Life. That is the only word that comes to my mind at this moment. I reflect back on the last month or so of changes in my life, also leading me to think back on my childhood and everything else in between, and I have come to this one conclusion: Life.
Life is living– the happy, sad and challenging times. It is not perfect. Don’t beat yourself up trying to make it perfect, or even fair. We have a perfect Savior in Jesus Christ, and that is all we need to make sense of our sometimes tangled lives.
Life is relationships. Put down the stuff. Jesus Christ was all about relationships. Jesus did not continue to dwell on our past sins and transgressions, but rather what are we going to do right now. If you want to have an idea of what God is truly like, just look at Jesus’ life and actions. Love, relationships, restoration, living. He never sought fame or things. Jesus knew what was truly important and lasting in this life. Only the One claiming to be Son of God Himself could have led such a perfect example.
Life is temporal and eternal. I know that sounds like a contradiction, and maybe it is for a little while. Life on this earth will end, and probably unexpectedly. If that is all there was, it would be terribly unfair and cruel. But the God of life, love and relationships did not create us that way. We have a choice. Choose to follow the God of life. It makes all the difference at a funeral.
My Dad ~ 1930-2017
And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life. I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. – John the Evangelist, 1 John 5:11-13
I know this testimony is true. I saw it.
My dad laid in the hospital bed of the Intensive Care Unit after having a massive stroke. IV tubes and oxygen machines were hooked up to him. He could correctly answer a few questions while laying there, but his mind seemed to be mostly reminiscent of past times in the 1950’s and 60’s. He was restless and tried to get out of the bed, pulling off his tubes. My dad never even wanted to be in a wheelchair so I understood. He was a Navy veteran and strong to the end. But there was also something else.
I stood beside my Dad’s hospital bed. He wasn’t able to move his arms very much or focus on people’s faces. Then suddenly he began reaching his arms up into the air, to the left of where I was standing, and grasping both hands in an open-and-close movement as if he was trying to hold onto something. He saw something the rest of us did not. Maybe it was the angels waiting to take him home, or maybe it was Jesus comforting and speaking to him. It is life’s great mystery that we will not be privileged to know until it is our time. But I do want to know the God of eternal life and His Son Jesus at that time.
After that, my Dad was more peaceful. A few days later he spoke his last words, “Goodnight“, and slipped peacefully into the loving arms of Jesus in heaven.
Jesus said to the disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I’m on My way to wake him up.”Then the disciples said, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will get well.” So Jesus then told them plainly, “Lazarus has died.I’m glad for you that I wasn’t there so that you may believe. But let’s go to him.”
– John 11:11-15
Today began like any other day in my normal routine, but it didn’t end that way. It was one of those days – and I’ve had a few of them over the years – where life just completely stops me in my tracks and gets my attention. I catch my breath, exhale a sigh of relief, and fall down on my knees to God.
My morning started in the usual way. I woke up and scanned my phone for messages and glanced at my calendar. My daily tasks start running through my mind – it’s trash day, I need gas, I have a meeting in the office – and I look at all the other breaking news alerts that have become far too common in our world. Then I saw a grieving post from a friend on facebook. Another classmate from my child’s younger school days had overdosed and committed suicide. That is the second classmate in the two years since my son graduated high school. Two funerals by the age of 20.
I cried out to God. I cried out for mercy. Mercy for our children, whom Satan wants to destroy. Mercy for our country, and for the challenging times we live in.
And then as I do every morning before I leave the house, I prayed for “safety and surroundings”. That’s my way of praying for the safety of my family for the day and for safety in our surroundings that we encounter – the people and circumstances we meet along the way. And then I headed out to work.
On my way back home that afternoon, the traffic slowed down to its usual crawl on the interstate. Five lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic. I noticed the car behind me changed lanes as soon as the traffic slowed down. It seems people are always trying to jump into a faster lane. And then in a split second, I glance back up to my rear view mirror to see a large camper coming very fast toward me. Within inches of hitting the back of my car, the camper miraculously swerves into the next lane. I saw the camper was also pulling a large trailer with a car on it. I don’t know how the driver was able to maneuver such a large vehicle and trailer at the last minute without hitting me or anyone else in the next lane. Then the camper continued swerving to the outer lane where it almost hit the concrete wall before coming to a complete stop. The driver must have been very shaken, because once he finally stopped, he did not begin to move again for at least another minute or two.
I began to cry. I couldn’t believe what I just saw. If the other car previously behind me had not changed lanes a few seconds earlier, the camper surely would have hit them and they would have hit me. I don’t know how the camper missed hitting all the other cars in traffic, or how it was even physically possible that he did not hit my car.
I immediately thought back to my morning prayer of safety and surroundings. Once more I cried out to God. I thanked Him for His mercy on my day. For His protection. For His miracle. For my life.
I have no doubt that prayers are essential to getting through this life. No matter how late I may be in the morning, I will always stop and pray and begin my day first by talking with God. It’s too important, because I never know how an ordinary day will turn out.
There have only been two times in my adult life that I have hit the proverbial “panic button”. The first time was when my toddler son got lost in Toys ‘R Us. I found him playing inside one of the plastic houses, but only after I had shut down the entire store in search for him. The second time was when he was a little older, and we were on the ski slopes in Colorado.
We had just finished a hearty breakfast that morning in the ski lodge dining room, and we were planning our day on the slopes. John had progressed well in his skiing over the last few years and was anxious to try out some harder slopes. We had always skied together in the past, but he was beginning to surpass me in both skills and stamina, and I knew we would have to find another way for us to ski. As we looked over the trail map, we decided we would start off skiing together and then split off at a certain point on the trail. He would ski the harder path and I would take the easier run, and we would meet back where the trails re-joined further down the mountain. We both knew from looking at the map that if he did not take the turn back to the joined trail, he would be headed for some very steep trails further down. But the map seemed clear and we had our plan.
We headed off and soon split into different directions. I whispered a little prayer for him as I skied away. Surely, I thought to myself, I am just being silly. He is a much better skier than I am. So I skied down to the meeting spot and waited. And waited.
John did not show. I trekked back up and down the mountain looking for him, with my ski boots aching more with every step I took. I called into the vast, snow-covered forest, but my calls were left unheard. Panic began setting in, and all I could think to do now was ski down to the bottom of the mountain and see if he was waiting for me there, though I knew that was not what my son would normally do. As I neared the bottom, I saw my husband standing there waiting for us. When he saw me skiing alone, he just shook his head. He knew too.
My husband immediately took out his cell phone and called our son. I had given my phone to John to use. There was no answer and there were no missed calls. I dropped my ski gear and started running to the nearest ski patrol office. I desperately wanted to take off my ski boots at this point, but the 25 degree weather outside made that impossible. Panic ensued even more as I was asked to describe what my son was wearing and the direction of where I last saw him. A few seconds later, ski patrol took off in the ski mobile up the mountain. They acted like they had done this a few times before, but this time it was for me.
A few minutes later, we received a call that our son had been found. Although he was a little cold, he was alright and they were bringing him down. This might have been the end of the happy story, but it wasn’t over. After we gave ski patrol a very grateful thank-you, we put on some warm clothes and spent the next hour exchanging stories over hot cocoa. We began discussing where we might have missed each other on the trail when John said something I did not expect.
“The woman told me where to go.”
I paused. “Oh, you must mean when ski patrol came to pick you up?”
“No,” he replied, “I couldn’t find the trail marker to turn on the trail. A woman appeared below me on the mountain and said, ‘Your mom wants you to go this way’, and then points to the trail. I turned onto the trail and then looked back for her, but she was gone.”
I asked him again, “Was she wearing one of the ski patrol or ski instructor jackets?” I thought maybe one of the workers had noticed him and stopped to help.
“No,” he said, “She wasn’t skiing, she was just standing there.”
He began to explain how the trail marker had been covered up from the previous night’s heavy snowfall. We both knew what that meant – if he had not found the trail, the only other way down the mountain was through the steep, black diamond trails that lay below.
Perhaps my whispered prayer had not been so silly after all.
Have you ever met someone, perhaps a stranger in passing, who seemed a little out of character? It is most striking to me when I see someone who does not respond to a situation in the usual way we expect human nature to respond – whether it is by fear or surprise or curiosity. There will be something a little different about the person; something you can’t quite put your finger on, yet there is also a certain attractiveness to them. I imagine when Jesus walked on the earth, people had a similar reaction to him. Crowds followed him everywhere; people yearned to be close to him. You can’t fake that type of thing. I also believe that the most convincing evidence we have for God and His loving nature can be found in those out-of-character situations or little miracles that cannot be explained away, and where things seem to happen contrary to our human nature.
This is one of those stories. Looking back on it now, I realize it was during a time in my life when I was most vulnerable – young, alone, and new to the big city. I was twenty-two and just out of college without much money to my name. Yet I know now, that even in those most vulnerable times of my life, God had my back.
It was late on a Sunday night as I drove through the dark and nearly-empty streets of the interstate on my way home. My piece of junk car, as I liked to call it, had just blown a tire on the interstate. With the car thumping and wobbling on its back rim, I pulled over to the side of the road and wondered what I was to do next.
It was completely dark outside, no streetlights, and I didn’t even have a flash light. The exit ramp was about a quarter-mile up the road, so I decided I would walk to the top of the exit and go for help. In the back of my mind, I knew there was no gas station at the top of this road, but in those days before cell phones, I did not see any other choice.
I walked as far into the grass and out of the sight of car headlights as I possibly could. As I began to stomp through the tall grass, I became more aware of the dire situation I was in – a young female with a broken down car, late at night, in an area of town that was not the safest to be in. I couldn’t go back to my car but the nearest late-night gas station was very far away too. So I began to pray, “Please God, keep me safe me until I can reach a safe place.”
A few seconds later, a car came slowly driving up the exit ramp. I kept my head down while I continued walking, and hoped the car would pass by without seeing me. But instead, the car pulled over to the side of the road, right beside me and stopped. The passenger window rolled down, and an elderly woman leaned out.
“I see you’re having some car trouble,” she said.
My first instinct was to deny it, but I realized it was useless, knowing she could clearly see my situation. “Yes,” I tried to say confidently, “but I’m just walking up to the top of the exit to the gas station for help,” and hoped she was not aware there was no gas station in sight.
“Nonsense,” she replied, “You can use our car phone.”
I peered into the passenger window and saw another elderly woman in the driver’s seat. Both women were very well-dressed and sitting in a big, luxurious Cadillac. “That’s ok,” I said, “It’s a short walk from here.” But the woman insisted, and stated they were on their way home from a golf trip. Surveying the situation around me, it seemed like the best option I had, and besides, they looked rather harmless and did not appear like they needed to rob me.
The year was 1987, and car phones were just coming out on the market. They were the predecessor to cell phones and could only be used in the car, but were still mainly reserved for the wealthy. I climbed in the back seat of their Cadillac as they handed me their phone. After calling a wrecker service, I thanked them for the use of their phone and said that I could go wait in my car now and they could go on ahead.
“No, we’ll wait.” they replied.
The two women didn’t say much as I sat in the back seat, waiting. In fact, they didn’t ask anything. They didn’t ask any of the usual questions a person would normally ask when a stranger is sitting in the back of their car. Questions such as… what is your name, do you live around here, what do you do? I also noticed they never once looked back over their shoulders at me or glanced in the rear view mirror to check on me. They talked a little among themselves, though I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but mostly they just sat there looking straight ahead. It almost seemed like they were my chauffeur. I began to think that if I were them, I would be more afraid of me sitting behind them, than I was of them.
Finally the wrecker came, so I told them I would get out now and work with the mechanic and they could go on.
“No, we’ll wait,” they replied again.
I stood next to the mechanic while he changed the tire in the dark. Then I discovered my car battery was dead too! After about an hour, everything was finally fixed, and as I handed the man a check, he asked, “Who is in that car up ahead?”
“Oh, they’re waiting for me,” I tried to say in a casual tone. “Hmm,” the man replied.
I went back to my car and pulled onto the exit ramp to make sure my battery was still good. At the same time, the Cadillac in front of me pulled out too. I never really saw where it went after that, but I turned and headed home, still very shaken by it all.
In my apartment that night, I thought about it some more and wished I’d had a chance to thank the two elderly women one more time for helping me. But as I sat and thanked God that night for keeping me safe, I somehow think the two women were aware of it as well.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7