The Way to Live-The Way to Leave

 

In September of 2018 while on a spiritual retreat in Colorado, I peeked at Messenger. It was the kind of retreat where we were asked to put all technology aside, but I did happen to glance at my phone and saw something from my cousin, Greg. We lived 1000 miles apart which made keeping in touch difficult. Because it was unusual for him to message me, I knew it had to be something important. It was. He was asking for prayer. He had passed out in a restaurant which landed him in the hospital for testing. The doctors feared he had leukemia. The fear was confirmed.

Greg was a farmer. A friend has the right word to describe farmers: tough. Yes, farmers are tough. Greg had strength and toughness. But, he had something else, too: gentleness and a great capacity to love and spread joy. He poured out that love and joy to his teenage daughter, Sydney. He couldn’t bear leaving her. She’d already lost her mother 9 years ago. So, Greg fought hard for one and a half years. Two weeks ago yesterday, his final earthly battle was done.

I called Greg frequently during his stay at MD Anderson in Houston. His stay was long: eleven months. Our conversations were gifts to me. I remember one of his comments, “It’s a win-win, no matter what happens.” He said those words with joy and assurance. He could say them because he knew he had the hope of Heaven awaiting him. He knew that’s where he was headed, either sooner or later. Of course, he desired later, but he was entrusting it all to Jesus whom he loved and had given his life to years earlier.

God, through His goodness, grace, and mercy provided a way for me to attend Greg’s memorial service. Actually, God worked a miracle in order for me to be there. Yes, there was intense sadness for Sydney, Greg’s mother (my precious 90-year-old Aunt Nancy) and Greg’s brother, Mike. And, sorrow for all the rest of us who loved Greg. But, what we received from the memorial service gave comfort and even joy.

The pastor and shepherd, Rick, who’d spent much time with Greg, shared what Greg whispered into his ear one of the last times he saw Greg. Greg’s declared, “It is well with my soul.” How could Greg say that? He knew Who he belonged to and what he had to look forward to. It’s evident he’d surrendered everything which included his every breath to the keeper of his soul: Jesus.

Greg left the proof that he’d surrendered it all. This proof was included in the words he wrote that were read at the funeral: “Everyday God gives us is a blessing. When I’m gone I’ll be with him. What a blessing.” In these words printed on the memorial program, Greg again affirmed, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

This proof was also in the words of the two songs Greg wanted sung: “When I am down, and, oh, my soul, so weary, when troubles come, and my heart burdened be. Then, I am still and wait here in the silence until You come and sit awhile with me. You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains, You raise me up to walk on stormy seas, I am strong when I am on your shoulders, You raise me up to more than I can be.” And then the song Even If by Mercy Me “. . . I know You’re able and I know You can save through the fire with Your mighty hand, but even if You don’t my hope is You alone.”

Greg left us in a way that brought glory and honor to the One who made him. Greg’s hope was in Christ and him alone. He breathed his last breath knowing all was well with his soul.

Questions we must answer: How is my soul today? How will my soul be the day I take my last breath?

What we do right now in this very moment will determine the answer.

From Silence to Hope-Darkness to Light

 

 

 

Have you ever been in a meaningful relationship that went silent? I have. Sometimes this silence means the relationship has ended so we work through the “closure” knowing we must accept it and move on. We finally come to the place of knowing it was for the best. But, there are other times we just know the relationship is something of great value that needs to be resurrected so we wait, we hope, we pray, we believe. We want to also watch, but at times there’s not much to watch because of the physical or emotional distance that has resulted. It’s in that place that it is so easy to give up because of the deafening silence.

There was a time in Biblical history where everything went silent. This was an era of Silence. Ever since Noah, God had provided someone who spoke God’s message to others. Then it stopped – for over 400 years. However, if we do some historical study of this time period we see that a lot was happening. God was not inactive. He was at work. All things were falling into place, good and bad, preparing the way for the greatest miracle of all times to spring forth: the birth of the long awaited Messiah, Jesus. God broke through the silence and this breaking through changed everything. It’s because of this that we have hope that relationships that need renewing and remaking can really happen. God is the expert – he knows what needs to happen and when it needs to happen for rebirth to occur.

Recently in my place of quiet God reminded me of Isaiah 64:4, a scripture I’d memorized many years ago: “Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” Have you been waiting and longing for something to happen that has seemed impossible? I have. I have prayed, hoped, believed, waited, and wrestled with God. Now . . . some light is breaking through. God is allowing me to get a peek at what He’s been up to, however, all is not yet as it should be. But I will keep waiting, watching, and knowing that at just the right moment in time God will let me see what He’s been up to all along. In this “all along time,” I can trust he is doing some major repair work in me that is conforming me into more of the likeness of His perfect Son, Jesus. I can trust in the greatness and goodness of God in all things. He is working on my behalf and on yours. We can rest in Him, always being assured that it really is good. We must never lose hope in the waiting.

Gracious Father, enlarge our capacity for waiting patiently today as we pray “For you, O Lord, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God who will answer.” Psalm 38:15

Two thousand years ago God broke the silence. Through Jesus, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; a light has dawned on those living in the land of darkness.” (Isaiah 9:2) Where do you need a breakthrough of light today? Where do you need God to speak?

Celebrate Today

 

 

Two years ago today, we celebrated with family and friends the life of my fiery, bigger than life, beautiful red-headed sister, Kimberly. This service was not called a funeral. We never spoke of it in that way. It was a Celebration of Life service.  The burial took place during the morning hours, the Celebration in the afternoon.

We celebrated Kimberly’s life, but more than that, we celebrated the life of Jesus in her. He is the One who spoke life into her. He was her joy and her strength. We chose songs to sing that meant the most to her: The God of Angel Armies, Great Are You Lord, Holy Spirit You are Welcome Here, and No Longer Slaves to Fear. These are all songs related to the reasons we can celebrate life even when walking through dark shadowed times.

Kimberly focused on living bravely, in a celebratory fashion, so beautifully right up to the moment she left this earth. She is one that lived well and died well. I can’t help but think of the second verse of the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr:

Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time;

Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace.

Taking, as He (Jesus) did, this sinful world, not as I would have it;

Trusting that He will make all things right, if I surrender to His will.

So that I may be reasonably happy in this life.

And supremely happy with Him

Forever and ever in the next.

What is the will of our Father God? He desires that we celebrate something about life every day. How do we do this?

The key is living in the present. Living in the present embraces the truth that in each day there are moments to enjoy and even relish. The enemy of living present is living in the past. We do this by wishing things were still as they used to be. We long for those “good times.” But living in the past is dangerous because there were bad and hurtful things there, too. We can get stuck there wrestling with the “whys” and “what if’s”. Kimberly could have dwelled on many whys and what if’s, but she determined to live in the present.

So what kinds of things can I celebrate in the day I have? This is something I’m working hard on. How can I find those things? It’s about awareness. It’s an awareness that finds ways to celebrate the fact that I am alive and breathing. Kimberly never wanted to have to walk around toting a can of oxygen with an oxygen tube in her nose, but she surrendered to it beautifully and was she ever thankful!! She could breathe easier! She could still do life! She was tickled pink that the technician gave her enough tubing attached to the tank so she could walk all around the house. She rejoiced in how nice and kind that technician was in setting it all up in her house. She even said, “I’ve got to contact the company he works for and tell them what a great job he’s doing for people.”

I remember my father-in-law in his prayer before each evening meal saying, “Thank you, God, for this another beautiful day.” Is every day full of beauty? Well . . . maybe not, but, yes, there is much beauty around me every day. Sometimes I’ve just been unaware. Living in the present, even in the midst of pain, I’m discovering these things of beauty that I’d missed before and they are taking me to deeper sacred places in my own soul, in my relationship to God, and with others.

Sometimes it’s even seeing “old things” in a new way. As I experience delighting in seeing these new things and giving thanks to the One who gives good things to enjoy I’m beginning to celebrate life in ways I’d not known before. I’m more able to soak up and enjoy the goodness of the Lord and others in this place of joy. All of a sudden God creates in me a playful spirit full of gladness and freedom to be me as He truly intends.

What can you celebrate today? How are you going to celebrate?

More Room for Jesus

 

It’s the season of Advent: the time when we prepare for celebrating the birth of Jesus. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to spend most of our time on things that can take our focus off of Jesus and can zap our energy in a way that can leave us feeling simply empty and fatigued.  

We spend time scurrying around getting everything ready for this special day. We plan gatherings with our family and friends.  We decorate, we bake, we clean, we shop, we attend programs or participate in programs, we travel, we host. It’s a lot of “doing”. I find that we can be so busy with the “doings” that we can miss the heart of what Christmas is really all about. We can prepare everything except the most important thing which is the preparing of our hearts. For this is where He abides.  He desires to have all of our heart, not just a small portion, not the smallest room.  

 So what can we do to make more room in our hearts for Jesus? As I was pondering this question, a word that I don’t really like to think about popped into my mind. That word is surrender. It is in surrender that we make more room for Jesus to abide.

 A few weeks ago in my time of solitude with God I took some intentional time to allow the Holy Spirit to speak to my soul about the things I needed to surrender. It didn’t take too long to list at least ten things that I needed to let go of in surrender. They were things I thought I had at least a little control over, or at least a right to hold onto.  But, I realized I really didn’t. I wrote down each thing on a separate piece of paper and put each one, prayerfully in a little box I now call my “surrender box”. I knew that in doing this, I was making more room in my heart for Jesus. Hopefully, it helped me have more of Him and less of me.

 I do a home fitness program called “21 Day Fit Fitness”. One of the first exercises on one of the fitness days is called “surrenders”. How I dislike that particular exercise!  I am relieved when it is over! However, I do know that this is a strength training exercise and it does make my physical body stronger.

We become spiritually stronger when we surrender to God the things that are weighing us down. These things take up a lot of space in our minds. It’s a space that can be filled with peace instead of anxiety. It’s a space that can be filled with joy instead of despair. It’s a place that can be filled with thanksgiving instead of self-pity. It’s a space that can be filled with faith instead of uncertainty. It’s a space that can be filled with love instead of harshness.

Just this morning, God revealed yet another thing that I needed to surrender to Him. I must admit, my heart is lighter. My heart is more joyful. My heart is more peaceful. My heart is more grateful.

 How about you? What is God asking you to surrender as you prepare you heart for Christmas?

 

Always Present-It Matters!

 

Tennessee has now been my home for 23 years. I was born in Texas and didn’t leave until I was 25, which means I’m still a Texas girl at heart. The saying “you can take a girl out of Texas, but can’t take Texas out of the girl” surely rings true for me. With family in Texas, I periodically make trips out there.

A couple of weeks ago I made a trip to Amarillo to spend some time with my dad. With no direct flight from Nashville, I had a layover in Dallas. As I checked in at the gate to board the plane, a very quick encounter with a friendly Southwest agent helped me experience the importance of a name. On that day, it was my name that had importance.

It was really a little thing, but it made me feel that I mattered. I was present, really present, in someone’s eyes who didn’t even know me. What did he do? He said my name. “Have a good flight, Kristi,” he said. This agent took the time to actually look at my name on my boarding pass, then look at me and actually say my name. In those brief moments, he was present. He did this for everyone when he scanned their boarding pass.

I couldn’t help but think of how God is always present with us. We matter to Him. He is always attentive to us. He knows our names. Isaiah 41:16 declares, “Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” Isaiah 43:1 proclaims, “I have called you by name, you are mine.” His presence – what a gift!

I also know that in order for spiritual growth to happen in me, I must be attentive to Him. And His desire is for me to also be attentive to others that are in my life, no matter how brief that encounter may be. Being fully present for each person in my path is a gift I can offer. Is this easy? Absolutely not! It’s so easy to be partially present with others and partially present with God. My mind easily drifts away to many other things. It can happen so quickly. I can be completely unaware.

There are many ways we can practice being present with God and with others. The first step to living fully in the moment with God, and with those precious ones he places in our lives, is discovering what distracts us from really being present. It’s a courageous and selfless act to place ourselves in the position of this kind of self-awareness. We may not like what we see. And, we may not want to put forth the effort it takes to embrace what we find. But, it is worth it. There’s great joy and inner peace to be found in this place. This is living out being a part of Christ’s Kingdom work here on Earth.

What are common distractions that keep you from being present with God and with others? What occasional distractions impact your life and throw you off track (out of presence)? Maybe some are yearly or seasonal. Name some of them. What can you learn through them?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Passion that Changed the World

 

 

There are things said to us in life that we never forget. Some of these words spoken are good for our souls. They are life-giving. But, some words hurt our hearts and cause us to bleed for a while.

Many years ago I had a part-time job that was helping us get by financially. What should have been a life-giving environment was not. When I received my yearly evaluation I was rather stunned when out in the margin was the question, “Is this your passion?” I was offended by that question. I felt unfairly judged by this fellow pilgrim. We never had a chance to discuss what she had written out in the margin. The evaluator and I definitely had different perspectives on some things.

However, something positive resulted from this. I did some introspection and asked myself, “What are your passions, Kristi.” I didn’t have much trouble coming up with them. When I did, I knew they were the right ones for me in that season of life. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines passion as a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something or about doing something.

My passions revealed my priorities and they were spot on. I didn’t have to feel guilt for not being passionate about the job I had at that particular time in my life especially when it was full of difficult stresses. But it was helping provide for some needs in my family and that lined up well with a passion concerning my family which was finding a way to live debt-free. Our passions may change over time. A passion can flame up for a while and then pass.

There’s another kind of passion that I investigated through my recent study of Romans. It is the passion of Christ.

When we speak of the “passion” of Christ, we speak of his suffering. Jesus had no “excitement” about the cross. Death on a cross was likely the most horrific death ever experienced. The physical suffering on the cross alongside the emotional and spiritual suffering of bearing the sins of all mankind are of such a magnitude that is beyond imagination.

But in his suffering, Jesus did find joy! Hebrews 12:2 challenges us to fix our eyes on Jesus, “the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” What was the joy before Jesus? Perfectly obeying the Father, for sure, but also, I believe Jesus had joy because he saw your salvation and mine! Jesus’ passion changed the world.

Because of the cross and resurrection death lost its sting and we are given all we need to live abundantly now with hope, power, love, comfort, joy, and courage. He gave His all so that those who trust in Him can really live.

Today, Easter 2018, is a great time to revisit what we’re passionate about. Do our passions honor and please the Savior who suffered and gave His all so we could really live? Do our passions include using the unique giftedness God has placed within us? Our passions make known what we love. If our “loves” are wrongly placed, it’s never too late to let the old go and replace with something new. It’s the best way to live.

 

 

 

Thinking in Threes: It Makes a Difference

A couple of weeks ago my husband and I attended a couple’s retreat. The theme was “Be Refreshed”. It was a delightful couple of days hearing different speakers share the importance of being refreshed in our souls, marriages, ministries and other areas of our lives. The men and women met together for many of the sessions, but we had two separate breakouts. Mike shared his notes from the men’s session with me. Don’t we all love to hear someone speak whose presentation is full of good “take away’s”. His was.

The topic for this particular breakout session was “Be Refreshed in Your Soul.” Our soul is our mind, our will, our emotions. The speaker for the men, Tony Rankin, had many practical suggestions in the area of mind refreshment. It’s hard to find times of refreshment during the day when we have a list a mile long of things to get done. Tony suggested taking that list, but limiting ourselves to thinking about and only doing three things on the list at a time. When a set of three is done, then take a break, maybe a 5-10 minute break. Then, start on the next three things.

I like this idea. This week I thought I’d give this a try. I tweaked it just a bit for me. I was feeling pretty overwhelmed with life, so on my blank, small piece of paper I wrote down only three things. That made it more manageable. By the end of the day it brought great satisfaction to look at the many “threes” that were completed. The last set of three’s wasn’t completed, but it really didn’t matter since I could look back and see the other “three’s” that were completed.

Thinking in three’s can actually be something quite spiritual. The number three is significant in the Bible. It’s used hundreds of times. It seems to be the number of completion and perfection. My life has been and continues being changed by these “three’s”:

  • The Trinity: God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Where would I be without having a personal relationship with God the Father through His perfect son, Jesus? Where would I be without the abiding power of the Holy Spirit who is at work in me, through me, and around me?
  • The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ means I can now live free from the power of sin and death. This is available to all who have put their faith and trust in the One who gave His all so we can truly live. Acts 17:28 says, “In Him we live and move and have our being.”
  • Our design as made by our Creator God – body, soul, and spirit. We are created as image bearers of the one Master Designer. This is who we are. We are His workmanship

The plan of working in “three’s” is quite practical. I may get to the end of the day and find that I’ve checked off most things in those sets of threes. In most cases, if something is left undone, we are gifted with the newness of the next day to complete what was left unfinished.

Additionally, there is an important question I must ask myself when I look at that list. How many things were centered on self and how many on others? If it’s way out of balance, I need to do some re-prioritizing in my life.

Recently I got to the end of the day – much was accomplished. Then I saw a word on one of my lists of three’s that didn’t get done . . . a word I really don’t like very much. I saw the word iron. It hadn’t gotten done.

In reality, I didn’t have to do that ironing. My husband has plenty of clean shirts to wear, but it was something I could do and wanted to do because I love him. It was an opportunity to die to self in a real practical way. Making a deliberate focus on serving others a part of my daily planning will be a huge blessing to me and others. I sense that more will be accomplished, too.

If fullness of life comes from living and moving in a way that honors the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, then the days that make up our lives will be days that delight the Father. These kinds of days bring us joy, peace, satisfaction and a sense of completeness in Him. They are days of productive fruit-bearing.

Two Important Questions

 

How can I say thanks for the things You have done for me? This is the first line of a song written by Andre Crouch: To God Be the Glory. Yes, it’s impossible to ever say it enough, but I need to live my life trying.

As I think about living a life of thanksgiving, I can’t help but think of the last month of my sister’s life. She was a woman on the go pretty much till she took her final earthly breath. She’d texted these words to many of us two weeks prior to that day: “I ain’t down yet!” And, she wasn’t.

Kimberly and I had a phone conversation a month before she stepped into eternity that I’ll never forget. I’ll never forget it because she asked me a question that shocked me. It shocked me because it was coming from someone whose life was fading because of terrible cancer. Her question was, “Have you ever felt like God was giving you the desires of your heart?”

I think I kind of stumbled around trying to formulate my answer. I said, “I guess so, but many times those desires aren’t material but spiritual.” I was having trouble with her question because we’d prayed so much for her healing over many years and it wasn’t being answered the way we wanted. That was the main desire of my heart and I know it was hers. And yet it seemed she was living on a different and higher plane than I by asking me that question. Now I can’t help but wonder if she already had one foot in Heaven. She probably did.

Kimberly went on telling me many things God was giving her and doing for her. I was blown away by what she was saying and with the joyful attitude she was saying it. So, I asked her for a favor. I asked if she would write down these blessings in a journal so she could share them in person with me since I was going out to see her soon.

A few days later I got a text from her saying she was just going to text these blessings to me. These are some of the things she wrote the last weeks of her earthly life:

  • Today I am SO blessed! This is the day the Lord has made! I’m having coffee in bed. I slept 7 hours!
  • Today I’m really resting. I’m in bed with pillows propped up, have a food tray, TV remote in hand that “I” control, Jesus going before me like a hurricane!
  • Today I’m headed to Arkansas for a wedding. I got a portable breathing machine. My breathing is 100% better!
  • God keeps doing so much for ME minute by minute. “I will sing to the Lord because He has dealt bountifully with me.” God is in control!
  • I’m having a fun snack: chocolate chip cookies, lime potato chips.
  • Let us rejoice because JOY is in this morning

How was she able to live her last days with this kind of joy and attitude? She was joyfully fighting to live and make it to one of the most important days on her calendar – the wedding of her son. She was fighting not with her own strength but with the strength of her beloved Jesus. At the time she said Jesus was going before her like a hurricane I had no idea what that meant. Now I do. She loved contemporary praise music and the song she must have had on her mind was “Fierce” sung by Jesus Culture.

 

Before I call

Before I ever cry you answer me

From where the thunder hides

I can’t outrun this heart I’m tethered to

With every step I collide with You.

Like a tidal wave

Crashing over me

Rushing in to meet me here

Your love is fierce

Like a hurricane that I can’t escape

Tearing through the atmosphere

Your love is fierce.

 

Kimberly experienced Jesus’ powerful love in ways she’d never known before. She had spiritual eyes that could see the Lord Jesus at work in her life during the most difficult journey she’d ever taken. She found joy in that last leg of her journey because of His love – the most powerful energy there is in the Universe.

We can never say thank you enough to the One who gave His all so that we can really live. But we can live trying. It makes a difference in the way we look at our yesterdays. It makes a difference in the way we view today. It makes a difference in the way we view our tomorrow.

Thanksgiving allows joy to take over instead of despair. With the apostle Paul we can say, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

 

Sacred Moments Always Remembered

 

My mother had Alzheimer Disease for eight years. I live in Tennessee, Mother and Daddy in the Texas Panhandle. During her battle with this disease, I made trips to see her and Daddy once every three months. I wish I could have gone more often, but it’s a long way from Tennessee to Texas. Daddy’s a tough Texan who had the strength to take care of Mother at home until the very end. What a gift he was able to give her.

I was already in Texas with Mother and Daddy, three years ago, when she began her final decline with this cruel disease. God has gifts for us even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death with those we love. The gift He gave me was that I was there with them during her last days here.

Hospice came regularly. For two weeks they told us her final breath was imminent. God holds the key to life and to death. Only He knows why her lingering was as long as it was. I trust Him in His timing but those were rough days.

The morning of October 23, 2014, I got up about 6:00 and decided to go and sit with her while I spent my devotional time with God. It was one of those mornings I wasn’t sure where to read, but I landed in Psalm 119. It’s a long chapter! 175 verses!

I did something I’d never done before. I read it out loud. I sat awhile and read, I walked awhile and read, I prayed some of these verses over all of our loved ones. Even though her eyes were closed, I knew she heard me and was delighting in the Word of God as I.

The entirety of this Psalm is devoted to the praise and honoring of God’s Word. The room where Mother took her last breath became a sacred sanctuary. The aroma of Jesus filled that place because His presence and His word were with us. His Word gives comfort, gives strength, gives joy, gives hope, gives guidance, gives refreshment, gives wisdom.

Mother took her last breath as I finished reading this Psalm. It was a sacred place.

Every time we worship God in quiet stillness, in reading and meditating upon His Word, and in prayer the place is sacred. There is a blessed communion among Father and child. This Psalm is the place where my eyes will focus on all the October 23rds that are given me by my gracious loving heavenly father who knows my days, and knows your days, too.

Even though there is another sorrow in my life, which is deep and fresh with raw emotion – the loss of my sister – this Psalm tells me: “God’s unfailing love is my comfort. When I’m laid low in the dust, my life can be renewed.” We are told, “Your compassion is great, O Lord; renew my life according to your law”.

What can we all be sure of in our darkest moments? We can be sure that He sees, He knows, He cares, He soothes. And the way to receive these blessings and more is having a heart that hungers enough and loves Him enough to spend time, not only reading His Word, but immersed and consumed by His Word.