Monday, August 11, 2014

Hope in the Lord: Robin Williams & the Iraqi Christians

I know... I know... the news is still hot on the press. I haven't written much lately but some days the world just gives you more than you can keep inside...

The news wires are blowing up even as I type to report the death of a cherished actor and comedian - Robin Williams. Everyone has a favorite movie or joke and even though he was a little (lot) 'off color' sometimes, you were hard pressed not to like him. Apparently, he didn't like himself. This was a still relatively young man with a wife who says she adored him, fame, fortune, all the things our culture tells us we should strive for to make us happy. And, yet, he wasn't. Preliminary news reports are telling us he had been suffering for some time with a deep depression. Today, Mr. Williams was tired of being depressed even though he 'had it all' and he ended his life leaving his family, friends, and fans in shock.

On the other side of the world, there are a group of people who do not have it all. As a matter of fact, by our standards they have nothing and the world would tell us THEY are the ones with nothing to live for. I don't know if their children are really being beheaded or not - I'm not there. But based on the news coming from reliable sources in that part of the world, they are being persecuted, killed, routed from their homes, driven out of their land to flee for their lives. And fleeing is exactly what they are doing. Why? Because these persecuted people who 'have nothing' want to LIVE. 

What makes the difference?

One little four letter word.

Hope.

The very definition of depression is "severe despondency and dejection, typically felt over a period of time and accompanied by feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy." Hope on the other hand is to "cherish a desire with anticipation." For some reason, these poor Christians in Iraq, who are being persecuted for nothing more than their belief in Jesus Christ, feel they have something to look forward to, to live for. Hope. Something Robin Williams didn't have.

We don't have to have it all. It's probably better if we don't. As long as we have Jesus, we have hope. Things may not get better in this life. Some more Iraqis may lose their lives. But they still have hope because even if they lose their body in this life, they cannot lose their salvation and the promise of eternal life they have in Christ. 

Do you have hope? Are you hopeless? What do you hope in?

"I remember my affliction and my wandering (I'm thinking a few Iraqi's could relate to that), the bitterness and the gall. I will remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. YET this I call to mind and therefore I HAVE HOPE: Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. I say to myself, "The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him." The Lord is good to those whose HOPE is in Him, to the one who seeks Him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord."  Lamentations 3:19 - 26

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Grace Upon Grace

I hadn't realized how long it has been since I wrote a post. Tonight I was reading stories from the tornado and flood ravaged areas and my heart breaks for the things I am seeing: a mom who lost her two little boys, homes absolutely leveled, people separated from their pets, catastrophic injuries. It's all so tragic.

Then I picked up my Bible to do my reading for the day and my New Testament passage was John 1:1-28. I have decided to try and read through the gospel of John aloud and ask God to show me words or phrases that I need to dwell on. Tonight He gave me chapter 1, verse 16, "From the fullness of His grace we have all received one blessing after another. (NIV)" The ESV says we have received "grace upon grace". 

As I looked around me and thought of those going through so much pain tonight, I felt He was telling me to remember what I have to be thankful for...letting me know I need to be more thankful. I remember reading a quote one time that said, "What if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you thanked God for today?" Ouch! 

So tonight I just wanted to take the time to be thankful for:

Family
(Parents, Husband, Children, Grandchildren, Foster Children)
Two sons in the military that have returned home healthy after multiple deployments!
Friends
(Local and online - some of the best friends I ever had I have never met in person)
Our home
Our Bible preaching church
Paid off cars!!
Food on the table
Clothes on my back
Health
My cats (don't laugh)
The birds that come to my feeder every day and the songs they sing.
More than anything...
I am thankful that Jesus loved me enough to die for me
And that God gave us His Word.

This only scratches the surface. We are so blessed and most of the time we don't even know it until we are faced with the tragedy of seeing what others have lost, or have experienced loss ourselves. 

When I read the ESV and see the blessings called 'graces', it reminds me that I don't deserve any of what I have. The definition of grace I was always taught is "God's unmerited favor". He gives us blessings we don't deserve, can never earn, and can't repay Him for. Oh, may we never take them for granted.

So tonight I am thankful.



Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Inspired by Obedience

And He said to all, "If any would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me." Luke 9:23

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." Philippians 1:20 - 21

I have only known in my life one person that truly personified those verses.

In 2009, one of our youngest, most energetic ministers was taken to the hospital emergency room with chest pain. He was healthy and athletic. He taught PE at our local high school. This trip to the hospital began a journey that would last the next three years and affect more lives than anyone could have ever anticipated. Mike Storter was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia.

Mike immediately began treatments for his disease and for a short period during these years was considered cancer-free. It was a brief remission, however, and when he exacerbated a few months later nothing would stop it. Not chemo, not bone marrow, nothing. It became apparent that short of a healing miracle of God, Mike was not going to recover. Our church continued to pray, but we were devastated. This would be a second young minister on staff to die of cancer within two years of each other. 

Mike could have given in to his illness. I mean, when you have a terminal illness no one will blame you if you don't continue to work and serve. But instead of giving in, he continued to attend church, minister to others and preach. He didn't do anything magnificent or explosive, he just continued to live his life in the face of what everyone else felt was a tragedy. His quiet persistence in his faith touched an untold number of lives.

As he continued to deteriorate, our senior pastor would give him time every Sunday morning to speak to the congregation and tell them what God had shown him the previous week. The notes I have in my Bible from those brief devotionals are priceless to me. As he neared death, his voice left him and he would get very breathless when he spoke - you could barely hear him - but he would struggle to the mic and pray. And the prayers that this man prayed came from somewhere I can only imagine exists. I have never, ever heard anything like it. He also maintained his sense of humor. He could joke about anything and he did so...right up to his funeral...

Photo compliments of Janine Benavidez
Mike was 45.
This picture was taken the last time Mike spoke to our congregation. Wearing his oxygen, barely able to speak above a whisper he talked about his journey through leukemia. At one point in his talk he pointed at himself and said, "In the light of someone else's eternity, what is this?" He was willing to obediently take on the mantle of cancer and death, if it meant someone else might spend eternity with Christ. Three weeks later, he was with Jesus.

Over 1000 people attended his memorial service. Our pastor read from the passage in Philippians 1 where Paul talks about being torn between life and death. I don't know if I will ever attain that. As I sat in that service, my eyes were drawn to the banners at the front of the church that were related to the current sermon series. Mike's casket rested between two banners that read "Make my Life....A Living Sacrifice". Every day, in every way, that is exactly what Mike did. Most pastors try to teach you how to live. Mike showed us how to die.

How does one come to this place? Over the past couple of years, I have struggled with what it means to be totally surrendered to Christ. Not just to give it lip service or to go through the motions, but to just give it all up, lay it all down, whatever He wants. In that, I have thought about what it would mean to sell all and move away, go on the missions field, live without, etc. But what if it meant the ultimate sacrifice? Would I be able to go through an illness unto death with the grace and faith that Mike showed and leave the kind of legacy that he left? I don't think so...not now.

Yes, I am inspired. Inspired to become more like Jesus. Inspired to continue to pursue total surrender. Inspired to deepen my walk. Inspired to reach out to others. Inspired to leave a legacy that glorifies Christ alone.

I said that Mike maintained his sense of humor up to - and including his funeral. These are things everyone should know according to Mike Storter ~ written in his own hand ~ as read by Rev. Tommy Warnock at his memorial service (comments in parenthesis are mine):


Pizza is a breakfast food.
(Maybe...)


Los sientos means "I'm sorry" in Puerto Rico.
(In a lot of Central FL, too)


Why would you make tea and not put sugar in it?
(People make tea and don't add sugar?)


The Bible is still as relevant as it ever was.
(Yes, it is)


If you are a believer, you need to act like it.
(Yes, you do)
And Mike did.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Life Interrupted: Part 2

In my previous post, I told the story of my hip injury that interrupted our lives for approximately 2 years. I mentioned that there was more to the tale, so here is the rest of the story.

In August of 1998, I married for the second time. My new husband and I knew that my two children would be living with us, but never suspected that any of his children might want to move away from their mother in another state. We had only been married a month when the first of his sons chose to make the move and within a few months his other son was also living with us. We were newly weds with four children between the ages of 14 and 18 living under what had become a very small roof.

Our little home was so small that my husband and I had to give up the master bedroom to the three boys and we moved into one of the spare bedrooms. It was a trying time and there was no room to spare and no one ever had any privacy.  

Of course, in the midst of this was when I suffered the hip injury I talked about in my last post. So not only were we cramped - I was experiencing some disability at the same time.

My husband and I decided to put our house up for sale and purchase a large (5 bedroom, 3 bath) double-wide mobile home. We went to a dealer and made all of the necessary arrangements. We had a time frame for completion. We had a piece of property lined up to put it on. We were thrilled at the prospect of more room inside and out. 

Our house sold in record time - three weeks. I placed a call to the mobile home dealership before we accepted the offer to make sure everything was on track. I was assured that it was and we booked a short cruise for our entire family. We closed on the sale of our home, packed up all of our "stuff" and put it in storage, and sailed off into the sunset knowing that we would have to stay with relatives for about 3 weeks when we returned.

When we got back to civilization, we called to check on the progress of the house. Well....there's a problem. We needed both incomes to finance it and because I was receiving disability payments through worker's comp no one wanted to finance us because I did not have "guaranteed income". What?!?!? We couldn't have known this a month ago? We SOLD OUR HOUSE!!!!! WE ARE HOMELESS WITH FOUR TEENAGERS!!!!

What was supposed to be three weeks, turned into three and a half months of half of our family in one place and half in another. Tensions were high. And as if it couldn't get any better, the surgery I had been fighting for for two years was approved and scheduled. After you fight with and insurance company for that long, you don't tell them, "Ummm....Now is not a good time...." So off I went to have a hip replacement while my kids were farmed out all over, my husband was with his parents and I went post operatively to my parents home. What a mess.

During this time, a friend of mine who was not a Christian looked at me one day and said, "I don't know how you stay so calm. I would be a basket case if this were happening to me." Ahhh... possibly the meaning in the mess. I shared my faith. I wish I could say that she dropped to her knees in repentance, but it didn't happen that way. I was able to plant a seed, however.

Shortly (about two weeks) after I had my surgery and returned home to my parents, we learned of a nice home out in the country that was for rent by a friend of my husbands. I got my parents to take me to look at it and put down an deposit on it before my hubby even saw it. When he got home, I said, "If you want, we can go take a look at where we will be living for the next year." The only thing he said was "OK". On the day we moved, there must have been about 30 people who showed up to help us. Men moved furniture. Women set up my kitchen and put fresh linens on my beds. We just fed them lunch.

Our landlord/friend stood in amazement. He said he had never seen anything like it. We told him this is what it looks like when the community of faith rallies around someone in need. This is what it looks like when Christians show Jesus' love. More seeds. 

I'm still not sure I understand why our lives were so turned upside down for that year. I know learned the power of prayer. I learned the value of a community of Believers. I learned to trust a little more. I learned that God will provide. 

The house we moved into for that year wasn't all that beautiful. It had outdated formica in the bathroom and mauve carpet. The master bathroom toilet wouldn't flush when it rained. The kitchen was small, but the house was big. Big enough for all of us. It became one of my favorite places we have ever lived. I loved mowing the huge yard on the riding mower. I loved sitting outside under the trees for my quiet time and hanging my wash on the line to dry. I would move back there in a heartbeat. Maybe it was so special because we knew without a shadow of a doubt - it came from God. 

"And my God will meet ALL of your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus." Phil. 4:19


Life Interrupted

Nineteen Ninety Nine was the year my life changed forever. Who knew that something that happens so fast could have such far reaching effects. But it can. Life can change in an instant. It wasn't the most catastrophic thing that could happen, but it was a major change, nonetheless.

I was working as a facility nurse at a small assisted living facility. I had been to lunch and upon my return noticed one of the residents crossing the busy four lane road in front of the building alone. I knew her to have dementia and knew she was not safe - so I ran after her. What happened next has some comedic irony to it. I got in the middle of the road. I know it was the middle because I remember looking down and seeing the double yellow line painted on the asphalt. I got in the middle of the road and tripped. Anti climactic? Well... when I tripped my leg twisted and I could hear the characteristic "thunk" as my hip was wrenched out of the socket. I fell to the pavement and thought, "I'll just lay here a minute and then I'll be able to get up..." Wrong. Within a minute, I knew that something was painfully, terribly wrong. The irony? An 80 something year old woman with dementia crossed a four lane road successfully while I, at age 38, had fallen and dislocated and fractured my hip. Funny, right? 

God's protection wasted no time... Here I was lying incapacitated in the middle of a busy road. Did I mention it was four lanes? A co-worker who had taken the day off "just happened" to be driving by and saw me fall. She blocked two lanes of traffic with her car. The FedEx truck coming the other direction saw me as well and blocked the other two lanes. I fell down, but I would not be hit by a car on this day.

Then began an agonizing process of being transported to the hospital, x-ray'd, CT scanned, and who knows what else with no benefit of pain medication. Finally, after 5 hours of torture I was taken to surgery where the surgeon cleaned bone fragments out of the joint and put everything back together. He told my family that the damage was as extensive as someone who had been t-boned in a car accident. After several days, I went home with a brace from my waist to my knees. I could not take it off for ANYTHING. I couldn't bend more than 45 degrees and it kept my legs spread apart at about a 45 degree angle. No showers. I will leave using the toilet to your imagination. Not comfortable.

I wish I could say that I was asking God daily for the lesson in all of this. I wish I could say that I was searching His Word for how to handle this debacle. I had been married to my second husband less than a year and we had four - count em - four teenagers living in our house. I was not being very super spiritual. I was not being very spiritual at all. I was pretty darn resentful and difficult to live with, if you want to know the truth. 

In spite of me, God was still good. He provided meal after meal from wonderful friends. Phone calls, visits, cards, flowers became part of my day to day existence. Often, they would try to encourage me by telling me that God was working this to my benefit. One friend told me I should ask God what lesson He was trying to teach me. I didn't care and I didn't want to hear it.

Then, six weeks later, came the icing on the cake. An MRI revealed that during the time my hip was dislocated the circulation had been disrupted for too long and the bone was dying - a condition known as avascular necrosis. The pain was unbelievable, but the disability was worse. At 38, I could barely do any housework, I couldn't buy groceries by myself because I couldn't stand that long, if I went to the mall or a theme park with the kids, I had to go in a wheelchair. The only option was a total hip replacement. 

I won't go into great length here because this is long enough already, but the next two years were spent in a legal battle with Worker's Compensation just to get authorization for the surgery. At the time, I could not see what God could possibly be doing that was working to my good. 

While we were fighting for surgery, I was unable to work but because I was covered by WC, they had to pay my salary while I was home. God provided.

During the same time period, we had a child who was having significant emotional issues. He was not doing well in school. We were constantly headed to doctor and counseling appointments. He needed supervision. Even though he was 17, he couldn't drive. It occurred to me one day, that had I not broken my hip, I don't know what we would have done. Because I was able to be home all the time, I was able to get him to appointments and his GED program. I was able to be present with him when he needed it and he was not left along during a fragile, vulnerable time in his life. God not only provided for us materially, but also emotionally.

The other positive that came from this time, was the time I was able to spend in Bible study and prayer. I often had the house to myself when all the kids were in school and in those quiet hours I had a season of spiritual growth and sweet time with the Lord that I have not experienced since to that extent. Once I got over being angry and started to listen to Him, we had some wonderful moments together. God provided spiritually.

Eventually, I had my surgery. Our oldest child moved out. The child that was struggling moved home to his biological mom. We were down to two kids, I went back to work, life returned to normal. Sigh. I had grown to like "abnormal". 

I look back on that time now almost wistfully. God had a plan. Not just for me, but for my family. It was a good plan. A plan to give us a future and a hope. He did work it all together for our good, even if it was a painful process and I learned to look for the lessons in the difficult times. (Jer 29:11; Rom 8:38) Life interrupted turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me at the time.

(There is another aspect to this story that I never even mentioned...maybe I'll do a sequel...)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Miracle in the Mundane

You sit in an office...staring at a computer...you feel like you are living "Groundhog Day" over and over and over... OR you are mindlessly watching the television night after night...barely comprehending what is passing before your eyes and into your ears... The monotony can be mind numbing and depressing.

Then, God gives you a window. It seems like such a little thing - this window - but it opens up a whole new world. A world where the sun breaks through the trees and warms your face. A world where cardinals flit through the tree branches, woodpeckers search every little crevice of the big oak tree for food, and the odd egret or crane may come strolling by. Butterflies are endless.
There are other visitors. The little stray tabby that always seems to have a belly full of kittens. The raccoons that have learned we feed the cats... 
Some days there are no visitors because the rain is relentless. Pounding the glass. Thunder and lightening right on the other side ... of this window.


How easy it is to get caught up in the computer screen and miss what happens just inches from my desk. How easy to get caught up in the drama that happens around me at work. How easy to forget to look and see. Why? Because I see it every day. Because it has become familiar. Because I take it for granted. This window.

How often we treat God the same way. So sure He's there, yet, never taking the time to look and listen. He shows His glory every day. In the nature outside my window. In His Word. In the gentle way He seeks to calm me with His still small voice. How easy to get caught up in the computer screen and miss the fact that He is right there with me all the time. How easy to get caught up in the drama that happens around me and forget that He is in control of every situation. How easy to just forget to stop, and look, and listen for Him. Why? Because His Word has become familiar. Because He is there all the time. Because I take Him for granted.

But He makes me a promise. If I seek Him, I will find Him, if I seek Him with all my heart. (Jer. 29:13) 

To seek Him with my whole heart, I must start my day with Him and end it with Him. I must learn to still myself to hear His voice. I must learn that His glory is not always some radical event, but is in the birds, and the racoons, and the rainstorms. I must ask Him to reveal His Presence to me. Then, in the middle of the work day, I can pause and look out the window and see His creation. When I see the flicker of red in the trees, I can know that He has given me a gift. He is there. When the tension around me becomes overwhelming, I can stop and remember that He is the Prince of Peace. When I seek Him like this, I will find Him and that is the miracle in the mundane.


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Devotion to Prayer

"Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving." Colossians 4:2

Prayer has never come naturally to me. I have always felt awkward in prayer for some reason. Over the past year, I have finally come to the conclusion that in all my years as a Christian, I have never really learned how to communicate with God properly. Not that I haven't made valiant efforts. I have had beautiful prayer journals. Sections for specific days and topics. I have written out my prayers (I still believe that helps me concentrate). I've used all the acronyms and prayer plans. But in the end, I look at it all and think, "If one of my friends communicated with me this way, I would toss them out the door." Some days I feel all I do is bring my wish list to God - admirable though it may be - and ask and ask and ask. For now, I'm done with asking.

Color me ecstatic when I learned our little Bible study between online Bible studies was going to be on prayer!

The verse at the top of the post from Colossians is one of our focal verses this week. It is the end of Paul's letter to the church at Colossi and he is asking for prayer for himself and for the word of God to go out.I can't say that verse two had ever jumped out at me before, but this time I saw with fresh eyes.

Devote. Dictionary.com says this means to concentrate on a particular pursuit, occupation, purpose, cause; to set apart or dedicate by a solemn or formal act; consecrate. The Amplified Bible reads like this, "Be diligent and unwearied and steadfast in your prayer (life)...". The Message says, "Pray diligently..."

My prayer life has to be intentional. I have to concentrate on it. While sending up short prayers during the day are necessary and good, I can't rely on that totally. I have to consecrate or dedicate myself to this act of communion with God. Like Mary in yesterday's post, I have to sit and listen. I can't just run in with a list of wants. I have to set apart a time and a place to have a conversation - talking AND listening. Preferably, more of the latter.

Stay alert. Alert is also defined as being "fully aware and attentive'. Once I dedicate myself to this pursuit of deeper prayer, I can't go about it haphazardly. I can't have the television on at the same time I'm talking to God. I can't be keeping one eye on the internet. I need to go into my closet and pray. (Matt 6:6) I must be fully aware and attentive, sitting at his feet, listening in order to hear what he has to speak into my life.

One word that caught my attention from the Amplified Bible was "unwearied". The thought of being weary in prayer resonated. Possibly because my prayers had become so much requesting and I seemed to receive so few answers, that I just got tired of trying. Beginning now, I am starting over. Getting back to basics, so to speak and learning all over again. My main goal is not to see tangible results, but to know him better. Then if  I remain in him and to have his words remain in me whatever I want will be done for me because it will be what he wants too. (John 15:7)