Walking

Laura and I worked together. I liked her from the moment I met her. She was dedicated, determined, and cared deeply for the residents living in the facility where we were employed. She was also punctual, which says a lot because she didn’t have a car.

During one of our brief opportunities to chat, I invited Laura to a Bible study I was teaching in my home. Since she worked many double shifts, she didn’t think she would be able to come. But God made a way for her to attend.

During discussion time, Laura let loose. I don’t remember what the topic was, but once she started “sharing” our night took a turn. (Some leaders might have seen it as a turn for the worse, but God knew it was a turn for the best.)

As Laura exploded in expletives, my sweet friends just listened with their hearts. Interlaced in a sea of (f) words was a story of abuse, loss, and pain. No one chastised Laura for being inappropriate, they just loved her, listened, asked questions, and prayed.

After the other women went home, Laura sat down at the table while I cleaned up. I could tell she was thinking. After a bit, she said, “I know you care about me.”

“Yes, Laura, we all love you,” I responded.

“Nobody judged me,” she stated, as she looked me straight in the eye. “Nobody said anything about my cussing.”

That night, Laura and I visited for a while. We talked about God’s unconditional love. We talked about healing, forgiveness, and freedom. We talked about a lot of things. Then I drove her home.

After that night, Laura began to regularly attend our weekly meetings. Since she worked most Sundays, she rarely attended church, but it was obvious that she loved Jesus. In the midst of her daily challenges, Laura would silently pray for people, trust God (even in the hard times), and continually give God credit for anything good in her life.

Laura’s death was a shock to everyone. The last day of Laura’s life seemed like every other day. She had set out walking to work, but this time instead of arriving at the retirement apartments, she entered Heaven’s glory. While she was on her way to work, she suffered a severe asthma attack, passed out, and hit her head. She died instantly from brain trauma. Sweet Laura with a heart of gold is now walking on streets of gold.

Whenever I think about Laura, I think about God’s grace and the brevity and uncertainty of life. We never know while on our way to our daily destinations when we will be rerouted to our final destination.

The night Laura opened up her heart and shared her pain, all of us present had a deeper glimpse into God’s heart and His unconditional love for all mankind—reminding us that there is nothing that we could ever do or say to earn or negate His love for us.

Father God is not shocked, nor repulsed by “colorful” language—or “colorful” stories. He is always there with a listening ear and an open heart—just loving us.

Jesus was always walking beside Laura, but Laura didn’t recognize Him until seven years ago when she took hold of His hand and accepted Him as her Savior. The day Laura took her last walk on this earth she went from seeing Him in part, and just holding His hand, to seeing Him face to face in all His glory!

May you be abundantly blessed!

Jeannie

Corinthians 13:12 “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely” (NLT).

 

A Life Well Lived-Karen’s Story

I was reading through some of my mother’s writings the other day, and I found this beautiful testimony about a woman named Karen. May we all live for Jesus as Karen did!

December 1998

Karen and I became friends over a prayer line at our church about three months ago. Those who pray together can not long stay strangers. Karen never spoke of her physical condition, and she never complained. I didn’t even find out that she was in a wheelchair until I invited her to go with us on an outreach. I had asked her whether she would rather go with us to nursing homes, children’s homes, women’s shelters, or juvenile detention homes and prisons. To which she had enthusiastically replied, “ALL OF THE ABOVE! But someone will have to drive my van. I can no longer drive it by myself.” That day I learned that she was wheelchair bound. I wouldn’t learn that she had Muscular Dystrophy until later.

Although we tried and tried, things always came up and Karen was never able to join us in ministry. But Karen and I continued to pray for others over the phone, and we saw God do wondrous things. Once, when we were talking about healing, Karen confided in me that she would be healed before a great crowd of people as a witness as to what God could do.

Two Sundays ago I finally got to meet Karen when I went to the later service at church. She had an electric wheelchair but almost didn’t have the physical strength to use it. We were instant friends. She had a bright smile and God’s love flowed through her to all who crowded around her to tell her “Hello!” It was evident that she was a much loved and valuable member of the congregation, and that she had many instant friends. The next week on the prayer line Karen shared that she was rarely home because of her volunteering. I was impressed.

I never got to know just how and where Karen spent her love-filled days because the call came. “Karen is in the hospital with breathing problems.” We prayed for her. That evening I spoke to her on the phone. She was weak so I made the conversation short and encouraging. I didn’t allow her to speak much. The next morning another member of the prayer chain spoke briefly with her. She reported that Karen was her happy self but a little “breathy”. Thirty minutes later Karen went to be with Jesus.

I really didn’t expect to see many people at the funeral, but the chapel was full to overflowing. There were people of every description, color, size, and physical ability. These were the ones with whom Karen had spent her days. A Man in a wheelchair pulled his chair up beside me. Many unsaved people were there, drawn by Karen’s life of love, caring, and sharing.

When our pastor spoke he knew that many in attendance did not know Jesus. After a short tribute to Karen’s life about how she had been a sharer of love and an encourager, he said something like this:

“How do you handle pain like this? Well, there are three ways. You can get drunk or take drugs and mask the pain for awhile. You can commit suicide and try to hide in the grave. Or then there is JESUS…. I don’t remember the exact words that followed, but I do remember that as he looked out over the group of silently weeping mourners he said, “How many of you had Karen share her Jesus with you?” Many of the ones ahead of me nodded their heads. The only gift that you can give Karen now is to accept the gift that she was offering you. Nothing would please her more than for you to accept God’s Love Gift through Jesus-John 3:16.”

What followed was so beautiful and so touching. The pastor asked with very special words and in a very special way for those who would like to have Jesus forgive them of their sins and come into their lives and take charge of their lives to silently repeat the words (the sinner’s prayer) after him. Many did. I know that the man next to me did.

As for Karen…She did get healed before a mighty crowd of Eternal witnesses, forever and ever!!!

In these days of national turmoil, shaking, anguish, and selfishness, even to the pint of challenging long accepted meaning of words, it is good to know that there are Karens in the world—Those who without fanfare, just go about sharing God’s Love and His Light wherever they go.

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11King James Version KJV).

Chasing Love

Contributed by Melissa

Chasing Love is the title most people would have assigned to my life. Even as a young girl, I always felt something was missing. God has created all of us with an undeniable need for Him and Him alone. But I wouldn’t understand this for many years.

As a kid, my family always went to church. Even though our home life was not perfect, we knew “about” God. I had two stepfathers but never knew my own father. My mom and I were never really close, but you would have thought we should have been since I was the only girl. In my teen years, I gravitated towards boys because I felt inferior towards other teen girls.

Fast forward a few years… I dated a lot searching for happiness. I knew about God, but I did not have any real relationship with Him. In 1994, when I was sent to Bible School, my inner self was still seeking and unsatisfied, even to the point of depression. By the time Bible school was over many of my friends had gotten engaged. Inside I was mad at God for not making it happen for me. Within a year, I married the first man I met at church. It was not orchestrated by God at all. It was a big mess. Even though it was a very painful short marriage, I am thankful for my two beautiful daughters who came out of that marriage. I ended up being a single mother for nearly sixteen years. Through those years, I still attended church as I continued to search for a husband. Many wrong relationships resulted from my search.

Last year, I met a nice man online and married him very quickly. That too was a mess, and my happiness was short lived. My anguish and pain drove me to the Lord. While going through the divorce, I finally surrendered my whole heart to my Creator—the true lover of my soul. At this time in my life, He has blessed me more than I could have imagined. I now have true peace, joy, intense healing, and new friendships. I don’t even need my antidepressants anymore. I have discovered that my needs are met only through the Lord. He waited years for me to finally turn to Him. Jeremiah 29:11 has become so real to me now. My God has good plans for me. Plans to give me a Hope and a Future. Thank you for letting me share my testimony with you. 🙂

Heaven’s Glory

There have been times in my life where heaven has seemed so close that I felt as if I could touch it. Once was when I was a child. I was suffering from a terrible reaction to the stings from a swarm of yellow jackets. I was dreaming that I was dying. I literally felt like my spirit was leaving my body. But it jumped back in when I was jerked awake by my mother. She had been praying and was calling my name. “Jeannie, I thought I had lost you!” She almost shouted, “You are burning up!” I don’t remember responding before I fell back to sleep. When I awoke the next morning, I had ice wrapped rags on my head and on my horribly swollen hand. Mom was still next to me. She told me I that I had been delirious, but that the fever was now gone and I would be OK. I don’t ever remember talking about it, but in my heart, I knew that I had been a moment away from Heaven’s glory.

My next almost in Heaven experience was when I was in my mid-twenties. I had been praying for hours and worshipping. As I stood with my hands raised, once again surrendering all to God, I felt as if Heaven was filling the room. I sank to the floor, overwhelmed by the weight of God’s glory. I remember saying, “Lord, are you taking me home?” I didn’t go home that day but I felt so empowered by His glory that I ran to my neighbor’s apartment. As usual, she answered the door shaking because she had once again mixed alcohol with Xanax. I stepped into the room almost shouting, “Do you feel that!” God immediately touched her and she quit shaking. She responded, “Yes, I have goose bumps!” We ended up worshiping the Lord and basking in His glory. A short while later, God empowered her to walk away from her addictions.

Since that day, I have had many experiences (sometimes alone and sometimes with others) where the presence of the Lord has filled the room with the glory of God. My pastors call this experiencing Heaven on earth. But the experience that was unlike all of the others was the night my baby brother died.

For a year and a half, I had watched as cancer destroyed my brother’s body. At the end, his 180 lb muscular frame had been reduced to a mere 60 lbs. The doctors had tried everything, and friends and loved ones had prayed everything they knew how to pray. My brother was so convinced that he would live, he didn’t even make a will. My family had experienced so many miracles we all held on to the hope that God would raise him up.

The morning I got the call that he was non-responsive and en-route to the hospital, my heart sank. With tears streaming down my face I hurried to the bathroom to get dressed. Many people say that when people get close to death their spirits can visit loved ones. I can’t definitely say that is what happened, but as I was brushing my hair I heard Mark’s voice, “It’s Okay, Sis. It’s Okay.” My tears instantly dried up and peace filled my soul.

Mark was suffering so much when we arrived at the hospital, it was hard to stay in the room. As I and other family members stood next to his bed, I placed my hand on his head and prayed and sang to him.

Mark was one of those rare guys who had never met a stranger. He was also a wonderful father and had raised his two now late teen children pretty much alone. Even though Mark spent his life serving others, I was deeply concerned about whether he had had a relationship with the Lord.

My family decided to move Mark to the hospice unit where we had moved my mother a week before. As we waited for the ambulance, a dear friend of Mark’s pulled me aside. She told me that Mark had somehow managed to drive to her work the night before. In spite of his frail condition and attached oxygen tank, they had gone to see the movie God’s Not Dead. Since cancer had destroyed Mark’s ability to speak, when the movie ended, he had texted her I’m ready to go be with Jesus. My heart swelled with joy, and I hugged her.

That night, I stayed at the hospice unit with Mom and Mark, going back and forth across the hall praying and singing over them. Up until 2 a.m., a friend stayed with me. Somewhere between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. I fell asleep in a chair in Mark’s room. I dreamed that Mark was in his hospital bed on a stage in a church. In my dream, the tumors on his body disappeared and he regained his weight and became muscular and strong. He then jumped out of bed and began running around the room. As I sat in the church watching the whole thing I said over and over again, “He is healed but he is not healed. He is healed but he is not healed.” Then I suddenly woke up.

A couple of years before, the Lord had stirred my spirit to pray for my mother to breath when she had been on life support. At that moment my mother had started breathing on her own and declared, “God still has things for me to do!” The doctor who had told us to make her funeral arrangements and the rest of the hospital staff were astounded.

I thought my dream meant that God was going to raise my brother up like He had Mom. I walked over to his bed and stood over him, getting ready to declare, “In the name of Jesus breath!” When God stopped me with a firm, No. I was perplexed. “But God, You promise us the desires of our hearts, and Mark’s desire has been to see his kids grow up and to have grandchildren!”

The Lord’s answer to me was so unexpected and so comforting it stopped all other questions: I have changed his heart’s desires. All I could think of was that Mark must have already seen Jesus.

I sat back down in the chair. I could feel the glory of the Lord fill the room.

I know this sounds far-fetched, but I saw angels. They weren’t like the warring angels I had seen before. It’s as if part of the room faded away and they were in another realm. They were laughing and singing and making preparation for my brother. The vision, or whatever it was, vanished, but the glory lingered.

I can honestly say that I have never felt more peace and joy than I did that morning. My brother went to heaven shortly afterward, My Mom joined him the next night while I was preparing for my brother’s family memorial.

It has now been three years since Mark and Mama went home to be with Jesus, and I have rarely shed a tear over their passing. Maybe this is partly due to the fact that I had watched them suffer so much. But mostly, I think it is because whenever I think about them, my heart is filled with the joy I felt the morning the glory of God filled my brother’s room. The glory I now know that they experience continuously! Whenever I think about them, I don’t see them emaciated and dying, instead, I see them whole and healthy and full of joy, dancing in Heaven’s glory.

Isaiah 60:19 “The sun shall no longer be your light by day, Nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you, But the Lord will be to you an everlasting light, And your God your glory.”

May you be abundantly blessed!

Jeannie

Get Out of the Car (Revisited)

Get out of car

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog about a road trip encounter I had when I was helping my daughter Shanna and her husband David move to Virginia. In a few weeks, I will step into a new season as I return to Virginia for a longer period of time. Even though I know that God is going before me, my heart is beginning to ache at the thought of leaving my wonderful church, family, and friends. Today, as I was focusing on loss, God reminded me of some of the “God Adventures” we had during Shanna and David’s last move. I am posting one of them to remind me that although I am leaving much behind, there is always much ahead when we obey our Daddy God and step out into the unknown.

The moving truck had gotten stuck in the mud behind a pizza place in a dark secluded area. While Shanna and David were calling the rental company for assistance, I waited in the car and prayed. God told me to trust Him because He was doing something beautiful, so I after a while I quit praying for a solution and decided just to worship.

Within minutes, a friend called to see what I had been up to the past few months. I filled her in on our current situation, and she prayed a powerful prayer. After our call, the big dude who had been sitting in the car next to me got out of his car and walked behind the back of the building where my daughter and son-in-law were standing. Immediately, God told me, “He is the reason you are here. Get out of the car!” I did.

The man informed us that we were in a dangerous area. Apparently, a couple of pizza delivery drivers had recently been robbed, and one of them had been murdered. He was riding along with his wife to protect her when she made her pizza deliveries. We told him that we felt like God had also placed him there for our protection.

I felt a stirring in my spirit to pray for the man, so I asked him if he had accepted Jesus as his Savior. He had. Since I love to hear testimonies, I asked him if he would care to share. He looked at me warily and answered, “I was incarcerated at the time.”

“Praise God!” I exclaimed.

He gave me a quizzical look and said, “That’s not the reaction I usually get.”

“It’s not where you have come from; it’s where you are going,” I reminded him.

His eyes lit up, “That’s right, but most folks don’t see it that way.”

I told him that I kept hearing “Samson” in my spirit and asked if I could pray for him. I learned his name was Shadrack.

I explained to Shadrack that although Samson fell to the flesh and was imprisoned, when he turned to God and regained his strength, he defeated his enemies. The Lord told me to tell Shadrack that although he had made bad choices and had been imprisoned, because he had turned to God, God would empower him to defeat all his enemies—fear, unforgiveness, addictions, etc.

As I continued to pray for Shadrack, the Lord told me to give him a certain amount of money.

When I mentioned the money, his response brought tears to my eyes, “We just lost everything. Our house—everything!”

I said, “Shadrack, God loves you so much that He would let us get stuck in the mud just so He could bless you!”

His eyes began to tear up as he commented, “I will never forget this night for the rest of my life!”

Shadrack shared that he had been sitting in his car watching what was going on with the truck when God told him to get out of the car. He told God he couldn’t: “It’s night. I’m a big black guy and those are white people. If I go over there, they will think that I am trying to rob them.” Once again, God told him, “Get out of the car!”

While were praying, the tow truck arrived. After the moving truck was pulled from the mud, Shadrack helped reattach the car to the trailer. Then we ended up sharing more and praying for each other. Before we left, Shanna and David were also led to bless Shadrack financially, and we had the opportunity to pray for his wife as well.

“Get out of the car!”

What if I hadn’t obeyed? What if Shadrack hadn’t obeyed? We both would have missed out on a night that neither one of us would ever forget for the rest of our lives—a night where we opened the doors of our vehicles—and the doors of our hearts. It was a night where we both stepped out into the unknown and met Jesus in an unfamiliar place, as we encountered Him in the hearts and lives of each other.

When Shadrack was sharing how he chose to obey God and “got out of the car,” I thought about Peter getting out of the boat to meet Jesus. Peter might have started to sink, but none of the other disciples would ever experience what it felt like to walk on water, even if only for a few steps. God is waiting for us to step out and meet Him in the unknown. If we keep our focus on Him we can walk with Him on water, but even when our fears cause us to sink, His hand is always there to pull us up and draw us close.

Whether it is from our cars, our boats, our houses, or just our comfort zones, when God tells us to “get out” it’s always an invitation to come and join Him in an adventure.

When I first came to back to Texas, I begged God to let me leave. Now I am sad that it is time go. I came with almost nothing. But I am leaving with both a full heart and a full life.

Whenever you and I step out of our comfort zones it’s easy to concentrate on the loss of what we are leaving behind, instead of anticipating the abundance of what awaits us. God is a Good Daddy and He is orchestrating wonderful adventures for us—if we will only obey his voice and “Get out of the car!”

Matthew 14:28-29
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water”

29 “Come,” he said. (NIV)

May you be abundantly blessed!

Jeannie

 

 

Rising from the Ashes

Contributed by Josette Sanchez

After my Divorce, I felt so rejected I almost didn’t feel human. I felt like a complete failure. I had worked so hard to put my husband through the Nursing program at our local community college, only for him to repay me by leaving me for a girl in the Nursing Program)

I had been left with NO CAR, NO JOB, NO CHURCH, NO HOME, AND A BROKEN HEART THAT HAD BEEN SHATTERED IN A MILLION PIECES. Consequently, I did what most broken people do, I kept moving and acting like nothing was bothering me.

When you’re broken you want everything and everyone to help you to stop the bleeding!! So my two young boys and I stayed with my mom during my separation leading to divorce. Anthony was 9 and Kris was 4.

I was so heart-broken, (which is very different than being beautifully broken by the Lord,) that I had serious depression. It was like a black cloud followed me everywhere I went. I got very sick and lost about 20 pounds. I had such a victim mentality. On top of all that, I was the most negative person you could ever meet.

One day, I was lying in my bed, once again crying and feeling sorry for myself. Out of nowhere, Joel Osteen came on the TV!! He said,” You have Royalty running through your veins. There is NOTHING you can’t accomplish with Christ WHO STRENGTHENS YOU! Something in my spirit grabbed a hold of his words!! Then it grabbed a hold of my mind.

I had had a speech impediment since I was a child and would often stutter in high anxiety situations as an adult. My old thinking pattern would say, “That’s just who I am. I’m stupid. If I speak, people will know I’m just that.” But as I heard Joel Osteen, something inside of me rose up !!! …. AKA The Holy Spirit … You do know you have Royalty running through your veins. Don’t you???  Don’t you know you’re a daughter of the Most High King who can do anything with and through Christ ???

“Yes, Lord, I Believe!!! I’m Sorry for doubting you. I may be stuttering now, but with Christ, I will be able to clearly speak!!” After that day, I still continued to have days of stuttering. I couldn’t spell or type, and I continued to have debilitating migraines about twenty-four days a month. But every time I would run into an obstacle because of spelling, math, writing, speaking, and declining health, I would no longer make agreement with what I could not do. Instead, I made agreement with who God says that I am. He says that I am a Royal Priesthood. And that royalty is running through my veins. He says that I can do ALL things—not some things, But All things through Christ who strengthens me.

It has now been about a decade since I realized that I was royalty. Throughout the years, my stuttering has decreased to almost being non-existent. My spelling has improved, and I have better understanding when reading and writing. I now have my own house and car, and I have been a successful licensed realtor in the state of Texas since 2007.

God moves in ways exceedingly and abundantly beyond what we can ask for or can imagine (Ephesians 3:20). No matter what circumstances have arisen since my divorce, God has been faithful to provide for my sons and for me. He didn’t just provide what we needed but often gave us what we wanted, because He’s just that Good of a Daddy!!!!

Years ago, God showed me I was royalty. Do you believe that you are royalty? I would encourage you to stop looking at what you can’t do and start looking at what Christ can do through you. This is part of my story. God is still transforming me and making beauty from the ashes in my life. My story for His glory! What is your story? Are you ready for your story to be His story?

 

Scars into Stars

The enemy comes to kill, steal and destroy, but God gives life abundantly. Today’s post is a powerful testimony by my friend Cilinda. Thankfully, we serve a mighty God who brings beauty out of ashes and as Cilinda so beautifully says, “turns our scars into stars.”

I started out thinking I was going to write a very short rendition of my “autobiography” (which I have promised both myself and God, but have yet to do), but God has laid it on my heart to write my testimony in a much different fashion/form.

To cover my background and help it to make sense of where I am today, I will say my life has not been “the American Dream” in any manner. At the ages of seven and nine years old I was molested. My parents never knew because I was not capable of understanding what had happened to me, being so young at those times. It probably behooves anyone reading this, to think how something like that could’ve happened to a child and the parents not ever know. Fear and folly, I would dare to say, is what allowed me to keep it a secret for so many years.

My mother was forty-three years of age when she gave birth to me (my father was fifty-two years old). My precious mother had too many medical problems to mention, and needless to say, after having three daughters many years earlier in her life, was not “expecting” the birth of the fourth daughter (me)! But she and my father welcomed me into this world with love and their faith in the Lord knowing that my birth was His will and all would be right with the universe!

You may have heard the old sayings such as “ignorance is bliss,” or “what you don’t know won’t hurt you”… well, unbeknownst to me, as a child, I took those old adages and lived by them for several years. I kept the ‘secrets’ of what those two men did to me hidden as deep within me as I could possibly bury them. My life played out as I would consider “normal”, but as the years rolled by, I would find out that buried bones sometimes get dug up or uncovered.

As my high school graduation approached, I was more than excited over the life I saw before me! I was engaged to a military guy five years older than me. Our wedding was two weeks after my graduation, and I couldn’t wait to be married to the man of my dreams, have our own home and one day have children of our own! The “American Dream”, right? Well, all that soon changed and my vision of the “American Dream” was shattered into a million pieces and scattered to the uttermost parts of the earth, or so it seemed.

My fiancé and I were involved in a most tragic automobile accident May 2nd, 1978. A semi-truck ran the traffic light as we were crossing through our green light. The big rig hit our car on my fiance’s side, sending us spinning, striking another vehicle in our path, and leaving a mass of destruction in a matter of seconds! Four days later, I came out of a coma, to find out about my fiance’s tragic demise. The driver of the truck didn’t survive this horrendous accident either.

My future was ripped right out from under me; a feeling much worse, I felt, than literally having my heart torn from inside my human body! The one person I was about to vow to spend the rest of my life with… to have and to hold, from this day forward, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part, was gone. Death… such a sudden end to a lifelong future ~ one that never began!

I sank into the darkness of depression, not wanting to be in any social gathering with family or friends. I didn’t have a reason to go on, nothing to live for! I just wanted to die! Twice I tried to commit suicide – once by taking an overdose of my prescription. The second time I had to battle thoughts in my head of jumping into my mother’s car and driving off a bridge! But God had other plans, none of which I was aware of yet!

I went through counseling with a psychiatrist, and then more with a psychologist. The pastor of our church also generously counseled me through the word of God (which was, by far, the most valuable and rewarding counsel of all!)

Four months after tragically losing my fiance, a relative passed away, and my parents needed to go to the funeral. They knew I would not be attending with them, as I was not capable of holding up through a memorial service. One of my sisters and her three children lived just down the road from my parents and me, so they arranged for me to stay with her until they returned after the weekend. Little did they, or any of us, know that weekend would be cut short…

My sister was divorced and was enjoying the activities of what single life entailed – going out to the nightclubs on weekends to dance and listen to some good old-fashioned music! Well, her three children had made plans to stay with friends of theirs that weekend, and an old friend of hers happened to come for a visit and ask her to go out on the town. Not wanting to leave me alone, she said I would have to come along. Much to my negative response of not wanting to go, she continued insisting and I finally, begrudgingly gave in.

We went to a nightclub that we had often frequented in the past and stayed for awhile until she and her male counterpart decided they wanted to check out another place. I refused to go and spotted a former friend I hadn’t seen in a while and engaged in conversation with him. She spoke to him briefly and said they would just go for a little while and would be back to pick me up. I took it that she thought my friend would hang out with me until they returned!

An hour or so passed and my friend said he needed to leave, as he had to get up very early the next morning. I sat at the little round table in the corner alone, listening to the band until the bartender announced, “Last call for alcohol”. Next thing I knew, the bouncer walked up and told me I had to leave, “…time to vacate the premises & lock up shop!” I tried to explain that I was waiting for my sister to come back to pick me up, but he simply stated that I needed to “wait outside.”

I exited the building, not knowing what else to do. I looked around, hoping to see my sister and her friend pull up to pick me up. But not a sight of them anywhere! I noticed an army guy that worked with my friend I had talked to earlier and asked him if he could give me a ride to my friend’s so I could have him take me home. He said he was with other guys, but he would see if I could get a ride with them.

Without dragging this story out too long with daunting details, I’ll skip to where this “ride” lead. The car pulled up, and I got in with the “friend of my friend, the driver of the car and the passenger in the back seat. They took me to the dorms where “my friend” should have been, but after I checked his room, knocked desperately on the door (to no avail), I returned to the parking lot to see the three army guys standing by the car. I approached, telling them he didn’t answer and asked if they could take me to the police station so I could get a ride to my sister’s house. Their plans had already been decided. My night on the town soon turned into a night of terror.

During the next few hours, I was repeatedly raped and abused. Then I was taken back to the car. Instead of releasing me, one of the men then took me to another location. Fear enveloped me as questions ran through my mind. “Where was he taking me? God, why is this happening to me? Is this going to end? “How” is this going to end??? ”

Once again, I was raped. My captor then opened the car door, got out of the driver’s side, walked around to the passenger’s side, told me to slide behind the wheel, threw the keys at me as he slid into the car and said I could drive to my sister’s! My mind was not in a state of rationalization, nor did I remember the actions taken in driving myself to my sister’s house. All I can possibly accredit my safe arrival to is only the sheer grace of God!! As I pulled up in my sister’s driveway and grabbed the door handle to get out, he threatened me, “Don’t tell anyone what happened tonight, because the big guy WILL come find you!”

I broke down and told my sister and her male friend what had happened! Her male friend took me to the infirmary and the doctors called the military police. I was tended to & cleaned up, then taken to the crime scenes to verify my story. I had to return the next day for a lineup where I identified both guys.

Two years later I received a certified letter while I was living on a military base in Germany. I was married and we were expecting our first child. The letter was from the U.S. Dept of Criminal Justice, stating that the trial had taken place, and both militants had been tried and found guilty and were dishonorably discharged from the Army! But no sentence or jail time for either! I remember thinking, “Justice… is that what you call it?”

I continued to live my life, and raise two sons.  My first marriage lasted sixteen years. Thirteen years later I remarried. That one lasted four years. Although both of my marriages ended in divorce, I watched my two wonderful, blessed sons grow up and get married. One of my sons has given me two of the most treasured blessings I claim – my grandson & granddaughter!!

My family are my treasures and this life is where I am meant to be…The past? It’s dead & gone… buried! Those buried bones I spoke of earlier did get dug up… but not in the way you would imagine. Again, God’s mercy and grace prevailed!

I was approached at a random meeting by someone in the Criminal Justice Department in Texas (where I lived after I married & raised my children). I told my story and of how God brought me through everything with His protecting angels all around me. I shared how I could have died in these instances, but by God’s grace, I’m alive today and healthy and well, with bountiful blessings the Lord has bestowed upon me through His love for me – HIS child! His child… ‘that’ I am! I told him that God watched in pain as these things happened to me throughout my life, but He did NOT allow any of it to destroy me or take my life! He had guarded, guided, and protected me and brought me to a ‘safe’ place!’

After hearing my story, this official asked me if I would be willing to share my story with others and tell them about how it impacted my past AND my current life! I accepted, not knowing what I was getting into or the difference it would make in my life!

I spoke to parole officers in training, as well as “parolees” who were in prison for committing the same crimes that had been committed against me!  How powerful our God is!! This was another chapter of my life – the one I call “the forgiving chapter”! This is where I came ‘face-to-face’ with those who have hurt and caused pain and suffering to others like myself… THIS was GOD reaching out (through me and my life’s story) to these criminals (sinners) to let them know that HE is all-powerful, yet He is a forgiving God! He allowed me to witness to these men about how HE brought me through all of my past! And through this came “forgiveness”.I realized I no longer had the hate and anger ‘buried’ inside of me toward those men from my past for what they had done to me! In a sense, you could say “God brought me ‘to’ prison to free me ‘from’ my own prison!”

God had allowed me to be a part of a family who knew Him, served Him, and loved Him. My parents taught me how to believe in God. Through attending church regularly, I was taught about how we, our world, and everything in it and beyond was created. I learned about the hardships of people throughout the Bible and about how God delivered those who believed through it all! I learned about Jesus’ birth, His life, and all the torture, pain, and suffering He went through before dying on the cross for the sins of the world. And I learned about how Jesus resurrected back to life so that I/we could live beyond all the tribulations we have here on earth!

At the age of thirteen, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior. I realized then that I was not alone on my journey and that He had been by my side in my “innocence of life!” Although I did encounter terrible tragedies later in my life, I now know that God was, is, and ‘always’ will be by my side no matter what my future unfolds!

Today, through my past, both good and bad, I reflect on where God was in my life. He was by my side, holding my hand, and carrying me through the parts of my life that I would not have survived – without HIM! I am blessed to attend a wonderful church who loves and serves God “wholeheartedly”. I too, serve in this church through ministries God has placed before me to show how awesome He is and how HE provides for each and every one of His children, through any and all circumstances throughout our lives!

Besides working in our church bookstore, I am a leader of a wonderful Life Group called “Challengers”. I also am a part of an amazing God-given ministry called God Behind Bars, which allows me to attend ‘our’ church’s service in the very same prison God took me to when He opened the door for my healing to begin, as well as my “purpose” to be revealed! God is so  awesome, and amazing beyond our comprehension, but totally within our acceptance!

There are precious memories I hold on to of years gone by – that I will forever reminisce and thank God for as I smile with much appreciation and gratitude…Thank You, God, for always staying by me, for preserving my life, for showing me there are greater pains than all I have ever been through, and for my life eternal – my salvation!

One day I shall see my parents who are in Heaven… along with my sister and other loved ones who have long since passed. But as long as I am on this earth, I daily thank God that I can minister through my testimony and I am grateful that He has molded me into a vessel that He so carefully and lovingly guards, guides and protects, yet employs for His services to others.

Forgiveness is the key to a faulty lock that you thought could never be opened! How did I get through all of my past, you ask? Not ‘just’ by the Grace of God, but by His genuine love, His purpose, and His plan for me…And now, today…I look forward to my future, watching my children and grandchildren as their lives change, grow, and unfold the way God plans… watching and living the rest of my life, as it, too, turns page-by-page, as my book is being written by the hand of our Almighty God, who turns our scars into STARS!

 

The Gate

Today’s post is about an inspiring encounter my dear friend Brandilynn had this Easter weekend. 

As I drove towards Tarpley, Texas on Easter weekend; an overwhelming sense of emptiness filled my heart. Like an empty cup turned upside down; I felt nothing left. I was excited for the weekend, yet felt afraid I wouldn’t fit in with the group. They all knew each other well and I was just new to this church group. They were like one big happy family that joked and bantered back and forth with inside stories I had yet to understand. The old familiar thoughts entered in. Was I good enough? Could I measure up? Would I be on the sidelines looking in? Could I make a difference? I asked God to equip me as I rounded the corner to “The Gate” that would forever change my life. I sat in front of this huge black iron gate that towered above me. As I entered the code and the gate opened; I couldn’t shake a sense of something great is about to happen.

 

I quickly unpacked my bags and got settled in. Everyone began arriving at the second of two cabins on the Lake Front Hill Country Getaway. …and so began my journey to receiving the greatest fulfillment in a group setting I can remember. This group is different I told myself. Everyone busily got situated into both cabins and later that night we sat around eating burgers and listening to Pastor Mark share a message on what it means for God to get the glory in your life. He shared that this weekend was about focusing on the Lord and leaving the worldly cares behind. We delved into discussions about God and Jesus in a way that felt different. James had been discussing feelings of LACK in the previous church meetings.He shared to take those feelings and just ask God…  “Hey, what is this Lord”?!  It amazed me that it could be simplified so easily into one action.

Problem: Feeling lack (of any kind)
Solution: Holding that up to God and asking him about it

Pretty easy concept! How I missed it all these years is beyond me.

That night, I had a lot of time to think about what God was doing in my life and in the lives of others around me. I woke up the next morning with only a few hours of sleep. I felt strangely energized as I met up with the others in the group. The day unfolded perfectly as we talked around the picnic table. Later we hiked a mountain that later became known as “Won Shoe Mountain” and at night sat around the fire in God’s presence. We laughed and cried and sang and talked. A sense of wonderment came over me when I realized that in our group of twelve. Like the disciples, Jesus sat among us! I could feel his presence like never before. I could feel LOVE, ACCEPTANCE, JOY, HONOR, HUMILITY, COMPASSION, FAITHFULNESS, COMMITMENT, ANOINTING, GENTLENESS, ENCOURAGEMENT, and DISCERNMENT, to name a few. I was amazed to hear, as we went around the campfire; the thoughts that others had formed about me. Nothing but the love of Jesus could allow them to see into my heart that way. As each person took their turn my mind ceased to function and my soul leaped forward. I realized this is a taste of heaven on earth, as I felt unending love in that moment. A sneak peak into the UNCONDITIONAL LOVE that God has in store for us all as we (in time) enter into the heavenly gates.

NO LACK existed!

The next morning I awoke feeling satisfied that I had opened my heart, mind, soul, body to God in a way that surpassed previous moments. I felt closer to God than ever before in a way that humbled; yet excited me. I drove out and back up to the gate with new purpose and an overflowing cup. I sat in front of the Gate for a moment… NOT wanting to leave.

I understand now entering the code to the gate…. symbolic for saying, God, I am here… ready to be in your presence. I leave everything behind at the gate entrance and enter into your kingdom and majesty and righteousness. I realized I had left ALL worldly things at the front of the gate. We can’t bring those things into his presence.

In closing, leaving you with one final thought. When you are sitting in front of that Gate… staring up and deciding whether to enter…  or sit back in the worldly things… will you decide to enter into God’s presence and feel his majesty and love surround you and change you in a profound way. Letting the world fall away off of you… your body, your mind, your heart, your soul. To renew and bask in the presence of God that seems to change you down to the very cells of your body… to fill your heart so full it is bursting with Love, Adoration, Kindness, and Acceptance for everyone and everything around you. …but even greater still a deepening love of the Lord your Father in heaven that cannot be contained or explained.

…as I drove out the gate… I looked on the side of the road and could see the worldly cares I had left when entering, still sitting piled up; that I had dumped right outside the gate. I paused for a split second in thought as my eyes welled up with tears of joy. I drove away… leaving the pile still sitting there. I won’t be needing those again I thought as sweet tears began flowing down my cheeks. A sense of an atmosphere shift lingered with me in the car. A heart overflowing and a feeling of pure love beyond measure.

To those that don’t know God….  the code you enter to “The Gate” is Jesus. Ask Jesus into your heart and the gate will open for anyone who will ask.

All the love in the world to you.

-Brandilynn Edgerton

Living

Contributed by a friend who desires to remain anonymous

Have you ever had a bad day on the way to accomplishing a goal or reaching an objective? I have. Many times I have felt like quitting. Sometimes my drive has kept me going. Sometimes others have kept me going. Sometimes the goal has kept me going. Sometimes God has kept me going. Sometimes I have everyone’s luggage and can’t turn around, and sometimes there is no way out but to carry on.

Am I proud of this? No! Would I like to always carry on for the higher objective and for the glory of God? Yes! What would that look like? It would look like the difference between “living” and being alive and “dying.” When we quit, we are in death mode.

The Apostle Paul gives us an idea of what living to a higher objective looks like. In Philippians 1:20-22, Paul writes, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know!”(NIV).

Wow! Paul lived for the benefit of others, and he was willing to die for the benefit of others. This was his definition for continuing, even when he was having a bad day.

Just so we do not miss the impact, what was a bad day like for Paul? In his second letter to the Corinthians he writes, “I have worked much harder [than any others], been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands” II Corinthians 11:23-33 (NIV).

We also know that Paul was bit a by poisonous snake, he worked long hours, and at various times was abandoned by nearly everyone that he was serving.

Paul has had almost everything and everyone against him and he did not quit. That is living. That is power. He pirouetted between service/sacrifice and glory. He chose service and sacrifice, understanding that glory would take care of itself.

What is your objective for “living”? Don’t be drawn along by life. Attack it and choose whom you will serve and why. Choose how you will “live.”

Have a great day…regardless of the circumstances you find yourself in.

 

Songs

When my oldest grandson was four my daughter called so he could sing me one of the songs he had just made up. But when I asked him to sing for me, there was silence.

“Rhett,” I coaxed, “are you going to sing me one of your songs?”

After a little sigh, he answered in a serious tone, “I cin’t, Mimi. My songs are all gone!”

At the time, I couldn’t keep from laughing, but later in the day, as his childish reply rolled over in my mind, I began to think about times when I felt as if my songs were all gone.

Last week I attended a Bible study where the leader had asked those in attendance to share their favorite songs and the stories behind them.

As the music played and songs were sung, often, karaoke style, my brothers and sisters in Christ shared their stories and their hearts. Many of the behind the song accounts were about how God had met them in dark and desperate times—times when their songs were all gone.

I fought back tears as hearts were exposed revealing how,in a single moment, the goodness of God had collided with the ugliness of life through music and worship. Hope invaded hopeless as tragedy, grief, despair, and desperation were shifted to peace, comfort, acceptance, and adoration.

These beautiful life-changing encounters inspired me, challenged me, and reminded me of how God had met me so powerfully during times when my songs were all gone.

I couldn’t help but think about when Paul and Silas were imprisoned. Being beaten and thrown into a dark, smelly cell with your feet shackled would definitely be a moment to quit singing. In the midst of their pain and prison the songs of their own understanding might have been silenced, but instead of shutting down they shouted up and exchanged their sorrows and suffering for new songs—God’s songs. In Acts 16: 25-26 the Bible reads About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.  Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose” (NIV).

Wow! Talk about a heavenly concert! Praises were lifted, foundations were shifted and ALL the prisoners were unshackled.

The other night, as I heard the testimonies of my sweet friends, praises were lifted, foundations were shifted, and shackles were broken. We were once again reminded of how our loving heavenly father invades our worlds and moves our hearts with His songs, especially when our songs are all gone.

I don’t know your current circumstances. But God does! No matter what you are going through, be assured that He has a new song just for you.

May you be abundantly blessed as your heart is lifted and your eyes are shifted to the one that adores you and sings over you!

Jeannie Boatright

The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17 NIV).