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“What is more basic than the need to be known? It is the entirety of intimacy, the elixir of love, this knowing.”

~ Audrey Niffenegger, Her Fearful Symmetry

Gin-EngagementToday is my wedding anniversary. Thirty-one years of knowing her, and my relationship with Virginia is still a mystery to me. There is much more to discover as each year passes, as together we age. As our family has grown, daughters have left (and sometimes returned), grandchildren have been born, and the dynamics always continue to change. Year-by-year, we are forced to rediscover one another again, to renew our commitment to each other, to give still more love, and to learn to forgive even more quickly. Like the facets of a diamond placed on the finger, there is always a new glimmer of light, a new beauty to be seen, a new moment to explore.

Love is sweet, healthy, it brings healing. In the brokenness of this world, love is a gentle reminder that we always hope for something more. That regardless of circumstances, there is a brighter future just ahead. Yet, always mystery remains. For the Christian couple, love is sacramental. Through our union, Jesus Christ is doing something special, and like Christ and His Church, not all of it is visible. It remains a great mystery. In learning to love Virginia, I learn to love myself, and I learn to love Christ even more.

“He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:28b-32, ESV).

The years have been kind to us, our life has been good, God has blessed us in so many ways. Our hearts are filled with theGin-Me-Des-T richness of family, and together Virginia and I overflow with memories. We married young, and we started our family soon after. A few years into our married life, with two little girls we set off for Minnesota to attend North Central University. There, two little girls became four: Destini, Talitha, Hannah, and Mikaela. Each daughter a special blessing, each one bringing unique joy into our lives.

We faced some challenges along the way, and continue to, but through it all God has been faithful. Through the years, we have built priceless friendships, many that have stood the test of time, even as life’s circumstances have often kept these friendships distant. Yet, around the world we have the richness of relationships that continue to encourage and sustain us. Virginia and I have lived Gin-Smilinglonger together than we ever lived apart, and we are so intertwined that we are never far from one another’s thoughts.

Sometimes, we forget how precious we are to one another, but never for very long. We quickly remember how our life together brings out the best in each of us, is an encouragement to others, and a source of strength to our family. We have something special. Too often I am guilty of forgetting how special. Then, I look back at the moments collected over thirty-one years, and I am in awe. Amazed that God has enabled us to keep our promises to one another through the years, astounded that there is so much that I can’t explain about our relationship, encouraged because God is truly faithful, as I still explore the mystery found in these four words: “I love you, Virginia.” So, I settle into the comfort of a satisfied life, as I say with joy, “Happy Anniversary, My Love.” And the mystery is that someone so special could walk this journey with me.

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Today’s post is dedicated to a loving individual, who faithfully chronicled the journey as her mother passed through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4). Death is the great evil inflicted on humanity because of sin, but through the cross of Jesus Christ it has become the doorway to great victory for every believer. Out of respect, I am keeping her anonymous, because this is her story to share, while I simply reflect on what her testimony has meant to me personally.

The Facebook post simply says, “Praising God,” and is accompanied by two photographs. One is a woman much younger than when I knew her, and in the other a clock stands in the foreground, flowers and a pad of paper next to it, in the background a picture of a mother and her only daughter. The numbers on the clock simply read 10:55, and I can hear the words all the way from Tennessee, as they also echoed from hills just outside the city of Jerusalem over 2,000 years ago, “It is finished” (John 19:30). At 10:55, death struck again. The common enemy of all humans. The tragedy of separation. And, for those not in the moment, simply another story of death, upon death, upon death. So eyes are dimmed, ears are closed, as the living continue to go about their day, all the while rushing forward through life toward that inevitable enemy death.

But this chronicle of death is not an ordinary story. Like the death of Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago, it holds with it the promise of resurrection. This death is simply a doorway into a greater reality, truth made visible, the glory of the Creator revealed. Yes, there is grief. There is mourning. There is a painful, dull ache, that will refuse to go away completely. But, there is also hope, celebration, joy in the promise of what is ahead. This soul is alive! This individual is in the presence of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:21-23)! Her body will one day rise again from the grave, transformed in an instant, conquering death completely! Her voice will shout loudly, because she has trusted in her God:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.’
‘O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?’”

1 Corinthians 15:54b-55, ESV

Throughout this chronicle of dying, I was privileged to witness a heart of hope amidst the grief. I was captivated, as I’m sure many were, by a daughter so willing to share the vestiges of this heart wrenching and personal experience. She has been a testimony of grace. The last surviving member of a family: father, brother, now mother, who all died much earlier than expected. Her faith stood strong as she posted the testimony of another saint who died relatively young:

“‘Today you will be with me in paradise’ is the whisper of Christ to every dying saint.”

Charles Spurgeon

And as my friend shared her grief, I felt privileged to be allowed into what can only be described as sacred moments. God was present, conveying Himself even through the messy, human technology that we call social media. As fingers typed, messages passed through Facebook posts carrying with them God’s whispering voice, “I am here.” Here’s just a small glimpse, that I hope you will reverence as I have:

Vigil, night 4.
5.5 hrs sleep in 3 days.
Calling reinforcements.
Hospice angel-nurse.
Sleeping on floor.
Must be there.
Sacred moments.

*****

Vigil, night 3.
Morphine duty.
Counting breaths.
Last one?
Angels, where are you?
Hurry, please.

*****

THE WAITING HOURS – As I have sat here for hours and hours next to my silent handsMother, waiting for the hand of God to scoop her up, I have had much time to think. To ponder this limbo; these sacred moments between earth and Heaven. For me, the observer, it is excrutiating. The push-me-pull-you between desiring for her to come alive and be present with me again, and the longing for her to be eternally free from her disease. I am a living paradox, and neither is wrong! God said through Moses, “choose life, that you and your children might live”. Then Paul told the Philippians “to die is gain”. Aren’t they both true? If we are HERE, then LIVE here. If we die, it’s BETTER. It’s up to God, but if you ARE here . . . LIVE in these moments and feel all the pain and grief down to the bottom. Drink the whole cup.

Indeed. Drink the whole cup. Precious moments. Precious love. Precious Savior. Precious daughter. Thank you, my friend, for allowing us into this sacred space. Bless you as you continue your journey through grief, joy, hope, love. You live the moments well.

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“I used to be afraid that if I was authentic I might take a hit, but now I know that being real means I will take a hit.”

Bob Goff, Love Does

 

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Recently, I subscribed to Foreign Policy magazine, and today I received my first issue entitled, A World Disrupted. As I scanned the opening pages, my eyes were drawn to Letter From the Editors: Disruption But Not Despair. It began:

Un bien pour un mal, goes the French phrase–a blessing in disguise, or good that comes cloaked in bad. This year, when morning headlines proclaimed doom and disaster day after day, it began to feel routine to hope, fiercely, for just that: a grace that would emerge from the evil and destruction afflicting the world (3).

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