The Rescue: Seven People, Seven Amazing Stories… (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017)

The Rescue: Seven people, seven amazing storiesIf you’ve ever wondered if God is at work in individual lives, then you must read The Rescue. This book tells the stories of seven people impacted by the abuse or poor decisions of others– or by their own destructive choices. God’s intervention in their lives is nothing short of miraculous. An invitation to church, the “chance” hearing of a radio or TV sermon, or a flight attendant’s conversation with a passenger reading his Bible all changed the trajectory of their lives.

Once I started reading each story, I couldn’t put the book down. The author has done an excellent job of drawing you in to seven uniquely different and challenging life experiences. Each person faced extreme circumstances. Yet these powerful testimonies of Jesus’ redemption and healing offer hope and encouragement. More than likely, we may know someone who suffers from similar problems: drug addiction, sexual abuse, homelessness, and the negative impact for children growing up in dysfunctional, broken families.

When much of what we hear each day is bad news, The Rescue provides a ray of sunshine and hope. This book is a good choice for anyone who feels hopeless. Anyone who needs a boost of encouragement and the hope of having their life transformed will find good news here.

Thank you, Billy Graham: I’m One of the Lives You Touched

Billy Graham's life and ministry touched countelss lives“We all have a Billy Graham story,” one of his daughters said at his funeral last Friday. It’s true. The Reverend Billy Graham touched countless lives during his decades of ministry, including mine.

In 1979, I attended the Billy Graham Crusade on Okinawa, Japan. My husband Randy was stationed at Kadena Air Base, and we had just completed our first of three years living overseas. For months, the Christian community buzzed with excitement preparing for the crusade.

As a new Christian, I was curious about what the big deal was…but I soon found out. A crowd packed the stadium that night. Since Randy was away on temporary duty, our two young sons and I tagged along with some friends. We had seats up high in the stadium and no big screens to see close-up shots of the stage. But Rev. Graham’s message rang out loud and clear.

He presented the gospel simply and directly with his easy drawl. “Ya’ll come,” he said at the conclusion of his sermon. “Come just as you are.” Suddenly throngs of people streamed toward the field. Billy Graham encouraged people to keep coming. The hymn, “Just As I Am” accompanied the long lines of people going forward to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

Let the Little Children Come

“Mommy, I have to go forward,” 5-year old Jeremy tugged at my hand.

“Oh, honey, ” I said to my young son, ” it’s wonderful that you want to go forward, but we can pray right here.” Making our way through the crowds and down onto the field seemed daunting.

Yet Jeremy insisted. “No, I need to go forward!”

I looked at my friends. How could we discourage this little guy? We all agreed. We inched our way down the stairs and onto the field. It was a moment I won’t ever forget. Hundreds of counselors waited for each person who came.  Now I understood why this event required months of preparation. It wasn’t just about hearing an inspiring message. Making a decision to follow Jesus meant taking action and having a follow-up plan. Both of our sons became Christians that night. They each received a small red New Testament Bible, as Jeremy recently reminded me. That night on Okinawa, our faith grew wings. Two little boys, now grown men, have memories of the night when they gave their lives to Jesus Christ.

At his father’s service, Ned Graham, described his father as being F.A.T. –Faithful, Available, and Teachable. I’m thankful he was all three. Because Billy Graham came to a remote island many years ago, our lives were changed.

 

A Crazy, Holy Grace: The Healing Power of Pain and Memory (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017)

 A collection of essays dealing with pain and lossThis collection of essays from Frederick Buechner delve into the nature of how we deal with pain and loss. Buechner is no stranger to this topic as he has spent much of his life grappling with his father’s suicide when he was a young boy. As an adult, he faced the anguish of his daughter’s anorexia. Even though God may seem silent during  times of crushing grief, Buechner discovered God’s presence and his grace–that he truly is close to the brokenhearted.

The author, an excellent storyteller, tells about an experience at a retreat. Someone commented to Buechner that he had experienced a great deal of pain in his life, but he been a good steward of his pain. That was a new concept to Buechner–and to me as well. I like the idea that we can choose a positive way to manage the sad and puzzling events that happen in our lives. We can be good stewards of our pain.

Buechner says the tendency is to push pain away, to forget what happened, to never speak of a loved one we have lost.  Yet miracles happen when we walk through the gates of pain.

Miracles happen because of the willingness to open the door into your pain. Open your ears and your eyes to the elusive, invisible, silent presence of healing, of the power of God to heal, which moves as quietly, as undramatically, as the wind moves.

The author concludes that joy is at the end. When we enter through the gates of pain, we can encounter joy. Treasure can be found when we are willing to work through our sorrow. Buechner’s gentle, easy style draws readers in and gives hope. His compassionate, authentic wisdom make this book well worth reading.

 

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

Let Compassion Guide Your Social Media Conversations

Heart of compassionMaybe it’s just me, but it seems like social media conversations are often lacking in compassion. There doesn’t seem to be much restraint as people are quick to vent their emotions online.  The result is a nasty, mean comment that hurts!

I recently read a troubling conversation thread on Facebook. My friend had posted a picture of her son who would have turned 34 that day. The photo showed him on an earlier birthday, blowing out candles on a cake. My friend simply wanted to remember him in better times. Last fall,  he was killed in a tragic series of events. Sadly, he had suffered from mental illness. One day he snapped and killed three people on a random shooting spree near his apartment. Then police shot and killed him. There’s no way to understand the intensity of pain and anguish felt by each person affected by this tragedy. This would be any parent’s worst nightmare.

Most people who commented on my friend’s Facebook post had only words of compassion and support. Really, it’s impossible to find the right words. Then as I scrolled down the page, the mother of one of the victims weighed in expressing her raw anger and bitterness. The conversation that ensued seemed like a posting free-for-all. My heart ached for my friend and for this mom who are both dealing with an enormous burden of grief. I was thankful for a few voices who brought some reason and compassion into this volatile exchange of words.

Social media has brought many positive changes–the ability to communicate with a large audience, to keep in touch with friends by simply sending out a short update. Text messaging makes it possible to contact people quickly and efficiently. But lately, I’ve been more aware of the downside. Maybe it’s because you don’t look into the eyes of the person you’re communicating with, that makes it easier to send out brutal comments and criticism. People are quick to judge the mother whose child climbed into the gorilla habitat at the Cincinnati Zoo or the parents of the toddler who was attacked and killed by the alligator at Disney World. You just write whatever is on your mind and then hit send. There’s no compassion or even an attempt to understand what the people involved are experiencing. The biggest problem with social media communication? Once those words are hurled into cyberspace, there’s no way to retrieve them. The sting of negativity is there forever. It used to be that when you had a verbal confrontation with another person, there might only be a few witnesses, if any. Now, a Facebook or Twitter post can be viewed by hundreds if not thousands or even more.

Last Sunday, my pastor talked about how damaging words can be. He referenced James 3:1-12, a scripture passage that tells about how something as small as our tongues can be so destructive–just as a small spark can start a huge firestorm. (Something we’re painfully aware of here in central Washington as another fire season begins). The same guidance for speaking can be applied to our social media conversations. Instead of rushing to comment and pass judgment on others, maybe we should pause and ask ourselves the three questions Pastor Jeff mentioned in his sermon:

1. Is it true?
Do we know the facts about what’s being said–or is it hearsay?

2. Is it helpful?

Is what we’re considering passing along something that will have a positive impact?

3. Is it necessary?

How important is it that we share this information?

Maybe when we feel strongly about joining a social media conversation, we need to put love and compassion first and leave judgment and criticism behind. Most of us are struggling through life to do the best we can. And if there’s a need to confront or express our opinion, we can consider how to communicate this in the most loving way possible.

How do you respond to negative comments on social media?

 

 

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)

 

Why You Shouldn’t Give Up on Your Marriage

I heard the news that a young couple in our community is getting a divorce after only one year of marriage. What went wrong? All I know is this is a tragedy. I remember the wedding announcement we received with their bright smiling faces, their eyes so filled with love for each other.

Being silly at Lucy's birthday party!

Being silly at Lucy’s birthday party!

I want to tell them, “Don’t give up! Your story isn’t over yet.” In Alcoholics Anonymous, they say: “Don’t give up 5 minutes before the miracle.” Sometimes 5 minutes can seem like an eternity, but when the miracle comes, you don’t want to miss it.

My husband Randy and I are celebrating our 45th wedding anniversary in a few weeks. When I look back, I remember the tough times we faced in our marriage. It seemed hopeless. Struggling with Randy’s alcoholism loomed like a never-ending problem with few solutions. In retrospect, it was 5 minutes. The miracle of Randy’s sobriety and the years we’ve enjoyed since then, have truly been a miracle worth waiting for.

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

What I’ve Learned through a Lifetime of Marriage

My husband Randy and I recently celebrated 44 years of marriage.

Our anniversary celebration at Steak ‘N Shake

Wow–how can that be possible when we’re only 30+ years old? Well… we haven’t been that age for a long time, but it’s still hard to imagine we’ve spent most of a lifetime together.

When we first got married, I had this naive notion that all we needed was love. All together now: All you need is love. Da…da…da…da… da…When I hear those words, I automatically want to burst into song. Never mind about the misunderstandings and the immaturity of two 19 year-olds who are going to become parents before their first anniversary. As long as we have love, we will stay together. Wasn’t that also a song? Love will keep us together. If only it were that simple.

We do need love, but not the kind Hollywood portrays or most of us envision. I remember seeing the movie Love Story with Randy when we were dating. Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw (can you believe she’s 75?) looked deeply into each other’s eyes and proclaimed, Love means never having to say you’re sorry.

How sweet (and unrealistic) is that? But that’s the love I was looking for…where romantic feelings never fade and you sail off together as best friends and lovers without a disagreement or ever raising your voice or crying yourself to sleep.

After 44 years and weathering many marital ups and downs, I’ve learned a lot about real-life relationships:

  • There’s no such thing as 50/50 in marriage. Many times you’ll be the one giving more than you bargained for. It would be nice if everything were split neatly in half. The reality is that each of you will be called on at different times to give more than your share. It’s also good not to keep score.
  • Recognize the myth of the greener grass. It’s possible there is “greener grass,” but many of us see the grass and want to vault over the fence without considering the costs. The repercussions of an affair are devastating for everyone. Two families are directly affected, as well as extended family and friends. Life is never the same after trust in a marriage has been broken. God can heal and bring reconciliation, but the price paid is excruciatingly high.
  • Love the one you’re with. What would happen if you intentionally treated your spouse as if you really loved him/her? Not the Love Story type of love, but love that’s patient, kind, steadfast in sickness and in health, in good times and bad times. God’s kind of love that never fails.

Randy and I have been blessed to experience this love in our marriage. It didn’t come naturally, though. It took a lot of pain and struggle and heartache. We both realized the ability to love well was only possible if we were willing to get beyond our selfishness. As we experienced God’s grace, we were then able to begin to love each other unconditionally. Not perfectly, but in a way that says I want the best for you. I’m willing to do whatever I can to encourage you, to build you up, to help you become the person God created you to be.

And guess what? I found out I married the right guy– the one who has been God’s gift to me for almost a lifetime. And yes, we’ve learned that saying you’re sorry is at the top of the list!

If you’re struggling to love your spouse, there is hope! Small acts of kindness can be a good starting place. I would love to pray with you and encourage you to believe that God’s love never fails. 

Interested in reading more about marriage? Check out these similar posts:

Marriage Advice for Wives: 5 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Got Married

Why You Shouldn’t Give Up on Your Marriage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where Would We Be Without Friends?

When my mom had a mastectomy a couple of years ago, my dear friend Mary came to be with me.
Mary arrived at the hospital after Mom came out of surgery. Seeing a familiar face felt so reassuring. I threw my arms around my friend. I knew I could walk through this because I wasn’t walking alone.  Mary drove nearly two hours to be with me in Seattle. After her work shift, she loaded a cooler with bottled water, juices, fruits, and other snacks for us to enjoy at the hotel. She even tucked in a Starbucks gift card. Her presence meant the world to me.

Our friendship spans more than 30 years. We’ve walked a lot of roads together…weathered the storms of our husbands’ battles with alcoholism…  rejoiced with their sobriety…grieved over losses–parents, jobs, pets…celebrated weddings and births. We’ve shared life together and carried each other’s burdens. I don’t know where I’d be today without friends like Mary. I believe one of God’s most gracious gifts is the gift of friends.

Through the years, as I’ve been on the receiving end of a friend’s kindness, I’ve asked myself, what kind of friend am I? How can I be a better friend?

Lord, help me to be:

  • The friend who thinks of others and anticipates their needs.

  • The friend who is generous with her time.

    • The friend who is honest and loves you enough to tell you the truth.   

    • The friend who loves and accepts you no matter what.

     

    I’ve been blessed to have more than one friend like Mary. I pray you also have known the love of such a caring friend. No one can do life alone. God designed us to need one another.


    Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their work.
    If one falls down,
    his friend can help him up.  Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10

    I would love to hear how a friend has made all the difference in your life! 

        

      My Way or the High Way

      I used to think it was all Randy’s fault. If only he’d stop drinking, then we (or most importantly) I could be happy. I also thought I could change him. I could make him want to stay sober. I used ultimatums (you’d better stop drinking or…I’ll leave you…I’ll file for divorce, etc.) I thought he would be motivated to stop drinking. Wrong!

      I launched my personal mission to get Randy sober. I placed inspirational books in strategic places around the house and refrigerator magnets with Bible verses on the fridge. When Randy popped open a can of beer, he would see those verses and want to change. Suddenly he would see the light, drop to his knees in gratitude, and proclaim his desire to stay sober. Wrong—again!

      It is so tough to love your husband well in circumstances like this, finding the right balance in loving him that reflects Christ’s character. Maybe you’re dealing with a situation where you’ve tried everything you know to love your husband. Nothing ever changes and you feel angry and frustrated. You’ve lost all hope.

      I know how you feel. For the longest time it was all about me. I don’t deserve this. Why am I going through this? It isn’t fair. Author and Women of Faith speaker, Patsy Clairmont once said, “Fair is where you buy cotton candy!”

      I needed that reminder. The truth is, life isn’t fair. It’s how we respond to life’s inequities that determines whether or not we will find contentment. Looking back, I can see how my reluctant choices to take the “higher road” in our relationship, helped our marriage survive.

      Maybe what we need is a road map to guide us, some cues to encourage us to let go of “our way” and become willing to choose God’s “high way.” I thought of the acronym H.I.M. I had to intentionally follow Him (Jesus) to become more Christ-like in all of my relationships.

      H = Humility 

      Jesus is humility personified. He had a way of zeroing in on a problem and speaking the truth in love. He had a posture of gentle strength. Humility doesn’t mean accepting or condoning your spouse’s bad behavior, but it does mean treating him the way Jesus treated others.

      Dangerous Detours that almost derailed me:

      1. Self-pity—Why me? This isn’t fair!
       2. Blaming—It’s not my fault.
      3. Comparing—The grass is greener myth.

      I shifted my thinking. I learned to admit where I had been wrong. Who me? I learned to accept responsibility for my actions.

       Humble yourself in the presence of the Lord and He will exalt you. James 4:10

       I= Integrity

      Integrity is courageous honesty, speaking truth in a compassionate way to ourselves and others. Jesus was also a master of integrity.  

      Dangerous Detours where I often got hung up:

      1. Denial—Refusing to believe or accept what is true.
      2. Fear of confrontation—Lack of boundaries or inability to set limits.
      3. Disrespect—Treating your spouse in a discourteous manner.

       I needed to honestly confront Randy (and myself) with reality. Truth gives us the ability to walk into the light instead of staying forever hidden in the darkness. Truth brings freedom and relief.

       You will know the truth and the truth will set you free. John 8:32

      M= Maturity

      Maturity helps us extend grace to others and give up the need to be right. Maturity requires that we’re grounded in reality and that we do our best to make wise choices.

      Jesus knew how to reach people. He asked probing questions and told stories to make his point.  

      Dangerous Detours that kept me stuck: 

      1. Unforgiveness—Bitterness and resentment, the desire to punish the person who has wronged you. 2. Selfishness—Insisting on your own agenda.
      3. A hardened heart—Stubborness and unwillingness to change or accept instruction.

      Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29

      I almost gave up on Randy and our marriage. I’m so thankful the Lord gave me friends who pointed me toward a “higher way.”

      • Toward humility so my heart would become tender instead of critical.
      • Toward integrity so I could confront the lies I’d told myself and have courage to confront my husband in love.
      • Toward maturity so I could act unselfishly, desiring to awaken the goodness in my husband.

      By attempting to follow Him, I have truly experienced God’s grace.

      Grace is undeserved generosity. It’s a hug when I deserve a slap. And that spirit of forgiving is the soil from which grow words that impart grace to those who hear. Only tender hearts produce words that heal rather than hurt. –Jerry Harvill

      Where are you on your journey to follow H.I.M.?