Nabeel, faith and noes.

Nabeel Qureshi was a most educated youth minister.  Most never attend med school, maintain the years of A’s it takes to get and stay there, and they don’t face proliferating possibilities like Nabeel faced.  He wrestled to be a doc on three continents, to retell his conversion from Islam on six continents, and encourage this newest generation’s dreams.

I suggested he write a book.  To keep it simple.  To reveal his story as a form other Muslims could follow simply.  Not easily, but distilling complex questions into simple steps Nabeel took to follow God, Allah, he thought.

He grew into a warrior.  I watched postings to YouTube and the web and laughed aloud, “Be the first on your block to merit your very own fatwah!”

Then Nabeel was married, having a beautiful child and dying of stomach cancer as Muslims cheered wildly at life’s cruel judgment.  I prayed God to heal him.  I posted one such prayer to this blog.

God said, “No.”

People apologize for God, and bend the light on the matter saying, “God healed him, He just healed Nabeel by taking him to heaven.”  Touching sentiment.  God said, “No” to healing Nabeel and extending his impact here.  Nabeel died.

How does faith look after that?  For Nabeel, watch his haunting YouTubes on our hope in Christ out of this world into the next.  Beautiful.  Courageous.  Faith-filled.  Watch them.

For me it’s a gut kick.  Worse than watching your college team get man handled by a 3A high school squad.  Having been injured to the point of dying, I know that if I choose who prays for me, I want them praying for me like I’d pray for me to live.  If you hide behind, “whatever is Your Will, Father” in some non-invested theologically secure place, then save your breath.  No one knows if those prayers get answered.

Yes.  It’s harder to pray like cheering for your team, like cheering for mom if she’s sick.  Yes, the let downs are harder, but prayers uttered in wildly cheering faith is what I hope for if it is me, my child, my wife.  Those answers stiffen your prayers for decades.  Will you ride with me?

When we get off, finally, on the other side, I’ll introduce you to Nabeel.  He cheers from the other side now, see?


Jodie almost died, again

It had been a long time: eleven years.  It had been eleven years since Jodie almost died.

Consider eleven years.  ISIS arose to prominence and to have many of its heads cut off.  Ossama was executed and buried at sea.  Barak Obama served as president between Bush and Trump.  Countless stars fell from their orbits passing into eternity … some at their own hands, others of natural causes.

Jodie finished high school, worked on a guest ranch, dated a few guys, became beautiful, began a career at her dad’s place, and had a profound impact for Christ on many young people passing through her home, her church, and her life.

And I could almost forget.  Forget the doctor’s warning quietly to Greg and Mitz that should Jodie live to age 12, she would have exceeded almost all expectations.

I could almost forget that each sibling and every pet, not to speak of mom and dad arose in the nights at some prodding, to find her cratering at the onslaught of brittle diabetes.

When life is too horrible, when countries fall down insanely seizing and killing any within them, when children enter life addicted to opiates, and other news drones on during CNN; I tend to move on from Jodie, who could simply slip away in a night.

I prayed for her Thursday night before bed, but did not call Mitz and Greg because, I tend to move on from all the hard and frightening things because I cannot hold them all before me all the time, all night, much less all day.

I hate things I cannot fight in this world.  I pray for them, against them, and I feel frustrated that they remind me I don’t have an answer for everything.  I don’t have a solution for everything.  And Jodie or I could either one slip into the night tonight.

So I rely on a bit of forgetfulness.  I rely on a lot of faith to move on, to move forward.  And I must remember, what an astonishing gift every day for Jodie since age 12 has been.  Every hour.  Every minute.  And see?  I seem to have as hard a time holding all that wonder before me all the time as all the unanswerable, frightening things.

So I hold a smaller number of things before me than I pray for in the morning, and make my way through my day with forgetfulness, and faith, and Hope.  All gifts from One with a hole in His hand, as if He knew how few things I can hold in my attention all day and get anything done.

Nursing Your Emotions

I was so impressed that you decided to go to a counselor, friend.  To realize that you are “the happy medium” in emotions, but that you have placed guards against too much of either the highs or the lows is tricky.

It took courage to go see a counselor or therapist and find why you guard against too much emotion.  I have yearned for you to see, feel, immerse yourself in some experiences for years.

I never told you that when I was eleven or so, I would crank dad’s media system down in the library to blast the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky.  I would close my eyes and slip  into the sound stream to direct the orchestra — and be overcome.  I might barely be able to concentrate on the different pieces’ entrance in the restatement as tears welled up from deep inside.

I held to times from camps when God seemed to infuse the moments and something in the music or sermon or a quiet time with sealed orders up on a cliff overlooking the lake would sweep me away.

When Anna Cavalier died after our first date at 16, within an hour of having seen her, that pain swallowed me.  But that pain taught me a lesson I have used with grieving people all of my life.  I tell them how rich they are to have loved so deeply that they feel torn, bereft, shattered at the absence of the deceased.  I have spent that pain at her loss over a hundred times into others’ tears and bereavement, and there again, the courage to walk into another’s deep emotion draws on skills to keep the leather over your heart, but once in a great while, I have had no finer gift to another brother or sister than to share tears.  I find wisdom and eloquence cheaper, but wading and sharing the grief has a more profound impact for Christ or their sanity or whatever is important at the moment.

So let the God who stirred David to write the Psalms that grip us, Isaiah who wrote the stunning grief at what was coming and unshakable hope of what would follow restore the emotions, restore their ability to teach you life, and life more abundantly to you, my dearest friend.


Continental and Service and Death

I noticed that Continental merged with another entity which caused me to wonder about one particular agent, and how she is faring. 

Twelve years ago she was the manager of Continental’s presence at Beaumont, Jefferson County Airport.  

And she was at the desk when I walked up and placed my ticket before her.  

Thirty minutes before I had knelt beside the bed of my father which we had set up in the living room.  For the last ten days my two sisters and I had ridden the roller coaster of emotions up and down, far and wide as my father was finishing his walk through this world.  

Each of us had last conversations with dad before he descended into unconsciousness.  I watched him a few nights before as he lay in bed, obviously walking through a room somewhere else pointing, gesturing, hugging not a few people — my older sister BJ and I rapt in attention.  Invisible to him where ever he was.  

And thirty minutes before placing my ticket before her I had prayed with dad, releasing him from duty, thanking him for courage, Christ, working it as well as he did for us.  And telling him he could go Home now.  Then I hugged my sisters, walked out to the car, and mom drove me to the airport.  It was Friday, and I would need to preach on Sunday.  

So this twenty something woman took my ticket as they called my name over the Public Address system.  I told her I was Tom Westbrook.  She quickly put a phone up for me and my younger sister, Mitzi, was on the other end weeping and telling me dad had passed.

i asked Mitzi, “How long ago did he die?”

While Mitz told me, “Five minutes after you prayed,” the Continental woman took back my ticket, and whispered, “Same flight tomorrow?”  

I nodded “yes” as Mitzi told me the particulars.  

My ticket slid back under my elbow of the hand holding the phone, and the Continental woman was sprinting out to catch the luggage cart before it got to the plane.  She wrestled my bag off in a heartbeat and lugged it back in and pushed it across to me —

All before my Mom walked up from hearing the page outside as she got back in her car after hugging me good bye.  She then hurried up to me to find out —

I was able to scoop up my ticket and bag and Mom while she wept and get her back to the car so we would be able sense Dad as he made a last pass by the airport he loved to fly out of so very, very much when he was at the controls.  But that is another story.

We held each other back at the house, called the funeral home and police and we knew all of them and they were so helpful.  

She was not there the next day.  When I walked up to the ticket counter and asked for her, she was off for the weekend, but they had her business card.  I had to settle for writing her story to Continental and insuring it went in her file.  

No one can train people that well, but one can be smart enough to hire that sort of soul and put her where she can serve other people with a genius and intuition so powerful, you feel as if God put that person in your path at your most vulnerable and broken moment — as a great kindness. 

I still have a soft spot for Continental and whoever they have become, and that would be called loyalty.  If only for one three minutes of service at a critical moment of my life.  

The flight out the next day was stunning as the sun broke through for the first time in days as we climbed out toward Daisetta Hull Omni radio beacon.  I knew that from flying with dad.  

I was on the flight because she was that fast and that good and that kind.  May we all be that for someone at some time when they need us to be so.