There is Hope in Our Mourning, Part 2

Last month I shared about our hope in knowing we will see my brother again when we get to heaven. This month, I find myself being reminded that when unexpected tragedy strikes, that hope is still alive to carry us through. This time, though, the news is still so very fresh.

Just over a week ago, a family gathered for worship in their little country church in Texas. It was a small church very much like where I grew up. As the associate pastor stepped up to bring the message, a gunman entered the sanctuary and hit nearly everyone inside with a bullet. Many were wounded, and 26 were killed that day – 10 victims representing 3 generations of the Holcombe family – including a baby yet to be born but already given nickname by older siblings.

My friend JoCheryl Holcombe’s brother was the one preaching that day. She lost half her family in a matter of seconds. I won’t go into the devastation – this part is within reach for us to imagine.

What I find harder to imagine is the unspeakable peace the remaining family members have been experiencing this week. Even they are astonished. But why should we be surprised? The world was praying for this family. They felt it. In fact, one family member commented to another, “did you feel it?” As they compared notes, they found that ALL of them felt a wave of peace wash over them the day after this horrible loss.

 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7

There was no natural explanation for this peace. But there was a supernatural one. God promised to send the Holy Spirit as our comforter and advocate. The prayers of so many surely moved the Spirit to be present in the hearts of those who were mourning.

Memorial Crosses at Sutherland Springs Baptist Church – Photo Getty Images/Scott Olson

The intention was defeat and destruction, but this horrendous act unleashed a torrent of love and goodness. I hope and pray this family will see fruit from this story for decades to come.

Today, the Holcombe family laid to rest their 10 family members. Yes, it was gut-wrenching, but it also was a testimony to the fact that these folks who so tragically lost their lives will live on through their story. A story of hope and love, and the knowledge that they are together in heaven now, and this is not the end.

Here are a few words written by JoCheryl in a public post on Facebook – I don’t think I could be so eloquent nor gracious at such a terrible time….

we made it through this day…i’m sad, but you know…i’m also filled with bliss because of LOVE, and…i’m actually filled with so much love, and friendship and memories and the joy from being around authentic awesome people whose faith is stronger than any tragedy…so proud of my brother, who i will miss so much…but oh WOW!!!! his awesome family…and my parents who exemplify joyful living, who know how to be strong and tender, joyful and heartbroken at the same time. as the days get easier, i want to write a few stories about those who have left and the rest who are left behind…so much inspiration…

yeah, my guts were wrenched today, but there were so many people there with their arms around us holding us, the comfort far outweighed the sorrow!

i am so grateful for the thousands of people who stood in line for hours, some only to get turned away because there was no more room, i am so grateful for all the people who drove HOURS to get here from all over Texas, (some drove 10 hours, and waited in line only to get turned away at the last minute ) i am so grateful for all the people who were there that i didn’t even get to see…i am so grateful for all the professionals who took a chaotic, unprecedented, event of enormous proportions and turned it into the most amazing beautiful celebration with the most poignant creative touches.

i am grateful for friends and neighbors, who hosted the most amazingly delicious meal and country gathering that was filled with love and joy, perfection and beauty.

i am grateful for old friends and new friends, and i am grateful for love that spans a lifetime…i am grateful that we have forever!

i am grateful for all the local and county police and sheriff’s departments and DPS for keeping the press away and coordinating traffic and managing a procession that stretched from one town to the next and still kept coming.. we had no intrusions as we celebrated and mourned.

i am grateful for the streets lined with people who stopped their days, held their hands over their hearts in vigil for that long procession paying tribute to my family, for all the signs along the highway, for all the flowers along the route, for the mountains of cards, for all the hugs, gifts and expressions of love, for the beautiful memorial at the church in Sutherland Springs where my family members graduated to heaven.

this was an awful thing but it was also awesome because love is eternal and we will all be together again. may the love unleashed today be ever present in all our lives

as i reflect on this last week i can say that there is absolutely no way a person could ever imagine what it has been like, i pray nothing like this EVER happens again to anyone…it should not have even happened this time…

so, when you think of those you love and it feels like you have forever, just remember you don’t, but then again, YOU DO! make this life matter, our soul is the only thing we take with us when we are done…it’s worth tending, it’s worth making meaningful deep connections and living each moment in the fullest most meaningful way. BECAUSE everything can change in a holy instant.

i love you all, thank you for making this so much easier for my family..i feel like i have thousands of new family members.

Our hope is not in this life, but those remaining still have to live this life without 10 members of their family, and it will be so very hard. Please continue to pray for the families of those lost in the tragedy in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

More info here: Houston Chronicle Article

Click here for Financial help for the Holcombe family

 

Grateful For the Hard Times

Have you learned how to have a heart of gratitude? According to researchers, there are specific things you can do daily to cultivate a grateful heart. Some are obvious. Some not so obvious. But all are oh, so important.

Like learning to recognize God’s presence in everything. And by everything, I mean EVERY THING. The good, the bad and the ugly. No matter what, you have never walked alone.

Think back. Look for it. You’ll see.

A few years ago, my son was in the hospital for brain mapping for his seizures. I was there with him for a week, because they needed a family member familiar with his seizures to press a button every time one happened. Little or big. I loved getting to know my young adult son on this intimate level. We talked, we laughed. When he had visitors, I’d step away for a break. For the most part, we were captive room mates. It was a strangely enjoyable time.

We had spent family time with my older brother just a few days before entering the hospital, and he had promised to visit Chris that week. It was quite a drive, so nearly every day I would leave him a message describing the traffic, say I knew he had to get up so early for work, and he should wait until the weekend to come visit. All was well.

Except it wasn’t. When my brother didn’t show up to visit Chris by Friday evening, I called him several times. No answer. I called his neighbor, who said the car was in the driveway, but lights were out in the house. I called my nephew, a police officer, to ask what I should do. He immediately drove there, and looking through the window, could see my brother lying on his bed. He was gone.

I know what you’re thinking: WHAT could possibly be good about this situation? How can you be thankful for your brother being found lifeless in his bed?

Clearly, I’m not thankful for the death of my brother. What I am thankful for is the orchestration of all the surrounding events:

* God chose to call my brother Home in the gentlest of ways. He simply took a nap after work, and didn’t wake up. I’m grateful.

* I was helplessly locked in to a commitment of being in the hospital with my son. If I hadn’t been there, I would have driven out to my brother’s house and I would have found him. I’m grateful to be spared from that.

* My nephew is a police officer in the adjoining city and when he called the dispatcher, he knew her. He knew the protocol of what to do in this situation and said to me, “Tami, God arranged for this to happen when I could take care of it for you.” I’m grateful for him and his good heart.

* Officers arrived & they had a common ground with my nephew. When they looked through the house and found no evidence of foul play or suicide, they reported it as such and the mortuary was called to pick up my brother, and not the coroner. This never happens in Los Angeles county. I’m grateful.

There is more, but I think you get the picture. As I think back on that night, I see God’s handwriting all over the situation, and I am grateful.

Since then, I’ve entering into times of beautiful blessing as well as hardship. I see God’s hand in that, as well. And I am grateful.

So very grateful.

Look at your life. Think back. Take some time to see how God connected the dots in your helpless and even hopeless situations. Never once, did you ever walk alone.

I hope you’ll see.

There is so much to be grateful for.

Evidence of LIFE

Sometimes the chaos seems to overshadow the calm and gratitude. Doesn’t it? 

In this era, it seems that people are SO BUSY on a daily basis. This kid has to be here, this kid has to be there…. there is this appointment, and that deadline, and a big dinner party to plan for then…it seems never-ending for most!  

On top of all the constant activity, we have to keep our homes, cars, pets and selves tidy and clean! This in itself can be a full time job! 

I personally am not a parent, but most people I know are. However, I have had a little guy and his Mom living with me at my house for two years. He just turned six last month. 

It has been amazing having them live with me, but I must admit this has been quite an adjustment. It was just me and my tiny little dog for years on our own. If I put something away or cleaned something, or left something out – whatever I did – it would stay that same way until I changed it. This is not so when there are other people in the house! Especially little ones! Now I get it!  

Spills. Random stuff on the wall. Finger prints on glass. Crumbs on the floor. Shoes left here and there. Constant clean up.  

Sometimes I get frustrated. Really frustrated. 

Recently, God knew I needed a word. 

The other day I was listening to Christian radio in my car, and a message from Proverbs 31 Women’s ministry played. She talked about how one day she counted 14 pairs of shoes strewn throughout the living room and kitchen area where they were not supposed to be. She admitted to her frustration and said she felt like her kids were not grateful and were disrespectful. HOWEVER, she said that God gently reminded her that is was a joy to have those healthy, vibrant children in her home and in her life, and that these frustrations were trivial. The perceived chaos could be viewed as beauty instead, and gratitude is in order!

In fact, all that mess was EVIDENCE OF LIFE.  

This message really set in with me. Sure, without other people (or even animals) in my house I would have less to clean. It would be quiet. Things would stay as I left them. 

But, I can’t imagine my life going back to that now. The noise, the laughter, the messes, the constant movement…. they are all EVIDENCE OF LIFE.  

I guess I am learning to feel blessed by the mess! It means we are alive and well!  

I imagine God, our Father, looks down from time to time at our messes and could be frustrated with us. Thankfully, His mercies are new every morning, and He created us, and He sees our messes as evidence of life and beauty. He is gentle, patient and kind. Though He expects us to continue to learn, grow and improve, He waits on us with great joy and compassion.  

In wisdom He made each one of us, and all creatures. Let us try to have His perspective as we press on through the beautiful mess of life.  

Psalm 104:24 “How many are your works, LORD! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” 

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Enjoying God, the Artist

I’m in Yosemite National Park this week. Or church, as I like to call it.

Yosemite Valley – Photo by Tami Romani

Isn’t it amazing how we feel closer to God when we are in His majestic creation? I hear this a lot from my friends, “being at the ocean is so calming to me,” and “when I’m in the mountains I feel like I’m being restored” – these are common themes in conversations lately. A friend told me the other day, “The reason people feel closest to God in nature is because nature is not trying to be anything other than what God created it to be.”

God’s creation isn’t trying to show off. It doesn’t need to. God created it to be what it is – an expression of His handiwork. We could learn a lot from God’s beautiful creation.

In his hand are the depths of the earth,
    and the mountain peaks belong to him.
 The sea is his, for he made it,
    and his hands formed the dry land.

Psalm 95:4-5

My yearly pilgrimage to Yosemite has become a necessity. It fills me up & gets me ready to tackle the rest of the year. The serenity of a bike ride whenever I want, the reading a book just because, the laughing and lingering with friends over a morning cup of coffee without a meeting to rush off to… these are the things that make being in this place extra special.

Yosemite Bike Path - Photo by Tami Romani

Yosemite Bike Path – Photo by Tami Romani

Not only is it wonderful to be away from the busyness of life sometimes, there’s an awe that takes over when I’m in such a place. I’m reminded that in the mundane of my life, there is majesty all around if I take the time to experience it. I believe it’s no accident there is very limited cell phone service and excruciatingly slow internet in the few places you can pick up a signal here. This place is meant for unplugging. And if you won’t do it on your own, it’s kind of forced upon you. It’s a good kind of coercion. For if I don’t worship Him in the midst of His glorious artwork, the rocks will surely cry out.

Yosemite Falls - Photo by Tami Romani

Yosemite Falls – Photo by Tami Romani

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
    let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
    let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.

Psalm 96:11-12

But you don’t have to trek to your nearest National Park to find this kind of peace. Sit outside during your next lunch break and listen to the birds sing their melody. When the sun begins to set, turn off your electronics and watch the miracle of the dance as the light fades from the sky.

What Yosemite reminds me of every year, is the importance of being in God’s presence in the moment. It’s kind of a shame that I need this reminder, but I am so very grateful it’s there.

Love And Thanksgiving

Citizens of the United States are running around today, the day before Thanksgiving, to be sure they have everything they “need” for family and friends to enjoy food and fellowship tomorrow. What a wonderful time of year to pause and give thanks for everyone and everything in our lives.

But, with all that is going on in the world, I can’t help but think of the millions of people who have so little to be thankful for on this day. War. Famine. Disasters. Terror.

The fact that I have time to post this, and you have time to read it means that we are in a position of peace and wealth compared to most. Have we become so wound up in our own little world that we think that we are the only ones who deserve this kind of life?

We complain so much, and point our finger at others. We want to shut people out due to their color, creed or station in life. We may pretend as though we are “welcoming” to all, but as a collective society, ARE WE REALLY?

This post comes on the heels of my Aunt Tami’s wonderful post last week. I have struggled to come up with a post for this week because I have been so disgusted in general with humanity, the “Christians” chief among them.

So, at this time of joy and jubilee (and, I am not saying there is anything wrong with this – we have MUCH to be joyful about!) – I am sure it is a bit dark for me to post this…but do try to walk a mile in the shoes of a terrified refugee. Imagine fearing for your life, and trying to protect your family. Imagine having to flee. Imagine seeing blood and death, and hearing crying and screaming. Imagine just wanting some peace, and then being turned away by people who say they represent a loving, caring God. Imagine feeling as if no one wants you and somehow you are worth less than others.

WHAT IF IT WERE ME? WHAT IF IT WERE YOU? No one chooses to whom or where he/she is born. We are all human. WE ARE CREATED EQUAL. We all have the same basic human needs, desires and feelings.

Let us open our hearts and arms. Let us show love to others. Let us let God do the judging. LET US NOT LET FEAR outweigh LOVE.

Today I received a beautiful picture from the Arms of Love Children’s Home in Andhra Pradesh, India – which is the orphanage that I started 13 years ago through AndyBooks Outreach. (visit andybooksoutreach.org for more info). Here you see 12 beautiful young children who had no hope. Abandoned. Starving. Lost.

We took them in, and they are thriving, despite the hand they have been dealt in life. It’s a beautiful thing.

Arms of Love 2If we all take time to be kind and loving to one person at a time, the ripple effect will spread. It starts with each one of us. Let us be the good Samaritan. Let us not pass one in trouble on the road because we are too fearful, or in too much of a hurry to tend to ourselves.

Let Thanksgiving Day be just a starting point for each day moving forward: to love, to show compassion, to be grateful by sharing what we have with others. Let us not tire until EVERYONE has the opportunity to live a life of peace and gratitude.

TO ALL, A HAPPY THANKSGIVING.

I Have Learned to be Content

Today I was thinking: Hebrews 12:2 “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who FOR THE JOY THAT WAS SET BEFORE HIM endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

What was that joy? YOU and ME … sons and daughters of Father God. he was an only Son… now, through His sacrifice, he was to have millions of family members!!

Rejoice… you are loved!

Some of the most miserable people I have ever met have been Christians who looked miserable. You couldn’t disguise the misery of their lives, for it shone on their faces and in their eyes, and when they spoke, Someone always had more of this world’s goods, or of happiness. I have found a scripture that will puncture their outlook, in 1 Timothy 6:6, and it simply says, “GODLINESS, WITH CONTENTMENT, IS GREAT GAIN.”

I believe this is a learned attitude, for Paul said, “I have learned in whatsoever condition I am in, therewith to be content.”

Try it… your life will be happier and brighter!

(Originally written by Gladys on 1/7/2004)

Reflection Connection

I have a little 800 gallon 12′ x 3′ pool that I set up in the summer-time. It’s not much, but it’s an oasis during the heavy heat of summer in the South.

I lie back and relax on my lounge raft, stare at the Carolina blue sky and dream about having a real pool someday. What will that be like? I’ll be so happy when that day comes. Until then I’ll just bide my time with this silly kiddie pool. I want bigger. I want better. Sigh.

Last weekend I decided to take a selfie lounging in the pool. When I looked at the photo later, I noticed the lovely reflection of the sky, clouds and trees in the water surrounding me. This started me thinking….

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Calm water reflects whatever stands above it. Perfectly. No matter what size the body of water is. A puddle can show a flawless reflection when undisturbed, just as well as a pond or a lake.

Do you ever find yourself wishing for something “bigger?” Thinking that maybe you’ll be a better giver, or a better volunteer, a better friend, a better Christian – once you get more income, that better car, that life you’ve always dreamed of having? Do you bypass being an impact right where you are because you are waiting for something else? Or, do you feel like your position in life isn’t meaningful enough to make a difference?

All lies. None of it’s true.

We should all dream and strive to be better. But many times we miss where we are RIGHT NOW. After all, right now is all that is guaranteed.

As I reflected (ha), I realized how grateful I was for that little private 800 gallon oasis. I realized that is where I am right now in life, and that it is good. Maybe that “real” pool is in my future, and maybe it’s not. But right here, right now, I have this one. And it’s pretty awesome. I stopped longing for something else and made a decision to enjoy the present.

You can be the same reflection of Christ no matter what your current position in life. Whether you are self-employed, one of thousands at a corporation, a stay-at-home Mom who drives the carpool, or standing for hours in the unemployment line – you can still reflect and live the character of Christ.

We are all made in His Image. We all have the same capacity to reflect Him – and we all have the same power and potential to be Christ-like in our daily lives. Our character is worth more than our “position,” and others are watching our reflection.

So, be still and KNOW that He is God. Stop thrashing about, disturbing the waters, distorting the reflection. Be faithful in the little things, so that He can trust you with the bigger things He wants to give you.

Be present. Be still. Be bold. Be grateful for who you are and where you are.

Be the best YOU by reflecting the One who made you YOU.

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”
2 Corinthians 3:18 NAS

This is a repost from September 2014

THANK-FULLNESS

We are taught as children to say “thank you” when someone gives us something. We see them…..we see and hold the tangible object given to us, so it’s easy to remember to say thank you. But, what about our thankfulness to God for all that He gives us every moment of every day?

The “Thanksgiving Day” has passed last week, but the Scriptures teach us to be thankful every day, in every circumstance! Easy to say…..hard to do…right?

An eighty year old friend told me a few days ago that she searched for God’s will for her life for years. Then one day as she was reading I Thessalonians 5:16-18 she understood what God’s will for her was in all of life’s trials and joys. And, even though she is in a wheelchair now in a nursing home and her future is filled with pain and the uncertainty of quality of life for her days on this earth, she rejoices in knowing God is with her…..and she is FULL OF THANKS.

These words of wisdom affected my perspective on dealing with the seasons of life….The good and the bad. So,as you read this scripture today…be encouraged that God’s will for you is to be thankful…no matter what!!!

I Thessalonians 5:16-18  “Be joyful always;  pray continually; GIVE THANKS IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES, FOR THIS IS GOD’S WILL FOR YOU IN CHRIST JESUS.”

Thy Word

A Grateful Heart

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On my personal blog I’ve been writing this month about being grateful. And not just being grateful sometimes, but about how to cultivate a grateful heart in this whiny, self-absorbed world we live in.

It’s tough sometimes, isn’t it? We want what we want, when we want it & whine when we don’t get it. At times we think the world revolves around us, and we whine when it doesn’t. We gaze at the new (fill in the blank) the neighbor has, and think, I should have that, too…

No? Just me, then?

I am truly so grateful for my life. But when bad stuff happens, or things don’t work out as planned, or, or, or… sometimes a swell of mopey overcomes my normally good-natured, grateful self. And I cringe.

I cringe at the silliness of it all. I cringe at how childish I am. I cringe to think of others I see daily who have a reason to be moping about, but aren’t. I look around at how stinkin’ blessed I am, and I want to slap myself upside the head and say, “STOP IT!”

So I’m working on it.

Let’s work on it together. One little change daily will turn your heart around. Think of one thing. ONE THING you are thankful for today, and write it down. Do it again tomorrow, and the next day. And the next.

I’m not a journal-keeper. Believe me, I’ve tried. But this I can do – I keep a gratitude journal where I write at least once a week the things I’m thankful for. I leaf through the pages and look back on it often.

And you know what? It always produces a smile. And a change of heart in that moment.

I could go on and on about how there are studies to back this up, but let me just leave you with these wise words:

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Philippians 4:6

 

Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!

Psalm 106:1

 

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

Colossians 3:15

What are you doing to cultivate a heart of gratitude?

 

Contentment In All Circumstances

Do you ever struggle with being discontented? Do you find yourself wishing for more of something, whether it is money, possessions or relationships?

I suppose we all do on some level. As an American, I know that I sometimes struggle with not “having” the things I “want.” We are indeed spoiled and have a generally skewed idea of what our needs are versus our wants.

I also struggle with being alone sometimes. Most people my age have a husband, children, in-laws. So far, I don’t. And maybe I won’t. Only God knows what the future holds.

As I grow older I am learning to understand what Paul meant in his letter to the Philippians when he said, “I have learned to be satisfied with whatever I have. I know what it is to be poor or to have plenty, and I have lived under all kinds of conditions. I know what it means to be full or to be hungry, to have too much or too little. Christ gives me the strength to face anything.” (4:11-13 CEV)

Webster says that satisfaction is: fulfillment of ones wishes, expectations or needs, and the pleasure derived from this.

Contented means: manifesting satisfaction with one’s possessions, status, or situation.

Of course I don’t actually know what it is like to have nothing and to go hungry. I have been blessed in my life to never know that pain. I do my best to reach out to those in greater physical need.

But, I think Paul is talking about all kinds of needs when he says “poor” or “plenty.” He was in prison when he wrote this, so he must have been feeling poor in all areas of his life. Even if we have enough to have food, shelter and clothing, we all understand loneliness.

We can all apply Paul’s principle of contentment to our lives. It is necessary for peace and happiness to be satisfied with whatever season of life we are living in. If we constantly focus on what “could be” or what we think “should be” then we will miss the valuable lessons we are to learn right where we are. Choosing contentment builds character.

There will be difficult days. There will be lonely days, even if you are not alone. There will be financial trials and hard times in our relationships. There will also be days when everything goes well – we feel good, our bills are paid, and the sun is shining.

We must be satisfied and content in our relationship with God so that these swings up and down will not affect our solidarity and our happiness. We must choose to always be grateful for what we have.

Choose to thank God for His provision that never fails us.

Believe that Christ is sufficient for us, and that through Him we have the strength to face anything.

contentment

No matter what your circumstance is this day, give thanks in contentment to God who supplies all your needs. He provided for you yesterday, and He will provide for you tomorrow.

He promised to be EVERYTHING you need – financially, emotionally, spiritually.

When you think about that promise, it is much easier to choose contentment.