Just Keep Swimming

Just-Keep-Swimming
You know those weird people that laugh at funerals? Yeah- that’s me. I have inappropriate reactions to stress. It gets worse than laughing at a funerals though. For example, several years ago, I was selected to serve as a juror in a murder trial. After two days of testimony, arguments, and deliberation, we, the jurors, entered the courtroom to deliver a verdict. As I walked towards my seat in the jury box, I could feel the stares from the friends and families of both the victim and the accused on both sides of the aisle. The tension was palpable. Suddenly, my eyes locked with those of the lead defense attorney. I could tell he was trying to “feel” me out- trying to gauge what decision the jury had reached based on my observable body language. Quickly I turned my gaze away and bit the inside of my cheeks to quell the nervous laughter trying to bubble out. I could actually hear Perry Mason music inside my head, and the whole thing seemed too utterly ridiculous to be real. But it was real.

Although my thoughts were jumbled that day, if I could have verbalized them, they would have gone something like this: “How can this be real? I live in world where lovers actually kill each other?! Someone wake me up from this nightmare, please!”

Often I’ve wondered why I am like this- why I laugh when I should be somber. I guess it’s easier to smile than it is to cry.

When I was four and living in a foster home, I used to stand at the top of the stairs each morning shivering in fear at the prospect of facing another day. Some days my teeth would chatter in terror as I gazed down at the stairway. I used to stand at the top of the stairs for many minutes most days silently willing my right foot to take the first step down. I don’t know how this happened in my four-year-old creative mind, but somehow the stairs became representative of the real enemy that was my loveless, hopeless life. I knew that if I descended the stairs to join the world below, I had to face another day. Thus, going down the stairs became a battle- a daily valley to be traversed. Sometimes, I would take two or three steps downward toward the reality awaiting me, but then I would chicken out and run back to my bunk bed to hide away under the covers for a few more minutes. One time I hid so long upstairs that it was after lunch before I was finally brave enough to come down. Nobody checked on me to see if I was okay in all that time. Such was the nature of my life.

To cope, I built invisible walls inside. Mostly, I detached entirely.

Later on after I was adopted, most who observed me would have called me a happy child. They would have been mostly right. I smiled easily and did well in school. However, the hurts inside were always there lying dormant, just waiting for the right set circumstances to make their appearance.

And appear they did. During my senior year in high school, I finally let someone in- a boy. I loved him so. He made me feel wild and beautiful. But also scared and vulnerable. I clung to him with all I had. When he suddenly moved mid-way through my senior year, my worst fears were realized. I lost him and then most of my mind for a few months. The pain and grief I experienced is not something I would wish on my worst enemy. I still carry the scars.

My mother took me to a therapist around this time. A middle aged professional doggedly asked me questions for an entire hour in a feeble attempt to get me to open up. I smiled mutely, brushed him off, or redirected the conversation throughout the appointment because I refused to let him see who I really was. I walked out of his office towards the elevators feeling smug. Julie 1, Counselor 0. Mom never took me back to that poor guy again.

Why am I writing all this depressed stuff? I hate doing it. I prefer the happy stuff, right? Walls are my MO.

Recently, I got an email from a friend. She is an extremely private person, so I’ll just call her Ann. Ann wrote to let me know that she has cancer and does not have long to live. When I read the news, every cell inside my body ceased moving. I stopped breathing. Then the walls that I work so hard to hold up crumbled. I laid down, hugged my pillow, and cried. Ann is one of the very few people I’ve managed to let in. She is a beautiful Christian lady, so I know I’ll see her in eternity. I also rejoice for her because she is going to meet our King Jesus soon. But… she’s my friend. She’s a guide and mentor. Ann is my lovely, beautiful, wise, quirky, insightful friend. Oh I’m going to miss her.

Grief. How could anyone put good in front of that word? It scrapes at your outsides. It rots your stomach. Brokenhearted isn’t the right word for grief, is it? How can the heart be broken when it is the organ that keeps you alive. Instead, acute grief feels like a vice grip around your heart. When grief is at its maximum intensity, a broken heart would be a mercy over the pain of a very real and pumping restricted heart. Grief is manic panic and sluggish sadness wrapped up into one ball of hell. I have worked my whole life to avoid it.

God won’t let me get away with that anymore. Grief is a part of the human experience. My Savior can attest to that.

I edit sermons for radio at home. Predictably, I began editing a sermon series in the book of Job after hearing Ann’s news. Job is not exactly joyous reading. Poor Job. When I read and heard the pastor describe just how much Job went through, I really had no idea how he was able to continue and remain faithful. He did though. I suppose that’s why we keep telling his story. 🙂

I am a good student of the Bible because of my memory. I can retain information fairly well. However, the Lord usually speaks directly to me with quick, simple bursts of truth. It only takes one or two sentences from an entire message to stick to my insides and change my life. I’ve been directed to travel great distances to hear one sentence in an entire message. One sentence is all it takes though. That is the power of the Word.

Do you what sentence changed me in this latest sermon series based in Job? (It is a little embarrassing because it is so cliche´.) It is this: Just keep going.

I’ve learned through Job’s story that grief is something that is universally experienced. Even when we feel alone in our pain, we are not. We live in a fallen world, and as such, we must grieve. We must cope.

What do we do when a wave of unrelenting grief comes crashing down on us? In those moments, we can only cry out to the Lord. This is a recent conversation I had with Jesus just two days ago when one such wave of grief threatened to drown me:

Me: “Lord, I just want to be where You are. I am tired of this pain. I want to be with You!”
Jesus: “I am with you.”
Me: “I know, but You are not right here WITH me. I miss You. How can I miss Someone I’ve never met in Person? But I do!”
Jesus: “I missed my Father too (when I was on earth).”
Me: Silent sobs.

Jesus was gently reminding me that there is no pain that I could ever experience that He has not already walked through. In fact, Christ willingly drank my grief just so He could hold my hand today.

“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3)

“For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

“The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” (Psalm 34:8)

Jesus is with me.

What I haven’t told you about Ann that I want to tell you now is that God gave me a gentle heads up about her health last summer. One day as I was writing her, the Lord gently whispered that the time with my friend was coming to an end soon. Immediately understanding what the Spirit was saying, I swallowed past the lump in my throat and continued to write. I never mentioned a word of what I heard to anyone, but tucked it away.

When I got Ann’s news, I was immediately comforted. The Lord had told me this was coming. He was with me. He would walk me through it. And somehow, because God is God, I knew I would look more like His Son when I made it past the wave. That’s the only way grief can be good.

I have no choice but to keep going. To descend the stairs and join the real world. To silence the Perry Mason music and face harsh reality. If brother Job could do it, I can do it. I can do it because Christ is with me.

Just keep swimming. Seems like Dory was on to something.

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Love is a Battlefield

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On Black Friday, my children, husband and I sat underneath a string of colored lights in a Mexican restaurant enjoying an unhurried lunch. Happy conversation drifted effortlessly from one topic to another until it landed on family lineage. I remarked that our son, Noah, was the sole person to have any hope of carrying the Hamner name into the next generation.

At this point, my comprehending daughter piped up, “Noah, if your wife doesn’t give birth to a son, you should adopt a boy!”

My husband, Jason, responded, “Yes, but that’s not the same.”

My fork stopped midair, and I gaped at him in shock. Didn’t he remember that I was adopted? How could he be so uncomprehending? Trying to stop him from saying something even more hurtful, I asked, “Are you really saying these words?”

Ignoring the warning in my question and facial expression, Jason blazed onward with an explanation. “The child wouldn’t be a blood relative, so it’s not the same.”

Time slowed down. I turned my face away from the table and stopped breathing. So many ominous gray thoughts began to prickle and congeal, but before I could form a coherent word or react any further, I heard the Spirit whisper, “Adopted into the beloved…”

Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” (Ephesians 1:5-6).

Father God, using His Word as a sword, zoomed in to tear down the lie that threatened to take root in my heart right there in the restaurant. This lie was the same falsehood I had worked my whole life to fight. It was the lie that told me I was not accepted, that I was not loved, that I “was not the same” as other children. I thought that I had won this war when I had settled contentedly into the truth of God’s love for me years before. I was wrong.

That was because this time I was hearing the lie come out my husband’s mouth. I was stunned. Slowly panic began to hit, and then I could feel that panic try to give birth to something more crushing: shame. I recoiled.

NO. This was not happening. I could not let this happen!

Before saying another word, I got up from the table, walked to the bathroom, locked myself in a stall, and howled. All my shell-shocked spirit could do was pray for help. In complete desperation I pled, “Jesus!” over and over. I had faith that Father God would fight the fiery arrow trying to burrow its way into my mind just as He had always done.

In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:16)

He would keep his promise that nothing could separate me from His love. If He didn’t, I would be ruined.

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

After a few minutes of ugly tears, I found the strength to imagine grasping the fiery lie and the crippling shame with both hands, gathering it together to create a tight ball, and throwing the ugly mass to the eternal throne where my King continually sits interceding on my behalf.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Slowly…slowly with each breath I took, the hurt and panic ebbed away. Calm and peace took their place. God’s Word was stronger than the lie and my riotous reactions. Satan had no power over me.

Steeling myself with another silent heavenward plea, I exited the stall and washed my hands and face. Then I left the quietness of the bathroom for the hustle and bustle of the restaurant. The Mexican décor no longer had a joyous effect, but instead the colors and blaring foreign music left me dizzy and off balance. I wanted to escape- to take cleansing shower in a dark room without any other stimulus to push on my already overwhelmed body.

But I had to rejoin my family. They were probably worried about me, and I didn’t want to ruin their lunch entirely.

Jason held out his hand to take mine as I sat down at the table. As he stumbled through a sincere apology, I looked into Jason’s agonized blue eyes and realized I wasn’t even angry with him. There was nothing to forgive. By the grace of God, I understood that the whole experience was a spiritual attack to which Jason was only a bystander. God would not waste the opportunity to point me to higher understanding.

It is January now, a couple of months removed from the rawness of that day. I know without a shadow of a doubt that this little incident will serve as a marker in time. A war was waged, and I won. And you know what? It really wasn’t a fair contest.

I will win all battles, both big and small, when I apply the truth of God’s Word.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)

Truthful Beauty

My brother Scott and I walked down the main drag one summer evening in a cute little part of town in Indianapolis called Broadripple. Quaint little window displays entertained my artistic leanings, and independent restaurants serving eclectic cuisines made for adventurous foodie fare. Because of the late hour, college students from nearby Butler University romped up and down the sidewalk ready for a night of partying. They made for a raucous crowd.

When I noticed many attractive young girls wearing smoky cat eye makeup and sparkly tight clubbing clothes, I knew my red blooded brother noticed them as well (understatement!). The abundance of beautiful girls made me, a late twenty-something mother, feel self-conscious in the crowd. Oh how I wished I could be that young and vibrant again! Scott seemed to read my thoughts. He rescued me from my inward comparisons and turmoil by saying something like, “Sin tries to masquerade as beautiful, but in the end it is only pedestrian and cliché. True beauty is rare and always unique.” I knew what he said was profoundly true even before I could ruminate on the implications.

A few years have passed since that night in Broadripple, and I agree with my brother’s observation even more. We live in a culture that holds both beauty and ascetics in high esteem, but our very definition of beauty has been corrupted so much so that the profane and vile can now be called “art”.

To illustrate my point, I randomly picked a song on the today’s Billboard Top Ten. Consider the lyrics of the chorus of Maroon 5’s Animals:

Baby, I’m preying on you tonight
Hunt you down eat you alive
Just like animals, animals, like animals-mals

When we read these words in black and white away from catchy beats and the cute pop star, they are seen for what they really are: ugly. Without thinking, millions sing along to a song about a man who sees women as something to be stalked, preyed upon, and conquered. He’s a common beast driven by instinct without reason or sense.

YUCK!

And what of our books, our magazines, our TV shows? They are no better!

Just this past weekend, I flipped through the channels stumbling upon show after reality show depicting the lives of perfectly manicured mostly rich men and women. Ladies draped themselves in diamonds and silk and kept house in high rent districts. Dudes drove fast cars and sported Armani suits and Rolex watches. To the casual observer, they seemed to have it all. They need only open their mouths, however, to reveal the darkness ruling their lives. (“Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Matthew 12:34) Bitter rivalries, jealous forked tongues, and immature pettiness painted these grimly colored worlds.

America has chosen to be entertained by this lot of worldly characters to her shame. We value glamor and fame over sacrifice and hard work and focus on outward appearances more than the heart. Yesterday we cared more about Kim Kardashian’s pornographic picture in Paper Magazine than the stunning photographs captured from a probe named Philae that Europeans managed to land on a comet. Seriously… what is wrong with us?

The answer to this question is simple but profound: we don’t know truth, so we don’t recognize true beauty. Christian philosopher and apologist Ravi Zacharias observes, “God’s Word commands us to, ‘worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness’ (Psalm 96:9). Beauty must be bounded by the very character and nature of God.”

If we want to know what beauty really is, we must look to God’s Word and His character for a truthful definition. Here are just some of God’s Names. I fell in love with Jesus even more when I began to explore His Names because they reveal His character:

Author of Peace (1 Corinthians 4:33)
The Crown of Beauty (Isaiah 28:5)
Comforter (John 14:26)
Consuming Fire (Deuteronomy 4:24)
Counselor (Isaiah 9:6)
Disciplinarian (Hebrews 12:6)
Excellent (Psalm 148:13)
Faithful and True (Revelation 19:11)
Father (Matthew 6:9)
Friend (Matthew 11:19)
Good (John 10:11)
Helper (Hebrews 13:6)
Light of the World (John 8:12)
Love (1 John 4:8)
Merciful (Jeremiah 3:12)
Purifier (Malachi 3:3)
Refuge (Jeremiah 16:19)
Righteous (Malachi 4:2)
Servant (Isaiah 42:1)
Teacher (John 20:16)
Truth (John 14:6)
Wise (1 Corinthians 1:24)
Wonderful (Isaiah 9:6)

Because God is Love, we know that unloving things and actions cannot be beautiful. However, we also understand through examination of the Scriptures that love must also be truthful, because God is Truth. It is therefore ugly, for example, to withhold a truthful correction to spare another’s feelings. God Himself disciplines us because it is in His very nature to be a Good Father.

True beauty is at its very heart holy, or set apart. Beauty is not seen in something as cliché as batting eye lashes or syrupy sweet flattering words. Real beauty is demonstrated when God’s character is put on display.

The sleep deprived mother who comforts her sick child is beautiful. Outwardly this woman may not look beautiful. She probably has bed hair and may even carry an extra fifteen pounds more than she’d like, but inside her brilliant heart is more precious than rubies (Proverbs 31:10).

The husband that loves his wife, serves her, and gets dirty wading through the trenches of her heart is beautiful. God’s Word says that when a husband loves his wife unconditionally, he purifies her as Jesus purifies His Bride (Ephesians 5:25-26). As a husband reflects God’s attributes in his daily life, God receives glory.

When we see Christ, we see beauty incarnate. However, even those that don’t know the Name of Jesus can learn of God’s character by simply observing His creation. “For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they (those that have never heard of the Name of Jesus) are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)

When we stand agape at the vastness of the stars, we get a glimpse of God’s magnificence and power. The Psalmist joyfully declares, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament the work of His hands!” (Psalm 19:1)
stars
When we watch the sunset over ocean waters
sunset

or gaze out over mountain peeks
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or stare amazed at the perfectly knit together body of a newborn
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we intuitively understand that there is a Being greater than us at work. The lessons of creation teach us that God is wise, powerful, intelligent, and interested in both grand displays and the smallest details.
But let’s not forget God’s other less recognizable displays of beauty.

Jesus wept with others when they grieved.
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He championed the cause of the oppressed and the broken.

He gave up His glory for this:
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Out of great love Jesus died. He was mocked, scorned, rejected and humiliated. Men did not recognize the beauty of the man they tortured. The prophet Isaiah, seeing 700 years into the future, describes Jesus in agonizing detail, “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3)

Do we see that God’s definition of beauty is infinitely more rich, true, and GORGEOUS than the world’s pathetic counterfeits?

Michael Card said, “A hunger for beauty is at its heart a hunger for God.” Mr. Card is right! May we be like King David and say, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” (Psalm 42:1) The Apostle Paul, writing from a damp dark prison cell, said with great fervor and joy, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.”

Jesus Christ is altogether beautiful. May we seek to discover and know Christ in all His loveliness and forsake all else.

Big

big

When I was a child, one of my favorite places to play was my Grandparents’ yard. Grandma and Grandpa lived in the country on a sprawling green lawn. A lazy Willow tree swayed by the mailbox and fire bushes lit up the long gravel driveway during the fall. Behind their red brick house was a field where deer and other wildlife could be seen. My brother and I would romp around their vast property using walky-talkies to communicate from afar. We marveled at wild mushrooms, set up forts under the Willow, got muddy with the other animals in their field, learned to shoot a sling-shot and a BB gun, and identified different kinds of rocks under my grandfather’s expert tutelage. Grandma and Grandpa’s house was truly a curious child’s paradise.

Years later when both my grandparents had passed, Mom and Dad decided to drive by the old house. As it came into view, I was astounded. Their yard was so small! Time seemed to have shrunk the whole place.

I’ve come to believe that our dreams shrink with time too. Ask a little boy what he wants to be when he grows up, and he might shout, “A NFL football player!” or “An architect!” Little girls want to be Miss America, an actress, or the doctor that finally finds the cure for cancer. As children grow into adolescence, they come to understand their unique gifts and talents. Teenagers are wonderful to talk to because they have a youthful optimism usually lost on adults. Most high school graduation speeches drip with hope and an anxious energy that motivates listeners to “go” and “do”. Kids truly believe that their life matters and that they are destined to make a dent in the world.

However, something happens to many of us as we age. Our priorities change. Sometimes we get hurt. Our once starry eyed buoyancy can give way to apathy. Worse, we can become cynical. In my opinion, the folks that are the most difficult to be around are those that have morphed into bitter shells through the course of time.

After my brother and I got our driver’s license in high school, we enjoyed the privilege of driving to and from school together without the prying ears of our parents or other censoring adults. I always let Scott drive so I could relax and enjoy the view outside the window. Sometimes we’d talk about mundane things as our little red Chevy sped down the road. Many days I would spend the morning commute applying my makeup. Every once in a while, however, our usual teenage conversation would take a turn to higher more secretive subjects. Even though both of us were far away from the Lord, we had a sense that we were a part of a bigger plan. Perhaps those listening would have found us arrogant as we tried to verbalize a feeling of being “different” or “set apart” from the crowd. We weren’t prideful though. We just somehow intuitively knew that there was something undefinable about us verses many of our peers at school.

I wish I would have known this Scripture back then like I do now because it would have explained so much:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

Now that I know of God’s love for me, I read these verses and marvel at His absolute astounding generosity and powerful sovereignty.

God is not a man that He should lie (Numbers 23:19). All of God’s promises are “yes” and “amen” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Because I have accepted the free gift of salvation based on Christ’s work on the cross (and not anything… ANYTHING… I’ve done to earn my way to heaven), I know through reading God’s Word that:

• I am a part of a chosen race. God CHOSE me. I have no idea why He chose me (I would not have chosen me), but He did. He chose me regardless of my faults, my worst secrets, and my failures to honor Him with my words and actions.

After my brother and I were adopted, Mom used to say, “Most parents don’t choose their children. They simply have the baby that is given to them. However, your dad and I chose you both to be part of our family.” This explanation always made me feel special and wanted.

I was chosen all over again when Jesus drew me to His side to be a part of God’s family. Paul writes in Romans 8:15:

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father’! The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 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.”

Chosen sons and daughters of God are coheirs with Christ. Jesus is not only our God, He is our Brother. The Lord God Almighty reigns forever, and in our Father’s generosity and love, He has chosen us His children to reign with Him.

• All of those that believe Jesus’s message of hope are holy. Holy literally means set apart. God’s set apart people are bonded spiritually in ways that cross all boundaries, yet His family is comprised of people from every nation, tribe and tongue. I take joy in knowing that I not only will spend my life here on earth in relationship with other Christians, but I also rejoice because I will spend eternity with these precious people!

Even though time and conscious awareness hadn’t yet caught on to God’s perfect plan for Scott and I back in high school, our eternal spirits inside us cried out for more than the rat race we saw others running. We understood that life was somehow more than school, job, kids, the acquiring of things, and death. We were purposed for something big. Jesus had His hand on our lives, and a desire deep down under the surface craved and will always crave fellowship with our Creator and His people.

• I am here to proclaim the excellencies of Him who called me out of darkness and into His marvelous light. Just typing this sentence gives me goose bumps. This is my purpose! I write this blog to tell others that God is real, that He is good, and that Jesus is in the business of redeeming lives. This calling is the highest calling in the universe. It’s bigger than any job promotion, bigger than finally purchasing that Mercedes or mansion, and bigger than finally finding a spouse or having a child. God’s people are called to live lives that have eternal impact.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:3-6)

I am accepted in the Beloved. I am recklessly loved by the Maker of the Universe. This knowledge changed the direction of my life. I hope it has changed or will change yours!

Because my Father is the God of the universe, I can and should dream big. My childhood dreams sound small and silly in comparison to the dreams that God has given me through His Spirit. The crazy part is that God’s dreams for me are even grander than I could ever imagine.

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

God not only goes before me as I move in my purpose to declare His attributes and glory, He is literally living inside me giving me the power to accomplish the good works that were prepared for me in advance.

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16)

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

I hope that you are seeing through the reading these scripture passages two things:

1. God loves you. He is madly in love with YOU.
2. Knowing Scripture is imperative. If you don’t read the Bible, you will never understand just what lengths God has gone to redeem you back to Himself. You won’t know how to stand under trial. You won’t know His promises. You will be destroyed due to lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6). Know God’s Word! All God’s promises are mine as a coheir with Christ. God’s Word is true. It is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path (Psalm 119:105).

The Lord has been gracious to give me a teacher and mentor who showed me how to dream big by depending on Christ. His name is David. Just like King David, my friend David is truly a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). He is a simple guy and super likeable. What sets David apart (there is the definition of holy again) is that he truly believes that Jesus is with him wherever he goes (Joshua 1:9). David dreams big. If he wants an audience with a well-known person for example, David prays for the appointment, does what he can to accomplish his goal, and then he waits for God’s answer. I’ve seen Jesus open doors for David over and over again. God does the miraculous through David simply because David believes Jesus at His Word in faith and not fear.

Predictably, David’s influence has rubbed off on me.

A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.” (Luke 6:40)

I recently took on a project that involved getting prayer leaders throughout the city of Indianapolis to volunteer to pray on the steps of Indiana’s State House on 9/11/2014. David encouraged me to “dream big” and aim high. The turnout that day was great, and Jesus afforded me the opportunity to meet key Christian figures in our state. I was so encouraged to be surrounded by influential men and women of faith. It was an awesome learning opportunity.

Back when I first came to Christ, the Lord revealed His plan for my life using the following verse:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Remembering that Jesus was speaking to his disciples here in Acts just before His ascension, when Christ said Jerusalem, He meant that the disciples would begin their work not far from home. The twelve would witness to their own Jewish people including the disciples’ inner circles and families. Judea and Samaria would push them outside their normal boundaries and cultural comfort zones. Finally, Jesus, looking forward through all of church history said that His Gospel message of grace would reach the entire world.

The Holy Spirit visited me as the Spirit visited the disciples on Pentecost back at the beginning of my faith walk (see blog post Fire). My “Jerusalem” is my family, neighbors, and friends. Scott came to Christ very shortly after I did, my husband got saved and is serving the Lord as a Bible teacher, and my parents’ faith is growing and producing good fruit. I take zero credit. All glory goes to the Lord Who is faithful.

Three years ago, I began working in a Christian school. I’ve taught a Bible study here and been able to serve God and His people joyfully. I’ve managed the prayer event just spoken of above and have gotten to do a myriad of other things that have helped me grow. Slowly, as Jesus allows, my sphere of influence is widening just as He said it would.

Truthfully, I’m looking forward to the next season of life when I get to be a light and a witness in the whole world. Those days are coming. I believe that Jesus is with me and will take me to those remote places of the world because His promises to me can be trusted. God’s dreams for me are BIG! Amen!

I don’t share these promises to boast in myself, but to boast in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:31)! I’m not deserving, but I believe in God’s grace and plan for my life. My name, Julie, means “youthful”. I pray that I will always be as a child, with childlike faith and dreams looking to Papa God to use me, a simple vessel, to accomplish His purposes.

To close this post, I will sneak in just a few more amazing Scriptures and a song that describe how much Jesus loves you and me.

“For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.
How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How vast is the sum of them
!” (Psalm 139:13-17)

For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.
He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
As far as the east is from the west,
far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.
For He Himself knows our frame;
He is mindful that we are but dust
.” (Psalm 103:8-13)

My God Provides

If you’ve read my blog, you know that the Lord has brought me through some very tough financial times. In the span of one year between 2006 and 2007, I lost my teaching job, foreclosed on a house, had a car repossessed, and declared bankruptcy. Writing these events down matter-of-factly in one sentence is comical (I’m literally laughing at the idiocy of it) simply because they were anything but comical at the time. Jesus burned away everything material so I would be left with nothing but a desperate desire for Him. I wouldn’t trade this purging season in my life for all the gold in the world. Because of it, Jesus Christ became and will always be my pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46), my one true treasure, my magnificent obsession.

Because the Lord has shown me through His Word and my experience that He is my portion, listening to prosperity preachers on TV and in the pulpit misrepresent God and His promises is particularly nauseating. These wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing spread the lie that God is merely a genie existing to bless us if we only “ask” in faith. BULL-HONKEY! The “name it and claim it, blab it and grab it, confess it and possess it” crowd are merely practicing greed while hiding behind the veneer of religion. They forget that the Lord warned us that there would be a high cost to following Him and largely ignore the daily sacrifice of our desires and wishes in exchange for God’s will.

Let’s look at a most often quoted verse in its entirety:

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” (I John 5:14, emphasis added)

John teaches us to ask according the God’s will to know that our prayers are heard. In order to know the Lord’s will, we need to strive to know Him by reading His Word, through prayer, and by fellowship with other believers. Jesus wants us to seek His face first, not the works of His hands. (Aren’t we the same? I want to be loved for who I am, not for what we can do!)

Make no mistake, though! Papa God is generous. He loves to bless His children. One of my all-time stand-alone favorite verses is:

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:7)

What a glorious picture! I wish I were a great artist in the likes of Rembrandt so that I could somehow create a work of art that would echo this light while silently speaking of the yearning to be reunited with Father. Oh the hope I carry with me because I know that one day I will look up into God’s face and see that light in person! I can’t wait to thank Him face-to-face for all He has done in heaven, on earth, and in me. I. Simply. Cannot. Wait.

I’ve intentionally stayed writing about God’s provision in my life until now. While I am moved and blessed by the Lord’s gifts, I am more moved by His love for me. That love changed my life! What I have found, though, is that when Jesus gives generously, He is usually trying to teach me something. Jehovah Jireh (My God Provides) wants me to know that He is Able, that He loves me, and that He is interested in the minutest details of my life. With that in mind, I will simply list out several times God has shown Himself as my Heavenly Husband providing for my every need (while saying a silent prayer asking God to bring them to remembrance):

• I applied for and got a job working as an unlicensed nurse assistant at a local hospital in 2008. About a week before I was to start the job, I knew I needed at least 3 pair of scrubs. I could only afford to buy one pair (we were broke and it wasn’t a joke!). I don’t remember praying specifically for scrubs, but I do remember worrying about not having them! However, as always, I possessed an undercurrent of unspoken faith that assured me God would take care of me. Jesus said:

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:24-34)

One day during the week before I was to start the new nursing assistant job, I got a call from my friend, Mindy, asking for help with a move. I knew Jesus wanted me to go and assist, but if I were honest at the time, I would have had to admit that I selfishly did not want to go. However, the Lord whispered in my ear that day, “There will be a reward for your obedience.” Begrudgingly, I obeyed and promised Mindy that I would be there to help. When I got to her apartment, I brought lasagna and packed up the last of the remaining stuff that was still there after a day of moving. Just as I was about to leave, she pointed to a big black trash bag and said, “Do you want any of that? If not, I am going to donate it to Goodwill.” I opened the bag and, to my utter shock, discovered that it was full of scrubs. The most remarkable thing was that they were in my curvaceous size. In one swoop, I got enough colorful adorable scrubs to clothe me at work for two weeks without doing a load of laundry!

• I was taking a class at a local community college a few years ago. While the tuition was covered by my employer, I was still responsible for purchasing the textbook. It cost $98 that I did not have. I prayed about it and waited for God’s answer. Only days later and before the start of the class, I opened my mailbox and found a check for $100 with a note from my wonderful friend Valerie in Oklahoma saying, “The Lord asked me to send this to you.” I hadn’t told a soul about my need- just Jesus. As always, He provided.

• In 2009, I quit the job at the hospital because working nights and being a joyful wife and mother were incompatible. I was grumpy and hated the sleep deprivation. (I don’t know how folks work nights for decades. My hats off to this industrious group!) It showed great lack of wisdom and impulsivity to quit without finding a replacement job first, and I quickly learned the foolishness of my decision. After only a few weeks of unemployment, we once again found ourselves in dire straits financially. So, I asked for grace and vowed never to be so stupid again!

One sunny summer day as I drove my children to the pool, I sorrowfully informed them that we were only weeks away from needing to sell our house because we could no longer make payments without a second income. I asked them to pray right there in the back seat for God to give me the job that I had interviewed for about a month before. I had waited for weeks for a response and had not heard a word from the employer even after follow up emails and calls.

My daughter, frightened of being vacated from her house, closed her eyes tightly and led a fervent yet simple prayer. Not two minutes after she ended her petition with an “amen”, my cell phone rang. I answered and was elated to be offered the job. After hanging up, my children erupted into applause and cheers. We all learned a very valuable lesson about God’s provision that day.

Later as I sat sunning myself by the pool (with a stupidly broad smile on my face I might add), I reflected on the stunning timing of the phone call. God had waited until my faith had almost completely run out to stretch and exercise my faith “muscle”. Just when I was about to fail to believe that He would do as promised and provide, Jesus swooped in as the mighty trainer/teacher He is with might and joy. Hallelujah!

That evening, I drove to church sans kids and knelt down in a little chapel to pray a special prayer of thanksgiving. Inside the quiet room, I found a rock. Clutching it into my hand, I knew I could use it as a “marker” in time so I wouldn’t forget what God had just done for me and my family. I chose to write one word on the rock with a Sharpie: PROVISION. That rock still sits on the dash of my car to remind me that my God is Jehovah Jireh. He will supply all my needs according to His riches and glory (Philippians 4:19).

• About a year ago, our dryer began to do bad stuff to our laundry. We pulled out shirts that were burned or snagged every time it ran. Ruining clothing was expensive, and I was convinced that using the failing machine was a fire hazard. As usual, I prayed for help but said nothing to no one about our need. God heard my prayer. A few weeks later, a lovely couple offered to give us their dryer because they were moving and did not want to take it with them. Instead of being stunned or surprised this time, I was simply grateful. I know my Daddy’s character enough by now to expect His help. He is THERE and will be faithful.

• This summer, my brother, Scott, moved to the Alabama coast. I wanted to go south when he moved for two reasons. One, I desired to help Scott and my aging parents unload the truck and lug boxes up a flight of stairs in 90 degree weather. Two, I really wanted to see where Scott lived for my mothering self and say an official goodbye. I calculated the mileage and the gas needed to get there and back and figured out that I would need about $300 to make the trip. This was a tough goal to reach because….

My hubby recently took a 50% pay cut to take a much prayed for job at the school where we both now work. It was a step of faith for us. We then took another step of faith when Jason chose to take a week of unpaid vacation this summer so he could serve as a camp counselor at my son’s church camp. I encouraged Jason to volunteer because I just knew Jesus would see his work and our collective sacrifice and repay accordingly.

After scrimping and scraping for a couple of months, I managed to save just enough to get to the Gulf and back. However, just four days before I was set to leave, an unexpected $200 check arrived. Smile! What a joy to know that I could breathe as I traveled and not worry about “unexpected” expenditures that I clearly could not have otherwise afforded.

Because we had given of our time, talents, and income, God gave back as He promises to do in His Word. He says, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38)

• I was recently surprised by a word from Jesus that came out of the blue and scared me to death: God was going to bring a level of prosperity to my family. After testing the spirits and asking for confirmation, I became convinced that I heard Jesus correctly. Sheesh was that scary.

I am content with a little. I’ve grown accustomed to the dependency this post describes. My fear is that when the Lord changes our financial situation as I believe He has promised, I will be unfaithful with “much” and begin to trust in my own strength again. God forbid!

However, I have also prayed many times that one day I would be in a position to bless others for “it is more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 23:35). For so long, I have been on the receiving end learning what it means to have childlike faith. What a wonderful thing to be able to help others as I have been helped so many times. Stay tuned for future stories of provision, Dear Reader, and pray that I would be found faithful in the bigger things (Luke 16:10).

I could go on and on with these miraculous stories of provision. Really and truly I could. If you aren’t convinced by what I say and what the Bible says about God’s generosity at this point though, more numerous examples aren’t going to win your heart and mind to this truth. Instead, I will end by saying that the greatest and most thrilling provision I’ve ever received from God is this: GRACE. Father’s grace showers down forgiveness when I deserve nothing but His anger. His grace draws me to His side. His grace, His magnificent, glorious, unstoppable, sparkling grace makes me more like His Son, Jesus. That, my friends, is enough to make rocks cry out, to make the lame dance, and to make this Indiana girl throw her head back and sigh with the deepest gratitude mere words cannot convey.

All I need is Jesus. HE is more than enough.

Beloved

My life verse is:

“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 emphasis added)

Abiding denotes a relationship. If you live together, you know each other. I want to know my Savior. It has been my experience that prayer, like nothing else, allows me to know Him. In prayer, I can, by the power of the Spirit (the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead), think and feel what God thinks and feels. Look at these verses to see this amazing promised confirmed in scripture:

1 Corinthians 2:9-16 says:
However, as it is written:
“What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
the things God has prepared for those who love him—
these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for,
“Who has known the mind of the Lord
so as to instruct him?”
But we have the mind of Christ
.”

I can humbly yet resolutely confirm that God’s mind directs my thoughts and even my feelings. One Sunday quite a few years ago, for example, I was praying during communion when I began to think of my sister-in-law out of the blue. Suddenly, I was completely overcome with grief and sadness. I had a very great burden to pray for her, and my heart ached in my chest as I wept for her unnamed pain. As I drove home with my husband that morning, my eyes continued to ooze tears. In an impassioned plea, I looked over at a confused Jason in the driver’s seat and said, “We need to pray for your sister!” Without revealing too much about a very personal situation, the next day I was to learn why I had felt such grief. My sister-in-law’s long term relationship had ended with painful betrayal the day the Lord asked me to pray for her.

Through this experience, I knew my King because my heart was truly abiding with His for those few moments in church. I discovered with absolute resounding clarity that Jesus is compassionate in ways I had never understood until then. His compassionate heart literally leveled me, and I intuitively knew the feelings I experienced were only glimpses. My weak body could only handle small doses of His infinite oceans of empathy.

Hebrews 4:13-16 “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need
.”

Christ’s mind moved me, His vessel, to grieve and empathize with my sister-in-law’s pain even when my physical mind had no idea about her situation. Then, because of grace, the Spirit began to make intercession through me, a used vessel, as I begged God to show her how lovely, precious, and beautiful she was even in the face of rejection. The Lord refused to leave my sister-in-law alone in her grief. How deep the Father’s love for us! To know His love changes one forever.

I have a neighbor that I love dearly. For the sake of privacy I will call her Amy, because Amy means beloved. Amy married one of my brother’s best high school friends. For this reason, I began praying for Amy and her husband long before they serendipitously moved across the street. She is a proud atheist and a beautiful, gregarious, generous person. At first, conversations with her were awkward and confrontational. I worked to convince her that Jesus was real. One day, after responding to Amy in another long-winded admittedly argumentative private message on Facebook, I took a walk with my family to depressurize. As my husband and children strolled ahead on a neighborhood bike path, I fell back a bit to speak to God about our “debate”. My mind was twirling and running in the aftermath of the heated discussion. I wondered aloud to the Lord if anything I had written would get through. Suddenly, my rampant thoughts were interrupted with what I can only describe as the heart of God. For a moment, I saw my neighbor as He saw her. My Father was her Father too. She was His creation. Beautiful. Loved. Treasured. Father’s feelings for Amy, His beloved little girl, hit so hard that I could barely continue to walk. Then I heard the Spirit whisper, “I just want you to love her.” At that moment, I was convinced that arguments would not win her heart, only love would.

And so I love Amy. Not with a fake phony love. But with the supernatural love of the Father in heaven who loves His child even as she denies and mocks Him. Remember my life verse? Jesus said “apart from Me, you can do nothing.” All my defending and apologetic arguments for the Christian faith were in my own strength and flesh. God told me as I walked down that little path that all that talking and debating amounted to nothing. However, if I loved Amy with the love He gave me, she would come home.

I have heard Christians say that unbelievers cannot live happy lives without God. I disagree. What my brothers and sisters in Christ fail to realize is that lost folks don’t know what they don’t know. They don’t understand supernatural joy and peace because they have never experienced it. If someone has never heard the Lord’s whispers or felt the Spirit quicken, then how can I explain it? To atheists, my stories probably sound like utter foolishness. “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)

I can only continue to intercede and ask that God draws those precious lost souls I am burdened for to Himself for Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44)

Sometimes the burden for the lost literally leaves me breathless. One night as I prepared to go to sleep, I approached the Lord in prayer. I closed my eyes and saw the throne of God. My King sat in light and looked down on me in love. I fell to my knees and cried, “Holy!” Then, after I told Jesus I loved and adored Him, the Spirit began to intercede for the lost though me. I starting calling out for the salvation of my friends, loved ones, and neighbors. After a couple of seconds of speaking names, I knew I would repeat myself or forget important people without some sort of organization.

So, I looked up at God’s face hidden in light and asked Him for something to write on. If I could symbolically write each person’s name down, the process would help me keep track of who I had prayed for and who I still needed to bring to the Lord’s attention. To my surprise, God did not hand me paper, but a rectangular piece of wood about 3 feet wide and six inches long. So instead of writing, I began to carve the names of those I loved into the wood Christ gave me. When I had finished carving the first a name, I sat the piece of wood to the side, and asked for another piece of wood. I continued like this for a long time. I cried and carved and stacked pieces of wood. Eventually I was completely overwhelmed at the enormity of the stack of wood I had built. “There are so many, Lord!” I cried. Finally, when the burden lifted, I fell into an exhausted sleep. I dreamed that night and woke up to the sound of my own voice singing to the Lord.

The next day, I drove to work as usual. My kiddos were quietly reading in the back seat, so it gave me time to think about last night’s prayer time. As I reflected on these events in the light of day, it all seemed so strange! So, I said, “Lord Jesus, I need a sign that it was You directing my thoughts and actions last night. I would love a confirming sign showing me You heard me.” I didn’t know how God would answer my prayer- it was so specific- but I knew He could.

I walked into work and sat down at my desk in the front office of a school office. About five minutes later, I was engrossed in a task when I heard my boss, the principal, say, “Have you seen this, Julie?” I looked up and saw him holding this:

gracepaddle

Apparently the “grace board” had showed up on campus over the weekend, and it was strangely leaning against the building during car line drop off. My boss decided to bring it inside and didn’t quite know what to do with such a strange object.

This was a goose bumps moment. I smiled and shook my head. Astounded. Yep, that was the word. I was astounded. God had obviously heard my cries. The Lord of the universe had heard my prayer, and the Spirit was there guiding me the whole time! But how could I explain this? Would anyone understand?

As I continued to reflect on what the Lord was trying to communicate, I was stunned. The above picture is obviously of a paddle- typically a tool used for punishment. However, because grace is carved into the wood, I knew God was pointing to this:

kingofthejews

The day God’s Son hung from a tree, a sign was posted above Him. Although it was an attempt at mockery, every word written was true. Carved in Hebrew, Greek and Latin, were the words: “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews”.

It should have been my name carved in the wood. I should have died on that tree. All those that I had prayed for that night- they too deserved punishment because they have denied their Creator in unbelief or aloofness. They were among those in the crowd who mocked and laughed at God’s Son that dark day.

However, Jesus, King of the Jews, is unlike any other king in history. Even while He suffered and died at the hands of hateful men, He prayed, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do!” As His blood was spilled to ransom the world, a tool of punishment became the ultimate tool of grace.

We are not on this earth to live moral lives.
We are not here to seek our own happiness.
We are not here to survive and endure.

We are here to abide with Jesus as it was in the beginning before the fall.
We are here to declare the work of the cross so that others might also experience the free gift of grace.
We are here to love as He first loved us.

Beloved, it is my prayer that you would know Him. From my soul I cry out to you and for you. He is Lord! One day soon, His Bride, His beloved, His Amy, will cry out in victory as she sees Jesus coming back for her:

“Listen! My beloved! Behold, he is coming, Climbing on the mountains, Leaping on the hills!” (Song of Solomon 2:8)