Changed

It is impossible to be looking into a new year without looking back into the past one.  This time of year often stirs us to take a look at our lives and ourselves, which in turn prompts us to make attempts at changing.  Our attempts may be well-intended, but studies show that about 80% of all resolutions are broken by mid-February.  That seems surprising, but it really isn’t when you think about it.  I mean, after all, where do these resolutions come from?  They are like short-term relationships that are doomed to fail from the beginning.  But why?  I believe it’s because of the manner in which we enter into them.  Like most things in our society, we start off great but lose the ability to follow through when things get tough.  It’s easier to just throw in the towel and revert back to the familiar because it’s what we’ve always known.  As they say, “Better the devil you know that the devil you don’t.”

shutterstock_446732614True changes don’t come easy.  They are uncomfortable, even painful at times.  They come at inopportune moments or cause us to lose things we really, really don’t want to let go of on our own.  Those of you who have read my posts this year will understand when I say 2019 was a challenging year.  I’ve caught myself saying a lot lately that I hate 2019 and can’t wait for 2020.  The truth is, 2020 isn’t going to change anything.  It isn’t a new year that changes us; it is we who change the new year.   As the new year got closer, I noticed my perspective on last year starting to shift.  I actually started to see things differently, and my heart softened to the experiences in 2019 that left me curled up in a ball, crying myself to sleep so many nights, thinking I just can’t get through another day.  Every day brought tears and pain, but as I looked backwards,  I began to see through those times to the incredible experiences and growth that has happened as a result of them.  It really has been amazing.   I am not the person I was a year ago, and for that I am grateful.

When looking back at the past year, most people talk about life events, changes, gains and losses, and other things that have taken place.  It is easier for us to talk about what has happened to (or around) us than to talk about what has gone on within us.  Looking inward requires us to strip down and be honest with ourselves about what we see.  For me, this past year has brought so many of those moments that I’ve lost count!  Maybe it’s because life in general was so full of loss and griefs that I didn’t have the energy to keep pressing on in the same way I had for most of my life.  Was it a brutal year?  Absolutely!  I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but it wasn’t without purpose.  Through the difficulties, I’ve learned to let go a little more.  I still struggle with it, but I’m finding peace in the liberation when I do.

If I were to articulate the long list of events and how they’ve changed me, I’d be writing all night.  However, if you were to ask me to name the single most life-altering thing I’ve experienced in 2019, well, that answer is easy.  It wasn’t leaving the church I belonged to for over 20 years, the loss of my husband’s parents, or even the fact my dad had to move into a memory care facility due to dementia.  Those things certainly altered my life in huge ways, but the biggest reverberation in my life came from the teaching and study I have been a part of in the home church to which I belong. shutterstock_1234835116 It happened totally organically a year ago, and I could not have dreamed how amazing it would become.  The teaching our pastor has continually shared with us has been the most liberating of my life.  Some of that impact comes from the fact he is real and vulnerable with us, while some of the impact is the way we are challenged through our discussions to live life differently.  It is certainly not a traditional format, but I’ve been changed more in the past year than I can ever remember being changed in the past.  It’s just different, and as a result, so am I.  In the middle of the worst year of my life, God brought me through it by first using a man who was willing to answer His call, then surrounding me with a group of believers who have all been called to come together to be real in this journey of learning and following Christ’s example of who we were created to be.  It is this realness in every aspect of life, the sharing of our struggles and truly bearing each other’s burdens that has only deepened our desire to learn more, and to be changed more.  It is this unique experience that has changed my life forever.  What I’ve learned has been gut-wrenching at times, but it is amazing what God will show you about yourself if you will just get your eyes off of everyone else.  I’ve been liberated from old perspectives, of myself and others. I’ve even been liberated from some specific chains that have held me captive my entire life.

2020 begins a brand new year, and i’s a great time to tackle something new or set goals for what we want to accomplish.  It’s a good time to reflect on the past year, or longer, and appreciate the difficulties we have come through or even the ones we are still trudging through.  But it is also a good time to look deep within and start focusing on the things that bring lasting changes.  I don’t want to make a resolution, or several of them.  I don’t want another task in my life to complete; I have enough of those.  I want to continue to truly change.  It isn’t easy to do, but there is some truth to the phrase, “no pain, no gain.”  If any of us want to learn how to live with peace, joy and strength even in our toughest times, we must be willing to turn our eyes honestly inward through the truth of God’s word and see what we really need to change.  It may surprise you what you find.  A year ago, I thought I knew who I was, but I have learned I wasn’t nearly the person I had hoped.

shutterstock_257497339Life can, and will, beat you up.  I don’t want to spend 2020 with the pessimistic mindset that crept in over recent years, but rather with the peace that comes from knowing God will always be working in the lives of His children.  I don’t want my inner dialogue to keep telling me things won’t work out, or that things aren’t “fair.”  I don’t want my “justice gene” to cause me to look down on others or take things personally.  I want to continue to be open to God revealing those things in me that I have chosen to be blind to in the past.   In doing so last year, I’ve experienced a liberation I did not see coming, and it changed my life.

As I mentioned earlier, it isn’t a new year that changes us; it’s we who change the new year.  We can choose to keep doing the same things we’ve always done.  We can choose to hide behind our despair or lash out in anger.  We can choose to focus on the splinter in someone else’s eye instead of the log in our own (Matthew 7:3).  The reality is that we can just keep on trucking and wonder why the abundant life keeps eluding us, or we can choose to be changed by the One who created us.

It is impossible for us to know what the new year will bring, but if we open ourselves up to what can change us far longer than any resolution, we can weather any storm because we know the master of the wind.  It’s up to us…choose wisely.

Happy New Year and blessings to you and yours.

Focus On What You Already Have

Christmas is upon us, and here I am sitting on the floor, late at night, with only the glow of the Christmas tree lights and the screen of my laptop illuminating the room.  It is quiet in my home, yet somehow music keeps rolling through my head.  It isn’t a song of the season, but rather the melodic cadence of a lifetime.  Maybe it’s the glow of the trees, or the silence around me, but moments like this have a way of pulling my gaze away from the noise and pace of everyday life and bringing my focus back to what really matters.

shutterstock_344854976As we continue through a season that is supposed to be filled with joy and love, I look around and see stress and frustration on the faces of people around me.  Drivers are out of control with anger; shoppers are pushing and shoving each other; some people are going into debt trying to meet their (or others’) expectations of gift-giving.  There are also some who are living with great losses and challenges that cause all the standard holiday activities to simply disappear into the background.  In a season that is so often labeled as “magical,” it becomes easy to feel everything but a sense of wonder.   Busyness and activity has a way of doing that before we even realize it.

I had a hard time this year thinking of things to put on my wish list for Christmas.  I honestly couldn’t think of a single thing for which I had a great desire.  It’s not that I have everything I want materially; it’s just that I found myself incredibly content for the first time in a long time.  Somehow in the midst of my incredibly difficult and distressing year filled with loss and change, I realized what I valued had shifted.  It was only when I sat staring at an empty Christmas list that I even recognized it.

It’s so easy to spend our lives focusing on what we don’t have or what we’ve lost.  This year my husband’s parents passed away just five days apart, and my own dad’s dementia escalated to the point where he had to move into a memory care community.  It was devastating for us all, and my mom had to sell their house to ensure dad could stay in his new community as long as possible, as most memory care facilities aren’t covered by insurance (don’t get me started on that).  Mom moved in with me and my husband, and we’ve been adjusting to our new rhythm as best we can.   Loss after loss, grief after grief with no end in sight.  Have you just ever had that kind of year?  If so, then you understand how quickly our perspective changes. All we see is loss, because loss is all that is visible to us.  Everywhere we look there is more grief and pain, more difficult circumstances, and more that is slipping (or has slipped) between our fingers.  It is a natural reaction, but it doesn’t remove the negative effect it can have on our lives.

shutterstock_711300070Dementia has a way of turning everything upside down.  One of the things I love about Teepa Snow, and her organization (www.teepasnow.com ), is that she continually stresses the importance of looking at what someone still has, instead of what they’ve lost.  Build and foster your relationship based on things they are still able to do instead of what you wish they could still do.  When you focus on the abilities someone still possesses, it frees you from the stress that comes from your skewed expectations.  You can expect all day long that your loved one with dementia still has the abilities they’ve always had, but you will just be frustrated and your relationship with that person will suffer.  It’s about living in the moment, taking them where they are and creating beautiful experiences for you both.  I can’t help but think how that concept applies in so many other ways in life.  When we try to build or foster relationships while continually focusing on what the other person has lost or is lacking, we are setting ourselves up for frustration and disappointment.  We will never be satisfied, because we will always be seeing the holes instead of the substance.  We keep trying to work with what isn’t there instead of what is.  What a frustrating endeavor, and even more so when the relationship we are struggling with is the one with ourselves.  It is impossible to build or maintain that internal relationship when we see nothing but what we’ve lost or can’t do anymore.   We can’t build a relationship with ourselves with that perspective, because it will always be skewed and will never be fulfilling.  From a spiritual standpoint, it becomes so easy to start blaming God when things haven’t gone right in our world, or at least what we think is “right,” and then our relationship with Him suffers also.  It’s a slippery slope for sure.

So many people talk about the art of letting go, and there is definitely something incredible about releasing things that hold you back.  But what about the art of holding on?  We spend a lot of time trying to identify our obstacles instead of our strengths.  We focus on what we need to purge from our lives instead of what we already have that needs to be fostered.  I remember a comedian once said about the Bible, “Everyone thinks the Bible is a book of don’ts, but it’s really a book of do-s.  And if we’d spend our time doing the do-s, we wouldn’t have time to do the don’ts.”  I heard that over 30 years ago, and it still sticks with me today just as strongly, because it also applies to how we look at ourselves and others.  If we would spend our time fostering (or appreciating) what we already have, it doesn’t leave much time or energy to focus on what we are lacking in skills, abilities, or even material possessions.  Ask yourself these questions: What do I have to work with? Do I have a special ability or skill?  Am I good at something?  What are those things?  If you ask people to name something they are good at, many (if not most) of them will say they don’t know.  Why?  Because we don’t stop to look at what we have; we look at what we don’t.  We see what we wish we were, wish we had, or wish we could do.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t strive to be better people, become more skilled, get an education or go after something new.  And I’m certainly not saying you can’t change.  This year has been full of huge changes for me internally, and believe me, it is always possible to change.  It’s possible to be freed from things that chained you in the past, but you also need to focus on what you already possess.  Search your heart deeply for a moment, you know what they are.  They are those things you have forgotten as the cares of this world continually try to distract you from seeing your gifts.

Image-1Dealing with someone who has dementia has brought so many lessons for dealing with life in general.  When someone has dementia, you have to meet them where they are in order to develop and maintain a relationship with them.  My dad isn’t who he used to be, and yet he is still exactly who he always was.  I just have to find those things that he can still do and live in that place with him.  This relationship is not exactly as I wished or hoped it would be at this stage in both our lives, but it can still be something amazing.  Embracing, celebrating and being thankful for all he can still do, allows me to be open to riding this roller coaster with him instead of watching him ride alone.  It allows me to live life with him now, in this moment, instead of continually seeing nothing but what has faded into the fabric of our journey.  If we want to fully live, we must live in the NOW.

Work with what you have.  Meet people where they are.  Meet YOURSELF where you are.  There are so many other abilities you may have, but those are above and beyond the fact you have been gifted with life itself.  Even the ability to breathe and communicate are gifts.  Trust me, you can always do something and then work from there.  If you will start seeing and nurturing what you already have, you’ll be amazed at what else will suddenly appear.  When you are willing to meet a dementia patient where they are, and work with what they have, it’s AMAZING how that tightly closed shell opens up to reveal the pearls within.  I’ve seen it with my own eyes.  If we could just do that with ourselves, what greatness might we unlock?  What goals might we achieve?  What dreams might come true if we will just stop jumping ahead (or backwards) and look at what we’ve lost and simply develop what we still have?

shutterstock_341963009So as we celebrate this Christmas that is upon us, let us first remember the greatest gift God gave us by coming to earth to sacrifice Himself so we can have eternal life.  But let us also remember He didn’t have much from a material standpoint, but He always worked with what He had.  When He called others to join Him, He worked with what they had and compelled them to do the same.  Let us celebrate not just the life of Christ, but the life He wants for each of us.  He’s gifted every single one of us with abilities, even when we feel we don’t have anything on which we can build.  Stop for a moment.  Look within and stop focusing on what you’ve lost or wish you had.  Look deeply and start recognizing all you still have, every single thing you have or are able to do is a gift.  No matter your circumstances or what you might see as your deficiencies, you have way more “gifts” than you can imagine.

To quote the Grinch, “Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

Merry Christmas and may you all be blessed with moments in which to live a lifetime!

Yesterday Once More

shutterstock_1255117942Although I might be dating myself with that song-cue of a title, I want to share something very important with you about an issue that is affecting more and more of us, an issue that is leaving families hurt, lost and confused about what to do or where to turn.  This issue is the condition called Dementia, and it not only affects older people but people of all ages.  They are even finding new strains appearing in young children.  I know this is a bit of a departure from my normal posts, but it is one to which many of you can relate.

Dementia, in any form it manifests, is devastating.  I know first-hand, because my dad, who is the most brilliant man I ever knew, has now been walking this journey for a number of years.  As a result, so have the rest of us.  This disease doesn’t just affect the patient; it sinks its teeth into every relationship surrounding them and wreaks havoc in the lives of everyone who loves them.  If you had told me it was possible for my dad to struggle like I’ve seen him do in recent years, I would have told you that you were out of your mind.  Yet, here we are.  Some days it’s yesterday all over again, and other days it’s a brand new world.

Anyone who has been affected in one way or another by the devastating aspects of any form of dementia – either as patient or care partner- can relate to the myriad of challenges, frustrations and griefs that become a part of every day life.  I heard others talk about having a loved one with dementia, and my heart always went out to them, but the truth is that I had no clue about the depth of what they were walking through.  That all changed when this disease hit my own family.

golf non dadDementia is an umbrella term, under which fall a large number of different types of the disease.  Alzheimer’s, for example, is simply the most common type of dementia, but there is Lewy Body, Frontotemporal, Vascular Dementia, and a host of others.  Dementia is not a memory problem; it is brain failure.  Just like any other organ can fail, the brain can experience failure.  Where that failure first manifests itself will determine the functions that are the first to begin diminishing.  My dad did not start out with memory problems.  You could ask him about things and talk with him, never knowing there was a problem at all.  We did however start to notice he was starting to struggle with problem solving, or things involving processes or sequencing.   We saw the signs but never recognized them.  We just blamed it on not knowing technology or being tired and stressed.  Because he didn’t have any trouble with remembering people, events, stories or anything else, it never occurred to us in the beginning that he might have an actual issue going on.  We were wrong.

It wasn’t until things really got noticeable with Dad that I began researching dementia and what to do.  By God’s grace, I stumbled upon a 3-minute video of a woman named Teepa Snow, and I was captivated.  (Here is the video that started it all: Teepa – Communicating with a person with Dementia  ) Immediately I knew I was in over my head, but I also felt a huge relief that someone could make aspects of this disease so easy to understand, (and with a great sense of humor to boot).  I immersed myself in her videos and website (www.teepasnow.com).  I took webinars and attended a wonderful Care Partner Series that was a cross between a class and a support group…twice!  Teepa, and the way she imparts coping mechanisms and techniques in how to walk this journey, absolutely changed the trajectory of ours.  Did it stop the disease? Nope.  Did it change the grief and constant changes that come with brain failure?  Nope.  What it DID change, was greatly reducing the feeling of isolation that comes when your world shrinks as you care for a loved one with this disease.  What it changed was how we viewed this disease.  It provided ways for those of us who love Dad, to offer support for him, and each other, in ways we wouldn’t have known otherwise.

shutterstock_316304594As of right now, there has not been a single survivor of this disease.  Let that sink in for a moment.  We have found ways to mitigate some of the effects of it, but it still remains a 100% fatal condition.  That may sound harsh, but it is the reality.  There is no currently no cure.  We have done a great job in this country highlighting all kinds of diseases and raising money for research, but this disease falls through the cracks sometimes.  Maybe it’s because it is often a private battle that still contains a stigma that causes people to be afraid to discuss it openly.  Maybe it’s because people who would normally be out there raising money for the cause are far too busy just trying to survive from day to day as they care for their loved ones.  Whatever the reason, we need to get busy doing all we can to raise money for research, while raising awareness and educating others, so that we can reduce the stigma associated with this disease.

My Dad is still the most brilliant man I know, and every so often I get a glimpse of that same man during a visit or conversation with him.  Underneath the looping conversations or behavior is still an amazing, loving, funny, demanding, professional and successful man; it just takes a little more to see past the surface now.  Most people who encounter those with brain failure seem to focus so much on what the person has lost in functionality, but I agree with Teepa that we need to be focusing on what someone can still do!  When we focus on the skills and abilities that remain in a dementia patient, we are able to bring out the person they’ve always been.  Unfortunately, that also means letting go of what we expected or how we think things should be, and embrace what is right in front of us.  Now that I think about it, that’s not a bad way to live our lives anyway.

Blessings!

NOTE: I will be participating in the “Walk To End Alzheimer’s” on October 12, 2019 in our local community.  I have never been one to ask for financial support for a cause, but this one is near and dear to my heart, as it is may of yours as well.  If you can make a donation to join the fight for Alzheimer’s first survivor, it would be so appreciated.  It doesn’t matter if it is one dollar, it absolutely makes a difference!     Thank you! 

Deanna OLeary’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s Page

Peace In Letting Go

It seems like so long since I have been in touch with you all, but hopefully this will bring us all back together because, quite frankly, I’ve missed you.

shutterstock_213079855We all have reasons and circumstances in life that cause us to retreat.  It doesn’t matter the source, because the reactions are much the same.  For me, it has been several years (especially the past year) of dealing with a loved one who has Dementia and struggling to leave a church I’d been part of for over 20 years.  Then my husband’s parents died just four days apart.  Within a matter of weeks, things substantially declined with my dad and he ended up moving into a memory care facility which resulted in my mom (whom I love beyond words) moving in with my husband and me.  To say it has made my heart wander and wonder would be an understatement, yet here I am doing it more than I could have ever dreamed.

Life is hard, and sometimes it seems we get beat up every time we turn around.  On top of that, people can also be mean, unkind, selfish and even narcissistic, including ourselves at times, which is why it’s so important to be able to reflect and take a look inward to see how we are contributing to the situations in which we find ourselves.  I am learning (more slowly than I’d like) there are times when you just have to step away.  When reality slaps us in the face, sometimes we have to be willing to let go of expectation.  That’s something I’ve never been able to do very well because I am not a good “leaver” no matter the situation.  When I was younger, I couldn’t have anticipated how much pain that trait would cause me over the course of my life.  There is a fine line between believing or hoping for the best in someone and subjecting yourself to continual heartache, bullying or abuse.

When you find yourself in a situation that makes you feel as though you are on the outside of something, whether it is a job, relationships, church or anything else, there are always things you can do to try and regain your footing.  The struggle that comes with finding your footing is that sometimes it may require you to step somewhere else.  shutterstock_1492027019THAT is something with which many of us are not comfortable.  Stepping out of what we want into the reality that exists means we have to let go, give up, and be willing to experience the loss and grief that comes with doing so.  Peace doesn’t come easy in these kinds of seasons in life.  When you are between a rock and a hard place, even if only by perception, it is painful no matter which way you turn.  But it’s also in that terribly lonely place that you are forced to look at what you are willing to do to be free.

As a person of faith, I have struggled with what to do or where to be.  I believe God has a plan for each of our lives, for my life, and yet I get discouraged or feel like giving up just like many of you.  Having faith doesn’t mean we don’t experience times of discouragement, rejection or even utter despair at times.  It doesn’t mean we won’t get tired or feel lonely.  Jesus himself experienced these same things when He was walking on this earth.  Our emotions aren’t sinful; they are human, but it’s what we do with our emotions that’s important.

They say confession is good for the soul, so I have to tell you that as I was writing this post, I was interrupted by a song I’d never heard before.  It was validating, comforting, and convicting all at the same time.  The song is called “Ordinary Love” by the Jim Brady Trio, and the words of the chorus have been echoing in my mind over and over.  “Ordinary love, a love that winds its way through common conversations and simple acts of grace, ‘cause no one needs a superstar and no one need a saint.  We need someone to just show up with ordinary love.”  As I sat here listening to the song over and over, I first nodded in validation we all need that kind of love, yet I’ve been fighting the oppressive sadness of feeling left out, unimportant, and insignificant.  My world has been feeling increasingly small and lonely until it finally takes too much effort to even say anything anymore.  Then as I continued to listen, I felt the tears streaming down my face at the comfort those lyrics were bringing, because no matter how I am struggling or how silent it feels, I am so grateful for the few people who show up every single day in my life with “ordinary love.”  They put legs on their intentions without prodding or having to ask for it. Then as I continued to hear those lyrics over and over, my heart began to be convicted about how important it is for me to just keep on walking where God has called me and to love people the way I always have…with all my heart…in the little ways that matter.

shutterstock_229454029When life gets so overwhelming and you can’t breathe, sometimes it is the smallest acts of grace and kindness that get you from one day to another or from one breath to the next.  Yes, there are things we must let go of to move on, and sometimes those things are deeply painful and even wounding to our hearts and spirits.  It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t let go of things, people or even our expectations; it just means it’s going to take some time to heal as a result of doing so.  We simply need to step back and listen to that still, small voice inside, and then walk on as peaceably as possible down the path ahead, even if the ground is stained with our tears as we move along.

If you are in a season of your life filled with feelings of isolation, insignificance discouragement or despair, you’re not alone.  Yes, it’s hard, and yes, it may be time for big changes within your heart that lead to changes elsewhere.  Just remember, that even as you are trudging through each step right now, be kind in your silence.  Be strong in your fatigue.  Be gentle in your frustration and disappointment, and choose to still fill the world around you with ordinary love.

Blessings!

Not Without Hope

Many of you have heard the Bible verse that says we sorrow not as those who have no hope.  I would assume that almost every occasion (if not all) was in reference to someone who has passed from this life.  Sure, it is a comfort to know that we can have hope in the midst of our grief when we lose someone we love, but these past few weeks or so have once again made me look at a common verse a little differently.  I recently lost my dear uncle Dewayne Hoppert, and it has affected me in the most profound ways.  Of course the verse I mentioned keeps coming to mind, but not in just the sense of hope I have of seeing my uncle again, but more in how my uncle lived HIS life.

dewayne happyMy Uncle Dewayne (or Uncle Wayne as I called him) was the most amazing man of faith and incredible teacher of God’s word.  He gave up a very successful and lucrative career in construction to answer the call to full-time ministry.  He earned a double Bachelor’s Degree in Theology and Bible Languages, as well as Master of Bible Languages and Doctor of Bible Languages.  He was not only masterful in his study of God’s word and everything associated with it, but also in relating it to others in the most easy to understand ways.  He was an incredible Pastor and Uncle, but he was an even more amazing example of what it means to live by faith.  Uncle Wayne lived with the effects of Multiple Sclerosis for many years.  He had continual health issues, eventually ended up in a wheelchair and often needed assistance physically.  By all rights, he should have been sad, depressed, and maybe even angry at God for allowing him to suffer physically after he had dedicated his entire life to His service.  Many people would have thought, “If this is what serving God and living by faith means, then I don’t want any part of it.”  But not Dewayne.  Nope, my Uncle Wayne always had a smile on his face and encouragement for everyone else.  You could always hear him laughing from the depths of his soul or whistling as he wheeled around the church.  At his Celebration of Life service, it was one of the most talked about aspects of his life aside from his faith, and yet it was his faith that allowed him to be so joyful and hopeful.  How in the world was he able to keep that attitude no matter what stresses came into his life (physical or otherwise)?  Well, for lack of a better statement, “He sorrowed not as those who have no hope.”

Grief and loss is such a terrible sensation.  Whether we lose a loved one, our jobs, a relationship or any other thing we value, it saddens us.  It grieves us.  It breaks our hearts.  I have lost a lot of people in my life who were dear to me, and I usually go back to this verse (along with others) to comfort me that I will see them again.  Some losses have been profound, but this is the first time I have been so confounded by one.  Maybe it’s because Dewayne was my “second dad.”  Maybe it was because, for 20 years as Music Director, I had the privilege of working so closely with him as the Pastor.  Maybe it was that he was so consistently there for me as my Uncle.  Maybe it was that he was a giant of faith in my eyes.  Or maybe, just maybe, it was simply because he lived every word he ever taught or preached.  Every time he said, “God is in control,” or “God’s got this,” he spoke out of the experience of living it.  He may have doubted now and then, but he never caved to that doubt.  Instead, he talked about how we can live victoriously over our circumstances through our faith, hope and trust in God.  And just like him, we can do the same thing by letting our love and gratitude for God drive our mindset.

shutterstock_672165244Hope is not easy to come by in a hopeless world.  Recently our Pastor brought a message on hope, and it reminded me of what Dewayne always taught:  The word “hope” used in the verse  “…sorrow not as those who have no hope,” isn’t the kind of hope this world has conditioned us to consider.  This is not just wishing for something.  We talk about hoping we get that promotion or raise.  We talk about hoping something goes well.  We hope our team wins the game.  We hope the weather is good.  We hope, we hope and we hope, but what we are really saying is we “wish.”  This verse, however, uses a word that does not infer wishing, but conveys the certainty of a positive outcome.   I’m not going to go into all the certainties of the resurrection or the certainty of our salvation as believers.  Instead, I want to talk about this idea of being certain of the positive outcome of a situation.  Romans 8:28 tells us that all things work together for our ultimate good and His glory, but when you are trudging through difficulties it’s hard to feel that way.

Having faith isn’t very hard in the good times, but when the rubber meets the road, we are so quick to complain and murmur.  We complain about our jobs, families, churches, traffic,  health, and everything else that doesn’t go the way we want.  We all have difficulties and challenges, but we don’t all go through them the same way.  The Bible is filled with verses telling us God can be trusted and that we need to trust Him.  It tells us He operates differently, and has ways that aren’t like ours, because He sees the big picture.  He knows all the paths in my life and sees it as a beautiful tapestry, where all I see is the mess of threads on the other side.  He isn’t doing things to harm me, but I can only see the threads, and sometimes it feels like He must be mad at me based on my circumstances. But in Jeremiah 29:11 He declares, “For I know the plans I have for you: plans to proper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Verse after verse tells us to seek God first, and He has promised He’ll take care of us in every way.  Dewayne used to say our problem with being totally committed to trusting God is that we KNOW He will take care of us, but we are afraid He won’t do it like we want Him to.  That’s so very true.  We want Him to lead us, but not if it takes us down a path that has difficulties.  We’ve twisted our perspective of God and who He is so much that it’s no wonder we struggle with our faith when things go wrong.

shutterstock_527029558I’m going to be a raw here for a moment.  I miss my Uncle Wayne more than I could possibly put into words.  At times it is an isolating sensation, even though I know others miss him too.  The sorrow over the loss of his physical presence is even more difficult than I imagined it would be.  I miss everything about having him here to see and talk with, whether it was laughing about old times, sharing music, discussing God’s word, or even just saying nothing while enjoying his company.  My heart breaks every time I realize I won’t have one more hug, smile, laugh or conversation with him.  It is a loss so profoundly difficult to process, but then in those moments it’s almost as if I hear his whistling drifting down from Heaven.  I am reminded of what he endured in this life and how he kept his faith no matter what he had to face.  I remember things he taught, but more importantly I remember what it looked like watching him actually live those very things through faith.  He wasn’t perfect, but I’ve never known anyone who was a more perfect parable of what it is like to be a sinner saved by the grace of God, living victoriously through trust and faith in Him.  I told someone recently that we have the perfect, sinless example of Jesus Christ on how we should live our day-to-day lives, but I was blessed beyond measure to have the most perfect example of what it looks like for an imperfect child of God to dedicate himself to learning God’s word, loving God’s word and living God’s word – even when he messed up.  I saw someone who asked for forgiveness when he sinned and understood that he didn’t have to beat himself up over it, because God forgives AND forgets.  I saw “perfect imperfection,” and it was incredible to witness.

My last visit with Dewayne was something I intended to keep private, but now feel compelled to share with you.  I did not intend to see him in the hospital because my previous visit at church with him had been so “normal.”  I was content with it, but less than two days before he passed from this life, God tugged at my heart, and I wanted to go see him.  I couldn’t explain why, but my husband and I headed to the hospital.   He was resting and not very alert, though he would nod and react to what we were saying.  There were even a few moments of laughter and responsiveness.  Before we left, I took his hand and told him I loved him.  He kind of mumbled that he loved me too, and then said, “Hey Mike” to my husband.  On the way down to the lobby of the hospital, my husband and I were talking about being glad we came, even though it was tough.  Suddenly I realized I had left my purse up in the room.  DANG!  We had to go back.  I wasn’t thrilled, but it ended up that my forgetfulness was a total gift from God.  When I walked back in the room, he was actually quite alert.  I got my purse, but then he started talking with me.  We spoke for several minutes, mostly about God being in control.  Here he was, still proclaiming God’s goodness even in his most difficult time.  He told me three different times how proud he was of me, which felt like warm oil soothing my heart.  As we talked, he said, “God’s got this.  There may be some challenges here and there, but He’s working it out and everything is going to be ok.”  He repeated those sentiments several times throughout our conversation.  Then he said, “Study,” and I told him the great thing was that he had actually taught all of us HOW to study through the rules of interpretation.  I told him he had equipped us, and that I would absolutely study.  I said, “That’s a great gift because you can listen to someone all day long but until you study things out for yourself, you don’t own it.”  He pointed at me and said, “That’s right, you’ve got to OWN it.”  He and I then clasped hands, and he pointed at me with the hand I was holding and said, “Now you’re responsible.”  Although my cousin and I laughed and joked a little bit, in my heart (and based on his expression), I will always believe he meant we are the next generation and we need to carry on in faith.  Before I left, we told each other “I love you.”  This time there was no mumbling, but the clear beautiful words that are etched into your soul in those moments.  As I left his room I turned around and pointed at him, and he pointed right back.  Then I gave him a thumbs up, and he laughed and gave one back to me.  That was the last image I had of him.  He was laughing with me and giving me the thumbs up.

I started this post saying I have never had a loss that affected me so profoundly.  It is because the way he actually LIVED affected me so profoundly.  It is a multi-faceted kaleidoscope of memories and lessons that is too massive for me to be able to wrap my head around.  My last visit with him was filled with more than what I could have ever imagined.  His ability to keep his faith, trust and joy was so strong that it filled the room in which he was staying.  It really was no different than how it filled every other room he had been in over the course of his life.  He was different.  He had HOPE!  He knew it didn’t matter what he faced, even when he had every right to be angry or bitter, because in the end he knew he was going to overcome.  He never sorrowed in this life as those who have no hope.  He had hope even when MS began to make it difficult to do certain things.  He had hope when he became confined to a wheelchair.  He had hope when his health faltered or when he had to deal with other challenges associated with life or ministry.  He didn’t just have hope, he LIVED hope!  And so can we!

Matthew 5: 14-16 is something Dewayne spoke about quite often.  “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden, nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  So let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.”  He always said those verses don’t say we might be light, but that we ARE light; the question is whether or not we are going to shine or hide.  We have a reason to hope (the certainty of a positive outcome), and it is our turn to shine.  We don’t have to reserve our hope simply for knowing we will see our loved ones again.  We can be certain every day and in every circumstance (no matter how difficult) of exactly what my Uncle Wayne last said to me:

“God’s got this.  There may be challenges here and there, but He’s working it out and it’s going to be ok.”

Blessings!