Blurry Lights – Grief and the Holidays

Blurry Lights – Grief and the Holidays

I have been keeping a journal for nearly ten years, and every year at the end of December, I have a tradition of reading through the previous year’s entries. Sometimes, I get lost in the pages of my own writings and I am swept back in time.

On the morning of February 5, 2016 I journaled a prayer for my dad’s ‘routine’ gall bladder surgery later that morning. He had been experiencing a great deal of pain.

My prayer: “Lord, I pray that you would use this trial in his life to draw him closer to you … bring him out of this a changed man.”

 

That morning, I was reading Psalm 36 as my devotional. The theme of this Psalm is God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.

“How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light.” (Psalm 36:7-9)

There is a huge difference between knowing the meaning of a passage in your head and understanding it in your heart.

Shortly before noon on February 5th, I entered the crucible with my family. The surgeon walked into the waiting room with a file folder in his hand. He seemed to be a bit young to be a surgeon of his caliber. But, I brushed that aside remembering that I’m older than I think. The doctor sat down next to my step-mom and began to speak. The surgery was a success and dad’s gall bladder was removed. The doctor opened the file folder. Inside it were hi-res photos. Then the words came, “Jim has cancer.

58 days later on Saturday April 3 at 9:33 p.m., after indescribable suffering, my father succumbed to pancreatic cancer. Poppa was surrounded by his family when he drew his last breath of Texas air and woke up in eternity a changed man. The words of the old hymn “Finally Home” washed over me and gave me comfort.

“But just think of stepping on shore – And finding it Heaven!
Of touching a hand – And finding it God’s!
Of breathing new air – And finding it celestial!
Of waking up in glory- And finding it home!”

A couple days ago, I woke up early in the morning as is my habit. I turned on the lights on our Christmas tree in the dark room where it sits in a corner, lovingly decorated by our children. On this particular morning, the lights were blurry. A wave of grief ushered in my quiet time with God as tears had blurred my sight. I did not know the tears were there until I turned on the Christmas lights.

“In your light do we see light.”

I now understood the meaning of the passage in my heart.

This holiday season, there may be an empty chair at your dinner table. You may wake up early on Christmas morning to say ‘Merry Christmas’ to the one you love only to find them gone. There will be a void in life. There will be an embrace and a voice missing from the greetings and conversations. That distinct familiar laugh from the other room.
There will be blurry lights.

Therefore, take heart! It’s okay to grieve. To grieve is at the core of what it means to be human. Grief tells you that you have loved and been loved. It reminds you that you must truly live. Grief should point us to God as our help and comfort in this broken world. We can draw near to Him and to each other.

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

 

In the light of God’s love, there is sufficient grace for me and you. In the midst of the storm and fog, there is a kindly light and peace to be experienced.

 

“The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings… in your light do we see light.”

Those who grieve can help the grieving. When the lights are blurry, remember many others experiencing the same thing. Do not allow the ministry of grief to be wasted. We who grieve have the privilege to come alongside those who are grieving. We do well to acknowledge and validate the pain yet lift each other up in love. God’s kindly light shines through the fog of pain and grief. The warmth of that light is felt in a loving touch, a nod of the head or a kind word of encouragement.

I’ll leave you with my closing words from dad’s memorial service. I pray it will minister to you if you are grieving and encourage you to be sensitive if you are not.

“It is part of the pathos of mortality that we only discover how dearly we love things after we have lost them.
“Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
It is the law of the cross, it is a sacrificial law.
“Christ gives rest to the heart by giving burdens to the shoulders. And, as a matter of fact, it is in being burdened that we usually find rest… Heavy luggage is a cure for weary hearts.” So, we must bear each other’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

F.W. Boreham

Lord, “in your light do we see light….” Even if the lights are blurry.

Originally posted December 14, 2016


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Unbridled Skepticism: Rebelling against everything

Unbridled Skepticism: Rebelling against everything

Unbridled skepticism undermines our thinking.  It is a revolt against knowing.

The belief that nothing can be known for certain has run amuck in modern western culture. People claim they are absolutely certain that nothing can be known for certain.

Therefore, I refer to it as ‘unbridled’.  Why do I say that?

The history of Western thought is for another day.  Sufficed to say, during the Renaissance man made himself the center of all existence, completely autonomous and jettisoned meaning.  This gave rise to humanism – which has no basis for right or wrong.  In the 20th century, Post-modern philosophy claims that there is no objective truth (relativism).

Relativism is the root of unbridled (modern) skepticism.  The presupposition of relativism is that objective truth cannot be known. This presupposition self-refutes because its an objective truth claim. In addition, it rejects any basis for knowing truth.  Therefore, truth is subjective and relative to the individual (arbitrary).  Unbridled skepticism manifests itself in contradiction, hypocrisy and ultimately futility.  It undermines itself.

Conversely, I believe healthy skepticism is essentially a search for truth in the matter of things that matter most. In fact, in Greek, skeptomai means ‘to search, to think about or look for…’ The most important endeavor in life is the search for truth. Without it, existence is meaningless and leads to futility like doubting one’s own existence.

Ravi Zacharias says that one must test a truth claim by asking two essential questions:

  • Do the facts (claims) correspond to reality?
  • Are the corresponding facts (claims) coherent? Or to put it another way, when you pull all of the corresponding facts together, do they make sense logically?

Unbridled skepticism constantly undermines itself because it’s based in relativism. Therefore, it can’t seek truth as healthy skepticism can because what the ‘unbridled’ skeptic is seeking is amorphous.

An anchor thrown into a cloud will not hold a vessel.

Unbridled skepticism rebels against knowing anything for certain.

I find G.K. Chesterton’s following statement interesting when I observe unbridled skepticism.

“All denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind and the modern skeptic doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it.  Thus he writes one book complaining that imperial oppression insults the purity of women, and then writes another book, a novel in which he insults it himself.  As a politician he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then as a philosopher that all of life is a waste of time.  A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself.  A man denounces marriage as a lie and then denounces aristocratic profligates for treating it as a lie.

 

The man of this school goes first to a political meeting where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts.  Then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting where he proves that they practically are beasts.  In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is forever engaged in undermining his own mines.  In his book on politics he attacks men for tramping on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for tramping on men.  Therefore the modern man in revolt becomes practically useless for all purposes of revolt.  By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.”
– G. K. Chesterton

You may or may not agree, but it is worth considering.


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Hurricane Harvey (Video): A story from the Texas Coast


CCBC Disaster Relief – Aransas Pass Texas – Part 1

Stories continue to unfold on the Texas Coast as our attention is pulled away from the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

The media attention is fleeting but our hearts should be steadfast in our commitment to people.

There are communities along the coast that never received any media attention nor did they receive significant relief help from FEMA or the Red Cross.

Communities were left to fend for themselves and make do with what they had. Here is a story of a church in the small community of Aransas Pass, Texas.

I created this short video to tell the story of how God has worked in a forgotten place, using a tiny church to serve a community.  God opened the doors and guided the paths of two churches to serve and love on people.

“God does not care about the size of a church or the abundance of resources, he cares about the size of hearts, how we use what we do have and our obedience.”

The intent of this video is threefold:
1. Share the unfolding story in Aransas Pass
2. Set a ‘heart anchor’ for the people of my church (Christ Chapel Bible Church) with the people of First Christian Aransas Pass.
3. Encourage my church to remain committed and involved with serving well after the media attention fades.

Meet pastor David Dear and his wife, Charlotte.  This is their story.

Special Thanks to the Dears, IronCenturion and all the folks serving together on the ground in Aransas Pass allowing me to share their story. “You Hold All Things Together (feat. Converge Band)” courtesy of Christ Chapel Music.


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Fatherhood: A Father’s Gain – Part 2

Fatherhood: A Father’s Gain – Part 2

In last week’s post about fatherhood, I described a father’s gain – the treasure formed and refined in the fires of pain and loss. If you haven’t read it, I recommend you do so before reading this post.  Click here to read it.

This week, the story continues.

Jamon Horne, Jacob Steele and me circa 2000 in Austin, Texas.

In the months leading up to my friend Jamon’s passing, Pastor Horne and his son had grown closer than ever before. Jamon’s mother will tell you that his dad never left his side. He was with Jamon day and night – loving, serving and shepherding his boy. He was walking with him, leading him in faith knowing full well the final destination. Jamon’s mother knew why her husband was not asleep in the bed with her at night. There was a burning fire of refinement bonding a father and his sick boy. The heat of this trial was forming and fashioning a priceless treasure of fatherhood.

Pastor Horne asked me to speak at Jamon’s funeral.  I felt inadequate for the role. However, I realized it was a privilege to speak about my friend, encourage others and share my faith. Furthermore, I believed Jamon wouldn’t have had it any other way.

How does a man stand before his dead friend’s family and say anything worthwhile or meaningful?

How does a man stand before the teenage son of a friend and comfort him? I could barely look at him in the eye without crying.

At the funeral service, I was seated on a stage among a group of fine seasoned pastors. While their words were comforting and powerful, I found strength and encouragement in the silent and solemn acts of my friend’s father. I witnessed one of the most heroic, humbling and powerful scenes of my life.

Finally, the moment arrived when Jamon’s casket had to be closed forever. His parents arose to their feet.  Pastor Horne left the side of his wife, accompanied by a friend, and slowly approached his son’s casket with streams of tears running down his face. Trembling but not shaken, the good pastor stood above his son. His face was set like flint. Pastor Horne had made up his mind to remain firm and resolute in what he was about.

A father’s final act of heroic love for his son.

The sanctuary of the church of a couple hundred family and friends fell silent. It was a holy moment. Pastor Horne reached Jamon’s casket and his friend patted him on the shoulder and walked away leaving Pastor John Horne alone with his son. He gently placed his hand upon Jamon’s lifeless chest and folded the casket dressings inside. Then, he raised his trembling arm to close the cover. This was the same arm that had held Jamon as a baby. The same arm that helped him up when he fell as a child. The arm of discipline and love. The same arm that hugged Jamon on Thanksgiving. Pastor Horne wept and trembled but, he wasn’t crushed by the tremendous weight of grief. His faith held him there.

God was right there and everyone could feel His presence.

I don’t know how long Pastor Horne stood over his son. But, he finally closed his eyes as he slowly closed the cover of the casket. And watching him walk away seemed like turning the final page of a great novel or hearing the fading notes of a sweet song. He returned to his wife’s side and held her head to his heart and sang a beautiful hymn. A man humbled yet full of pain, courage and faith beheld his Heavenly Father’s gain.

A father’s gain

I recognized this gain. I knew this treasure as streams of my memories flowed back to when I was with my dying father. He lay at home in the hospital bed provided by hospice – breathing slowly with eyes half open. My father’s mischievous blue-green eyes gazed at me as if he wanted to say something but he was unable to speak or move. We had progressed beyond words and the light was fading.

As I remember back, I couldn’t recall the last time I ate or slept. It seemed that being there was enough for me. God was there sustaining me. With a trembling hand, I would moisten a cotton swab and wet dad’s lips. In the fading embers of my father’s eyes, I saw my father’s gain – a priceless treasure.  Deep in those eyes, I caught a glimmer of joy.

Our story continues in the fires of this life.

Fatherhood ain’t easy. Being a son ain’t so easy either.

Sons will become fathers someday. As we experience fatherhood, we must understand there will be pain, distance and fire. However, treasure will be found if we can look beyond the blinding smoke and heat of trials.  Something beautiful is being formed. It is our duty to search for this majestic treasure and find a father’s gain.


“When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man,
And skill a man
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part;

 

When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!

 

How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him

 

Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!

 

How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses,
And which every purpose fuses him;
By every act induces him
To try His splendor out-
God knows what He’s about.

– Anonymous


Read previous postsFatherhood: A Father’s Gain – Part 1

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Fatherhood: A Father’s Gain – Part 1

Fatherhood: A Father’s Gain – Part 1

Not quite a year had passed since my dad died when I received a call from a close friend in tears. He was on his way to see our friend Jamon. Jamon was in the final moments of his battle with cancer.

Fatherhood ain’t easy

As with many father-son relationships, there can be seasons of distance and contention. I experienced it in my relationship with my father. But, what is so interesting about terminal illness and dying is that the pain and suffering clear away the trivialities of life. The fire of trial and pain strip away the coldness of wills and egos.

When you are in the crucible, there is no way of understanding gain as there is no way of experiencing rising when falling. The goldsmith dare not attempt to snatch up the gold while it’s in its liquid form. He must wait. In the fire of trials, we must wait.

Priceless treasure can be found when the fire dies down and the fog of grief dissipates. I think it is our duty to discover the gain. Where is it? What does it look like? What does it mean?

Later that night as I was working in my home office, I received a call that Jamon was gone. Jamon died on March 6th, 2017 at the age of 44. Although time and distance separated us, he was my friend. I began to weep. All I could do was weep – weep for the loss, weep for Jamon’s teenage son who was going to be graduating from high school soon, weeping for his parents, weeping over the memories… weeping over the laughter and good times we shared.

That is when I discovered a priceless treasure formed when my father passed away. My son, Nelson (7yrs old) quietly entered my office. He gently placed his little hand on my shoulder. Nelson recognized the tears of his father. He had seen the tears before and he was ready and willing to step into my pain.

Nelson looked me strait in the eye and said, “I am sorry about your friend Jamon dying.” He put his arms around me and held me like I hold him when he’s fallen and hurting. I hope that I hold him like he was holding me and would do well to aspire to his example.

I cried on my 7 year old son’s shoulder for a few moments. Then, Nelson backed away to look at me again and put his hand on my arm. He said, “In times like this we should pray.” So, we prayed. Then Nelson said the most profound statement any human being could make. Remember, he is 7 years old.  He said, “Dad, when someone dies, instead of being sad, we can remember them and rejoice.”

“Dad, when someone dies, instead of being sad, we can remember them and rejoice.”

I was presented with a priceless treasure in fatherhood that had been refined and purified for more than a year in the fire of my dad’s death. I had received a father’s gain.

This is not the end of the story. Here is a link to Part Two…


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Great accomplishments of Name-calling in history

Great accomplishments of Name-calling in history

There is a lot of name-calling going on. People are sick of it.

The best way to get people tune you out is to start name-calling. Name-calling is neither helpful nor constructive. In fact, it’s destructive. There has never been an instance when calling someone a name has actually caused a positive outcome.

Seth Godin states, “The best reason to brand someone with a pejorative label is to push them away, to forestall useful conversation, to turn them into the other…. When we call someone misogynist or racist or sexist or a capitalist, a socialist or an abstract expressionist, what are we hoping for? Every one of us is on the ‘ist’ spectrum, so the label becomes meaningless. Meaningless labels are noise, noise that lasts.”

In addition to Seth Godin’s list, consider the names people hurl at each other: Libtard, racist, bigot, redneck, homophobe, etc…

By calling someone who disagrees with you a name, what are you trying to accomplish?

Try to think of any instance when employing the name-calling tactic has elevated or furthered a conversation or brought value or peace?

You cannot. Why is that?

The answer is… Because name-calling is a logical fallacy (Ad Hominem).

Ad hominem attacks can take the form of overtly attacking somebody, or more subtly casting doubt on their character or personal attributes as a way to discredit their argument. The result of an ad hom attack can be to undermine someone’s case without actually having to engage with it. (yourlogicalfallacyic.com)

Ad hominem (Latin for “to the man” or “to the person”), short for argumentum ad hominem, is in which an argument is rebutted by attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument, or persons associated with the argument, rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself. (Wikipedia)

Facebook and Twitter have provided platforms for people to throw nasty verbal jabs safely from behind a computer keyboard without having to engage directly with someone they disagree. It’s easier (safer) to type something than to actually say it in a face-to-face interaction.

We have established that Name-calling has accomplished zero and is counter-productive. It is a logical fallacy. It is a bunch of noise. There have been no great accomplishments by name-calling in history.  The title of this post is just as ludicrous as name-calling itself.

One step solution?

STOP