Thursday, November 4, 2010

Good Grief

I chose this title several months ago when developing a grief and loss group for a local homeless shelter men's program. Little did I know or realize that "Good Grief" is the title of a well-known book about grieving with hope. Hope. Hope is elusive, yet present. The author contends that those who grieve without hope do not truly travel the grief journey. They are stopped at some point along the way for they realize they are utterly and hopelessly alone in their journey. Those who trust God may feel alone, yet are not in reality.

As I have traveled along this path without my father, who so many times in the past guided, nurtured, and encouraged me to persevere in trusting God during grieving, I have come to some preliminary conclusions:

First, God is here. How do I know? Because He continually listens to my pleadings, my gripes, my guttural ramblings, and other groanings and still provides comfort and provision for the journey.

Second, Dad is gone - forever. Forever means he is no longer here to converse about the particulars of this life, he is beyond the reach of mortal flesh, and his voice is but a memory. Sure, we have recordings of his voice, video footage of him, and his books and literature; in these he finds immortality. He is still...gone.

Third, groping for a process to grab onto, a methodology of grieving, has exposed myriad fashions in which people have managed to make it through. Yet, the undercurrent to all of them is the mysteriousness of death. We all face the same end, albeit in different ways, but the end result is the same.

"Grieve not as those who have no hope" - 1 Thess 4:13

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Somethin' Ain't Right

There is something intrinsically wrong with death. Death seems to be unnecessary. It does not fit into the grand design, at least before the Fall of man. Death is the judgment for sin, for turning from God's truth to the enemy's lie. Still, knowing the judgment's origin and why we must die does not minimize the mystery and necessity for it.

While experiencing grief, I must confess moments of doubt about God's grand design for all of human existence. Doubt comes in many forms; this one is not about whether He is a just and loving God. No, this doubt comes clothed in the realization that death is wrong; it is yet another indicator of the brokeness of this world and of God's judgment on us for sin. All of Creation is moaning and groaning for redemption, something those who are awake confront each day. Death reminds us that it was not part of His original plan for mankind. It is His judgment.

Once death is seen as wrong and not in keeping with God's eternal plan for all who are created in His image, its sting is lessened. It also serves as a motivation to speak Truth to all who will hear, to sound the alarm that our time is approaching.

When a dearly loved family member dies, it should prompt something within us to declare, "No! Death is not right!" While also declaring, "Praise be to God for sacrificing His Son, whose death once and for all removed the judgment!" Death serves the purpose of reminding us to look to Him for answers, to go to Him and say, "Somethin' Ain't Right" for it's at that moment we realize our total need of Him. Death comes for all of us.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Independent Voter

Recently I read an article about a Texas politician who apologized to BP for what he characterized as a "shakedown" in reference to the 20 billion dollar fund the president has asked the company to establish to aid those most affected by the oil spill. Turns out this Texas politician is the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, tasked to hold a hearing about establishing the fund.

I sat back with a grin on my face since I had changed to an independent voter just a few months ago. I recalled a few conversations with my father, also an independent voter, about politics and why he held no party affiliation. I imagine Dad was fed up with partisan politics and having to answer for this or that party's ineptitude when it came to governing the land. I imagine it was deeper than that, though, and knowing my father, he perceived this world in a different and profound way. It had to do with perspective.

My father is a citizen of heaven, a position he held while a mortal, just as all those who are saved by the blood of Jesus Christ. As citizens of heaven, we are freed from the constraints of the flesh, in this case, political party affiliation. Yes, yes, claiming independent voter status is an affiliation, but unlike all other affiliations, it holds the least restrictions. Like my father, my first allegiance and affiliation rests with the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was not a Republican, or a Democrat, or anything else. As citizens of heaven, we can rest assured that no matter the idiocies committed by political parties, we are exempt from their affects. Does this mean a Christian cannot hold a particular party affiliation? Of course not. What it means is we are free to choose, since our first affiliation is in heaven, the place we call home. We are free to find humor in the conventions of man, of whom we are counted as one until we, too, shall one day reside in our homeland. I look forward to the reunion that awaits and to laughing about this life with my father, whom I miss very much.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Ticket Home

As we approach Father's Day, thoughts of Dad return with vigor. Thoughts of, "Hey, I need to call Dad tomorrow," or "It sure would be great to hear his voice again." Many fond memories flood my thoughts these days, just as fresh and vibrant as the day they occurred.

I remember going with Dad to the airport to fly somewhere and watching him at the ticket counter. He exchanged tickets for boarding passes so we all gained permission to go to our destination. I imagine something similar happened when my Dad was called home to heaven. It may have gone something like this:

God's angel: "So, are you ready to go?"

Dad: "Not quite yet. I want to hang on a little longer for my family."

Angel: "They're all here. And they're singing."

Dad: "I'm not just talking about my sons, daughter, and wife. Everyone who I considered a friend is my family, too. We're all part of God's family."

Angel: "You got a point there. Thanks to your hard work, many are part of God's family. We can wait a little longer."

Dad: "Do you hear the prayers for 'complete healing'?"

Angel: "Yes, I hear the requests. Let's ask our Father what He thinks about it, because I was sent to bring you home. Now, I don't know."

Dad: "OK. Father, if it be Your will, please allow for my complete healing."

Angel: "He said, 'The only way complete healing can happen is when you come live with Me in heaven."

Dad: "Then it is Your will and not mine, Father. I remember when You called my children's mother home a long time ago. It was a lot like this."

Angel: "Seems like just yesterday I escorted that lovely servant home. She was a diligent worker, too."

Dad: "Thanks for taking care of her. Now, I must prepare for my trip home. Any suggestions?"

Angel: "Well, the Father has seen fit to give you a few more days to prepare and give your heritage time to say goodbye."

Dad: "Thank you, Father, for You alone are worthy of honor and praise. The only request I have is to open my eyes one more time before I leave. I can hear my family singing me home. They were such a blessing to have and to hold for the time we were together on earth."

Angel: "When you see your Savior and Lord welcoming you home, nothing will keep you from opening your eyes!"

Dad: "OK, but it seems so soon. I can see the doors of heaven opening."

Angel: "You're right. It's not much longer now. Look! Do you see Him?"

Dad: "No, my eyes are still closed. Let me try - WOA!! I can see Him!!"

Angel: "Your Savior has something to say to you."

Dad: "He said, 'Welcome home, good and faithful servant."

I imagine my father's ticket home was sealed by the blood of Christ Jesus and exchanged for a boarding pass when he suffered the massive stroke.

Rest in peace, dear Dad, on this Father's Day. Your journey is complete.


Your Caboose

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Waiting

Dear Dad,

It's been nearly three months since you left and the waiting to see you again is agonizing. Knowing I could live many more years without your presence is at once sobering and troubling. No one prepared me for the significant void left gaping open when you departed, for no one but you can fill it. Sure, God's grace is sufficient to deal with the pain associated with your departure, yet I find myself groping in the darkness of grief for some reassurance that it truly will be but a wisp of breath before we are reunited. To say I miss you is an understatement of severe magnitude.

Still, I know that I must wait, I must wait, I must wait. It is in the waiting that I confront how treasured you are, who you are, and where you are. I have to admit some level of jealousy knowing you are home in heaven where we all yearn to be, yet we remain on this side... waiting. I feel awkward enough writing you this letter, but it is way overdue. I have walked and slogged through grief unknown and need to let you know how very treasured you are in my life. Your love for me endures even the grave for it is a love only God can supply. Thank you, Dad, for teaching me to wait upon the Lord, for living this life in such a way to demonstrate such a waiting, and for loving me through the deepest pits of hell on earth.

Because of you, I can wait, I can wait for the day when I see you again, with your healing complete, and to feel your warm embrace, to hear your laughter uninhibited by the woes and sorrows of this world.

And so, I wait.

Thanks, Dad.


Your Caboose

Thursday, March 11, 2010


This word best describes the overwhelming sensation of spending the last week with my father before he passed into glory and rest with his heavenly Father. A most unexpected departure, yet just what I needed at this time in life:

Sometimes, the unexpected brings about the wind necessary to fill the sails in order to leave the doldrums. While sailors prayed for winds, a stormy gale may be their way out of the zone, or, a light breeze with enough duration to ease their ship into gustier winds. Either way, their ship is on its way out of the doldrums, set upon its course, and heading towards its port.

While I’ve prayed for God to provide the wind necessary to leave the doldrums, and remain on course to finish seminary, I never imagined His plan to do so. On February 27, 2010, my father, Anthony Ben, went home to be with his Lord. His passing has filled every sail to capacity!

Rather than focus on the loss of my father’s presence, I’d like to share about his home-going. Surrounded by his family, we sang hymns, prayed, laughed, cried, and shared the last moments of his life together. After suffering a massive stroke, my father did not regain consciousness, though he lived for one more week as God honored our prayers, and those of many others around the globe, for more time. During that time, we witnessed a peaceful and dignified send off for a man who lived and breathed Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world. He lived the life God had called him to, serving as a pastor for over 50 years until he went home. His patience and love allowed all of his children to accept Christ, a legacy of eternal life. Thanks to my father on earth, I know my Father in Heaven.

The Doldrums: Into Peaceful Waters?

The intertropical convergence zone, known as the doldrums, circles the earth near the equator. Crews of sailing ships dreaded these waters because their sails would go slack from the calm air there. Ironically, this zone is also where hurricanes originate due to converging winds and rising air.

I imagine the captains of ships entering this zone had planned ahead for the passage through this zone, thinking of the possibility of calm weather or stormy seas. While their crews looked ahead with uncertainty, the captains implemented contingency plans based on experience.

There are times in our voyage with Christ when we experience the doldrums, times when the winds in our sails cease and we drift. Some may perceive this as a time to sink into despair, while others may perceive this as an opportunity to take stock of present seaworthiness. The latter provides a time of inspection to determine what repairs are to be made, while the former saps needed energy for the journey ahead. Both must trust in their captain to follow the plan no matter the weather while in the doldrums. The ship will eventually pass from the zone and continue the voyage.
With Christ as our Captain, we trust Him to see us through the uncertain zones of life. His plan is the best plan, no matter the weather or point along the voyage. He has a contingency plan for all that life demands and will see us through the calm times and the stormy seas.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Trust Building

“Lord, save us! We are perishing!” But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” How many times have we cried out to God to save us from perceived harm only to be confronted by Him for having too little faith in Him? This passage from Matthew 8:25-26 sheds light on an oft overlooked necessity of the Christian life – faith building. We are all too willing to build our bodies, to stock pile possessions, or to enlarge our financial portfolios. The Lord desires for us to enlarge our faith in Him and He will lead us through many trials and tribulations and bestow us many blessings in order to develop our faith so that we trust in Him no matter the circumstance. Just as His disciples pleaded with Him to save them, He will respond in kind when we plead with Him to save us from the storm we may be in the midst of, whether it is actual or perceived, because it is the very storm which enlarges and strengthens our faith in Him. To save us from it would end His efforts to strengthen us in order for us to build our trust in Him. Storms will come; are you prepared to endure or will you cry out to God in little faith to be saved? May God strengthen us all through the storms which arise in our lives.

At This Point in Time

As we progress along our seminary journey, the end of the road is in sight. Looking back over the years, we see how very much God has provided, both materially and spiritually. His wisdom has guided us along our road and His provisions have sustained us. A journey of this duration requires fortitude and endurance, patience and strength, and humbleness and courage. Each step demands effort, yet when each one is taken one at a time without regard for the others, the journey is bearable. One way to look at the seminary journey is to determine the length of each step, then multiply by the number of steps to determine the length of the road. This is best done as one nears the end of the journey rather than attempting to plan for a long distance ahead. By keeping the perspective of taking each step one at a time, the length of the road becomes less important and the discoveries made along the journey become significant. By looking back on the steps taken and the many directions the journey diverted from its original plan, one can see the Master’s hand at work to provide guidance and strength to endure. No amount of planning ahead can prepare one for a journey of this magnitude. What it takes is the willingness to take the first step and keep going.