Tag: death (page 1 of 3)

How Do You Choose Life in the Midst of Death?

Friends, I share this in the hopes that it will encourage those of you, in particular, who have dealt with loss this year.

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Dear Baby David,

It’s a lilac-blooming, cut-grass wafting, bike-riding spring season here. Life is bursting out everywhere.

Today is your birthday. It’s also Mother’s Day – a cruel irony for Mom.

A year ago you were in the midst of the fight for your earthly life. And then in two months it was over.

You’ve been gone from our sight since July 18th, but you continue to show up when I see a mischievous grin, or an arms-open-wide welcome, the painting of a fly-fisherman, a dad playing ball with his kids, a question that is asked in order to take a faith conversation beyond the surface…

It’s still hard to comprehend that you are not physically here with us. As the year progresses, we link arms as a family, stumbling together through the holidays and everydays. The thing we share is our steadfast love of you and each other. But we each grieve and process in different ways. We’re trying to listen deeply to each other.

I think when someone we crazy-love dies (husband, dad, brother, son) the biggest challenge is continuing to choose Life.

First of all, we just. don’t. WANT. to. We want to wake up and have you grilling on the patio like you should be. We don’t want to let you go – as if we could, by sheer will pull you back in like a kite that has been taken out of sight by the wind.

Also, it feels somehow that letting go and envisioning a new life without you in it is wrong…a betrayal. Like doing that somehow negates our love and devotion to you…How can we possibly continue without a vital, beloved piece of our lives?

But here’s the thing that helps me. In the everyday ordinary stuff and even as you were dying, you chose Life.

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You chose Life first and foremost because you chose Jesus, affirming that He loves and forgives us, and as you always said, “He’s the good Author of our story.”

And then you chose life by seeing the image of Jesus in others, and serving those who felt like their life was over, and by laughing easily at yourself, and by your delight in His creation.

So we continue to choose Life even in the midst of death.

Susan is both devastated and courageous.

The tension between acceptance and the temptation to be stuck wallowing forever is real, but she has taken monumental steps in choosing Life.

She can be brave because you affirmed every day that she is capable of doing hard things. You would be so proud of her just as we are.

  • She does the hard dance of stretching herself, but knows when she needs to withdraw and rest with Jesus.
  • Her faith remains authentic and vibrant, but she hasn’t been able to go back to church without you and she knows that’s ok in this season.
  • She goes back into cancer wards with Sophia the wonder dog to bring comfort in painful situations she is all too familiar with.

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  • She organized Team Dave Strong and Courageous to raise money for Melanoma research.

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  • She is painting the downstairs a lighter color to lighten her mood.
  • She put together the Dave Johansen Memorial Leadership Lending Library at your office, so you are continuing to mentor others even in your absence.
  • She seeks grief support and community, but isn’t afraid to say what is helpful and what isn’t, what’s too soon, what’s uncomfortable, and what works. She recently has connected with a group of young widows started by another person YOU influenced with your life.
  • And she continues to seek glimpses of the Eternal. This was what she posted yesterday.

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Loss hurts, but love wins when we continue to choose Life. You probably already know all this, but we’re trying down here. We’re really trying.

love,

Your “Sweet sis”

 

When God Seems Like a Short Bald Guy

Many years ago I was invited to a dinner with Dustin Hoffman. And this is what I expected.

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Clearly, I’m not a celebrity, and I don’t have cool actor acquaintances, but my friend was on the board of the Chicago Steppenwolf  Theater Company and Dustin was in town to star in Death of a Salesman.

My friend was invited to dinner and her husband didn’t want to go so…I got to be her date. Continue reading

When Jesus Doesn’t Show up and Something Dies

Years ago I had a dream I believed was from God. There was a quiet Holy Spirit whisper.

I trusted Him (I thought).

I worked hard. I asked the right questions. I got the right permissions.

I was affirmed for my gifts in the area of my dream. I won awards.

And then, painfully, my dream was demolished by a series of choices outside my control.

A friend said it was like I walked out into an intersection I had been told was safe and was run over by a mack truck being driven by people I trusted.

I waited expectantly for God to swoop in and fix everything.

But God was silent.

He didn’t right the wrongs. He didn’t correct the injustices. I was left with the death of illusions, trust, and my dream.

Jesus lingered “somewhere else” and didn’t show up in time.

Like in Monday’s post, God didn’t make sense to me.

I think all of us have times when God has seemed inattentive, uncooperative, or late. What do we do when Jesus doesn’t show up and something dies? Continue reading

Three Questions to Ask When God Doesn’t Make Sense

It was January cold. I was 14-years-old and a brand new Christian, bravely bubbling over with faith and excitement about Jesus, reading my cool Bible and believing and praying.

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My friends were new to this Jesus too. Together faith was a daily adventure of new discoveries.

One frigid Friday night, we were bouncing along on a yellow school bus with our youth group down dark rural roads  heading to a ski weekend on the slopes of what pass for “mountains” in northern Wisconsin.

Jostling, laughing, gossiping, singing in the back of the bus, we were having a great time til someone bumped into me and a contact popped out of my eye onto the dark, sooty grit below our feet.

This is not a crisis except if you’re a teenage girl who wouldn’t be caught dead in glasses. (Plus, contacts all those years ago were darn expensive)

Everyone dropped to their knees, scouring the gross, wet rubber floor for the tiny piece of clear plastic.

We. Looked. Forever.

Nothing.

Still on our knees, we were ready to give up when one of my fellow newbies ventured, “You guys…What if… we pray???!!! Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?”

We closed our eyes, and my friend said, “Lord we can’t find this contact. You know where it is. Please help us.”

I literally opened my eyes, looked down, and astonished, picked up the lost contact.

We were ecstatic.

The creator of the universe – God Himself! – heard and responded to a few teenage girls with a little faith.

To this day I have no doubt that God graciously intervened on our behalf.

Fast forward to last year at this time. My brother David was diagnosed with Melanoma. Continue reading

When God Sets Eternity in Our Hearts

Dear Baby David,

As I write this, John and I are in Malawi, but I’m thinking of you.

It’s been four months since you left us.

Thanksgiving is next week and you won’t be here to play football with the family, or cook the turkey on the grill, or sit at the head of the table. You and John won’t be cleaning up in the kitchen after the feast.

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And soon we will enter a new season. Snow will softly cover the ground like a Mama quietly tucking her baby in with a comforter.

I want to stop the days and the snow and the Christmas season from coming.

It feels wrong to go on without you and I keep thinking of things I wish I had talked to you about before you died.

Faith is a gift, but it’s also a choice. We choose to continue to trust that God is good in spite of this very bad thing that has happened. Very bad for us, but you not so much.

People like to say “He’s in a better place…He’s with Jesus…He’s free from pain now” and I believe it’s true, but often they’re words we say without really understanding, because, well, we’re still here – alive, but not with you.

Here’s the thing…It felt like if we talked about “IT”, we didn’t have enough faith. Like we were giving up on OUR specific preferred prayer outcome.

If we discussed the possibility of death we were opening a scary door we didn’t want to crack. Because as wonderful as life in heaven might be, we’re basically a very selfish lot who want you here.

Yes, we fully knew as we prayed for healing, not only that God COULD easily heal you in this life, but also that He MIGHT not.

His healing might come on the other side. We believe that because we trust in Jesus, Life with Him forever in heaven is ours. But we really didn’t want you to go ahead without us.

So when I heard John Ortberg preach on death and heaven in the spring, I wanted to share it with you, and talk about it, but also… I didn’t.

Ortberg quotes Ecclesiastes: “[God] has also set eternity in the human heart…” And then he says:

Everybody dies. Every creature ceases to exist, but God has set eternity in the human heart.

I think about it like this sometimes. One of the most amazing aspects of nature to me is how God has placed in animals…a kind of built-in homing instinct of incredible accuracy….

Homing pigeons, I understand, can find their way home from places they have never been on the planet so accurately they were actually used by the ancient Romans and Genghis Kahn.

Dung beetles actually navigate home by the Milky Way.

Salmon leave the ocean and travel to the exact spot on the exact river where they were born.

And then my favorite part: Continue reading

Soul Food for Those Who are Grieving

I wrote last week that one of my deepest desires for this space is that it would delight and refresh your soul. I want there to be laughter and fun and creativity mixed in with some of the more intense stuff of life. My hope is that “Soul Food” posts will provide some ideas and resources that you’ll look forward to like a kid looks forward to a day at the State Fair.

Recently I read a great business article  that brought to mind all the creative ways that people ministered to us around my brother’s death.

I’ve written about relational and practical stuff, and we have treasured every note that was written to us, but this is different.

Today I want to share some of the creative ways people used their spiritual gifts, talents, and resources to minister to us in the hopes it may inspire us as we minister to others.

  • In the midst of the emotional roller coaster ride with David towards eternal life, we had friends who one day said, “Are you free for dinner? Come out on our boat with us and let us care for you and you just breathe.”

They gave us hugs and listening ears and dinner and beauty. We cruised on Lake Minnetonka and ate and talked and relaxed, and it was a gift.

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  • One day I received an email from a friend who lives in Australia. She is a talented photographer and gardener. Her note said “Come, let’s take a virtual walk in my garden together and soak up God’s goodness.” She attached a power point with photos and thoughts as if we were walking through her garden together! You can take a look at part of it here: Winter pruned 1
  • Two friends made CD’s – mixes of songs they felt would be comforting during this hard season. For Susan and David there were many trips to and from the hospital in Chicago when these provided a strengthening sound track. This song, Nearness, on one of the CD’s was sung at David’s memorial service. If you’re having a hard day, this is for you.

There were also really meaningful gifts after David died in addition to people who blew us away by contributing in his honor. We were surprised by how moving these gifts were.

  • Like I said, there have been many kind gifts, but I want to mention one – a family sent us a delightful memorial wind chime with a quote on it. It is a beautiful, meaningful reminder whenever the wind blows.
  • While I was still in Chicago with family, a friend dropped off 5 dinners to our home in Minneapolis that she had made and frozen for us. Yes, of course I have time to make dinner (I don’t have kids at home and it wasn’t my husband that died), but what I’ve discovered is how exhausted you are after a crisis, or in a season of grief and how nice it is NOT TO HAVE TO THINK about dinner.
  • My small group, who had been part of an indefatigable prayer team for David, created one of the most meaningful gifts. They wrote verses that we had clung to during David’s cancer and notes of encouragement on a hurricane with a candle. We’ve talked often about how God’s light shines through the broken places in our lives and the gold lines represent those places of healing.

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  • I was moved to tears when I opened a card the other day and a friend in MN had laminated the newspaper obituary of my brother (which I helped write, but had not seen). She said she thought I might want to keep it in my Bible.

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All of these gifts were creative, thoughtful and personal. They communicated care and a desire to remember with us someone we loved.

Are there some additional ways people have ministered to you when you have been grieving?

 

The Questions of Life and Death

My sister-in-law, Susan is a strong and courageous woman of faith. She read this and asked me to post it in the hopes that it might encourage, comfort, or inspire others. We know that many are walking hard roads with challenges we can’t imagine.

It’s a glorious summer morning as I sit on my brother’s front porch in a wicker rocker. Birds are chattering about new-day things. A bunny is nibbling breakfast in the front yard near the hydrangea and today’s paper waits in the driveway to be picked up. A jogger and a dog-walker pass by.

As a friend says, “This is the Lifiest time of year.”

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People open junk mail, play a set of tennis, watch a friend’s wedding video on Facebook, water gardens, laugh at jokes, cut the lawn.

Inside the house my brother dances back and forth with one foot in heaven and one still on earth.

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This feels surreal. It can’t be happening. Life and death, and life and Life.

Things beginning, things ending. Things growing, things dying.

I stare at the pictures rotating through my screen-saver. Photos of us in foreign countries – with kids thirsty for clean water in Africa, with survivors of a tsunami in Sri Lanka, with Palestinians in a refugee camp longing for home – the World outside our world.

Every day, people trying to choose Life.

This is a week when, in some ways life is on hold and we’re just waiting; day to day, minute to minute.

We’re simultaneously holding our breath and trying to breathe. 

But in other ways everything is so…normal. We do all the regular stuff and wonder, “How? How can we do life while David seems to be moving towards death?”

I wake up off and on throughout the nights and pray, “God help. Hold. Heal.”

We say “Prayer changes things”, but what we really hope is that prayer will just change “THINGS” and not change US.

This time God seems to want to change us – to make us “Lifier” people with an ear to heaven and an eye on eternity. Continue reading

A Letter to My Brother

Dear Baby David,

I keep thinking of that time a few years ago when we all were gathered at the Lake House for Memorial Day weekend.

It was the same as every year – too many kids and dogs to count. Card games, and tubing, and Dad threading gooey worms on fishing hooks, and sitting at the long harvest table on the porch in soggy swim suits for lunch.

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Memorial Day is notoriously a little early to be swimming in Wisconsin, but still, we launched the boat and plunged into the water as always. We’re a “Choose-life-no-matter-what” kind of family.

It was cool and cloudy and super windy that year, but you kept trying to convince me to go sailing with you on our little Sunfish. “Come on, Laura! It will be great! Me and you!” I can hear you as clear as if you were saying it to me today.

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Finally I relented and we took off, you at the rudder (because I don’t actually know how to sail) and me along for the ride. Aunts and Uncles, grandparents and kids and dogs watched from the shallows as the wind immediately whipped up and started speeding us across the lake.

I’d say it was approximately 10 seconds before I watched helplessly as you fell off the back and I was on my own, speeding away.

I can picture you treading water and laughing so hard, like such a brother.

Everyone on shore was yelling instructions as I got further away from land, and some scrambled to jump in the ski boat and rescue me.

David, I keep thinking of this, because I feel like you’re slipping off the back of the boat again. And I don’t want you to go. I don’t want to sail on without you. Continue reading

What to Do on Your Thursday & Friday When You Can’t See Sunday

It’s Thursday morning as I write this. I’m sitting at “my” table at Starbucks, greeting regulars in this coffee community between reading the account of Jesus’ last Thursday before the cross.

As I am sitting here, a friend stops by my table. A friend going through a dark, dark, time.

Her own cross. Her own death, waiting for resurrection.

She made a brave choice, but the pain on this side seems worse than ever. Betrayal from people near her, loss of community, questions of God. It’s her “good” Friday and she can’t see to Easter Sunday yet.

I think of her as I learn from Jesus walking through His Thursday and Friday before Sunday. We focus so often on how Jesus is God and perfect, and we aspire to be transformed into people who look more like Him, that we sometimes miss the ways He looked like us.  He had friends who let Him down, and desires for an easier way, but in His most Thursday and Friday moments maybe we can learn from Him.

  • On Jesus’ darkest days He gathers with His people. He leans into community. He speaks truth and He asks for help. (Mt. 26:17-46).
  • He gives thanks.(Mt. 26:27, 30) Not a fakey “Praise the Lord I’m dying here!”, but a genuine gratitude for patches of God-light in the midst of darkness. A sunrise, a loaf of bread, a hug, fresh spring breeze. There is power in thanksgiving in the midst of hard circumstances.
  • But Jesus leans into His Father more than His community. He prays, because He knows as important as the company of friends is, the company of God is the only sure thing. (Mt.26:39)
  • There is a rhythm of engaging and withdrawing. Going into Jerusalem and going out to Bethany to stay with friends. Sitting with his home team around a meal, and sitting alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, a short distance away. (21:1, 10, 17, 18; 26:6, 30, 36) Time for processing, and preparation, silence and solitude.
  • He’s doesn’t hold back. He pours out His heart. (Mt. 26:39)

“My Father, if there is any way, get me out of this. But please, not what I want. You, what do you want?”

  • He submits to His Father’s will because He trusts His good plans. He trusts His Father’s ability to bring redemption and resurrection. New life out of painful death. (Mt. 26:39)

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As I think of my friend right here at Starbucks, I also think of many of you who are reading this in offices and homes and dorm rooms around the world.  Is it Thursday or Friday for you today?  As you look at this hard time are there choices Jesus made that might be helpful to you?

 We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help. Hebrews 14:15-16 MSG

**Just a quick note…I’ve changed the commenting system. The good news is it is easier to comment. The bad news is that the first couple of times you comment the system requires me to “release” or “approve” your remarks before they show up. I try to stay on top of it, but don’t worry if your comment doesn’t show up immediately! 🙂

Failing Lent

How’s Lent been going for you?  Me? I’m really terrible at it.  My husband majored in Lent, growing up Catholic, but not me. It was never part of our faith tradition, and now it always seems to sneak up on me and all of a sudden it’s Ash Wednesday and I’m stressed about what I should or shouldn’t be doing or giving up, and what the meaning is supposed to be.

Am I supposed to identify with Jesus’ sacrifice or am I supposed to fast from worldly stuff that is sucking the life of Jesus out of me, or am I supposed to pull back to reflect on All Of The Deep Things?

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Those words “should” and “supposed to” float through the air in slow motion like a hand grenade or a heat seeking missile looking for where it can do the most damage. I end up feeling muddled and guilty that I haven’t done it “right”, whatever “right” is.

I can’t find the word “Lent” in my concordance, and certainly not “Thou shalt prepare for Easter by…” But I do think intentional preparation for Easter is a good thing.

I think the idea of Lent is to help us pay attention to God and life and death and resurrection the way it would be good to pay attention to Him all the time – like at 5 o’clock on a July evening when we’re sitting on the patio eating burgers, or on October 3rd in line at the grocery store.

So I’ve muddled through Lent again this year, unlike a young friend I mentor who has fasted from pop (but only brown pop), and sweets (but not on on her birthday or during the week she was in Italy, and chocolate covered almonds don’t count).  I laugh at her, but she says even this has really helped her pay attention and turn to Jesus in the moments she wants things she is sacrificing.

You cannot have resurrection without death.

Continue reading

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