I Didn’t Get to Say Goodbye

“Everyone hug your parents and tell them you love them. My heart was shattered into a million pieces tonight. Not sure how I’ll ever be whole again! I just want to wake up from this horrible nightmare.”

Words from another daughter who lost her mother totally unexpectedly. Without warning.

It’s never easy. Even when we’re expecting it, it’s terribly hard.

When it’s unexpected, it’s even harder. And when it’s your last surviving parent, that’s far worse. Because you’ve joined the adult orphan society, and you hadn’t even requested membership.

In the past eight months I’ve had two friends who lost their mothers unexpectedly. One actually found her mother dead when she went to pick her up for church. The other received the news just yesterday from one of her mom’s friends who’d found her at home on the floor, after not being able to reach her for a day or so.

The unexpected death of a parent, especially a mother, is traumatic. A thousand thoughts go thru your mind at the same time. What you should’ve done, how you should’ve been there and stopped it (which you couldn’t have), wondering how you’ll get thru the next hour, the next few days. The rest of your life….

You want to call her and talk to her, hear her voice again. You want to hug her again, and feel her hugging you back. And you want to wake up tomorrow morning and find out it was all a horrible dream. In fact, when you wake up the next morning, for just a few seconds you’ve forgotten, and everything’s fine.

Then you remember it isn’t fine. And won’t be again for quite a long time. The darkness comes over you, overwhelms you, and there’s no relief. You don’t know where to turn to make it better, because you can’t.

But you need your time to grieve. Time to be inconsolably sad. Time to take out all of the memories in your heart and your head and replay them. Because they’re suddenly all you have left of her. There’s an empty feeling of despair you can’t stop, and don’t think will ever go away.

But it will.

You will gradually, slowly, recover. Everyone recovers in their own time. In their own way. There’s no formula for it. There’s no way to stop the pain, because with loving someone that deeply, there comes that deep pain of loss.

We daughters experience it so strongly when our mothers leave us, whether expected or not. We were part of them, living inside of them, for nine months. And when they leave us, a part of us goes with them.

To my friend, I can only offer my heartfelt sorrow as I hear your sobs, your cries, your heartache. I can offer you a shoulder to cry on, and an ear to listen to your grief. I can offer my own stories of survival after that first devastating news sinks in.

I can offer my prayers and I can assure you that you will survive. Even though you don’t think you will right now.

“Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

But my friend, the night is long, and the morning seems to take forever to get here. The night in this case lasts far longer than the 8-10 hours we’re used to. It can last for months.

But when that morning finally starts to appear, with that first hint of pinkish light, you slowly begin to heal. Your tears have all been caught and saved, and the Lord begins to pour then back over you as a refreshing shower of his grace and love. A renewal you need so badly.

My friend, I can’t make it better, or easier. But I can assure you that one day you will once again be ok. It just doesn’t seem like it right now.

The Black Hole of Depression

If you haven’t ever experienced depression, it’s very difficult to understand the depth it can cause someone to sink into. It’s difficult to understand how hard it is to pull yourself out of it.

Depression is a thief that comes to steal your joy. Depression knocks on your door when you’re having a tough time, and says I’ve come to talk to you about all this. And instead of encouraging you, which you sometimes don’t want to hear right then anyway, it agrees with you. Yes, things are bad for you. They’re even going to get worse. “I’m here to tell you that!”

And you start to believe it.

Depression is real. It hurts. It captures you, grabs you with its strong arms and squeezes. It holds you close and begins to suck all the air from your body, until you feel like you can no longer breathe.

Depression wraps you in its paralyzing grip and keeps you from moving. It keeps you tied to the chair you’ve put yourself in, unable to move. Unable and even unwilling to talk to anyone, because Depression has told you you’re not worthy. That no one wants you. That you are incapable of doing anything productive or worthwhile. That the rest of your life is going to be like this, so you might as well give up and resign yourself to the facts (according to Depression); you’re no one, you’re worthless, and even worse, you don’t deserve anything any better than where you are and what you have right now.

Depression puts you in a hole and begins to throw the dirt in on top of you. And because you believe Depression’s lies, you lie down in that hole and just stop trying. You no longer have the will to try to climb out, because you’re totally convinced that Depression is telling you the truth.

And at that point, you start welcoming the dirt that is being shoveled over you. Because it will make the pain go away. And it’s easier to accept being in that hole than it is to grab onto the sides and begin pulling yourself out. Because it’s not going to get any better.

Depression is a liar. Depression is a thief. Depression exists to steal the happiness that you deserve. Because Depression is only happy when it makes others unhappy. And it’s really good at what it does.

John 16:33 In this world you will have trouble, but I have overcome the world.

Many times our walk in this life is difficult. It can become so hard that we only want to give up. But that’s not something we can afford to do, because when we do, we miss the goal we are so close to. And then we have no choice but to start the entire walk all over. While Depression stands there laughing at you, with that “I told you so!” look on its face. And once again, Depression wins.

But Depression is not a winner. Depression is a loser. And it always will be.

Because you have the power and the gifts to fight Depression. Depression does not win unless you allow it to.

That black hole can go away; you can climb out, shake the dirt off, and show the world, and Depression, that you are a winner. You are worthwhile. You are loved, and you are capable of doing the things you want to do!

No more. Today is the day Depression is defeated.

Because there is a Plan for your life. Jeremiah 29:11 tells us that. And Depression wants that Plan stopped because it knows you’ll be happy and successful. Misery loves company; so does Depression. Depression is always lonely, and it wants others with it. It will fight hard to keep you with it.

But you don’t belong there.

In Psalm 40:2 we read, “He [the Lord] lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” That is the true promise of the Lord. He is faithful, and He will do what He promises. He will pull you out of that pit of depression when you take His outstretched hand.

Our hope is in our faith in the Lord; as hard as it may be some days, as long as you have a measure of faith to put one foot in front of the other and take one step ahead, you are defeating Depression. Keep your eye on the prize, as you hold the hand of the One who loves you the most.

And one day you will suddenly realize Depression has gone away, and been replaced with a joy and peace you never thought you would have again.

That is the power of faith. The power of keeping your eye on the One who loves you the most; the One who will never leave you or forsake you. The power that is given to you when you simply take His hand.

What are you waiting for? Tell Depression you are done, once and for all. The black hole exists only for the one who created it, and that person is not you.

Take the hand being offered, and let Him pull you out, never to return to it again.

I’ve been there. I’ve done that. And God is always good, and always faithful.

Waiting for the Phone to Ring

A couple of months ago there was something I really, really wanted. I’d had a job interview for what I thought was an exciting opportunity. I had a great feeling when I left the interview. I’d interviewed with two different people, and we seemed to hit it off perfectly. We’d even talked about the training program, and the places we’d call on during that training period, and all the fun we’d have during the process. The salary was great, and the benefits were more than I’d imagined. The decision was going to be made the following week.

So I wrote my thank you emails, and then I waited for the phone to ring. I didn’t get a response back from the emails, but that really wasn’t that unusual. At least so I’ve experienced, in this day and age.

I figured I wouldn’t hear back from the decision maker until at least the middle of the next week, because I’d been told a decision would be made by the end of the week. So as the days went by, I waited, somewhat patiently, at least for a while. After all, I hadn’t really been looking for a new job, but this one had just come across my email, and someone said I‘d be perfect for it, so, well, why not try?

The phone never rang, and the email never came. In fact, I heard absolutely nothing back. Not even a “thank you so much for talking to us but we chose someone else”. Just silence. And then I started really thinking the worst about myself. How could I have been so wrong?
I’d even prayed over it every night, and asked God to please, PLEASE let the answer be yes. I even thanked Him in advance for the new position. I imagined myself in that new job, and even planned what I’d do with the pay increase.

But the call never came.

God didn’t answer my prayer.

Or did He?

Sometimes His answer is “no”. And that’s not what we want to hear, because we really think we know best; that we know better than God does. And we make sure we tell Him that. I’ve written about this before, but it’s important to write about it again, especially in this particular instance.

Because it wasn’t my time. And it wasn’t the job He wanted me to have. He had something much better in mind for me, and He knew that I wasn’t ready for it yet, because He still had certain things for me to accomplish in my existing job, before He could release me into the next one.

And He did just that, and quite by accident, or so I thought. But then again, the Lord never does anything by accident. It’s all a part of His plan for us. I answered another email that someone had sent me, even though I figured nothing would come of it, and as a result of answering that email, I started my new position this week, with an even better pay increase, and much closer to home, which will allow me to spend the time I want to spend with my new granddaughter when she arrives next month.

That’s just how the Lord works. He knew when the phone was supposed to ring, and who was going to be on the other end of it. And He made that phone ring when I was least expecting it.

Psalm 27:14 tells us to “Wait for the Lord. Be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” I wasn’t willing to wait, but He made me wait. Because He had something so much better to give me.

Waiting is difficult. We are by nature impatient. We want what we want, and we want it now. Or better yet, yesterday. We want that phone to ring, and sometimes the silence is deafening. We think God is ignoring us, and even begin to feel that He’s deserted us.
That’s when He shows up. At just the right time. Because it’s His time, not ours.

If you are standing in faith for something, and praying over it, waiting for something to happen, don’t give up. It’s not done in your time; it’s done in His.

That phone is going to ring, and when it does, and you answer, you’re going to get exactly what you need.

A Lesson of Faith

Hebrews 11:1 “Faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.”

She was diagnosed in 2013 with systemic scleroderma, an autoimmune disease which involves the skin, gastrointestinal tract (stomach and bowels), lungs, kidneys, heart, and other internal organs. It can also affect blood vessels, muscles, and joints. The tissues of the involved organs become hard and fibrous, causing them to function less efficiently. The term “systemic sclerosis” indicates that sclerosis (hardening) may occur in the internal systems of the body. This is not a pretty disease.

As the skin starts to harden it makes movement very difficult. A couple of times during the course of this disease she has been threatened with amputation of toes or even feet because of low circulation, which can cause deep ulcer-like sores, which would turn gangrenous and cause tissue death. But God has intervened. Her rheumatologist has put her on medication which is usually given to heart patients that “blows open” the blood vessels as much as possible, giving her extremities all the blood and oxygen her body can offer.

She still has both feet and all of her toes; both hands and all of her fingers.

One of her favorite hobbies is crocheting. She may have trouble some days holding the crochet hook, but that doesn’t stop her from picking up that hook and making something beautiful for her grandchildren, including the newest one that’s on the way.

She loves to cook. But right now her husband has to do the cooking because she can’t hold the pans or the utensils. She can’t bake because she can’t put the pans in the oven or take them out without dropping them. But one day again, she believes she will.

But this piece is not about her disease. It’s not about how long tumblr_m8xzyugI7N1rce0e2o1_r1_500she will live with this, because the Lord is the only one who knows that answer. It’s about faith. And I can honestly say I wish I had the amount of faith this woman and her husband have. During the entire course of this disease, neither one of them have lost their faith in what the Lord can do.

I’m sure they’ve both asked God, “Why me?” Or, “Why her?” I don’t know whether they’ve gotten any answers or not; if they have they haven’t shared them with us. Which is fine. That’s a very personal answer, and I don’t know whether I would share it or not either. They’ve prayed for a miracle. Their whole family continues to do so, and so do many others.

About six months ago she started having trouble eating. Her food was not digesting, in fact it seemed her stomach was shrinking so that she couldn’t eat very much at each meal. She started having to eat six or seven very small meals each day in order to get nourishment. It became increasingly harder for her to eat, and she wasn’t getting the proper nutrition she needed to fight this disease.

She consulted her doctors and discovered after a number of tests that all of her internal organs had rearranged themselves. Her stomach and intestines had migrated to her left upper body. Her esophagus had shortened. Her left lung had not been inflating properly because of the overcrowding, and as a result she was not able to do much of anything because of lack of oxygen. Her lower body cavity was basically empty. She was unable to eat normally, surviving on several very small meals each day. This condition is known as diaphragmatic hernia; more about this condition can be found on line. An emergency repair was needed to head off gangrene, necrosis, strangulation, the risk of stomach contents becoming toxic, and other major digestive issues.

They consulted a team of doctors who had actually successfully done this type of surgery before, and several times. However, with her systemic scleroderma, her odds of even surviving the surgery were only 20%. And the odds of recovering from it were about the same. No other scleroderma patient has been known to have this particular surgery before.

During the course of testing to see if she was a candidate for this surgery (because of the scleroderma) the doctors discovered that her blood vessels and major organs are now showing better function than they had even ten months earlier. It appeared that the disease may be in remission! Why? There’s no known medical reason, but we all know the reason. Prayer works!

As Calms the stormshe quoted when she wrote announced this, “He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.” Psalm 107:29

But back to the surgery, and the decision that had to be made. What would you have done? She and her husband prayed about it and with no hesitation called the doctors and scheduled the 10-12 hour procedure for the week before Christmas. As they both said, it’s in God’s hands, and He will keep His promises.

That’s faith. True faith. True trusting in the Lord, no matter what man says.

Shortly before the surgery, she wrote on her Facebook, “If it is my time to go, my family will need your support and prayers. It is well with my soul, so I will be dancing with the angels and worshiping my Father. I will have no more pain. My spirit is eternal so I will BE…. He is my God. Either way. No matter what, I will worship Him.”

The operation was long, but not the ten hours originally quoted. A little over eight hours, actually, which is still a long time to be under general anesthesia. Her husband was anxious of course, but he remained calm and relaxed as we sat in the surgical waiting room. Friends, family, and pastors came and went, keeping her husband company the whole time. We prayed; we laughed; we talked; we read magazines; we even discussed football and politics; and waited for news. Nurses came in off and on to give updates that all was going well. And we rejoiced.

Shortly before 11:00 that night we got the news. She was out of surgery and in ICU. The next day she was moved to a step down unit where she started using her new elongated esophagus to swallow ice chips, and over the next few days, other clear liquids and jello.

Three days before Christmas, just six days after the surgery that had offered only a 20% chance of survival, let alone recovery, her husband drove her back to their home to spend Christmas with their family. Her Christmas dinner was most likely to her, one of the best she’d ever had, even though it was only juice.

On New Year’s Eve she downed an entire package of instant cheese grits. While it may not sound wonderful to you or me, to her, it was an enormous step towards recovery.

Today she continues her miraculous recovery, and she and her family and friends thank the Lord every day for what He has done, and for what He continues to do.

This is faith. And it is the miracle of the Lord’s blessings upon this woman and her family.

After reading this, where is your faith? I only have to think of her when I am downcast, and be reminded of His faithfulness.

The Price of Freedom

The price of freedom cannot be measured monetarily. It is measured by the sacrifice of the lives of the men and women who defend it.

Today is Veterans Day. The day we thank all of those who have served and are currently serving in our military. Their bravery and dedication to duty is not appreciated nearly enough.

My father served in the Army during World War II, however, because of a bad knee that he had originally injured playing football in college, he was sent home with an honorable discharge and a knee brace.

My uncle also served, however, he did not get home until the war ended. He was quite fortunate. Although I do not know his entire story, I will relate what I know of it, because in my eyes, he was one of the heroes.

Fowler Cottingham joined the Army as a young man barely 18 years old. He was trained as a crewman on the fighter planes, and consequently sent to Germany, where he flew in several successful missions with his crew.WW2 Plane

The morning of the day he flew his final mission was most likely just another day. Clear skies; light wind; a perfect day for flying. I can imagine the crew loading the plane, going through their pre-flight checklist, making sure their parachutes were ready, and most likely cracking jokes and talking about what they’d do when they came back from their mission.

Flying over enemy territory was never safe. Most of us have probably seen movies of the allied war planes heading out for missions over Germany. What the movies don’t adequately show is the danger our men faced during each of these missions.

They didn’t have all of the sophisticated equipment in 1945 that our armed forces have now. There were no computers, no GPS; only a navigator with paper maps showing where they were supposed to be flying. There were gunners who fired their weapons without fancy electronics to assist them. They had to judge where to aim, and when to pull the trigger, based on what knowledge the officers and ground troops had been able to discern. It was much different than today. But they had courage, and a sense of duty. They had volunteered to serve, and knew the risks involved.

I’m not sure exactly what happened, but my uncle’s plane took a hit from a German warplane. Fortunately they were all able to parachute out, and landed in a wooded area somewhere behind enemy lines. They had only a few supplies, and had no idea where they were. And no idea whether anyone else had any idea where they were, or even if they were alive.

Shortly afterwards they were captured by German soldiers and marched to one of the POW concentration camps. Capture was certainly better than being shot, which I’m sure they were all afraid, would happen. As brave as these men were, just remember, they were all in their early 20’s, the beginning of their lives. They all wondered if they’d ever see home and family again.Blanches Banques POW Camp

Over 93,000 men were held as prisoners in the German POW camps in World War II. They were held in drafty wooden buildings, with uncomfortable cots, and only a thin blanket for warmth. They were fed one or two meals a day, usually some type of thin soup and stale bread. Their only utensils were a tin spoon, and a tin cup for water. One day they were given a treat…candy bars which they quickly bit into. And then saw the worms inside.

My Uncle Fowler and his crew spent six months in that camp, guarded by armed soldiers and German shepherds. They never knew when or if the guards would come for some of them to question them, torture them, or kill them.

There are some experiences that are just too terrible to discuss because they bring back too many nightmares. My uncle would never discuss any of what happened, other than what I have written here; not with his parents, his wife, or his two sons. After his return, and until the day he died, he was scared of German shepherds because he had seen them tear hands and arms off of prisoners who were trying to escape.

How did these men survive this ordeal? And where was the Lord in this? I’m sure the men wondered many times where He was. Even at the young age of 20, when he was captured, my uncle was a man of faith, and I’m certain his faith helped sustain him.

Jeremiah 29:11 reminds us: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” The Lord was watching over them the entire time.

Yes, their plane was shot down, but the crew survived. The Lord directed the German bullets away from the fuselage so that the plane didn’t explode, which would have killed them all. When they landed in the woods, they had no idea where they were, and no idea where to go. The German soldiers could have killed them, but instead they were captured and allowed to live. Many other soldiers spent years in these concentration camps before being freed; these men only had to endure for six months. Many died in these camps, but these men all survived, because the Lord had plans for them. My uncle had a young woman, my aunt, waiting to meet him, fall in love, and marry. The Lord had plans for all of them and made sure those plans were carried out. Prayers for safety were answered; just not the way that was expected.

I wish I knew the names of my uncle’s crew members, but I never had the opportunity to find out. I would love to thank them as well for serving with him, and being part of his support system while in the camp.

And again, to all of our veterans and those who are still serving, and their families, Happy Veteran’s Day. Thank you for your service. May God bless you all, and keep you safe.veterans_day_thank_you-1940983