Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Living the (dreaded) What IF

This past Sunday night I asked my husband a loaded question.

We had just settled into a booth at Waffle House and placed our order.  While we waited on our food I asked for his opinion on something very personal in my life.

Let me state for the record that I trust this man with my whole heart.

I trust his walk with Jesus.
I trust his love for me.

Here was my question~ "How do you think I am doing spiritually?"

*YIKES*

I knew he would be thoughtful and careful with his response.

His words would be measured and honest.

He would only say what was needed.  Rarely more than that.

He gave his response and I listened.

Really I did.

I had already decided not to be offended by anything he said.

Truthfully I wanted to see if this man that I have committed my life to was capable of reading ME~ my thoughts, feelings, and emotions of late....my yearnings and heartaches before God.

As if on cue he delivered a response that could not have been more spot on.

Although I was a bit embarrassed at some of his observations I was completely at ease because the man speaking the words to my question was completely kind and compassionate in his delivery.

You see we set out on a course of believing God for a mighty BIG miracle over 15 years ago...

We believed that God (through His Word and other avenues) prompted us to believe Him to heal our daughter Caroline.

I must say that we fervently believed this would happen while she was little.

It didn't.

It hasn't.

I can remember thinking years ago that I would die if I believed God for this and He didn't do it.

Well....I am not dead.

But I must admit I am living out my "what if."

Each day I wake up to a fresh reality.

Fifteen years have come and gone and our daughter is exactly the same.

I am sad about it.

I don't have an answer.

Oddly enough I know my faith has grown tremendously over the course of the past 15 years.

I remain hopeful in God.

Serving Him delights me.

But my walk with Jesus has suffered.

I am not so fresh-faced in this faith journey anymore.

I feel the fifteen years.
Sadness has a weight to it....
I have wanted to put a distance between me and my Lord.

Not to mention there are lots and lots of questions.

BUT here is where Shep and I landed during our conversation at Waffle House.

We were wrong.

Obviously.

But I don't believe we were wrong about ALL of it.

I still cling to the hope that God intends to heal my girl.

His time and His way will be better than any scenario that I can come up with as glorious.

As I pass people I know at church and search to meet their gaze I see the familiar sadness that I feel.

Isn't it funny that those of us that are free in Jesus Christ have such a difficult time admitting our disappointment and sadness?

What good is freedom if we lock ourselves inside?

This disappointment and sadness of my unmet expectations IS NOT outside the realm of God's control.

And neither is yours.

God knows I am disappointed.  He knows I am heartbroken.

I can smile and nod and small talk with the best of them....but HE is not fooled.

And He does not shrink back from it.

A sad and disappointed heart that can somehow still choose JOY is an outright miracle y'all.

But today I wanted to write it out.

I wanted the freedom to bring my whole self (the heartbroken gal) into the light.

Things have not happened as I hoped or expected.

But God is here.

He is ok with me NOT BEING ok.

He has walked every hill and valley with the faithful saints that have gone before me.

He sees all and knows that faith refined by fire is beautiful and rare.

He is worthy of my unmet expectations.

And my broken heart has no better solace than His love and tender care.


"We depend on the Lord alone to save us.
Only He can help us, protecting us like a shield.

In him our hearts rejoice,
For we are trusting in his holy name.

Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord,
for our hope is in You alone."  Ps. 33:20-22










Monday, November 13, 2017

A Baptist Girl on the Back Row at Church in the Jail

For over a year God has opened the doors for me and several others to do one-on-one chaplain visits at the jail.

Not too long ago that invitation was extended to attending a church service for women at the jail.

I had no idea what to expect.

My personality can be pretty big but usually I try to lay low in situations where I am new and a little intimidated.

I walked into the library that was going to be used as a sanctuary.  There were at least 60 plus female inmates in the room.  Praise music was playing in the background and cheerful conversations could be heard on every row. 
I had been asked to come (along with several others) as a prayer partner or counselor.

Sean, the official jail Chaplain, got everyone's attention and began the church service.

I meandered around to the back of the room and found a vacant seat on the very back row.

I only knew a handful of the female inmates.  My nosiness kicked in and I found myself staring around the room.  

For the first part of the service we had praise and worship.

Music played from Sean's computer and filled the library with praise to God.

These women sang along.  
Some ladies stood up....arms held high to heaven...
Some cried and sang quietly in their chairs...
Some sat reverently.
Other ladies took this time of corporate worship seriously and jammed out in praise with those sitting close to them.

What did I do?

This Baptist girl sat and stared.

From my view point I saw women from every cultural background, every age, and every walk of life.

Every inmate wore a jail jumpsuit in bright orange with Inmate stamped on the back.

A few ladies wore lime green jumpsuits because they are on Trustee status. This simply means that they work jobs at the jail.

A small handful of women in the room wore shackles on their feet up to their waists.  Obviously these ladies have very serious charges~ 
Each time they would walk around in the library those shackles would hit the floor reminding us all of where we were.  JAIL.

The sight before me was beautiful on so many levels.
I just wanted to marvel at the goodness of God in a jail library.

Each women in the room was an inmate. No one was better.  No one was worse.

Each one had been accused of a crime.  They were either serving their time or awaiting a court date.

They shared common ground.

The colors of their jumpsuits may have been different and some may have been bound in literal chains....but the truth of who they all were was obvious.

They sat in  this church service very much aware of the truth that all of them...each and every one...was in fact a prisoner.

No one compared their Trustee status to that of another.
No one pointed and stared at the girls with chains on their feet....

You know why?

Because they were all INMATES.

The Holy Spirit nudged me in a way only He can and I about came undone emotionally.

This was church at its finest.

People gathered to praise God in the middle of their mess.

It was glorious.
It was honest.
It was in so many ways how it is supposed to be.

The only lovely and boast worthy topic in the room was Jesus.

Those gals knew exactly who they were.  
Their sins were exposed simply because they were there.
Everyone in the room was at ease with simply needing Jesus.

I relished in it.

My staring soon changed to praise with my sisters.

I suddenly became completely honored to be in a room with women that could just be honest about the sin struggle.

Their sin struggle and my sin struggle may have different consequences....but SIN, theirs and mine, drove Jesus to the cross.

And in that jail we all celebrated GRACE.  




Luke 18 has a few verses tucked into the chapter describing two men going to the temple to pray.  One man was very educated in God's law.  He did many things outwardly that gained prestige and attention.  Yet his prayer to God was one of pride and arrogance.
The other man by comparison was someone despised in the community.  His prayer was one of desperation, humility and a cry for mercy.



Oh God I am a sinner that has been redeemed by mercy and grace.

Without the Holy Spirit of God I would continue to live in a sinful cycle.

Let my prayers and praise always be those of a prisoner set free.






Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Cost of One~ Lessons from Jail Ministry

Over the past year a small group meets up at our county jail on Tuesday evenings.

As the female inmates ask the Chaplain for one on one visits~ we help him serve that purpose.

We have a small window of opportunity to make a difference there.

We plant seeds of faith.

We give of our time, energy and love of Jesus Christ to meet them exactly where they are.

This has been my absolute privilege.

Some have just been one time visits.
Other gals have become weekly visits for the duration of their time there.

The gist of what we do is give these ladies our attention and our time.
We listen.
We laugh.
We cry.
We learn.

And we pray.  Lord~ we pray.

We have the privilege of giving them godly direction based on the truth of God's Word.

I have seen first hand the cycle of some of these girls getting out and messing up and coming right back.
Then there are the girls that get sentenced to prison.

And lastly there are those that go back into society.  
.
For a few...I see a distinct difference.
I see sparks and flashes of joy, hope, light and peace in that dark jail.

For a lot more...I see women that are carrying a lifetime of hurt.  They have given up on trusting anyone...especially God.

This is heartbreaking.

But nevertheless~ the choice to choose and trust the love of Jesus is ultimately up to them.  

One gal we met early on in this ministry captured our hearts.

She was full of charisma and honest to the core.
She was sick of her cycle of sin.
She wanted to grow in her relationship with Jesus.

Carrie and I would meet with her almost weekly.  We saw tremendous spiritual growth, obedience and discernment in her life.
We also saw the wearing down process.  She would have set-backs.  She would mess up and beat herself up for it.
We would continue to encourage her and spur her on in her walk with the Lord.

Back in March she got sent to a women's rehab/prison.

It was a bittersweet goodbye.

Our weekly visits had come to an end.  She was nervous about going away.  We covered her in prayers and hugs and watched her walk forward into consequences that were ahead of her.

We have continued our Tuesday night visits.

And now we have added writing letters to our sister in prison/rehab.

In her letters to us she asked if we would be willing to come visit her.

There was paperwork to be filled out and documents to provide for the approval process.  Carrie and I did our part and we were approved for a visit.

This past Sunday we hit the road early to head south and see our sweet friend.

It took a village of people helping out with our kids and arranging schedules to allow us the time away.

But God provided it.

We arrived at the prison/rehab a few minutes early to pray over our visit.

Normally at this time on a Sunday Carrie and I would be attending church with our families.  Instead, we sat in a parking lot staring at high fences covered in blade wrapped wire.

Our friend was on the other side of that stark heavily secured place.

We went through the security process of getting in. We had to empty our pockets, get patted down, and take off our shoes.  Finally after 3 clicked doors we went to a big visiting room and sat at our assigned make-shift table.

And waited...

It had been 6 months since we had seen our friend.

When she came in the door and saw us there every single inconvenience we encountered in clearing our schedules to get there completely vanished.

She could not get over the fact that we were there.

That we had left our families.
That we had driven the miles it would take.
That we were the first ones there anxious to see HER.

She squealed and so did we. We hugged her neck and let our eyes settle in on her sweet face.

For the next 2 and a half hours we did what we used to do with our friend.
We listened.
We ate. (she had prepared us to bring a bag of quarters to eat from the vending machines)
We laughed. (she is hilarious by the way)
We shared.
We learned.
We prayed.

As we listened to her share her journey of the past 6 months it sounded a lot like my own....

There were victories. Failures. Joys. Deep sadness.
There were fears ahead of her and regrets as she looked back.

Whether we sit in a prison of our making or walk in freedom in the outside world we are people making choices.

Are we going to trust God or not?
Are we going to believe His promises and trust His Word or not?
Are we going to be led by how we feel or stand upon the conviction of the Holy Spirit?
Are we going to pray for strength and help from the Lord?

These are daily questions for me.
These are daily questions for Carrie.
And yep, these are daily questions for our sweet friend that sits in south Georgia in a prison/rehab.

We are more alike than most people realize.

And here is what I know: God is as crazy about her as He is about me.

His love for her drove Him to the cross of Calvary.

His grace, mercy and forgiveness is accessible to her.

She is worth His time.
She is valuable to Him.
She has a purpose.

Y'all, sometimes I can't get over the goodness of Jesus.

He delights to rescue us. To redeem us.  To encourage us. To show us love and mercy.

And he also delights in using us as a part of His rescue of another.....

How astounding is that?!?

What a privilege!

 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep. I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (Luke 15:1-7)

This passage reminds me of our visit.

Jesus expresses serious emphasis on the ONE sheep that is lost.

In a culture of so many...each person is One precious soul to Jesus.

Sometimes I feel like I am spinning my wheels for the 99 that refuse to repent.

I go after the crowd.
I spend my effort and energy in the big group....in the masses.

Jesus says the ONE that will repent brings insane rejoicing in heaven.

If we are not careful we can miss them.

Look. Listen. Be intentional.

Lost sheep are all around.

Going after one will cost you.  You will spend your time, prayer, money, and effort.  There will be many disappointments.  But the occasional joys are glorious and worth it.

The enemy tells us the job is too big and no one ever changes.

Jesus tells us that the results are not up to us.

We can allow a million "what-if's" to keep us from the messy miracle of the gospel.

I am so thankful Jesus sees the one.

I am a life forever changed by the grace of God.
Carrie is a life forever changed by the grace of God.

How can we not go after the One?  











Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Path of Blessing

After washing their feet , he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, "Do you understand what I was doing?  You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right because it is true.  And since I, the Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other's feet.  I have given you an example to follow.  Do as I have done to you.  How true is  it that a servant is not greater than the master.  Nor are messengers more important than the one who sends them.  You know these things- now do them.  That is the path of blessing."  John 13:12-17


I have never humbled myself to serve someone else that it wasn't a superior blessing for me.

These are our marching orders.

We are messengers sent out to live, speak, and act in a manner that glorifies our Lord Jesus.

We are not greater than the One that sent us out.

Yet.....how many times do we refuse to serve our neighbors?

In the scripture passage above Jesus is about to wash the feet of the men that followed him for 3 years of ministry.
One of these men would betray him.
One of the these men would deny him.
The rest of these men would scatter in fear during the following days....

Yet He served them.

He blessed them by doing something seemingly beneath Him.

What does this look like in my own life?

Will I show kindness to someone that has been hateful to me?
Will I go out of my way for a stranger?
Will I go last when I want to be in the lead?
Will I hold my tongue for another to speak?
Will I mind being overlooked so someone else can be seen?
Will I extend compassion instead of criticism?

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are gifts of the Spirit of God intended to be used to show off the character of the God we serve.

Jesus embodied every one of these gifts in his person.

He was the Word made flesh....for us.

And He humbled Himself to not just die on a cross for us...but to wash our feet as well.





Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Who Needs Hope When You Have Got a Plan?

Got a text early this morning from someone very dear to me.

Today marks the 1 year anniversary of a horrific loss in their life....

Heart-wrenching. Mind-blowing. A punch to the gut kind of loss.

This person had read a devotion for today, and of all topics for today, it spoke of ~hope~.

Now we know our hope is firmly rooted and established in the person of Jesus Christ.
He is the author and perfecter of our faith.

Hope is found in Him.
It is impossible without Him.

Yet we plan lives for ourselves that usually require little to no hope.

Right?

It all sounds good on paper that Jesus is my hope until your plans fall apart and the screen that is playing your life goes blank.

Where is that hope then?

Well....let's digest this for just a bit.

When our lives are going exactly according to our plan how does hope fit into that equation?

It doesn't.

Smooth sailing doesn't hope for much.  It doesn't have to.

I had a plan.

Get a college degree.
Marry the man of my dreams.
Teach school.
Have babies.
Be a wife and mother.
Follow Jesus the rest of my days.

Sound like yours?

What was not in my plan was needing hope on a daily basis the way I do.

The way my plan would work wouldn't really require hope.

Here are some of the definitions of biblical hope:  expectation, thing that I long for, to anticipate, confidence, faith.

Somehow we look back on our plans....before life ran off of the rails....before the things happened in your life that jilted your faith and lit your anger fuse towards God...and we compare as if somehow those days were hope-filled and the here and now is less so~ even hopeless.

Can you stop for a moment and look at it the opposite way?

Hope is only the glorious gift that IT IS when your plan is disrupted.

When the brakes squeal and the smoke clears and you look around and your plans are stalled out....blessed hope actually has a chance to blossom.

Hopeless living left along with your plan.

Jesus brings hope to those that desperately need it.

And we all do....

So if you feel hopeless today, chances are you have it backwards.

You thought your plan brought you hope.

It didn't.

Only Jesus can do that.

The gift of hope comes to those that fall to their knees and hold ashes in their hands of what they thought would be....

Difficult moments create the needed space for hope.

Loading my 15 year old girl on a bus in a wheelchair was not my plan.
No parent dreams of changing a teenage girl's diaper or feeding her with a tube in her tummy.

That wasn't my plan.

But neither was hope.

Salvation came to me as a 9 year old little girl.  I confessed my need for a Savior.
Hope came to me on June 11, 2002 as a 24 year old woman.

My plan was disrupted.
His plan was falling perfectly into place.

I will end this post with fitting scriptures that include the word ~hope~.

You will notice that it usually shares space in God's Word with sorrow.

After all....that is where HOPE is needed the most.

Psalm 42:5
Why am I discouraged?
Why so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
I will praise him again-
my Savior and my God!

Psalm 40:11-12
LORD. don't hold back your tender mercies from me.
My only hope is in your unfailing love and faithfulness.
For troubles surround me-
too many to count!
They pile up so high
I can't see my way out.
They are more numerous than the hairs on my head.
I have lost all my courage.

Hebrews 10:23
Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have,
for God can be trusted to keep his promise.







Saturday, July 15, 2017

Pit-Stops & Pit-Falls

I snapped this picture of a resting bench on the climb up to Clingman's Dome in Tennessee.

My family used a few of these benches to stop, rest and catch our breath on the way up.

(Thank the Good Lord)
My breathing was labored.  My heart was pounding in my ears.
My legs were screaming from the incline.

I also noticed a few people stopping on the benches to rest and then deciding to just stay there.  They would tell their families to go on without them and pick them back up on the way down.

God in His sweet way used these encounters to speak to my heart.

Each of us in on a journey.

Some folks have a mighty steep climb.

Death, depression or despair have knocked the wind out of you and taking the next step in the climb ahead seems like too much to ask.


God provides places along our way to stop and rest.

I call this a pit-stop.

It is a place to catch your breath.
It is a place to appreciate how far you have come.
It is a place to rest, repair, and refuel.
But it is also a place to pass through.

It should never be a place where we retreat and go backwards or where we lay down and refuse to get up.

If we do...it becomes a pit-fall.

Here is the scary definition of a pit-fall: a trap, snare, a camouflaged pit used to capture and hold men or animals; hidden or unexpected difficulty.

Anybody other than me ever fall into a trap like this?

Anybody else ever stopped to rest and instead decided to use the break to look around and become jealous of others easily walking by, or worse, become insanely sorry for yourself??

Our Sovereign God calls us to great faith.
Building faith in my life has meant many many uphill climbs.

God remembers we are made of dust....he knows we become weary and we need rest. (Psalm 103:14)

So He provides places of rest.

It's funny sometimes when we sit and rest we even begin to think that we aren't going forward at all....

But the rest IS part of moving forward.

Don't allow pride to push you past a pit-stop when you feel the Holy Spirit telling you to sit for a bit.

I was a little embarrassed to have to stop and rest on those benches.

I am young(ish) after all.

But no one cared or counted who all had stopped when we got to the top to enjoy the incredible view.

Those pit-stops were provided in my journey.

I would have been foolish not to use them.

Jesus says this in Matthew 11:28,   "Come  to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest."

Did you notice it is an invitation?

He graciously invites us to come to him.  Sit.  Dwell. Abide. Rest.

If you already do this...good for you.

I am terrible at thinking that I can rest later.  Always later.  There is too much to do now and I can put off the rest.

LISTEN TO ME....when I do that....I am at serious risk of finally stopping to rest and that pit-stop becomes a full on pit-fall.

I have done it so many times.

Rest was there for me before.

But I pushed right past it.

I kept going in my own strength.
This was the delusion I believed.

It was the lie of pride.

So when I finally stopped to rest out of exhaustion instead of obedience~ I stayed longer than I should.  I focused on others people with seemingly easy lives (also a lie) and got angry and jealous.  I thought of how difficult my own path was and got mad at God.  I began the comparison game.  Criticism set in and any goodness of God was hard to find.

THIS IS A PITFALL.

If this sounds like you or your thoughts please cry out to the One that even rescues us from the pits we make for ourselves....

Listen to this beautiful scripture~

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be astounded.
They will put their trust in the LORD.

Ps.40:1-3

Repent to Jesus.

Enjoy the pit-stops.

Avoid the pit-falls.

Enter into His glorious rest.









Monday, June 26, 2017

"...always pressing on toward Jerusalem"

I feel compelled to write again.

For over a year or more I have stepped away from what used to be like therapy to my soul.

Sitting at this keyboard and pounding words that spill out of a desperate heart used to be more natural.  Now it is an all out fight.

Sometimes I have nothing to say.

Other times I don't want to shouldn't say what I have to say.

And more often than not~ I let ease and apathy win.  The couch (along with Netflix) beckons me and I lay this body down and give my brain a rest.

Not thinking is a form of escape that I will gladly take.  #guilty

I have started this post about 4 times....

I almost spilled the beans about a meltdown I had  two weeks ago in the car. For the life of me I felt life and pain closing in on me from all directions.  All I could do was cry (literally) and cry out to God.  My arthritis had decided to flare up and do a number on my joints.  In addition to hot and inflamed hands and wrists, I went through some hostility toward the Lord.  I soaked in  my own pity for a few days...wondering why God would give me a severely disabled girl that needs so much hands-on support yet give me hands that hurt and throbbed with the slightest bend or touch of pressure.  

It took four days of being quiet before God and simply clinging to His Word and His promises. Doing little else than just that. 
It took my husband who was willing to pray like crazy for his wife and pick up the slack I simply couldn't do.
It took some pretty amazing friends that did not need me to explain anything~ they willingly took on some of my burdens and stormed the gates of Heaven on my behalf.

4 days later...the fog lifted.

The pain somewhat eased in my hands and wrists.

The window outward was less dim and light chased some of my shadows away.

His faithfulness was there.  
He was there.
As was the pain.

His Presence and his promises held true even as pain had its way.

I was never alone...even if the enemy whispered to me that I was.
His love for me never failed...even if my love for him did.

Well I guess I spilled the beans after all.  Maybe someone needed it.

Tonight as I read through the precious Word of God my eyes fell on the tail end of a nondescript verse.

One might just miss the value and importance of what doctor Luke penned in chapter 13 verse 22 of his gospel.

This verse is just more proof that hope so often tags along with the mundane things of life.

The verse simply says, "Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he went, always pressing on toward Jerusalem."

Did you catch it?

This seemingly informational verse describes the activity of Jesus in his daily life. 

He taught everywhere he went.

But it points to more. 

It points to a man that is making his days count as he marches toward his mission.

Jerusalem was the end of the earthly road for him.  Yet He pressed on always towards that very place.

His mission was our redemption.

But my redemption, and yours, cost Him dearly.

His mission was always to die for me.  For you.  For every wretch that has ever lived and questioned him.  For every prodigal son and daughter.  Even for those that never would choose Him.

He always pressed on.

As His follower....those are my instructions as well.

Getting back up is a rare trait these days.

Perseverance will serve us well.

Let's press on always.

"We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed and broken.  We are perplexed, but we don't give up and quit.  2 Corinthians 4:8


4:7 Greek We now have this treasure in clay jars. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.