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.

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.

Who Ya Gonna Serve?

We have come to the end of Romans 6 and Paul’s contrast between the two slaveries – either to God or to sin. Paul concludes this section with the verse contrasting the ultimate destinies of the two slaveries by saying, The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life. (Romans 6:23, NIV).

Chuck Swindoll, with whom I am sometimes confused [1], confessed that much of his pastoral ministry was spent dealing with one of two problems. The first was with individuals who were slaves to something but thought they were free. Believing that something would bring them fulfillment or eliminate their problems, they served money, career, sex, relationships, adventure, power, education, achievement, and even addictions.  With an inability to comprehend the depths of their enslavement, they sacrificed all to keep their god alive and lived in the fear of what life might be like without this master. Unfortunately, the good news of Christ is unappealing because submission to Christ will take away their “freedom.” This is often the perception people have of Christianity – God is the cosmic killjoy, wanting to take away freedom and ruin their “good times.” The writer of Ecclesiastes, however, realized the pursuit and enslavement to power, pleasure and possessions were all empty. “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14, NIV).

Swindoll states that the second problem is almost as tragic as the first: to be free and think you are enslaved. This is symptomatic of the Christian who struggles to accept the fact that they no longer have to serve those past gods. While they have peace with God, who does not condemn but empowers them to overcome their shame and compulsions, they instead remain shackled to them.

The remedy for both problems, Swindoll says, is truth. That is, indeed, what Jesus said was the answer when he discussed this slavery to sin issue with the Pharisees. “Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (John 8:31, 32, NIV). The truth is:

On the one hand, unbelievers need to know that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (6:23). The “freedom” they experience is an illusion designed to draw their attention away from the fact that sin is robbing them of everything they value and will eventually drag them into eternal torment.

Believers, on the other hand, must learn to embrace their freedom and recognize temptation for what it is. Each opportunity to sin is an invitation to submit our bodies to something. Temptation asks the following question: “To which master will you submit your body for the next few moments: your compulsion, which always leaves you feeling emptier than before, or Christ, who always affirms your value as a child of God? [2]

As we address temptation, it is not enough to “just say no” to it. Paul said:

11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, (Titus 2:11-13, NIV)

When we say “no” to ungodliness, we must say “yes” to righteousness. There must be a repentance – a turning away from sin and turning toward Christ. Thus, the sanctifying process, being saved more and more from the power of sin, is a necessity for any believer who desires to break free of the past and live for Christ. We’ll be discovering more about this in the coming weeks as we continue in Romans.

Your Response:

Swindoll says “I need something else to which I can submit my body.” [3]  Here is a four-step process that he finds helpful when tempted to do wrong:

  1. Flee temptation; that is, change your circumstances. Physically move from where you are and quickly go somewhere different, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
  2. Do something that brings honor to God as an alternative; Prayer is good, but I suggest adding something more tangible. Systematically answer the urge to sin with a godly activity.
  3. Thank God for providing the freedom to choose Him over wrongdoing and ask Him for encouragement. Spiritual warfare is exhausting.
  4. Try to discern what triggered the temptation and take practical steps to steer clear of the same situation. [4]

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1 Early in my ministry here, a local funeral home sponsored Chuck Swindoll’s Insights for Living radio program on Sunday mornings. I encountered a couple walking through our neighborhood and was told by the wife that she enjoyed my radio program. I thought she had confused us with the other Baptist church in town, whose service was broadcast every  Sunday. No, she was referring to “my” program that came on earlier. I was flattered but had to tell her that it was the other Chuck.

2 Chuck Swindoll, Insights on Romans, Swindoll’s New Testament Insights (Grand Rapids: Zondervon, 2010), 146

3 Swindoll 146.

4 Swindoll 146-147.