October Rain

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“The rain falls on the just and the unjust.”

 This is true.

 Only, when the rain falls on the unjust, we don’t feel it as much. It perhaps doesn’t look or feel like rain as much as karma. But, when the rain falls on the just, the delightful, beautiful souls that flavor life with salt and illuminate it with light… the clouds are heavy and the rain beats hard.

 October has been a grieving month for me for 12 years. I have missed and mourned one precious soul that inspired and motivated me to live intentionally and deeply the love of Christ. Her death marked a change in me. Her funeral served as a pep rally for the rest of my life. The void Aimee left demanded my fulfillment, and I would never be the same. Really. I remember leaving that memorial service, packed out with lives touched by her gentle and sometimes awkwardly large hands, knowing that the world had lost a powerful presence.

 I went home, picked my baby up out of her crib, and cradled her to my chest and cried. I had no answers. I felt just as fragile and dependent before God as the child I held. In some way I wanted to physically attend to her the way I needed Daddy God to spiritually attend to me. And as I rocked her, as I poured out my tears before a God that promised to capture each one, I watched the rain.

 There is no rain today, but the clouds are grey.

 Yesterday marked the death of another distinguished light, Sister Gussie.

 Cancer was her nemesis. Actually, that’s just the name for the battle of her final foe. To say that it overtook her is to declare her non-victorious, and I refuse to say that about my friend. Even as I close my eyes, I can hear her dear raspy voice – praying for me, encouraging me, speaking to my heart the lessons her older heart had learned so well.

 She taught me that weakness isn’t failure. She taught me that wrestling with depression isn’t being unfaithful to God. She taught me that whatever the season – be it stay-at-home mom of nursers and ankle-biters to a full-fledged minister traveling and pouring out more of yourself than you feel you can give – there is worth in it all. She lived it out faithfully – the silent and stalwart soul mate of a man that she loved unashamedly and sacrificially.

 In death, we have two choices, we can grieve and mourn these losses and relegate them to a memory, or we can see the void and commit to be a part of the legacy of living. We can see the rain as the lack of sunshine, or we can see it as the conditions that precede any rainbow. And, some days we might feel both… and that’s okay. Sister Gussie taught me that, too.

 Today I mourn. I allow my soul the chance to long for more time, more conversations, and more lessons that I cannot have. Again, my tears resemble rain, and I trust my Father is collecting them. My world is missing these two bright lights. But when the clouds of grief clear, my celebration of them will be to continue…to shine brighter, to love deeper, and to give more generously to make up for the voids that they have left behind.

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The Flip Side of Poverty

We see them – vagrants living on the streets, asking for handouts, and bumming rides. We judge them as runaways, addicts, alcoholics, or panhandlers. We rarely see little more than dirty clothes, mussed hair or the cardboard signs they carry. We might be bothered if we are stopped to hand them a crumpled up dollar bill from our wallets, or the considerate and those that think ahead, may have on hand a bag of toiletries and snacks or gift cards to local fast food joints. Then, their are the spiritually considerate that might hand them nothing more than a tract, with a word of encouragement. None of those things are wrong, exactly…but is it enough?

 More and more people are finding themselves homeless and in abject poverty. Did you know that 633, 782 people in the United States experience homelessness on any given night? That is a lot of people. And whereas, some of those people have chosen it by choosing drugs over shelter, the majority of them are simply homeless due to bad circumstances and tough breaks. I was talking to a friend of mine who has been living on the streets off and on since she was fifteen, and she admitted that even in government or state funded shelters there is no sense of security or safety. In fact, within 48 hours of street life, they are solicited for sexual acts…if it takes that long. And, some choose it. Because if one sexual favor means the difference between sleeping in the alley way or paying a few dollars to sleep in a shelter, to them, it might be worth it. This then makes them prime candidates for trafficking, and their problems just got a whole lot worse.

 I can’t imagine that choice, that feeling of fear and insecurity, the inability to really relax. But, being the thinker and imaginative soul that I am, I allowed myself a look at how easily that might happen to me and to my girls:

 Right now we are doing quite well. My husband has a good job and provides for us well, but in one split second my husband could die, and without his thinking ahead to provide life insurance, within a few months we could go from middle class to homeless. That fast. When you consider that one third of his paycheck goes to mortgage and then the other two thirds go to feed and clothe us, that money will dwindle quickly. Just a couple of late payments or missed payments and rejected calls from collections agents, we could found our house foreclosed on, our savings stripped and left with no other choice but to take to the streets. For us, it would take months. For some, it would take weeks.

 My friend I mentioned found herself on the streets when she was a teenager. Her mom was an alcoholic and her step dad was a pervert. One night she had a choice, she could roll over and give him what he wanted or she could hit the streets. With tears in her eyes and just enough clothes as would fit in an oversized bag, she chose the streets. She begged her mom to take her back, but her stepdad had already concocted a story that made her look like a whore and without the mental capacities to choose correctly, her mom refused her request. Her grandmother took her in for a while, but soon she passed away, and my sweet friend, again, was found to be helpless and homeless. She has not only been mugged multiple times, leaving her with a fear of having anything worth any value or money in any quantity, but she has been a witness to some of the most violent assaults that have forever left her fearful and haunted. Tragic. Perhaps even more tragic is she is one of thousands.

 On one of our meetings, I took her to the food stamp office. You know, the place that so many look down on unable to see beyond the masses that take advantage of it? The truth is, it does provide help. But, after sitting down with an elderly man, eager for food and desperate for help, I realized it’s increasingly difficult for the uneducated, unadvancing, and illiterate. As I walked away 45 minutes later, no further in the process than when he asked, my heart hurt for him…what hope did he have? I remember one day while mentoring at a local charitable organization, a woman was sitting in a corner, deep in thought, heavily burdened. I placed my arm around her and asked what was wrong. With big, sad eyes she said, “My baby is getting made fun of.” She had all of my attention. “You don’t know what it’s like to have to choose between feeding my kids or washing their clothes… and lately all I can do is feed them.” She didn’t have to say any more. I know kids. I know their cruelties. But she was right, I didn’t understand her pain, not fully.

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There is a flip side to poverty. Humanity. There aren’t just poor. They are people with fears, insecurities, and dreams. We dismiss them because we don’t know their stories, we don’t feel their pain. We judge them based on heresay and speculation and prejudice. They are humans with souls and hearts, and each one of them from the addict begging for the next hit to the struggling single mom has a story. But, that requires getting out of our comfort zone. Knowing those stories is more work than handing out a baggie or a tract or few dollars. Because, if you get to know them, you might see that they need more. They might let you in to that well-guarded untrusting heart of theirs, and then you will be compelled to do something.

 What you can’t see this side of poverty, the side that we sit comfortably on with our cell phones and laptops with cold iced water in a glass, is that some of those “hopeless” souls know more about God and His love and provision then you and I will ever have to face. Some of them don’t have a clue about love, any love, or provision or hope or God. We can’t afford to ignore either of them – every soul deserves to be seen, even the unlovely.  I once heard, “People aren’t unlovely because they are unlovable, but because they are unloved.” I wonder, the imaginative hopeful side of me, if there were more loving, would there be less poverty. It’s just a thought, but grounded in Christ and living out His example, love is abundance.

 One of the most touching statements I have heard lately was from my mom whose heart for the hurting I inherited and who has lived out love to the less fortunate all my life. “I hurt for them. I would invite them into my house to stay in a heartbeat. In fact, maybe your dad and I will buy a trailer and set it up for just that reason.” I love her heart, and I would gladly contribute to that endeavor, and maybe we will, but we cannot house them all, feed them all, clothe them all, or help them all. None of us can save everyone, but all of us can do something – and it starts with loving them.

 

Alleyway Jesus – Greg Milwee writes about “dirty” redemption

I just finished reading a book, “Alleyway Preacher,” by Greg Milwee, and it impressed me. Not that I am any expert, but I do read a lot of books and have written a couple of my own. With that, I know that there is an interesting balance that Christian writers are forced to make – the balance of cliché and preachy with relevance and believability. For writers that are especially compelled to share a message of grace and hope wrapped up in the love of Jesus in such a way to draw in those that need it most, this is a formidable task.

 I first “met” Greg Milwee online. He knew I had written a couple of books and wanted some information on how I did it and how he might do the same. To be honest, I get that question a lot, and I don’t feel qualified to answer those questions, but I could tell by the way Greg asked that it wasn’t about being famous or getting rich (which writing will NOT do for you), but it was about getting a message out and sharing a story. As he was desperate to get it in the hands of others, I encouraged him to go the self-published route, but I can see, now that we have the book published and I see it’s beauty and potential, he was definitely in a league with good writers and given some time and a good agent would have been able to get a book deal with an established publishing house. And, I don’t say that lightly… but for the raw talent he possesses.

 However, this is a book review, so here is what I thought:

 “Alleyway Preacher” is a great look at what life guided by the Holy Spirit looks like, and how that obedience has the power to transform lives around you. The characters are well presented, and in their development, you find yourself wanting to know more. They are believable. The way that they interact and react, their thoughts and their emotions, are very realistic. It revolves around a church, but the building itself is just a rotating door, the church as it acts and serves is exemplified in the people. As I read it, I was challenged in some areas and affirmed in other areas. One of the strongest lessons I received is the very life lesson that God is schooling me in now – when we submit to the Holy Spirit and respond to what He asks of us, it will very likely be misunderstood by those around us, those in the church and those in the world. But, as the book shows, if God leads you to do something He will protect you through it. Ministry isn’t pretty. Real ministry is often something others might consider lowly or unlovely, untouchable service… real ministry is being the hands and feet of Jesus, and more often than not, it takes place in the alleyway rather than from the pulpit.

 One thing that we aren’t very comfortable with in the Westernized church is the idea of sacrifice and discomfort. We want to include God in our lives, but we don’t want to live our lives for Him. Milwee does a good job of showing how that affects those around us. It is only through true submission and surrender of our own selfish desires that we can build His Kingdom here. He shares the gospel and a message of hope and love not just with imagination rather as one who has seen the power of being the Body of Christ.

 I intentionally didn’t tell you much about the events of the book. I want you to read it. I want it to inspire you to do more and live more sacrificially. I want you to be encouraged, those of you who already do, to know that you will indeed reap heavenly rewards for the good works that you are doing. And to those that need to see hope and believe in God’s ability to take the messed up lives that we offer him and turn them into hope and healing for those that need His love, I want you to know that it can be found through Him and living out His purpose in trust and sacrifice.

 

You can download the book here:

http://kindle.amazon.com/work/the-alleyway-preacher-greg-millwee/B00DJ3SP2K/1483921131

And you can find Greg Milwee on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/gmillwee

Enormous Stakes

Enormous stakes.

That’s what we are facing. Anyone who is in youth ministry realizes this, and too often it seems the pendulum is swinging the wrong way. Those that will are trying to help, to direct, to mentor, to lead, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to feel as if your efforts have staying power.

I have two educated guesses as to why this is happening:

One – There are very few committed Christians setting an example as disciples.
What do I mean? Well, when is the last time you picked up your Bible to learn not because you had to or were doing a Bible study but because you long to learn more about God, His will, His nature, and His way? If that answer is recently, like, yesterday… You are in the minority. When was the last time you woke up and spent dedicated time in prayer, seeking the Father’s heart, weeping for the lost, and asking to be used? Again, it is not the rule for modern day Christians. And if you are the parent or leader in a household and you only do these things when trouble comes, those around you see that, and they will follow suit. Disciples of Christ desire to learn, it isn’t the dreaded “law” at work, or the confines of “religion.” It is learning to know to become. Nothing works oriented, or legalistic about that… But it does require effort.

Two – There are very few authentic faith walkers.
Jesus asked “when I come back will I find faith?” It was important to Him that we keep hope alive! Instead, too often, we turn to logic and science to manifest truth. Thats not faith, thats probability. Jesus was desperate to see faith in action. So when we say with our mouths those things we have read or heard about God but haven’t established it in our hearts with how we live our lives, we send a conflicting message to this younger generation. They are watching us.

Recently I got a message from a young girl who is trying desperately to follow God’s will for her life. But, her home life is a stumbling block. Why? Because her good, God loving, church working parents on Sunday are cruel and demanding and verbally abusive Monday thru Saturday. This confuses her… And it should.

Another girl mentioned to me that she didn’t see any problem with watching movies that were not age appropriate. Why? Because her parents watched R rated movies all the time and they said it didn’t affect them so why should it affect her? Ugh. This infuriates me. Maybe you think I’m wrong or prudish or judgmental, but I can guarantee those movies are affecting that family, it just may be too soon to tell.

Now, I’m not an overbearing parent, restricting anything and everything that doesn’t blatantly stand for Jesus. We have to let our kids make decisions, and we need to show them how to choose. But, our role as parents isn’t to enable them to be codependent, our job is to prepare them for life outside of the nest, and this requires allowing them some mistakes in order to learn. That being said, we can’t lead them into bad decisions by choosing to gratify our pleasures at the cost of their innocence.

Parenting, leading, mentoring is not easy! I do all three! But it is imperative that we not be selfish about it! And it is necessary that we set an example of commitment and true faith.

This generation is under fire like never before. The odds are not in their favor, and they feel this intrinsically. They are the least prepared, most coddled, selfish, rebellious, and pleasure seeking generation, and we have done that to them. They are also the most passionate, educated and globally connected generation we have ever seen and stand to be a lasting legacy of faith to awaken the Body of Christ, but we must invest in them!

I heard someone say that they saw in our future a generation of believers that would have the fire of the Holy Spirit so strong and so deep that it wouldn’t waver or burn out. How does this happen? With us. It begins with us instilling in them unquenchable love and faith that rebelliously stands up to the powers that threaten to snuff it out and say, “You can kill the body but you cannot take my soul!”

Enormous stakes. Life and death lies in the balance, and we’ve barely glimpsed the iceberg.

* Tim Elmore has done a great job of making inroads to change the tide. Read more for yourself @ http://www.SaveTheirFutureNow.com

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If the shoe fits…

Dreams.

They hold so much meaning, and God-given dreams have the power to impart knowledge, wisdom, and determination where you might otherwise be lacking. There are a few dreams I have had in my life that have in seasons sustained me, but the most remarkable one, the loudest speaking, the most powerfully compelling one I feel the need to share.

As I opened my eyes to a sun washed yellow morning, the bed seemed crisp and cozy. I liked it there, it was where I wanted to stay, covers over my head, snuggled into a pillow, blanketed in peace. But something urged me to sit up, so I stretched and smiled and let my legs dangle to the side of my bed. Immediately, I saw them. Big black men’s shoes several sizes too large. I was confused. A Father figure stood beside me beckoning me to put them on.

“No.” I didn’t actually say it, but my body language communicated it.
Silently, I argued and pointed dramatically, “Do you see the size of those?!”

He merely smiled and with gentle authority pointed towards the shoes.
I looked at the shoe and pulled up my foot, inspecting the difference in size, thinking to perhaps show Him that there was no way my small foot would fit. He wouldn’t have any of it. He coaxed me off the bed and onto the floor. I stood still, frozen, staunchly unmoving. He wasn’t deterred, nor did He wait. He placed me in the shoes. I looked back at Him helpless, watching how the shoes engulfed my foot. Not only did they not fit, I could have fit a whole shoe-clad foot inside them!

“Walk.”

Did I hear Him correctly? He pointed ahead of me and urged me forward.

“But, I’m gonna stumble! I’m gonna fall! I’ll walk right out of the shoes! They do not fit!” I was crying and pleading, I could not do this thing!

“Walk it out until they fit.”

Those words encouraged me. Something broke within my spirit and I found myself moving forward. He walked behind me and assisted me each time I stumbled and fell and all the while encouraged me onwards.

That seems crazy huh? That we could actually walk something into fitting us? But, there are things in my life that I have been led to do that just don’t fit. They don’t feel right, they aren’t looked at favorably, and they just leave me scrambling for that big, sun-soaked bed.
And I’ve been tempted to throw the shoes off, move away from anything resembling a life-form to an island where I can declare a law which states, “No shoes allowed!” Only, I can’t. Because the minute I reach down to release myself from their burdensome awkwardness, His gentle voice speaks, “Walk it out until they fit.”

“But you don’t understand!” I wail. “They look at me, they don’t like my shoes, and question where I bought them or if I should wear them at all! And they have another pair, they say they are the ones You intended for me, and the thing is, Daddy, they fit!”

He is silent.

“Wouldn’t it be easier, Daddy? To wear the shoes they have? Wouldn’t it be easier, more comfortable to just put these clodhoppers in the closet and run instead of stumble all the stinkin’ time!”

Then He speaks, “Easier? Yes. Comfortable? Yes. Would it make them happier with you, less unsure of Me in you? More favorable toward you and My work through you? Yes. But, will it strengthen you? Will you trust me as much? Would your faith believe the impossible and your heart hear My voice beyond the noise? Would you be empowered to stand for Me against the flow no matter how the great the cost? No.”

“So what You’re saying is…?”

“Walk it out.” Oh, that smile. Oh, that overwhelming peace that outdoes the purest yellow light of any sun-washed room! Oh, that loving glint in His eyes that undoes every fear in me.

Maybe this is you… Maybe the shoes He has for you are a little clunky, or maybe they are tight and uncomfortable and need some breaking in? This I know, you alone know the path He’s asked you to walk, and in the end, it isn’t about what others thought or what they believed, it is completely about your obedience – to the hardship, to the pain, or to the rejection. Allegiance requires big steps, unashamed trust, and a heart that only needs One yes.

So, if you see me stumbling a little, wearing shoes that aren’t trendy or anything YOU would ever wear, understand that you aren’t meant to, because I’m wearing the footwear my Daddy picked especially for me!

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School Daze

Like most parents in The South, last week my kids went back to school. My youngest began her last year of elementary school (I cannot truly be this old!) and my oldest began her seventh grade year. It seems like yesterday I held her in my arms for the first time in relief that the nausea and vomiting of the last 9 months was over and the fun had begun! What I didn’t realize was that it wasn’t the pain of contractions, the pushing or the final clip of the umbilical cord that marked the end if labor… It was only the beginning.

I remember gently rubbing my bulging belly and hurrying the day when she would arrive – to see her face, to count her fingers, to watch her breathe and not just feel her move. I rushed those months in between trips to the porcelain throne to pray. When I started with contractions early, I obediently followed the doctors orders that I rest, stay off my feet, pretty much just get up to go to the bathroom. “Rest,” he said, “and don’t worry… You’ve have plenty of time to worry after she is born.”

I don’t think I really paid attention to that comment until the first night we were home, and her sleeping was so quiet I had to watch her back to make sure she was still breathing. Or the first time I heard her choke and cried for 30 minutes thinking of what might have happened if I hadn’t been there. The night she stuck a crayon up her nasal cavity, I envisioned how we would explain the bulge in her nose when she was older because that baby wasn’t going to let me help her get it out! Or the time she was playing with her daddy’s pocket knife and sliced her finger… That first sight of blood, from an injury… I thought I would faint – not from the sight of blood but from the knowledge that I hadn’t been attentive enough, I hadn’t guarded her enough and she was hurt because of my neglect.

I thought those were the rough days, until we experienced loss of friendship, abandonment, bullying, and heartache and disappointment, and those days have just begun, and I find myself wanting to scoop her up, open my womb again and tuck her back in… Safely, because the world is just too unpredictable and I can’t guard her from the perils or the problems.

But in those moments, I have to take a deep breath. I have to remember the words of Daddy God to me in some of those fearful moments when she was a baby, “Where your eyes cannot see, Mine keep watch. Where your hand fails to reach, Mine never leaves.” Those have been His words of comfort to me for years, and I cling to them!

Not just for my babies… But for myself. Life is unpredictable and full of uncertainties. Just when we think we have it figured out, everything changes. I once heard, “The only thing that never changes is that things always change.” It’s true. The more I live and experience and gain and lose the more this simple silly quote makes a world of sense.

Truth be told, I hate it. It leaves me dazed. I can adjust, but I don’t want to. It’s like this common thread in my life that screams, “Don’t get comfortable, it won’t be this way for long.” And still, like a fool, like a naive child, I forget and I allow myself to dream and believe only to watch it all change, again.

In those moments, just like with my baby girls, I have only One constant. One voice that can soothe me and remind me that where I cannot see, He has already charted a path, and where my hand is unable to reach, His is already there. And, I rely on that. I cling to it! Because as much as I’d like to build a cocoon around us and stay there safely tucked beside my Saviour’s breast sheltered and safe, life requires me to live apart from that haven for now to face and walk among the hurting, dying, and broken that might not understand a parent’s heart, that may have never felt protected, appreciated, encouraged, or loved. He requires of me to die today so I might live with Him forever, and that is anything but comfortable! But, I have a choice I can learn or I can sleep. I can roll back over making my own cocoon of comfort and denial and pretend like the Teacher isn’t calling my name, or I can sit at a desk right up front, pencil in hand ready to take notes, and learn all I can.

School is back in session, and I’m still a student.

What women need men to know about pornography…

1. It hurts us.
More than you will ever know. More than we can articulate.

2. It IS about us.
I’m not sure what twisted part of your male psyche allows you to think it isn’t about us, and maybe for you that’s true, but we won’t be convinced. You looking in lust at another woman, is very offensive to us, and we DO take it personally.

3. 8. We know its everywhere.
That’s not an excuse. We realize this makes it harder to not be assaulted by the images, but love transcends temptation… Or it should. True love would.

4. We don’t feel like we can measure up.
When we see what you look at, we see our bodies and know they aren’t the same, they don’t measure up. We can’t be airbrushed. Our stretch marks should speak louder and look sexier than their tramp stamps.

5. We don’t want to be a replacement.
You see, we aren’t sure you see us at all. We aren’t sure that when we are lying there, exposing our bodies and souls to you and longing to be cherished, you aren’t thinking of someone perkier, tanner, skinnier, or more voluptuous… Someone you’ll never meet.

6. It’s unfair.
Nothing about it is, but – We are faulted for every perceived flirtation, every look we give, and every appreciative glance in our direction, but you can spend hours ogling women in a world where no one sees, no one judges, and no one can point you out.

7. It’s adultery.
You can gloss over it. You can tell yourself no one is harmed by it, but the truth is, you are harmed, your marriage is harmed and your children will reap the consequences.

8. We aren’t just a hole.
You can’t use our bodies to fulfill your fantasies. We have a heart and a soul, and we have a desire for love that isn’t made up of the faces and bodies of strangers.

9. You remind us of our past predators.
Our past misuse, abuse, and assault come roaring back into our lives, and the lies that we are something to be used and discarded, unworthy of love and affection, and easily replaced become truths to our hurt hearts, which means Daddy God has to reach deeper to heal those places.

10. It damages our trust in you.
If you will do this in secret, what and who will it take to entice you for good? Who will you leave us for? And when, if ever, will we be enough? How do you see our friends, our sisters, our daughters? Can we trust you to stay at home alone with them? Will you take advantage of them if we aren’t there to be used?

11. You cease to be our hero.
This is a hard reality. You cease to be the Prince Charming we believed you to be, you no longer seem like a knight in shining armor, and you no longer resemble our protector. This is as painful to us as it is for you to hear it.

12. Pornography to us is more than a hobby, a simple attraction, an appreciation of sexuality. It is a blaring, painful, aggressive cancer that eats at all we believe and hoped for in love. And, to many of us, it is the nail in a fragile coffin of insecurities.

13. We can forgive you.
Forgiveness is easier to do than forgetting… So holding a grudge or keeping a record of wrongs isn’t our way of rubbing it in, it is the struggle we face to forget we’ve been hurt.

*This list is based on multiple conversations I’ve had with women who face this daily in their relationships, ranging from men who “casually indulge” in pornography to those that are addicted. Some of these couples are walking in victory because of the grace of Jesus Christ and a lot of hard work, but many women and men still seek healing from the thoughts listed above along with serial mistrust and destructive addiction. Pray for them.