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Archive for the ‘Death’ Category

~ Written by Cassie Rayl

No one told us bonding with our son would feel impossible during pregnancy. Our first pregnancy resulted in our daughter being stillborn. To say we were cautious and hesitant to invest in our second child’s development would be an understatement. We wanted to be excited for our son, who we decided to name Judah, but what if he wasn’t placed in our arms, either?

Talking to Judah throughout the pregnancy often felt hollow as I battled deep anxiety and fear. Often the joy would be ripped away and replaced by immense sorrow with the thought, “What if we bury our son like we buried our daughter? What if we never get to witness the look of recognition on his face when he hears our voices?”

I forced myself to sing hymns out loud, telling myself I was singing to Judah as a compromise. If I couldn’t pour into him by bonding with him through motherly chatter, at least he could learn my voice some other way. I spent the entirety of my pregnancy begging Jesus to let that be enough, fearing it would be inadequate.

My husband, Peter, struggled just as I did. Only in the last weeks of my pregnancy could he bring himself to nickname Judah. He said very little, but what he did say always made our little boy flip in my womb in excitement over hearing his daddy. Still, I worried Judah hadn’t heard his dad enough to know his voice if and when he was placed in our arms alive and thriving.

I had no reason to worry. Judah made his arrival a month early and miraculously strong. There was one moment in the NICU, I’ll never forget. Judah was uncomfortable and scared, and though he would breathe more easily when I sang over him, he wasn’t calming down. The instant Peter leaned over Judah’s crib and said, “Hey, little dude, it’s okay,” Judah opened his eyes, stopped crying and just studied his daddy. He knew that voice, and he knew that voice was grounded by love.

Watching that interaction reminded me of my own spiritual journey with the Father. I don’t always feel like I hear God enough. I sometimes feel as if it’s been so long since I’ve heard him, I wonder if I’ll recognize his voice when I do. Yet the moment I do hear my Heavenly Father, the moment I can focus on his presence, all I hear is love. In the end, all I know is the Father wants me where I belong: In his arms listening as he declares his love for me.

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~ Written by Viki Rife

She wasn’t really my aunt, but all my childhood I called her Aunt Bertha, a common courtesy for missionaries who worked together. Her apartment was always open to my family. She especially took an interest in me. When I was young and fighting health problems, our family traveled to her city and stayed with her for treatments and my surgery. When there were complications with the surgery, she was like a second mother to me, letting my mother get some rest. I trusted her with all my heart.

When we moved to her city several years later, I would stay at her house when my parents had to travel so I wouldn’t miss school. We’d ride our bikes (she never drove a car) to market and to care for her ministry responsibilities. The conversations during those bike rides were deep and inspired me in ministry.

Aunt Bertha had a problem, though. Her rheumatoid arthritis was progressing, and she was finally told she needed to leave the mission field. She returned to the US, moving in with her brother and family.

I was fifteen when my family had a chance to visit her. She lay engulfed in a hospital-type bed that seemed to fill the room. My heart was broken, and in my teenage awkwardness I couldn’t really converse with her. My parents were puzzled by my lack of engagement.

The problem was, at that moment I became very angry with God. Here was this precious woman who had done so much for His kingdom, lying helpless! Is this how He rewarded His faithful ones?

In the decades that followed, I couldn’t think of her without feelings of pain and anger. God just didn’t make sense. I served him, but there was an underlying root of distrust.

One day I attended a women’s retreat where the speaker was a missionary to the same country. She shared that before she ever left for the mission field, she had the opportunity to meet a former missionary who was in her last days on earth. She shared that the veteran missionary told her that her disability was the most beautiful thing that had ever happened to her. “The past ten years have been the best of my life!” she told the new recruit. “I have gotten to know God in a way I could never have imagined. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world!”

At that moment, my bitterness melted away. God had taken care of Aunt Bertha in ways my physical eyes could not see. Since then, I’ve watched His faithful ones suffer and seen similar responses. We can see their suffering, but until we experience it ourselves, I don’t think we can ever know how God cares for His own.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

I was just a teenager when I started losing everything. While friends were learning how to drive, getting their first kiss and dreaming about college, my life was filled with hospitals. At first it wasn’t that horrible: I got out of school early on appointment days, and got to sleep as much as I wanted. Epilepsy was hard, but it wasn’t impossible.

But then, the seizures drastically increased. I was taken out of school, my circle of friends became nearly nonexistent, and my life goal was to survive multiple brain surgeries and be able to tell people my name.

My family was comforted by the song, “Give Me Jesus.”  I had little else to lose as a 15-year-old who was confined by the cage of her own body. Singing, “You can have all this world, but give me Jesus” was heartfelt yet simple. Why would I want to cling to this world? All I wanted was Jesus!

Decades later, I think back on that time of desperation and I smile. God gave me abundantly more than I could ever ask or hope. As my medical baseline became more and more normal, I started falling in love with this world simply because I now expected to live. Proudly proclaiming that Jesus is all I ever wanted got harder.

My heart started mumbling, “You can have all this world, but make sure I have my comfort. Don’t even think about touching my loved ones. You can have all this world, but make sure I’m in control, with a little slice of Jesus because he’s still a great idea.”

In reality, stating, “Give me Jesus” is so much more than vocalizing our stance as devoted christians. It’s a declaration of divine trust. “No matter what happens, Lord, I only need you.”

What would happen if we allowed ourselves to live fully submerged in that trust?

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~ Written by Samantha Freds

She could not understand what was happening. This was the place. She was sure of it. She had seen it with her own eyes just two days before. They had laid his body in that tomb and it took several men, straining against the immense weight, to roll the stone in place. Now it was gone and she didn’t dare look inside.

She ran to tell Peter and John, but she hardly had the words out of her mouth when they both sprinted past her, their eyes filled with disbelief and fear. She followed them back to the tomb. This was her second trip, though, and the heaviness of the morning’s events were weighing her down. Why was this happening? Had she not been through enough already? By the time she arrived back at the tomb, Peter and John were already gone. She was alone, out of breath and frightened.

She wept. It was all just too much to take.

Suddenly, a voice cut through the morning air. She turned to see who the voice belonged to, but her vision was blurred by her tears. She wiped her eyes and looked at his face. This time blinded by her anxiety and fear, she still did not recognize him. Until he spoke her name,“Mary.”

Then she knew. All at once her fear was gone, the weight she felt melted away and she knew who stood before her—it was her teacher, it was Jesus. He was alive!

That’s the kind of Savior we have. One whisper of our name and all the weight is lifted. Nothing cuts through anxiety and fear like the voice of Jesus. He is alive and he calls your name through the chaos of today. Like Mary, all you have to do is turn and listen.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

I’ve read the words hundreds of times. But yesterday, I saw 1 Corinthians 2:8 for the first time:

“…the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory…”

Every five-year-old who grew up in a Gospel-teaching church knows Christ was crucified because of the ignorance and sin of humanity. But what would the outcome have been if they had understood the mystery of God’s wisdom?

Obviously, the Son of God would not have died. But, if He hadn’t been crucified, would we ever receive the gift of redemption, and the glory of eternal life? No, we wouldn’t.

Sometimes, I run into the Throne Room and scream, “I’m too blind, too broken, and too immature to understand what You’re doing, Jehovah! This isn’t working. Use someone else. Use someone who isn’t as off-the-mark as I am, okay? I’m messing You up.”

But then, in the gentleness I’ve only ever experienced at the hands of my God, He whispers to my heart, “You are not sinful enough to dethrone My glory, Child. Humanity was too blind to see the wisdom of my Son, yet I used even that darkest night of His crucifixion to bring about the gift of life.”

I serve the God whose power is never erased because of sin or death. Oh, what a Savior!

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~ Written by Viki Rife

Curiously looking for information on the Third Temple project being discussed in Israel, I stumbled across a Jewish discussion forum. The debate involved the question of whether or not animal sacrifices would be a part of the new Temple. Many argued that animal sacrifices were cruel, bloody, disgusting, barbaric, and unthinkable; they didn’t belong in this enlightened age. Others added reminders that such sacrifices were a law of Jehovah himself given to Moses, so they were still necessary.

A participant in the discussion then made a comment that gripped my heart. He said, “I think that when the Messiah comes, as great as he’s supposed to be, he’ll have the intelligence to come up with some ingenious plan for eliminating the animal sacrifices while still satisfying Jehovah’s demands.”

Doesn’t that make your heart ache and rejoice at the same time? My heart aches because this person is so close to the truth yet does not recognize that the Messiah has already come. But I rejoice because it is such a real-to-life description of what Jesus did. He did indeed come up with an ingenious plan—to sacrifice Himself to satisfy God’s demands.

As we celebrate this holy week, may we be aware of the brilliant solution God provided that frees us from the ugliness of the eternal consequences of our sin.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

We had planned to mourn our daughter’s death in private. At 26-weeks gestation, our perfectly-healthy baby girl stopped breathing, and we were told the operation to deliver her would take mere minutes, leaving us with the hearts of parents, but no child to raise. We knew we’d mourn her passing, but we planned to do it alone.

That’s what we planned, but that’s not what happened.

We ended up telling our pastoral teammates about Faithe’s death, thinking they would be the only ones to actively carry our burden. Standing in their kitchen, we wept together as our friends promised to carry us through the heartbreak to the best of their abilities. That was the last thing I consciously remember.

The next thing I knew, I woke up in a hospital an hour away from home, hooked up to an IV drip, unable to speak, barely able to move, and still very, very pregnant. As I searched the hospital room for my husband, I made eye contact with him and a handful of other church members who had taken it upon themselves to actively stand with Peter and I as we said goodbye to our daughter. It took one phone call, but my hospital room was never empty. We were never alone.

What was supposed to be an afternoon of pain was actually a five-day journey fighting for my life as I succumbed to preeclampsia and my body refused to admit Faithe had passed away. Anytime I woke up from my magnesium-induced partial paralysis, my husband was being loved on, fed, and comforted by our church family as he vigilantly watched my vitals. My Christ-family gently walked Peter and I through the implications of Faithe’s death and the possibility of my own. At night, they took turns sitting by my bedside, while the others camped out in the hospital hallways and on guest couches.

A nurse leaned over my bedside one afternoon while I was lucid and whispered through tears, “These people aren’t your family, but they obviously love you and they keep talking about Jesus. I’ve never seen a family act more like a unit than you all, and it doesn’t make sense. I thought the Church had lost its effectiveness a long time ago. It’s so hard watching you grieve, but it’s so powerful, too.”

Our grief is still tender and raw, but the death of our daughter taught us one very clear lifelong lesson: Our faith in Jesus may be made up of an individual choice to follow Him, but it is kept alive because we stick together with other believers. Our daughter’s death made us unbelievably weak—in many ways, we still are—and yet our church Body held us together even when our grief made it impossible to hold them in return.

That’s what the Church is supposed to be, and that is what we need to become.

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~ Written by Viki Rife

At 16 I graduated high school and got a job at a local hospital. One of my responsibilities involved making sure the radiologists had film cassettes loaded with new film.

One afternoon I got a call from a radiologist who was using the portable x-ray machine in the operating room. He needed more cassettes. I was to meet him in the scrub-room to deliver them.

When I walked into the room, my eye caught sight of the steel counter to the left. To my amazement, it contained five or six dead infants in various stages of development. I remember one had black wavy hair. My first thought was, “how could that many stillbirths occur in one day in our small town?” My teenage mind was horrified.

Just then, a nurse came out of the OR. She saw me staring over at the counter and frowned. “I don’t know why people can’t clean up after themselves,” she grumbled. She went over to the counter, grabbed a trash can, and with one quick move swept all the little bodies into it. Then she pulled out the bag and tied it shut.

I remember thinking, “How will the parents know which child is theirs when they’re ready to bury them?” My mind absolutely could not absorb the fact that the recent ruling of Roe vs. Wade had anything to do with it.

I hid the trauma deep inside and never told a soul.

But my heart was left very vulnerable when it comes to baby deaths. I grieve them with an intensity that has always seemed more than what the average person does. When my own granddaughter died in the womb the week before her due date, I was absolutely numb for two months. Something painful was stirring. It took me a while to figure out what it was. It was the memory of those beautiful dead babies.

Finally, as part of grieving my granddaughter, I allowed myself to examine the incident from so long ago and started processing the emotions that surround it. I was eventually able to share that operating room experience with my husband and a few trusted friends. They have been balm to my aching heart.

I thought I had worked through the trauma. Then last month a couple very close to me lost their baby at 25 weeks. The mother was induced, and I waited in the hallway while the baby was delivered. I saw the doctor leave the room, and a few minutes later a nurse came out carrying a tied trash bag.

The memory from that long-ago day hit like a fist to the stomach. I ran to the bathroom to throw up.

At that point I realized that my horror of living in a society that throws away its children is never going to go away. Thankfully, I soon was able to go into the room and see the baby in her father’s arms. She had not been in that bag. Her tiny body was being treated with dignity and respect by her grieving parents. And, in a strange way, I found the scene comforting. Parents should care that much about their child.

We cannot change our society, no matter what laws we pass. New York’s recent legalization of full-term abortion is only a symptom of our disease of devaluing human life. May God’s people go to our knees in prayer for our society, and may we reach out to help people see the God in whose image they’re made!

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~ Written by Viki Rife

While touring a Victorian mansion on vacation one time, we were told a story I cannot seem to forget.

A wealthy family had a daughter and son, ages 7 and 5, who died during an epidemic. The mother could not adjust to the loss. She had two dolls made, with the same sizes and features as her children. For the rest of her life, the woman’s servants were expected to keep up the normal family routines. They “woke” the children up each morning, dressed them, and sat them at the breakfast table. After breakfast they were taken outside if the weather was nice. In the evenings, they stood by the window, waiting for their father to come home.

My heart breaks for this mother nursing her dead dreams. But I can’t help but think of the times I do the same thing. We are supposed to be dead to sin, but instead we try to keep our self-centered perspectives alive. We dress them up and sit them at the table. Sometimes we look at them and realize that something is missing, that it’s all empty, but we cannot bear to give them up.

A worse tragedy than death is refusal to accept when death occurs. Christ-followers are called to let go of what is empty and embrace what is alive. Praise God, we can do that in His power!

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