Friday, September 28, 2007

A Journey of Faith

(Note: This post is actually a talk I gave this week to a group of people who have attended a spiritual retreat called the Walk to Emmaus. If you've never heard of it before, The Walk to Emmaus® is a spiritual renewal program intended to strengthen the local church through the development of Christian disciples and leaders and is sponsored by The Upper Room. My purpose is sharing this is not to promote the Walk to Emmaus, but to share part of my faith journey with you. )

My faith journey goes back as far as I can remember. There is not a time in my memory that I was not part of a church. The first 12 or 13 years of my life were spent in a Baptist church, and my years since then have been spent in the pews of the Methodist church. I can clearly remember the felt boards used during Sunday School to illustrate the Bible lesson for that morning. I can clearly remember memorizing scripture verses during Vacation Bible School in order to get that special reward, whatever that was. I can clearly remember that day at VBS where I made the decision to ask Jesus to come live in my heart and be my Savior. So church and Jesus have just always been a part of me.

My first knowledge of the Walk to Emmaus came when I was in high school. My older sister was asked to go on a Chrysalis (the youth and young-adult version of the Walk to Emmaus) towards the end of her high school years, so that was my introduction to Emmaus, though I didn’t know much about it besides I was asked to write a letter to Susan that she would read while on her Chrysalis. Truth be told, I’d probably be embarrassed today at what I wrote because quite frankly Susan and I really weren’t always fond of each other in high school! We did get over that, and when she left for college, she quickly became my very best friend. On a typical day, we would have emailed back and forth 2 or 3 times throughout the day and probably even talked on the phone again that evening!

Fast forward four or five years, and after Susan married, she and her husband became very involved in various Emmaus activities, and they would both talk about it frequently to me. They both had a fire in them that was contagious, and they wanted me to have that Emmaus experience as well. Susan was very excited at the prospect of being able to sponsor me for such a special weekend. I put them off for a while, never really feeling it was my time to go and also being young and single, the money to go was an issue for me. Though they never pushed me to go, they always were encouraging me and even offered to pay for me to go on my Walk. With money no longer standing in my way, and feeling in my heart it was time to go, I filled out the application in October of 1998 and sent it back to them to submit so that I could be put on the waiting list for the next women’s walk.

As I remember it, it was about 10 days later that life would suddenly change for me. I received a phone call one Saturday morning—it was actually Halloween day—and was told that my sister had been taken to the emergency room because she had gotten very ill during the night. Susan had been diagnosed with lupus when she was in junior high, so a sickness that was serious enough to go to the emergency room was of great concern to my family, knowing the complications lupus would add to the picture. We would later learn that Susan had contracted a very serious case of spinal meningitis, and less than 36 hours later, she went to her eternal home to be with our Heavenly Father.

As you can imagine, life would never be the same for me again. Life lost much of its joy, and my heart was broken into so many tiny pieces that I honestly thought it would never be whole again. I didn’t see how it was possible. But as scripture tells us, “all things are possible with God”—not some things, or most things, but ALL things. In the months and years since then, God has shown me first hand just how powerful his works can be and that He does still give us miracles each and every day, if we’ll just look for them.

As I prepared to give this talk, the thing that kept coming back to me over and over as I prayed about this and thought about this is that God is enough. God is enough. When you feel like you have nothing left in life or no where else to turn, God is enough. And he proved that to me during this time after losing my sister. I was single at this time, so God was really all I had most of the time. My family was all an hour away, and though I had a fabulous church family that gave me so much love and support during this time, when I would go home at night, it was just me and God. I went through an extremely lonely period of time during this grief, but on the other side, I found that God was indeed enough.

About 10 months after my sister passed away, my name came up quite suddenly to attend a Walk to Emmaus. I had such mixed emotions about going because a time that I had been looking forward to for so long had finally come, but the one that I had hoped to share it with the most was now gone. My brother-in-law (Susan’s husband) still wanted to be my sponsor, and I agreed to go.

For me, the Walk to Emmaus was a weekend of healing, as you can imagine. In my journal after returning home from my Walk, I wrote, “My weekend reminded me that God will surround me with his love and grace and give me the healing I need. Not only will He give me that Himself, but He will work through others as well.” I have truly learned how the Body of Christ works throughout this journey.

I have been amazed at the people that God has continually put in my path that I have been able to minister to because of my experience and grief in losing my sister so tragically. I realized early on that God could use this difficult time to help others if I would only allow Him to do so. It’s amazing what God can do if we will just lay the broken pieces of our lives at his feet and allow him to go to work.

Since my sister’s death almost 9 years ago, God has brought healing to my life that I never dreamed would be possible. My brother-in-law, who has remained very close to my family, has since remarried, and God has given me the gift of a very special friendship with his new wife. That is not something that could have happened outside of a miracle from God. Mark and I were even the only guests present at their small wedding ceremony, and Mark was the one conducting the ceremony—again, nothing short of a miracle could have allowed us to be there in that situation.

About six months after Susan’s death is when Mark and I began dating, and what healing and what joy God restored to my life as a result of this man. And you know, God is so into the details of our lives, and this is such an example of that. One of the things I grieved after losing Susan was that she would not know my husband, be able to be a part of our wedding, or be an aunt to my children. And not only would she miss out knowing my husband, but my husband would miss out knowing her, and how could I ever be able to express with words what Susan meant to me and the devastation that became a part of my life when she died. But God had already taken care of that. A few years prior to my sister’s death, Mark pastored my old home church where my mom was still a member. During that time, he became friends with each member of my family in very unique, individual ways. In fact, Mark’s last conversation with Susan occurred at a Walk to Emmaus and centered around Susan’s excitement in sponsoring me for my Walk. So as a pastor and a friend of my family, he walked through this heartache with us, from being at the hospital with us and in the room with us as we signed papers to take Susan off life support, to being one of the pastors who took part in her funeral service. You see, God knew how the story ended. But I didn’t.

Another detail that amazes me still to this day happened a few weeks prior to Susan’s death and centers around a book that God made sure was waiting for me on my coffee table. I’ve always loved to read, and Max Lucado had a new book that had just been released. I purchased it, and with it came with a second book for free. I never paid attention to that second one because all I really cared about getting was Max Lucado’s. I brought them home and put them both on my coffee table, and quickly began reading the one by Max Lucado—again, never giving the other one a second glance. I returned home from the hospital that evening after Susan died, and my pastor had come over to my apartment to visit with me. As I sat there with him, my eye just happened to glance at the books sitting there on my table, and it was as if that second book just kinda jumped out at me. So as soon as my pastor left, I picked that book up. It was titled “A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss.” This book was written by Gerald Sittser, a man who had tragically lost his mother, his wife, and his daughter in a car accident, and I learned so much from this book about the grief process and the grace God pours over us during times of loss. I have since recommended it to several people going through the loss of a loved one. I knew then and I know now it was no accident that I had that book on my coffee table. It was as if God himself had hand-delivered that book to me. It was no coincidence. Again, God is in the details of our everyday lives if we will but look for Him.

Emmaus has certainly been a part of my healing process over the past nine years. And I will say that my life has been molded and changed because of what I have learned as a result of traveling a road I never would have chosen for myself. CS Lewis wrote, “God whispers in our pleasures, but shouts in our pain.” I certainly have found that to be so true. I have learned more about God while walking through this valley of the shadow of death than I ever could have learned otherwise. I would not be who I am today without having gone through such a difficult time in my life. I was listening to a Focus on the Family show a few days ago, and the guest was speaking on overcoming adversity. He made the comment that when going through difficult times, misery is optional and joy is a choice. We sing the song, “I’m trading my sorrows; I’m trading my shame. I’m laying them down for the joy of the Lord.” In one of her books on prayer, Stormie Omartian says, “joy doesn’t have anything to do with happy circumstances; it has to do with looking into the face of God and knowing He’s all we’ll ever need.” God is, indeed, enough, and God is good, even when circumstances are not.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Just Stuff

I've spent quite a bit of time AWOL lately in blogland, and I so appreciate those of you who have said you missed me! It's nice to be missed! I thought I'd just mention some random thoughts and stories about what we've been up to:
  • Our kids started back to Children's Day Out at our church at the same time that school began. They go on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 am until 2:30pm. They LOVE going, have such fun in a wonderful, Christian environment, and it gives me some much-needed time to do my stuff! Oh, and it gives Mark and me the chance to have lunch dates, too! Needless to say, we're all happy!

  • I got a new haircut last week. That's a news flash, huh? Actually, for me, it is because I've never been very "brave" or exciting with my haircuts, and this time, I was actually a little of both! Maybe I'll get even more brave and post a picture soon!

  • We went to our first football game of the season this past Saturday. The kids were beyond excited! It was very fun for us all. The only drawback was that it was at an unusual time--it started at 1pm in the afternoon. So it was pretty hot and the sun was blazing! I try to be very diligent with sunscreen, but I missed a couple of places--like the tops of my feet! I was wearing my favorite croc flip flops and now have red feet! I don't know if I've ever sunburned the tops of my feet before! Yikes!!
  • A few weeks ago, we made our first trip to the emergency room. I had just been thinking a few days earlier how lucky we were that we had not had either of the kids in the emergency room yet! Hannah, our two year old, got her finger smashed in one of our doors here at the house--and it was me closing the door! Needless to say, my broken heart needed about as much mending as her not-broken (thank goodness) finger. And only God can bring worship into a trip to the emergency room. While we were waiting (and waiting, and waiting) in our little cubicle for the doctor to come see Hannah, she wanted to lay down on the bed and wanted me to lay down beside her. So we were just laying there talking, and she began to sing, "God is good, all the time, through the darkest night, His light will shine, God is good..." Doesn't God just have the sweetest way of working through our kids to touch our hearts just where we need it most?

Have a fabulous, blessed day!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

God is Enough

I've been working on a talk that I will be giving for a church group in a couple of weeks that basically reflects on my Christian walk. As I've thought about this, prayed about this, and read back through some journals from years past, I've recounted joys, disappointments, victories, and heartache, among other things. The one phrase that keeps coming to mind is that no matter the circumstance, "God is enough."

What I didn't realize while preparing this talk was how often these past couple of weeks I would have to remind myself of the fact that "God is enough."

Like when our friends' son chose to take his young life, bringing much shock, grief, heartache, and unanswered questions to his family and friends in a small, very close-knit community.

Like when my friend shared with me her heartbreaking story of a teenage girl in her town with so much promise and a powerful witness for Christ dying from injuries sustained in a car accident.

Like when Mark and I learned of a friend and colleague of Mark's losing his battle with cancer and knowing his sweet wife and five young children will be left to learn to live life all over without him.

There is so much heartache in the world we live in, isn't there? It's easy to get overwhelmed by it all and let it overtake the joys and miracles God gives us everyday. But when my heart gets so sad and the tears threaten to fall, it is then that my heart says to me, "God is enough."

Enough to sustain us through even the toughest of days.

Enough to give us strength, mercy and grace for the moment at hand.

Enough to trust that even though we have questions, He knows the answers to them all and can see how the story ends even though I can't.

It is then that the sun begins to peak out from behind those gray, dreary clouds, and I start to notice anew the beauty of the day--the beautiful blue jays singing and playing in my yard, without a care in the world; the cool breeze blowing, signifying the change in seasons brought to us from a creative and loving God; and two little miracles, full of energy and life, who call me Mommy and love me in spite of my many imperfections.

God is good. And God is enough.