A woman who loves life and loves people. A wife, pediatrician and mother of three. Born in Dewey, Oklahoma and lives in Garfield, Arkansas. Enjoys eating Hostess snowballs and sitting outside on a beautiful day.
Many years ago, a group of us were looking at the life of Moses. At the end of our time together, Anne, the one leading our group, did something quite creative. In keeping with Moses’ blessing of the tribes at the end of his life, she did the same. She gave each person a blessing and recognized them for an attribute she felt characterized them. By doing so, both Moses and Anne blessed people by giving them a glimpse of who they really were.
As Anne began going around the large circle of women, it seemed to me that each word fit perfectly to the person it was given. There were all kinds of laughs, sighs and smiles as each woman received the blessing created specially for them. As my time in the circle approached, my mind jumped ahead to what she would say about me. Revealing that tells you that my attribute was not humility! I was hoping for joy. I like joy and for the most part I think I’m pretty joyful. But if not joy, then love or encouragement. For that matter, I had a whole slew of things I would have loved to have said about me.
But when my turn came, I was surprised. And I have to say, disappointed. The word she used was enthusiastic, which was not high on my value scale at all. Smiling, I listened. But to be honest, I wasn’t smiling inside.
On and off for the next few years, I thought about that memory. It especially came to mind anytime I heard someone say the word enthusiastic. Then one day, while working in the kitchen, a program came on the radio that changed my whole perspective.
The speaker began giving the definition of a group of words. One of those words was enthusiastic. The definition he gave for enthusiasm was “possessed by God.” With jaw dropping surprise, I couldn’t help but mutter to myself, “Are you kidding?” Enthusiastic wasn’t a word I wanted to define me, but I could think of nothing better I would want said of me than, “she was possessed by God.”
Immediately, I ran to the source of all such pertinent info (alias, the dictionary) to see if this new revelation was true. And YES, to my joy, it was. And YES, I must add that I was quite enthusiastic about it! Now I embrace enthusiasm with fresh excitement and am thankful people often see that quality in me.
But even more important than being excited about being enthusiastic, was the insight I gained about how each of us see ourselves. So often the things we want to define us are qualities we already possess, we just don’t know it. They are hidden by misconceptions or ideas we already have lodged in our hearts and minds. Sometimes they are things we have told ourselves or sometimes they have been told to us by others. It is a beautiful thing when we find out, who we hope to be is already who we are.
For me, it was a radio program that woke me up to that understanding. For you, it may be the dark, hard situation in which you find yourself. Perhaps that crisis brings out the courage you never thought you had but always wanted. You’ll find out it was always there, you just didn’t know it. The world offers a million ways to discover, who we long to be already lies within us.
So a big shout out and thank you to Anne who recognized in me what I refused to see in myself all those years ago. She saw what I hadn’t yet discovered. Because, so often, who we most want to be, is already who we are.
“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. Matthew 5:5 Msg
So be content with who you are, and don’t put on airs. God’s strong hand is on you: he’ll promote you at the right time. Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you. 1 Peter 5:6 Msg
“What I’m(Jesus) saying is, if you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face. But if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.” Luke 14:11 Msg
Let me start by giving you a description of the house in which I was raised. Imagine a small town of around 4,000 in the early 1960s. Kids played outside in the neighborhood without their parents knowing where they were. The main rule was to be home by dark. I rode my bike to school for years and played tag and wiffle ball in our big backyard. The house itself was white with dark shutters and had two stories. There was a sidewalk from the street that led to the front door. By the edge of the sidewalk, half way up, was a lamppost that glowed warmly at night to light your way.
The sidewalk ended on the front porch of my house staring straight through the two large windows of our living room. To the left was a door to our garage and to the right was our front door. The front door was nothing fancy but had two components. The first was a screen door, which was really only screened on the top half and pretty flimsy wood below. The second was the actual main door of solid wood. My mom loved the fresh air, so the all-wood door was hardly ever closed; only at night when we went to bed. Even though we had air conditioning, it was brand-new back then and we rarely ever used it because it would “run the electric bill up.” So instead, the house was filled with the gentle breeze that flowed through the open windows and the sound of the wind chimes that hung outside.
I hope my description above made you envision a place that was cozy and warm and inviting, because it was. And I want you to take that feeling and hang on to it as I use it to talk about something else. Something that’s more important than my childhood home. The topic of the Inside Story today is really about prayer.
With that thought in mind, let me finish describing one more important detail. The screened door always squeaked when you opened or closed it. My parents never fixed it and I’m pretty sure that was on purpose so they would know whenever we went in or out. Later as a parent, I understood the wisdom in that.
And now fast forward to a few years later when I had grown up and moved out of the house. I still remember the feeling of walking back in that front door. It was being home, like putting on your well-worn, broken-in sneakers or your favorite shirt that’s been washed a million times. It’s the feeling of knowing you can be yourself; that you can let go of all the stuff. It’s a place of rest. Mostly, it’s the feeling of love.
As I would walk through the door, my mom would always instantly appear. The front door faced the stairs leading to the bedrooms upstairs. As I came in, I would see her scurry around the top of the stairs and almost run down. I’m sure it was the squeaky screen door that alerted her. She knew, and so did I, at the sound of that silly door, that I was home. It didn’t matter what time of day it was, she would always appear just as I came walking through the door.
Prayer is like that for me. The very same feeling. It’s going home. The only thing I’m required to bring is myself. I can pour out whatever is inside and be just who I am – no pretense and no masks. It’s the feeling of being loved and accepted. And God, just like my mom, is always there waiting for me to walk in the door. Thrilled that I made it and happy I’m there.
It’s always crazy to me when I hear all these different formulas to pray, like someone’s giving you some kind of script. Prayer is really just a conversation. And who wants to have a conversation with someone who is reciting memorized lines or fixated on maintaining a certain pattern? I’m not advocating being irreverent, I’m just advocating being real. John records that the Father is seeking those who will worship in spirit and in truth. One commentary mentions that “spirit” is far more than an outward ceremony, it is an internal thing. And to worship in “truth” is to worship authentically or in relation to reality. Another commentary translates that as “with nothing hidden.”
It’s great to be somewhere where you don’t have to hide anything. Where you can be authentic and genuine and there is no pretending. Where your thoughts are known without even having to voice them. And where you are loved just for being you. This brings us back around to home. Because for me, prayer is just like walking in that old screen door. It’s coming home.
I realize as I write this story that not everyone has a home experience like mine. I have friends whose homes were filled with violence, abuse and pain, and I have friends who have been completely homeless. Habitat for Humanity conducted a writing contest over the topic, “The True Meaning of Home.” One of the school-age finalists, wrote this, “Home means an enjoyable, happy place where you can live, laugh and learn. It’s somewhere where you are loved, respected and cared for. When you look at it from the outside, home is just a house. A building. Maybe a yard. But on the inside, it’s a lot more than wood and bricks. The saying ‘Home is where the heart is’ says it all.” They went on to finish, “Everybody deserves to know the true meaning of home.”
I think Jesus would agree with this young contest winner as well. The night before his death, Jesus told his closest friends, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” Even if we don’t have the home we long for in the here and now, there is a perfect home offered to us in the future. Prayer connects us with that home until we get there. Because in the end, we all want to go home.
“It’s who you are and the the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for; those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself – Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.” John 4:23-24 Msg
Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me were I am. John 14:2-3 NLT
It is way too easy in life, to look back and see all the ways we could have done things differently. But in the middle of a crisis, the flurry of emotion and exhaustion often mixes together into a massive cloud of confusion. Our ability to see things clearly seems to evaporate and we run to hide behind something or someone or even within ourselves. But hiding is never the answer. Neither is fear.
Tracy and I sat outside the coffee shop talking. The weather was strange for late May, somewhat cool and intermittently misting. Some people may have thought us odd for sitting outside at the time. A national pandemic, however, makes people do somewhat crazy things. At one point, the conversation was revolving around the feeling that we could have handled some situations better in the past. Everyone knows and attests to the saying, “No one’s perfect,” yet we all expect ourselves to be. Once again, a type of craziness in which we all seem to take part.
For me, I encountered that feeling a few years ago. Dental work threw me into a major TMJ crisis without being able to talk or eat much at all for months and months. Looking back, I wish I could have handled things better. At the time, I was just trying to hang on and wasn’t doing a great job of even that.
Tracy’s encounter with “I wish I could have handled things better,” was a more current situation. It involved the difficult task of her telling others that she needed help and ultimately allowing those people to help her. We all want to be on the giving side, but nobody wants to be on the receiving side. Once again, more craziness but we all do it. It must stem from pride or maybe even fear of how people view us. Fear is a powerful enemy. Tracy knew this from experience. Twelve years ago, when we met, I watched Tracy win her first major round with fear.
I should first say, Tracy is one of the strongest people I know. I have never seen her back away from anything difficult. She is one of those people who walks in the room and appears to have everything together. Calm, collected, forthcoming, and genuine. This is someone who you would never imagine had to work to overcome fear. Perhaps that highlights the point I want to make. We all have to work to overcome fear. Some of us just have to work a little harder.
A little over 12 years ago, Tracy was diagnosed with breast cancer. When we first met, my friend had just completed chemo and was beginning radiation. Rarely did she miss our once-a-week study group. Despite having two small children, just finishing chemo, and in the midst of radiation, every week Tracy appeared on time and beautifully put together. She’d arrive with her lesson completed, a wig on, and a smile on her face. This happened week after week after week. That is, until out of the blue one Thursday Tracy arrived – on time, lesson done, but no wig. Her smile was still present and in fact, may have been a little bigger.
Practically everyone there immediately responded with the type of responses girls do. Things like, “I love your hair!”
“Your hair is so cute!”
“You look adorable!”
Things like those. And they were true. Tracy’s hair was her own, super short but hers.
Later that day, several of us ate lunch together. It was a “share your personal stuff” kind of lunch. Conversations with friends about what’s going on behind the scenes and how you really feel. It was then Tracy shared some of the things that had prompted the removal of the wig. I remember her talking about fear. Fear that the cancer might come back. Fear that she wouldn’t be there for her kids or her husband. Living with the constant fear of having to go through it all again. She didn’t want to stay where she was, but at the same time, afraid to move forward. Stuck in some limbo land, wondering if there was a future.
Tracy said she had made the decision to stop being afraid on Easter. She wasn’t going to fear the future anymore. Instead, she was going to walk straight forward into it. She felt like she had been hiding inside the wig, afraid to come out. That day, the hiding was over. The wig came off and fear went down. This isn’t to say wearing a wig is wrong. It’s not about the wig, it’s about hiding. The thing you’re hiding behind? That’s what needs to go. Fear can be defeated, it just takes courage.
Fear can paralyze us. It grows in the darkness. Permeates our thoughts. And it becomes more ominous the more we focus on what it is we fear. Fear can consume people. Perhaps that is why Jesus said over and over, “Do not fear.” He talked about it with groups, said it to individuals directly, and even covered the topic in parables. Jesus knew we would have to face things which would cause us to fear, but still he said, “Don’t be afraid.”
In his message on fear, Andy Stanley put it this way, “You don’t have to be afraid, even when there’s something to be afraid of.” It sounds crazy, but in this case it isn’t. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Life puts us in some pretty scary situations and being consumed by fear will only make matters worse. Whether it’s COVID19, unemployment, losing someone you love or something you have, life can be brutally scary. Jesus acknowledged we’d be in fear-provoking situations, but he also said we could still choose not to fear. And the reason He gave? “Because I am with you.”
I think it is a little like a child walking through the woods late at night. It’s dark, it’s alarming, and it’s potentially dangerous. But in the presence of a parent, the child can take hold of their hand, and make the journey without being afraid. They believe the parent can handle whatever they encounter and will get them safely through the scary woods to the other side. Jesus holds out his hand to us and makes the same offer.
The account of the disciples in the boat is always a favorite of mine. Twelve men, one small boat, middle of the night, wind buffeting, storm raging, hours of rowing – sounds eerily similar in ways to some of our own trials. When out of the darkness, they see Jesus on the water. “They were terrified,” is how the NIV reads. Jesus’ response? “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
I’m always encouraged that his response wasn’t to belittle the men and tell them to muster up some courage. Instead He says, “Take courage.” One of the definitions in Merriam-Webster for the word ‘take’ is “to transfer into one’s own keeping.” Jesus has courage and extends the offer to transfer some. We just need to take it from him. Whatever it is you are afraid of, you don’t have to be afraid any more.
So take courage. Tracy has. Even though round one in the battle of fear ended several years ago, Tracy was diagnosed with breast cancer again nine months ago. This time it is a different type of breast cancer. After the biopsy, the pathology results came back triple negative, requiring a much more difficult treatment course.
And there we sat, full circle in many ways. Just as when I first met her, Tracy was in the middle of radiation following her chemo. And there we were having lunch, the kind where you “share your personal stuff.” But this time fear didn’t get invited. I saw no fear in Tracy, although I’m certain the temptation remains. What I did see was the strong desire to never go back into hiding. The desire to live life well no matter what lies ahead. The hope is she will continually say yes to help, but always say no to fear. That, my friends, is courage. And I’m certain I know who it came from.
I prayed to the LORD, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears. Ps 34:4 NLT
Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for You are with me; Your rod and staff – they comfort me. Ps 23:4 HCSB
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10 NIV
For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love and sound judgement. 2 Tim 1:7 HCSB
So I took courage because I was strengthen by Yahweh my God. Ezra 7:28 HCSB
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. James 1:2-4
When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified…… But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!” Matthew 14:26,27 NLT
What do you do with loss? The sense of loss is a powerful feeling. So powerful, that at times it can be overwhelming. It’s odd, because the word itself would imply we should somehow feel lighter, that we carry less because something is gone. Instead, when we lose someone or something we love, life becomes weightier, and we end up carrying more. So what do we do with loss? The answer to that question lies in the story of a young woman named Wendy who taught me how to handle the tragedy of loss.
Wendy and I first met about a year and a half ago. It was a chance meeting. Surrounded by people and brick buildings, the two of us were both leaving a class. Typically, most people just pass by without making eye contact, although sometimes there’s a smile or a nod. Wendy was different. As we passed each other, Wendy smiled at me and spoke. I looked over and saw a short young woman who appeared to be around 21, although I later found out she was older. Her frame was petite and she was obviously Asian. When she spoke, her voice was soft, and when she smiled, so did her eyes.
I returned the “hi” as well as the smile. We began walking together across the busy parking lot, dodging between the cars as we moved along. There was something very inviting about Wendy, which made talking with her extraordinarily easy. The conversation flowed, and before long, we found ourselves at the end of the parking lot and ready to go our separate ways.
In that short period of time, the two of us had already covered so much. Let me share with you what I had learned from Wendy that day. She had talked about her family, and I knew that Wendy’s parents were still in China. Wendy had come to the United States a few years ago as an international student to attend Arkansas Tech in Russellville, Arkansas. College for Wendy in the U.S. had been a goal for her parents, and they had worked hard to give her that chance.
“Do you have any other family here?” I asked. As I did, I wondered what it would be like to head to another country alone and just out of high school. To me, that would take nothing short of some pretty bold emotional courage.
Wendy replied, “No,” she had come on her own. But she was not alone long. Upon arriving at Arkansas Tech, she began attending Missionary Baptist Student Fellowship where they offered classes to help international students with their English. While there, she met a woman who has since become like a mother to Wendy. So much so, Wendy calls her “Terry Mom”.
Two years later, Wendy transferred to the University of Arkansas. There she met her husband-to-be, Gary, whom she married after graduation. Three years later, Wendy and Gary were excited to announce that she was pregnant and they were adding a new little one to their family. Unfortunately, this is where the conversation took a heartbreaking turn.
At 24 weeks, just as her second trimester was ending, Wendy stopped feeling the baby moving. Upon seeing the doctor, they were told the devastating news that no fetal heartbeat could be found. Their precious baby boy had died.
Wendy said she had to go through labor to deliver her baby boy, who they named Isaiah. No specific cause was ever found for his death. Wendy shared her great sadness and heartbreak at delivering a child she would never take home. Even though I didn’t know her well, I felt that great sadness with her. As a pediatrician, I remember having to tell parents that their child had died and the heaviness of that moment. It seemed as though time stood still.
As Wendy shared this memory of her greatest loss, I saw in her a quiet immovable strength and an unmistakable peace. There was no sign of the turmoil of unanswered questions or the need to lay blame. I wondered why at the time, but as Wendy relayed the rest of the story, I understood.
You see, there was an amazing set of circumstances occurring in Wendy’s hospital room that day. Becky, the nurse who was caring for Wendy at the delivery, had lost her first child at delivery 25 years earlier. Immediately, the two shared a deep, unspoken bond.
Later that day, Becky returned to Wendy’s room bringing a small box. Even though the box was small, the gift was not. It was a green box with bright pink roses containing items to comfort a grieving mother’s heart. There were all kinds of things in the box – things to help physically, things to help emotionally, and things to help spiritually. Wendy treasured the thoughtfulness of her precious gift.
Without missing a beat, Wendy went on to say that she had begun making her own box to give away. Her plan was to help other women struggling with the loss of their baby. Wendy found a way to give through her pain and out of her loss. We can do the same. We can offer to others what can’t be bought. Deep inside, we all know it isn’t just about the things we can put in a box, it is about what can’t be seen. It is about giving away part of your heart. And for the receiver of the gift, your heart is what they will never forget. It is, in fact, the heart of Jesus.
As my sweet new friend finished telling me about Isaiah, Becky, and the box, I was awed by the fact that someone so young was also so wise. What came spilling out from Wendy was utter confidence that Jesus had a good plan, and she trusted Him. Resting in that trust, Wendy and I prayed together before we left the parking lot that day. Among other things, we prayed for her to be able to carry and deliver a healthy baby in the future. On April 8th, 2019, I received this beautiful text from Wendy.
Josephine was born July 30th just one day short of 35 weeks gestational age. Although she required a short stay in the NICU, Joey is a thriving adorable little girl with a smile as precious as her mom’s. One day she will meet her older brother Isaiah.
These days, most of Wendy’s time is wrapped up with Joey and Gary, but her box is ready for the next woman who needs it. Wendy also made a website that journals the testimony of her journey through one of life’s greatest losses and how God is continuing to bring beauty out of ashes. You can find Wendy’s journey on her website at wendyzhougreat.wixsite.com/littleisaiah
Wendy’s example calls out to our hearts. It is encouragement not to waste what is possibly the most valuable thing we have to help others – our loss. The thing that was meant to make you less can be given away to make you more. What devastated your heart can be used to heal someone else’s. And what destroyed you once can be the very thing you use to save another. Don’t waste it. It is the great reversal- ….. -and THAT is what you do with loss.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. John 1:5 NLT
He (God) comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. 2 Corinthians 4-5 Msg
He (God) heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds. Ps 147:3 NCV
I (God) give new life to those who are humble and to those whose hearts are broken. Isaiah 57:15 NCV
The Lord has put his Spirit in me, because the LORD has appointed me to tell the good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort those whose hearts are broken, to tell the captives they are free, and to tell prisoners they are released. Isaiah 61: 1 NCV
As I begin a new story, where I start is always by recognizing just how thankful I am to have witnessed so many amazing events. And I am also grateful that the people involved allowed me to be a part of their lives. This particular story is for a friend who is currently in the midst of a battle with cancer. The story itself occurred many years ago but I write it now so that she might remember – what faith can do.
When I think of Tammy, I would say the story started with a rainbow. Technically that’s not correct, but I would guess that if I asked our friends who were there with us that year, they would agree. The first thing they would recall about Tammy was her excitement over learning the story of the first rainbow and what it meant. Perhaps that rainbow represented a beautiful sign of hope in an otherwise very difficult year.
The events of that “difficult year” were brought to light in the context of a small group of women who would meet together every week. A few days before, I typically spoke with everyone by phone. In the course of the phone calls, I had an opportunity to catch a glimpse of what was happening in the lives of each of my friends. For Tammy, there was much more going on than learning about a rainbow. Little by little Tammy began sharing bits and pieces of a home life that was gravely troubled.
Family for Tammy consisted of her husband Howie, her five year old son, Howard, and her little girl, Mykela, who was two. Any time little ones are part of the mix there is always stress. But in this case, there was significantly more stress then just parenting. Tammy talked about being afraid. Men were showing up at her door looking for Howie. And they weren’t pleasant or happy. In fact, they were intimidating and scary, so much so that Tammy was fearful for both her and her children’s safety.
Howie was a DJ at a local radio station in town and as you can imagine, was quite personable. Unfortunately he’d become pretty heavily involved with both alcohol and drugs. Along with that came a myriad of other very poor choices. Not only was Howie and Tammy’s marriage falling apart, but Howie’s life was also on the line.
In the middle of the mess, Howie had one thing going for him he didn’t realize. Tammy was praying for him. She had decided to start following Jesus just shortly before we began meeting that year. Her decision came at the end of a Passion Play – so there’s a boost for all of you who wonder if a Passion Play ever changes anyone’s life! It does and Tammy is living proof.
To help you know Tammy a little better, she is a person who is gentle and quiet but not shy. As is so often the case, still waters run deep. When Tammy says she will do something, I have confidence that she will. She is steadfast in her convictions; loyal and kind. She is, to me, the example of meekness; my favorite definition of meekness being “power under control.”
Through the course of the year, my sweet friend would give me prayer requests to share with the group. She never elected to divulge her home situation to the others so these prayer requests never went into any great detail, they were vague but direct. I still have them after all these years. Since the ones pertaining to Howie’s situation are important for the story, I will share them with you. They were as follows …….
direction and strength for Howie
Howie to see and hear God clearly
God will keep Howie safe and work out His plan for the two of them
God’s continued will to be done in Howie’s life
God’s protection for her and her family
God will bring a great testimony from her husband’s trials and his story will be a blessing to someone else
One week as my friend and I were talking on the phone, she began relaying a few of the disturbing events taking place. As she finished the last statement her voice drifted off and she paused. What followed next stunned me. She said the most unexpected thing. I was braced for one of the usual statements you hear when someone’s life is an absolute wreck; something like, “I can’t believe this is happening to me,” or “I don’t deserve this,” or “I can’t take this anymore!” But instead she calmly said, with a certain air of boldness, “I know God is going to do something.”
The amazing thing about this statement is the fact that she said it when circumstances were at their very worst. The days were dark and a happy ending seemed pretty far away. She had nothing to substantiate that belief except faith.
Faith isn’t just some feel good emotion that says everything is going to work out fine. It is based on reality. The reality lies in the object we place our faith in. We place faith in things everyday. If we place an order somewhere for lunch, we trust they are going to prepare it and as a result we drive to pick it up believing it will be ready. We have faith in the restaurant. We do things like this all the time. In Tammy’s case, her faith was placed in the character of her God. She knew He was faithful, kind, compassionate and good, and she put her trust in that reality.
“I know God is going to do something!” And “something” He did. A few months later, Howie came to Tammy saying he needed and wanted help. It was difficult to find a rehab center that their insurance would cover, but with time and perseverance a place was located in Florida. This was a commitment for both of them. Howie would have to travel to Florida and would be gone from home and work. Tammy would run things on the home front and take care of Howard and Mykela.
By the time Howie left for rehab, it was May and our group was ending. For our last meeting, we planned to have our final study and then head to our friend Misty’s house to eat lunch afterwards. Tammy was in charge of bringing some of the food. That afternoon we all arrived at Misty’s house – all but Tammy.
So we waited – and waited – and waited. Finally Tammy walked in the door. It was obvious that “something” had happened. The rehab center had just called and told her that Howie was unconscious on the floor and they were trying to resuscitate him. His blood pressure had been elevated and erratic as he withdrew from the drugs and Howie had suffered a heart attack. For the first time the group understood what was going on behind all the prayer requests Tammy had made throughout the year.
Our little group gathered up in a circle around the island in the kitchen and began praying for Howie. I have no idea what anyone said but I have no doubt that Jesus was right there with us and that our Father heard every word. And I believe what was shining in the darkness of that moment was the faith of a young woman who believed her God was going to do something, something amazingly good. She never lost confidence that He was able to take the worst of circumstances and make something beautiful out of them.
And now for the rest of the story. Howie not only survived, but in fact, began to really live. His testimony comes from the floor of the rehab unit, where he chose to place his faith in Jesus. From an article written in the Joplin Globe by Rich Brown, came Howie’s own words, “While the paramedics worked on me, I just knew the next breath I took was going to be either in heaven or hell,” he said. “Tears rolled out of my eyes and at that point I said ‘Jesus, please save me,’ and he did.”
From that point forward, Howie has been a different man. He came home clean in more ways than one. He began a website for addicts to meet Jesus using his testimony. He began witnessing and sharing scripture at a local church who reached out to addicts. He established four substance-abuse discipleship houses; two for men and two for women. He also used his gifts as a communicator by DJing a Christian music station which he helped spearhead. Over time, Howie began Impact Church, which is thriving and growing, where those looking for recovery are always welcome.
As a result of Howie’s earlier involvement with drugs, he still faced legal charges when he returned home from rehab. Our actions always have consequences. But because of his complete turn around, the judge chose probation rather than prison. That’s a great ending. But this story really isn’t about Howie.
This story is about Tammy, it’s about the person behind the scenes who paved the way for the impossible to happen. And ultimately, it’s about the object of her faith who brought it about. The prayer requests I mentioned earlier were fully answered. Perhaps not in the timing or way Tammy initially wanted, but in the end, they were answered in a far greater way then she could have hoped or imagined. Faith is the vehicle that carries us to that end. That’s what faith can do.
Faith means being sure of the things we hope for and knowing that something is real even if we do not see it. Hebrews 11:1 NCV
God can do anything, you know – far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! Ephesians 3:20 Msg
For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. James 1:3,5-6 NLT
“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20-21 NIV
Whenever two or three of you come together in my name, I am there with you. Matthew 18:20 CEV
The rainbow that I have put in the sky will be my sign to you and to every living creature on earth. It will remind you that I will keep this promise forever. When I send clouds over that earth, and a rainbow appears in the sky, I will remember my promise to you and to all other living creatures. Never again will I let floodwaters destroy all life. The rainbow will be the sign of that solemn promise. Genesis 9 12-15,17 CEV
I’ve seen dreams that move the mountains Hope that doesn’t ever end Even when the sky is falling I’ve seen miracles just happen Silent prayers get answered Broken hearts become brand new That’s What Faith Can Do Kutless
See A Victory by Elevation Worship
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I’ve waited to do this story on Mike for quite some time. Why have I been waiting? Because I love happy endings. The nice tidy ones where everything falls into place and the underdog wins. The kind where what seems to be impossible happens and everybody walks away thinking the world is a wonderful place. So I’ve been waiting for the happy ending to come along for Mike. The problem is, it hasn’t yet. And it’s pretty messy in the middle.
My first encounter with Mike was about 10 years ago. Standing in the kitchen area of a local homeless shelter, I began a conversation with a man with bright blue eyes and sandy brown hair. He told me, among other things, that his name was Michael. As the conversation came to an end, he asked, “Can I use your phone?” Taking my phone from my jacket, I gave it to the man and then watched him round the corner and head outside. After about 10 minutes, I began seriously doubting that I would see my phone again. Looking back now, saying “yes” probably wasn’t the wisest thing. But in the end, there came Mike back in the door of the shelter with phone in hand. I gave him my phone number when I left that day and thus began the beautiful friendship of two very different people.
A month or two later, while watching my son’s baseball game, I received a call from Mike. His voice was stressed and erratic and I knew instantly something was terribly wrong. Mike unraveled a story about someone trying to kill him and that there was no safe place to go. In the messy chaos of the moment, one of his conclusions was that he should kill himself to avoid being caught. The odd contrast of our situations vividly stands out as I remember that moment – me at a sunny baseball park enjoying a high school game and Mike in some dark drug area of town hiding alone. The experience could be summed up as two totally separate worlds colliding on a cool spring day.
Not long after, Mike asked me to drive him to a court hearing in a town forty minutes away. I’m not sure why I decided to take on that task, but I did. My friend Patti, who was no stranger to risky encounters, immediately chimed in that she would go as well. Later she told me she merely went for my protection. (And yes, I’m thankful to have friends who have my back when I am naive!) The road trip reminded me a bit of a scene from Thelma and Louise. Honestly, we had a “rip roaring” good time. Remembering the trip, I would judge that was probably one of the things that cemented our friendship. That and the jail visit where Mike came to the glass wearing an orange and white stripped outfit three times too big. Despite the messy circumstances, we couldn’t stop laughing. I featured a snapshot of Mike, Patti and me at a roadside diner on our trip but unfortunately don’t have one of Mike in the jail jumpsuit. On second thought, that’s probably fortunate for Mike.
The last ten years have flown by and I’ve not infrequently received calls from Mike similar to his first one. Typically, I tell him that no one is trying to kill him. He says they are. It’s possible he’s right. After all, Mike’s been involved on both sides of the drug scene for quite a few years and has enemies. And it’s true that the people he claims are after him actually have murdered some people. Who’s to say? At the same time, I also realize he has schizophrenia, so it’s messy and complicated. In the end, seeing truth with clarity is a pretty difficult thing for all of us. Sometimes a friend questioning why we see our situations as we do, makes us examine things through a different lens and ultimately brings some clarity. A little at a time, Mike and I are both working on seeing things a little clearer.
The past has a way of coloring how we see the future. It’s true for Mike, and for all of us. His early years were filled with terrible stories caused by the actions of an abusive mom and step-dad. Trying to escape home, Mike spent quite a few days in and out of Juvie Hall. I know without a doubt, had some of his early experiences happened to me, I would not have made it through. He did. As a result, Mike is resourceful, tough and brave. In the years after that, he had six felonies, cycled in and out of jail and served some time in prison. Despite a pretty difficult road, Mike managed to keep his sense of humor and is still one of the funniest people I know.
Up until now in the story, your picture of Mike is likely jaded by my disclosure of him being a felon, an addict, and a schizophrenic. If those are the only facts you knew about my friend, you would miss the most extraordinary parts. He is able to acknowledge his faults and accept responsibility for his mistakes. In that aspect, I wish we were all a little more like Mike. He is humble and grateful; thoughtful and kind. And Mike is a great listener. In one of the most difficult periods of my life, I could call Mike and cry on the phone. There was never any judgement, no inkling that he thought my problems were trivial to his (even though they were). There was only the sympathetic ear of a great friend who was willing to hang out with me in a really dark messy place. That’s what a true friend does. Isn’t it surprising, some of the most unlikely people and most difficult situations, lead to your most precious memories? There is no doubt in my mind, if I needed something, Mike would move heaven and earth to help me. And I would do the same for him.
One year for his birthday, Mike came over for dinner. In our conversation a few weeks later, he said something that will always stay with me. “Growing up I saw families like yours on T.V. My family wasn’t like that and none of my friends had families like that. I didn’t think they really existed. I thought they were just made up until I saw yours.” At the time Mike spoke those words, I remember being heartbroken over the number of people whose homes are filled with anger, violence and isolation. Perhaps Mike’s words are why I remain committed in reaching out to people who feel like they don’t belong. The conversation came to an end that day with Mike’s final words, which I will always treasure, “Thanks for inviting me to be part of your family.”
I too am thankful, thankful our worlds collided and I said yes to that road trip all those years ago. We’ve been on a road trip ever since. Sometimes there’s been laughter and sometimes there’s been heated discussions. The journey has been filled with sweet highs and heartbreaking lows. Most of the time, Mike is clean – but sometimes he’s not. Most of the time, he has a job – but he can lose it easily. Most of the time, he can deal with the schizophrenia – but sometimes he can’t. We just happen to still be in the messy middle right now.
One thing I know for sure – he is not the same man I met ten years ago. Michael has changed. Somewhere along the journey, he learned how to trust. Now, he actively tries to make the right decisions and do the right thing, even if he isn’t always successful in it. But who is? He learned how to love and how to be a good friend. Maybe the joy really is in the journey, because I am not the same woman either. I’m different, because he became my friend. Mike taught me that being a good friend doesn’t mean you fix someone else’s problems for them, you just love them in the messy middle.
So, perhaps this story is really for all of us who are still in the messy middle, or know someone who is. It’s good to realize we aren’t the only ones. Most of all, this is a story about celebrating progress even before there’s a nice happy ending. For Mike, I really believe there will be a happy ending. I’m sure of it. We just haven’t arrived there yet. So here’s to a new year! Let’s all celebrate the progress we have already made. And soon, may we all find ourselves in happy endings.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9 NIV
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. Romans 5:3-5 NLT
That’s why we live with such good cheer. You won’t see us drooping our heads or dragging our feet! Cramped conditions here don’t get us down. They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead. It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going. Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? When the time comes, we’ll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming. 2 Cor 5:6 Msg
Know that I’m on your side, right alongside you. You’re not in this alone. Colossians 2:1 Msg
"All these pieces they fall in line Because I'm forever on your side Take my hand when you can't see the light Cause I'm forever on you side Oh, I don't know What's around the bend Oh, all I know Is that my love, it knows no end." NEEDTOBREATHE
"And after all that we've been through. And after all we left in pieces. I still believe the best is yet to come." RED
This Uncommon Story is the first where the person I am writing about will most likely choose to remain anonymous. But actually that flows into the story perfectly. That’s because this story is about things that don’t come out in the open – things hidden away, never read, never spoken, never done. Mainly this is a story about unopened letters.
The story begins in a restaurant having lunch with a friend. As we visited and ate, she began to tell me about a man in whose home she was working. Being in the health care profession, she never discussed his medical issues, or for that matter, even his name. But she did mention that he was looking for meaning beyond the wealth and power we are all pushed toward in this culture. Intrigued by what she was saying, I offered to come to the house and talk with him about trying to discover some answers. My friend smiled and responded that was unlikely. Never the less, she agreed she would mention it to him when she saw him next.
Weeks later, I was shocked when my friend relayed to me that her client was interested. He gave his consent to letting me know his name and we set up a time to visit him at his home. In the interval, I tossed around some different ways to seek answers to some of the complicated questions about life. As a starter, looking at what other wise people had to say about the subject seemed like a good idea. One of the world’s best-known commentators on life was Jesus so I came up with various ways our threesome might take a look at what he had to say.
When the three of us met, introductions were made and we sat around a small kitchen table. Thinking back, our small group consisted of pretty different people. But the truth is, no matter who we are, we’re all looking for answers to a lot of the same questions. I think finding the answers often comes down to a willingness to open up to other people as well as to ourselves. We have to be willing to admit that we’re searching, to confess that we don’t have all the answers and not be afraid to look for those answers. That takes revealing a part of ourselves that’s usually hidden and that can be a very difficult thing…..
After tossing around different options, the three of us landed on reading the book of Matthew. Some might wonder why we would even open up a Bible to look for answers. After all, there are people who doubt it’s accuracy and relevance. That in itself is a lengthy discussion and for the most part one I’ll leave for another day. I will however, have some links following the music video at the end of the story for those who are interested. But there is no doubt, that Jesus was a real person and that he made such a profound impact on the world that we are still talking about him today. That in itself is a pretty good reason to take a look at what he had to say about life.
Around the third time we met, a most unusual thing happened. As I put together ideas for the visit, one particular thought kept coming to mind. I kept thinking about a letter. I’m not sure why, but the picture of a letter that was never read kept coming to mind. I thought about what it would be like to write to someone you loved, I mean really loved, hoping that what you told them caused them to love you back. How would you feel if later you found out, they had never even read the letter.
So many things left unsaid…….
And so many things said but never heard.
And the world is a sadder place because of it.
Those thoughts echoed in my mind as I headed off to meet with my friends. The warm breeze blew across my face in the car while the letter lingered on my mind. When I arrived the three of us found our chairs at the round kitchen table where we usually sat. Although the room was spacious, the seating arrangement was intimate. As we began to open up our Bibles to the book of Matthew, I decided to use the idea of the letter that had been floating around in my head all afternoon.
“The letter we are opening from Matthew,” I explained, “was intended to tell us how much we were loved.” Since Matthew (and Mark, Luke, John, Paul and the lot of them for that matter) couldn’t tell us face to face, they wrote letters to people they loved to tell them exactly that – that they were loved. Not just by them but by Jesus. Ultimately writing that message cost most of them their lives. But the message in the letters was worth it – because love always is.
Although the men physically wrote those letters themselves, it was Jesus working in and through them as their fingers penned those words. The things they had heard him say so many times came rushing back and ideas formed and thoughts coalesced as they wrote. God has a way of pulling things together. It is, in the end, His letter and His story. “Knowing that, I said, “I’m sure God’s heart must break when his letter to us remains unopened.
As the words finished rolling off my tongue, I looked at the gentleman sitting with me at the table. He had an odd sort of look on his face, appearing to be a combination of surprise and sadness with a hint of reflection. Not quite knowing what to say, I asked, “What’s wrong?”
As his eyes met mine, he said, “I don’t think you know this, but I had a daughter who died. One Valentine’s Day she placed a letter on my desk before she went out for the evening. She never came home. That letter remained on my desk for such a long time. I couldn’t open it.”
He was right. I hadn’t known. If I had, I feel quite sure I would have never used the illustration of an unopened letter. There was someone, however, who did know. The same God, working in and through people centuries ago writing the letters in your Bible, is still working in and through people today. He still has the same message. He loves you with a love that has no bounds. He’ll do whatever it takes to get your attention.
That day He used the letter illustration to get the undivided attention of the gentleman at the table. That man knew from personal experience what it was like to have an unopened letter from someone who loves you. You may have one too. I imagine somewhere close to you is a set of beautiful letters filled with the news of how much you are loved…the truth that you can be forgiven….and the hope that life has real meaning. Don’t leave this world having never read those letters.
So stop for just a minute from the business of today and wake up from your slumber of assuming there will always be another tomorrow. For all the things hidden away, never read, never spoken, never done – it’s time to bring them out into the open. There is so much left unsaid in this world and so many things left undone. So many people talking with so few people listening. May each of us truly listen to the people we love before they’re gone. And here’s to finding the courage to let our hearts speak the words we long to say. Here’s to opening letters.
So many things left unsaid……
And so many things said but never heard.
It’s time to hear them. It’s time to say them.
It’s time to come out of the darkness and light up the world.
“Then Jesus asked them, “Would anyone light a lamp and then put it under a basket or under a bed? Of course not! A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light will shine. For everything that is hidden will eventually be brought into the open, and every secret will be brought to light.” Mark 4:21-22 NLT
“Your very lives are a letter that anyone can read by just looking at you. Christ himself wrote it – not with ink, but with God’s living Spirit; not chiseled into stone, but carved into human lives – and we publish it. We couldn’t be more sure of ourselves in this – that you, written by Christ himself for God, are our letter of recommendation. We wouldn’t think of writing this kind of letter about ourselves. Only God can write such a letter.” 2 Cor 3:3-5 Msg
“Don’t be intimidated. Eventually everything is going to be out in the open, and everyone will know how things really are. So don’t hesitate to go public now.” Matthew 10:26 Msg
“Nothing in all the world can be hidden from God. Everything is clear and lies open before him, and to him we must explain the way we have lived. Hebrews 4:13 NCV
Links about the reliability and accuracy of the New Testament:
Borrowing a phrase from a previous story, “It’s never too late,” I write this wishing the timing of this story would have been different – but unfortunately no one can change the course of events. Explaining that statement is something that will come later in the story, but for now let me introduce you to the person this story is about. Her name is Candy and this is a story about overcoming the hardest things. If there is anyone out there who needs to hear that it’s possible to change your life, this is the person who has shown it can be done.
Candy was in her early thirties when she and I first met. My phone had rung and there she was at the other end. Candy was serious about escaping the nightmare that alcohol and drugs had caused in her life and was interested in coming to a study I was teaching. Over the next nine years, Candy and I came to know each other well. The word that comes to mind when I think of Candy is strong. This is not just because she is physically bigger and stronger than I, but because she is a strong personality in almost every way. When she walks in the room, just her presence demands attention. This woman is straight forward and blunt. If she says something, she backs it up. I know a phone conversation with Candy will be brief, to the point, and purposeful. There is no just chit-chatting with Candy. In fact, if I were in a dark alley, there would be no other person that I would rather have by my side. She is fiercely loyal and very protective. Although all these characteristics are quite powerful, nothing is more impressive to me than her courage. Without hesitation or fear, Candy faces things head-on with no holds barred. Having watched her live life has made me want to be brave.
When I told Candy I was going to write a story about her, I said that there was one question that had kept coming to mind. The question I needed for her to answer that day was this: “What is the hardest thing you have ever done?” There was no pause or hesitation over her answer. It was quick and short. But before I tell you the answer, I want you to know the incredibly difficult things Candy has overcome in her life. Perhaps you may be able to identify with something from her life and be encouraged with the hope that it is possible to not just survive through adversity but to triumph over it.
My friend grew up in a home that was filled with abuse. As we all know, abuse destroys. It destroys relationships, individuals and circumstances. Candy grew up knowing the full extent of the destruction of abuse. A man who assumed a father figure role in her family was sentenced to prison for 68 years for the abuse he inflicted on her. She carried that pain with her every day. Everyone tries to bury pain in different ways, but in the end it still lies there covered up until we bring it to the surface and face it. Every few years the parole board had a meeting to discuss releasing the man who had abused her. Each time this occurred, the parole board asked Candy to give her opinion of an early release. Over the last nine years, I have watched my friend as she has had to bring the memories back to the surface and sift through them as she prepared a response to the parole board. Her abuser had previously threatened that, if ever released, he would kill her for testifying against him. The first time I remember Candy going through this, it was heart wrenching. When we were in private, she quietly told me she had decided to talk with her mother. This was not a statement made lightly or easily. The relationship with her mother had been broken and the two had not spoken in quite some time. Yet Candy was changing and she felt the need to address things from her past and try to resolve them. She had come to believe that sometimes relationships could be mended and she wanted to try. And try she did. After reaching out to her mother, what Candy found was a woman who loved her and very much wanted to be part of her life. Over the last few years, the two have become incredibly close and Candy has come to rely on her mother deeply. They are living proof that relationships can be reconciled and restored. Forgiveness is a beautiful thing. As for the man who abused Candy, he is being released any time now. Candy reconciled herself to that fact when the news was released. She put things in place to protect herself from his threats but she will no longer live in fear of the one who wrecked her childhood. After years of reliving the past, she was ready and able to move on. Abuse does not have to have the last word.
As a teenager and young adult, Candy chose alcohol and violence as a means of escaping the pain and shame of abuse. By the time I met her, Candy had been in and out of jail numerous times as well as spending a period of time in prison. She later told me it was in prison that she finally decided to make a change. Candy said sometimes to hit the bottom it takes going to prison – at least for her that was the case. When she was released, she began navigating life without alcohol. The rooms of AA (Alcohols Anonymous) provided the help, stability, and encouragement she needed. One day at a time she moved forward. That’s because alcoholism doesn’t have to have the last word.
One of the things I noticed about Candy when I first met her, was that she liked to learn. Although Candy had never graduated from high school, she was very bright and definitely determined. During the course of our first year together, several of the women in our group studied hard and passed their GED exams. And several decided to go back to school. Candy was one of those people. After receiving her GED, she enrolled at Vatterot College and launched full scale into college. Never doing anything half-way, she made straight A’s and soon graduated with an associates degree in business. She immediately enrolled at Missouri Southern State University, and later Kansas City University of Medicine and BioSciences, taking numerous courses over the last four years. All the while, Candy was still working, managing a family and involved in a host of other things. Oh, and by the way, still rocking a 4.0 all the way. She had hoped to graduate with a doctorate degree in pharmacy last May, but Candy developed health problems and made the decision to graduate in May 2018. For those thinking it’s too late to go back to school or pursue your career goals, Candy is living proof that it is not. She not only overcame, she excelled. Lack of an education doesn’t have to have the last word.
Type 1 diabetes, which many call early onset diabetes, is a medical diagnosis that Candy carried as well. Her illness presented in childhood as diabetic keto acidosis and she almost died at the time. Candy grew up with a chronic illness effecting almost every area of her life. As insulin dependent diabetics know, managing this condition is no small thing. What you eat, when you eat it, and when you take your insulin is immensely important. Exercise, stress and so much else enter into the insulin equation as well. As she grew older, Candy developed some of the long term sequela of her poorly controlled disease – high blood pressure, glaucoma and peripheral neuropathy. In addition to diabetes, she was plagued by recurrent kidney stones. But as they say, you can’t keep a good woman down. Candy has never let any medical issue keep her from fulfilling the goals she has set for herself. Chronic illness doesn’t have to have the last word.
Often when I spoke with my friend on the phone, her conversations included issues with her family and friends. Her family life was chaotic and seeing them make so many of the poor choices she herself had made, broke her heart. Several of her step-children became addicts. They have been in and out of jail and involved with social services for various reasons. Candy was always there, making visits to jails and speaking with probation officers. She expected her kids to be accountable but never gave up on them. And she never stopped loving them. She visited family often and took care of grandkids when needed. How she had time to do all this and still go to school and work, I’ll never know. And added to this, she volunteered freely. It was a joy for her to help at the Lafayette House where she could come along side women who were making their way free from the chains of addiction and abuse. Not only that, but she went to the local jails as well. Since she knew the jails and personnel well, she was able to have access to the women inmates and went almost once a week to teach a Bible study there. As the women were released, she often continued to keep in touch to help if needed. But the biggest blessing she has had over the last couple of years, was the addition of Tosia and Harmon to her family. These two precious kids found themselves without a mother or father able to care for them and Candy took them into her home. My friend readily went back to the days of school meetings, class parties, helping with homework, reading books, Walt Disney movies, and navigating both elementary and middle school. She considered it a gift. Busyness and chaos can try to wreck our lives, but we don’t have to let it. Chaos doesn’t have to have the last word.
For this woman who had endured so much, what was her answer when I asked the hardest thing she had ever done? Without hesitation, without a second thought, her answer was getting off parole. She viewed that as her greatest achievement. Why would someone who had endured jail time and even prison time feel that it was harder to make it through the parole phase? Every time she was in reach of completing her parole, it seemed the state would find more service hours for her to do, or one more class she needed to take, or one more fine she needed to pay or, heaven forbid, threaten a new violation. She often felt that she might never make it to the end, might never really achieve forgiveness from the state for what she had done. Actually making it off parole is what she viewed as her greatest accomplishment. Perhaps that is why she took such an active role in helping others coming out of jail. We all should. Because in a way, hasn’t everyone been locked in a place we couldn’t escape? If we are willing, we will all admit that we have done some things to other people that put us in a place where we need to be forgiven. Sometimes it may seem as though we work and work but can’t ever get off parole. We’re always threatened with the possibility of one more violation or one more thing we need to do to make up for the past. How about thinking of someone right now that you have on parole and forgive them? Or maybe go to someone you hurt and ask them to forgive you. It may be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. Do it, because both forgiving and being forgiven bring freedom. Prison doesn’t have to have the last word.
Candy also understood loss. Over the course of her lifetime she suffered through the loss of numerous friends and family. Her own father died when she was seven. At the beginning of the story, I mentioned how I wished the timing of this story were different. How true that is. My precious friend, Candy, died unexpectedly January 25th of this year. After developing another kidney stone, catching the flu, and fighting high blood sugars, she died in her sleep. What was meant to be a graduation present will be a memorial story instead. But Candy knew – death doesn’t have to have the last word.
No one can change the past, but we can rise above it. What is it that you need to overcome? Lack of schooling, dependency, alcoholism, abuse, severed relationships, shame, inadequacies, family chaos, health issues, imprisonment – whether it is your own self made prison or the state’s? Candy would say, it’s possible to overcome them all. Not only would her words say it was possible to overcome those things, but her actions show that you can. Her life is living proof.
How did Candy rise above the devastating circumstances of her life? The one-word answer is Jesus. Jesus is the one who had the last word over how her story ended. But perhaps I’ll let my friend tell you herself. Below are two of the posts she made on her Facebook page about five months ago. I am so very proud of the person she became and so thankful I was fortunate enough to be her friend. She taught me things that I could never have learned otherwise and changed my life in so many beautiful ways. May each one of you, just like Candy, find the strength to rise above your circumstances. And may you find the place where peace, joy and healing are found.
Candyce Patterson November 2, 2017 “I am thankful for the relationship I have with my mom today. Anyone out there who thinks they have a relationship that cannot be repaired is wrong. We are living proof.”
Candyce Patterson November 6, 2017 “Thankful that God woke me up today and that he saved me from myself many years ago. I am so thankful for the life he has given me today. For many years I allowed alcoholism to consume me. Sometimes when I look back it is hard to even fathom the train wreck I was. The woman I was then versus the woman I am today are so completely opposite. I used alcohol because I didn’t want to face my past. I was running from something that wasn’t even my doing….torturing and punishing myself. Thank you Jesus for never giving up on me and bringing God-fearing Christians into my life. That was almost 11 years ago. I have been given a life I never imagined possible.”
But now that you’ve found you don’t have to listen to sin tell you what to do, and have discovered the delight of listening to God telling you, what a surprise! A whole, healed put-together life right now, with more of life on the way! Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master. Romans 6:22-23 Msg
All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. Ephesians 1:21-22 Msg
The closer something is to your heart, the more difficult it is to tell the story. Perhaps that is because those memories are held and treasured in a place where love guards the door. For that reason, this may be a difficult story to tell because this particular story is about someone I love very much. It is about my father. No one had a greater impact on my life then he did. Dad would be turning 97 on the 20th of January and I am turning 59 tomorrow on the 15th. Since we shared January as our birthday month, it seemed like the perfect time to share his story. It is a story about life and death and life.
LIFE – My father’s name was John Richard Smithson. His physical description would be average height, slender, with dark hair and blue eyes. He loved history, geography and politics and was the best person possible to have on your team for Trivial Pursuit. He grew up in a small town during the depression and was an only child. He didn’t invest much effort on school work, but managed to graduate from junior college. His father died when he was 19, preventing Dad from pursuing any further college courses. The finances just weren’t there. Soon after, the war broke out and he joined the Navy where he was first a navigator and then a pilot.
When the war ended, he finished college on the GI Bill, then completed pharmacy school and began working at a small pharmacy in his old hometown. Just as life seemed to be settling down, he came to the conclusion that what he really wanted to be was a doctor. So Dad took a few needed courses and mailed off his application to medical school. Back then, there was an age limit which you couldn’t exceed to be accepted to the Oklahoma College of Medicine. He was on the brink of being too old and only had one opportunity to apply.
Dad didn’t get accepted that year, but they did put him on what was called the “alternate list”. An alternate would only be able to attend medical school if another student declined their initially offered spot. No one declined, but even years later my father marveled at the hand of fate that year. For some reason, the Oklahoma State Legislators voted additional funds to enlarge the class size of the medical school. Soon after, he was notified that he would be part of the upcoming class of 1955. He never forgot or stopped appreciating the fact that he somehow managed to get into that medical school class. Even after over 50 years of general practice, that small town boy who considered himself nothing special, was amazed that he was fortunate enough to be a physician. He just thought of himself as lucky. I believe it was providence, along with some humility on my father’s part.
Funny and kind are two words that described my dad. I would also say my father was competitive, which would apply to everyone in my family. From the time I was little, we played games. Not just any games, but games where someone won and the rest lost. With brothers who were 6 and 12 years older than me, it wasn’t all that easy to win. But Dad always tried hard to level the playing field and give me the chance to not only compete, but sometimes even win. Whether he was going to my softball games in grade school or taking home-movies of my cheerleading squad at football games (which embarrassed me beyond words), he was always cheering me on from the sidelines.
As a junior in college, I decided to apply to medical school. Doing well on tests had not been difficult for me so I didn’t bother studying for the Medical College Admissions Test at all. The evening prior, I stayed out socializing till two in the morning, arose at six and went to take the test. It was not my best performance by any means. Since I had made the decision late in the year, there was no time to retake it. In fact, despite a 3.78 grade point average and numerous college honors, I received a big fat “NO” from the two medical schools I applied at. Each one asked what happened on the MCAT in the interview. I had no good answer for them other than, “I just didn’t do well that day.” That response wasn’t good enough for either one of the schools.
I am more than aware of the numerous things my parents could have said in response to my situation. But a week after my final med school rejection, I received a letter in the mail from my dad. He said he was sorry to hear of “the turn of events” but that he was proud of my college record and the numerous things I had achieved. Then he went on to recount situations in his life, as well as the lives of my two brothers, where defeat made success seem unlikely, yet they had overcome. At the bottom of his letter was a quote by Theodore Roosevelt, which he had held onto and felt captured the thought of the final outcome of many a dark disappointment.
“It is not the critic that counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” As I finished reading those words, a defining moment in my life took place. My father had taught me the valuable lesson that I could fail and still be valued, still be respected, and still be loved.
DEATH – One evening, I received a call from Dad. He said in a matter-of-fact way, that he had done some lab tests on himself and it looked as though his kidneys were failing. After going through my mother’s death over 15 years earlier, he didn’t want to go through any big medical workups over something that couldn’t be changed. On the following Father’s Day, I bought him a Hallmark book that asked a question on the top of each page about his life. Dad loved to read and was a wonderful writer so he happily took on the journaling request. He had elected to just start at the beginning of his life and write the things he thought were important.
The months passed and as his health deteriorated, Dad elected to do dialysis. The nurses at the dialysis unit were beyond sweet to him and I will always be thankful for their kind care. That gratitude extends to the numerous friends and patients (many were both) who brought him meals, checked on him, and included him in their lives. Once when I was home with him, I asked him how the Father’s Day book was coming. Dad’s response was a little surprising to me.
He said that it had given him insight and that the more he wrote, the clearer things became for him. As he worked on recording the events, he began to see how they all interconnected and built on each other. For the first time he said he could see God’s hand at each and every step along the way, opening one door and closing others. That was a pretty novel thing for him to say because we didn’t really talk much about God when I was growing up. We went to church mainly on Christmas and Easter and I never saw anyone reading a Bible or praying much at our house. We would have said we were Christians, but I don’t think that was accurate. He once told me years later, he had thought religion was a joke until mom died. After that, he didn’t think it was a joke anymore. And now his own death loomed close at hand. Which leads us to the heart of the story.
LIFE – Even after a golden anniversary of practicing medicine, Dad still continued to see occasional patients up until the week he died. Through good times and hard times, his office was still his favorite place to be. And I believe he gave other people life, or at least better lives.
One evening, he began sharing some of the highlights of his own life with me. We had stayed up late, which he loved to do, watching a movie. When the show ended, I was exhausted and ready to head to bed. Dad laid down on the couch and pulled a blanket up, snuggling it around his neck. His eyes were mostly closed when I went over to give him a kiss goodnight. When I sat down beside him and whispered goodnight, he began softly talking. At first I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me or if he was talking in his sleep. It was like he was narrating a movie of his life that was playing in his mind. He talked about specific things that happened all through his life, very much like the Father’s Day book he was writing for me.
As he neared the end, Dad paused and a sigh passed through his lips. Then he said with sadness, “I have some regrets.” He named a few things, and at the time, I remember thinking to myself, “I’m not sure I really want to be here for this.” But I am so glad I was. Because sometimes the ugly only serves to make the good more beautiful. As he finished talking about one of his regrets, Dad immediately followed it with a statement that seemed to whisk it all away. “But I heard Reverend Scott say, that because of what Jesus did on the cross, my sins are forgiven – in the past, and the present and the future. And when he said that, it made sense to me, and I believe it to be true.” He stopped talking after that and drifted off to sleep with a calm that settled over him.
As I went up to bed, it struck me how simple and short the Gospel can really be. My father had expressed it in a few short words. Nothing fancy or difficult, but still profound. Two days later, he died. But not really. Because the life that is in him doesn’t end. Over 2,000 years ago, Jesus asked Martha a question about death. He said to her,”I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Martha’s response was, “Yes.” My response is the same. Because of the Gospel, death is swallowed up in victory and the mortal become immortal.
As the years have moved quickly by, the appreciation for the things my father taught me has grown. Most importantly, he showed me how to love well. In fact, it was easy for me to comprehend a God who loved unconditionally because I had known what that was like. The Scripture that says, “We love because He first loved us,” makes perfect sense to me. But for those of you who didn’t grow up with a father like that, I want you to know that you really do have one. He’s always loved you. He always will. Just look up and you’ll find Him.
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous, it does not brag, and it is not proud. Love is not rude, is not selfish, and does not get upset with others. Love does not count up wrongs that have been done. Love takes no pleasure in evil but rejoices over the truth. Love patiently accepts all things. It always trusts, always hopes, and always endures. Love never ends. 1 Cor 13:4-8a
I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor ruling spirits, nothing now, nothing in the future, no powers, nothing above us, nothing below us, nor anything else in the whole world will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39
So this body that can be destroyed will clothe itself with that which can never be destroyed, and this body that dies will clothe itself with that which can never die. When this happens, this Scripture will be made true: “Death is destroyed forever in victory.” 1 Cor 15:54
But God shows his great love for us in this way: Christ died for us while we were still sinners. Romans 5:8
How to start? Beginnings are difficult for so many reasons. When we start something new, there must be something else that comes to an end. Often, we focus on one aspect of the journey at the cost of the other. We tend to concentrate on what ended and miss what’s beginning or just the opposite – we see what’s beginning and forget about what just ended. With that thought, I hope to write this story about tragedies with both endings and beginnings in mind.
On May 22, 2011, an F5 tornado ripped through my home town of Joplin, Missouri. Life was instantly changed for all of us who lived in that plain Midwestern town. So much could be said and so many stories told, but for now I want to limit myself to one person in particular. It is sad to say but true, this story is written about a woman whose name I cannot remember. In the weeks following the tornado, I barely remembered my own. But I do remember how we met.
Immediately after the tornado our church opened it’s doors to host volunteers, do work projects, feed the hungry and serve as a distribution center for supplies. This woman was one of the many who came to our church in need of food and basic supplies. While there, she noticed a sign I had posted about a Bible study that was starting the following week. Thinking back, it is certainly a miracle that any Bible study ever occurred. Because of all the volunteers and supplies in the church, we had to change rooms almost every week. The hookups and power source were continually touch and go. It was utter chaos most of the time. But in the midst of the chaos, God was at work.
On our very first evening at the conclusion of the study, this particular woman approached me and introduced herself. She asked if she could talk with me for a few minutes. Almost everyone else had left, so we sat down beside each other and I looked at her closely for the first time.
She appeared worn and tired, with no makeup and slightly rumbled clothes, but of course that description fit almost all of us after the tornado. The woman confided in me that she didn’t have a Bible. “Done!” I replied and happily supplied her with one. Then she hesitantly told me she didn’t know what the numbers meant in the Bible or how to look anything up. “No problem,” I answered. “We all have to start sometime. I know I did. Let me show you how to look up chapters and verse numbers.” Then she looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Do you want to know why I’m here?” “Only if you want to tell me,” I responded. “You don’t have to, but I’m happy to listen if you want to share.”
What occurred next was quite memorable. She proceeded to tell me her story of what took place during the tornado a few days prior. “I was in my living room and I could see the tornado coming straight for my house. There was no place for me to go. I have never been a person who thought there was a God, but looking at that tornado, I got down on my knees and started praying, hoping there was. I asked Him to please, please save me.
Immediately I felt a hand on my shoulder. It scared me because there was no one else with me in my home. As soon as I felt that sensation on my shoulder, I whipped my head around to see who was there. I saw no one, but I did hear a voice. It said, ‘You need to know me.’ My immediate response was, ‘Who are you? I don’t know who you are.’ To which I heard a voice say again, ‘Go to a church and tell them you need to know me.’ The sensation of the hand being on my shoulder never left. The tornado hit my house straight on and destroyed everything, but He saved me. That’s why I’m here. It’s because I want to know Him.”
This woman came for the next two sessions, having read her Bible and ready to learn. She was staying with a friend in town, but I found out by the third meeting that she was moving. Many people who had nothing left often did. She had no phone and so when she left, I never had any follow up with her again. Had I asked her, I think she would have said that her life, as she knew it, ended when that F5 tornado destroyed everything she had. But where she saw an ending, God saw a new beginning.
As I have watched Harvey destroy parts of Houston and the surrounding areas, as well as Irma hitting Florida and Georgia, I know there have been many, many difficult endings. When we include the wildfires in Montana, Idaho and California, the tragic endings continue to multiply. And that is just in our own country over the last few weeks. Whether it is a natural disaster or a personal disaster, life throws us a lot of bad endings. If we are honest, we are all just one disaster away from getting on our knees and begging someone to save us.
The latest example comes from the tragedy that occurred in Las Vegas. Taylor Benge’s story reminded me of my friend’s. When he was interviewed on CNN, he said he went into the concert an agnostic and came out a firm believer in God. The thing he will never forget – his sister throwing herself on top of him whenever the shots began to ring out and her voice saying, “I love you, Taylor I love you.”
New beginnings may come in the form of an invisible hand on our shoulder or someone showing up in a boat to rescue us as the flood waters rise. It could be a complete stranger showing up with exactly what we need, or a sister who lays over us so a bullet takes her life instead of ours. It is sad but true, that sometimes someone dies so that someone else can have a new beginning. When Jesus died, every one of the disciples saw an end – an end to everything they had hoped for, everything they had believed in, and everything they had given their lives for. But where they saw endings, God saw new beginnings. Jesus’ death was really just the beginning of new life.
I don’t want to in any way trivialize how horrifically tragic bad ending are. I have many friends who lost everything down to their foundations and even good friends who lost family members in the Joplin tornado. The same is true of others as a result of the hurricanes, wild fires and earthquakes that are occurring and will continue to occur. But even in death, God has made a way, and given us an opportunity, for a new beginning. In the middle of your darkest moments, look for Him. For when things are the very darkest, He shines the brightest.
This means that death is working in us, but life is working in you. 2 Cor 4:12 CEV
I want you to know me, to trust me and understand that I alone am God. I have always been God; there can be no others. I alone am the LORD; only I can rescue you. Isaiah 43:10b-11 CEV
When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you; your troubles will not overwhelm you. Isaiah 43:2a GNT
I am Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Revelation 22:13 NLT
Questions. Over the years, I have had many intriguing, thought-provoking, and sometimes difficult questions asked of me. But there were none more convicting than a question from an honest friend a few years ago. Her name was Marie and we had been in a study group together for several months when the question came up. But before we get to the question, it is important to understand how Marie and I first met.
For those of you who live in a smaller town, you will understand that often you are acquainted with most people but the “knowing them” is pretty superficial in nature. Marie and I would have fit into that category. Our connection was mainly through our husbands who both worked in the medical community where we lived. Our husbands, along with a larger group of men, had organized a family ski trip over Spring Break, including several couples and tons of kids. Each family had their own living arrangements during the trip but we did interact a few times during the vacation. As a caravan of minivans, Suburbans and other large vehicles, we made the long drive from Missouri to Colorado. It was mainly long, not because of the distance, but because of the chaos ensuing in each of the individual cars.
As a nice break, we stopped at a well-known pizza place in Idaho Springs called Beau Jo’s. Crowding into the pizza establishment, I grabbed a seat right beside Marie, her kids, and her husband. This was the first real conversation I remember having with Marie. To be quite honest, I don’t even remember what we said to each other. I feel pretty confident that it revolved around the kids and the vacation. Apart from that pizza dinner, I only visited with Marie one other time on the trip. The second conversation occurred when we happened to run into each other while skiing with our families on one of the mountains. Looking back, the conversation probably lasted around ten minutes or so. Again, very superficial.
Fast forward several years and there we sat together, a little older and wiser, or at least I’d like to think so. Since I had seen her last, someone had given her a copy of “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren. The friend who brought it told Marie she felt God was leading her to do so. As Marie read the book, she became convinced that the Gospel was true and it changed her life. As a believer, she wanted to join a study to find out more about Jesus and that’s how we ended up being in a group together.
Every week, I had the opportunity to speak to each of the women in the group by phone. Marie and I became quite good friends as the months unfolded. I have to say that our conversations were some of the most entertaining and fun discussions I’ve had over the years. Marie was a very open, caring person and she was never intimidated about asking exactly what she wanted to know. The decision to follow Jesus hadn’t just been a superficial thing for her. She wanted to know what day-to-day life looked like to live that decision out. Her array of questions included things like, “Do you drink alcohol?” and, “How about Halloween? Do you let your kids dress up and go Trick or Treating?”, and the list went on.
One day as we talked Marie paused and asked, “Can I ask you a question?” My response to that was the typical resounding yes with a qualifier that I might not have an answer, but she was welcome to ask anyway. For the first time I sensed a hesitancy in her voice. She went on, “Why didn’t you tell me?…….When we went on the ski trip, you knew the most important information in the world and you didn’t tell me. Why didn’t you tell me about Jesus?” There was a long silence on the phone. Quite honestly, I didn’t know how to answer. The thoughts that ran through my mind were similar to, “Seriously!!! I probably only spent 30 minutes total talking with you. Are you kidding? I was barely around you. I hardly knew you!”
But I knew then what I know now. All those thoughts came from a feeling of needing to defend my actions and ultimately that stemmed from pride. Yet, when I objectively looked at her question, there really was no defense. I did know the most important thing in the world and I choose not to share it with her. If it had been an earthshaking current event or something exciting about a common friend, I would have immediately told her. The truth is, we don’t treat Jesus like that. We treat him like an old familiar piece of luggage we tote around, like something we keep locked up and carry with us so we have what we need when we need it. The resurrection is the most earthshaking world event there is – for heaven’s sake, our B.C. A.D. dating of time revolves around the birth of the man who pulled it off. There is no more exciting news than that the Creator and Ultimate Judge decided, for no good reason other than grace, to offer us his friendship.
Marie offered me something that day too. She offered me a wake-up call and I have been thankful ever since. The way I talk to people has changed. More and more, I look for ways to bring Jesus into my everyday conversations. I pray and look for open doors to share the most important information I know. To talk about the person I love the most. To introduce the One who can transform anyone anytime. Around my non-Christian friends, and I am thankful to have many, I try to temper that with respect, because I value their friendships. There is nothing better than having relationships where we can engage in open, honest conversations. Genuine questions about what I believe are always welcomed. There is only one question I don’t ever want to hear asked of me again, and that is, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Who Needs God? Perhaps nobody. Perhaps everybody. Perhaps we should talk about it. Visit whoneedsgod.com
For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” Romans 10:13-15 NLT
Jesus said, “No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.” Luke 9:62 MSG
For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes… Romans 1:16 NLT
Some days are better than others. This particular day was hectic and busy. But as I passed by the school superintendent’s office, I couldn’t help but take a left and head in to say hi. Misty, the superintendent’s secretary, was at her desk which was covered with papers. The phone was ringing, papers were flying and she appeared to be hard at work. Misty was one of my favorite people to visit. It is unusual in this world to find someone who both takes the time and has the ability to make you feel welcome and wanted. Misty is one of those people and I loved seeing her. Almost every morning as people came in and out of the office, she typically had something encouraging to say with a smile on her face. But on this specific morning, her usual smile wasn’t quite the same and she looked discouraged. She appeared to be someone who needed not only a better tomorrow, but a better today.
Misty’s past several years had been exceedingly difficult. She was a mom with two kids, in a marriage that was falling apart. She was separated from her husband with no home and not much income. As is so often true, the word complicated didn’t quite do the situation justice. Misty and her kids were staying temporarily at her friend, Janet’s house while looking for something permanent. The problem was that she didn’t have her own home and didn’t see much hope of getting one anytime soon. For some reason, on that particular day, the discouragement, disappointment, and darkness seemed to hang over her like a cloud. As we all know so well, when we find ourselves in the middle of a difficult, lingering, ugly mess, all it takes is just one more thing to push us over the edge….some little thing at work that doesn’t go as planned, a phone call you didn’t want or expect, a hurtful word during a conversation, …. the list goes on. Whatever had happened that day, my heart broke for my friend.
As Misty and I talked, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. Behind and to the left of her desk was the door into the superintendent’s office, which was typically closed. That morning, the door was ajar and I saw Dr. Rhea’s hand motioning for me to come into his office. Dr. Rhea was the superintendent of the school as well as a wonderful friend. He appeared tall and slender with glasses and whitish grey hair. This was a man who beautifully managed the fine line of being in charge while still being warm and friendly.
When a break came in my conversation with Misty, I mentioned that I wanted to say hi to Dr. Rhea and moved toward his door. As I walked into his office, I couldn’t help but notice the huge grin on his face. In fact, even now it makes me laugh. As my mom used to say, he looked like “the cat who ate the canary!” Before I could say a word, he motioned for me to close the door and have a seat. I didn’t think the grin could get much bigger, but it did, and his eyes twinkled, making him look a little like Santa. Words started pouring out of his mouth with excitement as he described the “big surprise”.
Apparently, a couple who knew Misty’s situation, had just purchased a new house across the street from their old one. Rather than move into their new home, they decided to give it to Misty rent free, unconditionally, for as long as she needed it. They gathered together a group of friends and remodeled it, preparing it just as if they were moving in themselves. That group of friends had been spending long evenings working at the house getting the remodel complete. They sacrificed time and money and did it all with unselfish love. The plan and the work had been done in secret and Misty didn’t have a clue. One of the members of the group had confided in Dr. Rhea about the secret and now the time was at hand to reveal the surprise. The very next day, a meeting had been arranged between Misty and her friends at the remodeled house. It was then and there that Misty would be given the good news that the house was her’s — rent-free to move into whenever she wanted. That’s a pretty nice surprise and some pretty nice friends. As Dr. Rhea finished telling me the details, the last thing he said was, “But don’t let Misty know, it’s a surprise.”
Walking back out of his office, I saw Misty still sitting there in her chair. I knew how unhappy, discouraged, and hopeless she was in her situation. Misty had no idea that the house she so desperately needed today, truly would be her’s tomorrow. I longed to tell her it was going to be ok, that she didn’t need to be sad, that tomorrow really would be better, and in fact, not just better, but extraordinary. I wanted to say that she could trust me because I knew what the future held and that she just needed to hang on a little longer. It was such an odd feeling – being part of her sadness and uncertainty in that moment, but also being aware of the joy and excitement that was soon to come. It is a perspective we aren’t often able to have because we rarely know what tomorrow brings. But there is One who knows quite well what that perspective is like. He knows the end from the beginning. He sees each one of our difficulties today and at the same time knows the resolutions in our tomorrows. His heart is for each one of us to know the very things I wanted to tell Misty. And to you, and each one of us, He says, do not lose heart, never give up.
When I get to the end of my life and look back, I’m sure there will be parts I will enjoy remembering so much more because I will know how it ends. All the stress and anxiety will be gone and I will be able to see it with clarity knowing how all the pieces fit together. The difficult part of the here and now is trusting that there is a bigger picture that lends meaning and relevance to the trials we face. And in the end, I trust the Master Planner. It was Jesus himself who said, “In this world you will have trouble.” But he also knows the ending of your story and adds, “but take heart, I have overcome the world.” The following day was an overcoming day for Misty. Her friends surprised her with a beautiful rent-free home and even today, she remembers that as one of the most unforgettable days of her life. So for all of us in the midst of what seems like hopeless situations, just like Misty, your tomorrow may hold the answers to your problems today. And Jesus promises to those who follow him, he is lovingly preparing a beautiful rent-free home for us as well. So relax, because the best is yet to come.
“So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace.” 2 Cor 4:16 MSG
“There are many rooms in my Father’s house. I wouldn’t tell you this, unless it was true. I am going there to prepare a place for each of you. After I have done this, I will come back and take you with me. Then we will be together.” John 14:2-4 CEV
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 NIV
“Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Psalms 30:5
Miracles still happen. They can happen with unexpected timing and in unexpected places. Miracles can happen on any old day.
One specific “any day” a few years ago, I went to a weekend conference called True Charity Initiative put on by James and Marsha Whitford. During the first session Friday evening, I glanced over the dimly-lit room and thought I saw Rick. His wife Theresa and I had been in a women’s group together several years earlier and were friends. The man I saw that night wore a dark colored overcoat, but in the poor lighting it was difficult to tell whether or not it was Rick. As I sat studying the man, the program began and I had to shift my attention over to the speaker who had stepped up to the podium and was beginning his talk. Later that night, when I looked back across the audience, the man in the overcoat was gone. Even after the conference ended, I searched the foyer outside but there was till no sign of the man in the overcoat I had seen earlier.
On following day, I managed to arrive early (which is a miracle in itself) for the Saturday morning sessions. Coffee and snacks had been placed out in the foyer and groups of people were already clustering around them conversing. I made my way to the food, filling a small plate and then grabbing some coffee. As I stood there with food in hand, I heard someone say hello as they placed a hand on my shoulder. Turning around, there stood before me the man in the overcoat from the previous night.
Close up and in good lighting, it was easy to tell it was Rick. He asked if I had talked to Theresa recently. I honestly admitted I had not. Upon learning that, he smiled and said, “We have had a miracle.”
“Great!! I love miracles!!” I responded and then added, “Tell me about it.”
Rick just continued looking at me and repeated what he had said, but in a slightly different way. This time he said, “God did a miracle.” His facial expressions told me no further information was coming so we stood there in a moment of silence.
As I looked at the man in front of me, I began to notice there was something different. At first I wasn’t sure, but then I looked into his eyes and I knew. “You’re the miracle,” I said. “It’s you, isn’t it?”
A huge smile came over his face as he replied, “It is.” Then he added, “Theresa told me that the two of you had asked for a miracle. I thought you should know, He answered.”
Now to understand why this was so extraordinary you’ll need a little background. Several years prior, when Theresa and I were going to our group once a week, we had made the decision to stay after each meeting and pray for Rick. In John 10:10, Jesus said his purpose in coming was to “give life – life in all its fullness.” Theresa wanted Rick to have the life that Jesus offered. So, we spent four or five minutes every Thursday asking for exactly that. But when our group ended eight months later, she didn’t see any changes in Rick. Nothing at all.
When a scenario like this occurs, there are multiple possibilities. There are some people I know who believe there is no God. They would say we were wasting our breath – no one was listening. And there are those who believe there is a God but that He doesn’t care about what we want and doesn’t bother to pay attention. To add to the confusion, there are plenty more who believe there is a God who hears and cares but wonder why prayers seem to go unanswered. So, does asking for what we want really make a difference? Well, Jesus had some pretty interesting things to say about that.
One day Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them how to pray. Jesus did this by giving them a sample prayer and then followed it up by telling them a story. Here’s how it goes in Luke 11:5-10 in the NIV – “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need. So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be open to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
As Jesus told this story, he chose some pretty intriguing verbs when he talked about asking. They are present imperatives which indicates an ongoing action. The Amplified Bible translates it this way – “So I say to you, ask and keep on asking, and it will be given to you; seek and keep on seeking, and you will find; knock and keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who keeps on asking [persistently], receives; and he who keeps on seeking [persistently], finds; and to him who keeps on knocking [persistently], the door will be opened.
So for Theresa and I, the fact that nothing seemed to be happening didn’t keep us from continuing to ask. We just kept asking. We knew that just because we didn’t see anything happening didn’t mean that we never would. And here I was, a few years later, coming face to face with exactly the thing for which we had prayed. Life is a miracle and Rick had found it.
Now to be clear, not everything that we ask for, even persistently, is given to us. In fact, one of my children use to ask when they were little, why we couldn’t get a million dollars if we just kept asking. Jesus’ brother James had a response for those type of questions. He said in James 4:3, “Yet even when you do pray, your prayers are not answered, because you pray just for selfish reasons.” Perhaps that’s why Jesus said we needed to seek and keep on seeking. Because if we are truly seeking God, and keep on seeking Him, then with time our hearts begin to look and think like his. His desires and plans begin to become our desires and plans. At this point, we begin to ask for the very things God wants to bring about, and that’s a place where miracles never cease.
And what is a miracle? Miriam Webster’s definition is “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs”. Rick understood that sometimes we can be the miracle. And what brings about miracles? Perhaps for some of them, God uses the prayers of someone who doesn’t give up asking.
If you’re reading this and you’ve had a miracle in your life as a result of prayer, I’d love to hear it. Just write it in the comments. There is nothing more encouraging than to know that God is still in the business of doing extraordinary things. So, share your miracle! And if you’re needing a miracle, may this give you the hope you need to just keep asking, seeking and knocking.
You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:13 NIV
Jesus replied, “There are some things that people cannot do, but God can do anything.” Luke 18:27 CEV
He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted. Job 5:9 NIV
In closing, a final shout out to True Charity Initiatives. Thanks for your continued passion and hard work in addressing poverty. Check out their website at truecharity.us
Don’t forget to watch the videos!
I love in this video that each of the children film a miracle they see in their own lives. Take time to share your miracle too.
Being late has always been an issue for me. This day though, was different. I was on time, but I was about to learn a powerful lesson about timing.
Jess and I met on Monday mornings at a convenient store called The Short Stop, located in a small town between the two of us. We were studying the book of John, spending an hour before she had to head to work in Bentonville. Most Monday mornings, we met inside the little cafe where seating was located. This particular Monday morning, she brought her dog with her, which required us to sit outside at the picnic tables to the west of the store. It was a picturesque place surrounded by big trees with a little local school beside it and railroad tracks across the street. Dixie, her dog, sat beside Jess as we enjoyed the beautiful fall weather and talked about some things in our study.
About half way through, two unexpected arrivals came crashing onto the scene. A biker, riding a rumbling motorcycle, pulled up beside us from the road. At the same time, a pit bull came trotting up, seemingly out of nowhere. Immediately, Dixie began barking and the pit bull advanced toward her with a menacing growl. There was a flurry of activity complete with loud barking and growling as Jess drug Dixie quickly to the car and stuffed her inside. The biker, seeing the commotion with the dogs, came walking over and glanced at our stuff on the table. He looked at Jess and I and asked if we were having a Bible study as the pit bull calmed down and began to wander off.
“We are!” I answered and asked if he would like to join us. “We’re looking through the book of John,” I added.
The man standing before us looked to be around sixty. He seemed quite tall in his boots standing there by the picnic table. His face was weathered and tan, and his black hair was pulled back in a pony tail. I asked his name. He said it was William.
William told us he had walked away from God.
“You can go back,” I said. “It’s never too late. At least not in this lifetime.”
There was a few minutes of silence. Jess needed to leave, and this break in the conversation provided an opportunity for her to excuse herself and head off to work. With Jess and Dixie gone, I sat there next to a man standing beside me looking strangely sad. William began talking about a time in his life when he had been very involved with ministry. He had begun sharing the gospel at a few motorcycle rallies and had great responses. He organized a group of men and they began having church at the rallies.
For some reason, at this point, William launched into a story about an individual he had met at one of the rallies. The man he’d met had a very vivid dream and hoped that William might be able to tell him what it meant. The dream centered on the vision of a train roaring past right in front of him. It was frightening because of the immensity and closeness of the train. He had an intense feeling he should be on the train yet he had no way of getting aboard. There was an overwhelming sense of missing something very important. Yet the story had an interesting ending. As he watched the train head away, he looked back and saw himself already standing on the platform of the caboose.
William admitted to me that he didn’t know much about dreams but for some reason that particular day he felt like he knew the answer to the stranger’s question. He shared with the man that the train was the gospel and that it represented the way to reach God. And that although the man had felt it was too late to get on the train, it wasn’t. They talked about Jesus and in fact, the man chose “to get on the train” that very day. For numerous rallies after that encounter, the man with the dream would always come up to our biker and tell him how much their conversation had meant to him and the changes that had occurred in his life since then.
William paused and then added, “But I walked away from God and I don’t preach at rallies anymore.”
“Why don’t you go back,” I asked.
Somehow the question seemed to wake him up from somewhere deep in thought. “I can’t,” he replied, letting the words just linger, hanging there in the gentle wind. After another long pause he went on, “I’ve done something that won’t allow me to go back.”
He explained that his wife had developed cancer a few years ago and after months of watching her suffer, she had died. An anger had welled up from deep inside and William said he had walked away from God. He couldn’t forgive him. So William spent months alone lost in grief and sadness trying to find some kind of peace.
One day he heard a knock at his door. Slowly he opened the door and standing there before him was a woman he knew well. William and his wife had been good friends with her. The woman stood before him with tears streaming down her face. She said she was leaving her husband and needed somewhere to stay for a few days until she could figure out where to go next. At this point in the story, I saw William struggle with what to say next. Finally, he blurted out, “I shouldn’t have let her in, but I did. And she stayed……. and I fell in love with her.” She filed for divorce but several months later her husband came to the door. He had come to tell her that he had been diagnosed with cancer and wanted her to come home and try to work it out. William said it was agonizing for him but he told her she should go home to her husband. He packed her things and she left.
Another pause came in the story as though my biker friend was reliving the whole sad affair. He looked tired and his face tense and stressed. “I sat at home alone for a few days trying to understand what had happened and to make some kind of sense out of it.” After four days, once again a knock came at the door. She had returned, saying that she didn’t love her husband, she loved William. And she wanted to come back and live with him. Sounding somewhat like a broken record, William told me, “I shouldn’t have let her in, but I did.”
He went on, “I knew it was wrong. She was married and had so many things to work out. I didn’t need to complicate things. This all just happened the night before last. Yesterday morning I got up early, looked at her sleeping, and knew I needed to figure out some things. So I jumped on my bike, and to be quite honest, I’ve been riding ever since. For twenty-four hours I’m been searching for answers. I don’t know why I pulled in here. But I did. And there you two were. I want to get things right with God and I’m sorry I walked away. I’ve made so many bad choices since then that I don’t think I can go back. Besides, if He did forgive me, it still wouldn’t be ok because I plan to go home and repeat the same mistake. I don’t want to – I can’t – give up the woman I love even though being with her now isn’t the right thing.”
So there was William, just like so many of us are, standing at the crossroads of what we want and what we think is right. Sometimes we just need someone to listen and talk through things with us. That’s exactly what happened that day. The two of us talked about how short life really is and what is ultimately important. That God forgives and not only forgives, but then enables us with the power of his Spirit to do what is right. Often, doing the right thing requires a sacrifice. William knew those things, he just needed to be reminded. Maybe you need to be reminded of those things too. We all do.
As we finished talking, William held out his hand. I wasn’t sure at first what he was doing. Then it hit me. I held out my hand and he took it and began to pray. It was such a beautiful thing to hear a man who had been hurting and running away, turn around and head home toward his Father.
Just as William was closing his prayer, we could hear the sound of a train blowing it’s horn and racing down the tracks right across the street. I smiled at my new friend. In over twenty years of coming to the lake, I’d never seen a train on those tracks. Right then was the perfect time. As the train passed by, we both knew William was on it. Because it’s not too late.
The Lord said: It isn’t too late. You can still return to me with all your heart…Don’t rip your clothes to show your sorrow. Instead, turn back to me with broken hearts. I am merciful, kind and caring. Joel 2:12-13 CEV
Over 2000 years ago, Aristotle said, “A promise made must be a promise kept.” All these years later, each of us still wants that saying to be true. When a promise is made, we want the one who made it to keep his word. This is the story of a man who lived life believing that the one who made a promise to him was trustworthy.
My encounter with this gentleman occurred on an adventure called Missions Week. It was one of the wonderful opportunities my children participated in each spring during high school. As a freshman, my son headed to a place called Youth With A Mission in a beautiful little town called Ozark, Arkansas. It is always nice to have a pediatrician around on a school outing, so I was one of the lucky people chosen to be a chaperone. My job was to be in charge of a sweet, entertaining group of young ladies which I pictured in my featured image for this story.
Upon reaching YWAM, one of the first places the entire group was scheduled to go was a local nursing home. When we arrived, the students began visiting with the residents and then promptly set up for a performance in the large main room. The kids sang several songs and entertained the group for at least thirty minutes or more. During the show, I noticed one gentleman who was particularly thrilled with the songs and actively involved with the students who were singing. He sang from his wheelchair with a bright smile on his face, often clapping his hands along with the music and cheering at the end.
When the performance was over, I walked across the room to meet him. His name was David. When compared to the other residents in the nursing home, David was young – probably somewhere in his fifties. Also, David was without a doubt the happiest person there. That alone would be a surprise to some onlookers, since David was a double amputee confined to a wheelchair. He also had a mild intellectual disability and couldn’t speak without long pauses between his words. Yet there he sat, with a smile that lit up the room and joy that was contagious.
The two of us chatted about the songs and the kids and then about the nursing home. As our conversation was coming to an end, I noticed the chain he was wearing around his neck. A simple gold cross hung on it. I pointed to it and said, “It looks like you know my best friend!”
“Jesus?”, he said.
“Yes, Jesus.”, I responded.
“I……do……know…..Jesus.”, David replied.
We then began a conversation about how great Jesus is and ended by agreeing that we couldn’t wait for the day when we see Him.
Then David said something that is perhaps why he could sit in a wheelchair with no legs but still have joy bubbling out of him like a fountain. “When…..I…..see…..Jesus…..face…..to…..face……I……will……have……legs!”
Of course, I could only grin from ear to ear and nod my head in agreement. Every scar erased, every wound healed, every disappointment overcome. David saw with such clarity what so many of us miss. The reality of God’s promises. He had absolute confidence that God really would do what he has said he would. There would be no compromises, no failed attempts, and no broken promises. And because David trusted the One who made the promise, he lived with confidence that one day everything would be made right.
When I asked David who introduced him to Jesus, he said, “Janie. Janie…..told…..me..…about….. Jesus.”
“Who is Janie?”, I asked.
“She’s…..my……friend.” I found out from David that Janie was a woman from a local church that had been coming to see David for quite some time.
I don’t know who Janie is, but she has my admiration, and I’m sure all of heaven’s applause. She takes time every week to come to a nursing home and talk to David. I love this woman! And David loves her as well. His life is different because she showed up and keeps showing up. So for whoever your “David” is, keep showing up. You’re making a difference. And if you don’t have a David, find one. There are nursing homes, schools, shelters, jails, and a thousand other places full of people who need someone to care. Janie is changing the world one person at a time. So can we.
As I said goodbye to David, he promised that when I saw him in heaven he would dance with me. Standing on two legs. I’m looking forward to that dance.
“Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Hebrews 11:1 NLT
“God is no mere human! He doesn’t tell lies or change his mind. God always keeps his promises.” Numbers 23:19 CEV
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:4-5 NLT
How many times have we all missed the opportunity to help someone along the way? I know for me, that has happened far too often. When I begin to think I’m unable to help or just too busy, I remember Stephanie. She taught me that I can never really help someone else without getting back more than I gave. Love has a way of doing that.
When I first met Stephanie I was teaching a parenting class at the Lafayette House, a place for women recovering from substance abuse and domestic violence. She seemed distracted and agitated and it was difficult for her to stay in her seat for any length of time. After class was over, Steph came up and we talked. She walked out the door and despite the fact that I had given her my number, she never called.
About a month later, I was back at the Lafayette House and there she was, sitting in the hall alone. I saw in her a sadness that wouldn’t allow me to just walk past. As we sat and talked, she told me that she had relapsed back into her addiction. Things had seemed so hopeless that she had reached the point of trying to commit suicide. Her children had been put into foster care and there she found herself – overwhelmed, discouraged and very alone. Even at her lowest point, the woman who sat before me had a smile that radiated and a heart that was warm and open to change. And so the change began.
Once she left the Lafayette House, and a few phone calls later, Steph came to a Bible study I was teaching. Over time we became good friends and I watched Steph fight each and every day to stay clean. She has been successful in battling her addiction and now her boys are out of foster care and back with her. Through the years, she has developed an inward beauty that matches the outward beauty of her smile.
As we talked on the phone one day, Steph said something that will stay with me forever. We were discussing some of our friends who trying to break free from addictions. Our conversation was about a couple who found themselves homeless and desperate. Their situation reminded Stephanie of all the times in the past she had found herself in similar circumstances. She thought back to the times she had no where to go, no one to help her and no one who she believed cared. Thinking back to her lowest moment, she shared that her family and even her friends – everyone she knew – everyone had given up on her. And then she said it. The words I will never forget. The words that seem to linger in my mind and repeat over and over. “I just needed one person to believe I could make it. Just one person!”
God did send that one person for Stephanie and now her life is different because of it. She experienced something known as hesed in Hebrew. Hesed is a committed, faithful love that is offered not because someone feels obligated, but given without seeking anything in return. No expectations and no demands. It’s given in grace. And the amazing thing about grace is that once you’ve encountered it and experienced what it’s like to receive, you can’t help but give it to someone else. Having said that, I’m sure you must realize what Stephanie said next. She said, “I just needed one person to believe I could make it. Just one person. And now I want to be that one person for someone else!” She did and she continues to be.
So as I go through the day to day walk of life, I try to keep my eyes open. To look for the opportunity to be “that one person” for someone else. I would challenge you to do the same. The world needs fewer people looking out for themselves and more people looking out for someone else. Who is in your life that just needs “one person”? Because it just takes one.
Romans 15:1-3 Msg “Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter and not do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, ‘How can I help?’ And that’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out.”
Writing these uncommon stories has been on my agenda for years. So finally, at long last, the time has actually come. The first is prompted by the story of my dear friend Kelly who died a few months ago. She is no longer here with me, but I am hopeful that her story of healing will live on in others.
Kelly and I initially met through a mutual friend who recommended her to me as help for cleaning my house. I found that Kelly always worked hard and was very efficient and thorough. As the next 15 years flew by, the two of us became quite good friends. To begin with, she rarely shared anything about her childhood other than it had been very difficult. Her mother hadn’t wanted her and her father wasn’t in the picture. She was “adopted” into the family of her mother’s sibling but rarely felt safe. Kelly later admitted that her early years were frightening and abusive. Her life seemed to be a nightmare from which she just wanted to escape.
At 15 she became pregnant and gladly left home to get married. But the nightmare continued as her new husband began both verbally and physically assaulting her. Kelly had a baby boy and stayed in the marriage long enough to have a little girl a few years later. After all that time, she finally found the courage to leave her husband and live on her own with her two children.
Kelly worked two jobs and had to depend on others to help raise her kids. As her son Marty grew up, he began experimenting with drugs and eventually became addicted to meth. In 2007 he was shot and killed. Her daughter had become involved in an abusive relationship and Kelly had taken one of her grandchildren to avoid foster care. At this point, there was so much pain and suffering in her life that it seemed overwhelming.
Still, with the years I had seen a distinct softening, a change in her heart and the way she looked at herself and others. The hard exterior created by the abuse had began to melt away. We had long conversations about life, kids and forgiveness. We talked about God’s existence and what He was really like. As those questions began to be answered for Kelly, she found freedom from her pain and a stability she had never had. But in 2015 she was diagnosed with lung cancer and once again her world was shaken.
Kelly had remarried a few years before this, and when she discovered she had cancer, her husband divorced her and left her with nothing. Despite all the hardships and difficulties, she remained one of the most positive people at the cancer center. Her kindness to the nurses, doctors, lab technicians and staff was heart warming. She started calling me “Sis” and introduced me to everyone as her sister. I called her “Sis” in return.
The chemo treatments were miserable but kept the cancer from spreading for about a year. After that, cancer began to win. Lying in the hospital bed one evening, we started talking. Kelly asked me to promise her one thing – that I would be there with her when she died. She said she was afraid and didn’t want to be alone. My response was that I would try but couldn’t promise. “Besides”, I told her, “I’m praying that you are going to get better, and that you will be healed.” She looked me in the eyes and in a soft voice said, “Oh Sis…. I’ve already been healed.“
In that moment, we both knew exactly what she meant. All the tragedies and pain and sorrow in her life had been reconciled. They didn’t define her. There was beauty where the old darkness had been. All the different parts of her life had found meaning and instead of her story ending in bitterness and anger, her story was ending with joy and happiness. Several days before she died, she called me to her side and whispered, “It’s ok if you’re not here when I die. God is here with me and I know now that I am never alone. I am not afraid anymore.”
Sis died in August. August 11th to be exact. My world is a little sadder – but heaven is a little brighter.
Remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the world. Matthew 28:20
LORD, my God, I prayed to you, and you healed me. Ps 30:2 NCV