The following are excerpts from my journal during a 2 day silent retreat that I took a few months into the reoccurrence of my wife's cancer. I often take retreats of this type when there are life transitions, or difficult decisions or lament. I long for alone time with the Lord. Don't we all long for rest and refreshment during times of suffering or stressful circumstances? That is what I longed for, but that's not exactly what I received. God certainly meets with us as we seek Him. But He also allows for testing, temptations and even spiritual warfare. When we face these things, what is our response?
After we received the news in December of 2016 about the tumors in Laina's brain and lungs, I went through a period of shock for a couple months. I did cry some, but I felt little emotion. Every day I just went through the motions. Then I had a time where I felt emotionally distant from Laina and really everyone. I was physically present, but my mind was elsewhere. I had set backs as I resigned from ministry, was let go from a temporary architecture job just a couple days into it and was just feeling lost. After talking with Laina and her parents, we decided they all would stay at her parents house and I would take a 2 day silent retreat. Was this a good idea when I was potentially depressed? Yet God is always faithful to meet with us when we intentionally seek Him. And in a time like this, I really needed to hear from Him!
So I prepared and scheduled my retreat for April, just a few days after I resigned from ministry.
Friday 4/7/17 (Journal Entry)
I settled into the upper room (Casa #2) at the Redemptorist retreat center in Oconomowoc, WI. I loved that this was "the upper room." On these types of retreats I usually bring my favorite foods, books, journal, Bible and art supplies. I settled in and then I headed outside to walk the Stations of the Cross. To walk this “way of the cross” was emotionally draining, when I already was emotionally drained to begin with. To see Jesus willingly take the cross and walk with it, wow, just wow. To endure unjust suffering that he knew would lead to death was heart wrenching. I feel like I’m walking this same journey right now. We don’t know how cancer will respond to Laina’s treatment. The statistics and data are not encouraging for a good outcome. But our God is able! However, death is a possibility which sobers my thoughts. As I walked past the last station I had to walk down the hill into a valley, the shadow of death? As I walked down I read:
The LORD is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
They comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will
Follow me all the days of my life.
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
In the evening, I made a pizza for dinner. I had fig newtons for dessert. Then I took a nap. These are great ways to meet with God - food and rest. Jesus always seemed to love food and is even preparing a feast for us. Food and rest are important parts of a retreat of this type.
When I woke up from my nap, I ate more food and read Job. Job's friends asked a lot of questions and made bold statements to Job. Perhaps they were trying to help? Yet they have a wrong view of God. I found myself asking similar questions though, “What have Laina and I done to deserve this?” “If I do enough good will God relent?” "If I just repent enough, perhaps this will all go away." This is either my sinful nature or one of the Devil's henchmen trying to condemn me. But I know none of these things are true! By God’s grace through faith in Jesus we are saved. I need to remind myself what the Word says, and test every thought accordingly.
At night around 10:30pm, I laid down on the bed. I spent time thinking and praying. I don’t think I really wanted to go to sleep. If I stay awake maybe I can control something to change our circumstances perhaps? Around 11:00pm I laid down to sleep. Not shortly after, I had either a dream or experience of a spiritual attack. A dark figure appeared (a demon?), chained my hands and feet together and gagged my mouth. I lay there and tried to wake up and call out to Jesus, but I could only moan and wail. Eventually I woke up with my hands and feet in a bound position and realized I had a dream. Shaken, I prayed for a while. For some reason this type of warfare seems to happen on the first night of a retreat like this for me. Why does God allow this? Perhaps it is so I would seek Him more through our trials? Maybe I needed to be shaken to take prayer more seriously? This is a retreat that I desired to meet with God face to face, to grieve, to be refreshed and to hear from Him. But it seems more of a wrestling and a battle!
This morning I woke up around 7am. I listened to some worship video’s, mostly hymns. Gethsemane is a keyword that has been coming up; Jesus’ prayer in the garden. I feel I need to do a gospel comparison of these passages.
I also read more of Job. He was in so much pain physically, emotionally, spiritually. He lost so much, but kept his faith in God. His friends though they mourned and cared, had wrong theology. They perceived God all wrong. They almost believed more of a karma than recognizing a Sovereign Holy God who loves His creation. They also missed that all of us deserved death as a punishment of our sin. What are they basing their knowledge of God on anyway? Perhaps this is a taste of what would have been, had God not provided a way (Jesus) for us to be redeemed and saved.
I took a walk on a nature trail after breakfast. It is a beautiful sunny day. Today has been a day of just “being” and letting myself grieve our trials, especially the cancer. I am angry that she must go through this and suffer. O Lord, why?!!!!
After my walk on the trail I went to the prayer labyrinth again. I stood at the entry point and waited. I took in some deep breaths and prayed. The wind was strong and cold and hit straight up against my face. I heard a wood pecker calling. The sun warmed my face as well. I stepped in.
I took slow steps and progressed inward. Yesterday I noticed dead sticks, leaves and goose poop on the path. All waste that turns into dust. Once they were part of a tree or food for a bird, living and vibrant. But now they are broken and apart from what gives them life. I recognized this, but I needed to move on. I took other steps and my thoughts wander about all my fears – Laina’s health and possible death, cancer, jobs, failure, closed doors, hurt, discouragements, disappointments, all my plans that seemed to fail and my dreams that died. Potential is meaningless, unless God is doing the leading. Was he leading us through this mess? Is this His will for us? But I kept presenting these things to God and continued walking, slowly, step by step.
At one point in the trail I saw a dot in the path, like someone put their finger on the ground and started to write. I knelt down and thought of how Jesus wrote in the sand when the woman was caught in adultery. I wrote in the path and drew a heart. To me it was a symbol of God’s love toward me and my family, but also my love for Laina. This is one point in my journey (almost 11 years of marriage); I recognized how blessed I have been to be united with this woman of God. I thought of all the wonderful things we have done together and how she has made me joyful, and blessed me so much; even with two beautiful girls (Kysa 5 and Matea 3). I took a step and kept moving on until I got to the center. Here I unloaded all that binds me and gave it all to Jesus. I cried. I waited. I sat on a log.
Eventually I stood up and prepared myself to go back out into the world. My inner world though certainly not entirely healed, I presented to the Lord. I walked on and listened. I thought of the song, “Dry bones come alive!” by Lauren Daigle. Ezekiel 37:1-4.
Then I thought about, Ezekiel 3:22-27: “Bind your hands and make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth. You will only speak and say to them what the Lord instructs.” “He who hears, let him hear; and he who refuses, let him refuse, for they are a rebellious house.” The thought struck me on how much it was like my dream/experience the night before. But what does it mean?
As I continued down the path I came back to the heart I had drawn on the path. I stopped, knelt down and remembered God’s love for me. I also remembered the love that I shared with Laina. I looked at the heart and looked ahead at the path. I wanted to move on, but I couldn’t leave my heart!
I cried bitterly. Tears falling on the dry sand and pebbles.
A thought came to me, “leave the heart and move on.”
“I can’t! I love Laina and I don’t want to leave her!!!”
“Do you trust her with Me?”
I took a long pause and thought about that statement. All things belong to God, including Laina’s life, my life and even my daughters. I have no choice but to give them all to God. After all He does love us. And He is the only One who can bring us all together for eternity!
It was a wrestling. A battle. I cried. Tears poured down my face. I needed to surrender! But could I?
Gethsemane - Accepting the “cup” that we are to drink is difficult. It would be much easier if it was for a reward, recognition, applause, a well done. However, we must accept the outcomes of illness, suffering, rejection and death to be able to move on. If we don't, bitterness or other vices take hold and Satan has you in bandage. The way of the cross is a path to our death, so that we may truly live. It's unfortunate many people think climbing a ladder or having ministry success in numbers is affirmation they are on the right path - I've been there too. But it's not true.
I sat there and cried for a while. I looked ahead on the path. I was in the shade and a cold wind was blowing on my face. "I cannot stay here in sorrow and tears. It’s dark and cold, I need to move on. There is more journey ahead and I see the sun just steps away."
I took a deep breath and said a prayer of release. “I give unto You O Lord, my wife and all that is mine. It is all Yours." It feels like a thousand deaths! But God is the only one who can give life!
I continued on the path, but as it winded back towards the heart, I remembered, I grieved, yet I had to move on. I ended the Labyrinth feeling emotionally drained and tired. I headed back to the upper room for lunch and to write all the happenings for this day.
A labyrinth seems like a calendar year. It's the same time of year, but a different year altogether. And even now we are circling back to the year mark from Laina's death - September 6th. A lot of memories flood in at inopportune times. It's not the same, but close to the same as that life event. With time comes more distance from the loss. The sting is there. But so is God. He's the healer, Savior and Lord of all. And as I've said before, "He doesn't lose any that are His."
These types of prayer paths have been tools that God has used to help me walk the difficult trials in life. God works in many ways. And with the new prayer garden at our church, I feel this is a continuation of offering hope to others going through their own trials, others making life decisions and perhaps even committing their lives to Christ as they slow down and intentionally seek the Lord.
Looking back at these experiences, I can make a bit more sense out of it all. I don't fully understand God's ways or timing. But I do see that He has walked with us the entire time. Even now, though the future is a foggy mist and unclear, I know the Lord will lead us step by step.
What are you going through? Do you have decisions to make? Do you feel stuck? Take a walk. Use the prayer path or go to where you can meet with the Lord. He is with you! Seek Him with all of your heart! He may not give the answers you were hoping for, but He is good and He loves you deeply. Walk with Him!
I recently posted about the Hineni Prayer Garden at Oakwood Church in Hartland, WI. And as promised, I wanted to share a few of my personal stories about these types of prayer gardens. It has been a journey through our marriage that we encountered prayer walks (Labyrinths).
Our first experience with a prayer walk was during our honey moon. We decided to travel along the Blue Ridge Tail and stay at various cabins, bed and breakfasts and retreat centers. It was a wonderful honeymoon filled with many firsts for both of us. It was the fist time navigating mountainous terrain in a tiny little car, which if Laina didn't buckle in time would flash "#2...#2." That became a marriage long mantra to "buckle up", when Laina got in the car and was slow in buckling I'd say #2, #2! and we both laughed. It was also our first time on the Blue Ridge trail. We came to one part of the trail and we ascended up the mountain it began to snow and there were considerably less trees. We were a little afraid and wondered what elevation we had ascended to. Should we have oxygen at this height? But we quickly descended to what seemed more like typical Smokey Mountain skylines and felt much better as we approached our destination. We also attended the Wooly Worm Festival in Banner Elk, N.C. I mean, who else has attended such a festival. They had clodders, wooly worm races and even a man dressed as a wooly worm! We visited a mining town... Ummm awkward! Everyone was staring at us probably thinking, "Who vacations in a mining town?" Unique is what we were going for and we loved the adventure!
When we arrived at the retreat center, we unpacked and settled in. Then we headed out to explore! That is when we discovered a beautiful garden with a prayer path (labyrinth). It was beautiful and fun to walk, but I also approached it with suspicion. Though I didn't know much about these paths, I remembered how it was used in Celtic traditions that did not have a Christian belief system. So I cautioned Laina and we moved on to other parts of the gardens.
Fast forward a few years as Laina and I walked at a local park, we discovered a prayer path out in a grassy field in Ann Arbor, MI. It was much simpler in materials but had the same type of design. Laina was always a woman of curiosity and fun. And so we chased each other through the paths until we reached the middle. As we walked back out of the paths, I noticed how they winded back and forth, in and out and I began to consider how this type of internal /external winding about was like life. It seemed like a time of internal introspection. I talked to God about these feelings and also regarding my questions about if this type of path was honoring Him. We visited this path a couple times over the years, but didn't put much thought into it.
Moving forward another few years, much had happened in our lives. I had resigned from architecture and moved into youth ministry. Two years later, due to the finances of the church I was let go. Then was led to be a staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. The next year we had our fist child. A few years later we had our second child. Three months later we received the shocking diagnosis that Laina had breast cancer in 2014. We had planned to move to Wisconsin that year, but decided to wait for her treatment to end - and it ended with "all clear" no sign of cancer. We moved to Wisconsin in 2015 and established a new home and continued working with the same organizations.
In October 2016 we were noticing Laina having more headaches and showing signs of depression. It was getting difficult to manage our marriage and household, with the new demands of my ministry and her job. I requested time off during mid October for us to celebrate our 10 year anniversary, hoping it would give us time to reconnect and get things on track again. With some hesitation, yet allowing me to take time off during a school year and before a major conference - my supervisor agreed. Even now I am so grateful for this time I had with Laina! Little did we know how significant it would be.
Our destination - one of our honeymoon sites from Gatlinburg, TN. It was a great opportunity to get away and remember our journey over the last 10 years. We saw some of the same sites, but also some new ones, since the Smokey Mountains were closed due to a storm during our first honeymoon there. We enjoyed the trees, mountains and artist's shops. We hiked and spent time sitting on large rocks by a river reading the word and praying together and alone. It was refreshing! Exactly what we needed!
One new site that we wanted to experience was one of the largest prayer labyrinth's in the United States that was located at Buck Thorn in Tennessee. We made plans to visit there on October 15, 2016. When we arrived and approached the labyrinth. I sat on a bench outside of the path and let Laina enter first. As she began, I turned my attention to writing a prayer in my journal.
"My Father in Heaven, Holy is Your Name. Your will be done on earth and in my life as it is in heaven. Help me Lord, to regain passion and intimacy with my wife, with my family and in my calling and vocation. Search my heart and know me; try my anxious thoughts and renew a right spirit within me. Holy Spirit come and speak to me and Laina! Speak Lord, Your servant is listening."
Then I stepped toward the entry of the path. I stood there and began to be aware of what my senses were taking in. Along the path was a single yellow flower on a clover. Then I saw one ant crawling across the stones. Laina came over and had me smell an herb. Then a single dry yellow leaf gently fell to the ground in front of me. I also noticed a single yellow butterfly fluttering around the gardens. All around me I saw beauty. A gentle breeze. Bright sunlight. Colorful leaves of autumn were all around. All the while I'm taking this in, my thoughts keep turning to Laina, rather than myself. The words kept coming to mind, "Enjoy this moment." Then I met Laina on the path next to me and we kissed, the song "Kiss me" by Six Pence None the richer played in my mind. My thoughts again turn to Laina, "She is ahead of me, walking in circles it seems like she is lost. Then I think, "Stop worrying about Laina and focus on my own walk. Hineni - Be fully present with the Lord."
Then I heard Laina singing, "Holy Ground." "...Standing on Holy Ground..."
I picked up my Bible and read Psalm 43...
"Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why are you disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God."
I arrived at the center of the path. "So why do I feel anxious?" I thought.
I reply, "Enough about me, let's talk about you God."
Yet these words came to my thoughts, "Release your fears and anxieties. Receive gifts from my Spirit."
God continued to speak in my thoughts, "I desire that you are a free friend. If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed." "You will be like a seed upon the wind."
A quote from childhood came to mind by Henry Van Dyke, "Use the talents you possess, for the woods would be silent if no birds sang accept the best."
I then told God all of my insecurities and fears about leading my family and frustrations with ministry. It was quiet for a moment. I only felt a gentle breeze. And I looked up toward Laina.
Then the song, "Good, Good Father" came into my mind, then Psalm 23.
A Psalm of David.23
The Lord is my shepherd,I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
3 He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Honestly this is the first time I've reviewed my journals in the last couple years. If you have been following my blog you'll recognize that this was just two months prior to finding out about the metastasized breast cancer diagnosis for Laina. The metaphors that God brought before me as I intentionally sought him in prayer astounded me. If you reflect on the yellow and single items - it's profound. Laina was not only my wife, but the best friend I've ever had. Looking back I can see the meaning of these significant details of this experience. God knows the paths that lie ahead of us. As we seek Him, He will guide us. Whether to green pastures, still waters or through valley's of the shadow of death. He is with us. He is the good shepherd. All of His promises are true and good. And at the end of our lives whether short or long, if we remain in Him we remember:
"Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me (us) all the days of my (our) life. And I (we) shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
What more could we ask for in life? Laina was my wife, my best friend ever, she was fun, curious and helped me to choose the less traveled paths in life. Though I dreamed of a lifetime of these adventures with her, I am thankful that I was able to travel these last 13 years with her. The prayer path had become a place of meeting with God as he prepared me for the paths ahead. But there is more...
Part 3 will continue these thoughts.
Hineni – means “Here am I”.
It was the prophet Isaiah’s response to The LORD’s call on his life.
In the presence of the LORD, Isaiah recognized and
confessed his sinfulness and surrendered his heart to serving GOD.
Established June 2019 ~ Funds contributed in remembrance of those who have gone before us as they “walked with God”. May all who use this garden continue or begin, their fully present walk with God and go where He sends them.
The following is what I recently submitted to Oakwood Church regarding the prayer Garden that many of you contributed to last year at Laina's memorial. Recently I've heard of several people using the prayer garden and giving me some good feedback. Also, after summer camp crowds of children run on the paths, laughing and playing tag. Laina would be so thrilled to see her daughters enjoying this space; As well as others who use the prayer garden for prayerful reflection. In the coming weeks I'll be posting some personal stories on how God had used these types of paths in our walk with Christ throughout our marriage. If you have never used a prayer path or (labyrinth), this is an introduction to how you may chose to try it out. Feel free to reach out to me if you have questions. May you slow down and enjoy the Presence of the Lord. Hineni!
Life is fast paced and packed with activities. How do we slow down and find time to rest and listen to God? Surely there are many ways to do this, but a Prayer Walk is one way that this can be accomplished. You are invited to walk and talk with God in this beautiful prayer garden at Oakwood Church. Bring your burdens, bring your cares and come and praise our Creator! Our Lord and Savior created the earth and planted a garden. He placed the first man and woman in that garden. He walked with them in the garden, in the cool of the day.
Jesus often prayed in gardens or remote places when making decisions or during times of lament. There is something special about praying in gardens. Whatever your interest or need, know that God see’s you, He hears you, and He desires to have a relationship with you. You are invited to come to the garden and be present with the one who is always present with you.
How to use the Hineni Prayer Garden:
There are as many ways that this prayer garden may be used as there are people that God created. This prayer garden in a tool. It has no mystical power. And is not sacred in or of itself. It is a place where we may seek God, just as any other place on earth. It is a tool for intentionally slowing down and listening to and speaking with God as you walk.
It is helpful to have a Bible and journal with you during the prayer walk to capture what the Lord has spoken to you during this time of seeking Him in prayer. You also may choose to walk with nothing in hand and journal after you complete the walk. The choice is yours as to what benefits you most in listening and remembering your conversation with God.
Begin by standing at the point of entry to the path. Take a moment to just relax and breath.
Say an opening prayer: You may use scripture (Psalm 23), a liturgy or share from your own heart as you pray. Liturgies help when you are not certain what to say. Many other believers have walked a similar path as us. We can learn from their prayers.
Example: Heavenly Father, come and meet with me in these few moments as I walk and pray. I give to you my full attention. I give to you my burdens and concerns. I ask that you speak to me as I seek you about _______________. I also give you praise for Your many blessings.
Hineni – “Here I am Lord!” In Jesus’ name. Amen.
As you take your first step offer to God a question, a burden or a praise that is at the forefront of your mind. Verbally share it. Breath and pause for a few moments.
When you are ready take another step. Be aware of God’s Presence with you. Also be aware of your thoughts and how your other senses (sight, smell, touch, hearing, taste) are responding to your surroundings.
Continue to take steps and move at your own pace. You may take long pauses. You may sit, stand, crawl or dance. Whatever you do, may it be in conversation with the Lord! You may want to read and meditate on sections of scripture as you walk too. The Psalms and Gospel’s are a good place to start.
Listen and be aware of your thoughts. Write down or remember what seems important to the question or concern that you asked God at the beginning.
Talk to God quietly or verbally. If you have a question – ask Him. If you have a thought – tell Him. Prayer is a two-way conversation.
Move at a pace that is comfortable. Sometimes people may walk very slowly, and other times move very quickly through the prayer walk. The whole idea is that you are intentionally seeking God through prayer.
If it happens that more than one person is on the prayer walk. Don’t view them as a distraction. But instead let God speak to you through your encounter with them on the path. God also speaks through the body of Christ.
At the end of your prayer walk – thank God for the conversation. Then perhaps journal or debrief with a friend. Consider the question or concern that you brought to God.
How has God met you in response to your concern?
After walking a prayer walk such as this, you may find that it helps you as you “walk” in daily life. You may intentionally slow down. You may consider that interruption as a divine appointment instead of a distraction. A prayer walk is a tool (spiritual discipline) that can be used when we feel we need to slow down or make a big decision.
We pray that the Hineni Prayer Garden will be a blessing to you.
Hineni “Here I am Lord! Send me!” – As we seek to be fully present to the Lord, know that He is always fully present with us – and wherever He sends us!
PS - Thanks for all who contributed to this beautiful garden! A special thanks to Don Douglas and Josh Larson for construction drawings and labor, and others who volunteered their time as well.
I do believe God will use this garden to call people to Himself and to send people into the harvest fields. If you use the garden message me a note of how God used it.
How do you feel about weeds in your garden?
I'm not too fond of it either, especially the pokey ones. For a couple years we were not able to tend our garden due to my wife's illness and death. Now that life is settling into a new routine I have been taking time this spring and summer to tend my garden. When you don't care for your garden for several years, a lot of weeds accumulate. The roots get stronger and it takes several hours and much effort to reclaim what had once been a viable garden. Weeding my garden reminded me of the curse that came upon Adam due to the fall.
"Cursed is the ground because of you;
In toil you will eat of it
All the days of your life.
18 “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you;
And you will eat the plants of the field;
19 By the sweat of your face
You will eat bread,
Till you return to the ground,
Because from it you were taken;
For you are dust,
And to dust you shall return.”
The curse is not that enjoyable. And it seems weeds spread so easily. At first I was leaving a pile of weeds at the corner of the garden. But within days those darn weeds sprung right back to life. Just a little soil, just a little hold upon the earth and bam they are back to causing trouble and chocking out anything worth saving. God gave us dominion over the earth; To subdue it and bring it into order and to care for it. He planted the first garden Himself and placed Adam there. (Genesis 2:8-9). But after the fall, Adam and Eve had to pull their own weeds and find seeds and create their own garden. Imagine all that Adam and Eve had to learn when starting their own gardens. What soil works best? Where do I find seeds? What plants can I eat? What plants or "trees" should I stay away from? Oops too late - "the fall".
There is a lot of learning in gardening. And one thing I learned about weeds is that you need to burn them. Otherwise they will come back with a vengeance and contaminate the entire garden again. Unfortunately weeding is not a one and done activity. I have to continually weed my garden. It looks great after weeding, but wait a couple days and there they are, weeds. Weeds care only about themselves. They soak up water, block the sun and choke out the good plants that are full of promise for a fruitful harvest. We need to actively watch for and eliminate weeds on an ongoing basis.
As you can probably already understand, there are a lot of spiritual parallels to gardening. One of our pastors just preached about this on Sunday. Had I not been distracted by YouTube and Facebook, I would have had this done by then. Live and learn. It's important to do what God leads you to at the moment God gives the call.
With a lot of hard work my garden is looking pretty good.
I'll try to post some more recent pics soon.
What have you learned about gardening or even yourself as you garden?
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!
Here you will find updates, thoughts, discussion and prayers for my life and ministry...