It’s Not Goodbye

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Funerals are for the living, not the dead. My congregation has heard me preach this many times. It is for us to remember and to help us move towards our new normal.

Yesterday we buried my father-in-law. And I had the honor of giving his eulogy. Honestly, my husband and I did not think it would be as difficult as we discovered. We thought we were ready. My father-in-law had been ill for a long time. And we knew he was ready to be free. But the weight of grief and sadness was more than we anticipated.

I shared this yesterday with this qualifier:

I am not sharing as his son but as his daughter-in-law and (in some ways) his pastor.

My FIL was an only child. He was born to Ernest and Clarice Bastien in Canada. They later moved to the States where he met and married his wife and they had four sons. Don was an incredibly talented craftsman. There is a story of him unassembling his car engine, cleaning each piece as he laid it out on a sheet, and then re-assembling the engine. According to “legend”, the car still ran. But his mother was quite upset about her ruined bed sheet. Don was also a gifted woodworker. He set up a small woodshop in his kitchen. And over the last ten years, he has made several handcrafted cars, trucks, and other projects for the grandchildren.

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I have been part of the Bastien family for almost 31 years. Don and I had a unique spiritual bond. I find it difficult to articulate it to others. But when I close my eyes I see him sitting in the back row at the YMCA during the early years of our church plant. We talked about God in brief, stolen moments over the last 15 years. We talked about forgiveness, guilt, shame, and God’s presence. And I believe he would want me to share his heart and his faith. But to do that I have to tell the rest of the story.

My FIL was an alcoholic for 40 years. By the time I met Don in 1987, it was rare for a day to pass without intoxication. In 1992, I had my own spiritual awakening and I gave my heart and life to Jesus Christ. After a few months, I created a prayer list with Don at the top of the list. Each day I asked God for two things: his sobriety and his salvation.

One night I had an intense burden to pray and I spent several hours asking God for intervention. That night God’s peace came and it was as if God was saying, “you have what you have asked”. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things are becoming new”.

It would take almost ten years to see that prayer come to fruition. On February 8, 2002, Donald Bastien surrendered the bottle and gave his life to Christ. He received both sobriety and salvation in keeping with God’s promises.

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I remember the day that he confessed his faith to us. Don was at our house working with Rob on his truck. Don stopped and said, “I haven’t had a drink in over a year and now I know what it means to have a personal relationship with God”. Then he went back to work. Later, he asked for forgiveness and then gave us time to heal.

We planted our church in December 2010. Don started attending and he came about once a month or as his health afforded him. He told me, “I go to the Catholic church for communion. Then I come here to learn about God”. During his last major health crisis, he shared that he spent each morning with God in prayer. He would sit at the kitchen table and pour over his devotional and scripture while he talked with God in is own words.

After Don passed last Sunday, we discovered his journal. It was written on yellow legal paper in classic “dad” style. Here is his testimony in his own words:

Tuesday, February 8, 2011
This is a day to remember. Today makes 9 years sobriety. One thing that I can honestly say I did this myself, and I’m damn proud of it. There are some people that never thought I’d make it this far. Guess I proved that I could do it. Don’t know about tomorrow, but today is good. I feel confident that as long as I can keep my faith in God, I’ll be ok. I know that without His help and guidance I wouldn’t be writing this tonight. I find myself talking to Him constantly, and thanking Him for all the little things. In the past, a lot was taken for granted, but today I know better. Things happen both big and little, that I just know with all my being that it happened because God wanted it to be. No matter what the situation, there’s always a time and place for it to take place. God watches over us at all times, and no matter what it is, God has a reason or purpose for us to do what we do. I drank a lot of years for a reason I don’t know why. But on February 8, 2002, God said I had had enough. It was time to stop drinking! My life has had many changes, some good and some that still need working on. Not unusual. Today I feel grateful for everything I have. God has always been good to me. But it’s just been lately that I can really realize how good, and I thank Him every chance I get. Right now is a good time for God and me to celebrate the good fortune I have because of Him. (But for the grace of God, there go I)    Signed, Me 

My FIL was asleep in a recliner for 40 years. Today he is wide awake and his faith has been made sight! See you on the other side of glory!

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You Be You

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In four months, I will be celebrating my 48th birthday. It’s not one of the “big” birthdays. It’s a normal birthday celebrating 365 days with breath in my lungs. Sometimes the normal birthdays are more difficult than the milestones.

This year, in particular, I am more aware that my life is changing. My daughter will graduate from high school and I will be the mother of two college students. My vocation is changing, too. I’m leading a congregation, considering an additional staff member, and coaching other women in ministry. It reminds me that somewhere along the way I graduated from rookie to experienced. So why do I still feel like a rookie?

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In the midst of decision making, someone recently said to me, “You be you.” It stopped me in mid-thought and made me laugh. You be you.

We try so hard to be anyone else but ourselves. In our 20s and 30s, we’re trying to find ourselves. Sometimes we’re trying to lose ourselves. Other times we’re trying to please everyone but ourselves. But in your 40s? In your 40s you finally realize you cannot run from yourself. Wherever you go, there you are.

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This idea of “you be you” cannot mean the same at 30 as it does at 48. Too many things have happened to tell me it holds a different meaning now. At 48 I want to be me. Maybe because I’ve tried being so many other people and the clothes don’t fit.

Here I stand at the entry point of 2018 and the goal of being me. The real one; the one God intended me to be from the start. This me likes coffee and reading and deep thinking. This me wants to shape my world and occasionally be shaped by it. This me thinks we’re better together and that quiet time is good for the soul. This me wants you to share your innovative ideas and hear a few of mine. This me believes we need each other in community if we are going to be the person God intended us to be.

You be you. Yes. This is what I want to do in the coming year. Be authentic. I’m betting this is going to be harder than it sounds. But it cannot be a difficult as trying to be someone else.

Happy New Year! Wake up from your recliner and you be you!

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An Open Letter to Rita

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Rita, I hope this letter finds you well. It has been a little over 24 years since I have seen you last. I was young in so many ways. Young in years. Young in character. And young in the faith. You took a chance on a broken, baby Christian and hired me to work in your Christian daycare. I look back at that time and think I should have been paying you.

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You taught me much about marriage, parenting, faith, and life. And it was almost exclusively by example.

You were one of the most observant people I knew. Your social awareness was admirable. I remember the notes you would leave in our employee boxes. You took notice of the times we made an extra effort in our work and you thanked us for it.

You often sat near the employee log-out book to thank us for coming to work. Who thanks their employees for coming to work? In the last 24 years since I left? No one.

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You were a person filled with grace. It was a perfume that lingered when you left the room and it inspired others to rise to the challenge. You found a way to bridge the sacred and the secular and modeled the incarnation in profound ways.

In the years since I left your employment, I have thought of you often. You were a shepherd to children and broken people and your tenderness abounded.

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Your life and your witness gave me hope. It gave me hope that even a broken, lost soul like me could find my way. And I did. Most importantly, I found The Way. Christ before me. Christ behind me. Christ beside me. Christ within me.

Twenty-four years ago, all those souls I was praying for? Almost all of them have found Christ, too.

I am confident it was God’s providence that caused our paths to cross. Today, that broken, floundering, baby Christian has grown to lead many to faith in Christ. My husband and my children know the Lord. I planted a church. And I teach others about marriage, parenting, faith, and life.

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You poured into my life and you need to know that your mustard seed of faith has grown into a large tree where even the birds can make their home. May Grace Christian Learning Center continue to produce a harvest 100X its size. May God’s blessings rain down on your family. And may you have confidence you have been the hands and feet of Christ.

Merry Christmas!

Sincerely,

One no longer broken

Jesus told them another parable: The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet, when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.  – Matthew 13:31-32