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

 

Equally = UNIQUE

Last Sunday morning the most deadly terror act since 911 happened on U.S. soil in Orlando, Florida at a dance club. 49 people were fatally shot and that many more wounded. Can you even imagine the terror? I was supposed to write a post for Monday, but I have been paralyzed all week due to my feelings about this senseless tragedy, and honestly my lack of faith in all humanity. How do I turn that into “Life Words?” Well, I’ve been aching and praying over it, so I’ll give it a shot. Please bear with me.  

I had already planned on writing about how unique every human being is – how utterly special and irreplaceable each one of us is. I have touched on this subject before as it amazes me how different we all are. Just like each snowflake, each blade of grass, each sand dollar. How amazing the variety that God has allowed within His creation since He started this earth spinning. Thousands upon thousands of years of DNA and gene pools mixing and changing, creating billions of unique human beings, each with special skills and a special purpose. Each created in the very image of God.  

Photo credit: Kristin Coke

Photo credit: Kristin Coke

So, through my tears of anguish after last Sunday’s events, I am connecting that thought of individual uniqueness with the aftermath of such an evil event, while doing my best to represent my God, myself, my family bloggers, and all groups of humankind with dignity and grace. That is my deepest intention as I sort through this array of emotion.  

First, I must say that I have been happy to see many people who generally spread hate against the LGBT community empathizing with their fellow humans who have lost loved ones and the terror that the survivors must endure. Progress. However, I have also seen people jumping on the anti-muslim train as that must be the “worse of the evils” in this scenario. However you look at it, it’s all stemmed from hate, fear, and ignorance, not love.  

One bad, misguided (probably confused, lonely and isolated) man took innocent lives and lost his own. Yes, we MUST reform our gun laws properly in order to get a handle on this violence. But, we MUST NOT fall into the trap of lumping groups of people into categories. Jesus would not do this if he were still here walking the earth. What would Jesus do?  

People love to spout out Scripture verses and speak on behalf of God. So many people do that to try to back up whatever they feel passionately about. We see this all the time. (In fact, the only groups that Jesus actually got angry with when he walked the earth were those who used Scripture to back up their own agenda of religious rules rather than being compassionate and loving their fellow man).  

Let’s look at some of the red letter text attributed to Jesus himself rather than haphazardly spouting out laws and regulations pulled from various books of the Old Testament without context. Perhaps we can gain some insight into what he would do, and what he expects us to do.  

In Luke 6:27, 28 he says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” 

In Luke 6:37, 38 he says, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you….For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” 

In Luke 6:43-45 he says, “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit….The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” 

From that I get that even a person who “claims Christ” but speaks hatefully toward any other human being is a bad tree who bears bad fruit. The fruit speaks for itself. And the commandments say that hatred in our hearts is equal to murder. 

He says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27 

No matter what terror we face on earth by other evil humans, we must not live in fear. We must not return hate for hate, but we must do what we can to live in and at peace.  

Even on the cross as he was about to die for the sins of ALL MANKIND Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23: 34  

Nowhere does it say that Jesus died for SOME of us. ALL of us were made in His image, ALL of us fall short and are sinners, and ALL of us are able to receive his gift of eternal life if we want it. 

And what did Jesus say was THE MOST IMPORTANT thing – he says it many times, and here in one passage he says it twice:

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love…. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: LOVE EACH OTHER AS I HAVE LOVED YOU. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:9-13

Then he says it again in John 15:17, “This is my command: Love each other.” 

So, through these few passages attributed to Jesus himself, we see his nature, we see how he treats others and expects us to treat one another. He clearly states that we will not all agree on everything as we will have enemies and friends, but that we must love one another equally. He NEVER qualifies his statements of love. He never excludes any person or group. He clearly COMMANDS that we LOVE EACH OTHER, refrain from judgment, live at peace, bear good fruit, pray for one another, and give selflessly to one another.  

Nowhere does Jesus say to shun those who live a different lifestyle than we do, or believe a different way than we do. God gave us all the freedom to choose. Why are we so threatened by people with whom we disagree? We should all find security in our own relationship with God and peace within ourselves and the way we treat others. The judgment of each individual heart is up to God and God alone. Tolerance does not mean we have to agree with everyone, it just means we need to treat everyone with the same respect and dignity that we want to be treated with.  

Don’t you remember? DO UNTO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO UNTO YOU. 

Again, no qualifier listed. We are all created equal and deserve to be treated as such. 

I heard a pundit say yesterday that if all the peaceful muslims of the world would get together, we could end radical islam within months. Oh, if that were only true. Evil people have always existed and always will – within every creed, race and social structure. 

What about the hate that is preached from so many pulpits? How about the pastor in Southern California who said from his pulpit just hours after this tragedy of death and violence that, “the real tragedy is more of them didn’t die” and “Orlando is a little safer today because 50 pedafiles died.” WHAT? Statistics show there are more pedafiles amongst “straight white ‘Christian’ men” than there are in the LGBT community. How did he even make that leap? To invoke fear and hatred amongst his congregation. Those people should be taking a stand and not supporting that ungodly man. If you want to see sexual deviance you need not look further than higher-ups hiding inside of some of the church community of the world. Where is the outrage from Christians against that?  

This does not represent the God of love that I serve. And why don’t all the Christians of the world unite to end that radical hatred that so many are preaching?  

Do you know how many gay and transgender people in the world suffer from overt hatred and exclusion? Do you know how many muslim people are ridiculed and shunned by “Christians” especially after events like this where one evil extremist man terrorizes innocent people?

Jesus never excluded any person, and he never will. He welcomes all to enter into relationship with him. By his example, we must set aside all our fear and hatred and treat EVERY human with love and respect. We are all on our own path and God is ultimately in control. If we truly believe that, we can set aside our differences, be kind to one another and love one another as we love ourselves.

NO EXCEPTIONS. 

We are all created in the image of God. We are all on our own journey and path in this life. We cannot force our own beliefs on others. If we believe in love and peace, then our own words and actions will reflect that and others will see our beliefs in action, prompting them to inquire about the source.

Respect all human life. Don’t allow bullying or hatred to be spoken or shown without taking a stand against it when you can. This is our great challenge, and it is imperative to showing the true nature and love of Christ.  

Use your uniqueness as your platform to stand for love and truth in this troubled world. You are one of a kind, and your story matters. There are people who will cross your path that only you can reach with God’s love.  

“In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” Job 12:10

DO-OVER!

How many kids have you heard shout this out while playing? How many times did YOU say that as a kid? 

Like when you were having a contest, and you messed something up and knew you were going to lose, so you shouted out, “DO-OVER!”  

This way you had the chance to re-do what you just did wrong. This way you still had a chance to win.  

We all want to win all the time, don’t we? But, the truth is we are human, and we fail at various things on a daily basis.  

Unfortunately in adult life, we don’t always have the opportunity for a do-over. For example, if we make a huge mistake at work, we are not likely to get the chance to do it again and do it better. Hopefully we will have the chance to fix it and keep our job, but we can never erase what has been done. That slate can’t be cleaned. We may be forgiven, but many times our mistakes are not forgotten.  

This is not true with God. 

Can you believe HIS MERCIES ARE NEW EVERY MORNING? This is amazing to me. I am still trying to wrap my head around the concept. EVERY day I get to wake up with a clean slate. 

I get a chance to DO-OVER. 

EVERY DAY. 

I used to fall into such a state of self-loathing and depression when I would make a mistake. I would wallow in the wake of whatever I had done, and it would take me days, weeks, or maybe even months to get back up and start again, depending on what the mistake was. FINALLY, I am learning that I do not have to do this. God offers me forgiveness when I ask, and He promises that I will have the chance to try again. Every day.  

WOO HOO! This is GREAT NEWS! For, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) 

How tremendous that when the sun rises every day and our eyelids pop open – we get a whole new start!

Photo by Kristin Coke - Myrtle Beach, SC

Photo by Kristin Coke – Myrtle Beach, SC

 SO…keep on keeping on. Never quit or give up. 

God will NEVER give up on you!

“The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.” Lamentations 3:22 – 24 (NLT)

 

Complete Coverage

I live in Charlotte, North Carolina. We rarely get snow here, and when we do it is usually 1/4 of an inch to an inch. Maybe once or twice a winter we will get a “dusting.”

However, last week, we got a winter storm unlike anything we have had in decades. I ended up measuring almost 7 inches of snow and ice piled up on my back deck!

I suppose when you live in a place where it snows regularly in the winter, the site of such a build up of snow isn’t so spectacular. But, when you rarely see it, it is staggeringly beautiful.

I am blessed to live on the outskirts of the city and I have deciduous forest as my back yard. I have hundreds of old, tall, majestic trees on my 1.6 acre plot, and a valley with a creek prevents anyone from building anything behind or around me. Let me tell you, when heavy wet snow falls and sticks to all those trees, my yard looks like Narnia. My cousin DeeAnn saw a photo on Facebook and pointed that out to me. She is right – it is like a fantasy wonderland of sorts, and it is awesome.

Some of my trees are American Sweetgum Trees, and in the fall and winter they drop thousands of gumballs that contain seeds. The gumballs have spikes, and they cover the ground. In the center of my back yard there is a huge Sweetgum tree that I call “The Queen.” She is the oldest, mightiest tree on my property. She is gorgeous when she provides shade in the heat of summer, and when her leaves turn in the fall, but she is a big pain when she drops her thousands of gumballs and litters my entire yard with them in the winter. Every year I shake my fist at her when I have to rake those piles of leaves and piles of gumballs.

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So, below “The Queen” in the winter lies a blanket of leaves and gumballs rotting in decay. Just walking through the yard is unpleasant because you cannot avoid trampling over the thousands of spiky spheres. This year I have not yet gotten around to raking them up.

One of the most obvious things to me about the 7 inches of snow and ice was that it covered all that mess so completely, that there was no trace of those prickly gumballs and rotting leaves. Even walking through the snow, and forging sledding trails down the hill did not reveal the blanket of unpleasantness that lay beneath.

What if those prickly nuisances represent my flaws and my sin? Thousands of messy, nasty mistakes and deliberate choices to follow my flesh rather than The Word. And what if that snow represents the infinite Grace, forgiveness and love of my Savior who covers all my sin and flaws to make me blameless and perfect in the sight of my Heavenly Father?

Full, complete coverage. Flawless forgiveness that blankets my entire being and renews me day after day.

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Jesus paid it all. What a picture of complete restoration. It is there for the taking, for every single one of us. We just have to accept it, take His hand, and follow Him. Love has already won. We are covered. We are new. We are His. Grace is not deserved, it is freely given, and it is beautiful.

Be refreshed today, and know:
“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”  Isaiah 1:18