Browsing Tag

Death

Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Looking More Like Home

Tonight, I am not where I want to be at all. I’d like to be in Texas with my husband as he mourns, there, the death of his sister, Laura Jenkins. I’d like to be there, not because it would be enjoyable, in any sense, but because it would be my honor to get to personally listen to the sweet tribute that will be her memorial service and to personally hug her husband and children and her parents who have meant so much to our family though the years. I’ve known Laura, of course, for as long as I have known my husband—over 40 years—and I have laughed harder with her than almost anyone. We laughed so hard that night I went sprawling across the WalMart parking lot in a mammoth fall, my feet right out from under me, sliding across wet pavement for several feet in a monsoon. (I’m still laughing just writing about it, but her laughter always exacerbated mine, particularly if we were in a place in which we were not supposed to be laughing.)  I’ve laughed until I hurt at stories Laura told about ordinary people in her congregation, community or work place, because she could imitate funny people doing outrageous things better than almost anyone I know. I laughed when she wore her Christmas sweater inside-out to an exclusive Christmas event. I laughed when she accidentally gave a very expensive Christmas gift to a friend at a party where she intended to give a pair of socks, because she had wrapped the two gifts (for different people) in identical boxes and placed them in the same closet. She lived, laughed and loved just about as well as anyone I ever knew.   I wanted to be there to see her face one more time, hug her neck and say goodbye to her. I wanted to hear that infectious laugh once more, even if it was quieter and softer. But this time, for reasons over which I had no control, it was not to be. I’m glad Glenn made it to Texas in time to converse with her and to see her smile before she won this battle that all the faithful, one day, will win. I want to be faithful and win like she did. 

I personally know (with amazing precision) the hurt through which her daughter will battle on her way to be with her. I was 33 years old when I lost my mother to the same wretched disease. I think that’s exactly the age of Laura’s daughter, Amanda. My children were the ages of hers. My husband was a minister, like hers. It will not be easy. But it will be bearable because of Calvary’s sting removal. Jesus took away the sting of death that’s hopelessness. An old rugged cross made all things new for Laura. The pain on that hill took her’s away–for good–in the valley of the shadow of death. An empty tomb rolled away that one big stone for millions to come; those who’ve been buried and raised with Him. 

I’m not where I want to be today. But Laura is exactly where she wants to be. I well remember standing beside the grave of her tiny firstborn with Laura and Jeff. Her words have echoed in my heart over and over. She said “But I want to go on to heaven now.” 

While, I’m sure that, with the birth of her daughter and later, her second son, she had strong desires to stay and mold and watch as their lives unfolded (and I’m absolutely positive that her inner Lolli was hoping to watch three beautiful and talented grandchildren all the way to adulthood), she never stopped wanting to ultimately go to heaven. 

 I often thought about my own mother and how that, no matter how much I missed her, how hard the days were when I needed her counsel or her affirmation—affirmation that I was doing okay at things that mattered—I still would never have wished her back. How can anyone wish for the return to life—life with sin and dirt and sickness and pain and tears and sorrow and loneliness—for a loved one who left prepared for the place where nothing’s ever been dirty and no one has ever hurt? ( I sometimes think Lazarus must have been pretty frustrated when Jesus called him back to Bethany.)

Instead of wishing her back, you turn to life again and just start wishing yourself and your spouse and your children to be there, in that sorrow-less place. You start wishing it so much more than you ever did before and you wish it more with every new day than you wished it the day before. Oh, you don’t want to go right now. But you REALLY want to go.  You start wishing it so much that every day is a series of decisions that inch you closer and closer to really being there. Friends turn into souls right in front of your eyes. Get-togethers turn into evangelism. Kids’ tournaments and plays and parties turn into golden chances to teach little hearts Matthew 6:33 in myriads of ways. Houses turn into temporary tabernacles and colors and clutter, square footage and styles start to matter less and less as time goes by. Chance meetings and introductions are open service doors and worship assemblies are vestibules of heaven. You see more clearly the median between the narrow lanes of life and the wide way that leads to destruction and your mother-wings are exercised in keeping children out of, not just the broad way, but even off the shoulder of that road. You are intentional about your kids and heaven and the memory of the one who was so intentional with you is a constant affirmation of your life’s work in little hearts. 

And your daddy. That’s a different story. You want him to be happy so badly that you’ll travel almost any distance to let him put his arms around your kids on any holiday, birthday or any day that ends with “y”. His happiness. You want it, but you can never figure out how to make it happen. Nothing, at least for a while, makes him seem truly content. That’s because His center of contentment has relocated. You keep reminding yourself he’s on his way there, too.  And  you rehearse the comforting truth constantly that, when we don’t know what to do, we serve a God who always does know what to do. You find yourself giving up and giving to Him more often and with more faith than you ever thought could grow in your soul. You pray harder than you ever prayed before. You give your daddy over and over to the care and providence of a God that knows the end of His story and Who is already holding and protecting half (maybe even the better half) of that great man.

And  one day, you wake up and, somehow, you are relieved that some of the hardest pain of life is behind you. You look in little faces and see pretty accurate images of your mother’s characteristics; not necessarily her eyes or her nose or even her expressions, but you start to see her humor, her ingenuity, her selflessness and, most importantly, the faith that made her the silent anchor of so many people all around her. And, in that transfer, your children become the precious commodity that you most want to place in heaven with her. 

By and by, your home starts to look more and more like heaven. It becomes an anchoring moor—a  haven of stability and faith— for kids, then teens, then young adults, and finally, grandchildren– who desperately need those staples in this crazy world. You think about how proud your mom would have been of her grandchildren who are bringing glory to the One who’s taking care of her. You think about others who’ve known and loved your kids—people who’ve died —who just might be over there telling your mother about her grandchildren—about their faith, about their baptisms, about their first little sermons or the way they are influencing others for Jesus.  

She’d be happy to know your home is looking more and more like heaven. But really, heaven is looking more and more like home. 

Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Sister to Sister: Stephen Hawking Dead at 76

Many, up until his death last week, thought he was the world’s greatest living scientist. Merging Einstein’s theory of relativity with quantum theory to himself postulate that space and time would begin with the Big Bang and end with black holes, he authored numerous books, including what was termed his  landmark work, “A Brief History in Time”. This one volume, among many he authored, sold over ten million copies. (He is pictured here with former President and Mrs. Clinton.)

In 1961, he was diagnosed with ALS  and given only a few years to live, but he was able to publish and speak through voice synthesizers for many more years than physicians had expected. He was an avowed atheist saying that “science can explain the universe without the need for a creator.” He also stated “When I speak of God I use ‘it’ as a metaphor for the laws that control the universe.”

It’s tragic that for the past five days (as we measure time), Hawking has come to understand, in the most horrific way, that God is not a metaphor. He has come face to face with the reality that, not only does God exist, but, rather than being a metaphor for all of the laws of science, He (God) authored those laws. He now knows, indeed, since God is not bound by any of the limitations of time and space that He (God) imposed on our universe, that God is unfettered in His power and authority. He is supreme and omnipotent. Hawking, who spent a lifetime denying the existence of God, would give anything today to be able to “spend” His new existence– to “use up” time in his new and tortured environment. He would love to be able to “spend” a million years in hell and be free from its everlasting horrors. He wishes now that the laws of time and space, the laws for which “god is a metaphor”,  would rescue his soul and, once again, control His world. If he had one more moment in time, he would confess God’s existence and bow before Him. But the reality that is outside our boundaries of time and space cannot be measured,  “spent” or “used up.” It is eternity. It is never-ending. When Hawking has endured a million years, he has not reduced his term in hell by one second. That is, of course, for anyone who experiences it, the ultimate tragedy.

A metaphor is a figure of speech that directly refers to one thing by mentioning another. Hawking thought of God as a figure of speech. He used the word “god” to mean the laws of science. Now he knows “what ” God is. He knows now, for sure.

Faith is the substance of the things we hope for as Christians (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is  that to which we cling in the here and now that gives substance to the hereafter.  If that’s the case, then surely disbelief is the substance of things dreaded in the life of an atheist.  ALS is a dreaded disease. Surely Hawking dreaded death, too. He knew pain during his life on earth.  But now he has tasted the full unending picture of eternal death. Skepticism and denial of the Divine is surely a sad way to live here on earth; but it is just the beginning precursor of eternal damnation.

Every time I consider the death of one who has lived a life of atheism, I feel sadness and great pity. But, as I think about the end of the ultimate rejection of God as Creator and Savior, I am also motivated–to study the Bible more regularly and deeply, to be ever mindful of the brevity of my own life and to cling to the substance of that for which I have the fondest hope. I know how fallible I am. I know my weaknesses and my propensity to fall if I “think I stand” (I Corinthians 10:24). I am so very thankful that the One Who has promised a way of escape with every temptation (I Cor. 10:13) is not a metaphor.

 

x

Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Where is Your Sting? –(The Conclusion)

The sting of death is sin.

Perhaps it seems a distasteful subject on which to spend eight successive posts and all the thought behind them; but death is an unrelenting common denominator to all people of all eras, nationalities and stations. Death is the unbending end. It is the unchanging destination to which all of us travel. We do not change our minds about the unspoken final entry into the universal journal.  So, why should we not spend time thinking about its ramifications? And why should such a natural passage be so very uncomfortable to approach in conversation or writing? 

It’s because what lies beyond it is universally unknown. No one that you know today can tell you about what is on the other side. You will never have lunch with someone who can tell you about a trip beyond death. You will not read a best-seller by someone who has returned from the land beyond death (though there have been many claims). So death is shrouded by mystery. It scares us and we prefer not to think much about it. We certainly don’t like to discuss it, and especially, we like to avoid discussing our own impending deaths. 

It’s only the Christian who has, by faith, a glimpse into the world that is already a reality for those who have left this life. And, for the Christian, that glimpse of faith should not be scary. Faith, after all, is not the substance of the the things we dread. It’s the “substance of the things we hope for,” (Hebrews 11:1). Truly, we are the only people who can, but we should be able to “look” over there with great anticipation and be ready for the transport of our lives when we leave this earth! 

The sting of sin is death (I Corinthians 15:56). In this marvelous chapter about the ultimate resurrection, we find these words that encompass all the other hurts of death. Death makes us regret only because of sin. Death makes us sad and lonely because of sin. Death makes empty chairs and hearts because of sin. Death makes its victims suffer pain because of sin. Death exists because of sin. Its introduction coincided with and resulted from the introduction of sin into our world (Genesis 3). It affects me, personally, because of my own sin (Romans 3:23; Romans 6:23). Death is the figure on the payroll for my work of sin. 

Further, there is no answer for sin, but the gospel. Only the gospel—the good news—can make something good out of physical death. That’s what I Corinthians 15 is driving home to the Christian. The law of works (or the law of the Old Testament) only confirmed and defined sin. It made sin, sin. Men learn how to sin by looking at a perfect standard—a law. Man could not transgress against the law of God until that law was given. Romans 7:1-14 is a deep discussion, by Paul of sin and death, in which he tells us that the law makes sin “exceedingly sinful.” It’s the law that gives death its vigor…its sting. 

Nothing—no sacrifice, no piety, no law of God—could give us any ability against the ultimate formidable enemy which is death. Only the gospel—the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus— could give us the victory over death. It’s ironic that one single death (and subsequent resurrection) could provide the victory over all other deaths prior to and following that one single death. Only a death followed by a permanent  resurrection could conquer the enemy that  had stung every human since the dawn of time. Only that good news could make Cindy Colley have a prayer against that venomous sting. 

And so the gloom of death—the pain, the horror the fear, the pallor—has all been eliminated for the Christian. The grave has no holding power; no victory. Death’s sting has been neutralized by the resurrected Savior. 

How foolish it is for any one of us—so weak, so affected by sin, so unrealistic in any bragging rights of strength or power against death—how foolish, I say, for any of us to reject the gospel, for it is the only strength we have against the sting of death. But the gospel is complete and total conquering victory over it. The grave is not the terminator for people of God. Why would smart people quibble over the simple requirements of such a gospel. Why, on earth, would people argue to their own eternal undoing about whether baptism really does put us into his death (Romans 6:3,4)—the only death that has ever held any power, any victory over the blackness of the “other” death that comes to all men. I want to be deeply buried in His death where there is no sting. When and if I lie in some hospital bed in my final moments, I want to claim the victory. I want to be able to welcome those angels. I want to hear my children singing “Be With Me Lord” because of their assurance that I am in Christ—in His death, in His victory. 

That’s why we should all spend some time contemplating death: because it is in our power at this moment to choose to subjugate death to a foe on which we trample because of the blood of Christ or to exonerate death to its ultimate victory over eternal salvation and happiness. If I choose the latter I give death the power: to sting, to enslave, to horrify, to torment forever. But why would anyone do that? 

Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Where Is Your Sting? –Part 7

 

                                            The Sting of Death Is Regret.

This is probably the toughest one for people  who are missing loved ones. You look at an old yearbook when cleaning out a bookshelf and think “Why did I not get this out while Dad was living and get him to tell me about these people he knew in college?”…”Why did I not tease Mother about her senior “ambition”: “to have a lot of money”?  Why did I not look through this box of photos with her and let her tell me who these people are? Why did I EVER think it was a chore to change a bed or wash tired feet, when it was really a blessing? Why didn’t I look around and say thank-you more often for intricate wooden toys built in that workshop, for shade trees planted or for the sewing of quilts that warm me now or for handmade dolls and dresses now being passed down to the fourth generation? Why did I not even know about this person she was trying to convert or this person for whom he bought meals or this class that he taught in his youth? I regret spending time counseling others, while at his house, when I could have been conversing with him.   

And then there are those bigger and more hurtful regrets. The times you raised your voice at a nonagenarian just because he was stubborn about doing his exercises properly or because he kept changing the water temperature in the tub when you had told him to leave it where it was…and mostly because YOU were about five nights behind on sleep. Those little things haunt you because they happened too frequently and you know you should have been kinder. You always apologized, but it’s difficult to get them out of your head. Regret is, of course, wishing you could go back and do something differently…and you can’t.

But I cannot imagine having to deal with the one huge regret as my parents left this life. If there is anyone reading who has walked away from the spiritual training your Christian parents gave to you, may I beg you to return while there is time? Even if your parents are gone from this life—even if they left this world hurting because you had walked away, there is still time to keep yourself from eternal regret. You can see them again and you can exchange regretting for rejoicing when you do. You can never go to heaven because you wanted to please your parents, but you can SURELY please them in the process of pleasing your Lord! I’m so glad for the place of reunion and rejoicing…just beyond the place where I can lay down all regret and pick up the white robe.

 

Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Where Is Your Sting?–Part 6

The Sting of Death is Absence.

There are four large oak trees growing on the property of the Jacksonville Church of Christ that were planted some seventy-five years ago by my father. The trees are a reminder to me that there was a day when a very young version of my Dad went with my Uncle Clifford Smith to bargain for some land on which to build a new meeting house for the Jacksonville church. One day, just a few months later, Dad went to get some oak saplings from his brother to plant on the newly-purchased land. The trunks of the oaks are places where children play hide and seek today and the branches provide ample shade around the building and the accompanying fellowship hall. They are a reminder that the plants have outlived the planter. 

If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then it’s no wonder that children remember all the good times so readily when a parent leaves them behind, because suddenly life is saturated with the absence of that beloved mentor. That’s just one more aspect of death’s sting. This week I’ve been wading through lots of pots and pans, piles of old photos, heavy pieces of furniture, books, bedding, blue Mason jars and other various piles and containers from house, barn and workshop. Of course, the obvious truth that the work and collection outlives the worker  and collector shouts from every box, basket, pile, and parcel.

The words my sister said earlier in the week, as we were struggling (we all want to defer to the other) to divide up the old quilts, knives, pocket watches, rings, Bibles , etc…keep resounding: “We all know we can’t have what we really want, so this is really hard.” 

Absence is hard. Ezra, who is three, looked at the big laundry basket of toys that I brought home from Dad’s. “But,” he objected. “Doze are Piedaddy’s toys and we need to take dem back to his house, because he needs dem.”

Absence is hard. But the best truth is…absence in our little sphere, of course, means presence in God’s big and eternal one. That reality reminds me of three  important and reassuring things, today.

  1. Reminders of a good life are plentiful and, though they signal absence, they keep on providing good things for those who are still on the journey. A mother’s marked Bible, a good climbing tree, an iron swing set that’s so strong that only the trumpet’s blow will signal it’s end…all of these  keep telling us about a good provider who still, in may ways, does. 
  2. What we “want” is not always really what we want, at all. God is infinitely good and completely cares for his people. Ezra will learn soon enough that Piedaddy does not need anything!
  3. The giver of these left-behind treasures—the humble sharecropper’s son—knew the Giver. He knew the real sense in which all of us are sharecroppers. We are all just “farming Someone else’s land” as we sojourn here.
Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Where Is Your Sting–Part 5

 

The Sting of Death is Humiliation.

While it should be often said that the sting of death is sin (I Corinthians 15:56), that sting hurts in various places in the human heart.  Sometimes a big part of the sting of death is the feeling of humiliation. It should not be this way, of course, but while I am so very thankful for those healthcare professionals upon whom we depend so heavily in times of illness, there are a relatively few  people in the healthcare industry that have yet to prioritize the good of the patient as the number one concern. Again, the majority of those who are caring for a loved one at the hospital are kind, compassionate and truly seeking the optimal good of the sick person, but not all are. Even those who are fully compassionate are often hampered by regulations of the insurance industry or of the hospital or rehab institution.

Like the primary care doctor, who after we’d made several visits to her clinic, could not recall that my father was a patient of hers when she made hospital rounds, and had not had the time, I assume, to check the records. Or the ER doctor we’d never met, who spent a good little while in the hallway of the ER attempting to talk us into stopping any aggressive treatment long before any Christian could conscientiously comply. I felt sorry for nurses who could not bring very necessary medicines to our father when he was at rehab, because they were not stocked in the pharmacy there. We had those medicines from home, right there in the drawer beside his bed, but the staff was bound, by regulation, to forbid us to administer them, even though we’d been administering them for many years. (Yes. Of course we did.) And there were therapists, who because of patient overload and restrictions by health insurance companies, were forced to be more driven by the clock than by the needs of patients.

Then in the final moments of life, it became obvious that the nursing staff had only two protocol choices: a ventilator OR medication to slow and eventually stop the heart. When we opted for neither of those, the nurse whose job it was to come in at the end of life and facilitate the peaceful passage even stated that, in her 14 years at doing “this”, she’d never seen a family who didn’t choose one or the other.  

Of course, it was not very long until our prayers were answered that night and all suffering ceased forever. I will say that I do not believe the “final-moments-nurse” had seen a family singing “Be With Me Lord” as the heart line on the monitor went flat. But that flat line was so much more than a monitor alerting us. It was the coming of angels and the eternal relief of a redeemed soul.  I believe she finally saw that it was so much more, as she looked at us in total wonder when we started that sweet chorus. 

Now, perhaps this is too much information on too difficult a topic. There are times, though, in life when I’m so affected by the words and actions of those around me who are not in the Lord, that I need to remember and reflect. Here are lessons that I learned as some (a very small percentage in the grand scheme) medical “experts” looked at me as if I had no clue about life or death or ethics or even common sense. Somehow, they made it appear humiliating to fight for the life of an aged man. It seemed when he died, on the face of it, humiliating that we had fought so hard for the life we loved and, in the end, lost that battle. But what the experts did not know, is that we won! We were able to walk away from that scenario, knowing that we had done our best every step of the way. We had maintained the standards of ethical integrity all along the journey and then, when the end came, we put His hand in the hand of Jesus without regret. We could pillow our heads and know that the real Expert was in charge now and that we could freely talk to the One who was lovingly overseeing the care of the perfectly mended one; the one we will miss for a short time and the one we will see again where there are no more tough decisions.

Lessons:

  • Sometimes it’s the people who are less clinically qualified who are the best caregivers. Those Physician”s Assistants have sometimes compensated for any letters they may lack on the ends of their names by exhibiting care and compassion. 
  • Those who study the Bible are far more qualified to define and assess ethics about medicine as it relates to life and death than are people of the world, even though the clinically qualified often do not recognize their deficiencies in these areas. Many doctors and nurses are both well-read in scripture and qualified by their secular educations. This situation is optimal. 
  • Medical professionals, apparently, rarely see families who are intimately involved in the decision-making processes of the aged. They surely seemed surprised that we would chart any sort of course on our own. I’m wondering if this typical relative lack of involvement speaks poorly of our nation’s care for its elderly, in general. 
  • It is extremely comforting to know you’ve prayed Romans 8:28 hundreds of times and what is happening in moments of crisis is a part of the “all things” of that passage. 
  • The sanctity of life can be compromised most easily in the pre-born season of life and in hospital rooms of the aged. Sometimes, those who are vocal for life at one end of the spectrum are careless with it on the other end.  
  • A clear conscience, molded by the Word and protected by His wisdom (James 1:5), is a very valuable commodity for His people at the moment of a loved one’s passage. 
  • The doctors are needed and most are compassionate. But the Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want.