Forgiven: Accepting God’s Amazing Grace

In 1992, artist Thomas Blackshear II, painted a picture titled Forgiven. It took my breath away the first time I saw it. The image is a contemporary man wearing a T-shirt and dirty jeans, holding a mallet in one hand and a nail in the other. The expression on his face is desperation and exhaustion. Standing behind him and holding him up, is Jesus. His nail-scarred hands appear large and strong. His face is tender as he embraces this man, a picture of God’s love and forgiveness, the real message of Easter.      He-is-Risen-from-StudioJRU

Tears welled up in my eyes. The man in the painting reminded me of my husband Randy. He had tried over and over to stop the deadly spiral of alcoholism that he was caught in. Sometimes he broke down in sobs of desperation and anger. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t stop drinking–even though it was destroying him.

But this painting gave me hope. Though Randy’s addiction seemed hopeless, as a Christian, I had to believe that Jesus was right there loving Randy, and that his arms wrapped around him would never let him go.

One week before Easter in the early 1990s, Randy agreed to have our pastor and others pray for him. Pastor Mark and several others placed their hands on Randy’s head and shoulders and prayed. It was powerful. We all felt the intensity of God’s presence. Pastor Mark turned to me and said, “Deb, here’s your husband back.”

I noticed Randy’s eyes seemed clear and at peace, no longer tormented. He felt free! Sadly, after a week of experiencing this miraculous freedom, the old patterns crept back in. Randy struggled with his addiction until 1998 when he finally came to believe that God loved him and had forgiven him. Grasping that truth made all the difference for him. He has been free in Christ since then!

Today, on Good Friday, my thoughts have turned to this painting and the picture of a defeated and desperate man. Tears come to my eyes as I realize once again, the power of forgiveness. Maybe Randy needed that very real taste of freedom he experienced in order to ultimately be able to accept God’s unconditional love for him.

Really, Randy is no different from any of us. We all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. We all have held the mallet and nail in our hands, demanding our own way, instead of humbly submitting to God. I like to think I would never have been part of the crowd shouting, Crucify him! I know better, though. Without God’s amazing gift of grace and forgiveness, I’d never have submitted my life to Him. Only through the pain and heartache of Randy’s struggle with alcoholism, was I finally able to surrender.

I can’t do this.

God can.

I will let Him.

Whatever challenges you may be facing today, the promise and hope of Easter always follow the desperate darkness of Good Friday.

God can do anything, you know–far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

Ephesians 3:20,21 (MSG)

 

New Hope for Marriage Retreat

If you or someone you know is struggling in her marriage, I’d like to invite you to consider New Hope for Marriage, a small group retreat to help wives find hope for their hurting and conflicted marriages.

We’re now taking reservations for the Spring Retreat which will be held at Cedar Springs Christian Retreat Center, just outside of Bellingham, Washington, April 29-May 1, 2016.

Christie Miller, my co-facilitator, and I are passionate about helping other women come to the Lord for a transformation and healing of their marriages. We know–we’ve been there!

For more information, visit: www.nwspeakers.com

 

Terrorism: Overcoming Fear with Faith

This past week, the topic of conversation nearly everywhere I went, was the tragic terrorist attacks in Paris. The horror of what happened there and in other places–Lebanon, Nigeria, and now Mali, is beyond belief. How can this happen? How can a Do not be afraidgroup of people have consciences seared to the extent that they believe what they’re doing is heroic? They believe killing “infidels” and then killing themselves brings ultimate glory to themselves and their god.

In contrast to those horrific events, Randy and I, our two sons, Chris and Jeremy, and granddaughter Lucy traveled to Ohio a couple of weeks ago to celebrate my mother-in-law’s life. Lucy, who is 3-years old, has the innocent, carefree outlook on life that children her age enjoy–and they should! I loved hearing her giggle when we played hide & seek in the hotel room. Where could Lucy be? She tried her best not to wiggle and give away her hiding place under the comforter of the king-size bed. Of course, we knew right away where to look. That lump under the covers was a give away–but we searched in the closet, behind the curtains, and even in the bath tub. When we finally “found” her, she shrieked with delight. Observing life through a child’s eyes is so refreshing–especially when life is heartbreaking.

Lucy experienced some panic, though, when we went through airport security. Her favorite stuffed animal, a giraffe named “Safari”, also had to go through security. This was Lucy’s worst nightmare. We had to pry Safari out of her arms so the giraffe could be inspected by the security agents. We promised Lucy that Safari would come through on the conveyor belt. She was inconsolable until she saw her stuffed animal. Then came the series of 3-year old questions…Daddy, why did they have to take Safari? He explained that we have these security procedures for safety. Sometimes there are bad people who try to bring things on the plane that could hurt others. After many more whys, Lucy seemed to accept her dad’s explanation. On our return flight, she placed Safari in the tub along with our other belongings to be checked by security. No problem this time.

I’m a lot like Lucy. I want to ask my Heavenly Father why? Why are there bad people who hurt others? There aren’t easy answers. We live in a broken world where evil is a reality. As much as I’d like to pretend it isn’t so, it’s impossible to ignore the facts. Flawed people follow flawed teaching. They become blinded to humanity–innocent people who are husbands, wives, parents, brothers, sisters, friends–all enjoying life–a meal at a restaurant, a soccer game, a concert in Paris, only to be shot at, wounded, or murdered. Our world has become an increasingly dangerous and violent place.

How do we cope with the uncertainties and dangers posed by terrorists? I continually look to the Bible for comfort and hope. The phrase “do not fear” appears at least 365 times in scripture. That’s significant! Psalm 46 offers this encouragement:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

The God of the Bible, who I choose to believe, promises never to leave us or forsake us. He is our refuge and strength, the One who never changes, no matter what happens around us. The pastor at my mom-in-law’s service said there are no free passes through the valley of the shadow of death. None of us escapes walking through difficult, even heart-wrenching times. But this promise assures us we will not walk alone. Your rod and your staff they comfort me, says a familiar passage from Psalm 23. We don’t have control over terrorism, but we do have control over where we will focus our thoughts. When fear threatens to wrap its icy fingers around my heart, I will remember the verses that emphatically say: Do not be afraid!

How are you coping with the escalation of terrorism?

 

 

 

 

Unassuming Heroes: Wildland Firefighters

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Firefighters kept the blaze from reaching the town of Twisp. Community Covenant Church, pictured here, is safe thanks to their efforts. (photo, courtesy of The Seattle Times)

When we moved to the Methow Valley in North Central Washington almost 20 years ago, my husband Randy and I were naive about the risks of wildfires. We purchased some property in a high risk fire area, not thinking about the implications of building a home in the forest. We later sold that property so we could be located closer to town–in retrospect, a wise decision from a fire safety perspective.

In the years since we came here, we’ve experienced a number of wildfires. Usually, fires have burned in the wilderness, miles away from residences. We’ve witnessed spectacular mushroom-cloud smoke plumes and have been inconvenienced by smoky air. In 2001 the Thirtymile Fire impacted our community when four young wildland firefighters lost their lives. The reality of how dangerous these fires can be and how quickly they can explode hit us hard. Then last summer, we experienced the Carlton Complex Fire, the largest in Washington state history until this year. The fire decimated 250,000 acres and burned more than 350 homes. Our friends and neighbors are still recovering from that trauma.

We’ve all been on edge this summer with the extreme drought conditions and high temperatures we’ve had since June. A few weeks ago, fires erupted in the resort community of Chelan, an hour away from the Methow Valley.  Many homes were lost. Then last week, on what seemed like a normal Wednesday, sirens sounded about 12:30 p.m. The radio reported a fire had broken out a few miles outside of Twisp, a town 10 miles south of where we live. My heart froze. No longer could we be in denial about the destructive potential of these fires.

By 5 o’clock, both towns of Twisp and Winthrop had received evacuation orders. A line of cars traveled the only road out of the valley. A large fire-filled cloud grew to enormous proportions on a nearby ridge. I raced home from work, wishing I’d packed our evacuation box the night before like I’d told myself to. I should be ready, just in case…

The “just in case” was happening. Fortunately, I’d made a detailed evacuation checklist last year. It was helpful and calming to refer to it as I ran around the house gathering important papers, photo albums, pictures off walls, clothes, toiletries, Kosmo’s dog food and supplies–and Kosmo! When you survey the contents of your home, you realize you can’t take much–only a few things. Plus you don’t know if you have much time. Do you have the luxury of deciding should I take the jeans or shorts? What jacket should I take? And shoes? Don’t forget to wear them out the door! Looking back now from a safer perspective, I can better evaluate our evacuation process. I realize I forgot important things and took others that didn’t even make sense.

In the end, you realize the stuff doesn’t matter. Of course, it’s a huge loss for those whose homes have burned, a loss that shouldn’t be minimized. But the unfathomable pain that overshadows any material loss is the deaths of three young firefighters who became trapped on Wednesday afternoon in the extreme fire conditions. A fourth firefighter remains in critical condition at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. We heard the tragic news as we evacuated. We are heartbroken with the rest of our community. And grateful beyond words for the bravery of firefighters, thousands of them, who put their lives on the line to protect us, our homes, and communities. As a group, they’re quite unassuming. They don’t think of themselves as heroes. One firefighter told me he was just doing his job, it wasn’t a big deal.

Oh, but it’s a very big deal for us. Without the vigilance and expertise of those who know how to fight these massive fires from the air and on the ground, our towns could have burned. Whether or not they realize it, these men and women are our heroes. A huge thank you hardly seems enough to express the gratitude that overflows in our hearts.

 

I’m looking forward to being the Keynote speaker at this event!

Date: March 14, 2015
Time: 09:00 a.m.-02:00 p.m.
Event: Olympic Cluster Spring Celebration
Topic: "Bear One Another's Burdens"
Venue: Christ Lutheran Church
Location: Belfair, WA
Public: Private

God’s Extravagant Love

Before Christmas, my boss and his wife treated my co-workers and me  to an afternoonExtravagant_0 of extravagance. Each of us was pampered with a massage, facial and manicure. As I lay on the massage table having the yummiest-smelling creams applied to my face, I suddenly felt overcome with emotion. This is pure extravagance, I thought. Something we as women don’t often treat ourselves to–especially all in one afternoon! Tears welled up and one escaped down my cheek. I hoped the aesthetician hadn’t noticed. It wasn’t just the spa treatments that got me teary, but  reflecting on God’s extravagant love.

New Hope for Marriage Women’s Retreat

I’m excited about the NEW HOPE FOR MARRIAGE women’s retreat I’m co-facilitating with Christie Miller. We have a few spaces available for the Feb. 20-21 date. Know someone who is discouraged in her marriage and needs some new hope – new energy – and a new plan? This is a great weekend opportunity. Small, private, encouraging!

For more information: www.nwspeakers.com

Remembering Dad: Navigating the First Year Without Him

My brother posted this picture of our dad on Facebook on what would have been his 87th birthday.  Dad passed away on January 1 and it still doesn’t seem quite real that he’s gone. Friends who have lost loved ones have told me the “firsts” are the hardest. The first birthday without Dad, the first Father’s Day with no dad to buy a card for, and then my recent birthday, the first one in my whole life without talking with Dad have been difficult milestones.

I remember my birthday last year. Dad was living in a dementia care facility. The day seemed empty. I felt sad because I hadn’t talked with him. My husband Randy who’s always coming up with practical solutions said, “Why don’t you call him?” What a great idea!

The person who answered the phone at Dungeness Courte was more than happy to locate my dad and put him on the phone. It took a while, but I finally heard his familiar voice which I mentally tried to  record. “Hi, honey.”

“Dad, I had to call you. It’s my birthday.”

“Oh yes,” he chuckled. “I think I had something to do with that!”

Dad was always joking. I smiled as I realized that not even dementia could rob him of his sense of humor.

On his birthday in June, I decided to walk the mile or so to our small town to enjoy the flags waving from each business. Dad was born on Flag Day. Growing up, he thought the flags flew in his honor. I snapped a few pictures. Then I walked to the bakery and bought blueberry muffins for Randy and me. Dad would have approved. He loved anything baked with blueberries. My heart felt glad that I’d taken this time to remember him.

Now it’s November. Glorious fall colors fade to brown. Trees are bereft of leaves. A raw chill penetrates the air. As I turned the calendar page today, a pang shot through me. It’s almost a year since I was with Dad.

I know that grieving involves feeling the sadness of losing someone who was such an important part of my life. I also know that celebrating the blessing of having a wonderful father is comforting and even healing.  

I believe Dad and I will have a beautiful reunion someday. I will hear his familiar voice again. “Hi, honey. Welcome home.”

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Revelation 7:17

How are you coping with the loss of a loved one?

 

 

Raise the White Flag!

I called my homeless brother yesterday. I only wanted to say that I love him. He couldn’t hear that. He thought I was trying to intervene, judging him. He told me his life is miserable, the party’s over–not that there ever was a party, I thought. I tried to interject hope into his hopeless comments.

You don’t have to do this alone, I said. But he couldn’t hear me in his deafness to allow anyone to help him. I’m going to recover on my own, he insisted. I don’t need anyone to help me.

My heart aches for him. I’ve walked this road before with my husband, Randy, as he struggled to find freedom from his addiction to alcohol. And as I struggled to let go, to finally admit there wasn’t anything I could do to fix or change him. 

It’s funny how we think we have the power to help someone else choose life over an addiction or other destructive behaviors. Fear got in the way of my ability to surrender my husband. I believed I had the power to decide for him. I thought if I let go of Randy, he would die. That’s a scary place to put ourselves in–and rather presumptuous. Do I really think I have that kind of power? Hm…I don’t think so. I am thankful there is One who has all power–and that one isn’t me!

Surrender!

There comes a time when we need to raise the white flag. We not only surrender our loved ones, but we also surrender ourselves to the Lord. We let go so God can work in our lives and theirs. We let go so we can be free from the anxiety that is destroying us. By surrendering, we choose a way that brings life to us–and possibly to our loved ones as well.

There are no pretenses or illusions about any noble efforts to save someone you love. This is rock-bottom where the rubber sole meets the road. You admit that what you’ve been doing isn’t working. You don’t have what it takes to motivate another person  to change their behavior. Only God can do that. Finally you give your impossible situation to God.

In Alcoholics Anonymous, they describe surrender in three steps:

  1. I can’t do it.
  2. God can.
  3. I will let Him.

There’s something powerful about recognizing we can’t do what needs to be done in our own strength. This might sound depressing. If we can’t do anything…who can? Ah…that’s the very place God wants us to be. He doesn’t need us, really. He has access to infinite resources. Sometimes the most we can do is simply get out of the way. We intentionally let go of our loved ones. This doesn’t mean we abandon them or stop loving them. Instead, we lovingly entrust them to Jesus. He loves them more than we can imagine. What better place for them to be! The Lord knows every detail about them. He even knows every hair on their heads. He loves them with an everlasting love. Our love pales in comparison.

Author Jan Johnson says it well: 

Letting go is both too simple and too difficult. It looks like weakness instead of strength, like losing instead of gaining, and it is. As we relinquish control and admit weaknesses, we remember who we are and why we’re here…This need to control is rooted in fear, but I need to do the thing that is rooted in faith–surrender.  

Once again, I find myself in a place of letting go. This time I know it’s the very best for me and for the brother I love so dearly. 

Is there a situation in your life where you need to surrender?

 

A Holy Comfort for Our Grief

There are times when you know you’ve encountered a holy experience. Two weeks ago, on a Friday evening, friends gathered to remember our friend Melissa. She lost her agonizing battle with depression and took her life on a Saturday morning in early December.

We who knew her have reeled with shock and grief over her tragic loss at only 38-years old. A service was held in the new community where she and her family had relocated in October. Several close friends felt it was important to honor Melissa here, where she had made her home for at least a decade.

About two dozen of us sat in a large circle in the church fellowship hall. A slide show flashed pictures of Melissa and her family. We each told how we had come to know and love her. We cried and even laughed together, remembering the happy times. 

What could we have done differently? How could we have helped her through those dark times? Questions hung in the stillness. But each person spoke comfort where answers are hard to find. God is faithful, no matter what our circumstances, one close friend reminded. She talked about how Melissa’s new church, a group of people who barely knew them, had rallied to support the grieving family. Another friend mentioned that Melissa’s oldest son’s teacher had also lost her mother to suicide when she was a child. God is certainly with those who are brokenhearted–even when we are at a loss to understand.

We held hands, sang a song together, and prayed for God to do what none of us can–to bring healing, peace, and comfort to all who grieve. Melissa’s close friends had packed up all of her clothing and brought it to the church. Please take something, they urged. Her husband wanted it that way. When I walked into the hall and saw the tables of neatly folded and sorted clothing, I broke into tears. How could I take anything? I saw Melissa in so many of those garments. Then I sensed that it would be wrong not to take something. I picked up a raspberry colored top and instinctively held it close. Her friends had given me a precious gift.

A favorite place

Maybe you’re walking through a season of grief, wondering how you’ll make it through the next moment, not to mention a lifetime. I pray you’ll know God’s faithfulness and be comforted, just as we were on a cold, January night.