In the midst of life, we live in death...
(Tim, w/thanks to Bill, Tom, and Priscilla) Last year, my dear friend, Bill Mouser, passed on this report by his friends, Tom and Priscilla, of the death of Priscilla's parents. At the time, Mary Lee and the rest of our family were coming to the end of six years sharing our home with my own Aunt Elaine Bayly, who died the end of December. I thought this meditation on life and death was helpful and asked Tom and Priscilla for permission to put it up for others to share. They kindly agreed and I thank them.
So here, first, is a letter from Bill Mouser introducing the letter; followed by Tom and Priscilla's letter, itself...
Dear Brothers in Christ's service and Fathers in God,
As all of you will know from your labors in ministry, we are often privileged to harvest magnificent and precious spiritual benefits from attending to the trials of those who look to us for spiritual leadership. In these cases, I feel far less a "leader" than a spectator of harrowing adventures. To my great profit, I have been a side-line observer to Tom and Priscilla's recent adventures in shepherding Priscilla's parents out of this world, privileged to pray for them and to offer them encouragement and advice along the way. The toils were theirs alone, and the lion's share of the rewards will be theirs as well.
But, still, when these kinds of trials end well, it is not only an occasion for rejoicing, it lays before you and me renewed evidence of our Lord's grace and power to fill vessels of clay to overflowing with His grace and blessing. From that perspective, I pass along to you Priscilla's assessment of two years of arduous trials she and Tom passed through. I trust you will be as encouraged and edified with what she reports as I am.
Warmest regards in Him,
Vicar, St. Athanasius Anglican Church
* * *
Dear praying friends...
And they understood none of these things... Luke 18:34
Tom and I chuckle that this is our new life verse. It is more true of us than we'd like to admit.
July has come round again for the first time since Dad died. By God's grace, I am clothed (every day) and in my right mind (most days), and forever changed. For months I have wanted to update you, but lacked time, capacity, and perspective. I expected to write something resembling closure. But as I've tried to commit my thoughts to paper (what REALLY happened to us these two years?), it's become obvious I have "understood little of these things." The time for a satisfying closing chapter is not yet. There remain many loose ends and loop-de-loops, some of which will not be resolved this side of heaven. Therefore, my comments are far more rambling and unresolved than I'd hoped--for you, and for me.
Since I wrote you last (Dec 2006), I've been busy (almost as busy as when caring for Mom and Dad!) unearthing, organizing, researching, and placing all my parents' worldly goods. My brother and sister put their shoulders to this boulder as well, but this phase was much like the care giving phase--I was the primary. One way and another (including the strong, cheerful help of friends), we emptied the house, had it painted, repaired, and cleaned. As we worked, I prayed that God would feel sorry for us and not allow a long selling season (the market here being as slow as anywhere). Before we chose a realtor, before we listed the property, as we were still preparing the house for market, God brought a buyer with a viable offer. We turned out the lights and handed over the keys without ANY selling season! We are grateful beyond words and still marvel. We are also sorrowful, as leaving this house behind---the house our parents designed and built, the house of our growing up, a primary locus of life for 44 years---was very much like a third death. So the closing day (not Mother's death) is my mark for the completion of this work, and the beginning of my recovery and return to life with my husband as my rightful focus.
It took us five months to do this estate work (a year for the bookkeeping end). Our season of elder health crisis was about two years. Our season of elder care was a decade. Except for 30 boxes in my and my sister's basements, it is all accomplished. My brother, sister, and I labored hard together, in ways we never had. Our own sin, circumstances, the curse, and the devil all clawed at our love. We sparked a few times along the way, but we have come out of this furnace better friends with a more enduring love. We praise God for our preserved unity.
REMEMBERING GOD'S ORDAINED DATES:
---July 25, 2005. Mother was diagnosed with leukemia, her prognosis was six weeks.
---Jan 14, 2006. We learned Dad's prostate cancer had metastasized, his condition was terminal.
---July 25, 2006. Dad passed into glory.
---Nov 4, 2006. Mother passed into glory.
---May 29, 2007. Our homestead passed into the hands of another family, and into new usefulness.
REMEMBERING MY DARKEST VALLEYS (Satan's apparent victories):
---Mother's diagnosis. It was the stunning and surreal beginning of this fiery ordeal. Far worse, she explicitly rejected Christ in the face of death.
---Dad's personal attack on Tom's and my faith. A father's rejection is profound, especially when he is dying...will these really be his last words to me?...will he really leave me a cursing instead of a blessing?
---Mother's long willfulness. The morning of the day before she died, I was still unsure of her spiritual condition and had a meltdown before God, "I will NOT let You go until You save her!"
REMEMBERING THE HIGHEST PEAKS (God's victories, Satan's clear defeats):
---God saved my father.
---God saved my mother.
---God sustained all of us.
---God caused me to stand in the fire.
---God brought sufficient reconciliation between Dad and me before he passed.
SOME STILL-DEVELOPING OBSERVATIONS from this long arduous path, in no particular order (except the first):
---God loves high drama.
---As many of you counseled, I persevered in spite of myself. And I do have an easy conscience for having done so. Through all of it, I felt constrained not by a fond affection for my parents (I was too traumatized to feel love), but by the 5th Commandment and the Golden Rule. Through God's utter graciousness, He caused my labors to have Mt. 5:16 effects, and has kindly revealed some evidences.
---I wish I had feared less, trusted God more, loved more, extended more mercy, shown more compassion.
---How glad I am that my last words to my mother (that I know she understood) were of God, "Pray, He will hear you."
---One of the most practical helps concerning our rule over the house and all its contents (keep, consign, sell, donate, toss), came from Tom, who said early on, "The house has already accomplished its main purpose--your family was raised there. It's OK to let it go, for another family to grow up there." Likewise, "Their paintings have already accomplished their primary purpose--to give your parents the joy of creating them." This helped us greatly to relax and release things without guilt.
---Greater understanding of life work/focus. All of life is circumscribed by people--most notably generations of family--to love/serve. Tom and I are feeling especially un-familied now, as there are no generations under us, and only one person remaining of the generation over us (Tom's mother lives in Reno with his two sisters). This highlights our childlessness in new ways. And therefore highlights Christ's sufficiency in new ways. Family can be a great blessing, and is God's usual path to Christian fruitfulness, service, and maturity. But when people claim that family is everything (something we hear often during this season of graduations and weddings), they are wrong--wrong (even idolatrous) in their assertion, and wrong in their implication (that childless couples have nothing). The truth is, Christ is everything. We live, love, and work at His pleasure for His glory, no matter our circumstances.
---Greater understanding of generational roles and responsibilities. During every phase of life, each generation will bless and curse other generations by what it does and does not do. Any generation that fails in its roles and responsibilities puts greater burdens on generations over and under it. Mom and Dad blessed us with many of their personal strengths and sacrificial work (How many birthday cakes did Mother bake? How many of Dad's paychecks put braces on our teeth?). But they failed in the most important work--to impart Christ. Their failure set us all on a path of self-reliance (which is about to reach to a fourth generation). God graciously saved me when I was 26. So for half my life, I chaffed against Mom's and Dad's rejection of Christ (and they chaffed against my acceptance of Him). In this I have been wrestling with deep anger against them--they lied to us about Christ. But God assures me in His Word that they did not mean evil against us (even if they had, "Lord, forgive them, they know not what they do"), and that He meant it for good, to bring about these present results: Mom's and Dad's dramatic salvation; Tom's and my highly visible Christian witness to them, the family, and others; Tom's and my greater reliance on God.
---Greater understanding of the work of worldly inheritance. Among the last responsibilities of every generation are to scale down their activities/property in accord with their declining capacities, and to entrust their worldly goods to their heirs (two parts of the same stewardship). I think this entails far more than wills. My parents had wills (kept hidden until their deaths; even Mother didn't know what, if any, monies they had), but they failed to ENTRUST their inheritance, meaning, they neither disclosed the whole of what required stewardship (leaving us to assemble a rather complicated puzzle), nor gave directives for the work (ex, what should we do with over 300 paintings they had painted?). It was their habit to hold their cards close. In addition to their lovely and useful things, my parents left us a monetary inheritance (which was completely unexpected, which is completely undeserved, and for which we're extremely grateful). But by simply leaving (a passive benign neglect) and not entrusting (an active deliberate assignment), they did not make certain we understood their desires or were ready to receive what they had worked a lifetime to build. This added unnecessary burden to our stewardship and to our grieving. I summarize this problem (not unique to them) as "deny, defer, decide." For many years Mom and Dad denied they were aging toward death, so deferred downsizing and entrusting. But they did grow old (they didn't mean to!), and became unequal to the overwhelming work. As a friend wisely says, "Not to decide, is to decide." So they missed their window of opportunity to pass this baton wisely.
---On one hand, my parents were self-reliant and therefore, selfish. On the other hand, they relied heavily on my sacrificial love/service to them (a function of my being God-reliant)--even as they reviled God! I can get very cranky about this still, until I remember that I do the same. In my flesh I am self-reliant, yet presume upon God's love. O the infinite mercies of God!
---I believe that Mom and Dad are with the Lord now, but for their 80+ years, their hearts were with their worldly treasure--their home and all their belongings--all of which are now disbursed, some to the trash bin. Tom and I observe this with all humility, that our hearts not wander from our Treasure.
---Had Tom and I had children, we might have developed humility toward my parents' strengths and failings sooner (under the critical eyes of our own children, we would have learned empathy). Unknowable.
---As we Boomers decline into our own season of health reversals, requiring care, unless more and more affordable options are available, we will overwhelm our nation's resources. I don't know the answers (and shudder at some possibilities), but I can see some of the problems. God's good design of the family (extended household) is intended to provide some measure of cradle-to-grave security. But for the past several generations in the West, families have lived autonomously and become so broken (in every way including geographically), that it makes interdependent living (a requirement for elder care) nigh impossible. We simply haven't developed the muscles to live this way.
---I remain conflicted about whether my sacrificial service did as much harm as good. How much was obedience to the 5th Commandment and caring for those in need? And how much was submitting to my parents' selfish expectations, and/or pridefully carrying their heavy water? On the "good" side, I would say that Jesus sacrificed everything, and we are to imitate Him. In this--my redeemed life for my lost, dying parents--I tried to obey. And God was gracious to take my clumsy efforts and use them for their eternal good. On the "harm" side, unlike Jesus, I have not been charged with saving mankind! I am a creature with creaturely limits. Tom and I practically suspended our marriage while I cared for Mom and Dad (something my parents did not do for theirs). That's a high price, and I think now, too high (though, did God make us childless for just such a moment as this?). The only thing I think we could have done differently, was to establish and insist upon our own life requirements (more by way of actions than demands). I did make several (not-so-winsome) attempts to broach this subject, but was summarily squashed---I think out of fear: If Priscilla doesn't care for us, who will? What will we do? If we talk about this, we'll have to face it! All other options were anathema to them. I am ashamed to say, I did not stand my ground. By not doing so, I wonder if I inadvertently contributed to my parents' long willful irresponsibility, and actually delayed their salvation?! In short, did I do the work that God prepared beforehand for me to do? Or did I prop up their lives (for whatever reasons) so much that they could continue to deny reality? God alone knows. How thankful I am that He has a long habit of taking our rotten lemons and refashioning them into refreshing lemonade. Now that this work belongs to history, it is His to judge and to do with as pleases Him. And, I pray, to cleanse me of all unrighteousness, and lead me in the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
---In spite of all the exhaustion, mess, and heartburn, I am grateful to Mom and Dad for so much. And now that the lion's share of the work is accomplished, I am beginning to miss them. They did not introduce me to Christ, but neither did they withhold any of what they treasured. In many ways they were goodly companions. And most importantly, they were God's choice for me, and His choices are always good and wise (albeit inscrutable).
---A dear friend has observed that the main thrust of human history is to prove that Christ alone is worthy to reign over His universe. By implication, everyone and everything else must be proved unworthy (ie, must fail). In this entire episode, God has been the only perfect and faithful Participant.
LIFE GOES ON:
---My brother is expecting two grandchildren (his first and our generation's first) this summer.
---My sister's daughter (and only child) is going off to school this fall.
---Tom and I are witnessing spiritual growth in several within my family--a new humility, a new willingness to believe God is active in His universe (including their lives), a new spiritual sight. It's always exciting to observe the Holy Spirit's work.
---We've already experienced many firsts without Mom and Dad (holidays, birthdays, etc.). People told us these would be difficult. So far, not so bad. In fact, I am enjoying the lighter hostessing load.
---God has removed, and is moving/removing key relationships, responsibilities, and circumstances that have kept Tom and me busy in Cincinnati. We wonder what all this reconfiguring might mean? Is He "cleaning house" to move us? To give us new Eph. 2:10 work here? Most assuredly He intends to remove sin and every encumbrance, that we might run the next leg of the race with greater endurance.
---Tom and I are more resolved to wait for God to reveal things, rather than to strain to figure them out.
---I continue to look to God for revival. Most of this is so deep in my soul, only He has access. Hence my continuing prayer that He oversee my grieving, not leaving any pools of grief or unforgiveness that will fester, and that He restore my vitality.
As life moves on, our marching orders seem to be:
---1 Thes 4:12---"...make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands..." (First Mandate)
---Prov 24:11---"Deliver those who are being taken away to death, and those who are staggering to slaughter, O hold them back." (Second Mandate)
---Ps 90:12---"So teach us to number our days, that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom." (Eternal Fellowship)
Thank you, again, for praying, for sacrificing, for loving--in obedience and with affection. May God grant that we all continue to exhort others, "Ask, He will hear you." And may God keep you until the Day of His Coming.