faith

Control

I have been parked in the book of James for many weeks now. I am reading scripture, praying for wisdom and deep understanding. I plainly ask the Holy Spirit to shine a light on any dark places where I do not fully allow his truth to penetrate and expose my hardened callouses and sinful pride. I am watching Francis Chan’s video series on James, working through a guided study by Max Lucado, as well as healthy discussion in my adult small group.

Lucado posed a question that seriously captured my attention; it is this:

Would you change the way you are living if you could see your future?

Why or why not?

In high school I lettered in debate of all things. Believe it or not, I am not fond of arguing. I do like researching and presenting logical facts, as well as being able to present and defend both sides of a question. My first response to this question on a personal level is YES. Yes, I would want to see the results of my lack of faith and sinful actions. Therefore, if I could quickly see the bellyflops and heartache of my poor choices, I would steer clear and adjust my words and decisions. Wouldn’t anyone want to avoid deep hurts to themselves and others they love? I would certainly change the way I am living if I could see into my future.

Take time to read James 4:1-10

Let’s look at it more pragmatically. As Christ followers, there are certain truths we all profess to believe.

  • His ways are higher than our own. Isaiah 55:8-9
  • We pray for God’s will to be done. Matthew 6:9-13
  • All good things come from God. James 1:17

I’m about to sound like I’m steering off course here, but stay with me. Do you remember the popular television game show, Let’s Make a Deal? The audience was typically dressed up in crazy costumes and trying to get noticed. As the chosen contestant was presented with different choices along the way hoping to be one of the final standing to play for the big prize hidden behind a door, box, or curtain. The excitement was fun for all, and what made it even more entertaining is that there was always the possibility someone may get ZONKED and end up with nothing of value other than a good laugh.

All of us have a free gift of grace, Jesus took care of that on the cross. He knows each one of us, and knows us better than we know ourselves even down to the number of hairs on our head. We live in a fallen sinful world, and many of us may think we get zonked more than average. Moreover, what the world would consider a ZONK, bad luck, a series of unfortunate events, etc. isn’t always what it seems. Many of the worst situations in my life, have been times that I turn to God and lean into him with a comfort that can not be explained until you have lived it personally. In life we have choices to make everyday. We don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.

If I truly want to pray, and live according to God’s will, I must trust him. I must be willing to be obedient to let him lead me. I must give up my craving to know ahead of time and stop “helping him out.” That is something I have a tendency to do. I want control, so sometimes I try to get a sneak peak by snooping around, nowadays cyber-stalking is such an easy temptation. I tend to want things to go the way I want and I find myself manipulating situations to formulate my desired outcomes. When I do these things, I am not letting God do his will. I am acting as the world would and quite honestly seeking their approval and applaud. In my meddling, I am working against God. I must allow God to do a work in me and be content, satisfied, and filled with joy without knowing what is behind each door. I must stay in his word, able to hear his voice, and go where he leads. I desire to know God’s will, but more than that, I must be willing to do God’s will. I must be obedient to act (have my go-shoes on Designer Shoes of Peace). Faith and love are action words. Create in me a pure heart Lord that allows me to bravely walk upright along the path you have designed for me. I humbly give up my rights to be in control. Let my life be lived for your kingdom, and set apart from this world. Thank you for delivering your Holy Spirit to reside in me. Continue to transform my thinking through the reading of your faultless God-breathed scripture.

faith

God Provides

In previous posts entitled, “Faith Story” I share details of my life, and my late uncle. Here is one of my favorite parts of our story. I have gathered my journals from what would really be his last days of life. Here is my journal entry from the morning of March 18, 2015

What awaits me today O Lord? May I trust that ALL is in your hands. May the words spoken today during the care meeting be filled with grace and may the words spoken be received well by my uncle. The progression of his symptoms and continued weight gain from edema mark the external signs of a failing internal system. He is weak Lord, but YOU are strong. Your love endures forever. May my uncle not pass until his eternal address is secure with you.

On this day I would be using Batterson’s Draw the Circle as a daily devotional for the second time around. Here is what I wrote,

‘Write down the revelation’ -Habakkuk 2:2 Batterson says journaling is one of the most overlooked undervalued spiritual disciplines. The shortest pencil is longer than the longest memory. It is a way to look back and remember what God has done. Thank you Lord that I tapped into this discipline and have seen its power in my spiritual life. I don’t ever want to go back to the way I was before.

On March 20, two days after the care meeting  in which my uncle was on pending:denial medicaid for medical necessity. I was caught off guard a bit. Here is where I share my journal entry,

We were all on a conference call in this meeting with the state of Texas authorities when the nursing home LVN promptly used these words, “The family (referring to me) will appeal if denied.” What? I don’t know what that looks like, but I pray that you Lord would approve him before we have to fight another confusing red tape battle. Your glory and your good provisions have been at work all along these many months, and there is no stopping now. Amen!

Knowing that and trusting in you brings a smile to my face. I must continue to remember what you’ve brought me through in order to keep a positive outlook on difficult circumstances…You will provide. You Lord have proven yourself trustworthy. May I be able to show my strength and faith in you by sharing with others as my testimony of your righteousness. Lord, I know that you provide for all who love you. You bless us beyond our comprehension. You control the Earth’s rotation, orbit, placement, the birds of the air, down to each heartbeat and breath of all of your children. Thank you for my uncle. Thank you for letting me love on him as he once was (by my grandmother who has been gone for more than 20 years). May he feel it, and receive. Finally, Luke 11:8 is worth noting here because it says ‘yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.’

You met our needs all along the way. March 22, 2015 I would write these words in a brand new journal.

The first page of a new journal. Oh Lord, how I hope that in between these pages I listen to you and obey your still small voice. Reveal more of yourself to me and expand my mind to accept your righteous wisdom. Let my time with you each morning keep my armor in tip-top inspection ready shape, and reading and studying your word sharpen my sword; my only weapon of offense…I would end this day with Romans 12:12 “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.”

March 23, 2015 early morning excerpt

…I’m running out of umpf with my uncle. Please revive my servanthood. I know he is depressed and wants nothing more than to go back home.

poster

Later that day, I would get a call with my uncle sounding unsettled and an urgency in his voice. I was there asap, especially since his nursing home was only two miles from my home. By the end of a long, hard, and scary day, I would be meeting with hospice people and he would be signing his own Palliative Care forms. That day he would tell me of his favorite verse that was in a poster of photos and scripture I had made for his room. In his words, “even with faith being as small as a mustard seed, you can do all things.” I would write in my journal on March 24 the following:

My uncle told me I was comforting to him, and he told me he loved me. I prayed over him thanking you Lord for the extra time that allowed Paul and I to get to have a relationship and restore family. I pray that our story will be seen and heard by others and do nothing, but touch others and bring glory unto you.

I had been with my uncle all day, and was blessed to have a friend to pick up my children and care for them. I stayed. I was exactly where I was supposed to be: holding his hand, comforting him. I left only after a hospice nurse arrived to keep 24 hour care and watch. I received a call a few hours later and at 11:07pm on March 24th he left this earth. I arrived so fast, he was still warm to the touch. I was shocked, and caught off guard by the next steps. I had to arrange for a funeral home to come get him. I had to mourn with another sleeping residence on the other side of a curtain, as well as a uniformed police officer to keep guard until the funeral home arrived. That right there is harsh; before this night, I had no clue. I was totally 100% unprepared for the reality of death. Only with God’s help did I survive this night. I also know my Lord and Savior was with me and cared deeply for me. After a sleepless night, I would experience the best and only “good” conversation with my mother (my uncle’s sister) for a couple years before this time, and never since. I would sit down at my normal time to begin my day with quiet time, with my Bible, my prayer journal, and my current study or devotional. Here is what I would write and discover in its entirety.

Through puffy, teary eyes with little to no sleep I praise you Lord. My uncle is with you. He is no longer struggling. I have visions of him running and jumping and testing out his new body. I see him reunited with his mom, and the most awesome thought is that he has seen Jesus and is worshipping you face to face!

Today will be filled and days to come with planning, paperwork, etc. Please Lord guide my steps. Be with me each decision and appointment as they come. Thank you Lord for a good conversation with my mom. You allowed my uncle to open up and share and be honest and vulnerable with me. I take great pleasure in my heart knowing he saw and felt the good in me. He loved me. He and my kids got to know each other and create memories. Yesterday he told me that his time here he has collected some of the best, and more good memories than years combined back at his home. (hours away)

As my usual, I then open up my study. This day I was continuing in a prayer devotional. As I opened to the page marked, I look down to find a great sign from above. The tears flowed as I see the title

Sow a Seed – Matthew 17:20 “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed…” This is my uncle’s favorite verse that I had written out, and prayed over him dated November 19th. Just yesterday he said it was his favorite out of so many. You God are faithful and you add to my faith everyday. Thank you Lord for caring for me and loving me.

God provided. He did not have to, but he did. He gave me a gift that is priceless. A certain sign that my uncle was indeed with him in paradise. I know that God has, is, and will continue to bless me beyond my circumstances that at times seem to be pressing in on all sides. My faith will not be shaken. Jesus is my hope and my future! He is my rock and my fortress. I will trust him until my very last breath. He gives life, and he is love!

 

faith

Faith Story – Part 3

Monday, November 10, 2014 I would see my Uncle for the first time in 5 years. I was prayed up, and thankful that I have my journal to share my exact prayers for that day.

Lord, keep me focused on my Uncle. I will abide by his wishes and do not want him to be disturbed. Give me calm, give me guidance, give me direction as to what I need to know, do, say, and feel. I surrender. I can not effectively (and with a level head) do this on my own.

When I walked in that ICU room that day my uncle met my presence with a question, “What are you doing here?” My earlier prayers were immediately answered because I calmly replied by telling him that, “I loved my grandmother, and she loved me. You sir, are my grandmother’s son. Out of love and honor for her and my Lord, I am here for you.” I also reminded him of her favorite verse, “This is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

That first week, I was met with some big challenges and realizations. My uncle told me that he was a Buddhist. His best friend from grade school (a married lady) was caught in an uncomfortable position because my Uncle had named her as medical guardian and possible executor of his will. Like never before I realized things/stuff/items don’t really matter. I was reminded of my mother’s inability or unwillingness to behave in a manner in which I desire. God’s timing is perfect. My husband and I attended a marriage retreat that first weekend he was in ICU. I was encouraged to go, and grateful we did because it united our marriage in God, and gave us strength that we would need to draw from in this season. Above all, I learned that God will do amazing things when you follow his plan and keep the most important thing as the priority in your life. God first!

I learned when I have no words, all I have to do is turn to the words of holy scripture. Always with a nod of permission from my uncle, I would sit and read the Bible out loud with great clarity and immodesty. My uncle would be intubated on and off for the next 30 days. He would spend more than a week tethered to a bed with tubes, lines, and alarms at all times. Our normal Thanksgiving trip would not happen, as I would be in an intensive care room, with no turkey, and without hopes of a grand family meal occurring. However, Thanksgiving 2014 was remarkable because I would get to experience first hand God’s saving grace. The entry below is from my journal dated November 27, 2014.

My uncle told me he loves me for the first time in 44 years. Today I know that his ability to love me was a gift from our savior. Paul’s salvation is secure. He feels God’s presence. I needed this Lord. He is a blessing and a miracle in my life. Thank you for blessing me with this time of him being in Houston. He is not a burden. He is a joy. He is my uncle who is now my brother in Christ. Receive him into your loving arms where all his fear and anxiety, frustration and weakness will be replaced with safety, security, comfort, joy, praise, and strength. What a glorious day when heaven comes and floods his eyes.

Just days later, I would have to advocate for his quality of life. Day by day, I would be determined in my approach to learn and seek the best care for my uncle. My prayer life grew, my spiritual eyes were opened wide, I was humble in declaring the work God was doing; not on my strength, but all from the power of Christ in me.

Not every moment was I able to be a rock and a crown wearing sister of sainthood. There were moments where I would get angry at my mom’s attitude, or sad at her lack of help. I would suffer a few times in despair with the red tape of trying to navigate government entities, nursing homes, lawyers, banking, taxes, liens, and bills. There was even a situation where there was a person who stole valuables from my uncle, and refused to leave my uncle’s property. But without fail, the times my emotions went awry I took my eyes off God. I would look at my situation, and not rely fully on the one who holds it all in His hands. Often I was reminded of this scripture in Exodus 14:13-14 “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today…The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” 

Over the course of the next 4 months, my uncle and I restored a family legacy of love. There was forgiveness, genuine care, and grace displayed for all to see. A true living testimony of the power of Christ. James 1:2-4“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

It has been two years since my life was forever changed by that season my uncle arrived in Houston. I am blessed to know my uncle’s salvation is secure. I am humbled and blessed beyond measure to be used by God for His purposes. The Lord has awarded me in His perfect timing with an Earthly inheritance as well. Not only would my grandparent’s home be saved from the government entities, and be left to me as rightful heir; I would receive something of even greater value. I was honored in getting to know my uncle’s true friend as my own. She and I became prayer partners, we are friends forever, and I am proud to say she is my sister in Christ. Thank you Lord for all you have done. Let us not forget who we are in you, and may we be obedient to your continued calling in our lives.

 

faith

Faith Story – Part 2

I was 12 when my brother was born, and I moved by the time he was two. His father had been an abusive alcoholic (the reason I moved out) and my mother finally divorced him by the time he was in grade school. However, after a few years of living with my mom, he ended up living with his father by the time he was 11 or 12. My mother never continued a relationship with my brother after he left. I continued to reach out to him, and maintained a relationship with him. My husband and I would make a point to get him for a week each Summer. By the time he was in college, he announced that he was gay. I told him that I expected that, and it didn’t change my love for him.

On the heels of my baptism, right around the same time as my stand against my grandfather, my brother and I discovered we were living in the same city. We were super excited to meet up. I invited him to my son’s birthday party and he dropped by to get a hug, drop off a gift, and left me a letter to open later. This letter revealed that he was a practicing Wiccan. I spoke with him on the phone once or twice more, we had agreed to meet face to face, but he would only agree if it was at a Wiccan establishment. I declined, and he has never responded to any of my attempts over the last 10 years to reach out to him.

By 2003 my mom was still living in the garage apartment and began dating Jim . On the surface he seemed ok enough, he wasn’t abusive, and seemed to treat her well. I knew he read the Bible, and for years I would assume that he was a Christian. My mom started staying at Jim’s place more and more. Her father, and brother didn’t like this new guy at all, and the relationship between all of them began to deteriorate. Meanwhile, Jim allowed her to see her father through a different lens. The exposure of my grandfather’s offensive controlling behavior was hard for her to take. She had idolized her father, and in her 20’s had even legally changed her name to identify more closely with him. She became bitter, and avoided her childhood home at all cost. By 2004, my husband and I rented a U-haul and made the trip to pack up her things up, and move her belongings from the garage apartment to Jim’s place out of town.

Five years later, in 2009 I knew my grandfather was not doing well, and had been put in a nursing home. I pretty much thought my mom should make peace with her dad, and also should pay a visit to check on her disabled brother. He had been dealing with all of this on his own, with absolutely no skill or aptitude in knowing what steps to take.  She did not want to go, but I persuaded her to make the trip with me and her grandbabies. Upon arriving, the house that I remembered looked run down, and sad. My uncle could not take care of it well, and he didn’t care nor have adequate funds to pay others to help. Many times over the years, I offered help to my uncle, but he always refused. It was clear that my uncle didn’t like me, and he certainly didn’t trust me because he had been victim of a father of lies and cruelty. I would continually defend him and his situation to my mom who couldn’t say a nice word about the brother she once loved. My uncle didn’t know better, he wasn’t wise to the world, he lived in a protected bubble of his childhood room. His life was lived by osmosis with fantasy lived through books, music, and video games. My mother refused to make peace, or say goodbye to her father in the nursing home. Within a month of our visit, my grandfather would die, and I would be notified of this news via Facebook. I reached out to my uncle, and he refused any help and chose to keep matters to himself. There would be no funeral for my grandfather. 

Over the next several years my mom and I had some great times together. She and Jim would house and dog sit when we went on vacations, she would come visit just because, and enjoyed meeting us in the Texas hill country as often as possible. She taught her grandkids to sew, and spent lots of quality time outside sharing her love of nature with us. For years my husband and I had helped her financially and did not consider it a burden, but a gift we willingly gave. After many years of living together, my mother and Jim married. I watched him read the Bible and never had too much in-depth conversation.

By December of 2013 my mom revealed to me that she was following a cult. Of course, that is not what she called it, but after some research, lots of prayers ,and taking note of her words, actions, and attitudes it became apparent. By Easter of 2013 we pretty much stopped talking. In that last conversation, I began to cry and she did not. I quickly realized she was well rehearsed and ready for this expected interaction with me. She asked why I was crying, and I told her that her actions had eternal consequences. My heart broke that day, and when I realized how far gone she was, the Holy Spirit came over me like I experienced with my grandfather all those years before. My tears dried up. I had a boldness and strength to tell her that there was nothing she could say, or do would make me deny my faith in Jesus Christ. My husband and I would not tolerate her or Jim trying to influence us with their false prophet’s teachings. I told her I loved her, and that I would be praying for her.

John 14: 6 “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'”

Back to November 9, 2014, and I see this hospital pic posted by my uncle from the previous day. I called my mom, and she knew nothing. Yes, she had seen the post and thought he was just seeking attention, and she wasn’t biting. My next call was to a cell number I had, and sure enough my uncle answered. He quickly handed the phone to a nurse and she informed me that he was being prepped for transport from his hometown to the Houston med center by air ambulance. After many moves to various places, my husband and I now live in a suburb of Houston. Some may say this was just a convenience, by luck, coincidence, or fate, but I believe God had me move here for such a season as this.

Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

faith

Faith Story – Part 1

November 8, 2014 as scrolling through Facebook, I come across a photograph from inside a hospital room. My uncle was in a hospital several hours away. He and I were only 7 years apart, and quite frankly never had a great relationship. He had been born with an extremely rare congenital heart defect, and had lived his entire life as a miracle. His parents, my grandparents, raised him at all times concerned about his fragile health. Neither the doctors, nor either of his parents ever expected him to outlive them. He was never “normal”. He never was able to ride a bicycle, run or play sports, never had a career, never learned to drive, never moved out, never married or had children. He was never taught the skills necessary to live independently.

Though we were close in age, and from first through seventh grade I was under his same roof regularly, we never quite connected. He became jealous of me because I was able to do all the things he couldn’t, I was healthy and active, and very outgoing. My grandparents’ home was my safe place. It was the only place that would remain constant my entire life. My grandmother would always have these words for me, “This is the day that the Lord hath made, rejoice and be glad in it.” (found in Psalm 118:2) She loved everyone she ever met, and her family knew we were her prized and cherished gifts. She passed away in 1991 after a long hard battle with cancer. Many people expected my uncle, her only son to die without her care, or simply die of a broken heart because he too loved her with the same love I did. That was not the case. God had something else in mind.

Shortly after my grandmother passed, my grandfather began a series of abusive verbal attacks towards me. He would say hateful, hurtful, bogus things to demean and degrade the memory of my grandmother (his wife of 45+ years). He had a way of doing this when only I was around, and he would tell me I needed to hear the truth. For years, although not as frequently, I continued to travel and visit my grandfather, uncle, and mother in my hometown. After the death of my father, this maternal grandfather started these painful confrontations regarding the daddy I loved. Again, I continued to visit and meet with my family, and he got to meet and hold his great-grandbabies, an honor and experience neither my beloved grandmother, or daddy received. With each visit, I would be crushed at the horrible things this grandfather would say about the two people who had shown me the most love in my life.

At the sudden death of my mother’s third husband. She called because she was distraught and grieving her loss. Within hours of this death, my grandfather had immediately started whispering his ugliness to her. My grandfather had built a garage apartment for my mom and her then husband. So now, knowing she was broke, and at a time of raw emotion he was making her more miserable with his verbal hissing and deceit. My little family was a week out from moving to a new city and knee deep in all the normal moving stressors, when I received the heartbreaking news from my mom. However, within mere hours my husband and I dropped everything to be at my mother’s side. I helped with finances, made phone calls and got her caught up by paying delinquent accounts, while my husband was the guard between my grandfather and my mom and me. We also made arrangements for her to come stay with us during the move and setting up the new house.

Within months of being settled in our new home, my grandfather and family were traveling to my new city to celebrate his birthday. I was so excited and wanted them all to come see my house, and even had been baking a cake for his surprise! The first cake, I had made was a total flop, and I baked another to make everything just right. It would be the first time my grandfather had seen where I had lived in almost 25 years. When they got to town, through a telephone conversation I learned that they would not be visiting my house at all this visit, and was told to just bring the cake to the hotel. What? Why? I was told by my uncle, and my mom not to push, and not to ask. I was disappointed to say the least, and I loaded my two beautiful babies, and the cake, and drove to their hotel room 15 minutes away.

I asked my mom to watch my kids while I went and had a talk with my grandfather. I wanted to know why he was refusing to come to my house. He first started in with the fact that he thought I was trying to show off. Then, he began his diatribe against my grandmother and father. I had recently been baptized, and I guess the Holy Spirit finally gave me the courage to tell him to stop. So, I did. This last face to face, one on one conversation we had I can only describe as a battle of spiritual warfare. I felt as though I was looking evil in the face. I put my hand on his knee and told him to stop talking about people who can’t even defend themselves. My truth, my memories of them, nor my feelings would be changed based on his outlandish claims attacking their good name. I told him that I loved him, I would be praying for him, but he would no longer get to share his warped “truth” with me ever again.

I left him sitting there after those parting words, and I was still physically shaking when I met up with my mom and babies. I told her of the conversation that had just happened. “Why did he want to hurt me?” I asked. What came next was a continuation of hurt and betrayal. My mom, and my uncle had been listening to my grandfather spew his “truths” about me for years. They were either too scared to stand up to him, or started believing the lies he was shoveling out. This was not the first, nor the last time in life my mother and I would stop talking.

There is hope in this story, but I pause here and will continue with more very soon. Let me share Psalm 27:10 with you that is my favorite of all time because it clearly says that my earthly father and mother will forsake me, but my God, my Savior will never leave or abandon me.