Everything…

http://youtu.be/lSwCOs-uXzU – click to watch!

When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friends, your sins are forgiven.”   Luke 5:20

How can we not be moved by what Christ has done? No one takes who we are – broken and wounded individuals – exactly as we are, except for Him.

He loves you deeply, despite what you’ve done and how you’ve behaved. He loves you in spite of yourself.

Love him. Trust him. Follow him.

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It all matters…

“A dying man needs to die, as a sleepy man needs to sleep, and there comes a time when it is wrong, as well as useless, to resist.”  ~ Steward Alsop

Death is a part of life, but it’s often still an ugly encounter, especially for those left in its wake.

After visiting her grandpa for the last time in the hospital and experiencing the whirring of the machines meant to keep him alive after his stroke just over a week ago, my daughter was able to put into words what many of us feel. When, after her visit, I asked her if she was okay, she replied:

“Yes, I’m okay. It’s more difficult for me to see [my] Dad in pain… I mean, it’s hard to see Grandpa like that and I’m grieving for him but it hurts my heart more to see the pain death leaves in its wake.  Grandpa looks very peaceful and I don’t believe
he’s in that body anymore, so I find comfort in that aspect. It’s the people left behind and in pain that hurts my heart.”

The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 15:55, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”  While I know that this verse is specifically pointing to the resurrection of Christ, my human mind wants to answer its question.  Death’s sting is right here; it’s the pain that engulfs us and weighs heavily on our hearts.  It’s the sense of loss that we experience when someone we love is taken from us. And although we may know that the suffering and pain may have ended for our loved one, it’s just the beginning for those left in death’s wake.

Unfortunately, there is no way to avoid the pain that accompanies death.  But what we do with life as a result of the pain… that’s another story.

For me, I choose to honor those who have passed away by seeking to learn from their lives. More than anything, death has taught me that we don’t know how many tomorrows we have, therefore everything we do matters.

Those words you spoke in anger? They matter.

The times you did (or didn’t) say “I love you?” They matter.

Those times you needed to admit you were wrong and ask for forgiveness? They matter.

The times you needed to offer forgiveness – even if it wasn’t “deserved?” They matter.

It all matters.

“Forgive and give as if it were your last opportunity. Love like there’s no tomorrow, and if tomorrow comes, love again.” (Max Lucado, Every Day Deserves a Chance: Wake Up to the
Gift of 24 Hours
)

It all matters.

May God bless you, Joel, as you journey home.

Do you know where God lives?

If you would ask this question to a child, perhaps the answer would be “heaven” or “in my heart” or something similar.  I have to admit – for the longest time, even in my adult life, this is what I also would have answered.

Not anymore…

The Bible tells us in Psalm 34:18 that “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he saves those whose spirits are crushed.”

Now do you know where God lives?

For me, God has been nearest during the times my heart has been broken. You know, the times when I’m exhausted by dealing with what life happens to be hurling at me at the moment; the times when I’m really struggling to see God in a situation; the times when I am broken and desperate for God to work.  Times like:

… when I ended my destructive 16-year marriage

… when I found myself struggling to support 4 children

… when my daughter, during her senior year of high school, told me she was pregnant

… when one of my closest friends died, leaving behind two beautiful teenage daughters

…when I wondered if I should get married again (I did, by the way)

… when my husband was unemployed for nearly a year

… when my son told me his girlfriend was pregnant

… when one of my children went to jail – twice

… when our home was foreclosed on, despite our negotiations and communication with the mortgage company

… when my husband lost his job the day after we were evicted from our home

 

I’m sure you have your own list – we all do.  These are the times that try our faith, our character, and even our sanity.  But, consider this:  Do you feel God’s presence during those top-of-the-world, everything’s-going-my-way days – or is it during the deepest, darkest, scariest valleys of life that you can feel His loving arms wrap around you and hear Him whisper, “It’s okay.  I’ve got it handled. You can trust me”?

I’ll argue that He’s there during both times… it’s me that isn’t really “there” when all is well. I have a way of being quite independent when life is nothing but smooth sailing and filled with few conflicts. I’m imagining that perhaps you may be the same way.

If you just so happen to be walking in one of those deep, dark, scary valleys right now, just know that God isn’t far from you. He’s there when life is hard… even if you’ve made it that way by some of your own choices. His love for you is boundless, and the way He works is not limited by the institutions of man or what we think He can or can’t do.

God’s like that.

WARNING!  God is always interested in what is best for you versus what is most comfortable!  Often a Superman-style rescue from the pit is not what you need (although it may be what you want)!

Love is a battlefield…

I must confess, Pat Benatar is one of my all-time favorite rock artists from the ‘80s. As a teenager I would crank up the volume on my stereo and belt out the lyrics to her songs with an unmatched attitude that often accompanies teenage angst and anger.  Quite simply, that woman rocked (actually, she still does)! 

If you are a product of the ‘80s, you have likely heard Pat’s passionately delivered song, Love is a Battlefield (if you need a refresher, just click the link). While this song represented independence and desperately desired self-sufficiency to me as a teenager, I find that it has quite a different meaning to me as an adult.

You might be thinking, “Where in the world is she going with this?”  Let me explain.

Like you, I’m no stranger to difficulty in life.  I’m in the midst of a pretty significant struggle right now – a battle, if you will. It’s not a fight against cancer or an ongoing feud with my neighbors – but it’s a struggle that often interferes with my heart’s desire to serve God, love others, and provide encouragement to those around me.

Lately, I’ve been feeling like I’m losing this battle… it’s ongoing, it’s exhausting, and it’s based on a profound desire to fight for what’s best for someone I love more than my own life. Giving up is not an option; love is a battlefield that involves our spirits, our hearts, our minds, and our emotions.

I recently read about another individual who faced a pretty significant battle, and I began to think about how this person successfully fought – and won – the battle he faced. Although his battle was quite different than my own, the same concepts can be applied.   

In the Bible (Exodus 17:8-15), there’s a guy named Moses who is leading a group of Israelites in a battle against the Amalekites (lots of “ites” in the Bible…).  Moses stands atop a hill holding a walking stick that God had given to him and, as long as he holds his hands high, the Israelites win.  If his hands came down – you guessed it – the Israelites start losing.  As you can imagine, Moses’ arms become tired as he holds the stick – much in the same way we become weary as we fight a battle for an extended period of time. Thankfully, Moses had a couple of great friends, Aaron and Hur, who recognized that Moses needed some serious help. They each took one of Moses’ arms and helped him hold that stick high up in the air, and – you guessed it – the Israelites defeated the Amalekites thanks to (literally) the support God provided through Aaron and Hur.

This passage caused me to wonder how many times we “lose” the battle instead of being victorious, like Moses and the Israelites.  Here are a few of my thoughts:

  1.  Does our own self-sufficiency stand in the way of victory?  In other words, are we trying to do too much by ourselves?
  2. Do others around us know of our battle and our need for their support? Restated, do we keep our problems to ourselves or share them with a trusted friend?
  3. Do we recognize the battles that are being waged in others’ lives and uphold them so they may continue to plead with God and fight their battles in spite of their exhaustion? Do we offer support?
  4. Do we align our closest relationships with those who will “hold up our hands” (like Aaron and Hur did for Moses) when we become tired and worn?
  5. Do we choose whom to uphold based on their struggles instead of their pleas for help? In other words, are some struggles too “uncomfortable” for us to step in and lend support?

My prayer for today:

God of the battle, as I walk alongside those who are struggling may I find ways to support them when they become weary, encourage them when they can’t stand on their own, and stand in the gap to plead for their victory.

If you don’t have a friend or two who can offer this kind of support and love in your life, be that person to someone else. You’ll be surprised at the kind of relationships it will produce in your life.

 Now, back to the battle…

Childlike faith…

My best friend said good-bye to her sister today.

My friend loved her sister in a way that you and I can only hope to achieve.  You see, her sister struggled with the chains of drug addiction off and on for more than two decades. My friend can teach us about unconditional love – because she exercised it daily in her relationship with her sister. But her sister – she has taught me about Christ’s passionate pursuit for those we consider to be “the least of these” and about how simple it truly is to accept a gift from the ultimate Giver.

This woman’s death has caused me to reflect on God’s love and of people’s judgment… and I have a few thoughts to share based on a reflection I shared with those at her Celebration of Life service today.  I hope this message speaks to your spirit and allows you to examine your own heart – writing it certainly caused me to examine my own and consider the ways in which it judges others. 

There’s a song I’m sure many of you are familiar with – in fact, it’s one of those “hair band” songs that many of us (myself included) continue to be fond of, especially if you (like me) are a product of the ‘80s.  I was listening to this particular song this weekend, and – as usual –  I cranked up the volume.  After all, that’s how music of the 80s should be played, right? As I listened to Axle Rose (of the Guns N Roses fame) I heard him singing “Sweet Child O’ Mine”  and I couldn’t help but wonder if this would be the kind of song that God would welcome my friend’s sister into heaven with.

Stay with me…

I’ve known my friend’s sister kind of indirectly for over 20 years.  From the really good times in her life – like when her daughter was born – to the times she struggled through what many of us would consider hell – there was always one word that consistently described her:  “childlike.”

Not the immature, childish definition of childlike, but rather the meaning of childlike that embraces fun, looks at the good parts of the world with wonder, and throws its head back in laughter when something is ridiculously silly or funny. It’s the kind of childlike portrayed in an attitude that spontaneously says, “I love you” and welcomes people with no assumptions or preconceived judgments. It’s the kind of attitude I wish I would embrace more in my own life.  

As I listened to Guns & Roses and began thinking about her life, I was reminded of something that my friend had shared about her sister several weeks ago. While in the midst of a very difficult time of her life, my friend’s sister recommitted her life and trusted in Jesus.  She accepted the fact that Jesus loved her because he loved her – because he loved her.

It doesn’t take much – really, just the simple faith of a child – to understand that love doesn’t  have to be all that complicated.

The Bible – Matthew 18 exactly – illustrates the love that Jesus has for anyone who chooses to simply trust.  It’s a love that isn’t dependent upon our lifestyle or the rules that we do or don’t obey. When asked who gets the highest rank in God’s Kingdom, Jesus illustrated his answer by calling over a child and saying – “I’m telling you, that unless you start over like a child, you’re not even going to get a look at heaven, let alone get in.” He goes on to say “whoever becomes simple again – like a child – will rank high in God’s Kingdom.” 

Maybe that doesn’t sit well with those who prefer to justify the entry into heaven upon the things we have or haven’t done – but it sits well with me, someone who hasn’t always made the best choices in her own life. I love knowing that this woman was welcomed into heaven and is now experiencing the peace that she so desperately wanted to find while she lived here on earth. She was welcomed simply because she believed – like a child – that she mattered to Jesus.

As we reflect upon the condition of our own hearts, I hope that we choose to allow God to shape us and mold us by His words in 2 Corinthians 5:17 – that if anyone is in Christ – and I mean anyone – they are a new creation.  

This week, my friend’s sister became a new creation when she left here and entered into the presence of God.  As He embraced her, I’m sure she heard familiar words – once sung by Axle Rose, but now whispered by a loving and gracious God – “Oh, sweet child of mine; oh, sweet love of mine.”   I know she is at peace, and I know she has no more pain – and I’m pretty sure they are having one heck of a party that began when she arrived. After all, heaven rejoices when even just one lost sheep has been found.

Save a place up there for me, Paulette. I’m working on my heart… and hoping it will reflect the same childlike faith and non-judgmental love that you inspired with your life.

Birthdays…

I’m thirty-twelve today… sounds better than forty-two, don’t you think?

I’ve heard so many phrases about age:

  • You’re only as old as you feel
  • Age is just a number
  • You’re not getting older, you’re getting better

You can probably add a few to the list as well.  I don’t particularly agree with any of the phrases – I have my own philosophy about birthdays and, while I’m not thrilled with being another year older, I think that changing my attitude about each passing year will make a difference in each notch I get to make in my birthday belt.

You see, today I realized that I have likely passed the half-way point of my life.   The Center for Disease Control tells me that women in the U.S., on average, live to be around 80.6 years old.  Sure, I may see a few more years and live to be 90 or more… but the odds are against me. The question I ask myself isn’t “how many years have passed?” Rather, it’s “how many years do I have left to make a difference?”

I’ll try to explain.

For me, the first twenty years of my life were spent being pretty self-centered. The next twenty years of my life were spent changing diapers, working to put food on the table, feeding kids, cleaning up after kids, doing laundry, taxiing children to various events, etc., etc., etc.  These all are important, and they DO make a difference in the  lives of others (primarily the children…) – but I’ve reached the conclusion that life is about far more than just keeping up or getting by. What about the next twenty to forty years?

For me, life is about being completely filled and completely emptied each and every day.  I don’t want to meander through my days with a mindset of mediocrity.  When I wake up each  morning, I’m reminded that I may not have tomorrow, so I better make today count!  I’ve been given a personality, gifts, and talents that God has entrusted to me… little old me… to make a difference in the lives of others.  In fact, Colossians 3:23 tells me that I should “work willingly at whatever [I] do, as though [I was] working for the Lord rather than for people.” (New Living Translation). If you are a follower of Christ, you understand the impact of this statement.   It’s like God is saying, “Hey! Don’t be a slacker!  Do your best no matter what you are doing or who you are working for!  Do everything like it’s for Me!” 

Like the manna that God gave to the Israelites (you can find this story in Exodus 16), I believe we are to use the gifts God has given us without reserve.  God gave just enough manna for each day to the Israelites, and they were to hold nothing in reserve (v. 19), but instead to rely on God for the next day’s gift… and the next… and the next. You see, if we empty ourselves each and every day – by giving, by encouraging, by using whatever “gifts” we have been given – we are truly living out a life that will make a difference.  A life that will impact others and, in the process, leave a lasting legacy for those who may follow in our footsteps.

So, am I sad about turning thirty-twelve?  Well, maybe for just a moment – but I’ve got a lot to do and only about 38.6 more years to make a difference, so I can’t linger in sadness for long. I have a legacy to leave, after all.

Be blessed!

Blogging. What a funny word.

Blogging. What a funny word. 

Plogging actually fits the bill a bit better for “personal logging,” don’t you think? Regardless of what it’s called, I’m doing it.

Why?  Great question, thanks for asking.

Maybe I should start with what I’m not trying to do through this blog. I’m not blogging:

  • To educate.  There are plenty of sites out there that will increase your knowledge, provide training, and enhance your intellect.  This is not one of them.
  • To debate.  Honestly, I’m not fond of conflict so I am not fond of debate either. Sure, I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions but I won’t likely write about controversial hot topics of the day.  Or maybe I will…
  • To beat you over the head with my “agenda.”  There is no ulterior motive hidden in my words, so don’t bother looking too hard. I’m a “what you see is what you get” kind of person.

Enough said?  So, here are the reasons I choose to blog:

  • To encourage.  Life is full of ups and downs, highs and low, bugs and windshields. I hope others can be encouraged by the chaos in my life, and the calm I can often find in the midst of it (as fleeting as it may be).
  • To provide hope.  Life is less-than-perfect, and sometimes it’s just plain tough to make it from day to day. Hope is what gets us through the tough nights, the long days, and the moments we feel we just can’t take much more.  I’ve been through some tough stuff (although not nearly as tough as some others), and I’m making it though.  You can, too.
  • To make you chuckle. I have to admit, my life is pretty funny at times.  Sometimes if I don’t laugh in the moment I’ll break down, cry, and probably have a nervous breakdown in the process…
  • To let you know that God loves you. Quite simply, you matter to God.  Because you matter to Him, you matter to me. I’m not here to brow beat you with religion, but to simply share the ways I see God at work in my own life and the lives of others.

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