God is Good . . . some of the time?

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I stood wearily outside the mortuary, listening to the elderly woman share about her husband’s recent passing.

“We were on our way to visit family. He just got into the car, closed his eyes and he was gone!” She went on to describe how it was such a blessing that he went so fast and painlessly, exclaiming, “God is so good!”

My father had passed away just two days before her husband, and his death was long and drawn-out. All I could say in return was, “it didn’t work out that way for my dad.”

Since that encounter, I’ve been more aware of when people use the phrase, “God is good.” And I’ve noticed that they typically say it when something positive has happened.

God answered a prayer the way they wanted it.

God healed someone.

God provided something they needed.

God made something easier.

Which begs the question: Is God only good when life is good? In other words, is God only good – some of the time? Continue reading

Saying Farewell to Mom and Dad’s House

My co-worker and I were discussing plans for spring break from the college where we work.  “I’m going home,” she declared.  I knew this meant she would be traveling to visit her mom and dad several thousand miles away.   Though married and middle-aged, home was still where her parents lived.

Mom and Dad at door

Dad and Mom

I could relate.  The places where my mom and dad resided always represented “home” to me, no matter what my age.  Their house possessed an irresistible magnetic force, especially during the holidays.  It was where I could drop in anytime, be warmly welcomed, and stay as long as I wanted.  Mom and Dad’s home represented familiarity, comfort, love, and security.  It was my soft place to land.

Even after mom passed away eight years ago, dad remained living in their house, so it continued to serve as a central gathering place for our family.  For years I dreaded the day when dad would no longer be able to live there and my brothers and I would be faced with dissolving his estate.  Though I knew it was inevitable, the thought overwhelmed me—not only because of the magnitude of the task, but because it would mean losing my home base.

This past fall that time sadly arrived for our family.  After our dad’s health turned, we were faced with disassembling his home filled with a lifetime of memories. Continue reading

Dying Peacefully

Apparently David Bowie did it.  The New York Times reported on January 11, 2016 that the rock icon “died peacefully.”

In fact, I’ve noticed that the phrase “died peacefully” crop ups up frequently in eulogies and obituaries.  “John Doe died peacefully, surrounded by his family.”  So perhaps it shouldn’t have taken me so off-guard when someone leaned in and probed, “Did your dad die peacefully?” 

I stood there dumbstruck, unsure how to answer.   I had just come through a grueling nine days of bedside vigils.  I wasn’t sure what the intent of the question was – did he want to know whether my dad looked serene at the actual moment of death?  Was he grasping to find out if my father’s dying process was comfortable and “easy?”  Was he somehow trying to ease the sting of his own grief by receiving an affirmative answer?

Continue reading

When Sudden Death Strikes

th[2]My coworkers and I received the sad news last week that one of our colleagues had passed away. It was a shocking revelation to many, as few knew how ill he was.   Only a few days before his death he had learned that he had stage four cancer.  Most employees hadn’t even heard about the diagnosis, let alone that he was near death. As I sat with my coworkers at his funeral just days ago, many of us were still reeling from the abrupt loss. I couldn’t help but think back to the first time I was faced with the sudden death of a colleague. I was much younger—in my late-twenties, and Jeannette’s passing hit me with much greater intensity. We had not only been teammates in a tight-knit Christian camping ministry,  we were very close friends and neighbors. The post below is based on the article I wrote in response to my first experience with sudden loss and grief. It also turned out to be my first published piece in a national Christian magazine. Continue reading

Pain in the Greeting Card Aisle

Greeting card aisle

When I was younger I used to love browsing greeting cards. I found it entertaining to read the sweet sentiments and clever humor.   While I still enjoy the quest to find the “perfect” card for someone, I also find that perusing the wide array of cards can trigger twinges of sadness, too.

One of the first times I felt pain in the greeting card aisle was in May 2008. A bright display of Mother’s Day cards was positioned strategically in the grocery store to make sure no one forgot to say “I love you” to mom on her special day. I wouldn’t have forgotten. In fact, I always purchased a second card along with a Mother’s Day card because my mom’s birthday was May 11 (sometimes the two occasions fell on the same day)! The problem was, that year I had no mom to purchase Mother’s Day and birthday cards for. She had gone to heaven five months earlier. The cards ushered in a wave of sadness as a realized I would never purchase another Mother’s Day card again.

Today I made a trip to the Dollar Store, where the wide selection of inexpensive cards wooed me in.   As my eyes swept the different headings, I became painfully aware of how few categories I could buy from.   I jumped from section to section: Grandparent cards – no. Mom cards – no. Sister cards – no. Nephew or Niece cards – no. Husband or romantic connection cards – no.   Son or daughter cards – no. Grandchildren cards – no.   I also noticed the type of cards I had never received: bridal shower, wedding, anniversary, and birth congratulations, to name a few.

We all face reminders of what we’ve lost or of what we’ve never had. Sometimes those twinges of grief or sadness hit us at unexpected moments. While it’s probably not advisable to start bawling uncontrollably in the card aisle, I think it’s healthy to give ourselves permission to acknowledge the pain caused by a loss or an unfulfilled dream.   Let’s admit it; it hurts. To bury our feelings and pretend we are “just fine” is as artificial as some of the cheesy greeting cards on the shelf.

In addition to admitting the pain to ourselves, it’s often helpful to share how we’re feeling with others. The first place we can go is to our Heavenly Father. God is immediately accessible and we can whisper a prayer anywhere, anytime and be assured he is listening.   He is an ever-present help in times of struggle, and encourages us to cast our cares upon him.

We can also seek out earthly friends. Recently I was carrying (and trying to hide) my deep frustration about an ongoing struggle. In a moment of vulnerability I shared how I was feeling with a trusted person in my life. While my friend couldn’t “fix” the situation, the simple act of verbalizing how I felt lifted my spirits. In return, I need to be that safe place for my friends when they need to share their areas of pain.

The reality is, very few people have a reason to buy cards from every section of the Hallmark store. Each of our lives unfolds differently, and everyone skips certain sections of the card racks. In addition, most of us end up receiving cards we wish we didn’t have to, like those that arrive when we are ill or have lost a loved one.  In truth, the greeting card aisle can be a reminder of painful things. But, it can also be an indicator of life’s blessings.

My scrapbooks and file boxes are overflowing with cards from precious people over the years . . .birthday cards, holiday cards, graduation cards, congratulations cards, encouragement cards, thank you cards, sympathy cards, and “just-because” cards. They remind me that my life has been rich in experiences and in relationships with amazing friends and family.  And I have sent oodles of cards in return, celebrating their joys and expressing my support during their losses.

The next time I go card shopping, I won’t be afraid to admit it if a sneak attack of pain comes along with the task. If it does, I know that God and my friends are available to get me through it. I’ll also strive to be thankful for the opportunity in front of me. As I hunt for the ideal card, I will think of the intended receiver – and be grateful for that person’s presence in my life.  And I’ll remember that the simple act of hand-picking a card, writing a personal note, and sending it may be just the encouragement my friend needs to deal with the greeting card aisles in his or her life.

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“Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you . . .” Psalm 55:22 (NIV)

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18 (NIV)

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up . . .” I Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV)

“Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2 (NASB)