Monday, April 29, 2013

More to Mom's Story

Mom walked into her eight month follow-up with her neurosurgeon a few weeks ago.  He's the guy who removed several cancerous, collapsed, vertebrae from her spine and replaced them with synthetic, sturdy screws and rods to stabilize her back.  Now, go back to last summer, prior to her surgery.  Mom had been walking around for many months with back pain that was getting progressively worse.  It got so severe that she could hardly walk, but she did, inch by painful inch.  You see, worse than the back pain, my mom was hiding a phobic fear of doctors ("white coat" fear doctors call it) from everyone around her, especially those closest to her.  So, she pushed herself to keep going, grabbing on to things as she went, leaning over things for support, hunched over in agony, taking slow, shaky, painful steps that took her breath away and stopped her in her tracks.  Mom was determined to keep her pain a secret.  For a while that wasn't so hard because she lived alone, and my sister and I were five hours away.  Eventually, though, the pain just wasn't manageable anymore.  It kept her from eating, sleeping, and functioning on her own.  She quit showing up in the office.  She didn't visit friends anymore, and she wouldn't answer her phone.  Fear was winning for my mom.

In fact, fear almost took her life. Then, somewhere along the way, Mom started talking to God about her fear and her pain.  Mom was immobilized physically by pain and mentally by her own fear, but God was very much on the move in her life.  My sister and I simultaneously got a feeling that something was wrong, and when we started comparing notes, we just knew we had to do something.  We had to get her to the doctor even if that meant we took her kicking and screaming.  We had no idea Mom was giving her weakness to God, acknowledging that she didn't have the strength or courage to get herself to the doctor.  She asked God to help her.  Meredith (my sister) and I drove late the night of August 13th and showed up at her door.  See, God made our hearts overwhelmingly heavy for Mom.  He was hearing Mom and using us to be His hands.   

This photo was taken by my sister during one of Mom's many hospital stays.
I want to take a minute to be real for you, more transparent.  At this point in Mom's story, things were not neat and pretty for Meredith and me.  We had been praying for Mom.  We urged and pleaded with Mom for a while to go the doctor, not just for her back, but to check on her general health.  She had not been to the doctor in twenty plus years.  The more time that went by, the more defensive, guarded, and angry Mom became toward us and anyone else that was brave enough to discuss her health.  We loved mom.  All of our pleas came from our love for her, so it hurt and was extremely frustrating to watch her avoid taking care of herself.  With faith and prayers, I went to bed many nights scared of the consequences of Mom's choices.  See, Mom lost her own mother to a very aggressive battle with ovarian cancer.  Mom was 40 when she died, and her experiences left her wounded, scared, and determined to avoid facing the same fate.  If Mom ever had cancer, she told me many times, she would rather just go without knowing.  But as mom discovered, cancer is nearly impossible to ignore. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

I'll Take More, Please

I confessed in my last blog that I always chose to skim over, and even avoid, the gory, disturbing details of the Easter story.  Jesus' death on the cross was just too much reality for me.  I didn't want to think about bad stuff.  There's enough of that going on in the hear and now, if you know what I'm sayin'.  I wanted to focus on the good; and the promise of new life in Christ is definitely a happier thought than the crucifixion of an innocent man.  I think we can all agree on that.  The problem is, if I selectively read and hear God's word in that way, how will I know what God wants me to do when the going gets really tough, when I am taking up my own cross?  It's not a matter of IF I face some Good Friday kind of days, but WHEN I do, what can I learn from Jesus in His weakest moments?

I have spent weeks trying to figure out how to break down the Easter story and put it back together in a way that is helpful for growing my faith and maybe yours.  And you know what I have come up with?  Sometimes simple is better.  The big take-home message for me from reading Matthew 26-28 is that faith can be messy, and inconvenient by our worldly standards, whether you are the Messiah or a normal, ordinary person like me.  The good news is that no matter who I am or who you are, if we accept Christ and choose to follow Him, God is with us working miracles in my life and yours.  He is the one who transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary.

If you don't believe me, just look at all Jesus went through for us as he died on the cross.  Through Jesus, God gives us encouragement, hope, and salvation.  Life in Him is life to the full.  From Jesus, we learn how to hang on to our faith when life hurts more than we thought humanly possible.  Jesus faced the harsh reality that 

"the Passover is two days away-and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified."

And even with His perfect, sinless, divine nature, the road to live out his God given purpose was not easy.  Jesus was not spared from disappointment and discouragement.  Look what happened to him.  Jesus hand-picked His original 12 disciples, investing much of His time and energy in their lives.  Yet, Judas sold him out to his enemies for 30 pieces of silver.  And if that wasn't bad enough, Judas signaled Jesus' unjustifiable arrest with a kiss (Matthew 26: 48-50).  

And Judas wasn't the only disciple to turn away from all he knew to be true in Jesus.  Peter denied even knowing Jesus three times (Matthew 26: 69-75), keeping his distance because he was afraid of what claiming his faith publicly would mean for his own life.  The rest of the disciples, afraid too, flew the coop when following Jesus meant relying on things they did not understand, things they could not see, things that were complicated and scary (Matthew 26: 56).  Talk about heartbreaking!

After reading these verses in Matthew, I started thinking.  If it was that easy for Jesus' original disciples to doubt him when they got to see and hear His divine power and majesty first-hand, witnessing the miracles of our Lord's hands in the flesh, how much more susceptible am I to being lead astray and becoming lost?  

Jesus knew this about His disciples, even me, and He left explicit directions for these kind of defining moments when we have to make hard choices in order to follow God, encouraging us to hold on to our faith,

"Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak"
Jesus not only talked the talk, He walked the walk for us.  One of the most poignant scenes in the Easter story is after Jesus shared the Last Supper with his closest friends, His chosen
12.  His heart was obviously heavy.  I think the weight of the world was literally on His shoulders as He thought about what was to come. 

Have you ever been there? 

Look at what Jesus did, though.  Jesus deliberately surrounded himself with His close friends in the Garden of Gethsemane and prayed His heart out, allowing God to comfort and guide Him both physically and spiritually.

"My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death...My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will."
Jesus shows us that friends and prayer are inseparable and essential, especially during difficult times.  Jesus certainly had cause to doubt God and run for the hills or at least crawl up in a hole and shut everyone out so He could die.  I think that would be my first inclination, anyway.  He knew He was about to be betrayed, tortured, and killed. 

But, in faith and trust, Jesus faced His harsh reality and pain by crying out to God, His Father.  Matthew said Jesus "fell with his face to the ground."  After the most heartfelt, most genuine prayer, Jesus explains to those who have doubts about His story,

"Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?  But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen this way?"

Jesus' prayers confirmed God's will for His life, telling a bigger story, making a covenant, a lasting promise, with His disciples, including you and me.  This is not picture perfect in my logical mind, but it is purpose perfect in God's plan,

"Drink from it, all of you.  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the
 forgiveness of sins.  I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now until that day 
when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom."

In fact, the picture we get from reading the story of the crucifixion is disgusting.  Despite being an innocent man and the son of God, Jesus was mocked, spit on, flogged, taunted, beaten, tortured, and nailed to the cross between two criminals.  He didn't deserve to be in the place in which He found himself.  But even in the middle of the worst day of His life, God worked miracles, far beyond our comprehension and high above our knowledge of good and evil, right and wrong. 

Jesus forgave and saved the convicted criminal dying beside Him without question (Luke 23:38-43).  It doesn't make sense, but just like that, He performs an unpredictable, undeserved, saving miracle, making God's love plain and simple, not about good works.  In His blessing, Jesus foreshadows the power and majesty of the mercy and grace God makes available to all of us in Christ.

So the bottom line- Jesus died a horrible, sacrificial death, so that we can take God for his Word.  In Christ, we live, now, with hope.

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Thank heavens for Jesus.  We are not limited by our own sin, stuck in the results of our own efforts, bound to the predictable, or confined to those things which our minds completely understand and our eyes are able to envision.  No, the new life we have in Christ, is so much more.  I don't know what more necessarily means for my life, but I know God does.

A prayer for today-
Dear Heavenly Father,
I thank you for giving your Son for the forgiveness of my sins.  Thank you for loving me so much that my life is blessed by your mercy and grace.  I pray you will strengthen my faith and trust in you, helping me live a life of "more in Christ."  I also pray, especially today, for those who are feeling overwhelmed by the pain of their reality.  May they find your open arms and feel the comfort, peace, and guidance of your unconditional love.
In Christ's Holy Name I pray,
May God bless you today and always,

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Grateful Giveaway!

Congratulations to readers AZ and Meredeezy on winning a copy of Mom's favorite coffee date devotional, Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace In His Presence!  Enjoy!

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me.  Because I live, you will live.  On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.
John 14: 18-20

Did you hear that?  Jesus is talking to you and me.  He died and lives for us so that we can have life to the full.  He will come to you.  He will come to me.  He will dwell in us and enrich us beyond our wildest imaginations.  He is calling us to live in close relationship with Him.  No worries about being good enough for Jesus.  He is the one who can transform our biggest weaknesses, deepest wounds, and most blaring imperfections into glorious gifts for God's perfect purpose and glory.  We just have to accept His invitation.  As with any relationship, it takes time and work, but my life, your life, it is well worth it. 

You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

It is my hope and prayer that our stories of God's grace and mercy will continue to bless, encourage, and inspire others to grow in faith with God.  I truly believe that by sharing our faith with each other, both with friends and with strangers, we grow and learn so much.  So, I love hearing from you.  You are the inspiration for all that I write.  I want to encourage you to keep stepping out in faith.  Let's continue to support and strengthen each other on our faith journeys.  If you are reading this blog, God is bringing us together for a reason so keep believing, keep talking and keep sharing your stories with me.

I am so thankful for all God is doing in my life and in the lives of those who so generously share their faith with me. In honor of my Mom, and God's healing power in her life, I want to give away 3 copies of one of her favorite daily "coffee date" books, Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace In His Presence.  Details below.

A prayer for today-
Dear Loving Savior,
Thank you for being with me, for loving me, for hearing all my prayers, and for saving me by your grace.  Help me to deepen my relationship with you by sharing my faith with others.
In your Holy Name I Pray, Jesus,
Love of Christ fill you and heal you,
{Giveaway} Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence - 3 Winners!

How to Enter
Leave a comment under this post and include your email (so I have a way to contact you if you win) and your favorite Bible verse. That's it!
Bonus Entry
For a second chance to win, tweet or share the following on Facebook and leave a second comment here letting me know you did.
Enter to win the Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence Giveaway via
Entries will be accepted through the evening of April 24, 2013. Open to all US residents 18 years and older. 3 winners will be chosen at random with Chosen winners must respond within 48 hours of notification to claim their prize or another winner will be chosen. Good luck!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

My Daily Coffee Date

We just got home from a family vacation in Disney World over the kids' Spring break.  We enjoyed Mickey and friends with my husband's family and celebrated my father-in-law's birthday while we were there.  It was a week of nonstop excitement, thrilling rides, and kid friendly entertainment.  We made lots of memories.  I return to reality absolutely exhausted and especially thankful for the uninterrupted time we were able to spend together as a family just having fun.

Did I mention that Disney was nonstop?  That magical place is a very busy hot spot, and it's easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of getting from here to there.  Then again, that's how most days are around here with a house full of boys (big and small).  So from that standpoint, I guess life at home can be like a day at our favorite amusement park!

For sure, life can take me for a ride.  Before I know it, I have landed in the fast lane, bounced around on bumps in the road, and thrown myself for a loop or two on an unpredictable roller coaster.  All the more reason for me to get my day off to a good start and wake up on the right side of the bed.  I've already mentioned that my morning routine has become a huge part of my everyday faith.  I am very intentional about my coffee date with God first thing each day, PJs and all (see my blog post "We Can't Make Time But We Can Take It").  I spend part of that time reading the Bible.  It's my therapy and life coach.  But even before I do that, I like to read a daily devotional, Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace In His Presence, by Sarah Young. 

This book is available at, and it's a great way to start the day.
When Mom was first diagnosed with cancer and still in the hospital, a dear childhood friend gave her this book.  Mom, my sister, and I read this book together through some very rough times.  It helped us focus our thoughts on the certainty of God and his love for us instead of the uncertainty, fear, and pain that was all around us.  Even now, this book quiets my analytical, problem solving, list making mind as I face the day ahead and awakens my soul to the peace and joy of being with God.  It is written to help readers experience the quiet, still presence of God. 

"Be still, and know that I am God."

 I don't know about you, but in my rush, rush, rush life, I need some help sitting still and being quiet.  And the Lord knows, I need stillness to really know Him and what it is He is calling me to do each day.  That's why I love this book, Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace In His Presence.  It reins me in, helps me let God in, and nurtures a more intimate relationship with Him.  Trust me, I need all the help I can get!

A prayer for today-
Dear Heavenly Father and Comforter,
Thank you for your nurturing presence in my life.  Help me to trust you and experience more and more of the joy and peace that comes from inviting you to be with me in all that I do.  Please, Lord, show me ways to quiet my mind and awaken my soul to you.  Draw me closer to you.  May I feel and know the power of your presence in my life everyday.
In Jesus' name I pray,
Love in Christ,

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Easter Sunday

Two verses came to mind Easter morning,

"Rejoice in the Lord always.
I will say it again: Rejoice!"
and the other,

"This is the day which the Lord has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it."
The fact that these two verses were jumping up and down in my head before my brain was even awake on Easter morning tells me God is trying to tell me something.  He is working on something in me; and even more than that, I am sure I am supposed to share it with you. No kidding, I have been working on this particular post for over a week now.  I had hoped to have a post ready to go Easter morning for all to read.  That was MY plan, but the post just wasn't ready in time, and I knew it.  So, it has been a work in progress, and I guess that is completely appropriate since God works in his own perfect timing.

So back to my post, the scriptures dancing around in my head are certainly appropriate for Easter Sunday.  Easter is a good and joyful day, and we celebrate our Risen Christ who saves all those who believe in Him from the too numerous to count fallible, selfish, misguided things we do AND he LOVES us through it all.  I could write pages and pages about that.  That is good news, friends, and rejoicing comes without much effort on good news days like this.  It isn't hard to comprehend that God MADE this joyful day.  God, by His very nature, is good. But, something tells me, I don't need to write about the obvious.

When I look around, it is easy to see that today is special.  But, what does Easter really mean for me and for you?  Is this special holiday about tradition, church, pretty dresses, handsome seersucker, colorful bow ties, sweet smelling ham, egg hunts, baskets of goodies, family, friends, passing of peace, smiles, hugs, sunshine and butterflies, bright blooms, and cute little bunnies?  My heart is telling me there is so much more to Easter than meets the eye.

Now, I have to make a confession.  I love Easter.  I love every bit of the Good News that comes with it, but until this year, I have avoided the full story.  I am guilty of being a selective hearer and reader of God's word, and I never really thought twice about it until now.  You know, the details about Jesus suffering on the cross?  I would purposefully skim over and even skip the negative, disturbing, gory details of Jesus' death, hurrying to the "good stuff," the resurrection and new life we find in Christ.  That's the part I chose to zoom in on and give the majority of my time and attention.

Just three short days ago marked Good Friday, though.  Sacrifice. Betrayal. Torture. Cowardliness. Brutality. Brokenness. Wounds. Pain. Suffering. Bloodshed. Weeping. Sadness. Anguish. Death. Emptiness. Loss. Darkness.  The reality of Good Friday is that it wasn't such a good day for Jesus.  It marks the day he was brutally murdered and died on the cross for me, so that I might have life to the full (John 10:10).  The details of which are not fun to think about and remember, but I have to recognize that they are part of God's Easter story so there has to be more to the unpleasantness I have tried to avoid for so long.

The Easter story can be a little confusing on the surface, really.  I mean, how is it we get from the very bad happenings of Good Friday to the pure joy, aliveness, mercy, and grace of Easter Sunday?  Apparently, I am missing some pieces to the puzzle.  Easter brings with it promises of eternal life, but let's face it.  As my minister puts it, unfortunately, "We live in a Good Friday world."  

We are forced to face the obvious pain and suffering, heartache, loss, and dreaded disease that can smack us in the face everywhere we turn.  And, let's not overlook the not so obvious but ever-present, internal discontent, anxiety, general indifference, emptiness, loneliness, and nagging lack of "aliveness" so many carry around inside but can't seem to figure out.  Whether we like it or not, some days are just down right dull, horrible, ugly, and heart wrenching. In those times, rejoicing is near impossible, unnatural, a real struggle.  What then?

What is it about Easter that changes everything?   Are we just supposed to be eternal optimists?  Are we supposed to plaster a smile on our faces and say "everything happens for a reason?"  Are we supposed to turn the other cheek and keep on trucking?  Are we supposed to beat ourselves up until we come back around to an all-positive, can-do attitude?  Are we supposed grin and bare it?  Are we supposed to think happy thoughts, and wish on a lucky star because Jesus died on a cross so that our sins are forgiven?  

Take it from someone who has tried all of these self-centered, self-talking methods at some point. These ideologies have an appealing ring to them because they give the illusion that we can control things by putting mind over matter, but they are nothing more than denial and avoidance tactics.  They may put a band aid on things temporarily, but they won't heal a thing.  I have a feeling we are doing ourselves a disservice and missing lots of God's important details if we go through life just skimming the surface in this way.  

I know God does not mean for us to trivialize our own pain or the pain of our brothers and sisters.  After all, Jesus didn't do that.   Isn't that clue, alone, a red flag that we shouldn't do that either?  So, what does Easter mean for our day to day living?  I don't know about you, but eternity is a long way away when I am struggling in the hear and now.

In an attempt to connect the dots, I have to take a look at the reality of the Easter story in its fullness.  First, I am drawn to the words of Jesus' close friend and one of the 12 disciples, John. The book of John describes the intricate, inseparable relationship between God the
father and Jesus.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

In other words, God not only reveals himself in the good news of Easter Sunday, but all parts of Jesus' story, His faith journey.  Even the dark parts serve as "the light of men" and God is the source of it all.  So who am I to pick and choose what I read and hear, what I rejoice over and what I do not?  I don't know the bigger, glorious picture God has designed for me.  It's just another area of my life me in which I have to let go of thinking I know what's best.  Reading bits and pieces of the Easter story takes God's Word out of context and trivializes the carefully planned, purpose-perfect, intricate details of His story.  It's time I pay attention to the details.  After all Jesus is our example, counselor, and comforter for living out God's purpose for our lives, as brothers and sisters in Christ,

"For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters."

I encourage you to bite the bullet and read Matthew 26-28, gory unpleasant details and all, with me.  Keep in mind, Jesus was an innocent man, our Messiah.  He was God in the flesh, one man, whose love defies all boundaries, preconceived prejudices, and our faulty human logic.  He is the only human to be perfect and free of sin.  Jesus' crucifixion comes head to head with the age-old question, "If there is a God, a good God, a God of love, then why do innocent people suffer?"  Why did Jesus, of all people, have to suffer? 

We, as imperfect human beings with the freedom to make choices, opened a can of worms in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:15-3), and we have been messing up ever since, suffering the consequences.  God loves us so much that he sent Jesus to save those who believe in Him.  So first, he had to get us TO BELIEVE.  That's where Jesus' life in this world comes into play, born of the Virgin Mary (Matthew 1) student and teacher of God's word(Mark 10:17), friend, healer, and servant to all (Mark 9:35), and we can't forget, miracle worker (evidence throughout the New Testament).  Jesus was God's own son, so God could have kept him from his undeserved suffering and horrific death. Yet, God had a much bigger story to tell through the most monumental of bad days in human history when Jesus died on the cross. 

God made the ultimate sacrifice down to every last detail so that the most important man to grace the face of the Earth would embody ultimate, immeasurable humanness in His suffering AND unconditional, transforming, divine love and Godliness, all at the same time. That's why Jesus is the perfect role model.  

Human flesh meets divine perfection, giving me inspiration, purpose, guidance, and hope for my own life no matter what kind of day I am having.  So coming back around to my question earlier in this blog post, "What about those days that are just down right dull, horrible, ugly, and heart wrenching?  What then?"   "Just hold on tight," as my minister says.  Hold on to your cross, or help a friend or stranger hold on, whatever is, just like Jesus did for us.  That is what we are called to do.

 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

Jesus suffered and sometimes we will too.  Jesus went before us, not only to show us the way, but to walk with us on our way.  We have an unconditional, lasting friend in Jesus.  That's why the full Easter story, gory details and all, is such Good News.  The God planned details are our guidebook in helping us hold on until we reach the eternal glory we all long for in Heaven as Christians. 

That friends, is how we get from Good Friday to Easter Sunday.  Risen Christ. Promises. Triumph.  New life.  Resurrection.  Forgiveness.  Redemption.  Healing.  Joy.  Hope. 

So, whether it's a Good Friday kind of day, an Easter Sunday kind of day, or an in between kind of day, God made it, and He sent his son, Jesus to be with us and forgive us when we fall short of His perfection, forever and ever (Matthew 28:18-20). So for that reason, I can

"Rejoice in the Lord always.
I will say it again: Rejoice!"
and be thankful,

"This is the day which the Lord has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it."

FYI- Matthew 26-28 is loaded with words to live by, really valuable stuff, too much for one post (more on these verses and the Good News we can find in the bad news of Good Friday in another post).

A prayer for today-
Dear Lord and Savior,
Thank you for sending Your Son, Jesus, to save me from all my mess-ups, my sins, and my fallible human logic. I pray your Holy Spirit will dwell in my heart and work in me, good days and bad. Help me to see the face of Christ in every person I meet, and may every person I meet see the face of Christ in me.
In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit I pray,
Happy Easter everyone!
Love of Christ be with you all,