The Unfairness of Life

Often we don’t understand why things happen the way they do. I mean it doesn’t make sense when one is healed and another one isn’t. I know I struggled with this for many years. I could never figure out why God would take a 36-year-old man away from his family. But then I would. hear stories of how God healed others in similar situations. It just didn’t make any sense.

I wrestled with this well into my adult years. A seven-year-old can only understand so much. And to be honest, there is still a mystery in it all for a fifty-three-year-old.

The issue I wrestled with the most was the unfairness of it all. It just didn’t seem right to me that God would take my Daddy away from his family, especially considering my brother was only nine months old. Sometimes it still doesn’t seem right but what I’ve discovered is that there is nothing fair in this life. Life does not delve out the same thing to each one of us and we must learn to take what’s given to us and make something from it. Like the old proverb says, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” The problem is sometimes we get stuck and moving forward and moving on feels almost impossible. Instead of wondering about the big picture, maybe we just need to remember to put one foot in front of the other. It’s a one step at a time mentality.

My biggest hangup for years was that I would move forward and then I’d fall off the rails. I felt defeated and it seemed that I had made no forward progress. What I didn’t realize then was that I was not going backward, I just needed more time to process before continuing to move forward. Because I felt defeated, I refused to move at all. This constituted a lot of anguish and unnecessary grief not just for me but for others around me. In fact, at times, I felt like I was the only person in the world who had ever been through losing a parent at a young age. I most certainly was not but when you’re stuck, not only do you feel that way, but you give others the impression and implication you feel that way. And guess what? It’s really hard to help someone who feels defeated and cheated by life.

This is where the rubber met the road for me when I realized that I felt defeated because I felt cheated. I felt cheated because I had not grown up with the man I called Daddy. I felt cheated because all of my memories of him were limited because of my age. I felt cheated because my life didn’t look nor feel like those around me.

Friends, that is why I stayed stuck for a long time. But here’s the thing, no one but me could change the way I felt. My grandparents, parents, friends, extended family. No. No. No. I had to be the one to change the way I felt. I had to start looking at things differently. And to be quite honest, it wasn’t until the birth of my first child, that I began to view life differently. Why the sudden change?

As life was growing and forming inside me, my spirit was awakened and renewed by God. I realized that I had a need and no one but God could meet that need. That’s when I decided to make a change. A change that would not happen outwardly for a long time and still has a long way to go but a change that would transform me on the inside. A change that would eventually help me to see that I wasn’t cheated at all. No, I was given another man who would take exceptionally good care of me and my siblings. A man who would love my mother and delight in her. A man who would teach me that whatever you do, don’t do it halfway, give 100 % of yourself 100% of the time. (A lesson I hope to never forget) A man who would love my children, his grandchildren, as much or more than my biological Daddy would have. I wasn’t cheated at all….I was given far more than I deserved.

My life is messy. It will always be messy. There will always be times when life seems unfair and there will be times that I will again feel cheated. But as Martin Luther King, Jr said so eloquently, “I may not be the man I want to be; I may not be the man I ought to be; I may not be the man I could be; I may not be the man I truly can be; but praise God, I’m not the man I once was.”

Maybe you too have felt that defeated and cheated by things that have happened to you, circumstances far beyond your control or maybe by poor choices you’ve made. Maybe life has given you a bunch of lemons and they’re hard to squeeze but you’re the only one who can squeeze the lemon. Maybe you have to take it one section at a time and maybe that section is so small it seems pointless but the idea is to squeeze it little by little until you make your own lemonade.

Hope and Anticipation

On Wednesday, December 1, Aunt Trisha’s Pastor, Suzanne, came to visit. She arrived shortly after Aunt Trisha decided to have Hospice manage her care. A visit already planned before the decision was made, a divine appointment.

As Suzanne talked with Aunt Trisha, she asked her if she was at peace with her decision and she replied, “Yes.” Then she asked her if she had peace in knowing that God would be soon coming to take her home. She acknowledged that she did. Afterward, Suzanne said, “Now Pat, you know we are in Advent Season. A season of waiting and anticipation of the arrival of Christmas. Also, for Christians, it’s an anticipation of His second coming. But for you, you are awaiting His coming for you. How beautiful that you are waiting to be made whole again.”

Friends, I must tell you, I was completely blown away by her statement. I, too, am doing a study on Advent, but I had never put it in the context Suzanne brought to light. In that moment of wisdom, there in that hospital room, peace, joy and hope permeated the room and any fear of death removed.

When you watch someone go through as much as I witnessed with her, it is such a comfort to know that she no longer is struggling. She is made whole. In fact there’s a beautiful promise we find in Revelation 21: 4-5 “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.” Also, he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’”

As you celebrate Advent this year, remember it’s not just about Jesus’ birth, or even His second coming, we too, can anticipate the day that He will make all things new and that includes us who believe in Him.

Dear Daddy

Here we are again, another year to remember and celebrate the day of your birth. And yet, a constant reminder that for the biggest part of my life you have lived with Jesus, and I have only fragments of juvenile memories.

Some would argue that I was too young to remember as much as I do and that I may be transposing dreams into memories. However, these nuggets of memories are far too real to be merely dreams.

Maybe it was the trauma of it all that caused me to remember. Or the realization that I wouldn’t have you around long and so I fought hard to remember, especially the touch of your hands, the warmth of your hugs, the way you would tilt your head back when you laughed, your eyes how they’d twinkle when you grinned. The sternness of your voice. (You never had to ask us twice to do something…..ever). The tenderness of your love.

Although your physical presence has been gone for 45 years now, there’s still a part of you living inside of me. And can I just be honest, in the past six months I have felt your presence more than ever? I think it’s because I’ve spent a lot of time at Baptist Hospital in Winston Salem. Albeit much different than when you were there, my thoughts of you being there caused me to wonder…..

Did you know the last time was the last? Is that why you asked your brother, Butch, to stop by the river in Old Fort so you could walk the river bank and hear it’s rush one more time? Is that why you had Mom come with you? I think the answer is, “Yes.” You did know. You knew your health was deteriorating and the inkling that something just wasn’t right.

What you didn’t know. You didn’t know they would find an inoperable tumor resting on your spine, which would quickly paralyze you from your waist down. You didn’t know that you would spend the last seven weeks of your life in Pardee Hospital. But to you the unknown didn’t matter because of the hope you had in Jesus. You knew that death was only a shadow and that you were going to start your new and eternal life in heaven with Jesus. You knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that you would be healed and whole. And this knowledge is how you were able to endure so much. You knew that your suffering would not be forever and you knew your suffering would be used to advance the gospel. You rested with the calm assurance that God was Sovereign above all things because your hope was being refined through your suffering.

“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

1 Peter 1:6-9 NIV

I am grateful.and blessed to have the fragments of memories but I am overjoyed to know that while your physical presence has been gone for 45 years the fragments of memories help remind me that a part of you still lives within me and the hope you had in Jesus is the same hope I have in Him today. Oh, how blessed I am to have had a dad like you.

When The Harvest Comes

This picture I have saved for four years now, waiting for the right time to share. Today seems the perfect day for this story.

This sweetheart belongs to Amber, her name is Kelland. Amber was Ned’s partner, sidekick, bodyguard, and good friend for many years. Mom always said,” As long as Amber was with Ned on an assignment, I never worried. I knew he was safe with her.”

When Ned moved into the Elizabeth House, Amber was one of the first ones calling and asking what he wanted. She brought him all kinds of goodies including peach and chocolate ice cream from Whit’s. She’d worked with him long enough to know his likes and dislikes.

On the evening of October 26th, Kelland came with Amber to see Ned. It was the day after his big rebound and he was being kept comfortable. Kelland was a little nervous about seeing Ned so Amber sent her to the waiting room to entertain herself. When Amber went to get Kelland to leave this is what Kelland had written.

Every time I see this a tear trickles down my cheek and it’s okay. It’s an endearing reminder that Ned was well-loved by many, including this precious child.

It’s also a reminder of the simplicity and honesty of a child’s heart. She didn’t feel comfortable seeing Ned because there was too much uncertainty in her mind about how he would look but she wanted him and others to know that she loved him.

But there’s more to this story: Ned was always faithful to share his faith and in doing so, he encouraged Amber and Jason to get involved in a church. On his birthday April 21, 2018, almost 7 months after his death, Amber FaceTimed me.

She said, “Kelland, tell Kelly what you did today!”

Kelland replied, “I asked Jesus in my heart today.”

“Kelland, you gave Ned the best birthday present he’s ever had,” I said.

What a perfect reminder that our lives are intertwined with others by God’s design. We should never take lightly the great responsibility God has given for us to build up one another and to encourage one another in the faith. You never know when the harvest is coming.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

1 Thessalonians 5:11 NIV

The Legacy She’s Leaving

As I read the words Paul penned in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him (Christ) who gives me strength.” I simply cannot think of a better story to share.

If you look at the preceding verses you will see that Paul is talking about this as being the very secret that he learned of being content. In every circumstance, whether in plenty or need this is how you become content, fix your mind on Jesus, and know that He is the source of your strength.

So, this is a picture of Aunt Trisha and Uncle Onald. They were married in February of 1966, in a double wedding ceremony with my Mom and Dad.

In 1969 they moved from Brevard to Winston Salem. Uncle Onald began his career as a license examiner and she began her 23-year career with RJ Reynolds.

By 1974, they bought their first and only house located on the outskirts of Winston Salem in Advance. God did not choose to bless them with children of their own; however, He did bless them with nieces and nephews and great-nieces and nephews to dote and love on.

My four children were the main recipients of their love and care. Every summer or break my children had from school, Aunt Trisha and Uncle Onald would take one of my children for a week at a time. It was their special week to eat anything and do whatever they wanted. My children always came home happy and eager to return when it was their time to go.

Over the years, they traveled with groups and alone and with my grandparents to various destinations. Dollywood was one of their favorite locations and they traveled there often until a few years ago when she began having issues with her knees.

For many years, they came regularly to Brevard to help take care of their ailing parents.

Last year in August they were called to Brevard for Uncle Onald’s twin brother, Donald. Hospice had been called in and he was rapidly declining.

Around mid-September, Uncle Onald began experiencing problems swallowing. An endoscopy and biopsy revealed that he had Esophageal cancer. He too had an inoperable mass/tumor in his esophagus. And so, the arduous chemotherapy began in October. The chemotherapy was not effective in his situation and with Aunt Trisha by his side, he passed away on December 20, 2020, at Wake Forest Baptist Hospital.

After his unexpected death, one would expect devastation. But not Aunt Trisha, she had watched his fast and steady decline. She’s said over and over, “Oh, I am so grateful that God chose to call him home. I miss him but I know that I couldn’t have taken care of him at home.”

Now, this brings me back to the point of this writing. Much like Paul, Aunt Trisha has learned the secret of being content in all circumstances. She knows that her strength comes from the Lord and she knows that she “can do all things through Christ who strengthens (her).”

What a remarkable legacy she has and is displaying in her life. It’s one I don’t want to soon forget.

Was it worth it? …..Absolutely

This was originally posted on April 5, 2019, but stories like these are meant to be told and retold. For me, it’s such a great reminder of how lucky I have been to have such a great story to share.

I’ve been avoiding this post like the plague. A few weeks ago when God began churning my heart, I told Him, “Not now”. Yes, like I’ve said before delayed obedience is disobedience and I disobeyed.

I think as I write you will see why I avoided writing. However, the urge is so great within me, I can no longer resist.

As you know my biological father died when I was 7. He died from Melanoma and you can read some of his stories in my blog post, My sweetest sorrow.

Now, we are at another crossroads with cancer. My stepfather, Ned. He was diagnosed 18 months ago with Stage 4 Atypical Non-small cell adenocarcinoma lung cancer. It sucks. I’m just not going to sugarcoat anything about it.

A few months back, well technically a few years ago God began to stir this thought and idea about these two men I have had to privilege of calling Dad.

First, you must understand the first to understand the second.

Mack, my dad, had a strong enduring faith in God. He hoped beyond all hope that one day a cure for Melanoma would be discovered. Knowing full well it would not be in his lifetime, he allowed the doctors at Baptist Hospital (Wake Forest) to try new treatments on him. He was their guinea pig. His philosophy and mindset were to aid in the research and help others in the future.

Another thing to understand about my dad is that he never shied away from sharing his faith. He firmly grasped and held tight to his belief in Jesus. He had strong convictions about sharing his faith and the above picture is a treasure straight out of his Bible. He desired to see that no one would perish without knowing Jesus. His chief goal in life.

I believe that through his death his chief goal was reached and realized. When Jesus tells us in John 15:13 “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Bear with me while I explain.

When Mom and Ned began dating Ned wasn’t living out a full life with Christ at the center. He had made a profession of faith but wasn’t living a life reflective of Christ.

As their relationship began to grow so did his love for Jesus. Eventually leading up to his rededication. In perfect Ned style, it was not a haphazard decision, it was done with intent and passion. A decision he will tell you was the best choice he ever made aside from marrying my Mom.

The reality here is that without my dad having died, Ned may have never been able to experience the blessed life that only Jesus can give. If you ask Mack if it was worth dying for he would say, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

—————–—————

That was the original post from September 11, 2017.

When I wrote these words, Ned was still with us and it would only be another six weeks until God would call him Home. Today marks 43 years since my Daddy has been in Heaven. In the past, this particular day has been such a painful hard day, but not today. What’s different?

My attitude. What I’ve realized with both Daddy and Ned was they were willing to embrace the process, to endure the pain to receive the victory. They both knew the earth was their temporary dwelling and they both knew where they were going. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus did for us on the cross?

His soul agonized over having to endure the cross. He begged God for another way. When He knew there was no other way, He simply said, ”Not my will but yours” At this point, He embraced the process. He endured the cross. And when he spoke, ”It is finished” is His declaration of victory.

You will never get to the victory of the cross without enduring the pain and you’ll never be able to endure the pain without embracing the process.

I found this devotion in my Dad’s Bible. I wonder if it was something he had before his diagnosis or if he found it later. I don’t know the answer but what I know is that He bravely witnessed for the Lord and many lives were changed…….mine included.

Happy Birthday, Daddy

Fragments. Slivers. Bits, pieces and memories of a seven-year-old child. That’s all I have and yet what a profound and powerful impact they have on me. Your smile. Your strong arms. Your eyes. Your firm but gentle ways. You’ve been gone much longer than you lived but your legacy continues to live. Sometimes I wonder how can this be? How can a man’s life of 36 years continue to have an impact on others 46 years later and especially mine?

I believe that your simple “yes” to God made all the difference. I have no clue at what age you put your faith in Jesus as Lord, what I do know, is that you lived according to His Word.

Did you question the goodness of God when you received the diagnosis of Melanoma at age 30? Did you wonder what in the world God was doing because you had an almost-two-year-old with another child on the way? Did you ask why me? Did you ever get angry?

Maybe there were times when you questioned God but I believe most of the time you just completely believed in the sovereignty of Almighty God and you knew for certain that He had all things held together. You knew that your healing would ultimately come from God. He would perform an earthly miracle or He would heal you in Heaven.

Do you know why I believe this? Because I think held fast to Psalm 23. You knew for certain that you were safe in the arms of your Shepherd. You knew that He would take you to green pastures and lead you beside the still waters, even amid pain and agony. You knew he would lead you in paths of righteousness by allowing you opportunity after opportunity to share your faith, for His name’s sake. You knew and realized that death was only a shadow and shadows cannot hurt you. It was just passing through to eternal life with Jesus. He was there all the while protecting you and comforting you. You knew the table He prepared was bountiful and plentiful even though the enemy tried to steal your joy; you continued to be joyful despite the pain. Your cup continued to overflow. And you could believe this because of the goodness and mercy following you all the days of your life. God blessed you with an amazing family, great parents, siblings, and friends. God’s mercy allowed you six additional years from the onset of the diagnosis allowing you to witness the birth of your third child, the only son. And for 46 years you have dwelt in the house of the Lord and you will continue to be there forever.

Year after year it never ceases to amaze me at how much your life continues to impact mine. Thank you for being faithful to the Lord. Thank you for saying “yes” to His call. Thank you for holding fast to His Word.

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

Remember and Celebrate

It seems perfectly fitting that today, Palm Sunday, while Christians around the world are commemorating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. I am finding cause to celebrate your triumphal entry to Heaven.

Forty-four years ago today, Jesus finished your place and called you home. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” John 14:3. Jesus unbound you and set you free.

Your bindings were not literal chains but those of a physical nature. For almost four years leading up to your death, your body suffered greatly. Cancer raged. While the chemotherapy gave you time, it also depleted you of your strength. Then forty-nine days or more before you took your final breath, your chains became your hospital bed. The tumor resting on your spine was inoperable and caused paralysis from the waist down.

While the cancer and chemotherapy were taking its toll on your physical body and binding it up, nothing could contain the Spirit of God that welled up in your soul. You understood what Paul said in Philippians 1:21. “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” You knew the end of your story was going to turn out well but you also knew for what time God gave you was a great responsibility to live your life worthy of your calling. And you did! You understood what most of us fail to even understand now, what really matters: Loving God with all of your heart and loving others. You loved others enough to share with them the Good News of Christ because you wanted them to experience the same peace and joy that you had been given.

Daddy, can I tell you something? Your life is still making a difference. The prayers you prayed are still being worked out. Your legacy continues. How do I know? Because your life continues to make a difference in my life and it leads me to desire greater wisdom and knowledge of Jesus and a greater love for people. I found this in your Bible and I am convinced it’s a prayer that you prayed for all of your children. God, answered your prayer, He allowed your actions to shine and He did remember you

And so today, as we enter into Holy Week by remembering Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. I will remember and celebrate your triumphant entry into the arms of Jesus!

The Choice We Have When Life Happens

Last week proved to be full of unexpected and unplanned deaths. Beginning with my neighbor, who was only 64. She suffered from a massive stroke on July 5 and was unable to recover. The unexpected drowning of Molly Greene, a lady I do not know, personally, but mutually connected to. Finally the unexpected death of Geoffrey Tennan, a man I knew and loved. Not one of these deaths were expected or anticipated. Life is full of unexpected, isn’t it?

Things happen in life that take us by surprise, lead us into shock and devastation and will do one of two things, draw us closer to God or fall away. I’ve been in both places. I can assure you that the first is far greater than the latter but if I’m being honest, the latter is an easier route.

It’s much easier to become angry with God when things don’t go the way we planned and the reason I fairly simple. We didn’t get what we wanted. Things didn’t go as expected and as Lysa TerKeurst says in her book, It’s Not Suppose To Be This Way, ”Humans are very attached to outcomes. We say we trust God but behind the scenes, we work our fingers to the bone and our emotions into a tangled fray trying to control our outcomes.”

Y’all it’s so easy to trust in God and His goodness when things are plotting along well but when tragedy, an unexpected illness, job loss, financial crises, or betrayal weaves its way into our lives, praising God is generally the furthest thing from our thoughts and minds.

However, because I have been in both places and I know the power anger had over me for so many years. I paid a significant price for my anger and I still marvel that God sought me out and lifted my feet on very solid ground. Psalm 40:2. I have been determined not to allow it to take up residence again. Oh, it wants to and it’s sometimes a daily fight but my God is stronger and He will battle for me.

In any case, over the past eight years, if I listed all of the things that have happened, which were not part of the outcome I perceived, you would be amazed, like I am that, I am not a walking basket case. Albeit, at times I reckon I am and that I am just being completely held together by a God who loves to laugh and say, ”Yep, that one’s a little cray, cray but I love her anyway.”

Here’s what I know and have learned. You cannot trust someone you do not know. If you don’t spend time alone with God, you will never get to know Him. If you don’t pray and ask Him to reveal himself to you, you can’t possibly understand that ”All things (good and bad) work together for good to those who love him and are called according to his purpose ” Romans 8:28 For me personally, I have to drown out the noises and get alone and still and quiet. (Yes, I did say quiet which will come as a shock to those who really know me)

What I have learned by spending time in His presence is that I can praise Him in the hard times of life. I can trust His heart and know that He has my back. Not only that, but He knows what is best for me.

When Ned was diagnosed with cancer, it rocked our world. The diagnosis was bleak. I remember falling to my knees in prayer before the first visit with Dr. Anthony, his oncologist, and begging God, ”Please God don’t let me become angry. Please keep my heart at peace. Help me to see the good and keep my hope in you. I know you will do what’s best.”

Can I be frank and honest, I tried to muster anger at times. It would’ve been easier emotionally because it was downright hard to remain hopeful and at peace with where things were. But every time I felt anger start to boil, something would happen. A prayer would be answered. A precious memory made. A good report. Something. I could stand back and say, ”Wow, God, look at what you did!” The praise kept the anger at bay and filled my heart with gratitude which in turn changed my attitude.

And so it is with you, are you struggling for peace? Do you want to understand? Has your world.been turned on its end? Are you angry with God because you think He’s the cause of your pain and heartbreak? You will not find answers in any self-help book. You will not find answers by constantly talking to people or going to church or attending a Bible Study or even through a counselor. You must seek to know Him. You must learn to trust Him and you must get alone with Him because you can bare your soul to Him. He already knows and cares for you!

Always On Time and Always at the Right Time

Again, I find myself amazed that God poured out these words four years ago. Interestingly, He knew in July of 2015, what we would learn in March 2016, Ned would be diagnosed with Atypical Stage 4 Lung cancer.

You know what? God came to us during that storm. He quieted our souls and we trusted in Him. He continues to pour out his goodness on Mom as well as the rest of our family.

Has it been easy or welcomed? Absolutely not. Would we have chosen things differently? Absolutely yes! But God, in His Sovereignty knew what was best and stood beside us the whole way.

So many people I know have been going through some very significant storms in their lives. For some it’s financial, others relational, illness, others loss of loved ones, and others emotional.

As I have been praying for these dear ones, God continues to remind me that He is with us in our storm. We may not see him but He is there and He will come to our rescue but only when the time is right and always just at the right time.

This picture keeps coming to mind for several reasons. Let me share the story behind it.

Mount Arbel is the place where Jesus retreated to go pray, while he sent his disciples on ahead of him, on the Sea of Galilee, to Bethsaida. While the disciples were on the sea, a squall or significant storm came. They were terrified. Jesus watched from the mountain top. He knew they were in the storm. He knew they were afraid. He knew they needed Him but He also knew they needed to go through the storm. (Mark 6:45-52)

Rick Warren says, “He’s letting you go through this storm for the same reasons he sent the disciples into the storm — to say, ‘I’m all you need. I can handle anything. I will come to you in the ninth hour. And I’ll come walking on the very thing that scares you the most. I’m not asking you to come to me. I’m going to come to you. You need to stop being afraid, and you need to totally trust me in faith.”

Look at this picture of Amy taken from Mount Arbel. The most fascinating fact about this is that from Mount Arbel you can see the entire Sea of Galilee. Just a great reminder that Jesus sees the whole picture. He sees all that life is throwing at us and He will come to us in our storm. We must believe in Him.