Monthly Archives: October 2015

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FACING GRIEF COURAGEOUSLY

BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO MOURN

Grief is an inescapable reality. In this life there is death, divorce, and hardships of all kinds. Thankfully, we have hope through the blood and power of Christ. In the Bible verse, John 16:33, Christ said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Because of Christ, we can overcome the troubles of this world and live a beautiful, victorious life.

Grief is the opportunity to run into the arms of Jesus and experience His healing love in unimaginable ways. Pain is what takes our eyes off this present life and draws us into an eternal perspective and leads us to joy that cannot be stolen away from us. I’ve experienced some of life’s greatest joys while in the midst of life’s most difficult losses.

It was nearly twenty years ago that grief touched my life profoundly when a close friend’s life ended tragically. For weeks, she was missing; search groups were formed to look for any hint of her whereabouts. It was an agonizing time of uncertainty while we were searching and desperately wanting to find our friend. Eventually, in February of 1996, her body was discovered. She had been murdered at the age of thirty, leaving two children behind. Sweet, beautiful Angela was gone—she was ripped from our lives in the most horrific way. It was grief I had never known before.

After I heard about Angela’s death, memories of our late night talks flooded my heart, and I resisted the feelings of guilt for not reaching out to her during the prior weeks. I clung to my faith and drew near to Christ.

I’m thankful I have journal pages filled with the details of all Christ did for me during such a traumatic time. The words in the next several paragraphs are written just as they are in my journal, with some of the words and pages omitted.

 

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I feel such a strong presence of God in my life. I had no idea this whole tragedy was going to hit me so hard. But in the midst of the pain, God had His hand on me continually.

Sunday night I met Stephanie, a lifelong friend of Angela’s. And right away I felt like she was the nicest person. Then Monday night, they asked me to help with the eulogy. Tuesday morning, Ginny, Kim, Susan, and Kelly and I all met to finalize the writing of the eulogy. Stephanie was distressed over how she could read this in front of so many people without falling apart. I asked her if she wanted me to pray for her. So we all held hands and I prayed. I reassured Stephanie by saying, “You’ll get through it.”

When we were at the funeral and she was reading it, I never imagined she could do it so perfectly. It was like God touched her in that moment. He had answered my prayer. The eulogy was perfect. She could not have presented it more beautifully. There was not a flaw. At that moment I knew everything was going to be okay. It was like God came down and wrapped His arms around me and comforted me. God was in the middle of this! He did immeasurably more than I could have imagined. After the service, I began searching for Stephanie. As I looked for her, I saw her face looking around and her lips we’re saying, “Where’s Amy?” She saw me and I embraced her. I cried a little and said, “It was perfect; God answered our prayers.”

I don’t know that I’ll ever see Stephanie again. But I know she is a special person and God used her in my life through this painful time. She blessed me with her kind spirit and comforting words. As the day of the funeral came to an end, I felt uplifted. I felt great sadness that I had lost a friend, but at the same time I felt joy that I had found a new friend.

Thank You, Lord, for answering my prayers. Thank You for the peace and joy You have given me during this difficult time. What wonderful timing You have. It was a blessing for Christa to pray the sinner’s prayer and ask Jesus into her heart on the same day that we said goodbye to Angela. Thank You for bringing joy to my life on such a sorrowful day. And what a blessing to have met such a special person: Stephanie.

This is the end of my journal entry.

 

In 1996, I wrote several more journal entries, documenting the ways God brought comfort to me. I thanked Christ for the gift of Stephanie’s friendship in my life during the months after Angela’s death.

My daughter, Christa, was six years old at the time, so she didn’t attend the funeral or know how Angela died. However, her spirit was tuned into the presence of God in our lives during that trial. It was beautiful for Christa to accept Christ as her savior at such a painful time. I’m grateful for how the Lord orchestrated beauty during a tremendous loss.

God carried me through my grief even when I wasn’t dedicating much of my time to Him. During the time of Angela’s death, I was in the busiest season of my life. I was a busy mom, home-schooling a kindergartner, working as a nanny, and volunteering in the children’s department at my church. With so much responsibility, I sporadically wrote prayers in my journal and seemed to only pray when I was desperate. Even with my neglect of making time for solitude and prayer at that time, Christ was waiting for me with open arms and met me in my painful days.

I think some people miss out on the incredible goodness of God during times of loss, because they turn away from Him in anger or numbness instead of turning toward God with faith to believe that He is capable of bringing beauty into the broken places of life. We live in a broken, fallen world in which grief comes to us unexpectedly, but Jesus stays the same (Hebrews 13: 8).

With a recent and sudden death in my extended family, my heart is greatly empathizing with the ones most affected by the tragedy. I am comforted by knowing that it’s in the darkest seasons that beauty emerges from the ashes.

I’m not pretending to know the pain of others. I cannot fathom the pain of losing a child or a beloved spouse. And I cannot imagine the devastation a child experiences in the loss of a parent. Even though I have not experienced the depth of your pain, I know Christ has felt your heartache. He knows your grief. His love is enough to fill the void and heal the pain. As you face your grief courageously with Christ, He will carry you one moment at a time and lead you to eternal treasures.

“May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting comfort and hope which we don’t deserve, comfort your hearts with all comfort, and help you in every good thing you say and do.”

— 2 Thessalonians 2: 16, 17 (NLT)

 

FIVE TIPS FOR RESURRECTING BURIED DREAMS

The Beauty of Dreams

Every little girl and little boy has dreams in their hearts. God places those dreams there for a purpose. He knows their dreams will someday be the fuel that pushes them into their destinies. When I was a child, my heart was filled with dreams.

My imagination was limitless. I would spend hours pretending and dreaming elaborate plans for my life. A dream that is very prominent in my mind is my dream of dancing. I have vivid memories of myself as a young girl dancing and choreographing routines that I hoped I would share with others some day.

Somewhere along the way my dreams were stolen—snatched away from me and replaced with doubt. By the time I was nineteen years old, my heart became disillusioned and I dropped out of my dance classes and stopped dreaming. Then I entered adulthood like a dead man walking, blindly feeling my way through life.

It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I realized there were dreams hiding deep within my soul. It was during a church service when a dream from childhood was slightly awakened. A pastor in my church laid his hands on me to pray and began speaking prophetically over me. He spoke of how he saw a vision of me teaching little girls to dance. I had never shared anything about my childhood dream for dancing with that pastor nor with anyone associated with that church. Only God could have shown the pastor those things about me. After-all, I wasn’t even aware myself of the dream—one I had long forgotten.

My dream for using my ability to dance was completely dead, and a pastor’s words ignited a spark buried deep within me. That message from God needed to incubate for a period of time in order for the dream to be fully awakened and released in my life.

Several years later, the prophetic words proclaimed over my destiny came to fruition in the most unexpected way. While interviewing for a part-time job with a company called, Creative Movement and Dance, I was offered a position to teach ballet to little girls.

The fascinating thing about the job offer is that I had not applied for a dance instructor position. I had responded to a Craigslist ad for an instructor specializing in sports skills for preschool age children. I worked part-time for years at a children’s gym and worked in elementary schools as an etiquette instructor, but I had absolutely no experience in teaching dance.

My soon-to-be boss, Heather, shared with me that she had accidentally booked two dance classes during the same time slot. She explained, “I can’t be in two places at the same time, so I need to hire a dance instructor.” I adamantly and kindly replied, “I’m not qualified at all for teaching dance.”

She kindly responded with words something like this: You have many years of experience with teaching children and years of being a dance student. I am certain you are qualified. I was stunned. I left the interview that day still uncertain about accepting the dance instructor position.

A few days later, during a phone conversation, Heather said, “If you don’t accept this dance instructor position, I’ll have to cancel the class.” Instantly, I knew it was a scheme by God to get me in this position with a corporation that had talented instructors with degrees in choreography and dance. While letting go of my fears, I enthusiastically said, “Yes!” to Heather because I knew that only God could orchestrate something so amazing.

I was thinking, “How could someone like me with no credentials for teaching dance be presented with such a great opportunity?” God had miraculously opened a door for me to live out my dream and I began teaching dance. After decades of lying dormant, my passion for dance was fully revived.

The dance instructor job was miraculous in more than one way. It fit into my schedule as a mom. My children were taking classes two days each week at a hybrid type of school for home-schooled students. I was able to work during the days they were away from home. Additionally, the job served as a very fulfilling and refreshing way for me to earn money, and it complemented my other part-time work during the years my husband was unemployed and attending college.

I loved teaching dance so much that I would have happily done it for free. It was a “dream” job in every sense of the word. With much gratitude, I worked for Creative Movement and Dance for six years (five of the years as a substitute teacher) until after my husband earned a Biomedical Engineering degree and began his new career. Once Michael was settled in his job, he persistently encouraged me to quit the dance job, so I could focus solely on an even bigger childhood dream: writing inspirational stories.

The day I started dreaming again was the day my heart came alive. My renewed ability to dream enabled me to wake up each day with extravagant expectation from God, fully living and hoping. My dreams push me forward and compel me to do brave things. Since I’ve tasted a dream fulfilled, I can’t imagine life without hoping for more.

Do you believe there are dreams buried within your heart that need to be awakened? Begin praying today for Christ to reveal your dreams to you. There are ways we can dig for the treasures God has placed in our hearts.

1. Surrender everything to Christ and pray that He will reveal His dreams for your life. Set aside a time to be quiet and search your heart for the unfulfilled dreams buried deep in your soul.

2. Start a “Dream Journal” to record your deepest desires and passions. Making a record of your dreams will serve as a reminder to keep pressing on in pursuing what seems impossible.

3. Form a network of positive people who will listen, encourage, and support you in your dreams. Be cautious in choosing people to share your dreams with. Some people will try to sabotage your efforts to dream again.

4. Be bold and courageous. Don’t let the fear of failure stop you from going after your dreams. Failure can be a good thing. With every failure, you will learn and grow.

5. Take steps toward your dreams by taking classes or joining a group. Signing up for an art class, joining a writer’s group, singing in a choir, taking dance or music lessons, enrolling in college for the 2nd or 3rd time—any of these things could lead you to the next step toward a fulfilled dream.

Renewing the ability to dream ignites passion in our hearts, allowing us to have clarity and purpose for our lives. We are never too old to dream. Where there are no dreams, there is no life.

Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.” Let your heart come alive by asking Christ to resurrect your buried dreams.

TEN TIPS: A RECIPE FOR A BEAUTIFUL MARRIAGE

 

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After a tumultuous season in our marriage and a brief separation, my husband and I decided to do whatever it took to get our lives back on track. Michael and I met when I was an eighteen-year-old student and got married six weeks before I turned twenty in 1985.

Over a decade later we had two children and piles of debt from several job losses and failed businesses. The stresses of life had taken a toll on our relationship. Our marriage hit rock bottom. Then after a season of brokenness and desperation, the healing of our rocky relationship began. Through prayer, forgiveness, and the love of Christ, our marriage not only survived—it was gloriously restored. God gave me the desires of my heart for my marriage.

To celebrate what God had done for us, we renewed our vows and celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in 2010. Our marriage is now better than it’s ever been, thirty years after we said, “I do.”

 

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Marriage is a gift from God that is supposed to be a beautiful mirror image of the love between Christ and His church. It’s a covenant that is meant to last our entire lives. How do we keep the passion alive throughout a lifetime? Is it possible to be deeply in love after three or four decades of being together? Absolutely! Choosing to love each other unconditionally and allowing the sanctification that comes from walking with Christ will result in a lasting, loving marriage.

I will never stop sharing the story of my restored marriage. It’s a story of redemption that I hope will encourage other married couples to never give up.

Three years ago my friend, Lori, had a great idea for putting together a “Happy Marriage Recipe Booklet” for a bride-to-be. She asked me to contribute my own special recipe for a great marriage. After a few days of praying and searching my heart for the best marriage tips, I wrote a list of the top ten things that have contributed to my thriving marriage.

1. Live a life that is fully surrendered to Christ. Let Jesus be the lover of your soul. Let God be your primary love relationship. Do not expect your spouse to meet the needs of your soul that only Christ can meet.

2. Forgive every day. Keep a pure and tender heart toward your spouse always. Never let the sun go down on your anger.

3. Pray together every day. Pray for each other and with each other every day.

4. Talk intimately every day. Let your spouse see your heart. Share your dreams and the secret places of your soul to cultivate intimacy.

5. Compliment each other verbally every day. Never criticize. Ask the Lord to change your own weaknesses and pray for your spouse to grow spiritually. Spiritual growth naturally decreases the power of weaknesses. The Lord will purify you and your spouse if you pray and draw near to Him.

6. Keep a gratitude journal. Write at least one thing every day about your spouse that you are grateful for. Keep it in a place where it can easily be picked up and read every day.

7. Intentionally cultivate romance. Write love letters. Have candle light dinners. Dance together. Laugh together. Play together. Act as you did when you first met your spouse. Look your best for him/her. Take care of yourself.

8. Be your spouse’s best friend. Never put anything or anyone but Jesus before your spouse. Your children, friends, family, church, work, hobbies should never take higher priority than your marriage.

9. Never ever gossip about your spouse. Gossip will destroy a marriage relationship. Go directly to your spouse to discuss problems. If there is a serious problem, seek wise counsel from a pastor or licensed counselor. Don’t talk about your marriage problems with friends or family members.

10. Affair-proof your marriage. Never talk on the phone, be alone, or have heart conversations with the opposite gender unless it’s a close family member. This is how affairs start. Innocent phone calls to a friend’s spouse can lead to sharing intimate details of your life. Even same gender friendships can rob your marriage of intimacy. Don’t be tempted to share your most precious pearls with a friend. Save the treasures in your heart for your spouse. If you want a passion-filled marriage, you shouldn’t be best friends with someone else.

The list could go on and on. But these ten things have impacted me as a wife more than anything else. My marriage is not perfect, but it is very fulfilling and beautiful. It’s an ongoing learning process for both me and Michael. Together with Christ, we are learning how to love each other perfectly.

Are you in need of a marriage make-over? If Christ could restore my broken marriage, it’s possible for yours to be healed, too. Nothing is impossible for God (Luke 1:37). I know for sure—a marriage built on the Rock of Christ will never fail. It will serve to purify your heart more than any other relationship on earth. A Christ-centered marriage is guaranteed to be filled with passion and love beyond measure.

“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine; he grazes among the lilies.”

Song of Solomon 6:3

This post was written for my former blog and has been updated and revised.