Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Tribute to My Dad

As some of you know, my dad was admitted to the hospital on February 21 of this year and never got to come back to his earthly home to be with my mom.  Initially, he was admitted to the hospital for an infection in his toe, and while in the ambulance, suffered from a heart attack.  When he arrived at the hospital, they proceeded to treat the most significant illness, his heart, then from there treat the infection in his toe.  My dad had several different health issues and when the medical staff would treat one symptom or diagnosis, that treatment would cause a problem somewhere else, and so on.  This cycle continued until Monday of last week when he went into cardiac arrest, ultimately causing his death.

My dad was a very special man, loyal to God, his family, church, friends, and business clients.  He was tired and ready to go home to be with His Lord and Savior.  My brothers and I were given the honor of speaking on his behalf, sharing the legacy that he left behind, at his funeral last weekend.  I would like to share the eulogy that I wrote for my dad and shared with the congregation on Saturday.  It was a packed house; my dad impacted and influenced the lives of many people.  I added and changed a few words in some places to help it make sense to everyone.

     I wish there were words in my limited vocabulary to accurately describe my dad and what he meant to our family.  But, as you know, words are never enough to paint a complete picture of a real life, someone who lived and breathed and moved.  What an honor it is for me to be able to stand here and speak of him this way.  We are here to celebrate my dad's life on this side of eternity and now his triumph over death through Jesus Christ in heaven, joining in the ultimate worship celebration of our King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the one true God.  I wonder if it is a contemporary or traditional service, a subject we often discussed.  I know that if it is contemporary, boy was he thrown for a loop!  But, I can see him anyway, right now, raising his hands in praise and bowing on his knees before the Lord, his Maker and Redeemer.  For those of you who know my dad and his worship style, that picture should put a smile on your face.  He is holding nothing back in worship now.  He and I definitely worshiped our Lord differently, but either way, we shared a common love and life in our Savior Jesus Christ Who is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life" and "no one comes to the Father except through Him" (John 14:6).  He is the only way we get to spend eternity in heaven, which is why we can celebrate today, because that is where my Dad is--he has received the prize that was set forth before him.

     In the last few months, Dad seemed to look forward to our conversations about the Bible and our walks with Christ, what He was teaching each one of us, both of knowing that we were not perfect and had a lot of growing to do.  I was able to fast and pray fervently for my dad while he was sick and then able to share the insight God gave me about one of His Names, Adonai--the assurance that God is our Master, we are not our own, we were bought at a price and He, our loving Father, holds us right in the palm of His hand, no matter what trial we are facing or enduring.  I was able to see his face light up and tears fill his eyes because of the Word God shared with me.  As always, God's Word encouraged him and lifted him up at just the right moment.

     When I reflect on my dad and memories of him, the one attribute that stands out over all the others, that overshadows everything else, is LOVE.  The Bible, in 1 Corinthians 13, describes my dad--it gives a definition of love, which was always the motivation behind everything my dad did and said.  I can easily replace the words "love" and "it" in this passage with "my dad."  The Word reads, "Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  it always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails."

     Growing up with my dad was wonderful--not perfect, but wonderful.  There were plenty of times he embarrassed me on the sidelines of my soccer games, yelling at the referees instead of cheering me on.  I don't just mean yelling at the referee, but hackling him, even being thrown out of a few games.  Oh, the horror for THAT parent to be mine.  One game, I even yelled up to the stands, "Shut up, Dad!"  I had tuned him out long enough and couldn't take it any more.  That stopped him for all of about 30 seconds before he was right back at it.  I'm not even sure he heard me.  That's how passionate he was about things he was interested in.

     Dad imparted his love for singing to me, even though I am horrible at it, and taught me how to say hallelujah while he drove me to the babysitter's every morning--he always loved to retell those memories.  I looked forward to him coming home from work at night so he could play a board game with me.  He was the voice of reason in my life and the comic relief in our family.  He taught me a lot of life lessons, far beyond these, and always supported me with unconditional and faithful love.

     One of my favorite memories of him were the times he was in charge of supper.  This is funny if you know both of my parents because they were completely opposite.  My mom is the rule following, everything in life needs to fit in a box, it is black and white with no gray, hands and 10 and 2 while driving.  My dad, on the other hand, was Mr. Go-With-the-Flow, one handed driver, laid back knowing that everything would take care of itself.  One of the rules my mom always followed was our nightly menu, which consisted of a meat, two vegetables (one always being green), and a salad or fruit.  Well, Dad only knew how to cook two things: grilled cheese sandwiches and scrambled eggs--there was nothing green nor any vegetables in that meal.  So, when Mom was out, that's what we ate and we didn't tell Mom at all.  It was like we were breaking the cardinal rule of our household.

     Finally and most importantly, my dad always leaned on the Lord, and even more so in his last days. I believe that Psalm 18:1-6 accurately describes the relationship my dad shared with the Lord, one that was eternal and steadfast.  It reads:

                   I love you, O Lord, my strength.

                  The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take       refuge.  He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
                  I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies.

                  The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
                  The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me.
                  In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. 
                  From his temple he heard my voice;  my cry came before him, into his ears.

My dad always knew the Lord could hear him and could save him and would in His perfect time.  He always knew he could count on his God.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Raw Faith: Satan's Attack

I don't know why this surprises me.  I would have thought (or hoped) my spiritual eyes saw more keenly than this, after walking with my Lord for a few years now, but Satan blindsided me again.  Why can't I see, know, and remember that EVERY time I experience spiritual victory in my life, Satan is coming??  Why don't I safeguard myself from his attacks after celebrating with my Lord during a mountaintop experience?  A sure sign that we are on God's pathway is that Satan WILL attack.  Satan does not want us to experience spiritual victory.  He does not want us to pursue God or teach our children His Word.  He does not want us to live in victory and chase after our Savior with reckless abandonment.

Recently, God has lovingly and gently walked with me through some pretty painful moments and memories.  He has revived me and helped me overcome countless insecurities.  So, I was feeling pretty good about the victories God had led me through.  I was celebrating a life of freedom from insecurity with clear direction and vision about my dad's health and status in the hospital and about our desire to conceive another child (please refer to my previous post).  Then, I realized a painful reality in the shower tonight.  I have allowed another insecurity to creep up--fear, doubt, and worry, which has caused me to allow idols to slither their way into God's rightful seat as the highest priority in my life.  Right after receiving a positive pregnancy test (a spiritual high), Satan attacked.  Of course,  he did not attack with bright flashing neon signs (which would have been helpful to me), but in ways that seemed logical if I was not keeping myself bathed in God's Word and prayer.  He started bringing stories and fears of miscarriage to me, through memories and others' stories I would "just happen" to hear during the day.  So, my natural tendency was to worry and fear when those thoughts ran through my head (I still fight my weak flesh every day).  Instead of my first thought being I need to dive into Scripture and prayer, my first thought was, if I could just go to the doctor and see the baby on the sonogram, I will know everything is okay, a false sense of security.

I had called the doctor's office right after I received a positive pregnancy test, which was right around 5 weeks.  They scheduled my appointment for two weeks later, when I would technically be 7 weeks pregnant.  The day before my appointment, the nurse called to reschedule because my doctor had a family emergency she had to take care of, so we scheduled it for the same day the following week.  Literally, the afternoon right before my new appointment, the nurse called again to say that my doctor would be longer in handling this emergency and I would have to wait two full weeks to see her for my first preggo appointment.  I was more than bummed.  That waiting period between my 7 week appointment and the final appointment, when I would be 10.5 weeks, was the longest time ever!  Those days seem to drag by, but God knew that my faith needed to grow.  I needed that time to trust in Him; the family emergency didn't just happen at such an inconvenient time for me.  That was not coincidence.  God loves me and He wanted to take the time to grow my faith.  So, I started worshiping God, praying, and diving into Scripture harder than before.  I started praying for my doctor and her family emergency.  I could only imagine it was a death in the family and I had no idea where her family lived.  How stressful to have to travel far and cope with the loss of someone so close to you, in addition to a full-time job and patients back at home who count on you for their medical well-being.  I could not even imagine walking in her shoes at that time.  All I knew was that if I was walking in her shoes, I would want prayer and lots of it!  My walk of "faith" was not pretty during that time and I definitely did not walk like a "graceful Christian."  As much as I don't want to admit it, it was a grueling effort at times to put my trust in my Savior, Who has proven His faithfulness to me over and over again.  It was difficult to worship when my focus was somewhere else, but I fought for my focus to be right and to be fixed on Him.  I didn't care how many times it took to run back to Him, I tried to do it every time I feared and He was always right there, welcoming me back. My husband and I did finally make it to see the doctor and sonogram, where we were very relieved and thankful that we have a healthy squirmy baby growing in my belly.  God is so faithful to me when I am not--all praise to Him for this wonderful blessing and gift of life!  That's my God, my Love!

I have been meaning to write this post for about a month now, but life has been too hectic and I have been feeling too badly for me to actually get a moment and sit and write.  I wanted to write it before my doctor's appointment.  I wanted to be in a place spiritually where I could honestly say that I fully trusted that our baby was completely safe and healthy.  Now that it is almost two weeks after our appointment where we finally got to see our little guy (I think it's a boy 100%) and know he is healthy, I thought well, why am I posting this now?  Isn't my faith going to seem shallow?  I mean, I saw the baby--it's easy for me to say he's okay now; that doesn't take faith to say it after I have SEEN it.  I don't want people to think I didn't have faith during the waiting process to actually see him for the first time.  But the reality is, my faith did waver while I was waiting--you can ask any of my friends.  I did not have strong faith during that time.  It was much easier to focus on stories of miscarriage and look at my nonexistent belly than focus on my God and His promises.  My sickness, not my faith, was my only hope so many times.  That shouldn't have been the case.  I should never have put my faith in something tangible, something worldly and temporary, because one morning I woke up and I felt great.  I did not feel pregnant at all.  So, what did I do?  Instead of celebrating and enjoying the fresh energy, I worried. I feared that something had happened during the night and we had miscarried.  Those few weeks of waiting were the toughest for me and my faith.  God knew, though, that I needed that time to allow Him to work in me.

The negative part of the story is obviously my wavering faith, but there is always a beautiful side of every story with God.  He is the beautiful side.  My God is unwavering.  He is faithful, loving, kind, compassionate, and patient.  He is my Abba Father, and that is what He was to me during that time.  He did not scold me, but kept gently reminding me that He was there with me.  I love the verses in Hebrews that describe our High Priest, Jesus, 4:15-16 & 5:2--"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need...He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness."  That's the side of my Jesus I walked with during that time.  He dealt with me so gently because He Himself knew weakness when He walked this earth in the flesh.  He understands everything I go through, every spiritual battle I face and He is right there, ready to receive me every time I run back to Him.

During those agonizing weeks, I thought of Abraham and reflected on how much I could relate to him. He was a person like me and every time he stumbled in his faith, he ran right back to God.  His first response was to build an altar, worship God, and rededicate his life to His Master, our loving Father.  So that's what I did.  Every time I feared, doubted, or worried, I would run straight to God's Word.  I would return to Him and allow Him to remind me of Who He is and His promises to me as His sacred child.  It was not easy to run back to Him always--I hate to admit that a lot of times it was easier to think about stories of women who had miscarried and compare myself to them and convince myself that was happening to me.  That didn't matter to my Father, though.  His response was always the same--waiting with open arms for His daughter, ready to pour out mercy, grace, and strength to help me in my time of need.

Similarly to being able to relate to Abraham, I also felt a little like Peter, who got out of the boat and walked on water when He saw His Jesus walking on water.  Matthew recalls the event of Peter and his friends seeing Jesus walking to them on the water.  They were scared and thought Jesus was a ghost.  Jesus patiently responded with reassuring and encouraging words, not words of anger or frustration because of their fear.  He said, "Take courage!  It is I.  Don't be afraid."  So, Peter, with his eyes on Jesus stepped out of the boat and began to walk on water when Jesus called him to come.  Once Peter got out of the boat, though, his eyes and focus shifted to the wind and he became scared, which caused him to begin to sink.  He took his eyes off Jesus.  He shifted his focus to his circumstances and the facts that surrounded him, rather than the true nature and character of Jesus.  But I love this story because it paints such a beautiful picture of the way Jesus responds to us when our focus changes, when our faith wavers.  Verse 31 states that "immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him."  I love it!  As soon as my faith is shaken, Jesus is there with His hand to catch me!  His next question to Peter was a gentle, "Why did you doubt?"  Jesus knows Who He is and Who His Father is and He wants us to know them intimately, too.  He wants our faith to be so strong that all we see is our God and Jesus during our trials, so He doesn't want us to doubt, but He understands when we do and He is there to catch us and get us back on track.  He's not there to scold us and make us feel guilty.  That's not Who my God is.

I am so thankful that we serve such a loving God Who is there to uphold us, remind us of His love, and gently take us back every time we fall away, even if only for a moment.  Zephaniah 3:17 has been my favorite verse since I heard my pastor preach on it.  It has become my favorite during this season of my life because it perfectly captures my Jesus and His love for me.  It says "the Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in your, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing."  My God does that for me no matter how many times I doubt, worry, fear, or stray.  He loves me so completely, passionately, and eternally that nothing can separate me from Him or pluck me out of His hand!!