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The Last Year - Physically, Emotionally, and Spiritually

365 days ago today, I went through the worst physical pain of my life.  It was a Tuesday afternoon.  Out of the blue, with no warning, I had an attack of acute colonic diverticulitis along with an abscess and perforation in the colon.  As I was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, I experienced such pain I thought I would die.  I nearly did.  I recall very little about the first few days in the hospital.  I later learned that the doctors administered major antibiotics in an attempt to fight off my fever and to keep the infection from reaching my blood stream.  I spent 9 days in the hospital, and by God's grace, I lived through the ordeal.  After another flare-up of diverticulitis 3 months later, the doctor recommended colon re-section surgery.  The surgery occurred 4 months after the initial episode and my recovery was complete earlier this year.

I didn't plan for any of this to happen.  I didn't want any of this to happen.  The doctors have assured me that there is nothing I could have done to keep any of this from happening.  They don't know what caused it.  Yet, it was a consuming physical battle that took quite a toll on my aging body.  I don't think I can expect to operate at the pace I did before.  It is a whole new life season.

In addition to the physical ordeal, I've experienced a roller coaster of emotions over the past year.  It's frightening to experience pain that could take your life.  Additionally, it's worrisome to wonder if you are ever going to feel OK again.  I've had some amazing emotional highs as I've experienced relief from pain and healing after surgery.  But, I've also had some deep lows.  I'll spare the details but at the same time I was going through my physical challenges, major decisions were made regarding my role at the church where I pastored for 32 years.  It was one thing to deal with what was happening physically.  But I also struggled with what was happening regarding my calling to shepherd the flock entrusted to my care.  Through tears and deep anguish of soul I tried to cope with all that was happening around me.  Some days, I handled it well.  Other days, it handled me.  My body wasn't the only thing that needed healing.  So did my heart.

The combination of the physical and emotional challenges led to spiritual challenges as well.  As I wrote on my blog earlier, I was never mad at God.  But I wondered what He was doing.  I also wondered what His people were doing.  As a shepherd of souls for so long, my soul needed shepherding.  Yet, it was elusive.  Thank God, I have a deeply devoted and spiritually vibrant wife who kept pointing me back to the Word and prayer.  Good friends did the same.  Yet, as we cried out to God, there were long periods of silence.  You know how that is.  There's just a breath between the experience of God's silence and the assumption of His absence.  I confess that it was difficult to pray and read the Bible, but God did break in through music.  We listened to the song - "I've Been Through Enough to Know He's Enough" - hundreds of times.  Same for the song, "He is Here."  I want to be clear.  I know God was present with us through everything.  However, I struggled to wait and trust that He was going to make something good out of all of this.  I know He will.  I just can't see it yet.

It's been quite a year...physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  Like all of you, I'm still growing, learning, and waiting on God.  I'm grateful for all that I've learned in the past year. I'd like to thank some people on this one year anniversary.

1) Almighty God - Thank you for sparing my life and for healing me.  Thank you for reminding me that my life is completely in your hands.  You have all my days numbered!

2) My dear wife, Jan - Thank you honey, for standing at my side, and my bedside, every day during the past year (and the past 44).  You are the great wife I prayed for so long ago.

3) Family - Throughout the last year I've said this over and over - "Friends are great but family is best!"  I can't imagine what the last year would have been like without you.

4) Friends - God blessed us with a tremendous community of friends within FBC and also outside of the church.  Thanks to social media and word of mouth, we have experienced love and support from thousands we have known and loved through the years.  Your prayers and kindnesses carried us through.

I have no idea what is ahead in the next year.  I've adopted a couple of Twitter hashtags to express my hope for this next chapter in my life...physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  Here they are: #NotDoneYet #NotHomeYet


Home

After 24 days in Michigan it feels amazing to be home.  My own bed.  My own shower.  My own towels.  My own car.  My own drawers, closets, and easy chair.  It was wonderful to be in Michigan to care for Jan's mom, to visit our sisters, and to watch sunsets over Lake Michigan.  But, there's no place like home. (This would be a good place for an "amen!")

Being away from home can be refreshing and exciting.  It's fun to see different places, have different experiences, and eat in different restaurants.  Travel can be just what the doctor ordered.  But after a certain period of time, I find myself longing to get home.  I think that is one of the benefits of travel - it makes you long for home.  Home is where you feel safe, comfortable, and at ease.  You don't have to be up or get ready for anything...you just get to be home.

I've been relishing being home all day today, and then out of the blue it struck me that I'm actually not home yet.  Yep, here comes the sermonette!  The great theologian Carrie Underwood refers to this as our "Temporary Home."  There's a praise song with this lyric - "All I know is that I'm not home yet."  The old Gospel song put it this way - "This world is not my home, I'm just a passin' through."  For the Christian, our earthly homes are temporary dwellings.  This is not our final home.  In many ways, we're just camping here.

My mind flooded with thoughts about what we call our "heavenly home" today.  Fresh feelings of being home in Colorado made me ponder some things.  First, I thought about the fact that in John 17:24, Jesus prays to His Father and asks that those who God has given Him may be "with Him where He is."  That sounds like the final home of each Christian - with Jesus, wherever He is.  We normally think heaven.  But heaven is such a difficult concept to grasp.  Most people have no idea or wrong ideas about what heaven is going to be like.  It's not harps and angel wings, I'm pretty sure.  But what is our final home going to be like?  What will it be like to be "finally home," as the songwriter put it?

I have some thoughts:

1) Being in our heavenly home will feel better than any experience we've every had.  I kept saying last night, "It's so good to be home."  But in heaven, we will say it in the way God intended when we were created - "It feels so good to be home."  It will be as C.S. Lewis puts it, "It feels like the place I was made for."  We will be more comfortable, more at ease, safer, and more relaxed than we have ever been before.  No fear.  No anxiety.  No pain.  No sickness.  No worry.  No politics.  Our bodies will be glorified, so that will play into it as well.  But I still think there will be a visceral human experience when we get to heaven that makes us wonder why anything else could ever have felt like home to us.  This is it!  I'm finally home.

2) Being in our heavenly home we will be consumed by the presence of Jesus.  He prays for it in John 17.  Jesus wants us with Him.  All of us have experienced rejection of people who don't want us, or don't want us any more.  In some cases, that happened to you recently. We navigate relationships cautiously wondering if people are going to turn on us or betray us.  Maybe we thought people wanted us...but eventually the truth comes out - they don't.  That hurts.  But try to wrap your brain around this concept - Jesus wants you with Him. In our final home, we will be with the One who died to save us and who loved us with a love unlike anything we've ever experienced from any other being.  I imagine a huge sign on the gate of heaven - WELCOME HOME - WE WANT YOU HERE!  Signed by God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  That's home!

3) Being in our heavenly home will feel like a gift all the time!  One, because it is a gift.  Two, because we know that we don't deserve to live like this.  Three, because we never have had, nor will we ever have anything better - we will know that!  Jan and I have been blessed with our home.  She actually thanks God and me nearly every day for making it possible to live in our home.  We both feel graced by God to live in such a comfortable and beautiful place.  But in heaven, we won't have to dust, vacuum, wash windows, stain decks, paint rooms, scrub bathrooms, do laundry, or mow the lawn.  Talk about worry-free living!  

4) Being in our heavenly home will make what we did for the Lord here seem worth every effort.  Yes, I'm thinking of the hymn, "It Will Be Worth It All When We See Jesus."  We will not regret serving God, or giving to God, or witnessing about our faith, or reading the Bible, or praying, or serving others.  If anything, we will wish we did more.  I imagine waves of emotion when I'm living in heaven when I see someone who came to Christ through our ministry.  Or someone whose marriage was restored. Or a missionary who we supported.  Home will feel good because we will be rewarded for our deeds...and then, be given the opportunity to lay our crowns at the feet of Jesus.

5) Being in our heavenly home will be a blessing because we will be there with our believing family.  I mean our bothers and sisters of faith.  All of us who shared a common commitment to faith in Jesus will unite in perfect unity.  We'll be changed in a moment, and we will be united for eternity.  Our heavenly home will be a place where everyone knows our name.  We'll all get along.  There will be no tension in relationships.  We will relate perfectly as God intended before the fall.  None of us knows what that is like.  But just the idea of it sounds fantastic.  There will be so much joy, we will probably feel like singing.  Songs like "Worthy is the Lamb," will echo through the streets when we finally get home.

I admit it.  Right now I am very glad to be home in Colorado.  But I look forward to my final home.  I'm not there yet, but I'm 100% sure that it's going to be inexpressibly better than Colorado.


Honor Your Father and Mother

I've always been intrigued by the 5th Commandment - " Honor your father and your mother that your days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee." (KJV) It is repeated in Ephesians 6:2 -3 - "Honor your father and mother - which is the first commandment with a promise; that it may go well with you and you will live a long life on earth." There seems to be a clear link between honoring parents and long life.  Fascinating! The culture seems to have ignored this promise as few seem willing to make an effort to care for aging parents.

This is fresh in my mind because for the past two weeks Jan and I have been in Michigan spending time with Jan's 89 year old mother, Margie.  She fell while in Boston for a granddaughter's wedding and broke her hip.  She didn't make it to the wedding as her hip repair surgery was the same day as the wedding.  Needless to say this was a huge disappointment for her and for the whole family.  We all tried to divide our time between the hospital and the wedding ceremony.

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After the wedding was wrapped up, we were challenged to find a rehab center in Boston, as we were all from out of state.  Jan's sister and husband, and Margie, are from Michigan.  And of course, we are from Colorado.  Some day I will tell you how the Lord directed us to the Leonard Florence Center for Living in Chelsea, MA.  It is an internationally known center that specializes in aggressive rehab and innovative elder care.  After a couple of weeks there, Margie made such great progress, she was transported to a facility here in Michigan, where we have been for the past two weeks.

Jan and I really wanted to be here to assist with her Mom's transition from independent living to living in an assisted living facility.  Why?  To honor her.  I've been thinking about "honor" every day for the past two weeks.  As I walk down the hallways and see all the residents, most using walkers or wheelchairs, I have been moved to recognize the dignity of these dear aged people who never imagined their lives would take a turn like this.  I'm sure they all wanted to live independently as long as they  could.  But now, they are dependent and tied to this facility.  Every day, I ponder - "How do I honor them?"  I want to honor Jan's Mom first and foremost, but I also want to honor these lonely struggling elderly souls.  I have some preliminary ideas about what honoring these dear people looks like.  Here are some thoughts about what honoring your father and mother looks like at a minimum:

1. TIME

Giving time to people sends a message - "you matter to me!" In the two weeks we have been here, we have tried to spend as much time as possible with Margie.  She is fun to be around and has a very positive attitude, so we look forward to every day.  But several residents never seem to have visitors.  I don't know their schedules, but every time I see one of them sitting alone in a wheel chair in the lobby or hallway, I get a little choked up.  They look so lonely.  Yes, they eat in a dining room at tables with four to a table, but some sit alone.  This breaks my heart.  

Tonight, a trio from a local church came to sing for the residents and the number one thought I had was, "Thanks for taking to time to show these dear ones that you care."  By spending time with them.  They were only here for 30 minutes, but the joy they brought was priceless.  Main gift they gave?  TIME! I think you get my point. 

2. TALK

It's tempting to walk by people without saying anything as I walk into the facility at various time of the day.  I've been reminded that a simple "hello" can be a gift.  By looking at a person and greeting them, you honor them.  Of course, we talk to Jan's Mom.  She isn't a shy person!  She talks to us, too! But, ignoring people in the hallway or just walking by sends a message - "I don't have time for you."  We have had some very enlightening conversations with several dear people here.  I've learned about a mother whose daughter died of cancer, a farm wife who lived on a beautiful farm in Marshall, a doctor of optometry who got her degreee when she went back to college when she was 48, a woman whose son is a local sheriff, and we actually met the mayor's mother during a visit when the mayor accompanied her to visit Margie.  People matter.  Communication is a two way street.  Ask a question around here and it isn't unusual to get a long answer.  Today, I told a woman wearing a pink striped shirt and pink slacks that she looked good in pink.  She made it clear to me that she was sure it was orange!  At least we talked!

3. TOUCH

This one caught me a little off guard.  Think about it.  Who touches these dear souls?  Nursing assistants who bathe and care for them, of course...it's their job.  But who shakes a hand, gives a gentle hug, or pats a person on the back.  I haven't asked anyone, but I am quite sure that one of the great losses these people feel is the loss of gentle, kind, and appropriate touch.  Some of you have read Gary Chapman's "love languages" book, and you probably recall that for some people the main love language is "meaningful touch."  Like babies who are not picked up in orphanages fail to thrive, I believe elderly people need to experience being gently touched.  Jan excels at this.  I love watching her spread love and light around here.

4. TASKS

Elderly people need help with the most simply tasks.  At least, the tasks seem simple to us.  Get a glass of water, hang a picture, get a tissue, empty a trash can, make a bed, open a bed, do some laundry, get the mail, replace a light bulb, hang a calendar, open a bag of popcorn, cook a meal, and on and on it goes.  We take for granted the simplest of tasks, but for these dear people, the tasks can seem overwhelming.  Once again, it doesn't take much to help.  It may seem so basic to us.  But you can give support and care by being willing to help.  Realize that you were once in a situation where you needed help with pretty much everything...when you were born!  Remember?  Guess who did all of that for you?  The same person who needs a little help from you now.  Think about it this way - what a privilege to honor your father or mother by helping them in their time of need.  It's fulfilling, and even more importantly, it's biblical.  

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We love our dear Margie Salena Nicholson! More than anything, we want to honor her and bless her for all the years she has been a blessing to us.  I want to honor her for providing me with such an amazing wife.  But so much more, we both want to honor her because in doing so, we honor the Lord.

I'm not 100% certain about the "length of days" part of the promise, but I like the mystery in it.  Who knows how healthy it is for us to honor our parents and the elderly?  It's not only good for them, it's apparently good for us.  I close with a challenge - if you are slipping in the "honoring your parents" category, make a commitment to renew your passion to honor them.  If you're in the middle of an "honoring parents season," stick with it...you will be rewarded.  And if you need to apologize for failure to honor, take the first step and let God surprise you with His blessing.  Start with time, talks, touch and tasks...and start today!