Exit Stage Vertical

Yesterday , Mary Kay Meeker left this earth from an ICU bed at a hospital in Waukesha, WI (USA).   Mary Kay’s hand was taken by her husband, and placed in the hand of God as she took her last breath after being taken off life support.  In that moment, she saw glory and a complete healing of her recent critical medical issues, and the residual effects of polio that she had as a young child. She was released from the stranglehold of sickness into the absolute freedom and peace of God’s love.  With that new health and perfection of her heavenly body, she saw Jesus for the first time, and began her exploration of eternity.  She saw our Lord !  She has spoken to Jesus face to face, and seen Him as He is !  Mary Kay is now part of eternity.

While people here will miss her presence, there are so many stories about Mary Kay that are surfacing to help soothe the wound of her absence. This is a woman who never met someone she couldn’t encourage or build up in some way.  Whether it be through her work in programming at Timber-lee Christian Center, or Awana groups, her church, or as a neighbor or friend, Mary Kay was all about the glass being half full, if not overflowing.

I often saw her on stage when I first met Mary Kay as a camper.  She was doing skits and ventriloquism acts during week long sessions, that continued all summer long.  She made those skits vehicles for how to live as a Christian. Even for elementary school kids, there was something about her that was ‘real’…and she liked kids. There have been numerous accounts of how she and her husband Greg would interact with kids in a way that let them know that being a kid was good enough.  Kids crave being valued by adults.

Mary Kay was an amazing pianist.  Even with her left arm being weakened by polio, she could crank out just about any song in any key at the drop of a hat.  Her ear for music was amazing.  I never saw her play the piano without a big smile while she simultaneously led 300+ campers in various camp songs from that stage in Cross Timber.  Music was a big part of who Mary Kay was.

It is hard to imagine Timber-lee without Mary Kay.  Oh, I know it will continue to be an amazing Christian camp, with so many activities and options for kids. It will still show the love of Jesus to kids of all ages. It will still be a great place for a winter retreat or group meeting.  But one of its core members is gone.  That will hurt, and yet those who know her know that she would want things to go on as scheduled, and for people to keep reaching past what they think they can do- to spread the love of Jesus to everyone who walks along Timber-lee’s paths.

Mary Kay was all about showing people possibilities they hadn’t even considered.  She boosted the good in people, and loved those who were going through not such great times- sometimes when she didn’t even know it.  Her influence didn’t require direct conversation (though she did talk with a lot of people about a lot of things, and really listened).  She lived her life in such a way as to show people ways of relating to each other, and to God. Even when I hadn’t seen her for years, I’d remember something about MK and be encouraged. She was a ‘feel good’ person.

Those of us who are Christians will see her again someday, and know the awe and wonder of seeing Jesus for the first time.  In the meantime, Mary Kay is probably setting up various choirs and singing groups, and seeking out those who always wanted to sing but didn’t think they could when they were alive on earth.  Maybe she’s organizing the angels’ choir into soprano, alto, tenor, and bass sections , and using that new left arm to direct them in some camp songs !! She has probably already met George Beverly Shea and the Goodmans, and has them helping with the choirs !

I can see Mary Kay walking through Heaven, gathering orphaned kids and talking to each of them- praising God for each of them.  She’ll have them singing or doing skits before long, to entertain the other folks up in Heaven. 🙂  If nobody stops her, she’ll have them doing something in Swedish (the Swedes up there will LOVE Mary Kay- yah, you betcha !!).   I can see her being welcomed by former Timber-lee folks who have been up there for a while, and them introducing her to people they know.

Mary Kay’s work here is done, at least directly- she planted countless seeds that will continue to grow.  It was God’s will that she be in Heaven with Him… she may not be working here on earth, but I’m guessing she’s keeping plenty busy.  I can’t imagine her having it any other way !

Into the Hands of God

Unless something extremely supernatural happens very soon, an amazing woman will be leaving this earth.  Her husband will take her hand, that he has been holding with the determination that only comes from lifelong love and endearment, and place it into the hands of God.  From there, she will enter eternity completely healed, and with a new and perfect body that she has gone a lifetime waiting to have.  And, I know the first words from God will be “Well done, my good and faithful servant….well done. Welcome home”.  She will be able to rest in the peace of our Savior and Lord, who has been perfecting His plan in her for decades.

As a Christian, I am comforted a lot by that belief.  I never really say goodbye to a Christian- more of an “I’ll catch you later”, but it’s still sad and I still grieve their physical absence. There is still a void created by the earthly loss of that person. And, yet their pain and suffering are gone. They no longer have the limitations of earth, or their physical conditions. I’ve thought about that when several people I’ve known have passed on…they don’t really ‘die’ per se…they change addresses. 🙂

The doctors have determined that my friend no longer has brain function.  In many ways, those words are even harder than someone ‘simply’ dying a physical death, since it requires decisions that no family member should ever have to make.  Her dear husband is getting another doctor to examine her, to confirm or refute the findings.  And, those of us praying are still hoping for supernatural intervention.  There is nothing too hard for God, and yet He doesn’t always choose to perform miracles when those confined to earthly knowledge want them. His plan will be perfect no matter what happens.  I might not understand His purposes now, but that’s OK.  I still believe He has things moving along to serve His purposes, and that’s good enough for me.

I’ll still cry (and have been), and I’ll still miss Mary Kay Meeker.  I’ll still pray for her dear husband Greg, that he feels some sort of peace as he gets used to a new normal for his life.  I’ll still remember all of the amazing things about MK that I know about her from the time I was a camper, and also on summer staff at Timber-lee Christian Center. We didn’t stay in touch for many years, but her impact didn’t require continuous contact. My life has been made so much better by having known her, and reconnecting this year via FaceBook. I can’t even estimate how many lives she’s touched over the years- but it’s got to be in the tens of thousands.  I first met her as a camper in 1972… I last saw her on July 14, 2012. She was as vibrant as ever, tooling around in a golf cart before coming inside, where we had some time to talk, along with Greg.  It was so wonderful to see them both, as Greg had had some serious health concerns.  I’m so thankful for that time.

So, I’m writing this while Mary Kay is still resting in that ICU bed.  I’m not going to say goodbye.  If I could, I’d let her know everything she has meant to me (and should have done so before now- there’s a life lesson in that for anybody), and how much she’ll be missed, but hold on to a table at the coffee shop in Heaven… I’ll track her down up there one day.  I’d tell her that her ability to introduce people to Jesus in a real way has sustained me during some pretty dark days. She is one of a handful of people who have made my walk with God personal. I learned a lot of ‘real life’ ways to know God.

So, Mary Kay- thank you!  Your impact in my life isn’t measurable.  You made a difference by being yourself.  You touched my life in ways that started 40 years ago, and never stopped (and won’t). You have that amazing combination of humor, compassion, and sincerity that most people don’t begin to understand.  I will miss you.  But I’ll see ya later.  God has His hand outstretched, and He’s ready to take yours when the time is right.  Just as your hand was given to Greg at your wedding, Greg will hand you back to our Heavenly Father.

Growing Up Evangelical

The term ‘evangelical’ has become attached to so many negative meanings nowadays. It’s really sad that most things to do with God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or anything ‘religious’ (I don’t like that term) are met with such hostility.  Though I do understand some of why that ‘is’.   Sometimes Christians can be their own worst representatives.  I also learned later (in my 30s) that a person’s ‘assumption’ of God often reflects how they view their earthly father. If that relationship was damaged or weak, it’s hard to comprehend a loving, consistent God.  When I read the Bible for myself, I found a very compassionate and constant God.  I also found so much more love than judgement.

I grew up in an evangelical church from the time I was a newborn.  It just ‘was’ in my house.  I had a great experience in that church when I was a kid. It was my primary social contact, and the youth groups were a lot of fun.  I was in various choirs, and most weeks, I was at church functions at least four different times.  Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday evenings, and some sort of weekend youth activity.  In the summers we had Vacation Bible School as little kids, and I worked as a VBS volunteer when I was in high school.  I spent eleven years working in the church nursery.   We also had an amazing summer camp that I attended for week long sessions as a young kid. For  2 1/2 summers I was on summer staff as a nature counselor between my senior year of high school and early college ages.  My memories of that camp are amazing; I still love that place.

When I was growing up in that church, I never felt that there was an exclusivity about it.  Back when I was younger, there weren’t that many controversial issues that were discussed openly.  That made for a fairly sedate experience.  The things I was taught were directly from the Bible.  Were there some ‘taboo’ topics? Yep.  But it wasn’t something that was beaten into me by some rabid preacher.  There were simply Bible verses that were discussed about various topics, and that was that.  No drama.  Nobody talked about abortion, LGBT issues, or even divorce (until well into the 80s when a Sunday School class for divorcees was started).  But I didn’t hear much about those things outside of church either.

As a teenager, there was the expectation that sex happened after marriage (and I had no issue with that).  Language reflected character, and was expected to be G-rated (I later had some issues with that, and had a lousy character for a while). Clothing was expected to be modest- but wasn’t Puritanical- shorts and t-shirts were fine, as long as they weren’t Daisy Dukes or low-cut.  There weren’t any bans on dancing, playing cards, or going to the movies. The guidelines for deciding activities were simple: Was it something that glorified God?  And God is a pretty open-minded guy on many issues !  (I have read through the Bible many times, and found that most of the ‘rules’ were imposed by humans, not the Bible).  There were instructions about the power of music and the lyrics and beat that could distract from beliefs; music is powerful.  I never got into hard rock, and even paid attention to the softer rock. It had to have a positive message.

How I decided what was right for me was also simple. It was in the Bible.  When I became a Christian (an actual event- not a progressive tally of behavior and deeds), I was very young. As I got older and realized the sacrifice of what Christ did on the cross for all of us, obedience to the Bible became something I wanted to do.  It wasn’t forced on me; I wanted to follow the Bible out of respect and gratitude. I don’t always do it ‘right’, but I’m a work in progress. Since God has my heart, He can work in me.  It’s a relationship more than a religion (which to me implies mindless rituals and Sunday behavior that isn’t the same as the rest of the week). It’s something that grows and gets more mature in time.  It doesn’t end, but that’s the beauty of it; God won’t leave me.

I had no interest in having sex before marriage. I wanted to wait until I met someone that I loved, so it was special and not something to take for granted.  My body was considered to be the temple of the Holy Spirit, and what I did with it was to reflect that.  Drinking and drugs weren’t of any interest- I did go through some stupid drinking when I moved away from home (1200+ miles away), but it wasn’t fun. I stopped.  My activities were always rather dull. I’m just not that interested in things that I couldn’t do with Jesus standing next to me (which He is).  I don’t feel I missed out on anything.  My eating disorder years were a bad example of Christian values; I didn’t respect the body God loaned me.

I do think that some issues were either glossed over or ignored.  I was always taught to help my ‘neighbor’ (basically anybody), and not think much about it beforehand.  I wasn’t taught to evaluate a situation and feel that it was OK not to help someone if my safety was at stake. It IS Biblical to be safe and not suffer from the absence of common sense.   But that’s the big ‘negative’ I experienced (and it was significant in how it affected my life). On the whole, I value my church upbringing as THE single best thing my parents ever did.

When I hear about the extremists on the news, it breaks my heart.  Most evangelicals (or conservatives in general) aren’t haters.  Many have strong convictions, and may disagree with some social issues, but that’s not the same as ‘hate’.  God wants everyone to join Him. Heaven is a choice.  Salvation is a decision- it can’t be earned by any deed or quality of life. God used social outcasts for most of His plans in the Bible.  He used people of good reputations as well- He can use anybody.  God doesn’t hate anyone (that preacher from Kansas is going to have a lot of  explaining to do one day).  I can’t view anyone who hates another person as someone who is following the Bible.  God is the only Being who has the right to judge anyone.  He gave us all free will and it’s not up to me to define that for anyone. Do I have opinions on things? Yep.  But I can’t climb on board the hate wagon.

As far as salvation and Heaven go, it’s very simple. The Bible is clear on that.  Those who believe that Jesus died on the cross to be a sacrifice for our sinful nature , He rose from the dead, and is coming back someday to take believers to live in Heaven for eternity.  For those who die before He returns, their spirit goes to Heaven when they die IF they have prayed for Christ to forgive their sins, and believe in His gift to us when He died on the cross.  It’s very simple.  It’s open to anybody.  There are no mandatory deeds to ‘earn’ salvation (earning salvation isn’t possible – which is pretty neat, nobody is excluded from eligibility).

(We’re born into sin as human beings; the age of accountability is different for everyone, and  includes developmental stage and the awareness of right from wrong; I don’t believe that babies or those who can’t understand the process of confessing sin and receiving Christ will go to hell).

Baptism is a sign of obedience, but not a requirement for salvation.  The Holy Spirit is a guidance system, and comforter.  Speaking in tongues isn’t something dramatic used to ‘show’ other people anything.  It’s a language between the believer and God, and not required for salvation, or as ‘proof’ of the Holy Spirit’s  presence.  He can be very quiet and private ! The Bible is a constant, and never changes (the versions and translations may, but the message is the same, from the same Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic sources).  There are so many verses that are ‘go-to’ verses when times are tough. Psalms and Proverbs are huge helps when I’m feeling bad, or feel I’m being ridiculed by humans.  Proverbs is also a great source of direction on how to live a prudent life. The New Testament gives me the blueprint for living as a Christian (the Old Testament is still valid, but the words of Christ are invaluable).  The books of John and Romans are great for new Christians and those who want to go to the ‘nitty gritty’ before anything else.

I mess up living as a Christian all of the time.  I ask for God to forgive my daily screw ups, and He is faithful and just to forgive me when I confess my sins.  He knows my heart like NO human ever will.  With Him, I am totally understood.  There is none of the feeling of being misunderstood that I encounter with the vast majority of people I know.  But since asking God to forgive my sins and receiving the gift that Jesus gave when He died on the cross, I can never be ‘unsaved’.  I can fall away from the type of life I want to live- but I can also return to a closer walk with God at any time.  He is still there. He is the ultimate loving Father.  The decisions of others, and my own decisions, can lead to trials and struggles in life… but that doesn’t mean God is ‘punishing’ me, or that he ‘makes’ bad things happen.  All decisions have consequences; I decide how I react to them.

I’m comforted all the time by the assurance of Heaven, especially with my health problems, but even before then.  I know that I’ll see other Christians again, which makes earthly death less painful.  I grieve for the temporary loss here, but know that in the grand scheme of eternity, the time on earth is very short.

I hope I’ll see you there. 🙂

Where Was God During My Cancer?

Right next to me.  That is a huge reason why I got through it without too many emotional scars.  Yes, it was a scary thing to hear I had acute myelocytic leukemia. Yes, I was nervous about chemotherapy. I thought about dying.  But it was what it was.  Without my belief in God having everything under control, I would have been a mess.  I didn’t have to understand what He was doing, or why He was allowing it.  I just had to believe it was all happening for a reason.  I’m still not entirely sure what the reason was/is- but that’s OK.  It’s out of my hands.  I’m generally happier when humans aren’t managing things.

I’d ended up in the emergency room  before being diagnosed . I’ve got an extensive medical history, and because of having had many, many blood clots in my lungs at one time, I’d been told that I should always get any sort of funky feelings in my chest or breathing issues checked out at the ER.  I’d seen my lab work and a hematologist/oncologist, who was planning to do a bone marrow biopsy the following week.  The Friday night  before the scheduled bone marrow biopsy (of course it was a Friday night after office hours) I started having some odd pressure and mild shortness of breath. I knew it could be because of the low hemoglobin, but figured I’d better get it checked out.  That may have been the difference in surviving or not.  My lab work values had fallen even more.  I later found out I may have had a week or two to live had I not gotten started on chemo and transfusions of platelets and red blood cells when I did.  That ‘gut’ feeling was something I’ve learned to listen to, and believe it can be a nudge from God to perk up and pay attention to something.

When I first got the diagnosis, I wasn’t that surprised.  I’d seen my lab work that got me referred to the hem/onc, and knew whatever was coming wasn’t going to be good.  I’d at least had that much warning.  It is different to actually hear the words confirming what sort of diagnosis I had, but at least I knew enough as an RN to know that I was in trouble.  I had time to have some sort of ‘back of my mind’ reaction.  So, the praying started in earnest before I was actually diagnosed.  My main prayers- please, God, either get me through it, or minimize the pain.

I knew where I’d end up if I died.  I’ve had very strong beliefs in Heaven since I was a kid. Some say that’s illogical, blind faith.  I believe that faith is sort of blind by definition- LOL.  If I needed proof, it wouldn’t be faith !  I did pray often, and know others were praying for me.  Several of my dad’s friends from his church came to visit me, as did a couple of the visiting clergy folks.  (I’d grown up in that church, so knew the people he knew for the most part).  A big blessing was the social work Master’s intern that was assigned to me was actually a  friend,  former neighbor, and church friend (her whole family).  I was so glad to see her, and told her that it was OK to tell her family, who also visited.  It was nice to see familiar people.

I believe that getting to Heaven is a choice.  It’s not about being ‘good’ or living a decent life. It’s about belief. In particular, it’s about believing that Jesus, God’s Son, came to earth as a man in order to die as a sacrifice for all of our sins.  Nobody who is of an age of accountability  can ‘work’ their way into Heaven.  It’s about believing in Jesus, His death and resurrection, and that He’s going to come back one day.  So Heaven is a choice. Not believing is also a choice. And, it’s all free will.  God gave us free will to decide if we believe or not. He could have designed us all to follow Him without making that decision, but what good is a relationship that is ‘programmed’?  What good is the ‘love’ of a child that is pre-programmed?  It’s not ‘real’.  God didn’t create puppets. He created us with free will.  It’s up to us to make that decision.

I’ve been told that my ‘illogical’ faith is a form of being brainwashed, or following as a puppet, but it’s actually my responsibility to continue believing what I do.  I don’t believe salvation is ever lost once it’s accepted.  However, to maintain an active  relationship with the Lord, I have to put some effort into it.  A feeble analogy is this:  a plant will still grow once it has roots- but weeding, fertilizing, watering, pruning, and protecting it make for a much fuller plant with deeper roots, fuller blossoms, and  a longer life.  Am I perfect at it? Absolutely not !  I ask God to forgive me for various things all the time !  But He’s working in me, using what strengths I have.  He can use all of us. Many of the people in the Bible who had the greatest impact were train wrecks before they let God work through them !

Christianity has been described as ‘exclusive’.  Nothing could be further from the truth. There are no requirements other than belief and acceptance of what Christ did. That’s it.  There are no ‘steps’ in order to be good enough.  No amount of following ‘rules’ will get someone into Heaven.  No trips to places around the world are required.  There are no limits on the number of people who can get in.  It’s just belief and faith.  God loves all of us.  But He can’t permit sin in Heaven.   Jesus took away our sins when He died on the cross- that is the payment, and WE didn’t even have to pay it !  It was paid for us 🙂  He wants all of us in Heaven, but He won’t force it.  It’s up to each of us as individuals to make that decision.  But once we’re His, it’s forever.  He never leaves us.  Life still happens.  But it’s just a fraction of a second in the grand scheme of eternity.  For me, it’s what sustains me no matter what happens.  I’m never alone, and Heaven will be indescribably wonderful.

I pray I will see you there 🙂