THE END?

THE END?

I am on the last few chapters of The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I have been losing sleep the last three nights due to the intense action at the end of “Mockingjay”. I have fallen in love with the characters – Peeta and his “hijacked” love; Gale and his angry loyalty; Katniss and her flawed altruism and Prim’s purity. I am drawn like a moth to the flame or an addict to the needle. Each night, way past my bedtime, I try to hold off picking it up, but I plunge right back in. Hours later I am devouring the words and the world around me has morphed into the Capitol. I don’t want it finished. — I don’t want to say good bye to Peeta. I will miss Katniss’s valor and spunk. Even as I fly through these last pages of mounting action, I am savoring every last word like Katniss with the loaf of burnt bread outside of Peeta’s bakery.
I don’t think I am alone in this. Not wanting to say good-bye to something, even if the next trilogy, the next job, the next relationship, or next whatever is even better. It might even exceed our wildest dreams and could be “the one;” good-byes are tough. I believe this is part of what keeps people locked in abusive relationships or dead end jobs and missing out on what’s around the corner, or what could be if you just let go…
Yet nothing and no one in this life is permanent.
Emerson Hart wrote a song for a friend who described to him the conflicting emotions he felt while divorcing his wife. The song’s called “I wish the best for you.” Check out a few lines:
“How long can we wait here
To say goodbye?

The words once they’re spoken
Are words that we can’t take
Back to where we were, before
Things got in the way

Life gets so confusing
When you know what you’re losing

You
Me
Why can’t we see that there’s
More to love than we’ll ever know

Sometimes you’re closer when you’re
Letting go

I wish the best for you”

This song gets me because of the truth in it.
I know. I’ve walked in those shoes – The ache of saying good-bye, even if you know it is the right thing. You have to let go.
This song reminds me that I am not alone. I also find comfort in The Bible—Even people who spent time with The Almighty had a tough time with this. The followers of Jesus had just said what they thought was their final good-bye to Him as He hung on the cross and took His last breath. Good Friday.
John 19:30 records Jesus: “’It is finished!’ Then he bowed his head and released his spirit.”
But after the Resurrection, when Mary Magdalene sees Him just after she came upon the empty tomb, she cannot let go: “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17)
The story doesn’t end on Good Friday. This was part of His plan. It had to happen. Jesus knew they would struggle with letting go of Him and even tried to give them a “heads-up”:
“I am leaving you with a gift; peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. Remember what I told you; I am going away, but I will come back to you again.”…. I have told you these things before they happen so that when they do happen, you will believe.” (John 14:27)
He knew what He had to do. There was a purpose to the pain He would endure. He said His good-byes but He also assured His followers that He would always be with them (John 14:16 “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth.”)
Because I know Jesus and because I believe, I have found that there is something beyond “good-byes” and beyond this life that is permanent – God’s love. “For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.” (Psalm103:11)
“Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
As each of us faces the pain of whatever it is we have to let go of, whether it be a relationship, an addiction, a loved one, a job or a decision, I hope you grasp firmly to the peace that Jesus left us with. I pray that you know that there is a plan and a purpose in the pain and that purpose might just be around the next corner.
As I prepare myself to say good-bye to Gale, Katniss, Prim and Peeta, I remind myself – there is always the movie. And I ready myself with my waterproof mascara for the Good Friday services, I focus my heart on the joy of Easter –Resurrection Sunday.
And remember, even though it is finished, it is not the end.

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THE ULTIMATE UNDERDOG

football ominousBroncos barrell guy

THE ULTIMATE UNDERDOG

                       

I love a good underdog story. Anyone who was born in Colorado after 1970 can attest to this.  The Denver Broncos. John Elway.  Famous now, but were you a fan when they were stacking up losses like letters of rejection during the recession? If you were a Bronco fan, you were a fan of underdog stories because they were always the underdogs and always lost.

Super Bowl commercials even mocked the Broncos, nicknaming them the “Donkeys.” It took them more than four trips to the Super Bowl and wasn’t until their5th visit to the Super Bowl that they won. 

Three of those devastating Super Bowl losses were under John Elway. 

I wish I knew what John Elway was feeling as he walked into his fourth Super Bowl trip. I don’t doubt each player was determined to win at each game. But this one had to be different. My bet is he was downright, doggedly determined to see his team through. Whatever he needed to do – he was going to do it. Leave it all on the field. His loyalty, perseverance and focus were certainly at their peak.

Not many know of their underdog days now, but we Coloradans-the orange crush– had this ingrained in us. It is a part of me. I love when someone, some team, or some family, etc., shows the sheer determination, stamina, humility, perseverance (and sprinkled with some sacred circumstances) rises up. Love it.

I had to put an underdog story in my book “grace.” Honestly, it was my very favorite part to write. Instead of sitting on the couch in front of the TV., sipping a barley soda and chomping on cheesy dip, all the while biting my nails and sweating it out to see if those “donkeys”  just might pull it through this year, I got to detail it with my own team The Mighty Lions

 

In my opinion, the thing about the underdog stories that makes them so good is the victory.  The triumph against crazy odds, unbelievable circumstances coupled with dogged determination, or whatever it might be—the story requires a “V-I-C-T-O-R-Y!”

Even though John Elway was quarterback for three of those Super Bowl losses with the Broncos, the Broncos are one of only seven NFL teams to claim two consecutive Super Bowl wins—both with John Elway at the helm.

Pretty amazing.

Yet it pales in comparison to the best underdog story of all time. It comes from the best-selling book of all time. It is about a carpenter from Nazareth;—no one would believe that something good would come from Nazareth-that pit of a place. In fact, his hometown didn’t even want to acknowledge him.

Yet, this story has God’s fingerprints all over it. Sacred circumstance. Jesus, this carpenter, at the prime age of 33, was betrayed by the closest of friends, wrongfully accused in a court of public opinion, rejected by those He came to save, denied by his followers, beaten, abused, spat on, humiliated, whipped, crushed, mocked and then, limb by limb, hung on a cross to die as soldiers cast lots for His clothes.

 

 Talk about hopelessness. Unbelievable circumstances. My mind cannot grasp…

And you wouldn’t even believe what He did as he hung on that cross situated between two thieves. 

Luke 23:39 tells us: “One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us?’

But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’

Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’

Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’”

Hanging there, Jesus did what He does best – He forgave. Forgiving not only this repentant thief, but all who did this to Him- “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’” Luke 23:34

Forgiveness for all.  ALL. Even as He takes his last breath on earth, He refuses to give up doing what He came for.

Thinking of the elation I had when the Broncos won that first Super Bowl doesn’t even come close; nor does that second-in-a-row victory… Jesus perseveres and then he takes it even further.

“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the woman bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again”

Jesus defied all odds, breaking the laws of science and the chains of the oppressed. He arose from the tomb and declared “V-I-C-T-O-R-Y” over death once-and-for-all.                                       

 He is risen.

 And the CROWD GOES WILD!!!

 

FEAR

FEAR

I sleep on my left side. When I was a kid, I heard that vampires only bite on the left side of your neck. So when I lay down at night, I trained myself in this habit of curling upon that side, sometimes stuffing covers and pillow around me for even more “protection.” I never took it so far as to hang the garlic wreath or anything with holy water or a crucifix, but you can bet that is where I started the nighttime habit of praying the “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I die before I wake…” Sound familiar?
One of my favorite books of all time is called, “The Monster at the end of this Book.” It is a real page turner (all twelve pages!) The original horror book – probably what started me liking Stephen King. When I was a kid, my mom would read it to me and I would keep requesting it. Night after night. My mom is the most patient woman I know. Night after night, after night, she would tell the tale. She laughs as she recounts those readings; even though she’d done it over a hundred times, I still acted like I didn’t know who the monster was at the end of the book (and she never gave it away.) I would start listening in bed, tucked in and curled up on my left side and about half-way through, I would be at the edge of my bed, hanging on every word, willing her to NOT turn that page for it would bring that monster one page closer!
SPOILER ALERT!!! The monster at the end, the very one he was fearing, turns out to be lovable, furry, little, blue Grover himself!
Besides loving a good story, what was it that kept me requesting that one?
The old saying “hindsight is 20/20” comes into play here. Wouldn’t it be great if we all knew how things turn out? Would it make the ups and downs of life more fun knowing it all turns out okay in the end? Or is it just in the things we fear that makes us want to know the ending?

Figures from 2007 state that Americans spend more than $300 million a year on psychic hotlines alone. There are people who don’t do anything without consulting a psychic. The image I have of someone calling a hotline before they get out of bed, plan their day, order off the menu, apply for that job, go on that interview, accept that date or marry that spouse, isn’t an image of someone enjoying the crazy ride of life. Rather, it evokes an image of someone living in constant fear.

GAD – or Generalized Anxiety Disorder, panic disorder, PTSD, phobias, fears that I cannot even pronounce, and with new terms popping up every day for all the new disorders and all the new medications for those disorders – it would seem this is a society-wide phenomenon.

When I was studying Natural Medicine, I remember reading about breathing. How deep breathing can calm the nervous system. How people under extreme duress and stress forget to breathe deep and that the lungs, the lower part that expands in deep breathing, actually atrophies and dies in those who don’t breathe deep.

I am not immune to fears, nor do I think I have it all figured out. Yet, as I have grown and learned from my hindsight, I find rest in a new place. As I face fears, whether they be real fears– seeing the solemn face of your doctor as he or she tells of the latest test results, or false fears – lying sleepless in bed on your left side, tucking in the covers a little tighter to ward off vampires – I trust that no matter what I face, I have a God who understands; a God who is with me – The 23rd Psalm reminds us that “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.”

I love how Joel Osteen’s “The Hope Bible” states Romans 8:38, “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below – indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

No doctors with their test results, no vampires with their fangs. Nothing can separate us from this love. NOTHING.

1 John 4:17-18 tells us “God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.
Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear.”

All fear is gone; nothing separating you from a God who loves you.

2 Timothy 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline.”

No psychic needed. The end is known. Embrace God’s love – taking in a full deep breath – facing what it is you fear and enjoying the crazy ride that this world and life bring you!

HE STILL SPEAKS

HE STILL SPEAKS

I have a friend who believes that God speaks to her through license plates- those personalized plates. It may sound silly, but I totally get it. – She has shared so many stories of the evidence of this that it is hard to dispute!
For me, besides the Bible, church and prayer, I believe God speaks through nature. There are so many times when something in nature simply blows my mind – a spectacularly painted sunset, a tiny flower intricately designed with such beauty and care, the fragrance of purple roses…I wonder how people can experience the grandeur of nature and not understand that there is a loving God that designed all of it and can speak to us through it all. Yet, I also am grateful for all those scientists, archeologists and non-believers who set out to prove their lack of belief and end up finding evidence or artifacts in the natural world that end up proving supernatural like found in The Bible. (Check out Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Christ.”)
The other day I saw a covey of quail. Living in Colorado most of my life, I didn’t know about this bird.
When I moved to Arizona and saw my first, I thought, “God sure has a sense of humor!” This silly plume placed atop its head; how they just hang out in the desert all day in their gang of goofy followers; how they have the ability to fly, but yet I mostly see them crossing streets and braving traffic on foot!
God equipped this bird with everything it needs to survive, yet it’s like they forget, “Oh yeah…I can fly!”
If one of them cuts it a bit close or they get frightened, they sometimes take flight together – but mostly they travel on foot –And this can be a costly mistake for them.
I have heard and read that there are certain traits and characteristics that, if left unused for long enough, will deteriorate and no longer be useful. Just take the Mexican blind cave fish. Evolutionary biologists still study this. In 1872 Charles Darwin wrote, “As it is difficult to imagine that eyes, though useless, could in any way be injurious to animals living in darkness, I attribute their loss solely to disuse.”
They still had their eyes, but have lost the ability to see after living in darkness so long.
I don’t doubt that things in nature are intended to show us something about God.
In Matthew 6:26 Jesus tells us, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”
This weekend, my pastor, Jason Daye, reminded me of how Jesus sees each of us.
The Bible is filled with stories describing Jesus seeing value in people when others didn’t. The Samaritan woman at the well, the prostitute about to be stoned, the Roman soldier begging for the life of his son, the thief on the cross, the lepers, the children, the hungry and those that thirst, the lost, the broken, the meek, the merciful, the peace makers and the persecuted, those living in darkness, you and me – all valuable in the eyes of Jesus.
My hope and prayer is that – the next time you see a quail, crowned in glory with that royal red plume or you witness the majesty of an eagle taking flight and spreading its wings – you will remember that God values you even more than the birds of the air.
Isaiah 40:31 – “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles”

And don’t make the tragic mistake of the quail and forget that you were meant for flight.

WHEN I DIE

WHEN I DIE

It is hard to deny the power of music. How a song can take you back to an event, stir memories, sometimes even bring on the very emotions you felt the first time you heard it… I still get teary every time I hear Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe;”—not so much in the lyrics, but because it was popular right after my father passed away and it has been forever linked with that emotion in me.
I love all types of music. I have gone through various “music stages” in my life. Starting with the 80’s big hair bands, (one of my fondest memories is of a WhiteSnake reunion concert); to the head banger “angry music,” (I got backstage to meet and greet Disturbed); then alternative, (I won concert tickets three times in a row to Three Doors Down); and country music, (“Bubba Shot the Jukebox” got me through two marathons trying to memorize the words.) –I love all genres of music. Lately I am into the Christian music and pretty much anything K-LOVE plays.
Each of the five parts of my book “grace” begins with a snippet of lyrics from artists that created rhythms, lyrics and messages that were themes throughout the novel. I encourage you to find the songs on iTunes and take a listen before delving into each part.
One of these songs is titled “In Better Hands” by Natalie Grant. The song has been so powerful in my life and every time she sings the following lyrics I get goose bumps:
“It’s like the sun is shining when the rain is pouring down
It’s like my soul is flying though my feet are one the ground
It’s like the world is silent though I know it isn’t true
It’s like the breath of Jesus is right here in this room”
I know this is going to sound a bit morbid, but stick with me on this—When I die, I want this song to be played at my funeral. –I know where I am going. I know I will be with Jesus when I no longer walk this earth. I want those who would come to memorialize me to not worry but to feel the “breath of Jesus” as He whispers in their ear–telling them that I am okay—that He’s got me. And what better hands to be in than those of the One who fearfully and wonderfully created me in my mother’s womb?
So, I figure I should let someone in my family know, right? It is no fun to not know the last wishes of someone you love when you are left with the task of memorializing them. I learned that the hard way.
So, I told my mother.
She shot me down.
She told me (over the phone, but I could visualize her wagging her finger at me and shaking her head), “You had better go telling someone else that wish because there is no way in hell, I want to bury you before you have to bury me!” (That is a paraphrase, but real close to accurate.)
Not that she has a choice in this—when it is our time, well, it is our time. Only God has the power over death. And, with God, through Jesus, we have assurance of eternity with Him. And this idea of eternity (I’ll spare you all the clever ways people have described to grasp the concept) is a really, really, really, really, really, really, REALLY long time.
I know too many friends and loved ones who are parents and have had to bury their child. (Frankly, knowing even ONE is too many). This crazy resurgence of heroine and overdoses that occur with even just one try of this drug, suicides, accidents, hit & runs, domestic abuses, drunk driving, okay—As Justin Timberlake sings, “Are you feeling me?”
Often all that is left is a gaping hole—a void—such loss and despair that each day is a desperate challenge to find hope to carry-on.
The “Why?” goes unanswered like wishing on a penny dropped into a bottomless well.
But this bottomless well doesn’t have to go on for eternity.
Revelation 21:4 says, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” Forever.
I know this still doesn’t answer the “Why?” but I have found temporary peace in this temporary life believing there is a place where all the questions are answered-no pain, no sorrow, no death and, to quote the powerful words of Mercy Me, “In Christ there are no good-byes.”
So, when I die, please honor this wish of mine (and for my mom.)
And mom, put that finger down because I think you are off the hook 😉

CHOSEN

Uncle Marty, Corky, Jamie

What a terrible feeling—to not be chosen…or worse yet, to be chosen last. I have flashbacks here of 3rd grade gym class and “dodge ball” day in the auditorium—the choosing of the teams. No one wants to be chosen last. Whether it is true or not, the person choosing thinks you’re too slow, not athletic enough, not good enough or simply that there is another one better than you. Those chosen last are the “runts” of the team.
My Uncle Marty is a great story teller. At family gatherings we all end up at the kitchen table captivated by his unbelievable stories.
But his stories are true.
He allowed me to use one of his stories about his first dog, Corky, in my book “grace.” The characters in the book are fiction, but the event captured in the book is true. –Corky was his first dog. She was specially bred to be a hunting dog. Regardless of how special and well bred of a line she came from, she was nonetheless, the runt. Her faults were being born last and her silky black coat was not quite perfect – a tiny bit of white tarnished her.
But my uncle chose her – flaws and all.
He became her master. Under his careful guidance, instruction, training and discipline, she excelled. She outperformed some of the most highly bred and trained hunting dogs; undoubtedly out-doing all her siblings. She was truly a “one-in-a-million.” She made spectacular retrievals and underwent some extremely difficult hunts, all under the direction and supervision of her master who was always prepared to step in if she got into trouble.
When you saw them together, their bond was heartwarming and enough to spark a little jealousy; she never took her eyes off of him–unless he gave her a command. Oh, how he loved that dog and how that dog adored and obeyed him. It was really something to witness.
And yet, with God, we all have this same opportunity. To be “chosen;” to excel under the careful guidance and wisdom of the One who will be there when we get ourselves into trouble. At times, He will even discipline us, but He will find us when we are lost, guide us when we stumble and, when we keep our eyes on Him, He will direct us and show us the way.
John 15:16 and Ephesians 1:4 in the Bible remind us that it is HIM who chooses us and not the other way around. He doesn’t think we are too slow, not good enough or the “runts,” even if we are born last or fall short, He still chose us.
Flaws and all, we are CHOSEN.
And under the guidance, discipline and love of the Creator of the Universe, the One who breathed the stars into existence and the One who knows every hair on our heads, we can excel and become the one-in-a million.