The Math Doesn’t Add Up

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Math is orderly and predictable in how it describes complex circumstances. I like math! Math has always been relatively easy for me. This explains why I became an engineer, married an engineer, and have two sons who chose math-related careers (engineering and actuarial science.)

Only one math class tripped me up in college: differential equations. I still managed to pull off an “A,” but I worked harder than I ever had to in a math class. Now that I am older and long since removed from my college days, I keep coming across math that causes me to stumble. The issue is not the application of differential equations as I haven’t used it since that class! The heart of my problem is that the math doesn’t add up: plus one minus one does not equal zero. Zero implies neutrality. You are not in the black or in the red as the plusses and minuses even out.

The year that my brother-in-law died at 52 years old is the same year that the first great-grandchild was born. We still had the same number of people at family get-togethers, but everything had changed. Of course, there was the surplus of joy in having a little one around again. The many pictures of four generations together are evidence of the new life in our family.  However, there is also a void that the number zero does not encompass. It is a gap in our hearts and a missing smile in pictures of the new family memories we make.

I see the same math in the cancer ministry I lead. A survivor succumbs to cancer and I enroll another survivor just starting their cancer journey. Our numbers stay the same, but the math doesn’t do justice for the emotional fall-out. Math doesn’t capture the hurt that zero brings. We acutely feel the loss through a survivor’s death and the pain that gain brings when another person is diagnosed with cancer.

Those are the times that textbook math doesn’t add up for me. I am reminded that these moments are when my education really begins. God opens my eyes to His math based on His perfection. Zero doesn’t exist when I trust in the completeness of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. God fills voids with ever-increasing gains of the Holy Spirit inside of me. The negative is turned into a positive by God’s supernatural touch.

God’s math doesn’t have to make sense on paper for God prefers to permanently write it on our hearts. As we embrace His new math, God reveals wisdom and reassures with mercy. Finally, a math education that I can actually apply to my life!

Philippians 3:8

What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.

Galatians 5:6

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

 

 

 

Sharing Burdens One Card At A Time

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Death leaves tangible voids in life. It hurts to see others hurt. We long to keep the tears from falling, but it doesn’t work. The grief of loss overwhelms and we join in with the tears. We use euphemisms to convince ourselves and others. “Time heals everything.” “It gets easier with time.” We know it is a lie as the pain still feels raw and grief erupts from deep inside.

We feel helpless so we pray. We feel powerless, so we pray some more. We want to comfort in the moment. We listen with hugs and empathize with silence. Words would betray us, if we think we can truly understand the intensity of their loss. We feel inadequate and long to do more, to just do something. But what?

At first it stirred in my heart and later was confirmed with the young widow. It was the comfort I could extend that perfectly suited my personality. I committed to sending a card once a week for a year. I have two more cards to send out as we are almost to the one year anniversary of her husband’s death.

The cards are not meant to be a reminder of her loss. Instead, the cards are a reminder that I remember her loss, I am thinking of her, I prayed for her, and I love her. Some cards were long as one would expect from a writer, others were one-sentence short, some funny, and others simply sweet. God answered my prayers and used these cards at just the right time in the widow’s week. Her burdens were shared one card at a time.

My sister-in-law, and really our entire family, will make it through the year. Sending cards helped me to work through my own grief, one card at a time. The gift of comfort I could share was a box full of love expressed through those cards. God’s gift will always be the comfort that fills the voids of our lives. His joy and His hope carries our burdens and ushers in our healing.

 

Proverbs 14:13

Even in laughter the heart may ache, and joy may end in grief.

 

Psalm 56:8

Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll—are they not in your record?

 

 

I Hope Everyone Has An Uncle Cliff!

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I hope everyone has an “Uncle Cliff.” My Uncle Cliff is 99 years old and a storyteller. His memory is still sharp and he can recall experiences from World War II to current baseball statistics. Every time we visit him, I am reminded that he has more stories we need to hear.

I am thankful that he has recorded over 158 stories in a binder that he keeps close to his side. The stories are pulled out to bless visitors and I love to read Uncle Cliff’s stories out loud to him. I even shared two of Uncle Cliff’s stories with our younger son when he graduated from college. The stories warned that a “young engineer’s” degree doesn’t mean much if he doesn’t care about the people he supervises. Of course, Uncle Cliff said it much better than I ever could have: life experiences were interspersed with humor to make the lessons stick.

Since we live out-of-state, we only see Uncle Cliff twice in a good year. What always touches my heart is that Uncle Cliff remembers our stories. The first thing Uncle Cliff does is to grasp my hand and ask, “How many years has it been now?” He always knows the answer and then follows up with, “How are you doing?” Uncle Cliff never stopped celebrating the fact that I am a cancer survivor.

I like to think that as we held each other’s hands tightly, strength was flowing between us: the wiser to the younger and the younger to the older. In reality, it was Uncle Cliff’s strength of spirit that infused me. I tend to think Uncle Cliff will be with us forever. We don’t want to let go of a man that can still captivate us with his words.

But Uncle Cliff is not doing well. His body is worn out. At age 99 with failing health, I know there aren’t many stories left in him. I am comforted that his last story will be his very best story: the glory of heaven. Someday, our stories will merge and become one for all of eternity. Through faith in Jesus Christ, our lives have the same ending. Only God could write such a beautiful story!

Prologue: This post was written after we visited Uncle Cliff for the last time. He experienced heaven’s story firsthand in late October.

 

John 17:24

Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

 

1 Corinthians 2:9

However, it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”

 

 

When Do You Stop Praying for Physical Healing?

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When do you stop praying for physical healing?

My gut reaction is never. My faith response is to never ever give up on God who can deliver the unexpected and last minute healing. For our God is always hopeful, always powerful and always merciful. God’s heart is for healing!

In the past, I have been asked to pray for the peaceful passing of others’ loved ones that suffered too long in the body. I politely declined to pray in that manner. But twice now, for close family members, I have asked God to give my loved ones the healing found only in heaven.

I have thought long and hard about my answer to that question, “When do you stop praying for physical healing?” It was a gradual and emotional process that carried me from the denial of death to the acceptance of God’s healing redefined.

There were signs along the way. The doctor shared, “Depending on your faith, she is already gone.” The nurse remarked, “Sometimes, it doesn’t matter what (end-of-life) decisions you make, the decision has already been made.” The pastor prayed, “Any decision made in love is the right decision.”

Your heart screams “NO!” as God pulls you closer to Him. Without words, God reassures your spirit that He has “got this.” Am I willing to trust God for everything in life and for everything in death?

I knew when it was time to stop praying for the physical healing. It was the moment I let go of my loved one and asked God to fill my mouth with praises for Him. It started out with just drops of praises that turned into a trickle. God was present in the midst of doctors, nurses, monitors and tubes. Family was huddled together around the hospital bed keeping watch. We could sense that the physical pain of our loved one was finally easing as life ebbed before our eyes.

I know that time and hindsight will bring the rush of praises, but in the moment it is difficult to muster. Letting go of my expectation for physical healing didn’t make death any easier. But it did help me to keep moving forward in God: one baby step at a time and one praise at a time.

 

Psalm 34:1

I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.

 

Daniel 3:16-18

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

The Last Picture

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This is the last photograph of my mom and me together before she died in March of 2013.  It is not my favorite picture from that visit.  My mom’s spontaneous laugh was captured in a different picture.  I would have picked that one, but I can hear my mom’s disapproval.  Her expression was more laugh and less smile and she would not have liked it as well.

But that wasn’t the last picture.  I spent time with my mom one month before her death.  Much to my chagrin, I realized I had forgotten my camera when I was halfway into the six hour trip to visit her.  I wouldn’t have wanted that time to be my last picture.  She was unsteady on her feet and she had a difficult time speaking.

But that wasn’t the last picture.  As family surrounded my mom in the hospital room, there was another picture etched in my mind.  My mom laid in the bed unresponsive except for the involuntary function of breathing, until even that became voluntary.  I watched my mom take her last breath.

But that isn’t the last picture. The last picture is the one I carry in my heart through my mom’s faith and mine in Jesus Christ. This picture of eternity in heaven is fuzzy with my human eyes, but I imagine my mom praising God and dancing on streets of gold. This last picture is my very favorite for I can clearly see my mom’s best smile ever.

1 Peter 1:3-4

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you,

Psalm 116:15

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.