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