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?


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.