In Loving Memory…

Death hurts. Not for those who pass on, but for those of us who are left here picking up the pieces of a shattered heart, trying to figure out how to move on. This week I sat beside one of my very best friends with tears streaming down my face, trying to find the words to say to comfort her as she laid to rest one of the most important people in her life.

But sometimes there aren’t words. Sometimes there is a just a feeling of loss and despair that you can only acknowledge and offer a shoulder to cry on. I remember when I got the text message of the news, I was at work and completely shocked. I stood over the phone where I expected to see just another notification from my favorite store and instead read one of the most heartbreaking text messages I have received in my 26 years.

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26

If you had told me ten years ago as a high school junior that she and I would be facing the things in life that we are now, I would have chosen not to believe it. I would turned my head and pretended that such heartbreak didn’t exist and that the worst thing we would ever experience would be the woes of teenage love. Yet here we are, saying goodbye to people we love, along with so many of our friends. And had we known, what would we have done? Would we have lived our lives differently? My heart clings to the fact that our Lord and Savior knew our teenage hearts , and he knew what was ahead for us and he let us live our innocent lives, all the time preparing our hearts for what would come. Because what I would have believed had you told me this ten years ago, is that we would be here for each other through all the hardships in our lives. And what I know now is that God is our Savior, our ever-present help in times of need. And it is only through his love and salvation that we can lay our head down at night.

Wednesday I wanted to cry, I wanted to sit down right there in the middle of the floor and break down. But I didn’t, I sat my phone down, I took a deep breath and I walked away. But as I did, I started praying for my friend, for her family, for their loss, and for their comfort. I started praying for strength to help her through this, and grace to handle it in the way God would have me handle it. And I ate a little more ice cream that day, because the world just seems a little easier to handle when you have ice cream in your belly.

People always say that time heals, but maybe it doesn’t. Maybe each day that we live past the hole left in our hearts from loss, especially a daddy-shaped hole, we learn that we can still wake up everyday, put one foot in front of the other, and make the most of what we do have. The Lord gives us an amazing strength when we need it most, it is the love of God that holds us up during times of grief. And I saw that in full force at the funeral home as I saw the strength with which my second family carried themselves through one of the hardest days of their lives. And I know that it is only for the love of God that they were able to do that.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3

Mourning is something that there is no recipe for making it easier. There is not material things, or vice that will allow us to move on faster or easier. It’s an ugly process but we have the Creator of Heaven and Earth to lean on during those times. He can’t take the pain away, but he can hold you, lift you up, and find a way to remind you of the life your loved one lived. And the life that my best friend’s dad lived was a glorious one. He was blessed with a beautiful family, enough love to build a bridge to the moon, and most importantly the grace and Holy Spirit of God. The only sadness he had at the end of his life was that he couldn’t do more for the Lord as his time here on Earth was cut short. What an amazing testament of a man he was. And because of that, the ones he left here on Earth know that his heart is shining with the love of God in Heaven today.

At this stage of my life, I don’t have the knowledge to write about how to make it through grief. What I do know is that the only reason I am able to pick myself up after things like this is because I have my Lord and Savior close to my heart. But I was reminded of perhaps one of the greatest hymns of all time that speaks to the true purity of a heart of God and is the best representation I could come up with to honor someone that I thought so much of. It comes to mind from one of the most powerful testimonies I have ever experienced from a man who attended Living Hope Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky. He told of his battle with cancer and his decision to be at peace with whatever happened to him. He played the most glorious performance of this piece that I have ever heard on the piano and it struck my soul. I can’t think of more fitting words to honor those we love who have passed on. So, I pray today for my dear friend and her family, and I leave you with this beautiful tribute. Share it, cherish it and remember it, because this is the life he now has. May God bring us even a taste of the peace he has.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4

In loving memory of Garry Caswell.

It is Well with My Soul

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul

It is well
With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul

It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul

It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul

It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul

Written by P P. Bliss, Gloria Roe • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4

Warriors of Christ.

When your heart is in turmoil, it feels like every day you fight to see the sunshine peek through the clouds. Sometimes it can feel like you’re scratching and clawing your way out of a hole you’ve stumbled into, only to feel the land give way beneath you. But what we sometimes forget as Christians is we are fighting for our lives every day, regardless of the situations we find ourselves in.

God has called us to be his children, but we must work for that honor every single day. 

I think as Christians, we often get hung up on the idea of life on Earth. We strive to achieve Earthly standards of accomplishment like wealth, career achievements, and personal relationships. We put so much stock in the things that satisfy us now, that we sometimes forget that this is not our home. We are so distracted by the things around us, that when tragedy strikes, we often find ourselves lying on the ground wondering how we got there. As my family has experienced first hand the devastation that a disease like cancer can deliver, it seems that my ears are more in tune to the number of times I hear people question why things like cancer, death, illness, and tragedy happen. You hear people talk of the goodness of a human, their service to others, and the love in their heart and how it simply isn’t fair that such a person has to suffer through such terrible things.

But what my heart is constantly drawing me towards is the promise in the Bible that our days on Earth will not be easy. In fact, we find the pages of our Heavenly Father’s beloved book packed full of verse after verse encouraging us to move forward in the hard times, to stay strong in him when we face suffering. Our love letter from Christ tells us that life will be hard, even more so because we are cloaked in the Heavenly spirit. But what we can lay our head to rest on is the promise that for whatever suffering this life may bring, our Heavenly home will satisfy a desire in our heart we have yet to uncover and the immensity of the happiness we will experience there will leave whatever sufferings we encounter here on Earth in the dust beneath our shoes.

Instead, what we should remind ourselves is that every single day, we are fighting a battle for our eternal lives. We are facing our demons, Earthly woes and things we cannot even begin to understand in our quest for an eternal seat at the Father’s table.

And what that battle requires is preparation. It doesn’t call us to weep about our troubles, or cry out for an explanation. It demands that we take refuge in the love of God and allow him to carry us when we cannot go on anymore. This week it was laid on my heart to simply talk about staying strong on the battlefield of life and training everyday to handle whatever life throws at you. I encourage you to spend your days seeking the guidance of God through scripture and prayer. If you train your heart each and every day, you will be better equipped to handle anything that is thrown your way. You will be in tune with your Father and have that foundation to lean on when your foes fall on you.

In my quest for a way to write just what was churning around in my mind, I stumbled upon yet another prayer from the book of Psalms. And like Psalm 23, this too was written by David. In this Psalm, David is crying out to God in a moment of trouble, asking for his help and his guidance. We see this vulnerability from David as he is fleeing for his life from Absalom. What this Psalm holds for me, is a prayer to God in the midst of a storm that although the Earth is shaken, and although the enemy seems stronger than ever, I know that my God is there with me, fighting alongside me.

Psalm 3

“Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him’.”

People often say that when it rains, it pours. And oftentimes we find ourselves in a situation where it feels that as everything is crumbling around us, the very floor beneath us seems to be failing as well.

What are your foes? Are you struggling with temptation, are you facing an illness? Maybe you are fearing for your life literally, or you can feel yourself losing a grip on who you are and who you want to be. Does it feel that your back is against a wall?

And in those times, as we find our world straying farther and farther away from God’s word, it seems that when we walk through valleys of hardship, we must also dodge the contagiousness of negativity and doubt.  I think that David was experiencing this very same thing all of those years ago. He was in a bad place, he was fearing for his life, and it seemed that the foes were too many to count. And undoubtedly he had a host of people questioning his faith in God and why he would end up in such a situation when his God should have delivered him. But although he is questioned, and although he is challenged, David knows that his God is near. As should you.

“But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the Lordand he answers me from his holy mountain. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side.”

David speaks to the power and strength of having God as your fortress, equipping yourself with his word and his grace to face your biggest threats. He knows that it is only because of God that he is able to lift his head up and move forward in the wake of hardship. He also trust that God will help him through, giving him the strength and the will when he has neither to continue in his battle. As Christians there will be times when we simply can’t go on, that is when Christ picks us up and carries us. He gets us out of bed in the morning and lays our heads on his armor at night. And because of his glory and his love for us, we should never fear whatever it is that we face. Even death. For we have the creator of Heaven and Earth on our side, whom shall we fear?

“Arise, LordDeliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked. From the Lord comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people.”

It is with this verse that I like to imagine David laying down his worries at God’s feet and asking him to arise and deliver him. Have you ever been in a dark place, or struggling with a mound of fear and finally come to the point you knew you couldn’t face it alone? As Christians, we can lay down our ego, we can say “I give up,” and we have a Heavenly Father that is ready and willing to go to battle on our account. Some days, we won’t be strong enough to fight, but with a personal relationship with God, on those days he will be near and he will deliver us.

It’s easy to give up when your heart is so full of angst and worry, when you feel like your back is against the wall and your life as you know it is crumbling. It is easy to feel that there is no hope for your situation, or that you won’t survive what it is you face on your battlefield. But what is even easier is crying out to the glorious God and Savior and simply saying, “I need you.” Then we are able to fight side by side with God. And I pray that if you find yourself in this battle, that you would push away doubt and the need to understand this life and call upon the strength of the Lord’s armor. We will never belong here, therefore we will never be at peace here. We will face battle after battle in the name of the Lord. But we will always have deliverance in Christ alone, and we will have a Heavenly home waiting for us that far outweighs all.

A Mere Whisper in the Wind

Many of us have been taught from a young age that when you are searching for answers or seeking guidance, to pray for God to send you a sign. This is such a loaded statement because who are we to know what is a sign and what is something we are interpreting the way we want to? Many times the desires of our heart drive what we see and what we hear. One of my all-time favorite stories in the Bible is that of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. This story is packed full of lessons that are cloaked in the narrative of one of God’s greatest messengers. Elijah is an interesting character in himself, for we can relate to his life very much so as humans. While we do not deal with quite the same trials and tribulations that he did, and our triumphs are of a different colors, the ups and downs of this prophet’s life are the same as the ones we face today. I encourage you to explore the entire story of Elijah, but for today, let’s focus on his time on the mountain.

Elijah, in trying to fulfill the will of God in his life, was faced with turmoil and trouble, resistance and heartache. He was tired, he was frustrated and he didn’t know what else to do. But the Lord reached out to him:

“The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.” 1 Kings 19:11-13

This isn’t a piece of scripture you see on a sign in someone’s house, and it’s not going to be a meme on Facebook. However, the message it sends to Christians is so loud to me and resonates with my soul. That’s why, as I mentioned above, it stands to be one of my favorites. See Elijah was in a period of wavering faith at this point in time. We’ve all been there. We are human and we fall short of the glory of God. So in times of hardship, we often back away from our faith and search for something more physical or permanent to make us feel better. And while those worldly things may offer immediate gratification and temporary relief from our woes, the strain of wavering faith is nothing compared to emptiness without Christ.

It’s hard, even as a Christian, to completely and utterly trust in God to deliver you from a time that is so trying that your body just wants to lay down and give up. We go through things that challenge us, things that beat us down until we feel like even with God we can’t get back up again. For some it’s the weight of problems you are currently facing. For others, it’s a constant resistance throughout life that at some point you just feel like you have to give up or lose yourself in the process. And in Elijah’s situation, that weight was his faith and his devotion to delivering the message God was calling him to deliver. This perhaps is the greatest challenge of all, to keep your faith when the call to action of that very faith is what is causing your suffering. God tells us in the Bible that it will not be easy for Christians that we will struggle and often be persecuted for our faith. And while we know that he paid the ultimate price for us, we are human and selfish and sometimes we just don’t think we can go on. That is exactly where Elijah was. He had just had his life threatened for the work he was doing, and the work he was doing was appearing fruitless and quite frankly, he was done with all of it. But the Lord came to him, in this most trying time and told him to go out on the mountain, that the Lord was about to pass by. So Elijah, being the faithful servant he was, pulled himself back to his feet and obeyed this command. What happens next is incredible.

The scripture says a “great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord.” Imagine, the worst storm we’ve ever had, then intensify that. We are talking a wind that is so strong, that it has the ability to tear pieces of rock from the mountain, to take rocks that no man could ever even begin to lift, and shatter them. We equate power with God, so this earth shattering wind sounds appropriate for such a higher power, right? But the Lord was not in that wind.

The next line says that “there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.” We know from experience that earthquakes are next to impossible to prevent. They can’t be stopped, we simply have to ride it out and pray that we make it through. No matter what procedures we put in place, there is only so much we can do to simply protect ourselves from this horrific event. One that shakes everything you stand on. And fires are devastating and have the ability to wipe out what would takes months to build in a matter of minutes. They can tear through a town without slowing down. Sure water can help fight them, but sometimes even that is not enough. There couldn’t be a more appropriate vehicle for the one who created the Earth, right? Wrong. The scripture tells us that God was in neither of those. But what comes next is the kicker, the line that gets me every time I dive into this chapter.

“And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”

Three great, intense, and powerful forces of nature and yet Elijah found God in a whisper. So many times we look for these earth shattering, show stopping signs from God to tell us which way to turn and yet we often forget to listen for the whisper of his voice. We are so busy waiting on the search and rescue crew to coming sweeping in on a helicopter that we sometimes find ourselves drowning when all the while there was a boat sitting next to us.

What fork in the road have you come to that you have been praying for a sign from God to lead you? Think back, was there a whisper in the wind that you could have missed?

It’s human nature to fall down, for our feet to falter and for us to lose sight of our faith in times of trials. God understands that, and that is what makes him so amazing. Time after time, his grace finds us on our face and picks us back up and dusts us off. He is forgiving and takes us back every time we stray away. But what we have to do is learn to not just wait and look for the signs and miracles we think should come, but rather train ourselves as children of God to look for the whisper in the wind. One way to do that is by reading our Bibles, learning the scripture and holding it close to our hearts. This is a verse that I personally cling to when I feel my physical feet failing me. We must look to his word for the answers to our questions, and listen to his voice to find what we seek. It won’t always be a search and rescue team, it may not even be a boat at all. Maybe it’s just a life vest to keep you afloat until God picks you up and takes you to the place where he needs you most.

“…And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13

God tells us flat out in his word that he will never forsake us or give us more than we can bear. No matter how defeated we feel, God knows our limits and he knows our strength…because he is both of those things to us. He tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that he will provide a way out of life’s hardships and he will help us endure it. So I invite you to take all of that time that you spend worrying, all of that time you spend trying to find your own way out of the darkness, and use that time to learn God’s word, pray to our Heavenly Father, and wait for the whisper in the wind.

Isn’t it incredible to know that the Creator of Earth, the God of all things, the Alpha and the Omega needs only a whisper to show you the way? What a mighty God we serve.

 

Walk Blind in Faithfulness.

You often hear people refer to children when they are trying to describe a feeling or an emotion. Perhaps it is because children represent a pure, unbiased vision of what raw human emotion is. Their perception is often untouched by life and its hardships, by politics and prejudice, but rather is stripped down to the very emotion that God created when he formed Adam from the dust.

What qualities do you miss the most when you think of your childhood innocence?

For me, it is the blind faithfulness. The ability to forge forward without a plan, or a care in the world, knowing that whatever happens, you will be taken care of. The amazing thing is, God has given us exactly that. I sometimes think the Bible is so much easier to understand if we just look at it through the eyes of a child. After all, that is what God is calling us to do, to put our faith in him and allow him to lead us where he wants us to go. So put on your Mickey Mouse sunglasses, your plastic princess crown, or whatever it takes to get you there and let’s look at today’s verse.

“For we live by faith, not by sight” 2 Corinthians 5:7

Woah. Terrifying right? But to a child, this is the core value of how they live their life. Although some may be too young to understand that there is a Lord and Savior, he has blessed them with this vulnerable spirit that trusts that someone will take care of them. Sometimes that someone is you; their mother, father, brother or sister. Their aunt or uncle, babysitter or teacher. But sometimes that person is God, and they don’t even realize it.

What would happen if we stopped trying to feel our way through life, looking for those markers that the world tells us exists, and just starting living by faith?

Think about it. God calls us to, metaphorically speaking, close our eyes and just start moving forward and trust that when we open our eyes again, he will have delivered us to the place we are meant to be. I sit here in awe of how great our God is just from simply writing that statement. There has been so many times in my short 25 years that I have laid awake at night wondering where my life was going. What was I going to be when I grew up? Where would I live? Who would I have to spend the rest of my life with? Would I have anyone to spend the rest of my life with?

In those instances, God called me to only be still and let him go to work in my life. There were times I listened and things turned out better than I could have ever imagined. The perfect example of this is my husband. God has truly blessed me with an amazing, Godly man to spend my days with. I look back on prayers I prayed when I was alone and it brings tears to my eyes to think that today that very person I prayed for sits right across from me at the dinner table every night. And you know what? He is better than I could have ever imagined. He has qualities I never even thought to pray about, but that God knew I would need the day he created each of us for the other. And every day God’s plan for our lives continues to evolve.

But there were times I didn’t listen. There were times that I was impatient, and selfish. There were times I thought I knew what I needed more than he did. But you know what? I quickly discovered that I was wrong. It’s no secret I am a headstrong person, I am driven to the point of driving other people crazy when I set my mind to something. I think back on so many stages of my life that I approached things with that headstrong attitude, only to be knocked back down to my knees, praying for God to show me the way.

So what causes us to be so stubborn?

We are scared.

There were so many times in my life that I was scared out of my wits at what was happening in front of me. I saw my life moving forward at an alarming pace and I felt like I was just holding on for dear life, praying for a stop sign.

The truth was, God had a plan for me and he was delivering me there.

Other times I felt like I was trapped in a corn field and everything around me looked familiar and yet strange at the same time. Like I was frozen in time, not moving forward and not moving backward. It terrified me. Was there something wrong with me that everyone around me seemed to be making progress, but here I was back at my dead end trying to make sense of it all?

The truth was, it just wasn’t time for me to move.

But no matter why we are scared, God is always with us and we are exactly where he wants us to be.

Isaiah 41:10 says “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Maybe things feel like they are spiraling out of control for you. Or maybe your life has become frightening still. Either way, hear me when I say that no matter where you are, God is there and he is the strength in your will. My advice to you is pray without ceasing for God to show you which way to turn, pray that he will lead you the way you need to go and he will deliver you.

We don’t like change.

It is human nature to cling to what we know, that which makes us secure. Again, children are a perfect example of this. They long for security and a constant in their life. They cling to schedules and repetitive days. But as adults, as mature Christians, we are called to go where God takes us. Everyone knows the story of Jonah and the whale. If you do not, or if you haven’t read it in a while, I encourage you to pick up your Bible and flip to the book of Jonah. It is not a long book, and is a light read, and has a blatant way of showing us just how important it is to follow God’s call for our lives.

Many people keep their toes on the edge of the water, scared to fully jump in and immerse themselves in the faith of God’s love. But the truth is, until you take that leap of faith, you will always be unhappy. You will be searching for more, all the while being tethered to whatever makes you feel comfortable.

Is there a decision in your life right now that you need to make that will take you out of your comfort zone?

Often times it is in those most pivotal moments of our lives that we feel closer to God than ever before. Maybe it is because sometimes they leave us feeling like the rug has been ripped out from underneath us. When you fear change, always remember that God is an ever present help in your life, he will always be there for you to rest your worries and sorrows on. Lean on him during times of change, look to him and trust that he knows exactly what he is doing with your life. Open your hearts to what he is calling you to do. That tug in your heart is his way of telling you, “Come child, it is time to move.”

We have expectations.

I know it sounds crazy to think of going through life with no expectations, especially coming from someone who just described themselves as being driven. But that is exactly what 2 Corinthians 5:7 calls us to do, to leave behind any idea of what our life would look like, or what the world tells us it should look like, and walk blindly in faith, knowing that what is meant to be, will.

This is never an easy thing. I am a self-proclaimed control freak and the thought of walking blindly and unprepared anywhere literally makes my palms sweat. But Jesus’ love in my heart is stronger than any human quirk I may have and so in times of decision or stress, I often feel myself take a deep breath, whisper a prayer, and I can physically feel the tension release between my shoulder blades. There is something to be said for feeling like someone else is handling the big stuff.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where often expectations come from other places than ourselves. They come from family, friends, and even perfect strangers. It seems that somewhere along the way, the world has painted a picture of what a “normal” life should look like. What we should be doing at every stage of our life. At every age I can remember the stress of worldly expectations and as I grow older, they never leave, they just simply change.

What worldly expectations are weighing on you today? What is the world telling you that you should be doing? Give it to God.

I encourage you to take a moment now to spend some time with God. I know its cliché, but kneel down by your bed or a chair, get comfortable and talk to God about what you are feeling.  There is something about humbling yourself before him that really allows you to let go. Let him know that this life is bigger than you, that you can’t do it by yourself. That whatever you’re facing, whether it is that scares you, makes you uncomfortable or just feels like it is not enough, that you know he is there with you, strengthening you to take on whatever it may be. And then I want you to give that to God. Whatever “it” is for you, give it to him today. Lay it down at his feet, even if you have physically write it on a paper, fold it up and lay it on the floor in front you, give it to God. Allow him to lead you to the place he desires you to be.

Now the last thing I want you to do is this:

Imagine your perfect life, imagine if you were exactly where you wanted to be right now. Not where the world wants you to be, but where you want to be. Got it?

Good. Write it down in a journal, or on a slip of paper and keep it safe. Open it in three, five or fifteen years. I promise you that where you are then, is better than you could have ever hoped for it to be.