Finding Christmas in the Broken

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A couple days ago, a pure white blanket of fresh fallen snow covered the earth, or at least my little corner of it. Today, rain has washed it all away, leaving behind a muddy mess. What a picture of facing Christmas after losing someone you love, or when your world for whatever reason, doesn’t match up with the picture perfect Christmas we envision. Facing Christmas after your world has been torn apart, and the beautiful innocence disappears like the pure fallen snow, washed away with a painful goodbye. You are left with the muddy mess.

The heaviness weighs down on your heart, stealing joy. You watch others rush around swept into the inertia of the swirling tornado of celebration and preparation. You may even join in as well. But, your heart weighs heavy with the burden of how. How to celebrate the holiday when all ideals are held in front of us…picture perfect families and gifts, decorated homes, a season of joy and laughter while deep in your soul the lonely ache howls deep, and a pained smile is hard to muster.

You may wonder about this Jesus. This Jesus we celebrate, the One who was born in a manger to the virgin and the carpenter. Where was He when the rains of death came and washed your innocence away? And, where is He now?

My own heart weighed with the daily heaviness of the pain others endure mixed with my own missing, wondered how. How do I speak of the beloved Christmas story…the coming of our Savior, in the midst of a mother’s broken?

How does the celebration of His coming mesh with the pain that keeps a weary heart from lifting her head?

Who is the Jesus? And, does He see? Does He know of her broken? Did He see her stand beside the tiny, cold grave? Does He see her now, navigating life without her own mother, and a trail of broken from the generations before?

People want to speak for Him everyday, to paint a picture of this Jesus. If we are known as Christians by our love, then we are often failing to allow our Jesus to be shown the way He is. He is the One that loves us so much, He will hunt us down in the deepest, darkest pit of despair.

Christmas isn’t found in the hustle and bustle, in the gifts, in the busy, in the lights, in the merry-making, or in the perfect picture of all the ideals we hold up as a standard. It isn’t in the perfect family or the perfect memory or the perfect red dress.

The broken aren’t meant to hide pain behind a strained smile, wondering what they are supposed to do with the pieces of life shattered and scattered about.

Christmas is for the broken.

If you want to know my Jesus. This is my Jesus. This is why He came. He came for you.:

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”

And they shall rebuild the old ruins,
They shall raise up the former desolations,
And they shall repair the ruined cities,
The desolations of many generations.

From Isaiah 61

He sees your broken. He saw it before you were knit together in your mother’s womb. He saw it before He left Heaven’s glory to make a journey to the cross He bore to rescue you. He saw your ruins, your former desolations, the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations. He saw. And, He came. To comfort all who mourn, to make beauty from your ashes, to offer you one day the oil of joy in place of your mourning…and a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness that cloaks you in this season of grief. He saw. He sees. And, He came. To heal your broken heart. To set you free.

He saw. He sees. He came.

 

 

When “What if” Comes Calling

It creeps unbidden into our conscience…the doubting whisper of “what if”.

It is the question when we stand before the crossroads, decisions about our future to ponder. We wonder, “what if”. Sometimes “what if” comes while we stare at the giant before us, in the form of fear. Fear of failure, of taking the wrong path, of not hearing God’s guidance clearly enough, missing the opportunity. What if we pray and still somehow miss what God has for us? What if we’re wrong? What if we get off the path He meant for us, inadvertently? Or, even worse, what if He leads us on a path that brings heart ache? What if, even as we hold our Father’s hand, we must walk through the valley?

This weekend, I read The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. Throughout the amazing true story of this woman who courageously trusted the Lord as she worked to save hundreds of Jews and Christians from Nazi Germany, and later was arrested and spent time in a concentration camp, she displayed the kind of faith that only grows when we lie in the pit of despair, stripped of all the fragile answers we cling to and we realize that Jesus is all we need. We realize that He will meet us even there.

For as Corrie said, “in darkness God’s truth shines most clear”.

And, one of my favorites: “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.”

These are the words Betsie, Corrie’s sister, tells her as she lays dying at the concentration camp…”We must tell them that there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still. They will listen to us, Corrie, because we have been here“.

This is why I bear my heart here. This is why we tell the stories of God’s grace and mothers crying out from pits of despair with empty arms…carried by a God whose love can find them, even in the darkest of pits. And, the reason others listen, is because we’ve walked there. That promise is not just words. We lived in the pit…we were carried…we felt the rescue of His arms, the only ones strong enough to comfort such brokenness.

Sometimes “what if” comes not about the future, but the past. What if we would have chosen this path? What if we chose this career? What if we said this, or didn’t say that? What if we dropped the ball? What if we would have arrived at the hospital 10 minutes sooner? All moms battle “what ifs” and guilt where their children are concerned. But, those who experience loss, are often gripped so tightly in the blinding deception of those doubts, as if  being the tiny, finite beings we are, we could hold such power to change destinies. We do not hold the power. We are but vapors. So small in the face of eternity. And, yet, our Father holds us, leading us, hearing our prayers. Even if we think they go answered…even when He leads us to the valley…even when what lays so heavily on our hearts is not the destiny He has prepared us for, even when He gives another answer…His plans are for good, a future and a hope. His promises are secure. (Jeremiah 29:11) It isn’t about the circumstance of our lives. Accidents don’t exist for God’s people, when we truly seek Him. He is faithful, and He keeps our prayers, our thoughts, even our tears.

Recently some well laid (we thought!)  plans for our son’s future were changed. A door closed on what had been laid so heavily on his heart, a desire for his future that had been covered in countless prayers from all who loved him, and most relentlessly from my mama-heart. All the sacrifices and determination, all the tiny details that transpired to bring him to this closed door, stood before us, whispering “what if”.

Corrie’s words answered the question most firmly, and I plan to revisit them the next time the “what-ifs” come calling:

“There are no ‘ifs’ in God’s world. And no places that are safer than other places. The center of His will is our only safety.”

It’s less important where we spend our days, or the direction we’re called to walk, and even some of the life choices we make, as it is Who we are following. If we’re following the Lord, seeking His wisdom…His will, we remain secure. He is faithful to lead us, despite all that we see with our eyes. Remember, the words quoted throughout this post came from Corrie Ten Boom, a woman who never married, watched the love of her life marry someone else, risked her own life to save the lives of God’s people, and spent time in a place so dark and full of inhumanity and suffering…the closest place to hell on earth the world has ever known…and yet, she says there are no “ifs” in God’s world. She says His truth shines brightest in darkness. She says our safety is not dependent on where we are…for our God can find us, and keep us safe, even in the darkest pit. She says it, after living it. So, I believe her. Not only because she has lived it, but because I have lived His unspeakable grace as well. And, He has always proven faithful.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.  ~ Proverbs 3:5-6

Goodbyes

This world was never created for goodbyes.

Perhaps that’s why, even with all my experience saying goodbye, I stink at it, profoundly. Goodbyes. I resist them, dread them, loathe them, do my best to hide from them. They happen anyway. Time marches on relentlessly. Calendars flip. Promises get broken. Children grow up. People walk away. Jobs change. Babies die. Cancer steals life, youth, and breath. Friends change.

Goodbyes were never God’s intention for this Earth and His people. Several years ago, on a visit to the Creation Museum, I was awe-struck, walking through the replica of the Garden of Eden. I’m sure it was only a shadow of the true splendor God created for His beloved Adam and Eve. It hit me with such force, the absence of sin. The beauty of the world He meant for us, and the love that was so evident in His masterpiece. It humbled me to the core to see what God intended for us, and the devastating ways that sin destroyed his gift.

Last summer I blogged about a book by Karen Kingsbury that shares this sentiment well:

“Goodbyes were one of the hardest things about life…one way or another people were always leaving. Always moving on…Life changes. People come and go, and seasons never last.”

“Nothing stays the same. We can count on that. Good times come and go…finances are ever changing…our health will eventually fail us. And through death or decision, everyone we know will someday leave us.”

“All except for Jesus Christ. Jesus will never leave you nor forsake you. And because of that we have strength to love with all our hearts…even unaware of what tomorrow brings. That’s what I want you to take away from today’s service. Jesus stays.” 
(Leaving, Chapter One: by Karen Kingsbury)

Because of that…because Jesus came for us, “we have the strength to love with all our hearts…even unaware of what tomorrow brings”.

Even if another goodbye is on the horizon.

My father mentioned recently that I was rebellious when I was younger. He was right, and I’m feeling rebellious right now. In a good way. You see, the natural inclination would be to run and hide, as I stand staring several goodbyes dead in the eye. I’m going to rebel against the desire to curl up in the fetal position under my covers. Resist the desire to put my guard back up, safely secure behind my shell. Going all in. Even if it hurts…even if it breaks my heart. Going to lean into the fear, facing the giants of pain and loss…to love more, embrace more, live more. The good news is, I don’t have to do it alone. I can hold tightly to the hand of Jesus, for every heart beat.

Because, no matter what, Jesus stays.

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Today, we honor the beautiful Mothers who will never hold their children…mothers all too familiar with goodbyes…those who have watched their dreams dissipate, month after month….and those who have watched heartbeats stop on a screen…those who have held still, silent little ones too briefly in their arms…and those who fit a lifetime of dreams in mere moments, hours, days with the precious bundles they were privileged to hold for a blink of eternity.

Love and peace to all on this International Bereaved Mothers Day…(thank you CarlyMarie…for all you do for grieving hearts!)

Would They Want My Jesus?

My friend Dinah had a gift for making her home a haven. More than that, she made her life a haven for those who crossed her path. She loved and spent time with teenagers and convicted criminals. And, she understood both. They loved her right back. They were much less appalling to her than the well-churched at times.

Don’t get me wrong, Dinah could give a tongue lashing like no one else I know. She was ruthless with the truth, and held nothing back, sometimes oblivious of the boundaries that most people respected. But, she loved with equal ferocity. And, everyone was always welcome in her home.

I’ve been pondering a bit about the Jesus we present to others. Jesus was misunderstood, falsely accused, beaten beyond recognition, and nailed to a cross to die for the sins of an ungrateful world. And, yet the only time we see Him angry is when the “religious” people of the day (the Pharisees and Saducees) misrepresented God with their man-made traditions and hypocrisy. He stood in their midst and they missed it.

I don’t want to miss it. I don’t want to miss Him.

I wonder if the church sometimes does miss it. I’m speaking about the church overall…not one church in particular. When we get hung up on legalism…the tightly wound rules that put God in a box, we fail to see what is right in front of us. We fail to be His hands and feet, serving others. We fail to operate as a vessel of His love. We miss the opportunity to be a haven to the hurting heart, a place of refuge for the lost and weary, a healing balm for the broken. Tragic considering that every one of us matches that description ourselves at one point in our lives. I have been weary, hurt, lost, and broken. More than once. I’m betting you have too, if you’ve lived on planet Earth for any given amount of time.

And yet, we are often unapproachable to those most in need of love, mercy, and grace. Strange, considering that we have received so much love, mercy, and grace for our own sins and brokenness. For what are we as Christians but sinners who have been forgiven with a scandalous grace that was offered freely on the premise of  unearned, undeserved mercy? Who are we to decide what sins are too appalling to be delivered from, too dirty to be cleaned with His blood, too hopeless for a future that holds hope, too costly to be forgiven?

Spending time with teenagers has taught me a great deal about the importance of being real, genuine, and covered in grace. Teenagers and young adults have a radar for hypocrisy, and they have no tolerance for it. My oldest son often keeps me in check. Dinah used to talk about that, and I’ve now experienced it first hand. I used to marvel at her ability to relate. Now, I understand her love for young adults. They are some of my favorite people.

There is always an opportunity to show His love. And, it often happens in the unlikeliest of places. In the early years of our marriage, many of our friends were living the single life, partying, going to college, hanging out at the local bar. We had a son, jobs, and a mortgage so our fun social outings were rare. This was a time shortly after I started attending church and before Tim came with me. I would sit with him every once in awhile at our local Legion, drinking Pepsi while he and his friends had a few beers. Sometimes I would get to talk and listen a bit, and Jesus occasionally entered the topic of conversation. A few of our friends teased me about going to church quite often during those early years. One night I made a bet about something with one of the friends (a subject I knew I’d win!). If he lost, he had to go to church with me that Sunday. Can’t remember what I would’ve had to do…maybe clean something? Anyway, I won. And that’s how I convinced one of our friends who teased me about church the most to go to church with me. By winning a bet in a bar. Yes, ma’am, there are all kinds of witnessing. It’s OK to be creative….to think outside of the box…to be yourself…to meet people where they are.

Jesus was the best example of meeting people where they are, and showing love without compromising the truth. He spent most of His time with the dirtiest of scoundrels…the sinners…the castoffs…the unwanted…the broken.

Paul speaks to this very topic in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more;20 and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; 22 to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23 Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.

If we turn our backs to those before us in need, or if we make others uncomfortable in approaching us with their struggles because the sin is just too ugly to look at, what does that say about the Jesus we serve? Can we put a limit on His ability to forgive? His ability to cleanse? To heal? To restore? When others see our self-righteousness in the place of love, would they want our Jesus?

I feel the Lord working on my own heart…convicting my own guilt in this area, as I’m sure there are times when I have failed to love. Situations are already coming to mind. May He continue to mold me into a vessel of His love. When others see me, I pray they see Him.

Before pushing others away, or turning our backs, pursing our lips in self-righteous disdain, may we ask the question:

Based on the way I live…

Would they want my Jesus?

 

Where We Come From…and Who We Are

Saturday, our Contemporary Praise and Worship band, One Way, played at the Liberty Center Fall Festival. I awoke early in the morning tossing and turning. Many times before I stand before a crowd to speak or sing, I am plagued with a spiritual battle that leaves my stomach in knots. I do all that I can, praying through it…meditating on scripture. But, often the struggle is strong. It sounds so easy to lay it all at the feet of Jesus. Sometimes, it isn’t so simple.

This time, the battle was personal. It was more than just getting up in front of people to sing about Jesus. That, as my husband says, is a privilege that we should feel honored to do…not overwhelmed by the thought. Our goal is simply to bring glory to Him. He is so right, and there are times when it is a “taking every thought captive” exercise for me to cling to that truth and resist the temptation to let my emotions get the better of me.

As we drove the once familiar path to the home town of my parents, the current home of my grandparents, and several aunts and uncles the September winds were suddenly thick with smothering memories from my childhood. It is an amazing thing how a place can hold such history that it almost feels as if the place itself has a life of it’s own…so many stories to tell.

We drove over the narrow bridge that I’ve never been fond of. I closed my eyes and I was seven years old, riding in my dad’s red Mazda, eating McDonald’s chicken nuggets with hot mustard sauce, dreading the narrow bridge that took us to Grandma’s house. I loved visiting my Grandma, but the bridge was a different story.

I suddenly realized that going to sing in the town where my mother and father grew up may hold more emotional obstacles than my typical pre-show stomach ache. I doubled over and tried to shake the emotion. I rarely travel that way, and going back reminds me of so many childhood moments…the missing of those who are no longer here washes over me with such intensity. We drove past the house where my paternal grandparents once lived across from the Dairy Queen. I used to love their french fries. Yes, I know that Dairy Queen is known for ice cream, but I only seem to remember the fries. (Have I mentioned that I’ve never met a carbohydrate I didn’t like?) I also remember my Grandma Wanda’s love for vibrant purple and her lilac lipstick.

We stopped beside the semi-trailer that would serve as our make-shift stage, preparing to unload our plethora of gear and instruments, and I looked up at the orange and white water tower behind us. My breath caught in my throat, and I was again a little girl, holding my maternal Grandmother’s hand as we entered the grocery store. My eyes followed the path down Main Street, to the beautiful display prepared by my childhood babysitter, who now redecorates furniture (and does an amazing job I might add). I realized that this day, there would be no hiding from the memories of the September winds.

My mother walked these sidewalks before me, and for the rest of that day, I would represent her to the people of this town who remember her shining face. She would be carried with me, and they would be looking for a reflection of her as they looked into my eyes. I would not be the person I am today…the person who I am most days as I go about life: Kelly Gerken…wife to Tim, mother to Timothy, Faith, Grace, Thomas, and James, founder of Sufficient Grace Ministries, educational para to special needs children. No…that day, I would be Pat and Kathy’s daughter. My father lives in another state, and has since I was about eight or ten. My mother passed away in 2006, and prior to her death, I spent a great deal of my life exerting my stubborn independence from her. (However, I did learn to treasure and appreciate her before she died.) All that to say, I haven’t spent much time identifying myself in those terms. But in this quaint small town, much like the one where I grew up, and still reside…I would be known as Pat and Kathy’s daughter.

My father’s best friend, and the best man in my parent’s wedding walked by as we unloaded our gear. I smiled and said “hello”, realizing that the memories would be all around as the day wore on. I shook the hand of the sweet lady who invited us to perform at the event, and as I introduced myself, she said, “I would know you anywhere.” I nodded again. When I went over to talk to my childhood babysitter, she introduced me to the man beside her, and he said, “You look a lot like your mother.” It went on as the day continued. Several others saying…”You’re Pat’s daughter…or You’re Kathy’s daughter aren’t you? Does your dad still have that curly hair? Boy your mom was quite a wonderful lady.” It’s funny, growing up, people always said I looked like my dad. But, since mom passed, everyone says I look like her. I see it too, when I look in the mirror. I wonder sometimes if we don’t all just miss her so much that we want to catch a glimpse of her any way we can. I don’t really mind being that glimpse. It’s an honor, but it does stir the emotions already brewing this time of year.

I thought about that for the rest of the day…how it matters where we come from. All of our experiences make up the person we are, whether we understand how it works or not. It may be more of a small town thing. I’m not really sure. Other than visiting, I don’t really have any big city experience. I’ve always lived in a small town, and my parents came from (a different, but much the same kind of) small town. And, in a small town, it matters where you came from, and who you “belong to”. In a small town, those details somewhat define who you are.

Prior to stepping on to the stage, I was wondering how I would “put on Christ” and shake the emotions squeezing my heart. Tim knew, and gently reminded me that we were here to serve the Lord. I nodded, more full of feelings than I wanted to be. I blinked back a few tears and turned to an older gentleman with a ball cap and an almost toothless grin waving me to come over. I stepped away from the stage and walked over to him. He asked what kind of music we played and shared that he played the banjo and several other instruments, including a harmonica, which he promptly removed from his pocket and began to play for me. In the middle of Main Street. Surrounded by the Festival passerby. I did what anyone else would do. I smiled and clapped along, tapping my feet to the beat as he played proudly.

Then…he began to yodel.

You heard me.

He yodelled right there on Main Street…in the midst of the festival, and I forgot for a few minutes all the history surrounding me. I forgot everything but the sweet man, yodelling a song for me in the middle of Main Street and the God of my heart who sent him there to let me know that He always knows exactly what I need. I wasn’t sure how I would muster the courage to take that stage, with all of those emotions. God knew what I needed. And, he sent a harmonica-playing yodeller to do the job.

He told me his name and shook my hand, then wrapped his arms around me in a big hug. And off he went.

We went “backstage” and Dave led us in prayer. Then we climbed the steps and just as it usually happens when I opened my mouth to sing, the peace of the Holy Spirit washed over me. For the next 52 minutes, the only thing that mattered was being a vessel of praise for Him. The only thing that mattered was singing the name of Jesus in the town of my parents. The only thing that mattered was the smile on the faces of the children dancing joyfully in front of our “stage” and my maternal grandparents sitting by James and smiling as we played/sang. For the next 52 minutes He lifted me, as He is always faithful to do. And, I was free. I was Kelly Gerken, daughter of the King, put here to serve Him, and bring Him glory. And that was all that mattered.


My harmonica-playing, yodelling friend even came back and played his harmonica in the crowd during our performance, tapping his feet and smiling with his eyes. I smiled back, wondering about our encounter.


(Thanks, Glenn and Toni for taking this pic!)

Later, I asked several people if they knew who he was. Everyone knows everyone in a small town.

No one knew him, or where he came from…but he was there. And, he blessed and encouraged me in a way that I didn’t even know I needed. Interesting, don’t you think?

Meeting People Where They Are

I have this friend, Lynette, a teeny, tiny, lovely sweet lady who loves delicate things and the quiet, simple beauty of this life. Looking at her tiny frame and sweet smile, you would have no idea, but my Lynette is a prayer warrior.

This morning, we joined with some other praying mama friends of mine to do a prayer walk around one of our local communities. We praised, thanked, confessed, and interceded in prayer to our Father as the gentle breezes blew and the sun shown on our faces. We stopped to talk with the sweet ladies planting beautiful flowers along the way. And, off we went to pray some more…quietly and without fan fare.

No one would have even known that’s what we were doing…

I love that. I love how a really big God would choose to work through the one you would least suspect. I love how He chooses the chief among sinners to become a new creation. Love how He brings hope out of the most hopeless of circumstances. I love how He chooses one plagued with stage fright to stand in front of a group of people and sing His praises. I love how He chooses the weak to show His strength and might. Love how He chooses the uneducated to display His wisdom. I love how He chooses a sweet, quiet, little woman to be one of my dearest friends and one of the mightiest prayer warriors I know. Incidentally, one of the other of the mightiest prayer warriors I know is an elderly lady, nearly blind, but sharp as a whip, and quite adept at scripture memorization. She has prayed nearly all of her loved ones into the saving knowledge of Jesus…one by one. Every battle fought for their souls on her feeble, yet mighty, knees. No doubt, she will be praying until her dying breath.

I love how the Lord works, and often marvel at the unlikeliness of it all. Oh how I treasure a good underdog story. (Perhaps that’s why I endure the agony of being a Cleveland Browns fan.) And, I think our heavenly Father appreciates a good underdog story as well. After all, it’s the story He tells over and over again in the lives of His people.

As we prayed today, and in conversations with a few dear friends, God has been impressing another truth into my heart. He’s actually been working on this for awhile…

You have to walk with a person, connect with them, meet them where they are before they will want to hear anything you have to say.

One of the greatest blessings of my life has been to watch my husband as God develops that gift in him. He meets people where they are…talking with them about work, helping them with a project, listening about their ideas, their golf game, talking about guitar…whatever relates to the other person. It isn’t a put-on or an act. That’s just him. He stops and genuinely cares about what the other person is sharing at that moment. That may be the extent of the conversation…or it may turn into something deeper. But, it’s always in a comfortable, easy way. He isn’t perfect or flowery in his delivery…but he is always genuine. He has the gift of meeting people where they are.

Showing the love of Jesus is something we do in our everyday lives…as we walk along the way, as we sit down, and rise up. It is part of who we are, just an easy, light smile on our face, joy in our eyes and kind, willing heart to listen and share…to laugh, weep with, or hug. It doesn’t need to be some grand display, and often that turns others away. Just be who you are and meet people where they are. God is faithful and able to do the rest. You know I’m not a fan of sayings, but this one sums it up:

Preach the gospel always…and when necessary use words.

Living it speaks so much louder than words ever could.

* I wrote this before reading Kelly’s Korner for today. Thought it kind of fit with the subject, so I linked up. Click here to share your Random Acts of Kindness ideas.

A Little Love and Encouragement

Welcome to this week’s Tuesdays Together in the Word. To join us, please click on the button below:

I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ…
Philippians 1:3-6

I love the body of Christ. Love my church family. Love the ladies (and the gentlemen) who serve with me in ministry. Love the mothers who join me in lifting weekly prayers for our children at Moms in Touch. I love the total strangers I have met in blog land who pray for, encourage, inspire, and walk with me. Truly, from the bottom of my heart, I thank my God upon every remembrance of you. And I do pray for you, joyfully and fervently. What fellowship we have in the gospel, in the good news of Jesus.

And…I love the next part. Love this promise. He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ. He is not finished with us yet. He began the work in us…the process of making us a new creation in Him. And He will not quit until we are complete. That’s a promise. He is working in our lives. Weaving a tapestry, using everything that comes into our lives to complete His good work. There are moments of amazing joy and victory…moments of great, heartwrenching sorrow and defeat. There are lessons learned. Sins and repentance. Our tears, our laughter, our will…all part of the tapestry. Our quirks, our strengths, our weaknesses, our dreams, our longings, every thought, every desire of our hearts…woven together. And, oh…what a beautiful tapestry it will be when the master Creator finishes His good work. How beautiful we already are to the One who sees us as we will be…not as we are in our unfinished state.

Can I just say that out in the cold selfish world, we don’t often hear such loving sentiments? We don’t often hear that we are treasured, that someone is grateful for our part in their lives, and that we are prayed for. This is not so among the body of Christ. After Paul thanks God for his fellow believers, he prays further. We see the love in the body of Christ in Paul’s words: And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and in all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. ~ Philippians 1:9-11 What if we prayed this way for one another? What if the world actually operated with such love and respect for one another? Even within the body of Christ, we don’t always operate in this way…we don’t always encourage and pray. Sometimes, sadly our words are even discouraging. Lord, help us to have a heart that loves this way…a spirit that encourages. May we spur one another on.

There is so much about encouraging and truly loving one another in sweet unity in these verses in Philippians.

Stand fast in unity…worthy conduct…strength in numbers…
Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may heart of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries… Phil. 1:27-28

And specific instructions on how to treat one another…
Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. ~ Phil. 2:1-4

There are so many more nuggets…wisdom exhorting us to do all things without complaining or disputing. (As a mama, I have used these words many times to exhort my little men – and to remind myself when the “I dont’ wannas” overtake me!) But I want to leave you with this. Many who read this blog have suffered terrible loss. Many come with broken hearts due to various struggles. The following verse reminded me of the hope we have in Jesus…that He doesn’t waste anything in our lives…that He has plans that are good, a future and a hope for us.

No matter what we face. If there is one purpose in our lives, one truth, one goal, one theme, let it be this:
But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel… ~ Philippians 1:12

In all things, may He be glorified…and may He draw us closer still…and may more come to know His saving grace…

Love to you all…

Believing Without Seeing…Because He Lives

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When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desired to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. ~ Mark 8:34-35

What does it mean to deny myself, to pick up my cross, and follow Him? It is a daily choice, a daily laying down of my desires, a daily decreasing of me and an increasing of Him.(Although the longer I walk with Him, the more my desires match His desires for my life. There is much to be gained in all my “giving up”. Hence, ” whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it”.) It is choosing words and thoughts of life and not harm. It is doing the hard thing, trusting when I don’t feel it, believing when I can’t see it. It is clinging to Him when when it doesn’t make sense when the world would say, “All hope is lost.” When Satan whispers in my ear, “Where is your God now?” It is lifting my eyes to Him, no matter what stands before me. It is running to meet the giant, filled with the confidence that the God I serve is able to give victory.

So many times, we want to see the miracles with our eyes. We want proof that He is there. Proof that He hasn’t forsaken us. Proof that He lives. Proof that He will carry us. Proof that His grace is sufficient. We want to see. Never have I ached to see Him more than when we heard the words “incompatible with life” in reference to our son Thomas. I have shared about part of that journey before, but today, I want to focus on the precious gift Thomas’ life gave to us…the reason he is called Thomas. His life taught us about “believing without seeing.”

Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into my side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”
And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. ~ John 20:24-29

“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles; and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day, He will rise again.” ~ Mark 10:33-34

At Christmas, we rejoice because He came. On Easter, we rejoice because He lives.

Because He lives, our Faith and Grace live too. They are complete and perfect as they dance in heaven and giggle over dainty tea parties in their Easter dresses with matching bonnets. They are safe in the arms of Jesus…because He lives.

Because He lives, our Thomas lives too. He runs and plays ball just like he was created to do. And someday, Timothy and James will play ball with their brother in all of heaven’s glory. And someday, we will all see with our eyes the Savior we have believed in with our hearts.

Because He lives, there is no more pain or cancer for my sweet mama. She can create beautiful things with her hands and love on her grandbabies. And someday, she will laugh with all of her grandbabies and her children on the porch of her cottage-mansion in heaven.

Because He lives, there will be no more tears. I will hope in Him. No more good-byes. Death has lost it’s sting. He has the victory. He lives and He will come again to take us home…and He will reign forevermore.

Sweet Thomas Patrick…

Because He Came…Some Pieces of Us

Yep…I’m recycling again. I wrote this post around Christmas time, but since then we’ve had many new visitors…so hopefully it isn’t one you’ve already read. This post sums up many of the pieces of our journey, so far. And, as our fifteen year anniversary approaches, I stand in awe of the miracles God has worked in our lives to make beauty from our ashes. He has carried us through with His daily sufficient grace…giving us a love that not only just survived the storms, but has grown deeper and sweeter with the passing of time. We were just eighteen years old when we danced to “Sparrows in a Hurricane” at our little wedding reception in a family member’s basement. Oh…the memories…Enjoy this week’s walk…

In a quiet church, almost fifteen years ago, two young kids made a promise to love, honor, and obey. Like two sparrows in a hurricane, they held hands, shaking under the weight of the promise and unaware of what would be required of them.
And He Came…

Weeping on the floor of their one bedroom apartment…overwhelmed with the loneliness of a little girl lost and the consuming responsibility of being a wife and mother, she cried out to Him.
And He came…

On the first silent snowfall, on a cold November day, they held each other and wondered how they were supposed to say good-bye. Forever changed, robbed of the invincibility of youth, robbed of a lifetime of dreams and moments, and all the blessings two little girls would bring.
And He came…

They stood in the hallway of the hospital as her tears fell in unison with the raindrops trickling down the window pane. How could this be? How can they walk this journey once more knowing it will end not with the joyous sound of a newborn cry but with the heart wrenching emptiness of another good-bye? Presented with a hopeless outcome, an impossible choice, and the mocking question…”Where is your God now?” They drove home in the storm.
And He came…

She prayed and searched day and night for the answers, the evidence that He hadn’t turned His back on His two sparrows, leaving them to the merciless destruction of the hurricane. She wept from the unspeakable depths of a mother’s heart. Fumbling around in the darkness, she searched for Him. Every step was taken blindly, surrounded by fog so thick, she couldn’t tell if her next step would be the one to send her over the edge of the cliff. Would He catch them if they fell?
And He came…

Another silent birth on a warm day in July, they met their fourth child…their second son. They said hello and good-bye.
And He came…

Storms of rage and regret, disappointment and grief, rolled in as the clouds of darkness and doubt, bitterness and pain surrounded them. When the winds of the hurricane threatened fierce and certain destruction, one sparrow flew away and the other remained with broken wings to face the storm.
And He came…

Baby number five…For a moment there was silence, and her heart sank. And then…there it was…life’s most precious, miraculous, beautiful sound…the cry of new life…the cry of their baby. They held him and cried in complete awe and gratefulness for the gift of this life.
And He came…

She watched helplessly as her mother painfully and slowly slipped away. As she reassured with promises from His word, they repeated together…He will carry me, He will carry me…and in the depths of her heart, she wondered where He was, and if He would really come.
And He came…

Because He came…
The two sparrows were not alone when they made their commitment to love and cherish each other for all of their days.

Because He came…
She stood up from the floor of their one bedroom apartment, He lifted her head and wiped her tears and gave her courage to begin a new journey.

Because He came…
There was peace in the silent snowfall, beauty in the brokenness, and the hope of the most amazing reunion filled with the unending joys of two little girls who have never known pain, sorrow, regret, sickness, or tears.

Because He came…
There is an answer to the question, “Where is your God now?” There is complete confidence in the sufficient grace of our loving Savior, comfort in the arms of the Comforter, hope in the promise that we will never be forsaken. That His arms are always faithful to carry us. There was strength for the journey. When darkness should have smothered her, joy overcame her at the meeting of her boy…the boy she would only hold for a little while, and yet carry for a lifetime. She felt Him brush past her, and it was almost as if she could just reach out and touch the hem of His garment. Never did she feel His closeness so much, as when He whispered past her to take her sweet boy home. She sang songs of peace and praise as he left her arms. And because He came, one more precious little one will join the forever reunion, with their forever family, in their forever home.

Because He came…
The sparrow flew home, and the other sparrow’s broken wings were mended. They learned to hold on tight, so that when the hurricane winds blow, they will not be separated…but held together…closer still.

Because He came…
He carried her mother home just like He said He would, and He carries His sparrows still today…through storms and sunshine, laughter and tears.

More than two thousand years ago, the world ached for salvation, swelled with yearning for deliverance, redemption, restoration…for a Savior to rescue from sin and death. And He came…a baby King, born in a lowly stable on a quiet night to a peasant girl and her betrothed…a carpenter. He was in the still, small voice when He whispered past Elijah. And He was in the quiet stable birth when He came to rescue us and sent His angels to tell the lowly shepherds the good news.

His name is Jesus…and He came for me.

His name is Jesus…and He came for you.

And Because He came…there is hope for tomorrow and a promise of a joyful, forever reunion. He will wipe away all of the tears and wash away the loss and regret. He will cleanse and forgive and clothe us in robes of white. The empty arms will be filled. The hungry hearts will be fed. Brokenness will be restored. Mourning will be turned to dancing. And sin and death will be no more.

Because He came…He will carry us through this life.

And because He came…He will come again…in all His glory…to take us home.

© Kelly Gerken, Sufficient Grace Ministries 2008-2009

For Unto Us a Child is Born…

This morning, I woke up with a heavy heart, burdened with all the things I’ve been saying are not important…all the worldly demands of the Christmas preparations. The busyness…wondering if we’re giving our kids enough stuff…the same stuff I tell them isn’t important. “Jesus is what matters”, I say. And, yet…there I was letting the stuff matter.

My heavy heart wandered, not just to the silly worldly concerns, but to deeper hurts and disappointments. Those missing someone they love. Families struggling with finances. Broken families. Broken hearts. Those with health concerns. All the imperfections in our Christmas “picture”. All the noise threatened to overshadow the quiet hope and peace of the miracle of His birth.

I opened my bible and this was the beginning of the first verse in today’s devotion (Isaiah 9:1-7):
Nevertheless the gloom will not be upon her who is distressed… (Is. 9:1a)

I read on…
The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
Upon them a light has shined.
(Is. 9:2)

And then…
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There shall be no end.
(Is. 9:6)

His peace washed over me once more, and the things of this earth grew “strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”

Just like the song says:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face.
And the things of this earth,
Will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.