Stripping Sets Us Free

It’s been roughly a year and a half since I last sat in a hospital and typed a post on this site. Didn’t think I would be here again so soon watching another loved one suffer. As I sit in the hospital tonight, a lot of similarities exist. Most notably, the swirling of emotions, thoughts, and feelings, that I try so desperately to process. The underlying fear of the unknown that threatens to convince me of the worst. The medical and professional knowledge that speak logic and reasoning. The presence of God’s Spirit that softly whispers truth and encouragement. Then, the similarities I want to forget…sleeping on a hard make shift bed, IV alarms going off, nurses all hours of the night, pangs of broken, interrupted sleep, my brother home from Seattle and our parent lying in a hospital bed.

This summer I have had the privilege of spending a lot of time with my father. We’ve discussed deep longings of the heart and soul and where God seems to fit into all the pain and suffering. We’ve shared devotions, scriptures, emails, and passages in books. He has been real with me about how the deep suffering of losing mom has changed him, caused him to question God, and created a profound longing in him to go home to be with Jesus. He’s compared himself to Job, and expressed his longings to be out of his season of “stripping”. He kept asking this summer, “What does God want from me? Do I not serve Him enough? Have I done something wrong? What have I done so wrong to require this chastisement? I’ve given. He’s taken the only thing I found joy in. What more will He take? How much more stripping will He do? Am I not already bare?”

Two weeks ago, dad awoke with an excruciating pain in his back. He went the typical route of treatment he had before: adjustments, ice/heat, anti-inflammatories, all with no relief. Next a round of steroids, additional assessment of muscular imbalances with  corresponding exercises, and still the pain increased. Fevers, nausea, and weight loss finally sent us to his primary care physcian for further evaluation. MRI was the next step in order to determine a cause, yet dad could not tolerate lying down; he had been sleeping sitting up for approximately a week. So with MRI order in hand and stronger pain medication, he left the office hoping to get his pain under control. Yet once again, his pain continued, increasing in severity daily. With his pain not abating, he wound up in the ER Friday morning, hoping that they could provide enough pain medication in order to assist him with being able to lie still for the needed MRI. The initial IV pain medication given was not successful. For 3h I watched my father restless from unrelenting pain. Four times I tried to alert the staff that he needed a different pain medication and once I turned away the MRI technician. Finally, after being given the strongest pain med they had, it was under control enough for him to endure the MRI.

It didn’t take long for the MRI results to come back and as soon as they did, the physcians were on top of it. Diagnosis was not simple, but in fact complicated.  MRI revealed 2 abscesses in muscle, 1 near the spinal cord, and an infection in the bone of the spine. I felt my strength immediately leave my body as we were being given the findings. Unfortunately being in the medical field, I knew the potential end results of infections such as these. I knew how utterly critical it was that treatment be started ASAP. Dad had hoped the MRI would only reveal typical wear and tear of the discs and joints, but instead, he learned he had a raging infection that could be fatal if not treated. So instead of going home, as he had anticipated, he was being admitted for an unidentified period of time.

Again, his questions began. “Did God really feel like I needed more suffering? Has there not been enough? Now this? Is there really more to strip? When is this going to end?”

Have you ever found yourself asking these questions? I know I have. If we are honest, I think most of us have. So the question “Why?” beckons an answer. Why does God allow such tragedies? Why does He not stop the suffering? Why does He seem to forsake us during the trial? Why do the tribulations seem to compound on top of one another?

Have you ever heard of Job? He lost everything. His home, his children, his livelihood, his possessions, all but his not so sweet wife. Three of Job’s friends tried to convince him of the reasons he was suffering, all to which God revealed were incorrect. It was not to punish him or teach him a lesson. It was not because Job had not served enough or had unconfessed sin. It was not because he needed to repent more.

What about God’s character throughout Job’s or our suffering? Is He really who He says He is? Is He really loving? Does He really care? Does He really exist? Job’s wife encouraged him to curse God and die. Suffering causes us to question God’s character. It causes us to feel like He is an angry God ready to punish us if we make a wrong move. We begin to sense that nothing is off limits to this testing, not family, not our health, not our possessions, not our mental well-being. So what keeps us from despair? Where is hope to be placed? If it’s not in our ability to control and protect the afore-mentioned areas of our life, then what’s the point? Why try? Why care? What is the seemingly futile point of stripping and suffering? I think Job learned why and I think we can too.

I am going to offer a reason that may sound ludicrous, may sound like all of my stripping and suffering has caused a few screws to come loose…….Stripping Sets you Free!

What you may ask? She has lost her mind, your thinking. Well, I did lose something, but not what you would assume. Over a 15 year period, God stripped me of all the idols I didn’t realize I possessed.  My idols, were seemingly innocuous: my strength, my health, my emotional/mental stability, relationships, career, people. I didn’t realize how much identity, hope, and sense of worth I found in these areas of my life. I was stripped in all of them and more. I faced a lot of my fears head on, experiencing them in their entirety and you know what happened? Fear lost the vice grip it had on my soul.

My bondage was broken to who I thought I should be, who I thought I once was, and who I was becoming. My hope, my reason to forge through this life was no longer dependent on my health, my strength, people, relationships, life, or any type of earthly stability. You know what I found in it’s place? Freedom! The freedom to live in a deep, fulfilling, meaningful, intimate relationship with Jesus. The freedom to not have it all together. The freedom to fall at His feet and pour out my emotions, my needs, my desires. The freedom just to be, just to exist in the moment and not have to figure it all out.  The freedom to see God’s glorious character shine through as He met each and every need and then praise Him for doing so. I think Job says it best:

“Then Job replied to the Lord:

“I know that you can do anything,
    and no one can stop you.
You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’
    It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about,
    things far too wonderful for me.
You said, ‘Listen and I will speak!
    I have some questions for you,
    and you must answer them.’
I had only heard about you before,
    but now I have seen you with my own eyes.

~ Job 42:1-5

 

 

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Sacred Journeys

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness. –Psalm 151:1

This Psalm was a part of my Morning Prayer devotion today. This was after I had already found my mind reminiscing about certain beautifully sacred times I spent with my mother. Some of the most sacred moments I spent with my mother were during our travels, either just the two of us, or with family. One such occasion I fondly remember was an impromptu trip my mother and I took to Chicago and Madison, WI.

We had originally planned to take a long weekend trip with my father to Salt Lake City. However, we ended up not making the flight due to forgetful mom leaving her photo ID at home and so we couldn’t make it on the flight. But everything turned out alright. My mom desperately wanted to go on vacation and since Salt Lake City wasn’t going to work out, we decided to take a road trip. After throwing around several options, my mom and I decided to hit the road and head to Chicago. It was a few months til Christmas, and my mom liked the idea of doing some shopping on the Magnificent Mile.

We had such a wonderful time, even though we had our share of arguments in the car over who could talk on the phone and when and what music to listen to. You know, your typical family disagreements. But the time we spent in Chicago, and also in Madison, was so wonderful. I was in seminary at the time, and my mom loved hearing about what I was studying. She even helped me study my Hebrew by drilling me with my vocabulary flash cards.

I think the most memorable part of the trip had to be in Madison. After we arrived and had lunch (grilled cheese and tomato soup!), we decided to head down to University of Wisconsin bookstore to pick up some souvenirs that said “Madison” or “Wisconsin” on them for Christmas gifts. We were around the Capitol building, which sits atop a hill on the surrounding isthmus. It was a downhill walk to the university bookstore. After doing some shopping there, we decided to head back to our car and make our way back to Chicago. But it was a pretty steep uphill walk from the bookstore back to where we parked by the Capitol. And neither of us felt like making that steep walk. This was in the days before uber, and we couldn’t find any cabs…but we did see plenty of college students who were available for a bicycle taxi!

My mom and I giggled at the thought of a college student hauling both of us up the hill on his or her bike. But they were there to provide the service, and make a bit of cash, so we thought we’d give it a try. We laughed and laughed the whole way up the hill.

“We’re going to break his chain,” my mom declared. “We’re too heavy for him.”

“I hope he doesn’t pass out from exhaustion,” I giggled.

“If he makes it up the hill, it will be a miracle,” mom proclaimed.

We couldn’t stop giggling at what a funny sight we must be. We kept asking him if he was OK, and he kept saying “Yep, I’m great!”, even though he acted like it was one of the toughest bike rides of his life! 😀

We did make it up the hill, all three of us in one piece. We gave the bicycle taxi boy a very nice tip!

There are so many more stories I have of spending such sacred moments with my mother. Every now and then, something will spark one of those memories in my mind, and even though it is sad thinking we can’t make new memories together, I am so very thankful for those many times we were able to spend together.

And just as my mom would have it, these memories always put a smile on my face and make me giggle.

I took this photo on our bicycle taxi ride in Madison. Mom had a huge smile on here face from all of the giggling we were doing the whole time.
I took this photo on our bicycle taxi ride in Madison. Mom had a huge smile on here face from all of the giggling we were doing the whole time.

Breathe In…Breath Out…Bend Your Knees…Bow Your Will

It’s hard to believe that the 1 year anniversary of mom’s  passing is upon us. When I look back over this past year, I see it through a misty fog of grief. Sometimes the fog is so thick and oppressive it takes my breath away.  Other times, it’s just enough to make things blurry, preventing me from seeing clearly and creating varying levels of anxiety.  And yet other times it descends so fast, I am taken by surprise and enveloped by it’s expanse.

Oh the journey of suffering and grief, how it transforms you, strips you, and redefines you. The first 2 months following her death, I was in shock. The reality of her absence had not yet set in and I was numb, just going through the motions of life. In February, when we went out to Seattle to see Michael, it hit me like a heavyweight TKO. My heart, mind, and soul shut down. I don’t remember much from Feb through July to be honest. I attended functions, drove to and fro, worked some…basically, existed to the best of my ability. I was just trying to understand what life looked like without her.

Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and months now into a year. My first Mother’s Day without her came and went, as did her birthday, each of our birthdays, dad’s 1st anniversary without her, Thanksgiving and now back to Christmas. The fog continues to blur the reality of time.  Life continues to march forward at speeds I often times can’t seem to keep up with.

The world continues to spin on as life, my children’s needs, my marriage needs, my business, needs of loved ones, responsibilities, all continue to demand my attention.  New trials and tribulations present themselves, each bringing a huge tidal wave that knocks me back into tumultuous waters.  Wasn’t it enough to just try and reach some sort of equilibrium after losing mom? Why more difficulties, trauma, and struggles that threaten my very ability just to stand?  Grief has torn down the strong walls that fortify my resolve and allow me to stand on steady feet.

Once again, I find myself in a place of vulnerability – bare, feeble, and exposed to the impending elements. I try with all I have just to breathe and stay on two feet. However, often times the tidal wave knocks me back down to my knees, catching me off guard, leaving me scrambling for stable footing. I found myself this past November in just such a place, but this time I was knocked flat on my face, consumed inside the wave of turbulent waters.

WHY LORD? Now, I’m scrambling for breath and stable footing. WHERE ARE YOU?  I’m drowning in this sea of pain and torment! I’M THROUGH WITH YOU! Yes, I told Him I was finished with Him, with us, denying the power of the cross and Christ’s resurrection in my life.

Have you been there before? Have you uttered these words to Him? Do you find yourself there at this very moment?  WHAT NOW?

Breathe In…

Truth – He whispers to me, “You can deny me, but I can not deny you. You are mine, marked and sealed, my child for eternity.”

Breathe Out…

Lament – The Spirit surrounds me declaring “I will cry out for you with groanings too deep for words.” “My groans are many, and I am sick at heart..I have cried until the tears no longer come; my heart is broken.”1

Bend the knee…

Praise – He steadies me to my knees, “Your words have helped the tottering to stand, and You have strengthened feeble knees.”2

Bow the will…

Worship – In the waiting, bow your will and worship. In the garden, Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”3

With each tidal wave, God brings me to my knees. His breath enters and leaves my body, as His Spirit sustains me. Therefore, I choose to:

Breath in…Breath out…Bend my knee…Bow my will

What do you choose?

“I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning…The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord.” ~Lamentations 3:21-23, 25-26

 

1: Lamentations 1:22, 2:11; 2: Job 4:4; 3: Luke 22:42, John 4:24

 

 

 

 

 

Blessèd

Tonight, I attended Evensong celebrating the Feast of All Saints. It took everything within me during the Introit not to break into tears. Within my field of vision was a photo of my mother on our altar of remembrance. The words sung during the Introit were excerpted from the Beatitudes:

Blessèd are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the dominion of heaven.
Blessèd are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessèd are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.
Blessèd are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.

(Watch a beautiful performance of this musical piece here.)

I thought of my mother’s life, and her tireless and never-ending embodiment of these words. Mother always, and sometimes annoyingly, focused on the good in people and reminded her family that God is in control and that Christ calls us to be followers: to forgive, to help others, to love, and to never boast about ourselves without giving the praise and honor to Christ. She taught me what it means to be humble in faith and how to always point our actions and words toward glorifying and magnifying God’s holy name.

While the Introit continued…”Blessèd are the peacemakers…”, I began to circle back to where my mind has been far too much lately, thinking about the election. And how much vitriol and hatred and deceit and fear and anger is surrounding the entire process this year. It seems like it gets worse every four years. And I found myself thinking: what would my mother say about this?

I think what she would say is: none of this matters. God is in control. In the end, God is always victorious. Love always wins. Grace always has the last word. Even though we are born into sin, we are freely given redemption in Jesus Christ. Even though our country is filled with people who hate and exclude and inflict violence and inequality, there is a greater power that we acclaim: the power of God made known to us in Jesus Christ.

So, even today, 11 months after mom entered life eternal, she is comforting me. Her life and faith, inspired and perfected by the grace of God, continues to shape my life and faith today. So even as the days and weeks and years ahead, no matter who is elected, will be filled with uncertainty and more and more vitriol and anger and fear and hatred, I will set my eyes on God’s word and the example of perfection: Jesus Chris.

Because, as Jesus taught us, blessèd are the peace makers, for they shall be called children of God.

Thanks be to God!

One of the last photos of me with mom. Taken on Alki Beach in Seattle.
One of the last photos of me with mom. Taken on Alki Beach in Seattle.

A Letter Worth Recognition

At the beginning of this school year, my daughter Ella composed a heartfelt letter to one of her teacher’s at school. From the 1st week of school Ella began to share with me that this teacher reminded her of her Maw-maw Lulu. Up to this point, Ella preferred not to talk about mom’s death or it’s effect on her and really only showed what appeared to be shock for the first 8 mo. She was initially very quiet regarding her emotions over losing mom.  I knew that in her timing and in her way, she would begin to enter into the other stages of grief as she was able to process.

This teacher’s presence provided a daily reminder of her grandmother’s memory and the searing reality of her loss, allowing deep sadness to begin to surface. During the 2nd/3rd week of school, Ella began to ask me details about mom’s diagnosis and told me she had decided to write her teacher a letter. So she composed an anonymous letter to this teacher and left it on her desk for her to find.

I did not realize the magnitude and the cathartic process that was taking place as Ella was composing the letter. Nor did any of us know how this letter would touch not only her teacher, but would be worthy of recognition in 2 different writing contests. Following the writing of this letter, Ella began to cry and talk about the pain of losing mom, allowing her to begin to process her painful loss. Her teacher’s spirit was lifted, and after finding out it was Ella who wrote it encouraged Ella to enter the letter in two different writing contests.

We found out this week that Ella is moving on to the next level in both writing contests. Below is her composition piece to enter one of the contests.  This letter is yet another example of how God does not waste our pain, but instead provides both a passion and a purpose as a result of it. Our prayer is that God continues to use mom’s story and love for Christ to touch those that are hurting and point them to the One True Healer. I am deeply moved that this time He is speaking out of the mouth of my sweet 12 y/o daughter. May you too be moved by her heart, and see that expressing one’s emotions can not only bring healing to oneself, but healing and encouragement to others.

 

A Letter to Ms. X

For my essay, I have prepared for you a letter that I wrote to my teacher (Ms. X) in August about how she reminded me of my late grandmother, Mary Lou Seewer. Mary died on December 24th, 2015 from a rare disease called myeloproliferative disorder, which causes the bone marrow to produce immature red blood cells, too many white blood cells, and deficient platelets. This disease leads to acute myeloid leukemia and eventually lead to her passing. Her passing was a devastating loss to my family because of how friendly and welcoming she was and how she lit up every room she walked into. My mother, Teresa, was especially effected, because not only was Mary her mother, she was also her best friend, her “rock”, her provider, and her biggest cheerleader.

Teresa was born on September 14, 1977 in Dayton, Ohio when Mary was just 21. Mary had moved to Dayton to be near her dear cousins and her maternal grandmother, as her own mother passed when she was only 8 years old and her father was unsupportive. Teresa was just two weeks old when they moved back to Louisville, Kentucky and were living in a home with Mary’s grandmother, Teresa Elliot. When Teresa was two, Mary met a young man named Michael Seewer at a full service gas station to which they regularly went. Within one year Mary and Mike were married at St. James Catholic Church on December 1, 1979. After less than a year of marriage, Mary and Mike were expecting a baby boy, soon to be named Michael William Seewer. Their family was then complete, with two beautiful kids and a dog named Ginger. For thirty-six years they lived their lives giving thanks to the Lord for a blessed life together, “two souls and one heart,” as my grandfather put it.

Below, is the letter I composed to my teacher that bared an uncanny resemblance to my late grandmother.

 

“Dear Ms. X,

I’m having a hard time starting this letter, but I just wanted to tell you I’m glad you’re my teacher. Every day I look forward to being in your class and am eager to learn from you. But, I’m writing this letter to say something personal but also for you to know I am grateful for you. Anyway, 9 months ago I lost my grandmother to a rare disease called myeloproliferative which was a genetic mutation that didn’t actually start until she was 58 years old. When I was in fifth grade, she started to have spleen swelling and body aches so she went to the doctor and got tested to see if anything was wrong. The test results came back and showed signs of cancerous cells, after more testing, she was diagnosed with the disease that took her life.

We were told she had 35 months to live, and thanks to a special medicine called Jakafi, that held back the diseases effects, we were able to have her with us for a year without her in discomfort. Although we were told the medicine would not last for long, we were happy that it would at least give us more time with her. So we made the best of the year we had with her, although she was unable to attend graduations, swim and cross country meets, and my 12th birthday, we got to go on vacations, 10 salon trips, and countless car rides home from school. Unfortunately that year ended on Christmas Eve of 2015.

You are now possibly wondering what this has to do with you but, you are exactly like her, you have her smile, her hair, her talkative personality, and you even wear the same clothes and makeup! Every morning I come in your classroom and cannot wait to hear what you have to say because it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. When you told us about your dad being saved in the ocean, I cried because my grandmother’s father was in the same war. I actually cry a lot in your class because you remind me so much of her that I think she’s still with me. I love hearing your voice and just how sweet you are to the class. I just want to thank you for being my Mawmaw Lulu, for being sweet to me, kind, generous, and caring. Thank you for being you! Most of all thank you for giving a child her grandmother back. I walked into your room wondering if you would be mean, nice, or in between. But, when I walked into your room I gained so much more.

Love, Anonymous”

My grandmother praised the Lord until the very last second that she was on this earth. Even through suffering she was content knowing that the Lord was her net and was there to protect her and hold her. Although she will be dearly missed, her legacy will live on in the hearts of her friends, colleagues, and family. I hope this essay has inspired you to do something great for the world and to show you how death can be a beautiful thing.

 

 

A Ray of Hope Along the Way

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As our family is heading into the season that mom started to decline last year, Truth and His promises are what carry us through. The journey of grief is a dark, oppressive, winding road filled with perils and steep cliffs that threaten every part of your existence. From the very essence of who you thought you had become to the fear of who you might become. I am finding, that it is the little moments of sunshine or a beautiful flower along that path that speak life into you and urge you upward and onward. This morning, my dad came across just such a moment of beauty on his path. I’ll let you read his words he sent to me,
“The Holy Spirit showed me something today. Instead of wishing I had different things and wishing He would change circumstances in my life, why not try giving thanks for your endless blessings and where God has you in your life right now. He has me right where HE wants and needs me. And also, look for new things to give thanks and experience joy in, not looking back for the things I had that brought me joy. Got to remember this every moment of every day.”
Are you currently reflecting upon a time you wish you could have back? Are you missing a relationship, a loved one lost too soon, a previous job, neighborhood or just a sound mind? Then I urge you to remember every moment of every day, to give thanks for where you find yourself right now. Look for the new things Christ is presenting to bring you joy, specifically joy in Him. Trust that though He may have taken what you previously found joy in the most, that He loves you, and has good plans for your future, to give you hope.
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.'” Jeremiah 29:11
 Call upon His name in prayer…..
‘In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,’ says the Lord.” Jeremiah 29:12-14
Today, may you experience the joy of finding Him in the midst of your pain. May His presence warm you as you bask in His love and may His beauty overwhelm you as you reflect on His promises.

A Camp Letter to My Daughter

Dearest Ella,

Mommy is so very excited for you as you learn to depend on Jesus. The greatest gift I could give you is salvation in Him, and I could not give you that, the Father did. The next gift I could give you is modeling what it looks like to follow Christ with all of your heart, your soul, and your mind. I wish I could perfectly model that, but I am incapable of that too. Christ was the only perfect model that followed the Father the way we ought to. The next gift would be providing encouragement for you to continually turn to Jesus and run with reckless abandonment into HIs arms seeking Him first, before you turn to anyone or anything else. However, I can not be there continually to encourage you, but the Holy Spirit living in you has been sent to encourage you in your walk with Him and lives within you. The Holy Spirit is also your seal in Christ, and the promise of what is to come.
Now it is God who establishes both us and you in Christ. He anointed us, 22placed His seal on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a pledge of what is to come. “ 2 Corin 1:21-22
I hope you see that your relationship with Christ began because He called you, He chose you. My prayer for you is that you continue to see all of your inabilities and inadequacies in being able to perfectly follow Christ and depend upon Him. The more I see, the more I experience, and the more my own abilities fail me, the more I see how desperately I need Jesus. There is freedom in knowing you can’t do anything for Him, He has already done it all for you. Your goal is to walk with Him moment by moment responding to His call and entering into personal intimate relationship with Him.
Read your bible, not to have knowledge, but to know the Author. Jesus died so that you could have fellowship with He and the Father through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Your relationship with Christ is THE most important relationship to cultivate and nurture. The more time you spend with Him and come to (heart) KNOW HIM, the easier your other relationships will become (even the most difficult ones). Learn not just about Him, but who He is!
I love you from the deepest parts of my being. I know that Maw-Maw is smiling down on you, praising Jesus for your faith and obedience.
“I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois (Maw-maw Lou Lou) and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you.” 2 Timothy 1:5 (emphasis added)
 
LOVE YOU SWEET GIRL!!!!!! Can’t wait to be there with you today!!!!
Love,
Mom
To my mom,
Thank you mom for sharing this faith that filled you. It spilled over into me and continues to pass forward into your grandchildren. This is your legacy!
Photo credit: Jeff Dunn