Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Remembering Paul: Jan's Glory Story

Encountering the presence and power of God can happen at unexpected times and in unexpected ways.  Today's story is heartbreaking yet a beautiful example of how one family experienced the deepest kind of shock, sorrow and loss while taking a courageous step in the grace of God.  As we read, may we all be encouraged to fix our eyes on Jesus when the storms under our feet threaten to sweep us away.  
I can still hear my sister’s voice. She called my Duluth campus apartment in January of 1981 to tell me that her son Paul had been hit and killed by the kindergarten school bus after he'd gotten off that morning. He went to get the paper he was bringing home to his mom—the one he had colored that day that had blown away from his grip. It landed just below the curb next to the bus. His friend said, "Paul, don't..." and before he could finish, Paul said, "it's ok…"

I had seen Paul exactly two weeks before at my Uncle Raino's funeral in North Dakota.  Raino was a giant of a man to me, a gregarious Finn and a farmer who let me feed the lambs with a bottle when I was a little girl, and I loved him. He had a heart attack and was gone. At the dinner for the family, Paul was wearing the new cowboy boots he had gotten for Christmas a few weeks before. I had cowboy boots on too, and I remember the smile on his face when I showed him mine. 
It was surreal. I was completely in a fog. I was still in shock during the 22 hour Greyhound bus ride to Montana, riding along with my brother, Ric. We talked about how unreal this was, how we couldn’t imagine how this could happen, and about our mom's indescribable grief over her grandson. We talked about God and how He was undoubtedly present with our sister right now.  
When we arrived at my sister, Renee, and brother-in-law, Brian’s house in Billings, many relatives were already there. I didn’t know what to say to anyone.  Nothing was fitting for this event. Later that day, any of us who wanted to see Paul were invited to a private viewing at the funeral home. Paul had on his cowboy boots but nothing else looked familiar about that sweet little boy. There would be no memorial service or open casket, just the funeral.  
My sister fainted when she saw Paul.  It was all so unbelievable.  Every sound was amplified, especially the sound of our hugs and tears. 
The next day, something happened that impacted me forever. Renee and Brian, along with their pastor, asked the bus driver, Dianna, to come over to their home with her own pastor, to pray with them. Diana was devastated. While I was still trying to comprehend Paul's death, I witnessed this amazing grace given to the person who was responsible for their son’s death.  
They told her that they forgave her. It was profound to me. I will never forget it. God’s light was shining through them, even in the most difficult of circumstances. Their act made me think of these words from 1 Corinthians 2:5-7. I know the context of this verse is church discipline but the words are fitting for any situation where we ought to forgive and comfort:  
If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent--not to put it too severely. 6 The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. 7 Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow…" 
My shock wore off at the funeral when, as we all walked into the sanctuary together, the church was singing Away in a Manger. The reality of all this finally hit me and I wept so hard I could barely walk to our pew. Yet I still couldn't fathom what my sister was going through. Hopefully I will never know.  
Once I became a mother, more than 18 years later, I finally understood the kind of love she had for her son. My empathy and compassion for her and her family grew even stronger than at the time of Paul's death because I now understood that kind of love.  
I've asked God why he would allow this to happen, and I know Renee and her family have asked God many times over.  In the weeks and months that followed, their grief didn’t leave.  They were suffering. But their obedience to God spoke to others.  
I know God didn't make Paul die. When tragedy strikes, however, He will use the situation to show us His love and grace. I saw His love and grace through the selflessness of Renee and Brian. So did Diana, the school bus driver.  Even in their pain, they allowed God to work through them, so His glory could be seen to give us hope for the day we’ll all be together again. 
“…but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” John 9:3 
See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this.” Isaiah 48:10.
Lord Jesus, thank you for the example from this family and others who persevere through sorrow today. Thank you that nothing about sorrow like this is wasted when we experience it in the grip of Your love.  Please continue to comfort and strengthen these loved ones as the years go by teaching them how to rediscover your power, presence and goodness.  Thank you that when everything’s falling apart on us, you put us back together again with your Word.  AMEN

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

What is the "Right" Way to Pray?

"You're my place of quiet retreat;  I wait for your Word to renew me." Psalm 119:14

Here's a good question: What IS the right or best way to pray anyway?

Most of us struggle in the area of prayer. Depending on the day or moment, we desperately hope for a tangible sense of connection with our Creator. We long for guidance and wisdom that is clearly from God and we wrestle with desires for personal intimate connection with that same Jesus the disciples knew.

Obstacles seem endless. We're busy, intimidated, impatient, confused, tired and curious but frustrated that time in prayer seems like such hard work sometimes.  Perhaps you're tired of feeling guilty or inadequate about prayer.  It's been recommended that you do it "this way" and "that way." Some have even insisted that there is a perfect time of day to do it. And now, here I am suggesting that you should journal more?!?

Well...yes, I am offering a workshop about journaling in April (two options, actually, so that you can schedule one that works best for you). But before you get carried away with assumptions that some book author who is already really comfortable with the writing process (maybe not like you) is going to teach you how to do something revolutionary yet something that will quickly fall by the wayside with so many other "should-haves" in your life—think again.

This is NOT your typical journaling or prayer workshop!

Think of it more like a 2-hour renewal event.  I'm going to get really personal with you.  More importantly, God Himself is going to get really personal with you.

What happens at this workshop is likely to surprise you. Between laughter, conversation, maybe a few tears, some quiet...and yes, just a little bit of writing...You'll make some life and relationship-shifting discoveries.  Whether you've never journaled before (maybe even despise it) or have done it for a long time, this event promises to reveal new ideas and perspectives that you'll wonder how you lived without.

You will learn the "right" way to journal—because, yes, there actually is a "right" way to pray.

I promise.  
And, if you're not satisfied, you can have ALL of your money back. 

But, you ask, aren't there as many methods, techniques and manners for praying as there are temperaments, passions and giftings?  Good question!  And here's an even better one: What if God didn't care so much how you come but that you come?

Have I whet your appetite yet?  I hope so because I know this really could be a moment in time that sets you on a whole new course in your conversations with God!

What better way to celebrate the Easter season than to discover afresh —or maybe for the very first time— your intimate connection with the resurrected Jesus!

It's easy to register and you have two options in April:

Visit Eventbrite for information and tickets.

"Most of my life, I thought that you went to church to worship. But now I see that the better approach is to go worshipping to church. Trust me, church is better...filled with people who have been pursuing God for six days before they get there. Church as a "refill" or a "tank-up" is a disaster. Corporate worship works best when we arrive with something to offer God, as opposed to coming only to get something for us. Church is supposed to be a celebration of our personal journeys with God since we were last together."  —from The Air I Breathe by Louie Giglio 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Glory Story from Karen Jackson

Today's story is shared by Karen Jackson, founder and executive director of Faith Inclusion Network based in South Hampton Roads, Virginia.  FIN is dedicated to helping faith communities develop inclusive ministries for people with disabilities and helping families affected by disability to find welcoming and accessible places to worship. Karen is also the mother of three children, one who has autism.  Thank you, Karen, for your advocacy, passion and humility that helps us see the heart of God.

It was a busy day. Like most, really. But I had some lessons to learn. With two weeks left before our big Gifts of the Heart Celebration for Faith Inclusion Network, I had been busy working on event details while balancing the other parts of my work and home life.  On my “to-do” list this day: stopping by a small local church to drop off some event fliers and touch base with their FIN contact.

At my visit to this same church last year, I was warmly welcomed into the church building and learned all about the many accommodations they have for persons with disabilities.  I had actually just stopped in on a whim, not knowing anyone or even calling ahead.  But God seemed to be saying “Stop” one day as I drove by and so I did.

Unfortunately, this was a new year and the reception was disappointing. The gentleman I had spoken with a year earlier was no longer there. Feeling unwelcome and discouraged, I walked briskly back to my car in the cold air.  

Just then, I spotted someone across the street that I recognized from my own church.  I didn’t know his name but had seen him regularly attending Mass for years.  He was an older gentleman, with somewhat disheveled clothing. He was significantly bent over and walked with painfully slow steps. He was pushing worn-out walker down the bumpy sidewalk trying to carry two shopping bags filled with groceries. In church, he barely made eye contact and always seemed like he wanted to be left alone. Most people did leave him alone. I certainly did.  

Before I could even call out, “hello,” he recognized me and asked if I could help him.  Glad to be of assistance, I scooted quickly across the street and grabbed his bags.  We began to make small talk.

In our short chat I learned his first name and that he was walking from the bus stop. He thought it might be going to snow today. I said “Really?” and he replied with the question, “Do you get the weather station on your television?”  I explained that I had just been at work. He responded, “It is great that you have a job”. (Lesson #1)

We made it to his apartment and I offered to bring the bags to his door, assuming it was right inside. I realized, as we made it into the foyer area, that he had already brought two bags from the bus stop. This was his second trip down the long stretch of sidewalk. It must have taken him at least 30 minutes or more for the first trip. (Lesson #2)

I got all four bags to his door, which ended up being on the second floor with no elevator. I would have helped him up the stairs but he said he had to lock the outside door first. Reluctantly, I bid him goodbye and went out the door, across the street and back to my car.

No longer disappointed or discouraged, I realized that God had a much different plan than what I expected when I set out to check off one of the items on my “to do” list that day.  God gave me the opportunity to get to know someone I should have approached at church long ago — the opportunity to help in a small way to ease someone’s burden, the opportunity to step outside my own life experience and see life through someone else’ s eyes. (Lessons #3,4,5)

I have long known that God has given me a passion for advocating for persons with disabilities in faith communities. He has placed books, people, and experiences in my path for the past six years while I learn about faith and disability ministry. I have been getting on-the-job training as the Director of Faith Inclusion Network and Parish Advocate at my church. On this particular day, however, the reality that I still have many, many lessons to learn, was driven straight into my heart.  

I thank God for teaching me and guiding me, understanding my disappointments in ministry and providing important learning experiences. I am grateful He would use my “to do” list to put me in just the right place at just the right time. I'm also comforted by a faith that recognizes “lessons learned."


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Arla's Glory Story

Today's story is shared by Arla who has been facing many of the changes and challenges that can come with aging.  Last fall, Arla's husband needed to move into a nursing home and, shortly after, Arla took a bad fall fracturing her pelvis. Unfortunately, she wasn't wearing her Lifeline Medical Alert so she lay on the floor for four and a half hours before help came. Thankfully, Arla is recovering and has been blessed by tremendous support from family and friends throughout.  Nonetheless, it's been a time for hard adjustments when she has needed to lean in to her relationship with Jesus for much strength and comfort.  I know you'll find her perseverance and joyful spirit an encouragement today.

I am so thankful to all who have pitched in to help and pray for me during this year of changes. I feel so blessed and want to tell you how God's wonders have played out for me. The Psalms are such a source of comfort and healing for me. This verse has become a vivid reality during these times:

"Be still and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10

I am getting around very well with a cane. The pain is minimal and I'm stronger every day. Now I have to remind myself to put into practice my resolve to "not waste my energy fretting about things" I have no control over (finances now) and continue to meditate on God's Word. I want to trust Him as He is always faithful.  

In hindsight, I realize all the blessings heaped on me from the time of the accident and continuing on right now. 
Blessing #1 — how all of my children stepped up to the plate.  I had quality time with each of them as they lovingly took care of me. 
Blessing #2 — the many friends who came to help out with their time and food in abundance.  I had quality time with them also!  
Blessing #3 — a slowing down (self-incurred). I've had more time in God's Word and adjusting to this period of Harold and my life without him here. I'm reflecting on all the good times and many years of our marriage.  

Another thing that is interesting to me is this intense message that has kept running through my brain:

In an impossible situation, don't waste energy fretting about it. 
Instead, meditate on God's Word.

I was sure that thought came from a recent devotional reading but I have retraced my past devotional and scripture readings and have not come up with that succinct thought. Could it have come directly from God? 

The answer is, YES!

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