TEN YEARS CANCER-FREE

I don’t usually write anything in all caps. I’ve been working hard to not be a screamer. BUT, Y’ALL!! Today marks TEN YEARS since the day I got to hear the words, “You’re cancer-free.”

The minute I got the call from my doctor I sent a message to everyone I could think of saying, “I’m cancer free! All glory to God forever!” I knew at that moment that everything in my world had shifted. I mistakenly thought it had all shifted for the good and that the rest of my life would be smooth sailing.

That phone call took more than two years to receive from the moment I received my cancer diagnosis. In those two years of waiting God exposed wounds in me that were long buried and forgotten and forced me to deal with pains that I had been shoving under a tight lid for most of my life. Okay, He didn’t force me. I had a choice. But I also knew that I wasn’t ready to die and that I no longer wanted to hold on to anything that was causing unhealth in my body. And, if I was going to die, I wanted to experience peace and freedom on this side of heaven.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the grief to come. Anyone who has ever had any kind of cancer will tell you that the four words they hate most in the English vocabulary are, “Because of your history…”. Every single time I go to the doctor for anything, I hear those words. Anything in my body that is the least bit sick has become a reason for doctors to run more tests and explore the possibilities that I have a cancer recurrence. Every time I hear those words I am reminded that cancer may have given me freedom and healing, but it also took away so much. I no longer have the confidence that a cough is just a cough, an upset stomach is just an upset stomach, a headache is just a headache, or that every ache and pain are just the price of being 48 years old. I no longer have the amazing metabolism that allowed me to eat pizza for dinner and ice cream before bed without working out for two hours the morning after. I also no longer have a tolerance for toxicity or the ability to be anything other than transparent and vulnerable.

I wrote several years ago about what cancer taught me, but I left out how I’ve come to embrace transparency and vulnerability. If you know me IRL or you’ve read my blog for any amount of time those qualities may be obvious to you. What may not be obvious is WHY I can’t be anything other than transparent and vulnerable.

There’s just no point in even trying. Those words above were spoken by Jesus. In the next verse He said, “So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.” I don’t know about any of you, but my perimenopausal brain simply can’t afford to lose what little I understand. I want to spend the rest of my days hearing from God and understanding more about who He is and how He loves me. Also, I firmly believe that all that I’d held on to grew in my neck in the form of cancer and that’s a battle I’d prefer not to fight again.

It would be a lie to say that I’ve accomplished all I had hoped to accomplish in these last ten years, or that I’ve achieved complete spiritual/emotional healing and freedom, or that I believe I’ve fulfilled every purposeful opportunity that God laid before me. This morning I cried and repented for not accomplishing more for Him in the days, weeks, months, and years that He’s given me. But guess what? Certainly the faithful love of the Lord hasn’t ended; certainly God’s compassion isn’t through!  They are renewed every morning. Great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23

Tomorrow I will wake up to the first day of my eleventh year of living without cancer. I will try my best to not take this life for granted. I will rest in the assurance that God’s love and mercy over me aren’t through. And I will give Him glory and praise Him for His great great faithfulness.

Happy Ten-Year-Cancer-Free-Day to ME!

Good, Gut-wrenching, Glorious Friday

Most historians believe that around three hundred years before the birth of Jesus Christ, in Isaiah 53, it was prophesied…

Who has believed our message?
    To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?
My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot,
    like a root in dry ground.
There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
    nothing to attract us to him.
He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care.

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
    it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
    a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for OUR rebellion,
   crushed for OUR sins.
He was beaten so WE (YOU and I) could be whole.
   He was whipped so WE could be healed.
ALL OF US, like sheep, have strayed away.
    We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all.

He was oppressed and treated harshly,
    yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
    And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
    he did not open his mouth.
Unjustly condemned,
    he was led away.
No one cared that he died without descendants,
    that his life was cut short in midstream.[c
But he was struck down
    for the rebellion of my people.
He had done no wrong
    and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
    he was put in a rich man’s grave.

10 But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him
    and cause him grief.
Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,
    he will have many descendants.
He will enjoy a long life,
    and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.
11 When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
    he will be satisfied.
And because of his experience,
    my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
   for he will bear ALL their sins.
12 I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,
    because he exposed himself to death.
He was counted among the rebels.
    He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.

If you read Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, and John 19, you see that every single detail of the prophesy was fulfilled in Jesus’ crucifixion. His death was horrible, and painful, and exposing. Although pictures of the crucifixion always have him wearing a loincloth, the Bible says that he was stripped of his clothes and Roman tradition was to crucify criminals naked. So, we know that our savior, the one who literally gave up everything, including his life; was beaten, abused, and died a brutal death, completely exposed and broken. That is what today is all about…

He did it all so that when we are experiencing brokenness, feeling exposed, abused, in pain, ashamed, sick, stuck, hopeless, in bondage, or anything other than complete wholeness and freedom; we can leave it ALL at the cross with him. Because on the third day… he rose from the dead, insuring that you and I do not have to carry ANY of the things that hurt or weigh us down in this life, but live eternally with him.

This Holy Week has been been a beautiful, brutal reminder of the significance of this day and what’s to come on Sunday.

We have had a week to process sweet Evan’s diagnosis. I’ve probably spent more time in prayer this week than I have in any other week of my life. When I couldn’t think of anything else to talk to God about I have just starting giving thanks for every single thing I can think of. In all the thanksgiving, I remembered that I was not only healed of cancer ten years ago, but I was also completely healed of all the side effects of radiation that I was told would be life-long. In the process of healing me of cancer, God exposed layers and layers of wounds that were keeping me from living fully in all of His promises, poured out the blood of Jesus on them, and healed my heart and soul. He has healed relationships that had little hope of restoration. He has healed pieces of my children that doctors said we needed to learn to live with. He redeemed what seemed like a hopeless situation with my husband’s military career that we were completely powerless over. We’ve walked side-by-side with couples whose marriages are completely broken and witnessed God not only keep them together, but give them beautifully restored new life in their relationships. We’ve believed for dear friends to conceive who struggled with infertility for nearly a decade. In fact, this week, after crying five months ago because I thought I’d never get to meet their newest addition, my husband was asked to lecture at a University in Albany, NY and we got to spend a couple of days with their FOUR precious miracles.

Also, I’ve given a lot of thanks this week for the fact that God has (quite literally) carried me through the hardest times of my life. In the moments where it was hard to breathe or stand on my own two feet, I got through because of HIM. I don’t know about you, but I have a couple of things that I am trusting God to carry me through at this very moment (the brutal parts of this Holy Week). As I wait for new life to be breathed into situations that feel a little hopeless and scary, I know that I know that I know that God will be faithful. The goodness and the glory of this day, is that it guarantees that He IS faithful to fulfill every single one of the His promises.

So hold on, let go, trust God. We’re all in this broken, painful Good Friday world together. But… Sunday is coming.

Being Saved…

screen shot 2019-01-04 at 7.46.48 pm

I am a Christian. I believe that I am saved and that after this life I will live eternally in Heaven. I keep finding myself in discussions about what “salvation” means and this morning I woke up with this post circling around in my head.

I’ll be honest. I’ve had more than one existential crisis in my life. The most recent was only seven or eight years ago. We were in a church with unhealthy leadership, I was grieving the many losses in a very short period of time, my husband was under federal investigation for something he did not do, and I was dealing with the reality of parenting a very broken and destructive little girl that I had been certain God wanted us to adopt. I was angry with God. I was disappointed. I was scared. I had no hope. And I began to question everything I had ever believed about my faith. If you’re in the middle of your own existential crisis, let me offer you some hope. You’re in the right place!

When I found myself at the lowest, scariest, most desperate time of my life, I made a conscious decision to start seeking truth from the Bible instead of looking for answers from books or sermons. I spent some time cutting out the middle-man. I won’t lie and tell you that it was easy. I had to come to the realization that much of what I’d come to not only believe, but practice and cheer for, simply wasn’t found anywhere in God’s Word. Probably my biggest revelation was concerning exactly what it means to “be saved”.

Romans 3:10 And the Scriptures agree, for it is written:

There is no one who always does what is right, no, not even one!

Romans 3:23 for we all have sinned and are in need of the glory of God.

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Salvation is a gift that cannot be earned. We are ALL sinners and deserve death, but God offers eternal life. But what if you’re a good person? We are ALL sinners.

James 4:17 Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.

Yeah. Did you eat well and care for you body today? Did you help the old lady at the grocery store that was struggling to load things in her car? Did you let the Mom in her minivan with three carseats have that perfect parking space you’d been waiting for? When your spouse said something that offended you did you respond with love and grace? Sin is sin is sin. It doesn’t matter if you committed adultery last night, or if you gossiped about your neighbor, or failed to pick up the phone and call your depressed friend when they crossed your mind. You’re a sinner.

But what if I’m a REALLY GOOD person?

Ephesians 2:8-9 For it was only through this wonderful grace that we believed in him. Nothing we did could ever earn this salvation, for it was the gracious gift from God that brought us to Christ! So no one will ever be able to boast, for salvation is never a reward for good works or human striving.

There is nothing you can do to earn salvation, except to choose it.

John 3:16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

1 Corinthians 15:1-4 Dear friends, let me give you clearly the heart of the gospel that I’ve preached to you—the good news that you have heartily received and on which you stand. For it is through the revelation of the gospel that you are being saved, if you fasten your life firmly to the message I’ve taught you, unless you have believed in vain. For I have shared with you what I have received and what is of utmost importance:

The Messiah died for our sins,
    fulfilling the prophecies of the Scriptures.
He was buried in a tomb
    and was raised from the dead after three days,
    as foretold in the Scriptures.

 

To be saved means to wholeheartedly believe that John 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 are true.

This is where what I believed about salvation got a little messy. Chances are good that if you’ve been in any church in America (and many other countries), at the end of a service you’ve heard someone ask those in attendance to pray a prayer if they wanted to be saved and then raise their hand if they’d “prayed that prayer”. While hands are raised the person who has led the prayer most likely counted.

Romans 10:9-10 If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.

My guess is that the “sinner’s prayer” (as the prayer is often referred to) is derived from the requirement of “openly declaring”. But guess what? There is no “sinner’s prayer” in scripture. I struggle with a visceral response to anyone that measures the success of a church on the number of people who “prayed that prayer” on a Sunday morning.

If you’re struggling with believing that you ARE saved, let me offer you some freedom. If you believe and you openly tell others that you believe, you ARE saved. It’s really that simple.

But it’s not simple.

Once you believe, you have responsibilities.

1 Peter 2:1-3 So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.

2 Timothy 2:22-26 Run as fast as you can from all the ambitions and lusts of youth; and chase after all that is pure. Whatever builds up your faith and deepens your love must become your holy pursuit. And live in peace with all those who worship our Lord Jesus with pure hearts. Stay away from all the foolish arguments of the immature, for these disputes will only generate more conflict. For a true servant of our Lord Jesus will not be argumentative but gentle toward all and skilled in helping others see the truth, having great patience toward the immature. Then with meekness you’ll be able to carefully enlighten those who argue with you so they can see God’s gracious gift of repentance and be brought to the truth. This will cause them to rediscover themselves and escape from the snare of Satan who caught them in his trap so that they would carry out his purposes.

Matthew 16:24-26 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.  And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?”

If you read those three passages and thought, “Holy crap!” How on earth will I ever perfect being a Christian?” Well, you won’t. If we could perfect it, we wouldn’t need a savior. But we DO need a savior. And I’ll let you in on something…

2 Corinthians 5:14-17 Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! THIS MEANS THAT ANYONE WHO BELONGS TO CHRIST IS A NEW PERSON. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

When you wholeheartedly believe, you are changed. I once heard a sermon on salvation where the pastor posted a picture similar to this… screen shot 2019-01-04 at 9.47.12 pm

It is a great representation of what it feels like to believe and know Jesus. Sin is not the only thing we need to be rescued from. I don’t know a single person who hasn’t felt like they were drowning in some bad situation, or emotions, or illness, or addiction, or pain; at some point in time. Salvation is God reaching down and pulling you out of that thing you are drowning in, or at least holding your hand so that the thing doesn’t kill you. It’s a new and changed way of living.

Christianity offers so much more than eternal life. It makes it possible to endure human life.

It offers grace…

1 John 1:9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.

It offers healing in relationships.

James 5:16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

It offers hope.

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a HOPE.

It offers physical healing, and emotional healing, and freedom from all things that hold us in bondage, and peace, and favor, and all the good things we can never seem to find through our own efforts.

If you’ve read this far… wow! I’m impressed.

If you’ve read this far and want to share with someone that you believe, feel free to contact me. I filter my comments so you can leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

If you’re going through your own existential crisis, or you’re drowning in church wounds, or you prayed a prayer and raised your hand and nothing changed in your life, or this is all completely new information to you… I’d be happy to answer your questions, but I’m NOT the authority on Christianity. If you reach out to me I’d be happy to pray for you, but the very best thing you can do in any of the above situations is to READ THE BIBLE! If you don’t own a physical Bible I highly recommend that you get one (I’m a big fan of the NLT and ESV translations). If you don’t own a physical Bible and you’re not interested in getting one, you can download the YouVersion app on your phone or you can read it online at Bible Gateway.

Philippians 1:6 And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

 

 

 

i met a girl

Eight years ago today, after sitting through a meeting at Serbia’s Ministry of Social Welfare and listening to the heart-wrenching story of our daughter’s first five years of ife, our family drove to the little village of Velika Plana and met the girl who was about to rock our world. 

I’ve been studying Gideon and I keep marveling at the similarities between Gideon’s battle story and the story we’ve lived over the last eight years as we’ve fought for our girl’s freedom and health. Dear Hubby and I are social creatures. According to Myers & Briggs we’re both about as extroverted as humans can be. Before Sofija Bea Brave joined our family our social circle was big. Like REALLY big. We were involved in ALL THE THINGS. We hosted dinner parties and small groups every single week and when we didn’t have a crowd at our house, we were out and about surrounded by people. What we considered our “army”, was HUGE.

Judges 7:2-3MSG God said to Gideon, “You have too large an army with you. I can’t turn Midian over to them like this—they’ll take all the credit, saying, ‘I did it all myself,’ and forget about me. Make a public announcement: ‘Anyone afraid, anyone who has any qualms at all, may leave Mount Gilead now and go home.’” Twenty-two thousand soldiers headed for home. Ten thousand were left.

One of the hardest realities to face after bringing our baby girl home was that our people were quickly disappearing. Our army was shrinking. It scared me and it hurt. It REALLY hurt. But God had called us to win a war. He knew who we needed on our team and He knew how easily it would have been for pride to take over and convince us after every small victory that “I did it all myself.”

And then, a year and a half into being a family of six, Dear Hubby’s investigation began.  The fire got REALLY hot and our army shrunk again.

Judges 7:4-6MSG God said to Gideon: “There are still too many. Take them down to the stream and I’ll make a final cut. When I say, ‘This one goes with you,’ he’ll go. When I say, ‘This one doesn’t go,’ he won’t go.” So Gideon took the troops down to the stream. God said to Gideon: “Everyone who laps with his tongue, the way a dog laps, set on one side. And everyone who kneels to drink, drinking with his face to the water, set to the other side.” Three hundred lapped with their tongues from their cupped hands. All the rest knelt to drink. God said to Gideon: “I’ll use the three hundred men who lapped at the stream to save you and give Midian into your hands. All the rest may go home.”

I always thought that it was weird that God told Gideon to keep the ones who cupped the water in their hands to drink it. But let me tell you something. As our army shrank from huge numbers to a handful, I learned very quickly to appreciate those people who not only took things into their own hands but who held God’s Word in their hands and drank from it themselves. Let me tell you something else. When you’re fighting for your family and the lives of those you love, you do NOT want people advising you that aren’t passing along advice that they receive directly from God. I appreciate a good sermon as much as anyone else, but when it comes down to matters of life or death, I don’t want to hear the words, “I heard this great sermon the other day and thought of you.” Nope. I want to hear, “I was on my knees the other day and God said…” or “I was reading the Bible this morning and God showed me something for you.”  When it comes to survival and winning the war, I’ll take an army like Gideon’s victorious three hundred over the thirty-two thousand of distracted, misdirected, and fearful soldiers he had in the beginning of the story, any day.

I won’t lie. The girl I met eight years ago scared me. The thought of parenting her seemed like the most daunting task I’d ever faced. It has proven to be just that. More days than not I have had moments when I cry out to God that I just can’t do it any more. And then, He reminds me that He NEVER said that He would not give us more than we can handle. What He will do is ALWAYS be there where we meet the end of ourselves. Gideon faced an Army of at least one hundred and thirty-five thousand Midianites with only the three hundred warriors God left Him with. God made it very clear that the Midianites could not be defeated through the strength of Gideon and his army. But where their strength ended, God got to show off.

Over and over and over again, in these last eight years, God has had opportunities to show off. Piece by piece my girl is being healed. In the process, God is replacing each of my own broken and weak pieces with huge chunks of His strength. My daily prayer and anthem have become… Less of me. More of Him. That’s how wars are won.

The feral five-year old we met in April of 2010 has turned into a mostly domesticated thirteen-year old princess. She holds my heart and has her Tata wrapped around her little finger. Although there have been many times when I’ve wondered what the hell I got myself into, I can’t imagine my life without her.

Eight years ago I met a girl. She rocked my world. 

 

But God… possibly the most important post I’ve written.

Isaiah 61:7 NLT Instead of shame and dishonor,
you will enjoy a DOUBLE SHARE OF HONOR.
You will possess a double portion of prosperity in your land,
and EVERLASTING JOY will be yours.

 

Genesis 50:20 NLT You intended to harm me, BUT GOD intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.

 Trauma did its damnedest to destroy our family.

But God…

Last year, a family friend that is a retired Army Command Sergeant Major attended a Mighty Oaks Warrior retreat for men who’ve experienced the trauma of war. The change in him at the end of that retreat was visible. He exuded joy and freedom that I had not seen in him before. The first time I saw him after the retreat I went to my room and tearfully wrote these words in my journal…

“God, please open the door for my husband to attend one of these retreats.

Warning: The next part of this post is painfully transparent, but I believe there are families suffering silently who need hope. So I’m going to be real.

In 1994, five months before he was to begin his military career, I married the man God made for me. I quickly learned that life as an Army wife was hard. He was gone for at least six months of each of the first six years of our marriage. But when he returned from training exercises or schools, he always returned the same man he had been before leaving. I could live with that.

And then, war. chadbaghdad

His first deployment was to Baghdad from 2003-2004. It was horrific for both of us. There were numerous phone calls that ended with the sounds of gunfire or explosions with no follow-up phone calls for days to let me know that he was alive. There were long, painful, silent conversations when he relayed to me stories of friends burning while trapped in vehicles exploded by IEDs, or while he searched for words to describe a young soldier killing himself in the middle of their makeshift office.

He came home a different man. The man I married was born a smartass. The man who returned from Iraq in 2004 was an angry, bitter cynic.

And then, he went back.

In 2009, while I was battling cancer, he returned to Baghdad. The second deployment brought with it a mixed bag of emotions. I was both relieved to not deal with the just-below-the-surface-rage on a daily basis, and felt abandoned. I wanted my husband back.

During that second deployment, God worked a few miracles. Alone and battling cancer, I was forced to deal with some of my own demons and with 6200 miles between us we managed (via Skype) to work through some of our marriage wounds. At the end of the deployment I was cancer-free and our marriage was secret-free. But something was still broken.

And then, December 5, 2011… a military contractor set out to destroy my husband’s career. The trauma of war was minuscule compared to the trauma of having his character and identity as a soldier attacked.

For three years, ten months, and ten days, we lived through hell on earth.

During that first year I hid my husband’s weapons and ammunition (in separate places) and knew that I’d been wise in doing so when he exploded over not being able to find them.

There were more ugly moments in our home than I could possibly recall. Words spoken, like, “We’d all be better off if I’d died in Iraq.” And replies like, “You did.” or “You’re right.” Moments where I begged him to leave or tried to figure out where I could go with all four kids. Our kids learned to stay out-of-the-way on the days when we weren’t speaking to one another and I made myself and our children crazy trying to control every aspect of things happening in our home with the hope that something I did would bring my husband peace and joy.

But God…

A couple months ago my husband forwarded an email to me letting me know that he was confirmed for a Mighty Oaks retreat. God had opened the door that I prayed for.

And because God likes to put exclamation points on things: You see that guy sitting just a few feet behind my hot hubby? Typic
That’s the contractor who set out to destroy my husband’s career. I took this at the Mighty Oaks graduation/fundraising gala. We have no clue what led him there. I watched all night to see if he interacted with anyone, unsuccessfully trying to figure out what his connection was to the gala. All I know is that out of the millions of people in the DC area, God put him in a crowd of a couple hundred people in a church in Manassas, VA, on a Friday night and led him to donate money to the organization that helped my husband get his life back. I just kept imagining God holding his belly and laughing so hard He could barely breathe.

You see… God is a big fan of justice. He not only restores what’s been taken from us, He occasionally gets those who’ve stolen from us to pay for the restoration.

This was my husband’s Facebook post yesterday. IMG_4912

I have my husband back. Actually, I have a better version of my husband than I ever dreamed of. Jesus saved his soul. Mighty Oaks saved his life.

Social media is flooded right now with the hashtag #kill22. People are challenged to do twenty-two pushups for twenty-two days and share videos of their pushups on social media to bring awareness to the average twenty-two veterans a day that commit suicide. While it’s a nice gesture for awareness, I’m not a fan of “awareness” trends. I think G.I. Joe got it wrong. Knowing is NOT half the battle. Knowledge without action = Nothing. Pushups aren’t saving veterans’ lives, but Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs is.

To date, nine hundred and nine veterans have graduated from the program. Not one of them has taken their own life. However, four men have taken their lives while waiting for a spot in one of the programs. There are currently three hundred veterans on the waitlist to attend a program. It costs $1000 to put a veteran through the program. My hope is that this post will be shared and raise enough support to eliminate the waitlist. click HERE to donate

Our veterans secure our freedom, please help secure theirs.

 

a season of grace

Growing up in south Louisiana is a privilege.  I’ve been around the world and I’ve experienced no culture, food, or people, quite like those of my home.  In south Louisiana Mardi Gras is a season.  Much like Black Friday and tree sales initiating the Christmas season, I grew up with king cakes, parades, and Mardi Gras balls initiating the Lenten season.

As a little girl I wanted so badly to be Catholic.  I was just about the only kid in elementary school who didn’t ‘get to’ go to catechism.  We were (still are) non-denominational Christians and listening to the other kids plan out and talk about their catechism carpools and the mean nuns left me feeling like a red-headed step-child  (no offense to my ginger friends).  I wanted my own rosary and I wanted to see my friends get hit on the back of their hands with a ruler by a nun when they talked during prayer.  king-cake

I eventually got over the desire to be Catholic and decided to just embrace the parts of Catholicism that I found enjoyable and comforting.  Even so, not living in Louisiana for more than twenty years means that I’ve missed out on being immersed in the season.  For many years I whined about missing the parades and having to make my own kingcakes.  And then, a few years ago, I realized that I was not only missing all the fun aspects of the Mardi Gras season. I was missing the reverent aspects of the Lenten season as well.  Although I had been one of the few non-Catholic kids in school, just living in Baton Rouge meant that I didn’t have meat in the cafeteria on Fridays and that I didn’t have school at all the week of Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday.  And, even though my Mom would explain to me every year from the time I was six that I “didn’t have to”, I still gave up something every year for Lent.  I had to have something to add to the playground conversations and to be honest, I liked the discipline of the giving up.  I still do. I fast from various things at various times throughout the year and I am always blown away at the really BIG WAYS that God shows up when I’m giving something up and replacing that something with Him.

A few years ago, during the Lenten season, something amazing happened.  While I was in Lake Charles, Louisiana caring for my grandmother, my dear hubby was home in Virginia studying all things Ressurectionish.  I returned home to find a mezuzah attached to the frame of our front door and a book laying on the kitchen counter telling how to prepare the Passover Seder.  My former Catholic, very Italian husband, got in touch with his Jewish roots.  He found a desire to honor the beauty of Christ’ life, death, and resurrection in physical, tangible ways.

As dear hubby and I gave homage to all things Christ-centered, we talked to our children about the Lenten season and the crucifixion and the resurrection.  We reminded them over and over that all of it was for grace.  That Christ did not just come to earth and live as a man and die FOR us, but AS us.  We told them that he felt pain and misery and abuse so that we could let go of those things when they happen to us.  We told them that he was tortured and beaten for every wrong thing that any of us would ever do.  We told them that he conquered death so that all of those wrongs would not have the power to dictate how we live our lives.  We told them that he died for our freedom.  He died for our redemption.  He died because he loves us.  He died for grace.

Romans 8:38-39 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We’ve told our children these things throughout their lives, but grace and love and freedom are so much bigger than what can be told. They must be shown.

Yes, my children know what this season is about. But the same year that my husband found his Jewish roots, I found myself burdened. I want my kids to experience Christ, not just know about him. I desire more than anything for grace and freedom to be part of their identities, not just part of their knowledge base.  I knew all about Jesus when I was a teenager, but I was clueless when it came to grace and freedom and unconditional love.  Unfortunately, my lack of understanding led me to believe that choices I made could never be forgiven. My lack of experience with the realness of Christ’ sacrifice led to years of running and self-destruction.

I want more for my children. God, let them know!  Let them know how BIG your love is.  Let them know how BIG your grace is. Let them walk in freedom every day of their lives. Give them total understanding that NOTHING can separate them from your love. Give me wisdom in showing them these things. Amen.

John 15:13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

When I was giving up something for Lent as a child I appreciate that my Mom made it clear that I had free will and that I did not have to.  But I really wish she had taken the time to teach me what Lent was about.  I wish I had known that the “giving up” was in honor of what Christ gave up for us.  I really wish that I had had some tangible symbolic activity that I could connect to scripture as a reminder that freedom and love and grace are mine for the taking.  But I didn’t.  And now… I have a chance to redeem my story.  I have four (not-so) little people in my care that I CAN provide with a tangible symbolic activity that can be tied to scripture.  In my endeavor to find that activity, I came across this blogpost by Ann Voskamp.  Read it.  Be inspired.  repentence box

On New Year’s Eve 2012, we had a little party at our house.  Instead of having people sit around and discuss or write down their hopes, dreams, aspirations, and resolutions for 2013, I gave everyone a couple of index cards and a pen at 11:30pm.  I asked everyone to go find a quiet spot and write down ALL of the things that they would like to leave behind in 2012.  And then… just before midnight, we put our cards, one-by one, in the fireplace and watched them burn.

For the last few years, as an attempt to SHOW what Holy Week is all about, I build a repentance box. Our family (and friends who stop by during the week) write out our bad choices, our pains, every ounce of unforgiveness. All the junk Christ carried to the grave, we place it in the box and let it go.  And just before midnight, on the Saturday before Resurrection Sunday, we will turn it all to ash.

Happy Season of Grace!

Go build your box. 😀