I was just having a little chat with God and he sweetly whispered this to my spirit: No illness is terminal when you believe in Me. What a heavenly message. Amen and Ehmen.
Of Sheep and Shepherds…Of Lost and Found
Good Morning, God.
It’s 6:00 a.m. on a Saturday and, though I was honestly hoping to sleep in, I am so very happy to spend some quiet time with you. I learn so much when my world, both the external and internal, is quiet; when it’s just You and me; when Your Peace floats down from heaven and settles like a warm blanket over me. Oh, sweet Jesus, there is simply nothing like it. Thank you for waking me up on this beautiful morning.
This morning, I am drawn into Your Word, specifically Romans 10, Verses 8-10:
“In fact, it says, ‘The message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart.’ And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.” Romans 10:8-10
Lord, I pray this morning that you really open Your Word up to me in a way like never before; let it be as if I am peering into a place where it is played out before my very eyes; beckon me in and allow me to mingle among not just the words, but with You, the One that breathed them into being; the One that breathed me into being. Take my hand, Lord. Take my heart, Lord. Send me. Use me. Allow me to fulfill Your will and purpose for me and to encourage and enflame others to do so as well; for life without You and Your promise and Your grace is no life at all, but simply a miserable existence. I love you, Lord, with all my heart and soul. Thank you for Jesus; for the gift of salvation.
Thank you for giving me the desire and the means to openly declare that Jesus is Lord and to believe in my heart that You raised him from the dead; for because of these things, I am saved and am promised eternal life with You! Oh, how I want to shout it from the rooftops! The Good News that we are saved by grace and not by works…that we are saved by a free gift that is ours for the taking. Lord, thank you for that…thank you for You. Amen and Ehmen.
Dear Child of Mine:
Oh, how I love you and how I love spending time with you. You know, time is something I gave you to help keep order in your world; to help you in fulfilling My will and purposes for you. There just seems to be something about the ticking of the clock, the passing of second, minutes, days, weeks and years that eventually brings about a sense of urgency and getting My message to the world is an urgent matter, just as it always has been. In fact, child, it is just as critical that My message be spread across the world today as it was back in the days of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And your role in spreading that message is just as important as it was for Paul and the rest of the disciples. The fact is, My child, there are souls, sheep, out there that need to hear your voice; your declaration of faith; your story of what I have done for you; your story of once being lost but now found. This, my child, is why you are here—to help spread the Good News and find My other lost sheep, each one of whom is very valuable to Me and to my Kingdom; not just as a group, but as individuals as well. Have you ever noticed that the word sheep is the same whether referring to one single living creature or a billion? Just as the quantity does not change the word, the quantity does not change the importance of My sheep to Me. One lost sheep grieves me just as much as numbers that you can not even count. They are one and the same to Me. This is why your calling is so very important; infinitely and eternally important. Embrace it, My child; relish in the fact that you are no longer a lost sheep yourself and know that I am celebrating that as well; shouting with glee from My throne in heaven; but also don’t waste any precious time in embracing your new “found” position as one of My own shepherds. You only have a limited amount of time on earth. Grab hold of each minute as if it were your last; take hold of My hand and the hands of time and let not a single opportunity pass by to shepherd the lost back into the flock. Oh what joy it brings when the lost is found! Oh what joy you bring Me, My child! What joy it brings to see My will being done on earth. My Kingdom is on its way, My dear child, and Heaven is is just a blink away! And until that twinkling happens, until you are with Me here in Heaven, I will remain there with you at all times, cradling your heart and spirit so that you need not fear ever being lost again; eternity started for you the moment that you were found and declared your love for me. I want all of My children to experience that; to experience Me. Oh, how I love My children.
And the Word of God Says…
So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Luke 15:3-7
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. John 1:12
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:17
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Romans 10:14-15
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13
–Amen and Ehmen!
Love goes with you…
Writer’s Note: Besides Denny and Neil, Ross was one of the first across-the-border friendships I forged. We talked back and forth online and on the phone for quite some time as he battled cancer and it was so special to finally get to meet him in the summer of 2009. What is below was written after my daughter and I visited him again, just six months later in December 2009. This time he was in the hospital and he passed just a month or so later. In our many conversations, he always made me promise I’d write a book one day and include his story. Below is an excerpt of the “Ross Chapters” from that future book. What an awesome soul this man had and, though his battle was hard, his transition to his heavenly home was peaceful and beautiful just as we had prayed…thanks to our Heavenly Father and his dearest earthly friends.
He sat in front of us, cloaked in robes and blankets. His skin was pale with a yellowish tint; his face sunken and pinched. The smell of sickness permeated the hallways, freely flowing into the room and assaulting our senses, trying boldly to break our spirits and our hearts during this most wondrous of seasons.
And, yet, peace—a heavenly, sweet peace—radiated from his very being. At a time when you would expect him to be experiencing relentless pain, he smiled gently and contentedly as if he himself were sitting in God’s lap. He was living completely in the moment and enjoying the love of his friends and family, while at the same time seeming to live in another dimension secretly basking in the glory of God and enjoying his new life of no pain.
His face would especially light up when his “earth angel” was near. It was obvious God had introduced Denny and Ross at just the right time nearly five years ago. His beloved son was lost and Denny and husband, Neil, were the only shepherds that could help him find his way home. God knew it. Ross knew it. Thank God, Denny and Neil knew it too.
And, what a journey it had been. Many miles they had traveled together, wandering side-by-side through many a desert and dark valley. Sometimes Denny led with the other two in tow and sometimes it was Neil. And, then, there were days like today, when it was obvious that Ross was at the forefront where he belonged—the promise land in his sight.
Neil gently laid his hand on Ross’ forehead as Denny leaned over to kiss him tenderly on the cheek. Ross’ breathing seemed to stop as if trying to hold onto the moment; to absorb and pack away as much love as possible to take on his journey. Love, after all, was all that he could take with him on this final leg. Fortunately, it was all that was needed.
Speaking of love, it was through friendship and circumstance that this trio had learned the true, biblical definition of love. Sure, each of them had felt and given love before, but not like this; not the kind of love that Jesus gave; the kind that would make each one willing to lay down their life for the other; the kind that was just as important in death as it was in life.
It’s always pretty spectacular when you realize that God has been working in your life; when you begin to see what seemed like the most horrible of circumstances becoming one of the most beautiful things you’ve ever known. It makes it hard to be sad when you look at it that way—through God’s eyes.
The challenge then becomes to take what you’ve learned and make the world a better place. Not to let all that love be buried or put away in a scrapbook somewhere, but instead to keep it alive; to keep Jesus alive by continuing to love completely and unconditionally.
Flying High: From Earth to Heaven.
Writer’s Note: As I stepped outside, my eyes were automatically drawn heavenward. Blue, it seems, is the color of this beautiful May day as nature celebrates with a sky clothed in the most brilliant hues of blue. But even the sky in all its splendor isn’t what really caught my eye. Instead, it was the feathery white brush stroke left by a big metal bird that appeared to be heading south for the summer. Now, I realize that vapor trails are a common sight on any given blue-sky day, but they hold special meaning to me. They remind me of my good friend, Neil, who left this earth way too soon; but, more than that, it reminds me that God is real. Like the rainbow is a symbol of a promise to all of us from God, the white brush stroke of an airplane is a symbol of a promise to me—a directional arrow perched in the heavens and pointing to my purpose here on earth; to write, a specific story as well as other words that lead people to that place inside themselves where God is patiently and lovingly waiting. If you haven’t already read this piece, I hope you will take some time today. It’s a true story. I know because I lived it. Oh, and, Denny found the ripcord on her parachute. God made sure of it.
Neil, you know I’ve written more in the last few years than I have my whole life. We talked about it on more than one occasion; about how clear it was that this was what God had purposed and how it was, undoubtedly, the reason for the eternal friendships that He had so carefully orchestrated between you, me and Denny.
In five short years, I’ve written page after page of happy things, sad things; of tragedy and hope. It hasn’t always been easy, but God always seems to take over and the ink will suddenly freely flow.
But, when it comes to recounting that day, now two years past, tears have always seemed to drown out the words. And, yet, I know must try. It’s too important. It’s critical that others know just how real God is and how He orchestrates events for our greater good. The story of December 8, 2011 is proof of such. May I never forget or take for granted the love and responsibility with which God has gifted me.
The story actually started in early October when I began searching for air-fare to come for a visit just before Christmas. I was planning to fly in on Dec. 10th, which also happened to be my 50th birthday. Already struggling a bit with this milestone birthday and not wanting Denny to feel like she had to put together some sort of celebration, I thought it would be easier to just travel that day.
To paint the picture more completely for you, I had been bidding on tickets through Priceline for several weeks trying to get the best deal. For those of you who haven’t ever used Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price,” you have to submit a method of payment along with an offer for airfare on selected travel dates. If your offer is accepted, your credit card is charged and you are the sole owner of a non-refundable airline ticket.
Anyhow, somewhere around mid-October—after two weeks and a dozen or so rejected offers —I decided to try one more time, after which, if unsuccessful, I would just outright buy a ticket. I logged on and filled in all the information along with an even lower price than I had attempted before. It was a long shot, but I figured I had nothing to lose. I was ecstatic when it was accepted at almost 40 percent less than the going ticket price. God had answered yet another prayer! My desire to be there with my friends obviously lined up with His will for me.
But, wait. The departure was 7:05 a.m. December 8, 2011. December 8th? It was supposed to be December 10th. December 10th was the dreaded birthday and the date my work vacation started. God, however, obviously had another plan and what I thought was a mistake turned out to be yet another affirmation that He is always, and in all ways, in charge.
And, so, in the early morning hours of December 8, I sat back in the seat thankful that even on a full flight I had somehow managed to get a seat all to myself. Again, there was God, showing me that He was always looking out for me and that He knew I had much to think and pray about, especially on this day. Like how in the world I was going to get through this trip. Barb was gone. You were very sick and Denny was quickly slipping into a pit justifiably described as hell on earth as everything she knew and loved was systematically being stripped away from her. She was looking more and more like a female, modern day version of Job. I hurt for her, to the core of my being, I hurt.
As the stewardess stopped momentarily in front of my seat to close the overhead compartment, she gave me a sympathetic nod. My pain, obviously visible to even a stranger, quickly liquidated and turned into a stream of tears. I had so hoped that I would get there in time to say goodbye to Barb, but instead would be attending her funeral.
Oh, my dear God, how quickly life can change. Not just Barbie, but you too. Just a few months before, you were both so full of life, running circles around me, all the while smiling the most infectious smiles I have ever seen. Now, I was on my way to Canada to say a final farewell to Barb and to be by you and Denny’s sides as you both continued to maneuver your own deep, dark valley.
I sat back in my seat, ear buds tucked tightly in my ears and cranked up the Christian tunes. There was time for a lot of prayers between the airport runways of Atlanta, Georgia and Edmonton, Alberta. And, as soon as the plane took off, the praying commenced.
During a short layover in Denver and before boarding the final leg of my day’s journey, I texted Denny to see how she was doing. She had been pretty emotional the night before when I talked to her, but was adamant that she would be the one to pick me up at the airport. I begged her to let one of our other friends do it, but, as per usual, she got the final word and she would be there waiting for me. Period. She didn’t reply to my text, however; and I presumed she was probably busy with Barb’s funeral planning and taking care of you.
Back on the plane, I started to get more and more anxious. Denny was going through so much heartache and seemed to be beginning to struggle a bit with her faith. She was finding it hard to fight anymore; her strength understandably gone. Just as this illness had stripped you of your physical muscles, Denny was feeling stripped of her spiritual muscles. She still loved God. She still believed in Jesus and she still believed in heaven. In fact, those were the only things that made any sense to her at all anymore. Yet they seemed so far away and her heart continued to crumble under the weight of it all.
And here I sat on this Canada-bound airplane wondering why God would possibly interject me into the world of such wonderful people, just as your world’s began to unravel. What could I possibly do to help? What was His plan? Why you? Why me? Why now?
My mind, my heart and my emotions were swirling like a hurricane as the plane taxied down the Denver tarmac and I again turned on my music, once again getting lost in my own little world of praise, worship and prayer. About halfway through the four-hour flight, “Hold My Heart” by Tenth Avenue North came on and I was immediately transported back to exactly one summer before when my previously-planned visit turned out to be a time of support as Denny’s brother, Stevie, had tragically drowned just the week before.
“One tear in the driving rain, One voice in a sea of pain Could the maker of the stars Hear the sound of my breakin’ heart? One light, that’s all I am Right now I can barely stand. If You’re everything You say You are Won’t You come close and hold my heart.”
As the song pervaded my heart on that day in late June, I turned every word into a fervent prayer for my friend, Denny, pleading with God to please—just as the song beseeches—to come close and hold my friend’s heart. As the song continued, I began to feel a sense of peace and then an inexplicable nudge to open my eyes and look out the window. When I did, I saw something that I shall never forget. Right there, on a canvas of deep blue sky and billowing clouds, were clouds in the distinctive shape of two strong hands gently cradling a heart. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and quickly reached for my camera, but when I looked back up, the image was gone. I may not have gotten the picture with my camera, but it was forever etched into my memory and heart to be recalled many times in the days and years to come—including that December day in 2011 as I traveled once again to see my friends.
Leaning forward in my seat, I wondered if perchance God might give me another sign. Praise and worship lyrics still dancing in my ears, I studied the clouds, but no matter how hard I tried, I saw nothing. I then looked towards the ground, thinking perhaps I would see something there. Still, nothing. I settled back into my seat disappointed, but continuing to pray when I decided to try one more time.
Sitting forward once again, I pressed my forehead to the window pane and gazed at the sky like a kid waiting for Santa to appear in the Christmas parade. The sky at this point was cloudless and there was nothing really to see when all of a sudden a streak of white shot across blue sky. It happened so quickly, I almost gave myself whiplash snapping my neck to the left to see if I could see the plane that obviously just left this trail. However, I saw nothing. “Man, that was way too close,” I thought to myself. I didn’t think planes were allowed to fly so close to one another. Not to mention, that thing must have flying at the speed of light. I settled back into my seat quite perplexed and a little nervous. If that was a mistake by air controllers, perhaps I should be worried. And, if it were a message from God, I didn’t get it. It was not near as obvious as my previous experience.
As I continued to ponder what it could have possibly been, the flight attendants began preparing the cabin for landing. I turned off my iPod as instructed and began stowing all of my belongings for landing. In less than a half an hour, I should be on the ground and on my way through customs. My emotions shifted from anxiety to more excitement as I knew I was about to see the people who had become so near and dear to me.
Having visited several times before, I had become somewhat of a pro at maneuvering through customs. I breezed through and, luggage in tow, followed my fellow travelers through the concourses and hallways leading to the lobby where you and Denny usually waited for me.
Walking through the doors, I looked around for Denny. Not seeing her right away, I figured she was probably hiding around the corner and laughing at me looking around like a lost puppy. She loved to make me look like a dork and, to be fair, I often did the same to her. I loved when we would make you laugh with our silliness, and when I knew all you could do was shake your head, it made me laugh, too.
In a calculated effort to outsmart her and maintain at least a shred of my self-professed coolness, I stepped to the side and looked down at my phone. As I peered back up, I saw a couple of familiar faces walking towards me. It was Alex and Trina.
“Good,” I thought to myself, Denny had decided to take a break and ask for help. We exchanged hugs and I started into my story of how customs didn’t try to give me the third degree for once. As I used Neil’s name a few sentences in, I noticed Trina’s eyes filling with tears. Alex’s face grew dim and right there in the middle of the Edmonton Airport, I heard these words, “Brenda, Neil passed away this morning.”
Neil, I’m telling you, the world came to a screeching halt right then and there. It just couldn’t be true. Maybe I had fallen asleep on the airplane and was having a nightmare. There was no way that you could leave this earth this soon. There was no way you could leave your wife or your struggling church. There was just no way.
I began to hyperventilate as my sweet friends, themselves sobbing, guided me to a nearby chair. And, right there, in that moment, it all became clear.
I looked down at the airline ticket in my hand. The December 8th Priceline ticket I held was far from a mistake. I was pre-destined to fly in on this very day as support for my dearest friend now plunged into the darkest hour of her life.
And that streak against the sky; that was you, my sweet friend; it was you, doing a fly-by and letting me know that you were indeed ok. I could always see the passion in your eyes when you spoke of flying; how exhilarating it was for you to play high above the earth, amidst the clouds and along the very threshold of Heaven.
Yes, my dear Neil, every single time I see an airplane etching its own beautiful, feathery brushstroke of white amongst the clouds, I think of you and I know in the deepest reaches of my heart that you live in a constant state of that same exhilaration multiplied by infinity. I thank our awesome God every single day for writing me into you and Denny’s story and for this new symbol and hope and joy.
Keep flying, my dear friend. We love you. We miss you. We will see you again, but not before we fulfill this purpose that God has placed before us and for which you played and still play a pivotal role.
But please, Neil, please ask our Dad in Heaven to guide Denny’s hand to the rip-cord on her own chute. I know that I know that she will safely land on her feet, but the freefall sometimes takes her breath away and, even today, two years later, she seems to forget.
Let this day–December 8, 2013, be the day that she feels your love and His love to such a degree that she can once again see life from your high-flying and heavenly perspective. Amen and Ehmen!
Sending much love from earth to heaven,
Brenda (aka “Wife Number 2)
Back a few weeks ago, right before Easter, I became intrigued by Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree. I had only known of the Jesus that blessed and healed things and I wanted desperately to understand the significance of the story.
In the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 11, we are transported to that dusty road between Bethany and Jerusalem, just days before Jesus would be crucified:
Verse 12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it…
20As they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up. 21Being reminded, Peter said to Him, “Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered.”
Withered from the roots up? Hmmm, why was that important enough to note? I closed my eyes and quietened my spirit to listen for The Teacher. The cursing of the fig tree, I sensed, was perhaps a symbolic lesson which Jesus knew the disciples would eventually understand. You see, a fig tree was a source of sustenance in their homeland, and when Jesus found it barren, He became angry; not because the tree was fruitless, but because it was a representation of the condition of His beloved Israel. Like the fig tree burgeoning with beautiful leaves, Israel may have looked amazing from the outside, but there was no fruit to be found. They were just playing a part. For the Pharisees, it had become all about the law and the way they looked. They had gotten all wrapped up in the religion and the rules and were adorned with all the right “leaves,” while in reality they had become too blind and deaf to see what the Father was doing through Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ–God’s only son; the way, the truth and the life; the vine; and the very root system that gives life to not only the fig tree on that dusty old road between Bethany and Jerusalem, but to all of us that make up His eternal kingdom. They were too blind to see and so they persecuted and executed Him and Israel withered from the roots up.
Thank God, however, that the story didn’t end there. In true Godly-fashion, our Almighty Father, who is and has always been the same, rewrote the script to the benefit of those who love Him. The world pens a story and our Father rewrites it to please His Grand Plan. “Child, don’t you understand?,” I heard the still small voice say. “My grand plan, which includes the cross, is still in play today and will remain so until My Kingdom has come; until My Will is done on earth just as it is in Heaven. I am the root system. From me, eternal life springs.”
And to that, I reply, “Thank you, Jesus! Amen and Ehmen!”