Anna: Eulogy from the Father

We are working on a formal eulogy for Anna. In doing so, the Lord brings to mind something He shared with me almost six years ago. It was a season when I was struggling to see Anna for who she really was, and instead would often focused on her supposed shortcoming. Thankfully I got away for a few days on a private retreat during this season, and while away I ask God the Father two questions:

“What is your point of view of Anna? What do you say or think about your daughter?” 

Sitting in silence that morning after I asked these questions, I heard the words below clearly from our Father. As I returned home, I decided to read these words about His daughter Anna each morning in order to keep His perspective of my beloved wife. I maintained this daily practice for almost six years until Anna’s passing.

Anna is lovely. I created her perfectly. Anna is wonderful. She is worth fighting for. Anna is tender. Her heart is good. She is vulnerable. Anna is strong. She is afraid of rejection so be gentle with her. Anna is beautiful; she is a treasure. Warm your heart toward her. 

Shawn, allow me to bring Anna along into me. Keep faith, gratitude and generosity active in your home. Let me minister to Anna. I’ve got her. You are not her savior; you are not responsible. 

And Shawn, don’t magnify the lesser and minimize the greater. As you look at her or as you walk into your home, remind yourself of the truth about her. Don’t focus on her weakness; focus on me in her. And don’t lose heart! Return again and again to the place of love and faith which see Jesus in Anna.

Finally, see Anna as I see her. Honor her as one in whom I dwell. Count on me to work my will in her. Your part is to love her. 

At the end of the “download” from God the Father six years ago, He then showed me this verse.

“Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.” (Eph 5:2)

I soon memorized this verse and it became the lens through which I viewed Anna each day. I am so, so grateful to have been able to “co-love” Anna alongside Jesus for 23 years. What a privilege and an honor to get to be the husband of one of His favorites for so long.

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Anna Update: “You’re Blessed…”

Our tradition of “Lectio Walking” began six years ago when Anna and I spent time alone on Maui celebrating our 15th anniversary. “Lectio Walking” involves selecting a few verses of scripture, reading them aloud, then pausing for a few minutes to let the words sink in. The reading is repeated four times, with a pause between each reading. After the fourth reading, each of us has a chance to say a word or phrase that stands out, and then we talk about the passage. As we returned home from Maui, we committed to making this our new rhythm. So for the past six years, Anna and I have shared “Lectio Walks” together.

A few hours after Anna went to be with Jesus on Tuesday morning, Art and our pastor Jack said, “Shawn, let’s get you some exercise and fresh air.” As Art, Jack and I walked, we decided to share in a “Lectio Walk” in her honor. Jack asked what text she and I began with six years ago on Maui. It was Matthew 5. Jack pulled out his phone and read these verses from The Message version:

You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

 You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. (Matt 5:3-4) 

As we walked the ravine, Jack reflected on the words of Jesus about being at the end of our rope with the image of trapeze in mind. He said, “What if the end of your rope is not the bottom of a pit but the pinnacle of our flying through life? What if it’s the point when you can let go, soar and be caught?”

Over the past week, the Lord graciously placed an image on the hearts of three of our dear friends. It started with Anna’s spiritual director. The Father gave her the vision of Anna as a trapeze artist, flying through the air into the arms of Jesus, her Catcher. In the following days, two other beloved friends independently shared a similar vision, drawing us into Henri Nouwen’s story of the flyer and the catcher.

“The Flying Rodleighs are trapeze artists who perform in the German circus Simoneit-Barum. When the circus came to Freiburg two years ago, my friends Franz and Reny invited me and my father to see the show. I will never forget how enraptured I became when I first saw the Rodleighs move through the air, flying and catching as elegant dancers.
The next day, I returned to the circus to see them again and introduced myself to them as one of their great fans. They invited me to attend their practice sessions, gave me free tickets, asked me to dinner, and suggested I travel with them for a week in the near future. I did, and we became good friends.
“One day, I was sitting with Rodleigh, the leader of the troupe, in his caravan, talking about flying. He said, ‘As a flyer, I must have complete trust in my catcher. The public might think that I am the great star of the trapeze, but the real star is Joe, my catcher. He has to be there for me with split-second precision and grab me out of the air as I come to him in the long jump.’
‘How does it work?’ I asked.
‘The secret,’ Rodleigh said, ‘is that the flyer does nothing and the catcher does everything. When I fly to Joe, I have simply to stretch out my arms and hands and wait for him to catch me and pull me safely over the apron behind the catchbar.’
‘You do nothing!’ I said, surprised.
‘Nothing,’ Rodleigh repeated. ‘The worst thing the flyer can do is to try to catch the catcher. I am not supposed to catch Joe. It’s Joe’s task to catch me. If I grabbed Joe’s wrists, I might break them, or he might break mine, and that would be the end for both of us. A flyer must fly, and a catcher must catch, and the flyer must trust, with outstretched arms, that his catcher will be there for him.’
“When Rodleigh said this with so much conviction, the words of Jesus flashed through my mind: ‘Father into your hands I commend my Spirit.’ Dying is trusting in the catcher. To care for the dying is to say, ‘Don’t be afraid. Remember that you are the beloved child of God. He will be there when you make your long jump. Don’t try to grab him; he will grab you. Just stretch out your arms and hands and trust, trust, trust.’ “
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With this sweet image on Anna on my heart, I was then able to read the next verse with new eyes during our fourth Lectio reading…

You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

The kids and I have lost what is most dear to us, our beloved Anna. Anna has lost what it most dear to her, her family. And yet somehow mysteriously we are all being embraced by the One most dear – the ultimate Catcher.

Know that you are participating with the Catcher as you have been there for us and will continue to be with us in the moments, hours, days, months and years ahead. The kids and I feel held and trust that you will continue to hold us and participate in the Father’s embrace of us all.

 

Ultimate Rest: “Into Your Hands…”

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” (Isaiah 31:15)

Resting into what God is doing in our lives is not easy. Most of us know, or think we know, how this moment, the next hour, today, this month, this year, and the entirety of our lives should play out. As followers of Jesus we tend to prefer the prophet Jeremiah over Isaiah when he says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

That is a wonderful promise that Jeremiah proclaims, however, we do not know what to do with a leader and a King who would suffer and die. As we find ourselves staring at the cross of Christ on “Good Friday”, it so often still doesn’t make sense to us. We want to follow this Jesus, but we don’t want to suffer. Yet, it is suffering that causes us to trace our lives after the example of the suffering King.

Suffering is not so much about physical pain as it is about giving up and losing control. The more I look at the cross, really look at it, I see Jesus our leader giving up and losing control. Just days before, Jesus was experiencing the opposite of rest in the Garden of Gethsemane begging his Father to chose another way. However, in his next breath we see Jesus surrender yet again, “not my will but yours be done.” 

Maybe that is the rest Isaiah and Jesus have been inviting us into all along. A way of living our life in a posture of saying, “not my will but yours be done”, a posture of surrender. With this posture we can still be  very clear about our dreams and desires, but ultimately we can open our hands and echo the words of our fearless leader King, “not my will but yours be done.” Jesus modeled this level of rest to us when he breathed his last and said “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” Oh that we might be able to join Jesus in this posture of rest and trust on this side of Heaven, for we know that rest awaits us in Eternity.

Embracing Solitude

Solitude is so counterintuitive to our culture. It takes a lot effort to learn to cultivate this spiritual discipline, but we can see in the Gospel accounts that time alone with God was very important to Jesus:

In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. (Mark 1:35, NASB)

 So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone. (John 6:1,5 NASB)

It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. (Luke 6:12, NASB)

We don’t know what happened between Jesus and the Father in these times of solitude, but we do know that quiet, reflective time with the Father was a priority to Jesus.

By the world’s standards, some might have said Jesus was “wasting” time. Not being “productive.” Not “accomplishing” anything. The truth is that Jesus was operating on a completely different value system, one that we are wise to consider if we, too, want to draw close to the Father.

The Psalmist David also experienced this, saying, “My heart has heard you say, ‘Come and talk with me.’ And my heart responds, ‘Lord, I am coming’” (Psalm 27:8, NLT). In that place, he could open himself up to the Lord and commune deeply with Him. David wrote of this practice: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. (Psalm 139:23, NLT). When we sit quietly in the presence of the Lord and invite Him to search us, we join David and a long line of spiritual giants who have experienced this before us.

(from Chapter 8 Am I Loved?)

Do You Believe that You too are God’s Beloved?

In his talk “Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry,” Henry Nouwen said,

“God has become so vulnerable, so little, so dependent in a manger and on a cross and is begging us, ‘Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you really love me?’ That’s where ministry starts, because your freedom is anchored in claiming your belovedness. That allows you to go into this world and touch people, heal them, speak with them, and make them aware that they are beloved, chosen, and blessed. When you discover your belovedness by God, you see the belovedness of other people and call that forth. It’s an incredible mystery of God’s love that the more you know how deeply you are loved, the more you will see how deeply your sisters and your brothers in the human family are loved.”

Let this sink in: as we consider the offer of intimacy— true, meaningful intimacy with Jesus— it changes the way we carry ourselves. All of the subconscious questions most of us ask when we enter a room are already answered: Will I be accepted? Noticed? Does my presence here make any difference? Does anyone care that I am here? Will I be true to my conviction? Am I loved? Am I known? Am I understood? All of these questions are already answered by the only One who has authority to truly answer them.

If we don’t get these question(s) answered from God, nor come to believe in a deep place that we too are God’s beloved, we will keep asking others to answer these questions for us. The only question worth asking is, “Am I loved?”—and the answer is unequivocally YES!

How do you answer this question?

Belief On Ramp #4: Identity Statement

In this exercise, revisit the lies you realize you have believed about yourself. For some, this may mean you are recognizing for the first time that those voices in your head telling you that you are less than, not enough, imperfect, unworthy, etc., are not true, and are in fact, flat-out lies! Whatever those lies are, identify them and jot them down.

In addition, write down specific negative words or phrases that come to mind about yourself (such as for me, things like “I am a boy, not a man”). Then write down the opposite of those words. That is often where the truth is revealed about who we really are!

This is my personal identity statement that I have been reading each morning for the past 12 years:

My name is Shawn Raymond Petree, Beloved, I am loved.

I am Your chosen son. I am family.

Your Spirit is in me. Jesus is formed (and is forming) in me.

I am an heir of Your Kingdom, a prince, a saint. I chose joy today!

I am a strong, confident, warm, truthful, assertive,

creative, courageous man; a warrior.

Husband to a beautiful, godly wife.

Father to three provided children.

Friend to many.

I am loved.

Lent: Believing the Truth About Ourselves

It’s one thing to expose the lies we’ve been believing about ourselves throughout our lives; it’s another thing altogether to do something about them. The really life-changing work happens through replacing those lies with truth.

At the end of the kayak adventure with my friend Ryan, I decided to be honest with myself about the messages that were running in my conscious and subconscious mind throughout most days. I took some time and wrote down the words and phrases that described my internal dialogue. The first words that came to mind were scared and afraid. Then, worried. Then a realization that I would, at times, bend the truth in hopes that others would approve of me.

Next, I admitted to myself that I performed for others and cared a lot about what others thought of me. After that, the painful descriptive word weak. Through this process, it also came to light that I would often hang back and not take initiative. Then the kicker, just one word: fearful.

Once I got these specific words out on paper in my journal, I laid them in front of me and had a very practical conversation with God. Although I had been following Jesus for a while, this type of frank conversation with the Father was somewhat new to me. It went something like this: “God, thank you for revealing these deep lies I’ve believed about myself for many years. Only You fully know when each of these lies set in. I don’t want to live like this anymore. I know these lies are not from You, God. Show me a way out of this pain.”

After I sat in silence for a few moments, staring at this page in my journal with so many painful lies scribbled out, an idea came to me that I believe was from God. What if I wrote down the opposite of each lie? To take it a step further, I wondered what would happen if I awoke each morning and read aloud these descriptive words—words that were the opposite of what I currently believed about myself. It could be powerful! (Chapter 4 Am I Loved?)

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