That’s the devil’s game.

bible picI had a revelation this morning when my Bible fell open to this page. I shared with my small group last night that I’d been angry with God since we lost the baby. I knew the anger was there. In fact, I’d kind make a joke out of it and my prayers would sound like, “I love you but I’m a little ticked. I’ll get back with you.” Only I never did and just drifted and drifted for months until I was sick of myself–exhausted from trying to heal without the Healer.

Anger is a normal, necessary stage of the grieving process, but I can’t forget the One who walks through my grief with me hand in hand. When I saw the note on the top margin where the devil tempts Jesus, all the dots connected. Satan places conditions on Jesus, tries to strike a little bargain with the King of Kings. Huh. What a dangerous game–to attempt to thwart the plans of someone who is in complete authority over you, the Living God. But now I realize that this is the place where my anger has taken me. I’m not going to pray, or study, or worship right now. I’m angry! Fix it, and then we’ll talk.

But Jesus doesn’t play. When I enter into that negotiation, I’m playing the devil’s game.

Last night at Bible study we talked about obedience. When God tells you to do something, you do it or you sin. No two ways about it. But that doesn’t mean that he isn’t simultaneously holding your hand and heart as you grieve. And just like I draw so much support, affirmation, and comfort from unpacking my grief with my sisters in Christ, conversations with the Father have all of that to offer and MORE.

My act of obedience today will be to bring my grief to worship with me. I think Jesus is eager for us to unpack this together. Here’s a verse I’m meditating on: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness…” II Peter 1:3

If you’ve lost your way in the grieving process, I invite you to come with me to the Father and claim this promise. Wait expectantly for His divine power to heal your broken heart.

 

Pray boldly–even when it doesn’t make sense.

Though Zechariah and Elizabeth were well along in years, the angel says his prayer had been heard. No doubt the couple prayed for a son when it made sense to pray for one—but all those years later?

A few years ago I prayed for a son. I’m not sure that it made sense praying to that end—I was 41. Emma Kate, the younger of our girls, was about 2 at the time, and I believed that we were “done.” We put in five hard years of miscarriages and indecision before God led us to adopt. Our family was indeed complete.

But I was not.

Still, I was in part unaware of my feelings about having a biological child until the doctor tossed out the word hysterectomy. He only meant to inform me of my options—I might endure endometriosis until I completed the change, but if not, I could always go under the knife and have my womanhood removed. No big deal.

I was not prepared to hear those words. At all. He left the room and I burst into tears. Where was this coming from?

I’d always held out the possibility of getting pregnant again. I just did my best to pretend it was something I didn’t need to do. The results of our genetic testing a few years before had shown that biological children were certainly possible; in fact, according to the genetics counselor, we should only miscarry one pregnancy in five.

So we prayed. Maybe we were praying when it no longer made sense to do so. I was labeled advanced maternal age, high risk, and I’d already lost six or seven babies at this point.

I prayed very specifically, very boldly, for a healthy son who would not carry the chromosome translocation that increased our chances of miscarriage.

But it didn’t make sense. It was unlikely that God would give me the answer I wanted.

Was this Zechariah’s prayer? Was he hoping that God would act on their behalf and take away his wife’s disgrace? If so, how strange that he doubts the angel’s news! Zechariah’s reaction to Gabriel begins a pattern that is repeated throughout the gospels. People will see something supernatural right before their very eyes but will not receive its message nor recognize the identity of the Christ. Ritual religion does not help you detect the movement of God. Looking eagerly for Him helps you recognize Him.

Prayers have been heard

The answer to Zechariah’s prayer is unified with God’s purpose.

He will be a joy and delight to you . . . Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God.” Luke 1:14, 17

That purpose is always to engage in meaningful relationships with people—not just in ritual religion–to turn them from their sin, to discover the value of eternal life in Christ Jesus.

And—for Zechariah—did this begin with a prayer that he never expected the Lord to answer?

When I prayed for a son, I miscarried, but that doesn’t mean the prayer wasn’t answered. Maybe, if I peel back the layers of the last few years, I’ll see clearly the Lord’s purpose. Maybe it was to engage in a more meaningful—less ritualistic—relationship with me. Maybe it was part of the greater work of preparing the Beasleys to be on mission–leaving what is comfortable and leaping into situations where we have to depend on HIm. Maybe it was simply to prompt me to pray more and more unlikely prayers—and ask boldly—so that I might better see that His purpose is for my good and His glory.

Always pray boldly, even the prayers we think He is unlikely to answer. His answers–the ones we hope for and the ones we don’t–are unified with His  purpose.

When He speaks, it is so often not the words I want to hear, but I can always be sure that that they bear His purpose. He always draws me closer so that I am engaged more deeply in my relationship with Him. As He answers each prayer, He prompts me all the more to turn from my sin, to submit to His authority, and in doing those things I discover the value of the life I’ve found in Christ. He brings the supernatural right to my doorstep, and I look all the more eagerly for Him–not just for the answers to my prayers.

Because of God’s tender mercy,
    the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,

to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    and to guide us to the path of peace. Luke 1:78-79

Death, Darkness, Law, and the Light

Daddy and Eden“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  Matthew 5:17

On June 24, 2011, I arrived in Fort Worth to see my dad for the last time. My mom called while I was on the road to tell me that they had made plans to release him from the hospital to receive hospice care at home. But I knew. I didn’t have the heart to tell her, but without even seeing him, I knew he wouldn’t live through the night.

I’m no expert on how God communicates with believers, so I don’t want to cross a line and claim that it would happen this way for everyone. The day that I found out about his diagnosis—leukemia—I had the strangest sense that for a long time this testing of my faith had been rising up in the distance—the same way a mountain range appears on the horizon, slowly taking shape until each craggy peak is distinctly visible. God was preparing me. For several years before his illness, something inside me felt a little sad every time I said goodbye to my dad on the phone. One time, I remember actually saying to myself as we hung up, “Tell him you love him. There’s only so much time.” Simultaneously, God stressed his authority to me over and over. In every bible study, each time I sought His guidance, the Lord revealed Himself—He is on the throne. He is in control. He has proclaimed the end from the beginning. Even as I drove to Fort Worth on that terrible day, I heard from Him as clearly as if He were sitting in the passenger seat, “Katie, nothing touches you that hasn’t passed through Me first.” I prayed against bitterness. I asked to see His purpose.

The car rolled to a stop on my parents’ driveway, in the exact spot where I said goodbye to him on my previous trip. My parents always waved goodbye from the porch when a visit ended. On that day, he stood with me on the driveway and gave a hug I will never forget—the kind that’s almost too tight and your toes almost leave the ground but it’s exactly what you crave. I also needed words that he wouldn’t speak. I needed him to tell me, straight up, that he was dying. He kept it to himself. If I’d known, I wouldn’t have waited six weeks to return.

I flung myself and my luggage through the front door with acute urgency. Long overdue at the hospital, I was afraid that he would not live long enough for me to see him. Dread dripped from me, making every move clumsy and slow—like the all too familiar nightmares featuring monsters and dreamers with lead feet, unable to flee. There were only a couple of things to do: drop my bags, bathroom break, get to my dad. But I seemed to have lost the ability to efficiently command my own limbs.

With all of us in town at once, the only place available for me to sleep was my parents’ bed. Once inside, I froze at the foot of the stairs, staring up at their door just beyond the top step. On my previous trip, I’d peeked through that same door and saw him in bed trying to sleep. I remember how little of his hair was left. So very sick, but not admitting it—at least not to me. Now I was to sleep there in his place.

“There is only one door,” my brother had said of the loss that we faced. “There are no choices. One door. And you have to go through.” I really didn’t have time right then for metaphors, or for insight, or melancholy memories. My bags and I lumbered up the stairs while I attempted to push any real thought from my brain. Just put it on auto pilot. It’s time to go see him die.

On his last night at home, my mother found him, bleeding where he had fallen and hit his face on the nightstand. Leukemia patients are in great danger when they fall because their platelets might be so low that the blood won’t clot. She never knew how long he laid there, bleeding and bleeding. As I drove to Fort Worth, I’d tried to prevent myself from imagining what this had been like for them. She had called an ambulance, and I assume left the room the way it was when she found him. All day, I had sort of saved the inevitable hysterical crying fit for the impact of seeing the blood stain on the carpet next to the bed where I would be sleeping.

Mercifully, someone had cleaned the floor so I wouldn’t collapse at the sight of it. There was no trace of blood to be found.

Where I did have the breakdown was odd and unexpected. Shaking my hands dry at the bathroom sink, I caught sight of my own face in the mirror. A face which reminds me that, though I’m a long time Beasley now, I’m still a Prescott and favor my daddy. In that slight moment I confronted the features that I had inherited from him, and how proud I am to be his, how much I cherish the words she’s so much like her dad. Many, many things I had looked forward to in the coming years. Now fresh fear washed over me, fear of who I would be—who all of us would be–without him there.

“I can’t do this! I can’t do this!” I said through sobs to the face in the mirror.

But there were no choices—just one door.

Finally at the hospital, my anxiety rose with the elevator to the seventh floor. Nothing could settle me. Silence had hung between us, preventing us from talking about death. What would we say to each other now?

I had worried over that detail needlessly. Now at his bedside, I realized it was too late for talk. My family left me alone with him. I gently touched his arm, but he jerked away as if in pain. Words left me. I never spoke to him that I remember. After a moment, his eyes opened and fell on me, and he sat still so I could hold his hand. Quickly he looked away. I wish I had some assurance that he knew who I was.

For some reason, I imagined that the room would seem dim to him, growing darker and darker the closer he came to death. As I held his hand and watched him struggling, unsettled and in pain, I realized that someday we will all be there, facing the end. Suddenly I appreciated Jesus more than I ever had. Maybe I truly worshiped Him for the very first time.

Those few moments I spent alone with my dad are a turning point for me and my faith. So many things that I knew superficially, that I had believed with childlike faith, I now understand with more depth in light of God’s authority. The darkness is real. It is deep and vast, full of pain and horrors and evil. We should fear it. We should be racing to God for our rescue. Sin is evidence that this darkness exists, and we should run from it as if all the darkness of hell is nipping at our heels–because it IS. No wonder Jesus is the Light of the World.

Somehow, I did come to see God’s purpose in all this pain. Our sin separates us from Him. Without God’s mercy, that pain and darkness my father faced would be all we could hope for. Even after a lifetime of rule following, generosity, and goodness, my father could not reconcile himself to his God. We all fall short of God’s glory.

God is in authority over us. The law, God’s standard, is inflexible. It does not yield for anything. It is not redefined because of our weaknesses, because we refuse to resist temptation. It does not bend for our excuses, nor for any of our debate and reasoning. The law does not budge because we decide that evil is not evil after all. It does not change if we are rich or poor, educated or ignorant, or because we are born this way or that way. The law is the law even if you don’t believe you are under its authority. The law does not pass away—even for our good intentions or our seemingly right motives or for things beyond our control. The law must be fulfilled.

And this is a mission that only Jesus could accomplish.

We live most of our lives oblivious to suffering until it is thrust upon us. Believers spend years trying to understand the value of obedience to the Lord, trying to live in the belief that the rewards of Heaven—so intangible and abstract—are better than anything we could hope for here on earth. Yet Jesus did it in the opposite order. He understood suffering first. He already knew all the rewards of Heaven, but chose to leave it and suffer for us. He came to accomplish all that we can not. He followed each rule to the letter so that we could enter into relationship with the Father–so that what seems like the end, even though it is painful, does not lead to darkness after all. Jesus fulfilled the law.

“Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” Revelation 1:17-18

Grief left me so raw that I truly feel pierced by the truth of His Word. Darkness is so terribly dark. Why shouldn’t God make us face it, so that we turn to Him and walk in the light? I needed to see it, what it’s like when darkness closes in, to truly see Jesus’ worth and worship Him. I had to experience the pain to have real gratitude for God’s mercy and for the future with Him that Christ bought for me with His own life.

Three years ago today my daddy went home to the Lord. Once, when I was having miscarriages, I let loss interrupt my relationship with God. Now my father’s death is a catalyst that transformed my faith. I probably talk about it too much. It comes up in my teaching maybe a little too often. But my prayer is that someone reading this will allow God to reveal His purpose in their pain. I hope this story makes a difference to someone out there.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2

 

 

How Much is Left?

I’ve mentioned before that I’m running a marathon (the whole dad gum thing!) with Team in Training to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. One thing that can’t be stressed enough about the research funds that will benefit from my efforts is that they ultimately support treatments for a spectrum of other illnesses. Therapies that were developed for blood cancers have helped patients with many other cancers as well. And, have you noticed? Cancer is everywhere. We need research funding to put an end to it! We all benefit from the work that LLS is doing.

Having a cancer diagnosis hit so close to home has left me with, not only grief, but a general skittish feeling. Will it come for me? My husband? My kids?

Emma Kate and Papa Bear

Even if I never have a personal encounter with cancer again, it’s left its mark. This is my little girl Emma Kate with her “Papa Bear.” Sweet, right? She loved my daddy and I was so looking forward to her discovery of all the things that made him a great man–besides the fact that he would hold her in his lap while she ate her Cheerios. One of my biggest regrets is that my girls didn’t get to see him one last time before he died. This picture was taken at the zoo the last time that Emma Kate got to visit with my dad. She was 2 1/2. After that trip, she never saw him again. We didn’t know it when this picture was taken, but he was already sick.

If someone had told me five years ago that I would one day run a marathon, I would have laughed them out of the room. Things as drastic as this have a way of changing you. I once was a woman who ran to support my food habit. Today, I’m running to show my resolve–so patients don’t have to measure time in terms of how much is left.

Here’s something exciting for me, though. As I write this, My Fundraising Page is showing that I’m 28% of the way to my goal. It’s actually 30%! I have a check that I got in the mail that isn’t included yet. How much is left? Just 70% but let’s just shoot for the moon and maybe we’ll be looking at 200% by the time October rolls around. Click the link above or to the right to make a contribution. I’m so grateful to everyone who has donated. Thank you!!

Killing Me Softly with His Song…or, Come Now is the Time to Worship

I had a great conversation with great new friends last night, and whoa, Nellie…it’s amazing what a charge you can get from shooting the breeze about faith with people you’ve just met. My wise and quotable mom would call that the Spirit recognizing the Spirit.

It was a small collection of folks who all might be interested in church planting. So, of course, it’s quite logical to meet and talk and investigate the possibility that we could join forces and build a new church together.

At one point during the conversation, we talked about worship. One of my new friends, Katie (yes, that’s my name, too), told us that she had experienced the most powerful and genuine worship while on mission trips to Kenya. Another new friend named Todd (yes, that’s also my husband’s name) said that he had never encountered genuine worship before entering drug rehab at Victory Temple Ministries in Fort Worth.

They both described these times of worship as pretty lengthy. The worshippers take their time to sing and shout their praise—it’s not just three or four songs they have to get through so they can hear the message, take up the offering and head out to lunch. They linger in worship. It’s almost…leisurely, perhaps?

As the conversation turned to church planting, Todd said, “I think it ought to be standard to worship for an hour.”

I knew what he meant by that. He’d seen—experienced, rather–something very real. The people who engaged in worship with him at Victory have just thatvictory. They had all come to the end of a long road of addiction and experienced a transformation that only Jesus Christ in His mercy and grace can bring about. To be sure, these worshippers have a solid frame of reference of exactly what Christ has rescued them from.

“Or at least,” I added, “it should be standard to just…worship.”

I’ve never been to Kenya, never been to rehab, but I’ve seen it, too.  There’s a difference between a song service and worship. My own worship of Jesus Christ has dramatically changed of late.  I spent a lot of years being pretty passive during the music, if not downright inattentive. A hunger for something more surfaced while I was singing with the band at First Baptist Church in Orange, Texas. John, our music minister, would always emphasize, “We lead worship.”

Taking these instructions to heart, I paid close attention to the lyrics. Theologically, I concurred. It’s all true. “How Great is Our God”?—Pretty great.  “Mighty to Save”?  Yep. He, in fact, can move the mountains.  Hey, are these or are they not the “Days of Elijah”? You bet they are. And, “He (indeed) Knows My Name” which makes me a “Friend of God” and it’s “All Because of Jesus.” Hallelu-yer.

What troubled me is that I agreed, but that was about it. If we were to sing, let’s say—how about an oldie?—“I Love You Lord,” then I truly felt…uncomfortable. Do I love Him? Really? If He were to question me the way He questioned Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” Could I say yes?

Honestly, I just wasn’t sure. I mean, I know that I wanted to love Him, I should love Him, I’d always claimed to love him, but it didn’t feel like love. It felt more…perfunctory, routine, habitual yet passive.

At about the same time that I began wrestling with these troubling thoughts, my husband Todd and I began questioning our involvement in the ministry altogether. One day we had a conversation that went something like this—

Him—“Maybe I should just quit and go to work at Home Depot.”

Her—“I think we need to see lives changed or I just don’t want to do this anymore.”

Sounds like a bummer, right? Don’t think your own pastor doesn’t go through seasons like this.

I prayed for these disconcerting issues off and on for a few years—that I would experience a true love relationship with Jesus Christ and that we would get to see lives changed. And do you know what God did? He proved Himself to me, alright. He fostered that love between us and changed a life all at the same time. He changed me.

It’s a long story, which is too much for one post. But between miscarriages and adoptions, deep depression and true abiding peace, anger and restoration, loss and acceptance, I experienced victory. Here’s the amazing thing. I would do it all again—the whole rip-your-heart-out-and-grind-it-into-a-powder devastating mess—to know Him and love Him the way I do today.

You know how I know I’m changed? When the very darkest day of my life was upon me, I was seized with the realization that salvation truly is a great rescue—that I, Katie Beasley, have been brought from death to life. Suddenly I understood that my earthly suffering is just an infinitesimal glimpse at what hell must surely be like. Though hell is the place I deserve, Jesus saved me and has gone to prepare a place for me in the Father’s house. “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us”? Dear friends, it is “vast beyond all measure.” So I worshipped Him. And it was real.

Tidings of Comfort

I’ve watched news footage cover national tragedies and wiped away tears at the horror of it all. But Sandy Hook reduced me to a pile in the middle of our kitchen floor, sobbing uncontrollably. I cried off and on all weekend. Five days later, I still feel so raw. I ache for the people of Newtown. Is it because I’m a teacher? A mom?

Grief has characterized the last few years of my life. It was an unforeseen result of a seemingly endless test of my faith–being unexpectedly grieved, not just for my own difficulties, but for other people’s circumstances as well. The news of the Sandy Hook shooting sent me first into shock and then reeling with emotion.

It should be that way, though. I don’t want to be unaffected by something this horrible. While I feel that genuine parental relief that my sweet girls made it home from school safely on December 14th, something inside of me will not settle.  This is an atrocity—carried out against the most innocent and contagiously joyful members of our society. I don’t want to be the person who listens to the news story, feels momentarily solemn, says a prayer for those who are suffering, and changes the channel. I should grieve. We all should.

Friday night, after an emotional afternoon of picking up bits and pieces from the news, it was my turn to put my four-year-old, Emma Kate, to bed. We followed the normal routine—brushing, flushing, changing, and stalling with a little begging and bargaining mixed in for good measure. I tried to shut out what I’d seen on the news, but it hovered stubbornly above my thoughts the whole time I worked to get her to sleep. The news had just reported that the bodies of the fallen children had not yet been released to the parents. Amidst the tidal wave of reporting, that one little detail prompted flashbacks, memories of the Wedgwood Baptist Church shooting, which I prefer to leave buried.

“Katie, I need you to stay with Kathy Jo. They haven’t brought Shaun out of the building,” my friend Laurie had said. She pulled me toward Kathy Jo, who gripped the railing of the wheelchair ramp outside the elementary school across the street from Wedgwood. She only released her hold on the rail to bury her face in her hands.  Maybe I was in shock, but I couldn’t quite process what was happening to Kathy Jo, what had happened to her husband inside the church and why they would have to bring him out.

“Laurie, I can’t. I have to…” I gave some awful excuse and walked away, completely inept to offer any comfort or support. I had no words. I was afraid to reach out. So I didn’t.

Chaos ruled the scene. Helicopters circled. Everyone—everything—was in motion, all going in different directions. Simultaneously, people ran, walked, dropped to their knees, wandered, cried, hugged, laughed, cried more. Figures moved at varying paces to and from the church, along the sidewalks, lining the streets, in and out of groups of people. Reporters emerged to place microphones in grim faces, stunned faces, anxious and terrified faces.  And voices, at all different volumes and tones, shouting, whispering, calling, screaming, praying…Have you seen so and so? Where were you? Did you hear shots? Sydney’s been hit. Sirens and lights. Cops and firemen. Life flight landed on the church lawn.

Newtown, I remember what that very dark day was like. I’m unspeakably sad for your loss.

All these years later, I cuddled next to my curly-headed little one, so blessed to share her giggles, her whispers, and her prayers. As she drifted off to sleep, I stayed in her room, images of Sandy Hook, mingled with Wedgwood memories, playing over and over in my mind. Try as I might, I couldn’t help imagining inconsolable mommies and daddies wailing over empty beds in empty, silent bedrooms. That’s when the ache started.

My husband and I just recently moved to Arkansas to start a new chapter in ministry. We have encountered a concoction of joy and discouragement lately. It’s been an odd mix of excitement and fear–a sobering realization that God has entrusted some of His Kingdom work to the Beasleys (of all people), an agonizingly stressful past the point of no return leap of faith. After watching some of the news coverage over the shooting, I asked Todd through tears, “How could we ever minister to people who are suffering like that?” When I ask that kind of question, like I’m barely clinging to my faith, my husband always seems to know how to answer. “I don’t know exactly. By being as much like Jesus to them as possible.”

That’s the kind of thing I saw in the aftermath of Wedgwood—people living like Jesus. People with deep wounds and searing pain, who should have been angry with God, declaring the hope that they have in the Lord Jesus. Kathy Jo followed Shawn’s casket down the aisle at his memorial service, with her hands in the air in worship, while we sang, “Shout to the Lord all the earth, let us sing. Power and majesty, praise to the King.” Later she spoke of the hope that she has. I remember clearly that she said, “I’m going to see Jesus. I get to see Shawn again.”

Al Meredith, our pastor at Wedgwood, said too many timely and wise things during that period of mourning than I can possibly write about here. One thing that I’ve never forgotten, and I often quote, was his response to the question in a television interview (I think with Katie Couric), “Where was God when this happened?” Without a pause he declared, “On His throne where He always is.”

As I was reading through headlines on Sunday, I realized that Brother Al’s answer is just part of the explanation. Someone from Newtown had told a reporter that “Christmas is cancelled”. This saddened me so much because I love Christmas, and I know all those sweet children who lived through that nightmare last Friday love their holidays. I realize that this person was speaking about the scope of the tragedy and indicating that it would be impossible to enjoy a holiday at this point. I certainly understand that the timing of this horrible act will make Christmas difficult for a lot of people for a lot of years to come. But Brother Al’s words came back to me, as they often do, and I thought about how Christmas means so much more to me now than it did just a few years ago. Now that I’ve been through these few years of trials, I love Jesus more than ever. Not in spite of grief, but because of grief, I recognize the scope of what Jesus has done for me.

Christmas is the day that we celebrate the part of God that did leave the throne. The Father sent His Word, His only Son, to leave Heaven, to put on skin and bones and live among us. When we encounter loss, we talk about how, when we get to Heaven, we’ll know everything and understand everything. Then we won’t want to come back here to earth, a place cursed by sin. Heaven is the absence of all these things that cause us despair. Still, Jesus did this in the reverse order–He knew everything about the horrors of earthly life—disease, war, cruelty, hate, inexplicable massacres—and yet he chose to come, live side by side with humanity, and absorb all that awfulness on the cross.

Without Christmas, there would be no cross. And without our God who authored salvation through the cross, we would all become like these gunmen—heartless and hopeless. When I started down this road of grief, I craved joy and hope so much. God, I pray that you give Newtown hope.

A gunman took the lives of seven people at Wedgwood Baptist Church on September 15, 1999. On September 19th, God’s people met to worship and reclaim their sanctuary. Brother Al’s children’s sermon hit the mark. He used hard-boiled eggs and Humpty Dumpty to explain our hope to the children:

Our church has had a great fall. But unlike Humpty Dumpty, we know how to get up. What all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t do, God can do. God can put us back together again.

My mother has told me many times, “Grief is work, and the work has to be done.” She’s right, and if you don’t do your work, it just piles up and gets harder to weed through. I’m at a loss as to how to be like Jesus for Newtown. Arkansas is a long way from there. But I do know that Jesus would mourn with those who mourn, and He had compassion for those in pain. I just wish I could do more. I’m so sorry especially to families of the victims. I’m so sorry to every child, teacher, and staff member at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Grief is hard work, and it’s going to take time.

God, I love Newtown and I know You do, too. Please put their broken hearts together again.

I rise before dawn and cry for help;
I have put my hope in your word.            

Psalm 119:147

On disclaimers and death…

The following post requires a disclaimer. It’s not light or humorous commentary on life. Not at all. What follows is an example of why I waited so long to start a blog. I’ve wanted to–and friends have been telling me to–for a few years. When I quit my teaching job, a blog was on the to-do list. But right at the time the job ended, my father was locked in a battle for his life againt leukemia. The week prior to Father’s Day last year was one of the hardest of my life. He was dying and I couldn’t be with him. A week later I was there at his death bed.

For months after he died, I simply didn’t have the emotional energy to write anything that I felt could be published, just lots of personal journal entries. I didn’t want to start a blog and only have gloom and doom to discuss, so I got myself a ways into the grieving process before I started writing with the hopes of getting published. But since Father’s Day is this week, and the first anniversary of his death is approaching, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about where God has taken me in the last eighteen months. It’s actually been very surprising, especially to me. Someone should be able to benefit from what I’ve been through.

What follows is a post I wrote for a fundraising website in fall of last year. When my father was diagnosed, I committed to running a half-marathon with Team in Training to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. For a while I entertained the fantasy that he would be well enough to cheer me across the finish line. I ran the race in his memory. This was written about six months after his diagnosis.

“I haven’t wanted to update because I haven’t wanted to write. Normally, I enjoy ticking away at the computer, and it’s fun to run across an old picture that I’d forgotten about. Here we have a picture—that I didn’t know existed—of my dad with my now six year old daughter. What a joy to find this little gem buried in my computer files. Yet there’s a terrible sadness I feel looking at it.

It’s very difficult to put into words what this loss is doing to me. Nothing could have prepared me for this. NOTHING. There is no adequate description of grief in this world, I think. If we could describe it, then we might be able to give others a heads-up, and maybe there wouldn’t be this awful shock when a crisis occurs. I didn’t know how hard it was going to be to see my dad—my hero—sick and in pain. More than that, I was completely ignorant of how deeply you ache when you lose someone you love. What a child I’ve been.

Today in church it hit me. I was listening, Mom. In fact the sermon, “What Happens When We Die”, was practically written for me. Barry even mentioned in his introduction that several church members had lost fathers recently. I know what happens when the followers of Jesus Christ die. Thank God for giving me parents that wanted me to know the truth, to know God’s Word, and to have wisdom to turn to it when I need answers about sin, grace , salvation, and eternity.

I haven’t been thrown off so much by what happens when we die, but over why it’s so hard when we’re here. My despairing comment to my husband a few weeks ago was, “The world really is just a giant ant hill, isn’t it?” It feels that way. Just a bunch of insects. Here and there, a few get squashed (or some idiot fourth grader sets a firecracker off in the middle of the mound) and for a short time the rest of the insects go completely bananas. But even then, the chaos is more about getting the rest of the ant hill back to business.

Todd’s response to my ant hill metaphor was spot on. He spoke without hesitation. “Yes. But God chose to redeem the ant hill.” Thank you for agreeing with me but also not letting me get away with it.

It’s all there in scripture, and I periodically turn to descriptions of Heaven so that I can picture my dad, young and healthy, enjoying his reward from a loving Father—our God and our King. Having lost count of exactly how many pregnancies I’ve lost, I especially like to picture my dad playing with the gaggle of grandchildren that are with him in Heaven. Wes Prescott’s suffering is over, and I’m grateful.

But I’m still here. On the ant hill. And I’m in pain.

This morning the revelation was more about what good it does us to be here. God has given us little glimpses of Heaven in life on earth. My relationship with my dad is a perfect example. He was so special. He loved me so much. And being his daughter in that loving relationship gave me so much joy. As I Corinthians 13:12 tells us, “we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face…” There is so much more joy to be had. This loving daddy/daughter relationship is a very, very faint echo of a relationship that cost the Father His Son, and the Son His life. I was bought at an enormously high price, so that I could enter into the joy of my Master at life’s end. In Heaven with God. Where Jesus is. Where my daddy is.

But that’s not all. If we are allowed some shadowy awareness of the joy of Heaven, then certainly God in His wisdom exposes us to a tiny fraction of torment—just a bee sting, really—in comparison to Hell. I could run through a list of all the things that make this life so hard—with disease and loss topping the list. The hardest thing to describe about my grief is how awful it feels to be separated from my father. I’ve told my husband so many times that I just want to be able to make a phone call and hear his voice. The scene that plays over and over in my head is the last time I hugged my dad. It was June 1, 2011. I feared it would be the last time, and I was right. It all came to such an abrupt end. Without the cross, I’d have no hope of seeing him again.

The real lesson for me here is not about my father, but about my Father. If I feel such pain just trudging my way through the grieving process, how would it feel to face death without ever a hope for a hug and “I love you” from the Lord Jesus? If I feel sorrow that drives me to my knees in prayer, then how unspeakably horrible would it be to have no hope of my prayers being heard? If my relationship with my daddy could be so precious to me—as imperfect as we are—how grossly have I underestimated God’s love for me—that He would purchase me from Hell with the life of His only Son? The cross is truly a rescue.

I’m still angry periodically about this whole ant hill thing. Why IS it so hard? I can’t point to a scripture to answer the question, but this seems reasonable. Do you look for healing if you aren’t aware that you’re sick? Would I pay any attention to someone pointing the way home without first knowing how lost I am? And this one’s the kicker: Without sorrow, would I ever crave joy? I’m certain that the answer is no, because I have never hungered for joy like I have in the last six months. I guess you have to have some frame of reference for Hell in order to feel homesick for Heaven.

I ran eight miles last night. There is a song on my iPod—which I’d completely forgotten about—that I kept replaying after listening to the lyrics. It’s a Jars of Clay version of an old German hymn that was translated into English by John Wesley. All of the verses spoke to my heart, but the last verse is my favorite:

Through waves and clouds and storms, He gently clears the way

Wait because in His time, so shall this night

Soon end in joy, soon end in joy

Soon end in joy, soon end in joy

God will lift up your head… “