When Freaky Things Happen: No Place to Hide

August 31st, 2014

Walgreens

I had the creepiest thing happen to me Thursday night.

Actually, it wasn’t THAT creepy.  I’ve definitely had creepier things happen.  But for some reason, this freaked me out.  Just a little.

It was a little after 8:00 pm, and I was driving home after a Picnic planning meeting.  My mind was a thousand miles away, though.  It was definitely not on driving.  I was in extreme Auto-Pilot mode.

I turned the corner off of Highway 17 onto the road that leads toward my home in Seaford.  The car was silent.  My thoughts were blaring.  But a noise cut through those blaring thoughts.  A notification from my phone, which I had carelessly tossed into the passenger seat for my drive home.  But this notification sound was unlike the ones I am used to hearing—for incoming email, or calls, or tweets, or from MapMyWalk, as friends post their exercise.  Nope, this notification I had never heard before, and–admittedly–I jumped just a bit.

I grabbed by phone to see what created that obnoxious sound (Yeah, I know.  No lectures about not looking at my phone while driving, please).  I saw that it was from Walgreen’s (the pharmacy) of all things, and I tossed it back into the seat next to me.

When I got home, checked the notification.  What in the world did they want?  I didn’t have any prescriptions I was waiting for, and besides, I get texts when they are ready for pick-up, not notifications from Walgreen’s directly.

The message I read went something like this (I wish I had somehow saved it, so you could get a sense of its “creepiness”):

We notice that you are near a Walgreen’s Store right now!  Why don’t you stop by and see what savings and good value we have to offer you tonight!”

Whoa.  No one knew where I was.  I don’t even think my kids knew where I was Thursday night, except that I had to go to a meeting.  But Walgreen’s knew.

That’s Twilight Zone stuff right there, my friends.

Later that night, when I crawled into bed after an exhausting day of work, parenting, committee meeting, and all the other “stuff” that comprises a day, I got to thinking about that notification.  And I got to thinking about my life.  And, I got to thinking about my God.

Like I said, there are times in life where nobody knows where I am at.

Where I am at physically:

  • if I go for a drive
  • when I’ve hiked alone to deserted beaches in Hawaii
  • times that I’ve gone for walks at the park alone

Where I am at mentally:

  • times of fear
  • times of despair
  • times of thinking I am a failure

Where I am at Spiritually:

  • times when I have sinned against God and others
  • times when I have doubted His goodness
  • times when I have stubbornly and sinfully held on to unbelief
  • times of silence from God
  • ….but also times when I have been overcome with gratitude for His grace
  • times when I’ve been so overwhelmed by His presence, protection and provision that it has wrecked me

All these examples of times when no one else knows where I am.  And yet, there is one who knows and sees it all.  My God.  The God who Sees and Knows.

And, honestly, sometimes that bothers me.  It really does.  Because sometimes it would just be easier, or it seems safer, or SOMETHING—I can’t quite find the words—but to have the ability to hide from God.  To have an Invisibility Cloak, like Harry Potter.   Oh, I am self-centered enough to want Him to see and know my pain and to fix it.  But what about the times that He doesn’t fix it?  In those cases, I wish He didn’t see it, because then I find myself asking “Why??  Why God, if you see the suffering of this world, why don’t you FIX IT??”  And what do I do with that??

Or, worse still, what about the times that I openly or secretly sin against Him?  When I am ashamed of myself; of my behavior.  When I find myself shouting “Yes!” at Paul’s statement in Romans 7:15:  For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

But that’s not who God is.

And, if it was who God was, He wouldn’t be worthy of worship.

You see, it is precisely because He is a God who Sees and Knows, that I know He loves me.  That He loves me so much, that He gave His son for me.  That He gave His Son for the forgiveness of my sins–both those that are blatant and those that are done in the depths of my heart and mind.

Exodus 2:25 says this:  God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.

This very same God who Saw the people of Israel in their suffering and Knew, sees me in my suffering and Knows.  He Knows.

  • My deepest fears.
  • My deepest sins.
  • My deepest dreams.
  • My deepest longings.
  • My deepest needs.

A key moment,  among many key moments, in my journey toward trust and faith in God, was the realization that He Knows my name.  He knows who I am!  That fact, alone, wrecked me.  For so long I had thought that if—IF there was a God, He certainly did not know who I was.  But He does.  He knows my name.  He knows me thoroughly.  As in Psalm 139 thoroughly.  He has searched me and knows me.  And He knows you, too.  And loves you.

That, my friends, is a God who sees and Knows—and loves.

I turned off the location finder thingy on my phone.  I don’t want Walgreen’s knowing where I am.  But I will continue to fight the urge to hide from my God.  That’s a futile attempt, anyway.  A waste of energy.  Instead, I will rejoice that I am Seen, Known, and Loved.  And Forgiven.

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Five Years Ago……Today……A Compendium of Healing

August 25th, 2014
John 1_16

Five years ago, this week…..

Shock.  Anger.  Sick.  Terrifying fear.

Five years ago, this week…..

Lives shattered.  Unanswerable questions from my children.  Tremendous Grief.

Five years ago, this week……

Forced into the media.  Forced into hiding.   Forced to make decisions no one ever imagines having to make.   Forced to confront evil, penetrating our lives.

Five years ago, this week……

Whole weeks of time gone from memory.  Falling, ever falling, into the unknown.  Is there a God?  Will He be there to catch us?  Does He see?  Does He know?

Five years ago, this week….

No plan.  No answers.  No hope.

Five years ago, this week….

Doubts.  Despair.  Darkness

Intermission: A church drops everything and seeks God.   The people of God, around the world, respond with grace and mercy.  A place to live is provided.  An entire community encourages a broken, hurting, scared family to come “home”.  A school system wraps their arms around the children, making them feel “normal”, wanted, secure.  Prayers are offered.  Food is given.  A job is provided.   A family circles the wagons to heal, begging God to perform the miraculous.  A family becomes tighter to each other, through falling upon the mercy of God.  A mother learns to love at a whole new level.  Children grow. Birthdays come and go.  Christmas comes and goes.   Healing arrives-sometimes in fits and starts, other times in the steady progress of doing what needs to be done day after day.  Scripture sustains.

There is a God.  He does catch us.  He does see.  He does know.  Because of grace.

Five years later, today:

Still grief?  Yes.  Still pain?  Yes.  Still questions?  Yes.  But….

Five years later, today:

Lives renewed.  Many questions answered by Scripture, which has born out as truth over time.  Grief overshadowed by tremendous joy.

Five years later, today:

Starting to live life again.  Birthdays.  Graduations.  Children starting new lives.  New jobs.  New careers.  New school year.

Five years later, today:

Comfort.  Peace.  Purpose. Healing.  It is well, with my soul.

Five years later, today:

Worshiping my God on this Sunday, with my children.  Worshiping God on this day with my church family.

Five years later, today:

Grace.  Grace.  Grace.  Only Grace.

The Future:

The gift of experiencing the truth of scripture day, after day, after day, after day.  Even on the hard days.

1 Thessalonians 3:8 ~ For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.

John 1:16 ~ For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

Psalm 28:7 ~ The Lord is my strength and my shield;
    in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
    and with my song I give thanks to him.

John 6:68-69 ~ Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

Habakkuk 3:17-18 ~Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

Job 13:15a ~ Though he slay me, I will hope in him

2 Corinthians 1:3-5 ~ Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

 

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Needing a Heart Transplant (Not for the Squeamish)

August 23rd, 2014

Heart of Flesh

It’s been a challenging week.

I’m not completely sure why.  Nothing major.  A growing to-do list that never seems to reach the “To-Done” state.  Anxiety over little things like bills, the upcoming school year, decisions that need to be made.  A foot injury that I stubbornly and obsessively am refusing to allow me to slow down in my quest for a healthier lifestyle marked by consistent exercise.  A readiness to see my crew back at school and being productive, instead of me getting frustrated that, as soon as their chores are done for the day, they instantly turn into slugs–as teenagers are prone to do.  You know, the little things that make up life.

And a maybe a few bigger items.  Like the realization that my amazing oldest girl will be 21 on Monday–and how much time has just flown by.  And the realization that it’s been exactly 5 years this week since Jack’s incarceration…and all the memories and thoughts that drudges up (5 years?  Really?  Where have I BEEN the past 5 years??  Where did the time GO??)  And, of course, the fight against skepticism and cynicism that has crept a bit more into my brain this week than usual.

So…a few challenges.  But, in the grand scheme of things, they are just that:  Challenges.  These challenges—-along with the joys of spending time with my crew, worshiping with my church family, anticipating celebrating my girl’s birthday with her, seeing good results in the exercise and healthy eating choices I’m making, and rewarding work in areas that I’m passionate about and that God has called me to—–all of it combined is what this life is made up of.  Joy, sorrow, challenges to overcome, challenges to face, meaningful relationships to relish and enjoy, good books to read, grief to experience, pain to endure.  There is so much to life.

So much to experience.  So much to feel.  And “feeling” can be terribly frightening.

Feeling hurts some times.  Even joy can be painful–the joy of watching your sweet babies grow up can leave a hint of pain in your life.  But other pain is much deeper than a hint–other times pain can be gut-wrenching.  Terrifying, even.  When a loved one is sick and there are no answers.  When a child makes wrong choices in their lives and you hurt deeply for them.  When your marriage crumbles.  When heinous crimes are committed, destroying families.  When racial tension threatens to undo an entire city, such as Ferguson, MO.  When Kurdish Christians are forced to flee or face death for not converting to Islam.

When our questions about God and pain and suffering become almost too much to bear.

And so we react, by not feeling.  We react by becoming automatons.  We react by returning to a heart that is stone cold.  A soul full of skepticism, because we fool ourselves into thinking that skepticism is oh, so much easier.  And way more intellectual.  The smarter choice.  Because if I choose to not feel, then I can’t get hurt.  Not only can I not get hurt, I become completely absolved of any responsibility of doing anything to try to alleviate the pain that I see others around me in.  I become completely absolved of praying for or caring for those who are hurting in Ferguson.  Or in Iraq.  Or next door.

And I can use my skepticism as a fancy, trendy tool to justify my doubt.  To justify my cold heart.

How can I say all of this?  Because I’m the queen of skepticism.  I’m the queen of using doubt to push away both joy and pain.  I’ve got a doctoral degree in holding on to my cold, stone heart, when God clearly longs to give me a heart of flesh.

In fact, He did give me a heart of flesh.  It says so in scripture.  And scripture is truth.  In Ezekiel 36:26 we read:

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

How did God do this?  Through salvation.  Through the sacrificial death of his Son on the cross.  Through forgiveness of my own heinous sins.  Through His tremendous love for me.

So why, why, why do I try to return to that cold, stone heart time and time again?  Why do I do that, when that heart of stone is gone.  It is gone.  It was dead, and now it is alive.  I was dead, and now I am alive.  Why would I want to return back to skepticism, to cynicism, to coldness?  To protect myself from pain?  To not have to do something about the suffering I see in the lives of those around me?  To absolve me of responsibility to pray, and then to act?

Because if that’s why I do it, I’m a fool.  I’m a fool, because in doing so, I miss out on the joy of watching God’s grace pour out time and time again both in my own life and in the lives around me.  I miss out on the wonder of who my God is.  And I do nothing to protect myself from feeling pain, because–no matter how much I try to return to the world of skepticism and cynicism, the truth is, God has performed the miraculous in my life.  The heart of stone is gone.  What beats in its place is a heart of flesh.  One that feels, deeply.  One that sees.  And one that is called to act, not live a sheltered life under a thick skin of un-feeling.  A thick skin of disbelief.  A thick skin of not caring.

N.T. Wright, a new Testament scholar and brilliant thinker has said “It’s time to be skeptical of our own skepticism.”  There is great truth in that statement.  I know it full well in my own life.  It is time for me, to be skeptical of my own skepticism.

I’m including a video below.  It’s of a complete cardiac transplant.  It’s bloody and gory, hence the disclaimer in the title of this blog.  But it’s fascinating, too.  Especially around minute 5:11, if you want to skip to there.  Because it is at that moment that the transplant becomes complete.  And the patient who previously was suffering from a diseased heart (dead) all of a sudden is the recipient of a new heart.  A heart of flesh that is healthy, and alive and beating.  Amazing.  But no more amazing than the truth in reiterated in Ezekiel 11:19-20, which tells me:

 And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

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Don’t Waste Your Life Sentence

August 17th, 2014

prison-bars

Never once did I ever fathom the idea that the word “incarceration” would enter into the life of our family.

Never once.

That was something that “other” families experienced.  That was something that was foreign to me.  That was something I read in novels.  In the news.  Saw on TV shows and in movies.  It couldn’t possibly be something that would become a part of our everyday life.

How quickly life can change.  How quickly sin can rob a family of a father, a mother, a sibling, a child.  One day you are an intact family, the next—there is abandonment, chaos, and adjustment to the fact that someone you loved deeply is now going to spend their days in a cell.  Separated from their family–rightfully so–because of crimes/sin that they have committed.

And they have a choice to make in that prison—especially those who are serving life sentences.  They can’t choose what food to eat.  They can’t choose when to go to bed or when to wake up.  They can’t choose what job they are going to be assigned to, or who their “cellie” is going to be.  But they do have the choice as to whether they are going to waste their life away in that prison cell, or not.

I watched a video today, produced by John Piper and Desiring God, titled “Don’t Waste Your Life Sentence”.  I will add the video on down below.   It’s a powerful video.  An important one.   It’s been available for over a year, I believe, but I wasn’t ready to watch it until today.  Oh, I’ve thought over the months “I should watch that….” or “I’m curious as to what that video is about…”, but my soul wasn’t ready yet to watch it.  Until today.

My soul wasn’t ready yet, because I hadn’t come to a place where I, myself, had made the decision to not waste my own life sentence.

You may be asking yourself now “What in the world does she mean by that?”  Stay with me..I’ll try to explain.

There’s a certain sense in which a family who has a member incarcerated is in “prison” too.  In many different ways—spiritually, emotionally, financially, even physically if they find themselves homeless or restricted in where they can live.  It’s a very complicated existence.  It’s not one that I can describe to you, not really, unless you’ve lived it yourself.  Unless you’ve answered your children’s questions regarding their father.  Unless you’ve watched your children be patted down in order to visit their father.  Unless you’ve received envelopes in the mail stamped with the prison stamp that let’s you know the letter inside has been investigated.

And, quite honestly, it’s very easy to default to not doing anything.  To allow joy to be robbed, to allow despair and depression to win, and to allow the days to wash over you, piling up one right after another–doing only what is absolutely necessary to provide for your family and to survive yourself.  That’s why they call it survival mode.  You live to survive the next day, then the next, then the next.  And they pile up, just as if you were marking time in a prison cell yourself.

But you know what?  We are all in some ways, given a life sentence.  No, we may not be sitting in some cell, making jailhouse recipes (seriously, there are real recipes inmates create using food they hoard from their dinner trays).  We may not be making hash marks on a wall with the one pencil we are allowed to own as we rack up the time we are serving for our crimes.

But we are living a life sentence.  We see that clearly in Hebrews 9:27 which states:  And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,

Yes, this may sound morbid.  For that I apologize.  But it is truth—we are appointed to die once.  We have one life on this earth as we know it, and after that comes judgement.  We have a life sentence.

But, as you can see, verse 27 ends with a comma, which means there is more to this thought.  Verse 28 goes on to finish the thought by reading:  so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Yes, the first part may be morbid–depressing even, but it is truth.  But so is the second part of the sentence.  And that is where the hope comes in.  Jesus Christ was offered as a sacrifice for our sins.  And He is returning a second time……for those who eagerly await Him.

But what do we do in the mean time?  What do we do if we die before Christ returns?  What do we do with our lives?

I had to come to a place following my ex-husband’s arrest and incarceration–and the subsequent abandonment, doubts, fears, joblessness, depression and challenges for myself and my amazing children–where I had to examine my soul and make a decision.  Was I going to waste my own “life sentence” here on this earth, or was I going to choose to live–to work to parent well, to make a decision that I wanted to be well and wanted to allow God to make me well (John 5:6), and to seek to glorify God and try to obey the things I feel He is calling me to do.  I had to make the decision that I did not want to waste my life sentence here on earth.  I don’t want to waste my life sentence here on earth.

Do I do this well?  No, not at all.  Not in the least.  I am too full of pride, to ate up with self-pity, to easily robbed of joy.  I fail, often.  I waste entire minutes, hours, days, wallowing in self-centered, selfish pity instead of working hard to parent well, working hard to be obedient, working hard to comfort others with the comfort that I have been given. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)

But I’m trying.  And an amazing thing happens when I try.  When I refuse to waste the moments that God has given me.  Hope emerges.  And an interesting thing about hope:  Hope begets hope.  And joy.

So, I leave you with this question tonight, or rather, this admonition.  Don’t waste your life sentence.  Evaluate what you are pursuing in your life.  Or refusing to pursue.  Matthew 16:26 states:  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

What will it profit us if we work hard to gain the whole world, yet forfeit our very soul when our appointed time to die comes?  What will it profit our families if we work hard to gain the whole word, yet forfeit investing in their lives and leaving them a legacy that is steeped in obedient living?  What will it profit us if we while away our life here on this earth, just marking time, while those around us are hurting and in deep need of the hope that we can give them through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Frankly, I’m tired of wasting my life sentence.  This tired, hurting soul wants to be made well by her God.  And she wants to be obedient to the things He has called her to do–to parent well (even in her many failures), to comfort others (even though she is guilty of not seeing real need at times) and to glorify God (even when it means being pushed outside of her selfish comfort zone)

I’m tired of wasting my life.  I want to live.  Not for this weary soul, but for the only person who has given me real hope:  My God.

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Searching for Answers to Tough Questions: A Book Review

August 17th, 2014

Tough Topics

I’m a thinker, by nature. And as I thinker, I often find myself searching for answers to the tough questions. I want to know. And, since becoming a follower of Christ, I now no longer want to know just for knowledge sake, but because I have a deep desire to know the Biblical answers to many of my questions. Tough questions. Questions that, when I find the courage enough to pose them to friends or even to those in ministry, I sometimes receive discouraging results and no answers. Or, worst yet, I receive overused, completely senseless clichés. And I’m left wondering “Am I the only odd duck who ever wonders about these things?”

Author Sam Storms, in writing the book “Tough Topics“, has shown that he is not afraid to ask the hard questions. Not only is he not afraid to ask them, he’s not afraid to do the research to try to formulate theologically and Scriptural sound answers. And, what I really appreciate, is that he is also not afraid to admit when he doesn’t know the clear answer, and he is not afraid to share others views on each subject.

I can usually fly through even the densest books fairly quickly—I read books like I eat chocolate. Voraciously. But this book took me by surprise, because it took me much longer to read then what I anticipated. In fact, I have recently begun to read “War and Peace” (on my bucket list) and I wonder if I’ll be finished with that quicker than I completed “Tough Topics” by Storms.

This is a good thing, not a bad thing. Because he made me think for myself. He worded his arguments in such a way that I had to stop and consider the evidence myself. Sometimes I agreed. Other times I disagreed. But in both instances, his writing drive me to exactly where I needed to be–in scripture. Each and every chapter found me searching the scriptures myself–something each theological writer or Biblical preacher should desire from their writings or preaching. We should always, as listeners and readers, be provoked to return to God’s word for ourselves, over and over and over again.

So if you are looking for the answers to some tough topics (Could Jesus have sinned? What is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? Are those who die in infancy saved? Can Christians lose their salvation? and so many more), then I suggest you sample Storms’ book. But be prepared to be challenged both mentally and spiritually. Be prepared to do hard work yourself, as you read, ponder, and search out scripture for questions that are not easy to answer but that are valid and often asked by both believers and non-believers alike, even if they are never voiced out loud.

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Restoring Lost Years: Surprised by Hope

August 8th, 2014

Locusts

I recently made a shocking revelation.

I’m an entire year older than what I thought I was.  One. Entire. Year.

I have a weight loss goal that I really want to meet by my birthday, so I went to an online “Days to my Birthday” countdown calendar and entered my birthday.  It also asked me for the year.  And then it did the calculation.  I won’t tell you the result; let’s just say it was a whole year more than what I expected.

I’ve been working hard lately—hard at regaining health.  Battling weight gain brought on by depression and stress eating.  And, I’ve seen some fantastic results.  I’m feeling so much better, in so many ways.  Walking twice a day, eating healthily and staying at the correct caloric intake has led to an almost 40 pound weight loss.

I’m competitive.  And I like charts.  I thrive on setting goals, establishing routines.   So I’m using those things to help make these necessary changes in my life.   And all of those things help to combat the ever-present threatening shroud of darkness that I continually beat back.  Those things along with the spiritual disciplines that I know I must maintain daily or else I find myself messed up by noon.

There is a budding, if you will, of hope.  Not unrealistic hope.  Not false hope based on denial or addiction or any other un-sound principal.  No, there is hope that can only be explained by one thing.

Back to  that missing year.  It’s not that big of a deal, really.  The shock didn’t come from being “older” or growing “older”–or some deep-seated dread of the approaching 50s (though I assure you, I am a ways off from those digits).  No, it was disturbing in another sense.

I’ve completely lost all track of time.

It’s the strangest thing.  The oddest sensation.  There are whole months missing from my mind…….maybe enough to make an entire year.

If you asked me when did we move here to Virginia, I couldn’t tell you.

If you asked me how old my crew was, or what grade were they in when we moved to Virginia, I would have to say “I have no idea.”

If you asked me how long has it been since my ex-husband was arrested, I don’t have an answer.  It’s not there, in my brain.  It’s gone.

It’s a bit disconcerting, to be truthful with you.  What seems like forever ago was only just yesterday, and what seems like just yesterday was forever ago.  It the realm of time/spatial orientation, it is difficult to get a bearing.

I’ve done some reading in some psychology journals in an attempt to understand this time disorientation and its relationship to trauma.  One explanation stood out to me so much that I captured it in Evernote, to return to it and think on it some more–in a way, to try to understand it more:

Trauma devastatingly disrupts the ordinary linearity and unity of our experience of time, our sense of stretching-along from the past to an open future.  In the region of trauma all duration or stretching-along collapses, past becomes present, and future loses all meaning other than endless repetition. Trauma, in other words, is timeless. Further, because trauma so profoundly modifies our ordinary experience of time, the traumatized person quite literally lives in another kind of reality, completely different from the one that others inhabit. This felt differentness, in turn, contributes to the sense of alienation and estrangement from other human beings that typically haunts the traumatized person.

So is that it?  Is this incredibly depressing passage from an article on trauma the only answer?  Because,  I have to admit, there is much truth in what is said here.  Linearity is disrupted.  Past does become present at times.  In nightmares.  In haunting moments on random days.  On dates that have significant meaning, such as anniversaries, or birthdays.  Future does tend to lose meaning—when I allow it to.  I often do feel like I live in another kind of reality that is completely different from the reality that those around me inhabit.

All truth.

But.  However.  Yet.

What I read in scripture tells me otherwise.  Because if I were to rely on the experience of the reoccurring nightmares, or the disorientation that suddenly descends when I least expect it……were I to sink even further into that sense of alienation from the world around me, there would be no hope.

And yet, I am continually being surprised by hope.

It sneaks up on me in the midst of the nightmares, the sense of time disorientation, the nights of alienation even in the midst of a crowd of people who I know love and care for me.  It sneaks up on me in some of the strangest ways, yet they are also strangely predictable, because it happens over and over again.  It happens most often when I study scripture.  Or when I write.  I’ve recently begun to write our story of grace, mercy and hope in earnest.  And the writing has not been a sad, emotional, “reliving” experience, but one that fosters eager hope in me as I pursue to proclaim what Christ has done…is doing….in the lives of myself, my crew, my church and the world at large.  I’m surprised by the hope I find in little things, like finally being able to complete simple to-do lists coherently and consistently without giving up in despair.  And I’m surprised by hope as I watch myself turn away from yet another addiction–this time food–to healthy eating and consistent weight loss.  I’m surprised by hope in the response of over 120 women who have banded together on Facebook to encourage each other to get healthy.  I’m surprised by hope in the opportunity to make a trip to Haiti to serve orphans in October with 127WordWide, and a chance to care for children with incarcerated parents again this fall as we film parents in prison creating special messages for their children.

There is only one explanation for this hope, and that is that it comes from the God of all hope.

Joel 2:25 states:  I will restore to you the years
    that the swarming locust has eaten,

God’s people had lost years….years to famine.  Years to the plague of locusts that had destroyed their crops.  Four years, to be exact.  Gone.

But this promise changed everything.  Everything.

And I have to wonder….”God, are you restoring my lost years?  Are you going to restore my lost years?  Are you in the process of restoring those lost years, even right now?”

We all have lost years, for one reason or another.  Loss of a loved one, sexual abuse, addictions, divorce, depression, rebellion, years without God.   The Gospel Coalition has an excellent article about this titled God Can Restore Your Lost Years.  I’ve found myself returning to it several times since I found it a couple of weeks ago.  Read it.  Read the hope that is in Joel.  Read about the restoration of your lost years.  And the hope that is found in God alone, for only He has the ability–the power–the desire, to restore lost years.

So, yes, maybe I am a year older than what I thought I was.  And maybe I am missing months, years, sense of time—all things brought on by great difficulties.  And yes, sometimes it is painfully disorienting.  Frightening, even, especially in the middle of the night.

But those moments are no longer what are defining my life.  They are still there, don’t get me wrong,  but they do not define who I am.

I am being restored to hope.

I am fighting for joy.

And I am reveling in the promise of Joel 2:25, and pray that God will continue to restore the lost years of my life.  They are many lost years.  Many.  But there is also still so far to go, and much that I am called to do.  Much that I want to do.

I am surprised by hope, even in suffering.  Only God can do that.

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Wrecked and Redeemed: How do I Even Find the Words?

July 26th, 2014

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The video equipment had been set up.  The sound guy was on top of things.  The band was in their places, ready to go.  The lead singer stepped up to the mic, the music began, and heartfelt words from the song originally recorded by Big Daddy Weave began to flow forth.  ‘I’ve been redeemed……..”

It could have been any generic recording session.  It could have been in any church setting.  It could have been in any concert venue.  But there were some significant differences.

These men were dressed in matching jeans and blue denim shirts.

These men were videotaping specific messages for their children.

These men were inmates.

This was real life.

On Wednesday of this past week, I had the privilege and honor of joining The Messages Project in their endeavor to videotape several men at a prison near Chesapeake, VA.  Each inmate who gets to participate is offered a chance to choose from a plethora of children’s books (donated by many of you!) to read to their child/children.  We then create a videotape of each inmate reading or sharing about that book–coupled with heartfelt messages to their family–and mail  both the book and the video tape to the child as a gift from their father (or mother).

It’s a great program.  An important program.  A needed program.  And I thought I knew what I was getting in to.  I thought I knew what to expect.

I was wrong.

As the mother of four children with an incarcerated father, I know the odds that are stacked against them.  I know the statistics.  I know the sheer difficulty of loving your father or mother so much, but also trying to understand why things are the way they are.  Why wrong choices were made.  Why crimes were committed.  Why separation is now the norm.  And how difficult it is to be the child of someone who is incarcerated.  And how important forgiveness is.  How important contact and relationships are, even with the barrier of prison bars–if the nature of the crime permits such contact to remain in place.

So I arrogantly thought I knew what to expect.  I’m not a stranger to regional jails or prisons.  I’ve taken my children to visit their father in three different facilities–a regional jail, a maximum Level 5 facility, and the facility he is in now–a level 3.  I know what it is like to be patted down–and watch your children be patted down.  To sit in the waiting room with the families of other inmates.  To hear the resounding clang of each door being closed before the next one is open.  Of the razor wire and jumpsuits.

I thought I knew what to expect.

I was so wrong.

What I experienced that day, in that prison–I’m not sure that it can be put into words.  Not really.  But me, being who I am, I must try.  And the only way I know how is to tell you what I saw.

  • I watched Moses, as he sang an original song that he had written for his 21-year-old daughter who has cerebral palsy.  He had a notebook of pictures of her, which he proudly shared with us.   This guy could sing.  I mean–really sing.  No joke.  He started his video with a hand puppet named “Prince”, who “introduced” him to his daughter, because his daughter hadn’t seen him in a very long time.  After the “introduction”, he broke into the most incredible song:  “Everything’s Going to be Alright”.  And in that song, he sang directly to his girl.  He sang scripture to her–he told her plainly what the Bible says.  And he sang to his wife, thanking her for the sacrifices she has had to make due to his actions.  And for each chorus, he invited his fellow inmates to join his video and sing the words “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”.  And I found myself in tears, because I knew what he was singing was truth.  Not that everything is going to be wonderful or roses or unicorns.  But that everything is going to be alright, because of love, because of grace, because of mercy.
  • I watched Kevin (not his real name, I don’t remember his real name), as he excitedly walked into the videotaping room, dragging a whiteboard in with him.  His son has just finished Kindergarten.  This dad remembered that his son had told him that he liked math.  So he created a math game called “Who does Daddy love more than anyone else in the world?”  And via The Messages Project videotape, he played that game with his son, asking his son to help him solve the math problems to get the clues, which eventually spelled out his son’s name.  And this inmate–this father–played the math game with his son with so much love and joy that the room was absolutely permeated with it.
  • I watched Chris (also not his real name) enter the room a nervous wreck.  I mean, a nervous wreck.  He had chosen the book “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie“.  Love that book.  My heart broke for Kevin, as he gathered his courage to do this.  He wanted to tape this message so badly.  He wanted to give this book to his girl.  He wanted to tell her that he loved her.  And he did.  He read that book.  Sure, it was a bit faltering, a bit hesitant.  But he did it.  Not only that, but he looked directly into that camera and told her that he loved her.  And that he realized that this was the first time he’d ever read a book to her.  She’s 12.  This was not a nothing gift.  This was a soul-gift.
  • I watched Michael as he confidently strode into the room.  This guy was PREPARED.  He told us that he had been looking forward to this day from the first day he had heard we were coming.  He walked in with pictures, notes, poems, a basketball and boxing gloves.  He showed his son the pictures of him that he kept on his “Wall of Fame” in his cell.  He read two poems that he had written for his boy.  And then he picked up that basketball and proceeded to demonstrate basketball crossover techniques, because his son loves basketball.  And lastly, he picked up his boxing gloves and gave his boy some tips on how to box as a left-hander–how to hold the right hand at the chin, how to jab, how to undercut, how to breathe–and how to only use boxing in sport or self-defense.  Never in violence.
  • And I listened as Tony rapped with the band backing him up–an original composition that he titled “Revelation to Genesis”.  Tony and I got to talk some before his turn.  He agonized over which book to pick out for his children to receive.  I had the privilege and honor of helping him sift through his choices.   And when he settled on his final selection, he repeatedly asked me “Do you think they’ll like this one?”

And this is just a microcosm of what I witnessed during the course of this day.  I witnessed inmates–fathers–desperately working hard at making connections to their kids through these videos.  I witnessed them speak from the depths of their souls to their kids.  I heard them say things that might have been actually easier to say via videotape than in person.  And I listened to their very real words of gratitude and sincere thankfulness for The Messages Project for this opportunity to give this gift to their child.  This was not just a service project.  This was not just a volunteer opportunity.  No, it was sacred ground.

And as for me?  It humbled me.  It wrecked me.  It overwhelmed me.  And it blessed me.  Deeply.  I ached for the children affected by crime and incarceration, who will receive these books in the mail next week.  I ached for the fathers–these inmates who worked so hard to connect with their child through this taping.   I ached for the caregivers at home, going it alone–as each inmate thanked whoever it was that is currently caring for their child, my heart ached for that mother, that grandmother or grandfather, that foster parent, that auntie or uncle.

And I ached for my own kids.  For what they have lost.  For what we all have lost. This week would have been our 25th wedding anniversary.   I shed tears driving home–hot tears that I have not cried for many months.  Because it hurts.  It hurts so much.

But I also was, once again, overwhelmed by God’s grace and mercy.  I was, once again, overwhelmed by His love.  You see, I am a prisoner, too, in so many ways.  To my pride, to my sin.  To this hard life and situation we are living.  But you know what?  I am also redeemed.  I am redeemed, just like the words of the song the first inmate sang for his daughter.  And we all long for redemption.  True redemption.  And that redemption only comes at the foot of the cross.

“Redeemed”

Seems like all I could see was the struggle
Haunted by ghosts that lived in my past
Bound up in shackles of all my failures
Wondering how long is this gonna last
Then You look at this prisoner and say to me “son
Stop fighting a fight it’s already been won”I am redeemed, You set me free
So I’ll shake off these heavy chains
Wipe away every stain, now I’m not who I used to be
I am redeemed, I’m redeemedAll my life I have been called unworthy
Named by the voice of my shame and regret
But when I hear You whisper, “Child lift up your head”
I remember, oh God, You’re not done with me yetI am redeemed, You set me free
So I’ll shake off these heavy chains
Wipe away every stain, now I’m not who I used to beBecause I don’t have to be the old man inside of me
‘Cause his day is long dead and gone
Because I’ve got a new name, a new life, I’m not the same
And a hope that will carry me homeI am redeemed, You set me free
So I’ll shake off these heavy chains
Wipe away every stain, ’cause I’m not who I used to beI am redeemed, You set me free
So I’ll shake off these heavy chains
Wipe away every stain, yeah, I’m not who I used to be
Oh, God, I’m not who I used to be
Jesus, I’m not who I used to be
‘Cause I am redeemed
Thank God, redeemed

 

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Giving Up

July 20th, 2014

Noland Trail

I wanted to give up today.  I really did.  I wanted to stop and not take another step forward.  Literally.  Not figuratively.

You see, a friend and I tackled The Noland Trail today.  A beautiful trail, located on the grounds of The Mariner’s Museum in Newport News.

I’ve been walking.  A lot.  2.6 miles in the morning, with another 2.4 or so mile walk in the evening, so I thought to myself this morning “You are ready.  It’s only 5 miles.  How hard can it be?”  And I’ve wanted someplace different to walk instead around here in my neighborhood or the nearby 2.6 mile White Oak Trail in Newport News park.

I was wrong.

I thought I was ready.  I was not.  And somehow that little 5 mile hike, came out to be about 6.76 mile hike according to my GPS tracking in my MapMyWalk app.  And somewhere in my brain, I thought it would be a nice, flat walk.  I nice saunter.  Yeah, I didn’t account for the HILLS–both the ones going UP and the ones going DOWN.

At about the 4th mile, I literally thought I was going to die.  My face was blood red.  My hands were swollen.  I felt sick.  And I seriously thought—can I honestly take another step??  I’m going to have to sit down.

But I didn’t sit down.  For one thing, that would have been embarrassing.  I didn’t want my friend to think I was THAT much of a wimp, even though I whined about the trail the entire way.  (It’s ok, I know she’s read this).  Plus there was this creepy guy who literally followed us the entire trail, despite our efforts to get him to go around us.  I certainly wasn’t going to pass out in front of him and risk mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

So I kept going.  One step at a time.  Actually those “one steps at a time” added up to 12, 120 steps–well past my goal of 10,000 steps in a day.

And yeah, I’m glad I did it.  And yeah, I’m proud of us.  And yeah, I’m glad it’s over.  And yeah, I’ll probably not walk that blasted trail again until I lose another 30 pounds (I’m at a 31 pound loss as of today).

I know, it’s a silly story.  But let me use this silly story to be serious for a moment, if you don’t mind.

Sure, I wanted to give up today on this little hiking adventure of ours.  But I didn’t.  I kept going.  But you know what.  There have been plenty of other times in my life—real times, dark times, hateful, evil times–when I have seriously wanted to give up.  I mean really give up.  As in permanently.  No more steps forward.  No more strength.  No more hope.

But.

But God’s grace has intervened time and time again.  Both in very real, physical, literal ways and in very real spiritual ways.  And, His grace continues to intervene.  Just when I can’t go another step.  Can’t parent another moment.  Can’t pay another bill.  Can’t make myself interact with the world one more time.  In He steps, with grace, love, compassion—and the incessant prodding of my soul to keep moving forward.  To not stop.  Because there remains work to be done.  In so many areas.

I love Psalm 31.  I won’t put it all here, but I’ll give you a brief overview and hope that you will read it for yourself.

It’s a call for rescue.  It’s a call of honesty.  The writer pens the famous words “Into Your Hand I commit my spirit”.  He speaks of enemies.  He speaks of distress, of anguish.  He says the following words, that my soul has echoed so often:

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
    my eye is wasted from grief;
    my soul and my body also.
10 For my life is spent with sorrow,
    and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my iniquity,
    and my bones waste away.

But you know what is remarkable through out this Psalm?  The writer never seems to doubt God’s love.  Or His faithfulness.  Or His ability to rescue.  Other Psalms do.  But not this one.  No, this one ends on a note of hope.  On a note of encouragement to those who might read his words.  It ends on a note of hope.  A note to urge the reader to keep walking.  To keep moving forward.  To cry out in honesty to God–YES, a thousand times yes!!  But to also trust that God is who He says He is.  The ending verse is this:

Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
    all you who wait for the Lord!

Be strong.  Even in tremendous weakness.  And I have known (and still do know) tremendous weakness.  Let your heart take courage—-even in the face of overwhelming fear.  Debilitating fear.  And wait for the Lord.  Wait.  Because He has “heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help.”

And just like I knew my friend was not going to let me stop and die on the Noland Trail today, I have to believe that hope is truth, and that my God hears my pleas for mercy when I cry out to Him.  And, as a result I intend to keep going.  To keep pushing forward.  To keep moving forward.  To not give up.

Below is a video that came across the internet this week that I absolutely fell in love with.  It demonstrates this so well.  He’s two years old, and due to some tragic incident, he does not have his original leg anymore.  But he has a prosthetic.  And this video captures some of his first moments walking with his prosthetic and his walker—and the great encouragement of his therapist and his family.  Besides it’s incredible cuteness, I love his reaction at the end.  He starts saying over and over again “I got this!  I got this!”  And you know what, with God’s continuous grace and patience with me–and with you–even in the most difficult and darkest times, we can say “I got this”–not because we “man-up” and do it in our own power.  That doesn’t work.  Tried that.  Failed miserably.  But we’ve got it only because we have a God who sees, who knows and who is faithful–even in the times that we do not sense His presence.  Even in the times that hope is absent.

Be strong my friends.  Let your Heart take courage.  Wait on the Lord.  Please.

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Important Response: Reeling in the Midst of Healing

July 10th, 2014

I find myself reeling a bit this week.

A good friend of mine recently made a comment along the lines of “Healing is a Strange Thing”.  And she’s right.  It’s a very odd thing.

Just when you are so certain that healing is completing its course, strange things happen that open up old wounds, allowing them to sting.  To hurt.  And the healing begins all over again.  Not from the raw beginning, no.  Because much healing has taken place.  But rather, from a new layer.  A new beginning point.  Almost how like a scab that is repeatedly scraped off, eventually DOES become smaller and more “healed” every time it scabs back over.  Or, at least, that’s how I think healing works in theory.

God has done the miraculous in my life; in our family’s life.  He has healed.  He continues to heal.  How often have the words of Jeremiah 17:14 poured from my lips and my pen:

Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed;
    save me, and I shall be saved,
    for you are my praise.

So many times.  Over and over.  And He has.  He has healed my heart.  My kid’s hearts.  Through so many different ways.  He is my praise.

And yet, there remains healing to be done.  And I wonder if there always will.  And I wonder, if the only true healing, will come when this broken world is no more.  Or when we are called home.

This week, I am reeling.Every time a sin, a crime, a story that hits close to home occurs somewhere in the limited sphere of my world, it rocks it to a bit.  Such is the happenings of this week.  And my heart breaks all over again.  For the victims.  For the family of the arrested.  Even for the accused.  For the community.  For my kids.  And yes, for my own self-centered soul.  It hurts.  So much.But there is also a part of me that wants to run to the family of the accused and grab them and tell them “I know it’s black right now!  I know it’s ugly and horrible and horrendous and so many other adjectives right now!  But there is hope!  God is still God!  Even when you may doubt that He is not!”

But those are not words that are easy to hear.  Not in the aftermath of tremendous trauma.  I know, because I certainly couldn’t hear them at one time.  No, it’s taken day after day after day of God’s patient–I don’t know–consistency? to lead me to the belief that He is still who He says He is.  And honestly, there are still days when He has to lead me there–sometimes I quietly follow that leading, other times I go, but it’s with much kicking and screaming.

There was an article published this week in Christianity Today, that also has opened up these raw wounds.  It was an important article.  An important read.  It was in response to a grave mistake that The Leadership Journal division of Christianity Today made a couple of weeks ago, in publishing an article written by a sex offender.  The title was “My Easy Trip From Youth Minister to Felon”  It was an article that made me sick.  For the author did not call his sin for what it was—sexual molestation.  I don’t remember the particulars–I didn’t want to!!–but I do remember that it was chock full of justification.  Of rationalization.  And very light on remorse.  Remorse that should wreck a person.Rightfully so, Leadership Journal removed the article and published an apology after much public outcry.

Partly in response, Maureen Garcia wrote an article for Christianity Today titled “How it Feels to Love and Hate a Sex Offender”  It’s a sobering reminder of the impact a sexual predator has on his own family.  I in no way share this so as to diminish the horrific impact on the primary victims–the victims who are directly victims because of the acts violated upon them at the hands of the abuser.  I know too much in my own life, to never diminish that nightmare.But Garcia does give voice to secondary victims–the spouse, the children, the family, the church, the community–of the predator.  And it’s a valid voice.  Her words ring true.  Many of the things she had to say, I could echo right along with her, like:

One of the legacies of being groomed and betrayed by a sex offender is a horrific ambivalence. We struggle with experiencing and processing more than one opposing emotion at one time. I would feel love and hate in the same moment or pleasure combined with disgust and aversion. I would feel empathy for my ex-husband punctuated by horror.

and

It is like being ripped in shreds. Betrayal rends. It is an attack on one’s integrity. I felt no longer whole. I was fractured. I was shattered.  And, reality took on a surreal quality. It seemed as if everything I knew to be true was a mere veil upon a dark writhing reality that lay beneath… lurking, waiting like quicksand for me to step in the wrong place.

These words are true.  So true.  And so, there is a part of me this week that is reeling.  Grieving afresh.  Hurting anew.

And, there’s an added element when you are the (ex)-pastor’s wife.  The (ex)-youth minister’s wife.  Who had a good marriage.  Who believed the future held ministry together.  Who deeply hurt for her church family as they, too, suffered horrific pain.  Not that it is worse than what Garcia experienced.  There is no “worse”.  There is only different.

There is only grief.

But I do not grieve without hope.

Because, with the passage of time, my God continues to repair these hurting places.  And it is miraculous.  There is no other words for it.  And, unlike some of the unfortunate experiences that Garcia experienced, I have been completely supported by my church, other churches in the area, and my community.  I do not remember one single word of admonish toward me or my children.  Not one single hurtful word.  Only words of love, protection and support.  And those words continue to this day.  And God uses all of that to foster deep healing in my soul.  And in the souls of my children.

So yes, this week I find myself deeply sad.  And saddened.  Saddened by sin.  Angry at sin.  Heartbroken for many, many, many victims–both primary and secondary.  And I cry out to God “Come, please!”  I write.  I weep.  I question.  I ache.

But I keep pressing forward.  I keep moving forward, because I do not grieve without hope.

And I am reminded deeply, deeply, that my God gave His Son for my sins.  And for my healing.  Because of His love for me.  For my children.  And for victims.  And yes, I have to force myself to write it, because it is truth–for sinners that commit heinous, nearly un-forgiveable crimes.  He even died for them.  As hard as it is to stomach that idea.  But it is truth.

And that very same sacrifice that brings about forgiveness also brings about healing in my soul, for Isaiah 53:5 is also truth:

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.

 

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We Know Nothing of Religion……

July 6th, 2014

Heaven

I’m an inquisitive person.

Or maybe I’m just nosy.

I want to know things.  I love to learn things….all sorts of things.

I am constantly researching something.  Reading something.  Making notes about something.  I’ve always been this way.  I suppose I always will be.  It’s how I was wired.

I want to KNOW.

The same is true about religion.  I ask a lot of questions.  I seek a lot of answers.  I do a lot of thinking, a lot of studying.  A lot of “asking”.

And, before I was a follower of Christ, this was particularly true.

Oh, how I wanted answers to all of my questions.  And they were the hard questions, too.  Questions about God’s sovereignty.  Questions about inconsistencies I thought I saw in scripture—and definitely inconsistencies I saw in people.  People who proclaimed to be Christians.  People who actually “preached” Christ.

Oh, how I struggled to find answers to my questions.  In some instances, I asked the same question, over and over again, just in different ways.  I sought out reading some of the leading theologians, top philosophers, asking questions of ministers, and eventually, reading Scripture.

Yeah, you read that last one right—I started to read Scripture.

And, you know what I found?

I wish I could tell you I found all the answers to my questions.  I wish I could tell myself that!  But that’s not what I found.

No, what I found was not a “what” at all.  It was a “who”.

As I poured over the words of the Gospel of John, I found myself baffled.  Who was this man, Jesus?  Who was the Father, God?  The words unfolded before me–was this truth?  Was God real?  And if God was real, was Jesus real?  And was He God?

At first they were just words.  But then those words began to work upon my soul, in a way no other words had before in my life.  Something was different.  Something was different about these words.  Something was different about this God-Man.  Something transformed this from being a religion to dissect, to question, to doubt, to fight, to argue about.  Could this be something that was truth?  Could this be something to believe in?

I recently finished reading a book by my favorite author, C. S. Lewis, that I hadn’t read yet.  The title was The Great Divorce.  In it, through allegory, Lewis explores the concept of heaven and hell.  Well, not really the concept—the reality of it.  Not that he purported to know what heaven or hell is really going to be like.  But he quite smartly introduced wonderfully new thoughts about the subject for his readers to ponder.

One of my favorite quotes in the book, regarding what heaven is like, is the following:

“We know nothing of religion here: we only think of Christ.”

 

Wow.  Yes.  That is what I want–now–of my relationship with Christ.  I want nothing to do with religion.  Nothing.  Because all religion does is leave me empty.  Without hope.

But a relationship with Christ?  That’s a completely different world.  No, it doesn’t answer all my questions.  I still have many.  And I will keep right on asking and studying and learning.

But my relationship with Christ is just that–a relationship.  With the God of this universe, who loves perfectly, forgives to the deepest depths, and provides the utmost hope.

I’ve done a fair bit of thinking and writing on this verse in Isaiah.  I think after considering Lewis’ quote on knowing nothing in heaven of religion, and only thinking of Christ there, I understand it just a bit better tonight:

“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,
“and my servant whom I have chosen,
that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor shall there be any after me.

Isaiah 43:10

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