Hope {Harper’s Story} — a guest post by Heather Whitley

I am honored and thrilled to share this post today from my friend, Heather Whitley.

I hope that you will be as encouraged as I am by her family’s testimony of God’s faithfulness and power in even the most difficult of circumstances…after you read her story, please head over to hopeinmommyhood to continue following along on their family’s journey!

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We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure… -Hebrews 6:19

Because Jesus is alive, there is always hope.  Three years ago, I doubted this.  I found myself in what seemed to be a pretty hopeless place.  My family was in danger of being broken, my marriage was at a crossroads, and everything I thought I had always known no longer seemed certain.  It seemed hopeless.  I was in a dark pit, and in that darkness I began to lose sight of Who God is.  I began to doubt His power, to doubt His promises, to doubt His ability to heal and restore.  I knew He was calling me to fight for my family and allow Him to redeem and restore my marriage, and I begrudgingly and half-heartedly went along with that… But inside I felt hopeless and could not see the possibilities.

Then came an interesting plot twist… I learned I was pregnant with our third child.  To be honest, my heart was torn.  I knew God had a purpose.  I knew He is the Creator of life and that there are no accidents when it comes to His plan.  He’s perfect!  However, I could not for the life of me understand His timing.  It seemed so terribly wrong in my eyes, and I struggled to embrace His will.

As I wrestled with God over His plans and His will, my pregnancy progressed perfectly, and a few months in, another bomb was dropped- my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Suddenly all of my problems didn’t seem so big.  I was faced with the fragility of life, with the reality of how short our time on earth actually is.  I saw the value of family as we joined forces to rally behind my mom.  I saw a marriage designed by God as my dad put my mom first, as he sat beside her and held her hand, as he selflessly served her, and as he fought with her and for her.

My mom beat cancer and took her last chemo a couple of months before my daughter’s due date.  We celebrated life and life rolled on.  A sense of normalcy returned and as I recognized the blessings of my life, I grew less angry and bitter.  I slowly swallowed my pride and began to accept His desires for our family.  I once again could see the hope we have in Christ.

But on February 12, 2013, that nice, normal life that I had begun to embrace came to a screeching halt.  After almost 37 weeks of normal, picture-perfect pregnancy, they discovered a huge problem…there was fluid on our baby girl’s brain, so much that her brain was being compressed.  She had hydrocephalus, but no one knew why.

We met with a fetal specialist in Wilmington for scans and detailed ultrasounds, and she was very grave as she sat us down with a counselor in her office.  Things did not look good- something in our daughter’s brain was causing the fluid to accumulate, and her brain was an absolute mess as a result.  There was no midline, no defined hemispheres, and she appeared to have very little brain matter left.  They did not know if she would survive birth, and if she did, there were no guarantees as to her quality of life.  We were told to prepare for the worst as they sent us to Duke to meet with another specialist and develop a plan.

We were devastated as we faced what seemed to be a hopeless situation, and we immediately began to call on our prayer warriors.  After just one day of prayer, we received good news- the doctors at Duke felt that our baby would indeed survive birth.  It was the first glimmer of hope we were given, and we knew God was at work.  I returned home with a scheduled cesarean at Duke in two weeks.  The doctors wanted our girl to be as strong as possible for the trials she would face at birth, so the plan was to wait as close to my due date as we could.  We would then deliver at Duke so that our fetal specialist team and neurosurgery team would be with us, and I could recover from surgery in the same hospital.

But, things never go as planned…that was Valentine’s Day.  On February 17 I began to have severe back pain, and I awoke at 5:00 a.m. on February 18 to discover that my water had broken and I was hemorrhaging.  We rushed to the hospital in Wilmington and I was immediately sent in for an emergency cesarean due to a placental abruption.

Welcome to the world, Harper Lynn!

Harper Lynn entered the world around 6:45 that morning, breaking the tension in the room with a loud, strong warrior cry.  It was the sound of a fighter, and I knew God had big plans in store.  She was absolutely perfect, 8 lbs 3 oz, 21 1/4” long, with a head full of gorgeous black hair.  On the outside she appeared to be totally normal, and even scored perfect Apgar scores… but imaging of her brain reaffirmed the reality that she would need surgery as soon as possible to survive.

I spent very little time with Harper before she was airlifted to Duke.  There is no pain quite like having your brand new baby taken from your arms into an unknown future while you helplessly stay behind.  My husband took off to be with her at Duke, and I stayed behind to recover (a process that took longer than anticipated).  I struggled with knowing what to do, or even how to pray at that point, so I continuously called on our incredible family in Christ to pray on our behalf- and pray they did.

Two days after Harper joined the world, she went in for her first brain surgery.  The plan was to insert a permanent shunt to drain the fluid off of her brain.  But, as we were learning with Harper, things never go as planned, and the plan fell through in the operating room.  Incisions were made and everything was ready to go, but at the last minute the neurosurgeon decided to take a look at the blockage in her brain before inserting the shunt- a move that ultimately saved her life.

Harper had a very complex system of cysts attached to the wall of her brain, and a shunt would have caused them to pull away and decrease pressure too quickly, which would have cost us her life.  As it was, Harper still suffered a brain hemorrhage during surgery, putting her in a compromising position.  They had to perform a craniotomy, removing a section of her skull, and then pack her brain to stop the bleeding while transfusing blood to make up for all of  her own lost blood.

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The next few days were touch and go.  Harper was placed on a cooling machine to drop her body temperature and basically keep her unconscious.  She struggled to keep IV lines in, her kidneys stopped functioning normally, her blood pressure kept dropping, a machine breathed for her, and she required multiple blood transfusions to stay alive.  It was a terrifying time to be a parent and we lived in a constant state of prayer, begging God to work a miracle.  And He did.

Harper became stable enough for a second brain surgery at 10 days old.  It was long and complicated, but they were able to remove all of the packing from her first surgery, communicate five areas of cystic systems, and insert an external drain.

Things were hard, but not life or death in the weeks following.  Harper had one more surgery to move the drain from one side to the other, and then began the long road to recovery.  She had to be weaned off of the respirator, and she had difficulty keeping milk in her belly even while being tube-fed.  She developed issues with her voice box from being intubated so long, and her reflux further aggravated that.  One night at Duke she decided to stop breathing altogether and had to be re-intubated, but eventually became strong enough to be transferred to the NICU in Wilmington so that we could be closer to home, our family, and Harper’s two big sisters.

harperrecoveringWe spent another four weeks in the NICU in Wilmington where we fought through morphine withdrawal, began physical therapy, and learned to orally feed, a task that proved quite difficult for Harper.  We actually began to consult with another surgeon about placing a feeding tube in her stomach, but God intervened and she began to take a bottle the day after the consultation.  Anytime we would face a roadblock, we sent out a call for prayer- and God answered every single time.

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On May 1, 2013, after 3 brain surgeries and 72 days of intensive care, we got to take our baby girl home.  We were finally a family of five under one roof.  We still had a long road ahead of us, but we were home.  We learned a new life of complicated diagnoses, medications, therapies, doctors to slow down and live a life of thanking God for the miracle of each moment.

Our beautiful girls on Mother’s Day.

We still face a LOT of unknowns with Harper.  Her condition is rare and unpredictable, and we’ve learned to not grow too comfortable.  She keeps us on our toes for sure.  It can still be scary at times, and it could be easy to ask, “Why?”  But in our two years with Harper, I’ve witnessed countless answers to that question.  God has used her to show He still works miracles.  We’ve had so many doors opened to new relationships because of our experience.  We’ve been able to share Him in so many ways that we couldn’t before.  We’ve witnessed the power of prayer firsthand and can attest to that.

And as for that wife and mom who felt hopeless three years ago?  That marriage that was on the rocks and that family that was so dangerously close to being broken?  Jesus stepped in.  We were forced to hit our knees in prayer, together.  We were pushed to join forces and fight for our baby, together.  We faced the most devastating circumstances, together, and saw God conquer, together.

God used what seemed like an awful thing for good- to show that He still works miracles… that He can redeem and restore absolutely anything… that NOTHING is impossible… that because Jesus is alive, there is always, always, hope.

Harper's 1st birthday!
Harper’s 1st birthday!

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”  -Romans 5:1-5

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.  –Isaiah 40:31

The Whitley family celebrates Harper's second birthday!
Our family celebrating Harper’s 2nd birthday!

The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. 

–Psalm 126:3

{PS – Check out the Whitley family’s #becausejesusisalive video…and don’t forget to follow Heather’s blog to continue this story of hope!}

 

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Love Leads Us Home {following Christ to calvary}, Day 14: Scripture-Reading

What did the kingdom of Heaven drawing near look like? It looked like the blind receiving sight, freedom from the chains of darkness, and death overcome by Life.

People marveled at the miracles they witnessed. Jesus, they said, must be a mighty prophet. God, they said, has visited His people.

Jesus had a mighty compassion for these sons and daughters of Israel – they were like sheep without a shepherd and His heart longed to gather them close. So He sent out His disciples, giving them authority to cast out evil, heal the sick, and even raise the dead.

Give, Jesus told them, as freely as you have received.

May we obey His words…may we understand, all over again, that God has visited His people and given us everything we need. I pray that He will give, to you and to me, compassion like His for those in need…so we will not ever hold back but rather overflow with His love. May we whole-heartedly share the hope we have been given.

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After Jesus left the girl’s home, two blind men followed along behind Him, shouting, “Son of David, have mercy on us!”

They went right into the house where He was staying, and Jesus asked them, “Do you believe I can make you see?”

“Yes, Lord,” they told Him, “we do.”

Then He touched their eyes and said, “Because of your faith, it will happen.” Then their eyes were opened, and they could see! Jesus sternly warned them, “Don’t tell anyone about this.”  But instead, they went out and spread His fame all over the region.

When they left, a demon-possessed man who couldn’t speak was brought to Jesus. So Jesus cast out the demon, and then the man began to speak. The crowds were amazed. “Nothing like this has ever happened in Israel!” they exclaimed.

But the Pharisees said, “He can cast out demons because He is empowered by the prince of demons.” (Matt. 9:27-34)

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Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And He healed every kind of disease and illness. When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He said to His disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask Him to send more workers into His fields.”

Jesus called his twelve disciples together and gave them authority to cast out evil spirits and to heal every kind of disease and illness. Here are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (also called Peter), then Andrew (Peter’s brother), James (son of Zebedee), John (James’s brother), Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew (the tax collector), James (son of Alphaeus), Thaddaeus, Simon (the zealot), Judas Iscariot (who later betrayed him).

Jesus sent out the twelve apostles with these instructions: “Don’t go to the Gentiles or the Samaritans,  but only to the people of Israel—God’s lost sheep. Go and announce to them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received! (Matthew 10:1-8)

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Then Jesus asked them, “Would anyone light a lamp and then put it under a basket or under a bed? Of course not! A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light will shine.  For everything that is hidden will eventually be brought into the open, and every secret will be brought to light.  Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”

Then He added, “Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given—and you will receive even more. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.”

Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground.  Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens. And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.”

Jesus said, “How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it?  It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.”

-Mark 4-21-32

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Soon afterward Jesus went with His disciples to the village of Nain, and a large crowd followed Him.  A funeral procession was coming out as He approached the village gate. The young man who had died was a widow’s only son, and a large crowd from the village was with her.  When the Lord saw her, His heart overflowed with compassion. “Don’t cry!” He said. Then He walked over to the coffin and touched it, and the bearers stopped. “Young man,” He said, “I tell you, get up.” Then the dead boy sat up and began to talk! And Jesus gave him back to his mother.

Great fear swept the crowd, and they praised God, saying, “A mighty prophet has risen among us,” and “God has visited His people today.” And the news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding countryside. (Luke 7:11-17)

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{I would love to know if any of these verses or words of Christ resonated with you today…please feel free to share what may have challenged or inspired you!}

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Love Leads Us Home {following Christ to Calvary}, Day 13: Sunday Scripture & Song

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus…may we know that His Word is enough for us – true and powerful, faithful and life-giving. May we be like the Centurion today, knowing that this means there is nothing and no one out of His reach. May we be like the ruler who trusted in the power of God more than the situation in front of him. May we be like the woman who put her hope in Him and found her healing at His feet.

Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.”

And Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”

 The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.   For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

 When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!  And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.  But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”   Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” And his servant was healed that same hour. – Matthew 8:5-13

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While He spoke these things to them, behold, a ruler came and worshiped Him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay Your hand on her and she will live.” So Jesus arose and followed him, and so did His disciples.

 And suddenly, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of His garment.  For she said to herself, “If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well.”  But Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, “Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And the woman was made well from that hour.

 When Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd wailing,  He said to them, “Make room, for the girl is not dead, but sleeping.” And they ridiculed Him.  But when the crowd was put outside, He went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose.   And the report of this went out into all that land.  -Matthew 9:18-26

Love Leads Us Home {following Christ to Calvary}, Day 10: Scripture-Reading

After spending time in a Samaritan town, Jesus returned to Galilee. Everywhere He went, He changed lives. So many of the moments we read in the Gospels are one-on-one encounters between someone with a need and Jesus. I love reading about these moments, because it’s a chance to witness how Jesus interacted with those who came to Him.

He took His time with each person. He already knew their hearts (John 2:25) and what their souls needed. He healed the physical hardships…and as He healed, He revealed His compassion and His authority. He taught the disciples and all those around Him what it meant to have faith in Him and in the Father.

As we read through some of those encounters today, we won’t witness only healing – we will witness forgiveness of sins. We will witness soul-restorations because of God’s grace.

I hope, that as we see the power and mercy of Jesus, we will remember that this same Savior wants us to cast our own cares upon Him – because He cares for us. He still meets us in one-on-one encounters if we call out to Him. He still has the power to change our lives – but first we have to trust Him with our needs. 

And I pray that we will know for ourselves that He is able – and willing – to heal our bodies, hearts, and souls. I pray we, too, will say “we have seen remarkable things today.” (Luke 5:26)

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After two days He left for Galilee. (Now Jesus Himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in His own country.) When He arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed Him. They had seen all that He had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, for they also had been there.

Once more He visited Cana in Galilee, where He had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to Him and begged Him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.

“Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”

The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”

“Go,” Jesus replied,” your son will live.”

The man took Jesus at His word and departed. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.”

Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and his whole household believed.

This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee.

-John 4:43-54

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While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged Him, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”

Jesus (moved with compassion*) reached out His hand touched the man. “I am willing,” He said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.

Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”

Yet the news about Him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

– Luke 5:12-16 (*the writer of Mark adds in this detail in Mk 1:41)

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When Jesus came into Peter’s house, He saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on Him.

When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to Him, and He drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.’

–Matthew 8:14-17

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One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick.

Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.

When Jesus saw their faith, He said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgive,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”

So He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”

Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God.

Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.” –Luke 5:17-26

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These Days of Dry Bones — Part Two of Nicodemus’ Story (Love Leads Us Home {following Christ to Calvary}, Day 3)

{If you missed the beginning of Nicodemus’ story, I would love for you to catch up and read part one. Today’s narrative is based on the events of the second chapter in the book of John.}_______________________________________________________________

“Nicodemus, what are you still doing here? I thought you were going to the temple this morning.” My wife comes into the house, already back from her trip to the market. She sits her overflowing basket onto the floor.

“Rachel, dear wife – have you left anything in the market for the rest of Jerusalem?”

She laughs and shakes her head. “Who knows how many relatives are going to show up this year to stay with us? The cleaning is nearly done, but I have to start preparing for the meal now before all of Israel fills our streets.”

Pesach. She is right. Time is passing quickly by and the days of Passover are close…once again, we will remember the days of old. We will remember our escape from Egypt. We will remember the miracles of God. We will remember the days of His glory in our midst.

Rachel crosses the room and puts her hands over mine, kneels so that we are face to face. “I know you have felt unwell, but I do think you should take that trip over to the temple. I think a walk will do you a great deal of good. Perhaps the fresh air will help you to finally have a restful night’s sleep.”

“Perhaps,” I say. But I cannot bear the thought of passing the beggars in the streets. I cannot bear the unrest in my soul when I cross into the temple courts. It was not so long ago that I found my greatest satisfaction there where my name is known, where I fulfilled my duty to God – but that day by the Jordan pierced my contentment. And now – the Baptizer sits in jail, taken in by Herod so that he can no longer declare the sin of our Roman ruler’s marriage to the people.

If John no longer calls out the Word of the Lord in the wilderness, where can I hear the voice of God? And will he remain in prison – because our High Priest fears provoking Herod’s anger – while we celebrate our festival of deliverance? We will remember the presence of the Great I Am in the lives of our fathers – but will we pray for Him to be among us now?

Without warning, the cry of Habakkuk springs from my heart – Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.

Yes, it is mercy that I need.

“Besides – you are missing the talk of the town while you are cooped up in this house. “ The tone in Rachel’s voice shifts, gentleness giving way to urgency. “And – I think it is something you need to talk to the others about. Because I couldn’t get many details -”

“News of the Baptizer?” I lean forward, suddenly energized.

“No – not exactly. But there is news of one he baptized before Herod captured him. A Galilean man.” She squeezes my hands. “Perhaps it is just market-gossip, but people are saying that he is a prophet of God. They are saying he is a prophet with the power to heal.”

I stand to my feet, pulling her up with me. “His name?”

She shakes her head. “I don’t know.”

“I’ll go,” I say. “If there is anyone gaining attention like this, Simon and the others will know.”

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The morning sun is warm as I lift my face to the sky. With the Passover comes spring and the first blossoms on the fruit trees. The times of the rain are passed, the time of the songbird has arrived…this is the change of season. How ready I am for new life.

I stop for a few moments, putting alms into the hands of the blind and lame, but I do not linger because this does not feel like enough. How can a few coins help someone who cannot see? How can I give these people any hope?

My wife’s words ring in my ears – a prophet with the power to heal – and I enter into the temple courts in anticipation.

The courts are, indeed, full today. There is a steady sound of conversation and the lowing of cattle waiting to be sold. I overhear a complaint – “the first dove was blemished, and he charged me twice as much for the second!”. Turning, I try to figure out who had been treated so poorly in their attempt to make a sacrifice, but they are lost in the bustle.

I glance around – there is Simon, one who prides himself on knowing everything there is to know. I eagerly beckon to him.

His grin is broad as he bypasses a sheep running from its new owner and comes to my side. “I am glad to see you are better, my friend!”

“Yes, thank you, I am much better today. How did you know I was ill?”

“The same way I hear most things. My wife heard from your wife that you were suffering some ailment.”

The beating of my heart is louder than even the chatter around us, isn’t it?  “Perhaps, then, you will know about this news my Rachel spoke of today. Perhaps she heard it from your wife.”

“The so-called prophet?” Simon’s eyebrows are raised high. “My Rebekah will not stop talking about him. She has never laid eyes on him, but the cousins of our servants sent word from Cana that he can turn water to wine and give sight to the blind. From all the stories they fill her head with, she will soon think the man can raise the dead!”

“Is it true?” I ask, a vision of the Baptizer in my mind – after me comes One who is more powerful than I…could this be the One he spoke of? “Who is he?” I ask, but my words are drowned out by sudden shouts of indignation.

Simon’s eyes are no longer on me. “Who is that?” he asks. “What is He doing?”

I turn to look – there, in the middle of a pack of running cows and sheep, stands a man with a whip in His hands and – even from here I can see it – fire in His eyes. We are shocked into stillness and silence as He drives the animals out of the courts. Their owners, protests pouring out, have no choice but to run after the animals. The man strides to the money-changers, looks at them as they stare up at Him with mouths hanging open. Without a word, in a swift motion, He takes their gold coins and throws them with a clatter onto the floor – He reaches back to the tables and sends them crashing to the ground. The nearby merchants draw back with their doves – He turns to them and speaks. “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!”

At the sound of His voice – at those words – I don’t know how I am so certain, but there is no doubt in my mind that this is the man from Galilee.

The money-changers are on hands and knees, picking up their coins. Those men with the doves are leaving without complaint. The noise of the people has ceased. All eyes are on Him.

And there is one of our own, fury in his eyes, stepping around the overturned tables to approach this man. Simon grabs my elbow and pulls me along as others draw closer – I see Annas, indignation clear on his face, among the crowd.

“What sign can You show us to prove Your authority to do all this?” It is Annas who speaks out – our former High Priest’s voice is still strong, despite his age.

The man is bold; He looks directly at Annas. “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

Despite the tension of the moment, a muted chuckle rises from the crowd.

One of the priests calls out to Him, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and You are going to raise it in three days?”

Simon looks at me and shakes his head. “Does this man not fear the power of our council? Is he threatening our temple?”

“He is not afraid of anyone in this temple,” I say to Simon. That much is clear. “Can’t you see that there is no fear in that man? But I don’t know what He means.” I don’t know what it is He really saying – but I want to find out. He called this temple His Father’s house – and defended this place with authority in His voice. I have never seen – or heard – anything like this before.

But when I turn my head back to the center of the crowd, I no longer see Him standing there. I just see Annas and the rest of our people, with confusion in their expressions. As they begin to point at the mess and criticize the stranger’s words, the confusion becomes anger. Simon joins in the conversation and I slip away. I want to know this Galilean who so boldly cleansed the temple of our unrighteous ways.

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Rachel was right – the streets are quickly become congested with visitors and vendors preparing for the Festival. I stop the first person I see – “Do you know where the man from Galilee is?”

“You mean Jesus?” the old woman smiles. “Follow the crowd. They will find Him.”

Jesus.

Is this what hope feels like?

I press into the throng of people and, yes, they are looking for Him. I am shoulder to shoulder with the poor, with the sick, with the forgotten. I think of the words we will soon say over the Passover meal – Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat; whoever is in need, let him come…

There, there He is. I hang back as all of these men and women, their children, approach Him. He listens to every word that they say. He bends His ear to the bent and lowly. He meets their outstretched arms.

I see a man with a useless leg drag himself closer. Was this the lame man I offered alms such a short time ago?  I had no hope for him – but Jesus touches him and I see the leg straighten and become as it should be. I see the man touch his leg in astonishment and watch as he leaps through the air, landing firmly on both feet. “Glory be to God!” he exclaims.

Glory.  I cannot help myself. I move closer.

I watch a blind child placed at His feet. I see His touch, though I can’t hear His words from here, and I see the child’s unfocused eyes brighten. The child’s jubilant laughter is matched with His own.

Oh, these glad shouts of those who before carried sorrow heavy on their shoulders – isn’t this the sound of deliverance?

This – this is the impossible happening right before my eyes and, indeed, I stand in awe…

Who can this be but One from God? Is this the beginning of a new season for our people? Is this what the Kingdom of God looks like?

I can’t trust my legs to take me any closer, but I watch and I wonder – if He can heal bodies, can He bring new life to my dry and weary heart? Can He change even me?

With my eyes filled with tears, I finish the Passover words and I begin to believe them:

This year we are slaves; next year we will be free people.

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Now while He was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs He was performing and believed in His name. But Jesus would not entrust Himself to them, for He knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for He knew what was in each person. -John 2:23-25

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Simple Reminders (For When We Begin to Forget What Matters)

It can be easy to get caught up in details and easy to get tangled in technicalities. We get snagged and tied up in the noise and the pace of life, our vision filling up with this and that and the other until we lose sight of what matters.

Today, my heart is saying: time-out.

I read Luke 10, feeling Jesus’ response to Martha’s distraction and distress (caused by her busy-ness and her sister’s non-busy-ness) to my core — And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.

I want to be like Mary. I want to choose that good, needed thing…His presence.

I want to keep my eyes on Jesus, my Savior whose love is my comfort and peace. I want to lean into His words with no other conversations crowding out His still, small voice.

Will you join me in taking these moments to savor His simple-but-extraordinary truths?

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Jesus came into our world to bring good news and to help us.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. –Luke 4 :18-19

He has compassion for us.

When the widow was weeping over her dead son, when He saw a crowd of confused and helpless people – lost like sheep without a shepherd–, when He saw the sick and the broken…He had compassion on them. (Luke 7:13, Matt.9:36, Matt.14:14) He brought life, He healed sickness, He met the needs of their hearts. This compassionate heart of our Savior has not changed. The love of the Father that sent Him to our rescue has not changed. Not even a sparrow falls to the ground outside of the Father’s care…and so Jesus says to us- Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matt.10:31) Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matt.11:28)

We can trust Him to provide what we need. The words of Jesus free us from the heavy weight of worry.

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. –Matthew 6:31-33

He is a trust-worthy foundation, in all situations. The whole world can shift, people can change, our situation can turn-upside down…but Jesus does not change. He is steady and sure. We can depend on Him and He will not let us fall.

“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. -Matthew 7:24-25

He doesn’t condemn you or turn you away – He welcomes you.

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. -John 3:17

When Jesus steps in, we become subject to Him, our Lord of mercy and grace – and we are no longer subject to shame, sin, or fear.

Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. –John 8:36

He does ask us for our everything when we follow Him…but not without giving His everything first.

“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.–Matt.16:24

 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. –John 10:14-15

At the end of the day, so many things can try to distract and deter us from the point of it all, from the plain and simple truth – God loves us enough that He sent Jesus to die on the cross, so that through Him we can be made righteous – forgiven of all sin.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever should not perish but have everlasting life. –John 3:16

And through His death, through His resurrection power – we can come into the presence of God and dwell with Him forever…while here, on this earth, the Holy Spirit within us – we abide in His love. This, friends, is the needed, good part…and it is the peace to our souls when we are troubled and worried about many things.

May we lean in, hear His voice, and live His Words…

As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.

These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.  This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.

You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. These things I command you, that you love one another.-John 15:9-17

May we hold our hope steady, no matter the noise and the always-changing world. May God make firm our feet on the foundation of His truth, our hearts overflowing in fullness of His joy and love, our ears open to His Spirit’s leading, our hands open to give as we have received, our mouths obedient in speaking His gospel.

And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone – Mark 16:15

Called to Peace (Part 3 of 4)

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And here is a question I have asked God, because we are a people not yet made perfect. What do we do when the bonds of peace are strained, overlooked, or just plain broken?

It is no secret – our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ can hurt us. While we are doing what is right, someone may wrong us. They may betray our trust. They may reject us.

There’s no way to soften or avoid the truth: this hurts.

I’ve been involved with church-ministry for nearly my entire life. I have seen absolutely beautiful examples of the Body of Christ loving one another…I have witnessed selflessness, generosity, and grace. I know the sweetness of peace between brothers and sisters in Christ. But I also know the grief of conflict and division. I’ve heard unprovoked words of bitterness. I’ve seen the heart-break that follows. And so there have been times when I have found myself frustrated with the family of God, my heart aching over the way we can treat each other so callously. For a long time, my instinct was to run from planting roots into a church, to not give of myself because it felt too risky. My preference was to keep hidden, un-invested in something that was not a guarantee.

But the Church – with all of its mistakes, regrets, and stumbles – is still the Body of Christ.

Jesus loves us – His people – despite the pain He suffered for our sakes. He loved us before we loved Him in return. He is our Good Shepherd, who told Peter that the response to loving Him was to take care of His sheep.

We – the Church – are His.  God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way. (from Eph. 1)

How can we hold ourselves back from the church…when He held nothing back to make us a part of it?

Yes, there is healing, even for hurt inflicted within the church – because His body already bore the stripes to bring it.

But we have to open our hearts – we have to let His Holy Spirit breathe new life into our sealed-off corners and turn the lights back on in the places we have kept darkened. We cannot find healing by permanently staying away from the Body of Christ. Paul talks about how we are all needed – everyone a part, each piece of the body important to the whole.

This, I think, is where we – those who have been hurt and are, perhaps, withdrawn or holding back from the Body of Christ – must take a step of faith to become peacemakers.

We must go back to those verses in Philippians and remember that Jesus humbled Himself totally. He took on suffering. He took on the treatment that He did not deserve. To make peace between our hearts and the Father, He took the first steps that we couldn’t take. He did not cause the hostilities between us, but He ended them with His love.

If we want to be obedient to His Word, we cannot hide forever when we have been wounded. If we do not allow God to bring us through the pain in His strength and compassion, then we may get stuck in fear and bitterness. We may begin as those who have been wronged and end up holding onto what is wrong in ourselves – the refusal to follow His command: A new command I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

To love one another as He has loved us, we have to give without expectation of receiving anything in return. We have to take a first step. We have to forgive – even if we never get an apology, even if we have been unequivocally wronged. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ. (Ephesians 4:32)

And Jesus said this in Matthew 6– For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Peter later asked Jesus how many times we should forgive those who sin against us – and Jesus said seventy times seven.

In other words, always.

I know it isn’t easy – being a peacemaker is risky! Preferring others, humbling ourselves, forgiving- it all leaves us vulnerable…and, chances are, we will face more pain. People will fail us, just as we may sometimes fail them.

Becoming a peacemaker – resembling Christ and bringing glory to our Father – means loving anyway.

And here is a crucial lesson I had to learn – as we serve and love each other, we put our full confidence and hope only in Christ.

We have to learn the wisdom of giving of ourselves to God’s people while putting our total trust only in God Himself.

If you have been in this place – if you are still feeling the effects of being hurt by someone else in the church – or if you feel this way in the future, I want you to know that Jesus will be with you every step of the way as you follow Him in giving of yourself again to others. We don’t do it without His help. Wasn’t Jesus Himself betrayed? He understands our grief – He does not turn away from our pain- For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet He did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15) He is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

Spend time with Him, let His love be your strong tower…wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and He will strengthen your heart…and don’t be surprised if He takes your struggle and – because He is the God who can do beyond what we can imagine, the God who brings light from darkness, the God who brings life from death! – transforms what was meant to do you harm into something He means for your good.

He can even use it for someone else’s good. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. (2 Cor. 1:3-5)

No matter what man may do, He never fails us. He is faithful – and He is our portion, the promised peace of our hearts that will pass understanding and circumstance.

As His children – we can be fearless in reconciliation, first to forgive, proactive in peace. We must trust Him and we must let our actions follow our faith.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us…God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: in this world we are like Jesus. –1 John 4:16-17