From the BlogSubscribe Now

WOKE!

6/15/14, taken by Vanessa Kruse Photography

“I woke up at the moment when the miracle occurred, I get so many things I don’t deserve…”
– Bono, The Miracle of Joey Ramone
 
It’s no secret I’m a huge U2 fan. Their music has impacted and influenced every season of my life.
 
This morning I woke up before 5am CST. The lyrics above were the first things that came to mind, and I gave Thanks.
 
Four years ago I was in Mountain Time Zone on this day, and it was around *right now that my Mom’s presence left her physical dwelling and continued on into eternity. I had just drifted off, having pulled 2 all-nighters in a row, but something stirred me and I simply knew.

 There’s a 100% chance our earthly bodies will all come to a close. We all “die.” But what percent chance will we fully LIVE? What percent chance will we wake up and realize each day, every moment, is a miracle, and if we’re breathing in it, we’re meant to be part of it, bringing love and life to it?

[Read more…]

It’s a Beautiful Day

Kissing Noah Goodbye, Audrey Imfeld, NILMDTS photographer.

Kissing Noah Goodbye, Audrey Imfeld, NILMDTS photographer.

Eleven years ago, it was bitter cold in Denver, Colorado. 2 or 3 degrees, if I remember right. The chill is still part of my memory, though most of me felt numb.

Jason went out to the parking garage of Children’s Hospital to pull up the car and let it warm up for a few minutes. I stayed behind on the 4th floor where I bundled up our 7 month old son, Noah, for a short drive across town. He had only gone outside one time during his 5 month stay at the hospital… [Read more…]

Speak Love: A Series on Semantics

I heard this recently from someone concerned about Target restrooms and transgender persons and homosexuality and how important it was that people know their sins, because, “Life is short and what if they were to die tomorrow and not know they were sinners who needed a Savior?”

They were talking about an opportunity they had to talk to someone they just met about their sexuality. I listened, “Life is short, and if they were to die, what if I hadn’t taken those 5 minutes to share the Truth about their sin?”

The problem is, that isn’t the Gospel. It’s NOT the Good News, nor is it the original message Jesus pointed back to in God’s Garden. Rather, it’s a strategy, approach, and delivery of many Christians skewed by fear, fear which has snowballed into a messy slop of anxious evangelism, the opposite of the way Jesus approached His, “God WITH us,” day to day ministry. To a degree, Christianity and the Church have lapsed back into a state of religion rather than pushed on through to its original design of intimacy and freedom with God. It’s become more “us vs. them…get them into our camp…have everyone believe all the exact same things and act the specific ways we’ve mapped out so people will know us by our behavior…” rather than recognize us by our Love. Sadly, some people don’t want to have anything to do with God, which is the opposite intent of the Christian in the first place. Delivery matters…

I was asked if I even thought homosexuality was a sin, was told what the Bible says, and could open “Bible app” in case I needed to see for myself.

I listened. In my head a scenario played out of the Savior of the world kneeling down, drawing something in the dirt, waiting for sin-free people to cast stones at a woman “caught” in adultery…you know, because she didn’t know what she had done. And I wondered, “What if he was a cheating, lying, tax-evading, gossiping, animal beating, drunken drug dealer, who was also gay? Seriously, which thing should I choose to address in these 5 minutes, if this, in fact, is how we are called to steward 5 minutes with strangers we meet…? And while I’m at it, what sins of mine should I go ahead and confess to him, since I suppose I could die, too…?”

You see, I know life is short. Time is my love language and 5 minutes can mean the world. I know people can die between breaths…between the last time you talked, before you get a chance to wake up another day…but mentally and emotionally functioning through a filter of anxiousness and fear, that the world needs to be made aware of their sinful nature before they meet their Maker because they could die in the next 5 minutes, well, I can’t seem to draw the correlation between that and the commission to declare, “Good News!,” the Good News Jesus came embodying of God’s unconditional love for a hurting world. The Bible isn’t a machine gun to point at sinners. And Jesus didn’t come declaring, “In YO face, suckas!”

Nope. I wasn’t created with a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and sound mind. I won’t let fear push me around, no matter how “righteous” it looks.

So then I was asked,

“What would you say if you knew you only had 5 minutes with a person?
What if they were going to die the next day?
What would you say to them?”

What a humbling question! To even ponder the choice and precious words leaves me a bit wrecked and in awe…I will tell you, my experience with Noah radically changed this very “5-minute scenario” for me, as well as my perspective on life, and death, and loving God, myself, and others.

You see, if I knew a person still had 5 minutes to LIVE, I would hopefully savor the opportunity to speak this, if anything at all…:

“For sake of argument, let’s start with a clean slate, forget any preconceived notions, beliefs or disbeliefs.
Let’s pretend there is a God and He is really, really, really, really, so very Good.
Everything He ever did was miraculously Good and born out of love and creativity,
and the day He made YOU, in His image no less,
He said, ‘Oh Goodness, Me! SOOOOOOO GOOOOOOOOOD!

Speak love. Speak it with, and without, words.

Speak love. Speak it with, and without, words.

That way, if the person died at the end of 5 minutes, they would know Who it was they would be meeting on the other side of life on earth…the Very One who designed them, knows them best, and loves them dearly, and the two of them would have their “none of our business” conversation. There would be no need for fear because the last thing the person this side of death would know their value and worth and it was their loving, heavenly Father greeting them…

…and I just have to trust and believe God’s BIG ENOUGH to handle the details from there…

HOW THEN SHALL WE LIVE?  Every minute of every day is potentially the last 5 minutes for anyone…we all know how much we fail on any given day, which is why, I believe, Jesus said the greatest of all the things, rules, directives for life wasn’t to cast stones, call out sins, or compete and compare on a scale of religious righteousness and law-keeping, but to LOVE.

Love God. Love ourselves. Love others.

“Just keep asking God what you are supposed to do
and then be found doing it.”
Betty Biebel

 

Practicing His Presence: The Effects of the Wind

IMG_0855.JPG

Woolly sheep resting in a pasture under a bent pine atop Auckland, NZ. (photo: #loneviajera)

Right now all I can hear is a wind from the north raging and whistling the sweet tiny lake cabin where we are presently staying. I’m kind of surprised my youngest hasn’t run down and jumped into bed with me yet from the ruckus…a sign he really is exhausted playing as hard as a 5 year old does. The elements have a way of carving, forming, shaping, anything that’s in its path. I’ve stood cliff side at the ocean’s edge, dared the railing at the Grand Canyon, sat above the tree line atop the Andes as the sun beat down and the winds and height made it clear no life could live at the peak too long. And we wonder, wonder why all the suffering, why all the pain and erosion? We raise our fists to the sky, maybe to the God some don’t even believe in, but whose fault it surely is for all the agony, and no answers come, at least not ones some may care to hear. It’s amazing houses withstand northeasters, but more miraculous is the beating a tree may take day after day after day. And it’s a variety of trees, too, not just those rooted down deeply. On the shores of warm beaches spanning the globe, shallow rooted palms sustain gale force winds regularly. And some days they don’t. Some storms are weathered by all sorts of trees with all sorts of root systems on any given day. And then, one day, whether it was a storm or just the specific day and time established, it was the one, the one where the uprooting determined the final number of rings to be counted. Therefore I don’t wonder. Well, I do if we think of the word wonder in a way that conjures up awe and continued pursuit and a life of curiosity, but not “wonder” in a despairing way, because we are all only here as long as we are here. Only alive hearts feel the stretch, ache, and deep pain of being bent low in the path of the screaming wind. But the elasticity with which we are made, the brilliance and endurance with which we were created, resurrects us to our original design, rising tall, again, on our firm foundation.

(*This morning I only had 10 minutes to write, so often I just don’t because it doesn’t seem like enough time to finish a thought. But I followed the cheering and advice of my writer friends and put my butt in the chair (I stayed in bed and pulled the laptop in…) and sat with my eyes closed and my fingers on the keyboard, and this is what came of it. There are links to other posts I’ve written like this if you follow the tag: Practicing His Presence.)

On Death and Living: A Series, Part 2

Two things about death that, I believe conjures, festers, fosters, and instigates fear, are the HOW and WHEN…sometimes to the extent of paralysis when it comes to LIVING.

If we have a foundational understanding that every single person on this earth is born and dies, then the question of WHO is already established: Everyone…WE will all die

So, I guess that also answers the WHAT question…

WHERE also has relevance, but the HOW and WHEN are where we can get really stuck, especially as it pertains to faith and perspective, and it’s what I want to hash out here a bit.

“She was too young…he had so much going for him…the other person was drunk…it happened in battle…they were in an accident…he was stillborn…she took her own life…it happened in a shooting…it was a hate crime…he had a disease…there were complications…she was old…”

We live and die surrounded by circumstance. Depending on where we are born and to whom we are born, our lives look differently. Nationality, race, affluence, power, culture, disease, religion, poverty, acceptance, love, neglect, genetics, charity, generosity…so many things influence our lives, especially the way we think and filter the day-to-day, our interactions with God, self, and others. These circumstances can also influence the way we die, unfortunately. As a stereotype, especially in the First World, a pain-free life and death, preferably in our sleep and around the age of 90, with plenty of money to leave to the next generation, is the ideal or dream, almost to the point of entitlement…as if we actually know what is best, almost as if we believe we are invincible…as if we can stave off anything, namely, death and dying, because we have certain inalienable rights?

This is really hard to swallow…the part where we aren’t in control of everything.

The book of Job is quite telling when it comes to the battle over our lives. The ugly depths to which the Enemy will go to deter our eyes, hearts, faith, trust, perspective, and relationship with a good, loving God, further festering the doubt planted in the Garden, is quite obscene, really. In the Garden the Enemy tempted us to question whether God was telling us the truth about dying at all. In Job, the Devil approaches God about mankind, launching first an attack on Job’s (or our) possessions or the things we think we own or can control, and the second part of the attack in the form of trying to steal Job’s health. Some might wonder if God was playing roulette with Job and his life, but I wonder if rather God had an eternal perspective, saw a bigger picture, knew something the Devil, and Job, didn’t, and so wasn’t swayed by the Devil’s tactics…kind of like where it says, “For the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross…”

When Noah was in the hospital I had some serious heart-to-heart conversations with God. To state it mildly, I was totally disenchanted with our circumstances. My theology was rocked since I had faith as big as a mustard seed, even bigger, yet our son was sick, dying in a hospital, and God wasn’t answering my prayers the way I had worded them. Perhaps He wasn’t catching my drift?

Perhaps I wasn’t catching His?

And after I shouted to God, “DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT IT’S LIKE TO LOSE A SON?!” a quiet came over me I had never known. I sat on the floor of the hallway of Children’s Hospital and suddenly realized, God did, indeed, know what it felt like…and my perspective began to shift:

  • What if God’s Word is true and my theology is off?
  • What if He does know the number of our days, and Noah’s days are shorter than what I want?
  • What if He is still good even in the midst of our pain?
  • What if “death” isn’t what I think it is and being in God’s presence really is just that amazing?
  • What if following and trusting God means giving up my entitled mentality?

Please hear me on this: Even though God’s perspective on death is likely different from ours, the pain of losing someone we love still hurts like a mother. Jesus even bawled His head off when He heard the news of His friend, Lazarus’ death. Loss hurts. Period. But this post is to start talking about the HOW and WHEN.

A few days before my Mom died she called me close to tell me something. She wanted to be sure I heard her clearly, “Boo Boo, it’s not cancer, it’s not chemo, it’s not the Devil…it’s not the food I’ve eaten or radiation…God, and God alone, decides WHEN we die…because if it’s any of those other things, then the emphasis or focus is on it.” (emphasis my own on “when”…)

Years before she reminded me of this, as I finally sat still on that hospital floor, I knew this was true…this topic of WHEN, and even the HOW. Watching my strong Mom’s body weaken under the effects of a disease rocked my heart, for sure, as did watching Noah quickly ail, but all the more reinforced in my heart that Jesus’ emphasis on living and loving well TODAY is what we’ve been called to and all the fear, worry, and attempts to ward off death would only steal time from life and living.

 

Lots more to come…

 

On Death and Living: A Series, Part 1

This will be the first of many posts on death and dying, fear, life, and living. I’m not even sure where to begin, so I’ve prayed a bit and will just start typing, I guess. I also will be welcoming some guest posts via interviews and podcasts on here, so stay tuned, and also, keep in mind, the views expressed here, as far as my personal posts, are my own, may not line up with what you’ve been taught or currently believe about death, dying, fear, life, or living, but are mine and THAT’S OKAY…AND YOU ARE OKAY TO WRESTLE WITH THESE TOPICS YOUR WAY…and THAT’S OKAY. My intention in opening this topic and even answering questions from others is not to pretend to be a death authority, but hopefully to bring to light the lies and beauty that surround the topic, one the world has tried for years to avoid, escape, and keep at bay. I’ll use sentiments like “I believe” or “I think” or “from my experience” quite a bit, so keep this in mind as you read and process, recalling this is simply my perspective and lessons from my journey.

I’ve had the privilege to be with a handful of people while they passed away, or shortly thereafter, before their spirits left their bodies, and after their last breaths and final heart beats. I say “privilege” because being with someone when they die is truly a sacred, holy moment…I’ve honestly never known more of God’s peace than witnessing that moment and I’d encourage anyone and everyone to sit with a dying person rather than try to avoid it, if you ever have the chance…not only for them, but for you, too.

I feared and obsessed about death quite a bit as a kid, into adolescence, until I went to my grandpa’s funeral. From 3rd grade on, without fail, until my junior year of high school, a friend or classmate or family member, died. I remember thinking that since I couldn’t imagine myself at an older age, like, for instance, in elementary school I couldn’t see myself as a kid in junior high, in high school I couldn’t conceive life in college, so I figured that meant I was going to die…and so on, these thoughts came and went throughout my younger years. I even envisioned my parents crying because I died. It was jacked up, for sure, and fueled by fear and ignorance of the unknown. Looking back, I know it’s because I never processed any of the deaths of my friends until I was a junior in high school and my grandpa died. I was FREAKED out to go see him in a coffin. Let me back up to say, I’m sure none of you did this, but when babysitters were over or when I’d go to slumber parties, let’s just say we snuck horror movies, so my imagination with death, the dead, and the boogie man were all intermingled and Hollywood-ized, so, of course, fear and extreme feelings were coupled with dying.

When my Dad stood beside me, looking on at his own father’s body laid to rest in the coffin that day, a sense of peace washed over me, I know no other way to describe it. I know without a doubt it was God’s presence showing me what happens when life and living and laughter and vibrancy and personality are no longer dwelling in arms, legs, and a familiar smile. The heart stops, but almost 30 years later my grandpa’s voice can still be heard in my heart when I sing, “How Great Thou Art” or hear Flight of the Bumblebee on a violin or think about chemistry and his contributions to science or enjoy boat rides or cherries jubilee. He took none of that with him, but left all that he contributed in life with us, the good and the bad…we all do. I looked at my grandpa’s body, then turned to my dad and said, “Huh. That’s not grandpa. That’s just his body.” And for the first time, as far as it had to do with death, I was okay.

Would I miss my grandpa? Of course. But the fear lessened its grip.

And FEAR is really the big four letter word, here. DEATH has five letters and DIE has three, but FEAR steals life from today, destroys future hope, and robs our energy, love, and vitality for living…and when we spend all our time fearing what is inevitable for every. single. human. ever. I suggest there is a lot of LIVING we’ll miss.

I believe FEAR is one of the underlying things that has to be discussed and exposed when it comes to the topic of death because FEAR of death and dying, sickness, pain, ailing, aging, loneliness, longing, doesn’t make death go away…FEAR paralyzes us by planting seeds of doubt, namely and especially, doubt that God is in love with us because we experience death and pain and separation at all.

LOVE and LIFE are inseparable from the topic of DEATH, too, so must be discussed in depth in order to be FREE to LIVE.

More to come…

What If…?

So, I guess if you are reading this morning, you are still here on earth. Awesome! That means you aren’t done and the God who made you isn’t done with you, either.  Not “done with you” like you have a bunch of cleaning up to do type of “done with you” but, if God is real, that in addition to Him creating us and loving us, He also knows how many days we’ll be on this earth.

So, what if He does know the number of our days?  This question is a difficult one to wrap ones head and heart around, especially if we’ve lost someone dear to us.  How can ANY age be the RIGHT age to die?  And how can ANY circumstance be the RIGHT circumstance? What if we stopped judging God’s goodness and love for us through our lens of hurt and pain from death, but rather, what if in light of knowing and accepting God’s love for us, we viewed death a little differently?

I’m not saying death doesn’t hurt.  It hurts like crazy!  I’m going to share something here I’ve never written on the blog.  I felt Noah’s last heartbeats with my tear drenched cheek and I wondered why my own heart kept beating in my chest after he was gone.  Why my brain kept telling my body to pump blood and take in breaths after he died was beyond me, but in that moment I had to trust God sees a bigger picture and it wasn’t my turn to head to eternity.

One last kiss...(photo: Audrey Imfeld, NILMDTS)

One last kiss…(photo: Audrey Imfeld, NILMDTS)

Death is painful for those of us left over.  Sure, some could say I’m crazy for believing there is a God in the first place and that He is good and loves us, especially after losing our son.  But what if being in God’s presence really is more amazing than this broken, beautiful, limited version of living we know down here on earth?  What if being in God’s physical presence really is all that and a bag of chips?  I don’t know.  I’ve never physically died to give you a clear answer but I can tell you my 30+ year fear of death no longer holds me back from living or trusting in God’s love and goodness.

Would you even know how to live fully if you let go of your fear of death?  Would the way you lived and loved in the day to day look any differently? Would we love more richly, with deeper sincerity, messes and all, and worry less, knowing physical death is only a temporary separation from those we love?

I don’t know.  I’m just throwing it out there…imagine a people no longer caged in by the fear of death, but rather freed by God’s unconditional love and Easter resurrection, free to live fully engaged lives, here and now.

What if God’s message is comfort for all who mourn and joy instead of doom?

Scripture: Isaiah 61, The Message