What Story is Your Life Telling?

Who doesn’t remember the scene in Groundhog Day where the mechanical clock radio rolls the digits to 6:00 am, begins playing I Got You, Babe by Sonny and Cher, and Bill Murray finds himself living the same day again?

For the past 20 years, I find myself caught in a similar suspension of time and place; a cycle of sadness, over which I seem to have little control. As the leaves begin to change color, and the sun heads south for the winter, my emotions embark on an all too familiar journey. My heart becomes heavy. My memories blur with tears. My focus seems fixed on one sad story. My sixteen year old son, Scott, is dead.

Scott’s sixteenth birthday, November 23, 1995, was the last birthday we celebrated with him. A few days later, Scott and Tony brought home our family Christmas tree. We waited another week for Amy to return home from her first semester at college, as Scott declared, “We are never going to decorate our Christmas tree until we are all together.” Little did we know that Christmas 1995 would be the last time we were all together.

Exactly six weeks after Christmas, Scott was fatally injured in an accident in the woodshop at Immanuel High School. After thirty hours on life support, Scott was declared brain dead.

Every year since the year of lasts, my mother’s heart seems overtaken ~ from November to February ~ by some mechanical response that sets in motion a deep sorrow. The earth seems to join in my pain as the sky grays, the air chills, and the nights become long. I tell myself that I am not going to fall under its control, yet here I am twenty years later, still having memories turn to tears.

How very tragic if this was the end of my story. How sad if there was no hope of redeeming the future. God is the God who restores; the God who redeems the future by bringing value to our losses. One of the many verses which became real to me as I began my journey of grief is found in the Wisdom Literature. It states, Many are the plans in a man’s heart; but the Lord’s purposes prevail.

On Sunday past, I was challenged by the pastor to answer the question, What story is your life telling? As I reflected upon my story over the past week, here are my thoughts in answer to that challenge, as I attempt to flesh out the words of old, the Lord’s purposes prevail.

The day of Scott’s accident in 1996, lives were changed for eternity. Scott’s split-second decision to use a rasp file on his table top spinning on the lathe became his last decision. The reality of death became forefront in the minds of his classmates. The certainty of where they would spend eternity became a question that begged an answer.

Luke Thomas, one of Scott’s classmates shared at the time, “Lives were changed because of the way Scott Redfern lived and died.” And that is a redemptive facet of my story.

Our family struggled to understand this journey of grief. We sought out grief counseling. We became trained in death and grief studies. But most of all, we looked to the Lord to renew His joy in our hearts. Out of our own griefwork was born a desire to give back to others who experience loss. That desire grew into a reality with establishing New Path Center (NPC), a nonprofit that exists to help others discover pathways through difficult times. God has graced hundreds with His hope and peace through the ministry of NPC, and this is the transformative theme of this story.

After 30 hours on life support, we gathered around Scott’s body to say goodbye. Kept “alive” with machines to provide the gift of life through organ donation meant we hugged a boy who looked like he was sleeping. That’s the hideous reality of brain death.

Yet, as if this story needed another wonderful feature, in August 2015, after almost 20 years, we have had the remarkable experience of meeting a young woman who received Scott’s gift of life. In finding her, we found an entire family who has carried deep gratitude for Scott in their hearts for decades. We have been invited to share the story of our journey, and to hear their story. We have found great joy in knowing the immense value of our loss in their lives as we have received their thankfulness for giving life to their only daughter, only sister. And we rejoice in the restorative aspect of the story.

I am grateful for the challenge to look at this story of my life. The pain of losing Scott will always be a part of my story. But what a wonderful experience to look at my story through a lens that sees the purposes of God prevail.

As this season brings the opportunity to reflect on the best and the worst that life has brought, I challenge you to consider, what story is your life telling? If you are like me, many are the plans in your heart. Many are the hopes and dreams of your future. But when these plans, hopes, and dreams do not come to pass, what a comfort to know that the Lord’s purposes prevail; purposes that redeem and transform, and restore the joy of the Lord. 

My heart still feels an immense Scott-shaped hole this Christmas. The deep sadness I felt in 1996 has changed. It is hard to describe, but today it is a sadness bathed in hope. Hope that comes with the birth of the Babe of Bethlehem who truly injects His joy into my story.

Special thanks to Jeff Doolittle at The Well Kingsburg for his powerful sermon, Christ is Now Here

A Second Chance in Life

To understand the importance of today, I need to reflect upon the significance of another day.

February 8, 1996 was almost Jennifer Chang’s death day. Without a transplant of a healthy liver, Jennifer would die within hours as her poisoned liver continued to shut down. Finally, her family received the news they had prayed for – a match was found. Scott’s liver was flown from Valley Medical Center in Fresno to University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center.

The UCSF transplant team prepared to do an emerging surgical technique to provide Jennifer with a portion of Scott’s liver intended to sustain her life long enough to give her own damaged liver a chance to heal and regenerate.

(NOTE: This was the first time the technique, known as an "auxiliary transplant," was to be performed at UCSF with the expectation that the damaged liver will heal itself. Only one other transplant center in the United States had performed a similar procedure at this time. )

Jennifer received the left lobe of Scott's liver, and another UCSF transplant patient received the larger portion of Scott’s liver in a standard liver transplant procedure.

In the auxiliary transplant, Scott’s liver was placed alongside Jennifer's damaged liver, giving her the chance of living without the need to take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of her life. If there were enough healthy cells remaining in her damaged liver, Jennifer’s liver would be able to regenerate and supplant Scott’s liver over a period of several months. If the damaged liver proved unable to heal, then Scott’s liver would grow and supplant the damaged liver.

"We're giving her own liver a chance to recover," Dr. Emond said. "The livers are placed side by side in competition for blood flow. The healthiest organ eventually will dominate."

After Jennifer underwent the procedure on February 8th at UCSF, Emond estimated that the ability of the damaged organ to heal won't be known for about six months. No other organ in the body has this ability to grow or reduce in size as needed.

The doctors noted that Scott’s liver in this case saved the lives of two patients and other of his organs saved the lives of three others -- a heart transplant recipient, a kidney-pancreas recipient, and a kidney recipient.

Jennifer remained in serious but stable condition in the intensive care unit at UCSF Medical Center, needing further procedures over the next few days and weeks. Sam Chang, Jennifer’s father, states that he watched the blood flow from Scott’s liver surge into Jennifer’s damaged liver, on a computer monitor after the procedure.

Jennifer’s damaged liver did regenerate and eventually dominated Scott’s liver. In a few months, she underwent another surgery to remove the portion of Scott’s liver. She was able to stop taking anti-rejection drugs and continued to live a vibrant life.

Reconciliation is the process of finding a way to make two different realities exist, or be true at the same time; to accept the reality; to redeem the future.

And that is what took place today for our family, and for Jennifer and her parents, Sam and Rita Chang. We experienced reconciliation with two different realities that are conflicting yet true at the same time – Scott is not here, and because of that, Jennifer is here. Experiencing reconciliation doesn’t diminish or heighten either reality. The Chang family feels deep sorrow that our only son died, and we share in their great joy that their only daughter lived. Life coming from death is a beautiful example of redeeming the future.

Perhaps the Psalmist’s words best reflect the meeting of our families ~

“Lovingkindness and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” Psalm 85:1

(The above account is taken, in part, from a press release from UCSF dated February 9, 1996.)

Like Meeting Old Friends for the First Time

For as long as I can remember, I choose to view the experiences of my life through a lens that illuminates the amazing grace of the God who restores; the God who will redeem the broken pieces of my life for His glory! It is this personal belief that allows me to move toward experiencing peace with the loss of our sixteen year old son, Scott.

Part of my own journey as a bereaved mother is to share about my loss, and my pursuit of peace. The story I share of Scott’s death always involves two families; neither of whom would ever forget the winter of 1996. (If you are not familiar with the story, click on the following link to read it on my blog, Redeeming the Future.)

The story of these two families is an account of profound grief and overwhelming joy. It is a story I never dreamed I would be cast in; never imagined being played out in my life.

Now almost twenty years later, God, in His providence, is changing the story. Well, not exactly changing it. He is writing a new chapter; one that only He could author as it is filled with his amazing grace and promise of restoration.

Inspired this summer by a news story about the first hand transplant ever performed on a child, I felt led again to search for the “other” family in my twenty-year-old story. Although they were an integral part of my story, I had never met them. I admit that I searched often to find them since Scott’s death. Now, inspired again by the story of donation, I pulled up electronic copies of newspaper articles from 1996 I had stored in a file on my computer. I enlisted the help of friends on social media. My searching at length over the years always ended in frustration and failure. But this time was different.

I was filled with anxiety as I thought about how best to contact this individual through social media. How do you compose a private message to ask someone if she may be the person who received your son’s liver? She was 13 years old in 1996; she would be about 33 years old now. I wrestled with the wording for a couple of hours, forming an introduction, sharing how the gift of organ donation added value to our loss, and then asking “the” question. The stress of choosing the correct words, of not pushing too hard, almost made me back out. Even after composing the message, I waited about twenty more minutes before pushing SEND.

As I was turning off my phone at bedtime for the night, I literally began to shake. There was a reply; an answer we had waited almost twenty years to receive.

Hi Bonnie and Tony, I am the Jennifer Chang you were looking for. Because of your son, I was given a second chance in life and I am eternally grateful. I would love to share my story with you.”

Making the decision to donate Scott’s organs was not an easy one for me, on several levels. It required us to agree with the determination of two neurologists that Scott was brain dead. (Brain death is hideous.) It required us to leave a son who was kept alive by machines. It required us to know that the surgeons would “harvest” (their word) parts of his strong, soccer playing, mountain biking, beautiful body, before “pulling the plug”.

We knew the importance of organ donation and its ability to save lives. We made the decision to become a donor family primarily to add value to our loss; to know that Scott’s death was not in vain in this physical world.

What a privilege to witness God’s grace at work in the past few weeks since I sent that first message on social media. Tony and I have traveled to Berkeley to have lunch with the three siblings who had been in critical condition in 1996. We heard them share about this life changing event from their family’s vantage point. We were blessed to answer their questions ~ what was his name, how did he die, how old was he, does he have siblings, and what was he like?

It became quite clear that although our families had never met, we were indeed an integral part in each other’s lives. So much so, that God’s grace continues to bring us together. Jennifer’s parents flew into San Francisco from Taiwan. We look forward to welcoming them into our home tomorrow.

A friend asked me if I was nervous about meeting them. Strangely, I am not. They have been a part of my life for almost 20 years. I feel a sense of joy as we are privileged to see God’s redemptive power over loss.

Seriously, it is like I am meeting old friends for the first time. 

When Holidays Are Holey Days

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How do you define holidays

Merriam-Webster defines it this way ...

hol-i-days noun \ˈhä-lə-ˌdāz\

  1. holy days
  2. days on which one is exempt from work
  3. days marked by a general suspension of work in commemoration of an event

For those who grieve, holidays can seem like holey-days.

holey-days adjective \ˈhō-lēˌdāz \

  1. days having holes

Holidays often feel like holey days  – days that remind us that there is, and always will be, a hole in our hearts and homes. A hole in the form of an empty chair, a missing member of the family, a feeling that life will never be "normal" again. A hole formed when a parent is no longer living, or a child is taken way too soon by a terminal illness or accident. Perhaps a hole created by a prodigal who has chosen to just walk away.

Regardless the reason for the hole, literature on death and grief tell us it is actually healing to acknowledge it. Jesus said ~Blessed are those who mourn [who feel the pain and express it], for they shall be comforted

These holey days can be a precious time to remember ~ to share stories, laughter and tears about the loved one who is no longer present with you. Holey days are a wonderful time to transform the relationship from one of presence to one of memory. For it has been said ~ memories are where the proof of life are stored.

I am very familiar with the emotions of holey days. I know the horror of brain death, and the conflicting emotions of signing papers to donate my sixteen year old son's organs to save the lives of strangers. I know the sorrow of having an estranged parent who chose to not be in my life for almost 10 years. I know there will always be times I wish I could call my mom.

I know how God has used all things to glorify Himself and draw others to His kingdom. I have seen how His hand move to bring value to my loss. And I know that I will one day see my loved ones and forever live with them in eternity.

But all the knowledge in the world does not change the fact that these special days, these holidays, often feel like holey days to my grieving heart. It is a time to give ourselves grace; to offer grace to those who grieve.

So I give myself permission to acknowledge the pain as I feel that weight of grief bearing down on me. I purposefully bring to mind the precious memories of each loved one, even though these memories may bring tears to my eyes and an aching in my heart. For this I know, memories are the proof that they will always be a part of us.

To speak the name of the dead is to make them live again.  –Egyptian Proverb

Missing Grace

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My heart is so heavy this morning from the culminating events yesterday in the courtroom of Judge Sarkisian.

I understand the pain of losing a child. I really do. I am so sorry for the family of sweet Ella Joy.

But what truly makes my heart ache is the opportunity which was lost time and time again in that Fresno Superior Courtroom, and in the court of public opinion. What could have been demonstrated by those who stood in judgment? What could have been expressed by those who took sides through their posts on social media sites? What could have given the world a truer glimpse of His grace?

Yes, I grieve for what might have been ~ that the world would know the power of grace to forgive even the heinous of deeds. It really isn't about what the D.A. believed happened that dreadful day four years ago. What truly matters with eternity in view is for the faith community to show the world a truly amazing grace; a grace that sees the person as full of worth and precious, regardless of any wrongdoing. A grace that can redeem the future in spite of the past.

Oh how the Holy Spirit must grieve this lost occasion to demonstrate that while we were yet in our sin, Christ took the penalty for us all – and we.all.walked.away.free.of.sin. Penalty paid. End of story.

There is no loophole in the gospel story. Either the cross of Christ covers a multitude of sin, any sin, our sin ~ or we are all at risk of one day falling short of His grace. 

* Painting, The Offering, by Michael D. O'Brien

Forever In My Heart

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Every year I think it will be different. I really do. But here I am again with that restlessness in my heart that longs for reunion. The feelings are nothing new ~ they have been my companion along life's journey for almost 20 years. Perhaps it is because February is the month of love. Most likely it is because this short month is characterized by separation and loss for me. I am well aware that if you choose to love, you choose to grief.

And I chose to love, so my heart still grieves the losses marked in these short days of February. I look forward with hope to the blessed reunion with my son, my mother and my father, all of whom entered their eternal rest during the month of love.

I find great comfort in the words of Scripture. The passages which are truly a healing salve to my hurting heart are those that embrace the pain of separation and the reality of loss as part of our journey. As this month draws to a close, I drink deeply from the following words of comfort.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit. –Psalm 34:18
You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle; are they not in your book? –Psalm 56:8
Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. –Lamentations 3:19-23
Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. –Hosea 6:1

Perhaps the words of St. Paul speak best for me today. It is true these precious losses are part of who I am. Although I grieve the fact that my precious family members are no longer here in person, I know that it is indeed a short time before we will see them again, face to face.

Since we were torn away from you for a short time ~ in person not in heart ~ we endeavor all the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face. –I Thessalonians 2:17

Until then, they remain forever in my heart.

Clinging to Hope

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Bye Scott. I love you. See you at the game.

Bye Mom. Love you too.

I woke this morning with these words echoing in my head. Little did I know on that rushed morning in February 1996 that these words would be our last conversation. Just a little over four hours later,  Scott was airlifted to the regional trauma center, and sixteen short years became the length of his days.

Today begins a hallowed time for our family. Although sixteen years have passed, we remember every detail of these dark days with great clarity ~ as if it were yesterday.

Today I feel my grief in every cell of my body.

Today I long to hear Scott say just.one.more.time – Love you too.

Today I am reminded that no matter how dark and difficult the journey, the God of all Comfort has been my faithful companion. It is He who draws near to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in spirit. It is He who replaces ashes with garlands and clothes me with a garment of praise. It is He who has placed eternity in my heart so I have a hope.

Today I cling to hope ~ hope that made it possible for me to take my first steps along this journey of grief. Hope that is rooted in the confidence that God will use my deep pain to glorify Himself and draw others to His Kingdom. Hope that promises to redeem the future.

Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out. –Vaclav Havel

A Heart of Thanksgiving

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As the calendar rolled around to the first of November, I noticed that many posts on various social media sites are focused on 30 Days of Thanksgiving. Friends plan to post about something they are thankful for each day of November. I thought about joining in, for indeed this November I have a heart full of thankfulness. But I know a)I really do not have the time for daily postings, and b) I admittedly do not have the discipline (or brain cells) to remember to post something each day of the month.

Since I have taken a five-month hiatus from my blog (for reasons that will become evident in this post), I decided to share all in one place some of the things for which I am most thankful this November ~ to express the gratefulness in my heart and to update many of you on the events of the past five months.

A Heart of Thanksgiving

I am thankful for:

  • Tony, my dear husband, who survived a near-fatal heart attack on May 21st.
  • God, who was pleased to give us more time together.
  • The life-saving team of paramedics from Kingsburg Fire Department who responded to my desperate 9-1-1 call at 10 pm that evening.
  • The surgeons who placed three stents in Tony's blocked arteries to save his life.
  • The faithfulness of God to supply all our needs during this time of healing and growth.
  • The wisdom and generosity of our New Path Center Board of Directors for their guidance and grace during the months of recuperation.
  • Family and friends who prayed for us, visited us, cooked for us, and carried this burden with us. We continue to feel the love!
  • Our new heart-healthy eating habits ~ our diet is nearly all plant-based and we feel terrific. We have lost a combined 50+ pounds since May!
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  • The joy of living in the same town as our daughter, Amy, and son-in-law, Jeff, and our three precious grandchildren. Some of the best medicine around. Such a blessing! (They loved Grandpa's hospital bed.)
  • The turn of the seasons ~ fall has always been my favorite time of year. I love living in this agricultural area, and like the orchards around us, we shed the remnants of a busy year and prepare to enter a season of rest.
  • Birthdays! November brings two birthdays to our home. We celebrate my birthday in a couple of weeks (I will be 59 for the first time. Really.) And we remember the sweet sixteen years we had with Scott on what would be his 32nd birthday.
  • The blessed hope of a glorious reunion with loved ones who have gone before ~ what a comfort to know that the best is yet to come.

My heart rejoices this November as we truly could have experienced such a different outcome last May. This coming Thanksgiving, almost six months to the day of Tony's heart attack, we will gather around the table with family to rejoice and acknowledge that the things for which we are most grateful in life are, indeed, not things!

The Last Thing We Talked About

I vividly remember the last day of my mother's life. As a family, we sat vigil around her hospital bed. Although she experienced few moments of consciousness ~ when we were aware she was really with us ~ we shared precious words of love and gratitude for her life well-lived. We knew it was her last day and these would be the last things we talked about with her, as her body finally could no longer support life. It was a precious time ~ a holy time ~ to be present as she left her broken earthly tent and enter her eternal rest.

I also remember the final twenty-four hours of my son's life. Scott wanted to hang out and talk about something he had on his mind. We never in our wildest dreams would have thought that it would be the last thing we talked about.

Scott sat in the oversized chair in the living room, his long legs swung over one armrest, and his hands cradled behind his head. He asked a most profound question ~ So, where was Jesus between Good Friday and Easter?  I know his body was in the tomb ~ but where was HE?

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We spent time looking at Scripture. We talked about the Apostles' Creed and the hope that is in us. We talked about Holy Saturday, those hours between His Death and Resurrection. We talked about the Harrowing of Hades when many believe Christ descended to break down the gates of Hell.

Little did we know that it would be the last thing we talked about ~ for the next day, Scott himself would enter his own eternal rest.

Today is Holy Saturday ~ it is the day between the grief of Good Friday and the hope of Easter. And I find myself reflecting upon that final conversation with Scott. Did Scott somehow sense his own mortality? Did the Spirit place these thoughts on his heart, knowing that in God's sovereign plan, Scott's life would soon hang in the balance?

Whatever the reason for that conversation that night, the last thing we talked about now brings a smile to my face and joy to my heart. For it was during these hours, when Christ's body lie in a cold, stone tomb, that Scott's future, my future, indeed, the future of the world, was truly redeemed.

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him ... For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words. –I Thessalonians 4:13-18

Mary Did You Know

Good Friday always finds me pondering the sorrow of Mary as she stands near the cross and watches her son in anguish. The weight of grief she carried as the life of her first born slips away. It is perhaps not so strange that during the holiest of weeks I hear the words of that modern Christmas song echoing in my head ~ Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?

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As a mother who has laid her son in the arms of God, I lament with Mary. I grieve for this mother who bore a son only to have his life cut short. I weep with this mother who longed to wrap her arms around him one.more.time and tell him how much he is loved.

And yet, I find my own grief overcome with joy because, unlike Mary, unlike those who stood near the cross that day when the sky darkened over Golgotha, I know with assurance what Sunday brings.

In the midst of my longing to fill the void left by the death of my own son, Scott, I find comfort in the words Jesus speaks to his mother from the cross. In his own anguish, he sees her tears and looks down from the cross ~ to meet her in the form of her need, to fill the deep void now created in this mother's heart. The account of the events of Good Friday found in John 19 tells us:

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

As I bend beneath the grief of Good Friday, the hope of Easter lifts me. I embrace the power of the resurrection that brings a glorious reunion with those who have gone before. I hold firm to the promise Jesus taught his disciples about his Kingdom, ushered in by his very death.

You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. In that day you will ask nothing of me.  John 16:22, 23

May I stand today in awe of the One who sees my sorrow, wipes away my tears, and saves our sons and daughters. May I bow as the Centurion beneath the cross and say ~

Truly this is the Son of God who redeems the future by his sacrificial death, even the death on a cross.

--

Photo: The Pietà (1498-1499) is a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture by Michelangelo, housed in St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.

Redeem : Repair : Restore : Renew

re·deem

verb \ri-‘dēm\

  1. ato buy back. b: to get or win back
  2. to free from what distresses or harms: as ato free from captivity by payment of ransom, b:to extricate from or help to overcome something detrimental, cto release from blame or debt clear, dto free from the consequences of sin
  3. to change for the better: reform
  4. repair, restore
  5. ato free from a lien by payment of an amount secured thereby, b(1)to remove the obligation of by payment, (2)to exchange for something of value, cto make good fulfill
  6. ato atone for expiate, b(1)to offset the bad effect of, (2)to make worthwhile retrieve

Source: Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

What comes to mind when you hear the word, redeem?

One childhood memory immediately comes to my mind. Back in the day, I would redeem my soda bottle for a nickel at the store. I returned the bottle to be reusedrecycled, and refilled again.

 

 

Another image is my mother used to redeem S and H Green Stamps. She redeemed her booklets filled with stamps for free merchandise from their catalog.

Many thoughts come to mind from my faith tradition ~ from the verses in scripture and words of hymns that tell of being redeemed ~ a price paid to free me from the wages of sin and death.

When I started this blog almost three years ago, I knew I would call it, Redeeming the Future. As I looked at the events of my life, I did not want the lean years to devour the rich years. I realized that, like me, there were others who may one day find themselves on a similar journey ~ on a difficult path filled with obstacles that obscured their hope of ever experiencing peace.

What truly comes to mind when I hear the word redeem are two powerful words that are signposts along my journey:

  • HOPE: a strong belief that there is a pathway through difficult times that can bring us to a healing place; a place where we can once again know the joy of experiencing peace
  • TRANSFORMATION: the decision to not be destroyed, but to be transformed by those things that seem to be quite literally more than I can bear

I am not just another Pollyanna ~ an excessively or blindly optimistic person. The message of Redeeming the Future is not a pie-in-the-sky kind of gospel. Redeeming the future does not take away the reality of the pain, loss, and disappointments of the past or the present. But that simple six-letter word ~ redeem ~ provides a new lens through which I can look back at the difficult times with hope, knowing that I can be transformed; I can become stronger in the broken places.

I love the following quote by author Maria Robinson:

Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.

And that, my friend, is all about Redeeming the Future.

So, what comes to mind when YOU hear the word, redeem?

A Reversal of Values

Mardi Gras ~ Fat Tuesday ~ a day characterized by excessive eating and drinking, and lewd behavior before the sacrificial season of Lent. What a stark contrast this day is to Ash Wednesday.

Perhaps it is only coincidental that today ~ Fat Tuesday ~ I have been reminded of another contrast. One of my FB friends posted a link this morning to a podcast where Tim Keller shares some reflections of living in God's Kingdom.

In the podcast, Keller takes us to the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Luke.  It is there that Jesus holds up the values of the world in contrast to those embraced by those who choose to live in His Kingdom. The essence of Keller's thoughts are summed up by this quote from author Michael Wilcock.

In the life of God’s people will be seen first of all a remarkable reversal of values (6:20-26). They will prize what the world calls pitiable, and suspect what the world thinks is desirable. Values which are taken for granted by other men are questioned by them, and are considered in the searching light of spiritual truth, hidden reality, and a future life. The Message of Luke, pp 85-86

It is this very reversal of values that brings to light the blessedness Jesus speaks of in this passage. As Keller says, a blessedness that is impervious to weeping; that is increased in times of weakness. It is a spiritual truth that remains in stark contrast to what the world holds as truth. A hidden reality that allows those in His Kingdom to feel His blessing in the midst of weakness and sacrifice, grief and exclusion; without which, the future would have little hope of being redeemed.

I highly recommend that you brew a cup of tea or pour another cup of coffee and settle in to listen to Keller's words on The Community of Jesus.

The Lens of Lent

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I was raised in a faith tradition which did not observe the season of Lent, a Christian tradition celebrated in the forty days leading up to Easter.

I find myself lamenting that many aspects of this tradition had been part of my upbringing ~ to make time in life's hectic pace to dwell on the passion of Christ and all that He established; to rejoice in the blessed hope of His resurrection.

To be honest, I often allow the circumstances of life to rob me of the peace and joy that was established through the death and resurrection of Christ. These temporary struggles seem to lay claim to much of my concentration. With the Lenten season beginning on Ash Wednesday this week, I savor this place of mindfulness. I look forward to entering this season; to rest in the reality that the redemption so freely given on the cross, continues to redeem the future.

I want to focus my thoughts, my desires, and even the events of each day upon the promise of Colossians 1:20, 21 ~

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

I find that a verse in The Lorica of Saint Patrick truly expresses this place of rest for me during this season as I recognize the fullness of His being, the depth of His love, and the truth of His promise to redeem all things to Himself. 

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye of every one who sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

May the passion of Christ and the reality of the resurrection illuminate for each of us the hope of redeeming the future.

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Art work entitled, Toward Calvary by Michael O'Brien

It Is Never Too Late

It is never too late ... to redeem the future. This is one of my personal tenets. I love when I have the chance to witness a redeeming moment. Let me share my recent experience ~

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This photograph of my sister and I from the mid-1950s pretty much illustrates my childhood. I grew up in a home filled with love and joy. Life was good growing up in southern California!

Part of the story of my childhood includes how our family came to be. I honestly can't remember a time when I didn't know that my sister, Kathy, was adopted. It simply is part of our loving story ~ that God gave my parents a precious daughter when it appeared they would never have a child.

And I never tired of hearing our mother tell the story. How our father's cousin, Stewart Hiatt, was a doctor in California's central valley. How "Uncle Stewart" ~ as we called him ~ telephoned my parents in the spring of 1950 to see if they wanted to adopt the baby of one of his patients. How much joy they felt as they brought Kathy home from a Modesto hospital at the age of three days old.

Then ~ wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles ~ almost two years after adopting Kathy, my parents discovered they were expecting me! Bill and Adele Goodrell, who thought they would never have children, were soon to have two daughters to call their own. And, as they say, the rest is history!

Then last fall Kathy came for a weekend visit to our home. I showed her the family trees I created on Ancestry.comIf you have worked on this website or watched NBC's Who Do You Think You Are?, you know that Ancestry is a vast database of genealogical information. When the information you enter into your family tree matches something or someone in that database, a small, green, spinning leaf appears next to that name on your tree to tell you that there is information in the database about this individual.

As Kathy and I talked together there in my home office, she expressed her longing to find her birth mother. I decided to start another tree ~ one that contained what little bit of information we knew about her birth family from the certificate from the hospital, past conversations with Mom and non-identifying information which Kathy had received from the state. Then we sat there talking and waiting and watching the computer screen for a spinning leaf to pop up. Quite a while passed before we accepted the fact that there was not a match for her birth mother's name. For the next three months, each time I logged into my account on Ancestry, there was nothing new to help me find Kathy's birth family. That is until about three weeks ago.

After months of trying various spellings of the only names we knew, and researching leads that led nowhere, I decided to try a different search; to compare the names I knew with names that were part of other public trees stored on the website. Within a couple of minutes, I noticed a match. One particular tree contained a name that was on Kathy's unamended* birth certificate, although a subsequent marriage had changed the surname.

A public tree on Ancestry is exactly that ~ public, for any and all to see. Additionally, through the website, it is possible to message anonymously the creator of the public tree with questions regarding individuals or dates which are listed. I was quite nervous as I typed a well-thought-out question into the message box of someone I had never metI even changed my User name to something less obvious and more obscure so if I was about to disturb a hornet's nest, I could not be easily identified. I thought to myself, What's the worst that could happen?

Over the next 48 hours, the owner of this tree and I exchanged messages; each message I sent asking more questions that might provide proof that I had found the woman who gave birth to my sister sixty years ago. It was late on Sunday night when I received a message giving me the confirmation that I needed. I had indeed found Kathy's birth family. I stayed up till almost 3 a.m., just connecting the dots between all the facts that I now knew.

The following morning I shared all my findings with my husband to check the accuracy of my information before calling my sister with the news. I was blessed to make the initial telephone call to the birth sister who was four years old when Kathy was born. What an experience to know that, although her birth mother is no longer living, Kathy's birth family now includes five siblings.

The past three weeks have been an adventure as I dig through boxes of our family photos and compare pictures of Kathy with pictures of her birth mother and siblings. The resemblance is truly remarkable! There is so much to share from my perspective of watching this precious, long overdue reunion. I find great joy in the reality that the very process of redeeming the future is taking place before my very eyes.

Note: Since my wonderful experience with Kathy, I have had the opportunity to help two of our friends, also adoptees, begin the work of  redeeming the future. 

*Amended Birth Certificate: A term used to refer to the new birth certificate that is issued for an adopted child after an adoption becomes final, which shows the new name of the adopted child and the adoptive parents as the parents of the child, as though they are the biological parents. This new birth certificate is placed in the public records in place of the child's original birth certificate. The original birth certificate is then stored in a separate secure location that is not accessible to the public, and may be viewed only by court order. (From http://glossary.adoption.com)

***UPDATEKathy's sister, Connie, flew out from Texas this past week to meet all of the family.  We had a wonderful time welcoming her into the clan, and looking at pictures she brought along.  It was absolutely amazing to see the family resemblance even into the third generation!

The photo shows three generations of Redfern~Goodrell~Briggs~Robinson families, including the Hardwick~Doolittle~Warner families!

Top row: Tony, niece Kelly and her son, Tyler 
Middle row: the sisters ~ Kathy, Connie and Bonnie
Front row: our daughter, Amy, and her daughter, Kaitlyn; Niece Kara, and her daughters, Cameron and Brooklyn

Valentine's Day 2011

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While we were dating in college, Tony made me a beautiful wooden clock. Beside the fact that it was handmade ~ for me, by him ~ what melted my heart was the poem he decoupaged on the face of the clock.

It was then I knew I had found a safe place to love and be loved. The words of that poem are just as meaningful on this Valentine's Day as they were some 40 years ago ~

A friend is one to whom
you can pour out the contents of your heart ~
chaff and grain alike.
Knowing that the gentlest of hands
will take and sift it, keep what is worth keeping,
and with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away.

So today, I celebrate love:

  • A love that embraces and forgives.
  • A love that sacrifices for the highest good of the one loved.
  • A love that knows the past and chooses to stay around to redeem the future.

Happy Valentine's Day to all who know this transforming love!

Grief's Grip ~ God's Grace

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Today I feel the grip of grief. No matter what I do, I cannot seem to escape its clutch upon my heart. And yet, my soul is not anxious to find a place far from this shadow of death. For it is truly in this dark place, in this wilderness of my soul, that I find God to be so near.

I am no stranger to grief's hold. I have known it now for fifteen years. And over this past decade and a half, I have come to realize that I must eventually surrender to my grief.

In one sense, I find myself asking this today ~ Has it really been 15 years? And then I hear my heart ask ~ Has it really been ONLY 15 years?

I recall so vividly that phone call, fifteen years ago this very hour. I remember the thirty hours of waiting with hope only to be forced to reconcile my heart to the horrific reality of brain death.

Yet, as I reflect on my journey of grief, I can truly say that I am grateful for God's unlimited provision of comfort, grace and peace. He has remained faithful to His Word ~

He keeps count of my tossings and put my tears in His bottle.
Psalm 56:8
He draws near to my broken heart and saves my crushed spirit.
Psalm 34:18
waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth,a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.
Psalm 40:1-3
How blessed I am when I mourn, for I will know God's comfort.
– 
Matthew 5:4

I can rejoice that He does not waste my sorrow. That through the things He has taught me along this path of sorrow, I can say of Scott, as the author of Hebrews said of Abel ~

Though he be dead, he still speaks.
Hebrews 11:4b

And if I can trust Him with this great loss, I can have confidence in His promise of reunion ~

But I do not want you to be uninformed, Bonnie, 
about those who are asleep, 
that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 
For since you believe that Jesus died and rose again, 
even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him 
those who have fallen asleep. 
For this I declare to you by a word from the Lord, 
that you who are alive, 
who are left until the coming of the Lord, 
will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven 
with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, 
and with the sound of the trumpet of God. 
And the dead in Christ will rise first. 
Then you who are alive, who are left, 
will be caught up together with them ~ with Scott 
in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, 
and so we will always be with the Lord. 
Therefore encourage one another with these words.
– 
I Thess. 4:13-18

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Photo: Christ in Agony by Michael O'Brien

Faith for Foggy Days

The winter of 2010 is one for the record books ~ bringing a white Christmas to many places that normally only dream of snow; it's blustery cold continuing to dump snow and ice for weeks. Many schools have been forced to call extra Snow Days and cancel classes.

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Where I live, winter brings the Tule Fog (pronounced too-lee). Tule Fog is a thick ground fog that settles in California's Great Central Valley, named after the tule grass wetlands (tulares) of the Central Valley. When the fog "hits the deck" (as they say in weather talk) the schools call s Foggy Day Schedule, delaying the start of the school day until the fog lifts enough for the buses to safely make their rounds to pick up their precious cargo. There are winters when we do not see the sun for weeks!

I remember when our children were school age, we could almost predict if a Foggy Day Schedule would be called as we could not see the house directly across the street. Yes, Tule Fog is that bad. I have driven at night in Tule Fog and needed my window down just to see at least three yellow dotted lines ahead of me, to keep my car in my lane and on the road!

Today it is very foggy outside once again. As I watched the list of Foggy Day Schedules grow on the morning news, I thought about times in my life when my path seems foggy. Times when I can not see very far ahead because the stuff of life blocks my view. Times when I am not certain I am still on the road.

These are the times when my faith grows. Those days or weeks when I cannot see the purpose, I do not feel the joy, I am unsure if I am where I should be, and life just seems like a fog. At times like this, the words in of Hebrews 11:6, become, in essence, my yellow dotted lines ~

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
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The foggy days of life are when my faith is stretched to not trust in what is seen or felt, but on what is hoped for and what is known to be true. I have walked enough foggy roads in life to know that my faith in God is not a product of His willingness to clear out the fog or to create the life which I desire. No, my faith is rooted in my belief that His will cannot take me where His grace cannot keep me. It is a faith that knows, even in the Foggy Day Schedules of life, He will illuminate for me a path through the fog, to fulfill His purposes.