Live Long and Prosper

From my 2009 Journal. Why do we hold so hard onto life here on earth? Suicide, euthanasia, and murder are odious to us. Is staying alive a God-given survival instinct? What if we knew the date of our death? Would we accept it or bargain for more days?

In her last days, my mom observed, “The will to live is pretty strong,” and she fought hard till the end to stay here on earth. Shortly after she passed away, I read Isaiah 38, the record of King Hezekiah’s demise. God said to him: Set your house in order; you’re going to die.

Hezekiah wasn’t too happy about that announcement and he wept bitterly. Remember my good works and service to You,” he replied. And later, “I must depart . . . deprived of the remainder of my years . . . my sleep has fled, because of the bitterness of my soul . . . Give me back my health and make me live.

I cannot judge Hezekiah for his response. We do this all the time. The minute someone gets ill, we pray for their recovery. I don’t think that’s wrong—but I think it needs the condition “if it’s Your will.” What would happen if, when someone fell ill, we also prayed for their spiritual growth or acceptance of their plight?

We do not always know the mind of God. We think all affliction is bad, but sometimes it fulfills God’s purpose. In Hezekiah’s case, God told him directly that His will was that it was time for him to leave this earth. When we do know His will, why do we fight against God’s directions? Do we really think we know better? He knows our heart. Do we know His? Do we know the whole picture? The whole truth? (See Job).

Surprisingly, God responded to Hezekiah’s plea: I have heard your prayer. I have seen your tears. I’ll add 15 years to your life. And I’ll deliver Jerusalem from Assyria.

It is a comfort to me that the God of the Universe has an ear to His creation. He has compassion on our tears and He responds with abundance. Not only did He spare Hezekiah’s life, but He offered safety from his enemies. He answered Hezekiah’s prayer, but at what cost? During the remainder of his life, pride and arrogance took over his heart. Was 15 years on earth really better than 15 years he could have lived in heaven? I can picture Hezekiah arriving at the pearly gates, realizing the ignorance of his request, hitting his forehead with his the palm of his hand, and saying, “What was I thinking!?”

The Scriptures talk about long life being a blessing. We always assume a person’s life is cut short if he dies young. Somehow it seems easier to grieve an elderly person’s passing than a younger one. But from heaven’s perspective, the younger one has been spared an awful lot of heartache. If God’s best is for a person to live 5, 15, or 50 years, then he has lived for his full quota.

When God speaks, when He reveals His will, it is best to keep silent. I don’t think it’s wrong to struggle and work through our emotions—even Jesus struggled to accept the Father’s will—but our conclusion, in the end, must be, “God’s will be done.” I don’t want someone praying for me if they’re not praying the Father’s will!

I’m not near death’s door. When my time comes, will I, too, scramble for a foothold in order to stay bound to earth?

Please Come to My Funeral

He passed away, to no one’s regret (II Chronicles 21:20 NIV).

This verse, to me, is one of the saddest statements in the Bible. Jehoram was a bad, bad king who killed all his brothers, put back all the idols that his father had removed, and forsook God. His punishment? His whole family gets wiped out, his possessions captured, and he dies a horrible death of an intestinal disease. And the sad end of his life? His people made no funeral fire in his honor, as they had for his predecessors (v. 19). No funeral memorial for him! Ouch!

What makes a man choose a good or godly heart? It’s more than just his parents’ example. Jehoram had a good father. But maybe he had an absent father. Perhaps something burned him as a child. Was he arrogant because he was the first-born and spoiled? Was he picked on by his brothers? Did his lustful appetites draw him into sin, and he followed after forbidden fruit? What need of his heart went unmet that he would deliberately close his eyes to the victories he witnessed in his father’s time?

Memorial services tend to focus on the positives of a person’s accomplishments or character. We say we don’t like to speak ill of the dead, but how awful to have lived so poorly that no one shows up at all!

rachel (white) berryI want to go to my grave with no unfinished business. I don’t even want to go through today with unfinished business of the heart. I’m so thankful for my godly heritage. I want to learn my lessons from my parents—follow their godly choices, reject any inconsistencies, love everyone—to the end. You all are invited to my funeral!

Whom do you want to come to your funeral?

The Day My Hero Died – On Releasing Grief

Ten years ago, on November 17, 2007, at 8:30 a.m. I got word that my dad was unconscious and at death’s door. By 11:10 a.m. I was on an airplane headed for Sebring, Florida, arriving at the nursing home at 6:30 p.m. Dad was unresponsive but alive. God gave me a special gift that night. I was 53 years old and had never before witnessed the dying process. Kay Breid, an MK friend from boarding school in Africa, was one of my dad’s caretakers and had been sitting by his bedside all afternoon. Kay coached me on what to expect. At 10:30 p.m. my precious daddy slipped quietly, peacefully into Jesus’ arms. I could almost feel the brush of angel wings. A holy moment.

Wednesday, November 21. I’ve shed no tears in the last three days. I don’t know why. Too much activity, too many decisions, visitors, family. Or is it that the suspense and waiting are finally over? I remember talking to a friend one time shortly after her husband died, and she called this initial season of grief “the blessed numbness before the pain.” Or is it God’s peace that’s carrying me?

We buried Dad on the day before Thanksgiving. I made sure there was a hanky in his outer pocket and a toothpick in his inner one (two things Dad always had in his possession). My mother was distraught. My own tears began to flow at last, but my sorrow for Dad was pain-free because of the hope we have of seeing him alive in his heavenly body. He was at peace and so was I.

The next day we flew Mom home to Tennessee with us for a while to rest and recover from the trauma. Thanksgiving dinner consisted of Chinese food in the Orlando airport.

That first week, I couldn’t seem to get back into a routine. It was like I was deep in the ocean with choppy seas above me.

November 26. As long as I stay well below the surface of the ocean, things are calm, peaceful, serene, and beautiful. But isn’t that escapism? How would it feel to rise to the top? Overwhelming. Bumpy. Desperate. How long may I stay down here? Emotionally, it feels too hard to surface. I’ll have to struggle and kick and survive and gulp seawater and flounder. Down below I can breathe and enjoy the fish and the coral in the pristine water.

What am I afraid of, Lord? I am willing to go to the top.

Quickly the scene changes. I find myself in shallow water. I can stand up, walk or wade toward shore. The sea is no longer threatening. There’s beauty in the sky and on the beach. I’m on solid ground.

Reality is not so scary after all.

November 28. I’m memorizing my mother’s face. How long does she have on this earth? One year? Ten? How precious this time is with her. Can I sear it into my brain? Is it only a week ago that we buried my father? [Mom died 14 months later.]

November 29. A priceless gift—or is it a gift from a Price?! Jim and Jean (Price) Cail sent Mom and me a breath-taking gift—a framed photo of my dad and mom taken a week and a half before he died. Mom and I cried together.

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“You’re the only girl I’ve ever loved – Lionel

November 30. I took a walk in my neighborhood, trying to release more grief. My Daddy was gone. I was excited for him; not so much for myself. And in my grief, a curtain parted slightly so I could catch a glimpse into “heaven.” There stood Jesus and my daddy (in his vigorous youth) in bright white light. I wanted to run to his big strong frame, to my earthly hero, and throw my arms around him and tell him how much I missed him.

But he looked at me and said, “I’m not your daddy anymore.”

Startled, I turned to Jesus and asked, “Is that true?!”

“Yes,” He responded. “In heaven there is no marriage and giving in marriage. Relationships are not the same up here.”

“But I need my daddy!” I cried.

And my earthly father turned and pointed to Jesus. “He’s your father now. I was given to you only for a short while—your stay on earth.”

“But what about your daily prayers for me?” I protested. “I NEELionel SegerD them.”

“It’s okay,” responded Jesus. “They’re all safely stored up here in boxes. I know where each one is, carefully logged and categorized. And now it’s time for you to become the next generation of prayer warriors.”

Quickly, I deposited prayers of my own into each of my own boxes: for my children and their spouses and their children and my great-grandchildren to come. My prayer for each of them is III John 4 that my daddy used to pray for me: that his children would walk in truth.

On Dec. 9 Mom celebrated their 60th anniversary with a special cake. I think Dad would have liked that. It made me smile.