“OUT OF THE ABYSS” REVISITED

I have referred to the devotion book I’m reading at the moment titled “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young. Part of today’s reading (Jul 16) says

“Self-pity is a slimy, bottomless pit. Once you fall in, you tend to go deeper and deeper into the mire. As you slide down those slippery walls, you are well on your way to depression, and the darkness is profound.

Your only hope is to look up and see the Light of My Presence shining down on you… While you focus on Me in trust, you rise ever so slowly “OUT OF THE ABYSS” of despair. Finally, you can reach up and grasp My hand, I will pull you out into the Light again. I will gently cleanse you, washing off the clinging mire. I will cover you with My righteousness and walk with you down the path of life.”

A little over a year ago I began this blog with four posts entitled “OUT OF THE ABYSS”; the fourth was the conclusion dated Jul 11, 2017 so when I read today’s devotion it naturally took me back to those initial posts and how I feel today, one year later. As the old saying goes, “what a difference a year makes.” I believe I can say we are out of the abyss. There are surely times when it doesn’t feel that way; many triggers can send us down a path leading to the darkness we experienced a year ago. I think the big difference is we expect that to happen occasionally, and we deal with it the best way we can and move on. We don’t usually dwell in the darkness day after day and we are able to be happy and enjoy life again. I think we have developed some properties that are similar to non-stick skillets. We fall into the slimy pit every now and then, but He pulls us out, rinses us off, and sends us on our way again.

For the first time our entire family is together in one place and we are enjoying that. We are celebrating Katie and Joshua’s first anniversary, Julianne’s first birthday and our first family vacation. That’s a lot of “firsts”; but I’ll add one more. For the first time in the past year, I believe I can honestly say we are “Out of the Abyss”. For that, I am so thankful and happy to be enjoying our family.

REGRETS

I read an interesting article about the biggest regrets most people have, written by Diana Bruk. According to the article we imagine those regrets are about mistakes we think we have made. But a new study “indicates that the old adage still rings true: it’s not the things you do in life that you regret, it’s the things you don’t do….Cornell psychologists identified three elements that make up a person’s sense of self. Your actual self consists of qualities that you believe you possess. Your ideal self is made up of the qualities you want to have. Your ought self is the person you feel you should have been according to your obligations and responsibilities. In surveying the responses of hundreds of participants in six studies, the researchers found that, when asked to name their single biggest regret in life, 76% of participants said it was not fulfilling their ideal self.”

In short, we sacrifice our dreams, aspirations and goals for what we feel we “ought” to do. I think that’s true to a great extent. But when I think back on a young me, I didn’t really spend any time dreaming or aspiring to be anything in particular. I think that’s a pretty important conversation for parents to have with their children but it’s easy to put it off and just let it slide. I probably wouldn’t have wanted to have that conversation because 1) it requires a time of thinking and reflecting and 2) I couldn’t be still long enough to do it. A couple of examples: I would love to have the ability to play a musical instrument. When I was young, I took piano lessons for a while but I didn’t practice. Mama said no practice, no lessons and I agree completely. Why pay for lessons when the real learning is in the hours of practice? Playing an instrument was not a dream for me at that time so I sacrificed a future dream for “goofing-off” time; now I have nothing to show for the dream that came along later in my life. I have also dreamed of writing a book but so far I’ve only managed to write a little over 100 blog posts.

The article concludes with the following paragraph:
“It (the study results) also implies that we need to stop making excuses for our own inaction. So learn that language you’ve always wanted to study. Take that backpacking trip through Asia you’ve been talking about for ages. Write that book that’s been tinkering around in your head for years. Don’t leave it for tomorrow. There’s only today.” Ouch!

COME. REST.

The opening paragraph of today’s devotion in “Jesus Calling” says

“Rest with Me a while.  You have journeyed up a steep, rugged path in recent days. The way ahead is shrouded in uncertainty.  Look neither behind you nor before you.  Instead, focus your attention on Me, your constant Companion.  Trust that I will equip you fully for whatever awaits you on your journey.”

Many times since I’ve started this book I’ve found myself thinking, “How does she (the author, Sarah Young) know?”  Sometimes, like today, she seems to know what has actually been happening in my life.  After the initial shock, I realize that we’re all in this boat called “life” together and we all travel steep rugged paths at times.

Occasionally, I have the great privilege and fun of driving over to see Mama and Daddy and spend some time singing with Daddy and a couple from their church.  I did that yesterday and we were in their church surrounding the piano which is next to an outside door.  Suddenly the door opened (we were not expecting anyone) and a gray-haired man with a kind face stepped in.  He told of the great work God was doing in a home for children that he was overseeing.  He said that one of their children recently graduated from college with a pharmacy degree; I could easily see how proud he was but he was very careful to take no credit for anything that this ministry was accomplishing.  He said he had spoken in their church; they all remembered and had assisted the work of caring for the children.  Then he said, “Since I’ve last seen you I’ve been diagnosed with stage IV non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.   He had one chemo treatment to go, then he would get his port removed; and he said he was in remission.  During one of his treatments he had talked with another patient also receiving chemo.  His comment was “either way this turns out, I win.”  Then he wanted to pray with us before he left and somewhere in his prayer he thanked  God “in whatever way I can” for his cancer, and how it had changed his life.  I’m familiar with Paul’s instruction to be thankful in everything (see 1 Thess 5: 16-18), but honestly I don’t ever remember hearing anyone expressing gratitude for cancer.  That will probably be in the back of my mind for quite a while.

“Rest with Me a while.  You have journeyed up a steep, rugged path in recent days.”  Has your journey been steep and rugged recently?

“Come to Me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  Matt. 11: 28-30

 

LIFE IS LIKE A BASEBALL GAME

I don’t consider myself to be a big baseball fan but I watched Auburn and Florida play last night (Monday June 11) for the final spot in the College World Series. (I may not be a big baseball fan but I am a huge Auburn fan and will watch almost anything they play on TV- football, basketball, baseball, softball, golf, equestrian, gymnastics, swimming and diving, badminton… no I guess they don’t have a badminton team). And by the way, that is the way badminton is spelled; I had to look it up.

The baseball game was just a great game; both teams played their hearts out with Florida winning 3-2 in the bottom of the eleventh inning- a walk-off home run that tipped the glove of the Auburn outfielder before skipping over the fence. A couple of inches and that game-winner would have just been another out. Even the Florida coach tweeted “It’s a shame somebody had to lose that game.”

Prior to the season‘s beginning Auburn was not highly regarded- in fact they were projected to be at the bottom of the league. Florida, on the other hand, was the defending national champions and most people figured they would contend to win it all again. So this was similar to a “David vs Goliath” scenario and I couldn’t help but see a few lessons from this game.

1) Auburn “scratched and clawed” for every hit, every base runner and the two runs that crossed the plate. They made several unbelievable plays to keep Florida’s team from scoring. But today, the one play that everyone seems to be replaying is the “trick” play Florida used for a runner to steal home. Sometimes we just have to “scratch and dig” and expend all of our energy to stay in this game of life; and it still isn’t enough to win all the time. But we still have to keep “scratching and digging”.

2) Making it to the College World Series is quite a feat; only eight teams make it, so there was a lot on the line for this game. But there’s much more at stake in our lives, much of which we cannot control. That’s why it is so important to choose wisely on things we can control. We must focus on the runner at third base attempting to steal home instead of the runner at first base who is just a distraction.

3) It’s a “game of inches”. We hear it all the time about most any sporting event and the winning run last night was just inches from being an out. But so is life. Years ago a terrible tornado ripped through a busy street here in our town. Within five minutes prior to its touchdown, Robin and our daughters had driven through the intersection where the path of destruction began.

I’m sorry the Tigers couldn’t pull it out last night but I’m proud of the way they played and represented our university. I wonder if I can say the same thing about the way I’ve lived my life and represented my Lord?

DEAR ROBIN,

On this most special of days I wanted you to know you have been on my mind all day long. I’ve relived the events leading up to our wedding and the ceremony itself; I’ve relived our trip to Calloway Gardens and getting lost on the way; I’ve relived our first home- a 12’x 50’ 2-bedroom mobile home with one tiny window unit air conditioner and I’ve relived all (well most; well a lot) of the things that have transpired over the last 44 years to get us where we are today. What a life I have had and one I couldn’t even dream of when we left the wedding ceremony.

Andy Grammer has a song called “I Choose You”. The basic message is we don’t get to choose a lot of things in our lives, but we do get to choose the one we spend our life with and I choose you. I chose you a long time ago and I still choose you. I’ve made some pretty bad mistakes over the years, but one thing I got right was you. I love you more each day and over the years I think we have learned a lot more about what love really means.

We will celebrate 44 years of marriage today and tonight and I just want you to know that I couldn’t be happier. You are “The Story of My Life”.
https://youtu.be/bYsv2qa1BTc

I love you,
Steve

 

Steve's iPhone SE 134

SUBSEQUENT DAYS

Carter was pronounced dead at 3:08 ET Thursday May 25, 2017. I remember wondering what we should do next. Some of the hospital team who walked the journey with us was still in the room I think, crying with us. No one told us we needed to leave or even hinted at anything we should or should not do. After several minutes we began to gather our stuff and make our way to Katie and Joshua’s house. We were numb, exhausted and foggy; we seemed to be unable to think through the issues still ahead. Because of the holiday weekend, it was almost another week before we got Carter’s ashes for the memorial service Katie and Joshua had planned. But on Wednesday after the holiday weekend, about 4:00 pm we gathered in Clam Bayou where Carter’s ashes were scattered and 111 (one for each day of his life) carnations were tossed into the water.

DSC_0553       DSC_0568

So May 25, 2018, in observance of Carter’s untimely death Robin and I tossed two dozen carnations (one dozen for Rachel and family and one for us) into the Tennessee River at 3:08 pm ET. Rachel and family were unable to be with us physically, but were there with us in spirit.

We read the same scripture passages from Isaiah that we read last year; they are always good to repeat:
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. The will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Is 40: 28-31

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor… to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.” Is 61: 1; 2-3

I have some of the same questions this year as last. What do we do next? What is our response to reliving the day Carter died? “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb…” Mark 16: 1-2. I think our response should be the same- we get up and go about our business. This year we do not have to wait for someone else to do their job so we can move on with our lives. Waiting last year was very difficult and made a bad situation even worse. That doesn’t mean we won’t have any emotional lows, or that we won’t miss our Little Buddy. It just simply means we get up off of the mat again and start fighting for joy. It means we do life with an “in spite of” attitude. It means we do again what we’ve learned to do this past year.

 

Phoenix

 

MAY 25

I’ve thought quite a bit about what to say on this day; yet I’m still unsure about how to express my feelings. Normally, we “celebrate” birthdays and anniversaries, but today is certainly not a celebration in my mind. So I guess “observe” is a better word for me. We observe the first anniversary of Carter’s death May 25. Last year’s events swirl in my mind and the emptiness follows closely behind (see “Out of the Abyss” for more information from last year). The crushing blow of watching our daughter and son-in-law suffer through the tragic week knocks me to my knees again. I relive the tubes, wires, monitors, and equipment that kept his little body “alive” even though his brain couldn’t. I see the doctors, nurses, and staff members at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital tenderly caring for Carter, his mom and dad, and all of our family. And then all was quiet; just sobs and tears as we held him for the last time. The following days were long and empty while we waited for an autopsy and then to get Carter’s ashes. The question in my mind was “what now?” What should we be doing? I felt we were in the way at Katie and Joshua’s house, but I wanted to be close in the remote possibility that I could do something/anything to help them. I knew I couldn’t console them; it was just too new, too raw.

As difficult as this year has been I think we have grown in several ways. First, I think we have grown in “durability”; we’ve been knocked to the mat repeatedly, but have found the resolve to get back on our feet and go again. Next, I think we have grown in “flexibility”; much of the past year has not worked out as we had planned but we have somehow managed to pick up the pieces and put a new plan together. We have also grown in “loveability”; we have learned that life is precious but fragile and we should both love deeply and express that love to others. And I think we better understand how deeply we are loved by God. We don’t understand why all of this has happened but we do know He has the future in His hand and we can trust Him.

Finally, a personal note to Katie and Joshua: to say “today will be hard” is a gross mischaracterization of the feelings and emotions you have. And while I know I can’t take any of that away, I do want you to know that I love you so much! I admire your strength and tenacity to fight for happiness each day. “They say sometimes you win some, sometimes you lose some” from MercyMe’s Even If. But you two come out swinging every day and that tells me that you’re going to win the war. You may lose a battle here and there, but you’re going to win the war.

And after a year, we may not be “Out of the Abyss” yet but we are heading in that direction and are making good progress. For me, that is something to celebrate on this day of observation.Phoenix