Life, death, and in between

Today is the day. I am finishing a pedicure and Todd is making his famous pancakes for breakfast. We’ve had this trip planned for more than 6 months, and now here we are…getting ready to leave for India. It still doesn’t even seem real somehow, even though our bags are packed and we’re getting picked up in a couple of hours, I’m still asking myself…are we really doing this?

About a month ago, our pastor sent us a list of scriptures. With his experience visiting India many times and the objectives of the trip, he suggested they may be good ones to meditate on before we leave. I looked them over and recognized many of them as familiar text, so I decided to go online and print them off in a couple of different translations in the hopes that I could get a fresh perspective on the message the words carried.

I had read the verses that follow a million times from Matthew 8 and was always surprised by the harshness of them. Different people who were wannabe followers of Jesus were coming up to him and proclaiming their loyalty. Immediately he questioned their commitment.

When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. 19Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”

20Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

21Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

22 But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

Jesus, what’s up with that second dude? I can see you rebuking the teacher of the law because he was used to staying in fancy joints and you knew he couldn’t handle the way you roll. But that second guy just wanted to lay his parent to rest. Wasn’t that a little much? But then I read the same words in the Message translation, and it stood out to me like a bright light among all the other verses that had been recommended.

When Jesus saw that a curious crowd was growing by the minute, he told his disciples to get him out of there to the other side of the lake. As they left, a religion scholar asked if he could go along. “I’ll go with you, wherever,” he said.

20Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”

21Another follower said, “Master, excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have my father’s funeral to take care of.”

22Jesus refused. “First things first. Your business is life, not death. Follow me. Pursue life.”

Wow. That last section kicked me in the stomach for some reason, although I wouldn’t know for a long time what it might really mean to me. First things first. Your business is life, not death. Follow me. Pursue life. That’s Jesus talking…and you don’t really ignore Him.

So I started thinking what that could mean for me in my everyday life. What does life and death look like when you’re not necessarily dealing in matters of life-and-death? I started thinking in terms of death-by-a-thousand-cuts over a lifetime. Like how you can look at a middle-aged person who is broken and messed up and hates the world and has zero joy, and you just know that a million little things have happened to them over the long period of their life to make them that way. I started looking at my students, just 7 and 8 years old, who already have scars from some of their thousand cuts. I started thinking…that’s how I bring life instead of death…I try not to be one of those cuts. So I really began paying attention to how I was speaking to them and to others…thinking…is what I’m saying right now bringing life or bringing a little bit of death? You know just what I mean…the way you say something can bring death. Like when you give a backhanded compliment. Death. Or when you say something in a certain way only because you know it will force someone to have to give you a pathetic compliment. Death. When someone is talking to you but you’re not really listening..and for one split second they notice your eyes glazing over. You just made them feel unimportant. Death. Or when you walk by someone and you could look them in the eye, smile, and say hello. But you choose not to. Death.

So not knowing at all what else those verses would mean, I simply went along trying to be about the business of life, not death. Pursuing Jesus and the things He represents are pure life. Anything else is death. Not bad, right?

Then a few weeks ago my son overdosed on a combination of drugs. He was in the hospital for nearly 2 weeks. No one knew if he would recover or if he would be normal again after he did. Arguments ensued over the outcome of his care. Lies were told. Commitments were broken. False accusations flew. Death, death, death. Every little thing started to go awry in our world, from the big and important to the smallest detail. Confusion, dissension, anger, brokenness. Death, death, death.

Then, death really came along. On December 22nd I got a call that my mom was being taken to the hospital after collapsing at home. I was on my way there to be with her and figure out what was happening when I got the second call that her heart had stopped and she was gone. GONE. Death.

Your business is life, not death.

It was my momma’s 76th birthday, and she died suddenly. A few days before Christmas, a few days before we were to leave for India. How would we get all the arrangements made before I had to leave the country? Would I actually miss my own mom’s funeral? Or should I try to rearrange my trip to stay here?? None of the options seemed good. Death. Right in the midst of planning her funeral, we found out that Todd’s mom was also now in the hospital and may need surgery. No, Lord, not more death…please.

It took me a day or so to get it, but eventually I could really see what Jesus meant by saying that my business was life, not death. Even in the middle of everything going on around me, including a thousand other things I haven’t even mentioned, I was still somehow concentrating on trying to bring life to the thing. And it definitely wasn’t because of my well-grounded abilities… God was keeping my focus for me. How else does someone’s family go through so much in such a short period of time and still come out halfway sane? Life. Prayers were answered (and continue to be) in ways I never would have imagined before. Life. Every little detail of my mom’s funeral was taken care of with relative ease, all in time for us to hold the service yesterday… Before we were to leave for India today. We put her to rest in a funny and perfect way that matches her personality. Thank you, God. I prayed for healing of my ear, which the doctor told me held so much fluid that it would likely burst if I flew. It has improved dramatically and I am no longer congested, but breathing normally. Life. My son has recovered and not only is out of the hospital, but he asked to come home and stay with us…. Words we’ve hoped to hear for a long, long time. Life. He has given his life to Jesus, and I’m already seeing the new creation God is making him in to. Life!! There is peace in our home and all around us even with some things still up in the air. There is peace all around us. Life, life, life.

I can’t wait to look into the beautiful brown faces of the little girls at the children’s home in India, and smile and show them life. I cant wait to hug the 300+ lovely people who live at the leper colony, praying they can understand that they, too are made in the image of God. I can’t wait to pray for healing and rest and peace for our friends and soon-to-be-friends on the other side of this world we share. And with all I hope we’ll accomplish there, I have a feeling that I will receive much, much more life than I could ever possibly dream of giving out.

“First things first. Your business is life, not death. Follow me. Pursue life.” -Jesus.

thankfulness: the abbreviated list

Since, #1: We just had Thanksgiving, and #2: I  was reminded ever-so-gently (ahem)  this week by my BFF that I “haven’t written anything lately” (love you, T!)   I feel compelled to write a little list of things I’m thankful for today. I heard something on the radio tonight that mentioned how gratitude and thankfulness are two different things. Gratitude can take place in our hearts, but it only becomes thanksgiving when it is expressed. So I’m pouring out a little gratitude to turn it into thanksgiving right now. Here is a [very short] list of things I am thankful for right at this very moment:

I’m thankful to have God in my life. It certainly hasn’t always been this way. I haven’t even walked with Him for a decade, and yet I know somehow that He’s always been with me, even when I was most certainly not with Him. I’m so thankful that He loves me more than I can fathom…to the point that He has literally changed the course of history to demonstrate His love for me (and for you.)

I’m so thankful that God has seen fit to give me such an amazing husband.  I know y’all must get sick of me saying that sometimes, but it’s really true, and I’ll brag on him every chance I get because he deserves it. I don’t know many couples who have it as good as we do. He and I share everything. There’s no line between us that cannot be crossed. There’s no part of our lives that we keep from one another. Something’s not quite altogether right when we’re apart. And everything is just right when we’re together. We complement each other in every way I can think of. He is the most honest human being on the face of the planet. I’ve never felt so safe, secure, loved, and pursued in all my life. He is the real deal and I am so utterly, endlessly thankful that I get to spend my life with him.

How could I not be thankful just for those two things alone?? I could stop right there, but I won’t….

because I’m also thankful for…

friends that make me laugh and let me cry

thunderstorms when I’m falling asleep

freedom to believe and think and say what I want to

being able to curl up under the most lovely quilt every night and stay warm and safe while I sleep

having enough of everything. literally ev-ery-thing.

being able to share what God has given me with others

beautiful, crisp, night skies full of layers upon layers of sparkling stars that go so deep that I can’t even see them all

knowing who I am…who God has made me to be, and not having to try to be anyone else, ever

magnolia perfume and the flecks of copper in my hair, both of which make me feel utterly beautiful

my health, which has improved greatly in the past year, and I’m loving that.

There are many, many more things in this world that I have to be thankful for, of course. But for now, that’s my little drop of thanksgiving. I think we should all write down or share a little list of things we’re thankful for so we can look back over it when things aren’t going so smashingly. I don’t know about you, but I need that little reminder now and again (yes, even me, as perky and positive as I seem!)  that no matter what’s going on, we all have so much to give thanks for.

And I don’t want to forget…. thank you for reading this little blog. Much love to ya.