Jesus is the Better…

The woman’s life was in shambles. She’d been abused by men in every way since childhood. Her brokenness left her searching ~ searching for love in all the wrong places. Her name was Nikki. “Nikki, I’ve got the perfect man for you,” Jeff said. Nikki shrugged and turned away, certain she’d just be disappointed one more time. “No really,” Jeff insisted. “You should meet him. He listens. He’s patient. He is tender and compassionate. He gently pursues. I’ve never met a more genuine man.” He had Nikki’s attention. “Yes! I want to meet him!” she exclaimed.  Jeff smiled. “His name is Jesus. I’d love to introduce you.”  Nikki eventually did meet Jesus. And she found Him to be the perfect man. He met all of her longings.

As I heard Jeff tell the story, I began to understand how Jesus is the answer for our every longing on an entirely different level. But unless we take the time to get to know Jesus, the solution sounds blind and shallow. “Don’t worry. Jesus is enough. Be happy.”

Another of the stories Jeff told involved a man who was searching for his father’s approval. Unfortunately the man’s dad died when he was 16 and he never experienced his father’s approval. Now as an older man, he was still longing for it. Jeff shared with us some of what he had shared with the man ~ and it was good news!

The man in Jeff’s story is not unique. Our unmet needs from childhood seem to be a very common source of brokenness. All of our parents are imperfect humans doing the best they can. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) their imperfect best will always leave gaps. I’d like to practice speaking gospel truth with you by walking through that particular area of hurt, looking at it through the lens of “Jesus is the better…”. How is Jesus the better parent and what kind of healing can He bring to you and me?  What is the identity He offers?  How did He live out what we are craving?

My first step in this process is to ask, what is it that we need from our parents?  Protection, food, clothing, shelter, affirmation, affection, attentiveness, forgiveness, patience, instruction, unconditional love, medical care, inclusion. The list could go on. If I was talking with someone who was hurting in regards to their parents, I would listen for a recurring theme to discover what area they felt their needs had not been met. The man Jeff was talking with had not gotten approval and affirmation from his father.

The second step is to ask how we can know that Jesus is able to meet that need. What do we see in how He treated others as recorded in the Bible that would indicate He is able to give what we need? What experiences have we had of Him in our own lives? How about in the lives of our friends? How do we know Jesus is the better parent? What kind of parent/ child relationship did Jesus experience that becomes my new identity when I am in Christ?

The good news Jeff shared with the man he was talking with sounded something like this: “I have good news for you! When Jesus was on the earth, before He had even begun His ministry, His Father announced to everyone that He was proud of His Son. He said, “Look everyone – this is My Son! I’m so pleased with Him!” Jesus offers that acceptance to you. It’s not just that Jesus will accept you, but He is willing to trade places with you. He is willing to give you the connection He has with His father, as your own to claim. When God the Father looks at you, He sees Jesus. The admiration and acceptance given to Jesus, becomes yours even though you’ve done nothing to deserve it.”

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By claiming our identity in the gospel, we can let loose of our unreasonable expectations of others because Jesus has already perfectly experienced it and provided it. As we believe that God sees us ~ right now ~ as He sees Jesus, we can let loose of our unreasonable expectations of ourselves because Jesus has already obtained it. We become more loving, not because we tried hard to be loving, but because Jesus is the better answer. He is enough.

Jesus is the hero ~ and it’s good news!

That’s the gospel truth.

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The Gospel Lens ~ Speaking Gospel Truth

Badness contained is not goodness. It is simply badness that is not leaking out yet. ~ Lee Venden

Most of us have no experience in the realm of speaking Gospel Truth to each other. In general it seems our interactions tend to land at one extreme or another. Either we say nothing at all when we see another person struggling in life, or we’ll swing to the exact opposite and tell them what they should be doing and how they need to change their behavior.  We might even read a Bible verse to show them it’s not just us who says they should be doing what we’ve told them, but God. And we call that speaking truth. But I am finding that at its heart, Christianity is not a behavior modification system, and the overarching message of the Bible is not good advice about living. So what does it mean to speak truth and how do we incorporate that into our relationships?

What I’m sharing here are some summary thoughts from a presentation by Jeff Vanderstelt (click here to watch his presentation).

Using the Biblical metaphor of our lives being trees that bear fruit, what we believe about who God is makes up the root of our tree. We have decided who God is based on what we’ve read and have experienced of the person Jesus (the Bible tells us that Jesus is the revelation of the Father). From that we decide who we are in Christ, which is displayed by our actions – or the fruit of the tree.  Speaking truth is a process of leading others (or even ourselves) to understand what they are believing based on how they are acting and to repent of their false beliefs about God.  By realigning their beliefs with what Jesus has shown us to be true about God, their fruit (behavior) naturally changes.

In the video presentation Jeff walked through an example of how he applied this process to a real-life situation. His wife was struggling with anxiety. The Fruit of the Spirit is peace. Her life was not showing the fruit of the Spirit. I’ll share with you a brief synopsis of the conversation as he shares it on the video.  His actual conversation with her lasted several hours.

Jeff – When you are experiencing anxiety, what does that tell you about who you believe you are?

Wife – I am the one in control.

Jeff – If you believe it is all up to you, what does that say about what you think God has done?

Wife – He has stopped loving me. He is not in control. He has abandoned me.

Jeff – Then who do you believe God is?

Wife – I believe God is unloving, impotent, and distant.

His wife understood that the fruit of her life revealed the root of her faith. In that moment she was acting as though she believed in herself and she was honest enough to speak the beliefs she was holding as truth about God. Those were not consistent with the beliefs she intellectually held to be true about God and she quickly repented of the beliefs she was acting on. She actually believes God is loving. She knows this because Jesus died for her while she was still His enemy. Because God is loving and cares for her, she does not have to be in control and can have peace.

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Repentance is the turning away from false beliefs we are holding about God and turning toward what we know to be true as revealed in Jesus. As you may have noticed, the discussion was not “you need to get more peace”. While peace is what she needed, telling her she needed to get peace for herself by trying would have only reinforced the root belief that was already bearing the fruit of anxiety in her life ~ namely, that she was in control of life and that it was all up to her. We don’t bear the fruit of the Spirit by trying hard to bear the fruit of the Spirit.

The fruit of the Spirit comes automatically as we seek Jesus.

Empathizing with others in their time of distress helps them know they are not alone and is beneficial to the one hurting. Giving good advice about choices to one who is asking has its place. But only Christianity offers the Good News of the gospel. Only God is able to change us from the inside. Do we believe it? Why don’t we remind each other of that more often? Why do we try to fix our external fruit problem instead of addressing our internal root problem?

The Gospel Lens ~ An Evolution of Theories

Over the years I’ve had some defining moments that have prompted me to put my beliefs into words. The first was about this time six years ago. My late husband was on hospice. He and I, and our kids, signed a family pledge. It went like this: “Because Jesus is coming again to take His friends to Heaven, we will, therefore, dedicate our lives to Him.”  I had a considerably longer version written out, but the challenge of writing it in calligraphy on a 12 X 16″ sheet of paper inspired me to distill it down to as few words as possible. So when push came to shove, the essence of my beliefs landed on, “Jesus has something I want, so I’m willing to give Him something back in order to get it.” I will always treasure that piece of paper with all of our signatures on it, but I find my gospel view… well… interesting.

About two years ago I had occasion to give a synopsis of my life view again. This time it read: “Because of all Jesus has done for me, I am a bond servant to Him.”  The essence of this statement sounds more like “Jesus has done something for me… and I will work at paying Him back.”  Again… interesting.

But I’ve come to some stark realities in the more recent past. These realizations are based on words that I’ve known for as long as I can remember being.

  • Jesus/ God doesn’t need my work. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He can command the rocks to cry out. All things are at His disposal. (Ps 50:7-10, Luke 19:40)
  • He doesn’t want my work. He’s not interested in any performance.  “Going through the motions doesn’t please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you. I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.” (Ps 51:16,17 MSG)
  • I can’t give Him any good works of my own.  Every good and perfect gift is from Him. (James 1:17)  Anything I do on my own is as filthy as menstrual rags. (Is 64:6) That’s disgusting.

The 4 Gs

So, if that’s what the gospel isn’t, then what is it? I like this brief summary based on “The Gospel Primer” by Caesar Kalinowski (2013 Missio Publishing):

God is Great ~ so I don’t have to be in control. I can rest of my worries.

God is Glorious ~ so I don’t have to fear others. God is important, or “weighty”. In fact, He is the “weightiest” person in my life.  I can let go of seeking the approval of others.

God is Good ~ so I don’t have to look elsewhere for my satisfaction. People and things eventually fail to deeply satisfy my soul. Jesus is the better fulfillment of my every need.

God is Gracious ~ so I don’t have to prove myself to myself, to others, to God. While I was yet a sinner, God sent His son Jesus to die in my place. I don’t need to earn His love. He proclaims me worthy.

God is the hero.

He graciously gives. I gratefully receive.

Because of the gospel, I am free.

My burden is light.

That’s Good News!

The Gospel Lens ~ Studying to Know God

Do you find the Bible boring or irrelevant? Do you try to read and study but get bogged down in details and facts? Many of us have been taught to read the Bible looking for factual information. What can I get from God? What does He want? What should I believe? What do I have to do? But the Bible isn’t just a collection of facts or good advice about how to live. It’s full of Good News and Gospel Truth.  It’s an invitation to a relationship with the living God.

I’m going to walk you through a Bible study method that has shifted my focus from learning information or even appreciating an interesting story, and allowed me to brush against the hem of Jesus. The example I’m going to walk you through is based on my reading of Mark 3: 7-19. Briefly, in this passage of scripture Jesus finds Himself pressed in with crowds of people wanting to be healed. He then took His disciples to a mountain top where He chose 12 apostles. His plan was to teach them, and then send the apostles out to proclaim the Word and free people from the power of demons as He had been doing.

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Question one of the gospel lens:  What does this story tell me about the characteristics of God?

God is generous.

Question two: What has Jesus done in this story to express it?

Jesus healed all who came to Him and selected other apostles so they could do the same work in greater numbers.

Question three: Who are we in the gospel story* because of this story?

Because God is generous, in the gospel story we are needy. After encountering Jesus, we become well cared for.

Question four: What do I now do with this belief? How do I live differently?

Because God is generous and I am well cared for, I can afford to give lavishly to others.

You will notice that my answers to the questions are probably not your answers. There are no “right” answers. Your story and where the Holy Spirit is leading you will affect what you gain from the Bible reading. Your image of who God is will be different than mine because of your perspective and your unique personal relationship with Jesus. It is in studying and sharing with others that we can begin to get a bigger picture of God. It is a process of learning who He is, which then informs me of who I am in Him, and in turn changes how I live.  I don’t behave in a certain way so I can do something for Him, prove something to Him, get something good or avoid something bad from Him. As I practice focusing my eyes on Him, my external life becomes a natural response to the power of God working in my heart.

*The Gospel Story is God’s story of creating a perfect world, having Adam and Eve disbelieve His goodness, and His response of love and grace in His quest to rebuild the broken trust. Through the gift of His Son, He provided a way for mankind to reconnect with Himself and will one day return to erase the blight of sin and restore a face-to-face relationship with His redeemed sons and daughters. The gospel story has been played out over the ages, but is also repeated in each of our lives. 

Pithy Proverbs

“Pithy”?!  “Pithy Proverbs” is what the man said. If I’d read his name, seen his face, written his name, then repeated it back a few times, I could tell you what his name was. But alas, it was just an interview on the radio with an apparently well-studied man and author on the subject of Christian family life, and I can’t remember his name. But his comment caught me off guard. Weren’t Proverbs guidelines for life? Weren’t they promises? Weren’t they meant to define a Christian? For Pete’s sake, there’s a whole industry and list of expectations for what a Christian woman should look and act like based on Proverbs 31. And he’s calling them pithy? Somehow that threatened their importance in my mind.

pithy 

pithy phrase or statement is brief but full of substance and meaning. Proverbs and sayings are pithy; newspaper columnists givepithy advice.

The root of this word is pith, which refers to the spongy tissue in plant stems, or the white part under the skin of citrus fruits. Pith is also used figuratively to refer to the essential part of something: They finally got to the pith of the discussion. Pith descends from Middle English, from Old English pitha “the pith of plants.” In the adjective pithy, the suffix –y means “characterized by.”

Well, ok, maybe “pithy” carried a negative connotation to me and applying it to the Proverbs really didn’t diminish their worth. However, the speaker gave an example of how those pithy directives in Proverbs can actually contradict each other. I was surprised, once again, to realize these apparently contradictory words of advice directly follow each other in Proverbs 26.

4 When arguing with fools, don’t answer their foolish arguments, or you will become as foolish as they are. 5 When arguing with fools, be sure to answer their foolish arguments, or they will become wise in their own estimation.

So… is it wise to respond to foolish arguments or not? Hmm… I’m not sure. Maybe it’s one of those things that isn’t “right” or “wrong”, “good” or “bad”  – but is one of those situations in this crazy life where there really isn’t a one-way-fits-all answer. There are consequences (and it would appear that neither of them is ideal) for either direction of action we choose.

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Perhaps the words of Proverbs are merely heavenly-inspired education. Maybe Proverbs wasn’t written to tell me how I have to live. Maybe they aren’t intended to be cut and dry promises of God’s blessings if I just act right. Maybe it was written to give wise advice on the common consequences of choices in various tough situations. Maybe following it has nothing to do with securing nor maintaining my salvation. But maybe it has a whole lot to do with increasing the odds of living a peaceful, whole-hearted life as I walk through these often less-than-ideal circumstances I find myself in every day.

Precious Promises

“Every promise in the Book is mine!  Every chapter, every verse, every line.  I am standing on His Word divine!  Every promise in the Book is mine!”

Catchy little song.  We sing it in Primary.  Precious promises.  We teach our children to claim them. 

How do you like this promise?   “In the world you will have tribulation.” John 16:33 

Oh, you don’t like that so much?  How about this?  “We are hard-pressed on every side.”  2 Corinthians 4:8 

Hmmm…. let me try again.  How about…  “We also glory in tribulations.”  Romans 5:3 

I struck out, didn’t I?  Obviously I’ve taken those verses, or portions of them, entirely out of context.  The encouraging promises are nestled in and around the ones we don’t generally like the sound of.   While Jeff was dying of cancer, I had a love-hate relationship with the text that says, “With God, all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26.  Really?  Does this have to be possible?  Even Psalm 23:4, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”  Do I have to walk through that valley?

Somehow we as Christians seem to get the idea that once we are Christians, we’re “in”.  It’s all “good”.  Life will be “fine”.  Blessings and miracles will be coming our way.  And when things go bad we wonder what happened to our faith.  Or, when things are bad for someone else, we possibly question their walk with God.  Maybe they don’t have enough faith.

Remember John the Baptist?  Beheaded.  Stephen?  Stoned.  Job?  Stripped of all his family, belongings and health.  Yes, Job ended better than he began.  But he had to live through the pain while not knowing the final chapter.  He maintained his faith during devastation, not seeing his future.   That’s where the “rubber meets the road” or the “faith meets the life”.   “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  Hebrews 11:1.   Sometimes that’s a tough requirement. 

I’ve found great comfort in the following sequence of verses:  “Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”  Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.””  Mark 9: 23, 24.  Jesus honored his faith. 

We don’t have to conjure up faith.  “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17.    “And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”” Luke 17:5.   Faith is a gift.  Now that’s a precious promise.

Purse Strings

I had a patient today that was so excited about her new purse.  She’d found it on an internet site.  She had to get a larger size because her husband has cancer now.  And a light bulb went off in my head.  “Oh yeah, the purse!”  I thought.  Was nothing in my life spared from the touch of cancer?  Apparently not.

You can march through stages of my life by looking at my purse.  I have always tended to carry only the essentials.  Are all those things really necessary?  What is essential?  That depends on the circumstances.

In college I’d carry some gum, hand lotion, a lipstick, maybe a brush.  That didn’t take too much room.

Then came babies.  Forget the purse- just get a huge diaper bag and put my essentials in with the baby’s essentials.  But, surprisingly enough, baby #2 had fewer essentials than baby #1.  Funny how that works.  One finds that a baby really can survive for 3 hours without all their favorite things. 

Then the kids went to school and Jeff and I both went to the same office- our office.  If we wanted something there, we’d just have it there.  No need to tote it back and forth every day.  I was lucky to get out the door with my driver’s license and a credit card tucked in my pocket.  Some days I forgot those items and had NOTHING with me.  A purse?  Whatever for?

Then came cancer.  Suddenly I became the intra-operative locker.  “Here, take my phone and my sunglasses.  Oh, and here’s my watch.  Um, my wallet is in my pants’ pocket. Grab that too, if you would.  Hang on to my chapstick so I’ll have it right away after surgery, OK?  Thanks.”  I got a big purse.  Sometimes I just carried around a duffle bag.  I had my own new essentials to add to the locker, also.  I needed Bible verses for encouragement.  I needed my phone to keep family updated.  I needed my ever-present notebook to keep track of information.

My purse no longer functions as the intra-operative locker.  But it’s still on the larger size.  I still need Bible verses.  The notebook- I got a different one and write different things in it now.  I write story ideas.  I write things that people say at church that are meaningful to me.  I write prayer requests down that I hear people mention.  My phone- its importance fluctuates.  Sometimes I’ll leave it sit all day while other days I might have it clutched in my hand.  I usually also have a book with me now.  When I have a few minutes with nothing else to do, I’ll grab that and read a bit.

Will I ever get back to just my credit card and driver’s license?  Probably not.  I kind of like my purse.

Face of Death

He walked out the door and never looked back.  Resolute.  He had wanted the kids to make the trip with him.  They had chosen not to.  I knew his disappointment would be short-lived.  The mental picture they would have had would have lasted their life time- which was certain to be longer than the time he had remaining.  I voted with the kids.  I had packed a bag for him: several changes of clothes, tooth brush, hair brush, shampoo, razor- everything you’d take for a trip.  I carried it out. He walked to the car under his own strength- which was minimal- all bundled up against the cold.  He had no body fat to warm him.  It was less than a mile from our house to the hospice house.  A very short trip.  But yet so long.

“Would you like me to take you to Wyoming?”  I asked as we were headed down the hill.  I was driving.  Jeff hadn’t had the strength or concentration to drive for many months.

“I would like to go to Wyoming again.  But I think I would die getting there.”

Silent pause.  Quiet words, “The result will be the same regardless of which way we go.  I’m willing to take you wherever you would like to go.”  Pause- sitting at the light- turn right to the hospice house or left to Wyoming.

“I want to die here.”

“OK”- turn right.

We got him settled in his room.  First room on the SW corner of the building.  He changed into hospital pants and a T-shirt- the only thing he used from the many changes I’d brought for him.   Peggy, his hospice nurse, was there.  Sheila was there.

Sheila.  What a gift from God she was to me!  She’d been closer to Jeff than to me during our academy days.  We were friends back then- but we were on different wave lengths.  We’d lost touch over the years but had reconnected October 2007 at our class reunion.  That reconnection came just two months before Jeff’s diagnosis of cancer.  Without that reconnection I would never have thought to call on her.  And she turned out to be my steady hand of support and reminder of the love of God through the path that we had to take.  She was always ready to share a Word of Truth.

Back at the hospice house- The Monarch.  Kids came to visit Friday evening.  They didn’t stay too long.  There weren’t any tubes, monitors or IV’s connected this time like there were most times when Jeff was away from home.  Just lying in bed.  Talking.  But what do you talk about?

Company came Saturday.  Jeff’s cousins.  They talked about fun things they did growing up.  Remembering.  I couldn’t stay in the room all the time.  They were laughing.  Laughter is good.  But what about the elephant in the room?  What about the fact that everyone knew this would be the last visit they had together?  Would no one talk about that?  The heavy weight of it all made it hard for me to breathe.  I had to get some air.

Sunday came.  Jeff was very tired.  He had spent more awake time the day before than he had on any given day for months.  “I can sleep when I’m dead.”  he said.  He struggled to stay awake.  The kids were there most of the day.  There were many different rooms we could use at the hospice house.  They didn’t have to stay in Jeff’s room all the time.  They could get out and breathe when they needed to, play with toys, watch TV or sit by the fire.  They went to get flowers in the afternoon and brought them to Jeff’s room to brighten it up.

Monday came.  We really didn’t know how this was all going to go.  We had closed his bile drain tube Friday before he showered in preparation for his trip.  It had taken him all morning and part of the afternoon to have the energy to complete his shower and shave.  The drain had been his life-line.   His bile duct had scarred closed after his last major surgery in August 2009.  An external drain had been inserted.  We’d been changing dressings and emptying it at least twice daily ever since.  We’d tried to close it in the past, hoping it would drain the right way.  But it never worked.  His bilirubin would climb and a new drain would have to be inserted and the process started all over again.  The bile had changed from thick, dark and oily to thin, brownish and with flecks of tan tissue.  The interventional radiologist had told us in January those flecks we saw were pieces of his liver- destroyed by the cancer and coming out a little at a time.  Jeff had been able to eat nothing but cream soups for a couple of weeks.  He got a cup or so down on a good day.  He looked and felt like he was starving to death.  His legs hurt.  He was filling with fluid.  Now it was moving to his abdomen.  He could have taken diuretics.  But that would have meant he would have been going to the bathroom a lot.  He had no energy for that.  So a catheter would have been required.  Why?  Why do that?

We had talked it over the Wednesday night before.  He was so miserable.  I reminded him we could close the drain if we wanted to.  “What would happen then?”- he wanted to know.  “Your bilirubin would rise, you would become toxic and go into a coma.”  “How long would that take?”  “Probably a few days.”  “Would that be playing God?”  “Were we playing God when we inserted it?”  Tough questions.  Tough decisions.  No right answers.  Cancer was consuming his body. A bile drain was not going to save him- but might prolong the process.  The bile drain had also removed the bile which is necessary to process nutrition from food.  A blessing and a curse.  He had chosen to close the drain.  It was no longer needed.  And God is SO good!  We had tried and failed to close his tube so many times before.  This time was different.  The bile didn’t back up.  It went the right direction.  God let us know He was in charge.  Not us.  He took that burden from us.  But now what was going to happen?  We didn’t know.

Our daughter stayed at the hospice house Monday.  Our son went to school.  Sheila was by my side- always.  Our son and his cousins came by after school Monday.  After a while it was time for them to go.  They all lined up to give Jeff hugs and kisses.  Our son was last in line.  He didn’t want to kiss Daddy- he was scruffy.  Jeff was always very particular about his clean shave.  Jack didn’t want to kiss that scruffy face.  I insisted- “You kiss your Daddy- on his forehead then.  It’s not scruffy there.”  So he did.  Jeff promised him, “The next time you see me, Buddy, I’ll be shaved up, OK?”  “OK. Bye Dad.  Hope you feel better.”  Jack always added that on.  “Hope you feel better.”  I’d been hearing it nearly every day for more than two years from my little boy.  “Hope you feel better, Daddy….”

I thought Jack had understood.  We’d been very honest with the kids regarding what we knew to be true.  We tried very hard not to weigh them down with what we feared to be true- but stuck to the facts with them.  We didn’t hide truth- knowing that would only make it harder when truth showed up.  But Jack hadn’t understood.  When I told the kids Jeff was going to the hospice house, Jack wanted to know if Jeff would be at his birthday party.  His birthday is in April.  This was March.  I told him I didn’t think so.  “WHAT?  You mean they are never going to let him out of there??”  “That’s not it, Honey.  Daddy is going to die.  He won’t be at your birthday party because he will be dead.  He won’t be here.”

Back to Monday- the kids left.  Jeff decided he should get up, shower and shave.  I protested.  The shower was in a large bathroom.  There was no heater in there.  It would be too exhausting.  How about he use the tub room?  It was in a small room that could be heated to a toasty warmth.  There was a hand held shower attachment he could use to wash his hair.  It was arranged so other people could assist without getting soaked themselves.  He finally agreed to that.  I let the nurses know to get things warming- he was going to clean up.  The hospice nurse, Peggy from Asera Care, stopped in the room on her way out.  “See you tomorrow.”

Not ten minutes had gone by when Jeff started shaking uncontrollably. “Get me some blankets- I’m cold.”  Piled the blankets on.  “I’m too hot.  Take some blankets off.”  Took some off.   Still shaking- now worse.  And he was getting very hot.  I texted Peggy.  “Come back- going bad”.  She called.  “Have the nurses give him his Dilaudid and Ativan.”   Ten more minutes passed.  Worsening.  Now his whole body was tightening up, his jaw was clenched.  He pleaded through his teeth “Can’t they give me something else?”  He’d had a couple seizures before.  They’d lasted no more than a minute.  After the first one he said, “I never want to have another one of those in my life!”  This one was not letting up despite the usual medication and even more medication.  Twenty minutes had passed of pure torture for both of us.  Peggy arrived.  “The only thing we can do is sedate him.”  “Do it!”  We’d talked about this beforehand.  One of the blessings of hospice care.  They make you think through the ugly facts ahead of time.  “Do it!”  They dripped the medicine between his teeth.  It was not instant relief.  Peggy asked me to go in the hall with her.  “Your eyes are showing fear.” she said.  “Get yourself together and show faith or you will have to leave the room.  You are not helping him.”  I was stunned.  I aimlessly wandered to the fireplace room.  And sobbed.  Peggy came in a few minutes later.  “He’s resting now.”  “Can I go see him?”  “Yes.”  “I’ve had my last conversation with him, haven’t I?”  “Yes.”  “OK.”

I went to his room.  He was breathing loudly, exerting all the muscles he had in his upper body.  His eyes were shut.  I took his hand.  Sobbing.  Stroked his scruffy face.  “Just go to sleep, Honey.  It’s OK.  You are going to see Jesus’ face.  You are going to eat from the Tree of Life.  And it’s going to taste GOOD!  Let it go.  Rest now.”  I heard a raspy whisper.  “What are they saying?”  I was shocked!  “What?!”  It was Jeff, eyes open, talking to me.  “What are they saying?” he repeated. Translation- “Give me a run-down of my medical status.”  I could not believe it.  He was supposed to be in a medicated coma and he was talking to me.  Deep sigh, pull myself together, focus, present the truth.  “Well, your heart rate is up, your blood pressure is down, you have fluid in your lungs and your fever is high.  They don’t expect you have long.”  “OK.”  And he pursed his dehydrated, cracked lips to give me a kiss.  And he closed his eyes.  And kept struggling to breathe.

We had talked a few days before.  Was there anyone else he needed to talk to?  Anyone he needed to resolve anything with?  Were his conversations finished?  They were.  “What about your mom?  Have you said good-bye to your mom?”  “No.  We can’t talk about it.”

Now Jeff could do nothing about it.  He was powerless.  “Ruth,” I said.  “Go talk to Jeff.  He doesn’t feel like he’s finished his conversations with you.  Please go tell him it is OK for him to die.  He needs to hear it from you.”  She went to his room.  Just she and her dying son.  I can’t pretend to imagine what that was like for her.  She came back out about an hour later.  “Did you tell him?”  “No…  I couldn’t.  I THOUGHT it.”  “He needs to HEAR it.  He can’t hear your thoughts.”

The night wore on.  Such effort to breathe.  Brenda, Wes and I were in the room now.  Some healing of wounds was occurring.  “Wes,” I said.  “Have you told Jeff it’s OK for him to die?”  “No- but I can if it’s important.”  “I think it is.”  “OK”  Wes walked to Jeff’s side and took his hand.  Saying that you can say such a thing and actually doing it are two different matters.  Wes fell apart- sobbing.  “Brother, I just want you to know, it’s OK…”  Jeff- who had appeared to be comatosed for hours now- opened his eyes to meet his brother’s gaze and held out his hand to shake his brother’s hand.  We gasped.  He closed his eyes and continued his labored breathing.

Second shift was over.  Third shift was arriving.  The nurses came in to say good-bye.  “Jeff has been such a good man.  We’ve never had a kinder patient.  What a blessing he has been to us.”  One nurse touched his leg.  And he opened his eyes.  And held out his hand for a handshake.  Then closed his eyes and continued his labored breathing.

We sat in his room.  Sometimes talking.  Sometimes just being.  Listening.  Waiting.  He opened his eyes one more time- to wink at his sister.  His dad talked about how much Jeff loved Wyoming.  And Jeff groaned.  I thought it to be coincidence until it happened again, and again.  He did love Wyoming.  But, through the course of cancer, he had grown to love God even more.  Therein was the blessing of cancer.  It had its curses.  But that had been its blessing.  Jeff loved God with all his heart.  He was willing to give up every earthly dream and go tell others of the love of God if He had chosen to heal him.  But He didn’t heal his body.  He healed his soul.  Jeff’s willingness to obey was perfected.  God had completed His work in Him as He promised to do.

Morning light came.  The hospice aid came.  Was there anything she could do?  I wanted to shave him.  I knew Jeff would want that.  I went to his room with the aid.  Got out the razor and stood by Jeff.  His jaw lifting and dropping with every breath.  Neck muscles tightening and relaxing.  Chest heaving.  He had oxygen on now- in hopes he wouldn’t struggle so hard for every breath.  I wanted to shave him.  But I couldn’t.  I just couldn’t.  I laid by him instead.  But, the position he was in seemed to make him struggle more for his breath.  I got up and we tried to adjust his position.  Didn’t help much.  But I didn’t lay down again.  And I didn’t shave him.  I couldn’t.  The aid left.

Many people were there now.  Pastor Carlson- reminding us of the promises of God.  Lisette- helping plan the service.  Sheila- always Sheila.

Afternoon came.  Really no change in status.  How long would this go on?  Ruth went in the room, again alone with her dying son.  This time she stroked his face and told him it was ok.  And he quit struggling and rested.  We all came to the room.  I stomped my foot and yelled at Death aloud “Oh Death, WHERE is your victory??!!!”  I was angry at Death.  “You think you won?”  I thought.  “You just wait till you meet my GOD!  He’s bigger than YOU!”

Saturday night we had a memorial service of sorts for the kids.  There were a lot of kids.  We had our camping tent set up in one of the rooms at the church.  A fire in the fireplace.  Camp stools.  Marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers.  A table with pictures and outdoor gear.  His sunglasses.  A cap.  Binoculars.  Pastor Carlson was there to give a talk to the kids.  What is death?  What is our hope?  We had a video of pictures set to “I Will Rise” by Chris Tomlin.  He will rise.  This is not the end of his story.  It’s just a pause.  The next part of his story will be much better than the first.

Monday was the funeral.  But, it was a resurrection.  A resurrection for those in attendance.  A chance for them to be born again.

Some days I find it hard to ask “Oh Death, where is your sting?”  Hard because, some days, I feel the sting.  But I believe.  I believe the things we see are temporary.  What God has waiting is eternal.  He will erase the face of death forever and make all things new.  I believe.  And that makes all the difference.