Monday, November 8, 2010

The Season of Cunchy Leaves

The bike paths these past few weeks have been what we’d call “Dane’s bike paths,” as in covered with crunchy leaves. Of course, the recent cool days and crunchy paths have whisked my mind and heart back to exactly a year ago, when I would take little breaks in the day from hospice care to take a bike ride and hit the driving range. For whatever reason, my mind has been drawn to a specific memory from that season: It was during the pedaling and between golf balls last fall that I found my heart swirling with questions. One question in particular that haunted me then as I faced the prospect of losing Dane was simply this: Where will I find comfort?

This was more than a random question in that I could see some road blocks developing between me and my main source for comfort, God.

To be honest, you can’t help but feel some distance from God in a journey like Dana’s and mine. It seemed that every opportunity we had for some God intervention, He didn’t come through (obviously based on our definition of “come through”). And to be blatantly honest, this feeling of distance will stop a prayer life dead in its tracks. So how will I find comfort in prayer?

But perhaps the scariest question: How will I find comfort in Scripture?

Of the myriad deep connections that Dana and I shared, Scripture was one of the deepest. One of our favorite types of conversation was simply sharing epiphanies, the “Oh Wow!” moments, that came to us as we experienced God’s Word, even finding the common ground between theologically contradictory camps (Armenian vs. Calvinist, for one). And if this doesn’t sound like a particularly fun time, remember, Dana and I could make ANYTHING fun and funny! So my honest, gut-wrenching thought was: Will Scripture comfort me? Will the hurt be too deep to even be able to open a Bible?

And, to top it off, here I am leading a ministry (InWord) dedicated to advancing one of God’s most powerful tools on this earth—His written Word, while I am experiencing pain from one of the world’s deepest losses—losing Dana. Here’s what has really scared me: What if I find the promises to be empty? What if I conclude that things God said just don’t comfort me? What if Scripture doesn’t come through?

I can honestly say, so far, so good. Surprisingly so. But it’s been a nice surprise as to how God has used Scripture to help me out.

I’m finding that it’s not only the promises that comfort me (i.e., God is ever-present), but also the real-life examples that Scripture gives me such as the lives of Ezekiel (see Ezekiel 24:18; this one blew me away) and John the Baptist and the gut-candid writings in the Psalms. These examples show how God-followers navigated the pain and loss of this broken world. I’ll admit it’s easy for promises in Scripture to be so familiar that they lose their punch. But the life stories. They pack a different punch. Especially the life of John the Baptist.

As my Tuesday Bible study group was finishing up our study of the book Plan B, we looked at the life of John the Baptist. What a great example of someone who might have wondered if God was on his side. In fact, if heaven has cars, you’ll know you’re behind John the Baptist if you see a bumper sticker that says “Life sucks…then you’re beheaded.” The man led an austere, spiritually disciplined life, spent his remaining months in prison, and then, well, was beheaded.

But the scene that has touched me profoundly is when John was in prison and sent a desperate, heartfelt question to Jesus: “Are you the One?” I feel like John was saying, “I’m going through crap here and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get any better. But if you’re the One, I can do this. I can endure. It’s worth it.” Jesus simply told the messengers, “Tell John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”

‘Nuff said. Jesus gave John a list of God stamps.

I’m not seeing lame people walk or blind people see. But I continue to see deer and rainbows at strangely timed instances—long-ago declared stamps of God’s presence in this journey. I am being gently assured that, like John, Jesus is the One. It’s worth it.

In fact…

A few days ago I decided to take a walk and listen to some music that has ministered to Dana and me over the years. I’ve sorta shied away from this genre of music because it’s just too heavy. So I trekked out with my Nano and my playlist of “faith” music, a good mix of new and nostalgic: Casting Crowns, David Crowder, Matt Redman, Rich Mullins, Twyla Paris, and…First Call. For those who were at Dana’s celebration service, you got to hear First Call artist Bonnie Keen, one of Dana’s (and my) favorite friends, sing one of our favorite First Call songs, “Let the Healing Begin.” Musician extraordinaire and dear friend Lynn Hodges filled in and the two were backed up by a choir of beloved Nashville friends. An incredible celebration moment. (BTW, it’s a driving, powerful song. You should get it from iTunes.) So naturally, when that song began to play in my ears on my walk I commenced to cry-walk; boo-hoo walk in fact. And then, as if on cue…no, ON cue, on DIVINE cue actually, two deer popped out of the woods and just stared at me. While I’m listening to a song that ministered to both Dana and me and then to me as part of Dana’s celebration, God delivered a stamp of His presence. It's noteworthy that this was the first time I had decided to walk with meaningful music, and it was the first time I saw deer on this particular walk-path since Dane's passing.

Jesus might as well have popped out of the woods Himself and said, in the same manner as sending His message back to John the Baptist, “Barry, I’m the One. The lame walk; the blind see; the deaf hear; the grieving are comforted…I am near the broken-hearted; and all of this has a mind-blowing pay-off in the end. It’s all very real. Hang in there Bear.”

I’m encouraged by the parallels between my journey and the journeys taken by those brave, faithful people in Scripture. So as I ride the trails the Dana way, swerving to HIT the crunchy leaves, and as I miss her in new ways every day, I can say with thanksgiving that God’s Word is just what God said it is: it’s enduring, it’s faithful, it’s comforting.

Regarding comfort in my prayer life, I’m still working on that.

I am so aware of everyone’s prayer and support. Thank you!


P.S. Pud says Hey!

P.P.S. One of my recent strangely timed deer and rainbow instances: our friend Marcie sent me a two-page ad for the Honda Odyssey with a deer AND a rainbow in the ad. Nicely done. I guess I know my next vehicle. Or at least my vehicle for heaven, when I’m following John T. Baptist around.