Monday, December 29, 2014

The Reckoning

The new year is coming fast. As I was thinking about leaving behind the old year and entering into the new one, I was reminded of a poem I posted a couple of years ago about leaving behind the old and entering into the new me in Christ. It's a good reminder, while we're thinking about all those goals we want to achieve in the New Year, of what is truly important and what we all really need to focus our energies and efforts on most in the coming year--a deeper devotion to Christ. Enjoy!

So wrong and sinful am I
that I could not hide
my shame from the light 
of Your glory.
I had no excuses,
no defense to submit,
no hope of acquittal
from the long list of sins
I’d chosen to commit.
Whatever Your judgment
I deserved it full well 
and hopeless I waited
for a pronouncement of hell – 
away from Your glory,
Your presence,
Your light.
Then arose from the depths
of my spirit-dead soul
a desolate cry,
“Mercy, my God” 
and tears of repentance
streamed from my eyes.
You heard my confession,
saw the regret of my heart,
then took me up in Your arms
and tenderly spoke,
“My dear little child
for your sake I died
and rose from the grave
so that on this day
I could joyfully declare
Your debt has been paid.
Now receive My forgiveness
My love and My grace
and be with Me always.
Stand firm in My ways.
I’ll teach you to love
and to lay down your life,
to know the difference
between what is wrong 
and what’s right.
Follow My voice.
My Spirit will lead
as you travel the path
marked out by Me.
There’s no need to fear
nor hide your face 
from My gaze
for My love and My grace
has brought us together.
From this day forward
I proclaim us to be
Heavenly Father – 
beloved child,
now and forever
together in Me.”

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Day Before the Night Before Christmas

It’s the day before the night before Christmas and that reminds me of one of my favorite childhood Christmas songs. And of course now the song is running through my head.

It’s the day before the night before Christmas
and I’m busy, busy, busy being good.
On the day before the night before Christmas
gonna do everything a good boy should.
I’m making up a list about ten pages long.
I’m on page ten now and still going strong.
It’s the day before the night before Christmas
And I’m busy, busy, busy being good.
It’s the day before the night before Christmas.
But to do everything I ought to do:
cleaning up and brushing up and washing my ears…
Hey a day isn’t long enough—it will take years!

The song starts off with this idea that Christmas is approaching fast and this little boy is hoping that all his extra special effort to behave will ensure his place on Santa’s “Nice” list. In preparation for this, he’s making the customary multi-page wish list because he wants to make sure that Santa knows exactly what he wants. Too many American Christians today approach faith like this little boy does Christmas. They approach God like he’s Santa in the off-season…an old man with a white beard in his bathrobe who has a naughty and nice list. If they are good enough to make it on the nice list, then God will look over their massive wish list and reward them for their good behavior with something from their list. If they are really, really good, then maybe God will give them the whole wish list.

God is not Santa in disguise. Jesus confronted this same kind of misperception in his life on earth with the religious leaders of his day. The Sadducees and Pharisees thought that people who were prosperous and healthy were the good people God was blessing and that the poor and sick were sinners God was punishing. God knows if we are naughty or nice and when we’re sleeping or awake, but he’s not “up there” making a list and checking it twice or handing out gifts to good boys and girls and coal to the naughty children of the earth. God is the one who created us to be in relationship with him and he is the one who willingly paid our death penalty for us on the cross when we severed that relationship with sin.
And even though Jesus busted this myth in his teachings and by his life example, we still haven’t made much progress in getting away from this erroneous expectation.

Back to the song lyrics:

You can’t fool St. Nick. He’s too slick
to fall for all the falderal and all of your tricks.
On the day before the night before Christmas
it’s no good being good for a day.
I’ve learned something—be good for nothing.
Just be good and he’ll be good to you.
Be good, I mean the whole year through.

Now here is where St. Nick and God have something in common—you really can’t fool either of them. While St. Nick somehow knows what we are doing, God knows what we are doing and sees our heart. He knows what we are thinking and feeling, our weaknesses and strengths and God knows our hopes and dreams. We are not pets to God—he’s not standing by with treats to reward us when we obey his commands. God wants to bless every single one of us with the greatest gift we can ever receive—a relationship with him. We can’t earn that blessing. He died as a human being on a cross to redeem and renew that broken relationship (not when we were being good but when we were still all messy with dirty ears) and he rose from the dead by his own power to secure an eternity with him for us. Now that’s a Christmas gift!!!

Merry Blessed Christmas to you!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Focus on Jesus

It's probably one of the few bible verses that everyone in America has heard or at least seen on a sign held up at a football game:  "For God so loved the world that he gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) And this is the season that we celebrate that incredible gift. As followers of Jesus, we celebrate this incredible act of mercy in which our Heavenly Father sent his perfect and holy Son to take the full weight of the judgment of sin and the consequences of death upon himself. It's not that God doesn't love his Son, it's just that he loves us way too much to give us up without a fight.

When we feel lost or hurt or rejected...when the darkness of this fallen world seems to be overwhelming, we often look to another well-known scripture verse in Jeremiah for comfort: "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11) It reminds us that God hasn't left us to go it alone. He has a vision in mind of how he wants to bless each of us abundantly and if we just hang onto that hope, we will see God's plan unfold. He has a purpose for our lives planned out from the beginning. He tells us that in Ephesians 2:10—"For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

God really loves each and every one of us and sent his Son to us as a human baby to live with us, be one of us, to teach us about living a holy and righteous life and to die for us so that we would have an opportunity at new life in relationship with him, if we want it. He won't force it on us.

Isn't that a wonderful message? And it's all true but something's still not quite right. I've been doing a lot of reading for this theology class I've been taking and stumbled across the most amazing and simple statement that makes everything you just read seem kind of flat. In an article entitled Beyond Loving the World adapted from Christ Is All! by David Bryant, he writes, "God loves His Son and has a wonderful plan for Him... and He loves you enough to give you a place in it." He based the first part of this revelation on John 3:35—"The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands."

All of a sudden, the focus shifted from me and us to Jesus! And isn't that where it should be anyway? When we look at our faith and our lives through the lens of "God love you and has a wonderful plan for your life" it's all about us and allows us to continue in our limited self-centered worldview but when we see who we are through the lens of Bryant's statement, we have no delusions about who is the center of the universe and how we figure into it. Bryant's statement doesn't diminish the grace and blessing God has in store for us. It just puts it into the focus of God's eternal reality. All of a sudden, the enormity of his grace just expanded beyond even my imagination. It actually enhances our understanding of the blessing God freely gives us in the person of Jesus...a babe born to a virgin and wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger greeted by angel songs and shepherds and you and me.

Monday, December 8, 2014

They Call Him Immanuel

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, 
and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). 
Matthew 1:23

 They Call Him Immanuel
God is with us
not to condemn
but to save us
to teach and guide us
to protect and provide for us
to forgive and redeem us.
His grace is upon us
for he lives within us
nurturing holiness,
and righteousness
within our brokenness.
He's the light in our darkness.
His Spirit fills our emptiness
as we rejoice in his forgiveness
and faithfulness.
He is the strength in our weakness
and the heart of our witness.
He is Immanuel—
God with us!
The Lord has blessed us
freeing us from sin's oppression
even before our confession
while deep in our transgression
The Passion was his mission
to make the provision
for his boundless compassion
and intercession.
From the start this was his vision:
Immanuel—God with us!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Making a List

It’s the holiday season and the end of the year—so many things to do. Not counting the increase in work I’ll have over the next three weeks in my job, I have to finish my Christmas shopping and help mom finish hers. I have all our presents to wrap and possibly shipping the Ohio family’s gifts. I have two more lectures, three chapters and a final paper due before Christmas in the certificate course I’m taking. And let’s not forget all the normal things that need to be done in a routine week: grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, and laundry, to name a few. (Are you feeling overwhelmed with me yet?) Oh—and let’s not forget my all-time favorite thing to do—sleep! So what did I forget? I got work, sustenance, Christmas gifts, course work and sleep.

Last week on my blog I shared about how relationships are hard work and that my relationship with Jesus is my most precious relationship and yet I never listed that in my flurry of things to do. Where is bible study and prayer time on that list? Do I really think that unless I make that a priority and plan for those intimate moments with my Savior that they are just going to happen? That sounds a little like the woman I mentioned last week who expected the fairy tale marriage claiming it wasn’t love if you had to work at it.

Love is a choice. And to keep the bonds of love strong and healthy, each partner has to choose the other person over themselves every day. The question is, in all my busyness, am I going to choose Jesus over myself today?  Even though I don’t act like it too much of the time, he is more important to me all the things I listed in the first paragraph…and all the things I didn’t. I better add some me and Jesus time to that list. 

What about you?

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Relationship to Be Grateful For

I had reason this week to think a lot about the relationships I’ve had and have in my life, those that have failed and those that haven’t. I knew a young woman a few years ago who struggled in her marriage because it wasn’t the “happily ever after” she expected it to be. When I told her that no marriage is a fairytale and that love is hard work, she desperately clung to her denial, telling me that it can’t be love if you have to work at it. It will be no surprise to you to hear that her marriage ended shortly after that conversation. I also know too many families where the parents and children are estranged for any number of reasons. One generation doesn’t or won’t live up to the other’s expectations because they are all broken people unable to give what the others need.

Relationships are hard work. To begin with, relationships consist of two people who are human and therefore fallible. Because people grow and change over time, relationships are fluid so that even if you happen upon a perfect moment in the relationship, the fluidity of life will wash that moment away. Too often, people try to hold onto that single moment and become disappointed and sometime even bitter that they can’t instead of appreciating the relationship for what it is presently. Or they are in their idea of the perfect moment in the relationship and worry too much about how it is going to change in the future to truly enjoy the gift of the relationship as it is right now. It’s a miracle that any relationship lasts these days in this society where everything, including relationships, is disposable and easily replaced.

Then there is the relationship I have with Jesus. He is perfect and infallible. He never has a selfish moment. He never changes. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Even though I am sinful and at times selfish and constantly changing, he is the solid foundation of our relationship. It was his word that created me, his love that reached out to me, his Son who redeemed me, and his Spirit who goes through life with me. There is no where I can go that he isn’t and no thing I can do that would lessen his love for me. He seeks me out wherever I am physically, emotionally, spiritually because I am his creation, his image bearer, his child. Even if I quit on him, he will never quit me. In his eyes, our relationship is never disposable and can never be replaced.

I don’t deserve his love, but every day I am growing in gratitude and love for this love of God I know will never waver, or change or die.

Monday, November 17, 2014

No Regrets

This is one of those cold dreary days that lends itself to inactivity and depression. Even more so when you take into consideration that right now as the rain is turning to snow, I am watching a crowd of people all dressed in black leaving the Sanctuary and walking over to the fellowship area to laugh and cry with each other over sandwiches and memories of a life that ended tragically and too soon.

As you can expect, this touches my heart deeply—I might even dare to say, a little more deeply than most. I understand the void that is filling the mother’s heart and there really isn’t anything anyone can do to take that pain away. I also know that as the shock wears off in the coming days, that pain is only going to increase.

It never ceases to amaze me how many people one life can touch. We leave a part of ourselves in the minds and hearts of every person we interact with. Our smile or frown can change the course of someone’s day. There are those people who are so dear to us, that the day isn’t complete until we laugh with them, cry with them, or share a moment of togetherness. There are those who drive us to be better people and those who drive us crazy. God put each of these people into our lives as a precious gift. He made us to be in relationship, first with him and then with each other. Often we learn about being in relationship with him by being in relationship with each other.

There is no deep insight today. No real way to tie what I’m feeling to some deep theological concept. All I really wanted to remind you of is that today is a good day to tell those you love that you do love them. Give them a hug. Call them and talk for a few minutes just because. Write them a letter, email, text. Take the time because it is worth the effort. Whatever you need to do to say you care—now is the time because who knows what tomorrow will bring.

Monday, November 10, 2014

What Can I Say About Love?

Yesterday at church, in our children's sermon, we remembered the Veterans who love this country and its people so much that they gave their service and some their lives to ensure our freedom. The pastor of course made the connection that Jesus also served and gave everything for our freedom--our freedom from sin. It made me think about a poem I wrote and shared in December 2011. I hope you enjoy it.

What Can I Say about Love?
Love is a choice, 
a way of life, 
a sacrifice. 
It's a connection that can't be broken, 
a purpose, 
a light.
It's not about me and all about you.
It's your strength in my weakness.
It's a treasure 
and truth.
Love knows and accepts me 
for who I am
and inspires me to be better,
to be more, 
it's why I wake 
and what my heart beats for.
It's our greatest desire,
a need to give and receive.
It's a sharing, 
a gift, 
between you and me.
It's not just a feeling that warms our hearts
though warming it does
Love is going without that I may give
Love gives its own life that its beloved may live
Whatever you think love is
It's so much more
when our love is His
our lives redeemed,
our minds renewed, 
and our hearts restored.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Blessed to Be a Blessing All the Time

I will bless you…and you will be a blessing. (Genesis 12:2)

Very soon we are going to be inundated with Christmas music and mega-sales before we’ve even had an opportunity to take time to be thankful for all that God has blessed us with. We in the U.S. are so abundantly blessed it should be embarrassing to us and too often I find myself thinking about what I feel I’m lacking rather than all the riches I take for granted. There was a point in my life when I would go into debt to get those things I felt I was lacking and would often find a reasonable explanation to justify doing so. I am debt-free now and I refuse to do that again, so now I just do without. However, I still think about what I don’t have so much more than what I do have.

Recently a friend’s daughter moved to West Africa and at times I am put to shame when I am obsessing over wanting a new wardrobe or kitchen gadget I can’t afford and hear that she is without what we think of as basic necessities:  water, a roof over her head, an oven to cook in, etc. If I want peanut butter, I just go to the corner store and buy it (as I complain about the price and the wait in line to purchase it). When she wants peanut butter, she has to make it! That is if she can find the peanuts at the market to mash. Okay—yes, she answered God’s call and put herself in that situation, but for millions, that is just everyday life from birth to death.

We in the U.S. are so very spoiled. I can say that since I’m one of the spoiled people. I am blessed with a job, reasonably good health, a vehicle, a home with running water and electricity. I have more food in my cupboard the day before payday than the majority of the world has when they first come home from the store or market. The bible tells us in God’s promise to Abraham, which was repeated several times to Abraham’s descendants and which is meant for all God’s children, that we are blessed to be a blessing. As I think about all the blessings I have, I need to ask myself how I am using them to bless others. How can I use the home, car, money…. God has blessed me with to bless others.  Here’s one example:  On my way out of the church parking lot yesterday, I saw a woman and her two daughters walking home from the service. I offered them a ride and was happy that they allowed me to bless them with a ride.

So in this month of November, I am going to focus on being thankful for all my blessings, none of which I deserve in the least, but I am also going to try to be more active in finding ways to bless others with what he has so freely given me to share.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Lord's Prayer Anew

Four years ago I shared this fresh look at the Lord's Prayer and felt led to share it again today. Enjoy!

In my study of God’s Word, I came across the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13. Too often I find myself just skimming over this very familiar passage, but this day God brought my eyes to a screeching halt. It occurred to me that because we have the privilege of speaking these words with our brothers and sisters in Christ in our weekly worship, we can sometimes lose the depth of our passion for the prayer’s meaning. As I read this prayer slowly over and over again, I began to gain a deeper understanding and a new appreciation for this sacred text. God blessed my heart through the Lord’s Prayer in a special way and I share it with you here in the hopes that you too will be blessed as I have.


Our Father (the One who brought us into being; our Protector; our Provider; the Authority in our lives; the bigger, stronger One we admire; the One who loves us more; our Daddy) who art in heaven (where God’s people gather around the eternal throne to praise and worship the Lord; our spiritual homeland; our eternal inheritance; pure contentment of the soul; complete and absolute fulfillment; where the veil of mortality is lifted and God’s inconceivable glory is revealed; an all-embracing unity with the fullness of God) Hallowed be thy name (the mere mention of His Name is a sacred utterance–God is to be praised with awe and respect; He is holy and with admiration we revere the Lord; He is glorious and His presence demands our eager and undivided attention) Thy kingdom come (an existence with no war, no pain, no hunger or disease; where the Lord God reigns, peace rules and compassion is the native tongue; where love is the currency and joy is the air we breathe; where only God’s Word and will is sought after and received by grateful hearts) Thy will be done (empty us Father of our desires and our illusions of control; Your desires only we seek to accomplish in the offering of ourselves to glorify You Lord God; carve out our selfishness and self-centeredness that we may attend fully to Your commands in obedient service to Your just and merciful holiness) On earth as it is in heaven (You are the Lord God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. All heaven sings of Your glory and heeds Your beck and call with joyful and obedient hearts; with a word, You created the earth and we who live there. We too are subject to Your power and glory just as the heavens are and we, Your people, must submit ourselves to Your holiness with equal joy and obedience as in the heavenly realms) Give us this day (today, this minute, now – we seek audience with you Lord God; You’ve instructed us in your Holy Word to pray continuously – to be in communion with You this minute…and this minute…and this minute; today is the day You have made and right now is the time we have to worship You, submit to You, love You and serve You.) our daily bread (we were created with needs that must be met every day if we are to continue. These are not weaknesses but opportunities for us to rely on Your power and love to sustain us. You built those needs into us that we may always be drawn to You; fill us Lord God with Your presence; give us Lord what our bodies need to continue praising and serving You in this world until You call us home.) And forgive us (relinquish claim to restitution; restore; redeem; absolve blame) our debts (sin; unpaid penalty; something owed; transgression; offense) As we forgive (relinquish claim to restitution; restore; redeem; absolve blame) our debtors (sin; unpaid penalty; something owed; transgression; offense) Lead us not into temptation (guide us in Your way Lord God; take our hands and direct our paths; leave Your footprints for us to follow; give Your Spirit to push, pull, and point the way straight to You) But deliver us from evil (too often Lord, we stumble, we veer off the path or run in the opposite direction straight into the arms of the enemy. Rescue us Lord God. Dispense the crushing blow of Your power and glory upon the enemy and his armies. Come down into the dark valley of death and bring us up to Your holy mountain that we may praise and glorify You alone forever.) *For thine is the kingdom, (You created it all Lord. The universe, the earth and all that inhabits the earth. The spiritual world is Yours and anything else we may discover or uncover in the course of history, You created and it all belongs to You.) the power, (You are all-powerful Lord God. There is no power greater than Yours. With a thought, by a single utterance, You brought into being all things. With a thought, by a single utterance, You could wipe it all out in the blink of an eye with the ease of a single breath.) and glory forever. (There never was, is now, nor will there ever be anything more splendid, more magnificent or beautiful than You Father, nor more deserving of our praise and adoration.) Amen. (yes; as it has been said, let it be so)
*Presbyterian tradition adds this sentence which I believe is in keeping with the
spirit of the Lord’s Prayer and felt led to include in this new look at God’s Word.

If you will, take time with me now to speak your heart to the Lord in the words our Savior gave us…

Our Father……...who art in heaven……...Hallowed be thy name……..Thy kingdom come……...Thy will be done…….on earth as it is in heaven……….. Give us this day………..our daily bread...........and forgive us………...our debts…………….as we forgive…………..our debtors……….Lead us not into temptation……….but deliver us from evil…….……. For thine is the kingdom………...the power …..........and the glory forever……….Amen.

Be Blessed!

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Most Important 30 Minutes of My Day

I’m stretching myself this fall with a theology course called Perspectives on the World-Wide Christian Movement and I am enjoying it immensely. The first five weeks had me tracking God’s missionary movement from Genesis through Revelation connecting these 66 books in a way I never saw before and making the study of the Bible a new kind of adventure for me. This last week, we begin looking at the history of mission after the writings of the New Testament through the present day. I’m beginning to have new eyes for the Church during what is too often this forgotten time and how God has moved throughout the world. But I also learned something much more important and immediate or should I say “relearned.”

In those first five lessons, I was reading the bible a lot—looking at, easily, 40-50 verse references per lesson mulling them over and understanding them in a new light. I was back in my bible again and thriving on the wonderful new connections I was making with God’s word. I’ve already admitted some time ago (more than once) that I haven’t been reading the bible and praying like I know I should be. It was beginning to feel empty and flat so my personal quiet time with the Lord waned a bit. I increasingly became distracted by life—I always seemed to be rushing somewhere or needing to do something and couldn’t get it off my mind until it was done. Before I knew it, my personal, intimate time with God in his word and in prayer fell to the bottom of my priority list.

I’m not talking about the weekly worship, Sunday school class, or bible study you attend or the prayer or praise time you have while you driving to your next destination or waiting in line at the grocery store. I’m talking about the time you take out of your day to read God’s word asking him to speak his will to you or using his word to praise and worship him, or in repentance seeking his grace and assurance. And when you shut out everyone and everything else to listen for his voice, to intercede for those he has put on your heart, and rest in his presence. This is what has been missing from my daily routine for way too long.

Oh, I’ve tried in the past several times to get it back in the routine, but it never really got traction. But somehow, after digging deep into the bible for the first five weeks of the course, this last week seemed so empty again when I left the bible behind to track the history of the church instead. This morning I woke up feeling like something was missing and I wanted it back. I wanted to be in God’s word again and to put everything aside to totally be in his presence, so I opened my bible and read and took time to really communicate with God before my feet hit the floor and God’s peace is still filling my heart as I share this with you.

What did God teach me last week? God taught me that breakfast isn’t the most important meal of the day—feasting on his word is. And that 30 minutes of exercise I’m supposed to get three times a week—it will never compare to the 30 minutes I spend in the morning in the word and in prayer being strengthen and molded by my God.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Secret to Finding a Deep, Lasting Peace

This Sunday, I heard a sermon where the preacher shared that the secret to having a life of contentment is being content with my life as it is. Admittedly, he didn’t come up with the profound thought…he borrowed it from Paul’s letter to the Philippians:  I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Philippians 4:11-12)

Paul wrote this when he was in prison. Being curious, I decided to do some research on the first century Roman prisons because my only understanding of prison is Hollywood’s version.  I learned that Paul was in prison for two years waiting trial—there hadn’t even been a trial let alone a conviction. Day after day for two years wondering if this was the day he would get his day in court.

These prisons were often subterranean, dug out solid rock with an opening the size of a manhole as the only entrance and exit.  Such was the Mamertine prison Rome where tradition tells us Paul was held. The prison itself was essentially two large rooms on different levels with iron shackles fixed to the walls. The Roman historian Sallust, writing a century before Paul, said of this dungeon, "[It] is sunk about twelve feet underground. Walls secure it on every side, and over it is a vaulted roof connected with stone arches; but its appearance is disgusting and horrible, by reason of the filth, darkness and stench." I imagine that conditions didn't improve over the century between Sallust's writing and Paul's stay. A few prisoners had friends who provided them with clothing, blankets, food and water. The others did without. It was in this place that Paul wrote to Philippians about the secret of contentment. 

If Paul could find contentment there, I should be able to find contentment in my warm, clean, spacious apartment even if I could use a little more storage and an updated living room set. While we’re at it, I’d love to replace the kitchen cabinets and maybe a little color on the walls too. Today on my way to work I saw a homeless man dressed in the same dirty gray sweatshirt and ripped tan trousers that he’s been wearing every day for years, walking alongside the road with his little cart that holds all his worldly belongings and the aluminum cans that he picks up to recycles for money. I bet he would be more than content with an apartment like mine and my 4-year old car, even if it doesn’t have blue tooth capability. Sometimes my blessings are so continuous that I take them for granted and the joy and gratitude I should be receiving them in diminishes until they almost disappear. Shame on me for that.

Now I know I’m not supposed to compare myself to others—it makes for some real unhappiness when I’m the poorer person and sometimes can lead to arrogance when I’m the richer. But I have to tell you that seeing that man today reminded me that God has blessed me greatly and not so I could be happy, but so I can share it with those who are waiting for God’s blessing to come to them through me and my stewardship of what God has given me. 

I also learned in my research that visiting a first century Roman prison could be dangerous. Visitors ran the risk of being associated with the alleged crimes of the accused. When early Christians visited those who were in prison, they were let down into the prison by rope and left only at the convenience of the guards. They weren’t just performing an inconvenient or unpleasant act of kindness—they were risking their own lives and freedom as well. This is the kind of love and concern we are to have for each other. Am I that giving—that selfless, that I put others’ needs above my own convenience let alone my own safety? I wish I could say yes, but the truth is no. No, I’m not that selfless and giving and I’m leaning on God’s grace right now to see past this when he looks at me.

Want to know the secret to finding a deep, lasting peace? I’ll let Paul share it in his own words: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9)

Monday, October 6, 2014

I'm Working My Way Back to God...Not!

Things were so busy for me this weekend and I didn’t spend a whole lot of conscience time with God. When I woke up this morning, I felt distant from God and was hesitant to approach him in prayer this morning, to re-establish that dependence I work so hard on most of the time. I felt like I didn’t deserve to be in God’s presence and I should have to do something before I earned that intimacy back.

When I was growing up, it was a well-known fact that you didn’t want to end up at the top of my mother’s sh** list. That’s the list of people who did something to anger my mother and if you were foolish and unfortunate enough to make it to the top of that list by doing the latest, biggest bad or annoying thing…well then you were there until someone else did something bigger or more recent to knock you off of the top of the list. The goal was to earn your way back down to the bottom with the eventual hope of falling off the bottom of the list and being totally in her good graces. This could only be achieved by being good and helpful and better than the others who were working their way up or down the list.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes, when I’m feeling guilty about something, I feel like God is a cosmic version of my mom and we’re all on his cosmic sh** list trying to work our way off by being good, or at least better than others, in our effort to end up in his good graces. There’s an old Bill Cosby joke my father quotes when he’s caught doing something unexpectedly nice for someone: “I'm just an old person whose trying to get into heaven now.” Too many Christians approach their faith with this erroneous idea. We can’t earn God’s grace. God’s grace is not the currency of our redemption—Christ’s blood is! Christ paid for our sins with his blood and we all have received God’s grace. We just have to accept that gift of grace in repentance with humility and gratitude.

Some Christians I know think they have to suffer their way into heaven. They say they believe in God’s grace through Jesus’ sacrifice but they insist that they must suffer the appropriate amount if they are to get into heaven. Yes they're forgiven, they say, but they still have to pay the price for their sinfulness. It’s as if they are criminals in some sort of cosmic jail serving their time for their crimes before they get to go to heaven and maybe with good behavior they might get some time taken off their sentence—again trying to work our way into God’s presence. Why do we do that?

Maybe because our ways are not God’s way and if we were God we’d expect someone to pay for what they’ve done to earn their redemption. It’s only fair—You do the crime, you pay the consequences. We just can’t wrap our minds and hearts around free grace. We all know that nothing good is ever free and if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. These clich├ęs are absolutely true, when dealing with humans. But when we are talking about God’s grace, his way is not our way. Yes, redemption is costly and God paid the price for us because we could never afford it no matter how hard we tried.

That’s why, even though I felt like I needed to earn my way back into God’s magnificent presence this morning, I walked right into the throne room of God in prayer and came out blessed.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Priorities in My Busy-ness

"We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully." Romans 12:6-8

As I consider the blur of this past week which has been one of the busiest weeks of the year for me, I wondered at first—did I have time to do anything that God could use to teach me? I'm not a center-stage type of person and I'm okay with that because God created me to be a helper and I enjoy that role immensely. I admit that I occasionally feel overlooked when I'm left out of public acknowledgement, but I try to thank God in those times for the lesson in humility it provides.

I'm a listener. If you need to say something, I'm there to listen. I will listen to your joys, concerns, woes and triumphs. I'm an encourager. I know that every individual has insecurities and I'm there to bolster you and walk through the deep of it with you. I'm a woman of prayer. I can't offer much in the way of solutions, but I know who can and I bring those needs to God faithfully on your behalf. As I review my week, I see many moments, despite being so busy, where I have helped, listened, encouraged and prayed. I've also taken a significant amount of time out this week to study God's Word and the writings of great theologians—I'm taking a theology course which has given back to me the joy of focused study of God and his love for the world.

This week could have been very different. I could have turned people down who needed my help because I had too much to do and no one would have blamed me. I could have cut conversations short explaining that I had too much work to do to listen and my friends and family would have understood. I could have sent some away with only a half-hearted attempt at encouragement and had more time to do my work. I could have easily convinced myself that God knew and could have taken care of the stuff I prayed about without my praying. I could have studied less, once again claiming the enormity of the work I had to do last week, but I didn't and I thank God for that.

At the end of the week, I could have been justified having pride in a job well done but that would have been a temporary, superficial joy. Instead, I was faithful to the Lord in sharing the gifts he has given me. At the end of the week, all my work was done, God had been glorified, I made a difference in people's live (even if it was only a little ripple of kindness), and I know God more intimately. What a fantastic week! I guess the lesson I learned is to seek God’s kingdom first and foremost and let the rest take care of itself. I’m not saying you should ignore your responsibilities, but to remember that in the list of priorities, they are still second to glorifying God with our whole heart, mind, and soul in word and deed.

Monday, September 22, 2014

French Hem Gospel

I’ve been quilting for 20 years now and sewing even longer. I learned to sew in middle school and got my first sewing machine 25 years ago. I’ve made stuffed rabbits, doll clothes, costumes, clothes for myself, bible covers, tote bags, wall hangings, baby gifts, and quilts. Even with all my experience, I still make sure I reread the directions before I start, measure twice and cut once, and check to make sure I have my right sides together before I sew the seam so I don’t have to rip the stitching out. I hate ripping out the seam – it’s not fun and if I’m not very careful while ripping, I could rip right through the fabric making that piece unusable.

This weekend, I made a couple of pillow cases using a French hem. I’ve never used this technique before. It’s often used with delicate fabrics to prevent unraveling ends and provides a clean, finished, professional look to the project. To do this stitch, I had to go against everything I’ve learned in my 25 plus years of experience and sew my seams with the wrong sides facing each other. As I sewed, every part of me was screaming…NO! Stop! This isn’t right and you’re going to have to rip out all this stitching! I had to remind myself the whole time I ran the stitch that the pattern explicitly calls for me to do it this way—even if it is completely backwards.

As I was putting the finishing touches on my project pieces, it occurred to me that God’s way is like a French seam when it comes to life. Think about it. Jesus and God’s Word (the expert and the pattern) tell us we are to love our enemy and bless those who do evil against us. We are to visit the sick and imprisoned. We are supposed to give at least 10% of our earnings to God through charity. That all sounds just a little backwards, doesn’t it?

Why would I love someone who hates me? And while we all admire people like Mother Theresa who spent her life caring for the lepers and HIV/AIDS victims in India and Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, both of whom went to West Africa to help Ebola victims and contracted the disease themselves—which of us would really leave behind everything to join them? Let’s talk about visiting the murderers, rapists, pedophiles, and the Bernie Madoffs of the world in prison. Prison is a scary place and they deserve to be there. Besides, what is there to talk about with people like that? And who in their right mind would do anything good to someone who has hurt them or worse? And 10%! Is God serious? I work hard for what I earn and I don’t have a lot of wiggle room in my budget to begin with.

But God is serious about all of it. It looks wrong. It’s certainly counter-cultural and some of it just isn’t safe, but God knows what he’s talking about and when we do what he says and follow his lead, we experience what God has promised in his Word—salvation, reconciliation with God, joy of serving others, and the peace and freedom that comes from loving the Lord above all else.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Education, Affirmation, and Determination

Last week I experienced how affirmation inspires determination. A couple of years ago, I learned of a course called “Perspectives on the Worldwide Christian Movement” at the New Wilmington Mission Conference. It sparked my interest. But there were lots of reasons why I couldn’t take it: 1) I couldn’t afford the course fee, 2) I couldn’t drive to the unfamiliar area that was an hour away for the weekly classes, and 3) I didn’t think I was capable of doing the work. The next year, I received a personal invitation from a woman who thought I might enjoy the class. Again, it was too expensive, too far to drive and doubted my abilities. This year, when the information went out about the course, it was still too expensive, but being held right in my neighborhood and my curiosity and desire to take the course was beginning to override my doubts, but more importantly, I really felt like this is what God wanted me to do.

Even though I was going to struggle to pay for the course, my biggest concern was still my ability to do the work. I never went to college (I took a few basic entry level courses twenty years ago) and this course is offered to seminary students towards their degrees. I was concerned about whether I am intelligent enough to do the work. So I was a little nervous when I walked in the door Monday night for the first class. That’s when God surprised me with a special blessing. When I went to pay for the class and pick up my books, I was told I was “paid,” my balance was $0. The woman even showed me on her computer screen telling me that those who had paid were in black and those that owed were in red and my line was black. After checking to rule out computer error, I was told that God has arranged for someone to pay my class fee for me. Wow! God is so good!

As I worked through the readings and study guide and answered the review questions this week, I was thanking God for my anonymous benefactor for the two beautiful gifts I received: 1) the financial gift that made it possible for me to attend without over-stressing my budget and 2) the knowledge that this someone has faith in me that I’m capable of doing the work and backed it up with the course fee. There were several times this week when I wondered if I took on more than I’m capable of and then I remembered that this person, whoever they are, believes in me and I kept pushing through. And I know that for the next fourteen weeks, every time I face a challenge, whether it is insecurity or finding the time to do the work, I have the blessing of this special affirmation to push me to take one more step, read one more page, and answer one more question. It’s amazing what we can do when we realize that God believes in us and sometimes he lets us know it in a tangible way.

Monday, September 8, 2014

As Much As It Depends on You...Live At Peace

My second marriage was only six months along and we were still all learning to get along and be a family at the time of my son’s death. As you might expect, my husband and my son were having a difficult time interacting with each other and I often felt stuck in the middle. One of the greatest gifts (besides redemption) God gave me was a last phone call with my son a few hours before the accident. We had all been on each other’s nerves the night before and Bryan and I reconciled in that short five minute conversation that ended with both of us saying “I love you” to each other. This memory always takes me immediately to Ephesians 4:26-27—In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. It’s so easy to let little differences get out of hand and in the way of living a life that honors the Lord. When I think about how that phone conversation could have gone, I thank the Lord. We could have continued arguing and three hours later I would have a regret in my heart I couldn’t have lived with.

Two years later, on a late summer Thursday evening, my husband came in the house after mowing the grass, sat me down on the couch and told me he didn’t want to be married to me anymore. The days and weeks that followed were unbearable. I had just given my life to the Lord the year before and now this man I vowed to share my whole life with was divorcing me. I was devastated and at times wanted him to know the pain he was causing me, but instead I prayed that God would help me show unconditional love and forgiveness to him. My husband was not a believer and I knew that how I treated him would be a reflection of the God I served. My first real courageous act of love for Jesus and my last act of love for my husband was to do my best to show him a glimpse of God’s undeserved grace and forgiveness.

It was during this time that a pastor friend of mine gave me a prescription for handling relationships—Romans 12:9-21
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

From my experience I can tell you that this isn’t easy to do. It’s impossible sometimes…for me, but not for God. To live out this kind of love, I need God to live in and change my heart. I need to keep reading this “prescription for life” and saying it until God’s definition of relationship is etched on my brain and engrained in my lifestyle. And I need to do it not because if I don’t, it might be too late tomorrow but because it is God’s command and his way. I know that I’m not always going to succeed at living in harmony with everyone. However, if I really try to live at peace with others and they refuse, I haven’t failed. I only fail when I refuse to try. God’s way is simple—Love God and love others. It’s not easy, but it is simple. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

I'm a Witness

Until recently, I've had a sheltered, extremely limited worldview and I've been secure in my decision to remain separated from the world around me...until now. Some might say I've elevated shutting out the world around me to an art form. I don't watch or read the news (too depressing), and I go to great lengths to avoid anything where I will be forced to meet people. However, God has been helping me to see that my worldview is too limiting for him and for me. While I support mission in my heart, in prayer, and with resources, I've never stepped out in faith, even in something as easy as serving at a shelter because that would force me out of my comfortable sheltered existence. I justify this to myself and others with a list of reasonable explanations: 

  • My health won't permit it (mission trips)
  • I'm not qualified or I don't know how and wouldn't know where to begin
  • I can't afford to miss work
  • I get panic attacks when driving in unfamiliar areas, so I can’t go
  • I need to be available just in case my mother needs me so I can't commit to anything right now
  • I don't have that kind of time
  • I'm an introvert and it's not in my God-given personality to be that outgoing
  • That’s not my calling. I'm a helper. I'm the one who does the unseen work so that others who are better and greater can do what needs to be done.
I also have several excuses ready for why I don't talk to people about Jesus in my own neighborhood and community:
  • I don't want to offend anyone.
  • I'm willing, but spirituality never really comes up in the conversation. If God wanted me to say something, the other person would just ask me a spiritual question directly.
  • I'm likely to say the wrong thing and push someone further away from God.
  • You've got to have a relationship with someone before you earn the right to talk to them about Jesus and I don’t have any relationships outside of the few people I know who are already in ministry.

But God has been working on softening my heart and I have to tell you that those excuses no longer seem...reasonable.

Yesterday, I listened as a man of God and missionary, shared God's Plan A (and there is no plan b) for spreading his glory and his message of grace throughout the whole earth—through his disciples' witness. Or more to the point, through the witness of each and every person who calls him Lord and that includes me. My missionary friend shared that he has met many "Hearers" in his four years in a foreign land, but few go past the passivity of hearing. He explained that listening requires an act of will on the part of the Hearer. They show their intention by being attentive and as a "Listener" respond to and obey, becoming a Follower (disciple). 

Discipleship is a way of life in which we continuously respond to and obey Jesus (or at least try). My missionary friend, in expounding on the life and discipleship of Peter, helped me to see that witnessing to the world is just as much my call as it was the call of the first disciples. Peter didn't know who Jesus was at first. He didn't know Jesus was the Son of God, the Savior of the world when he dropped his nets that first day on the shore. Peter had been a hearer who became a listener who heard an invitation and responded, becoming a follower (disciple). He spent time with Jesus and was changed by it through years of discipleship. It was only after two years in the continual presence of our Lord that the Father revealed Jesus' true nature to Peter. As a follower, he became a witness to the glory of Jesus, and in sharing his experience of Jesus with others, they became hearers who listened and obeyed, becoming disciples who witnessed. 

Peter was a passionate, impetuous man who sometimes got it wrong. His faith journey was marked with some of the same potholes mine is and he tripped over and even fell in a few of the same ones I do. Peter's call to ministry was the same as mine...hear, listen, follow, and witness to the community, the nation, and the world. Witnessing is not for the few, the elite, the specially-trained super Christian—it is the privilege and duty of every follower of Christ.

The most encouraging thing my missionary friend said was that going up to a stranger and starting a spiritual conversation is intimidating and it scares him. Here is this guy who is so obviously called to be the voice of God in a foreign land--he's an intelligent, successful business man, an extrovert with a good sense of humor and a humble heart for God, and let's not leave out the fact that both his parents are pastors—he is certainly qualified and able to be a missionary in distant land, more so than me for sure. And he needs to rely on God's grace, wisdom, and providence just as much as I do when sharing with others about Jesus. All of a sudden, all my excuses, reasonable explanations and objections were laughable even to me. 

Me being a witness to my neighborhood, my community, and the world is not a new understanding for me. I’ve been dancing around it for some time trying to find a way to limit it to my comfort zone, but I just can’t do that anymore. (Relax Mom, I’m not packing up and moving to some third world county next week to be a missionary.) I don't know what it means. It’s just that I can’t ignore God’s call anymore to completely surrender. Maybe the life I live will look very similar to the one I’m living now or maybe it will be completely different. I’m not going to change overnight and God’s got a lot of work to do in my heart and mind to teach and lead me to be the witness discipleship demands. But now that I’ve heard and am listening, I want to and hope to consistently respond, "Jesus, show me the world in a new way and how I am to be your witness in it."

Meanwhile, the eleven disciples were on their way to Galilee, headed for the mountain Jesus had set for their reunion. The moment they saw him they worshiped him. Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally. Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: "God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I'll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age." Matthew 28:16-20 (The Message)

When they were together for the last time they asked, "Master, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now? Is this the time?" He told them, "You don't get to know the time. Timing is the Father's business. What you'll get is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world." Acts 1:6-8 (The Message)

Monday, August 25, 2014

I Cant See without My Glasses

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 1b-3)

I'm not really a morning person. It's not that I'm grouchy, but I do go through the first hour in a fog which is why I have a regular morning routine. I do the same thing every morning the same way making it possible for me to coast through in the half-asleep state I'm in and still walk out the door ready to meet the demands of the day. One of the last things I do before heading out the door is to put on my glasses.

My left eye is near-sighted, my right eye is far-sighted and I have astigmatism in both eyes. That means that the whole world around me is blurry no matter how close or far away it is and with the astigmatism, horizontal lines have a tendency to disappear altogether. You would think that the first thing I would do in my morning routine would be to put on my glasses.

However, when I first wake up, I don't realize how bad my eyesight is. It's normal to me. After all, I see well enough to get around my apartment and it's not like I need to see any details of the furniture, knickknacks or photographs around my home as they've been there for years and I don't see them anymore even when I'm wearing my glasses. It's not until I put my glasses on that I realize how poor my eyesight actually is. So why do I wait? Because at some point I'm going to get in the shower and blow dry my hair and I can't do that with my glasses on and when I take my glasses off, I can't see what I'm doing—I become very aware of just how bad my eyesight is. I find that awareness quite uncomfortable so I wait until I know I won't have to take them off again to put them on.

One morning last week, I actually forgot to put on my glasses and began walking out the door. On my way back down the stairs to get my glasses, I had a sudden realization: Jesus is my focus and my spiritual disciplines—praying, reading the bible, worship, service—these are the framework that holds my focus in front of my eyes so that I can see clearly. When I let distractions take me away from a regular routine of spiritual discipline, I lose my focus and life becomes a little blurry. The line between good and bad, between God’s way and mine begins to disappear and I stumble around in this blurriness crossing way over that line without knowing it.

Removing my glasses, the blurriness will begin to subside after a while as my eyes adjust to trying to focus without my prescription lenses and once again, I think I can see fine until I trip over a cord on the floor I didn’t see, or I run into the doorway because my depth perception is askew. When I let my spiritual disciplines slip my focus begins to move from God to myself. I begin to think that it’s all about me and what I do for God instead of it being all about God and what he has done in me and through me. I want to do my best for God instead of wanting to let God do his best in and through me. I’ll revel in the glory of his amazing work in my life as if it were my triumph instead of his.

That’s why it is so important to keep to those spiritual disciplines—so that my focus is always Jesus. How do you keep your focus?

Monday, August 18, 2014

The World's a Little Emptier Now

Last week my heart was saddened by the news of Robin Williams’ death. How empty our world will seem without his creativity and his laughter to bless us. We’ve heard and seen so many wonderful tributes to this man who touched the emotions and lives of millions. As a person who has struggled with depression all of my life, it sparked some sad and painful memories and even some unhealthy thoughts. God got me through the week with the love of one of his most special angels here on earth – a golden retriever named Sadie whom I was taking care of for some friends while they were away.

When I was in my early teens, I made the decision to take my own life on my eighteenth birthday. In senior year, while others were looking at colleges or dreaming about the day after graduation, I was making my plan. Back then I drifted between atheism and agnosticism and I figured that if there was a hell, that’s where I was going and I was okay with that because no matter how bad hell was, it had to be better than the life I was living. God gave me something to live for when two months before my 18th birthday, I got pregnant. I was okay with killing myself, but I couldn’t kill my child and by the second trimester, I couldn’t live without him, so I couldn’t give him up for adoption.

Years later when he died in a tragic car accident, I again had to face the decision of whether I was going to live or die. My family kept me under close surveillance those first months after his death and an old friend got me into grief counseling. When that was done, I didn’t want to die anymore, but I didn’t really have a reason to live and grow either. I was moving around and going about the motions of life, but inside I was dead. That’s when Jesus stepped into my life. He gave me a reason to live and grow and thrive. When my husband left me a few years later, Jesus was my comfort, my hope and he was my reason for living. He still is. My husband's leaving hurt a lot, but Jesus held the pieces of my broken heart in his hands until the healing was done.

This doesn’t mean that I no longer have depressive episodes where unhealthy thoughts, attitudes, and habits sneak up on me from some dark corner of my mind. I’m still at risk at certain times in my life. Even after coming to know Jesus, I had a depressive episode that put me in the hospital for a few days. It was like a safety switch went off in my head making the idea of killing myself okay, normal even. I got some rest and my medications were adjusted and after leaving the hospital I continued therapy and working towards good mental health. I’ve since completed the work of learning to accept and leaving behind my past and all the hurt that resides there. I’m living and working an average life and loving God to the fullest of my ability in all I do because I know just how precious each moment is and that each moment is a gift from God. But like a person who has a life-long, sometimes debilitating disease, (like colitis or fibromyalgia or diabetes) I need to take the proper precautions and watch for the signs of an attack because it can hit me again any time. And when it does, I won’t care how precious the next moment is and I will have to make the decision to live for and love God in that moment.

You’ll note that I didn’t mention anything about the many beloved friends and family in my life. I love them all dearly and God has touched me through them often, but I left them out of this post because God is the only one who can change my heart from sadness to praise when I’m at my lowest. Sure, sometimes he gives me a moment of relief through their companionship, but he is the healer. He is the only one who can turn that safety switch back on in my mind when life trips it off.

God wants to bless those around me with my love, my laughter and my sharing. I make a difference because he makes a difference through me. Without me, there would be an empty place in the world for those I know and love. That’s what God reminded me of this week.

If you are suffering with depression and wonder if the world wouldn’t be a little better without you, think again. Tomorrow without you is such a sad thought. I promise that it gets better. Lean into Jesus—give him your pain and your tears. Call the national suicide hotline (1-800-273-8255) or go to the nearest hospital emergency room right now if you think you are going to hurt yourself. Get counseling. Talk to someone. Talk to me. Please hear me when I tell you that you are special—in the entire world, throughout all time, there is only one of you and I would miss you if you weren’t in my tomorrow.

For those of you not suffering from depression, chances are that you know someone who is. Depression is a dark and scary thing—don’t let your loved one go through it alone. Talk to them. Let them know they matter. Let them know it’s okay to be sad for a while, but that you want to celebrate the joy of life with them too. Show them how to not give up on themselves by not giving up on them. There are no guarantees. All you can do is love them and pray.