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.

Joy Comes In The Morning

tulips2020

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)

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.

 

Echoes From The Heart

There is a price you will have to pay to activate your calling. ~ Levi Lusko

The price was high because the love was so deep…

The depth of a mother’s heart cannot be explained by mere words. A bond that begins in the secret place as the Father knits life together.

Before a breath is drawn love abounds. The quiet intimacy of life growing is one that only a mother knows. The sacred time when the beauty of heaven kisses earth to spring forth so much promise…so much potential.

The first cries enter the air erasing the pain of the journey that brought them here. Love explodes as the heart is awakened by the sight of tiny fingers and toes.

The price was high because the love was so deep…

The heart that blossomed and bloomed shatters in a million pieces broken by the ache of what has been lost.

The piece of heaven the graced the world has slipped back from where she came. The earth no longer spins and the universe tips out of order as what should be slips into the land of dying dreams.

Arms envelope the broken mother…only the Father can comfort the heart that longs so desperately for what has been lost.

As grief and sorrow threaten to consume the Father stoops low and wipes the tears that never seem to end.

Then she hears it, like a whisper on the wind…

” She was mine long before she was ever yours. While you long for her in this life, she is with Me preparing for your homecoming. So while we wait for you to finish your race we will cheer you on from home. Knowing you will do all that I created you to do because she was the gift that awakened you to your calling…”

The price was high because the love was so deep…

In the whisper on the wind the mother’s eyes were opened for the first time to the depth of the Father’s love. For He too had paid the highest of prices for a love that ran so deep.

Tonight I finished reading Levi Lusko’s Through the Eyes of a Lion. As I finished, tears coursed down my cheeks as his words echoed in my heart…“There is a price you will have to pay to activate your calling.” Those words inspired my writing above…the simple yet complex sentiments of a heart that surrendered completely to God and walked out of the depths of despair and into a calling.

Levi Lusko wrote a beautiful book about how the death of his precious daughter radically changed his life. For the first time I felt like so much of my heart was revealed…by a complete stranger. He stepped into his calling for ministry long before his precious Lenya went home to be with Jesus but make no mistake God has used his sweet girl to take him places he could have never imagined going. The beauty of his legacy will forever be entwined with how sweet Lenya opened him up to God in ways that he never would have been had the story ended differently. In so many ways his story mirrors my own with my precious baby girl, Francesca.

In the end the lesson learned is that in this life we will all walk through painful valleys but if we would choose to trust God, He will turn ashes into beauty. In the words of Lusko himself “As we wait on the Lord, our hearts are strengthened, and we see things that are invisible and can do things that are impossible… Suffering isn’t an obstacle to be used by God. It is an opportunity to be used like never before…”

For now I choose to see a place where Lenya and Francesca play among tulips, squealing with laughter in the presence of Jesus. And until I join them in that beautiful paradise I will continue to praise His name and tell of the hope that is found in Him alone 💖💖

There is Always Hope

We understand death for the first time when he puts his hand upon one whom we love ~ Madame de Stael

A blanket of white paints the landscape with pops of evergreen. Trees stand desolate in the quiet serenity that highlights an eerie beauty. A beauty that is diminshed by the frigid air that sinks into the marrow of your bones.

For 10 years I have found myself in this place. The final resting spot for my beautiful girl. It brings me no comfort to be here and when the winter is particularly cold, as this one is, I absolutely hate it. As we pull up, already disappointed that our florist is closed, I find myself gripped with apprehension…I don’t want to go. I will myself to place one foot before the other and to step out of the car. With every whisper of artic air that touches my face and every slip on the icy ground I am dumfounded that once again I am here. I make it there…all you can see is a grave blanket. The snow that gives the cemetary an almost ethereal beauty has also erased the names of the beloved that lie in the ground below. It’s too much…I have to walk away.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace~ Helen Lemmel

January 6, 2008. I’ll never forget it. This first Sunday after the new year. Our family gathered in church, hopeful for the wonderful things 2008 would bring. Blissfully unaware that in just over 24 hours our whole world would crumble and shatter into a million pieces.

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. What a beautiful hymn to sing as you embark on the endless possiblities a new year brings. We could have never known that in just a few short days we would be back in that very same sanctuary for the funeral of our precious baby girl. As we stood together that Sunday singing this beloved hymn God began to etch the truth and the promise of their words in our hearts and minds. Truth to cling to in the days, weeks, and years to come. A reminder that when our world falls apart Jesus will always be there, we need only to turn our eyes toward Him.

We can cry with hope..We can say goodbye with hope…cause we know our goodbye is not the end. And we can grieve with hope…cause we believe with hope…there’s a place where we’ll see your face again. ~ Steven Curtis Chapman 

January 7th, 2008…a day that forever changed our lives. After just 78 days here on this earth God called our precious Francesca Isabella home to Him. As images of her beautiful face flashed upon the screen for all those who came to say goodbye to see the words of Steven Curtis Chapman’s “With Hope” played in the background. An achingly sad song with the promise that what is to come will be the sustainer for the pain and heartache endured now. A reminder that the promises of God are true even when life doesn’t make sense. Matt and I clung to that hope…it was all we had. But I have to be completely transparent, I am not sure we really even knew what hope was in those moments. We wanted so desperately to understand but how can you ever fully understand that which incomprehensible admist such soul crushing pain? How can you find hope when you seem so consumed with hopelessness.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. ~ Psalm 34:18

Hope is not wishful thinking, it is confident expectation. When your heart is broken into a million pieces hope can only truly come alive in the presence of God. That young couple who stood in church on January 6th, 2008 had no clue that as they sang “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus…” God was already there. Preparing our hearts and fixing our gaze on the only One who could bind the wounds that would come and take all the shattered pieces of our broken life and put it back together again. God was coming near and in His nearness hope came alive.

I can almost feel the hand of God reaching for my face to wipe the tears away. You say “It’s time to make every new.” Make it all new. 

This is our hope, this our promise…

He will take our breath away to see the beauty that He’s made out of the ashes…

Out of the ashes beauty will rise and we will dance among the ruins. We will see it with our own eyes. ~ Steven Curtis Chapman

Faith is the reality of what we hope for…

10 years ago I think Matt and I just wanted to survive. We didn’t know what “normal” could look like for us. In the midst of so much pain you cannot help but wonder…is this it? Because quite honestly the thought of ever overcoming that kind of loss and soul crushing pain seems so impossible.

This morning I stood next to the love of my life singing a new worship song. As the words rolled off my tongue the tears welled in my eyes…

“I’ve seen You move, come move the mountains…and I believe I’ll see you do it again. You made a way, where there was no way. And I believe, I’ll see you do it again. Your promise still stands…Great is Your faithfulness. I’m still in Your hands…this is my confidence, You never failed me yet.”

God has NEVER failed us. The heartbroken couple who just wanted to survive has thrived over the last 10 years. God came near, binded our wounds, and healed our broken hearts. The journey hasn’t been easy and there are still tears and heartache. When you love someone so much your heart will always ache for them and quite honestly, you always want it to. But God turned our ashes into the beauty of a legacy that still touches and impacts many. Francecsa was a miracle…a beautiful, precious girl who God used in extrordinary ways, far beyond her 78 days. She will forever remind me that hope is birthed in presence of God…that even when the storms of life come, I can be confident in those promises and the love that God shows us all. He has NEVER failed me yet!!!

There are no goodbyes for us. Wherever you are, you will always be in my heart. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

No matter how much time passes I don’t think I will ever find solace in going to the cemetary.  Many do…there is a peaceful beauty that can be found in the quiet, serenity of it all. But for me, all I see are glaring reminders of what is temporal.  That’s the interesting thing about grief…each person’s experience is unique and their own. However, my comfort will come not in grieving that which was lost here, but rather in the hope for what is promised for eternity. Because in Christ Jesus there are no “goodbyes” just sweet reunions. That is what I will continue to hope for and find comfort in.

Francesca2

Francesca Isabella Catherincchia ~ October 23, 2007 – January 7, 2008

Remembering You…

And I would choose you: in a hundred lifetimes, in a hundred worlds, in any version of reality, I’d find you and I’d chose you. ~ The Chaos of Stars

I’ll never forget…

In the very early hours of an October morning a piece of heaven left that place so close to the Father. Knit together in a womb…beautifully and wonderfully made…entrusted into the hands of another mother and father. Time borrowed and so precious…more than we would ever know.

I’ll never forget…

As the sun set on that miraculous day 10 years ago the sky was a spectacular display of the vibrant colors God has painted across His creation. Red, orange, and yellow painted the dusk sky. It was as if He wanted to us to know that the precious girl who entered our world possessed a beauty far beyond what was earthly. She was destined to be so much more than what could have ever imagined.

I’ll never forget…

The plans we had. The dreams we shared for your future. A mommy and daddy in awe of this perfect gift from heaven. As we counted fingers and toes we imagined snuggle time, sloppy wet kisses, pig tails and sparkles, painted finger nails and daddy daughter dances, first kisses, true love, and daddy giving his princess away to the one who would love you through this life.

I’ll never forget…

The way we fell in love so quickly. It was instant. You captured our hearts and captivated our lives.

I’ll never forget…

The way your brother’s adored you. The gentle rubbing of your hands as one sat in awe of your presence. And the other’s elation. Knowing you were surely an answer to all he had prayed for. I imagined how they would guard and protect you throughout your life…and even drive you a little crazy from time to time.

I’ll never forget…

The day that the time that had been borrowed, the time that was so precious had run out. The day you slipped through our hands and into eternity.  Forever changing the course of who we were and who we would become.

How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard. ~ Winnie the Pooh

10 years ago you entered our world. No one could have ever known how brief your time with us was meant to be. But God knew…every day He had for you was ordained before one of them ever came to be. He could see beyond the horizon….He could see what no human mind could comprehend…He could see that when a piece of heaven kisses earth, even for the briefest of moments, it leaves a lasting imprint on the hearts, minds and lives of everyone who was fortunate enough to witness it’s splendor. That even when the beauty of the presence is no longer physically here the memory of the blessing gives us an indescribable feeling of gratitude for ever having the privilege to experience it in the first place…regardless of how brief the encounter was. It reminds us that true love defies time and space…it transcends the confines of this earth because it was always meant to be never ending. The beauty of true love is that it was designed to be as eternal as the One who created it…the One who calls us His beloved.

Regardless of the pain and the heartbreak, if I could go back 10 years, I would STILL choose you. Even knowing what I know now…especially because of what I know now…I would ALWAYS choose you! You are the catalyst that made our family everything it is today…you are the catalyst for everything that Mommy and Daddy have become…You are the miracle that allowed us to experience God’s love…His presence…His goodness…His faithfulness. Without you we would be an empty shell of who we are. You are the piece of heaven that kissed our life and awakened our need for things so much greater than what this world has to offer.

Do you see that? Do you know that 10 years ago you when you entered our world your hand print intertwined with God’s to change people’s lives…forever?

My precious Francesca, there is not a day that goes by that I do not think of you nor is there a moment that I do not miss you, that my arms do not long to hold you. My beautiful girl, do you know that mommy envisioned your 10th birthday with pedicures and sleepovers not a blog post written through tears? But through my shattered expectations and hurting heart…I choose to celebrate you. To celebrate the gift that you are. To celebrate that God continues to use you in this world. To celebrate that I am a better me because I got to hold you close and call you mine even for the briefest of moments. To know with full confidence that today you celebrate your birthday with the One that loves you far more than I ever could because He is the One who created you.

My sweet girl, my mind sees you dancing in all of your heavenly splendor…illuminated by the glory of God…rejoicing in His presence. Dance Bella girl…dance!! And know that here on earth we will celebrate the moment that heaven kissed the earth and gave us the gift of you.

Mommy loves you Francesca Isabella. Until we meet again, I will never forget.