A faith journey: the real beginning (guest post by Bekah Pogue)

Bekah Pogue got my attention when she wrote such a wonderful review of Praying Upside Down (always a good way to get me to notice you!). I started reading her blog Upcycled Jane: Embracing Beauty in the Everyday, and found this post. When I stopped crying, I asked for permission to share this one here. ...

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IMG_6238-e1405574557462Bekah Pogue got my attention when she wrote such a wonderful review of Praying Upside Down (always a good way to get me to notice you!). I started reading her blog Upcycled Jane: Embracing Beauty in the Everyday, and found this post. When I stopped crying, I asked for permission to share this one here. It’s the sixth and final essay in a series about the final week of her dad’s life. She said, “Loss served as the the catalyst to my faith, and it is through this story, I see God’s invitation to experience Him as the greatest story.” Enjoy!

I’m finding grief to be not like the stereotypical dark, hovering cloud, but more like a portion of my heart has been removed, not to grow back or forget its original whole, forever changing my  journey with a new heartbeat, a changed rhythm.

My heart beats heavy as I write. Conjuring up dad’s last day on earth is an unexplainable tug of sorrow and peace. It’s one I have to share, can’t help but process; it’s the day that will impact today, tomorrow, and every day after.

The afternoon of April 2nd, behind-the-scene momentum built after receiving the doctor’s shocking words that Dad would have to be discharged from the hospital. A shared skilled nursing facility room, or going home on hospice were our options. We made calls. We checked facility availability. It’s not unlike calling for hotel reservations, but with the realization that once you check in, you don’t check out. My years as a hospice intake coordinator came flooding back; talking with grieving families, helping them understand end-of-life-care. And here I was, on the other side, shaking my head at the horrible irony. We didn’t want Dad sharing a room with two other people, left to die in a foreign place. But we couldn’t bear the thought of watching him take his final breaths, lying in a hospital bed in the living room, near the piano. It was a lose-lose situation, and in the end, hospice at home was decided for the next day.

Before leaving, I found dad’s ear: Dad, please, go be with Jesus tonight. I don’t want mom to have to remember you passing away at home. I don’t want her to walk down the stairs every morning and re-live finding you there. Please, go be with Jesus. As much as I want you here, God would you please call him home tonight?

Leaving room 575, my dad’s breathing was regular, his deep coma almost a joke, as if he’d been taking a 5-day nap. We exchanged hugs with Michele, a dear family friend and former ER nurse, as she was planning to sit with Dad for a bit.

Ten minutes after arriving back at mom’s we received the call. God had called Dad home. He’d heard our cry. Dad was in glory. God’s timing perfect.

There are moments I’ll always remember: looking at my husband when the pastor pronounced us “husband and wife,” the elation at seeing our first positive pregnancy test, the joy at seeing it again two years later. And now this news; the reality that my dad was gone. It was a thousand emotions in the same heartbeat: relief, sadness, confusion, numbness, but blanketing them all was peace. An uncanny, undeniable peace. It was finished. Dad was no longer trapped in a cancer-infested body. He was now in eternity.

During the next few hours, time sat still. Every action became deliberate, every sense heightened. We bathed the boys, the water feeling neither hot nor cold, but wet. Food tasted like sandpaper, and moving took every ounce of energy. To bed- first Ty, then Tanner. Snuggled under dinosaur sheets in the bed he slept in when staying at Mimi and Papa’s, I cupped his face. Papa went to be with Jesus tonight, T. He got a new body, and they are having a huge celebration for him in heaven right now. My words came but tears lacked. We laid there, Tanner holding his Mario stuffed animal, his body wrapped in my arms. He was quiet for some time, and then spoke.

What about his glasses? Does he need them in heaven?

I smiled, touched by his child-wonder, a concrete question.

No buddy, he doesn’t. In heaven, he can see without glasses. He gets a new body; one that’s healthy and free of sickness. Simple faith, pure questions, that may be my new prayer. God, help me have child-like faith.

We met back at the hospital, our final visit to room 575, a building that had become our temporary home for the past week. I shut the door behind and approached my father. How different he looked in the hours since he’d passed. I’d seen death before- when working for hospice, and with my grandpa the day before he died. I’ve heard people talk about this peace but somehow thought it was a played up, spiritual emotion to make people feel better. Bending near, holding his cold hand, I can attest to the peace. A peace that surpasses all understanding. Staring at dad’s face, I couldn’t help but smile in the pain, feel joy in my greatest sorrow. I was looking at someone who was standing in the presence of God. Such a surreal and shadowy experience- like peering from behind the stage at a soloist’s dress rehearsal, seeing the lights, but not feeling their warmth as they do on their face. That’s the image I had of dad in that moment: warm light on his face, seeing His Savior, experiencing complete healing, then looking behind his Heavenly Father and seeing a familiar figure- his earthly father! Oh the hugs, and pats on the backs, and cheeseburgers that were enjoyed in heaven that evening.

And herein lies the clencher: this is not the end. Oh no! This, my friends, is the real beginning. The beginning of dad’s journey in Eternity, his journey enjoying Forever with his Maker, and this marks the beginning for each of us affected- his family and friends.

GRAPHIC my story doesn't end hereAs his daughter, this is the beginning of the story God is writing in my life. My story does not end here. I refuse to say that at 64, my dad passed away, and my world fell apart. Sure, it will for a while, really forever. But I refuse to hang my hat on that date. I refuse to say my life ended the dad my dad died. I choose instead to let this experience, this horrible, grace-threaded, full-of-heart-ache journey change me forever. Like Donna said, I will never be the same, and chances are if you’ve walked this with me, or someone dear to your heart, you too will not be the same. Good. Let this crazy grief process begin. Let the sobs and anger and questions and quietness come. But let us not forget that God is doing something beautiful in His time. And His time is every.single.day.

As I reflect on that week in the hospital, in the music God brought to mind, the prayers, the texts, the visitors, the clinging of Dad’s arm and the clutching of one another, in the questions and in the answers, one thing stared me head-on. Not once in that week did I think about my schedule. Amazing how I worry about the calendar and to-do lists and the entertaining of dreams and concerns of what if or if only…How quickly in an emergency, do the extras dissipate and priorities come into focus. Friends have asked how losing a parent affects my day-to-day and I say this: the small stuff doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter. We are given today, and that in itself is a gift.

Busyness or distraction is my tendency and I don’t want to miss a thing. I want to sit in every feeling, taste every tear, be present in every second of this process. God is calling me, as He has for some time now, He is drawing me to the edge and asking me to jump. He is asking if I trust Him to be my everything or if I simply sing about it. It’s the scariest act I’ll ever do. But this is where His peace is made perfect, and I jump into waiting arms- the same arms that hold my dad, that hold all who know Him and have passed from this life to Glory.

If I live to be 64 like my dad, that means I have the next half of my life to experience this peace, God’s perfect love, this freedom in letting Jesus reveal His story day-by-day. And each day I’ll whisper, God, don’t let me miss you. Give me ears and eyes, hands, and a heart to see you everywhere. I’m here.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” – Ecclesiastes 3:11

 

Look around

Ask God to show you where He is in anything you witness, study, or participate in. Inspiration—creative and spiritual—is everywhere. ~Praying Upside Down Anyone willing to share with the rest of us? Where have you found inspiration lately? What are you reading? Listening to? Learning? Absorbing? Watching? Discovering? It’s not too late to download this ...

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PUD book quotes-12Ask God to show you where He is in anything you witness, study, or participate in. Inspiration—creative and spiritual—is everywhere. ~Praying Upside Down


Anyone willing to share with the rest of us? Where have you found inspiration lately? What are you reading? Listening to? Learning? Absorbing? Watching? Discovering?


It’s not too late to download this June calendar to use as a daily reminder to pray… or to help you pray for something different. It’s free to all blog subscribers!

 

Oh what a view

My pastor told me a story about a man he knew who had been a paratrooper in WWII. Before they dropped into France, the paratroopers were given the chance to pick whatever weapons they wanted, whatever they could carry, from the warehouse. This man, Perry, picked one gun with a spare clip. Most of the ...

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My pastor told me a story about a man he knew who had been a paratrooper in WWII. Before they dropped into France, the paratroopers were given the chance to pick whatever weapons they wanted, whatever they could carry, from the warehouse. This man, Perry, picked one gun with a spare clip. Most of the other soldiers weighed themselves down with every last thing they could carry, determined to protect and defend themselves. Perry said he knew he could get more from the fallen soldiers, if he needed it, so he just took what he needed right then to survive.

When they dropped to the ground, the ones who had taken lots — as much as they could carry — broke their legs upon impact.

Ever feel like that? Like you’re carrying way more than you can handle? (more…)

The one who touched God

There was one speaker at the Festival of Faith and Writing that I didn’t see listed in the program. To be honest, I might have stayed home if I’d been aware. And that darn speaker isn’t one to be celebrated. But he was there. I listened to readings, thinking to myself, do I even have ...

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There was one speaker at the Festival of Faith and Writing that I didn’t see listed in the program. To be honest, I might have stayed home if I’d been aware.

And that darn speaker isn’t one to be celebrated. But he was there. I listened to readings, thinking to myself, do I even have one page that is good enough to stand alone, even if anyone ever wanted to hear it read out loud? I listened to talks that were so intelligent and literary that I thought, well, none of these people will ever be interested in what I have to say. There’s a small part of me that clings — stubborn as can be — to the hope that maybe, just maybe, people will see past my own words and my own failings to the One I write about. But that part was quashed down underneath lots of ugly feelings.

Anne Lamott talked about the fact that we have two speakers. We can choose which one to listen to. I had the wrong one turned up to top volume.

So as Easter approaches, during this week when the world remembers to focus on Christ, I will allow God to roll away that monstrous boulder that stands in my way. I will invite Him to inhabit my words. I will look for the folded cloth, a quiet reminder that He is coming back. I will pray for the resurrection in my heart, for new life in my soul, for a transformation of my words into something eternal.

And I will rejoice in my doubts, knowing that only one disciple got to put his hands on the Holy One. The one who refused to turn away until he was able to see for himself. The one who had the nerve to insist on experiencing Jesus personally.

Because he is the one who got to touch God.

And that, sweet Lord, is my prayer. Amen.

Connecting the dots

In school, I always liked a challenge. I rolled my eyes when something seemed too easy. Like those connect-the-dots worksheets that were so obvious. Take this one, for example: In my youthful snobbery, I’d turn up my nose. Roll my eyes. D-uh. It’s a heart. What’s the point? You’re wasting my time, I’d think. It’s no ...

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In school, I always liked a challenge. I rolled my eyes when something seemed too easy. Like those connect-the-dots worksheets that were so obvious. Take this one, for example:

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In my youthful snobbery, I’d turn up my nose. Roll my eyes. D-uh. It’s a heart. What’s the point? You’re wasting my time, I’d think. It’s no fun when it’s too easy.

Now, I long for those days, for the time when everything seemed so clear. I find myself wondering: What’s grief supposed to look like, and how long is it supposed to last? What do I have to do to look like — no, be — a good mom? A good wife? The pictures are no longer so clear cut.

And, in prayer — how do I know when God answers? How can I be sure the answer I think I hear is from God? Oh, for the days of clear-cut worksheets. For no hesitation, for no doubt.

When I feel my faith wavering, it’s usually because I haven’t heard from God lately. In fact, I probably have; I just didn’t pay attention. Seeing God in the middle of messy or confusing situations requires a willingness to accept that God can say or do or answer any way He wants — and trust that He will.

For years, I’d had a doubt that I had never spoken aloud, a very specific question about a particular aspect of a spiritual gift. I finally prayed about it, asking God to let me understand. One of the great things about my friend Peggy is we can veer from a conversation about the totally superficial to the deeply spiritual without missing a beat. Did you see the shoes that girl has on? Oh, and what does the Bible say about this? So one day at lunch, Peggy and I had a great conversation about shopping at Target and spiritual gifts (easy to confuse the two). I thought that was the end of it.

A week or so earlier a Facebook friend posted a quote from a minister I’d never heard of, and I decided to subscribe to his blog. While I was at lunch with Peggy, his latest podcast was delivered to my inbox, and its title was the question I had just asked her. The podcast was a ten-minute discussion on all the nuances and different aspects of my question, providing clear answers that made sense to me and satisfied my wondering. I sat watching it, tears pouring down my face. God heard me. And He answered me.

Connecting the dots

So many times, we miss our answers because we aren’t expecting them to come in that particular form. We might expect to find them in the random verse we open our Bible to — and, although sometimes we do, many times we don’t. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we experience that immediate “knowingness,” that certainty reverberating within, that accompanies divine answers. But the answers can come in so many ways and so many forms. The devotional you read this morning. A quote posted by a friend on Facebook. Song lyrics you’ve never noticed before. Seemingly random acts of kindness, seeing an acquaintance in the grocery store who has just the right thing to say, not even knowing you needed to hear it. It could be a rebate check that arrives in the mail the same day an unexpected expense puts your bank account in the negative. Or it might be doors closing, one after another, because this time God’s answer is no (or not yet).

One of my favorite things about serving God is the excitement of anticipating the unexpected. It’s drawing one line segment after another, watching the image slowly take shape and begin to emerge. It’s the understanding that the dots are part of the end result, but unless we travel from point A to B to C to D (or 4 to 5, or sometimes .75 to 4.998), the picture won’t be able to take shape. And it’s the gasp of surprise — and the rush of gratitude — when we see a glimpse of the holy. When God’s purpose or His method or simply His presence is revealed. When He emerges, and we see we were never alone after all. When we see clearly once again.

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