One of Life’s Roller coasters

For the past eight years my siblings in the DC area have been closely traversing the rocky road of terminal illness with our Mother. They have done a yeoman’s job caring for her through experimental treatments, a variety of medical plans and a host of doctors. The past year has been more down than up and the past six months have been totally crazy. Since January I have been to DC four times, each time thinking she was at the end. Our Mother was the poster child for mind over matter. I’ve never known anyone as strong-minded (stubborn) and determined to be in control of her life.

I’ve been using “roller coaster’ as a metaphor for the family’s journey with Mother and I believe it is accurate. Like a roller coaster ride, there have been high highs and low lows. Things have moved quickly and things have chugged bumpily along. And just Imagelike the roller coaster, when the ride comes to a very abrupt stop, there is a sense of disorientation. The ground feels unsteady. The stomach may feel queasy and the heart still skipping a few beats.

The past five days are a microcosm of the past six months. Friday morning, after finding that Mother had fallen during the night, my sister called 911 and she was carried to the hospital. Within the day we were told what we already suspected – Mother was terminal and death was imminent. She would need to go back into hospice (this would be the third admittance – the first one she discharged herself). On Saturday, we had multiple discussions with the medical staff and struggled with when to have the medicines that were helping her body function, turned off. She was alert off and on, understanding when we told her that she was very ill and that the doctors didn’t think she would make it. ‘What’s new?’ she wanted to know. She was okay with being in hospice — after she went home first. On Sunday, Mother was alert and complaining about being bored, asking if she were expected to just lay in the bed. We wondered if we had made the right decision and if she planned to prove the doctors wrong with yet another come-back. By Sunday night the next ICU doctor had information that conflicted with what we had been told the day before. On Monday, Mother was less aware of who was in the room with her. She had conversations with folk who were long dead in between sleeping fitfully. By Tuesday she was agitated, calling Grandma, having conversations with Daddy (complete with rolled eyes). She greeted me with a ‘hi baby’ when I came in but after that she didn’t know I was there. She was clearly in another place or on her way. It took much longer than we anticipated but she was moved to a hospital hospice space in the afternoon. This morning, without much ado and with none of us standing over her, Mother slipped away, the conclusion to a five-day roller coaster ride or the culmination of an eight-year ride.

It’s easy to think that those of us who know the Lord would be (should be?)  exempt from suffering or watching those we love do so. However, believers aren’t exempt from the swirl of emotions that riding a roller coaster brings. Despite knowing God is the driver around every curve, over every hill and during every breath-taking drop, believers do not get a free pass from experiencing strong feelings after the ride is over.

When the ride comes to a conclusion, you still need to find your footing and that can be difficult. This applies to every person regardless to whether you are riding with someone for whom the trip is final or if you are there as support.  ImageUltimately, death is a solo flight. When the ride stops, both the passenger on the Eternity Coaster and those waiting at the station, must know where they will find themselves: on solid or shaky ground and with God or not. Don’t take a chance. Know for sure.

RIP Claire. I love you and thank God for you.

Love is a Decision

Watching my oldest move closer to the date when he will truly ‘leave his parents’ and begin the lifelong process of ‘cleaving’ to his wife, I find myself thinking more and more about love. This word, like many, has become one we toss glibly about: we love chocolate, we love Scandal, we love the flowers growing in our garden, we love pecan sweet potato pie (can I get an amen!) – the list goes on. But do we really love these things? And if we do, are they able to love us back? And if they weren’t able to love us back, should that make a difference to the quality of and our commitment to love?  Of course, these questions do not really apply to chocolate or pie especially since their brand of ‘love’ leaves them clinging to thighs, abs and chins and refusing to let go. That’s probably not a healthy love. But these are questions we must ask about genuine love relationships.

I have prayed long that my children would marry people who loved God with all of their hearts and souls, people who treasured, respected and honored my son and daughter. I’ve also prayed that whomever our children married would be folded into our family, without all of the negative drama so prevalent and normalized in our society. And my prayer has not been only for the future spouses but that our families would mesh, that we would love each other, be great friends and supports. In my vision, our families would merge so tightly that we provided a safe harbor in which these new family branches could grow and bear fruit.

This is the prayer of a person for whom family is very important, the prayer of a person for whom love has often seemed more like something captured in a colander than a bowl. At times I’ve watched love slip through the holes and wondered what happened. Sometimes I have carelessly pressed it through those holes. I’ve also floated in it, riding the gentle swells. confident in the ability of the container to hold true. And still I believe… I seek… I desire to love and be loved.

Over the years I’ve learned something very important about love. It’s not the overwhelming, mushy feeling of the movies and romance novels. Love is much more than that. Our emotions are fickle, contrary and very often totally and deliberately deceitful. Strong, mushy feelings are important. Who hasn’t loved so much that you wondered if your chest could contain all of the feelings! But emotions are really only a fraction of the story. Love is a decision we make and purpose in our hearts to act upon. In the traditional wedding ceremony, the officiant asks the bride and groom if they promise to love, not, do you love this person already but do you promise to love through whatever life throws your way. That implies making a conscious and continuing decision!!

I’m rejoicing because in a few short months I’m going to have a truly wonderful daughter-in-love. I already adore her. Yet, the truth is, we don’t fully know each other right now and that’s okay. We have a lifetime to get to know each other. It will take time for the seeds being planted now to take root and blossom. That’s the future. In the present, I know enough to be willing to choose to love her. I know she loves my son. I know she loves God. I know she loves her family and I know she is willing to love ours. So, I deliberately make the choice to love this young woman. I make a conscious choice to make room in my heart for her and for the rest of those she loves. I choose to love her now and I’m going to love her as long as we both shall live. If that sounds like the wedding vow it’s because it is. When two people marry, they join FAMILIES! There really is no such thing as marriage between two people. Other cultures have a better understanding of this concept than Americans and it’s time we do a better job of comprehending.

Choosing to love is not always easy; sometimes it would seem simpler just to walk away or turn your back. Love is risky business at the best of times because we are flawed individuals. Because we are, it is inevitable that we hurt each other, that we step on toes by mistake, that we get so caught up in our own stuff that we are negligent or careless with others. Yes, deciding to love is risky but the rewards are tremendous. You and I are recipients of deliberate love. God’s love for a deadbeat, hard-headed, recalcitrant humanity (that would be you and me in case you missed it) was so deep that God made a decision that would cost Jesus His life. God did that for us, not because we deserved it but because God loved.  This is how Vanessa Bell Armstrong’s song, For God So Loved The World, puts it:

God could have chosento never love again,
fallen man could go his wayand die in his sin.
But God in His compassion said,“I’ll pay redemption’s price”,
so He took on the form of man and became the perfect sacrifice.

That’s the image of love, personal sacrifice, a decision to love when you don’t feel like it, when the other person gets on your nerves, when you feel misunderstood…. even when your heart is broken. Love is a decision. What is your choice?DSC05979

This photo was taken after Mom and Dad Cox celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. This is one of my favorite images of sacrificial love!

Getting Healthy Instead of Skinny (Lord, can I have both?)

Now that I’m in my mid-50s I realize more fully that gaining weight is EASY, losing it is just the opposite. I’ve been a yo-yo dieter most of my adult life. You know everyone knows it when a former student asks  ‘What diet are you doing now, Dr. Cox?’  That’s too much.  Something has to give – once and for all.

I also realize that getting healthy is much more than fitting into skinny jeans (there is NO bikini in my future). Getting healthy means taking a holistic approach to life and determinately seeking health in the ways that matter: God, family, friends and self.  Jesus is the model. We are told in Luke that Jesus grew in wisdom (training the mind and learning to apply the knowledge garnered),  stature (attending to the physical body) and in favor with God (developing a knowledge and relationship with God that informs decisions and actions) and with (wo)man (developing and sustaining right relationships). Jesus also understood the value of knowing who He was, whose He was and following His purpose with passion. Jesus didn’t get His value from external sources.

The gift of life is a wonderful thing, a precious gift that we often take too lightly, especially when faced with a double chocolate fudge brownie with ice cream, a platter of fried chicken or lounging on the sofa surrounded by greasy snacks watching a good movie. Nurturing the gift is not going to happen by accident. Being healthy requires intentionality, making good decisions in the here-and-now. I’m a planner so it is very easy for me to create a detailed, lofty plan for eating, studying, working out, connecting with family and friends, praying… the list goes on. Actually FOLLOWING the great plan is another thing altogether, one I’m not so good or consistent at. However, I’m determined to learn to take things one step at a time.  As Pastor Doug said, I’ll ‘do the next right thing.’ That’s it. No magic formula. No huge plan. No falling into the pit of despair over not following the lofty plan.  When I begin to do the next right thing purposefully and consistently I believe I will be healthier and maybe, just maybe, a bit skinnier.

 

Enjoy these articles: AA026359

Five Foods To Boost Metabolism

The Best Spring Produce For Weight Loss

Turning Stuff Off

Some of you may have seen my post on Facebook. Many will be surprised at what I divulged but I believe in transparency, even at the risk of people making fun of me or talking about me. My day, in fact, the past three months, have been a series of first one thing then another!

  • My Mother, my last parent, is terminally ill and in addition to battling the cancer that is eating her body, is having an internal battle with herself (and anyone who gets in her way). I love the way my sister put it. Mother has always been a lion. Now her body is that of a kitten. In her mind, she is still a lion. That would be a difficult place in which to find oneself! I’ve been traveling to DC as I can to help my siblings who are providing 24/7 care. Things have not been easy.
  • My beloved Ebony Heritage Singers went from a group of 45-65 singers to less than 25 this semester, a situation that really took me to my knees. I had an internal battle over whether to give up or fight. At the end, I came to the conclusion that ‘though (s)he slay me, yet shall I live.’  EHS has been a blessing for many people and I don’t believe God is through working through the ensemble or me in that capacity. So, I press on.
  • I continue to see food as the enemy and have a love/hate relationship with it. Like Paul, I find myself in a constant struggle: the food I should eat, that I don’t. The food I shouldn’t eat, that I do. Who will save me from my wretched self (smile).
  • I’ve questioned God about his memory in terms of remembering His call on my life – where are the invitations to preach, to do workshops and retreats? What am I going to do with all these dag blasted books on my shelves?
  • I’ve been constantly tired, working like crazy but with little to show for it. It’s a crazy cycle; maybe you’ve experienced it.
  • My list could go on and on.

Back to today. This is the third day of the week, one that commenced after driving from DC on Sunday. On Monday, our little guy nearly missed the bus. On Tuesday, the bus never came. Today, my husband dropped a huge smoothie – great for his body but horrible for the cabinets, floors and sink carpet. Those flecks of kale, parsley and all of that spirulina and chocolate protein powder painted everything in sight. Since he was already late, he cleaned a bit and I took over. No carpet cleaner, put water in the wrong part of the Little Bissel so the machine ‘didn’t work.’ I had an appointment at 7:45. At 7:30 I was still in pjs trying to clean the floor. Halfway to the doctor’s office I realized my phone was at home, with all of the information I needed. Things piled on from there. I walked back into the door at 5:45 only to be told that the water had been disconnected because of non-payment. The fact that the bill is being processed by the credit union doesn’t matter; there is no water in our home tonight. I have a 7:15 am flight; the water company opens at 7:30.

I was frustrated, exhausted, embarrassed and ready to put on my pjs and crawl in the bed. I was mortified when a friend wanted to rinse her hands before trying our crackers.

Then…. it occurred to me. The enemy has been trying to turn things off for a few years! It’s not just the water; I grew up in poverty so I know how to function without running water. I spent many of my formative years living in houses without running water or central heat for that matter. I thank God I no longer have to but having my water turned off is not going to kill me. satan should know better than that!

Ah, but if the enemy can turn off my joy, if he can turn off my peace; if the enemy can get me to turn off the knowledge and belief that God loves me with an everlasting love, that I am royalty, then the enemy can win.  I’ve spent the past year learning how to tap into the supernatural for healing, peace, joy, finances. I’ve been reading a wonderful book that is making a difference in my life and I am  fired up! I’ve seen God move in amazing ways even as I watched Dad McNeal die last fall and Mom and Dad Cox die the year before. I am a danger to the kingdom of darkness because I carry with me the Kingdom of LIGHT! So, the enemy needs to shut me down. Since he knows he doesn’t have to send huge events my way, he uses exhaustion, niggling doubt, people who should care about me speaking wrong words in the wrong way. If he can get me to concentrate on the things I see in the physical world, in the day-to-day, he can turn off my zeal for being a change agent and keep me from pulling from the spiritual realm.

It’s not going to happen! I’m going to turn HIM off!  I plan to TURN OFF every voice that speaks craziness, the craziness I way too often whisper to myself, exhaustion from filling my cup to overflowing, multitasking, every vestige of fear, and unrealistic expectations (we can NOT do and have it all and I want to smack the ad agency who tried to tell us we could!!!!).

Oh yeah, enemy. You took my water but I’m taking you. I’m not just turning the channel. I’m TURNING YOU OFF!!

An Exercise In Renewal

Instead of setting New Year’s Resolutions this year, how about spending dedicated time (re)aligning espoused priorities and actions? This activity is based on a sermon taught by Pastor Adam Vaughn from the Dayton Vineyard. I’ve already started and it is very telling. I want 2014 to be a year of power. That means I have to expose my actions to the truths they represent! Where my mind goes, my actions follow.

Let me know how your process goes. I would love to have discussion around this activity.

Blessings.

Click below to download the exercise.

An Exercise in Renewal

Handout for ACDA 2013

Thank you for taking time to attend my session at OMEA. I look forward to other opportunities to interact with you.

As promised, here is the handout from the session – in larger print so it can be read :). ACDA gospel slideshow

If you are interested in ordering the resource, Gospel Songs Your Choir Will Love To Sing, you may also order that on this website by clicking on the bookstore tab.

 

 

Are You Convinced?

I am an advocate of Facebook and other forms of social media. I believe they offer wonderful opportunities to reconnect with people I may not have seen in years. I enjoy the opportunity to share thoughts and ideas and the ability to minister to those in need is amazing. Yet, I am continually disturbed by the things people disclose – defeatist attitudes, pain disguised as machismo/ghetto-girl, hopelessness disguised as ‘I don’t care.’ I read statuses that reveal no real plan for futures- just a hope that if you throw ideas out, they will come to fruition. I see people living their lives on Facebook because they don’t have true friendships and intimate relationships with people they really know. The heartbreaking thing is that many of these attitudes come from people who profess a belief in God!

Read these words….

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35, 37-39 NIV)

If you are truly convinced that nothing can separate you from the love of God you can change your entire existence. God DOES love you. And God desires the best for you. You may be the prodigal child but if you will look up from your battles (pig pen), consider how you got to where you are (own your own stuff), make up your mind to run back to the Father, your life WILL have a turnaround and you won’t need to be defeated! What or who shall separate you from the love of God? Only YOU are capable of doing this! Be CONVINCED that you are MORE than a conqueror! Be convinced that God loves you. Be convinced that everything going on in your life now is but a “light affliction.” IN ALL THESE THINGS you are more than a winner. That means you don’t have to barely slip through. You can walk boldly out of things that sidetrack others. NOTHING – death, life, angels, demons, future, present, height, nor depth – can EVER separate you from the LOVE of God.Image

Convince yourself to believe the truth more than you believe the lies you believe right now!

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