The Walking Dead vs. The Resurrection & Life

There used to be this show Dan watched called Deadliest Warrior. Maybe it’s still around. But what would happen on this television series is two warriors from time periods spanning forever ago until now would be paired up for a “fight.” Based on the history of how these warriors fought, the weapons they used, etc., a warrior would be proclaimed winner. I’m probably simplifying things, but that’s the gist. For example, I believe I remember an episode I was made to watch where a gangster battled a ninja. I don’t remember who emerged victorious, as I had trouble getting past the hypothetical-ness of things, or maybe just the why. But, now that I look back on it, I can kinda see the intrigue.

Currently, there’s a little show on TV called The Walking Dead. Not sure if anyone’s really heard of it, it’s kind of small time. (Sarcasm flowing from a fire hydrant on this one, in case you missed it). I’ve been thinking about why a television series about undead people overrunning the earth, hunting and eating alive people, from which there is seemingly no escape is one of the biggest, if not the biggest show on TV. (IMDb lists it as number one most popular right now, with Game of Thrones as a second). There’s an obvious joy, excitement, thrill that people take in fantasizing about the Zombie Apocalypse. Why is that? It kind of seems scary to me to think about. I know I wouldn’t want to be caught dead when the Zombie Apocalypse happens….oh, wait a minute….

Here’s the deal. I think people relate to the zombies.

Here’s the deal. I think people relate to the zombies. We are a people group that has turned ourselves into the undead in the name of efficiency, multi-tasking, more money, more power, more, more more….Let me ask a few questions to illustrate my point:

Tired mommy of little ones, do you feel all alone in your never-ending task of raising civilized human beings?

CEO of a Fortune 500 company, as you drive your Lambo to the next big power lunch, secretly inside do you wonder what’s the point of it all?

Frat boy/sorority gal, do you drink and drink and drink to numb and forget? Or maybe you do it to make you feel like SOMEONE, anyone?

Just like the zombies roaming around, sometimes with hundreds of others, we feel alone. We feel compelled for more. We want what we want, so we do what we do to get it.

Jesus said I am the resurrection and the life

There’s one pairing I never saw on Deadliest Warrior. The Walking Dead vs. The Resurrection & the Life. John 11:25 tells us, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies.” There are a ton of names for God in the Bible, but it wasn’t until this week that it was brought to my attention that the Resurrection and Life are His names. Sure, I’ve read that verse a million times, and I understood that He gives us eternal life. But, it’s bigger than that, folks! Jesus has the power to bring back to life what once was dead, right now. Not just in eternity. He can resuscitate the stone, cold dead and make it live this very moment! This is for real, here, friends! Not a TV show! So, you out there in a marriage that seems to be DOA. Think again. HE can breathe life into it here and now. Dad who just yelled at your kid for the ump-teenth time, and are sure your relationship is done for. I’ve got the Good News! It’s not. The Resurrection can raise it to life. I know without a shadow of a doubt that the Resurrection & Life would stomp the Dead on Deadliest Warrior because He does it already for every single person who believes. I don’t need a TV show to tell me that.

What’s more is that Jesus doesn’t offer a mediocre life. He doesn’t raise the dead just to let them keep stumbling about in agony. Nope, he says, “…I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly. “ He’s got good things for you and for me. Instead of mindlessly allowing your flesh to direct your path, why not step into the abundance that Christ offers? Abundant blessings, abundant love, abundant grace and mercy. Joy and peace. Abundant community and fellowship with Him. Whoa! Now, come on. Who would turn that down?

Jesus is the Life. While we may not be wandering around with vastly decomposed flesh, we are in fact, the walking dead apart from Christ. But there is hope. We can beat the mind-blowing numbness that we all feel at times. We can overcome the loneliness that’s eating us up inside. You and I can be free of the fear that enslaves us and keeps us from loving powerfully. His name’s the Resurrection. I’m putting my money on Him.

The badge of the Christian

What do you think I’m talking about? I can see you all in my mind’s eye, raising your hands, shouting out answers…

Faith! Gentleness! Love!

And you would all be wrong. It is forgiveness.

I am learning a lot about forgiveness lately. When I say lately, I mean over the past seven years. I remember a conversation back then that started to turn my thinking around. My husband and I were leaving a church service in Michigan, where we lived at the time. It had been about forgiveness, and the Huz asked me if there’s anyone I hadn’t forgiven. I quickly responded with the name of my old boss at a PR firm where I used to work. This guy had been mean with a capital M. I think he terrorized people just for the sheer joy and power it brought him. I often heard him yelling at people down the hall from my office, berating them for what any other sane person would call a job well done. I’d heard stories of him throwing staplers at people. Firing people on the spot. I had only had two run-ins with him personally. The first was about 10 or 11 months into my tenure there, and his sites had been set on me, the quiet one cowering in the corner, finally. He brought me into his office, and began screaming at me. For what, I do not remember. I sat there calmly listening to this five-foot-nothing of a man try to shake me. And then I looked him in the eye and told him he was to never speak to me that way again. I got up and left and went back to my office. Shortly after that I had my second run-in with him. It was to tell me that I was being “let go due to down-sizing.” This may sound like a very mild run-in to those seasoned folks out there. But to a twenty-something, fresh to the work world, this hurt. A lot.

So, back to that day walking out of church with the Huz. I responded, “No, I haven’t forgiven That Guy. And I never will. He doesn’t deserve it.” To my astonishment and chagrin, my dearly beloved then pulled up this verse:

For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. Matthew 6: 14-15

In all my years as a Christian up to that point, I had somehow managed to never hear that verse. Or successfully avoided it. Or figured a way for it not to apply to me. Whatever the case, it lay on my shoulders a heavy weight. I was in a bit of a conundrum. How could I forgive That Guy for being such a jerk? Not just to me, but to every person he’d ever come into contact with?

Well, since then, there’s been many a situation that has arisen in which I’ve asked myself that question time and time again. And each time I have reminded myself that if I do not ask the Holy Spirit for His help to forgive, then I am setting myself up for a broken relationship with my Father. Staring that fact in the face, I start down the road (usually begrudgingly) of forgiveness.

I’m reading a book right now called “Unpacking Forgiveness” by Chris Brauns. I started reading it because Dan and I (the aforementioned Huz) had recently found ourselves once again discussing forgiveness. This time it was not just I, but both of us, struggling to forgive. And not just forgive but to actually describe what forgiveness even means. There are SO MANY definitions of what forgiveness is. What it’s supposed to look like. It gets confusing.

I think Chris Brauns has nailed it. He says forgiveness is “a commitment by the offended to pardon graciously the repentant from moral liability and to be reconciled to that person, although not all consequences are necessarily eliminated.” He goes on to further explain that this definition of forgiveness is modeled after the kind of forgiveness that Christ offers us. This forgiveness includes the following elements:

1. God’s forgiveness is gracious but not free. While salvation is a gift, God bought it at an infinitely high price.
2. God’s forgiveness is conditional. Only those who repent and believe are saved. Even though the gift of salvation is offered to everyone, only those who open the gift through repentance and belief are saved.
3. God’s forgiveness is a commitment. It is His promise that He will never hold that sin against the forgiven party.
4. Forgiveness lays the groundwork for and begins the process of reconciliation. Salvation and new birth are inextricably connected to reconciliation. You can’t be forgiven by God without being reconciled to Him.
5. Forgiveness does not mean the elimination of all consequences. The outcomes of our sin will happen. There’s a ripple effect to our choices. However, these consequences are not punishment but how God trains and teaches.

I have not finished Brauns book, but I do believe he is taking me down the right path. It is certain that forgiveness is incredibly difficult. It is at a high price. It is for those who are repentant. It takes a conscious commitment. Forgiveness drives us toward reconciliation, but consequences also are part. I also see that forgiveness is the nature of God. His entire plan was just so He could offer forgiveness to us. If God is so big on forgiveness, how can I not be?

If God is so big on forgiveness, how can I not be?

I’ll leave you with this quote from Brauns book:
Christians should always have a disposition of grace toward those who offend them. This is what Jesus modeled on the cross when he prayed,”Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Even while he was dying an excruciating death, and before there was any repentance on the part of those who crucified him, he offered grace. We are to follow his example.

So, let’s pray for each other. I confess there are people right now that I am struggling to forgive. I fear making myself vulnerable in that way. I wonder if it’s really worth it to open myself up. Can I really trust that person again? But the beauty of forgiveness is that it does not hinge on the other person’s reactions or lack of them. Forgiveness is offered by me to them. And the effort is powered by none other than the Master of Forgiveness, Himself. “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).

Who do you need to forgive today?

Be the Constant

The screaming reached a pitch only recognizable to neighborhood dogs. Any moment, I was sure a DCFS worker would come pounding on my door. A strange banging noise rang out from my daughter’s room. What had sent my three-year-old into this rage? I no longer remember the particular thing that did it this time, however I can tell you it was probably something as simple as telling her to get ready for nap time. Or go brush her teeth. Or just a little two-letter word—NO. Anything that was contrary to her plan for the moment could have done it. To make matters worse, Daddy was away on Air Force Chaplaincy orders for the summer, so that meant her usual expectations for life had been disrupted. A dear friend of mine had come over that morning for a walk, get me out of the house for a breath of fresh air, when this tantrum took place. I sent my little urchin to her room to think about having a happy heart when the screaming and banging commenced. It did not sound like hearts were getting happy. All of a sudden a certain panic overcame the screaming, and a little, “Help me!” came from her room. My friend was first on her feet and in my daughter’s room to find Michaela had pulled a dresser over and was holding it up by her feet.
A few thoughts went through my mind at that moment simultaneously: Wow, my daughter is unbelievably strong. Wow, thank you God for not letting it crush her. BAH, I KNEW WE SHOULD HAVE ANCHORED THAT DRESSER TO THE WALL!! I yanked the dresser up, and grabbed Michaela to give her lots of snuggles and hugs. My shaky breath began to return to normal. Uh, is this what everyone’s three-year-old tantrums look like?
I wish I could tell you after that the rest of the summer was a breeze. That she had gotten out her uglies, and we finished Operation Survive Without Daddy just fine. However, that would be a lie. Some days were lovely. Sometimes Michaela was so well-behaved it made me doubt that the tantrums had ever happened. Then, the Rage Monster came for another visit. In these moments, I looked at myself for fault. What in the world was I doing wrong? Why couldn’t I get my daughter’s behavior under control? How come other moms seem to have an eternal supply house of patience and love when I feel like any minute MY Rage Monster would explode on her? I started to beat myself up pretty badly.
Then I was reminded of algebra. Now, you should know I vehemently hate math. (Ironically enough, I was nominated class treasurer in high school. It’s a wonder we made it to our senior trip with a dollar to our name). So, there I was sitting there beating myself up about my daughter’s poor behavior when high school algebra was brought to mind. I don’t remember much of what Mr. Walker taught us, however I do remember this:
A constant is a fixed number or value. It is a number that you are sure of.
A variable is a symbol for a number we don’t know yet.
I heard a Still, Small Voice whisper to me, “Amanda, be the constant.” In this real life equation I am the constant. My daughter is the variable. I am the fixed value. She is what we don’t know yet, what’s still in motion, still becoming who she’s made to be.
The dictionary describes variable as being “inconstant, fickle, or having much variation or diversity.” One other time in my life God has brought the constant and variable to mind. I was on a train. Listening to some praise and worship music, pouring my heart out to God in my prayer journal. It was not that long after I’d had my miscarriage, and I was struggling. I felt like God had left me all alone. I was begging Him to please just talk to me! Please, let me know You haven’t forgotten me! And then, He said it to me. “Amanda, I Am the constant. You are the variable, my child. I do not change. Never have, never will. I am some One you may be sure of. It is you, my daughter, that has been the variable. While I have stayed the same, dear, you have wandered from my voice. Come back into communion with me.” And with that, I rested in the arms of my Jesus once again.
Pastor Ritch Boerckel of Bethany Baptist Church in Edwards, Illinois, reminded parents one Sunday morning that we are often a child’s first picture, first example of Jesus. Think about that for a second. Our little ones’ first impressions of Jesus come from how we portray Him. That’s why I encourage you to be the constant. Be the faithful one in the equation between you and your child. Even when your kid is acting completely horrid, remain firm and steady, unchanging. This is how they will come to know you and what to expect from you. Trust is developed. And ultimately, this is how we can point their hearts to Jesus.
How have you been the constant in your child’s life?

Just another manic Sunday

When I was growing up (yes, in the ’80’s) there was this song by a group called the Bangles, “Manic Monday.” My young self thought that song was so fun, for some reason. Maybe it was the catchy tune, or the fact that alliteration was used within the title, or that the group was named after my favorite type of jewelry. I dunno, but they got it all wrong. It’s actually just another manic Sunday.

Deep breath in. Gird up my loins. Deep breath out. Roll out of bed. This Sunday’s going to be different. I will NOT face a child with a poop explosion right after I just put his Sunday clothes on. I WON’T face a toddler throwing a fit over which headband will be worn. No, there will be no meltdown as I try to carry them both to the car. It’s all going to be perfect.

But it’s not. If you’re a mom of any aged kid, then I am quite sure you know what I’m talking about. No amount of pre-planning on your part the night before or cajoling the day of will get you out of the house any more swiftly or any more on time. It’s a fact: You WILL be late for church. Every. Single. Sunday.

So, why is this? Let’s explore some potential reasons. Theory #1) It’s Satan attacking your attempts at faithfulness to God. Theory #2) You stink at being a mom. Theory #3) Your children are out to get you. Theory #4) You care too much about your presentation of self Sunday morning.

Theory #1) It’s Satan attacking your attempts at faithfulness to God. Okay, maybe it’s true. Maybe Satan saves up an extra-special unit of demon soldiers for faithful, Christian moms on Sunday mornings. Maybe the horde of devils have a standing date on their calendar to swarm us the first day of every week. Does thinking about it in these terms make it any easier? Nope. Can it make us more mentally prepared? Yep. I firmly believe having the right expectations about any situation gives you strength to navigate through them. Saturday night, instead of dozing off to the chick flick on Amazon Prime, maybe spend a few minutes in prayer, asking God to prepare your mind and heart for the inevitable pressures of getting out the door the next morning.

Theory #2) You stink at being a mom. Ya know…maybe this one is true too. Honestly, friends, I think we ALL stink at this thing called “mom” sometimes. Wanna know why? Because we are flesh. We are sinful, imperfect creatures that don’t do everything right. So, yeah, the truth is, I think sometimes I DO stink at being a mom. And you do too. Is that a harsh thing to say? Sure. But, the fact is that without Jesus Christ to empower me by His Holy Spirit every. single. minute. I not only stink at being a mom, but I also stink at being a human being. So, let’s pray about this too, shall we? Let’s be vigilant to pray with and for each other to cling to Jesus.

Theory #3) Your children are out to get you. Turns out this one could potentially be true as well, depending on the age of your children. Mine are 1 and 3. I don’t know that they have the faculties quite yet to have a board meeting at which they draw up their strategy for ruining Sunday morning. However, that could be what they’re doing between juice and graham crackers when my back is turned. Now, if your kids are, say, 14 and 17…well, they may be doing just this very thing. I can’t confirm it, as I’m not there yet, however most parents of teenagers have uttered this “encouragement” to me, “It’s much worse when they’re older. Enjoy them while they’re young.” I don’t know to what exactly they are referring to, but maybe it is that their kids ARE out to get them. I’ll let you know what I find out in about 10 years. Regardless of whether or not our kids are about to form a mutiny, I think we need to pray about this one too. Maybe our kids don’t like us much sometimes. That’s okay. It’s not our job to be liked. It’s our job to be faithful in raising our kids to love Jesus. And by getting their little behinds to church Sunday mornings, on time or otherwise, we are doing just that.

Theory #4) You care too much about your presentation of self Sunday morning. I grew up in a very conservative, Baptist church where wearing your Sunday best was imperative. My father owned several suits, even though he worked as a tradesman. My mother…well, let’s just say she had enough dresses to never wear the same one twice. While this mentality may be engrained in my nature, thus making it a true statement, I do believe in the come-as-you-are mentality now. Sure, I like to look nice on Sundays, but heck, let’s be real here. I’m just happy all four of us are clothed before we leave the house! (Note: If someone sees me dazedly wandering around church minus an important article of clothing, would you please be nice enough to alert me to this? Thanks.) Perhaps this one should be covered with prayer, too. Ask God to help you as a mom, relinquish a little control. If your kid must wear the neon green headband with the plaid skirt, then go ahead and let ‘em! Who cares! So what if she’s the only kid in the Sunday school class without tights and patent leather shoes. Big whoop! She also may be the only kid who feels like her mom has enough confidence in her to let her make some of her own choices.

Alrighty then. We have completed our due diligence, trying to come up with the logic behind this manic Sunday phenomenon. What have we come up with? Let’s review. In short: pray, pray, pray. We are all sisters in Christ, so why can’t we commit to holding each other up in prayer? Instead of the comparison game I know I find myself playing sometimes, or even worse, the tear-each-other down game, let’s remember the Lord calls us to love one another. And side note here to those of you who are empty nesters or do not have children: When you see a haggard mom, struggling to get through the sanctuary doors Sunday morning, it’s okay to give them a hand. Or to utter a word of encouragement. I know that these things have blessed me a thousand times over from my church family!

Lastly, there’s one theory left I neglected to ponder earlier. That’s Theory #5) God is sovereign. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, then you know this is fact, not theory. At least up in your head you do. But it’s gotta make its way down to your heart. KNOW that God is sovereign…even over your manic Sundays. Every minute of every day is orchestrated by the great God of the universe to bring you into more intimate relationship with Him. So that you will know His glory and His goodness on the deepest level possible here on this earth. When the poop explosion happens, KNOW that this does not surprise God. Take a breath, and thank Him that you have such a cute little guy to take care of. Then ask your toddler to go get more wipes.

I love you girls.

PS-Here’s the link to “Manic Monday” music video if you’d like a blast from the past. Please note, I do not endorse the Bangles or anything they may be promoting in this video. I’d rate it PG-13. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xybbnMbAews

Learning not to let things bug me

In March of this year, we bought our new home. In the three months since we have moved in, we have had a pipe back up and almost flood our basement (that happened on day two of new home), our furnace completely shut down—as in inoperable—our roof leak, our basement leak, and now <<DRUMROLL PLEASE>> we have termites. Yep, you read that right. But, let me back up a little here.

I suppose a brief overview of our housing history may give you an even better perspective on our situation. Like many young couples do, Dan and I lived in an apartment when we first married. It had been my apartment as a single gal, and it suited us perfectly in our marital bliss. Then, we started to buy into the “you’re just throwing your money away if your renting” mentality that was floating around out there, and decided purchasing our first home was the way to go. In 2008, we found the perfect house for us in Clawson, MI. Oh man, it was so cute!  The four bedrooms, basement, totally redone inside, hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances seduced us like the Starbucks Siren calls to unwitting coffee-drinkers everywhere. I would have done cartwheels—if I could do cartwheels—I was so happy. In 2009, God asked us to move to Peoria. We left our beautiful, new home in the hands of a renter. That’s when the market completely crashed, and Detroit and the surrounding suburbs were hit particularly hard. Banks were foreclosing on homes all over the place. “For Sale” signs littered front lawns like morning newspapers. We felt blessed to have found a renter. However, leaving our first home together as a married couple was a very emotionally taxing event for me. It took several years to detach from the emotional ties, and look at it as a business venture. I’m not sure I ever truly made the jump.

We then moved into my in-laws basement for 6 months. Though we were and are very thankful for their provision of a place to stay, living with one’s in-laws is not without its challenges. I think anytime adult children move back into their parent’s homes, it makes for an interesting situation. We had many opportunities to grow throughout those months. From there, we rented a property for the next 3 ½ years. It was never my favorite place to live. The best way to describe it is it just didn’t feel like me. There are homes you walk into, and it’s as if there’s a connection. The walls are right where they should be, the windows let in just the right amount of light, the yard beckons your name, and it’s, well, it’s home. The Hamilton House (as we came to call it) never felt that way to me. Its walls kind of rubbed me the wrong way. The few windows we had seemed strongly opposed to letting any light shine in. The yard was just HOT. No trees to shade me and my children. Nope, not home.

However, over the time we lived in the Hamilton House, we worked diligently to pay off debts, save money, and move towards selling our Clawson House. Last summer, after having to make major repairs and renovations due to the renter we had, the Clawson House sold thanks to Kevin Stewart and Jessica Zielke, of the Remax Team. Seriously, if you need a realtor and you live in Michigan, these two are the people you want. I was 400-months-pregnant—another way to say ABOUT TO POP—and neither I nor my husband could be in Michigan to oversee the renovations or really anything having to do with the house. Kevin headed everything up, and I felt extremely confident leaving things in his trustworthy hands. Bravo, Team Kevin! J

Anyway, with the Clawson House off our books, we were on the hunt for a new place to call home. Which brings us to our current situation. Has anyone seen the movie The Money Pit with Tom Hanks and Shelley Long? If you haven’t, come live with me for a week or two and you’ll have your own starring role. With all the things going wrong at our new abode, I have had times where I’ve been tempted to feel down. What kind of bad luck do we have? I mean, C’MON!! When will things let up, already?

I’ve been reading a book called Satisfy My Thirsty Soul: For I am Desperate for Your Presence by Linda Dillow. The author is a godly woman who has been in service to Jesus Christ for decades. She’s been a missionary, speaker and author. These roles have taken her all over the world, canvassing the globe for the Maker. But, she reveals that all this doing for Jesus still left her feeling empty in a way. Not truly connected with the Christ she had dedicated her life to serving. Like Martha of Luke 10 fame (whom I always liked so much), Dillow found herself “distracted with all her preparations” (verse 40). Mary (whom I always kind of felt like was a goody-two-shoes), was quietly sitting at Jesus’ feet, but poor Martha was running around making sure things were done. I mean, someone’s got to do the dishes, and feed the crowds and fill the wineskins, right? I so identify with Martha, and so does Dillow. In Satisfy the author reveals how her doing turned into a contented being and an intimate knowing of Christ, through a life of worship. Not just individual times or settings of worship, but a whole, entire life bent in worship to the King of Kings. Not just singing some songs on Sunday morning, but letting your life become a praise song to Him. “I want that,” (said in backwoods twang of the woman buying the bowls from Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite).

I found out this week that our God answers the prayer to live a life of worship really fast. And as I’m sure you’ve heard, he often gives us opportunities to exercise these types of requests. Enter termites. I’m at a place in my life truly, friends, I feel like I can’t handle too much more pressure. The rigors of living through my husband’s seminary and the weekly trips away to Moody’s campus, the summer requirements of his five-week military service (which leaves me by myself with 2 little ones), the demands of ministry life, my job at the school, the ups and downs of my Hashimoto’s Disease, and the regular pressures of being a mom have left me….weary. I’m very, very tired. And all I want most evenings is to crawl into bed in my safe, problem-free, structurally sound home. But, my home is not problem-free. In fact, I have little bugs feasting happily on it right now, as you read this. And, boy, did I want to pull a Martha! I wanted to get about the business of making things happen, get things done, get rid of these evil, little creatures! But, that’s what I’ve always done. And when I was given the news of termites, I believe I heard God ask me to respond in worship. To try something different. To “choose the good part, which shall not be taken away from [me],” Jesus says of Mary in Luke 10:42. So, with a few tears and a healthy dose of frustration, I bent my will to Him in worship. I told Him that even though I did not feel like it, I most certainly would be praising Him. And then I did just that. He then reminded me that this house is His house. The money we have is His money. He will do with this house as He pleases. And He will spend His money as He sees fit. Right now, He feels it best that we have termites and we spend money on purging our living quarters of them. I may feel it’s best we do not have termites, and I may feel it best to save money and/or to bless others with it. That makes sense to me. But to God, He believes what the Wilton house needs are bugs. So, alright then, Father. Bring ‘em. But…could you also get rid of ‘em? In the mean time, I will dedicate myself to learning how to worship, no matter what the circumstances, and learning how not to let things bug me so much (pun totally intended).

A Graduation and a Funeral: Two Different Beginnings

“Where have you been the last few weeks?” some may be asking. It is my intention to write a post weekly, however two of life’s biggest moments have overtaken me in the last weeks keeping me from the computer screen—a graduation and a funeral—neither of them mine. The irony of the juxtaposition of these life events has not escaped me. Graduation, or commencement—the beginning—and a funeral, death or the end. As I was mulling over this thought, God reminded me that in actuality death is also a kind of commencement, as the Bible tells us that death is not actually the end, but the beginning of eternal life.  Romans 6:23 states that, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And perhaps one of the most beloved verses of all time reminds us that, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). So, you see, I have actually been busy with two commencements lately—one considerably more joyous than the next.

Saturday, May 17, 2014, I celebrated the immense achievement of my amazing husband, Dan Wilton, upon his graduation from Moody Theological Seminary with a Master’s of Divinity. And because he would never, ever toot his own horn, the Lord has placed me in his life to do it for him. Therefore, I will now share with all you fine folk that he was awarded a special recognition from all the graduate faculty for excellent achievement in Theological Studies! Woot, woot! Go, Dan! I am so proud of my husband for the countless hours of preparation, study, toil and strain he has put into this accomplishment. It has certainly not been without it’s sacrifice from our entire family. Those countless hours he spent studying also represent the time the kids and I did not have him with us. I wish I could say I handled it all beautifully, with a perma-grin on my face, however that is not the truth. There were many, many a moment that “the Brat” in me reared her ugly, little head, stomping and pouting and frowning. Near the end here, it became especially hard for me to be gracious, as now we have two babies to care for and my health is always a bit shaky. But, so as to not completely punish myself, I also must say that I had my few shining moments as well, all due to the power of Jesus Christ my Lord. There are those nights that Boaz would wake up and somehow I’d find the strength and energy to go comfort him instead of Dan. And there are the times that out of nowhere God would grant me the gumption to take the kids on a “benture” as my sweetie Michaela calls it, a.k.a. “adventure” so Dan could have the house to himself to study. Or there are the moments that I’d want to be a help to Dan, a sounding board for his Greek lesson or “Fear of the Lord” paper…thank You, God, for bringing out “the Blessing” in me at these times.

Yes, five years ago, Dan and I started the seminary journey. We were 25 and 29 years old. We both worked for The Salvation Army, lived in Michigan, had a little house in Clawson, no children, two golden retrievers and a lot of excitement for the future. Five years later we are now both thirty-something, Dan is an associate pastor and I work at a school. We have finally sold that little house in Clawson, MI (thank you Kevin Stewart Team at Remax!!), and now own a slightly larger one in Peoria, IL. We are down to one golden retriever, but we have since had three children—one of them in heaven with Jesus. We still have a lot of excitement for the future. God does a whole heck of a lot in five years, friends. We are ready to commence. Bring on what’s next.

So, today, May 30, 2014, I sit here seven hours away from the funeral of my Uncle Glenn Walker. He was my mom’s brother, died at 72 years of age. The extenuating circumstances of his death are a tragic one, to be sure. His life’s end has brought in family from all parts of the United States—our family and my Uncle Jim & Aunt Shelley Walker have driven in from Illinois. My Aunt Betty Griffin and her daughter and son-in-law have driven in all the way from Alabama. And my cousin/sister-in-law, Allison Wilton (I’ll tell you about that another time, but I assure you we are legal) spent the entire day yesterday waiting on standby at the airport in Colorado to fly out. She made a flight, praise be to God. We are here because those who are still living here on earth need our support. They need our love, and they need a shoulder to lean on.

Unlike my husband’s graduation day, my Uncle Glenn’s commencement is an occasion that we cannot rejoice in. It’s been a struggle for me to find any consolation in his death. And to be sure, without Christ, there is none. But God in His great goodness and extreme graciousness to me continues to bring me back to the Gospel, because that’s what our fragile life on earth is all about anyway. So, for those of us who are alive and remain, please hear me when I tell you that, “Just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:27-28). Oh, friends! We all will die. All of us will have this flesh on us wither away and our bones become dust. But this is not the end of life, it is the beginning. Where we spend the rest of our lives, lies in the hands of a good Father and at the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. When our bodies die, our souls can live because Jesus paid the price for our sins on the cross of Calvary. And if you put your faith in Him, you can join the rest of us who eagerly await his return. Maranatha, Lord!

One last thought. These two commencements—a graduation and a funeral—remind me of the only True Beginning…and the only Actual End. In Revelation 21:6-7 God says, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”

 

 

Life’s what happens, when… (Part One)

We were busy making plans. I was just about to quit a high-stress, not fun job. Dan was getting ready to submit paperwork to join the Air Force Reserves as a Chaplain Candidate. We were living right outside of Detroit, MI, but had recently been led of the Lord to make a move to Peoria, IL. It was a big step for me—for us, certainly—but for me, especially as I was 30-years-old and had never lived anywhere but the Motor City. My family and friends were there. I knew no one in Peoria. But, we had clearly heard the Lord tell us Peoria was the place to be. Our idea was to relocate in January when the weather would be terrible, and it would be good and depressing. Like I said, we were busy making plans.

My sister-in-law, Marci, had invited me to go to Chicago for a girl’s weekend with some friends. It was November-ish 2009. She had recently given birth to her daughter, Bella. Dan and I had talked about kids; we knew we wanted some. When was unclear, but we were nearing the 2 ½ year mark of our marriage, and that seemed to be ‘round about the time people we knew started popping out babies. No, if everyone else jumped off a cliff, we wouldn’t follow. But, you know, it made us think about it more. I definitely liked kids. I started babysitting when I was thirteen, and continued until I graduated high school. In college I nannied a bit. I was an aunt. But, I had never sat and dreamed of only being a mother. I hadn’t planned out what age I’d be, or exactly what stage of life I wanted to be in when the munchkin would enter the world. For the planner that I am, I was remarkably UN-planned about the kid thing.

Anyway, so there I was in Chicago trying to have some fun. Marci and I had just finished dinner, and I joked to her, “Man, I am SUPER bloated. I think I’m growing a food baby in here!” I’m not sure if it was the way I said it, her hormones, or if I looked bloated, but she decided we must get a pregnancy test before the night was out. I reminded her that the definition of a food baby is when one has eaten more than what is humanly possible and one’s tummy has expanded to such proportions that one indeed looks as if one may be pregnant, but is not, in fact, pregnant. This reminder made no impact on her plans, because as if by magic a pregnancy test materialized.

I knew there was no way. I mean, c’mon. I had only recently gone off the pill, and it took my mom five years to get pregnant with me. And once I was born, her uterus decided there could be no improvement upon perfection (haha), and no other children came about. So, I was pretty sure the impregnation thing was going to take awhile. However, Marci was relentless, as were the other girls, so I took the stupid test. As I sat on the edge of the bathtub in the hotel room, I spent the two minutes fantasizing about what it would be like if there was actually a baby in me. I started seeing my big baby bump, fashionably clad, of course, in some sort of trendy something or other. I began trying out different names. I tried not to peek. It was a long two minutes. And then it was time to look. One hundred percent sure I was going to see nothing but a minus sign, I held it up to my face and took a gander. There was a plus sign. Holy cannoli.

Marci, with a joyous crow, said, “I told you so!” And in a stunned stupor, I just kept repeating, “I can’t believe it.” Because this is the 21st century, I decided to announce this epic news to my husband via text message. Marci took a picture of me holding the stick, and I wrote, “Guess what?” next to it. I immediately received a phone call from Dan, confused, because he did not know what it was that I was holding. I told him that I was pregnant, and in typical Dan-like fashion, his response was fairly even-keeled. Underwhelming for my liking, if I remember correctly, as I am a person that makes a pretty big deal about everything. However, Dan, on the other hand has emotions that are as steady as a surgeon’s hand. It’s a source of contention between us. Yet, I overlooked it that day, as I was excited enough for the both of us. We said our “I love you’s,” and hung up for the night. I tried to sleep, but only thought of pacifiers and onesies every time I closed my eyes. I couldn’t wait to get home and start making baby plans.

Another reason I felt so very excited about this glorious news, was that I saw this pregnancy as God’s approval, His hand of blessing on our lives. As I said earlier, He had told us to move to Peoria. However, we had no jobs, no home, and no money that we were moving to. We were modern day Abraham’s just going because God told us to, not knowing the final where or how, but trusting in His faithfulness. So, now there was a baby. And, to me, that was His stamp of approval on our big move of obedience.

Fast-forward about 6 weeks, it’s the dead of winter, a blizzard to be exact, and I’m in a black Malibu Maxx with my puppy, Delilah, following a giant, yellow Penske truck, driven by my husband, in the middle of the night. It’s New Year’s 2010, and we were on our way to Peoria. We rolled into my in-law’s house, and made our way to their basement—our new home. Was I scared? Yes. But, I was more excited. I knew God had told us to do this, and now I awaited His blessings to be bestowed upon us. About three days later, I started bleeding. I knew enough to know this was not good, however I had no doctor. I had just moved! I found myself in the emergency room. I kept thinking, “I have no insurance!” as the sign above my bed said something about how they were required to treat everyone whether we could pay or not. The resident, who looked to be little older than I, came in to tell me something about how they really couldn’t tell for sure if I was miscarrying or not. Huh? Miscarrying? That couldn’t happen. Nuh-uh. God had given me this baby as His blessing! His approval on our big faith step! Nope, not miscarrying. The child-doctor told me I should see my ob-gyn. Ha, ha, joke’s on her! I don’t have one! This is what I felt like saying.

Because my mother-in-law loves me, she did all the leg-work and found a way for me to have temporary insurance, AND found a great obstetrician for me to go see. Dr. Kindred (I liked him right away, who wouldn’t with a name like that?) was indeed kind. He took some blood and told me he was going to do some tests. Then, he did a sonogram. He explained that even though I was only six weeks, we should definitely be able to see a little heart beat, much like a spark on the screen. We would be able to hear it too. As he lubed me up with the goop on my belly, I remember thinking over and over in my head, “C’mon, let’s see that spark! C’mon, let’s see that spark! Please, please, there has to be a spark!”

There wasn’t one.

A few days later, it was a Wednesday, January 11, he called me to say that my test results came back and I was indeed miscarrying. I had just come from the Secretary of State’s office, where I got my new Illinois driver’s license. I flipped the plastic card around haphazardly as I took in the information. My smiling face stared back at me. I hate my driver’s license picture. It’s fuzzy, the rest of the details. I don’t even remember if Dan was with me. He had started classes at Moody Theological Seminary in Chicago, so I think he was probably three hours away at school. I think my mother-in-law, Karen, was with me. I think I remember breaking down.  But then I don’t remember much about the following days. The only thing I clearly remember is waking up in the middle of the night having incredible pain like I’ve never felt before, radiating from my back. I cried out, screamed. Dan ran to get his mom, a nurse. She said she thought I was probably contracting, but called Dr. Kindred. He confirmed what she said. That night I went through my first labor pains.

And then there wasn’t a baby anymore.

Emptiness. Rage. Confusion. Despair. Devastation. It simultaneously ripped through me. I could barely deal with life. The blackness that cloaked me completely took over. Dan has said he felt as though he not only lost his first child, but he felt as if he also lost his wife. And for a time, he did. I do feel as though I stopped living. I did not care if I had friends, if we would make a new life in Peoria, if Dan would find a job, if I would find a job. I cared little whether I ate or not, or what anyone thought of me at my new church. All I knew was the blackness. And the blackness turned to hate. I hated everyone. Especially God. It was His fault. How could He do this to me? He had promised! I felt like stamping my feet and jumping up and down. I probably did.

But then, something started happening. Out of nowhere, women from the church began to call me. Truthfully, at first I was annoyed. Didn’t they know I just wanted to be left alone? But then, meals started showing up. Gals I did not know invited Dan and I to their homes for dinner with their families. Women prayed with me and for me. Some sat and just cried with me. This was the Church, Christ’s body, mobilized to love me in my darkness.

One night, a night between my emergency room visit and waiting to hear from Dr. Kindred if I was miscarrying or not, Dan and I sat talking and praying. Forever the optimist, Dan was trying to encourage me to just believe. Trust that it was all going to be okay. At the time, I translated that to mean believe the baby would live. Now that I know my husband even better than I did four and a half years ago, I know the meaning of what he said was either way, life or death, believe in His goodness. As we sat there talking, we began writing a song together. One of the many talents my husband has is songwriting. This is the song we wrote that night:

Verse 1

Little One you kept us up all night

And everyone is praying that you’ll be alright

God has plans for you

And He will help us through

Little One please don’t give up yet

It would break our heart to say goodbye before we met

 

Chorus 1

We’re just waiting for a spark to start your little heart

We don’t want to be a part

Jesus help us with

Jesus help us with

Jesus help us with our broken hearts

 

Verse 2

Little One it seems wrong that you are gone

But we know one day we’ll hold you in our arms

God has plans for you and He will help us through

Little One make the Lord your home

and when we come you can show us all the ropes

 

Chorus 2

We’re just waiting for a spark to start your little heart

We don’t want to be a part

Jesus help us with

Jesus help us with

Jesus help us with our broken hearts

 

Chorus 3

I’m just waiting for the spark to light my heavy heart

I don’t want to be a part

Jesus help me with

Jesus help me with

Jesus help me with my broken heart

I’m waiting for a spark

 

 

To be continued…