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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Quote of the Day

"We humans are a silly bunch. We spend half our time trying to fit in with the crowd and the other half trying to stand out from it. Why is that?...It seems to be universal, a part of our human nature. Why can't we be comfortable with ourselves, knowing we are God's creations?... Take a look in the mirror right now and say, 'This is who I am, and I accept the challenge of becoming the best I can be.' You are beautiful because God created you for His purpose. Your challenge is to find that purpose, fuel it with hope, drive it on faith, and put your you-niqueness to the highest possible use."
 - Nick Vujicic in Life Without Limits *

* This book is published by DoubleDay and is copyrighted 2010.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Which View?

  How I see myself and how God sees me. The difference between these two perspectives is what determines who I become. So often, my view is obscured, subjective, contrary to the truth of what I am really made to be. For instance, in the times when I am the most afraid, the most vulnerable, when I think that God would want to be the most distant, He draws closer. Why? Because He loves. Because He sees me as beautiful. He chooses to befriend. In so many times over the course of my life, I have called myself a failure; I have said that my life didn't matter, that I felt no purpose. And yet, God saw potential. God saw a need. God saw hope when I thought there was none.
  We are so apt to look at what is dying. We despair because the darkness weighs heavy. We view ourselves and think," Nothing about me matters." But God is seeing something different. To fully experience new life, to taste of resurrected glory, is to come around to His perspective. To be open to Grace is to find hope. Because of Who we were made for and why. We were not made to please ourselves, to feed our own desires with an insatiable quest for were made for a King's pleasure! We were made for a life of meaning, of discovering the ways He loves!
   My view always leads me down the road of regret, of failure, of numerous shortcomings, of despair. Yet, His view leads to life. His view brings renewal. His view makes the ugly turn beautiful because He is not afraid of me, nor of my past. He wants to embrace, to transform. Will I learn to see a new way? That is the question... 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Inspiring Profiles Update

 Last week, I shared with you the inspiring story of Scotty Smiley, the Army's first blind, active-duty officer. This week, I am giving you an update on Scotty's latest adventure: he is currently one of two blind veterans attempting to summit Mt. McKinley - the highest peak in North America, located in my beautiful home state of Alaska. He is also trying to be the first blind individual to do so on the West Buttress side of the mountain. McKinley is very hazardous and can be a dangerous climb, even with guides. Thoughts and prayers would be appreciated for safety for Scotty and his team as they work their way up the mountain. Here is a link to an article and some photos about their trek:

  I am really excited for Scotty to have this opportunity. The nation, and those who know him personally, have many reasons to be proud of him! 

Quote of the Day

"In our prosperity we are full of our own wills, and usually give God
counsel as if we could tell God how it might have been better. We 
dispute our cross, when we should take it up...Pride naturally runs
in our veins, and it is nourished by ease and prosperity. By trouble
we come to know our own heart."
- Thomas Case in Voices From the Past *

* This book is available from Banner of Truth Trust and is copyrighted 2009

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

An Act of Choice

  He looks across the table and tells you that he doesn't love you anymore. What do you do? She sits in the courtroom and watches the drunk driver whose actions killed her daughter. What do you do? He comes home from school and informs you that he's hooked on drugs. What do you do? She is injured for life in a terrible accident and now you must care for her. What do you do?
  What do you do when there are so many things that can "go wrong" in life? How do you face the painful, and often unpredictable, situations that take place in the world around us, causing us to question everything we've believed in or hoped for. What do you do?
   Over the years, I have come to learn a profound truth about living: every moment there is a choice. In everything that goes on, be it of my own direct actions or that of another's, I have a choice to make as to how I will let the story end. Will I let the sorrow run my life, or will I choose to be open to Grace? Will I allow the bitterness to define me, or will I choose to forgive? Will I shut myself off to love, or will I choose to love - even against my own instincts? When my humanness tells me to run, to escape, to try to get a "new start" somewhere else, will I make the choice to do the un-human thing - to go beyond my own selfish feelings and do the hard act: to give grace because Grace has been given to me? Can I? Will I?
   This question has become quite meaningful to me as I have faced certain difficulties in my life. In those moments when I am struggling to walk into something I have dreaded, when I am fearful of how somebody will respond, when I am at war with myself as to what I am to do, this is what I say: "This is a moment for choosing. Which way will you go?" 
    Life will always run its course and yet, we have a say in how it will impact us in the future. The choice we make, makes us. Which direction we decide to go - toward sorrow or toward Grace, toward bitterness or toward forgiveness, away from love or toward it - determines how our life-story is written. One day, when others look back on your life, what will they see? Will they see someone who never let go, who held in the pain, who never ran the risk of loving through the hard times, who never forgave? Or will they see someone who went against their own feelings, who chose the path of Grace, who found joy in their sorrow, who made the choice to love - even if the love was never returned? 
   Being open to Grace often means that we will experience uneven love, which is to say that our actions may not always bring about the results that we hope for. Even when we make the choice to do the hard thing, others may not respect us for it or support our decision. They may not receive the forgiveness we have offered them; they may not love us back - even if we have tried our utmost to love them; they may not understand why we continue to demonstrate our care toward them when they feel as though they don't deserve it; they may be baffled by the way in which we smile in our sorrow. But will we choose to do it anyway? 
   Every moment presents a choice. When it arrives, when the decision must be made, what will we choose to do ? If we choose rightly, if we choose the way of Grace, we will gain strength in that moment. We will know the blessing of His peace. We will know joy.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Day After...

  It began as a smoky day...fires raged a few hours south of here, burning everything in its unforgiving path. For days, the grayish clouds had hung over the otherwise clear, blue skies. The usual fresh smelling air now reeked of burning wood. As I drove to my first of two Memorial Day obligations, I wondered if it would clear at all. The mountains were shrouded. The sun was hidden. Would it shine clearly once again?

  I arrived at the early morning ceremony. It had been months in the planning - a dedication of a new Fallen Heroes Memorial in honor of Alaskans who had died while serving their country. Since WWII, there had been 184 of them. Each name now engraved on shining granite walls...this day belonged to them. This was their time to be remembered. And yet the smoke hung too, I thought, the clouds of war. They envelop the soul; they shroud the mind and heart; they hide the light and make one wonder if it will ever become clear. Will the smoke of those fighting days, the dark clouds of painful memory, will they fade in time?
  The ceremony began. Over the next hour or so, we would pay tribute. We would remember. Names would be called one by one. Families would honor their dead; Alaskans would take a moment to say thanks. "God Bless America" would ring out in rousing fashion, and "Taps" would lend its somber tune...
   And, almost as if on cue, the smoke started to lift. As we paused to offer our gratitude, the sun started to shine again. The blue sky returned. God was smiling down on us all. I told one veteran who had also come to participate, "It's almost like a movie: the sun came out, and the smoke left as soon as we got started today." He agreed that it was special.

   I think that, in that moment, I learned a lesson: gratitude is what chases the storm clouds, the smoke of painful memories and broken dreams, away. Being thankful is what allows the sun to shine, however hidden. For some, these gray skies of war are an ever-present reality. The clouds may lift, but never fully go away. And yet, pausing to be grateful is when God can speak and shine the Light through all that hides. There are always blue skies above the clouds that shroud, the storms that blow in upon us. He is always with us, no matter how dark it seems. 
   After the ceremony had ended, the sun was shining full and bright. So, also, does the inner light of the soul. Only when the smoke of grayer days has kept it hidden for awhile can we completely appreciate and notice its warmth. It does shine once again. The clouds of war do not remain forever. Thankfulness is what keeps one believing...knowing that the blue sky, the brighter days, are just ahead. 
   It is the day after. The crowds have gone home, and the bugle notes have faded. But the memories and the gratitude have not. I am still thankful. The names of these fallen still ring in my ears. They live on in my heart. It will be another year before I gather with my fellow Alaskans here again. But let it not be that long until I say thank-you once more. Rather, let every day be Memorial Day. For, in the gratitude of remembering their sacrifice, I see the blue skies once again.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Silent Graves

Silent Graves

Across the silent graves I hear
The sound of one who sheds a tear;
Standing, crying, all alone,
Hopeless, grieving on their own.
Down within the darkened sod
Lies a soldier home with God.

Across the silent graves there floats
The mournful tone of bugle notes,
Reminding those who walk on by,
Bringing moisture to the eye:
Here rests those who gave it all
To heed their country's fervent call.

Across the silent graves I see
A story writ in memory:
"A son," "a husband, father, friend,"
"Faithful to the very end,"
Lives cut short by war's disgrace;
 Each name there reveals a face.

Across the silent graves I feel
A sense of peace as there I kneel,
Pause to say I mourn those lost,
Remember just how dear the cost
And out, beyond the silent graves,
The flag they fought for proudly waves.

*Thanks to Forest Brooks for providing the photo for this post.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Movie Worth Seeing...

  For any of you who might be looking for a good movie to watch over the long weekend, I want to highly recommend: Taking Chance. I saw this movie a few years back and was profoundly moved. It is a wonderful story of how a nation ought to honor and remember its fallen. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Do We Care?

 This afternoon, I met a World War II veteran while on a quick trip to the meat market. When I stopped to thank him for his service, he replied, " Well, thank you. I didn't think anybody cared anymore." After all that this man did over 70 years ago - several years of dedicated service to our nation in the U.S. Navy and stationed in the Mediterranean off the coast of Italy - after many times of putting his life in danger and probably knowing others who ultimately gave their own, it is a sad state of affairs in this country that he should feel that way. I let him know that I have not forgotten, and I could see that it meant the world to him. This weekend, whatever your plans are, please show those who serve that you still care. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Why the Fallen Still Matter

  Around this time every year, I am asked the question, "What are you doing for Memorial Day?" My answer often surprises people and, in my explanation, I try to get them to feel the spirit of where I'm coming from.
   I grew up in a very patriotic household. My family and I always went to a ceremony on Memorial Day, a parade on the 4th of July, etc. At an early age, I became aware of the privilege of being an American and the many blessings I have from living in this country. But, even so, I didn't fully grasp the meaning of a holiday like Memorial Day. I knew it was for remembering the fallen, yet it meant little to me beyond that.
   Then came the fall of 2006. I so clearly recall the sinking feeling in my heart on a Sunday afternoon as I read the headline in our newspaper. Through tears, I tried to absorb the sad news that a Marine, who I had the pleasure of meeting the year before, had added his name to the thousands who had given their lives before him. Just a year prior, we had shaken hands and visited. He had returned home with his fellow Marines to a hero's hometown welcome. And we had been there, seen him greet his wife and family and meet his newborn daughter for the first time. And now, it would forever be only a memory. It was so hard to believe. I stared at the picture that was taken of him and me at his homecoming - in that moment, I knew that I would never be the same.

 That next Memorial Day was so different for me. They were no longer "just names" to me. I knew one of them. They were faces now - real people with ordinary lives who did extraordinary things. I realized that the day was about more than just acknowledging their sacrificial act of death but also about remembering their lives.
 Over the next few years, I would have the chance to meet and talk with other Marines who had served with the one I knew as well as get to know the families of those who had died. In all of my conversations, I came away learning something profound: to the nation, these individuals were brave warriors - "heroes" many call them; to their loved ones, however, they were simply sons and daughters, spouses, parents, siblings, and friends. They were people who loved the outdoors, or played a musical instrument, or participated in sports. Each one of them gave up whatever personal dreams and aspirations they had for something they believed in more than themselves. By putting their own lives on the line, they gave us the chance to pursue and fulfill our plans and dreams. It takes a special kind of love to offer such a gift. Do we see it as such, or do we often take it for granted?

 From my observation, many Americans treat Memorial Day like the 4th of July with picnics, parties, and celebration. While it is important to take advantage of time with loved ones - after all, the fallen would want us to do so - the whole concept could become more about enjoying the long weekend than appreciating the sacrifices of those who gave all. Maybe we all deserve a bit of a reminder here: the day was meant to honor and remember. To give something of our time to thank those who valued our freedom above their own. I've been as guilty of this as anyone, of rushing past the national moment of silence at 3 p.m. and saying, "Oh, sorry. I was too busy." Talk to the guys who served with these fallen, and they will tell you their greatest worry is that their dead buddies will be forgotten. That they are the only ones who continue to remember them. Perhaps that fear is coming true. 

  I believe this is a question worth pondering: what will we be as a nation if all that the next generation thinks of Memorial Day is hamburgers, hotdogs, firecrackers, or a camping trip? If we do not pass on the importance that the fallen still matter, that sacrifice should be honored, and that giving is better than receiving, we run the risk of losing a part of who we are. We have an obligation to the ones who died: to make the most of our lives but also to thank them for giving theirs. 

 And so, to answer the annual question, "What are you doing for Memorial Day?" I say the same as I do every year: I am going to remember. I will be at a ceremony to honor those brave individuals and even walk among their graves. I will let their families know that they have not been forgotten either. And I will pause to grieve with their surviving brothers-in-arms. Most importantly, I will renew my commitment to them - to honor their memory for another year. To be grateful for the life I have because of them.
  And I hope that you will join me and that you will stop long enough to remember the ones who gave their tomorrow for your today. 

* Special thanks to Forest Brooks for providing some of the photos for this post. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

He Heals...

" He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds."
- Psalm 147:3

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Quote of the Day

"The decision to face the darkness, even if it led to overwhelming pain,
showed me that the experience of loss itself does not have to be the defining
moment of our lives. Instead, the defining moment can be our response to 
the loss. It is not what happens to us that matters as much as what happens in us."

- Jerry Sittser in A Grace Disguised *

* This book is available wherever books are sold and is copyrighted 2004

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Inspirational Profiles: Scotty Smiley and the Gift of Living Fully

  I so clearly remember the first time I heard about him. A friend at church asked us to pray for him, saying that he had been injured in Iraq and would probably lose his last remaining bit of eyesight. His name was Scotty. 
  April 6, 2005 changed Scotty's life forever. A routine patrol ended in disaster, nearly costing Scotty his life and taking away forever his ability to see. A suicide bomber and a grey car were all it took.
  When I was informed of Scotty's injury, I asked our friend to try to track down where Scotty would be recovering so that I could send him a note of encouragement. She said she would talk to her brother and sister-in-law, who knew Scotty well, and would try to get an address to me. Having recently started actively supporting military personnel and their families, I thought it was only right that I try to let a wounded soldier know that people cared. Sometime later, my friend gave me the address, and I sent a card to him. He was the first injured service-member that I ever wrote to.
  Over time, I continued to stay updated on Scotty's recovery. As circumstances later brought me much closer to my friend's brother and sister-in-law, I was able to hear how Scotty was doing, and each report surprised me beyond belief: Scotty was fighting to stay in the military and become the Army's first blind, active-duty officer; Scotty learned how to surf in Hawaii - totally blind; Scotty went back to Duke University to get his Master's; Scotty went back to teach at his alma mater, West Point. The miracles just kept coming...
  Then came the fall of 2010. I was traveling at the time and had stopped to browse through a book store and look for a new read. My grandmother had recently passed away, and I was grieving. I needed a story of hope. Shelf after shelf, nothing seemed to turn up. Then, I noticed a title that seemed to jump out at me: Hope Unseen. When I saw the author's name, I couldn't believe it - Scotty had written a book! As you can imagine, I bought the book immediately and went back to where I was staying at the time to settle in and read Scotty's story in his own words.

  Scotty has traveled a tough road since losing his sight: Scotty will never see his three children; Scotty will never see his beautiful wife, Tiffany, again. These are daily things that Scotty has had to adjust to. And yet, Scotty has hope. Scotty will tell you that his life has never been better. He has even said that he doesn't wish that he could have his sight back because his life has changed in so many positive ways. His sense of humor and ability to laugh at the situations he has to deal with sometimes allow him to find joy in a difficult reality.
  But Scotty hasn't always been this way. Shortly after the injury, Scotty was reeling from the shock of waking up in a hospital and realizing he was blind. Anger and depression were constant companions. He just wanted to give up and die. The vibrant faith in God he had always had appeared to offer him no help. He wasn't sure what he believed anymore and why a loving God would do something like this. Over time, however, he began to trust God for the things he couldn't understand and to believe in a hope unseen. Perspective came as the months of recovery progressed, and he started to embrace God's new plan for his life. He began to gain spiritual sight even though his physical sight no longer existed. As he writes in the book,
  "...I realized that I had never really committed myself fully to God's plans. I'd had my dreams and my plans and my own selfish pride. I had known God and believed in Him. I had prayed and tried to love and serve others. I had asked God to help me with my life's decisions. But I had never fully depended on God or hoped completely in Him...I had lost my way awhile back - my inability to navigate had nothing to do with my eyes and everything to do with my lack of focus on what our finite time of earth is all about."
  Reading Scotty's story brought to me some much-needed comfort and hope. As he detailed his moments of despair, I identified with him. I knew what hopelessness felt like. When he humorously described his futile attempts to learn how to function as a new dad, I laughed. When he talked about his coming to the conclusion that he needed to turn everything in his life over to God, I agreed with him. I was just learning to do the same.
  Scotty has continued to have an active life and credits the support of his family and his  renewed faith in God as the reason for his hope and joy.

 Scotty Smiley is an inspiration to many because of his friendly ways and also his acceptance of the new lifestyle he has had to learn. Scotty's challenges have allowed him to appreciate the relationships in his life and to live each day to its fullest, knowing that so much can change so quickly.
  I feel very honored to have been able to watch Scotty's story unfold over the past few years and am grateful that God spared his life so that we could be blessed by the inspiring example of this Army officer.

For more information on Scotty, please visit his website at:

* This book is available wherever books are sold and is copyrighted 2010.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Quote of the Day

"My own...loss thus taught me the incredible power of choice - 
   to enter the darkness and to feel sorrow...I knew that running from
  the darkness would only lead to greater darkness later on. I also knew that
  my soul had the capacity to grow - to absorb evil and good, to die and live
 again, to suffer abandonment and find God. In choosing to face the night,
 I took my first steps toward the sunrise."

       - Jerry Sittser in A Grace Disguised *

* This book is available wherever books are sold and is copyrighted 2004

Saturday, May 17, 2014

A Refining God

   I believe in a God who refines. If I didn't, I would have no hope. Neither would humanity. None at all. Suffering happens for this reason: refining. It is the removing of what doesn't belong. That is what God does in every situation, no matter how hopeless. He is resolved to take away that which remains of a former existence, a life lived in shame and despair, broken pieces and darkness at every step. It shouldn't stay.
   And yet, for some reason, I resist His process. I refuse to be put into the fire that makes me better. I complain of the heat and try to turn God into an unfair tyrant. But, if I only knew, if I only believed in my deepest soul, I would accept. I would trust. I would have faith. My heart would not question. My mind would not ask. I would not fear. Still, however, so often that's what I do. I fight what I do not comprehend, demanding answers when there aren't always any. I force God to explain Himself. 
     But, if I was willing to be refined, all would make sense. All would become Grace. Peace everlasting. If I truly desired the end result, I would say yes and let Him work. I would cease the striving to understand. I would find meaningful purpose in the midst of the pain of life. Hope comes when I know the final outcome will be for my betterment. Until then, the stripping away will continue, the removal of everything that hinders, all that hides. God will carry out the process to completion: refine, restore, renew. Never-ending, it will be all for Him. And I will be changed for the better.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Quote of the Day

" The peace Jesus gives isn't Him pulling us out of the storm,
but Him giving us a steady hope right in the middle of the storm."

- Jefferson Bethke,
motivational speaker and author

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Whatever It Takes

   Whatever it takes. This, I have come to realize, is one of the most profound prayers that one can pray for himself or for others. It is so common to want the easy road - to expect that suffering will never haunt you. And it is also common to try to avoid it and to try to help others avoid it, too. Thus, we try to be the ultimate savior - for ourselves and for others - all the while interfering with the only One who truly is. 
    If there is one lesson I wish I could've learned sooner in life, it is this: coming to the end of ourselves often leads us through suffering; yet, in the end, it can lead us to the beginning of God. He is found in the loneliness of the desert of life, in the hush of the longing soul. If lives can be so transformed for the better by the hidden touch of pain and adversity, why do we fear it so much? Why do we run from the very thing that is God's instrument to redemption? We cannot avoid, or save others, from the hardships that come with poor decisions, the consequences that come from bad mistakes, or the surprise of meeting unexpected pain. It finds all of us anyway. And the more we try to fight it, the worse it gets. 
    Whatever it takes. I have begun to pray this - first for myself, and now for several others. It is a radical prayer. One that is breathed in daring faith and proof that God is powerful enough to meet every one of us at our point of brokenness. We cannot be everywhere at all times to rescue everyone from the evils of life. We cannot spare them the harshness of a sinful world, much less escape it ourselves. That is something that only God can achieve. The redemption of mankind can only be found at the foot of the cross of the One who died for them. This same God not only has the ability to forgive but also to restore, to make whole. To repair. All-present, He sees every single hurting soul that exists and stands ready to come and touch their brokenness. We lack such an ability, although we often like to think that we possess it. We are unable to keep each other from falling, from failing. Only God can do such a thing. 
  Whatever it takes. Removed from anger and malice, such a prayer can be revolutionary: God, do whatever it takes to bring us to the end of ourselves; to make us bow the knee and surrender; to allow us to invite You into the pain that has wounded us so deeply; to hear You searching for us and to come rather than run and hide. Do whatever it takes to cause us to lessen our confidence in ourselves and to increase it in You. Do whatever it takes. Whatever. Anything. And, if we suffer, if we hurt, if we must bear our own self-inflicted misery, so be it. Just allow us to find You. End the striving. Stop the thrashing about. Make us be still - even if it means that You pin us in a corner. If it means You knock us down and strike us blind on a dusty road...or leave us stranded on a lonely island with one, tattered shirt to wear; if it means You put us behind the confining bars of a prison cell, or in a hospital bed facing our own mortality. Regardless of what You choose, do whatever it takes! Even if it requires everything. Being left with nothing isn't such a bad thing. Place our sins - even the secret ones - before the light of Your face (Psalm 90:8). Make us transparent. Reveal everything because, in so doing, we are set free. 
    Whatever it takes. I pray it over the troubled soldiers as they sleep tonight; I pray it over an angry relative who needs to experience God's peace; I pray it over dear friends whose family has been shattered by bitterness and pain; I pray it over a young man as he sits in a federal jail, facing 26 years of solitariness and removal from loved ones...Every unforgiving thought, every crime, every moment of shame in your life...God can break through it all. God can bring life from death, hope from despair. It is what He does. No one is too broken!
   Whatever it takes. This prayer has changed my life, and I know it has the power to change yours. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

God Mends...

  God sometimes speaks grace to us in unexpected places. God mends in often unexpected ways.  I had just finished pouring out my heart to a friend a short time earlier. Lately, life had dealt me several losses. My soul was heavy. I had told her so. Now, as I had briefly stopped at a clothing store to use a soon-to-be-expired coupon, I walked through the aisles of men's shirts, ties, and suits, seeing if I could find something nice for my dad. Just then, in that mundane moment, God showed up. This song came over the speakers, and I stopped to listen....I had never heard it before. I never expected to hear it in such a public place as this. Maybe at the Christian bookstore, but not here. As I listened, clothing decisions suddenly put on hold, I felt God's peace. I sensed His touch of life. The words met me right where I needed them most: He takes broken things and makes them beautiful. As the song ended, I felt renewed. I was given the strength to go embrace each loss with its promise of hope. To take life as it comes and know that He will always remain faithful, that His plans are good. Most of all, I was reminded that He never forgets us, even in our hour of need, and will be there for life.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Places That Heal

 "Alaska is a great place to heal," the soldier said to me. He had just returned from Afghanistan and was describing to me the healing impact that the outdoors was having on him. Even though winter was settling in, he emphasized that there was no where he wanted to be more than here. The beautiful was washing away the ugly...
  His words got me thinking about a powerful truth: each of us must find our "healing" place. We must discover that spot where, in our hour of need, we can get away and silence the noise of life. As I pondered the soldier's statement, I began to view my "backyard" - the beautiful part of the world in which I live - perhaps a bit differently. I thought back to the many times in my own life when the pain became heavy, the stress nearly unbearable, and I sought tranquility. Often, it came right outside my window. 
  I live in a wooded suburb. Birds, squirrels, a beautiful creek running past my house - these are all around me. But I catch myself, force myself even, to stop the craziness inside and appreciate God's beauty. 

  Over time, as I have taken road trips around my home state, I have discovered other "healing" places - locations where I can cease the obligatory activity and quiet my soul. See, for all of modern medicine's advancements, there are still some things that only God can truly heal. And He often uses His creation to remind us of His presence, to tell us that He cares about us and loves us deeply. The Psalmist once observed, while gazing at the nighttime sky, 

"When I consider Your heavens...what is man... that you take notice
of him?"  (Ps. 8:4)

He was humbled by God's grace. He sensed God's peace. And he thanked Him. When the pain of life presses, when the griefs seem to multiply, maybe we need to seek a certain somewhere, a place free from the busyness where we can hear our own heart-cries. In the emptiness we feel, we can then hear the voice of God whispering peace to our soul. The One who calmed the sea can calm any storm that rises in me or you. But it's hard to listen when the cares are many. It's hard to stop and hear when work, family, school - even church - demand our time. Sometimes, a "healing" place is what is needed. A spot where we can commune with God.
  The soldier was right. I thank him for saying what he did that day. Because of his simple statement, I have come to see the world around me in a new and wonderful way. Every mountain peak, every flower, every bird - these remind me, in the times I need it most, that my God loves me and that I am made for Him. A thought like that is enough to drive away the fear, to give me the strength to press on, no matter what a day may bring. And it makes me want to thank, too - like the Psalmist. To be grateful that, in this world, God still brings beauty in the ugly. That God still restores my soul and places it to rest beside still waters (Ps. 23:2). 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Seven Years

  It's been nearly seven years now. The graduations I have been to recently bring it all back...What seems like yesterday has been far longer than I think. Wasn't it a mere few days or weeks ago that I, too, walked across the stage? Has time passed me so quickly? As I marvel at the rapid fleeting of the years, I look back and reflect on what that aspiring graduate was like:
   That June afternoon, as she spoke to her classmates and those in attendance, she talked of honoring God. She spoke of how her education had taught her to love Him. She quoted one of her favorite writers, John Milton, in that one's learning was to fit him for "repairing the ruins." But did she realize that her own soul was beginning to crumble? Did she know that she would soon need a restorer of her own? She also quoted hymn-writing preacher, John Newton. In doing so, she echoed his desire that God would continue to teach her in all areas of life. How little she realized that that she would have her hardest lessons still in front of her! Within a matter of weeks, she would find herself in a hospital room, staring at her father's weakened body as he lay feverishly struggling to survive. And she would feel as though life had cheated her. She would believe the graduation well-wishes had run empty. She would begin to think that God had nothing to impart to her except pain...more pain...and more pain. 
   As time wore on, she wasn't sure that she loved Him anymore. Even worse, she began to believe He might feel the same. As her classmates went on to nursing, biblical theology, and political science careers; as they made friends on their campuses; as one even traveled to Egypt - instead, she sat in doctors' offices; she tied her father's shoes because he  was too weak to do so himself. She didn't wish for the college life necessarily, but she did beg God to change the one she had now. She questioned Him constantly. What had gone so wrong between the grad who looked forward to a future full of success and the hurting teen who only wished to escape? Where had the love gone? She now saw her own words turn prophetic: there were ruins to repair, but these were her own. There was much she had to learn but not the things she wanted. 

   Years would pass before she finally understood. A day would come when she would start to accept her life-story. She would begin to embrace, not to fight. Seven years later, she stands in amazement at how far God has brought her. The promise of ruins being repaired, of waste places being restored, has come true in her life. The hard lessons have been applied. Now, she finds herself blessed with a reward far greater than any diploma: sharing her journey with others and giving them hope. She is becoming God's hands to them. She is able to help repair their ruins, having once stared in silence at her own.
   Now, as I attend one graduation after another, I think about this girl often. I can think of so many things I want to tell her. If I could speak to others like her, I wouldn't talk about "believing in yourself" - I would say that learning to trust yourself less is one key to greatness...because that  is where one experiences God: at the end of themselves and at the beginning of Him. I would speak less about success and more about failure...for those who truly succeed are the ones who have learned to get up when life knocked them down. Perhaps, in our desire to wish our young people well, we do them a disservice regarding what life is really about. How many of them probably sit there on their big day, sporting cap and gown, oblivious to a life-changing crisis that awaits them! It happened to me and, later, to some of my friends.
   This is where the wisdom of experience comes - that those who are down the road can turn back and tell the youth: those who endure are the ones who make a life; those who learn to die to their own ambitions for the sake of others receive God's blessing; those who know what it's like to lose become grateful for what they have. Only the people who walk this road and, by God's grace, persevere can truly change and influence a lost and hurting world. 
   Seven years time makes a difference. I can only begin to imagine what valuable things I will gain in another seven...and another...and another...until I look back on an entire lifetime of watching God teach. Of seeing Him rebuild.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Nothing Is Wasted

Whatever losses you may be facing in your life, remember that you are not alone
and that God promises the hope of redemption to all those who will be open to his 
resurrecting Grace. "In the hands of our Redeemer, nothing is wasted." 

Friday, May 9, 2014

Quote of the Day

  " Loss forces us to see the dominant role our environment plays in determining our happiness. Loss strips us of the props we rely on for our well-being. It knocks us off our feet and puts us on our backs. In the experience of loss, we come to the end of ourselves. But, in coming to the end of ourselves, we can also come to the beginning of a vital relationship with God. Our failures can lead us to grace and to a profound spiritual awakening. This process occurs frequently with those who suffer loss. It often begins when we face our own weaknesses and realize how much we take favorable circumstances for granted. When loss deprives us of those circumstances, our anger, depression, and ingratitude expose the true state of our souls, showing us how small we really are. We see that our identity is largely external, not internal. Finally, we reach the point where we begin to search for a new life, one that depends less on circumstances and more on the depth of our souls. That, in turn, opens us to new ideas and perspectives, including spiritual ones. We feel the need for something beyond ourselves, and it begins to dawn on us that reality may be more than we once thought it to be. We begin to perceive hints of the divine, and our longing grows. To our shock and bewilderment, we discover that there is a Being in the universe who, despite our brokenness and sin, loves us fiercely. In coming to the end of ourselves, we have come to the beginning of our true and deepest selves. We have found the One whose love gives shape to our being."
                           - Jerry Sittser in A Grace Disguised *

* This book is available wherever books are sold and is copyrighted 2004.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

When Trials Come...

When Trials Come

When trials come, no longer fear
For in the pain our God draws near
To fire a faith worth more than gold, 
And there His faithfulness is told.
And there His faithfulness is told.

Within the night I know Your peace;
The breath of God brings strength to me,
And new each morning mercy flows
As treasures of the darkness grow.
As treasures of the darkness grow.

I turn to wisdom not my own,
For every battle You have known;
My confidence will rest in You
You love endures; Your ways are good.
Your love endures; Your ways are good.

When I am weary with the cost,
I see the triumph of the cross
So in its shadow I shall run
Till you complete the work begun.
Till you complete the work begun.

One day all things will be made new;
I'll see the hope You called me to
And in Your kingdom, paved with gold,
I'll praise Your faithfulness of old.
I'll praise Your faithfulness of old.

- Keith and Kristin Getty

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Guest Post

  My friend Judy knows what loss feels like. Almost seven years ago, she got the news no parent ever wants to receive: her son was dead. I became friends with her shortly after this sad event took place and was a witness to her incredible faith and courage following such a difficult loss. In light of her God-given perspective that was on display to so many, I asked her to share her thoughts on loss and what she has gained along the way. Today, I share those thoughts with you:

"November 6th, 2007 is a day that my husband and I will cherish for the rest of our earthly life. Our son, Army Capt. Benjamin David Tiffner, called from Baghdad, Iraq, telling us the good news of the great successes the military was having and how thankful he was that he could be a part of what was happening in fighting terrorism. He was on his second tour to Iraq, commanding a small 12-man Special Forces team, and only 22 days in country. The 15 minute conversation with both my husband and I, at different locations in that early, dark morning here in Alaska, proved to be our last conversation with Ben here on earth. He once again assured us that God had placed him in Iraq at this particular time and this particular mission.
  November 7, around 1:00 p.m. after finishing our lunch, two military officers came to our door, with news that no one ever wants to receive. Our son Benjamin, 31 years old, was killed by an IED. This particular explosive was intended to take the lives of all four soldiers in the vehicle, but Ben was the only casualty. Benjamin was one of three casualties at that time in his graduating class of the year 2000 from West Point Military Academy. 
  What does one do upon hearing such devastating news? My mothering instincts came into full force, and the weight of such news turned my life upside down. There is NOTHING that can compare to the loss of a child. The loss is so great in so many different areas of life that it is not apparent right away. And unless you are a member of this special and unique club (that no one wants to join) you are clueless to the magnitude of grief that comes with the loss of a child as you walk through the different phases of such a loss. 
  During the 15 minute conversation Benjamin had with his father, the day before he died, he asked us to pray for the 12 men on his Special Forces team...that they would see their need of a Savior and put their trust in Jesus Christ. He saw the bigger picture even in the midst of warfare, and that there was a bigger war, a spiritual war, going on in the lives of his team members. God has begun to answer that prayer request. 
   The only way one can travel through life in all its twist and turns, is believing God to be a sovereign and gracious God who really is in control of all that is going on. That He is working out His plan for mankind, that He knows us intimately and knows that date of our birth and the date of our death, and He knows EVERYTHING that represents the dash between the two. My husband and I have experienced this very unique kind of grace that He gives to His hurting children. He is our God, and He has proven Himself to be enough, even when we become separated from our loved ones through death.
  Psalm 18:2 reminds us who our God is: 
              " The Lord is my...rock, my fortress and my deliverer, my God, 
               my rock in whom I take refuge. My shield, the horn of my salvation,
               my stronghold."

Psalm 18:6 says,

               " In my distress, I called upon the Lord, to my God, I cried for help.
               From His temple, He heard my voice and my cry reached His ears."

He has proved Himself to be EVERYTHING He says He is."

I thank Judy for taking the time to share her heart. May we each learn to allow our losses to draw us closer to the God who gives us grace in our hour of need.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Quote of the Day

  Professor and bestselling author Jerry Sittser, after suffering the loss of his wife, mother, and youngest daughter in a car accident at the hands of a drunk driver, shares his thoughts on how we face our losses...  

  " We do not always have the freedom to choose the roles we must play in life, but we can choose how we are going to play the roles we have been given. Choice is therefore the key. We can run from the darkness, or we can enter into the darkness and face the pain of loss. We can indulge ourselves in self-pity, or we can empathize with others and embrace their pain as our own. We can run from sorrow and drown it in addictions, or we can learn to live with sorrow. We can nurse the wounds of having been cheated in life, or we can be grateful and joyful, even though there seems to be little reason for it. We can return evil for evil, or we can overcome evil with good. It is this power to choose that adds dignity to our humanity and gives us the ability to transcend our circumstances, thus releasing us from living as mere victims. These choices are never easy. Though we can and must make them, we will make them more often than not only after much agony and struggle.
 ...It is therefore not true that we become less through loss - unless we allow the loss to make us less, grinding our soul down until there is nothing left but an external self entirely under the control of circumstances. Loss can make us more. In the darkness we can still find the light. In death we can also find life. It depends on the choices we make."
                    - Jerry Sittser in A Grace Disguised *

* This book is available wherever books are sold and is copyrighted 2004. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Is God Good?

  Is God good? I think many of us ask ourselves this question. Sometimes, the "yes" is emphatic - we see His goodness overflowing in the world around us...and we want to thank - to acknowledge - Him. But, other times, the question weighs heavy. The "yes" turns to doubt. Is He really good? How? How is He good when your spouse walks away? How is He good when your loved one takes their precious life and ends it? How is He good when the baby you've long prayed for dies before it ever took its first breath? Where is the loving Savior in all this? How can He give when loss seems to be the only thing coming from His hands? We think Him to be cruel. We feel He is cold-hearted. Can there still be Grace?

  I stare at the sunset as the giant ball of fire-light slips behind the horizon. Orange and blue colors run together, illuminating the tiny mountain peaks in the distance. As I watch, the thought comes to me: this same cycle will begin again tomorrow. The sun will rise once more come morning. As darkness settles on the earth, there is hope about to start afresh. And I sense the answer: noticing God's goodness is, perhaps, a matter of choice. I must decide to watch Him work. I must choose hope. In order to believe, I must take the steps toward faith and learn to trust in a goodness that, at times, appears absent. But, in reality, it is merely disguised. It never leaves. I may have to endure the lonely night, but the sun will rise. His goodness will be seen - always. I cannot fully live the "yes" - cannot embrace His favor - while denying its existence. Here is where the ugly is turned into beautiful: when I have every reason to turn away, to curse God and tell Him that His goodness has come up short but, instead, I choose to open - I choose Grace. I say, "He is good," even if everything around me says otherwise. Because, when I truly accept this truth, I can walk through the darkest of valleys and still be renewed. I can hope in the sunrise of tomorrow as it is setting today. My endings can be beginnings. 
  And so I welcome the blessing as I watch the shadows fall. Though the crumbled ruins lie in front of me, though the painful wounds run deep, I make the choice to answer my own question. Is God good? Yes, I breathe...all the time.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

What People with Special Needs Teach Us About Living

  In light of the story on yesterday's post, I was prompted to reflect on what special needs individuals can teach us. So often, they are the ones who give us insight into what living is truly about. Here are a few lessons I have learned from those with special needs:
  1. You are only as limited as you choose to think. To many special needs individuals, their so-called "disability"  really becomes another form of ability. While most cannot move, think, or act in quite the same manner as the rest of us, they look for ways to give to the world in much the same way as we do. They are fueled by the same desire for fulfillment and success and want just as badly to contribute to life as others. Anything is possible to them. They don't let their challenges hold them back. They believe that they can achieve anything they want to do. Failure doesn't occur to them - their success comes in trying. Perhaps this is why we love things like the Special Olympics. For many, the victory has already come in overcoming their limitations.
  2. You have the capacity to love ANYONE! Special needs people seem to have been given an incredible capacity to love. They just accept people for who they are. They  seem to be free from all of the issues that hinder us from loving. A judgmental-free life allows you to love with open arms.
  3. Life is a beautiful thing. Because many special needs individuals do not know the pressing problems and stresses that we do, they have this view that life and all that's in it is a beautiful thing. They will cheer on anyone for anything. They will get excited about even the smallest of things. To them, life is not about solving problems but experiencing a beautiful reality. They see the world in very simple, yet meaningful terms. They appreciate all that is happy and good.
  4. Make empathy a life-long habit. People with these limitations seem to also have a God-given ability to sympathize with the hurts of others. Perhaps because they understand what it's like to face challenges, they are able to offer a unique form of comfort to those in need. Even though we all feel badly when someone goes through hard times, the disabled almost appear to be more troubled when another is in pain. They will be one of the first to try to lift your spirits when you are down, to tell you things will get better. For them, empathy is a life-long habit. When the chips are down, there is no one better to have on your side than one of them.
  5. Don't take yourself too seriously. Special needs individuals are known for their sense of humor, especially their ability to laugh at themselves or their circumstances. Often, their notorious way of poking fun at their limitations has a delightfully disarming affect. They maintain a healthy attitude by finding something to smile about, even in the most difficult situations. This cheerful determination carries them through their challenges and helps them to keep going.
There are so many other ways in which these individuals teach us about living. Every time I come in contact with one of these special people, I walk away wondering, " Where would the world be without their beautiful perspective?" Each person, abled or disabled, is unique and special to God. And I often ask Him if He doesn't hold these challenged people close to His heart. These are the ones who make our burdens a little lighter by their smile, who make us laugh a little harder by their jokes and wit, who make us slow down and care a little more by their sensitive manner. People like this can offer us so much if we are willing to let them. By having such people in our lives, we will all be the richer, the better, for it.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Inspirational Profiles: The Bilodeau Brothers

  In February of 2010, the world was introduced to the Bilodeau brothers: Alex, a world-class moguls skier, and Frederik, an outgoing soul who battles cerebral palsy. The Winter Olympics in Vancouver gave an international audience the opportunity to witness the power of love as evidenced in the lives of these two Canadian young men. News sources ran pieces about the bond between these siblings, and those that heard their story were deeply touched. It is a wonderful story of love and unselfishness...

  Heading into his Olympic competition, Alex declared that he was going to race for Frederik, who would be cheering at the bottom of the ski course. Frederik yelled his heart out for his brother as Alex went on to win the gold medal. A tear-jerking moment ensued when Alex ran to find his family and embraced Frederik in a huge hug. The skier would later hear his national anthem as he stood at the top of the medal podium.
  Four years later, Alex once again earned the honor of representing Canada at the Olympics, this time in Sochi, Russia. But a lot had changed since the last Winter games. Not only had Alex become a superstar in his native Quebec, but Frederik had gained a fan base, as well. The media again profiled the story of Alex and Frederik, this time updating viewers about Frederik's newly-discovered talent for painting as well as Alex's renewed desire to go for one more Olympic victory - for Frederik.
  Once again, Alex took to the slopes and performed amazingly. The gold was his for a second time. Just as before, he went searching for his family and wrapped his beloved Frederik in a hug. This time, however, knowing it was his final Olympic run, he wanted Frederik to share the feeling of victory. After all, he said, Frederik used to ski until his cerebral palsy made it impossible for him to do so. With this is mind, he hoisted Frederik over the barrier into the athlete's area and had him take his spot next to him on the podium for the flower ceremony. With a smile big enough to drive a truck through, Frederik stood tall and waved the Canadian flag. It was an emotional and fitting end to a truly special Olympic journey.

  I am glad that I had the pleasure of watching this story unfold over the course of two Olympic games. Alex and Frederik are inspirational for the example they give to all of  us of what love and unselfishness can do. As a saying I read recently says, "When we love and are loved, every day is a celebration." 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Quote of the Day

" O Lord, let me praise Thee with my whole heart: for never surely was there anyone so deeply indebted as myself; which way soever I look, I am crowded with blessings. O may my gratitude be in some degree proportionate." 
- William Wilberforce from
Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas *

* This book is available wherever books are sold and is copyrighted 2007