Life is too short not to…

The more grateful I am, the more beauty I see.

Mary Davis

On more than one occasion this year I have found myself telling people how gratitude changes everything. It can take the pain we experience in this life and open us up to the beauty that can be found in the lessons being learned or the season we are in. And in theory that sounds great, but is it true? The sentiment, like a beautifully packaged cliché, is one we want so desperately to believe, but when life gets hard and heartache is on our doorstep, can gratitude truly change the trajectory of the journey? Is it possible to see the beauty through the pain?

This past year has been difficult for me. Loss has marked my journey in a tremendous way. My father, my uncle, a beloved friend since childhood…all gone. With each passing a piece of my heart crumbled a little more. Yet, through the pain I had a choice to make; I could focus my attention on what was lost or I could be grateful for what was had. I chose the latter and it made all the difference.

When we focus on our gratitude the tide of disappointment goes out, and the tide of love rushes in.

Kirsten Armstrong

There are few things I love more than being on the water. There is a indescribable beauty found in the power and the majesty of the sea. It is the place where I feel closest to God. A tangible representation of the vastness of who He is. His character and nature coming alive before my very eyes. Overwhelming, yet approachable. Peaceful and calm, yet fierce and powerful. Breath taking and life giving, yet in complete control. We stand at the shore with no ability to harness the waves or change the tides, but it invites us to partake. To sit in awe of the beauty we see, to use wealth of resources found within it, and submit to the authority it has.

I love the idea of equating gratitude to ocean tides. I can visually see how a grateful heart sweeps disappointment back into the abyss of the sea while love comes rushing in to replace it. What an incredible reminder that we never need to stay in a state of heartache and disappointment. Love is always ready to come rushing in, we simply need a grateful heart to activate it.

When my husband and I lost our good friend Joe in August our hearts were devastated. As childhood friends we shared so much with each other. We grew up together, got in trouble together, cheered each other on, and kept each other in check. Even as life took us down different paths, our differences never outweighed the rare and unique bond of friendship we had. It was hard for me to say “good-bye” to someone who knew me so well, someone who had been so special in my life, someone I never imagined wouldn’t grow old with us. Disappointment most certainly swirled in the heartache of this loss. Yet, love was ready to come crashing in.

I thank my God every time I think of you.

Philippians 1:3

Love comes in all different ways but I believe the sweetest is through people. A grateful heart allows us to not focus on who didn’t show up when the journey got hard but rather to be so thankful for those who did. A grateful heart allows us to see not the relationships that have been lost along the way but rather those that have withstood the test of time and even those that emerged as beautiful blessings out of the ashes of pain.

Tonight I sat at a dinner table with Joe’s mom and 15 other people. Some of the friendships at that table went back to when we were school age and others have been newly formed. Out of the mutual heartache of losing one so dear, we all leaned into each other and found joy in the blessings all around us. We found joy in love and laughter and sharing so many memories. We found joy in caring for our friend’s mom. We found joy in simply knowing that Joe would have LOVED seeing us all around a table together. In the pain of loss, we have all found something to be grateful for…Joe and each other.

Be present in all things and thankful for all things.

Maya Angelou

Sleep has eluded me tonight because my heart keeps thinking about something Joe’s mom said tonight and has said numerous times in the last few months. “Be good to each other, take care of one another, don’t fight…life is too short not too.” Life is too short not to!!! Life is too short not to…tell the people you love how much they mean to you. Life is too short not to…find time to cultivate new relationships and nurture old ones. Life is to short not to…take care of one another. Life is too short not to…find something to be grateful for every single day. Life is too short not to…allow God to take the disappointments and sweep them out into the sea so that His love can rush over you.

Gratitude reminds me that life is too short to squander the blessing of one single day. Every day that I wake up with breath in my lungs is opportunity for me to find joy in the day the Lord has made. It is an opportunity to see all the little and big ways God blessings are all around me. It is an opportunity to say “I love you” one more time to the people who mean the most to me. It is an opportunity to simply choose joy in every moment.

As I get ready to lay my head down for what will now be just a few moments of sleep I am grateful for words to write what I might not have otherwise said. I am grateful for friendships that are like family. And I am grateful for laughter, it truly is like elixir for the soul. What are you most grateful for? Look for it…I promise, there is always something to be grateful for. Maybe it’s sunshine or coffee, a promotion or new opportunity, a hand to hold or an ear to listen. Whatever it is…simply allow God to open your eyes and you will find it. Life is too short not to.

In memory of my dear friend, Jo Ill Kim.

I am so grateful for all the love, laughter, and memories. I will carry you in my heart forever xoxo

Never Forget

South Tower being hit during the 9/11 attacks. NIST SIPA/Wikicommons

No day shall erase you from the memory of time.

Virgil

These words of the Roman poet Virgil stand out on a blue mosaic wall at the National September 11th Memorial and Museum in New York City. It looms, larger than life, like an epitaph to so many lost and a promise to never forget. To never forget each an every soul lost. To never forget that there are forces of evil in this world that would hurt anyone to make themselves known and push their agenda forward. To never forget that on a beautiful Tuesday morning 20 years ago 8 EMT/paramedics, 60 police officers, 343 firefighters, and 2514 civilians left their homes to catch a flight, go to work, or simply do what they did every day…yet…on this fateful day they would never return home. Why? Because an ideology had declared war on America and Americans. On that day 3000 people stood in the place of every single one of us that has the privilege to be a citizen of the United States of America. Because on that day the men who executed the terrorist attacks that took down iconic buildings, penetrated the very hub of our national security, and attempted to breach our capital didn’t care which Americans they killed because in truth, they wanted to kill all Americans.

We all went to bed that night proud to be Americans. We vowed to never forget those who were lost to us forever simply because they were Americans. But 20 years later where are we? Do we truly honor those we lost and the families who loved them? Have the words of Virgil become our reality? Or has the totality of our remembering become an obligatory social media post every 9/11?

The attacks of September 11th were intended to break our spirit. Instead we have emerged stronger and more unified.

Rudolph Giuliani (New York City Mayor on 9/11)

How I long to be the people we were, the country we were, on September 12th, 2001. A country full of people who had been terrorized by evil in hopes to bring us to our knees. Yet, the resilience of our fore fathers pumped through our veins as we rose from the ashes, literally. United we stood together. There was no Democrat, there was no Republican. There was no left agenda or right agenda being pushed. The media wasn’t trying to pit us against each other, creating narratives that would cause division. None of that happened. On September 12th, 2001 we all awoke flying one banner and one banner alone…we were ALL Americans and UNITED we would stand. The red, white, and blue of our flag flew everywhere. Almost every house put out an American flag. Neighbors who had never talked became fast friends. Kindness and compassion flowed out of all of us. Churches were filled with people praying. Generosity and love became the theme in our country. It is the closest I have ever seen us to fulfilling God’s command to love others as we love ourselves.

Trauma is a powerful thing, it can either wreck you or unify you. The trauma of September 11th bound us together with one common goal…to never forget the lives that were lost and to never be defeated by the cowards who attacked us.

Together we had watched the events unfold. We watched in utter disbelief as jet airliners were weaponized and used to crash into buildings to maximize the damage done. We watched in horror as we realized people were jumping out of the Twin Towers because that death was more preferable to the never ending inferno ignited by jet fuel. We watched the heroic actions of everyday people unfold right before our very eyes; police, firefighters, and the port authority gearing up to get people out of harms way and civilians helping one another. We watched in total shock as the South Tower came tumbling down quickly followed by the North. We watched the thick cloud of white debris; glass, concrete, and toxins cover lower Manhattan. We watched fire leaping out of the Pentagon as survivors and first responders worked franticly to get people to safety. Stunned, we watched the footage of the charred black remnants of what used to be United flight 93 on a field in Shanksville, PA.

This was the trauma that had us huddled together later that night. Gathering to pray or to simply be with other people. Ready to do anything to help the hurting and the families of the lost. Out of the horror of that day arose the best of who we are and who we can be.

Even the smallest act of service, the simplest act of kindness, is a way to honor those we lost, a way to reclaim that spirit of unity that followed 9/11.

President Barack Obama

Much like Arlington National Cemetery, I believe every American should walk in the sacred space of what became known as Ground Zero. Quietly contemplating the name of every man and woman etched in the black stone of the two reflecting pools where the Twin Towers once stood.

Remembering.

There is something so extraordinary about walking the hallowed ground were people are honored and remembered for the sacrifices they have made. A place where we are all reminded that our freedom never has been and never will be free. There are many who have paid the ultimate price for each and every one of us to have the luxury and the shared experience of freedom.

True honor, the kind of honor that Virgil speaks of, can only occur when we remember the sacrifices made.

But how quickly we have forgotten.

20 years later America is in a freefall. We have leaders that have divided rather than led well. Journalists and the media have become spin masters; weaving narratives that fit agendas rather than sharing the truth. We no longer wave the red, white, and blue with pride but rather we kneel and turn our backs on the national anthem. We no longer respect the police who rushed into burning buildings to save lives, now we want to defund them. We no longer have a common goal of defeating the ideology of terror, rather we have armed the very entity that emboldened and enabled the terrorists to attack us in the first place. The America that was united so strongly by the trauma of 9/11 has been so divided by the trauma of Covid19. The America that had the honor and dignity to not politicize an American tragedy now 20 years later has politicized every aspect of a global pandemic.

A house divided against itself cannot stand.

President Abraham Lincoln

20 years ago the forces of evil against our great nation could not defeat us. In spite of our differences our response was to unify. We put politics aside and we were simply Americans.

20 years later the terrorists that had the audacity to attack us would probably be quite pleased with the current state of our country. We have so quickly forgotten the depth of despair of 9/11 and the power of unity that brought us out of it. Oh, our social media posts suggest we have remembered but our actions do not.

It is our duty to preserve the memory of those who died on September 11th, 2001. It is our duty to ensure that their deaths were not in vain. It is our duty to pass onto our children, not the entitlement of freedom but the privilege of it. It is our duty to make sure that the next generation and the next and the next understand what life was like on September 12th, 2001. It is our duty to get back to the heart of the American experiment. A mosaic of people, a melting pot of cultures, a collage of beliefs…all united under one common goal…freedom. Freedom to express and freedom to speak, even when we disagree.

Honor is birthed in the remembering. Honor is birthed in kindness and compassion. Honor is birthed when we are able to show respect even when we disagree.

With no honor there is no unity. With no unity there is no America. With no America…the terrorists have won.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to give the terrorists a victory…not on our watch. We are better than what we have become and MUST do better moving forward. In honor of every soul lost on September 11th and the lives that are still impacted by the horror of that day we MUST recapture the unity we have lost. It starts with each one of us choosing unity over division, love over hate, and people over politics. We have done it before and we can do it again. We MUST do it again.

God bless you all and God bless the USA.

NEVER FORGET xoxoxo

It’s ok not to be ok…

“It’s ok not to be ok…”

In theory this a great sentiment. It gives us something to say when we see hurting people around us and don’t really know what else to say. It rolls easily off our tongues when the “not ok” person is not inconveniencing us with their “not okness.” But what happens when you are the one who is NOT ok…is it still ok? Or do you find yourself hiding behind the façade of “fine” because admitting you’re “not ok” really equates to some sort of failure, deficiency, or weakness to most people? You see, we like cute little catch phrases like “it’s ok not to be ok.” But do we truly live like we believe it?

Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.

Brene Brown

I thought 2020 was a year…until 2021 arrived.

As a pastor I will be the first one to tell you that our God never changes, our circumstances do. God’s goodness, faithfulness, and love are always readily available to us, no matter where we might find ourselves on this journey called life. This is a truth I stand by and the very truth I live by. I have known difficulty. I have known pain. I have known struggle. I have known soul crushing heartache. And through it all, God has never changed. He has never proven to be less than what He promised to be; He is my strength, my refuge, He upholds me with His righteous right hand, and His peace which surpasses all understanding is mine.

However, what happens when I awaken to the harsh truth that it is, in fact, me who is not ok?

Well…I can tell you what I did. I pushed it away and pretended like everything was “fine.” Because it is often so much easier to simply claim “fine” then to unload all the reasons you’re not ok to people who really only want the version of you that they want. The version of you that makes them feel the best…the version of you that most benefits them…the version of you they expect you to be. If we are truthful, many of us, myself included, ask people how they are in passing, but we really don’t want the real answer, the raw answer, the hard answer. All we are looking for is the “fine” that can keep us moving in the direction we want to go.

But what happens when we get stopped in our tracks?

One year ago my family had just gotten over our battle with Covid. My boys and I had pretty mild cases considering the realm of what we have seen over the last 20 months. And while my husband had a much worse case, we all faired pretty well. But did we really?!?! While my case of Covid was mild it produced in me other symptoms that many people now talk about as “long Covid” or “long haulers Covid.” In the month of having Covid and the four months following Covid I was at the ER 5 times with cardiac symptoms. I have had echocardiograms, more EKG’s and heart blood work than I can count, and a stress test. Thankfully, all is fine. The cardiologist simply ruled that my heart “likes to have a party every once in awhile.” His words, not mine. I have seen an orthopedic specialist and a neurologist. I have had 3 MRI’s. All to try to explain why it feels like I have Icy Hot running under my skin. Or why the day after I put up my Christmas decorations I felt like a 95 year old who just went 10 rounds with Mike Tyson. You know I’m old when he’s the most current boxer I know. Simply put, my case of Covid wasn’t bad at all; it was all the extra little treats the virus left me with that had doctors scratching their heads and me coming to terms with the fact that I would forever live wanting to jump out of my own skin. Even as I write this I see so clearly why “I am fine” was way easier to say.

As 2020 came to end I would lose my father to dementia after the Covid lockdowns made our visits with him sporadic at best during the last months of his life. I had so much hope for 2021. It would be better…it had to be better. However, before the ground could thaw in the spring after a long winter, Covid would hit so much harder than the burning coursing through my body…it would take my beloved uncle from us. We were just licking our wounds from my dad’s death when it greeted us again. Blindsiding us; taking our breath away. In the midst of this heartache our oldest son was navigating his first year away at college while we had to advocate for our younger son with autism who was not receiving a proper education due to Covid restrictions in the schools. At this time we were also petitioning the courts for guardianship as his 18th birthday loomed on the horizon. Our plates were overflowing, and not in a good way. My husband and I have been operating in what seemed like a vortex all while maintaining a demanding travel schedule for him and ministry work for me. I was barely hanging on. Then just four weeks ago it came again. Death was on our doorstep once more but this time it literally knocked the wind out of my sails. A message carrying the news that our beloved friend of over 35 years passed away. I just couldn’t fake it anymore…I was no longer “fine” and truth be told, I hadn’t been for a long time.

The hardest year of my life was the year after my daughter Francesca passed away. This past year has been the second. It has exhausted me in every way possible, with the exception of one. Physically, emotionally, and mentally I was on the brink of total burnout. However, spiritually I was in tact. Oh I needed time, a space for God to heal the gapping wounds in many areas but my faith was never shaken. I never doubted God’s goodness nor His faithfulness. But with my head barely above water, I was no longer leaning into Him either. I think in many ways I was like the disciples on the boat when the storm kicked up. I was trying to navigate the storm wreaking havoc with my life knowing full well Jesus was in my boat. I was silently screaming “will you please make this storm end!” All while pretending I had control over a sinking ship. You see, sometimes we become so good at pretending we are “fine” that we actually start believing the lie ourselves.

But here is the point of this blog. I promise its not so I could from 0 to 60 on the vulnerability scale in a hot second. It’s to point out that all around us there are people struggling. People who look fine, but are not fine. People who need to know that it truly is ok to not be ok. Taking time to catch your breath is actually not a sign of weakness but one of great wisdom. We live in a time and a society were FOMO rules our lives and we are only as good as our latest “like” or “share” count. What good are we if we are not producing, not influencing, not being who everyone expects us to be? No wonder so many are silently wounded…time bombs waiting to go off. Our value and worth is no longer linked to the light that shines within us but rather the light that is upon us. Self care falls to the waste side because we are too busy trying to be who others want us to be rather than who God created us to be. Soul care falls to the waste side because we are far more concerned with the external implications of our need to take a break or being honest and vulnerable about where we are at, rather than the internal ones.

We are a society on the verge of burnout. What makes me think that? Violent crimes are on the rise, suicide is on the rise, drug addiction is on the rise, and the list goes on and on. Because when we pretend “fine” for too long, the truth always comes out one way or another…often, in unhealthy ways.

Thankfully, I knew I wasn’t fine and the people around me knew it too. Over the last few weeks I have had time to rest and simply be in the moment. Few obligations and not much vying for my time, other than those who need me most, my husband and my children. A time to simply be. To take deep breaths and regain my footing. For so long God has spoken to me. He has so clearly told me, “you will find Me in the silence.” And here’s the thing, God’s presence has always been with me but the noise of my life was drowning Him out. I needed to go back to the place of silence to wholly see Him again.

The Lord is my strength and shield.

    I trust him with all my heart.

He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy.

    I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.

Psalm 28:7

Was I weak to admit I was no longer ok, I don’t think so. Did my admission cause me to not live up to some people’s expectations of me, quite possibly. Does sharing this make some uncomfortable, I guess it could. But here is what I have learned. Actually, I already knew this I just needed the silence to remind me of it.

First, in my own strength, I am weak. I am only strong by the One who strengthens me…Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. If my life is so busy and burdened that I can no longer hear Him…I will end up on the verge of burnout once again. Second, I was reminded of this simple, powerful, yet freeing truth…there is only ONE who’s expectations I must meet. Only One whose desires I should fulfill. Only One whose approval I seek. God and God alone. If my life is not a pleasing offering to Him, then I will get it wrong in every other area of my life. Finally, if being vulnerable enough to share this helps just one other person to know they are not alone…then I don’t really care if it makes anyone uncomfortable. God placed it in front of the one it was written for. To remind them of the truth that I know so well…He sees you…He loves you…and a breakthrough IS coming. That was a promise God made me a year ago and He has been faithful to that promise. While my heart still aches from devastating losses, my body has been healed of most of the post Covid symptoms I have had. It took time in the silence to find the joy of every single one of the blessings I have I received in the midst of the heartache. My circumstances changed…my God NEVER did!!!

So my dear friends. It really is ok not to be ok. However, it is not ok to stay there. Maybe you just needed to hear someone say that a season of rest is what you need. Self care is what you need. Soul care is what you need. God didn’t just create you to survive. He created you to thrive; to live in the fullness of His image in which you were created. Oh sweet soul reading this, put down the façade of “fine” and own where you are at so that Creator of the world and the lover of your soul can heal you from the inside out. You are worth it to Him. He loved you first and He loves you most. Find Him in the silence…He is always there.

Questions

Yes, I am the vine and you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.

John 15:5

Last week the thought caught my attention that I have not written a blog since December. Honestly, I haven’t felt the need to. This is probably why I am bad at blogging. I am not someone who can write on demand. Writing is not my profession nor is it my craft. I wouldn’t necessarily call it my hobby either. It goes so much deeper than all of the above. My writing comes from deep within my connection with God. The sacred place were abiding occurs. It’s not that my connection is lesser with God in seasons where my writing is less; it’s simply that the Holy Spirit has not stirred up the words inside of me. Last week when my blog crossed my mind it was the middle of the afternoon, the perfect time to write. Yet, I felt nothing. Not a single word popped into my head and no writing occurred. Now I sit here franticly typing; the words overflowing out of me. It’s 2:30 in the morning and this will most certainly hurt when the alarm goes off in 3 hours to get my youngest son ready for school. Who knows…maybe I’ll still be awake, my finger hovering over the word “publish.” Because there are two things that are certain when I blog; 1) the Holy Spirit alone prompts me to write and 2) I am never certain that I will publish it until I actually hit publish.

Writing for me is so much more more than putting words to the page. It’s about giving glimpses of my soul; sharing the thoughts and experiences, the triumphs and struggles on this journey. How do I know which pieces I will share? I never do. Only when the Spirit stirs and prompts do the words flow. It’s almost as if to remind me that apart from Him I can do nothing and only when it will point back to Him should I write something. Because, lets be honest, without the power of the Holy Spirit compelling it and the truth of Jesus woven within it…I am simply another amateur writer littering an already overcrowded blogging field with my thoughts. Instead, I write with the one in mind. The one the Holy Spirit thought of when He ignited the blogging fire within me. The one whom these words are meant for. The one who needs to be reminded that God sees you…He sees all of you…even the parts you don’t want Him to see…and He still loves you. Who is the one? I’m never really sure. Maybe it’s someone I love or a complete stranger, there have been times when it has proven to be me, or perhaps the one is you. Ultimately, it matters not. The need is never for me to know who I am writing for. It is simply an act of obedience; trusting that the One who prompted me to write is the same One who will be faithful to ensure that the right eyes see the words and the right heart is soothed, encouraged, or convicted by them.

Who are You God? Because You are turning out to be so much different than I imagined.

Steven Curtis Chapman

After my daughter passed away music became an agent of healing. Within the melodies and lyrics it was as if I could still tangibly connect to the beauty of God in the midst of the suffocating pain of grief. The album I would listen to over and over again was Beauty Will Rise by Steven Curtis Chapman; a collection of songs he wrote and recorded after his daughter went home to be with Jesus, just 4 months after my sweet Francesca. There was something in the shared experience that made the words he sang pour over me like healing balm. A hurting father to a hurting mother, a son of God to a daughter of God, a singer/songwriter to the one on their mind as the Holy Spirit prompted and compelled a piece of art that would prove to be so much more…to so many more than just the one. Within the artistry came a glimpse into his soul and through the vulnerability of his pain came the still soft voice that would often rise above the lyrics to say “I see you. You are not alone.”

And where are You God? Cuz I am finding life to be so much harder than I had planned.

Steven Curtis Chapman

I often find people’s 5 and 10 year plans ironic. I mean the likelihood of your life plan playing out the way you actually planned is less predictable than a meteorologist’s 14 day weather forecast. Life very rarely goes according to our preplanned agenda’s, yet so many of us still get caught up in laying out the blueprint of our lives. The more detailed the blueprint the harder the wrecking ball of the unexpected hits. It’s in these moments that our faith is often tested the most and the questions swirl. “Why?” becomes the cry of our heart. “If only” becomes the anthem of the dreams that haunt us. One of the hardest lessons some of us have to learn is that we are, in fact, not the author of our own story. Contrary to the lies of this age, we do not “create our own destiny.” Long before the world began, before a single day of our lives came to pass, we were on the heart and in the mind of the true author of our story. Created for a plan and purpose far greater than anything we could ever conjure up. Created for such a time as this, to be part of a much greater story than our own. Yet, it’s often the death grip on which we hold onto our own blueprint that makes us question our Creator when the plan doesn’t go according to our specifications.

Even in the sacred space of abiding questions still come, heartache is still real and devastation still occurs. However, it is in the abiding that a branch can weather even the fiercest storm if the vine it is connected to is strong. In the ache of my broken heart nothing in this world made sense. The blueprint I had for my life was shredded and placed in the cold earth of a cemetery. The only thing I had to cling to was Jesus and who I trusted Him to be. I had to believe that He would bind my wounds and heal my broken heart. Even in grief…especially in grief…I learned that apart from Him I can truly do nothing. God turned out to be so much different than I expected. When life got harder than I planned, that is when I learned that God isn’t my fairy godfather, floating around in the distance, waiting to give me a “happily ever after.” He is a very real and personal Father who meets us in the mess and the pain and the heartache of this life…if we will open ourselves up to Him.

How could You God? How could You be so good and strong and make a world that can be so painful?

Steven Curtis Chapman

In our humanness so many of us make God’s goodness dependent upon our circumstances or the circumstances of the world. The brokenness of sin is what makes the world painful, not God. That is an overly simplistic statement to explain a topic that men have theologized and philosophized for centuries but, it’s simply the truth. The even greater truth is that God has already given us the remedy for sin and therefore He is more than capable to be the remedy for the pain caused by the brokenness of sin. And someone needs to hear this…the brokenness of sin is not just about people behaving badly; it is disease and poverty and natural disasters etc. Sin didn’t just fracture humanity, it distorted all of creation. But God so loved the world that He made a way where there was no way…His name is Jesus. Jesus makes all things new. Jesus turns the ashes of this life into beautiful things.

In so many ways life turned out to be so much harder than I expected. Devastation came…more than once. Yet in it, through the abiding, God turned out to be so much more than I expected, not less. He came alive to me in greater ways, not lesser. Was the road easy, no. But did it show me that God is greater, ABSOLUTELY. My heart aches for the many who will believe that because they didn’t get the ending they wanted that at the minimum God isn’t good and the max, He isn’t even real. Both could not be further from the truth.

Who am I God? That you would raise me from the dust to breathe Your life and Your love me.

Steven Curtis Chapman

It is now almost 5 am, in just 30 minutes the alarm will signal me to awaken from a slumber that never occurred. A slumber that alluded me because God knew someone needed to be reminded that He never sleeps or slumbers. His eyes never stray or wander. He is faithful to watch over His children. He leaves the flock to rescue the one and He waits with open arms for the prodigal to return to home. Who is the one I write for? I don’t know and quite honestly, I don’t need to know. What I do know is that over the years the Holy Spirit has awaken many prayer warriors to pray on my behalf. Tonight, or this morning I should say, I have paid that blessing forward. Someone needs to be reminded that Almighty God has breathed life into you…He gave His Son’s life because He found you worthy of His love. Life may not be going the way your thought it should or wanted it to; that doesn’t mean that God is no longer good or that you are no longer His beloved. Abide in Him and He will abide in you. It is the abiding that you will find your strength and your comfort. In the abiding all the questions may not be answered but the ashes will become beautiful as you experience God in greater ways than you could ever imagine.

Questions

Who are You God
For You are turning out to be
So much different than I imagined

And where are you God
Cause I am finding life to be
So much harder than I had planned

Know that I am afraid
To ask these questions
But You know they are there

And if you know my heart
The way that I believe you do
You know that I believe in You
Still I have these questions

Like How could you God
How could You be so good and strong
And make a world that can be so painful

And where were you God
I know you had to be right there
I know you never turn your head

You know that I’m confused
By all this mystery
You know I get afraid
But if you know my heart
As completely as I trust you do
Oh you know that I trust in you

Is it true
That fore every tear I cry
You cry a thousand more
Cause you weep for those that weep

And are you, just holding yourself back
From crushing all the pain and evil in this world
For reasons we just cant understand for now
But isn’t there a day of redemption coming
Oh Redemption is coming

Quickly Lord, come quickly
Lord, come quickly

So who am I God
That you would raise me from the dust
To breathe your life and your love in me
You know that I believe

Steven Curtis Chapman

Promises

“No man for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be true.”

Nathaniel Hawthorne (from The Scarlet Letter)

I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning. After months of rising well before the dawn, today I simply wanted to pull the covers over my head and call it a day. Then a text came in…a friend who knew. Some will say instinctively, but I know better. It’s the joining of people through God’s Holy Spirit that allows us to know when someone we love isn’t well. The sweet friend whose text prompted me out of bed is a heart on a similar journey. The heaviness of this year was crashing in on both of us.

This morning I feel more like the disciples after Jesus crucifixion than the shepherds after His birth. Post traumatic stress sets in as they cowered together trying to reconcile what in the world had just happened. 2020 has been a bit like that. A year that started with so much promise hit most of us like a freight train that has backed up and run over us again and again. Now, the reality is, most days I can appreciated what this season has taught me and even see the gifts God has given me. Things I could have never experienced without this crazy time of Covid. But this morning all I feel is heaviness. I have painted on the smile, most of the time it was genuine. I have hosted the gathering, finding reasons to celebrate through the struggle and the sadness. I have tried to laugh more than I have allowed myself to cry. Yet, here I sit this morning…the smile is gone, the laughter has been drown out with tears, and the heaviness of it all surrounds me. The heaviness of the burdens I see so many that I love carrying, the heaviness of watching people all around me hurting, the heaviness of wanting my body to feel “normal” again after having Covid almost 5 months ago, the heaviness of feeling like an animal locked up in cage longing for the freedom to roam wherever I want, the heaviness of what this year has robbed me of…precious time with my dad before he passed away. In the quiet of the morning, when there is no one to smile for, sometimes the heaviness is just too much to carry. This is where I find myself today.

“To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of heaviness…”

Isaiah 61:3

In their sadness after the crucifixion, the disciples couldn’t see that this horrible turn of events would become the greatest gift the world would ever know. It’s interesting how God gave them a day to just mourn…to wrestle with what they had experienced, what they had seen, and how it seemingly ended. In that day of silence the human heart was allowed to shatter in the pain of it all…but only because God was about to put every splintered piece back together with a beauty that it could have never possessed without the pain.

This morning I decided to write, much less to publish and far more as a means for God to soothe my aching heart. In the process He has reminded me that there are many who are painting on a smile even though they are struggling. There are many who are choosing laughter as a way to suppress the tears. There are many who are fighting to find a way back to a normal that might be lost to us forever. And He has reminded me that sometimes we just need to give ourselves permission to keep it real and be sad about it all. Because how can God ever minister to the heart that doesn’t admit to the depth of the wound or the weight of the burden or the intensity of the pain? We can say “we are fine” to everyone else, but God always knows the truth. And the healing, the comfort, and the strength always comes when we trust God enough to be honest with Him.

I cannot promise you that 2021 will be any better than 2020. Unfortunately, there is no blogger that can. However, I can promise you that God will take the ashes of all that has ached our hearts and turn them into beautiful things. Things may never go back to what they were….time lost can never be regained…we might continue to struggle. But what if out of all of this pain the best is yet to come? What if we trusted that God sees the bigger picture and sometimes the path of heartache and struggle leads to the most amazing gifts He has for us? And hear me…my body may never be 100% what is was pre Covid, more people I love will experience struggles at some level, and I can never get back the time Covid lockdowns robbed me of with my dad. Yet, I feel better than I have months…I have seen miraculous healing as the people of God have flooded heaven with their prayers…and in the end I did get precious time with dad, even if it was only a few days, God made sure it was enough to say and do all that was needed. So while I am sad today, God promises that joy will come in the morning and that joy is not dependent upon our circumstances but rather simply on who God has proven Himself to be. This is the promise I am holding tightly to. Maybe it’s a promise you needed to be reminded of as well.

Much Love,

Nikki xoxo

Confessions from a season of madness…

When the heart is burdened sleep often eludes the restless soul.

This is me this morning.

Sitting in my backyard as the dawn meets the day. The sound of crickets and the haunting melody of “Ave Maria” serving as my soundtrack. While no longer Catholic, there is something about this particular song that can still bring me to tears. Or maybe it’s the sheer physical and emotional exhaustion finally overwhelming me. Seeking a release or threatening to consume me.

So here I sit, in quiet desperation…crying out to God. Fixing my gaze on the only One who makes sense in a season of utter madness.

The prophet Isaiah asks is anyone is thirsty? My heart cries, yes!! The journey through this dry and dusty land has left me parched. Disillusioned and bewildered by what is unfolding before my very eyes. When did we become a people of such extremes? When did we become a people of such hatred? When did we become so consumed with fear? The moment we shifted our gaze off of God and onto the world, that’s when. For confusion, chaos, fear, and hatred are all attributes of our enemy, who is the prince of this world.

“Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life. I will make an everlasting covenant with you. I will give you all the unfailing love I promised David.” ~ Isaiah 55:3

There is only one source of life and love; God alone. Isaiah boldly proclaims that if we seek the Lord we will find Him. So this morning I cry out to Him. For the burdened and heavy hearted, He is the only source of comfort and solace. He is the only source of truth and hope. He is the only source of peace in the chaos. For only He as the power to turn the torment of the heart into the joy that can be found in every new day.

“The theif’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” ~ John 10:10

The intention of this blog was always to be real, raw, and vulnerable about where I am on this journey called life. The good, the bad, and the ugly. I’m not interested in adding to the ever growing “highlight reel” that has us all believing in a false sense of reality, that in all actuality is the greatest lie ever told. Facades are as false as the unrealistic expectations they place on our lives. That is something I will never prescribe to, nor perpetuate.

However, in the spirit of transparency, I will admit that since having the title “pastor” affixed to my name I have been less than forthcoming in my blogs. There is a responsibility that comes with that title and truth be told, it’s suffocating at times. Ironically, its not the expectations of God that are so overwhelming, but rather those of people. Everything said and done is analyzed as if under a microscope. Did I meet your expectations of me? Did I give you what you needed from me? Did I say what you wanted me to say, when you wanted me to say it, how you wanted me to say it? Do you even realize I am still a human being with a heart and feelings and a family of my own?

One week ago today in a staff meeting we did a prayer exercise through Proverbs 3 and this is what God spoke to me out verses 11&12…

The enemy plays on your insecurity. Be secure in who I have created you to be. I am never pleased with an imitation or a false version of you. You are beautifully and wonderfully made…exactly how I made you.

You see, the enemy would like nothing more than to allow insecurity to move me to silence. How easy it would be for him to wreak havoc in my mind as I unrealistically try to please everyone.

Recently…

I have been accused of pushing a far right political agenda. Ironically, I have also been accused of pushing a far left one as well. Not sure how I have managed to accomplish that unbelievable fete, but I have.

I have silently struggled as my son with autism has been so detrimentally affected by school closures. Putting on a brave face that screams “everything is fine.” While silently devastated and weary by how this season has manifested in his behaviors.

I have greater insight into how the lepers of Jesus day must have felt as my family endures Covid19. Because publicly confirming you have this illness is the modern day equivalent to placing a damning scarlet letter on your chest.

Isn’t it amazing to discover what is really lurking behind a smiling face.

“The goal of our life is not people. It is God. Only in Him shall we find the rest we seek.” ~ Henri Nouwen

As I sit here this morning, in the still presence of God, He does what only He can do. He breathes new life into me. He reminds me that the only affirmation I ever need is His. While the world conditions us to please people, the Spirit moves us to please God. As our gaze shifts firmly on Jesus, He reveals that the greatest deception the enemy has ever unleashed upon us is “people pleasing.” Our value, our worth, and our calling is never determined by popular opinion, it rests in Jesus Christ alone.

I have learned in this season, probably more than any other, that I simply want to represent Jesus well. As my Savior never fit into the neat little boxes culture has created, neither do I. In fact, He defied them in every way. He loved limitlessly but His holy nature also demanded justice. He gave freely but He had an expectation that we, as His disciples, would honor Him well by living out His commission and commands. He showed compassion and grace but also experienced the very real human emotions of anger, grief, anguish, and despair.

So here I am…real, raw and honest.

Am I mad that my son cannot go back to school this fall? Yes, I am absolutely furious. Most people will never understand the toll this will take on all of our children, in particular the special needs population.

Do I believe we need to protect our democracy? Absolutely!! I see anarchy on the rise in this country. I see socialism on the brink. And I can’t help but wonder if the greatest fatality of Covid19 will be the United States of America itself.

Do I believe that law enforcement has been demonized as a whole by a few horrible police officers? Without a doubt. I am so thankful that I am not judged by every false teacher and bad pastor that has ever stood at a pulpit. We must never forget these were the men and women that ran into the Twin Towers on 9/11. They are the ones who place themselves in harms way daily for our protection. They are the ones who worked so diligently to bring our daughter Francesca back the day she died, the ones who wept with my husband and I, the ones who came back to check in on us a few years later.

Do I believe that there are hurting and marginalized people in our country? Emphatically, YES!!. People whose voices need to be heard, even if their dialogue makes me uncomfortable, even if I fundamentally disagree with the political agendas that are hidden behind the movement. YES!! Because after all, how does healing and reconciliation ever happen if we are never willing to step out of own experiences to hear the experiences and pain of others.

Have I watched fear grip our nation as our leaders and media have used tactics to insight such feelings? I actually believe I have. It has both paralyzed and polarized us as a nation. We can no longer respectfully agree to disagree. We have lost the ability to honor everybody’s comfort level. We have made public health and safety political propaganda. Drawing the lines between Red and Blue, much like the lines drawn 160 years ago between North and South.

And in the midst of all this chaos and confusion, the prayer of Jesus echoes in my head. As He prayed for His followers this is what He said…

“Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy. I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one.  They do not belong to this world any more than I do.  Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth.  Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world.  And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth. “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message.  I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. ~ John 17:13-21

Jesus was leaving this earth and in doing so He was anointing His followers to continue living out His ministry and mission. His prayer was not that we would become political activists or that we would fit into the cookie cutter boxes that culture has created. His prayer wasn’t that we would make everyone happy. He didn’t pray that we wouldn’t suffer persecution, He didn’t pray away hardships, He didn’t even ask that everything would go our way. He prayed that His Father would make us into a holy people, set apart by His truth. A people in this world, but no longer of this world. Citizens of heaven here on earth. A people who hunger and thirst for righteousness. A meek and humble people who are unoffendable. Who can admit the realness of how they are feeling but then submit those feelings to God rather than acting upon them. A people that understand that even in the chaos, and the confusion, and the uncertainty God is still in control. He sees what we do not see and therefore He does what we would not do. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that God’s thoughts are nothing like ours and His ways are far beyond what we could ever imagine. Therefore, we must trust that God is moving in ways beyond what our eyes can see…at least for right now. One day, it will all be revealed. Of that I am certain.

So this morning I am thirsty. The dust and dryness of this land has left me parched. The power of admitting that truth, is that the enemy has no hold over my mind. He cannot create a false narrative about the things I have kept hidden. Instead, the living water of Jesus Christ alone replenishes my soul. He gives the me hope and the courage to persevere even when things are not seemingly going the way I wish they would.

For the heart that awoke this morning feeling heavy and burdened, this blog is for you. I hope you, like me, will take comfort in the words of James,

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” ~ James 1:3-4

With our gaze firmly focused on Jesus we will persevere through this season and be better for it. Of that I have no doubt.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus…look full in His wonderful face…and the things of this world will grow strangely dim…in the light of His glory and grace.

This morning, as the emotions threatened to overwhelm me, God reminded me to let the world grow dim. As His truth settled into my heart, His peace enveloped me. I pray that peace rests upon you as well today and in the days to come. Even this will be worked out for God’s glory if we simply trust in Him.

Love Changes Everything

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:1

Words…

So easy to flow from our lips,yet, so much harder to put into action.

Love…

So easy to claim,yet, so much harder to execute.

When words flow without love they wound, they inflict pain, they damage. When words flow without love they fall on deaf ears. When words flow without love their is no evidence of Jesus in them.

If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:2

Knowledge…

Without love, it doesn’t produce lasting change.

Faith…

Without love, it is shallow and limits our ability to shine the light of Christ

If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:3

Generosity…

Fulfills a need in the moment but without love, the moment passes quickly.

Sacrifice…

If not rooted in love, is self-serving.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.  It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-6

Over the last several days I have prayed. I have lamented. I have sought the face of God and tonight He brought me here…to love.

The dichotomy of our times is the deep chasm between love and hate. We love what we believe to be right and true and we hate anything that varies. When did that happen? When did we become a people who can no longer respectfully agree to disagree? When did we become a people so fixated on one way that we can no longer open our hearts and our minds to seeing things from another perspective? When did we become a people that in order to support one group of people, you must hate another? Maybe we’ve always been this way and God has finally awaken me to this sad reality.

Where did love go? Did we ever really have it?

In our overly charged political climate, some will immediately say, “It’s Trump’s fault!” Others will immediately say, “It’s Obama’s fault!” Yet, it all reminds me of the Garden of Eden. Everything beautiful and wonderful abounded; there for God’s glory and Adam and Eve’s enjoyment. Yet, God had given them one rule, just one…don’t eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The serpent slithers his way in and…well you know how the story ends. Sin enters the world and the fingers start pointing…”The woman made me eat it!” “The serpent deceived me!” We’ve been playing the blame game since the very beginning.

The reality is this…

In the garden, in the history of humanity, and today a lack of love is always rooted in the brokenness of sin. Where sin abounds, hurt and heartbreak abounds more. Our current issues are not a political battle, they are spiritual one. We have an enemy and he hates us; he longs to steal, kill and destroy. His goal and his tactics have not changed. The enemy wants to steal our ability to love others in spite of our differences. The enemy wants to kill any chance of compassionate discourse that might bring understanding and change. But more than anything, the enemy yearns to destroy unity. Because a unified people, although they might not agree 100%, have the capacity to love one another beyond the differences and truly change the world.

Patient and kind love has a heart to understand.

Love that is not proud, boastful, or rude has the humility to put others first and listen, really listen, before speaking.

Love that is not irritable and keeps no records of wrongs offers forgiveness.

Love that does not rejoice in injustice but rejoices in the truth must be moved and motivated, not by ones own feelings, but rather by the very heart of God.

Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. 1 Corinthians 13:7

What if love motivated us to never give up? Never give up seeking after God’s face and God’s heart in every situation? Never give up seeing people through God’s eyes?

What if we never lose faith in God’s ability to take even the hardest seasons and turn them it something extraordinary?

On social media yesterday I sensed a narrative that I have been struggling with. That narrative seemed to state that in order to stand in the gap to end injustice then you must not support law enforcement. This sentiment breaks my heart.

 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:13

While I cannot speak for everyone, I can speak for myself. My participation in yesterday’s Black Out movement was not a condoning of riots. The destruction of property, violence, chaos and mayhem will not bring lasting change. It is criminal and only causes more division. My participation in the Black Out movement was also not an anti-law enforcement statement. We have incredible men and women who serve and protect the citizens of this country. They have an incredibly difficult job and in this season its harder than ever. I don’t ever take what they do for granted. In fact, I am very grateful for them. However, none of this negates the issue at hand, racial injustice is real.

Yesterday was simply an opportunity to say to those who are peacefully protesting, “I see you…I hear you…I seek to understand better.” It was a step in obedience to the promptings God has laid upon my heart to be a part of the solution. It was a recognition that this battle does have a hidden agenda…not ensued by the Democrats or the Republicans…but rather by the enemy who wants to destroy us all.

I cannot change you. But I can choose to ask God to help change me.

I have faith…faith that believes that this could be the greatest hour for the Church as God uses us to bring healing and reconciliation.

I have hope…hope that believes that out of these ashes God will bring beautiful things.

And I have love. Love is our greatest weapon in this battle. It is the very weapon God Himself used when Jesus Christ conquered sin and death. This is not a mere human love, but a supernatural love. Birthed by the Holy Spirit who dwells inside of me. A love that chased me down when I was broken and hurting. A love that made me whole. A love that compels me to listen, to seek to understand, and to be the light of my Savior, Jesus Christ, in a world that so desperately needs Him. Only He can bind our wounds and heal our land. That is what I pray for, would you join me in praying the same?

Lord, Jesus come. Intercede on our behalf. We have come to the end of human wisdom. True change and true healing can only come through You. We humbly ask you to come…we need your peace, your comfort, your wisdom.

In Jesus Name.

Amen!

 

Such A Time As This

MLK

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy ~ Dr. Martin Luther King

There comes a time in all of our lives where we come to a crossroads and we will have to choose. The road of silence is appealing as it lures us with safety and comfort, while the road of speaking up often scares us as it is filled with challenge and vulnerability. Regardless of which we choose we will have to live with the implications of the choice we make.

What I am about to share began as a video and turned into a blog. I have prayed about it most of the day and finally walked away for a couple hours to think through which road I would take. Because you are currently reading my thoughts the answer is obvious. However, in the spirit of full transparency, know that hitting “publish” wasn’t easy, but necessary.

The last few weeks in our country have been tense, to say the least. A few weeks back we saw a young man of color shot and killed while simply jogging down the street. This past week we saw another man of color, in a video, beg for his life. A plea that met deaf ears and ultimately led to his death.

Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd…they have names, they have a family, they have a story, and they leave a legacy. Both senseless murders, lighting the powder keg of racial tension in our country.

Over the last several days I have wrestled with the devastating circumstances of both their deaths. No political motivation, no race bait, no ulterior motive, just simple outrage and disgust over the lack of value for human life. My heart has agonized and ached as I have tried to find words to articulate the magnitude of the situation. I don’t think those words actually exist in the human language.

Racism is not getting worse, its getting filmed ~ Will Smith

People of color are hurting in the United States and they have been hurting for a very long time. Racism is not new, it’s a narrative that can be traced back to the very inception of this country. Which is interesting, considering freedom and equality are the cornerstone beliefs we were founded on. However, while the narrative of racism is not new; the graphic videos that we have all seen are. In the day and age when every one of us has a video camera on us at all times through our phones…the narrative has now been paired with very real and very horrifying visuals…not in in the 1860’s, not in the 1960’s, but in 2020 America. I don’t know how any person can watch the video of George Floyd, saying “I can’t breath” over and over again and not be disturbed. When we lose our sensitivity to the sacredness of human life, we lose the very essence of what makes us human to begin with.

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. ~ Dr. Martin Luther King

In the last few days I have began to wonder, “where has the voice of the Church been?” What I have realized is that up to this point the voice has been very low, almost silent. However, I do not believe silence is an option any longer for the Church of Jesus Christ. The days of side stepping the issue and hoping that in the silence it will simply go away on its own, are over. Silence does not evidence a love for God or His beloved creation, humanity. In fact, what it actually does is perpetuate the problem.

Racism is a sin…period. There is no way to sugar coat it or water it down. But hear my heart…the fact that its sin, is not my truth, but rather the truth found in the Word of God.

 “Then God said, ‘Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.” ~ Genesis 1:26

Every single person is created in the imagine of Almighty God.

Every. Single. One!!!!

Every race, every ethnicity. This simple truth leaves ZERO room or tolerance for racism in the people of God.

The apostle Paul writes to the church in Galatia

“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For you are all one in Christ” ~ Galatians 3:38

This is a powerful reminder that all the worldly distinctions placed upon people, God doesn’t see. In fact, God only sees two things…people found in His Son, Jesus Christ and people who need a real and authentic encounter with His Son, Jesus Christ.

James, the brother of Jesus wrote…

“Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law found in Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But, if you favor some people over others you are committing a sin.” ~ James 2:8-9

God shows no preferential treatment and it is a sin for His people to do so.

Why?

Because of the words of Jesus Himself when asked…

“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?’ Jesus replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all you heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” ~ Matthew 22: 36-40

Silence is no longer an option for the Church of Jesus Christ because in order to truly love God we must actually obey Him. Obeying Him means loving our neighbors…all of them; not just the ones who look, think, and live like us.

This morning my heart was so heavy and burdened that I didn’t even want to get out of bed. The heaviness of the tension in our country lingered as I fell asleep to news clips of protests and rioting. America is literally on fire. Tempers are raging, hearts are broken, people of color are hurting, and that hurt runs deep. And the rest of us sit here trying to wrestle with the mess of it all.

And in our wrestling I think the realization I have come to is that most of white America does not understand the pain of this situation. We can empathize and our hearts can break, but that doesn’t mean we understand. I have a teenage son. I have never once worried that if he went out for a run he might get shot. I have never worried that my husband might find himself in the same kind of predicament as George Floyd found himself in. I’ve never been followed simply because of the color of my skin.

But our lack of understanding is not an excuse to remain silent. It means that we, as the people of God, must do a better job of building bridges and forging relationship to glean a greater understanding.

How good to sing praises to our God! How delightful and how fitting. The Lord is rebuilding Jerusalem and bringing the exiles back to Israel. He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds. ~ Psalm 147:3

I believe with all my heart that the Church of Jesus Christ is in a season of purging and pruning. I believe God wants to bring revival to this generation. But revival will never come through a Church that tolerates racism with their silence.

You see the true beauty of the Body of Christ, the very thing that sets us apart is the fact that we are beautiful tapestry of differences. Different races, different ethnicities, different upbringings, different cultures, even different ideologies. Yet, we are all united in the oneness of Jesus, a bond so much greater than all the things that make us different. To sit silent, allowing one of the parts of our beautiful tapestry to be hurt or mistreated is a slap in the face to the One who created us all.

Make no mistake, this situation devastates the very heart of God. The root of racism is sin and where there is sin there is always brokenness and wherever there is brokenness there is pain and heartbreak. But God has promised to heal our broken hearts and bind our wounds. Healing and reconciliation; that is what God desires. The question is, will we be part of His solution or will we lend to the problem by not acknowledging there even is a problem?

Jesus is the hope of the world and the local church is the vehicle of expressing that hope to the world. ~ Andy Stanley

The events of the last week have been devastating, but the hurt and the pain does not have to have the final say. If we truly believe the promises of God are real, if we truly submit to His authority in our lives then He has positioned us in an extraordinary spot. He has placed in a time such as this to be part of the solution to a centuries old problem.

God will heal the brokenhearted and He will bind the wounds of the hurting, but we, His children, MUST be active participants of the healing process.

How?

Through praying!

We need to get on our faces before Almighty God and confess our sin of silence and apathy. We must ask Him to interceded on our behalf. We must ask Him how we can be a voice of healing in the pain. And we must ask Him to allow us to see people through His eyes, not through the way we’ve been conditioned to see them.

Through friendship.

We need to sit at tables with our brothers and sisters of color and begin conversations and forge relationships. It in these circles we must humble ourselves and admit that many of us do not understand their experience but want to open dialogue to learn. Because knowledge eliminates ignorance.

I do not believe the problem will go away over night. However, if each one of us does something we can begin to move in the right direction.

Words which do not give the light of Christ increase the darkness ~ Mother Teresa

As hard as this chapter in human history is we must remember that hopes resides in the people of God. Within each of us is the hope of Jesus and we have the ability to share that hope in every interaction we have. Through the Holy Spirit, who dwells within us, we have the supernatural ability to be agents of healing and reconciliation. But we must first choose the hard road of breaking the silence…that is our first step on the long road ahead.

My prayer in writing this blog is that all of my brothers and sisters in Christ will join me in being mindful of the implications of our actions and inaction. That our one common desire would be to shine the light of Christ in the words we choose, the actions we take, and the posts we put out for all to read. There is enough darkness all around us, we do not need to add to it. In fact, I believe that God is issuing us all a challenge…will we be part of the change HE wishes to see in our world.

I’m in…how about you?

 

 

Silence

I think 99 times and find nothing. I stop thinking, swim in silence, and the truth comes to me. ~ Albert Einstein

For the last several years, as a new year dawns, I ask God to give me a word. A word that will govern the coming year for me.  Over the years words like, “trust”, “surrender”, and even “choice” have been noted in my journal. Usually, the word will come to me in late December and or early January, but what is most remarkable is how these words take shape in my life throughout the year. This practice always reminds me that God sees what we do not.

“Silence”

Yes, “silence.” That is my word for 2020.

January 2, 2020

I sometimes wonder if this will be the decade of silence for me…What does silent introspection look like for me? I am such an out loud processor that I am not sure. Yet, I find myself craving more silence.

January seems like years rather than months ago. As I reflect on my journal entries…just 20 weeks old…I am astounded at how God was preparing me for this season.

January 8, 2020

My life is loud…my words are often many…but I need silence. Like a desert thirsts for rain, my soul thirsts for silence.

When God gave me this word for 2020 I obviously had no clue what was about to unfold, but I did know that I would find Him in greater ways in the silence.

Everything we hear is an opinion. Not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth. ~ Marcus Aurelius

I have stayed relatively silent throughout the current situation we find ourselves in. Of course, I have had conversations with family and my closest friends, but publicly I have said very little. Opinions flow freely…why litter the already overcrowded pool with yet, another one. However, silence is not a reflection of a lack of an opinion…but rather the pondering of what to do with one’s opinion.

Yesterday we had a small gathering at our house; only 10 people for those who are counting. It was truly one of the most “normal” things we have done in weeks. As I sat in my kitchen with my aunt and my cousins I had a very unguarded conversation. In that moment I let many of the things that I have been pondering over for weeks flow freely. This morning as I awoke before the dawn the conversation played over and over again in my mind. I’m not sure if anything I said even made sense. But what I do know is that in the silence I have wrestled with two things in this season and they both poured out of me yesterday.

  1. What is God trying to teach us?
  2. What does it mean to truly live a faith over fear lifestyle?

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. ~ James 1:2-4

No shame in my game…I’m an extrovert…and a proud American. Therefore, I would be lying to you if I said I have always counted the “Shelter in Place” order a joy. We are the land of the free, we are not conditioned to be told to stay home for weeks with a goal line in reach only to have it adjusted and moved further away, several times. I have learned in this season that if you give me a clear “why”, my rule follower nature will come out strong. But, if the “why” is fuzzy or completely absent, a spirit of rebellion begins to rise up in me.

In this season, more than any other, I have had to wrestle with faith and politics. I have tried the reconcile Nikki, the Christ follower with Nikki, a person with political ideologies. What I have discovered; reconciling the two is easier said than done.

So what is God trying to teach me?

I think in every season God is teaching us something. In this season He has reminded me that His ways are not ours. He sees what we do not see and therefore He does what we would not do. My journal so far in 2020 has been so different than any other I have ever written, a dichotomy of thoughts. Questions and statements, introspection and reflections so all over the place, yet somehow there is a harmony to it all.

In my entries I wonder…a lot! Question after question. Yet, many center around the same thing, are we pleasing God? So many times I have wondered do we, as God’s people, fixate on things that do not actually matter to Him? Have we fallen into the same trap of the Pharisees and created God in our image rather than living in the fullness of being created in His? If we opened Scripture do we look like the people who set the world on fire for Jesus Christ or would Paul, Peter, John, and James scratch their heads wondering what in the world we are all doing?  Unfortunately, this is not the blog where I give you answers to these deeply complex questions. But rather a place that simply poses questions to ponder.

What I do know is that Jesus was never a political crusader. He never spoke against Rome, in fact He didn’t say much about Rome at all. And make no mistake, Rome was a pretty messed up place. The 21st century hasn’t cornered the market on sin and disobedience. Ancient Rome excelled at both as well. So as I wrestle with the political side of my personality I have spent much time in prayer asking God to check my spirit and attitude. Because a rebellious spirit, even if warranted, left unchecked can often leads to greater danger. One must always submit to the authority of God and allow Him to guide the steps that follow, whatever they may be. If I have learned anything in my walk with Jesus, it is that if God has called us to something, He will equip us for it. I have also learned that going rogue and then hoping God will bless it in the end is probably not the most prudent or prayerful approach.

All Scripture is inspired by God and useful to teach us what is true and make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. ~ 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Could this be a season of humbling and correction? I don’t know. But I do know I have spent more time on my knees praying prayers of confession and repentance than ever before in my life.  On behalf of myself, our country, our world, and yes, even the Church. The greatest sin of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day was pride. They thought they had it all figured out and in their arrogance they completely missed the Savior of the world right before their very eyes. Why? Because for Jesus to be right that would have meant they were wrong and their pride would have never allowed for that kind of admission.

I have found myself wondering if we suffer from a pride issue too? Pride of country, pride of political affiliation, pride of intellect, pride of academia, pride of doctrine? But please hear my heart, it’s not wrong to love our country, to have political allegiance, to trust science and learning, or to adhere to a certain theology. However, when those things become our fixation rather than Jesus we are diving into the dangerous end of the ocean. It is in this place that our need to be right and heard often overrules our obedience to being Christ’s ambassadors in our world.

Could it be the very thing that robs us of the peace that transcends all understanding and joy of simply being Christlike, is the fact that our pride often finds us living independent of God? We rely on ourselves, or our government, or our faith in human intellect when in fact, only God can prepare and equip us to live in a way that is pleasing to Him.

Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 4:6-8

What does it mean to live a faith over fear lifestyle?

When Covid19 began to unfold back in March the future for so many of us was so very uncertain and in many ways, it still is. My husband’s job is heavily tied to the food and restaurant industry and therefore job security was not a premium as every single restaurant across America was forced to close. We watched as people he has worked with for years struggle to keep businesses afloat. Our hearts ached as business colleagues who had invested everything in a dream saw it turn into a nightmare over night. Doors of restaurants we know and love will never open again. And this is just one source of worry in this season.

We worry about health, mental and physical…

We worry about our children who have lost important social interactions and valuable education…

We worry about job loss…

We worry about the political climate; the lack or abuse of leadership depending on where you sit in all of this…

We turn on the TV and there it is. We open up social media and there it is. We listen to the radio and there it is. We have created a culture that has made fixating and obsessing about this situation so easy. We live in a time when the conflicting voices are so loud that confusion and chaos reign.

Yet, in the silence we find the remedy for it all. For in the silence is God.

Instead of fixating on the news and Facebook, Paul says in ALL things pray to God. However, I don’t think that Paul is talking about simply bringing a laundry list of things you want God to do for you. I think Paul is saying, silence the world and simply allow the voice of God to be the loudest one in your life. Silence the world and allow the Holy Spirit to be your guiding force. Silence the world, seek the face of God and as you do watch your worry dissolve into peace.

Peace is not found in a vaccine or a cure for Covid19. Peace is not found in a certain political party winning an election. Peace isn’t even found in “Freeing Michigan” (although, I would like to give it a shot…LOL). There is only one true source of peace and that is Jesus Christ. Only when we fully trust Him, only when we fully surrender to Him can we have this peace the Bible tells us about.

Last night I shared with my aunt and my cousins that for Matt and I, worry isn’t something that consumes us. Not because we are super strong people or not worriers by nature…that could not be further from the truth. By nature I am a hot mess, prone to anxiety and fear. However, the Holy Spirit who dwells inside of me helps to override the tendencies of the flesh. AND…and this is a really BIG “and”…God has proven His faithfulness to us, over and over again. Through our son’s autism and our daughter’s death…God has been proven that ALL of His promises are true. The inevitable is that this life will disappoint us and bad things can happen, but Matt and I are living proof that God can turn ashes into beautiful things. So, when the worry begins to creep in, I return to the well of God’s faithfulness and draw from it. Knowing with full confidence that no circumstance is bigger than my God. That is not said to diminish healthy concern, we should all do our due diligence and be wise. Nor is it to discredit or belittle very really worries that people have. It is simply said as an encouragement; a reminder that where we are weak God is strong and where we fall short He is more than able.

January 8, 2020

Find me in the silence…

Silence is not a reflection of a lack of an opinion…but rather the pondering of what to do with one’s opinion and whom to submit it to.

Silence is the space where we shut off the voices of the world and shut up the voices of our own opinions and emotions…it is the place where God speaks.

If your heart is weary or troubled; if you are consumed with worry and anxiety; if your anger rages because of the political climate of our country…

Can I encourage you this morning…in the silence…to simply be still and know God.

In all seasons, in all circumstances, with a grateful heart know that regardless of what changes around us, God NEVER changes. He is constant, He faithful and He is good…always. He sees what we do not see and therefore does what we would not do. His plan and His timing are perfect…always. When we are slow to speak and quick to listen for the voice of God, He will guide our steps and His peace will rule in our hearts. That is not opinion nor is it a perspective…it is simply the truth of the Gospel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joy Comes In The Morning

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What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes part of us. ~ Helen Keller

It has been said that a cardinal is a representative of those we love that have passed away. When the bird appears, it means your loved one has come to see you…often when you need them or miss them the most. I must admit, I am not one to believe in such things. However, I do find it interesting that for the second year in a row, right before the anniversary of my daughter’s death, a cardinal made an appearance at my house.

This morning I awoke in a NyQuil haze, stumbling into the kitchen for my morning coffee…welcome to winter in the Midwest. As the aroma of freshly brewed java tickled my nose I began to perk up. At that moment a glance out my door wall stopped me dead in my tracks. Out of the corner of my eye the flicker of vibrant red caught my attention…then I saw it. The contrast of the bird’s beautiful feathers on the cold gray brick pavers stood out like the North Star in the black night sky. I must admit, in that brief moment, I thought, “just when I needed you most sweet girl.”

Tomorrow will be 12 years since my beautiful Francesca Isabella went home to be with Jesus. I can honestly say that 12 years later, the new year never gets easier. The loss looms at the dawn of every year as a beacon to remind me of how quickly life can change and how silly those 5 year and 10 year plans really are. Nothing is guaranteed and in an instant it can all change. You can plan til your hearts content but rarely does life play out like the fantastical narrative we create in our minds.

How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog – it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. ~ James 4:14

January 7, 2008 was an ordinary day in a new year. The day dawned with so much hope, so much possibility. As I wrote in my journal that morning I did so with so much confidence. Reflecting on a sermon I had heard the day before, I wanted nothing more than to glorify the God who had set me free and changed my life. I had no idea that the minutes passing by were racing me toward a moment when time would stand still.

January 8, 2008, what a difference a day can make. The day before, which started with so much hope, ended with soul crushing heartache. On this day my journal simply started with…

“I am numb!!! You have taken Francesca Isabella home to you!”

These are the words of a mother who has had the most sacred thing torn out of her life, her own child. There are not enough words to articulate the kind of pain one feels in this moment, and I pray none of you ever have to feel it. All the plans I had for that year, for Francesca’s life, for my own life shattered into a million pieces on a January afternoon. Life was just a vapor and I was learning that lesson the hard way.

The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads my beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. Your prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessing. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever. ~ Psalm 23

When King David penned these words it was a reflection upon his life. An honest account of how God had sustained him throughout his life. What I think I love most about this Psalm is that it doesn’t paint the picture of a perfect or an easy life. Quite to the contrary, it talks about walking through dark valleys and facing enemies that would have delighted in his demise. Yet, through it all David knew protection, comfort, blessing, goodness, love, and he had victory. Not because he was a particularly strong person but because God was a good, good Father. God was David’s shepherd. His was the voice David sought, His were the arms that brought comfort in the midst of soul crushing heartache, He was the shield that protected David from the schemes of the enemy even when everything was stacked against him, it was His goodness and loved that saturated David’s life. David was living evidence that God’s promises were true, regardless of the circumstances of his life.

I feel such a kinship to King David. I, too, feel like I am living evidence that God’s promises are true. As I read the 23rd Psalm David actually disappears from my mind and my own life plays out through the familiar words on the page.   Yes, every new year begins with the reminder of the darkest valley I have walked through. And yes, every new year begins with the reminder that all of my heart no longer dwells with me here on this earth, a piece of it now awaits me in heaven. However, I cannot linger in the heaviness of that reality, the grief of my journey does not overwhelm or consume me. Because it was through that grief that I have experienced the fullness of God’s comfort and His protection. His goodness and His love did pursue me. When the enemy tried to destroy my family it was God who stepped in, not so that we might merely survive through the pain but that we might thrive because of the beauty that was revealed through the ashes of it. I am living proof that on the other side of the shadow of death your cup can overflow with blessing.

Weeping might last through the night but joy comes with the morning. ~          Psalm 30:5

Several months ago a preacher that has a fire for Jesus, an extraordinary anointing of the Holy Spirit, and my utmost respect pulled me aside and gave me a prophetic word. He said, “You will be a spiritual mother to many.” It was so simple, yet so profound.

Last night his words echoed in my mind as I had the privilege to speak into a handful of young adult women. I poured out how God’s story intersected my story and radically changed and transformed my life. The journey wasn’t easy or pretty…it was raw and it was hard, but it was real. And as I spoke there she was…my sweet girl, Francesca Isabella, God’s precious daughter, the one I had the privilege of calling my own for the briefest of days on this earth. She is woven throughout God’s story and my own. Her presence may no longer be in this world but she is everywhere I am, because she is in me. She lives on, actively and vibrantly in my heart. And though I will never have the opportunity to mother her in this lifetime, because of her God has placed me in a position to be a mother to others.

It might be silly or whimsical but a part of me wants so desperately to believe that beautifully vibrant cardinal outside my window this morning was a little piece of heaven cheering me on. Reminding me and maybe some of you, that while a new year might start with a flavor of sadness, and weeping may last for the night…joy truly does come with the morning. It might not look the way you thought it would or wanted it to, but if you trust God, I promise He will turn the ashes of this life into beautiful things…I am living proof of it.

Cardinal2020

(my morning visitor)