When Death Interrupts Life

My uncle died Friday night.

Lying in hospital, his one strong hand clung to the woman he loved. His pale cheeks wet from my aunt’s  teary butterfly kisses.

My uncle had suffered a Stroke weeks earlier, but on Friday—the first day of spring—I didn’t know his frail body was shutting down….

While I played Florence Nightingale to my outdoor plants—amputating dead limbs, nurturing them with life-giving water.

Springtime—the smell of fresh-cut grass, a sky the color of robin eggs, yellow buds unfurling in the afternoon sun.  My Friday was pregnant with new life around me and joyful possibilities.

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 What a stark contrast to my uncle and aunt’s reality. Death’s chill shadow loomed over them as the life they knew and shared concluded.

And yet, even in this…gut-wrenching pain of letting go….Hope was present.

Hope is the balm that soothes the burning sting of death.

 “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. BUT Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Death can’t be sugar coated. “There’s a grief that can’t be spoken.” (Lyric from Empty Chairs at Empty Tables)

However, my uncle and aunt believed “That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day….”

And their FAITH is what the Bible describes as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

This world isn’t the end all. There may be mysteries we can’t explain. But God has given us His Word, and His Promise, that death will be swallowed up in victory.

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The Columbine seeds I scattered in my garden last year now rise from the earth, but in a new form. The clover-like foliage and lavender bell-shaped flowers are more beautiful and fragrant than its seed.

So it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”

Because Christ lives, we live too!

That is the sweet reality for those who believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have LIFE in His name.” (John 20:31)

*Other scripture  cited is from 1 Corinthians 15

Photos by Jennifer Foster

For Better or Worse

BoquetThis is a re-post from last June. I’ve updated the years, but the sentiment remains true.

Like many couples getting married in June, I too was a blushing bride…thirty five years ago.

This morning, after my shower, I wanted to wish my husband a “Happy Anniversary.” He was on the back patio reading the news off his laptop.

No bridal gown today. Dressed in a frumpy, white bathrobe, my hair was wet and tangled. No  makeup. And I’m twenty-two pounds heavier than the day I said “I do.”

 Half-joking, I pointed to my dowdy appearance, “For better or worse!”

“That’s okay.” My husband teased. “My eyesight isn’t as good as the day we married.”

On June 30th, 1979 we made a covenant before God and became one flesh. God’s grace, a sense of humor, loyalty, communication, and selflessness kept us together. Prayer was also necessary to soften our hearts towards each other during hard times.

Today, I studied my husband’s unshaven face, his graying hair, the laugh lines around his blue eyes. It’s difficult to imagine my life without him walking beside me.

Praise God, I didn’t call it quits whenever my husband rubbed me the wrong way, crimped my style. I’m blessed to find a husband who loves me when I least deserve it, never keeps an account of the things I’ve done wrong.

No wonder marriage is the image God uses to illustrate the relationship between Christ and His Church. Wedding vows are worth remembering, when marriage seems too familiar.

“I, Karen, take thee, Dan, to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge thee my faith/myself to you.”

The words are similar to God’s irrevocable covenant with His beloved.

I, Yahweh, the Great I Am, take Karen, to be the Bride and Body of Christ.

To have and to hold…: “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

For better, or worse: “My grace is enough for you….” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

To love and to cherish: “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 31:3)

Till death do us part: “Neither death or life can separate you from the love of God.”(Romans 8:38, 39)

According to my Holy plan, I pledge myself to you.

“Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (Rev. 19:9)

Have you been invited?

What is Fear, but a lack of trust?

It was dusk when I walked the narrow path made of white butcher paper, marked with a male’s naked, red footprints.

High school students had transformed the school gymnasium to recreate a Journey to the Cross. It was an outreach to turn people’s hearts toward Jesus.

By God’s grace and the Holy Spirit, these hearts would be convicted and healed.

Instead of praying: Fix my problems. Show me the way.  

I asked God, Show me my SIN.

Show me what action or attitude within me, is offensive, or contrary to Your will.   

The very sin Christ bore as He died on the cross to set me free.

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As I entered the gymnasium, somber music played from The Passion soundtrack. Black and burgundy cloth, hung from wires, subdivided the gym to create smaller rooms depicting Jesus’ betrayal, trial, scourging, death, and resurrection.

In one area, there was a sign: Take a black scrap of cloth and a piece of chalk. Write a sin, something you wrestle with….then nail it to the cross.

Of my many vices, FEAR surfaced. For what is fear, but a lack of trusting God?  

We can’t trust someone we don’t know.”

That’s what my friend, Loretta, told me years ago.

Since then, I’ve gone from head knowledge, knowing about God, to KNOWING HIM in a more intimate way that satisfies my heart.

And yet, FEAR remains my Achilles heel.

So I scribbled: FEAR; lack of trusting God.

Prior to writing those words, I had glanced inside a small nearby area designated “Prayer Room.” Since it was evening, the room was devoid of people, but I hesitated to enter. After God revealed my sin, this weakness that cripples my faith, I stepped inside.

Pillows and blankets lined the floor, tea lights in mason jars flickered, and white icicle lights hung overhead. I sat down to pray, but my jaw dropped. For next to my ankle was an index card with the word TRUST.

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I picked up the card, turned it over. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:4, 5

A few other cards were scattered on the floor. Different words, different verses. But TRUST was the word next to me, the first card that caught my attention.

Coincidence? That a student felt led to write TRUST, two days earlier?

Coincidence? That beckoned me into that prayer room, caused me to sit down in that exact spot?

Tears of joy, not condemnation, filled my eyes. How can I not love my Lord who reveals my sin, but then gently reminds me to TRUST.

  • Trust…the Lord with my life, and circumstances beyond my control.
  • Trust…the Lord loves me and died for me too.
  • Trust…the Lord that I’m forgiven and a new creature in Christ Jesus.

I nailed that scrap of black cloth to a large wooden cross. A cross blackened with the sins of teachers, students, and parents who had gone on this Journey before me.

And like the others, I wrote on a wall near the empty tomb,

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One of the many benefits that come when we’re Born Again, and our sins are forgiven: Peace, joy, gratitude, hope, love, victory, freedom, a new identity…..

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Have you trusted in Christ?

If so, have you told Him how much you love Him?

Show Me a Sign

Rain all through the night,” announced the man on the radio.

I welcomed the winter rain. We need the water. But most folks across the country are ready for Spring. They’re sick of snow. And who can blame them?

Sometimes we need a change.

Perhaps it’s not the weather. Financial hardship, marital problems, rebellious teens, ill health, or a tedious job will stretch our patience thin.

We pray, but nothing changes.

So we hunker down and wait for the season, or storm, to pass.

When I’m overwhelmed by duties or sorrows, searching for answers, I’m prone to act like Gideon (Judges 6-9). I want assurance that God is present and has a plan.

Show me a sign, Lord.    

That was my exact prayer when a three-day rainstorm paused, and the sun broke through the clouds like a welcomed guest. Enjoying the calm before another storm, I walked to my mailbox and found a package. Inside the package was a slim metal bracelet that I had ordered eight weeks earlier.

A package long overdue, but not really because ….

God’s timing is perfect.

A smile spread across my face as I read the tiny, engraved words on my bracelet.

Abide in Me

Not exactly the answer I was looking for that blustery day, but I knew it was a sign from above. Circumstances change, but God’s response remains the same.

Abide in Me

Abiding is that sweet union which allows believers to experience uninterrupted fellowship with Jesus. When we abide in Him, not only can we rest and experience peace, Jesus says we will bear much fruit and have joy (John 15).

When we abide in Christ, our eyes are fixed on Him and not our circumstances. We lean on Christ, and not ourselves.

As storm clouds gathered on the horizon that day, I ran my fingers over the bracelet. Three words once spoken by Jesus were now etched upon my heart, wrapped around my wrist.

Abide in Me

Today and every day…..even in this storm.

Photo of Bird: Molly Smith Detweiler 

Thunderstorm: Karen Foster

Rain Makes the People Grow

A blue sky and the chatter of yellow finches clinging to the tube feeder beneath my Oak tree beckons me. Come out and play.

However, blue skies can be deceiving in the winter. I open the front door and poke my head outside to test the temperature. The weatherman’s forecast was right. It’s unseasonably warm. I roll up my long sleeves. Grab a rake. But first, I stand still like the Tin Man from Oz and soak up the sunshine as though it were oil lubricating my stiff joints.

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Then I rake the blanket of dry, brown pine needles off my Vinca plants. As sunlight touches the Vinca’s trailing stems, they seem to yawn and stretch skyward. Their miniature buds ready to burst into purple flowers.

Can this really be January?

Some folks may be envious especially if they’re shoveling snow. But as much as I love the sunshine, I’m praying for rain. Plants droop, waiting for a heavenly drink. Without rain, or snow in the mountains, the cost won’t be worth this week’s winter warmth.

I rake sharp needles into piles and look for a God lesson even in this glorious Spring-like day. And He shows me how often I pray for perfect days.

No problems to solve, nothing to fix. Health, wealth, and happiness. Isn’t that what people long for? Heaven on earth?

But I’m no different than trees and grass. I need grey, wet days to grow and thrive. Left to my own self-protection, and idea of perfection, my character stagnates. As a believer, how can I grow more into the likeness of Christ if I cling to the sunshine and avoid the storms?

“Rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that pressure and affliction and hardship produce patient and unswerving endurance. And endurance develops maturity of character.” (Romans 5:3, 4)

A pastor said, “When I pray for a good day, am I asking for a day that’s problem-free so I don’t need to rely on the Lord?”

I don’t have to be a weatherman to forecast my actions. I know I don’t pray as fervently when I’m on a vacation from my problems. I’m content to sail my own ship. Be captain of my soul.

Do I want to grow in Christ, and have my character be more like Him? Then I must stop being a fair-weather friend.

And rejoice even in the rain.

Walking in Fear

20131109_112324I arrived at Sisters of Mercy for a day of solitude to embrace God’s presence. There was no agenda. I was there to meditate on His Word, listen for His voice.

My mind was expectant, at bliss, as I ventured down a path towards the Ten Stations of the Cross.

I didn’t expect to meet FEAR.

Crossing a small wooden bridge, I walked down a narrow path surrounded by wild vegetation, covered by a canopy of trees. Intermittently, there were small white statues depicting Jesus’ journey to the cross.

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I prayed God would manifest His presence; give me a sign.

Eyes wide-open, I saw a downy feather clinging to a branch….Abide in Me.

Ears alert, I listened to squirrels playing tag among the trees…Rejoice.

Then a brown tiger-striped cat walked by me like a returning conqueror. The words “Sweet Kitty” stuck in my throat, my stomach lurched. A deflated mouse with a tail limp as a spaghetti noodle dangled from the feline’s lips.

My eyes scanned the sun-dappled path for scurrying mice.

Instead, I encountered a large, black dog. He stood at attention on the other side of the dry creek bed, watched me with steel eyes. There was a field fence dividing the retreat property from nearby homes, but with the thick vegetation, I wasn’t sure which side of the fence he stood.

I hurried pass Christ being nailed to a cross, and glanced back to see if “danger” followed.

When the gravel path curved, I came face to face with Jesus hanging on a cross.

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But my eyes were diverted by the same dog standing a few feet away. He was behind the fence, but when the dog barked, I left.

Retracing my steps to the bridge, the cool, green sanctuary took on a Gothic appearance. Branches rustled, dead limbs pointed knobby fingers at me. Winged creatures stared at me.

As I emerged from the trees, the sun’s warmth washed away my goose bumps.

And that still small voice of God spoke:  This is a metaphor of your life.

 Do you realize you spent more time looking at the things that scare you than the images of Christ?

 It’s time you let go of  fear, and learned to walk with your eyes on Me.

How could I argue after that surreal experience?

The rest of the day, I asked God to vanquish fear and show me how to trust Him more.

Even when scary, awful, bad things happen.

 “For God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

Haunted by Ghosts of Regret?

231 Do the ghosts of past regret haunt you with the words “If only?”

When Daylight Savings Time ended last Sunday, the sun rose at 6:35 a.m. instead of 7:35 a.m. because I set back my clocks by one hour.

If only I could change my past that easily by switching back the hands of time.

Hindsight has taught me many lessons, made me wiser.

Even so, I’d like to go back and change poor decisions. Sometimes, I wonder how life would be now if I’d made different choices.

There are also things I wish I’d done…..

For two years, I promised myself I’d visit an elderly friend. But she lived “so far away” and “life was busy.” By the time I went to her home, she had passed away.

 IF only I had known….

Regret is difficult to avoid…   

If only I had taken a different path,

If only I had made better choices,

If only God hadn’t allowed that circumstance,

If only I had known then, what I know now.  

But living with “what might have been” paralyzes me.

Before Paul was an apostle of Christ, he persecuted Christians. The memory of watching Stephen being stoned to death must have made Paul cry, “If only I had known Christ then, I would have ….

Paul experienced remorse over his actions: “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?”

But he received the peace of God. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord…There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Read Romans 7:15-8:1)

“If only” didn’t hold Paul captive to the past.

Instead, he believed that he was loved by God, saved by grace, and forgiven.

And those facts enabled Paul to say, “…forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Read Philippians 3:8-14)

Like Paul, we get to choose where our mind dwells.

“Whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, good repute, excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things…..and the God of peace shall be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)

                  The only “if only” anyone should regret……is not knowing…..the God of peace.