Monday, October 29, 2012

Making Joy Last

~Appeared in the Charleston Gazette - October 21, 2012~

Sometimes I get so caught up in the demands of everyday life that I miss the joy of spending time with my loved ones. But I can remedy that almost immediately by making time to interact with the people in my life. As we share the simplest daily activities like running errands together, watching a movie or taking a long walk, I am grateful for each gift of joy. Yet I know these joyful moments are fleeting.

How can one attain lasting joy?

If you really want the answer to this question, just observe a young child for a while. Children don’t even have to think about it. They get up each morning happy and excited about what will happen today. What’s more, most of them are enthusiastic about learning new things.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if adults were equally as excited about learning and experiencing new things? But the majority of us have become indifferent about the events life holds for us each day. We get up every morning and go through our daily routine without any real emotion – unless someone cuts us off in traffic, that is. Unlike children, we are fairly certain we won’t be learning anything new and exciting during our ordinary day, so we don’t expect it.

Perhaps that’s the key—learning to live with the expectation that something new and fascinating will happen each and every day. If only we could look at the world through childlike eyes and see things based on truth rather than appearances and remain open to life’s lessons as we gain a new level of understanding and awareness.

Or perhaps it’s as a friend tells me, “I carry the joy of the Lord into everything I do,” she says. “Whatever I’m doing, I’m happy in it.”

“To moan and complain is useless,” she adds. “And gloomy thoughts chip away at the vitality of the soul.”

Living in an awareness of God, as my friend surely does, fills us with self-assurance. Knowing we’re never alone; knowing that our body is a temple filled with pure energy and healing life and trusting our faith in God, we move confidently forward in that faith. And we are joyful.

God wants us to be happy, and He makes it possible. However, it is impossible to experience real joy unless you have invited the King of Joy, Jesus, to come into your life.

There is no peace in the heart of the transgressor and no joy in his soul.

But when we are baptized into His Spirit, evil loses its power to destroy us, darkness is dispelled and the broken spirit healed. Joy soothes the soul and lifts the burden from the grieving heart. The Spirit rejoices within you.

This is the joy we were promised—the greatest joy that can come to the human heart—for it is the everlasting joy of God.

Monday, October 1, 2012

See You In The Morning

~Appeared in the Charleston Gazette - Sunday, April 25, 2010~ 

It was almost Christmas when my friend passed away. She had been seriously ill for a while, but we’re never ready to let go of someone we care about. She was loved by many. She had two grown children, three grandchildren and numerous friends – and a sense of humor like no other.

I first met Dot twenty- two years ago when her son proposed to my daughter. The date was set for New Year’s Eve. The parents of the groom hosted a wedding rehearsal dinner where our families met and got acquainted, aware that we would forever be connected through our children and future grandchildren.

Soon after the wedding, the young couple left for their new home in Michigan – a long way from our home in West Virginia. Our new son-in-law had recently been transferred there with the promise that he’d be relocated closer to home in a couple of years. My daughter had never been away from home except for short visits with friends. I hated the thought of her living that far away, but knew I had to let go no matter how much it hurt.

They left on Saturday and by Monday morning, I was missing her terribly. As I sat by the window looking out at the cold, gray January day – watching the snow fall and wiping tears from my eyes, the phone rang. It was her! It was so good to hear her sweet voice. I could tell she was shedding a few tears, too. She tried to be cheerful, but it was impossible to hide her homesickness from me.

Before we hung up, she suggested I phone her new mother-in-law. That proved to be a great idea. Shortly after we said, “Good-bye,” I dialed Dot’s number. I knew right away it wouldn’t be our last conversation. She was easy to talk to and laughter came easily and often during our long chat. We found that we had much in common. We discussed our families, movies, books, and even religion and politics… two subjects we’re warned never to broach with anyone unless we’ve known them at least a lifetime!

After that, we talked often. When our kids announced that we’d soon be grandmothers, we had even more to discuss. We both already enjoyed that title, but this would be the first time we shared a grandchild. Months later, when we received news of complications that may cause the baby to arrive ten weeks early, the two of us and my younger daughter headed for Michigan. Driving all night, we arrived at the hospital about seven a.m. worried and exhausted.

My daughter had not delivered the baby, but had undergone an appendectomy. After much testing, her doctors had decided that her appendix may be the problem, and hoped surgery wouldn’t induce labor. But we no sooner got to her house, planning to clean up and get some rest, when the doctor phoned to say that labor had begun. Concerned, we rushed back to the hospital. Our grandson was born at 2: am, weighing only 3 pounds, 3 ounces.

His chances of survival were uncertain at first. It was a tearful time, but when his dad touched the tiny hand and it closed tightly around his finger, we knew that God had no intention of taking this child! Not only did he survive the premature birth, but also surgery for a heart defect soon after. Three years later, his little sister was born, without complication. Everyone was elated.

Our son-in-law eventually got the transfer he’d been promised, putting them only three and a half hours away instead of eight. They visited every holiday, sharing the time with each of us. We came to know and love our grandchildren as we watched them grow. Sometimes, Dot traveled with my husband and me to visit them and we enjoyed our time together, never running out of conversation or laughter.

Then one bleak January evening, Dot was alone talking to a friend on the phone when she abruptly stopped talking, prompting her friend to check on her. Opening the door as far as possible with the chain lock on, she saw Dot lying on the floor, unconscious. She quickly called 911 and Dot was taken to the hospital where it was discovered that she had an aortic aneurysm. Surgery took hours and waiting was stressful for her family. News of Dot’s illness spread fast and dozens of friends stopped by to inquire and offer best wishes.

Therapy and recovery were long and difficult but Dot was finally well enough to go home with her daughter. However, discovering that she felt uneasy leaving her mother alone while she worked, her daughter was forced to find a suitable Assisted Living Facility and move her mother into it. Dot was not happy about the move but had no choice. In time, other ailments plagued her – one right after the other until she ultimately landed in the hospital after a minor heart attack caused a fall and injuries. She never returned to the Assisted Living Home. Instead, she was transported to a Hospice House and died in early December.

Dot and I shared a great deal in those twenty-two years. There were tears of joy when our children married, anxious tears when we thought we might lose our premature grandson – jubilation when we didn’t – and celebration when his sister was born.

Dot came to see me in the hospital when I had a potentially serious illness. When I got home, she didn’t just send “a” get well card; she sent one every day for a week or more! She empathized when my mother died, and we each listened tirelessly when the other vented about things that will remain “our secrets” forever. We laughed, too – finding amusement in almost every situation.

I visited Dot a few days before she died. It was heartbreaking seeing her so frail. But her demeanor hadn’t changed. Ever the lady, she managed to smile, touch my hand and say, "Thank you for visiting."

I miss Dot, but there is one consolation: So real is the promise of the believer’s resurrection that the physical death of a Christian is called “sleep.” After Lazarus had died, Jesus told his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, that I may awaken him." (John 11:11)

Remembering Dot, I sometimes whisper, “Good night dear friend. See you in the morning!”

Are You Ready To Graduate?

~Appeared in the Charleston Gazette ~ Sunday, September 23, 2012~

Our granddaughter, a college student, recently lost one of her best friends in a car accident. The details of the accident were horrifying and unbelievable. She’s been very upset since it happened and her mother is concerned about her. I tried talking with my granddaughter, but she didn’t seem to hear me. I felt helpless.

A lifelong friend passed away after a short illness. I found out about it when my husband showed me his picture in the obituary. I was shocked and couldn’t understand why this good friend didn’t let me know he was ill. I would like to have had the opportunity to talk with him – to tell him things I never got around to saying. I felt cheated.

A member of our church family – and a friend – passed away a few weeks ago. He had Alzheimer’s. His wife brought him to church for as long as it was possible and we watched his gradual decline from Sunday to Sunday. He endured, first, the humiliation and then the pain that this cruel disease inflicts upon its victims! I felt angry.

I’ve been trying hard to squeeze a layer of meaning out of this natural phenomenon called death, but so far, all I’ve gathered is: It hurts. And it leaves scars that never heal.

In his book, A Grief Observed, C. S. Lewis wrote: “For in grief nothing stays put. One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats.”

Death does hurt. Not necessarily the person who gives up his life, but the loved ones and friends who must let him go. We are flooded with a torrential outpouring of emotion each time death comes near us. And it does seem to keep repeating!

However, in actuality, it’s not about us, is it?

As Christians, we are taught to deal with these feelings. “Death is a part of life,” we are told. “And, for the departed, the best is yet to come.”

In a book by William W. Orr, The First Five Minutes after Death, Dr. Orr explains: “The essence of a Christian’s death is that of graduation. Life has been a school. Lessons have been learned. Examinations have been given, but all is now past. In the perfect will of God, the believer has attained the experience and knowledge of important truths. He will be promoted to life—the exceedingly abundant life. The full and complete arrangements to transfer his soul into celestial realms have been concluded. This is an important event! The other side is glorious indeed! At death, there is an open door into immeasurable blessing, which only the power of God could make possible.”

There are many causes of death. Some simply grow old and die. For them, there is usually plenty of warning. To others, death comes abruptly. They die as a result of accidents, heart attacks, strokes, rapid cancer and a variety of other diseases. Death comes to infants, youth, and those in the prime of life—people of all ages.

No one knows when his time will come. This is the reason we should be ready at all times. This is why God expects us to live each minute as if the transfer into His glory might occur the next moment.

As a matter of fact, it may!