In the winter

Coating the earth, dormant

Tree tops bowing heavy

Protested by the birds above

And the residence of squirrels

Perched in holes near the thicket

Of pine needles bursting forth in all directions

The sound of breaking glass or

Crinkle chips under foot as we

Wander out in the still evening

Crisp, below freezing the wind

Whispers on the cusp of the new

Snow just fallen. ..in the whisper

The nagging reminder that it has begun

The race has started,

The doldrums of early sunsets

And dark midnight’s solemn chorus

Howls in frost bitten ears;

Perhaps this time I should have worn

my stocking hat…but ah

This season of frost and snow

Beckons me onward and I

Break the unseen underfoot

Blanketed until the melt of

early spring…when life renews

its hibernation and these ears

stop protesting the bitter breath of winter.

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Our Tragedy At Christmas

I’ve been putting this off for years. Still to this day, a lump forms in the back of my throat when I begin to think about the events that took place that December night in 2009. There have been other times that I’ve begun to write about this event, and then I stopped because I didn’t want to misrepresent or dishonor my Mother-in-law’s memory.

Flashback to Thanksgiving Day 2009, if there were any premonitions that this would be the last time we would see her, I’m sure we would have clung on and never let go, begging for time to stand still and for December 7th never to occur. We had spent the day together with Deb, my Mother-in-law, Rick, my Father-in-law, and Helen, Rick’s mother. It had been a nice visit, not unlike other holidays spent in their company. All the dogs were there too, and we had eaten our fill of Turkey and all the fixings. Our visit post meal time was brief and then everyone wrapped in coats began to depart our home for their journey back. Brief hugs were exchanged. Looking back at that moment now, I’m sure we probably would have savored that time a little longer, cherished that conversation a little deeper, and expressed our love and gratitude a little more eloquently… but that’s how life is sometimes, each moment is brief and then it’s gone. Two weeks later, all hell broke loose; the ground under our feet might as well have crumbled away along with it.

I was driving that night when I got a panicked phone call from Donna or Diane …still to this day I can’t recall who it was, because of the shockwaves that transpired from that conversation left me numb, and specific streets I was driving down and the exact words in the conversation are blurry. At first all I understood was, “its Deb, she’s not breathing”…automatically I thought it was another Deb, one of our employees Deb, who someone was calling about. Perhaps even then, my brain was trying to save us from hearing it correctly, protecting us like a sentinel in the midst of danger. Then everything came crashing down, when I finally grasped at what was being said. Deb. Accident. Not breathing. My heart sunk in my chest, I literally started breathing rapidly and with every exhale came a three word prayer, over and over and over again…”Oh God Help, Oh God Help…” There was a passenger in the van who had been fairly talkative until I received that phone call, my demeanor must have changed in the midst of the phone conversation because as soon as I ended the call he went silent next to me. The drive to this person’s apartment was only a matter of minutes, but it seemed like hours because I understood where I had to go next – home. My wife didn’t know yet that her mother had been in a horrible accident. She had no clue what message I had to convey, and I was about to bring the worst possible news through our doorway and into her life. I was sick to my stomach, as tears were rolling down my face and I was praying as I continued to accelerate through neighborhoods and stop signs, trying to get home. My face must have read the anguish of the words that I wasn’t sure how to speak, because when I walked through the front door and up the steps into the living room, she knew.

It is still very painful to recall those moments even three years later. There’s nothing more heart wrenching than the cries of mourning, the tears of loss, yet on that night in 2009 these were the notes to an orchestra of sadness, where each of us were unwilling performers hurtled toward the stage of deep and utter loss. Huddled in that small living room we wept, we moaned unutterable notes in anguish. A few moments later the police were at our door, Rick had called them because he, at first he couldn’t reach us, he couldn’t speak because this news was too much to bear over a phone line. My wife answered the door and as she recalls now even the police officer was an unwilling messenger, a page in a book of pain, an unscripted unwilling volunteer in this unfortunate event. The news was not good. We didn’t have any further updates at that time, only the earlier phone call status: not breathing. We hoped, we prayed…yet our optimism balanced precariously on that jagged cliff of utter and total despair and uncertainty.

I went off into our twin toddler’s room to pack clothing, diapers and any other items we would need for this late night drive to Traverse City Michigan, which was roughly three hours away from our home. Still to this day, something happened in that room that I cannot explain and I have been hesitant to mention it to many people because I’m a skeptical person myself. I am not a mumbo jumbo, supernatural investigator type of guy…but as I was packing their clothes something happened. It wasn’t a voice exactly, but I knew that Deb was trying to say something to us. Shanais, my wife, was far too distraught at the time, but in that nursery of our home, I recall hearing “Tell Shanais that I’m ok, It’s ok”. After hearing something like that, what do you do? There’s no handbook to guide you through an experience like that. I remember saying; “I will tell her” and I finished packing our kids up for this emergency trip. We were in and out of our house, poorly packed and in the van in less than twenty minutes and on the road, panic stricken and hearts as heavy as falling boulders of stone.

Forty five minutes in heavy snow we found ourselves on the Mackinaw bridge heading south when we got another phone call, this time Diane calling us to let us know that Deb was gone…she didn’t make it.

What began as a cautiously optimistic drive south turned into our worst fears as desperation and grief washed away our resolve. I recall making a couple of phone calls, one to my uncle and aunt in Grand Rapids MI, they could help me contact The Salvation Army Officer in Traverse City so that he could go and be with Rick at the hospital…he was all alone. The second phone call I made was to a number in Africa where my mother and father could be reached, and as my Dad answered with a sleep weary voice, I wept and shared the horrible news, he wept too and I’m sure calling him in the middle of the night thousands of miles away didn’t make him feel at all useful or close at hand to help…but I needed to hear their voices and we needed all the prayers of support that we could get. That long journey to Traverse City on that cold wintry night was unplanned, involuntary and bitter. Looking back on it now, memories of that fateful night’s journey still fills me with distain and sorrow. A part of me still feels shorted for both my wife and our children, to have their grandmother and mother taken away without warning…so young, so unfair…

Later we learned that Deb’s actions were so consistent with her personality. Deb, was a very giving person, ask her family, ask my kids. That night Deb and Rick stopped to help a couple people who had just been involved in a severe automobile accident. Amidst broken glass, shatter bones and crumpled metallic frames of vehicles, they rushed to help the hurting victims on the side of the road. Deb was in the ditch when it happened. The roads were extremely icy, and cars were not driving safe speeds for those cold frosty conditions. One car in particular, with a young man behind the wheel, lost control, sped around the crash and struck Deb. She was pinned under this vehicle because she had been trying to help one of the injured passengers of the other vehicle. She died right there on the scene, giving to others as she always did in her life.

We had always prayed that Deb would one day have a personal relationship with Jesus, and there had always been a fear that she would never accept such an idea because of the life that she had experienced growing up. But she had been to church with us from time to time, she had taken the opportunity to hear Shanais, her daughter, preach…but such a thing was far too personal for Deb to share with anyone. Yet that night and for days after we had always wondered where she stood with the Lord…until I remembered what had taken place in the nursery of our home while packing clothes for the unwanted journey. “Tell Shanais that I’m ok, It’s ok”…began to all make sense…hopelessness was replaced with hopefulness even in the midst of such a horrific tragedy. We believe with certainty that Deb’s message to us was real, perhaps a final goodbye, but also a chance to say, “I’m in His arms…it’s ok, I’m alright”…in reality it was a comfort to know that our goodbye was more of a “see you later”.

Hug those you love, share with them your salvation story when you can…and cherish the moments you have with them. One other thing, give what you can to others…Deb did even at the end of her life she was giving

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(Taken On Thanksgiving Day 2009)

FML…A New Outlook

Image

It’s found in hashtags around the world, in people’s facebook posts and other social networks too…it represents media fatigue, fastfood, quick paced society life. The statement represents people that are tired of their lives and perhaps there’s an element of depression involved in such a statement. We once dreamed of a world where we had modern technology that could give us information at our fingertips, and what we found out was that this information has consumed our lives. There was once a time where we thought such technology and conveniences would make our lives easier and it would serve us well, but what we have found out, as a society, is that we have become slaves to our technology and advancements. Our lives aren’t easier, they’re more complicated and instead of worrying about only our problems we now know what everyone in our “friends” list is doing and some of the struggles they are going through. This is a good and a bad thing. Good in the sense that we are closer to each other even if hundreds of miles separate us. Bad in the sense that we are overwhelmed, inundated, consumed and slaves to our ever growing perspective in this life.

FML is a way of life for some, and it represents the unsatisfied, the disillusioned, the depressed, the lonely, and dare I say it represents all of us in one aspect or another from time to time. Don’t get me wrong, i’m not saying we remain there, but we consider it sometimes, we ponder it, we put our proverbial toe in its water out of frustration sometimes.

You see FML is not just a hashtag or a statement posted by a few, I believe it represents our live style, our choices, the world we live in. John 1:5 says “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” We live in a fairly dark world if we were to consider the present state of things. Not to be a Debbie-downer but the truth is our world that we live in is in need of some light, some real hope. The problem is since humanity has this fallen condition and lives in darkness, they grasp for anything to fill that need. In this fast-paced society it could be relationships, social media outlets, recreational drugs, did I mention relationships already? Despite all the instant gratification of these things, when it is all said and done, when we’re all alone, those things will not fill that void that is still evident…and so FML is expressed…

Let me give us all a new outlook on this trend: Instead of F**k My Life, maybe we can replace it with a prayer that says “Free My Life”! Jesus once said, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36) All the things above I just mentioned will not set you free, in fact they might just do the opposite because we invest so much of our time into these things that we become a slave to them and instead of us controlling it, it controls us. Instead of finding release and salvation in our stuff or others we find entrapment, depression, denial, a sense of abandonment or rejection…and in the long run we will slip further into our darkness if this is all that we invest ourselves into.

But here comes this Jesus guy who says “If the Son (meaning Him) sets them free, they will be free indeed”…what does He mean by that? What He means is this life and all its shiny toys and stuff won’t free us….we need a supernatural, out of this world saving…we need a Savior to do that. Jesus came to Free My Life (FML). He came to free your life, and if we first begin our new outlook with this in mind and that we do in fact need saving, we truly WILL be free indeed. So how bout it…why settle for a F**k My Life mentality when God has a Free My Life option?

Just a thought…and if you want to know more about this person Jesus…drop me a line, talk to a Pastor in your area, and begin by reading the Bible in the book of John. Hope to hear from you soon!

Lose ourselves

To find the missing
sometimes we need to lose
ourselves…
instead others are lost
inside themselves –
not selfless
ever moving for me

To find the wayward
sometimes we need to lose
ourselves…
but many are in the
drivers seat
uncaring
unmoving
unmotivated

To find the unloved
sometimes we need to lose
ourselves…
become consumed in others
not for our glory or
for some kind of reward
but because there is an
undeserving love that we have
received.

To find the hopeless
sometimes we need to lose
ourselves…in the heart and love
of an endlessly loving
all consuming power of
Christ.

Starting Over

He sat there on the beach waiting in silence. After leaping out of the fishing boat into the cold waters of morning, he was cold. The warm fire on the sand felt inviting, but his heart wasn’t in it. It wasn’t from physical exhaustion of jumping early morning surf to get to shore, but rather a spiritual exhaustion. Just days earlier he had sat by a similar fire warming himself when he had been verbally accosted by three individuals. Instead of being a Disciple, he acted almost as poorly as Judas. Peter had sat there by that fire and had been asked if he was a follower of Jesus, he had bailed on courage and instead leaned on self-preservation and fear. As he responded to three different people of his identity, the words that came out were complete and total lies; “I don’t know Jesus, I’m not one of his followers, you must have me mistaken for somebody else.”

Now, sitting on this beach by a fire made by the very person he had denied knowing, his heart is in his throat and he so desperately wants to rid his heart and mind of this deep river of guilt flowing through him. Peter feels like he has lost everything, he’s messed up so badly that he is certain he can no longer be called a disciple of Jesus. He can’t even look Jesus in the eyes anymore for he is afraid of what kind of emotion he will see staring back at him. Will it be sadness? Or anger? Perhaps disgust? So this awkward silence hovers over the fire but for the occasional hiss and pop as the flame consumes this burnt offering of wood. Afraid he won’t be able to articulate how sorry he is, Peter just sits there, a slave to his thoughts of chastisement and sorrow. “I’m as bad if not worse than Judas, I deserve banishment from his presence, If only I can just say goodbye and let him how much I love Him…” His thoughts, however, are not permitted to continue in this derailment and self pity because Jesus after all knows what He is thinking and He begins to address Peter.

“Peter, do you love me?” The words come out of Jesus’ mouth and Peter thinks for a moment, “here it comes, I’m about to be dismissed from my brothers and from Jesus”. In response to Jesus’ question, Peter looks for the first time at Jesus and he doesn’t see the anger he had seen when Jesus over turned the tables in the temple. He is almost taken a back by this, surely He’s upset with me. For a moment words fail Peter, but looking into Jesus’ eyes he’s not sure if its the fire or a warmth of compassion but his heart skips a beat and for the first time in days an emotion slowly seeps into his mind that he thought was long gone – Hope. Peter isn’t sure if it’s this newly found emotion or the look in Jesus’ eyes (maybe was both) but his tongue is finally loosed like broken chains on a prisoner and with tears welling in his eyes he responds to Jesus “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.” Again he peers into the flame and back at Jesus as his heart pounds in his chest. But Jesus isn’t finished, he response to his declaration of love; “Feed my lambs.”
Peters thinks about this for a moment, as hope gives way to another thought lost emotion joy. He wasn’t lost, he could be saved.

Again Jesus looks at Peter over the fire and says, “Simon, son of John do you love me?” Peter looks at Him and there’s a sparkle in his eyes as the other disciples look on…”Lord you know that I love you.” Peter responds, this time with a little more confidence in his voice, and though still unsure of himself, the hope and joy IS returning. “Then take care of my sheep” Jesus says. While pondering what Jesus means by this, Peter reflects on some of the miracles he has seen the Son of God perform, he also thinks of His teachings surely Messiah doesn’t need my help. But again interrupted from his thoughts, Jesus asks Peter a third time, “Simon, son of John do you love me?” This time, the walls of Peter’s heart come crashing down. The tears that had been brimming in the corners of his eyes have broken the dam walls and are freely flowing down his cheeks. He is hurt by the fact that his Master has asked him a third time if he loved him, but at the same time the light goes on his mind and he can’t help but draw a correlation between his denial and this early morning love confession.

Peter slowly draws in his breath and looks through tear blurred eyes at the most important person in his life and says, “Lord you know everything, you know that I love you.” Peter makes a bold declaration with these words, perhaps some of the disciples miss it, but he looks Jesus in the eyes and with his heart and mind he opens himself completely to his Savior. What he says with his third declaration is more than love and affection, but he says to Jesus ‘look into my very soul and see for yourself how much you mean to me.’ Such vulnerability would never have taken place when Simon Peter had first met the Master, how far he has come. This walk to become like his Master has just reached a new level of intensity and Peter knows he will never be the same. He has given himself completely and utterly to walk in his Rabbi’s footsteps.

What started out that morning as a sinner’s confession and thoughts of condemnation has turned to reinvigorated passion and a deeper love of God. A once hardened, blue collar working man has fully surrendered to his Savior. What more does this very same God of Peter require of us today? He desires for us to declare our love and total surrender to Him despite our failures and faults, despite if we think we are worthy enough. This world is already full of condemnation, judgement and ill-formed perceptions of how we should live and be, but Jesus looks at us and still asks us, “Do you love me?” When He asks you, what will your response be? Maybe you might think that you are not good enough or worthy to be loved by God, but He loves you more than you could ever dream.

Maybe it’s time for us to start over.

-Just a thought.

Mercy or Anger?

Matthew 18:23-35 (MSG)

The kingdom of
God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants.  As he got under way, one servant was brought
before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn’t pay
up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to
be auctioned off at the slave market.   “The
poor wretch threw himself at the king’s feet and begged, ‘Give me a chance and
I’ll pay it all back.’  Touched by his
plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt.   “The servant was no sooner out of the
room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He
seized him by the throat and demanded, ‘Pay up. Now!’   “The poor wretch threw himself down and
begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’  But he wouldn’t do it. He had him arrested and
put in jail until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw this going on,
they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king.  “The king summoned the man and said, ‘You
evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy.   Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to
your fellow servant who asked for mercy?’   The king was furious and put the screws to
the man until he paid back his entire debt.   And that’s exactly what my Father in heaven
is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone
who asks for mercy.

 

There is a truth in this bible story that is wedged in deep
for us to discover.  It’s kind of like a
piece of food stuck between our teeth that needs to be flossed out so that our
gums don’t hurt anymore,  ignore it and
it could lead to an infection, more pain and perhaps other health issues.   Yeah it’s gross, but it is the truth,
nonetheless.   Sometimes the truth has to jump up and slap you
in the face before you stop and take notice.
The initial hurt could save you from
a deeper more lasting pain that could damage you permanently if you ignore the
warning.

 

Let’s try to peel back two very difficult topic to confront
in our lives.  Anger and Grudges.  Have you ever been angry?  Have you ever let your anger fester, over
flow, explode?  Anger can be a deadly
weapon delivered first with words that seemingly spill out of your mouth and
flow on into our actions if we let them.
If someone gets in our way during our drive home from work “WATCH OUT
YOU MORON!” might be a tame expression of how we really feel.  If we let this type of anger control us, whelm
up in us, then become a slave instead of free…because we are owned by our
emotions and owned by our outbursts.
These outbursts can become damaging to relationships and destructive to
those around us.  Ephesians 4:26 says “In
your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still
angry…”  in other words, anger by itself
is not wrong, but letting anger enslave you and anger coming home with you into
your house day in and day out is a recipe for destruction.  There is a time and a place for anger.  Jesus got angry didn’t He?  But His anger was righteous anger, or anger
that was justified by the actions of sinful people, making God’s house a Wal-Mart
super center instead of a house of worship.
But when we get so bent out of shape for the smallest of things then we
become known by others as the “angry person.”   Do you know anyone like that?  They are always flustered, always mad at
something, people walk on egg shells around them.  If that was a child, they’d be in a “time out”…sitting
in a chair until they calm down.  Maybe
we adults need to take emotional time outs too.
Anger, uncontrollable anger is one of those food kernels stuck between
our teeth that needs to be flossed out to make us healthy again.

 

The other issue we may face in our life that is detrimental to
us as Christ-followers is Grudges.  The
opposite of holding grudges is expressing forgiveness.  When we have been emotionally and physically
hurt by people, the easiest and most human response is to lash out and strike
back at them.  To inflict the kind of
pain that was done to us.   In the
ancient world and still today it’s the “Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth”
mentality.  But when we don’t forgive
someone, who are we really hurting?  When
we hold a grudge in our lives year after year who’s life are we really
hurting?  It’s our own life that we’ve
put on hold in order to stew over those things that people have done to
us.  It’s our own life that doesn’t grow
but shrink when we hold onto these bitter roots of anger and hurt.  The offending party that may have inflicted
these wounds years ago, maybe not even know or care anymore.  They probably don’t lose sleep over this
hurt, but we do all because we haven’t learned to let go of this bitterness in
our lives.  When Jesus tells his disciples
and those listening to turn the other cheek, He wants them to let go of revenge
and bitterness, because it brings not a humble pliable heart, but rather a
proud, angry, fist clinched heart.  Tell
me which heart is prepared to learn and grow in the knowledge of Jesus?  Certainly not the heart that is still broiled
up in bitterness and anger!  This kind of
heart is a divided heart.  This is a life
that is not completely sold out to God because there is something in the way, a
stumbling block that keeps the person from truly growing.  Hosea 10:2 says, “Their heart is deceitful,
and now they must bear their guilt. The LORD will demolish their altars and
destroy their sacred stones.”  This is a
reference to Israel, but we could easily put our names here instead if we let
anything divide our hearts and keep us from our intended relationship with
God.  God wants a true and sincere
relationship with us, but if we let anger and bitterness (Grudges, lack of
forgiveness) remain a wedge in our lives, then we are no better than the
wretched servant that Jesus speaks about in Matthew chapter 18.  This guy receives forgiveness from the
master, but instead of turning around and showing this kind of forgiveness and
mercy to those who owe him; he goes out and inflicts vengeance and anger on them,
and even though this is a fictitious character that Jesus talks about, we could
easily be that foolish, vengeful, blustery servant.

 

Do you want freedom, or do you want to continually be slaves
of your own making?  Anger and Bitterness
come from within, and if we let them, they can be a wedge in our lives that
will fester, hurt and ultimately lead to other spiritual health issues.  It’s time to get out the spiritual floss…yeah
kind of gross to think of it this way.  But
the truth hurts for an instant in comparison to the kind of damage permanent
anger and bitterness can create.  Jesus
said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

 

-Just a thought.

Modern Day Psalm

Oh Lord, you understand me
you have captivated my heart
its love that’s too good to be true
and yet, like waking from a dream
this reality is apparent in the world around me.
Though there is still injustice and hate
I know that You, oh God, will eventually
make all things new.
Find me never lacking, Oh Lord
and If I am, don’t give up on me
I never want to use my humanity
as an excuse for my transgressions
Lead me, Dear Lord
allow me to fellowship with You
all of my days.
-Amen

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