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

 

Just sitting at the table

 

My beloved opened the door

And my evening suddenly brightened,

Knowing he would be close with a listening ear

Makes handling the “nasty” less bad and more good afterwards.

I just don’t get used to

The evening ritual of torment

When my world goes dim from sickness

No matter the resting gone before, the mini successes (or so I thought?).

sitting, chair, upset, anguish, grieving, prison, torment, grief, hurt, person, woman, man

I was just sitting at the table

When my eyes pulled closed and shook

My head and neck followed next then I knew

There were just seconds to get lying down before all hell broke loose.

So I did run to the bedroom

Head turned to soften impact bedside

Eventually pulling the comforter over my broken frame

As the sputtering gave way to shouts of terror, gasping for air, legs drawn up too.

In waves the torment continued

Just when I thought I might cry for help

No words came when Steve came to my rescue

Trying to figure out how to get a remedy inside me as I twisted before his eyes.

Tis trauma for us both

When a Monday night isn’t anyway alright

For I will never accept that fifteen hundred of these nights

Are the way it should be forever, oh Lord deliver me please!

Try again the new this or that

Until we or the Docs get it right or even better

Til that night we will sit talking about our day eye to eye

Then ready ourselves for bed with a tender embrace as it should be.

Oh I know others have their trials

And I grieve for theirs with ours in there too

Let me know your need for prayers, Gentle Reader

Allow me to make good use of this time before the altar:  His throne of grace.

My Jesus cares for me, for you

He loves us and lives for our coming to Him

No matter the reason TRUST:  all will be new one day

Until then pray for me too, k?  I am tired from this ungentle cross at my tableside.

JJ