Posted in Faith

Promise Fulfilled

In the beginning, GOD created the Heavens and the Earth (Genesis 1). He wasn’t alone in the process. He was beside Jesus Christ (as John 1 affirms) and the Holy Spirit who was hovering, ready to breathe LIFE into the creation. This proves the Trinity was present, yet One (Psalm 104:30, Job 33:4, Colossians 1:16).

As God spoke, things BECAME. Things came into being that had not previously existed. And as He said them, they were.

And after God created light, atmosphere, land and vegetation, He went on to fill the sky, waters and land. And finally, in the midst of the Garden of Eden, which had a river that divided and became the Pishon, Gihon, Tigris and Euphrates rivers, He created man.

This man was created with a formed body, mind, heart, soul, and spirit. His form wasn’t alive until the Lord God breathed into Adam’s nostrils to give him life (Genesis 2:7). And he was not a robot. He wasn’t designed to take and follow orders. Adam would make choices throughout his earthly life to either deviate from instruction, or obey out of love. This is, in fact, an act of love from our Creator. Knowing some will reject and deny Him, He still created and sustains their lives today.

God formed man from dust, and placed him in the Garden of Eden to share the responsibility of maintaining His space. The garden was protected and secure. It had vegetation and trees bearing fruit that would sustain the man and animals. God saw that even after allowing Adam to share in the creativity of naming animals, it wasn’t good for him to be alone. One might say, “He wasn’t alone, he had a zoo in the garden with him.” But God meant that there was no one like Adam that would be relatable to him. And the Lord stated to Jesus and the Holy Spirit that it wasn’t good, Adam would need a helper.

Out of man, while he was in a very deep sleep, God created a woman, and not just as a separate being with His words. Woman was formed from the rib of Adam that the Lord took while Adam was asleep. Her body and form was different from Adam and she would complement him in a way he wouldn’t yet understand. She was originally a part of him, and formed from him. When Adam awoke from his sleep, he was overjoyed! After naming animal after animal, he saw that there was a being that was like him!! And he was grateful as his words describe in Genesis 2:23 state.

I’m unsure of the timing between Genesis 2 and 3, but in the Holy Bible, the Fall comes rather quickly. The woman is deceived by a serpent in the Garden. All he asks is, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?'” When reading in Scripture the original discussion between God and Adam (the woman wasn’t yet created), God told Adam that he could eat from any tree in the garden (Genesis 2:16), “…but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, you should surely die.”

Whether Adam shared the exact words of God with the woman, and how, we don’t know. But we do know that her response was not what was asked. She stated that they were not to eat of the tree, nor touch it, or they would die. And the serpent was quick to lie, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Doubt.

Immediately, the woman was considering that if she won’t die, what is the harm in knowing good and evil? She looks at the fruit which is pleasing to the eye (isn’t all sin?) and believes for the first time that God might not have been truthful with her. So she eats of the tree. And gives some of the delicious fruit to Adam who doesn’t hesitate or correct, refuse or knock out of her hand.

Immediately and together, they went from complete union with their Creator, to their eyes being opened. We’re unsure where the serpent goes, but they knew they were naked and tried to cover themselves with fig leaves.

And God walked through the garden, and as He approached them, they hid. Why would they hide from their Creator? Why would they clothe themselves when previously their forms hadn’t included shame? Because sin had entered the garden. Death was now imminent for them and all of humanity.

In the next few moments, God calls for them, they hide and eventually reveal that they hid because they knew they were afraid. This passage makes sense to us because even as children, when we knew we’d be caught for something and there was no way to cover it up, what is the first thing we do? We hide. As if that solves the problem. But the intricate detail of hiding here and something to note of significance, was that this was something our ancestors would never have done. Until this moment, they had been in perfect fellowship with their Creator. The bond was broken, and God knew it.

He asked questions to invite them to repent, to participate in owning up to what happened, but immediately God is met with blame and accusation by both parties involved. The serpent is never asked what happened. God is fully aware and now, as a result, there must be punishment for what has happened.

This is the first time we see God extend grace instead of complete destruction. And as He offered Adam and the woman (she’s not named Eve until after the curse) time to explain what happened, He showed His patience. He does the same with us. He waits for us. He allows us time. He knows we want to cover up our sin and not address it, but the fact then remains the same now: Sin must be dealt with. And while God would’ve been justified to allow them to have to pay for our own sin, He had another idea.

God begins His response to their disobedience and He starts with the serpent:

“Cursed are you, above all livestock and all wild animals. You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers. HE WILL CRUSH YOUR HEAD and you will strike his heel.

GENESIS 3:14

Did you see it? The declaration from God above that a plan is already in place?

As God delivers the punishment to the serpent, He states that Death is coming for the serpent who brought sin into the world by tempting the disobedience of God’s created humans. God will send a Deliverer and though the serpent would strike repeatedly to try to defeat this person, the Deliverer will deliver the FINAL BLOW. He would not just wound the serpent but He would CRUSH HIS HEAD.

Throughout Scripture, we learn so much: about our history, about those who went before us; we see their sins laid bare in the text. We aren’t looking at humans who did better than us, we see humans who made choices: either to serve God and follow Him in relationship, or reject being His creation and therefore create their own lives with consequence. This has not changed in over 6000 years. It is true of all of us today.

Where humanity is given a choice to be lorded over with love, or have self-rule, because of sin, humans choose power for themselves. And there is a consequence. Scripture explains that the place or state of Hell was created for the devil and his angels. The devil has followers who believe his lies, and desire power for themselves. They have access to humans today to influence, breathe lies and tempt. And humans EVERY SINGLE DAY still have the choice to allow the temptation to become sin, or override it with righteousness and say no. But apart from God, we will stand in our sin and be sent to Hell.

Don’t believe me? Think everyone is good until proven guilty? We are not good people who become bad. We are bad people who only have hope for goodness through God. Scripture states we are conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5). Through the bloodline of our parents, sin is passed down. So there’s no hope to be sinless at birth. We already are infected without cure.

Scripture tells us that only God knows the hearts of humans (1 Samuel 16:7) and we are more sin sick than we realize.

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

JEREMIAH 17:9

So what was God’s plan in the Garden? Temptation presents two options EVERY time – obey it, or reject it. Sin is the act of agreeing with the temptation and not slaying it. And sin is rebellion against God.

We see in Genesis 6 that God was grieved after sin took over. Multiple marriages took place, women were treated as lesser (part of the curse for the woman for her part in the eating of the fruit – Genesis 3:16b), unrestrained anger caused murder, shame and lying. It grew and grew, and God sent the flood. He allowed eight people to begin again (Noah and his family). Again this is another act of grace on the part of God – He could’ve wiped out humanity wholly, but His plan was already in motion.

God’s words through human authors throughout Scripture give us the lineage of humanity, lists of genealogies for the purpose of explaining the line for the Messiah, the Promised Deliverer. Eve’s sons were not the Deliverer as much as she had hoped, but through one woman, He would come. And throughout the Old Testament, we see types of Christ, moments where the Promise is not forgotten and clues to who He will be. Hope is passed down from generation to generation – praying for deliverance from sin.

And finally, in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, we see God send an angel to a young virgin named Mary. The angel explains God has chosen her and promises her that she would be the mother of the Messiah. She accepts the role, and even in the face of disgrace at not being married, carries the child to term and gives birth to Jesus. Joseph, Jesus’ human father, stays with her and protects her and Jesus (among other children) at the Lord’s leading.

At the age of 30 years old, Jesus begins a public ministry: teaching counter-cultural truths regarding who the Father is and who HE is. He ruffles the feathers of the religious, stirs the hearts of the ungodly, and teaches the masses who earnestly seek Hope and Restoration. He begins to open eyes of the blind, heals the sick, brings to life those who have passed on, all at their appointed times. And as He preaches Hope, the religious and political leaders see power slowly slipping away. They cannot have upheaval and unrest. Something must be done.

A plot to kill Jesus forms, and secret meetings take place among religious leaders and political leaders. They cannot allow this man to create hope and cause a rising up against Rome! Judas, known as the Betrayer, never decided in his heart that Jesus was the Messiah. He walked with Jesus as one of His disciples, heard him, was certainly intrigued by him, but never declared Him to be who He truly was. And when the opportunity presented itself to make money by turning over the one most feared, he agreed to the sin in his heart.

Crucifixion was a nasty way to die. As Jesus was finally arrested and found guilty by the crowd screaming, “Crucify Him!”, God’s plan was still set in motion. Remember, Jesus is part of the Trinity of God. He was fully God at the time of Creation, and yet fully man when He was born of the virgin Mary. His part in fulfilling the Promise of Redemption for humanity would take Jesus agreeing to it and going through with it.

Consider Jesus as Paul writes to the Phillipians:

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

PHILIPPIANS 2:6-8

Jesus endured the cross, because God had chosen THIS to be the plan to redeem humanity. Were there other ways this could be accomplished? Certainly! But we are not God. He designed the only way for complete redemption and punishment of sin to be the dying of SELF in the form of Jesus. And Jesus out of love for God and for us, went through with it.

Jesus died a human death by way of Roman crucifixion and was laid in a tomb offered by Joseph of Arimathea. Soldiers had pierced His side, and in another way of fulfilling prophetic Scripture, did not break His legs before retrieving His body from the cross. He breathed His last, an earthquake shook the ground, dead people came out of their graves, the temple curtain was torn from top to bottom, and Jesus died.

If this was truly the Messiah, where is the crushing of the head that was promised? Where is fulfillment of Scripture and redemption for those bound by sins’ chains?

In Matthew 27:62, the chief priests and Pharisees went to Pilate, afraid that Jesus would do something out of the ordinary. They reminded Pilate that Jesus said He would rise again after three days, so they had been given permission to secure the tomb, in fear that it might happen. And even amidst their attempts to keep Jesus dead, the unthinkable happened.

The crescendo of our Lord’s perfect plan begins at dawn of the first day of the week.

As Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (followers of Jesus) went to look at the tomb, they arrive to find it open and an angel sitting there! The angel reassures them not to be afraid and states, “He is not here; HE has risen, just as He said!” The women rush off to share this news! He is ALIVE!! He died, but He’s been given breath again! And because He lives, He promises those who believe in Him the same eternal life.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

JOHN 11:25-26

So much of Scripture builds toward this moment.

As the Lord begins His story to us in the Holy Bible and the Torah, by teaching us of our origin and our swift decline into death through sin, He presents an opportunity for us to be restored. He promises a Messiah, a King who will defeat the sin that holds us here on Earth, and promises an end to all decay and death.

At Christmastime, we celebrate the birth of Jesus, because we know God kept His promise to send a Messiah, but friends, don’t miss the significance of Easter!

Without the resurrection, where is our Hope?

Jesus was promised since the beginning of Creation, to be the One who will one day destroy all sin and death. He was promised to CRUSH THE HEAD of the serpent, who will no longer have control over us, will no longer be able to tempt us with thoughts, images or ideas, will no longer be able to lead us down the path to eternal death in Hell. By Jesus’ death and resurrection, He defeated the serpent and crushed its head!!

Though Jesus remained on the Earth after His resurrection, Paul records the following:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

1 CORINTHIANS 15:3-8

Before the beginning of the literal church, Jesus commissioned His disciples and was taken to Heaven, where He sits at the right hand of God.

Revelation 1 is the beginning of a prophetic work from John while exiled on Patmos. An angel shows John a vision of a “son of Man” who is clothed in a robe, with a golden sash around his waist, his hair white as snow, his eyes like blazing fire, his feet bronze like a furnace, his voice like rushing waters.

Our Savior, will return to Earth again, and when He does, it will not be like the first time. The next time He comes, will be for judgement of sin on the Earth and its inhabitants, which means you, me and every human being ever created.

Without the shed blood of Jesus covering us, we will be exposed before God with all of our sin and we will have to give an account of every rebellious thought and action. I tremble just thinking of what I deserve. The Day of the Lord is real, and imminent.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

MATTHEW 25:31-46

We will all be judged and it really will boil down to whether we heard the Gospel and believed, or rejected Jesus and want to stand in our accolades. The Scripture above shows the depth Jesus went to save and reverse the curse of sin. All we have to do is believe that God sent the Promise and believe that Jesus is our sacrificial lamb, the One who stood in our place. Because He lives, we have the same gift from God offered to us.

God, Our Creator and Heavenly Father, made a way to live eternally with Him.

Will you choose Him? We all have been given a CHOICE.

Posted in Faith

Life and the ability to reflect on it

The lights above, the beds beside, the smell…oh goodness, the smell.

It was the first time she had ever been admitted to a hospital. She had been there in the past, to visit others – mostly those who were on the verge of parting this life or recovering from a surgery. Never for herself. She was young and healthy.

That is, until three days prior, when the vomiting wouldn’t stop and the fever kept escalating. Denied by her physician’s office due to high volumes of flu patients, and told by the receptionist that her abdominal pain must have been the result of leaning over a bucket and “straining during vomiting”, the pain just kept getting worse until she was doubled over to walk.

Her frustrated mother was insistent that she was seen by her physician. Miraculously, one phone call later, a visit was possible, and after the direct examination by the doctor, and the guttural yell that erupted from her stomach at being palpated, his diagnosis was swift: appendicitis with emergency surgery as the only option.

And here she was. Freaked out because everything happened so fast. Her brother drove her to the hospital, her mom got the message FROM the hospital that she was being admitted, Dad was on his way, and her older sister was going to a holiday party, so a voicemail was the only communication possible. She cried through most of the message, wondering if she’d ever see her sister again. What if she didn’t make it??

She sat in the room (a four-person room, since she currently was self-pay), and listened to the noises from the hallway. Her brother sat with her and kept her calm. Nurses began to come in, wheeling carts, asking personal history questions and having her change into a gown (seriously, open in the back!?).

Having just started a job in medical billing months beforehand, she recognized the questions as those asked during triage, and then she began to realize she was a patient and this would be her home for the next few days. All of that began to make her feel comfortable, however the timing couldn’t have been worse – she had plans for tomorrow!

The next day would be her 21st birthday, and she was set to return to Rockne’s Pub in Brooklyn, Ohio for a proper first official birthday drink with the owner, who had become a dear friend (she had worked for him for three years – starting there at age 16). As the noise of voices and bells rang in from the hallway, she could see those plans drifting away…far, far away. Tears caught in her eyes and she fought the urge to cry.

The pain in her abdomen kept increasing, and finally after two hours, both parents had arrived. Hugs and then rushed updates from the daughter ensured they knew the urgency of the situation. She reached out to her boyfriend to let him know that she was more sick than they had realized (the vomiting had started while visiting him on Thursday – it was now Monday evening!). A week before Christmas…what in the world was happening??

Then came the rapid trip to radiology for a CT scan to determine the severity of the situation. After vomiting one last time in the radiology room, and feeling so embarrassed, a radiologist opened the door to the viewing room and told her that it appeared she didn’t have long to live. To which she responded, “Well someone had better wheel me to surgery then!”

Her father was cracking jokes in the elevator – probably to keep her calm, and to let the nurses and staff know that laughter really IS the best medicine. Heading back up to the room that she would remain in for a week, she allowed the truth of that statement to sink in – she didn’t have long to live. Her appendix was trying to kill her.

The surgeon came in, explained that the procedure would be laparascopic and wouldn’t take long. Someone had gone home to get a few of her personal belongings, because she was allowed to keep her Curious George stuffed animal with her through the surgery and would be out shortly.

She remembered praying with her parents and asking them to bring some Max Lucado books. She had started reading his books and found much comfort in them, so now would be a good time to read – and definitely something positive.

The last thing she remembered was the weights being put on her ankles and feeling the coldness of the surgical table. The surgical staff asked what her plans HAD BEEN for her birthday – clearly she wouldn’t be attending any events the next day. Countdown from 100…99…98…97…

She woke up. Time had passed but she was unable to tell.

Curious George had a Band-Aid across his stomach and she had a rather large bandage across her abdomen as well. When the surgeon came back to her room to update her, he explained she had appendicitis with peritonitis, and her appendix had burst days earlier. Toxic poision had been in her body for a few days and she was very, very sick as a result. She was going to have an NG (naso-gastric) tube placed in the morning to remove the poison and would most likely be in the hospital until Christmas!

“I’m sorry, what?!” she replied.

“We will have to reevaluate you daily, as we know that date would be best spent at home, however we have quite a situation with you and want to ensure you are properly healed before going home.”

Those words became her motivation. If they wanted her home by Christmas, so did she! She asked her parents for a watch (the wall clock was at an angle she couldn’t see), so that she could get up and move around on the regular.

Each day, she would wake up early, and slowly move out of her bed. She would grab for the IV pole and make her way around the floor. The first day it took her 25 minutes to complete the route. And every hour, on the hour, she would walk. The next day, only 20 minutes. She got better, and she got faster.

The surgery that was supposed to have been laparascopic turned out to not be – she ended up with a 3-inch incision scar on her right lower quadrant from where the surgeon stated he “had to get in there”. That was okay with her.

Three other patients shared her room: a woman who was set to have gallbladder surgery who wouldn’t stop screaming, a 95-year old woman who kept losing her bowels in bed, and a quiet lady who kept to herself. Drawing the curtain and praying became the routine, as well as spraying the scented spray the nurses offered to guard against the fecal smell.

A lot happened in that room. With constant beeping and hourly vital checks by nurses, it’s hard to keep your dignity in a place like that. One needs to be focused on something or it becomes mindless and depressing.

Something in her shifted. A gradual increase in wisdom and understanding. She aged in a different way, not just from age twenty to twenty-one, but in grasping the concept of life and death.

Something humbled her. It might have been the timing God had wanted for her. She trusted the Lord to bring her through, because there was a peace before the surgery she couldn’t describe. Though she hadn’t been intentionally following Him (yet), she knew about Him and knew that He was what she needed to get through this. And that’s exactly where she turned during her uncertain future time frame.

Reading “Six Hours One Friday” by Max Lucado while laying in a hospital bed, trapped for days and under the watchful eyes of doctors and nurses, she took many words to heart.

Failures are not fatal. It’s not that he loves what you did, but he loves who you are. You are his. The One who has the right to condemn you provided the way to acquit you. You make mistakes. God doesn’t. And he made you.

Max Lucado – Six Hours One Friday

The book, which referenced the time Jesus hung on the cross, spelled out so many simple Biblical truths to her, and she tucked them into her heart. The author had such a simplistic way of arranging sentences that weren’t just groupings of words, but were actual nourishment to her being.

She made it through the week (Christmas Eve morning was a Sunday that year) and only had to wait for her parents to get out of church to be discharged from the hospital. With a JP (Jackson-Pratt) drain finally removed from her side, and her bandages not showing evidence of infection, she would be free to go home. Joy sprung into her heart and the minutes couldn’t pass by fast enough!!

She wouldn’t forget that feeling. Of being trapped somewhere she actually needed to be. What a conundrum. It was the first time her health had been in jeopardy. She was healed and she would remember because there was a physical scar on her side to remind her of the six-day ordeal that saved her life.

But reading about Jesus while she had the time (MADE the time) helped her to learn more about the man she’d heard most about during her lifetime growing up in parochial schools. She learned the most about Him being her Savior during that hospital stay, and though not every truth would take root in that weeks’ time frame, what she had learned would be sewn into her heart to be drawn on later, when adversity hit and trials related to her faith would start.

Every December 18, she looks back and remembers the night she was admitted and the surgery that removed the appendix that was killing her.

Every December 18, she remembers the book that she read to comfort herself, that reminded her of her Savior who stepped in to remove the sin that was also daily killing her.

And every December 18, she never forgets the gift of finite, human life the Lord has granted her, and is yet reminded of her own eternal life – the life that is promised beyond the hospital rooms and beyond the grave.

The life that will have more color and sound, more clarity and closeness, more love and peace than this one has to offer. Because six hours one Friday, her Lord declared her (and EVERYONE READING THIS’s) sins dead by the power of God through the physical death of Jesus Christ. No longer would its poison have a hold on her this side of Heaven. It would still influence her and try to take root, but she, through the power of the Holy Spirit would have a way out. It would lose its power over her.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV

Death would no longer be something she feared, for this life is temporary. The life she longs for, is coming soon, and will be permanent, rooted in the original plan God had in the Garden. Eden will be restored, per Revelation 22. To those who endure, they will see and experience it!

It took some time for her to truly accept the truths of Scripture in her life, but at age 27, she turned her life over to Jesus and accepted by faith, the truth that she is no longer the same as she once was. The Lord sees her now as His daughter, and loves her no matter what. He knows she is surrendered, He knows she thrives in situations where she is able to share her experiences, and longs for everyone she knows to KNOW THE TRUTH!

And now, on the eve of her fortieth birthday, it is again December 18.

Which means she is reflecting and is thankful and is truly grateful for every minute of breath in her lungs, and every happiness she’s been able to possess since knowing she “didn’t have much longer to live.”

May we all live as if tomorrow is the day we’re going HOME.

May we never forget that we are all sick and in need of an antidote, a surgery, a cure.

May we be ever grateful for the LIFE the Lord allows us to lead, regardless of His presence. He never forces a relationship with us. But I can guarantee you, friends, the breath you just took into your lungs was provided by Him. And whether you love Him back or not, He allowed you to exhale it as well.

He will one day come back to claim us all. To those who know Him and accept Jesus as His Son, He calls family and will take us to the place prepared for us to live forever with Him, free from sin and its consequences, pain and injury. To those who rejected Him as a fairy tale, or something people make up to feel better about themselves, He will have to reject, as sin will still consume you. And sin has to be dealt with. Eternal death is the only other option. Please don’t let it be yours.

Jesus took ALL of our sins and took the physical punishment in the form of crucifixion on a cross so that we can be restored to our Heavenly Father. It’s a gruesome, crazy story of redemption, but the basic gist is that YOU AND I are off the hook for EVERYTHING we’ve ever done against God – known or unknown. The only way to be able to stand before God at the end of our physical lives during our judgement, is to have Jesus be our advocate, our liaison. HE will stand before God and declare us righteous by faith in Him. Otherwise, we stand in our rags and filth of sin, to be judged by each event.

I’m so incredibly thankful to my God for putting a plan in place to save me.

I’m thankful to Jesus for following through with His Father’s will to die and rise for me.

And I’m thankful to my parents, my previous churches, my teachers and dear friends/family who shared the truth about God with me, so I could hear the truth and make a choice for my future. As parents, we have the responsibility to teach our kids about eternity and it’s the most important thing you will ever teach them.

And for those wondering who the girl in the story was, it’s ME. Twenty year old me, entering Parma Hospital on Monday, December 18, 2000. I went home on Sunday, December 24th to get a shower and finish wrapping presents for my family that year. What a sweet Christmas we had!

Our God is merciful and loving. Patient and peaceful. I have experienced it and then some. May you know His love that surpasses anything this life has to offer.

I love you, dear friends. Please join me in eternity. Seek Him while He may be found.

Love, Gracie 🙂

Posted in Faith

Grief, life and the in-between

We tend to think of grief when there is a mortal death. A family member or close friend, a pet even, leaves this life and we have to learn how to move on without them. Why? Simply because our lungs still have breath.

Anyone fresh in this period will tell you the heartache is real and the loss unbearable at times. So it makes sense to associate grief with death of life. Physical loss is evidence of a physical presence no longer existing and we hate waking up to that reminder.

But what about when we lose a relationship? Someone we deeply loved, or a dear friend who seems more distant. What about when a job ends unexpectedly or someone rejects us without reason? When those doors close and that pain is felt, it also is a death of life – just not physical. And unfortunately, we are not afforded the same time to grieve, as one would have for bereavement. So we walk around at our jobs, at the grocery store, in church, at gatherings, etc. carrying the hurt with us.

We all know other people around us and even ourselves if we’re bold enough to admit, who are grieving millions of little griefs daily.

And I’m writing about grief because I think it deserves to be talked about. I can say personally in the past I’ve struggled with grief and loss, but most recently have learned to address and work through grief more quickly for my own mental health. Taking care of our minds truly does wonders for our physical health.

Recently I took a personal trip to a small cottage and began praying for God to help me recognize where I was “stuck”. I had noticed some things in my speech and behavior that were evident of being bitter and resentful, and I wasn’t okay with it. Being a writer, I began to journal. And I didn’t necessarily need to leave my home to do this, but the change of scenery was helpful.

I went through my life and memories chronologically as best as I could and began to see a pattern in relationships, in events surrounding certain memories and in my responses to them. And many times, I reacted irrationally or in unhealthy ways. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

What it revealed was that I hadn’t worked through old hurts and therefore was hurting others as a result.

Newsflash: Hurting people hurt people.

Let that sink in for a second.

WOW! What an opportunity to give grace to each other.

Most commonly in counseling, five stages of grief are recognized, known as the Kubler-Ross model: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and finally Acceptance.

The first stage of grief is denial. We end up in shock at received news. Our minds cannot comprehend what we’ve been told, read or experienced, and we make a choice not to believe it. It doesn’t make the event less true. We just tend to not want to accept this new reality, so we live around it as best we can.

It’s the ostrich effect in FULL EFFECT.

Then, when there is no getting around it, we get angry and many times rush to bargaining. We get upset at the inability to have had a choice made for us, and now we have to live with the resulting consequences or circumstances and we are mad, raging and frustrated! And sadly, anger is a comfy chair.

This stage especially frustrates us because we have to admit we had no control over the situation. And I don’t know if you are aware of this or not, but life is great at proving over and over again just how out of control we really are. We don’t like being reminded of that.

A clue to know if you are “stuck” in this area is to ask yourself how often you talk about said event, circumstance or situation. Are you seeking validation from others when you share your story? Do you ruminate over and over? Do you stay angry and feel justified doing so?

This is a healthy stage, especially because you’re no longer denying, but not where one should camp out. Walk through this, give yourself time to get upset and seek a counselor. I cannot stress enough the value of having an unbiased, neutral person who can assess your emotions from a distance.

Once anger is processed in a healthy way, we move into depression. That doesn’t sound right, but it is. In a way, we begin to accept the outcome and in this stage have to actually process the loss. Reality begins to set in. There is simply no way around it. And it will be painful in a new way, but in a way that leads to acceptance and freedom to move forward.

Getting to the point of acceptance takes time. It takes patience in ourselves and in others. When we’re hurting, our fuse tends to be a little shorter. We don’t walk around with badges on our shirts or signage of what we’re dealing with or walking through. It would be great to have porcupine quills that would allow us to show others when we’re approachable or not. Strangers have no idea what we’re facing or processing. Sometimes we even keep this from family members and those closest to us. And yet we operate out of hardened hearts that haven’t completely processed a moment – DAILY.

There are many reasons for “deaths” and each one has to be dealt with. Each time we die a little death, we need to process the timing, circumstances, people involved, situation, our emotions, responses, etc. There is so much to loss that we don’t think of our lives as “deaths” and yet they are. We just don’t have a memorial for each and every time.

Physical distance from people can create distance in relationship – it’s just normal to lose friends to proximity. And yet it still hurts and is still painful. When someone moves, they tend to move on. Choosing to stay connected to the past requires a choice and definitely more effort so the past can stay the present.

We may have differences of opinion on certain topics, and all of a sudden, we drop a friend or family member with whom we can’t seem to agree. We are a disposable society – something gets old or doesn’t excite us anymore, we drop it and buy/get new. And so our friends and family fall into the same areas.

We have little mini-computers in our palms daily and can connect to the world around us, yet lose touch with those closest to us. We are backwards in our approach to intimacy and community. We don’t like being vulnerable. We don’t like sharing because we don’t know whom to trust. And we continue to live without actually living.

Pain in grief is also described as suffering. And I can admit that I don’t want to admit that I suffered for a long time without realizing I had/have the power to let go and move on. It’s all within my reach and will. But it would require effort.

Kara Tippetts, a young mother of four, blogger of “Mundane Faithfulness” and breast cancer victim, died two years after her diagnosis of cancer. Most would question God’s goodness, she stated, because of her years of life (she was 38 when she passed in 2015) and her diagnosis. But in her own personal grief and processing of her own mortal life pre-death, she shared some wise words:

“Suffering has a way of exposing our theology, where what we believe about God collides with where we live.”

Kara Tippetts, And it was Beautiful: Celebrating Life in the Midst of the Long Goodbye

What if God allows things so we could turn to Him for solace and comfort? Because at the end of the day, God is somehow the One we turn to for answers, believer or not. We either blame Him or question Him, right?

One of our pastors, Bob Bauer, wisely said once,

“What if we keep praying away the one thing God is using to bring us closer to Him?”

After hearing that, it truly became a step of deeper faith for me. What if every time I’m uncomfortable, I ask God to remove the pain and hurt and He doesn’t? Does that make Him any less good? Or does it just make me the lukewarm Christian who wants the easy life and loves God when things are good, but can’t stand when things take me out of my comfort zone?

Another newsflash: He’s not a genie. He’s our Heavenly Father.

What if we took the time to process grief? What if we MADE TIME to process grief? Everyone I know says that their lives are busy. Too much to do, not enough time, yada yada yada. Busy-ness can be a distraction from dealing with reality. It actually can keep one locked into denial because they don’t have to face the painful loss. And why don’t we want to go there? Because it IS painful.

It requires admitting pain was experienced and in order to move forward, we have to accept circumstances we may not have had an opportunity to make a choice in. Perhaps someone else made the choice for us and we’re now living/operating in the fallout of that choice.

When I think of grief, I think of the sister word “lament”. To lament is to express the grief or sorrow. Biblically, we see this best in the Psalms.

Psalms are a great way to read about loss, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I know, I can hear you, “Seriously, Grace? When I’m hurting, the last thing I want to do is read about other people going through hurt.”

I get it. Truly. I’ve been there too. Hear me out…

Each of the writers of Psalms have demonstrated the ability to relate to us in this area. I was taught to read this book of the Bible early in my life to assist in “pain management”, if you will. And the truth is that I was pleasantly surprised to see myself in them at times of hurt. I could identify and I would read about the emotions these writers experienced. I could validate their hurt and frustration. I could see them shaking their fists at God and questioning His all-sufficient sovereignty. And when I would take the time to read all the way through a Psalm, I learned they usually end in praise.

Wait, what?

Yes, dear one. Praise.

Each time grief and loss is dealt with, it results in acceptance, just as a believer in Christ recognizes the truth that we are indeed “out of control” and technically never had it in the first place. So we extend praise to the One who IS in control.

We accept that God has reasons for what He allows and why He doesn’t allow other things, and though it hurts like hell sometimes, we cannot change the outcome.

We realize human beings are selfish by nature and sometimes hurt other people.

We recognize our own ability to wound and inflict pain on others, and should the Lord prompt us to deal with our own failings, we need to extend our apologies to those we’ve hurt. The Bible gives an outline of how to do so.

Scripture instructs that whether we are the offender or the offended, the onus is on us to seek restoration in our relationships.

In Matthew 5:23 – 24, we are instructed: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to that person; then come and offer your gift” . In the next chapter of Matthew, we are told: “If you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6: 14 – 15 Today’s NIV).

Jennifer Thomas, https://www.christianitytoday.com/women-leaders/2007/july/apologies-that-work.html

We, as believers, give grace and do not have to be doormats to pain, but can create healthy boundaries where we can forgive and love from a distance, thus still honoring our Lord and His commandment to love Him first and our neighbors as we love ourselves.

We can grieve and literally cry over events and not believe that we are weak in doing so. Cleansing ones’ soul due to pain and hurt is something we can only do this side of Heaven. There, God will dry our tears and we will never have to deal with sin again.

We can go to those we trust to pray with us, to share the stories that need to be told, and to help us mourn. Our friends carry burdens and these are some of those.

We also do not grieve earthly lives as the world does. See 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Physical death takes us into the presence of God and if we’ve made Jesus our Lord, our future is secure. Our bodies will be changed to heavenly bodies and our sin will be eradicated. We are no longer separated by death/life. We get to LIVE ETERNALLY with Him and therefore rejoice when one we love dies. It makes us ache more for Home since we are foreigners here. There will be reunions of believers when we take our last breath here.

Healing is acceptance. Acceptance is healing. These are interchangeable.

And it’s mandatory to be able to function in healthy ways without being stuck in unhealthy grief patterns.

Scripture shares this story about Isaiah and Hezekiah:

In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”

Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the Lord. 

2 Kings 20:1-5

When grieving, we have a Heavenly Father who is aware, still loves us, and gives us the ability and direction to go to Him with EVERY and ALL HURT.

He is our Healer, our Jehovah Rapha. He picks up our Humpty Dumpty selves and puts us back together like mosaic in the best way. Why? Because He is the Potter. We are the clay. And He gets to restore what was once broken with something that is made beautiful.

God will end all suffering, pain and eventually death. There will be a time when it will all end and we won’t have to deal with all of the weight of this anymore. Jesus already took onto Himself the pain of every hurt ever dished out, and God punished Him for what we are guilty of. This brings hope and forgiveness even to ourselves. The cross is our example of the lengths He would go to show us how valuable we are, even when we mess up. He is the ULTIMATE RESTORER and gets All Glory!

Heavenly Father, give us the ability to trust You when life hurts. Please allow us to say no to things that hinder our proper healing and time to grieve. We know You know what grief is like and you get the ultimate glory when you get to restore us. Give us the patience for ourselves and the grace for others daily, who struggle with things we know nothing about. May we love with Your love, give grace that can only come from You and share the love of Jesus no matter the rejection. We know You love us, and walk with us through every moment. May we remember to turn to You and seek Your face, knowing You will provide the right answers and peace during the trials. It is not up to us to fear, but to follow You. We love You, Lord.

In Jesus’ Name. AMEN.

Here are some helpful resources for dealing with grief:

When God Weeps by Joni Eareckson Tada and Steven Estes
Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
The God of All Comfort by Dee Brestin
And It was Beautiful by Kara Tippetts

https://www.counseling.org/knowledge-center/mental-health-resources/grief-and-loss-resources

How To Grieve Like a Christian

https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

http://www.hopefortheheart.org/grief-recovery/

Posted in Faith

Ripple effects and warm fuzzies

What’s the best moment in teaching?

Most teachers would probably say the “light bulb moments”. After all, you’re connecting with a student and they are finally “getting it”. Isn’t that what makes the job the most satisfying?

And I would half-agree. Because seeing the “light bulb moments” brings a sense of pride over the one teaching. To know that someone heard and understood something that was said? It’s a victory moment. And these don’t happen necessarily every day: the actual visualization of an a-ha moment, where there’s a head nod, or a student actually says, “Ah” or “oh”. No, these moments are a delight when they take place. Savor them.

I only half-agree with the “light bulb moments” answer because though I do love seeing the comprehension take place as wheels spin behind the eyes, there is another moment that takes the cake.

The best moments in teaching for me, are when I see a drop become a ripple when there is a word or a story from another student and suddenly the wave catches. When I can start a question and see the ripple effect in the room, I have the opportunity to sit back and watch God do what He does:

Spread. Multiply. Fan. Flourish. Engage. Invite. Connect.

I teach Bible study at my home church on Tuesday evenings and as a leader with the spiritual gift of teaching, I know the weight that is on my shoulders. Yes, I have the honor of sharing the truth of the gospel with women in our church once a week, and my hope is always that the participants “catch” the message God has for us to get that night. But I also need to stay true to Scripture, not add or subtract from it, and lead the ladies to read and dig deeper. I am accountable for every word spoken in Jesus’ name.

My goal is to stay humble, read the text, get the conversation rolling and let the Holy Spirit take over. But not every week follows that pattern. And it’s okay. The Holy Spirit is not a sideshow act in a circus. He is the main event as we read and study God’s Word. Each week, we grow and seek Him more and more. I don’t need a sticker at the end of the night or a sign from Heaven to know I’m doing the right things, just an obedient heart to continue to follow my call, and a desire to let Him lead.

But, I’ll admit I get emotional when during a question, someone speaks up and begins to start a dialogue, and I can feel the temperature in the room change. It gets warmer.

Fences come down.

The other ladies lean in closer.

The speaker opens up a little more.

Words spill out and heads start to nod in agreement.

Tears well up, arms reach out and comfort is extended.

Bonding happens so quickly sometimes, and one of the most beautiful things to witness is human compassion. Empathy from one sister to another. When we realize in the course of time we spend together that we’re not in competition, we’re united in Christ. We don’t know all of the answers, but we will find them together. And when someone opens up about something so deep, to have other empathetic women nearby to listen (really listen) and encourage each other, show grace, mercy and love to the speaker, it warms my heart and spreads warm fuzzies like wildfire.

And I think, This is what it’s like when the Holy Spirit is fanned. This is what it’s like when we don’t hold back from our childlike responses. This is what uninhabited love is among believers. This is what it’s like to sense our Lord smiling on us, for loving beyond our own pain, and for reaching out to step into someone else’s.

It is so incredibly beautiful to witness, and I find almost every week, that there are precious moments tucked in each encounter during teaching. They might not be as glaring as tonight’s event was, but each moment of connection and compassion gets me excited about what it will be like to be in the presence of Jesus – unhindered from performance, comparison, expectations or perception.

Raw beauty is not an image in a magazine. It is seen in the vulnerable hearts of women who are able to offer something out of their own deficit, simply because they know and believe that Jesus wants them to give. It’s recognizing that the Lord is so present when we are gathered together and loves when we are united.

Jesus prayed for our unity in the garden before He was killed.

Found in John 17: 20-23 
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,  that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—  I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Imagine, the King of Kings humbly asking His Heavenly Father for unity for those who would follow Him and bear His name. It matters that much! And in this time of my life, in our society where everyone is offended so easily or so quick to judge others without hearing someone’s story, I love the teaching moments where I get to witness women breathe life into other women.

We all need it. We all have lies we fight every day from the enemy:

I’m not good enough.

I don’t matter.

I have nothing to say.

God won’t come through for me.

I’m worthless.

I’m not worth fighting for.

Etc.

Women have a gift of nurturing that is unmatched, when walls come down. And it’s such a remarkable way of God showing us through each other that we can see beauty in each other, even amidst pain and heartache.

Tonight, we started a new study. I had a few veterans and some new blood in the room. And before I left my home, I prayed as I always do: to let the Lord bring whomever needed to be there, and to help me help them find Him. “Keep me humble, so they can see You, Lord, and teach us what You want us to know.”

Would you believe: He always comes through on His end? He’s so faithful!

And yet, tonight, there was a different spark in our room. I got the sense that the room was uninhibited from the beginning of our class. I went over the logistics of our inductive study, read about John Mark, prayed and went to my planned setup. And when I sensed the Holy Spirit taking over, I relented.

Those are the best teaching moments.

All Glory to God!!

Posted in Faith, Family, Stepfamily

Grief, forgiveness and new beginnings

Let’s face it: this time of year can be difficult. With Thanksgiving and Christmas back-to-back, we can be forced to face a lot of emotions we aren’t ready for: people that trigger us, loved ones who have passed, relationships that have ended, gatherings that force us to be social, etc. Any fellow INFJs out there? 😉

One thing has been made clear to me recently through my Bible study and my walk with the Lord: as a follower of Christ, walking through grief is necessary and mandatory to be obedient. Ignoring it will stifle my spiritual walk and hinder growth. Disclaimer: This post is intended to be a transparent account of one believer’s journey through trials, grief, forgiveness and eventually hope. It is not written maliciously, but with the intent to provide enough detail for comprehension and learned lessons. Please don’t misinterpret or misrepresent my words. This is not libel in any way.

grief

While the stages of grief are listed as: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, not everyone follows the pattern listed sequentially. But the end result of acceptance is the universal goal for walking through grief, and typically is an indicator for healthy mental health.

This year, for me, has brought many instances of grief, and I’ve learned more about myself coming through each one. Though not every instance has been extremely painful or one that causes me deep despair, I’ve felt the emotions come and go, tried to analyze them rationally and have learned to lean on God in new ways as a result.

Exhibit A: I am a stepmother. I’ve been married for over seven years to my best friend who had two daughters from his previous marriage. If you’re not a stepmother who has drama at times, I apologize. This is a bit of a rant. In the small family unit we have, the dynamic is clearly broken. It is not God’s design to have broken marriages and relationships that aren’t clearly marked. So much pain resides. I’m encouraged by some families who weather the differences and come to accept new family members. My dynamic has not. I remain on the outside, chosen by my husband yet completely unwanted by others.

I continue to try to love with all that I have, and have been struggling to not become bitter over repeated offenses. After so much time has passed, there are still words and actions from so many on that side of the family, that have been deliberate to get a reaction from me. I, unfortunately, get stuck trying to determine why, after all this time, we are still playing games. It’s frustrating and downright irritating. Maturity would help, but clearly that’s asking too much. Insecurity changes people and lack of going through the grief process completely stunted some. So I back off and don’t respond anymore.

But I’ll just be honest. Some days I win the battle. Some days the enemy does. Value is sometimes hard to find when you’re a “back burner”. Others’ feelings are valued higher than yours. Where a Christian spouse puts their spouse (2nd only to God), in divorced families, the lines seem to get blurred between kids, wives and even parents. Guilt inhabits my spouse at times and causes him to make decisions that put me out in the cold, and I’m left to fend for myself. This is so clearly not God’s intention. But it is so in line with the enemy’s intentions of killing and destroying. You think he’s after your family? Check the relationship between you and your spouse.  How’s your marriage going? The enemy is after that first. If he can erode from the center of God’s precious design, the rest will just unravel. Be on alert ALWAYS.

Sadly in our situation, the children (and others unknowingly) have been used repeatedly to carry out tasks that make no sense to me, and I’m left to question their motives and hearts. I can see the insecurity in the other parent, the need to prove something, the lack of accepting responsibility, the resistance to acceptance. I process and process, and when I feel like I’m finally okay again, something happens again to make me question my ability to love with Christ’s love. I realize I’m not able to do it in my own power. And I’m expected to keep peace and not make waves. Who can imagine why I camp out in anger? The tower Grace built has no drawbridge, a deep and deadly moat and you had better believe there are alligators in there! Just try to get to me!!

castle

But as much as my love for isolation and justified anger tries to grow, the Holy Spirit within me fights against this. I am not a new creation who is meant to harbor hurt and justified offenses. I am reminded repeatedly through Scripture WHO I am and WHOSE I am. And Jesus died for ALL of us; me, my hubby, the kids, the ex-wife, the in-law, etc. Whoever started the pain doesn’t have to end it.

So I’ve grieved the relationships I thought I would have by now. I have accepted that I helped raise two daughters who keep me at arms length because of expectations on the other end, and am hopeful some day they can be released from that obligation. But until then, I accept that my husband chose me and that is enough. It’s still painful, but he is well aware now. And we knew that choosing Jesus would do this to us. It’s worth it all.

Ephesians 6:12 states, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”. I’m not fighting people for my value. Because I am a daughter of the King, I already HAVE value. I’m fighting the enemy whose goal is to destroy my ability to see my value. And if he can destroy that, he thinks he wins. Those who continue to hurt are only being used by him. And the truth is they have hurts they need to address as well that have absolutely NOTHING to do with me. So in turn, I give the offense to God to handle, and I carry on with my life.

armor of God

Exhibit B: This year also brought a physical loss to grieve: my maternal grandmother passed away early April. Though expected due to her mental decline and physical inabilities at 91, the actual loss hit hard. A family member who abandoned our family almost 25 years ago made all of us wait EIGHT hours to show up to pay last respects while my grandmother’s body laid on a table decomposing. I couldn’t fathom the selfishness and the audacity to not care until after a shift of work was completed. Irritation took over and I had to surrender it. To me, the actions were incomprehensible.

I was able to forgive quickly in that situation, however, because I had been accustomed to the rejection by that family member and had noticed lack of healthy grieving patterns over the years I had known them. This was not surprising, just unbelievable regarding the relationship between that person and my grandmother who had passed. And dealing with the loss of my last living grandparent made me ache for Heaven like I can’t even express. Lots of emotion, but we had more pressing tasks at the moment.

I watched my mom and her three sisters grieve completely differently and was sadly able to assess where each of them were on the day we laid Nanny to rest. Prayers were going up constantly due to strained relationships and for the ability for all four daughters to get through the motions so that each could move on and grieve separately later. Since my grandmother had dementia, she hadn’t known me for a while. I had grieved her ability to do so long ago, but recognizing she was completely out of this world and onto the next took some time. That acceptance was a little slower.

A few weeks after her passing, while visiting my parents, I had asked my mom who had gotten Nanny’s Bible. My mom went upstairs and brought it down for me. Immediately, I was actively grieving her again, this time seeing my grandmother as a young woman searching hard after her Lord. I read her notes in the margins, saw her highlighted verses, read her underlined passages with notations about soldiers, or those who suffered depression, or those seeking hope.

1

Reading her Bible was like reading her diary. There was such a connection and I wanted to respect that privacy, yet I couldn’t tell her. She was already gone, and I had to grieve that she hadn’t known me as the Christ follower I am today. How I wanted her to know that out of nine grand kids, I could say where I was – her prayers had paid off!! I wanted her to know that I fell away during my teens and twenties, but that God got a hold of me at 27 and I finally heard His voice! The ache for her to understand wasn’t rational, but I knew I could find comfort in knowing the Lord knew my decision for Him and He knew her influence on my life.

7

6

 2

3

10

Within the well-worn pages, I found a handwritten note from twenty years earlier when she was praying for my dad’s salvation. That broke me! Her fervent prayers, in her beautiful cursive, locked into the pages clinging to hope. And all I could think was, “What a legacy.” And yet, I have memories that aren’t all that exciting when I think about time spent with her as a child. I know she loved me and I know she loved all of us grand kids, but I also know she struggled with depression and value. I have been able to forgive my grandmother for hurt from years ago, recognizing the similarity to the people Jesus prayed for on the cross, “They know not what they do.” Recognizing her inability to stretch in certain areas allowed me to give grace that only the Lord can give. And I saw her hurting, so I forgave.

Exhibit C: I accepted two positions this year: one of them was a permanent position within the US government, and within six months, was asked to take the Lead position in the same department. Any of you who work in leadership know the isolation that can result because you are under management, but above those who produce. I’m smack dab in the middle and though I love the challenges, I have no counterpart to assist. So I have to go to God for wisdom, guidance and help when working certain tasks.

I have had one worker who attacks me on a routine basis. She is a great worker, but one who is verbal when she has ideas of how something should go, and isn’t quiet about suggesting them to me. I listen and implement as needed, but don’t make all of the decisions. I also have made mistakes in the course of my training period, which this person has pounced on repeatedly.

facepalm

I find myself constantly having to forgive her so that I can remain professional, and simply because I cannot respond or address the situation without having the union involved. I choose to let things go, accept the support from upper management when they are aware and step in, but I can’t say that it’s not painful. One of the hardest things for me is when someone repeatedly does something to me and I have absolutely no clue why. I am simply her lead. I have to forgive. And God has been patient with me in learning this step. I turn the offense over to Him, and trust Him with the outcome. In turn, I am respectful through email, Skype and other means of communication and let it go.

Exhibit D: Two years ago, the Lord made it clear to my husband and myself that He was asking us to leave the church we had been growing at for almost ten years, and move to another church in the same town. We went, knowing only one person there, and tested the Word. It was biblical. Kevin knew immediately that we were being sent there. I had a month’s worth of sermons before I was a believer for the move. But I began to accept that this is what He was calling us to, and a few months later, there was a clear reason why I was at our new church (they were seeking to start a new women’s ministry – WOOHOO!).

But that didn’t stop the enemy from using the new location as a means of value-shredding. Our old church was so close-knit. We knew everyone and everyone knew us. We were greeters, task-doers, project-completers, life group leaders and Bible teachers. Once I knew my spiritual gift, I jumped in response, and it was awesome to see Kevin grow too. Then we were asked to move…to a bigger church…to where ONE person knew us…to where we had to start relationships from scratch…to a place where it seemed everyone knew each other already. (I know these are lies from the enemy, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t rush out after each service each week!) [Insert panic here].

running

And to top it all off, those close friends from our old church began to fade away. Those who said they would stay in touch, didn’t. We helped one couple move and after promises of dinners over and get-togethers have been to their home once since. There’s still a bottle of wine that was meant for them as a housewarming gift collecting dust in my collection. God’s response to my heart ache? Forgive.

Proximity changes relationships. If we see each other every week, we’re probably more involved. But staying in touch with those we don’t see actively can be challenging. I’ve learned to grieve the friendships that I thought would stand the test of time. I have learned to forgive even Christians who have hurt me unintentionally, or maybe even intentionally. (People who are hurting, hurt others – Christian or not.)

The enemy uses some of the people closest to me at times to tell me that I’m unwanted. And I believe him. I know that I’m loyal, love deeply, and have always felt like only certain friends can handle me. I want to be loved back the way I love, but end up aching instead. So I get the message that I’m too much. And it hurts. And I get angry. And I wallow in the loneliness for a time. And then I stop wanting girls as friends because the pattern never seems to change. Guys were always easier to hang with and had great senses of humor. But I digress… 

Then last week during personal Bible study, I had a revelation. God spoke into my heart in one of those a-ha moments. Those who followed hard after the Lord all had one thing in common: They did it alone and on the dependence of God. Their expectations for man had to be surrendered, and the calling placed on their lives shifted to primary.  Are we seeking the approval of God or man?  Paul asks this very question in Galatians 1:10.  If we are seeking men’s approval, we aren’t really servants of God.  And I know what I want to be…with or without those I thought would be standing next to me, because I know WHO IS ALWAYS WITH ME.

New Exhibit A: David was “a man after God’s own heart”, yet if you ask some, they remember primarily his infidelity. I’ve walked in those shoes, as a recipient and the accused. I know what I deserve. I don’t need human judgement, thank you. My Lord asked for a repentant heart and since I believe in and follow Jesus, He has granted me forgiveness and grace.

David was a Shepherd who took down Goliath (murder), and then later became King after Saul died – trying to murder David! God used Him, and David didn’t have an army of his besties running with him at all times.  He had his faith in what God could do.

Exhibit B: Rahab? She was a prostitute. Yet God used her to protect Joshua’s spies and in return, her family would be spared when the Israelites came to destroy Jericho. She didn’t have the acceptance of her town or the people of her profession. She exhibited faith and was obedient so her family could be protected.

Exhibit C: John the Baptist. He was a desert dweller who liked bugs and solitude, until he had to start baptizing people. Then he jumped wholeheartedly into his calling and was alone. Shouting for people to repent will definitely isolate you.  But he kept telling the truth about what was happening (and who was coming).  He was even imprisoned for calling out Herod’s improper marriage, and was beheaded for it. But it didn’t stop him from doing the right thing.

Exhibit D: C’mon…Noah? Clearly thought to be insane when he began building an ark, when there had never been a flood before. But he did it with faith. He obeyed, built and reaped the reward of listening. There were no neighbors cheering him and God on. There was no encouragement from the peanut gallery.

My understanding is now this: I have to follow hard after Christ on my own. It’s great to have encouragement and biblically we are told to encourage others for accountability and such, so don’t take my revelation to be saying we should exclude people and hide/isolate/build walls. That would be counter productive to what the Lord is asking us to do.  But the ache of thinking others are going to come through will only lead to human disappointment.  Expectations lead to conditions, which leads to conditional love, and truly, that’s not love at all. So, we have to let go of the expectations and forgive those who hurt us: all of the time, not just when it makes sense.  

The actual steps we need to take in our walk, will be completely by ourselves, holding the hand of Christ in faith.  

holding hands

Can we feel it tangibly?  No.  But we can definitely see it throughout Scripture that those who really trusted in God weren’t clinging to human relationships.  They were following hard after Christ.  They were doing the unthinkable and were willing to die for it.  They weren’t pleasing men or seeking approval from others who were supposed to believe the same things as them (or even those who didn’t believe the same things).  They were stepping out in faith, answering the call, and accepting that it may lead them AWAY from family (Abraham and Lot much?).  

The words of Jesus: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:34-38

If that’s not division, and a call from Jesus to serve Him no matter the cost, I don’t know what is.  I think we have to recognize that it can be completely unhealthy to uplift our family, friendships, relationships (or insert vice/idol here) above Jesus, because it means we aren’t willing to fully follow Christ. Because the cost of Christ is truly losing things, and not having the rosy relationships we desire.  Sure, we may be blessed along the way with wonderful moments and happy times, dear friends who get it and are still encouraging- but we are in a battle.  And the goal of this present age is loving others to Jesus, not being so self-focused that we focus on the grief we haven’t moved through.  We have to be others-focused.  We have relationships that may never change this side of Heaven.  And THAT’S OKAY.I’ve come to realize that forgiveness does indeed take time, but it is mandated by Christ in Scripture because it is evidence of a life changed by Him.  When we hold onto grudges, or justified anger (righteous or not), it’s not beneficial to the Kingdom if it creates disunity.  Forgive, have the conversation if it’s necessary and move on.  Vengeance is HIS anyway.  He sees their treatment of us.  He doesn’t need us to seek revenge and hurt others more.  We have to step back and let HIM fight for us.  We can ask the Lord for help in accepting the boundaries where they are, focus on the lost who need His truth, and continue to carry the light into the world.  If you have family who are walking alongside you in this, fantastic!  If you don’t, be encouraged that the goal of your faith is the salvation of your soul.  And you’re never alone.  Let this be your new beginning.  🙂

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.  1 Peter 1:3-10 

Posted in Faith

What’s so good about Good Friday? (A plea to know Him)

three crosses

How could today be a good Friday?

For those of us who believe in Jesus, it’s the best Friday as we reflect and remember what Scripture teaches us about that day. So much happened that changed the course of history for those who know and love Him. And if you don’t know Him yet, it can change for you.

I’ve read recently that the road Jesus traveled in Jerusalem on the way from the Praetorium to Golgotha is called Via Dolorosa. In Hebrew, this means “Painful Way”. We are told in the gospels that He carried His cross until it was taken by Simon of Cyrene. I can’t imagine the physical and mental anguish our Lord had to endure. Being charged with blasphemy by the Sanhedrin, Jesus was sentenced to death after a middle of the night trial (totally shady according to Matthew 26:3-5). Because of the festival, it was common practice to release a prisoner, chosen by the crowd. Barabbas was released, a known criminal, and Jesus was flogged.

We may know public humiliation, but when has anyone called for our deaths in the streets of our city? When has a group of people spit on us and called us names, laughing and taunting? And would we be able to stay silent, to fulfill Scripture from Isaiah 53:7 that states that, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.” Silence among those who accuse? This is not a natural response, trust me. No words of defense, or supernatural acts of explosions or angels raining down fireballs on those who screamed? His response was unheard of. Superhuman, actually. First Peter 2:23 states the following, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” What absolute confidence.

Because Jesus was fully God and fully man, He knew the exact time frame He’d have to endure the physical pain and anguish. And I’m not minimizing that impact on his physical frame. None of us know what it’s like to have skin ripped from our backs by tools of torture. None of us know what it’s like to have to carry our “death bed” for a distance before we are placed on it. None of us know what it’s like to be placed on that piece of wood, helpless and scared, knowing we are about to be suspended in the air until our last breath.

Yet, we ARE the ones who deserve that for sinning against our Holy Father.

As someone in the medical profession who loves to understand the disease process, I have researched the physical changes that occurred during Jesus’ arrest through His crucifixion and it’s intense to say the least. Beginning with internal stress, Jesus began to sweat blood (hematohidrosis) while praying at the Mount of Olives. He was exhausted, as He hadn’t slept. When He was being beat by the Roman soldiers, flesh was ripped from his back by scourging, and there would have been fluid buildup around His lungs. The crown of thorns that was placed on His head was known to have irritated major nerves, causing agony. The beatings should have taken Him out. But He kept going. His will to fulfill the task was foremost on His mind. That, my friends, is real LOVE.

He was naked when He was hung on the cross. Romans pierced the median nerve in the hand with nails which would have shot bolts of pain through his arm into his spine. Having a nail in the plantar nerve in the foot would have had the same effect. And the position in which He was hung, was to make breathing nearly impossible. One would have to push up, painfully, on the nails in their feet, to try to fill their lungs with air, which are already compromised by fluid. There are a few theories as to what Jesus’ cause of death was, but medically, it could have been a blood clot to the heart, exposure or thirst, hypovolemic shock, suffocation, pulmonary edema.

We know that His legs weren’t broken (John 19:33-34) because He was able to audibly give up His spirit. With legs broken, He wouldn’t have been able to push up to breathe.

Jesus knew for Him it was temporary pain, but for us, permanent redemption.

The outcome outweighed the task. He knew that God the Father would raise Him back to life, and that He would be seen by thousands to begin the early church.

Today, we remember His physical sacrifice. The Bible declares that it was our death that Jesus paid for. In Romans 5:8, we see, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

You are a sinner. I am a sinner. Neither of us can ever be fully whole and sinless this side of Heaven, but the One who has the power to wipe the slate clean DID. He took a part of Himself, allowed Jesus to become fully man so He could identify with us (Hebrews 4:15), and took His shed blood as full payment for the sickness of our hearts, so He could redeem us and bring us back to relationship with Him.

If you believe the name of Jesus, accept that He died for your sins and believe in His resurrection, you are saved.

That is what today is all about: remembering what I’ve done to put my Lord on a cross, so His blood would be shed, so His wounds would forever heal me, so His resurrection would bring glory to God, the same God I will stand in front of someday, at the end of my brief earthy life. Instead of dismissing me to Hell, He will lovingly declare that He knows me because I knew Jesus.

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the door is open to all of us, not just Jew, but Gentile too! My eternal future is SECURE. AMEN!

There is truly an inexpressible joy inside of my heart, because I realize what I’ve been saved from. I know the things I’ve done, but even those I don’t remember, I am accountable for. Our God is a God of love, and justice. Both qualities can coexist- ask any parent. You love, but must correct. Obedience is necessary. And He also came in and paid the price for us, so we wouldn’t have to face our consequences- the ones we are all guilty of! What an incredible Savior! God’s grace is immeasurable and unending!

I know the end result of a life that isn’t surrendered to God. It is darkness and silence that will ensue as a result of rejecting Him. And it won’t.ever.end.

The Bible describes Hell as a place of torment, weeping, gnashing of teeth. Scripture says it was meant for the ones who rejected God, those who fell from Heaven and followed the prince of the air. There is no hope, no relief, no end. Is fighting God really worth it? Whether we like it or not, He gets the final say. He allowed sin for His purposes, yet He has offered a way out: place your trust in His Son, follow Him and be saved. Eternity is a long time, people. We all will live forever, but after earthly death, we will be in one of two places.

Please repent and come to the truth! Jesus is the ONLY doorway to the Father. In John 14:6, Jesus declares, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” Entering Heaven is contingent on the relationship with His Son who paid your debt. It is not how many good works you do, by being a “good” person (the Bible says not one of us is good (Romans 3:10-12 and Psalm 14:2-3), or by trying hard enough. We must know His Son to enter Heaven and live forever. Scripture also states that the Lord does not wish for anyone of us to perish. He is providing time now, but we don’t know when the End is actually coming, so don’t delay!! Please make your decision for Christ today. Your life will change, your end destination will change, and your future will be secure.

Today is the best Friday, because I now have life. There is a quote someone said which I’m paraphrasing, “Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good, He came to make dead people alive.” I love that! That’s the truth. Will you make Jesus your Lord today? You are welcome to call or reach out to me. I’d love to introduce you to Him.

Have a blessed Easter, dear ones! 🙂

Posted in Faith

Remembrance

Sometimes in life, you have to take the time to slow down, be still and just REMEMBER.

This past week, made me do just that.

Reverend Billy Graham passed away on Wednesday, February 21 at the age of 99. Seeing the post about his passing from my husband on social media, brought to mind so much of my childhood. I was instantly in tears. Growing up Lutheran, this man was well known, and his evangelistic association was renowned. My maternal grandparents talked about, listened to and gave on a regular basis to his ministry. Upon visiting my grandparents in their home, for as long as I can remember, I can hear my grandfather wanting me to sit down with him in the living room and listen to Billy with him. My grandfather loved watching sermons on the television or hearing them on Christian radio.

My mother has shared over the years with our family about her own response to Jesus through the message of Billy Graham. She felt the Lord ask her to respond during a crusade she attended when she was a young girl. My grandfather at the time was in a rush to get out of the parking lot and back home, so she never went forward, but she bargained with God in the backseat, saying that she would one day accept Him. And when she was pregnant with me in 1979, she heard the Lord prodding her again about her decision. She dedicated her life to Him on the couch while I was in utero.

As a teenager, I remember when Graham came to Cleveland for a crusade. For months beforehand, my parents and other church members were praying and preparing for the vast work that is involved in putting on a crusade. I went to prayer services at many local churches with my mom, and learned to pray specifically for the crusade and those who would hear the message. We would pray for peoples’ hearts to be ready and their ears to be opened. We would spread the message about the crusade with flyers and conversations. We didn’t have social media invitations we could send to our 300+ friends at once. It was word of mouth and print media.

6.11.94 bg crusade

On June 11, 1994, I asked my best friend who was Catholic at the time, to come with me. After all, it was Youth Night, and she was beginning to go to youth group at my church. Eighty-five thousand people were there that night. We went with my parents, and heard dcTalk, Michael W Smith and finally a message from Billy Graham. When the time came to make a decision, Laura and I looked at each other, and said we would go forward. We didn’t hesitate (I had remembered my mom’s regret for waiting) and we walked down the concrete steps at Cleveland Municipal Stadium during “Just As I Am” to the grass below, to be met by a man and woman who would pray with us and get us phone numbers of people to follow up with later. I’ll never forget the joy of walking with Laura, feeling a bond between us that was deeper than our already amazing friendship. My friend had heard about Jesus and wanted to know more! And I felt ready to commit my life to Him. It was an incredible evening, and one that I had tucked away in my heart.

Something that stands out to me, is Graham’s humility. Since his passing, everyone is putting their two cents in about who he was. Many who didn’t like him or his message have been trying to paint him as a homophobic political activist. And even knowing that those who hate Jesus will say the same of us, I saw how Graham responded. In each article, you would read how he had apologized for his comments and admitted his humanity. If he offended someone or misspoke, he owned up to it. He didn’t pretend he didn’t say something. He apologized for hurting others, but also wasn’t afraid to say what Scripture says. In one of his crusade messages here in Cleveland, he stated, “I am a sinner who belongs in the gutter with the rest of the sinners”. Just because he was a preacher who reached millions, didn’t mean that he saw himself any higher than any of us, nor was he. I admit I don’t see that in many other people who claim to follow Christ. I admire the man who can admit wrong, ask the Lord for help and take personal responsibility.

He also was truthful when he would say, “The word of God is offensive, because it demands a response. It demands change.” Many in today’s world don’t want that in their lives, and Scripture also predicted the worlds’ response to such accusations. Those who are content in their sin will refuse the gospel and reject it. We become comfortable living the way we do without regard for the Creator who designed THE WAY that works. We follow the flesh and then justify it. But that just doesn’t work. It creates the society we live in now, where everyone wants to have what others work for, where others want everything they want without regard for how it affects others, and selfishness and lack of personal responsibility is prevalent. We see the decay of society, and then bash anyone who draws attention to it.

Graham never beat people over the head with his Bible. He was a Baptist preacher, yes, but his message was never a list of dos and don’ts, but the one message that meant the most: YOU NEED TO BE SAVED, otherwise you will be in Hell. He wasn’t afraid to tell anyone what was in the Bible, because he knew the message meant more than our choice to live against it. The Bible has the power to literally change lives of those we love and share the Earth with! The Bible holds the cure for our sin state. It also is a mirror for our souls, so we can see our desperate need for a Savior. Coincidentally, when Jesus left the Earth, He had commissioned his disciples to continue sharing the truth of the gospel, that eternal LIFE is in belief in Jesus, people must repent from their sin, and be baptized to show their commitment to the family of Christ. Graham shared that message of us being sinners and needing a Savior and he did it well, because so many responded during his crusades because of his truthful messages and his godly character.

I can only imagine what the reception was like in Heaven for a man who was so humble, never stating that he DIDN’T need Jesus, and to actually look into the face of God on the other side. I cried tears of hope and joy this week, because it reignited a joy in my heart for what is to come. Those of us who believe the truth about Jesus’ death and resurrection know that this life is not all there is, there is so much more. Eternity is a long time compared to the blink of an eye we have in these bodies here on Earth. Remembering the work of Billy Graham and his hope of the world turning to Christ made me remember the Lord confirming for me in my heart that I am His beloved daughter, and I am loved beyond measure.

And with the mourning of Billy Graham’s legacy and his impact on my family, I was able to go to see Steven Curtis Chapman in Cleveland on Thursday, February 22. During my teenage years, I listened to Christian radio and heard about this guy who wrote songs. I found them catchy, so I would go to a local store called Lemstone in Parmatown and listen to CDs before buying them. Steven Curtis Chapman’s music would resonate with me while I was trying hard to follow Jesus. I bought “Speechless” in 1999. And hearing “Dive” made me realize that I could hang on the fence and do the church thing while still doing the “world” thing. Or I could DIVE into my relationship with Jesus and try to make a difference for Him, instead of trying to keep my feet in both worlds. Those lyrics are still tucked away in my brain! That song had such impact on my decision for Jesus.

SCC Dive

I bought my first car in 1999, plugged my Walkman into my cassette deck using an adapter in the car and would blast his music while driving. I even bought a specialized license plate: SPCHLES! I was all in, and loved the deep meaning lyrics that he wrote. Some of my other favorites were “His Strength is Perfect”, “I will be here”, “No Better Place”, “For the Sake of the Call”, “The Great Adventure”, “Lord of the Dance”, “Not Home Yet”, “I Am Found in You”, “Live Out Loud”, “Magnificent Obsession”, and “Much of You”. And listening to SCC sing those songs during his concert, it made me reflect on the impact those words had on my life as a young believer.

If you’ve read my blog before, you know some of my story, my heartache of a divorce and finding a reason for living in my later twenties. But through all of my years of life here, I have known that the Lord has something for me. He gave my name to my mother while she was still pregnant with me, not even aware of what sex I would be. I know He has a purpose for my life, but I also now know that my life is meant to glorify Him, not myself.

Two men that God has used to sow seeds of truth into my heart are Billy Graham and Steven Curtis Chapman. I love listening to biblical sermons and I also love songs that stick with me, that I can sing anytime and that give me hope.

I bring up the topic of remembrance, because Steven Curtis Chapman sang a song for us called “Remember to Remember”. He spoke about remembering moments of impact in our lives so that we could mark God’s faithfulness. Building altars was a practice typically done in the Old Testament, where people would take rocks and stack them up, to symbolize an altar of thankfulness, for themselves, for their children and for others to witness.

And I felt like last week God gave me the time to do just that. And to be honest, I think it’s going to become a practice of mine. I think it’s important to step outside of ourselves, and reflect on the people God has used to be a part of our lives, and who have helped us become who we are. I’ve got a list of family members, teachers from my Lutheran schools growing up, musicians, authors, magazine article writers, friends, Christian sisters, etc. And every now and then, I think it’s a great idea to sit back and think about their influence in my life. From someone as well-known as Billy Graham, down to a neighbor who texts for prayer requests…

Remember their message.

Reflect on how they pointed me to Jesus.

And then think about how I can spread that same message outwardly to those who have been placed in my life…

It’s your turn.

Who are the most influential people in your life?