Freedom

rain.jpgScattered heavy raindrops began to fall from the sky as I played in a nearby tennis court with my friends during our brothers baseball game. Slowly, the sporadic rain turned into a steady rainfall. My friends and I lifted our arms high and tilted our heads back as we allowed the rain to land in our open mouths. I remember the laughter that flowed from us and the glances that bonded us in that moment. Time slowed and we were nothing else but free.

Sitting here thinking of that moment, I can almost feel the same freedom I felt that day. I believe if it were to start raining right now I would want to run outside and try to relive it. I wouldn’t actually do it though. Well, unless my kids were with me. I would feel like an idiot standing in the rain by myself.

We all yearn for freedom. Look at the world around you. People are always seeking and fighting for it. Or, they’re in pain because they can’t find it or simply don’t have the strength to fight for it. What I see are people clinging to the the wrong kind of freedom or things that are not freedom at all. They just think or hope it is. Because those freedoms are always in exchange for something else. I wonder if deep down they feel a void knowing it isn’t what they really need to be seeking. Those freedoms are only temporary, they are shallow puddles that will soon dry.

Like me standing in the rain. That free feeling ceased. My friends and I became bored and cold. I remember having no towel in the car and I couldn’t wait to get home to change into dry clothes. Dry socks never felt so good. The rain was a fleeting childhood freedom. Some of my best memories surround such freedoms. Childhood freedoms, although innocent and pure, will never give us what we need.

There is only one real freedom in this life and that is freedom in Christ. Many of us “adult” christians know this already. Yet, we hesitate like I do when the thought of playing in the rain crosses my mind. Why can’t we fully embrace this freedom? We’re all sinners, duh. I wonder though…what would happen if we started running and clinging to Him like a child, regardless of what sin was standing in the way? Childlike faith, I believe it’s called (wink wink).

Would we better sway people away from the false freedoms they are rooted in if they saw us clinging more to the truth our hearts hold so dear? I think about my kids and the type of faith I want them to carry throughout their lives. I picture them standing in the rain with their arms up high and heads tilted back because they know freedom, real freedom, never will cease.

What exactly is the good?

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As I sat waiting for Luke’s game to begin, I played with blades of grass at my feet. My mind was as calm as a glassy lake; there was not a wave nor a ripple in sight. But then my phone rang. It was my dad. He never calls me on the weekend, I thought as I answered my phone.

In one second my frame of mind shifted. The pain of this world, oh the pain. I wasn’t surprised by the news, yet each word stung. Sometimes it is the unsurprising news that hurts the most. I always hope people will respond or do differently than what I see coming. I much rather the stories of people overcoming life. The bad in life, that is. I love when people prevail.

It is a strength and a weakness that I strive to find the good in all things. The problem arises when the pain of this world is deeper than the seemingly good it can bring. I hate to see people give up on life. They throw in the towel and don’t look back, and they don’t look forward either. They remain stuck unable to move. Maybe that is why I need Romans 8:28, we all need Romans 8:28.

Wait.

What exactly does that even mean? I just talked about pain and giving up on life. Now I am encouraging a bible verse that talks about “in all things God works for the good”? Yes, I just said that and that.

Yesterday, after I wrote my blog post about this verse, I walked into my kitchen and there on my table were mason jars full of carnations. They’ve been sitting there for almost a week, but I saw them as if they just magically appeared.image I focused in on the pink ones. Romans 8:28 reminds me of my grandparents, it reminds me of my grandma’s death. Since the verse keeps popping up I have been thinking of her. Pink carnations were her favorite. They’ve been here in my house and yet it slipped my mind until that moment. As if that were not enough, I went to sit on my couch. My phone was in my hand because I was getting ready to clean and was going to put music on. (Who likes to clean without music?) I sat, thought about my grandma, pulled myself together, and then put Pandora on. I began to stand up when the song Homesick came on. It was the song they played at her funeral.

The tears flowed, I pictured my grandma’s face, and then peace came. My grandma was touched by the pain of this world, just like us all. Her pain is no more, though. She’s home. It got me thinking. That’s it, I’m homesick. We are all homesick. That is why it hurts so bad. We know we don’t belong here.

We are touched by our bad choices, other people’s bad choices, unexpected news, disease, death, and etc. We must remember our hope and truth lie in the fact that sin or anything that happens as a result cannot ruin God’s plan. His mind is set on our eternal salvation. His mind is set on bringing us home. That is why He sent His son Jesus to die for our sins. Stop and brew on that for a minute. That is powerful stuff. Nothing can stop His plan and nothing can stop His purpose of eternity.

The challenge lies not in my knowing this. It lies in my sharing this. It lies in you sharing this. How can we show people the good in God’s purpose? How can we show them that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not prevail?

Without the Black and White

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I remember the first time I watched the Wizard of Oz. My mom was excited to have all of her children old enough to watch one of her favorite movies. My brothers and I sat on the floor in front of the tv, my parents on the couch, and all of us chomping on popcorn. Remember the aluminum foil pan popcorn? That was the ish back then. Anyhow, I could barely sit still when I heard the MGM lion roar. The movie started and… it was black and white? I had to sit through an old black and white movie?

My mom told us to just watch and pay attention. It would be amazing, she said. I trusted her and I also knew whining would just get me sent to bed. So, I waited. Dorothy opened the door and the beautiful colors captured me. I remember my mom’s giggle as she listened to us kids ooh and aah. It was a magical moment.

It became an annual tradition to watch the Wizard of Oz. Back then, we didn’t have On Demand. We had to wait until it came back on television. Now, we don’t know anything about the excitement of waiting like we did back then. I remember when we recorded it for the first time. I could watch it whenever I wanted. Woohoo, right? I thought so until I watched it a few times and the family tradition faded. The fun in waiting ended. I learned the magic isn’t so magical without the waiting.

As a kid, I never fully appreciated Good Friday. It wasn’t a nice day to think about. Jesus having to die was sad, it wasn’t exciting. It was like the beginning of the Wizard of Oz. All I wanted was for the door to open. I wanted the beautiful color, not the black and white. I wanted to hear about Jesus rising from the dead. I was a kid so I would be lying if I didn’t also admit I wanted the Easter egg hunt, the pretty dress, and the candy (of course). All I wanted was the magic, not the things leading up to the magic.

I now love Holy Week. I love the reflection and the humility it brings. I always try to carry the beauty of the “black and white” into the “technicolor” and the days beyond. It is easily my favorite week of the year. It sort of snuck up on me this year, though. Tuesday, I kept thinking of how I wanted it to slow down. I wanted to feel the waiting a little bit longer.

It wasn’t until Wednesday night during my class that I felt my usual Holy Week feelings. I told the kids we were going to have a (sort of) Last Supper together. They were excited to say the least. It took them a bit to calm down and I almost thought it wasn’t going to work out.

They did calm down. I read the verses as we talked about how it must have felt to be there. How did Judas feel? Peter? Jesus? We passed out bread. We talked about what it meant. We ate. I poured grape juice. We talked about what it meant. We drank. They were engaged. The verses were familiar to them and of course they started talking about communion. We talked about the steps they need to take in our church to participate in communion when they are older. I got my Holy Week feeling back. Funny how teaching has a way of helping me as well. I guess it goes to show why it is important to use your unique gifts and talents.

Even as an adult I try to rush to the magic at times. I have to remind myself to stop and trust God. I look back and see the beauty in the steps leading up. I thank God for the steps leading up––no matter how hard they may be at the time.

Without the blood shed on the cross, we can have no salvation. Without the black and white, we would not have the color. It is the same with life. We must not rush to get to the color. We have to wait and see and feel the beauty in the black and white. It is only then that we can see and feel the true beauty and magic in the color.

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This is a painting I had my class do on Wednesday night after our lesson. This was my son’s. I loved the colors each kid chose. I loved seeing the anticipation they felt waiting to see their finished project. I especially loved their smiles when I oohed and aahed at their work. 

Drugs and a Well Traveled Baby Blanket

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I remember one summer as a kid I stayed a few weeks at her house.  We began sewing clothes for a little stuffed rabbit. I admired her wit and her creativity. She enjoyed writing at one time…just like me. My grandma and my mom always referred to her as being so very intelligent. There were a few times they said I reminded them of her when she was younger. There was a time when I liked hearing that. That was before drugs took her life.

You know, drugs take a person’s life long before they take their last breath. It can be a slow decay. Years later you don’t even recognize the person they once were. All you see are the lies, the anger, the stress it has caused those you love.

Drugs seeped into my life although I have never done drugs. Drugs seep into so many innocent lives and it just sucks! I’ve seen the trickle down effect it has on a family.  It infuriates me.  It infuriates me even more that I kept my mouth shut for so many years over it.

Maybe it seemed inevitable because those with mental illness seem to have a higher incidence of drug use. I cannot help but wonder where accountability falls into play. Then, that seems insensitive because mental illness is not a made up illness. Maybe the insensitivity behind mental illness is partly to blame. Which means I am partly to blame–most of us are partly to blame.

We don’t hesitate to feel for and want to help with those who have physical ailments. You have someone who is diagnosed with bipolar and it is different. We get mad at them when they once again have made a bad choice. It is hard not to be upset when someone else’s bad choices hurt those around them. I get it. Oh do I get it because I have lived it.

Up until this very moment I never realized how much drugs changed even my own life. 

Somewhere in time, I almost forgot I had an aunt. I would see her on Christmas and a few other times throughout the year. I guess there were a few times I actually saw the real her. One time was at my baby shower. I was opening up the present she got me. It was my baby blanket. She knew my mom would lose it (which is so true)…so she saved it all those years for me. I cannot help but think of the countless times she moved. Every time she carried along with her my baby blanket and I had no idea. I wonder if my blanket brought her any comfort. Was it some reminder to her of who she once was?

Mental illness and drugs are indeed a horrible combination. The insensitivity and ignorance toward them are as well though. I know it is hard to think of the person they once were. It is hard to think somewhere under all the gunk the person still remains. Maybe we are playing God when we feel the person is beyond hope; when we forget the person is still in there struggling beyond what we can ever imagine.

Oh, how Satan want us to forget that person…

And I did. I forgot she still existed. I forgot the person who still remained deserved grace, forgiveness, and love. Just like we all deserve those things. I pray the last moments of her life she called out to God. Oh I pray…

The Life in Dying

I have seen all kinds of dying.  It is a part of life most people overlook––in a sense. Maybe that will not make any sense to the average person. Maybe that is a good thing?  I don’t know.  I know people who have worked with dying patients may relate and I know people who have faced illness may relate. Because why else would you think of death as such?

I remember my first death as a nurse. It was a peaceful death. It was expected. It was awkward being the one responsible for checking for the lack of vital signs. I remembered the rule of listening for a heartbeat for a full minute, the longest minute of my life, as all eyes of the family members were on me.  I felt their tears on hold…justing waiting for the words before they burst out. The hardest part was getting the words out of my mouth. I couldn’t wait to get of the room so I could breathe.

I cannot recall how many deaths I have seen since. I’ve grown accustomed to every part of it.  I know how to talk to a family and the patient of the impending outcome.  I know how to explain (gently) why the body does not need the food the family insists on giving. I know when to stay in the room and I know when to give the family space. I am so good at death that I sometimes can see it coming just by a smell, by a subtle change in the skin, and by a look of the eyes.

Although I may have grown accustomed to the process…it is never easy to say goodbye to a patient and it is even harder to watch a family have to say goodbye to their loved one.  I have shed many tears with family members, something I could not do at first.  I had a very wise nurse tell me one time that it was okay to cry with the families from time to time.  I took that advice because sometimes patients and their family become like family.  I have gathered most of my wisdom of life from being a part of the last days of people’s life.  I have learned what truly matters in life because of them.

I wish I could give some specific examples of what I have seen; I have seen some crazy things.  There is something of a personal level that I do not feel comfortable sharing.  It is not my story to blurt out on a blog.  I am just a bystander in their last moments of life. What I do want to share is what I have learned. Most of it sounds too simple to be profound.  But profound is usually found in the most simple things, isn’t it?  Here’s what I got:

There is life in dying. There is a reason they are still living, even if for just another breath.

Family matters.  People want their family there with them.  They need to feel their hand being held. They need to hear it is okay to die.  They need to hear, “I love you.”

Laughter.  It is okay to laugh when someone is dying.  Sit in the room and tell the funny stories.

Tears are okay too.

Money.  It doesn’t matter.  Not once have I heard a dying patient talk about the amount of money they made in a lifetime.

Attention.  People want attention.  Brush their hair.  Straighten their sheets.  Sometimes it is the little things that matter the most.

Forgiveness.  Give it.  Receive it.  I have seen patients holding out to die because they are waiting for it. Don’t be stubborn.

Love.  I told you simple, didn’t I?

Faith.  I saved the best for last.  Faith most definitely makes all the difference in death.  I have seen the difference of someone with and someone without faith die.  There is a difference. There really is.