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.  

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Window

One day in early May, Christina told me that she had learned to get immediate help when she had trouble.

She said there is a special window—if you put your hand or your staff through it, God gives you immediate help.  If you need peace or joy, you ask God and He gives it immediately.   My sister and I were puzzled.  What staff?  What kind of window?

So, of course, we asked her about the window.  Large or small?  Organic or manufactured?  Do you break glass to get through it?

She patiently tried to answer but mostly just looked at us like we were very dense.  It’s not too large.  But it’s not too small either.  There is no stooping to get through it.  It’s easy.  There is no smashing of glass.  It is always available.

The next day we asked again about her window.  She remembered it and told us she could even get physical things like lattes or smiles.  I thought of how many lattes I had carried into her room and wondered how many answers to her “window requests” they represented.

She also said that she had no need to worry about her motivation for asking for anything.  She told me that God knew her heart really well and He took care of all of that.  She was like a child asking her Heavenly Father for whatever she needed. 

We asked her how she learned about it.  She said, “I watched the other people using their windows and I thought it looked like a good idea.”  I asked her if she knew the people.  No.  They were just other followers of Jesus.

I thought about the window idea.  It did not seem to be a heavenly picture because Christina was accessing it from earth and she suggested that we all should be using our windows.  It seemed that God gave her a visual representation of a scriptural truth, such as--

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  Psalm 46:1
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” James 1:5
“You do not have because you do not ask.” James 4:2b
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.  Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”  Matthew 7:7-11

Christina gave no explanation about the staff we are to put through the window but it is likely that it represents our faith.   Faith is our gift from God that allows us to talk to Him, to believe Him, and to trust Him.

The lesson I learned, is to ask more of my Father.  Ask for direction.  Ask for advice.  Ask for help in navigating the difficulties in human interaction.  Ask for peace.  Ask for joy. 

He is a good and generous Father.  He loves to give good gifts.  There is no reason to muddle through much of life in my own wisdom or strength.  My strength is limited.  His power for us is incomparable.   

Ephesians 1:18-19a
“I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Moving On

In the first few weeks of May, Christina began to talk about a trip she was preparing for.  This is a very common theme for dying patients. 

She was in the bathroom brushing her teeth and matter-of-factly told me, “I don’t know quite where I’m going on this trip, but I’m really excited about it.”  A little while later while getting into bed she said she was getting ready to go on a special trip.  A really fun one.  And really adventurous.  I told her she was going on this trip with Jesus because He wants you with him.  She said, “That sounds fun.  It gets to be our special place.”

Just a short time later, she said she no longer feels burdened by the future journeys of those she loves.  She had written letters, relentlessly prayed for those she loved, shared her heart with anyone who would listen, and now her eyes were turning to Jesus alone.  This world was fading quickly and heaven was becoming her absolute reality.

In the middle of all this transition, Christina had many bouts with pain that needed to be dealt with.  It’s in a Mom’s heart to panic at times like that—but God taught me something very, very important.  All of the difficulties with pain or confusion fit under the classification of “momentary, light affliction.”  Jesus told me to remember that in a short time Christina would have no more pain and no more suffering and she would be enjoying the eternal weight of glory that her trials were achieving.

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

And He showed me that having to watch her and walk with her during these times was my light and momentary trouble.  I wondered how much time I had spent trying to avoid pain and trouble in this life.  This was beginning to feel like an unworthy goal for our time on earth.

As Christina experienced discomfort, God began to give me a calmness that I cannot explain.  I believe now it was part of my training for living without Christina.

When I feel the tears and pain of missing her, I cry and miss her—and I know that this is part of my light and momentary trouble.  I hug it all close and feel it to the fullest—and it passes.  It passes because of the greater power of God’s peace, His truth, His purpose and His great love. 

As often as Christina experienced pain, God brought complete relief.  It always amazed me that she could move from great discomfort to these kinds of statements—“I feel better than I’ve ever felt in my whole life.”  “I love the way I’m going out—with fun and peace”.  (Picture a little fist pump in the air.) “This is fun and exciting.”

“God is making this all so amazing, like almost laughably amazing!”

“Everything is perfect and so comfortable.”

In talking about her upcoming trip she said, “I’m tickled.  It’s perfect.”

During this transition, her house stopped being familiar to her.  It was as if she was staying in a temporary lodging of some sort.  She often commented on what a perfect place it was to stay.

Her prayer times were full of thanksgiving—particularly about the joy we were feeling.  She prayed that others would know that it was not fake and that it was a generous gift of God—nothing we deserved or had figured out. 

A few days later, I asked her about her upcoming trip.  She said, “I think I’m already on it and I’m very settled.”  We talked about how God had declared over and over again that her journey to Him would be perfect.  Hard but perfect.

One of our first indications that her spirit was moving to a new realm was when she asked us, “Don’t you just love the way the Name of Jesus echoes around this place?”  We told her she must be hearing heaven because we were not hearing the same thing.

From then on, Christina’s heavenly focus began to pull back a very thin curtain that separates this life from the eternal realm of God’s glory that is all around us.  The spiritual world is mostly unseen to us but Christina experienced parts of it while still walking on this earth and talked about it as if we could all see and hear it along with her.

So…in my next posts, I will tell you about the window, the angels, and the dock.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Beyond What I Could Ask or Imagine

Isaiah and Doug

I am away with my husband, Doug, and my two sisters and their husbands.  We are continuing to talk about Christina.  Last night we sat up very late.  I said, “God has done abundantly above all I could ask or imagine.  And that fact gives me great hope for all the situations I face that feel impossible.”

My sister Loralee said, “Let’s hear about the abundantly, beyond." So we spent time recounting the amazing parts of our recent journey with Christina.  Here are a few.

1)  I miss Christina.  I miss talking to her.  But, I will see her again and spend all of eternity in God’s most amazing provision for us.  In the meantime, I have this little grandson, Isaiah, and his daddy Doug.  They bring hours of joy and relationship—thank you, Jesus.  When I was saying good-bye to Isaiah, he grabbed my face and slobbered all over it.  Then he buried his face in my neck and grabbed on like he would never let go.  A beautiful gift to my heart.

2)  Christina’s friends have been in touch.  I miss my daughter but I have gained some other sweet daughters who just want to talk or remember Christina.  Every conversation is like gold to my heart.  Every letter from one of these special young women is a treasure.  Every visit fills me up with joy.

Jo Dee and Jenny Rose
3)  We have just had some friends visiting from overseas—a mother and daughter.  The mom gave her life to Jesus a couple of years ago as Christina and I shared our hope with her.   This past week, the 10 year old daughter spent time working in the garden with my husband Doug. She asked him all her questions about faith and Jesus.  She gave her life to Jesus toward the end of the week and then my sister Jennifer came over to teach her to pray.  What followed next took my breath away. 
Christina with a new little Kingdom Princess. 

She wanted to know what Jesus wanted her to do next.  Jennifer said, “That’s a good question.  Why don’t you ask Jesus?”  A sweet little prayer followed.  “Jesus, what do you want me to do next?”  A time of silence.  She looked up and said, “He said he wants me to read this book (Jesus Calling, for children) and the Bible and get to know him really well.”

Then she said, “Does He want me to tell people what I know now or wait until I know more?”  Jennifer said, “Good question.  Why don’t you ask him?”
“Jesus, do you want me to tell people what I know now or wait until I know more?”
More silence.  Then—“He wants me to tell everyone what I know right now.  If I don’t know something that someone asks, we can research it and learn together.”

On and on we went for over 3 hours.  God at work in the heart of a 10 year old who was drawn to Jesus by watching Christina.  Life is good.  The above picture was taken 2 years ago, but I picture Christina rejoicing in heaven with the good news of this little one's new journey with Jesus.

And there is so much more.  I didn’t know what it would be like to live on without Christina in full view.  God is faithful and powerful and full of love.  I am excited for all that lies before me.  I know that there is a great purpose for the rest of my days.   What can I do but praise Him?  This is the path God has for me.  It is full of abundant blessings.  Far more that I could ask or imagine. 

On the back of Christina’s Memorial bulletin was this quote from September 2008.

It was a year ago today that I went to the doctor for my headaches and recently blurry vision. Brain surgery to remove my 6 cm tumor followed within a couple weeks. News of malignancy and radiation treatment in Seattle followed not long after that.  I just can’t believe that was all a year ago! Praise the Lord for how he makes life new. My life is NOT the same as it was a year ago. I have been stripped of all strength, all pride, all independence, all perspectives, and totally rebuilt into something fresh. I like to think this is a continual process. I think that we all need to get stripped of these things one time or maybe a thousand times to truly understand our unshakable reliance on the Lord as we live in this hurting and diseased world, looking forward to the day we truly get to come home. The fun part is…we don’t have to just sit and wait. Even if life gets hard, even if we become sick, even if it feels like our life as we know it has completely crumbled away… we don’t have to just sit and wait for life to be over or life to get better.  We don’t,  in fact we CAN’T,  just throw in the towel and give up. We are ALIVE for a reason. You, I… we could be dead, but we’re not!  For whatever reason God still has us alive and kicking on this earth, and who are we to throw that away?!  You and I are living TODAY.  There will never be another today or another right now.  How EXCITING is that??”