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

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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.

My dad’s secret life

When we think of people and their secret lives, we automatically think of something scandalous. Jared from Subway and Josh Duggar are currently in the eyes of their respective storms for their secret lives. We are conditioned that secret lives are exclusively for those who are hiding their transgressions so they may protect their public reputation.

Then there are people whose secret lives conceal activities which would only magnify what people already think of them.

My dad was such a man. I was raised by a man who lived to serve and protect others. He was a former United States Marine. Some years after completing his service for our country, he became a San Francisco police officer. Following his career in law enforcement, he became an ordained minister, and with my mom, served at an orphanage in Mexico, then moved to an impoverished part of Costa Rica ministering to people in great need. I could easily list his accomplishments and achievements so you would be impressed.

My dad would be embarrassed by that.

I’m very proud of who he was. The secret life he led touched lives everywhere he went. IIMG_5451 remember when he gave our family car to a young couple who were in ministry at our church. They had a very young family, and on an associate pastor’s salary, they couldn’t afford to buy a much-needed vehicle to accommodate them. Dad recognized the need, and simply gave ours to them. No fanfare. Had there been Facebook then, you never would have seen it posted, and he would have strongly required that the family who got the car not tell the story in any other way than God provided it for them through by speaking to an anonymous servant.

To this day, I am so turned off by people who, by social media or in everyday conversation, speak of themselves and their every thought and activity. We live in a very self-promoting, self-centered generation.

While living and ministering in Costa Rica, my parents were ministering in a church. At some point in the service, the pastor inexplicably called a young, single girl forward to stand before the pulpit. It was then that he publicly spoke of how this young lady was pregnant and in sin. Apparently, this was standard operating procedure in this church. My dad, standing in the front row, moments before he would speak to the congregation, stepped forward and stood next to the young lady.

“I’m Ed, and I’m a sinner, too.”

My mom told me of this, because he never would.

Later in life, after they moved back to California due to my mom’s illness, my dad did so many other little things to bless people. On Fridays, he would go to Krispy Kreme and buy dozens of doughnuts. He would then drive around to their various doctors’ offices and deliver the treats to those who took such great care of them. He frequently gave boxes of candy to my mom’s hospital nurses.

Whether ministering to pastors and missionaries, or to hospital nurses and doctors’ assistants, Dad had a special vision and knew how to show appreciation and serve those who serve. Those who are expected to do extraordinary things, and who were easily overlooked for their service.

There are many, many things I can list here, but that would defeat the purpose of honoring the example and character of a great man. These things he did, and the many secrets he took with him as he entered God’s presence on August 5th, were not for his glory, but God’s.

What is your secret life? Is it one you want hidden so that people will not be disappointed? So that your reputation won’t be damaged? Or is it a life that is dedicated to honoring and revealing the love of God to those around us?

This week, as I had a private moment at my dad’s open casket, I quietly thanked him for his love and example. He showed me so much, yet told me so little. I share these things with you to challenge you, as I have been challenged. How willing am I to do something that would make a great Facebook or Twitter post, that would make people really like and respect me, but do it only out of obedience to God, and only for His glory, not mine? May I truly want only God and His beneficiary to know of my involvement.

May my secrets bless those who God ordains, and may they bring glory to Him, and Him alone.

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.

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.