The House That Love Built

The House That Love Built

Some things happen in our lives.  Some things happen around us.  Some things happen to us.  Some seem incidental.  Some are sombering.  Some are life-changing moments.  But in each instance, one reflects on its inherent meaning.  Well…..at least sometimes we do.

It was a year ago, on April 29, 2017 when me and my two grandsons visited with my mother in our family’s home.  I was scheduled to rehearse for an upcoming music festival I was performing in and I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to spend precious moments with two extensions of my life who lovingly calls me “Granny.”

There had been a lot of storms in the days leading up to that weekend.  Straight-line winds with torrential rains causing floods damage to towns across the region.  But for the most part, we seemed to weather the storms fairly well.

The day started slow and peaceful. Just the way I love to start a Saturday morning.  The Spring air was cool, clean and crisp.  I love the country life.  The day ended well after all the “chores” were accomplished for the day.  There’s nothing like snuggling on the sofa wrapped in comfort by little arms who lovingly, yet silently say, “I love You.  You’re my hero.”  Those are the precious moments that speak unconditional love in a way no words can adequately express.  Life that is a part of you that extends beyond you.  What a great expression of true love.

Finally, we settled for the night.  As had become custom, my grandsons wouldn’t settle in a room by themselves, so they ended up crawling into bed with me.  The storms seemed to be slowing.  It was only soft rain when we went to bed that night.  Then it happened.  It was about 11:20 p.m.  I was awakened by a loud noise that sounded more like a explosion and a sucking sound while the picture window mom had built in place of what used to be glass windows was catapulted on top of me and my grandsons at about the same time the ceiling tiles and frames fell on top of us.

Instantly, I felt rain falling on us and could see lightening against the black sky with rumbles of thunder.  My first thought was, “Oh my God.  We’ve been hit by a tornado.”  I called out for my grandsons but they did not answer.  My second thought was, “Oh my God.  The tornado has sucked them out of the house.  I was finally able to free my arms from the debris to reach over to their side of the bed.  I could feel them, but they wouldn’t move and they wouldn’t speak.  They were in shock.  I grabbed hold of their arms and dragged them to my side of the bed and we were able to crawl out from underneath the wall and ceiling that had fallen on top of us.

I went to my mother’s room and yelled, “Call 911.  The house has been hit by a tornado.”  Something was significantly strange in this moment, as she was already fully dressed and sitting up in her bed.  Months later, she finally remembered that she had not yet gone to bed that night.  She was getting ready to do so when I came into the room.

We were able to find our shoes and get the boys dressed so we could leave the house.  While we were waiting for the emergency responders, I collapsed to my knees.  I couldn’t think of anything in that moment.  My mind went blank.  I remember not being able to feel anything. I couldn’t breathe.  I suddenly thought about our neighbor, a woman who lived in a single-wide trailer next door.  She was now living by herself after her husband passed away a few years earlier.  My anxiety intensified as my thoughts for her safety consumed me.  It was about that time the emergency responders came.  They went next door to check on our neighbor.  She was fine.  I asked the one of the emergency responders if they knew if the tornado had done much damage.  He looked at me and said, “It wasn’t a tornado.”  Later, he admitted he knew it wasn’t a tornado when they got the call.  There had not been any tornadoes in the area that night.

I went outside to my mother’s carport and saw this man standing at the end of her driveway.  At that moment, I still didn’t fully comprehend what I was looking at.  He was standing next to the massive 100-year-old oak tree that stood majestically in my mother’s front yard.  Except that it was no longer standing—it was the roots of this majestic tree he was standing next to.  It was surreal.  It was pitch black outside and we were rapidly being ushered out of the house so they could turn the power off so a fire couldn’t possibly ignite.

Daylight the next day revealed the cruel reality of what we had experienced just hours before.  There had been so much rain that softened the ground in the recent weeks.  Nature is a beast all its own.  It looked as if the wind picked up this tree and laid it over on top of the house.  It cut a line across the house and through the entire attic directly over the room me and my grandsons had been sleeping in.  My mother had built a concrete retaining wall about the tree to double as a bench and also hold flowers around the base of the tree.  All of which was destroyed in a matter of minutes.

Shock does a lot of things to a person.  For me, it wasn’t until I walked back through the house that I heard the crash and rumble of the tree and could remember feeling the jolt of it shaking the house on its foundation—in fact, it was such a jolt, the beams supporting the deck out my mother’s bedroom had folded underneath the deck.  The cinderblocks that enclosed the crawl space under the house had cracks in it.  The trusses in the roof were crushed and splintered over ¾ of the house.  The sounds haunted me for months.  I can still remember it as if it were yesterday.

The real miracle was realized when we saw how the retaining wall around the base of the tree had not been completely crumbled.  It was in fact holding the tree up, keeping the tree about three feet off the ground.  I experienced in that second the realization that me, my grandsons and my mother were alive because this wall crumbled at just the right place, just the right angle and degree, and stopped crumbling at just the right time to keep this massive tree from falling completely onto the ground and cutting the house completely in half. The force of the picture window mom had built in place of the windows blasting on top of us was actually our salvation, rather than hundreds of glass shards that would could not have resisted piercing into us after exploding from their frames.  Surreal cannot explain it.  Stunned.  Speechless.  Mind blowing silence.

The next days and weeks felt like walking through a time warp.  So many decisions.  So much work ahead.  So much cost.  We discovered the end of the house closest to the carport was still in good shape.  I wanted so much to keep that part of the house.  It was just too much to lose everything so suddenly.  I urged my mother to consider it.  It was too much for her to process.  The decision was made not to keep any of it.

This was our family’s home for 41 years at that time.  So many memories.  Every time I walked through that house I was flooded with memories.  This was a house that my family built.  We did not pay a contractor to come in and build this house that we simply moved our boxes and bodies into.  This was a house my parents paid someone to put into the dry.  We…..our family…..a dad, a mom, a brother, a sister and me finished it—completely, meaning insulation, sheetrock, paint, wallpaper, linoleum, ceiling tiles, every nail driven, every door hung, every piece of trim, everything.  It took years for us to finish our home because my parents paid for it as we went along.  This was the home that love and thousands of hours of sweat equity built.  I can still see my dad standing on a stepladder in the middle of the living room stapling up the squares of ceiling tile with his manual high-powered stapler.  How do you process losing the home where 41 years of memories are stored in every wall, every corner and in every step taken through each room when it wasn’t your choice to walk away from it?  I still can’t answer that question.  It is most assuredly the process of letting go.  Indeed—it is a process.

Now, one year later, my mother has finally gotten to the place she can walk through the process of taking the house down.  We had decided to ask the fire department to burn it for a fee.  This would have been the least expensive way to do it.  We tried to salvage everything that could be salvaged.  In the process of this, my mother was introduced to a family who could see the value in keeping the kitchen and dining room—the rooms at the end of the house I so desperately wanted to keep.  To my relief, they convinced my mother to keep it.  They will help my mother dispose of the rest of the house efficiently so as to maintain the integrity of the end of the house that was spared utter destruction.  Everything else was too far gone to even attempt to salvage.  But the heart of the house—that part of the house that held the heart and soul of family meals and gatherings and all the great memories that go with it will be spared.  I am grateful beyond my ability to express.

Life is precious.  Life is a journey.  When we hold on too tightly to that which is destined to change, we will eventually face the inability to journey through the change.  Life.  Love.  Good memories.  This is what is worth holding on to forever.

Every day is a new beginning.  Another opportunity.  Another chance to do something good—to make a good difference.  Some say they do not believe in God.  Some say they’re not sure if he exists.  Some are indifferent.  As for me…..I know I would have never gotten through what I’ve faced in my life without God.  My hope is in Him in Every New Beginning.

Update:  5/19/2018

As with any good story, there is always a happy ending.  At least there should be.  Such is the case with this one.  It turns out the family whom God sent to my mother was able to save exactly half of the house.  Not only the kitchen and dining room will be spared, but also the living room and a small bedroom and bath on the back of the house.  Hopefully, my mother will be able to move back into her home of 41 years in a few short months.  My excitement has been catapulted to that of sheer jubilation.  God.  Is. So. Good.  And worthy of ALL praise.

Now, I have a new dream for a new beginning.  I have a new hope tucked away deep in my heart—that is to rebuild the rest of the house that was destroyed by that storm.   Until then……..

You Alone Are Worthy–The Story Behind The Song

(Originally Posted 3-11-2018)

It was nine years ago at the time of this writing that I experienced things that for a long time was unable to talk about, much less did I feel I could adequately put them into words to describe what God showed me—what God was preparing me for.  But out of that experience came one of the greatest revelations and deliverance of strongholds that had competed within me seeking to keep me from realizing God greatest blessings and His destiny for my life.  As scripture says, in 2 Corinthians 10:3-4 (NIV), “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.”  And even as much as I had sought God and allowed him to work in my soul and life, there was still some work that needed to be done.  This work is, in fact, an ongoing work as long as we are on this earth.  From this experience, came this song which I sing to God every day—“You alone are worthy to be praised!”  So…here goes.

It was the beginning of the year of 2009.  As it is common with each new year, I seek the Lord for scripture and his plan for the upcoming season of my life.  In this year, he reminded me of a time I came into the New Year of 2002 with “Delight yourself with the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” and reminded me of what he called me to do.  The Lord then spoke to me and said, “It’s time. Get ready.”  The Lord led me to begin to fast and pray during a season he was preparing me for the beginning of a new phase of my life and ministry.  I counseled with my pastor’s wife and told her what God was speaking to me.  It was in this season God gave me a new, fresh anointing that came upon me that I had never walked in before.  God’s words were pouring out of me like a river—like the time I experienced being on the mountaintop with God, talking face to face with him and walking side by side with him for what seemed like lasted for months several years ago.  It was supernatural.  It was incredible.  It was life changing.  It was glorious and so vividly real.

I learned many things during this season.  One of which is of utmost importance.  Seek a prayer covering when you are fasting. You absolutely need a person(s) to keep you covered in the protective covering of prayer while you are emptying yourself and interceding on the behalf of others and/or yourself. You need this covering to stave off the unforeseen (but should be expected) attacks and devises of the enemy to thwart off the work of the Father and extinguish the fiery missiles that will be aimed at you in a mission to render you unable to see, hear and discern clearly what the Lord will show you during this season of fasting and prayer.  We war against the power and principalities of the unseen world. We succeed in pulling down these strongholds through the word of God and as Matthew 17:21 says, some of these only come by prayer and fasting (KJV).

It became an intense season.  I was drawn deeply into the spirit realm. At one point, I was awakened by a demonic presence that was swirling about me. I jumped out of bed and began quoting 2 Peter 2:1-22, realizing it God was showing me how Satan had sent forth many false prophets and in this passage of scripture, God painstakingly describes their characteristics and for us to be aware and discern their destructive nature. It was pointed out to me in verse 19 that these false prophets “promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.”  I prayed for what seemed like half the night against the powers and principalities who have send these agents of lies, confusion and deception assigned to keep people from coming to know the true love and grace of God.

I found myself praying for several different people during this time. One of which was a young woman who was hurting and convinced God was not real, did not care, so why should she.  I saw this woman in the spirit and I saw three demons rise up from within her—one came up from her right side, one from her left side and one from the middle. They had names, which I will not mention in this writing, but they were sent to literally suck the life and hope out of her.  I did not know her personally. All I could do was pray. But this I did. I prayed.

Have you ever felt like something was making fun of you? Laughing at you? Have you ever felt as if you were being taunted mentally or emotionally?  It was revealed to me the source from which it comes.  You got it!  They are little imps—little evil spirits that literally cause you to feel as if you are the biggest loser, low life or jerk that exists on the planet. They are the ones who are responsible for making you feel as if you are the laughing stock of your peers for having an as sundry of shortcomings—you name it, they are responsible for its presence in your mind and emotions.  The only way to overcome it is to combat the lies with positive truths. And you need to speak them out loud so your mind can engage in their existence and so it will get into your heart so you know your worth and that you are valued and worthy of good things and worthy of love.

At one point, I was taken deep into the spirit of darkness.  I felt as if I was being pulled down and down.  There was no light. The darkness was so dark, it was suffocating.  I could smell a stench so disgusting it made my stomach turn and took my breath, although I continued to breathe.  I could hear screams and shrieks so shrill it pierced your ears with striking pain and it made the hair on your head hurt at the roots.  There was no bottom.  There were no walls or anything to assimilate with familiarity. There was only torment and endless pain. I could hear a what I perceived as rushing presence, rushing to overtake me.

I suddenly woke up and was terrified.  I didn’t know what was coming against me. I couldn’t see anything. I could only feel the presence of evil. Even awake, I felt as if it was still coming after me. In a split second I cried out, “What is it? Jesus!” In that instant, I literally saw the shadow of Jesus rise up from my side and surround me and instantly, the fear was gone and I felt peace and comfort as I rested in the shadow of his presence.  Psalm 91:1, 2 says, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”  I knew in that moment, my safety, protection and well being was provided through being covered in the presence of the Almighty.  I was safe in the arms of Jesus.  It was an incredibly real, visible display of the darkness as described in Matthew 25:30 and Matthew 22:13 “Then the king said to the servants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Separation from God renders you into utter darkness.  There are many scriptures that speak about darkness. Many believe there is no hell, and the hell that Bible speaks of is the earth we live in today.  I would have to disagree.  I’ve seen it.  I’ve heard the cries of torment of those who have refused to accept that Jesus gave his life as the atoning sacrifice for their sin.  It’s so simple.  As 1 John 1:5 says, “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” Well then. If God is light and there is no darkness, doesn’t it stand to reason that if we experience darkness, it is not from God—since God is light and in Him there is no darkness?  I believe so. Of course, there are perhaps at least a million different definitions of what darkness is.  My purpose in this writing, however, is to describe those things God showed me during this time.

It was during this time I realized God was not holding me back and keeping me from realizing His promises in my life because of the mistakes I made. It was indeed strongholds of doubt, fear, misunderstanding his word, and (as he most recently showed me again) Matthew 23, which I have referred to as a “Pharisee spirit.”  I challenge you to read it.  We’ve all been subjected to this in some form or fashion.  The Lord has been very diligent in teaching me through this that “sword of truth” cuts both ways. Be sure your house is in check before you start trying to get someone else’s house in order. There are a plethora of little evil spirits and demons at work in this arena. I’ve seen them.  I’ve heard them.  You have too.  Satan puts thoughts in our minds to either play against the truth or cast a shadow of doubt on the sender of God’s truth. Unfortunately, much of the time, we fail to recognize that sometimes subtle yet intrusive voice and wake up one day wondering why the very thing we did not want to happen has happened.  Good grief.  As Jesus said in Luke 9:41 “O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you?”  One can say they do not believe there are actual demons and evil spirits at work against us, but then again, perhaps those are the same that says there is no God and no Satan.  This would be a great deception given by a great false prophet.  One of which we all should be aware and on the lookout for.

I would also caution you to remember, we all filter through a different lens. I’ve learned when God’s word is being given, there are many things at play against an effective delivery and an effective reception. We MUST be aware of all these things.  Just as God show no favoritism, neither does Satan.

Hell is real.  On the flip side.  Heaven is real.  I’ve seen shown this too.  I’ve seen the river of life that flows through heaven.  I’ve seen tall, lush green meadows and colors that breathe life that so vivid and bright it exudes peace and joy. I’ve seen Jesus standing in the presence of the 24 thrones in heaven as described in the book of Revelation. I’ve heard children laughing and singing. I’ve seen some in my family who have gone before me.  You might think this is hard to believe—in fact, rather unbelievable.  Sounds like something out of a movie or a good book. Right?  Believe me when I say, I don’t know why God chose to show me these things, but I can honestly say seeing my children in heaven who have gone before me breathed life into me and allowed me to forgive myself for what I did.  Heaven is perfect.  Heaven is perfect peace. And in that perfection, we are all made completely whole.

It has been said to me many times, “I’m not religious.” That’s great!  Neither am I!  And neither is God!  He is in fact about love, grace, forgiveness and relationship. It is in his presence we live in his grace. This grace comes only through Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the light and the life that develops us—if we choose to believe.

We are in the end times.  Jesus is coming back soon.  My message is simple.  Hell is real.  Heaven is real. God is love.  So much he sent his only son, Jesus, to give his life as an atoning sacrifice for our sins and when we accept that, we can know and be assured we will spend all eternity with him in heaven.  If a person chooses not to accept Jesus’ sacrifice for their life, then they instead choose to live an eternity separated from God in utter darkness.

The Lord revealed to me during that season of the time when I was saved at nine years old. I knew at that time God would use me in music. I started playing piano when I was nine years old.  I started playing Beethoven a few months after I started playing. I learned to play Fur Elise and Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.  My teacher called me “the next Liberace.” I wasn’t so moved with what she said, I simply loved playing the piano. Making music took me to a place no one else could invade. It was my secret place of peace, contentment and fulfillment.  I continued to study as time and my parent’s ability to pay for lessons allowed. By the time I was in college, I had developed my own style.  Without going into the many times my hands and desire to play were attacked, and I can assure you they were many, it is by God’s grace, I still play and I still love to play. I can’t say I continued to study like I did in the beginning and for a time after that, but I am thankful I never stopped playing. I’ll never really know where piano might have taken me had I not stopped studying, but I can say those strongholds that once threatened to take the fulfillment of playing my beloved instrument are gone. They were overcome during this season.

There are many reasons we struggle while we are on this earth.  Jesus came so we would have life and have it abundantly.  As long as we are living on this earth, there will always be that force that tries to take away the gifts and promises God made to you. When we realize the war we are up against and learn to use the weapons of effective warfare, we will then realize God’s power working on our behalf and will be able to shut down the attacks of Satan that comes against us.  It was during this season of my life God took me through the refiner’s fire and delivered me from mental and emotional bondage that had perpetuated me smoking cigarettes for years and empowered me to take control over my health.  It was also after this season, I made my Abrahamic journey into a foreign land far away from family and the life I had known, into the new life God prepared for me.  A journey I am still fully engaged in.

I learned many things through that season in 2009. Some things come only through fasting and prayer.  From this experience, I’ve learned to make fasting and prayer a continued part of my life.

God tells us that when we say the Name of Jesus, demons have to flee.  It is in our praise that God is exalted and lifted high. It is through our praise we receive miracles. It is through our praise that the enemy in our life is defeated.  It is through God’s gift to us we are saved and delivered from the works of evil. His name is Jesus. And it is through that season in 2009 God gave me this song.

Jesus…You alone are worthy of our praise.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day–The Heart Of The Matter

(Originally Posted February 14, 2018)

February 14 is a day set aside each year to show that “special someone” how much we care about or even love them.  So often we take for granted the ones who hold that place in our hearts or lives, so on this one day of the year, for those who many have forgotten to say it or show it on a regular basis, this is the day of reprieve and restoration of good standing in good graces…God willing.

This tradition has come a long way from its grave beginnings, of which I will not disgust this post with its grim, bloody beginnings for which both men and women eagerly participated in with the hopes of being fertile in the match-making love kinda way.  I’ll let you discover the believed source on your own.  Oh, my.  Let’s just say, today, in the western world at least, it would be grounds for execution or at best prison.  We’ve come along way, baby! And for that, millions are grateful!

Some believe, this special occasion evolved from the martyrdom of two men named Valentine who were slain at the hands of the Romans on February 14 and then their martyrdom honored by the Catholic church. Of course, after Shakespeare and Chancer romanticized it in their work, it became more widely accepted and has evolved into what we know and observe today as the official Valentine’s Day.

Hearts flutter, anticipation creates a buzzing that makes you gleam with excitement of what awaits the one claimed as “the love of your life.”  Children learn very quickly this is the one acceptable day of the year, for which they are encouraged, to let their tender hearts reach out to that “special someone” without fear of rejection.  For others, like my daughter, the love of her life presented her with chocolate covered strawberries and roses—not a bouquet of roses mind you—in the most delicate and colorful wrappings, she received a rose bush that will soon be planted to remind them year after year of the love they share.  It’s the gift that keeps on giving in the richest sense of the word…Love.  Love that is true in hearts that are true.  No.  There’s nothing like it on this earth.

Around this time of year a few years ago, the Lord gave me a vision. It was that of a human heart.  I don’t mean a picture of a heart or symbol, but an actual heart that was beating.  I could see and hear the heart beating, and I could feel the heart beating. I could see the blood vessels surrounding the heart through which the life giving source is pumped and distributed throughout our bodies.  I pondered for quite a while on this. It was intriguing to say the least.

I was led to 1 Kings chapter 8, Solomon’s prayer of dedication of the temple.  What leaped out at me was in verse 52, 53 Solomon is reminding God that the nation of Israel was set apart from every other nation as his own inheritance, and that they are God’s special possession.

We are grafted into the vine of God’s special possession through the promise given to through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  We too are God’s special possession.  Solomon’s prayer goes on to give praise to God who gives his people rest, stating that not one word has failed of all the good promises God gave us.  Think about that. We are God’s special possession.  Not that we are a possession to be owned or controlled by God. Indeed, God gives us freedom to choose whether or not we want to be loved by him, provided for by him, guided by him and protected by him.  But when we do, God gives us everything he offers to us for our protection, guidance and prosperity on this earth with his promise that he will forever walk with us each and every day.

Yes.  What God wants is a relationship with us.  A relationship is a two-way street.  Just as you must spend time with your significant other, the love of your life, to develop your relationship so you can learn each other and grow with each other, the same is true of a relationship with God. We must spend time with him in his word and through prayer so we can get to know him better.  What we fail to understand and all too often fail to accept is just how much God loves us….and no…He isn’t sitting on his throne shaking his scepter and waiting for the opportunity to put a pump knot on your head when you make a mistake.  What we sometimes take for granted is the great extent God went to for us to be in a close relationship with him.  That price was paid for by the life Jesus willingly gave on the Cross of Calvary for us.  Because of his great love for us.  Greater love has no man that he who lays down his life for someone else.  Jesus did just that for us.

Just like it is sometimes hard for us to believe that someone could care for us so much that we would be set apart and honored by that someone special on the day of the Valentine, or any other day for that matter, it can be difficult to understand how God can see us as we really are and still love us and want to talk with us and walk with us on a daily basis…But…He does.

I must admit it took me a while to accept his love for me, after all I have done. But when I did, my life was transformed.  I remember a Valentine’s Day many, many years ago. I was in my church’s women’s group and they were playing a game using the candy hearts with words on them.  You know, the ones that say things like “Love Bug,” “Be Mine,” “Kiss Me,” ”Be True,” “Love Me,” etc.  We were instructed to take five candies and spell a sentiment that would describe your relationship with “your true love.” With deep sentiment, a laugh and a smile on their face, each woman described their “true loves” as told by their five candies.  Interestingly, (and I’m not exaggerating), each woman thought well of the efforts of the candies to describe their loves, until it came to mine. In fact, through laughter and in good humor, they said they just didn’t get it.  Actually, I understood.  I can’t remember exactly what mine said by now, but it made perfect sense to me. I wasn’t describing a man.  I was describing, to the best of the candies’ ability, my relationship with Jesus, because he is “my one and only.”

Interestingly, how many of us think of our relationship with Jesus in this way? Do we put him first? Do we keep him first? Do we choose to keep him first even after we have been blessed with a person we can call “Our one true love?”  Yes, I know. Perhaps my sentiment didn’t sound so romantic. I get it. But when it comes right down to it, God looks at our heart. He can see past what we so often get blind-sided by—the outward appearance and what our mouths can say but what our hearts can’t back up. Our good intentions that sift through the hands of time like sand in an hourglass.  God knows what no one else can know about us. He knows every beat of our heart.

I was asked recently, “Do you think you’ll ever get married again?”  My answer, “Perhaps. One day.”  But rest assured, I know it is Jesus who captured my heart and in whose care I will always stay.  The ministry of His love is what I proclaim on this great Valentine’s Day and every day.

So, whether you are single, married or in a relationship with whoever you decide to call “the love of your life,” “your special someone” or “My Sweet Valentine,” as you share the tender moments this day can bring, may the source of your love be settled with the One who is love…..The Lord God Almighty who will never leave you, “til the end of the age” (and that’s forever).  Listen to His still small voice as He gently calls you today to come back to the heart of worship. Remember the time when you first loved him and you knew he loved you and let him love you back into wholeness again. Let his love bring warmth in your heart on this Valentine’s Day.

Love always remains as you go on your way.

Love always, I give to you as I look into your face.

Love always, I give you with a warm embrace.

Love Always.

Living Proof

(Originally Posted 1-23-2018)

The date was March 30, 1986. Living Proof is what we called ourselves and we worked to live up to that name. We were eagerly awaiting service to start as we watched the sanctuary fill to capacity. Me, my brother, sister, three friends, and even my mother had worked six months preparing our church’s Easter program. When I say prepare, I mean we wrote and co-wrote most of the songs, as well as secured sound equipment, stage lighting and built a lighted cross to complete the stage effects. Our pastor narrated Easter story intertwined with the songs we sang. We practiced night after night for six months until we knew each entrance, beat and could sing the songs in our sleep. It was exhausting. At the same time, we were walking with so much excitement and expectation of what God would do. Indeed, one person did give their lives to Christ. There is no feeling like knowing your efforts helped bring a lost soul into a life-changing, soul-saving relationship with Jesus Christ—like walking in the clouds.

“Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do no think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh,” Romans 13:14.

Saying we are a Christian is one thing. Living like we are what we say we are is another. I realize there are as many different interpretations of what a Christian is supposed to be like, but God is fairly clear on how he expects us to behave.

One of the best examples I’ve seen of being Christ-like was shown to me in the middle of the night a few years ago about a person I was praying for. In a vision, I saw Jesus standing with his back to me. Then, I saw him slowly turn to his right so I could see his profile from his right side. Then, I saw a man walk out of the body of Jesus. This man was wearing the same clothing that Jesus was wearing—he appeared in Christ’s likeness.

This spoke volumes to me. When we become a Christian, we go through a process called sanctification. This is a process by which we become more like Christ through the cleansing and renewing of our minds through the study of God’s word, prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit working in us to change us.

God was showing me that when we allow God to work in us to bring about healing and restoration and holy change in our lives, we will become more and more like Christ. This, then, becomes living proof we are the Christians we claim to be.  As the old saying goes, “the proof is in the pudding.”

May our testimony be, “He must become greater; I must become less,” John 3:30.  Grace. Humble. Peace. Amen.

God Knows Your Heart

(Originally Posted 1-22-2018)

Surely we will not allow ourselves to become so hard-hearted that we cannot hear the voice of God??  Surely not.  Yet, this is exactly what God says we become when we allow ourselves to see through the lense of worldly or even religious expectations, or when we raise up standards and expectations through the lense of our own experiences. Not withstanding wisdom learned through life’s experiences, when we settle our mind into the grooves of our own thinking, we are thinking with our own mind and not necessarily the Mind of Christ. “For, who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?”

I have a special place in my heart for ministers.  I always have since I was very young. It was something God supernaturally put in me from as far back as I can remember. They are those we look to for guidance, wisdom and truth, certainly in our darkest moments we seek comfort through their presence and heartfelt words.  They are also some of the most viciously attacked people in the world. True enough, some may be way off the beaten path of truth. But many, however, are deep in the trenches of praying for God to save me and you. These are people who go through attacks and struggles, most of which no one ever hears about. Why? Because, as a representative of God on this earth, through their prayers and ministries, they are tearing down the kingdom of darkness that has set itself against you and me and this world we live in. It is easy for us to point the finger of expectation with the Word so tried and true. It is not always easy to receive it. I’ve experienced some of the most misguided attempts to set me straight from something I was never bound by. Go Figure. Yes, indeed. We need to figure this thing out so we can build up the walls of a mighty fortress to further the Kingdom of God on this earth.

Many years ago, right after my son was first born, the church where I was serving found themselves without a praise and worship leader. Since they knew I played the piano and sang, it was strongly suggested I seek the Lord about serving in this capacity, they surmised I was at that church “For such a time as this.” I was not seeking a position in this church, mind you. In fact, I had never served in this position before and I was more than feeling inadequate to lead anyone. I felt as if I was still recovering from all I had been through in the events leading up to the birth of my son. Look at God go with his “suddenlies.” I am a fairly reserved person, until you get to know me. I don’t try to be. It’s just the way God made me. At this point, I was more reserved. I didn’t really know anyone very well. Taking this new position would mean I had to allow God to pull more from me than I had experienced before and this was fairly difficult for me. But I knew God was standing right next to me. I might point out that when we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness. Therefore, just as soon as we repent, I mean truly repent, God resets everything surrounding us and says, “Pick up your mat and walk. We have work to do.” Amen.

One morning after service, a gentleman came up to me and said, “Sister Katrina, I’m going to pray for you about your pride.” I was confounded and dismayed. My response to this gentleman was, “Good. And I’ll pray for you,” to which he agreed as he left.

My thoughts immediately went to God, “Lord. This can’t be. Of all the things you taught me about pride when facing my sin of stepping away from the straight and narrow path you set for me, surely this is not the case. Surely, you have taught me to confess my sins before you and make sure my heart is humble and true before you, especially before I ever step up on the platform to worship you. Search my heart. Show me what’s going on here.”

Of course, during this week, the Lord showed me many things. Predominantly, we are in a battle waged against our souls, against our church and against furthering the kingdom of heaven on this earth—in and through each one of us. None of us are immune to the attacks of the enemy. None of us are immune to those fiery missiles being launched against our flesh, our desires, our expectations, and our own shortcomings, setbacks and perhaps even our own unfilled hopes and dreams. Be assured, we can quickly become short-sighted about someone due to the measurement of expectations based on others’ behaviors that we quickly surmise, “Watch out! See, it’s the same thing as before. Tear down what the devil is trying to do here and get them out of here!” Sometimes this is true, mind you, but many times this is based on false evidence that appears real. I don’t think we realize what we can launch against a person, even with our best intentions. Be wise as serpents but innocent as doves.

As I was speaking with another minister regarding this, the Lord spoke to me. In 1 Samuel 26:9-11, when Saul was seeking to kill David, at one point, David got the upper hand. His sidekick in battle wanted to put Saul to death but David said, “Don’t destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless? As surely as the Lord lives,” he said, “The Lord himself will strike him, or his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. But the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed.”

This is the message of this blog. God knows our hearts. God knows what’s going on. Nobody is doing anything that can remotely take God by surprise. We are commanded to pray, without ceasing. We pray protection of our ministers. Without it, we are leaving them to be like sitting ducks. We need to pray for each other before we pass judgment (in this case, judgment means a preconceived mindset of who we think a person is). We are all in this together.

Now, have I ever been guilty of doing such myself? To my regret, unfortunately yes. Too, too many times, and I didn’t even realize what I was doing. In our best attempts to “do what’s right,” we can all too easily diminish the work of God and even tell him “No” to what may be his greatest gift to us or his greatest breakthrough in our lives.

There is a time to call out and tear down, but if we try to do it in our own power, strength and perhaps limited understanding, in the end, we only hurt ourselves. There is a time to separate and clean out our camps, but I suggest we clean out our closets first, lest we too be caught in temptation—to sin that is.

As for me and this gentleman at this church? The next week, we met up after services. He said, “Sister Katrina. I owe you an apology. God told me, “You don’t have a spirit of pride. God gave you a spirit of excellence.” My heart was humbled beyond my ability to describe. From that day forward, we became friends who could share experiences, learn from each other and count on to pray for one another. And that we did indeed.

Those who are given much, much is required. This is true. This, however, is a two-edged sword. It is always easier to see a bigger picture when you are on the outside looking in—or so it would seem. God knows our heart. It is always in our best interest to keep our hearts before the Lord, lest we chance having a heart that turns to stone. Love God. Love People. Love your Neighbor as Yourself.

Where Freedom Is Given

(Originally Posted 1-16-2018)

Let freedom ring.  We live in a free country, right?  It’s our body so we have the right to choose. The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.  Whom the sun sets free is free indeed. I have the right to live in peace.  I have the right to protect myself.  One of my personal favorites is, “I have the right to come into my own home and find peace in the midst of chaos, strife and unrest in the world around us.”  These statements and more I grew up hearing.  I’m reminded of the song, “This land is my land, this land is your land, from California to the New York Island, From the Redwood Forrest, to the gulf stream waters, this land was made for you and me.”  This land was made for you and me.

So many people.  So many opinions.  So many beliefs. So many backgrounds.  So many interpretations.  With justice and liberty for all. Yes, indeed.  I remember a time not too long ago when my son became very interested in the world around him.  He would listen to every news feed he could get his hands on.  Unfortunately, he was basing his opinion on other’s beliefs without weighing these beliefs on any standard measurement of truth.  This, I believe, is why we have so many different thinkologies today. At one point, my son’s view of this great nation we live in became so tainted, he wanted us to move to another country.   (Yes, even with all the problems we may have, I still believe we live in the greatest nation in the world today.) He has since grown past this.  It took him being willing to listen to all sides and weighing against the common thread of what is right versus wrong in God’s eyes. But I must say, I am so very proud of him for taking the time to see past himself to learn about the world around him.

Perhaps, there are lessons for us all to learn about the world around us. Learning and seeking understanding does not have to mean we must subscribe to each other’s beliefs or standard of living. I do believe it is a necessary step in bringing unity and peace into our nation and the nations around the world.

Our Declaration states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This one statement has been the backdrop of seemingly every human rights argument and protest around the world. Human rights are the moral principles or norms that describe certain standards of human behavior that are protected as legal rights in municipal and international law.  I am not going to get into a political debate here.  My ministry and message is of love.  Rights…life…liberty…pursuit of happiness.

I believe we are responsible for our choices.  I believe it does matter that we do not force our beliefs on someone else.  At the same time, I do believe we have the right to voice our opinion without fear of retribution. I believe that is a freedom given to us in this great nation we live in. Without it, we are certain to be diminished into a nation of control by a few instead of a democratic government, a nation governed for the people, by the people. What so many people seem to be unaware of is how much of a prison we each live in, really, without God’s love that sets our souls free.

I’ve pondered many things in the last 20 or so years of my life.  I come from a long heritage of men and women who were willing to work hard and fight for what they believed in and they gave to us a strong sense of never giving up and keep on keepin’ on to overcome setbacks. I remember putting a self-made picture of “Thou shalt not whine” on a wall in my house, and made it a point to refer to it anytime my children decided they didn’t like the results of appropriate action taken against inappropriate choices and behaviors.  I have heard “I feel like I’m living in a prison. You won’t let me go anywhere!” I hope they never know what living in a prison in your home, in your mind, or in your circumstance can really be like.

Storms of oppression can take a person unawares. But of course, that’s the plan of the oppressor.  It makes my head swim sometimes wondering what happens to a person to take them from seemingly a normal, ordinary thought process to one of paranoia and sense of being without the ability to have any control in a situation to the point a person takes excessive measures trying to ensure they are protected.

I grew up in a family full of military servicemen and women and avid hunters. We come from the south where it is common for people to hunt and fish for their food. So, growing up around guns never bothered me. I understood their intended purpose. At one point while in college several years ago, I myself was in ROTC with the intention of becoming an officer in the United States Army. We grew up with a sense of being safe and protected, because my family stood strong and proud on the principals that were established for us to live a life of peace in our home and our surroundings.

So, when I got married, I expected these same principals would be in place for me and my new family.  I’m really not sure what happened, exactly.  I can’t put my finger on a decisive moment or event that took place to trigger what caused things so very wrong.

It was over 20 years ago when a new law came forth that required background checks on firearms—the Brady Bill. The next thing I knew, letters were written and plans to protect what was his began to surface.  Statements such as “We’re going to have a racial civil war next year and the police are only good for drinking coffee and eating donuts.” “I’m going to protect my property, and that includes the two of you.” You heard me right. In that moment, what he said only confirmed what we already felt—my daughter and I had become like property in his mind. Suddenly, a mission ensued that catapulted our personal firearm inventory to 20 weapons, three of which were assault weapons with all the accessories to make them fully automatic, including two laser sites with over 10,000 rounds of live ammunition and enough reloading equipment and supplies to make over 10,000 rounds more.  He wanted to put up a 10-foot fence with razor wire across the top of it around our property and put video surveillance equipment at the end of the driveway to monitor who came and who left. How do I know there were that many rounds of ammo in our supply of stock? Because I inventoried them. Every. One. I had possession of the house, and when he was forced to leave, he could only take personal items. So, for the property settlement, I had to inventory everything we possessed to show him that I had not “taken” anything he thought belonged solely to him. Even so, he still accused me of withholding items of value. Good. Grief.

At one point, we even looked at property that sat high on a mountain that required a code for passage.  Now, I might interject here that this and of itself did not alarm me. He became obsessed and the more time that went on, the darker the atmosphere at our house became. It was everything else added to it that was sending signals of “You’d better get out and get out soon.”  Paranoia loomed and I felt I was running out of time to bring me and my daughter to a place of safety. But God…

God put the right people in the right place at the right time and we were able to get out with a protective order.  After he was removed from the home, we were eventually able to come back until such a time we were able to finish the property settlement and move for good.

I took everything firearm-related we had accumulated to local law enforcement. They were stunned. He called the judge and ultimately, the judge had no choice but to return them to him because he never actually “did” anything to show cause for concern. Such as was the case for us. Without broken bones, bruises, and DNA, abuse and paranoia is very, very hard to prove and at that moment in time, I lived in such a state of fear and brokenness I could not verbalize everything we had gone through. I now know it was God and only God who carried me through that time. And God…

God knew long before we would find ourselves in this place how he would get us out of it. Two years prior to this, by God’s divine intervention, my daughter and I found our way to a local church. After a while, I was finally able to confide in our pastors “something wasn’t good” in our home. At that time, I was not able to be specific and they offered to talk to him, but I knew if they did, it would only make things worse for us. So…they prayed.  They prayed for us regularly.  Me and my daughter found solace and safety in this new home environment God provided for us. This became our safe place and I made sure we spent as much time there as we could.

At one point, I was given a glimmer of hope.  Even though he resisted at first, he finally began to attend with us. His exact words were, “Are you sure the walls aren’t going to fall in on top of me?” This was short-lived. Something changed—quickly and it seemed the more time we spent at church, the worse things got at home.  It would take all the faith and courage I could muster just to call an attorney and start the process of leaving this prison we called home. Fear had gripped every part of my being to the point I could not keep my body from shaking, nor could I keep a strong tone of voice. The fear was real. And it had its clutches in me deep.

It seems my life has the makings of a Lifetime movie. I suppose it does. So, why have I even bothered to tell my story after 23 years? Simple. This is my story. My redemption story. My story of how great God is. My story of how God will move heaven and earth for his children and judge righteously in favor of his children when his children cry out to him night and day. My story of God’s power working in our lives for our salvation to fulfill his plan and purpose. My story of how miraculously God worked everything together in our favor for our good.  My. God. Is. Real. And. My. God. Is. Good.

God intervened. From that time, it would be two years before I realized how close to irreversible disaster we were. As I was praying and interceding for him and our church one morning, the Lord spoke to me. He said, “If it weren’t for the prayers of the people in this church, paranoia would have taken him over and you both (my daughter) would have been killed.” Wow. I found myself without the ability to comprehend how purposefully and precisely God will reach down from heaven and rescue us out of every pit of destruction. Never. Underestimate. The. Power. Of. Prayer. Had it not been for the prayers of the people in that church, my daughter and I would have become a statistic. Humble silence.

Now for the million dollar question. Am I an advocate for gun control?  No. Without a doubt, no. I believe very strongly in our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.  I am, however, of the very firm belief with freedom comes great responsibility. Do I have a problem with anyone obtaining and owning many firearms and ammunition? No. Not really. Again, it is the person that makes the weapon injure and kill. I have never seen a gun fire one round while handing on a wall, or sitting on a shelf or table. Not one. Responsibility lies with the one whose finger rests on the trigger. Is there an epidemic in our world today of control through the use of force due to the lack of self-control of an individual?  Yes. However, I maintain, getting rid of our guns and right to protect ourselves is NOT answer.

I will give him this much, some of his perceptions had some validity into our future.  However, it is the innocent who gets caught in the cross-fire and a person’s state of mind and heart reveals the true root of the problems we face in the world today. In our case, that was at the root of our demise.  So, what’s the answer? To be bluntly honest, I believe God is the only one who really has the answer to our dilemma, and we live in a country where many people simply do not want to listen.  I don’t have the answers. I have only what I know we lived through. Even so, having lived through all we have lived through, I have what I know God is able to do.

We must become a people who are willing to love one another and pray without ceasing. While doing so, keep your eyes wide open and be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Some would say, this is only euphoria and we will never see this happen for us.  Perhaps, but we have a choice. We can join together and listen to the one who made all of creation or we can simply keep doing what has gotten us into such a mess to begin with. As long as evil exists in this world, evil will happen—even to good people who have done absolutely nothing to bring it to their doorstep and into their lives. Again, the innocent are caught in the cross-fire. With justice and liberty for all. Indeed. I rather believe we need to cry out for justice and mercy for all.

There are many battles to be fought and won to see unity and peace in our land. I choose to believe God is the one who is able to make grace abound and bring us into wholeness. Only God is able. And only if we allow him to do so. My prayer is that my ex will truly find cleansing and healing for his soul through a real relationship with God. In truth, only God knows our heart.

In my opinion, we do not need more gun control and more censorship of public opinion that sets itself against the mainstream media.  We need more people to stand up make a positive difference in the area of influence God has given them. Do I believe we have the right to defend ourselves?  Yes.  Do I believe we have the right to live in peace?  Yes. Your opinion may likely differ from mine. That’s okay. We don’t have to agree on everything to get along with each other. I firmly believe that. I’ll pray for you. You pray for me. With God, all things are possible.

This is my story.  This is my song. Praising my Savior, all the day long.  Peace.

If I Love You More, Will You Love Me Less?

(Originally Posted 1-13-2018)

If I Love You More, Will You Love Me Less?

“Do you love me?” I was asked.   “Yes,” I answered.  “How much?” was the reply.  Without hesitation, my response would be, “Okay, what do you want now??”  I heard this often as my kids were growing up. A common colloquialism indeed.  Can love by measured?  Or, is love simply the act of being?

Paul makes the statement “If I love you more, will you love me less?” in 2 Corinthians 12:15. He was preparing to visit the church at Corinth for the third time after false apostles criticized him for not having supernatural experiences and doing miracles as they did. He did not want to have to defend his apostleship and position of authority with the church, but he did so by recalling the miracles he had performed in their presence and also noted that during each of his stays, he was not a burden to the church at Corinth because he always found a way to support himself.  He goes on to say he would gladly spend all he has for them, including expending himself completely for their growth, understanding and steadfast devotion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Can love be measured?  Or, is love simply the act of being?  Spending time, space, money, words, deeds or perhaps even in our silence love can be shown. Love is a testament to our faith in God and in our service to him. Love is seen in how much we do, in what we spend and extend of ourselves, and this is not always shown in the amount of money we spend.

However, just as the church at Corinth was young at that time, our kids too tend to measure love in dollars and cents, especially if they are involved in extra curricular activities at school or in the community.  Life can become a real juggling act, especially when you have more than one child, all going different directions. My children were at one time both involved in soccer, my daughter for three years. Then she advanced to cheerleading and my son to Taekwondo. Then there was my daughter’s first high school prom—all while being in band and choir. Oh my.  All of which were expensive and time consuming. Even as much as we struggled and with the little support I received to help raise them, we always found a way—even when it meant me working two jobs. But I never complained and I never saw it as a burden. We don’t mind going the extra mile for those we love. Sometimes, when we give more, more is expected and the great wealth of what we expended on them gets lost in their desire to have more.

This is what Paul was talking about. Even though there were those who tried to discredit him for not “performing” like others or as others thought he should, he proved himself to be diligent in raising up this church in Corinth in the knowledge and admonition of the Lord Jesus Christ, founded on his truth and doing so without being a financial burden to them. He gave all he had and asked only their obedience to Christ’s teachings in return.

If I love you more, will you love me less?  What is in your heart?  Do you measure love by how much a person spends on you? Or by how much a person spends with you, doing life and going through the ups and downs with you?  May we all love one another without reproach or expecting something in return. Love isn’t love until you give it away.  Peace.

Moving Past Tragedy

(Originally Posted 1-12-2018)

Our life is made up of our experiences.  Some of them are somewhat inconsequential, but we are affected by all of them to some extent.  Many times we are responsible for creating them, but there are those circumstances that were created for us that are completely out of our control.  This would be the case when a great tragedy engulfed our family with flames that would change our lives forever—one we never saw coming and one that would change the course of time forever.

It was June 4, 1983.  I was 19 years old and the world was at my feet.  The day was a normal Friday, like any other Friday.  I was working at the gas station and business was booming with people excitedly getting prepared to relax for a weekend retreat of fun at the lake or just to stay around the house. You know, the normal last day of the work week scenario.

About 10:00 that night, a storm rolled in.  It was a very strong storm with torrential rains and high winds. Amidst the storm were sirens, both warning of impending tornadic danger and the emergency vehicles scrambling to help those in need.  I had already moved out of my parent’s home and was living in town with roommates.  I went to bed thinking how thankful I was we did not lose power, as so many homes were without electricity by that time.

At 4:00 a.m. there was a knock on the door.  A single, solitary police officer knocking at your door at 4:00 in the morning is not a good sign.  “Is Katrina Stanley here?” He asked.  My roommate got me up and I went to the door.  “I’m sorry to inform you but your dad was killed in an accident and I need you to come with me.”

Time stood still.  I can remember my roommate asking the officer if there wasn’t any other way to have told me.  I couldn’t breathe.  Every step was in slow motion. I remember going to my room and looking for socks.  I couldn’t find any socks.  I couldn’t move.  I was in shock.

My dad worked at a local college in the maintenance department and my uncle (his brother) was his supervisor. My uncle was able to get dad hired after he finished vocational training upon retiring from 20 years of military service.  There was to be a large Girl’s State event at the college the next morning. On the night of the storm, my dad, uncle and the maintenance crew were called out at about 1:00 a.m. to repair a fallen computer wire, the wire that powered all the computers on campus.  I was told a call was made to the local power company to turn off the power to the main high voltage power line so these men could repair the computer line for the next morning when the Girl’s State event took place. The power company said no, there were hundreds of homes without power and they took priority.

Only God knows what transpired next, but directives were given and these men proceeded to repair the snapped computer wire. At some point, the wind picked up the high voltage power line and it hit my dad in his right temple and electrocuted him.  Paramedics were called and I was told they were actually able to resuscitate him a few times but ultimately, their attempts failed and my father was pronounced dead at the scene. He was only 45 years old.

So many unanswered questions. Why was it so important to repair that line in the middle of the night? Why wasn’t Girl’s State canceled until a later date when repairs could be made safely? Why was my dad working in these conditions without proper gloves and boots to be properly grounded? What didn’t help matters is everyone was put on a gag order for five years. The hardest blow came when my mother refused to sue for negligence and wrongful death. Through tears she simply said, “Your dad didn’t believe in suing anyone. It will not bring him back.” But, I wanted to.  My brother and I both wanted to. We were grieved and vexed beyond anything that ever existed in our framework to conceive. But, we would not dishonor our mother. To make matters worse, my uncle was working that night, side by side with my dad. In time, he finally confessed he would have been severely reprimanded if he had spoken about the details of that night before the five years had passed. In later years, he spoke of nightmares that plagued him night after night which lasted for months. This man became like a dad to me. His heart broke for us. It took me a long time to realize that in the accident, not only did my dad die, this was his brother. And, they had become very close after my dad retired from the military. Only God knows how deep the grief cuts into a person’s soul when the light of a life that brings life to their soul is snuffed out, especially when it happens suddenly, without any warning or preparation. We would be forever changed.

It had only been the week before I talked on the phone with my dad and for the first time in my life that I could remember, I told him I loved him. He said, “I love you too.”  That would be the last time I talked to my dad. I never got a chance to tell him how sorry I was that I moved out the way I did, so suddenly—I just wanted my independence.  I wanted to pursue my dream of singing. It was difficult for him to handle, as I was through and through a daddy’s girl. But at least I was able to tell him I loved him before he left.

Memories flooded my soul, like when I had an opportunity to join the group called “Up With People,” which was a group of youth that traveled the world singing upbeat music with upbeat, positive lyrics, but my dad said no. That was a lot to ask a man whose daughter just recently graduated from high school. But I never forgot it. My dad was a dad indeed and very protective at that. He wanted me to go to college and he worked at a job that would allow me free tuition. Otherwise, there would be no hope of me going. He became very upset when I wanted to drop out after only two years. He was not happy where he was working but stayed so I could get a college education. This would be a decision I would regret for years to come. Soon thereafter, he began the process of trying to change jobs when he died.  It seemed it was simply one day to late. If only….

Then there was the time I had been chosen to go to Japan to study as an exchange student. I received a scholarship that would pay for tuition but not room and board. I would have to work teaching English to pay my way. My parents didn’t like the idea of me going to Japan for a year without having the money to support me in advance, as there were simply too many variables. What ultimately caused me to stay at home was my parents were unable to get a loan to support me while I studied abroad. At their insistence, I stayed home.  Yes, my dad was very cautious indeed.  After the accident, of course, I was so glad my parents insisted I not go to Japan. Otherwise, I would have missed out on spending the last year of his life with him.

All I knew was I felt empty. I remember thinking, “How am I going to help my mother?” I couldn’t imagine what she was going through. Truthfully, I wasn’t old enough to understand the soul connection she had with the man she married when she was only 18. My brother was in the Navy, so he had to ship back out to his post. Our first Christmas was spent on a cruise ship in the frigid cold winter (even in Florida it was freezing cold that year) to get out of the house. My life would never be the same. Truth is, I’m not sure you ever get over it. He was my dad. He was my encouragement. He was my rock. He was my stability. He was my daddy.

As the years have gone by, the Lord has taught me many lessons about accepting God as our Father. I had a good dad. A really good dad who worked and made sacrifices for his family so we could have a decent life. Lesson after lesson paralleled the unconditional love of my heavenly father as provider, healer and friend and as I lovingly call him, Baba.”

Why do bad things happen to good people?  There is a book written with this title. My answer is, sometimes there’s just no good answer. No reasonable explanation. It is just what it is…part of the cycle of life that we all have to live through at one time or another. It is easy to blame. Sometimes that blame is truly warranted. It is much harder to live with knowing you are just left with an empty space to fill. But God…

If we will allow him, God has a way of gently loving us into wholeness again. I can’t say what it will look like for anyone else, but I know he did this for us. It was a long, hard journey, but God has never left our side. Without his strength carrying me and sustaining me, I would have never made it through. Although we never forget, we must forgive and release to find peace, otherwise a root of bitterness will take root thus defiling every choice we make and every relationship.

I still miss my dad. Sometimes, I feel as if he’s watching over me and encouraging me. My uncle (who was my dad’s younger brother) who took on a father role in my life graduated into heaven in May of 2015. My uncle who was working alongside my dad that night, who took over being my dad, died only a few weeks ago at the time of this writing. I can honestly say I’ve never felt more alone than I do right now. But, I know I’m not.

As hard as saying goodbye is, there is still life to be found. If I have nothing else within me to give, I will always say, “Never give up. As long as there is life in your body, there is always hope. There is still life to be found.”  Know where you will spend eternity. And yes, you can know for sure where you will spend eternity. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord and when these days on earth are done, we will spend an eternity in heaven with the Lord.

Serve One Another As Unto The Lord

(Originally Posted 1-9-2018)

Serve one another.  The very act of service that leads some to believe it is in it truest form living as an indentured servant—enslaved to the very act of giving to others without receiving in kind.  In fact, we all serve to some extent.  What always boggled my mind is the thinking that those who serve are beneath those who do not, or in most cases will not.  Unfortunately, we often times cannot see the forest for the trees.

Teachers, for example, serve every day. They give and give and receive little in return.  At least as far as monetary compensation.  They have the greatest influence on our future society and world and receive the least amount of pay for this great investment in our future.

There are many who work in the area of waste management.  For those who work in this field, the title has evolved today from what was once referred to as the neighborhood “trash man.”  This work holds a great risk to one’s health and proves a definite challenge to those in risk management to ensure the health and well-being of those who are willing to work at all hours of the night so we can have the pleasure of a clutter-free, smell-free and waste-free home.  Again, not a glamorous position to hold, yet one of a great service to our communities around the world.

When I was going through college several years ago, I worked in a school cafeteria where my daughter attended school.  There in-lies some of the most caring and wisest people I’ve ever met with all the glamour of a star in the making.  You know what I’m talking about—sporting the unique fashion trend of a wearing a hairnet.  Talk about the “bedhead” look.  Yep.  We had it goin’ on!  Good food, service with a smile and kind encouraging words were expected and required with very low pay, hot steam in the face, skin cracking and sore backs from leaning over the sink scrubbing pots and pans.  All so our children, the bright stars of our future and their instructional caretakers and staff would be properly nourished each day.  Along with our custodians, I do believe these are some of the most overlooked and under appreciated people in our schools today.  But each one carries the level of servanthood perhaps we should not underestimate.

Although I continue ongoing education so I may better myself in all seasons of life and so me and my family will not live in poverty, I’ve never thought of myself as too good to do the seemingly worst job.  I was born to a blue-collar family.  We worked and we worked hard.  From farming, to serving in the military, to working in a garden to literally provide the food we ate—and yes this was only about 30 years ago, and owning and operating our own businesses.  We have a strong work ethic.  We have also had more than our share of ups and downs with losses that were devastating.  However, I’m so very thankful to have been born into a family who has a strong moral compass and was taught early to trust God for who we are and all we need.  All in all—God gave me a servant’s heart.  A heart to help others.

I remember after my divorce and God’s love broke through my broken soul and skeleton of a person and began to fashion me into who I’ve ultimately become today, I told God, “I want you to heal me and heal me as soon as possible, because I do not want to spend the next 30 years trying to get over this.”  God is faithful.  God will move, change us and grow us all in love, mercy and grace as much and as fast as we allow him to do.  God has used many people in my life to help me, for all of whom I am eternally grateful.

I remember many years ago I was watching TBN.  I saw Jan Crouch walking on the banks of Jordan.  She was talking about the darkness of depression and how debilitating it was for her but how God delivered her and healed her.  I sat and listened intentionality and with stark, profound clarity, I realized she was describing what I was feeling but never knew how to put into words.  She talked about the Lord telling her to go to church one day. Even though she didn’t feel up to it, she went anyway.  At the end of the service, the Lord prompted her to go to the altar to pray for a young woman there.  She described how she felt so displaced and inadequate to help her, but she went anyway.  She then described how the Holy Spirit lifted her up and she began to experience breakthrough like she had never experienced before.  She then said, she never understood it before, but you have to give what you need.  Indeed, a clear presentation of the law of sowing and reaping—all from a servant’s heart.

It wasn’t too many years ago.  I moved me and my son to Oklahoma with new, great expectations of the new beginning to a great adventure the Lord was taking us on.  Had I known just how hard it was going to be, I likely would have told the Lord “No.”  I came with great faith but only just enough money to support us for a few months.  I stood on the scripture found in Jeremiah 17:7-8 “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.  It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”  I called in the great harvest of all the good seeds I had sown.  I stood on my knowledge and understanding of my relationship with God that he would never leave me or forsake me and in fact, he spoke to me and added to it, “To the end of the age.” So, I knew I was on another challenging but great journey with the Lord.  Within days, the Lord provided me with a job.

That would go on for about three years.  Then, my job began to phase out.  This was 2013.  I had just started school of ministry.  I finally took that step of fulfilling God’s promise to me of making me an ordained minister.  My faith was strong as I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be.  At the beginning of that year, I had a terrible car wreck that totaled my car and damaged my neck and right shoulder.  I had to resort to transcribing with my keyboard in my lap, yet my faith continued strong. I was determined not to allow anything to be taken from me.  One July 1, 2013, I was laid off.  Electronic medical record keeping had taken many of the accounts and there was no longer enough work to justify my employment.

Wow.  I moved me and my son to a land I did not know, people I did not know with no family I could reach out to for support of any kind.  This was hard.  I must have sent 50 resumes for work, but nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  I was to the point I had to have a break or I was going to be evicted.  By this time, I had exhausted all provision I had.

Through a neighbor, I was introduced to the pastor of the local Salvation Army church.  She asked me if I would be willing to teach piano for their youth.  I was excited!  I finally had a break—even as small as it seemed. Doors even opened for me to clean a few houses. What is always amazing about God is that in all things God works all things together for our good.  It was at this very church I had my first opportunity to tell my story to the women’s group.  This ultimately opened doors for me to tell my story at their headquarters homeless shelter chapel, and eventually allowed me the opportunity to stand behind their pulpit and preach.  In all things, God is good.  All. The. Time.

Eventually, I was offered a full-time position managing their bell ringing ministry for the holidays.  Have you ever seen someone standing outside a store ringing a bell with a kettle you put money in that is hanging on a stand during the Christmas season?  Yep.  That’s what I did in Broken Arrow.  For three years I operated this ministry for them.  I absolutely loved it!  It was not only full-time work, I was able to work with people from all different backgrounds.  The common thread in everyone—we were all willing to work—we had a mind and a heart to work.  If you’ve never done it, this job is not for the faint-hearted.  It requires standing on your feet for hours at a time, and remaining cheerful and pleasant while the cold wind and even rain beats on you making you feel as if a thousand knives are cutting away at you.  At the end of the day, you feel as if you had been run over by a bus—back hurting, hips aching, wrists tired—and all you did was stand and ring a bell.

My day would start at 7 am and end at 10 pm for six days a week.  If I wasn’t working in the field, I was in the office answering the dozens of phone calls of the organizations who wanted to be scheduled to help ring the bells for this fine organization.  We would rally together each morning for a few encouraging moments to motivate the servant’s heart in remembrance of “It’s not about us.”  It was at times exhausting, but I loved it.  I saw the spirit of man at its strongest.  I saw the love of the season shown in the simplest expressions of Hi!  Merry Christmas!  Peace to you!  All from people who I know had very little to give—except the heart of a servant from within themselves.  I must say, you cannot put in a box and buy from a shelf the gratitude of those who were given an opportunity to serve and give day in and day out.

I took the time to talk with each one every day.  I heard about where they come from.  Struggles they have come through—some they are still working through.  I saw the smile on the face of those who were given life through the ability to give a smile to someone else—some who may not otherwise receive a smile throughout their day, and even some who could care less to ever understand the plight of another’s condition.  I saw great excitement when towards the end of the season, those who stuck it out and continued to give as unto the Lord were rewarded with bonuses.

I’ll never forget the tear-filled eyes and facial expression of a woman who came from almost nothing, who had little self-esteem beset upon her from the many life struggles she encountered, but with that little seed of faith within her, she stepped out and just “tried” each day.  She worked earnestly trying to “find her place.”  When she finally received the ultimate “Red Kettle” award for ringing the biggest kettle, she jumped out of her seat with excitement.  This was same excitement I saw from my son when he was ten years old and he finally made a basket for his team in basketball—he literally jumped three feet in the air!  This woman’s self-esteem grew so much throughout that season of bell ringing, she soon thereafter found stable, year-round, full-time work.  Yes. The seasons I operated the kettles ministry was very rewarding.

Yes.  As hard as working during the kettle season was, I loved it and I always hated seeing it end.

Serving is hard.  It requires giving of yourself.  Sometimes, it requires giving more of yourself than you ever thought to had, without expecting to receive.  That’s why scripture tells us in Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do (whatever your task may be), work from the soul (that is, put in your very best effort), as (something done) for the Lord and not for man.  (AMP)

When we give as if we were giving to the Lord, the giving doesn’t seem to be as hard.  Be honest with yourself.  Doesn’t it seem easier to give to someone you love, rather than someone you don’t even know?  Of course it is!  When we rely on our own strength, our own understanding, our own expectations and our own perceptions of others, we will soon find ourselves asking more questions of “why” or “why not” rather than just accepting, receiving and loving.

Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding.  Acknowledge him in all your ways and he will direct your paths.  Proverbs 3:5, 6.  Our perfect is example to follow is Jesus.  Jesus came to serve.  Let God show you the line to draw in your service to him.  Truly, we are not all called to serve in the same areas or tasks.  But we are all called to serve on the same battlefield.  The battlefield of pulling down those strongholds through showing God’s love to one another.  Do so with eyes wide open, willing to pray.  Then we will taste and see that the Lord is good.  Serve the Lord. Serve others.  Do all things as unto the Lord.

From Darkness To Light

(Originally Posted 1-4-2018)

In the night she cried out “No. No.”  She was pushing something away from her.  With her hands, she tried to be freed.  I listened and watched her struggle, afraid to wake her for fear of her not coming back to me.

These are just some of the things a person who has been sexually assaulted goes through, whether they are a child or an adult.  Nightmares, PTSD, depression, low self-esteem, constantly wondering if you are worthy to be loved, constantly wondering what you did wrong to cause this “thing” to happen to you, knowing deep down inside what has been done to you was a true act of violence and not of your doing, but the question always remains, “Why?  What if?”

In my search for significance to be a woman who was loosed from the darkness that surrounded me, I had to allow God to take me on the journey of recovery—a very long, painful and humiliating journey of recovery.  I had to allow him to take me back through the memories of every act of molestation and sexual abuse.  Very painful.  But despite my best efforts, I found it was the only way I was going to be free.  So, I allowed him to do it.  What I learned was this time, I was able to control the end result.

I was raised in a good home with loving parents who always told me to “Shoot for the stars.  You can do anything you set your mind to do.”  That is what I was taught from a very young age.  That is something that still holds true for me today.  Today, I am no longer afraid.  But despite my upbringing, it would take years before I really understood why I always felt “different” from other girls my age.  I always felt older, set apart, just different and never understood why.

It would take going through recovery from my abusive marriage for me to understand how life travesties can take a toll on a person’s life and set them up for defeat long before they ever arrive at the chance to try.  There is a truth about those who are sexually assaulted.  The outcome either way is devastating.  There are those who become sexually promiscuous—they take the attitude of “What does it matter anymore?”  There are those who completely withdrawal.  Then, there are those who remain angry and bitter.  At each pass, every relationship this person has at some point becomes directly affected because of the insane injustice levied against them.  Each outcome holds its own set of mountains and valleys, twists and turns and one never really knows what the outcome will be, but one always hopes for full recovery.  Only time and a really great, loving support system can one overcome the devastating effects of being sexually assaulted.

For me, I never really knew what happened.  I was so young, I couldn’t have understood what took place, but without a doubt, my mother understood what took place and she did everything within her power to see to it that never happened again.  At any rate, it opened the door to much worse.  There would be four attacks against me of this nature before I would be married.  Here’s where a history of deception and confusion has come into play. If your husband wants sex and you do not, and he insists on doing it anyway, is it assault?  Or, is she just refusing to submit to her  wifely duty??  I am here to set the record straight.  No means No.  Period.  Whether you are married or not.  Period.  You have no idea the power of the destructive nature of taking what has not been offered to you can be and how it can take a toll on a person’s mind, heart and soul.  If you put a gun to someone’s head and said, “Give me all your money or I’ll kill you,” don’t you think that would shake you up?  The same is true when a woman says No and her request is not respected.

How can a man who says he loves his wife roll her over and take what she does not want to give on that particular occasion?  Love does not demand its own way.  For the record, that’s not love.  So, why does a woman stay?  Peculiar question to which there is no firm answer to.  She is his wife.  To have and to hold, to love, honor and cherish.  Maybe he wasn’t really trying to hurt her?  Maybe she misinterpreted it?  Maybe not.  But she’s his wife.  She has made a commitment to their marriage.  The methodical way of an abuser slowly tears down her defenses of resistance.  At the same time, she knows this is not right, but somehow she knows she just can’t leave—that would make things worse.  Instead, she builds a wall of defense and protection to what is in her that is still hers—her dignity, her honor, her soul.  Leaving is sometimes not an option.  For me, I was told I could go, but if I did, I would never see my child again.  Whether this would have truly been the outcome or not, I believed him.

I was always told, “You’re my wife.  You’re supposed to do what I tell you to do.”  Well, well, well.  Hmph.  There is a scripture in Ephesians 5:21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  That’s a two-way street.  It goes for men as well as women.  All too often, the woman is expected to submit to her husband. And yes, she should, unto Christ.  Unto Salvation.  Unto Righteousness.  Not unto selfishness that is destructive—even from your husband.  I was raised, God hates divorce.  You should simply not divorce—work it out.  This is not always possible.  This is not always healthy.  This is not always safe.  Hear my heart—I am not an advocate for divorce.  But, I believe God loves us and expects us to do things in order—all of us.  When disorder and chaos abound, he does give you forgiveness for leaving.  We need to understand God does not expect us to stay and be a whipping post for someone who does not love him or care for us.

What took me years to understand is how I could have married someone like this—especially, having been raised in a well-adjusted home with loving parents and a great extended family.  As I continued in recovery, I learned that the stage for this was set long ago.  It started in that first act of sexual abuse when I was three years old.  It set me up for insecurities that would lie dormant until such a time the enemy would come in like the snake that he is to destroy who I was so I would become crippled in my ability to be who God says I am and to accomplish God’s plan and purpose in my life.

Getting to the root of any issue is absolutely key in getting rid of strongholds, hang-ups, incorrect thinking and behavior patterns.  It was devastating to me to learn the “rest of the story” regarding our situation.  My act of disobedience of marrying this man who I knew was not equally yoked to me, opened the door for my daughter to suffer at the hands of her father.  Was I responsible for her demise?  No.  He was in fact the sole beneficiary of occupancy of the acts of injustice against her.  However, I received a real education about how my lack of being whole before I married allowed open doors for evil to all too readily come against her—and me.

There is a scripture in Exodus 20:5-6 that says, “I am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”  What exactly does this mean?

In short, it means whatever the sins of the parents are, whether sins of commission or omission, lay the groundwork for the children to follow in suit.  Sources say, if a parent is an alcoholic, the chances of the kids becoming alcoholics are three to four times greater than their peers.  The same is true for kids who have had abusive parents.  Without proper intervention and healing, they are at a greater risk of becoming abusive themselves or marrying someone who is abusive towards them.  They can say they will not let it happen to them, but when they are in the midst of it, they find it is really not that simple.  This was indeed the case for my daughter.

Before I divorced, I asked God specifically what was wrong with my family.  God is very much interested in every part of your life and most assuredly wants to be an active part of making you whole.  So, he told me.  He showed me how the line of dysfunction went about four generations deep, as far as I could calculate.  What I did not understand and was powerless to change for us until much later was understanding just what God means when he says he will show love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.  This is key.  Love God with all your heart.  Keep his commandments.  One of his commandments is love they neighbor as thyself.  Be kind.  Love one another.  Get this—love does not beat you down by someone who says they you love, whether physically, mentally, emotionally or verbally or even financially.  That is not love.

The other key factor in recovering into wholeness is understanding how powerful our words are and how God’s spoken word is taken by God’s angels and immediately knocks down the attacks of the enemy who is the constant menace of our minds which is directly related to our behaviors and our emotions.  There are so many people who struggle and some outright refuse to believe this, but just as we all have a guardian angel who is assigned to watch over and protect us, there are also demons who are assigned to our destruction.  Where they can be stopped is through prayer and words of affirmation—not words of destruction.

When I was divorced, I was so broken I didn’t know who I was anymore.  I stood in front of a mirror so my eyes could see my mouth say the words my ears heard so it could get into my heart so I could be made whole.  I would say, “You’re not worthless.  You’re not a pacifist.  You’re not ugly.  You’re not a waste of time.  You’re not stupid.  God loves you.  You are fearfully and wonderfully made.  You are the apple of God’s eye.  You are the center of God’s heart.  You are God’s beloved and his heartbeat.”  I did this for months so I could finally hear something good about myself instead of the continuous onslaught of insults that were so often hurled at me.  The incredible thing is—it worked.  It was after this, I was finally able to trust God just enough to allow him to start loving me.  And yes, his love is like a banner that will completely cover you and saturate you into wholeness.

I’ve fought many battles deep into the night—for myself and for others.  It has become a part of who I am as an intercessory prayer warrior.  Here’s where we must come together and bring awareness to how powerful loving others and building each other up with our words and prayer really is.  What so many people do not understand is who we are in Christ.  We have been given the authority that Christ had on this earth.  We have the authority to call things that are not as though they are.  We have the authority with our prayers to pull down the lies told about us and others.  It’s amazing to see those devils scatter when God’s word is invoked against them.  At the risk of sounding ridiculous, they are indeed real.  But God is greater and his power and love is so much stronger.

Is there life after divorce?  Absolutely.  Through Christ into wholeness.  Is there life after abuse?  Yes. Absolutely.  Through Christ’s love making us whole.  So, what about the little girl who never had a chance to be a little girl who was thrust into one destructive relationship into another?  How does she become whole again?  Only when she allows a loving father, ABBA father, to lavish her with pure love will she once again have her hopes and dreams restored.  The truth is, most people are very well aware something is wrong.  Most people are simply at a loss as to how to be relieved from it.  Some recover swiftly. Others do not.  There is no discernable time table.  However, there will not be full recovery unless we understand, accept and receive who God says we are and allow him to love us.  That’s where it must start.  Then, allow God to finish the work he started in us.

About every two minutes an American is sexually assaulted. Every eight minutes, that victim is a child.  On average, there are 321,500 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States.

So many times, the victim is treated like the perpetrator.  So sad.  At the same time, to treat them as if they are broken will not facilitate their healing.  The pain is real.  The devastation is real.  The devil is real.  God is greater.  This is why I say, never assume you know what someone has gone through, especially if you won’t take the time to talk to them to find out.  But even so, we can all be prepared to help in a person’s recovery by being armed and ready to fight—through prayer and speaking positive words of encouragement.  Love one another.  Be kind.  That’s my message.  I hope this helps someone along the way know there are those out there who understands how precious you are to God and how sexual abuse is not your fault.  And no, God didn’t allow this to happen to punish you for something you did or didn’t do.  It is an act of evil.  Period.

Live.  Love.  Never give up.  God has a plan for you, for good and not harm for a future with a hope.   Remember, God uses ordinary people, just like me and you.  Love Always.