Twenty Candles

20 candles.

20 babies.

7 women.

All loved equally by their Abba Father.

I was honored to attend a memorial service for babies who had been lost to abortion, but quite honestly, I was also a bit uneasy about what I was about to witness. As we gathered together in the pastor’s office in love and reverence, I heard their stories.

“I didn’t know it was a baby”

“I thought it was the right thing to do”

“I was forced to do it”

After being together for several weeks in the Post Abortion Support Team (P.A.S.T.) recovery group at Fellowship Monrovia, they have cried together, they have grieved together, and they have loved each other through painful memories. Now these precious women were gathering together one last time to acknowledge their mistake in giving up the life of their child or children for the sake of convenience, and to lay their children to rest in the arms of the Father.

They were sorry. So deeply sorry. Many had not been able to move forward in life, even though it had been years. Some carried the physical scar of not being able to get pregnant after multiple abortions and not knowing exactly why.

The medical community had no answers.

They tortured themselves with whys and what ifs.

Their friends and family said to get over it.

But they couldn’t.

These women are part of the beautiful few who have chosen to come to Jesus with their post abortion pain and accept healing and wholeness. Each one wearing white and lighting a candle for each baby.

Previously unnamed, each child was given a name by their mother. One young mom even brought a box of baby things to lay on the altar of forgiveness and grace.

I heard them, one after one, say “I now know I can still be a woman of God and move forward into my calling even after having an abortion.” And “I’m so comforted to know I will see my baby in heaven.” So profound. So heartbreaking. And so beautiful. As God forgave them, each one had to work through the process to come to a place of forgiving themselves. And that is the hardest thing.

There were tears. Oh yes, there were tears. This night showed me the messy beauty of God’s love. He loves us in our mistakes. He loves us in our mess. And he brings people alongside us to help us out of that mess. Also part of the group that night were women who were many years beyond a similar program of healing. Now they were turning their pain into purpose by leading these women to the very throne of God where they could lay down their past and be renewed in His spirit and His truth to walk in forgiveness and healing.

20 candles.

20 babies who will never be forgotten.

7 women who are now walking forward in wholeness and with hope.

“For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
    and I will remember their sins no more.”

Hebrews 8:12 ESV

 

Little Shoes for a Big Purpose

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“What’s the story about your favorite pair of shoes?”

Kind of an unusual question for church, but every week the Question of the Day provokes some interesting getting to know you conversations with those sitting nearby. It’s a tradition at Fellowship Monrovia, where I attend services.

I turned around to chat with the woman behind me, thinking about mentioning the snow boots I bought in college more than 30 years ago and still own.

With a huge smile, she shared her shoe story:

My favorite pair of shoes was my very first pair, when I was 10 years old. I was in an orphanage in Greece during the war, and needed shoes. They traced around my foot on a piece of paper during my birthday in July, and then asked my sponsor in America for the money. That Christmas, I received my first pair of shoes. They were so precious to me! I polished them every night before putting them away in the box. I loved those shoes!

Oh.

Yeah, I had no shoe story after hearing that.

During the rest of the service, I couldn’t stop thinking about that precious Greek lady and her shoe story. I knew I needed to know her.

We met for coffee last week, and through tears she told me of her heart for the Greek orphans, even now. There is no public money available for them. If an orphanage is no longer funded, those little ones are in the street. What she told me is a story repeated countless times in countries around the world.

Meeting someone like this, who has lived a good life because a family cared enough to adopt her is inspiring. Her work now is dedicated to the children in Benjamin House, and she carries on the work that one person inspired in her by providing a pair of shoes.

Small beginnings for very big things. It all started with a pair of shoes for a 10 year old little orphan girl, provided by someone who had never met her.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”   James 1:27

 

Am I God’s Friend?

I was captivated by her story as she told me how God was her playmate as a child.

An only child, my friend Karen says, ” I didn’t have an imaginary friend as a little girl. I just talked to God all day long.” She smiled joyfully as she recounted days in the back yard of her family home, playing by herself. Only she wasn’t by herself. She was talking to God, her constant companion, about anything and everything.

Photo: AdobeStock - Used with Permission

Photo: AdobeStock – Used with Permission

I was amazed. You see, Karen didn’t have the benefit of attending Sunday school or church with her parents like I did.  She was left to her own devices in the spiritual realm at that young age. And yet, she KNEW God was close. He had called her by name. And she had listened. Her childlike faith allowed her to converse with the God of the universe like he was her best friend.

Because he was.

It makes me wonder – how many times had God called my name, even as a young girl, and I didn’t have ears to hear? My friend’s life-long ability to speak directly to God like he’s right there in the room with her is something I didn’t learn until much later in life, in spite of growing up in a pastor’s home.

Have you tried it? If you listen, he is calling your name. He wants you to know him. He wants you to talk to him. Like he’s right there in the room.

Because He is.

 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Matthew 18:3

Sermon from a Junk Yard

Today, my boy and his buddies went meticulously through a junk yard and came home with bits of broken things – toys, wheels, pieces of wood, sticks, and the like. My first thought was, “Oh, no, more clutter for the yard!”

Once in a while it is good for a mother to be an eavesdropper – she can learn a lot that way!

The boys were in a state of ecstasy. They were exchanging pieces of junk back and forth – taking “dibbies” on this piece and “dibbies” on that.  And I heard them say, “Now, are you sure you are not going to change your mind? Are you sure I can keep this?”

“But what are you going to use it for?” I asked.

And they began to tell me of the wonderful things this junk could make. Why, this piece of bent wood would make a wonderful lance; and this one could be made into a gun; and the wheels and broken toys – there was just no end to the amazing ways they could be used! I shrugged my shoulders and went into the house, for, not having the eyes of a child, I could not see the end results.

Photo Credit: Orin Zebest via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Orin Zebest via Flickr Creative Commons

But, I thought, is not this just the way God looks at our poor shattered lives when they are ruined and disgraced by sin? To Him they are not a piece of junk. The world may laugh and point the fingers of scorn at the derelict, but to God, this is a precious soul for whom Christ died.

I may look at the poor drunk of skid row – the bum who has become a derelict -and I cannot see the possibilities lying dormant in that soul – but God can! I cannot see the soul winner, the missionary, the preacher – but God can!

He that winneth souls is wise,” says the scripture. A small boy won may become a leader of men for Christ. A teen-age girl, allowing Christ to straighten out a tangled life, may turn a multitude to the Master. There are so many needy souls around us. But I must not limit the amazing Grace of God choosing to testify only to those who seem to me to be likely subjects for the kingdom of heaven. For I do not have the eyes to see the end result of a transformed life.

This post is a reprint from Foursquare Magazine – November, 1959.
Reposted from LWT 6/16/14

Which Son Are You?

Hebrews 4:12 says the Word of God is living and active. I love when I hear a teaching on God’s Word that makes me realize this all over again. It is such a beautiful thing to ponder when God uses an anointed teacher to reveal His truth in a fresh new way.

We all know the story of the prodigal son. In fact, it may have become boring, common, predictable, and just so much yada yada yada to our ears. I heard Troy Murphy, Chaplain for the Green Bay Packers, speak recently on the scriptures found in Luke 15:11-32, and God used his words to rock my world. I’ll give you one highlight, but it’s definitely worth watching the whole sermon here.

We have the two sons to consider, the prodigal son and the older brother.

Think about this: when the younger son asked his father for his inheritance, we see no mention that the father argued with him, or told him what a mistake he was making. He gave his son the inheritance. In the same way, God won’t disrupt our wandering. We don’t have to go off the deep end to be a prodigal. In fact, we all could be prodigals in some way. A prodigal is not necessarily a desperate, horrible sinner, but someone who wants to pick and choose what he wants from the Father, and then live life on his own terms.

Ouch. Guilty.

The older son is the obedient one, but boy oh boy does he have an attitude problem! I’ve done this for you. I’ve done that for you, and you’ve never done ___________ for me! This self righteous attitude says I want something from God, but I have to do something to earn it. Then, God will OWE ME.

Ouch again.

If there is anything to take away from this, it’s that we are all both prodigals and older sons at some point. Both are dangerous places to live, but in a sense, the prodigal is actually more desirable than being the know-it-all-do-good-live-by-the-rules son.

Why? Because of verse 17: “When he came to his senses...”

The Bible says the prodigal son came to his senses and ran back to the father, and we see that the older son remained bitter and refused to join in the celebration. Sadly, we see so many Christians choosing to be the older son, even when they witness the compassionate heart of the Father welcoming a prodigal back home.  It makes my heart sad for them.

And then I think of all the prodigals wandering the earth, experiencing hardships that may lead them to that point of coming to their senses, and it makes me so happy we have a father who will celebrate us when we come to our senses and run back into his arms!

Father and son having fun together in sunset ocean on summer holidays

Luke 15:11-32 New International Version (NIV)

The Parable of the Lost Son

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

 

Train Up a Child…

In California, we are often rocked by an earthquake. Sometimes it is no more than the shuddering of the ground under us, other times it is more forceful. In places around the world, people are continually reminded of Jesus’ words that one of the signs of the last days would be earthquakes in various places. (Matthew 24:7)

However, there is another shaking that affects us, no matter where we live. It is the crumbling of our value systems, an age of violence. That too, is prophetic. One columnist has called it “an ever-expanding junk culture.”

Parents of young children, especially Christian families, have only to look about them to discover that it will take extreme vigilance to train up their children in the way they should go. Prayers of faith must be followed by the training of our children in absolutes and disciplines. The potential for good or evil is present in every child, whether it be a Ted Bundy who was introduced to pornography at the age of 12, or godly training in the home that will produce a Billy Graham. What one learns as a child will set life-consuming direction.

One area of vigilance must be regarding television. Mine is not the only voice raised in protest to a constant barrage of filth aimed at the minds of our children, even on prime-time programming. Seemingly innocent Saturday morning cartoons are not so innocent anymore.

Recently, a mother wrote Ann Landers, telling of a toddler in Boston, MA who has been stabbed 17 times by a five-year-old. Ann blamed it on what the child had seen on television. Another wrote regarding the influence of Garbage Pail Kids, which are not only promoted on TV, but can be purchased in a pack of chewing gum. The cards often depict children in violent actions, in vivid detail.

A fourth grade school teacher asked her students to write an essay on how they would like to celebrate Halloween. Eighty percent of them expressed the wish to “kill somebody.”
Just think of how many youth spend hours before the TV on Saturday mornings and are impacted by such media while mom and dad sleep in, or occupy themselves in other activities.

This is also the age of the security system. We have them in our homes, our businesses, our cars, and yes, even our churches are installing them. We are guarding against the thief. Security systems is big business today!

May I remind us that Satan, the thief, is alive and well. His job is to steal, kill and destroy, as Jesus warned in John 10:10. His target is our children and our homes. But do we not have the outline for security in God’s Word? God left the finest training to the home. He prescribed vigilance and diligence in the training of our children when he commanded Israel to teach the commandments to the children; to talk about them day and night. And I say, “God bless the godly men and women who devote themselves to the training of the children in the home and in the Church.”

bedtime bible stories

The President of the United States has asked that we created a kinder, gentler nation. The place to start in creating this is with the young.

We must value the child. God does!

Gladys

“For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.”  Matthew 24:7 ESV

 

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10 ESV

 

This article by Rev. Gladys I. Johnson first appeared in the Foursquare Advance magazine in 1989, in her Letters From Gladys column.

Sitting with God in the Silence

It’s been a silent week.

Not in the sense that I haven’t interacted with people or done work or spent time with friends. It’s more like I know God’s there, but he’s not speaking. And that’s OK. We are sitting in the silence together.

Last Sunday, as we were celebrating Christ’s resurrection, he chose to take a precious little life from this earth to be with him in Glory. Tori was the 19 month old daughter of some friends, and I was just one of thousands who had fallen in love with her. Before she was even born and her mama would share the ultrasound photos, we were oohing and aahing over her beauty. When she was born, we oohed and aahed some more over her stunning eyes and rosebud mouth. Ever the photographer, her mama would grace the internet with her precious image so that much more than just family could gaze upon her beauty. Even before that awful genetic disorder reared its ugly head, Tori’s tribe was gathering.

Tori Photo by Lesa Brackbill

Tori
Photo by Lesa Brackbill

Then, just when Tori should have been learning to roll over and pull herself up to the cheers of her many admirers, her responsive little face stopped responding. The smile had gone. Her cooing had stopped. Her big beautiful eyes remained, but her once animated expression was fading. Within a matter of days her parents learned their precious daughter was dying.

Over the next year, I witnessed the most awful, terrible, beautiful thing. As her health began to deteriorate, Tori’s parents were not bitter. They were not angry. They were filled with grace and trust in a God who had let them down. Yes, they must have had overwhelming sad moments. They are human, after all. But we watched as they now embarked on a journey of grace, filled with happy times and even joy.

Where does this come from?

When God doesn’t obey our commands (i.e. prayer requests), what are we left with? We are left with the silence. But in the silence, he is still there.

In the silence, God is still there. He is.

Tori is healed and whole now and most likely sitting on Jesus’ lap, telling all the other kids about how she did more things on her bucket list before she was two years old than most people do in a lifetime.

We are left with the silence. When I say, “but God, what about that dream you gave me that Tori was healed?”

Silence.

When I look at my sweet grandson who came into the world just a month after Tori did, I see a whole, healthy child and ask, “why them, God? How did you see fit to spare our family this heartache?”

Silence.

But somehow, the silence is filled with peace. The kind of peace we will never understand. In those moments, God is silent. But he is present.

He sits with us in the silence.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:7

I had the honor of meeting Tori in person, when she was with her sweet mama, Lesa, to fulfill her bucket list item of visiting her mom's Alma Mater (Azusa Pacific University)

I had the honor of meeting Tori in person, when she was with her sweet mama, Lesa, to fulfill her bucket list item of visiting her mom’s Alma Mater (Azusa Pacific University)

Holding sweet Tori's hand while she slept.

Holding sweet Tori’s hand while she slept.

Tori’s story is far from over. Her parents are committed to keeping her memory alive and raising awareness for newborn screening for Krabbe disease. Follow their journey at thebrackbills.com

Is God Here Tonight?

The sturdy little three-year-old shuffled along down the church aisle in front of his parents and was gently guided by the shoulders into a seat. He sat down, taking a good while to adjust himself. He shifted this way and that, looking everything over. When the ministers walked onto the platform they received his careful scrutiny. While everyone was bowed in silent prayer a small voice was heard to say:

“Mommie… is God here tonight?”

Mother replied, “Yes, of course, dear.” And the little fellow settled back – satisfied.

How aware he was of the fact that God should be there. Looking about, his mother began to wonder if those in the congregation, and indeed, those on the platform, were as aware of the fact.

First Lutheran Church, Jamestown, N.Y., interior, 1950s. ELCA Archives image. http://www.elca.org/archives

First Lutheran Church, Jamestown, N.Y., interior, 1950s.
ELCA Archives image.
http://www.elca.org/archives

There’s something child-like about the person who enters God’s house expecting to meet the Lord there. The person with this child-like faith is particularly blessed, for his faith brings God nigh and he does meet Him. No wonder Jesus said, “Except ye…become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

This is an age of skepticism…the “show me, and I will believe” cult is everywhere and has even crept into the church. If we really believed the scripture that says: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” how different would be our attitude in God’s house. Our minds would be upon Him in adoration and worship – for He has promised to be present. We would anticipate His presence and blessing.

I have seen the humble soul enter God’s house and come away refreshed and enriched while others asked, “was God there today? I didn’t feel His presence.” I think the secret lies in that word, “anticipation.” The Bible, in referring to Christ’s second coming says, “Unto those who look for him shall he appear,” and I am prone to think this is true also while He tarries.

If going to church has become a dull thing for you – try this simple formula.

This article, “Is God Here Tonight?” by Rev. Gladys I. Johnson first appeared in Foursquare Magazine in 1958. The inside scoop is that our brother Ronnie was the little boy in this story. (Tami & Karen)

When’s the Last Time You Twirled?

I took a day off yesterday to go to the beach. I haven’t had a real beach day for close to 5 years and my heart has been crying for one, but it’s just not fun to go alone. Every year I talk about it, and every summer ends with the disappointment that I didn’t make it to the beach. Again.

So, when the opportunity arose, I jumped. My schedule was rearranged and my lunch was packed.

Emotions flooded my mind as we walked through the tunnel under Pacific Coast Highway and reached the sand. The beautiful, wonderful, warm soft sand. I brought along the usual “things to do” for a beach day: magazines, book, journal, phone and even some work, along with my swim fins and a towel.

And then my niece and I decided to walk down the beach to look for life in the tide pools.

As we were hopping from rock to rock, she suddenly put her sandals down and started dancing. And singing. And leaping, and twirling. On what little patch of sand there was between the outcropping of rocks, my little joyful Jenna saw her opportunity and she couldn’t contain it. So she danced.

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Photo by Tami Romani

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Photo by Tami Romani

I moved closer to catch a better glimpse of her joy… and she was TWIRLING!

Photo @TamiRomani

Photo by Tami Romani

I’m ashamed to admit I can’t remember the last time I danced, or twirled like that. Or even hummed a tune without there being some professional version of it playing in the background.

Just me sending my voice into the atmosphere? Nope. Not in years. Just me dancing and twirling for the joy of it? Nope again.

As I watched her joyful outburst, I was saddened that I wasn’t more like her. I’ve let the cares of my world and my pursuit of all the good things get in the way of pure joy. But the thing is, being surrounded by that kind of joy is contagious.

I smiled as I thought of all the ways I could prompt myself to twirl and dance. How I could learn to push aside that pursuit now and then and just BE. How I could enjoy life, instead of hurrying through it.

Twirling is not so much an act, as it is an attitude. Especially for grownups like me.

It occurs to me I don’t need to be spinning in the grocery store, arms flailing, to be able to see the beauty of a young mom and her laughing baby. I don’t need to sit on the beach watching the fun. I can join in. I can choose to twirl.

The shore breaking waves were not right for body surfing, so I had the thought to stay in my chair on the sand, but when my nephew Jack coaxed me into jumping in the waves by saying, “C’mon! It’s just not fun without you!” it was time to twirl. We laughed so much, Jack said his new nickname for me was going to be “Mrs. Fun Time.” Really. I’m gonna have to hang out with kids more often.

Mrs. Fun Time. It’s got a lovely ring to it. And I guarantee you, living up to that name involves more twirling.

When’s the last time you twirled?

“Let them praise his name with dancing
    and make music to him with timbrel and harp.”

Psalm 149:3  

Eyes of a Child

Adults can be such a drag.
Worrying about this and that. Pre-judging situations and other people.

There is a reason Scripture says, “a child shall lead them.”

Children have no filter. They do not pre-judge. They do not see color, station, or religion. If you will smile and look them in the eye, respect them, and play with them – YOU’RE IN.

End of story.

This indicates that we learn our prejudices. Whatever “group” we are in dictates to us how we should feel about this or that.

Have you ever watched a child see someone who looks different for the first time? They study them with wide eyes. They are amused. Captured. They take it all in and then judge only based on the interaction that ensues.

And so should we be as adults. But, generally, we are not. We have learned to judge. We have learned to weigh all the stats to decide whether or not we should give each person the “time of day.”

This is not correct.

I was hanging out with my 4-year-old friend Walker, and he stopped our pool play to say he needed to thank God for some things.

Okay, I said. Go for it.

He said, “THANK YOU GOD FOR EVERYTHING (waving his hands in the air)!
Thank you for letting us wake up today!
Thank you for my Mommy, My Daddy, my Sissy, My Mimi, My PawPaw, the water, the trees, our car, the animals, our water guns.
Thank you God for EVERY PERSON in the world!” IMG_6731a

The point is – the little ones are all out. They just say what they think. We are born to appreciate life and love. We learn to hate. We may be born into sin, but the hate part comes from observation.

Let us be aware of this. Let us realize that the little ones are watching. Let us treat all others with dignity and respect, regardless of how “different” they may appear. Let us speak kindly. Both to others, and about them.

As the old saying goes, “if you don’t have something nice to say, say nothing at all.”

A child shall lead them. Christ Himself said we must be “reborn” to be saved. I think this partly means we have to erase all mis- and pre-conceptions. Start over. Be new. Give everyone the same chance. How hard this is when it seems we spend all our lives being taught that somehow we are better than everyone else.

Isaiah 11:6 “In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all.” (NLT)

There will one day be true peace on earth. Born enemies will live together in harmony.

We can choose to live this way now, even though most of the world does not. If we are truly changed by the love of God, we will truly love others. This is our charge in this life – to love others – without exception.

Romans 13:8 “Owe nothing to anyone–except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law.”

As Walker said – THANK YOU GOD FOR EVERY PERSON IN THE WORLD! And may we properly treat all we meet!