Monday, September 25, 2006

We'll Miss Her...

I arrived back from my world tour almost two weeks ago, and jumped back into life in the burbs. They say it takes 1 day for every hour of time-zone difference to recover... if so, I'm almost back to normal!

Anyway, a week ago yesterday our family gathered to celebrate the brief life of one of our niece's son, Benjamin Allen Peays, who was born prematurely while his parents were on the mission field and passed away after just a few days of life. His parents, John and Courtney, were passing through town on their way to Denver, and we had an open house for friends and family to meet and comfort them.

On that Sunday, Beth's mom went to church, took John and Courtney to lunch, and then came to our home with her usual bunch of baked goods for the gathering. She wasn't here long before Beth realized that she wasn't doing too well. Mom has been suffering from overian cancer for some time, and was in her second round of chemo... it has been a hard summer for her. But you generally never knew that there was an issue with her - she rarely complained about anything.

Beth took Mom upstairs to rest while the event continued. By mid-evening, all had gone and Beth drove Mom home. As we sat together in Mom's condo, Beth said that she would wait with her mom, who "wasn't doing well".

To make a long story short, we had no idea how bad it was for Mom at the time. Into the hospital that evening, surgery the next day (followed quickly by the news that nothing could be done), the wondering if she would even regain consciousness, the shock of imminent loss and the reality of the finality of death came much too quickly.

God greatly blessed us over the next two days with Mom's recovery of consciousness and removal from life support. All of her kids made it in to town to talk with he (along with most of her grand children!) and Beth had opportunity for some final conversation, hugs, tears, thanks and goodbyes before Mom slipped away peacefully on Wednesday morning. "Precious" - in fact - "in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." (Ps. 116:15)

I still wrestle with getting my mind around the enormity of the problem of death. The violent, unnatural rending of body and soul - the heartbreak of final separation... the finality of it from a human perspective. It is ironic that the more successful one's life in what really counts, the harder the loss is to bear.

I saw how Mom lived her life for over 22 years. I can honestly say that she was more "like Jesus" than almost anyone I have ever known. Her loss is magnified in our home by the extraordinarily close relationship she had with Beth - she was close to all of the kids, but through proximity, gender and a unique care-giving role, Beth had crossed the line from "daughter" to "friend". June left many of them behind, and while she's present with the Lord, the vacancy she left is a hard to imagine. Beth spoke about this so eloquently at the memorial service on Saturday.

But June left behind a legacy to follow, like so many have done before her. I'll never forget a sermon I heard - probably 25 years ago - about the "gallery of faith" from Hebrews 11... how all around, those listed and those faithful - like June - who have gone before us stand and watch, calling to us to press on and keep going... they ran the race, they finished the course, the kept the faith.

In a world that focuses too much sometimes on good beginnings, the Bible calls us to good endings... to finishing well. There may not be books written about Elizabeth June Victoria Curtin Allen but, along with those who knew her, I can only hope that in some way my life will reflect the same type of faithfulness that her's demonstrated... through good and bad, gain and loss, sorrow and joy, and walking though the valley of the shadow of death. It is true that

"only one life, 'twill soon be passed... only what's done for Christ lasts."

Almost no one may read this... but Mom, we're proud of you. We love you. We'll miss you. And as your son Dave said on Saturday, we'll do our best to follow your example. Beth said it for all of us when she said

"... Thank you, Lord, for such a great lady - such a great Mom. You have blessed us abundantly for giving her to us. What a gift - what a treasure - what a mom!"

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Oh, one more thing tonight...

Matthew 26:22: "Is it I, Lord?"

In Jesus' last meal with His disciples, Jesus made the astonishing, politically incorrect, too blunt, non-positive (dare I say... negative?) statement that one of His chosen ones would actually sell Him out, turn Him in to the authorities - they'd betray Him! He had been blunt with them before about the consequence of His trip to Jerusalem (for example, Luke 10:32-34), and Peter had even argued with Jesus about it (Matt. 16:21-23). But here, in the moment, Jesus states again that one of those closest to Him would turn their back on Him.

I can only imagine what Jesus was feeling then... Seeing clearly the awful condition of mankind (and feeling it in the lives of the ones who walked with Him)... knowing the hideous price that had to be paid, and maybe - just maybe - a little ticked that one in whom He had invested so much would turn aside.

This isn't really what's been haunting me about this story, though. It's those three words spoken by disciples startled by the severity of the statement. "Is it I?"

Maybe I'm like the disciples - caught up in the moment with things other than the Lord's immediate concern in mind, and the possibility (or probability) of me betraying Jesus slaps me in the face as well. Maybe the going will get hard. Maybe we'll have a setback. Maybe Jesus will be under attack, and I won't have the guts to stand up for Him. Mark 8:38 isn't in most people's Jesus Person's Pocket Promise Book.

Here's what hit me: I need to ask this question of myself a lot more. I am really sad about the "state of the church" these days... some deep disappointments in local church. I've said often that no institution promises so much, and provides experientially so little as the local church. I can't be one of those guys who feels like we're doing "great things for God" just because we've sponsored a World Vision family from a distance, or had a golf outing, or we've "studied" yet another John Ortberg book. (Don't get me started - that's another post!). And even worse, if somebody asks me what I think, I tell them! I guess I didn't get the memo telling me to just shut up and pretend that everything's ok. ("...and now, I am happy all the day" - what is that??)

I think it's good - even healthy - to have your eyes open and think critically (in the discerning sense of the word). But sometimes, for me, that's a trap. The "church" betrays Jesus every single day... and the words of these poor fishermen hit me when I read them. Matthew and Mark record that "they were very sorrowful": Ah, DUH! It's easy for me to see their need, but this is the question I've asked myself each night before I've gone out for business dinners these past few weeks; people betray Jesus each day - by omission and by commission. The most pressing question for me is this: "Is it I?"

May God increasingly give me eyes to see - not just the dross for refining "out there", but the sad truth that I'm just as likely as Judas on any given day to betray my Savior. Lord, let me see the problem clearly - especially the ones in me.

So that's what I'm asking myself after midnight in Tokyo. "Is it I, Lord?"

By His grace, not today, and I'm trusting for tomorrow, too.

A word from the far east...

I arrived in Tokyo this evening, after a long flight from Singapore... and time before in Hong Kong and Shanghai. I've been on the road for two weeks now, and I'm really ready to get home.

I took my oldest son to college in Indiana on August 25-26, left home for Denver on business on the 28th, came home for a few hours and then was off on this trip to Asia. I've got to say, I've got emotional vertigo!

I know I'm not the first dad who pulled off the side of a road after leaving his son - the pride of his life - at college and felt the mixture of pride and happiness about the new life beginning, and the deep profound sadness of another way of life ending. Work, and all of its problems seem so very, very little in the light that life slipping away. I don't know about you, but I didn't wish that I had spent more time at the office. :)

Here in the Asia, and in ex-pat financial community (at least the little I've seen), everyone seems to have young kids... age 3 or 5, maybe 7. They work long hours here, with a lot of travel away, and when we're out to eat, they seemed surprised that I want to talk about family - almost as if it's the last thing on their mind. All I can think about is that I wish they had that time of life back!

What a waste jobs - no, careers - can be. You know, if you take the relocation to Hong Kong or Singapore, you can get tax breaks, housing allowances, nannies, all sorts of creature comforts, but the cost is that you uproot your family and breach any type of community you had. Your life literally becomes your work. What a hollow life...

Living - working, eating dinner - with these guys here has made me realize again how precious time is... how radically expensive it is to spend, because you can't recover it no matter how hard you work, or how much you want to pay.

Well, my son's on his way, and I'm still going too. But I'm not wasting any more time with the other three still at home. While it's still today, I want to make life count for our Lord, and my wife and my kids. They're the best gift humanly speaking I have - that I could ever imagine.

So, maybe it's the room in the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. Maybe it's too many dinners out with people with no life. Or maybe its a gift - a reminder to count the days, and redeem the time... Anyway, if the kids are getting on your nerves, or you're going to bed mad at your wife, or if you're knotted up about the job, do youself a favor:

Take a mental trip with me to Asia, and remember the gifts God's given you right there at home...
take the time while you still have it.