First of all, please excuse my lack of communication. Seems this little email has gone from once a week to once a month ! I apologize. July has been a hard month for gathering my thoughts into some sensible whole. Sometimes I feel like what God gives me to say on Sunday mornings is about the limit of what I’m able to express. I’m glad, at least, for something to say on Sundays ! I hope you’re enjoying our study of word-pictures in the Bible. This Sunday we’ll look at the picture of birds in the Bible. What’s God saying, throughout the pages of His story, with birds ? I think it will be fun, surprising, and challenging !
I appreciate your prayers for me and your support of our family and ministry. I’ll try to fill you in on things, and I hope you might gain some kernel of encouragement from what we are experiencing and learning with the Lord.
Things seem to be going well at church. My heart aches for personal issues I’m aware of that some of you are working through. Be assured of my prayers for you. I know Pastor Jeff and our Elder Board desire to help in any way they can if you are struggling with any particular issue in life right now. I’m grateful for the caring attitude of our church family, and I look forward to the start-up of Sticky Groups (home groups) again in the fall. I believe those groups are critical to relationships and caregiving at Emmanuel.
Last week’s Vacation Bible School was energetic – lots of fun and work. Many of you showed up to serve – thank you ! Eighty children, lots of workers, fun videos by the Go Fish Guys, made for a church building that was rollicking every night. Kids and their families were impacted by God’s Word and by His people, as was mentioned by the testimonies given last Sunday morning. It was all capped off with a pool party at the Hermann City Pool on Saturday night. Wow ! That’s six straight nights of working and inviting and providing ! May God bless and use what you gave to Him last week and – for many of you – during the weeks of preparation leading up to VBS.
Pastor Jeff and his team are following up VBS with the new Seedlings midweek program for 3-9 year-olds this coming fall. Seedlings will complement our other young people’s midweek programs, JAM and Overflow, and should allow children a chance to put down roots of their own in the Lord at Emmanuel. I’m looking forward to seeing fruit from the vision God has given Jeff. I appreciate the extra hard work Jeff has been giving to this vision for reaching young people and families, and I appreciate the support he has been to me personally. One way we can all be a help to Jeff is by remembering that Mondays are a day off for him and his family. Let’s allow Jeff that day of recuperation and personal resourcing by holding off on our phone calls, text messages, and questions until Tuesday.
Our church Elder Board has also been hard at work and is in need of your ongoing prayer support. In addition to the task of shepherding the flock and seeking to provide care for special needs, the elders are putting together finishing touches on a churchwide Discover Emmanuel course they will be offering this fall. This course will be an opportunity for all of us – newcomers and long-time attenders – to unite in a common understanding of vision and ministry at Emmanuel. What is Emmanuel’s “DNA” ? What is the process for spiritual growth at Emmanuel ? Please pray for the elders – they have a meeting tonight. In the next few weeks, they will be communicating with ministry leaders and finalizing plans for fall ministry and Sticky Groups.
As you know, I am still working through the grief process. Tomorrow will mark only five months since Diana was promoted to heaven. I must admit it has been a strange process for me. I suppose in many ways – after 27 years of marriage and full-time ministry with another person – I’m trying to figure out who I am now. C.S. Lewis, in his book, A Grief Observed, described his own grief journey as being like going through a long, winding valley. Maybe you’ve experienced something similar with a loss in your life :
Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape. Not every bend does. Sometimes the surprise is the opposite one ; you are presented with exactly the same sort of country you thought you had left behind miles ago. That is when you wonder whether the valley isn’t a circular trench.
The month of July has been a surprise for me in terms of its emotional landscape :
- anger that she’s gone ;
- anger at the work I’ve been left with (still going through things at the house, trying to sort and organize and understand what to keep,etc) ;
- anger at the things we used to disagree about (saying at times in my mind, if not out loud : “Don’t you see how I was right about that ! If only we had done it my way, …”) Silly.
As the summer turns a corner, I find myself dreading the coming fall and winter months (even though still weeks away) with their shorter days and return to busy routines. At the same time, I inwardly yearn for those winter days that framed our last months and days together. Winter holds the last, fresh memories of her. Will there be a chance to reconnect this winter – some last chance to feel like we have her back ?
Sometimes it does get a little lonely being the only 50-year-old in a house with three teenagers, an almost-12-year-old, and a 9-year-old ! I miss who Diana was and what she did for me and for all of us. As I was mowing the grass the other day, the vision of her popping out the door with a smile and a glass of something cold to drink came to mind. I miss that. I will miss Betsy when she leaves for college this fall – all the cooking and cleaning she has done these past months are evidence of how much she learned from her mother.
The constant journey through the valley of grief ultimately proves to be tiring. In my years of pastoral ministry there has always been a need for some rest on Sunday afternoon. Lately on Sundays, I can easily take a seat in the recliner and spend most, if not all, of the afternoon there reading, praying, falling asleep, feeling so tired I think I can understand a little bit of what a dying person must feel. Thankfully, the kids are patient and provide lots of stimulus to keep going. Last Sunday evening was somewhat typical of the fatigue … and strange hilarity … of the grief valley I find myself in. Imagine this scene :
- Me sitting in the recliner, taking advantage of being still in body and mind.
- Samuel and Evan pounding through the living and dining rooms shooting Nerf guns at each other.
- Esther in the middle of it all, somehow and for some reason playing both bull and toreador – two horns sticking out from under her headband : one a miniature United Stats flag, one a miniature German flag. (Go figure.)
- The William Tell Overture playing loudly in the background.
- Two cars sitting out in the driveway, neither of which is running properly.
- The house needing to be painted.
- College bills from last year and from this coming semester sitting on my computer needing to be dealt with.
- Hospital and hospice bills needing attention.
The solution to it all ? Go watch an episode or two of “I Love Lucy” on DVD.
Does this sound like a person who has answers ? Just trying to get through the valley.
The lives of three biblical characters have been impressed upon me this week and have provided a few glimpses of answers and hope :
Paul, in Acts 27 and 28 —
At this point in Paul’s journey, he had been unjustly arrested, was on his way to trial before Caesar in Rome, had just survived a horrific storm at sea, being shipwrecked on the island of Malta. While there – on that little, out-of-the-way place in the Mediterranean – Paul continued to minister to people in practical ways in the name and love of Jesus. Someone has called that portion of his life “ministry in the midst of plans gone awry.” I’m thankful for someone like that. I hope I can continue to serve the Lord well and genuinely in the midst of what sure seem to me to be plans gone awry.
Nehemiah received a report on the condition of his people’s capital city, Jerusalem, and he was moved to act. As I recently read through the beginning of his story, four things clearly stuck out :
- He had a goal (Nehemiah 2:5).
- He was given authority – from the king and from God – to pursue the goal (2:7).
- He was given material supply (2:8a).
- He was given spiritual supply (2:8b).
His journey forward became very clear to him. That’s the challenging part for me – the journey up to this point, for Diana and me, has always seemed so clear : seminary ; service overseas ; a call to pastoral ministry in the US ; preparing our children for a deep walk with Christ ; fighting cancer. I long for the personal goals, authority, and supply Nehemiah received. I trust they will come again.
David, in Psalm 37 —
“I have been young and now I am old ; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his descendants begging bread” (Ps 37:25). This is a wonderful promise from a man who went through the valleys and climbed the mountaintops in his life. God is with us all the way.
One of my favorite writers puts it this way :
Life keeps moving along – we grow older – and each stage in life has its blessings and its burdens, its opportunities and its obligations. When David was young, God was with him and helped him kill the giant. When David became old, God was still there and helped him stabilize the kingdom and prepare for the building of the temple. This is a heartening promise for the Christian believer : No matter how you may change or how life may change, God never changes, and His promises never fail. … If God ever forsook you for an instant, you would die, for “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts17:28).
I’m so glad God hasn’t forsaken us. Through His Son, Jesus, He has shown us just how deep are His love and faithfulness. So, we keep on journeying – you and me and all of us together. Diana is a leg up on us in the journey. We will make it through the valleys and look down upon it all one day from the mountaintop – together and with others the Lord will call to join us.
Hope to see you Sunday,