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In which I realize we ARE more than conquerors…

No, in all these things, we are MORE than conquerors through Him who loved us.

Romans 8:37 (NIV)

Romans 8 is going to be my favorite passage of scripture soon. Mostly because I will be reading and RE-reading it over and over and over again until it actually sits firmly rooted in my heart and mind. I would post the entire passage here, but for brevity and clarity’s sake, I will restrict myself to the most poignant aspects that hit me recently in a cherished conversation with a person who grows ever more beloved to me with each passing year of my life.

A little background before I dive in…

It’s my 33rd birthday today and I woke up after a crazy few weeks of sleepless nights, physical pain and suffering through a miscarriage, fog brought on by a nasty head cold, and other sundry craziness, to a dreary, gray day made absolutely BEAUTIFUL through the restorative and healing power of my Savior. I got a phone call from my mother at 7:33am, the exact time I came into the world kicking and screaming (at least I believe I was kicking and screaming given that’s how I usually deal with shocking situations. As beautiful as a birth is, it’s also so very traumatic for both mother and child and I’m positive that’s the truth given my own three beauties who showed up after nine months of pregnancy…my thanks to the fourth baby who decided to bypass that and just enjoy life at the feet of Jesus, waiting for me to join her)

Shortly after the phone call began, my beloved children jumped into bed (yes, I did sleep in this morning…sue me.) and sang a beautiful and slightly off-key rendition of Happy Birthday. My husband gave me his birthday wishes right around midnight last night before he conked out and snored his way through the rest of MY sleepless night, so I know I am FULLY and COMPLETELY loved…

Anyway, the conversation with my mom was a perfect reminder to me why following Christ MUST be shared in a community, because not only was I blessed by her call, I was blessed to be able to bless her with some words of encouragement that God laid on my heart. What an AWESOME way to begin my birthday celebration…with eyes FIXED on my Creator, the one who knit me in my mother’s womb and called me fearfully and wonderfully made.

Romans 8 came afterward, but it fit in SO well and was once more a reminder of what happens when our eyes are fixed on Christ. My mom told me to write down the words I spoke, so I will try to do so, and hope that I do them justice. I know full well that I am not the first, nor am I the last person to realize an important truth about Christ and the cross, but I do hope that this can serve to encourage others in an area I know is a common human condition.

A situation arose recently where our first reaction was anger and hurt. It’s amazing really how often situations like that arise. My husband, my children, my extended family, my friends and acquaintances…all have the power to wound me in many ways and more often than not, they don’t even realize just how deeply wounded and hurt I have been by their words or actions. The tendency to anger and bitterness when wounded is so very easy to fall into and I am guilty more times than I can count. It’s a reaction, like a wounded animal cornered, with no other recourse to defend itself and protect the wound, except to attack. Instinctive, immediate, and often with long-lasting repercussions.

The problem with this reaction, this protecting of our wounds through anger and clinging to the hurts inflicted by others, is that in the end, the only one who bears the consequences is the one wounded and bleeding out. As I stated before, we cling to wounds that the one who wounded often does not even realize a wound was inflicted. While we are cursing and calling down judgment on them in our pain and anger, they remain oblivious and unaffected.

But a bitter root takes hold in US, the wounded, allowing poison to seep in to every crevice of that wound, reopening old wounds, and creating new ones as we focus on the source of the wound. It is often an insidious and creeping thing, insinuating itself into every aspect of our life and coloring everything with its bitter, dark hue. Soon enough, our relationships suffer, our physical bodies suffer, and we cut ourselves off from the very source that can come in and heal any wound inflicted, no matter how deep or devastating.

This is such a difficult concept for me to grasp, and this morning, Romans 8 indirectly influenced my perspective and I read it with new eyes after my conversation with my mom.

Before I get into that passage more, I want to address the direct influence that started the revelation.

A few days ago, I was listening to several of my favorite apologetics teachers, among them, Michael Ramsden, Ravi Zacharias, and a new favorite, Nabeel Qureshi. I believe it was the last one I am referencing today, but each man has, in his own way, been a revealer of this particular truth to me. Forgive me, because the next little bit is going to delve into a not so pretty picture, but it illustrates the point so beautifully, that I cannot NOT write about it.

So Doctor Qureshi was describing exactly WHAT Christ went through leading up to and on the cross and I wept through his entire message. I don’t think we in America really have a solid grasp on exactly how HORRIFIC his crucifixion actually was. Even The Passion, a particularly gruesome visual, cannot come even close to the reality and part of me is thankful for that. The other part feels that lack of reality gives us license as Christians to downplay the work on the cross to a fortunate byproduct of an unfortunate tragedy. Thus we also downplay its full effect in our own lives, to our detriment.

I’m paraphrasing here, but this is the basic rundown. Crucifixion was one of the most torturous and pure evil forms of punishment the Roman Empire thought up to get rid of their enemies. Only the WORST of criminals were sentenced to death this way and no Roman citizen was ever allowed to suffer its abject humiliation. It was reserved for the ones Rome most desired to use as a devastating example of what happened to those who opposed them. The story goes that the Emperor Nero lined his gardens with crucified Christians and torched them, to light the way for his macabre dinner parties. I’m not 100% certain on the veracity of that particular story, but given his madness, I can believe it to be true.

Even before the convicted criminal MADE it to the cross, the Romans ensured the condemned would not make it out alive. It puts the Resurrection into even more poignant perspective because in all of Roman history, not one crucified person made it out of the ordeal alive. Not ONE. When people make claims that Jesus MIGHT have survived the crucifixion through some sort of divine intervention (downplaying the power of the cross and its redemptive work) that claim is categorically untrue.

The condemned Christ suffered the humiliation of jeering, spitting, mocking crowds, but that was just the beginning. When the soldiers took him to be whipped, they did an even more thorough job than usual. Often times, their victims died on the whipping block because of the depths of their depraved torture. Blood loss, broken bones, entrails exposed. Somehow, he had no broken bones, in spite of the worst attempts by the guards to do so, but he fulfilled the prophecy through that miracle. By the end of the 39+1 lashes, the person resembled nothing remotely human. Their skin hung in shredded tatters, bloodied and misshapen, bones and muscles exposed. It was called the predeath, if they didn’t make it to the cross alive, but that never stopped the Romans from finishing their grotesque work.

We’ve seen pictures of the holocaust and shuddered at the reality we are exposed to in those grainy images. Do any of us actually imagine that Hitler was the first or most creative executioner? Through the millennia, the utter depravity of tyrants and despots only changes location and time period. What Hitler and Stalin and Mao Zedong, and Lenin and Hussein and others did to millions, the Romans perfected in their own despicable way in the broken body of our Savior.

By the time Christ was forced to carry the cross, not only did he not look human, but he was naked and barely strong enough to stand, let alone carry the weight of those heavy wooden poles. Some speculate that a crucifixion cross weighed around 300 pounds. I can’t imagine bench-pressing that on a GOOD day. Imagine carrying that weight about 650 yards uphill, from Pilate’s palace to Golgotha. Naked, dehydrated, and resembling a bloody side of beef. It was no wonder, Simon of Cyrene stepped in to carry it the rest of the way, once Jesus collapsed and was ministered to by the women who loved him best.

I took care of a patient once who had a GI bleed so bad, she painted her room with it. Unintentionally. She died shortly after, but I remember that day like it was yesterday. The horror of walking in and seeing her covered in her own blood. I was a teenager still and recoiled, gagging on the smell of death in her room. It took everything in me to go and tend to her, to wash her clean and push away my own instinct to run away screaming.  I still smell that and see it in my mind’s eye just writing it.

(I did warn you this would not be pretty)

I cannot imagine Jesus’ mother seeing her son in such devastation and not being horrified by his image, yet tradition indicates she tended him on the Way of Suffering and offered him water to drink. And Jesus even managed to preach to the women who followed him, weeping over him. If there was ever a sign that Christ truly was fully GOD AND fully MAN, we see it right here in this picture painted in Scripture.

At the end of the Via Dolorosa, Jesus was placed on the cross and nails were driven with great force through his hands and feet. The word, hands, was a bit of a misnomer. He would actually have been nailed right between the two major bones on his forearm, the radius and ulna and directly through the median nerve that traverses the arm. My husband had his ulnar nerve moved after a surgical procedure following his life-threatening car accident. Unfortunately the nerve was shifted in such a way that it sits on the outside part of his arm, a bit unprotected. He has described the excruciating sensation that occurs when that nerve is struck by anything. I might say it’s a bit comparable to childbirth or getting hit in the family jewels depending on your gender, but it leaves quickly once the source of the pain is gone. Jesus didn’t get that relief. He had nails, 7 inches long, driven through the median nerve and the fiery pain must have forced agonized cries with every jolt and shudder. The nails through his feet created their own form of torture, for while it offered him something to push against so he could breathe, it also prolonged his death because the very real will to live that every human body instinctively battles would have forced Jesus to push against that agonizing, horrifying pain to take just one more breath.

I’m weeping just writing this.

Without the nails in his feet, he would have suffocated, unable to draw up to pull air into his lungs. It would have been excruciating, but over far more quickly. Jesus lingered for SIX hours in this state. They offered him bitter gall, a vinegary, sour beverage mixed with myrrh to make it go down a little easier. It was the closest thing to a narcotic, according to some commentaries, but nauseating to consume. He refused even that small, mocking mercy. They posted a sign above his head, claiming him King of the Jews and they jeered at him, casting lots for his clothes.

If the Roman guards wished to entertain themselves further and end a crucifixion that cut into their meal times, they would break the bones in the legs to initiate the afore-mentioned asphyxiation. By the time they got to Jesus, he had already died, so instead, they pierced his side. Blood and water gushed forth. How he managed to have any body fluids left after six hours of this torture, I have no idea.

All of this to state one thing: In the hours before he died, Jesus prayed. He did not curse his tormentors. He did not condemn those whose sins sent him to this final excruciating death. (hint: that’s all of us) He didn’t even curse His Father for sending Him to take our punishment upon Himself. He had no words of condemnation or bitter anger toward all who had wounded and destroyed Him. What did He say instead?

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Luke 23:34 (NIV)

And in the FINAL moment before He took His last, excruciating breath, he absolved every ONE of those who sent Him to the cross with:

“It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

John 19:30 (NIV)

Do any of us realize exactly how significant these final words were? Still are? Absolution, forgiveness, and redemption. In the midst of the worst form of humiliation and suffering any man could possibly endure, Christ took every last wound onto Himself, carried the weight of our sin, and released us to freedom through the power of His blood shed on the cross.

It makes my suffering from the wounds of others look paltry and petty in comparison doesn’t it? If I want to be truly honest with myself, most of the wound is inflicted by my own refusal to release the bitterness and anger and forgive as Christ forgave me.

Oh but, Christ forgave and forgot it all, we say. He’s divine and the cross was nothing to him, we claim. He went willingly and He’s God. Surely, it’s NOTHING to what we suffer when someone intentionally or unintentionally wounds us. Why would we WILLINGLY take on the burden of someone else’s sin and forgive them? That’s Christ’s job.

It’s amazing to me how much I love to pick and choose the character qualities of Christ I want to emulate. I don’t recall that particular passage in the Bible. You know. The one that says, “Choose one or two of Christ’s character qualities and imitate Him in those areas where you are stronger. Ignore the rest, because, hey, we’re only human, right?”

No. I DO recall the verse that says,

Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.

Luke 5:1-2 (NASB)

And the one that says,

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

Genesis 1:27

And this one,

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Romans 8:18 (NIV)

Of course, our present sufferings more than likely referenced persecution and trials experienced by Christians in Paul’s time, but the concept stays the same. The wounds inflicted by others no matter how severe or how petty, are NOTHING compared to the glory that Christ will reveal in us, as we choose, daily (and sometimes hourly or moment by moment) to walk as the redeemed and restored image bearers of our Savior and God.

The beginning of Romans 8 expounds on the differences between living according to our flesh (and subsequently dying because of it) and living according to the spirit of Christ in us (and facing eternity, fully and completely alive). Paul speaks in another of his awesome letters about the light and momentary afflictions that trouble us here on earth preparing us for bigger and better things, and eternal glory basking in the light of Christ Jesus.

Light and momentary afflictions?

This from the man who was jailed, beaten, bruised, threatened, mocked, tortured, whipped, and eventually decapitated for his faith in Christ. I’m beginning to think that my definition of wounding and suffering are SLIGHTLY skewed.

I’ve carried the offense of wounds long scarred for YEARS before finally releasing them into the Father’s hands. My light and momentary afflictions are more often self-inflicted, if I choose to be honest about it. I CHOOSE to prolong the pain and bitterness by rejecting Christ’s example and withholding forgiveness. I’m being as gentle as a bull in a China shop when I say with all respect,

How arrogant of me. Of us. Did I ignore that command to forgive as Christ forgave us? When He forgave, he didn’t half-ass it. (pardon the French, but I’m going for emphasis here) He said, IT IS FINISHED…

And He meant EVERY LAST WORD.

Yet I hold on to offenses, both real and imagined with the iron will of a wild animal who grips its prey in jaws so tight that only death can pry them loose. Only, I find, I am the prey AND the predator. I bit down hard and now am bleeding out around the wound, all the while accusing the original offender of the crime. Am I truly willing to give up eternal glory for a temporary offense? Is my momentary affliction, given by another, TRULY justification for my continued clinging to an offense Christ already called FINISHED two thousand years ago?

Romans 8 is my new favorite passage. And if you stayed with me through this rather long-winded exposition, I pray that it will soon become yours as well.

itisfinished.jpg

 

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In which I grieve and mourn…

What makes a life? I know the arguments run in circles. Does it start at conception? Does it begin with that first, gasping breath after hours of labor? Maybe that’s the wrong question. I’m still trying to figure out the right question to ask.

One week ago, I was thrilled to announce that a long-awaited event was taking place. After months of trying, I got a positive sign. (Actually, it was four positives and one digital negative…I had to be sure) I probably didn’t need one, because I just KNEW it. My body was starting to feel different and I knew it was true. In my head, I was already planning out the next few months, hoping my morning sickness wouldn’t get too extreme, and praying that just this once, I’d be able to enjoy my pregnancy in full. I estimated I was 6-8 weeks. My midwife calculated a little more efficiently given my irregular cycles and said I was WAY earlier. I hoped I was later, but figured she probably knew a thing or two about this…

So I was anywhere from 4-7 weeks, but it didn’t matter really. I felt amazing, if a little tired and gaggy, and I was determined to enjoy the next nine months, come what may. Was I apprehensive? A bit. This was the first pregnancy where I was at a VERY healthy weight, eating healthy, and exercising regularly. Everything felt different, but I figured I could still safely tell others my news. I mean, I had three uncomplicated pregnancies prior to this one, right? No big deal.

Maybe the question I should be asking is, is that tiny little life real because I believe it to be, or do I believe it to be real because it is?

Friday morning I woke up. Had my coffee, spent time doing school with the kids, pondered a conversation I’d had with my mom the night before about my fears regarding pregnancy and loss. Worked out pretty hard and felt great afterward, if a little winded. I’d been experiencing a bit of an achy stretch on my right side from the beginning of the pregnancy, but thought nothing of it. It wasn’t pain and I figured my uterus hadn’t been in use for over three years, so it was natural to feel some stretching. No big deal.

That was until I got out of the shower and started to bleed.

Beyond the fact that I had NEVER experienced abnormal bleeding with any of my other pregnancies, I knew right away something was wrong. There was no pain (at least not that first day) but I knew that for whatever reason, this brief period of time where I once again was given the privilege of nurturing a new life, was now over. Call it a gut feeling, a matter of the heart, or just the facts. I knew. And I lost it.

My darling husband came home to find me curled up on the bathroom floor bawling my eyes out. He held me, prayed with me, and we discussed the next steps. There was no drama (other than my tears) that day, but we both wanted to find out for sure. So I called the midwife, got in to an emergency ultrasound that afternoon, and took a blood test to find out my HCG levels.

Even if my levels were higher, and they weren’t, I would have known when I looked at the emptiness on that ultrasound. I could see all the preparations for sustaining a life in the womb, but no life. Not even a blip on the screen. I’d FELT empty before the ultrasound. Now I had proof that I was empty.

I’ve fought PCOS since puberty hit. I was told that I would struggle with infertility and irregular cycles and difficulty maintaining a healthy weight. None of this was new to me. Thankfully, I’ve been managing my symptoms well enough that even the midwife noticed the lack of evidence for PCOS where there should have been. I’m not cured, but perhaps I’ve been given a reprieve.

And the three children I bore prior to this pregnancy proves that infertility isn’t that much of an issue really. I mean, we tried three times, and three times we made a baby. That simple.

Actually, we tried four times, and four times we made a baby. It’s just that now I get to tell people that one of our babies isn’t going to be present here on earth. That hurts just writing it. I’m a mother four times over and I won’t get to meet Pelokid #4 until I get to heaven. Something tells me, it’s a girl. Sweet and precocious and bubbling over with life.

There are a million explanations for why this pregnancy did not end with a live child 40 weeks after conception. Some explanations even range into the, it wasn’t really a baby idea. I’m going to block that one right now, because one, it doesn’t offer me any comfort whatsoever. And two, it brings me back to the question I asked earlier. I believe I was carrying a precious life for at least 5 weeks and that life is no longer present in my womb. I will grieve and mourn that life and then I will take joy in being chosen to be the vessel for that life for a few brief, but absolutely precious moments. All life is a vapor, some lives disappearing sooner than others.

The day after I miscarried, we watched a video on science and faith in regenerative medicine. There was a picture of a basic human cell. A basic picture from a typical biology textbook that any high school or college kid could read. As the scientist/researcher explained the components, I picked out names I hadn’t heard in years. Golgi apparatus, ribosomes, mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum. I like Golgi apparatus best. The name is just cool.

Each part of these microscopic cells works in harmony to create a miniscule organic computer in basic scientific terms, but it’s SO much more than that. Put billions of these working, tiny cells together and you create things like skin, organs, muscles, eyes, ENTIRE Human Beings. If just ONE part of ONE cell is out of order, it can cause the entire structure to collapse. To decay and degenerate. The research in regenerative medicine takes these cells, breaks them down into their multiple components, tries to figure out how all the individual components work, and then attempts to recreate a cell using that knowledge. And it goes wrong, so many times. But when it works, ligaments are healed, cartilage and bone are renewed, and skin is grafted. But the original cell is what amazes me most. Because as much as a scientist or doctor can do their best to work with lab-created clones of the real thing, they will NEVER be able to perfect it to the level that our Creator God did on the original model.

Right in the middle of that talk on regenerative medicine, when I was feeling the physical pain of losing a child, struggling with the emotions and mental strain of the ordeal, I felt God wrap me up in His arms and whisper His reassurance in my ear. I looked at the three children He’d blessed Jake and I with and marveled on the fact that, of all the billions of ways it could have gone wrong, HE knit them together in my womb and breathed life into their tiny developing bodies. HE started their hearts beating and formed the neural pathways in their developing brains. HE fit every joint and bone and ligament together like a perfect puzzle and told each cell what its job would be.

I got to carry them and do the work HE created my body to do for nine months of their life. I was the vessel, but HE.

He is ALWAYS the Creator and Sustainer of life. And that little life He recently allowed me to carry for a few brief weeks was His too. He granted me the privilege of being mommy to not one, not two, not three, but four fearfully and wonderfully made children. His image stamped on each and every one of them. Three, He gave more time for me and Jake to love and cherish and raise. The fourth one, He called home. I have NO idea why He gave me the privilege of being a mommy four times and I pray that I will get that privilege again. I have no idea why I was given the privilege of keeping three of His babies, but I’m looking forward to watching them grow and showing them their Heavenly father’s love. I have no idea why the fourth one won’t be in my arms for a VERY long time, but I am so very glad I got to carry her under my heart. And I cannot wait to meet the child who is more alive now than she ever could be here on earth.

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In which God is on the Throne…

I could post my initial thoughts on waking this morning, but they would sound like the results of a hangover and hardly reliable. And I wasn’t even drinking. Okay, I’m going to preface this part with, I’m human and these are my very first human thoughts for the morning. Then I’m going to speak as a human made in the image of God and hope that it comes out all right.

I woke up this morning, feeling my heart racing, my mind tumbling, and my gut clenching. I wanted to vomit because the panic and worry was SO great. I’m human and an American. The uncertainty and hatred and fear in our nation is so great this morning as we welcome a new president and close out a very fear-inducing presidential race.

As I said, I’m human. It’s okay to face those human feelings and emotions head on.

I’m also a child of The King. Bought by the Savior’s blood, redeemed at the cost of His life, and forgiven while I still bore the mark of His enemy.

And my King is STILL in charge.

My stomach is still a bit queasy, my heart is still racing, and I’m still a little “hungover”. But the overwhelming panic I experienced this morning is gone. And you want to know why? Three things:

  1. GOD is STILL on the THRONE. No government built by the hands of mankind can take away that truth.

    “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” ~ Revelations 1:8

  2. God ALWAYS keeps His promises and He promised to: meet our needs (Philippians 4:19, Psalm 34:9-10, Matthew 6:31-34), work ALL things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28), give wisdom to those who lack it (James 1:5), grant salvation to those who believe in Him (1 John 2:25), do the impossible (Luke 18:27), Forgiveness (1 John 1:9), give the gift of the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13), heal us (Psalm 103:2-3, Jeremiah 30:17), give peace that passes ALL understanding (Isaiah 26:3, Philippians 4:6), grant victory over temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13, James 4:7-10), deliver and protect us (Psalm 91:4-6, Proverbs 18:10), Come Again (John 14:2-3, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18)
  3. I trust in the God of my Salvation and the One who promises ALL of this to those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.

And then I had another revelation, although I’m not sure it’s a revelation so much as a reminder.

I am a child of the King. I am called by my King to love Him and to love others. To look after the orphans and the widows, to advocate and care for the oppressed and the poor, to bind up the wounds of the broken and offer Christ’s hope and light for the broken-hearted. To forgive as Christ forgave me, to train up my children in the way they should go, to teach them, by example, what it means to follow Christ, and to count the VERY HIGH COST of following Christ.

Because in spite of the “charmed life” we Christ followers live here in America, the majority of the world’s Christ followers know EXACTLY how high the cost of discipleship is. And if there is ANYTHING I can say after this election that will make an impact it would be this:

Christ followers are called to go against the culture and preach Christ to the nations, giving up EVERYTHING, including their own life, to follow Him. We are called to speak the truth in sincere love, to honor one another above ourselves, to bless those who persecute us, to hate what is evil and cling to what is good, and to not repay evil for evil.

My children, husband, and I have been working hard to memorize Romans 12:9-21. After that initial panic this morning, THESE sweet and precious verses poured into my soul and I reminded my kids of the words as we ate breakfast. It goes like this:

Romans 12:9-21 NIV

Love in Action

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.[a] Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge,my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[b] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[c]

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Because I have a God who DOES NOT CHANGE, I have a purpose that DOES NOT CHANGE! Governments come and go, life moves on, and good and evil continue to war here on earth’s battlegrounds. But I trust in the promises of God and one more promise He makes is that the WAR is ALREADY WON. God is Victorious in the Past, the Present, and the Future.

REVELATIONS 21:6-7

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.

Being creatures bound by time, it is understandable that we respond with fear and uncertainty about our future here on earth.

Being creatures bound by eternity, we also have hope beyond the bounds of time and in THAT we must trust in God’s promises.

This earth is temporary. At the appointed time, it will pass away and God will restore and renew ALL things (A new heaven and a new earth). What He asks of us as His followers is this:

That we live in the light of His victory and not be afraid at the days to come. That we love Him and love others. That we honor His commands and obey His instruction. That we celebrate life in ALL its forms and reject the false teachings of this world. That we teach our children and children’s children of these truths and train them to test the spirits of the age against the Holy Spirit and the Word.

And whatever the future holds, may GOD heal our nation and our world.

joshua

Posted in Abundance, and Love, Faith, Hope, and Love, Family, Freedom, God, Gratitude, Healing, Hope, Joy, life lessons, Love, marriage, Marriage and Family, mission, Neighbors, Transparency, Uncategorized, Winning, Writing

In which love MEANS someONE…

I’ve had some less than comforting conversations with certain people in my life lately that leave me with a pit in my stomach and a painful ache in my heart. The words spoken remind me of the devastating effect false representation and the enemy’s lies can have on God’s creation, his human creation most of all.

Ever heard the phrases, “Thanks for picking up the slack” or “If only they had been more responsible” before?

Another phrase I’ve heard a lot lately, “Love always wins.”

Without worrying about pc-friendly terminology, I have to reply to that one, what a crock.

And before I get crucified, let me tell you. I DO believe Love always wins. I DON’T believe a lot of people who say that phrase actually live like they believe it.

Let me explain. We use the word love for a lot of things that actually have nothing whatsoever to do with love. We LOVE our new car. We LOVE our presidential candidate. We LOVE our clothes. We LOVE that new movie. What we really mean is that the car, the clothes, the candidate, the movie, all give us a sensation like pleasure. We FEEL something that makes us happy when we think of that object or person, but LOVE has nothing to do with it.

In other languages, there are different words to describe various levels and forms of what we in English call LOVE. We wrap up shallow, surface sensation within deeper, more abiding context and it’s no wonder we confuse ourselves when it comes to the real deal.

We spout platitudes and tell people we’re “in love” and it leaves us with all the depth of a quick Adrenalin rush after the 100 meter dash. It’s great and it feels good, but it’s over in moments and what’s left? The come-down after a temporary high.

So what IS love?

It’s not a feeling, I can tell you that right now.

Love is:

  • giving generously without reproach
  • forgiving seventy times seven and then forgiving once more
  • laying down your life for another
  • looking after the poor and the widow and those who have been oppressed and beaten down
  • advocating for the ones who have no voice to speak for themselves
  • opening your home to the least of these, clothing them and feeding them and giving them resources to get back on their feet
  • making a vow and remaining faithful through daily, moment by moment choices to overlook the other’s faults and open your heart regardless of whether the other fully understands how vulnerable that makes you
  • making the hard decision because the easy one only leads to long term pain and no lasting gain
  • patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not puffed up with pride
  • it does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, and keeps no record of wrongs
  • it does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth
  • it ALWAYS protects, ALWAYS trusts, ALWAYS hopes, and ALWAYS perseveres
  • it NEVER fails
  • it is the GREATEST virtue in the entire world and yet it is the LEAST used
  • it’s an action NOT a feeling
  • brings healing, restoration, and redemption

Every one of these definitions I got straight from one source. Can you guess what source?

“Love always wins” gets thrown around when the newest law is handed down from on high. It is spoken when a special interest group “wins” a big legal battle against the “intolerant” and “bigoted” offender. Religious leaders even use it to push their doctrinal agendas.

Love ALWAYS wins because HE already won. It happened on a wooden torture device, on a hill bathed in the blood of both innocent and guilty, when a Savior embodied the greatest example of True Love as He drew his last breath and committed His Spirit into His Father’s hands.

The greatest definition of love in the end isn’t actually a decision or a feeling.

The greatest definition of Love is the person of Jesus Christ.

And anything less than what He demonstrated on that cross and in every living, breathing moment of His existence here on earth, is a pale, poor imitation of what Love actually is.

We were made in His image, but don’t for ONE MOMENT think that makes us capable of the kind of Love He pours out on us day in and day out.

When we reach out to a sick friend to lend them a helping hand, that’s a pale demonstration of Christ’s Love. When we offer our services for a hurting family who is broken and desperate for a way out of the mess, it’s just imitation and a pale one at that. When we give our time, money, and selves for a ministry that serves the poor and downtrodden, we are just barely scratching the surface of what Christ’s love looks like.

When we accept that everything we have to give in the name of love is NEVER enough, then we can accept that the only one who can is the One who defines and lives it perfectly.

And when we accept that, then He is free to infuse us with Himself, to love others through us, and to represent His love to a world that is dying without it. Ultimately, that is the greatest form of love.

Loving us enough to give us Himself in our place. When the world sees me, I don’t want them to see my paltry excuse for what I define as love.

I want them to see Love (in the form of Jesus Christ) in all HIS glory.

1 John 4

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In which loneliness hits hard…

I was the awkward, unsocial kid growing up. It wasn’t for lack of trying to build friendships, because lord help me, I was also the obnoxious one on the playground begging for friends and clinging to them until they realized how needy I was and shook me off. I don’t blame them. It’s not pleasant being on the other end of that connection either.

I don’t think I ever “gave up” trying to make friends per se. It was the keeping them that I couldn’t quite figure out.

So I made friends and lost them, contenting myself with my literary friends in the between times, until the next unsuspecting victim crossed my path and I threw myself at them with all the grace of a 2 ton bull in a tea shop. Delicacy has NEVER been a strong suit of mine.

It’s funny? Ironic? I’m not even sure which word to use actually. In all my “personality” tests I’ve taken, some of the top character qualities I have are loyalty, honesty, and friendliness. It never fails. Of course, that’s always followed by some variation of, “makes friends easily and usually has a large social circle, but her deepest relationships are rare and hard-won.”

I’ve assumed it’s because I’ve just got a handicap when it comes to making and keeping friends. That maybe the tests are wrong and I’m not “friend” material. After all, literary friends are SO much easier, less messy, and they don’t shy away from my overtures. It’s part of the reason why I wanted to be a writer actually. Writers are kind of given carte-blanche to be reclusive and eccentric, and keeping friends at arm’s length is just part and parcel of their hermit-like existence.

I am an introvert by nature. I get my energy and restoration from silence and solitude and my weakness is that I use that as an excuse for laziness and isolation on occasion. I can easily lose myself in quiet and peaceful alone time and not feel any guilt at all the relationships I’ve neglected in the meantime. I have to work harder at keeping in touch and connected to others because I LOVE my own company so much. If that sounds a bit narcissistic, it probably is. I never said I was perfect. I’m deeply flawed and heavily faulty in many areas.

However, in spite of my introverted personality, I deeply care about the friendships I DO build and maintain. Going back to the loyalty, honesty, friendliness factor. I wear my heart on my sleeve. If you gain my trust and my friendship, you’ve got it for life. No matter how messy it gets. Because that is the hardest part.

It’s SO messy to be human. It’s messy to build relationship with any one else because relationship implies something deeper than acquaintance or brief knowing. It’s trusting that person with your heart and with your deepest darkest places because if you are friends long enough, they WILL know everything about you. It might take years and years, but you can’t truly be in relationship without letting yourself be fully vulnerable. That’s like giving just a part of yourself to marriage, but keeping the majority back for safe-keeping. It won’t work.

And therein lies my main problem. Because our culture tells us that the individual rights and freedoms are the most important. It tells us that guarding your heart and staying “safe” in relationships are more important than letting someone in. Letting others see who you really are. We selfie, post social media updates about our “happiness”, give everyone the illusion of our “perfect” lives, and inside, we’re dying because no one actually knows all the burdens we carry and the wounds we bleed.

And I cannot do that. I was raised to abhor deceit in any form. If I have a fault in that regard it’s that I might be TOO brutally honest, especially in fledgling relationships where full disclosure might actually frighten someone away, especially if they aren’t used to that kind of connection.

So I don’t have a lot of deep, abiding friendships. I do have some very close friends and my husband is the one person who probably knows me better than I know myself. But it’s painful on my end to try and build friendships because I don’t do closed off and “safe” and that makes me vulnerable to a different type of hurt. Friendships that only stick around until they realize that my transparency is terrifying and they want nothing to do with either receiving or giving it. It’s easier for me to spill all to my journal and burn the pages, than it is for me to form a relationship with someone who enjoys surface-level discussions over wine and a good meal, game nights, and the random text message saying they’re fine when they really aren’t.

It’s easier for me to bury myself in my latest literary interest than give someone my heart and watch them hand it back to me because they have no idea what to do with it.

I cannot be the only person in the world who feels like that. And it’s uncomfortable when the rare exception happens, because sometimes it’s awkward and feelings are hurt and life gets messy and we’re oh, so human. We want something deeper and more meaningful because it actually exists in the One who Created us. We want that hole filled, but have no idea how to go about filling it. So we muddle through and get as close as we dare before we wall up the darkest parts of ourselves, KNOWING that if you saw that part of us, you couldn’t love us, couldn’t stand to be around us. If you knew the real me, you would run away screaming.

It makes us introverts cling even more to the rare friends who actually can and do reciprocate such deep, abiding vulnerability. It makes us crappy counselors though, because we tend to be fixers and we want so badly to make everyone experience those rare, beautiful friendships like we have. If we have.

It also hurts like the dickens when friends we thought could be that rarity in our lives turns out to be unable to handle the beautiful mess  we are.

This post doesn’t end with easy answers and loose ends tied up. Life isn’t like that really. We like to pretend it is though. But sometimes, we just don’t have answers and we don’t know what else to say and we just live in the middle of the mess and that’s okay too. Because fortunately for me, this life isn’t all there is and it’s far from over. So I continue in the muddle and appreciate those rare friendships all the more for their rarity.

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In which my attitude gives me altitude…

This week was really rough.

And it’s only Monday. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say, this week will continue to be rough. Just the facts and I’ll tell you why.

All three of our kiddos succumbed to (DUN, DUN, DUN) the winter ick. That hacky, barky cough (no not whooping, the other one) where it sounds miserable and you want to cry every time your two year old (or five year old, or seven year old) can’t catch a breath between bouts. I thought we’d make it all the way through the cold season without a, well, cold.

No such luck. Now the prayers have shifted to fast healing, and keep it away from me and Jake. The essential oils are on double overtime and we’re cleaning every surface multiple times a day. Which reminds me, I have to go over the bathroom door knobs again. And recheck the hubby’s cleaning job in the boy’s room tomorrow morning. It still smells like ICK.

Anyway, I’ve got like seven hours of solid sleep on the last 48 hours and that might be a little generous.

Two months ago, this would send me into a crazy tailspin of emotional outbursts and meltdowns. I would leave my family in a trail of wounds on the battlefield of my angry rants while I tried to come down off the ledge without slipping and falling.

This year started out with the theme of Redemption. Restoration. Repentance. I could go through the thesaurus and find more, but we’ll go with the three R’s. It’s catchier. I’ve struggled for years with a negative worldview. Everything was colored by a glass half empty (or all the way empty on some days) perspective and even after my choice to follow Christ, that perspective didn’t seem to leave. I felt burdened, heavy with the weight of my constant failures and successes just seemed to be little bumps in the road instead of the road itself. I do a “good” job of living as if I don’t believe the power of God in my life and the power to change my attitude.

Except that Restoration, Redemption, Repentance, ALL have a POSITIVE view of the world. They are words resounding with the idea that THIS is NOT all there is. That life offers SO much more and it doesn’t end six feet under ground so what’s the point.

The three R’s say that hope is NOT some wispy phantom just out of reach, but present, purposeful, and completely possible.

Apparently, I like alliteration.

So two months ago, I would have freaked out when the kids refused to eat the meal I had slaved over and the toddler threw up ALL over me, the floor, his Powoh, the blankets, and. Let’s just say there wasn’t much room space he DIDN’T manage to cover. I would have lost it when the kids, instead of being helpful, decided that was the perfect time for 20 questions, only their version is more like 1,579 questions plus 1 more. I would have reacted, no second thoughts, regretting the explosion of broken, bleeding hearts after Mount Sarah erupted.

I’m not taking ANY credit tonight, because what DID happen, had NOTHING to do with me. I LAUGHED when I tasted the food and realized exactly WHY the kids weren’t eating it. My husband decided to brave through the artery clogging, ten-times-worse-than-a-salt-block flavoring and even gave me props for the colorful meal. I called his bluff when I gagged and hacked my way through the fish taco, promptly downing three large glasses of water to allow the salt, smoother passage through my digestive tract.

I’m going to regret that fish taco tomorrow. I can FEEL my eye sockets swell up and I’m pretty sure I just went back up three bra sizes. (Why do I ALWAYS gain weight in the face and chest first?)

#22MinuteHardCorps here I come. I don’t care if it’s 9 0’clock at night, I’m not going to die of a heart attack in my sleep.

We ate bananas and peanut butter sandwiches to balance our bodies on a cellular level again.

Which brings me to my son’s projectile vomiting episode right during the bedtime routine. I only got a little frustrated when my husband didn’t move at MY speed to fix all of our world problems. I calmed down pretty fast, which doesn’t ever happen for me.

And the 1,579 questions game? I calmly, but firmly informed them the Mommy textbook was closed for the evening and packed them off to bed…once I got the toddler and myself hosed down in calming bubble bath-laden water. He held my hand the entire time and managed to look about as pitiful as a toddler can look, when they are trying to milk the pity as much as possible. Oh, I’m not denying he is sick. I’m just saying, he takes the sympathy play to a WHOLE new level.

If it had been ONE of those situations two months ago, I would have blown a gasket. And humanly speaking, I came close a few times tonight to losing my cool and letting it all explode.

I could go into all the natural reasons WHY my attitude has made an altitude adjustment. Good exercise, healthy eating, relationship building…

However…

Supernaturally speaking, SOMEONE had my back. And this tired momma is MORE grateful that you all know.

Now, I’m going to sweat it out for 22 minutes and hit the sack for my nightly ration of two blissful hours of sleep before the interruptions start. I never knew a king sized bed could be so small before I had kids.

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Dinner tonight was a real Gag! No joke.

 

Posted in discipline, faith, God, laziness, life lessons, Love, marriage, Pain, prayer, soul surgery, Spiritual disciplines, spiritual training, Tattered and Mended, Transparency, Uncategorized, War, Writing

In which I see firsthand the consequences of disobedience

I woke up this morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed.

At 4:00am.

It might now sound weird to some early birds, but my usual wake up time is more around 5:00am and I don’t wake up bright eyed and bushy tailed.

That’s AFTER the coffee. And the workout. And my Shakeology.

Not necessarily in that order.

Point being, it takes a bit to wake me up in the morning and I NEVER wake up from a deep sleep bright eyed and bushy tailed.

I still want to know where that particular idiom originated.

So there I am at 4 in the morning, after falling asleep sometime after eleven the night before and knowing I needed to get up in an hour to start my day. Clear as day, I knew it was a God thing. It wasn’t so much a voice telling me to wake up and pray, but I got the distinct impression of a rather large nudge and the urge to pray.

I’m awake, I’m alert, shouldn’t be too hard to obey that particular nudge right? I’m up anyway.

I wish I could tell you that I obeyed. My husband and I watched the War Room just recently and LOVED it. I remember thinking after the movie was done that I wanted to have a neighbor like Miss Clara and I wanted to be a prayer warrior like her too. Here I was, not two weeks later, already failing my first Noticeable God Nudge.

Oh I’m a praying woman. I pray at meal times, I pray for patience when my kids have taken the last dredges of mine and run away with it. I pray at bed times, and I even pray during my quiet times, which have increased in frequency and quality over the years. But I still have a LONG way to go toward really earning the label Spiritual/Prayer Warrior.

Which brings me back to the Noticeable God Nudge to pray. Which I VERY pointedly ignored.

It wasn’t that I needed sleep. If you hadn’t already noticed, I was bright eyed and bushy tailed. It wasn’t that I wanted to sleep.

I just didn’t want to pray.

Do you remember disobeying your parents as a child? Do you remember the consequences you faced? Some had a harsh wake up call and others might have gotten a little more of the grace side of things. Others might have gotten away with it and have no idea what disobedience actually means.

I should have prefaced this with the events of the night before. See, my spouse and I were not seeing eye to eye on some issues. It’s not a big deal in the larger picture, because we are pretty good at working things out. It WAS a big deal because we hadn’t worked it out when we went to bed and the lack of resolution led to some troubled sleep for me. It wasn’t like we were angry at one another, we just hadn’t resolved the issues satisfactorily. Thus, it still hung over us.

Fast forward to my early morning NGN (Noticeable God Nudge). It was  a definite call to action and that action was prayer. I didn’t get a script downloaded into my brain, just the urge to pray.

And I ignored it. In fact, I went one step further, since the Nudge wouldn’t go away. I walked upstairs, grabbed a blanket off my couch, fluffed the nearest pillow, and turned on my iTunes to the KJV Bible as read by James Earl Jones. (Beautiful rendition of the KJV by the way. His voice is SO dreamy)

I let JEJ read me to sleep and didn’t wake up until spouse and children woke me a couple hours later.

I wish I had obeyed the God Nudge.

The consequences didn’t hit the moment I woke up. In fact, the morning started out pretty okay. We worked out, drank coffee, talked about how our day was planned out, and it seemed fine.

Then the subject of the unresolved issues came up.

When I say all HELL broke loose, I’m not exaggerating. It wasn’t until both my spouse and I were left a bloody, wounded mess (not literally, I’m talking heart/soul wounds) that we separated to cool down and it hit me HARD.

The realization hit me HARD, but Grace is SO amazing. While I was breaking down in the bathroom, back against the wall, I heard the NGN again. Only this time, it was more of a gentle voice, reminding me of my act of disobedience that morning. If I had only obeyed the God Nudge, I could have avoided the whole Armageddon sized war that had erupted.

If I had listened and heeded, I might have saved my husband and I a whole lot of heartache. What hit me HARD was how deliberate I had been in my choice to disobey. It wasn’t like I was lost in the bustle and busyness and just didn’t HEAR. I HEARD and I closed my ears.

It didn’t matter who started the war and who was at fault and who had the biggest wound in the end. I’d already drawn first blood when I chose to ignore the God Nudge to pray that morning.

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He asked me to do a simple thing. Pray. Not because I would change anything. We still had issues to resolve. But God knew I would need that time with him to center my heart and mind and act as my husband’s guardian/protector as well.

I cannot recall a more poignant or deeply impressive lesson on the power of prayer. I set the tone of the day with my act of disobedience and I honestly can’t explain what possessed me to choose that route. Pride? Stubbornness? I can’t say the Devil made me do it, because the choice was ALL mine. God asked for my obedience out of love for me and I did not love Him enough to obey.

Thankfully, His Grace covers a multitude of sins, and my husband and I did not leave it there. We resolved our issues and I took a LOT of time to pray today.

I only hope that this remains a Lesson Learned. The consequences are not something I ever want to experience again.

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