Cynthia 11 months gone

I thought I was going to get through Christmas OK, until Elaine brought over a Christmas present that she had found while sorting, that Cynthia had planned for me: 4 new books, a note saying “for Tom – Noel” and the attached blessing. I shed quite a few tears that day . . .

It hit me hard, since it seems like she wrote it as a farewell to me.

I think she found it on the internet, since it’s written on the scratch paper that comes off our printer. I found it yesterday, under “I wish for you . . . comfort . . .”, it’s attributed to both Theodore Roethke and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

But Cynthia changed it to “I hope for you . . . “ as you can see. Then she added the prayer at the bottom, I found that on none of the internet versions. And what struck me was when she wrote “when you go on your way”: the other times she wrote prayers on cards for me, it was always “we” and “our”. It’s as if she knew that I would be going on alone . . . and going through a serious tribulation.

She sent me her hopes from beyond the veil, just like it says in Hebrews 6 . . .

When did she write it? It can’t have been too long after the sickness set in, because her handwriting looks perfectly normal and there are no errors. Was this another of those deep premonitions of her soon departure?

I didn’t want to write an 8-month-gone post and have people cry on Christmas . . . so I’ve waited until now.

Receive Cynthia’s last blessing, it’s for you too. And remember as you ponder the Resurrection in these days, it’s not just a past event, nor a future event, nor a doctrine. It’s a Person, and His Name is Jesus . . . and Cynthia is already there with Him.


See the attached link below:


Thanksgiving letter 7 months gone

For many years, I believe over 30, Cynthia and I sent out our annual letter around the time of the American Thanksgiving celebration in late November; and its theme was always thankfulness, what we were grateful for during the past year.  This year, nearly 7 months after her passing, I will write the letter by myself; but the theme is the same.

I am thankful for Cynthia’s life; she brought the life and joy of the Lord to so many people, in so many ways.  And I am so thankful that I knew her for 40 years, and that we were married for over 38  years.  And that her death was relatively quick, and that she is now free from pain and living in perfect light and love.

I’m thankful for Phil & Amy, and the steps of faith they continue to take.  They are doing so well together, and in the Lord.  I’m planning on seeing them, and several others of my family, in the USA in February and March.

I’m thankful for my God-given ministry, the joy I have in helping people back to hope, and helping them cast off their Cinderella rags and enter more firmly into their royal positions.  Working with young leaders is so fulfilling for me.

The tears flow less often now, although I still catch myself thinking, “I must tell Cynthia about this . . . .”  I’m thankful for the stages of grief, and that we move through them in the measured and stately way of the changing of the seasons.  The Lord made us so well.

I’m thankful for my life at this stage: my health is better than it’s been for years, my weight is going down, my energy levels are up, and I’m surrounded with affection.  I flow between my circles of covenantal love, invite myself shamelessly for meals and visits, and live each moment with an intensity and a clarity I have not known since I was converted over 41 years ago . . . .

The extroversion and desire for company continue to develop in me, and I not only cry more easily but laugh and shout more too.

“Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you.”
John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

               Prayer requests:

That I can finish my first book before the end of January 2013.  It’s doable, if you pray for me.  I have an increasing sense of urgency to get this done, the need out there is huge.

That I can have long-term housing that won’t change; the leaders of the Burtigny base are working with me on this project.

That I can continue to be a source of blessing to many.

And dear ones, I am so thankful for you.  Even though I have not been able to respond to you as well as I should have, I have been overwhelmed by your kindnesses.  May your Christmas season be the best one ever, and may you be “ever mindful of the Presence of the Lord”.

Cynthia 6 months gone

Cynthia Bench

Today, six months after Cynthia’s passing on, I took the geraniums out of her grave since frost is predicted for the weekend.  I repotted them and will move them to the cellar to overwinter, and they will bloom again next Spring.  Anouchka will put some winter plants in the grave tomorrow . . . going to the cemetery is still the hardest thing I do.

Below is a potpourri of things people have sent me over the past month, and a few of my random musings.

After I confessed my secret dancing last month, a friend told me about Lee Ann Womack and her song “I hope you dance”.  The version I like the best on YouTube is her original video, I love watching the toddler and her solemn big sister.  Of course Lee Ann is easy on the eyes, too.

Affection: hugs mean so much to me now.  They are healing.  Thanks to those in my circles of covenental love who know how to give and receive them – you know who you are.  “Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives.”  — C. S. Lewis

Link to hear my Harpenden GLG message in English:

Where to order my 16 September message in French at the Yverdon seminar:

After the stages of grief and the waves and waves of tears, my emotions are much more on the surface now, and I’m hoping that will continue to be the case . . . to my amazement.  My son tells me I’m sounding like a teenager!  And this just before I turn 65 in December.

I’m being more direct in my communication and teaching, not so diplomatic . . . I have less and less patience for foolish conventions, especially the Christian religious ones which are not found in the New Testament.  The Lord brings me such joy, His Presence is so manifest to me in these days.  Glory to His precious name.

“The weight of this sad time, we must obey; speak what we feel, not what we ought to say…the oldest has borne the most.” King Lear

Six different people have brought Richard Rohr into my life this year, and I am listening to some of his teachings.  Here is part of what one friend wrote:  “A few months ago, I read a book by a Franciscan monk named Richard Rohr – called Falling Upwards: A Theology for the Two Halves of Life. So far I have to say, he has done the best job of articulating a rationale, so to speak, as to why such difficult things happen.”

“When you get the choice to sit it out or dance . . . I hope you dance.”

I’m not going to sit it out . . . .

Cynthia left 5 months ago

Cynthia left us 5 months ago:

Francis Schaeffer said we should always start with the bad news, and end with the good.

So here goes with the bad news; and please fasten your seat belts because it’s not just bad, it’s brutal:

Everyone close to you is going to die.  Most will go peacefully we hope, but some will die in horrific accidents, some with wasting diseases.

And the Lord is not going to heal all of them, even though He could.

Why not?  Why does He not control every detail of everything on earth, and make it all better?

Because He set this world up for love, not for control; and as Jan Amos Comenius said, “There is no control in love . . .”

Love risks, and as the other old song says, “love hurts”.  Besides, He left us the job of making everything better, for all of Creation.

There are no guarantees on this earth; the guarantees are only in Eternity.  He indeed promises us eternal love and eternal life, but down here we have no contracts with the Lord; He owes us nothing, because He has already given us everything.

We need to remember how many times each of us have prayed, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven . . .” and not be surprised when His will is done, and not ours.  We blithely forget our prayers; but He does not.  He takes our prayers so much more seriously than we do . . .

As the old saying goes, Today is all we have, and it’s a gift . . . that’s why it’s called “the present”.

So here is some good news, there are some strategies for living that work for me:

The most important is to lean into the Lord (NB: best to have learned how to do this before the unthinkable happens . . .)

Read the book ‘Heaven is for Real’ if you haven’t already – Cynthia did

Laugh daily, through the tears if necessary (hang out with little kids, they laugh a lot more than adults do)

Watch at least one sunset a day

Eat all the Swiss chocolate you can

Adopt as many flowers as you can handle

Tend your relationships even better than your flowers, because they are your greatest treasures . . . they are the only things you can take with you into eternity.

Dance as if nobody’s watching (yes, there is one song that used to get me dancing when alone in my living room, and no, it’s not going up on YouTube, and no, I’m not even telling you which song it is)

Love all you can

Live as if there’s no tomorrow – because sometimes there isn’t, here on this old earth.

Bye now, I’m off to spend time with my flowers; but maybe I’ll put that song on and dance a little first, it’s been a long time since I’ve done that . . .

Cynthia left 4 months ago

Thanks again for praying for my health, I am completely over the shingles and am even back near my old energy levels; although I’m still on a reduced schedule because several have warned me that it can return if stress levels get too high.  I taught in 2 of our schools in Lausanne last week, and gave a seminar in Burtigny last weekend on the theme “Toward a New Reformation” based on lessons from 16th-century Geneva.  This week Maureen and her team are beginning our new Executive Master’s MA program with a group of mature students, so I’m spending time with them.  I know many since they are long-time leaders in our mission, so it’s fun for me to have them here.  Tuesday I taught them in my garden about Principles of Spiritual Development from the plant world.

Below is the poem that was printed in the program of Carolyn Gay Malmstadt’s memorial service last Friday; Jon found it in a file of poems that she had kept.  It is apparently quite well known, but I had never seen it; and I couldn’t find the author’s name, either.  But it was certainly written by someone who had walked through that dark valley of the shadow; and the last stanzas are a powerful encouragement for those of us who remain here below.

Blessings on you all,




I am home in Heaven, dear ones;
Oh, so happy and so bright!
There is perfect joy and beauty
In this everlasting light.

All the pain and grief is over,
Every restless tossing passed;
I am now at peace forever,
Safely home in Heaven at last.

Did you wonder I so calmly
Trod the valley of the shade?
Oh! but Jesus’ love illumined
Every dark and fearful glade.

And He came Himself to meet me
In that way so hard to tread;
And with Jesus’ arm to lean on,
Could I have one doubt or dread?

Then you must not grieve so sorely,
For I love you dearly still:
Try to look beyond earth’s shadows,
Pray to trust our Father’s Will.

There is work still waiting for you,
So you must not idly stand;
Do it now, while life remaineth-
You shall rest in Jesus’ land.

When that work is all completed,
He will gently call you Home;
Oh, the rapture of that meeting,
Oh, the joy to see you come!


Cynthia’s Mother is with the Lord

101 days after Cynthia left us, Carolyn Gay Malmstadt departed to be reunited with her husband, Howard, and her daughter Cynthia. While having dinner on Saturday evening with her son Jon, God called her home and she was released from her suffering here on earth.  I agree with Marie that they must have had an amazing reunion in Heaven, and we can be sure that Cynthia was insisting to the angels that she was going to organize the hospitality.

This event is actually an answer to prayer; ever since Howard’s passing in 2003, Carolyn talked of her longing to join him in Heaven.  We prayed increasingly, especially the past three years as her difficulties increased, that the Lord would take her quickly and painlessly.  Over three months ago she became too weak to talk much at all, and the past two weeks had difficulty in breathing.  But the Lord was faithful, and she went with no pain or protracted suffering, and did not have to spend a day in a hospital or nursing home.

Please do remember the family in prayer as this is another great loss; a beloved aunt of Cynthia’s passed away too, about the same time she did.  Pray especially for Cynthia’s brother  Jon who is alone in Michigan and has cared for his mom around the clock for many years.  Plans are in process for a memorial service and burial.

Thanks so much,


Cynthia left 3 months ago

Cynthia left us 3 months ago

Cynthia left us 3 months ago, today.
One of those moments hit me the other day as I read an email from a staff member asking if they could use an old refrigerator of ours that was sitting in storage, and I thought, “Of course, but I should just ask Cynthia”; and then immediately realized that I couldn’t, and that one thing she was not certainly concerned about any more was that old

Two different friends have received the same vision of her in Heaven, one in a dream and one during worship in church: she was dancing and twirling and saying, “I’m alive! And I’ve never been more alive!”
I really am happy for her, but another wave of grief washed over me yesterday, knocking me back like one of those big waves that hit Hapuna beach (Hawaii) during the winter. It brought back some of the head pain associated with the shingles, which had disappeared just 24 hours earlier. Anyway, I got through it, and the good news is that the case of shingles is healed, and the pain which had continued on is now gone as well – I’ve had no pain now for 48 hours. Thanks very much to all who prayed.
So I am feeling better but still fatigued and with low energy levels, which is normal they tell me. I’m doing some teaching, but almost no travel, and lots of gardening.
Another intercessor had a different dream which I won’t repeat in all the detail, but which ended with the understanding that the Lord was calling me to identify with Him as He had no bride either; and as He is comforting me He wants me to minister to Him in identification.
I have already had the privilege of identifying with Him in a very small way as the father of a prodigal son (except that He has millions of prodigal children); and also tasting of the amazing joy of Heaven when the prodigal returned. So I will accept this new dimension of worship, as have all of you who for one reason or another have no spouse and suffer because of that. And we will all perhaps better understand the passage in I Peter 4.12-13.
Last night we celebrated Richard’s 38th in their garden, with all the base staff, kids, dogs, and our 3 pregnant ladies. Cynthia had prayed for each of them to have children, she who so well knew the longing ache of wanting a baby for years. The Lord answered her prayers then; and life goes on.


Cynthia left 2 months ago

Dear Ones,
I had hoped to send out something cheerier on the 25th, the 2-month marker of Cynthia’s passing.
But my happier times are not yet here.
Driving into France for a 2-day seminar last Sunday, I started getting shooting pains above my right ear.
The seminar went well, but by Tuesday morning I had red welts all over the right side of my face, neck and shoulder, with swelling and discomfort.
I was driven straight to the dermatologist, who made room for me over her lunch hour; she immediately diagnosed shingles.
She has given me meds for it, which should start to lessen the effects by about Friday, and mostly cure it by Monday.
She told me that it’s caused by total exhaustion . . . which amazed me at first, because although I’d had less capacity, I still had the energy to do the things that bring me life, such as teaching, gardening, the kind of fellowship where you laugh a lot.
But I now realize that I had totally underestimated grief. I had thought my grieving was in the sudden moments of memory such as when I unfroze one of Cynthia’s banana breads for Andy and Ashley, then realized that aside from a few more jars of her jam made from my grapes, there will soon be nothing left here made by her hands. And the most intense moment, when I picked the first rose of June and brought it in with much joy . . . only to be thunderstruck with the realization that she was not there to share it with . . . and would never be back to share any of those kinds of moments with. (Although as she is presently enjoying the sublime roses of Heaven, we don’t have to be worried about her missing flowers.)
Alexis sent me a book on grief which put into words what has hit me so hard the past couple days: grief is a weight to carry. Just as I realized earlier that the love of God has its own massive density, grief has an ongoing weight which is heavier than what we feel physically. Grieving is not just those intense moments of memory which sweep over us and bring on the tears; grief is a weighty, ongoing burden which brings more and more fatigue, and then exhaustion. I realize now that my body knew I was grieving in ways that my mind did not perceive.
So now I will cancel more speaking commitments, and try to discipline myself to rest more.
In the meantime, I don’t like the shooting pains, nor the confusion in my thinking at times, nor being unable to keep commitments, nor being so weak, nor this weight on my soul.
But I am getting though this, stage by stage, by the Grace made available to me through your prayers.
Please pray that I’ll be able to let go of stressful things, even the good stress of things I like to do.
Thank you for understanding that I am totally incapable of responding to the hundreds of beautiful emails and cards you have sent.
Love to all,


Cynthia gone a month now

A month ago today Cynthia left this world. Two ladies from the village have planted flowers on Cynthia’s grave, and Anouchka and I will finish that planting with several more flowers after June 1st. Many have asked me to keep writing, a friend said he was encouraged by my posts that we didn’t pray badly, or insufficiently.
We were being prepared for her departure, without realizing it at the time:
* Already in November 2007 Hervé Guilloy, a prophetic friend from France, came to Burtigny and had a prayer for each of us. His word for Cynthia was something like this: ”You will not see the answer to many of your prayers . . .” This was a troubling word, and she mentioned it to a couple of praying friends; but as far as I know did not receive any more understanding about it.
* At the end of last year Philip and Amy felt that the Lord was showing them that there would be a big change for them this Spring, so they had already asked to be released from their responsibilities at the Salem YWAM base and were free to jump on the plane to get here quickly. * I had felt that a big change would come for me this year, but I had assumed it was linked to my turning 65 in December . . . and I had no intercontinental travel planned from May through October, which is unheard of.
* Cynthia had felt very strongly to spend the entire month of February in the Midwest, and had much good time with her mother and brother, as well as seeing my mother and youngest brother, our dear friends Dave & Barb Opperman, and her sister Alice and brother-in-law Phil who flew out from California. And then she left that note in her nightstand about the songs she wanted sung at her funeral . . .
No dear ones, we prayed well, and we prayed enough. The One who numbers the hairs on each of our heads had seen that one maverick molecule on that one gene, and warned us ahead of time. And He decided not to answer all those prayers we prayed, but to allow the illness to take its terrible course . . .
I am happy that Cynthia is eternally relieved from the ever-increasing pain she was living in, from arthritis, sciatic, and allergy headaches; many nights she could not sleep because the pain was so bad, and she was going to have to greatly reduce her beloved gardening this year, which would have been very hard on her. The doctors couldn’t seem to help, either.
When we pray for healing we must realize that one way the Lord answers is to grant eternal healing . . .
Now Cynthia is running pain-free through the meadows of Heaven, singing “The hills are alive with the sound of music . . .” unless she has found some celestial songs by now that she likes even better; although that is difficult to imagine. And as our godson John wrote after her passing, “If Heaven can be a brighter place, then it is.”
Thanks so much for all your prayers and written messages of sympathy – I used to think that “overwhelmed with kindnesses” was just an expression, but it is my reality. So many have done so much for us . . . I have begun teaching again, that helps. So do my flowers.
Philip and Amy left last weekend to attend a YWAM seminar in England and are being well ministered to there; they are planning to go to Kauai in the Hawaiian islands this summer to staff a DTS.
The Lord is faithful, and His mercies endure forever. Tom from Burtigny

Cynthia’s forget-me-nots

The pink and blue flowers in my round flower bed are myosotis, whose common English name is forget-me-nots. Cynthia loved seeing them in the Spring, and the cheerful way they multiply to try to take over the whole garden. Now she has passed “from the land of the dying into the land of the living” (C.S. Lewis).

No Cynthia, we will forget you not, even those who only met you once never forgot the experience, as many are writing and telling us about.

She did many things well, and two of them were hospitality and traditions. Ask Celia about the times Cynthia served After-8 chocolate mints after a meal, but announced that we couldn’t actually have any until after 8 PM. Any guest who thought she was kidding immediately found out that she wasn’t!

So we are continuing one of our traditions, that of inviting the Burtigny staff over into our garden once in the Spring and once in the Summer. That will happen tomorrow at 5, with the help of Phil & Amy, Steve & Marie, and Matt and Celia.

Many ask how I’m doing . . . the tears come at completely unexpected moments, but the grace is always there. Another of the plants in my garden is rue, which the English medieval church called “the herb of grace”. I offer a tiny bit to visitors, so they can know what grace tastes like . . . some, newer believers, expect it to be sweet. But the grace of rue has a very bitter taste . . .

Another image for the grace I’m living on is the water which runs from the spring up on the hill down to supply some of the YWAM buildings, including our apartment. It’s not visible, but it’s clear and cold and always dependable. Every time I need it, it’s there; and it sustains me.
The Lord is good . . . all the time.