Friday, November 4, 2016

A Sweet Place and Time

The eight years preceding this last year were the most difficult in our lives, but this past year including the present day has been, and is, sweet.  My husband and I say something about it to each other every day.  And every day, we are profoundly grateful.

Why were those eight years so difficult?  Because of normal situations that countless people in this fallen world face every day:  fathers who have heart attacks and eventually die of congestive heart failure; mothers who lose their identity and their will to live when their husbands die; husbands who lose jobs; caring for elderly parents who are depressed and take their toxic unhappiness out on their grown children; dealing with the stress that wakes you up like a vice-grip in your chest in the wee hours of the morning.  Stuff like that.

Although those years took their toll, they also granted us incredible blessings in the midst of the difficulties.  We learned God’s faithfulness to provide everything that we need: enabling grace to do the seemingly impossible; the promise and experience of his presence; the love of spouse and friends; the hope of heaven.  In caring for our parents, we had the satisfaction of “laying their heads gently down,” as my husband would say, to their final breath.

And in the year and a half since, we now have gainful employment, both of us doing work that we like and enjoy.  Our health is still excellent.  We still think we have the best marriage on the planet—being together is still our favorite thing ever. We’ve been able to travel without having to ask my brother to come and be here for my mother.  So we took a 5800-mile, 19-day driving trip across the West to a family reunion.  We both have opportunity to serve the people of our church, whom we love dearly.

Do I still wake up in the middle of the night with a stress vice-grip in my chest?  Sometimes.  Old habits die hard.  Only now I’m stressing about the election, or the national debt, or all the work I have to do.  Yes, I know that’s stupid, but emotions can be stupid.  So, in those wee hours, I pray.  And I meditate on Philippians 4:6-7.  And before long, I’m back to sleep.  Most of the time.

But God is still faithful.  In difficult times and sweet.  And the difficulties will return.  I know that.  We live in a fallen world.  And we’re not getting any younger.  But today is…sweet.  The strength for tomorrow’s difficulties will be there when we need it.  Part of that strength will come from the sweetness of today, from the rest that God knew we needed—which is even more evidence of his abiding faithful care in Jesus Christ.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Why I Wept Through Nancy Reagan's Funeral

It surprised me, really.  I knew I was interested to watch Mrs. Reagan’s funeral, to hear the words of speakers such as former Secretary of State James Baker, to remember her life with the rest of the nation.  But I did not expect to weep through the whole thing as I did.  So why did I?

The first reason is obvious: the correlation with Nancy Reagan’s death and the recent death of my own mother.  They were born only a few months apart.  Both of their lives were defined by their long, loving marriages to successful men they adored.  Both of them were beautiful, cared about fashion and, like so many women of their generation, always had every hair in place.  For both, their great life's work was supporting their husbands in every way they could.

The Reagans and my parents came of age at the same time—that Greatest Generation who grew up during the Depression, fought in World War II, and came home to raise their children with more advantages and ease than they had known.  The constant stream of photos during Mrs. Reagan’s funeral brought back memories of growing up in Santa Barbara and seeing my mother in her long ball gown and my father in his tuxedo as they headed to some affair in Los Angeles.  It was an elegant time, when we dressed up in our Sunday best to travel by air and Mother’s copy of Emily Post’s Etiquette was her second Bible.

Another obvious reason is that the service gave testimony to the long and faithful love between Ronald and Nancy Reagan.  To hear about her caregiving of him during “the long good-bye” that is Alzheimer’s disease, about her deep loneliness without him, and again, with those photos! Who would not be touched?

But there was more to my tears.  And I think it relates to what is happening in our nation today.  The nation I am waking up in today is not the country I thought it was.  I thought I was still in the nation that worked to overcome its wrongs—its racism, ignorance, cruelty—with the pursuit of a “kinder, gentler America.”  I thought I still lived in a pluralistic nation where we could agree to disagree about what we think is right but will, through reasoned discourse and our constitutional system, respectfully try to persuade those who disagree to our way of thinking.  But now it appears that de Tocqueville’s prophetic words may be coming to pass: 

“I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce – and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” 
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
Ronald Reagan believed the best about America and her people.  An optimist, he believed that we want to do what is good, to go the right way.  Those who described Nancy Reagan let us know that she saw more of man’s true nature than her husband did, and was always on guard because of it.

At her funeral, planned to the last detail by Mrs. Reagan, Diane Sawyer read these verses from the Gospel of John:  

"Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going."  Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”—John 14:1-6 (ESV)

The only hope we have is in those words.  It is God who saves through Jesus Christ; God alone who can give new hearts, and faith, and goodness imputed and imparted.  It is His common grace that keeps any kind of restraint on the evil that lurks within the human heart.  This brought more tears as well, at the grace of God.  

Additional tears came as those at the funeral prayed the Lord’s Prayer together but Ronald Reagan, Jr., sat with open eyes, not participating.  I was so sad for him, fearing that he indeed might be one who grieves, as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, with “no hope.”

I cried for the Reagan children who are now, like me, “orphans.”   

I cried because, as I’ve gotten older, I always cry when “God Bless America” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Amazing Grace” are played.  

 I cried as I remembered the substance and civility of presidential debates gone by, such as the 1980 debates between Carter and Reagan.  

 I cried because it feels like we are living a national nightmare.  

 I cried and I begged God for mercy on our land.  I cried, and yet, with hope.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Old Friends

"Yes'm, old friends is always best, 'less you can catch a new one that's fit to make an old one out of."--Sarah Orne Jewett

Is anything more precious than an old friend?  Now that we are not young anymore, I suppose "long-time friends" might be preferable to "old friends," but both describe those people who have known us and stayed with us over many years. 

New acquaintances look at photos from when I was a young woman and say, "Is that you!?"  (And then I'm tempted to get ugly and say, "Well who do you think it is?")  But old friends say, "Oh, I know that girl."  When I see my old friends, they appear in my mind's eye not only as they are today but also as I have known them over the years before grandchildren, wrinkles, and knee replacements.  Their beauty is only compounded with time.

With old friends, one word can bring up an inside joke that will throw us into hysterics.  My old friends have not abandoned me when I've made a complete fool of myself.  They have been by my side through heartaches and partied with me in celebrations.  Old friends seem to think the friendship is worth enduring the quirks and flaws that we see in each other, and can even value and laugh about them.

You don't have to explain yourself to old friends because they "knew you when."  They knew your parents, or your siblings, or your school.  They remember when your children were born, or when you found out you couldn't have any.  They know your past accomplishments and activities--things you would not tell about yourself, but are a part of who you are.  They know your struggles, silent to almost everyone else, and don't judge but empathize.

Maintaining your friendships is one of the most important things you will ever do for your friends and for your own well-being.  When you meet someone new, there is always the possibility that you have just encountered a potential old friend.  Cultivate both the old and new with tender care.