You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, â€œI lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.â€ You must do the thing you think you cannot do. â€“ Eleanor Roosevelt
Feeling like your life is a bit of a mess at the moment?
Been there…. more than once.
Curious what mistakes people frequently make in the midst of hardship and how to prevent them?
What are some tips for staying organized when so much is coming at you at once… without obsessing?
On whom should you depend when you need advice?
Recently, I wrote down five important tips that have helped me to navigate through tough times.
Here’s something to read with your morning coffee.
“There is a real theological problem if our Christian hope lies entirely in Godâ€™s ability to heal, and not in the resurrection. Hope placed entirely in Godâ€™s ability to physically heal is, in a sense, misplaced hope because even those who are healed die eventually. True Christian hope is an eternal hope that goes beyond death.
I know I could die tomorrow and I could die 80 years from now. More than likely I will die somewhere in between. All of my loved ones face the same fate. I know even if I were to be stricken with a deadly disease and then healed, death would still come for me eventually. No matter how many bananas I eat, that truth is inescapable.
And yet, so many of us, as theologian Stanley Hauerwas has said, are desperate to think medicine will get us out of life alive, even though medicine canâ€™t do that. We are terrified of death.”
For some sobering encouragement and extra chest hair, please check out the article in its entirety here.
I really don’t like the thought of dying.
I love life.
Last week, during 45 minutes of terrifying turbulence while flying over Russia – during which, I barely heard over my pounding heart – it got so bad, the pilot told the attendants over the PA system to secure their food carts and fasten their seat belts immediately. My one comfort was that I was seated by the emergency exit. I thought, ‘Well, *if anyone on this flight is ready to die, it’s me. So, if this plane goes down, I can give it my all and not be scared.’
That didn’t stop me from praying for our safety, though.
In 2000, Tom and I lived in a second story apartment. Our downstairs neighbor, a single guy running an internet job search agency, was away on vacation.
It was winter.
Tom worked the night shift.
Thomas, my oldest son, was born in early March of 2001. I definitely had the pregnancy waddle going on.
In the middle of the night, I heard glass break and then lots of banging noises in from the apartment downstairs. I popped a clip in our Beretta and slowly opened our door. From the upstairs balcony, I could see that the door to the downstairs apartment, supposedly vacant, was ajar.
A light was on.
I quietly closed my apartment door and called the police.
They showed up, and I slowly opened my door and whispered hello. I kept the door open a crack to watch.
They got into formation, two guys on the stairs from a higher vantage point, and two guys on the ground floor.
The older of the two on the ground said, “You go first.”
The younger cop said, “There could be someone in there. I don’t know what I’m going to be facing here.”
The older cop said, “You’re a cop. It’s your job, no matter how scared you are. Now do it.”
Turns out the idiot neighbor left his lights on, and left the windows open. It was pretty windy, and a vase knocked over. The house was old and there were weights in the window frames, which banged the house violently in the wind. He was notorious for leaving his door unlocked, and it never did shut very well without a good kick.
… and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. – Ecclesiastes 12:7
Just as American children are far removed from the connection between slaughtered animals and the food on their plate, they are also unnaturally removed from human life and death. I find both to be sad.
I do not want my children to be afraid of death… or life.
(As a childbirth instructor, I have shown my children videos of birth, and they have a pretty good idea where babies come from. Yes, my oldest is nine.)
Today, and I forget how we arrived at the specific conversation, although life and death are always part of an on-going conversation, we discussed two different burial practices used in places where there is limited amount of space for burial.
These are two of the sites we visited today and discussed as a family:
The Tibetan Sky Burial: In Tibet, where the ground is so rocky that it can only be dug down a few centimeters, burial in the ground would be very difficult. Instead, people are given a ‘sky burial’. The nude body is washed and then wrapped and taken to a ‘burial’ ground. The body is sliced open and incense is lit nearby. The smells of the incense and the blood attract hundreds of vultures who then eat away the flesh and carry the remains into the sky. Because the brain is encased in by the skull, when the birds of prey are done with the rest of the body, the burial practitioner cracks open the skull and the vultures finish their feast. The bones are then scattered down the mountain for open-air decomposition. In a culture that believes in reincarnation, such a burial is considered an honor.
Ossuary (Wikipedia) : Another solution to burial in places with limited space is to store just the remaining bones once the flesh has decomposed. Bodies to decay in temporary graves, sometimes covered with a pile of stones, or even in dirt. They are then washed, labeled, and stored.
Some places get a little creative with the storage of bones, such as the Sedlec Ossuary. Part of a Roman Catholic chapel in the Czech Republic, human remains in this ossuary are used as decoration, including in the form of an elaborate chandelier.
* * *
For what it’s worth, I’ve found that there are very few non-fiction books about death and burial for children outside of studies on ancient Egypt. I could not find a single book for children on modern American burial practices or even a matter-of-fact book on the career of being a mortician. Thankfully, there are many books available on grief.
Why don’t we as a society talk much about death and burial?
If you do talk to your children about such things, what resources to you use?
In what ways would openly talking about death and burial in society as a whole change how we think of and value life?
Do you think toxic embalming chemicals would be used as widely if people weren’t so afraid of the natural decomposition process?
Michele from our home church lost her son Hezekiah a few months back to anencephaly. In her blog, she wrote about her pregnancy, her baby’s short, yet precious, time on this earth, and now is blogging about her grief. (Will you please pray for her and her family?)
To lose someone you love, especially a when it’s a child, is so jarring.
I keep a basket of little booklets and tracts in my bathroom for anyone who wants to read them. One of them is called Grief: Finding Hope Again by Paul David Tripp.
Today, I was that person who picked up the minibook. When I read these two paragraphs, I thought, “Thanks, God. I knew this, but I needed to hear it again.”
Death Was Not Part of God’s Original Plan
We all feel death’s wrenching finality. Death is so wrong, so completely out of step with life as God planned it. The apostle Paul could think of no better word for it than “enemy” (I Corinthians 15:25-26). Death is the enemy of everything good and beautiful about life. Death should make you morally sad and righteously angry. It is a cruel indicator that the world is broken; it is not functioning according to God’s original design, where life was to give way to life, on into eternity.
It is biblical to treat death as the sad, unnatural thing that it actually is. God encourages you to mourn. Death was simply not meant to be. When you recognize this, you will hunger for the complete restoration of all things. You will long to live with the Lord in a place where the last enemy – death – has been defeated.“
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ties in well with Tripp’s thoughts:
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.
“Did children die in the earthquake?” my seven-year-old daughter Tabitha asked gravely when I told my children the devastating news.
“Yes,” I said.
She hung her head.
“Will the earthquake come to Japan?” asked Aiden, age six, concerned.
“Not this one,” I replied.
“But there are earthquakes in Japan, right?” Aiden pressed.
“Yes. Sometimes there are,” I answered honestly. “Remember the one we had last summer?” He nodded. It was a small one in comparison, but it left us quite shaken.
Talking to my children about the January 12th earthquake in Haiti was an important but heart-wrenching conversation. With death toll estimates between 50,000 to 100,000, it is even hard for grown-ups to fathom the loss of life.
Why did it happen? Like most adults, my children wanted to know, “Why?” I asked them a question in return. “Why don’t we live in a perfect world?” The answer is one they can recite off the tops of their heads, but it’s easy to forget in situations like these. It bears repeating.
A long time ago, God did create a perfect world. When God was finished with creating the Earth, He was satisfied with His handiwork. He said it was very good. Delicious food was readily available. Adam and Eve were perfectly made for each other. Humans co-existed with wild animals. Childbirth didn’t hurt. There was no death. There was no shame. There was no suffering. There was only beauty and an intimate relationship with the Creator. Adam and Eve disobeyed the one rule that God gave to them. By their own hands, they picked and and ate fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Everything changed.
As humans, created in God’s image, we long in our hearts for perfection and purity. People, even those who do not consider themselves to be “religious”, see pain and suffering and know deep down that it is not how things are supposed to be.
When Jesus, the Great Physician, was on Earth, He performed many miracles. It was as if He was thumbing His nose at the fall and saying, “I am here to restore the Earth to how it was meant to be.” People with life-long deformities, illnesses and injuries were made whole. A blind man saw. A lame man walked. After twelve years of incurable hemorrhaging, a bleeding woman got her life back. Leprosy was cured. Peter’s severed ear was fixed, good as new. As I have said before, never once did Jesus partially heal someone who came to Him. They were always restored instantly. It was never â€œtake two of these and call me in the morningâ€ or â€œcome back in a month to have your stitches removed.â€
In a world of quick-fixes, where there is an easy-to-swallow pill for just about any ailment, we have distanced ourselves from the idea that pain and death are real. We think of the “fall of mankind” to be like an ancient fairytale. We forget that we are mankind. We kid ourselves to think that if we just recycle enough plastic, get enough anti-oxidants in our diet and make strong buildings that we can live forever. Natural disasters are especially jarring to us because they poke a hole in our comfort bubbles. They remind us that, as much as we’d like to think so, we are not really in control. That any of us are still alive and breathing after the fall is only by God’s grace and mercy.
We have a responsibility to help. As Christians, we need to help those in Haiti. We can do this by giving, by praying, and by offering our own time if we are able to go and help on the ground. Helping others, though, goes beyond doing something to create a rewarding warm feeling in the cockles of our hearts. Reaching out to those who are hurting and finding ways to gently restore them – not just in natural disasters, but disasters of the soul such as being caught in a sinful pattern – is a way to claim dominion over the fall. Bearing one another’s burdens is a way to show a glimpse of Jesus; of Eden; of Heaven.
It was simple example, but this point was driven home to by my friend Debi at All Saints, my home church. God said, “Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field.” Whenever Debi pulled up the bracken and weeds from her garden, she would call it “exercising dominion,” that is fulfilling one of our purposes as humans, to “fill the earth, and subdue it.”
We can prepare for disasters. While we cannot prevent natural disasters from happening, we can do our best to ready for them. We are not fatalists. If we feel the earth beginning to rumble, we can have our children move away from windows and crouch down under something to protect them. We can teach our children ahead of time tips for surviving an earthquake. We can build strong buildings – the wise man built his house upon the rock. We can keep a reserve of food and power supplies on hand in case there is an emergency. We can practice stewardship all the while remembering our fragility and that sometimes, even when we do everything right, bad things can and still do happen in this fallen world.
We can prepare our hearts. As my children and I read about Haiti’s earthquake, we came across the story of the rescue of 11-year-old Anaika Saint Louis, who later died from complications of her injuries.
One of the things that brought tears to my eyes and peace to my heart was something Anaika’s aunt, Etiana Jean-Baptiste, said during an interview, “[Anaika] said … ‘Bring me a Bible. There is a psalm I like a lot, which is Psalm 23. She spent all her time reading the psalm. She said, ‘My God, come help me.'”
Anaika trusted in God even while her body was being crushed down by the weight of the rubble. She did not give up hope. She lost her mortal life, and gained an eternal one. Even though she was a child, she thumbed her nose at the effects of the fall by putting her trust in Christ. Just as a flower dies and its seeds live on, Anaika’s soul can proclaim in its heavenly body, “O death, where is your victory? Where is your sting?”
The Bible says that God “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” None of us know the day or the hour when our life will be required of us. We have a choice to live in fear of that moment, or live confidently knowing that our souls are secure.
As mankind, our bodies are not the only things that suffer the effects of the fall. So do our souls. Yet, God did not leave us stuck under the weight of this rubble. He sent his perfect son as a sacrifice for sins that we can again have the same kind of fellowship with Him that Adam and Eve had in the Garden of Eden.
When I read Anaika’s favorite Psalm, there was something particularly chilling about it that tied everything together for me. It is the message that was amplified in Anaika’s life and death. It is the message that lives on past the grave. We can honor Anaika by realizing what she held fast to even in her dying moments: Jesus restores souls.
The LORD is my shepherd,
I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD