Church massacre; prayer works?

Shouldn’t a life dedicated to Jesus mean bad things won’t happen to good people? Not ironically, the sermon at my church, only minutes before the shooting would begin, was from the text in Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (NKJV)

All things.

What was meant for harm, God uses for good. (Genesis 50:20). In other words, if you think the story is over in Sutherland Springs, Tx, with the saddest possible conclusion, stay tuned. God makes beauty from the ashes.

In the aftermath of the horrific church shooting on Sunday, if you’re sincerely or derisively asking if prayer works, I will stand up and resoundingly shout “ABSOLUTELY!”

I have seen miracles as the result of prayer. Too many to list. From finding a lost wedding ring in a huge field that had been occupied by thousands of people, to loved ones healed from stage 4 cancer, to lives being delivered from crippling addictions.

The answer to prayers in the wake of Sunday are yet to happen, or yet to be made public. Wait for it. In the days, weeks, months, maybe even years to come, the stories of answered prayers and miracles will come to light. The evil visited upon that small church in that tiny town was not a result of the impotence of prayer, but the depravity of man, underscoring the very need for prayer.

Those who were tragically lost on Sunday are today in the presence of Jesus. Those who survived are, themselves, the result of miracles. They will tell you of the power of prayer.

Faith is not strengthened when everything is going right. It is perfected through fiery trials. It is precisely in times like this when God’s strength, mercy, and grace are made perfect.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord , the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:1‭-‬2 NIV

NMW

T-minus 29 days. You know, when you’ve gone over 30 years of your adult life seemingly watching everyone around you get married, you get to a point when you genuinely think it’s not going to happen for you.

Three years ago last month, I met the woman who instantly and permanently changed my life. Somehow, I knew right away that my life was going to change. In October of 2013, a mere two months after discovering one another, I wrote a series of posts about what God was doing, starting with this one.

Like any good and realistic love story, there were significant challenges to overcome. While we frolicked through the fall leaves and winter snow in my visits from California, we had to talk through some serious issues. Whether it was discussing and working through hurts and mistakes from our pasts, to thinking and praying through logistics of how to make a cross-country relationship work, it was going to take 100% effort, determination and commitment.

As the calendar flipped from 2013 to 2014, we made a pact that we have kept to this day, and it will be etched in eternity on October 8th. Sarah-Jane needed assurance from me that I would do whatever it takes, that I would stand by her side no matter the challenge, and I would love her no matter the cost. As the man, I knew it was my duty to protect her heart, life, body, mind and spirit. I knew her need for assurance was my responsibility. But it has to be more than words. It must be backed up with actions. Actions that were, and often still are uncomfortable. Actions that cause me to face my biggest fears. Actions that, by facing them and being open about them, liberate me from the bondage of fear.

So, on January 1, 2014, like any mature adults, we sat at her kitchen table, curled our pinkies together, looked into each other’s eyes, and simply said, “no matter what.” We even captured the moment with this picture.

img_3125

Since that day, “no matter what” has been our rallying point. When either of us says these three simple words, it calibrates our hearts and reminds us of what God has done, is doing, and will do because we have kept Him at the center. We believed then, as we do now, that He was the one who crossed the paths of a guy in Rocklin, California with a girl in Pascoag, Rhode Island. We knew then that it wouldn’t be easy. Fortunately, we didn’t know at the time how difficult the challenges would be. But we promised one another that no matter what the mirror says, the scale, the bank account, the doctor, the opinions of others…we will stick together. When we aren’t physically together, we often text each other the equivalent of the pinky swear, “NMW”.

What an honor it is to be given the responsibility by God to love and protect another human life. In my case, several human lives as I will also be blessed with her sons, Christian and Jeremy.

Father, as we promised each other on January 1, 2014, and as we will publicly and solemnly profess on October 8, 2016, I will love, honor and protect the lives with which you have assigned me stewardship. No matter the cost, no matter the difficulty.

No matter what.

Re-membering

This week is the definition of bittersweet for me. Last Sunday would have been my mom’s 80th birthday, and today will be the first October 30th since 1935 without my dad.

The title of this post is not a typo. The word remember means bringing back that which is broken. Imagine one of your arms being broken from your body. The act of restoring it to your shoulder is re-membering. IMG_5453

For several years in the 1990s, my parents served on the board of directors of an orphanage in Mexico. I had the privilege of visiting and ministering in this orphanage. It was an amazing experience I’ll never forget. Being with these children, with whom I could barely communicate because of the language barrier, touched my heart in a way I never knew possible. We laughed, played and even cried together. This was my first experience in such a ministry, and it never would have happened were it not for my parents.

This past Sunday, the 80th anniversary of my mom’s birth, we had a special missionary guest. His ministry?

Orphans in Haiti.

On the day that held a special place in my heart as I remembered my mom, God sent a messenger who re-animated a chamber in my heart for those with no parents or blood relatives.

Re-membering.

Today, as I think of my dad, and for the first time, being unable to see or even call him to wish him a special day and tell him I love him, I re-member his unwavering integrity and character. An imperfect man, yes, but one who wouldn’t allow himself to knowingly do the wrong thing whether people would know or not. HIs example has served as an inspiration to me throughout my adult life.

Re-membering their love and devotion to one another. Re-membering their steadfast pursuit and love of God and people. Re-membering the laughter. Re-membering the tears.

My heart was broken on March 20, 2009, and again on August 5, 2015. But as I re-member the parents God blessed me with, and think of those who have no parents, my heart is restored and filled with joy, humility, and resolve. A resolve to make a difference in lives, just as my parents did. By any means necessary. Even if it seems crazy. Even if it seems impossible. Even if it seems too late. Even if it seems too expensive.

God showed me through my parents that all He needs is a willing heart, and lives will be changed.

It must start with mine.

Thank you Mom and Dad. I miss you. But you are part of me as I re-member you. May my life be a continuation of the spiritual heritage you began. I look forward to seeing you again, but first, there is work to be done here.

Springing to life

Today is March 20th. It is the first day of Spring. It is also the sixth anniversary of my IMG_4600mom’s passing from earth’s winter, into her eternal Spring, the arms of Jesus. I didn’t realize until about a week ago that her death, and her new life, came on the first day of Spring. Maybe that’s because in California, the first day of Spring doesn’t mean much because the weather is Spring-like for a good month or two by then. But in New England, Spring means you technically survived a long, rugged winter. I say technically because it snowed today for the first time in weeks. Figures.

Life is so much like our seasons. Some years, it seems like varying degrees of Spring. Maybe you have a storm here and there. But nothing major. It goes about as quickly as it came. But then there are the long, grueling winters that really grind at your resolve to go outside and deal with all the stuff that has piled up around you.

When my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, and told she only had weeks to live, she was completely at peace. Completely. She was not afraid to die. She knew her destination. She knew that what was ahead was much greater than what she was leaving behind.

This winter has been brutal. In every sense of the word. Physically, emotionally, mentally. Even native New Englander say this winter has been one for the record books. And I survived it. It didn’t defeat me. It didn’t send me packing for the relative comfort of California. There have been times, not just during the calendar winter, but the life one, that it seemed giving up was the answer.

It can be tempting, when the going gets tough, to pack your things and move to a more comfortable “climate”. But it’s those grinding winters that make Spring more beautiful. More rewarding. Life is challenging. It can be downright brutal. But I have survived it. When the Spring comes, I will bathe in its beauty. I will breathe it in. But can I maintain that level of appreciation when the storm seems to be trying to kill me?

My mom sure did. That woman went through the storms of life that would break a lot of people. But anyone who knew her never knew when there was a storm in her life, and never knew the storms she endured earlier in life. Not because she was fake. But because she had a strength, grace, and peace that passes all understanding. And because she was more interested in how others were doing, than herself.

She has been gone for 6 years. And yet, she is still teaching and inspiring me to this day. God blessed me, and countless others, with her influence. I fall so drastically short of her example. Of her legacy. But I press onward. May this long, grueling winter make me a stronger, better man. And when that day comes, that first day of “Spring”, when I am face to face with my Lord, may I not leave this world defeated by the winters. But let them strengthen me, give me an appreciation and longing for what lies ahead. There must be nothing in this world that is more significant than pleasing my Father in Heaven. When that’s the case, there can be nothing on this earth that can break me. No matter how hard it tries.

Christmas, and heaven, are for children

It began with a baby. A night like every other was also a night like no other. A baby struggled His way into the world. In doing so, He changed it forever.

There is something special, pure and exhilarating about seeing the unbridled joy and wonder in the eyes of a child at Christmas. For the adults, it can be a beating. Life is hectic. It’s filled with pressure. It’s filled with elbows and impatience in the stores. We have lost the wonder.

Jesus came into the world as humbly as possible. A gooey, completely dependent infant. The head which would one day be scarred with a crown of thorns, couldn’t be supported by His tiny, weak neck. His voice, which spoke the universe into existence, couldn’t be heard until his lungs were free of the fluid which enveloped him for nine months. The Savior of the world, umbilically connected to a simple teenage girl.

In Matthew 18, the disciples asked Jesus who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. In what must have been a startling moment for them, Jesus told them that we must “change” and become like little children in order to enter the kingdom. He went on to say that those who assume a lowly place of a child would be the greatest in heaven.

Humility. Instead of jostling for position, instead of bickering and competing with one another, instead of having to be right, we are called to be humble. Not immature. Not ignorant. But humble.

When we are in a state of humility, and we are in the presence of something glorious and astounding, we are overwhelmed with wonder, just like the wide-eyed awe of a child. This is where we need to be. This is where I need to be.

As we celebrate and consider the meaning and joy of this day, let us be mindful of what we can learn from a child. Let us not be so dignified that we can’t allow ourselves to be stunned into silence, with our mouths agape, as we consider the glory of the Christ child. Let your heart be a humble manger.

Experience the joy and the wonder of Christmas, like a humble child.

Thankful

I have so much for which to be thankful. At the same time, there are a great many things, Thanksgiving-Picturesand even people, which seem determined to smother an attitude of gratefulness. Joy isn’t the absence of sorrow. Peace isn’t the absence of conflict. Gratitude isn’t the absence of struggle. These qualities, these attitudes, these behaviors are conditions of the heart despite what the circumstances may be.

Lately, I have had a hard time dealing with negativity. I’ve had it involuntarily foisted upon me every single day. Quite literally, it’s an occupational hazard. At times, it sucks the life out of me. Being with loved ones, sharing stories of our days, laughter, and reminding one another of how great God is always recharges my joy, peace and thankfulness.

May your Thanksgiving bring you love and laughter. I pray that you would celebrate with loved ones, as I will. Though I’m so far from many who I love, they are in my heart every moment. Whatever your challenges, I pray that the goodness of God, His love, His peace, His forgiveness, His tender mercies will overwhelm you today.

I pray your Thanksgiving isn’t limited to the fourth Thursday of November. But a constant, daily condition and practice.

Unlikely paths crossed

It was one year ago today that my life changed. Who could have known that what started as a purely benign thought, would be the first step of a new life? I won’t re-hash how this all happened. I wrote a series of posts back in October, starting with this one, that offer all the detail, and likely more, than you’d ever want to know about how Sarah-Jane and I met. But if you’d like to take a look again, or for the first time, please be my guest.

It was August 8, 2013. A day like any other. But it wasn’t. A simple email would prove to be the flapping of tiny wings in the so-called butterfly effect in my life. I’ve probably written thousands of emails over the years, both personal and professional. But none were as important as that first one, a year ago today.

God does some amazing things that begin with such a simple, little step. I had no idea what treasure would await on the other end of the email, sent to the other end of the continent. Who knew that one day, I would be face to face with the woman on the other end of that email? In the house, and room where it was received. Who could have known that I would get to know the heart and mind of the person who captured my intrigue with her wit and use of the English language?

God is not bound by the restraints of time and distance. Sarah and I had walked very different paths that led to that fateful encounter. Our connection makes no sense in the logical mind. But God knew, long before we existed, that this day would come. He knew the traits I needed in a partner, and He knew the tools I would need in order to be the right man for her.

This year has been a whirlwind. It has had some wonderful high points, and some gut-wrenching challenges. A healthy, strong relationship isn’t forged by the good times. It is the intense heat of fire that purifies and strengthens us. We have each had our resolves tested. There have been times when it seemed that maybe this was just going to be too difficult. There were times when logic seemed to dictate that this was just crazy thinking.

But then there’s the God factor.

Our ways are not His ways, nor His ways ours. I have tried things my way, and they never work. When we submit ourselves to His way, we are not dragged kicking and screaming into some miserable dungeon of horror and bondage. When we let Him direct our paths, we release Him  to do what He does. He makes our crooked ways straight. He takes our regrets, pains and mistakes, and recycles them into things of value, from which wisdom and character bloom.

My life was forever changed one year ago. It was one tiny step. From that step, another. photoAnd from that one, yet another. I believe I am a better man on August 8, 2014 than I was 365 days ago. I hope I am a better man on August 9 than I am today. Sarah-Jane has blessed my heart and life in ways I don’t even completely see. One day, long from now, if God allows, I will be able to look back on these days, and the ones yet to dawn, and see a beautiful testimony of His love and faithfulness to us. His mercy. His grace. His gentle leading. His loving discipline.

I had no idea that the paths that were crossed one year ago, would lead me into a new, palatial dwelling place of intimacy with God.

We have made some wonderful memories over this past year. I am excited to see what is yet to come. But all in due time. What a blessing it is to share this journey with my best friend.

Thank you, Lord, for these paths that You crossed.

Course correction

Sunday, Sarah and I took her younger son, Jeremy, to Boston for a fun day. One thing I IMG_3780really wanted to do, and was met with unanimous approval, was to take a pedal boat out on the Charles River. It was an absolutely beautiful day for it. As an enthusiastic 10 year old, Jeremy wanted to be the one who steered the boat. Sarah wasn’t 100% comfortable with it, but she felt ok with it since I was right next to him and able to help guide him.

As you can see in the picture, there is a stick just under Jeremy’s right arm. This is the instrument that steers the boat. By pushing or pulling the stick forward and backward, you steer the boat left and right. As we were pulling away from the dock and making our way out to the open water of the Charles River, I would ask Jeremy to veer to the left. He would push the stick all the way forward. At this point, we would make a hard left turn. In doing so, we overshot where we really wanted to go. So I would ask him to take us to the right to get us back on course. So, he then pull the stick completely to the back. We serpentined our way along for a couple hundred yards, which at times made our journey a little less relaxing than we had in mind.

At this time, Sarah voiced her desire to have Jeremy and I switch seats so she could enjoy the excursion without being nervous we would run into something or someone. After we did this, I showed Jeremy that while the stick does turn us to the left and right by pushing and pulling the stick, we kept a straight path by keeping the stick in the middle, and making minor adjustments by pushing or pulling the stick a couple inches one way or the other.

How true this is in our lives. However, instead of a steering stick, maybe it’s our emotions. Our fears. Our unbridled enthusiasm. Our inexperience. Our ambition. Any of these things can cause us to steer wildly in a direction that completely overshoots our intended destination. Then we try to correct our course by flipping in the complete opposite direction. We end up zig-zagging our way along in a stressful, uncontrolled odyssey.

For me, my fears tend to be my white knuckled kung fu grip on the rudder. When I fear my dreams are slipping away, I tend to careen my way along the route that is set before me.

Yes, there are times when we must completely change our direction from something that is dangerous or fruitless. However, when we can see where it is we want to go, keeping our eye on the target, it’s just a matter of slight corrections when the tide is causing us to drift off course. There can be many obstacles along the way, but having clear vision and attention, while making these minor adjustments, we can keep ourselves from catastrophe, or just unnecessary stress.

By the way, Jeremy and I eventually switched back so he could steer again. He not only got the hang of it, he was the one who brought us back to the dock, safely, calmly, and efficiently. That’s when the photo at the top was taken.

Count the cost

There are times in our lives when we face significant challenges. When these times come, we are often presented with different options in how we resolve, or cope with these difficulties. These times, and these decisions, will reveal who we are at our core. Do we handle them with dignity, or do we look for an escape, or the easy way out. Do we face our difficulties, or do we curl up in the fetal position and pray it will all go away.

Every now and then, we face the temptation to go the easy route. But inevitably, that 10174800_10152333212342863_1643042142151823382_ncomes with a very high cost. Sure, the easy route can make things go away quicker, but at what cost? Relationships? Integrity? Maturity?

We must embrace these difficulties. When I was driving from California to New England, I spent the first two plus days going through a rather desolate stretch of highway. During this period, it was very easy to just kind of set my brain on autopilot. You lose good driver discipline. It’s so easy to get distracted. But when I started to reach populated areas, especially Chicago, I hit traffic. No one likes traffic. But this forced me to really pay attention and focus on what I was doing. Life is no different. Challenges force us to dig in to our values. To see what we’re made of. To see and prove what is of greatest value to us. In times like these, I often reflect on this quote:

What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything it’s value.

~Thomas Paine

I would dare say that if you’re in a difficult stretch of life and there seems to be an easy way, and a longer, more difficult way, the correct way is the one you really have to work for. By grinding, by enduring, by persevering, we grow in so many important areas. Just like lifting weights, the resistance of gravity pushing down on us, and us pushing back, is what builds our strength and muscles. The path of least resistance yields only temporary relief. We will not be any better equipped for the next challenge that is sure to come.

Romans 5:So now, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith in his promises, we can have real peace with him because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. For because of our faith, he has brought us into this place of highest privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to actually becoming all that God has had in mind for us to be.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady. Then, when that happens, we are able to hold our heads high no matter what happens and know that all is well, for we know how dearly God loves us, and we feel this warm love everywhere within us because God has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

~Living Bible

Where there is doubt, believe

When I first began getting to know Sarah-Jane, we were sharing deep and simple things about ourselves. Among the simple things was sharing information like what kind of cars we drive. When she told me about her car, I have to admit, I couldn’t picture it. I had heard of the model, but what it looked like escaped me.

You have, no doubt, experienced this phenomenon. Now that the make and model of her car has entered my consciousness, I see hundreds of them.

Did they all of a sudden appear, or have they been there all along, unnoticed?

Of course, they were around me all the time.

As I enter into this new chapter of my life, in faith, the road has not yet shown itself to be smooth, simple, and as had been planned. I certainly didn’t expect simple, but I had a game plan factoring in the understanding there would be inevitable obstacles. Even as much as you think you have planned contingencies, faith can only be stretched when the obstacles are greater than your plans and abilities. And like the phenomenon I described above, it seems that everywhere I turn, I’m seeing God’s assurance to me in a variety of formats, even in unconventional ways.

This morning, I saw this cartoon on Facebook. It is amusing to see it illustrated this way, 1238709_10152286434268469_691967694_nbut when you’re looking up the hill at the course, it certainly doesn’t give you an entertaining feeling. As I sit here at my computer contemplating the day ahead and the road before me, it is critical that I not focus on the road, as much as my Navigator.

Here is what He tells me:

Deuteronomy 3:22
Do not be afraid of them; the LORD your God himself will fight for you.

 

Deuteronomy 31:8
The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

 

Joshua 1:9
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.

 

Psalm 23:4
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

 

Isaiah 12:2
Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.

 

Lamentations 3:25
The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;

 

John 14:27
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

 

Romans 15:13
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

As I was researching these amazing, comforting scriptures of hope and assurance, I came across one that, for whatever reason, stuck out above the others. There are times in our lives when things look so bleak, so discouraging, so fraught with challenge, that those who truly love us and have our best interest at heart, will look at the “signs” and try to speak logic to us. Their hearts and intentions are pure. But in Mark 5, we find the story of a desperate father of a dying 12 year old girl. He pleaded with Jesus to lay hands on her and heal her. While they were on their way, news had come that the daughter had died. Those around the father, trying to help him face reality, spoke logic to him. “Your daughter is dead.” They urged him not to bother Jesus about this any further. But then we see verse 26.

Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

Sure enough, as the chapter continues, Jesus spoke, and the girl was healed.

In the face of what seems lost, in the face of overwhelming obstacles, in the face of logic, remember His words:

Don’t be afraid; just believe.