My Heart Hurts

My heart is heavy and hurting today. A dear friend has died and it came way too soon. On Thursday evening I learned that Michelle had just gone onto hospice care. Friday morning I packed my bag and was about to pull out of the garage when her husband called to say she had died. I stayed home and have grieved and thought a lot the last few days about life and death and the choices we all make.

Michelle and I shared an apartment while in graduate school in Ft. Worth. She was pursuing a doctorate in organ and I, a masters in Christian education. Our personalities were quite different; she was the artist and I was the nuts and bolts type. We were our own version of The Odd Couple. In spite of the differences, we shared our interests, learned from each other, and made great roommates, becoming dear friends. The memories we made are funny and significant and precious.

When my grandmother died it was hard to return to Ft. Worth; I was under a dark cloud of grief for the rest of the semester. Michelle was thoughtful, kind, helpful, and patient with me; I have never forgotten that. When we spent a weekend with her parents, who were lovely people, she got me out of the house and drove me straight to a coffee shop each morning because her parents did not drink coffee and she knew I had to have it. Michelle played the organ in chapel. I am still traumatized remembering the time she talked me into playing a duet with her.

I married when I was 30; Michelle married in her early 40’s. She and Jim have lived in Memphis all these years and they have two girls, both in college now. She homeschooled her girls and continued to play the organ at her church, right up until a few weeks ago.

When she was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, it was like a kick in the gut to me. We all hate the word cancer, and when it hits someone close to us, it becomes much more heinous. Of course my first thought was, “Why Michelle?” She was such a sweet individual and kind to everyone (even while being passively strong-willed and a steel magnolia under her sweetness). Why her?  And then my mind went down the trail of “she doesn’t deserve this” and I could come up with a whole list of people who “deserve” it more. The truth is, life does not come to us based on what we deserve.

Michelle went through her treatments and returned to a state of good health. I was hopeful this was for the long term. Less than two years ago I spoke at a retreat in the Memphis area. Michelle came and we had such a good time catching up and sharing all that was going on in our families. We took a fun trip down memory lane.

A few months ago her cancer returned and this time it did not respond to treatments. I wanted to go stand in front of this steam roller and throw up my arms and yell “STOP!”  Michelle and I exchanged texts and cards and one precious phone visit that I will always remember. And now she is gone.

To absorb this, survive this, and find joy in the midst of heartache, my mind goes here….

  •  We don’t get what we deserve. Life doesn’t work like that. Sometimes bad things happen to good people and bad people seem to get off easy. On another day we will explore the fact that most of us realize we don’t want to get what we deserve.
  • Life happens to all of us and it is how we respond that makes the difference. Michelle did not want to die at 63 but she told me if God allowed this she would be okay with it; she just asked that I pray for her husband and girls.
  • Peace that passes understanding is not just a poetic phrase. Philippians 4:4-7 clearly describes what we have witnessed and experienced in this situation. Look it up, read it, meditate on it. We don’t rejoice in the bad things that come our way; but we can rejoice that  God is with us and will give us what we need moment by moment.
  • God is God and we are not. There are some things we may never understand but allowing God to be God and accepting that I am not leads to peace and contentment that I am not capable of alone.
  • Life is short; I don’t want to waste any minutes of the time God allows me on this earth. None of us knows how much longer we have to live on earth.

Finally, we all have a choice. Eternity is a for-sure and we each get to choose where we will spend it. I find it odd that at most funerals you hear people say, “He/she is in a better place,” but so often there is nothing on which that is based. According to the Bible, which has stood the test of time as the Word of God, eternity is hell for those who have rejected Jesus and it is heaven for those who have accepted Him. I beg you to trust God, accept the gift of eternal life with him in heaven made possible through Jesus. In addition to eternity, a relationship with Jesus provides peace in the midst of the storms and strength to carry on through whatever life hurls your way in the here and now.

Michelle knew Jesus, lived her life well, and now she is in heaven forever. I trust Jesus to comfort her husband, her girls, her sister and all the rest of her family and friends during these days of adjustment. The joy that comes in the morning is the assurance we have that we will see her again.

Let’s take a moment and evaluate our lives . . . are we prepared to live our lives fully right now and ready to face eternity when our time comes?

No Greater Joy

My heart is bursting with joy and gratitude today! We returned last night from Ft. Worth where our Rob married Rebeccah Gould. Rebeccah is a precious, beautiful, caring girl who loves Jesus and loves Rob! It just doesn’t get much better than that! They met in a home group of their church, The Village Church in Ft. Worth, so their friends got to watch their relationship from the start. While it was a  s l o w  start (Rob was slow to finally ask her out), things moved right along once he finally did!  Kris Samons, leader of their home group, participated in the service so that was extra special.

Rebeccah is a TCU graduate and a nurse at Cook Children’s Hospital. The way her family and friends honored her with words at the rehearsal dinner and reception was a dream come true for a Mama who has prayed for years for God’s perfect match for this boy of ours! Rob has never been happier or more content in his life, and for those of you who know his health history, we consider it an extra bonus from God that Rebeccah is a nurse. In the book/movie The Help an oft-quoted line is the one Abileen spoke to Mae Mobley numerous times, “You are kind; you are smart; you are important.” This new daughter in law of ours is all of that — genuinely kind, incredibly smart, and extremely important to many, now including all the Collingsworths! Rob and Rebeccah are a perfect match for each other ……. thank you God.

Weddings include lots of bonuses. Our closest family and friends gave the time and money and energy to come and celebrate with us. This weekend became a huge reunion! So many memories and happy stories were shared by the special people who have influenced our family’s life over so many years. I wanted to sit down with each person and have a long one-on-one visit, re-telling tales and laughing and remembering the good (as well as the not so good) times we have shared and survived over the years. John and Dawn Harris have been a huge part of our family’s lives since the day we moved to Orlando in 1989. They quickly became Uncle John and Auntie Dawn to our kids, even though the British accents clearly confirmed that the relationship was not through blood but love. When Rob was about 19 we were all at the beach and Rob gave Uncle John $1.00 and asked him to help with his wedding; the dollar was a retainer. So, here we are years later and there was Uncle John, officiating in the wedding ceremony.

For our family, the glue, the hub of the wheel, the protecter, sustainer, redeemer, and the one to whom we give credit for all these blessings is Jesus. He has held us, led us, kept us by His grace and mercy. This morning when I was catching up on my Bible reading, I read this verse, “I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant…” Gen. 32:10  This is the attitude of my heart today. God knows I am not worthy and I know it too. With that said, I am eternally grateful for all the friends and family who have encouraged Rob and impacted his life and development over the years. You know who you are; many of you came this weekend and celebrated his marriage with us. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Life is a roller coaster and often a slippery slope. Everyone I know experiences things that are amazingly wonderful and also things that are devastating and sometimes heartbreaking. No one escapes hardship; it just comes in different ways and at different times to each person or each family. I know this fact because I am old (don’t tell JB I said that), and I have personally experienced the good as well as the bad. And so has everyone else I know. The good news is I have survived and that is due only to the grace of God (no pun intended).

Sometimes people wonder or occasionally ask, “so what difference does it make to be a Christian if God is not going to keep bad things from happening to you?” The answer is that God does not keep “life” from happening to us. However, He walks us through the tough stuff; He teaches us how to treat others through our own hardships; He uses us for His glory when we survive the things of life. He is God and He is enough for whatever life throws our way. His peace is sufficient on the hard days and His joy is indescribable on occasions like this weekend.

Years ago a friend gave me a beautiful frame with this scripture written in caligraphy – “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” 1 John 1:4.  I have kept it close-by over the years and prayed for that to be the case with our children. This weekend of Rob and Rebeccah’s wedding is a sweet reminder of God’s faithfulness and goodness. I pray this sweet couple starting out on their journey of marriage will continue to walk in the truth of God and His word.

Jesus Will be the Stability of Our Times

Christmas is here and I love this time of year. Like most of you I want to carve out time to sit and reflect and ponder the meaning of the season. Even if you can only take five minutes a day, please pause and meditate on the source of true joy. Look up the words of some Christmas hymns and worship songs and just read and think about the truths that are proclaimed in those words.

No matter what our culture may try to impose on us, the reason for the season is Jesus and the celebration of his arrival in human form on earth. Our world history is divided into B.C. and A.D. (Before Christ and Anno Domini – in the year of our Lord). The arrival of Christ on earth is the turning point in all of world history.

The arrival of Christ on earth is the turning point in all of world history.

Why is Christmas such a big deal? The coming of Jesus (God in human form) in our world was planned from the beginning of time. A traditional Christmas hymn proclaims the coming of the long-expected Jesus was reason to rejoice because he was “born to set his people free.” Another well-known Christmas carol, The First Noel, proclaims,

“Then let us all with one accord sing praises to our heavenly Lord,  Who hath made heaven and earth of naught, and with His blood mankind hath bought.”

In the beginning ….. God created the world from naught (that means nothing). Think about that; it is much more logical and believable to accept that God created all the beauty and symmetry and order and detailed intricacies of our world than it is to assume that somehow on accident or boom or bang it just happened.

God created all that is, including us. When sin entered the world through Adam and Eve’s choices to disobey God, he even had a plan for that. Thus the world waited long for Jesus, the Messiah, and when he came to earth he provided freedom from sin to those who believed him. As the hymn above says, “with His blood mankind hath bought.”

The Messiah did not come as the people expected him to come, but he came as God designed, and he fulfilled all the prophecies recorded in the Old Testament during the centuries B.C. Jesus died on a cross to pay the price for our sins; if and when we accept his sacrifice, he frees us from the bondage of sin and fills us with purpose and joy and contentment and peace way beyond what things of the world can offer. He does not force his salvation on us but it is hard to believe that any would reject such a great gift.

I want to sing of this joy and encourage everyone I know to believe and receive. As one of the most well-known songs proclaims,

Joy to the world! The Lord is come. Let earth receive her King.

He is King, whether we accept him or not, and the Bible assures us that one day “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord….” (Phil. 2:10-11)

At church yesterday our pastor reminded us that we belong to the largest organization in the world and that is the church. Followers of Jesus Christ in our world are literally the largest group that exists. Currently, in many countries of the world people are receiving the gospel and accepting Jesus’ gift of salvation as never before! Those of us in the USA may feel more and more under attack because we are Christians. Pressure to water down God’s word and to be tolerant as the culture defines tolerant is prevalent and even creeping into the church. But the power of the gospel is stronger; let’s don’t forget that!

Here at Christmas as we remember and celebrate the plan of God, I want to encourage you to trust God, obey his word, resist temptation to conform, and rejoice that Christ came. He did not have to die, but he willingly sacrificed his life for you and me. That is worth celebrating and Christmas is a great time to accept or renew commitment to him.

Love as Jesus loved; consider the needs and feelings of others; reach out and share kindness with someone you know who is struggling or is lonely. The joy that comes from Jesus living in your heart gives strength for hard circumstances and hope that is eternal. Share that strength and hope with the people God puts in your life.

In my Bible reading this week I came across this passage in Isaiah and it keeps resonating in my heart and mind. God’s word is relevant and alive and active. Hear this word from God: “The Lord is exalted for he dwells on high . . . and he will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge . . . .” Isaiah 33: 5-7

he will be the stability of your times

A great deal of my peace and contentment comes from knowing that it is in him we will find stability in this crazy old world!

In closing, read afresh the timeless words of truth from the hymn, He Lives:

“I serve a risen Savior; He’s in the world today. I know that He is living, whatever men may say.

I see his hand of mercy; I hear his voice of cheer. And just the time I need him he’s always near.

He lives, he lives, Christ Jesus lives today.

He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.

He lives, he lives, salvation to impart (aka give/provide).

You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.”

Amen, Hallelujah, Praise the Lord!

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