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Friday, March 25, 2011

Remembering

My brother died 4 years ago.  It was shocking that he died on this day but not a surprise that he died an untimely death as he was an unwell person.  Shortly thereafter my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer and the long, difficult road of fighting cancer began.  2007 was a wilderness year for our family, likely the hardest months I've ever lived through.
During this season of Lent I am reading a Lenten Devotional on the net each day.  It is called Journey to the Cross and it is excellent.  Today's entry is timely on a number of levels.   
The verses are from Nehemiah 9:19-21
"You in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness; the pillar of cloud that led them in the way did not leave them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night that gave them light on the way by which they should go. You gave your good spirit to instruct them, and did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and gave them water for their thirst. Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness so that they lacked nothing; their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell."
Last Sunday I preached on Jesus the light of the world and recalled his light now being the same light that God provided the Israelites in the desert through the cloud and the fire.  We are never left to completely wander in the wilderness alone or in the dark, even if it seems so.
After the verse came this reflection on the website:

Ella Jenkins’ Songs Children Love to Sing concludes with this African American spiritual: "I looked at my hands, and my hands looked new. I looked at my feet, and they did too. I started to walk--I had a brand new walk. I started to talk--had a brand new talk. I started to sing--had a brand new song. Everybody wondered just what was wrong."
As the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years, God’s mercy did not forsake them. They were instructed by God’s spirit. They were fed by manna and lacked nothing. Their feet did not swell. Good feet may not be first in our thoughts, but...what a gift to a weary, wandering people. They left the wilderness transformed.
As we wander in God, may we be transformed as we sing the spiritual refrain: "'Cause my soul was new when I came out the wilderness. My heart was too when I came out the wilderness. I loved everybody when I came out the wilderness. A leanin’ on the Lord."
One of the difficult side affects my mom has suffered is neuropathy, a condition where you experience numbness in your limbs.  It is a major drag as it impacts your ability to walk, drive, and have balance.  Plus it's royally uncomfortable.  So while the promise that God made to the Israelites that their feet would not swell may seem ridiculous, I have a greater understanding of why this is actually a great gift.  In some ways it points to how hard it is to keep walking when you have swollen feet. But we have to remember that God is moving in our lives even when we feel we aren't.
I realize that over the past 4 years I've been in the wilderness a few times.  4 years ago today was a shattering day of grief and sorrow as my parents discovered that Bill had died of a heart attack in his apartment.  The early Monday morning phone call alerted me to the news and I flew out the next day.  Then weeks later, mom was diagnosed and our lives changed in even more profound ways.  But today, 4 years later, my mom is miraculously healthy and while we miss Bill, the raw grief of losing him has healed and we can all be thankful on some level that he is at peace.  God really does see us through our wilderness times...when we're in them, it all seems very dark and hopeless.  But, given the chance to look back, we can see the light, the guidance, the sustenance.  I am thankful for where my life is today...even though I am far away from my parents, our visits are rich and fruitful and for that I am thankful.  I am happy that they are enjoying a season of hope and joy beyond the hardships of the past 4 years.  That was something I prayed for...that my parents would find joy again after Bill's death.  When my mom was sick, it was tough...now, life is a bit easier and a lot more fun.
I know that the light of Christ has seen us through these wilderness years.  There are other wildernesses right now that we experience, places where the light of Christ is dim and our spirits are waning.  Still, the hope that burns eternally because of who Jesus is in our world brings sustenance and guidance and eventually even healing.  I am thankful.
Peace to the memory of my brother.