Sunday, March 10, 2013

O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?

Death has always been a terrible thing for me. As a young girl I used to wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat thinking that my mom, dad or someone I loved was going to die. I would run downstairs and cry and cry on my mother’s lap thinking awful thoughts of being left alone. Death was incomprehensibly horrifying! It was something to be feared, to be worried about and to be shocked about if you heard someone actually went ahead and died.

My favorite scripture growing up was Psalm 139 where it says, “16 Your eyes saw me before I was put together. And all the days of my life were written in Your book before any of them came to be.”

I believe that God knows the number of our days. I know that I can’t screw up and die before I was really ‘supposed to’. The ball is no longer (or ever was) in my court. In a strange sense, relinquishing this control brings a kind of comfort. It’s somehow liberating because I’m not responsible. It means I’m trusting in God and saying that He really knows what’s best even when it looks just the opposite. The hard part is that we don’t know His plan. We don’t know why some people last until they’re ninety years old and others until they are four. We don’t know why some women are born in Afghanistan while others are born in America. Why some are born without limbs and others completely intact. There are so many variables to being alive. Who, why, where, when, how long? We just don’t know so many things, but thank God it’s not up to chance either. Faith is truly the opposite of fear. You can’t be afraid if you believe God is good. One of our many problems is that we can only see our existence here on earth. Do we truly believe that there is a heaven? Do we believe in eternity?

I hate goodbyes. When someone leaves this world that I knew and loved it is the most surreal, most weird thing I can think of. The physiological response is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. It’s like the body wants to shrivel up and turn itself inside out. I feel like I can't breathe, walk or think straight. I remember my brother’s funeral. Standing there, looking at his pictures that I’d seen a million times, but now instead of an album, they were in a slideshow with sad music. His name plastered in the obituaries with his birthday along with the death date. I remember looking at that and thinking, “This is fake. This is so strange. This is really not happening.” I felt like I was playing a role in a movie or having an out of body experience. I would get upset when people referred to him in the past tense thinking, “He was just here a few days ago, what do you mean, ‘He was a funny guy?” He is hilarious and crazy and lives in the moment.’ I remember standing up on the podium looking out at everyone’s faces and thinking, ‘What am I doing here?’ A million memories clouded my thinking and a thousand thoughts rushed to my brain all at once. It was just so sudden, so unexpected, sad, unfair, unnatural and difficult, like the whole world was coming undone.

In Ecclesiastes 3 it says, 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.”

These words came alive to me trying to make sense and cope with the loss of my brother. Death is so unnatural because we were created for eternity. We were never intended to die. We were made in the image of God to live and love forever. Doesn’t it make perfect sense that death is so foreign?  

Our fish, “Froggy” died recently. He was laying at the bottom of the fish bowl. I broke the news to the kids who didn’t know how to respond. I told them that Froggy died and that he’ll no longer be with us. I told them he was gone forever. Cannon ran and got the stool to get a better look into the fish bowl. When he saw him upside down and sunk down to the bottom, he looked over at me and said, “I know! I’ll just feed him!” He grabbed the fish food and was thrilled to death that he figured it out. I explained that when someone or something dies, they don’t come back, even if you feed it. I’ll never forget the look on his face. His facial expression was a mix between, “You’re crazy and I’m totally confused.” All kids are confused with death. There is no category for not being here anymore. In their little minds they were always here and always will be…. and in a way, they’re right.  

In John 3:16 Jesus says, “ For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

How is it that we ‘should not perish?’ Don’t we all die? According to Jesus, we don’t perish. We just go on living in another place, in another way, in another capacity.

We are going to leave this earth. All the questions pertaining to it I do not know. I do know that God is good and His goodness is defined by Him. I know that it is overwhelmingly sad when someone leaves us for the duration of our lives. Even Jesus wept over Lazarus’s death, and He was about to raise him up from the dead!

As I stare at the picture of a smiling Sgt. Gary Morales, my heart simply breaks. This everyday hero just recently died on February 28th, 2013 in the line of duty as a law enforcement officer in Florida, at the young age of thirty-five. I remember him in our development growing up, always smiling that same exact smile he has in his police picture.

I have that same sinking feeling thinking that he wasn’t supposed to die. He was just with his family. His poor wife, his poor little girls, his mom, his dad, his three brothers, his friends! How they will miss everything about him! It just doesn’t seem right that he would be taken so young, in his prime with so much to live for. Then, when I think about where he is, as a believer, a small smile creeps in and I think he is in the best, most amazing, most indescribable place. We can’t even describe how wonderful it is. Yes, here we all are, sad and shaking our heads in disbelief, shock and horror. We don’t know so many things. We don’t have answers. What we do know is that God has all the answers. He wipes away every tear. He loves like crazy and He only asks that we believe and trust in His work and dare I say, His good plan. In all the world, with so many unexpected deaths from infants all the way up to the very elderly…God is working, moving, and loving us. His goodness and love isn’t defined in the manner in which we die or whether we die young or old. It’s encapsulated in His Son whom He gave up for us all, so that we could live eternally and that this very sadness we are experiencing would be temporary and not permanent. I pray He would open our eyes to see Him as good, in any and every circumstance. Even when our hearts are breaking, I pray He would help us in our humanity and rescue us from our short-sighted thinking. I pray every single time we let our minds wander to that dark and burdened place, that God would come quickly to our aid. I pray He would remind us of His love and how he slayed and defeated death once and for all- so that we, His prized and cherished possessions, would live with Him and all our believing family and friends, forever and ever and ever.

When I die, whether it be tomorrow or in a hundred years, I pray that my three boys, who are my living legacy, would see the world as it is- not their ultimate home. While they are here I pray Romans 12 over them- that they would not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of their minds. That then they will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. To love sincerely, hate what is evil and to cling to what is good. 10 I pray that they would be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above themselves. 11 I pray they would never be lacking in zeal, but keep their spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Lord, let them be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Help them to share with the Lord’s people who are in need and to practice hospitality. 14 Help them to bless those who persecute them; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Help them not to be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position and not be conceited. 17 Remind them not to repay anyone evil for evil…. and 18  if it is possible, as far as it depends on them, to live at peace with everyone. 19 Give them strength to not take revenge, but to leave room for God’s wrath… help them not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

I pray that they would earnestly pray for wisdom above success. That they would count their blessings and be ever humbled by Your abundant and extravagant love for them. Whether they live in luxury or poverty, I pray Your praise would continually be on their lips. I pray they would seek truth and honor above fortune and fame. May their God-given talents and gifts be used everyday for Your work for Your glory as long as they live. I pray for their perfect care, but if You see fit in Your perfect will and plan to take them early, I pray You would still my heart and keep me focused on eternity, where I’ll get to be with them again, along with all my precious loved ones. In the meantime, may everyday be full of life, love, laughter, peace, joy and all the fruit of the Spirit. May the person who You’ve made me to be be my greatest witness to the kind of gracious, adoring and absolutely incredible God You are, regardless of any circumstance I encounter. Help me to believe this difficult thing. When I want to doubt your goodness Lord, remind me of eternity!

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