Mysterious Letter

When I gave my life to Christ, I experienced rebirth, a new joy, and contentment I had never known. However, just as scripture promises, God began to refine me in fire. (1 Peter 4: 12:19) In a slow, loving, relentless burn, The Lord began to rest His finger on dark areas in my heart. I prayed, “Lord, make me like you.” He answered by illuminating sinful areas, and I was changed and sanctified. Holy is His Name.

One dark heart area was a love of money and material things. My husband, Jason, and I had made poor financial choices out of both ignorance and selfishness (wanting to live beyond our means). God was displeased by my material focus. So, in the span of a year, I lost my teaching job when my school rifted every employee that had been with the district three years or less, I foreclosed on a house, my car was repossessed, and I declared bankruptcy. All my “stuff” was burned away so the Lord could show me this: I could not serve God and the world at the same time.

After this season of purging, I could honestly say that material things meant nothing. The lesson stuck because they still mean squat. Jesus was and is all I need!

Another area that God began to work on was my marriage. I could write a whole novel about this subject, but for now I’ll just focus on the fact that I went into marriage with a totally wrong attitude. I foolishly believed the lies of culture and bought the idea that a husband would make me happy. When the lovey-dovey butterflies flew away and the daily grind hit, I was too spoiled to want to do the work true intimacy requires and put Jason first.

I was also unequally yoked. Again, I will write more about this later to hopefully encourage those out there living this reality. Life as a mid-twenties married Jesus girl whose husband wasn’t remotely interested in the things of God was tough. The hardest part of being unequally yoked was not being understood. Jason was supposed to be my best friend. Instead, there were many days I felt like he looked at me with a puzzled expression as if I were an alien. I do not want to dishonor Jason. He was always supportive and never once tried to hinder my walk with Christ (God knew what I could handle). His apathy, however, was agonizing.

During this time, I was also a mother of two children under six-years-old. God says that women are saved by childbearing (1 Timothy 2:15). When women nurture, we pour our lives into another human so that they can flourish and grow. As I loved my kids, I began to understand true love. It’s selfless. It’s raw. The act of loving can be exhausting. God’s fire burned hot and bright as I parented my children. I discovered, to my dismay, that I had a temper! I was not a naturally patient person. Worse, some days I didn’t want to be a mother! I wanted to have my weekends free to do whatever it was that my will desired. However, day after day, as I loved and served my family despite my selfish desires and wishes, the light inside me grew brighter and dark spots were swallowed up by God’s glory.

It was through these and many other trials that Father made me more like His Son. Some days I felt strong in battle. However, there were many days I felt overwhelmed and weary. Instead of running the faith race with purpose and joy, I wanted to sit down on the curb in defeat.

There was one day in particular in this season that I was completely spent. In typical dramatic Julie fashion, I sat under my kitchen table sobbing. I was literally like a child wanting to hide from the scary world outside. Pain laced through my heart. How could I continue in my marriage when I didn’t felt loved or understood? Why did God have to take my car too? Noah wouldn’t sleep through the night and I was exhausted. How would I sit through my son’s cries at 3 AM another night? “Oh, Father, I can’t go on!” I silently cried. “I just cannot go on!”

Eventually I crawled out from under the table… probably to go hide under my covers in my bed. I know I called in sick at work that day because I couldn’t face a classroom of alternative students (many of my kids had probation officers, had no real parent at home, and were always high maintenance). All my reserves had been exhausted, and I needed God to intervene.

The next day, I drove to work on a sunny morning. I watched a happy sunrise with sarcasm and brooded over the fact that the day did not reflect my mood. I knew in a few minutes I would have put a smile on my face and be present and available to students who were needier than my own children. “How am I going to make it through this day, Lord?” I wondered.

When I sat down at my desk, I opened a green planner to read the notes the sub had left the day before. To my complete shock, a stranger had written a letter. It had absolutely nothing to do with lesson plans or my students’ behavior.

As I read my substitute’s words, the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. She acknowledged that Jesus knew my life was overwhelming. She encouraged me to continue on in my marriage, and promised that God would use my husband and I for His glory. She compared us to two different fruits. Jesus had put us in a blender. She said, “The blending of the two fruits would be loud and fast. Afterwards, you, as one, will be offered as a pleasing drink.”

I was speechless. All I could think was, “!!!

The last line of her letter read: “God sees and loves your #worship.” How… did… she… know? The simple sentence caused me to weep.

What this beautiful stranger didn’t know but the Holy Spirit did was that I spent hours a day praising God. I danced, sang, and loved Jesus passionately as a bride adores a groom. Christ had captivated my heart and I adored Him. Many days I walked into work with water stains on my top because of all grateful tears I had shed during the commute. After awhile, my daughter stopped asking, “What’s wrong, Mommy?” when she saw my puffy swollen eyes. She knew my tears were for Jesus.

The fact that Christ saw my worship and loved me back was enough to keep me going. The letter’s last line alone filled my tank for weeks. No… that’s wrong. Years.

The words about my marriage I didn’t fully understand. I did know that I should and could hang on to my vows. God had made a great promise in this letter, but it required me be strong and ignore my flesh when it told me to run. “Oh Jesus, I can do that. For You, Lord, I can do that!”

I wanted to call and thank the woman who had been there to sub for me the day before. I wanted to tell this prophet of God how much her obedience in writing had meant. I knew that in order to hear the Lord as she obviously did, it took great personal sacrifice and prayer. I frantically called my district’s sub office to get her name, email, number… anything! There was no record of her. No one knew anything about her! My coworkers had never seen her before, and she never came back to sub at my school again.

I don’t know why I didn’t save the letter. I could kick myself for not saving it. If I still had it, I would frame it. What this servant of God did in writing those words was to encourage a sister in Christ who was failing.

The letter also taught me an undeniable truth: that Jesus is El Roi- God Who sees (Genesis 16:13). Christ knew exactly where I was spiritually. He saw that I was hurting and weak. God did not leave me that way, because I am His daughter! Jesus sent His servant, a complete stranger, to both give me a day off of work and write words that still encourage me to this day.

Oh Lord God, you are so merciful and loving. I pray that those that read this story, will also know You, El Roi. We all crave to be known and understood. You, Jesus, SEE! You know us better than we know ourselves, and Your love shines and strengthens all.

All glory and honor to His Name.

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Fire

My move towards Jesus didn’t happen over night. Surrender was a slow progression over many months. God called out to me through songs, His people, and in a quiet but ever present pull. Eventually, as I began to read His word at first sporadically and then night after night, the Truth became too bright to ignore. After a small uneventful confession of both my sins and Jesus’s Lordship one day (and to be truthful, I don’t even remember a specific day that I prayed that fateful prayer of faith), I really began to seek out God’s will for my life.

When I read Scripture in those early days around my twenty-third year, the pages seemed to be alive. I would weep with deep gratitude at God’s love. I would shout with happiness at His forgiveness. I imagined myself walking in sandals next to Jesus listening to the Master speak as I poured over the red words. One night after reading the book of James for the first time, I was so convicted that I wouldn’t touch those chapters again for months. Gratitude poured out of me like an overflowing cup. One summer evening in the back yard I danced for Christ in the darkness, and Jesus sent shooting stars to light up the sky to say, “I love you too, Julie”! Oh there was so much joy in the spring season of my walk.

I discovered that the #Bible was not a dusty old book. His Word was ALIVE! I also found that I had developed some false thinking and misconceptions in my many years going to Sunday school. The thing that stuck out the most was that the God described in Scripture was powerful and that the church I knew looked nothing like the early days in Acts. I was so in awe of God’s might that praying was difficult, not because I was fearful of sounding silly, but because I knew I was speaking to the awesome omnipotent Creator of everything. When I approached the throne, I knew I was speaking to Jesus: Victor, Champion, Healer, Restorer, Author of Life, The One True God! I trembled at His authority.

But even while I trembled, I ached to experience Jesus in all His fullness. So, although I was only a little child, I began to take tiny baby steps in faith. Many days movement forward looked like this: “Oh, Jesus, I love you. Show me how You love me today.” I quickly discovered that my prayers were answered. Often times the answers left my mouth on the floor.

One morning I began reading the Book of Acts and about the Upper Room:

Acts 2:2-4 “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”

As I read those words, I thought, “I need the Spirit too, and Jesus promised that He would send The Helper!” (John 14:16) Later that day, I was in the shower again thinking about these verses. As I lathered my hair with shampoo, I prayed (I pray a lot in the shower!), “Lord, please give me the gift of the Holy Spirit like You did for Your followers in the Upper Room.” I paused a beat as the water poured down, waiting for something mysterious or miraculous to happen. Nothing did. So, I just accepted that God had heard my simple prayer of faith and answered because my request was according to the promises in His Word.

Something miraculous would happen a couple weeks later.

I was dead asleep one night when suddenly my “spirit” became aware of a Presence in my bedroom. Although my physical body was unconscious, my inner man was awoken. I wish I could describe the experience better, but words fail. One moment I was lying on my tummy sleeping, and then suddenly I was awake. More awake than I had ever been in my life. I felt two hands rest softly on my back. When they did, I felt a surge of energy and heat burst out from my middle to my extremities. I tingled with electricity everywhere. I obviously wanted to see who was in the room, so I rolled over and looked up. What I saw was the single most amazing, indescribable, life changing sight I have ever seen. A Being hovered above me, near the ceiling. Again, there are no words. The Spirit looked like an Angel on FIRE. The eyes were absolutely holy, and absolutely terrifying. I knew I was in the presence of power. As soon as my spiritual eyes saw the Spirit, I instantly jerked to fully physically conscious. I was still lying on my stomach. However, the energy that had been imparted was still coursing through me. I lay panting, but very still. I was too scared to move a muscle for many minutes.

Finally I got enough courage to look over at my husband sleeping beside me. Had he noticed anything? Nope… he was still sleeping soundly. “How could he not have noticed!?” I thought. After a long time, I bravely turned over to my back to sheepishly gaze up at the ceiling where I had seen the fiery Being. Of course I could not see Him with my physical eyes. I knew He was there, though, living inside me. The Spirit had been given as a down payment on my soul. I would never be alone again (2 Corinthians 1:22).

I am retelling this event more than a decade later, but the image is still burned into my memory. I was a life forever changed. My walk with Jesus took on new power after that night. I was filled with faith. I also believe that God gave me spiritual gifts that day- one of which would be the gift of discernment (1 Corinthians 14:1). Occasionally the Lord has pulled back the curtain allowing me to see into the spirit realm in dreams as He did that first day.

Father God is so generous, holding nothing back from His children (Luke 11:11-13). He wants to hear from us! We should pray simply, with faith and always within His will (Matthew 7:7). We have not because we ask not (James 4:3).

I would challenge you, beloved, to approach the throne of Grace boldly, and to ask for His Spirit to fill and lead you this and every day (Hebrews 4:16). Amen.

The Beginning

I suppose the best way to start my blog about miracles is to begin with the the most impactful miracles I have witnessed: my adoptions!  Twice in my life I have been invited into another family and given a new name. I was spiritually adopted when Abba Father called me His daughter in my early twenties. I will write about that wonderful day in my next story. However, today I will expound upon my first earthly adoption and explain how it forshadowed the second.

I’m two years old.  It’s the middle of the night and I wake up cold and in need of another blanket.  I sit up in my crib and look around a big dark room.  Other cribs are situated around the perimeter of the room – each one containing another sleeping child.  I strain to see in the dark.  Where is my twin brother?  I cannot find him here.  I have no mom.  I have no dad.  It would be pointless to cry… no one would answer me.  After a few seconds, I lay back down, pull my knees to my chest, and fall back into a fitful sleep.

 This is a snapshot of my story.  But let me back up a few years to explain.  See, I was born into a tumultuous family.  My biological father met my biological mother in high school.  After many years of dating, affairs, and on again off again relationship, they finally got married.  After only a few months, the couple was pregnant with a baby girl named Candy Rose.  About a year or so later, the couple had twins- Scott and me.  One day at a family outing full of strollers and amusement park rides, it became obvious that Candy Rose was sick.  A trip to the doctor followed.  Then radiation.  Then chemotherapy.  After months of struggle, Candy died of leukemia at Riley Hospital For Children.  She was only three years old.  After the loss of her daughter, my biological mother went AWOL.  I don’t know if this is because of the immense grief she was experiencing.  I don’t know if she took off for another man- because I do know there were many men in her life.  Maybe it was both of these reasons.  But what I do know is that she abandoned her husband, my brother, and me.  My biological father, having lost his job after spending so much time at the hospital caring for my sister, was unable to cope.  He’d lost his daughter, his wife, and he did not have the financial or emotional reserves that were required to take care of toddler twins.  So, one sunny day that is permanently etched into my memory, Scott and I were dropped off at a children’s home for orphaned kids.  The children’s home was a lonely place, especially in the middle of the night when you are cold and in need of a mother.

 Fast forward a few months.  I’m out of the children’s home.  Things are a bit better.  Scott and I have been placed in our first foster home.  An elderly preacher and his wife take care of Scott and me.  I remember the sanctuary of their church.  I remember the Easter Bunny and ice cream.  I remember playing outside with Scott- and being terrified when Scott was stung by a bee.  But most of all, what I remember from this time is Jesus and His love.  It was during this time at this Godly home that I heard the Name of Jesus for the first time.  I was only three years old.  Sadly, things didn’t stay better for long.

 Another snapshot.  Scott and I are four.  You see, the state doesn’t like foster children to stay too long in one home because they don’t want the kids to become too attached to the foster parents.  So we move to another foster home.  It is a tiny house in a small town Indiana full of other orphaned children.  Sandy, my foster mother, is screaming at one of my foster brothers named Mikie.  Mikie is just six-years-old.  Sandy has a 2X4 in her hand and all of us kids are shaking with fear because of her unbridled anger. 

 Another snapshot.  Again I’m five.  I’m in a bedroom.  Lisa, my fourteen-year-old foster sister, clearly in pain herself, closes the bedroom door and locks it.  I beg her “not again”.  She makes me promise not to tell.  Once again, another piece of my innocence is robbed.

 A final picture.  A big white and red Chevy van picks my brother and me up.  God has granted us parents.  Not biological parents.  Parents born in love and grace.  We have been adopted.  We have a family.

 It’s hard to sum up the first five years of my life in a few minutes.  The experiences of that time permanently shaped my life.  For instance, one of my first requests in my new family was to attend church.  I wanted to know more about Jesus.  And I hadn’t heard His Name spoken in years- I had only been three years old when the good preacher and his wife taught me about Him.  There is something about that Name.     

 But of course- the residue from my early years wasn’t all good.  Having been robbed of my innocence and having fears of being alone, I spent my teen years chasing and clinging to boys.  I didn’t feel whole unless I was in a relationship.  I ran away from God and His goodness in exchange for things that can never truly satisfy.  Maybe you have done that too.  Maybe you’ve chased girls.  Drugs.  Material things.  Power or control.  These things will never truly satisfy, but instead they leave you searching for more or at worst leave you empty and completely out of control.

 I was a liar.  You could not believe a word out of my mouth.  During the years in foster care, lying became a habit.  I lied in my mind to escape the reality that I faced daily.  

I lied to get out of trouble.  I lied to get attention.  Stories I told had to leave the listener captivated… so I’d add a little “innocent” extra detail here and there to make my stories more interesting.  Maybe you have done that too.

 Some of my rebellion against God was purely my sinfulness.  I wanted to run this show.  I wanted to direct the course of my life.  I … I … I.  Whenever I made my own decisions regardless of the rules, wisdom, or sound advice, it usually didn’t work out so well for me in the end.  You see, sin has a season.  It’s fun, you feel in control, sometimes you get what you want.  But then… oh but then. The Bible says that “there is a way that seems right to man.  But in the end it leads to destruction.” 

 One day, September 11, 2001, I suddenly realized I was on this very road to destruction.  After living my life for myself for the majority of my twenty-one years, I had married a man that I didn’t really know (under two months of dating before the courthouse), I had dropped out of college, and I had alienated my brother and my parents because of hurtful choices I had made while directing my life.  

 As the terrible horrors of 911 flashed across the screen, words like terrorist and hijackers flooded the airwaves.  All day as I watched the events unfold, I looked down at my baby girl and then back up at the screen.  It suddenly dawned on me that my child’s destiny literally lay in my hands.  I thought, “How does one go from an innocent baby to a terrorist willing to kill thousands of people?”  I saw for the first time how powerful my position as a parent was!  My beautiful innocent six-week-old daughter needed a real mother- not someone who lived a life for herself.  Surely parents are a child’s first line of defense against evil.  On that day and over the next few months, it slowly began to dawn on me that I had a responsibility to my daughter’s soul- her eternity!  But how could I protect her and show her the good way if I continued living a life for myself?  I was humbled by this realization.  I had to fight for her!  For those of you who don’t have a mom or a dad fighting for you, I have good news.  There is a Father in Heaven who fought and continues to fight for you and your eternity.  He fought so hard that He was willing to send His only Son to die so that you would be able to be free from evil and free from a life lived on the path of destruction.

 Something else hit home on that day.  Almost every great story has a good guy v. a bad guy.  Superman v. Lex Luther.  Cinderella v. The Evil Step Mother.  William Wallace, or Braveheart v. a corrupt English empire.  This universal theme of good v. evil is so prevalent in our stories because I believe we are in a real battle between good v. evil!  On 911, I wondered how my story would go.  How would my daughter’s story end?  I had to pick a side!  I knew I wanted to be on the winning team- the good team.  And I also wanted to know the Captain of that team: His Name is Jesus Christ.  It was evil that caused me to be physically and emotionally abused as a child.  It was because of the selfish and sinful choices (evil choices) of my mother that my brother and I were abandoned.  Don’t worry, I have totally forgiven my biological mother.  But her sin, our own ability to make selfish evil choices, must be called what it is: sin.  911 showed us all just how low evil can stoop.  But, I also knew that September morning that good exists because just as I had seen and lived through the effects of evil, I too had tasted and seen the effects of the good in my life!  My brother and I were given a mom and a dad who were willing to take in and adopt two five-year-olds and love them as though they had come from their own bodies.  But I think this earthly adoption was just a foreshadowing, only a glimpse, into another adoption that I would experience in my life: when the Loving, All Knowing, All Powerful God of the Universe adopted me as His daughter.

And this good news of adoption continues now as I tell you something marvelous: you too can experience the loving embrace of a new family.  God wants to adopt you!  Once we are in God’s family, we are called God’s children- sons and daughters of the Most High.  Princes and Princesses in Christ the King’s Kingdom- no Evil Step Mothers allowed in Jesus’ house.  What does it mean to be God’s child?  It means that we are loved and embraced.  We are welcome to come into His kitchen, open the fridge, and get daily food to live on.  We are invited with open arms into a relationship with Our Abba Father, our Daddy!  WOW!  But guess what?  It gets even better. 

 Let’s look to an example on earth to fully understand what it means to be adopted by God the Father.   Most of us know that when a father dies on earth- all of his possessions are usually given to the father’s children.  The children are called “heirs” to the estate because they inherit everything that was the father’s.  Do you know that Bible says that we, God’s children, are heirs to the Father’s Eternal Kingdom- His “Estate”?  The Bible says that God’s children are co-heirs with Christ, the Son of God!  The moment we believe and trust in the Son Jesus, we partake in the divine nature of God because we are legally HEIRS to His Kingdom!  Look at the following astounding verse:

 Romans 8:17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

 Isn’t that amazing?  CO-HEIRS with JESUS- God’s Son- because you see, we are also God’s sons and daughters!  That’s why Jesus says to us that whatever you ask for in my Name according to God’s will, it will be given. (John 15:16) WOW!  BEING ADOPTED IS GOOD!  Here’s another earthly example to illustrate the point even further: when I was living at home, if I went to my dad and asked him to get me McDonald’s French fries even as late as 10 o’clock at night, guess what?  He did it!  Why?  Because my dad loved me!  How much more will our Father in heaven give us good gifts when we ask!

 The last part of that verse in Romans 8:18: “if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” sounds a little scary.  But let me “unpack” that a little so that maybe you’ll understand what Paul is saying. 

 At the beginning of this story, I shared details about a time in my life when I was alone in the middle of the night in a children’s home.  That scene always haunted me until one day Jesus showed me this verse:
Jeremiah 18: 1-4 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD : “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

 You see, I am clay on the Potter’s wheel.  The Potter is God.  I was marred in the Potter’s hands.  Marred means to disfigure or spoil.  So going back to that lonely moment in the crib- do you see that God was there?  Shaping me.  Molding me.  Always ALWAYS in HIS hands.  It wasn’t God who caused the pain of my early childhood- that was because of the poor choices and sinfulness of others.  Of my biological mother.  Of Sandy.  Of Lisa.  But, the pain I experienced wasn’t wasted.  I was being marred in God’s hands.  What happens in this verse after the clay is marred?  It says that the Lord “formed [me] into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.”  God, my Daddy, is shaping me into a pot that He can use for His purposes, will, and glory.  Because of my experiences, I am more compassionate.  I know what it’s like to feel alone.  I know what it’s like to feel forgotten.  Because He is remaking me, I reach out to tell others about the Good News of Jesus.  I love to tell people that they too can be forgiven and loved and welcomed into the Father’s House.  God does not forget us.  His eyes miss nothing- He numbers the hairs on our heads- that’s paying very close attention!  He sees all of us.  He knows our hurts.  He understands our pain- because He suffered as you and I have suffered.  Let’s read that verse in Romans again:

 Romans 8:18 “Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

 I suffered and was marred so I could be remade into another pot.  As this new pot, I share in His GLORY!  After the suffering, the pain, and the loneliness, God takes that pain and uses it to advance His kingdom.  That’s how we share in His glory!  We are adopted sons and daughters in His Kingdom.  There is NO better place to be than in the palm of His hand. 

John 14:27 Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”