Saturday, April 14, 2012

From the Midway...

“This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Go and tell the men of Judah and the people of Jerusalem, ‘Will you not learn a lesson and obey my words?’ declares the LORD." Jeremiah 35:13

Whether it was because I was stubborn, clueless, or selfish, I'm not sure--maybe a bit of all three--it took me awhile to realize that a relationship with God is what matters, not sitting in a pew. I had to find authentic faith, and until I did, I chased after empty things. I know better now...and I know to keep my guard up, so that complacency and the day-to-day won't lull me into forgetting. As I am in the midway of my life, as I look back at my adventures on the carnival midway and beyond, these are some of the thoughts that stroll through my mind...

God has really blessed me with three wonderful sons, a terrific husband, and after Clive and I married, we added two sweet daughters to the mix! I also have a precious little granddaughter, now, as well! Life is good, but it isn't easy. 'Easy' was never promised to us, just strength and perseverance! As our family has solidified and grown in faith, we've had trials come our way. Our dining room table has seen a lot of prayer powwows, because that is sometimes all we had to cling to. Those trials faced as a family will make great stories for another time.

I often took for granted or treated lightly my responsibility to teach my children, pray for my children, and guide my children. It is critical to grow your children spiritually! Even if you are growing spiritually, your kids might not be. I couldn't rest on my parents' or grandparents' faith to get me through the times I faced temptations and choices, and the results of my actions showed my own shallow faith. In the same way, as I grew and trusted God more and more, I think satan tried to get to me through my children. I now bathe them in prayer, and encourage their faith to be strong, so that when they face trials and problems, they have their own spiritual armor on, ready for battle. You'll notice in Ephesians 6:14-17, it doesn't say to find a parent or grandparent who's ready for battle and stand behind them. It tells each of us to "stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." In life, we will face battles...parents, let's send our kids off to war prepared and protected!

Whether it's society or within church walls, humans are too judgmental. I've been the judge and the judged throughout my life, and I'm not interested in being either anymore! When we're told “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you (Matthew 7:1-2)," I don't think it was a casual suggestion that Jesus tossed out for lack of anything else to say at the time. We can't take His job, which is to judge the whole world! "And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books (Revelation 20:12)." We are, rather, commanded to love one another--"And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us (1 John 3:23)." So that's what I will continue striving for...there are some who make that command easy, and some who make it a challenge, but it's a command, nonetheless.

We need to pray just to make it today (thanks, Hammer)! My family often says this line from the 90s song by MC Hammer, and it's fun and a little corny for us to do it, but also very, very true! Prayer is vital communication with our Father! There was the time I prayed the desperate prayer of a broke single mother and received ten $100 bills in the mail, times I prayed the lonely prayer of an emotionally-scarred wife and felt His comfort, and times some of my family and friends prayed for my boys and I and along came Clive! Sometimes there's nothing to say, but that's okay--"In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express (Romans 8:26)." And there are times we just need to hush: “Be still, and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10a). Prayer isn't magic genie time, it's talking and listening to the Most High God, who also happens to be our Heavenly Father!

Love God, love people, and use what you've lived....that just about sums it up!


“They approach and come forward; each helps the other and says to his brother, 'Be strong'!” Isaiah 41:5b-6

What in the world would possess me to write this oft-embarassing tale of how I lived a majority of my adult life?! I have several motivations; here are a few.

One is a call for transparency in Christians. The world has a skewed version of Christianity, and I'm afraid a lot of that falls on us. We try to put on fake smiles and have bumper-sticker slogans, which only comes across as shallow and empty. If we follow the words of 1 Peter 3:15 ("always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have"), we can bring hope, forgiveness, and salvation through Jesus to those who look at our lives, the good and the bad we've been through, and want to know how and why we handle things differently. If you've been through a prodigal experience or a trial, please share openly with others...turn the pain or embarassment into something that can be healing for you and helpful for others. "At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior" Titus 3:3-5.

Another reason I'm sharing my journey is to encourage others who have made mistakes and feel unworthy that you are, indeed, worthy of the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ! Don't be like those spoken of in Romans 1:25, where it says "they exchanged the truth of God for a lie!" In John 8:44, we're plainly told that satan is the father of lies ; here's how he's described: "He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies." So when you feel like you could never be forgiven or 'good enough' and like you're the only one who's ever screwed up, acknowledge that it's only satan, lying again....

And last, I do hope that someone who maybe had been struggling with thinking that a person, a thing, or a changed situation is what they need for fulfillment might just give it a second thought. As you can see, I journeyed from person to person and situation to situation, and I found no fulfillment! In John 10:10, Jesus said "the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." If you want real joy and fulfillment, turn to Jesus. If you're not sure where to begin, I would advise you to start by reading the book of John in the Bible, opening up a prayer conversation with God, and seeking a Christian to help you begin a journey of faith and salvation! If you once were faithful to Jesus and went on a circular desert journey, as I did, repent and start anew!

Power in Prayer

"The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." James 5:16b

Once again, I was healing from a series of bad choices. I was growing closer to God, loving my kids, and doing well at my job. I was at a place where I was content with all of that. But, I suspect that friends and family were praying for me, especially my sweet but super-strong little grandmother! I think their prayers were for the boys and I to do well, and more specifically for us to have a good person added to our lives. And God heard. And God delivered!

Way back in May 1999, I got my first computer in order to help me complete my first master's degree. One weekend, my sisters came for a visit, and we were goofing around with this novelty known as 'the internet!' One of my sisters had heard of a site that you could sign up for, and it would match you with similar people for pen-pal purposes. We all tried it, and it was fun to see who matched with each of us. One of the people I matched with was a cute little English fellow named Clive. I figured it would be interesting to find out more about England, so I sent an introductory letter. We began exchanging daily letters, and it was really nice to find out about the schools and politics in England and have someone to tell about the ins-and-outs of life as a mother-teacher-student! We honestly thought we'd never meet, and as friends, gave each other dating and other advice.

The daily letters continued through the summer and into the fall. One September day, Clive asked if he thought we could figure out the time difference and talk on the phone sometime. After figuring it all out, one night when I got home from classes, he called me (early morning for him). I instantly liked his accent, of course, and we shyly talked for awhile. It was weird to know someone so well through letters, but to be speaking to each other for the first time. From there, we took turns calling each other about once a week. I remember telling one of my sisters that it was such a shame that I'd never meet Clive, because he was such a genuine and sweet guy.

In early November, Clive surprised me--he told me he had a sailing trip planned and had gotten a plane ticket and time off of work, but asked what I thought about him changing his ticket to LA instead, since he'd never been there. I was thrilled! He came for a week-long visit in December, and I remember when our eyes locked for the first time as he exited the LAX international flight area. I felt a little 'jolt' in my heart, and I still feel it every time I remember that moment! My sisters watched the boys as I picked Clive up; we went out to dinner, then I took him by my house to meet everyone before dropping him off at his motel. When I got back after dropping him off, my sisters wanted every detail! They really liked him, and the boys thought he was nice, too, so it was a great first meeting.

By the end of that week, we definitely liked each other, and Clive started visiting every other month. He was even generous enough to buy me a plane ticket to England to meet his friends and family. He proposed on one of his visits to the US, and we began the long journey through the government requirements for a fiance visa.

We were fortunate because our families got along very well; our parents had been able to meet each other and had a great time, and our siblings liked each other, too. His parents were very accepting of and kind to my sons, which I really appreciated. When I think about the odds of our paths crossing, then that our families meshed so well together, and that Clive had to put himself out there to go through all of the fiance visa hoops at the American Embassy in London, I'm amazed at the things that our heavenly Father does for us!

Clive was finally approved for a fiance visa in the summer of 2000, and we were married in October 2000--a month after my oldest son turned 13, with my youngest son turning 3 a month after we were married...Clive was a brave guy! So there we were, an instant family of 5, put together through the prayers of righteous men and women!


Such a small word - guilt - but such a powerful jailer. If we focus on our past actions, rather than on what Jesus did for us in the past, we're trapped....and satan knows it. The thoughts and memories of what we've done and who we were can be quite enslaving. And sometimes the thoughts and memories aren't just in our heads, but come at us from the mouths of family or friends ("I'll never forget when you....", "remember how.....", "What were you thinking?"). Or they can come to us from reminders through an event or a person; for instance, I really dislike the song "Amanda" by Boston, because once at a dance club, my former husband left me on the dance floor while it was playing because he noticed a girl who 'looked lonely' and felt sorry for her. When I hear it, I remember the anger and humiliation for a lingering minute or two. When I look at my sons, whom I love with all of my heart and am so proud of, I sometimes feel pangs of guilt for the drama I brought into their lives, by no fault or decision of their own. When I think about advising young people to stay true to God, a momentary flicker of feeling unworthy to carry that message comes over me. Satan is no respecter of persons, and he'll try to get at us whenever and however he can.

I once heard it described that when we feel guilty over past things that Jesus has forgiven us for, it's like saying His dying on the cross wasn't enough for that one sin. And we know, through scripture, that "in him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace (Ephesians 1:7)!" Satan is our accuser, and will always try to remind us of past transgressions, in hopes of making us feel unworthy and unconnected. Just quote some scripture and get him outta there! As an old Carmen song said, "When satan tries to remind you of your past, just remind him of his future!"

One of my favorite Christian performers is Json, a Christian rapper originally from St. Louis. He has a wonderful song that addresses our tendency to look back. It's called "Credits Roll," and here's a sampling of the lyrics:

I'm just buried in guilt
I can't look to your face
I'm rejecting forgiveness
I'm just running from grace
All my mistakes is so heavy I can't carry the load
And I can't see the hand behind me is crushing my soul
Past feels like the present just can't seem to let it go
I do, I feel indebted when my debt's already paid for, for

So even when you know it's over
Tell me why you always want to rewind
So much light in front of you
It's over let the credits roll
Let 'em roll
Let 'em roll

So when you're tempted to replay old movies from your past, pray about it, read your Bible, and let those credits roll!

Lost and Found

"...this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found." Luke 11:31b

Lost and found...not some cliche from a parable, but a reason to live, celebrate, and hope! If you haven't read the parable of the prodigal son, find a Bible and read it; you'll find it at Luke 15:11-31. It's a beautiful story that's been repeated since humans first left the Garden of's a story of humans thinking they know the best way, and God forgiving us when we realize we don't. It's a story that stretches from the Garden of Eden to the Cross of Christ and right into our lives. My life was and continues to be a story of God's Grace! I've made so many wrong, dumb, and selfish choices in my life-perhaps you have, too. And satan would love to leave us in that state, full of regret and self-loathing. But God takes us and restores us into who He created us to be! And that is the best, most non-cliche, beautiful thing you could ever think of!

After I once again repented from my Israelite ways, I clung to God. I clung to Him, because I knew how easily satan can pry us away when we loosen your grip. I determined to be the best Christian, mother, and teacher I could be, and focus on that, and only that!

"Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you." Psalm 73:25

Loving to Death

"There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death." Proverbs 14:12

Ever since the Garden of Eden, the human condition has been that we think that we know better than God. That if something seems right, it is right. That we don't need to clear it through the word of God or a fellow believer, we can handle it. So when I met Isaac, it seemed right, meant to be, sensible. In hindsight, warning bells were ringing all over the place, but at the time, since I was away from a body of believers who could've held me accountable and helped me see Truth, I didn't hear those bells.

Isaac was a sweet, quiet, hard-working guy who I met when I'd traveled out to California for my job interview. We went to a movie together and promised to keep in touch. When I moved to LA county, we reconnected and started dating. It was nice to go from being married to someone who was very selfish, to being alone, into dating a considerate guy who acted crazy about me. All of the starry-eyed feelings I had made me blind to tendencies he had...things like him disappearing when he got paid, not hearing from him for awhile, then he'd reappear broke. Changing jobs a lot. Having arguments and issues with his family. I just chalked these all up to 'just how he was' and kept dating him.

Much to my embarrassment after being a youth leader of young girls and advising them to live holy lives, I got pregnant. Isaac and I talked about getting married, and even started driving to Las Vegas one night, but each of us took turns getting cold feet. His was probably good old-fashioned not wanting to be tied down, and mine was hesitation as Isaac started being around more and more. I began to see the missing pieces to the behavior pattern...between getting paid and becoming broke, he no longer disappeared. He would show up at my house with a case of beer and begin drinking...and when that was gone, he would keep buying beer until he was out of money or passed out. Usually the money went before he did, then he would be very unreasonable, trying to get more money. Imagine a tired kid who won't go to sleep, becoming more and more unruly....then turn that image into a 40-some-year-old guy, and you can partially imagine what it was like.

By the time I was near to giving birth, I decided that Isaac and I couldn't be together. I'd given him chances to change, he made a lot of promises, but it always ended up with him repeating the same pay-day pattern. I couldn't have my sons around that anymore. Even when we'd lock the doors, Isaac would knock, knock, knock, ring the doorbell, knock, pound on the door, yell, beg, promise, anything to get us to open the door. My older son tried to act like it didn't bother him, but my younger son would beg me to just leave and go rent a motel room or something, so that we could hide from him. We would often have to call the police, then I would embarrassedly feel like I was on the next episode of "Cops."

I felt sad for many, deep down, Isaac was a caring and kind person, but he could NOT turn from alcohol! He would act shy and almost unworthy until he drank, then he would be loud and was like he drank to become brave or something--sad. His family had hoped, and felt crushed, so many times with him, and after he met me, they again held out hope that he would change--so sad. I'd put a horrible role model smack-dab in the middle of my sons' lives--very sad. And I was having yet another son who wouldn't have regular contact with his dad--more sadness.

The morning I went in to have the baby, Isaac showed up to see him, which was fine. He was his sober, shy, sweet self, and it was his only child, so I didn't want to deprive him of the chance to see the baby. But later that day, he returned to visit the hospital after having gotten drunk, back to his 'brave,' loud, rude ways. The nurses finally asked him to leave because I was so embarrassed and upset.

After coming home with the baby, my older sons were so good about helping with him. Unfortunately, we kept having 'close encounters of the Isaac kind,' with more visits from the police. He was finally arrested after breaking my bedroom window one night, when again we wouldn't open the door to his repeated knocking. He served some time in jail, then left the area, occasionally calling drunk to check on his son. He eventually faded from the picture, with no word of where he was or how he was. I still pray for him and am sad for who he could have been. And although I regret this chapter of my life, I am eternally grateful for yet another wonderful, talented, hilarious son and wouldn't trade him for anything!

Prowling Lion and Fleeing the Flock

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." Hebrews 10:25

God designed us to be in community, working together, bearing each others' burdens, spurring one another I believe that satan wants nothing more than to get us separated from fellow believers. Then it's easier for him to whisper lies and have us believe them. That's what happened to me when I moved to California.

I moved there to further my teaching career, with more opportunities being available than in the southeast Kansas area where I was. My sisters lived in San Diego, so when I moved to LA county, I saw them a lot more often, which was wonderful! That, and starting a job I loved, was great, but leaving our home church, where we'd been actively involved, wasn't so great. I was so hesitant to become involved in a new church, so when the boys and I visited a new church, I would arrive late to avoid the 'meet-n-greet handshake time' and leave during the last song to avoid follow-up 'so tell me more about yourself' conversations. The more I became uninvolved in church, the more I felt unworthy to even be in church. I felt like everyone but me was happily married, with settled lives, and that I just wouldn't fit in. I'm sure satan was off in the corner somewhere, giggling about the whole thing. The further we get away from Truth, the more believable lies become.