Category Archives: Faith

It’s Not Goodbye

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Bob and Paula

Bob and Paula Nilsen

It’s hard to cry for departed Christian friends because I know where they are and am confident I’ll see them again. It’s much easier to weep for those they left behind. We must all await our time to enter the realm of God.

My friend Paula left us last month. Paula is a vivacious, generous, and gentle soul who God pulled into my life and became my friend just before I was diagnosed with cancer in 2015. (If you missed it, here are easy links to part one and part two.)

I originally assumed God had brought us together for me to help her with her cancer diagnosis; but in a short matter of time we could see that we were meant to lean on each other through the suffering of this disease. Two Christian women fighting shoulder to shoulder with the big C.

God’s plan in our friendship really became evident when Paula’s disease metastasized to bone and brain and her faith began to falter. (You can read that here with links to part one and part two.) It scared me because she was one of the most solid women I knew. If her faith could crumble so easily … could mine?

What I didn’t know until later was that her doctors had told her she was incurable from day one.

Incurable.

It’s a hideous word that should not have found its way into our lexicon. I wondered how having that word spoken over you could damage your psyche. Now I could really appreciate just how tough and resilient she was. She’d lasted almost two years with that label slapped on her and her faith had just now had begun to slip. I counted my blessings that no doctor has ever used that word or, the alternate, “terminal” with me. Of course we are all terminal in one way or another.

Determined to restore her faith, we embarked on a 28-day bible study by Kay and David Arthur called Lord, I Need Answers. I’m not sure if it was the weekly camaraderie or God working through the study itself (or both!), but we were equally refreshed and stronger by the time we completed that study. I cheered as Paula was able to say with confidence the ultimate statement, “I know I’m going to Heaven when I die.” Faith reestablished! Hallelujah!

It wasn’t long though before Paula’s body began to ignore her directives. Since the disease had begun ravishing her body, she slipped into hospice care and friend after friend came by to sit with her, offering their love and support, and praying over her and with her.

It was very tough to witness this vital, faithful, loving woman fade away and I was with her on what was to become her last day. That afternoon I prayed a couple of Psalms over her (something she liked me to do when I’d come over) but found it very difficult to get through Psalm 91, one of our favorites. I dissolved into tears as I prayed God’s undying love over her. I couldn’t be sure she had heard me at all but had her hand in mine and as I was saying goodbye with a promise of returning the next day, she squeezed. I reported it to her nurse as I burst into a fresh round of tears.

Her husband, Bob, let us all know that she passed into Jesus’ arms at about 10pm that evening. I can’t say enough about Bob. He’s a good, godly man and a verifiable rock. There’s no wonder that God brought Bob into Paula’s life for a time such as this. It’s never easy for a man to lose his wife, but really God? They just celebrated their third wedding anniversary in March.

I’m beyond grateful that God brought Paula and I together two years ago. I’m overjoyed that He was able to use her in my life and me in hers right until the end. I’m thankful she heard a few chapters of my book and never once laughed!

Farewell, my friend, I love you.

Three Amigos 2

Me, Paula, and another friend at church.

Three Amigos 1

Three Amigos

“Don’t be dismayed at good-byes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.”

~ Richard Bach (Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah)

My Ebenezer

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Ebenezer Branded

Since we were talking about Ebenezers last week, I wanted to show you the one I’ve been building since I got to Florida.

You know that God gave me the plan for my immediate future in 2010, while I was in Arizona.  During the third year that I was in Florida I received Joshua 1:5.

No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. I will be with you, just as I was with Moses. I will not leave you or forsake you.

I needed that verse in the early years of my life in Florida because I often believed that I was in some kind of wasteland.  Even though His plan for me was falling into place exactly as He’d promised.  I hadn’t been able to find a job since I’d lost mine in 2008 (and it was now 2013), I was still living in my parent’s house, and I still had doubts that I should be in Florida at all.  I mean … maybe what I thought was “God’s Plan” was just something my brain cooked up and not from Him at all.

Getting this scripture brought me to my knees.  It is, essentially, three promises in one glorious verse.  This ‘gift’ from God came at a time when the devil had been bullying me with severe oppression over my inability to find a job. Furthermore, I wasn’t really hearing from God the way I had in Arizona and thought He had deserted me.  The Holy Spirit put me quickly and firmly on the right track with this verse.

All three promises were important.  The first No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live.” gave me greater strength to thwart Satan’s lies.  The third, I will not leave you or forsake you.” reminded me that I wasn’t in a desert and far away from God.  But the second part … oh the second part!  I will be with you, just as I was with Moses.”  Man, that’s amazing.  Do you remember how God was with Moses throughout the early books of the Bible?  I can just imagine Joshua hearing this.  Since he, too, was with Moses and knew how God interacted with him, did he fall over in awe?  I certainly did.  God hasn’t disappointed.  He has made good on these promises and I knew I needed a stone to remember that He had helped me thus far.

The top stone is the verse God gave me after I’d been diagnosed with cancer and was crying one night to Him about everything in the Plan I’d hadn’t done.  It was the last part in the plan and I’d dragged my feet and hemmed and hawed and had started – but had not finished the last phase.

My remorseful plea that lonely night was, “Am I going to die without finishing what you said I would do?” Tears flooding my pillow.  That was followed by “I’m sorry, Lord.” And then came a fresh round of tears.  I was sorry I hadn’t acted faster and now I might not have time to do what He called me to do.

It was the next morning that the Holy Spirit impressed Numbers 23:19 onto my heart:

God is not a man who lies, or a son of man who changes His mind. Does He speak and then not act, or promise and not fulfill?

Upon reading this verse I dissolved into a mass of tears again.  But this time they weren’t tears of sorrow.  Joy flooded my heart to almost bursting.  What relief!

This scripture told me I wasn’t going to die – at least not before I finished His plan for me.  It also promised that I would finish it, because God doesn’t lie, change His mind, or not honor His promises.  At that moment, those were the sweetest words my wretched heart needed to hear.

Certainly a scripture worthy of an Ebenezer.  So I found another stone and wrote the verse address on it.  I never want to forget that here, again, was a time when God has helped me thus far.

So, did you think about using some sort of Ebenezer to remember how He has helped you too?  I’m dying to know what you’re using.  Let me know in the comments!

Do You Doubt? Part 2

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Brick Wall

If you weren’t with us on Monday, I’m quite certain you’ll need to toddle back and read that post to get what’s happening here! It’s okay, we’ll wait for you!

I didn’t research the churches on Mom’s list because I stumbled over a piece in the local newspaper about John Maxwell that announced he was going to speak at a church called Christ Fellowship on the last Sunday of the year. John Maxwell?  Throughout my years as a human resources professional, I’d trained my management team on a number of his books. This was exciting and furthermore, I recognized the name of the church from my Mom’s short list. It was a no-brainer to start there in my search for a church.

So on the last Sunday of 2010, while driving to the church, I continued to pray all the way, “Lord, get me outta here.” It didn’t matter that John Maxwell was going to be there. I wanted out of Florida – but quick.

I drove on to the campus of this mega-church with a highly cynical eye. People were smiling and waving. Signs read “New Visitor? Flashers On.” I turned mine on and was directed to special parking right in front of the church. A parking attendant met me at my car and walked me in to a place where people were eating breakfast. A healthy bookstore sat off to one side. Another volunteer met me inside and directed me to the sanctuary. I found a seat in the huge auditorium and settled in for the service. Before it even had begun I was welcomed by two different pastors. I remember thinking ‘this place is way too slick.’ People were too happy – too smiley – too shiny. I wondered if I’d fallen into some sort of alternate universe of Stepford Wives.

The lights came down and the band started to play. It is my supreme pleasure to worship Christ and when I stood and lifted my hands to the heavens, the Holy Spirit fell upon me so quickly that I was bowled over with capital L – Love. Suddenly, the place didn’t seem so “slick” at all but warm, friendly, and so full of Christ-loving Christians that I could no longer deny my joy in finding this church. On my way home I was so happy I prayed earnestly, “Lord, I want to stay here. Please help me find a way to stay here.”

I could just imagine God looking down on me and nodding in satisfaction.

What I didn’t remember at the time was the second phase of the plan that the Lord had given me in Arizona. The first phase was “you will move to Florida.” The second was “you will find a super new church.”

How easily I had forgotten that all along I was walking in His will. Had I, number one, remembered His plan and, number two, changed my attitude (instead of complaining – actually looked forward to the next item on the list) I’m certain my transition to life in Florida would have been a whole lot easier … and perhaps even pleasant.

The “plan” as I’d come to call it, seemed to skirt my memory most days. It was only a few more weeks of attending this new church when I met some ladies who were so full of the Holy Spirit, He practically oozed out of them. Driving home that Sunday I thought about my new-found friends and thought, ‘This sounds familiar.’ I dug out my journal and read number three on the list, “you will find great new Christian friends.” Doh! How stupid I’d been. Thankfully we serve a gracious and merciful God who allowed me to rail against Him time after time until I could recollect the plan he’d given me in prayer.

An Ebenezer would have been helpful. I could have considered my journal an Ebenezer, but that would mean that I’d have to actually open it and reread entries. Yet, each time a part of His plan fell into place I should have found a stone to add to the pile. It seems that only the physical representation of the stones would help a dunce like me.

So … do you doubt? Do you forget that the Lord has helped you thus far and wonder and worry about what is going on in your life?

I think it’s okay to doubt. Just don’t languish there for any period of time.  Instead, spend your time reviewing God’s work in your life rather than holding your own little pity party like I did when I moved to Florida.

How has the Lord helped you in the past? Now make yourself an Ebenezer. It doesn’t have to be a pile of stones, it could be a journal, writing on a white board, sticky notes on the bathroom mirror … anything that will remind you that God is close.

He loves you and He will never leave you.

 

Do You Doubt? Part 1

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Brick Wall Build

For a few years now I’ve considered my faith like a brick wall.  Not that it shuts out the world … although it may also do that … but it helps me stand firm in my conviction of Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  Each time I witness something of God – a word of knowledge, his voice coming through loud and clear from the Bible, a divine appointment, a miracle, His faithfulness – each instance is a brick that I mortar on to the existing wall making it stronger, wider, higher.

It’s kinda like my modern day Ebenezer.

In (1 Samuel 7:8–11) the Israelites were victorious in a fight against the Philistines but only because God intervened.

Afterward, Samuel took a stone and set it upright between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, explaining, “The LORD has helped us to this point.” (1 Samuel 7:12)

The Blue Letter Bible identifies the Ebenezer as a “stone of help.” In the Old Testament, people would set up an Ebenezer to remember what God had done for them.  It was usually a rock or a pile of rocks.  This marker in history would remind the generations of God’s faithfulness, goodness, provision, love … whatever He had given to sustain His people at that time.

Joshua also erected a memorial of twelve stones (one to signify each tribe of Israel) on the west bank of the Jordan River when the Israelites crossed to take the town of Jericho (Joshua 4:6-7).

Even though it’s not named as such in the Bible, I believe that group of stones to be an Ebenezer.  Joshua said, “Therefore these stones will always be a memorial for the Israelites.” But he could have just as truthfully said, “The LORD has helped up to this point.”

I love the idea of setting an Ebenezer to remember God’s faithfulness. To make a physical representation of a time when God has shown off one of His many attributes.  How often we are treated to God’s working in our lives only to run into trouble down the line and completely forget that we serve an awesome, omnipotent, and faithful God?

The fact that Jesus said we will face rejection (Luke 10:16), persecution (John 15:20), and suffering (John 16:33) is enough to know that hard times are going to hit us.  If we forget the goodness of God and waiver in our faith every time we are subject to some trial … where would we be?  Swaying in the wind and never clinging to the Lord who loves us and has already proven Himself to us time and time again.  Constructing an Ebenezer of some sort can help remind us that He is close.

When I came to live in Florida from Arizona six years ago, I was none too happy.  I didn’t have a job (and couldn’t find one in the economic downturn) so I was forced to move in with my parents.  Not having lived with my parents for over 30 years, I prayed every day that God would change my situation.  If I remember correctly it was something like, “Lord, get me outta here.”  Out of my parent’s house.  Out of the State of Florida. It didn’t matter. Over and over. It became my mantra.

I wound myself up in knots praying that prayer even though God had already told me my future.  If you’ve been reading me for a while you’ll remember that in a particularly intense prayer session in Arizona God told me that I would move to Florida.  Unfortunately I hadn’t been building my brick wall and had forgotten that what I thought of as my horrible situation was actually part of His plan.

Even after three weeks when I came to grips with the fact that I might have to stay in Florida for a while … wait a minute … do you like the fact that I succumbed to my “fate” after three weeks?  I really gave God a lot of time to change my situation, eh?  Oy Vey! That’s an eye-opener!  Well, after three whole weeks I yielded and finally decided to find a church to attend while I worked out my sentence in Florida.

My Mom had gone around to her friends asking for a church that might match my style.  “I told them you liked to put your hands in the air when you sang.” She said.

Grinning, because it was true and I knew my mom really thought that was kinda kookie, I took her list of three local churches where, presumably, they sang with their hands in the air.

Now I see I’ve really gone on much too long.  Please come back on Wednesday when I’ll wrap up the story and perhaps add another brick to the wall.

 

The End of Me

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Don’t you love when God hits you sideways with something He’s probably been trying to get through to you for a while and you finally get it?

I admit, I have to laugh.  Because when I do get it, I can look back and see how long He’s been after me to learn something.  I laugh because God knows I’m a dolt sometimes and loves me anyway!  He’s so good to give us space to laugh at ourselves.

In Bible Study Fellowship this week we’re studying John 16 and one of the questions asks, “What circumstances in your life test your commitment to follow Jesus?”  I thought and thought about this question because over the past 9 years the Lord has brought me to a place where I can no longer imagine not following Him.

So I considered my previous life … a time when I backslid … and answered with the situations that tested (and won over) my commitment to follow Jesus.  Namely – success in my career (which gave me prestige and popularity), health (which wasn’t that good, but wasn’t bad enough to worry about), and finances (which were so that I was frivolous and spent buying possessions to fill up the ache in my heart).

As we answered the question in leader’s group on Saturday, I looked at the words on the page: career, health, finances …

The three were the world’s interpretation of success.  I spent my time focusing on those things that were going to help me live the “good life.”  I was doing good.  I had everything I needed and then some.  I … I … I … what I didn’t see was the gulf between God and I getting wider and wider until … I lost it all.

That’s when it hit me.  I’d answered the question a couple of days prior but right in the middle of leader’s group I had an epiphany.

God had brought me to the end of myself.

Ten years ago I was ignoring God and doing my own thing – great career, decent health, super finances.  But now …

Now I have no career, no health, and no finances!!!

Why do I sound so happy?

Because I’m closer to Jesus than I’ve ever been in my whole life!  That alone fills me with so much hope and joy I’m busting at the seams.  At the end of myself my thirst was quenched, my pain was comforted, and my sorrow turned to joy.

So no, nothing can get me to go back to the world’s system.  I’m following Jesus as closely as I can and when I get a little ahead of Him … or perhaps lag too far behind … I know that He’ll pull me close to Him again.

Have you come to the end of yourself yet?

The Interloper’s Homecoming

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This is the third in a series.  If you’ve not yet read The Demise of the Interloper, please travel here for Part One and here for Part Two to be brought up to date.

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It was one of those autumn days in Florida.  The kind where you walk outside and instead of being hit with the usual warm, wet washrag of humidity; you come instantly to a standstill noticing the change.  The air is drier and the temperature reduced a few degrees.  A day that instantly puts a smile on your face and changes your outlook.

Standing in the middle of the driveway I took a deep breath of the crisp air before walking gleefully to the mailbox at the end of the drive.  There was a spring in my step and a large smile plastered across my face.  I had every right to feel a sense of bliss as the seasons changed.  I’d been free of the Interloper for six months and had re-discovered independence inside my own home.

I found my friend Herman at the mailbox.  A little lizard who enjoyed sunning himself on the black metal.  “Isn’t this a glorious day, Herman?” I sang out.  He scampered, as he always did, to the very back of the box as if I was going to hurt him.  We’d only been performing this ritual for months.  I laughed and pulled down the door grabbing at the bills and circulars that threatened to fall out of the open box.  Closing the door I looked for Herman to say good-bye but he’d already moved off and onto some other adventure.  Turning on my heel I headed back to the house but stopped quickly.  What was that?  I thought I heard something in the bushes behind me and it was much too big to be Herman.  At once the hackles on the back of my neck stood up as I turned slowly, needing to see what was there but not really wanting face what it might be.

The sound seemed slightly familiar.  Like a noise you heard once, years ago, and swore you’d never forget it … but now maybe you had forgotten and my mind raced … trying to recall.  I sucked in my breath, at once very afraid, turned and walked quickly toward the safety of my home.  My fear grew quickly in intensity as I all but expected to be jumped from behind by some wild animal or deranged person with mayhem on their mind.  Inside the house I slammed shut the door, locked it, and leaned against it trying to calm my shaking.

Safe now with my anxiety diminishing, I walked into the living room, kicked off my shoes, and settled into a soft couch to read the mail.  A matter of minutes passed as I flipped through junk and bills when I suddenly sat bolt upright.

“The Interloper!”  I practically shouted into the empty house.  My mind reeled.  Could it be?  Hadn’t we gotten rid of him six months ago?  Sweat broke out on my forehead and the mail in my lap slid to the floor as I rushed over to the window and peered down to the foliage at the bottom of the drive.  The leaves moved silently as if blown by wind but I could see nothing else out of order.

Immediately we pulled in the professionals to conference and they put my home through a battery of tests.  While waiting for results I laid silently in bed each night straining to hear any evidence of the Interloper’s evil presence.  I’d already dealt with his malevolence once and truly had no wish to be involved with him again.  I sought out my Guardian but He didn’t speak … or I couldn’t hear Him.  Perhaps my inner turmoil simply drowned out His voice, but the silence was unnerving.

I met with the cutter first.  He was my go-to guy with the ready smile and quirky bounce.  Except this time he wasn’t quite so jovial.  “It’s here,” he said solemnly.  “You may have to live with him for the rest of your life.”

“What?”  I asked quickly, even though I knew I’d heard him the first time.

“This type is hard to completely eradicate.”

I immediately thought about a time in the Bible when the disciples were trying to remove a demon from a young boy but were unable.  After Jesus had removed the demon the disciples asked Him why they hadn’t been able to do the job.  Jesus said, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.” (Mark 9:29 HCSB)  I was already praying but I wondered if I needed to start fasting.

The cutter suggested that I meet with the Brazilian next.  He, with his toxic lotions and potions, almost immediately told me that there was little he could do.  Through testing, part of my home had been found to be lacking suitable internal structure.  The toxins he had to use to eradicate the beast required my home to be stronger than it was.  He looked at me solemnly while taking a bite of his turkey sandwich as if contemplating what he could say.  Clearing his throat, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and suggested I meet with the genius … the Mastermind.  My options were running out.

Approaching the Mastermind’s office I prayed that he would be able to help me.  If not … if not … I couldn’t speak the words.  The alternative was not something I wanted to have to face.

Where was my Guardian?  I knew He hadn’t left me, wouldn’t ever leave me, but why wasn’t He talking?  Why couldn’t I hear Him?  He so readily spoke peace into me the first time I’d encountered this evil presence.  Why not now?  I stopped asking knowing that sometimes we just didn’t get answers.  Feeling resigned, but with a touch of contentment, “Thy will be done,” I whispered.

The Mastermind greeted me warmly.  I’d spent so much time with him and his machines that I’d grown fond of this man.  Aristotle is quoted as having said, “There is no great genius without some touch of madness.”  I’m not sure I could call him ‘mad’ but certainly I enjoy the touch of weirdness that seems to skirt around the edges of his brilliant mind.

I left his office with hope and determination that we were going to be able to exterminate the Interloper once again.  They would build me my special bed the following week and begin shooting the photon torpedoes into my home directly after.

Then, on a Saturday evening before we’d even started the process, a friend said, “You’re the most courageous person I know.”

I sighed.  “If I’m courageous, it’s only because I know the Creator is with me, goes before me, and stands behind me.”

She smiled knowing that what I said was true but still shook her head.  “It helps that He’s working with gold.”

I blushed, “You’re a good friend.”

The next day as I listened to my pastor in church, he seemed to stare directly at me when he uttered the word, “Courage.”  I shivered in my seat thinking about my friend’s comment the day before.

I only had to wait one more day before a family friend met up with me in the grocery and said, “Have courage.”  I could hardly contain my delight realizing that I’d just heard from my Savior.  In the matter of three small days He was successful in getting His message through.

Courage.

Instantly peace settled into my dry bones and filled my heart.

“Thank you,” I whisper into the air, knowing He hears me.

And now.  Now I lay in my special bed while the Mastermind and his minions shoot photons around my house targeting the intruder.  Each strike sends the enemy screeching and running for cover.  I pray that God keeps this professional’s aim true and that every blast weakens the Interloper further.  I imagine he will be reduced to ruins and cease to live no more – and pray the same.  But I draw on the courage given to me by my Maker and smile.  I will be courageous.

Thy will be done.

 

My Word for 2017

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God gave me my word for 2017 early this year.  Do any of you do that?  Ask God for a word to focus on … something to learn as we approach a new year?

It’s fun and scary and interesting all the same.  In 2014 He gave me the word Grace.  From January 1, I was astounded about how much I didn’t know about Grace.  It wasn’t about the grace He poured out on me.  God mainly taught me how to give grace to others.  I had to break down old ways of thinking and breakthrough stereotypical opinions and it was a tough lesson and an extremely rewarding year.

Last year God started me out with Joy.  How could I have known that that word would carry me through multiple trials and tribulations regarding my health?  But God knew.  I needed a whole new outlook on Joy – what it was – how to get it – and how to maintain it through dark and scary times.  It is to God’s glory alone that I was able to find my joy (which was truly HIS joy) and spread that joy to others while suffering through cancer and all the therapy’s to combat it.

While I normally spend the last week of the year grumbling and groveling and praying for God to give me a word – this year – it was just before Christmas when I thought that I oughta start the process so I could hear the word before New Year’s Day.  God decided not to wait.  Over the Christmas weekend I received the same word by three different people.

What is it?

Courage.

Courage.  Said like the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz.  Normally here I break into song with one finger vibrating my Adam’s apple … “If I were king of the foreeeeesssssttttt … not queen, not duke, not prince.”

I know why God has given me this word (and you will too very soon) and I’m going to embrace it.  And even though I know I’ve moved miles away from being fearful over the past year and a half; I’m ecstatic that God will teach me more.  That He cares.  That He will take the time to grow me.

So … will you ask God for a word for 2017?  If you do, please circle back here when you’ve received it and let us know in the comments!

Happy New Year everyone!  I’ll see you back here in 2017.

To Our Health!

Felecia