Wednesday, February 10, 2016

We are NOT on Top of Things

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Well, it’s happened. The question. After countless interviews over the past two months, a radio host in Orlando, Florida asked me to tell his listeners the importance of “being on top of things” from the standpoint of water safety. It’s understandable given the fact that Florida has more drownings than any other state.  I’m not upset. I’m glad it happened because it gave me and gives me the opportunity to say that we are most definitely NOT on top of things. 

God is.

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

We aren’t in control of anything.

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. (Job 1:21)

Life and death are in God’s hands.  It’s man’s pride that tells him he can depend on himself to keep everyone safe, to provide, to do anything at all.  But God says, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

That’s the whole point. That was the lesson.  God is omnipotent, having all authority in Heaven and on earth. He gave Bronner. He took Bronner. But I will see him again. And I will stand in the presence of God and give account for what I did with it. 

Have I grown weary? 

Yes.

Have I wished to be done with this world?

Yes. 

Have there been days when I felt completely and utterly alone?

Yes. 

But God…

But God, changes things. 

He reminds me that His mercies are new every morning.  He reminds me that He is my portion and that I can hope in Him. 

Like Jeremiah, I lament over my sorrows.  I throw pity parties.  I cry. 

And when I cry, I cry to God.

And He is there. 

He is there. 

He tells me to trust Him in all things, that He is making all things new, and that one day, death shall be no more. 

No more. 

And I love Him for it.  I love my God greater, better, deeper, and higher than I ever did before my suffering. 

And I have suffered.  I have suffered much. 

But God.

But God was there for me in my suffering. 

He touched me with His presence.  He made Himself known to me, so that I may delight in Him the way I delighted in Bronner.  He fills me up to overflowing with His peace, His love, and even His joy. 

He has shown me that He is beautiful and kind and good and faithful.

He tells me that everything is going to be OK. 

He tells me He loves me. 

He shows me how much He cares. 

He teaches me that my suffering is like His suffering.

I know what it’s like to lose a child, so if I love my God, I don’t want that for Him.  I see clearly that He is using Rick and Bronner and me to bring some of His children home to Himself, to make us see the good in the midst of the trials of life and the great tests of faith behind them, and to trust Him with all of it. 

And I do trust Him. I trust Him because I know He is good and because I know He loves me and because I know that this is about eternity. 

And it’s eternity that I’m in this for.  So I willingly suffer for His name’s sake because I have learned to have compassion on the One who is the author of compassion, the author of life, the One who holds my life, my heart, and my baby in His hands... forever. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Preface to Bronner: A Journey to Understand


In setting out to write this book, I wanted to introduce you to my sweet Bronner.  He was only two-and-a-half when he went to Heaven.  I never say “died” because I don’t feel that he has.  I truly see him as going on to another place.  Bronner didn’t cease to exist.  He has been transported to another land, distant and mysterious in that I have never been there before nor can I go there right now and haven’t even the vaguest idea when I might be able to go there, but also the most assured of places in that I am certain of the way and long for it like no place on earth.

Heaven has my heart, my citizenship, my baby, and my God.  It is the Land of the Living and the Kingdom of Light.  In contrast, earth is the land of the lost and of the dying.  Bronner has been found and taken to the truest place, the best place, a place many will never find even though the Lord God specifically said, “Seek and you will find.”  Many people seek God in a way that is only palatable to their own desires.  They want God to be who they want Him to be, not who He really is, and so they never find the real, true God.  Many people find God’s ways offensive, harsh, arrogant even.  But, when you seek God for who He truly is, you’ll find that He is magnificent.

In times of tragedy, grief, or despair, some people grow so angry with God that they turn away from Him completely, but in the turning away, they are showing faith.  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  (Hebrews 11:1)  They believe in God, but what they are doing in turning away from Him is saying, “I don’t like you.  I don’t like your methods, and I don’t want anything to do with a God who would…  fill in the blank.”  What they are doing is REJECTING GOD.

When my life’s great test came to me, I already knew God in an intimate way.  I called Him my father, my savior, my teacher, and my friend.  He had walked me through many lesser trials before.  This time He was going to have to carry me, and I trusted Him to do that.  Why?  Because… I knew Him to be good.  God’s goodness and mercy had already been poured out by the bucketfuls upon this wretched creature called me.  By the time I stood in that baptistery at Lakeview Baptist Church in Oxford, Alabama at the age of 25, I already had a quarter century’s worth of sins to wash away, but as I stood there wearing a robe of white, I felt God’s Spirit moving upon me with healing in His wings.  And, as Brother Jerry lowered me down underneath the water, my former life was vanquished.  “Buried with Christ.”  Hidden.  Covered.  Washed and cleansed of the former life.  “Rising to new life in Him.” 

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  (2 Corinthians 5:17)

I was a new bride at that time, figuratively and literally, having married my husband, Rick, just two months prior.  I was also a new mom of sorts.  Rick had been married before, for a short time, but it had been long enough to produce two children, Brandi and Blake.  They were there at my baptism.  They were five and six years old on that day, April 21, 1996.  They were there again at that same small church when their little brother, Brooks, was being dedicated to the Lord.  We all stood together in a circle as Brother Jerry anointed him with oil and as we all promised to help raise him in the fear and admonition of the Lord.

It was in that little church in the small Alabama town where Rick spent most of his childhood and where he graduated from high school that God would anchor Himself to our family, holding us and keeping us close to His bright shores.  It was there in a Bible study called “The Mind of Christ” that I had been amazed at the discovery that the Bible contains ALL the answers.  As a child, I remember looking up into the sky and wondering, “Where are you, God?”  “Can you see me?”  “Why can’t I see you?”  “Do you love me?”

I found out just how much.  And, as our family continued to grow in the fear and admonition of the Lord, adding Brody, and then Bronner, my heart began to overflow with the joy of the Lord.  I was soaring on the wings of an eagle.  I had tasted and had seen that the Lord was good.  He was very, very good. 

And, then came January 19, 2008 shooting me like a shotgun right out of the sky.  No more soaring.  I wasn’t even standing.  I wasn’t even on ground level.  I was in a pit, deep and dark, but I was still holding on to someone’s hand.  It was the hand of the ONE who had lifted me up out of darkness once before, the hand of HE who had HIMSELF knit me together in my mother’s womb, the hand who had spoon fed me the truth of John 3:16 but who was now going to feed me the meat and the bread and the wine of 1 Peter 4:1-2.

“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” 

None of this was going to be easy.  I had been torn from my baby.  He was ripped away from me, and it wasn’t a clean break.  After all that goodness, Lord, what are you doing?  Why?  We had been so happy!  Our family was SO happy!  And, we were doing all that you had asked of us!  My goodness!  Rick was speaking at a youth retreat when it happened!  Weren’t we giving enough?  Now, You’re going to take our baby?

The BABY?

MY baby.

I needed some answers, so I jumped in the ring and wrestled it all out with God.  I wasn’t going to let go of Him until He answered me, until I could make some sense of this whole matter.  Well, here I am, LORD, still standing in the ring, but instead of wrestling with You, I’m here to tell YOUR story.  The story of how You took me deeper and higher and further with You than I ever thought possible. 

At the end of Job’s struggle with the LORD, he said, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you…”

Through suffering, Job learned.  He grew.  He saw God in a new way, the way of reverence and awe.  When we come face to face with the POWER of the ONE who created all things and through Whom all have their life and breath and being, we begin to see things as they really are, not through those rose-colored glasses I threw away long ago. 

TRUTH.  That’s what I wanted.  That’s what I got.  That’s what I have to tell.

God has always taught us through stories, through the lives of ordinary human beings.  Here’s mine.  It isn’t tidy or fun or sweet or cute.  But, it’s mine, and it’s Bronner’s.  Someone might say he “died” for this story.  I hope it will mean something to you.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

From One Salt Dispenser To Another

Writing is a lonely business, but I never really felt alone those five years I spent writing my book. God's Spirit was my constant companion. I depended on Him for every word. I was so in the Spirit for so long that I was sustained.  I felt so called and compelled by God to complete this project that I believed I would be in sin if I didn't finish it.  I still think this book will be my single greatest contribution to God's kingdom in this generation.  It's that important.  The sacrifice, the pain, the solitude, the hours upon hours of study, prayer, and contemplation that went into it even before one word was written made this feel like a mission. It consumed me. I could not rest until it was finished, and I couldn't see beyond the writing.  I didn't know how much effort and time and publicity was involved in the publishing process. After all that time alone, I've been thrust into somewhat of a media whirlwind with interviews coming almost everyday.  I'm very thankful. I want to get the message that God gave me during those five years of wrestling it all out with Him into the hands of as many people as I can because I believe it will help them to understand that God loves them even when it doesn't seem like he does.

It's been a hard transition, and Rick has been praying for me nonstop. Yesterday, I went to see an old friend, mentor, and former Bible teacher of mine, and she prayed for me too. Then, she gave me this salt cellar that once belonged to her grandmother's first cousin who was a missionary to Japan many years ago, a family heirloom I was very hesitant to accept. But she told me I am family to her. We are all family who belong to Jesus Christ. We are brothers, and we are sisters. We are called to give generously and beautifully and sacrificially to one another. That's what Penny Pace did for me yesterday. She wanted me to be reminded always to be salt and light in this generation.

Then I went to another friend's house to pray, and as Julie and I talked and prayed, I realized what God is doing. I was so humbled when Bronner first went to Heaven. I wanted nothing of this world, but only to walk out God's purpose for my life, which for a long time was writing a book. But that's over, and God has brought me into a new season. He wants me know that I need Him just as much now as I ever did. If I want to be salt and light, then I have walk in the Spirit continually. And if I want to do these interviews to "my utmost for His highest," then I can't do it alone. Rick and I can't do this alone.  I'm going to need Penny and Julie and Janice and Anne and Leslie and Linda and Susan and Pam and Lisa Ann and Wendy and Lynn and Kim and Meredith and Maegan and so many others if I am going to do this any justice at all, but most of all, I have been reminded that it's God I need most in this life. I need His wise and discerning council every moment of my life because I am weak and fallible and fallen even if I have been redeemed.

Thank God that where I am weak, He is strong. "Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (1 Corinthians 12:9). And I pray that the manner of life that I lead from this day forward will be worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ, a life that is fearless and bold, one that casts every anxiety upon Him because I know He cares for me, and one that is watchful.  Oh how I know the adversary prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour, but greater still do I know the power of God to protect, to heal, to grow, sustain, and fulfill.

Will you be salt and light with me? And will you watch and pray with me?  I need you dear friends and sisters and brothers in this season where I have found myself to be a messenger for God. That is no small thing, and I have felt its weight. But I believe God is with me, and that He is within me.  What can man do to me? And what do I have to fear? 

Father, glorify your name. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Shattered

When Shattered Magazine wanted to know what my childhood dreams were, I was kind of stumped.  I couldn't even remember.  It's been so long since I've thought about my younger self. I've been caught up in the moment of the life that I am living now - raising children, loving and losing Bronner, wrestling it all out, and writing what I've learned.  For me, there hasn't been a before or after, just life being lived, doing the best I can and trusting God with the rest.  

It wasn't until after I got off the phone with the reporter on Monday, that I understood what she was looking for.  She wanted to know if my hopes and dreams had been shattered and whether or not God had picked up the pieces and put me back together.  I hung up the phone and went for a run through the woods and around the pond at Veteran's Park.  It occurred to me as I ran that nothing good in me has been shattered. God shattered only what needed to be shattered: worldliness, pride, and self-reliance.  I'm no longer tied to world the way that I was before, and that is so freeing.  Because I'm not in love with the shiny things of the world anymore, I'm free to live as God is calling me live, following the Spirit however and wherever He leads. "Not my will, but thine, O Lord, be done." This is God's will for me and for you.  

Just before the first anniversary of Bronner's Heaven-going, I was reading through 1 Peter as I had done many, many times before, and 1 Peter 4:1-2 jumped off the page at me screaming, "This is why and this is what you must do." I remember it like it was yesterday.  I was sitting in my rocking chair on the front porch of our little farmhouse in Jemison, Alabama wrapped in a blanket and holding a hot cup of freshly brewed coffee, and there they were, the words that changed my life, "Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin so as to life for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God." 

This is a universal truth, for if we are in the flesh, we will suffer.  So take this flesh of mine, O Lord, and do with it what you will.  I am yours, and, hallelujah, You are mine! And You, Oh Great God, are enough for me. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Jesus is our Joy!

Celebrating lots of love and laughter this holiday season, for "Jesus is our joy and His joy makes us strong." Oh, how we love our Lord, each other, and even the life circumstances that have brought us to this place in time where we can say, "Yes, Lord, in all things, You make us glad." There is no better feeling than to know you have been obedient to the Lord's call and command. My book, Bronner: A Journey to Understand, is the product of a call and command on my life that was brought forth at tremendous sacrifice, and now that is it is complete, yes, I do feel like celebrating! God is good, and ALL His plans and thoughts toward me are good. He is mighty and majestic but kind and filled with comfort, love, mercy, compassion, and grace. How can we do anything but celebrate Him? He is our great treasure in this life and in the one to come. Oh, praise Him! "Oh, praise the One who paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead!"

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Meaning of Redemption

To be taken or removed from death, darkness, and damnation into life, light, and love.  That is the meaning of redemption.  Oswald Chambers, in the classic devotional My Utmost for His Highest, says we don't think on redemption enough, and he would be right. Chambers calls the Cross of Calvary the "tragedy of God."  I call it God's most characteristic act. God is love. Of course, He would go to such great lengths to show it. God is light. Of course, He would die in order that darkness should be put to death. God is humble. Of course, He would stoop to such a humiliating death. God is life. Of course, death could not hold Him.

The cross is where we see God's character most clearly.  He is quite the opposite of the selfish, prideful, self-seeking, self-preserving people we all are by nature.  That is why we need Him so desperately. We CAN be overcome by His nature, but only through redemption and only through the Cross of Calvary.

The cross isn't just a symbol.  It isn't something to simply wear around our necks like a good luck charm or even as a proclamation as to whom we belong. THE CROSS IS EVERYTHING. Without it, we are doomed.  Without it, all would be lost.  God would have never let that happen though. That's the point.  It's just not in His nature.  He loves.  He lives.  He redeems.  He restores.  He makes all things new.  He is light and beauty and power and all that is good, right, and holy.

My words fall so short in describing Him. But think for one moment about that one word, "light." By it, we see. Can you imagine life without light?  Light is good.  It warms us.  By it we know and are known. What cannot be revealed by light?  Shed light on anything anywhere and a gift will have been given, taken, or exchanged.  Light is good.  By it, we walk and are fed.  Even at night, there are twinkling diamonds overhead.  Never would our God leave us to utter and complete darkness.  He reaches out with a spark of light that spreads and grows like wildfire, and darkness will never consume it.

The cross is the spark that ignites a flame of fire inside each of us who believe.  Believe today with great gratefulness for the light of salvation, the beauty and hope of resurrection, and the bonds of love that will never be broken between us and our great God.

Oh God, our Father, thank you for the cross. Thank you for today, for our country and land, and for the hope of a new and perfect land that is coming with you, Lord. May we walk by your light, grace, and mercy forever. Amen.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Pride - The Original Sin

If anyone believes that he or she knows better than God what is right and what is wrong, that person has a real ego problem.  But let’s face it – Pride was the original sin.  It led to the fall of Lucifer and his followers.  It led to the fall of mankind and subsequently all of creation. So we shouldn’t be surprised that pride is behind any movement that stands against God’s Word, law, and principles.   

Humility is hard for humans, maybe because we were made in God’s image and to reflect His glory.  We can be glorious creatures filled with wisdom and beauty, but something in us went astray.  It no longer was good enough for us to reflect the glory of God.  We became selfish and wanted the glory for ourselves.  When that happens in a person or an angel, the wonder in his or her heart dies.  He stops marveling at the goodness and loveliness of God and begins striving for self. 

Pride becomes anxiousness, greed, selfishness, and lust – all trying to feed something inside of us that can never be filled with any of that.  And when it doesn’t, despair sets in and depression takes hold.  We wonder why we aren’t happy.  We ask ourselves, “Wasn’t this what I wanted?  Didn’t I get everything I set out for?  Why do I feel this way?”  This is the point when many people realize their utter need for God.  In brokenness of spirit, we reach up asking for a hand of help out of the hole we dug for ourselves.  It happens all the time with all kinds of people and has throughout history. Sometimes people just have to learn for themselves that sin destroys lives.  It always has.  But God is patient and kind.  He waits on us.  He knows that we are but dust.  He allows for mistakes and teaches us through them.  But rest assured that if anyone calls out to God for help and forgiveness, He will give it.  No one is beyond His reach.  He is God, and He is able to redeem and restore all that has been lost in us. 

Sin is going to happen.  Let it.  This is not about government or Supreme Court Justices.  It’s about the hearts of men and women.  What am I to do about my culture?  Sit back and let it devour me?  No.  You and I, saints of God, are called to be holy – to be different.  I am going love you no matter who you are, for we are all sinners in this earth. But I refuse to let my wonder be taken from me.  I will always stand in awe of the One who created me, who loves me, and has redeemed my broken life.  I’ll never shake my fist at God and blame Him for all the destruction that is coming upon the world because of sin.  And I will never stop hoping for the lost and the dying to come home to God because I know that is His desire and that many, many will. 

Don’t fret, my friends.  It is all working together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.  Watch and see.  He – JESUS – the light of the world – will shine ever more brightly in the darkness.  And we are called to shine with Him, to reflect His grace, His glory, and His goodness forever.  His purpose remains the same as from the beginning.  His purpose is this – to call out for Himself a people who love Him as He loves us.  He seeks hearts to come in childlike faith and wonder to be a part with Him and His kingdom forever.   In this, there is joy and peace and love and compassion and mercy.  There is abundance of life and liberty and growth and purpose.  But the proud will see none of it.  There is but one God, one truth, and one redemption, and He who was and is and is to come is He.  Do you believe this? 

If so, there is nothing to fear.  When we realize the power of God to break down strongholds, to give life to dry bones, to make all things new, then we can rest in His strength and authority and know that He can be trusted in all things.  Acknowledge the power and authority of God right now, and know that in the end, everything, everything, will be more than okay.  It will be perfect.  Wait and see.