Preparing to See the “Ivory Palaces”

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Saying goodbye to two of the hospice nursing team members as she “graduated” in March.

I sit in a hospice family room this afternoon, hearing the raspy breathing of my mother in the other room. We’ve already been through this once when back in January she was placed in hospice for palliative care because of uncontrollable seizure activity. After a two month stay, she improved enough to “graduate” to assisted living.

In one way this was a step-down from her earlier independent living, but it was two steps-up from hospice. She adjusted well, but the seizure activity began again, resulting in a nursing home placement for 10 days. She showed some improvement with rehab but with another round of seizure episodes, she was ready to return to hospice for tender loving care, almost exactly three months from her previous discharge.

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“Bunny” holding #31 of 32 great-grandkids

We were grateful for those three months. It allowed us to celebrate her 95th birthday (see Celebrating the Gift of Our Matriarch); she made new friends and caught up with a few old ones, who had moved from her retirement apartment to assisted living; and, she got to meet her newest great-grandchildren, my daughter’s twins. Additionally, she continued to serve the Lord through her witness of faith in church and community. I am on a rotation of ministers who go to the nursing homes, and though I usually accompany myself on the guitar when we sing hymns, she played the organ for me at assisted living while she was a resident. It was nice to have her play for me one last time.

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The “Proposal” recreated!

Mom was a music teacher. A graduate of Grinnell College in Iowa, her first teaching assignment was in Seymour Iowa, where she taught music. It was there she met my dad, who taught business classes in the high school. He joined the Navy in 1943, and they were soon married. She never taught school after that, having begun to raise a family of five, four daughters and a son. However, her music training was not wasted as she sang in church choirs and ensembles and played piano and organ in a several churches.

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Mom and “Chucky Baby” (not to be confused with Chucky’s baby)

Additionally, she supplemented the family income by giving private piano and voice lessons in our home for a number of years. Almost every day, I came home from elementary school to hear the sound of inexperienced pianists playing their scales and struggling through simple songs.

Her playing and singing, however, were exceptional. I remember lying under the baby grand piano while she played, watching the action of the pedal as it moved the dampers up and down and letting the melodies cascade down from the sound board onto my ears. There were other times when I listened from my room to her rehearsals with my sisters, who formed a gospel quartet and occasionally sang at the local V.A. hospital chapel services on Sunday mornings. She even accompanied me as a child, though never for public consumption as I recall. My earliest recollection was at age 5, singing the chorus of the ragtime love song, “O, You Beautiful Doll”:

Oh! you beautiful doll, You great big beautiful doll!
Let me put my arms about you,
I could never live without you;
Oh! you beautiful doll, You great big beautiful doll!
If you ever leave me how my heart will ache,
I want to hug you but I fear you’d break
Oh, oh, oh, oh, Oh, you beautiful doll!

I’m sure I would have been a YouTube sensation if it had been around in 1961.

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“Bunny” giving a great-granddaughter a piano lesson.

As my voice matured, she encouraged me to sing a few songs at church with her as my accompanist. One of those songs was on my mind as I awoke this morning after spending the night close to her bed at the hospice house – “Ivory Palaces.” Before singing it with her

I had never heard the song, but it became a favorite. The writer, Henry Barraclough, wrote this song after hearing a sermon on Psalm 45, a royal wedding song with a secondary application to the Messiah. As with most hymns, there is a progression – a story told. The song speaks of the glorious nature of Christ, but acknowledges the suffering He bore on the cross because of humanity’s sin. However, the new life in Christ brings salvation from sin’s bondage and leads to an everlasting presence before the Jesus Christ the Lord. The last stanza speaks of that ultimate hope and reward for the believer. These are the words to which I awoke and hope for my mother’s imminent awareness:

In garments glorious He will come,
To open wide the door;
And I shall enter my heav’nly home,
To dwell forevermore.
Out of the ivory palaces, Into a world of woe,
Only His great eternal love Made my Savior go.

And so life goes. We prepare for the death of our “great big beautiful doll” of a mother, for whom our hearts will ache when she leaves. However, we know that we will sing together with her again as we look forward to the fulfillment of our hope in Christ Jesus and His promise of eternal life.

Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him because we will see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself just as He is pure.

1 John 3:2-3 (HCSB*)


*Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers, Nashville Tennessee. All rights reserved.

Weekly Photo Challenge: ROY G. BIV

Our kitchen window faces east, and so the morning sun passes through both a cut glass piece my sister made, as well as an ornament with prisms. A sunny morning always results in rainbows on the walls and cabinets. wpid-img_20150620_094155.jpgThis morning, I used my Moto X phone to capture the light emanating from the prism. Didn’t capture the entire spectrum of Mr. ROY G. BIV, but five of the seven were captured.

Anytime I see a prism through which light waves pass, breaking apart the beautiful colors,  I’m reminded of a conference I attended with a former seminary professor, the late T.W. Hunt. He told of a dream he had in 1973. In the dream, Jesus took him to “deep space” (recounted in the book, The Hope of Glory: Seeing the World from Heaven’s View.) Dr. Hunt, who usually dreamed in black and white, was immediately aware of the vivid nature of his dream, witnessing beauty beyond anything he had previously experienced in sight and sound (he was a professor of music); his senses engulfed in pure pleasure. However, the most captivating feature of all were the eyes of Jesus; eyes that emitted the most powerful and yet most tender love he could ever imagine.

Somehow Jesus’ eyes fulfilled every need I had ever experienced in my life. All my previous needs would never be as essential as I thought they were. I realized I had never wanted anything but Him, and I have never wanted anything else since. At that moment, He seemed to be fulfilling every ambition, every desire, every need I have ever had – just Him in His incomparable, transcendent love.[1]

Unfortunately, in his awakened state, the vividness of the colors he beheld dissipated within 30 minutes. He longed to see those colors again, God’s temporary gift of “unusual senses.” However, what never faded were the penetrating eyes of Jesus, a love that “overwhelmed me, captured me, and changed my life forever.” The same love that motivated Jesus to go to His death on the cross, therefore, would motivate Hunt to do whatever He asked.

After this I looked, and there in heaven was an open door. The first voice that I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” Immediately I was in the Spirit, and a throne was set there in heaven. One was seated on the throne, and the One seated looked like jasper and carnelian stone. A rainbow that looked like an emerald surrounded the throne. Revelation 4:1-3 (HCSB*)

Knowing that Dr. Hunt is now experiencing that beauty beyond comprehension, I look forward to being with him and my other loved ones who have trusted in Christ. But, more importantly, I can’t wait to look into those eyes of my Savior and Lord. I hope to join you there.

Check out these other examples of ROY G. BIV.

1 T.W. Hunt and Melana Hunt Munroe, The Hope of Glory: Seeing the World from Heaven’s View, NavPress, 2013. (Kindle Version, Chapter 4, Location 1157). *Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers, Nashville Tennessee. All rights reserved.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Enveloped

Yesterday was National Peace Officers Memorial Day in the U.S.A., and flags were flown at half-staff. I returned the flags to their full height on the church’s flagpole this morning and took a moment to enjoy watching them unfurl in the breeze. The invisible force of the wind, gently enveloping the light, nylon fabric of the U.S. and Iowa flags and pushing the clouds overhead, gave me a joy in the beauty of God’s creation. wpid-img_20150516_075640199_hdr.jpg

It also reminded me of the mysterious nature of the wind of which Jesus spoke in John 3. As Jewish leader, Nicodemus, inquired of Jesus about spiritual things, He told the inquirer that he must be born again. A bit confused, Nicodemus asked for clarification. Jesus illustrated his point with the wind.

Jesus answered, “I assure you: Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you that you must be born again. The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”    John 3:5-8 HCSB*

While we do not see the wind, we hear and see its effects. Likewise, the wind cannot be controlled as it goes where it wills and does as it wishes. The Spirit’s regenerating work is like this. While unseen and beyond man’s control, the Spirit brings about new birth, resulting in lives that are transformed, enabling Christians to live differently than they did before. Thank God for the unseen role of the Spirit, enveloping lives and allowing them to unfurl in newness.

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come. 2 Corinthians 5:17 HCSB

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This post is in response to the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Enveloped

Rainy Days and Mondays…

As I accompanied my wife to her Parkinson Disease exercise class this today, it was a “misty, moisty, morning.” It was also a Monday. Cue the Carpenter’s “Rainy Days and Mondays.” I’m not sure if it was the weather or the aftermath of a busy Easter weekend, but I yawned through most of the hour. I had the day off and spent most of it just chilling out, working on taxes and checking out some of the contributions to this week’s Photo Challenge. The day ended with light showers and the week promises to be wet. But it’s just what we need as the trees begin to leaf out, the flowers bloom and the grass starts to green up.

Dripping Crab Apple Tree

Dripping Crab Apple Tree

In my late adolescence and college days, I tended to be on the melancholy side of the emotional spectrum. Songs like “Rainy Days and Mondays” really DID get me down. However, as I began to sense more of my purpose in life as it revolved around my relationship with Christ, that emotional barometer began to rise. At least some of the lines from that “blues” song relate to how that happened in my life.

Funny, but it seems I always wind up here with you
Nice to know somebody loves me
Funny, but it seems that it’s the only thing to do
Run and find the one who loves me
(The one who loves me)

Though I was already a believer in Christ, my internal wanderings away from him, even though I outwardly appeared to be walking with him, seemed to be the trigger that brought me down. However, like the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-24), who came to his senses in a pigsty and ran back to the father, I found the loving arm of Jesus, welcoming me back when I repented of my wanderings and ran back. I’ve found no One better to run and find than Jesus, who has an everlasting love for me!

 The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying:“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. – Jeremiah 31:3 (NIV)

To Our Beloved Bunny

Kids at Mom's bedWhile my four sisters, my wife and I have been physically present with my mother in hospice care for the last week and a half, other family members have sought by other means to be present to express their love and appreciation of their beloved grandmother and great-grandmother (aka Bunny). Spanning the distance of the country by phone and Facetime, they have expressed that love through words of remembrance, singing, piano playing and the words “I love you, Bunny!” Below, I reblog my daughter’s post from yesterday, one of those fitting tributes, that I was able to share with my mother today.

To Our Beloved Bunny

My grandmother is in hospice care…and while she is still with us, though I’m certain she is certain of my love for her…I won’t wait to write it down. I need to do it now.

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I can’t stop thinking of my last hospital stay, exactly one month ago, for the birth our of twins. With that stay, came the promise of finality: of pregnancy and of delivering babies. The end was in site: the end of tests and dr’s visits and apprehension. And that hospital stay culminated in life. For months, I was so giddy when I thought about coming home with life. Leaving with LIFE, 2 lives. The thought of it made me cry.

In so many ways, her stay in the hospital now is the same, final and culminating in LIFE. The end of this life on Earth, means life in Heaven for her. And at 35, I can barely wrap my mind around the idea of being excited about that. But for her…for my Bunny, our Grace, it means seeing her mom and dad, and brothers and sisters, and her beloved, our Pop. It means holding my sister’s baby boy, Silas, before any of us do. It means greeting our cousin Amy again with a kiss and tears. It means seeing the face of God. And sitting here thinking about THAT, about seeing Jesus…that makes me giddy for her, even in my heartbreak over my impending separation from her.

So how do I honor this woman, who for my entire life has meant the world to me; who has prayed unceasingly for all of us, remaining lucid for her 94 years, sharing griefs and triumphs, stealing giggles on porch swings over slightly inappropriate stories, fingers still gliding effortlessly across piano keys? For this woman who is a picture of godliness and purpose, I will honor her with my words…and I think that’s how she’d want me to honor her.

Bunny and me

Two things about my grandmother have shaped me and helped me to become who I am.

The first is music. 

When I was five, I remember telling Bunny a story using the keys of her piano to differentiate my characters. Then she taught me about the symphony, sitting on the floor listening to Peter and the Wolf…hearing story through music for the first time. And years later, it was Bunny who encouraged my first piano lessons. And finally in high school, when I was still practicing piano at my dad’s church, Bunny bought me my own piano, perhaps the most amazing gift I’ve ever been given. The gift of song. And because of her blood that courses through me and her influence, I feel God’s glory no more acutely than when I am wrapped up in the beauty of making music.

The second is faith.

When I was little my mother taught us how to study God’s word. I will always look back and praise God for a mom who was disciplined in her teaching of us. Without her, I would have no idea that the Bible is indeed living and active and sharper than any two edged sword. But it was Bunny, who also helped shaped the love of Bible study into my mom. I love legacies. I love tracing my faith back to faithful men and women. I am so grateful.

I loved watching my mom and dad wake up every morning and pray together…I saw that in my grandparents, too. I hope our children will remember our prayer times, too.

Bunny and Georgie

It’s impossible to wrap up my grandmother in a silly blog post, just as it’s impossible to catch the memory of a dream the night before with our words. It all falls short. To list all of my memories seems trite. But they are a part of me. She is a part of me.

Not everyone gets the pleasure of having a family that they are wild about. I do. And at the helm is Bunny.

Bunny, you mean the world to me. I love you more than words could ever say. Your purpose in my life…has been inexplicable.

Originally posted on http://www.itsallbananas.wordpress.com: To Our Beloved Bunny

Some additional pictures of Mom, me, Anna and my granddaughter, Charlie.

My Birthday Present

I’ve gotten to the point in life that when asked, “What do you want for your birthday,” I usually respond, ” Nothing.” I know this is a frustration to my wife and kids, but stuff is not as important to me, now. So, when my wife asked me THE question on Wednesday in anticipation of my birthday today, I got on Amazon.com and ordered a few camera accessories that should arrive in time for my birthday…not spending much because I’m not sure how much more I want to tie up in my current camera.

My birthday was shaping up to be a low-key affair with some lunch and supper plans with a few friends and family. However, as we know, plans can change in a second. Late last night, we got a text from our middle daughter, Katie, letting us know that she was having some issues with her pregnancy and that she was going to the hospital. Only about seven months along, her water had broken.

The news of her pregnancy originally came to us as she traveled back to Texas after having spent Christmas with us. She had not felt well the entire holiday, so she bought a pregnancy test in Kansas. It was positive. However, her feelings about the pregnancy were never really positive. After delivering her first child last September, this was an “unexpected” pregnancy. But beyond that, something didn’t feel right.

So, when at ten weeks the sonogram technician exited the exam room, saying she needed to get the doctor, my daughter’s feelings were confirmed. She was told that there appeared to be only fluid where the brain should be. While it was too early to conclusively diagnose, the couple was told that it was either anencephaly (absence of all or major part of the brain) or acrania (partial or total absence of the skull).

At that point the question had to be asked… terminate or carry this baby. We sought to instill in our daughters a respect for the sanctity of life and they have personally embraced that tenet of faith as their own. So, Katie and her husband, Daren, didn’t wrestle with that question; she would carry this child and trust God. We were grateful that the healthcare professionals truly supported them in this decision. As Katie sought God’s direction on how to pray for this child, she wrote:

The Spirit has only revealed to me to pray for Life… which could mean spiritual life for my non-Christian friend, life for another child from my baby’s organs, or life for my child.

As the months passed, a clearer diagnosis emerged; acrania, the skull was not forming, a condition that results in death at birth or soon afterward. They also discovered the child was a boy. Soon afterward, they met with a transplant specialist to consider options and discovered the point of viability for transplantation. The baby’s weight would need to be five pounds , so a C-section would be scheduled close to full term. Of course, my wife and I would plan to be there for the birth to have whatever time God might give us with our first grandson.

Those plans,however, all changed with the developments of last night. At 11:40 p.m., we received news that an emergency C-section would occur in the next few hours, giving us no opportunity to be with the kids at this critical time. Due to the premature delivery, transplants would not be possible, either.

As the midnight hour passed, it dawned on me that my first grandson was going to be born on my birthday. Although I would not see him this side of eternity, he would always be my “birthday buddy.” He would be my birthday present on reserve, a treasure in heaven I will one day behold AND hold, healed and whole.

Through a series of texts, I can only approximate that Silas was born between 2:00 a.m. and 3:30 a.m. He lived for about five minutes. Though we will grieve his short earthly life, we have hope that through Jesus Christ, Who is the way, the truth and the LIFE (John 14:6), Silas was welcomed into eternal joy and glory early this morning.

I’ll see you later, Silas! I look forward to unwrapping all that there will be to know of your experiences in the unfettered presence of the Lord!

– Love, Papa

POSTSCRIPT: A few days after my daughter had Silas, she gave a status update on Facebook. I wanted to add her words to this post –

I just wanted to say how unbelievably thankful I am for the prayers, thoughts, love, flowers, meals, and support my family has received over the past several days (and months)!

I am honored to have given Silas Lee 29 weeks of life in my womb and 6 minutes outside of it. His short, sweet life has forever changed Daren and me; we are eternally grateful for our son. Although the heartbreak is very real, God’s peace and absolute goodness through the months of suffering has been, oh how, indescribable.

Thank you again for all the love…we feel it!

Finding Refreshment

Our Iowa heat wave has me reminiscing about the heat and humidity of my Tennessee, childhood summers. We had a two-story (split into four-levels) home with only two, window unit air conditioners —one in the dining room (2nd level) and the other in my parents’ top level bedroom.  I guess my father felt the units were strategically placed since cold air falls, but they really couldn’t keep up with the demands of Memphis summers. After some hard, outdoor play, I can remember heading in for a drink of water or Kool Aid and then lingering in front of the window unit. The cold air from condensation-laden vents came as a welcome relief from an afternoon of play outside.  Refreshed, I would head back out for some more games of baseball, kickball or army with my friends, Steve and Kendall.

What are you doing to find refreshment for your body, soul and spirit? I have received some unsolicited (but caring) advice about my need to make sure I have some times of refreshment built into my schedule. The fact of the matter is, we all need to make sure we have that refreshment…not as an excuse for laziness but as a way of re-energizing for service to the Lord. In Exodus 31, Moses concludes his time with God on Mt. Sinai and the Lord said this:

16 The Israelites must observe the Sabbath… 17 It is a sign forever between Me and the Israelites, for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, but on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.

If God “rested and was refreshed,” might we not also need to experience the same?

The most essential and primary way to experience refreshment comes from repentance. Peter said in Acts 3:19:

Therefore repent and turn back, that your sins may be wiped out so that seasons of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.

Repentance from sins is a necessity for ongoing, unrepentant sin causes our fellowship with the Lord to be interrupted. Intimacy with God is compromised just as it is in a marriage when a spouse will not admit and make steps of restitution following an indiscretion. Thus, repentance may be your first step back to needed times of refreshment.

More on “refreshment” next time.

Points to Ponder

  • Are there any actions or attitudes in your life from which you need to turn in order that a floodgate of needed refreshment might open onto your life, enabling you to experience the presence of the Lord, again?
  • Think of a time of personal, spiritual refreshment. Did repentance precipitate the refreshment?