Friday, June 29, 2012

Saving the Wretch

Amazing grace
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch
like me

I once was lost
but now am found
was blind but now
I see

I was listening to today's Live the Promise and, to my delight, Susie had on as her guest Nicole Serrano, my favorite Christian singer as of late. I downloaded her online album a while ago and have loved her songwriting skills and vocal capacity. I loved hearing her sing requests and she did a gorgeous rendition of Amazing Grace.

I thought back to when that song first hit me hard and realized it was way before I ever thought about being a Christian.

I remember my Gramma's funeral - I was 15 years old and completely unraveled at the loss of her - and this song came on...and why did I become so disheveled during this song, in particular? Gramma didn't love it in any special way. I tried to recall why the song touched me to the point of needing to excuse myself from the company of my family in the middle of the service, but I couldn't remember anything.

It was at the age of 15 that the tide of my life took a serious turn for the worse.

I wonder if God did not try to take hold of me right there. Chubby, awkward 15 year old on the bathroom stall floor sobbing her eyes out. What could God have been saying to me?

He knew. He knew what I would do, who I would become. Perhaps He called out to me. But I was too blind, too deaf.

Two years later, He gifted me with a devoted Christian girlfriend, Annie, who colored my world with beautiful faith hues of light blue and pew-wood-brown.

Still, I did not latch on. I chose to continue on my dark path.

I was a wretch over and over again as I turned 18, 20, 22, and on up.

I fouled up time and time again. I hurt people. I was a lost soul, grappling for meaning in this life.

But God is amazing and God is full of grace.

And I received His amazing grace on November 6, 2010, at the bottom of my life where the mire and the muck lived. The place where there isn't even any sludge to scrape up anymore. Below that point.

God lifted me up and showed me how amazing grace could be.

And now, even though I often feel lost these days, I know I am not a lost soul any longer. I have found my Purpose, my Meaning.

No longer blind and no longer deaf, I see the world in multi-color-view with rainbow hues.

When I was 15 and heard Amazing Grace, I felt nothing but grief and shame.

Now I feel nothing but gratitude.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Enough is Not Enough: A Prayer and Praise Realization

Life has been hard lately. Just when I thought we had enough, God gave us more. Who am I to judge what "enough" is?

"No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."
~1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV

I think if I had it my way "enough" would be a very low standard as I am wont to be lazy.

Not so with our God.

But many times over the course of these past weeks, have I, for the first time, looked at the cross above our bed and uttered these words: "When are You going to stop this?"

I actually said that. I might have also said something like, "when will this end?"

Perhaps even a choked-out, "Why do You keep doing this to us?"

I see now that I was getting more desperate and more disillusioned by the moment.

The enemy loves to camp on disillusionment.

image from

I slept two hours last night into this morning. A lot of bad stuff went down. I prayed and cried for hours, knowing that, at 4:00 in the morning, I could not go back to sleep because I had to get up in two hours for work and I knew if I did go to sleep after my exhaustive crying and praying, it would be harder to wake myself back up.

So I took a shower and prayed. I turned on the radio softly and prayed. I pet my cat and prayed. Then I decided to just leave and get to work hideously early and pray.

I looked carefully at my Christian library and chose a few key books I thought might aid me in making it through the day should I have time to sit and read for a few moments.

One of those books was "Mercy in the Wilderness" by Susie Larson

image from

I can't begin to describe how intensely this book has ministered to me. Susie's story is take-your-breath-away-inspirational in that real-world kind of way, the kind of way that makes you want to reach out and hug her (I think I may email her anyway!) and thank her profusely.

When I read that, during years of constant trauma and one difficulty after another, she felt God tell her that this would get a lot harder before it got easier -- I knew I was hearing that, too, in my own battles.

God told me yesterday that my fire is coming.

This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, 'They are my people,' and they will say, 'The LORD is our God.'"
~ Zechariah 13:9

And as Beth Moore says, "There is no fire that can't refine you" (paraphrased from "Breaking Free").

I kept telling myself not to be afraid. We all go through valleys and as long as we know our Companion is there, we don't have to feel alone and abandoned.

In the wee hours of the morning, amidst desperate prayers, I looked up at the familiar "Footprints" poem on my wall.

"Carry me, Lord," I whispered. "I can't walk one step today without You."

As I sighed out that prayer, I rose and took my shower and left for work.

The day was a good one. I was with a favorite client at work and we shared smiles and laughter.

But coming home, that same groaning, ache in my stomach resurfaced. That fear that had come to be normal when thinking about returning to our downhome chaos and tension. Something destructive happening nearly every day.

I listened to my favorite worship music (lately it's been Nichole Nordeman, Nicole Serrano, and Christy Nockels)

and prayed more.

I wasn't praying for just myself, mind you. I prayed for my husband, my children, our family as a whole. I prayed for us to cling to God and for the enemy to not find a foothold to step on.

This morning God orchestrated Life 102.5  playlist as He often does for His listeners and as I emerged from the shower, "Praise You in this Storm" was on and while that song is often on, I knew it was a call for me to do just that.

I knew that God wanted me to know that things were going to get harder...

but He had not given me a spirit of fear

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
~ 2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV)

No, He did not give me a spirit of fear...and I tried to let that fear wash away with every song I listened to on the way home.

My 40-ish minute drive home is a blessing on many days. I drive through rural countryside and the sun (when it is out) is a gift upon the land which my eyes feast on, sometimes even with tears.

Then Nichole Nordeman's song, "No More Chains" came on.An excerpt:

"How did I get locked up inside?
What's this that renders me paralyzed?
I lost myself in small pieces
It happened over time
I traded love for a heavy chain
Another link every other day
I pulled it up and down a mountain
It made me want to say?
No more chains
No more chains
Big and small, watch them fall away
No more chains
Big and small, watch them fall away"

And I said
Oh, Lord, take this bondage away. I long to be free from fear, anxieties, tension.

I pulled into the garage. I had no idea what I'd walk into. Would the younger two be screaming? Would Husband be so tense he could not even function? Would the teenager choose yet another deviant action?

I walked inside and Husband was lying on the couch, obviously exhausted. He said he had gotten 3 hours of sleep. I nodded. Two was my story.

We talked a bit. I shared some ideas about how we could help this family.

But we've tried so many things. How could we know this was not just the "next thing?"

I don't know, I answered. But how is doing what we are doing now going?

So I hope we can make more steps toward love and freedom in coming days, weeks, months, years.

The evening actually went very well. The teen had 2 friends over, the little ones were well-behaved and sweet. As the evening wore on, I sat on the couch and continued to read "Mercy in the Wilderness."

I came across this passage:

"When God opens the skies and provides a brief moment of relief from our circumstances, is this a cruel joke to tease and reminds us how tough things really are? No! I submit that it's a precious gift from a patient Father who wishes we were not so earth-bound." (p117)

I sat there dumbfounded. The younger two played outside, Husband was downstairs setting something up on the computer and the eldest was in her room playing a computer game.

Peace reigned in our home that night.

The evening was a miracle and I had let it go by unacknowledged.

I felt slapped upside the head. I immediately put my book down and raised my head, folded my hands. And I began the most humbling dialogue with God.

Forgive me, I said. How dare I pray every minute of the day on behalf of this family when we are in turmoil...and yet when those prayers get answered....when peace finally floods its way into our home, even for a few hours....I say nothing.

Do I really only go to God when it's hard? What about this "Praise You in This Storm" stuff?

"And I'll praise You in this storm and I will lift my hands
For You are who You are no matter where I am..."

Was I praising Him no matter where I was? Absolutely not!

Forgive me, Lord, I begged.  

How dare I! I let shameful tears fall. And I felt my Father lift my head and say

It is never too late to praise Me. 


So I did. I did with all my heart and I did with glorious tears. 

Husband came upstairs to find me in the middle of my befuddled realization and I hurry-told him all that I had realized. What a gift God had given us! And I was just going through the evening as though 

as luck would have it

we had a good night. 

And later that night God had yet another miracle to unveil. 

Earlier, during my car-prayertime, I had decided on the most important (to me) prayer of all. I prayed:

Lord, let Husband see You through me. 

And that night, Husband told me the following:

Seeing your spirituality tonight inspired me and because of that I feel closer to God than I have in a while.

My eyes just about bugged out.

How can we ever judge that "this is enough?" 

How can enough to us be enough to God?

Only God knows what is "enough" and He already promised not to pour upon us more than we can handle.  

It is a bit dangerous and radical when you pray to God what you really desire. 

Because, as I've written before, when you pray for patience...He will undoubtedly place people or situations in your life that will test your patience and thus mold you into a more patient person.

So when I pray for peace in this family I know what I may be getting myself into.

But our God is a Sovereign God and I trust in His wisdom and foreknowledge. 

That night was a big one - of humble realization, humility, celebration, praise. 

I know that not every day will be sunshiny and rosy. 

There will be storms. 

But I swear I will praise You, God, even in those storms because I know that You know there is a clear, blue sky just waiting for Your word. 


Friday, June 1, 2012

American Awakened: Part Four - The Reach of God

Gaggle of girls

I squatted on the porch of the tiny rural Honduran school and snapped pictures of each child holding a sign displaying their name, age, height, weight, and school. A gaggle of girls huddled around me, fascinated by the live person wiggling around on my camera screen.

Their eyes were big and their smiles bigger. They giggled and played hand games - much like "Little Susie" in my day. They played like my kids. They laughed like my kids.
The hand game
They peeked in our bags for school supplies like my kids peek in our closet for presents. They wore curiosity on their faces in the same innocent way that my kids do. Some girls wore the same kind of hair bands as my girls. A few donned long silver earrings that wagged from side to side as they looked at us strange Americans.

Does your little girl wear these headbands, too?

From a distant glance, one would see a normal school - maybe similar to one in the United States - but this was not that.

This peaceful-looking boy most likely survived smallpox

A closer look would have you see a boy's face covered with concerning pock marks.

See right eye

A closer look would surprise you with an occlusion in a girl's eye, inescapable as she stared at you with wonder.

A closer look would reveal that this school - one room housing 28 students from preschool to eighth grade and that one teacher, a volunteer, chose to corral these 28 students in this tucked-away village to teach them mathematics, history, spelling - thevery same subjects my kids groan about studying in their school.

one-room school for grades Pre-K through 8

Those who have and those who lack can be obviously different yet astonishingly similar.

As I stood by the girl-flock, I carefully and a bit nervously placed my arm around the girl closest to me. I softly rubbed her back.

A mother rubbing a child's back in America can be similar to a mother rubbing her child's back in Honduras. The same God loves these children.

I have never before visited a country in need such as this. I have seen pictures on television, heard stories on the radio and in books, read newspaper articles such as this very real and serious one, but I was not prepared to see the disparity that existed there.

But what a paradox: to see all the lack and all of the abundance, all in the same child, in the same family, in the same community.

Volunteering with Paramedics for Children that day taught me just how far Christ's hand can reach. No mountain or sea can hold Him back. Not a brick house nor one made of tin.

What is your house made of?

 We were in Honduras for one week, but this one day opened my eyes to more than I've seen in a lifetime. Though I saw great poverty, I also saw how far God reaches and believe me; it is past anything we
could ever imagine.