It’s not the same thing

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:6-7

When someone doubts your story, especially one that is partially revealed to you years after it has occurred, you might be tempted to defend that it is true, that it is real. Know that their denial is about them not you. The truth is the truth and if it was not so, you would not grieve so badly when it comes forth. It would not have affected you so. You don’t continue to have flashbacks or grieve for years a nightmare from a bad night of sleep. At least in your right mind you don’t. (An exception might be the delusional thinking of mental illness. Most of us do not make crazy claims indiscriminately, however.) It’s not the same thing as a random even fearful thought verses the triggering a memory of an actual, horrific event that happened to a long time ago.

Then when your truth and the grieving that follows in dealing with it has found both the light of day and the Lord’s healing grace, the transformation of your character or mind or spirit should be enough to prove that what happened was real. You can’t fake a flashback. You can’t fake character flaws or insecurities that right themselves when you heal from the trauma. The truth revealed, processed, and lain before the throne of grace transforms us. It doesn’t matter that the story is too fantastic to believe. It doesn’t matter whether or not there is corroborating evidence (yet we can rejoice if there is proof or witnesses willing to back your story). It doesn’t matter how old you were at the time of the incident or if you told anyone then or now. Sometimes the mind has to push away the horror to survive aka repression. It’s a survival mechanism, a coping strategy of the mind. Then there are the body memories, stored in the tissues that come forth when you have an injury. Or a seizure. If your mind did not repress the trauma for you, the pain of the event often plunges a person into addictive behaviors (i.e. alcoholism, drug abuse, pornography, sexual promiscuity, compulsive behavior, workaholism), suicide, homicide, or mental illness just to survive. I know. Everyone in my immediate family has battled one of these. Our life stories were just that bad.

I am the only one left in my immediate family. There is no one remaining to corroborate the facts of my story as extended family who might know something are not willing to talk to me about what they know. I have asked more than once. My brother Mike did help fill in some details for me but he is now deceased. He had his own horrors to endure. Extended family members have their own baggage that they have dealt with in various ways. Thankfully they just didn’t have it as bad as me and my two brothers did . . . no wonder we were largely outcast (or looked down upon) from them and neighbors too.

Funny thing about memory as it is not perfect nor is it like watching a movie where you know the plot and see the beginning and the end. When the Lord reveals bits and pieces over decades of time, it is up to you to reconcile the information. Therein lies a particular danger as the mind wants to fill in the blanks for the scenes to make sense but we must resist trying to do so. Similarly, when therapists ask probing questions we must guard against confabulation, false memory syndrome, and other pitfalls in trying to make sense of a seemingly too-hard-to-believe flash-backed piece of our story. Why did a particular image present itself in my “mind’s eye” with the sound of a helicopter flying overhead in bed one night? Why did I cry for so long thereafter? For the believer in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit will show you what you need to know, hold you as you come to grips with what really happened, lead you to a place of acceptance and healing, and transform it all for His glory.

The flashbacks for me have always come forth with emotion so intense that I believed that I would die if I felt it fully let alone say it out loud. The fear on the front side of the wall of truth was stifling, immobilizing. I believe for me, this is why the pieces of my personal history have come forth in such small bits, spread out over THIRTY YEARS. It’s also why I don’t remember much of my childhood. The first memory of sexual abuse came back in my late twenties as I was preparing to get married. Sometimes a flashback was a moment of intense emotion that I would discover matched a specific location or incident; other times the emotion showed me the origin of a ritualistic behavior of mine, particularly with nighttime routines, that I would come to know as abnormal. The realization equipped me to let it go. It has taken decades of working with skilled Christian counselors, retreats, Bible study, prayer, research, journaling, processing memory triggers that happened spontaneously by the events of life, and more that the Lord has allowed me to remember more of my childhood. With the bad stuff also came memories of the good times that I had forgotten. So it’s not all bad. Reclaiming one’s past is good!

The worst incident has taken the longest to piece together. Here’s what I know.

My parents were divorced when I was twelve years old. Visitations to see my Dad involved him taking one of us three kids at a time as Mom said he could not handle more than one of us at a time. He often didn’t show up on one of these Saturdays to pick one of us up for the day; this happened more with my brother Mike than with me or Rob. So sad. The visitations were strange. I recall my Dad taking me on my day to a movie theater, buying me lots of popcorn and candy, then trying to sit me down by myself in the dark theater while he went off to sit with a woman in another row. Somehow I had the nerve to say “but I want to sit with you.” The next thing that I remember is the 3 of us sitting together and me feeling sick from eating all that crap . . . or maybe it was from the realization that he was there to see her and not me? I could tell a half-dozen stories like this one.

Rarely did we visit our Dad at his house in Roseville, Michigan. We lived in Warren and I figured it was too far away to visit very often. Years later, Mike told me that my Dad had a wall made out of wine bottles in his house; I don’t recall seeing it. I do recall seeing a German shepherd dog in his backyard one day when my Mom drove us over there, I think to get our car repaired. His home was on a corner lot with a chain-linked fence that came around the side of the house and side of the garage that faced the other street, perpendicular to the house. People entered the home from the side door. I was probably 12 years old so who knows what I would have focused on at that time. I just wanted to see my Dad! He had left town a couple of times (for California and to Florida) and now he was back. Too bad that his return had nothing to do with us kids though.

In my thirties, my Dad’s youngest brother and his wife gave me a photograph of my father as a boy. By this time I had learned of the horrific abuse that my Dad had endured as a child: my grandmother destroying his model airplanes, the daily verbal abuse, beatings, the physical torture of being locked in closets or having to sit up at the kitchen table ALL NIGHT LONG because he didn’t eat his dinner then suffering a head injury when he fell asleep and out of his chair. I was just starting to recover some of what had happened to me has a child from my mother’s father’s sexual abuse, a neighborhood boy’s sexual abuse, my mother’s physical and emotional abuse, and what I would come to understand as ritual abuse from my father. That photo was probably the best gift I could have ever received from my dysfunctional family! I was able to step outside of myself and grieve for my Dad. He was robbed of his own childhood, so badly that he would go on to develop a serious mental illness that would plague him his entire life. I believe that head injury contributed to him developing Parkinson’s disease later in life. I cried and cried for what my Dad had endured as a boy and how he surely must have struggled to try to function as an adult let alone as a husband and father. I started to understand why he ultimately had to separate from our family through divorce then finally disappear for TWENTY-SEVEN YEARS! And why he sent my grandmother hate letters for about a decade. He was so very messed up. In due time I forgave him for everything I have written about here and elsewhere.

How amazing that the Lord will give me this insight before I would come to fully understand what happened to me that fateful day at my Dad’s house in Roseville. The memory fragments gathered over time still don’t fit together well. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle with edges singed by fire, warped by water damage, and with dozens missing but then again you don’t know how many pieces there are in total. You can only hope to understand the little chunks that you can see when you do not have the picture on the cover of the puzzle box. The ones I see now are very, very clear.

My Dad told me not to go in the basement but somehow I wandered down there anyways. There was a dead German shepherd dog in a large tray on a table, dead. The basement was dingy and dark with electrical cords hanging from the ceiling. The table with the dog was over by a utility sink and washer and dryer; some kitcheny-type items were strewn about along with a lot of blood. The nipples (as in a pregnant dog) were cut off of the dog. The wounds were red with dried blood. I don’t remember anything else other than the sense that my Dad had scolded me for being down there. I know it took a long time for me to be able to get back up the stairs under my own power for lack of strength.

The next thing I remember is lying on a couch upholstered in some kind of plaid pattern. There were no pillows or cushions upon which to lie my head. I was sickly. I desperately needed to rest.

I discovered about that time that there were other people in the house, in a bedroom a the back of the house. It was a small ranch home so it couldn’t have been very far away but it seemed very far to me at the time. My next memory is inside that back bedroom. There were naked people writhing around on a double bed. In those days no one had a queen or king-sized bed as they were either too expensive or the bedrooms were just too small. Two women grabbed me, one on either side of me, to restrain me. Years of tiny memories of this scene, recalled with horror and emotion so raw that I thought I would not survive the telling or finally feeling them, knew that they violated me sexually. I physically remember the touch. My shoulders have funny pinch marks where the posterior deltoid muscles should be and I wonder if it was from their firm grip on me at a time when my body was growing from childhood into a teenager? Seems to me that someone on the bed took notice of what was going on. Seems to me that I may have recognized at least one of the people on the bed but I cannot be sure. That person denies any activities akin to an orgy but does admit that my Dad had seances with groups of people around his coffee table in the front room some nights at his house. (The coffee table in front of the couch where I was lying earlier.) Years later I and expert would hypothesize that my Dad was experimenting with the occult and psycho-cybernetics to try and control his mental illness. What a sick, twisted mess.

My Dad came into the room and ripped me from the grips of the two women. There was some kind of paraphernalia on the dresser that was strange to me that I would later hypothesize was for taking drugs. He broke the neck of the first woman he grabbed and put her out on the front porch, out the front door just beyond the couch. The house cleared out although I do not remember the people actually leaving. I was back on the couch as nightfall set in. I don’t remember falling asleep, eating anything, going to the bathroom, or my Dad talking to me. She was still out there on the porch. It’s all a horrifically terrifying blur . . .

It was daylight when my Dad put me in the backseat of my Mom’s car. The vehicle was an older tan sedan with red seats that used to belong to my grandfather; how fitting for it to have red seats! My Dad scolded me firmly to crouch down in the backseat and not come out. I remember the wide floor area and bench seat of the backseat. He must have plopped the woman’s body into the front passenger seat before we took off down the road as I knew that she was there with us. Somehow I gathered that we drove north since you have to drive north to quickly get from the crowded suburbs of Detroit to the country. But I didn’t drive at the time so I don’t really know which way we went. The towns of Flint and Pontiac stick in my mind and I’m not sure why.

He pulled over at one of those pull-off areas along the side of the highway. It wasn’t a freeway like I-94 or I-75 and there wasn’t much traffic driving by. When I heard the front passenger side door open and the sound of my Dad pulling her out of the car, I figured I could pop up and look out without being seen. I saw him struggle then drop her floppy body over the guard rail to what looked like a drop-off down below the level of the road. There aren’t any mountains per se in Michigan so I have no idea how this worked out or where it happened that there would be such a cliff. (About 20 years later I looked at maps of areas north of Detroit to see if I recognized any names of streets or topography that might help me identify the area. I even called the State police and talked to a sergeant who would have been working in the approximate area about 20 years prior to my call. When the internet became available, I searched the archives of several newspapers for stories of bodies recovered in that area and even the name of an Uncle’s old girlfriend who I thought might know something. Nothing panned out.)

My Dad was working on my Mom’s car that week or weekend which is why he was driving her car. The next thing I remember is being home with the car and my Mom asking me how my visit went. I wasn’t able to say anything. My Mom and I weren’t exactly on friendly terms in those years so she asked nothing further. The horror was locked up inside of me and remained there for many, many years.

Even with all of the holes in the recounting of these crimes, abuse, satanism, evil, wretchedness, there is more confirmation for me that it is all very real. My Dad did things to try to get me to forget what had happened. We still had a pool in our backyard for a couple of years after my parents divorced. One afternoon when no one else was around, he took me onto the pool deck to inspect the liner. I vividly recall the blue shade and pattern of the liner above the water line and below the metal cap (that we would jump off of into the water). The deck was cedar and stained a medium brown color. My Dad had built the largest deck around, complete with a flip-up staircase that we could lock in an upright position to keep kids out in between pool parties.

I recall my Dad pushing my head up and down into the water repeatedly, over the edge of the deck with my body splayed out, face-down on the surface of the deck, as if to try and drown me! I don’t know what he was saying or if he said anything at all. I feared for my life, gasped for air. It was way worse than my brother Mike trying to hold me underwater when we would play “hold your breath the longest” games in the pool. He was a mean kid back in those days. The truth of what my Dad did came out through the course of most of my adult life treating headaches and neck issues. I have a flattening in the curvature of my cervical spine. I often wonder if it was from the physical trauma committed that day? Anyways, seems to me that he was trying to cover one trauma with another. I believe that his action was a twisted interpretation of the psychological experimentation of the 60’s and 70’s. He tried another version of messaging with my brother Mike via brainwashing him with a recorded message he had him listen to before going to sleep. I still remember the “pillow speaker” and cord that went from the speaker to the tape recorder in the basement. The effect on Mike was opposite of what was intended, damaging his self esteem for much of his adult life.

The strongest evidence that supports my Dad’s effort to try to get me to forget something bad that had happened is reflected in the scars on the inner surface of both of my elbows. My Mom had taken me to the Doctor for something and through the course of the exam, the Doctor asked about the circle of blisters on each of my inner elbows. He asked if I had been shooting up drugs with a needle? Injecting myself with something? He asked over and over again. The blisters were fluid-filled bumps about 1/8-inch in diameter and tall. I remember touching them and the fluid moving beneath my fingers. I had no idea how they got there. At first they were on one arm then they were on both arms, same patterning but maybe it was the right arm had more bubbles than the left arm? I was tempted to burst them but something inside me decided that was not a good idea. Eventually the blisters deflated, the skin dried up, and the crusted tissue healed. The scar of pock-marks inside each forearm remained visible on my skin for decades.

In my late forties, I started working with a counselor who specialized in ritual abuse. When we talked through the story that I have recounted here and the blisters, he suggested that my Dad had injected me with a psychodelic drug in an effort to get me to forget the trauma that had happened. In my Dad’s sick thinking, if I forgot then I would not be affected by what happened (and perhaps no crime was committed). In an exceedingly deranged way, my Dad was trying to help but he did so by inflicting more abuse. This is a form of ritual abuse: using a ritualistic behavior for the purpose of controlling another person. There are other examples of rituals to which he exposed me and my brothers to through the course of his mental illness that I may discuss at another time. What is important here is that there remains to this day, although faded from the atrophy of my skin that normally occurs with aging, a physical reminder that something was done to me decades ago that should never have happened. About 2 weeks ago I felt the Lord lead me to apply a frequency-generating treatment device to my inner arms to see what would happen. Spontaneous tears followed that I could not stop if I tried. Holy cow. This is what they call tissue memory, body memory. And now at last, that tissue is free from whatever happened, the effects of shooting up some drug into each of my arms.

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:6-7

It’s not the same thing to make up a story for personal gain versus sharing a part of your history for no personal gain. It’s not the same thing to try to piece together wacky thoughts in your head versus processing emotionally laden images that come to mind when you know they are parts of events that really happened and do not conflict with what you already know, history, physical evidence, and what people have been willing to share with you. It’s not the same thing to pray for a seizure to end versus the electrical/chemical rush associated with a seizure masking-and-triggering memory of an incident long buried in the tissues of your brain, ready to finally come out. It’s not the same thing for a (dangerous) counselor to use hypnosis to “recover lost memories” versus the The Holy Spirit strengthening the faith of the born-again believer to receive truth in more forms than you ever imagined at just the right time in your life, thus changing you for the good, forever. It’s not the same thing to tell a sad, scary story for pity versus championing the work of the Lord in the life of His daughter whose faith has helped her overcome evil in the hopes of shining a light on the mighty power of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Our Lord overcomes the worst, the darkest, the most sinister evil you could ever imagine or have ever endured. This is not only true for me, for my story. This is an important truth for such a time as this. Our sovereign Lord reigns now and will reign forevermore. He is here for me and for you, will sustain you no matter what may come or has gone before us. Believe it Gentle Reader! I do! JJ

What forgiveness looks like: the Lord restored “the years the locusts had eaten”
just before my father passed away in 2011.

He knew

Still in shock from the news, with tears coming forth without notice

I grieve the sudden death of my brother and all that it means.

Where do I begin to tell the story of his life and mine intertwined?

I just can’t write very well right now.

One dynamic is clear though.

Just before he died, he had come to know and convey despite horrific suffering

That life in Christ is worthy of our primary focus. It supernaturally transcends the incredible chaos of our time whether it be in our own broken frame or the society at large.

I don’t think he lived this belief out perfectly in all areas of his world. But in conversation with me, his witness was clear: LIFE as in LIFE IN CHRIST is the most important matter of our days.

With this I find it curious that his final words to his companion and caregiver of many years were, “I don’t want to die.” But Mike, to live is Christ, to die is gain (Phil 1:21), ultimately to be with the Lord and perfectly whole. Why did you not give in to death when in a coma, when seizing, when facing searing pain and be truly free? No one would know and no one would blame you for letting go. You didn’t even do so until the Lord called you home. I am seeing in you this gift of perspective that I have not been able to realize in my own time of battling serious illness. You got it right! I need to get it right too.

Thousands of waking seizure attacks have ravaged my body over the past 8 years. The health complications that came along the way have brought much grief, guttural cries out to the Lord for relief. Experiencing my brain on fire when I am still awake has brought traumatization, triggered memories of past incidents of trauma, stirred emotions that took me down, down, down. If there was lingering bitterness from the abuse of my past then it had no where to go to heal when every month it seemed, there was a new medical problem/diagnosis/treatment to consume my days. Sure, I tried to live around the compendium of illness; weather sick or faking wellness, I see now that my focus has been in the wrong place too much of the time. I need more of Jesus Christ and less of everything else NO MATTER WHAT IS GOING ON AROUND OR WITHIN ME.

I have struggled to read my Bible and pursue even passive activities that can strengthen my relationship with my Savior. It’s been really, really hard to do so. Somehow my brother Mike figured it out despite his suffering. He could only use one hand! His body erupted into violent spasms without warning. The simplest of self care tasks were laborious beyond belief. He has been bedridden for most of the past few years. And the pain. I don’t know if anyone really knows how much he endured, how much medication or cigarettes it took to numb the torture of severe contractures from a stroke about 5 years ago then subsequent medical mismanagement (or minimal management). So did he talk about all of this with me? NO! He chose share what he was studying in his Bible instead. He asked me important questions that I was barely able to answer. Mike meditated on the significant issues of life itself. He saw beyond the life his broken frame, not wanting it to end despite his suffering. Mike dwelt for hours each day in the presence of our Lord and blessed me in return by his doing so.

Mike really did not want to die. I get the sense that it was because he wanted to be here when the Lord returned in glory for His church. Mike thought he would be here for the rapture. Sometimes I think that I will be here for the rapture too, and that it might not be far away with the absolute chaos going on in our country. Despite my own faith in Jesus Christ, many times I have wanted to die. I have been overcome with despair, enough so that I could not imagine living another day with my own suffering (described here many times, portrayed on my YouTube channel). My faith has wavered at times when challenged by the worst ravages of chronic illness. I am not proud of it. This is important to share however, as I know that I am not alone. Tis better to bring these issues to the light of day in the right way at the right time. Now is that time. My brother’s witness to me that I finally got to see in his passing from this life is a proverbial fork in the road for where I want my life to go from here. I got this perspective from you Mike. Thank you. You have finished well, the task of ministering to your older sister whether you knew or not that you were doing so.

Thank you my dear brother in Christ. On Friday you told me that you knew that one day you would be healed. That prayer was answered just one day later! I rejoice that you are now leaping like a deer on high places as you dwell with our majestic Savior in the heavenly realms. See you one day when the Lord calls me home too. Until then,

Heyyyyy Mikey! I love you. JJ

Not nicer but deeper

Signs of spring abound juxtaposing the promise of new life with the reality of death in this season of both green and black, this season of life altered by a rogue virus. How can we possibly take it all in?

The goodness that we can find in our shared humanity isn’t far off as neighbors serenade the streets with music. We put teddy bears in the front windows of our homes for the kids passing by at a safe distance or join masses of cars flashing emergency lights to support the healthcare workers laboring inside our local medical centers at night. Each gesture brings a smile, some warmth for a brief moment in time.

Conversely it seems that the fear of a silent killer has intensified the divisiveness, the viciousness in social and public media to levels not seen since caveman days. Our society has gone beyond simple disagreement to sarcasm and its true definition: to “tear flesh.” Hatred, really. It doesn’t matter to the masses that we are all in this together, that we are all at war against the same enemy. The process of dealing with COVID-19 will reveal the good and bad in each of us at some point. The stress is crushing in the weakness of our humanity. If you looked more closely I believe you could say that below the surface, we are all hurting from the loss of life as we once knew it.

I’ll never forget the 2 women joking about the newly coined term of “social distancing” in front of the organic produce section of our local grocery store as we waited our turns to step up and select a vegetable or two. That was only a month ago. Yesterday no one was joking in their combination of bare hands or gloves and masks, grasping a sanitized shopping cart, and standing 6 feet apart on the blue stickers marking the floor at the checkout line. The air was tense as I observed the cashier wearing only one latex-free glove, the gal bagging our wearing a re-usable cloth mask and no gloves, then me taking off one of my sweaty gloves to sign the screen of the credit card reader (before sanitizing that hand with a little bottle of same in our truck). This is nuts!

I submit to you that overall the COVID-19 Pandemic is not bringing out the best in people yet. I am glad and grateful to see the goodness here and there. I do believe that most of us in our hearts are somewhere between survival mode and beast mode. We are struggling in our own strength to establish some sort of normal routine while living in the chaos. That is simply not possible yet. How can we do so when in the back of our minds we are wondering if we or our loved ones will be the star of that leaked YouTube video of the patient dying alone in an ICU bed or worse, packed in a black bag in the refrigerated truck parked outside the freight entrance of the hospital? Yes, this is way beyond nuts!

Experts tell us that the world here in the United States will get worse before it gets better. But probably in each of our own private spaces and places, there will be some nice things that will happen. Some loving and meaningful moments will be in the mix. But we must ask ourselves if that is enough? Is it enough to just survive the pandemic of year 2020 with a few GIFs and memes from Facebook in our minds? Or conversely do we throw up our hands, succumb to addiction (including stuffing ourselves with food) and say if we die, we die? I mean really, how does one cope when the world is going increasingly mad?

You go deeper Gentle Reader. You go deeper than asking how or why or when or where or who or what. You go deeper than the comfort of your own bed (if your are blessed to have one) and kitchen full of food (if you are blessed to have one). You ask yourself what life will be like 2 months from now when your housemates can’t stand each other anymore or your employer had to close its business after all, when the government goes bankrupt or the earth groans with the tragedy that actually didn’t take us all out. You ask yourself about the value of your own life and the ones you love and further, the very meaning of life itself.

I pray that it is sooner than later Gentle Reader, that you will go beyond the darkness of days to go deeper still. For it is then that we both will know without any doubt that we were never alone in all of this mess. There is a purpose and a plan. We will find a peace that transcends the mess of this world. This is not of ourselves such that no man may boast. We simply are not strong enough. All along the way the God of the universe is watching, waiting, listening, grieving, loving, and ready to see us through no matter what happens. It is for His design and glory that we live. Say what? How can I say this? I found the answers, the truth in His Word. I found that the Lord ordained supreme testing within a horrific illness I endured and battled over the past 8 years. And through it all, there was meaning and purpose. I was never alone. He was always there with me whether I felt His presence or not. And always there was peace beyond the strife. I escaped death more times than the 9 lives of Morris the cat; COVID-19 doesn’t change a thing whether I live or die. My eternal life that transcends the strife of this world began a long time ago.

The world simply will not, no never satisfy the groaning, the longing of our hearts. That place is for Jesus Christ alone. Want to explore this topic further? Go right now to the book of John. Find a Bible. And dwell amongst the pillars of the King who loves you so! Do it now before it is too late. JJ

I didn’t get the message

Ever wonder what the outcome might have been if we had been just a moment earlier or perhaps later at a given moment in time? When you just missed the ice cream truck as a kid or perhaps as an adult, a former lover narrowly escapes your intrusion on his moment of indiscretion? What about that moment of sickness that you managed to hide from the critical eye of a relative or that time you arrived at the grocery store only to find one box of your favorite cereal left on the shelf instead of two? Perhaps I didn’t get the message or the Divine nudge . . . or maybe I just ignored it and I am the better for it in the end. Such my rationalization goes.

Then there’s the time when the message never seems to come at all. You get the first part of some saucy news but never the rest of the story and you are left hanging in disbelief, doubt, dread, or worse. Is my severely disabled brother going to be o.k. or not? Will someone paleeeeese return my phone calls? When will I find out the results of a biopsy procedure for crying out loud? I want answers NOW!!! Perhaps the Lord ordains that a little more time is needed so I simply have to slog out the wait. Such is one of the hardest tasks in a life still structured by time, not yet unstructured by eternity. As believers in Jesus Christ, we’re still here in our constraints of time and space. The waiting we must do is necessary yet really hard sometimes.

The weeks when prayers seem to go unanswered, no direction comes after hours spent pleading on our knees, events come forth in puzzling sequences that confound the issues at hand, you never really figure out what the heck was going on or the purpose of it all in the end. Such are the mysteries of living a life in the slow lane and especially of a person battling chronic illness day after day after day. It’s really hard to believe that what you see is all that you might get out of your broken life. Alas we always hope for something more than we have don’t we?

I just didn’t get the message that there would come a point at which things would not get better for me. Blessings abound around me but my health has not improved; it has deteriorated. Every few months has brought serious new problems that threaten to choke the life out of me. My wiggle room has gotten smaller. Forget rebounding to a prior level of functioning. It just isn’t happening for me right now. So yes, I am really down in the dumps tonight. I have been up all night for the second night in a row with a daytime of sleeping to follow. The unseasonably warm and sunny day out there in the Midwest will be enjoyed by folks other than myself as the tic attacks wreak havoc on my sleep/wake cycles once again. Wasn’t I getting better a year ago around this time? Didn’t I have the best spring last year of the prior 8 years? What has happened?

TO BE CONTINUED . . .

He Loved Well, He Lived for Christ

The passing of John Sr. brought sorrow as I considered the impact this man had on my life.  And I was not alone.  Everyone knew John’s love for his family and friends, the Lord, Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of believers united by our faith.  It wasn’t until I started to describe three key scenes in my past where his care was palpable to me that I started to grieve the passing of this faithful servant of the Lord.  Surely the heavenly hosts are celebrating your coming home sir . . .

My connection to John Sr. was initially tainted by the critical viewpoint of my former spouse.  I suppose it’s easy to criticize someone else for faults that the two of you may share?  Years later this appeared to be the case.  So when I ran into John Sr. just 3 weeks after my former spouse left me, I was not prepared for this gentleman’s reaction to the  news.  He asked how Craig was doing and I was speechless for a moment:  did he not know what had happened?  I guess not.  I had to tell him.  John Sr’s face fell as I shared the devastation that was just beginning to unfold in my life;  John Sr. looked at me as if someone had punched him in the gut right there in the store!  He could barely speak, mumbled a few condolences, and shuffled away obviously affected by my story.  In the moment I was stunned as well.  Why was he walking away when I had just shared my heart with my elder brother in Christ?  Much later I supposed it was a type of grief reaction.  Not long afterwards, I experienced the most important message from our encounter that day:  my brother in Christ loved me as his sister in Christ, like a father I did not have at the time.  He was hurting for me, hurting for the fall from grace of our brother in Christ.  I also learned that day just how profoundly adultery affects many others in the body of Christ in addition to the spouse.

John Sr. didn’t live anymore in the town of that grocery store where I had encountered him.  I would not see him again until a few months later when visiting with his daughter who had become a good friend of mine.  Deb and I had traveled from the Chicago suburbs where we lived to her parents’ home in the Wisconsin countryside.  A neighbor and fellow member of our church (where we had all met) came along for what was to be a fun time of fellowship, food, and relaxation.  Their youngest son played classical guitar to everyone’s delight and John Sr. told amazing stories of missionaries they knew, places they had been, and so on.  We were one big family for the weekend!  That is, until nighttime came.

The Y family always had a menagerie of sofas with hide-a-beds, cots, and blankets to accommodate everyone.   Me and my neighbor, Ardie, made our beds in the living room while the family tucked themselves to sleep in their respective bedrooms throughout the modest home.  But I could not sleep.  Instead of feeling full from the lively fellowship and activities of the visit, I was filled with grief and sorrow from the tremendous losses in progress in my life back home.  I lain in the dark with tears streaming down my face like a crack in a retaining wall holding back an avalanche of tears.  Finally I could not hold it in anymore.  Everyone was asleep in the dark starry night whilst I was coming unglued!  I gathered myself as best as I could and walked out into the cool blackness that received me outside.  The tears and whimpers gushed easily then uncontrollably.  “Would they ever stop?”  I wondered.

Before long I could hear some wrestling of the folks inside the house.  A light went on in one of the bedrooms, illuminating the front porch where I was holding myself up against a wall.  Arlene and John Sr. were up!  Despite my best efforts to weep quietly, they had heard me and came to comfort me.  John Sr. muttered again with the same type of sorrow I had seen in the grocery store.  Arlene wrapped her warm, motherly arms around me and brought me inside to sit on a handmade bench with her for as long as I needed.  He got me a blanket.  She stayed with me until the tears flowed no more.  Eventually I spoke a little while she simply listened.  What a gift she gave me that night!  No one said much about it all the next morning.  Somehow they just all understood the pain I was going through.  They did the best thing that they could do to help me through that traumatic time in my life:  they just loved on me like one of their own.

John Sr. and Arlene were the best at loving on people, a model we know comes from the love who is embodied in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  That love is as pure as it is convicting with the truth of His Word and the leading of the Holy Spirit.  The two of them shared scripture often and how the Lord had led them through their lives, how He too may encourage and lead your in your days as well.  I experienced this witness in an unexpected way about 3 years later.  The Lord had begun the process of restoration in my life and brought me a wonderful man of God named Steve.  We were engaged that September and I wanted to visit the important places and people of my life before moving to Indiana to marry him.  I brought Steve to meet John Sr. and Arlene, this time without my friend Deb, their daughter.  I wanted them to see my happiness and thank them for being an important part of it coming to fruition.

We had a wonderful visit.  After Steve and I returned to Illinois from that long weekend, and after Steve had already gone on home to Indiana, I got a call from John Sr.  He didn’t waste any time chatting about our visit and got right to the point:  check yourself and the truth of God’s Word, the Bible, before you take this step in marrying Steve.  I was a bit taken aback by him questioning things but heeded his advice.  The next few weeks were filled with prayer, scripture reading, pastoral counselling, and looking honestly with Steve at our Biblical grounds for divorce and remarriage.  All counsel pointed to a blessing for us so we proceeded to get married by the end of the year.  The counsel of John Sr. was a necessary part of our preparation that brought clarity that would be needed when others would pass judgement on our union.  We have complete confidence and peace that  we made a God-honoring decision to be together forever.

I have often quoted Mark Twain at key times in my life who said that the un-examined life is not worth living.  Indeed we can find rich value and meaning by taking a closer look at our lives within the context of God’s plans for our lives, ways He gifts each of us, orchestration of events, our limitations, and the stuff that He crafts for each of us as we live out our days on this fallen earth in which we dwell.  If we are honest then our search for meaning will lead us to the Creator: the person of Jesus Christ.  If we heed the call to recognize our sinful nature, receive His gift of salvation and redemption then choose to grow in knowledge and character of our Lord, then the transformation of our lives will shine for all the world to see.  We will become a witness for His transforming power, His love, His grace, His mercy, His goodness.  And a life seasoned by the love of Christ, never tainted by the trials we all endure, can become a life well-lived, well-loved for the glory of the Lord.  This is who John Sr. was.  This is the legacy that he has left for those who got to know him, were ministered to by his love and care, who witnessed his walk with the Lord every day of his life.

Well done John Sr:  faithful servant of the Lord!  Well done!  May God be the glory for the faithful witness of my brother in Christ.  May He also bless your beloved bride Arlene, until she joins you one day in the presence of our Lord.  Thank you for bringing me into your spiritual family through the faith that we share.  You have made a difference!  JJ

couple, Christian, husband and wife, Wisconsin, visiting, friends, woods, Fall, sunny day, engaged
Steve and Julie in Wisconsin, September 2, 2007