Rescued From Guilt

Rescued From GuiltAfter my daughter died, I struggled with feelings of guilt and abandonment even after God assured me of His love, and convinced me that He had been in control all along. Although in the past my security had been rooted in the truth of what God says, this experience tested my beliefs.

God continually called me to look to Christ after Stacey died. His children are precious to Him. God is love. It is His nature. His love for us never fails. The irony is that His love was what I most feared losing. God steadfastly offered His love, mercy and comfort to me as one who applies healing salve to a wounded soul. I desperately needed His healing balm, yet it often seemed far out of reach, beyond my grasp. What a peculiar and deceptive paradox.

Long before Stacey’s passing, I had begun to allow a need to control the circumstances of my life to rule in me, rather than allow God’s influence to control me. As I acquiesced to ungodly tendencies, they gradually took control of my thoughts and actions. At the time of Stacey’s death, those attitudes held me hostage. At times, guilt and insecurity crushed my freedom in Christ.

God’s joy and peace eluded me. Endless “what ifs…?” tormented me—swirling around and around, until they became muddied water filled with millions of shards of debris. My predisposition to work things out in my own strength and by my own clouded understanding offered no peace, rest, or security.

Peter describes satan as an adversary who “walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5: 8-10 NKJV). He advises, “Resist him, steadfast in the faith….” Satan took full advantage of my perfectionist tendency and my need for control. I willingly followed him into the prisons of self-condemnation and guilt.

I discovered I needed to turn to God minute by minute, to avoid the pitfall of believing I had held Stacey’s life in my hands. If only I could have completely trusted in God’s sovereignty over her life, I could have rested in the confidence that God finished His work in her and blessed my efforts on her behalf. Time and again, I took my eyes off His perfect love and completed work. At those times, I faltered. I felt bruised, defeated.

In fact, I had exchanged God’s grace for a legalistic mindset.

Robert Jeffress says of legalism, “Not only do legalists employ a faulty standard for conduct; they also offer an erroneous incentive for obedience to the standard they have manufactured. In its strictest sense, legalism is an attempt to earn our salvation by adherence to a code of conduct. Legalism implies that faith in Christ is necessary but not sufficient to secure God’s forgiveness.”[i]

We find no mercy in legalism, no comfort in punishment. Not for ourselves or for others.

I wondered if Peter, who denied Christ three times on the eve of His crucifixion, might have shared some of my same fears: Will I never again enjoy intimacy with Jesus, that sweet fellowship which we once shared? Might this fear have been, at least in part, the reason Peter ran from the boat, ahead of the others, to the lakeside fire where the resurrected Jesus waited to ask him, “Do you love me?” The One who knew Peter’s heart—as He knows mine—listened patiently when Peter answered, “Lord, You know that I love You” (John 21 NKJV). Three times the same heart-wrenching question. Three times the same heart-rending answer. Would the Savior accept Peter’s penitent heart? Could they be close again? Could we be close again? Jesus and me?

Matthew Henry’s Complete Bible Commentary captures the essence and pathos of this scene. Henry speculates on the conversation between Jesus and Peter at their shore-side meeting. Still feeling guilty about having denied his Savior, Peter might well have expected the chastisement he so richly deserved. Jesus, Henry says, let Peter know the truth of the matter.

When Christ entered into this discourse with Peter, it was after they had dined: they had all eaten, and were filled, and, it is probable, were entertained with such edifying discourse as our Lord Jesus used to make his table-talk. Christ foresaw that what he had to say to Peter would give him some uneasiness, and therefore would not say it till they had dined, because he would not spoil his dinner. Peter was conscious to himself that he had incurred his Master’s displeasure, and could expect no other than to be upbraided with his treachery and ingratitude. “Was this thy kindness to thy friend? Did not I tell thee what a coward thou wouldest prove?” Nay, he might justly expect to be struck out of the roll of the disciples, and to be expelled the sacred college. Twice, if not thrice, he had seen his Master since his resurrection, and he said not a word to him of it. We may suppose Peter full of doubts upon what terms he stood with his Master, sometimes hoping the best, because he had received favour from him in common with the rest. Yet not without some fears, lest the chiding would come at last that would pay for all. But now, at length, his Master put him out of his pain, said what he had to say to him, and confirmed him in his place as an apostle. He did not tell him of his fault hastily, but deferred it for some time. Did not tell him of it unseasonably, to disturb the company at dinner, but when they had dined together, in token of reconciliation, then discoursed he with him about it, not as with a criminal, but as with a friend. Peter had reproached himself for it, and therefore Christ did not reproach him for it, nor tell him of it directly, but only by a tacit intimation. And, being satisfied in his sincerity, the offence was not only forgiven, but forgotten, and Christ let him know that he was as dear to him as ever.[ii]

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (I John 4:8-10).

There was once a tree planted in the soil of this earth upon which Christ’s blood did drip, then gushed forth. His flesh tore open. His heart broke. Until, at last, His breath poured out. God’s only Son paid the price for my sin’s debt—and all the world’s—with Passion’s flow.

Jesus Christ exchanged that bloodthirsty tree of death for the healing Tree of Life. One day, when I reach His heavenly city and sin no longer rules, I will eat from the Tree of Life. For now, what He offers—I drink. “The Fountain of the Water of Life” flows freely through the veins of my soul. He removed every obstruction of His love appearing to me, every hindrance to His presence abiding in me.

Christ died so that He could clothe us with His own perfect righteousness and then present us to His Father, “holy, blameless and above reproach.” When God looks at me through the eyes of Christ, He sees the righteousness of Christ (Colossians 1:22). This is grace. Grace does not force upon me a life of legalism. Grace awakens within me a burning desire to please Him because of what He has done for me. Grace alone saved me from the devastation of my loss.

Once God pierced the lies with the truth of what He says of me and about His love for me, I was free—free from the bondage of legalism, secure in His love for me and in the knowledge of my future with Him—now and forever. When I returned to the truth of His unconditional love, I enjoyed strength, refreshment, victory, peace, and greater intimacy with God.

As with Peter, He prepares a feast for me—His body, the bread broken for me; His blood, the wine poured out on my behalf. In the sacrament of Holy Communion, His body and blood mingle with mine as I allow His Holy Spirit to fill and renew me. He pierces my heart with questions. I confess my failures, tell Him I am sorry, and ask His forgiveness. He touches my lips with living coals, pardons my sin and purifies me. I take the wine and the bread He graciously, freely, offers and pledge my love for Him. Our hearts meet. His Spirit blazes up in me and He warms me from the inside out. He ravishes me with His love. God’s love vanquished my fears.

With mercy, grace and compassion, He administered the cleansing blood of Jesus to my bleeding and dying heart. He infused His own healing balm of the Holy Spirit, giving me a new heart, new life, through the sacrifice of the life of His only Son.

God wants to fill each of us with His Love. He never disappoints. He fills me with His essence. As I give more of myself to Him, my heart’s passion inflames. Thy will be done—in me—through me. God gives me everything I need to live a life that pleases Him by revealing more of His self to me through His Holy Word. Although I only catch glimpses of Him, He satisfies my deepest longing.

In this life, a story about death would seem to be an ending. At long last, I have arrived at the end of myself. Yet, in God, there is no end. The difference now is that His perfect love in me casts out my fears. I sit at His feet. He stills my restless soul. He settles me.  He picks me up, He covers me with His robe of righteousness and applies the healing balm of His anointing oil. I kneel, speechless in the mystery of the work of the Holy Spirit, of Holy God, within me.

I thought I was unworthy of intimacy with God because I missed the mark of perfection that a Holy God requires. Deep inside I knew I was not perfect. I knew something needed to be done to make up for that fact. However, personal holiness is the result of Jesus Christ’s redemption of one’s life. Christ died on a cross so we could approach Almighty God. Theologian Oswald Chambers says, “Holiness is an effect of redemption, not the cause of it.”[iii] I did not need to work to impress Him in order to win His affection. He drew near to me.

Though we lay before God, wounded and broken, He stands ready to heal, to restore. His redeeming power is, and always will be, greater than the Liar’s power to ravage our joy, to extinguish our hope, to destroy our lives. I serve Christ now, not to win His love or gain some false sense of security through my works. I serve Him because I can do no less in response to the love He has showered upon me. The Holy Spirit, which He placed within me, assures me of His love and His abiding presence. I can ignore His Spirit, but His love still calls to me.

God calls me to freedom, not works; to love, not punishment; to relationship, not fear.  Christ is full of compassion. His tears mingle with ours because He understands our losses. He loved my daughter. He loves her even more than I do. Standing on the other side of this tragedy, possessing peace and joy that passes all understanding, I rejoice knowing my daughter is in Heaven where she now lives in the joy of God’s presence.

Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world” (John 8:12). The Light of the World walked with me out of that pit of guilt. I could do nothing to lift myself out, nothing to remove my guilt. God took the initiative. He rescued me. In my emptiness, I discovered blessed stillness. I heard God speak gently, kindly with compassion and empathy to my soul. I know what you thought. I know the truth. I am the Truth. I love you. I never stopped loving you. I will never stop loving you. Begin to praise me and walk on.   

Walk on, my friend. Walk on.

[i] Robert Jeffress, Grace Gone Wild! (WaterBrook Press, Colorado Springs, Colorado 2005) 42.

[ii] Matthew Henry’s Whole Bible Commentary, Accessed from Biblos.com, Parallel Commentaries John 21:15-19, http://niv.scripturetext.com/john/21-15.htm (accessed September 10, 2011).

[iii] Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, James Reimann, ed.(Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, copyright 1992 by Oswald Chambers Publications Assoc. Ltd. , Discovery House books are distributed to the trade by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.) January 31.

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Walking in the Clouds

Stream running through our hollow

When my daughter died, I thought I lost connection with God–or He with me.

WALKING AMONG THE CLOUDS

Snow’s falling erected a cathedral. God met me there.

An early showing of the crystalline water flakes fell as softly as mourning doves, lighting upon telephone wires to form a skyline of folded feathers aloft. I had written for the better part of this snowy day. Meanwhile, the Lord composed a woodland sanctuary, a meeting place where He would sing my soul alive. Dusk fast approached. I relinquished the warmth of my study and the heaviness of writing out my life to come face to face with the Beauty of this frosty wonderland.

God had fleshed out my words while fashioning, quite literally out of thin air, each unique and remarkably complex fluffy flake. Ancient water floated from heaven, filled the sky and colored the world hazy blue. Holy fingers formed puffballs from ageless vapor emptied from frozen clouds hung high as the stars are fixed. They drifted down listlessly—as manna from Heaven—to melt upon my heart. He made the clouds His chariot, He soared on the wings of the wind, and now He walked with me among these falling flakes. I relished the taste of the crisp and cold of this snowy God-feast.

Snow now clothed winter’s skeleton—outlined IMG_4660tethered telephone wires, wrapped gun-steeled branches. I trudged up the hill, each side banked by fields now covered with eight-inch cornstalk stubble. The short cut-off axis protruded from the snow like rows of silent soldiers standing straight, at attention, ready to lift from their grounded position and rise at the order of their Commander.

The silenced road softened—surrendered its dense black asphalt to heaven’s downy white coat. The plows and cinders hadn’t yet disturbed this frozen manna now resting against earth’s hardened mantel. My soul softened as well.

Before time began, the Creator spoke into being the vaporous stuff that now fell from the sky as icy crystals. Glistening adornment, sent from His heavens, transformed my dark and wintry mindset into faith’s confident expectation. I plowed upward through the virgin snow to where stubbled fields met spruce-firred forest. Pausing, breathless, my soul spread to soak up this beauty. Breathing heavily—walking in snow, sand, water or life’s storms—is good for the soul. Nature is the canvas. God is my Tutor. I am His student.Sneaky Hollow Stream

My eyes stretched to see the story of a single icy crystal, each a curious artistic creation. I tried to witness its escape from a vaporous cloud. To trace its descent and mysterious morphology into a plump feathery-light puff. To see it rest upon the rigid ground or the soft coyote fur of my hood, or better yet, to feel its frost upon my upturned cheek.

Having no success at deciphering the origins of a single flake, and hesitating only a moment, I turned off the main concourse and took a logging trail down and up and down again through the whistling hollows.

The deer sheltered under low-hung boughs of protecting pines. They would wait out the storm, feed in calmer climate. Light-footed squirrels and flitting birds ventured out earlier on this blustery day. Tiny footprints sketched their bold adventure, and then vanished. They most likely now nestled in a tightly woven tree-top nest or the dense undergrowth beneath the autumn olive. The wind had flown away, too, perhaps pausing momentarily to take in the beauty, as I did upon reaching the crest of a gentle slope.

I walked on spotless snow-carpet. Nature donned her new wool coat. Pines, hemlocks, evergreens of all sorts held the snow with out-stretched arms as one holds a bubble in a wand, aware that only a glancing breeze might spontaneously burst the slippery vitreous liquid or dismantle winter’s fluff-fur coat. Everywhere, snow-draped, the vista rolled before me for miles of unharnessed forested beauty.

The snow slowed. Gentle gusts of air intermittently defrocked the bent-over white-cloaked limbs of the conifers and blanketed the ground beneath. I played tag with God. He teased me from above with snow showers. I sprinted ahead—tried to outrun His breath blowing through the branches. Evade the snowy spray. I giggled. Light-hearted . . . light-hearted like I had not been in months, maybe years . . . . maybe ever. As easily as His breath of life winded the wings of birds and snowed down beauty, He breathed new life into me. He made me fully alive—joyfully alive. We frolicked together. He caressed me with His snow.

As quietly as it had commenced, the hushed snow now suspended. The woods stilled.

It came to me—or me to it. I am not sure. It hung from high in an oak tree. I might have missed it but that I gazed heaven-ward. Upon its slender thread lay sparkling snow crystals, only intermittently, still close enough to decipher the

Meandering Stream
Stream that meanders through Sneaky Hollow

continuous coded-line—thinner than fishing line—that ran through the leafy branch perched far above my head. I couldn’t tell if it climbed higher or ended on the overhanging appendage. I could only barely discern that somewhere, from heaven’s heights, the spinner decided to cast a thread of proteinaceous spider silk. I paused a moment in wonder of spotting such a delicate slight creation amidst the splattering snow stuck on wood, rock, dried grass—all that stood perpendicular to heaven or lie down upon earth’s floor.

 

This single strand of silk hung suspended before my face—only inches from me. What wonders fill the earth! Awe swells. The soul humbles. I paused, took in God’s power and presence displayed in His creation, then hurried on my way, determined to reach the bottom of Sneaky Hollow where life’s water flowed freely from the earth’s bosom. I wanted to hear life’s song flow over the rocky places that day.
Davey

Where earth’s water bubbled from deep and darkest hidden springs, I stood still. Listened. I breathed in the harmony of the Life-giver’s aria, the melody trickling through every configuration of this world’s stony path. The water’s melody joined wings’ fluttering, snows’ dripping, leaves’ rustling. God’s symphony played on. Unbroken.

Alas, the spinning earth moved round the sun and time ticked off the moments. Soon the woods’ filtered light would dim. Forty years of these logging trails and I still get turned around, especially when summer’s dressing or winter’s fluff camouflages the trees and ground, and every marker to me is hidden. I turned back, started home.

Wading through deep snow, winding up the ravine, I paused at the top of one hollow to quiet my heaving chest. Could it be? There before me poised that same single strand of the orb-weaver. I stood, face to face with the diamond-studded strand of fiber.

How could it be? I recognize nothing to mark this place along my path. Every suspended tree limb above, every planted rock and fallen branch below snow-covered! 

Motionless, I waited. Would the silken string come closer? Was it hovering, as a humming bird over nectar’s sweetness? Would the breeze catch it? Would it come to me? A palm’s width from my nose, could my breath draw it nearer or blow it farther fro
m me? I held my breath; it floated across my face, its drift barely perceptible. I tried to breathe it in; it controlled the course, I didn’t. I couldn’t command its presence, nor alter its distance from me. This vertical trail to heaven appeared delicate, yet was so strong life’s storms couldn’t break it. I marveled again—the web-path discernible solely because of the snow clinging to the thread. Intermittently, the filament disappeared like a dotted line upon a translucent piece of aerial parchment or the alternating, deliberate on-off code of some celestial messenger.

What hidden communication, what grace-gift had God encoded upon this receptacle now mysteriously hanging unopened before me? What message? Forehead and brow wrinkled. Eyes fixed upon the dotted line. I saw it!

I saw it. The web mirrored my perception of God’s presence in my life. Intermittent. Sporadic.  Here, now—fully aware of His presence. Other times—unaware—he felt painfully absent. Had I simply lost sight of Him? And my daughter, my precious child. . . Stacey had crossed that great chasm fixed between the living and the dead (Luke 16:2).

Stacey reached the “heavenly country.”[i] Now she lived with myriads of angels, cherubim and saints—those who’ve gone before and now abide in His visible presence in a way in which we earth-dwellers cannot. Yet, because of Christ, although there is an inconceivable distance between heaven and earth, “there is not an impassable gulf, as there is between heaven and hell. This firmament is not a wall of partition, but a way of intercourse.”[ii]

I knew—one day I’d go to her. She would not return to me. God reminded me of King David’s words. “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept. For I said, ‘Who can tell whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ but now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again?” (II Samuel 12:22,23).

I couldn’t bring Stacey back to life. Nor could I fully live until I moved beyond my mourning of her death. I needed to accept God’s comfort, His forgiveness, to change my ways, to take the fresh start he offers each new day. Then I could move ahead with hope and joy in anticipation of a fuller, more meaningful life. I determined to put my trust in Christ, listen to His voice, keep Him first in my life.

It was time for me to return to life—to the fullness of life in Christ.

It was time to let go of all that interfered with my awareness of God’s enduring love. His active presence, His involvement in my life, was not limited to a few dots upon a thin line of mortality. God inhabits the praise of His people. Praise is the key that would open the door between us so I could sense His abiding presence.

It was time to begin to walk in faith. From the foundations of the world, God planned for me to dwell with Him. He had prepared a Holy City, a kingdom filled with His eternal presence, which one glorious day, he would unveil for all to see. For this season, most often, I could see only vaporous evidence of God’s footprints. Other lucid, shining moments, His presence sparkled as snowy diamond studs upon my life’s eternal thread.

As a father cups his child’s chin and gently redirects her downward gaze to meet His loving eyes, God directed my gaze heavenward. God the Father showed me through a slender, snow-splattered thread of spider silk—He had been with me all along. Faithful. Constant. He connected all the dots of my life.

God never moves from me. I walk out of fellowship with Him. At times, I wander from His protective perimeters. Other times, I obstinately ignore them. When I become aware of my offenses, once I confess my failures and ask for His forgiveness, I can move back into fellowship with Him. He drew the lines to keep me safe, to ensure that my joy in Him—and from Him—flows freely as springs of living water. I am saturated in His love.

“By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the work of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.”[iii] By faith I understand that salvation is through Christ alone. Jesus promised to prepare a place for us to dwell with Him. There is no need to “sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. . . We who remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.”[iv]

I needed to join the cloud of witnesses—those pilgrims who had gone before me and those who still walk this earth—those with faith to believe God exists, that He fulfills His promises and rewards all those who call on Him.[v] I saw the golden cord that connects me to Stacey and to all who have gone before me and entered the Throne Room of God. Looking closer, I saw the crimson cord that pulses with the blood of Jesus Christ and connects me to God as an umbilical cord connects the babe to the one in whom life began.

I fixed my heart upon God, determined to set aside all obstacles in my relationship with Him and with others. My troubled heart stilled. God’s aria flowed rhythmically between the visible and the invisible, communicating a message of hope, encouraging me to keep on persevering in my faith. I walked on with joy knowing that although, “The earth shall soon dissolve like snow, the sun forbear to shine. But God, who called me here below will be forever mine.[vi]

[i] Hebrews 11:1-16.

[ii] Matthew Henry’s Whole Bible Commentary, Genesis 1: 6-8, http://www.Biblos.com (accessed 2/25/12).

[iii] Hebrews 11:3

[iv] I Thessalonians 4:13-18

[v] Hebrews 12:1.

[vi] John Newton, Amazing Grace, http://library.timelesstruths.org/music/Amazing_Grace/CachedSimilar (accessed 2/25/12).

Discovering Life After End-of-Life Decisions

You can plan for the birth of your child.  

But how do you plan for the day when you remove food and water?

Welcome to my blog.

When life hits you with tsunami force and tears away a precious loved one, how do you climb out of the wreckage? My book, A Time To Die, A Time To Live, Discovering Life After End-of-Life Decisions, is my struggle to know the will of God regarding the care of my daughter who was left with the shell that held her eternal spirit after being fatally injured in an automobile accident. Her death left me empty inside and wondering if God could ever love me after making the decision to withdraw life support. I trust this blog will help you and others move through the grief process and beyond the guilt associated with loss to a place of intimacy with the Lord.

Everyone has or will face loss at some time. Loss often catapults us into a crisis of life and faith. My blog and book are written to address those needs. We will learn to identify the difference between false-guilt and godly conviction and between false self identity and one’s true identity in Christ. The posts will illustrate the need to forgive self and others, to show compassion toward those faced with life-altering decisions, and to become aware of judgmental attitudes. Finally, I’ll provide strategies to cope with crises and incorporates concrete steps which will empower you to achieve recovery and renewal after tragedy.

The perspective of A Time To Die, A Time To Live is unique in that the involvement of an uninformed internationally known and well-respected spiritual leader exponentially increased my feelings of guilt and despair in the aftermath of our family’s end-of-life decisions for our daughter. With today’s medical advances, discussions surrounding end-of-life decisions are necessary. Therefore, it is critical to sort through the individual, spiritual, and scriptural ramifications of these issues. We will grapple with real life dilemmas and discover the means for resolution, restoration, and renewal through personal, practical, and theological illustration. If you or someone you love is caught in the crossfire of these cultural and spiritual issues, there is hope. My blog will help you:

  • Confront the lies you tell yourself.
  • Illuminate God’s truth about how much He loves you.
  • Provide concrete steps to apply God’s truth to your life.

I hope this blog will awaken a yearning within you for more of God. It’s my prayer the Lord will use my experience to convince you of His love, His forgiveness, and His unique purpose for your life.