Thursday, June 27, 2013

I Love Working with Children

Because, you see, how else are you going to see a puppet show rendition of Goldilocks and the Three Bears with a four-year-old voicing the little bear?

And how else will you have a chance to hear a two-year-old trying to say "watermelon" or "cucumber"?

And I guarantee you, there is no other way you are going to see a little girl, with blond hair and the deepest dimples you ever saw, wearing a brown-paper-bag costume featuring among its other decorations this declaration:

"I love Mrs. Anna"

Monday, June 17, 2013

Death and Our Grounds for Hope

Death is not good.

As I have contemplated Grandma's death and sought to process all of the related emotions during these last four weeks, this fact has come before me in greater clarity than ever before.

I fully acknowledge that the Christian has no need to fear death-- praise be to our Savior for that! We may even anticipate death as that moment when our constant battle with sin is forever at an end and we finally realize the presence of Christ in a way that we never will in this life.

But that doesn't make death good.

This awful sundering-- of body from soul, of mother, mother-in-law, sister, grandmother, great-grandmother, and friend from everyone who has known and loved her-- it is not good.

We recognize that God is both good and sovereign, that He uses the deaths of loved ones for His purposes, and that the timing of each of those deaths is according to His perfect will, but we also stand firm on the fact that death was not part of God's original good creation.

As I stood in the cemetery that Saturday, looking at the cloth-wrapped parcel that contained all that was left of Grandma's natural body, there was something deep inside me that recoiled.

No!  This should not be!

This is wrong!  Something is broken!

Broken is a word which indeed describes the world in which we live.  "For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now."  (Romans 8:22)  Certainly, death and decay is part of the corruption under which the creation groans. 

But just as surely as Romans 8 diagnoses the condition of this world, it also gives us a taste of the glorious hope that God gives us: "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us."

One way in which God's sovereignty is mercifully displayed to us is the way in which He puts people and influences in our lives at key times to give us exactly the encouragement or insight that we need.  Right now, I'm grateful for the juxtaposition of this time of sorrow with our church's sermon series on Revelation and R.C. Sproul Jr.'s Believing God series.  As I've taken these things in, I've been reminded of three reasons for comfort and hope in the midst of grief.  

Firstly, we can have hope because death cannot hold the believer, for it could not hold Christ.  Those who belong to Him are now found in him, and "if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his."  (Romans 6:5)  "Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive."  (1 Corinthians 15:20-22)

The finality that one feels by the side of a grave is only an illusion.  Body and soul shall be reunited.  All those whom God has chosen shall be forever united with the Savior who died that we might live.

Secondly, we who are left behind can have hope because even the hard things in this life are bestowed on us  by the gracious hand of our wise heavenly Father.  When we are forced to stare death in the face, we are not called to square our shoulders and hold our breath until it's all over.  Instead, we are called to believe God's promise that these things are for our good.  Every hardship and loss is a tool being used by God to display His glory and accomplish His purposes-- and, as Dr. Sproul Jr. says, "He is heaven-bent on making you more like Jesus."  When we know that the trials of our lives are working toward this purpose, we can meet them not only without despair but with joy.

These two reasons alone are enough to give us great comfort.  We have the glorious assurance that everything we experience is a gift from God for our good and that at the end of it all, we shall be resurrected to enjoy the presence of our Lord for all eternity.

This fully meets the need of each individual heart and soul, but something more is needed.  What of the groaning of the whole creation?  What of this broken, corrupt world where death is a way of life?  What of the yearning in our hearts that cries out, This ought not to be!

But God answers, It shall not always be so!

"Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death."  (1 Corinthians 15:24-26)  Death is not a necessary part of life to be accepted; it is an enemy-- one which will one day be subjected under the feet of Jesus.

"We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
 'Death is swallowed up in victory.'
'O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?'"  (1 Corinthians 15:51-55)

"He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."  (Revelation 21:3-4) 

Our King comes, and when He does, there will be nothing lacking, no spot or blemish, in the kingdom He establishes.  Here indeed is sure grounds for our hope!  The hymnwriter expresses it well:

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of Glory passes on his way.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

In Memory of Sherry Pedersen, 1935-2013

This is the message that Papa shared at Grandma's memorial service two weeks ago.  ~Anna
Thank you all so much for being here.  Your presence is a testimony of your love for her and we are all so grateful for the love and support that has been shown to us this week and that is evidenced by this gathering of Mom’s family and friends.  I know that she has touched your lives in many ways.  Regardless of how you came to know her, whether as a family member, acquaintance, co-worker, neighbor, service provider, or business associate, she has become your friend.  We can all testify to her faithfulness, loyalty, patience, and desire to serve others. 

We are here today to remember my mom, Sherry, and to honor God as we affirm his sovereignty and grace. 

As I consider the timing of Mom’s death, it seems that it was not on anyone’s schedule.  It was sudden and unexpected.  From the first indication of any problem until we received the final call from the hospital was only a few hours.  Yet, I can see God’s control in all of the details.  Karen was speaking to Mom on the phone only a few minutes before she collapsed.  A close family friend was available to go check on her and call the paramedics immediately.  All of my children and grandchildren were together at our house in Houston when we received the first call from Karen, so we were able to support one another in our grief as we heard the news.  We had just celebrated Samuel’s birthday with cake.  Here is a quote from Ray, my son-in-law, written last Monday:
Yesterday, our little Samuel, who has brought so much joy into our lives, turned two. Somewhere between late last night and early this morning, Katie's paternal grandmother passed away unexpectedly. Today... we received a birthday card in the mail from her to Samuel. She was an amazing woman and lived such a beautiful life full of grace, meaning, and service. She is a hero to me.   
This life is a fleeting vapor -- use today wisely, for we know not what tomorrow holds. Invest in eternity.
Ray’s final comment is so important to remember.  Our mortal lives are indeed fleeting and we must invest in eternity. 
My wife, Judith, is following a daily Bible reading plan and part of what she was scheduled to read on Monday were the following verses from Ecclesiastes 8:
6 For there is a time and a way for everything, although man's trouble lies heavy on him. 7 For he does not know what is to be, for who can tell him how it will be? 8 No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death.  
This is such a reminder that God is in control. 
Our family is reading in 2 Corinthians and in chapter 1, we find the following:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 
So, not only is He in control, but he comforts us, and equips us to comfort others. 
From my vantage point at Mom’s dining room table, I can see the birds continue to gather at the feeder that she has filled, I see the flowers she has tended, and I consider that even though she is no longer with us, she has affected our lives and she will be remembered in our hearts. 
But, it also causes me to reflect that this mortal life is relatively short as we consider eternity.  Even as Mom’s body no longer has breath in it, the bird seed will be depleted, the flowers will fade and only what is eternal will last.  We each need to consider the truth that is revealed to us in God’s Word that only his grace can provide any lasting, eternal hope. 
In Romans 2, we read the following: “Do you presume on the riches of God’s kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that His kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”  God’s call to repentance means a turning away from sin and living a life in obedience to him. 
One of my family’s favorite hymns is “Not What My Hands Have Done”, by Horatius Bonar.  I would like to close by reading the words to this hymn which sum up so well our inability to gain peace with God apart from what He has done and the hope that we can have only in him. 

1. Not what my hands have done can save my guilty soul;
Not what my toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do can give me peace with God;
Not all my prayers, and sighs and tears can bear my awful load.

2. Thy work alone, O Christ, can ease this weight of sin;
Thy blood alone O Lamb of God, can give me peace within.
Thy love to me O God, not mine, O Lord, to Thee,
Can rid me of this dark unrest, and set my spirit free!

3. Thy grace alone, O God, to me can pardon speak;
Thy power alone O Son of God, can this sore bondage break.
No other work, save Thine, no other blood will do;
No strength save that which is divine, can bear me safely through.

4. I bless the Christ of God; I rest on love divine;
And with unfaltering lip and heart I call this Savior mine.
His cross dispels each doubt; I bury in His tomb
Each thought of unbelief and fear, each lingering shade of gloom.

5. I praise the God of grace, I trust His truth and might;
He calls me His, I call Him mine, my God, my joy, my light. 
’Tis He Who saveth me, and freely pardon gives;
I love because He loveth me, I live because He lives!

Monday, June 3, 2013

June Newsletter

The activity of a blog is never proportional to the activity in the lives of those who write it; if anything, it is inversely proportional.  A quiet blog is quite as likely the symptom of a life too full for writing as of a life with nothing to say.  Such has been the case for us in the two weeks since receiving the unexpected news of my Grandma's death.  Below is a letter written by Mama to friends and family about what has happened, in lieu of our usual newsletter.  --Anna

Her death has hit us harder than Gerald’s dad’s death did three years ago.  He also was very dear to us and even still we feel his absence.  The difference is that now the WHOLE “Grandma and Grandpa Pedersen” chunk of our lives, not just half of it, has dropped away.  The three-times-a-year visits, the letters, and the phone calls are all over.  The making of memories and sharing of life are over.  After this summer we’ll likely never again be in their oh-so-familiar home of 47 years.  My (Judith’s) earliest memory of that house is of riding my bike there to see if Gerald was home when I was still in high school.  (Gerald’s dad seemed really scary to me then!)
Here is what happened.  On Sunday, May 19, just after celebrating our grandson’s 2nd birthday, Gerald’s sister called Gerald to say their mother had collapsed and was rushed to the hospital.  In God’s sovereignty we had all our children and grandchildren together as we received the news.  She never regained consciousness and died just hours later that night of a brain hemorrhage.  We were all in shock.  Though elderly she had been doing very well.
Seth took Gerald and me to Hobby airport in the wee hours of the next morning, May 20, and we arrived in Ft. Collins, Colorado, by late morning.  On May 23 and 24 our children and grandchildren drove up to join us.  In the two days after the memorial service, we all headed home.
The path ahead is daunting.  When Gerald’s dad died matters were simple.  The estate largely passed to his mom.  Now it must all be distributed.  Her will designates Gerald, the oldest of him and his sister, as the personal representative.  He, along with his sister Karen, have countless decisions to make and actions to take.  Lord willing, it will all be settled before the end of this calendar year.
Thank you for your loving and caring notes and prayers.  Each one has been deeply appreciated.  We are resting in the sovereignty of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, knowing that all he ordains is best.
With love, The Pedersen family