What if there isn’t a “Happy Ending”?

You know what really bothers me? At least it has lately… The movie reel for nearly every Christian movie…

You know what I’m talking about? Before God — awful. With God — rainbows and butterflies… Close movie happily ever after.

I’ve noticed a trend in testimonies being that way too. I don’t know that we even realize it. We want to end on a good note. We want a happy ending… but what if there isn’t one? At least, not in our lifetime.

I got thinking about this… And I get it, a lot of times there is a happy ending and I’m glad for those testimonies. But lately, I haven’t been able to resonate with them. Maybe it’s the grief.

But, can I be honest? Sometimes, things don’t work out the way we hoped they would. I decided to follow Christ as a six year old and then started to grasp what that meant at 14 years old. I’ve always attended church and lived the best I knew how to.

But what happens when abuse comes WHEN you’re following God? What happens when relationships are shattered WITHIN a “Christian” setting? What happens when death snatches away your father, child, sister, mom, friend? What happens when you are diagnosed with a terminal disease while you’re in Christian leadership? It’s not like you walked away from God. In fact, you were FOLLOWING him.

I’m writing this in hope of being able to process the scattered thoughts in my own head. I recently read the book, called “Hope Heals.” It’s a story of a young couple (Jay & Kathrine Wolfe) whose lives took a dramatic turn on April 21st, 2008. Kathrine suffered a massive brain stem stroke out of the blue, from the rupturing of an AVM, a rare congenital defect she didn’t even know she had.

The doctors operated on her for 16 hours; removing over 60% of her cerebellum. A lot of intra-cranial nerves where sacrificed. They had no clue what her condition would be when she woke up.

She survived, but the life she once knew was gone. She is blind in her right eye and deaf in her right ear. Her ability to walk and function on her own is also gone. She had to relearn how to walk, read, write and swallow among other things.

So, in situations like that, or maybe in your case; whatever that might be, signing divorce papers, changing your marital status to widow or widower, finding yourself in a hospital with your child whose sick and not given a good prognosis. I think sometimes we can get lost. I think sometimes we question if we have any faith left; because, all “this”, whatever that means for you, took place while you were following God. It’s tempting to say, what’s the use? It’s too painful and somehow all this pain was allowed by a sovereign God. It went through His hands…

I was reminded of the disciples in Matthew 14. John the Baptist had just been beheaded. The disciples had seen Jesus feed the 5,000 and cast out a demon and heal a man’s wrinkled hand. Jesus tells the disciples to go to the other side. During their boat ride to the other side they encounter a storm. Jesus sent them and they faced a storm. Jesus SENT them and they faced a storm.

But the thing the words that keep coming back to mind are those of a disciples: “Who else can I go to? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:66).

I don’t understand it all… My mind cannot wrap around the life that I’ve been given. One day my Dad was healthy on the mend from a knee surgery. The next laying in a coma in ICU and a week later forever gone from this world.

If I’m being honest, lately, it’s been hard for me to hear stories of people who made it, or survived. Because, although it’s probably selfish, I think why didn’t my Dad survive? He was healthy. He lived his life well. He devoted his life to helping others.

But then I think of my friend’s Dad who suffered with an illness for over 12 years until he caught a cold and passed away 2 weeks later — never being healed. Or, my friends who are wheelchair bound. Or, my other friends who struggle with infertility … So forgive me if I have trouble accepting the cliché that most Christian movies portray.

Nothing in this life is guaranteed: Not marriage, not health, not financial ease. But, that’s when I need to remind myself that I am not supposed to be living for this world anyways.

As I’ve wrestled with this question, I thought back to Jesus’ time on earth. This world tore him to shreds on every level. Physically he was beaten beyond recognition. Emotional He went through excruciating loss and turmoil. He grieved his cousin’s death, and his friend’s death. He was verbally attacked on multiple levels and spiritually he had the devil riding him, essentially, the whole time He was here.

This world brought him to his knees in grief. It brought him to sweating blood and it brought him to beating and then ultimately death. This world killed him…

I think we do a great disservice to everyone by painting an “everything will work out — in this life time” picture after you give your life to Christ.

John was beheaded, Peter was crucified, Stephen was stoned….

“And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. – Hebrews 11:32-40

I think the heartache is once again a reminder that we can only see one piece of the puzzle while God is orchestrating the rest.

I still don’t understand it all… I just know that sometimes it turns out and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it’s really hard and I think it needs to be okay that it’s not okay. I wonder what Jesus would say, if he were here in person, to the one whose lost a loved one… Or to the one who’s not able to have children… Or to the one whose stuck inside a body that won’t function without assistance… I don’t know what He’d say, but I bet you He’d sit down beside them… and listen. He’d listen as you explained your frustration and hurt… and I bet He’d cry with you as mourned the life you thought “should be” and I bet He’d even let you beat on His chest as you questioned over and over and over why this had to be this way….

I once heard a quote that I’ll leave you with…

“The world is full of evil and lies and pain and death, and you can’t hide from it; you can only face it. The question is, when you do – How do you respond? Who do you become?

– Phil Coulson

A Mysterious Letter

Sometimes life is frustrating…

It can feel like one closed door after another. And if you’re single, it can feel like that a lot.

You meet a guy, you get your hopes up and he disappears … the only thing you is crickets.

Or, you meet a guy, you date and it feels so forced so it crumbles into nothing.

Or, you meet a great guy, you totally click but you don’t share the same beliefs.

I could go on, and on about the different scenarios but I think you get the point. It’s easy to lose hope. It’s exhausting to try, but you feel like you have to keep trying.

A few days ago, I was reminded of a letter I received. About four years ago, I came home from the office and saw a letter for me from someone with a Georgia address. I thought it was from my sister Rachel, but it didn’t look like her handwriting. I looked at it again and saw a name I didn’t recognize — as in never saw it before in my life. Yet, my name was on the letter.

I dropped my stuff beside my bed and quickly jumped in bed to read the letter from this mystery person.

He introduced himself in the letter and shared a little bit about himself. He was in the army. I later found out He graduated from a very prestigious military academy and was being training to be a platoon leader.

He attended my sister’s church and in Rachel like fashion, she saw that he was single and asked if he wouldn’t mind writing a letter to me to encourage me. And to mine and my sister’s surprise, he did.

In the letter he shared the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. It’s when Elijah is running from Jezebel because she’s killing prophets left and right. Elijah was on the run, afraid and prayed to die. An angel came to him and brought him food and led him to the cave.

It’s in that cave that the Lord reveals Himself, but not before Elijah is essentially crying out to God saying, I’ve done this and that for you and now I’m being hunted as an animal. I am the ONLY ONE LEFT. Can’t singleness can feel that way sometimes? I’ve been waiting and served you and others and I feel like I’m the only one left.

Then the Lord appears to Elijah in a still small voice and then says, “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” (Verse 18)

So, this mystery man wrote me this letter to let me know there were still good guys out there that were seeking the Lord’s will. They weren’t all married yet and they hadn’t fallen for the culture’s lies.

I got to meet this man during one of my overseas trip as he was stationed in a country I happened to be visiting. He was a great tour guide. He has a big heart and ambitious dreams. He is now married and plugging away at his many hobbies. But it truly was a privilege to meet him. I mean what guy would take the time to write a letter to a complete stranger just to remind her that there are still really good guys around.

Lately, that letter has been on my mind. I went through my stuff to find it but I had no luck… I’m sure it will turn up some day. But until then, I’ll remember his words— There are still 7,000 that haven’t bowed to Baal.

Unlikely Revival?

I finally laid down on the floor after hours of walking followed by packing my suitcase. I would be leaving in the next morning. I had been overseas for three grueling weeks. In all honesty, it felt like the longest three week of my life.

I hit shuffle on my iTunes. The song that came on was, “Call it Grace.” Almost as soon as the song began, I felt tears falling from my eyes… Grace…

I recently had a conversation with a friend which spurred me to write this blog. Our conversation was on revival.

I told my friend that when I hear that word, I want to run for the hills. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for revival, but the “preaching of revival” that I’ve witnessed caused a lot of damage.

I am bracing myself as I write because I have a feeling I will not receive the nicest comments from writing on this topic, but I also feel like I have to say something.

I was once very involved with a ministry that wanted revival. I was 110% on board. We would pray for hours. We wanted to serve those who needed it. We wanted to see change. None of this is bad, in fact, these are ALL great things. But somewhere along the way something changed. Fear, condemnation and judgment crept in. We HAD to read our Bible for extended periods of time or else bad things might happen. We NEEDED to fast because that’s what brought revival. We HAD to have more prayer. Somewhere along the way the desire for revival became something WE had to bring about. It was up to us and only us. And when one of us weren’t keeping up with the amount of prayer and the amount of Bible reading or the way we chose to live, we were suddenly on the outside and we needed serious help to get back in to the group.

Suddenly, we had to follow a regiment no one could keep up. Again, I am NOT against prayer. I am NOT against revival, but I’ve noticed that the people who often preach revival the most are the ones on display.

Before I explain further, I believe God can use one man or woman to lead a revival — look at Billy Graham, Jonathon Edwards, Billy Sunday.

I almost gave up completely on the idea of revival because of the enormous amount of pain that ensued from it. I went from being on the inside to suddenly being on the outside accused of horrible things. I felt no grace. It was as if the very presence of grace was snuffed out by the intense regiment of work needed to bring about revival. Others were looked down upon because they couldn’t keep up. Judgment, condemnation and fear of not measuring up swallowed the space for grace.

I was beginning to think revival was just another thing people used to stir emotions, raise support, or gain power…

Until, I started to get plugged into my community. There was a big initiative when I moved back called #LoveSoFla. There was ways to get involved in serving the community. At first I thought that it was just my church and their satellite campuses doing this initiative. But during one of the services I realized this was NOT just an initiative by my church but over 50 churches in my community.

You see in 2014 and 2015, the city I grew up in, had two pastors resign due to moral failures. Those pastors lead the two largest churches in the city. It was devastating for many people. A lot of people doubted that either church would be able to come back from such a loss. But late in 2015, pastors and key leaders in the community began to meet and pray with each other for our community and for direction.

It was out of that meeting that a mission was launched. Soon after an organization called Church United was established. The community needed a guide and a name was needed for clarity, so Church United began reaching more and more pastors, key leaders and congregations.

By the time I started plugging into the community, I saw pastors and churches praying with each other and serving our community side by side. It wasn’t one denomination. It wasn’t one racial color. It wasn’t only pastors or only the congregations— It was all inclusive. And the ONLY name that was used in the name of this service was Jesus. We were just being Jesus’s hands and feet. Titles didn’t matter, denominations didn’t matter, age, race or gender didn’t matter, we were just God’s children doing what He asked us to do: serve and love.

Because of the unity of our churches, it was the church who responded first to the victims families during the FLL Airport shooting in 2017. It was the church who beat FEMA after Florida was hit by Hurricane Irma. And it was the church who orchestrated a vigil and served the victims families after the Parkland shooting.

This past week I had the honor to attend the quarterly gathering for Church United. I could not help but cry during the portion of the meeting I attended. I saw pastors who serve in Parkland being prayed for by pastors in other cities. I saw a young Pastor from Pines being prayed for by the other pastors in Pines because of the extraordinary loss this particular Pastor was dealing with. Mostly, I saw united pastors and key leaders humbling themselves and seeking ways to be a beacon on light in our community. We have a large homeless population, we people struggling with addictions that often take their life, we lose approximately 35 unborn babies daily to abortion. We have 17 families now left with unimaginable grief because they lost their loved ones February 14th, 2018. Our community is broken. We, as the church, do not get everything right— who does? We make mistakes, we fall, we get discouraged, we are human, but we know that we are here for today and we want to make today count.

As I looked around the room last week, it dawned on me… This is what revival looks like. It’s not flashy. It’s not about one church, or one Pastor, or one organization. It’s every day people living the life God gave them for His glory. It’s not about Church United, they just needed a name. It’s about seeing Jesus change on community using broken yet hopeful people to reach other broken people with hope.

That to me is revival.