Tuesday
Nov262013

And God Drew Near

Sometimes God is a distant phantom, amorphous in form indistinct from the realm of those things both seen and unseen which hover in a remote place well beyond my understanding. Sometimes He is a definition, a commandment, a distant history that I know is truth but which seems separate and apart from the reality I am living at that moment. Always my understanding is a dim reflection of the great truth of the Creator of all things, but sometimes...sometimes when he pulls back the veil I see: Father, friend, lover, broken heart, comforter, rescuer, avenger, champion, artist, master craftsman, great musician, poet, dreamer and...healer. Sometimes God draws so near that if he were solid form, I could reach out and touch him.

On March of this year, He drew near.

Saturday night had ended routinely enough. We played a family game and our youngest son mastered both bowling and basketball on the Wii. I tickled him at bedtime and together we laughed before a prayer and a goodnight kiss. And that night, as I closed my eyes thankful to be able to tuck my children safely in their beds, I was clueless that God was about to intervene directly into this ordinary scene.

Between 3:30 and 3:45 on an ordinary night a little boy's heart began to beat chaotically and the Great Healer watched from his lofty place.

"Shall I go to him, master?" a glimmering presence hovering beside him asked in a voice tinged with music.

The Great Healer shook his massive head as he answered. "Not yet, child."

The boys implanted device sensed the chaos of his heart and set out to correct it with a current of electricity. But the device was limited; though programmed to deliver a shock to an ailing heart it had not the intelligence to fix a vital connection from itself to the heart and the current failed to reach its intended destination. The electric shock improperly discharged in the boy jolting his body into spasms, and his heartbeat further deteriorated.

The glimmering presence tore his eyes away from the boy dying in his bed on an ordinary night and looked to his master. The tears in his master's eyes reflected the scene below. "Shall I make final preparations on his room, master?"

The Great Healer's gaze never left the boy. "Not yet, child," he answered.

Each time the device sensed the failure of the boy's heart it was programmed to increase the voltage of the charge in order to shock the heart into a normal rhythm. Six times it jolted the boy's body attempting to fulfill its function and restore the heart's rhythm. After the sixth time, the device continued to gather information, but no further shocks were delivered.

As the boy grew still, silent tears streamed down the face of the glimmering presence. The transition of a mortal to the realm immortal was never an ordinary event in the eyes of the Master or his servants. "And so it's finished," the servant stated simply.

The Master Healer's face quivered with emotion and then a smile touched his mouth and soon it stretched across his face and the light of his face glowed. The fierce brightness pierced the membrane separating the realm of seen and unseen, heaven and earth, God and Man. "Not yet, child," the Master Healer responded as he stepped into the cluttered bedroom of the little boy.

The servant watched in awe as the Master Healer stood at the edge of the boy's bed and reached out to lay his hand on the boy's heart. Lowering himself to the boy's ear he whispered, "Not yet, child." And the boy began to breathe again. And then he began to convulse and then he began to scream. And his screams woke his mother sleeping in the other room. As she reached her son, the Master Healer stepped out of time and back to his timeless realm where the servant continued to study him with awe.

"The child's story is not all told," he commented delightedly.

The Master Healer pulled him close in his familiar embrace. "Not yet, child," he answered.

And on an ordinary night the boy was fully restored in an extraordinary way. And when Thanksgiving once again rolled around as it does every year, the boy's family faced the holiday with profound gratitude for the night that God drew near.

Because sometimes that's what God is like. Sometimes he rends the heavens and steps right into our reality as he did for us on that night last spring.

 

 

Sunday
Nov172013

God Descended

The walk itself wasn't difficult, a half a block or so; there was barely time to stretch the kinks out of stiff legs. Even on a cold snowy day, the walk itself was barely memorable. It was the scene waiting at the end of the short journey that pulled at the heart, stretching it in ways that caused it to ache with pain. She paused at her neighbor's door, mastering her own emotions before knocking.

It only took a few moments for her neighbor to answer the door and they greeted each other with a hug—not the shallow, timid touch of acquaintances, but rather, the warm embrace of friends bestowing on each other a mutuality of encouragement and acknowledgment of both affection and pain. Her neighbor then stepped aside to allow her into the house.

She made her way through the familiar front hall and back toward the family room with the large television set that had been transformed into a place of cheerless convalescence, by the medicine bottles, needles and various hospital paraphernalia surrounding the old man huddled beneath the heated blankets on the recliner. As his wife seated herself on the couch across from him, he peered at the visitor with a slight smile and glassy, yellowed eyes. The visitor leaned over and kissed him lightly on the forehead before seating herself as close to his chair as possible so that she could hold his hand.

The three talked together of the neighborhood and family and his fatal illness and of God. It was no great secret that he had come home to die and that the time for his departure from his earthly vessel was imminent. Their conversation was light and heavy, funny and solemn. When time is condensed so that the end is visible and not some amorphous unknown future, nothing is wasted: no laughter, no joke, no tear.

The visitor was given permission to read from her bible and with trembling hands she found the pages in the book of Romans on the needs of sinners and the gift of salvation available in Jesus Christ. She shared of the simplicity of the plan of the Almighty God she served and the freedom found in the one she professed. She told him that death in Christ was nothing to fear. Her words lacked polish or eloquence but as always when she spoke of the one she loved, her eyes shone with a supernatural light reflecting her awe and delight in the Creator of all things. And the man and his wife listened.

She closed her bible and taking both of their hands, the three bowed their heads and prayed. Her tears flowed freely as the ache in her heart blossomed into an exquisite pain for the suffering of people she loved. And for a time they remained not three, but one heart before the King of Kings, united in hardship and bound together by love.

And the ubiquitous one who knows the stars by name seemed to cup their great need in the palm of his vast hands, and for a time the perfection of God existed there in ordinary man, woman and neighbor.

 

 

Tuesday
Mar262013

Not a story but an update on our son right now.

March 24,
Landen suffered a death event this morning. Around 345am his device attempted to send a series of 6 shocks to his heart and they failed to reach his heart. By what can only be described as a miracle, Landen's heart converted to a normal rhythm all by itself. I did not hear his screams until around 4am and at this time we don't know how long he went without oxygen to his brain. He is more responsiv...e than earlier but not fully "there". We need a neurological consult to tell us where we are so that we can schedule surgery as soon as possible to replace his device (which is less than 2 years old). Please continue to pray that Landen will be completely restored and that we can get the surgery done sooner rather than later. And please don't forget to praise God for his awesome provision once again. Thanks for standing with us through this all.
Later...
Landen emerged from an almost catatonic state and was restored to full neurological health. In short, he's himself again.

March 25,
Landen had the best day with his siblings from his hospital bed. Surgery is scheduled for 330 tomorrow at which time they will do some exploration and testing and try to figure out why his device failed and replace what need to be replaced.

March 26,
Posted this on facebook this morning:
This is the beginning of a prayer chain for Landen. Jason Heinze and I would appreciate it if you would post your prayers for Landen's surgery today here or a simple "Amen" or a scripture or a "praying" or an expression of thanksgiving to God for all that he's done. How fitting on this Passover/Easter week to have such a visual of the way God protects his people and to remind us of his ultimate power over death. We have appreciated every single expression of support and we love you all. Let the prayer chain begin.

God we thank you for your continued protection of your child Landen. We see your mighty hand in this and we wonder at your plans which are beyond our simple understanding. Father, continue to guide the doctors in wisdom today as they open up his small body to peek at his fragile heart. Guide the surgeons hands, may he be precise in every single cut. Bless the cardiologists to see exactly what need to be done with every single lead from his ICD to the device itself. Help Landen's heart to continue to beat when its supposed to and when it's time to purposely stop it, help them to successfully start it again. Protect our children and help them to know that you are good all the time and that like Romans 8:28 says, you are indeed working for the good of those who love you. Bless us all with the peace of your presence. And bless every single person who loves Landen and is rooting for him today. Help them to know that this is no accident! Them knowing him is no accident, this is all a part of your grand design. May you be glorified today in every way. I love you so much, Father and I am so very grateful and humbled to be a part of something this significant. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

Please pray for our son today.

Thank you,

Chaka

Monday
Mar112013

He Ain't Heavy, He's my Neighbor

Why is it such a shock to wake up in the wintertime in Nebraska and find snow on the ground...again? Perhaps it’s because this snow snuck up on the weather-people and arrived without introduction, fanfare or sirens. There were no snow-maggedon predictions in Omaha whatsoever. I actually had to look out my window yesterday morning to find out about the snow and am now considering a petition on change.org to keep that from becoming the norm.

Yesterday it snowed and sleeted and snowed some more and after getting beaten at Settlers of Catan for the umpteenth time by Jason, I was happy to escape the house for a while. I geared up and grabbed the shovel.

But let me set the snow aside for a while to talk about my neighbors.

Ten years ago this June, Jason and I purchased our very first home right here in the Rambleridge community. Before we could get out of the car that first day there were little faces at the window. I remember it vividly: “Hi, my name is Shari and I’m twelve and I babysit.” It was love at first site for my family and I. And it was only the beginning.

Ours is a neighborhood of lawn chairs pulled into driveways, long chats by mailboxes and children given free range to race from lawn to lawn to lawn. Every year we have a block party and we share a meal together along with several competitive games of knockout in which young and old alike are invited to play. And almost every time we have a decent day you will find several neighbor children gathered to play everything from sword fighting to basketball to tournaments of Magic the Gathering. The kids aren’t the only ones to gather, us grownups are just as happy to greet each other and mill around catching up on where we last left off. It is an unwise person who wanders out there while dinner is cooking on the stove. (That last tidbit comes from personal experience)

Jason and I don’t have family in Omaha and given all of the medical drama of the last several years involving our youngest son, we would not have survived without our neighbors. They have rushed over in the middle of the night, brought meals, set aside their schedules to pick up the kids from school when Landen was hospitalized, and loved us in great and small ways. Our neighbors are our extended family.

Earlier this year, we lost a neighbor in a car accident and her death affected all of us. The loss of Tammy Harris leaves a hole in our hearts because she wasn’t just a lady who lived in the house across the street…she was our neighbor.

A few months ago another neighbor was diagnosed with cancer. Ron is the neighbor who keeps the immaculate lawn on the corner (I was so glad I had that poop bag to clean up after my dog when I looked up and saw Ron watching me from the window that one time). He is also the guy with the robust laugh who sits in a lawn chair in his driveway on any given decent day and will invite you to join him and his wife of forty-eight years, Louann. Heck, he might even offer you a beer.

It’s been a little over a week since Ron was given only a few weeks to live.

I got to visit with him and Louann last week and they even allowed me to share some scriptures with them and to hold their hands as we prayed. Forever I am blessed by the memory of that afternoon.

And now, back to yesterday’s snow.

Because of the nature of our neighbors and our relationships with each other, it has been beyond difficult to find opportunities to serve Ron and Louann in some way. They have so many people who love them that they have every single thing that they need. How can I be annoyed that my neighbors continue to bring them meals or just drop by to check on them? And don’t even get me started about the awesome family they have who continually make sure that they are taken care of and surrounded by love and support. Honestly, a girl who wants to serve can’t catch a break.

Unless it snows.

As the flakes were driven to earth by a gusty wind, I saw my opportunity.

I skipped our yard and headed straight down to Ron and Louann’s to see if this time I might beat others “to the punch” or so the saying goes. I know they didn’t need me to, not only are there other neighbors who would do the job, but their son is in town visiting, and as I shoveled our drive today, I espied him pushing a snowblower back over their walk. They didn’t need me, but I desired so much to express my love and appreciation for them in some way and there aren’t very many opportunities. And the time is short.

The snow yesterday was heavy. And these arms aren’t in as good a shape as they were last year, but I gave glory to God that I had the opportunity to serve in even a small way.

I finished what I could up the street and then stomped back through the snow with heavy arms and aching muscles to attack my own driveway and found our neighbor from the opposite end of the street snowblowing our drive and our walk.

My neighbor, Scott and I talked for a while and made tentative plans for Easter together with our families before he headed up the block with his snow-muncher to finish up the sidewalk of Ron and Louann’s that I hadn’t had the strength to finish.

Because that’s what neighbors do.

And the time is oh so short.

Sunday
Feb242013

I Just Said Hello

In my dreams, Sunday morning begins with me happily leaping out of bed with the grace of a fleet-footed gazelle. I peer lovingly at my husband who rests soundly, secure in the knowledge that his wife will take care of all things. After gliding down the hallway to awaken the children with kisses rained down on their upturned cherub-like faces, I dance down the steps singing “Glory Hallelujah” while giggling delightedly to myself at the opportunity to prepare a bountiful breakfast in which all of the food groups are represented.

But back to reality.

My alarm went off at six am and a snarl may have escaped my lips. I rolled over heavily like a big lump of uncooked dough and through sleep matted eyes, groggily asked my husband if he could get our six year olds heart meds. Usually that conversation goes something like this: “But I did it last night,” “But I did it yesterday morning,” “But I did it yesterday afternoon and last weekend too,” “But I’m so tired,” “Please. Please. Please.” This morning Jason was already up peering at his iphone screen so he responded simply with an “Okay” and I was sound asleep again before my head hit the pillow. Around seven-thirty, I finally tumbled off our mattress and onto the floor (yeah…the bed was a casualty of the fire but I’ve already written a story about that). I lurched into Maya’s room and ordered her to get ready for church. And by the time I finally made it downstairs, Jason was at the stove cooking pancakes and the kids were already eating.

That is a typical Sunday morning in our house.

As Jason rushed off to drive the older three children over to their church classes, I grabbed a book that I’ve been reading called “A Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren and sat down with my fruit smoothie to dig into chapter thirty-six. The whole chapter centers around the idea that we were made for a mission and near the end Warren narrates a poignant story about his dad’s death from cancer and what it showed about his dad’s life. His dad served as a minister for over fifty years and built over 150 churches around the world. At some point during the last days of his life, Warren’s dad struggled to get out of bed, but he was far too weak and his family stopped him. When asked what he was doing, he replied, “Got to save one more for Jesus.” Warren says that his dad probably repeated the phrase over a hundred times before grabbing Warren’s arm and commissioning him, “Save one more for Jesus!”

Landen, my six year old son, was busy sitting on the floor sorting through his Pokemon cards. I hid behind my laptop so that he wouldn’t see the tears rolling down my cheeks.

Save one more for Jesus

The words played again and again in my mind as I thought about friends and neighbors who needed me to be Jesus’ hands and feet and voice.

Save one more for Jesus

How I longed to move beyond fear to the point where I would never shrink back from an opportunity to share Him with anyone I met. From my dining room, there was only one bold step to take…I pulled up Facebook on my laptop. It was time for my online friends to know that I was one more resource they could turn to if they had questions about reconciliation with God.

An hour later, we arrived at church and met up with our other three kids, I made my rounds and gave my hugs. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a truly huggy kind of person and am not the least bit put off by people who aren’t. I figure we all could use a hug some time. Once settled into my seat, I noticed a woman sitting by herself in front of me. I’m not great with faces and couldn’t tell if I knew her or not, but decided to risk a greeting anyway. I leaned forward, tapped her shoulder and said, “Hello, how are you?” To which she responded something like, “Hi,” before shyly turning away from me.

Mark Ashton, our lead pastor preached an inspired message about “the God of second chances” who loves us as we are and who loves us too much to leave us where we are. In a fitting finale he let us know that there were people in the congregation who had signed up to be baptized in a very public declaration of their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior. He went on to share that there was still room for anyone who had made the decision to follow Jesus that very morning.

The shy lady in front of me turned around, her eyes red and her face wet with tears, “Should I do it?” she asked in a plaintive voice. And then she repeated the four words again, “Should I do it?”

I leaned toward her. “Should you be baptized?”

She nodded.

“Do you believe that Jesus is the son of God and that he died for your sins?”

She nodded again.

“Then you should be baptized,” I responded simply. She still looked uncertain. “Do you want me to walk up there with you?” I asked.

“Yes.”

She and I walked past the stage and to the women’s dressing room. After introducing her to a few of the women, she told me a little about herself; she was fairly new to Omaha and to the church, but she knew that she needed Jesus. “I feel silly,” she commented, “but you said ‘hello’ and I just thought I could talk to you.”

I said hello.

She turned to me because I said hello.

I asked her if she wanted me to stay with her, but by that time she felt ready to take the next steps without me so I made my way back to my seat.

She was the last person baptized at our service and I waited for her afterwards to exchange contact information. We talked a little longer and she said, “You were the final push that I needed.”

I said hello.

And then she added, “Didn’t you speak at that woman’s thing a couple of weeks ago?”

And that last question delighted my heart to no end. She didn’t turn to me because she recognized me from the stage or because of my awesome eloquence or pristine poise. There wasn’t an intelligent gleam in my eye that caught her attention or great waves of spiritual aura flowing from my being.

I said hello. Heck, anyone can do that.

God planted the seed in this woman, He watered it and He made it grow. And then He stepped back and smiled at me, “Now say hello to your sister.”

Save one more for Jesus.

The words reverberate within me like the cadence of a drum and my heart strives to beat to its rhythm.

Save one more for Jesus.

 Sometimes it’s as simple as a hello.