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.

 

Anna Update: “I shall not want”

“I shall not want” is the second line of Psalm 23. Sunday morning Anna and I read the lectionary and Psalm 23 was the psalm for the day, along with John 10:1-10 as the Gospel reading. As we read those two passages together one word stood out, pasture.

Psalm 23:1-2

The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;

John 10:9

I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he(she) will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.

That word pasture seemed to be saying something to us Sunday morning so we looked further. The Greek word is νομὴν and it means pasturage, fodder, food…one shall not have want for the needful supplies for the true life.

John 10:9 is the only time we know of that Jesus uses this word νομὴν, pasture. I wonder if He specifically said pasture to harken back to Psalm 23. Those good young Jewish men that Jesus was training surely would’ve picked up on it. As Anna and I, along with our kids go this this tragic experience one thing is clear, we are in the pasture. We are covered. There’s enough food, there’s enough space, the Shepherd has our back.

Psalm 23 talks about the green pasture in verse two. The Greek word for pasture that Jesus uses means to not want, and verse one of Psalm 23 talks about not wanting. It’s almost like David is saying pasture twice in two different ways in verse one and verse two of Psalm 23.

The reality is we are all living in the green pasture. We may not know it, feel it or believe it, but it’s true. Verse three of the psalm goes on to talk about how amazing life is in the pasture if we will dare believe we are already living there. The shepherd is leading, restoring, guiding. And apparently this is all going on while David is walking “through the shadow of death.” (v 4)

From the beginning of this famous psalm, David proclaims that the Lord is his Shepherd. He has no other shepherd. He has no other master. His allegiance is to God alone. He believes God is holding him. Shepherd is an intimate metaphor. A shepherd lives with his flock and totally cares for each one of the sheep. I’ve heard that a shepherd literally lays down on the ground with his sheep.

As we continue to walk through the valley of the shadow of death Anna and I are choosing to fear no evil, knowing beyond a knowing that we knew was possible, that God is with us. There is no want, we are covered. The Shepherd has us. And part of his “having” us is having you walk though this valley with us. We have each other, and in having one another somehow we mysteriously have God.

 

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.

Do We Actually Want Rest?

Many followers of Jesus know Matthew 11:28-30 by heart. At least the first part,

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

It sounds amazing! Most of us identify with the words weary and heavy-laden. We live in a culture that almost prides itself on being weary and heavy-laden. We tell one another stories about how busy we are, how tired and overworked and important we are. Weariness happens to us just by association, and we also allow it to happen.

I like the sound of Jesus’ voice here. His words echo like cool water on a fresh burn after touching something hot. Many of us hear his words and we want what he is offering, or we think we do. Some of us even cry out to Jesus begging him for this rest He promises,  yet way we structure our day, our week, our month, our year in such a way that it doesn’t fit our plea. Eugene Peterson’s version of verse 28 is quiet the invitation from Jesus, “Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.”

How often do we really come to him and get away with him really? If we want what He is offering, this almost unimaginable rest that our bodies, minds and souls crave, then we have to accept the invitation. We have to actually carve out time and space in our day to get away with him and him alone.  Jesus goes on to say,

“I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” (v 29) If I am reading this correctly, Jesus is actually going to be the one who teaches us how to rest. We certainly need that! We need to be taught how to rest.

The unforced rhythms of grace. What a great translation! Eugene, or should I say Jesus is offering something incredible here. It is a rhythm that we can lean into or reject. Jesus is offering us rest, offering to teach us how to rest. Will we take him up on his offer?

How Do We Learn to Rest?

Several times over the past few years I have heard a comment like this from someone who knows me well. , “Shawn, I’ve noticed that you rest well when you are off work. How did you learn to do that?” That was quite a statement to me, a guy who comes from generations of work-a-holics. I can only say that because I am a recovering work-a-holic myself, and my dad has confirmed that as far back as he knows our family has seen work as primary.

Clayton Christensen, a Harvard professor, business owner in his book How Will You Measure Your Life , says this with regards to making work our primary focus: “The danger for high-achieving people is that they’ll unconsciously allocate their resources to activities that yield the most immediate, tangible accomplishments. This is often in their careers, as this domain of their life provides the most concrete evidence that they are moving forward.” No wonder we do this! Who doesn’t want proof that we are moving forward?

Back to the question from my friend, how did I learn to rest? It was a great question. How does a man whose tendency is to work all the time (not just at a job but around the house, on projects, etc) make time to rest? Well, it started slow for me. I began by taking an hour here and an hour there to schedule something that I wanted to do. Yes, I scheduled it and still do. I eventually moved to 4-hour increments of a day once a week. Four hours of no work at all. At this point a couple of little kids came on the scene for Anna and me. You would think that rest went out the door at that point, but I (we) stayed with it. In fact, as our kids got older I began scheduling a day off for our family, an actual Sabbath day. It wasn’t always Sunday, it was the day of the weekend when we could most likely take a full 24 hours to rest. Practically, it stated in the evening of one day and ended the evening of the next.

I was enjoying each of these experiences of rest so much that I decided to take it a step further and plan a weekend once a year when Anna and I could get away and rest. That turned into two then three, and most years we now do a quarterly two nights away. Along with that my wife and I began to look six months in advance to when we could get our kids away for a week to rest and play together. Then after that, again as our kids have gotten older, we have looked for a week when Anna and I could get away for at least seven days together to rest without our kids.

So how did I learn to rest? I just did it. It is one of the best decisions I even made (and am still making). Rest is a gift from the Lord. One that we can all receive.

“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
In quietness and trust is your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)

What Could Rest Have to Do With Repentance?

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

As we enter the final two weeks of Lent we will look at the concept of rest together. I’m not sure that we can truly rest without repentance. Before we look at rest, maybe we should first consider why Isaiah might’ve put have these two words of repentance and rest together.

What could rest have to do with repentance? I have no answers, but instead more questions. If we’re not experiencing rest today, how can we expect to receive it tomorrow without some sort of a change? Further, how could we experience rest if we don’t rethink our lives/ reevaluate and make a change? Isn’t that the definition of insanity we have heard our whole lives, doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result?

As I mentioned a few weeks ago (link) repentance (metanoia) in its most fundamental understanding is change (meta) of mind (nous). I’m going to lean on Richard Rohr for his understanding of this change. Rohr says, “Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity. It did not need changing. Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God! God is not someone to be afraid of but is the Ground of Being and on our side.” What Rohr seems to be addressing not only relates to repentance, but also to rest. Specifically, that last statement, “God is not someone to be afraid of but is the Ground of Being and on our side.” As long as we remain afraid of God, believing that He is either out to get us or has left us to figure out life on our own, we cannot rest. Augustine puts it this way,

Because you have made us for Yourself,

and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Thee.

Augustine, Confessions, 1.1.1.

As we look at the concept of rest for the remainder or Lent, perhaps a word to keep coming back to is the word Augustine references, restlessness. We will pick up there later this week.