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Archive for July, 2010

Stroking Miss Betty’s hair, I talked to her gently, but there was no response.  Her cheeks were sunken in, her eyes were closed, her breathing was shallow.  She’d been in a comatose state for the past several days, and had lost so much weight that she was barely recognizable.  Miss Betty, the mother of our close family friend Gary, was in the last stages of terminal cancer.

With worship music playing softly in the background, I squeezed Miss Betty’s hand and whispered, “You’re so close to heaven.  You’re going to see Jesus soon.  It’s OK, you can go now.”  As I kissed her forehead, I was instantly reminded of my maternal grandmother, who had pancreatic cancer at age 83.

My spunky Italian grandma lived next door to us for the last several years of her life, and we saw her almost every day.  We would laugh over her stories from her teenage years as we made her famous “meatless meatballs” in her tiny kitchen, or battled to outsmart the squirrels who tried to steal her birdseed.  Grandma jumped rope every day, grinning when I couldn’t keep up with her fast skipping that she called “hot peppers.”  She swore by the healing properties of herbal teas and wheat germ in her oatmeal to keep her “fit as a fiddle.”

When the cancer started advancing, I could hardly bear to see Grandma, who had always been so healthy, deteriorating physically.  At the end, my family and I would sit by her bed and sing hymns or read the Bible aloud.  She was longing to be with Jesus, and we didn’t want to see her go, yet we didn’t want to see her suffer.  We knew we had to release her.

I’ll never forget the amazing presence of the Lord in that room the last few hours Grandma was on this earth.  Once she opened her eyes and asked, “Heaven?” so hopefully that we had to say, “No, Grandma, not yet.  But you’re almost there!”  She talked of seeing angels, and kept saying, “It’s so beautiful. It’s so beautiful.”  Finally, through tears, we cheered her on as she crossed over the Jordan, knowing that we were witnessing something powerful and precious.

This morning I got a phone call with the news that Miss Betty had gone to see Jesus.  At 5:00am on July 21st, her spirit finally left her body and went to her real, eternal Home.  Though it’s painful for us to say goodbye on this side, I had to smile to imagine the reception these two godly women – my Grandma and Miss Betty – had received on the other side, with the “great cloud of witnesses” applauding for them as they ran into the welcoming arms of Jesus (Hebrews 12:1, NIV).

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Psalm 116:15, NIV).

GOING VERTICAL!

MJ

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Guilt took me on a walk around the block the other night.  It was a perfect summer evening.  The sun was setting, and there was a light breeze, a welcome relief from the intense heat of the day.  Taking a deep breath, I tried to relax.  But my route was dictated by my internal G.P.S. – Guilt Positioning System.

Taking an immediate left out of my driveway led me in the opposite direction of our 97-year-old neighbor of more than twenty years.  I tried not to think of how long it had been since I had seen her.  She must get lonely, at home all day with her cat.  I really should visit her…

Crossing over the street, I chose to avoid the block where my Chinese friends with the adorable baby girl lived.  Months ago, I had promised to invite them over for dinner with my family, but my schedule always seemed too full.  Passing their street reminded me of my unfulfilled promise, and I felt the nagging shame of not being a faithful friend.

At the end of the street, I turned towards the lake, carefully steering away from the house of my childhood friend from India.  We had been best friends in 5th grade, but we lost touch when I moved out of the country for a year.  When I got back, I tried to contact her, but she was hurt and angry, and didn’t want to talk to me.  More than 20 years later, I’m still flooded with painful regrets whenever I pass her house.

My shoulders weighed down with condemning thoughts, I didn’t even notice the ducks on the lake or the pink crepe myrtles as I passed them.  Guilt and shame threatened to overwhelm me, and I had to remind myself of the promise in Romans 8:1-2“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” (N.A.S.)

I began to breathe the truths deeply, taking big gulps of the fresh air of freedom.  I don’t have to believe the lies of the enemy that I am responsible for others’ feelings or reactions.  My neighbors have probably forgiven me and moved on, so why do I keep beating myself up about these things?  But even if others still hold onto grudges against me, if I repent for my part and surrender these concerns to God, He forgives me and gives me His peace.

Once again I was aware of the beauty around me – the sparkling lake in the fading sunlight, the geese flying in a V overhead.  There is no condemnation.  I can really be free of guilt and shame!

The next time guilt starts to lead me on a walk around the block, I’ll choose to walk in the truths of God’s Word instead!

GOING VERTICAL!

MJ

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ACCIDENTAL SHOPLIFTING

My urge to put away things that are out of place gets me in trouble sometimes – once it led to accidental shoplifting.

I can’t stand to see things out of order.  When I eat out, I line up the salt and pepper shakers, and arrange the sugar packets on the table so they’re all facing the same way.  I pick up clothes that have fallen off the hanger in a clothing store.   And I can’t pass a crooked picture frame without straightening it, even if it’s in someone else’s house.

One day when I noticed a misplaced tube of lip gloss next to the mp3 players in Walmart, I picked it up, thinking I’d drop it off in the cosmetics area on my way out.  But somewhere in the cleaning products aisle I absentmindedly slipped the lip gloss into my pocket.  It wasn’t until I got home that I realized, to my horror, that I had walked out of the store without paying for it.

The stolen item was returned the next day with much embarrassment and apology, and it made me wonder – what is this irresistible inner urge to put things in order?

In the last two years since my return from Asia, I’ve felt like my life has been out of control.  I haven’t had a steady, “normal” job.  I don’t have any clear direction for the future.  I feel like everything is in disorder and chaos. Part of my unconscious reaction is to try to control my environment by arranging inanimate objects to my liking.  But endlessly straightening the throw pillows on the couch or neatly lining up condiments in the refrigerator is not going to bring real peace to my heart.

Isaiah 26:3 says, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You; all whose thoughts are fixed on You.”

The Lord is the only one who can cause my heart to be at rest.  Even in the midst of uncertainty, if I fix my mind on Him and His truth, I will be at peace.

So now if I come to your house and see a crooked picture frame on the wall, I may still try to straighten it.  But I’m learning to find peace in the Lord, even if things around me aren’t completely in order.

Hopefully I won’t do any more accidental shoplifting at Walmart!


GOING VERTICAL!

MJ

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The only photos I have of Daniel* are of the back of his head.  I used to think he was just extremely shy.  He would keep his eyes on the floor when I tried to talk to him, then slip into the kitchen to wash dishes at the first opportunity, avoiding further conversation.  And every time I took out the camera to take a picture at a meal or gathering, Daniel would turn his head just as the flash was about to go off.

What I didn’t know then was that this skinny, solemn teenager living with my Asian host parents was a refugee in hiding.  Daniel’s apparent “shyness” was in reality a necessary precaution for his own protection.  It wasn’t until months later that I heard his full story.

Daniel looked like he was only 13, but he was actually 17.  Years of near-starvation in his home country stunted his growth.  In search of food for his family, Daniel had secretly escaped from his closed country, swimming across the river that served as a border in the north.  But Daniel found more than rice and vegetables on the other side.  Through my host parents, Daniel was introduced to Jesus Christ and began studying the Bible in his native language.

Anxious to share the Good News, Daniel swam back across the river to his home country with four Bibles strapped to his chest, which he gave away to his relatives and neighbors.  But he was soon arrested for possession of “illegal materials,” and put into prison, where he was brutally beaten on his legs and feet.  Miraculously, Daniel was released from prison after several months, and he swam across the river border once more to find refuge in the safe house, which is where I met him.

After such intense suffering, I expected Daniel to be bitter and angry.  But Daniel had a deep peace that amazed me.  As he received grace and mercy through Christ, he was able to forgive those who treated him so cruelly. Daniel is determined to return one day to the very place where he was imprisoned and beaten for his faith, in order to share the amazing love of Jesus Christ that has so transformed his life.

I don’t have any photos of Daniel’s face, but the testimony of his life has left a lasting imprint.  His complete lack of bitterness and anger demonstrated God’s amazing power to live according to I Peter 3:9

“…Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”

GOING VERTICAL!
MJ

*Not his real name.

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