When all else fades…

Born and raised in the shadow of the Nashville skyline, I grew up in a life of comfort.  With a nice car, a nice house, and a nice family, I was never in need of anything.  Even within a fifteen mile radius of my house, it would’ve been possible to eat at a different restaurant for both lunch and dinner every single day for a month or two.  On my way to school every morning, I drove past many big houses, including the one below.

Now though, I’ll ask you a question.  What life would be like if we lost our possessions, our loved ones, and even our health?

You probably have your own past experiences with those types of loss, but I’ll share mine, too.  My life has changed dramatically since experiencing the loss of a loved one.  The reason why I told you about the town where I grew up, though, is this: I never felt the need to fully rely on God for my survival.  All of my troubles seemed solvable by wearing the right clothes, building the perfect resume, fitting in with the right crowd of people, and maintaining the appearance that everything was okay.  In the past few years, I have learned just how wrong I was in relying on those to, hopefully, fix some of my problems.

But in the past two months, I experienced an even greater loss; my whole family did.  I lost the lovely lady that I always knew I could talk with and just be myself.  She was “my safe place.”  She would actually encourage me to eat more, not less! (Go figure, since she was my grandmother! 😉 )  But she loved me so much, not for who I could be or would be, but for just the way that I was.  I was always most at home when sitting by her or cooking with her in the kitchen.  Never did she pressure me about having an exact plan for the future; she always seemed so much more concerned with where I was in that moment that I was with her.  This Christmas already isn’t the same without my beloved Mammaw here with us…

Life on earth is fragile at best.  Economic hardship can rob us of our wealth.  The aging process will mar the physical appearance of our younger days.  The thief named Death will steal from us our loved ones.  Dreaded dementia or a brain injury would rob us of our educated minds, and illness could strike us and take away our health.

I don’t know about you, but there’s one realization that I have in lieu of all of this… No man–even a devout follower of Christ–is exempt from the state of this fallen world.  Stripped away from the earthly things that bring us comfort: only in this state can we see that, truly, we still exist by the mercy and grace of God alone. Only when all else fades, do we see the light of Christ…

And this is the first step towards grasping the joy of salvation.

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More than a rose from the casket.

On Sunday, we celebrated the beautiful life of my Mammaw, Gerry Harden.  And even though there are thousands of words in the dictionary that I could choose, there is one word that best describes that tear-filled day: hopeful.

If thinking only about the secular meaning of the word, you might wonder why I would choose hopeful as the best description for that sad day.  Even for me, in the majority of the time since Thursday morning at 10:07 am, I would have scoffed at the thought of being hopeful during this time of grief.  The temptation to focus on her absence, the lifeless body that lay in the casket, and the constant reminders of life with her before: this temptation was overwhelming.  With force, it ruled over my body, my mind, my heart, my soul.  I didn’t want to eat, sleep, talk, or carry on in life without her.  I loved her at a depth that I couldn’t even fathom.  I still do. She was my Mammaw, the mother of my very own mom, the feeder of our family, the unifying force that brought our extended family together year after year.  And in that phone call on Thursday morning at 10:58 am, she was gone…

You see, in order for there to be hope, there must be something in life that causes us to need hope in the first place.  Something has to happen that robs us of our joy, steals our passion, or even makes the journey of our life seem to have reached an end.  As the contrast to total despair, that is the only way that we can see that hope shines, cutting brilliantly through the darkness.

There is no doubt in my mind that many more tears will be shed.  Grieving is part of the healing process.  As a co-worker told me yesterday after my SECOND breakdown of the day by only 9:30 am (I had only been there for 30 minutes), “You just have to get it out before you can get it together.”

I look back now on all the tears that I’ve shed, and while I don’t regret a single one, there comes a point when we cannot continue to live in the darkness of mourning.  If we truly believe that Christ died for the sins of the world, to be the living sacrifice that would one day bring God’s children back to Himself, we cannot cling to suffering.  We must reach out in faith; we must continue on in hope.

What is difference between secular hope and hope that the Gospel offers?  Hope in this world is merely the wishing that things would be different, that things would get better, and it is marked by the possibility  that what is hoped for WILL NOT or CANNOT happen.

But this is not the same hope that we have through Jesus.

The hope that Jesus offers is based on God’s promise, the Truth.  This hope is the blessed assurance that God’s promise WILL be fulfilled!  That Jesus WILL come back and that he WILL abolish the darkness and all that’s in it, that one day we WILL sit in the lap of our Father, and He will wipe away every single tear: this is the hope that we have.  He will tell us, “Shhh, my child, death is overcome.  Mourning is no more.  Heaven has come to this new earth, and I am here.  I am here.”

On Sunday, October 16, 2011, we may have laid Mammaw’s earthly body in the ground, but we did not bury her spirit.  The life that she lived and the legacy carrying her memory forward: forever, these will always live inside of me and inside of those that knew her.  She was and still is a remarkable woman of God.  Never will I use only the past tense to talk about her because this is the hope that I have in Jesus: the spirit of my Mammaw, Gerry Harden, is still alive and well.  Right now, she is smiling down on me and on all of her family and friends.  Free from the devastation of ALS, I can hear her saying to me,”If only you knew what it feels like to be in the presence of Jesus…”  If only we could experience it on this side of heaven…

“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;

you have loosened the sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,

that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.

O Lord my God, 

I will give thanks to you forever!”

Psalm 30:11-12

And so here I am, learning now to praise the Lord even in the midst of this hard time.  He is the giver of real hope, the kind that, through faith, will give me the strength to keep on going and rejoice in the promise of Heaven.  Deep down, I know that I have more to cling to than a single rose that I pulled from the cover of flowers on Mammaw’s casket.  I have even more than the memories of our past together…

…I have the promise of our future together.

——

Hope that comes from the Lord: what a beautiful promise this is.

——

Love. (Mr. Roger’s Post)



“Love  (Mr. Roger’s Post)”

As a quick introduction, I will go ahead and warn you that this will be the longest post that I have ever written.  The ironic part of this is that the man whose life inspired it would tell me, “Sarah, remember your word limit.  250-350 words. 400 max!”  Well, Mr. Roger, no matter where in Heaven you are while reading this post—whether from a comfy couch of clouds with The Biggest Loser playing on the TV or while wading out at the duck blind (how about that resurrection body!)—this is what I have to say to you.  There is no way that I can write about you or in even reference to your life in less than 400 words!  Not even 1000 words can express all the praise that your life deserves… So without any further ado….

Love.

Tonight while sitting in my bed under strands of Christmas lights, I’m finally finding the courage to write about the passing of a man that I have loved.  Ever since 6th grade when his son, Roger, and I became best friends, I have thought of this precious family as my very own.  Filled with genuine compassion and even a streak of mischief, they always welcomed me with love shared through their open arms.  After all, their hugs always wrapped me up and seemed to never let go.

Although Mr. Roger was not my dad, I saw him in this light often; I knew he loved me just as I loved him.  And even though I tried with all of my heart, I found it hard to rejoice at the funeral service.  Instead, I cried until I couldn’t breathe as I watched this beloved family of mine walk down the long aisle behind a casket draped in beautiful, cream fabric with gold embroidery.  From the balcony, I wanted to reach down and take the hands of Ms. Nancy, Lizzie, Will, “Little Rog,” and “Bubbles,” but instead, I watched through eyes blinded by tears.  Tears of pain, tears of sadness and loss, yet I shed other tears, as well…

Tears of respect as I watched each member of the Waynick family seat themselves in the pew, tears as I listened to the oldest daughter, Elizabeth, speak of her father and share words of his wisdom, tears as I wrote these words down, praying that I would never forget them, tears as I watched Roger welcome her back to her seat… Tears as the desperate cry, “Oh, Sweet Rog…” escaped from my lips while watching him walk to the podium himself, tears as I watched my best friend tug at the sleeves of his suit jacket and I whispered a silent prayer for his strength, tears as I heard his voice catch while speaking of his dad…a hunting buddy… a fishing buddy…and tears of submissive trust that everything in life has a purpose: I cried many tears, many tears.

While this pain of loss waged war inside me, there was something even greater that was not willing to lose this haughty battle.

Love.

“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.  God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.  There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.  For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” 1 John 4:16-18

So I hugged my knees as close to my body as I could, making one more attempt to keep it from frantically heaving while my mom wrapped her arms around me.  There was a place in my heart that wanted to feel empty.  It was the place where someone’s wise counsel, inspiration, encouragement, and belief in me filled my heart, pressing against its seams.  My mom’s fingers held tight to my arm, reminding me of the strength we must have to press on.

As the pastor read Psalm 100 and we rose to sing “Amazing Grace,” I decided that death would not have its victory here.  I would not let death take away from me the love and precious memories that I had with Mr. Roger.  I was fighting back the fear of death, the fear of life without this beloved man, but Perfect Love began to rise, determined to cast out my fears.

In those moments, it was evident that death was losing its sting. God was, is, and forever will be love, and He held us in His hands that dreary Saturday.  Even though the pain was more real than any I have ever felt before, God’s presence was abundant, filling the sanctuary as the light filtering through stained glass windows.  And in the voices of the hundreds that came in love and remembrance of a man that lived each day with godly purpose and intention, God’s presence was abundant, as well.  Each day, Mr. Roger lived with love and grace—the husband to a beautiful wife with one of the most compassionate hearts I have ever known, the father to four incredible children that I find myself blessed to call my friends daily.  He even lived as a “rascal,” but most of all, Mr. Roger always lived filled with “Sonshine” that shone through the twinkle of love and mischief in his eyes, a brilliant light that shone on the faces of each person he met.

Today marks a week since the day I frantically sought among the crowded Narthex of Brentwood United Methodist Church—a sea of black jackets and white tissues—for the faces of the family I hold dear to my heart.  And though my to-do lists and planner would say this past week went “back to being normal”—work, class, meetings, etc.—my heart begs to differ…

While I cannot even imagine the struggle that Ms. Nancy, Elizabeth, Will, Roger, and Katie are facing right now, I do know this: God has great plans for them.  For some, this tragedy would break them, but not the Waynicks.  God has given them hearts and a home that has been filled abundantly with love.  They will make it through this hard time as an even stronger family, always living in memory and honor of their loved one, our most loved Roger Scott Waynick.

There are many times that I wish I had better words to say to comfort the Waynick family through this time of grief.  I wish that I had words that could better express my grief yet also encourage them to grow even more in faith.  What I have come to realize though, is that neither life nor all the realities of it on this earth are always describable, measurable, or even fathomable.  But there is something else that follows this description.

Love.

God is love.  He is the Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, and every aspect of His nature—“I Am”—is characterized by His love. He and His love are indescribable, immeasurable, nor can we fathom their significance and jurisdiction over all. We cannot be separated from it; not even death can keep us from His love (Romans 8:35-39).

There are many things that I don’t know, but I do know this: God is good.  God is always good, and He is faithful, even when we are tempted to believe that He isn’t.  In this world, we will have tribulation, but He has overcome the world (John 16:33).  We will feel so burdened that we will despair of life itself, but all of this will happen so that we will learn to rely on God, the one that raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).  We must never lose sight of these truths of our faith.  With all of my heart, I long for the day that He has promised will come to those that have been steadfast in trusting Him, even in the hardest times.

With this, I will now close.  Revelation 21 tells us that one day, God will dwell among us.  He will be our God.  In His lap, we will sit as He wipes away every single tear that falls from our eyes, even the tears that we wish would come, but won’t.  “Shhh, my sweet child,” He will whisper in our ear, “death no longer has a place here.  Mourning, crying, and pain shall be no more for all the former things have passed away…” (Revelation 21:3-6).

To the dear Waynick family, feel our Heavenly Father wrapping His great arms around you during this time.  Hear Him whispering in your ear words of love and comfort.  He loves you so much just as He loves your dad, your husband, Ms. Nancy.  Our God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).  He loves you all so much.  I cannot say this enough: He is love, and He loves you.  Draw near to him and He will draw near to you (James 4:8).

So to all of us—whether walking in the valley of the shadow of death or in the uncertainly of the future—let’s have faith because God is faithful, have hope because God is the trustworthy Almighty, and have love because God is love.

 

Love.

I love you, Mr. Roger.  Thank you for encouraging me to write and for always believing in me.  All of the advice you have shared with me–whether about life, love, and our passion of writing–I will cherish.  I will keep the promise that I made to you… You know what I’m talking about ;).  Thank you for loving me.

“He who began a good work…”

This past weekend, I experienced more than one type of celebration of life.  Although we celebrated life coming to an earthly end, we also celebrated it’s beginning.  Meet Parker Benjamin Bizarro, my cousin Holli and, her husband, Pascal’s three-month old baby.

“For you formed my inward parts;

you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Wonderful are your works;

my soul knows it very well.”

Psalm 139:14

Life is a beautiful gift that God has given to each and every single one of us.  Before my grandfather passed away, I heard this over and over.  I believed it too, but not like I do now.

Seeing Parker and holding him in my arms reminded me that every single life–no matter how young or how old, well-known or unknown–is important.  God created your life with a specific purpose because He created it with YOU in mind.

I’ll leave today with a Bible verse to think about.  It’s Philippians 1:8, and it says,

“He who began a good work in you

will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Be encouraged!


All I can do is pray…

Tonight, I am writing to you from a heart of fear.

I’ve never seen death before.  I’m blessed to say that all of my grandparents and other loved ones are still blessing this earth with their presence and their love.

But there’s a realization that comes knocking on the door of my heart now, and it’s a realization that not only brings tears to my eyes but lets the water works run free.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket–safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.

The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from the perturbations of love is Hell.”

–C. S. Lewis–

And here I am now, vulnerable to one of my greatest fears, and all I know to do is pray.

“A voice says, ‘Cry!’

And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’

All flesh is grass,

and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.

The grass withers, the flower fades

when the breath of the Lord blows on it;

surely the people are grass.

The grass withers, the flower fades,

but

the Word of our God

will stand

forever.”

Isaiah 40:6-8

All I can do is pray…