Saturday, October 20, 2012

What wondrous love is this?

“Not father or mother has loved you as God has, for it was that you might be happy He gave His only Son. When He bowed His head in the death hour, love solemnized its triumph. The sacrifice there was complete.” (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

Seventeen days later (see previous post) I landed in Ohio. At 10:30pm as I negotiated my rental car out of the parking garage my brother phoned. “I think you should go directly to the nursing home. I’ll meet you there.” David wasn't sure Dad would live until morning. “I don’t believe he will know you,” he told me. “He has stopped responding to people.”

Staff greeted me warmly. “He told us about you!” Several followed us to the room where Dad lay with eyes closed, skeletal and pale.

I leaned over him speaking my presence and reaching to touch. Dad’s sky-blue eyes flew open and his arms stretched to embrace me and pull me to him.

“You’re here!” he breathed. “And you are beautiful.” The last words my father would speak to me. Everyone else silently withdrew. My heart was sure then that it was for me to stay by his side to the end.

That first watch I pulled a chair near and facing him. I held his hands, talked some. Attendants came and went with meds and efforts of comfort. Dad alternated between restless agitation and quiet as the pain mounted and fell back. Sometime in the wee morning hours after I’d sat in the same position for hours, I made a move for the bathroom. I thought Dad was asleep. As I stood and stepped back, Dad suddenly gripped my hands and pulled me hard down so that I almost fell on top of him. Held tight in a grip I would not have believed he could muster, “Dad,” I said in his ear, “I’m not leaving. Bathroom. I’ll be right back.” The powerful grip relaxed.

Thus ensued two days of walking with Dad through a suffering death. He no longer ate and we stopped trying to feed him. Soon he refused even a sip of water. “Help me!” he would cry again and again. Once or twice he called my brother’s name. “David, help me!”

Those hours blur, but some images remain.

Me in the recliner next to Dad’s bed. I thought about a friend who died at home years ago. Joyce was in a normal double bed and I’d been able to climb in and lay right next to her as we prayed thankfulness for God’s goodness. I longed to do that for Dad, to let him who was beyond sight and words feel my closeness.

Jet-lagged sleep punctuated by Dad’s cries. Rising to cover him. At times restraining him as he thrashed and came near falling from the bed. He would pull off the hospital gown and throw off the covers, and I could hear Job whisper, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” (Job 1:21)

“I’ve gotta go!” For two hours Dad cried out again and again. Desperate, he struggled to pull himself out of bed, legs flailing like he was on the run. I projected my imaginings and so did the nurses. “He’s ready to go.” As the frantic struggle increased a more practical observer wondered if he wanted the toilet. Two aids helped and Dad found blessed relief. Then his heart stopped. They panicked and roused him. And I wondered why that seemed so important. Then and still I marveled at how Dad never lost his sense of his own dignity—no incontinence for him, no one would change his fouled diaper. Even as he waited at life’s threshold he fought to communicate his need.

Staff came and went, ministering with tenderness to Dad and to me. One took her lunch break to sit with him while I went for shower. Without being asked, she honored my desire that Dad not go through this alone. The hospice nurse kept coming back to sit and talk with me. Bemused, I finally asked about her evident concern. “I’m okay, good,” I told her. “Yes,” spoken with some amazement. “You are. We don’t often see that." She wanted to talk some about faith, about Dad’s search and resistance. A faith I don’t think she owned, but she could see in me.

Pain. Drugs. Over and over Psalm 23 spoken over Dad as I longed in prayer to see him through to peace. Then, at last, three final ragged breaths, and his whole body relaxed into death while David and I held his hands.

What wondrous love is this? The haunting old folk hymn echoes through me still. Through long days and nights of pain and confusion, Dad waited for me to come, waited until I could walk by his side to the threshold. Later I learned that twice in those seventeen days before I got there he violated his hospice agreement to choose life-prolonging treatment. He hoped it would give time for me to get there. He talked about me to anyone who had time to listen. And yet I was never pressured with this knowledge. I was allowed to make my own prayerful Lazarus-choice to remain where I was and attend to what was already before me before making my way to Dad.

 Dad waited. Suffered. Loved me. No pressure. No reproach. He received me in my absence and when I came. The hymn will forever entwine with Dad’s passing.

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on.

Dad's hands

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Your old man will dream dreams...

I started this, and then life—and death—whirled on. Come back to that landscape with me, if you will.

Late May. I wander in the weird geology of this quiet Cappadocian wadi in central Turkey. Cool, green. Evening light filters through trees, birds sing sweet evensong. Good footing and comfortable boots. Curt sent me off while he prepares a special cave-church meal.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely Your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Psalm 23)

My brother David reached me last night to tell me Dad is dying. He descends into depths of pain. The cancer wins. Whether because he stands at the threshold of life or because suffering and drugs have confused him, he has one foot in this world’s reality and the other in an unseen place of waking dreams and visions.

Perhaps it is the strangeness of this valley of caves. Or the quiet of the stream and the lush valley. I find Dad’s dreams floating, filling the atmosphere around me. I think God is in these movements.

A few days ago Dad packed for a journey. When she asked, he told the aid who stopped by that he was going to Chicago. Alert and lucid. Another day he spoke of a visit from Dan and Eda the evening before. He recalled tidbits of conversation and what Eda was wearing. Later he said he’d forgotten our apartment number but he wanted to drop in on us. He enjoys visits with Mom, and they watch TV together and chat a bit. It seems that I, too, come and go.

But there are no earthly travel plans, and Dad knows no one in Chicago. Dan and Eda are in Dubai. And no, we do not have an apartment in his building. I am in Turkey and Mom has been dead for seven years.

Other experiences terrify him. He was in a railway boxcar. Then he was put out in the rain. Soaked and cold, he banged on the door. It opened, but no one would let him in. Hours passed. Finally a young black woman came. She was full of grace and tenderness as she wrapped him in a blanket and brought him in.

The next day an aid comes to into room and he recognizes her. He greets her with delight and introduces her as the dear one who saved him.

As I wander this magical valley, I recall Paul quoting Joel in Acts 2. “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.”

These waking dreams, so real to Dad. Most are full of comfort. Visits from loved ones far away who don’t even know Dad’s desire to be with them or how near he is to the threshold. The sense that they are near even if he can’t see them. And in terror and suffering, angelic rescue full of grace and compassion, and a real person to attach it to the next day. That Somalian nursing aid who would weep as she tended his body and embrace me with prayer as we said the last goodbye.

“Your old men will dream dreams….” My old man is living in them. You, Lord, can meet him here, can’t You. For you dwell in realities we see and in the shadows and glories far beyond us. Dad has resisted You all his life. But in this dark passage You are still there: powerful to meet him, to reach him, to comfort and bring him home. 

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.

“You prepare a table.

“You anoint my head with oil.

“Surely Your goodness and Your love will find me, and I will dwell in Your house forever.”

Come, Lord Jesus. Come.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

This is a re-post of something I wrote almost two years ago. I've editted it a little. Much movement since then, and I no longer imagine the day when we will live in Kaş. We "moved into the neighborhood" to stay in January. Major renovation now culminates with outdoor construction cleanup, adding plants to the garden, and myriad finish details. Spa for the Soul is open and welcomes guests.

Two years later, and it is Sunday again. This post reaches me with its questions. No longer is Kaş my special place to which I withdraw from time to time. It has become my workplace, our offering. Everyday life. Filled with desire to remain aware of Jesus' brooding presence and ready to serve as His hands and feet. Alert. Celebratory. At peace.


The fruit and vegetable shop was like heaven yesterday. Rich, red tomatoes, ripe peaches and perfect strawberries. Stacks of watermelon.

I try to imagine what it will be like to live here, for we think that day draws near. So far, for me, Kaş has been about prayer and rest and simplicity—permission to stop for awhile, notice and celebrate. A place to watch with You. Is it possible to savor that in a full-time life here? So that it spills over into joyous welcome to others?

Reading Miriam Adeney’s Kingdom Without Borders (Intervarsity Press 2009), I ponder willingness to be of no repute in a backwater town where Jesus is not known. To quietly move into the neighborhood. She tells of Latin American professionals who moved to the Middle East and simply immersed themselves in local life. A gentle approach that allowed some in that place to get to know Jesus. That story resonates with our sense of call to this place.

“To move into the neighborhood.” An occasional paraphrase of John 1:14: “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” An image of incarnation.

Now there is a daunting thought. Is that what we are to Kaş? My theology kicks in—of course it is. Christians, indwelt by His living Spirit, embody Jesus Christ to this broken world. We are His living presence. Wherever we live.

But before we have lived in places where the church and family was our primary focus: the community of already-believers and seekers. Our kids. My dad. Those who sought me out for counsel, for their needs and growth. Did my prayer take much notice of the neighbors? The shopkeepers? The security guards and cleaners? The ordinary folk of the town? Here we are oh-so-much-more aware that Jesus incarnated Himself when He moved us into the neighborhood.

Oh Lord, to hold this image for Kaş, yes. But to find it in whatever community I find myself—to Your glory, to eternal love and life.


Sunday morning in a town that does not know you. We’ve come “home” to Kaş for a holiday, and to our balcony to pray. The mosque singer pauses long between phrases today. Is he old and out of breathe? Ill? The town bustles with life, parking lot full, people on the move, carrying goods. Tourists with their day-packs and sacks of food.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


From “Epistle to Diognetus,” an ancient writing that some call the first apologetic. What follows is an excerpt which, in its context, distinguishes Christian from Jew in a letter to a gentile inquirer. Provocative! I am captivated. Convicted. Challenged. Even comforted. Oh, that we might exhibit this quality of Christ following:

“For the Christians are distinguished from other [persons] neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive [persons]; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines.

“But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers.

“They marry, as do all (others); they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives.

“They love all [persons], and are persecuted by all…. [Y]et those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.

“To sum up all in one word--what the soul is in the body, that is what Christians are in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world.”

And in the same vein, but written by a person of our times in words which capture a piece what we desire Spa for the Soul to be:

“The shalom bringers spread a sense of warmth, comfort, hope, and well-being even before a word is spoken. They themselves are the interlinking, not just their words and actions. They do not talk about religion all the time. They are not constantly telling us to cheer up and look on the bright side. They may not say anything special at all, but when we are with them we feel understood, accepted, welcomed.

“When we think of these men and women in our lives, we feel as if God is reaching out to us through them…. We call them the children of God.”
From Forgiveness, the Passionate Journey by Flora Slosson Wuellner

Monday, January 30, 2012

Self Care? Or self-indulgence?

Curt is away again. When I am alone, it doesn’t seem worth it to cook a meal or prepare a table. But I still get hungry. So easy, in the press of getting other things done, to grab a few cookies and get on with it. And when hungry again, to grab some more.

Self-care has been on my mind. Mostly because I don't always do a good job of it. Out of shape and undisciplined in habits of rest and food, I begin to see that I am much better at self-indulgence.

It stands to reason. I come from the most self-indulgent people-group. Americans don’t just heat or cool the room, we heat and cool the whole house. Our houses are loaded with closet space and garages so that we can put away all that stuff we don’t need. More and more homes have cavernous garages to hold the extra cars. There are drive-through windows on every corner for burgers, tacos, and fancy coffees, and our cars are designed with multiple cup-holders so that we needn’t interrupt our eating and drinking when we drive to work or to the shop or to our fitness trainer. I think I’ll stop here and return to my point.

Self-indulgence turns on desire, sensual gratification, and gaining the attentions of others as we compete for reputation, power, influence, and status. Luxuries become needs. For believers, Kingdom-building (the furthering of God’s priorities on earth) becomes small-k kingdom-building as we position ourselves as lords and ladies of personal little fiefdoms of “ministry” or “family.” Hospitality becomes entertaining, or maybe even networking. Beauty becomes display.
Self-indulgence is often lazy, wanting the quick and easy way or instant gratification.

Self-indulgence rarely notices the unseen, the presence and goodness of God, of the Lord Jesus in our midst.

Self-care, in contrast, is a form of stewardship of body and soul as gifts and resources. Self-care measures what is needed to be strong for the task and emotionally poised for equanimity and outward-focused compassion. Self-care exercises patience with the limitations of body, time, or circumstances. It nourishes and equips towards worship and service.

Self-care, it dawns on me, is another matter entirely.

Yet the competing voices of world and flesh so easily draw us to confuse the two. “You deserve a break.” “Me-time.” “Retail therapy.” Many of our real-life actions may be one or the other, self-care or self-indulgence, depending on those oh-so-murky realms of motive and attitude. Is my “need” for time alone avoidance and escapism, withdrawal from compassion in favor of ivory-tower living? Or is it vital to renew and equip me to return to the fray with the stamina and empathy I need to serve others? Is a bigger house filled with lovely things a form of hoarding and prestige, or a reflection of the rest and beauty of heaven freely offered to whatever weary souls God may bring?

When I rise before dawn and prepare coffee, candles and incense, do I do it simply to indulge my senses and my habit, or do I make these actions in conscious preparation for worship in Your Presence, Lord?

For these days alone, I explore a new discipline of mindfulness towards meals and my body. In place of that handful of whatever eaten over the sink, I rise from early prayer to prepare soft-boiled egg, and home-made bread with the olive oil from my trees. I squeeze the juice from a couple of oranges, and put a slice of the lemon from my garden in a cup of hot water. I make a plate, grab a cloth napkin, and light a candle. And as I do these simple things, I rejoice in the miracle of chicken and tree, yeast and oven. I lift my eyes from the food to the Giver of the food, the sheltered space, and the time to prepare it. I am nourished and filled. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Lessons from My Old Man

The frail old man wants to bandage the tips of his sore fingers. Every time he bathes the bandages come off and he must do this again.

He hunts for the cardboard box he keeps to contain all manner of bandaids, tape and scissors, then drops into his recliner where the light is good.

Dad has developed a habit of making little noises when he putters. Not song, or talking to himself. Not grunts, either. Pleasant noises that mark the rhythm of his movements. He makes them now.

With great care, he selects and unwraps a bandaid and painstakingly sets it to cover the tip of a finger. He rummages through his box again for a roll of tape. He picks up his magnifying glass to locate the end, which he then sticks precisely to the table edge. Using the bandaid wrapper as a measure, he takes pains to cut the tape to the precise length he needs. And another. Then a third. Two pieces get wrapped to cover the end of his digit in a criss-cross. The third he wraps around his finger so as to cover and protect the ends of the two. Full concentration. Little noises of activity and peaceable presence to a task that takes time and expends much of his limited energy. His arthritic fingers fumble with the small pieces and the awkwardness of one-handed work until three digits are covered. I am witness to remarkable ingenuity in his little tricks to address the difficulties loss of dexterity and deteriorating eyesight bring.

Infinitely patient. No haste. Fully engaged. Creative.

When he finishes, the sore fingertips are neatly wrapped. Not yet satisfied, he asks me to cut one small overlap. He puts his things away, and drops into a doze in his chair. Energy spent.

I am 56. Dad is 30 years older than me. You do the math. Lung cancer—untreatable and advancing—numbers his days. Dad still gets around, but it grows more difficult. He still understands, but it matters less and less as hours and days turn to haze and the quiet battle to simply wash, eat and visit with whoever comes by. I rarely see him online anymore. Hospice has entered the picture.

Since Mom’s death, I have walked with Dad--far more in seven years than in all the rest of my life. We’ve had some crazy adventures. I spent another few days with him in December, and came away moved by two simple things. Lessons. Ways of being that are worthy of imitation. Ways of loving to hope for in my advancing years.

The first is drawn from Dad’s character. As we age, our bodies are less and less able to do what our mind believes should happen with ease. Speed, balance, eyesight, dexterity.

Those changes advance on me. When my fingers fumble, or my mind can no longer focus on five things at once, or my body just won’t go that fast or lift that much, I get angry. Groaning impatience, and frustration that breeds hurry that breeds more fumbling mishaps. A particular flashpoint is when I am in a hurry and my fingers just can’t untangle the knot, or negotiate the complex one-handed effort to button or snap or insert. “WHY. CAN’T. I?” my inner child screams as I fumble faster.

I am touched profoundly by Dad’s kindness to himself. Self-care accomplished with calm intention. Quiet, methodical, gentle. Lord, my dad is teaching me something of infinite value.

The second “lesson” derives from watching others with Dad. As I boarded my plane to leave my heart was full of ways that I hope someone will love me as I grow older. I hope that my children and other caregivers will give me time. I hope they walk slowly alongside me while I shop for my bits and pieces of comfort and hospitality. I hope they sit with me and do nothing but savor the being together. I hope they let me tell again stories I love but have already told…a lot. I hope they will let me do those things for myself that I still have patience to do, even though they could do them so much better and faster for me.

I hope to be accompanied into old age by people who value the journey.

Thanks, Dad, for all the ways you allow me to go this journey with you. I love you.