Family


I wrote this letter years ago — 2014  when my family was going through a devastating situation. I re-read last night. It encouraged me, so I’m sharing.

So, last night I was reading a devotional, and it was the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11. We’ve read and heard this story so many times that it becomes predictable when talking about it. Anyway, when I was reading it last night, I noticed for the first time that their family is like our family – 2 sisters and 1 brother, where the brother is in a challenging situation. The Bible talks about how very sad Mary and Martha were that Jesus had not come before Lazarus died because, as both sisters said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Think of it, when they knew that their brother was sick, they sent word to Jesus to come and heal Lazarus because they had seen Him heal the sick, so they knew it could be done, and they knew how much Jesus cared for Lazarus. They had faith when the situation was difficult but manageable in their eyes. Just like them, we prayed so hard for a quick and easy resolution when we saw you in distress, when we thought your situation was difficult, but appeared to be manageable to a point. Like Mary and Martha, we made assumptions about the possibilities, and we made decisions about what we wanted from God. It’s like we sisters knew that we needed Jesus to step in, and that Him stepping in would make a big difference. Still, we wanted to put limits on how we wanted Jesus to intervene and when.

All the while, Jesus was ministering to other people, attending to other needs, and He knew all along that what Lazarus was going through was not going to end in death. Jesus did not race to Lazarus’ side. Instead He assures the questioning disciples that God will get the glory from the situation. “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.”  And even though He said it, the disciples and those around Him didn’t understand – they didn’t comprehend the extent of God’s love for Lazarus or His foresight or His omniscience and omnipotence.

When Jesus decided after 2 days that it was time to go to Bethany and see His friends, the disciples were so worried because people were trying to kill Jesus. By this time of His life and ministry, Jesus had acquired many enemies. The disciples were scared for Jesus, but they were also scared for themselves because they knew they would be targets, too. But God was unafraid. He knew what was ahead of Him in every sense. He knew what was ahead of you, too. He went to Bethany, and He went to His friends.

As comforted as Mary and Martha were when Jesus arrived at their home, they were so sad when their brother died, sad and hurt that Jesus allowed Lazarus to die, as if Jesus chose to hurt them, as if their timetable was the same as His. They had Jesus in a box, and that hurt Jesus and it angered Him. It’s like people keep saying, “I trust, I trust, I trust,” but when it comes right down to it, they trust for a specific result, but judge when the desired result doesn’t happen. That’s not trusting. That’s wishing. And Jesus wept, cried real tears as a result.

As the people watched Jesus, they continued to make assumptions about Jesus, commenting on Him wanting to be taken to Lazarus’ burial plot. They saw regret in Him, but they were wrong. This was the moment that Jesus would again show His unfailing love for the world, for His people.

And Martha… funny one, she is. When Jesus told them to move the stone from the grave, the always practical Martha said, Lord, he’s been in there for 4 days. He will smell awful! As if Jesus didn’t know that Lazarus had been dead for 4 days. Maybe she was trying to rub it in a little that Jesus had allowed so much time to pass before coming to them. As if Jesus is held to life’s time constraints! It’s almost like saying to God, If you don’t do it this way, it can’t be done at all.

You know the rest of the story. You know that Jesus called for Lazarus to come out, and he did. But before we get to that part, notice in the text how the scriptures stop referring to Lazarus by name. They call him the dead man. For everyone but Jesus, the situation is done and over. They have all quit. But God… thank God for the But God’s!

Jesus prayed to God, thanking Him for listening. He said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” God could have healed Lazarus from a distance. He could have done the simple and the expected. We wanted that. We wanted for this whole situation to just go away. We did not want to deal with the pain, the fear, the unknowns, the loss, the doubts, the consequences. And we would have been happy, just like Mary and Martha would have been happy. But Jesus had something different in mind for them, and He has something different in mind for all of us.

If Jesus allowed Lazarus to just heal up and be fine, His miracle could have been dismissed as coincidence. “Oh, Lazarus got better on his own. He just needed to gargle with some peroxide! That was chance, that wasn’t God.” And if “nothing” happened in your situation, we could have said the same thing, “That was chance. That wasn’t God.” But the truth is that there are so many things that happen, or don’t happen in our lives that are not chance at all. They are God working, God performing miracles, God being God, and we just take those things for granted day in and day out. There are so many accidents we aren’t involved in each day because God worked out the timing on the road. There are so many sicknesses we don’t get, so many fights we avoid, so many jobs we do well, so many blessings that really are miracles from God. They are NOT chance at all.

Instead, God performed a very public miracle. He showed not just Mary, Martha, and Lazarus that He loved them and that He had the power to change their worlds, He did what He did “for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” After all these unbelievers saw what Jesus could do and did, the Bible says they believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. Some didn’t, but some did, and their lives were forever changed. On that day, Jesus didn’t just raise Lazarus from the dead. He prevented many others from going to hell as a result of unbelief. He did more than the expected. He did more than He could. He did more, he did greater, he did better than Mary and Martha could have ever wished. I cling to that. I cling to the Lord’s love and power and grace and mercy for all of us, and in my heart, I believe it!

The past couple of weeks have been stressful and I have been extremely emotional. As I have drawn closer to God, my mind has been attacking my peace, and my once-pleasant demeanor has been covered in clouds of sadness and confusion. This whole Out There thing is overwhelming.

I mean, I put myself out there, and my mind keeps bringing up the past — recent and distant — and I allowed myself to have expectations. As much as I say I want to trust in the Lord, I find that I have been more people/ person-focused than God-focused during this waiting period. As a Christ-follower, I know that there’s nothing worse than to be person-focused, so I have been struggling.

But then I started thinking about the waiting. The waiting is brutal. Waiting on someone else to come to the same decision I have. Waiting on someone to try to see what I already see. Waiting on someone to give more credence to the good years and not the bad year. Waiting on someone to decide, to choose, to apologize, to forgive, to try…

Waiting is rough, especially when you are waiting on a person. And that’s when the light bulb flashed on.  God has called on His children to wait… yes, but to wait on Him. The Bible says to Wait on the Lord and be of good courage. It does not say Wait on this person, or wait on that person. God says to wait on Him, and that realization has made the difference for me.

I believe in my heart and mind that God is in control, and that nothing happens without God’s knowledge or without God allowing it to happen. He allowed Job to lose everything, and to be restored. God allowed Lazarus to die, and to be restored. God allowed the pain and the healing, the sadness and the joy, the death and the birth, the despair and the hope. God has allowed it all, and that is why I can do nothing but wait… and trust.

So I will continue to wait, but now I am waiting on God and God alone. I’m waiting for His peace to cover me, for His comfort to surround me, and for His plan to be laid out for me. There is no person who has my heart and my future in his hands. God’s got me. He’s not dangling His love or His promises or His plan. He knows my weaknesses, my shortfalls, my sins, my pains, my joys, my strengths, my mistakes, my everything, and yet He still deems me worthy of His love and His time and His plan. He’s reaching for me with open arms, welcoming me to Him, forgiving my wrongs, championing my strengths, leading me to a life rich in His love.

God is so good.

Isaiah 40:31 —But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.

Ps. 27:13-14– I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord.

Lamentation 3:25 —  The Lord is good to those who wait for Him,
To the soul who seeks Him.

I’m out there… I put myself out there and I am scared as hell… scared enough to use the words scared as hell. I am determined to keep my eyes up and focused on God, and I will continue to take care of myself regardless of what comes next.  I am out there.

As a writer, my goal is always to be out there, to lay my soul on the table, and deal with what comes. I think that’s one reason why I took a far too long hiatus. My heart has been heavy for a number of years… for a variety of reasons. I’ve often said that I love hard and deep. When I love, it is fierce, and I love a lot of people. I love my parents, my sibs, my extended family, my dear friends, my godbabies, and even a few who don’t appear to love me anymore. I ache when they hurt, when they are sick, when they are struggling, and I cheer when they are trying, when they are fighting, and when they are happy. And even though I haven’t mastered the art of loving without ever making mistakes, I will continue to love the best way I know how.

So, I’m out there, and it is hard, and each day gets harder. I cling to my faith in God during this struggle, and I am so often reminded that God is so very faithful to me. God has picked me up from the ground where despair was my only constant, and His love has not failed me.

In the summer of 2013, my family was hit with some hard news that would engulf us for years to come, though we had no inkling of the full extent at that time. I was on vacation with my husband in Key Biscayne, Florida, and despite the beautiful surroundings, my heart was so heavy, and I was slowly becoming undone. One of the things I did on that vacation was to sit on the balcony and look at Biscayne Bay in the distance. I could see these colorful buildings all the way down the coastline — pinks, and greens and blues — and the cloudless sky, and the refreshing water of the bay. It was so peaceful, so I would sit and pray and cry and pray.

One day as I was sitting on the balcony looking across the bay, I noticed that the sky was slowly getting darker above the colorful buildings I’d been watching. There were boats in the bay, and the water started to look a bit aggressive, and it was clear that we were in for an early afternoon storm. I remained on the balcony, observing all that was happening. The wind picked up, the dark sky started masking the colorful buildings, the boats in the bay started moving closer to the other side. From where I sat, I could see rain in the distance, but my side of the bay was dry. Southern Florida is known for short bursts of rainstorms. For more than a few minutes, I didn’t think that the storm was going to even affect our side of the bay. (Just call me Pollyanna…)

Eventually, the darkness and the storm were so intense that I could no longer see across the bay. It was as if there was an impenetrable wall of weather that was set to do nothing but destroy the other side of the bay. Meanwhile, where I stood, the rain and the wind were showing more force on our side of the bay. I should have gone inside to the room if only to save my hair from the madness of the humidity, but I remained on the balcony. The storm came closer, and I slowly backed up, but I remained outside mesmerized by the storm. Ultimately, I moved to the corner of the balcony closest to the door — the only spot that remained dry.

I vividly remember marveling at what I was seeing at the time. I had been praying and crying over what I didn’t know was ahead of me and my family, and I was asking God for a miracle … a miracle of unknown dimensions, a miracle I couldn’t even define at the time.

The storm eventually stopped. People were no longer running for cover. The water in the bay was back to the peaceful flowing. The sun was bright and hot. And as I ventured from the safety of my corner, and moved towards the railing of the balcony, I looked across the bay and I was amazed. The brightly colored buildings were even brighter than before the storm, once again showing off! The sky was clear. It was just gorgeous… almost as if no storm had come at all. The only evidence that a storm had even come through the area was the presence of a few displaced branches and abandoned bikes in the resort, and a huge rainbow across the skyline.

I thank God that I had the presence of mind to stay on that balcony for the duration of the storm. I am so glad that I took pictures during the entirety of the experience, because I have a record of this event that had such an impact on my mind from August 2013 to this very moment. I never doubted that the whole event — from peaceful view to the storm to the bright sunshine — was God presenting me with a sign of His power and grace. At the time and for years after, I believed the sign was specific to the situation with my brother.  I repeated the story to him, to our family, to his friends, and to others as proof that God had a plan for what was to come, for what we were going to endure. I truly believed that though a storm was coming and things would look bleak, that God would make a way, and it would be as if the storm had never happened. That event was powerful for me.

I never shared any of this with the one person who would have understood me better had he known what I was going through, and now, as our lives have taken an unfortunate path, I wish that I had. I wish that we could have been looking at the same symbol of hope.  I now understand that the storm in Key Biscayne was not solely about a singular finite situation.  I now understand that God was showing me a sign and lesson that was deeper than the small frame on which I was focused at the time.  There will always be storms, and sometimes the intensity of the storms will cloud our views — views of the beautiful, views of the possibilities, views of what is far, and views of what is near. We may want to run inside to avoid the discomfort and potential frizzed out hair, but if we can just trust God to put us in a place to watch Him work, we will be rewarded with something beautiful and unexpected.

I am waiting on God to end the storms. I’ll admit, I did not anticipate such a long storm or so many storms. I have ventured from the safe space a few times, and the wind and the rain have pounded me, but I am back in the safe space. I know that God still has my heart. I know that whatever happens at the ending of these storms, God is still in control. He’s helped me grow and learn to trust Him and His ways. He’s also worked enough in my life that I understand that the miracles I think I’m praying for may or may not be in His plan. I truly have no idea.

I am out there, but I am not alone. God’s got me.

 

 

 

 

 

When it’s over, it’s still there in your mind, vividly, all that has transpired.  My muse demands that I speak.  Ten years ago, my father, Poppy, was diagnosed with Cancer.

Cancer doesn’t look at you before it takes hold of you.  It doesn’t care about your race, or your age, your name or your educational background.  It couldn’t care less about your bank statement or your health.  It doesn’t look at your permanent record, your weight loss attempts, your high score in basketball, or the book you never read.  Cancer doesn’t check out your church attendance record or whether you helped the little boy learn to tie his shoe.  Cancer doesn’t verify your social security number or test your ability to drive.  It doesn’t look inside your car, and it doesn’t care if you wear white after Labor Day.  Cancer is the only thing in life that never discriminates. 

I remember my Poppy’s response to the question, “Why you?”  He courageously said in his matter-of-fact manner, “Why not me?”  It did not matter that my Poppy took great care of his body, with regular exercise, vitamins, and a generally healthy diet.  Cancer did not care.  Cancer came inside his body and attempted to wreak fatal havoc with him and with our family. 

Whenever I thought about Cancer, before it came into my life, I associated it with suffering for families, not my family, but other people’s families.  I was so wrong.  I never thought of it in my home, in my family, threatening to take my daddy from me.  I now think of Cancer as an evil that comes into your body and grows and destroys everything in its path.  I didn’t realize that Cancer would dare come into my life.  But it did.  Cancer did not care.

When Poppy told us, his three adoring adult children, that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, we were each devastated.  I began to weep, almost uncontrollably.  Cancer did not care.  Given how close I am with both of my parents, I knew how hard this disease would be on both of them.  Mum and Poppy have a love the way God himself intends love to be.  I felt pity and sadness for my parents, fear and anger.  Cancer, of course, did not care. 

After much prayer, much prayer, much prayer, God gave me peace about the situation.  Knowing that God was in control, I awaited the day when the Cancer would be removed from his body.  There was a chance that the Cancer had spread to the lymph nodes.  If the lymph nodes were infected with Cancer, the surgery would be halted and there would be little hope of a positive outcome. 

Watching my father and mother walk hand in hand down the long cold corridor of Johns Hopkins University hospital, my eyes welled up with tears, realizing at that moment what life was really all about, having someone there for you during that long corridor of life and regardless of the pitfalls that may lie ahead, still holding on.  The two of them, Mum and Poppy, would be forever changed by the next few hours.  Cancer still did not care.

I sat beside my mother in the waiting room, with my brother and sister on either side of us.  My mother’s sister was also there, along with close friends from the church.  The pastor’s assistant had been at the hospital early to pray with us.  Poppy’s longtime friend from college also came to support his friend.  Conspicuously absent were my father’s brothers-one because he was not told of the Cancer, and the other because he was too selfish to care.  I will never understand how collectively they couldn’t manage to be half the brother to my father that he was in spades to them. 

When the doctor came to us after the surgery, I knew the good news.  The cancer had not gone to the lymph nodes and the surgery went well.  As so many others in the waiting room looked on, again, I wept – this time, with joy.  Again we prayed and thanked God.  There was still the final report to arrive two days later, but I was renewed.  I just wanted to see my Poppy. 

It was hours before I got to see him, but when I did, I saw a man I had never seen before in my life.  He was pale, weak, and almost helpless.  I saw the humanity of my hero, and it frightened me a bit.  Cancer transforms a person.  When Poppy awoke from the anesthesia, he looked into my mother’s eyes, his own eyes glassy with tears, and asked what the surgeon had said. My mum held his hand, smiled, told him the good news, and buried her head beside his.  

Although the surgery was a success, the recovery would still be the hurdle to surpass, and this is the worst part of Cancer.  How do you recover from near death?  How do you recover from almost losing everything? 

There is no Cancer in my father’s body – he fully recovered several years ago. During his recovery, my family was inundated with telephone calls, cards, prayers, flowers, and gifts from our church family and my mother’s family, from people as far west as Missouri and Texas, and Seattle, Washington.  My mum hung every single Get Well card in the entrance to the living room, and those cards remain there 10 years later. We have learned the power of prayer and who is really supporting us in the long run.  Cancer is not only a killer, but it is also a teacher.  I have learned not to take anything for granted.  I want to spend the rest of my life surrounded by the people who love and support me.    

My father is a remarkable man.  He is a strong Black Christian man with an eternal love for his Lord and his family.  He is retired and gets to do whatever his heart desires. He has everything any man really needs.  What’s more, he has a second chance at life because he beat Cancer.  It doesn’t matter that Cancer didn’t care.  There are so many others who did.