Personal

 

Oct

28

2013

Trevin Wax|12:13 am CT

What You Should Say After Every Week of Work

I’m writing this post on a Friday. It’s been a frantic week, with a higher-than-usual number of meetings to attend, decisions to make, content to create, and people needing a response.

When I leave my office this afternoon, I will be leaving behind an inbox full of emails awaiting response.

There are editorial tasks I hoped to cross off my list this week. Unfortunately, they have risen in defiance of my careful agenda and have chosen to stubbornly persist into next week’s to-do list.

When I leave, I’ll have my laptop bag strapped on my shoulders, but it’s all the stuff I carry around in my mind that will weigh me down. The blogs to write, curriculum to edit, writers to enlist, the teams I lead, the contacts I need to make…

And like I do every week, I will whisper to myself as I walk out the door: And God saw that it was good.

Tomorrow’s Demands and Today’s Delight

It’s easy to get caught up in the tyranny of the urgent, the whirlwind of activity that keeps you from accomplishing all the tasks you’ve been assigned.

Pastors know what it is like to never be “off the clock.” Sunday’s sermon is always coming. Someone’s always in the hospital. There’s always at least one family in crisis mode. You fight the fires all week and when your head hits the pillow, the next day’s work is standing over your bed and staring at you.

Here’s where we have a choice to make. We must not let tomorrow’s demands diminish our delight in today’s accomplishments.

And God Saw That It Was Good

God didn’t have this problem. When He created the birds of the air and the fish of the sea, He didn’t respond at the end of the fifth day by saying, “So much more to do tomorrow! I’ve got so much left on the agenda.” No. God looked back before He looked forward. He saw that it was good.

I love how Sally Lloyd-Jones imagines the scene of God looking at all He made and saying, “You’re good!”

God delights in His work, one day at a time. As those who reflect His image, shouldn’t we also delight in what we’ve accomplished?

I’ve found that simply pausing and telling myself, “It is good” is one of the best ways I recalibrate my heart, celebrate the work I’ve accomplished, and entrust the results to God’s hands.

“It is good” doesn’t mean “it was all perfect” or “there’s nothing more to do.” It means I rest in the affirmation of a heavenly Father who has given me gifts and talents and commissioned me for His purposes. Because of His grace, I want to do all I can for King Jesus – to lay it all on the field, to die “spent” – with all my gifts and talents exploited to the uttermost for the kingdom of Christ.

I encourage you too, at the end of this week, when you look back and start thinking about all the things you wanted to do but didn’t have time for, when you ponder the improvements you hope to make, and the tasks that await you in the future, stop your list-making for a moment and celebrate the work you’ve done. And God saw that it was good. Try it.

 
 

Sep

16

2013

Trevin Wax|3:47 am CT

“Dad, I Think I Know All the Bible Stories Now”

I had to apologize to my son recently.

We were on our way to church one Sunday, and he said, “Dad, I think I know all the Bible stories now.”

“Really?” I said. “All of them?”

“Just about,” he replied. “And I know all the songs we sing in church too.”

“That should make it easier for you to sing along,” I said.

“I don’t know why we keep going over the same stories and singing the same songs. Don’t they think we’ve got it down by now?”

“I’ve been studying the Bible and singing songs for a long time, Timothy. And I get something new from God’s Word every week.”

By this time, we were getting out of the van and walking towards the worship center. That’s when he said, “I don’t think we need to go to church every week. Why don’t we just wait until there’s something new to learn?”

~~~~~

I mulled over that conversation the rest of the day. We discussed it over lunch. Timothy’s grandmother, visiting us from Romania, started telling him about how she was reading through the Minor Prophets again, discovering things she’d forgotten over time. My wife started asking Timothy questions about stories she knew he wasn’t familiar with.

Meanwhile, I was wondering if the fact our son is in a Christian home, Christian school, and a good, Bible-teaching church has somehow overexposed him to the Scriptures. He’s a 9-year-old with lots of Bible knowledge and entire chapters of the Bible memorized.

And then, it hit me. For months (maybe years), I’ve conditioned him to think that attending a worship service is all about learning. From our Saturday night prayers (“Be with us tomorrow, Lord, as we go to church and learn more about You”) to after-church conversations (“What did you learn in Sunday School today?”), our way of talking about church is predominantly educational. No wonder he thought we should move on. If church is school, then eventually, you graduate, right?

So, that night as I tucked him into bed, I apologized for not being clear on the reason we gather with other believers. “It’s not just about learning,” I told him. “It’s about worship. The learning is connected to our worship.”

“Is that why we sing the same songs?” he asked.

“Yes. When it’s easy for people to sing, they can concentrate on what they’re singing instead of struggling to learn a new song. Do you know how you like it when all the instruments fade away and you can hear everyone in church singing the same song as loud as they can – all of our voices harmonizing? That’s not about learning… it’s about worship. All of us together, worshipping God for how awesome He is.”

“We did David and Goliath today,” he said. “I already knew all about it. And the teacher left out the best part – when David used Goliath’s sword to cut his head off!”

“Yes, that is pretty cool,” I told him. “And you already know the story of David and Goliath. But the point of hearing the story again and again is not so that you learn more facts about the story. It’s that you are amazed again at God using a little guy like David to do something big for His people. That’s the way God is. That’s why we sing songs like, ‘How Great Is Our God’ in church, and ‘Glorious and Mighty.’ We are worshipping Him for what He has done.”

“I like those songs.”

“Me too. And next time we sing them, think about the story of David and Goliath, and how powerful God is.”

“So it’s not just about learning.”

“Nope. The church isn’t a class you go to, son. It’s a people you belong to. It’s about worship. I’m sorry, son, if I’ve made you think otherwise.”

 
 

Aug

27

2013

Trevin Wax|3:09 am CT

The Brainy Benefits of Being Bilingual

I remember the first time I read an entire book in one afternoon.

It was a few months after I’d moved to Romania. My experience of being totally immersed in Romanian culture and my daily exercises in learning Romanian grammar and vocabulary had begun to pay off. I was growing more conversational, though I was still a few months away from fluency.

One afternoon, I checked out Loving God by Chuck Colson from the library on campus, went back to my dorm room, and read 320 pages within the span of a few hours. Afterwards, when I put the book down, I remember thinking to myself, What just happened here? I just finished this book and I can recall what I read. I don’t ever remember being able to read this fast.

I tried it a few days later, with an English book that chronicled the Romanian Revolution. Same experience. Then again, with a novel. I probably read more that week than I had read in several months put together.

What had changed? I wasn’t sure, but I started to wonder if my ability to read quickly in English had something to do with my acquiring of another language.

The Bilingual Brain

I haven’t seen any data that links speed of reading in one’s native tongue with knowledge of another language. Last month, however, TIME featured an article by Jeffrey Kluger titled “The Power of the Bilingual Brain” that seeks to demonstrate how fluency in a second language produces a nimbler mind.

The article piqued my interest, particularly since my wife and I speak only in Romanian at home, and are raising our kids to be bilingual. Aside from the benefits of our kids being able to talk to their grandmother and aunts and uncles in Romanian, I’ve long suspected that there are other benefits to knowing more than one language. The article in TIME describes the most recent science and some surprising results:

Research is increasingly showing that the brains of people who know two or more languages are different from those who know just one – and those differences are all for the better. Multilingual people, studies show, are better at reasoning, at multitasking, at grasping and reconciling conflicting ideas. They work faster and expend less energy doing so, and as they age, they retain their cognitive faculties longer, delaying the onset of dementia and even full-blown Alzheimer’s disease.

Lest you think that it is simple a matter of bilingual people being smarter, the article goes on to point out that the issue is not related to intelligence, but the brain’s speed and agility:

A bilingual brain is not necessarily a smarter brain, but it is proving to be a more flexible, more resourceful one… It is the knock-on effects – not how the brain looks but how it functions – that argue most for learning additional languages, and it appears that the bilingual brain is simply more efficient.

The Bilingual Preacher

Charles Spurgeon, in Lectures to My Students, claimed that learning another language brought benefits in speaking:

The acquisition of another language affords a fine drilling for the practice of extempore speech. Brought into connection with the roots of words, and the rules of speech, and being compelled to note the differentia of the two languages, a man grows by degrees to be much at home with parts of speech, moods, tenses, and inflections; like a workman he becomes familiar with his tools, and handles them as everday companions.

Spurgeon then applies this insight to sermon preparation, not just sermon delivery:

Who does not see that the perpetual comparison of the terms and idioms of two languages must aid facility of expression? Who does not see, moreover, that by this exercise the mind becomes able to appreciate refinements and subtleties of meaning, and so acquires the power of distinguishing between things that differ – a power essential to an expositor of the Word of God, and an extempore declarer of His truth.

So, according to Spurgeon, the mastering of the biblical languages or the ability to speak another language fluently isn’t in translation work alone. Instead, the benefit is becoming more at ease with your own language the more you know how it works, and nothing shows you how your own language works better than learning another one.

Learn, gentlemen, to put together, and unscrew all the machinery of language, mark every cog, and wheel, and bolt, and rod, and you will feel the more free to drive the engine, even at an express speed should emergencies demand it.

Your Thoughts?

I’m sure there are readers of Kingdom People who know the biblical languages or who can speak Spanish, German, French, etc.

Has anyone else noticed a correlation between learning a new language and efficiency in reading or writing?

Those of you who have learned English as a second language, do you find your agility in your native tongue to improve as you get better at English?

 
 

Aug

05

2013

Trevin Wax|3:41 am CT

A Baby Changes Everyone, Not Just Everything

Last month, we welcomed David Kyler to the Wax home. He’s our third child, coming behind Timothy (who is 9) and Julia (who is 5).

Friends told us that having a third child wouldn’t be a major change for the family, since we’re already experienced diaper-changers and we’ve survived late night cryings and feedings. Regarding the unceasing interruptions that come with a newborn, our friends were right.

What did surprise us was the instant impact David’s arrival had on our other two children. It feels like we were given three children last month, not just one.

How can this be? Well, even after just a few days, we saw previously hidden aspects of our older two children come to the surface. We watched the way they responded and reacted to the baby in our home.

It was like our daughter Julia was more herself now that she was a big sister, not just a little sister. It moved me to see our son Timothy, a lego-building tough guy with little interest in babies, treat his brother with playful tenderness. Overnight, he went from being a boy who wants his own space to a brother who can’t wait to share a room with David when he gets bigger.

Watching our kids, we’ve been given a window into the nature of family and community. We are not lone individuals doing our own thing in this world. We are who we are because of the people around us. A baby brother has completed and fulfilled our other two children, enhancing the life of our family in ways I never expected.

C. S. Lewis, in a famous letter detailing his grief at the loss of his friend Charles Williams, wrote about something similar. He pondered how death not only steals away an individual, but takes something away from all our friends as well.

In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s [Tolkien's] reaction to a specifically Charles joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him “to myself” now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald…In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each of us has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest.

This is one of the reasons why life is such a miracle and why death is such a tragedy. New friends and children and coworkers add life upon life. Losing friends and family members diminishes us all.

What a great reminder about the importance of God’s people living in community together, loving each other through trials and celebrations, laughing and weeping together! A church split is not devastating simply because individuals go their separate ways, but because everyone is affected in multiple ways.

Likewise, a church on mission with people who love and laugh and admonish and disciple each other is a glorious foretaste of heaven, where we have more of each other, more of ourselves, and more of God through the power of relationships.

 
 

Jun

24

2013

Trevin Wax|3:52 am CT

Turning 32

Today is my 32nd birthday.

June is birthday month for our family. Timothy turns 9 tomorrow. Julia turned 5 eleven days ago. And we’re expecting a new arrival any time now (our son, David), which means next year won’t be any less busy.

There are two times a year when the calendar tells you to stop and take a good look at your life, to think about where you are and where you are going: New Year’s and your birthday. The annual rhythm is a reminder to number your days (Psalm 90), to enjoy the moments you have with those you love, and to give yourself to the mission and work God has called you to.

The Lord has been incredibly kind to me. The more I realize how undeserving I am of His grace, the more I am amazed not only that He saved me but that He also sustains me with so many earthly things that give me happiness. I am so thankful for Corina and the kids, the people I worship with at church, the people I serve with in all the different activities I get to be involved in, and the people I work with every day on The Gospel Project.

As the days fly by, the work can be intense. Parenting can be challenging. Serving can seem like a chore.

That’s why it’s important to slow down every now and then, breathe a sigh of contentment, and simply thank God for the days He has given us and rededicate to Him the days that remain.

I shouldn’t have to wait until my birthday to do that. Neither should you. So, do it today.

 
 

Apr

30

2013

Trevin Wax|3:08 am CT

Brace Yourself for Suffering: Lessons from a Broken Leg

A couple of weeks ago, my youngest brother, Weston, broke his right leg during a soccer game. It was horrible. He spent eight nights in the hospital and underwent four surgeries.

I arrived at the hospital shortly after he was admitted to the emergency room. The pain was so intense that Weston didn’t open his eyes while I was there. But we were able to talk. He was sweating and shaking. Even with medication, the pain was unbearable.

When the doctors came in to do the X-ray, we stepped outside the room. They had to move his leg into several positions in order to capture the images. For several minutes, we heard Weston screaming out in pain.

Moments later, when we walked back into his room, Weston was still shaking from the pain. But now, he was singing the Doxology: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” Later on, he sang Blessed Be Your Name: 

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name.

I’ve always sought to be a good example for my younger brother. But in this situation, he was the one teaching me.

In that brief moment, I caught a glimpse of the inexplicable power of joy in the midst of pain and sorrow. Weston confessed his trust in God’s work in his life, even when the pain was intense. He said he knew that every trial we go through is “Father-filtered,” meaning that nothing takes God by surprise. Every tribulation that comes our way is permitted by the God who holds our future in His hand.

Get Ready for Suffering Before It Arrives

As I watched Weston suffer in a way that brings glory to God, I was reminded of how important it is for Christians to prepare for the storms of life before they arrive.

Preachers like to say that people are in one of three stages:

  1. About to encounter suffering
  2. Going through suffering
  3. Coming out of suffering

If this is true, then we should prepare people for all three stages. Why? Because suffering well is one of the best ways we witness to our faith and joy in the Lord.

Good Examples of Suffering

A couple of years ago, Corina and I watched the Matt Chandler video curriculum on Philippians – To Live is Christ & to Die is Gain. In one of the lessons, Matt explained the power of joy in the midst of suffering.

While we were watching the DVD, we realized that, at the time of filming, Matt already had the brain tumor that would cause his seizure on the next Thanksgiving morning. He was already sick; he just didn’t know it yet. As Matt was equipping us to encounter suffering, God was equipping him. 

Last year, we watched the steady degeneration of my father-in-law as cancer laid waste to his body. During the trial, visitors often commented on was the way he prayed: Father, I thank you for the portion of health you’ve given me today. Before asking God to heal him, he would express gratitude for whatever health he had left.

In the last 24 hours as we sat next to his bedside, my father-in-law’s prayers became short and labored: My Father… My Father… My Father… with every breath. He was prepared for suffering, which in turn prepared him for glory. And we saw glory in his suffering.

The Suffering Class

No one wants to take the Suffering Class. We steer clear of studying about this subject. We don’t want that course checked off our list. We start thinking, If I’m prepared for suffering, God is going to send a portion my way! Better to ignore it and deal with it when it comes, right? 

Wrong.

Take the suffering class. Study what the Bible says about suffering. Don’t neglect Job, the psalms, or the words of the Apostle Peter.

Let’s prepare for suffering so we can be a powerful testimony to the grace and goodness of God in the midst of pain.

 
 

Apr

10

2013

Trevin Wax|3:36 am CT

5 Ways to Avoid the Drain of Busyness

I did too much in 2012.

Taking stock of my schedule and activities last year, I’ve come to the conclusion I overextended myself. It wasn’t one specific commitment that was out-of-bounds, but the combination of things I took on. I assumed these activities would demand less time and attention than they did.

From the launch of The Gospel Project, to my Ph.D work, writing two books, blogging daily, and juggling speaking engagements (not to mention the time I need with family), last year left me feeling overwhelmed and at the brink of exhaustion.

In 2013, I scaled back speaking engagements and “extracurricular” stuff. And I’m already feeling the difference.

Avoid the Drain

Busyness drains you of creative potential and saps the energy you need for ministry. We all need boundaries. And we tend to be more effective when we focus on doing fewer things well.

Here are a few practices I’m implementing in 2013 as I seek to be a better steward of my time and health. I’m not an expert on this by any stretch, but these practices have been helpful.

1. Consider Input, Not Just Output

With the arrival of smart phones, we are never really “off.” Our work continues long after we leave the office. The information deluge threatens to wipe out any time for reflection.

If you’re going to maximize your effectiveness as a writer or preacher, you ought to be purposeful about what info is coming at you. Don’t let the internet determine what you put in your mind. Read, study, and browse strategically. 

2. Beware of the Ping

In  The Accidental Creative, Todd Henry warns against the Ping:

The Ping is that little sensation that occasionally prompts me to check my e-mail or my social media accounts. It’s the impulse to mindlessly surf news sites instead of doing something productive. And as my number of options grew (turns out there is an app for that), the pull of the Ping became ever more powerful. The Ping wants to be my master. It wants to own me.

Here’s what happens when you let the Ping have control:

It’s more and more difficult for me to be fully in one place, to focus on what’s in front of me. I’m losing the capacity to think deeply about whatever I’m experiencing because I tend to gravitate to whatever feeds the Ping.

I’m not advising you to get rid of technology. But surely we can set parameters at home and at work as to how much we’ll allow ourselves to be driven by instant email, texts, tweets, and Facebook messages.

You don’t need your iPhone at the dinner table. You really don’t.

3. Recognize the exponential increase of energy needed for new tasks.

It’s the “little things” that add up. I learned this the hard way. Even the short amount of time needed for certain responsibilities can create a disproportionate drain on your energy.

When an opportunity or a request comes your way, never examine it by itself. Always look at it in light of all your other responsibilities. Every commitment you make affects the other commitments you make.

4. Consider the Trade Off

Every commitment costs something. Are you willing to make the trade?

One of the things I do not regret about 2012 was prioritizing my son’s soccer games. I’ve never heard a father later in life say, “I wish I hadn’t been so present for my kids.”

I was recently invited to do a series of lectures at a Bible college. I hated to turn down the opportunity because of my love for teaching and interacting with students. But looking at my calendar, I quickly realized that I would have to give up significant time to prepare. Not to mention the time away from family during the summer. It wasn’t worth the trade. Maybe next time.

5. Work way out in advance.

The best way to maintain the mental energy for your job or in your ministry is to take the long view. Work ahead of time.

Procrastination is a creativity-killer. While you may work well under pressure of time constraints, you won’t be able to consistently offer your best work if you proceed this way.

The benefit of working in advance is letting stuff simmer on the “back burner.” You become more alert to ideas and stories to incorporate into your sermon, potential blog posts, etc.

What about you?

What are some ways you maintain productivity in the midst of a busy schedule?

 
 

Apr

03

2013

Trevin Wax|3:28 am CT

4 Things to Remember During Unwelcome Work

The picture to the right was taken seven years ago this month.

Yes, that’s me along with a co-worker at Cracker Barrel. One of the managers put us in front of the fireplace and snapped a photo. Next thing we knew we were plastered all over Louisville as a recruitment tool to get more people applying for jobs at the restaurant Ed Stetzer calls – “a garage sale with food.” (And please, no cracks about violating child labor laws.)

I keep this “free job digest” in my office today. I’ve lived in multiple towns and worked in multiple places since then, but I can’t part with it. The picture takes me back to a tough 18-month period in which I was adjusting to being a former missionary and trying to survive seminary. It’s a reminder of the Lord’s faithfulness to us during a difficult, sometimes frustrating, season of life.

I never wanted to work at Cracker Barrel. I had business experience as an office manager, plus five years of international missions experience tucked under my belt.

But none of that mattered when the most pressing question was, How will you provide for your wife and son this week? Like many before and after me, I did whatever was necessary.

Some of you are in similar circumstances. Perhaps you’re no longer in ministry due to a bad church experience or budget cuts. Maybe you’re in seminary and just trying to get through your classes and stay financially afloat. Or perhaps you sense a call to full-time ministry in a church but the right doors haven’t opened yet. Whatever your situation, you’re doing whatever it takes to make ends meet, yearning for the day you can use your gifts full-time.

Let me encourage you. There are hidden blessings in unwelcome work, but you’ll have to remember a few things in order to receive them.

1. Remember that God has a plan, and He is still at work.

God’s plan wasn’t mine, and nothing reminded me of that truth more than encountering situations I didn’t anticipate and didn’t ask for. The work didn’t fit my vision of what I should be doing to use my gifts. But then again, God’s vision was different from mine. It’s different from yours.

I wonder if the only way Moses could learn the humility he was later known for was by milking sheep for forty years. Ever tried that? If you think milking a cow is hard…

God doesn’t love you for what you can do for Him. He loves you because you’re His child.

God’s promise to us isn’t that we’ll spend a lifetime of ministry on the mountaintop. The promise is that we’ll be made into the image of Jesus. Trouble is, there are a lot of valleys on the road to becoming like Jesus. So trust that He has a plan – not just for your foundation in ministry but for your formation as a minister.

2. Focus on your identity as a missionary, no matter what.

It’s silly to think that we have to be paid as a full-time staff person in order to be on mission. I had to learn this the hard way. After having spent a few years doing mission work overseas, I expected to find a job in a church fairly quickly. That didn’t happen.

Within a few months I went from having an ongoing ministry in several churches and a radio ministry in Romania to sweeping floors, taking orders, and cleaning salad dressing stains off the cabinets. I used to be a missionary, I thought.

Thankfully, there were other seminary and college students who worked at Cracker Barrel. Through them, God reminded me that I was still on mission.

From conversations in the break room to witnessing encounters with other employees, God reminded me: you are always My missionary. The same is true for you. The locale may have changed, and the tasks may be different, but you are still on mission.

3. Get used to serving when it’s hard and you’re heart’s not in it.

Looking back, waiting tables was one of the best ways God prepared me for local church ministry. I learned truths you don’t find in a seminary textbook.

Cracker Barrel doesn’t call their employees waiters and waitresses. We were “servers.” Maybe that was a way of keeping the term gender neutral, but I think it was intended to affect our mindset. We were supposed to view ourselves as servants.

There were many nights when that dimly lit restaurant was the last place I wanted to be. But through the experience, I’d pray, ask God to fix my attitude, and then I’d try to treat every guest – no matter how ornery, picky, or insufferable – like I’d want to be treated. I couldn’t make everyone happy, but I could do my best to serve.

Church life is sometimes the same way. You don’t always have a heart full of love for the people entrusted to your care. You need the practice of asking God to jumpstart the wires of your heart so that you’ll love with His love and serve with His heart.

4. Remember this is only for a season.

Perhaps the best thing to remember is that you will probably not spend the rest of your life in this “in-between” stage. Keep reading, keep serving, keep evangelizing, keep providing… knowing that the season won’t last forever.

Glean what you can from the difficult times, because the truths you learn in the valleys keep your feet steady on the mountaintops. There is a time for everything – even unwelcome work. Look for the hidden blessings.

 
 

Feb

27

2013

Trevin Wax|3:43 am CT

Why Does Death Still Surprise Us?

It’s been a few weeks now since we buried my father-in-law.

Though we’ve always felt the geographical distance between our family and my in-laws, it doesn’t compare to the distance that death creates. For years he was far away. But now he’s no longer within reach. And that’s what hurts so bad.

Grief is a funny thing. The sadness comes in waves, sometimes gently lapping at your feet throughout the day… other times, hitting you like a tsunami – a wall of water that crashes into your heart and leaves its mark in a tear-stained face.

In reflecting on our time of loss, I suppose what surprises me most about the whole thing is that death still surprises.

Strange, isn’t it? Aside from the one Man death couldn’t hold onto, everyone who is born dies. It’s that simple. And yet, we’re still shocked, surprised, and baffled when the moment arrives.

In the hours before Corina’s dad died, we knew his time was short. We could see the signs of imminent death approaching – the stiffening of the legs, the cooling of his hands, and the rattling of his breath. Death is an ugly thing, especially when it comes after a disease like cancer has ravaged the body.

Though we knew the end was near, when death arrived and my father-in-law departed, it still came as something of a surprise. Is it true? Is he really gone? How can this be? Just moments ago, we were shifting him around in his bed, hoping to alleviate any pain. Now, we are preparing him for the coroner. In a flash… death is in the room and life has disappeared.

No matter how much you prepare yourself, death still surprises.

Forget the worn-out maxim that “death is just a natural part of life.” Why try to suppress the surprise? Especially when everything in you screams, This isn’t right! This can’t be!

You’d think after thousands of years of observation, we’d be accustomed to death by now. But no… the love in our hearts doesn’t want to give death the last word.

Thankfully, we don’t have to.

The only thing more surprising than death is resurrection. It’s the future surprise that helps our hearts survive the present shock. The gaping hole in the ground that swallows up a body will one day be swallowed up by resurrection life.

Death’s victory is short-lived. Resurrection’s reign is forever.

And so, we grieve, but not as those with no hope. Winter’s chill may surprise us, but spring is coming.

 
 

Feb

06

2013

Trevin Wax|3:39 am CT

On the Death of My Father-in-Law

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. (Psalm 116:15)


On Monday, I wrote about the need to lean on the Lord for wisdom during difficult times. Today, I’d like to pick up where we left off and describe the passing of my father-in-law.

The Final Days

Corina arrived in Romania on Saturday afternoon (January 26). The joy of her reunion with her family was sweet. Using FaceTime on our phones, we were able to stay in constant communication. Whenever I talked to her and her family, I could see how much it meant to her father to have her home again.

Florin Trifan was never one to beat around the bush. When he found out Corina was on her way, he said, “She knows why she’s coming.” He knew he was dying – that it wouldn’t be long before he’d see the Lord. There was no tiptoeing around the truth.

When Corina arrived, the two of them had time for good discussion Saturday afternoon and evening. Her father took a few steps with his walker, but was unable to muster up the strength to do much more. On Saturday night, for the first time in months, he slept well.

On Sunday, I was still in the States with the kids. When Corina’s dad found out I would be preaching that morning, he insisted on having a time of prayer with Corina for me. Whenever he knew I was preaching, he would tell me, “You preach, I pray!”

At this point, we had a general idea of our plans. If my father-in-law passed, I would immediately get tickets for me and the kids to join the rest of the family in Romania for the funeral. The next day, all of that changed.

Sudden Trip to Romania

On Tuesday morning, Corina told me that her dad had taken a turn for the worse. His pain was increasing, and he hadn’t eaten anything since Monday. His hands and feet were swollen, and his voice was weaker.

We threw all our plans out the window. I knew deep down that Corina needed me, and so I bought the fastest ticket to Romania I could find. My parents agreed to take care of our kids. Within five hours, I had packed a carry-on bag and was on a plane headed to Newark, Zurich, and then Budapest.

On Wednesday evening in Romania, I arrived at my in-laws’ apartment. My father-in-law had lost so much weight that he barely resembled  the robust man he had been just a few years ago. With his sister-in-law and his wife holding him up, as he sat up in the bed, I kneeled in front of him and began to talk. Once he realized it was me, all he could say was, It can’t be true. 

That night, I sat next to my father-in-law as he lay in bed, and I read the Scriptures to him. I began with Romans 8. Though he was too weak to carry on a conversation, he was lucid enough to remember the words, and I could see his lips moving along with me as I read. He knew the chapter by heart. The only time he spoke was at verse 15: For you did not receive the spirit of slavery again to fear, but you have received the spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry… and before I could continue, he said out loud: Abba! Father! 

After reading Scripture with him, my father-in-law wanted to pray. He called the rest of the family into the room. With his two sons on both sides holding him up, he sat up in bed and we had a time of prayer together in which he blessed me and Corina and our family.

The Final Hours

Wednesday night and Thursday morning were terrible. The pain had increased to the point that my father-in-law was crying out with every breath. Whenever he spoke, he cried, Oh my Father… Sweet Jesus. We couldn’t do anything to ease his suffering, and the feeling of helplessness gripped everyone in the house.

After lunch, the nurse from hospice arrived and administered a small dose of morphine. My father-in-law’s pain gradually subsided, and he entered a semi-comatose state during the afternoon hours.

Not wanting to leave him alone in the room, I sat next to him and read a number of Scripture passages to him out loud. I chose certain psalms, Revelation 21, 2 Timothy 4, John 14, and 1 Corinthians 15. After the first reading, he quietly said, “Amen.” After the second, he was no longer responsive. Sensing he was still conscious, only unable to speak, I continued to read.

The Passing

Around 5:30 that evening, a close pastor friend of the family, Cornel Iova, arrived for a visit. He saw that my father-in-law’s state was worsening, and he encouraged us to gather around him in the room. We sang a couple of old hymns (“Suna Harfa Laudei Mele” – one of my father-in-law’s favorites), and then had a time of prayer.

Just before 6:00, as the sun was setting, we sang another hymn about heaven:

In ziua de apoi, cand vor fi toti chemati, 
Cand cei sfinti intalnesc pe Domnul lor,
Cand strainul v-ajunge in patria sa,
Lauda Domnului vom fi acolo.

The last verse included a line about Christ Jesus calling the saint to come be with the Lord.

By the time we’d ended the verse, we noticed that my father-in-law’s heavy breathing had subsided. His windpipe moved up and down a couple more times, indicating shallow breaths.

Bro. Cornel leaned over and took him by the hand and said, “Florin, you can hear us, can’t you? If you can, squeeze my hand.” Instead, my father-in-law opened his eyes wide. Cornel then replied, “We are all here,” and he listed off the names of every one of us gathered around his bed: Corina’s mom, brothers, Corina and me. And then, without sound or struggle, he closed his eyes and stopped breathing.

Like a candle being blown out, he was gone.

Afterwards

There were many tears in that room that night. We had another time of prayer of thanksgiving with the pastor, and then gently prepared my father-in-law’s body as we waited for the coroner to arrive and for the morgue to come and take his remains.

My father-in-law's Bible and his last sermon notes.

But in the midst of our sorrow, there was something so sweet, so precious about the whole scene. The moment of transcendence when a person departs to be with the Lord… it is something I will never forget. Corina’s father died the way he lived – with a prayer and a song on his lips.

On Friday evening, hundreds of people were present for a church service mourning the loss of Florin Trifan. On Saturday, hundreds more packed the chapel in the cemetery as we laid his body to rest. On Sunday, I preached a sermon he had begun but had been unable to complete.

Now, as Corina and I return to the States, we grieve. We will continue to grieve. But we take great comfort in the life he lived and the death he died, and the hope of resurrection we have because of the gospel.