Bring The Rain

 

“I could count a million times people asking me why I can praise you with all that I have gone through.  The question just amazes me how circumstances could possibly change who I forever am in You.  Maybe since my life was changed long before these rainy days it has never really crossed my mind—to turn my back on you Lord the only shelter from the storm.  So I pray bring me joy bring me peace bring the chance to be free bring me anything that brings You glory, I know there will be days when this life brings me pain, but if that is what it takes to praise You, Jesus bring the rain” Mercy Me, “Bring The Rain”

Rain.

It’s just water.  But water, “water can make cowards of us all”.

Rain brings life.  Rain takes life.  Rain comforts.  Rain frustrates.  

It’s raining.  It has been raining for a long time.  I have learned to identify the drops; the drops that threaten to take me out of the game from the ones that help my game.

But I want it to stop raining.  Just for a little bit.  I want to see the sun, I want to feel the warm breeze of euphoria for just a little bit.  Maybe just a minute.  And then it can start raining again.

This song by MercyMe has long been one of my favorite songs.  As I am waving my arms through the last fog of writers block, this song and this season of my life continues to bounce around in my head-and if history has taught me anything, when this happens, I know I need to write it.  Often at this point, I have no idea what I want to write, but at the intersection of surrender and gratitude, the keyboard seems take over the job.

As I get older I am learning that I really do desire structure, and much of my energies are spent on the search for and the ascension to solid ground.  The current season of my life seems determined to teach me that solid ground is not a place but a Person.  I realize that what I really seek is Peace, but again, age is teaching me that all of the things I think brings Peace are merely keeping me from the Giver of the life giving rains I am not digging at the moment.

I am cold.  I am scared.  And then I merely hear:

I AM.

Exhausted, I find myself evaluating everything.  Do I want Jesus to bring the rain?  Is that my prayer?  Do I believe He is my only Shelter from the storm?  Can I continue to praise Him after all that I have gone through?

I began this year determined to be present over perfect.  I was determined to seize the day.  I was determined to put my phone down, close my lap top, and have actual conversations with people.  The year of 2018 was to be my “You Only Live Once Year.”

As it seems, my enthusiasm for my YOLO year was met by opportunities to learn that every single moment is to be cherished.  Not different from many endings to the years of my life, I end this year with a significant loss of life as my stepson Kevin died of a drug overdose after being clean for over a year.  The memory of every single cold wait in a room surrounded by beeping machines at Mayo Clinic reminds me to seize the day.  And the fading memory of a giant in my life makes me drop everything and just be.

This trifecta of opportunities to re-evaluate everything I ever thought to be true has landed me grateful for two precious promises.

He NEVER changes.  He will NEVER leave me.

Memories of His faithfulness flood my tired mind and broken heart as I know He will continue to be faithful to do it again.  The rain sometimes clouds my ability to see His hand or feel His presence in my chilly world.  But I can’t do this life without Him.  As I seek His shelter, I beg for Grace to trust Him more.

Because the rain isn’t going to stop.  It may look different, but the rain isn’t going away.  And I realize my choices are limited, I praise Him in the storm or I get beat down by it.  And because He is the ultimate rain maker, I prefer His shelter from the storm He knows best.

I am still cold.  I am still tired.

But if the rain is what it takes to praise Him,

Jesus Bring The Rain.

But please walk with me.

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Angel Story: Jennifer & Kelsie’s Story

 

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We hold these tiny computers in our hands, they make life convenient they give us directions, they keep us connected to our friends and family and they can be a device whereby we get information that drives us to our knees so hard that we can be certain that other people feel the fall on the other side of the world.

One Sunday morning, Laura’s tiny computer dinged beside her as she lay in bed nursing a headache.  She ignored the call at first, but when the phone rang again, Laura picked up to speak to her sister Jill.  Laura told me that she could hear the fear in he sister Jill’s voice.  “They are missing” her sister Jill told her.  Confused, Laura asked for clarification and Jill told her that their sister Jennifer and teen aged niece Kelsie were missing.  Jennifer’s boss said that she called in sick to work and Kelsie’s school reported that she was not at school, that Jennifer called her in sick.   Neither reported that the phone call from Jennifer indicated that anything was wrong, and certainly she did not have fear in her voice.  Laura told me that the entire family knew that something was off.  While they’d never heard of any physical abuse, Laura knew that Jennifer’s fiancé was controlling.  That morning when the family received a phone call about him being in ICU in New Mexico, Laura knew something was wrong.  She kept calling Jennifer’s cell phone and Kelsie’s too and when they both kept going to voicemail, she feared the worst. Laura was over 300 miles away so all she could do is stay connected to that phone and hope for the best.  Feeling helpless, all she could do was make calls and send text messages, asking for prayer.  The family immediately went over to Jennifer’s house to look for her.  They knocked on doors and looked into windows and nothing seemed out of the ordinary.  They called the police to do welfare check, again, nothing or no one was found.  Laura told me that she knew that he had killed them when they got word that he was in ICU in New Mexico.  His cousins were there with him bedside and confirmed that Jennifer and Kelsie were not there.

The family, desperate for answers called the police again.  This time, the police forced their way into the house.  A neighbor told the local newspaper “as soon as they got the door kicked in on the third try, we just knew as the family literally fell down and started crying”.  Meeting them at the door was Kelsie’s lifeless body in her own pool of blood.  As the police continued in the house, Jennifer’s body was found in the bedroom, she was also beaten to death, she too lying in her own blood, except he gently laid a comforter on top of her lifeless, bloody body.

The tiny computer dinged again, and Laura told me that she can still remember the exact words coming from her sister on the other line: “they are in the house”—I am sure the details of what came next are both permanently etched into Laura’s mind as deeply as she tries to forget those stinging words from her sister,  words that changed everything.

Her sister and niece were dead, and they were dead because of domestic violence.  Laura told me that she kept telling herself that “this doesn’t happen to us, this only happens in the movies”—but it had, in fact, happened to her family.  And they are still trying to make sense of it all, almost 5 years later.

Autopsies were performed and indicated that he’d killed them both by beating them with a baseball bat, a full two days earlier.  He had been last seen leaving the house that day, waving at the neighbor as if it were a normal day.  He then drove to the bank and withdrew all of their money out of their account and drove 10 hours to New Mexico, where they found him in the ICU 2 days later dying of a drug overdose.  His life held precariously in the hands of doctors who no doubt knew what he’d done, but treated him just the same, where he regained full health.  He was arrested for the murder of Jennifer and Kelsie and is now serving a life sentence in the Texas Department Of Corrections.

Jennifer was 44 years old, and Kelsie never got the chance to live her life at all.  We can’t imagine the terror that existed in that house that day that they were taken from this planet.  In this country, every 9 seconds someone is assaulted or beaten in this horrible epidemic we call domestic violence.  Family members that are murdered at the hands of an abuser, usually an intimate partner abuser, are left picking up pieces of their lives, except some of those pieces are so shattered that they can’t be picked up, they can’t be put back together, because for these angel families life will never be the same.  In Jennifer and Kelsie’s case, I am sure the family finds little comfort in his incarceration, but great comfort in knowing that he will never leave another lifeless body for a family to find in the most horrific of circumstances.

I came to know Laura’s angel story through my own little computer that dubs as a phone.  In that little black square box are fellow survivors and a community where we all find strength, hope and healing.  Surviving domestic violence and especially losing somebody to domestic violence is a special kind of pain.  It is a pain the likes of which some never recover.  So, I often log on to our community Facebook page and I meet people like Laura, and I listen to their stories and I am incited to do something about it.  Many of us have made it our mission to write, talk and scream until somebody listens to us.  I do not know the specifics leading up to that day, but I would imagine that there were warning signs, both visible and invisible.  I am sure Laura and her family spend their days misguidedly placing blame on themselves.  I am grateful that this family has an organization like “Break The Silence Against Domestic Violence” who provide for these “angel families” in many ways ranging from financial support to retreats, scholarships, Christmas adoption programs for kids affected by domestic violence and many other programs afforded to not just angel families but all persons affected by domestic violence.

Laura is a survivor too.  She may or may not have experienced domestic violence herself, but everyday she wakes up and tells the story or her sister and her niece she survives that pain so that she can tell the world that we all must take a stand against this.  Laura doesn’t want anybody else to get that phone call that changes everything.  Laura couldn’t explain her pain to me if she tried.  BTSADV has provided her with people who care and people who will listen.  Laura is surrounded by an online community of people who love her and people who understand the pain of losing a loved one in such a brutal fashion.  I am sure in the 5 years since Jennifer and Kelsie’s murder Laura has switched phones and that little tiny computer where she received the horrific news may be at the bottom of a lake somewhere.  But, it is my hope that now she uses a similar device to be reminded how much this country hates domestic violence and how much good people want to help.

It has been an honor (and a little bit difficult) to write Jennifer and Kelsie’s story.  And while it is an honor, Laura told her story to me and I am telling it to you in case you are inclined to help continue the community that is BTSADV.  You can make a one time gift or become a member.   No gift is too small and know that this organization exists solely to support survivors and angel families.  Because as Laura found out, this doesn’t just happen in the movies, this happens to somebody you know, this could happen to you.  And so let’s use all the tiny computers in the world to shout from the mountain tops NO MORE!  Please consider becoming a member today.

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Angel Story, Sarah’s Story

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This angel story was submitted by Sarah’s sister, Gretchen.  In her own words, she describes to us the traumatic life that she and her sister had leading up to her eventual murder.  Thank you Gretchen for sharing your story with us!

I am sharing these stories on my blog in hopes that during Domestic Violence awareness month that you would consider supporting the organization, Break The Silence Against Domestic Violence.  There are many opportunities to help including a one time gift or an ongoing membership.  You can find out more by visiting https://www.breakthesilencedv.org/become-a-member/

This is Sarah’s story, written exclusively by her sister and with very little editing from me.

I only tell this story in the hopes someone will learn from it, or  gun laws get stronger and the gun laws already in effect are enforced better. Sarah was the baby of the family and had 13 siblings. 11 of those siblings lived elsewhere with their other parent. So In our home there was only us 3 girls, and our mother. Our mother became very religious when Sarah started kindergarten. Going to church and being involved with all church functions. As a single parent trying to make a living, we all grew up quickly out of necessity. We were also taught to instantly obey adults, never talk back, never stick up for yourself, always turn the other cheek. Often hearing the phrase, “if you make your bed you have to lie in it”.  I believe all 3 of us ended up in bad marriages.  After all we should be keeping the men happy, no matter the cost of our health and happiness. But through all that Sarah grew up a happy child. We had no television due to religious beliefs, so we learned early to entertain ourselves, play outside, use our imagination. At 17 she fell in love with a man. She was head over heels, and wanted to get married within weeks of meeting him. My mother would not sign papers for her to marry early because he already had 5 children, with four of them living with him. They married 4 days after she turned 18.  They were pretty happy for a while. Whenever they had a disagreement he would just completely ignore her for weeks to months on end, without speaking, or even acknowledging she was in the room.  During the last year of their marriage she stepped out on him several times. I am certainly not proud of that. And that is when her killer came into the picture.  He probably would of just been another affair but she ended up pregnant. Her first husband moved away. And Sarah struggled with the guilt of her oldest daughter not having her father around. She was determined that would not happen again to her daughter, so she stuck it out, he was an alcoholic, he was suicidal several times. In and out of re-hab, using marijuana for sure.  They broke up several times and always got back together with him convincing her that they married for better or worse, in sickness and in health. And his sickness was the bottle.  He had a passion for  guns. Having had a felony he was not allowed to own guns.  So the few they registered were in her name. After that fateful day I learned there was over 25 guns in the house, stashed everywhere according to police report. Under sofas, under coffee tables, etc.  Two years almost to the day, Sarah collapsed at work.  She was life-watched into Wichita Hospital. She was having a brain hemorrhage. The drilled into her scalp and drained blood, in doing so they discovered an aneurysm. She had a 7% chance of recovery if she had surgery. We made the decision as a family to try because her children were 7 and 15 ( the fifteen year old had a baby).  It took nearly a year for her to recover.  She had memory issues, vision problems, shuffled her feet. The doctors recommended some therapy.  He told the doctor, “ nah, she’s home now, and doing well enough for sex”   I went back to the doctor later that day. and set up her therapy. Although that was not legal the doctor bent over backwards. She was definitely  a survivor at this point.   So moving ahead two years now. Brian was due for some surgery. He had mis-used his pain meds of course and was self-medicating that night with alcohol.  My sister was trying to sleep as she was working over the weekend. According the youngest child who was in the house and witness to the crime.  Brian would not leave her alone, begging for sex, etc. My niece said she finally went into the bathroom with him and had sex.  Then he demanded she get out of the house and don’t come back.  So she said, No you leave..  he went into the other room and came back with a military rifle and shot her twice in the chest. As she tried crawling towards the front door, he shot her four more times in the back. She was able to tell her 9 year old, I love you, get the phone and run.  And then Brian shot his head off. My niece called me at 3:30 am 9/9/12.

 

 

Angel Story: Brandi, And The Thief In The Night

 

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“She was always off on some kind of adventure. Heck, her life was one big adventure, whether she was camping on the beach or floating down the Comal River. She loved the water”

As I interviewed Brandi’s mamma for a featured “Angel Story” I found myself in awe at the strength of the woman telling me the story of her daughter who was stolen from her family when she was just 22 years old. Brandi was a fun loving kid who did well in school, and “rarely had to study”. Her mamma described her as the “life of the party” and followed up by telling me “she WAS the party”.

Brandi participated in pageants until she was 15 years old. She had an older brother who she called her “ketchup baby” because she put ketchup on everything, including his food! When she was 18, she and her brother walked her mamma down the aisle and Brandi gained 2 sisters in the process. Her room was a mess because she couldn’t be bothered to slow down enough to clean it. Her mamma told me that she was always on the go, but knew that she could always come home, and often did, for a warm meal and a mamma’s hug. She’d often show up at the last minute for a meal, and when she did her mamma knew that she was feeling down—and her favorite therapy was Disney movies and a beer with friends. Brandi loved lady bugs and had one tattooed on her foot. Her family now calls them “Brandi Bugs”. She loved animals and was always bringing home a stray and when she was murdered one of her beloved animals survived the torture that took her life and was found days later. She was loved by so many and even in death it was obvious to her family that their baby girl had very few, if any, enemies, and this is why her murder is difficult to understand.

Brandi was on break from college and working as a server in a restaurant where she’d worked since she was 15 years old. She didn’t bring her boyfriends around a lot but from what Brandi’s family knew of her murderer, he was a nice young man who seemed polite and seemed to care about the pageant winning, water loving, adventure seeking ketchup loving baby girl.

She lived with him for 3 weeks before that horrible Thanksgiving night when every thing changed. They’d spend the day celebrating Thanksgiving with family and ended up in a bar with some friends. This was the day that her boyfriend would become a thief in the night. Witnesses later testified that he and Brandi were arguing and a few times Brandi went outside to hide her tears and regain her composure. Many people at the bar offered her a ride home and she refused. She refused because he told her that if she left him that he would never speak to her again. He’d been exerting control over her for weeks since her car was broken and she depended on him for everything. They lived out in the country and she depended on him for everything. She had plans to move in with her father, but never got that chance. Because of the thief in the night, did what thieves do, he stole every next moment she would have.

We will never know whether the arguments of that night were related to her leaving him, but statistics tell us that the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence is after one removes themselves from the situation.

They continued to argue (and drink) that fateful night so neither of them were fit to drive, both of them had a blood alcohol level well over the legal limit. But that did not stop him from driving anyway.

She didn’t know he had a gun. He legally possessed it for 3 months before that night. Later, it would be revealed that he had some mental illness issues and never should have been granted the gun legally, but he had been—and Brandi found that gun pointed at her head as he was driving down the road after they left the bar.

Her mama told me that after he pulled the trigger she likely did not suffer and if she did the alcohol she’d consumed likely helped with what must have been paralyzing fear. After shooting her, he drove past several hospitals and made one phone call to a friend. He admitted to killing the Brandi. He then attempted to crash the vehicle into his house in an attempt to take his own life. When that did not work, he dragged her dead body into the house, set the house on fire, laid on top of her and took his last breath less than an hour he’d stolen her last breath from her. Her mamma told me when it came time to lay her to rest they had to finish what he started and were unable to give her the funeral she deserved. In a cruel twist of fate, her body had to be cremated before her family and friends could say goodbye to the beautiful ladybug loving, family loving, water loving, beautiful daughter, granddaughter, sister and friend.

Brandi’s mamma wanted to make it clear to me that they did not LOSE Brandi to domestic violence; rather she was STOLEN from them. Because that is what domestic violence does, it steals–it steals dignity. It steals value. It steals lives. And even though Brandi’s family is breathing air, the memory of her and her loss brings painful breaths. Almost 8 years later, I could feel the pain in the words of Brandi’s mamma as she told me the story.

For families like Brandi’s, life is never the same. Many people don’t understand that this kind of loss often results in other horrible things like divorce, bankruptcy, severe illness and most of all a lifetime of grief. Senseless acts like this cannot be grasped by the human mind, much less a mother of a 22- year old beautiful girl who had her entire life in front of her. Brandi can no longer snuggle up with that fuzzy blanket and watch Disney movies with her friends. Her mamma will never see her happily married with a family of her own. She will never have the opportunity to see if Brandi would pass her love for ketchup on to her children. Her brother probably can’t even pick up a bottle of ketchup. All of them think of Brandi when they see a ladybug. I read once that “water will make a coward of us all” and while that may be true in the practical sense, this water loving baby girl was no coward. None of us can begin to understand what those last moments must have been like for her. As she felt the metal of the gun on her temple, I am sure her mama and her siblings flashed through her mind—she’d not told any of them about the verbal and emotional abuse she’d been enduring. And while Brandi’s mamma knows it wasn’t her fault, even in her communication with me I could feel the misguided guilt. One of the hallmarks of a domestic violence relationship is isolation and lies. Brandi had done both and her family had no reason to believe she was living with a monster. And somehow they must find a way to go on; and 8 years later I am sure it feels like it was yesterday, because we just aren’t wired to bury our babies.

When I asked Brandi’s mama what an organization like “Break The Silence” meant to her answer to me was simple.

“After losing my daughter to domestic violence, BTS reached out to me at a time when my own biological family were at a loss of what to say or do. They wrapped me in love and helped me put one foot in front of the other. They were my strength when I had none. Then, as my healing began, they gave me courage to do the same for others that have suffered the same as I. BTS is love. Pure love”

Those of us who are part of the BTS family agree. But we need your help to continue to reach families like Brandy’s. If you are interested in helping in any way, please visit https://www.breakthesilencedv.org/become-a-member/and consider either a one- time gift or a reoccurring gift to this life giving organization. Portions of monies donated are set-aside for angel families like Brandi’s.

As far as Brandi’s mamma is concerned, she remains a light and a pillar of hope to us all. Thank you Tammy for allowing us to tell your story. I know you want more than anything to never see another story like Brandi’s in the news or even within our survivor sister organization. As for Brandi, this world misses her light, and we will spend the rest of our days telling her story; may she rest in peace and may her story serve to educate those who do not understand that this is prevalent in our society. May each breath not hurt for you, and may the peace that passes all understanding guard your heart. Your BTS family loves you!

The Hardest Job In The World, Pt 2

 

 

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Missed Part 1, you can find that here

A few years ago one of my friends sent me a text encouraging me to listen to a song by Shane & Shane, a song written about Job and a song that uses some of Job’s own words to minister to us.  She encouraged me to watch the video on YouTube, not just listen to the song.  Shane and Shane strip down the song and they strip down the message with simple guitars, wearing plaid shirts, jeans and a backwards baseball cap. Here are the opening lyrics of the song:

“I come God I come, return to the Lord, the One Who broken the One who’s torn me apart.  You strike down to bind me up, you say you do it all in love that I might know you in my suffering.”

I quickly sent a text back to her indicating that I didn’t like her much.  It was then and still is so hard for me to declare the truth of the lyrics that HE is the one that broke me.  HE is the one that has torn me apart.  HE is the one that strikes me down…but then the rest of the lyrics sink in…

“He strikes down to bind me up, He says He does it all in love, so that I may know Him in my suffering.”

And then I realized that for all that He has taken away He has given me a precious place of seeking Him and more importantly knowing Him in my suffering.  And that is the giving part that Job expressed.  He may have been referring to earthly things when he said “the Lord giveth” and certainly that is true, but I really believe that what he meant was that He gives us the opportunity to praise Him and to experience His tremendous Grace and comfort in times of great loss and unspeakable pain.

I have always focused on my loss and pain.  I have always resigned myself to the stuff that was taken from me.  I just figured God didn’t like me very much.  Oftentimes, I fail to see that maybe He has chosen me for such loss that I might know Him in these sufferings.  I have sometimes focused on my loss by helping other people, but have rarely addressed my confusion of all that He allowed to be taken from me.  The list is endless, it seems.  I did not have a “mom” but rather a person who gave me life.  I never, as a child, had a chance of a normal life.  I did not have an innocent childhood, because mine was stolen from me at age 7.  I did not have a husband that loved me as he chose violence in our home.  I do not have a healthy body indicative of my age.  So, I struggle to fall to my knees and praise Him anyway, and I definitely struggle to see that for all that He has taken, He has also given me so much more.

He has given me a voice.  He has given me a message.  He has given me understanding that His power is demonstrated in my afflictions.  He has given me friends (Job didn’t have such friends) that push me to Him and they still love me when triggers of the past affect them.  He has given me gifts that if I choose to use them also highlights His power in my loss.

He has given me the opportunity to praise Him like Job did.  All I have to do is choose to do so.  The chorus of that Shane & Shane sound reverberates in my head even as I am writing this:

“Though You slay me, yet I will praise You, They You take from me, I will bless Your name, Though You ruin me, still I will worship, sing a song to the One Who is all I need.  O Lord I am crying out let this cup pass from me, You are still more than I need, You are enough for me, You are enough for me”

And even as I hit the publish button, I wonder, do I really believe this?  Job certainly did.  John Piper is featured in the video and his words are so powerful and so true

“Not only is all your affliction momentary, not only all your affliction light in comparison to eternity and the glory there, but all of it is totally meaningful every millisecond of your pain from the fallen nature or fallen man every millisecond in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar sense of glory because of that…..of course you can’t see what it is doing, don’t look to what is seen…it is working for you an eternal weight of glory, therefore do not lose heart.”

The second verse of the song is just as powerful as the first:
“My heart and flesh may fail, the earth will all give way, with my eyes with my eyes I see the Lord.  Lifted high upon that day behold the Lamb that was slain and I know every tear was worth it all”

It’s often been said that your spirit will reflect what your eyes see.  And so I ask myself and I ask you, what do our eyes see?  Do we see the Lamb that was slain so that every tear is worth it all?

Do we trust the One Who gave everything for us and while he “takes” from us, are we willing to focus on what He has given us?  He gave us the Great Comforter in the Holy Spirit, He gave us His Word, He gave us access to Him, He gave us grace.  He gave us each other.

Though he takes from us, will we bless his name?

Most days the jury is still out on that question for me.  But I won’t give up because the Truth is the Truth, and the Truth will set me free to bless His name.

 

 

The Hardest Job In The World, Pt 1

 

 

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It is a story that is almost impossible to grasp.  Our Father and our God granting permission to the enemy of us all to take everything from Job.  This permission gave satan free reign to utterly destroy Job.  The only caveat was that satan was not to lay a finger on the man himself.

I have always struggled with this story.  My brain cannot understand why God did this but it absolutely understands the power in the message. Job was living his life and celebrating with his beautiful family when he got message after message that everything he owned was systematically being destroyed.  It was so bad that the description of these events uses words like “while he (the messenger) was still speaking” meaning, while he was getting word of one loss, somebody else was standing in line to tell him about another.  Sound familiar?

The old adage “when it rains it pours” seems to be true, and certainly was true in the case of Job.  Many of us have experienced tremendous loss, loss so great that it steals your breath even to think about it, sometimes years later.  Loss so great that tears flow freely as we fully understand our complete inability to get people or things back that have been taken from us, sometimes in what seems like the cruelest of fashions.  Every morning I look in the mirror and staring back at me is an image of a woman who has lost much and if I look closely I am pretty sure I can see permanent tracks of my tears.

I have struggled to write this for many reasons, chief among them my own stubbornness in the message I wanted to convey.  All of us have experienced painful and costly loss.  Loss that changes the landscape of our lives and loss that colors every decision we make ranging from how open our hearts are to those that love us to selfishness in worldly possessions.  We have all attempted to put a Band-Aid on the pain and declare our situation “not as bad” as somebody else’s.  We throw walls up so that more loss doesn’t hurt as bad and therefore, we miss out on much of life—merely to protect ourselves from pain.  Many of us spend years in a standoff with God, some of us not even talking to Him or seeking Him in times of unspeakable pain and loss.

But not Job.  As bad news kept coming, he finally got in his place of worship and bowed before God and declared a truth that I don’t like very much:

“The Lord gives and the Lord takes, blessed be the name of the Lord, and in all of this Job charged God with no wrongdoing” Job 1:21-22

These two verses are hard for me.  I compare myself to Job in times of loss, or in times of grieving loss of the past.  My pain doesn’t seem as bad, therefore I don’t give it the respect it needs to drive me to my knees. Therefore, the absolute last place I find myself when I remember loss or experience it is anywhere near a place of worship.  I certainly am not apt to praise Him during the loss and you better believe the last thing I do is praise him FOR the loss.  And I am as good as the best attorney in the world in my indictment of my God.

I simply can’t praise Him for it.  I simply can’t refrain from blaming Him.
Or can I?

Everywhere, Ps 139, pt 3

She was alone.  She was afraid.  She had been abandoned.

The story of Hagar is one of the most precious stories in the entire Bible.  Her story can also serve to confuse us, but not as much as it serves to encourage us.  Hagar was one of Abraham’s handmaids and she gave him something his wife Sarah could not; she gave him a son.  They, together, named their son Ishmael.  Ishmael, to this day, is mostly accepted as the “father of Arabic nations”.  He was a result of Abraham’s decision to take his life in his own hands.  He’d been promised that his descendants would be more than the stars in the sky.

But day after day, month after month, year after year, Abraham’s wife Sarah remained barren. So, in a step that was not indicative of Abraham’s signature faith, his decision led to the birth of Ishmael. The birth of this son was anti-climatic until God’s actual plan to make Abraham the Father of all of us became reality.

The birth of Isaac meant that both Hagar and Ishmael would be sent out, literally, into the wilderness. Alone.  Hot.  Hungry. She put Ishmael under the shade of a tree, but stayed close enough to hear him when he cried.

I imagine that Hagar felt alone.  She kind of was alone.  Not unlike many of us, our vision is dimmed to blindness when pain of rejection or consequence threatens to overtake us.

“Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me.” Psalm 139: 7-10

We know that our creator KNEW us before the foundations of the world.  We know that he MADE us exactly like He wanted us, and that the reflection in mirrors can’t begin to explain how much he values His creation. When He looks at us, He is looking at His reflection, because He made us in His image.  We don’t often reflect that image because we don’t really believe either of these two things, that he KNEW us or that He MADE us in His own image. We are fearfully and wonderfully made.

The last part of this beautiful Psalm is the lesson that He is EVERYWHERE with us.  We cannot hide from His presence.  This is a fact that most the time is comforting to us, but sometimes can lead to a crisis of faith.

I wonder if Hagar felt like He was there when she got sent into the wilderness with her child.  I wonder how any of you feel about His constant presence when you think about any number of horrible things that happen to either you or to somebody that you love.

It’s hard to believe and know that there isn’t anywhere I can go without Him being there.  It begs to question:

“Where WERE You?!”

This is a question I have asked so many times.  I don’t ask them out loud, in front of people, I wouldn’t want people to think my God impotent.  But when the day slows down and the voices of others are gone, this is a battle I have fought for a good portion of the last decade.

As I was fighting this battle a few months ago, I did ask that question out loud, and suddenly I knew the answer to my question:

“Right there, I was right there”

This defies logic. Hagar must have felt the same. Why would He just watch?  And suddenly I remember that He was also there when His son paid the ultimate price for our sin.  Right there, He was right there, the entire time.

The story of the crucifixion of Jesus is a little easier to understand how God was there and that He did not intervene.  After all, the death of Jesus saved the whole world.

My dark moments where He seems absent aren’t world changing like the crucifixion of Jesus.  My dark moments are filled with deep fog of weight on my chest with my brain firing off questions to God as quickly as my anxiety overtakes me.

It’s hard to reconcile the truth of this part of Psalm 139 with the unconditional, precious love of God.

Hagar had to feel the same. And then it happened.

An angel appeared to Hagar and the words of the angel are some of my favorite in the entire Bible:

“I am the God who sees you”

There is no doubt that Hagar blamed herself and her poor decisions for her situation.  We are no different, even though sometimes that simply isn’t true.  Sometimes the dark times, the heavy fog happens for reasons beyond our comprehension. It’s easy to become bitter at an all -powerful God Who knew us before the foundations of the world and Who made us in His image.  If He is that powerful, why, why won’t he lift the heavy fog of pain, rejection, fear, illness, or financial hardship?  The truth of the matter is that list is endless.  If He is everywhere, then WHY, why do these things happen?

“If I say, “surely the darkness will hide me and the light become right around me, even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for the darkness is as light to you.”-Psalm 139 11-12

It’s my perception of the darkness.

It’s your perception of the darkness.

Because He is everywhere, the dark is not really dark, because it is made light to us.  I often think about the precious promise of Him being everywhere.  While it has served to discourage me from time to time, mostly I am leaning on His promise that He will never leave me; He will never forsake me.  So no matter what life throws at me, He is the God Who sees me.

Just like Hagar, He makes His presence known dark times.  Hagar didn’t live the rest of her days without pain or even in the best of circumstances.  But God showed Himself faithful that day, and He proves Himself faithful to us every single day.

It’s our perception of the dark.

It’s our perception of “good”.

And then, we spend all of our lives attempting to answer the age- old question:

“How can a loving God allow this to happen?”

Or, we could look for Him. We can look for Him in every part of life.  We can remember that while we are on this planet to enjoy His creation, our lives are about eternity.  Our lives are about the day we stand before Him.  Our decisions should be driven by our love for our Creator, Who knew us before the foundations of the world- Who created us in His image and Who is everywhere.

Because He is the God Who sees us.  And He loves you more than you can ever imagine.

I love weddings and I really love watching the groom’s face as he watches his bride walk down the aisle.

You know what?  YOU are HIS bride and He delights over you just like an expectant groom delights over his bride to be.  I struggle to accept that He can love me this much.

And then I remember…

Before the foundations of the world.

In His image.

He is with me everywhere.

He calls me his beloved. He doesn’t love any part of His creation more than He loves you.

And guess what?

There is no stain on you my child.

You are more important to Him than your comfort or your lack of emotional or physical pain.  He is creating in you a peculiar sense of glory.  Pain doesn’t make sense and cliches like “everything happens for a reason” serves little to comfort us sometimes.  But what is comforting is that He doesn’t love anything more than you.

“You are my beloved, you’re my bride to sing over you is my delight, come away with me my love.  Under my mercy come and wait til we are standing face to face.  I see no stain on you my child.  You are beautiful to me, so beautiful to me..”

“Beloved” Kari Jobe.

 

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Photo is of the painting “Hagar” featured in the Metropolitan Museum Of Art in New York City.

 

 

Swooping & Swirling, Psalm 139 Pt 2

Hold your hand out in front of you.  Pay close attention to your fingerprints.  Get lost in all of the swoops and swirls.  It’s easy to get lost in the intricacy of a fingerprint.  There really isn’t anything on the planet as unique as your fingerprint.

Your swoops and swirls are unlike any of the 7.2 billion people on this planet!

Your swoops and swirls are unlike any of the billions of people who have lived before you!

Did you know that even identical twins have different fingerprints?  A Great Designer Who knew you before the foundations of the world designed your swoops and He designed your swirls.   And He didn’t stop there:

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.” Psalm 139:13-15

Fingerprints remain a mystery to science, for the most part.  My favorite hypothesis (and the one that makes the most sense) is that our fingerprints are formed as we press our fingers against our mother’s womb.  This is the best “explanation” of identical twins having different fingerprints, as they are in different parts of their mother’s womb.  I don’t know if that is really true, as nobody “really “ understands the uniqueness of our fingerprints, or our DNA for that matter.

This causes most people to look for something bigger than themselves.  Because as much as we are unique from each other, we are made in His image, with a consciousness that there is more to life than breathing air.  And so we are either taught about God or learn about Him the hard way.  We somewhat accept that we are made in His image, but most of us walk around life letting the hits of life dim our eyes and the reflection stops being a reflection of God, but of a life we let get the best of us.

Those of us who profess Jesus as our Lord and Savior are worse than anybody.  We get dressed up nicely on Sunday’s and go to church with smiles on our faces, but the rest of the week, our lives are all about the rat race; having what others have and worse than that desires to look like others look.  This kind of thinking is an assault to the beautiful workmanship that is your body, mind and spirit, but man do we all do it.

I have struggled a good portion of my life with Psalm 139.  I struggled (and sometimes still do) because when I look in the mirror whether it is a full- length mirror or a rear view mirror, what I see does not match the Truth that is Psalm 139.  I am precious, I am unique, I am a daughter of the most high God.  My circumstances bring into question where God was/is during the horrible times; those same circumstances have taken it’s toll on my body and how I look—as the years of bad decisions (either mine or other people’s) are etched in my face.  I’ve asked God where He was when bad things have happened.  I struggle to see the swoops and the swirls.  I fail to see them as unique.  I fail to see them as amazing.  I fail (sometimes) to believe in the Great Designer.

But my unbelief doesn’t make it untrue.  The truth of Psalm 139 may never match the experiences of life.  But my swoops are awesome, and tagged for a purpose in this life.   My swirls are amazing and I hope show off the handiwork of God.

It is time that I started acting like the unique 1:7.2 billion creations of the Most High God that I am.

I can start by not believing the lies of the enemy who wants me to believe I was a mistake.  He wants me to believe that life’s circumstances have rendered me less valuable than you.  He wants me to believe that I have used up all my chips with God.   He wants me to believe that a God that formed me before the foundations of the world is not a “loving God” because bad things happen.

But what he forgets is all I have to do is look at one of my fingers.  All I have to do is look for Him in the swoops and swirls.

I can finish by thanking Him for making me exactly how He wanted me; and I can show the world the Great Designer by respecting the gift.  The best way I (we) can do that is with our words and our actions.  Say the words of truth and say them out loud. Even if you don’t believe them, know this:

Your enemy believes Psalm 139.  He believes the words of truth we should speak over ourselves.

Because you, my friends were made in His image.

Swooping & Swirling,

A

Comparison Is The Thief Of Joy, Psalm 139:14

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Do you see it?  Would you recognize it if you did?  Has the world dimmed your vision so that you are literally unable to see the fingerprints of God on your very being? Maybe the most important question is this:

Do you believe this beautiful lyric in a very old song by Steven Curtis Chapman?

“You are a masterpiece that all of creation quietly applauds, you are covered with the fingerprints of God.”

Steven Curtis Chapman

“Fingerprints Of God” 

I will be the first to answer this question.  Most of the time, the answer to this question is a resounding, almost deafening NO! But, I learned this verse just like many of you did, or if not let me teach it to you.

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139:14

This particular Psalm is filled with promises and adorations for the creations of God. But, so many times we forget it or don’t believe it.  It is filled with all kinds of truth, but this verse is the crux of a message that we all need to hear, and more importantly believe.

I memorized it and thought I understood it, even though words like “fearfully” normally conjure a negative connotation in my mind, and “wonderfully” or any version of that word is not a word that I would use to describe myself.  Many of my close friends, if they were being honest, would tell you the same.  It is a universal struggle.  Knowing full well that His creation is wonderful is not a true statement for most of us.

The Hebrew meaning for “fearfully” left me literally blankly staring into the text. The root of this word in this verse means “reverently” and the Hebrew word for “wonderfully” means, “set apart” or “unique”.

Did you know that the human body was created with 10 anatomical systems, 206 bones, a brain that is still not fully understood and something as simple as lifting your finger requires at least 12 complicated steps of muscle contraction? Now, I fully realize that not every human body on this planet are born just as the Master Artist intended, but we have to admit the human body is pretty spectacular and it rivals even the most beautiful pieces of art.

Why don’t we see that when we look in the mirror?  What don’t we treat our bodies like they are the masterpieces that they are?

Think of the creation of your being like this.  God knew you before you were born; even before you were conceived.  He didn’t mass- produce you, he reverently created you and He created you unlike another soul on the planet!  So many times we take our queues from other people on how we should look, often comparing ourselves to other people when we KNOW that He created us UNLIKE ANYONE ELSE!  Of course we aren’t going to look like anybody except the unique, wonderful being He made us to be!  I read a quote recently that summed this up perfectly “Comparison is the thief of joy”. This is so true!  We shouldn’t compare ourselves to other people because there literally is NO ONE LIKE YOU!

But, we live in the real world and we are going to inevitably compare ourselves to other people, we are going to get seek value from a number on a scale, perhaps another number that measures our intelligence and all of us are watching the years etched in the crevices of what used to be smooth skin.  And we effectively tell the Author of the universe that he epically failed during that time of reverence when He made us unlike any of the billions of other creations He calls His own.  And worse than all of that, we aren’t helpful to each other with our silent judgments and indictments.  We certainly can do better about reminding each other of the beautiful creations that are our minds, bodies and souls.

Can you imagine if you could spend some time with Picasso?  Would you sit down with him and tell him of all the defects of your favorite piece of his artwork?  Would you compare his artwork to Michelangelo?  Or would you spend your time telling him how amazing his work is and how it has stood the test of time?  Would you praise him for his talents?

Oftentimes when this verse is addressed we forget the first part of it:

“I will praise You…”

Will you? Will I?  Will I look in a mirror and praise His creation? Will I ignore a number on the scale, will I ignore the number on an IQ chart?  Will I stop spending copious hours on social media wishing I had the body, the mind or the life of another person?  Will I stand up, lift my hands and praise Him for the unique person that He made me?  Will I finally understand that His unfailing love for me means that He loves the wonderfully created human being that HE made me to me, NOT the person I think I should be, or the person that I think I should look like?

Will I? Will you?

I am going to leave this here for you to think about all week.

Because we aren’t done talking about how awesome you are.

Hiding Place

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There were 4 of them ranging from ages 7-14, three beautiful boys and one gorgeous girl.  She was not at home the night their dad decided to murder their mother before turning the gun on himself. 

She was 5 years old; she went inside a gas station to go to the restroom only to find that her parents left her there.  She has lived her entire life wondering what she did wrong to make them leave her.

She told me that her husband was her everything and without any warning he was gone after a complication from surgery, a surgery that wasn’t supposed to be dangerous, it was. 

She told me that she was going to beat cancer, and even had a Bible verse that God had given her to prove it.  She didn’t beat cancer.

He told me that each hit would be the last time.  The only reason the last hit was the last time was because I left him.

All of these things leaves me wondering about God and leaves me questioning His sovereignty.    Why couldn’t He just stop any one of these things from happening?  Why didn’t He step in?  Does He not care?

These questions send me to the only place I know to go and that is the infallible, inspired Word of God. It is the only place I will find Hope. It is the only place I will find Rest.  It is easy to question God and it is particularly easy to doubt Him when the hits of life keep coming, one after the other.  Truth be told, I have mentioned here just a few circumstances that are close to me, I could easily rattle off many more as I am sure you can too.   As I look at the world around me and I look at all of the hurting people I find myself shaking my head a lot.  Involuntary tears come as prayer request flood my email, text messages and phone conversations.  It seems like everyone I know is hurting in one way or another.  I am happy to pray for them, but I find myself in awe of how any of them are walking around and functioning.  Some of the pain is so intense that I cannot even imagine how these people are surviving.

And then it hits me.

I was not given Grace to handle their problems; I am only given Grace to handle mine.

“God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble” Psalm 46:1

This verse is one of my favorites and it speaks to the pure sufficiency of the Grace of God.   It is a precious promise for all of us, regardless of the heart ache you may be suffering, the loss you may have suffered, the illnesses that won’t go away—we are given our own portion of Grace, but our God is our refuge, ALWAYS.  Even when it doesn’t seem like He is listening, and especially when it seems like He isn’t speaking.  It’s so hard to trust the refuge when waves are banging up against the rocks sometimes threatening to drown us, or the wind howling fiercely that it shakes us to our core. It is hard to stay in the refuge. It is hard to not run and try to get away from the fears of this life.  Because we forget the second part of that verse:

“A very present help in trouble”

He is ALWAYS there in times of trouble.  He has me in His embrace when I am afraid of the crashing waves.  He shelters me with His wings when the wind is blowing so hard I can barely stand.  And this is my God to me, and this is your God to you.  I have spent so much of the last few months discouraged by the pain around me, fully forgetting that He is my Refuge and Strength.  And He is yours too.  If He chooses to not answer our prayers in the way we want Him to answer, He has provided an all-sufficient Grace for each of us to walk through the trials of our lives.  That Grace may look different for each of us but the Refuge is the same.  Because He never changes!

Then why are we so determined to leave the refuge?  It is a valid question and one for each of us to answer on our own.  If we could grasp for even one minute the Grace of God and how it gets us through unimaginable pain, what kind of power would we unleash to those around us who may be seeking answers for that hole in their hearts?

The old poem “Footprints” tells the story of two people walking on the beach, one of them is Jesus, and another a man. For much of the trail behind them are 2 sets of footprints.  As the man looks down on the event later he notices at times that there are only one set of footprints.  The man asked Jesus about it and Jesus simply replied:

“It was then that I carried you”

There are so many times I look back on my life and see one set of footprints.   I usually identify it when another person says something to me about the things that have occurred in my life.  I look back at those times and I can feel His refuge and His strength, the event doesn’t seem so bad to me.

And I realize it was then that He carried me. 

But yet even today I had to remind myself that He is my refuge and My strength and that I don’t have to understand Him.  The Bible many times refers to us as sheep.  Sheep are interesting creatures.  They are, perhaps, the dumbest animals on the planet.  So it is comical to me that God would compare us to these animals.  But knowing that, it is good for us to remind each other of this incredible fortress that is our God.  It is important for us to remember that His Grace is SO sufficient for all of our needs.  It is important for us to stay in the protection of the refuge.  We get into trouble and cause more pain for ourselves when we decide the refuge is not good enough for us and we feel we can protect ourselves better than He can.

That is where the comparisons to sheep are accurate.  We can’t help ourselves!  Be encouraged today that while we all could rattle off terrible things that are happening to either us or those around us—our refuge is a Strong Tower.  He will NEVER change.  And while He may not answer our cries like we wish He would, it is then that He is carrying us.

If we let Him, He will carry us.

“In the distance I can see the storm clouds coming my way, and I need to find a shelter before it starts to rain, so I turn and run to You Lord, You are the only place to go, where unfailing love surrounds me when I need it most.  You’re my hiding place safe in your embrace I am protected from the storm that rages. When the waters rise and I run to hide, Lord in You I find my hiding place”  

“Hiding Place”

Steven Curtis Chapman