Posted by: Gordon | 09/13/2019

Brokenness Aside

Right now, I’m sitting next to Jan in her room at the nursing home. All Sons and Daughters’ “Brokenness Aside” is softly playing on my iPhone. She always loved that group and that song in particular. It is the essence of the gospel – that a holy and righteous God could love someone as broken as we all are is a mystery. She loved that idea. Somewhere down deep, I think she still basks in God’s glory and redemption.

We are all broken inside. Now she is broken physically.

Hospice called again yesterday and told me that, in their opinion, she’s in the final stages of the dying process. It’s now a matter of days. I’ve prayed for that. This kind of suffering is something we weren’t created to endure.

Still, it rips my heart out. Even though the Jan we all knew is no longer here, that final breath thing is beyond my comprehension. In spite of her annoying habits and eccentric behaviors, I know now that I have always loved her deeply. I’ve learned that someone can anger you so much that your head could explode while at the same time, your love for them is so great that your heart could explode.

And now, she is trying to mouth the words of the song. She even tried to raise her hand in praise. I’m weeping because of her faith.

Oh, God! Please take her home today. I beg you. Do you not see our tears? Our weeping? Our sobbing? Do you not see her suffering? Where are you? If you will not grant our petitions, then explain this to us. Help us see your presence. If we know that you are here, that you are aware of this, we can endure anything. Even this.

And yet, we know that we’re not unique. Billions of your image bearers have endured this. This pain. This sense of loss. This reminder that our stay here on this planet is brief. No, brief is not a good word. It is inadequate. I’m actually stunned that we are at this point. Death was always some distant future. So distant that we didn’t have to think about it. And it will one day be present for everyone.

But here it is. Right at our doorsteps. I can’t ignore it now. We can’t.

So the answer to the question “Why” is more clear to me now.

“Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come …” (The Apostle Paul)

It’s because I can’t get to the really good stuff until I go through this. We can’t. I’m naked now…we all are. So we grasp at fig leaves…possessions, accomplishments, pleasure…trying to hide our private parts…trying to hide the imperfections and brokenness of our morality. We’re living in tents while we wait for a dwelling that is opulent and permanent beyond our wildest dreams. This is mortality, and we all know it deep down. We all want more. But we are prone to grasp at cheap imitations.

Until God mercifully takes the counterfeit “joys” from our childlike grasp – one-by-one. Until he finally takes the one thing we value more than anything – our very lives. I say merciful because of the promise of and hope for something far greater.

And so, even though my faith is weak and wounded, I take great comfort in the reunion celebration that is promised to Jan – to all who fall humbly and empty-handed before the throne of God. Even though my faith is weak and wounded, I bask in the glorious reality that my weak and wounded faith is in a God who is neither weak nor wounded. I don’t want strong faith if it means my god is weak.

Amen!

So we pray with confidence that he will be faithful in keeping his promise at the time that will bring glory to his name.

“Come today, Lord Jesus! Come today!”

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Posted by: Gordon | 08/27/2019

Into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit

FINAL WORDS:

INTO YOUR HANDS, I COMMIT MY SPIRIT

“A month or less.”

That’s what the hospice nurse said when I asked him last week how long before Jan went home to be with her Father in heaven.

You may not appreciate this, but I’m happy for her. She has suffered so much mental confusion and emotional anguish over the past year that to die will be a relief for her. She doesn’t really interact with us much anymore, but I asked her last week if she was ready to see her Lord face-to-face. She opened her eyes (which she doesn’t do much any more either), raised her hands, and said, “Yes! Today!”

I’m not going to lie, all of this is new territory for me. I am well aware that people die every day. Our situation is far from unique. We aren’t special. Half of all married couples will lose a spouse. Most children will lose a father and a mother. But I will admit that I am confused by it all. Watching someone face death – someone that you’ve been partners with for almost forty five years – well, it turns your worldview on its head. Maybe it would be better to say that it puts your worldview to the test.

What I mean is that I have claimed Christ for a long time. I say that I am a believer. And lately, I’ve had some frank conversations with God. I’ve pleaded with him. I’ve bargained with him. I’ve even given him options, “Lord,either heal her or take her home now.”

For the most part, do you want to know what his answer was? He didn’t say anything. Nothing at all. Until one day recently, I told God that I myself was ready to die. And whether it was a voice or just a thought from my memory, a clear thought hit me hard between the eyes.

“That’s what I’ve been telling you. I want you to die – to your self.”

That’s what my theoretical worldview has been about – “When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come an die.” But in a practical sense, I’ve kind of been keen on myself. I like me. It’s hard for me to imagine that I’m not the center of the universe, that I’m not the most important person on the planet.

It’s the paradox Jesus was talking about when he said that anyone who wants to save his life will lose it, but anyone who loses his life for Christ’s sake will find it. I want to grasp my own identity tightly – to make sure everyone else knows I matter. God has told me that a practical worldview like that will never fulfill me…EVER! To paraphrase A.W. Tozer, it’s only when I come to the end of myself that I find the real me, my real identity – in Christ.

Here’s a good reality check: if Jan doesn’t have long here on this planet, then I won’t be far behind. What? Twenty years? Thirty? What’s that? It’s what’s left of the vapor – the mist of my time on earth. It’s nothing, really. Only a partial whisper.

I’m not going to lie – Jan was far from perfect. If you knew her at all, you knew she was opinionated, emotionally erratic, and demanding. I’ve been so mad at her years ago that I would get in my vehicle and take off in a rage down the road just to get away from her. If she were able to talk about it now, she would say that it was usually my fault. To which I would say, “Whatever!”

But one thing was and is true about Jan. She loved God in such a personal and profound way that it was almost like she saw him as the perfect daddy. Her prayers were not prayers but conversations worded in familiar tones like she knew him. She kind of reminded me of David in how she was opinionated, emotionally erratic, and demanding with God. She was always respectful, but she let him know exactly what she was thinking and feeling. I will miss that about her, and I’m overcome with regret that I didn’t spend more time praying with her. I could have leaned a lot about drawing closer to my Father.

But here’s what I’ve learned. No matter where I am in my walk with God, there’s not a better time to plead with him to draw me into deeper fellowship with him than right now. I can’t undo the moral and character failures of my past. But I do plead with God to use this horrible experience to discipline me – to sanctify me – to form me into the image of Christ.

I too am going to come to a place where my final breath is just around the corner. So will you. And no amount of distraction, entertainment, possessions, money, or any of the other things that we humans pursue with reckless abandon (just to keep from thinking about the brevity of life) will change that.

So if my worldview is real – that I am a horrible sinner, that Christ had to die to redeem me from the penalty of my own rebellion, that he was raised by God’s marvelous power, and that he’s coming back to take those who love him to spend eternity in the presence of the Godhead, then it will change how I live, what I live for, and how I die. I’m not downplaying the last forty five years of my life. I’ve been on a journey toward the grave with the secure hope that the resurrection of the dead is a reality. It’s just that now, at this point in my life, I want God to ramp up the pressure on me so that I will see the reality of what’s important more than I ever have.

If my sleepless nights and excessive sorrow are any indication, he is on the job full time doing just that. I thank him for his discipline. It means he loves me.

My hardship is not the same as the Apostles, but I take great comfort in knowing that the pain I’m experiencing right now has a purpose, that God is using this to lead me to a place where my confidence and hope are in him alone.

2 Corinthians 1

[8] We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. [9] Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. [10] He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us,

Posted by: Gordon | 07/22/2019

One hard decision after another

“But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him.”

James 1:5

Trust me, I’ve prayed…well, I’ve actually begged God for the wisdom to know when it’s time to get help caring for Jan. I knew the day would come when I could no longer do it, and I also knew that pulling the trigger on this decision would be the hardest of my life.

The time has come, and it breaks my heart.

We’ve been living together as husband and wife for over forty-four years. I don’t romanticize our time together. It has been far from perfect. Just two very flawed human beings who happened to repeatedly stumble in our pursuit of God – just muddling our way through life. That’s how I would describe our marriage.

But we had one thing going for us, and that was our mutual pursuit of God and his will. We have been faithful to one another, and we never abandoned our desire to know our Lord and Savior – independently and together.

So we had a framework for marriage that was sustainable. If we are both image bearers of God, then what he wanted us to be as a couple would be made plain to us. We knew that. We sought it – begged for him to make it plainer to us.

I have valued her as a woman whose love of God was unequaled among women (in my opinion). We were always in the process of becoming one flesh. In fact, we still are, even though she can’t outwardly participate in that anymore.

And that is why deciding to secure a safe environment for her outside of our home is so difficult for me. We truly have become one in the strictest sense of the word. I have lost a part of myself.

While going through some of her “stuff” last week in preparation for my move to a smaller space in my daughter’s basement, the thought occurred to one of my kids, as we separated Mom’s things into categories (keep, garage sale, and discard), that their mom’s life was being reduced to this. Most of it was stuff that no longer had any utility to any of us – old clothes that no longer fit, makeup that was long out of date. Some of it was family heirloom stuff. Unfortunately, it was all stuff that Jan had wanted to hang onto for whatever reason.

Now she doesn’t care. Not a bit.

Still, I wondered if I really was throwing away part of her life – stuff that represented her – stuff that was important to her.

In the process of mulling this question over, I began to consider a bigger, more important question – What is a person’s life about anyhow?

It is a good question, right? I mean, most people never really contemplate it, but it is a question that should be posed. Am I wrong on this? I don’t think I am because we only get one shot at it. After that, it’s too late. And I don’t want to waste the few years I have on this planet chasing after something that doesn’t matter in the eternal scheme of things.

After I thought about the concerns of my adult child (that we were throwing mom’s life away), it occurred to me that Jesus had already answered the question – that a person’s life isn’t about stuff at all.

Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Luke 12:15

Another way of answering the question is, is Jan’s life (once we have reduced it down to its most basic parts) about her mom’s quilt? Is it about her father’s worn out Bible. Is that her legacy – that she saved stuff with sentimental value and that’s how we will remember and define her?

This may be a bit cold, but every bit of that stuff is destined to perish with use. It will all rot and decay and there will be a day in the future where none of it will even exist any more….at all. And it won’t be long. There is no exception to this rule. It is universal. For you and for me.

In my opinion, her legacy is more enduring than that (if you believe in the reality of eternity). Her legacy (her life reduced to one sentence) is found in her friend Dianne who told me last week that she would have given up on her desire to know God had it not been for Jan. It is Shane who writes to me from prison and tells me that his overwhelming love of God can be traced back to Jan speaking the Word of God into his once hard heart. Her legacy is three kids who are radical in their faith who married radical believers who are together raising nine radical believers. Her legacy is me, a weak and miserable man who is more faithful to God today than he would have been had he not married her forty-four years ago. It is the fact that millions of people have heard the message of Jesus because she was relentless in her pursuit of her brother who later used his fame to proclaim the message of Jesus.

I could go on, but that would take all night.

The meaning of life? It sure isn’t stuff. That’s for sure.

Maybe you have thought about this question too – What is the meaning of my life? What have I pursued? Where are my treasures?

As far as Jan is concerned, I honor her legacy. I suspect that her humble impact on the kingdom of God will have ripple affects for generations – into eternity. If your legacy is all about the “stuff” then your importance in this world dies with you and the junk.

And that’s sad, in my opinion.

Father, I give glory and honor to your name because you have allowed us to bear your image and you have put your Spirit within us. I praise you for blessing me with a woman whose pursuit of you was simple and childlike. Oh, that you would allow me to be like her in that regard. She’s ready to meet you face-to-face. What a good thing it is to approach your throne of grace with confidence because of the work your son did when he died for us. Amen!

She stared at me quizzically. “Do you know my name?” I asked her.

It took a few seconds, and finally she mumbled, “Yes, it’s James Robertson.”

That was her father’s name. He left this earth over twenty years ago. But the next day, she said my name was Jesus Christ, so I guess I should feel honored that she moved me up the list.

I keep asking her because I want to know where we are in the progression of things. Part of me wants to know where we are because I’m emotionally and physically spent. I’m thinking about the next step.

God forgive me.

The twelve hour day begins with falling and mumbling…conversations with her mother who’s been dead for ten years. And no matter – whether I attempt to direct her to the bathroom or dress her or feed her, she rebels as if I’m the enemy. I grow weary of it all.

Whatever we had in the past is gone – permanently. She will never recover. And I will never be her husband in the same way I once was her husband – ever again. I’m more like a parent. But parents have the future to contemplate – children usually grow and improve and learn. This will not happen with her.

Still, I’m her husband like I’ve never been before. I am fulfilling Ephesians 5 in ways I didn’t think I could. I love her more as Christ loves the church than I ever have.

But I occasionally resent the lack of trust…just to be honest. Why won’t she trust me? Have I not proven myself to her? Do I not dote on the smallest of her needs and wants? Does she lack for anything? What do I have to do?

At the same time, I know it’s not logical. Her brain is shrinking and dying, and she will die from some complication of dementia. But I still wonder why she has no confidence in my love for and my attention to her. Yesterday, I lost my tempter a little. Then waves of guilt cascaded over me. My son reminded me, “She can’t help it, Dad.”

I know that he is correct. But still, don’t I get just a little credit for pouring everything I have into her?

Then I hear a small voice from eternity, Or maybe it’s just a thought, if you’re more comfortable with that. “Tell me about it. I’ve been after your trust since you were born. I’ve done everything I could do to demonstrate my love for you, but you seem addicted to self reliance and an independent spirit. You think you’re frustration with her is unbearable? Take a look at yourself! Is my love too small? Is my power too weak?”

It’s a bone crushing thing to hear.

It’s the truth, of course. In spite of everything my Heavenly Father has poured into my life – in spite of all the blessings – I still find myself hesitating to jump all in with God. You know, I just have trouble behaving in a way that would let everyone know that I have unwavering trust in him.

Suddenly, I long deep in my spirit for that kind of reliance – the kind that is absolutely certain that my loving father has all my sorrow, pain, and woe in the palm of his hand. The kind of reliance that throws caution to the wind. The kind of trust I’ve never had. The kind of trust where I willingly place trusting faith in the goodness of God. The kind I’ve never had…did I say that already?

That kind of learning doesn’t come without pain.

Why doesn’t Jan reward my patience? In her case, in our case, my fatal flaw is that somewhere along the line I took it upon myself to supply all of her needs. And if she behaved in a way that suggested her needs weren’t being met, it offended me.

But the problem is, I was never designed to be her complete and perfect husband. I can’t completely fill her ever-emptying reservoir of emotional needs because I’m not equipped to do that. That’s not my job. It’s my Lord’s job to do that. Only he is equipped to fulfill her needs – to make her whole. He is her true husband – I’m just a temporary – a bad counterfeit.

And while the short answer to my question (why won’t she trust me) is that she is suffering from brain atrophy, the long answer is that the best I could ever do is to point her toward the ultimate supplier and trust that he will take care of her.

The truth is, I can’t be God. And when I try to be, I do a poor job of it.

Neither could my needs ever be fully fulfilled by my wife. Only a humble surrender to the God who died and was raised from the dead for me could fulfill me.

Some people in my old church in Louisiana had t-shirts made that read, “God never wastes a hurt.”

What I’m praying, and I believe it’s happening, is that God is using this period of my life to bring me to a place of greater dependence on him. To trust him that he has all of my fears about the future completely and fully under his control. I hate cliches, but “God’s got this.”

Now, if I could just live this out in my life every day.

Posted by: Gordon | 06/22/2019

Me? I’m just a dumb animal (What do I know?).

The “valley of the shadow of death?” Just the name evokes moods of darkness and loss.

It is a place of darkness so vast that it disorients and confuses. The thickness of it is palpable. This dark valley, a place we were not created to travel, is so foreign to us – so against our nature, that we cannot comprehend why we are there. Yet here we are – or there we will be. Since The Fall, death has crept up on mankind one-by-one and done its dirty business. Sin has soiled us all and dragged us into the abyss of blackness. Not everyone has traveled it yet, but all of us will – there are no exceptions. Not for you, and especially not for me. If you are not in this valley now, you will be one day.

Is there a way of escape? Must I dwell here forever? Is there no hope?

There is one phrase here that focuses my vision like a laser (even in the darkness) – “The Lord is my Shepherd.” I’m lost in the dark place, but he leads me to green pastures. He leads me away from the frightening sounds that spook my spirit, and he gently places me beside still, calm waters. A gentle stream just beyond the dark valley of death. He refreshes my soul, and guides my steps – “Follow me down this path,” he whispers. “It’s leads to safety.”

And his paths lead me to righteousness – to restoration – to ultimate fulfillment – to the place in which I was created to dwell. In my entire lifetime, I’ve never been there before – to the place where he is leading me, but the darkness of the valley leaves me with no other options – I must follow the shepherd. I don’t know where else I can turn. He is all I have, and he is enough. Without him, the perils are too great. I would be lost in this dark wilderness, if not for him.

And it brings him pleasure to guide me – to shepherd me. He does it for his name’s sake. He is glorified in me when I follow. His love for me? It is so profound that he will leave the rest of the flock in the fields in order to find me. He takes more pleasure in finding one lost sheep than he does in ninety-nine that do not need rescue. He will search until he discovers me cowering in debilitating fear behind a rock in the valley. How foolish to search for safety there? The predators can smell my blood. I am delusional to think that there is security in this valley. But he locates me and places me on his shoulder and takes me home.

And his restoration? I am never so lost in the valley that he can’t restore me to the fellowship of the flock. There’s no place I’ve ever been that is beyond the scope of his love and mercy. He’s in the business of locating and returning lost sheep. You can’t be too lost for my shepherd. Not even death can do that. No loss – no pain is too great for him. There are no exceptions to this either – not you, not me!

To the rebellious, yes – to the ones who defy him – to the ones who have attempted to become their own gods, he is a lion and a consuming fire. Those people (and I was one of them at one time) should fear his wrath. But to those who pursue him – who freely confess that they are powerless to find their way out of the valley of the shadow of death, he is a kind and gentle shepherd.

Me? I’m just a dumb sheep. What do I know? Can I breathe life into a corpse? Can my voice spew matter across the universe and create billions of galaxies in the process? I can’t even find my way out of the valley, how can I be God?

But my shepherd knows the way. And he has prepared a table in celebration of my return to the flock – right in the presence of my enemies – as if to taunt them, “This sheep was lost, but now he’s found. He belongs to me.”

Yes, the Lord is my shepherd, and because he is, I lack nothing. Even when I take inventory of my wants and the darkness of the valley blinds me to the reality of my wealth, I still lack nothing. All the while, his rod and crooked staff are nudging and pulling me gently back to him, even when I struggle to go my own way.

My shepherd? He would give his life for mine. He has given his life for mine. And for his glory, he has washed away the stench of the vile valley of the shadow of death and poured new life into my foolish self.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.”

Posted by: Gordon | 06/02/2019

Taunting Death

Confusion! Hallucinations – talking to cute children who are only in her mind – pinching their chubby little cheeks. Grasping at items that do not exist.

And the profound sadness of a mind that knows only one thing – something’s wrong with me, and I can’t fix it. Like being in between deep sleep and wakefulness. Trying to shake the cobwebs from her brain. Trying to cast off the last vestiges of a nightmare that will not stop. Ambling nervously around the house like she’s searching for some long lost thing, but she can’t remember what.

Here’s an understatement for you – it’s hard to witness. Harder than you can imagine until you see it for yourself.

Yet, when I play old gospel tunes and hymns on my iPhone, she sings them word for word. And sometimes, when it’s late at night, she reaches her hands high above her head and cries a plaintive plea, “Father!”

For as long as I’ve known her, she has longed to be with her Father – to be face-to-face with her Creator. And I pray, with tears in my eyes as I write this, that the desires of her heart are fulfilled soon – very soon.

And to be honest with you, the more life disappoints me, the more I realize that I wasn’t made for this kind of life either. At the very best, it is fraught with disappointment and travail. Burying a forty seven year old friend who should have had so many more years. Mass shootings and abused children. A neighbor who lost their young son to cancer.

I’m not morbid – I’m realistic. And I’m being biblical. While we were created for a perfect life, sin has done it’s best to destroy that hope. And it’s done a wonderful job. Life is a mess. It’s hard. The only thing that keeps most people going is the illusion that it will get better, but it won’t…not really. In the end? We all die.

I want reality, though. I don’t want illusions and delusions. If stretching out a few more days on the planet is all there is, then it’s hopeless.

But do you want to know why I’m not in despair? Do you want to know why I don’t give up? It’s a simple plan, really.

First of all, a holy and perfect God who also happens to be good in ways I will never fully comprehend has created me in his image. I’m like my father in a lot of ways. I’m creative. I have the capacity to love. And this father of mine has planted a seed in me that longs for so much more than I can experience in this realm. I believe Solomon — everything is vanity. The ultimate reality – eternal peace in the presence of my Father? I want that. And God gives me little glimpses of it here in this life so that I will long for and live for it.

That promise of redemption – of resurrection when all things will be made permanently perfect – it energizes me to endure with joyful expectation. My wife’s suffering is not in vain. Nor is my profound sadness. It all takes place under the umbrella of the joy that I can expect the return of my Lord and Savior, Jesus. And when he comes back, I will look back across the chasm between time and eternity and ridicule what I’m enduring now.

I’m not searching for pity. Please pray for us, but do not pity us. The truth is, if you have no hope beyond your last breath, you are the one who is to be pitied. The good news is that you can have the same kind of secure hope that Jan has. Admit that life is brief and, by itself, it has no real meaning. You live and then you die. Do me a favor, read the following verses and admit that you are powerless, surrender your life to the one who died for you, and live out the rest of you days praising him. Live for the day when you will mock all human suffering.

1 Corinthians 15

[50] I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. [51] Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— [52] in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. [53] For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. [54] When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” [55] “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

Posted by: Gordon | 12/04/2018

A SIT-DOWN WITH GOD!

In the movie, The Mission, Robert Di Niro’s character, Rodrigo Menendez, comes to the mission riddled with overpowering guilt. He once peddled human flesh as a slave trader. He murdered his brother in a fit of rage. (See the clip https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Ui91q7Y9xPk)

The priest (played by Jeremy Irons) compels Menendez to carry a net filled with all the armaments of war and violence on his back as he scales a steep mountain.

In the end, Mendoza realizes that the task is impossible and finally learns the all-important lesson that one cannot atone for his own guilt.

One of the tenets of a good recovery program is that we are all powerless over our sins and addictions.

In reality (and we don’t like to think about it), our lives are contingent on a million different possible variables that are completely out of our control.

A car careens through a stop light and broadsides us. A pesticide we were exposed to forty or fifty years ago finally spawns a deadly cancer in our body. A bolt falls from a jet engine 40,000 feet to the earth and pierces the roof of our car killing us on impact.

In my case, a time bomb lurked in the brain of my wife that is, like a filthy thief, robbing her of both personality and intellect. I never saw it coming.

If you haven’t seen her in a few months, you wouldn’t believe how far she’s digressed. She’s lost the ability to speak coherently. She is filled with incredible sadness and confusion. She can’t dress herself. She sees people who aren’t there and converses with them as though they were.

And me? I can’t figure out a God who would allow this to happen to a woman who has loved him with her whole heart, mind, soul, and strength. She still does. Even after her brain has deteriorated so much, she can still sing the old hymns…word for word. She’s never forgotten the songs about her Heavenly Father.

I’ve argued with him about this. I don’t get it. What’s he up to? It’s not fair. Why would he let one of his favorite kids suffer so?

I apologize to you if you think I’m being disrespectful to God. But fortunately for me, I’m not alone.

Job hurled the same accusations against God (see Job 19). He didn’t get it either. He wondered where God was In the midst of his suffering.

Like Job, I feel powerless over my condition. And there is a good reason I feel that way – I am powerless. Completely and utterly powerless. It’s out of my hands. Like Mendoza, all that I have relied on is confined to a large net that I’ve hoisted over my shoulder and struggled mightily as I climbed the mountain.

But it’s no use. I can’t do it. It’s too heavy. I can’t fix this. Like Job, I want an answer from God.

Ironically, Job had the answer all along. And so have I.

Job 19

[25] I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. [26] And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; [27] I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!

It’s the hope of a face-to-face meeting with my redeemer in the flesh – both of us in our resurrection bodies standing eye-to-eye in eternity that keeps me going.

Like Job, my heart yearns within me for that day because it is the only hope that is real.

Nothing else…no philosophy…no system…no self improvement program…no possession, degree, or accomplishment can answer the most important question a person can ask when it finally becomes clear that we are on a collision course with a six foot hole (and we are all on that road) – “What happens next?”

Resurrection and a reunion with my Savior who paved the way. He lives. He is planning a family reunion.

So no matter how much my heart fails me and tells me to give up, my head is quoting scripture to me … “Just hang on! It will all be worth it! Even though you are hurting now, God wants to imbue you with a joy that defies explanation – right here and right now. Yes, it is pie in the sky…but it’s pie now too. This kind of joy is not circumstantial.

In the midst of what we consider suffering and sorrow, we remember that our Savior is coming, and we are filled with joy now because of who is coming later.

He’s alive! He’s coming!

That’s more than sufficient. It is all I need.

Posted by: Gordon | 09/07/2018

Five Sparrows for Two Cents

“What’s your name?”

Later, when it was all over, I thought that I would then pinpoint that day – the day when she forgot my name – as the worst day of it all. But I didn’t know then what the websites and doctors meant by paranoid delusions and hallucinations.

I’ll forgo the details, but trust me when I say that they are all focused on me with laser-like accuracy. I don’t take them personally, but they are daggers in my heart because they are not who she is. Don’t get me wrong, she’s always been a strong woman, and sometimes we came to verbal and emotional blows, but those times were years ago. And it was never like this.

The nurse at the geriatric hospital said Jan was under demonic attack. And to be sure, I am convinced that all disease, and especially dementias, are straight from the pits of hell. But sometimes I feel like I too am under hellish attacks – we both are, as one flesh.

“God’s in control,” the nurse said. And while I know in my head that he is sovereign, it doesn’t feel like it in my heart. I apologized to her. I love Jan’s nurse.

So I challenge God to consider my case.

“She has loved you her whole life. You can put an end to her agonizing sorrow and fear.”

I listen for a reply. I don’t hear it. Yet!

Psalm 4

Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer.

Has he deserted me?

Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.

Yet where else can I go? Medical Science? Fat chance. A few pills to control the behaviors, but no real treatment for the underlying disease. Government? Have you been watching the senate hearings lately?

No, I have nowhere else to go but to my Father. I’m out of options. I have no strategies – no viable plan. I’m right where I need to be.

Psalm 22

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.

I have prayed that I will learn to depend on him. How else can I learn to do that? Is there another way? Oh, how I’ve prayed for one. Out of options, I can turn inward and be destroyed, or lift up my hands in supplication to the one who made me and live.

I plead with him to protect my heart.

“I do believe, but forgive my unbelief. Take me where you will, oh Father, but never let me forsake you or deny you.”

“Give me perspective, Dear God. Give me the perspective of time – that life is but a burst of steam that is over before it really starts. And give me a global perspective – that millions of your children suffer in poverty, hunger, persecution, and imprisonment.”

“And finally I plead for you to destroy the voice of evil in my head. Silence him, loving Savior…give me the grace instead to hear your voice only. May I spend the rest of my days giving glory to your name.”

By God’s grace I will pursue him.

Where else can I go?

I sit here in our new home in the mountains of North Carolina. All around me the Smoky Mountains rise up and testify to the glory and majesty of God.

As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people.

I will run to him, the God of the mountains By his grace I will abandon myself and seek him with all my heart. Everything else is worthless. By his mercy I will trust his sovereignty and his love and his mercy and his grace.

Luke 12

“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. [6] Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies ? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

God, eradicate all fear in my heart. Use me to bring glory and honor to your name. Draw me close to your bosom. May I desire only the food you set upon the table you have prepared for me in the house you have built for me.

More than many sparrows – yes!

Posted by: Gordon | 07/14/2018

“Do not be dismayed…for I am your God.”

Nouns. Right there on the tip of her tongue. She knows things have names, but increasingly, they float away before she can use them.

“I need one of those things you use to get jelly out a jar…a…shoot! I can’t remember what to call it.”

“Spoon?”

“That’s it! What is wrong with me?”

Relationships are now sloughing off the surfaces of her brain too.

“I want to go see my son…the one married to Jil.”

“How many grandkids do I have? What are their names? How many children do we have? I know Melissa, but I can’t remember who the others are.”

“We have three kids? Who’s the third one? Is he married?”

“Oh, God,”I lament, “Where are you?”

I pray for healing, but God never promised that…not in this life…not now. But as long as it’s possible, I’ll beg him for it like a man stranded in the desert longing for just one more drink of water. Just a drop or two. The thirst is real – unquenchable.

And then I pray for God to take her to where she longs to go more than I long for healing. Morbid? Cruel? Perhaps it is inconceivable that a man would pray for his wife to find relief in the physical presence of her Father in heaven, but it is is what she desires – always has.

“You know what I miss most of all? Reading my Bible. I love God’s word.”

She said that last night. So I will read it aloud to her more and more.

Sometimes, I think I cannot bear it – the future. But it isn’t about me, is it? Besides, my Father promised me that I can bear up under the weight of it all. With joy!

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

“Dear God, forgive me for being afraid. I believe you – forgive my unbelief.”

I find that I am in the position of wanting to believe what my God has promised me over what I, a deeply flawed and sinful man, fears is true – that I cannot carry on in faithfulness. That fear hovers over me day and night.

“Father, I deserve no good thing that you give me or any blessing I plead for. I am fully aware of my unworthiness. But Dear God, give me a heart for you that compels me to steadfastness. And grant me the grace I need to be as faithful as your daughter – the woman you have given me.”

This isn’t about dementia, or death – we all die. And I really don’t write these things to illicit pity. I am motivated to, first of all, align my thinking with the will of God. I want to find strength in what is really permanent -the lasting things of life. And I know that everything in my life – even my breath (and hers) belong to God and will one day be taken away from me…from us. The only thing that will transcend this life is whether or not my faith in God is expressed in love for him and for my fellow man…for her.

I don’t expect that I will accomplish this desire today or tomorrow – maybe never. But it’s the journey I want to be on more than anything else. Imagine that – imperfect, insignificant me being led by the God who spoke the heavens into being to love like he loves. I could never have done it on my own. He leadeth me – it’s just that I am a stubborn and unruly student.

And I also desire to help point others – maybe you – to follow the same God who loves me – and you. It almost takes my breath away.

Posted by: Gordon | 06/13/2018

She fades, and I cannot find her…

I wake up at all hours of the night pleading with God for relief.

“Please, Father, take this pain away from me! Don’t make me go through this!”

But in the darkness of late nights and very early mornings, I hear no answer. Not yet. Still I see my wife slipping away bit by bit. And it is now true that she is no longer what she once was to me. She is no longer my confidant. The time for fleshing out ideas and making plans with her is over. And I’m certain that it will never return.

Like an aging photograph, who she was is fading into obscurity. And one day in the not too distant future, she will be somewhere else – somewhere I can’t reach her.

Still, God has tasked me to serve her – to place her at the center of my affections. If she never needed me before, she needs me now. God has plainly told me that. And I have no desire to shirk that privilege.

“For the son of man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.”

And God’s call to me is to embrace the mission of my Lord – to forsake self gratification and plead for the grace to serve – to give to those who cannot return the favor.

I’m learning this late in life – but not too late. It is never too late.

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ JESUS…did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on the nature of a servant.”

I did not plan for it to turn out like this. I didn’t want it – I still don’t. But I deeply desire the outcome of embracing the mission of Christ…to serve someone who cannot help me in return. For their sake – not mine.

I want to know that I was faithful to God (to the best of my flawed abilities). I want to know that I honored my bride – to reflect in some way that I am grateful for God’s mercy on my behalf, that I am also grateful for her faithfulness to my Lord and to me.

“Consider it pure joy, my bothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

I want God’s work to be done in me. I plead with God to strip away anything that hinders my complete and utter dependance on him. I want to be complete.

I’m not there yet, but God is chipping away at my self-reliance and independent spirit.

Father, I beg you to empower me to faithful obedience no matter what my circumstances are. I know that complete fulfillment is found only in you, so guide me to that place – forcefully, if you need to. I am a stubborn and willful man. Yet I deeply long for more. Take me there. I want no more than that. Thank you for teaching me to serve. I pray that I will take up my cross and follow you day by day.

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