Saturday, April 12, 2014

Who's Watching?

So often we judge success by how many people are watching.

Television shows are taken off the air if there aren't enough viewers. University classes are cancelled if there aren't enough students to make a profit. Some celebrities demand a certain sized audience before they will consider coming to a venue. We can make judgments on how "popular" people are based on the amount of Facebook friends they have.

Several years ago I was visiting someone in a Catholic hospital in the U.S. Each time that I visited I passed by a cute little chapel that was there for the patients. Each time I passed by it was empty. I felt sad that no one was using this sacred space, and felt sorry for the priest who I imagined had to cancel Mass if no one came.

I was wrong.

Several months later I found out from a pastor friend that even when a congregation is absent, a priest, often along with an altar server, still conducts Mass. The reasoning being that a priest is never entirely alone. There's always a host of angels standing in honor of their Lord and God.

Whoa. I suddenly felt so shallow.

In my focus on earthly facts and figures, I had completely forgotten about the bigger reality of the Kingdom of Heaven.

It's a Kingdom where many times our most important actions take place when there aren't earthly throngs cheering us on. Maybe it's choosing to forgive someone who has wronged you; refusing to gossip; helping someone who could never return the the favor. Sometimes the biggest triumph is simply continuing to move forward and staying true to where God called you even when it feels you aren't making a difference.

It's in those deep private places when life stops being a performance and becomes an offering to God.

Just like the hospital priest knew, it's an offering that God and all of heaven witnesses.

Hebrews 12:1-3: "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. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Beginning of the Beginning

I'm trying to find my new normal.

I've just returned home after being gone a month to be with my mom in the final weeks of her life. It's going to take me some time to process all that happened in this intense but precious time. There were things I experienced as I watched my mother's life fade away that I still don't understand but I know something important has been deposited in me. Things aren't tied up neatly in a bow, but the main emotion that I am left with is awe.

Here's what I shared about my experience at mom's memorial service.

My Mom was a strong woman.

She had a strong will and a strong faith in God. When she found out she had cancer, she had a strong desire to live and believed God for her healing. And after a complete round of chemo treatments, she did seem to beat her cancer for a time, but then it came back and this time it didn’t respond well to chemo.

During this time I tried to pray prayers of faith for her healing but it felt like they fell flat. I asked God “What are you doing?” In my mind’s eye I saw a picture of my Mom. She was a radiant bride walking down the aisle and her face shone with light. I knew in my spirit she was walking down the aisle to Jesus, the Bridegroom. This image gave me a sense that mom’s struggle with cancer would no doubt bring her closer to Jesus but I knew it also could potentially mean that this was a path that would ultimately take her to heaven with Jesus.

From that point I adjusted my prayers to pray that not one day ordained for my mom’s life would be stolen from her and that every day she would grow closer to Jesus.

I had the honor of being with Mom and observing the last steps of her earthly journey during her two and a half weeks in hospice after she suffered a stroke.

During this time I witnessed the clash of my mom’s will to live with the reality that she was in the process of dying. This showed up in what is called terminal agitation. My mom would doze for 20-30 seconds and then startle awake looking around at her strange surroundings. A hospice nurse explained agitation to me like this: We all say we look forward to seeing our loved ones in heaven, but if you knew that you were dying right now you would probably freak out.

I imagined myself having amazing conversations with mom about heaven, but that wasn’t happening. She resisted talking about heaven because she wasn’t ready to die.

That changed on December 12. Mom was in a lot of pain that day and moaned and fidgeted a lot. In the afternoon she moaned a bit and I asked if she was hurting, and she said “It’s spectacular.” I thought maybe she was a little loopy so I asked her what was spectacular. She said, “The sounds of heaven.” I was in awe and I watched her over the next hour or so writhe in pain while she also struggled to speak about the preview God was giving her of her future home in glory.

From that day on, her gaze changed. She was focused on Jesus. She didn’t speak much after that afternoon. Even though her spirit was set on Jesus, her little body fought and fidgeted on.

A good friend of my mom and dad visited one afternoon near the end of her life and read a Scripture that gave great perspective. It was 2 Corinthians 4:16 – 18.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

As my mom’s body grew weaker each day, this Scripture helped me realize that I was witnessing my mother’s process of becoming more and more eternal until she eventually stepped into heaven on December 17.

I am forever changed by the experience.