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.

 

Is Repentance Tied to Happiness?

Today is our last look during Lent at the word repentance before we turn to Isaiah’s final word rest in chapter 30:15 “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.

In Thomas Keating’s book, Intimacy with God, he says, “repentance means to change the direction in which you are looking for happiness.”  I’m not  sure how to unpack that statement in a few paragraphs, but perhaps a quick look at the word happy can provide some insight on what Keating might be getting at. μακάριος is the Greek word for happy. It is most often translated at blessed and most famously used in Jesus’ remarkable Sermon on the Mount. Look at these words of Jesus through the lens of happiness:

How happy are the humble-minded, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs!

How happy are those who know what sorrow means for they will be given courage and comfort!

Happy are those who claim nothing, for the whole earth will belong to them!

Happy are those who are hungry and thirsty for goodness, for they will be fully satisfied!

Happy are the merciful, for they will have mercy shown to them!

Happy are the utterly sincere, for they will see God!

Happy are those who make peace, for they will be sons (and daughters) of God!

Happy are those who have suffered persecution for the cause of goodness, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs!

And what happiness will be yours when people blame you and ill-treat you and say all kinds of slanderous things against you for my sake! Be glad then, yes, be tremendously glad—for your reward in Heaven is magnificent. They persecuted the prophets before your time in exactly the same way. (Matt 5:1-10 Phillips)

If I am honest with myself my definition of happy is most often the opposite of these statements that Jesus makes about happiness. I don’t want to be humble, experience sorrow, be merciful, make peace. Instead I want to build my own kingdom, have security, cut corners, take offense, and be in a constant state of pleasure. In addition to that, I want to turn to another person, an object, or an ideal and settle for temporary “happiness” at the expense of true contentment.

So how might we lean into Keating’s invitation to change the direction we are looking for happiness?  Perhaps part of the answer is in Isaiah’s invitation into quietness, “In quietness and trust…” What if the answer is in the pause, in getting quiet long enough to be honest and ask ourselves what we are currently doing/looking to for happiness? I did this when I awoke this morning. What was revealed to me in the quiet wasn’t pretty. Pride, vanity, and my own selfish desires surfaced. As I confessed those passions once again to God I was able to remember that my heart is good, it matters to God and that He is the only true source of happiness? Thanks be to God!

Are You Interested in Rest?…Lent begins in 2 days

LENT begins in 2 days. During this season of Lent I’ll be looking at two themes, repentance and rest. I am calling it True R and R. I plan to look at the powerful statements of two prophets throughout the Lenten season.

First, the prophet Isaiah:

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” (Isaiah 30:15)

and

the prophet and Master Jesus:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. 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. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matt 11:28-30)

I’ll be posting once or twice a week the next six weeks during Lent. If repentance an rest are things you would like to explore join in. Perhaps we will discover together what Isaiah and Jesus we offering to those who were listening.

Aloneness that Feels Like Community

We are three weeks into Lent and I keep returning to Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30, specifically his offer to teach us the “unforced rhythms of grace.” The rhythm I’ve noticed lately is his rhythm of aloneness that feels like community.

Jesus spent time with people and created community wherever he travelled. He also often made time to be alone. His friend Luke tells us,

“The news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” (Luke 5:15-16)

The “wilderness” in Greek is a place that is solitary and uninhabited by other people at the time. Put simply, it is a place to be alone. This rhythm of Jesus does not appear to be aloneness for the sake of being by himself, as in an escape from crowds. It is instead a place to be alone with the Father. As I see it, Jesus had a rhythm of aloneness that actually felt more like community than being with others.

I have experienced glimpses of aloneness that feels like community. Through developing a rhythm of quiet over the years, of being with God and God alone, something mysterious has happened. I feel a sense of communion with God as Father, Son, Spirit as I sit in the quiet in the presence of God. A number of years ago I wrote a prayer in the front of my journal that I read each morning. The prayer ends with this:

As I sit here this morning with you as Father, Son, Spirit I am simply continuing the dance, this ongoing conversation, this ongoing relationship that You have invited me into. I am engaged, all of me is here with you. Speak Holy Trinity for I am listening.

 

Doing Nothing

A few years after my commitment to spend time each morning with God, I found myself longing for even deeper connection with Him. But I didn’t have the faintest clue where to start.

I remember pulling up to a morning meeting a few minutes early and doing a Google search on my phone: “intimacy with God.” A book by Thomas Keating titled, you guessed it, Intimacy with God, popped up on my search. I ordered the book and awaited its arrival on our front porch. As I read the first few pages, I realized it was speaking to that very longing in my heart! I was being invited deeper into the journey of silence and solitude with God.

In the book, the author, Father Thomas Keating, describes a silent prayer practice that helped him (and me!) more closely experience God’s presence. This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship. It’s called “centering prayer.”

Now, if you think it’s an arduous task to commit to occasionally spend a day away with God in a culture that screams out that you are as valuable as you are useful, try doing nothing for 20 minutes a day. It will either make you crazy or . . . you just might discover the secret that Jesus often leaned on: silence and solitude in the presence of the Father.

(Am I Loved? Chapter 8 Introduction)

Hearing the Voice of God

After a number of years of spending daily time alone with God, I have realized that perhaps the most significant thing we can do in our time with Him is listen to His voice. You may be thinking, What? Come on now, Shawn. How do you do that? What does that even mean? I hear you. Developing the discipline of listening for God’s voice did not come easily for me. In fact, in the early days I would get distracted by a thousand different things in one sitting. I was annoyed, impatient, and constantly looked at my watch to see when the pain was going to end. Yet slowly, over time, as I continued to return to this place of listening, I began to hear the voice of God.

Now, it wasn’t an audible, booming voice that shot down from Heaven. Sometimes it was simply through Scripture, a passage in a book I was reading, or journaling. Other times it was through the still calmness that overcame me in the moment. But surely and incrementally, over the past 17 years of consistently showing up to listen each morning, God has given me the ability to hear Him. He gives direction for my day, wisdom in decisions, discernment in the moment, and assurance that I am His son. And more than anything, His quiet whisper assures me that I am loved.

Give it a try. Do you best sometime in the next few days to sit with God. Maybe just repeat a verse in your head to get the time started like, “The Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I shall want.” (Ps 23) Pay attention to your breathing. Breathe in calmness and peace, breathe out worry and fear. Allow yourself to just be.