Are you ready?

 

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Here we are: December 16th. Nine days away from Christmas!

“Are you ready?”

I’ve been hearing this question asked at the bank, at my work potluck, in line at the stores…It CRACKS me up!

Christmas comes the same time and date each year. Not like Easter, that one can mess you up. Christmas has been December 25th for about 2000 years. So, it’s not like we weren’t told about it in advance. How come people aren’t ready?

ANTICIPATION

One of the most tantalizing feelings this time of year is the anticipation leading up to this special day. I remember it well as a child.–The inability to get to sleep on December 24th. My heart beating so rapidly as the agonizing wait for 6 am (this was the absolute earliest my parents would allow for us to awake them!) and we had to bring them with us when we went downstairs to find out if all that “being good” in the weeks prior had put us on Santa’s NICE list —

SURPRISE-What did Santa bring you?

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Unfortunately, one of the biggest surprises this time of year is the VOID.

Some face the VOID of celebrating their first (or second, or third…) Christmas without their loved one.

For others there’s the VOID felt in the bank account, leaving nothing for gifts.

Amidst all the beautiful lights, wreath adorned doors, the hustle and bustle and gatherings, there are those for whom this is NOT the most wonderful time of the year. 

I’ll never forget the surprise of my very first out of state Christmas working at Phoenix Police Department. I swallowed the lump in my throat after wishing “Merry Christmas” to family and friends far away as I clocked in for my overnight shift working the holiday. I fully expected the night to be filled with bookings from partying: DUI’s and noise violations from all the celebrating…

Surprise!

The most common arrests I saw that night were the domestic violence and family assaults.

Not everyone has a family they enjoy celebrating the holiday with. That Christmas felt like a “Reverse Grinch” moment happened to me as my heart cinched up and threatened to break.

My heart has these moments when I hear a parent threaten their overly rambunctious child, “Christmas is canceled this year!”

My heart breaks every Black Friday when I watch humanity crawl and punch their way to the front line for the door-busting deals.

My heart breaks when I see the VOID left in this world.

The only cure for this heart break and void is the VERY reason why I love this season and this time of the year.

No matter how dysfunctional your family may be, no matter how misbehaved your children are, no matter how empty your bank account is, you have available a reason to celebrate–the same reason the shepherds, three wise men and a young couple with nothing celebrated in a manger  2000 years ago.

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Every year, I picture Linus in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special telling Charlie the TRUE meaning of Christmas:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Luke 2:8-14 (KJV)

He came to heal the brokenhearted.  He fills the void. He is the very reason for the season. So, the real question is:

Are you ready for Him?

 

 

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IT IS FINISHED

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IT IS FINISHED

After just recovering from pneumonia, I come back to the real world to be smacked up-side the head with many new issues: water pipes breaking, insurance issues, and an additional “to do” list that I can’t even look at right now.

I need a break.

Hiatus-a gap or a break (Webster’s)

Or- a vacation, a time to be still (Me.)

One of my new year’s resolutions was to achieve more balance.

Yet, I have a tendency to plan up my vacations, my breaks and my still time.

With stuffy nose, tired eyes, a multiplicity of “to-do” lists and my last nerve being frayed, I find myself lost in the land of “burn out.”  I own the fact that I contributed by my own inability to say “no,” my tendency to not be still and to end up un-balanced, and there it is: One more resolution down the drain!

With planning a wedding and the goals of getting two more books published, all while working at the crime lab, managing rentals and…well, life and relationships, and all of the above– I need a break!

I am taking a hiatus from blogging.

— I will continue posting, but it will be in the form of “guest posts” and re-posts. (AND, you can always find me on Twitter and my Julie Stoddard (Eddy) Facebook.)

After my mom has put her “all” into something and finds her input no longer needed or her portion completed, she throws up her hands and shouts, “DONE!”

I promised God that, as long as He provided words for each post, I would continue to honor that.–Thank you GOD! –for being a faithful provider.

I promised to spend the hours upon hours each week if He would show me at least one person was impacted by those words. –Thank you to each person that proved this in their comments or words spoken to me! And Thank God (again) for moving in people to prove this to me!

God is my constant encourager in a world that tends to beat us down.

For me, this blog has been an incredible and humbling journey of God’s provision and faithfulness.

I set out with a goal of one blog posting a week for an entire year.

–Actually OVER-DONE, but God wasn’t finished, so I continued on in the promises to honor His nudging.

 

But before I can throw my hands up, I have to cover this one thing.

It’s a biggie.

I’ve danced around this topic in the blogs for over a year, but because it’s so GI-NORMOUS. I’ve avoided it.

I’ve seen health be devastated by it.

I’ve seen marriages destroyed by it.

I’ve seen co-workers estranged by it.

I’ve seen parents and children’s lives forever damaged by it.

It’s touched my life in very deep ways.

So many great musicians sing about it–

“It’s anger’s own worst enemy”-Matthew West

10th Ave North-“Maybe there’s something I missed But how could they treat me like this? It’s wearing out my heart The way they disregard”

“’Cause we all make mistakes sometimes And we’ve all stepped across that line But nothing’s sweeter than the day we find…” (Toby Mac)

“It’s the hardest thing to give away And the last thing on your mind today It always goes to those that don’t deserve It’s the opposite of how you feel When the pain they caused is just too real It takes everything you have just to say the word…”–Matthew West

And the great Don Henley gets right to the “heart of the matter”:

“The more I know, the less I understand All the things I thought I knew, I’m learning again I’ve been tryin’ to get down to the Heart of the Matter But my will gets weak And my thoughts seem to scatter But I think it’s about…”

 

FORGIVENESS

“Un-forgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” –St. Augustine

Harboring un-forgiveness is deadly.

 

“Girl, you really did it this time.” It’s that nasty voice in my head hissing at me. “This is huge.”

I can almost see the smug smile on his face.

“How can you call yourself a Christian?” He taunts.

This enemy knows the arrows that pierce the worst.

He is now nodding with arms folded across his chest, “What will the ladies in your Bible study say?”

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Me–“Nothing. Because I’ll never tell them! This is too HUGE.  I can’t. I can’t believe I did this. This same sin that tangled me up before I was a Christian. This is huge. I would rather die than tell them this.  –I’ve been a believer for years… and I still couldn’t stop myself. I seriously want to die.”

“Yep,” he hisses his acknowledgement, “You are unforgiveable.”

And I contemplated it: deeply. Pills? Gunshot? Alcohol?  How could I get out of this? All the while, the enemy to my soul was prodding me along.

My thoughts landed on the scene from the movie “The Passion” as Judas, who betrayed Jesus with a kiss, horrified and steeped in his sin, committed suicide. That death was what I earned.

“That’s it! A noose is what I deserve. I am a betrayer of what Jesus had begun in me.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. This pain would end so easily. I was resolved.

But then something happened. The hissing words of the enemy stopped.

All was still.

Through my tears and agonized breathing, I heard a soft whisper, “But look at me.”

I looked up and around. Where was that coming from? In my mind’s eye, I saw it — the bloodied face of Jesus. His face scarred by the crown of thorns, his battered body hanging from the cross.  His sad, piercing eyes rose to mine.

They say the greatest distance traveled is from your mind to your heart—measurably about 1 foot from head to chest, but for an idea to travel from the brain and find its way into your heart—immeasurably far.

A different whisper now, “I did this for you. I paid for your sins past, present and future. It is finished. I’ve already forgiven you.”

I’d read lots about forgiveness; but to see it face to face; to feel His undeserved sacrifice after what I had done.

It was easier before I was a Christian; easier to discuss those nice ideas of grace and mercy, and then to go about your business. But as a Christian, holding yourself to a different standard, and being held by the world to a different standard, and still screwing up.

“But what about the ladies in bible study?” I asked Him.

“You’ve already experienced their unconditional love for you. They love as I do, they forgive as I do.”

“But what I’ve done is…” I hang my head. My thoughts return to nooses, to ending it, to a way out of the pain, “…it’s unforgivable.”

“I know you.” The whispered words convicted me. In a flash of a moment, I understood He saw every moment of my entire life.

“I know your heart. This is part of it all. I am not finished with you.” That gentle whisper again. “I will continue to work out this good thing in you that I have started. But you must understand that you are pre-paid. Look at me.”

When I looked I saw–

I saw hands pierced for me. I saw a mocking crown worn for me. I saw unspeakable pain and death that my sin deserved. My earned sin was redeemed by this: His crucifixion. And I saw the grace and mercy that flowed from the cross. As my eyes traveled the distance from one nail to the other nail across his outstretched arms, that idea of grace suddenly traveled the greatest distance–instantly.

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I became newly aware of the beauty flowing from the symbol I hang from my neck. Bloody, battered, betrayed love extending and enveloping me right there, crouched on my living room floor.

“I see how you forgive me. You are Jesus, you are God…But…” the hiss of my doubts began to rise.

The kind whisper again, “You must forgive yourself as I forgive you.”

“But…how?” My shame, insecurities, doubts and questions up-rise in me like lava.

Continuing on this life journey unfolded like a deep dark chasm before me, I wavered…

“You cannot do this alone. It is my example to you and my power in you that will enable you to accomplish this. And I will never leave you.”

“Never?”

“NEVER.”

Suddenly, the chasm of my circumstances was bridged with His mercy. His forgiveness and faithfulness lifted me up and across the doubts as I was flooded with a new resolve and a new freedom.

So many of us live in the belief of our salvation, but are still chained in bondage and not living in the freedom of our forgiveness.

Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”—Matthew 18:21

We are to forgive continually; even when it comes to forgiving yourself.

“Most certainly I tell you, whatever things you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever things you release on earth will have been released in heaven.” Matthew  18:18 (WEB version)

Forgiveness brings life to the forgiver. Sometimes the effects are not realized in the world, but are undoubtedly recognized for ever after.

And it’s now about how many times you fall; because we are all going to fall. And it’s not about just getting up, because I see now that is the only choice. I believe it’s what you do when you get up that makes all the difference.

So, as I arise from my knees, what to do about this forgiveness thing?

“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” ~Paul Boese

I realize it isn’t easy. But if I am going to do this life thing, I want a future—and not one steeped in shame and cowering in a corner. I want a future filled with freedom and abundant life!

Remembering the image of Jesus and what he already accomplished for us gives me the visual I need to do this.–I think this is part of what it means to “take up the cross daily.”  (Luke 9:23) Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” It’s difficult and burdensome and it requires a rigorous, daily commitment to focus and carry it out. I find myself continually forgiving myself for my past mistakes, yet that effort has kept me from making the same mistakes again (most of the time!;) I live aware of my human tendencies and realize my need to depend on God for this.  I now also live free in God’s grace and try to spread that around to a world that is severely lacking in this area.

There is a fantastic self-help book out there that will help you along your journey—The Bible.

Forgive as I have forgiven you-(Matthew 6:12)

I will never leave you or forsake you-(Joshua 1:5)

Christ’s power made perfect in our weakness-(2 Corinthians 12:9)

Start with something simple—like forgiving that guy in traffic for cutting you off, or that teenager, with his pants drooping down and underwear hanging out, in the “Express Lane” of the store with 29 things.

Tuck away the knowledge that Christ’s power in you will allow this to occur. Then, when you are in the hang of it, move up to forgiving a neighbor who called the cops on your birthday party, or maybe a co-worker who took all the credit for that project you worked on tirelessly.

Continue on, keeping your eyes on Jesus,—forgive your parent or a sibling who hurt you in senseless ways. Or, find forgiveness for your child who you sacrifice so much for, for whom you would give your life for, but who endlessly hurts you with their words or ingratitude.

And, once you have daily walked this burden of taking up the cross, achieving levels and depths in knowledge and in the power of forgiveness…take the longest journey and tackle that big one—

Forgive yourself.

“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Phil 3:14)

I say it again–

Forgive, Forgive, And FORGIVE. And then forgive, forgive, forgive, forgive….

Live in the freedom of forgiveness, paid by Jesus once and for all at the cross. Extend forgiveness to others, just as it was extended to you. And be gentle to your spirit; always forgiving yourself.

It is, indeed, FINISHED.

And now, I can raise my hands up to heaven and shout it out, like my mom, “I am SO DONE!”

SOLD OUT

SOLD OUT

twinkie shelves from blogs.etruth.com

Sold out. It’s usually not a good feeling when you hear that.

You searched all over for it.

You located it.

You had to have it.

You waited for it to go on sale. Then, just as you were to retrieve your reward —

“Sorry, ma’am. We SOLD OUT.”

Nothing left.

Like the shelves of every convenience store the day after Hostess announced the end of the Twinkie.

GONE.

And such is the tendency of this world. We look for something to fill us up and realize it has the same ability to disappear as quickly as we attained it.

 

But when you leave it to God, the Master Creator, He has the power to create something from nothing.

“The Lord merely spoke and the heavens were created.” (Psalm 33:6)

“In the beginning…the earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Genesis1:2)

And then there was sky, and dry ground, and seeds and plants, and seasons, and day, and all the fish, birds and animals, and mankind…

“So the creation of the heavens and earth and everything in them was completed.” (Genesis 2:1)

And it was good.

Not bad for 6 days work.

And don’t we all like to think we can create some pretty terrific things in our weeks? See, I think I have things figured out in my life. I love being the master creator of my “weeks” and my own little world. How I act and dress, where I work, what I do, how I spend, what I eat and who I choose to be with. Everything I accomplish — I like to take credit for.

And, there are some really cool things that we humans can “take credit for.”

 

Like the Twinkie. What a creative invention we humans came up with! Who was the genius that said, “I am turning this cake thing upside down and inside out!” They created a cake where the frosting is protected. A moist, spongy, yellow cake infused with creamy, sweet filling giving each mouthful the perfect amount of sweetness paired with cake; all wrapped up and easily enjoyed anywhere! Plus, their shelf-life guarantees you will always have the ability to enjoy them, like, almost forever. Almost.

My mom loves these things! She always has two or three boxes on the snack shelf at home. She calls them her “fountain of youth” and believes all those preservatives help keep her young. But NOTHING in this world lasts forever. Nothing.

Poof.

Nearly overnight, my mom’s shelf was bare. The Twinkie was no more. Hostess decided it’s “shelf-life” was over. Everywhere you turned, Circle K, Wal-Mart, Safeway, Piggly Wiggly and even AMAZON, the world’s largest marketplace—SOLD OUT.

Moments of accomplishment can quickly dissipate; feelings of happiness are fleeting and temporary. Stuff of this life, is just…stuff.

And, as Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working for you?”

Nothing in this world lasts forever.

Enter Jesus.

God not only created all things, He also took on flesh and lived among us. (Emmanuel translated means “God with us.”) God shows us the true example of how to live in this world and to not end up with that empty feeling.

Jesus–

“I am come so that they may have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Leave it to God to come to us, meet us where we are at and bring fullness from emptiness. He takes everything we think is right and turns it upside down and inside out.

Jesus, born in a manger.

God made human.

One innocent, murdered for all the guilty.

A King for all eternity and for all creation.

He tells us to have everything, you must lose everything about yourself. To have Jesus and life to the fullest, you must be SOLD OUT to what this world expects from you.

 

When in doubt, TRUST

When in need, GIVE

When persecuted, LOVE

When betrayed, FORGIVE

 

He says to love our enemies, even as they hate us. He asks us to extend mercy, even when we aren’t shown any. He shows us how to live in gentleness and humility even in a barbarian world. He tells us how to live everlasting when all else will fade to nothing. Give Jesus your heart, literally “selling out” to Jesus and the opposite of nothing happens.

Matthew Chapter 5 tells us:

Those who find themselves in utter desperation for Jesus will be given the Kingdom of Heaven.

The persecuted will be blessed.

The broken will be made new.

And the meek will inherit it all.

With Jesus, you will never thirst again, you will not hunger and you will have peace beyond understanding.

So, when the world has stripped your shelves bare, eaten away at every last grain you have to offer and you feel you have nothing left. That is when you experience the fullness a life with Jesus can supply.

God is our endless supply

Jesus is the Hope to fill the shelves of our hearts.

To have everything, be SOLD OUT.

And it was good.

 

“This is your brain on…”

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“This is your brain on…”

For those of us growing up in the 80’s, we know this phrase all too well.  The commercial for a “Drug Free America” that began with a picture of a whole egg: “If this is your brain…” then they crack the egg and fry it in a pan. “Then this is your brain on drugs.”

The brain unraveled.

This last weekend I attended a seminar/retreat on Love and Joy (and getting more of it in life!).  The instructor, Christy Osborn, was a corporate trainer for over 20 years. She utilized studies of the brain to understand and train/retrain individuals in the corporate world.

In summary, (or if you remember from science class) your brain communicates through a system of neurons and dendrites. Thoughts are neurotransmitters (chemicals) that travel from the neuron and through/out the dendrite. Picture a tennis ball at one end (neuron) and a stem coming out of it with a bunch of tree branches at the other end (dendrite).

When a negative thought happens (and test subjects were asked to dwell on negative things), the neurotransmitter (chemical) travels from neuron, down the stem and out through the dendrite where it makes paths to other nerve cells.

When your mind dwells on negative thoughts, it produces toxic neurotransmitters.

And it isn’t pretty–

Your brain on disappointment

Your brain on sorrow

Your brain in anger

Your brain in contempt

Your brain on bitterness

Your brain on unforgiveness–

Picture that tennis ball as a dried up prune and the extending branch as a dead and gnarly, blackened, spindly thatch of thorns.

It is a sickness that translates into our lives.

My sister calls this her “bad berry theory in management”—Those people who arrive to work in terrible moods, never smiling, always complaining, gossiping and grumping about everything. Their negativity spreads like a mold or a cancer through the workplace. It happens in life and in our bodies. When we dwell in the negative, our immune response decreases, our bodies are weakened and our pain tolerance levels decrease. We are more prone to illnesses when under stress; when someone dies, when we dwell in the negative.

And just a little more bad news—as it would turn out, those negative thoughts reproduce like a cancer. They stack up on themselves like a heaping, stinking pile of rotten produce.

Negativity perpetuates negativity.

Of course, we all will experience negative thoughts from time to time (the loss of a job, a divorce, losing a loved one, etc.,); the secret is to not get stuck there!

Ready for the good news?

Positive thoughts also reproduce themselves.

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

For positive thoughts, the same process occurs with the neurotransmitters traveling from the neuron to the dendrites–

Your brain on joy

Your brain in compassion

Your brain in forgiveness

Your brain in acceptance

Your brain in encouragement

Your brain in love!

Picture a robust golden apple and a stem emerging from it with branches loaded with a bounty of beautiful, shiny green leaves.

These positive neurotransmitters are like a shot of pure joy straight to the heart. They result in emboldening the immune system, increasing your tolerance for pain and strengthening your whole body and mind.

And ready for a little more good news?! (A good practice for that idea of MORE positive!) 😉

“I’m trading my sorrows. And I’m trading my shame. And I’m laying it down for the joy of the Lord.” Israel Houghton & New Breed

Remember that stinking, rotten pile?– It can be brought back to life!

 

The power of HOPE.

“And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” (Romans 5:5)

We have a God who knows everything we’re going through.  He knows our hearts and our minds. He created us! And with His power in us, there is nothing man can do to us that He can’t transform to good.

“In my distress I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me and set me free. The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” (Psalm 118:5)

For the doubters, unbelievers or many who are just stuck in the negativity, there is a place you can take it all and be changed.

“Anything is possible if a person believes”…“I do believe, but help me with my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

Take your burdens to Jesus-He can handle your disappointments, your discouragements, your hurt, your pain, your unforgiveness and your unbelief.

“We take every thought captive so that it is obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

With his power, given to you by the Holy Spirit, you can overcome; you can trade in your sorrow, your hopelessness and your pain for hope, love and joy.

Retrain your mind by taking a negative experience and locating the hope in it and the negative can transform to positive!

How does this work? Here are a couple of examples–Knowing that with Jesus, though you sorrow for your loved one who left this world too soon; you find hope in knowing you will see them again!

Or, spreading hope in the walk of life by being there for a friend who is diagnosed with cancer. Helping guide her because you survived that same diagnosis.

“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.” (2 Corinthians 1:4)

Hope is knowing that:

When chaos surrounds you, there is One that can calm the stormy seas (Matthew 8:24, Mark 4:35, Luke 8:22)

When things look their darkest, there is One who can light your way (John 8:12)

There is a safe place you can lay all your grief, unforgiveness, shame, anger, bitterness, negativity and contempt

There is nothing new or negative in this world that you can think up that He doesn’t have the power to transform for the good of those who love Him. (Romans 8:28)

Picture Jesus Christ betrayed, battered, bloodied and wearing that awful, thatchy, spindly crown of thorns, taking his last breath hanging on the Cross, paying the final debt for mankind and thereby enabling us all to live free from the negativity of sin–

That, my friends, is your brain on HOPE.

Dark Alleys and Illuminated Paths

Light in the Dark

Light in the Dark

DARK ALLEYS AND ILLUMINATED PATHS

I run in the mornings. I love the summer; even though it is hot, I am assured a lighted path. My mind can immerse itself in my IPod, in memories, in prayers. In the winter, I am on guard. The very same path I run is dark and shadowy and, being a woman, one must always watch for predators. My mind thinks on the runner’s body they found in the Indian Bend wash, the coyotes I’ve seen scavenging for food, the bobcat, hidden fears.
Amazing what a little light can do.

The dark cannot survive the light.

Un-forgiveness is a dark and murky place for our human hearts.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” (John 1:5)

The light of Christ seeps into this very darkness and illuminates it with healing mercy.

But what about the times when it appears the darkness is winning?

It was the 1980’s and I remember hearing a story about a church-going lady that has stuck with me to this day. My eyes prick with the memory of the events. She lived in a lower-class community. She had many friends, a loving family and children who loved her. She sought to spend her life giving and caring for those the world left behind. She was going house to house to ask for money to give to the needy in the community on behalf of her church. While she was out on this mission, she went missing.
It was spread across the news. The troops of her church rallied. The posters of her beautiful face plastered on light poles, message boards and newscasts. Where was she?

It was later found that she had been abducted, tied up on a chair and abused. The two men who did this, did it for the less than three dollars that was in her pocket book.

Her family spoke of how they forgave. They knew she would want that from them. They did it to honor her and because of what they believe.

This kind of forgiveness would take me years. I would have to seriously work at it. They did it immediately. And to be face to face with an oppressor and to forgive them in the heat of the moment? It’s just not in me.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

So many questions. So much I don’t understand.
I don’t know why bad things happen to good people.

After torturing her sufficiently, they realized there really was no more money. They killed her that day.

Darkness appears to have won.

The abducted woman went to her grave with forgiveness in her heart.

Her family knew this, but how did the world know?

It was one of those “Dateline” or 20/20 type shows that really revealed the amazing part about it. Her convicted killer told the story of how, even as they were abusing her, she was forgiving them. They had not bound her mouth, because they were asking her where all the money was. She gave them her whole purse and told them to take it all. Told them she had more than money to offer them. She told them about Christ. She shared His story. She shared her life and continually told them she forgave them. Her message got through, to more than one.

And her story is just one of thousands. As I was researching to find her name and the exact details, I came across hundreds of other stories of Christ’s power at work in the hearts of abused, raped, tortured individuals who illuminated Christ’s light into the darkness with their immediate forgiveness toward their oppressors.

Although I was young, I remember my mom explaining the word “martyr” to me; (probably to stop all my questions!)

Worldwide, over 70 million people are martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ.

And this is in just the last 100 years!

“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 42:16)

The end of the story is that one of those thieves repented. (Sound familiar?) His darkness was turned. The light of Christ shone through her into the darkness of that place she was held.

She apparently wasn’t nodding off in church during the message about being the “hands and feet of Christ.”

Even in dark situations, light overcomes.

Share the stories of the light. You never know who it might impact.

THIRST

Thirst via flickr.com

THIRST
Sometimes a thirst is so ragged and entrenched in the soul that NOTHING seems to satisfy.

“Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again…” (John 4:13)

I live in the desert. I always carry water with me.
Because I once made the mistake of not carrying water.

It was during the running part of a triathlon. It was September and late in the morning; the sun was a blazing fireball in the sky. The course map showed several water stations along the run. I left my water bottle tucked nicely in my bicycle and, right before I headed out on the “out and back” trip, I stuffed two gummy sharks (for quick energy) in my mouth. After a chaotic swim and surviving the bike, even though it was hot and uphill, I looked forward to what is usually my strongest event.
Huffing up the desert mountain trail left no saliva to digest the sugars and those two gummy sharks became plaster in my mouth. Over the next mile of the steep run, my sandpaper tongue attempted digging those Sharkies away from my teeth in a fruitless attempt to dislodge them. Their indigestible shark bodies taunted me for 1.6 miles until the first water stop at the peak of the hill and the turn-around point of the trail.
The miniscule amount of water I was given at the first stop barely made a difference, like two rain drops falling on an encrusted desert floor.
And all those water stops on the course map?? There was ONE.
I tried to focus on waterfalls and drinking fountains, rivers and aquifers, children dancing through sprinklers…but my mind overpowered my will. My mind instead brought me all the scenes from the movie “127 hours.” Remember the story of Aron Ralston? He went out on a summer hike in the Utah desert and got trapped/pinned in between rocks for days and nearly died of thirst before he cut his own arm off to escape? That is what I couldn’t pry my thoughts from.

“… But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” (John 4:13)

God nudged these words into my conscious. I let go of the nightmarish visions of “127 hours” and held fast to this verse.
Even as I crossed the finish line and chugged three bottles of water, my thirst lingered. This verse had a hold on me—it was what brought me through. It had brought me through before…

My father’s final days on the earth; he lay in Collier Hospice center in Wheatridge, CO. His skin, bones and organs were overtaken in malignant tumors winning their battle for his body. The friends and family visits had subsided except for those closest. The nurses/“experts in dying” told us his body systems would be slowly shutting down.
He was sufficiently drugged up with whatever concoctions they give to make the body more comfortable, but his face told a different story. He had lost the ability to communicate and, because he could no longer digest and swallow, we could no longer nourish him. The last friends who came by, dabbed the mouth sponge with rum and we all toasted with a shot of Captain Morgan’s and they swabbed it into my father’s mouth.

It was the last pleasant look I saw on his face.

Days passed. No water; just the moist sponge (that got really nasty after about two swabs) and his favorite lip balm-cherry “liprageous.” The things we remember… (and maybe should’ve re-thought that Captain Morgan’s).
When his eyes would open, they shone with fear and confusion. As he “slept,” his body writhed against some unseen enemy. His breathing was sporadic, sending my sister and me into panics. His existence appeared steeped in absolute torment.
In the quiet of the late nights, I sat in the chair beside his bed praying for life’s hold to let go, and for him to find peace. It was not to be so for several more days…
Every night, through those last few days of his earthly life, I prayed the same prayers–for peace and release.

“I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!” ( Psalm 116:1)

Ever wished someone you loved dearly would leave this earth?? Don’t judge—it is TORTURE to watch them in pain and wish yourself in their place, and yet be absolutely powerless to make that happen. I thought my heart would shatter in pieces. My anguish was inconsolable.

Yet, I know Jesus. I know the love of my Savior. I know God’s love is what did this very thing for us with His Son on the cross.

It is written that no angels or demons will separate us from that love. (Romans 8:38)

He quenches the soul-thirsty. (And no “sacrificial” arm is required from you!) 😉

It appeared that God was working His magic on my father’s soul. My friends and my study of His Word all tell me that there is none too lost and it is never too late to accept the everlasting forgiveness, love and life offered through Jesus Christ. I was reminded of the one repentant thief that hung on a cross next to Jesus. His last minute change of heart and acceptance brought salvation and peace to his soul.—He would dwell with the everlasting. He would get to see his family again.

Could this be what was happening with my father? My father was a man who dedicated his life to science and engineering and who needed an explanation for everything. Faith was too murky for him. But, as his last days approached, (and it just happened to be Easter) he opened himself to the immeasurable, unfathomable faith and love of God.
As I watched the struggle between this world’s hold on him; his body and his spirit, it was the thirst that bothered me most. To be without water and with nothing but drugs and booze as the last “soul nourishment” that one experienced? Agony.

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow river of living water.” (John 7:37)

My father found release days later as the world’s hold finally set his spirit free.

“… But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” (John 4:13)

My thirst is quenched.

In the days following my father’s passing, I was given so many “coincidental” occurrences pointing to his salvation that even doubting Thomas would have been convinced! (The trains, the flower, the song, the cross on his brain scan…Creepy, but awesome!)

With Christ, I have hope in seeing my father again. It’s where I find refreshment. I live with it now tucked in my heart.
I will never be without it again.
It’s what my heart needs to survive the desert days ahead.

Recession Brings “grace”

IMG_20130514_183310_506Five years ago, as I was working at Scottsdale PD’s Crime lab as a fingerprint technician, I went part-time to help care for my terminally ill father in Colorado. I figured I could return to full-time within a year or two.–The “recession” changed all that. After my father passed away, I found myself with some extra time on my hands and a desire to pursue some old dreams. I enrolled at Scottsdale Community College and began honing my (at that point) “latent” writing skills. These new skills and the inflamed desire to write are what brought about my first fiction novel “grace.”
“grace” is a novel set in southern Oregon that follows four friends’ lives and is threaded with the overarching theme of undeserved forgiveness. It contains tragedy and murder, life and death, good and evil, as well as triumph, love and second chances.

PLEASE COME AND JOIN IN THE CELEBRATION OF GRACE AT A FREE COMMUNITY EVENT!
JUNE 1ST AT ASU’S SKYSONG CONVERGENCE ROOM (SE corner of McDowell Rd and Scottsdale Rd)
Enjoy a free continental breakfast and hear a reading from “grace”
A book signing and Raffle will follow.
Event is FROM 10 AM TO NOON
(for more info check details at AZCentral.com, Phoenix New Times.com and on the events page at K-LOVE.com)
“grace” will be available at the event ($15.20 for SC, $33.75 HC and $5.00 for the e-book) and also at Amazon.com and other online retailers.