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

Free Resource on Grief

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?

Posted in Faith

It’s Christmas!

Bethlehem.gif

This season, we celebrate Jesus’ birth! 🙂

Reflecting on Luke 2, I love to think about what was happening on that night.

A census was issued by Caesar Augustus to have families return to their birthplace. Joseph and Mary made the trek to Bethlehem to be counted. He was going to register Mary who was pledged to be married to him. Most of us are familiar with the story of an innkeeper that told them there was no room, however Answers in Genesis gives this account as a reasonable explanation for what really happened:

Joseph and Mary probably stayed with Joseph’s relatives in Bethlehem, but because of the large influx of people, the house would have been crowded and the kataluma (guest room) was full. Consequently, Joseph and Mary would have been relegated to living in the lower level of the house. It is hard to believe that pregnant Mary would have been turned away from a relative’s home in a society that greatly valued familial ties.

Archaeologists have excavated first century homes from the Judean hill country. They have discovered that the upper level served as a guest chamber while the lower level served as the living and dining rooms. Oftentimes, the more vulnerable animals would be brought in at night to protect them from the cold and theft. This sounds strange to many of us, since we wouldn’t dream of bringing some of our cattle into the house at night, but even today in some countries of Europe (e.g., Germany and Austria), the farmhouse and the animal quarters are often different parts of the same building.

This is where the manger comes into play. Mary likely gave birth to Jesus in the lower level of a crowded house, in which some of the animals had been brought in for the night. She then wrapped Jesus in swaddling cloths and laid Him in the manger (feeding trough).

And thinking of the shepherds out in the fields that night, it’s incredible to think what they saw and heard. It probably started out as a normal evening, and then within moments, an angel appeared (most likely, the shepherds had never seen them before) and told them not to be afraid. Sure, no problem. But then, the shepherds are told:

I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. -Luke 2:9-12

Can you imagine just minding your own business and then a being appears next to you with a message? And then immediately after that, the sky opens and more angels show up, singing?

GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST HEAVEN, AND ON EARTH PEACE TO THOSE ON WHOM HIS FAVOR RESTS!

To be alive and witness these events had to be amazing! I know the shepherds had to be initially fearful, because an angel told them not to be, and there must have been an ignition in their hearts to go see what was happening because they “hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.” Luke 2:16

Here’s the part I love: He used unlikely messengers. And I’m not talking about the angels. I love that God chose shepherds to carry the message to the people. Then they spread the news of what they saw, praising and glorifying God for what they had seen and heard. Oh, to be near people that rejoice and get excited about what the Lord is doing! Never before, did they have hope like that! Up to that time, those who knew the Lord only knew that one day He would send a Messiah to save them, and here they were in the fields, getting the message firsthand. What an honor!

I’m in awe, as well, of the role of shepherds. They obviously take care of sheep, but how exactly? They provide food, water, protection in the field and when walking through rivers, shelter from storms, and restoration to the fold when one runs off.

And how incredible that the Lord used the same role to describe Himself, to say that He is our Good Shepherd! In John 10, Jesus explains to the Pharisees about those who are able to enter the sheep pen by the gate, not other means. He is equating access to the Father through Him, our Good Shepherd. He says that those who know Him hear His voice, which is the same as shepherds who have a specific call to their sheep. Others can mimic the shepherd, but the sheep won’t respond. So it should be with us.

I segued to shepherds because I love the correlation between one who protects sheep and the ONE who protects us. Jesus was sent by God to become man, to be able to identify with us in our flesh, to be tempted and resist, so He could prove that we could do the same. He also humbled Himself by doing His Father’s will. He sacrificed His life for His sheep (US!) and died on the cross so that when God and the Holy Spirit resurrected Him three days later, not only did He fulfill Scripture, but He conquered death FOREVER for those who believe in Him. Death no longer has a hold on us!! And there is also now a WAY, a DOOR to get to the Father that is not through human means, no matter what people tell you. We have FULL ACCESS to our Heavenly Father through our Lord Jesus Christ. And all of this was to be accomplished by our Lord whom we celebrate today.

So it’s an honor to reflect on the good news that brings us great joy this Christmas morning! Jesus came to Earth to fulfill His redemption plan for us. I am so thankful for the way He modeled righteous living, His continual and unending mercy and grace, His forgiveness that is never withheld and His precious, sacrificial love. He was fully God and fully man so that He could redeem us.

When you are sipping coffee, watching wrapping paper fly by, and listening to Christmas music, may you take a moment to stop and reflect on all that this baby meant and still means for our salvation.

Glory to God in the Highest INDEED!

Posted in Faith

Darkness

Darkness settled in.

It’s not the first time, and I know it won’t be the last, I tell myself.

Instead of wearing warmth and joy, my bones are clinging to darkness.

Such weight.

Why do I enjoy these garments of pain?  I know better.  I know each and every time the enemy shows up to harass me, and I give him my joy so willingly.  Instead of removing the heavy chain mail of the past, I opt for shifting my weight and adjusting the heaviness until I can just barely manage to walk.

For a full day, the darkness consumes me.

Call a friend, text someone, reach out.  But I can’t.

I can’t put a name to the darkness that is swallowing me up.  I don’t know how to explain what I’m feeling.  Old images of painful memories are coming to the surface and I can’t stop them.  I can instantly feel like I did in those moments: helpless, scared, angry.  Won’t anyone defend me?  Won’t anyone come to my rescue?

And as the memories and images replay over and over in my mind, I begin to get angrier. They are images of those who have bullied me, hurt me, left me, abandoned me, hated me, slandered me.  Clearly my heart has not forgiven them.

I begin to accuse: Weren’t you supposed to be there for me, God?  Weren’t you the one that told me you’d be with me always?  Where are you?  Look at how my enemies are positioned, laughing at me and hating me?  How can you allow this to continue?  I feel unloved and unwanted yet again.

In my mind’s eye, I am on a cliff, that is stretched out across a huge abyss.  All I can see for miles is desert and drop-offs.  There is one clear path, but it begins to crumble underneath me as I walk.  Panicked, I begin to sprint, only to have the rocks fall faster and heavier to the openness beneath me.

And as I sit in darkness that is all-consuming, fearing the end of myself, my mind transitions to the book of Psalms.  David is a master at crying out to God.  He is so persistent, unafraid to scream at the Lord, begging for answers and wondering of His existence.

The mirror shifts to me.  I am David.

I want to know NOW where God has been.  Why are all of these old memories here again, taunting and hurting me even as I have moved forward? Why is this allowed??

So I reach for my Bible in the stillness of the house.  I am alone, yet I know that I’m not.

The darkness is still here.

And in the recesses of my mind, I know the Lord says He is too.

I open to book of Psalms.

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I journey to Psalm 94, unsure why.  I am just looking for hope.

Any shred of light to take me out of here, out of the darkness that surrounds me…

Verse 14 begins to bring me comfort.

“For the Lord will not reject His people; he will never forsake his inheritance.”

As I move further through the psalm, I see Him providing protection and confirmation.

“Judgment will again be founded on righteousness, and all the upright in heart will follow it.  Who will rise up for me against the wicked?  Who will take a stand for me against evildoers?  Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death.”

And then verse 18 happened:

When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, LORD, supported me.  When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me great joy.

He heard me.

In the darkness, He heard me.

He saw what was happening in my mind, with my feet giving way to emptiness, and gave me a direct Scripture to combat it.

Tears coat my face.  When did I start to cry?

I make an instant choice to accept His answer, and I repent of my selfish focus, for allowing the enemy to use the past to remind me of who I was.  I accept His consolation.  His comfort.  His joy.

And the warrior in me, though loving the chain mail, begins to shed the heaviness.  I peel off layer after layer until there is just me.

The daughter of the King.

The one He died for.

The one He rose again for.

The one he defends in the darkness that I can’t see.

The one that He loves.

The one He watches over constantly.

The one He never forsakes.

I accept the TRUTH.

And with my new Spirit armor, I walk from room to room, declaring my home a sanctuary of His peace, His love, His joy, His presence. I rebuke and cast out anything that isn’t from Him, and explain that it isn’t allowed here.  ANYMORE.  EVER.

A peace rests on me.  I didn’t know to ask for it.  I didn’t know how.  I just know it came.

I try to re-imagine the thoughts that just haunted me, but they are gone.  Mist and fog replace the concrete memories.

He has come for me.  He defended me.  I sense joy in my heart again.  The veil is lifted.

The Lord is the Lord of my Home, my Heart, my Marriage, my SOUL.

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So, this morning, when the enemy brings to mind some past experiences to condemn me, I fight back.  I’ve put on my new armor in Ephesians 6 which is so light I can’t even tell it’s on, and my voice is ready for praise.

The power of Jesus and HIS NAME is something I cannot forget.

Demons do exist.  They shudder and tremble at the name of Jesus.

Do you ever say it out loud?  Do you ever scream it in response?

JESUS conquered death and all that is coming for Christians, because He is the VICTOR.

There is power, strength, deliverance, mercy, grace and joy in HIS NAME.

THE NAME ABOVE ALL NAMES.

Darkness has no place in the light.