Finding God In... GRIEF

“There is nothing left we can do; Hospice is the only option left.” Those words still rattle within my soul to this day. This past March those were the words spoken to me over the phone in regards to my dad. Let me paint the whole picture of this time period; my sister was in surgery having a 20-pound tumor removed from her uterus, my nine-year-old son was just released from the hospital after seven days, and I was emotionally and physically worn out. My dad had been diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS) a little over a year ago, and things had progressed. In a matter of days, his MDS had turned to Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), and there was no turning back. At this moment God was the only one I could turn to while attempting to navigate which direction I needed to go.  

With a clear direction after heavy prayer, I knew exactly what I needed to do, head to Boston from Arkansas. The night I arrived he was in the hospital receiving his 5th unit of blood. I sat there, reached for his hand as I watched the blood drip drop by drop down the plastic tube knowing this was the only possible lifeline my dad had left. As the blood dripped, so did my tears. In this very moment, I felt a firm God nudge. I wasn’t there to just be with my dad; I was there to help him know Jesus and help him know that this was not “goodbye,” but rather “see you later.” My dad went to church as a child, but he and my mom did not raise my sister and me in the church at all. They saw the Christian faith as a checklist and not a relational entity. It was only eight years ago that I gained my relationship with Jesus, and my dad never wanted to hear any part of my faith story.

 

As I pressed in and enlisted prayers and advice from my Christian friends, one message stood out to me above the rest, “embrace this time, not just in the blessing with your dad, but seeing the veil as close as possible on this side of Heaven.” Let me be honest here, at that moment, I had no clue what she was telling me, but I went with it anyway.

 

During this time it felt like everything in the world was at a standstill. I would sit, chat, and care for my dad. We had a lot of uphill battles on this journey including finding the right Hospice group to meet his needs and what his doctor wanted for him. We went through five Hospice groups before finding a group that was meant to care for our family. There were no coincidences through this Hospice journey, just God’s fingerprints constantly around showing He was in control. It was almost as if God laid out a breadcrumb trail for us to follow to show us the path that would take us closer to Him along this road.

 

Within the first two days, the aide came to care for my dad’s basic hygiene needs. She was only a fill-in, and the regular one would be back in on Monday. My dad hit it off so well with her, and let's say this was not a comfortable area for my dad to listen to anyone. He was listening, they were laughing, and a connection had been immediately formed. To this day I am convinced she was an angel sent by God. She would talk Jesus and share amazing Christian songs with him. Little did we know at the time that she had even come back to work much sooner than she had planned after unexpectedly losing her 29-year-old brother just two weeks prior. In Massachusetts, this is not common to find someone so passionate and open about their Christian faith, but Liz, the aide, only spoke the truth, and my dad absorbed it. Then step in the Chaplain that not only was the Chaplain for this Hospice group but he happened to be the same man that had built a rapport with my dad at the hospital after all his stays. Between the three of us and the Lord, my dad came to know Jesus in his last days and it was such a beautiful sight. We have no doubt that my dad went right into the arms of Jesus on April 18, 2018.

 

Each step leading up to his journey to Heaven seemed to have a snapshot of, “only God” moments. My computer was completely shut down on one of these days, and loudly it began to play, “Christ alone; cornerstone, weak made strong, in the Savior’s love, through the storm, He is Lord, Lord of all.” (Shane and Shane, Cornerstone) Moments like these were constant; it was as if Jesus Himself was sitting in the room where my dad spent his last days, just adding love and joy to such a tough journey.

 

I miss my dad, more than I can even put into words. He was a rock in my life, and I don’t know how to do every day without him. But as I did get to live right next to the veil as my friend had shared with me, I wouldn’t have changed a single moment for anything. I have so many more stories I could share about the amazing love God graced us with through this time, but if I added them all, you might be reading this for at least an hour. So instead of you reading my post for the next few hours, I am going to share what I feel the most important words He has called me to share through this experience is; even in the rock bottom hard, open your heart and eyes to all the possibilities that could wrap around you. The sounds, the sights, the smells, the feel, the tastes of all things are so different when Christ is entirely residing in the moment, and we allow our world to stand still. Embrace the hard and know that He will shine a magnificent light when we allow ourselves not just be broken but to be His.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding God In... MISCARRIAGE

This is a beautiful reblog from a dear sister, Sherry Clair of Hand Me Downs. Please be encouraged!  

In June of 2016 I sat in my car outside a video store praying fervently to the Lord.  I was begging for Him to give me a child.  Not just any child; my child.  The one that just a week before had been growing and thriving inside of me.  “Please, Lord” I whispered “let this one be okay.  Let us have this one, please make the bleeding stop, keep the heart beating and let this baby grow.”  I stayed in my car with my head bowed, pleading for that little life, tears dripping off my chin for about another ten minutes.  I took a few breaths and began to try to put myself back together.  I was wiping my face when a startling thought popped into my head, ‘but what if He doesn’t?

What if He doesn’t?  What would I do then?  I remembered a story from Daniel about three individuals who were facing the same question.  They, however, had an amazing answer.  In the third chapter of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar had set up a golden statue.  He was very proud of this and required that every individual must bow before this image.  Now, there were three young Jew’s, they knew the commandments of God forbid this and they refused.  Nebuchadnezzar was not happy about that and told them that they would be cast into a furnace.

A furnace.  This wasn’t a simple time out or jail time or a slap on the wrist.  This was death and not a peaceful one at that!  This was being tossed into hot, scalding, burning, flesh searing flames and suffering until the very end.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were facing a horrifying life or death situation.  But that didn’t deter them.  They had faith that their Lord would indeed step in and save them.  That He would redeem them and bring them out of the situation.  But what if He didn’t?  What if the Lord didn’t intervene and spare their lives?

Daniel 3:18 provides that answer, “But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the image you set up”.  In essence; absolutely nothing will change.  They would walk into that furnace facing certain death, and even if God did not intervene, they would not falter or be shaken.  So where did that leave me?  What if God didn’t intervene and what if I did lose the pregnancy?

If God didn’t step in then I would be forced to walk into that furnace.  I would be forced to face the biting, stinging, painful flames of grief and loss.  But I wouldn’t be alone!  God says in Hebrews 13:5 “Never will I leave you; Never will I forsake you”.

If God didn’t step in then I would be changed.  Those flames would alter little pieces of me and those pieces would never be the same again.  But God would still be the same!  Hebrews 13:8 states that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”.  He would be as good, and just and loving as He was before the fire.  His heart towards me would be no different than it was before!

If God didn’t step in then I might break.  I worried that the fire would be too much for me to overcome. I worried that I wasn’t strong enough to endure the overwhelming, seemingly unending and devastating flames.  But God would be there in my weakness!  It would be through my weakness that God’s power would be the most evident.  In 2nd Corinthians 12 the Lord says “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”.  

God didn’t stop King Nebuchadnezzar from throwing the three Jew’s into the furnace.  In fact he was so angered by their response that he demanded the furnace temperature be increased even higher!  He tied them up and had them thrown directly into the flames.  When the king peered into the furnace though he realized that there were no longer three men but four.  There in the midst of the flames, in the furnace hot enough to kill the attendants, who threw the three men in, was the Lord! They emerged from the flames unscathed, not a hair singed or the smell of soot on their clothes.

I prayed, I trusted and I waited.  But God didn’t intervene.  Just like with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego God had allowed me to be flung into the furnace.  For the second time in within just a few short months I had to say goodbye to another baby that I hardly knew but loved fiercely.  I was deep within the flames.  But I knew with every part of my being, that I was not alone in them.  That the Lord was there with me, even when I couldn’t see him through the smoke and when the flames seemed to consume me, He was there.

There will be many times in all of our lives that we will face the furnace.  We will stand at the door of situations that we don’t want to be in.  We will feel the heat rising up to singe our skin.  The flames may look insurmountable and terrifying.  With fear and worry coursing through us we will call out to God to help us, in our faith we will look to Him who we trust.  Sometimes He will close the door on that trial before we even have to enter.  Sometimes we will have to go into that furnace.  But if we do, remember who is in those flames with you.

Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father, we are so thankful that you are there through every circumstance with us.  You have said that you will never leave us or forsake us.  Please let us be reminded that no matter how difficult our situation may be that you are nearby.  Help us to remember to lean on your during difficult times and continue to find moments to praise you even in the fire.

The God Who Weeps

For so many of us worry, anxiety, sorrow, and pain permeates our lives. If this discomfort does not push against us daily it still can filter through to even the most protected of hearts during times of stress, fatigue, sickness, and mourning. We are fragile. Our emotions and hearts are prone to breaking. And too often, we weep. We weep with loss, with worry, with anxiety. We weep tears of angst, anger, and agitation. We weep with fear. We weep with and for others... and for ourselves. And when all has come to pass and we are so beyond ourselves and our understanding, we weep for sheer emotion; un-named and un-identified emotion... the waves of these powerful forces simply unhinge us.

Tears often are signs of our undoing. When we are beyond ourselves and cannot control the emotion within... we weep. When the pain or the hurt, the struggle, the worry, the fear overtakes us and we just don't know what to do, where to go, or how to fix it... we weep. When the brave face we so desperately want to display to the world cannot for one minute longer maintain it's stoic countenance... we weep. Tears are the physically manifestation that we are undone.

Jesus is near to the undone. Scripture tells us He was quite well acquainted with sorrow. Having a Lord that is near to our sorrow is a mighty thing... But Christ did one better. He FIXED the falls, He BECAME the tears, He SHARES our sorrows.

Even in our deepest despair and our wells of weeping, we are not without a God who sees us, who understands us, who comforts us... and ultimately, can FIX us. Our God comes down into our watery pits and cries with us. He is not without emotion. He is not without care.

He weeps with us.

Despised, rejected, betrayed, guilt-ridden, apart, sorrowful, grief-stricken, alone, sick, in pain, hurt, worried, anxious, tempted... Jesus knows all too well our suffering. Jesus understands. He weeps with us.

Isaiah 53:3-10 TLB We despised him and rejected him—a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by. He was despised, and we didn’t care.Yet it was our grief he bore, our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, for his own sins! 5 But he was wounded and bruised for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace; he was lashed—and we were healed! 6 We—every one of us—have strayed away like sheep! We, who left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet God laid on him the guilt and sins of every one of us! He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he never said a word. He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he stood silent before the ones condemning him. 8 From prison and trial they led him away to his death. But who among the people of that day realized it was their sins that he was dying for—that he was suffering their punishment? 9 He was buried like a criminal, but in a rich man’s grave; but he had done no wrong and had never spoken an evil word.But it was the Lord’s good plan to bruise him and fill him with grief. However, when his soul has been made an offering for sin, then he shall have a multitude of children, many heirs. He shall live again, and God’s program shall prosper in his hands.

Be not dismayed. We have a God who knows, who understands, and who heals. The price has already been paid for the hurt, take rest in the peace that it bought and weep no longer!

Press In

My husband and I attended a marriage retreat this last weekend and the speaker told a story that hit me profoundly. He told of a time when he was sick, discouraged, mad, frustrated... and he purposefully turned all his angst and venom towards his wife. He knew his words would hurt her... he spoke them anyway, admittedly trying to hit as deeply as he could. Her response was to come in from the next room, take him in her arms, and hold him. "I don't know what's up with you right now. I know you're trying to hurt me. I still here and I'm not going anywhere." Stick around Christian groups, meetings, sermons, or books long enough and you'll eventually hear this idea of 'pressing into Jesus'. For those that might be new to the faith, often times we're not great at giving real-life application to these church-y sayings. Yet, this man's story gave me a visual of exactly what to 'press in' looks like.

This sweet wife, in the face of discouragement... even attack you could argue, pressed IN. She pressed towards her attacker. She shortened the ground between them. She moved closer to the fight. Even with the very real possibility of more harsh words, total rejection, perhaps physical wrath- she pressed in.

Just like Jesus.

When assaults come our way there's usually two responses. At worst we attack back. Words are exchanged, sometimes blows are thrown; we match the assault- thought for thought, word for word, fist for fist. We FIGHT! At best, when we are confronted with criticism, ridicule, bullying, back-stabbing, anger, rage, attack... at best we step back and throw up all manner of defense. We COWER.

Self-preservation is an interesting thing- even spiritually. Fight or Flight.

Jesus did neither. He exemplified a third option. Jesus PRESSED IN! To attack, criticism, anger, frustration, deceit, betrayal, even to death... he pressed closer to his enemies. He didn't run, he didn't cower, he didn't stab back, he didn't mince words. He stepped towards, he moved forward, he wrapped arms around, he pressed in- and loved harder. He loved closer. He loved better.

There was no self-preservation about Jesus.

Even at the moment of his betrayal, by a trusted disciple no less, knowing this arrest would ultimately lead to his death, Jesus showed this kind of love. "...Jesus asked him, 'Judas, are you betraying the Son of man with a kiss?' When Jesus' followers saw what was going to happen, they said, 'Lord, should we strike with our swords?' And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, 'No more of this!' And He touched the man's ear and healed him." Luke 22: 48-51 NIV

What an example! What a lovely picture of what pressing in really looks like. What or who in your life today dear one needs to be loved closer. Who has betrayed you? Press in. Are you under attack? Press in. What is beating you down? Press in. Don't step back, don't swing out, fight the instinct of self-preservation and take the third option... the Jesus option.

Pressing in to these situations, just as Christ did, enables you to press in to God more as well. Each step takes you closer to the nature of Jesus and isn't that what this is all about?

PRESS IN today dear one!

Losing What You Never Had

This summer at Camp Barnabas was chock-full of GodStuff, but none more pronounced than what God taught me through our daily devotionals. Camp did 4 days of devos over Jonah– one day for each chapter. Multiply that times 9 weeks of terms and I got a whole ‘lotta Jonah. We're almost done dear ones! This is the last part of our Jonah series! I pray you've been encouraged, convicted, and refined through our Bible study of this wayward prophet. We looked through Jonah's hissyfit in our last installment. I pray that my attitude is never quite so juvenile as Jonah's, however I'd best not look too closely...

Let's take a final look at the God's goodness and His sovereign will in the last chapter of Jonah.

 But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

5 Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. 6 Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant[a] and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. 7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die,and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”

9 But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”

10 But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh,in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

Jonah is angry at God. As we saw in the last installment, he's throwing a hissyfit when things didn't go as planned. And yet, in this passage we see God still providing good, rest, respite to him... even in the midst of his disobedience and angst. God made a shade vine grow over him. His grace overflowed in a very physical way- and Jonah relished in it.

He was refreshed- and yet a change of heart didn't occur despite God's provision. Has God ever provided goodness, even in the midst of your disobedience? How did you respond... with joy and heartfelt change of attitude? Or perhaps with continued selfish entitlement? How often are your feelings affected by whether things are going well or not?

The shade ended, the hot winds blew once again... and Jonah sank further into his resentment of God, even going so far as to say "I'm so angry I wish I were dead." Whoa! Ungrateful much?!

Jonah demonstrates here what so many of us still struggle with today. This strange idea of entitlement, that God somehow owes us something. That the good things in life we deserve and are owed. I liken it to my children at Christmas- they wake up and find presents under the tree for them. They don't necessarily deserve them, they've been lovingly picked out just for them just because I love them. They surely didn't earn or pay for them, they were purchased with my money through my hard work. The gifts are freely given... and often (depending on their behavior) they are freely taken back. How often after receiving a great present have I found my boys fighting over them, resulting in me taking them back for a time. They pitch a fit, they cry hysterically, they bemoan how unfair it is that I took "their" toy away. How quickly possession occurs in their little minds. What they do not understand is that me, as 'sovereign' mom, gave them that toy and I can just as quickly take it away.

You see the picture here? As the scripture states, the shade provided Jonah was not of his doing, it was God's grace. It was not tilled or nurtured by him, it was through God's gardening that it grew. It was God's gift to give and to take away. Yet so quickly after it appeared Jonah claimed it as his own- his very own, his precious (cue Gollum voice...)

How quickly do you claim God's goodness in your life as your 'own'... your deserved gift? How quickly do you close your fist around the present He gives you, and cry out in frustration and angst when He takes it away? Health, wealth, children, cars, houses, possession, spouses, everything. We received NOTHING of our own volition. It is ALL through the Father. His to give, His to take away.

Unlike Jonah, who received a stern reprimand from God about his attitude, dear ones we must learn to hold our palms open at all times to the Holy One- both in the receiving of His gifts, but also in the easily giving back to Him when He takes away.

It's all by His hands that we give and receive. Let us keep open hands and open hearts in the good times and the bad.

Spiritual HissyFits

This summer at Camp Barnabas was chock-full of GodStuff, but none more pronounced than what God taught me through our daily devotionals. Camp did 4 days of devos over Jonah– one day for each chapter. Multiply that times 9 weeks of terms and I got a whole ‘lotta Jonah. You’d think for such a short book that I would have run out of material, but God had other plans.  We've got 2 lessons left to go- stay with me! There's SO MUCH good stuff in Jonah! I hope you're learning as much as I am! Click here for lessons one, two, three, and four! YAY! Ninevah's been saved! As we read last time, they all (from top to bottom) repented and mourned. They changed their ways and God relented from His promised destruction. What an awesome thing! What a glorious testament to God's power! What bragging rights Jonah just earned for listening and obeying! I'd be strutting around with bells on proclaiming what a marvelous thing just occurred!

Pretty sure Jonah was too... (4:1-3) "But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry {wait... what?!?!} He prayed to the Lord, "Isn't this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live."

If I didn't know better, I'd say Jonah just threw himself a spiritual hissy-fit. (For being a bit of a fraidy-cat, the man clearly had no worries confronting the God of the universe....yikes!) It is fascinating to me how, at the pinnacle of his success, Jonah is wallowing in his own selfishness; he was actually MAD about God forgiving them! And this from a man who not 2-seconds earlier in the story was himself running away from God. I'm guessing he didn't see the parallels in his own life...

As much as I'd love to point fingers at our wayward prophet's hypocrisy here, three more would be pointing back at me. I'm not going to belabor the obvious point. Rather let's do some self-evaluation-

The question here is this, what "Nivevites' in your life are causing you to stumble and throw a spiritual hissy-fit? Who has done you wrong, or what enemy do you have that has found God... and how do you feel about it? Anyone come to mind? How are you taking the news of their repentance- with skepticism, with joy, with anger (like Jonah), with thanksgiving?

I admit there's been a few over the years that I had a hard time accepting into God's family. It's just the truth. But as we'll read about in the next installment, the problem of dealing with our new family-members lies directly with us... in our hearts, between us and God. Meditate on the following for a bit and search your thoughts (and more pointedly, your behavior!) on them...

Romans 12:9-21 (ESV)

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Start working on that now dear ones- search your heart and get it right with God. Instead of Jonah, use the Ninevites as your example. Hear the word of the Lord and repent, confess, and make it right with Yahweh. I'm right there with you!

When the Worst Teach the Best

This summer at Camp Barnabas was chock-full of GodStuff, but none more pronounced than what God taught me through our daily devotionals. Camp did 4 days of devos over Jonah– one day for each chapter. Multiply that times 9 weeks of terms and I got a whole ‘lotta Jonah. You’d think for such a short book that I would have run out of material, but God had other plans. Click here to read the first, second, and third posts in the #JonahSeries?  

It is no wonder that Jonah ran away from going to Niveveh. These fierce-some people were no strangers to violence- especially against Jews. Without belaboring the point, let's just say they HATED each other- and killed each other as often as possible. God telling Jonah to go evangelize them, saying that his God- Yahweh God- was going to smite them in a few days time, was nothing if not a suicide mission. I liken it to God telling one of us to go deep into the heart of ISIS and letting them know that God (the Hebrew God) is going to wipe them away.

Ummmm... no. We'd be lucky to get past the border without being slaughtered.

And yet, in the third chapter of Jonah, after his 'come-to-Jesus' time in the whale, we see him doing just that. Walking steadfastly into enemy territory- to a people who hate his people, a culture who know nothing of his God, a nation of violent warriors... the worst of the worst. But Jonah proceeds. (You gotta give it to him in the courage department.) The whale spits him out on dry ground and he steps obediently across the border to enemy territory.

Can you feel your pulse quickening? Mine sure does thinking about it.

From chapter 3 verse 3- So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days' journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey. And he called out, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.

Wait... what? Back up... Just like that? The entire city believed God?

I'm confused. Anyone else?

Let's go back to ISIS- you go in, walking at least a days journey (and I'm sure looking over your shoulder with every step- just waiting for the bullet in your back... or worse), you're still alive and in one piece, you give the message (still alive...), these enemies of God actually listen (still alive).... and the entire population believes you (aaaand, you're still alive!) People this is an astounding story! Think about what it's actually saying. A violent and depraved culture, who is 'bad enough' that God Himself actually takes a personal and active interest in (meditate on that for a second..), hears one man tell them one thing and they believe. They mourn, They repent. They change.

Wow. Just WOW.

How often do we children of God resist the tiny things He's trying to correct in us. Though sin is sin is sin in His eyes, very often we're not exactly dealing with murderers here. Our sin stands the same against the Nivevites- though I imagine ours rank a bit more bland in the sin department. And yet we push against His gentle correction. We tug at the boundaries of what is acceptable. We resist His guidance.

These Nivevites with their violence, hatred, idolatry... you name it... put us to shame too often in the obedience department. I think their utter dropping and repenting of their sins is a huge example to us- not only in their wholeheartedness but in their immediacy. They heard the word and they immediately repented- not the next day, or next week, or 'sometime soon'- they dropped everything and repented, begging God for mercy.

They heard the word and changed.

The worst of the worst is one of the best Biblical examples I can think of to teach the 'best' of us. Surely if the Ninevites can surrender it all to God- in spite of their wickedness- then we as actual children of God can do the same.

If there is something God is trying to correct in you, if there is sin that needs repented of, if there is a word you've been given by God... hear the message and change!

The Power of Generic Prayer

I've noticed an interesting trend in my prayer life as I've grown older... though many people will preach on the value of specificity in prayers, through the years I've found myself praying increasingly generic prayers. Sure, there are still those super specific things and people that I lift up to the throne... but even in those requests, I've found my thoughts drifting more towards "Thy will be done" or "make it count" versus "fix this, heal that, bring about that." What's really cool is that the Bible continues to confirm the generic prayer model. Even in Jesus's prayer, The LORD'S Prayer, you'll notice Christ isn't praying specifics... He asks for God's will to be done (note the lack of detailed expectations) and that daily provision as well as forgiveness be provided.

Jesus specifically prays in generalities. And I love that because it gives God a very wide-berth to answer. After all, why would we limit God in our prayerful expectations when scripture tells us repeatedly that He desires to "do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine"? (Eph. 3:20) It seems an awful waste of prayer!

Through the years I learned that I rarely know what I really need to be praying in any given situation. Either the situation is so hopelessly complicated that I don't even know where to start in my prayers, or it's so discombobulated that I'm not entirely sure what to actually ask for... I don't KNOW the right answer.

Beyond that, too many times to count have I set up earthly expectations of how I think an answer needs to look... only to realize that God has other plans. Sometimes HUGE other plans- both good and 'bad'. But always HIS will and HIS time. Prayers are so often about expectations. And I've come to find out that my meager human expectations too often get in the way of God- they do nothing but create false outcomes that then provide a slippery slope of regret, bitterness, confusion, and even anger- often towards God.

Specificity in praying has the ability to disable our expectations of the God of the Universe.

I need to pray better. I need to pray broadly.

But that involves giving up a measure of control now doesn't it? For many that's a sobering thought. For those control-freaks, praying provides a major pipeline to the Almighty- a direct ear to the Man with the Plan. As a control-freak myself, being able to speak with God about stuff gives me a sense of calm... and control. And yet that sense of control flies in the face of what the posture of intercession should be... humility and meekness. Giving up the 'control' in our prayers, by broadening what we're asking (and therefore expecting) releases the power of the Almighty to really do His thing. And for Him to not only meet our expectations, but blow them out of the water.

All creation exists to glorify the Creator. Our prayers therefore should always exist to glorify God in whatever He sees best to do- whether that involves healing sickness or allowing death, miraculously 'fixing' a problem or letting us wade through the deep waters, winning the lottery or working 3 jobs to make ends meet... rest assured God will always bring an answer or solution that will glorify Him the most.

"God- Make this count- however that looks, feels, or ends up being, Lord... make it count for Your glory. May You choose, in Your sovereignty, to fix this in whatever way shines the brightest light on You. Be glorified, in whatever way You see fit, in this situation."

I love this elaborated generic style! I love that it gives all control to God to do and see as He wills. I love that it, in a sense, lowers (and yet broadens!) my expectations in order that God can exceed beyond even my imagination. I can pray recklessly in this way because His Will and His Way will always be the best- I never want to limit that.

Dear ones, today pray broadly, pray deeply, without expectation (except that He will answer in the perfect way!), with assurance that God will be glorified no matter what!

 

 

A Softer Shade of Red- Kate Redmon

Reblogged with permission of my amazing LIT sister Kate Redmon. Dear ones... THIS is a powerful testimony. I was blown away by what God has done in this woman's life. Please take a minute or two and read! ~B  

At 18, living alone in a new city, there was a day I decided to wear only red.

The color would be my brand, my hallmark, my calling card. In a strange new place, where I was as of yet anonymous, I could choose to become anyone, anything. I chose red.

I visited dozens of thrift stores in downtown Portland, and headed straight to the ever-present swath of scarlet shirts, buying three or four at a time.

I threw out the rest of my wardrobe, the mosses, the browns, the khakis, muted fat girl camouflage, and transformed myself over the course of a few months into a fierce woman of fire. The rich, rebellious hue inspired further wardrobe changes I had never considered. I bought tiny little black skirts to wear with all those vivid blouses. I splurged on stripper shoes, thigh-high, lace-up cherry colored boots with four inch heels, elevating me to an imposing 6’2″. I wore chunky silver rings on every finger, pierced my nose and tongue and labret and sported ruby studs like wounds, carried a lunchbox full of pop-rocks and condoms as a purse, and died my hair as crimson as my wardrobe. Even my lipstick was the color of blood, a violent slash in my pale face.

Red was more than just my favorite color. The symbolism of my choice did not escape me. The fury which had been simmering up in me for my entire childhood had spilled forth, a ruddy wave, and became the force that ruled me. I scrawled the title “Red” across candy apple notebooks that I filled with poems thick with ire and bitterness, shock value and dark imagery.

My heart is a crimson blossom with a black rotting core, I wrote.

I would be seen, and, loved or hated, my very presence would demand notice.

It worked. I was an easily recognized figure in the motley sub-culture of  downtown Portland. I was known. To my face, they called me Red, behind my back they whispered Big Red.

My rebellion stretched far beyond my wardrobe choices. Like a moth throwing itself into a flame, I became hell-bent on destroying myself. I pursued beautiful men with ferocity, using all my charms to win their affection, then turned around and slept with their best friends. I was only, I justified, evening the score. Men had been doing the same to women for how many years? Rarely sober, I dabbled in every substance I was offered. I smoked two packs of Kools a day, dropped acid and smoked hashish. Without a bowl or two of weed a night, sleep eluded me. I became entranced with a beautiful culinary school classmate, a soulful little stripper with big doe eyes and a crystal methamphetamine habit, and invited her to move into my studio apartment. Soon, I frequently didn’t sleep at all, as I turned more and more frequently to smoking meth. Meth turned me into super woman- it raged hot through my veins, revved up my heart-rate, and perfectly fueled my fire. It gave me all the courage I needed to tag along with my roommate one day to work and audition. There was already another dancer with the name Red, still another was Scarlet, and a third, Fyre; so I chose “Flame” as my stage name. Suddenly, I was one of those women who got off work under the sullen glare of dirty street lights, all smeared mascara and purse brimming over with grimy one dollar bills.

For a few weeks, I lived a double life. We’d roll back to the apartment in the witching hour, and I’d wipe off all that makeup, don my white uniform, take a few hits, then show up fresh faced at 6 am to work the morning shift at the bakery.

That was, until I began to get ill. Constantly queasy and given to bouts of vomiting, the last thing I felt like doing was strutting around in my underwear and I begged out sick for one night sift, then another and a third.  After that, they stopped calling and asking for Flame. A few days later, I felt almost normal again and, after getting high, I decided to accompany my roommate to work, just to sit at a table and observe. I still didn’t feel up to working the stage. She drove, and on a whim, I asked her to stop at a drugstore. I ducked in and came out with a brown paper bag. I carried the little package with me into the club, and from there into the dimly lit women’s bathroom. There, behind a graffiti  covered metal door that wouldn’t properly latch, I pulled a pregnancy test from that brown bag, and followed the enclosed instructions. It was a different woman who emerged from that restroom twenty minutes later, red striped wand clutched in my hand.

I was a 19 year-old, pregnant stripper with a meth habit. What had happened to me over the course of a year?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Oddly enough, the thought of an abortion never crossed my wild little mind. Instead, I began to make changes. I was going to be a mother, and mothers don’t smoke meth. That day, the day I discovered I was pregnant, became the last day I ever used crystal methamphetamine and ushered in a season of lasts. I stopped sleeping around. Mothers don’t keep a string of men with no last names. The longer I lay in bed, ill with almost constant morning sickness, the more the partiers I had known faded out of my life; the dealers, the sugar-daddy wanna-be’s, the jonesing junkies, and the hard-faced women stopped showing up, one by one. For a while, my roommate continued to bring little knots of furtive party-hopefuls around. Smoking bowls and telling muffled nightlife stories, they mostly ignored me, huddled naked in bed, fitfully sleeping and moaning queasily. Eventually, she even stopped coming home; I never knew where she was staying. One day late in my pregnancy, she showed up again unexpectedly. But this was no reunion party; she entered with her ultra-conservative Christian parents, who took one look at me heaped on a mattress on the floor, like an island in the sea of filth that had been our studio apartment, and started muttering in disgust. They were there to rescue her and take her home and left a wide berth around me as they gathered her things into hastily taped cardboard boxes.

With just weeks left before I would deliver, I abandoned that cockroach infested apartment with its dark memories and moved 8 blocks away to a larger place with French doors that let in the sunshine. The last thing I gave up was weed; my constant pregnancy companion and, as I justified it, “all natural” vice; the one thing that enabled me to eat during 9 long months of crippling morning sickness. As my sister drove me to the hospital at sunset on October 24th, 1999, I smoked bowl after bowl to blunt my anxiety. My Pitocin drip started at 6 am on the 25th, and by mid-afternoon I held my daughter in my arms. I had only just named her Kaya, after the Bob Marley song about marijuana, when the nurses came in to warn me. At some point in the night, they had drug-tested my urine (of course they had, given my history, why didn’t I expect that?) and it had come up positive for marijuana. Now they were bagging my baby’s first urine sample. If it too came back positive, they cautioned, CPS would be called and I would lose my child.

To this day, I still don’t know why Kaya’s urine test was negative. It makes no sense. I smoked every day of my pregnancy; often as much as an 8th an ounce a day. Faulty product? Nurse error? The pure grace of a God I did not yet know?

For whatever reason, it did. I walked out of the hospital the evening of the 26th truly clear-headed for what was the first time in years. I held a child named after a drug in my arms, but had been scared sober.

I traded kaya for my Kaya, and I did not look back.

With all I gave up though, I never let go of my rage. I may have crammed it back down, put in on a back-burner of my mind on simmer, piled good intentions for my child on top of it, but my anger remained and still expressed itself in a variety of ways.

First of all, there was the matter of baby gifts. When I finally revealed my pregnancy to my family, 6 months along, I started warning family members: you don’t want to know who the father is and this girl will never wear pink. Don’t you dare send her pink things; no frilly dresses or princess movies, no delicate lace or barbie dolls. My child will be fierce. My child will wear red. I cannot have Kaya clashing with my personality.

They cringed but they complied.

Kaya sported jeans and hoodies; beanies and bindis; perfect little converse high tops and rainbow tights but she never wore a pink dress.

Then there were the stories. I changed the ends of the fairy tales I read to her so as to empower a fiery little woman, “And then the princess jumped into the damn pond herself and did not kiss any frogs because the princess knew that frogs never ever ever turn into princes. And what did she need a frog for anyway? Princesses can swim!”

I was not going to raise a woman who waited on a man for anything.

Then there was the matter of the way I treated men. I had a live-in boyfriend, Nico, a coworker who I had ended up dating towards the end of my pregnancy. I had partially settled down in that regard but still I held myself at a distance. Our fights were ferocious screaming battles where I accused him of trying to control me anytime he had any input. During our good times, we discussed marriage but I refused to settle on a date or solidify any plans for the future. Two years in, with a second child by then, I confided to my mother that I still wasn’t sure I could put up with him. It wasn’t only Nico who felt my ire. Every man I came into contact with got the sharp side of my tongue, from male coworkers to uncles. My wit was a weapon I wielded against each man I met, and I prided myself in my ability to bring them down a notch or two. My tongue now held the vestiges of my fire. Eventually, I built up such a fierce resentment against Nico that I used my tongue to drive him away for good.

There I was alone again, a 23 year old single mom of two kids, with only my rage to keep me company. Everything had fallen apart.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I began to dream of running away. I would leave the girls on my mother’s doorstep and disappear to some tropical island. I was a chef; I could support myself in any resort town in the world. No one would ever have to know where I had gone.

Even easier, I could escape into death. There, even my guilt at abandoning my children would not catch me. Suicide seemed a sweet escape route, and I flirted with taking my life as I drove to work each morning at 3 am, swerving my car closer and closer to the guardrail of the H-1.

It was there that the Lord found me. One day during that dark drive, I scared myself, coming closer than ever before to brushing that iron railing and finally spinning out over the freeway as I had fantasized. It was then that I shot a desperate little prayer up to heaven.

“God, if you’re really up there and you really do exist, I need you. I cannot handle this life on my own. I’ve screwed it up so badly and I don’t know what to do. I just want to die. Help me, please.”

Immediately I was given peace. Like a literal fountain flowing over my head, I felt it pour down over me. Calm anointed my head, rolled down across my shoulders, and splashed its way down to the very tips of my toes. Suddenly and inexplicably my rage was absent, and a rich, joyful quiet had replaced it.

That was the beginning of my walk with Christ.

As you can imagine, the Lord had a lot of work to do on me. I had so many issues, so much old deep pain and so many sin problems, I still don’t understand why He didn’t give me up for a hopeless hot mess. But he didn’t. Gently, graciously, and one by one, the Holy Spirit began to lead me towards questioning the lies I believed and replacing them with truth.

One of the gentle whispers I heard constantly.

Soften up, Kate.

Soften....

 

But Lord, I would shoot back, a softer shade of red is pink. Pink!

 

I decided I would choose green as my color instead. Green as in new life. Green as in growth. At that time I was back in Hawai’i, the lush island paradise I had grown up in, and verdant green was all around me. Lord, clearly you love this color- the grass, the trees- it’s everywhere in your creation. Let me be green.

Still, I heard it. Soften, Kate, soften.

Gah, pink! I wanted to follow Christ. I wanted to live differently. But I did not want to let go of my fierce persona. My protection and my fuel, it warmed me at night and kept mourning at bay. Years after deciding to walk with the Lord, I was still petrified of anything pink. Pink was blatantly feminine, and femininity was weak. Femininity was powerless. Femininity left a girl exposed and defenseless.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Then came our Thomas family trip to Napa Valley. As usual, the entire extended family stayed together, all jumbled together in a vacation home, laughing, eating and playing games. These times had become the mark of our God restored family- we truly enjoy each other’s company and seek it out whenever we can.  I was gloriously happy. My kids wandered from relative to relative basking in hugs and attention. Grandma Rosemary was always available for a game of scrabble. Cousin Eliot and I hiked down into the Valley below the vineyards scouting for mountain lions. My brother Will and Cousin Nat made me laugh until I cried every time we played Balderdash, the absurd definitions they wrote were so clever.

But time had done nothing to soften my tongue. My interactions with men, though I now knew joy, were still laced with that old protective fire. After all that healing, I was harboring red. I pointedly rubbed my brother’s singleness in his face, hinting that he would always be alone even as I massaged his feet. Over dinner, I attacked Uncle Chuck over politics, berating his views and disparaging his character. When Papa Bill offered caution in response to a plan I shared for getting my favorite verses tattooed on my body, I lashed out at him with vitriol. Never once did my ugliness catch my notice, it was so natural a way for me to respond to the gentlemen in my life, even the ones I loved most dearly.

But it caught my mother’s attention and finally loosened her tongue. My sweet, gentle mother is the most gracious woman I have ever known. Generally, she will overlook offense after offense and genuinely manages to love the unlovable. After all, she managed to love me and hope for the best even at my lowest point.

In Napa, though, she decided that it was finally time to address my hatred of men.

She tenderly pointed out to me the disrespect which I showed my male relatives. She wondered aloud why I was so quick to attack. She brought to light that my constant sarcasm could be hurtful.

Then she asked a question. “Why are you so angry, Kate?”

Never before had anyone spoken aloud the source of my protective mechanisms. Only in those old notebooks full of bitter poetry had I ever mentioned my fury. My rage had been buried so deeply for so long, I had thought it was dead.

I broke.

Like a river raging across a broken damn, my fears and my furies poured out along with a torrent of tears. Men had hurt her so badly. How had she ever managed to love enough to marry my stepfather, her third husband, after what the first two had done to her? Men cannot be trusted. They will hurt you. They will leave you. They will break down your defenses then abandon you. Damn straight I was angry. How dare they!

As the words spilled forth, finally exposed to the light, I could see them for what they were- crumbling old defense systems set in place by a broken woman I no longer knew. A fortress to protect me from an enemy I no longer battled. Strongholds that I had set in place before I knew I was protected by the Lord of Hosts, the God of Angel Armies.

I didn’t need them anymore.

I could soften.

I could be a softer shade of red.

Even if it was pink!

 

 

Kate in a nutshell:

What I was: Bitter, angry, hopeless, wilderness wanderer, victim.

What I am: mother, teacher, writer, unapologetically fat, poet, strong, survivor, redeemed.

What I am becoming: whole, wife, healed, refined, beautiful.

Please take a moment and check out her blog, A Softer Shade of Red, and her FB page. She is a phenomenal writer and blesses me daily! Girl keep on doing what you're doing, God is using you in mighty ways! ~B

Out of Season- When God's Plan Seems Untimely

For those who live in southwest Missouri, we get to enjoy truly all four seasons of the year... sometimes in one day. I kid you not, this weather in this part of the country is downright bipolar at times. Case in point, we have a frost warning overnight two night ago and the highs today are mid-70s. It's kind of a thing around these parts. We've had a super warm winter this year, and all our bulbs and flowering trees sprouted early.  It's a welcome sign of Spring and refreshment for those of us yearning for warmer days... though such early sprouting always runs the risk of the late (or in this case, completely normal) freezes. Several weeks ago my family and I were out enjoying all the new flowers, during which we ran into a minor snowstorm. It snowed more in two hours that I think it had all winter long.  It was beautiful to see the juxtaposition of the snow over the flowers- and striking because we don't see the clash of seasons like this very often.

The beauty of the visual is in the unique and rare privilege it is to witness

something that occurs 'out of season'.

The picture is nothing short of miraculous and carries a certain sense of

supernatural touch with it.

Lately I've felt quite out of season. God has me planted in a very odd place at a very odd time in my personal life and professional career. In my limited capacity, it makes no sense. And yet I know without a doubt that I'm being obedient. In fact, the doors that He's had me walk through have been slowly coming, bit by bit, for going on two years now. He even gave the extra grace to spur my spirit very early on that these changes would be happening. So it is not a surprise... and yet the timing is still utterly confounding.

Because as many of you know, I have a book launching this month. It's called Helicopter Mom and draws a lot on my experience and stories as a flight nurse. And because yesterday I gave my notice for that very job and will no longer be a flight nurse... God's moving me into another nursing position.

It's quite probable that the day my book about flight nursing launches,

my career as a flight nurse will come to it's appointed end.

Yes, I am very, VERY out of season right now.

 

The timing of this massive life-trajectory change seems so inconvenient. On paper it's terrible... makes for interesting media questions when asked "how is the flying going"... and yet God could not have been more clear that this is the direction He wants me traveling- away from flying, firmly back on the ground. It was a bittersweet decision and one that I did not make lightly. There is a ton that doesn't make any sense about it, especially at this particular time, but God could not have opened more doors more fully than He did. Being obedient was easy because He made the path so clear... even when the instructions were a bit on the "whaaaat?!?" side of things.

I'd like to think that the snow we had was sent just for me as a reminder of His sovereignty. The flowers don't question when and where to grow, they just obey their instructions. The snow doesn't argue with God that it's too late in the season to fall, it just obeys His command. All of creation, nature, the weather, the seasons... they grow and thrive, come and go... at His command. Without questions, without raised eyebrows of the timing, without arguing that something is 'out of season' or makes no sense. As a result, a rare and beautiful clash of seasons occurs- one that stops people in their tracks to enjoy the scenery and marvel at the supernatural hand that brought together such unlikely events.

Today I want to encourage you dear ones, for those of you who may be feeling like you've been planted in a bizarre or untimely season. Search your path, if you know you're walking in obedience then take heart that God is using this unique planting for something greater... something more beautiful... something striking that the world will stop and take note of.

Despite this crazy, out-of-season planting... I pray my life stops people in their tracks to marvel at God's supernatural hand.

God's timing is always perfect!