The Puppy and the Garden

It’s one of my all-time favorite stories, of Sara, her garden, and our new pup Zoey from three years ago. I’ve shared it all over the world, and even in a former blog post. But it showed up recently in an interview I’d done quite a while ago in a new video produced by Loren Rosser for Stephen Crosby. It’s called Life in The New Covenant – Part 2 – “Christ in You (us all)”. I asked permission to take out this snippet so those of you who hadn’t yet heard me tell the story, might enjoy it as well. The visuals in this video have been changed from the original to include photos of Zoey and Sara’s garden.

It all illustrates a powerful point:  We will not be transformed by the Father until we know him well enough to rest in his love.

Enjoy!

If you cannot see the window above, use this link: https://vimeo.com/375774561.

Launch Day!

Today is drop day!  A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation dropped this morning at retail outlets throughout the U.S. I’ve been living inside this book for nearly two years and it is such a relief to finally have it available in the world. We have had a group of advance readers already discussing it and I love what people are seeing in it and how it is beginning to change the way they interact with others. Some of the stories we are hearing are overwhelmingly beautiful. That’s what we hoped for. We didn’t write this book to change the politics in Washington, DC or the angry voices that fill the media echo chambers. My coauthors and I wrote it as every-day Americans, inviting others into better conversations with people in their lives. If the temper of this country changes it will be one life at a time and one conversation at a time.

We held a number of events in Dallas this week to mark the launch and will continue to do this Saturday and Sunday in southern California. If you’re free to celebrate with us, hear my coauthors share a bit of their story, and get your book signed, join us in San Dimas on Saturday for the launch, and on Sunday afternoon with CultureBrave in Los Angeles. You can get all the details here. Just look under Events.

We’re looking for people who are willing to intentionally engage those who look and think differently than they do with mutual respect and compassion. Our subtitle is: Creating safe environments for conversations about race, politics, sexuality, and religion. Learning to speak this language means we will engage people, listen to their stories so that we can better understand their concerns, and then consider how we might share a culture that seeks to be fair to all points of view instead of imposing our own.

Wayne sharing with our Language of Healing class.

Bob, Arnita, and I taught our first class together in Dallas this weekend and to a group of people eager to join this conversation. Some of the things we shared there, that might be helpful here are:

  • About 75% of Americans are ready to have the conversation that embraces mutual respect, which means about 25% are not. Don’t try to force this conversation on those who are not ready for it. Most will be, however, tired of the polarization that is making us angry and suspicious of our neighbors.
  • Don’t think first about changing institutions, but of the next interaction you have with someone who thinks differently than you do, or the next room you walk into and who you choose to spend some time with.
  • Learning to speak a Language of Healing invites an inner transformation first, where we “see” others and engage them with compassion and respect even if they don’t share our political views or our faith.
  • We all have biases that influences our interactions with others. By recognizing and managing them we will find ourselves in more fruitful relationships.

This week we will also be recording the audio version for those who would like to hear all three of us read our parts of this book.  It should be available by the first of the year.

If you’d like to help us get the word out, here are some ideas—

  • Go to your favorite bookstore and ask if they have the book in stock. (If not, it will alert them to order it.)
  • Get a copy at Amazon, Barnes, and Noble, or Books-A-Million and start reading it.
  • If you like what you’re reading, share it freely on social media, post a review on Goodreads and Amazon. All of those things help the book spread in the world.
  • Post a picture of the book whenever you quote from it or share your thoughts about it. There are lots online, or on my Facebook Author feed, or you can personalize it by taking one with you reading the book, or sitting on your coffee table or desk.
  • When you see other postings about this book on your social feeds “like” them so the conversation grows.
  • Suggest A Language of Healing for any book group you attend, or host a study in your own home.

We have been blessed with a lot of people who are passionate about this book. Give it a read and see if it resonates with you as well.

Farewell Kevin… And Thank You

The world is a bit poorer today, at the same time more of what I treasure has found his way into eternity.

I found out this morning that my good friend from Australia, Kevin Smith, passed away peacefully on Sunday morning. I knew he had not been well and had endured great suffering and pain over the last few months. Those closest to him are relieved that his suffering is finally over and that he has begun the greatest adventure for which he was created—eternity with the Father he loved so much. My heart and prayers go out to his wife Val, his three kids and their spouses, and all the grandkids.

Over the past 24 years, I got to have so many long, deep, healing conversations with Kevin—in my home, in his, in Ireland, Singapore even on Skype calls. I got to introduce him to so many of my friends around the world. I first met him and Val in the summer of 1995 when asked to teach at a Servant School he’d helped organize in the bush outside of Melbourne, Australia. He and his then-21-year-old daughter picked Sara and me up at the airport to drive us out to Camp Weekaway. The conversation I heard between that father and daughter let me know we were in for a special time. It was our first time in Australia and we were deeply hurting at the time having just been betrayed by a close friend and forced out of a group of people we dearly loved. Those few days were life-changing. It’s where we began to see the cross in a different light, that I wrote about in He Loves Me, and talked at length about in Transitions, and where we got to experience the reality of a community of brothers and sisters that we had been trying so hard to produce, without success, by our own efforts at home.

Those ten days in Australia changed the course of our lives in so many ways. I have always been grateful that God allowed our lives to intersect then and continue to over the years that followed.  He was a treasure in so many ways—his smile, deep laugh, his wisdom, generosity, and graciousness communicated the Father’s nature to me better than anything else ever has. When people ask me what books have most shaped my life and theology, my answer is that it was never books. What has most shaped my life and thoughts on this journey are the people God brought across my path at just the right time and who invested so much in my heart and life. And I don’t mean I got to hear them speak; I got to spend time with these people in their homes, on long walks, in deep conversations and in frivolous moments of joking and laughter. They allowed me to see God in real life and Kevin was one of those. He never took himself too seriously or never tried to impress me with his spiritual depth. He just lived an authentic life and made room for others to walk alongside him.

Kevin Smith having a yarn in Ireland

The sheer gravity of his character and passion for God permanently altered the trajectory of my life. When I spent a few days with Kevin my trust in Father grew in ways that surprised me. He simply lived at rest in the Father’s care through times of great abundance and in times of great need or pain. He was willing to follow God’s leading even at great personal risk financially and otherwise. So much of how I live in the world today, I can trace back to my friendship with Kevin and what he showed me about what life in God looks like.

Even how I travel now is the fruit of our relationship. I know that what people need to see to catch this life for themselves is not a speaker on a stage talking about the love of God, but an example in their homes and over meals of our common humanity and the amazing Father that can make sense of our lives. I know that frivolous moments of laughter or making buttermilk biscuits are every bit as significant as the deep conversations. That’s what Kevin showed me and I still treasure every moment we’ve had together.

As I have reflected this morning on my gratefulness to God for allowing Kevin in my life, I was reminded of some of the things he said to me, that I still share with others:

  • He was the first person I ever heard use the word “Father” without the article in front of it. It captured me because I never call my father ‘The dad’. Father became such an endearing term to me.
  • After asking me how many of our policies in the church I’d been a part of were based on our fears of people falling through the cracks, of the wrong people getting in leadership, or of people not seriously following Jesus and I answered about ninety percent, “So, you know well the church that fear can build, but you’ve yet to discover the church that grows from trusting him.”
  • “We loved The Naked Church when we read it, but we also realized that what you don’t know yet is that Jesus didn’t leave us with a system to implement, but with his Spirit to follow.”
  • When asked by someone if he believed in the infallibility of the Bible, he hesitated briefly then answered,  “I believe in the infallibility of the God of the Bible.”
  • When I was complaining about one of our politicians, “Well, we know he lies, but we don’t know that he’s a liar.”
  • In a classroom in Singapore discussing Jesus’ prayer for the unity of his followers. “Is unity really our calling?  Who was Jesus asking to produce this unity, us or his Father?”
  • When asked about his children not growing up in Sunday school. “I think they may give our children just enough of God’s things to inoculate them against the reality of knowing him.”
  • “Let’s make a pact to use the term church only the way God uses it, not for humanity’s faltering institutions, but for the living, breathing family that thrives in the earth.”

I’m sure there are so many more that will come to mind over the days to come. I am so grateful that Father allowed us to have a friendship over the years.

Kevin Smith in Australia

Fortunately, you can still spend some time with Kevin if you’d like. Over the years I did five podcasts with Kevin and was always touched by the power and simplicity of his words as well as his life.  You can listen to them here. Take a weekend sometime and listen to all five of them back-to-back. It will enrich your journey in ways you can’t imagine.

Most of all, I will miss knowing you’re in this world, Kevin. I realize you are face-to-face with Father now and how I wish we could have one more Skype call so that I could know what you know now. But that will await another day. Thank you, Kevin, for being you! For sharing your life so freely with so many of us and enriching this world with the fragrance of Father.

Farewell, my friend.  Enjoy what’s next!

A Crazy, Crazy Few Weeks

Why has this page been so quiet?  Because the last few weeks have been a bit crazy, and the next couple will be the same.

The above photo was my view last weekend, getting a walk in the woods as the day began. I was in Ohio on a two-day turn-around from Sara and my week away. The temperature was 34 degrees, so it was a brisk four-mile walk.  Ohio!??! It wasn’t on my travel schedule, but for personal reasons, I felt nudged to spend some time with dear friends in northeast Ohio, near Millersburg, that God has connected me to over the years. Some others in the area came to join us, and I heard some amazing stories of how at desperate moments my life intersected with theirs. I was touched at what God does. Do people really Google, “I don’t want to go to church anymore,” and get to my website?  (Not anymore, as I checked today!)

It was a crazy, rushed trip as I had to get back and help coach some storytellers that are part of a one-year commemoration of the mass shooting at Borderline Bar and Grill that took twelve undeserving lives. Hearing police officers, firefighters, parents, and survivors talk about that experience a year ago has been incredibly moving. The final event is tomorrow night. One year ago today those young people were murdered then within twenty-four hours 250,000 people from my community were evacuated in the dead of night in the face of two encroaching wildfires. Everyone in our community has vivid memories of those days.

After that, we are gearing up for the release of my new book, A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation, along with coauthors Bob Prater and Arnita Taylor. We’ll all be in Dallas next week, doing a six-hour class together on Saturday (November 16) before our official release the next day. If you’re in the area or would like to fly in you can get details on the website above either for the Saturday seminar or the Sunday afternoon/evening book launches.

Then the following weekend Bob and Arnita are coming to Southern California where we will be recording the audio version of the book as well as having our own book launch here. You can join us at Life Pacific University on Saturday, November 22.  Details are also on the Language of Healing Website and you can RSVP there.  Then, on Sunday afternoon November 24, we will be meeting with the CultureBrave at Cultural Interiors, 4421 W. Slauson Ave. L.A. CA. 90043. There is ample parking in the back and refreshments will be served!

This book’s pre-sales have already put it at #1 on Amazon’s list of books about war and peacemaking. Amazon has ordered thousands of them and we’re excited by the feedback we are getting from our early readers. Join us if you can at one of the events above because I’d love to introduce you to Bob and Arnita. You can also pre-order your copy now from a number of outlets.

When we get done with this launch Thanksgiving will be upon us and soon the holidays and a new year. I haven’t worked out my travel yet, waiting to see how this new book influences the places I need to go, but I am actively considering trips in 2020 to, Florida, Oklahoma, Michigan, upstate New York, South Carolina, and West Texas. It will be interesting to see what God has in store in the days to come.

In addition to all of that, it’s my daughter’s birthday today, which we get to celebrate with an early dinner, and then late tonight the grandkids are coming for the entire weekend! My heart revels in such moments as these kids are growing so fast!  Even faster than ours, I think!

 

Meet the Authors of A Language of Healing

Sara and I are just back from our week away, and it was glorious! Life is full now with getting our new book released and available.  But first, let me assure everyone that Sara and I are doing fine in the face of all the wildfires going on in Southern California since our return. I’ve received numerous texts, emails, and messages asking about how we’re being affected by these fires. Firefighters won the day in our area yesterday and it is much quieter today.  There are very few losses in our county and we are grateful.

For the time being, Sara and I, and Julie and her family are not in danger. We have fires to our east and northeast, with winds blowing toward the southwest.  We got a bit of smoke yesterday, but it is much better today. Your prayers and concern are deeply appreciated. There are some other more dangerous fires burning out on the east side of LA today, but the winds are supposed to end late morning.

Now, let me share with you a new video of Bob Prater, Arnita Taylor, and me, talking about our new book, A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation that releases November 19. They were also my guests on this week’s episode of The God Journey, in a podcast called Erring on the Side of Love.

It couldn’t be more timely given the times we live in. Check out the latest Pew Research on the escalating polarization of our nation. We have to have a better conversation that leads to generosity and respect, even to those who don’t see the world the way we do. We hope this book will help generate that conversation. You can pre-order the book here.

The comments in this video were made the weekend we began work on this book, and I can honestly say the process and our engagements with each other were greater than we had hoped.

The video link is here –  https://vimeo.com/369947815 if you’d like to share it with your friends. And here’s a link to an Instagram-friendly forty-five-second version – https://vimeo.com/369949507.

Thanks for helping us get the word out.

The Story Behind A Language of Healing

Sara and I are taking a break for a week so, please go easy on me email-wise while we are gone. This is Sara time, and perhaps the lull before the storm with the new book coming out and a bit of travel ahead.

Amazing news today! We just found out today that Amazon placed an order for 3,000 copies of A Language of Healing.  That’s astounding for this little book from a new publishing company! Obviously, there is a lot of interest for this title and we’re excited that it may give people a way to negotiate the growing tension in our culture.  I’ve been asked by some of our international readers whether this is for the United States alone.  It’s not. People in any polarized nation will find the strategies in it very useful.

The publishing date for the book is November 19, but we are having two weekends around that to celebrate the launch and where we’ll have books available. You can join us in Dallas for the first book launch on November 17,  It will give you a chance to meet all the authors and talk about our passion to change the conversation one person at a time.  Details are on the ALanguageOfHealing website.  Also, the day before (Saturday, November 16) we will be hosting our first seminar about the content of the book. We’ll be meeting from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. The cost is $50.00 for the training, which will include an advance PDF copy of the book and a printed copy at the seminar. We only have room for 40, so sign up quick at the website or by emailing me.

The following weekend the team will be together again for a Book Launch in Southern California at Life Pacific University.  Details can be found at A Language of Healing website or you can email me to register. I hope some of you can come join us and help us begin a different sort of conversation in the world.

I can’t wait for you to meet my coauthors, Bob Prater and Arnita Taylor. The connections between us have not only been orchestrated by God, but the synergy between our thinking has been transformative to each of us. This has been such an amazing journey.

Here’s a sneak peek at the introduction to this book and how it came to be.

INTRODUCTION

Have you ever found yourself in an awkward moment with someone different from you?

Maybe you both heard a joke at the same time, but your reactions were wildly different. Have you ever made a comment that you found out later was offensive to others, when you didn’t mean it to be? Are you afraid to initiate a conversation with someone different from you for fear you’ll say the wrong thing or be misinterpreted?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are in good company. Our social fabric is unraveling as anger and vitriol rule the national dialogue. Offenses are easily taken… and too often intended. We are losing our ability to communicate gracefully with people of different cultures, interest groups, or opinions.

Political parties exploit it, the media sells it, and Russian troll farms exacerbate it. And they will continue to as long as the electorate falls for it.

Aren’t you done with all of that?

Our differences cannot be an excuse to vent our anger and animosity. We can hold to differing views and argue for them passionately without resorting to contempt, suspicion, and accusations. If we can manage this, we’ll not only learn more about each other, but we might also find ways to work together for our shared interests, guarding our own dignity by giving it to others.

This is a book for those who are tired of being spun by politicians and media and having their personal relationships destroyed by differences in religion, race, sexuality, and politics. It’s for those who want to find ways to communicate and cooperate beyond our most deeply rooted differences. It’s for those who realize that in the shared spaces of our society we have more to gain through mutual understanding than from the politics of polarization.

If you enjoy the fight or profit by it in money, votes, or clicks, you will not enjoy this book. While it’s not about linguistics per se, it is about speaking a language that dials down the anger and opens the door to listening to others as much as we want to be heard.

The idea for this book began with Bob Prater, a former pastor, lumber company manager, entertainment developer, and father of three daughters. He spends a lot of his time with people who have been marginalized—the poor, the LGBTQ community, and others who’ve been abused or fallen through the cracks of our society. He’s also been a bridge to the Muslim community in his own city of Bakersfield, California. His friendship with people in these groups, however, has caused great concern among his friends in the evangelical community.

Bob thought their combined experiences could help dispel the growing anger in our culture. In addition, Wayne is theologically and politically conservative, while Bob is more progressive on both scores. They have butted heads often on various issues, but through their conversations only grew closer as friends. Both disdain the polarizing rhetoric that has taken over the country.

Bob also had a third person in mind—a female politician in California who would bring more perspective to the conversation. Unfortunately, she bowed out in the end, and they began to seek another voice to enrich the content of the book. During that time, Wayne met with some people in a home in Dallas, Texas, when in walked Arnita Taylor, feigning frustration at having been passed over for the role of Papa in the movie The Shack, based on a book Wayne coauthored.

Arnita is an African-American woman from middle Tennessee, now living in a mostly white suburb. Arnita was trained as a laboratory chemist, raised two young men with her husband, earned a graduate degree in leadership development from Walden University, was employed in church ministry at a predominately white congregation, and is the founder of EIGHT Ministries (a consulting agency for leadership development).

During the meeting, comments were made displaying some insensitivity on racial issues. Before Wayne could jump in and help with any potential offense, Arnita spoke up. As Wayne recalled the conversation, in the most gracious way imaginable Arnita helped the room communicate more wisely and freely about racial differences. “Now, I’m not going to take offense to that,” Arnita would say, “but this is how others I know might hear that…” Her honesty and demeanor invited others into a conversation and added to an already enriching discussion. Wayne wondered at the time if she might be the third voice they were looking for.

Shortly after, Wayne called Bob and they discussed the possibility of adding Arnita to the authorship of A Language of Healing. After a few more meetings, it was clear that Arnita was the right fit for the project though they had no prior relationship with her.

Thus, began A Language of Healing… During the course of writing together not only was Arnita a valuable contributor, but she also became a treasured friend. As you’ll see, each chap- ter is written as a conversation between them, with sketches to help identify who is doing the talking in any given paragraph. Though framed as a conversation, the words were edited to flow seamlessly from paragraph to paragraph. However, in many cases, who was speaking was even more important than what was said to give the words context. You’re invited to eavesdrop on their conversation and, by doing so, are encouraged to learn a different language for your own relationships.

None of them claim to be an expert in the language of healing, though they are avid learners. They are three very ordinary Americans, who are tired of the polarized rhetoric and name-calling that surround issues of religion, politics, sexuality and race. They all enjoy a number of deep friendships with people who have very different views and experiences, and they appreciate what they learn in those relationships. This is their appeal for all of us to seek better ways to communicate with our family and friends in these critical areas.

They are not social scientists using formal qualitative or quantitative research. They are concerned citizens, learning from one another while adding their own personal narratives. They are not writing for the politicians and pundits in Washington, D.C., but to other people who don’t want differing perspectives to further divide us. They hope better dialogue and greater compassion will lead to more mutually satisfying answers to the problems we face.

None of them are trying to convince you their opinion is the right one, but rather they want to model how friends can talk through combustible issues. When you realize you don’t have to convince people you are right and they are wrong, you get to grow by appreciating that others look at the world differently. The substance of their conversation is in their mutual respect and the desire to find a common ground larger than their own preferences.

Try it. You’ll find that issues are more nuanced than you’ve been led to believe, and you may discover some rich friendships along the way. The book is divided into three main sections:

  • An opportune Moment. Why is this a particularly propitious moment to elevate the conversation, at least for the vast majority of Americans who are tired of those who manipulate them through fear and anger?
  • Five practices of a peacemaker. What does it take for someone to be in a conversation to help lower the heat and increase the level of communication, especially where we hold significantly different views?
  • Operating in shared space. Our deeply held views do not have to be subjugated to cooperate with others, we only have to look to make as much space for their views as we want for ours.

At the end of each chapter, you’ll find three suggestions you can use to practice the language of healing in your own day-to- day interactions. Choose any one of them and see how it can expand your ability to engage a wider variety of people.

We all win if you take one of the chapter topics to explore more deeply. We all win if your level of understanding increases even slightly. We all win if you take this book into a book club and have your own conversation about differences in our culture. We all win when these chapters are used as discussion starters in college classrooms or used in high school civics. We all win if you learn to listen better to people who see the world differently than you do.

The hope is that everyone who reads this will gain a little more awareness about themselves. You don’t have to agree with everything here, but if you can at least acknowledge the validity of varying perspectives and communicate about them more generously, you can help repair the rip in our societal fabric. Just maybe something you read will encourage you to more harmony and peace with your family, colleagues, and friends. Even better, you may learn something here that will give you the insight to solve a problem or repair a broken relationship.

Polarity damages people. The current atmosphere is saturated with disdain for one another. It’s time for a new approach that celebrates our common humanity.

“You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
— Anne Lamott

You can pre-order your copy of A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation here.

Book Launch Events Announced in Dallas and Los Angeles

A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation is the book we need at this critical moment in our history. At a time when many Americans are reduced to shouting past one another, the authors of this volume—three thoughtful, compassionate citizens—give us a roadmap to restore civility and respect across even our deepest differences. Filled with honest dialogue, inspiring stories, and practical advice, this compelling volume should be required reading for every American committed to seeking a common vision for the common good.

That endorsement was written by Dr. Charles C. Haynes, Founding Director of Religious Freedom Center of the Freedom Forum Institute in Washington, DC. I worked with Dr. Haynes back when I was helping work through social conflicts with BridgeBuilders.  He is a noted constitutional scholar, and I couldn’t be more grateful for his endorsement. I hope people take it to heart.  You can pre-order the book here.

Ok, this news is so hot off the presses, that we don’t even have all the details nailed down yet, but for your planning purposes, I wanted to make you aware of these gatherings in case you want to join us in Dallas or in Southern California.  It will be available November 19, and to celebrate its release we are having two celebrations, one in Dallas where one of the coauthors resides, and one in Southern California at Life Pacific University.  Mark your calendars if you want to join us. All three coauthors—Arnita Taylor, Bob Pater, and I—will be at all of these events and books will be available.

Dallas Book Launch – Sunday, November 17, 2019: We will be meeting at the Eventually Yours Event Venue, in North Hills Village at 7640 NE Loop 820 (at Boulevard 26) Suite 110, North Richland Hills, TX 76180. To accommodate those who want to come, we will be having one from 2:30 – 4:30, and repeat it from 5:00 – 7:30. You must RSVP to guarantee your space since the size is limited.  Click on the link for your preferred time to let us know you’re coming.

Seminar in the Language of Healing:  On the Saturday before, November 16, we will be taking a look at more in-depth skills as to how you can be a bridgebuilder in your own community. We will release details as soon as we have them, but we will host a six-hour training on Saturday from 9:30 – 4:00 pm. in Keller, TX. Arnita, Bob, and I will all be participating in this event. There is no cost for the other events, but we are going to ask for $50.00 for those who want to register for the training to contribute to the expenses involved. When you register you’ll receive an advance PDF copy of the book, and then a free book at the traiining.  Space is limited to the first forty people.  To register, please email me.

The following weekend we’ll be together again in Southern California

Southern California Book Launch will be in the chapel of Life Pacific University in San Dimas, CA on Saturday, November 22 from 1:30 – 4:30. If you’d like to join us, please RSVP here.

In addition, CultureBrave with Lisa Vitello is planning a Sunday Brunch for us to meet with their group on November 23 somewhere in Los Angeles in the late morning. You’d be welcome to join us there, too. We don’t have the weblink for that yet, but you can email me if you’re interested in attending and I’ll get you included.

Finally, it is not too late to join our Launch Team that is gathering right now in a private group on Facebook.  We are looking for five hundred people who will help us start some buzz about the book by pre-reading it and being ready to post reviews, blogs, Instagram and Facebook posts when it launches. We have procured a Launch Team Coordinator well-versed in the ways of using these algorithms to help people know about this book.

  1. Fill out this Google form:  https://forms.gle/1PEJrx9dYV34GerC8
  2. Click this link. https://www.facebook.com/groups/2448614108754741/  to join the launch team Facebook group!

Bob, Arnita, and I have been both blessed and a bit overwhelmed by the reception this book is getting by those who are pre-reading it and those that endorsed it. It seems like there is a great hunger to move from the animosity of our current national dialogue to conversations more gracious and more enlightening. We hope you will join us.

We Don’t Always Want What We Want

I am traveling through the south of Florida at the moment, having spent the weekend in Miami, and now headed up to the Sarasota/Tampa area for the weekend. Yesterday, I had an amazing lunch conversation reconnecting with someone I’d visited several years ago. He’d come here to plant house churches and ended up discovering that the church was more wild and wonderful than that could contain as well. He, too, is learning that life moves at the speed of relationships.

While we were eating, I sat facing the wall pictured above. We were in a restaurant called Ford’s Garage that commemorates the life of Henry Ford, who had a summer home near here, which just happened to be right next door to a summer home for Thomas Edison. Can you imagine the conversations they must have had together? Oh, to have been a fly on that wall…

Anyway, I was taken with this quote of Henry Ford’s: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” He had dreamed up something so much better, what people didn’t even know they wanted, and his automobile has taken over the world.

I wonder how many of our prayers sound like that to God. We are asking him for the thing we think we want when he has things in mind for us that are more wonderful than we can even conceive. Most of my prayers used to ask God to do things that would make me comfortable or happy, and he had things in mind that would radically change the way I think and live in the world. I’m so glad God did not answer most of my prayers the way I wanted him to. His ideas have proved to be so much better and higher than mine.

It made me think of my favorite line from the movie, Bruce Almighty. “Since when does anyone have a clue about what they want?” So true! We think we do, but then God works in other ways.

I’ve long thought that’s what Ephesians 3:20 is talking about. “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.” 

It doesn’t mean if I’m asking him for a three-bedroom house, he wants to give me a five-bedroom one. It merely means that what we want now is rarely what we would really want if we could see our lives through God’s eyes. We want comfort, ease, and a pain-free existence, he wants to invite us into the adventure of a lifetime that transcends all of those things to embrace his reality in a way that changes how we live in a broken world.

As I’ve continued on this journey, I am much more aware that what I thought I wanted wasn’t what I really wanted. Almost twenty years ago, I found myself saying to a friend, “Over the past few years, God has defied to the nth degree every expectation and desire I had for my life.”

“Is that a good thing?” he asked me.

I found myself answering, “It’s the best thing!” And it has been, though it often takes the added perspective of two or three years to pass so I can look back and see that what he was doing was far better than what I had in mind. It has led me on a path to The Deepest Freedom—freedom from the tyranny of my own best wisdom or my desires.

I’m glad that Jesus said the Father knows what we need even before we ask him. I’m relieved by that because I’m sure many of my prayers don’t make much sense to him. Now, if we could just relax and trust that in the present, we would be so much more at peace.

Do You Want to Help Launch My Latest Book?

They made me do it and laughed at me as they watched me squirm in anguish. All my protests only brought more laughter.

I have more social media than I can keep track of now, but the strategy for launching my newest book with co-authors Arnita Taylor and Bob Prater, A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation, is to add Instagram to my list of things to bug me all day long.  OK, that’s mostly humor.  Well, maybe half… or maybe not. Anyway if you want to join me on Instagram and follow the new book release, you can follow me at WayneatLifestream.

But I’m so excited to finally share this book with you. It will release November 19 and we’re planning some events in Dallas, TX to mark the release and to possibly do some training in helping cultivate conversations that tend toward healing. That will be the weekend of November 15-17. I’ll have more information out soon, but if you’d like to join us in Dallas from elsewhere in the world, you might want to put it on the calendar.  All of the authors will be there.

Also, I’m looking for people to join a launch team we’re assembling for this book. The book releases November 19, 2019, and I need help spreading the word. Want to know more?

Ideal launch team members…

  • …love to read.
  • …enjoy using Facebook.
  • …like to tell others about the books they are reading.
  • …are willing to share about new books on social media.
  • …are willing to write a review of the book on Goodreads and Amazon.
  • …are interested in changing the dialogue from the rhetoric of polarizing animosity that is destroying the social fabric of our nation to a language of healing, where honest differences don’t have to destroy friendships?

If this sounds like you, I would love to have you on the team! All launch team members will have access to a digital advance copy of the book in the official The Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation Launch Team Facebook group.

If you’d like to join the team, please follow these two easy steps:

  1. Fill out this Google form: https://forms.gle/1PEJrx9dYV34GerC8
  2. Click this link https://www.facebook.com/groups/2448614108754741/ to join the launch team Facebook group!

That’s it! I’ll see you in the group!

Life at the Speed of Relationships

No, that isn’t the new Lifestream plane, nor am I asking you to buy it for me. I got back last week from a delightful trip to the south. Spent the first weekend with a delightful family south of Atlanta. The whole family (seven kids and spouses) read He Loves Me and So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore one summer and all got together to discuss them and their implications on their own spiritual journeys. It was fascinating because they are all in different stages of working out what their engagement with the body of Christ looks like. We were also joined by a number of couples who had been in missions for a significant portion of their lives—in Israel, Thailand, and Honduras.

In addition, some of us played a round of golf. Then, the husband of the home I was staying in flew me up to Clemson in his small twin-engine plane for a week of writing out on Lake Jocassee. He even let me fly it for a big chunk of the way. It has been forty years since I’ve flown as pilot-in-command of an aircraft, though I’ve bummed a ride now and then since. My pilot on this trip is a senior Delta pilot as well as a general aviation enthusiast. As we made our final approach to the airport, he told me I was a natural and handled the plane so beautifully. I dreamed of flying even as a little child, got my pilot’s license when I was seventeen, but I just couldn’t afford to continue doing it avocationally. Though I don’t know what decisions I could have made, not finding a way to fly more is one of the regrets of my life. I love being above the earth in a small plane and bringing it down for a landing.

Then, we got to work on the third part of the Civil War-era novel a friend of mine has been writing for twenty years. I’ve been on it with him for about six. I talk to the author about it on this week’s podcast, as well as contemplating our own mortality. I’m hopeful you’ll get to read that book in the next year or so. But last week we had to cut the third section down significantly. It came in at 120,000 words, and we got it down to 47,000 without sacrificing the story. And in between we got in a bit of water skiing and jet ski tour of a waterfall on the lake. It was exhausting and exhilarating at the same time.

Then, I ended up in Damascus, VA – population 814. Seven trails in the Blue Ridge Mountains converge on this town, so it is a hiker’s paradise. What beautiful surroundings, and I got to spend some time with a wonderful couple who are friends with close friends of mine. We were also joined by people from other places in Virginia and North Carolina. We sat out on a large deck and talked the days and nights away. I love the mix of big conversations and then more personal ones with individuals who want some further insight.

One sentence came up in one discussion that I have reveled in since. “Life moves at the speed of relationships.” It immediately resonated with me, so I asked the person saying it, where he had gotten it. He said he thought it had been from a Philippine pastor. When I was talking to my hosts about it as they drove me to Charlotte I found out that my host, John Coleman, had come up with it. Since then, I’ve web-searched it to discover that others have said it as well.  Think about it for a moment. Most people I know don’t live by relationships. They live by achievement or survival, often ignoring or sabotaging relationships they do have. But real life moves at the speed of relationships.

What matters most are the friends you have, not the accolades on your wall. Relationships move slowly. You have to take the time to understand someone else’s story and they, your story. That has to spark a care and concern for each other that goes beyond just using them for something you want, and then you find your way to enjoyment, laughter, and tears together. Jesus lived that way. That’s why he didn’t lay out curricula or institutional plans. The world would not be saved by books or programs, but by loving relationships that allow transformation to happen.  I look back at my life and see that where I’ve lived by the speed of relationships, my life has been marked by joy and fulfillment. Achievement never leads to the same reality.  I’m going to think on that statement for a long time, and rest in that reality. True life does move at the speed of relationships. The Kingdom of God grows in the world at the speed of relationships. If we think there are short-cuts that violate the relationships in our life, we’ll be sorely disappointed at life’s end.  Too many people end up alone because they’ve never learned how to invest in relationships and reap the rewards of doing so.

My daughter, Julie, and I talk more about this on this week’s podcast at TheGodJourney.com.

I came back to a crazy week as we finalized all the files to get A Language of Healing to press. It has all come together so well and I’m thrilled for my two coauthors on it—Bob Prater and Arnita Taylor. It will be available on November 19 and you can pre-order at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, and most other places books are sold. The e-book will also be available at the same time and we haven’t made a decision about an audio book yet.

Finally, I leave this week for Florida where I will be conducting a seminar on The Freedom to Live Loved in Miami next weekend. We are going to talk about how differently we would live if we were completely at rest in the Father’s love. We’ll be focusing on (1) Recognizing How Father is Loving You, (2) Letting Him Win Your Heart, and  (3) Living Freely as a Beloved Child. If you’re nearby come and join us. And if you’re not, these will be taped and I will make them available afterwards through Lifestream.org. After that, I’ll be near Lake Worth, then over in the Sarasota and Tampa area. I still have some open time if you’re interested in connecting along the way.

The Prayer of Faith

I received an email last week from someone who had been recently diagnosed with a debilitating disease.  He told me what he was trying with some alternative treatments and with learning to pray in a way that supposedly can command healing.  I don’t think he had read any of my blog, helping Alan and his wife deal with terminal cancer.  If you missed it too, you can read it here.
I know what a scary thing it is to receive a diagnosis like ALS, Parkinson’s Disease, or Alzheimer’s, or multiple sclerosis. I’ve had people close to me deal with all of these, and each of them was looking for the secret that would unlock their healing, be it medical, quasi-medical, nutrition, or faith. At times I’ve seen God miraculously heal some of these and know that he has the power to do so. However, that has not always mostly been the case, no matter how hard people tried to get him to do so. He wasn’t sure why he wrote to me, but I wrote him back to share some of my perspective on this. It may be a good summary of my lengthy exchange with Alan as to what people might do when they face something like this and what might James have been referring to when he wrote about “the prayer of faith” in his epistle.
Here was my response: 
I’m so sorry to hear you’re dealing with this condition. I’m touched that you wanted to share this with me and I will be praying for the unfolding of God’s grace and glory in your life. My heart broke as I read this, but I do know that God is greater still, and that all of your life is in his hands and he will be gracious to you as the days ahead unfold.  I’m not sure why you wrote to me either, but my brother had multiple sclerosis, and my father-in-law had Parkinson’s disease, so your email strikes close to home. I get at least a bit of what you’re facing.  I don’t know if you want my feedback here, but given what you shared I’d feel remiss in not offering some thoughts.
When someone has a debilitating condition like yours, it is easy for desperation to set in and to seek any solution possible, even if it might have less than a 1% hope of healing you or improving your life. Many unscrupulous people (and some well-intentioned ones) will prey on that desperation, with overseas clinics and teaching seminars or books that will try to profit by giving you hope, even if it is a false hope. Both my brother and my father-in-law went to great extremes on the promise of some new cure often at a great personal cost both financially and in pain and discomfort. Other than what appeared to be a small placebo effect that lasted only briefly, none of those attempts panned out. They both tirelessly sought healing at every revival, faith healer, or new healing technique they heard about, again to no effect. They spent most of those years in the frustrating pursuit of a healing that never came, and the disappointment that somehow God didn’t deem them worthy of the miracle they sought. Only toward the end of their lives did they come to rest and trust in the Father’s provision for them.
I do not say any of this to discourage you, so please hear me out. I believe in a God who heals. I’ve seen him heal incredible things and rejoice whenever he does. However, that healing is not in our hands; it’s in his. I don’t know why some are healed in this life and others are refined through their trying circumstances. I am convinced of this, though: we do not have the power to “believe enough” or to “command healing” in any way that will guarantee the outcome we seek. If so, then, in the end, our trust would only be in our own ability to work God enough to get him to give us what we want. I find that characterization of God now to be well beneath him. What kind of Father is that?
I have a Father now that I can trust with anything. The “prayer of faith” doesn’t arise from desperation, but from our growing security in the Father’s affection for us, with or without the disease. Otherwise, the disease over time will become the test of love. I’ve seen it happen to too many people I care about. “If he heals me, I know I’m loved; if not, I am left to question whether he really does.”
I’d rather see you put your trust in him and find your hope there. It’s a process, and he can show you how. He has a way through this for you. It may include healing it completely; it may be working through it to let his glory shine out of your weakness. I have no idea, but if I were you, I’d rather wake up every morning and put my whole life in his hands, asking him to teach me to trust him and to show me whatever his plans might be for me. Then I can watch to see how he works in my life as each day unfolds. Then there will be grace enough to endure what comes and to celebrate his life, however he makes himself known. By all means, do the medical things that are clear to do, but don’t get caught up in the lie that there is a certain process you need, a specific prayer to be prayed, a level of belief you have to reach that will turn the tide and finally get God to heal you. So many people waste their lives on such pursuits and miss what God is doing right in front of them today—the people he gives you to love, the wisdom he wants you to share with another, or the way he’s expressing his love to you.
If there is something he wants you to learn or a way to pray that will make a difference, trust him to show you and to guide you to it. You will best see that out of growing trust, not the desperation of “I have to do something, even if there’s a small chance it will work.” Or, the fear that if I don’t try something, it may have been the key that I needed.  These are fear-based and will have you chasing the false hope of a mirage on the horizon.
He loves you. That you can trust. You can learn to rest in that reality and trust him to lead you however he most desires your path to unfold, and in that space, you’ll be able to see more clearly how he is with you in this.
The prayer of faith arises from growing trust in God’s ability, in his plans even if I can’t see them, and in his care for me whether it be in healing or endurance. I’ve seen people powerfully transformed by both. That’s what trust does, instead of us having to find the key to make God do what we desire, we find the freedom to ride the current with him to whatever end best serves his purpose on the earth.
I used to say, “I trust you, God, to heal this or change that.” I don’t anymore. If I’m trusting God for an outcome, I’m not really trusting him. I can trust him without even knowing the outcome and live in the grace and leading he gives me day by day. I’m praying you do, too.

After a Marvelous Summer…

I’ve been in Sara’s presence every day for the last four months, as long a stretch as I can remember over the last twenty years. Any travel I did, we did together and it has been wonderful, even though the reason for doing so was to finish up a couple of books and help some friends in Wyoming launch a new publishing company. It also allowed some great children and grandchildren time too. Next week I head out again to spend some time with people who are exploring various facets of learning to live in the Father’s affection and to explore relational community in a way that lets Jesus’ church take shape wherever we are.

I’ll begin my first trip with a quick weekend in Atlanta, GA, and then head out to Lake Jocassee during the week to finally finish my third book this summer—a novel set during the Civil War that a dear friend of mine has been writing for the past eight years. After that, I head up to Damascus, VA for a weekend and then back to Charlotte for one night before I fly home. If you’re in the area, and hunger for some connection, come join us.

Then in October, I’m doing a seminar in Miami, FL called The Freedom to Live Loved. How would I live differently today if I was completely at rest in the Father’s love for me? I’ll be covering what I’ve discovered about that over the last ten years as the fruit of what I wrote in He Loves Me. We’ll have two sessions on Saturday and one on Sunday. Then I’ll make my way over to Sarasota, FL toward the middle of the week, then finish up Sunday north of Tampa.  If you want more details on any of these stops, please find the appropriate link on my Travel Schedule.

I also carried on a lengthy correspondence with someone dealing with healing and the death of his spouse. With his permission, I’ve shared that exchange in twelve installments on this blog. If you missed it, you can start it here. The response from people reading it and how it’s impacted them in the face of their loss or unanswered prayers, has been overwhelming. I’m grateful for every one.

Here’s one I got the other day:

I’ve just finished reading Part 7 of your correspondence with Alan. You mentioned, in either Part 6 or Part 7, that you hoped the words you both exchanged would touch others as well. I can assure you that they have and continue to. All of our circumstances differ, but the rock solid foundational truths of the love of God are universal to us all. I had believed as Alan does that God could have (should have) fixed whatever problem was current. If there was no “fix” forthcoming clearly my faith was too small. The other day I believe I saw a truth… “if I have faith as a mustard seed”…there is a current song that says “they say if I have little faith, I can move mountains… good thing, little faith is all I have.”

I saw that, having passed through grief in the past, it is precisely at those times that my faith is so precious and that God knows in those moments how we struggle. I am left standing with only the knowledge that God loves me and that He is good, in everything, and always. He is not saying “shame on you, your faith is so small.” He is saying “I see your faith and I do love you, come to Me.”

Thank you from a very grateful woman. Just a thought, if possible, you could put all of the episodes in book form. They truly are wonderful.

Many have made that same suggestion, so people can read that exchange more easily. I am considering it, but too busy to do much about it at the moment.

One of the books I finished was a rewrite for a friend in France, but her family has decided to go a different direction. The other one we’ll be releasing in November this year. It is called A Language of Healing for a Polarized World. The subtitle is:  Creating safe environments for conversations about race, politics, sexuality, and religion. It is a collaboration of three people—Arnita Taylor (a leadership development specialist from Dallas, TX), Bob Prater (a former pastor from Bakersfield, CA who hosts a podcast called A Christian and a Muslim Walk Into a Studio), and myself.

This book looks to invite, inform, and ignite people to learn a new language to communicate generously across political and religious lines. Drawn from my 25 years of experience with my work at BridgeBuilders, Arnita’s heritage growing up as an evangelical black woman in Tennessee, and Bob, born in a racist home, has a passionate ministry to reach out to marginalized people with the love of God and has profound connections to the poor, the sexually marginalized, the Muslim community, and blacks in his community. This book doesn’t resolve our policy differences but helps to create an environment in which those differences can be discussed to better solutions than either side proposes. It is not written to change the culture in Washington (though we hope it helps), but to help people navigate the relationships around them in a way that promotes healing instead of the angry vitriol so prevalent in our culture.

I got this review of it just this morning:

A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation is the book we need at this critical moment in our history. At a time when many Americans are reduced to shouting past one another, the authors of this volume–three thoughtful, compassionate citizens–give us a roadmap to restore civility and respect across even our deepest differences. Filled with honest dialogue, inspiring stories and practical advice, this compelling volume should be required reading for every American committed to seeking a common vision for the common good.

Dr. Charles C. Haynes. Founding Director
Religious Freedom Center of the Freedom Forum Institute

We are already getting some amazing endorsements from around the country I can’t wait to share with you.  That will come soon.

And to publish that book, I’ve been helping Kyle and Jess, some dear friends of ours, launch a new media company. They’ve been on some podcasts with me at The God Journey and will be more so, not to promote books, but to help make a lot of what we discuss here more accessible for those in their 20s and 30s. I’m excited to see where that might go.

So, this has been both a full and a fulfilling season. Now, it’s time to hit the road again.

 

When You Don’t Get the Miracle You Want, Part 12

This is the last posting of our continuing story of Alan and Lynn that began as In the Shadow of Death. Despite their best theological certainty that God would heal her, Lynn passed away from metastasized breast cancer. Alan is left to deal not only with his grief, but also with his view of a God he was certain would heal her.

You can read from the beginning starting here.

From Alan, July 31, 2019 (96 days after first email):

This has been a series of awful days as far as the devastation of grief is concerned. The reality of Lynn being dead is so horrific. I am quickly losing hope and lacking any reason to have it. God is silent. I am all alone in this world. People respond, “Oh, Alan, you’re not alone.” But I realized the other day that I do not know anyone in Lynn’s and my peer group that has ever lost a spouse. Many of them have lost a parent or friend but no spouses. I’m glad for them. I would not wish this on anyone. But at the end of the day, no one knows what to say.

Hope is non-existent.

I have been listening to some of your messages online trying to convince myself that God is not punishing me. Then my mind goes to all the ways I was unfaithful to the precious gifts God gave me. I never committed adultery with another woman, but in my position as a part-time disc jockey at a big country music station, I had myriad opportunities to flirt with women who called in to my show and flirted with me. I have done and thought and fantasized things that said, “Father God, I do not appreciate this precious woman.” Things that I looked at online were a disgrace to my wife.

So, here I am. Harvest time for Alan. Wife dead. God knows all of these things, and I feel that I am reaping corruption that comes from sowing to the flesh.

Your message is “living loved.” How can he “interact with me as His beloved,” and sit by in silence as my wife dies? Knowing He could have healed her in this realm with a breath or a word or a thought and yet when I poured my heart out in prayer, when Lynn poured hers out in prayer, He essentially said, “No.” How is that love at any level? Are we as believers – as his children – only to expect that he’ll be there to help us pick up the pieces when life crashes, but not to intervene to keep things from shattering?

Why did the apostles say to pray? We have a God, a Father. Isn’t there some benefit associated with that that unbelievers do not have? God let Lynn die. He took her. Yes, she is blessed beyond measure and likely not even aware of my pain. But he could have healed her here; he didn’t. I’m left in an avalanche of empty, lonely searing pain. I try to pray for others who are going through battles with cancer, and I wonder what is the use?

The other day I was listening to a teaching and how God delivered Israel from Egypt after 400 years of bondage. 400 years! What about those who lived and died and essentially had their cries for freedom ignored during all those years? At the end of the day, God is sovereign and will do what He wants when He wants, and we are best served by living with no expectation of answered prayer. We can only hope that we don’t end up too broken. My mistake was having too much hope and faith.

Paul went through tribulation. The apostles died horrific deaths. Where is the hope, the evidence in this life that having a Heavenly Father is even real? When does my mourning turn to joy? When will He give me gladness for sorrow? Lynn loved God and trusted Him, and I am confident even in her pain and death, she never had these cynicisms that I have. Her heart was never tainted with what she didn’t understand nor with the questions that I had. She often told me in frustration to trust God when I would be at a crossroads. But, it seems that we are just to shut up and try to be obedient and never get our hopes up even though we are supposed to have faith to please Him.

Wishing I could tell her “Happy Birthday” again in this life,

My response

I know, Alan, and my heart breaks for you this morning.

The first year of grief is always the most painful—first birthday, first anniversary, first holidays, first vacation, all the things you do the first time without her will feel hollow and horrible. Grief comes in waves. That’s why you’ll have good days, where you think you might be getting beyond it, and then WHAM! A special day, a memory, a place you both thought special, or a random rush of pain will cross your path, and the grief rushes back in. Take hope in this, the painful days will, in time, grow less intense and less often, and the better days of celebrating the love you shared will grow more frequent, sweeter, and more prolonged.

The only way through this is through it. Great wisdom, eh? As much as you might want to run from it, embrace it. One person said when the darkness overwhelms you don’t chase the sunset because you’ll never catch it. The fastest way to the light is to head toward the sunrise, away from the setting sun and the light will yet appear again, sooner if you head east than if you chase it hopelessly to the west.

How I wish you could just grieve on the days that seem so dark and invite your loving Father into that grief! Instead, what you believe about God takes you to a different place. Instead of having God as a comforting presence inside your pain, you beat yourself up for every bad thing you’ve ever done or mistakes you’ve ever made. Do you really think God would kill your wife to punish you for something you did wrong? Do you really think God would say, “You looked at another woman years ago, so I gave your wife cancer?”

Is that how you interpret sowing and reaping, that reaping is God giving you a penalty for some weakness or failure? Can you appreciate that when your mind goes into that dark hole, it will seem as if God is silent, even when he is not? His beckoning to you with great compassion is drowned out by the way you view him.

I can assure you the God who loves you was not silent through any of this. Unheard, maybe, because some things you’ve believed about him made it difficult to sense what he was saying to you, especially in the crisis you were in. In the flood of great waters, we can lose sight of who he is because we are so focused on our disappointment or feeling betrayed. I’ve tried to reflect some of what he has been speaking to you in my words through these many emails, and you have recognized that at times. He has been there with you. My words have just been imperfect reflections of the deeper love and wisdom in his heart for you. That’s why I struggle so against religious thinking that puts God on the other side of our pain, as the cause of it whether it be through punishment or “allowing it” through a lack of concern. I reject both of those.

You were not the cause of Lynn’s cancer; this is not punishment from him. Jesus took all of that for us. If he’s still punishing you for your mistakes or imperfections, then Christ died in vain. Sowing and reaping are not about punishment for past actions, but the simple consequences we face for the choices we make. Sow generosity, reap generosity. Sow indulgence, reap emptiness and pain.

I pray you can come to see God as the one who loves you more than anyone on this planet ever has or ever will. I want you to see Jesus as the loving Shepherd teaching us to live in the increasing freedom of the Father’s reality and growing us out of the places we got stuck and twisted. None of our failures surprise him, and none of them cut us off from his love. All of us can go back in our lives and pick out every mistake, bad thought, sinful action, or indulgence and think any of them exclude us from his love and care, but it still isn’t true. He’s the only one that can shape the trajectory of our lives and draw us out of the darkness and into the light. We won’t hear him do that if he’s condemning us for the darkness.

He celebrates our progress toward the light, not holding our past mistakes against us. How could we grow if he did? Ask him to help you let go of the past, not the good parts, but the mistakes and failures. You are his child—today! He is the rescuer in your story. No, that rescue did not include Lynn’s healing in this world to our great disappointment, but she has it now in another. And now he wants to rescue you through the grief and reveal himself to you in ways you’ve never imagined.

Don’t stay in the past, focused on your failures. Wake up every morning in the fresh mercy of a loving Father. Follow him each day in the simple things he nudges your heart towards. He will lead you beyond the grief to all that he still has planned for you in your days on this earth. Let who he really is sink in past your disillusionment with him. You are being dis-illusioned. You had illusions about God that were never going to serve you well. He wants you to know him as he really is, and that is far better than either of us could conceive.

So, lean into love, Alan. It will be there for you every day. He’s closer than we know. Ask him to open the eyes of your heart to what is true of him, and for the God of all comfort to hold you in those moments you despair of life, just like Paul did (2 Corinthians 1).

I’m praying, too, Alan. I think you’re making significant progress, but I know that may be tough to see from where you sit, especially today.

———————————————————–

This is the last blog I’m going to do in this series. Alan and I have continued to be in touch, and I see signs of new life springing up in him as he continues to move forward. What’s more important is that he does, too. Here are a couple of snippets he sent me toward the end of August.

… I had a cool moment yesterday as I was going through some of her CDs and found the original one where I first heard you. You were in Wisconsin talking about living loved, and it is terrific. I’m listening to it multiple times, which seems to be a habit I’ve developed of late – listening to teachings that minister to me over and over.

… I am in a weird place. I am still grieving hard for my sweet bride. But I feel like God is putting me back together. A friend spoke to me and said that they felt like God was showing them that I am like a big tree that has had the bark blown off, and that has been nearly obliterated. But there is still a deep root. And that root is springing forth new life, and the tree will grow again. I don’t know, but I am thankful more and more for Lynn and her strong, steadfast faith.

If there’s a significant development here that extends the story, I will add it in a future blog. But I think Alan is finding his footing again and it will just take time for the grief of Lynn’s passing to be overwhelmed by the new creation that will continue to spring up in Alan’s journey. I want to thank “Alan” for giving me permission to share his emails, and thus his vulnerability and pain, with all of us. There were some raw moments in there that were real, and I know they resonated with many of you as you sort out God’s goodness in the face of him not doing what you thought love, or your theological convictions, would compel him to do. Our best intentions and misguided expectations can so easily block out our ability to sense his presence and see his fingerprints unfold in our days.

Every week my inbox is full of people facing horrible tragedies, and it is also filled with lots of stories of people who have been through those tragedies and come out on the other side more alive in Christ than ever and more transformed to embrace who God really is. Finding our security in his love, especially when the foundations of our lives are shaken, is quite a process. Pain has a way of dulling our spiritual senses, but God’s Spirit is even better at helping us embrace reality and find that God is bigger than our disappointments in him.

Dave Coleman, my co-author on So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore, often tells me that he thinks 90% of Christians live with an undercurrent of anger towards God for not answering their prayers. Many have lost children, spouses, marriages, businesses, or friends in sickness, accidents, betrayal, or just unforeseen circumstances that sidetrack our joys or hopes.

The only absolute reality is that we are deeply loved by the God who made us and he wants to be inside the most brutal moments of our lives with us, helping us resolve our pain and draw closer to him. To do that, it will help if we lean on him at such times and not push him away by our false judgments about him or his motives toward us. He can handle our honesty, our disappointments, and our fears and walk us out to a place of freedom. That’s not a given, however. Brutal times can make us defensive, bitter, and isolated, or they can open our hearts to compassion, humility, and transformation.

I don’t believe God causes sickness and disease or withholds healing to make us better people, to punish us for our past mistakes, or to teach us much-needed lessons. He doesn’t have to. This broken Creation causes pain enough for all of us in various seasons. How we navigate them inside his care is way more important than trying to figure out why they happen, or why he doesn’t fix them the way we want.

I have been overwhelmed with email, blog comments, and FB postings that many of you have shared as this story has touched something in your own journey. I do think we’d be better off if we talked openly about these things—prayer, healing, death, disappointments. And our own mortality. Growth comes in such exchanges.

On this side of the Resurrection, we are all mortal. Until Jesus comes again, you and everyone you know will die. That’s how we get from this realm into the next. Death is so excruciating for those it leaves behind because of the vacuum it creates when their love and presence departs.

We forget, however, that for those who die in Christ, it is just the beginning of the greatest adventure ever into the unrestrained depths of God’s love!

When You Don’t Get the Miracle You Want, Part 11

This is part eleven of our continuing story of Alan and Lynn that began as In the Shadow of Death. Despite their best theological certainty that God would heal her, Lynn passed away from metastasized breast cancer. Alan is left to deal not only with his grief, but his view of a God he was certain would heal her.

You can read from the beginning starting here.

From Alan July 25, 2019 (90 days after first email):

So, think of this: A decade or more ago, Lynn and I were driving somewhere on vacation. She popped in. a CD and I asked, “Who is this?”

She said, “Wayne Jacobsen.”

I was intrigued immediately as you were describing to the group how you lived your life led by the Spirit and therefore couldn’t commit to a speaking engagement you had been invited to a year ahead.

A few years later, you were in Raleigh at the North Ridge Country Club and Lynn, and I got to drive you to lunch. We were so thankful for 5 minutes of personal time, even though we didn’t get into anything “deeply spiritual.”

At the time, I was going through a radical change in my understanding of the Gospel. Different folks have different parts of the revelation of the Gospel that God is restoring to the church. You have a unique experience, and I have always been impressed that you stay in what God has shown you. You’re not trying to be someone else or preach their revelation.

In this respect, I had a chance to be at a gathering again in Raleigh at some folks’ house a few years ago. I sent you a Facebook message afterward that I was so impressed at how many hurting people were in that gathering.

Fast forward to April 2019, I read Ending the Daisy Petal Game < https://www.lifestream.org/ending-the-daisy-petal-game/>, and I felt like emailing you (and honestly, did not think you’d respond just because you are so busy.) You did reply and Wayne, I know beyond the shadow of all doubt that God used you and is using you to get me through this horror. (I still call it that although I’m not sure how much longer I will stay in that mindset.)

And here we are in July 2019. I selfishly hope that something like, “Hey Alan, I’ll be nearby and have a couple of days with a light schedule. Want to get together?” But, if not, then perhaps you will keep letting God use you. I cannot stress enough that He is using you.

I was re-reading some of our chats from when Lynn was still alive. Of course, the torrent of tears returned. I thought back to how amazed I was that you would take time to respond to me in an ongoing manner. I was thinking you’d get tired of me and my cynicism and either stop responding.

What I am saying is that ten or so years ago God knew all of this and prompted Lynn to play that CD and prompted us to go to North Ridge and prompted and prompted and here we are. Thank you for being you. Thank you for being available.

My response:

Isn’t it amazing how God works? He’s knitting things together from a decade ago because he knew you’d need help in this season. If that doesn’t make you feel overwhelmingly loved and that he has had his eyes on you both this whole time, I don’t know what else will. This is miraculous to me. Not the kind of flashy stuff you’d put on TV but seeing his hand in the long trajectory of our lives.

And while you were wondering if God’s love was real because of what you watched your wife endure, he was already surrounding both of you with the love you needed to get through this. Of course, it was easy to miss because it wasn’t the expression of love you wanted. So much of my life has sorted out this way, too. I’m trying to get God to do what I think is best, and he’s already doing what he knows is best. I’ve learned after disappointments too numerous to count, that there is so much joy to be had, even in this broken world, by watching what he is doing, instead of trying to manipulate him into what I think he should do.

Let’s keep that availability thing on the down low, however. Unfortunately, there’s no way I can have an exchange like this with everyone going through a brutal time. I get overwhelmed with email and connections all the time, but over the years, I’ve learned to trust Father’s ability to manage my time. I don’t protect myself with secretaries or administrative people. I try to answer every email I get as lovingly as I can, even though most are far shorter than we have exchanged. And I try to give my full attention to whoever wants to talk with me.

I’ve had a few others like this that have gone this length because I felt God was in it and often times that spills over to others as well as it will on the blog. I’ve gotten so much feedback from our exchanges. Many have said this subject matter is rarely talked about so openly, especially in the context of a real event. Mostly, Christian speakers use hypotheticals to make his point, or take a singular event and try to stretch it into a universal principle.  We had no idea where this would go when it began, but that’s where life is really lived.

Blessings on you today, my Friend. May God’s love overwhelm your grief more and more every day and take you on to all the life he still has for you.

To be continued…  (We’re almost done here. I think there will be one more in this series unless something changes.)

Read on to Part Twelve here.

 

The Old Testament Story Not to Be Missed

A friend sent me this book, The Gift of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels by Thomas Cahill. It’s not a new book, having been initially published in 1998, but this is the first I’d heard of it. To be honest, I wasn’t excited to read a historian’s perspective of the Old Testament but was I ever wrong. I started this book on vacation, and I could not put it down.

This is the best overview of the Old Testament story from a historical perspective that I’ve ever read, and I don’t say that lightly. While I didn’t agree with every conclusion he makes, he tells the most compelling story of how God revealed himself to desert nomads and how, in doing so, he transformed the course of human history. None of these changes would have happened through normal evolutionary processes, which only makes it more evident that God intervened to reveal himself and his purpose to them.

Unfortunately, many people have given up reading the Bible because it has been laced with such guilt and condemnation by legalistic religious leaders, and others never dare to look in the Old Testament except to read a Psalm or two. Both groups are missing a fantastic narrative of how God began to reveal himself in the world, first to a person, then to a family, then a tribe, and finally to a nation. No, they didn’t always understand him and often misinterpreted his intentions. But over the centuries, they were confronted with the presence of a God who loved them, and who invited them to move beyond caring about their own survival, to create a culture with a generous heart for the poor, the orphan, the widow and the foreigner in their own land.

Many of the conclusions he draws you will also find in The Jesus Lens, over nine hours of video teaching about how to read Scripture through the lens of Jesus’ life and teaching. In doing so, we see the progressive revelation of God that grew over thousands of years for a more complete picture of who God is and why he acts in our world. This book and that series would make a great companion.

Here are some excerpts from his closing chapter. I hope they create enough curiosity for many of you to pick up this book. You won’t regret it.

“Where are the Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians today? And though we recognize Egypt and Greece as still belonging to our world, the cultures and ethnic stocks of those countries have little continuity with their ancient namesakes. But however miraculous Jewish survival may be, the greater miracle is surely that the Jews developed a whole new way of experiencing reality, the only alternative to all ancient worldviews and all ancient religions. If one is ever to find the finger of God in human affairs, one must find it here.”

“To me at least, the most satisfying way to read the Bible is to see it as a collection of varied documents, each showing us the same revelation at different stages of development but capable of bringing us at last to a processive, personalist faith in a completely mysterious God.”

“We are the undeserving recipients of this history of the Jews, this long, excessive miraculous development of ethical monotheism without which our ideas of equality and personalism are unlikely ever to have come into being and surely would never have matured the way they have.”

It leans a bit on the academic side, but the content will add a rich foundation to understanding how God went about making himself known in the world.

 

When You Don’t Get the Miracle You Want, Part 10

This is part ten of our continuing story of Alan and Lynn that began as In the Shadow of Death. Now Lynn has passed away from metastasized breast cancer in the face of a promise they both held in their hearts for her healing. Alan is left to deal not only with his grief, but his view of a God he was certain would heal her.

You can read from the beginning starting here.

From Alan July 22, 2019 (87 days after first email):

I’ve been trying to understand what you’re saying, and I guess I so want there to be a benefit to having a God as opposed to not having one. I find myself clinging to Scripture that seems to impart black and white promises, but at the same time totally befuddled that the promise does not seem to actually work. “If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, you shall ask what you will, and it will be done for you.” No qualifiers. No, “Yeah, but…” Just the King of Kings making a statement. But it did not work for Lynn and me. I am convinced that we both abided in Him and that His word abided in us. So, either that is not black and white, or I don’t understand what Jesus meant, or something is amiss in what Christianity is offering. I’m not ready to deduce that Christianity is not true—I hope I am going to Heaven when I die—although I think I told you I have a fear of having committed the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit when I was a kid.

But we really have no assurance of anything else. Scripture says that the promises of God are yes and amen in Christ Jesus. What does that mean for someone whose wife is dying and believing that those promises are yes and amen—including the healing ones—only to have her die in front of him?

Our (I’m still using us and our) pastor’s wife is a cancer survivor. He prayed for Lynn and ministered to us in extraordinary ways. Suddenly we got the news in church that his wife had to have emergency surgery to remove a tumor from her head and that there is cancer in her lungs. He was serving communion and reminding the church that “by His stripes, we are healed,” and I did not mean to be cynical, but I said under my breath, “Lord, I hope it works for him.” My heart is breaking for him and what his family has to go through again after having beaten it once years ago.

I’m not sure how to pray anymore for people when I used to be a prayer warrior, fervently storming heaven with a strong faith in Scriptures’ promises. Now, I just can’t because I know that there is not the weight that I used to believe was in those verses. God may or may not answer my prayers regardless of what the Bible says, so why bother? I know that is not an attitude I need to have, especially as one trying to live the call of God out in ministering to others.

I miss Lynn terribly. I have had three occasions this past week wherein I had fallen asleep on the couch after work, and I woke up suddenly with the strong impression that I had to get things ready because Lynn was going to be home from work soon. Then, of course, the brutal reality set in once I was fully awake. I guess this is normal when grieving.

Reading your answer to my why-pray question makes me see the faith as kind of a downer—sort of a “better get what he wants right” mentality. I have discovered the grace and love of God and do not see him that way. I see him as coming to give life and life more abundantly. And I know that Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy. I guess he killed Lynn, stole Lynn from me and destroyed our marriage. You would say, “No! No! No!” But I sure do not see much life and life more abundantly in my precious bride dying of cancer and going through the suffering she did. I do not see how the grace and love of God fit into this.

Can I be blunt? People say, “God will get you through.” “Turn to Him.” Yet, Wayne, he is the one who allowed Lynn to die, who did not grant our requests for healing. How can I find solace there?

I’m sorry. I guess I should be getting it by now. Eight and a half weeks and I’m still asking and saying cynical things. I’m sorry.

My Response:

Please don’t be sorry. I appreciate what you are going through, and honesty is the only way to grow through all of this.

This is all part of the grieving process, for sure. Eight and a half weeks is nothing. I’ve woken up overseas, not remembering where I was and turned toward Sara only to be reminded, she was a few thousand miles away. Waking up is being reminded of reality again. I’m so sorry you’re going through it. Death of a beloved spouse or child is as painful as it gets in this world, which means we only need him even more. I’m so sorry your past theology is not serving you well here. It’s not the best time to look beyond it, with all the grief you’re facing, but there is a way to view all this that will make your sorrow less dominating.

The benefit to having God at times like this is so that we can draw on his strength, wisdom, and presence to help us navigate through the brokenness of this world. If he just gave us everything we wanted, then we would be our own god and he our servant, and the world would make no sense at all. He does have your best interests at heart, and though that’s hard to believe when our most noble expectations have been disappointed, it is nonetheless true.

He is at work in this horrific situation to work good out of what the enemy intended for evil. I sat with the widow of my best friend, who passed away over ten years ago. She said that as hard as losing her husband has been, she is grateful for all God has done in her heart through it. “I am a different person now,” she said, “and I’m so grateful not that he died, but what he has changed in me.” Lynn’s passing is not the end for you, either. God has life and joy ahead.

As to your question, we do look at these Scriptures very differently. There’s not much in our reasoning that is so clearly black and white, when it comes to how God works. We have tried to teach people “certainty” from Scripture for the last couple of centuries and have lost the mystery of a transcendent God. “If you abide in me and my words abide in you…” is the most significant qualifier ever. I know you think you have that down. I used to think I did, too, but there may be a great lesson in these words. Instead of asking for whatever we want and thinking Scripture is false if we don’t get it, perhaps we could see that as an encouragement to lean into him more deeply. It’s not a lack of love on his part, but a lack of perspective on ours. And I don’t mean by that that we weren’t close enough to get the miracle we wanted but to see a larger purpose unfolding in his reality, even in our pain and disappointment. I have nowhere else to go when my hopes are disappointed. His love is the only sure thing in the universe, and when I start there, I can see how he works good out of everything, even the things I find abhorrent.

I don’t see his “word abiding in us” as referring to my understanding of the Scriptures. He’s referring to us living inside his purpose as he reveals it inside our growing relationship. That’s the wider context of Scripture. God is not here to give us everything we want, but to draw us into his reality so we can be shaped by his purpose. That’s where the fullness of joy comes in a broken world. And yes, I know those words sound hollow now. Can there be any joy without Lynn? Yes, there can, and there will be. She was a part of your life for a long season; she has a legacy in your heart that will last your whole life long. But there is life abundant beyond her presence. Yes, impossible to see now, but I’ve seen him do it in tragedies like this with so many people. All our dreams were never going to be fulfilled here. The cry in our hearts is for eternity. Life here is a brief snippet of all God wants for both of you.

I don’t think Jesus meant to promise all of us that as long as we were good Christians and knew the Scriptures well, we could claim whatever we want and he would get it, even if we think it is something clearly promised in Scripture. That has never worked for anyone I’ve ever known. I don’t think it worked in the New Testament, either. Remember, Jesus only did the things he saw the Father doing. His power came from the work of the Spirit inside of him. He wasn’t claiming promises; he was being carried by the wind of the Spirit. The larger context of Scripture is always how we learn to trust our Creator and live inside of his unfolding purpose on a fallen planet. God hasn’t promised to give us everything we’d ever want. If that were true, Christians would be wealthy, never be sick, and none of them would have ever died.

“By his stripes, we are healed,” is not a guarantee of physical healing whenever we can work the keys right. Of course, it includes healing here, which I believe in and have witnessed, but it also includes the ultimate healing of freedom from these broken bodies, and from the war of flesh and spirit. Lynn is completely healed today in a way that your spirit still yearns to experience. She didn’t get second best. Can you even imagine what she saw the moment she opened her eyes in eternity? I doubt she’d want to come back here even if she could. And, she also knows how all this pain in your heart is transforming something in you that will bear great fruit for the kingdom in which she now dwells. I’m sure, too, she’s looking forward to the day you show up there, but there’s no impatience now in her.

And honestly, how often did people get the miracle they wanted when you were “a prayer warrior, fervently storming heaven with a strong faith in the Scriptures.” I used to live there too until I saw what happened to those I prayed for who didn’t get the miracle they hoped for? I know many went away doubting God, or themselves, or the truth of Scripture. Things really come into focus when you have a stake in the outcome. This can all be an amazing place of growth for you. God doesn’t become less real when we don’t get all we want, but even more real and we become part of his purpose in the world as partners in the process. This world isn’t about our comfort or even external happiness, but the deeper joy of being connected to him regardless of what this broken world hurls our way.

I never assume I know what God wants with any degree of certainty. I’ve been wrong too many times. I listen and follow as best I can each day and learn what I can of the ways in which God works so that I can flow with him. Prayer is that process of discerning, and the outcome of our circumstances is part of that as well. It’s not about God “may or may not answer” the way Scripture seems to say. He always answers true to his nature and purpose. All his promises are real but in ways far grander than we can see as limited as we are in space, time, and wisdom.

This world is a war zone. Not everything happens the way God would want it to. Free will, evil, the enemy are also all in play, and though God eventually wins over them all, those enemies are still being subdued under his feet. You know I don’t believe that God “allowed” Lynn to die. I don’t think God makes choices like that the way we see it from our limited perspective. If we could see it through his eyes, the landscape would be entirely different. I know what it looks like to you, I just don’t think it’s true. I can’t draw all the logical lines here; I simply trust the one who has captured my heart, who loves me more than anyone else ever has, and will bring everything together under the authority of his Son.

Hang in there, my friend. All of this is doing good work in you, but like the seed shooting roots into the soil, not much of it is visible right now. Don’t assume you know the outcome and try to protect yourself with conclusions you’re not ready to reach yet. He is having his work in you, and though it is through great pain, it will set you free in ways you can’t imagine yet.

When people ask me, “How did you get where you are today in your walk with Christ?” my answer is always, “Kicking and screaming!” In my younger days, I wanted God to be different than he turned out to be, but I discovered that he is way better than the one I wanted him to be. I think Paul described it as “far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.” That’s what you’re discovering now. The side you’re on now is painful because it’s not what you were taught or what you want. But the other side of it will become truly wondrous. Things will begin to make more sense as God transits your life through the brokenness of this world and into the glorious freedom he always wanted for you.

Then you’ll see all those promises you quote in a very different light. They are not untrue; they are more accurate than you can imagine at this point.

To be continued…

Read on to Part Eleven here.

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The Transformative Power of Living Loved

This is probably one of the best podcast interviews I’ve ever had the joy to participate in. And, not because I was particularly brilliant but because the host was so hungry to interact on the content of He Loves Me. I couldn’t have been more surprised. I usually don’t do things targeted to men because so much of “men’s ministries” are filled with performance and accountability.

This one wasn’t. The host, Jim Ramos, had not read my book previously, and when he did, it hit him right where he is on his own journey. He wanted to process what I had experienced in moving from performance-based living to embracing the Father’s affection. I loved this conversation.

Jim said of my book, “This book is so rich and so good. It hits the heart of where men are. We need to get this book in the hands of guys. Performance-based religion is the default for men in America, and it has been mine… Your writing style is simple and heartfelt, very fluid, and easy to read.”

It’s a great conversation sorting out what it means to be transformed by love, instead of trying to earn God’s approval from our own efforts. We talk about all the biggies—wrath, fear, love, and transformation. To me there are two great benefits of living in the Father’s love, not only do we get an ever-deepening relationship with him, but we also get the fruit of that relationship in the growing transformation in our own lives.

Too many people who teach grace and love, only go so far as giving people comfort from their guilt or works. That’s not enough for me. Living loved lets us engage him in a growing relationship of tenderness, and as we live there, love begins to change the way we think about everything, and with that, we begin to live differently. Instead of being captive to our sin and less stellar appetites, we get to experience what a growing trust in God’s love produces in us, a freedom to navigate life with his purpose in mind and not so manipulated by the whims of others.

If you’ve been raised in the Christian religion, then you’ve been deeply schooled in performance-based living. The real fruit of grace is not an excuse to remain in our captivity to sin, but in how it “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,” Titus 2:11-12.

And he’s the one doing the work in us, not us trying to do it for him. If that’s where your learning curve is now, this podcast may help you.

 

When You Don’t Get the Miracle You Want, Part 9

This is part nine of our continuing story of Alan and Lynn that began as In the Shadow of Death. Now Lynn has passed away from metastasized breast cancer in the face of a promise they both held in their hearts for her healing. Alan is left to deal not only with his grief, but his view of a God he was certain would heal her.

You can read from the beginning starting here.

From Alan July 8, 2019 (73 days after first email):

It was a challenging weekend. Holidays are going to be rough, I guess.

I think I am at a place of self-preservation, meaning I am trying not to think about Lynn’s being gone as much as I have been. I am going through the motions of life. It’s weird, Wayne, I cannot seem to pull up images of her in my mind. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because of the intense caregiving for 5 months wherein I saw her in hospice and such. I have pictures of her during that time, and I look at them – she is still beautiful to me even then. I recorded her saying, “I love you, Alan,” and I listen to it every 2-3 days.

I told her many times that it was my pleasure to serve her as I brought her water or juice. As I woke up in the night several times to check on her. To bring her hot chocolate from the store near our house (It was my pleasure because I got to see her so excited and thankful). Even as I re-live these moments, I am tearing up again. I miss her so much. Why did God not answer my prayers? I know you have said my theology is all screwed up, but if we don’t have a God we can go to and stand on promises in the Bible, then what is the use?

It was so surreal in church yesterday. Our (I still say our and even wear my wedding ring) pastor’s wife is a breast cancer survivor. He was significant in Lynn’s battle in his love and allowing himself to be led by the Holy Spirit in what he prayed and how he encouraged us. Lo and behold, she just had a large tumor removed from her head and has a spot in her lung that is malignant. So he’s been standing on the victory she had years ago and now is standing before us yesterday reading Isaiah 53:5 and other Scriptures that we as Christians stand on because we think they are reliable and mean what they say. I mean how many ways can one interpret “If you abide in me and my word abides in you, you shall ask what you will, and it will be done for you.” (John15:7)

As he encouraged the saints to pray, and as he shared the go-to Scriptures, I just marveled and said to the Lord, “I hope it works for him.” I’ve been praying throughout the day, “Let it work for him and his family.”

I’ve been meaning to ask you if we can’t believe for answered prayers, what is the point of prayer and also what is the point in trying to understand the Scriptures. Would you be a dispensationalist who believes the miracles and gifts went away with the apostles?

I’m still struggling to understand.

My response:

I’ve wondered about you of late and was getting ready to check-in. Glad you wrote. Grief is a long process, my friend, and all the longer for the greater-sized hole she left in your life. But the comfort of the Spirit is sufficient to walk you through this and take you beyond it.

I got an email last week from a woman I have known for twenty years. I’m going to give you a peek into our conversation. Perhaps her journey will encourage you on your own. Here’s what she wrote: “Four months ago I lost my second husband. He had cerebral amyloid angiopathy.  While our time together was only eight years, six of them married, we packed the time with love and fun until his disease took over. When he and I married, we said we began our first married year with 80 years experience. Each of us had beautiful forty-year marriages ending too soon: My first husband died in 2001 with pancreatic cancer. His first wife died in 2004 with brain cancer. I lift it all in Prayer and try to begin each day with a grateful heart. I loved and was loved… by two wonderful men. Blessings counted.”

I wrote her back, expressing my concern as I marveled at how well she seems to be handling it. She wrote back: “On a difficult morning, I read your kind note. Thank you.  The grief walk is uphill, one step at a time.  I know I’ll learn to live with the loss and I am doing just that.  I have difficult days and less difficult days with sunshine discovered in each.  Your perfectly timed and authentic kindness lifted me today. There can be no rainbows without the rain; you were a rainbow today.

“When my first husband died (pancreatic cancer, 2001), I truly never was angry at God. I think I didn’t feel that anger because my first love (my soul mate) and I talked about life and love and consistently felt Christ with us.  My soul mate was completely him as his disease overcame him. He was brave in the process.  He was “him” but weak.  When my second husband died, four months ago of cerebral amyloid angiopathy, I was angry like I’d never been. I’m not an angry person. I called to God with why and lots of hurt. In time, that anger dissipated. The feeling of anger had been foreign to me, but no longer. It was real. I still grieve. I know I will learn to live with the loss of my heart magnet (my term for my second love). Grief is hard. And to live without love would be a life not worth living.  I loved and was loved completely, unconditionally by two amazing men. Thank you, God.”

Grief is a process, most certainly. The good days will become more frequent as the bad days recede. Finding gratefulness in pain can help. Death intrudes on our lives and robs us of those we value. We grieve, but not as those without hope, for the day of our reuniting is coming. Death does not get the last word, and one day, we all stand triumphant together, and our brief time here will seem like a wisp of smoke.

What you say about not being able to get an image of her in your mind is very common. CS Lewis addressed it in an email with a friend, Sheldon Vanauken that he details in his book A Severe Mercy, about the death of his wife. Lewis thought the reason we can’t pull up an image of someone in our mind that we were close to, is because we have seen them in so many different situations with so many different expressions it is hard to see them in one view. A stranger we meet is easier to recall because we only saw them once. But those we’ve seen in tears and joy and concern and anxiety and rest give us so many images it is hard for the mind to focus on one. It was your closeness to her that makes it difficult now.

As to your last questions, “Am I a dispensationalist?” Heavens, no! I’ve seen loads of miracles and pray for them whenever I am asked or led. I just don’t believe they are in my power to make happen. I don’t believe that God has given us certain keys to be worked, and if we work them the right way, we get the healing we want, and if not, we don’t. I see no pattern to the people God has healed around my life or in response to my prayers. It’s not the worthy who get healed, or the most desperate. It doesn’t matter how many pray. I’ve seen thousands fail and the prayer of two or three transform a moment. After years of trying to find the key to what brings healing to one person and not another, I’ve given up. Could I leave that in his hands and just become a responsive follower of his leading? So, I did. I am much more at rest in it all.

My best friend died at 55 of melanoma that had metastasized throughout his body. The first time I prayed for his healing, I felt an inward nudge asking me if I would walk him to death’s door. I didn’t like the thought. I never shared it with him. Many prayed for him, as did I, but cancer continued to progress and take his life after four years. I could pray with him in one breath and in the next have the conversations I’d want to have with a friend I wouldn’t have long in my life. On the podcast this Friday, a man from Ireland tells his story of battling incurable cancer and going through a bone marrow transplant sensing that God had asked him not to pray for healing but to go through this experience. I think that story may help you.

I have seen way too many people marinated in teaching that God always heals if we’ll just pray enough, believe enough, find the right key. I don’t believe it anymore. God heals as he wills. Our prayers are part of that, but not the only part. I’ve prayed for people who got healed of cancer, impregnated after being told they couldn’t have children and a host of other things. I believe by his stripes, we are healed, but in the fullest sense of that. He’s healing not just our diseases but our flesh appetites, our desire to be in control, and we get to experience some of that here and some of it we’ll encounter in the next life. We know today that Lynn is completely healed and free. No, it wasn’t the healing we wanted, but it is still healing, the same one assured for all of us. Christ’s healing is not just from physical ailments but also from the brokenness, evil, and sin of this age. That is the hope we all look forward to.

The kingdom has come. It is here, but it is not fully here. Jesus is still taking captive all things under his feet. It is not done yet. We do not see all things conformed to his will in this life, in my life, but we do see HIM! He is the Lord of the universe, and he will have the last word on everything. Just not yet, not in everything.

So, why pray? Because that’s where God makes himself known so we can cooperate with what he wants. Prayer is not the requisition box to get the answers we desire; it’s our conversation with the God of the ages as he reveals his purpose and our part in it. I pray for everyone who asks, but I can only pray in faith when I have a sense of what he wants and what he is doing in a given situation. When I have a sense of it, I pray with fury. When I don’t, I pray to hear, to have my heart circumcised from my wants to his wants. And in all that I see through a glass darkly, so I never have absolute confidence that I have heard accurately, not until the circumstances confirm it. I often read in my own wants. I’ve been wrong before and will again on both sides. I’ve prayed in faith for healings I felt confident of and watch them not come. I’ve prayed almost hopelessly and seen a great miracle occur. These things are not in our hands. They are in his, and I’m content to have them there.

Scripture helps us, too, when we stop reading it in sound bites and instead look at the whole of it, inviting us to trust God, not try to work him. Remember, when Peter prayed that Jesus would be saved from going to the cross? (Matthew 16) “You are looking out for man’s interests, not God’s,” Jesus reminded him. How else will we learn that except in prayer? Lynn’s death does not prove God doesn’t work, only that he works differently than we would. It doesn’t show his lack of love, but that he loves us more fully than we love ourselves.

Why wouldn’t we want a God who is so much wiser than we are? He knows something you don’t. Our trust in him is not based on outcomes, it is embedded in his light and character. In He Loves Me, I talked about the prayer God always answers. In John 12, Jesus is facing the cross, and he asks, “What shall I pray, Father, save me from this hour?” That’s mostly what we pray. We always pray ‘save me’ prayers. Don’t let me hurt. Fix my pain. Jesus refuses that prayer. To pray it would mean that he would subvert Father’s will. The cross was the reason he came. Instead, he prays, “Father, glorify your name.” That’s the prayer he always answers. “Father, as you glorified your name in Lynn’s life, now glorify your name in her passing. As you glorified your name in Alan while she lived, glorify your name now as his life takes on meaning beyond her.”

That’s how I’m learning to pray. I realize it isn’t easy for people to see this, especially in disappointment. Just like your friends who want to teach this Scripture always works if we just claim it. What happens when cancer returns, if it does? I know so many people who teach this stuff, who suffer diseases they can’t be honest about because they have to provide the image of faith. It is false. It will collapse on them at some point because God is working at a level we can’t understand. As you’ll hear on this week’s podcast, we always look from our humanity up at our problems, instead of letting God (in prayer) seat us where he is and look back down on our situations from his perspective. That’s where we get to participate in what he is doing, rather than trying to enlist him in what we want him to do.

Unfortunately, this is not often taught. We frustrate people with techniques that won’t bring the miracles they want. They get disillusioned with God and frustrated because it doesn’t work. “It” never works. He does. So when you say, “I hope it works for him,” you’re still talking about an ‘it.’ It’s a technique, a belief, instead of a connection with a Living God who has a purpose unfolding in all that concerns us.

I know the best time to learn this is not in the midst of grief. We can talk someday when you’re ready to process this. Admittedly there’s nothing easy about learning to understand how God works. Now, you just need to process her death and let God begin to map out where your life goes from here and how all the gifts that Lynn gave you in your life together will strengthen and encourage you in days to come.

To be continued…

Read on to Part Ten here.

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When You Don’t Get the Miracle You Want, Part 8

This is part eight of our continuing story of Alan and Lynn that began as In the Shadow of Death. Now Lynn has passed away from metastasized breast cancer in the face of a promise they both held in their hearts for her healing. Alan is left to deal not only with his grief, but his view of a God he was certain would heal her.

You can read from the beginning starting here.

From Alan June 22, 2019 (57 days after first email):

I am hoping we will stay in relationship even if there comes a time when I am “ok.” God has used you more than anyone else to help me, and I appreciate it more than I can say.

Today is one month since Lynn died. I have been weeping again and crying out to God. My eyes seem to be opening more and more to how wonderful Lynn was and how much she loved God. I knew what I had as far back as when I first fell for her in the mid-1980s. I knew she loved God deeply, but I am learning as I read some of her devotionals just how much she adored Him. And I am seeing how much she loved me. So I am still in whatever the grief experts would call the weeping and wailing stage. The reality of how permanent this is, is like a well-placed punch in the face, landing squarely over and over.

Wayne, I do not know if I can do this. I need her so desperately, yet I cannot feel her hand in mine, cannot hear loving words of encouragement, and cannot look into her big brown eyes, lit up with her smile that captivated my heart so many years ago.

I’m not ignoring your encouragement. I read it over and over. Today I’m having a horrible time as I realize that this is my reality now – single, widowed, alone.

Yeah boy!

My response: 

Yes, you’re only a month into this process. In grief time, that is barely a blip, unfortunately. Let the tears flow. Hold your grief on the lap of a loving Father. Celebrate her life as best you can. Look back at the joys of having known her, not at the unknown future without her. One will help you heal, the other will drive you to despair.

Have you noticed that imagining what our futures will be like, is never helpful? For one, we’re mostly wrong. The future is always unknown. Certainly, Lynn won’t be there, but you have no idea yet what will be—how God will make himself known to you and what gifts he will yet pour into your life. I heard one man say that the reason we are so stressed and in pain about our future is because humans cannot imagine grace. So, when you contemplate the future, do you notice how alone you are in it—not just without Lynn, but also without any real understanding of how God will be with you in whatever circumstances come.

Grace can only be assimilated one day at a time. Do you have enough for this day? Tomorrow will be another challenge, and there will be grace for that one. And the next, and the next. Take it in one-day bites, not trying to find all you need for all the potential outcomes of life from here on out. You can’t try to live the feared challenges of tomorrow on today’s grace. We’re not built that way. Again, nothing about this took God by surprise. He has whatever it will take to heal the wounds of her passing and still give you a hope and a future.

Alan, I’m so sorry for what you’re going through and don’t know that I would negotiate it any better if my wife had passed a month ago. However, I am concerned that you talk about her as if you’ve lost your God, the only source of love and support, and are hopeless without her. Is it possible that somehow her memory is supplanting God’s presence with you, or at least the hope that there are joy and life to be lived beyond her? If I were talking to a married couple that expressed this kind of dependency, I would consider the relationship unhealthy. If we want our spouse to be all the things that God said he would be to us, then we’re missing out on the greatest gift in the universe. Lynn was a great gift, but she is not the greatest gift. Are you thinking much about that? Have you elevated Lynn to a place in your heart that only God can fill? It may just be your grief talking, but that’s what I’ve heard in the last couple of emails.

Your reality might be “single, widowed, and alone” in a human sense, but you are far from alone. If you define your life by those three words, they will own you. Though the first two are real enough, the last one is not, and if you focus there, it will drown you. You are not alone. You are the beloved son of a gracious Father, who is also Maker of heaven and earth, and who has adventures still to share with you in this life.

You’re a father, whose kids desperately need a dad to love them, and you’re a follower of Christ with hope to speak to others who are in pain they don’t think they will survive. My prayer is that in the grief, you see the light at the end of the tunnel. Your life is not over here; it’s just changed. You had 25 years or so of a great gift, and hopefully, that gift made you a better person and will benefit you in days to come.

More of your treasure is in heaven now, that is for sure. But the greatest treasure—Christ in you—still lives on. Methinks there’s more to discover there that will help you through this season.

From Alan June 24, 2019 (59 days after first email):

I appreciate your pointing out that I may be focusing too much on Lynn. Thank you for feeling comfortable enough, for being honest. I’ve thought about this all day and what I believe is coming out is what I first started with – a severe feeling of disappointment and of being let down by God. I have started trying to receive His love again and have been praising Him when I think to, but as I wrote before, I feel like I have suffered a huge punch to my spiritual face. Still, I am asking that He reveal His great love to me again.

You helped me begin to give my theology a re-think, but I am still wondering things like, “What is the use of praying if God is not going to answer?” I’m still not past the nagging thought that He could have intervened but chose not to…how can I look to Him for comfort in something He allowed to happen? Not to be irreverent, but it’s like saying, “Wayne, I didn’t deposit your paycheck as you asked. Now, tell me how bouncing checks, as a result, messes up your finances.”

You wrote that somehow he could not give me the answered prayer I desired. But, what of “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, you shall ask what you will, and it shall be done for you?” What of, “By His stripes, we are healed?” Like I said previously, there are so many affirmative verses, Scriptures that lead to a climactic, “The promises of God are yes and amen in Christ Jesus.” That sounds like “If God is supposed to be for us, who can be against us?” In other words, there should be something we can count on in the Word without having to default to, “Well, His ways are higher.” Or, “We live in a fallen world.”

I have been chewing on what you wrote about creation and this broken world. It is unlike anything I have ever read. I think you are right. But there are also things like this paragraph in a daily devotion I received this morning from Joseph Prince: “My friend, don’t fix your eyes on how much or how little faith you have. Fix your eyes on the One who loves you, who has already given you what you need. When you come to Him, simply believe that He is waiting to meet your expectation. He will say to you, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.”

Wayne, there has to be room for faith and expectation and answered prayer. I know God is not our genie. But he has promised an awful lot to “him who believes.”

Please don’t get weary of my struggle. I really do study and meditate on what you write to me because I believe God put you in my life to help me get through this nightmare. I thank God for you.

And a day later, before I could respond, Alan wrote this brief email:

I have felt terrible since sending you that cynical, doubt-filled response. I apologize. I want to sense God’s love and grace again and even in greater measure than ever before. I will try not to let my pain dictate my belief and/or how I respond.

My response: 

Don’t feel terrible about asking honest questions, especially ones that arise with pain. How else will we learn when God identifies the illusions in our theology if we can’t ask the honest question and seek him for answers? That is not cynical or doubt-filled; that’s reality, a place where the Spirit loves to work because that means you and Father have some sorting out to do.

I think it takes more faith to ask God the brutal questions than it is to pretend to believe things that are not real in our heart. And don’t worry that I will tire of you. I think Father has had something for us in this conversation that will touch others as well, and that makes it easy to give my time to it.

Now let me try to respond to your previous email.

I wasn’t trying to get you to not focus on Lynn. That would be like telling you not to think about an orange. That’s all you would think about. Instead, as you think about Lynn, let God move you from how much you’ve lost, to how much of a treasure she was. Be grateful for all she added to your life and that you got to share together. But also look beyond her to the Father who loves you far more than she did. All that you need to get through each day is in him, and far more. He has encouragement, affirmation, wisdom, and joy for you to discover still. It will take some time, but he wants to be the source of your life.

You quote a familiar litany of verses from which it is easy to conclude that getting the answer we want in prayer is a transaction. If I do this, God will do that. But it rarely works that way, so don’t we have to wonder if it was ever meant to? Would Jesus just say those things to torture us, or do they all hang on deeper realities with less certain outcomes? At the heart of these issues is what it truly means to believe in Jesus.

Take the Joseph Prince quote, for instance. Jesus is already looking at a specific individual, in this case, the centurion. He knows what he wants and affirms he has his answer. We take that and extract a principle that if we just believe as he did, we’ll get our answer too. That’s what is so dangerous about this kind of teaching from those who claim to preach the Scriptures. We tell them what they want to hear, but don’t tell them the truth and leave them to be disillusioned when it doesn’t work out the way they wanted.

Just because we believe hard for something we want, doesn’t mean it will happen. That’s not what Scripture teaches. Our belief is not vested in things; it is vested in him. We believe in him, which is not the same as believing him for the things I want or think I should have.

One of my favorite lines these days I’ll be using in a future book is Jesus saying to someone, “I simply showed you what was real, and you dared to believe me.” That’s what belief is. It isn’t trying to achieve our preferred reality and getting Jesus to help us. It isn’t a creedal assent to the nature of Jesus or expressing our conviction that he is trustworthy. Believing in Jesus is believing his view of the reality we live in. Remember when Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God, and then two paragraphs later, he is arguing with Jesus about going to the cross. He believed he was the Son of God but didn’t believe Jesus when he spoke about what was about to happen. “Believe in him” without believing him, is just so much religious gobbledygook.

He wants me to believe his reality. I know you both thought you’d been promised Lynn’s healing. If you had, it would have happened. Part of the way we learn to follow him is realizing, we get it wrong sometimes. I have wanted things so badly, I convince myself that he wanted it to turn out that way, even though everything kept pointing to a different outcome. I don’t believe that was because Jesus didn’t want to heal her or made a choice not to; she was a casualty of the brutal war between fallenness and the coming kingdom. Seemingly you both got far longer than you otherwise would have, which is a testimony of his working. Sadly, however, you didn’t get all you wanted. I have no idea why, but a God that “allows” such things is not the God of the Bible. Somehow it was a consequence of other things we can’t see or part of a higher purpose. Sometimes we get to know, sometimes we don’t, but what doesn’t change is my trust in him in all the realities I experience.

All those answered prayer Scriptures are predicated on our being inside him and his unfolding purpose in the world. Abiding in his words is not just reading Scriptures, but believing what he says about the people and situations I am in. It’s steeping myself in his reality and the way he thinks so that I’m a partner of his in his unfolding work. ‘By his stripes, we are healed”, is not the prooftext that Christians don’t have to get sick or stay sick. It’s a statement of the reality of his kingdom that will bring healing to us all and the greater cosmos through his suffering. Some of that happens in this world; some of it happens in the next. This is the tension between the kingdom come, and the kingdom-yet-to-come. Currently, we live in a war zone. There are casualties just because of the gravity of darkness and evil in the world. But by his stripes, we will all be healed, isn’t about disease alone, but redemption, transformation, and ultimate freedom from sin and evil. It’s incomplete in this realm; it won’t be in the next.

What’s the use of praying if he’s not going to answer? He does answer, though not always with what we want. We don’t pray to get God to do what we want, but to tune our hearts to his wants. It’s to listen and where he shows us to exercise our role as his joint-heir to help bring it into being. But that doesn’t mean we’ll always get it right, that each of us is promised 85 years of sickness-free living. It just has never worked that way, which means we have twisted Scriptures to try to say that. Part of listening to him is seeing how circumstances play out. If he tells me he will heal someone if I pray and he does, that’s awesome. If I think he tells me that and in praying they don’t get healed, then I have to conclude I missed something there. He doesn’t change. I believe him and that he is bigger than how any circumstance turns out.

Where I feel let down by him is only a result of my limited perspective. He never lets us down. He’s always working for the highest good, which doesn’t always fit what we want. He’s my refuge to run to when I’m disappointed, frustrated, and angry. His love is the only certain reality in my life. Everything else is negotiable, but when I begin to doubt his love for me and his greatness in the universe, I start to sink into the despair of the enemy’s lies. I can fail. Others can fail me. I can be confused and disappointed, but the one thing I have known for the last twenty-five years is that I am deeply loved by the God of the universe and I am learning more every day how to believe his view of reality instead of my own. When I know how he does his work, I can better understand how to participate with him.

All is not lost, Alan. You’ve suffered a horrible blow, not only taking your wife from you but now meant to devour your faith and render you spiritually impotent for the rest of your days. However, God has better ideas for you. He gave you a fantastic gift for twenty-five years. For reasons we won’t know here, this was her time, and now you get to grieve her loss in your life. God understands your pain to the core. He hates death, too. Remember, it is the last great enemy he has yet to destroy, and we’re all going to go through it short of his coming again. But then, no more. Death will no longer hold sway over us.

So, when the time is right, you’ll be able to shake off the hurt, celebrate the joy of Lynn’s gift in your life, and join Jesus yet again on the battlefield only to discover that this, too, will make you stronger in his hands, freer in this life, and gentler in your ways.

To be continued…

 

Read on to Part Nine here.

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When You Don’t Get the Miracle You Want, Part 7

This is part seven of our continuing story of Alan and Lynn that began as In the Shadow of Death. Now Lynn has passed away from metastasized breast cancer in the face of a promise they both held in their hearts for her healing. Alan is left to deal not only with his grief, but his view of a God he was certain would heal her.

You can read from the beginning starting here.

From Alan on June 15 (50 days after first email):

I am so thankful for your words of life to me. From the very first response you sent to me, they have been like water in the desert. I have re-read them multiple times and thank God for you and for what He has had you share with me.

I am a little unclear on this thought that you shared: “Of course, that will be eminently more difficult if God is the cause of her cancer, or even if he “allowed” it. Or, if for some unknown reason he volitionally decided NOT to heal her despite her hopes and your prayers. I don’t even think he “took” her. Those are all illusions Christians use to try to make death tolerable.”

First of all, I do not believe He was the cause of her cancer. But Wayne, if He is sovereign and all that goes along with that, then certainly it can be said that He “allowed it.” I believe He was fully capable of healing Lynn completely of cancer while she was on this earth. Is it wrong to think that He could have, but chose not to?

I’m not trying to be difficult, please believe that. I understand this world is fallen and there is an appointed time for everyone to die and all. But, the leper said to Jesus, “You can if you will” when Jesus asked him if he sought healing from Him. Jesus said, “I will and touched and healed him.” He is the same yesterday… so He is still able to heal if He wills to. He can if He will. Is that correct?

I’m trying to pray again, and right now, I don’t feel like there is much use. I want to be able to share my faith again with confidence, but right this minute, I don’t have that confidence. I can say, “Yes, He loves us in that He gave His only Son for us.” But, as far as believing for answers to my prayers, I’m struggling not to be cynical.

Wayne, this is so hard. It’s been three weeks and three days since Lynn passed, and just when I think I am doing better, waves of emotion hit like a flood when the reality of the permanence of her being gone fills my mind. The future things we had planned–gone. The goals and dreams we shared together–gone. I am single again, and that is something I never imagined or wanted.

I just bagged up all of her socks to take to a ministry here that will use them for those in need. (She had a lot of socks). What strikes me about all of this–socks or other clothing, or silverware we bought 30 years ago, or pictures on the wall, or her collection of churches that she really liked, or on and on and on…None of it matters anymore. She is gone. I could take her stuff and throw it in the front yard, and it would not matter. She is gone. Thankfully to a better place with unending joy. But, she is gone from here and from me and from us in this world.

That is the reality that I am wrestling with. Lynn is gone, and nothing seems to matter that used to matter.

The next logical thought then is what purpose do I have left to cling to. A friend texted me, “Now is the time for you to figure out exactly what your purpose is and then put 200% of yourself into. Don’t leave yourself time to think about your loss. If you dare to dream, you can do some amazing stuff.  My prayer for you is that you get a supernatural revelation of your destiny.” I thought that sounds nice, but she’s gone. She’s not here to cheer me on as only she could. What purpose could I possibly have that I would want to pursue without my best friend?

Thank you for your love and help through all of this.

My response:

I would never think you’re trying to be difficult. I have appreciated your openness and honesty with me. How else can anyone go through grief if it isn’t safe to be honest and to question? I hadn’t planned to get into such a lengthy dialog with you when this all began, but I think God is in it. And the things we’re discovering may well have value to others someday. I hope to be able to share this exchange, with names changed on your end, of course. So many people deal with these same issues when disease and death stalk them. I feel like the answers we’ve been probing are for more than just the two of us, with your permission of course.

That nothing else seems to matter in the wake of her absence, is also incredibly normal. Everything will seem trivial for a while, but part of moving beyond this is to take them in stride. As hard as it will be, bills still need to be paid and the yard mowed. Going through those motions, even when they seem so futile is a part of reconnecting to life. I know all of it hurts, but there is no way out of the pain, but to go through it.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the five stages of grief by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. If not, you might want to take a look again. Yes, I know it is a bit tedious to have anyone put our grief on a dissecting table and organize it so, but underneath that is a helpful awareness that what you’re going through is not unique. When we lose someone we love, grief takes its toll. It’s not so much a linear process as a tumble of emotions that push us in various directions. Embrace the grief, don’t fight it, and embrace God in it. He is undoubtedly there, the great big shoulder to cry on and affection that can, in time, swallow our pain. The struggle you’re in now will eventually lead to an acceptance that there is a life still to be had beyond Lynn. I know you never wanted it. God knows you never wanted it, but the cruelty of this world ushered her into the City she has longed for all her life. She is home, whole, and pain-free. You are left here to find a way to carry on. And in time you will. This takes months and years, not days and weeks.

And, truth be told, you’ve been grieving for a long time, not just for Lynn as her health deteriorated, but for a theology you thought would save you from this pain. So, yes, the relationship with God gets a bit confusing at this point, especially if you see him in any way responsible for Lynn’s death, even by allowing it.

I know that’s what we’ve all been taught for a long time. God is sovereign; he is in control. Nothing happens without his approval. Many find comfort in that; I don’t. I find it leads to a view of God as an abusive deity. If he “allows” little girls to be raped by vicious uncles or disturbed priests, or “allows” cancer to destroy those we love, or allows earthquakes to devastate a culture, then, what kind of God is he? You would stop those things, wouldn’t you? Why wouldn’t he?

Some argue that God isn’t powerful enough to stop the things that cause us pain, others deny his existence. I don’t believe either of those. His sovereignty continues to watch over the whole of humanity and our individual lives, and he will bring all of this to its final resolution and redemption. This is not a lack of power on his part, but a lack of understanding on ours. And, no, I can’t logically explain it, either. It just comes from years of reading the Scriptures, years of watching God’s will play out on this broken planet, and years of talking with him about these things. He is always the rescuer in human tragedy, not the destroyer. Whatever he does in the Creation is to redeem it back to himself, but that often comes at an incredible cost, as it did even to himself.

There seems to be a spiritual gravity in the broken Creation that tends toward destruction. The world is out of synch with the Creator, and we are not immune from it. God doesn’t have a home team that he protects from cancer, accidents, or calamity, and an away team he gets to bash with those things. Suffering is the fruit of our waywardness, not necessarily ours specifically, but the residue in our culture. That gravity of brokenness is as much a part of the redemption story as his intrusion into it to rescue us, but those rescues are not always in this life, but in the life beyond. That’s why Hebrews 11 talks about many who die in faith, having not yet received the promise.

God doesn’t make a volitional choice to bring calamities or even allow them; they come because of the fallen world we live in. For God to heal every disease, prevent every tragedy, and to keep people from dying, even if it is only ‘his’ people, the universe would make little sense. Brokenness without consequence would somehow unwind the whole process and our passion for his redemption.

There is a gravity of chaos and disappointment that draws us down into despair. We all swim in that, believer and unbeliever alike. There’s also an updraft of the life of the Spirit that draws us into his light and healing, but it plays out better if we cooperate with him in the process rather than resist him. That’s a process we can’t understand, so we endure it. When tragedy comes, we pray, first to be delivered of it. Sometimes God does that. When it happens, we rejoice. But for purposes and reasons far beyond our logic, sometimes circumstances don’t play out the way we hope. The deliverance we hope for is not from the tragedy, but the deliverance is through it. Again, we’ll rejoice, but that takes time to see it.

We exist in the tension between the Kingdom-Come and the Kingdom-Yet-to-Come. The whys are beyond our understanding and trying to explain them with human logic often puts God on the abusive side of the ledger. Why not rather believe that there are forces at work in this broken world to destroy us, and God is at work to redeem with his mercy until he can conclude all things? Whether he heals or not, his love and power are never in question. So, how do we know what to do? We listen as best we can, not only to his voice within but also to his activity in circumstance around us. Why he intervenes with healing in some cases and not in others is beyond my pay grade, but I know this it is not due to a lack of love. We are just asked to trust and to follow and to let his grace win out over the world’s chaos.

And that is my continuing prayer for you, Alan. God didn’t “allow” Lynn’s death. It would appear he prolonged her life for more time than she would have without him. That seems clear. But somehow, he couldn’t give you this, not for lack of love or power, but for the process of the universe and his mercy within it to play out.

And that’s where we learn to trust, as hard as that is, because it is beyond our understanding.

From Alan on June 17 (52 days after first email):

I wanted you to see something that Lynn wrote when we were engaged – sometime in 1988. It is called “Our Love.”

The funny thing is that she never gave it to me or showed it to me until February of this year, 2019. She had come close to death and told our daughter to find it for her on her computer. She then asked her to frame it and add a picture of Lynn and me to it. She wanted to give it to me for Valentine’s Day

The citation for the verse at the bottom, 1 John 4:16, “And we know and rely on the love God has for us…” is inscribed inside our wedding bands. That is also ironic in that when Lynn asked that we put that verse in our rings, she had no idea that 25 or so years later God would use you and others to reveal to me His mission for my life which is to share the love of God through writing, through preaching, and through a podcast.

I am sharing this with you in hopes that you might get a glimpse into what I have lost in this world, and why I am so broken. Lynn loved more than I think I even knew when she was alive. Even after 25-30 years, I would find myself marveling at little things she would do that sprang out of her deep love for me

Our Love
By Lynn

Our Love is not something that happened by chance
or a feeling to pass with time.
Our Love is the plan of our loving Father that He purposed from the beginning.
We have yielded ourselves to His purpose
And so, our hearts have been joined in this unbreakable bond.
If we had not been seeking the Father’s will,
We probably would have passed each other by;
but He let us see with His eyes the wonderful design
that He had planned in bringing us together.

We will serve Him together, always, with undying love and great joy,
Knowing that in His service, our responsibilities include
The love, encouragement, and inspiration of each other
so that we can be all that He wants us to be.

Our Love will grow because we cultivate it.
As we invest ourselves in it and in each other,
always seeking the good of the other first.

We will love each other as Christ loved us…
…with eternal love and eyes of mercy that see
beyond each other’s weaknesses and flaws
…with sacrificing love
…with unwavering commitment
…with unity
…with understanding and tenderness
…with much prayer
…regarding each other as the valued possessions of God that we are.

Our Love is not an obligation, but a desired choice.
We will live in faith in our God through every situation.

Now, may our lives joined together in Him
fulfill every purpose that He desires from this day
until we meet our Lord in glory.
May we give to each other everything that each other needs
in order to be and do everything God has planned for us.
May His love be perfected in us and may He receive
all the glory due His name in our lives.

With God’s help, I will always encourage you, support you, pray for you,
follow you, stand by you, and love you.

1 John 4:16 – “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love.
Whoever lives in love, lives in God and God in Him.” 

Wayne, I appreciate you. I have had two terrible days, and Father’s Day all by myself—my daughter did send me a text and a post on Facebook and got me a gift card for a restaurant she knows I frequent. My son called and his fiancée sent me the most beautiful text that lifted my spirit for a bit, but for some reason, I have wept and wailed most of the past two days.

I miss her so much. I need her so much.

My response:

What a sweet poem, Alan, and such a fantastic gift for her to leave you. I’m sure you’ll treasure it always.

I’m sorry you were alone on Father’s Day but also grateful that you had a connection with both of your children that day. Chaos and redemption, working side by side.

Yes, I know you miss her terribly, but if I could be so bold, you don’t “need” her now. If you “needed” her, she would still be here. Now that she’s not here, God has the capacity to be everything to you, even what you found in Lynn. I’m not suggesting it is easy to learn that, I just don’t want you to succumb to the lie that you need what is no longer here. Surely, you miss her, but the time will come to see beyond Lynn’s passing, and continue on the journey God has for you. You have so much to yet discover, adventures to unfold, joy to revel in. I know it looks impossible. Grief does that. But let grief have its work. Don’t yield to the despair, keep leaning into Jesus who has a purpose for you yet, and all the strength and courage you need to discover it. Your life is not over; it is only beginning anew.

You wrote: “I am sharing this with you in hopes that you might get a glimpse into what I have lost in this world, and why I am so broken.” Someday his healing will turn that sentence around. Not, “look what I lost,” but “look what treasure I had for thirty years.” Most people don’t get what you have shared, for even five or ten years. They never know a love as deep and rich as you and Lynn shared. Revel in that. Think of it. Thirty years of having a companion whose love and support you treasured. Someday you’ll be able to celebrate that you had it, rather than lament that you no longer do. All the treasure she invested in your life is still there. All that she helped God shape in you is still there to enrich others. You’ve lost her presence, yes, but not many of her treasures.

You have an exceptional heritage on which to build this final leg of your journey. You will yet be reunited with this woman. You will know her presence and love again, though I’m sure in far different ways.

When my dad almost died 12 years ago after a botched surgery, he saw what a basket case my mom would have been without him. He asked God then, to let him outlive his wife that he would be the one to see her to death’s door. That prayer still blows me away. Five years ago, my mom died with Dad at her side. He came home that day from the assisted care facility, where she died, with tears of gratitude that God answered his prayer. He got to walk her to death’s door and send her with appreciation into the lap of her Father. Now, at 94, he goes on alone. Yes, he misses her every day, but he also finds joy and purpose in the people God puts in his life each day.

That’s what you did for Lynn! You may not have asked for it as my dad did, but you were able to escort your gift to Father’s kingdom. God is pleased with what you did, Alan, and the pain you feel now is still part of that giving to her. It will subside. You will carry on. There are mountains to climb, rivers to ford, and people to love. Perhaps there is yet a great rescue for your children or others around you. You will laugh again, grow more in him, and share that with others in writing and podcasts. Don’t rush it or try to make it happen on your own but take hope in that. She does not want your life to end at her passing. She has now joined that great cloud of witnesses that cheer you on to all that Father has for you.

And I’m cheering with her!

Read on to Part Eight here.

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When You Don’t Get the Miracle You Want, Part 6

We’ve switched the headline, but the story continues. This is part 6 of our continuing story of Alan and Lynn. Now that Lynn has passed away due to metastasized breast cancer, Alan is left to deal not only with his grief, but his view of a God he was certain would heal her.

You can read from the beginning starting here.

From Alan on May 26, 2019 (30 days after first email):

Thank you for writing back. I appreciate your being here for me through this horror, this nightmare. I realized yesterday that for almost 35 years, I have had a best friend, a companion that I talked to every day. She’s gone. I can’t converse with her anymore now.

We became fast friends before we fell in love and knowing she won’t be here to encourage me and to let me encourage her is unbearable. She won’t be here when I get home from work, we won’t go to the grocery store together, and on and on it goes.

She believed not only in me but in the dreams God has placed in my heart. She was my biggest—sometimes only—fan, and I am so empty now knowing I will never hear the “I’m proud of you, Alan” in her sweet, precious voice again. She encouraged me to write, to get ordained, to be faithful with my podcast, to preach God’s love, and to do my best in my “secular” job.

She never allowed me to stay in my thoughts of frustration or rejection. Now the sounds of my wailings, my sobbing, my screams of “Why God!! And Where are You, God!!” are all I hear.

I will re-read and read again the words you’ve written to encourage me. I pray God will bless you greatly for your investment of time and life in me.

My response

You will get past this, Alan. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Isn’t it such an amazing gift that Father gave you? Your own personal cheerleader, to encourage you to God’s best. You will learn to treasure what you had more than you feel cheated for no longer having her. But I suspect she is still with you. No, not in some occultic way, but in all that encouragement stored up in your memories. I know when I travel, and Sara isn’t with me, I can go away from a conversation knowing precisely what Sara would have said to me had she been there. I know those moments she would have been proud of me and which she would have grimaced a bit at my response. In that way, she is still with you.

What you’ll also learn is to take your validation and encouragement from the Father himself. There is no substitute for a well-placed, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” especially when it comes from him. The grief will give way to that light in time. I know it is so dark now that all other light is eclipsed by it. But it will not always be so.

From Alan on May 27, 2019 (31 days after first email):

Thank you. I feel like I know what you mean about knowing what Lynn would say. I just wish I could hear her say it.

I don’t believe God is counting my sins against me, but I am starting to wonder if He is punishing me for things I did in my past that were not pleasing to him. As a child, I accidentally said something bad about the Holy Spirit, and I have been scared my whole life that I have blasphemed the Holy Spirit and wonder if I am really born-again. All of this terrible stuff is so much to deal with. It just does not align with my thoughts that He loves me. It’s funny that preaching that message is the life’s mission that God has given me, yet I am confronted with questions I never thought I’d have.

From Wayne

I understand about wanting to hear her say it. Unfortunately, that reality has changed, and it will take some time to get used to it.

As to your fears that Lynn’s death is some kind of punishment from God— He. Just. Isn’t. Like. That. For God to take some careless words of a child and use them against the love of his life some 50 or 60 years later, would never happen. With each email I get from you, I see the self-talk that will only drive the pain deeper by eroding your faith in a loving Father. You need to find a better conversation with yourself and a self-compassion that more reflects the nature of the Creator.

These next words may sound harsh, but I don’t mean them to be. You’re trying to see these circumstances with a control you don’t have. You were not the determining factor in Lynn’s death, or the healing you hoped for. That doctrine of healing will crush you.

These are the brutal days of grief, Alan; don’t make conclusions here. Don’t give voice to fears if you can help it. Stay in the fountain of his mercy and know that God already has a way for you through this and beyond it to greater freedom and joy ahead. It is what Lynn would have wanted, as you would have wanted it for her….

From Alan on June 2, 2019 (37 days after first email):

Thank you for your email. I appreciate your candor and encouragement. I cannot be making any of this horrific journey without God having brought you alongside to help me, and for that, I am sincerely grateful.

I went to our church this morning without Lynn. I realized I have not been in or around the church for the past 33-34 years without her. She would hold my hand and make sure I was staying awake, and I would put my arm around her, and she’d move in a little closer to me. All of that is now gone.

I have been honest and transparent, and I will continue to do so.

Wayne, I’m having difficulty handling the notion that “God is our deliverer” or “God is our refuge” or songs like “I’ve seen Him move mountains and I believe I’ll see Him do it again” or people saying, “Just find strength in Him.” My mind responds with, “He allowed Lynn to get cancer and then refused to heal her in this realm. How can I rely on Him now? How can I pray for me or someone else when it is obvious that it ultimately may not be answered?

I feel very disappointed. I know that God owes us nothing—he gave his Son, and that is the ultimate gift. But, all these verses and promises in Scripture seem to not be as meaningful or reliable to me as they once were. Lynn even wrote in her journal that she believed for miraculous healing here on earth. We were fully invested in believing the “promises of God are yes and amen in Christ” yet here I am all alone with no hope of Lynn ever coming back, and I guess I just feel let down.

God is not a genie, I get that, but what is the point of having faith when in the end you stand a great chance of being let down.

I feel the weight of his taking Lynn and allowing me to be all alone, and it is so heavy. But, I will try to count it all joy at some point. Just probably not today.

Wayne’s Response

Isn’t it precisely at the moment we feel most disappointed and broken that we need a refuge and a deliverer? If God is ever that, this is why and this is when. I’m praying that you discover that. I’m confident you will, though it may take some time since your theology of suffering and healing seems to be a barrier to that. It’s the theology that needs to die, too, so that you can discover God as he really is. He is the only sure anchor in a broken creation that deals out death and destruction to us all. The promises in the Bible were not to give us a free pass to get out of suffering but to give us a real and present God who can hold us through the challenges and disappointments that we face in this broken Creation.

Every book in the New Testament speaks to our suffering in this world, and that Jesus will be in it with us. The promises were not so we could get what we want, or even what we think is best, but that God is at work through it all until his glory enfolds all of Creation again. That’s a great day coming. Until then, we live in the pains of childbirth, yearning for all to be set right. It just isn’t yet.

I’m sorry you didn’t get fifty years with Lynn, though I know you’ll get an eternity with her. For the time being, you’ll have to learn to live beyond her presence with you. Of course, that will be eminently more difficult if God is the cause of her cancer, or even if he “allowed” it. Or, if for some unknown reason he volitionally decided NOT to heal her despite her hopes and your prayers. I don’t even think he “took” her. Those are all illusions Christians use to try to make death tolerable. It isn’t tolerable. It’s a rift in the Creation—a temporary accommodation to our sin and the hope of a coming Resurrection.

You’ll get through this, Alan. I’ve known lots of people to lose spouses at 35, at 45, even at 75 years of age, and find themselves as broken as you are. Yet, surely, God’s grace will rebuild a path for you. He still has joy for you as hard as that may be to believe. He still has people for you to unveil his life to, and those you can love and comfort in his name.

What makes this much more difficult is that you see God as the cause of your loss and pain. How can you come to him as a refuge, then? The enemy has come with lies to besmirch his character, which is a tactic as old as Eden. He didn’t cause Lynn’s cancer or her death. He wasn’t complicit in it, and he grieves with you at what this has done to you.

Any theology that even has God “allowing” our sufferings is unworthy of him. It makes him the divine abuser, and that’s not who he is. He is the redeemer in the story, sometimes healing, but more often the one who comforts and restores those still living. I grew up with the idea that if we just knew Scripture well enough and how to work it, we would never have to know pain or loss. We’d always be healed and live to a ripe old age. That belief caused me no end of disappointment and disillusionment. Some day we can talk about why that isn’t fair to Scripture or to him, and that God’s participation in the Creation is not as easy as our misinterpretation of those Scriptures allow. But in the fog of grief, I don’t know that this is the best time.

If you can even for a moment suspend your certainty that Father has done these things to you, that he chose against yours and Lynn’s desires, you have a chance to learn about a Father more compassionate and caring than you’ve yet known, and of a Kingdom far deeper and far wider. You are loved, Alan. I know you have been gravely challenged by one of the worst things that can happen to a human, but God is bigger still, and he can walk you through this in a way that will transform you and your capacity to walk alongside others with his wisdom and grace.

I know you’ll find that. He is faithful to his children. He will win this wrestling match going on in your soul because I know you genuinely want him to. You want to see him as he really is, and this circumstance inside the heart of a loving Father. I know you may feel far from it now, but just keep coming to him, trusting that his love is not less than you believe, but more than you can see.

To be continued…

Read on to Part Seven here. 

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With Prayers for Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton

Let me make a few comments about the tragic shootings last week in Gilroy, CA, and the two weekend shootings in El Paso, TX and Dayton, OH. Our community suffered a mass shooting only nine months ago where eleven young people and a sheriff’s deputy were killed in a country-western club, hosting a college night.  I’ve been asked to assist our community with planning some gatherings around the first anniversary to help our community heal. Being behind the scenes has taught me a lot about mass shootings and what goes on in a community that deals with this kind of horror.

It’s hard enough having a child die by disease or accident, but there the anger and helplessness that comes from a senseless murder is a deeper wound. To think someone is so depraved that murdering innocent people will somehow satisfy their twisted soul is impossible to comprehend. It’s maddening to think that a choice to go back-to-school shopping at a Wal-Mart, or dance at a club, should end someone’s life. Grief, anger, and frustration can mix in a toxic brew. The people who lost loved ones need our prayers and, if you know them, our support as they try to make sense of something that is entirely senseless. To be the victim of another person’s abject selfishness is so brutal.

The first victims from a shooting like these are only the tip of the iceberg. Grief experts know that in the next few years more people will die of suicide because of these shootings than died in the shootings themselves. And that isn’t just among the families and friends of the victims, but first responders, medical people, and others who were swept up in the tragedy itself and its aftermath.  Stay close to anyone who has suffered grief, not just for a next week or two, but for two to three years. Make sure they have an outlet to deal with their pain and the senselessness of it all.

Do NOT push a community on to resilience. I saw on an NBC news report last night a headline about El Paso Resilience. Don’t use the term so quickly after a tragedy. It is offensive to the people who matter.  Outsiders love to talk about the resilience of a community to respond to such tragedies, but those who’ve suffered loss from these evil shootings see it as minimizing their pain so you can get back to your life. The news vans are going to pick up and leave as the funerals end, and media people want to believe the community is healing as they head off to the next one. Grief is a two to three year process at best.

Some have tried to put the term ‘resilience’ on our community after only nine months and the response from the victims’ families have been clear. They mostly worry that their children, friends, and parents have died in vain and that people will soon forget them. “Resilience” is only a term for those only tangentially touched by the tragedy, it doesn’t ease the pain of those who touched it personally. It is often an excuse for people to ease their conscience as they get back to their lives and leave the survivors even more isolated in their grief.

My heart goes out to those communities today who have been touched by violence, and not just the three most recent, but those still healing from their own mass murders. Now is the time for our national leaders to move beyond the partisan rhetoric that seeks to use these tragedies for whatever political agendas they have and find bipartisan solutions that can stem the tide of mass shootings by misguided young people.

If you are concerned that someone you know is angry and detached enough to act out in violence speak up! If you are one of those that fantasizes about inflicting violence on innocents as a way to get revenge for how unfair life has been to you, go seek out an older adult who can help you find what you need not to waste your life with such wanton destruction. It’s no way to end your life or theirs.

In the Shadow of Death, Part 5

This is a continuing email exchange between Wayne and a man who is struggling with healing, faith, love, trust, and mortality as his wife appears to be dying from metastasized breast cancer in the face of a promise they both held in their hearts for her healing.

You can read from the beginning starting here.

From Alan on May 21, 2019 (25 days after his first email):

Thank you for words of life. They are truly helping me. I read them and peace just “happens,” and for that, I am most grateful.

The past few days have been interesting. I have convinced myself at times that the reason she is “lingering” is that God is healing her. I realize that He can heal her in a millisecond, but it helps me to think that He is putting her back into a state of complete health.

I do wonder what in the world is going on? But, as you said, God is doing something. Maybe someday He will make it all clear, or maybe not.

I guess one just has to decide whether or not they truly believe that God is good. While all the pain, frustration, and lack of explanations are real, they do not knock us off the rock upon which we are standing that is labeled, “God is good.”

I think I mentioned to you that I struggle with all the affirmative Scriptures – “If any two of you agree” “Anything you ask in my name” “By His stripes we are healed” that somehow wind up with caveats or disclaimers like, “If it is His will” that are not included in the particular Scripture. It’s like God gets let off the hook because we do not understand the true meaning of a verse or its context, or we have not exegeted it properly.

I’m not trying to be irreverent or ugly toward God in expressing this frustration; it’s just a real issue at this time. May I let you in on something: Years ago, I believe that while having a conversation with the Lord as I was driving, He revealed to me why Jesus was beaten. You see, neither Leviticus nor any of the other books that outline the specific instructions God Himself gave regarding the Day of Atonement—wherein the sins of God’s people were dealt with for another season—say anything about beating the sacrifice. On the contrary, the sacrifice was to be without blemish.

So why was the Lamb of God beaten? Obviously, you know the answer that is in Isaiah 53–“by His stripes, we are healed.” Peter also mentions this wonderful truth. I believe that Jesus could have said to Pilate, “You can crucify me, but you are definitely not whipping me,” and sin would still have been cleansed. It is so clear to me that He allowed Himself, the Lamb of God, to go through that horrific beating so that we can be healed. So, that we as His beloved children can know Him as “I am the God that heals you.”

I believe that the Holy Spirit said to me as I was driving, “People get healed the same way they get saved or born-again: “You have to believe.” Just as if we confess with our mouths, the Lord Jesus, and if we believe in our hearts that God has raised Him from the dead (Romans 10), we shall be saved. I believe that this is how we receive the reality of “by His stripes, we are healed.” Not everyone is saved because not everyone believes. Not everyone is healed, because not everyone believes. (Not saying that in any condemning way whatsoever).

On my ministry website, I have an entire podcast about Isaiah 53 and all that Christ endured for us that is in addition to our salvation. I relate this to you so you can know that this is the belief that I had going into this cancer-journey with Lynn when she was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer three days before Christmas, 2014. To be completely transparent, now I have to re-think what I believe. Maybe it was not the Holy Spirit whispering to me what I thought was Him teaching me about healing.

Lynn has beaten the odds repeatedly. From a “2-3 month” death sentence that has turned into four years and five months and who knows how much longer, to the “She has 2-3 days to live” death sentence that the hospice folks pronounced at the beginning of February when we called them in. My sister gave me Psalm 107:20 back in January 2015 – “He sent his word and healed them, and rescued them from the grave,” as a verse to hold onto when this all began. She is a fighter, but more than that, God has allowed her to live. I am very grateful for that and don’t want to seem ungrateful because I am having a crisis in an area of my faith.

Wayne, during a Sunday morning worship time a few years ago, God showed me a cave in a vision. In that vision, death appeared and tried to walk out of the cave, and God punched him right in the face, and he fled back into the darkness of the cave. Lynn reminded me of that vision a couple of months ago, when I voiced some trepidation about the diagnosis of having tumors in one’s brain. She asked me if I really believed what I have been saying I believe for several years? (Wives are good at putting us on the spot like that).

I wanted you to know that I have invested a lot of my personal, strongly-held beliefs in His appropriating healing for us through the Lamb of God’s having been beaten for our healing. Do I stop believing that? Do I stop preaching that? I know that His ways are higher than ours and that it is dangerous to develop a theology on personal experience, but I want so much for it “to work” and to be able to say, “Yes! By His stripes, she has been healed!! It works! It’s true!”

I don’t want to have to say, “Well, I guess I was wrong,” or “God is sovereign, and He knows what is best.” Of course, He is and does.

I am determined that He is good. My life’s mission that He gave to me is to share the eternal, passionate, unconditional love of God. But, most sincerely and transparently that I can be, I confess to you that this is the hardest thing I have ever been through. I don’t understand it. I don’t like it. It sucks!!!!!!!!!

I love Lynn more than I can even begin to say. Yet it jolts me that so much of my thoughts and fear of being without her is filled with selfishness. “Alan’s beliefs.” “Alan’s faith tested.” “What is Alan going to do without his Lynn?”

We have settled into the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs. It’s either God does a miracle, or she steps into Heaven. Each further decline brings a fresh tsunami of tears and waves of that selfish fear. In between those times, I hold her as best as her frail body will allow, tell her not to fear, and say, “I’ve walked you to the door of the other side. You can step through whenever you are ready. I will be ok.” (I also said, “Tell Jesus I said hey,” which made her smile a little.)

Again, as you have said, she is either not quite ready to go, or the healing is about to explode here on earth.

Before I could finish my response, Alan wrote again one day later:

I was with Lynn today as her breath became labored and then went away.

I believe the Lord let me know when she was close to crossing to the other side, so as I have before, I took her hand and said, “I’m taking you to the door, don’t be afraid, just step through.”

It took her a while after that, but then I saw in the Spirit that she was actually stepping over a stream to the other side into the loving arms of Jesus. She was so covered that I could not see her, just Him holding her, enveloping her with His love. (She has been wearing socks for weeks, and in my vision, I saw someone remove her socks, and she was so thrilled to be barefoot. Someone told her it was ok to splash in the stream, and she was having a fun time before she stepped to Jesus).

Wayne, I’m more devastated than I can say – Scripture says we became one flesh—my heart has been violently ripped in two.

But I am also happy she is no longer in pain, and that she is in Heaven, cancer-free. I asked her to wait for me, to look for me, and to tell Jesus I said, “Hey.”

Now, what do I do?

My response:

I have some things that might help in response to your past two emails, but now there is nothing to say except I am so, so sorry that you did not get the miracle you wanted and have lost your Lynn. This news was a stab in my heart, even though I didn’t know Lynn. I feel like I’ve gotten to know you both over the last few weeks. My heart breaks for you and your pain in this, albeit temporary, separation from Lynn. I can’t imagine losing Sara at this stage of our journey, but even if I did, I know nothing takes our Father by surprise.

And, the strange thing about the death of a loved one is that she’s in such a space of unfathomable love in the presence of Jesus and his Father without all the distractions of flesh and distrust. You, however, are left here without her. A part of your heart has been ripped out, most certainly though it is best to have her safely home if the miracle you wanted wasn’t to be.

Somehow his purpose in this life was fulfilled in Lynn, even as Father still has things in mind for you. The loss is part of it, but God has a purpose for you in still being here. You don’t have to figure out what it is now or in any future time; it will unfold. Now is the time to grieve, to embrace God in the pain of your loss, to let him over time fill the space your wife vacated. That happens with loads of tears, and they are not proof of your lack of faith. Hold your heart before the Father. I will be praying for you, too.

From Alan on May 25, 2019 (29 days after his first email):

I am broken like a smashed vase. The reality that Lynn will never, ever be in our home again, will never be there waiting when I get home is unbearable. I realized that I have had someone to talk to every day for over 30 years, and now I am all alone. Nothing that mattered to us as a couple matters now. She’s gone. Forever. I don’t even really know what promise I have of being reunited with her in Heaven.

Lynn said she’d look for me, but now that she is in the other realm, is she finding out that is not the way it will work? I’m so overwhelmed by the permanence of death and even the suddenness of her being gone. We had a five-month runway before she was flying into eternity, and I knew her death was possible, even probable in spite of my attempt to have faith and believe for her healing here on earth. But, it feels so sudden. She’s gone. Forever. Gone. And I am feeling without hope.

My response:

I’m sorry, so sorry that you lost Lynn, and all the pain you’re going through now is a normal part of the fog grief. Invite God into this season. This is where faith really has to count, not when we get what we want, but when we don’t. I’ve known many to stand where you now stand, with all the pain and disillusionment you’re feeling, and God got them through it, and they found their way to the heights of joy even here in this world. You will never get over the loss of Lynn, but you will get on to other experiences with God, your children, and your friends.

Joy will come in the morning. It will take some time, though. Don’t despise the hurt, because it only marks the depth of your love. But don’t get stuck there either, or her memory will only bring pain and despair, and you’ll lose the ability to celebrate what you had for as long as you had her.

I have no doubt you will see her again, that the separation here is temporary and that we will see and know those we have loved in this life, most especially the one with whom we have been united in body and spirit. Fear not, my friend; she is not gone forever. She isn’t even gone now. Every treasured experience you had with her, every bit of wisdom she added to your life, every place where you were loved, lives on inside of you. You’re a different person because of her. You will always be.

Given the last email you wrote to me before her death, I knew this would be really difficult for you because it isn’t just the death of your wife, but the destruction of a theological conviction you had, that if you could “have faith and believe for healing here on earth,” she would be healed. If that is true (and I am confident it is not), then either God failed you, or you failed Lynn by not having enough faith. Either will only cause you unreconcilable pain because they are built on a false theological premise. We will talk about healing, prayers, and faith later. I had hoped to write you back about it all before Lynn died but did not get a chance to do so. I will someday, but that certainly is what’s most important now.

Just hold in your heart the possibility that your doctrine of healing may not be complete, and that God didn’t fail you, nor did you fail Lynn. This was obviously her time, and that time is coming for all of us. Her death is not the failure of your faith, but the culmination of it. God with us, even in the darkest moments of human existence, where we face full-on the futility of this age. Death is still our enemy. It is God’s enemy, too. He didn’t create us to be torn away from those we love, but that is the price of redemption. Sin had to die so that we could embrace the fullness of eternal life. It’s so rarely true that couples die together.

You will survive this and even thrive in the life Father still has ahead for you. Trust that the Jesus you’ve known all your life will fulfill your heart in ways you cannot conceive. Don’t focus too much on the questions that plague you. Just wait until his glory comes. Grieve with the Father whose heart even hurts more than youea at the toll this fallen world has taken from you. Find him there and what he does in you will become a great comfort to others. Even Paul despaired of life in a crushing experience he speaks of in II Corinthians 1. He could only make sense of it knowing the comfort they would receive in it would make them more comforting to others who traverse the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

You have my prayers and love. I’m happy to do whatever I can to hold your heart in the presence of the Father. He’s big enough to get you through this. But for now, it just hurts. I get it. Let it hurt. Don’t run from the pain; run to him in it.

To be continued…

We’ll switch the headline here, but the story continues. Read part 6 here:

Part 6:  When You Don’t Get The Miracle You Want…

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In the Shadow of Death, Part 4

This is a continuing email exchange between Wayne and a man who is struggling with healing, faith, love, trust, and mortality as his wife appears to be dying from metastasized breast cancer in the face of a promise they both held in their hearts for her healing.

You can read from the beginning starting here.

From Alan on May 8, 2019 (12 days after the first email):

I wanted to share an amazing thing that I realized this morning: I’m not freaking out. God has taken the words you have shared with me and used them as living water that is flowing peacefully in my soul. It is as if the raging waves of emotion have heeded His command “Peace, Be still.”

Don’t get me wrong, I have wept, and prayed with all of my might. But the sense of sheer abandonment I was abiding in is slowly being replaced by His being made more real to me. I actually sense Him in a different way than I ever have before.

There is no way to sugar-coat what facing the possible death of the woman I have loved most of my life feels like. It’s a nightmare, a horror story. What’s different is that now I am a little less scared.

Lynn is smiling at me more these past couple of days. Yesterday evening she thanked me for serving her. I told her it was my honor and pleasure to do so. She grabbed me as I was leaning over the bed to better hear what she was saying and planted a big kiss on my cheek. It was awesome!

She is wanting to get up again and to try and walk. Who knows how this will play out but God? I do know that I still believe for her healing, but in a calmer way than before. His peace has invaded my faith.  We’re thankful for another day and are even more thankful for His presence that is walking with us.

Wayne’s Response:

I love this.  Evidently, she’s doing better, if she wants to try to get up.  I wish at times like this we knew what God was doing, but we almost never do. Abiding in his love and living in the uncertainty of the present is how so much of my journey has gone. This is the best place, regardless of what happens, to be “in the Spirit”. If Father brings healing your joy will be overwhelming. If she lingers awhile in the twilight of her cancer, you’ll have words to say and love to share, and if (and I pray not), this is her home going, then you’ll have the bittersweet days of watching your love be stronger than the tragedy that has beset you.

I am thankful as well for each day you have. I, too, am praying for the miracle of miracles that heals her body and gives you years and years together. And I am so grateful that Father has led you to this point in the midst of it all.

From Alan on May 11, 2019 (15 days after the first email):

Wayne, as always, thank you. Perhaps I spoke too soon about not being freaked out. I am so sad to think of her not being here. Even though she is bed-bound now, at least she is still here. We can still hold hands and talk to each other even though it’s hard for her. Of course, I hate that she has been stuck in that bed for weeks, but selfishly there is a peace in knowing she will be there to smile at me and say “Good morning.”

I have been weeping more and more because my love for her is pleading please get better, please don’t go! But, Heaven is silent, no miracles on the horizon that I can see. The emptiness and gloom that I see in my life without her are too much to consider. Everywhere I turn in this house I see something to do with her, some touch she added to make it our home. Maybe I am too emotional, but this is just so hard.

Wayne’s Response:

I know that it is, Alan. Someone once told me the reason we have so much fear and anxiety in our imagined futures (life without Lynn), is that we cannot imagine grace. Therefore, we are always in our future alone, having to survive by our own skills and we just can’t see a way through it. But when we actually get there, God is there too, with resources we can’t contemplate until we’re there.

I am confident he will be with you each day, in this crisis and through it. Heaven is not silent; it only seems so to you.

I don’t know how many years you’ve had with Lynn, but I have watched many people go through this. They do survive, and even thrive in a future God still has for them. You can’t imagine it now; I get that. But you will go on and all the memories and experiences you have had with her will live on in you too. Grief takes the sting of the memories we have about someone we love and turns them into the joy of having known and experienced them. You’re not there yet, so I don’t think you need to rush it. Just know you won’t be alone, not for one day, not for one second.

Right now, you’re loving her in the uncertainty of whether this is her time or not.  That is the most difficult place I know of, and though you are not sufficient to that task, he is. And I do trust him in all that’s unfolding both for you and Lynn. You don’t control the outcome here. She doesn’t either. It just means you have to put everything on his lap every day and roll with whatever comes—joy or pain.  I’m so sorry, brother. I wish I could save you from this.

Though I don’t think God is causing any of this, he will cause it to work for good. It’s what he does—triumph out of tragedy.

From Alan on May 17, 2019 (21 days after his first email):

Every night as I tuck her into the hospice bed, we bump fists and say, “Another day!” Lately I have had to help her make a fist, but that is ok. She even instigates it if I should forget.

I have wept more in the past couple of days than I wanted to. Your words have so strengthened me and I thought I was making great progress in being “ready.” I have a ways to go.

Yesterday was the worst day in the recent nightmare and probably in four years. She woke up with her big brown eyes shining at me and we talked some and I helped her exercise her legs in the bed. The CNA comes on Tuesday and Thursday and Saturday to give her a bath (in the bed) and I was getting her stuff together for that as I always do. Out of the blue, Lynn began to I guess hallucinate or become paranoid – she started telling me to “make sure the cameras are off.” I tried to reassure her but it only got worse. Eventually, she was so agitated that she was crying out, “I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die. Take me to the hospital.” I called the hospice folks and they said to go ahead and give her some of the medication they have provided for pain and agitation. I did and eventually she settled and fell asleep.

Hospice wants me to keep her medicated “around the clock.” It’s driving me crazy not to be able to talk to her at all. I mean I can talk but to not have her respond even with a fist bump is creating a new level of sorrow. It’s like a new vein of tears has been tapped.

I am still praying for her to be miraculously healed. But, Wayne, for the first time I asked God to take her as opposed to letting her suffer like that. I really do not want Him to take her, I want Him to heal her and be like Jesus to Mary and Martha – “Did I not say if you believe you will see the glory of God?” I’ve felt like the Holy Spirit at one time was prompting me to think about what we would do with a miraculously healed Lynn. I prayed, “Lord, help us to handle your glory the way you want us to, to give you the glory in the way that pleases you.”

She is sleeping soundly and has been for over 24 hours. I will help her make a fist in a little while and say, “Guess what? Another day!” I can barely see the screen to type this so I will stop. I love Lynn so much.

From Wayne

I’m not sure why you worry about how many tears you cry. Tears are not a sign of defeat or lack of faith. The sorrow you feel is directly tied to the depth of love you two have shared. Cry all you want. Embrace God in the tears. He understands your pain better than you do. He often, “with loud cries and tears” offered himself to God.

As I’ve said previous, this is the worst of all times with someone we love, when they linger in the throes of death. Once they pass, we are freer to grieve to healing. Now we’re just caught in the ongoing nightmare as you call it.  It’s hard. I’ve been there, not with Sara thankfully, but with others I love. Would that they get healed, or pass on quicker, but her lingering has to do with her desire to survive and some work God is yet doing in her heart and soul. Death doesn’t come easily very often, but what a gift to have you in her pocket at this season. She is not alone. She has someone sharing her pain and uncertainty with her.

Somehow, I think we’ll see at the end of all things, what a valuable time this is for you and for her. Pain is not our enemy. Embrace it and the tears, as well as God in them, for he is surely there and someday you’ll see this all as a gift that’s so hard to see now.

And trust the hospice people about medication. They have been through this a hundred times or more. I know you want to keep her ‘aware’, but that serves you more than her. I don’t write that easily. I know those are hard words, but the fears and pain that overwhelm her aren’t worth it for either of you.

Loving in the chaos of this fallen world is not easy. My heart breaks that this has gone on so long for you, but you or your prayers are not the determining factors here. Would that they were. There are just greater realities here than either of us can fathom. We don’t control events; we just do our part and entrust the rest to our loving Father.

You’re in our prayers, Alan.  I only have words of honor for you and what you’re going through and how you’re responding. I can’t imagine God saying anything at the moment than, “That’s Alan, my beloved son and in whom I’m well pleased with how he’s loving my Lynn.”

To be continued…

Read Part 5 here. 

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Water, Water, Everywhere

Before I get to some great news from Kenya, I want to catch you up on a few things around here.  Last week I was asked to appear with Vince Coakley on his Charlotte-based radio show and discuss the crisis of confidence people are having with the clergy.  You can listen to that here.

Additionally, Sara and I will be taking some vacation over the next couple of weeks, spending some time at Shaver Lake with my dad and later my daughter’s family. We are looking forward to the break and will return to the office here on August 20. If you can keep the emails to a minimum during this time, that would be great.

And while we’re gone, I’ll continue posting the email exchange I’ve had with Alan that I began in the post, In the Shadow of Death. I’ve done three parts already and probably have ten more to go as we talked about hope for healing, faith, reality, grief, and mortality in the throes of metastasized breast cancer. There’s a lot in this exchange that we rarely talk about. I also pre-recorded some fascinating podcasts for you throughout August at TheGodJourney.com.

Now on to Kenya. Many of you followed our saga in Kenya this winter after floodwaters polluted the water system for a school we have helped support in an impoverished area near Bungoma. Their sewage had comingled with their water supply, and the children were all getting sick, as were other residents in the area who also use that water. If they didn’t drill a new well, the government was going to close the school.

Many of you stepped up and gave over $30,000 to drill a new well. Amazingly, it hit an aquifer deep underground that had hit some of the purest water in Kenya and at such a huge pressure that it would not only serve the school but could be given away to the community around them. When the government tested the water, they said it was some of the purest in all of Kenya and encouraged them to bottle and sell it. The need for bottled water is vast in that region.

So, you stepped up again with another $42,000 to build a water-bottling enterprise, whose profits will help provide for the school and other projects in Kenya that we have been supporting. They just had their inspection for the new water plant, and this is what they sent me yesterday:

On behalf of the Forkland community and also IGEM ministry at large, we would like to send our gratitude for you and the entire team for the great and awesome support towards this project.

In addition to the school, this water is serving more than 16,000 consumers and the number will still increase. This is amazing. Typhoid and Diarrhea have been reduced by a large margin in this region. People are asking, especially mainstream churches who are surrounding this community, whether anything good come from Forkland? But the answer is yes; Jesus is able. We don’t have anything which this community can offer to you but just prayers.

About our bottled mineral water, we now have full confidence towards our target. Our premises have already been approved by Ministry of Health, Water Services Board, National Environmental Department, Ministry of Housing  and Rural Development, and Kenya Bureau of Standards.

We were surprised to hear that our water, Springs Garden Mineral Water, is pure and recommended to the World Health Organization.  We have been receiving congratulations  from the different departments. Everything is working out great and we have many customers—hence more orders. Wow!

Here are some pictures they sent along:

The filling station for the water bottles.

 

Each bottle is hand-filled at the water-station.

 

This new enterprise came as such a surprise and will be a future source of revenue for them in years to come. What an unanticipated blessing in the long saga of our connection to these dear people. Your compassion for them and your godly generosity toward them continues to amaze me, and I suspect delights the Father.

Your help is appreciated more than you know. All contributions are tax-deductible in the US. And, as always, every dollar you send goes to the need in Kenya. We do not (nor do they) take out any administrative or money transfer fees. Please see our Donation Page at Lifestream. You can either donate with a credit card there, or you can mail a check to Lifestream Ministries • 1560 Newbury Rd Ste 1  •  Newbury Park, CA 91320. Or if you prefer, we can take your donation over the phone at (805) 498-7774.