"...If God comes and gives the soul a visit when the poor creature is in darkness and can see no light, then for God to lift up the light of his countenance and shine with a gracious smile upon the soul, and say unto it, 'I am thy salvation' (Psalm 35:3); of what sweet and unspeakable refreshment and consolation is this to the afflicted spirit?"
I read my devotions and my eyes fall on John 8:12. This one verse says it all for me. This verse explains my journey. There is a reason why it became my life-verse a few years ago. In reading it once again, I come to see a great truth:
"When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said,
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me
will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
I realize that He never promised the road wouldn't be dark. If anything, He said that those who follow Him would suffer and experience hardship (John 16:33). But He did promise those same followers that they would not walk in darkness because they carry His light within them! Oh…now the meaning strikes me with clarity: when I walk in darkness and it is more than just a mere passing through the valley of the shadow, I must ask myself if I am following truly. When the light has gone out, when the belief has disappeared, perhaps I am not to blame the circumstances, only to blame my own lack of sight. Maybe much of the soul-darkness that comes over isn't the fault of something else, only my failure to look for Him. To seek and to walk with Him faithfully. If He is my light, my guiding point and the illumination of my path, the only darkness that can hide His light is my own sin. It hits me deep, this profound truth. And I beg His forgiveness. I ask for the Light to return because "in Him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). I have so often been the darkness. Caught in the deception of my own mis-leading thoughts and feelings, I obscure and block the Sun of my soul from penetrating with its warmth and life-giving rays. On my knees, I pray it simply and humbly:
"Sun of my soul, Thou Savior dear,
It is not night if Thou be near;
Oh, may no earth-born cloud arise
To hide Thee from Thy servant's eyes."
If I follow Thee truly, precious Lord, Thy light shines unhindered and unhidden. Oh grant me this light of life that my darkness may be swallowed up in Thy glorious victory!
Five years ago today, one of the most special people to ever grace my life passed away. After a short battle with cancer, my grandma went home to her eternal resting place where she now awaits my arrival...and that of every other Christian who is following her to Heaven. It is hard to imagine that the years have flown by so quickly. It seems like only yesterday when I still had her in my life. I struggled to come to grips with her passing when it happened. I couldn't wrap my mind around the fact that I would not have her with me anymore…the separation was almost too much to bear. And yet, as time has worn on, I have to come to appreciate her even more and the fact that some of her love of people and life still lives on in me. I know that she would be so happy for the things that I have gone on to do - things that she had always hoped and prayed for me which have since become reality. I still hold her close to my heart and, as I reflect today about her and all she meant to me, I think the best way to remember her is to share with you my remarks which I gave at her memorial service a few weeks after her death. May her example inspire you through these words:
"Someone recently said the following words in an interview, and I quote: 'When you die, you have this thing called a tombstone that goes above where you're buried. And on that tombstone is your name, the date you were born, and the date you died. But between those two dates is a little thing called a dash, and that represents everything that your life has been.' They went on to talk about how some people live very long lives but do nothing of any value at all, so their dash carries little meaning. Others live very short lives but they do a lot in a small lifetime and their dash carries all the meaning in the world.
In thinking about my Nana, she sort of had the best of both. Not only was she granted the blessing of a long and happy life, but she understood the art of making each day a masterpiece, of striving to make every moment count and, over 85 years, all those days and moments added up to one of the most beautiful lives ever lived. For 22 years, I had the pleasure of watching this unfold, and I can tell you that there is hardly anyone I know who lived life more to the fullest than she did. Always a cheerful word to say, always a kind thought to give, she could forever be counted on to be your closest friend and your greatest advocate. Nobody believed in you more or wanted you to be successful as much as she did and, because of this, I grew up feeling as though her life intertwined with mine. My friends were her friends. My experiences were her experiences. My joys were her joys. My sad times were her sad times. She was always there - at the pick-up of a phone, she was there. And I know I'm not the only one who felt that way. And just as she shared in my life, so I shared in hers. So many of her experiences and friends became important to me as I grew so that I could hardly imagine what my life would be like without her.
In the weeks that followed her passing, it has been hard to adjust to the fact that the bright sparkle in our lives that we knew as Barbara and who I knew as my Nana, would not be right there as she always had been. It felt odd to continue on with new experiences and friends but, at the same time, realize that she would no longer share in them as she always had.
But, just as the Bible promises that God will bring comfort to those who mourn, He did so for me through a dream that I had…
I dreamt that the telephone rang one day and I ran to pick it up. When I answered it was my grandma. I knew she had died and I couldn't for the life of me figure out why her voice was on the other end of the line. For sometime I had been wanting to tell her about things that had happened since she passed away and so I finally asked her, 'Is this a phone call from Heaven?' She said, 'Yes, darling. I want you to tell me all about everything that's happened since I left you.' I began to relate it all to her and, when I had finished, the line went dead. And I woke up.
I think this must've been God's way of letting me know that even though she is no longer with us, she is still looking down from Heaven in that wonderful, caring, and loving way that she always did. Although her physical presence has been removed from our lives, her love does linger on with us, and we carry her in our hearts forever. When I look at the many pictures we have of her and call to mind the countless, happy memories that I was blessed to share with her, I have to say that hers was a life well-lived, and she truly made her "dash" worthwhile.
For years to come, whenever I think of her, I will always remember that it is not so much what we do in life that matters as much as who we are. The gift of life from God is what we make it, and it is our duty as His creatures to ensure that we make it a meaningful one, and no one did that more than my Nana. She will be missed greatly by many of us who loved her dearly. But I think that the best way that we can remember her, and one that I hope to practice in my own life, is to make each day your masterpiece. Make life count, and enjoy it to the fullest. And someday, when it is our turn to go, may the "dash" between our dates mean something, as well…"
I love and miss you, Nana. And I know that I will see you soon.
Jesus says that "the words that I speak unto you…they are life" (John 6:63). What would this world become if we were so full of the grace of God that the words we speak give life to those who hear?! How might our relationships change for the better if we simply become more like the One whose life ours should be modeled after?!
My mind flashes back to the Fall of 2011, and I can see her now: a 23-year-old young lady whose life was in shambles at the time and who struggled to find answers to the adversity she had faced. Where is God? she had asked so many times. How can I follow a God whose purposes seem to go against the message of love I've heard all my life? With great bitterness in her heart, her mind constantly ran with questions. Would the darkness ever leave? Could life come from such inner death?
Earlier that summer, a friend had suggested that she read a book called, The Sovereignty of God.* She had picked it up (after years of seeing it on the shelf) only as a half-hearted way of staying current with the friend. Part way through, however, her world began to shake with the rumblings of truth. God began to speak…and a flicker of light started to shine in the dark chasms of her heart. Over the next several months, she would spend hours in her room every day, begging answers from a God she had grown distant towards. But slowly, He began to call her name through the pain and the confusion; He began to tell her that she was loved, valued, beautiful. He began to show her a meaning to life that she had never experienced before. He began to give her hope. The plastered smile that had long hidden pain began to shine grace…because Grace was all that she needed. And over time, she became open to it. And fully embraced it. It became her life…it became her message.
Of course, that girl I see in my memory was me. Four years ago, my life didn't look anything like it does now. There was no purpose to it and, at times, I wished I could run from it because it only seemed to betray me time and time again. I was tired of going at it alone but I also was afraid to risk what it took to love and to live again after such pain.
And yet…as I look back, I see the beautiful picture of a merciful Savior who saw potential in me when I saw none; Who dared to see through my sin and shame and Who still loved me in spite of that. I see a God that chose me before the beginning of time and whose patient instruction helped me to eventually understand that. My problem was not that I didn't believe He existed or that I completely lost faith in His ability to work in the world, I just didn't understand how the King of the Universe would (and had) moved heaven and earth for me and my future redemption. I didn't get that the cross was meant for ME! That Grace had planned my rescue and renewal and all that was needed was for me to see it and believe it for myself. All that was needed was for me to become open to that Grace and fall into it completely!
Each day since, my journey and struggle is the same: to see through to God and to acknowledge the ways He loves me, even on those days when I fail Him miserably. He has proven faithful when I have been faithless; He has become perfection for an imperfect work in progress who strives but still falls frequently. I am a walking example of the Miltonian thought: "majestic though in ruins" as I battle an old self with a now renewed mind. I cannot and should not forget the image of that girl I once was. I don't think God wants me to forget her either because that is my story. That is, more importantly, God's story. He has given me an open life. And, if he can give that to me, He can and will give that to any longing soul who seeks and desires it.
Oh, sweet Grace that called my name! How can I not love and serve Thee all my days?!
"And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that 'as you reap, so will you sow' stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I've done a lot of stupid stuff. If we are saved by grace alone, this salvation is a constant source of amazed delight. Nothing is mundane or matter-of-fact about our lives. It is a miracle we are Christians, and the Gospel, which creates bold humility, should give us a far deeper sense of humor and joy. We don't take ourselves seriously, and we are full of hope for the world."
"Grace does not depend on what we have done for God but rather what God has done for us. Ask most people what they must do to get to heaven and most reply, 'Be good.'
Jesus' stories contradict that answer. All we must do is cry, 'Help!'"