Monday, March 31, 2014

Why Journeying Alone Never Works

  Relationships. We all have them to some extent or another. We cannot avoid them. They are what brought us into this world, what raised us, what continue to shape and influence us every day of our lives. But do we really understand the beautiful blessing of having such a gift?
   I have been as guilty as anybody of taking for granted the friendships in my life and totally missing the wonderful thing that having relationships adds to my world. I was blessed to grow up around many loving relationships but didn't fully appreciate their value until some of them began to go away. Through death or growing apart, as these relationships were removed from my life, I regretted so much: the times I should've said how much I loved someone, or could've taken the risk to reach out instead of hiding within myself. How often it is that we don't fully appreciate what we have until it is taken away from us! 
   I distinctly remember the first time I really allowed myself to open up, in a deeper way, to two relationships that I had enjoyed for years. It was on my birthday a few years ago, and a couple of my close friends were coming over to celebrate. Until recently, relationships (for me) had meant: you have a good time with others but you don't let them in too close. See, I had dealt with insecurity for a long time and was afraid of what others would think were they to see the "real" me. I had hidden behind the mask of my own personality, trusting in my friendly ways and my caring heart to build friendships but not to a deep extent. This birthday was one of the first times I took the mask off and dared myself to receive the unconditional love of my friends - to just try and see how it felt to be fully known but loved in spite of it. Following an evening of dinner, playing games, and being with my two friends, I cried after they left - not because I was sad about anything, but because it signified a huge step for me. I had felt the love that night - had allowed myself to take in the kindness and care of those who were close to me - and something inside of me had changed. I learned a powerful lesson that has transformed my life: journeying alone never works. 


    We, as human beings, were never made to walk through life alone. Relationships are God's way of providing for some of our basic emotional needs: to be loved, to be accepted, to be known, to be cared for. No matter the age, every person must have these needs fulfilled. Sometimes, these needs drive us to look for their fulfillment in the wrong places, but we know we must have them met nonetheless. But, even though we know this, we seem to want to journey alone. At certain times in life, it seems better to walk by ourselves than to run the risk of having others see us for the way we are. Yet, in doing so, we cause ourselves more grief because there is no one else to share the burdens we bear. There is no one to empathize with us, to hold us close and tell us that they understand our pain. And so, we choose to wander through our own darkness without a friend. It's better than the alternative, we say. But is it really?
   In Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, it says,
       
    " Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: 
       If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has
       no one to help him up!"

 This is why solid relationships are essential. Without them, we must struggle to get back up when life's challenges knock us down. Without them, we have no arm to lean on except our own sheer will. Journeying alone robs us of the joy and companionship that can carry us through the hard times in life. We end up trying to do it all and exhausting ourselves in the process.
 But the most important reason why relationships are so crucial is because they give us a human picture of the greatest relationship we can have: that of a friendship with God. The love and care that others demonstrate toward us is only a fraction of what God demonstrates. Humans will always come up short in everything, thus God's love is the only relationship that is unchanging. When we walk with Him, we never have to journey alone because He is with us continually. He will always be there to comfort, to fulfill all of those needs that we long to have met. And He provides others around us to show us His love on a human level. Relationships are a gift to us from God. What they add to our lives is vital to our personal and emotional well-being. 
 In looking back, I regret that I didn't realize this sooner, and I have sought to embrace the ones in my life in any even greater way since that birthday celebration a few years back. I  can honestly say that I treasure each relationship I have and am grateful every day for what they bring to my life. But even more, I am thankful that my days of journeying alone are in the past. Because God calls me His friend, I know that if I fall, He will lift me up. Because He journeys with me, I never have to face life's uncertainties by myself. Walking at His side, my life is joyful and complete, no matter what each day holds. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Quote of the Day




"God softens hearts with the showers of adversity and makes us more attentive unto Him and less influenced by the noise of the world."
 - Thomas Case in Voices From the Past *




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

Friday, March 28, 2014

Where My Help Comes From




       " I lift my eyes to the hills - where does my help come from?
        My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth."
- Psalm 121:1

Thursday, March 27, 2014

What Makes You Beautiful?

  What makes you beautiful? No, I'm not talking about the hit song made popular by the British band, "One Direction." Rather, I am attempting to answer a deeper question - one that each of us, regardless of background or personal journey, tries to ask themselves: what makes you - what makes me - beautiful? Is it the clothes we wear? Is it the way we look? Is it the car we drive or where we live? Is it how successful we are in school or a career? Is it how many friends we have or, more than that, how accepted we are among them? 
  So many of these things play into our impression of what makes "beautiful". We think that the outward, the physical, is what sets us apart. Perhaps also it is a bit of pride that wants to look better than the others. But what is true beauty? Could it be that it is found in the heart, in what is in the soul, more than the external? Could inner grace define someone, rather than the way they look or where they come from? 
  I have met some truly beautiful people, but it wasn't their outward appearance or their success in the world that attracted me: it was their smile, their big heart, their kind ways, their gentle words. These qualities cannot be measured. They are what make the difference. Some individuals may have the best looks, but their hearts are heavy; they frown in anger at life; darkness settles on their soul. The external is over-shadowed by the inner pain. Equally, another who may have a disfigured face or a body that was born missing parts of itself can transform a room into a scene of life, laughter, and happiness.
  Beyond the mere observation of these things comes an even greater truth: every person, regardless of how they look, was created by God for a purpose. To Him, they are beautiful because He gave them life. They have value because of who they were made to be, not for the way they look or what they do. 
  Each of us tries to see one another and define ourselves, and each other, with human eyes. But what if we tried to view ourselves and each other God's way? What if the external mattered less and the internal mattered more? What if we didn't feel the need to change the outward because the inner beauty spoke louder? What if we could look each other in the eye and say, "You're beautiful - just the way you are!" How this would change the way we treat one another! We would leave off the name-calling, the need to tell each other that we are worthless, that we are ugly, that we don't matter. We would embrace ourselves and others as special people of value. We would recognize that everyone has been put on this earth to fulfill a God-given mission and to change the world, no matter what their personal looks or challenges are.
  Outward looks don't mean much, though our society tries to tell us they do. What matters most is the person we become on the inside, for that is what makes us beautiful.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Inspirational Profiles: Cpl. Aaron Mankin and the Gift of Acceptance

 What would you do if fire destroyed your face? How would you respond if you suddenly realized that your "Hollywood good looks" were no more? How could you learn to accept yourself, and help others to accept you, when you no longer looked like the person you once were? Would you let scars define you for the rest of your life? These were all questions that young Aaron Mankin had to ask himself.
 Aaron joined the Marines in 2003 and became a combat correspondent, a front line reporter for the Marine Corps. In 2005, he was deployed to Iraq. Camera in one hand and a rifle in the other, Aaron's job was to document the daily operations of his unit and to give a firsthand account of their mission. On May 11, 2005, Aaron set off with his fellow Marines for the day's work. On the way to their destination, a large IED (Improvised Explosive Device) that was planted in the road exploded underneath the vehicle Aaron and several other Marines were riding in. The vehicle rolled and instantly burst into flames. Six brave Marines lost their lives and the rest, including Aaron, were airlifted out with serious injures, many of which were burns. Initially, Aaron was sure he was going to die. But God had different plans for him...
 His mom, Diana Mankin-Phelps, talks about Aaron's long journey to recovery in her book, A Mother's Side of War. What attracted Aaron to those who treated his injuries, was his amazing faith and sense of humor. He had a gift of being able to accept the situation and say, " I can live with that." As his mom writes,
 "Within the first couple of days, Aaron had won the hearts of all those who would be caring for him...They would come into his room just to talk or to see if he was comfortable. He was given the nickname "The Hugmister," because of his generous and loving spirit of thankfulness when anyone would do anything for him, no matter how small."



  For months, Aaron endured countless surgeries to attempt to put his marred face back together again. After a long road of many experimental treatments and operations, Aaron was put in touch with a newly-formed group called "Operation Mend," which provides free facial reconstruction for our injured veterans at the UCLA medical facility. Their goal is to help give the wounded back their dignity. Aaron was the first patient that they assisted. As a result of his involvement with this organization, Aaron began to be a spokesman for wounded warriors. His first speech was at a USO event in 2008. His poise and articulateness impressed those in attendance, and he began to be sought after for other veteran-related events. With the same faith and hilarious sense of humor that  had carried him through so many trying days, he now took the stage as an incredible example of acceptance and thankfulness.


  Over the last few years, Aaron has not only become a voice for wounded warriors but also has helped to change the perception of how the public views those whose lives have been changed by war. Leaving many audiences laughing and totally disarmed of any uncomfortableness associated with his appearance, Aaron brings a sense of joy to those around him, even though he has gone through so much adversity. 
  Aaron's story has inspired me in many ways. The challenges he has overcome have allowed him to empathize with others and understand their pain. He knows that not all wounds are seen, that the unseen wounds oftentimes hurt more than those on the outside.  Why does he know this so well? Aaron has not only dealt with his long physical recovery, but he has also been raising his two small children on his own, having gone through a difficult divorce part-way into his recovery. Aaron has learned how to pick up the pieces of his life and attempt to turn everything into a positive. He is continually thankful, realizing every day that he is a blessed man, regardless of his circumstances. As he tries to move forward with his life, he is sharing his journey with others, appearing on TV shows and at public events in order to spread his message of hope.
  Even more, his acceptance of his altered appearance is refreshing in a world that makes so much of physical looks. He will tell you that, once he reached "a point of acceptance,"  he told himself that this injury would not define who he was as a person, nor where he chose to go with his life afterwards. Aaron knows that, even though the external has changed, the same beautiful person he used to be is still inside of him. With the truth of this fact, he has gone on to do amazing things. For him, beauty really is "only skin deep." 
 So...what would you do? Would a fiery inferno have the final say in your life? Would you let the loss of your "good looks" define how you saw yourself for the rest of your life? As Aaron will tell people, so much of life is about choices. Even though we can't control the things that happen to us, we can control how we respond to them...and Aaron has responded well.


* A Mother's Side of War is available anywhere books are sold and is copyrighted 2013 by AuthorHouse

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Still Waters



" He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul."
- Psalm 23:2

Monday, March 24, 2014

'Filled Hollows'

   I read a quotation sometime ago that describes the spiritual longing in each of us as empty hollows needing to be filled. C.S. Lewis to continue this thought:
   
  " ...we must remember that the soul is but a hollow which God fills. Its union with God is, almost by definition, a continual self-abandonment - an opening, an unveiling, a surrender, of itself."
                         - (from "The Problem of Pain")    

    Embracing the God who fills so abundantly is to agree to a transfer of authority. It is to acknowledge a beautiful passing of control, a willing surrender to Another's control-power. It is to serve the Master's expectations, to obey gladly no matter how contradictory to our own feeling. To have this hollow filled is to cease looking for significance, for purpose, for love, for all that is meaningful, in the wrong places and to see it all provided in Him Who saves. It is to disregard the deceptive self and all of its generated answers for the pursuit of the ultimate Life-Giver. It is to become aware of the rich supply of blessing He provides, to come to the One who alone can satisfy. He is the dispenser of what lasts eternally.
   Spiritual longing is native to the human condition. And yet, also given to us is the Source of unlimited Grace. We must continually exchange one for the other if we are to be filled, to be touched, to be healed.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Acceptance vs. Demand

  Recently, I saw this humorous video clip that is making the rounds on social media. It was taken of a four-year-old little boy, who lives in Pennsylvania and wanted to go outside and play, following one of the major snowstorms that hit the East Coast this winter.



 While we laugh and think this is cute, this also provides us with a lesson in human nature. So often, rather than deal with our circumstances, we just ask Jesus to take them away from us. Not understanding the character that God wants to build in us through our difficulties, we would just as soon pray for Him to remove them and give us the easy road. And yet, with God, there rarely are "easy roads." He will allow great times of suffering but all for our growth and benefit. Once we realize that He is always about turning us into better people, maybe then we will pick up our shovel and quit asking Him to make it easier on us. If we want to become people of strength and character, then we must accept the challenging times. And we must learn to not make demands on God that satisfy our own agenda but embrace the situation the way that it is and look for the blessing hidden inside.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Redemption in Full

  Once I attended a memorial service for a friend who had died from a hard-fought battle with cancer. As friends and family eulogized her and talked about her thoughtful ways, her strong faith in God, her zest for life, etc... I thought about how I had seen God work out His redemption in her life over the years: she had overcome a painful divorce, beaten cancer once already, and so much more. It occurred to me that there is a redemptive side to every person's life, if only they are willing to receive it. Like the beautiful lilies that bloomed at the front of the church, we each can be given the gift of renewal, but only when we are open to the One who gives it. 
   Some people close themselves off to Grace and are actually dead long before they ever reach the grave. They may live long lives, yet they never see that redemptive side come to be. They go from the beginning to the end as broken, hurting, bitter souls that never truly lived. 
   In contrast, there are those that may pass through a dying of sorts: to self, to ambition, to falsehoods, but at a later time, they experience a renewal of the soul. The grave is not really an end for them, only a new beginning. They have learned to live fully. Like this friend. Cancer and death were not the ones to have a final say. She passed from living into another living - from a mere hope into a full-blown reality. She was open to God's restoration. She died living. 
   When the time comes for me, may I be found doing the same...

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Unnumbered Gifts

   God's little gifts are everywhere. They come to us wrapped in the present moment, assuring us of a God who loves us deeply. They are found in the humorous response of a two-year-old who says: " My tummy hurts...[can I] have some more chips?" We discover them in the cherubic gaze of a little boy who just turned four. Upon expressing the fact that, "I like you," his eyes meet yours as he replies, "I know." You continue the sweet exchange and ask, "Do you like me?" To which he says, "Mm-hm." So simple. So priceless. We notice them in the thoughtful card you find in your mailbox with the love of a close friend written all over it. 
   God supplies these grace-filled experiences to us all the time. We just have to be paying attention in order to see. The world is too big, His gifts too vast, for us to spend our lives gazing at the image of ourselves, reflecting in our own narcissistic pool of fallen glory. God wants to reveal to us far more than we take the time to savor. These reminders of His love surround us every moment. We must slow our lives down in order to experience them. We must get beyond "us" in order to taste Him. Small gifts. They are laden with meaning, crafted just for us from the beginning of time. Don't throw them away. Squeeze every last drop of Grace from them. Because these gifts are meant to be embraced. These gifts are from God.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Running Into Ourselves

  As he stood in a solemn courtroom, and the 26-year sentence was handed down, he made a profound statement: he admitted that he ran right into the very thing he was so afraid of, the thing he had hoped would never happen. He'd always wanted to give his sons a stable family life. He'd always wanted to be a good husband, to be a good man, to protect those he loved. And yet, his often extreme attempts to do this led him to prison. Now, his sons would grow up without their father. He watched his worst fears become reality. He had created the very thing he wanted to avoid.
  How often this is true for us. We fear something so greatly that we end up having to face it all the same.We create the very things we want to avoid. We end up running into ourselves. We try to flee from IT, only to see IT come back to haunt us. The avoidance of what we do not wish to occur often makes the blow much greater. 
   Just maybe...if we could cease trying to escape, if we could tolerate our own misery for awhile, if we could hear past the pounding of our troubled hearts, we would hear the gentle whisper of God. We would experience the Grace that can heal. But we are "too busy," we say. Indeed, we are. Too busy running from ourselves...right into ourselves. I often wonder, though, what might change in us for the better if we didn't. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Song for the Soul

  In light of the previous post, this song seemed rather fitting. It is performed by the angelic voices of the British boy choir, "Libera," and has brought much comfort to my soul this day. May it bring comfort to yours, as well. 





  

Whatever the Season

   How can you learn to be thankful in an often thank-less world? How can you see Grace for what it is when everything around you speaks of heartache? How can you sing in life's storms, remain open to Him, when the pain seems too much?
  I start my week asking these questions, and I realize that this is where life tests us the deepest: can we experience the abundant Grace in all this mess? Can we bring ourselves to love, to live no matter the season we are in: if it be Spring, with all things new and beginning; Summer - alive and full; Fall, when all comes apart and is dying; Winter - cold and dark, lifeless and deep. Wherever we find ourselves on the journey, can we still find the song in our souls, no matter how broken?
 I sit and gaze out at the silent, snowy outdoors. I know of many who are walking through the Winter of life, who are trying to seek hope when the hurt is pressing. As I think of them, I seek the hope, too.
  Don't we each yearn for the promise of renewal? Isn't there a deep longing for the pain to be redeemed? The One who is Grace asks us to believe that this darkness will turn to a brighter day, that Spring will come with the hope of new beginnings. But He also says to wait out the Winter. He says to sing in the storms, to be grateful, and to be open, even when it is the last thing you think you can do.


  Today, the clouds hang low, but there is sun in the forecast. We await its arrival yet still  say it is a good day - today - clouds and all. And today, I will sing in the sadness. I will hope in the promise of Grace.

                " Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?
                   Put your hope in God..."
                                      - Psalm 42: 5

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Snowflakes

  Snowflakes flutter down gently and begin to form a sea of white. As the transformation begins, I wonder how such tiny particles could come together in such unity, how fragments could be changed into something whole. I also realize that this natural picture mirrors the internal, that a small image such as this could give a glimpse into the soul. The pieces, the fragments, are many. So many, in fact, that they seem too far in number to count. So, too, our own struggles. Overwhelmed, we think it an impossibility that anything could be put back together, that the shattered could be transformed into the whole.


 The winds whip the snow around in circles, appearing to disturb the serenity that once reigned. Doesn't life do the same? Not only do we struggle to see hope amid the seemingly thousands of fragments that are our dashed dreams, memories, and plans, but then the winds of change only add to the swirl of confusion. We are lost in the whirl. How could it turn out for the better? How could the story end in triumph when it only appears to be worsening? We hold on; we watch and try to wait out the fury. 

  
 Then the winds die down. The whiteness has continued to collect on the cold, frosty world below. Now, I see it clearly: the fragments were still coming together, even when the winds roared the loudest. The transformation still happens. I must simply be aware - aware that hope has never really left, despite my feelings to the contrary. The Hands that create the snowflakes are the same Hands that touch the broken pieces of my life and bring a promise of redemption. Even in the darkest hours, He has never left. The winds may blow, may send the shattered bits into a million directions, but He never ceases the transforming work. 


A blanket of beauty now covers the ground. So, also, does Grace cover my soul.


Friday, March 14, 2014

Quotes of the Day





" A life without purpose is a life without meaning, and a life without
meaning is a life without hope."
                          - Nick Vujicic, motivational speaker


"You may be skeptical that anything is possible by hanging on to hope. Or perhaps you have been brought down so low that finding the strength to crawl out of your despair seems impossible...How do you stay hopeful in such situations? You trust in God, remember that you are here for a reason, and dedicate yourself to fulfilling that purpose."

- Nick Vujicic in Life Without Limits *





* This book is available from any place that books are sold and is copyrighted 2010 from Doubleday Publishers

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A New Beginning



This song, performed by one of my favorite musicians, Jason Gray, has meant a lot to me this past week, especially in the wake of sad news I received over the weekend. If you are struggling to find hope in the midst of your sadness, "you can begin again."
Thanks, Jason, for the profound words...

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Drowning Depths

   A tranquil bay of water lies like glass. High above, an eagle soars, majestic in a clear, blue sky. Peace settles on all. Nothing seems to be able to pierce it...but it does...like life.  
Out in the now-suddenly stirring waves, a boat turns over. A man is overboard! Struggling to fight the tide, he is really fighting for life. Fear runs through the mind: where is solid ground? Is the treading going anywhere? Who will come to rescue? Who will save? 
  The last time I was at this place, I wondered the same. My world was upended - just like the boat. Rough seas had disturbed the peace and almost as suddenly as now. I found my soul tossed into the cold waters of uncertainty - just like the helpless sailor. I shouted to the skies for a Savior but was unsure if He would come to me and rescue. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

'The Inconsolable Longing'

   C. S. Lewis, a favorite author of mine, once noted in his book, "The Four Loves," that, as human beings, "we are born helpless. As soon as we are fully conscious, we discover loneliness...Our whole being, by its very nature, is one, vast need; incomplete, preparatory, empty yet cluttered, crying out for Him who can untie things that are now knotted together and tie up things that are still dangling loose."
   What to make of this longing? And why does it take us so long to become aware of it? Why, in a world of such extravagance and plenty, are so many so empty? Perhaps we are away from the Source...we have such refreshment right beside us and yet we turn away and say there is no hope. We choose to look for this eternal resolution where no answers will be had. We are forever searching in desperation, aware of this loneliness but feeling left to fill it on our own. To quench an inner thirst we cannot satisfy. 
    In essence, we seek the impossible. Only when it is revealed to us that there is One who can set things right does a glimmer of hope appear. This is what He means when He calls Himself the Savior. He is the Source Who gives ultimate satisfaction, life abundant in endless supply. When we cry out for our emptiness to be filled, our thirst to be quenched, only He can give the solution. Because He is Himself the solution. He is complete fullness for the longing soul. The Redeemer mends what is broken, straightens what is crooked, and makes beautiful what is ugly. In Him, the need is finally met. And the 'inconsolable longing' is filled forever.

Living Forward

  Life is full of contradictions, of moments and ideas that seem, at times, to clash with one another. Yet each one teaches us. We learn to see through the collision. To know what is truth. To separate the reality from both. Such opposites hit home for me one day...in the span of only a few short hours.
   As I went to pick up the mail that spring afternoon, I opened the mailbox to find a letter from a friend, the symbol of a strained relationship on the wane. It was a grim reminder, without it even being opened, that nothing ever stays the same in your life. That people change - sometimes for the worse. 
   Within less than two hours, I was sitting in the home of some new, but already dear, friends who were soon leaving the familiar of Alaska for new adventures...a farewell of  a different sort. While holding their five-month-old son on my lap, many thoughts ran through my mind. I watched his tiny fingers wrap around my own, love and trust pressing itself right into my very soul. As his adoring gaze met my own, I realized that this tiny baby lives a reality that so many of us can only dream of. He has no concept of the cruel world that awaits him someday. He knows no hatred, holds no bitterness. For him, life is truly simple: embrace fully, trust deeply, love completely. As he smiled at me through baby drool, I savored the precious moment.
   It dawned on me, as he continued to sit on my lap, that this is what I am meant to do - live forward. I do not need to dwell in the past. To waste my mental energies thinking on what could've been. Going backward is for the despairing. They focus on that which is closing, fading. Wishing one could call back a by-gone day is pointless. The soul can only grow when it is living forward, when it is concentrated on the gift of today, of here. Right now: baby smiles over letters in the mailbox; friendships that endure over those that don't. This opens up a new way of seeing things, of viewing life through simpler eyes.
    I pressed that beating heart close to mine and wished that moment would last forever. Someday, that baby will be a grown man with hopes and dreams of his own. Perhaps he may even find himself staring into the eyes of a five-month-old little boy, yearning for the reality that he was giving to me at that second. Time is always marching forward, and so are we, whether we want to or not. But living fully in the forward is where we discover untold blessings: to cherish what is now, not what was. Tiny miracle squeezes my index fingers. All is Grace in this minute. Letter forgotten, I resolve to live fully. To hug the baby today because someday, when he is grown, I will remember. He gave me what I need, what I crave: fullness right here. Today. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

No Broken God

  Her words are spoken from a painful journey of watching the well become sick, fit turning into the unfit, complete into the incomplete. Her mother is slowly dying. With the light of eternal hope sparkling through the ache of the broken, she looked at me and breathed beautiful words. Life-giving words. Words that transcend a dying now: "Our world is broken," she stated, "But our God is not broken." The syllables seemed to hang in the air: our. God. is. not. broken! 
   How often do we really stop to process this grand reality? No matter the hurt that this world creates, our God is bigger than it all. Our God is the God of the whole, of the complete. Ever since the fall of mankind, He has gone about the process of restoring His creation, of raising it from the shattered and unifying it into a beautiful oneness. For every part of us - every part of me - that still lies in disrepair, God is already aware of its existence and wants to redeem it. He wants to make it whole. This separating of the two worlds is what makes me hope in the midst of great tragedy. We may live in the dead and dying but can believe in what is alive. In Who is alive. Because that is what raises us above the pain around us. The pain in us. God receives the broken. God infuses His wholeness into them - into me - and brings a new beginning to that which is fallen.


Choosing

  It began as a simple conversation with a vendor at our State Fair last summer. She and I talked over the dozens of hair barrettes at her booth and, eventually, got on the subject of Christian faith, which I discovered we both shared in common. However, at one point, everything turned deep and personal as she began to share her story. 
  I found out that a tragic loss had happened in her life not long before. She said that her second-born, a son, had died a couple of years prior - just months before she would deliver her third child...not that his death was unexpected, though. He had been born with part of his brain missing, and it was uncertain as to how long he would survive. As I listened to her speak, I was profoundly moved with sympathy but even more touched to hear what came next. She went on to tell me that she and her husband were actually not even there when their little boy died. They were selling their hair products at another fair when they got the call from their nanny who was watching the children at their home, saying that their boy had died peacefully a short time before. She described it to me as "one of the most peaceful feelings" she'd ever had. Because of their faith, she said, she and her husband believed in God's plan for them and knew that they would see their son in Heaven. Even to the day I talked to her, she said their oldest, a daughter, would tell people that she has a brother in Heaven. The lady then added that they are expecting again and that child #4 would be with them when they came up to our fair the next time. She said that her deceased son's life, as well as his death, was such a gift. I noticed that, while she acknowledged the sadness of her boy's passing, she was so filled with gratitude for the time they did have that her grief was over-ridden with Grace. She did say that, without the hope of her faith, she would never have been able to to move forward from such tragedy. 
  I thanked her for sharing her story with me. As I walked away from her booth, I began to wonder: if pain is an ever-present reality in our world, then our dealing with it is, perhaps, more a matter of choice than response. The longer one lives, the more one is forced to admit that they can never totally avoid pain and tragedy...Murders, car accidents, death, shame, despair, suicides...they're all part of the curse of a fallen world. To expect to pass through it untouched is to expect utopia - unrealistic. And the more we hold on to such an idea, the harder it is for us to accept life as it happens. Instead, we are always wishing for something that will never be.
  But, if we acknowledge the existence of such tragedies, we find that we are faced with the question of what to do about them. Can we stop them from happening? Not really, because that would make us God (not that I don't try to be anyway). Can we avoid it? Well, we already addressed that as an impossibility also. So...where does that leave us? At the mercy of a big, bad world with no control? The answer is "yes" for those who fail to open their eyes to Grace, who make the decision to close themselves to the triumph in their tragedy - who say there is no hope of redemption and no purpose to their suffering except God's punishment. These are at the mercy of endless pain and sorrow with no means to explain such adversity. But, for the ones who dare to see the "Who", rather than the "why", for those who believe in the idea that in death there can be resurrection, in being destroyed, there is restoration, in darkness there can be light - these face such trials with a reason for their suffering. These accept both good and, at times, seemingly bad, as Grace, taking them from God's hand as gifts, accepting that which isn't understood. They still believe in the fact that there is redemption to be seen, even in the things which seem unexplainable at the time. It is people like these that truly grow through their pain because they have allowed themselves to be open to healing, to life.
  This is what I saw in the lady I talked to that day: a willingness to let go of her son, to be thankful for time had, and to look ahead for eternal hope. And this leads me to the conclusion: Grace can come anywhere and it is in believing this that our healing happens. Life rises from the ashes and, often, our greatest tragedies can, in time, become our greatest triumphs. But the choice is really ours as to which way it will end: in despair or in hope.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Open To Grace

 By way of introduction, I must begin by saying that I am an Alaska-born girl on a journey. When I first thought about what to call this blog, many ideas came into my mind, but there was one that captured my attention more than the others. The longer I thought about it, the more it seemed to encapsulate my life-story: one that I had only recently come to be at peace with.
  Several years ago, I was a young lady trying to navigate the uncertain waters of youth, attempting to discover my God-given purpose in life and yet finding myself seemingly drifting further away from the fulfillment I desired. Driven into the depths of darkness by loss, pain, and and the grip of unforgiveness, I became disillusioned with God and the love of others. I became my own best friend, which I soon learned was poor company. I wandered for a long time...until Grace found me and swept me into its irresistible reality.
  The journey of my life can be summed up in these three simple, yet powerful words - an idea that has given meaning to the narrative of my personal experiences: Open To Grace. We are so prone to shut ourselves off to that which can heal, which can touch us in our broken state and make us alive. The ever-changing world we live in and the inevitable pain we all incur while passing through it only seem to compound our desire to protect ourselves, to avoid the risk of loving, to refuse to be open to life. At times, we simply feel like running the other way. It is easier to hide, to defend, to want to keep out even the things that are said to offer us the purpose that we seek so desperately.
   And yet, I have discovered that being open is what allows us to receive, to be thankful, to live. It took me many years to understand this. Closed living was the norm for me. Others tried to offer me love; they tried to tell me they believed in me; they tried to make me believe in myself. But, to me, it meant nothing. As feelings of failure, insecurity, grief, and anger ruled my life, their well-intentioned care seemed like naive positive-thinking to me. I was open to nobody. And yet, Grace - irresistible and free - won out. The hands began to open to life, the heart to soften to love. The darkness started to flee and the shadows to vanish as the penetrating Light of the World entered in. As this unfolded, I experienced something so amazing, so profound, so attractive that I couldn't push it away and remain closed anymore. Becoming open to Grace allowed me to become open to life, to the things that matter, to people that matter. Most importantly, Grace led me to the end of myself and the beginning of God.
  For over two years, my life has consisted of letting go and taking in - of turning loose of the things that long held me in bitterness, selfishness, and pain and, in so doing, receiving the joy of a life filled with hope, having once believed that I had none.
  The purpose of this blog is to invite you to come with me as I discover the stories,  ideas, places, and things that bring me deeper into the Grace that gives me life, day by day, journeying from darkness to light, from despair toward hope.
   And so I welcome you to walk with me, to perhaps discover for yourself what it means to be open to Grace, to be open to God.
 
      

Thursday, March 6, 2014