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.

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(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.

 

Silence Isn’t Always Golden

When darkness comes

And pain is all around  

Like a bridge over troubled water

 I will lay me down  ~ Simon and Garfunkel

Sometimes there are no words to say. No thoughts to convey. No amount of polish or eloquence to make the reality of a situation less brutal than what it is.

Orlando, FL June 2016. Who will ever forget hearing the headline “Mass Casualty Situation?” Then to discover that 50 people had lost their lives…

I started this blog weeks ago but never got past those first few lines. My mind struggled to comprehend a kind of hatred that leaves a heart stone cold. The words just wouldn’t come so I remained silent.

Last night my husband and I sat watching Fox News. People in Dallas,TX peacefully protesting when all hell broke loose. People scattering, screaming, shots fired! In the first few moments, before the full realization of what was occurring hit, Fox showed the images of officers down on the ground. I couldn’t believe what  I was seeing. Matt and I looked at each other and we knew something was terribly wrong…those officers were not hunkered down, there were gravely hurt. There we sat glued to our TV in utter disbelief. How devastating it was to finally go off to bed knowing that 5 families were being contacted to let them know their loved would not be coming home.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

This morning I sit here. In the silence I try to put words to emotions but it all falls short. Nothing can fully encapsulate how I am feeling because honestly, I am at loss. So much pain, so much hurt, so much hate…when does it end? How do we make it stop? We are spinning out of control. A country in chaos…so divided, so much tension…on so many levels. I would love to tell you have a 5 step plan to make it all better, but I don’t. What I do have is a voice…a voice that can speak compassion…a voice that can speak love…a voice that can no longer stay silent. A voice that is compelled to say “I am sorry…” I am sorry for not getting past myself and my own circumstances to gain a better understanding. I am sorry for the generalizations and stereotypes I have carried in my own mind that have hesitated or perpetuated my thoughts and actions. I am sorry for being a voice that speaks “be the change you want to see in the world” yet in the tough stuff I often go silent.

God is love…and as we live in God, our love grows more perfect…such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. We love each other because he first loved us. ~ 1 John 4: 16,17,18

Just like Orlando, this week’s events have me once again focused on the people. The ripple effect of the actions of a few will have life long implications for many.  Lives lost or forever altered because of fear. Is fear not what most prejudice and hatred is rooted in? Fear of what is different, fear of what might be contrary to your own ways or beliefs. What we fear we often dislike and our dislike often leads to disdain which gone unchecked leads to hatred. We sit back our with our preconceived notions or the ideas that we have been predisposed to, whether by environment or upbringing, and we allow that to become the catalyst of the narrative in our minds.

I cannot change the whole world but I can use my one voice to speak a different narrative. You see, I strongly believe the change we all long to see begins with the people of God. Why? Because we have been called and commanded to love and love will conquer hate. What makes our love unique, what gives our love power is that it is rooted in God’s love. It is not an emotional response it is a choice. A choice rooted in the understanding of what God has done for us. Every Christ follower must process this idea, that while we were still sinners God sent His Son to redeem us, to forgive us…why? Because of His unfailing love for us. When we begin to recognize that the very love and grace that God extends to us has been extended to all…there is no one unworthy of the gift of Jesus Christ, no one outside the realm of God’s forgiveness, and no one that God does not love and long for. Then we, as His children, will be the first to extend love, grace, compassion, and forgiveness because we should have the greatest understanding of what it means to receive all of those things. The problem we tend to see in the world is that love is given based on conditions where as the love of God is unconditional. That very love should flow from His people. You don’t need to be more like me, you don’t need to vote like me, you don’t need to think like me for me to love you…I love you because I have been first loved by God through Jesus Christ and that love compels me to love others.

It is this very love that has brought my voice to life. I can no longer sit by on the sidelines a spectator to hurt, pain, injustice, hatred and say nothing. It is impossible to have a love for God and not be devastated and heartbroken over that things in our world that cause Him anguish. And if God is the author of the narrative of my life then I must speak life into this world and this is my starting point.

If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

What I have come to appreciate and respect most about Martin Luther King, Jr. was his ability to motivate people to fight for something bigger and greater than themselves.  I believe he was so effective because he didn’t fuel a fire of hatred to achieve his goal but rather he preached a message of mutual love, respect, dignity, and equality. He understood you don’t end violence or hatred by perpetuating it. The end will only come when we stand together as ONE race, the human race…remembering we have ALL been created in the image of God…each one of our lives precious and valuable.

I do not have all the answers to the problems we face, in fact I can offer few tangible solutions. However, I can begin a conversation. A conversation that recognizes there is a problem and we all play a role in its solution.