Oct 19, 2012

Such Grief with SUCH GRACE

Not only did Bethany's life and death impact me for eternity, her entire family has given me a powerful illustration that is carved into my spirit.  The Brown family (Bart, Becky, Ben, Sarah and Derrick) came to the D.R. shortly after Bethany's death and oozed the love of Jesus onto everyone that they encountered.  Their personalities, gigantic and genuine at the same time, along with their hearts, even larger than their personalities, touched us and ministered to us in a way that could only be attributed to the love of Christ in each of them.

Bethany's siblings told stories of a sister who always had post-it notes of scripture on her wall, who would gather them together to "pray for them" when they were fighting and/or would tell the person that she was engaged in a quarrel with that she was going to go to her room and pray for them (and she meant it in both cases!)  Her brother told of his conversion to Christ earlier in the year, which Bethany had prayed about for a long time, and how after a long time of her praying for him, that he was able to return the favor and pray for her prior to her coming to the D.R.

Her parents spoke about her three main goals 1) to be a missionary (check) 2) to ride a motorcycle (check) and 3) to marry a godly Christian man.  Her father was choked up at the third one because he said at first glance he was sad that she didn't get to accomplish her third goal.  However, he said after thinking about it, he realized how high of standards Bethany had for a husband, and he admitted that he didn't think that there was a man alive that could meet her high expectations.  Teary eyed, he said that he realized that when Bethany went to be with the Lord, that her third goal, in fact, had been reached because Jesus was the only one for her.  Check.

CMA and Bethany's family grieved side by the side about the earthly loss of Bethany's vivacious presence on this earth.  There were many tears, but most of what was expressed by her family was an overwhelming JOY.  Yet we know that there is a deep sadness, but it pales in comparison to the JOY of knowing that she is now with the only perfect man in a place where there is no tears or sadness or infirmities, as we have been promised in God's word.  
"I saw Heaven and earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, gone the sea.

   I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband.  
I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.”  Revelation 21: 1-5 the message)

You know what the Brown family taught me?  That it is both possible and a beautiful display of Christ at work in us to be able to express such grief with such grace.  Thank you, Brown family, for offering up such an authentic example of Christ in you, hope of glory! (To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Colossians 1:27)

Oct 18, 2012

He walks the path with us . . .

The day that Bethany died, October 4, is not one that I will ever forget.  While I will choose to remember the lively things about her: her smile, her tenacity, her jokes and questions, her practicing riding her motorcycle up and down the steep, rocky road in the middle of the campus, the look of accomplishment on her face when I passed her in town - on her motorcycle, etc,  I will also remember how my experience of her death compelled me to stare some of my fears in the face, and how the Lord is speaking to me about those fears.

My life is not one that has been marked by great loss.  I have lost my grandparents to old age and I know that they are all with Jesus.  It feels weird for me to say that it is not necessarily the loss that scares me (in the case of losing a believer) but the actual death, the evidence of a life lived left behind.   I think it might be somewhat natural to be uncomfortable with the reality of death, though I know people (like one of my sisters) who is intrigued with it and curious about it, but not the slightest bit afraid of it. And there are those who work in a profession that deal with death frequently. However,  I. Am. Afraid. Of. It.

My husband told me once after my PaPa passed away and I stood in the hallway of the church paralyzed by a fear that would not let me enter the sanctuary, "Rachel, you know that that body is just like a peanut shell.  Your PaPa isn't in it anymore, it's just his shell."  This helped me take the necessary steps to get into the church, sit in the very back only glancing briefly and sporadically from afar at my PaPa's peanut shell.

But on that day when I entered the house, then entered her room, I was alone (though not by myself) with my fear and with Bethany, who had left to be with Jesus sometime earlier that morning,  and with my friend Courtney.  On that day, I was up close and very personal with death in ways that I never would have imagined.  I gave Bethany CPR on the way to the hospital.  My heart was set on doing all that I could do for her despite my fear, but it was too late.

In the days following her entrance to heaven, I had a difficult time dealing with my contact with her peanut shell.  It was traumatic for me, but not necessarily the part of the story I think needs to be highlighted.  "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."  ~Romans 8:28

A few days after her death, I had what I thought was a panic attack in the middle of the night, but I have sense learned that it was a night terror (and that it was very good that I had it so close to the event because it is an important part of the healing process, that flood of emotion released from it's inner chamber).

"I was walking on the path up the house, that's it."  I told her.
"I could see the jagged rocks with the grass creeping over them and I knew where I was going.  With each step I was closer to that which I did not want to relive.  I kept telling myself, "STOP WALKING!  You know where this is leading!" I woke up with my heart racing, my pillow wet, my face drenched with tears and snot, my body both sweaty and clammy."

My sister asked, "Did you see your feet while you were walking?"

Weird question, I thought, but answered, "No, I just saw the path in front of me and I knew where I was going."

With a thoughtful pause, she asked a question that took several days to sink in,

"Have you considered that what you saw in your dream was God's view of you as He walked the path with you?"

On that day, God knew that I was going to reach out and touch my fear.  He knew that I was going to shutter and shake on the inside.  He knew that He would begin to apply salve to a wounded area that I didn't want Him to touch.  He also knew how and what the others involved would feel, where their minds would go, how they would struggle, and He walks the path with them too.  And I am just as certain that He walked the path of heaven with Bethany, and walks the path with her family then and now.

I trust that it was not an accident that I went into her room on that day.  I trust that the Lord was with me when I was confronted with a lifelong fear.

I recently walked the path again.  I went back into the house.  I went back into her room.  A dear woman of God (thank you, Ruth) walked with me and helped me through it.  I stood where I stood on that day and looked at the empty space where Bethany's peanut shell had been camped almost two weeks earlier.  I remembered her expression.  It was one of peace, as if she had drifted off into a sweet dream. Now, I look at those moments with Bethany's peanut shell as a blessing for me.  I. Am. Not. Afraid. Of. It.  Thank you, Bethany.  Thank you, Jesus.  

What I found when I went back to that place was encouragement all around me.  Post it notes scattered here and there, notes on the wall, a big sign on the wall entitled "Encouragement" where notes were left from one to another to spur each other on.  And so today, I sit here encouraged.  Yes, indeed, He walks the path with us.

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."  ~Romans 15:13

"Be strong in the Lord and in His MIGHTY POWER."  ~Ephesians 5:10

(These were two of the verses that I found in the house on post it notes.)

Oct 17, 2012

Unpacking my Bethany Brown Experience

Sometimes the unfolding of a story makes sense.  Perhaps its packaged in a linear form and logically moves from one step to the next in a flawless flow.  This is not that story.

The Lord is gently guiding me through the pieces of an experience that I recently had, and though my part in the story was brief it was significant for me, and the bigger story eternally significant for many others.  In my case, the Lord is slowly pulling the petals of the flower back, and what is to be revealed in the juicy center  I am certain will be His glory.  Already the sweet aroma of Christ penetrates the air, and with the pulling back of the petals the sweetness grows.

There's a page in the worn little notebook in my purse.  On this page are phrases that the Lord has given to me over the last little while, and as He leads me I will tackle each one . . .  a petal pulled back.

Before the petals begin to lean backwards in search of what the Lord wants to do with them, perhaps a glimpse of the whole would be helpful.

I knew this girl but not very well and not for very long.  I entered her life in it's last chapter, though this was not revealed until later, and I was with her on the last day of her life, though I didn't know it.  I was with her shortly after she died and when her body was taken to the pathology lab, her last earthly destination.

I missed the middle part of her story in the Dominican Republic, because we were gone to the U.S. for 6 weeks right after she arrived to serve here.  But the moments I had with her are some of the petals, and as the Lord leads I hope to be His instrument in telling the testimony of an incredible woman of God, and how the Lord is showing me His limitless love out of my limited experience with one of His beloved children, Bethany Brown.

While the story unravels from my point of view,  none of it is meant to be about me.    And honestly, knowing the little that I know, Bethany would not want the story to be about her either, though she was the conduit of His love, His grace and His gospel in this story.

Sometimes there are hidden treasures tucked beneath a story,  revealed in hindsight, after the fact.  From this perspective, big chunks of Bethany's story were revealed after her passing.  She had a disease called diffuse scleroderma.  She had been given a life expectancy.  She was gluten intolerant.  She was generally in pain, more susceptible to sickness because of her immune system YET within the last 6 months of her life, she moved to a third world country, climbed the highest peak in the Caribbean, Pico Duarte, learned to ride a motorcycle and owned one, ate whatever everyone else ate, and carried on living life to the fullest, all the while none of us around her in our community in the D.R. really knowing what she was dealing with.

Sure, we knew pieces - she had to have regular blood work, she had a skin condition, her immune system was low, her stomach was generally upset - but she didn't really talk about any of this much. (Maybe she didn't want us to treat her differently?  Maybe she didn't want to be perceived as weak?  Maybe she didn't want to cause extra effort for those around her?) She punked us by not letting us know fully what she was dealing with, but this was her choice.

In the case of Bethany, I am sure that her life, most of it lived prior to her arrival in the Dominican, was lived with ordinary awesomeness.  Yet, I wouldn't describe her as ordinary, would you?  What I mean is that she took advantage of ordinary moments and applied the zeal of a lover of Christ to them.  As her father reported upon hearing the news of her death, "Us Browns don't do anything normal."
 But the fact that she walked her last days on earth with stubborn determination to live for the Lord, to share His love with others, to serve Him on the mission field - this WAS her normal, to not let ANYTHING hinder her from living for Him.  Shouldn't we, whether healthy or infirm, live with the same stubborn determination to worship our Savior with all that we are?  Selah (think on this).  

Bethany's Fist Pump for Jesus!
This was taken about a month before her entrance into heaven.
She blocked our vehicle and gave a few victorious fist pumps.
I wonder if she realized how much glory her life and death would bring the Lord?
  In posts to follow, I will continue to unpack my Bethany Brown experience because as Bethany's sister, Sarah, would say, "Bethany's work has to continue.  It can't stop because she is gone."  And really, it is the Lord's work in her life and even in her death that continues to make an impact.  I am humbled to have experienced a little but mighty portion of His touch radiating from His glory in her.  More unpacking to follow soon . . .                                                                                                      

Oct 16, 2012

From the battlefield and under His wings . . .

There is much too say and little time to say it.  A battle ensues from where we sit.  My musings about our vacation are on hold for a moment (though I desperately want to revisit them and do plan on doing so as soon as the dust settles here.  Sorry - Dallas family - I don't mean to give you the blog shaft!) 

Even now, a greater story of the Lord's craftsmanship is unfolding which I am anxious to share with you as I am able.  It is beautiful because it is one that He has written, but it will come later as the fullness of it is still being discovered.  But for now . . . 

Allow me to set the stage, dim the lights and draw the curtains.

The enemy wants to defeat us . . . . 

He wants us to feel discouraged, hopeless, useless, distracted, unsatisfied, rejected and isolated . . . 

In the past few months, He's attacked our character, finances, organization and ministry, friends, family and the biggest attack has been on our minds.

He is slick and sneaky, but also limited (check out Luke 22:31 which is an example of how Satan has to ask the Lord's permission to do what he does) and defeated (Revelation 20: 7-10)!

BUT ENOUGH about him . . . 

I'd rather focus my attention on the author and perfecter of my faith, my B.I.G. daddy, my counselor, my healer, my friend, the judge of the intentions of my heart, my refuge and my shield, my Lord and SAVIOR!  

It's HIS blood that covers me, His love that envelops me, HIS grace that immerses me, His power that moves me - only HE is worthy of my attention, adoration and praise!  

He has equipped me for the battlefield.

A family member recently sent me a note of encouragement that reminded me of how the battlefield is the place where our characters are refined, our faith is firmed up and our walk with the Lord is shown for what it is.

"Rachel, any military leader will tell you that a soldier is forged only when he is on the battlefield.
That is true with our spiritual walk also in that we are forged when going through hardships and heartache.  It is our training ground.  I know I need more training and it will come in the form of trials, but it will allow God to work in my personal circumstances and give me the kind of freedom the world can never take away!"

I am so grateful for words of encouragement like this as well as the instructions for battle given to us in God's word.

In the past week, I had complete strangers but brothers and sisters in Christ pray over me while I strap on my armor for battle.  I was reminded that fire is a tool for baptism (Matthew 3:7) used to burn up the useless parts, and that I am also armed with the Holy Spirit who is my helper.  It's not one or the other, but both that we are baptized with.  

I frequently visit Ephesians 6: 10-20 about the armor of God.  He does not leave us vulnerable in the battle.  The psalm that I have been dwelling on for the last 6 months is Psalm 91 . . .  what a beautiful picture.

"He who dwells in the shelter of the MOST HIGH will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust."  Surely He will save you from the fowler's snare and from deadly pestilence.  He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and your rampart.  You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday."  Psalm 91:1-6

So really, the view from the battlefield looks a lot like the underside of ginormous, unmeasurably powerful and magnificent feathery wonderfulness of the wings of my heavenly Father.  I am content to dwell in His shadow and praise His name!