Friday, October 2, 2015

The Parable of the Two Backpacks

Sometimes I get these strange "pictures" that help me see things a little more clearly.
To me, they are like "The unfolding of God's Word, giving light and understanding to the simple...like ME." (Ps. 119:130)
Kind of like little personal "parables", I guess.

Over these past few weeks I have watched so many people I know and love experience unimaginable losshardship and pain, begging the question: "God, just WHERE is one supposed to PUT ALL THAT??"

So a couple of days ago, I was pondering that question, when out of the blue, HE downloaded the answer in the form of a picture.  It brought some clarity and understanding to the "baggage" we take with us on our Journey of Suffering...the difference between SORROW and SADNESS.

The TRUTH is...
SADNESS is a necessary emotion...but SORROW is an unnecessary burden.
SADNESS labels one's circumstance...but SORROW labels one's condition
SADNESS sheds tears (sometimes enough to fill a bucket)...but SORROW tears us up.
SADNESS comes and goes...but SORROW comes and stays.

Whether it's the DEATH of a loved one, a devastating DIAGNOSIS, or as in my case, the death of a DREAM, these places of suffering are H-A-R-D and oftentimes very DEBILITATING!

I can remember the exact day almost a year and a half ago when the SORROW over my own LOSS was lifted off my shoulders and my SADNESS was given its RIGHTFUL place...BEHIND me, not ON TOP of me.

In the days that followed, I was still SAD (and still am!), but SORROW no longer RULED OVER me. It no longer DEFINED my actions, DICTATED my conversations, or DESTROYED my confidence. I felt released to embrace and carry ALL the fullness of JOY, without being tethered to and bound by SORROW.
That was the day I realized it was not the SADNESS that was holding me back and stealing my joy, it was the SORROW that I was carrying ON MY BACK!
 
That was a LIFE-giving and LIFE-altering revelation straight from the Father's heart to mine!
That was the day I was SET FREE from what I now understand was a BURDEN of SORROW!

But it wasn't until just a few days ago that I got this "picture" as a gentle reminder to myself, as I am so often tempted to pick up that burden AGAIN!
I call it the "Parable of the Two Backpacks"...
 
SORROW and SADNESS are like the "BACKPACKS" we take with us on our Journey of Suffering.
They are where we pack, store and carry all the stuff we take on this journey. And sometimes we pick up some extra "souvenirs" along the way (lies from the enemy, shame, anger, bitterness), which just add more weight and make the journey all that much more cumbersome.

These two BACKPACKS look exactly alike, EXCEPT for one key difference:
One has STRAPS...the other has WHEELS.
 
The difference is...
SORROW has to be carried on our shoulders...but SADNESS can be pulled behind us.
SORROW misaligns and changes our posture...but our POSTURE is what aligns and changes our SADNESS.
SORROW doesn't allow any room for JOY...but SADNESS takes its RIGHTFUL place and allows JOY to rest on our shoulders.
SORROW crawls into bed with us at night...but SADNESS goes to bed in another room and allows us to get REST.

BACKPACKS are a necessary part of any long journey. But research has shown that using a backpack with WHEELS to transport our "stuff" is far better for us than using one with STRAPS.

Because the TRUTH is...
When we carry SORROW on our backs, all we can think about how HEAVY it is...how much it HURTS...how SUFFOCATING it is! And under the crushing weight of SORROW, we get BENT OVER...we get bent OUT OF SHAPE, and our eyes become fixed to the ground...on our SUFFERING

BUT...
When we pull SADNESS behind us, we are free to STAND UP tall, UNENCUMBERED by the weight of our suffering. We can walk with our HEADS UP and our eyes FIXED straight ahead. We can keep our FOCUS on JESUS, our "Baggage Handler", who promised to walk W.I.T.H. us...Watchfully Interceding Transforming & Helping us every step of the way!

What I have learned is that it's really okay to bring SADNESS with me on this Journey of Suffering. In fact, it's necessary. There's no shame in it. It's part of the experience
But unlike Sorrow, SADNESS doesn't  have to REPLACE JOY...because as I pull it BEHIND me, my shoulders are free to CARRY the JOY OF THE LORD, which IS MY STRENGTH!

The TRUTH is...
SUFFERING is a trip we will ALL take at some point...it's unavoidableIt's never one we embark on BY CHOICE. It's never one we are PREPARED for or PLAN for in advance. And most of the time it takes us by TOTAL surprise.

While I'm no "travel expert", I can only speak from my own experience as I have travelled this journey of LOSS...and that is, a BACKPACK WITH WHEELS is the ONLY way to go!

But WHAT IF you are stuck in the middle of that journey RIGHT NOW and are just now realizing you have the WRONG BACKPACK?! 
 
It's simple...TRADE IT IN and get one with WHEELS!

As I write this, I am reminded of this familiar song..."I'm TRADING my SORROW, I'm TRADING my PAIN, I'm laying it DOWN for the JOY of the Lord...and I say YES, YES, Lord! Amen!"

It's really a SUPERNATURAL EXCHANGE...one that has the power to CHANGE us...EVEN IN THE MIDST of our SUFFERING!

Oh, yeah...and one more thing: Never travel ALONE! Because whether you're on a CRUISEship or a HARDship, the trip is so much BETTER with faithful FRIENDS!














































Saturday, June 21, 2014

There's No Place Like HOME!

I've been thinking a lot about HEAVEN lately...
The TRUTH is...it's not only my future hope, but it is also my present reality!

It's where I live...today!
It's where my citizenship is...today!
It's where I am seated...today!
It's where my heart is set...today!
By FAITH, it's where I make my HOME...today!

So, if HEAVEN is my present reality, imagine this conversation...

JESUS: Come on in, Karen...MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME!

Me: Thanks, Jesus...do you have anything to drink? I'm really thirsty...

JESUS: I am the living water. If you drink of ME, you will never be thirsty.  This water I give you will become a spring of water, welling up to abundant, eternal life!

Me:  Oh, Jesus...give me THIS water, so I don't have to keep drawing from "other wells"!

JESUS: You look a little weak...Are you hungry?

Me:  Yes! I can't seem to get enough to eat these days...nothing seems to satisfy me...I'm always SO hungry!

JESUS:  I am the Bread of Life...He who comes to me will NEVER go hungry and he who believes in me will NEVER be thirsty.
Also, something I learned a long time ago is that you cannot live on bread alone, but on EVERY WORD that comes from the mouth of God!

Me:  Oh, Jesus...from now on, give me THIS bread, so I will never be hungry!

JESUS:  You seem so preoccupied...what's going on?

Me:  Well, I've been a little sad lately...you know, a little anxious.  There are things going on around me that I have NO control over and it's HARD!

JESUS:  I understand...just stay close to me, dear one. In my presence, there is fullness of joy...Don't be anxious about anything! Together, we can approach the throne of grace with CONFIDENCE and ask our Father for anything. He WILL give you peace beyond understanding AS He is working ALL things out for your GOOD.
Be anxious about nothing, pray about everything, and peace will come, I PROMISE!

Me:  Oh, Jesus...you make it sound SO SIMPLE! What's the SECRET?

JESUS:  The secret to being CONTENT in any and every situation is to keep your HEART and your MIND focused on ME.  You can do ALL things through ME...I WILL give you the strength! ABIDE in ME and I WILL abide in you, I PROMISE!
The truth is...Apart from me, you can do NOTHING at ALL!

Me:  Oh, Jesus...I need MORE of YOU!  I'm SO tired and burdened...where can I find REST?

JESUS:  Come to ME, you who are weary and burdened, and I WILL give you REST!  Take my yoke upon you and LEARN from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you WILL find rest for you soul, I PROMISE!

Me: Oh, Jesus...Everlasting WATER, everlasting FOOD, everlasting JOY, everlasting REST, everlasting PEACE, everlasting POWER...
Can I LIVE here NOW and FOREVER??

JESUS:  ABSOLUTELY! You have been raised WITH me and are NOW seated with me at the right hand of our Father, far ABOVE ALL rule, power, and authorityALL things are under my feet!
IN ME, THIS is your PRESENT REALITY and your FUTURE HOPE!!

Me:  Oh, Jesus...I want to be WHERE YOU ARE...BETTER is ONE day in YOUR HOUSE than thousands elsewhere!

The TRUTH is...Our Father did not leave us here as orphans!  He has given us a HOME, both NOW and for ETERNITY.
He is SO G.O.O.D.!  He is God Over Our Dwelling...when we make HIM our dwelling place, it's ALL GOOD!!

 THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME!!

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Invitation

I got this intriguing invitation in the mail and was compelled to go

I get there and the Host of the party walks up, stretches out his right hand and introduces Himself, “Hello,  I am God Most High…just call me "GOOD"…that’s MY NAME.”  As he stretches out his right hand, I can’t help but notice his long arm and his strong grip.

I start to pull away, but He doesn’t let go and gently leads me over to the banquet table.  This table is unlike any I have ever seen…it’s overflowing with an abundance of GOOD food and there is a beautiful fountain flowing with sparkling red wine. 
At the head of the table is this Man…his eyes are filled with such kindness and a love that is indescribable.  God Most High introduces him to me, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am so well pleased.  His name is JESUS, which means “The Lord Saves”…I named him after me.  His name is also "GOOD".”

Jesus stands up and rushes over to shake my hand.  He looks at my nametag and with a big grin on his face, exclaims in a loud voice, so everyone can hear, “I’m so THRILLED that you decided to come...I saw your name on the invitation list and have been DYING to meet you!” He stretches out his arms and gives me a hug that melts my heart.
Then he catches me by surprise, “Dance with me!”  Without hesitation, he grabs my hand and pulls me onto the dance floor.
But I don’t know how to dance! I’m such a clutz, I will trip all over myself and fall!”
“That’s okay," he whispers in a reassuring voice.  ”Just follow MY LEAD and you’ll do fine.”

The dance is glorious…my feet are floating and my heart is soaring. 
I could’ve danced all night...!
As the music is slowing down, Jesus takes my hand and guides me over to meet someone else, who at first glance, appears to be quite mysterious.

“This is The Counselor, the third member of our family…those who know him well call him "Holy Spirit", because his is always present. He will teach you ALL things and remind you of everything that you need to do.  His name is also "GOOD".”
Holy Spirit puts both hands on my shoulders and brings me right up close to his face.  He exhales and his breath fills my lungs.  As he does this, I am filled with such a joy and with such a powerful confidence that it literally takes my breath away!

I think to myself, “This "GOOD" family…they are so INCREDIBLE! There is such love, such kindness, such power, such respect, such unity, such GOODNESS in this family! I would give anything to have what they have!"
They all turn to me at once, with that look that says, 'We know what you are thinking!'
Jesus stretches out his hand and says, "In my father's house there are many rooms...COME, I have prepared a room just for you. You are a part of our family!

I'm overwhelmed...I fall to my knees, stretch out my hands and can barely speak, “THANK YOU! It is such an honor to be in such GOOD company, but I DON'T DESERVE THIS...I'm not GOOD enough!”
God Most High looks at me and with tenderness in his eyes, he says, "I know, but not only are you a part of our family, you now have a NEW NAME.  Your name is "GOOD"…not because you deserve it, but because I LOVE YOU! 
You see, I SO LOVED YOU, that I sent my one and only beloved Son to SAVE you and my very own Spirit to GUIDE you." 

"We are ONE and our  greatest desire is that you become ONE with us. 
Our PROMISE to you is that we will give you EVERYTHING you need for life and godlinessYou will lack NO GOOD THING!
ALL you have to do is say "YES"! "

I’m blown away, “Is this a dream? This is too GOOD to be true!”
Jesus replies, “This is not a dream…It is TRUE and it is GOOD because OUR NAME IS "GOOD"!
Now, as a member of the "GOOD" family, you must GO and DO GOOD and invite others to come to the party!”

My answer is a resounding "YES!" ...what is yours?

 

 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Trick or Truth?


It’s really all about WHO you believe…

The FEAR of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, understanding and LIFE...
Irreverence, disrespect, and disregard for the Lord is the beginning of folly, deception and death…
This is not a TRICK…it’s the TRUTH!

But the enemy of our souls continues to use one of the oldest tricks in the book to convince us that GOD is trying to trick US!
Eve fell for it -- hook, line and sinker --when he tossed her the bait: ”God doesn’t really mean what He says…You will surely not die!”

Are we really that gullible too?
The truth is…we are in danger of being gullible and falling for Satan’s trick ANY time we don’t believe that God REALLY means what He says!

Unbelief leads to gullibility….every. single. time.  It’s a perfect set up for Satan’s seduction.
The truth is…the smarter we think we are, the more gullible we actually are.  When we think we know better, it will actually get the better of us.

Satan has made a successful career out of preying on gullible people. He can smell pride and unbelief a mile away.  He is cunning, crafty and convincing…prowling around, working his “magic” to create an illusion, trying to trick us into believing something that is not really true.  Every time we fall for his trick, he gains mastery over our minds, convincing us that this illusion is real.
Can I just say…This makes me SO MAD...and so SAD?!!

I see it happening everywhere around me…to people I love dearly, to people I work with...to people who are oblivious….blindly believing and falling for the oldest LIE in history: ”God doesn’t really mean what He says…You will surely not die.”
Once that’s settled in a person’s heart, Satan has a heyday...

The truth is...We have to KNOW THE TRUTH in order to RECOGNIZE THE TRICK!  Otherwise, we are gullible and fair game for Satan's strategy of deception.

The truth is…ANY TIME we try to justify our sin, our lifestyle, our apathy, or ANYTHING that is ungodly, we are in essence taking the bait: ”God doesn’t really mean what He says…at least not for me, not this time…there are always exceptions.” 

REALLY?! When and where exactly in the history of mankind has this EVER been the case?

These words are absolute truth yesterday, today and forever:
"What does the Lord your God require of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in ALL His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with ALL your heart and with ALL your soul, and to obey the Lord's commands for your own GOOD...
These are not just idle words for you...they are your very LIFE!"   (Deut. 10:12-13; 32:47)

“The fear of the Lord is a FOUNTAIN OF LIFE, turning a man from the snares of death!”
(Prov.14:27)

G.O.O.D. = God Over Our Deception….God Over Our Death!

 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The One Thing I Love the Most About My Dad

There are so many things I love about my dad...I love his laughter, his bear hugs, his booming bass voice, his big shoe, his bald head, his love of jokes, his smile, his love for God and his family...and the list goes on and on...

But the ONE thing I love the most about my dad is that he showed me the FATHER.

Not in a preachy kind of way, not in a banging-the-Bible-over-my-head kind of way...He just naturally showed me the Father in every day life circumstances.

It has been said that a person's dad has a lot to do with one's view of the Heavenly Father. I think there is a lot truth to that...

As I comb back over my childhood, there are certain memories that rise to the top...I didn't see it then, but now I recognize them as defining moments...moments where my dad showed me the Father's heart...His love, His faithfulness, and His GOODNESS.

Growing up in Brazil, we often spent Christmases at the beach...it was the middle of summer and it was very hot. I loved the beach, but I was deathly afraid of the waves. I was happy as a lark to stay in the shallow water where it was safe.
When I was about 7 years old, my dad coaxed me to get on his shoulders and go out into the deeper waters with him, where the waves were big.  He insisted that it would be fun and that there was nothing to be afraid of...so I finally decided to trust him.  But there was one problem...my dad, having one leg shorter than the other, was a little unsteady on his feet without his big shoe.
We slowly inched our way out where the water was up to his chest.  I was perched on his shoulders, squealing with delight, when a huge wave came out of nowhere and crashed over top of us! The force of the water took us both under and he lost his grip on me.
It seemed like forever...I remember panicking and thinking I was going to drown, when all of a sudden, my dad's mighty hand and outstretched arm reached in and grabbed me out of the water.
My dad's arm was not too short to save...And neither is my Father's! 
My Father doesn't want me to just stay in the shallow water where it's predictable and safe. He wants me to let go of control, to trust Him and to climb up on his shoulders and venture out into the deeper waters with Him. He wants me to know that even when the waves come crashing down and it feels like He has lost his grip on me, His mighty hand and outstretched arm will never let me let me drown...His love endures forever! (Ps. 136: 12)

Every time before my dad would spank me, he would say, "This is going to hurt me more than it's going to hurt you!" What was he thinking...that those words were going to comfort me and make it less painful?! Somehow, deep in my heart, I knew that to be true, even at a very young age. I KNEW it because that hand that disciplined me was ALSO the hand that I clung to when crossing busy streets...the hand that picked me up when I fell...the hand that I held every night at the dinner table as we prayed...the hand that tucked me into bed at night...the hand that squeezed me tight in a big bear hug...the hand that always pointed me in the right direction.
I trusted my dad's hand because I trusted his heart!
That discipline WAS painful...for both of us...but my dad did it anyway...consistently and lovingly!
That's my Father too.... "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?...Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our GOOD, that we may share in His holiness. No discipline is pleasant at the time, but painful! Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." (Heb. 12: 7-11)

My dad has a thundering bass voice! Anyone who has ever heard my dad sing, will agree. He is known for his amazing voice and his passionate singing. With my dad, there's no such thing as volume control! The volume is the same whether he's singing in a group of 10 or 1000.
I will confess, there were times when I was younger that I thought to myself, "I wish he wouldn't sing so loud, this is embarrassing, people are turning around and looking at us!"
Sometimes, it was the only voice that could be heard...louder and clearer above all the rest.
But, THAT'S my daddy's voice...that's my Father's voice! Who am I to quench the mighty thundering voice of my Father? Who am I to worry about what other people think when my Father's voice overpowers the room?
God said to Job, "Do you have an arm like God's and can your voice thunder like his?" (Job 40:9)  Job was trying to justify himself but God was asserting HIS ability, which Job had no control over.
My daddy taught me that it's okay for my Father's voice to be louder than all the rest...it is not up to me to control the volume!
Every morning on our way to school, my dad would sing "Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, I've got a beautiful feeling, everything's going my way!" We would plug our ears and beg him to stop...it was early and he was too loud! But that didn't stop him! He would continue, sometimes dragging the song on and on and on...and on and on and on!
Don't you know our Father wants to remind us of this every morning, even if it hurts our ears? He will not allow our disposition to diminish this truth, "This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!" (Ps. 118:24)

When I was about 8 years old, we got a puppy...she was a sweet miniature dachshund and the minute I saw her, I named her Ginger!  She was our family dog, but I considered her MY dog. One morning as we were pulling out of the driveway to go to school, Ginger ran out and got under the back wheel of our Kombi and accidentally got run over.
We all jumped out of the car to check on her...she whimpered and was clearly hurt, but had no external injuries.  My dad quickly carried  her inside for my mom to look after while he ran us to school so we wouldn't be late. His plan was to drive us to school and then to come back and take her to the vet.
I went through my day at school, confident that Ginger was going to be okay. I couldn't imagine that not being the case.
Just like every other day after school, my brothers and sister and I rode the city bus home. I couldn't wait to get home and see Ginger! When we walked in the house, my mom met me at the door and told me to go to their room. There sat my dad, sadder and more distraught than I had ever seen him. He took me in his lap and with his quivering voice, told me that Ginger didn't make it. The internal injuries were too severe. He hugged me and told me how sorry he was. We both cried...it was a moment that is forever emblazoned in my head.
My dad was heartbroken too!
What mattered to me, mattered to him.
What broke my heart, broke his.
That's my Father too...
"The Lord is near to the broken hearted...and saves those who are crushed in spirit." (Ps. 34:18)

My dad is a man of unparalleled principle and integrity. He is truthful and honest and is a man of his word. Growing up, he taught me that lying is wrong, to let your "yes be yes and your no be no", and that it's always right to do the right thing.
He didn't have to preach it, he just lived it.
I grew up very secure, knowing that my dad would never make promises he couldn't keep and that he was always telling the truth. 
That's my Father too...
"God is not a man that he should lie, nor a son of man that he should change his mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill?" (Num. 23:19)
"The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving towards all He has made" (Ps. 145:13)

My dad has lived a life of sacrifice, doing good, and giving of himself for the good of others. As a missionary to Brazil for over 36 years, he has sacrificed a lot...but what he has gained is priceless. Thousands of people all over Brazil and other parts of the world know Jesus because my dad made a sacrifice. 
That's my Father too...
"For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16)

One of the things that I admire the most about my dad is that he never let his disability determine his destiny. It so easily could have...
He walks with a limp and has a big shoe but that is not what I see when I look at my dad...
I see a man that has been faithful to the call of God on his life. 
I see a man who knows and trusts Jesus when He says, "My grace is sufficient, for my power is made perfect in weakness...for when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Cor. 12:9,10)
I see a man who has lived like he really believes that "In ALL things God works for the GOOD of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose." (Rom. 8: 28)

I've thought a lot about these things over the past couple of years and have often pictured myself sharing them at my dad's memorial when God chooses to take him home.
But...why wait until then? Why wait when I can tell him now?

So, Dad...this is for you.  I am so proud of you.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for showing me THE FATHER.  I love you!

Monday, November 4, 2013

How My Husband's Arrest Lead to His Citizenship

On August 30, 2012, my husband made a very costly mistake. He turned left instead of right at a T-intersection after a football game...a split second decision that cost him...BIG TIME!

He had great intentions, was trying to help someone, was trying to do good...trying to do what HE thought was right...but he turned left instead of right and disobeyed a "traffic official".

My husband...Seriously? Transparent-Tom? The nicest guy in the world-Tom? Would give the shirt off his back-Tom? Would never hurt a fly-Tom? THAT guy?

Unfortunately, YES!  So...WHAT HAPPENED??

This could get long, but hang on because the really GOOD part comes at the end...

In a nutshell, Tom took 3 of his co-workers to a Titans football game. He got 4 free tickets earlier in the day from his boss and called me first to ask if I wanted to go.  I declined and encouraged him to take his co-workers (bad move on my part!). They were all excited and agreed to go...a great team building opportunity! One of his co-workers was on crutches, so Tom called the stadium ahead of time to find out where the handicap drop off was, to make it easier on him.

Tom dropped them off at the designated spot, and after finding a remote place to park, he joined them and they all enjoyed the game together. About midway through the third quarter, they decided to leave early, to avoid the crowds.  As they were leaving, Tom stopped a stadium official to find out the best place to pick up his friend on crutches.

This guy asked where he had parked, then explicitly told him what to do: Pull up to that intersection, turn LEFT, and then pick up his friends under the Letter "K".

So, that's exactly what he did...Except when he got to the intersection, the traffic officials were directing ALL traffic to turn RIGHT, which would take him directly onto the interstate! He inched up to the intersection, turned his left blinker on, rolled down his window, and tried to get their attention, to explain why he needed to turn left.

Here's a little side note: These traffic officials did not look like policemen...they were wearing khaki pants and reflective vests...there was nothing on them that indicated that they were POLICEMEN. For all Tom knew, they worked for the stadium.

But these officials (there were 2 of them)...they wouldn't listen! They were busy doing their job, directing traffic and trying to keep order at a busy intersection, waving their flashlights, and yelling, "Turn RIGHT!!"

When there was a break in the pedestrian traffic, Tom continued with his window rolled down, and still trying to explain, he inched his way further into the intersection and finally turned left. As he did, one of them ran up and slammed both hands against the side of our mini van as Tom made that left turn...yelling like a crazy man, "Turn RIGHT!!"

Within seconds of turning left, Tom was surrounded by sirens and flashing lights.  One of the police officers grabbed the keys out of his hands, ordered him out of the van, and yelled at him, "Have you been drinking?" Of course, he passed the sobriety test and for the next 2 hours, the officers argued amongst themselves about what to do next and what to charge him with.

Bottom line, he was arrested!! My husband...Tom Clark was arrested and charged with wreckless driving (a felony) and failure to comply with an officer of the law (a misdemeanor).  An officer of the law?? He sure didn't look like one!

Meanwhile, I'm sitting at home, oblivious...it's getting late, so I text him..."What's your ETA, honey?"

This is what I got back...




 

My first reaction was to be MAD..."What were you thinking?? Why didn't you do what you were told to do? I don't care what your reasons were...you should have obeyed the cops!"

Our whole future flashed before my eyes...Tom with a record...he'll lose his job...no one will hire someone with a felony...this could bankrupt us...oh, and...what will people think??

My mind immediately went to the worst case scenario and I was gripped with fear and anxiety, but mostly I was really angry! It actually took me about 24 hours to get over being angry and to begin to feel some sort of compassion for him...to tune into his feelings of shock and regret, as the reality of his charges sunk in.

Fortunately, that night, he was not hauled off to jail. Three hours later, he was allowed to leave, but was given a ticket outlining the charges and a court date set for late September.

The next week, we hired a lawyer, who represented him at his first court appearance. We had enlisted people all over the world to pray for this court date and were confident that the D.A. would see how ridiculous this was and would dismiss the charges.

Well, it didn't go our way...The D.A. looked at the police report and compared it to Tom's story and said they didn't match up, so he set another court date to bring in the witnesses, the two officers that were at the scene of the crime. That date was set for the day before Thanksgiving, November 23rd.

Needless to say, we were shocked! Are you kidding?? Our judicial system is so messed up...all this time and money being spent on this ridiculous case, while the courtroom is full of drug addicts, sexual offenders, thieves, and prostitutes?

On a more humorous note, Tom had to go early that day to the court, stood in line with all of the above, to get finger printed and have his mug shot taken...front and side views...the whole nine yards, just like on TV. Got the picture?!  He was so out of place, dressed in his suit and tie, that these other offenders would come up to him and ask if he had a card, thinking he was a public defender! He didn't say it, but he thought it, "No, I'm an offender just like you!" It was surreal.

So, Wednesday, November 23rd came, court appearance number two...Again, we had people all over the world praying and we were confident that this case would be dismissed. The lawyer asked Tom to sit outside the courtroom, so that he could address the D.A. and hopefully, the 2 officers  that were present.

After a few minutes, he came out, pale as a ghost and said, "Tom, I don't know how to tell you this...I am shocked...the D.A. is recommending a sentence of 10 days in jail and a 6 month suspended sentence!"

He went on to say, "This is a very hostile environment, the officers are demanding and mad, and the D.A. is going in their favor. I recommend you don't take the sentence and we will remand this case to the Grand Jury."

Tom, of course, was in shock, and reminded the lawyer that he is a Canadian citizen, here in the U.S. on a Green Card.  A jail sentence could trigger a Homeland Security investigation and possible deportation!   "That settles it, then...we will remand it to the Grand Jury."

He also said that he would like to refer Tom's case to a different lawyer, someone with more influence and who was more connected in the Nashville court system.

So, we hired another lawyer, one of the top names in Nashville, highly recommended by several people we knew...$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$!! 

We met with him and were given two possible scenarios...
Best case scenario: Using his connections, he would be able to pull Tom's case out of the queue and negotiate with a favorable DA. 
Worst case scenario: It would go to the Grand Jury and then go to trial...could cost upwards of $100,000 or more if it went that far.
He didn't make any promises and was careful not to give us any false hope.

We were shaking in our boots...

His retainer was $10,000...so we took out a loan and wrote a check.  It was 3 weeks before Christmas...Joy, Joy!
We waited....and waited...and we learned very early on, not to call him...let him call us. Every phone call and every email was at least $125, whether it took 5 or 15 minutes...his rate was $600/hour!

CHRISTMAS came and went, and we marched into 2013 with this thing LOOMING over us.

It was in January, in the midst of all this and several other hard things, that God gave me the word: G.O.O.D. The challenge every minute of every day was to take every thought captive, to not be overcome by fear and anxiety, and to focus on the simple yet profound truth: God is GOOD.



I would declare it in the car, I would scream it in the shower, I would mutter it under my breath at work, I would remind him, "God, you are GOOD...you are OVER all these things. Because I know that you are OVER them, I trust it's ALL GOOD, even though it's HARD and it's SCARY! I'm not sure how all this is going to turn out, but I trust you. You are G.O.O.D...You are God Over Our Defense, God Over Our D.A., God Over Our Disobedience, God Over Our Deviations, God Over Our Drama, God Over Our Developing character...Your name is GOOD...and you are the Great I AM!"

I would "hear" him say back, "I AM over all of it...trust me, stay close, sit with me, be still and KNOW that I AM GOD."

That truth began to change my perception of my reality even though my reality didn't change.

Our circumstances, consequences, chaos and drama were all still very present and REAL, but they didn't CONTROL me. The undeniable truth that God is GOOD, began to control me

I was no longer fearful, but expectant! Instead of anxiety, I was filled with anticipation about what God was going to do...

You see, when I really believe that God is GOOD, that he is above and OVER everything that I am going through...somehow, I am able to rise ABOVE the mess, even though I'm still IN it!

It's not just empty words or spiritual jargon...it's REAL!

It's almost like an "out of body" experience...I can see it all happening, and know I should be anxious, that I should be going ballistic, but I am at peace!  It really IS "out of body" because it is a spiritual reality, not a physical one.

Ephesians 1:20 says..."God seated Jesus at his right hand in the heavenly realm, FAR ABOVE all rule and authority, power and dominion...".

But that's not all!  Read on...

"Because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions---it is by grace we have been saved. AND God raised us up with Christ and seated us WITH him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. (Eph 2:4-6)

If God is OVER it all and his position is ABOVE it all and we are seated right next to Him, shouldn't that change our perspective...how we think...how we react...how we walk and how we talk?  

If our Father is OVER it all, and we are seated right next to Him, we are SAFE! No matter what is going on below...No matter what is falling apart around us...If our Father, who is GOOD and PERFECT in all His ways, is OVER it, we can sit beside Him and be still.

We have a choice: Do we sit with him in the heavenly realms, far above all rule, authority, power and dominion? Do we partner with the ONE who is OVER it all? Do we choose to partake of HIS divine nature? Do we allow him to teach us, guide us, and coach us in this game of life?

Or, do we choose to abandon that post and sit "below", in the mire and muck of our present reality, becoming ensnared and entangled by fear, anxiety, control, despair, pride, selfish ambition,,,?

Our strongest position of power is when we are seated WITH Him in the heavenly realms...there is GREAT POWER from this perspective!!

SO WHAT DOES ALL THIS HAVE TO DO WITH TOM BECOMING AN AMERICAN CITIZEN?

Well, let me tell you what the MOST HIGH GOD did for us!! Let me tell you of his GOODNESS, of his MERCY, and of his FAITHFULNESS!!

During the process of working out a deal with a favorable D.A., our lawyer thought it would be wise to consult with an Immigration lawyer, to make sure that the deal he was working on wouldn't jeopardize Tom's status as a Resident Alien. He set up an appointment for them to meet with this lawyer, thankfully, on his dime.

During the course of the conversation, she asked Tom why he hadn't become an American citizen. He gave her lots of good reasons, mainly that he didn't want to give up his Canadian citizenship. She dispelled that myth, explaining that the laws had changed and he wouldn't have to do that; he could be both...a Canadian in Canada and an American in the U.S.

But then came the question that changed everything, "Tom, do you and your wife ever plan to live in Canada or retire in Canada?"

His response: "Maybe...we haven't planned that far ahead, but it's a possibility."

Her response: "Well, here's the deal...If you retire in Canada and are not an American citizen, you will forfeit all the money that you have paid into Social Security over the past 30+ years...you will not be able to collect that money as a Canadian citizen living in Canada, if you are not an American."

WOW!!! Seriously? How would we have ever known that? Can you imagine, being 70 years old and deciding to move to Canada to live out our days, only to find out that we didn't have access to that chunk of our retirement, money we were counting on?

Needless to say, Tom began the process that day...it was a no-brainer!

Several days later, we were on our way to the beach for a little 4 day getaway with our best friends and Tom got a call from our lawyer...

They had worked out a deal...To DROP the "wreckless driving" charge (a felony), and to KEEP the "failure to comply with an officer of the law" charge (a misdemeanor C, similar to a speeding ticket), in addition to a $50 fine, plus court costs. We were assured, this was a GOOD deal.

He went to court on February 21st, for the third time, stood before the judge and agreed to the plea bargain and walked out a FREE man!

On October 24, 2013, Tom went to court for the fourth time in one year, this time, to be sworn in as an American citizen. He took the Oath of Citizenship and said the Pledge of Allegiance for the very first time. He was one of 56 people from 33 different countries who were sworn in that day. It was a witnessed by family and friends, and was celebrated by many others throughout the day.




But THAT celebration PALED in comparison to our celebration of God's GOODNESS...His Faithfulness, His attention to Details, His Mercy...His very real and tangible presence during one of the most difficult, yet most glorious years of our married life!

Can God Right a Wrong? A-b-s-o-l-u-t-e-l-y!

Can He redeem mistakes and wrong turns, no matter how costly? A-b-s-o-l-u-t-e-l-y!

This is the TRUTH: Mistakes and wrong turns have consequences, some more costly than others...but they don't define us and they don't determine our future.

God does. Period!

Sometimes we fail to see the GOOD in our mess because we haven't included God in the equation. We've abandoned our rightful position in the heavenly realms and lost all perspective.

This is a TRUE equation: God Over Our Disobedience = GOOD

Jesus said, "In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have OVERCOME the world! I am telling you this, so that IN ME you may have peace." (John 16:33)

He invites us to come and sit with Him where He sits, ABOVE the mess, where He is OVER the mess...to allow His presence, His perspective, and His truth to shape and change our perspective of our present reality, to partake in his divine nature, to have peace and to soar above our circumstances.

"Taste and see that the Lord is GOOD! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him. Fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him lack NOTHING! The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no GOOD thing!" (Ps 34: 8-10)

"He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, will rest in the shadow of the Almighty." (Ps. 91:1)
















Monday, October 21, 2013

Living IN THE RED


 
Debt steals, kills, and destroys....

It steals joy, kills self esteem, and destroys relationship. Anyone who has ever lived under the crushing weight of debt knows this to be true. Where there is debt, there is imbalance. Where there is imbalance, there is struggle. Where there is struggle, there is lack of peace. Where there is lack of peace, there is unrest. Where there is unrest, life becomes debilitating and depressing…and the vicious cycle continues.

Inevitably, where there is debt, there is always a debt collector…one whose job is to hold you accountable. Debt collectors can be ruthless. Their job is to do whatever it takes to collect the debt…They badger you daily, keeping you in a constant state of poverty and shame. As a last resort, they may garnishee your wages, withholding the very thing you need for survival…and the vicious cycle continues.
Tom and I recently had an encounter with a debt collector…unfortunately that debt collector was none other than US!
 
Our sons, ages 20 and 22, owed us money…lots of it. For weeks, I kept an ongoing tally of what each of them owed taped to our fridge door. Two to three months ago, they both lost their jobs and were unable to meet their monthly obligations. They picked up part time jobs, but their debits continued to outweigh their credits. In an effort to “help” them, we decided to lend them money, to help cover their rent and other expenses. As parents, that’s what we are supposed to do, right? Make sure our kids don’t suffer, make sure their needs are met? All the while, we were encouraging (prodding, nagging...) them to get a second job, to do whatever it takes…deliver pizza, work at Walmart...ANYTHING!

But they have a different sense of urgency than we do…taking their time…waiting for just the right job to come along. In addition, some of their values don't line up with ours and we have differing opinions regarding  lifestyle choices.
Therein lies the rub, the tension, the strain...the DILEMMA! As parents, we want to help, but we don’t want to enable irresponsible living. 
So...what was intended as HELP, soon became a HINDRANCE.

We soon found ourselves in this AWFUL role as debt collectors! Who likes debt collectors? Who wants to be around them? Who wants to have dinner with someone who is constantly pointing out the debt and the mistakes? Who wants to come “home” and help himself to the fridge, when that fridge has a growing tally of his debt plastered all over it?

Besides that, who in their right mind WANTS to be a debt collector anyway?? It is a gross job and it goes against every fiber of my being. When someone is indebted to you and owes you something, it’s really hard to get past that and to simply love and accept them for who they are, however they choose to live. Their debt and their inability to pay are on the forefront of every interaction. What they are doing with their money instead of meeting their obligations is a recurring theme, the proverbial elephant in the room. Confrontation and criticism replace affirmation, which leads to avoidance, which leads to apathy.

Where there is debt, relationships get skewed, messed up...It's a vicious cycle...debt steals, kills, and destroys...on BOTH sides of the fence!

HERE'S WHAT WE'VE LEARNED:
We cannot be debt collectors and parents to our adult children at the same time! We cannot love and accept unconditionally while trying to collect debt. On the same token, we cannot expect our kids to approach us freely, when they are so indebted and unable to pay. 
Debt is a SATANIC setup where everyone loses...it has his fingerprints all over it! 
One day, it the middle of shopping at Costco, God spoke to me, “Forgive their debt.” In my head, I argued…”Really, Lord? How is that going to help them LEARN? Is letting them off the hook for their mistakes really the best idea? Besides, I already had plans for that money!”

I couldn’t shake His voice…it was so strong and so overwhelming. He kept reminding me, “I'm not asking you to do anything that I haven't already done first...just DO it!” I struggled...do I tell Tom? If I tell him, then I’m committed…do I really want to do this?

The silent arguing continued...What if they don’t GET it, what if they keep making the same mistakes, what if the results aren't what we are hoping for? He kept on, "None of that matters...just DO it!"

So I told Tom…over our $5.00 lunch at Costco, I brought it up, "I'm not sure if this is from God or not, but I think it is..." And he replied with a resounding “YES…that sounds like God to me!”
So, we met with each of the boys...separately. We had prepared for each of them a list of all their debt…dates, amounts, with the grand total underlined twice. Each time, as we set the piece of paper in front of them, we could literally see the blood draining from their faces…the stress, the shame, the guilt, and the crushing weight were palpable.

Then I pulled out a RED pen, drew a big "X" through that grand total, and wrote in big RED letters “Paid in full, FORGIVEN!” 

I don't know who was more relieved...them or us!  All I can say, is it felt GOOD, it felt RIGHT, it was a HOLY moment for Tom and me.

We got 2 different reactions. One responded, “Thank you…but why are you doing this? They were my mistakes, I should pay for them.” The other one could barely get out a whisper “Thank you”, through his quivering lips and tearful eyes.
Was one reaction better than the other one? I don't think soThey were both appropriate…both so reflective of our human nature...that tension between pride and brokenness that we all struggle with.

It didn't end there...we continued, “We are your parents, we don’t want to be debt collectors. We made a mistake. From this point forward, whatever we decide to give you, will be a gift, not a loan. We are wiping out this debt because we want you to walk FORWARD in FREEDOM. Your debt is paid, you don't owe us anything! We simply want to love you, encourage you, and walk beside you. If you need something, ask us...we'll think about it and pray about it...if it is something we can do and it's GOOD for you, we will gladly give it to you. From this point forward, you are fully responsible for your daily financial obligations…we will no longer lend you money for those things…your choices are your choices…you have that freedom, and we love you no matter what you choose. But remember, consequences are no respecter of persons. Consequences will always follow choices, good or bad.”

WHY IN THE WORLD AM I TELLING THIS STORY? 
It’s certainly not to air our dirty laundry or to shine a negative light on our kids! They are young, figuring it out, learning some hard lessons...that's part of growing up. I am confident that God’s got them and I’m s-l-o-w-l-y learning to release them into His very capable hands.
It’s really about what God is teaching me about HIMSELF...about his heart and his character.

The truth is...the debt of our sin steals joy, kills self esteem and destroys relationship. Satan wants us to live in a state of debt and in poverty of spirit. He masquerades as an angel of light, but make no mistake…He is that AWFUL debt collector! He is well aware that sin separates us from God and that the wages of our sin is death. If he can just keep us in that vicious cycle of debt, imbalance, struggle, lack of peace, unrest, debilitation and depression…If he can just keep badgering us, accusing us, reminding us of our mistakes…If he can just keep convincing us that we have to pay for our sin...then, he can blind us and  keep us from seeing and experiencing the gift of grace and the unconditional LOVE of our Father.  
But GOD, in his infinite wisdom….didn’t LOAN us salvation...he GAVE it to us...He knew he couldn't be a Father and a debt collector at the same time!

He saw our pitiful state, that we were slaves to sin, that we would constantly be living in that vicious cycle of debt, imbalance, struggle, lack of peace, unrest, debilitation, and depression….and as our LOVING Father, who does ALL things well...he couldn’t take it anymore!  He realized that as long as we viewed him as a debt collector, we wouldn’t be able to receive his unconditional love! That our relationship would be skewed. He realized that the continual offering of the blood of bulls and goats was just a temporary fix..it didn't produce LIFE, but rather served as a constant reminder of our inability to keep the LAW. He looked down and said, “I don’t want my kids to live under this crushing weight of debt. I want them to walk FORWARD in FREEDOM! I don’t want them to love and serve me out of obligation because they owe me something…I want them to love and serve me out of GRATITUDE. I want my love to COMPEL them!”

He knew that if salvation were a LOAN, we would never be able to approach him with confidence, we would never feel like we were good enough, we would avoid Him, be afraid of Him, we would try to find other ways to get out from under the debt. We wouldn’t want to come “home” and share a meal with him, to have fellowship with him, because all we would see on the his fridge would be a list of our sins.
Not to mention, His heart would be TORN…wanting so desperately to help us experience the FULL LIFE, yet needing to hold us accountable for keeping the LAW…for repaying that loan.

So He GAVE what was MOST precious to him…He paid our debt IN FULL with the RED BLOOD of Jesus, so we would no longer have to be in debt, bankrupt, living in the red...NO, actually dying in the red, under the weight of guilt, shame and hopelessness!
By the B.L.O.O.D of Jesus, we were Brought to Life Out Of Darkness! It paid the debt of our sin, in full...forever!

And when Satan comes knocking at our door...prowling around in his roaring debt collector's voice... with his list, accusing us, condemning us, trying to collect our debt, we can SLAM the door in his face and say, "Go away! My Father has FORGIVEN my debt...it's paid in full! You have NO HOLD on me!"

The LIFE is in the BLOOD...Living IN THE RED is true life!

But there's more...when we are living IN THE RED, His BLOOD continually Brings Life Out Of Darkness…minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. There is POWER in the BLOODwonder working power…it redeems, restores, reconciles, repairs…it redirects, it rights the wrongs, it relieves pain!

Debt comes in lots of packages, not just money. How about unforgiveness or entitlement? What gift of forgiveness do I need to extend to someone who has wronged me, who has overlooked me or who has not treated me as I think I deserve? Who is God nudging me to forgive, "Just DO it!"?? Do I trust him enough with the outcome?

Paul exhorts us...FORGIVE, in order that Satan might not outwit us, for we are NOT unaware of his schemes...schemes to steal, kill and destroy. (2 Cor. 2:11)

Living  IN THE RED...Redeemed Eternally from Debt!  
I want THAT kind of life, don't you? I want to live so completely IN THE RED, so COVERED in THE RED, that the power of his blood flowing through me allows me to freely GIVE what I have RECEIVED.

God is so GOOD...He is GOD OVER OUR DEBT! He lead the way by example, so that we might imitate him..."Forgive others as I have forgiven you."

This is a SACRED setup where everyone WINS! It has God's fingerprints all over it!