Thursday, April 17, 2014

Firsts

As I got in the car and headed to church last Sunday morning I should have been nervous.  I had not really run through the sermon for that morning.  Among other things, I was really unsure how long it would take to get through it.  I had an outline, but much of the sermon was more conceptual than planned out.  I put preparing for Sunday off a little longer than normal -- which is really par for the course these days.  Still, I was neither uneasy nor excited ... I was just sort of numb.

I do not preach often on Sundays.  The last time I did was that terrible day.  It might be irrational, but the association between being in the pulpit and Jonathan's passing was for me unavoidable.  In fact, earlier in the week I began to question whether I would be able to make it through.  What would happen if the flood of emotion that has  ambushed me so many times in the last two months found me on Sunday?

I arrived at church and settled into my office and the feeling of numbness lingered.  In retrospect, I think the numbness was there to protect me.  If I couldn't or wouldn't feel anything, I didn't need to worry about the possibility of a meltdown.

At some point I went into the sanctuary to pray as the musicians and singers rehearsed -- which I commonly do whether I am speaking on Sunday or not.  It has become an important time of prayer for me, as I ask God  to be present with us and to help us as a staff to minister to our church family and guests.

I don't know exactly what it was -- perhaps the worship music or maybe even the prayer itself -- but as I walked through the sanctuary the flood of emotion that I had feared would come began to build.  I remember in that moment telling God that I was desperate for His presence and that if I was to make it through the morning it would have to be through His power.  I felt for just a moment that I was being asked to do the impossible.

I would find out later that Pam had her own set of fears for that day.  She was not worried necessarily about how the morning at church would go.  But she did tell me later that if anything had happened to anyone else in our family that day she had already planned to tell me that I would NEVER be preaching again.  I know, I know ... it is irrational to think that Jonathan's passing and my preaching that Sunday were in any way connected.  But, honestly, Pam was not alone -- that thought had crossed my mind as well.

I raise all of this because our family is now in a season of "firsts."  While nearly everyone else returned to their normal lives long ago (and that is not a criticism -- just a fact) virtually everything we do for the first time since Jonathan's passing requires that we travel through a sea of unpredictable emotions.  And, sometimes our unpredictable emotions are accompanied by unpredictable and irrational thoughts and concerns as well.

I think that most people can understand this when they think of "big" events like Christmas and Easter, birthdays and Father's Day or Mother's Day.  But those same emotions can overtake us in the "normal" course of life as well -- through the simple things.  They can come the first time we eat at that restaurant that we often went to as a family, or watch a movie that Jonathan particularly enjoyed, or maybe even see someone from the past who was particularly close to our son.  They can come when we happen on a picture that brings back memories or see a post by one of his friends on Facebook. 

Still, I continue to marvel at how God is getting us through -- and particularly the strength and peace He has given my wife through this time.  That is not to say that things are getting particularly easier or that our grief is already lessening.  And, I know that the road ahead remains unpredictable and uncertain.

But Pam and I continue to pray for God to bring us peace, and to keep our family safe and healthy.  We pray that the enemy would find no success in his efforts to exploit our emotions and thoughts.  We pray that we will continue to draw closer to God, and that our family would be drawn even closer to one another.  We pray that God would continue to give us the strength to be salt and light in this dark time.  And, increasingly, we are able to pray for others, and not be completely consumed by our own needs and grief.

And, I must say that God really seems to be answering those prayers.

Finally, I would appreciate your prayers for a friend from high school named John, and for his family.  One of his sons passed away recently following a tragic accident at college.


If you are interested, here is a link to that Palm Sunday service.  Someone told me that Jonathan was probably watching and was proud of me.  What a wonderful thought.

http://new.livestream.com/accounts/7449275/events/2918220

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Spring

It has been a little over a week since I last wrote anything on this blog, and for that I apologize.  While pain and joy both are often mothers of creativity, numbness seems to result largely in blank pages.  Or, put more concisely, I have simply had nothing to say in the last week.

I have resolved and then endeavored several times to get caught up on a number of projects that have mostly languished over the last two months.  Each time, however, I have lost focus -- managing to eek out only the most pressing or time sensitive tasks.  Real life in its present form is increasingly insisting on my return, but finding the will to move forward is far more difficult than I might have imagined.  There are few moments in any given day when Jonathan is not on the top of my mind.

As Pam and I sat together and talked this morning, one of us mentioned something that has been on both of our minds lately -- Spring.  Spring in Texas is always an odd mixture of life returning or emerging and unpredictable weather -- thunder storms, hail and the occasional tornado.  But, it is the "life returning and emerging" part that had captured our attention.

After over twenty years in Texas we are all familiar with the signs of Spring.  The grass slowly returns to green from the dormant brown of winter, leaves emerge on the trees and bunnies, lizards and other critters become normal sights again.  And then there are the incredible Texas wildflowers.

For both Pam and I, though, the reemergence and renewal of life this Spring is just another reminder -- like so many other things -- that our son is gone and that he is not coming back.  To see the world spring back to life without Jonathan in it evokes emotions that defy description.  Pam often uses the word "unfair" to describe the loss of our son.  But to me, "unfair" seems so singularly inadequate to express the gravity of our situation.  At the same time, no other word, nor even any number of words strung together, seems adequate.

Last night Pam, Dani and I went out to dinner, as we have done many times since Jonathan went home to be with the Lord.  It was a long wait, and I am trying to recover from what I suppose is the flu, so I was pretty worn out by the time we were seated.

As I looked around the crowded room I could not help but imagine the conversations that were taking place at other tables.  They were, no doubt, mostly focused on trivial matters -- maybe even entirely so.  It is interesting that even as Christians we allow the most trivial of things dictate our moods, thoughts and interactions with others.

It may be the trivial thing that makes us "happy" -- such as the latest Texas Rangers game or an episode of Downton Abbey.  It may be the thing that ruined our day and left us angry -- such as the rude comment from our boss or coworker or the person who stole our parking spot at the grocery store.  But the truth is that the wrong kinds of trivial things take up far too much of our time and emotional energy -- time and energy that would otherwise be spent loving God and loving others.

The other side of the coin, though, is that trivial things make up most of the substance of life.  This last week Pam posted numerous pictures of the family taken during our two trips to Germany in recent years.  Some of those pictures were of the many snowball fights that we had during those vacations.

One series of photographs in particular was taken while we were touring at Hohensalzburg Castle in Salzburg, Austria.  I am not sure that snowball fights were thought of favorably at the castle.  On the other hand, signs saying that such activities were prohibited were conspicuously absent.

At one point during the tour Jonathan went inside to use the public bathroom, and the rest of the family used the opportunity to quickly plan a snowball ambush.  Jonathan seldom came out on the losing end of such things, so this presented a rare and overdue opportunity.  Unfortunately, while the rest of the family armed ourselves and took strategic positions, other tourists became interested in our little ambush, and the gathering assembly tipped Jonathan off that something was amiss.  So, while he was unable to avoid the onslaught in its entirety, it was far less effective than our minds had imagined.

Was that moment in time trivial?  Surely.  But trivial is not always the same as unimportant.  Indeed, the most important moments in life are usually trivial in their nature.  Yes, it was just a snowball fight -- but one that brought our family closer together -- that stirred in each one of us our love for one another and our desire just to spend time together.  The question is not whether we will spend most of our time on trivial things -- we will.  The question is whether we will spend most of our time on trivial things that matter.

Along those lines, I want to leave you with this thought.  Pam and I have in the last couple of months been given a number of books written by people who claim to have had near death experiences -- where folks have been given at least a glimpse of heaven and lived to tell about it.  I don't know how you feel about near death experiences, but I approach them with some skepticism.  It is not that I discount them entirely -- to the contrary, I frequently find them to be thought provoking, fascinating and sometimes even quite credible.  Nevertheless, I think we are to be discerning about such things.

Having said that, one of the things that these authors commonly say is that in heaven there is an overwhelming sense of love.  Indeed, that is undoubtedly the most common and most poignant part of the experience.  It is a sense of love that they almost universally describe as, well, indescribable.  On the other hand, I have yet to read an account of heaven where Jesus wanted the person to return to the world with some theological clarification.  None of the writers describe Jesus saying, for example, "I brought you to heaven so you could go back and settle all the confusion about 'election and predestination.'"

I think there is a reason for that.  I just don't think Jesus is all that interested in most of our theological debates and conflicts.  I think He just wants us to learn how to love Him and to love other people.  You will have plenty of time in eternity to debate the great theological issues -- although I suspect that when you get to heaven you won't much care about most of that anymore.  Sorry, but in the scheme of things I think that most of those debates center on things that at the end of the day are trivial -- in a bad way.

Love God, Love People, Advance the Gospel