmm.   God made us for this very purpose.  To be with Him.  To be swallowed up by life.  I thought of all the roles we think God made us for--a wife, a mother, a friend, a worker in the church, etc.  Those  are just the places we live out our lives in Jesus, but the overriding purpose of our journey is to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling--swallowed up by life.

2 Cor. 5:6-8  Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.  We live by faith, not by sight.  We are confident, I say and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

Confident?  Always confident? Those are strong words.  Is it really OK to prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord?  It was truth for Paul.

Those were words Christina needed to ponder.  We do not lose heart.  Confident.  Eternal weight of glory.  Living by faith, not sight.  Made for the purpose of being with God.

I prayed and went back to bed with joy in my heart.  I woke early and prayed for an opportunity while the house was still quiet to share these things with Christina.  The next thing I knew, Christina was coming down the hall, up very early, wanting to talk.  We sat down and worked through all this truth.

She fully responded to the truth of God's word.  The Sword of the Spirt which is the Word of God had cut through her despair.  Her countenance physically altered.  She relaxed.  She was filled with joy once again.  She said, "Now that is life.  The idea that my physical healing is the only acceptable answer to this situation makes me feel like I am being strangled."  

I believe Christina felt called to join Jesus.  She had prayed for healing many times and had been prayed for many times.  She was absolutely at peace with the fact that there may be a greater glory as she journeyed toward Jesus, toward heaven, toward her perfect healing.  She used that phrase later--swallowed up by life--it defined her.

Everyone who came through the door that day heard this scripture.  God sent others with more truth from the Word.  The cloud was gone and it did not return.  
God's truth prevailed.  
His peace settled in.  
His joy was pervasive. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Gift of a Grand Mal Seizure

It seems odd to call a grand mal seizure a gift.  It is what we had tried to prevent for over 5 years.  How can we call it a gift?  Because Christina did.  From her blog post on April 23--"The first seizure, and the following MRI was God’s perfect provision allowing us all to be aware of my new health status."

  • We were now aware that Christina's beautiful brain was full of new tumors. 
  • Within 24 hours, doctors were all on the same page.  (Thank you Dr. Kathie Hennessey.)
  • Within 36 hours, Christina was on Hospice Care.
  • Within 48 hours, Christina's friends and family were gathering from all over the world to say good-bye.
  • Meals were being delivered by our wonderful IBC family--enough to feed all of our guests.
  • Worship (Christina style) was happening nearly every night.
  • The house was filled with laughter and love and stories.
  • Christina answered many life questions on video--a gift to our hearts.
  • We even have a funny video of a very pregnant Linsey Fuller and Christina singing (with motions) a favorite song from middle school days.  (King Jesus is All)
  • Christina had 2 beautiful "daddy-daughter" dates.
  • She had time to help her loving husband grieve and process about the future.
  • She gave us the beautiful pictures and sounds of the unseen reality of heaven.
  • A second grand mal seizure was stopped with the words, "Jesus, Peace".  No more seizures.  The first had served the purpose.  The second marked a change of pace but brought with it no trauma, no hospital, no extra care.  Jesus had mercy.

Again, from Christina's blog--"I am so thankful for the beautiful time I/we have all gotten to experience because of this. Friends and family have been able to fly in and I’ve loved the relaxation of my home, only made possible by so many people contributing to help–the Isaiah care, the food, the cleaning, the super fun yard work parties, errands run for us, the worship nights, Doug’s awesome work allowing him to take so much time off. We’ve had overnight baby care (thanks Mom!) for quiet restful nights and sleep-in mornings with lattes waiting for us when we get up. Oh yes. The list goes on and on and on. We are SO thankful."  
Amazing Aunt Loralee--3 months of serving, and worshiper cousin Chris
It could have been much different.  Christina could have just mysteriously declined in ability and function and it would have been impossible to do any of the visits, worship, stories, and final conversations.  Or she could have died during the grand mal seizure.  Or she could have slipped into a coma.  Instead we had the gift of time.  I am thankful everyday for all that happened.  The beautiful, the difficult, the hard to understand.  Jesus was present and powerful every second.  He taught us how to love, how to hope, how to trust.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Surrender to Life

Surrender was a significant word in Christina's life.  Surrender can have negative connotations. It can sound like giving up--giving in. But in God's economy surrender to Him brings life.  Abundant life.  Because He is good.

From Christina's journal, August 27, 2012.  She was pregnant, facing another brain tumor recurrence and pondering her journey.

Five years ago--normal healthy life, exciting 20's, then headaches, financial struggles, and no more boyfriend.  God asks me questions.  "What if these circumstances never change?  Can you live with JOY?"
Fast forward 5 years.  Lived through my worst fear...scary body stuff...still in the thick of it.  Still have cancer, had one recurrence, now another.  How will I be a good mom and also deal with cancer and all its limitations.  Brain surgery and child birth at the same time?  Now the questions are, "Do you trust Me with your child?  With Doug?  Can you joyfully hand them over to Me?  Will you stop comparing yourself to friends and look to Me?"

Throughout her 11 weeks of hospice care, Christina continually surrendered different parts of her life.  Seven weeks into the final journey, (May 17th) she told me she was done trying to figure out details that don't make sense.  (Who is here?  What time is it?  What day is it?)  It was all too hard for her brain.  Really it was enough that she knew all of us and knew Jesus.  Thinking about Jesus always made sense to her.  So she moved to prayer--  "Jesus, I surrender all.  Teach me how to surrender all."  She prayed much more than that but I was stuck on her surrender. I've never seen anyone more surrendered and I wondered what else she could possibly have left to give to Jesus.

I could see that she gave up understanding all that was happening around her.  She had also given over the welfare of Doug and Isaiah and all her family to the care of Jesus.  She knew that He would care for us just as He had cared for her.

May 13, 2013
Now, it seemed likely that she was finally giving up her fear of being cared for as she died.  She hated the idea of being a burden to anyone.  From that moment on, she would mostly just smile and thank us for our care--for every little thing.  She didn't wallow in self-pity or shame because she needed help. Occasionally, she apologized for the fatigue she was causing but it did not grip her heart. And there were times she actually enjoyed the process.  When she needed help walking down the hall, she often entertained us with some try at a dance step or an extra intense "hold" on Doug.  

These surrendered days contained much comfort from the God of all comfort.  She often commented on how great her bed was.  She said it had "comfort built right in."  Now, she felt she was being cradled and carried in the most beautiful way. From her surrendered heart she told me one evening as I knelt by her bed, "We didn't know it would be this easy."  It did not seem easy to me but God was making good on His promise--"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest...For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."  Matthew 11:28, 30.  

Those around her had much to surrender also.  Our sense of timing, our needs, our hopes, our trust.  Christina led the way, giving much direction to those who had ears to hear.  She directed me spiritually several times--issues of timing, forgiveness, and joy.  One day (May 14th), she cryptically said to me, "I hope you enjoy every second of this. If you get robbed of it,  acknowledge it and say something."  She seemed to be very concerned about joy being a part of this journey.  She loved the joy that God had provided through these day--joy that was flowing in spite of our circumstances.  This joy flows out of the heart of God at all times.  She did not want my heart robbed of this treasure.  It was a difficult thing to ponder.  Joy in everything.  Joy that was hard to fight for.  Joy that defies explanation.  Joy found in surrender.  

Why do we resist such a gift?  

Surrender to life.

Surrender to joy.

Surrender to Jesus.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Hardest Thing--The Right Thing

My heart broke as Christina tried to finish "the letter" to her dear husband, Doug.  She wrote about her desire to write one final letter to Doug, asking God for help, apologizing for waiting so long to do it, wondering if she could complete it.  

I had watched Christina write many updates for her blog. Writing was never, never easy for her.  Hours of labor and soul searching went into each paragraph.  I always said, "Just write a little bit, a paragraph perhaps.  It doesn't have to be a book."  She never took my advice.  She labored and we all benefited from the beautiful truth poured out.  

Near the end of her life,  her brain was riddled with tumors and the process of writing was even more difficult. She could write but had trouble understanding the words she wrote.  Her last entry in her journal began, "I just read through my last journal entry and am laughing because of how jumbled it is."  In reality, her previous journal entry was well written and easy to understand but her brain had trouble deciphering the written word. 

So Christina struggled to write a final letter to Doug.  She closed herself in her room and spent hours and hours over several days trying to put into a Word document what was in her heart.  As I questioned her about her progress she would only say, "It's close.  I just want it to flow and make sense."  And all the while, she was probably making more sense than she knew.  Her struggle was really with her failing eyesight and her declining ability to perceive the written word through her tumor scrambled brain.  I longed to help her, to make it easier.  I wondered if her time would be better spent just talking to Doug instead of isolated and struggling with a project that seemed overwhelming. I wanted her to stop.  She did not stop.  She wrote and wrote until at last she broke down in tears and said, "I can't finish."  She felt so defeated.  Like she had waited too long and it was too late.  She closed her computer and never opened it again.

A week later, I picked up her computer, and printed off the letter.  I was worried that if the computer crashed, the letter that was Christina's last and hardest labor would be lost.  The letter was 6 or 7 pages long.  It was not finished.  It ended with an incomplete sentence.  It had no signature.  But it was priceless to me.  I folded it and put it in an envelope and carried it with me until Christina died.  Then I left it with Doug.  Tonight I asked him if the letter was important.  Here is his answer.

"The letter was God's way of using Christina to minister to every area of my heart.  She gave me counsel and direction for the future--for raising Isaiah and interacting with people.  The Lord used it for healing my heart and it is amazing that she touched every facet of what I was longing for."

It is very sobering to think that if I had my way that letter would never have been written.  Thankfully, Christina knew what she needed to do.  The price was immense.  The fruit of her labor was life changing for Doug.  I am very, very thankful she persevered and left such a valuable and costly gift.  Sometimes the right thing is the hardest thing.  I pray I remember that for the rest of my life.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Eternal Life--Really?

There are a few words and phrases that have deeper meaning since walking daily through Christina's dying process.  'Eternal Life' is such a phrase.  One of the first times we are introduced to this phrase is John 3:16--"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."  Spoken by Jesus to a searching Nicodemus.  

Eternal life--live forever--never die.  Really?  Is this just a nice religious sounding phrase or the shocking truth of life with Jesus?

Christina's 'dying' process brought further clarity to my heart on this subject.  About 3 1/2 weeks before her last breath on earth, her body was fading.  Her eyesight was nearly gone.  Her ability to move around was greatly diminished.  Her mind could no longer hold together the facts and happenings of a day.  But our time together on May 18th was marked by the discussion and recitation of Psalm 23--particularly walking through the valley of the shadow of death and fearing no evil.  

Then she asked for more scripture.  We read 2 Corinthians 4 and 5.  We read John 17.  She said she did not want little bits--large amounts of scripture.  We discussed both of these passages in depth.  Here is the statement that stunned me.  "My spirit is waking up.  I want to stay up all night and talk about these important things."  

If, as some say, we die and return to dust and then are no more, why in the world would a spirit be "waking up"?  Christina's spirit was getting larger and larger as her body was declining.  Cancer was using up her physical body but God was waking up her spirit.  2 Corinthians 4:16 is one of the verses we discussed.  "Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day."  I could visibly see her spirit being renewed while her outward body was wasting away.  I am so thankful that God gives us visible and tangible pictures to help us understand the truth of His word.

I miss Christina's physical presence, terribly.  But I know without a doubt that she is living with Jesus as He promised.  I just took a journey through the book of John and took note of how often He talked about eternity and preparing a place for us.  It's true.  Jesus speaks the truth.  He is the truth.  

I have walked with others through their 'dying' process and I knew it to be holy ground.  It is a place where this physical world meets eternity and we get to peer in with them for just a moment.  Christina drew back the curtain that separates this physical world from the eternal realm and made it more real for me than this place we live.

It is my hope to share more of what she saw and heard. It is glorious.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Isaiah--Christina's Little Guy

There are some who pity Isaiah.  He lost his mom when he was 7 months old.  He will not remember what it was like to be comforted by her.  He will not walk down the street holding her hand.  He will not say his first word to her.  He will do all of life's adventures without her.  So some would call his life a tragedy.

Christina did not.

Christina loved her life and she loved her story (cancer and all).  Her story drove her to the arms of Jesus and she loved how he transformed her bit by bit into His likeness.  When she learned she was pregnant she said, "I love my story and I love that my baby will have a great story."  She was excited to see what beautiful things God had in store for her little guy.

Isaiah was not an accident.  Isaiah was the product of two parents who were unafraid to keep living--even when life was uncertain.  Isaiah was conceived and born in an impossibly small window between marriage and brain tumor recurrence.  As it was, Isaiah had to be born 7 weeks early in order for Christina to have brain surgery.  And he struggled.  Breathing did not come easily.  I found myself crying out to God, "Really?  Are you going to take Isaiah?  Can't anything be easy?"
His answer, "This is not about Isaiah.  This is about your faith.  You need to stretch and grow.  You can't thrive on yesterday's faith."

Isaiah and Christina survived that long odyssey in the UW medical center.  We all survived.  We brought home a very joyful Isaiah and a very thankful Christina.  Each morning I would arrive at Doug and Christina's to care for Isaiah until Christina was ready to start the day.  (She struggled with fatigue, weakness, back pain, chemo side-effects, and general recovery).  That pattern was established and continues even now.  I am here first thing in the morning and others come to help in the afternoon.  Isaiah is a joy-filled child,  exploring this world with all the gusto of a healthy little boy.  

This morning as I was feeding him his breakfast, I said to Doug, "Isn't it amazing that Isaiah is some people's worst fear come true."  The thought of having a baby and then losing the mommy is too much to bear.  Too much to consider.  Doug said, "Isaiah is the perfect example of what most people miss because of fear."

Tragedy is the farthest thing from our minds.  Joy, delight, adventure, discovery, laughter--this is our reality.  Christina prayed often for her little guy--before and after he was born.  Two days before he was born this was her prayer from her journal.  "Oh Lord, can I pray for health?  For Isaiah, of course!  To be as big and healthy as possible so he can do well coming into this world a tad early.  Be with him Jesus right now, forming his little body as you do so beautifully.  Craft his heart and spirit towards you, make his lungs, oh Lord, breathe deep for a life of speaking of your amazing glory and singing your worship.  Lord fill him with your strength to his muscles and bones to carry out whatever you may have for him in this life!  Lord thank you for letting me feel him move so strongly and so often...makes my heart smile, imagining whatever you have in store for him."

And so, my prayer for Isaiah is that he will want to know his mom's story.  I pray that he will fall in love with that story and will then fall in love with the miracle of his own story--created especially by God for such a time as this.  I pray he will want to know what special purpose God had in mind for him when he was brought into this world.  I pray that he will never call himself a tragedy.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

77 Days

Christina was in Hospice care for 77 days.

Eleven weeks. 

So many wonderful days. 

Several very hard days.
It felt like a marathon.

I knew it would have an ending but we could not see the finish line.  There were a few times that I felt I could not do one more day.  And then I found myself moving through the next day.
I was told that ‘each day has a purpose.’  I believed that.  But I could not see the purpose in some days.  This is where faith directs the path.  These things I reviewed in my heart over and over. 

  •  God had numbered each of Christina’s days before she had lived even one of them. (Psalm 139:16) 
  •  God is not capricious.  He knows what He is doing.  (Jer. 29:11)
  •  God is good.  (Psalm 100:5)   
  • The death of one of His saints is a precious time for Him.  (Psalm 116:15)
  •  The Lord is near as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. (Psalm 23:4)
  • We are never forsaken.  (Hebrews 13:5) 

These truths and many others were my lifeline through difficult days.

As the days wore on, I learned some things. 
  • Some of life’s best lessons are learned in the fire.  I learned a new compassion for those walking a hard journey—and there are so many journeys much harder than the one I walked.  
  • I needed to know that God cared intimately for my heart—not just Christina’s.  Many times, in many ways, God met very personal needs of my own heart.  Needs that were not spoken aloud and that no one else could have possibly known. 
  •  God is a God of mercy.   On May 30th, Christina said, “God keeps sustaining me.  He sustains all of us.”  His power was evident.  No more seizures. No more trauma. No loss of personality.  
  • His joy really is available for us at all times—no circumstance can thwart it.

And then there was the truth that capped it all off.  Doug told me after her memorial that every one of those 77 days were for him.  He and Christina used those 77 days to pray together, mourn together, cry together, and worship together.  They spent precious days talking about raising Isaiah, enjoying their love, taking walks in the evening, and laughing together.  He said, “I don’t know how I would be making it today if we had not had those days together.”  When I cannot see the purpose of today, I can trust that God knows the purpose and is working it out in His great and merciful ways.  He is good.  He is sovereign.  He loves us more than we can imagine.

Psalm 138:8  The Lord will perfect that which concerns me; your mercy, O Lord, endures forever.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013



Jo Dee and Christina

Mother and Daughter

On Earth and in Heaven

Christina's story of her journey with cancer is well-documented at her blog at christinaahmann.com.  She was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2007 and left this earth on June 13, 2013.  My hope in writing this blog is to share some of the profound lessons that have come through her life and death.  As I read through her journals and process her final weeks, I am humbled to call her my daughter.  I am learning how to live and I believe I have learned how to die.  

Christina died four weeks ago and I intend to eventually share some of the great views of heaven she left us with.  But for now, in my first weeks without Christina, it is enough to say that I miss her very much.  But do I want her to be given back to us?  No.  She is with Jesus and she was so very excited to see Him face to face.

From Christina's journal, April 16th (3 weeks into hospice care)

"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

And so I have been asked, "Would you want her back then, without cancer?"  Again, I have to say no because she said no. Much to my surprise, a year into her journey through brain cancer, she said she would not go back and have a "do-over" with no cancer.  She said she wouldn't recognize herself.  She treasured all that God had done and was doing as she dealt with life and cancer.  

As I stand at her gravesite, I feel a life lived to the fullest. No time wasted.  Every task completed.  "Well-done good and faithful servant.  Enter into the joy of your Lord."
I ponder.
I cry.
I worship.
I smile.
And I am very, very thankful to call her my daughter.