They were unaware of what lie ahead as they prepared the meal for the Passover. No one wanted to miss the celebration and the food. But who would get the places of honor? Was this going to be like an awards ceremony and finally each of them would get recognized for their true greatness?
Can you imagine the conversation of the disciples as they prepared the Passover feast? This was an important meal and celebration. It was in remembrance of the Jews being freed by the hand of God from enslavement to Egypt. I wonder, like our holiday's and celebrations if they really remembered the reason for the Passover Feast. What is the reason for this season? Could there be any relation to Jesus' going to the cross to Passover? Hmmm... Read for yourself (Exodus 12 & Matthew 26; John 13...)
But Jesus was fully aware of the present moment. "Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world." (John 12:1-30). He knew his time had come to die the death that is written about him in all of scripture. This is something that I think, one day we will all understand ourselves as we approach "our hour"..
By watching my own wife in her last moments of life on this side of heaven, when the hour is approaching, they know. In July of 2018 she sat on the bed in our room. She said, "Todd, I think I'm dying." I looked at her and said, "No, sweetie. It's you're just tired and the meds are affecting you." I may have been in denial at this point. But in the back of my mind I was storing up these moments. Then a few weeks later we headed out on a week of vacation to a beach house of one of our friends. It was a great time the entire week. The weather was sunny, the water was warm-ish. And we had our family all together and our troubles with cancer we left behind in Wisconsin - though it seemed. But late one evening as we were preparing for bed, she looked at me adoringly, but with sadness. "Todd, I'm sorry. But I'm ready to go home." I stared right into her eyes, feeling the tension of the moment. "What do you mean sweetie?"
"Todd, I'm ready to go home. I'm ready to die." I took a deep breath and stepped to her and wrapped my arms around her." "I'm so sorry Todd. I'm so sorry..." She repeated these words and began to weep. We held tightly to each other as she continued to repeat, "I'm sorry.." I looked into her eyes again. I could tell at this point that she meant her words. I replied, "Laina, you don't have to be sorry. Neither of us chose cancer. We each are in the Lord's hands. I love you Laina." We held each other as she cried. At this point I didn't cry. But I felt a preparedness and strength come upon me. It was a strength not my own. Just 9 months earlier I was at my worst. Fear of death causing anxiety and depression overwhelmed me. I wrestled with God and had to surrender my own will, to His will. And now at this point I was coming to a full surrender. What choice did I have? I had to let go. I had to trust God with her.
Later the next evening, I sat with Laina's friend David out on the deck and talked with him.
"I'm afraid things are going to move quickly when we get back home." I said. "I feel like the world is coming to an end."
David replied, "Your world as you know it, yes it is ending." I had a good talk with David that night. I think I just needed to share with someone who would listen. I knew the time was near.
Early in Jesus' ministry, his disciples had heard him say several times that "his time had not yet come." And then later "my time has come." All through his ministry (3 1/2 years) he talked about his death. But the disciples didn't really understand or they were in denial. They had hopes of a new kingdom on earth where they each would have an important role in that kingdom. Jesus turned their dreams upside down, as he did mine! Yes, they had an important role in His kingdom, but not as they anticipated. To be great you must serve. To live you must die. And if we would come after him we must take up our own cross (a Roman device of excruciating pain leading to a suffocating death) and follow him. Talk about confusion. The disciples knew Jesus was from God and had great hopes for his Kingdom with all of his healings, miracles, food and even raising the dead. Nothing would stop this kind of king! Yet what is all of this talk about death? Jesus knew his time had come, the scriptures clearly reveal this as God's plan to redeem the world from sin and death.
What was Jesus thinking these last moments prior to his death? Jesus brought honor to the man who would betray him. He gave Judas a seat next to his at the Passover meal. He then washed his disciples feet to teach them how to lead by serving and that they were "clean". They sang hymns and walked through the vineyard, all the while he taught them. Then they made their way to Gethsemane to pray. The time was getting closer. He earnestly prayed and even sweat like drops of blood. His humanity was facing death and thousands of years of sin was falling on him. In God's mercy an angel came to strengthen him. His disciples fell asleep when three times he pleaded with them to "watch and pray."
They all had a full belly, were tired and now were beginning to fear and grieve. If you've experienced any of these I am sure you know how burdensome and exhausted you feel. Jesus then went on "trial" though none of it seemed very just. First going to Annas' house, then to Caiaphas the High Priest. The irony of words spoken is incredulous. The Jewish High Priest speaking insolently to "The High Priest." From there they went to Pilot's house. Pilot sent him to Herod and then Herod sent him back to Pilot. By this time it was morning. All night Jesus was questioned, humiliated and I'm sure very tired. Yet he had strength and sharpness of mind. He was fully in control. He knew his hour had come.
I imagine some of these same emotions, feelings and thoughts as Jesus walked his passion. God the Father sending an angel to strengthen him. I wonder if the disciples would have stayed awake and prayed, would they have had different responses to Jesus' arrest? Perhaps they would have had strength to resist temptation to flee or to lie. Perhaps they would trust Jesus at his word that yes he would die, but he would be raised on the third day?
The weeks prior to Laina's death were rough. She spent several weeks in the hospital. Her mom stayed by her side, while I went back and forth between our daughters and the hospital. The times she was able to come home were scary; Often resulting in late night trips to the E.R. or another hospital stay. One day she would be in good spirits and we'd have great conversation. Another day she was in pain and confused. The ups and downs were exhausting for all of us, just as I'm sure the last days with Jesus were for the disciples.
The last night it was clear that God was calling Laina home. Her pain was the greatest it had ever been (and she was a tough woman with a high pain tolerance), but none of her meds would work. So we called in the hospice care team. While her mom was talking to them on the phone, her dad and I sat next to her on our bed. He was on her right and I was kneeling on the floor to her left, with my head on her lap. Suddenly, she seemed to be in a lot of pain or fear and cried out, "Oh daddy!" She was looking up towards the ceiling and began talking. "No, not now! You know how much I have to lose!" I sat and listened trying to discern this moment. Then I asked, "Laina, are you arguing with God?" She responded with a definitive "Yes!" Her dad responded, "Honey, this is one argument you are not going to win." Then after that there were very few words, as the hospice nurse arrived and we hurried to get her on an ambulance and to the hospice facility. That night was a long night. We were tired, grieving and uncertain on how quickly things would progress. But in the midst of it all, I felt God's strong hand upon me, strengthening me for this moment.
The last moments are important in our lives. But the fact remains, none of us really knows when that "hour" shall arrive. Perhaps that will give us something to meditate on this Holy Week. If tomorrow is our Last Moment, what will we say and do today? What would you teach your children? How would you serve your family, neighbors, strangers? How would you use your resources? If Jesus really is the only way to heaven, then would you believe?
The last moments of Jesus before the cross and his death, are packed with grief, suffering, injustice and the pride and fear of the leaders. But these last moments are also an inspiration for future believers, offering strength, hope, love, power, authority, wisdom and trust in Almighty God's plan. This was the only way our sins could be atoned for and that we could once again have fellowship with a Holy God. The depths of sorrow and suffering have turned into the greatest joy and comfort that will last for eternity - for those who believe!
Jesus had all of us on his mind in his last moments on earth. Yet there is an eternity ahead... both now and your last moments have great significance. Choose wisely!
I remember standing in our bedroom and just staring out the window. I was feeling uneasy. I knelt down beside the bed to pray. "Oh Lord hear my prayers! I don't know why I'm feeling this way! Yet Lord, I know I'm anxious about Laina's cancer diagnosis. Lord help me! Heal Laina!"
I felt as though the world was uprooting. That everything I knew and loved was being taken from my grasp. We were at the nine month mark of treatment for her, yet the prognosis was one year life expectancy. Did we have much more time? "This is NOT what I want Lord! I KNOW You can heal!" I felt as though I were wrestling with the Lord. Why would He allow this? I kept returning to the same questions and the same prayers, then looking out the window. I was caught in a whirlwind of fear and anxiety. Finally I called my father-in-law (AKA, D2 for Dad2). He picked up the phone, "This is George!" he spoke in his cheerful voice. "I'm anxious and I need someone here with me." He came right over.
We decided to go outside for some fresh air. We paced around the driveway, praying and making small talk. Then suddenly, I said, "George, I don't want to lose her! I immediately fell to the ground and began to weep bitterly. The tears came pouring out as if a damn had just burst open. Had I been storing all of this anxiety inside and not giving it an outlet? Was I "trying to be strong" and yet neglecting self care in processing our journey? D2 stood next to me and said, "Todd, we gave her to the Lord a long time ago." I understood his statement and I know it is the right thing to say. But did I believe it? Could I give her to the Lord too? She's MY wife! And it's MY will that she stay that way! Yet my thought turned to... our vows, "to death do us part." "But it's just too soon Lord and what about our two young daughters!" After the big outpouring of tears the anxiety decreased some, but didn't fully go away. I had never experienced this type of internal pain before. I wanted to be free from it. My counselor said I was in grief.
I've been seeing several posts from friends that are dealing with anxiety that is leaving them crippled and unable to function fully in everyday life. Since I have now experienced this type of anxiety, my hope is to offer encouragement and practical thoughts on moving forward through it.
Anxiety is not something you take on alone, it takes a community. I had mentors, a counselor, a doctor, friends and family all supporting me through this ordeal. Even my wife who was battling cancer helped to redirect my thoughts on the word of God. We read scripture together and prayed. We sang worship songs and danced with our girls. I took walks in the park and read books. But I also recognized I was not alone. All of these people loved me and were walking through this with me. And of course God was near and guiding me through this valley too.
One quote that I relate to is:
"A certain man being in anxiety of mind, continually tossed about between hope and fear, and being on a certain day overwhelmed with grief, cast himself down in prayer before the alter in a church, and meditated within himself, saying, "Oh! I but knew that I should still persevere, " and presently heard within him a voice from God, "And if thou didst know it, what woudst thou do? Do now what thou wouldst do then, and thou shalt be very secure."
Thomas A` Kempis - The Imitation of Christ.
In deciphering the old English, we see a battle, a war between hope and fear. An anxious heart and mind dwell on the dangers, pains and losses in our circumstances. That is where I related to this certain man; perhaps it was Thomas A` Kempis? We read from the Saints of Old or other current authors and think they've overcome. But friends, they are human and have suffered the same as us. So why should we fear?
18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. 1 John 4:18
From what I've experienced there are two options when we face fear:
1). We give in to it or at minimum we try to control it. However this often leads to our problem with anxiety, which can lead to despair, which can lead to death. This is not the way or outcome God desires for us. I believe human control is where the source of most of our anxiety and fear. What we cannot control, give over to God.
2).We can fight against fear by choosing to trust the Lord and His promises and receive hope.
3 "And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." Romans 5:3-5
"There is no fear in love." And "because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." The trials and tribulations that my family endured has indeed brought about perseverance, has proven our character and bore the fruit of hope - all through our faith in Jesus. By God's love and His power given to us through Jesus and delivered by the Holy Spirit, we can live in hope no matter the circumstances.
However, until we accept our circumstances in light of the Almighty Sovereign God's loving and merciful hand, we cannot have peace or hold on to hope. It really comes down to surrender. We have to let go of our earthly attachments, even those whom we love. Though Laina was "MY wife," she truly belonged to the Lord, just as her father shared with me. And if any of us are in the Lord, we belong to Him too. Doesn't that give you hope?
Suffering has so much to teach us. When faced with anxiety, fear or depression we can turn to the Lord and say, "What are you teaching me Lord?" Remember when Jesus said,
28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
Suffering through anxiety, depression and these unwanted trials has made me mature in Christ-like-ness.
1). In my weariness I come to Him!
2). He has been true to His promise to give me rest.
3). I accepted his yoke (His teaching and His burdens) and have been learning so much!
4). Jesus is truly gentle and humble of heart. The world and its systems and our own expectations are what's heavy and cause us to be weary.
5). Yes, I have found rest for my soul by coming to Jesus.
I've had to learn this through trial. But who learns these things easier? It is little children who accept hardships and trials so much easier than adults often do. I've witnessed this in my daughters; Not that they don't grieve the passing of their mother, they do. Yet they wake up ready to face the day with joy and excitement; Trusting that God and Daddy will take care of them.
In whatever anxiety you may be facing, do you trust God? Do you believe that He loves you and will help you through this circumstance?
I will continue on this topic of Anxiety, Fear and Hope next time. Until then, may the peace of God rest on you in Christ Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit! Amen.
Yesterday I chose joy! I anticipated a New Year ahead and upon reflecting on the last year or two, I recognize the losses are many as I continue to grieve my wife's death and wrestle with direction for vocation while parenting two young daughters on my own. I look at photos of Laina over the years and smile at the wonderful memories. Then my heart aches for wanting to hold her again and talk with her as I make decisions or wanting to share some crazy thing the girls said or did. I cannot escape the smiles or the tears. This will be a part of my life moving forward. But today I chose joy! As Laina stated in her Mother's Day video, joy is a choice. Each moment is a choice. We can reflect on the losses and circumstances that led to our grief, or we can find joy in the blessings that are right there in front of us. My daughters are blessings for sure! We spent time playing at home over the weekend. We played board games, had a snow ball fight with the neighbors, watched Mary Poppins twice and went sledding. I took Kysa to a Milwaukee Wave soccer camp and all of us attended their game. There are so many beautiful moments to live each day! I know I am not alone in the challenges of life. I see many Facebook posts of loved ones falling ill to cancer, deaths of young people, mothers and wives. No one is alone in the trials of life. Please know there is hope in Jesus! He leads us as a good shepherd. The trials of this life do not surprise God. He knows every pain, every tear, every heart ache. And He chose to enter our suffering with joy!
Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT
12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
I don't believe there is anyone who has suffered as much as Jesus. The weight of ALL of the worlds sin fell upon him. Yet he held onto the plan and promises of the heavenly kingdom of whom he is the king, who gave his own life to provide a way for ALL of us to enter his kingdom. He holds the keys - Do you know how to enter his kingdom?
I watched a YouTube video the other day showing crowds of people pressing into stores on Black Friday. It was ruthless! People shoving, pushing, hitting and even wrestling each other to the floor over what? TV's and other material items that probably wouldn't even work after the way they were roughed up. What if, we all had that type of enthusiasm to seek entry into the kingdom of heaven that way? We'd read our Bible's not as obligation or to check off the list of things to do today. But we'd read our Bible's to hear from the Living God who has all wisdom and insight into our world and our own lives. We'd also pray alone and with others and lift up burdens and praise God together! We'd watch for every opportunity to share the hope and joy that we have with others as we walk down the street. Have you ever experienced a "divine appointment?" Ask God for one right now. And then write back to me about it.
What a radical way to live! Wouldn't people be curious about why we have hope when we just suffered so much?
Today, I choose joy! I choose joy in the little things - while I wash dishes, pack lunches, clean up toys and snuggle my girls before bed. I choose joy while I wait for the Lord to show me next steps in my vocation and as I substitute teach. Even in loneliness I choose joy, because I am not alone - the Lord is with me! I feel Him with me right now as I write. It brings me joy to know someone else can benefit from the words I share.
One last thing, as I close. As a person who has lost his wife to cancer I've heard this statement often: "This must be a hard time for you without your loved one this Christmas." Or something to that effect. I know people care and mean nothing by it. Of course it is a hard time when losing someone you love. But I don't think it is helpful to state the obvious. It just adds to the grief. One time in response to someone that continued to say, "It must be hard for you... It must be hard for you..." in our conversation. I responded, "Actually I'm doing well. Everyone grieves differently and I grieved more the last two years than I have after Laina passed." I learned from Laina that I can choose joy today! It is a gift from God. What has been helpful for me and the girls is: time with family and friends, people who pray for us, people responding to my blog about how what I've written has helped them, people sharing a meal with us, people helping with the girls or cleaning our house. All of these are practical things that just make day to day life easier and more fun.
I choose Joy today - because I know that Jesus is fully in control and he gives good gifts to those that trust in Him! I am hopeful as God leads my girls and me into this New Year!
A joyful New Year to you all!
I’m reflecting on Hineni (Here am I!) this morning and came across this article. I long for God’s Presence yet the warning at the beginning of the article is so true. I shrink back from fear of harm or loss. My family has been through a lot of loss these last few years. What if God calls me to something else that hurts deeply? Can I really say Hineni? Am I willing to be fully God’s servant? I desire such, but I also fear loss. Besides the fact that I often forget God's Holiness and take Him for granted.
The digital art above is about Ezekiel's vision. However, Isaiah and Daniel had similar visions as well as the Apostle John. Holy, Holy, Holy! Can we even comprehend God's Holiness? Ezekiel falls down as though dead. This is the God we are calling upon when we pray. This is the God whom sinners should fear!
However, later in the article the author points out how God says Hineni to us! He is willing to pay the cost and take on the losses and pain to be fully present with us! This brought me great peace, comfort and even joy! God's Son was fully present on earth in the flesh. He was acquainted with suffering even to the point of death. He was fully present so that we could receive His Presence fully! This is my greatest desire and need! How about you? This is the God whom sinners should love, because He first loved us - even while we were still sinners.
Yes, Lord be fully present with me! Then perhaps I will be strong enough to be fully present with you and with others in my life! Thank you for entering into our pain, suffering, loss and total depravity so that we could enter your Presence fully! Though we are sinners and deserve death, you rescued us through Jesus! I praise You, Holy, Almighty and merciful God! Glorify your Son today in all of the earth! Make Your Presence known that the world may know the hope that is only found in you! In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit! Amen!
What do you need Jesus to do for you today? Ask Him!
My first thought using this title was,
"Who is going to read this that has had a meal with me lately?"
But that isn't the point I will be making to call out friends and family members or even myself - though we are all sinners. :) Instead I want to point out an issue more broad that I would have liked to comment on someone's ranting YouTube post. Responding to him directly most likely would not have had any affect on his convictions or have any chance of a civil discourse.
Recently a well known and up and coming Christian music artist Lauren Daigle toured on the Ellen Show. She sang a song from her latest album called "Rise Up!" She was soulful and vulnerable and filled with joy as she worshiped freely in her short one song segment. The YouTube-er that ranted was criticizing and even judging Lauren's faith based on her appearance on the show. He had several judgements regarding first Ellen's reputation, then how could Lauren dress in the attire she was wearing and how could she ever be a Christian and be on this show!
This response is an attitude that I see growing and becoming more pervasive among Christian's, especially on social media and the internet. Perhaps it's because this is a political season? We all vote on Tuesday. Or maybe there is something going on in our churches where "us Christian's" need a heart check. Legalism has always been an issue since first century Judaism and throughout church history. Many of the Apostle Paul's letters deal with this topic as the Judaizes who were wedging their way into the churches and causing confusion about the law and God's grace through salvation in Christ.
What is correct doctrine (teaching)? How should a believer live their lives? What is permissible? Can we watch that movie? Can we drink this drink? Can we spend time with those people? Can we perform our music on that show?
Can we eat with "sinners?"
When we encounter questions as these we turn to God's word (the Bible) for wisdom. What did Jesus have to say about "eating with sinners?"
Mark 2:13-17 New International Version (NIV)
13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and "sinners" were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the "sinners" and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and "sinners"?”
17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but "sinners.”
(Bold and quotes added by me for emphasis).
As Jesus made his tour of preaching and teaching he first called Levi (Matthew) to follow him. Then he ate with Levi at his home. This was extremely controversial for the Jews since it was against their law. The legal overseers of the law (the Pharisees) took notice. They noticed Jesus ate with sinners. It was difficult to miss because such large crowds of sinners followed Jesus. Did you notice? Jesus called only Levi to follow him. However many other tax collectors and "sinners" made their own minds to follow too. We know what was in the mind of the Pharisee's as they obviously saw what they considered the breaking of the law by Jesus eating with sinners. But what was in the mind and hearts of all of these "sinners"?
I want us to put ourselves in their shoes for a minute. Imagine you are a tax collector. You couldn't make ends meet in your community. You had no choice, so you took a job that would lead you to work for a company/ or the government who took more than their fair share of your people's money. Now you are becoming wealthy by charging more than a fair price. You live this life for a while and family and friends begin to despise you and call you a traitor. You are cut off from your community and are also expected to bring in more money from a government that is, let's say very persuasive. How are you feeling? What are you needing? What do you desire most?
I imagine I'd feel shameful, lonely, fearful and longing for relief and acceptance again. I'd miss my family and friends and would hope for some type of reconciliation and restoration of our relationships.
Jesus came along and by calling just one "sinner," gained many other sinners (the harassed, shame filled, lonely, fearful, longing for acceptance) as followers too. They were attracted to a community that would accept them and love them unconditionally, even with the acknowledgement that they were indeed "sinners." It is the sick that need a doctor, not the "righteous" Jesus said.
Let's come back to the news worthy topic of Lauren Daigle visiting the Ellen show. I don't know Lauren's or Ellen's hearts. I know only parts of each of their life stories. I don't know them fully as God knows them. So what is my or any Christian's purpose in responding to events like this? What choices could we make that would be in alignment with God's character and will?
1) We could choose to condemn and judge others and discredit their faith - basically calling condemnation on their Christian identity.
2) We could choose to (if necessary) remember what Paul taught Timothy. "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."
2 Timothy 3:16.
3). We could choose to stay totally out of discourse and say nothing.
Do you see the difference? One takes the posture of being judge and bringing condemnation on a sister in Christ. The other through relationship offers teaching and discourse to train a person in righteousness to be a servant of Jesus. The man who posted the condemning YouTube post took the posture to condemn. And I will just bet he hasn't read much about her story, he doesn't know her heart and has probably never met her previously. But if he had a Christian disciple making relationship with her I think the conversation would be more as stated in 2 Timothy.
Is it possible that by Lauren Daigle worshiping the Lord in such a public forum, on this one controversial show, could bring many "sinners" to follow Jesus?
It is amazing we can have such a broad reach to the world through the platform of social media while sitting at home or on our smart phones. But there are professing Christian's with several different and polarizing viewpoints speaking out through social media. So let's keep in mind our purpose as Christ followers to build up and encourage each other in disciple making and in our call to proclaim this "Good News" of the Kingdom to a world of "sinners" in which we all are included. There are times when we need to rebuke or correct someone. However there is a difference between these and condemnation. Do you see the distinction? Is this helpful in our own social media and relationship interactions?
Certainly there is more to this conversation, but for today try this: Inviting just one "sinner" to dinner or for coffee. One person who you've had conflict with or who holds different views than yours. Serve, listen and love them! I'd love to hear your stories if you are willing to do this.
The invitation is set - God invited us all to His feast! We all are invited! Will you join Him?
It was a beautifully sunny yet cool autumn morning in Southeastern Michigan. The leaves were glorious! Vibrant colors of orange, red, yellow, brown and some green covered the landscape next to the Huron River. The chapel tower pierced the blue sky. Anticipation for something new and wonderful was in the air! My bride was preparing in her quarters. And I was waiting, nervous but so excited to begin this new journey of marriage. Prior to the service (breaking tradition) we took our photos out on the grounds of Concordia Ann Arbor. My bride was dazzling and elegant all dressed in white and exuding purity as was her heart and soul. I had waited 30 years for this moment. Both of us had sought to honor God and each other, though we did not know each other until a year prior to this wonderful day, by saving ourselves and passions until marriage.
As it says in Song of Solomon 8:4,
"Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you:
Do not arouse or awaken love
until it so desires."
Of course this goes for the sons as well. But alas our waiting was over and this moment that we dreamed about and waited for had arrived: The wedding Day! I'm a future thinker, a visionary and so I had been praying for my future wife since at least forth or fifth grade. Praying for her protection, health, safety and most importantly that her faith in Christ would grow and mature. It is such a blessing to marry an equally yoked spouse. God has been so faithful through our seasons of singleness and now to the point of our wedding day. I look back and remember this day with fondness and joy.
Today I look around and wonder about the vision that most people have about marriage. It doesn't seem to be cherished or dreamed about; at least in the way that God intended. My hope and prayer is that children, adolescents and young adults can reclaim that holy vision of marriage and singleness. I pray they see and understand that God loves us and wants the best for us. Do most of us believe that? Do we believe God's character is good? Or do we simply fall to our fleshly desire and passions of the flesh thinking we know better than God?
The problem is that people sell their birthright and inheritance from God for a measly bowl of soup! Remember the story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 25. Esau, though he was the first born and rightly deserved his fathers inheritance, gave it all up for a bowl of soup. He let his immediate desires override his long term gain of an inheritance for him and his posterity. His choice not only affected him but all of the generations of his family. Therefore Jacob received the father's inheritance not only in monetary form but also the promises that God had given his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham. Jacob's children now would be blessed too!
God has been faithful to Laina and me as well. We sought to be faithful to Him and each other before and during our marriage. And though the last several years have been difficult as Laina battled cancer and as we faced her death, God is still faithful! This last year the Lord reminded us of his faithfulness through His word.
1 Samuel 7:12
Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen.
He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”
Thus far the Lord has helped us too. He has been faithful even through cancer and facing death. Laina lives in eternal joy now! God is good! I remember and will dwell upon His faithfulness as I remember Laina and my marriage. He is our Ebenezer!
I'm looking back on so many memories, photos and videos. Even items around the house bring to mind various thoughts about Laina. It is difficult to let go of people we love and other items of significance. Life is packed with meaning and memories. Below is a patch from the quilt that she made me. She gave it to me just over a month before she passed. Read what she wrote...
It is good to "Remember" wonderful memories and especially the Lord's faithfulness. Lauren Daigle sings a song called Remember on her latest album. Take a listen and "Remember" even up until this very moment God has been faithful!
The rain is falling this dark night. I listen to the drops fall upon the roof and against the windows. I hear occasional gusts of wind blow swiftly through the trees. The seasons are changing. There is always turbulence during change and transitions. Change isn't all bad but it definitely disturbs our comfort level. Our family had it's "normal" shaken. And now with the change that Laina has passed into new life with Christ, a new normal is starting to emerge for us as well. I recognize that this next year there will be many "firsts." The first time I go to parent teacher conferences alone. The first time I care for myself and the girls while we are sick. The first time I plan and prepare for Matea's birthday without Laina. The first time (in two weeks) that I will remember our 12 year wedding anniversary and be without my wife. The changes come with remembering the wonderful times of the past, but also questions and uncertainty of the moving forward. I still have dreams and hopes, but not my partner who walked with me through them. Life is a journey. We need to keep moving forward. I could choose to stand still and do nothing. Or I could seek God whole heartedly as I've always done and trust Him to walk with me and the girls through this transition. A new season is upon us.
I must say, I am so thankful for my daughters. The faith of children is a wonder to me. I'm getting more cuddles and having wonderful, deep theological conversations with them about life and death, heaven and hell, sadness and joy... They understand more than we give children credit for. Of course they miss mommy as I do. But their hope, joy and peace encourages me. Matea and I watched mommy's video again today. Such rich words of wisdom, grace and peace that Laina offered. And you should see the girls faces when Laina shares about their names and our hopes for them. I see a sparkle in their eyes and their faces light up. They have received the blessing and love of their mother and can remember her love through the video and our stories. I'm not saying that everything is perfect and that there will be no challenges. But through this transition I see God working in our lives, together.
The last couple years I've studied and prayed through this passage,
Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
We often refer to these verses when we are tired, worn out or frustrated with life. And I have definitely hit those moments with ministry and the cancer journey. But what I did not expect is how God has used our trials, fears, uncertainty, weariness and pain to shape us into His son's image more and more. Isn't that the goal that God has for us to be made into the image of Christ until we all reach maturity? If we are following Jesus closely, we will face trials and suffering. That is a hard truth isn't it? Yet when we are weary where else can we turn? The internet? Alcohol or drugs? The latest fad or trendy religion? A relationship? People do turn to these but Jesus is the best answer though it is difficult to follow him at times. Peter said to Jesus, "To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." Our momentary trials are working within us the Christ-like maturity that God desires for us. It's amazing really. That though my wife has passed away and I miss her terribly - I still have peace, joy, love... because of our precious faith in Jesus. He gives us the fruit of the Spirit. I feel rest in Him. My burdens though many with grief, paperwork, housework, taking care of the girls and considering my vocation - is light. Jesus is humble and gentle of heart - He cares for us. Seasons change but God uses those transitions to change us. We cannot stay as we are or have been, we must reach maturity in Christ. We don't do this on our own, it is with Christ's help, the Holy Spirit's empowering and counsel and with other Christian's in community.
When I consider all that we have been through these last couple years, I ask God: Is this the rest you give when I come to you?! Yet, whether I came to him or not we would still have to go through this suffering, through cancer. And the truth is that I (we) have seen God's extravagant love continually through this journey! So yes, the Lord is true to His word at giving us rest for our souls. I'm learning to take His yoke/burdens on and learning from him. If I look in contrast to the burdens and yokes that others put on me or even the burden I put on myself - Jesus's burdens are light and easy. I've had employers give me a ton of work while they are surfing the internet or joking around. Has any employer ever asked you to work late, miss family events or even church to complete projects? That is a heavy burden and at what cost? The cost of time with family? The cost of a marriage? The cost of your soul?! Jesus has much to teach us if we are willing to learn from him. The last couple years have been extremely burdensome learning to detach and let go of many things and people. Yet my heart and eyes are learning to look heavenward. By fixing my eyes on eternal life I don't make other inconveniences or burdens such a big deal.
The invitation still stands from the words of Jesus, "Come to me..."Once again, today I come to him, seek him and learn from him. He is gentle and humble of heart - I know I'll find rest for my heavy soul. Jesus promised!
Here you will find updates, thoughts, discussion and prayers for my life and ministry...