Keeping Secrets: Living for the pleasure of God not Man

Matthew 6:5 And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

What is just between God and I? Developing the sacred, in a world where it modeled day in and day out that everything is lived out in the open, can be difficult. I’m not sure that the Kardashians have much that isn’t public. Because of Jonathan’s death, I am getting the opportunity to share my faith a bit more publically. But, to truly value God and our relationship with him, there must be things that are shared only with him.

So why should I develop the sacred, even as I am being transparent with you as I walk through grief?

1. Am I looking to please God or man? (vs.1)
2. Where do I want my reward to come from? (vs. 6)
3. The enemy is unable to penetrate this bond! (Lord’s Prayer)

When the enemy comes to attack us, and he will, we stand firm because there is nothing that separates us from God’s love! When Satan offers earthly rewards they will seem like nothing, when he offers me food I can say the food I eat is to do the will of my father. When the enemy tries to stir up unforgiveness, I can state that I forgive because I am forgiven! I declare to you that is possible to know the will of the Father, just as Jesus did. Jesus was spelling it out in chapter 6 to us.

Pray like God’s voice and his will are the only that matters. Serve others like they are Christ before you. And know that heavenly treasures are far better than anything we could be given on earth. We develop a relationship with God in secret so that our focus is on him, and that he is a source, not man.

Just The Right Words: Learning to Tame the Tongue

Turn the Page: James 3:7All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

9With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.

Have you ever had guests come to the door and greeted them with the most pleasant of words when moments earlier you were screaming at your kids? Or gossiping with a neighbor about someone that you don’t like and when the person shows up you are suddenly so happy to see them?

I confess to you that I have had these moments. I don’t like this sinful part of me! Scripture calls the tongue a rudder, directing the rest of our body. And Paul declares that I can’t tame it! “It is a restless evil filled with deadly poison.” (vs. 8) So what hope is there for us if we cannot tame our tongues?

Paul states: 17But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

Just like the disciples went from using their tongue unwisely to using them for good, we can become wise with our tongues. The disciples spent three years hanging out with the God of the universe who chose to limit himself to be with us! What flowed out of the heart of Jesus was what Paul is describing in verse 17 and 18. “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. (Luke 6:45) Controlling the tongue does not mean that you have to stop talking; it simply means that your tongue is directed by your Christ developing character. Wisdom is gained by focusing on what is pure, loving peace, being considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. So at this moment I take inventory of what is in my heart and I spend time with Jesus allowing him to fill me up with his love, grace, and mercy. Only Christ can tame our tongues by filling our hearts with his love for humanity.

Heaven: Keeping my eyes fixed on the finish line

2 Corinthians 5:1 For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens

Today I have to attend the funeral of my great aunt. Knowing that her death was coming soon, I declared that I could not stand to lose one more person in my life right now. But loss comes no matter what we declare. We cannot hold so tightly to anyone that we forget that our days are numbered. We have to love deeply, care deeply, but hold onto relationships with our hands open.

My cousin is celebrating that his mother is with Jesus! He reminded me to long for heaven more than I long for earth. How do we grow to the place where we engage our earthly life to the fullest and yet yearn for heaven at the same time? I have been close to friends who have accomplished this. I can see clearly that they walk this earth with one foot already in heaven.

As my friend faced cancer, yet again, she shared her struggle with seeing God for a moment and feeling his presence with her. She could not face the cancer again without knowing that her best friend Jesus was by her side. As we studied scripture she found comfort and his close presence was restored.

Do you and I love God so much, live in obedience to him, and are so familiar with heaven that we find ourselves longing to be released from the confines of sin? To go home. Scriptures say that we are foreigners here when we become princes and princesses of his kingdom. He adopts us! Just saying those words stirs my longing.

I want to live this life to the fullest! Every person that I have observed, through scripture and in my life who have accomplished living as Christ have had their eyes fixed on heaven. It is the finish line! They have served, given to others, forgiven deep transgressions, built up others with the goal of heaven in mind. My eyes have not yet been fully trained, disciplined to keep my eyes on Jesus. Jesus endured the cross because he had his eyes fixed on heaven!

Lord, grow me to this point that my longing to be with you, trumps and motivates everything that I do in my earthly body. Amen!

Escaping Depression: Finding peace in nature

Matthew 14:13 Now when Jesus heard about John, He withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place by Himself. . .

I have had two experiences in the woods since my son’s death and they both have lifted my spirits. How many times do I stay cooped up in the midst of depression expecting the walls to suddenly stop closing in on me?

Nature is never walled in. It is wild and open and filled to the brim with stories of our maker. Jesus regularly retreated to refresh and spend time talking to God; he invited his disciples to do the same. The crowds were pressing in. Many times it is in exiting the confines of our daily rush hour and noise that we remember to listen and find contentment in God’s provision. I have lived in city areas most of my life, but the country hillsides of my birth have always drawn me into quietness. I love the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains! They are old and wise. They remind me of the paths I have already traveled, and question where I am going. They celebrate who I am and whose I am. These hills teach me that valleys are where most of my growth occurs. They teach me discipline, to listen better, and to breath deeply.

Do you have a place in nature that you are able to draw away to and find peace in the stillness?

Remembering My Son: Because he lived I am changed

John 16:20-24 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. 21When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. 23In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

Today our church celebrated All Saint’s Day by remembering our loved ones who have passed away this year. I have stood in remembrance for friends, but this year friends stood for my loss. Throughout the morning we were surrounded by hugs, tears, and love. While my husband and I sobbed we were not isolated in our grief. We knew that today would be hard, but no matter how much you brace yourself for the emotions you know are coming, grief is exhausting.

So how do I keep this moment from just being another day the band-aid is ripped off my healing heart? I take in a deep breath as I type this post and truly, deeply, remember my son. Because Jonathan lived I fell in love with Christ, and became a stronger person. Because he lived I returned to school. Because he lived I took better risks. Because he lived I found love I never knew existed. Because he lived I gave friendships a chance to blossom. Because he lived I took a chance again on dating and found my soul mate. Because Jonathan lived I write to help others. Because my son lived I ride rollercoasters! Because my son needed protection, I am learning to boldly advocate for those who have no voice. Because Jonathan laughed I laugh more deeply, and because he wrote, my writing became deeper.

Because my son lost sight of hope, I cling to it, nurture the hope in my heart and allow God at those places that I never have before. Because Jonathan has lived I want other teens to know their value. Because Jonathan suffered, I advocate for others who suffer illness. Jesus told us that we would have grief and loss, but because Jesus was with us, we are able to do amazing things! So, because Jonathan my beloved son lived, I take in another breath . . .and keep turning my page!

Guided by the Comforter: Learning to listen to God’s voice

Acts 4:31And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.

Daniel wanted Jonathan to be a part of Halloween. So we took the huge poster that the funeral home created and stuck it in the window with a talk bubble. I had to smile at Daniel’s insistence, and that my spirit so readily agreed to it. I’ve had more of those moments this week. A calmness has infused my being that certainly wasn’t there a week ago. I have no illusion that I am no where near the end of grieving, but what is happening is that I am having more and more moments of genuine joy. It was a pleasure to take the kids trick or treating.

Even though the disciples had Jesus back for forty days, they still had to grieve the loss of their friend after he ascended to heaven. But boy the difference in how they grieved. They went from locking themselves in a room and hiding away to praying together, celebrating the resurrection and waiting for the comforter (the Holy Spirit) to come. They didn’t have to wait long before things began moving and shaking. The Comforter had arrived!

In my previous posts I have mentioned that I am allowing the Holy Spirit to lead me. This isn’t rocket science, but it also isn’t simple either. Just like the disciples we need to spend time with Jesus, get to know his voice, his character, and his love for humanity. Otherwise, we will may find ourselves being guided by our own selfish desires or the voices of others who do not have our best interests in mind. These voices will always lead us away from God. I love the song of Voice of Truth by Casting Crowns, it describes the struggle we have with knowing the Shepherd’s voice. Since I was a little girl I’ve had a lot of voices in my head (don’t laugh, unless you’re my siblings) and the loudest was my overpowering, obnoxious critic. Nothing I did or ever could do was good enough. It got to the point that I stopped trying and quit a lot of things I actually enjoyed.

A couple of year ago I really began asking, ‘How do I know God’s voice?’ My question sprung from John 10:27 Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” I began discerning what the Holy Spirit sounded like and practicing stepping out in faith and acting upon that voice’s direction. Amazing things began to happen, and a power that I had never been able to tap into began surging through my spirit. Following the direction of the Holy Spirit takes practice and a solid knowledge of the other parts of the Trinity. I’m still learning and growing in this area, but since Jonathan’s death, the fear that had once held me back from trusting the Holy Spirit’s direction and acting on it is getting kicked out.

I had a bit of fear when I approached a complete stranger on the prompting of the Lord. I held back, but the urging became even stronger, and she kept looking at the books I had on the table as she waited for her coffee. I felt awkward, but managed to introduce myself and a new connection was born, very much in line with the previous connections that God has been forming since Jonathan’s death.

Here is the criteria that I follow:
1. The voice of the Holy Spirit will never contradict the other parts of the Trinity (revealed in scripture).
2. I will never have to rush in, or be impulsive, the Lord is not limited by time.
3. The Holy Spirit will always be affirmed. (Example: The woman at the coffee shop thought that we might be in the same field)
4. Pray and be open each day.
5. The Holy Spirit always has humanity’s best in mind. He will strengthen us and bring the resources for us to help others.

Offering Hope to the Hopeless

Turn the Page:

Mark 5:5-7 Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones. 6Seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him; 7and shouting with a loud voice, he said, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!”…

For the first time the Lord gave me the verse rather than the concept or image for Turn the Page. ‘Mark 5:6’, the Holy Spirit directed. Why this verse Lord? When I opened to the passage, I gasped. This poor demon possessed man is tortured and hopeless! If you and I saw him today, more than likely we, would be scared and avoid him. He might be medicated and institutionalized. Heal him?? Impossible! But, that is exactly what Jesus did! He drew close enough for the demons to recognize that he is “Jesus, Son of the Most High.” They also know that he has the power to destroy them.

Hopeless is a word I’ve heard a lot more clearly as I walk through my daily encounters with people. Many of us have or are currently feeling hopeless about our circumstances, our loss, our desires for a better life, our families, our friends. If you are a believer in Christ, guess what. We have the very same power that Jesus had. Miracles still happen today! When our enemy Satan, and him minions see a Christian coming their way do they tremble in fear? They should if we take the authority, passed to us through Jesus!

More than anything else, I am starting to wake up every day and see that the world needs hope, and I can offer it! Hope for deliverance, hope out of depression, hope for our marriages, hope to live our lives to the fullest measure! Jesus came that we can have life and have it abundantly. There are so many like this man, left to wander life tortured and miserable. I hit so many obstacles in trying to get Jonathan the help that he needed. Jesus broke the cycle of apathy and gave us the opportunity to offer hope. Let’s offer it boldly!

How do I restore Hope?
Hope for the Hopeless

Building Connections: Placing ourselvers where the action is!

Mark 5:28For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.”

Once again the coffee shop has proven to be a place of connection. I go there once a week to make myself available to anyone who needs to talk to or pray. I’m not normally there on Wednesdays, but had to switch days. A friend met me and as we talked and prayed the woman behind us was listening. We got up to leave, but our booth neighbor stopped us and asked for help with her own family situation. We prayed with her and exchanged contact information.

Are we putting ourselves in places where synchronicity can happen? Synchronicity, is defined as: the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection. I define it as those moments when we make ourselves available to the will of God and all of heaven moves to meet us! Since Jonathan’s death I have had many of these synchronicity moments. There has been a consistent theme in my life of children’s homes, horse therapy and counseling training. I do not know what God has in store for all of these connections, but he most certainly is bringing the outline of my path into clearer focus and brought heavenly resources to me.

Jesus put himself smack dab in the middle of the action! He was at the docks where the fishermen were casting their nets, he was in the village square where the Samaritan woman drew from her well at an unusual time of the day. He was in the garden, where God himself met with him through prayer. He was in the Jewish temples where the teaching occurred. He was at the parties, at the tables, and available in the middle of the needs of the people. He moved ever closer to Jerusalem as he ministered, ever closer to his death, and ever closer to providing for the entire world its need for forgiveness and hope.

Maybe synchronicity is occurring because I refuse to let fear stop me. Or, maybe it is because my mission is to offer hope, and turn around the suicide rate. Whatever God’s purpose, I am hopeful and in awe of his storehouse of resources! Jonathan loved the movie A-Team. Hannibal, the leader of the team says, “Love it when a plans coming together!” Even though all of the events seem random and impossible.

When we make ourselves available to God’s plan, he’ll move all heaven to equip you! No, you may not be trying to drive a tank in the sky, like the A-Team, but you may walk on water!

Questions and Doubts

Luke 7:20 And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’”

Yesterday was a particularly rough day for Daniel at home and at school. As we began trying to dig past the bad behaviors to what was going on in his heart Daniel started blurting out a series of doubts and deep questions. The same questions and doubts I still struggle with. If Jesus took all our sins away why do we still sin? If I love Jesus why can’t I seem to do good? If you and the adults in my life love me, why do you punish me. If Jesus loved Jonathan, why did Jonathan die? He concluded, “It would be easier to obey, if Jesus was here and I could see him.”

John who had been preparing the way for Jesus to come asked “Are you the one, or should we expect someone else?” He’s sitting in prison, awaiting execution because the wife of Herod wants John dead. It would be a natural question for someone who has spent his entire life preparing for Jesus. At its core, if I obey God, why am I facing death?

Many of us have these very same questions. We wonder why do bad things continue to plague us, we wonder if God and those around us really love us. If you struggle with depression, you wonder why living is so hard. I struggle every day with why Jonathan took his own life. I see it as so preventable and sometimes I too am overwhelmed by my questions and doubts. So what hope is there when we have so many doubts and questions?

Luke21-3 In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. 22And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. 23And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” John the Baptist, took that hope and did not give in to his doubts as he faced death. Even if that path leads through dark places like Jonathan’s death, I still see him laying a foundation for me to offer healing and hope to others who are grieving. Am I going to be offended by who Jesus is? He is patient with my questions and doubts. Do not lose heart Daniel, do not lose heart dear reader!

What the Woods Teach Me

Turn the Page:
Matthew 6:27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?

My writing retreat was yesterday. Problem is, when I attempted to start my computer all I had was a blank screen. Now what? I pulled out my notebook to write and managed a page, but then crickets. Has it seriously been that long since I’ve written on paper that I have forgotten how?

I decided to take a walk in the unusual October warmth and read scripture as I walked. The retreat center has a twelve step prayer walk, so I decided to head into the woods and walk the path.

My brother, sister, and I spent a lot of time in the woods at my grandparents home. The sweet fragrance of Fall as I crunched through the leaves beneath my feet and the breeze through the trees took me back to childhood. The woods were a place of stillness for me. I was aware of the sounds around me, but time, well that was another matter. Time only existed as the sun began to set.

Now as an adult the woods have a calming effect. All of the anxiousness that I was feeling as I began my day, slipped away in the perfect provision of Christ. The deer I heard off to my right is provided for. The soil is replenished with the leaves the tree gives up. Seeds are planted to hide away during winter and wait for their reveal in Spring. The breeze prunes the dead branches and I stood at each prayer station aware of God’s provision for me.

God has a storehouse ready to supply my daily needs. He replenishes my soul, and he prunes the dead parts of my life. He sits with me in the woods and teaches me to just be.

Lashing out in Anger

Things are a bit raw between my husband and I right now. When struggling with grief it can get easier to slip back into old habits or lash out at those you love. So how in the world do we keep perspective in our hurt and anger, and remember that the other person is in grief and process too? Here are some verses that may help:

Proverbs 16:32
He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that rules his spirit than he that takes a city.

Ephesians 4:25-31 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and give no opportunity to the devil. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.

Ephesians 4:1-3 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

If we have unity of the Spirit then when we hurt others in that unit we also are hurting ourselves. In the military a unit fights as one. If there is strife, and anger towards one another then your guard is down to the real enemy.

Brian and I learned early in our marriage that as long as we looked at each other as the enemy that we would get no where. But, as we began allowing Christ to be the center of our lives and marriage we began to become a unit, placing the problems outside of each other and crushing the devil’s schemes together.

Thank you Lord for giving me these verses to calm my wounded soul and give me a renewed focus on who I am fighting. The devil wants to crush both Brian and I. Give me the strength to guard his heart and mind as he heals from the wounds of losing Jonathan. Keep my tongue from coming into agreement with the devil. Amen

Bless this Property

2 Corinthians 4:16
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

My family fasts from electronics on Sunday morning. Trust me, this is no small feet with a 7 1/2 year old who seems to have come out of the womb with a love for electronics. So you will often get my Sunday post, Saturday evenings or Sunday afternoons.

My family just returned from a property blessing. First one that we have ever been to. Our friends are purchasing 55 acres to turn into a working horse farm for those with both mental and physical handicaps. The whole ceremony was amazing, but I was especially struck by what the father, who was given the vision, shared about the former owners. Both previous owners had experienced deep loss and pain on the property. He didn’t want to just look to the future of the property, he wanted to understand its past and invite healing to the land and its owners.

Sometimes we cannot help the pain we inherit in the land sewn by our families. We are passed pain filled property and it may seem impossible for anything to grow. We have to acknowledge the pain and allow God to make the soil fertile for a new harvest.

At moments it is hard to see how God can bring anything fruitful out of my son’s suicide. But, many of the pages I turn make it clear that though I outwardly grieve, God is preparing the soil of my heart to plant new seeds. He cares about my pain and is blessing my life.