New Year Hope and Reflection

Ah, a new year! I have always enjoyed contemplating what wonderful blessings the Lord might have for my family and me in the coming year. It’s a kind of fresh start, a new hope! This past year, God fulfilled two long- awaited answers to prayer.

First, at the beginning 2013, I learned that my children’s dad, who nearly 30 years ago, broke up our 18 year marriage through infidelity, had finally come to know Jesus as his Savior and Lord. When I heard an apology from him for the first time, I knew it was real. The start of 2013 held many shed tears of joy over his change of heart; something I had prayed for since I first met Jesus personally.
Second answer to prayer: 5-1/2 years ago, I began praying that God would move Carolyn and her family from Florida and California to Colorado, where Kristi and I live. Just over a month ago, they returned to new jobs and a new home here in the Springs. Joy fills my heart as only a parent could know. We had our entire family at my home for Christmas last week – first time since 2007.
The elation of these two answers to prayer have reaffirmed my belief that prayer is never futile, but is a powerful privilege. And we should never give up on presenting our requests to God, trusting He knows what is best (Philippians 4:7).
For most of my Christian life, I have annually set aside some time during the final week of the year to reflect on how I can grow deeper with God. I ask myself: Are my relationships God-honoring? Am I growing spiritually? Am I sharing my faith fruitfully? What weaknesses, bad habits, strongholds of the enemy or sin need the most Spirit-work in the coming year? As I prayed about it, the Lord was always faithful to point out what needed His gentle “tweaking.” Sometimes at the end of the year I found I had gained small victories. At other times, sadly, I had failed to overcome certain sins or habits! How often my frail faith became evident during those end-of-year reflections.
This week, as I asked God about what to share in a new year’s blog, He reminded me of one I’d written the year after we learned Mark had terminal prostate cancer. As I re-read it, I marveled at prayer’s enduring influence and clout, not only when life is good and fair, but when it takes us where we don’t want to go. Here is part of that blog:

Last year as the new year began, I was praising God that we’d had one of the best years of marriage; however, I was also anxious about what may lie ahead. Mark and I were awaiting the results of a biopsy. By mid-January we learned that Mark had aggressive prostate cancer, in the final stage. Further testing showed he had several tumors in his bones; the cancer was had already metastasized, and the doctors gave no hope for recovery.
We have now walked through one full year of that trial. Though Mark’s cancer is wreaking havoc in his body, and in my emotions, somehow, somewhere deep inside, we are both growing in grace and grasping how impossible this trial would be without the prayers of others, and the constant presence of Christ to strengthen us and give us courage.
A couple of weeks ago, as I thought of what may lie ahead this coming year; I was battling depression and the urge to panic. For the first time that I can remember, I was experiencing the new year blues. After a friend prayed with me, the peace of God began to settle in.
It was then that I read through my prayer journals. You know what I saw? Fear assuaged through the power of God’s Word. Hope renewed after praying with a pastor or friend. God’s constancy amidst emotional and physical ups and downs. He dried our tears as we focused on His truths. Our load was eased by the prayers, sacrificial gifts, and comforting words of friends, both near and far away, and by our “family” here at church.
We’ve developed a better understanding of our weaknesses and about how helpless we are to change our circumstances. But God is not powerless! As Mark and I continue to pray for healing, we are also praying to be in the center of God’s perfect will, whatever that may be. And when medical reports offer terror and dread to our feeble, fleshly “hearts,” it’s then that I know God will beckon us to once again lay our burdens at His feet.
So, are we looking forward with hopeful expectation to the new year? To be honest, not really. But we are focusing on developing two good disciplines that don’t come easy for either of us: 1) Living one day at a time, receiving from the Lord all that He offers by way of hope, joy, peace, and even laughter, and 2) Striving to hang on tightly to our loving Father’s hand through prayer, and by faith, not fear, trusting He will not give us more than we can bear. I love the lyrics of a song I heard this week: “I don’t know about tomorrow…but I know Who holds the future, and I know He holds my hand.”
May I encourage you (as the Lord reminds us) to focus on those words, and on God’s Word when you experience the new year blues or any trials this year? Our God is faithful—He alone gives us the strength to trust Him! Remember Zechariah 4:6, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord.”

May God carry us all in 2014 by His grace, through prayer and faithfulness to His Word, believing He has us in the palms of His hands…always.

Where Does Love Go?

He left over two decades ago. At the time, it was one of the most painful losses I’d experienced. Tossed aside was an eighteen year marriage, a “complete” family for my children, and the plans we had made for our future. It took two years for me to feel “normal” again. I had to let go of it all, deny hope of reconciliation, and move on.

Lately I’ve begun to wonder, after a tearing apart of two people, where does the love go … the love my husband Rich and I shared. The love that I fought to maintain?

Many years have passed since then. I married again, and was subsequently widowed. After the children were grown, contact with Rich was sporadic, only hearing about him through them. Last month his sister informed us that Rich was very ill with an infection in his leg, resulting from a disease of the arteries. First his heel was removed. But the infection had spread to his toes, which were amputated two weeks ago. It was then that I started agonizing over his pain and loss. I began adding prayers for peace and healing to my prayers for his salvation, which had begun when I came to know the Lord 40 years ago.

However, the sadness and worry for him that I was suddenly experiencing made me wonder why. Why was I on the verge of tears for this man whom I rarely see and don’t love anymore, except as my girls’ dad. Sure, we had maintained respect for each other all these years, but the love was long gone.

Where does the love go?

Following his surgery an MRI and blood work were performed to ensure the infection was removed. Sadly, the infection was instead creeping through the bones of his right leg. His very life was in danger now, with the only hope being amputation of his leg above the knee.

This past Friday night he adamantly refused the surgery. It didn’t make sense to us. He would say, “It’s all in God’s hands.” The entire weekend I was a wreck, distraught, anxious, and praying for healing over and over again. Weeping. I would also ask, “What’s going on, Lord? Why am I so upset?”

At the core of my angst was concern that he would die without Jesus. Feeling helpless being 1200 miles away, I called and asked my brother and his wife to go visit him in the hospital, since they live nearby. I also called on a local pastor friend in his town who sent two different pastors to pray with him. Between these 4 people, I was sure to find out where his heart was spiritually. People ask me, why do you still care? Strange question. No matter what our past, forgiveness was long ago. Besides, how can I not care whether my girls father will be with Christ in eternity?

Even when we reject Jesus, He still remains faithful to continue to pursue us, guide us, lead us, and love us. His love is not something that comes and goes, as ours does. His is agape … selfless, pure, strong, unchanging God-love. He is love; he doesn’t hide it or deny us of it, ever.

Romans 8:38-39, For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

If it were not for this unexpected crisis with Rich, I wouldn’t have asked the question, where does love go?Nor would I have received the answer: Because of Christ in me, and for no other reason, love remains. Love that is not natural, but is born of the Spirit. God loves people through us. The love is His. I am incapable of it without Him.

This point of clarity helps me to more fully grasp the awesome nature of God who reveals his love freely always, it is tireless and perpetual. Our goal should be to love like that, should it not? Whether for an ex-spouse or wayward family member, or for someone whom we struggle to forgive. Agape love goes a long way to heal hearts and restore relationships. It requires letting go of hurts, seeing people as eternal beings who will either be forever with Christ or not. And most of all, it requires being filled with God’s Spirit, who does the loving for us.

Ready for the good news? Two days later Rich agreed to the amputation and is healing very well. Even better news: Following my brother’s and the pastors’ visits I was told that Rich proclaimed knowing Jesus as His Lord and Savior. He had expressed it in many ways with his sister and others, before and during this crisis. I don’t know how long it has been since he put his faith in God; that doesn’t matter. I am just incredibly happy to now be able to call him my brother in Christ.

All praise to God, who doesn’t waste any painful situation to teach us lessons about ourselves and Himself, and to reveal His perpetual agape love to us. To God be the glory!

Dark Night at the Dark Knight

The flag stood half-mast at our church this morning. I wondered if it was that way since the Colorado Springs fires, or if it was hung this weekend out of sorrow for the theater victims. My heart sank when I learned of the shootings in Aurora, CO Friday morning. 12 dead, including a six-year-old girl, and 58 injured. My tears flowed from a heart weary of ruin. Just four weeks ago, hundreds in our community lost their homes from a wildfire. The gorgeous mountainside is now a blackened reminder of the victimization of God’s creation and people’s homes.

Perhaps my reaction to Friday’s shooting spree during the Dark Knight premiere was a result of the accumulation of sorrow upon sorrow that so many Coloradans are feeling now. When does it end for our state? I wondered. What do you have for Colorado, Lord? We had at least nine wildfires this summer, and now this?

As I was getting ready for work the morning of the massacre, while watching the news reports, I began to pray for the victims. I was surprised to find myself also praying for the killer. What would make a young man (whom I later learned was until recently a doctoral student) put on a gas mask, arm himself to the hilt, and open fire on innocent people? People he didn’t know. Children! I was reminded that God’s love for that young man is as pure as His love for an honorable man or woman, because His love for us is not based on our behavior. His pleasure or displeasure is, but not His love. I prayed James Holmes would find his hope in Jesus. For only a man without hope could do what he did that dark night!

Senseless tragedies like this violent act often bring crises of faith. People wonder: Where was God? Why didn’t He stop it? Doesn’t He care? Is He powerless? A friend suggested that Randy Alcorn’s book, “God is Good,” might shed light on God’s purposes in the midst of the unthinkable; so I downloaded the book to my Kindle. This quote from page 34 seems appropriate for those seeking answers to those questions:

“Joni Eareckson Tada (a quadriplegic and follower of Jesus) writes, ‘God permits what he hates to accomplish that which he loves.’ Evil is never good, yet God can use any evil to accomplish good and sovereign purposes. Through the redemptive suffering of Christ – in which he took all human evils on himself (on the cross) – and through his triumph over evil and death, God has done everything necessary to defeat evil. One day he will carry out his final redemptive work: ‘He will swallow up death forever. The sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.’” Isaiah 25:8. (parentheses are mine)

I have been praying for revival since the fires began­–revival in our city, state, and nation. So many seem to have forgotten God; or worse, deny His existence, love, and power. Often tragedies are the catalyst God uses to turn our thoughts toward Him and bring personal and corporate revival. I, for one, am seeking a closer relationship with Him as a result of the devastations of the past month. As I pray for revival, I ask God to begin with my own heart, as expressed in Isaiah 57:15:
“For this is what the high and lofty One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.’”

What is your response to His Word? Will you let this dark night at Dark Knight bring doubt about the goodness of God, or will you turn to the One who can bring revival to your own heart?

END

Feeling Helpless?

I enjoy writing devotionals and blogs that are uplifting and encouraging. However, in this case, I must warn you this is less a devotional and more a forum for righteous venting. There is spiritual application if you will bear with me.

My indignation started a couple of weeks ago when I became aware of the arrest of a Penn State coach named Sandusky. I’d been watching the news with open-mouthed disgust, yet asking, “Why am I surprised?” A trusted coach and mentor to at-risk boys took advantage of his position by raping and molesting children; 10-year old boys who shouldn’t even know what the word “sex” means! To add insult to injury, making my heart sink deeper into despair, I heard that the coach got out on bail within days. Bail! For ruining at least 8 boys’ lives, he is allowed to go free until his trial – free to molest again if he chooses.

I’m angry. I’m angry with Mr. Sandusky. I’m upset with the assistant coach who walked in on him in the act and did nothing to protect the boy. He should have run over to them in the showers and punched Sandusky’s lights out. Instead, he walked away.

I’m also ticked off at us, our society, our culture, which turns on our televisions and computers and even our smart phones to allow sexually charged suggestions to flow freely into our hearts and thoughts. We’ve become passive to subtle sexual innuendos in TV shows. We stopped crying “outrage” at lingerie ads that are tantamount to pornographic images. We are parents who have turned our heads away out of a sense of helplessness. When was the last time you or I wrote to TV network execs or advertisers to complain about morally or religiously offensive ads or programming? Why have people with good values become a society of wimps?

Take a walk through the mall and listen to the language coming from the mouths of 14 year old girls and boys! And even adults! Read about what middle school children do to each other in school closets. Our children are losing their innocence.

So, why are we surprised that a society with upside down values can produce so many child molesters, men addicted to pornography, the sexual slave trade, and cheating spouses?

When I was a child, our neighbor had a pinup poster of a half naked woman in his garage. I was afraid to go near him. My natural instinct to avoid such a man was sharp. Today, our children are becoming anesthetized to immorality, sin, and perversion as a result of the sights and sounds they are exposed to.

Jesus said, “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

That’s a strong warning! I wonder what society would say if we took pedophiles directly to the nearest ocean, tied a millstone (a very large, heavy boulder) around their necks and dropped them into the deepest bowels of the sea to pay for their having ravaged and ruined Jesus’ “little ones” — the innocent, trusting children whose last concern should be betrayal by an adult? Think about it for a minute. How would society react? Some would cheer the swift justice, but many would cry “Foul!”

When it comes down to it, perhaps we should all be on trial. I wonder what the penalty would be if Christians were convicted of moral apathy, of turning the other cheek to the detriment and safety of society? I also wonder if what John wrote in Revelation about the end-times church applies to us:

To the Angel in the Church of Laodicea write: “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit (vomit) you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (Revelations 3:14-17)

Are you scared yet? I am! These words, this accusation from God Himself, is frightening. We are a rich society, but morally we are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked!! Our nation is lukewarm. We wrongly think, I’ll live my life and let you live yours. What you do has no effect on me or my children. The immoral behavior of those around us is something I can’t do anything about. These are all lies we’ve bought into. They are the foundation for lukewarmness.

As a young mom and a young Christian, I naively thought my girls would adopt my values by how I loved them, and by taking them to church. It takes effort to protect our families. It means taking a stand against what we allow into our homes, and into the gates of our kids’ minds and hearts: we must protect what enters their eyes, ears and thoughts. We can extend their innocence longer by saying “No” to their desire to fit into the culture; by teaching them scripture and giving them a basis for moral truth; by building into them the courage to live it out. By investing our time with them instead of leaving it up to technology or strangers, or even coaches to shape their values.We can and must teach them what God has to say about living a godly life in an ungodly culture.

How? We need to begin with ourselves!

We can draw closer to Jesus to reset our values sensitivity meter. Then we can influence the rest of our family, our small world, and eventually our nation.

Feeling helpless? Don’t give up — God knows we can’t do this in our own strength, but we have a Savior who has promised that with Him all things are possible:

I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength!!! (Philippians 4:13).

Christ promisses it … strength to do all things. We have power through Him to change at least our own small world, one step at time. Helpless? Heck no!

Maggie’s Final Gift

As I walked with Paul and Maggie into the reception area of her doctor’s office, a nurse opened her arms to Maggie and hugged her close. She then escorted us into the exam room where we waited for the doctor. In a manner of minutes he opened the door and came in. After Paul introduced me as Maggie’s sister, her doctor leaned in and gave Maggie a long and tender embrace. The gesture surprised me.

Maggie sat on the exam table with distended belly and sunken, yet hopeful crystal clear, blue eyes. We all tried to read the doctor’s expression as he opened her 2” thick medical file. For the next half hour he read and interpreted the results of each test taken the previous week. Maggie’s countenance did not reveal any fear when she heard those awful words, “aggressive liver cancer.”

Her body had been her enemy for years. Lung cancer required cutting away a lung lobe 10 years ago; Crohn’s disease and the removal of her colon followed. Subsequently, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and later shingles which attacked her eye, face and head for months (and which she shared with me was the most painful of all her ailments). Then 8 months ago, a fall down several steps broke her shoulder and hip, causing an emergency hip replacement followed by months of painful physical therapy. And only recently she was required to have extensive oral surgery. If you didn’t know Maggie, you would have no idea of the pain she lived with everyday. Her enduring fight for life overshadowed any self-pity that might have sidelined someone with less courage and zest for life. I often marveled at her tenacity and strength. Daily she tenderly gardened portions of their 12 acre mountain property in northern California. She had an amazing capacity for appreciating nature and life.

While in our mid-20’s she prayed with me to invite Christ to be her Lord and Savior. Over the years, her quiet, private love affair with God expressed itself through loving others, even strangers. Our niece wrote recently, “Whenever you were around her you felt good about yourself.”

A few days after the doctor visit I went back to Colorado with confidence that I had not said my last goodbye to her. I knew she would fight the disease, not so much for herself, but for the love of her life, Paul, and sons, Tony, Michael and John.

I was home just two days when I learned she was back in the hospital and would be starting chemo there. I called her everyday, working at not showing my fear but engaging in short, encouraging conversations. In our last coherent talk, she made the point of telling me, “Don’t worry, honey. I’m ready either way. I have loved Him all my life, and I’m ready.” She then went on to name the qualities that she loved about me. I interrupted, choking back the tears because I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. After a long pause, she said something that struck me as very odd, “Sam,’ (her nickname for me), ‘Don’t not be who you are.’” I thought about that double-negative for a moment, and then asked, “What do you mean?”
“Don’t not be who you are,” she repeated.

Another long pause as I tried to make sense of her words and asked a second time, “What do you mean?” Silence. She was dozing. I decided to tuck away her comment in my memory, hoping it would be made clear to me in the future.

“I love you,” I said
“I love you, too.” (kiss, kiss, kiss)
I didn’t want to hang up. “I’ll call you tomorrow, ok?”

Just three weeks from her first doctor visit for this ailment, and after just one chemo treatment, Maggie’s lungs couldn’t sustain her. She went to be with her Lord on May 27th.

In the midst of deep grief, I reminisced about my only sister’s beautiful spirit; her quality of love and her unrelenting generosity. She gave of herself and what she had so unashamedly. I cherished what a weeping hospital nurse shared with me as we stood outside the room where she died. “Maggie had a beautiful soul. We all loved her.”

A few days later, I was struggling with how different I am from Maggie and praying that God would show me how I can be more like my sister. I had been thinking of her love affair with people and with life; pondering it for days, wishing I could be more like her. What was it about her that made strangers want to embrace her? What was it that caused a former employer to openly sob when he heard she had cancer again? What did she have that I need? We both have your Spirit, Lord, so why don’t I express your love like she did?

In the midst of my prayer her words resounded in my heart as loud as if she were there in person, ”Don’t not be who you are!”

Don’t not be who you are!!!! I am confident that God chose to speak that warning through my sister during our last meaningful conversation, so I would hear it in context after she was gone. I get it! I must not try to be who I am not. I need to be who God made me to be.

1 John 4:7, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.” Maggie’s love for others came from God. She allowed God to express His love for others through her. I should not try to be like my sister, but to allow my Lord to express His love through me as she did ─ to draw so near my God that I can do nothing less than love.

Psalm 139 says, “He knit me together in my mothers’ womb… I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” God knit me together in the same womb where He gave life to my sister two years earlier. He made her one way and me another. Both wonderful. Each with a unique purpose but a joint objective: to bring glory to God with our lives by loving Him and others.

Thank you, my sister Maureen Ann (Maggie) Dowling Beers, for that final gift of truth from your heart and God’s, “Don’t not be who you are!” Be who you are. Be who God created you to be – for His glory. What a gift.

A Season of Sadness

I used to joke that my spiritual gift was “suffering.” Of course it was tongue in cheek because I am keenly aware that others have and are going through so much more pain than I will most likely ever experience. Having said that, it is also true that we can’t compare our sorrow against someone else’s. It’s our pain. We own it. It’s valid in its own right. The important thing is what we do with it. How we handle it.

Following my surgery in June, I wrote an update (Scary Prayer3) praising God that not only do I not have cancer, but that during that season I was profoundly lifted up by the prayers of friends. Since that update, I have been unable to write, except in my own journal. Why? Soon after the surgery I began feeling a deep and uncontrollable sadness, an unidentified sense of loss. In my desperation to understand why I was on the verge of tears all the time, I spoke with a counselor friend who suggested that I ask God to show me what losses or wounds needed God’s touch, perhaps to be grieved, as well as what lies of the enemy I was believing that needed the light of God’s truth.  As I prayed and sought counsel, the reasons for the sadness started to emerge.

Over the last couple of months, God has shown (and is still revealing) very old wounds that I had not fully grieved. It is so odd that after all these years, suddenly I’m faced with pain from the past. Why now? I don’t have an answer, except to say that most likely, during the several weeks of my contemplating the possibility of dying from cancer, God was answering your prayers and mine for my healing. God wants our entire being to be whole: spiritually, emotionally and physically. Ecclesiastes 3 states that for everything there is a season: “A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.” This must be my season.

After my husband, Mark, died of cancer in 2003, I grieved his death for years. However, there were many painful memories of our life together that I refused to look at. I would shut those memories out as soon as they started to pop into my thoughts. I avoided thinking of them so that I could prevent the sorrow the memories brought with them … until three years ago.

I had been asked to speak in a chapel service where I was working at the time. I thought it might be a good idea to share a part of my story that would give my coworkers an idea of where I came from and what God had done for me during a difficult time in my life. During my 30 minute talk, I could feel the stress in my body. The emotion was so deep that afterward I thought I had wept through the entire talk, but I hadn’t wept at all. After sharing, I left the room and within 10 minutes suffered a mild heart attack – the doctors called it Broken Heart Syndrome, which is caused from a “sudden emotional event.” In the days following the heart attack, it was clear to me that I needed help with this problem of avoiding tough memories…yet I did nothing about it.

One of my favorite things about our loving Father is that He knows our heartfelt needs and will orchestrate events in our lives to make a way to meet those needs. It appears He has chosen this season to open His arms to me and say, “Come to me, give me your pain, allow the grief, it will not kill you. I will heal you.”

At the start of this process, God led me to the Bible, the epistle of James, a book I had studied for months and had written a Bible study on 25 years ago. He spoke to me through a passage I knew well, but this time instead of it being an admonition to forsake sin and repent, it was a personal call for me to face the reasons for my sadness with Him by my side.

James 4:7-10 reads, “Come near to God and He will come near to you…Grieve, mourn, and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom … Humble yourself before the Lord and He will lift you up.” He was giving me permission to mourn.

Isaiah 43:19 is another passage that continues to give me hope. “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up, do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”

So there it is, a background for future stories. As God permits, I will share what He is teaching me on this path of healing. I invite you to come along, to comment, to share what He is doing in your heart if you, too, allow Him to come in and heal your wounds.

By His grace and for His glory,

Sandy