Alhadaf

Exciting things are happening! Kevan’s book — We Carry Kevan was JUST released yesterday! Please go to your nearest Barnes and Nobles and buy his book! You will find it in the new release section!

This week’s organization is: Alhadaf

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It was almost exactly three years ago when I receive this text:

“While you’re in Jordan, you should meet with Allen with Partners and Maran. She is a friend of [your coworker].

This message came as I was feverishly working to compile our travel schedule to Ammon, Jordan. My team had back to back conferences on opposite coasts, and another oversees trip two weeks after our Jordan trip. I was overwhelmed but I knew the importance of these meetings.

The trip to Jordan was life altering on several levels. One because that trip personally caused me to evaluate my job, and because meeting Maran and seeing her organization permanently marked me.

Maran ma’ay’ah abujaber is the founder and CEO of Alhadaf. Alhadaf’s mission is: To inspire children and their families, placed in the Kingdom of Jordan and are affected by the world’s injustice, to achieve positive change in their lives.

Alhadaf does just that. They work primarily with Iraqi refugees who had to flee because of ISIS. They do art therapy, offer limited medical assistance, provide meals, haircuts and opportunities to learn and grow. Ultimately, they help reestablish dignity after many of the refugees were left with just the clothes on their backs.

Here is some of their art therapy. The picture on the right is what the one child drew right after they escaped ISIS. The left is what that same child drew several months after doing art therapy and working with some of Alhadaf’s employees. Each employee is a certified PTSD counselor.

Maran and her team breathe compassion. They strive to be a firm foundation. A stepping stone towards healing for each person who comes to Alhadaf.

While I was in Jordan, Maran took us to an apartment where (if my memory serves me right) five refugee families were sharing one apartment. Their faces are ones I cannot forget.

There was a hollowness in their eyes — a hollowness that I had never seen before. They were still in shock, numb, seemingly lifeless. But, they were grateful for Maran. Alhadaf was their only silver lining.

I asked Maran to write on what fears she has faced since starting Alhadaf. This is what she shared with me:

Christi, the fear of failure is something I’ve struggled with especially coming from a household of all girls, as well as living in an Arabic country. I always had this feeling my sisters and I were not strong enough because we are women. So, I always feared that.

That feeling was overwhelming. Several times, I had to go to the people around me to encourage me to try my best to fight that fear. That is until God talked

to me through the story of Ruth. He told me not to worry about being a woman,

or belong to a certain tribe, or, about coming from a house of all girls. He said, “You are strong in Me! Like Ruth and Naomi. When Ruth went to another place, she began to understand her identity: Your God is my God and that’s where my strength is — in my God.”

I would say that my continuous fear is that because I work among orphans and refugees — specifically Iraqi refugees— The funds are very low and limited. There are lots of times that I fear losing my vision because I need funds. This is something I always struggle with. But eventually I came up with a strong strategy that God called me to. And just because I have limited funds— God reminds me that in my weakness He is strong. This

helped me worked around my fear— knowing that God will provide.

I have another fear. The fear of

not being there for my kids because of the number of hours I need to put in because of the amount of work there is to do. The fear of not being the

perfect mom. So, I’ve lowered my standard a bit, and it’s okay if I am not perfect all the time. I realized I don’t have to be perfect. That helped me deal with that particular fear.

As you see, I have lots of fears that I had to go through. I also struggle with anxiety. I do all I can to lower my anxiety. But I just take step at a time, one day at a time, one year at a time, and in my weakness, I remember He is strong.

Maran is truly the real deal. She has the biggest heart. She gives all she can to everyone around her no matter what they might look like, or what their status is. She is a woman of conviction and of action. It is truly an honor to know her! To learn more about Maran and her work, please go to www.Alhadaf.org.

Maran and her husband Emil, have three beautiful boys. They currently live in Jordan and have dedicated their lives to others. If you would like to help Maran and her organization, she will be in the States later this month so she will be able to receive donations easier than a wire transfer. Please contact me via email or via the comments so I can help arrange this. Thank you!

Fighting the Fear of Living a Life You Didn’t Expect

I am so grateful to have my friend, Mary O’Brien, share with you today. Mary will forever be one of my saving graces because when I first met her, she came to my rescue!

I was at the National Religious Broadcaster Conference trying to carry 6 foot banners and a box of things for my boss’s book table. Suddenly a woman comes right by me, pulls on my dress and nicely said, “I’m sorry your dress was riding up, and your hands were full.”

How can you not become friends after that! I met up with Mary again at a conference her church where my boss was speaking. Mary is someone after being around her, it makes you want to live better. It truly is an honor to have her as a guest blogger today. I know you will enjoy what she has to share!

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I grew up in a loving yet dysfunctional home. As I have aged – I realize that my younger years were wrought with fear of outcomes I could not control. If I could control a situation, then it hurt less or caused less stress. But that simply was not often possible in my home.

Faith was ever present, but it was not until college that I came to have a personal relationship with Christ. I came to know that God wasn’t a far off God, but a God who loved ME and was intimately involved in my life. He used a very traumatic incident in my 20’s to break me free of my false sense of control and fear of “what ifs”.

I was a single 27 woman when out of the blue I was diagnosed with bacterial endocarditis (an infection in the lining of the heart) and hospitalized. A few days later I was told I would need open heart surgery to repair the damage. I was in shock. I had gone from a normal, healthy young woman to being told I would have congestive heart failure within the next year if I didn’t have this surgery. Within a few days came another blow:

“Did we mention that depending on the outcome of the surgery you may not be able to have children?”

Um no, no one had mentioned this.

My mind was racing. Who would want to marry me if on the first date I had to tell them: Oh! By the way, I cannot have children and I have a foot-long scar down my chest.

I went into control mode. How can I be sure to manage the options so that is not the outcome (there were a few extreme options available to me that might have prevented this possible outcome).

As a believer who had just begun studying the Word seriously for a few years, I knew enough to know I needed to run to God and His promises. But this was so hard (I was still learning about God’s sovereignty and His goodness).

I thought maybe I could handle this better. There were several Scripture passages that really ministered to me at this time…

Psalm 27:1

The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?

The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 139:16

Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

Hebrews 13:8

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

As I explored my options, the Lord confirmed to me that what I needed to do was let go and trust Him. Trust that whatever the outcome of the surgery was – He was good and faithful, and nothing was outside of His plans for me.

I recall kneeling by my bed a few nights before surgery and through tears just telling Him that I was giving this to Him. I was trusting Him. I knew that He loved me deeply and no matter what happened, He would see me through it and had a plan.

I woke up to good news- the valve had been repaired perfectly and there was no need for the strong medications that may have altered my health and ability to have children. I was so comforted in many ways by this. And, in my limited vision, I saw this as His promise for what life would hold for me.

However, years later, at around 39, I was in a place of striving against where the Lord had me as a single woman with no children. I just didn’t understand His plans or why my life didn’t look like I thought it was going to. In a place of fear – what if what I always thought my life would be doesn’t happen – I recall saying to the Lord that I felt a little bit tricked by Him. Why did you do that with my surgery only to NOT give me children. And in such a loving way I recall Him revealing to me that what He did was for my good, for my best. He took the best care of me with an outcome that allowed me to have a perfectly healthy life with no further concerns or issues. He never said it was about kids and marriage, but I had wanted it to be about that. He was simply taking the best care of me as a loving Father and blessing me with that outcome.

Around 42, he did a big work in me. He released me from the striving, and frankly the shame I had of being an older single woman whose life didn’t look most everyone else’s. I began to see His sovereignty and faithfulness in a new way.

Fear is natural, but the more we recognize the character of God the more we rest in knowing we have nothing to fear. He gave His Son for us. He knows every hair on our head. He knows the ugliest parts of us and loves us, graciously working to refine us and call us out of shallow waters into deep ones with Him. I love that I can look back on these times in my life when I start to get anxious about a situation and recount His goodness and that I have nothing to fear when He is in control.

Two Words To Keep You Going!

I was sitting outside reading a book about how life rarely turns out as we plan.

When I couldn’t help but tear up. I wanted to pray, but at this point in my life, it’s still a challenge. If I am being honest, praying biblically hurts too much.

I remember praying hard for a specific thing several years ago. It ended with me sobbing in my closet. I met someone that I thought would be the guy for me. He was everything you would want in a husband. But, I knew the Lord was telling me, no. Why? I wish I could tell you. To this day, I still don’t know why God said no.

I wish I could tell you I understand it, but I don’t. So, asking God for something along the same lines, is a challenge. Why? Because I know if it’s a no, it will be one more thing to grieve. Can I be honest? I’m really tired of grieving and I don’t get much better at it as life goes on. In fact, it gets harder — not easier.

Occasionally, I think about getting a tattoo. I used to never care for them. But, then, after I lost my Dad, I’ve contemplated getting one.

To me, it would symbolize the tattoo that will forever be in my heart this side of eternity. I already have a mark on my heart, I might as well have a mark on my body. Since I love words, I often think what words I would get as a tattoo. Last week, I had two pop into my mind. I put them together and I realized that is the essence of the Christian life— no matter what the circumstances.

The two words are:

Persevering Faith

Life doesn’t stop. It doesn’t slow down in the good times and it doesn’t pick up in the bad times. It just keeps moving at the same pace it always has, and it always will.

In life, we have to keep persevering. It may not be pretty. In fact, we may stumble through it, but we cannot quit. Coupled with perseverance, is the need for faith.

Picture perseverance as your legs and faith as your mind. When you run, you need your legs and your mind to run a race. The mind will keep you going even if your legs feel like quitting. The same in true for our spiritual lives. We will hit walls that will feel like we aren’t going anywhere and other times, we will feel like we are going a million miles an hour.

So, whatever you may be praying for and holding out for, keep persevering and keep hanging on to faith because no matter what you may or may not have, you will be able to finish your race with those two things.

Life doesn’t always have a happy ending but that doesn’t mean we cannot finish our race strong and encourage others to to finish their race as well.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1

Be still… Stay Silent… A Psalm of Trust.

I was called disrespectful.

I was called untrue.

I was called untrustworthy.

I was called a manipulator.

I was accused of being a seducer.

I was accused of being an adulterer.

I was said to have no friends and said I’d have many problems in the future.

I was accused of being a helpless victim.

I was verbally flogged.

Each word hurt more than the next

“You’re undermining me”, “You’re Judas to me.” The painful words flowed as each one ripped into my deeper into my heart and soul.

I am not perfect, but I meant no Ill will. I repeated to myself.

“I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry…” was my echo trying to figure out why I couldn’t keep it together anymore.

Everything was unraveling… I’ve failed… I’ve corrupted all of this… Maybe I am cursed… Maybe I will always end up in these situations… Maybe this is why I’m not married… Maybe all these problems are because of me…

I questioned myself over and over and over again… I’ve failed… How could I not have prevented this? How could I not see myself as all these things? “You are wicked” I condemned myself… as I was being condemned…

Such hopeless days… I spent more days in tears than with a smile…

When life as I knew it was falling apart… I was being held… So close was His touch, his heartbeat, his whisper…

“This is not your battle… Let me handle it…”

Be still… Stay silent…

Don’t retaliate… Don’t talk back… So, I held my tongue…

Accusations still flew… Lies spoken over me… Physical reactions became undoubtably noticeable…

Be still.. Stay silent…

I cried night after night…

Be still, stay silent…

I packed up my life… Tears pouring out of my eyes… no clear direction to be seen…

Be still, Stay silent…

Friends started calling… Be still stay silent…

Until a call… A safe place for me to share my story… Stay still… BE honest…

I cried and nearly trembled as I shared … recounting the stories… Watching the dismay on the man’s face… I couldn’t read it… Maybe he thought I was making this up… My emotions had no where else to go… I felt torn apart… so vulnerable no longer knowing how to protect myself.

I finished and waited for his response…

“You did nothing wrong… I hope you walk out of here with your head held high…”

Words can pierce so deeply and heal profoundly… the same area damaged by the reckless words of an unstable person, began mending through a stable, faithful, kind man…

Words can tear apart a soul. Words can mend a soul. It can filet a heart beyond recognition , and yet somehow make it stronger than ever before. The deeper the wound, the greater capacity for compassion…

To the one who broke me— I don’t ever wish to see or hear again… But I am grateful for all the damage… because through it… I learned to be still to be silent and hear the One whose words spoke over me are more powerful than yours. And it is His words, not yours that brought me back to life.

He was still and was led silently a sheep to the slaughter… so that when He had defeated the grave… His words would hold the power of life and death… He speaks life… He hates death…

“There is no line…”

Disclaimer: I wrote this a few months ago. I wrote it to help me process my own feelings. For whatever it’s worth, I hope it helps someone else❤️.

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I have been watching a show called, “Burn Notice.” It’s about an ex-spy, named Michael Weston. Half of the time you can’t tell who he’s being used and manipulated by. People have threatened his family, friends, and very existence of who he is. He’s stuck in this trap of trying to be free. Every time he gets close, the target changes, or the carrot he’s been chasing get replaced, or jerked just out of reach.

As the series continues, the closer the fight gets. If you plan on watching it, you may not want to continue reading this….

Michael and his friends have been through everything together. They become more than friends. They become each other’s family. They all get into risky and questionable situations, but there is always an underlying trust. Even if the team doesn’t understand what’s going on, they trust the one calling the shots.

One sentence in this series won’t stop playing in my head… Michael is gaining ground on the person trying to take his life away, but it requires him to sacrifice some of his newer friends. His girlfriend (Fiona) decides that if she doesn’t take herself out of the equation, Michael won’t be able to make the right call. Since, Fiona has become the leveraging tool used by his newest adversary. He rushes to find her. When he does, she says, “I’m surrendering. I’m taking myself out. You’re losing yourself.” The reality of the situation starts to sink in for Michael. He is about to ruin other people’s lives to save Fiona. She speaks again and says, “Where do you draw the line, Michael?” And this is the part that keeps playing in my head… he says,

“There is no line when it comes to you.”

As I thought on what Michael said, I realized something. God is never going to stop coming after me. To you this may seem like a “no brainer” as my Dad used to say. But, after experiencing abuse from individuals claiming to be serving God coupled by the loss of my Dad… I’ve felt like Michael. I’ve felt lost.

In the midst of the fighting, Michael had lost sight of who he was. I know that Michael said, “There is no line when it comes to Fiona.” But it was Fiona who proved it.

Later on, when Michael is about to essentially “sell his soul to the devil” because he’s gotten so confused. He wants freedom so bad and there have been so many people after him. In the process, he’s lost so much that up he’s gotten to the point where up is down and down is up.

Fiona know he’s fallen prey due to everything he’s been through and he’s in the “enemy’s camp” . Walking in there could mean sudden death for her — That doesn’t stop her. She walks right into the enemy’s territory and right into Michael’s confusion — not knowing how he will respond to her.

In the aftermath of grief, there’s a lot of confusion and you feel lost. The normality of having your loved one is no longer there. Your mind keeps wanting to see them back at “their place”. Like at the end of the dinner table, at his work desk, or the rocking chair where he used to watching football. But, I’m slowly beginning to realize that I have to relearn the life I live. I have to relearn how to continue with a hole in my family and in my heart, and honor him and God in the process. I have to relearn who I am. The fact is, I’ve been changed. The Christi before losing her Dad is not the same Christi after losing her Dad. The same is true for each one of my family members. But, there’s still a piece of me that is there, and that’s the piece that I’ve got to find.

And, instead of Fiona rushing in, I can picture Jesus rushing in . When everyone else is running for cover. He crosses the line into my lostness. I can picture him saying, “Christi, look at me.” And just like Michael did, it takes a while because maybe you didn’t understand all that “the plan” called life entailed…

But at some point I’ve got to ask for the strength look up and find His eyes again. Somehow, I’ve got to walk towards the voice that’s rushed in to pull me out. It starts with a look up. He will help me relearn who I am and how to move forward, but not forget.

*Pictures taken from: https://www.pinterest.com/chompie97/burn-notice/?amp_client_id=CLIENT_ID(_)&mweb_unauth_id={{default.session}}

Life Sucks Sometimes

It’s a privilege to have my sweet little sister, Jessica, be a guest writer this week!

I have seen her grow leaps and bounds through one loss after the other. She really has been like an perfume bottle that has been shattered and leaves it’s unmistakable and beautiful fragrance at the feet of Jesus. I have seen her grace towards others abound as well as her kindness despite the jabs she’s endured.

She has taught me a lot by how she lives and I’m grateful to have her in my life. I know you will be encouraged by what she has to say.

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I remember saying as a little girl, “that isn’t fair!” But my Dad would calmly say, as most parents do, “Life isn’t fair.” That never made me feel better as a child and quite frankly, it makes me feel even worse as an adult. Why do we think life is supposed to be fair? Why do we expect others to treat us as we ought? Why do we think bad things should never happen to good people?

Life isn’t fair. I’ve experienced its unfairness closer than I would like. Way too close. Actually, it’s cut my heart pretty deeply this past year. Not only have I experienced it but so many precious friends and family have too. You hurt for yourself but your pain is doubled when you see other struggling through their own trials; and, you can do nothing to fix.

Friends turn on friends. Significant others choose to not only walk away, but hurt you. As if you never meant anything to them leaving your heart utterly confused and in pieces. Others twist the truth and even discredit your character despite how much you try to make amends. Illness and emergencies hit the families who deserve the best. Instead, they have one trial after another. You’ve tried for a baby for so long and you see other mothers aborting theirs. No matter how hard you fight to get ahead in life, get the job offer, get the raise, get the promotion. You’re overlooked and brushed aside. Again. There have been many prayers that were only one sentence: God, I’m so tired of losing.

In the moments where you feel so low… do you ever crave justice? Crave for life to be fair? Crave to win one? There’s something in our inner gut that is screaming out for justification. For our situation to work out right. But knowing you’re powerless to ever make that happen? It doesn’t matter if you’ve done everything you possibly could to change the situation. You still want the person who hurt your heart so effortlessly to feel every bit of bitter pain they caused. Or, you’d like for the healing to finally come from the hundreds of prayers said in tears bellowing from trials you’ve experienced. That would make everything fair, right?

I wish I had a nice neat bow of happiness to wrap up this blog, but I don’t. Life doesn’t always give that gift. Praise God for the times and seasons of blessings and comfort. If anything, I’ve learned to appreciate it now more than ever. But sometimes life just sucks. I’ve come to realize I can give all of it to God while still saying I don’t know why it’s happening. In the midst of the unfairness and the ache, in the middle of the night, in the worst of storms, in the hours spent by the hospital bed. Do we believe God can truly work it out? And much more than that, can He work it out for our good? Is our God capable of doing that? To be honest, I’ve struggled with believing it. That’s where faith becomes action. Its where the rubber hits the road.

Pain brings faith to life.

Friends, I have no other hope than that. Is He able? If He is, take a breath, and remind yourself of that truth.

Even though I feel he was taken too soon, I’m glad I can still hear my Dad’s voice in my head. Especially when I’m tempted to get angry or bitter over life’s unfairness. Yes, life sucks and it’s not fair. Sometimes just saying life sucks while biting into a Klondike bar is healing in itself. Life can suck while God is still good and in control.

Listen: Life Keeps Moving On, Ben Rector

Certain Aspects of God

“God is Love” 1 John 4:8
“Gracious is the Lord, and righteous” Psalm 116:5
“God is not a God of confusion, but of peace.” 1 Corinthians 14:33

I like these aspects of God. But, what my humanity struggles with are verses like these:

“For he wounds” Job 5:18.
“He has besieged and encompassed me with bitterness and hardship.” Lamentations 3:5.
“All was well with me, but he shattered me; he seized me by the neck and crushed me.” Job 16:12.

All these verses are in the Bible. I’ve read them, but being wounded, shattered, and torn apart (Hosea 6:1) is not something I really understood until the past two years.

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If I’m being honest, I have been struggling with these aspects of God. And let’s just be real, it says He. The capitalization in the Bible is a reference for God.

Sometimes it is our own sin that causes wounds. Sometimes it’s the enemy that causes the damage to our soul. But what do you do when it’s God who allows it and God orchestrating it?

I don’t like a world where we are crushed. I don’t like being shattered, broken and torn apart.

You may think I’m out of line. But let me remind you of a verse (which keeps coming to my mom’s memory). Isaiah 53:5, “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities.”

God the Father, allowed His own Son to be crushed. In fact, God sent Jesus to be pierced, beaten, forsaken and subject to a criminal’s death. What do you do with that?

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This weekend I was invited to a retreat. I struggled to go. I know there’s a lot I need to wrestle through in my own heart and mind. Things that I haven’t been able to talk about because they are simply  too painful. It feels like I’m going to fall apart if I talk about it.

But, like my mom always says, “If you don’t want to go, it probably means you need to go.” So, I went.

While I was there I was given Genesis 22 to read. It is the passage of scripture where Abraham offers Issac to God in the alter and where God provides another sacrifice.

All three times Abraham was called, He said, “Here I am.”

It struck me in a whole new way. Being available to God means being available to breaking. Being available to being shattered. Being available to being torn apart.

Following God has broken me more than I ever thought possible.

But, while I was on my own at this retreat, I felt like God said, “Christi, don’t you think the same heart I broke, I can heal?”

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When things are broken, it’s in our nature to fix them, right? We have a falling out with someone and we want to fix it? We have an broken plan and we want to mend it. We want to be the fixers.

But what if God is just asking me to be the patient? To walk through the painful steps to healing? To press through the pain to obtain a greater prize? To be able to look back and see that none of it had anything to do with me.

Because the whole verse in Job 5 says this, “For He wounds, but He also binds up; He injures, but His hands also heal.”

And the ending of Lamentations 3 says this:
“21 This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. 22 The Lord’s loving kindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. 24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.” 25 The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him.

This road is not easy. I don’t like being broken, but I have to continue to trust that it is for a greater purpose.

“Weeping lasts for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

Sometimes that night is a few weeks, sometimes it is longer. But, God has our healing and joy will come in the morning.

I don’t know what road you are on. It may be incredibly painful, but this year, I want to be a good patient. I want to be available- even if it hurts.

 

 

When You Don’t Want The Good

I’m sure you’ve heard the verse, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” Romans 8:28. Christians normally quote it to other Christians when they’re facing a rough time, but my question is: what if don’t want the good?

What if the good still hurts? What if the good alter my life in a way I don’t want it to?

Nearly two years ago, I had those closest to me essentially then their back on me. I was accused of awful things. Most of the “gifts” and “responsibilities” I was given had strings attached. It was unhealthy. One that left me with a lot of working through to “get back” to normal. It took 5 months of being home for my Mom to say, “She’s back.” As if someone had carved a piece out of me that I had to grow back. To this day, there are still things I have to fight because of that relationship. To this day, I will look back at pictures and feel sucker punched. To this day, I still get tears in my eyes because of the loss of so many who I considered my “Second Family.”

And then, I lost my Dad. I lost the rock of my family. I lost the one I would write with. I lost the one who I discussed Theology. I lost the one who would stop what he was doing to let me process. I lost the one who would edit my pieces. I lost the one who I’d dreamed since I was little, would walk me down the aisle and perform my ceremony. I lost my Dad.

To be honest, I don’t care about the good that will come out of this. I just want my Dad back. And I know, the person I was before the accident on July 16th, will never be again. That girl had a Dad. The girl after July 23rd doesn’t and has to live the rest of her life without one.

I didn’t want my life to change by rejection from those I loved and the death of my Dad. I never prayed for this. In fact, I prayed for the opposite. I prayed for reconciliation and got rejection. I prayed for a miracle and got a grave.

If there is good, I honestly cannot see it. I just see a lot of broken pieces and I have no earthly idea how they will all fit. My heart is so broken it doesn’t even have a shape. The broken pieces keep breaking. I feel like pain and grief has blocked my vision and I only see out of one eye and live out of half of my body and half of my mind.

But, this week, I heard a podcast and was reminded of a verse. The person on the broadcast was Josh McDowell. If you don’t know his past, he was sexually abused by a hired hand for 7 years of his childhood. He was raised in a home where his father beat his mother repeatedly to a pulp. He was neglected on several accounts. Although he is a very successful individual, you know what he said? Just because I’m a Christian doesn’t mean I don’t still feel the pain. He shared of some of the things he still has to fight against decades later. He said God never promised a pain-free life. But, He did promise not to leave me.

Then, I was reminded of Isaiah 43:2, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.”

Jesus didn’t say we’d float on top of the water. Or, that we’d paddle over the river. Or, that we’d go around the fire. Every. Single. Time. It says through. I have to walk through the grief. I have to walk through the pain. I have to walk through the loss. Every loss, trial, and suffering that may come, I have to walk through, but Jesus says, “I will be with you.”

This week, since I got hired at the same organization my mom works at, we went to our Christmas work party. I stepped into the bathroom soon after we got there. For a brief second, I looked in the mirror. As I saw myself standing there, I thought, had Dad not died, I wouldn’t be here. I nearly had a job in Virginia and had that not come through, I had another prospective job in North Carolina. But, I knew, I needed to stay put. It was too much to move. That night at the bowling alley was a complete gift. My Dad was not far from my Mom’s and my memory, we miss him every day, but we had so much fun and we were together.

And then last night, my mom and I went out book shopping and to get coffee. It was another gift. The loss of my Dad has brought about a lot of family time and although we all want my Dad back and would give everything to have him back, we have become so much closer. I just want to be around and with my family all the time- it doesn’t matter what we are doing as long as we are together.

So, I think I’m starting to see a little twinge of the good. The good does not erase the pain. But the good is a cup of coffee with my mom. The good is a night of basketball with my sisters and brother-in-law. The good is getting frosty’s on a night when we all miss dad. The good is watching a movie with my sister, or a hug from my nephews, or a little niece following me around before work to make sure she’s ready too.

And, I’m sure there will be other good in the future that I cannot see right now, but for now, this is the good I’m holding on to.

 

A Disciple’s Life

I was one of twelve chosen, I still don’t know why I was picked. Some were related and others complete strangers. Some had a radical turn around and some just quietly left to follow. But we were a force to be reckoned with.

I have never felt so passionately about anything in my life, which is probably why it was easier for me to say goodbye to the life I once knew. Being with these men made me feel alive. I had a purpose. I had a reason to live. Sure, some of the things our leader said were different. A lot of things I didn’t understand, but he was patient and he cared. Besides, I saw so many things I never even thought were possible. Food overflowing from a simple basket, water being turned into wine, lepers cleansed, the blinded eyes restored, the deaf able to hear and the dead being raised.

I knew I was headed in the right direction. I felt as if I were born for this. I could never grow tired of this life. I never knew what was coming next. I’d sometimes be frightened that things wouldn’t pan out; like the one time we crossed the sea and the storm rolled in, but then HE walked on water! Or, that time when we had fished all night and caught nothing to eat. I almost lost it when HE told us to throw the net on the other side; like we hadn’t done that 100x already! But, true to HIS word, we had more fish than we knew what to do with. I don’t know how HE did it.
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Then there was that day that HE called us together and said:

Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.  As you go, proclaim this message: The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker, is worth his keep.  Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town (Matthew 10:5-15)

Heal the sick? Raise the dead? Cleanse the Leper? Drive out demons? I thought that was HIS job. I thought only HE could do that. But, we went out anyways. HE didn’t really negotiate with HIS commands.

It was incredible! We did those things. I actually did those things. I was so tired when we returned, but it was exhilarating. I felt invincible. I couldn’t believe I was chosen to do this. This MAN had changed the course of my life forever.

But after we got back, things started to change. I had learned to love our leader like I never loved anyone in my life. I loved to hear him teach. I tried to protect HIM at any costs. But HE started saying things like, I must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and the chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and raised the third day” (Matt. 16:21)

I didn’t understand why He’d say these horrible things. Suffer? Be killed? Was this a new parable? I thought to myself. HE must be using those words in a different way than I think.

Tension started rising among the scribes, elders, and priests. I knew they didn’t like what HE was doing… But I thought they would come around. How could you not like this MAN? But, the more time passed, the more the tension grew. I was growing a little more concerned, but then, I’d witness another miracle, or have another long talk with HIM. HE knew just how to settle my uneasy heart.

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Then, the most wonderful thing happened! HE was given a King’s welcome! The moment we all had been waiting for. We knew HE was going to reign; and now, it was coming to pass!  People were throwing down their tunics so HE could ride on something other than the ground. The people were shouting. I had tears in my eyes from the sheer joy of it all. Our King is here. It was such a wonderful day. I never knew so much joy could be contained in such a short amount of daylight.

A week passed and I still felt like I was floating from all that had transpired a week prior. HE decided to have a dinner with us all. It was a quiet night, but it was nice for it to just be us. It seemed we always had others around. But something was different about HIM. HE looked sad. HE and Judas had a brief discussion and then Judas left. I didn’t think much of it because it was Judas. He always had his own ideas about things.

But HE started worrying me. He made sure we had wine and bread and HE said, drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. (Matt 26:227-29)

His blood? The phrases He spoke months earlier came flooding into my mind: I must suffer, and be killed. It’s just a parable, it’s just a parable I continued to repeat to myself.

Later that night, we went to the garden we sometimes went to. I was so full of dinner I fell fast asleep. HE asked us to stay awake, but I didn’t think it was that important. We prayed all the time. I think we had enough prayer to cover us that night.

But then something woke me up. I heard a crowd. I immediately woke the other two disciples with me. I saw Judas, but he was with the scribes. Whatever this was, didn’t sit right with me. I was too fearful to stand beside our leader, so I hid not too far away. I couldn’t hear very well, but I saw Judas kiss HIM.

Suddenly, the soldiers, who had accompanied the scribes and Judas, bound HIS hands. Nooooo, I wanted to scream, but I didn’t want to be heard. I knelt down and wept. I was so angry at myself for not staying awake to pray… Why are they taking HIM?

Eventually, I learned where they had taken my beloved leader. I went there immediately. HE was being question, accused and then they took HIM outside to be beaten and whipped. Tears poured out of my eyes and down my cheeks. Why? Why is this happening? Why don’t they believe HIM? HE’s the most compassionate man I have ever met. One lash turned to two, two lashes into four, four into thirty-nine. I couldn’t watch anymore. HE was barely recognizable.

I found a place to cry until I felt as though I had nothing left in me… I decided I needed to go back. When I did, I found my beloved friend and my hero hanging, like a criminal, on a cross. People were shouting at HIM, “Save yourself.”

I prayed to God, HIS Father, to give HIM the strength to get off that cross. It wasn’t too much. I still had hope, despite the fear. I’d seen HIM do miracles on top of miracles. Time pressed on and still, HE hung there.

The sky began to grow dark, it felt like I was watching a picture of my own heart. I saw HIM struggling to breathe. The ground began to shake and HE cried out, My God, My God why have you forsaken me. (Matt 27:46) Never before had I ever heard HIM say anything close to this. HE was always talking about how HE and HIS Father were one and that if we knew HIM, we knew the Father. I couldn’t understand what I was seeing.

My heart was breaking in me; yet, I had seen this same man bring back others from the gripping hand of death. I couldn’t make sense of it.

Then HE said, it is finished and HE breathed HIS last. A groan from the deepest part of my soul came out. I fell to my knees, NOOOOO, Jesus, Noooooo…. This cannot be…. Please, God, you can’t take HIM!

It all moved so quickly; yet, it also felt like time stood still. HE was taken down and buried. I couldn’t grasp what was happening. It felt like a nightmare. I couldn’t connect my mind with the reality in front of me. The tears came easily as my heart was broken into a million pieces, but my mind was still not able to process it.

This MAN was my life. I left everything to follow HIM. Everything I believed in revolves around HIS words. How could we do all that we did and the outcome be standing at HIS grave? So many questions flooded my mind. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t get out of my cot. Fear encompassed me. The moment HE died, something inside of me died.

I don’t remember much of that Saturday. But Sunday I heard a stirring of women…
He’s alive!

What? I questioned.
HE died, I saw HIM, don’t mess with me, I already have enough to process. I said.

No, HE’s alive they insisted.

I ran all over looking for HIM. When suddenly, HE found us… I couldn’t believe my eyes! He was here. One day turned into two, and two into four, and four into forty. HE was with us for forty days. But, this time, it was different.

Part of me doubted. I knew HE was the way to eternal life but so much of this MAN I just did not understand. HE did everything backward. Why did HE have to die? Why cause all of us and HIS own mom and family so much grief? Why couldn’t HE just saved Himself, and not put all of us, including HIMSELF, through that agonizing situation?

But, I noticed one thing. After HIS death, I listened more carefully to what HE said. HE had allowed a great wound in my heart to awake my ears and heart to listen more intentionally. Losing HIM once made me more grateful for the time I had with HIM and the people around me. I was also grateful for HIS love for me. One breathes more deeply and feels more intensely when pained.

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HE told us He’d have to leave, and this time I knew it was not another parable. HE would really be leaving and handing us the mantle.

So, the day came. Before HE left, He instructed us to, go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the earth.

 

HE said HIS goodbyes and ascended to heaven. To be honest, the mayhem from all the chaos in the past month or so caused us a lot of fear. We all were a little lost after HE left. He’d left us with more instruction than the first time, but we were hoping HIS next return would be around the corner, but as time passed we realized we had a mantle to carry and a gospel to spread…

After a large gathering, known as the Day of Pentecost, the church began and the gates of Hell have not and will never prevail against it!