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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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.

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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.

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.

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.

Experiencing God through emotions

Last night, Sarah and I were talking about what place emotions hold in experiencing and worshiping God. I don’t know that we broke any new ground, but it was really cool to discuss our thoughts on this. We are both very emotional people, yet deep thinkers.

God has given us emotions. They can be very powerful. Sometimes, they can even run away from us and lead us to bad behavior and decisions. However, our emotions are also a vehicle for depth in relationships, both human and divine.

Today, I stumbled upon a video of a young boy who was born with some serious medical issues. It told his story, and finished with the young man standing on stage, before thousands of people, singing one of my all time favorite songs. He isn’t the best singer in the world. Yet, he touched my heart in such a way that tears flowed from my eyes, and love pulsated through my spirit.

I, for one, need my emotions stirred. They help me feel alive. They release the floodgates of thoughts and feelings that pool up inside me. They draw me into a more profound relationship with God and people who are important to me. They enable me to put my fears and stresses in their proper perspective. They allow me to be inspired.

I am a very logical man. I do not need emotions to do these things. But at times, I truly need that release. I’m not just logical. I’m creative. I’m passionate. I’m expressive. There are times when it is absolutely necessary to let my emotions out in a healthy way.

I love worship. I love singing. I love music that grabs my heart and soul. I feel as if I’ve crawled onto God’s lap and am held in His loving, warm, safe embrace. I don’t expect that everyone is, or should be like me in this regard. We are all different. I just know that for myself, I absolutely need this level of emotional intimacy with God. It’s not about seeking for anything other than being close to Him. That is why this song, in particular, is so special to me. Is my mom, whose body was broken down by illness, dancing and leaping before God, or is she, as she was unable to do in the last dozen years of her earthly life, kneeling before Him in humble adoration?

The cares of this world are real. Sometimes, however, we just need to simply crawl onto God’s lap, and let Him hold us. It’s not always enough to just know He loves us. Sometimes we need to feel it, and offer Him whatever is in the very depths of our hearts. Just let it go. Allow it all to come to the surface.

For me, this song, this video, this young man ministered to me. I’ve heard better singers. But this isn’t for entertainment. It is a glimpse into God’s love for us, and our love for Him when we imagine what it will be like to be with Him in the place He has prepared for us, in which we will have eternal, and perfect fellowship.

Please take a few moments and watch this. Don’t be afraid to let Him touch your heart.

Let it go

Last week, we finally got around to sitting down and watching the movie Frozen. I do love Disney/Pixar movies, so I was interested in watching it. However, I was dreading the moment when that incessant song would be featured. Now that song is on a never-ending loop in my head. Last night, Sarah and I were out running errands, and as we stopped for gas, I left the radio on for her as I pumped the fuel. Guess what song game on. And of course, the dutiful prankster that she is, she cranked the radio to the point of melting the speakers so I would have no trouble hearing the song through every pore in my body.

In recent days, one of my favorite verses has also been on a loop in my head and heart. Psalm 46:10.

Be still and know that I am God.

Some translations of this verse say, “let go of your concerns”. The New American Standard version says, “cease striving”. 

In other words, let it go. Stop trying do do things on your own power! The verse goes on let_go_balloonto tell us that in doing so, we will see what God can do. When we let go of the worries and concerns of life, we can then cling to Him, releasing God to do what only He can. Then, we will know that He is God. When we still our hearts, when we calm our worries, when we release our kung fu grip on our situations, we release them all to God, where they belong.