Five Deaths; Five Weeks

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Dear Lord, what are you doing?

Those were the first words that came to mind this morning. A couple in our church lost their sister-in-law early this morning in a fatal auto accident. I can only imagine the grief they are feeling.

Last week, my aunt died after a long battle with ALS. She was 68 yrs old. Two weeks ago, a cousin died at the age of 30 after a long battle with Cystic Fibrosis. Three weeks ago, a member of my congregation died at the age of 55 from a heart attack. And four weeks ago, my father-in-law died unexpectedly.

Five deaths in five weeks.

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There has been so much grief that I couldn’t bring myself to read any of the news on the most recent mass shooting. That story could be its own blog post, but I will leave it to the other bloggers.

Death has a way of bringing a new perspective to your focal point. But five deaths? Five deaths bring you to your knees! Five deaths make you pound the ground with your fist. It makes you cry out to the heavens. But your cries are not the empty questions of “why me”. Your cries become a plea for strength and peace and a way through the valley of the shadow of death.

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Five deaths stop you in your tracks. You begin to ask better questions. Questions like: who do I need to forgive? Who do I need to ask forgiveness of? Who do I need to say “I love you”, “I’m proud of you”, “thank you”.

Five deaths drive home the reality that we need one another or we’re going to lose our minds. And it reminds you how desperate we all are for a “Higher Power”.

I believe Jesus is the only One who offers hope in the deepest valley. He is light in the darkness, joy in the mourning, and calm in the storm. I don’t have any concrete answers to why and how and when. And I absolutely have no clue what God is doing!

But I know this – God always makes a way! I trust Him today. Tomorrow I will wake up, make my bed, and step out into the day with the help of God’s grace. By His power, I will minister to hurting souls as I move through my day. And in the morning and in the evening, He will walk with me every step of the way.

Tonight, when you lay your head down, thank Him. Thank God for the good and the bad and the mediocre. And know He is walking beside you every step of the way!

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An Open Letter to Rita

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Rita, I hope this letter finds you well. It has been a little over 24 years since I have seen you last. I was young in so many ways. Young in years. Young in character. And young in the faith. You took a chance on a broken, baby Christian and hired me to work in your Christian daycare. I look back at that time and think I should have been paying you.

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You taught me much about marriage, parenting, faith, and life. And it was almost exclusively by example.

You were one of the most observant people I knew. Your social awareness was admirable. I remember the notes you would leave in our employee boxes. You took notice of the times we made an extra effort in our work and you thanked us for it.

You often sat near the employee log-out book to thank us for coming to work. Who thanks their employees for coming to work? In the last 24 years since I left? No one.

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You were a person filled with grace. It was a perfume that lingered when you left the room and it inspired others to rise to the challenge. You found a way to bridge the sacred and the secular and modeled the incarnation in profound ways.

In the years since I left your employment, I have thought of you often. You were a shepherd to children and broken people and your tenderness abounded.

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Your life and your witness gave me hope. It gave me hope that even a broken, lost soul like me could find my way. And I did. Most importantly, I found The Way. Christ before me. Christ behind me. Christ beside me. Christ within me.

Twenty-four years ago, all those souls I was praying for? Almost all of them have found Christ, too.

I am confident it was God’s providence that caused our paths to cross. Today, that broken, floundering, baby Christian has grown to lead many to faith in Christ. My husband and my children know the Lord. I planted a church. And I teach others about marriage, parenting, faith, and life.

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You poured into my life and you need to know that your mustard seed of faith has grown into a large tree where even the birds can make their home. May Grace Christian Learning Center continue to produce a harvest 100X its size. May God’s blessings rain down on your family. And may you have confidence you have been the hands and feet of Christ.

Merry Christmas!

Sincerely,

One no longer broken

Jesus told them another parable: The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet, when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.  – Matthew 13:31-32

When Life Tries to Swallow You Whole

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But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good.I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’ [Jonah 2:9]

Jonah is a Hebrew prophet. You can read his story in the Old Testament portion of the Bible. Some may only know the children’s version of a large fish swallowing Jonah up.

Several years ago I preached a message on the story of Jonah. It was a two-part sermon and at the end of part one, I left Jonah in the belly of that large fish. Someone in the congregation, who had never heard the story, asked me later what happened to Jonah.

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I was thinking about that conversation again this week and the story of Jonah. It is a short book of the Bible and it covers only a few months of Jonah’s life. Yet, it is the only thing we really know about the prophet. One vignette and a few months of his life shapes our entire perspective of Jonah.

And just like that, I felt compassion for him.

The book of Jonah doesn’t really paint a pretty portrait of the prophet. He is disobedient and obedient. He is angry and fearful. He is judgmental and gracious. He is faithful and unfaithful. And the story ends unresolved.

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It made me think of another conversation I had this week. A friend encouraged me to give someone another chance. And I thought about Jonah and how hard we, the Church, are on this prophet. We come to an opinion about him with nothing but a three-month window into his life.

I think there are seasons in our life that mark us. Seasons we may not be proud of. Seasons that haunt us because we were not living up to the standard God has called us to. They were seasons of fear or anger or desperation or pain. They were seasons that corrupted our souls and the lives of those we encountered.

Often times those seasons of our life require God to send a large fish to swallow us whole. At the time it feels like God is punishing us. But, just like the prophet, we see in hindsight that God was rescuing us from ourselves. He allowed us to look into the abyss with the purpose of extending us grace upon grace.

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Sometimes it seems like life is swallowing us up. Here’s the good news. It is only for a season. You have been given grace upon grace to mark your life with better days.

And we have also been given the grace to extend to the “Jonah”s in our life. We are reminded that, like us, those moments and seasons do not represent the broader scope of one’s life. Our experience may have left things unresolved, but God is the One who resolves all things in the end.

For Jesus said, “Take heart! I have overcome the world”.