A Tribute to the Artist (well sort of)

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This Sunday, my dad, Bill Ransom, would have been 100.  It seems like a good time for a tribute.  Well, sort of…I’ll let you decide if it’s a tribute or not. 

You’ll need a bit of background to understand.

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My mom was an artist.  She painted, and her main subjects were landscapes. 

She was really good.

 

 

 

 

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Dad was a photographer.  It started as a hobby when he was a teenager, then continued as an adult.  My dad, had a career as a designer in the aerospace industry, but photography was always a part of his life and a side business.

He was a great photographer.

 

My parents were each other’s biggest fans. 

But one day, in 1966, (I was 13), Dad came home from work early, with a big canvas, paint brushes and an artist’s beret.  To the best of my memory, it went something like this:

Mom (surprised): “What is THIS?”

Dad (grinning): “You’re not the only one in this family who can paint.”

Mom (with skeptical tone): “Are you sure about that?”

Dad (confidently): “I have my scene already picked out, and I’m ready to start.” 

Mom (laughing, rolling eyes): “Ok, you do your best.” 

Mom, Paul, and Laurie: (laughing and more laughing)

So for several weeks, when Dad came home from work each day, he went to work on his painting.  (It was a view of the Grand Teton Mt. range with the Snake River in the foreground.)  This did not go on without mocking and playful teasing from my mom, (and my brother and I too).  Dad dished it right back with confident talk, and a flourish of the brush! 

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As the painting progressed, we all realized it was actually turning out good, but following mom’s lead, we never let on to Dad.  When dad finished his painting, he framed it and hung it over their bed.  It moved with them to three other homes, and was placed above their headboard for 48 years.  With every move, Mom made comments about there "not being room" for it at the new house, but it always ended up in its "place of honor" in the master bedroom. 

And for 48 years, it was the source of MANY private jokes, and bantering.  Dad smiled and teased back every time and we NEVER did tell him that we in truth liked the painting and admired his talent.  It was his one and only painting and quite amazing actually.  I had always hoped to tell him some day that I really did like it (though I’m sure he knew).  I never told him, but maybe that’s more fitting anyway. 

I miss my parents.  I miss their love of the beauty of God’s creation, and desire to capture it on canvas and film.  I miss the “inside” family jokes, the hilarious things that happened on some of our vacations.  I miss their adventurous spirits.  I miss their devotion to each other.  But I DON’T miss dad’s painting, because it is hanging above the headboard in my guest bedroom.  When I see it a smile forms in my heart. 

Good job, Dad!

Hollow Air

The air was hollow today.

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Gary used to announce hollow air at some point every fall when the dry air came.  I’m not sure why he called it hollow, except that it had something to do with how sound travels, like in a tunnel, or through a tube.  In the fall, when there’s less humidity, sound carries better too.  Over the years, when the air was “hollow” it was a fun little thing between Gary and I that was stirred up every year as the hot, muggy, smoggy days were replaced with October’s Santa Ana winds.  I loved his yearly proclamation, “The air is hollow today!”

In our previous home, on hollow-air-days, we could hear the Verdugo Hills High School marching band practice from over two miles away.  In my current home, on a day like today, the distant train does not sound so distant. 

I don’t know about you, but along with autumn's clear air, comes a season for clearer thinking, more structure in my schedule, and renewed energy as I settle into the fall activities.  But in spite of the busyness, I hope to be listening intently for the Lord’s promptings like the less hindered sound waves on a dry day. 

It seems impossible, but this is my third October without Gary.  I miss him so, but today was one of many good days.   Feeling the warm, dry wind today, brought his voice right back to me when I noticed the hollow air. 

“There is an appointed time for everything.  And there is a time for every event under heaven…A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance…He has made everything appropriate in its time.”  Ecclesiastes 3
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Goin Home - Part 2 - "Always"

It was a misty morning and we were on a special “assignment.”  We had special instructions, and watched the odometer carefully as we drove.  When we arrived at the spot the special packages which I brought from California, were placed into a backpack.  We looked up the hill and decided we were in the right place so we snapped a family photo.  There was no trail, and being in my 60’s and recovering from bronchitis, I huffed and puffed the 150 feet up the hill, to find the bear paw meadow per my dad’s instructions.  I checked the photos he had given me 30 years ago.  The trees were much smaller then, but the mountains looked the same.  It was a puzzle to solve.  The mission: Find the area my parents described in their wills so we could fulfill their wishes.  Dad and Mom both wrote the same thing, 

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“…that my ashes should be scattered in a tiny part of Jackson Hole, Wyoming…I refer to this location as ‘Paul’s Place’ for that is where my son, Paul had requested his own ashes be placed, and where thy do indeed rest.  Erect no marker or locator where my ashes lay for the natural flora and fauna will do just that.” 

This was a precious time for us in that bear paw meadow, facing the Teton range, as we laid beloved parents, grandparents and great-grandparents to rest.  Ryan read Psalm 23, and Jon thanked God for their lives.  They passed away in 2014, so it felt really good and satisfying to bring their bodies “HOME” to the place they loved so much. 

Goin' Home

Home.  What is home really, anyway?  For me, home is where my loved ones are, or were, or the places that hold sweet memories.  Going back to a childhood home or vacation spot, teaches that these places are not really home.  Recreating an experience from the past is not possible.  You can’t really ‘go back.’  Things change, loved ones go, and time marches on.  But this is not sad.  Home is not really here in this world. 

Our Dwelling Place

In Psalm 90, Moses called the Lord "our dwelling place in all generations." 

Moses and the Israelites wandered around in the wilderness for 40 years.  They pitched their tents and packed them up over and over.  That generation never had a permanent home.   Moses said “Lord, You have been our dwelling place…”

Home Sweet Home

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Because of Gary's illness, we had to downsize, leaving our beloved home where we thought we'd spend the rest of our lives.  It was sad, but good for us.  We were forced to cling to God instead of a place and lived in the love of our Savior who loves completely and unconditionally.  He helped us face the very scary unknowns of the future with courage rather than fear.  The most important "comforts of home" went with us, because Jesus lives in Gary and I.  Jesus said, "I will never leave you or forsake you."  He meant it.  For a Christian, "true" home is a person, not a place.   It's Jesus Christ, who loved me first.  "We love Him because He first loved us."  He paid the penalty for my sins, dying on the cross, and made me one of his own children, while I was His enemy.  Then He went rose again, and went to Heaven where He has building a home for me and Gary is already there! 

“In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also."  John 14:2-3

Someday my family will take my ashes to the Central Coast, per my wishes.  What’s left of my body will be “home” in the same place as Gary’s.  But we will not be there.  Not really.  We will be at home with the Lord, in heaven, because home is where God is.  The days go by so quickly.  Before you know it, you're within the waning years of your life.  Moses had such a wonderful perspective as he prayed.  May we value the days as Moses did, and look to God for His favor, in light of what we truly deserve. 

Psalm 90 - a Prayer of Moses

Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were born
Or You gave birth to the earth and the world,
Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.

You turn man back into dust
And say, “Return, O children of men.”
For a thousand years in Your sight
Are like yesterday when it passes by,
Or as a watch in the night.

 

You have swept them away like a flood, they fall asleep;
In the morning they are like grass which sprouts anew.
In the morning it flourishes and sprouts anew;
Toward evening it fades and withers away.

My last post was filled with sweet memories, formed over many decades, and new experiences too as our family “road tripped” to the ‘Wild West.”  Click here, to read Part 1. 

My last post was filled with sweet memories, formed over many decades, and new experiences too as our family “road tripped” to the ‘Wild West.”  Click here, to read Part 1. 

For we have been consumed by Your anger
And by Your wrath we have been dismayed.
You have placed our iniquities before You,
Our secret sins in the light of Your presence.
For all our days have declined in Your fury;
We have finished our years like a sigh.
As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years,
Or if due to strength, eighty years,
Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow;
For soon it is gone and we fly away.
Who understands the power of Your anger
And Your fury, according to the fear that is due You?
So teach us to number our days,
That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.

Do return, O Lord; how long will it be?
And be sorry for Your servants.
O satisfy us in the morning with Your loving kindness,
That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.

Make us glad according to the days You have afflicted us,
And the years we have seen evil.
Let Your work appear to Your servants
And Your majesty to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us;
And confirm for us the work of our hands;
Yes, confirm the work of our hands.

Goin' Home - Part 1 - "Heritage"

String Lake, GTNP 2017

String Lake, GTNP 2017

From "Way Back Then"

to "Now"

(note: If you are viewing this in your email, you may want to view in browser to see all the photos.)

Our pleasant memories, shape our inward smiles.  Sometimes a specific setting contributes to what we think and who we are.  I have a place like that.  It hosted six decades of happy memories for me, so the prospect of returning to the northwest corner of Wyoming, WITH my family, turned my inner smile into an actual “ear-to-ear grin." 

I grew up going to the Grand Teton National Park, and Yellowstone.  I loved it so much, in fact, that I spent two summers there as a college student, working at Jackson Lake Lodge and hiking on my days off.  After I married, Gary and I took our own girls there and when my parents retired in Bozeman, Montana, the Parks were on the way.

"Way Back Then" - The Ransom Family

Grand Teton National Park - 1957 - Mom and I

Grand Teton National Park - 1957 - Mom and I

 

I remember dad fishing his favorite spot on the shore of Yellowstone Lake, where he could guarantee a strike of a Rainbow Trout within just a few casts.  One time, when cleaning the fish, a black bear approached, and he gave up his catch, retreating to the car instead.  Mom sometimes brought her paints to paint "plein air."  She often had dad photograph the scene so she could finish it in the comfort of home.  My brother, Paul, six years younger than I, loved to fish, hike, explore, and see how far he could skim a rock.  He was the adventurous, active type and my parents were always on full alert.  He was the funny one, always willing to do a crazy pose or stunt for a photo.  Photography was a big part of our vacations in the Parks.  My dad's hobby turned into a retirement business later on, when he enjoyed selling his wildlife and landscape photos in the local gift shops.  I remember waiting and waiting until the clouds parted so the sunlight was on the peaks, or the moose would lift his head "just so" for the perfect picture.  Those were in the days of FILM, and one had to be more frugal with the number of photos one shot.

Madison Campground - Yellowstone - 1969

Madison Campground - Yellowstone - 1969

We mostly camped, but had a few days in hotels too.  The nights around the campfire, just talking and laughing are etched in my memory as some of the happiest times.  My dad would let me warm my hands on his metal coffee mug, and Paul would poke around in the coals with a stick, as all boys like to do.    The sudden and short-lived rain showers made for some great laughs as we scrambled to get under a tarp till it blew over, and every vacation, took on its own funny theme or joke. 

 

My parents would comment that the beautiful things we saw had to be made by a Creator, and could not have just "happened."  Dad would say, "A bison and a butterfly are too unique to have come from the same set of cells.  They had to be individually made."

Dad and Paul -

Dad and Paul -

Paul - 1969 - age 10

Paul - 1969 - age 10

"Back Then" - My Single Adventures

Laurie, Jo, Jenni - GTNP - 1974

Laurie, Jo, Jenni - GTNP - 1974

 

When I went back on my own, to work in Jackson Lake Lodge, it was a very different experience.  Backpacking, making new friends, working in the laundry facility of the lodge, and learning about freedoms and limitations.  It was a huge learning experience.  The 2nd summer I brought my two best girlfriends from home with me, worked in the gift shop, and we had a blast, but by the end of that season, I was more than ready to get back to my boyfriend, Gary, who I had fallen in love with over the past school year. 

The phone booth in the Lodge where I had so many long, expensive conversations with Gary that summer.  Can't believe it's still there.

The phone booth in the Lodge where I had so many long, expensive conversations with Gary that summer.  Can't believe it's still there.

"Then" - The Price Family

Gary & Laurie - Near Lake Solitude - GTNP - 1977

Gary & Laurie - Near Lake Solitude - GTNP - 1977

 

After we married,  it was a thrill to share this wonderful place with Gary and do some new things with him.  We hiked the big loop 20 mile loop through Cascade Cyn. to Lake Solitude to Paintbrush Cyn.  We were surprised by a couple of moose near the trail, and felt the intense power and presence of God, high up in the mountains.  It took us all day and we got back after dark, but I'll never forget it.

 

April & Sarah - Jackson Lake - GTNP - 1986

April & Sarah - Jackson Lake - GTNP - 1986

Our girls loved making up little games together, tried to get the squirrels and chipmunks to come close bribing them with crackers, and laughing in the tent with their cabbage patch kids at night.  One day, as teenagers, they would drive here on their own, on their way to see their grandparents'. 

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Laurie & Sarah - String Lake area - GTNP - 1977

Laurie & Sarah - String Lake area - GTNP - 1977

Laurie & April - Upper Geyser Basin - YNP - 1986 (note the Yellowstone sweatshirt.  You'll see it again in 2017)

Laurie & April - Upper Geyser Basin - YNP - 1986 (note the Yellowstone sweatshirt.  You'll see it again in 2017)

 "Now" - The Price Family

Cousin fun in the van!

Cousin fun in the van!

 

After a year or so of planning, our family met up there in June.  Some of us drove from Socal, and the rest met us in Salt Lake City, and we drove on from there together in two vans loaded, and I mean LOADED with food, luggage and 13 people.  The Florida kids were "all eyes" as they were surrounded by mountain peaks and snow fields.

1st Snowball EVER!  There really was a snowfield behind the camera...

1st Snowball EVER!  There really was a snowfield behind the camera...

 
Moose!

Moose!

I confess, it felt a little hollow, without Gary (2015) and my parents (2014), and brother (1979), but that void was simultaneously filled with sweet remembrance and new memories with my grandchildren and their parents.   

The A's - Jackson Lake - GTNP

The A's - Jackson Lake - GTNP

 
The D's - Jackson Lake - GTNP

The D's - Jackson Lake - GTNP

Gondola ride to top of Rendezvous Mt. - Jackson Hole Ski Area

Gondola ride to top of Rendezvous Mt. - Jackson Hole Ski Area

 
Old Faithful - YNP

Old Faithful - YNP

Old Faithful Inn, 1906 - YNP

Old Faithful Inn, 1906 - YNP

 
The A's

The A's

Old Faithful Inn - Ready for ice cream

Old Faithful Inn - Ready for ice cream

 
Lower Yellowstone Falls - 308 ft. Yikes!

Lower Yellowstone Falls - 308 ft. Yikes!

It's difficult to describe Yellowstone Falls.  It's frightening, beautiful, powerful, and "puts you in your place."  My dad described the feeling as he wrote, "I defy anyone to stand next to the protective guard rail, eyes focused on the tons and tons of water accelerating over the brink and not feel some strange powerful force take hold with its unrelenting grip."  

"And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder"  Revelation 14:2

It is good to be reminded of the smallness of me, and the greatness of God.

On the brink

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Bison and Geysers and US!

For all my grandkids it was their first time in the Parks, except for the oldest who went as a baby. I gave the younger ones some activity notebooks, decorated with my dad’s wildlife photos.  I said something about earning "points" for finding wildlife, and in no time, there was a big competition between the kids. 

Bison families - parents loosing winter coats.

Bison families - parents loosing winter coats.

 

Their searching eyes were rewarded with many good sightings of pronghorn, bison, deer, moose, black and grizzly bears, and even a wolf.  The bears were distant, so we took an afternoon to visit the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, where the animals are free to roam in their very beautiful and natural environments, but close enough to really watch them without using binoculars. 

 

 

Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center - West Yellowstone

Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center - West Yellowstone

 
Thank you Mr. Rockefeller and Mr. Albright!

Thank you Mr. Rockefeller and Mr. Albright!

The next post (Goin' Home - Part Two) will be more of a reach into life-shaping memories and the importance and reality of 'home' along with the mission I was sent on by my parents. 

For the last couple of photos today though, we'll go back to the Tetons. There's a very short hike up Lunch Tree Hill, adjacent to Jackson Lake Lodge.  (my old place of employment)  On vacation in Yellowstone, in 1926, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. enjoyed a picnic lunch here.  With the Teton Range in view, he was inspired to use his wealth to preserve this area (along with others) as a National Park and along with Horace Albright, Yellowstone superintendent at the time.  It took many years, and it took some doing, but their plan was finally accomplished.  The complete story is in the Ken Burn documentary, The National Parks - America's Best Idea.  I highly recommend it, especially if you're on the fence about where to spend your vacation.  AND 4th Grader's families are free this year. (Every Kid in a Park)  Between our 4th grader for one van, and my lifetime senior pass for the other, we paid nothing.  I hope this wets your appetite to get outside, experience the power of God's amazing earth, and make some lifetime memories! 

Standing in front of Mr. Rockefeller's view - Jackson Lake Lodge - GTNP

Standing in front of Mr. Rockefeller's view - Jackson Lake Lodge - GTNP

...and just because I can't help myself, here are some more photos... 

Do you have an extra special place that you smile about?  If you care to leave a comment, I'd love to hear why is it's special to you? 

Everyday Weakness - Abundant Strength

 

A few days ago, I was privileged to speak to the women of Grace Immanuel Bible Church in Jupiter, Florida.   They had asked me to recount the ways in which the Lord blessed Gary and I throughout his years with dementia.  Recalling the sweet grace of God poured out on us, and thinking through how ANYONE can take hold of grace, was a joyful experience for my own heart.  May you be encouraged, and strengthened in your own situation as well.  

 
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A bonus blessing for me was being introduced by my sweet April, who made me get a little misty-eyed right before speaking!  After our time of worship and study in the Word we were served a lovely tea by the men of the church.  It was a wonderful day with these dear sisters in Christ.   

Audio of my message, click HERE.

Printable PDF version click HERE.

OR you may read it below...  (I've also included some of the overheads that I used.)

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It was 3:15 am and the alarm was going off.  Thankfully, my husband did not wake up.  I slipped out of bed and quietly got ready for my day.  The night before I laid out my uniform so I could find it in the dark.  It was imperative that Gary stay asleep until 8:00 am when I would return from my opening shift at Starbucks.  This particular day, I had a migraine.  I would end up sick at work, but since I was one of two openers, I had to be there until a replacement arrived.  2 hours later they came and I went home, feeling miserable.  I was 56 at the time, and every one of my coworkers were younger than my daughters.  The pace was fast and hard for me.  I felt out of place and exhausted at work.  At home, my responsibilities had doubled because my husband, Gary was changing, and so our world was turning upside down.  We were being led down into a dark valley, forcing changes we never would have wanted or imagined.  In that valley, I came to see my weakness.  Every day.  AND in that same valley, I came to know strength that I had never known before. 

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Today, I get to tell you about those weaknesses, and how Christ uses our suffering to display His power in us.   

 

 

10 years ago, life was rolling along.  We’d been married 32 years.  We had a small electrical contracting business, and were serving with College ministry at church.  We were living in the same house since we got married.  We were enjoying our grandkids and occasional travels to visit family and friends.   But around this time, Gary began to have difficulty with his thinking, particularly with problem solving.  This showed up in his work first and then other areas.  We wrote it off to being over-worked and super busy, but his cognitive problems got worse so we went to the Doctor.  After months of testing it was determined that he had Early Onset Alzheimer’s Type Dementia.  He was 57.  (Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia.  It’s like reverse development, from Adult to Youth to Child to Toddler to Infant.)    I would guess that most of you have been impacted in some way by this illness, so you understand.  Gary was sick for 9 years until he went to Heaven 2 years ago.  For 3 of those years, I was caring for my sweet parents (both in their 90’s) who moved in across the street.  At one point I was managing 9 caregivers between their house and ours.  It was like we had our own Assisted Living Complex.

Since I was one with my husband, this trial was for me too.  Taking on Gary’s responsibilities was a crushing weight and we both had to give up so much.  The transition was difficult.  Could I be unselfish enough?  Could I keep home with me? Would I love him enough if he didn’t know me and couldn’t love me back?  We shed many tears together.  We were weak and we knew it.

Would Gary be belligerent, violent, and inappropriate, towards me, or would he be a wanderer? Would our love degenerate into insults and anger?

Forced to close our business meant tremendous financial needs, and I worked at Starbucks for the medical insurance.  Liquidating Gary’s inventory and equipment, and prepping our house to sell at the same time was a daunting task.

Life was so hard – Leaving our home, and ministry, and not being able to help our family or babysit our grandkids was painful.  All the while, Gary was growing more confused about who I was.   

What is distressing to you?  What about your life is difficult, impossible to fix?  Do you feel helpless?  What do you dread?  Are you Rejected, Alone, Persecuted?  No one is exempt from the hard seasons of life, those times when you are at the end of your own abilities.  Everyone here has a story to tell.  Everyone’s suffering is intense TO THEM.  I get to tell you how God worked through our trial, but we are in this together ladies. 

Today, we get to look at someone who has gone before us, into the valley of suffering, weak and helpless and found strength there.  So let’s go together to the One who loves us, to God’s holy word, where all the answers lie. 

We’re going to be mostly in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 so as you’re turning there, a little background.  The Apostle Paul wrote this particular letter during the most painful time in his life.   He needed to defend his authority and ministry to the Corinthian church, because false teachers were lying about him, and discrediting his ministry and were preaching some kind of a “different” and therefore false gospel.  The people he loved and had poured his life into, were questioning his motives and what he had taught them.  In order to protect them from error, he had to defend himself, even though he hated to do it. 

THROUGHOUT CHAPTER 11:

Paul gives multiple reasons to trust him because he was afraid they would be deceived. (v.3)  His character, humility, honesty, love (v.9-11) contrasted with the false teachers who “enslave, devour, take advantage and exalt themselves.” (v.12-20)  His suffering for the sake of the gospel, proved his integrity (v. 23-27), and his daily concern for them showed his caring heart (v. 28).

FINALLY, IN CHAPTER 12:

In order to convince them, he BOASTS.  Boasting is "to glory in", "be proud of."  Why would this humble apostle be boasting?

In v. 1 he said, “Boasting is necessary, (to protect them), though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.”(v.1)….”  Fourteen years before, (v.2) he had been “caught up into the third heaven, (v.3) paradise, and heard inexpressible words…” (v.4)  He could have boasted in all these things, but he wouldn’t. 

Being transported to Heaven set him apart from all of the false teachers.  But even though the vision experience was amazing, it was all God’s doing, and not his, so he refers to himself in the third person, saying “On behalf of such a man will I boast; but on my own behalf I will not boast except in regard to my weaknesses.”(v.5)  The only thing in HIS LIFE he WOULD BOAST about, was his WEAKNESSES.  That’s where God’s power was displayed most clearly, and the best evidence that Paul could be trusted.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Here’s where Paul begins to boast about his weakness…and I’m going to boast about mine too as we look at this passage together.  Paul’s situation was unique to him.  Mine was different, but I want us to follow Paul’s example and glean principles to help us in our trials.  There is much for us to learn from the Lord, as we face difficulties, and even though trials come in different forms and for different reasons, if we seek Him, the reward is the “peaceful fruit of righteousness.” Heb. 12:11

Humility From Pain

v. 7 “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me – to keep me from exalting myself!"  

Paul could have easily become proud because of his vision so God gave him a thorn to keep him from exalting himself.  In particular, a messenger from Satan influencing and driving the false teachers in this church.  This thorn was painful.  Greek for “thorn” indicates “sharp, painful, irritating; like a splinter or even a stake.  It was extremely painful for Paul. 

When things are going well, we are all susceptible to pride.  We love our autonomy and self-sufficiency, but God hates pride.  He’s “opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5b)  He gifted us with a trial.  Our painful thorn was dementia.  Gary gradually lost all control and I needed to accept help and seek advice.  Not easy for a couple of ‘do-it-yourselfers.’  Our self-reliance gave way to beautiful ways to display grace in our lives.

ADMIT YOUR NEED FOR HELP:

There were so many big decisions to be made, and my husband couldn’t lead or help me.  For example…  Should I continue going to church without Gary?  Should my parents move to assisted living?  How many caregivers could they afford to hire?  What about “end of life” planning?  What would Gary want?  How long should my mom be on life support?  After my Mom died, should my Dad live with me?  etc., etc.  Hooray for James 1:5.  “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach and it will be given to him.”  Absolutely true!  Every time I faced a big decision, the Lord gave me the wisdom I was asking for. 

GO TO YOUR SHEPHERDS:

In the early stages, Gary was confused about my identity, and was unsure if he could trust me to sign a Social Security form I’d asked him to.   He went missing one day and 45 minutes later I got a call from one of our pastors.  Gary was in his office getting his advice, making sure it was ok to sign.  Pastor Rick reassured him and Gary signed and came home.  That incident, laid the groundwork for me the following years.  I will never forget it.  GO TO YOUR ELDERS!  (Heb 13:17) “they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.”

INTIMACY WITH GOD

v. 8 Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. 

Paul begged God to remove the painful trial 3 times. For Paul to ask repeatedly, and then mention it, it must have been extreme.

I too, prayed intensely for God to please remove our “thorn.” The Alzheimer’s would not go away, but we both prayed for relief and strength to endure.  I repeatedly poured out my hurts to the Lord and was reminded of His incredible love for us.  I too was driven to deeper intimacy with Christ.  Others were drawn close too. 

 

Gary’s “I love yous” eventually stopped, and when the feelings of loneliness rose up, I called a family member or friend, to ask for prayer.  God heard every cry of my heart and provided encouragement every time I needed it; in the form of a special verse, note from a friend, or remembrance of something Gary had said in the past.  God gave me more love than ever for Gary and reminded me that He loved Gary even more than I did.   And now as a widow, God is my husband.  God is replacing the loneliness in my heart with Himself. 

 

(1 Peter 5:6-7)  “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” God is planning to lift us up as result of our hard times, (either by removing the thorn or giving us grace to flourish) so bring all your hurts to Him, because He cares. 

GRACE FOR WEAKNESS

v. 9a And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you for power is perfected in weakness.’ 

God answered Paul’s prayer.  Not with “OK, your trial is ending now,” but with more than enough grace to strengthen Paul in the MIDST of it. 

What exactly is Grace? In greek: charis.  Defined: God’s undeserved favor to us through Christ freely given to us for salvation, and for every other spiritual blessing. (Eph. 1) 

 Paul was no stranger to Grace.  He wrote...

  •  We are saved by grace… (Eph. 2:8) “For by grace you are saved, through faith; but that, not of yourselves, it is the gift of God...”
  •  We are glorified by grace…(Eph. 2:7) “...so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
  • In between, we live by grace... (Titus 2:11-12) “…the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age…”

 We are completely dependent on GOD’S GRACE to live our Christian lives.

 It’s MULTI-COLORED grace: (1 Peter 4:10) “manifold [multifaceted] grace of God."  We need...

Grace to believe the Gospel

Grace to understand the Word

Grace to trust God instead of ourselves

Grace to be assured of our salvation as we persevere

Grace to obey

Grace to endure with joy, and more

My pastor, John MacArthur, says ‘Grace is like the air we breathe.’  Sometimes God sovereignly intervenes in some way independent of our actions, but Paul told Timothy to “…be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 2:1)  We are expected to live lives pleasing to God.  But how do we do that in the midst of difficulty, confusion, and sleepless nights?  The Holy Spirit is in us, infusing us with grace as we engage with Him in four ways.    

TAKE HOLD OF GRACE – In the following 4 ways…

 1. Draw near to the THRONE OF GRACE. – PRAY

(Heb. 4:15-16) “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Good news… For believers, this is not a throne of judgement, but a throne of grace.  Jesus, your Savior is there, listening, caring, making intercession for you, He is going to help you live a godly life as you draw near and ask Him for help.

Jerry Bridges writes:  “So Jesus does fully understand and sympathize with us in our times of trials.  We can be sure, whatever the nature of our hurts, they are not new to Him.  Because Jesus can enter into our hurts, and does sympathize with us, we can approach God’s throne with confidence, without being ashamed to lay our weaknesses before Him.  He understands and He cares.” (p. 215 TBG)

  • Thank Him for His love and salvation.
  • Admit you are weak.
  • Ask for the spiritual strength to say “yes” to this situation.
  • Ask for help with specifics; practical AND most importantly, character.

2. Absorb the WORD OF GRACE -  the BIBLE

 “…word of grace to build you up.” (Acts 20:32)   Like eating healthy food, sustains your physical body, assimilating God’s word makes for a healthy spiritual life.  Sermons, Notes, Memorized verse that apply to your situation.  Not just reading it, but doing what it says.  Hiding it “in your heart” (Ps. 119:11) for a rainy day makes it available for the Holy Spirit to recall for you.

There were times when I really needed truth.  As Gary gradually stopped reading, talking, smiling and understanding it was heartbreaking, even depressing at times.  But God used His truth to display His grace and give me comfort and even JOY.  (Romans 8:32)  “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”  This verse became precious to me because, if God gave the very greatest gift (Jesus Christ) for our good, then everything else He gives is good for us too.  It became my go-to verse when tempted to despair.  By (Phil.4) “thinking about what is true.” God healed my broken heart and not just once!  Facing the fact that this trial was not going to go away, God gave me grace to think of ways to give Gary a meaningful life.  (i.e. making his flip book, memory books, PVC and screwdriver board)  This has turned into a way to help others on my website.  When we take God at His Word, and believe him, we find JOY! 

3. Embrace GOD’S PLAN for you. – SUBMIT

Because we believe God is sovereign and good we accept our situations.  Be humble like Joseph “…it was not you who sent me here, but God….God meant it for good…” (Gen. 45:8 & 50:20)  Be encouraged.  Your exaltation is coming if you “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7) 

Shortly after Gary’s diagnosis, Gary asked me to find the Alzheimer’s Association website so he could read about what he was facing.  (Memory Loss, Confusion, Personality changes, Repetitive behavior, Loss of communication, and the ability to walk, sit or control his body.  Eventually he would need full time assistance with everything.)  I watched him read the list, with tears in his eyes.  He never asked about it again but a few days later he prayed and asked God “that during his illness, he never do anything that would dishonor the Lord.”  He feared that as he would lose control of his mind, he would do something sinful, but Gary didn’t panic, get angry at God, or beg Him to take it away.    Gary was content with the biggest, scariest trial he would ever face.  He submitted himself to God’s plan for him.  And God did answer Gary’s prayer.

4.  Be open with the Body of Christ. – BE VULNERABLE

Be willing to accept help from Christians AND non-Christians.

  • Practical Help:  Humbling to let someone into your “kitchen.”  Remember, there are many ways to do things.
  • Spiritual Help: Be vulnerable to others and cultivate a small group (including spouse & elders) you can really trust.
    • Need their prayers
    • Need their help applying scripture
    • Need their objectivity

One of my good friends, reminded me about some scripture that helped me in a big decision regarding my dad in the final days of his life.  (tell incident)

“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.  For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion.” (Ecc. 4:9-10)

POWER FROM WEAKNESS

v. 9 And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you for power is perfected in weakness.’  Most gladly therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

 Paul didn’t love the pain, but he did love the amazing grace that lead to spiritual power.  He had to be weak in order to be powerful. 

 What does “Perfected” mean?  Greek: telos = accomplish, complete, finish

 GOD’S STRENGTH ACHIEVED IN HUMAN WEAKNESS.

Anyone who thinks they are “strong” are fooling themselves.  The phrase: “You’re such a strong person” is a joke.  It’s God’s strength we need and that is a byproduct of the grace He displays in our human weakness.   As Christians we want Jesus Christ to be lifted up and not ourselves.

(Cor. 4:7-10) “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” 

 GOD’S STRENGTH IS UNLIMITED:  Paul prays that the Colossians be “…strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.” (Colossians 1:11-12)

 You can put your confidence in God.

 “Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isa. 41:10)

 “For I am the LORD your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, 'Do not fear, I will help you.'” (Isa 41:13)

“He gives strength to the weary, And to him who lacks might He increases power.” (Isa. 40:29)

 I want to draw attention to two different types of God's power that I've noticed:

 Example of INTERVENING POWER:

About 5 years in, as Gary was losing his physical strength…God did an amazing thing.  During the day, he would sit in his recliner and listen to music or work with his "gadgets,” but helping him move was hurting my back and shoulders.  Something needed to change…I told the family:  "What we really need is someone to help for 10-15 minutes, sporadically throughout the day.  Caregivers?….too costly with nothing to do 90% of the time.  College student?... gone to classes when I need them during the day...  Impossible, right?   We ended the discussion with "We'll just have to keep praying about it, and see how the Lord will work it out.”

LITERALLY, just a few days LATER, our answer had come.  Of course you know this guy.  Jason, being part of the ministry here, had been praying for us, and offered to help us with no prompting.  Well, God prompted him independently.  He was perfectly suited to help in every way.  Working from our home, a trained nursing assistant, and STRONG!   Jason was with us during a very important transitional time and served us wholeheartedly during those months. Jason will always be a reminder that... “God is intimately acquainted with all my ways.” Ps. 139

Example of DAY-TO-DAY POWER

In my soul, that will always be a monument to God’s strengthening grace, but so are the day-to-day, moment-by-moment graces that enable us to put “one foot in front of the other.” At the start of our Alzheimer’s journey I didn’t know when the end would be.  But I did know that Gary needed to have a smile from me, and my family and friends needed my prayers and love.  The Holy Spirit helps us live by grace, strengthening us for every task.  “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34.  We may not have tomorrow.  We are only guaranteed the breath that is currently in our lungs.  How will we live in the next moment?  Elisabeth Elliot often quoted an old Saxon Poem:

Do it immediately; Do it with prayer;

Do it reliantly, casting all care;

Do it with reverence, Tracing His Hand,

Who placed it before thee with Earnest command.

Stayed on Omnipotence, Safe 'neath His wing,

Leave all resultings, DO THE NEXT THING

EVERYDAY WEAKNESS BECOMES ABUNDANT STRENGTH

v. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul's example...Because of the refining process due to the weaknesses in his life, for Christ’s sake; he was “well content” (that means well pleased) with all of it.  He had experienced the spiritual benefits so he embraced the hurts with deep joy and peace. “Suffering is the path to spiritual victory.”  John MacArthur

How often are we well-content with our trials?

I came to love how Gary’s illness displayed God’s grace and power in our lives.  I found out that when we were the weakest, we were the strongest. 

Forty-two years ago I said “…till death do us part.”  Two years ago God parted us and I said “good-bye” to my Gary.  Gary is in Heaven with his Savior.  He is fine now, "extremely fine.”  He is finally "home" and I am so relieved and thrilled for him.  His mind is whole.  He is experiencing joy like never before.

At the beginning of his Alzheimer’s, he carried a letter he wrote to himself so he wouldn’t forget…

“I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ…to be all He represented Himself to be in the Bible.  The Christ, the Son of God.  I believe Him to be the soon and coming King.  I am not a believer by birth, nor can I be without God enabling me.  Jesus has forgiven all my sins, and has made me a member of His family.” G.P.   Half way through his illness, Gary shared the Lord with our 4 year old granddaughter.  Though he was barely speaking during those days, he very clearly said to her… ”When you get to know my Jesus, it’s gonna be great!” 

If you DON’T have a saving relationship with Christ, you might be asking, “What’s so great about knowing Jesus?  God wants to show His strength and glory through people, and so he gives them something painful.”  If you look around you, you’ll see that suffering, loss, pain are part of the human condition.  Everyone is subject to them.  Way back in the Garden of Eden, sin was unleashed in the world because man and woman (and all men and women since) chose to assert their own will over God’s.  God made the universe and everything in it.  He is holy and perfect.  It is SIN that has brought the curse of suffering into the earth and eternal punishment and separation from God. 

If you are unsaved, I am sad to tell you, the grace of God is not available to help you with life’s hurts and struggles and this is the best life you will ever have, and any sufferings during this life are nothing compared to the eternal torment that that awaits you after you die.  Our sins separate us from God, BUT long ago, God made a plan born of His love.  Here’s the GOOD NEWS!  BY GRACE, He would freely offer to mankind, a perfect substitute (that’s Jesus Christ) who could bear the punishment for the sins of any who would repent and believe.  His anger satisfied, and the gap bridged.  So GRACE is being offered to you today, by God Himself.

I want you to hear this in God’s own words…

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23)

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23) 

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8)

“that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom. 10:9)

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)

If you don’t know Jesus, and have not yet turned from your sins, and submitted to His Lordship in your life, please don’t delay in making things right with God, through Christ.  “…now is the ‘acceptable time,’ behold, now is the ‘day of salvation’…” (2 Cor. 6:2)

There is no victory, no success apart from Him.  Will you humbly admit that you are helpless to please God, turn away from your own efforts to do so, and believe what He says in His word?

GRACE FOR SALVATION – GRACE FOR LIFE – GRACE FOR GLORY

For believers, the grace of God is available to help you suffer “well” knowing that God is your loving Father, and these sufferings will be nothing in light of the glories of eternity where there will be no suffering; only joy in His presence.  If you are hurting or weak today, BE ENCOURAGED!  GOD WANTS TO GIVE YOU HIS ABUNDANT STRENGTH.  Sometimes it comes in surprising ways, sometimes, day-to-day, but His grace is “super-abundant” and He doesn’t waste anything.  Every single thing in our lives are for His glory and our good. So see your weaknesses as a good thing, bring your troubles to God, to know Him better, and then keep relying on His grace and power working in your lives.  Will you thank Him for the grace to endure it with joy? 

“God is able to make ALL grace abound to YOU so that ALWAYS having ALL sufficiency in EVERYTHING, you may have an ABUNDANCE for EVERY good deed” (2 Cor. 9:8)

WHEN I AM WEAK THEN I AM STRONG

I’m right there with you Ladies.  I have to remember these things too.  Widowhood has its own unique thorns and struggles as I find my footing in my new role.  

My hopes of Gary smiling at me, or saying a word, or noticing if I walk through the room, are over.  I will never have that again.  But I am so happy for Gary.  I can’t wait to see him again, in Glory, where he and I will be face to face with the One who gave us the power to keep our vows and love each other “no matter what.” I'm forever grateful to God for that.  And grateful to you for letting me BOAST about His wonderful grace!

Dear Caregiver

Dear Caregiver, (or anyone entrusted with the well-being of another)

I know you are doing a really good job taking care of your loved one.  You know what kind of food they like the best, their favorite music and TV shows, and how to help them into and out of a car.  You have been caring for them for a long time, and have sacrificed much, maybe a job, free time, space in your home, involvement in church or other activities.  In a world where human life is being devalued, you are giving yourself to someone and honoring them the best way you know how and if you are a Christian, you are most likely serving, “as unto the Lord”

"Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve." (Colossians 3:23-24)

There are times when you enjoy the satisfaction of serving with kindness, and patience, and you are glad for the sanctifying work God is doing in your life through the difficulties you experience day-to-day.  And then there are the other kind of days…

Frailty.  Exhaustion.  Frustration.  Confusion.  Caregivers live with a burden.  It is a good and worthwhile burden to have, but still hard. Being in charge of another person’s welfare, is a daunting task.  I want to remind you that you can and should share the load.  Being physically worn out, and mentally burned out will not make you a better caregiver.  Actually you do your loved one a disservice if you don’t take care of yourself.  

Share the Load

2012-10-02_11-10-25_646.jpg

As a caregiver for my husband, Gary for nine years, I disliked the phrase “the caregivers must take care of themselves first.”  It sounded selfish to me.  I guess, dropping the word, “first” from the phrase would make it a little more palatable.  The fact is, that if the caregiver is a mess, they have nothing left to give.  Just as the airlines know that adults need to get their own oxygen flowing BEFORE their kids’ oxygen, we need to be as healthy and rested as possible. 

Sounds logical, right?  Well then why are caregivers known for being burned out?  For one thing, we don’t like to ask for help and if it’s offered we only want it on our terms.  I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that I often thought I was the ONLY one who could take care of Gary well.  PRIDE.  Yep.  In reality, we probably do know what works best, because we’ve been doing it the longest, but as long as our loved one is safe, and the help is reliable, and trained, it is a good thing, to have a little time to yourself, for shopping, relaxing, being in church and fellowship.  There are many ways to do things, and sometimes we need to humbly learn from others.  Our way is not always the best, and certainly not the ONLY way.  I gained many good tips from Gary’s several caregivers, and volunteers who came to spend time with him.   Gary went to Adult Day Health Care a few times a week for a couple years too.  Even though I resisted the idea at first, he liked it and the programs there were designed for his level of ability.  I’m glad a dear family member convinced me to give it a try. 

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!”  Ecclesiates 4:9-10

Gear Up

Another reason for caregiver burnout is failure to GEAR UP for your situation!  By this I mean, remember that depending on the cause of the dementia, it is not likely going to get better.  Your loved one will get worse, so make use of the many helps available.  Here are just a few examples:  My friend, recently bought a “nanny cam” so she could keep her eye on her father, just a couple of rooms away.  This allows her to get a good night’s sleep by just peeking at the monitor, and can see him still safely in bed, and she can go right back to sleep.  The alternative was going down the hall to check on him several times a night.  Another great help is fixing pureed meals for an entire week at a time.  Have a caregiver do it, or do it yourself, but it’s a big time saver, especially if your loved one is not awake or eating on a normal schedule.  You have their food at the ready when they are.  So if your loved one is needing softer foods, consider investing in a blender.  (See short video on meal prep HERE.)  RAMPS YES, THROW RUGS NO…Eventually your loved one will shuffle or scissor-step, and will not do well with loose rugs to trip on.  If you have even a slight step down you should have a ramp.  (For more tips on Accessibility, click HERE.)  Of course there’s a cost to these great tools, but figure out what you may need and do need now, and start asking around.  If you know exactly what you need, you will know what to ask for.  I realize there is a cost to these things.  Start praying and be specific as to what you need.  Maybe family members, who know the specifics will be able to help.  God supplied all our needs, in sometimes surprising ways.

“And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19

Stay Connected

Lack of fellowship and worship can be really tough for Christians.  We thrive on the spiritual friendships and encouragement we receive from other believers and we need to participate in corporate worship.  Of course there may be seasons during a long illness when you will not be able to leave a loved one on a Sunday, but again, if you pray about it, and let God know your desire to continue with worship and fellowship (even if it is different than before), my experience was that God provided.  I had to entrust Gary to someone, not “hand-picked,” but qualified, but he was in God’s hands and I had to exercise faith.  Church attendance was limited and sporadic for me during those years, but it was so WONDERFUL when I could be with other believers singing praise to God and enjoying the preaching of the Word.  In a pinch, I could Live-Stream the service, but it’s not the same. 

 “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”  Hebrews 10:24-25

So, my caregiving friend...

I hope some of these thoughts and ideas will be helpful and not burdensome for you.  Mostly I just want you to be open to all kinds of help, both human and practical, and staying connected to your church.  I know how heart-wrenching and wearing it can be to be responsible for a loved one.  May you find contentment, and peace as you face each day by resting in Christ’s provision. 

Love always, Laurie

 

 

"Grace for the Widow" Book Review

Grace for the Widow

A Journey Through the Fog of Loss

By Joyce Rogers

Fog.  It doesn’t happen too often here in Socal, but I’ve been in thick fog before and I remember how it felt.  There’s a mystery in its quietness.  Sounds are muffled, and it’s hard to make out what’s ahead, OR behind. The view ranges from completely opaque to blurred vaguely familiar objects.  It slows you down, the fog creates an awareness of being alone, and unsure.  A year and a half in to my widowhood, I’ve heard “Fog” used as a metaphor for how things feel when grieving, and it’s an apt description. 

A friend recently shared this little book with me.  Joyce Rogers, (widow of Adrian Rogers), passed through the “fog of loss” and gifts us with simple truths, and practical steps.  Joyce understands the unsettled feelings. 

 

“If I only had someone to tell me what to do next!”

...shopping for one at the grocery store…

“What do I buy now?”

...after many years together...

        "Who am I now that Adrian is gone?"         

The book is only 110 pages and it’s divided into two parts, the Profound and the Practical. 

Nothing is more PROFOUND than God’s love and care for widows.

"But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."  Matthew 6:33-34  

“Until the ‘fog’ lifts, don’t try to think about what your future holds.  Get out of bed, take a bath, get dressed, spend time alone with God, eat breakfast, clean up the house, walk the dog, pay the bills that are due – just do the next thing.” p.2

Joyce emphasizes that God is the “husband” of widows. 

“Your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called.”  Isaiah 54:5 

From the book:  “His name means ‘the Lord of hosts.’  He is the leader of all the hosts of heaven.  He fights my battles for me.” p.8In one chapter she explains some of the names of God, and how the character trait of God applies to widows.  i.e. our Refuge, Strong Redeemer, Provider, etc.  In the Appendix there is a larger list. 

Sprinkled throughout the book are encouraging thoughts about Heaven, scriptures categorized for specific needs, and comforting poetry.

The PRACTICAL section includes helpful To-Do lists, healthy lifestyle tips, importance of friendships and how to get back to ministry and regular activities.  For example:

“SLEEP – Get at least eight hours of sleep.  Kneel before the Lord before you go to bed.  Turn your cares, heartaches, and fears over to Him.  Ask Him to give His ‘beloved’ sleep.  Remember: You are His beloved, and He neither slumbers nor sleeps.”p.61

“MAKE A BUDGET – Begin to make a budget that is now just for one person….”p.50

“MAINTAIN A BALANCED LIFE – Do the tasks that are ‘have tos’ but don’t feel like you have to do all these things on the to-do list right away.  Ask your Chief Counselor to show you what needs to be done today.  Of course, He is the Holy Spirit.  He has promised to guide you and He will.”p.50

My personal "fog" is lifting, and I understand that it's a process finding my footing alone, after being Gary's wife for 40 years.  Some days the path is clearer than others.  I think the best part of the foggy weather in my life is that it forces me to slow down, walk carefully when unsure, and cling to the everlasting arms that are constantly holding and guiding me.  Thank you, Mrs. Rogers, for helping me along with the process.

"Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You have taken hold of my right hand.

 With Your counsel You will guide me,
 And afterward receive me to glory.

 Whom have I in heaven but You?
 And besides You, I desire nothing on earth."

Psalm 73:22-25

 

A Little Gem in Stepney

On Sunday, June 19, my daughter, son-in-law, and I were in London, mid-way through a trip of a life-time.  We were traveling with a group from their church through 5 countries looking specifically at the Reformation period of Church History.  I have SO much to say about this trip, and am getting ready to share photos and thoughts with you, but you know how it is when there’s something that just won’t keep?  I have been chomping at the bit to share one particular memory with you.  It was not a part of the scheduled tour, but it was a thrill for me personally and I was inspired to paint as soon as I got home.

St. Dunstan's Church, Stepney

Sunday, June 19, 2016

One of many descents into the Tube.

One of many descents into the Tube.

My eyes filled with grateful tears, when descending the escalator to the London “Tube.”  With our very busy tour schedule, and the remoteness of this little church, I was so happy that things were working out.  It would take about an hour of underground (the London “subway” or Tube) , bus and walking.  I’m not sure I could have found it on my own, but thankfully, Jon and April joined me for free-time that day.  I will always be grateful to Jon for making it possible. 

A little church, in Stepney Green, at the East part of London, and just a few blocks from the Thames, was our destination.  From 1640 – 1646, Jeremiah Burroughs was preaching here, for the last 6 years of his life.  He was called “The Morningstar of Stepney” back then, and 350 years later, his most well-known work, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, became one of my husband’s favorite books.  Burroughs was a faithful Puritan pastor and member of the Westminster Assembly, for more info, click HERE. or for more detail... HERE

But, back to my story…

It had been a very full day; church in the morning, a 2 hour walking tour in the St. Paul’s Cathedral area, the Tower of London, and a quick look into the British Library “Treasures” room before it closed.  Interspersed were meals, eaten on the run, and multiple Tube and taxi rides.  (Thankfully, all museums in London are free, so you can duck in and out, and not feel ripped off.)  Walked a few blocks to grab some dinner, which we ate on the run, now aware that the evening would soon be upon us, and we still had a ways to go to find St. Dunstan’s Church. 

With dinner in hand we discovered that the Underground route we needed was closed. We had to go a round-a-bout way, (still with dinner in hand), sharing the most crowded underground ride yet.  We were literally inches away from everyone, including a drunk guy who was nearly falling over on us as we stood holding on to the poles.  (no such thing as "personal space")  He was intent on telling us how we Americans should vote this fall.  So funny!  I felt relief when the doors opened at our stop.  Next, a bus ride, and then a walk of 5 blocks through a quiet, residential neighborhood.  I was so thankful to have Jon with us, as it was a bit lonely feeling. 

St. Dunstan's and All Saints Church, Stepney, London, England

St. Dunstan's and All Saints Church, Stepney, London, England

And then, rounding a corner, there it was.  St. Dunstan’s Church in the midst of a beautiful, churchyard of green grass, big trees, and old tombstones.   It was not crowded-in by high-rise office buildings, like so many of the churches we’d seen.  The gate was open, though the church door was locked.  There were some people walking their dogs and a few men sitting on a grave, talking with their friends.  It was a very quiet scene.  This church dates back to the 7th century, but most of the current building was built in the 15th century.  (some parts go back to 1200)  Amazingly, the building had survived the Blitz of WWII and with minimal changes over the last 500 years,  it is almost entirely the same building that Burroughs preached in, rag stone rubble, limestone trim, gargoyles, and all. (*more info at end of post) 

How Gary would have loved this place.  He would have enjoyed seeing where one of his heroes preached, and walking around looking at the gravestones.  But, of course, he's actually WITH Jeremiah, in the presence of the Savior they both love so I won't feel sorry for him.

I love looking over the notes Gary wrote to himself, to see what was important to him.  

I love looking over the notes Gary wrote to himself, to see what was important to him.  

I am grateful for Jeremiah Burroughs.  Gary, sat under his training, every time he returned to "The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment." I believe Gary's peaceful acceptance of life's ups and downs was largely due to this book.  Gary did not particularly love reading, as it was not easy for him, and there were few books he read, but let me share a couple of things he underlined in the book.  Maybe you'll be blessed by them too.

"Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God's wise and fatherly disposal in every condition."  J.B.

"Contentment is a sweet, inward heart-thing.  It is a work of the Spirit indoors." J.B.

"When you are in a ship at sea which has all it's sails spread with a full gale of wind, and is swiftly sailing, can you make it stand still by running up and down in the ship?  No more can you make the providence of God alter and change its course with your vexing and fretting; it will go on with power, do what you can.  Do but understand the power and efficacy of providence and it will be a mighty means helping you to learn the lesson of contentment." J.B.

"So this is the art of contentment: not to seek to add to our circumstances, but to subtract from our desires." Jeremiah Burroughs

"So this is the art of contentment: not to seek to add to our circumstances, but to subtract from our desires." Jeremiah Burroughs

I'm glad contentment was important to Gary.  He would be the first to say it did not come easy to him but he really wanted to trust the Lord in every area of life, especially the rough patches.  He prayed to have a trusting heart often and God answered that prayer by making the big trials in our life so much easier, and enriching.  The girls and I have read it too, and I'm going through it again, because I'm struggling with a greedy heart lately, and contentment in God's plan for me is the answer to greed!  

A few hours earlier on this day, I had stood in a very, very long line to see the extremely valuable, and highly guarded Crown Jewels, in the Tower of London. They were amazing.  The royal crowns and scepters, are decorated with HUGE and beautiful diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and more. British royalty are honored with the biggest and best gems in the world.  But Jeremiah Burroughs calls "Christian Contentment" the rare jewel.  Contentment, is so elusive yet we are called to it.  One day, in Glory, it will be mine.  Until then, I entrust myself to the Lord's training and like the apostle Paul,  am "learning" the secret of how to be content.  On this day I was able for a little while to walk in the steps of a faithful man who, though dead, still speaks.  Thank you Rev. Burroughs. 

This rose, if I'm not mistaken is a Newport Fairy Rose.  Gary grew these rambling pink roses at our Sunland home.  It was frosting on the cake to see these growing on the church grounds. 

This rose, if I'm not mistaken is a Newport Fairy Rose.  Gary grew these rambling pink roses at our Sunland home.  It was frosting on the cake to see these growing on the church grounds. 

 
"My brethren, the reason why you have not got contentment in the things of the world is not because you have not got enough of them - that is not the reason - but the reason is, because they are not things proportionable to that immortal soul of yours that is capable of God himself."  Jeremiah Burroughs

"My brethren, the reason why you have not got contentment in the things of the world is not because you have not got enough of them - that is not the reason - but the reason is, because they are not things proportionable to that immortal soul of yours that is capable of God himself."  Jeremiah Burroughs

"...I have learned, to be content, in whatever circumstances I am. 

I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." 

Philippians 4:11-13

(FOR MORE STUDY, Pastor Mike Riccardi preaches about Biblical contentment; what it is, and how to learn it.  To listen, click HERE!)


*INTERESTING TRIVIA:  St. Dunstan's was known as the "Church of the High Seas" and many sailors are buried here.  The naval ensign continues to fly from the bell tower.  There is a stained glass window dedicated to those sailors who lost their lives in the war.  It is built of Kent limestone.    Shortly after Burroughs died in 1648, the churchyard had been expanded to 7 acres to accommodate the massive number of deaths due to the Great Plague of London.  Today it is a park, open to all. 

St. Dunstan's Church, Stepney

St. Dunstan's Church, Stepney

I love to get your comments...either here or on Facebook.  Thanks for visiting! 

My Grief Diary: A Happy, Grieving Heart

Next Friday will be the Anniversary of our last goodbye.  Over the last year, as a recent widow, I have sought to understand my new and different life.  After forty plus years with my husband, I find myself alone.  For all those years, and right up until Gary died, I knew exactly what I would and should be doing each day.   My life with my sweetheart was good and fulfilling.  In the months following his departure, adjustments have been made in my life and are still happening.  I suspect the future will hold more changes, and growth for me as well.  That’s ok.  The changes are sometimes hard, or painful, but I'm seeing that there is good on the other side.

Discovering (and dealing with) the new me!

I’ve been learning about “the new me,” the “me-without-Gary.”  We were one flesh for 40 ½ years and I’ve been shaped by him.  Being alone, and being in the grief stage, I've found some things in my heart that need to be repented of.  I've also found more depth in some of my interests and creative side.  There are brand new and faith stretching opportunities to explore and I plan to do so.  (Specifically an upcoming trip I'll be sharing about here.) The Lord has used Gary to help me grow, as a Christian and as a woman.  I am still “me” but I am finding new ways to grow. 

Saying "yes" to everything - well not EVERYTHING, but too much!

One thing I’ve noticed is that after nine years of having certain restrictions on my life, (because of Gary's health needs), I began to say yes to everything.  Well maybe not “Everything” but lots of things.  I kind of went crazy with going here, going there, doing this and that, and taking on a lot.  Nothing bad here, just LOTS.  I was wondering how the Lord would direct me, and unfold what He wanted me to do.  I’ve been able to see more clearly now certain things that are more important than others and great ways to enjoy life.  I don't think I will EVER really get a handle on time management, but I've noticed that I need to be on guard against being greedy.  For instance, I like to put many intriguing things on my list of "to-dos" but sometimes it's better to do fewer things, and do them better.  There will never be enough time or opportunity to do everything.  It's ok to dream, but when something can't be done, I must not get frustrated, but rather be thankful for what I AM able to do. 

Changing roles is not easy.

My sorrow for Gary, has been ongoing for many years.  When he departed, I was already kind of used to missing him.  What I was NOT used to, however, was feeling the loss of my main “occupation,” being his helper.  This has been the thing that brings the most tears.  I miss Gary, I miss being his other “half.” It's a slow process, but God is steadily healing this part of my heart.  I've been able to study about the beautiful role that widows have in the church.  I'm excited about that.  We widows, have a special place in God's heart and He has much for us to do.  "...so that they (older women) may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored." Titus 2:4-5

I’m almost through the first year of being on my own, and all the first holidays without Gary are behind me.  I’ve been up and down with emotions as I approach the anniversary of Gary’s home going in a few days.  Mostly happy for Gary, but sad when I think about the final goodbye, and missing my role of helping him.   Through this entire first year, God has been at my side, drying my eyes, giving me things to laugh at, and love, and reminding me of wonderful memories with my sweetheart.    I hope you are all expressing your love to your dear ones and treasuring your days together.  We are only guaranteed the breath that is in our lungs at this present moment so make your day a good one.  May we all feel and think deeply, and give ourselves completely to Jesus Christ so that our lives will count for eternity. 

 

 

 

 

Sorrow is better than laughter,
For when a face is sad a heart may be happy. 

Ecclesiastes 7:3

 

I've read a couple of wonderful books on grief.  The most recent was The Undistracted Widow, by Carol Cornish.  I highly recommend it!  (Click HERE for my review.) 

Lexi and the Sparrows

...WITH THIS PRINT,

I AM RAISING PRAYERS AND FUNDS FOR LEXI...

This little sparrow print is very special to me. It is reproduced from a watercolor painting I just finished for a dear family who has been going through a really hard time. It is inspired by little Lexi, the six year old foster daughter of Rusty and Summer Page. You may have heard their story in the news. I couldn't think of a more helpless, or insignificant bird than a sparrow, and yet, the "least among us" are precious to God who cares for them. (Scroll down to read a short summary or find out more at www.saveourlexi.com)

BY PURCHASING AND DISPLAYING THIS PRINT, YOU WILL...

1. Contribute to the Pages for legal and associated expenses.

I will be sending my proceeds, minus my costs, from the sale of these prints to the Pages to help with their legal and associated costs as they continue to make their appeal to get Lexi back home. (For duration of 2016)

2. Remind yourself to pray for this sweet little girl and her family.

I have known the Pages for years and along with many of you, have been praying for little Lexi. She is away from her home, siblings, school, church and her life. Her communication with all of these has been cut off, and I can only imagine how she must be suffering. BUT thankfully, God is not unaware, or surprised by this. He has a soft spot for the helpless, and Jesus reminds us that God values his own.

To purchase this 8 X 10 print for $14.95,

click HERE.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows." Matthew 10:29-31

A SHORT SUMMARY OF WHY I WANT TO HELP:

Lexi lived with the Pages for 4 years until March 21, 2016 when she was removed by L.A. County to go live in Utah . Because she has 1.5% Indian Blood, she is under the authority of the Indian Child Welfare Act which seeks to place Native Americans into homes with N.A. relatives. When reunification efforts with her parents were ended, at the end of 2012, the Tribe recommended placement in the Utah home. The Pages have been seeking to adopt Lexi ever since. Twice the trial court has ordered Lexi to Utah, and twice, the appellate ruled in favor of the Pages. Their last request was denied on March 18 and 3 days later, Lexi was taken from the only family she has ever known, and bonded with and has been cut off from all communication with her foster family. The Pages are continuing to try and bring Lexi back by every legal means possible. Almost 120,000 people have signed a petition requesting that Lexi be allowed to remain with the Pages (To sign petition: change.org) (To follow on Facebook: #Save Lexi)

Click HERE to purchase the print and all the proceeds beyond my costs will go to the Page family.  This print is on textured Sundance card stock and does NOT include frame. This print fits nicely in an 8" X 10" frame or mat in an 11"X14" frame. Shipping is extra on this item. Colors By Laurie prints are reproduced from my original watercolor paintings and may not be reproduced.

Thank you so much!

Laurie

"Where Can I Go?"

Imagine with me for a minute.  What if your mobility was completely dependent on others.  You are able to walk, but you are too wobbly to be safe.  Maybe you are unable to decide anything for yourself because your brain no longer takes initiative.  You can't just get up and walk outside even if you used to go for a walk every day.  You feel restless but you don't know why, and your muscles are getting stiff because they aren't being used as much anymore. 

Folks with dementia are in a pickle.  They need our help.  I made this little video to inspire and help with some tips when it comes to getting our loved ones moving.  This "How To" video is number five in a series. 

But before you watch it, I want to draw your attention to someone in the video who is the winner of BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR!  Karl's wife, Becky was our primary caregiver during the years that Gary was still able to walk.  Karl was INVALUABLE for helping Gary "see the world."  He and Gary actually had similar interests, so he was a perfect walking support for Gary.  He gently and humbly helped my husband enjoy the great outdoors while Becky documented their many outings.  "Many thanks, Karl!" 

To view the video, click on the arrow in the middle of the scene below.   (If you are a subscriber and are reading this post in your email, you'll have to click on "Read in your browser" down at the bottom, to view the video.)

I have made FOUR other videos in this series.  To see them, click HERE.

My Grief Diary - Gary's Joy

Today is the nine month anniversary of Gary’s exit from planet earth after nine years of suffering with dementia.  (Read more HERE.) May 13, 2015 marks the end of his silence, weakness, and loss, in this life, and the beginning of his perfect life in heaven.  There is a special memory from that day that I am ready to share.  Recalling this event, from the very end of his life, turns sorrow into joy for me.  It is my gift of love and encouragement to you, dear friends.  In order to explain, context is needed.

 Gary’s body had been shutting down for several days, and on Wednesday morning, there were signs that the end was approaching soon.  Thankfully, Gary had no pain or agitation, and therefore, needed no morphine or other medications.  His hospice nurses concurred that he was resting comfortably.  Our family had been with us all week, and that morning, we had been reading favorite bible passages to him, singing hymns, telling him we loved him, and praying at his bedside, in between repositioning him and swabbing his mouth with water.  He was extremely weak, but restful this day, as he had been for months really.  If you recall, he had been sleeping/dozing for 20-22 hours a day for many months.  

As far as other forms of communication, Gary hadn’t spoken in sentences since 2013.  In 2014 he said “Hi” or “Ok” every few weeks.  Moments of eye contact were few and far between for all of 2014 as well, mostly because he so rarely opened his eyes.  I believe he was still somewhat aware of things, right until the end, because when Pastor MacArthur had visited us a few days before his death, Gary squeezed his hand while Pastor John was praying for him, but his facial expressions had been “flat” for several years. 

Looking back through photos, I think the last true smile from Gary was at the end of 2013, in response to something Becky said, and even so, it was not his typical “Gary” grin.   

 

So, that morning,  as the signs of impending death increased, we were all gathered around.  We didn’t know exactly when he would take his last breath, but we all wanted to be there.  Sarah had explained to the children that it is not a sad or fearful to see a Christian die because they will go straight into heaven to be with their Savior.  We would know this to be true very soon. 

At a little before 11:00 Gary surprised us.  He was laying on his side, and his eyes popped open, he craned his neck, and his frail, thin face broke into a huge smile.  We hadn’t seen him smile like this in literally years.  Silly me, I tried to engage him by asking him, “What do you see Gary?”  I was hoping he’d talk to me, or look at me, but it was obvious that he was looking right past me, still grinning from ear to ear.  I was shocked because I didn’t know his face was capable of smiling anymore.  It was an excited look…truly happy with eyes wide open.  I stepped back, so as to get out of his line of sight, and let him fully experience whatever it is that he was seeing.  We all saw him looking so happy, and later surmised that he continued in this joyful state for about 20-30 seconds.  It was long enough for the whole family to get around on our side of the bed to see him.  Then he closed his eyes, and took a couple more breaths, about 30 seconds apart, and breathed his last. 

I do not know what Gary saw while his body was dying.  He could have seen Jesus welcoming him into heaven and saying what we all long to hear…”well done, good and faithful servant...enter into the joy of your master.”  (Matt 25:23)  Maybe he saw God sitting on his throne in indescribable glory.  (Revelation 4 & 5)  For sure, he was leaving his body, and going into the presence of the Lord.  (2 Corinthians 5:8)  I will never know what Gary saw, until it’s my turn.  We are sure, however, that while he was dying, he saw something amazing that made him happier than I have ever seen him. 

 “You will make known to me the path of life;

In Your presence is fullness of joy;

In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” 

Psalm 16:11

Not everyone is conscious, and unmedicated when they die so those standing around may not see an outward expression when a soul passes from earthly to eternal life.  No one is exempt from dying, however, so perhaps you will use this little account of Gary’s happy face, to pause and think.  Will your first view of the afterlife be as joyful as Gary’s was?  Gary placed his entire life in Jesus’ hands because he knew he was a sinner in need of salvation.  It is impossible to be good enough to get into heaven on our own. The bible speaks to this.  I wrote more about it in this older post HERE.  

 

 “His glory is great through Your salvation

Splendor and majesty You place upon him.

For You make him most blessed forever;

You make him joyful with gladness in Your presence.”

Psalm 21:5-6

 

NOTE:  Our Pastor, John MacArthur has written a great book, called “The Glory of Heaven.”  It addresses the BIBLICAL description of heaven and the UNBIBLICAL accounts of near-death and other “heaven and back” experiences.  You can get it on Amazon HERE.

More from God’s word...

 “For momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”  2 Cor. 4:17-18

“Whom have I in heaven but You?  And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”  Ps. 73:25-26

“Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for you loved Me before the foundation of the world.”  John 17:24

 

 

Facing Grief - A Book Review

Saying goodbye to loved ones is nothing new.  Death is as sure as life.  Three hundred and forty two years ago, in 1674, a little book was written to help some parents who lost a beloved child.  It has helped me too and I want you to know about it. 

The title, “Facing Grief: Counsel for Mourners” perfectly describes what this little book is about.  The author, John Flavel, a minister in the south of England, had already buried two wives and his parents when he wrote these pages.  Facing Grief is not an autobiography, but his own tragedies, give legitimacy to the hard but helpful truths he put down on paper.  There are minimal stories, or personal examples, but if you want to know how to mourn in a way that glorifies God, Flavel brings Scripture to bear on grief.  The language is in the “old English” style, but this did not deter me.  I soaked up the pages. 

Everyone’s path of grief is different, and yet, for Christians, there are certain things we need to remember. 

Here are a sampling of quotes from each section…

  • The difference between “moderate” and “immoderate” sorrow and the biblical parameters of both. 

              “We must allow the mourning, afflicted soul a due and comely expression of his grief and sorrow in his complaints to both God and men….There is no sin in complaining TO God, but much wickedness in complaining OF Him.”  Flavel sites David in the Psalms as an example of the right way to grieve…”I poured out my complaint before Him; I showed before Him my trouble.  When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then you knew my path.” Psalm 142: 2-3

  • Sorrowing can cross the line and become sinful. 

              “Our sorrows may then be pronounced sinful when they deafen our ears to all the wholesome and seasonable words of counsel and comfort offered us for our relief and support.”  I myself have been guilty of this.  On more than one occasion, I’ve said to dear ones, “You don’t understand!”, hurting them, and missing out on the comfort I needed and would have truly helped. 

  • For the unbeliever, sorrow can be a good thing.

              “This affliction for which you mourn may be the greatest mercy to you that ever yet befell you in this world…Why this is sometimes the way of the Lord with men: ‘If they are bound in fetters, and held in cords of affliction; then he shows them their work, and their transgressions that they have exceeded.  He opens also their ear to discipline, and commands that they return from iniquity.’ Job 36:8-9

  • There are many, many comforts for believers.  (This is the largest section of the book.)

              “Always remember that, however soon and unexpected your parting with your relations was, yet your lease was expired before you lost them, and you enjoyed them every moment of the time that God intended them for you…Oh, if this had been done, or that omitted; had it not been for such miscarriages and oversights, my dear husband, wife, or child had been alive at this day!  No, no, the Lord’s time was fully come, and all things concurred and fell in together to bring about the pleasure of His will.  Let that satisfy you: had the ablest physicians in the world been there, or had they that were prescribed another course, as it is now so it would have been when they had done all…He who appointed the seasons of the year appointed the seasons of our comfort in our relations; and as those seasons cannot be altered, no more can these.  All the course of providence is guided by an unalterable decree; what falls out casually to our apprehension yet falls out necessarily in respect of God’s appointment.  Oh, therefore be quieted in it.  This must needs be as it is.”

“Call to mind in this day of trouble, the covenant you have with God, and what you solemnly promised him in the day you took him for your God… Now Christians, make good to Christ what you did so solemnly promise him.  He, I say, HE has disposed of this your dear relation, as pleased him, and is thereby trying your uprightness in the covenant which you made with him.  Now where is the satisfaction and content you promised to take in all his disposals?  Where is that covenanted submission to his will?  Did you except this affliction that is come upon you?...this day it is put to the proof.  Remember what you have promised him.”

“Be careful you exceed not in your grief for the loss of earthly things, considering that Satan takes the advantage of all extremes…When it is dark night with men, it is noon-day with Satan; that is, our suffering-time is his busiest working-time; many a dismal suggestion he then plants and grafts upon our affliction, which are much more dangerous to us than the affliction itself…desponding thoughts…hard thoughts of God…murmuring and repining…irreligious and atheistical thoughts…By these things Satan gets no small advantage on the afflicted Christian.”

“If God be your God, you have really lost nothing by the removal of any creature-comfort….God is the fountain of all true comfort; creatures, the very best and sweetest, are but cisterns to receive and convey to us what comfort God is pleased to communicate to them; and if the cistern be broken, or the pipe be cut off, so that no more comfort can be conveyed to us that way, he has other ways and means to do it by, which we think not of; and if he please, he can convey his comforts to his people without any of them.”

  • Excuses and pleas for excessive sorrow AND practical ways to restrain oneself from it are answered in the final chapters.  These hit hard and get right to the point. 

Facing Grief is not an easy “feel-good” book.  But good theology is comforting.  As a Christian widow, I find my greatest comfort in my relationship with Jesus, my Lord and savior.  I always have.  This book has reminded me of His wonderful love, and comforts that come in many forms.  Sorrow over losing a loved one is normal, but because of Jesus, I can sorrow with HOPE!  Not “hope” meaning “I hope so.” But HOPE meaning “SURE of God’s promises.”

IMG_2986-001.JPG


Lest anyone think I’m not grieving about Gary, don’t get me wrong, I am still sad at times.  But this very good book has cautioned me to be careful as I grieve.  My loss should not be a source of sin in my life.  It should drive me to a closer walk with the Lord.  Peace and Joy are the beautiful byproducts.  Just as King David knew he would see his son again, I know I will see Gary too,  He's not coming back, but someday I get to go where he is!  

Watercolor Journal - Wind in the Pines

A family asked me to paint their beloved cabin in the mountains of New Mexico.  I’ve never been to that state, but as I painted the pine forest background I reflected on my childhood camping trips.  My parents took me camping from a very young age, mostly to the High Sierras in California. Mom and Dad loved back-packing and mom even made me a little down-filled sleeping bag.  If there was no rain, we didn’t pitch a tent, and I remember laying on a bed of pine needles, and looking up at the stars at night.  I listened to the crackling campfire and their voices nearby until I fell asleep.  Sometime later I’d wake up between them, with a cold face and warm body, secure in their love and happy to be a little girl, outside in the forest. 

The wind in the pine needles above, made it’s whooshing sound, and was familiar, because outside my bedroom in Southern California were three big pine trees.  But outside, in the forest, the sound of the wind was grander, and deeper.  There were many instruments in this beautiful symphony.  And here, as the dead pine needles were blown from the trees, they would not have to be raked off our driveway at home, so let the wind blow, and do it’s work, adding to the softness of the forest floor, preparing a little bed for the next sleepy-head to rest upon...look up...and listen. 

My Grief Diary: Patina

The sparkle is not gone.  I polished them this morning since today would have been our 41st anniversary.  I'm still wearing the rings Gary made for me.  He hammered 50 cent coins into bands and then had a jeweler set his grandma's diamonds on them. On the inside you used to be able to see that they were minted in 1953 (my birth year) and read "In God we trust." but the words and numbers have long since worn away.  Because they have been on my hand for so many years, and subjected to all of my activities, the prongs have needed adjustments, the bands have needed straightening, and a diamond was even knocked loose and replaced.  I don't mind.  I love that Gary made them for me and I still enjoy seeing them on my finger.  They remind me of my loving husband, and our faithful God who enabled us to love and forgive for so long.  

My ring has changed.  So have I.  Marriage changes things.  Especially people.  Gary's influence in my life has shaped me, and moved me towards Christ.  I recently listened to some audio tapes of him when we were dating.  (He didn't like to write letters so he sent me cassette tapes.)  We were silly, in love, and immature in many ways, but one thing stood out so clearly.  Jesus was the most important person in his life.  I loved him for that.  Over the years, God was kind to grow us both.  Gary is now with the Lord, without any sin.  One day I'll join him.  I am grateful beyond words for the time we had together.

Yes, I miss him every day, but marriage is temporary.  That is a good thing for all of us to remember.  It is a constant temptation to make an idol of our spouses and let them become more important to us than God.  When I am reunited with Gary it will not be as his wife.  It will be as two grateful and amazed sinners who have been rescued from eternal punishment by their Savior and once shared a life together in "time." The following quote, from a book I'm loving right now, was written to parents who had lost a child, but as a wife who's lost a husband, I too have been blessed by it's weightiness.

"A husband, a wife, a child, are great, very great things, as they stand by other creatures; but surely they will seem little things, next to nothing, when the Lord shall set himself by them before the soul.  And how know you but God has bidden these earthly comforts stand aside this day, to make way for heavenly ones?  It may be God is coming to communicate himself more sweetly, more sensibly than ever to your souls; and these are the providences which must cast up and prepare the way of the Lord.  Possibly God's meaning in their death is but this: [Husband], stand aside; you are in my way, and fill my place in your [wife's] heart." (Facing Grief, by John Flavel)

I'm halfway through the year of "FIRSTS"...First Father's day, first Birthday, first Thanksgiving, first Christmas, and first Anniversary...without my Gary.  Tonight I have a special dinner planned with my daughter's family, so I have something to look forward to, and a new kind of special memory. 

LIVE - REMEMBER - ENJOY

Antique appraisers and collectors use the term "patina" to describe the color change on a metal object that results from age.  Patina typically increases the value.  My rings cost very little, even by 1974 standards, but they are precious to me because of the promises they represent, and the memories they carry.  They grow more beautiful to me with age, because they carry a story with them.

 Tonight I went to dinner with April and Jon and the boys to celebrate God's faithfulness to Gary and I.   God is attentive to my loss and is filling the void with other comforts so I'm in good hands.  My prayer is that the loss of Gary will drive me even closer to the Lord.  As I venture into the second half of the year of "FIRSTS," I pray that my love for Jesus will increase, since He is, and always will be, more than enough for this widow.  There will be more layers of wear and polishing to be done in my heart as God continues to sanctify me. 

 
"And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.  To him be the dominion forever and ever.  Amen."  1 Peter 5:10-11

My Grief Diary: Crystal Clear

It's been an emotional week, just thinking about Gary, missing him, and remembering how special he was to me.  Something broke the other day, that was special to him.  It's a big crystal (2") that refracts the light beautifully.  Gary bought it back in the 70's and hung it in our bedroom window.  Every sunshiny morning, it cast rainbows on the walls.  When we moved to our condo, it made rainbows here too.  He'd say, "We have to get up when the rainbow gets to the doorway."  He would sometimes stand in just the right spot to get the colors right on his mouth, or nose to be funny.  Our girls remember too.  He LOVED that crystal and we loved that he loved it.  Well, finally last week, the wire broke and it fell on the tile, leaving some big chips in it.  I need to rehang it, and hopefully it will make even more of a light-show now.

But I got to thinking about something really neat.  I was reading in Revelation 4 this morning.  It describes the throne room of God.  In his vision, the apostle John described the appearance of God , in terms of precious gems.   "Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone (clear as crystal in Rev. 21:11) and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance."

and MORE...

"and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME.”

Such amazing, heavenly sights and sounds were hard for John to describe.  Right now, Gary's eyes and ears are filled with the actual glories of God.  I'm comforted with the little memory of how he loved the light and colors displayed by his crystal, but thanks to the written Word of God, I get to know just a little of what Gary is experiencing right now, and that is even better. 

 

Head ‘em Up – Move ‘em Out

I've been without my dad for just over a year.  On Thursday I was getting ready to distribute some more of my dad's things, and got very involved looking at one of his collections.  I enjoyed perusing his photos and his written thoughts.  It made me miss him.  I think I've mentioned that because of the events of the last year, I've barely had a chance to grieve my parents' loss, but the time I spent with his things the other day, was so nice.  Part way through, I realized, that it was actually his birthday!  He would have been 98.  

My dad, Bill Ransom, was a fan of all things western.  A few years after my parents retired to Montana, they got caught up in the excitement of the Montana Centennial celebrations.  One of those was the recreation of a cattle drive, and they joined in the fun, in their way.  I think some of you, at least, may enjoy reading my dad's account of the experience, as well as his photos.  He and my mom had a wonderful way of looking at things, and Dad recorded everything with 35mm photos, 16mm movies, and writings.  They appreciated history, authenticity, love of country, and their beautiful Montana.  I am grateful for my dad's adventuresome spirit, and my mom for being such a good sport.

 

Here is the story which he wrote in 1989:


Head ‘em Up – Move ‘em Out

The Great Montana Centennial Cattle Drive

By Bill Ransom

A prairie dog rose up from the hole in the center of his earthen mound appearing to exercise a proper amount of caution.  He was soon followed by another, both quickly turning their attention directly to the north.  Obviously, the two of them heard of felt something Louise and I did not.  In a matter of minutes it all became quite clear as our ears began to record a muted, yet powerful, sound.  I easily likened it to something of a muffled drum-roll as it swept toward us through Montana’s wild prairie grass.  Hoof beats – yes, thousands of them – coming from the north.  Man oh man, this was it – this is what we had waited for.  A cloud of dust rising over a near distant ridge told us we had chosen a good spot to witness the greatest cattle drive in history.  Perhaps the strategy of leaving our car by the highway and hiking a mile and a half away from everyone and everything “1989” would pay off photographically as well as allowing us to better take a step back in time. 

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This was day three of Montana’s “piece de resistance” in celebration of its 100th year of statehood.  This monumental undertaking gave birth to seemingly insurmountable problems in logistics, but after months of planning and using some “Old West” ingenuity, things dovetailed in time for the start.  The drive had begun, appropriately, up on the Musselshell River at the town of Roundup on September 4th and would conclude on the 9th in Billings, 60 miles to the south. 

Louise and I grabbed for our camera gear as the first of the herd began pouring over the ridge like lava moving fast through sagebrush and grass – lava wrapped in cowhide.  This first bunch was comprised entirely of longhorns, descendants of that first herd driven up from Texas in 1866 by Nelson Story and his hands.  Most of these were owned by Jim Leachman and were destined to come under the auctioneer’s gavel at the Metro Arena in Billings three days hence.  Both cowboys and cowgirls controlled the herd, holding their positions at point, wing and drag. 

Dad chatting it up with the riders.

Dad chatting it up with the riders.

The trail boss for the drive was Jay Stovall, and as the lead group of wranglers passed by, we tried to pick him out.  We knew, too, that among this group of seasoned riders was Mike Story, great, great grandson of Nelson Story, and it was a sentimental invitation to participate that had brought him to this time and place.  Riding wing near the front of the herd was the youngest of the cowboys, 11 year old Shawn Hando.  It may have gotten him out of school for the week, but not out of doing a comprehensive report detailing his own experiences on the drive.  To make manageable this giant herd of around 3,000 head, and for safety as well as for humanitarian considerations, the cattle were purposely strung out between 3 and 4 miles. 

 

From our vantage point atop a small outcropping of rock, we could see over a mile and a half of the total herd.  At one time I turned quickly to Louise and asked, “Did you hear that?  Was that a gunshot?”  We thought it might be someone letting go with his “45”, for many of the riders wore holstered six-guns.  We heard the sharp crack again – than saw George Reed using his bullwhip as he kept the line moving steadily southward.  One of the basic rules for participation in the drive was to dress in appropriate gear, as near as possible – no Adidas and no ‘visored’ caps touting “Joe’s Welding Shop” allowed. 

Louise and I continued to look for photographic “targets of opportunity,” shooting both movie film and stills until the last of the cattle had passed, the last two riders carrying the American and official Montana Centennial flags, signaling the tail end of the herd.  There had been intermittent clouds of dust, and now, as soon as it drifted away, we could catch our breath and enjoy our lunch which we had earlier stashed into a small backpack. 

We decided this was a great place for our lunch break, for it seemed, in a way, like we were 100 miles from nowhere.  It was so quiet now, and luck had provided a nice setting.  We had some natural rock shelves to sit on, and being almost brick red, they made a sharp contrast to the subtle golden colors of the prairie grass.  Behind us were a few scrub cedars while right in front of us were several bunches of late blooming wildflowers (Phacelia) and a couple of stalks of plains yucca.  The latter being an often used detail on the canvases of famous Montana artist, C. M. Russell.  Overhead the ‘big sky’ was still filled with gray clouds, and with the sun trying to burst through, we could see the storm threat of the night before was truly in retreat.  What a nice Godsend, for when we had visited the trail drive night camp the past evening, we had found some dramatic and ominous weather conditions.  While we munched away, we reminisced about the previous night. 

This had been their second night camp, and we had driven north out of Billings 30 miles to locate it.  We were dumbfounded to discover it spread over such a huge area on part of the Thirty Mile Ranch.  We parked near the south end a bit off the highway among a collection of sage, cactus, grass, and only God knew the rest, but it was worth it.  Using what expertise I could recall, I showed Louise the proper way to get through the barbed wire.  Then, by revealing our most pleasant smiles, we were invited to enter the roped off section surrounding the first circle of about 14 wagons.  We found an intense effort under way to get all the members of this group fed quickly as the projected storm became more of a threat.  AS the wind picked up, a few horses wandered nervously away from the remuda (spare mounts) and into the circle of wagons.  One beautiful pinto was whinnying and almost trampled a pitched sleeping tent, and that was enough for several wranglers to leave the chow line and haze them back to the rest of their kind.  I would say there were at least 150 horses in that bunch alone, and none were corralled.  The clouds darkened, and there was flapping canvas everywhere – the dusters some of the men wore – the wagon covers – and all the sleeping tents were alive in that chilling wind.  I wondered how well everyone would sleep on this night. 

We eased over to the chuck wagon and found three gals about ready to load up the plates of both hungry cowhands and others belonging to this circle wagons.  There was a tall stack of plates, a huge coffee pot, and many cups - all in gray enamel.  In fact, all the utensils looked very “western.”  The only thing I saw that seemed out of place was a large tub filled with chopped mixed greens – obviously, the salad.  Something smelled divine coming from the open grill, and I just had to ask one of the gals what the main course was, and she replied by holding up an oversized steak – and out came one word, “Buffalo!”  Now, why didn’t I expect something like that?

We eased away so they could get on with their work, but not before noticing how everyone was smiling, joking, and helping each other with whatever was needed.  We passed by the line of leather-tan faces, some needing a shave by now, and some showing a little fatigue – but everyone, just plain nice!  One wrangler, L. G. from Billings, stopped to kid with us a bit about taking his picture, else he might have to use the six-gun on his hip.  We complied.  Then he said, “If you want to see something you’ll never see again, climb up over that rise, and look to the west.”  We zipped up our parkas and trudged up past wagons, horses, and dozens of portable watering troughs for about 500 yards.  Mr. G. knew exactly what he was saying.  I could never properly describe what met our eyes.  There were, scattered across that open ranchland, horses, cattle, tents, watering trucks, dozens of circles of wagons (called “pods’), people by the hundreds, and rows of portable toilets.  We stood, amazed, and began to appreciate the word, “logistics.”

Some questions came to mind.  Things like, “How could each of the participants get his own horses back, his own cattle claimed if they didn’t go to market, his wagon returned to the ranch?”  There was over 15 million dollars’ worth of equipment and horses laying out there before us.  But more than all this – what is there about this segment of Americana – western Americana, especially, that had inspired so many to spend so much to come so far to be a part of all this? 

It was time we headed back to Billings, for by now the aroma of buffalo steaks had gotten our own stomachs to growling.  We picked our way down the slope past tons of hay scattered out for both horse and cow.  Most of it now being consumed as we carefully passed by.  We noticed most of the cattle had individual brands, but also carried the temporary “M over 89” centennial brand, as well.  This would turn out to be the longest trek of the drive; 18 miles, and over the most variable terrain, as it had a combination of being partly highway, partly prairie, much of it through the lower elevations of the Bull Mountains with their tight ravines.  Were we ever glad we had decided to take in one of the night camps!

As we finished up our lunch of tuna sandwiches, olives and potato chips, we considered it nearly a crumb compared to the projected amounts of food the participants of the drive would require.  Such a grocery list as follows:  On Wednesday, Yellowstone Kelly’s Catering of Billings planned to serve 1200 pounds of baron of beef and half a ton of baked beans to their section of 1500 people.  300-500 gallons of coffee per day.  Monday night (first camp) this group ate 3,000 pounds of beef ribs.  That’s equal to four head of cattle on the hoof.  Bob Hurd, lead cook of Chuck Wagon Catering out of Red Lodge, Montana even revealed his own recipe for biscuits and gravy.  Now, just for once, forget the calories, and copy it down for some nice Sunday morning when you’re glad to be alive – then eat hearty!

Fry up an even mix of both pork sausage and diced ham.  Then thicken it with a riux of butter and flour.  Add some real cream along with a little milk.  The cream smooths out the gravy, which is the secret to his successful breakfast of biscuits and gravy. 

Iona Schmidt of Glendive, Montana offered her recipe for Creamery-Can Stew:

Corn sliced off the cob, wieners and polish sausage cut into chunks, sliced cabbage, small unpeeled whole potatoes, sliced carrots and beer.  Into the pot with the lot – bring it to a boil and simmer for an hour. 

On the cattle drives of a hundred years ago – they should have it so good.

Oh, gosh!  Enough of that!  We had to get ourselves off our rock seats and hike up another mile to where out tiny map (cut out of the Billings Gazette) showed the long line of wagons would be traveling through this section.  By the time we reached the place that seemed best for pictures, 20 or 30 wagons had already passed, but that was O. K. because we still had around 300 more to go.  By now, I realized I could have used more movie film to properly cover the seemingly endless wagon train, but I cranked up the camera while Louise began to shoot stills.  We were getting more sun now, and grateful the weather front had swung into Canada. 

As the riders and wagons rolled past us, we heard everything from “Why, Hello, there!” to “Hi, y’all!”  Even “How did you two get clear out here?”  “Nutty, I guess,” was all I could think of at the moment.  From time to time the train would stop for a few minutes – once, because one of the wagons being double-teamed up a steep slope had turned over and there was an injury through not serious.  During these short delays we had fun meeting both outriders on horseback and those along with the wagon ride.  We were never disappointed in how everyone was dressed.  Most fit the part perfectly, women wearing long frontier dresses, sun bonnets, leather boots, etc.  Many of the dresses were hand-made just for the drive, and many children had made their dresses as school projects.  Behind the reins, the men wore traditional felt hats, Levis, leather vests, etc.  They came from every state, and many foreign countries too numerous to mention.  The wagons, surreys, stage coaches, and chuck wagons were pulled by breeds of horses from Arabians, to Paints, Clydesdales to Belgians, and Tennessee Walkers to mules.  Two, four – up to ten horse hitches pulled them to each night camp.  As for the riders on horseback, it was pretty much like bringing their own pet.  If so, then these pets were worth maybe $1500 to $2000 each, and they really showed it.  I found it rather amazing, as I had to face the fact that there was such a varied cross-section of citizenry passing by me.  I mean some were “for real” wranglers, but others were seniors, doctors, ranchers, college professors or teachers, and many youngsters – well, you get the idea.

I was soon out of movie film except for a few feet to cover the arrival of the cattle in Billings, so I helped Louise finish up the 35mm pictures, and then we crossed back through the string of wagons, picking our way down the long slope to our car that now seemed at least beyond the horizon.  After a few minutes of working our way through the sage, we passed underneath several pine trees that had dropped an array of perfect pine cones.  We thought of collecting some, but figured we had our hands full, so those will not become a part of our Christmas wreath.  We were next going down a long shallow draw, and I presented Louise the scenario of someone lost and in this same coulee, and wondering what they might think if they just climbed up the 20 or 30 feet to peer over the rim and suddenly see all those wagons, men and horses stretched out for miles.  What an episode for Twilight Zone!  Had I, myself, lived a time warp the last few hours?  Had my folks given me a dime so I could go to the Saturday matinee to watch Tom Mix or Hoot Gibson or Ken Maynard in one of so many westerns I lived to see at a cost of mowing the lawn?  Anyway, the difference was certainly in “living color,” and we felt the rewards were worth whatever our efforts had been. 

In passing by our earlier lunch spot, we also walked near the prairie dog mound.  It didn’t seem any the worse for wear, but the occupants were nowhere to be seen.  I think they were deep down in their burrow, still wondering what in the world all the commotion was about.  I’m sure of one thing – they’d never forget it.  Would we?

I love you Dad!

Success To Spare

A few days ago I had the privilege of telling our story to a group of ladies at our church about our 9-year trial.  I was asked to share how God had helped us along the way.  It's been 5 months since Gary went to Heaven and it was the first time I'd gathered my thoughts about our years with Alzheimer's Disease as a whole, and the key ways our Lord impacted us during that time.  It's a story of God's power on display through human weakness.  If you would like to listen, click on the photo of Gary and I below.  (It's audio of my talk along with a slideshow of the photos I showed during my talk.)  OR, If you would rather read the notes of my talk they are posted below the photo. 

To listen to the talk, click this photo:  (If you are viewing this in an email, you may need to view in your browser. 

To read my notes, start here:

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you for power is perfected in weakness.”  Most gladly therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

I’m so happy to be here tonight to BOAST about my weaknesses because Christ used them to display His power.  In order to do that, I need to go back a few years so you can see how God gave us more than we needed to succeed.  Tonight you’re going to hear a sad story, but I don’t want you to be sad. You may be afraid that something like this would happen to you, but I don’t want you to fear.   You may be right in the middle of something just as hard or harder, but I don’t want you to feel overwhelmed.   I want to encourage you.  I want to bring us to the God of grace who wants to strengthen you.  I want you to smile with me at our great God, because I’m going to tell you what He has done. 

40 years ago...

my husband and I promised God that we would love and serve each other no matter what.  “For better or worse.  For richer or poorer.  In sickness and in health.”  Looking back, we are grateful to God for our daughters, their husbands, and our grandchildren.  We began attending Grace about 34 years ago and loved serving in the college ministry here for many years.  Gary was an electrical contractor and I helped him with his business.  We lived in the same home our entire marriage and had no plans to leave it ever.  We were enjoying our grandkids and looked forward to travels to visit family and friends. Our lives were full and like most people, we had plans and dreams for the future.  Our plans were not to be.

About 9 years ago, Gary began to have difficulty with his thinking, particularly with problem-solving.  This showed up in his work first and then other areas.  Because of some other things going on right then, we both wrote it off to his being over-worked and super busy, but the cognitive problems got worse.  We sought medical help.  At this point, it was clear, he had “mild cognitive impairment” so there were months and months of medical and psychological tests to discover the cause, and after eliminating a long list of possibilities, it was determined that he had Early Onset Alzheimer’s Type Dementia.  He was only 57.  (Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and is rarely contracted under age 60.  Dementia is an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person's ability to perform everyday activities.  I would guess that most of you have someone in your family or know someone who has dementia of some form.  As the Baby Boomers age, there are going to be more and more who suffer with it.)   

Shortly after Gary’s diagnosis...

he asked me to find the Alzheimer’s Association website so he could read about the typical symptoms of his disease.  (Memory Loss, Confusion, Personality changes, Repetitive behavior, Loss of communication, and the ability to walk, sit or control his body.  Eventually he would need full time assistance with everything.)  I watched him read the list, with tears in his eyes.  He never asked about it again but a few days later he prayed with our friends and asked God “that during his illness, he never do anything that would dishonor the Lord.”  He feared that as he would lose control of his mind, he would do something sinful, but Gary didn’t panic, get angry at God, or beg Him to take it away.  He submitted himself to God’s plan for him.  Gary was content with the biggest, scariest trial he would ever face.  It was scary for both of us because we knew what would likely happen as the disease would progress, and we would begin the “long goodbye.”  But even so, back in 2010, Gary shared the Lord with our 4 year old granddaughter.  He was barely speaking at the time when he very clearly said to her… ”When you get to know my Jesus, it’s gonna be great!” 

"I am well content with weaknesses..."

I wasn’t always well content…I had my own set of fears. 

Would we both be unselfish enough to go through this trial in a way that pleases the Lord? 

I would have to give up my time, pursuits, energy for the sake of serving Gary completely.  He would have to give up the things he loved, his work, his home, his fish pond.  Gary’s responsibilities were added to my own, and it was a crushing weight.  The transition into my new role was not always smooth.

 Early on someone gave me a wonderful book by Robertson McQuilken who gave up his career in order to care for his wife with dementia, because of his vows of love before God.  This book set the tone for me.  God used this man’s wonderful example to encourage unselfishness in my life.  This trial really revealed the idols in my heart that were stealing my worship away from God.  I found that “keeping things the same and comfortable” was an idol in my life.  At times I resisted the changes coming.  It was a grace of God that He revealed this to me.

 Would I be able to keep Gary at home with me or would he need a nursing home?

I couldn’t bear the thought of him not being with me, yet what if I wasn’t capable of caring for him.

Would I keep loving Gary when he no longer knows me? How do you love completely with no return on that love? 

He was already getting confused about who I was.  He thought I had a twin sister who was trying to come between us.  Between these episodes and the loss of his abilities to care for himself, there were many tears and prayers shed together.  The losses were painful.  I was in desperate need of grace and strength.   

“I am well content with distresses.” 

On top of the personal losses, there were financial losses. 

We had financial needs. – Recently I was going over the events of the early years of the trial.  Things were so difficult then.  With Gary’s diminished capacity to work, we needed extra help to keep business alive, until we knew what was wrong.  His business had been suffering for multiple reasons, but mostly because of his increasing mental problems.  There was a real estate investment we had made before we knew Gary was sick, and it became a financial burden because Gary couldn’t keep up with it.  We were financially unprepared for Gary to stop working.  Once we knew what was wrong with Gary, we closed our business but that meant we lost our medical insurance as well as income.    We were left with no resources of our own, and had to depend completely on God to care for us.  HE DID.  There were financial gifts and practical helps abounding from the body of Christ.

God showed us that He was listening to my cries for help in a remarkable way. – I decided to apply for a job at our local Starbucks.  For minimal hours there were full benefits, so we could get our medical insurance.  It was close to our home and Gary could stay alone for short periods at that time.  I don’t know how I got the job, apart from the Lord.  There was a group interview with about 15 young people.  Around the circle of applicants we were all asked ‘Why we wanted to work for Starbucks.’  Many noble answers were given, such as ‘wanting to be part of the SB community,’ or ‘wanting to change the world’ by selling such a good product that is fairly traded, and helping third world farmers.   When it came round to me I said, “I really need a part time job, close to home that provides medical benefits.”  The next day I got a call from the local store manager, and I was hired.   I asked for the opening shift so I could get home to Gary when he was waking up.  I was there for two years while we waited for Gary’s Medicare to begin.  Though it was not an easy job, it was perfectly tailored to our needs, by the One who upholds us with his strong arm. 

Those years were exhausting. – I had to be at work from 4:00 am -8:00 am every weekday.  When home I was liquidating Gary’s electrical inventory, tools and truck.  There were many medical appts., as well as my regular activities.  On top of that, our house was becoming a burden, since Gary was unable to take care of all the maintenance issues in the house and garden.  I'd get off work, come home and mow the lawn or fix broken sprinklers...the things Gary used to do.  I decided we should downsize and sell our beloved home.  That added more work to do as we prepared it to sell.  Looking back, it is amazing to me that I was able to persevere during these two years.  Only by God’s strength.

“I am well content with difficulties.”

What seemed difficult for us, was easy for God.

There were so many difficult unknowns.  How would we survive financially?  Gary was confused about who I was.  Our ministry at Grace was fading away.  We ended up switching from College Ministry to Mainstream because Gary couldn’t keep up with the pace and the constantly changing faces of the college students any more.  For instance, he used to be involved in the lives of the students, having conversations on a Sunday morning, but he increasingly withdrew, getting his coffee and donut and sitting down alone.  It seemed our usefulness in the body of Christ was ending.  I didn’t know that God was preparing us for a future ministry.  I will tell you about it later.

In 2010 we moved to a smaller place that I could manage.  At the beginning Gary and I went for walks and even took a couple of trips across country to see family, but his physical difficulties progressed, confusion got worse and soon we were staying close to home, limiting our days out.  Gary’s world got smaller and smaller.  So mine did too.  I was depressed for several weeks over how Gary was declining so rapidly.  This verse really ministered to my heart then, and repeatedly since.

 “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” Romans 8:32

If God gave the very greatest gift for our good, then everything else He gives is good for us too.  Through redirecting my thinking to what was true, God healed my heart and restored my joy.  I referred back to this verse many times during the ensuing years.

One year later

in 2011, my sweet parents (both in their 90’s) moved in across the street.  It was such a blessing to have them nearby but as their needs increased over the next three years, a new layer of responsibility was laid upon our family.  I was able to help them some, but eventually caregivers were needed for them as well as Gary.  During the next 3 years, even though there were ups and downs, we settled into our trial.  It was at this time that God did an amazing thing.  In addition to 6 caregiving hours, Gary and I received wonderful support from our Bible Study and other friends at church.  But on the days I was alone with him, Gary was needing more assistance than I could give him.  Most of the time, Gary was content to sit in his recliner and listen to music or work with his "projects."   But when I needed to move Gary to the restroom, or in or out of the car, or getting ready for bed, or up in the morning, my body was getting hurt.  The wheel chair was heavy.  My hands hurt, trying to help Gary dress, as he gripped the fabric.  Supporting him as he “scissor stepped” was hurting my shoulder.  Something needed to change… I told the family:  "What we really need is a young man with a strong back who can help with sporadic physical and personal needs throughout the day...10-15 minute segments and then go.  It doesn't make financial sense to hire someone to be here all the time, since caregivers need a 3 hour minimum and they'd be sitting twiddling their thumbs 90% of the time."  Well of course that seemed impossible.  The timing seemed right for a live-in helper, but we couldn't even think of the right type of person.  A student would be gone too much.  A retired person likely lacks strength.  The Lord had provided the room, but who could fill the bill?  We ended the discussion with "We'll just have to keep praying about it, and see if the Lord will work it out.”

Just a few days later, April called. A young man in their college ministry in Florida who had been praying for us, and following my blog, said he’d really like to come out to California to help you both.  He wondered if you'd like his help?"  He’s a CNA, works from home, loves Jesus, responsible, young, strong, and willing to exchange rent for care.  No one suggested this to him.  God prompted him to come to our aid.   Jason was with us during a very important transitional time and served us wholeheartedly during those months.   He forever endeared himself to our family.  He will always be a reminder that... “God is intimately acquainted with all my ways.” Ps. 139 

God had been graciously strengthening us for seven years.  He proved His power in our lives in each daunting situation.  I think it was to prepare us for 2014.  We would need it more than ever.  It is hard to describe the stresses and losses of last year.  Even with all the good help from family, friends, and caregivers, there were times I wondered how I could manage to help all three of my dear ones. I felt like I was putting out fires constantly.  For most of the year I was managing 9 caregivers between the two households.  Gary became completely bed-bound, sleeping comfortably 22 hours a day, only awake while being fed his pureed food or having his teeth brushed.  On the rare occasion he actually opened his eyes he did not appear to recognize me.  He could do nothing for himself.  My father was bed bound from a small hip fracture, and my mother was hospitalized with a heart condition.  Things deteriorated and by October, both of my parents were in Heaven.  There was much to do in planning their memorial services, settling their affairs and selling their home.  There was little time to grieve their loss.  I found myself increasingly lonely for Gary, sad about his condition, and overwhelmed with the pace of life and big decisions to be made throughout the year. 

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Remember…2 Corinthians…

“When I am weak, then I am strong.” I was strengthened over and over.   In fact God gave me victory over these things.  Here’s how:

“In all these things we over-whelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.”

Romans 8:35-37- Who will separate us from the love of Christ?  Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  Just as it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.

Pastor John explained in his commentary that to "overwhelmingly conquer" means to “Over conquer.”  It's having victory with "success to spare."  If we belong to Christ, He will make us victorious in our weaknesses. 

Yes, I was lonely. 

Since 2011 there had been no more “I love yous,” but I found that God was enough.  When the feelings of loneliness rose up, I called a family member or friend, to ask for prayer.  I remembered Romans 8:32; that God made the greatest sacrifice and would fill the voids in my heart.  I did not despair. He heard every cry of my heart and provided encouragement every time I needed it.  It might be a special verse, note from a friend, or remembrance of something Gary had said in the past.  Remember that at the beginning I feared that I wouldn’t be able to love Gary enough.  God gave me more love than ever for Gary.  That’s SUCCESS TO SPARE!

Yes, I was sad. 

Gary’s ability to read, talk, smile, understand, steadily diminished for years.  Thankfully, he was comfortable and peaceful, but watching his helplessness was heart wrenching at times.  Early on, by GRACE, I began “thinking about what is true.” (Phil.4)  This trial was not going to go away.  I tried to embrace that fact, and began to think of ways to give Gary a meaningful life.  (flip book, memory books, gadget box)  This has turned into ministry on my website.  It gave me SO MUCH JOY to do these things for Gary. GOD CONQUERED SADNESS WITH JOY!  That’s SUCCESS TO SPARE

 


Yes, I was easily overwhelmed and uncertain. 

2014 was a rollercoaster ride.    It is hard to pace your life, when you don’t know how much longer your dear loved ones will be alive.  There were multiple events across the street.  My mom had heart problems, my dad was falling and ended up with a hip fracture and bed bound for 6 weeks.  The days with my parents were precious and I’m so glad they were nearby.  I would not have been able to travel to be with them.  During this crazy time, my health began to give me trouble.  Headaches, blood pressure, weight gain, allergies, neck pain.  I was encouraged to get refreshment in order to not “burn out” so I knew I needed to carry on with my life a little.  I enjoyed a couple of small trips last year, some special weddings, and kept up with my artwork which is always a sweet time for me to think and relax.  I feel like I’ve been in a time capsule for years and lost time with my family and friends, especially the grandkids.    Gary’s condition was fairly stable as he slowly declined, but precarious.  Some event would occur that would take his life.  A bed sore could lead to a systemic infection.  Aspirating his food or drink could lead to pneumonia.  Failure to swallow, could lead to starvation.  He was so weak, that I began praying that God would take him home in God’s perfect time.  On the other side of this trial, He is giving me back the postponed relationships and my body is recovering.  GOD CONQUERED UNCERTAINTY WITH TRUST.  That’s SUCCESS TO SPARE!


Yes, I was in need of wisdom.

There were so many big decisions to be made, and my “head” couldn’t help me.  (I could use the entire evening on this point alone, but will just give you a couple of examples.)  Should I continue going to church on Sundays without Gary?  Should Mom and Dad go to assisted living?  How many caregivers could they afford to hire?  What about “end of life” planning?  What would Gary want?  How long should my mom be on life support?  After Mom died, should my Dad live with me?  When should my dad go into Hospice care?  Etc., Etc. 

Hooray for James 1:5.  “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach and it will be given to him.”  Absolutely true!  Every time I faced a big decision, the Lord gave me the wisdom I was asking for.

Gary set the example for me way back in 2007.  It was a time when he was confused about my identity, and was unsure if he could trust me to sign a Social Security form I’d asked him to.   He went missing one day and 45 minutes later I got a call from our pastor, Rick Holland.  Gary was in his office getting his advice, making sure it was ok to sign.  Rick reassured him and Gary signed and came home.  That incident, laid the groundwork for me when up against big decisions throughout the following years.  I will never forget it.  GO TO YOUR ELDERS!  Heb 13:17 “they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.” 

Many decisions I needed to make involved our family.  Thankfully, my daughters and their husbands are all believers so their advice was invaluable to me as well.  We came together over many issues to see what the Word of God said.  One of them helped me think through my concerns with going to church without Gary.  Leaving Gary with a caregiver on a Sunday morning was one of the hardest things I had to do.  I would be a weeping mess during the hymns.  Why? Grateful to be there, praising God’s character, but sad to leave Gary at home after so many years of being at Grace together.  But God wants us to meet together with the body on the Lord’s Day.  By His Grace, I chose to obey, and it was such a blessing every Sunday morning to know I was pleasing God. 

GOD CONQUERED MY QUESTIONS WITH BIBLICAL ADVICE.  That’s SUCCESS TO SPARE!


In all these things...

'GARY AND LAURIE, overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.’

Our Pastor, JOHN MACARTHUR wrote… “Just as we can only love God because he first loved us, we can only hold on to God because he holds on to us.  We can survive any threatening circumstance, and overcome any spiritual obstacle that the world or Satan puts in our way because…‘in all these things, we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.’ Romans 8:37”

Continuing in Romans 8, For I am convinced that neither death (Gary’s death) nor life (my life alone) nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present (our trial, your trial), nor things to come (the unknowns we fear), nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, (even Alzheimer’s Disease) will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.   

Forty years ago...

I said “…till death do us part.”  Five months ago God parted us and I said “good-bye” to my Gary.  Gary is in Heaven with his Savior.  He is fine now, "extremely fine.”  He is finally "home" and I am so relieved and thrilled for him.  His mind is whole.  He is experiencing joy like never before, because, at the beginning of his Alzheimer’s, he wrote in his own words…

 “I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ…to be all He represented Himself to be in the Bible.  The Christ, the Son of God.  I believe Him to be the soon and coming King.  I am not a believer by birth, nor can I be without God enabling me.  Jesus has forgiven all my sins, and has made me a member of His family.” G.P. 

One of his favorite verses is:

Romans 6:23 - “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

If you don’t know Jesus, and have not yet turned from your sins, and submitted to His Lordship in your life, please don’t delay in making things right with God, through Christ.  There is no victory, no success apart from Him. 

Meanwhile, my earthly life goes on.


My hopes of Gary smiling at me, or saying a word, or noticing if I walk through the room, are over.  But now there is something new.  Feelings of joy and satisfaction, for Gary's new condition.   I can’t wait to see Gary again, in Glory, where he and I will be face to face with the One who made it possible for us to keep our vows and love each other “no matter what.” I'm forever grateful to God for allowing us to travel this road together upheld and strengthened by the love of God.

My 40 year ministry of serving my husband is over.  God has me changing gears and it feels odd.  Please pray for me going forward.  As I grieve the loss of my Gary, I want to grieve in a way that brings God the attention and honor He deserves, letting others know that God is more than enough for any problem or loss, for those who are truly His.  It’s easy to get ‘self-focused’ as a new widow, with many options before me.  I want to make the best use of this time for the Kingdom.  The faithfulness of God has not diminished just because Gary is not here with me anymore.  God was faithful and good to Gary.  That was evident in his life.  The same faithful and good God is MY God too.  I am excited to see how else He will continue to display His strength through my weakness.

One of the things I’m most looking forward to is being useful at our Alzheimer’s Dementia ministry at GCC. We meet on the last Saturday morning of each month, for breakfast, spiritual encouragement, and prayer.  We offer others spiritual support.  Please pray for this very special ministry.  There are no doubt many in our church who are touched by dementia, and could use the spiritual refreshment.  Perhaps you would like a place to serve.  Some in our group have a hard time coming to church, because there’s no one to sit with their loved one at home for a couple hours, or assist them on the campus.  (i.e. You can’t drop off a loved one with dementia while you go park.  They will wander away.)  Others need help applying online for govt. services.  The needs of primary caregivers are great and always changing.  If you believe the Lord would want to use you to help us, please join us.  Please let others know about this and encourage loved ones to come. 

Pastor Rick McLean gives oversight to our group at Grace Community Church.  818-909-5519

I love sharing the practical things I’ve learned in caring for Gary.   I've made many of them available in the Alzheimer's Resources section of my website. 


I can’t think of a better way to finish our time together, than by reading what Susannah Spurgeon wrote after the death of her husband, and preacher, Charles Spurgeon.

I have traveled far now on life's journey; and, having climbed one of the few remaining hills between earth and Heaven, I stand awhile on this vantage-ground, and look back across the country through which the Lord has led me.

A well-defined pathway is visible, but it appears devious and wandering; sometimes skirting a mountain-top, whence one could catch glimpses of "the land that is very far off"; and, further on, descending into a valley shadowed by clouds and darkness. At one time, it runs along amidst steep places, and overhanging rocks; at another time, it winds across an open plain, brilliant with the sunshine of goodness and mercy, and fanned by breezes which are wafted from the fields of Heaven.

There are flowers of joy and love growing all along the way, even in the dark places; and "trees which the Lord has planted," give shade and shelter from too great heat.

I can see two pilgrims treading this highway of life together, hand in hand—heart linked to heart. True, they have had rivers to ford, and mountains to cross, and fierce enemies to fight, and many dangers to go through; but their Guide was watchful, their Deliverer unfailing, and of them it might truly be said, "In all their suffering he also suffered, and he personally rescued them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them. He lifted them up and carried them through all the years."

Mostly, they went on their way singing; and for one of them, at least, there was no joy greater than to tell others of the grace and glory of the blessed King to whose land He was hastening. And when he thus spoke, the power of the Lord was seen, and the angels rejoiced over repenting sinners.

But, at last, they came to a place on the road where two ways met; and here, amidst the terrors of a storm such as they had never before encountered, they parted company—the one being caught up to the invisible glory—the other, battered and bruised by the awful tempest, henceforth toiling along the road—alone.

But the "goodness and mercy" which, for so many years, had followed the two travelers, did not leave the solitary one; rather did the tenderness of the Lord "lead on softly," and choose green pastures for the tired feet, and still waters for the solace and refreshment of His trembling child. He gave, moreover, into her hands a solemn charge—to help fellow-pilgrims along the road, filling her life with blessed interest, and healing her own deep sorrow by giving her power to relieve and comfort others.


Please pray for me and yourselves as well, that God’s strength would be abundantly displayed through our weaknesses.  Let us anticipate how our Lord will give us success to spare…enough for our own difficulties, with an overflow to help others also. 

 “in all these things, we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.”

That’s Success To Spare! 

I would love to hear how God has strengthened you in your weakness, if you'd like to leave a comment below...

My Grief Diary - Sorrow Into Joy

A few days ago, I was holding a pair of Gary's shoes, and tearing up.  I was getting ready to put them into a box of his special clothes that I can't bear to part with right now...maybe never.  Most of his clothes have been given away over the last few years as he became more and more immobile, and eventually bed bound, but there were still a few things in the closet, and so I went through them again.  Clothes are personal.  The memories of our loved ones in their "favorites" are etched in our minds.  Shoes are just shoes, but my husband wore THOSE shoes.  The shoes touched Gary and I can touch them.  My sorrow over Gary's absence is never far away.  It is real.  It is fresh and it doesn't take much to pull it up to the surface. 

"...you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy." 

Jesus said this to His sad disciples when He spoke of leaving them.  (John 16)  They had given up their lives to be with Him and now He was going to be departing.   They were confused, and very soon would be devastated as they would see him tortured and executed.  But, their grief would be short-lived because He was going to be raised from the dead and come back again.  Jesus was going to take the VERY EVENT that caused their greatest sorrow, His death on the cross, and use THAT SAME EVENT to cause their greatest joy, their eternal salvation.  (Great sermon on this HERE.

I want to do grief right.  I'm a Christian.  That means Jesus lives inside my soul.  Here's a cool thought.  When I am praying to the Lord, Gary while right now in the presence of the Lord, may very well be talking to Him too.  At the same time.  God has both of us in His hands.  He's in between us and the Center of us.  That is what we always wanted and what we promised when we vowed our vows.  God is my only real-time connection to Gary now.  I can't talk to Gary anymore in this life and would not even try to.  Gary is having his very best possible life, present with the Lord.  Someday I will be there too,  but I just think it's so neat that even though our marriage is over, and we are no longer one flesh, we are each absorbed with our Savior.  Jesus will be our main focal point for eternity.  That's not always easy for me, but it IS easy for Gary now, without the distractions of this life.  It's hard to describe, but in a tiny way it's similar to this:  Do you know how exciting it is to share a great experience with someone?  Taking in the scope of the Grand Canyon, watching your favorite team win, enjoying a wonderful concert together.  It's a bonding that occurs over a shared experience.  Gary and I are both loving God at the same time.  He in the eternal presence of the Lord, and me from the limits of this life. 

Standing there in my room holding Gary's shoes, God turned my sorrow into joy.   He didn't REPLACE my grief over missing Gary with something "happy."  Instead he reminded me that just as God was our Savior and the center of our marriage, He still is the One who receives our worship, gratitude and love.  Because He loved us first, we love Him and we loved each other.  God has repeatedly TRANSFORMED my SADNESS into JOY in the last three months without Gary.  It's not a one time thing.  Therefore, I'm committed to keep on looking to Him for joy and comfort in the midst of the unavoidable grief when it shows up.

By the way, there are still a few shirts hanging in the closet so I can touch them when I want, and remember including the orange shirt he's wearing in the photo.

"Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me; O LORD, be my helper.  You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness, that my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent.  O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever." 

Psalm 30:10-12

Gary's Memorial Service can be viewed HERE.

 

 

My Grief Diary - Staying Busy

 

Projects help.  Tackling something I've been ignoring, feels good.  Accomplishing a goal is satisfying.  Being busy is a distraction from the sadness of Gary's absence.  A couple of weeks ago I freshened up my bedroom with paint, a new bed, and pretty bedspread,  I really had fun with this after so long with a hospital bed, and other medical things dominating our space.  Making Gary's eulogy video was a big project which I loved doing.  I guess necessary paperwork and legal things are a kind of "project" too, although, not my favorite.  Social Security had to be contacted, other things had to be cancelled or changed.  The loss of a spouse requires this kind of activity and there's been PLENTY of it.  I've been pretty busy.

Most recently, the project was a memorial album to contain all the lovely notes, cards and photos from Gary's memorial service.  After taking over my table for a couple of days, it is done.  I enjoyed putting it together and reading some of those lovely and encouraging notes for the first time.  It looks great and if you come over you will see it all finished on my coffee table.

...about staying busy...

It's easy to obsess about finishing something that is occupying my mind and house so sometimes the daily tasks fall by the wayside. 

I am really enjoying my new freedoms and the opportunity to tackle some fun projects but after the project ends, with more time to think, I am sometimes hit with sad moments.  

I am wondering how to balance my time.  When I was caring for Gary, I knew EXACTLY what God wanted me to do with my time.  But now...for the time being, I am "doing the next thing" and praying for direction for the big picture.

I am doing well, but don't feel as though I have found the balance yet.  Staying "busy" is fun and distracting, but I want to be thoughtful like David.  "Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; like a weaned child rests against his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me." Psalm 131  I get that it is important for me to take the time to feel but I want to feel with right perspective. 

an example from last weekend...

I had a fleeting moment of sadness and got misty yesterday in our Fellowship group at church.  I was passing the weekly sign-in list of names to my daughter, Sarah, and noted to her that her dad's name is no longer there.  She made the comment that his name is on a much better list.  That made me smile.  She was referring to the Lamb's Book of Life.  "He (Jesus) said to them....rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven." Luke 10:20.  Good theology is encouraging in a time of grief.