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)

Logging off…

I am officially of an age where my son says things to me, and I feel old…really old.

Saturday morning was nice and laid back. Exactly how I like it. Nothing pressing to do, just family time. I sipped coffee as my husband whipped up an amazing breakfast. A breakfast that, oh by the way, set off the fire alarm prompting the fire department to knock on our door. I seriously felt like I was in Backdraft…please tell me someone remembers that movie from the 90’s. Billy Baldwin, Kurt Russell…ringing any bells?!?! Anyways…after many apologies and much embarrassment we sent the firefighters, the one with his ladder and the one with his ax, on their way assuring them that all was well at Casa Catherincchia.

As the coffee flowed and our gourmet breakfast was devoured, the conversation drifted to the internet. I’m not even sure what we were talking about but the next thing I knew I was Googling the sound of “dial-up” internet for my son and nephew to hear. What followed was uncontrolable laughter at this archaic method in which we used to connect to the world-wide web or a.k.a the information super highway…another flashback from the 90’s. The more they laughed, the older I felt. But I couldn’t help being sad for a generation that has never known life without the internet. A generation molded and shaped by phones, apps, and social media. A generation that has never lived without instant communication. A generation that has never known an inability to binge watch whatever they want, whenever they want. A generation that has never truly been logged off.

Last May my husband and I went on a cruise. The second we hit our stateroom he shut off his phone and locked it in the safe. For seven whole days he was completely disconnected from the outside world. Just the thought of that made me sea sick. Of course, I would love to say it was solely because I wanted to stay connected to my kids at home, but that would be a lie. I was on vacation, which meant I would take pictures…I needed my phone. I also needed to share my pictures with the people we were traveling with…I needed my phone. And of course I needed to share some pics on social media and since I was there, why not check up on the outside world by scrolling through Facebook and checking an email or 10…I needed my phone.

In that seven day span of time my husband never checked an email, never scrolled through social media, didn’t even take a stinking a picture. He was completely logged off and you know what? It was the most relaxed he had been in a long time. Nothing to distract him or vie for his attention. He was completely present to enjoy every moment. I can’t say the same for myself.

Fast forward to two weeks ago. I am back on a cruise ship but this time I am on a girls trip. Lets just pause for a moment and give thanks for the ladies that pioneered the idea of a “girls trip.” Ahhhh…so good for the soul. OK, continuing on. As we boarded the ship I made the decision to not get the internet package. For months I had been secretly envious of what my husband had been able to achieve when we cruised together so I decided to see if I could do it too. No Facebook, no Instagram, no emails…nothing for 5 whole days. My phone literally became my watch and my camera, that is it. And for all those concerned that I abandoned my family, I didn’t. My sweet friends allowed me to use their phones to Face-time my boys back home.

What was the conclusion from this little experiment?

I am addicted to my phone.

I could not believe how many times a day I picked up my phone only to realize I couldn’t do anything with it. In fact by the 5th day I caved and got the internet. Of course, I justified this to myself because after all, I had to check in for my flight home. Truthfully, I was just itching to connect. However, this experience made me wonder… how much time a day do I waste mindlessly picking up my phone and scrolling through social media and the internet…checking on my kids and looking at emails way more than I need to?

But isn’t that who we have become as a society?

If we call our kids and they don’t immediately answer we freak out…

Thanks to Life 360 we never need to wonder where our kids or our spouses are…

We put the “Out of the Office” notification on our email accounts yet we are still constantly checking them…

Social media messes with our emotions as we compare our hot mess to everybody elses highlight reel.

And as sad as I am for my son’s generation who has never known life logged off, I am even sadder for my generation. Because we have. We remember the days when communication consisted of an actual conversation over the phone or a face to face meeting. We remember the excitement and anticipation of wanting to tell your best friend the greatest news but 1) not knowing where they were and 2) having to wait until they got home so they could call you. We remember what it was like to sit down as a family, eat dinner together, and actually talk rather than having every face glued to a screen. We remember a time when we were present in the moment rather than taking a picture or a video of every little thing that happens. We know the difference, yet it doesn’t seem to matter. We are as addicted as our kids.

I learned a valuable lesson in my few short days of being logged off…

Technology is a good thing. Too much technology is not. It is not good for our hearts, our minds, our spirits, or our relationships.

God has really been pressing the idea of self-evaluation upon me recently. This year I decided to read the Bible front cover to back cover. This idea was birthed out of  the realization that while I have read the Bible many times, my self-proclaimed ADD usually has me bouncing all over the place. But this year I am disciplining myself to read it, start to finish, no deviations. Now I must confess, last month I was super excited to start the book of Leviticus…NOT!!! Nobody will ever declare Leviticus an exciting read. However, God spoke to me through a verse in Leviticus like nothing I ever expected. This verse grabbed a hold of me and I haven’t been able to shake it.

You must distinguish between what is sacred and what is common

I think for so many of us those lines have become very blurry. In so many ways we have elevated the common to sacred in our lives. The more connected we are the more we look for fulfillment in people’s opinions rather than God’s. Our self worth is now wrapped up in “likes” rather than in things that truly matter…like who God says we are. Whether we want to admit it or not, for so many of us, a common phone or device has become the most sacred thing in our world. Don’t believe me? Lose your phone…break your phone…your reaction will tell you everything you need to know about whether you treat your device as common or sacred.

So what would it look like to log off? To plug-in the phone and walk away? Some of you are breaking out in a cold sweat just thinking about it. But seriously, what if we all did a little experiment and logged off? For an hour, a day, a week, a month. What if we replaced the time spent on our devices with other people or spending more time in the presence of God?  Maybe, just maybe, the freedom to log off is the detox your heart, soul, and mind are craving. And maybe God is just waiting for us to shift our obsessive fixation off the common and onto the sacred so that He can can give us a greater revelation of Himself.

Why not give it a shot. What’s the worst that can happen? We might have to do a #latergram rather than posting in real time. But what is the best that can happen? God might actually begin to show us all the things we have been too distracted to see.

 

 

You Are Not Hidden

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You are not hidden… There’s never been a moment you were forgotten… ~ Lauren Daigle

Tonight I sat in a room full of people yet I was all alone…

As a parent of autism this is a place that is very familiar to me.

Finding yourself in situations where the circumstances of your journey…all the things that make your family “different” or not “normal” glare at you like a spotlight.

Tonight I sat in a darkened corner. In all fairness, the whole room was dark but when you’re in a corner it feels a little darker. I was in a room full of activity, full of people, yet I felt completely alone. The call for people to come forward, to find freedom in the moment actually didn’t apply to me. As I sat next to my sweet boy, lost in the world of whatever movie he was watching, I was more concerned that in this reverent moment he wouldn’t squeal or scream at the characters on the screen. In fact, as I tried to get into the atmosphere of prayer what I really silently prayed was that my son wouldn’t be a distraction.

All around me prayer and worship occurred yet I was not a part of it…at all. In my darkened corner I simply sat. Alone with my own thoughts, my own prayers, and an occasional kiss from my handsome companion, who was blissfully unaware of what was really happening around him. The spotlight glared and I was once again reminded that autism can often leave you feeling alone in crowd.

As I began to frantically journal my own prayers…I too became oblivious to the events of the room I was in. My focus rested solely on God.

I hear you whisper underneath your breath…I hear your SOS, your SOS ~ Lauren Daigle

As I prayed God reminded me that I am not the only who is living in the struggle. All around me are people fighting a battle…living every day feeling all alone in a sea of people. People who feel the tension of never being able to find freedom because of whatever struggle or burden is hanging around their neck like a noose…attempting to suck the life right out of them at any given moment.

Turning to God’s Word, as I often do when my heart is troubled, I began to read the words of Psalm 138. The words of the Psalmist poured into my heart and enveloped me like the God hug that they were…

As soon as I pray, you answer me; you encourage me by giving me strength…

The Lord will work out his plans for my life – for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever.

I will send out an army to find you. In the middle of the darkest night. It’s true, I will recuse you. I will never stop marching to reach you. In the middle of the hardest fight. It’s true, I will rescue you. ~ Lauren Daigle

In the darkened corner…

Where no one else sees or understands the full extent of the pain or the struggle…God sees us.

We are not hidden, forgotten, or forsaken. Our God sees us and He meets us in that place of loneliness and isolation…if we would only allow Him in.

He is the God who sees us. The God who can carry us above our circumstances and take us to a place of peace that transcends all understanding.

Tonight in a room full of people it was just me and God. He met me in the struggle and reminded me that I am never alone, He is always near. And while very few people I know understand the complexities and ache of being a parent of autism…God understands. It was Him in that moment reminding me that He is my strength.

The musings of this blog are to tell you that God sees you too. Somebody who will read these words needs to hear that truth right now. You are the reason I wrote this blog. God told me you needed to be reminded that you are not hidden…you have not been forgotten or forsaken. God sees you. He is your strength and your protection. Trust Him! He has not abandoned you…

In the darkest night and in the middle of the toughest fight…He WILL rescue you!!! Let go and trust Him.

 

 

 

Reverse the Question

I was so happy the kids were off of school today…

What a perfect opportunity to share with my kids the profound impact Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had on our world. I was prepared for this incredible teachable moment…a chance to tell my kids when we use our voices for good and the betterment of all people we really can make a difference.

Oh wait, that’s just what I think all the perfect Pinterest mom’s do on MLK Day. I was just happy my kids were off of school today so this mama could SLEEP IN!!! It has been a long weekend and I am exhausted. I know I can’t be the only one out there that feels this way…and if I am, oh well, now you know my secret. Don’t judge me cause I’m tired and I won’t judge you for having your act together.

Why don’t we have emoji’s for blogs?!?! How does one detect humor or sarcasm without them?! #21stcenturyproblem

Sorry, back from my rabbit trail. Without fail, every morning I have the potential to sleep in…I DON’T!!! This morning was no different. At 4:45am my eyes popped open and even worse my mind started racing. Words floating around in my head. More and more words. I felt like the manic Mozart I once saw in the movie Amadeus. The sounds of melodies and instruments swimming in his head over and over again until the music took over his very mind and it drove him to this frantic moment of putting all the notes down on paper, lest he forget.

Now, I am no Mozart. Comparing myself to his musical genius is not the point of the illustration. It was that manic feeling I could relate to. As my brain raced with this disorganized collection of words and thoughts, I began to think about the reason I was lying in bed with no rush to get up. I began to think about the life and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Began to wonder what he would think about the current state of our country; the divisiveness, the hatred expressed, the lack of open and respectful dialogue between parties that do not fundamentally agree on issues and topics, the racial tension, the war on gender, the list goes on and on.

Who is my neighbor?  ~ Luke 10:29

The Parable of the Good Samaritan. Arguably one of the most famous parables Jesus ever told. Truth be told you don’t even have to follow Jesus or even like Him for that matter, but I bet you have some kind of understanding of this parable. The Jewish man brutally beaten on the side of a dangerous road. Both a priest and Levite, the man’s own people, leave him dying there. Yet, along comes this Samaritan man and he not only gives the man aide, but he brings him to shelter and pays for his recovery. The most extraordinary detail of this whole story is the two men’s nationalities. A Jewish man dying on the side of the road receiving so much more that just help from a Samaritan stranger. Why is the detail so fascinating…so mindblowing?!?! Because the Jews and the Samaritan’s HATED each other. Yet, here we witness one of the most generous acts of love and kindness and it is all demonstrated by a man whose heart should have been hardened by the hatred he was conditioned to have toward another human being just because of their differences.

What is even more interesting about the Parable of the Good Samaritan is the interaction that Jesus has with a Jewish lawyer right before he tells the parable…

One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

~ Luke 10: 25-29

Luke tells us the man who is talking to Jesus is an expert in Jewish law. Which actually means he knows the answers to his own questions. He essentially testing Jesus…waiting to see what He would say. The lawyer knew that in a nutshell the law was concerned with two things…our relationship with God and our relationships with others. Do you love God? Do you love others?

Now our lawyer friend is a bit arrogant. He doesn’t even ask Jesus how he should love God, he just assumes that he does because he follows the law. However, he does ask Jesus who his neighbor is. But he’s not asking because he’s clueless and sincerely wants to know.  He already knows who is neighbors are…they are other Jews. The Jewish community had very strict mandates in their law about how they should care for one another. So the parable of the Good Samaritan would have absolutely blown the lawyer’s mind.

Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.“By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Levite (temple assistant) walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’ “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

~ Luke 10: 30-37

This parable would have absolutely shocked the Jewish lawyer. Why? Well, because according to the law that he was an expert in, both the priest and Levite were obligated to take care of the dying man on the side of the road. He was one of their own and the law of Moses required them to care for him. But they didn’t…they just left them him there. Now along comes a hated Samaritan and he is the one that shows the man the love, compassion, and the care a neighbor would. And at this point our Jewish lawyer’s jaw has hit the ground. Everything he knows has been flipped upside down.

The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But…the good Samaritan reversed the question and asked, ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’ ~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The parable of the Good Samaritan was one of the most radical stories Jesus would tell. Because what Jesus did through this parable was redefine what a neighbor was. When Jesus tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves He is not merely speaking about the people who look like us, and think like us, and live like us, and vote like us. Jesus is saying He expects us to love EVERYBODY…even the people who do not look like us, think like us, live like us, and vote like us. Why is this Jesus’ expectation? Because He loves EVERYBODY…He died for the salvation of EVERYBODY!!! If we are going to obey His command to love our neighbors as ourselves then we must submit to the authority of His definition of what a neighbor is.

If we profess to be followers of Jesus Christ then our hearts should be conditioned toward love, not hate. The mission of our lives should be to increase the Light not the darkness.

Months ago as I prepared a sermon on the Good Samaritan I came across Dr. Martin Luther King Jr giving a speech where he referenced Jesus’ teaching of the this parable. It was in this very speech that I heard Dr. King speak boldly that the good Samaritan “reversed the question.” Instead of being concerned about what would happen to him if he stopped to help the dying man, his greater concern was for what would happen to the man if he didn’t stop to help him. It is amazing what can happen when we switch the emphasis off ourselves and shift it to love others.

I believe that was the heartbeat of Dr. King’s messages. His desire of equality and peace were birthed out of a strong conviction that we are all neighbors. Race, gender, creed, sexual preference, nationality, etc. does not negate or disqualify anyone from being our neighbors. What Dr. King challenged us all to do was walk in the truth of Jesus’ words. To imitate our Savior and increase His light in a world full of darkness.

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. ~ Galatians 3: 26-28

The words of the Apostle Paul reminds me that the change we all wish to see in our world must begin with the people of God. The hope of the world rests in us because we are the lightbearers of Jesus Christ. So as we love another through all the things that make us different, may we also love those in the world so that they too may come to know the love of our Savior.

On a day when we celebrate the life, the work, and the legacy of a man who did so much to create a world where equality is not just a dream but a reality, I would challenge us all to reverse the question. Instead of asking what will happen to me if I love my neighbor as myself? We must ask ourselves what will happen to our world if we don’t.

 

In and Out of Time

The sun has come.
The mist has gone.
We see in the distance…
our long way home.
I was always yours to have.
You were always mine.

We have loved each other in and out of time.

When the first stone looked up at the blazing sun
and the first tree struggled up from the forest floor
I had always loved you more.
You freed your braids…
gave your hair to the breeze.
It hummed like a hive of honey bees.
I reached in the mass for the sweet honey comb there….
Mmmm…God how I love your hair.

You saw me bludgeoned by circumstance.
Lost, injured, hurt by chance.
I screamed to the heavens….loudly screamed….
Trying to change our nightmares into dreams…

The sun has come.
The mist has gone.
We see in the distance our long way home.
I was always yours to have.
You were always mine.
We have loved each other in and out
in and out
in and out
of time.

Maya Angelou

Love. So simple, so pure, yet so complex and complicated. Four little letters strung together. They have the ability to hold all the treasures of the universe. Yet, they hold the power to destroy the human heart. That is the great paradox of love. While it is a many splendor thing, it does indeed hurt.

When you love so deeply you run the greatest risk for heartache. Which puts us all face to face with a very important question. Would you trade away the chance to love to protect your heart from ever experiencing pain?

The beauty of writing is the art of editing. You can change what you don’t like. The word “delete” has the ability to erase the pain of any given character with a single click. If only life where that easy.

To love gives you no option for delete. You cannot erase the ties of the heart and soul. So when love leaves you, the heart aches in unfathomable ways.

I loved you in and out of time.

Can we ever know what it truly means to love in time and out of time? I am not sure I could have answered that question 12 years ago. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have pondered that question 12 years ago. But then something happens…a moment…the universe flips and everything you know to be true and right and good comes crashing in around you. The moment that death steals the beauty of love right from your grasp.

11 years ago today…how quickly time escapes us. 11 years have gone by since I have held my sweet, precious Francesca. Her baby coos and baby smell where the very essence of love wrapped in a head of brown hair, big grey eyes, and the completeness of our joy. I loved her in time.

But on an eerily warm January day 11 years ago love was snatched out of my hands. As the mourning and weeping began I had no idea I had just been placed on a journey that would teach me the beauty of loving in AND out of time.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. ~ Psalm 139:13-16

I was always yours to have.
You were always mine.

We have loved each other in and out of time.

Oh, how we so desperately want to ascribe every feeling those eloquent words evoke to love in the human realm. And quite honestly, that may have very well been Maya Angelou’s intent when she placed those words on a page for the very first time. But this morning as I stumbled across this poem, one that I had read years ago and forgotten about, I was reminded of the beauty of the relationship all of creation has the privilege to have with Almighty God.

God is the author of love…He is love. It is in His very character, His very nature, in every nuance of His very presence that a human soul discovers the fullness of loving in and out of time.

I was always yours to have.
You were always mine.

Ahhhh…do you see it. From the moment God began to knit us together in our mother’s wombs, we were His to have. And from that very moment He was always ours.

With our first cries on this earth we begin our journey home to the One who loved us in and out of time. To the One who created everything we see with us in mind. To the One who knows our name and knows every hair on our head. To the One who would sacrifice Himself…the One who would suffer the greatest loss…the One who knows that greatest amount of agony brought by the hands of love…because He loved us in and out time.

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

This morning when I woke up thinking about my sweet baby girl Francesca, I felt a blog stirring in me. However, the words that you are reading are nothing like the thoughts I was pondering. I guess that will be a different blog for a different time. This afternoon what God has pressed upon me is that life is a gift, no matter how short. Our 78 days with Francesca are days I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. Which means that love is always worth the risk of agony we may endure to experience it.

How is it possible to come to terms with such soul crushing grief? How is it possible to thrive after the storm has beaten you up, the valley has left  you wounded, and the wilderness has you panting with thirst as you wander? I almost cringe being so simplistic…but the answer really is this simple…JESUS!!!

Nobody has ever risked more to love you than Jesus. Nobody has ever sacrificed more for you to know love than Jesus. And NO ONE and NOTHING will ever carry you through the heartache of lost love like Jesus, because He understands it better than anyone ever has. He has loved you in and out of time. You were always His and He is always yours…if you want Him. But even if you don’t want Him…He never gives up pursuing you. You were on His mind at the beginning of time as we know it and He has never lost sight of you…not even for a second.

To all who mourn in Israel, He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for His own glory. ~ Isaiah 61:3

11 years after her physical presence left this earth I still feel Francesca’s presence in my life…every day. She is in the very fabric of our family. She is the thread that God has used to create this beautiful tapestry that is our life.

The road is often difficult…

You saw me bludgeoned by circumstance.
Lost, injured, hurt by chance.
I screamed to the heavens….loudly screamed….
Trying to change our nightmares into dreams…

However, as heartbreaking as the nightmare can be, it often dissipates into a new beginning. A new beginning that would have never been realized without the ashes of the pain. When we allow God to meet us in the heartache…He changes our nightmares to dreams as He so carefully, so gently, and so lovingly binds up our wounds and heals our broken hearts.

Though this journey is one I would have never chosen for myself, today I see so clearly how it has shown me the glory of my God. Glory that I would have remained blinded to on a different road. Through the heartache and the pain God gave me exponentially more of Himself. And the greatest of all His gifts is that He taught me how to love…in and out of time.

Dedicated to my precious Francesca Isabella. Mommy loves you forever beautiful girl xoxo

October 23, 2007 ~ January 7, 2008

Becoming…

The only person you are destined to become is the person you decided to be ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

A new year has dawned and with it comes all of our goals and best intentions to make this year better than the last. It’s funny, a few months back a CD, as in compact disc, surfaced at work. The artist is one that many of you don’t know, but he is a good friend of mine, in fact he’s the worship pastor at the church where I am on staff. This CD had the 1990’s written all over it. I mean down to the Structure suit Jon wore in the cover shot. For those of you not alive in the 90’s, Structure was a popular men’s store back in the day. The title of the CD was Becoming and for weeks after discovering it we teased him. Had he become?  Was he still becoming? That’s what happens when you work with people you truly love…you tease each other like you would a sibling…without mercy.

However, as silly and trivial as that all seemed at the time, the word “becoming” is one that I haven’t quite shaken. Maybe it’s because at 42 I feel like I finally understand that life is one long journey of becoming. Becoming who you are…becoming who you were meant to be…becoming the totality of every experience you have this side of heaven. Perfectly and wonderfully created for this moment right now. The past is the stepping-stones and the lessons learned to uniquely equip you for the challenges and triumphs of the day. The future is what you are currently being prepared to walk into. With that truth I realize that there will never be a point where we will actually become. Never will we reach the pinnacle of what we are meant to be. As long as we draw breath, we are still becoming. We are like clay in the Potter’s hands. Which means that in every season of life He molds and shapes us. In every season we continue to become what we were meant to be…right here…right now.

There is only one thing God wants of us, and that is our unconditional surrender ~ Oswald Chambers

The older I get the harder New Year’s has become. When I was a little girl my mom always cried as one year slipped into the next. In my childish mind I couldn’t understand why. As an adult, I see things more clearly. There is a certain ache for the things that have gone, the pains endured, the good byes that were said, and the joys that have become memories. It is in the closing of a year that one must assess the dreams that slipped away while leaving room for new dreams to come alive. Sometimes that is easier said than done. Truth be told… sometimes… I find myself wanting to hunker down in my bed, depression creeping in, as I wallow in what is gone and what will never be again.

Indeed, for a few days I did allow myself to wallow…

Then I did the only thing that made sense in that moment…I prayed!!!

In my prayers I reflected on my word for 2018, “choice”

Did I make good choices? Did the year play out the way I expected or wanted it to? Does it ever, really? What choices mattered most? Which ones would I like a do over on?”

These are the ramblings of my own mind as my thoughts hit the pages of my journal…

“In the end “choice” is a funny word. What have I learned? Choice is a word that suggests control. And while it is a choice to practice self-control…at the end of the day 2018 taught me…yet, again…that there is very little I actually control and the only choice that really matters is the one to honor God…to walk in step with Jesus…to be fully surrendered in all that I do. Once that choice is made…everything else falls into place…regardless of how the year actually turns out.”

And out of those reflections birthed my word for 2019…SURRENDER.

Every goal, every dream, every hope for this coming year rests in my yearning to become more surrendered to God in every area of my life; mind, body, and soul

Everyone on earth is carrying an unseen history, and that alone deserves tolerance ~ Michelle Obama

I could give you a whole list of my goals for 2019 but why bore you and why put myself out there for public accountability. Let’s keep it real people, you know I’m going to let at least one of these goals fall to the wasteside. There I said it…now in next year’s blog I can own it.

But here is one I will share with you. I have set a goal to read at least one biography a month. Odd goal? To some, probably. However, as I spent time with God dreaming about 2019 the one thing He clearly laid upon my heart was people. To be more intentional, but not just with people I know or people who are like me…but to open my eyes to the world of people all around me. To open my heart and my mind to see people as God sees them. To hear people’s stories for a greater understanding of why they think the way they do or live as they have chosen to live. God has reminded me over and over again that I cannot speak into the lives of people who I have never even bothered to hear or tried to understand. He has reminded me that in the differences of humanity come the beautiful tapestry of all whom God loves…all whom Jesus died for. How can I ever declare that truth, if I never stop to listen to the story of the human experience beyond the comfort of what I have always known.

So I find myself sitting here. Next to me is a book that just a few months ago I would have never considered reading. Becoming, by our former First Lady, Michelle Obama, is my first book of 2019. For those who know me…pick your jaws up off the ground…I promise the shock will wear off. For beyond what you know or what you think you know there is always a back story, a greater understanding of why. What I have discovered in the first six chapters is that there is a compelling story behind every person, ones we admire and those we don’t. I was never a huge fan of President Obama. Politically, he doesn’t align with my beliefs on most topics and quite honestly, neither does his wife. Yet, I read this book not to dispute political ideology but to understand the humanity behind the position held. To learn about the experiences that molded and shaped our former First Lady into the woman she is becoming. I am sure as I read there will be things said that I will cringe at and vehemently disagree with. But I have also discovered there are things I have a new-found respect for. Michelle Obama is an incredibly intelligent woman who, much like myself, keeps it real and that is a common ground that I can respect in anyone. But the greater gift is being able to see someone through a different lens. A lens bent toward empathy rather than divisiveness.

Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the new year ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Whatever your word for 2019 is, whatever your goals or dreams may be…may we all be reminded that a New Year is birthed with new opportunity to continue to become exactly who you were created to be in such a time as this. The past does not define you…it was merely the training ground for all that you are meant to do in this season. The future has yet to be written…the circumstances and choices of today will prepare you for all that lies ahead. My choice today and every day will be to surrender my past, my present, and my future to Almighty God and allow Him to author a greater story than I could have ever written on my own. Becoming all that He desires me to be for His kingdom and His glory.

Happy New Year and Godspeed

xoxo