Strength and Dignity

True Blue Cubbie Fan      

I wish I could remember my first Cub game. I’m sure my brother, AKA baseball fanatic, could tell me every single detail of that game; from stats to players. My memories though are steeped more in the sights, sounds and smells. Like the aroma of steamed hot dogs, peanuts, and beer…vendors selling souvenirs, programs, and yearbooks…then that epic first crack of the bat, the organist plunking out, bu-da-bu-dump-da-da, and the audience’s excited response of, CHARGE! Oh, and of course, there are the players! As a young girl, I was sure that one day I would marry one of them, becoming Mrs. Baseball; only then to spend countless days at the ballparks. Ryan Sandberg, you totally missed that chance! By the way, my hubby did play the game in high school, so that kind of counts.

 

Although I attended many Major League games in my growing up years, there’s only one ballpark that can envelop my body with goose bumps on a 100-degree day and that’s Wrigley Field. As soon as the field comes into view, my eyes are misty and I am completely moved. It’s a beautiful sight to me!

 

The Cubs are part of who I am. Now I haven’t followed them closely enough to even rattle off statistics, or records, but I promise, my blood is blue. True Blue. However, there’s a sad reality I’ve been forced to recognize about true blue Cubbies. We carry a reputation. Maybe you’ve heard this, or quite possibly, experienced it. We are passionate. That passion, coupled with so many years of disappointment has allowed for a bitter root to take hold in some of us Cubbies. I won’t try to pretend it’s not there. I’ve witnessed it. Cub’s fans can be vicious and fierce. Waiting for next year can do that to you. Especially when the wait has been 108 of those!

 

It makes me think of Sarah. You know, Bible Sarah. Sarah waited 90 years to have a child. Although, there was a period of time that she tried to bring an end to her waiting, by manipulating the system. Some of you may be familiar with the story. Sarah offered her maidservant to Abram, her husband. Yep, she pretty much told her husband to sleep with someone else. No surprise, but that quickly turned ugly. Hagar, the maidservant, became pregnant and Sarah didn’t treat her so well. Imagine that! Shocking! Honestly, we all saw that coming, but it proves what can happen when we get tired of waiting and take things into our own hands. Looking for a way to move things along, we can create a nasty mess. Sarah trusted God’s promise of a child; she simply didn’t trust that God knew how to do it, so she helped Him out.

 

So this would be like, if I went into the dugout for game 3 of the World Series tonight and told Joe Madden, the Cubs manager, to leave, and I would coach. Right? I got this. We all know that would give birth to a huge problem, and that’s exactly what happened to Sarah.

 

Hagar gave birth to Ishmael, and this complicated things for sure. Have you ever grown impatient while you’re waiting, and then acted on that impatience? Be careful, because you may find yourself creating a much bigger problem than waiting.

Fast-forward the story more than 10 years. At this point, Sarah is 90 years old and hopeless that she will ever have a child. She’s in a place now where there is no waiting; Sarah has given up. Then suddenly one day 3 visitors arrive at Sarah and Abram’s tent. These were 3 Divine visitors that had some news for Abram and Sarah. God was calling a play that they had marked as impossible. Read the following interaction:

 

Genesis 18

“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him.

“There, in the tent,” he answered.

10 The Lord said, “I will certainly come back to you in about a year’s time, and your wife Sarah will have a son!” Now Sarah was listening at the entrance of the tent behind him.

11 Abraham and Sarah were old and getting on in years.[g] Sarah had passed the age of childbearing. 12 So she laughed to herself: “After I have become shriveled up and my lord is old, will I have delight?”

13 But the Lord asked Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Can I really have a baby when I’m old?’ 14 Is anything impossible for the Lord? At the appointed time I will come back to you, and in about a year she will have a son.”

15 Sarah denied it. “I did not laugh,” she said, because she was afraid.

But He replied, “No, you did laugh.”

 

Waiting can cause our hearts to grow bitter, cause us to lose hope and become callous. Waiting can cause us to forget that God is never waiting. Sarah had enough of waiting till next year to be a mother. Her hopes and dreams had washed away and now her heart was cold. The sarcastic laughter erupts from this heart has known disappointment for too long.

 

Sarah’s response is like… “Yea, right. I don’t think so.”

 

Abraham had been told, promised, by God that He would be the father of nations, and here they were waiting for just one child. Cubs Nation has been waiting to win just one World Series! Kind of comparable…that might be a little over the top.

 

Guess what…next year has come!

 

Sarah gave birth to a child. At age 91, she gave birth to her precious son Isaac. Do you know what Isaac means? Isaac means “laughter”. Sarah laughed again, but this time her laugh was NOT from a cold and callous heart.

 

Genesis 21:6-7

Sarah said, “God has made me laugh, and everyone who hears will laugh with me.” She also said, “Who would have told Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne a son for him in his old age.”

 

Looks like the last laugh was on Sarah!

 

Seriously, there is no joy like that of hope realized. At the same time, no bitter misery like that of hope misplaced. There is One that is true blue to you. He ACTIVELY waits with you, all the while knowing the outcome. He has ordered all things according to His perfect will and for your good pleasure. This side of eternity your hope and wait may continue, but it will one day end when we arrive as the ultimate victors clinching the title of Champions in Glory!!!

 

I hope that His good pleasure is to see the Cubs clinch the 2016 World Series!

 

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I’m not who I was

nametag5

Hello, my name is:

I’m definitely not a fan of nametags. Who is? Honestly, who wants to stick an obnoxious advertisement of their name on themselves? I realize nametags can be helpful by way of introductions and identification, but let’s be honest, awfully tacky. Am I right?

Think about it, you take the time to think through just the right blouse for that big social gathering; only to discover upon your arrival to said gathering, you must attach the undesired element of identification to your shirt. As if that isn’t bad enough, your new little sticker friend of identity grabs at your hair all night, snatching you baldheaded! Who’s paying attention to the blouse I ask? I’m advertising a name on my chest; which by the way is now a big ole hairy sticker! I say “a” name, because on occasion, I might fill in a false identity. Don’t even pretend that you haven’t at least thought about it. I recall an event in high school where my best friend and I were Summer and Autumn. That was fun! I digress.

I do have a point. Nametags identify and even if we aren’t wearing one on our physical person, we all wear invisible nametag(s) of identity. We may or may not like them, we maybe make them up, but we all have them. My personal invisible nametag has carried different names throughout my life. The name depends on the view of myself in that moment, or quite possibly someone else’s view of me. I might simply extend that sharpie marker to others and allow them an opportunity to fill in my invisible nametag of identity with a name of their choosing. One of my earliest memories of a nametag idenity is kindergarten music class, after an accident on the playground…

Hello my name is:
Pee Pee Pants

Or High School when I was a bit overambitious with make-up…

Hello my name is:
Chisel Face

Can you identify? Whether the name is self projected, or inflicted, identity can be a battle for many of us.

Hello my name is:

UNLOVED
UNWANTED
UNINVITED
UNWORTHY
UNATTRACTIVE

However, there is one nametag that never changes, yet it seems to be the most difficult to put on. It’s the nametag we often leave on the sheet of “welcome stickers”, sure it must be for someone else. This is the nametag God fills out. He knows us always as His children, His loved and chosen daughters. This identity is true, written with the most permanent of all permanent sharpies! There are no Crayola washable markers for Father God when He’s filling out nametags for His kids. Even still, this can be the hardest nametag of all to wear.

Hello my name is:

LOVED
CHOSEN
WANTED
INVITED
BEAUTIFUL
WORTHY

We can more readily accept the names of false identity than our true identities assigned to us via the God of the universe!

Let’s take a deeper look at a woman who we can more than likely identify with. We find her story in John 4.
(read the Message version below)

We know her identity as The Woman at the Well. No other name assigned to her, simply the Woman at the Well. I’m naming her. I’m naming her Wanita, because I can…and I just looked it up and it means “God is gracious”. So, it’s pretty much God’s will that I name her that. (I’m really joking, promise…about the will of God part, not the meaning of the name. ☺)

Let’s pick up the story with Wanita heading out to the well at the absolute hottest time of day. It seems she intentionally chose this time of day knowing that no one else would be there. I think we can relate. Have you ever avoided a social gathering? Ever felt out of place somewhere because of who you “are” or who your “aren’t”? Wanita didn’t want to Her encounter other people. This was avoidance with great purpose if you ask me. She does however encounter someone. It is a Divine encounter with Jesus, and he greets her; not with a “Hello” or “How ya doin’?” He says,

“Give me a drink of water.”

Jesus initiates conversation and right out of the gate Wanita takes on a “less than” identity.

Hello my name is: Samaritan.

She explains to Jesus that people like Him don’t associate with people like her. She’s basically from the other side of the tracks. If you’re a child of the 80’s, just think “Pretty in Pink”…sigh… Moving on, Jesus responds that if Wanita knew Him as the gift of love He truly was to her, she would understand the satisfaction He had to offer her longing soul. Wanita the Well Woman was having an encounter with the Savior of the world, and she was completely unaware.

Hello my name is: Unaware

We can often respond quite the same way. Forgetting that Jesus is ready, sitting by the well of our soul, offering the only water that will completely satisfy. Yet, we neglect to present our need to Him, and we lower our bucket into a well that’s run completely dry. He knows our deep need, and longs for us to look to Him for satisfaction.

Hello my name is: Thirsty

Jesus then delivers one question that presses directly into Wanita’s true identity.

“Go get your husband and come back.”

If you know what is coming next, you might be able to feel the sting of that request by Jesus. I kind of like that Jesus delivers it wrapped up in a package of sarcasm. Jesus is direct for sure, and it seems He’s surprised to get a nugget of truth in Wanita’s answer.

“I don’t have a husband”

Jesus proceeds to fill in the blanks that Wanita indeed has no husband, though she has had many intimate encounters as if she has had MANY husbands… if you follow. This causes her to understand that He clearly knows everything about her.

Hello my name is: Known

To be fully known and yet, fully loved. Completely vulnerable, I sense Wanita was feeling this way, and the shame of her full identity caused her to try to turn the conversation. Can you feel the tension? Our sweet friend Wanita is thinking, “Let’s talk about something else.” At that point, she addresses the logistics of worship in their day. Jesus is kind to answer her concern, but then brings it all back around to emphasize that identity will not matter, it will only matter who she is and how she lives before God. I love how the message translation puts Jesus’ words
WHEN WHAT YOU’RE CALLED WON’T MATTER!
What will matter???
LIVING by the SPIRIT and in TRUTH! (See vs. 21-24 the MSG below)

Hello my name is: Loved

In spite of her attempts to distract from Jesus from her identity, Jesus lets her know that what matters is who she is to God.

Hello my name is: Daughter

Then, it’s the power of her story. It’s what she carries into town and shares unabashedly with other Samaritans. Her avoidance of people has now turned to a pursuit of people, for her identity has changed and she is empowered by the TRUTH that’s taken hold of her!

Hello my Name is: Witness

This is where it lands for all of us. The identity we carry has a THEN and NOW; a WAS and AM. You may have a then and now in just this day alone.
Hello this morning my name was: IRRITABLE
(Then, after some moments at the well with the Savior)
Hello this afternoon my name is: JOYFUL

Our WAS and AM of identity can fall within years, weeks, or months in between. Be true to it. In the truth of our identity is our witness, our story.

And don’t forget, it’s a work in progress!

John 4 (the MSG)
9 The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.)
10 Jesus answered, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.”
11-12 The woman said, “Sir, you don’t even have a bucket to draw with, and this well is deep. So how are you going to get this ‘living water’? Are you a better man than our ancestor Jacob, who dug this well and drank from it, he and his sons and livestock, and passed it down to us?”
13-14 Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.”
15 The woman said, “Sir, give me this water so I won’t ever get thirsty, won’t ever have to come back to this well again!”
16 He said, “Go call your husband and then come back.”
17-18 “I have no husband,” she said.
That’s nicely put: ‘I have no husband.’ You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now isn’t even your husband. You spoke the truth there, sure enough.”
19-20 “Oh, so you’re a prophet! Well, tell me this: Our ancestors worshiped God at this mountain, but you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place for worship, right?”
21-23 “Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you Samaritans will worship the Father neither here at this mountain nor there in Jerusalem. You worship guessing in the dark; we Jews worship in the clear light of day. God’s way of salvation is made available through the Jews. But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter.
23-24 “It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God.
Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”
25 The woman said, “I don’t know about that. I do know that the Messiah is coming. When he arrives, we’ll get the whole story.”
26 “I am he,” said Jesus. “You don’t have to wait any longer or look any further.”
27 Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked. They couldn’t believe he was talking with that kind of a woman. No one said what they were all thinking, but their faces showed it.
28-30 The woman took the hint and left. In her confusion she left her water pot. Back in the village she told the people, “Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?” And they went out to see for themselves.

39-42 Many of the Samaritans from that village committed themselves to him because of the woman’s witness: “He knew all about the things I did. He knows me inside and out!

In the Eye of the Storm

Hurricane Matthew has invaded just about everyone’s world this week in one way or another. Whether you have friends or family affected, plans that have shifted, or spent moments in prayer for God to allow His protective hand to rest; the storm has hopped on our radar of life. It’s been interesting to watch this hurricane in both its predictable and not so predictable behaviors. The path of this storm can shift. If a slight change in velocity or route takes place it could put some in the path of destruction, and others free from imminent danger.

 

What I find intriguing with major storms such as Hurricane Matthew, is that there always seems to be that person(s) who choses to hunker down and ride out the storm. I read a statistic that 30% of people who refuse to evacuate do so because of a pet they won’t leave behind. About 2 years ago I personally would have viewed this reason as absolutely ludicrous. Now, I have a dearly loved pup of my own. My empathy has grown with these pet lovers, yet I don’t know that it would keep me anchored to ride out a hurricane with sustained winds of over 145 miles an hour. I could be wrong, but I think I’d evacuate.

 

Along with the pet lovers, are those that simply chose to live in denial; refusing to acknowledge that the storm will really be as bad as predicted. Chances are they have already seen a hurricane or two come and go without much impact on their personal lives. Having had that experience there seems to be no concern the new threat would bring anything different.

 

There are also the select few who distrust authority, feeling that there is some ulterior motive to evacuate entire communities, other than to save lives. They can be quite obstinate. I’ve actually watched some interviews on youtube with some. It is understood though, that unfortunate circumstances, such as disabilities, and/or financial restraints can leave some with the choice to stay put.

 

Whatever the reasons may be, after weighing out options, considering circumstances, some people take the risk. Putting not only themselves, but also others in harms way.

 

Today, you and I may not find ourselves in a situation where we must decide whether to evacuate our homes due to a brewing hurricane. We will however, have to make decisions to evacuate circumstances that could leave us in dangerous places, or cause others to be in harms way as a result of those decisions.

 

                               EVACUATE

: to remove (someone) from a dangerous place

                           : to leave (a dangerous place)

                                   ESCAPE

                           : to get away from a dangerous place or situation

                           : to get away from something that is difficult or unpleasant

 

These words, quite similar in their definition, brought the following scripture to mind:

1 Corinthians 10:13 (HCSB)

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it.

 1 Corinthians 10:13 (AMP)

No temptation [regardless of its source] has overtaken or enticed you that is not common to human experience [nor is any temptation unusual or beyond human resistance]; but God is faithful [to His word—He is compassionate and trustworthy], and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability [to resist], but along with the temptation He [has in the past and is now and] will [always] provide the way out as well, so that you will be able to endure it [without yielding, and will overcome temptation with joy].

 

God provides us with an exit plan, an opportunity if you will, to make a right decision.

 

This brings me back to the non-evacuees I mentioned earlier. I can relate to them.

The Pet-lover: Loving someone/something so much it clouds your decisions, impairs judgment, or simply takes God out of His rightful place in my heart.

 

The Denier: Watching, looking, listening to something that you think will have no impact on your heart, mind, or soul. Possibly having done it before without recognizing impact.

 

The Distruster: Compromising truth of God’s standard in His Word, buying into a lie that God wouldn’t be loving if He required that standard. Being obstinate in my view of truth.

 

Look at the places God tells us about specific escapes provided in His Word:

 

Proverbs 12:13

An evil man is [dangerously] ensnared by the transgression of his lips, But the righteous will escape from trouble.

Maybe it’s that conversation about a particular person, that quickly turns to gossip or slander.

 

Proverbs 19:5

A false witness will not go unpunished, and one who utters lies will not escape.

Could it be that story that exaggerates a few extra details to draw added drama or attention that is not complete truth.

 

Proverbs 14:27

Fear of the Lord is a life-giving fountain; it offers escape from the snares of death.

Are there other things you fear (respect): your reputation, opinions of others, more than God Himself?

 

Conviction has accompanied my heart as I’ve written.  Let this encourage you, as it has myself, to think through where God is offering the escape route for you. He is all about our best interest. That is why He offered us the greatest escape route ever…

 

Psalm 68:20

Our God is a God of salvation, and escape from death belongs

to the Lord God.

 

Choosing to believe Him, and the truth of His Son (Jesus) allows us to receive the ultimate escape; the escape from death.

 

Let us hold solid to His truth and lift up to Him the needs of people, evacuated or not, effected by Hurricane Matthew.

 

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nbcnews.com

 

 

 

Wednesday’s Woman – Jessica

Jessica

I met my friend Jessica through a Women’s Bible Study. She is a beautiful and warm woman whose smile is commanding and spirit welcoming. As I learned more about this precious girl, I was inspired by her story. It is a story that was written by the Sovereign hand of our Divine Father God, and His fingerprints are recognized all throughout. I invite you into this story. I am certain your heart will be moved, if not changed as you read.

 

XUAN means spring in Vietnamese. This is the name of Jessica’s mother. Xuan and Jessica’s father, Binh, were both born in Vietnam. Their families were dear friends, which eventually lead to a semi-arranged marriage for Xuan and Binh. Together, Xuan and Binh had 7 children, of which Jessica is the youngest. Her parents are devout Christians, and have instilled deep faith into their children. The children: Peter, Canh, Minh, Matthew, Chuong, David, and Jessica along with their parents, were living in Vietnam during an intense time of war and political unrest. It was the late 60’s, early 70’s and North Vietnam was rising up against South Vietnam. The United States had been on the ground with troops. You and I would recognize this time period as the Vietnam War.

 

During this time, Binh, Jessica’s dad, was working for the Vietnamese government in the area of intelligence. Binh was directly connected with the U.S. through his role in the intelligence department.

 

January 27, 1973 the Paris Peace Accords were held and a peace treaty signed that ceased direct U.S. military involvement with Vietnam in the conflict. The fighting between North and South Vietnam stopped temporarily, but time passed and peace right along with it. North Vietnam ignited the battle once again. Pressing toward their goal to take over South Vietnam; bringing the entire country under the communist regime.

 

Amid those days of unrest, Binh found himself away on an intelligence assignment. One night while Binh slept far from his family, he dreamt that the central city of Qui Nhoun, where Jessica, her mother, and siblings were living had fallen to the North. This dream was powerful enough that Binh sent word to have the family, along with Aunts and Uncles, moved to a more southern city, Cam Ranh Bay. When Binh’s assignment was complete, it took him several months to find his family in Cam Ranh Bay. Once Binh was reunited with his family, he made the decision to move them further south to the capital city of Saigon. Due to the fact that the Northern regime continued their advancement into South Vietnam, Binh felt more secure being in the capital with his family. In order to travel to Saigon, the family would need to travel by ship so Binh booked the passages. Soon, the day of departure arrived. Xuan along with the 4 younger children boarded the first ferry out to the ship that would carry them further south to safety. As Binh and the 3 older children began to board the next ferry across, they came under fire by the communist regime. They were unable to make it to the ship, unable to make passage with the rest of the family to Saigon.

 

As the days passed in Saigon, Xuan desperately sought for any information about her husband and children, but everything was in complete chaos.

 

April 30th, 1975 a day unlike any Vietnam had ever seen. It would go down in history as The Fall of Saigon. This time was nothing short of panicked and chaotic. Binh, because of his role in the intelligence program working with the U.S., had special clearance to evacuate his family safely. Binh had made it to Saigon with the older 4 children, yet had not located Xuan and the younger 3 children. He was resolute and would not leave Vietnam without his whole family. After several months, at last Binh was reunited with his bride and children and took them all back to Cam Rahn Bay.

 

Soon after the arrival in Cam Rahn Bay, the communists communicated that everyone should return to their hometowns, all being forgiven, including if you had worked for the non-communist side. With that announcement, Binh packed up his family and they returned to their hometown of Qui Nhon. Upon their return to Qui Nhon, Binh was immediately captured and taken deep into the jungle to a “reeducation camp”.

 

The Communist government had moved in and completely taken over.

 

All had been lost for Jessica’s family. Xuan now found herself with 7 children, no home, no money; stranded. Xuan’s mother was with them as well, so able to offer some support so she could find some work.

 

As Xuan struggled to make a living, her deep faith continued to guide her, she never waivered or questioned the circumstance they were in, she simply trusted God would provide for all their needs. God did provide, and He used the church as part of that provision. The church played a key role in caring for the needs Xuan and her children had during those years. Yes, it was not weeks, or months, but years that passed for Xuan and her children. Binh was in the “Reeducation Camp” for 6 years. Xuan was allowed a visit 1 time each year. The family did not have much hope for Binh’s release. Many ended up dying in the camps because the torture was so severe.

 

Xuan would travel, making and selling items to people. She even farmed. Sustaining her family was her greatest concern, and she did whatever it took. In her sales travels, Xuan would meet fisherman who owned boats, and had helped people plan escapes. Vietnamese people were risking their lives to seek liberation, and escaping to the Philippines. Upon arrival to the Philippines, refugees could be processed to enter the U.S. Xuan began to plan an escape for her own family, feeling it was her only hope to give them a better life. A route carrying them through the South China Sea began to come together. This would be safer and less monitored route than most. A full year of careful planning took place.

 

Xuan explained to her children that they would be leaving shortly but not to tell anyone or they would all be thrown into prison. As plans continued to fall into place, something unexpected happened, Binh returned home. Jessica, 7-years-old at the time, had not seen her father in 6 years. When she arrived home from school the day of his return, her mother had to explain to her that the unrecognizable man sitting at their kitchen table was her father. Binh would now be a part of the planning committee for the escape to the Philippines and by God’s grace, be leaving with them.

 

The whole family would depart from Vietnam except for the oldest son, Peter, who was in seminary at the time.

 

At 8 years old, in June 1982 Jessica and her family set out on a journey of hope for a better future. The escape was planned for a night of a bright moon. They would need the moonlight to guide them up over a mountain, where a boat would be waiting on the other side. Once again, the family would leave everything behind, even the beloved family dog, Sony. All they took were the clothes on their back.

 

That evening, by the light of a God blessed moon, 27 boarded the boat bound for freedom. Among the group was the oldest daughter, Canh and her husband. Canh was 6 months pregnant with their first child. The journey was expected to take a week.

 

Just a few short days into the trip, the propeller fell off the boat causing it to stall. A quick decision was made to hoist the sails in effort to start sailing. At this point they were still within the Vietnam boundary of sea and more distressing than that they were without wind. Minh, the oldest boy on the boat dove into the waters with another young man to attempt replacing the propeller. As they dove into the water with equipment in hand, wind suddenly picked up, turning the boat completely around.

 

Unbeknownst to them…

 

Many years later Peter shared this part of the story with the family:

 

Peter, back in Vietnam in seminary, was aware of his families’ planned escape. He was tuned in on the radio and overheard that a patrol boat was in pursuit of a vessel of passengers escaping from South Vietnam. It was reported over the airwaves that as the patrol boat approached the vessel, it quickly turned toward them, and 2 men dove out of the vessel with what appeared to be bombs and were heading to attack the patrol boat. At which point the patrol boat turned back to Vietnam.

 

This would be another fingerprint left by Sovereign Father God.

 

Now 10 days into the journey, with propeller fixed and moving closer to freedom, the food supply ran out. If you recall, the journey had been estimated to take a week. Supplies had been planned accordingly, but some of the food containers had become cross-contaminated with the fuel on board wiping out anything extra. With the food supply completely depleted yet another crisis came upon them, the engine died. At that point, with no engine, food, or water they had one last hope and set sail. Set sail they did. The boat was a drift and it’s passengers without food or water for 7 days.

 

As Jessica poignantly described these days on the boat, and recalled being overcome with hunger and thirst to the extent that they thought they would all perish at sea. Crawling around on the boat and finding some dry noodles, Jessica said she offered them to her mom, but she told Jessica to eat it. Jessica expressed that once again her mom, Xuan, was just being who she was, humble, serving, and looking to the interest of another before her own.

 

As always, even in the darkest of days, Xuan relied on God, and found her faith increased when she had a vision of the Virgin Mary. It was through that vision that God gave her reassurance that they would make it to safety. That vision gave her strength to hold on.
THEN… It rained!!! They collected the water that God had sent. They were beyond desperate for it! Through tears Jessica softly spoke, “We needed that rain.” I could hear her heart saying it was a life rescuing rain.

 

Shortly after the rain, fishing boats were spotted on the horizon; they assumed they were near the Philippines at this point. Raising the white flag to indicate their intent to the fisherman, the boats came out to them and pulled them to the shore. They had landed on the island of San Fernando where great crowds of people welcomed them to the island. Due to their fatigued physical state, they were all carried off the boat and taken to the hospital.

 

Jessica and her brother were taken to the pediatric hospital; separated from the rest of the family. Neither of them knew any English so they communicated through hand gestures and facial expressions. Even though Jessica felt like she was in a thick fog, she recalls that the nurses were incredibly gracious and kind as they cared for them.

 

A week passed, then she and her brother were united with their parents. God provided a Vietnamese woman who had married a man in the Philippines to interpret for them. A much needed blessing from God’s hand. This helped to bring clarity and calm to hearts that were still a bit unsettled. It wasn’t as if they had done this “escaping” and “refugeeing” thing before, or spoken with anyone who had.

 

Next would be a transfer to Manila, capital of the Philippines, where they stayed for a year learning English and awaiting sponsorship to the U.S. Jessica’s sister, Canh gave birth to a healthy baby boy which; they rejoiced over God’s protective hand in his development which had taken place under much duress.

 

About that same time, God moved in the heart of a woman in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She felt compelled to sponsor a family to the U.S. from Vietnam. Recruiting 2 more of her friends from other churches to join her in that effort; they raised the necessary funds to bring Jessica’s family to Cedar Rapids.

 

In August 1983, they arrived in Cedar Rapids Iowa, with their parkas on! They had been told it would be bitterly cold, so they had all been given parkas to wear. Jessica said that it was 90 degrees that hot August day in Iowa!

 

A house had been rented for them. It was close quarters for all of them, but it was safe and even more importantly, they were living in freedom! All of the children started school, Xuan and Binh were assisted in finding employment. Binh worked at the school/ church, and Xuan began housekeeping.

 

All throughout Jessica’s life her parents stressed faith and education. The focus was always on God. What was most impactful for Jessica, was seeing how her mother depended on God to be everything, even when her circumstances left her with nothing. Her parents believed that there were 3 things that they would always have: their children, the church, and God.

 

Jessica described her mother as a woman who lived selflessly, not out of choice, but by character. A woman who never questioned, or waivered in her faith, and also never complained about rising up to meet a need. She described her as someone who simply responded with service and humility without a thought, it is just who she is; a humble servant, denying herself and taking up the burden of others.

 

When I initially asked Jessica about sharing her amazing story, explaining my view of her as a woman who exemplified strength and dignity, she was adamant that it is her mother, Xuan that is the woman of strength and dignity.

 

I chose them BOTH as woman of Strength and Dignity!

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A Tenacious Love

Tenacity   : not easily stopped or pulled apart

                 : firm or strong
: continuing for a long time

                 : very determined to do something

 

Nothing brings out the tenacious spirit in me like my kids. Not that my kids necessarily cause my tenacity to be directed toward them, it’s when something comes against them to bring about hurt, leave them defenseless, attacked, treated unjustly etc. I realize this is how most parents feel about their babies. I can be an extreme mama bear, claws ready to snatch at the next predator. Sometimes it shocks me.

grizzlyThis week I found myself in such a situation with my little Libi. Libi is severely and profoundly handicapped. She is 10 chronologically, but developmentally closer to age 1. The bussing system for Libi’s school district has been facing some challenges with overcrowding, unpredictable scheduling and other issues that can be incredibly unsettling to a mama heart. Up until this point of the school year, we had been unaffected by any of the challenges with the bussing system. Then, last week we landed on the receiving end of the broken down system.

 

After multiple attempts to have a conversation by phone, and never having a call returned, I decided that maybe I should pop into our district office for a face-to-face conversation. Surely there would be people there, and I wouldn’t have to speak to a recorded voice. So, I asked others to pray that my spirit would be tempered, and I headed to the office. My heart was pumping the whole way, the closer I got to the office the angrier I got. Now, some of you may be thinking I might need some medical help with my emotions. People, I already take Zoloft, and believe me, I popped an extra one knowing myself the way I do. Walking into the office I prayed that God would prepare the hearts of those I would speak to…(Actually I didn’t, but that sounded real good, didn’t it?)

 

A kind and soft-spoken receptionist greeted me. Bless her heart; she had no idea what was about to roll out of my mouth. My words started to pour from my heart to my mouth with great intensity. I explained the troubling situation I was having with the bussing system. She asked some questions. I may have sighed loudly and dropped my head onto her desk once or twice. I can’t really remember all the details, but next thing I knew she was asking me for my PHONE NUMBER! At which came my response…

“No, I’m not leaving a phone number. I want to speak with someone who can help me face-to-face. I’ve tried the phone. That doesn’t work.”

 

That sweet receptionist, I really should send her flowers. She began to explain that there really was no one at that particular office that could help me with my complaint, due to the fact that the transportation system of our school district is a separate company.

Surely the school superintendent would be available to talk to this wacked out mom who was about to have a breakdown at the receptionist’s desk, but that would not be. The receptionist stated she would compile the given information into an email and send it out immediately. When I asked her who the recipients would be I discovered 90% of them were located in another office across town that handled transportation. You know what’s coming don’t you? That’s right, I headed to the transportation office.

 

Upon my arrival at the transportation office, I had to be buzzed in by an employee. It seemed this office was meant for employees only, not visitors, but I was in the door and nothing would stop me now. I began to explain my concerns to the first person I met, asking to speak with anyone who could help me with a solution. Once again, I was asked for my phone number. As I pressed in, I was directed to a gentleman who might be able to give me some assistance. Bringing a long story to a close, this was “the great and powerful Oz” of transportation that I needed to assist me. He listened and began to put a plan into place, which has currently been successful.

 

You might be asking what that story is all about. Well, it reminded me of one of my favorite women of the Bible. The Wise Woman of Abel – Beth Maacah, who we read about in 2 Samuel 20:16-22

 

16 a wise woman called out from the city, “Listen! Listen! Please tell Joab to come here and let me speak with him.”

17 When he had come near her, the woman asked, “Are you Joab?”

“I am,” he replied.

“Listen to the words of your servant,” she said to him.

He answered, “I’m listening.”

18 She said, “In the past they used to say, ‘Seek counsel in Abel,’ and that’s how they settled disputes. 19 I am a peaceful person, one of the faithful in Israel, but you’re trying to destroy a city that is like a mother in Israel. Why would you devour the Lord’s inheritance?”

20 Joab protested: “Never! I do not want to destroy! 21 That is not my intention. There is a man named Sheba son of Bichri, from the hill country of Ephraim, who has rebelled against King David. Deliver this one man, and I will withdraw from the city.”

The woman replied to Joab, “All right. His head will be thrown over the wall to you.” 22 The woman went to all the people with her wise counsel, and they cut off the head of Sheba son of Bichri and threw it to Joab. So he blew the ram’s horn, and they dispersed from the city, each to his own tent. Joab returned to the king in Jerusalem.

 

Basically, there was a man, Sheba, who had rebelled and fled from King David. Sheba, his name, sought refuge within the city walls of Abel. Joab, the king’s commanding officer, arrived at the city of Abel to attack it in order to deliver consequence to Sheba. As Joab arrives he has an interaction with a tenacious woman on the city wall. She is wise with her words, and takes command of a situation that needs guidance. Gaining understanding that there is only one man that’s being pursued by the army besieging her city, she guarantees delivery of his head. Yep, she sees to it that Sheba’s head goes flying over the city wall, and in return gains peace for the people of her city.

 

I think that is tenacity at it’s finest. Gathering a city to cut off a man’s head and toss it over the city wall. Amazing! This tenacious woman is described as wise, peaceful and faithful. To me, the end of verse 19 indicates something else to me:

 

“but you’re trying to destroy a city that is like a mother in Israel. Why would you devour the Lord’s inheritance?”

 

Her reference and passion that accompany the association of motherhood to Israel leads me to believe she was a mother herself, and behind the walls of that city were her own children. Her view of Israel resonated with a place deep within her, and the desire to protect children at all costs. She did so with great wisdom, discernment, and boldness. The wise woman of Abel – Beth Maacah was nothing short of tenacious.

 

Tenacious love can make us feel as though we can move heaven and earth if necessary. The tenacious love that drove me to advocate so fiercely for Libi, and emboldened the wise woman of Abel – Beth Maacah to be a voice of mediation for the children of Israel, it’s in our DNA. This is how our Father God loves us, with an all out tenacity that is impossible to stop.

 

Romans 8:31-39The Message (MSG)

So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:

They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.

We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

 

I have a feeling some heads are gonna roll this week! Be tenacious ladies!

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Woodcut by Johann Christoph Weigel, 1695, depicting the events of 2 Samuel 20. In the top of the picture, the woman is throwing Sheba’s head down to Joab. In the foreground lies Amasa, whose death is described in the first half of the chapter.

Wednesday’s Woman – Brandy

Brandy

I first met Brandy, after being captivated by her beautiful daughter, Amara. It was a warm July day at a 5K for orphan awareness, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a sweet little girl sporting shades and braids. Quickly I noticed she was an exceptional child, the new way to describe a child with special needs. Children in general can draw me in no matter what, but when there is a child with exceptionalities (special needs) I sometimes jump in rather aggressively. Who knows, I might have kissed Amara, I’m not sure; I am sure I adored her from the second I laid eyes on her. She was simply sugar, from head to toe, with the softest, marshmallow cheeks, and gorgeous silky hair. Then there was her mama, Brandy: a beautiful, young, and warm woman, who carried herself with a demeanor that screamed fighter and heroine all at the same time. On that particular day, Brandy found herself weary in the race of life, a race that required a single mother the 24 x 7 care of a child with many severe needs. It was clear to me that our paths had collided that day by the Devine hand of God. I joined in their story just shy of 6 years into their race together. Today, I would like to share a glimpse into their story. I am confident you will agree Brandy exemplifies a woman of Strength and Dignity.

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At just 26 weeks into her pregnancy, Brandy was informed that her baby had a stage-4 brain hemorrhage and would not survive outside the womb. Due to the bleek prognosis, as Brandy searched baby names and came upon the name Amara, which in Greek means eternal, it seemed more than fitting. 2 weeks later, at 28 weeks, Brandy began to hemorrhage and was rushed to the ER. Early assessments indicated a need to be transported by way of life flight to the nearby children’s hospital, but Brandy was not stable enough to fly. Night passed and the next morning Brandy asked God to allow her to deliver at the hospital where Amara would ultimately receive care, so there would not be physical separation between the two of them in those early days and moments. God allowed this to be, and on January 31st, 2006, Brandy was life-flighted to the children’s hospital and soon after welcomed the great gift of Amara Marie to this world weighing in at a whopping 2lbs. 3oz. and 14inches long.

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Amara’s prognosis was terminal from the start, but at 27 days old, Brandy convinced the doctors to allow her to take sweet Amara home. The first month was completely focused on getting enough food in Amara and keeping her temperature up. She ate and slept. Most would think this would be easy care, but early on seizure activity began. The seizure activity caused swelling on Amara’s brain, and great discomfort. Amara was sent to a neurosurgeon, but the neurosurgeon, given Amara’s prognosis, was not eager to perform any life saving procedures. The doctor suggested Amara be given medication to manage the pain until she eventually passed away. Brandy did not accept that course of treatment, and at 4 months of age Amara underwent her first surgical procedure, to have a shunt placed.

With all of Amara’s medical concerns, Brandy was unable to work, and unable to qualify for nursing care for Amara. With that, Brandy focused on helping Amara live the best life possible each day that God allowed her to have.

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During Amara’s first 2 years of life, doctors repeatedly told Brandy that Amara was not going to survive. This made the process of bonding and attaching completely to Amara difficult for Brandy. Imagine just waiting every day for what doctors are telling you is inevitable, your daughter passing away from this life. That is a heavy weight to carry into each and every day. Finally, Brandy decided she would just stop asking doctors about prognosis, and start living life with Amara.

In 2010, Amara was placed on hospice care due to uncontrolled seizure activity. Feeling incredibly helpless during this time, Brandy would pray that God would comfort Amara, help her to breathe, allow Brandy to be able to physically touch Amara and not induce a seizure. Finally, with no relief and Amara’s condition worsening, Brandy asked God to just release her to Himself. Feeling fully surrendered to God’s plan, no matter the outcome, it was in that moment, God did just the opposite of her request and delivered that baby girl right back to Brandy. Amara’s seizures began to subside, her health improved. Through the whole process God broke Brandy’s mama heart wide open for her little girl, and she was all in … forever…knowing and trusting God with their every moment.

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“We fit together like 2 puzzle pieces” – Brandy

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Forever would still hold true, but not much being shared on this side of eternity. On September 24th 2015, Amara Marie was called to her eternal home into the arms of her incredibly loving Father God. I asked Brandy to share about those days, those last earthly moments. Because these moments are so precious, almost sacred words, I will not add to them, or take away from them.

 

“The last time I talked to Amara was at the funeral home. Surprisingly, she looked like she was peacefully sleeping. I remember kissing her forehead, her hand, and realizing this was the last time that I would see her and kiss her sweet hands. I placed my head on hers and began to pray. Out of nowhere, I was concerned about what she was going to wear to heaven. I kissed her and asked her what she wanted to wear to heaven. I laid my head back on hers. I could see Amara’s arms and hands stretched wide, skimming over the top of daisies as she ran through the field. She ran past me wearing a long white dress and hair bouncing with every step she took.

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My final goodbye and I knew I would see her again.”

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Some might say that Amara was without a voice, being non-verbal, but I would say she had a louder voice than most, because of the mama she had. Brandy fought for Amara, when she was overlooked, thought less of, not having her needs acknowledged or attended to. Brandy was tenacious for her baby girl. Maintaining strength and giving her sweet girl great dignity in the process! It reminds me of how God has loved us through His Son Jesus. We were once disregarded, lost in sin, with no voice, but God showed us love through Jesus, allowing the greatest love gift of His Son to give us an eternal gift of life! Eternal, without end…

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Brandy sent me this picture above, taken almost exactly one year after Amara being lifted to her heavenly home. Brandy explained the warmth of the sun around her that day felt as though Amara was right there with her, don’t overlook the joy on her countenance. It’s in the light of Jesus, who is with us, that we can walk in the midst of dark days…in the great light of His presence He will fill us with His peace and His joy to sustain our every moment.

I look forward to running some daisy fields with that beautiful girl an her amazing mama one day soon!

Thank you Brandy for sharing this part of the story with us, we are honored.

 

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Amara and my Libi…BFF’s FOREVER! 

 

Omnipresent

How often have I prayed: “GOD BE WITH…(fill in the blank)” Can you relate?

  • God, be with me as we travel
  • God, be with me as I take this test
  • God, be with Jane as she talks to her boss
  • God, be with my dog (What can I say, I love my dog)

The last thing I want to be is a prayer critic. Prayer is communication with our Father God, who desires to hear our heart and for us to listen to His response. However, it struck me recently when I found myself uttering this phrase:

God, be WITH…(fill in the blank)

What it seemed I should be asking was:

“God help me to recognize you WITH ME”.

Really, where else would He be? Has He left? Does He have other, more important places to be? Look at what the psalmist David says in Psalm 139 (AMP):

O Lord, you have searched me [thoroughly] and have known me. 

You know when I sit down and when I rise up [my entire life, everything I do];

You understand my thought from afar.

You scrutinize my path and my lying down,

And You are intimately acquainted with all my ways. 

Even before there is a word on my tongue [still unspoken],

Behold, O Lord, You know it all.

You have enclosed me behind and before,

And [You have] placed Your hand upon me.

Such [infinite] knowledge is too wonderful for me;

It is too high [above me], I cannot reach it.

Where can I go from Your Spirit?

Or where can I flee from Your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, You are there;

If I make my bed in Sheol (the nether world, the place of the dead), behold, You are there.

If I take the wings of the dawn,

If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea; 

Even there Your hand will lead me,

And Your right hand will take hold of me.

I often forget the Omnipresence of God. He is everywhere. He is WITH US! More than that, if we have placed trust and belief in Him, He is IN US!

“I am the God of Abraham your father; Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”

(God’s words to Isaac in Genesis 26:24)

 

 “Behold, I am with you and will keep [careful watch over you and guard] you wherever you may go, and I will bring you back to this [promised] land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

(God’s words to Jacob in Genesis 28:15)

 

 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not be terrified or dismayed (intimidated), for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

(God’s words to Joshua in Joshua 1:9)

 

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations [help the people to learn of Me, believe in Me, and obey My words], baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always [remaining with you perpetually—regardless of circumstance, and on every occasion], even to the end of the age.”

(God’s words to us through Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20)

In Scripture, we often see God reminding people of His omnipresence to discourage fear. As I thought about the truth of His abiding presence, I wondered why I so often struggle to hold fast to it.

When fear presents itself, if I chose to step back, acknowledge that He is with me, fear is so quickly replaced with peace. Let me give a real life example.

This last week, I traveled 7 hours one way to take my little girl, Libi to see some doctors. Libi is our medically complex child. She is 10 years old, yet her level of development is about age 1. The new terminology for people with special needs is exceptionalities. Libi is quite exceptional, but that will be saved for an entirely different post.

Among Libi’s exceptionalities is epilepsy. For the most part, Libi’s seizures are controlled, but recently their frequency has increased due to some changes with her medications. For most epileptics seizures can be fairly unpredictable. Libi’s seizures are unpredictable in timing, and severity. An episode can keep a long hold on her, lasting upwards of 30 minutes. Although she has had countless seizures, they can still cause fear to rise up in me. I believe the fear is rooted in the out of control, helpless feeling as I wait for the seizure to lift.

In the waiting moments of a seizure, I cling to my Father’s presence unlike any other time. Libi’s seizures require me to rest in His all knowing (omniscience) control and His abiding presence (omnipresence). Do you sense where this is all going yet?

On our little trip this week, Libi and I were required to make an overnight stop. The next morning, I was awakened at 5:00 to horrid yet familiar sounds. Libi was gasping in a rhythmic pattern. As I quickly jumped out of bed, I found her blue, in a full-blown seizure. My mind began to race in those first few moments, feeling alone, questioning what my next decision should be.

Then, God

whispered to my heart…”I am WITH YOU”.

I recognized this great truth and made the choice to press into it. As a result, His peace washed over me. The questions of whom to call and what to do dissipated as I acknowledged that My Father God was present WITH ME, and He would give me all wisdom, power and strength for the moment I was in. My prayer turned from, “God, be WITH ME”; to “God, You are WITH ME giving me the wisdom I need in these moments.” Over and over, I sensed Him saying, I AM WITH YOU, and you need nothing else.

Did I really trust that God was omniscient in that moment? Did I trust that if He allowed my worst fears to be realized that He would still be WITH ME?

TO RECOGNIZE HIS PRESENCE IS TO KNOW HIS PEACE!

Libi’s body was soon released from the seizure and we moved on with the day, only to see this on the drive…

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I AM WITH YOU! A sign of His forever faithfulness.

That was all good, wonderful, amazing. God once again proved this truth to me. Empowering, right? Yes, until the next time it’s challenged. Like right now…I’m flying. I hate flying. Once again, I sense God whispering to my heart that He is WITH ME. What else do I need? I’ll tell you, the ground! Or maybe just to sit in the cockpit with the pilot and make sure he really knows what he’s doing. Also, if he could commentate everything he’s doing and why that would be incredibly helpful. Actually, if I could just see the hand of God underneath the plane, I would be great! Instead, I am sitting in my seat asking God to help me hold fast to the truth that He is here WITH ME, and I need nothing else. Despite the fact I am shaking and just waiting to drop out of the sky to emanate death. I apologize, but I’m just keeping it real with you.

I’m reminded of a conversation with a dear “sister friend” who had a straight conversation with me about my fear of flying. She told me I was being completely irrational. Then, she proceeded to explain the rational to me. She was right.

  • Rational – having or exercising reason, sound judgment, or good sense
  • Irrational – without or deprived of normal mental clarity or sound judgment

This causes me to recall 2 Timothy 1:7

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity or cowardice or fear, but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of sound judgment and personal discipline [abilities that result in a calm, well-balanced mind and self-control].

This all holds true, whether a seizure or flight, God is WITH US and He will not leave, we will not need to ask, He will just be there. We must chose to recognize that truth and press into it.

What’s your God WITH YOU thing? Is there something you just keep running alone, rather than recognizing He is WITH YOU? Where is it that you find His peace is not abiding?

Let me tell you, as I was writing, the captain came over the intercom to give notice that we were headed through some turbulence and the flight attendants would be taking their seats. Fear began to grip me to the core, or should I say bladder? Then I glanced out the window to see this…

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God WITH ME!

….this is your Captain speaking!!

Don’t ever tell me He is not here WITH US, if you do, I might show you a picture of a rainbow! Actually, if you all could just send this to me next time I’m flying or in the midst of a seizure with my little girl, that would be AWESOME!

Press into His Presence this week… know He is WITH YOU!

 

 

Wednesday’s Woman – Carol

Each Wednesday I will share stories of women who exemplify what it means to be a Woman of Strength and Dignity. In doing so, my hope is these stories will challenge and inspire us, knowing they have been written by the most powerful AUTHOR…God the Father…the Writer of the best stories ever!

Carol

I met Carol as she was sitting behind me in church. Our first interaction took place when the congregation stood to greet people sitting around us. With our church being large, it’s not uncommon to greet someone right next to you on a Sunday morning, whom you have never seen before, and may never see again. On this particular morning, I noticed Carol. I believe it was her joyful demeanor and her un-abandoned worship that initially drew me to her. Several Sunday mornings passed, many marked by Carol and her hubby, John, sitting near us, but never presenting an opportunity to chat past a short greeting.

 

Then, a rare Sunday arrived when we actually weren’t running into the sanctuary late, and we sat by Carol and John. Once again I noticed Carol and her pleasant and welcoming demeanor, but I noticed something else. There was an unusual sleeve-like garment on Carol’s arm. To me, it looked much like an oversized oven mitt extending all the way up her arm. Being who I am, I had to ask Carol if her arm was injured. Carol immediately smiled and shared with me that her oversized oven mitt was actually her gift, a witnessing tool. I didn’t realize it when I asked the question, but I had just walked through Carol’s door of God given opportunity. Through my curiousity of Carol’s oversized oven mitt, she took the opportunity to share God’s story of power, redemption and healing in her life.

 

In 2004, malignant biopsies led to a diagnosis of breast cancer. Carol was then referred to an oncology surgeon, instead of a general surgeon. Through that very divinely orchestrated decision the oncology surgeon pushed for another biopsy. That biopsy confirmed that there was indeed cancer, but not in the left breast as originally diagnosed, the cancer was actually present in the right breast. From the first moment of the diagnosis, Carol said she was marked by God’s peace. She saw God placing her with just the right doctors, guided by His wisdom and her faith grew as a result. She had an understanding that following Christ does not give you a ticket out of the hard things of life. Her heart and mind knew she was not immune from difficulties, even a difficulty such as cancer.

1 Peter 1:3-9 (AMP)

3Blessed [gratefully praised and adored] be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant and boundless mercy has caused us to be born again [that is, to be reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, and set apart for His purpose] to an ever-living hope and confident assurance through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 [born anew] into an inheritance which is imperishable [beyond the reach of change] and undefiled and unfading, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are being protected and shielded by the power of God through your faith for salvation that is ready to be revealed [for you] in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice greatly, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 so that the genuineness of your faith, which is much more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested and purified by fire, may be found to result in [your] praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and though you do not even see Him now, you believe and trust in Him and you greatly rejoice and delight with inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 receiving as the result [the outcome, the consummation] of your faith, the salvation of [a]your souls.

Surgeries took place and treatment followed. Treatment required hitting the pause button on Carol’s life for about a year. Enduring 6 months of chemotherapy and 6 weeks of radiation, Carol explained she felt she was soaring above her circumstance, and her heart was so full of joy.

But those who wait for the Lord [who expect, look for, and hope in Him]
Will gain new strength and renew their power;
They will lift up their wings [and rise up close to God] like eagles [rising toward the sun];
They will run and not become weary,
They will walk and not grow tired.

Isaiah 40:31

On the other side of treatment, Carol developed a condition called lymphedema. This condition is not uncommon for breast cancer survivors due to the removal of lymph nodes. With lymphedema a blockage develops in the lymphatic system, and will not allow the lymph fluid to drain. This blockage of fluid causes swelling. Carols right arm is continually swollen due to lymph fluid collecting between the skin and the muscle. Her arm is also incredibly susceptible to infection. Carol’s condition is chronic, and she will always have it. There is no cure apart from a divine miracle of healing.

2 Corinthians 12

8 Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away from me. 9 But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power[b] is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. 10 So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, catastrophes, persecutions, and in pressures, because of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

This is why Carol wears a compression sleeve. No, it is NOT a ginormous potholder. She refers to this as her witnessing tool. Her compression sleeve apparently provokes more curiosity than just mine. On the occasions when questions are asked of Carol in regard to her sleeve; she views that as an opportunity to share with others what God has done. Without the sleeve, the opportunities dissipate. Carol views her cancer and ongoing lymphedema as a GIFT. She explains that it took time to get there, but she did through God’s Word and His people.

 

On May 22nd, 2006, Carol’s birthday, she received the gift of being declared cancer free! In the last 11 years she has been blessed to attend the weddings of both of her sons, and welcomed 4 grandchildren into her life. Carol said that she feels honored that God chose to let her live and experience these blessings.

 

As our interview came to a close, Carol said her 4-year-old granddaughter summed it up when she picked her up from class last Sunday. Carol had inquired about what she had learned that day, and her granddaughter responded,

“God is POWERFUL!”

to which Carol replied, “Yes, He is!”

 

And if I might add, as exemplified by Carol’s story, a power that is magnified in our weakness!

Isaiah 40:28-29
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become tired or grow weary;
There is no searching of His understanding.
He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who has no might He increases power.fullsizerender

 

The Little Black Dress

I believe most can relate can to the need for that basic black dress in our wardrobe. It’s that “go-to” option that you can dress up, or down, wear with heals or flats, slip into for a night out with girls, the hubby, a wedding or a funeral. It really is an essential needed in every woman’s closet. If it’s not there, invest. You won’t regret it.

 

An issue I have found, is that I have several little black dresses that fit the basic black dress order. So, when I go to the closet, I can’t just grab that one “go-to” black dress. I have to decide. This is where the deeper issue is found. The issue of excess, too much. Often times I find myself with the deep desire to simplify my world, declutter my home, to minimize the “stuff”.

 

Nothing causes you to realize the excess more than when you have a garage sale. It never ceases to amaze me how I can accumulate so much stuff that I value at 50₵, a quarter, or even FREE! Why in the world would I hold on to so much stuff that has so little value? Therein the question lies in the answer. Because the world I choose to submit myself to, values the stuff I accumulate, and I have joined that worldview; therefore I have bought into the lie.

 

This is the same lie that tells me, those shirts that not only feel like my PJs, but are on clearance for $5, must be bought in multiple colors.

 

 

EXCESS’IVE, adjective Beyond any given degree, measure or limit, or beyond the common measure or proportion

 

I’m not sure if excess is an area that you can relate to with your wardrobe, but maybe you can relate to it when it pertains to: exercise, eating, critical thinking, spending, speeding, worrying, texting, social media-ing…(I’m naming that a thing!) Whatever your area of excess, here’s what I know, we can gain victory and bring it to a perfect balance by way of a God who is excessive.

 

God has told us in His Word that He will supply for all of our needs according to the riches we have through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19) He also tells us that He is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine according to His power that works in and through us. (Ephesians 4:20-21)

 

My sister friends, we have a need for excess, it’s just an excess of God! I believe it’s when we neglect Him and fill up with other things that we feel the need for more. Nothing will satisfy us, because in a way, He is our little black dress.

 

He should be our “go-to”, the grab from the closet that we don’t even think about. We know it’s there, it will meet the need and fit perfectly, allowing us to look and feel our absolute best in any setting, every time.

 

It seems so “fitting” J that the designer of the logo for Strength and Dignity placed the focus on the little black dress. If we are woman who are truly clothed in strength and dignity, then we are going to have to take it off the hanger and put it on. That’s a choice ladies. It’s one that we will not make if we clutter our closet, our day, our life with too many other things.

 

Today, I leave you with the challenge to consider what is your excess? Read through the full definition that Webster’s dictionary offers, and see what might come to the forefront of your mind. Then, go to your closet and grab your “go-to”, God’s Word and let Him simplify your world. Keep in mind, I’ll be doing it right alongside you! Maybe I’ll run into you later at Goodwill!

 

 

EXCESS’IVE, adjective Beyond any given degree, measure or limit, or beyond the common measure or proportion; as the excessive bulk of a man; excessive labor; excessive wages.

  1. Beyond the established laws of morality and religion, or beyond the bounds of justice, fitness, propriety, expedience or utility; as excessive indulgence of any kind.

Excessive bail shall not be required.

  1. Extravagant; unreasonable. His expenditures of money were excessive
  2. Vehement; violent; as excessive passion.

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designed by Kristin Elise Design

Another Day in Paradise!

I’ve had the joy of visiting Hawaii on two occasions. The first occasion, was to mark 10 years of wedded bliss to my man! We enjoyed a full week of relaxing, without obligations in one the most beautiful expressions of God’s creation. Hawaii is nothing less than paradise on earth.

Carrying that memory with me; 10 more years passed and brought with them 3 more children. Once again, we had another opportunity to visit Hawaii. This opportunity presented itself in a much different package of heading to the big island with our whole bunch. Our bunch including my man and 6 children ages: 18, 16, 15, 11, 10 and 9.

At the time, our bunch included 10-year-old Maggie who was recovering from an invasive procedure to restore mobility to her legs. She needed a walker to get around, and was unable to walk for long periods of time. 9-year-old, Libi is profoundly handicapped. She is nonverbal, and also non-ambulatory, requiring care similar to that of an infant.

I realize, many are likely to ask why we would consider a trip such as this. Let me remind you, visions of “10-year anniversary Hawaii” danced in my head! If I were going back to Hawaii anytime soon, it would not just be with my man but toting along some of our bunch! Due to the needs of our girls, it would be next to impossible to leave them for an entire week.

So, with my unrealistic expectations set, I packed up my hot pink strapless swimsuit, and several darling floral sundresses and the 8 of us were headed to Hawaii. Ignorance is bliss, and that’s just where I was. Completely ignorant.

Reality began to quickly set in though upon our arrival to the airport. I found myself in a full on sweat without a spot of real estate left upon my body to carry or hang one more bag or child! I kept reminding myself that it would all be worth it once we were at our destination; in paradise. Are you smiling? You should be.

Our first outing together in Hawaii came after a long process of gathering up the necessary items. Diapers, wipes, medications, water bottles, fans, sunscreen, snacks, hats, towels, and extra clothes…the list goes on. We loaded up in the mini van and headed to our destination. I found myself sandwiched between my 3 girls on the back bench seat, with my man all the way in the front. Occasionally, I would catch a glimpse of him in the rearview mirror, but not long enough to gaze by any means! This was definitely a far cry from our hand holding, leisurely drives we had taken 10 years prior in paradise.

The next afternoon in paradise, I decided to rent a raft and take the kids down to the beach just outside our hotel. My man was at a conference, but I’m a strong mama, and not much stops me, so I packed up the necessary items for our beach party and headed out. I had my boys to help get us down to the beach. We were set. 2 boys carried, 2 sisters down to the shoreline to board the raft. Up till this point the process had not been easy by any means, but once again, I convinced myself that once we set sail, it would all be worth it!

The first 15 minutes of our rafting adventure was peaceful and uneventful. The boys, who had been off swimming, decided they were ready for a turn on the raft. We made a quick plan, I would get Libi, the 40 lb. baby, carry her to the shore, and the boys would assist Maggie. However, we quickly encountered a problem. We found ourselves a bit too close to shore. Waves, with great force and speed, began to carry us away from the boys, pulling us into their grasp. Maggie, unable to swim or walk, was terrified and screaming. With one arm under Maggie, and one grasping Libi, I gave everything I had to keep them above the water and drag us to shore. Meanwhile, the raft has disappeared. Yes, those teenage boys were a bit focused on their own rafting adventure and neglected to see that their mother was drowning with their 2 disabled sisters! Eventually I reached the shore, completely waterlogged, with every possible crevice embedded with sand. I staggered to my feet, with my crying babies, only to realize I’m completely exposed and entertaining an entourage of dads sitting in their beach chairs!

Remember those visions of “10-year anniversary Hawaii” that danced in my head when I packed my suitcase. The hot pink, strapless swimsuit was not the most practical. There I was, in all my hot pink cuteness with one boob in and one boob hanging out. My backside was not in any better shape.

In my absolute disgust and humiliation, I looked directly at the row of dads, not even bothering to make any adjustments and simply said, “A little help would have been nice.”

Back in the hotel room with the girls, sand-caked and disenchanted the tears began to fall.

disenchanted – no longer happy or satisfied with something

I was for sure no longer happy to be in Hawaii, I was no longer satisfied with what this trip had become. The reason for this lack of joy, and dissatisfaction was not the circumstance I was in, but the perspective and expectation I carried heading into it.

Have you ever been there?

We never expect to find ourselves in a place of unmet expectations. Most of the time, we don’t realize we’ve even set an expectation, yet the symptoms can help us arrive at a quick diagnosis

• Critical Spirit / Judgmental
• Disappointed
• Irritable / Angry / Hostile
• Ungrateful
• Negative
• Stressed
• Bitter / Unforgiving

There our heart is, completely exposed, much like myself on the shore that day in Hawaii. Believe me, the enemy is waiting for those moments of unmet expectation. He will quickly swoop in and fuel them with fire that is deadly to our soul.

I find myself in this place…more often than I’d like. David also found himself in such a place and speaks to it in Psalm 42.

Why am I discouraged?
Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
I will praise him again—
my Savior and my God!
(Psalm 42:5&11) HCSB

Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God—
soon I’ll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face.
He’s my God.
(Psalm 42:5&11) MSG

Do you see when the shift occurs in David’s heart? David places his eyes on God, taking them off of anything or anyone that could deliver disappointment, placing his hope and trust in God.

God says in Isaiah 49:23:

“I am the Lord, those who hope in me will not be disappointed. “

I desire to walk free of expectations that will leave me disappointed. May we seek to expect that God is faithful, trustworthy and true. Holding on to the expectation that one day He will deliver us to our ETERNAL PARADISE, that will not disappoint!

some days and moments may be more difficult than others…

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place your expectation in Him…

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(the last day of our trip…)

I was not disappointed!