Posted in focus on faith

What does true love look like?

Tammy called in the middle of the night. She was hysterical. Her husband had abandoned her and the baby. I went over to her house and made tea. She wept as we talked and prayed. Just over her shoulder, on the mantle, was a gilt-framed portrait of the couple on their wedding day. They were astonishingly beautiful – like celebrities. Four years later, Tammy was still gorgeous even though she had gained some weight. When I asked her why her husband had left her, through her tears she repeated some of his last words to her: “You don’t look like you did when I married you.”

The night Tammy told me her husband’s shallow, spiteful comment, my thoughts immediately flew to another couple I know. A couple whose marriage, now more than 25 years old, stands as a beautiful example of undying love.

Kyle and Cheryl started dating in high school. Their first date was when Kyle asked Cheryl to be his grad escort. Four years younger than him, this was Cheryl’s first date. Kyle’s too. She was the only girl he had ever been interested in. She finished high school while Kyle was away at college. One year after she graduated, they celebrated a summer wedding. (Excerpt From Faking it to Finding Grace)

Connie, Caroline and Lisa, three (of seven) sisters, sharing some laughs in March 2007

The story of Kyle and Cheryl is really the story of Kevin and Caroline. Caroline was my little sister.

[Kevin] joined [Caroline’s] father in business in their hometown and they bought a house next door to Caroline’s parents. They took to married life like it was second nature. Caroline worked [at the bank] and kept up with her old friends. Kevin played ball and hockey with the men’s teams. Together they camped and fished, went to movies and ate Chinese food at their favorite café. One year later, in the middle of the night, their future changed forever when Caroline had a grand mal seizure.

The tests began and the diagnosis came in. Caroline had a brain tumor. It was inoperable. The specialist told Kevin that Caroline had between two and five years to live. But he added, “I have one patient with a tumor like Caroline’s. She’s still here. It’s been 20 years.” Kevin grasped that hope like a straw and held it.

The doctors recommended surgery, then radiation and chemotherapy, as much as she could stand. Twice, Caroline’s hair fell out and returned. The first time it came back curly. The second time, it came back wispy and thin. Caroline was taking so many drugs to control her ongoing seizures that Kevin had to keep track of them for her. It was all so confusing and very frightening.

The years began to roll by. Caroline stayed home and Kevin arranged his work schedule so he was home for lunch every day. Caroline always made his lunch – a tuna sandwich – by herself. It took her 30 minutes. After they ate, they played a hand or two of Rummy before Kevin went back to work. He made supper when he got home around five. They ate together, watched their favorite television shows and went to bed early.

And the years passed. Eventually, Kevin stopped playing sports and fishing as it got harder and harder for Caroline to leave the house. He taught her how to use the computer and she spent many happy hours playing Solitaire and other simple games. He built her a tray on which to do puzzles and she did hundreds of them. Kevin did all the shopping, even for his wife’s clothes. Years later it was discovered that Caroline’s cancer was completely gone. However the residual scar tissue in her brain required continued seizure-control drugs. These drugs changed her physically, emotionally, and behaviorally. She became forgetful and repeated herself. She had a hard time understanding plots in movies and books. She seldom cried but sometimes laughed inappropriately. She forgot the names of her nieces and nephews. And everything she did was at a snail’s pace.  

After 23 years, Kevin had to put Caroline in the local nursing home when she fell and broke her hip. It was an excruciating decision. She did not want to go but he could no longer care for her at home. He felt like a traitor but he had no choice. The drugs had swollen her body to twice its normal size and she needed the help of mechanical lifts and professional caregivers. Over the next few months Caroline almost slipped away. Kevin thought he was losing her; he was despondent. She could not speak or move, was fed by tubes, and barely recognized him or her family. Every spare minute he had, Kevin was at her side. Slowly she began to rally as her new home became more familiar.

A year later, she was up and around in a wheelchair, joking with the nurses and teasing the staff. She became the classic “teacher’s pet” of the nursing home. Kevin no longer had to spoon-feed her so they ate all their meals together in the dining hall with the other residents. After they ate, Kevin pushed Caroline back to her room or to the common room if she had visitors. Seldom sitting, Kevin hovered near her chair. He would brush her wispy hair, gently caress her arms and every few minutes, kiss her somewhere on her face. Always laughing at her silly comments – some the result of drug-induced confusion, some truly funny quips – Kevin brought sunshine into her world. Careful always to guard her dignity, he answered her every question, no matter how often repeated or how simplistic, with kind clarity and a smile. Caroline knows she is loved. And she is grateful.

Kevin is one of my heroes. He is the best example I know “with skin on” of God’s undying love. Caroline isn’t the girl he married if you compare photos. But she’s every bit the person he fell in love with on the inside. And he has never once forsaken his promise to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health. As God promised the Children of Israel, and us, the children of the new covenant, through His prophet Jeremiah: I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued to extend faithful love to you (Jeremiah 31:3).

Undying love. It is the kind of love that looks past our outward self and sees our inner beauty. Undying love does not abandon us in our wildernesses. (end excerpt)

Caroline took her last breath almost two years ago, held by Kevin and Chelene (their miracle child, now grown and married with two children of her own). She was loved with an undying love.

True love not only looks different, it sees us differently than we see ourselves. Jesus promises us He will love and cherish us, in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, and not just “until death us do part” but beyond the grave. Caroline is being held and caressed in the arms of Jesus now. Kevin did a good job of preparing her.

If you have drifted away from God, lost touch with God, feel abandoned by God, are disappointed in God, or just royally ticked off at God please think about this love story. It is both true (factual) and real (possible) and it is a beautiful picture of God’s true love, His undying love, for you.

Posted in focus on faith

12 Tips for the Bride/Groom (and the rest of us!)

high-society-bride-cartoonThis advice to the bride to be, given in a hurry and  “off the top of” Terry Osgood’s incredibly level head was just too good to leave in a private wedding message. With permission from the writer, a brilliant lawyer and longtime friend, here are 12 tips suitable for framing! 

As hard as it may seem to believe now, the days will come when you have serious disagreements. My advice relates to how to weather those times. 

[1] Always keep in mind the big picture. This includes your faith in the Lord, of course, but also remember that you are in this marriage for the long haul, and that your Beloved loves you. If s/he did something that hurt you, remember that s/he is committed to spend the rest of his/her life with you. When you are feeling particularly sorry for yourself, watch your wedding vows on DVD and listen to those words and the prayers from your wedding day.

[2] Especially when you disagree on an ISSUE, remember to affirm your partner. That is, separate the issue from your relationship. Issues come and go (thankfully), but your relationship does not.

[3] Always assume the best of your partner. If there are two (or more) ways that something can be interpreted, assume your spouse meant the best one.

[4] Eliminate sarcasm from your life — it serves no good purpose.

[5] Commit to communicate. This includes talking to each other, but it also includes listening, praying, and reflecting.

[6] Do not avoid difficult conversations — learn how to bring up delicate subjects early in your marriage. Difficult issues do not go away and they do not get easier.

[7] Do not assume that your partner handles conflict in the same way you do. If one partner needs to withdraw to “process” the other partner may see this as abandonment or the “silent treatment,” If you need to withdraw, explain what you are doing and why. If you need to talk, explain why this is important.

[8] Do not assume that your partner handles illness the same way you do. Some want to be pampered; some want to be left alone. Some don’t know what they want.

[9] Be sensitive to timing. Avoid bringing up difficult issues at stressful times.

[10] Remember that you will be modeling conflict resolution skills for your children.

[11] Let the small stuff go. Not every disagreement matters. See [1] above.

[12] You know that “never let the sun go down on your anger” verse in Ephesians? I misread that verse for about 40 years. (I thought it meant that one had to resolve every dispute with a partner before one could rest at night, so I made it my mission to convince my partner of my position before we could sleep.) I am now convinced that it means that you are not supposed to hold on to your own anger when you lay down. In other words, commit your partner and your dispute to the Lord before you go to sleep. If the dispute is not resolved, then give it to the Lord to worry about while you sleep. It amazes me how much better this approach works than my “stay up all night” approach.

Posted in focus on faith

The Nightmare of Aleppo: an eyewitness account

A Free Syrian Army fighter in AleppoThe account below, translated from Arabic, is from a Christian pastor who stayed to help his community in Aleppo. It is written from Beirut, where he has now fled.

Even though he has found refuge from the war he cannot find relief from the “nightmare” he experienced in his homeland.

He wrote: 2-Sept-13 ~ Beirut
Today I concluded my 3rd week outside of Aleppo…
And the nightmare of Aleppo — the stones, the friends, the relatives, the church, chase me in my travelling, in my sitting, in my dinner & my lunch… sometimes I feel my soul collapsing on me… in my waking, my alertness, my activity, in every meal it is close to me. It robs the energy of my mind, as I survey the variety of food in front of me– the variety that’s been missing from Aleppo!  And if this nightmare leaves me for a few minutes of quietness, i drown in the calculation of how many weeks, possibly months, have passed since the yogurt (or the chicken) has been extinct from the city, or how long has passed since we’ve seen this kind of food.
One day a friend invited me to eat a meal with him in a restaurant. i was perplexed– confusion & extreme unrest– to the strangeness of the place, to the variety of food, to the abundance of meat… and the feeling of dryness came over me, great dryness– I tried to bring these two together, but there is a gap between me & those I left in Aleppo.
As to the affect of sounds (real sounds) of battles, of artillery, of missiles, it appears as if that’s been carved inside me in such a way that will never be erased. So in Beirut, how strange it is, how often they play with fireworks– possibly every night. Until I realized these sounds were nothing but fireworks– a storm hit my heart with enough force to wet my brow with sweat!
And one day, I was crossing under a big bridge– the sound attacked my ears and quickly entered my heart like a storm– the sound resembled the rocket launcher as it starts spitting its fire– until I realized the situation was nothing more than cars going over the bridge, with their wheels hitting the different gaps in the cement! …I was in this daze for long enough for my friend to realize & to answer my urgent question– by telling me: There is no rocket launcher, don’t be afraid man! Don’t be afraid!
The height of my activity here – and maybe my only one – when I went with my family during these weeks to spend one day in the scouts camp — and the camp was by the seashore. The atmosphere was nice from all aspects: the children, the beautiful activities they were undertaking, the tent erected on the seashore, the sand, the joy of the people, add to that restful balanced weather. But inside me, it was stormy, noisy & tiring! …with me, the nightmare of Aleppo was traveling to this place!
And how much I walked on the sand, pacing back & forth, thinking inside me of Aleppo– 
the stones, the people, the relatives, the brothers, the sisters, the church; and added to this inside me, on that day came the new interruption of the telephone lines and internet!   What will they do?  Is there food?  Is there electricity?
Is it natural for me to enjoy here while they are in the big prison, Aleppo? The joy of the people around me — is it true? Or is it fake?  In the pit of my thoughts & feelings, in trying to measure the magnitude of the suffering of my brothers there… do I laugh their laughter? Do I play their games? Do I enjoy their entertainment?  
The reality: it was expected of me to stay till midnight — till the scouts finished their camp around the campfire; but I could not… I had to leave right after lunch!
In these past 3 weeks, I did not need photos or a list of names or a news item to remind me of Aleppo and who’s there. Aleppo sits beside me in my every move, my every day, 
even in writing these lines.
The roads to Aleppo continue to be closed to travellers, and that means more days, possibly weeks… I will live in the company of this nightmare! And how do I endure its pressure on me!
Spiritual wilderness is often a result of suffering, grief and loss. This pastor’s nightmare wrenches my heart. It’s easy for us to disregard the suffering of people in faraway places — out of sight, out of mind. It’s easy to blame them for their own suffering — why can’t they solve their tribal differences peacefully? But the reality is they are our brothers and sisters and the conflicts date back hundreds of years and are complex. As Christians, our role is not to judge, it is to love and to do whatever we can to bring the hope of Christ to the hurting.
Please pray. If you can give to their relief, the organization Gerry and I give to is Canadian Global Response (a partner with the Canadian National Baptist Convention). The founder of CGR was born and raised in Syria and this cause is close to his heart. All money given goes directly to help Syrian people.
Posted in need a laugh?

God is Wuv

A male interviewer, talking with young children, asked one little chap,

“Can you see God?”

branch heart seen on river bank near Kaslo B.C.; photo by Dave Wiggins

Camera shot drops down to catch his brow furrowed in concentration, his gaze upon the tips of his fingers, tapping earnestly together as he thought out his reply – “No.”

“Why can’t you see God?”

“Because God is wuv and you can’t see wuv.”

God is love.

No one has seen God at any time.

First Epistle of John 48, 12

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. John 3:16