Wednesday, November 27, 2013

When Death Interrupts the Thanks-Giving.

* The candle in the darkness penetrates the night. * Lift the banner high.       * The things we don't understand is where we walk by faith not by sight.       * The darkness did not comprehend the light.
A friend of mine buried his thirty-four year old son on Saturday. As I drove four hours through fog and unclear skies to get to the service, I felt sadness blanket my soul, its compelling grief swirling in layers around me. It is so hard to lose those we love, especially when there is heartache attached, a rift that has separated the family unit.

Things begin to happen, a division, a misunderstanding, a schism, fracture in the family tie. The sides are taken. Sometimes there is a third dimension,as there was in this case. Sadly, the evil one uses our weak areas and our uncertainty as an opportunity to gain the advantage. He attacks families, using insidious weapons to cause division, suspicion of thought and purpose, to cause walls to erect that come between...even when one fights to stop this from happening. People must be vigilant, pro-active, to head off these advances that tear apart, that cause destruction. The damage may be permanent, destroying trust and good faith. Some things become lost to us forever. I feel for my friend. What is lost cannot be repaired.

He and his son were guarded, their words infrequent, the distance real through circumstances hard to deflect. It is painful to lose flesh of your flesh, the hurt penetrates the soul when walls have separated, silence has entered, and words have failed. For my friend, the end came before the relationship healed. It is unknown what happened. Suicide or homicide? It has yet to be determined. The pain of loss is cleaving the hearts of both parents and two grown siblings, several nieces and nephews, and also a young daughter that the son has left behind. Their world will never be the same.
Yet. Always. Why? Why, God, did you allow such a tragedy? Why didn't you stop it from happening? And what about our broken hearts? Will life go on? How can we be happy when there is so little to be thankful for? Will we ever be happy again?
Is God cruel? Is loving and losing part of His plan? Does God really care about our broken hearts and wounded spirits?  

This I know. God takes the broken things of this world and He touches them. Something is created from the ashes of pain that would not have been created aside from the pain. Not as a punishment but as a deepening trust in God, a reliance on Him for that which we cannot endure during the suffering. We can never figure out the why. That is an unending enterprise. We have not been promised freedom from pain and tragedy but it is possible to accept both the good and the bad that life dishes out. God has given us a Helper to hold our hand as we traverse the difficult unknown, to restore and heal, and to find hope somewhere beyond ourselves.

Does God care? I think so. Jesus wept at Lazarus' grave. He raised a nobleman's daughter from the sleep of death. He comforted Mary in the garden by the tomb. God stores our tears in a bottle. He carries our burdens and comforts our empty arms. 
"Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest."  

Friday, November 22, 2013

Thankfulness that Counts

Authenticity and Thanksgiving - Part 2                              Thankfulness that Counts

Photo by Thomas Wieland

What Mary of Bethany did was unprecedented in the story found in John 12:1-7.  She was lavish in her expression of adoration to Jesus. It was a party for Jesus. Her brother, Lazarus, was at the table with Jesus. Sister Martha, was serving. Mary enters with a bottle of precious nard, an expensive perfume—worth a year’s wages. She pours it on Jesus’ feet then wipes his feet with her hair. Why? Why would she do something so unusual, bizarre--embarrassing? At an earlier time we have seen Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus in rapt attention, absorbing His truths. Why indeed? What is it that has captured her attention? The truth is, Mary understands the better thing. Her understanding of the beauty of Christ’s words and the deeper truth contained therein, have prompted to her to give lavishly out of her thankful heart. She desires to bless Jesus in a way that expresses what is in her heart. She gives because she has received.

We do strange things sometimes. When we are authentic in our spiritual life, we believe in a bigger God—we live close to the Source. When has your thankful heart given way to expression? When have you shared Christ’s love? When have you been the recipient of someone’s expression of Christ’s love which came out as a blessing freely bestowed on you? It can make a huge difference.

Have you ever seen God work a miracle and then multiply the blessing? I have. Some of the miracles have been in my own life. Things I couldn’t do or was unable to change, special needs, and personal requests, then my gracious God came in and caused the miracle to happen. When things like that happen, we are not just thankful for our salvation and our healing, the positive result, in our gratitude we become willing to give—and God gets the glory. Every time someone gives us a truth in a bite-sized chunk of meat, when they share and we internalize the truth, it has the capability to reproduce in another conversation at a later time, providing meaningful content that helps someone--a multiplied miracle.

It is our personal responsibility to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and to keep sensitive to the Source, Jesus Christ. Some of the most authentic humble people make the biggest noise when they use their small voice. Their voice is amplified when God moves it into the mainstream—the global community. Mother Teresa was this way. She spoke what God gave to her even when her popularity and world-audience clambered her way with praise. It didn't turn her away from her focus. She lived out her love for her Savior. Mother Teresa simply was the hands and feet of Jesus to the down and out in the streets of Calcutta, India ... and to the world. God used her as his megaphone to a world that had lost its way, the faithful who had forgotten to live the Christ-way, and as an example of one who followed the truths found in the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount.

Christ is the answer. In Him is found hope, healing, forgiveness and truth. As His followers, Christians should live in ways that are servant-oriented. To be the hands and feet of Jesus, to be authentic in the community around you, Christ-followers must open their eyes to the need. Then ask God for the opportunities. It will amaze how it plays out. What should we be known for? Are we known for our pessimism, criticism, our negative outlook and critical spirit? Are we known for our kindness, caring, helpfulness and our positive outlook? This matters. Running down people doesn’t help them—and it exposes pride and arrogance of spirit. Any of us could be the user, abuser, street person, or other ... and some of us have been. God’s grace is for all the world. Authenticity means loving comes first.

What can we do to become authentic? If you are stingy with your money, start giving it away. If you are stingy with you time, start volunteering.  If you tear people down with your words, start building them up. Meet problems head-on. Meet self-focus head-on. Change what needs to be changed. God wants us to do this through His spirit. In Him, we will be able to become new and changed, authentic and real, true followers of Christ Jesus. We will give out of our thankfulness to the One who is Real.

The solution isn’t simple. The words aren’t light-weight. Being authentic doesn’t mean problems disappear. We may find a wall we can’t scale, a forest too dense to walk through, a river too swift to navigate. There will be times that God seems impossible to reach or the problems beyond what we are able to handle. That is why we need community. It may take some extra help, a caring friend, a gratitude journal, a counselor with wise counsel, a pastor with a servant’s heart, or something unique to your situation to find your way. Sometimes we must seek help to get through the trial.

Give thanks for the gifts you already have, even the small gestures of love and kindness. Enjoy the beauties of nature. Look at the smiles of the children. Read a scripture. Read Christ’s prayer in John 17. Give thanks. Out of your (spiritual) abundance, give something away to someone else. If it’s just a smile, it will still bless someone and lighten their load for a brief moment’s pause. Before you fall asleep, count ten blessings found in the day just finished. Don't quit counting until you have ten, even the small quiet gifts are significant ... a kind word ... laughter ... a tasty meal ... a phone call ... a warm thought ... a song on the radio ... a good morning greeting ...
I leave with you a few words to ponder.
Mother Teresa "In Her Own Words"

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

SET FREE TO LIVE AGAIN, A Spiritual Reflection

  HEALING STREAMS, A New Day is Here  
I was thinking about the joys of the present. I delight in life. The days bring me much happiness and inner contentment. Many of my blog writings have mentioned the pains of the past that marred my inner self, unpleasant times in the desert place. This time I will share the joys of the present by way of the healing streams that refreshed during my journey in the desert dry! It was a process rich, full of grace and goodness, healing and hope. I am eager to share these with you. God doesn't waste anything. He doesn't.
"See, I am doing a new thing!
It springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness 
and streams in the wasteland."  
                                                                             Isaiah 43:19
There were many roads that led me out of my desert dry. They came in increments of help and belief. I was never alone even though I felt alone. There were people who joined me in my fight for survival, and there was God. Without God, I would still be a wounded woman on the inside pretending through a spiritual facade (and not realizing it!), wearing the mantle that says  I am Okay...(but not really). It had nothing to do with a lack of faith, I was a strong woman of faith, no, that wasn't it. It had everything to do with being wounded, those areas deep within me that I couldn't see or understand, and God. Then, it became an active desire on my part, to let God reveal the internalized messages so He could change me in those hidden places. It took time and willingness, both were required. It is so absolutely wonderful to be free. Amen.

~I wrote out a short-list to show what was used to heal my soul with its hurting, wounded places.~

A bouquet. Being loved can be a balm for the wound during times of heartache and stress. My family has walked with me through some hard moments in my life. One in particular stands out, and there are many that could be shared. On the day my divorce was finalized my siblings sent me a bouquet to comfort me during my sadness. They knew how hard the day was for me and how much I didn’t want the divorce. The bouquet made me cry, it was a comfort to me, a small healing stream in the torrid water of life. That night, I lit some candles and watched a movie with my children and spent some time writing. My identity had changed from married to divorced and I didn't even believe in divorce. It hurt. Every time I looked at the flowers in the bouquet, I found myself surrounded by the care that whispered, we can't be with you in person but we are with you in spirit. It is so wonderful to be loved. It means all the more when your world is upset.  
Thank you, Mom & Dad, Juanita, Marilyn, and Paul

A phone call. Though-out the years there has been one person who has kept me in balance spiritually. He seems to call me just when I need it. His advice always ministers to me. He always has something to give. It starts like this. “Hello, Norma, How are you doing?” We talk awhile and then he asks about each one of my children. He is my pastor. I’ve been under his teaching for twenty-one years. His advice is sound, practical, something I can use. Every conversation has given me something to chew on, to think about that I can apply to my circumstances. Most of these phone conversations last thirty minutes or so. Then he will pray for me and also my children. I have learned, been validated, and encouraged in my spiritual walk by his ministering grace to me.
Thank you, Pastor Peterson.

A time of silence. Reading my Bible has been a practice of mine over the years. Praying is a main-stay. However, meditating on scripture has been a deepening discipline for the last decade in my life. Times of silence and listening with a journal and pen in hand, the Word open to a passage that talks to me, tools to record the fleeting thought, are a pool of streams in the desert. This has become my practice, the most meaningful of all. There are many days when a large chunk of time is devoted to this practice. I almost always light a candle and keep the room silent as I seek God with my heart, mind, and soul. Much goes into this time of meditation. Confession, repentance, surrender, openness, singing, deep concentration, dissecting chapter and verse, meditative focus, blend together with an active asking and seeking--listening.  Thoughts of consolation enter. I write them down. They are warm in tone, rich in expression. Being quiet before God and listening for His still small voice is what makes me feel close with my Beloved, in a friendship relationship which speaks to my inner self.
Thank you, Father God.

Forgiveness and healing. Seeking God for my healing came when I was ready to take the next step forward. I asked God to heal me of the wounds in my heart, if that was possible. I didn't know if it could be done and I didn't really know what they were. I wasn't harboring bitterness, resentment or unforgiveness. I didn't know what it was and just asked him to show me. That simple. Scary. I wasn't sure what would happen, if anything. I asked God to show me the lies I had believed and internalized. I asked God to remove the pain that had seemed to wrap around my heart and stifled my ability to experience life. I asked for joy and truth, over and over. 
First, it was the forgiveness that came, in a deeper way than ever before. 
Next, it was the sorrow for my part in causing pain to others, in a deep cleansing tide.
Last, it was a process of my emotions being healed through spiritual interventions. 
An intense few sessions it took, revisiting the old wounds so God through Christ could set me free. By His stripes and by His wounds I was healed.  I was set free. I am whole.
Thank you, Christ of the cross, God the Father, and Holy Spirit, my helper.
Easter Sunday: I'm sharing about the cross using a folded palm frond.

A family place. You loved on me. You carried me in your hearts. You lifted me up when the burden grew greater. You prayed for me, over and over, day after day, year after year. You accepted me when I was feeling lower than a snake’s belly. The day you all gathered around me and prayed for every member of my family, that God would work a miracle and keep the enemy at bay and from destroying what God had blessed, was a day I will remember forever. The healing streams you sent my way were a warmth of love that cascaded down my shoulders and into my heart. It meant so much to be prayed for by my sisters and brother in Christ, my loving church family. We've been through a lot together, your stuff and mine, and you've always held me up and prayed as faithful friends. You are one big heart of love.   
Thank you, Vina Community Church.

At the table.  What would I do without the ability to learn? I’d die. I’ve learned and learned and learned some more. How precious is the ability to learn. The things I have learned are the things of life. From my pastor I’ve learned what it is to live out the Keys of the Kingdom found in Matthew 18. 
Bind my thoughts to the mind of Christ.  
     Bind my emotions to the Holy Spirit.
            Bind my will to the will of the Father. 
                Loose that which is not of God, my wrong thinking. 
                          the lies I’ve believed, the Enemy’s strongholds in my life 
                     Bind me to You, dear God, loose what is not of you.
Learning to differentiate between a thought and a feeling. To know what is a thought and what is a feeling. To discern what is true and what is not true about me, circumstances, and the past. To be able to discern what is best, not just better. To determine what is “best interest” and what is self-serving. Learning the parts of my soul that need remedial interventions that I might become healthy and whole in my personhood and as a spiritual child of God. There is so much more, this is a drop in the bucket of truths learned. Surrender to God must be all encompassing.

 Reading and reading, thinking and applying. I've learned so much, been exposed to variant writings of Christian thought, absorbed truth with an eager longing for more. I read people who are inflamed with a desire for God that shouts to the glory of God, writings so rich that they make me weep, so deep that I have to wade into their depths. How blessed I have been by people, both past and present, who dared to live authentic lives of faith.
Thank you, Christian-thought writers and teachers
Yes, I am blessed. Praises to God for His abundant mercies and healing grace.  I don’t know if I would have made it on my own without these many helps. I
am blessed and fortunate.
It is wonderful to be free. It is a joy to be full. It is humbling to be loved so much. Praises to God. Healing Streams in the desert wasteland. But! God doesn't waste anything. He needs us to trust Him and then surrender ... everything. Joy comes in. It replaces the sadness and sorrow. New life in the inner places can be had. Don't give up too soon. Seek and seek, then seek some more. Open up to God and He will open up to you. I believe this with my whole heart, and it is why I write my streams in the desert.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Authenticity and Thanksgiving: Thankfulness that Gives

Thanksgiving: Thankfulness that Gives to Others
~give thanks and give out of thanks~
In the biblical story of the loaves and the fishes, Christ takes the ordinary, gives thanks for it, and then He makes the miracle happen. God is still in the business of making miracles happen and then multiplying the miracle. The bread of life is multiplied in our lives, and then, as a result, we become broken bread and poured out wine.  God’s grace in us pours out of this inner spirit of thankfulness.

Are you thankful?

Do you have a Thanksgiving spirit?

We give thanks. Could it be more?

There is a tie-in between being thankful to God and the desire to give to others. Out of a spirit of thankfulness something will originate into another manifestation. From within a thankful heart towards God, a selfless expression of care will be given out either in word or deed. There is an automaticity embedded in this, "thanks" found in the nucleus of a thought that often will propel forth into an act of giving. 
“Thanks” + “Giving” = Thanks-Giving.

One of the best advertisements for Christ is a person who is authentic. What does an authentic Christ-follower look like? What will their life exhibit? Through my observation of authentic Christians, I have formulated a conclusion which will be broadly defined. An authentic person is calm, peaceful, strong, has inner power and is well-paced. They aren’t in a hurry but they’re not late either. They have something to give but they don’t push their way nor force to be heard. They have an answer when the question is asked. They are truth-bearers. An authentic person can say the hard things but in a kind way, they won’t avoid the question even if it requires swimming upstream against the flowing current of public opinion. There is a gentle nature within them, they know what they’re about. Yet, they can listen to a contrary view without reacting. They care more about the person than the deed. They see possibilities in impossible situations. An authentic Christ-follower is knit to the Source.

When we are thankful to God for what He has done for us and in us, out of this thankfulness we give of ourselves to God and we give to others. When we are giving to others we are giving to God. The two intertwine. The more we give to others, the more we give to God.

In the story referred to above, found in John 6:8-12, we have Jesus, the teacher, with a hungry multitude of people. Christ is going to teach the people by illustration. Christ gives thanks for a simple lunch of five barley loaves and two fishes. After giving thanks, Christ makes the miracle happen. The lunch multiplies. Five thousand are fed. Baskets of food are left over. In essence, Christ gave thanks to the Father, then he gives something physical in nature to meet the people's need for bread. Christ multiplies the miracle of blessing. The physical need is met. Later, in that very same chapter, it is explained that Jesus Christ is the bread of life. He is the spiritual bread that will fill and also meet the people's spiritual need.

Christ is the bread of life. He is our spiritual meat, our life source. Christ multiplies the miracle, the work He is doing in our lives, even when we aren’t aware of it. When we become authentic Christ-followers, He helps himself to our willingness to be bread for others and He projects a miracle in our wake. We need God to feed us in all areas of our lives: physical, mental, emotional, and intellectual. God brings to us the opportunities to give to someone else especially if we ask Him for these opportunities.

Real authenticity? Christ-follower authenticity? Example? Answer: Christ. Read thoughtfully the life of Christ as He lived it. And, there you will find authenticity, the model to follow or the example to expose whether the life is authentic or not.

Suggested reading: Joshua, A parable for Today, and Joshua and the Children
                             by Joseph F. Girzone.

#Jesus #Christ #Thanksgiving #Bread of LIfe

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

I Hear Their Voices of Pain

#When a Woman Finds Her Voice

 I hear their voices.
My husband is drinking from the minute he wakes up on the weekends. I have to run the errands because he can't drive when he's like that. He gets upset with me when I say that we can't spend anymore on beer, that we've spent our limit. I feel like his drinking is more important than us. I am tired of doing it all. I don't think he cares anymore. I don't know what to do.

I had an abortion when I was eighteen. I didn't tell anyone. I buried it. But, a year ago I started thinking about it. I ended up going to a resource clinic and taking classes to deal with my past. I wish I had made the choice like _______, she kept and raised her baby and now she's a beautiful young woman.

When you're depressed and suicidal, you just want to know someone cares. It's like you're in a hole looking up, trying to find someone to help you get out, someone to give you a reason, any reason, to want to keep on living (fifteen year old).

Taking care of mom is getting harder (Alzheimer's). Last week at the doctor's office, Mom was accusing me of all sorts of things (neglect) in the waiting room. People were looking at us. She was making a scene. I've had to stop taking it personally. Her moods can swing so quickly. I never know what kind of day we're going to have.

My stepfather molested me when I was a teenager. When my mother asked me if he was fooling around, I said "No." I couldn't tell her. It changes you. I worry about some of the girls in our church youth program. I want to protect them.

My husband was a pastor. I found out he was going to "massage" places and doing "stuff." I confronted him. He was apologetic, embarrassed. Then he promised never to do it again. But, awhile later they sent him a 'thank-you for your business' letter. I couldn't believe it. The marriage was over. I couldn't do it anymore. My kids haven't recovered, especially one son. He suffers deep depression and doesn't have much to do with church.

Both my parents were drunks and used foul language. I never knew what it was to be treated with kindness, to not be cursed and yelled at. My husband had a nervous breakdown. We were in another country at the time, a military family. I held the family together. It was harder than anyone knew. I stepped up to the plate and took care of my family. I learned fast. It was difficult during his time away from us during his hospitalization. I had three young children and we didn't know what was going to happen. Mental illness is hard on families. Then I met the Lord. The pastor's wife took me under her wing. She taught me how to do things and how to organize events. I owe so much to her for teaching me how to study the Word.

My husband won't work. He doesn't support the family. He doesn't even keep the home up. I get tired of carrying the load. I try to help him to become more responsible but it's like having another child to take care of. He lacks motivation. I wish he would do something and treat me better. He doesn't appreciate what I do. It's so lonely. I just want to be loved for who I am.

He left me for an old high school flame. They got reacquainted at his reunion. She pursued him. We aren't divorced yet but he's left. I don't know what God wants me to do. He's not interested in spiritual truth. We used to have good times. We enjoyed our little farm. I guess it's over. What do you think?
They come to me. They whisper their hurts. They share their pasts. They're embarrassed.

I listen to them. I hear their pain. I see if they're growing or stagnated, depressed or hopeful. I give them what I can. I pray and I hope. I ask questions and I share lessons-learned as a co-seeker of God's grace. Most of all, I care. Pain isolates. Caring identifies. Love transcends the differences. 

I am only one. But I am one. I am only one voice. But I am one voice. Their hope is small. But my hope is big. I want them to catch the life-saver I'm throwing out to them, the life-saver to save their life, to bring them to safety, to a safe place--to a hope and healing place centered in the arms of Jesus, sweet Jesus, the Lily of the Valley the Bright and Morning Star.

You see, they know I've been there, that I understand what it is to hurt so bad, to hide the pain from view.

When my voice was silent, in the midst of a sea of women seeking God, I could not speak. I could not tell my story. I avoided events like this, afraid I couldn't manage my emotions. Here I was, though, Arco Arena, Sacramento, CA, Women of Faith event, top row tucked away in the peanut gallery, looking at the big screen because we were far away from the platform. 
Patsy Clairmont was sharing a story about a woman who she sat by on an airplane. This woman had been left by her husband for another woman. He and his new wife had the gall to move into a home on the same street where she lived (the family home where they had raised their daughters), then "they" proceeded to take over the family business. It was a bitter pill, especially at this stage in life. One day this woman was praying and seeking God in her brokenness. Slowly, her heart became full. She decided that her life was not over, the sadness would not consume her every moment--if she wouldn't let it. Later that day, she was ready to mop the kitchen floor. She turned on the music. Something came over her! She grabbed the mop and started to dance after turning up the tune to full volume. Just then, her adult daughters stopped by, in shock to see their mother dancing with a mop. Soon, her daughters were dancing with their mom, laughing and giggling. Life was not over. The woman was on her way to healing.
I listened to the story. My emotions barely in check. I wanted to cry buckets. I had known that same betrayal, more than once, but the women in my church did not know my hidden hurt. I was their Women's Ministry leader, a woman they looked up to. They didn't know my secret sorrow. I wished I hadn't come. The hurt was resurfacing and its alone feeling, even though I was surrounded by a multitude of women of faith.

A few years later my hurts would be healed and my life restored. I knew there were other women like I was, godly women, sitting in churches, hurting, and not being helped. I wanted them to know that there is always hope. There are ways to get help. And, there is God. I would begin to speak out, to dispel the darkness and expose the lies.

So, my unknown friend, you are not alone. Many have walked your path. If you are weary, if you are sad, if you have little strength, I want you to know, you are not alone. Some of us care. We care very much. We want to see you happy. We want to see you smile again. We want to lift you to safety out of the deep waters and into the raft above the danger. You can't do it alone. The Lord Jesus Christ will help you. He's good at it. Reach out to Him. He is reaching out to you. He is about living. The pain of circumstances is not the end. You must push through the circumstance to get to the other side. First, you must get into the raft. You must seek your own healing. It won't come to you without your personal initiative, a willing heart and the love of God. It is worth it, and it is possible. Trust me.

Here, let me help you. I'd like to help. Send me a private email if you need someone to talk to. 

Your Sister in Christ, 

* * * * *
Written in connection with the book, "When a Woman Finds Her Voice," by JoAnn Fore.

 To purchase this book: Live Amazon Link

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