A Beautiful Death

People pass away from this life, leaving us in their wake, until the day we approach the threshold ourselves and come face to face with the Almighty Creator.

In the past year, more funeral marches have been played than I can count. But what have struck chords in my flesh are the families connected to them and the stories they have to tell. Whether a person fades away quietly from this earth or exits in a violent, instantaneous end, the veil must be crossed. In both frames, whether peaceful or not, death has a purpose, and the soul beneath the shell of those bodies creates something beautiful when the time finally arrives.

In thinking about today’s topic, one woman’s voyage from here to the hereafter continues to stick in my mind. From the exterior, I can only assume that her end was painfully violent and abrupt. Understanding why she was taken so young from this life is not something I can explain. What I believe is this: I believe that her death was a sacrifice, and it saved the life of her child. I believe that she hoped she would live, but knew in all reality that she would die to save her child.  As the life and death moment approached,  it probably gripped her heart with adrenaline, but her decision to comfort, hold, and protect her child at any cost was already made. I also believe that in her prayers she asked for peace— and in her passing received it. In all honesty, she probably prayed that her entire family would be saved and clung to the fact that her Savior held her life in his hands, never dreaming of leaving her family behind. (take a deep breath)

Ancient cultures believed in something called a beautiful death. To die whilst giving life a purpose offered a person’s family honor and respect. Usually this happened in battle—taking the sword for another, fighting to save when all should have been lost… Moreover, giving a life to save a life, using your flesh to protect and save another. Sacrificial was the usual way to earn this, though sacrifice is not always a physical event. These are extraordinary and beautiful actions. Hence, the mother who wrapped herself around her child so that in the moment of death, when the blow struck, her body would take the impact and within hope upon hope, her child would live — She is picturesque of a beautiful death.

In the same vein we see the offering of Christ. What madness drives a person to leave the safety of their seat belt to climb into the back seat of a car and wrap themselves around a car seat? It’s the same madness that drove a man to be beaten almost to death only to suffer (and when I say suffer, the weight of that word is not nearly heavy enough) the most hideous and painful death imaginable so that I would live, you would live, your children, grandchildren, friends and neighbors, etc. would live.

“Where there is love, there is life.”

Yes, love is madness (bold, italics, repeat!!!)–but what love offers is life. Love is what shows us that death has a purpose, and that we must fall through it to come face to face with it. Love is Christ. Christ is love. And on that note, the love of Christ is life. (John 3:16)

I wonder at it, that if faced with such a decision, would I be so secure in the love of my Savior that I would remove the safety harness that protects my life in order to save another. To my magical, mysterious, fantasy driven mind, I want to say yes—I desire a beautiful death. But the reality is that I also desire to fade away painlessly, quietly, peacefully in my sleep, dreaming of heaven and the stars that shine above it… beautiful in a minimalistic, “she’s met the creator of the unimaginable” kind of way. Still a beautiful death, but much more quiet—like the first star fading into the morning sunrise.

July 10, 2013 Prayers of the Faithful

Do you have a favorite prayer? Is there a phrase or blessing that you repeat regularly, especially when you are lost for words at the feet of your Divine Maker and still feel compelled to speak? Luckily, God has shared with us many of his faithful followers and their prayers. Their words often times fill the need, the void, and give strength to the soul while connecting our spirits to our Creator. Gifts from God!

To be perfectly honest, I’m a fan. Sure, I like to speak to God directly from my heart or sit down and write out my own words, words given to me by God, words I heard spoken from another, or words that come from a broken, human spirit….but sometimes, words fail me (sitting in silence allows us to listen to God. Do not feel that you must always have something to say. God will put words on your heart if they are needed as you place yourself before him.)  Sometimes my mind and heart need a little oomph, a little encouragement. Today, I offer you a few of my favorites….when I am lost for words ( I know, I know—when am I ever lost for words!) and need a little push opening my heart to my Savior. Some of these are “newer” prayers while some are directly from scripture. Please read all the way through to the end of the post, and then with your Bible, look up the last few.

When I am about to eat or am preparing food…

“Bless, oh Lord, this food to our use, and us to thine loving service. And keep us ever mindful of the needs of others, through Christ our Lord.  Amen.”

 

The Prayer of St. Francis—committing your heart and soul to Christ’s work

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

 

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love.

 

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

 

A Scottish Blessing….

Personally, this is one of my all-time favorites. Part of it is my cultural ancestry. Part of it is the poetry of the prayer. (Plus, I really love nature) Part of it is that I feel the writer had discovered the spirit of the living God burning inside his soul, and attempting (in human fashion) to relate a passion for life, a spirit of Grace, and restoration to his people through an eternal, living God wrote these words.  I will often personalize it….Lord, may the blessing of your light be upon me….may your blessed light shine on me like a great peat fire, etc. (people are drawn to the light of our Lord!).

May the blessing of light be upon you — light without and light within. May the blessed sunlight shine on you like a great peat fire, so that stranger and friend may come and warm himself at it. And may the light shine out of the two eyes of you, like a candle in the window of a house, bidding the wanderer to come in out of the storm.

 And may the blessing of rain be upon you—may it beat upon your Spirit and wash it fair and clean, and leave there a shining pool where the blue of Heaven shines, and sometimes a star.

 And may the blessing of the earth be upon you, soft under your feet as you pass along the roads, soft under you as you lie out on it, tired at the end of the day; and may it rest easy over you when, at last, you lie out under it. May it rest so lightly over you that your soul may be out from under it quickly; up and off and on its way to God.

 And now, may the Lord bless you, and bless you kindly. Amen.

 

This next one I will let speak for itself. I have not suffered nearly what many of the faithful have. But to offer your heart in the smallest suffering, to offer your soul to your Savior and give him praise is a hard lesson for most of us to learn. This particular prayer, while listed as written by “Anonymous,” was pulled from an old Presbyterian Planner. It tugs at my heart so much so that I have it pinned to the wall by my front door, so that I must see it every day as I enter into the world.

To our eternal and faithful shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ:

Shepherd, I bless you for what you give me. If nothing you give me, I also do bless you.

 I follow you laughing through roses and thorns, through brambles and thistles I joyously follow.

With you when there’s plenty, with you when I want.

Still always with you.

 

Now it’s time to do a little Scripture reading.

These are just a few of the prayers in the Bible:

By Paul :

Colossians 1:9-12

Ephesians 3:14-21 ( I just LOVE Paul’s Words at the end of this passage)

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 1:15-23

I encourage you to continue looking up and researching prayers. The Lord himself offered up prayers to our Heavenly Father. Words of passion, beauty, and life. Most of us know “the Lord’s Prayer” by heart. If not, now’s a great time to commit it to memory.

What is your favorite prayer? Is there a particular word from Scripture, from God’s faithful followers that speaks to your heart? Have you heard someone pray so honestly that the connection between themselves and God still rings in your ears?

We pray because we believe that God hears us.  With that being said, may you be filled with prayer, body and soul! Amen!

July 3 Lessons from the Dog

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Last week, my not so little sister (she’s 28!) was telling me a story about the family dog, Abby.  Abs is precious. She’s red, she’s fast, and she LOVES everyone. But Abs has a tendency to destroy things. Not on a regular basis, like the daily opening the door after work only to see that it’s snowed memory foam mattress cover bits all over your house….Abs destroys things mostly under duress. When she stresses out, things get messy. When she thinks you’ve left her and are never coming back, she shreds something. When the 4th of July comes, well…..you had better watch out. No screen door is safe.

Jewels was relaying one of the latest moments of checking in on Abby. At the peak of her story, as she was gently chiding the dog, she had one of those God epiphanies. She said that God, in his infinite wisdom, was using her teachings for the dog to teach her how much he loves her, loves us, and how we become the pup staring brokenhearted, back at our Master, awaiting the discipline that we apparently, desperately need. It goes a little something like this…

“___________ (Insert name here)  why did you do this?  Look at this mess. This wasn’t a great decision. I told you no because I know what’s best for you.

Dog hangs head in shame, tail wagging in hopes that its master will still love it. After all, the dog doesn’t mean to be destructive. They’re just a little, you know, insane.

“_________ (insert your name here) I love you so much! (Arms reach out) But we need to work on this. (This means discipline and diligence) Alright, let me clean this up and we’ll start again. You must listen to my instructions. I really do understand, but I also know what’s best for you. Let’s try this again, okay?

I have had similar, simpler conversations with my dog, Bailey. (The other dog is not a chewer, praise Jesus!) I’m almost convinced she understands… and just can’t seem to help herself.  Last week she literally ate my phone. In 3 minutes flat. The damage was pretty impressive. Remember the comment about the memory foam mattress cover? I hadn’t even taken it out of the bag yet. Ready for what happened yesterday? Bailey—ate my undergarment, pooped in my closet, tried to eat the remote control, knocked over the dog water in her excitement about dinner coming, peed on my freshly steamed carpet (minutes before potty time), and tried to chew on my library book. My just checked out from the library yesterday afternoon, library book. I won’t even go into the disaster area my living room usually is when I come home. I have no idea where she finds the stuff, and there isn’t a bone on the planet, nylabone, beef leg, etc., that can stop her. It requires the reinforcement of discipline. Discipline with love, and teaching her not to fear me, but to respect my commands.

Dogs. (Just wait till we talk about cats. Jesus must REALLY love us.)

I understand she’s a puppy. I understand that as far as puppies go, she learns fast, she remembers quite well, and she does what I tell her….for the most part. After all, when I say “Drop it” she spits whatever is in her mouth, out. I also understand that she is destructive without malice, and that because she is undisciplined, she makes poor decisions. Sound familiar?

Each day we wake,  go about our routines, and fumble through the undisciplined areas of our lives. It brings us shame…almost a “no, no, bad dog” feeling of shame when we have to face those we are accountable too. It’s hard. It’s uncomfortable. And learning the discipline is unpleasant. Bailey gets quarantined until we can clean up the mess and then isn’t allowed her treat (if we catch her in the act).  Because I love her, I let her back in to my living space, back onto her spot on the end of the sofa, and continue to teach her that the only things she is allowed to chew on are her bones.  I use the “good dog” voice when she goes potty outside and stays when I command it. I continue to teach her (hopefully with patience) no matter how much destruction she causes. Why? Because she is mine and I love her.

How much more are we to the Almighty maker of heaven and earth? We are his children! And because he loves us, he stands over us (like an umbrella or protective parent, not a towering giant of terror), corrects our wrongs, and continues to teach us what is right, all with the gentlest, truest love we’ll ever be blessed to know. Amen!

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Hebrews 12:4-11

God Disciplines His Children

4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Job 5:17

“Blessed is the one whom God corrects;
so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty

June 25, 2013 Bluebird of Happiness

100406-15.36-6694-EditThe bluebird of happiness is many things. For me, it is that moment when I am struck with serendipity and every last thing in creation comes into focus as the glory of life sings praises to the Maker. It is the light, it is the life, and it is the everlasting joy that glitters down from heaven.

My best friend’s father was a pastor. Like many folks, he spoke well…but inspiring messages weren’t what set him apart. It wasn’t his calling, his writing, or his attitude. All in all, what made him unique was the fact that he greeted all the things in his life with a childlike perspective and a pure, practically sparkling joy.

I can’t begin to describe the infectious light or life and the God that gave it to him any better than I can tell you what those words sounded like that spoke the stars into existence on the shores of a darkened universe. My fondest memory of him was two weeks before I got married. Sitting up in the Tahoe mountain house, things were fairly quiet over the breakfast table. Dogs napped in the morning light flooding through the windows, the breeze whispered through the trees… all was peacefully quiet. But not for long. The front door burst open and a wide eyed man, the age of my own father, with a grin on his face like a 5 year old at Christmas, stopped every last thought in my mind, every last action in my body. I’m pretty sure that in that moment, time froze. A moment later, it broke; it shattered like a thousand crystalline, rainbow reflecting, rain drops breaking through sunlit clouds.

“You have to see this!” He shouted. “Come and look at how amazing our God is!”

Dutifully we followed– his wife, his daughter, the two dogs, and me– out the door. The sun was shining, the air was crisp, the trees were perfectly blended between summer and autumn and there was a spark of electricity in the air.

“Look at how beautiful this day is!” he exclaimed. The excitement in his voice was truly infectious. I kept looking around thinking I had missed something. Sure, it was a beautiful day that the Lord had made– but so is almost every day in Tahoe. As a nature lover, I couldn’t disagree– the clouds above my head, the earth below my feet. At the same time I was confused. Inside my head and heart I felt the rusted gears of my faith grind into motion. It was as if the Creator of the universe was turning the crank, breaking the dusty layers to shift my vision and give me a new perspective. It wasn’t the clouds, the trees, or the clean air I was supposed to notice. It wasn’t the earth, the plants, or the flowers stretching across the forest floor and up the edge of the lake. It wasn’t the glassy lake reflecting the mountains and their majesty. None of these things were as brilliant as what I was about to see. My thoughts continued to shift, my sight finding a new set of spectacles, until it was right in front of me.

The bluebird of happiness was singing from the heart of my best friends’ father. There was something radiating from him the likes of which I rarely see. Because of this, every last speck of creation was seen through the light of the Almighty God, and it was breath taking. Every last leaf, it’s sounds in the vespers creeping over the mountains, the veins that ran through them feeding branch and tree….

I’ve never been able to look at creation the same way. Her father had gotten some of that light, that childlike wonder all over me, like splattered paint that doesn’t wash off. Standing in a driveway, watching one of Jesus’s children go skipping down the drive to show us his father’s handiwork was– well… it’s still pretty indescribable.

What does this really have to do with bluebirds? I’m smiling as I write this. From time to time, the Lord sends a real, bonafide bluebird across my path to capture my attention. And in that moment something inside my soul whispers–  Erin, look at what I’ve made for you — .  In my wildest dreams, I desperately wanted to see the world the way my friend’s father saw it. I wanted to feel that excitement and joy that he felt. I wanted to be able to run into my house and drag my husband out the front door to see a sunset worthy of saying  “Wow, Jesus, that’s pretty darn spectacular! Thank you for sharing,” without feeling foolish. I wanted to have, permanently perched on my shoulder, that bluebird of happiness…a pure, radiant joy that breaks through the stormy exterior. So whenever a bluebird (or a dragonfly, a really cool tree, flower, a refreshing breeze, even a perfectly pitched laugh….anything) crosses my path, my feet are trained to stop so that I may drink from the well of Joy in the presence of the Lord.

Little by little, as creation unfolds before me, I begin to digress; heart and soul re-taking that childlike state of happiness, while a tiny, feathered bluebird perches on my shoulder and boisterously sings Hallelujah from the Master’s Heart.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

June 20 The Promise of the Holy Spirit

A firefly is a miniature beacon of God’s handiwork.
Anonymous

fireflyatnight

My older sister and her family just moved into a new house. It sits on the furthest edges of town. Last week, in all its splendor, the sunset was fully visible from their front yard as the city has not yet grown up around their piece of paradise. While I was surveying the sky and color changes, my 4.5 year old nephew asked what I was doing. I told him I was watching the sky go from day to night and asked him if he wanted to stand with me. Completely blessed, he came out and stood by my side, telling me all the colors he was seeing, the first star (which we explained was Venus), and about the night time bugs. This brought out the most excitable commentary (almost as cool as trains) to date.

In reality, he has probably never seen a firefly…I could be wrong. It’s happened  before. But in his excitement, he announced in his best outside voice that fireflies come out at night and that they glow. Knowing that 4.5 year olds observe many things (thank you science discovery, Disney, and national geographic), but aren’t always sure of what they see, I asked him what it looked like. He just said it was a flying bug, a “firefly” and it was all lit up. At that moment, my heart reached the “Grinch” size. You know it — the one where the Grinch’s heart swells so large it breaks the boundaries of the tiny, wire picture frame and his face twists into the happiest grin you’ve ever seen? That was the one. (You should be smiling SO BIG right now. I believe the term is grinning like an idiot.)

Whether or not that little guy has ever seen a firefly, only Jesus knows. What I do know is that God was whispering to me the importance of remembering what it feels like to be filled with his creation and an unbiased perspective. To love him and appreciate his glory as if I were a child in discovery mode. Why? The eyes of a child see SO MUCH! The smallest things bring them joy. The fact that there is a train track in the fields near my nephews house brings him immeasurable delight (this kid really loves trains). The belief that he has seen a real firefly, watched Venus “appear” as a star in the sky, and grandpa’s phone can show him a bunch of stars he can’t see, lights up his eyes and fills him with curiosity. God’s handiwork (in this case, the firefly, the stars, etc.) and the technology he has bestowed upon humanity to build and create (aka trains and tracks) are completely obvious to children. The joy produced in this rediscovery generation after generation, miraculous!

What’s the point? God whispers to us day in and day out, a constant stream of communication through the Holy Spirit, saying things like “Hey Erin, look at this! Isn’t it amazing! I  LOVE you!” . Beacons of his handiwork, his messages, and his love are all over the place. It doesn’t matter how God brings it to your attention (let’s face it– God in all his perfection does what he wants, speaks through who he wants…because what he wants is glorious and perfect)- what’s important is that he does. He uses your loves, your joys, and the things that lift your emotional temperature gauge (like Scripture & Bible Studies, friendships, children…) to bring you face to face with him.

How is God “speaking” to you? What beacon has he sent out, calling your attention to himself through his Spirit?

God whispered to me through a 4.5 year old boisterous boy (that I simply adore) who knew in his heart (and I believe him) he had seen a firefly.

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John 14:16-17 (The Promise of the Holy Spirit) NCV
I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he lives with you and he will be in you.