Journey to Oz 8– The Rest of the Big Picture

August 31, 2007 by · Leave a Comment 

Two entries ago, I shared about my friend Hillery and the memorial service I attended for his mom, Caddie.

Now I want you to hear about the experience from Hillery, himself . This is an e-mail I received from Hillery a day or two after Caddie went home to be with Jesus…

(Some of you may be uncomfortable with the phrase I just used– “went home to be with Jesus.” Often, phrases like that seem trite and cliche– something Christians use because they don’t know what else to say in these difficult times of loss. If you had that feeling when you just read it, that’s okay. Read on.)

Soak this in, ya’ll. I thank God for Hillery and Caddie and the beauty that can come from even the darkest, most difficult times…

 

From: Hillery Schanck Sent:Fri 7/27/07 12:49pm
To: Doug Haupt

Subject: Journal Entry

 

Hey folks. Thanks for all the prayers and support. It has meant so much to me. I have attached a journal entry of the last 2 hours with my mom. This was all very real, and I still am trying to process it. May it encourage you.

Love,

Hillery

 

I walked her to the gate yesterday.

When I arrived my sisters were waiting outside in the garden. They told me that she was holding on…nobody knew why, but the doctors and nurses said that she was holding on longer than most people do. It was my turn to walk with her.

I went in the room, where my dad was sitting with her, holding her hand.

I said, “Mom, I’m here now.” I just looked at her. My dad and sisters had been walking with her a long time…holding her hands, talking to her, singing to her, reading the Bible to her. Dad had given her permission to go, as sad as that was for him. But for some reason, she had not gone through the gate.

Shortly after I was there ( I had no concept of time) Dad told Mom that he was going to leave for a little bit.

I shifted to the other side of the bed where Dad had been, so I could see her eye to eye.

At first, I could see that she was a little bit nervous. After so many years of trusting she would come to this place herself, and she understandably, humanly paused to be sure. She had always believed. She never knew a time when she did not believe. As I look back about my own journey, it was her faith that led me to the original gate I walked through. I held her hand and told her she had never looked more beautiful. This was her time. Her father was waiting for her on the other side of the gate. But still she paused.

We sat for a while, just looking at each other. I was so pleased and privileged to be with her at this time.

(The doctor came in and asked how she was. I told her that my mom seemed a bit anxious. She left and said that she would go and get her some anxiety medication.)

I could see it in her eye… “Are you sure? Is everything going to be OK?” I looked her in the eye and smiled, then I whispered to her, “Everything is going to be OK. God really loves you. He loves us too. And you love him. You know that we get to be with Him forever. I read from John, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” I continued, “”I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” “Don’t be afraid. You believe in Him. You believe in Jesus. Your husband, all of your kids and grandchildren believe. We will all be together again.”

Together, we took a few steps closer to the gate and I noticed that her breathing had calmed a bit. I looked in her eyes and smiled at her.

Then, I noticed her eyebrow furrowed just a tiny bit. You might have thought it was a twitch, but I could see that she was thinking about something. “What’s wrong, mom?” I stared into her eyes to see.

She looked back at me and I could see deeply into her soul. “Are you sure?” I looked at her and smiled. “”Its all true. Its all true. It IS Jesus. He loves you and he loves us.” (As I reflect on this moment, I never for a moment thought that she was questioning her faith. Her body was frail and failing. She simply wanted someone else to encourage her when she was losing the ability to trust her own self.) Even though her mouth could not move, she was smiling ever so briefly. I could see it in her eyes. She had a simple faith in Jesus, and she knew that was all was needed. I simply reminded her of what she already knew. It was like she said, “Oh, yea…that’s right…thanks.” I was certainly not telling her anything she did not already know. She just needed to hear it…and it made her smile.

I held her hand and we walked a few steps closer towards. Then, she paused. I looked in her eyes and she said to me, “But what about this body, I feel terrible right now. Look at me.” I replied that she would be leaving this weak body behind. “It is your spirit that lives forever.” I read her from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, “I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” I smiled and looked her in the eye. I saw her as beautiful and radiant. I said to her, “Mom, you have never looked more beautiful to me…and you are not even wearing lipstick! But you are holding on to this body, this perishable body. Your spirit is strong, and righteous, and holy. Don’t hold on to this perishable body.”

She seemed to consider this for a moment. Then her breathing calmed even more. She had never needed to be convinced about Scripture. When it said something, she always simply believed. She never needed Greek translations, or theological explanations. At this moment, I could tell that the Scripture to her was like water. It cooled her spirit…it calmed her. It truly had a supernatural effect on her at that very moment. Noticing this impact, I prayed, “God please take her…she is yours.”

We continued walking slowly, never losing eye contact with one another. We just walked and gazed into each other’s eyes. We went for periods where nothing was said, we just kept looking at each other. People passed through the room and may have even talked to us. I do not really recall what was said. I did not want to be distracted. I knew we were close to the gate, even though I would not be able to see it. I could feel it though. My mom could see the gate. She knew exactly how many more steps it was.

While we walked, I reminded her about all the times she had held my hand when I was afraid. When I had skinned my knee, or bruised myself, or when I was sick. “Mom, you were there for me and now it is time for me to hold your hand. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid I am here with you, holding your hand. I know you can feel me.”

At this point, Emily joined my mom on her other side and took her hand.

Mom was much calmer at this point and her breathing was completely relaxed.

(The doctor came in and said that she had the anxiety medication that we had requested. I looked at my mom and then back at the doctor. “She does not need it anymore. She is fine.” The doctor (and Emily) looked at me perplexed. She said, “The doctor said I am supposed to give this to her now.” I told her that I was the one who requested it, but my mom no longer needed it. She said OK and walked out.)

I returned my gaze to my mom. Her breathing was perfectly calm. I knew that SHE was ready. This was her moment. We were at the gate. I watched each breath carefully as they slowed.

I quietly prayed, “God, take her now. She is ready for you. Take her, please.”

Mom breathed one last breath and walked through the gate.

Hayden and the Dentist

August 17, 2007 by · 2 Comments 

“No! I’m not going!”

The door bathroom door slammed shut and I heard the lock turn.

As a parent of three kids, this is not an unusual occurrence in our home. Normally, I would address a situation like this with loving, mature encouragement (something like: “Yes you are!”… To which my child would respond, “No I’m not!”… To which I would reply “Are to!”… To which my child would counter, “Am not!”… This would continue until someone said “infinity” after their line, thus ending the argument.). But today was different. Today my son, Hayden, was frightened. Today he was terrified and scared and frantic. That’s why he was locked in our bathroom. And I couldn’t blame him. Today, I understood his tantrum.

Today, Hayden was going to the dentist. And Hayden isn’t very fond of the dentist. It’s nothing personal (we have a few close friends in the dental profession), it’s just that in the world of my 7 year-old son, dentists do horrible things and cause horrible pain. I really can’t blame him either. After all, he has one rather unpleasant memory of a dentist who ripped out a molar from his 5 year-old mouth somewhat unexpectedly—“Surprise”! (Do they talk about bedside manner in dental school at all?) Perhaps that’s why dental appointments for Hayden have been placed on dad’s “To Do” list by mom (not really the kind of father-son activity I envisioned when he was born). And that’s why I felt for him this morning.

Hayden needed to get a tooth pulled. It was his front tooth and it had died (it has been gray for about 5 years and we kept waiting for it to fall out, but it wouldn’t). Now his new tooth is coming in behind the dead tooth and it’s all crooked. Without pulling the baby tooth, there could be trouble (think of a six letter swear word for parents… B-R-A-C-E-S). For us adults, getting a tooth pulled is probably not that big of a deal. I mean, you wouldn’t sign up for it, but we have confidence in modern dentistry, right? But for a 7 year-old, getting a tooth pulled is borderline barbaric (little boys can conjure up a lot of aggressive stuff when playing light sabers with their friends—but they never imagine ripping someone’s tooth out!). To top it off, there is the realization that his dad and mom are condoning—nay, endorsing—this act of senseless violence upon him. They are even willing to pay money to perpetrate this treachery!

It can be hard to be a parent. But the hardest times are when our kids have to do something that they don’t want to do but we know they have to do and we can’t do it for them but it’s for their own good.

“Why does this need to happen?”

Hayden asked me that through the closed door. It’s a pretty fair question. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t understand the answer. How do you explain to a scared kid that grabbing his tooth and yanking it from his head will be better for him in the long run (how do you explain “long run” to any kid?!?). How do you explain that there is a greater purpose behind the pain? That this pain is actually for his benefit—to prevent more pain in the future?

I found out the answer to those questions this morning: you don’t (believe me, I tried—but Hayden wasn’t having anything to do with my tremendously persuasive words). An explanation didn’t make sense to my son. He was afraid and fear trumps logic most of the time, doesn’t it.

In time, however, I guess Hayden saw the writing on the wall (probably written in the blood of his bleeding mouth), and came out of the bathroom. The fear was still there, but the tears were gone. He was resigned to his fate and we got into the car.

This brave little boy was heading into the abyss of the unknown, the frightening, the threatening. Although he wasn’t speaking, his eyes continued to question me through the rearview mirror: Why are you doing this? We don’t have to go? You could save me from this? Why don’t you stop it?

And I couldn’t give him any of the answers he wanted. I could only give him my presence. And in that moment, I never wanted to give him my presence more. Like most other parents, I would have given anything to sit in the dentist’s chair for my son—to take his place. But I couldn’t. I could only be there with him. I could only assure him that I would be next to him the entire time. I reminded him that we would celebrate when it was over (Slurpee!!!). I told him how much I loved him and how proud I was of his courage. I whispered things to him to make him smile and laugh. He may not have been happy with me—he may not have liked this insane decision that his mother and I had made on his behalf—but I never felt closer to him than that moment. My boy was scared, but I was right there with him. I was for him. And he would know that.

Fast forward… The tooth came out quick and easy. We got a slurpee, and we called my wife to tell her how brave her son was. Hayden was proud to show off his ugly gray tooth to his sisters and they oohed and ahhhed in amazement at his heroism.

 

“No, I’m not going!”

I shut the door and turned the lock.

This is not unusual as I enter a frightening, unknown, or confusing point in my life. I hold my Father responsible. I lash out. I am scared and angry.

“Why does this need to happen?”

I ask from behind the closed door… But I don’t hear a response. I wonder if my father is even there. How do you explain to a scared kid that difficult and trying circumstances will be better for him in the long run (how do you explain “long run” to any kid?!?). How do you explain that there is a greater purpose behind the pain? That this pain is actually for his benefit—to prevent more pain in the future?

I become resigned to the pain—because I realize that I can’t change it. But I continue to ask my father many questions: Why are you doing this? We don’t have to go? You could save me from this? Why don’t you stop it?

I think about my own son, Hayden, and I realize that the trip to the dentist today is actually very similar to the dark and frightening times in my own life—with my father. He is closer now than ever. When I need him. When I’m hopeless. Even when I’m angry.

He may not give me answers (I probably couldn’t understand them anyway). But he gives me his presence. And yet, he gives even more. He gives me himself. See, I would have given anything to sit in the dentist’s chair for my son—to take his place. But I couldn’t.

God did. Jesus took my place on the cross so that we could journey together through the frightening, scary, dark times as well as the bright and joyful times. So I would never be alone.

That’s how much my dad loves me. He’s always there whispering how much he loves me and how proud he is of me. He’s holding me in his arms and weeping with me. He knows the pain—and he feels the pain. But he also wants me to grow up. And understand that I can count on him—that I can trust him.

And that’s all I need to know…

Oh yeah, a slurpee helps too.

Journey to Oz 7– The Big Picture

August 8, 2007 by · Leave a Comment 

We’ve been on a Journey to Oz… Last Saturday I got a glimpse of the end—or perhaps the beginning (you’ll have to decide which for yourself). I got a quick snapshot of the “Big Picture”. And although we’ve been unfolding the heart of courage and bravery slowly over the last several weeks, I’m gonna bring it all together—perhaps a little prematurely—right now. I’m doing this because every once in a while, God brings everything together—everything into focus. These times may seem few—but when they come, it’s pretty darn cool.

 

The Background

An important part of any picture is the “background”. A photographer has to pay attention to the background so that he can create a beautiful picture. For example, I saw a wedding photo once that had the bride and the groom standing before a beautiful sunset. In the background there was a large blossoming tree. It was beautiful. They looked so happy and content. I’m sure the photographer was thinking that the blossoming tree represented the new life of the marriage and hope springing eternal and ya-da-ya-da-ya-da. However, I noticed something else in the background. It was back behind the blossoming tree. It was a road sign. The sign said (very clearly and prominently) “DO NOT ENTER”. 

The point is this: the background is important for this “big picture”. So here it is…

 

I have an incredible friend named Hillery. Although he has a girl’s name, he is one of the most amazing GUYS I’ve ever met (I had to address the name thing, Hillery…sorry). I was once asked who Hillery reminds me of. I answered “P.T. Barnum”. I said this because everything Hillery is involved in becomes the “greatest show on earth!” And I mean that as a compliment. He could make a trip to the DMV fun, exciting, and exhilarating. He’s a joy-bringer. Everything is an adventure. (For example, the question about who Hillery reminds me of came from an application we filled out to be a team on the TV show The Amazing Race.) 

Well, I got to know Hillery when we worked together on a Men’s Retreat at my church and we’ve been through a lot together. I admire his faith, his outlook, his joy, and his love for others. 

Several months ago, Hillery’s mom—Caddie—was diagnosed with cancer. And so, I got to journey with Hillery on another adventure. This one was not chosen—but rather thrust upon him. When he’d visit his mom, I’d ask how it went. One thing he said after each visit is that he really loved his mother’s simple faith in Jesus. “She’s not afraid,” he’d say, “She knows she’s going to be with Jesus…”

At the end of July, Caddie went home to be with the one she loved—Jesus.

 

The Coloring

Like background, a photographer also must be aware of color in each picture. For example a red rose will stand out against a dark background, increasing the beauty and presence of the rose itself—almost transforming the setting from somber to beautiful.

 

Last Saturday, I attended the memorial service for Caddie. When I spoke to him the night before, he told me that he was wearing a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and sandals—and he encouraged me to do the same. He also asked if I could get there early and help him by passing out Hawaiian leis before the service. 

I wasn’t thrown by Hillery’s request because—well—I know Hillery. See, as Christians we see death not as the end—but as the beginning. Jesus said this in John 11: 

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)

This is an incredible promise from God. This is an incredible claim by Jesus. This is an incredible hope for believers. And that’s why we should celebrate when someone who loves Jesus gets to be with him—gets to see him face to face and be in the place he has prepared for them. 

But it’s hard to celebrate when we lose someone we love. We say the words of God’s truth, but our hearts hurt. Black clothes of mourning match our mood. Serious attire for serious circumstances.

Into this, Hillery added color. Red, green, orange, pink, purple, blue. A rainbow of Hawaiian leis. Every person in the service got one. And I had the privilege of being one of the people handing them out. 

And I want to tell you how interesting the handing out process was. People arriving for a memorial service suddenly receive a colorful lei from people in Hawaiian shirts and shorts. You may be thinking that this was strange or odd or inappropriate, but it was not. I know, I was there… It was perfect. I decided this when I heard a woman say to her husband, “Oh, Caddie would have loved this!” as she smiled and put the pink lei around her neck.

Bright color in a somber setting can change the entire picture.

 

The Picture 

As important as background and coloring are to a photograph, neither should detract from the subject presented. Instead, they serve the subject to make it clear and vibrant—to enhance the subject and make it real to the observer.

 

I found myself thinking about this theme of celebration and reflecting on the leis we were handing out. In Hawaii they have a word—aloha. It means goodbye… and hello. It’s an appropriate word when a follower of Jesus passes from this world to the next. 

There is a sadness in goodbye, yet a joy in hello. And both are real. Both are intense. And it is in this paradox that we said goodbye to Caddie and Caddie said hello to Jesus. 

And that’s the big picture right there: Jesus. That’s what Caddie wanted the service to be about. That’s what Hillery wanted the lei to remind us. Because of Jesus, we were saying aloha—goodbye and hello.

And I know this. One day I will get to meet Caddie and I will get to say aloha. And Hillery and I will get to see what a real adventure is like!

 

What about Oz? 

So what does this have to do with being brave? What does this mean about courage? 

I believe that Hillery and Caddie and everyone else involved in the memorial service learned what true courage and bravery is all about because they experienced these things—things my friend Scott Gore put together with this acrostic: 

YOU CAN BE BRAVE!
 

BELIEVE the Truth

Death is not the end—Jesus promises eternal life for those who believe.

REJECT all Lies

Refuse to buy into the notion that this life is all there is—that everything about “heaven” isn’t true.

ACT in spite of Fear

We can trust God and move through this dark time with hope—even though we are afraid and sad and broken.

VISUALIZE God’s Plan

There is a place prepared for us. It is our true home. Jesus is there and it is for all of God’s children. This world is broken, but everything will be made new again— no more tears, no more pain, no more sorrow.

EXPECT it to Happen

Caddie is with Jesus because of what he has done for her. I will be with Jesus because of what he has done for me. We will be together with Jesus again because of what he has done for us. In the face of death, we can be brave because Jesus has defeated death. It no longer can hold us. He has won the victory.

 

 

I think that’s worth celebrating. So grab a lei and join the party.

 

Aloha.