In late 2016 and early 2017, Lea and I were able to spend several weeks with our loved ones in Kailua-Kona, on the Big Island of Hawaii. We attended Christmas Eve candlelight service at Living Stones Church on Ali’i Drive, right on the coast of the island, with the ocean setting up its constant cacophony of rhythms as the waves crashed against the rugged lava reefs on three sides of the church’s peninsula lawn.
We attended the sunset service, which started with the singing of hymns and carols, and as the sun began to set, a young lady performed a touching flag dance on the mauka side of the stage, while three artists with easels and blank canvases artfully brushed, dabbed and smeared pigments to create impressions of the season on the makai side, Meanwhile, at center stage were skits and narratives of the Christmas season, with musicians accompanying from the background.
As the sun set and darkness began to shroud the gathering, we were treated to a wonderfully graceful hula dance by several young girls who accompanied the singing of Silent Night, first in Hawaiian and then in English. It was a beautiful and moving testament to how Christianity has combined with the rich heritage and traditions of these ancient peoples.
Then the teacher, Bill Barley, took center stage and spoke passionately of God’s gift to mankind through His son, Jesus Christ, who gave us salvation through Grace while on the cross. He is remembered by Christianity at Christmas, which we celebrate as his birthday, and again at Easter, when He arose from the dead to take his seat at the right hand of God.
At the end of his remarks we each lit the candle which had previously been placed on our seat. 15 hundred candles in front of the outdoor stage and twinkling white lights behind and around us combined to create an astoundingly profound moment as one heard the waves gaining shore and saw all the bright pinpoints of light in the darkness, and a face highlighted in the glow behind each light. It was surreal, and wonderful, and the sight touched one’s soul. The feeling of being transcended into a mystical place beyond ourselves made one ponder what wonderous things will be ours when that day of Renewal arrives and Jesus returns.
During Sunday services at LivingStone Church’s second location at Pine Trees the following weekend, Bill Barley was teaching us about how to listen for God’s voice amongst all the distractions we are constantly bombarded with in today’s busy lifestyles. He talked about how hard it is to block everything else out so we can hear God whispering to us. He related how Martin Luther’s mother, Margarete Luder, had seventeen children to look after, and was a harsh disciplinarian. She would place her rocking chair in the middle of the room and place a blanket over her head, so she could separate herself from the world, and listen for God.
His mother’s dedication obviously impacted Luther, who valued motherhood highly, recognizing its origin in the very design of God’s creation. “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28) was, in Luther’s estimation, “more than a command; namely, a divine ordinance which is not our prerogative to hinder or ignore.” In brief, God created women for motherhood. He stated, “When God wants to speak with us, he does not avail himself of an angel but of parents.”
As Bill continued to talk about separating ourselves from the loud voices of the world so we can hear God talking to us, I reflected back on my days in Hartford, Connecticut, when Lea was so seriously ill. I was renting a room in what used to be nurse’s dormitories when Hartford Hospital had a nursing school. Now, they rented the rooms, which had long experienced deferred maintenance, and were in an obvious state of neglect.
My bed was a fold-out sofa. The carpet was filthy. Furniture was of composition wood, which had long since past its youthfulness. The sliding glass door to the balcony no longer slid, but was held in its track by wood screws wedged between the door and its frame. And, yet, the building had laundry facilities and an underground tunnel that connected to the hospital. It was perfect for my early morning departures and late night arrivals. I needn’t complain. I was able to be with her and tend to her every need.
It was there, lying prostrate on that dorm room’s dirty carpet, two or three weeks into Lea’s hospitalization, that I stopped to listen to God. I knew He was with me, and I talked to him all the time. That may have been the problem. I hadn’t shut up to listen to Him. But, finally, I caught enough of His whispers that I had to pause and give myself, and our situation, up to Him: Not my will, Lord, but yours. He gave me an indescribable peace. It washed over me like a sudden warm summer rain. I knew that she was in His hands, and regardless what happened, it was going to be okay. I was okay!
And, it was during Bill’s teaching that I realized that God was talking to me right then. He was telling me to finish writing what He had been pointing out to me over the past few years as I enjoyed the gift of having Lea in my life. These 12+ years were an answer to prayer, and a time for me to give back to her for creating my world filled with unconditional love.
During those intervening years, I had painted a few canvases of her that expressed my love of her physical beauty and sexual attraction over our lifetime. I wanted to elevate those images to something more beautiful than a photograph. I wanted my love and devotion to be reflected there. But, also, I needed to put into words the many things about her that created such a strong bond between us. A bond that survived the decades of married life and the life struggles put before us. That’s what I’m trying to do here.
Someone commented during our stay in Hartford, after reading my email postings, that I sound like a character from a Charles Dickens novel. At the time I took it as a compliment, but now realize that he was saying that I was out of tune with modern culture, and sounded like a relic from the distant past. Love for my spouse, trust in God, faith that healing will occur here or in heaven, as God chooses . . . are “old fashion” values that have little place in today’s culture. And, I’m completely comfortable with being “one of those guys.”
I gave vows when I took Lea as my wife, as much to my maker as to my wife and our families. I gave my word and will not dishonor God by failing to abide by it. I still believe in the noble, the heroic and the epic. I believe in the principles I learned in scouting: to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. I want to be remembered as that guy.
I have loved Lea all these years because she gave herself to me completely. I’m not talking merely about sexual relations, although that certainly was a very important part of my love for her. When she gave herself to me in that ceremony, officiated by my uncle, the Reverend Virgil Vaughn, witnessed by God and our friends and family, she left her mother and father, moved to a new home in a strange town with me, and devoted herself to being everything a man of my day expected in a wife . . . lover, homemaker, housekeeper, cook, mother of my children, and my physically beautiful life partner.
She became my better half. She told me many years later that her father had told her just before our wedding, that “If he doesn’t get what he wants at home, he’ll find it elsewhere.” I never wanted. I never knew another woman. She became my dear companion during the early years of our marriage as I tried to expose her to things that were new to her. She hadn’t even eaten at a restaurant until I took her out on our first double date with my sister and her boyfriend!
We played. We went horseback riding, swimming and boating at the Lake of the Ozarks, took long drives exploring winding rural roads through the countryside, shopped, explored, sampled, and frequently drove “back home” to spend time with her family, for whom I developed a deep lifelong affection. She was physically and spiritually beautiful to me at every stage of our lives, personifying the perfect spouse, and I was totally committed to her as my lifelong partner. Oh, sure, I had my temptations and occasional thoughts of a dalliance, but there was always an unseen guardian angel who steered me back onto the correct path. Thank God!
Power of Prayer
I have alluded many times in these writings that I had a very powerful support system of Prayer Warriors who assisted me in lifting Lea up for miraculous healing, and that her doctors were amazed again and again at how she experienced healing well beyond their expectations or ability to explain. But, she didn’t heal completely. She had skeletal issues due to being so atrophied for so long. She had to learn to walk again.
Her bones had deteriorated and become too soft. Her right knee and hip collapsed and required replacement over the next several years. Her lower spine had compressed, putting painful pressure on nerve endings, and her gall bladder developed an inoperable sludge. She was always in pain. Unfortunately, she also developed Type One diabetes due to a trauma to her already damaged pancreas, and we had a number of scares and close calls due to suddenly tanking glucose levels.
I had to admit that her life wasn’t ideal. In fact, I’m not completely certain that she was really happy to be here, at all. Of course, she loved being with family, revelled in our grandchildren and great-granddaughter, but, was often in too much pain to even be able to enjoy her time with them. She was on serious pain medications that made her sleep too much, and prevented her from engaging in morning activities because of lingering “light-headedness.”
I had to confess, on her really bad days, that she was here on earth because of my selfishness. I wasn’t ready to let her go in Hartford, because I needed her to be with me. I would be lost without her. I had leaned on her for support all of my adult life. She was my rock. And, I had earnestly prayed that the Lord would let her recover and stay here with me. I now realize that I prayed that selfishly because I would be cast adrift, lost, without my rock.
I had unconsciously prayed for me, not her. She often says that she visited heaven while in that weeks-long coma, and that she made a conscious decision to turn from the light and come back here. She remembers walking toward a light, with our two young granddaughters, dressed in white, alongside her. She took them by the hand, and while turning around, told them, “Come on. I’ve decided to go this way.” She soon came out of the coma and returned to us.
I have been deeply sorry for the pain she has had to endure, since then, and had I known ahead of time, I wouldn’t have wished it on her. We have prayed together many times, and I have told her that I release her from my selfish desire to have her by my side. When she is ready to go, although I will be sorrowed to the depths of my soul to lose her companionship, I know that she will be free of her pain, and joyful to receive her heavenly reward, which will be bountiful.
“God seems to be of the opinion that no one should be expected to sustain the rigors of the Christian life without very robust and concrete hope of being brazenly rewarded for it.” (John Eldredge, “All Things New”)
When we finally arrive in God’s presence, scripture tells us, we will be given estates to rule, and all things we lost in life on earth, for His sake, will be restored to us a hundred fold. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9). I think Lea was returned to me in Hartford to minister to me, for His sake. Great will be her reward. I hope I will be able to find work on her estate just to be near her.
“Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne . . . everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:28-29)
When every story is rightly told at The Reckoning, there will be tales of wrongs I have committed. I regret each one of them, and the people I hurt or negatively affected as a result, and will have to own those stories when they are told. I have made many personal apologies, and for all others I earnestly pray for forgiveness.
All Things New
While reading John Eldredge’s latest book, “All Things New,” in early 2017, he mentioned Dallas Willard’s teaching, “The life we now have as the persons we now are will continue in the universe in which we now exist (after death). Our experience will be much clearer, richer, and deeper, of course . . . rooted in the broader and more fundamental reality of God’s kingdom and will accordingly have far greater scope and power.”
“When the kingdom comes,” at The Restoration, “nothing that was precious to you in this life will be lost. No memory, no event, none of your story, or theirs, nothing is lost. It is held safe outside of time in the treasuries of the kingdom, which transcends, yet honors, all time. This will all be given back to you at the Restoration, just as surely as your sons will come back to you. Nothing is lost.“ (John Eldredge, “All Things New”)
“For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s gory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” (Matthew 16:27)
“Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.” (Ephesians 6:7-8)
Jesus, himself said, “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.” (Revelation 22:12)
God has a purpose for your pain,
a reason for your struggle,
and a reward for your faithfulness.
Trust Him and never give up!
Amen! And, Amen!