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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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?

Sustaining Hope

“You have to give a little history when you say something like that”

I turned and looked at my friend, and I knew she was right.  The days of talking “around” my story are over.  Since those ill fated days of pills, black eyes, broken noses, ruptured ear drums, concussions and abandonment, I am a new person.  Sometimes I don’t even recognize that person when I look in the mirror.  Finally, I believe in the Hope that He will and is “making all things new”.

As my friend’s words sunk in and I began telling parts of my story, I experienced an emotional reaction to my story that I’d never felt before.  Chills started from the top of my head and threatened to take over my entire body; chills that matched the snowy spring day, and for a second I had second thoughts about continuing.  As I continued, tears began to fill my eyes, tears that I rarely shed because I’d managed to emotionally disconnect from the pain; until now.  As the words come out of my mouth, I became more and more convinced of the faithfulness of God and the Hope that has been there all along.

After that brief recap of my story, my heart and mind simply leapt with the possibilities of finally understanding real Hope, and that it has sustained me thus far.  I don’t have to understand the “WHY’s” of my life, but I do want to constantly seek understanding of this Hope that has carried me thus far and will continue to carry me until the ultimate Hope is realized.  That day will come until there is no more pain and no more tears.

While writing this series, I have struggled to understand and grasp this concept of Hope because honestly, most of the time it “feels” hopeless, even given the clear faithfulness of God thus far in my life.  During this series of writing, He has used both music and His word to drill in my head that my Hope is in Him; I am in Him and that while life is hard, He is good.  I’ve spent the majority of my life claiming Him as great, but I have struggled to call him GOOD.  But, He is good, and while the world may disagree, He has never failed me yet.

This song, written and performed by Elevation Worship, is on repeat on my phone.  I play it over and over and you can find the words “Never Failed Me Yet” written all over my house from sticky notes on the fridge, to index cards taped to my computer to my shower doors after the steam provided me with an open canvass to converse with Him.

“Walking around these walls, I thought by now they’d fall, but You have never failed me yet.  Waiting for change to come, knowing the battles won, for You have never failed me yet. Promise still stands, great is Your faithfulness.  Still in Your hand, this is my confidence that You have never failed me yet..”

 

“Jesus, You are still enough, keep me within Your Love, my heart will sing Your praise again.”

If there is ever a Bible verse that I doubted it was this one.  However, during this quest to understand Hope, He has drilled it in my head.

“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.  Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow-not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love” Romans 8:31-38 (NIV)

And I finally believe it.  We have every reason to look forward to Hope with great anticipation because He has sustained me with it all this time, as He will continue to do the same.  Paul understood this Hope.  He understood it when he was shipwrecked.  He understood it when he lived with his actions of killing Christians.  He experienced it on the road to Damascus.  He definitely understood it in prison.  And finally, He understood it when the time would come that he would die because he clung to the only thing that will never fail, not him and not us.

Hope.  It came at a heavy price, most of us will celebrate our lives in Him as we remember the cross this Easter.  Thank you Jesus for a Hope that saves us and that sustains us; even when we do not understand.

“I have seen You move the mountains, and I believe I will see You do it again, You made a way when there was no way”

Thank you Jesus.

 

Appearing and Disappearing Hope, Pt 2

I dragged that beautifully framed college degree back to Jacksonville, where I immediately accepted a teaching job at the school attached to the church that I attended as a child. Ray and Gayle were gone by then and it was surreal being back in Jacksonville and it was unbelievably strange to be teaching in the very same classroom where I was a 6th grade student. Everything was different, nothing was the way I remembered it and that year was one of the most difficult of my life. I vastly underestimated how hard it would be to be back in Jacksonville, and almost felt like I was visiting a crime scene. I didn’t have any friends in Jacksonville, and if you know me, you know that I need people, and so I immediately began searching for connections. And, in doing that, I met John Watson.

I was not (am not) the girl that has dreamt of her wedding her whole life, or even being married for that matter. I did not date in college for a variety of reasons, chief among them that I simply did not have time. I know now that I was still living in fight or flight in college and the crazy busy days served to defer dealing with issues that simply were being ignored. And, in a way, meeting John compounded the issue, as suddenly there was focus on building a life with him.   And I think for a small period of time I was that little girl that dreamt of not the wedding, but being loved and protected—a feeling I did not have until the Dunning’s stepped in and then later at the children’s home. It seemed as though the entire body of trauma was coming to an end, and life was looking better. Early in our dating relationship, I laid down convictions I’d held my entire life and after dating for about a year, we moved in together. It was then that any hope I had of living a happy, relatively trauma free life was dashed in my mind.

The first hit came in that townhouse we shared on Jacksonville’s affluent south side. It came out of nowhere, and it was because I forgot ketchup at the grocery store. After it was over, I only wished the hit was hard enough to push me through the wall so that he couldn’t see me cry; or so that he could not see the light drain from my eyes; or see the thinly veiled cloud of hope disappear from right in front of me.

Of course there were apologies and all the normal promises, and I clung to them because I certainly wasn’t in a place with God where I even acknowledged Him. So, I went into performance mode and my hope came from fast success with a business that we started. I created a false sense of hope by fully throwing myself into that business. As success came, the cloud of false hope became a fat, puffy, sometimes very dark cloud that served only to protect me from the elements of life, but not him. The hits became the norm at our house, but I continued to perform to the point of about killing myself with stress and medications I chose to take to stop the pain, even if only for a little bit. Business continued to do well and the apology gifts got more extravagant and we added houses, boats and cars to our world. On the outside, it looked like I was living a redeemed life of childhood trauma. But on the inside of our home, it was an environment fraught with pain; maybe the deepest pain I have ever felt. The days were long and my only hope at that point resided at the bottom of a bottle somewhere. And, with each empty bottle, I went looking for more hope, hope that came in the form of milligrams and came from a drug store. And one night, my genuine hope was that the handful of pills that I took would put in the presence of the real Hope. But the problem was I wasn’t talking to God much. Nighttime prayers were replaced with drug induced sleep marathons. It was the only time it did not hurt to merely breathe. Then the next morning when I did wake up, I knew what I had to do. I had to chase Hope, but Hope was chasing me all along.

 

And man would I need it.

A Man Of Hope

It was radical for those days—a pastor preaching from the floor, not a pulpit and dared to use electronic technology to assist in his sermon. Yet, there he stood. And I will never forget the lesson.

“You are not a zero with the rim rubbed out”—he said this as he used his finger to erase the bottom part of the number he’d previously written on the transparency. It was one of the first times I began to believe that I was valuable, and that God created me in His image. I was beginning to believe that His creation was something to behold. Ray’s sermon that night: obey the commandment to live the life given to us with all of our shortfalls, but definitely with the gifts that He has given us. It was a sermon of Hope. As I sat in that cold church during that midweek service, I looked around at others and all were responding in kind. It was a radical idea at the time—preaching of one’s value. But Ray was radical. And that is why everybody loved him. He loved the sweet story of salvation (and shared it often), but outside the simple plan of salvation, he was a gifted pastor and even better person.

I mentioned in part 1 of “Appearing & Disappearing Hope”, I mentioned my foster parents. I’ve not been able to finish that piece because Ray went home to be with Jesus just a few short days ago. And while not part of my daily life, he’s been a constant source of encouragement to me over all of these years, more so in the last 10-15 after we reconnected. So, I didn’t want to just rush over his part of my story, and certainly needed a little time to even understand what I want to say.

So, I will try.

We all like to think that when we die, those left behind will have glowing things to say about us, and who knows if that will happen—we certainly know at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. It will not matter what people say about you. Changed lives will matter; lives that were changed forever because of yours. That is the category that Ray occupies in my life.

Upon abandonment by my mom, Ray and Gayle (along with their 3 kids) took me into their home. It was the first time I had a bed of my own; it was the first time I even knew that you are supposed to eat 3 meals a day and it was the first time that an adult demonstrated to me the sacrifice that the entire family did. And I will always remember that sacrifice. Even though I only lived with them for 18 months, I always will remember it fondly, and thank God that Ray planted a seed when he made that decision to keep me out of the foster care system. He planted a seed that he had to watch other people tend and water. He had to watch the fruit of his sacrifice from afar. And he did that with class and he did it without ever wanting any glory for a life that he helped save. And for those of you who knew me then, you know that I am not exaggerating.

Thursday mornings were my favorite in the Dunning household. Ray stopped by Krispy Kreme on the way home from church the night before and we had doughnuts for breakfast, much to the “arguments” of Gayle who was always pushing weird stuff like oatmeal with wheat germ on me! He relished spoiling us on those mornings and has he walked by to leave for work, the smell of his cologne served to comfort me—a strange feeling for me.

He refused to allow me to be defined by trauma up to that point, 14 years into my life. He treated me like I was one of his own children. That included fun things like doughnuts, but it also included copious conversations in the living room where I was getting the Ray Dunning “school of life”. And it was a good school too.   As soon as I would reach one place of healing, he would push for another telling me that “you have grown by leaps and bounds, but you have a long way to go”—and he knew that would serve as a call to action for me.  He gave me every reason to hope that I could do whatever I wanted, especially overcome a difficult life.

I often wonder how hard it was for him to see this broken child in his home. I never knew it if he thought that I’d not make it, not once did I ever think I wasn’t going to be okay, and Ray has a big role in that. He was a picture of Hope to me.  He often thought of other people during his decade long illness when it came to sharing his faith. I know for sure when he entered heaven that he was found faithful. Ray was my second pastor. He followed behind Dr. Estes who everybody loved. Ray and Dr. Estes had a beautiful relationship and Dr. Estes remained at that church, under Ray’s leadership, until the day Dr. Estes died. I am remembering Dr. Estes today because his favorite passage of scripture was shared and received by the young pastor following him. And, today, I can’t help but think of Ray when I hear the scripture:

“Be steadfast, not moveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord”

I am so grateful that he took that step of obedience every day for 18 months. I was loved well by him and he often referred to himself as my “second dad”.   This man demonstrated the Hope that life has even when it seems like you are down for the count. I firmly believe that my inability to give up, give in or be bitter is directly related to Ray Dunning. And, in true fashion, his last message to me a few weeks ago:

“I love you and I am proud of you”

And you just can’t script it better than that.

Made me want to be the same Hope for everybody I can.

 

 

 

The World Needs Hope, the world needs YOU

Where does time go? Seriously, how does 11 years just fly by like it is only one trip around the sun? Yesterday marked 11 years since I got off of the plane from Toronto after fleeing the states when I left my home and most of my belongings. That was the safest place for me. But when it came time to fly home I was ready to move on with life. As I walked through customs and out the double doors of that airport, the warm February Tampa air hit me. I was home. At least near home anyway.   Something inside of me clicked—and the monsters that awaited me on the outside of that airport would not, at least for awhile, phase me.

I often wonder what “happened” inside of me that made me leave. I wonder why I am not part of the statistic that a victim of domestic violence will go back on average 7 times before finally leaving, if alive that long. I wonder what made me make the decision to move to Clearwater, or what made me go to that big church on the corner, or even get up every morning in those early days.  But I don’t wonder those things very long.  Somewhere along the line, somebody reminded me of my Hope.

This morning, I woke up to the news of Billy Graham’s passing. As I watched the nonstop coverage, I thought only one thing: “that man was an ambassador of Hope”. He preached the ultimate Hope to hundreds of thousands of people over his long life; and while not so active in the latter years, even his presence on this planet made life seem a little “better”. Certainly, if Billy Graham could be used by God in, can’t I? Billy Graham’s God did not run out on Hope when it was time for my dance card to be stamped. My mind then began to visit places such as this:

–“Um, are we the grown ups now?”

–“Who will be Billy Graham?”

–“Who will be an ambassador or Hope?”

And just like that a Bible verse I memorized in Sunday school came to mind:

“And the Lord said, ‘Who will I send, and who will go for us’. Then said I, here am I, send me” Is 6:9

Now, I know that I am no Billy Graham, but Billy Graham and I share the same God, with the same Hope of a painless eternal life, and the same Hope to live in a world that can be described as nothing short of heart shattering.

What if, on social media, we all sought out ways to bring Hope to those who need it? I spend an inordinate amount of time on social media, and I often think I am wasting time (and most the time I am) but then there are these moments. Moments when you get to bring a smile to somebody’s face just because you cared enough to remind them of the Hope that is within them. What if? What if in real interactions (if we even have those anymore) we did the same? What if we put our phones down, what if we shut our laptops, what if we put our Kindle’s down, what if we put our PRIDE down and looked for ways to bring Hope to so many that need it? What if?

I can tell you the answer to that question. Somebody, maybe somebody like the early days me, will cling to that Hope and their life will be changed forever. Because that is what Hope does. Hope tells you that there are all the tomorrow’s you are ever supposed to get, and the one that you are not supposed to get is better anyway. Hope says “just because it was that way then doesn’t mean it is that way now”. Hope is a soothing balm to hearts held together by tape and superglue.  What I was given in the way of practical friendships altered the course of my life forever. Those early years were hard, but I had people, I had a VILLAGE of people. I could look into the eyes of these people and see that they had a light that I wanted. And they just stayed. So, as I think of the great loss of Billy Graham, I am reminded by the great loss of one of my good friend’s grandmother today as well. And finally, even though I knew it was coming, my former pastor and foster parent went to be with Jesus today as well.   I felt like somebody punched me in the stomach.

And then there is that word again.

Hope.

Paul said “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain”. As Christians we no doubt look forward to that day when there will be no more pain, no more sorrow, and no more tears.   But until then, we live here. And here needs Hope. Here needs you.

These two pictures are almost 11 years to the day apart. The light in my eyes, the ones devoid of light 11 years ago, we call that Hope.

Appearing & Disappearing Hope, Pt 1

Faith Children’s Home, June 6, 1987

It is hard to imagine how the light can be gone from the eyes of a 14- year old kid, but I am here to tell you, I don’t remember ever having light in my eyes, but on this day, everything I’d hoped for was gone.

My hopes of a world where I would have a family were gone; or so it seemed. Faith Children’s Home was a home that housed 18 boys and 18 girls. As much as they tried to not make it an institution, it had to be sometimes. We were not allowed to open the refrigerator and grab food or drink-we had to wait for the time when everyone ate and drank. We slept with 5 other girls in the same room. If you were lucky (and I was) you only had to share a bathroom with those 5 girls and not an additional 6 younger girls. These were things that made me cry myself to sleep in those early days.

I was a foster kid before finally ending up at the children’s home. I was very fortunate and only had one foster home; and they were good people. But, it did not matter how good they were, they were not equipped to meet the needs of a throw away kid. When a parent abandons their child like mine did, there is a special kind of brokenness that serves as a dark cloud, filled with unpredictable precipitation, over that life forever. My foster parents did the best they could, but in the end, the children’s home was a good decision for me. But for 18 months, I got a taste of what a mom and dad felt like, I had my own bed (a first) and understood what a normal meal schedule was like. I was not required to work for my basic needs, I was allowed to be a kid. I went to slumber parties, I “played” sports, I had a first boyfriend complete with the first broken heart– but with a mom to help me through it.

So, the day I was dropped off at the children’s home was the death of all of that; and that would eventually be ok, but those early days, I truly saw no hope for a normal life. I was to remain at the children’s home for 1,090 days, also known as my 18th birthday. That was the only future I could see, in exactly 2 years and 6 months, I would leave this place, and enter a world that I was prepared to fight for the rest of my life, just as I had for the entirety of my life.

Then the day came when these people, one by one, chipped away at my shattered, ragamuffin heart. And suddenly, I could see past the days that remained before I became a legal adult and would age out of the system. I could see good things in my future. My visions of a better future were weaker than faith but just as strong as hope. I knew in my heart that God had better things for me. I believed that then and I believe that now, because He told us as much in the Bible, but more importantly with the price He paid so that I could envision a future filled with Hope.

As time would pass, this place became the fabric of my heart, and that heart was no longer shattered, and had left its ragamuffin status in healing dust. And when I graduated from high school, as the class valedictorian, my speech was all about Hope, and a future where God would complete what He started (Phil 1:6). I left the children’s home just shy of the 1,090 days, but I was to return after a few weeks with my mom, which is a whole other story.

I remained there well into college. I worked in the office, traveled with the kids while going to college on a full ride scholarship. The promise I spoke of in my speech seemingly was the truth, like for real, the truth! He was, in fact, continuing the good work He started in me, not the day I got a forever family, but the day He made me in His image. And when I earned my degree, I was fully aware that this was not something that EVER should have happened, nor was it in my visions of a future filled with hope for my life. I had low standards of God. I would have been good with breathing air. But on May 7, 1994, I graduated from Clearwater Christian College with a decent degree, and every reason to believe that my future was still filled with hope.

As it would turn out, it was not quite that simple. And my definition of hope was blown away to an unrecognizable heap of smothering rubble.