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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

When the struggle ends

I received a call and voice mail from my Aunt Jilla while in church this past Sunday.  I reviewed the voice mail immediately upon returning home.  My grandmother was in ICU...again.  Since August of last year, she has suffered pneumonia and chronic pulmonary issues ever since.  At 87 years of age, it was a tough battle.

When I arrived at the ICU, I decided to wait outside my grandmother's room and wait for Jilla to arrive.  In my grandmother's mental state, I wasn't sure she would recognize me and I didn't want to startle her.  I watched Grandma from outside the room.  Her breathing was very labored and I could tell she was struggling. Once Jilla arrived, we went in and greeted Grandma.  She recognized me and we embraced.  Diminished lung capacity, sheer exhaustion, and the CPAP mask she was wearing made it very difficult for her to speak, but we managed a few sentences here and there, in her brief moments of consciousness.

Grandma had a few visitors throughout the afternoon, including some of her other grandchildren, her Sunday School teacher, and her pastor.  She had brief moments of semi-clarity and exchanges with them, then she would be out again.

While some of these moments were tender, most of the time in between was filled with real struggle.  The doctors were not confused; This situation would not improve.  Her lungs simply could not exhaust the CO2 from her blood on their own and only the CPAP machine and an IV medication to artificially elevate her blood pressure were keeping her alive.

Thankfully, we were not confused either.  Grandma made it clear years ago that she was to be considered a DNR patient (Do Not Resuscitate) and did not want extraordinary life-preserving measures to be performed.  Although we call it a tough decision, given the circumstances, the decision was clear; it was just a matter of when.  How long would we let her go on this way?

As I recall the events of two days ago, the most striking thing to me is the nature of the few thoughts she was able to communicate, not just to me, but to all who came to visit.  I'll spare you the family history and attendant drama, but suffice it to say that not all family relationships have been harmonious all of the time.  However, it became clear that these past events no longer mattered to Grandma.  In spite of her struggle for every breath, it was paramount to her that everyone knew that she loved them, including those who were not there with us.  She struggled mightily to communicate this notion and she did so with all of the assertiveness and force she could muster.

Isn't it interesting that in spite of pain, suffering, and dealing with one's own mortality, only one thing mattered?  Love.  All of the nonsense and baggage melted away.  Only love remained.

As the afternoon turned to evening, so did Grandma's condition.  The decision was made, the time had come.  With Jilla and I each holding a hand, the mask and the IV were removed by the medical team and we were left alone with her.  Grandma's sleep deepened, her grip loosened, her breathing slowed.  In about fifteen minutes, she was gone and the struggle was over.

I'll communicate Grandma's last thoughts to some of those who could not be present on Sunday.  What they do with her words are for them to decide.  As for me, there is a lesson in forgiveness here.  No matter what separates us, life is too short to hold grudges and miss the blessings to be had between the cradle and the grave.  We need to forgive, more for our own benefit than that of our perceived adversary.  No matter what blessings are awaiting us in eternity, there are many here to be had if we'll just accept the gifts of our presence in each others lives.  That being said, Zig Ziglar asserts: "Life is too short to spend your precious time trying to convince a person who wants to live in gloom & doom otherwise."  All we can do is forgive on our end regardless of the decision of the other party.

While my relationship with Grandma was never strained, I do regret not been present in her life for many years.  What if I had spent a day here and there, just sitting with her, watching a Texas Rangers game (her favorite team)?  I'll try not to dwell further on regrets, but I pray I don't miss the opportunities with those in my life who remain.

Blessings my friends,


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Antony Flew: A change of heart and mind

A short post today.

Like many of you, I follow several blogs for daily nourishment and information.  I highly recommend Apologetics 315 if you're interested in continual study regarding why belief in God is the most rational answer to our biggest questions.  Today's post, Antony Flew's Change of Mind, is very interesting indeed.

While it's not "new" news, it is news to me.  In 2004, world-renown atheist Antony Flew renounced his naturalist point of view and became a believer in God.  He did not convert to Christianity, but he now believes in a God, creator of the universe in which we live.  I'm really looking forward to reading Antony Flew's book, There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, and have already added it to my Kindle reading list.

Check out Apologetics 315 and click on the links to reviews and commentary on Antony Flew's change of mind.  It's good stuff!

Blessings my friends,


Saturday, January 2, 2010

"Talk amongst yourselves...Here, I'll give you a topic:"

In my last post, I discussed feeding ourselves in 2010 with things that will build character.  It seems only natural that we should build a solid foundation first then build up from there.

At the base of everything we experience is our belief system.  It is the lens through which we see and experience the world.  It affects how we approach all of our relationships and it is there that true character is revealed.

It should be no secret to anyone who has read my previous posts that I am a Christian.  What's unfortunate, is that some who have known me throughout my life might be shocked by this revelation.  All I can say in response is "yep...guilty".  My life has not always been characterized by a "walk with God".  The good news is that my life is indeed a work in progress.  I hope that the transformation will become increasingly visible to those around me.

Some of us were born in great circumstances and rarely, if ever, really stepped off the path.  They were in church as an infant, came to know God at an early age, accepted certain truths without much questioning, and hit the ground running as it were.  That's not me.  I'll spare you the biography, but although I was exposed to Christianity early, it wasn't often.  Although I don't think I've ever really questioned the existence of God (I've always felt His presence), there were certain issues with the ultra-conservative bent of our faith that have been problematic for me.  In recent years, I've come to understand that my faith had to be of both the head and the heart.

When discussing my beliefs and understandings with a friend who I would characterize more as a Buddhist (who had been run away from Christianity by an overly aggressive conservative family), I had to ask myself a tough question:  Why do I believe what I believe?  Is it because of my heritage?  I was fortunate to have a Christian father who took me to church on the weekends I visited him, often less than once a month, then much less often as I grew up?  This question drove me to begin looking into apologetics.

Let me start with a huge disclaimer regarding my beliefs and what I'm going to assert:  I don't believe for a second that apologetic study and reasoning is necessary for many to come to understand God.  God has made himself available to every human being to ever walk the face of the Earth.  God is as available to a person with a very low IQ as a college professor.  God is also equally accessible to a person driven primarily by their heart as a person driven by their head.  Everyone lives on a unique point on the head-heart continuum.  As for me, I've come to understand that my head needs to understand at least some of what my heart feels.

Now let me get back to the "talk amongst yourselves" topic.  Before even considering Christianity, one usually must consider the existence and nature of God.  But before considering God, one might consider an even more fundamental question:"Why does anything exist?"

Yep...I've done it...I've started the new year with a discussion that could also be characterized as The Meaning of Life; The BIG question.  I would assert however, that if we do not seek to understand this question and why its answer matters, our world view will be adrift and overly subject to influences that can destroy our character.

Richard Dawkins is arguably this most popular atheist apologist in the world these days.  His recent book, The God Delusion, has sold over 8.5 million copies worldwide.  Dawkins has been described as "the world's most famous atheist" and a "militant atheist".  In fact, there is a debate raging around Dawkins and his contemporaries asserting that "the New Atheism" has become "the New Fundamentalism".

If you read Dawkins' work, you'll find plenty of venom and heavy-handed criticism of religion and faith of any sort.  After all, people of different faiths have at times taken heavy-handed and hateful approaches toward those who believe differently than themselves, especially toward atheists.  Turnabout is fair game...right?  Whether in his books or in live debates with Christian apologists, Dawkins often draws conclusions about religion from atrocities committed in the name of religion.  This is like placing blame on any specific object used as a weapon in a crime, as opposed to the person committing the crime.  But I digress.

Many will read Dawkins and be convinced of his rationale; He is a learned biologist, ethologist, and sociobiologist.  It is unsettling to me however that many will not look further.  Obviously, there is much that science teaches us and much more yet to be revealed about the universe in which we live.  But there are things that cannot ever be explained fully by science.  In fact, there are notions in mathematics that cannot ever exist in reality, for example, an infinite set of events in the past and imaginary numbers.  Many of the notions that Dawkins and others assert regarding the origin of the universe and the existence or lack of existence of God, might appear as "good science" on the surface, but they fail miserably by philosophical reasoning.

While Dawkins may be the worlds leading atheist apologist, arguably the worlds leading Christian apologist is Dr. William Lane Craig.  Craig's book Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics is a staple in apologetics study.  Originally authored as a seminary text, it can be a heavy read, but is accessible to the layperson as well.  Craig's book is written with two main points to demonstrate: 1) How to we know that Christianity is true? 2) How do we show that Christianity is true.  Many Christians would agree that we know Christianity is true because the Holy Spirit makes itself known to us and is an a prioi truth.  This argument will not hold water with an atheist.  We also cannot argue "Because the Bible tells me so", as a some Christians who believe the Bible is the Word of God might be tempted to do; It's circular reasoning since the authority of the Bible is questioned by the non-believer.  Therefore, if we are to become instrumental in opening hearts to The Holy Spirit, we should consider meeting people where they are and show that Christianity is the most reasonable fit for the data.  Craig covers many rationale as to why God MUST exist, including reasoning in mathematics, cosmology, physics, philosophy and much more.  Again, many are prone to leading with the head and not the heart, therefore apologetics is a tool useful in reaching them.

A side note: It is interesting to me that Dawkins will not debate William Lane Craig.  He asserts that Craig does not have credentials beyond "being a good debater", which is patently absurd given Craig's resume.  Check him out on Wikipedia.

Back to the topic at hand:"Why does anything exist?"  If you've bought into the atheists' argument, I  ask that you look into the question and also consider philosophy offered by sources other than that of the atheists.  Even if you're a believer in God, this sort of study will indeed strengthen your faith.  We should listen to both sides of an argument before deciding what is true.  Even scientists have faith in something, even if it's an atheistic faith that there is no meaning, no purpose, no creator of the universe.  In short, I'm asking everyone to look deeper into their faith, question things, and seek deeper understanding.  We should never be afraid of The Truth, otherwise our faith will be shallow.

Let me leave you with the following source: The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe by William Lane Craig.

Blessings my friends,