Performance Mode

mic-facing-audienceAs a pastor, worship leader, and musician, there are times when it becomes necessary to go into what I call “performance mode.” For me, it happens when there is the potential of being overtaken with emotion while speaking, playing, or singing.

I noticed the need for this “performance mode” when I used to sing in church as a boy. If I looked at my mom, who was bursting with pride and welling up with tears, I found myself struck with the emotion of the moment, overcome even. I would choke up and then be unable to continue to song, instead vamping for a minute until I could regain composure.

Since then, there have been situations in which I have found myself which have required performance mode even more: speaking at the funeral of a six month old baby of a friend, singing at the funeral of a peer and friend, a powerful commissioning service or baptism service, singing at a funeral service while my father was in hospice care a week before he died, and countless other instances. In all of them, I have found myself needing to look past the eyes of those in the congregation or audience, focusing my mind on the words or notes, rising above the feelings and emotion of the moment to maintain composure and finish.

Today is a day for me to go into “performance mode” as I attend the closing on my parents’ townhouse. As tempted as I am to fall into the feelings and emotions of the moments that will occur, I need to rise above them. It will be a difficult day as I sit in a conference room and sign papers to complete the sale of my parents’ townhouse which was not supposed to happen for a long time.

It was a little more than four years ago that I sat in a similar conference room with them signing the papers that would make this townhouse theirs, to make them homeowners for the first time in their lives. Four years ago, I stood across the room from my parents and met eyes with my mom as she gave me one of the biggest smiles that I’d ever seen on her. That knowing look that happens between two people who can speak without saying a word, whose communication extends beyond just verbal. She winked at me as our eyes met and she continued to sign the endless papers to become a first-time homeowner.

Today is the end of that dream…..officially. There is no bitterness there, no anger at God, just disappointment and sadness. I don’t blame God, I’m not asking “Why?” in the midst of it, but I can’t deny the emptiness that I feel inside, I can’t deny that I wish that this day wasn’t happening as soon as it is. I wish that I had had more time….but I didn’t.

Today I will make that drive one last time and there will be no need to go back to that townhouse again. I will quickly move into “performance mode” and sign papers that will ensure that the deal is done.

So, if you happen to see me today, you’ll probably just get a smile and a nod. I’ll be short for conversation and long for pensivity. I’ll be trying to think of every other thing to think about rather than the one that’s immediately present before me. If you happen to see me today, I hope that words fail you, and if they do, I’ll just settle for a hug!

The Making of An Ordinary Saint – A Book Review

nathan fosterIt’s got to be pretty tough to be Richard Foster’s son. The man who wrote “Celebration of Discipline,” the modern textbook on spiritual disciplines, casts a very large shadow that would be hard to escape. Nathan Foster has spent his fair share of time trying to live out of that shadow, pursuing a life of rebellion and angst, but now he is back to let the rest of us know that there is hope beyond the shadows, hope beyond the larger than life legacies that have been left behind by those who have gone before us.

“The Making of An Ordinary Saint” is a memoir of sorts. It feels as if Foster simply published his journal as he intentionally journeyed through the spiritual disciplines outlines in his father’s book. In fact, each experience of a discipline is prefaced with a brief word and synopsis from Richard Foster, Nathan’s dad, outlining and highlighting the significance of the discipline. For those who are familiar with the disciplines, it’s a helpful recap to reacquaint yourself with them. For those unfamiliar with the disciplines, these serve as helpful introductions to “wet the whistle” of those who may embark on their own spiritual journey through the disciplines.

Nathan Foster is wide open, unafraid and unhindered by the truth of who he is and who he is becoming. He’s not afraid to reveal his flaws and mistakes in an effort to help the rest of us feel better about our own pursuits. With humor and stirring narrative, Foster moves through the disciplines: submission, fasting, study, solitude, meditation, confession, simplicity, service, prayer, guidance, worship, and celebration. He brings the reader into his own journey, allowing us to see, think, and feel all that he sees, thinks, and feels.

“The Making of An Ordinary Saint” hits the mark closer to home for me, the son of a pastor who has had to find a way outside of the shadow of my own father’s legacy. To experience and relive the journey of another fellow sojourner is a comfort, like a warm blanket on a cold and rainy day. Foster invites us all to join him in the journey and to celebrate the fact that the practice of the disciplines is not as far away and unattainable as we might think.

“The disciplines reveal our shortcomings. I’m beginning to see that practicing the disciplines for any reason other than as a response to love is potentially dangerous.”Choosing to practice the disciplines for selfish reasons or personal gain will be a frustrating experience, fraught with failures and shortcomings. But if we enter into it with humility and reluctance, we may find, as Foster did, that the disciplines are much closer than we think, that they blend into one another, and that practicing them may become as easy to us as breathing.

“The Making of An Ordinary Saint” wasn’t written for the scholars among us, those who are seeking to find a play by play description of how to apply these disciplines to our lives. In fact, Nathan Foster still seems to be on a journey back to the church, the Bride of Christ, after a long hiatus. It seems that there is still hurt and bitterness there, still healing that is in the process. That being said, some may be disappointed that Foster doesn’t dig as deep into theology as they might hope, but it serves as a reminder that this book was most likely written for those who are in the process of “coming back,” the prodigals whose journey will end with them in the arms of the Loving Father after wallowing in the filth with the pigs and squandering their inheritance on frivolities and self pursuits. It is for those that this book was most likely written, those who simply need to know the love of the Father.

I would highly recommend “The Making of An Ordinary Saint” for anyone who is interested in knowing more about the spiritual disciplines. Whether you are a newcomer to these disciplines or an old novice, this book is a refreshing tale of one man’s journey through the disciplines, his survival to tell the story, and his willingness to share with the rest of us who find ourselves becoming just ordinary saints.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Follow Me

confession boothA few weeks ago, I had more traffic than usual on my blog as I dove headfirst into the Brittany Maynard story. I am always fascinated by the stories that attract people’s attention, especially when there’s more to the story than a simple cursory glance. Stories that you have to pick up and roll through your fingers, glancing at every side as you try to determine just what it’s made of, those are the stories that attract me.

In the midst of my writing, a friend from high school reached out and gave me some insight on his impression of what I had written. I was intrigued at how he was reading it because it wasn’t exactly how I saw it, so I engaged him in a conversation. In the midst of the conversation, I learned more and more about myself and about my friend. I did my best to respond in a way that told him that I was sincerely seeking answers and not trying to proselytize or convert anyone to my own way of thinking. While there may be times to do that, a first conversation or post hardly seems the time for that.

As we dialogued back and forth, he complimented me in my reaction and approach towards the conversation. To say that I was relieved would probably be an understatement. As I shared my own convictions with him, I was saddened to hear about another conversation in social media that was taking place on the wall of a friend of his. There was lots of judgment, lots of insult hurling, lots of people stating opinions without entering into dialogue or seeking to understand another’s perspective.

Why do we do this over and over again? Why do we approach conversations as competitions that need to be “won” rather than experiences in which we can learn?

Honestly, I think that Christians are the worst at this. We somehow think that every conversation needs to end with everyone on the floor, praying the Sinner’s Prayer, and then singing Kum Ba Yah until Jesus returns. In our efforts to speak the truth we forget the “in love” part of it. In our efforts to show our convictions, we feel the need to always be right.

I’m not saying that we don’t hold to strong convictions, that seems to be a dying art in our “everything goes” culture. With relativism pressing in on every side, speaking in absolutes is unpopular, but I believe, necessary. But there’s a better way to do it, and hurling digital hand grenades is not the way to do it.

In talking to my friend, I realized what I had so many times before, people judge Jesus by how those who follow him act. It seems unfair, but it’s a fact of life. When we don’t hold to his teachings, we not only make ourselves look bad, but we make him look bad as well. When we tout our strong convictions and then consistently fail to live by them, we make it look like Jesus is the one who is wrong.

One thing that I love about the Apostle Paul is that he lived what he believed. He knew that it wasn’t popular, he knew that it was counter-cultural, but it didn’t stop him. The Gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing. God has made the lofty things of this world to be low and made the low things to be lofty. Paul was confident enough in his convictions and how he lived them out that he was not afraid or ashamed to say, “Follow me.”

I was reminded of Donald Miller’s “Blue Like Jazz” when Miller talks about how he and some of his friends set up a confession booth in the middle of a hedonistic weekend celebration at a Portland college. His friend, Tony, says, “Here’s the catch…We are not actually going to accept confessions…We are going to confess to them. We are going to confess that, as followers of Jesus, we have not been very loving; we have been bitter, and for that we are sorry. We will apologize for the Crusades, we will apologize for televangelists, we will apologize for neglecting the poor and the lonely, we will ask them to forgive us, and we will tell them that in our selfishness, we have misrepresented Jesus on this campus. We will tell people who come into the booth that Jesus loves them.”

I’m not perfect. I’ve done my fair share of misrepresenting Jesus to those who desperately need to know that he loves them. But I see that, I admit it, I’m making steps towards recovering, towards redemption, towards restoration.

As many times as I’ve read the Gospels, I don’t recall any story where someone got themselves all “cleaned up” and then went to meet Jesus. In fact, Jesus usually met them, doing what they were doing, wherever they were. They probably felt unprepared, insignificant, inadequate, but that’s how we should all feel in the presence of holiness and perfection. Jesus met them there, found them where they were, but didn’t leave them there.

When we meet people, they will judge Jesus by how we live. Most people aren’t opposed to convictions, they’re opposed to inconsistency. How are we doing in representing Jesus to the world? Is it time for us to set up confession booths in our neighborhoods, in our schools, in our workplaces, in our homes? Is it time for people to take our confessions of where we have fallen short, where we have failed to live up to the name by which we all must be saved?

We can’t live up to that name…..EVER, but that doesn’t mean we just give up trying. We try not because we think we can earn something, but because we are grateful for that amazing thing called grace that reaches out to us in our dirt, filth, pride, and aloneness and calls us “beloved” and calls us to live different, to be different. We are driven by gratitude, not guilt or obligation.

How about we confess that?

 

Success or Significance, Revisited

success-or-significanceI often find myself gravitating towards the same subjects, over and over again. Maybe you would call it a passion, maybe an obsession, maybe it’s like Curly in “City Slickers” said and I’ve found my “one thing.” Regardless, I return to subjects over and over again and this is one that I find has been an important part of who I am as I have grown older.

During seminary, I built some significant friendships with a few guys with whom I tracked through my program. Last month, I took a trip out to take part in the ordination service of one of these guys. It was a great time to support a friend and brother and to just get away and hang out with him. He and his family opened their home to me and I was their guest for a few days.

One of the things that we valued most when we went through seminary together was the time spent together in Minnesota while taking intensive classes. I think that I can safely say that we looked more forward to the times spent outside of the classroom than the time spent inside the classroom. Don’t get me wrong, we enjoyed our classes, but there was something formative and transformative about the conversations that we would have. All of us were involved with full-time ministry already, so the conversations centered around the praxis of theories and concepts in the real world.

The last afternoon that I spent with my friend before leaving, the two of us had some uninterrupted time to talk. It was probably the highlight of the weekend for me. It felt like old times again as we vamped on life and ministry, marriage and family, and a whole sundry of topics. I don’t remember the exact course of conversation, but I remember one thing that he said that I just couldn’t shake out of my mind. He said that some people get hungover on success while searching for significance.

That phrase seemed to resonate so hard with me. Maybe it was because I had seen so many friends go through that struggle in their own life. Maybe it was because I had experienced it myself at one time. Maybe it was because I was still experiencing it a little bit. Either way, it seemed to strike me square between the eyes, promising to leave its mark.

It seems that we have such a way of confusing the meaning of success and significance. While they may be related, I think we should be careful to believe that “success” in the eyes of the world always amounts to significance. Steve Jobs was fairly successful, but was his life significant? His company has made a fairly significant contribution to the world of technology, but how do we measure significance? Is it a temporal significance or an eternal significance?

In a world driven by SMART goals and vision statements, we can easily fall prey to searching for success at the expense of significance. The church can easily focus on “The Win” for the team but how do we define that “Win”?

Some of the greatest accomplishments in history were achieved by people whose names we may not even know. We may recognize the name Billy Graham, but do we know the name Mordecai Ham, the man who was instrumental in Billy Graham’s journey to faith? Is there a lack of significance just because we don’t know the name?

Right after college, I hung out with a bunch of twenty-somethings who were part of a group at a local church. I remember one of the guys talking about his mom’s words regarding significance. When it came to evaluating something, she would say, “When you take it and throw it up against the wall of eternity, does it make a mark? If so, then it’s valuable.” While it’s a little simplistic and maybe overdramatized, the essence of the truth it speaks is important. Do we look at our conversations as eternally significant? Do we look at our service and our work as eternally significant? Do we look at everything we do as important in some eternal way?

It’s a reminder to me that I can easily get entangled in trying to be successful while forfeiting significance. While the two are not mutually exclusive, it’s important to realize that one could easily be abandoned for the other. I need to begin reevaluating things again, or at least giving them a closer look just to make sure that I’m not caught up in a success hangover at the expense of finding and achieving significance.

 

End of Chapter

close chapterOne week from today, life will be moving on. We will finally be closing on the townhouse that my parents occupied for about a year of their lives. In fact, Mom only lived there for the last eight months of her life and while we all hoped that Dad would make it back there, it never panned out that way.

This has been an incredibly long journey. We are moving towards the three and a half year mark since we lost Mom, and even though it’s been that long, it still feels like yesterday. I can hear her voice in my mind, I see her face and her smile in my mind, I can even smell her as I rummage amidst the remainder of her belongings.

They (whoever “they” are) say that grief is not a linear path and I will wholeheartedly agree with the wisdom in that statement. While there are various stages of grief, my own experience tells me that we rarely travel through them consecutively and in order and that once a stage is done, it is behind you. Stages seem to rise up again and again, even when you thought you were through them.

When next Tuesday is over, I think that a moratorium on Williamsburg trips will be in order. It’s not that I don’t love my family who lives there or that I don’t like the things to do there, it’s just that healing needs to happen and removing myself from the circumstances and surroundings seems like the best way to let that healing take place.

Sometimes, you just have to move on. Sometimes, you just have to stop thinking about what could have been and move into what is and what will be. Sometimes, you just have to hold your head up high and lean into the pain.

My parents bought their townhouse in July of 2010. In November of 2010, they moved in. In November of 2014, they will move out for the last time.

Right now, it is an empty shell of what it was. Even while they were there, there was not much life there. Even while they were there, it was hard to find hope. The emptiness seems more than an analogy but rather an outward expression of an inward reality.

Next Tuesday, I will walk a little slower, sigh a little deeper, tear up a little faster, but I know that these are only temporary expressions of grief and loss. In the midst of the grief, the tears, and the sorrow still remains faith, love, and hope. Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. My faith is strong in that this is not the end, I will see my parents again.

Just two days after this closing, I will spend time with my brother for Thanksgiving, appropriate considering one of the best ways to move from frustration and pain is to think about the things for which we are grateful.

For this melancholic, the Fall always holds times of reflection and poignancy, why should this year be any different? I will one day look back on it and see the scars but know that I somehow lived through it. The experiences in our lives are all part of the formative process of making us who we need to be.

May this be just one part of the ever continuing process of transformation in me.

 

Get Wise – A Book Review

get wiseSolomon was the wisest man who ever lived, so it should follow that anything he said should be paid some mind. Despite his imperfections and some of his major mistakes, Bob Merritt still believes that there is a lot to be gained by heeding the advice that Solomon readily doled out within the wisdom books which he wrote, primarily Proverbs. In “Get Wise,” Merritt shares some of his own gleanings from both what Solomon wrote and from his own experience.

Merritt believes that decisions can be detrimental to the direction which our lives take. In fact, he says that there are two pain streams in which we can live: learning from our own pain or learning from the pain of others. Wouldn’t it be so much better if we learned from the mistakes of others rather than having to make our own mistakes?

If we make good decisions, we are likely to head in a good direction. If we make bad decisions, we are more likely to head in a bad direction. If we use the wisdom that God gives us and learn from our experiences and the experiences of others, we can make great decisions every day. Bob Merritt shares on such topics as work ethics, friendships, money, parenting, anger, sex, marriage, and other topics as well. His sharing comes from a place of humility and from his own experiences. He never claims to be an expert but shares the things that he learned from both his successes and failures.

Merritt shares pointers and helpful hints, listing out some things to try in some of these various areas to have success. He shares the importance of relationships and how important it is to surround yourself with people of character who will help you to grow and rise to their level. Merritt offers some great nuggets to be treasured and used.

My one struggle with the book was that even in the midst of his mostly humble approach, Merritt seems to make countless references to his church and the staff there. I appreciate that he counts himself fortunate and grateful for what God has done through him and his church, but at times, the references seem excessive, making it seem as though Eagle Brook Church may trump Disney as the “happiest place on earth” and that if you aren’t a part of it then you aren’t living.

While Merritt doesn’t say anything earth shattering or even new here, the wisdom that he shares is worthwhile to remember or even be reminded of. There’s enough within the book from which to get some good and practical advice and pointers to live a life of good decisions.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

A Christmas Call To Worship

KS.CA.1204.CHARLIEBROWNXMASAs soon as the calendar turned from Halloween to the first day of November, social media started lighting up with people’s complaints about hearing Christmas music in all the stores, on the radio, and everywhere else that they went.

It kind of made me smile considering that I start listening to Christmas music sometime in July or August. I do that for two reasons. First of all, I need to start thinking about Christmas and Advent in July or August in order to be prepared in advance for everything. Part of my job is to make sure that the theme for our church to focus on during the Advent season is chosen early enough to allow for musical selections, drama selections, and any other creative ideas that might emerge as I meet with my Creative Team. I need to be prepared.

The second reason for starting to listen to Christmas music that early is just because there is too much good Christmas music (IMHO) to relegate it to the four weeks of Advent. There is just no way that I can listen to all of the Christmas music that I want to listen to in that period of time. In fact, if I were to start listening to music for 24 hours a day starting from the first Sunday in Advent until the end of Christmas day, I’m still not sure that I would be able to get through it all.

I know that some people are lamenting the commercialization of Christmas, and that’s probably their biggest complaint. I get that. I’ve added to the problem by going out on Black Friday (which has slowly started to creep into Thanksgiving day). I am not innocent, and I can be the first one to confess that. But is there a silver lining behind this cloud? Is there something that we might be missing?

As a pastor, one thing that often frustrates me is our lack of preparation for corporate worship times, both the preparation of myself as well as the congregation. We often show up to our corporate time together without having sufficiently thought about what it is that we are going to be doing together. We need a call to worship, a means to engage us, to get our minds and hearts in the right place. Depending on who you talk to will determine whose responsibility that call to worship is. I think it’s a joint effort, the individual as well as those who are actually leading.

With the hustle and bustle of the Fall, it’s too easy to get lost. I looked at my calendar the other day only to realize that November is here and Advent will be upon us in a matter of weeks. I can’t slow down the calendar. I can’t stop the world (and melt with you?) to prepare myself for things, I need to prepare on the fly, multitask and get it done.

I wonder if we might take the early descent into Christmas music and look at it more as an ascent into the expectancy of the Advent season. Sure, not every song that we hear is Silent Night or Joy to the World, but can the thought of Christmas and all that it means for those who put their trust and faith in Christ be enough to act as a call to worship of sorts? Can we take those songs and use them for good to start us into thinking about the greatest gift that we received?

I’m going to try it this year. Of course, it might not be as hard for me because of what I do, but every time that I hear a Christmas song, I am going to do my best to remember why we celebrate Christmas to begin with. I’m hoping that it might help and act as a Christmas call to worship.

Living and Dying

How_to_Die_in_OregonThe last 24 hours have been an incredible time of conversation and learning for me. It’s times like this that I look at our technological culture and marvel at the opportunities for individuals to grow through all of the mediums and media outlets that we have. Like any tools, they can be used for benefit or for harm. The choice of which way to use them is up to each individual, but I choose them to be used for my benefit and learning.

Yesterday, I posted some of my thoughts about Brittany Maynard and her decision to “die with dignity” as the law in Oregon permits one to do (you can read the post here). After reading my post, a friend suggested that I watch the documentary “How To Die In Oregon.” Another friend and I engaged on the topic through messages and helped me to see how I could have better communicated what I had said. I was grateful for both recommendations and conversations and I set about to find the documentary and watch it.

It was heartbreaking, it plucked the emotional heart strings of the viewer, invoking all kinds of emotions within me. I think that the filmmaker did a fairly good job trying to be as objective about the subject matter as possible. While I think there might have been better examples that could have been used for both sides of the argument, that’s simply speculation. Real life examples are what they are and I would guess that, although the law allows this in Oregon, that everyone takes advantage of it or is willing to have their specific case highlighted in a documentary. The film primarily followed a middle aged woman who was dying of liver cancer. She had the prescription filled for the medicine that she would take to die but would only do it when she felt that the disease had progressed to unbearable. The film gives a window into her world, her life beyond the expected date given to her by doctors, and it ends with her taking the medicine and passing peacefully, the scene only seen by the viewer watching silhouettes through the curtains of an outside window like a stalker.

It was an educational piece to see others, and to be honest, it made me relive my own experience with my mom and her last days with cancer. Anyone who has traveled the road through cancer diagnosis and treatment knows the roller coaster ride that it can be. After the ups and downs of treatment and hope in a possible surgery, my mom elected treatment to simply extend her life a little longer and try to have as much quality of life as possible. Her last few months may not be easily defined as “quality” but we were all grateful to have had her. The week before she died, she was taken to the hospital because in taking the solution for her upcoming CT Scan, she got sick. That was her last hospital visit. She went home on a Thursday with hospice care and was gone the following Tuesday. What we experienced in those six days was something I would never wish upon anyone. While there were sweet and tender moments, from the moment my mom began receiving morphine, she was hardly responsive. I was grateful that her last days of suffering were cut short.

As I wade through this difficult topic of end of life issues, I am learning more and more every day. Let me share some of what I have learned:

– Much can be learned when we actually take time to listen to each other and express ourselves in a calm and collected manner. I had some great interactions with people yesterday who helped me to see again the importance of words and how they are used. I saw how saying one thing can easily be misconstrued if I am not careful. It helped a communicator like me think harder about how I can sharpen up my communication skills. I can never stop learning.

– Things are rarely as black and white as the extremes of an ideological vantage point would make you believe, especially when you are calling the shots based upon speculation or the experiences of others. When the experiences are your own, it seems that all bets are off and the blacks and whites of extremism tend to blur a little bit.

– Convictions are only as strong as the testing that they have experienced. Let’s face it, we can speculate all we want about how we would react in a particular situation but until we are actually in the midst of it, it’s hard to know just how we might react. Convictions are important, but even more important is the testing of those convictions. If you have established and developed strong convictions, I think that it’s important to test those convictions to see how they hold up under scrutiny and challenge. If you haven’t had your convictions tested and tried, expect them to be flimsy and fragile under the weight of uncertainty and trial. They will not hold up well. Trials and tests are the foundation upon which we can build our convictions.

– I learned that a friend of mine’s co-worker is Brittany Maynard’s husband. I was amazed at how God had put her in such close proximity to him. She asked me to pray for him and his family. I have been and will continue to do so. I do not envy the decision that he and his late wife felt like they had to make. I do not envy the experiences that they had to endure. My heart breaks when I think about what could have been with them, in much the same way that my heart breaks when I think about what could have been had my mom lived as well.

So, all that being said, let me share my convictions:

– I believe that every life is of value, whether it was planned or unplanned, whether it seems unvaluable or not. I have seen parents of severely disabled children take such care of them and demonstrate Christ’s love to me and everyone around them as they selflessly care for these who may be considered the “least of these.” I have heard the stories of these parents who have been told by doctors that the life of their child is not valuable. I believe that we are created in the image of God and the value of a life is not easily defined by what people can or cannot do or by a specific quality of life. Quality of life is a very subjective term that can change as easily with a person’s geographical or financial status as it can a person’s mental status.

– I believe that there is hope beyond death. I believe that there is a God who created us and who loves us. I believe that his son, Jesus, came to live, die, and rise again so that those who profess faith in him might experience that same life, death, and resurrection. I believe in a hope that extends beyond what I can see, feel, and even think. I believe that all of creation was impacted by the sin of humanity and that it is not operating as it was originally intended. We see but a glimpse of God’s glorious creation and its purposes, one day we will see it in full.

– I believe that end of life issues are important to talk about, to think about, to discuss, and even to debate. I don’t like to think about the need for anyone to suffer. I also don’t know what kind of a slippery slope we might be creating by beginning to “play God.” While I see the desire and intention of people to avoid the agony of a prolonged end for themselves and their loved ones, I know how strong the human will is and how powerfully it can surpass all expectations or predictions.

– I believe that God is sovereign and that the timing of everything is in his hands. That’s why I get concerned about taking it upon ourselves to mess with that timing. I trust that God’s timing is perfect, even when I don’t understand it or like it. I might not know why his timing is as it is, but I trust him and I trust his heart.

Over these last few days I have felt deeply for a family who I don’t know personally. As I said, I have felt that I have had to relive some of my own experiences as I’ve read and thought about theirs. I hope and pray that Brittany and her family have a hope beyond this life. I believe that they made a choice that seemed best to them. While I can’t say that I agree with that choice, I also know that my disagreement comes as an innocent bystander who is looking on rather than experiencing the pain, anguish, and hurt that they have had to endure. My heart aches for what might have been between Brittany and her family had she lived.

While you might not agree with me, I hope you can at least hear the things that I have learned and the things which I call convictions. My hope and prayer is that we can come together over issues similar to this one, regardless of which ideology we hold to, in order to better learn from each other, to love each other, and to sharpen our own convictions.

How To Take A Life

BrittanyMaynardOne of the first things that I read about on Monday morning was the self-elected death of Brittany Maynard, the 29 year old young woman who had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer a little less than a year ago. As I went through my day, I received news that a former co-worker’s elderly mother had passed away and that my wife’s middle aged uncle had passed away. Needless to say, my mind kept returning to the news of this young woman who decided that she would take drugs to assist her in her death rather than allow her disease to take its course.

There are many people coming down on both sides of this case. To be honest with you, I might have seen this case differently before taking an ethics class in seminary and before experiencing the slow deaths of my own parents. The thing is, it’s one thing to watch someone who has lived a full life die, it’s another thing to watch someone who is seemingly in the prime of their life experience a slow, painful, and possibly humiliating death. Well, at least that’s what we’re supposed to believe.

It’s not easy to watch someone you love dying slowly. Just because you know what’s coming doesn’t make it any easier. Sure, unlike sudden deaths, you have time to prepare yourself as best as you can, but that process is still a difficult one and no amount of preparation can stop you from feeling the pain, loss, and grief of someone being gone.

In Brittany Maynard’s case, it would seem to be a textbook tragedy. She was in the prime of her life, newly married, and seemingly healthy. How could this possibly be? How could her husband of one year simply stand by and watch her body begin to crumble?

I’m not naïve enough to think that I could speculate what I would have done had I been in the same position as Maynard. Speculating one’s possible reactions to a situation which hasn’t been personally experienced can be dangerous.

I can remember a car ride with my mom as we went from doctor’s appointment to doctor’s appointment, trying to determine the best course of action. I remember the tears streaming down her face as I held her hand. I remember her whispering, “I’m scared” to me as I sat there feeling that roles had seriously reversed, that the one who had been such a source of strength and comfort for me was now looking to me to provide some strength and comfort to her.

I can’t imagine how “watched” my mom felt as she was expected to process all of this information and make decisions all at the same time. I know that she was scared. I know that she was uncertain. I know how the whole thing played out.

I also know where my mom put her hope. I know that she didn’t believe that death was the end, and I’m right there with her. I know that even though she had temporarily hoped in doctors and medicines and her body, she had a greater hope that went far beyond just those things.

I don’t know what Brittany Maynard put her hope in. I know that she had more hope in the pills that she would eventually take to bring her life to an end than she had in the doctors who were treating her. It seems somewhat ironic to me, that she would put so much trust in those pills and the fact that they had been prescribed by the very doctors who claimed that they couldn’t treat her.

I don’t know what would have happened had Maynard not taken those pills. I don’t know how much she would have suffered. I don’t know how much dignity that she would have lost had she made the decision to not end her life. I don’t know how her husband and family would have dealt with it all. I won’t even speculate.

Here’s what I do know though. I do know that there have been times when things that seemed so certain to people became incredibly uncertain when things didn’t turn out the way they thought that they would. I know that there have been people who have been handed diagnoses that seemed bleak and irreversible who are still around. I know that despite the certain diagnosis that they received, those “certain” doctors were scratching their heads and wondering how their certainty changed to uncertainty when the impossible took place. I’m not saying that Brittany Maynard would have been healed, but it’s a possibility.

But even if she hadn’t been healed, is it possible that there could have another outcome? Is it possible that her bravery could have been shown through her facing of uncertainty and impossible odds? Is it possible that there might have been another way? I honestly don’t know, and like I said before, it’s probably not worth speculating, but I certainly would like to think that there was a better way.