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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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.

Sarah-Jane’s Birthday!

Today is Sarah-Jane’s birthday. For no specific reason, necessarily, I have randomly <cough cough> IMG_2692-1chosen  40 reasons why I love and admire her. In no particular order, they are:

  1. Her amazing, loving, heart
  2. Her smile. It lights up a room, and my heart
  3. Her laugh. It is one of the happiest sounds I’ve ever heard
  4. Her mind. She doesn’t know it, but she’s brilliant
  5. Her style. It’s all her own, and expressive of her creativity and personality
  6. Her love of God. She inspires me everyday
  7. Her love of her children. They have never gone a single day of their lives unaware of her undying love and devotion
  8. Her love of music. I’ve been a musician nearly all of my life, but her love of music has given me a deeper appreciation
  9. Her humor. She is wicked funny! (New England is rubbing off on me)
  10. Her wisdom. I have never seen her give her kids or me bad advice. Even when it seems like it doesn’t make sense, time always proves her right
  11. Her humility. She does nothing for self glorification. She lives to make others look better, or even just good. She has a servant’s heart, and is often overlooked for this great attribute. But that’s often the plight of genuine servants
  12. Her friendship. When she becomes your friend, you have gained a fan. She will take your secrets to the grave, if you want her to. She will be there to listen to you when you need her. She will pray for you. She will weep when you weep, and rejoice when you do. Genuinely
  13. Her loyalty. She will not turn her back on you. Ever
  14. Her wit. It’s lightening quick, and equal parts humorous and deep
  15. Her emotions. I know she sometimes hates being an emotional person, but after being raised by one such woman, I appreciate a person who feels deeply, and is expressive
  16. Her beauty. Both inside and out, she is the definition of beauty
  17. Grace under pressure. She has endured a lot in life, and she never gave in to distractions and destructive behavior
  18. Her relationship with her family. I love watching them in action. Whether it’s talking about old memories, working together to get things done, or just sitting around cracking bad jokes and puns, I love that she is close to her parents
  19. Her sense of adventure. It doesn’t have to be some huge outing. It can be quite simple. But her appreciation to just getting out and experiencing life is fun and exciting
  20. Her integrity. She will not take a short cut that requires fudging on the rules. Even if something will take longer or cost more, she will do the right thing even when no one else would judge or fault her for cutting corners
  21. She is not materialistic. She gets more excited at the thought of a picnic in a park in Boston than sitting in a swanky restaurant eating food you can’t pronounce
  22. Her X-ray vision. No, not the superpower. Although it just might be, but not like in the comics and movies. She has a way of seeing in others what most people don’t notice. I am a chief beneficiary. She sees and appreciates qualities in me that make me feel bulletproof, confident and secure.
  23. Her faith. When my mom was dying, she questioned aloud who would pray for me as she did. I see how Sarah-Jane prays for those she loves, and I’m blessed to be among them.
  24. Her transparency. I have not met someone so open and honest with their disappointments, failures and difficulties. She doesn’t even know the extent to which these events have strengthened her and made her an even better person…and a great success in the most meaningful way
  25. Her love of coffee. This is probably an odd thing to point out, especially from a non coffee drinker. But I love that when I, or someone she loves brings her an unexpected cup of coffee, she lights up as if she was given a fuzzy little kitten
  26. Her authenticity. She is WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get). She doesn’t put on masks to impress or get along with people. She’s who she is. She is consistent, no matter where she is or who she’s with
  27. Her singing. The girl LOVES to sing. And though she doesn’t believe me, I think she’s pretty darned good at it. I’ve never heard her miss a note. Plus, she’s a freak. She knows the lyrics to every song ever written (so it seems)
  28. Her love of baseball. What more needs to be said?
  29. Her punctuality. I appreciate being with a woman who has never made me wait…and wait…and wait…and wait…
  30. She is a dreamer. I love sitting and listening to her dreams. They are simple, but profound
  31. She is a great teacher. I have had the privilege to be around her for much of this school year. It has been a challenging year for her, but she is energized by her students and helping them succeed in their development
  32. Her compassion. I have seen her weep and rejoice, genuinely, for things that most people would hardly notice. Most of us, even when we notice people or animals in distress, will do something about it. She is a person of action
  33. Her character. Even when someone does her wrong, she will never return evil for evil
  34. Her approachability. It is uncanny how just about anywhere and everywhere we go, random people will just strike up a conversation with her. She is so friendly, people are just naturally drawn to her
  35. She knows me. Very few people in my life have known what makes me tick. No one has ever known me as she does. She instinctively knows what will touch and bless my heart
  36. She is protective. As a mama bear, she can be very mild-mannered…until someone goes after someone she loves
  37. Her dorkosity. Yeah, I just made that word up. But I love how we can walk into a Walmart, and she’s not afraid to grab a hula hoop and show how it’s done!
  38. Her receptive spirit. We have had many, many deep, introspective conversations. She is very open to my observations. She is not trying to compete with me. She is eager to see herself through my eyes, and that maybe she’s not as bad as she thinks
  39. Her values. She had many other options available to her when choosing who she would allow into her heart. But despite the inherent challenges of a long distance relationship, she was willing to give the guy in California a chance based on the unique connection they had
  40. She is my best friend. As much as we have a romantic connection, it would mean nothing were it not for the friendship we have developed. There is no one on earth I trust with my innermost thoughts and feelings. There is no one I’d rather spend my time with, even if the activity isn’t an enjoyable one. And even though I’ve been blessed with wonderful people in my life, I am more complete and fulfilled when I am sharing them with her, and her with them

I am blessed. I’ve said it many, many times. I am blessed beyond my merit. God’s grace is demonstrated when He gives us what we don’t deserve. I can’t think of anything I’ve done in my life, or ever will do that would make me deserving of Sarah-Jane and these relatively few qualities that set her apart.

I pray that this day, and every day after, she will be blessed beyond her wildest imagination. She gives and gives. She loves and loves. She expects nothing in return. From anybody. She inspires me every single day.

Thank you, Sarah-Jane, for changing my life. Happy Birthday!

The heart of a mom

Today is Mother’s Day. As I reflect upon this day, missing my mom, I think of the wonderful gifts to us that mother’s can, and should be. Sadly, there are many among us who do not experience the best of what mothers bring. For them, I have to imagine that this day can be hollow.

One need to look no further than the life of Jesus to understand that the mother/child relationship is intensely significant. We’re left to speculate about Jesus’ younger days. This also means we do not know what it must have been like for his parents. Because he was perfect and without sin, we can infer that he obeyed her when she asked him to take care of chores. If he was given a curfew when to be home, we can rest assured he was home on time, if not early. But this doesn’t mean it was easy. It is unnatural for a parent to outlive their children. How this mother’s heart must have been torn to shreds as her beloved son went from hero to villain in the hearts of the people in the span of one short week. The torture, the mocking, the brutal public death. All within view of his mother. And yet, from the cross, as his breaths were drawing few and far between, he looked down and made assurances his mother would be taken care of.

When I think of my mom, I think of her unwavering, unconditional love. Sadly, she had to Quotation-Richelle-E-Goodrich-strength-love-god-motherhood-mom-mother-Meetville-Quotes-223792deal with a kid who was fluent in sarcasm. I could crack wise at the most inappropriate moments. As I became a teenager and a bit more independent, I pushed her away. Everything that made her so amazing was rejected because it wasn’t “cool” to her unappreciative son. Yet, everything that made her so amazing was expected of her. In her last years, as she battled illness and was confined to a bed at least 20 hours of the day, she loved me endlessly. When I lived 2 hours from her, we would speak by phone. She loved to hear about how my day was. She wanted to know every detail. For one, it made her feel connected to me. It also allowed her heart and mind to move freely through life when her body wouldn’t allow it. As her days drew down to the end, her concern turned to who would love me and pray for me when she was gone.

Last year, I met another amazing mother. Sarah-Jane is so loving, gentle, kind and caring. The relationship she has with her boys is beautiful to behold. The love her sons have for each other makes your heart melt. The love they have for her makes my heart so warm, yet, it also grinds at my heart in remembering how it wasn’t until later in life that I became more expressive and appreciative of the love I shared with my own mom. Sarah-Jane is humble. When she receives a compliment of how uniquely special her boys are, she agrees with the compliment as it relates to their character, but bristles when it is directed to her as being such a powerful influence on the young men they are. When her boys enter the room, her spirit glows. When they leave the house for the day or longer, there is an immediate emptiness. She loves her boys with all that is within her. One day, when her sons are older, with families of their own, she will hopefully then be able to reflect on these years and see that she has done a fine work. That she has been a worthy steward of these lives left in her care.

I know an amazing mother when I see one. I was raised by one. I am in love with one. I know, first hand, the often unspoken impact the love and devotion of a good mom can have on a life. As a grown man, so close to an incredible mother, I see first hand all the behind-the-scenes elements that warm, and break a mother’s heart. “You are only as happy as your least happy child”. How profound, and how true. I am growing in understanding as to what my mom must have felt in times when I went through difficulties, and triumphs.

My heart is full today. I had the most amazing mother, and now, I am sharing my life with one cut from the same cloth. Understanding, seeing and experiencing the heart of a mother, and how God designed it, inspires me. I’m so blessed and grateful to have a place in the lives of these wonderful, godly women.

Easter 2014

Disclaimer: What I’m about to share is my story. My purpose is not to denigrate a church or denomination. It is simply my experience and observation as it relates to my spiritual awakening.

I was raised Catholic. Even so, that was more a rite of passage than a lifestyle. My parents were Catholic. Their parents were Catholic, and so on, and so on. I went through the different practices as I grew up. First Communion, Confirmation. A typical Sunday involved me waking up, getting ready and walking to church by myself. I went in, God took roll, I sat down, stood up and kneeled when everyone else did, then left at the end. The mass could have been in Swahili for all I took with me from the 60 minute experience.

Fast forward to when I was 18 years old. I was in the latter stages of my senior year in high school. My parents had embarked on their own spiritual journey nearly a year earlier. In the latter days of 1982, my parents had “accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior”, whatever that means. Then, they turned their focus on getting me to go to a Protestant church. It was complete culture shock.

Without going into great detail, for the sake of brevity, it was April 4, 1983 when I quietly empty_tomband privately committed my desire and intention to have a relationship with God. It was the day after Easter. For the first time in my life, at least in a manner that stuck in my heart, I realized that Jesus wasn’t a statue or stained glass window mounted to a cross. He wasn’t a chain around a neck. In His death, He took upon Him my sin. As a Catholic, pretty much in name only, all I ever observed or knew about was His death. There is nothing wrong with that, except that’s not where the story ends.

It was about an empty tomb.

Jesus left behind His grave wrappings, and brought with Him my redemption for my sin. I never really knew that.

Easter is precious to me. It wasn’t just the death and resurrection of Jesus, but my own death and resurrection. My sins were nailed to the cross. His blood was shed as He quietly  accepted His fate in order to secure mine. Love isn’t love until there is sacrifice. Life is the result of sacrifice. Love is forged and purified in sacrifice. He did that for me.

He did that for you.

Balloons in times of crisis

Remember when we were kids…or for those of you with kids, maybe you did this. You would take a latex balloon and rub it against your head. The static cling would build up so the balloon would stick to walls, or if you held it close to your head, your hair would stand on end to touch the balloon.

I have a theory that relates this phenomenon to relationships. First, let’s start with the science.

Balloons_(static_electricity)

If you have two balloons and rub them each against your hair or fabric, the friction causes each of them to become negatively charged. When this happens, the balloons will not stick together. In fact, they will repel one another.

On the other hand, when only one of the balloons experiences the friction and is negatively charged, the balloon that has not been negatively charged will cling to the negatively charged balloon. They will be drawn toward one another, and stick together.

There are times in our relationships when one or the other is going through a difficult time. When two people are not fully committed, the friction in the one’s life will also create friction with the other. This will cause the two to drift, or even push each other apart.

However, where there is love and devotion, the one without the friction will draw close to the one with the problem. They will cling together. When you have a relationship that is healthy and strong, that friction will not push you apart, but bring you closer together. When one faces difficulty, or friction, the other will be drawn to them. They will actually become closer than they ever were before. It’s easy to get along and enjoy a bond when things are going well. But what happens when the friction happens?

While difficulties are not something we enjoy, we can embrace them because by virtue of the friction, the bond between us will only draw us closer together. The bond between us is strengthened. It’s critical to stick together. When we are so drawn and committed to the person in need, our devotion provides strength and empowers the one in crisis. As this happens, we will get through it together. Our relationship is forged. But if we push the other away or shut them out by not being open and honest, we create more friction with our attitude. We will repel one another.

How liberating and unifying it is when you can say to one another, “I will stick with you, I will walk with you through it all, no matter what.”