Saturday, April 19, 2014

For the first ... and only ... time in forever

"Why do we call it 'Good' Friday if that's when they killed Jesus?"

I think every kid who has been exposed to church life has asked this at one point or another.

When my kids were little (under 5) and asked the question, my answer was simple. "It WAS a bad thing that they hurt Jesus and killed Him. But Jesus let them do it because He loved the whole world and that includes us, and them too. He knew it was the only way to help us get to know His Daddy God." 

I remember recently going to see the movie, "Frozen." (By the way, I highly recommend that movie. There are some important firsts in it!!) There is a song in the movie called "For the first time in forever." And today as I was pondering the significance of 'Good' Friday - and of Resurrection Sunday - it occurred to me that the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross was the original "First time in forever" and that it would be the only time in forever - and that it would be enough. 

I've said a lot of things in the past on this blog about the horrors of that day. no picture could begin to describe the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual anguish He endured. But today, I want to talk about the joys of that Passover Friday. 

Photo "Hand Reach To Sky"
courtesy of samuiblue at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
The obvious joy is that on that day, Jesus opened a way that previously had only been open to one person once a year for a limited time; when Jesus suffered, He was paying the penalty for our sin, the very thing that kept us from having a relationship with His Father. He was suspended at the crux between justice and love, taking on His own heart every sin that had ever been, was being, and ever would be committed - for the first and only time. No wonder His heart literally burst in His chest!! His suffering brought us peace. His bruises ushered in blessing. His heartache would bring us the happiness of communion with God. 

The Bible tells us that Jesus, "for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame..."  That verse always bugged me because, after all, didn't Jesus pray and ask for this cup to be removed?  I couldn't see past the pain of the cross.  The joy, however, that was set before Jesus was the joy of opening the door of access to relationship to whoever wanted to enter it.

Just before He died, He cried out, "It is finished!!"  The Greek term here is "tetelestai." It is a business term, and it refers to a 'done deal,' an iron-clad contract that cannot be broken. The transaction? our redemption. 

I believe that when He cried this word out, it was not a weak, defeatist "Oh finally THAT's over" .... but that it was a shout of victory! And that is the second reason why we call it 'Good' Friday.

It's enough. It's complete. It was the first AND ONLY time, enough for all of forever. Nothing to add to it, nothing could take away from it; the Cross stands alone, empty, uninhabited, unembellished; there is no need for more. We know it was enough (on the First Day) because God raised Him from the dead on the Third Day; death was swallowed up by victory and so, in victory, Jesus cried out, "It is done!" Death just didn't know it yet; its days were numbered and the number was three. 

The love of God could finally be poured out, without measure and with no conditions. The way was jammed open. Before, people didn't have a choice; it was behave or be automatically condemned. And now, every person can choose. Jesus did that. HE DID IT. 

For the first  ...  and only  ...  time in forever.

Friday, April 18, 2014

An open door

"When one door of happiness closes, another opens; 
but often we look so long at the closed door that we
do not see the one which has been opened for us."
                                    ~ ~ Helen Keller

The last few years in my walk with God, I have felt Him leading in a certain direction and I've been looking for opportunities to step into what I believe He wants me to do (at least in part.) I naturally assumed that He would have me do these things in my own local church, but whenever I mentioned it to someone with the power or clout to make something happen in that area, it always fell through.

Numerous times this happened, and I began to get really frustrated because I KNEW I could step into this area and meet a need that I saw. Alas, it was not to be. And then frustration turned to anger when my perception of events and decisions made by those people started to feel ... personal. I even went to the extreme of attributing motives to the people who were involved. 

That's a dangerous occupation. I don't think that this is what is meant by the "gift of discernment." 

Anyway, about six or seven months ago, I again asked the powers that be about this thing i wanted to do, and I got 'no' for an answer. Again. Finally, I just got fed up and said that this was the last time I would ask about it. However, both their decision and my reaction to it didn't sit well with me. I worried over it, gnawed on it like a dog with a bone. And finally, maybe about a month ago, maybe less, I finally made peace with my inner turmoil and let go of what I had thought was God's specific will.

I know people don't name their guitars, but I do.
This is Penelope, named after my 6th grade teacher
whose enthusiasm inspired me.
I (in essence) took the restraints off God's hands. "Okay," I told Him. "I'll give it to You. If You want me to do this, then it'll have to be You that sets it up. I'm done trying to make it happen, thinking that it's Your will. It might still be, but this is ridiculous.  So ... YOU do it." 

And nothing happened. Things stayed the same. Except ... except that I changed. I found myself letting go more and more.

That was right about the time that I was just minding my own business and trying to read some scripture off by myself while the worship team was practicing in the sanctuary one Sunday evening, and in popped the pastor to the office where I was sitting. We struck up a conversation as he was getting more bulletins printed off and folded (I lent a hand). He was organizing a women's conference at the church and he wanted to know if I'd be interested in doing a breakout session at it. 

I told him I'd pray about it .... which I did .... and when no indication came from God to NOT do it, I agreed. It wasn't an area of ministry I'd even considered before. Hence, here was an open door I would not have been able to see if I hadn't given up obsessing on the old one being closed at that time.

And (okay, God's got a sense of humour) today, someone approached me after the Good Friday morning service, and asked me to do the very thing that I had felt God leading me to do for so very long ... in a different church. As a guest. 

Huh. Go figure. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

One Set of Footprints

I'm sure most Christians have read the poem "Footprints in the Sand" by Mary Stevenson (copyright 1984).

Someone reminded me about that poem the other night when he said that when times got tough he would ask God to carry him for a little while until he could walk on his own again. 

Photo, "Footprints on the Beach Sand"
courtesy of foto76 at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
A nice sentiment, I thought. Then, later (which is often the case when I hear people say things) I got to thinking about that. 

Why would I want to be anywhere else but resting in His arms? 

Isn't it the fact that we can't live the way He intended without His power (i.e., His Holy Spirit) giving grace and strength every moment, the sole reason why He came to pay our ransom and open the way to an intimate relationship with His Father? Why would I want to cheapen that by insisting on doing things myself? 

I'm not saying that I am folding my hands and singing Kum-Ba-Yah here. But what I am saying is that I would rather do nothing at all than do something in my own strength. 

"I am the Vine," Jesus said. "You are the branches." (John 15) He was speaking of a vital connection, a continual communion between trunk and boughs. "Without Me you can do nothing." That's pretty clear language. It's not, "Hey I think I can do photosynthesis on my own for a while, so I'll just disconnect myself from the Vine and do it on my own." Nuh-uh. It doesn't work that way. Leaves dry up, fruit rots and the branch dies. Not days or weeks later (even though the signs might take a while to show up) - immediately. The Life Source is cut off. 

Paul spoke of this idea as well when he wrote to the Galatian church: "Who has bewitched you? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now completed by the flesh?" (Gal. 3:1).

I've spoken of this idea of connectedness, of intimacy, many times before. I've warned people that it's not about how much you DO, what you've given up, what miracles you've performed in the power of God, or even how many converts you get. It's about knowing Him. Jesus said once, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord' will enter into the kingdom. Many will say in that day, 'Didn't we heal the sick, raise the dead... in Your name?' And I will say to them, 'Depart from Me. I never knew you.' " 

Interesting, that choice of words. Of COURSE He knows us! He knows everyone! So what's the deal?

The word "know" here is the same kind of word that is used in a marriage relationship - that level of intimacy! In order for there to be that kind of knowing, the one being "known" must open herself to be loved by her husband. Willingly. Pardon the metaphor but it's what He meant!! The "I never knew you" means "You never let Me know you the way I wanted to. You never let Me show you how passionately I love you." 

It brings a whole new meaning to the words, "We love Him because He first loved us." Doesn't it?!

I for one am getting just a little tired of feeling the sand between my toes and trying to get to my destination in my own strength. I want to be in His arms, listening to His heartbeat. I want to experience His love, to love Him in return and feel that love overflow into the lives of others who so desperately need that total acceptance, that monumental strength and gentleness, for themselves.

I'm not ashamed to say that He carries me. All the time. As the song goes, "I can't even walk without You holdin' my hand; the mountain is too high, and the valley is too wide. Down on my knees, I learned how to stand because I can't even walk without You holdin' my hand." 

When I get to those gates and I see Him face to face, I want to be able to look back and only see one set of footprints. His. 

I'll recognize them. They'll each have a big hole in them. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Consider Him

I love God's people. I do. The last few months especially, I've come to appreciate how incredibly amazing they can be: loving, supportive, generous, and compassionate. 

Sometimes, though, the "other side" of people raises its head and I find myself wondering what happened. People have their own agendas, their own "stuff" ... and sometimes that stuff gets in the way of good relationships. 

The hard truth is that because human beings are human beings, there are going to be situations where someone is going to get hurt. I understand that. I've hurt people before. And I've been hurt before. It happens. 

That doesn't mean it hurts any less or that the feelings are not valid. 

Lately there's been a situation where I have been feeling rejected and lied to, something that keeps happening with annoying regularity and which hurts. every. time. It happened again this week. Every time it happens, it feels like someone has struck me in the face. I feel rejected, undervalued and dismissed all over again. And every time I need to "deal" and find some peace in the situation because quite frankly, I don't see it ever changing. Call that a lack of faith if you want to, but it's also a whole lot of experience talking. 

Today as I sat in church (why is it that these things come to a head on Communion Sundays?) struggling with this recurring situation which was making me feel so worthless, I heard my pastor say (as he was introducing Communion) "He came to His own, and His own received Him not." (John 1:11)

Huh, I thought. Wait a sec. Jesus' own people rejected Him, dismissed Him, and ended up being responsible for His crucifixion

Not that my situation even comes close to His ... but then again, that's the point isn't it? The point is that He came here to make a way for humans to know God. And humans weren't interested in Him or in His mission, only in their own agendas and interpretations of why He was here. The Bible tells us that Jesus was "in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin." (Heb. 4:15) He went through all of that so that He could relate to our suffering. There is absolutely NOTHING I can go through, nothing that can happen to me or no emotion that I can feel, that He has not gone through or felt. 

He understands. 

Photo "Stained-glass Church Windows"
courtesy of franky242 at www.freedigitalphotos.net
"Consider Him who endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest you be weary and faint in your minds." (Heb. 12:3)

We like to pretty it up, make it seem less gruesome than it really was, but the cross was a pretty awful place - the most barbaric form of execution ever known to humankind up until that time in the history of the world. The scourging itself was enough to kill someone, but Jesus was made of stern stuff physically (carpenter by trade, walked at least 30 miles a day), so to the cross He went, already weakened by loss of blood and barely recognizable as human.  The very people He came to help had turned on Him. Even His best friends deserted Him when it looked like the tide of popular opinion was against Him. How horrifyingly wrenching! And to top it all off, He the One Person that mattered most to Him ... His Father ... would turn His back on Jesus. 

And I think MY problems are big. 

Needless to say I had to have a conversation with Him today about this thing I had considered to be so hurtful. And I thanked Him for understanding, and for being patient with me. I realize that the situation is probably never going to go away, and I might need to have that conversation over and over again with Him. But that's okay. 

He understands.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Relatable Jesus

You know, I've seen so much in my lifetime that passes for the way Christians think they are supposed to act and speak. This has produced a subculture where a certain lingo or jargon starts to overtake the person's interactions with people. I've seen them tilt at windmills and go on crusades to try to make other people behave according to Christian principles when quite frankly, it's only an illusion that we live in a "Christian society." All the while, some Christians will hang out together and shut out the world, developing a "siege mentality" (us vs them) and reject anything and anyone that doesn't look like them.  

At the same time, I've watched unbelievers laugh up their sleeves at such believers for years and years, (and learn to discount everything that every Christian tells them). And I've watched those same believers be mystified by that reaction (or worse yet, chalk the reaction up to 'persecution' and keep behaving in the same way). 

And even the term "unbelievers" is so ... prejudiced, isn't it? It panders to the myth that there are only two types of people in the world - people who are 'believers' (i.e., fundamentalist Christians) and people who aren't. 

Which brings me to the topic of this post. 

"White Mask" photo by podpad at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
I don't remember ever reading about Jesus turning anyone away because that person was a drunk, a prostitute, a Roman collaborator (i.e., tax-collector), or non-Jewish, or who had hair that was too long (or short) or body odour. I don't recall Him leading protest marches, burning Roman bath-houses, heading up petitions, or insisting on a dress code. People who were looking for something more in their lives flocked to Him, and He loved them all. True, He didn't participate in their dysfunction, but He also didn't shut Himself away from them and reject them just because they didn't act or think like Him. He spoke the language of the common people. He told stories that people [and not just the elite few] could relate to; He didn't (although He could have) expound at length about the ills of His society. 

He accepted people. He really cared about them. About the only thing that He came out against was the very kind of thing that I was describing in the first couple of paragraphs of this post: hypocrisy, and cruelty in the name of God. 

He didn't come to change society. He didn't come to change systems. He came to love people, to show them what God was really like. You see, people in His day had gotten it into their heads that God was all about following rules and pounding you on the head if you didn't follow them. Jesus came to change all that. He came to make a way for people to have a relationship with God. Pure and simple. Not to solve the age-old question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin (and why would they want to?) ... and not to exclude people on the basis of their differences. He came to demonstrate to the world what they never knew before He came: that God is love. He's not about punishment; He doesn't need to be appeased. Jesus appeased Him. Jesus took the punishment for us. Period. And that is the Good News.

Maybe it's time that Christians remembered that, because it seems that a lot of us have forgotten. We put on masks. We hide behind the denominational label, behind the church pews, and we take pot shots in frustration at the world and the people in it. We make ourselves unapproachable by the very things that we do that we think show others that we are dedicated followers of Jesus. 

Yet Jesus was the most relatable human being ever

If we are un-relatable, if people can't relate to us or don't want to be around us, it doesn't mean that we're "doing something right." It means that we are doing something wrong. We are (in our efforts to show the world that we're His) excluding them and pushing them away from our lives, ruining every opportunity to be the salt and light that Jesus said we already are just because we hang around Him

What I'm suggesting is not that we stop standing for what is right. What I AM suggesting is that we take a good, long, hard look at ourselves, that we open our hearts and ask God to show us how we are keeping or driving people away from Him by the way we act, the people we hang around with (and don't hang around with) and the language that we use without even being aware of it. If we ask Him to show us those blind spots and to make us more like He is, I think He will be delighted to show us - and love through us, mask-free - without us getting in the way.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Harmful things many Christians believe

I was having a conversation with a friend yesterday about how people have certain beliefs that are so destructive for their personal and/or spiritual growth. These attitudes are pervasive; that is, they are everywhere. However, I've noticed them most (and perhaps it's because I get around most in these circles) in the church. The list below is not exhaustive by any means, but I have put together a few of the most harmful-to-the-spirit things that believers believe ... and all of them are myths, yet taught as truth.

  1. It's all about the outside. Yeah, that old myth is still kicking around. I'm not so much talking about physical appearance here (although that can be included) as I am about the penchant believers have to lay down rules and regulations, obligations and expectations of themselves, and then expect others to follow them. And when others don't follow them, they judge these people and call into question their commitment or their dedication.

    This myth is born from fear: if I don't measure up, if I don't do enough, God won't love me. Or my prayers won't get answered. Or I won't have a nice car. Oh please. God's love and God's grace don't work that way. Get a grip on even a corner of the lavish love that God has for you, and that myth will vanish like fog on your glasses when you enter a warm house after being outside in the cold. Understand the grace of God and you will live in gratitude and not in fear.

  2. Self-denial and self-love are mutually exclusive.  Yikes! This is a variation of the first one!! The belief is that one is a good person if one is self-sacrificing and never looks after oneself. In fact, this belief is the fast track to burnout! Jesus knew this; He often took time away from the crowds to be alone and spend time with His Dad. He recharged His spiritual batteries and was ABLE to give Himself fully to others BECAUSE He spent that time looking after His own spiritual health. That "J-O-Y" that we learned in Sunday School (Jesus-others-you spells Joy)? Yeah THAT's a myth. It's more accurate to say, "Jesus pours into you and fills you up, so that you can pour into others."

    A healthy self-love is crucial to the ability to lay aside what we prefer at times, in order to meet another's need. When we don't care about ourselves, we will not care about others; remember, the 2nd greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Not instead of ourselves or before ourselves.

    I'm not talking about narcissism here. I'm talking about knowing yourself, knowing your limits, and looking after your own spiritual condition first. In that regard, I'm a big believer in the saying, "You can't give away what you don't have."
     
  3. I need to defend God. Hmmm, here's a sticky one. The idea here is that any time anyone says something that we don't believe, or expresses an opinion that casts a shadow on the Bible, or espouses a cause that is not "scriptural" ... we feel we have the right - indeed the obligation - to point that out.

    This is probably the one thing above all other things that gives Christians a bad reputation, because "pointing that out" causes others - and so many more than we can even imagine - to dismiss us as judgmental hypocrites, having no compassion or tolerance for other people.

    I had quite a problem getting this myth expunged from my psyche. Finally, it dawned on me. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion means that everyone has the right to say or to believe what he or she wishes, within certain legal boundaries. That a person - or a government - or a social group - says or believes something that I don't believe is actually a good thing. If that person or that entity loses the right to say or believe that thing that I don't like, freedom of speech and freedom of religion don't exist. And if they don't exist, then I lose the right to say or believe what I want. It goes both ways, you see. The golden rule is still golden.

    One of the things we have lost - I believe - in the last few hundred years since the Reformation, is the wonderful and nearly lost art of acceptance. Accepting people and situations the way they are can go a lot farther than placards and petitions, protests and punishment. Jesus operated like that. He wasn't a pushover and He did not join in others' evil deeds. But He ate with tax-collectors and prostitutes. He accepted everyone the way they were, and loved them. Their own gratitude for that love transformed them. The only ones He had judgmental words for were the people who were so tightly bound up in how everyone else was doing it wrong (and how much better they were than everyone else) that they couldn't accept that He might be who He said He was. Even those among that 'elite' group who were willing to listen to Him, He accepted and loved just as much as the fishermen and farmers who flocked to the hillsides to hear Him and to watch Him love people.

    God is a big boy. He can look after Himself. He doesn't need me to run roughshod over other people to prove a point defending His honor. I can trust Him to do that... and He does it far better than I ever could, and with far more compassion and mercy.

  4. I need to understand everything. Wow. The older I get the more I realize how silly and potentially dangerous this myth is. It's important to know what we believe and why we believe it. But there are things about what we believe that just don't cut it. They can't even come close to explaining all there is to know about God and about how He works. And I don't need to comprehend it. If I do, or if I think I do, then somehow God becomes just a ho-hum part of my existence instead of an all-consuming passion. And if I feel as though I need to control everything, then I make myself something I was never meant to be. Only God has the right and the power to control it all.

    Mystery makes our lives interesting. It also keeps us humble. When we admit that we don't know it all, that God might be a smidgen more vast than we can conceive, or work in ways other than what we might have thought ... our world expands. It's like standing at the foot of a mountain we've only read about. There is nothing like that feeling of being so small, such a speck on the sands of time, to give us perspective and to make us grateful beyond imagination for the love and the mercy and the grace of our great God toward us.
     
  5. Bad things come from the devil. The problem of evil is a huge one. It is true that much of the evil in the world happens as a result of the influence of the father of lies.

    But not all of it does. A lot of times, bad things happen as a result of a choice ... ours or someone else's ... that sets a series of consequences in motion. And in a lot of cases, even those bad things can be turned for good because (get this) God is never surprised by the bad things that happen. He works it into His plan to transform His children into His image.

    He doesn't cause them to happen. He weaves them into a tapestry. Sometimes we can get a glimpse of what He is doing ... but most of the time we see that tapestry from underneath, and it appears so jumbled and tangled that it doesn't make sense to us (see myth # 4). That's where faith comes in. Faith (whatever form that takes for us) is based on what we believe the character of God is. If we believe Him to be harsh and vindictive, we will see Him as cruel and punitive. If, on the other hand, we believe Him to be loving and pure, we will see Him as having our best interest in mind, and we will better be able to trust His heart even when the storm is raging.
     
"Happy Family" image courtesy of
photostock at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
These are only a few of the myths that plague us as believers. I'm sure you can think of more. 

We put a lot of stress on ourselves by trying to do what we were never meant to do. A lot of us (and I have done this) try to be the Holy Spirit - to bring someone to our way of thinking. It's true that we can participate in doing God's work. But let's remember ... it's GOD's work. So let's let Him. 

My prayer is that we will all grow up into Him and learn to love as He did as we begin to understand how very deeply and passionately He loves us ... to love God (in return) first and foremost, to love ourselves, and then to love others as ourselves. It really is the only way to be happy.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

I'm just along for the ride - thank God!



A couple of evenings ago, I gave a little talk at our church for a bunch of ladies who had asked me to give "my testimony." They gave me carte blanche, which I suppose is a dangerous thing to do. However, after praying about it, and not getting any "red lights"... I decided to do it.

A couple of people have expressed disappointment that they weren't able to hear me speak. Although I can't imagine that, I did speak from extensive notes, so, to accommodate them, I have decided to transcribe what I said into this blog post.

Here is the text of what I spoke.

Romans 8:28, 29
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who are (the) called according to His purpose.
“For whom God foreknew, He also did predestine to be conformed to the image of His Son.”
Philippians 1:6
“Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will (continue to) perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Most of you know that six and a half weeks ago, my youngest daughter Arielle was killed in a car crash in Alberta. Since that time, God has worked miracle after miracle in our lives, in our relationships, in our spiritual walk, in our attitudes, and in the lives of so many more people.

I couldn’t begin to tell you how many miracles there have been; I’ve lost count.

But anyway, about a week ago, I was talking to Neil and we were discussing how we would have reacted to “all this” if we both were the people we were five years ago.

We both shook our heads. We would each have dealt with it far differently. He would have dived even farther into a vodka bottle. And I – instead of standing before you tonight – would have been on the prayer chain because I would have been in Unit 9 - the psychiatric ward.

Seriously.

So in order for you to understand the miracles that have been happening lately, maybe I’d better let you know what miracles He started doing back when our lives were so far in the toilet that we thought we’d never get out.

Before I start, I need to let you know that I’m not telling tales out of school. Neil has given me permission to share anything about him that I need to share in order to show you how strong God is. And I have to stress above all, that this is not really our story so much as it is God’s story – the one He is writing in us. In me.

This is what my life was like five years ago.

I was a wife and a mother of two girls aged 19 and 16. I was in the music ministry with my husband of 28 years. I had just started a great job in the government, one I liked a lot. It looked like I had life by the tail.

But I was miserable. My husband was an alcoholic – he was drinking two pints of vodka a day just to stay normal, and he’d go to a quart a day to get to a blackout so he could get rid of the pain of living life with no emotion at all. He was unable to feel anything unless he was drinking. The girls were dealing with his problem the best way they could. And I was trying to keep it together. But my keeping it together was making everybody crazy. Including me. I was hiding his problem from people at work, at church, from his friends and mine. I was afraid of losing him, of losing my kids. So I tried to control them. Every last second of their lives!! That was my secret life.

In the meantime, I was living in Denial. I lied to people that I was doing great, Christian lies. Masks.

My home life was a joke. My kids hated having me around. I was judgmental, controlling, and manipulative. I could host the greatest guilt trips going. Everything was about how they were hurting me, attacking me, or attacking God. I’ll give you an example. The television.

I forbade them to watch certain shows. This show is SO New Age. That movie is Witchcraft 101. They watched them – behind my back – and they resented me for judging them. The truth was, I didn’t want to discuss those things, felt uncomfortable around them and didn’t want to see them myself. So I prohibited them. And I called it “standing for righteousness.” They didn’t see it that way. They saw it as me being a “Christianazi.” And they resented me. And they resented the God I thought I was serving. As for me, what this whole thing was about was not standing for righteousness at ALL. It was all about fear. I was afraid they’d turn their backs on God. And without knowing it, I was making sure they did.

God on the other hand, was getting pretty tired of this. I’d been deluding myself. And my worst fear of all – of Neil’s alcoholism – was the very thing He used to get me to the place where I was willing to ask for help.

I was so arrogant, so hypocritical. And I was hurting. So. Much. In my pain I accused him of choosing to drink, thought that he chose alcohol over me.
He drank more. I threatened to leave. He drank more. I was mean to him. He sank into silence and drowned his sorrows in alcohol. I wept. He drank.

Finally, in December 2008, I couldn’t hide any more because his drinking led to him losing his license. For six months. At the beginning of winter.
Now you might or might not know this … but I hate winter. Hate the snow, hate the ice, hate the cold. And I HATE driving in it, shoveling it, wearing bulky clothes in it. It might seem like a small thing – but a very small puff of wind can topple a house of cards. And I could see the cards slipping.

And I was scared.

The kids blamed me, of course. I blamed them – especially our youngest, who was at that time in full rebellion mode. And I knew that if this kept up, I’d lose everything: my marriage, my kids, and my ministry.

I was desperate. I prayed one of those “Peter prayers.” You know, like the one he prayed on the Sea of Galilee during the storm after he got out of the boat, when he started sinking below the waves.

“Lord, HELP ME!”

That was the beginning. God led me to a counsellor at the treatment centre. I went there … not to help ME, I told myself, but to help NEIL. To get him to stop drinking. I walked into my first session. That was in January 2009.

God had other ideas.

Over the course of the next year, He taught me a few things about myself in therapy. He taught me about life, and how to really live it. I won’t tell you about that whole year, because I've only been given 20 minutes! But here are some things I learned in that year:

  • It is I who need help. Even more help than Neil needed in his addiction.  
  • I was truly bound. I was truly addicted to controlling people and to getting my own way.
  •  The roots of my problem went back to my childhood. I had deep, unresolved issues and I was so very full of anger and self-pity.
  • I believed awful things about myself. And I told these things to myself all the time. You’re not worth anything. Nobody can like you… if they really knew you they’d reject you. All this is your fault. Neil’s drinking because you are so hard to live with. Things like that.  
  • I was a victim. I let others walk all over me and I overcompensated by bullying my husband and children. They were AFRAID OF ME, of my temper, of my judgment.

Now … here are some of the things I learned about God.

  • He’s not interested in my brownie point system. You know the one, where I keep score of what I do for Him so that He’s obligated to do what I want Him to do. It doesn’t work that way. It never did.
  •  He accepts me just the way I am and He loves me. For ME. 
  • HE. IS. FAITHFUL. He’ll NEVER give up on me … NEVER. EVER.

During that year, I learned that NOTHING I thought mattered, really mattered!!  That God is about one thing and one thing only: INTIMACY – and that with respect to all the baggage I carried, He was all about ACCEPTANCE … NOT judgment.

I learned how to do this: (Put both HANDS UP, and STEP BACK).

That is, I learned that people have boundaries. (Who knew?) Really. I never had boundaries growing up, and so I thought there weren’t any; they didn’t exist! But He taught me that they do exist, it’s healthy to have boundaries, and that everyone has them. And that it was okay for ME to have them, too.

I learned what forgiveness is (and what it isn’t) and I learned HOW TO DO IT. 
(… and that’s a whole other talk!!)

Again…. GOD DID THIS.  JUDY DIDN’T DO IT. JUDY COULDN’T. Judy had tried to do it and had FAILED MISERABLY.

All the time that my attitudes were changing because of what I was learning, my behavior was changing. I didn’t have to TRY to change it. It just happened.  “HE WHO BEGAN A GOOD WORK IN YOU WILL (continue to) PERFORM IT…”

My husband and kids were the first to notice it. And as I became more accepting, those relationships started to change.

Oh… did I mention that two months into this process, Neil got sober? And with God’s help every day of his life, he’s been sober since March 25, 2009.

I began to see how my own behavior caused the very things in my kids that I was trying to protect them from. I had to let go of those things. I had to let go of THEM.

So I needed to tell them. I needed to apologize to them for things I said, attitudes I held, things I did. Against THEM.

And you know … THEY FORGAVE ME. And relationships started to build.
There was a lot of damage to undo and I made a lot of mistakes along the way. But I’d learned how to live life. And God was more real to me than ever. My relationship with Him turned into this moment-by-moment friendship. I kept growing, kept learning. I still am.

FAST FORWARD NOW, to about a year or so ago.

Was I perfect? Were my husband and kids perfect? Of course not. But at least we could talk! And God still had work to do (and by the way, He still does).

The relationship between me and my youngest was still rocky. The one with my oldest was turning around some, but the one with Arielle… well, she was running with what I considered to be the wrong crowd. They were into drugs, alcohol, and more, and she was breaking every rule she could.

It was horrible. I had spent a whole year learning this new lifestyle of acceptance and freedom, of non-judgmentalism and letting go .... and it seemed that life wasn’t working. I just knew that when I clamped down, she was worse than ever. So I kept on letting go, as much as I knew how.

Before I go any further, I need to say that during this time I actually GAVE UP praying for Arielle. Unless it was to get her out of a scrape.

I’d given up hope that she’d ever change. I didn't think that even God could reach her. With her friends, she was amazing, patient, compassionate, wonderful. But with me… things were strained and she kept pushing the boundaries, even stealing from us. When she started doing that, and we had proof she’d hawked some of our possessions, we had to protect ourselves and her sister, and we showed her the door.

She never saw it coming.

I had to let go of her all over again, a whole new level of letting go.

She was so unhappy. There were so many strikes against her - her ADHD, her emotional problems, her work history, her lack of education … they made it impossible for her to get a job here on PEI.

So within a month, she decided to move to Edmonton with a friend I didn’t approve of at the time. I was TOTALLY against the move – but I could do nothing to stop it. She left.

I let go. Every day. And God protected her. Every day. Kept her from being mauled by a bear on the way up there, kept her from getting hurt by some nasty folks in northern Ontario. So many times, in so many ways over those months.

And I kept in touch with her. We texted nearly every day, more often as time went on and the relationship just … well it got better and better.

She’d been in Alberta about 2 and a half months when the unexpected happened. At least I didn’t expect it.

God stepped in

In the space of 24 hours, He set things up and she had a powerful, real encounter with Him, and felt His presence so very strongly. She KNEW He was real. She’d believed since she was three, but this was one of those transformational, one-of-a-kind God-moments. This young man she was dating had just had a personal encounter with God and he told her about it. And she felt something warm, she said, all through her torso. 

At one point he had to get out of the car, and so she pulled over and let him out. And she prayed. "God, I don't know if I'm just feeling his emotions or if this is something more. But if it is real, I'm going to need a sign."

No sooner were the words out of her mouth than she began to sob, deep wracking sobs. She felt God's presence in a real way. 


Christmas 2011 - we'd given her tickets to see her
favorite comedian, John Pinette, live.
She was so excited!!
 The young man came back into the car and asked her if she was all right, she was crying so hard! She told him about what had happened and he grinned. "It happened like that for me too!!" he said. 

And they spent the whole night praying and talking about God.

 My daughter. Praying.

She couldn’t wait to tell me, to tell her father, Dorothy, her friends, … everyone… what happened.

It was this experience and this transformation that got us through the next month of her life as she became homeless less than two days after this experience, living in her car, while fighting sickness, muggers, thieves, and cold – which affected the quality of her sleep – and of course lack of money. She wanted a home…so much. A little over a month of this lifestyle, and then, ... she was gone. Just like that.

And it was her experience in God that has comforted us so much since we heard of her accident. The healing has come from the love we have felt from literally hundreds of people whose lives have been touched by hers. Including the young man with whom she went to Edmonton. Because of her, he's celebrating five months clean and sober this week. And the young man who was in the car with her that night. 

And there have been so many more … in Alberta, in PEI, in Newfoundland, in this church, in others, at work, at school even. I haven’t spoken in a lot of detail tonight about this part because it is so very fresh, and there are still some things that we don’t know about what happened on that road that night. 

But from experience I can say this to you, about what is happening IN HEREINSIDE.

GOD is faithful AND GOD is strong, WHETHER YOU THINK YOU ARE OR NOT. But He proves Himself faithful and strong THE WEAKER YOU REALIZE YOU ARE.

IT DOESN’T MATTER HOW MUCH FAITH YOU THINK YOU HAVE OR HOW MUCH YOU FEEL YOU HAVE TO PRAY. GOD WILL DO WHAT HE PROMISED REGARDLESS. NOT BECAUSE YOU TWIST HIS ARM, BUT BECAUSE HE WANTS TO. BECAUSE HE LOVES YOU, BECAUSE HE LOVES ME.

AND GOD WILL DO ANYTHING, ALLOW ANYTHING IF IT WILL GET YOU AND ME TO THE PLACE OF INTIMACY, BECAUSE ONLY THERE WILL HE BE ABLE TO CONFORM US TO HIS SON’S IMAGE. THAT IS “THE GOOD” THAT ALL THINGS WORK TOGETHER FOR!!! THAT IS THE “GOOD WORK” THAT HE IS DETERMINED TO COMPLETE IN YOU AND ME.

AND HE WILL DO IT. BECAUSE IT’S HIS THING. IT’S NOT SOMETHING WE DO. HE DOES IT.

HOW? How do we cooperate with what He's doing?
 
HOW?

GOOD QUESTION.
 
THIS IS HOW.

HOW is spelled H – O – W

H stands for HONESTY. Be honest with yourself. With God. Masks DON’T WORK. You will rob yourself of a lot of joy by lying to yourself about your motives. Pray David’s prayer, “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me, and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me. Lead me in the everlasting path.” (Ps. 139)

O stands for OPENNESS. Be open to Him. Be open to the thought that you might not know everything … and let Him teach you. Be open to being changed. Be open to being found. Stop hiding from Him. Let Him in. That word, intimacy – think of it this way: “Intimacy equals into me see”. Understand that this is a process. God’s not going to ZAP you. Intimacy takes time to develop. Let it happen. It's worth it.

W stands for WILLINGNESS. Be willing to take the lid off. Be willing to look at those things that you might be afraid to look at in yourself. Old resentments, old hurts, attitudes you’ve been holding onto and thinking to yourself that “that’s just the way I am.”  Ask Him to reveal those things to you and trust that He will walk through the process with you.

Because He will. HE WANTS to. So He will. 

A lot of things have changed in my life in the last five years. And I've not done any of it. It's all been Him. And it's been His love, expressed in so many ways. Including you people.

I'm so grateful.  Thank you.