When I come to die

Emmagene Alice Powell, November 12, 1921 – May 25, 2018

My mother is safely home.

I returned to her side only three days after leaving it. Although she was already surrounded by loving hearts and hands, it felt like important work that I needed to do. We camped out around her and spent many night hours singing and praying and saying good-bye when it seemed she would not take another breath.

Yet her final breath came mid-morning when we were wearily attempting to move into another day. She slipped away to the smell of coffee and toast and the sound of her daughters quietly chatting.

After weeks of suffering, a quiet exit. But I smile when I think of the glorious entrance on the other side.

Because of God’s grace.

I have witnessed the final breath of my father and my mother and my 26-year-old daughter. I am sobered and changed. My eyes are opened to eternity’s nearness, its reality.

A deathbed humbles us. It crushes any pretense of beauty or self-preservation. It teaches us that we are vulnerable and powerless.

Breath and life, a gift from God.

We all face death someday. We are all terminal. A final breath comes for all of us.

In that moment, it won’t matter what we own or what is in the bank. It won’t matter what we’ve accomplished or where we’ve been. Any beauty will have faded. It won’t  matter how kind we’ve been or what good we’ve done. There is not one thing we can do to ensure our entrance into paradise.

The only thing that will matter?

Our relationship with Jesus.

It’s not enough to know that He is real or that He is good. It is not enough to believe that heaven exists.

We must believe that He alone is the way. That He alone is truth and life. That He died and was buried and rose again. That if we call on Him and confess Him as Lord, He will save us. He will hold us securely forever.

There is a believing faith given to those who call on His name, to those who come. There is an eternal reward and a secure inheritance for those who are born again in Him, to those who become His children.

Faith may seem a foolish notion when we are young and healthy. We may resist its call, forge our self-reliant way. But we are made for eternity, made for God. Our deepest self becomes alive only in Him. Eventually we see overwhelming evidences of our rebellious hearts. Our disillusionment and weariness and fear are whispers of truth if we listen.

In living and in dying, we need a Savior.

On Saturday we buried the lifeless body of my sweet mother. But she was not there. She was already rejoicing with her Savior and all the saints.

When death came, it found her safe in Christ. She fell asleep in Him and awoke to the most glorious sunrise.

She awoke to the most glorious life.

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.  Revelation 22:17

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. John 3:16-18

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home

My sweet mama is dying.

Sometimes there is no poetry in a thing. It is just there–stark and naked and full of truth.

So many words but no rhyme at all.

I come to stay with her for two weeks. She talks of her own mama, gone over 40 years. In the night hours she reaches for things unseen, and words tumble around, senseless phrases called out in the dark. Memories and visions and fears all pressing in on her.

The rhythm changes everyday, and I marvel at the strength it takes to die. I had always thought the hardest part was the living.

But there is this valley to walk through. So dark and deep, and she keeps stumbling.

There is just nothing easy in dying, whether you’re 26 or 96.

I remind her what is on the other side.

We talk of heaven, and she can’t wait to be there. She asks me when the Lord will call her home, when her suffering will end. We talk of God and His sovereignty–how every breath is given by Him, the final one already written. How He will strengthen her and carry her to the very end.

It has been rich to be in this hospice time with her–a hovering place between life and death. Sips of cool water and loved ones gathered and night-time vigils. It’s a privilege to share in this suffering. Death, like birth, filled with such pain but with glimpses of glory.

And the hope of such glory to come. Enough to erase all the pain of this dying.

Today I am flying back home to my family for a few days, and I feel so torn between these two worlds. I say good-bye to my mama. I say all the words I know to say. I tell her not to wait for me–she will not be here much longer, but only God knows her time. Marissa seems very close in this place. When I hug her for the last time, it feels a little like I am touching both of them.

The sky is full of white clouds. There are times when I look out of the plane window and see the ground clearly and times when we are in the clouds and I see nothing at all. I know that once we get high enough, even the clouds will be clear.

My mama is almost high enough.

Soar gently, Mama.

Fly gently home.

Even to your old age I will be the same, and even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; And I will bear you and I will deliver you. Isaiah 46:4

 

 

 

Spring

Winter has been holding on.

We are ready for warmth and light breezes. Light and color. Sunshine and flowers.

It has been windy and cold even here in the south. And just last week there was snow falling in northern places untouched yet by spring.

Why is snow so much sadder in April than in December? (If there is snow in heaven, it is the December kind, full of joy.)

It really doesn’t matter if the calendar says it is spring. We don’t want to see pictures or have memories. It doesn’t help to know the date in our heads.

We need the warmth on our skin.

I think about the seasons of life. Some bursting with joy when all seems new. Surrounded by happiness; untouched by pain. Safe and golden and quiet.

And others we remember because our shelter has been lifted, and we are suddenly vulnerable. Assaulted by fear or disappointment. Noise and confusion and darkness.

Sometimes this season lingers awhile, and it’s easy to feel that it is here to stay. We wonder why we are left in winter when the calendar says spring.

Is spring the date on the calendar, or is it the warm breeze blowing? It is both, although there are seasons that don’t feel as truthful.

God is the truth we know. He ordains the seasons–their length, their harshness, their end. We know that winter will end because He ordained it. He set the earth in motion, and it is bound by His time–mysterious but known, varied but sure.

My mom is in a winter season. After a recent fall, she can’t seem to rally. Congestive heart failure and full-time oxygen and hospice nurses going in and out.

Sorrow, but with it, hope.

I don’t want her to let go, and I miss her already. But I know she is tired of winter.

She’s always loved flowers, and I can imagine the gardens in heaven. The lingering fragrance and quiet beauty of peace-filled walks. Light spilling through trees. I can imagine an eternal spring, the fullness of it, its music silent but stunning. I can feel the soaking warmth.

I can see her throwing off her winter coat and entering in. White-robed and clean because of Jesus. Safe and home at last. Loved and whole and young again.

One journey over, but living just begun.

And I can see Marissa showing her all the special places, all the new flowers.

I can see Marissa showing her the wonder of spring.

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 Corinthians 5:1

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. Hebrews 12:22-24

 

 

 

 

 

 

Morning

We gathered at the gravesite with candles and singing on the anniversary of her death. All the darkness of the night did not dim the light of her memory or the truth of the singing.

And since then, my soul has been so quiet.

I don’t wrestle so much with all of the questions. After one year of her being gone, I know the truth of peace like a river. Sometimes turbulent, sometimes still, but always flowing. Doubts and fears and sadness soothed by its cool waters.

Some days it feels very strong in me, this thought of having finished. That I have opened the full gift of grief and looked at it from every angle, held it gently and let it do its work. That I am changed in so many hidden places–scarred and healed, now tender and just a little strong.

Almost as if I have done the thing I was called to do, and now can rest.

But I know there is more. Grief lives in me, but it is not my only calling. There is this work being done in me that is not finished. Even in my weariness, I know to keep walking.

Morning is not here yet.

Did you know that birds start singing about an hour before the sun comes up? I suspect it is another lesson from God about waiting for the joy that comes in the morning.

Waiting, patient and filled with song. Longing. Believing that morning is almost here.

I’ve been reading about the crucifixion. I read with dread–death so close to me now and the pain of it, inescapable. I cry when I read of Jesus telling John to be a son to Mary. He knew her broken mother’s heart. He knew the long, dark night ahead.

I love His quiet power. How without any drama, He simply loved us enough to do the complete work of dying for us. Pain and blood and tears, all willingly given. His humble sacrifice of obedience stuns me. Makes me willing to love Him.

And even that willingness, a gift from Him.

This weekend we celebrate Easter. We celebrate an empty grave and a resurrected Savior. We believe in a victory that swallows up death because of the God-man who conquered it. We believe in eternal life with our King and the lover of our souls. We believe He is the Way and the Truth and the Life. The Living Water and the Vine and the Door. The Bread and the Light and the Resurrection.

Yes, we believe in the resurrection.

We are the morning people.

We are singing. Singing and waiting for morning.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this? John 11:25-26

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One year: things unseen

Marissa Alice BundyOctober 2, 1990March 6, 2017

One year ago, we stopped running, stopped fighting, stopped hoping. We gathered around a deathbed. We sang songs and we prayed and we wept.

We walked with Marissa through her darkest valley, and then we watched her go.

One year ago, my beautiful, funny, feisty girl lay on a rented hospital bed in the middle of our living room. She died in the same place she had celebrated birthdays and Christmas, in the same room where she had played with dolls and won at Clue and got lost in stories.

She died in the same room where she had lived. Had laughed and hoped and loved.

She breathed her last measured breath, and she did not come back to us.

It has been spring-like and warm here, but this storm of remembrance hits me like a gust of winter wind.

One year ago.

I can visualize this scene and all of its heartache. In my mind’s eye, I can see the remnants of a great battle–pain pump, oxygen tank, and wheelchair. A father’s head bowed low. Sorrow etched on a mother’s profile. Falling tears on young faces.

The shadows of suffering. The heavy gray of grief.

But there are so many things happening in that scene that we cannot see. Those things are just as real. Just as certain.

Eternal and unbroken.

The presence of God, behind and before and surrounding. Always there in the midst of even this thick darkness.

The providence of God, orchestrating every detail with eternal and loving design.

The purposes of God, each one being fulfilled with kind intent.

Peace with God in the heart of the dying one. A soul washed clean in the blood of Christ. Steadfast hope in His saving power.

Faith strumming steadily in hurting hearts. Belief in a loving God.

God, parenting with loving wisdom. Keeping all of His promises to His children. Holding fast to His covenant.

Moving silently. Securely holding the dying one. Counting her final breath lovingly, and joyfully beckoning His sweet child home. Welcoming her and unveiling the wonders of the place He has prepared for her.

His hand catching the tears of the ones left behind. Gently storing them up in a bottle.

We can’t see submission to the Father’s will. Faith blossoming in a brother’s heart. The strengthening of weary souls.

We can’t see death swallowed up in victory. Heaven and its certain hope for those who are in Christ. The comfort of the Holy Spirit.

We cannot see the end of the story. We cannot see eternity with God. We cannot see the healing or the saving or the keeping.

We cannot see the redeeming.

We are waiting for it. For the unveiling of all this truth. We are longing.

But Marissa now knows fully and is fully known.

Her eyes are opened.

She sees her Savior. She sees her God.

She sees the panoramic beauty of all the valleys, all the mountains.

She sees it all.

For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:18

 

 

 

 

 

Dreams

I do not dream about her.

Or at least I don’t remember if I do. I rarely remember what happens in my dream world.

But one morning I wake with a sense of lingering fear. My heart is pounding and the dream is still with me. I am in a beautiful forest and there is a glistening lake in front of me. My children are scattered. I don’t actually see any of them, but I know they are there. Some in the water, some on the shore. It should be a pleasant place, but I feel uneasy. Then I see why–a large bear is swimming in the shadows. I can only see his head, and he is swimming silently, but I know to be afraid. I know the danger. I stand up to shout a warning. But I have no voice.

This great danger and I have no voice.

And I cannot find my children.

The dream stays with me through the day. Later that night my daughter comes into my room at bedtime. My husband is already asleep next to me, but she has had a hard day and so she climbs into the bed beside me. She is mourning some new, hard thing. And I am whispering assurances and truths and comfort. I am reminding her to be brave.

But as we lay there in the dark with our hair interwoven on my pillow, I begin thinking of all the hard things. I am thinking of youthful yearnings and all that is unsure and unknown. I am remembering some achingly somber moments. I am thinking of all the battles, won and lost and yet to be.

I am remembering Marissa.

And then I think of my dream and the bear swimming so close to my children.

I hold her hand tightly, and I try not to cry.

I try not to be afraid.

A gradual, gentle light arises in this darkness, this palpable darkness. God speaks into my heart. He soothes my fears by reminding me of the truth of Him. He whispers peace.

All of the new, hard things are His. He will be there, always present. I can rest in His promises. I can trust in Him. I can surrender all of my cares, all of my burdens to His heart.

He carries my burdens, the burdens of my children.

He will not let me go.

It is an every day faith. An every day surrender. An every day trust.

I feel the weight and strength of it. The praise of it. Its sureness.

Faith. A gift and a promise. A truth.

I lift this knowing into the darkness.

And when she leaves, I turn and move very close to the warmth of my husband. The moon gives just a breath of light, but it is not the only light I see.

I close my eyes and sleep.

I sleep soundly, and I do not dream at all.

Light arises in the darkness for the upright. Psalm 112:4

Be strong and let your heart take courage all you who hope in the Lord. Psalm 31:24

The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1

 

 

 

 

 

Waiting

Grief has its own rhythm. Always present but sometimes silent. Sometimes still.

The sudden crescendos still surprise me.

But if I wait, I know now that it will fall again into an easier pattern. If I wait, I remember enough about morning joy. I remember how it follows even the darkest night.

So much of life is waiting, and sometimes it is the waiting that changes us most.

Is it hope that allows us to wait well? Hope–the seed sitting down in the darkest, coldest dirt. The winter bulb, dormant and unseen.

This winter feels harsh in many ways. Life goes on, but the memories gather like an unruly crowd that refuses to disperse.

It grieves me to remember. It grieves me to forget.

My heart feels cold and hard some days, like winter soil. I’m grateful for the pulsing warmth I know is there. I count on hope to remind me of spring.

I love to think of God as the Gardener. The Planner. The Overseer.

He works the soil with patient foresight. He understands the process of bringing forth something beautiful from its depths. He plants and prunes and rearranges.

Our view is darkness and struggle. His view is bountiful fruitfulness. Our view is coldness and stagnation. His view is warm beauty.

He sees the spring.

If we could only open our eyes in the winter harshness to the coming spring. If we could stop resisting the difficult, stretching work that is being done deep inside.

If we could wait. Wait patiently.

The Gardener knows. His gentle hands are not weary with the work of it. He sees in His mind’s eye all the glory of the harvest, all the lushness of the finished rows. He sees His finished work.

He makes it good.

And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. Isaiah 58:11

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. John 15:1

 

 

 

 

 

Fear less

The year is rolling forward.

As much as I would have liked to stay in the hazy glow of December, the January days are passing. The calendar is filling up with events and appointments. Lists are being made, and we have reluctantly started back to school and work and activities.

Life moves along and takes us with it, however sluggish we feel. Like a branch floating on the river, bumping into rocks and getting sidetracked and even stuck on the way to a place it doesn’t know.

This new year is filled with places we don’t know.

I’m always a little slow embracing it, slow to jump on the wagon of new things. It overwhelms me–the thought of improving every weakness. I am weary just thinking about lists and charts and organizational tasks–they are not my strength.

I wait awhile.

I know where my soul is going. I know what my heart needs. I know that I don’t want my time or my energy spent on things that are not eternal.

I want my treasures to be heavenly.

I know God intends to continue conforming me to the image of His Son. There is so much work to do, but there is also this staggering, encouraging truth.

That work is God’s. He has promised to complete it.

I try to have a focus word for each year. I have been resisting the word that keeps coming to me.

Fearless.

How can I be fearless when I know the worst can happen? How can I not be afraid of the dark places that I have known and that might come again? How can I live without fear of pain in this life?

But the word keeps whispering to me. Fearless. And in the darkness of a cold, foggy morning, it comes to me. If I cannot be fearless, I can fear less. Trust more.

And it feels like a good word. A good theme for this new year. I will not be afraid of my story. Even though it has not always been happy, and the chapters are sometimes hard to read.

Even though the monsters under the bed can be real sometimes.

Even though this last chapter has me weeping.

I can choose to trust. I can settle my heart in truth.

I can keep moving along, keep walking my path.

I can even smile at the future.

Because I trust God with the story and all of its details.

I will not be afraid.

For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.” Isaiah 41:13

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4

Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future. Proverbs 31:25

 

 

 

 

 

Shadowing wings

Christmas was full of grace.

Grace can mean an enabling, a strengthening. But I think in grief it is sometimes simply a dulling of the senses. Like being surrounded by a foggy haze where nothing is outlined sharply, nothing felt keenly. Both joy and sadness muted with a mostly pleasant kind of lull.

Christmas was candle-lit and dream-like, the sharp corners of it hidden or ignored.

I’ve wondered if this is partly what is meant by being under the shadow of His wings.

I was able to think of Marissa’s joy, to picture her in an atmosphere of praise. To imagine her singing alongside saints and angels with a full realization of what the Christ-child’s coming meant.

I was able to be grateful that she is safe and happy and healed.

The end of the year brings some vivid memories and feelings. It was on this last weekend of 2016 that Marissa began the downward spiral that would end in her death at the beginning of March. A period of trauma and suffering and dark shadows. I remember a kind of helpless exhaustion, repeatedly standing up only to be struck down again.

In 2017 I remember watching my daughter die.

But I also remember a sustaining grace. I remember that always, in every moment, we were under the shadow of His wings. He was always present. He was always near. He carried and helped us. He strengthened and enabled.

He was always loving us.

This new year is beginning, and not one of us knows what it will hold. For most of us it will be a whole lot of normal with some joy and hardship sprinkled in. We will meet some goals and learn new things and live out our story.

But here is a sobering truth. Some of us will face unimagined heartache. Some will face the saddest news, the hardest day. Some of us will even breathe our last breath or say good-bye to a cherished one with tears.

How do we move forward without fear?

We trace His hand of goodness. We remember the truth of grace in hard places. We recall the refuge of His shadowing wings.

We believe in His covenant love.

We have confidence that He will make all things right. That He will redeem and restore and renew.

We trust that He will always love us, always be God to us.

We trust that not one of His words will fail.

For You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy. Psalm 63:7

Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield.
For our heart is glad in Him, because we trust in His holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in You. Psalm 33:20-22

Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass. Joshua 21:45

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because of Christmas

There is a stocking hanging on my mantle that will not get filled this year.

There are presents I do not have to buy and secrets I do not have to keep.

There is an empty place at our table, an empty place in my heart.

Scattered spaces all around.

I miss my girl.

Mamas are the memory keepers, so I hold them close. I protect them. But lately I have kept the box locked up tightly so the sharp edges will not hurt so much.

A treasure box I am afraid to open.

When the contents spill out unexpectedly, there are smells and sights and feelings–both precious and grievous. Some days I cannot close it fast enough.

But some days I linger long. I sit with grief awhile. I let the warm tears fall.

Christmas carols play in the background, and it is surprising how somber they sound. Mournful even, and I suppose it should not surprise me. God in flesh–a glorious occasion and the beginning of salvation. But there is also a sober acknowledgement of betrayal and suffering and a cross to come.

It is humbling to think that the angels rejoiced. That God so willingly gave His most precious Son for us with hearts so unwilling to love Him.

It is an astounding choice, really. To choose suffering instead of comfort. A stable instead of a throne.

I have this new awareness of suffering, and it seems like there are aching hearts all around this year. There is truth in this suffering, and it can be the only truth you feel some days.

Those are the days when you cannot close the box. Those are the days the tears will fall.

The joy of Christmas would be a shallow happiness without the truth of a Savior’s death and resurrection. The sunrise would not be so glorious without the blackness of the night.

We experience sorrow, but we are waiting for joy. Death’s shadow cannot obliterate the rising light. Though tears may fall, a day of such gladness is coming.

Hold fast, friend. It is coming.

The deepest sorrow may be your truth this day, this year. But it is not the only truth. It is not the final truth.

Because of God and His amazing love. Because of His glorious sacrifice. Because of His willingness to come.

Because of Christmas.

To give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. Luke 1:77-79