Compassion in Times of Trouble? A brief note from my devotion this morning.

7 07 2009

Your compassion in difficult times is perhaps most difficult to discern, yet it is most prominent at those times.  Perhaps because I know that the difficulties ultimately derive from you as well and so I am left in a quandry.  Do I rail against you for those straits in which you have placed me?  Or do I fall before you in gratitude and take comfort from your compassions that fail not?

Life is complicated and so are you, Lord.  Your compassion is needless without the straits and the straits are cruel without the compassion.  It would seem that the wonder of serving you is that we don’t have to choose.  With one breath we can ask “why”?  With the next we softly say “thank you.”  With one hand we form a fist that we shake in frustration and despair.  With the other hand we lift our thanks to you.  Shall you accept the praise and not the despair?  Shall you accept our gratitude and not our questions?  Shall I accept good from God and not disaster?  I believe the only answer to all these questions is no.


And then May came . . .

27 05 2009

Since last May 7, we have been looking ahead to this May with a bit of dread.  We heard pretty early on from others who had lost children that the first year is the most difficult because you are passing through all of life’s markers without your child for the first time.  Each holiday or event is another reminder that your family is three and not four.  The first Thanksgiving, the first Christmas, the first birthday.  And then comes the first anniversary of the death of the child.  “Does it get better after the first year?”  we would ask those who were giving us their insights.  “Oh no.  It will always be painful, but you get better at living with that pain and loss after you have two or three birthdays under your belt.”  Others tell us that the bitterness and pain fades over time and is replaced by good memories of the loved one.  Bless them.  I am not there yet.  I don’t mean the good memories, they are always there.  But even the good memories–and perhaps mostly the good memories–bring pain.

This May was not the May we anticipated, however.  The brief illness and passing of my mother deflected much of our attention from Anna.  On the other hand, the passing of my mother brought the anniversary of the death of Anna into sharp focus for us.  It forced us to think about Anna’s death not as an isolated event, or something that touched only us.  Instead we learned more about Anna’s death by watching and experiencing the death of my mother.  The two events were so different and yet the same ultimate reality lay beneath the two.  Life here is not permanent.  It may be measured in months, years, or decades, but make no mistake, it is measured.  And that measure will come to an end.

In Anna, we saw a young girl who, although she had no conscious idea that her bicycle ride that Wednesday afternoon would be her last moment here on earth, nonetheless had an awareness and knowledge of the issues of life and death.  She spoke often of death, not in morbid terms though with a touch of fear, and she knew that death was gain for the one who is counted as a child of God.

In my mother, we saw an old woman, full of years, but still loving life and active.  We saw a woman who was given news about her cancer and received it as good news that her time here was over and she would soon be with the Lord.  My family may disagree with this, I don’t know, but it seemed to me that my mom gave a kind of half-hearted fight to beat the cancer.  I think she was doing it for our sakes.  She may have felt a bit like Lazarus being called from the grave.  “You mean I have to die a second time, Lord?”  I think she was ready to face death.  My mom’s life was not always the easiest.  She grew up in a very poor family in Missouri during the depression.  I think her poverty and “show me” Missouri mentality gave her a seriousness and a sense of acceptance about life that served her well in those last days.

We passed through last November and December and celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas without Anna.  We looked ahead to her birthday in March and then to May 7.  But before we got to either of those we received the news of my mom.  So March and April we all rightly turned our gaze to my mother as we helped her to navigate those last weeks in and out of the hospital.  And then May came and five days before the day of Anna’s passing my mother went to join her.  And two days after the day of Anna’s passing we were in church again remembering my mother.  In between those two days we had a moment to catch our breath and think about the events of the past year.

I don’t know what the next year holds.  In fact, that very question has been troubling us for some time now.  But the word of God is true.  And as I look back on this past year, which has seen such turmoil and disruption, I can only think of the words of God to Israel through the prophet Joel, “The threshing floors shall be full of grain; the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.  I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you.”  Anna resurget.  Maranatha.

Misplaced Sadness and the Joy of the Truth

22 05 2009

The death of my mother this month has been a different experience for me than the death of my daughter a year ago this month.  The death of my mother just a few days before the first anniversary of my daughter’s death has given me ample opportunity to reflect again on the lessons of life and death.

As we prepared for my mother’s memorial service I caught myself thinking, “Anna would have wanted to be here,” or “I wonder how Anna would have been taking all of this.”  Anna was very sensitive and the death of her grandmother would have devastated her.  Yet I know that she would have taken those deep emotions and integrated them into the rest of her life and I am sure that the death of her grandmother, whom she loved dearly, would have made her in some sense a better person.  I can only hope the same could be said of Timberley, Samuel, and me.

But as I reflected on those thoughts about Anna, and other similar thoughts about my mother [“She would have loved these flowers that so-and-so sent.”   “She would have loved to have heard the music sung and played or the poems and letters read at her memorial.”] I realized the silliness of my thoughts.  Would Anna really want to step away from the presence of her Lord, whom she loved more than her grandmother, more than life itself, in order to rejoin the land of the living and mourn the death of her grandmother?  I hardly think so.  Would my mother, whose ship has now sailed and who is now resting peacefully with her Lord and awaiting his second coming, would she want to re-animate her old and suffering body in order to hear the songs and poems of her grandchildren?  As much as I love my son and my nephews and nieces, again I hardly think so.

And so we are left with this sadness.  But why are we sad?  Too often, I find that I am sad for Anna’s sake.  Timberley recently observed that Anna had not experienced springtime in Kentucky since she was old enough to have long-term memories.  When we returned to the US in 2006 for our first stateside assignment, she had no memories of the United States and could not even remember many of her relatives.  Indonesia does not have a springtime like we have in the US.  Our thoughts quickly and naturally went to the conclusion, “Anna should be here to see the tulips and crocuses.  She is missing out on something beautiful.”  At those unguarded moments, I will only speak for myself and not for my wife, my lack of faith is revealed.  I forget that Anna’s situation is so far superior to anything that we might be experiencing here that there is no real comparison to be made.  She is experiencing reality and truth.  We are living in the shadows.  She has left the cave to see the strong light outside, and we are beckoning her to come back inside.  How frail is our faith at times.

The salve for that lack of faith is to know the truth.  We need to know God’s word about the fate of the faithful saints who have died.  Sometimes it is helpful to hear those truths put in different words.  Last year Timberley, Samuel, and I had an opportunity to go to Chicago and see Anna’s and our favorite band, Switchfoot, in concert.  It was a bittersweet experience, and the bitterness and the sweetness were very strong that night.  We had a five-hour trip home from Chicago to Louisville.  On the way we decided to listen to a recording of Max McLean  reading John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.  [It turns out that the Chicago-Louisville trip fits the book exactly.  Try it out if you ever have a five-hour road trip ahead of you.]  The end of the book tells the story of Christian as he crosses over the river to enter the city of God.  Bunyan’s description, and McLean’s reading, so capture the happiness of Christian and his friend Hopeful as they pass this last obstacle on their journey to be with God, that we were almost bursting with the same joy and happiness.  It was a good salve for our souls at a time that we were saddened at Anna’s passing and sorely missing her presence.

Yesterday, my father was lamenting the loss of his wife of 57 years.  We sat in our living room and cried together.  I remembered the medicine and went to find the recording of John Bunyan.  I played just the last few chapters so my father could hear about Christian and Hopeful entering the Celestial City.  At the end, my father said softly, “Do you think that really happens?”  “I am sure that it is something very much like it,” I answered.

The Bible as Word of God, part 3

22 10 2008

On another occasion we were vacationing with some friends. As we neared bed time I told my friend about our bedtime routine and that his family was free to join us, but it was not necessary if they chose not to.  They decided to join and they brought their four children with them.  We read from the book of Hosea and their two oldest children sat with wide-eyes as I read.  We closed with prayer and sent the children on their way.  Later that evening, I was told that their children were disapoointed because they thought we would all take turns reading.  I said that if they joined us again the next night that we would all have a chance to read.  The next night came and we divided our chapter up into enough pieces for everyone to read.  We went around the room with everyone taking part.  Some read well and some not so well, but everyone participated.  When we finished reading the questions started coming.  All of the children wanted to know about some part that they did not understand.  We had a great discussion about the word of God and all the children went away satisfied.  Afterwards, my friend, the children’s mother, came to me and said, “I never would have thought my children would sit still to listen to the Bible being read.  And when they began asking questions and talking about it, I was completely shocked.”


“I wonder if maybe we don’t give our kids enough credit,” I replied. “I think maybe they take in more that we think they can.”

The Bible as Word of God, part 2

19 10 2008

One day Timberley came to me and said that she thought we should begin reading from the New Testament at night.  At the time I think we were in the historical books of the Old Testament for our nightly devotion.  Her  concern was that the kids were not learning enough about Jesus.


“They are learning a lot of history and Bible facts, but they know nothing about the most important parts of the Bible,” she said.


“Be patient,” I replied.  “First of all, they are learning about Jesus in other ways.  They learn from us, from church, from others.  Second, if we try to change our devotion routine there will be a small riot.  But third, and most important, by reading through the entire OT, the children will be ready to hear about Christ.  They will know why he needed to come and what his mission was.  The Gospels will make much more sense to them if we finish out our plan.”

It was difficult to keep up some times, but we persisted and I think the results were good.  The children knew the story of Israel in the Old Testament, and they knew the prophecies about Jesus.  When Matthew wrote in his Gospel, “This happened to fulfill what was written . . .,” they understood what it was all about.

The Bible as the Word of God, or, What Should We Read to the Children for Devotion?

9 10 2008

Timberley and I have always tucked in our children at night.  The shape of that routine has taken various forms over the years, but as the children grew older we developed a fairly stable routine.  After cleaning up from dinner we might gather for reading a book aloud as a family or a game of some sort.  Around 7:30 we had our devotion time that included Bible reading and family prayer.


Several years ago the children made a request for our Bible reading.  I think Samuel initiated it, but Anna was right behind him.  Samuel came to me and said, “Daddy, I think we ought to change the way we read the Bible for devotion time.”


“What should we do?” I answered.


“Well, when we have our devotion now we read little pieces from all over the Bible.  But if what you say is true, that the Bible is the word of God, then we should start at the beginning and read through the whole book.”


I could not argue with his logic, but was a little unsure how it would work out.  I agreed.  That night at bedtime I read the first chapter of Genesis to them.  They sat with wide eyes and took it all in as if it were a fairy tale.  I promised that the next night I would read chapter two.


The next three nights we read about the creation of man in chapter two, the first sin in chapter three, and the first murder in chapter four.  When I finished reading chapter four to the children I told them that the next night I would tell them the story of Noah and the ark in chapter six, since chapter five was simply a genealogy and it might be pretty boring for devotion.  Both children bolted upright.  “No, no!  You have to read chapter five.  You have to read all of it.”


“But it’s just a list of names and how long each person lived.  Don’t you want to hear about Noah’s ark?”


“But Dad,” Samuel interjected, “Isn’t all of it God’s Word?”




“Then we need to read chapter five.”


I can still remember their faces the next night as the children lay in their beds and I read from Genesis five.  They were not listening excitedly, as if I were reading a children’s story, but there was a seriousness to the night’s devotion.  When I was done I prayed with the kids.  I kissed them good night.  Samuel simply said, “Thank you, Dad,” and turned over to go to sleep.