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.

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

 

If there is a God, why is there struggle and pain in this world?

If there is a God, why is there struggle and pain in this world?

This is a question that is asked frequently. People have a hard time wrapping their minds around the fact that if there is a so called “God” who is loving and caring why would he allow people to go through such horror and pain?

Consider this…

God gave us free will. He is not demanding us and calling out orders from heaven. Of course, yes, He does have a plan for us and wants us to live a life of love, but he does not force us to do so.

It started in the Garden of Eden. God said to Adam and Eve they could eat from any tree in the garden, except for the Tree of Knowledge. They were given choices. They were given the free will to decide which tree to eat from. When they decided to eat from the tree of knowledge, God was there but he did not force them away. He allowed them to make that decision.

In Genesis 2:16-17 it tells us, “And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.’”

The opportunity was given to them to make a decision but he also told them what would happen if they chose a certain tree.

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

“The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (The devil’s temptation to make the wrong decision)

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it (her decision). She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it (his decision).”

Genesis 3:1-6

There is evil in this world, and the evil was in the garden. The devil came as a serpent and tempted Adam and Eve. They gave into that temptation and in their own free will chose to eat from the tree of knowledge. They were given a chose. God wasn’t forcing them to choose what he wanted them to do. He stood back and allowed them to decide.

There is evil that we face now. Things happen to people that are not deserving of it. People are robbed, raped, murdered and they didn’t do anything wrong. How can God sit back and watch that happen?

It breaks God’s heart to see his children struggle, in pain, hurt. During those times of pain, what do you do? Do you search for anything to help you? Are you desperate for an answer, comfort, someone to take away the pain?

God is waiting with open arms for you to run to him. To cling to him. To cry out to him. To ask him for help. I don’t believe it’s a matter of God allowing bad things to happen because there is evil in this world, but he does wait for us to make a decision to draw near to him during those times. Following God does not mean life will be easy and nothing bad will ever happen to you, but it does bring you comfort and peace knowing the ALL POWERFUL GOD is on your side and fighting for you. He will bring the enemy down. He already has, but we as humans are tempted and create a way for the devil to get in and torment us. God never wanted that to happen, but he gives us a chose——to follow him, or to follow the ways of the evil one, the ways of the world.

What do you choose?

807a28c94045772dc0c9119335067ee6 Psalm 23:4

GOD’S VOICE

The older I get, the more I find how many deep hurts most people have from their past.  In the last two days three people have opened their hearts and mouths to spill out their deepest pain to me.

My heart is broken with the facts of life and the struggles we all deal with.  We are not immune to the deception of the enemy of our souls who constantly seeks to devour us.

All I can do is listen, encourage, and pray.

It seems when Satan the accuser does his dirty work on someone’s mind and stirs up old wounds, it weakens even those who seem, by all appearances, to be strong in the Lord.  The feelings of unworthiness take over and hope disappears.

Beloved ones……DO NOT LISTEN TO THE LIAR’S VOICE.

As I wrote in my May 2nd blog, Jesus says in the 10th chapter of the book of John, my sheep know my voice and will not listen or follow another.  Can you hear Him now?

Can you hear Him calling you to repentance and forgiveness and healing of memories that consume you, and who and what you think you are?

YOU ARE WORTH THE PRICE JESUS PAID ON CALVARY.  Don’t listen to the enemy of your soul who tells you Jesus couldn’t love you that much.  He did…He does…He will.

Trust God, Jesus and The Holy Spirit to help you on this journey of life.  No one else can do it for you……this is between you and God.

Find a believer in Christ to pray with you.  Seek out some verses of scripture that will sustain you every moment of everyday…..write them on a 3×5 card and keep them before you.  You will gain strength, and victory will be yours.  That’s a promise from God, and He does not break his promises!

LISTEN TO HIS VOICE………CAN YOU HEAR HIM NOW?

Isaiah 30:21 “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ “Night sky praise

In Times Like These

Many of you are too young to remember a radio personality by the name of Paul Harvey who’s famous line was, “Now you know the rest of the story.” He was known for his thoughtful quotes. He said, “In times like these it is good to remember that there have always been times like these.”

As we hear and read the news today we learn of so much strife, hating and killing, wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, drought, famine, et cetera. It all can make you feel vulnerable to a personal tragedy at any time. The Bible also says that men’s hearts will fail them because of fear.

But wait, you say……these things have been going on in our world since creation.  It is only that we are more aware of  these happenings around the world because of our high technical media.  True….but we must not get apathetic in our understanding of the end times as prophesied in the Old and New Testaments.

I know….this is a really heavy subject, but I must write what the Lord has put on my heart to share with you today.

Jesus instructed his disciples with these words in Matthew 24 and Mark 13.

“Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but then the end will come.  Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.”

Wow…I need to pay attention, and stay in God’s Word.

I need to keep the main thing, the main thing.

I need to be strong in my belief that Jesus is the Christ the Savior of my soul…..the soon coming King.

I need to share His love with everyone I meet and claim their soul for salvation.

Yes…life goes on and we continue with what is set before us in our daily work and ministry.   Jesus also said “Occupy until I come.” That is what I will do with God’s help…how about you?

I am reminded of a song from the 60’s….

“In times like these, you need a Savior.
In times like these, you need an anchor.
Be very sure, be very sure….
your anchor holds, and grips the Solid Rock. 

This Rock is Jesus, yes He’s The One.
The Rock is Jesus, the Only One.
Be very sure, be very sure…
your anchor holds, and grips the Solid Rock.”

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Dig It Out By The Roots

Spring is here! North Carolina is blossoming with all kinds of beautiful plants and trees!

This is when we start tuning up our lawn-mowers and equipment because we will be out there a couple times a week for months trying to keep our lawns looking spiffy.

Along with the lovely green grass, we have about 871403982704398 types of weeds. When everything starts growing, we see all shades of green, and a lot of different tiny flowers in our yards.

My yard looks like a patchwork quilt. Ha.

I have discovered why.

All those cute little flowers are attached to weeds. Weeds grow and choke out the grass. We mow over the weeds and their seeds spread, hence MORE weeds.

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We can spray weed killer, and that does control some of the madness. However, they always come back.

Apparently the only way to actually get RID of the weeds is to pull them out by the root and dispose of them. Otherwise, they keep spreading!

Does this require a lot more effort? YES.

Can you just mow over all those weeds and make your lawn look nice? Yes, you can. At a glance, when it is freshly cut, it looks just fine. Green. Lawn-like.

However, the weeds are still there. Deeply rooted amongst the nice green grass and choking it out. Then it starts growing again at a different rate from the grass, making the yard look uneven again. Usually, we just cut it back off. It appears to be green and even again, for a time.

This reminds me of our spiritual lives, our habits, our unhealthy relationships.

We can gloss over any of these situations, and for a time we can make everything look “green” and healthy. However, the more we continue to do that, the more those unhealthy things will spread through our spirit, our emotional state, and even our physical wellness.

Then, suddenly one day, rather than having a pin-pointed issue or two to work out, we wake up and find how deeply rooted and wide-spread that issue has become. If we had just made the proper choice early and pulled that mess up from the root, we would not have the long road of recovery ahead to dig out and heal a whole field of issues.

This illustration can represent an infinite number of things in our lives, so I am leaving it vague. Ponder it. See what weeds with “pretty flowers” come to mind and dig that stuff up!

It Takes A Second To Wreck It

The Beastie Boys have a song that says, “It Takes A Second To Wreck It, It Takes Time To Build.”

This is so true. It took years to build the twin towers. And it took a second to start the collapse that would take lives and change America and the world forever. In a half hour that first tower collapsed. It took minutes, seconds, to destroy something that took so much hard work, money, sweat and years to build.

Think of the time it takes to build a house. And the time it takes a wrecking ball to crash through it.

brick wall

This can happen in our lives as well.

For example, a physical injury. An athlete can be in top shape, working hours a day to maintain the proper fitness and nutrition to make their body perform at its peak. Then one misstep can blow out a knee that puts them out of the game for months. They will have to have surgery, then rest and heal and go through painful rehab in order to get back to their playing shape.

I have personally had injuries like this. I worked hard every day to be at my best, only to find myself collapsed on the floor in pain and put on the injured list until I could heal.

In this life many things can happen to us that are beyond our control. There are accidents and there are outside forces that occur. We must deal with these and work to recover.

But many of these are caused by our own choices. One bad choice can cause days, weeks, months, years of pain and recovery.

We can also tear another person down with just a few choice words. Our tongues can be sharp, and they can cause damage that takes a long time to reverse. We may lose someone’s trust in one moment, making one bad choice. It may take years to rebuild that trust, and even then that relationship may never be the same.

Let us always keep in mind that it takes time to build a strong foundation, a strong relationship, a strong body and mind…it takes seconds to tear them down. Let us be diligent and mindful of this. Let us always consider our choices and the consequences they may have before we speak or act.

Proverbs 12:18 “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

Speaking Life Without Saying a Word

When I encounter an angry or hurt person, I find myself shying away from them.  It’s a form of self-protection, I suppose.  If I don’t talk to them, I won’t get hurt by the angry barbs that come flying from their mouths.  In spite of my avoidance, I’m kind of famous for letting other people’s pain roll right off my back without a second thought.

We’ve all been burned by those who have spoken hurtful words out of their place of pain. Often, even an attempt at a loving response is met with more angry words. More pain. More hurt feelings. We talk about speaking lifewords into a person’s situation, but sometimes it’s just not possible.

I was reminded of that at the gym this morning.  The teacher of my group spinning class was having a bad day, to say the least.  It was reflected in his angry tone and his choice of even angrier music to get us all moving.  Some of us started grumbling about the negativity, but then it hit me – pray for him.  Speak grace over him.

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my view of the ground during spin class

As I was fiercely pedaling to keep up, I spoke words of life into the air – God, release him from his anger. God, heal his pain. God, show him you love him. As I prayed those words of life over this hurting man, something changed. In ME.

I realized that sometimes it’s not the time or place to hit someone over the head, so to speak, with words of kindness.  In those moments, we have the great opportunity to pray and let God work out the details.  Perhaps He will send someone else to that person at a time when they will truly listen and be healed.

We don’t need to try and fix everyone, and we need to stop pretending we can. We just need to be faithful.

I wish I could say the instructor today instantly changed his demeanor and played happy music for the rest of the class.  He didn’t.  From all outward appearances, he was still suffering inside, but I believe God began to work on his heart.

…And something changed in me this morning; I gained a new understanding of what it means to speak LifeWords into someone’s life ~ without them ever hearing a sound.

 

How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?

She looked at me with vacant eyes, her mouth turned down in a a half frown, half smirk that betrayed the condition of her heart.  “You heard, right?”  No.  I hadn’t.  “We’re getting a divorce.”  Ohhhhhh.  I’m so sorry.

I embraced her outside the church with a hug that says “hang in there, girl – you’re gonna be okay.”

It’s not that I was surprised.  In all the years I’d known this friend, I’d seen it.  After 20 years, she just couldn’t take it any more.  She described how hard she’d tried to keep it together, the counseling sessions, the long nights of talking, the yelling, the abusive words.  She. Just. Couldn’t. Take. It. Anymore.

Then she looked at me and said words that broke my heart,

“I failed again.”

the-broken-heart

It didn’t matter that her first marriage ended because he had a drinking problem, or this marriage ended because he had an abuse problem.  Somehow, the only thing that mattered to her was that she now had two failed marriages. Like a scarlet letter, she felt like a marked woman. And somehow, it was all her fault.

Except it isn’t.

I wanted to scream about the unfairness of this, that we are a people who allow women and men to wear the sins of their spouses instead of offering healing balm for their pain.

As I offered up what few words of encouragement I could muster and pledged to meet with her for lunch soon, I could think only of how Jesus would have responded to her.  He would have reminded her of her incredible worth in His kingdom.  He would have told her she is beautiful, even though she feels rejected; wiped away her sorrow and replaced it with joy.

Jesus himself announced “The Spirit of THE LORD JEHOVAH is upon me, and because of this he has anointed me to preach The Good News to the poor; he has sent me to heal broken hearts and to proclaim liberty to captives, vision to the blind, and to restore the crushed with forgiveness,” (Luke 4:18 Aramaic Bible in Plain English)

Heal broken hearts.

Proclaim liberty to captives.

Restore the crushed with forgiveness.

What does this mean for Christians who are called to be the hands and feet and voice of Jesus?  How about we start by getting real with our friends and allowing Jesus to begin to heal them through our LOVE…

The Beauty of Grace

As we come away from Resurrection Day, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection from the dead after offering himself as a sacrifice for ALL of our sins, I must share my gratitude for – His Sufficient Grace. For ALL have sinned and fallen short (Romans 3:23) – we are all in need of salvation which comes by His mercy (compassion and lovingkindness) and grace, and by the shed blood of Christ on the cross.

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Webster defines Grace as: unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification, approval, favor, mercy, pardon.

Wiki says: In Christian theology, grace has been defined as “the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it”,[1] “the condescension or benevolence shown by God toward the human race”.[2] It is understood by Christians to be a spontaneous gift from God to man – “generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved”[3] – that takes the form of divine favor, love, clemency, and a share in the divine life of God.

And even deeper and better yet, the word in Hebrew is paralleled with several other ideas including: healing, help, being lifted up, finding refuge and protection, strength and salvation; to be rescued!

I met and accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior when I was 6 years old. I spent my youth quite close to Him. It wasn’t until my sophomore year in college that I really began to deviate from this relationship. I began to make poor decisions, and at some point I felt that I could never go back – that I had strayed so far that there was no point in even trying. Over the years I slowly drifted further and further away, trying to keep up appearances for those around me. I fought depression and isolation and eventually sunk deeply into alcohol and drug use and various other unsavory choices. I should have been dead many times over, but my God protected me despite myself. He showed me mercy even when I did not deserve it. I felt like I was too far to ever receive His Grace.

Finally, in early 2008 a perfect storm of circumstances caused me to hit bottom so hard that the only way to look was up. All I had to do was turn around and cry out – and there He was. He was there all the time. Restoration and rebuilding can take a long time, but when you call His Name, His Grace and Mercy come upon you in an instant, for you have finally stretched out your arms to accept what He has freely given.

You see, we all go through trials and difficulties in this life. That is just the human condition. We bring many of these upon ourselves, but others come from other people or circumstances beyond our control. God sees us through all trials, regardless of their origin – He extends His grace and mercy without regard to how or why we landed in our situation. He just wants us to turn to Him.

It seems to be hard for some people to grasp the simplicity of salvation. How could the Creator of the Universe so freely give His love? All I know is that He does, and that He extends that gift to ALL. No exceptions. He cried “It is Finished” from the cross, because He paid ALL our debt once and for all. Hallelujah!

Ephesians 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast.

At my time of restoration and renewal, I latched on to some wonderful songs that encouraged me and built me up.

One was “Beauty of Grace” by Krystal Meyers (a song sung from God’s perspective):

Tell me why’d you run
You say you’re so ashamed
bruised and broken
Thought if I figured out
The mess you’ve made
That I’d leave

Chorus:
But anywhere you are

Is never too far away
There’s freedom from your scars
The mistakes that you’ve made
Forgiven
The memories erased
Baby, that’s the Beauty of Grace

Tell me what is love
I’ll never hold you to
The things you may have done
You say you want new life
In my arms, there’s mercy

Another, by the greatest selling Gospel group of all time, the Clark Sisters. (Do yourself a favor and download this one!)

“Blessed And Highly Favored”

He brought me through hard trials
He brought me through tribulations
Never let a day go by and not realize
Had not been for the Lord who was on my side

Back was against the wall
He looked out for me
He heard my cry and rescued me
Never let a day go by and not realize we are blessed

Chorus:
Don’t take it for granted that we are here today
Just know that we’re blessed and highly favored
Just know that we’re blessed and highly favored

As I look back through the years,
It’s amazing how He kept me.
What the devil meant for evil,
God turned it around,
Turned it around just for my good.

I know that I am blessed and highly favored.
Just know that we’re blessed and highly favored.

It coulda’ been me,
It shoulda’ been me,
It woulda’ been me if it wasn’t for the blood.
Grace, mercy.
Grace, mercy.

Not only does God extend grace to all of us by the power of the shed blood of Christ on the cross, but he also extends forgiveness and separates our sin from Him as far as the East is from the West. Since space is infinite, that means there is no ending point in the East or the West. So this means, as in the song “Beauty of Grace,” that He erases the memory of all that you have done. Think of all the times another human being has hurt you. Have you been able to forgive? Hopefully you extend the same grace to others as God has extended to you. But, if you are like me, you don’t easily forget that hurt. It can be hard to forgive others and yourself. And it is certainly almost impossible to forget. We harbor hurt feelings, and we condemn ourselves sometimes to the point of spiritual paralysis.

Imagine the kind of Grace that God is extending to you. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or where you’ve been. He has offered atonement and covering for your sin through the Cross. All you have to do is accept it. You can never earn it – it is a GIFT. And not only has He offered this gift, but He has also promised that once you have repented of your sin, He will cast it off into infinity and beyond!

If you are waiting to “get things together” before you turn to the Lord, let me advise you that you will NEVER be ready because your efforts will always fall short. Cry out to Him and accept His gift of life. There is no greater thing than a relationship with the One who created you just as you are. He knows everything about you and loves you unconditionally anyway.

And that’s the Beauty of Grace.

Psalm 103:1-12 NIV
Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits– who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.  He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel: The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.