Known in the Gates: Part 1, Not Forgotten

For those of us around when the iconic movie of the 1985, The Breakfast Club, came out, we probably asked ourselves which character we liked the best.  Was it the one called Sporto, the jock?  Carl, the criminal?  Brian, the brain?  Molly Ringwald’s character, the princess?  Or maybe it was the outcast gal in black?  (what was her name?)  Here’s a little refresher with the song that still gets my heart rate going, my feet tapping!  How about you?

This is one of those songs that once you hear it, you won’t be able to get it out of your head for about a day!  Sorry.  I really like this song!  I really liked the movie too.  The character that resonates with me these days is Allison Reynolds played by Ally Sheedy.  If you don’t want to watch all of the clip below, kindly forward to the scene in progress around the 5:00 to 6:15-minute mark.  It’s where she confesses her deepest sorrow:

Yes, I get this type of sorrow.  Try being sick with a serious illness for coming up on 4 years and see who remembers your name?  See who identifies with your struggles?  See who bothers to ask, who bothers to call?  The numbers have dwindled for me for sure.  I have kept in touch with my closest friends from Illinois and made new friends in the recovery-from-this-or-that communities online.  My beloved husband (whom I met then married here in Indiana), Steve, has hung in there through with me the worst of the torment, the lifestyle changes, the failed treatments, and the thousand-plus nights with disrupted sleep.  (Watch these videos if you want to know what I am talking about.)  Some folks I know have graciously followed this blog through it all.  Thank you!  I am always delighted when I hear from one or two of them now and then.  Nice.  Well sort of.  It’s just not the same . . .

There is a place where I am known very well and keep in close contact.  There is a place where I have not been abandoned, ignored, discounted.  The place where I matter most and my closest companion is always there, always here with me.  That place is in the arms of my Heavenly Father through my personal relationship with his Son, Jesus Christ.  He never forgets about me!  I savor His words He speaks of me (and you too, Gentle Reader) from Psalm 139:

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

Oh how I wish I knew these words as a young woman when I first saw The Breakfast Club!  What matters now is that I get to lean on these words all of the time now in the quiet, dark places I have visited when alone with my Lord.  He has never forgotten about me.  I have always felt His presence even in my greatest hours of suffering.  He has spoken through the Holy Spirit often.  I have never felt “lonely.”  The Creator of the universe loves me!  I am so grateful.

But how well does he really know me?

To be continued in Part 2 . . .

Who will save us?

9/11, 9.11, 9.11.01, September 11th, terrorist attacks, remembering 9/11, Christian response, hope in tragedy, Twin Towers, Pentagon, fields of Pennsylvania, rainbow over NYC, rainbow on eve of 9/11, rainbow over New York City
Bern Sterner rainbow over New York City as captured on the CBS Evening News during the Eve of September 11, 2001

I watched the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 unfold live on t.v. I will never forget. I will also never forget the chivalry of Mayor Giuliani and President Bush, our law enforcement, firemen, and countless volunteers who rushed to the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, the field of Pennsylvania to help.  The event consumed Americans for a very long time. 

The United States of America mourned and prayed. We became more secure for a time.  We rebuilt and life carried on.

Then we became complacent again while Satan got a foothold.  He played on our fears, our vulnerabilities whilst taking away our sense of reason, patriotism, and reverence for God. In due time we opened ourselves up to new threats that will someday bring us to our knees again perhaps more severely — I am sure of it.

Who will save us from this evil? There is only one answer for all of us.  The answer has nothing to do with our leaders and our public policies.  No new world view or world order will stop it.  The answer begins in our hearts:  believing in the One Who transcends this evil.

Who will save us?  Jesus Christ, that’s Who.  He is the only One with the power to overcome evil.

(That’s a period at the end of that last sentence.)

JJ

Handling loss is a skill for living well

Some disappointments this past week have reminded me of the importance of handling “loss” well.  Change is a certainty in this life and many of us have had more than our share of both the voluntary and involuntary fare.  Change often means letting go of something or someone we cherish.  For the Christian we can view change as part of becoming more like Christ, maturing in our faith, and working out the details of our lives with the Lord.  It is necessary!  And all too often it doesn’t feel well though.

Here are 5 changes that came in rapid-fire succession for me lately:

  1. A counselor that I have been seeing to handle the grief of this serious biotoxin illness I’m dealing with, suddenly discharged me from her care.  A week ago Tuesday I had a major seizure attack episode in her office and had to leave abruptly.  The episode went on while standing outside the front door to her office then continued as I struggled to get back into my truck.  An hour and a half later I was able to leave to return home.  She checked on me multiple times during the event and even called me a few times to discuss our next appointment.  Until that day she had been opening the window in her office for me to increase air circulation before our starting time.  When she did not do so until I was about to walk into her office (on a rainy, humid afternoon), the scented “warming candle” residuals, soil aerosols from her live plant, and possible contaminants embedded in the office carpeting were too much for me.  She is now unwilling to meet me in a nearby library conference room since her driving time simply would not be reimbursable, won’t fit into her busy schedule.  So for now it’s bye bye Julie.
  2. For the third year in a row I had to miss my husband’s United States Canoe Association Nationals due to illness.  I am sad.  I love watching Steve compete in his surf ski (racing kayak) and missed both of his races including the exciting trial class event with our outrigger canoe.  It sounds like there was a photo finish as he crossed the finish line and I was not there to take it all in or take pictures.  Sigh.  We love taking road trips together.  Even if we could have afforded the expense of travelling together, I cannot tolerate the fragrances of hotel rooms, conditions of camping, or the unknowns of renting a travel trailer.  Such is life with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome!  I stayed home with our German shepherd pup in our “safe home.”  Parts of the two full days were actually better by the way:  I got to dig in the dirt of a new garden bed.  The second day was terrifying however with two, severe, hour-long episodes while home alone.  My Jesus saw me through when I thought I would stop breathing.  I did not.  My husband needed this time away.  Besides, having someone stay with me or check on me in the end dangerously increases risks to my health.  We made tough choices indeed.
  3. I realize that the isolation that accompanies this illness is killing my spirit.  I sense my social skills eroding.  Sitting in my truck in a cemetery adjacent to a Garden Walk event on Saturday, I nearly panicked because I was late and there were cicadas plunking my windshield as I tried to wrap up a phone call with Steve!  I had not talked to anyone but my dog for 24 hours so I was glad for his call.  However, I had felt awkward and alone getting ready.  And I know that these were just feelings.  The evening out went fine with barely a few tic zips, enjoyment of select entrees, and meeting some really nice fellow gardeners.  It’s just that the social part of my life is so unnatural, absent, and different now.  Just like when I went through a divorce, lots of people have left my life once again.  Reaching out has been tough when it’s so complicated just to get together.   I will keep trying though.  I have to . . .
  4. An occupational therapy (O.T.) recruiter for an agency for whom I used to do contract work called me TWICE this past week!  I guess they really needed someone!  Oh how I miss working.  Last night I did the equivalent of 4 hours of (free!) continuing education credits for my O.T. license, inspired perhaps by the phone call earlier.  Maybe someday there will be an equivalent at-home professional job that I can do that will utilize my skills.  Just gotta get rid of some daily seizure attack episodes first, eh?  Today they lasted most of the day.  My “job” was to take a shower and make dinner.  Done.  Don’t need an App to keep track of this kind of schedule, I tell ya!  Sish.
  5. Most of the time my worship is in isolation.  For a long time I looked to my husband to try and fix this one for me.  Why wasn’t he trying to find a church for us in a newer building that wasn’t water damaged?  My criticism of him and “our” church goes on from here; it is not good.  I have tried to fill the void with a read-the-Bible-in-a-year App, Christian radio talk shows, following various ministries via email or Facebook, interacting with other believers via the same, and continuous prayer throughout the day including praying with Steve.  But I crave real Christian fellowship.  I crave Women’s Bible Study.  There wasn’t even an outdoor baptismal service with our church this year and the annual hot dog roast will be a “no” in October due to the noxious exposures from the campfire.  (The smoke was hell for me last year.)  My heart is breaking on this one.  I know the Lord sees it too.  I trust Him.  Just today I got the sense that I may need to reach out a little more and not wait for someone else to fix it.  I contacted our “Encouragement Ministry” leader about starting something with others who are home bound and I  am waiting to hear back from her.  Hopefully it will be soon!

While we could discuss the solution to these problems the more important point here right now is that I know that each of these will bring goodness in due time.  I have realized the promise of the Lord “restoring the years the locusts had eaten” (Joel 2:25) after my life fell apart in 2003.  Joy returned and reminders of it are all around me.  I have chosen to write about these things in hopes that you will pray alongside me for the Lord’s will and redeeming grace for these recent losses.  Perhaps you, too, have loved and lost much while enduring all kinds of trials.  Please let me know about them and I will pray for you.

Gentle Reader:  we are to stand firm on the foundation of our faith in Jesus Christ who will:

  • Make all things new.  (Revelation 21:5)
  • Direct our paths.  (Proverbs 3:5-6)
  • Extend His love, compassions, and faithfulness in newness every morning.  (Lamentations 3:22-23)
  • Remember us in our low estate with love that endures forever.  (Psalm 136:23)
  • Reward us for our faithfulness.  (Matthew 6)
  • Bless those who are good stewards of time, talents, and resources.  (Luke 16 &  Matthew 25)

And so much more.  I am encouraged.  My Jesus sits on the throne of my life and the throne of grace.  He will make beauty from the ashes (Isaiah 61) which are the losses that characterize living a full life here with Him as our Lord and Savior.  I trust His Word on this and hope that you will too.  Let us rejoice with great expectation for the goodness to come!

Isaiah 61

10 I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
    and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up
    and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
    and praise spring up before all nations.

 

Finding Love Again

It’s as if I always knew that something was missing . . .

My first wedding day was lovely:  filled with pretty flowers, pearly alencon lace, and all the details that were meaningful at the time.  I was a new believer in Jesus Christ and in love with a young man named Craig.  We settled in the west suburbs of Chicago, worked in healthcare, and got busy with the tasks of fixing up our townhome.  In time Craig would lead us to a smaller Bible church from the seeker-friendly mega church that helped lead me to faith in Christ.  In time I joined him at that little church.  I also learned that Christians really do know how to have fun, meaningful lives rich in the knowledge and living out of the Word of God.

Then when Craig had to leave and decided never to return, my life turned upside down for about 4 years.  My last surviving grandmother, my youngest brother, and my mother all passed away out of state from where I was living.  I moved five times and my personal items were either donated to charity or stored in seven different places.  I had to change jobs three times and endured two work-related injuries.  The condo fire followed, displacing me for three months in a bare rental unit provided by my insurance company.   It was there, staring at the blank walls devoid of all of my earthly possessions and reminders of who I was that I discovered what else was missing:  my Heavenly Husband.

Isaiah 54:5 (NIV)

For your Maker is your husband— the Lord Almighty is his name— the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.

The Bible is full of analogies comparing our relationship with the Lord as a marital relationship.  Jesus is the Bridegroom and the church is His bride.  Our Heavenly Father is the husband and we are His beloved.  The imagery of an intimate relationship is too much for us to grasp fully yet challenged me to make Christ real in my life on a daily basis.  So I went for it fully:  when I got in my car and was in a down mood I invited Jesus to ride with me, take the wheel, and be my constant companion.  Before long I realized that I had placed Craig in a place in my heart not made for him.  Some of the disappointment I experienced in our marriage came from not understanding the VERY LARGE place in my heart reserved only for the Lord.  In time, that place grew larger, infilling the emptiness in my heart, filling me completely.

When I met my intended beloved, of course I still had a few kinks to work out in the man-woman relationship department.  One shift was clear however:  my need for wholeness was to be met by my Heavenly Husband not my earthly one.  Placing too much responsibility on my new husband to meet all of my needs, love me, provide for me, and guide me wasn’t fair to him or me.  The One who will always be there perfectly on-time with all the right stuff will only and always be my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  I am grateful that Steve is a mighty good second I must admit!  Pastor Bill Hybels at Willow Creek Community Church said it best one Sunday service:  trust God.  Love people.  Trust God to meet all of your needs.  Love people including your spouse as imperfect brothers and sisters in Christ . . . just like me.  All of us have much to give and will fail at some point as well.  Only God is perfect.  The Lord is to be our first love.

With a perfect God, and a personal relationship through His son, Jesus Christ, we are free to live more lightly each day with the ones we love.  We can extend grace, grant forgiveness a little more easily.  We can love others and grow closer in fellowship despite all of our foibles.  And if you’re like me, you will find love again in all the right places.

Psalm 84

How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka,  they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools.  They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.

Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty; listen to me, God of Jacob. Look on our shield, O God; look with favor on your anointed one.

10 Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. 11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold     from those whose walk is blameless.

12 Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you.

When you know you have to make a decision

I suppose that each of us has our own process that we go through when we know that we must make an important decision.  Some make lists of pros and cons on either side of the issue, others ask everyone else in their lives for advice, a few go “intellectual” doing exhaustive internet research, and there’s at least a couple of folks who hire an expert to make the decision for them!  As Christ-followers, we are called to submit our will to that of the Father (“thy kingdom come, thy will be done”) for His glory, knowing that it will be for our highest good.  The Father knows best and knows us best, through our personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  This brings peace of mind, confidence in going forward, and hope.  But it doesn’t feel very good in the moment sometimes . . .

The fateful night my former spouse was confronted with having an affair, he denied it then proceeded to blame me for having one!  Unbelievable!  In my shock and horror, I had to make an important decision on the same night that I found out about his affair.  From somewhere inside of me I asked Craig to leave for the night.  He did.  And he never came back again.  Well, I wasn’t expecting that for sure!  Turns out that his personality would change completely that night.  Shortly thereafter, he walked away from virtually everyone he knew, his church, his family, and of course me for a very long time.  I understand now that he has reconciled with some of the parties.

The follow-up decision was more difficult:  the decision to file for divorce.  I wondered how in the world would I support myself in a large city, working part time for health reasons, dealing with two deaths in the family and my mother’s cancer diagnosis, and then losing my job altogether?  From somewhere inside of me I found the truth I needed to take the steps needed to reclaim my life.  The process took dreadfully long and much more heartache would follow before I was finally independent again.  One and one-half years later, I landed in my own place with a new job; I was starting to resurface from the mire, rebuild my life.  Then one more devastating blow followed with a condo fire that required me to become displaced for a few months without most of my personal belongings.  At this point I was completely lost.  Who was I now?  The treasured things that provided comfort during one of the biggest transitions of my life were gone, being ozonized in a warehouse somewhere!  I crumbled into a shell of a person and would never be the same again.

The next big decision to make was:  where to live?   From somewhere inside of me I got the idea to ask the elders of my church for guidance.  My own father was estranged from my family and thus not available and the ideas of friends and family were all over the map, so to speak.  I moved forward with purchasing my own condo with virtually all of my remaining assets and turns out that it was a good choice.  The chaos in my life finally stopped and the most important decisions lessened to paint colors and flooring styles.  I had a blast decorating my new home.  It was beautiful.  Even the balcony became a secret garden getaway with some of my favorite flowers and antiques.

And just when I was telling my single girlfriends how much fun we were going to have in the new year, 2007, I came into contact with Steve.  Two years after the finalization of the divorce, I decided to return his invitation to call him and before long, my life was moving in the direction of Indiana.  Eeeek, Indiana?  Folks in Chicagoland equate Indiana with the dirty industrial town of Gary.  Steve lived in a relatively small town, 250 miles from where I had been living for 23 years.  From somewhere inside of me, I knew that I would be moving to Indiana.  Steve’s history resonated so much with mine it triggered a child-like sense of wonder.  He flew radio-controlled model airplanes and I grew up with all of the men and boys in my family flying their predecessor:  line-controlled airplanes.  Steve cycled and so did Craig.  Steve had been a leader in his church and so had Craig.  The men at church and his sons looked up to Steve and this is where the similarities to Craig ended.  Steve’s character exceeded that of most men I had ever met at any time, of any age.  I may have fallen in love with him before we even met.  We became friends over the phone lines.  From somewhere inside of me I knew that Steve was set apart for me.

As time went on, my process of making decisions would change.  From somewhere inside of me I learned to ask Steve about the decisions in my life as a way of honoring him, improving communication between us, and bringing us closer together.  I learned that it is the Lord’s design for a man to lead his household and his wife as an expression of love, obedience to Christ, and his protection and care for her.  This independent-minded Chicagoland healthcare professional would be transformed into a loving wife who seeks to please her husband as the Lord leads and empowers me to do so.  I am grateful, I am humbled to say that submission to Steve has made me a better person.  Wow.  I am still a work in progress in this regard and that’s what grace brings.

So why did I write this blog anyways?  It is rather shocking perhaps to bare the hairy details of a painful process of divorce and maybe uncomfortable for others to read how the Lord may actually have had a hand in such things to bring about a greater good.  Even the goodness does not cover the pain that can remain until it gets worked out, let go of over an indefinite amount of time.  So many people got during hurt these past 10 years in addition to me, in addition to Steve.  I grieve the loss of family life that Steve’s four children had to endure through the heartache of their own divorce story.  Tis pretty clear why God hates divorce.  He wants to spare us these wounds and give us much goodness through the joys of family life.  In the end, from somewhere inside of us, we must decide to trust Him, know that He is God, know that He loves and knows us intimately, and that “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”  It is our decision to use that which God allows in our lives to grow us into better human beings, better stewards of His gifts, grace, and promises.  He uses the very hurt that grieves us to bring unspeakable joy if we but bother to recover from that hurt, let go, and keep moving forward until His return someday in glory.

For those who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit is that which can move “from somewhere inside of us.”  He is my Heavenly Husband, my first true love who knew me before time began, before I was born.  My decision today is to continue to look to Him for things big and small, following the lead of my earthly husband as well.  If the Lord is faithful in the crises of life, as this blog shows that He has been so exceedingly, He will be faithful in the breath-by-breath wonderings I face today as well.

Ahhhhh.  Such a great reminder from You inside my heart on a wacky Tuesday.  Thanks Lord.