Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Finishing Well

The telephone woke me about 5:00 a.m. on February 25, 2004. It was the nurse from Bethel Home telling us that on their last hourly rounds, they found my dad had passed away in his sleep. I called my sister, Kathy, in Long Beach, and then Amy, our daughter. Amy said she wanted to go with us to spend some time with Grandpa. Tony and I picked up Amy at her home, drove through Starbucks (so glad they open at 5:30 a.m.) and drove to Bethel Home, in neighboring Selma.

There we sat, with my dad, Grandpa Goodie*, whose earthly tent lay motionless in the bed. It was there we prayed and thanked God for bringing Dad back to us. If you follow my blog, you will know that my dad went through a rough time (read about my prodigal dad) ~ from 1993 to 2003, to be exact. The estrangement from him was painful and consumed me for almost two years. With a wonderful counselor companioning me, I was able to reconcile the loss of my dad's presence in my life (read about the fat cows) , and rest in the hope of a reunion in eternity.

Then, in 2003, my dad humbled himself and came home. Literally. He came to live with us. He met his great-grandchildren for the first time, ate pot roast and gravy like Mom used to make, and listened to Amy's husband, Jeff (whom he had never met) play hymns on the piano. He lived with us for about one year before suffering a stroke which took him at the age of 94 years old.

So on this the anniversary of his death, I remember a father who finished well. He was not perfect. He lived with regret and brokenness. But, his story is truly one of redeeming the future. His pride, his shame, his old age . . . all could have kept him separated from his family. It seems many individuals become set in their ways. But my dad chose to come home ~ to renew the relationships lost with his family, confess to God and to us the hurts of the past 10 years, and finish well.

The thought I have today, February 25th, is a powerful one.
It is never too late to redeem the future.

I am told by those who keep statistics that only about 60% of individuals actually finish well. I am proud to say the my dad, William W. Goodrell, beat the odds at 94 years of age. As we met at the mortuary to take Dad's body to be cremated, I stood before the box where he laid. Tony and my dear friend Eunice were with me. I asked Tony to give me his pen. And with tears streaming down my cheeks, I wrote on the lid of that box:
Thanks for loving me.
Thanks for coming home.
Thanks for finishing well.
Tell Mom and Scott hello.
We'll see you soon.

Remember . . . It is never too late to redeem the future and finish well.

*My maiden name is Goodrell. When I was little, I could not say it clearly, so my dad's parents became Grandpa and Grandma Goodie. The name stuck and when our children came along, my parents inherited those loving names.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Beating Heart

I just returned home from Children's Hospital of Central California. We stopped in to visit Baby Eli's parents who had waited all day as their precious 2-day-old son underwent about a 12-hour surgery to literally restructure his heart.

What a joy to stand beside his bed in PICU with his mom. He looks so sweet and handsome. He is resting well and the surgeon says Eli is right where he should be on this journey. (See Eli's picture below.)

You can imagine the excitement when Tanya and I noticed Eli's little chest moving up and down with the beat of his heart, pumping his oxygenated blood through his body on its own. Eli has many hurdles to overcome and more surgeries in the coming months. We are thankful for the wisdom of the doctors who worked for so many hours today to repair the intricate parts of his little heart. We are thankful for God's grace to allow his parents to stay near him.

We continue to pray for Eli's recovery and prognosis. Please join Jason and Tanya in praying that God will use this situation for His glory as we live out our faith and trust Him with this precious little boy.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Praying for God's Comfort and Healing

It is with a heavy heart and with tears in my eyes that I write this post. Our dear friends' baby, Eli Ryan, has continued to be assessed by the physicians at Children's Hospital of Central California. The report has indicated that there are many issues that need to be addressed. His heart has many defects that must be repaired to guarantee proper oxygenation and blood flow. Tests also reveal that there are other problems that may effect his development and life expectancy.

At just 40 hours old, Eli will undergo extensive open heart surgery. The surgery will begin about 8 a.m. on Friday, February 20, and will lasts for many hours as the doctors attempt to repair many parts of his little heart.

I ask you first of all to pray for healing, for a miracle, for Eli. I ask you to pray for the doctors to receive divine wisdom as they make decisions about his little heart. I ask you to pray for Jason and Tanya. They are trusting God, yet their own hearts are breaking as more news about the severity of Eli's condition continue to come in.

Please lift this precious family up to the God of all Comfort as you think of them throughout the night, tomorrow, and the days and weeks that follow.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

UPDATE: Baby Eli

Dear Friends,

This will be a brief post as I am going back to the hospital to wait for our friend's baby, Eli Ryan, to arrive.

Please pray for Jason and Tanya. They have known for several months that their second child, Eli Ryan, has HLHS, Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. He has survived in the womb because her receives oxygenated blood from Tanya. Once he arrives, he will need surgeries to keep his heart working.

I'll try and post in a couple of days. Thanks for your prayers.

**** UPDATE:

We waited all day and finally Baby Eli Ryan was born by natural birth at 4:01 pm. He weighs 7 pounds, 15 oz, and is 20.1" long. He had reddish hair and had good color and was alert. He seems strong and was able to oxygenate himself at about 80% which is very positive. He was to be intubated and given medicine to keep his valve open so the blood can continue to flow through the chambers of his heart.

Please continue to pray for Eli, and his parents, Jason and Tanya. They may have a long road ahead and the future is truly unknown. It is their desire that God be glorified and even some come to faith in Him through their response to this situation.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Buck Rock

Do you know the hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing? Ever wonder what the words "Here I raise my Ebenezer" in the second verse mean? This hymn was written over 250 years ago, and I imagine many who sing it do not know what Ebenezer means.

Written by Robert Robinson in 1758, the reference to raising an Ebenezer refers back to I Samuel 7:12 in the Old Testament.

Samuel took a stone and . . . named it Ebenezer, saying
"Thus far has the Lord helped us.”

The spot where Samuel placed this stone or monument is the exact place where the Israelites had been defeated again and again by the Philistines. The day Samuel builds a small pile of stones and names the place Ebenezer is the day in which God gave the Israelites victory over the Philistines.

In the original Hebrew, an Ebenezer means stone of help. It is a monument, a reminder of God’s presence and provision in a time of difficulty.

Buck Rock, pictured here, stands high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains at 8,500 feet. One of the last standing fire lookouts sits atop this huge stone. Buck Rock also marks many trail heads for awesome mountain bike runs.

Buck Rock is my Ebenezer. It is a reminder of God’s incredible comfort in a time of deep sorrow. Buck Rock is where . . .
  • Tony and Scott often began their mountain bike treks.
  • Tony, Amy and I, with a host of friends, scattered Scott's ashes from a high crevice in 1996.
  • Friends gathered rocks to build a memorial to Scott, which still stands today after 17 years. (One of the rangers who works the fire lookout frequently tends to the memorial as she remembers the young boy who would come up to ride.)
  • We still gather to remember Scott and rejoice in the blessed reunion yet to be.
Buck Rock, my Ebenezer, does not deny my pain, but rejoices in the hope of things yet to come. Buck Rock can be a painful reminder that Scott no longer rides with Tony, but we know from the pile of stones that remain as a memorial that we do not bear this burden alone. Buck Rock, an incredible monolith, would slide off the side of the mountain were it not for the massive shelf rock that lies beneath it.Likewise, our faith and hope is built upon The Solid Rock

How glorious it is many mornings to look east over our back fence and see the outline of Buck Rock, rising from the crest of the mountains off on the horizon. I raise MY Ebenezer, a reminder of God's strength in my weakness, God's comfort in my sorrow, God's promise of victory even in my difficult times.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Forgiving Father

Many people are familiar with The Prodigal Son, a parable of Jesus, depicted in this famous painting by Rembrandt. Although it gives hope to parents of prodigals, the emphasis on the story in the Gospels is more about forgiveness than a wayward child.

I have always loved this story for many reasons. But it was not until I was asked to forgive like that Forgiving Father did the story become etched on my soul.

You see, my mother passed away in 1993. I knew it was hard on my dad to lose his wife and companion of 47 years, but I did not know how hard until his grief drove him away from us.

In his loneliness, just seven months after my mother's death, my father eloped with a woman he hardly knew. (Yes, he eloped; carrying their luggage covered with large trash bags, leaving their apartment complex before the sun came up, like sneaky teenagers.) His new wife convinced him in his weakened emotional state that my sister and I were after his money. Mind you, he was not a wealthy man. His money was hardly enough to quibble over and was there for any long term health care needs. Yet her incredible greed sucked his bank accounts dry with a brand new car, plastic surgery, and whatever else she desired. The emotional, mental and physical abuse she brought upon my 84 year old father, convinced him to break all relationship with us.

For the first few years, I sent him letters, called him on the telephone, and even showed up for surprise visits at his apartment, only to have my mail returned unopened, receivers slammed down, and doors shut in my face, with the words, "I'm sorry; I have no family." Eventually I was able to clothe myself in the peace with God, knowing I would get my father back in Eternity.

In 2003, my dad found himself alone. In a little over nine years, she moved him four times (including one move across ten states), spent all his money, claimed any thing of value from his belongings, and eventually, locked him out of his own apartment. In his broken, penniless state, he was finally able to listen to the truth. On February 3, 2003, just a few days before the tenth anniversary of my mother's death, my 93 year old father moved in with us.

How could I accept him in after all the rejection?

How could that Forgiving Father welcome home the prodigal after the financial loss, physical separation, and embarrassment he caused the family?

In the book, Exclusion and Embrace, theologian and author Miraslov Volf writes ~
The most significant aspect of the story is, however, that the father who lets the son depart does not let go of the relationship between them.
Volf adds ~
... the father’s directed, expectant gaze toward the distant land filled the father’s heart with compassion when he saw the son returning; it made the father run, put his arms around the prodigal, and kiss him. Without the father having kept the son in his heart, the father would not have put his arms around the prodigal.
Once we let go of a relationship, once we no longer count it as valued, once we no longer see another human being through the loving eyes of our Heavenly Father, it is often very difficult to forgive.

The Forgiving Father in this parable taught me many things . . .
. . . never give up on anyone

. . . never let go of a relationship in my heart

. . . even while others are separated from me, remain ready to embrace

. . . always be willing to welcome home the prodigal, regardless of the pain

. . . just as God forgives me, so I should forgive those who hurt me
The first night that my father spent in our home, he walked from room to room, and I heard him say, "Talk about amazing grace, this is amazing grace." My dad lived with us almost a year before he suffered a stroke at 94 years old, and passed away six weeks later.

In this world of exclusion, where relationships are easily discarded, families are torn apart by divorce, and children are disposed of before they are even born, what an example of embrace - of God's amazing grace - the practice of forgiveness can be. It is powerful enough to transform relationships, to draw people into God's Kingdom, and redeem the future.

I thank God often for the gift of my dad's return to me, and for His love that covers both my sins and those of my father.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Speak the Name

Today marks the 13th anniversary of Scott's death. What a joy to receive emails and messages from friends and family sharing memories of Scott. Most of the stories make me laugh; some make me cry. All are a comfort to my soul.

A few years before Scott died, another bereaved mother, Nancy Williams lost her son, Matthew. Shortly after her loss, she penned the following poem:

The mention of my child’s name may bring tears to my eyes,
But it never fails to bring music to my ears.
If you are really my friend, let me hear the beautiful music of his name.
It soothes my broken heart and sings to my soul.

I love Scott stories! Whether they bring tears to my eyes or laughter to my heart, they transform my thoughts and bring me joy.

Is there someone you know who needs to hear you Speak the Name of a loved one?

Author Norman Cousin wrote, Memories are where the proof of life is stored. I can almost guarantee the memories will soothe their broken heart and bring healing to their soul as they know others remember the life that once was.

Take time to call, email or text them, and share a story.

Don't be afraid of their tears . . . Blessed are those who mourn . . . who bring their grief to the outside . . . for they will be comforted.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Before the Sun Sets

February 4, 1996
is a significant day
in the Redfern family.

Our son, Scott, was a sophomore at Immanuel High School in Reedley. He was having a sophomoric morning. He argued with me all the way to church about some issue on which he was not well informed. He was relentless and unapologetic about wanting his way. Neither Tony or I can even recall the issue, but we remember well the argument.

As we arrived at church, Scott was still angry and left the car in a huff. Am I the only one out here who finds it so artificial to sit through church with an argument still on the table?

Following church, Tony reminded Scott how important it was to make things right with me. Time, and perhaps some serious conviction, had softened Scott's heart. He told Tony that he knew he was wrong and was on his way to talk to me. Scott walked up beside me, put his arm around my shoulder and apologized for his anger. He asked me to forgive him, and I did. We hugged and went on to have a great day, laughing and talking with one another about the plans we had for the coming week.

The next day, February 5th, at 11:36 a.m., God called Scott home (read Scott’s story). He was placed on life support and kept alive about 30 hours. Scott was declared brain dead on Tuesday, February 6th.

February 4th is such an vital day to our family's journey. Not only because it was our last full day with Scott, although we cherish that time. More importantly, February 4th is one of our most treasured days because Scott chose to not let the sun go down on his anger - without even a hint that he would never have another day to offer an apology.

The words of Ephesians 4:26 are not a suggestion; they are an imperative in living out our faith –
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.

Anger is not always a sin. Holding on to one's anger to the point of breaking relationships is where sin grows. Do not let the sun go down on your anger became very real to our family as we gathered around Scott's hospital bed. Amid our immense sorrow arose a deep gratitude that in his last hours, Scott allowed his commitment to Jesus Christ to transform his own selfish, natural desire to be right. Although we miss Scott deeply we find comfort in knowing that we do not carry the regret of unfinished business – a conflict left unresolved.

Could today become one of your family's most significant days?
Is there an apology you need to make . . . before the sun sets?