God speaks: “I’m the One comforting you.  What are you afraid of—or who? Have you forgotten me, God, who made you, who unfurled the skies, who founded the earth? For I am God, your very own God, who stirs up the sea and whips up the waves; my name is God-of-the-Angel-Armies. I teach you how to talk, word by word, and personally watch over you, even while I’m unfurling the skies, and setting earth on solid foundations." From Isaiah 51, The Message.

Yesterday we buried the bones and skin in which Lois lived her earthly life. I think the hardest part was holding my grandchildren above the casket and explaining that their BaBa was not sleeping; she wouldn’t wake up; this was just the skin she wore on earth. The real BaBa is gone – but not forever. The oldest two struggled to understand. The young ones picked up candy and tried to put it in the casket with Lois – who knows how many pieces ended up in there!

Then, after the immediate family members had opportunity to see the body, the casket was closed. The two oldest boys, Brady and Broc, helped me and Peter, Tony, Jeremy, John, and Richard carry the casket to the coach and again from the coach to the graveside. There is something about the physical work of grieving – whether it is in travel, or cleaning, or carrying the casket, we all embrace the toil of grief.

We gathered around the grave and Frosty led us in a uncomplicated service of Scripture and prayer as we recognized that we were created from dust and to dust we return. But we rejoice in the reality that as Followers of Jesus we are not limited by physical bodies; we are first and foremost, spirit – made in God’s image – and “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” (2Cor 5:8)

Even as we shed tears of sorrow, Lois is in the eternal, everlasting, non-stop, 24-7 worship where all of creation bows before the Throne of the God of all that is and shouts and sings, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor, and glory, and power, forever and ever!” Amen!

Now we are preparing to gather for our own worship service. Oh, we know we cannot hope to duplicate what is going on in God’s throne room right now, but we’ll do our best. We will remember Lois but mostly we’ll remember the life of Christ in Lois. And we will worship God!

From Everlasting to Everlasting

All day today I’ve been coming back to Ps 90. The first couple of verses keep echoing in my mind. Even when I visited my Mom late this afternoon and prayed with her, I found myself praying using the phrases, “from everlasting to everlasting,” and “God, you’ve taken care of us from the beginning.”

As we plan the details of the Celebration of Life service on Saturday, I keep reminding myself – and anyone else within earshot – this is a worship service where we honor Lois by focusing on the life of Christ in Lois. This is about God who numbered Lois’ days on earth before the mountains were even born! We will worship the Lord who created the universe, the stars, the earth, and all of us! Just as life begins in the mind of God before conception ever occurs, life comes to an end only if and when God allows that to happen. If He has the hairs on our head numbered, then he knows the exact number of times our hearts will beat; the total times we will take a breath.

I woke up this morning full of anticipation: what will God do today? In what ways will He reveal Himself today? How will He allow me to lead our family into a greater appreciation of His presence, comfort, hope, and peace? Please don’t misunderstand this, I certainly didn’t want Lois to die but I also wouldn’t have missed this experience.

Lois and I had several conversations about the cyclical nature of our relationship with God. It seems when God allows difficult times, tough stuff, to come into our lives that those are times when we experience spiritual “growth spurts.” It’s so easy to miss these learning opportunities. I recall talking about this on our anniversary in August. Lois and I looked back on the 34 years we had together and speculated about times when things were tough and wondered if we missed some of what God was showing us or teaching us. We don’t pretend to have done everything right! Not even close! But we were convinced that God was in the middle and, not only that, but in front and behind us.

A dear friend called today and talked about how short Lois’s life was. I reminded her that it wasn’t as short as some but that in the grand scheme of things all life is short. Try this: blink your eyes twice. Which blink was the shortest? It’s hard to tell, isn’t it? Those two blinks are like two lives – one short and the other long. But in God’s timeframe there is little difference. After all, if a thousand years is like a day or even a watch in the night, our lives are but a blink in God’s grand plan. And yet He cares about you and me. He comforts and shields and protects, from everlasting to everlasting.

Just a reminder: There will be a special Celebration of Life service at Northgate Alliance Church in Ottumwa, IA on Saturday, September 19 at 1:30 pm. The family will receive friends and visitors both prior to the service beginning at Noon and following the service. There will be a private graveside service to lay the body to rest on Friday afternoon. The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, donations be directed to the Pekin Ministerial Association, 205 W 4th, Packwood, IA 52580 or Keokuk County Hospice, 420 N. Main St., Sigourney, IA 52591.

At Home, At Peace

Lois Jean Eschenbrenner completed life’s journey on Friday, September 11 at 11:50 am when she died peacefully at home.

There will be a special Celebration of Life service at Northgate Alliance Church in Ottumwa, IA on Saturday, September 19 at 1:30 pm. The family will receive friends and visitors both prior to the service beginning at Noon and following the service. There will be a family only graveside service to lay the body to rest at Brooks Cemetery with Rev. Frosty Van Voorst officiating.

The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, donations be directed to the Pekin Ministerial Association, 205 W 4th, Packwood, IA 52580 or Keokuk County Hospice, 420 N. Main St., Sigourney, IA 52591.

Nearing the End

Lois’ journey is almost complete. I am confident she can see the rest and glory waiting her. We are praying Psalm 116:1-7:

I love the LORD, for he heard my voice; he or he heard my heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.
The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me;
       I was overcome by trouble and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the LORD: "O LORD, save me!"
The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.
The LORD protects the simplehearted; when I was in great need, he saved me.
Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you.

Last night Joy, Peter, Kari and I gathered around Lois to pray for her and for each other. As each one of us prayed, we were reminded that the Lord is gracious, full of compassion, overflowing with goodness. What an awesome privilege to pray together as a family knowing we will all meet again in Glory!

Yesterday it became evident that Lois could no longer swallow pills. When the Doctor was here (yes, we have a Doctor who makes house calls!) he ordered liquid morphine which Lois does not even have to swallow; its absorbed in her cheek. During the night we gave her the morphine about every two hours but her breathing is more labored this morning and we’ve started giving it every hour.

Hospice brought in a hospital bed but the last response we got from Lois yesterday afternoon was that she didn’t want to be moved. She is still on the couch. There has been no measurable urine output since Wednesday evening and her muscles have more tremors due to the increased toxicity.

I can remember several times over the years, during a President’s final days in office, when there was a lot of talk about building a legacy. A genuine legacy can never be purposefully built or earned or bought. Authentic legacies are bestowed by the people whose lives have been impacted. Last night, when Lois’ children gathered around her and prayed with thoughtful, selfless, meaningful words, the priceless legacy was evident.

Even though we all went to sleep knowing Lois might graduate to eternity before we woke, there was peace and understanding and confidence. Our hope is in the Lord.

Now we are waiting for the final breath. It could come at any time or take a while but we know our time with Lois in this world is measured by hours. Pray with us that the end would come quickly. Pray with us, “Lois, be at rest once more, the rest that comes to your soul, for the Lord has been good to you.”

Wednesday 09-09-09

early evening

There have been many times of prayer for Lois since she was diagnosed in May of 2008. She’s been anointed with oil several times; elders from many churches have laid hands on her and prayed; family members have gathered and prayed; and hundreds of individuals and scores of church prayer meetings have prayed for Lois.

We want you to know those prayers have been and are being answered! God is here in this house. His presence is almost palpable. The Comforter is holding us close and providing peace that cannot be described. Lois’ countenance is calm. She is not agitated. There is rest and quiet on the outside as proof of what’s on the inside.

Lois’ earthly body is growing weak. She’s been unable to keep any food in her system since Friday and even most of the liquid has come back up. In the words of the Hospice Nurse, "things are progressing quickly."

This morning Lois moved (with assistance) from one couch to the other and has slept all day although at times the sleep isn’t all that deep. Sometimes she is a bit confused but often will make very pertinent one-word comments about a conversation.

In the past 24 hours she’s had about six ounces of fluid but no output. The Hospice Nurse is coming tonight to put in a catheter. The process of dehydration produces a natural anesthesia which results in Lois requiring very little medication. We aren’t forcing anything – just allowing the body to adjust in any way it can and making sure Lois is comfortable.

The healing we’ve been praying and trusting God for is growing closer. Soon Lois will experience all the Creator intended for her from the beginning of time.

I Blew It!

Written several days ago

Tonight my cell phone buzzed with a call from one of my closest friends who is a business manager. He needed to share something with me about an ongoing situation. Recently, he called and shared about learning that a key individual, someone he trusted very much, had betrayed that relationship. Today he learned more details about her behavior– things that hadn’t been revealed before – and he needed to tell me.

I’ve also had conversations with the individual involved and she is humiliated, embarrassed, hurting. She, too, has asked me to listen. I’ve been praying and hoping that somehow, God would make sense of this mess and everybody would be drawn closer to Him; to live out what Paul describes in Philippians 2:3, “ . . . in humility consider others better than yourselves.”

What I heard tonight caused my emotions to boil over in frustration because I wanted to force the Word of God into a situation instead of modeling it. I’m ashamed to admit what happened next.

When the phone call ended I vented my frustration out loud to my living room walls using angry words and exaggeration and a harsh tone of voice. And I got caught.

I failed to disconnect the call.

My dear brother heard every word. He called back to tell me how hurt he was and then hung up.

Filled with shame and regret, but still frustrated, I called him back and begged his forgiveness. I made excuses and capitalized on our friendship. He graciously forgave me even though I really don’t deserve it. (According to Phil 2:3, who is the better man?)

Some of our obvious reactions might be:

· Don’t say anything out loud that you wouldn’t say to the person’s face.

· Make sure the cell phone is off.

· What happens in Vegas never stays in Vegas but follows you home.

· Take advantage of friends who have made themselves available to listen when you need to vent. (I received just such an offer from a fellow pastor about three hours before this event.)

. . . and I’m sure we could think of others.

But that’s not what God was saying to me when I went to bed and it’s certainly not what drove me to my keyboard well after midnight to write this. (It’s 12:42 am right now.)

The lesson God drove home like a dagger in my gut is found in verses I’ve quoted to scores of people and used in my own life for 30 years:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 1 Peter 5:6-10 (NIV)

Yes, there is a lot going on in my life right now:

· Lois is not getting better and probably won’t this side of Heaven.

· Pastors and churches are dealing with more disastrous conflict than at any other time since I started my job almost 43 months ago.

· We’re aware of many special people who have just found out they are facing life-threatening illness and disease.

· I’ve just completed the six most intense weeks I can ever remember.

· The projects on my “to-do list” are daunting.

Instead of taking out all the frustration and exhaustion on someone else, I need to be humble, self-controlled and alert. In my pride and self-sufficiency I think I can handle everything. I can’t. Deep down I know that I’ll just mess up and must turn to God and allow Him to work through the support group around me. I have to remember the evil one is always ready to pounce on my weakness therefore I must resist and stand firm in the power of the Holy Spirit.

God will lift me up in His time. God will pour out grace. (It’s not up to me!)

So, once again, I have to admit I blew it and renew my commitment with God to let Him be God.

Where are you? Have you been trying to regain control? Is God speaking to you about surrender, commitment, humility? Are you ready to let God be God in your life?

I’ve taken a risk sharing this and would really appreciate your responses. I won’t post any comments you mark confidential.

Intentional Reliance upon God

September 8

The past three days have necessitated a new level of relying on God. He’s asked us to “take it up a notch.” Our faith and hope and patience are being stretched. We are learning, again, to practice the spiritual discipline of meekness:

Meekness is an intentional reliance upon God to accomplish His will and His work in His way. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “the Son can do nothing by himself: he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does…. By myself I can do nothing” (John 5:19.30). Meekness is . . . an openness to see God in the big picture of life and the recognition “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). . . . Think of meekness as bold humility or aggressive patience. It is the spiritual discipline that overcomes the world. (D. Webster in The Easy Yoke, p. 58)

Since Friday Lois has had a hard time keeping anything in her stomach. It’s not that she has a lot of nausea – just can’t keep any food or liquids down for more than a couple of hours. We know she is dehydrated because she can go up to 18 hours without urinating. So we practice meekness.

She sleeps all the time whether or not there is activity around her. Lois doesn’t seem to be in a lot of pain. Since she can’t keep liquids or food down for very long there is plenty of evidence that the meds are not being absorbed completely! When I ask what medication she wants, the only request is for more Tylenol.

Intentionally relying on God is both difficult and welcome. On the one hand I constantly ask, “What can I do?” But Lois always responds with, “You’re doing it.” Relying on God does not mean we do nothing; rather, we are required to do what God has set before us. Nothing more, nothing less.

I find myself repeating Jesus’ words, “By myself I can do nothing.”

My human nature compels me to “take action” but my steadfast commitment to “His purpose” is my constant reminder that God will work all this out. He is in control.

Noticing More of God

Mark Buchanan writes, “The secret remedy for almost all our slowheartedness is to practice the presence of God. This one thing has the power to break borderland’s gravitational hold. Jesus walks the road to Emmaus with those disciples, if only they noticed. Jesus is in the midst of our days and our events, our weeks and our weaknesses, our rising up and our lying down. If only we noticed.” (“Your God Is Too Safe” p.148)

We’re noticing more of God’s presence. His presence doesn’t necessarily make things easier but it does give meaning to what we are experiencing.

Lois has had some difficult days. Sunday through Tues she experienced a significant amount of nausea and vomiting. Wed she woke up feeling really good and actually went to Joy’s house for a couple of hours in the morning and then slept most of the afternoon. Thurs she felt well enough to go to Joy’s house but came home not feeling well and ended up with severe nausea and vomiting and discomfort in her belly.

Thursday night the family celebrated Sarah’s birthday at the local park and Lois missed it. She was just too sick to get out. That was hard. I put my arms around Kari and Joy as they cried just before we all went home. It was a great 3rd birthday party but someone was missing. Jeremy and Kari brought the birthday girl to the house so she could at least see “BaBa” but it just wasn’t the same.

John and Mary – Lois’ brother and sister – came for a visit on Friday. Mary left to drive back to New Richland, MN just before noon on Sat but John had to drive back to Omaha Fri night. We really appreciated their visit even though Lois had a rough day on Friday. Saturday morning she felt well enough for a good conversation with Mary.

The Hospice nurse has been here twice this week. We keep “tweaking” the medication looking for more consistent relief from the nausea, vomiting and discomfort in Lois’ belly. My wife – who never took any medication on a regular basis – now has a score of prescription and OTC drugs!

Thanks for sharing this part of the journey with us!

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4