You are loved

I’m not sure who told you you were unlovable and unworthy, or if maybe those thoughts have just always been there for as long as you can remember. Perhaps no one said it verbally, yet somehow you just knew you weren’t loved, knew there must have been some reason the people in your life didn’t love you, that it was your fault, something you said or did wrong, that made them reject you. And no matter how many times you’ve been told you are loved, you don’t believe it. There’s always some little piece inside you that rejects those words. Oh, you wish you could believe them. You ache for them to be true. But deep in your heart? You’re not convinced.

I know the mantra, friend. I remember the deep, bone-marrow conviction that shouted above the voices of reassurance. All proclamations of love were drowned out by my mind’s absolute certainty of the contrary. For as long as I could remember, I, too, remained a prisoner to the lie that I was not loved or lovable. No amount of “proof” or repeated declarations could sway what I believed was the truth.

Are you with me? Do you get what I’m saying? You know what I mean, right? Yeah. I thought so. Oh, my friend. Will you trust me on this? Will you believe me when I say that what you’re believing is a lie? For once, will you doubt the voice of condemnation? Will you dare to trust the voice of the One who made you? Will you step out of the lies that bind and fall into the arms of Him who loves unconditionally?

I don’t know what it’ll take for you to believe the truth. I only know that carrying a burden of self-hatred and false rejection never leads to freedom. The way to freedom is through Christ.

know the truth

My freedom came when I did a Precept Bible study titled “Lord, I Want to Know You.” It was through the study that I learned who God was, and in knowing who God was (and is), I discovered His love. For the first time in my life I learned what God thought of me, how He saw me. I was acceptable just the way I was. He showed me that I was loved simply because I was His, not because of any merit on my part. I didn’t need to be smart, pretty, or even lovable. I found my identity in Christ. I didn’t need to be dependent on other people’s opinions of me. I could believe I was loved.

When your identity is in Jesus Christ, you are set free. Lies will always enslave and reduce. Truth enlarges and relieves. Will you believe God today, friend, that He loves you? I pray you will live in freedom in the knowledge of the truth: You are loved.

Blessings,

Angie signature

Don’t leave me

Becoming God's People

I listened to our pastor preach a sermon this morning, our last on a series titled, “Becoming God’s People.” Pastor Dave covered the passage from Exodus 33 where Moses asks God to reveal His glory to him. Moses was bold in what he asked of God.

How often are we, I wonder?

Even more astounding to me, however, is Moses’ boldness in what he states before requesting to see God’s glory.

God has revealed to Moses that He will not go up with the people of Israel because they are “an obstinate people…” (vs.3) Moses knows the verdict, that God will not go with the people, but instead has decided to move forward with Moses alone, depriving the Israelites of His presence, yet fulfilling His promise to Abraham through Moses.

But Moses remained, like the title of this morning’s sermon, “Standing in the Gap.” Moses boldly proclaimed, “If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here.” (vs.15) Moses stood in the gap for the people of Israel, reminding God of His character.

As I listened to the sermon, Moses’ words “If Your presence does not go with us…” hit me hard. Moses essentially said, “God, don’t leave me. Don’t leave us. If you don’t come with us, God, then we’re not going. We can’t go without you, LORD.” I choked back tears as the thought of living this life without God’s presence struck me hard.

Do we live our lives happily without God’s presence? How many of us go about our daily lives without Him? How often do we treat God as a visitor, inviting Him in for an occasional visit, but refusing to allow Him permanent residence? What about those who treat God like a holy vending machine, only seeking Him out when they want something, like a good parking spot or safety or miraculous healing?

When was the last time you, like Moses, begged God, “Please don’t leave me!” or when the thought of going forward without Him was too much, too inconceivable?

Friends, Moses stood in the gap for the people of Israel. Do you realize someone stands in the gap for you? That someone is Jesus. Because Jesus stood in the gap for you, you don’t have to wonder what it’s like to be left behind. You don’t have to live this life without God. Jesus is here, at this moment. The thought of life without God terrified me. Does it you? Thankfully, I know the Truth. He is with me, right here, right now. He is faithful when we are not. Jesus fills the gap. Will you be bold like Moses, Friend? Will you walk forward with Jesus?

Blessings,

Angie signature

Becoming God’s people

Friends, for those of you who serve (volunteer, lead, teach, etc.) in your church: Can I ask you a rhetorical question?

Why do you serve?

I’m participating in a summer Bible study (Beth Moore’s ‘A Woman’s Heart: God’s Dwelling Place’), and as I was reading the lesson for this week, the verses from Exodus gave me pause. God has delivered the Israelites and provided for them in every way, even giving them meat to eat after they grumble and long for the old life (of slavery!) because they’ve grown weary wandering for just over a month in the desert. They’re hungry, crabby, and loud in their complaint. They are certain they were better off dead in Egypt. In slavery.

It didn’t take long for them to forget, did it? They had already forgotten the miracles that happened before their very eyes. As if protection from one plague wasn’t enough, God set them apart from ten. Ten plagues from which they were spared. And then the ultimate delivery: freedom from those who had taken them captive.

But still they didn’t trust God.

Still, they doubted His goodness, His provision, His deliverance.

As they hungered in the desert and God provided daily with manna, there were some who still refused to do it God’s way. Some tried to save their bread until morning, only to find it had rotted with maggots. (Ex. 16:19-20) Others, disobedient, or perhaps too lazy and irreverent, failed to gather their portion for the Sabbath and found none. (vs.27) Why is it so difficult for us to trust God? Are we really all that different from the Israelites?

This manna was given daily. By God. It was their job to gather it, but God’s job to provide it. Friends, your daily portion of grace? It’s there. But you have to get out of the tent and go gather it. That’s your responsibility. And the manna? The quail? The daily food? It was meant to keep them fully relying on God, to experience Him as Jehovah-Jirah, the God who provides. As Beth Moore states in the study, “Daily bread is about daily relationship.” “Our dependency on God,” as Moore states, “isn’t so that we become dependent people. It’s so that we become relational people.” She continues: “Manna was about being fresh. But we always want to store it up to last. Intimacy with God isn’t manna to be stored up. It’s to be experienced daily; new every morning.”

So what does all this have to do with serving? After everything God has done for His people, providing and caring for them daily, He speaks to Moses with instructions for the sanctuary they were to build. (Ex. 25) God could demand they give their offerings, but He doesn’t. Instead, He says, “…from every man whose heart moves him…”

Now this is where the story gets really good.

In Exodus 36, we see how they responded. We see just how well this freewill offering worked.

They received from Moses all the contributions which the sons of Israel had brought to perform the work in the construction of the sanctuary. And they still continued bringing to him freewill offerings every morning. And all the skillful men who were performing all the work of the sanctuary came, each from the work which he was performing, and they said to Moses, “The people are bringing much more than enough for the construction work which the Lord commanded us to perform.” So Moses issued a command, and a proclamation was circulated throughout the camp, saying, “Let no man or woman any longer perform work for the contributions of the sanctuary.” Thus the people were restrained from bringing any more. For the material they had was sufficient and more than enough for all the work, to perform it. (Ex.36:3-7)

Here’s what Beth Moore had to say regarding this response in our study: (Page 52)

“Imagine your pastor announcing from the pulpit: “Stop that offering plate! And don’t offer to fill another leadership position, either! We have far more than enough to do the work God has called us to do!” Allow the response of the children of Israel to provoke a few personal responses: What is the motivation for my personal offering? Is my heart stirred to give? Has my offering become, at best, an act of obedience rather than a festival of opportunity?

This issue is not about checkbooks. It is about hearts—either stirred or stale.”

Wow. Seriously. When was the last time you served with a whole heart, a heart that desired to give generously, to serve because you wanted to, not because there was an empty spot that needed to be filled? I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty, but hopefully cause us to pause and consider. In many not-so-good ways we are like the Israelites. But giving, serving, to the point of too much? Are we like them in this? Oh, that we would be! Let’s serve, not just to be obedient, but to be relational. Let’s give, not out of obligation, but out of a desire to be in close proximity with God who daily provides for us, who desires an intimate relationship with His children. Will you trust God, Friend, in serving?

Blessings,

Angie signature

How do I do this child loss thing?

I don’t know when the countdown began. I only know it has started. The heaviness in my chest moved in the other day, like an elephant foot planting itself on my heart, not caring where it landed, squeezing the breath out of me. Words have begun to fail me, and I do not want to write. I know what it is, and I still want to deny it. I want to deny grief, I want to deny the loss of my son. I want to run away, bury myself in busyness and ignore the coming days. I don’t want to make room for sorrow, for I have worked too damn hard at finding joy and carving a space for laughter and light. I fear drowning in grief again as July draws near. July 29th. The day my 16 year old, my firstborn, died. Oh, this still sucks, this grief.

The six year anniversary of the day Matt died is coming up, and I still have moments of utter disbelief. (See? I can’t even believe I’m saying years much less six.) I still wonder at times if this is some kind of horrific nightmare from which to wake up.

But it’s not.

It’s real life. My life.

This “crapiversary” (a term I’m borrowing from Anna Whiston-Donaldson from her blog An Inch of Gray) certainly isn’t like the first five. We’ve survived. Unbelievably. We’ve come such a long way since the beginning of the brutal induction into this “club” of child loss.

It truly testifies to God’s word. Every morning since the day my son died, God’s lovingkindnesses and compassions have not failed. They were new every morning, and His grace was, and is, sufficient for each and every day. Of course, there were days when it certainly didn’t feel as if it were enough, but it was. It was because I am alive, my family is alive, and our lives are a testimony to His abundant grace. We are well. Matt is still gone, but he is alive and lives in heaven. We still grieve, but we are good.

Lamentations

We still talk about Matt daily, remembering things about him which make us feel he is close, remembering all the things that made him uniquely Matt. I cherish the “God Nods,” those little, but big “signs” that reassure us he is not so far away, that God sees our hurting hearts and acknowledges them.

My heart twinges bittersweetly at the occasional glimpses of Matt I see: in the way his younger brother walks, when I read a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, or when I catch a glimpse of a dark-skinned 16 year old boy with glasses and a buzz haircut. I cherish the reminders, though they cause the ache in my heart to flare up.

Each crapiversary has been different, our family participating in whatever way felt “right” that year. The plan for this year? Uffda. It’s different, all right. My family is staying home while I attend The Compassionate Friends National Conference in Orlando, FL. The conference falls right over the crapiversary date. Besides being with my family, what better place to be for the anniversary of my son’s death than with thousands of other bereaved parents? It will be tough, but it will be good. I will be way out of my comfort zone (Because traveling is NOT my thing and volunteering to introduce workshop presenters puts me in FRONT of people when I’m far more comfortable behind the scenes!), but I know this is where I should be this year.

As July crouches close, I am reminded to stick ever closer to Christ. Last week, this post, in particular, hit me hard. The excerpt below is from Joni Eareckson Tada’s interview with World Magazine:

Does depression still ensnare you at times? Are you happy? I make myself be happy. I make myself sing because I have to. The alternative is too frightening. My girlfriends will tell you, in the morning when I wake up, I know they’ll be coming into my bedroom to give me a bed bath, do my toileting routines, pull up my pants, put me in the wheelchair, feed me breakfast, and push me out the front door. I lie there thinking (gagging noise), “Oh God, I cannot face this. I’m so tired of this routine. My hip is killing me. I’m so weary. I don’t know how I’m going to make it to lunchtime. I have no energy for this day. God, I can’t do quadriplegia. But I can do all things through You as You strengthen me. So God, I have no smile for these girlfriends of mine who are going to come in here with a happy face. Can I please borrow Your smile? I need it, desperately. I need You.”

I echo Joni’s words, only instead of her words “God, I can’t do quadriplegia,” I utter, “God, I can’t do this child loss thing. ” There are moments, days, where I, too, think this is just too much, I can’t take this any longer. I can’t do it. I’m so tired of it all, so tired of grief.

Additionally, Joni says:

Our weakness, God’s strength. I hate the prospect of having to face the day with paralysis. I choose the Holy Spirit’s help because I don’t want to go down that grim, dark path to depression any more. That’s the biblical way to wake up in the morning, the only way to wake up in the morning. No wonder the Apostle Paul said, “Boast in your afflictions.” Don’t be ashamed of them. Don’t think you have to hide them and gussy yourself up before God in the morning so that He’ll be happy with you and see that you’re really believing in Him. No, no, no. Admit you can’t do this thing called life. Then cast yourself at the mercy of God and let Him show up through your weakness because that’s what He promises—2 Corinthians 12:9.

Again, I relate to her words. I hate the prospect of having to face the day with child loss, yet another day without my precious son. But, like Joni, I recite God’s word and promises to myself. I can’t do this child loss thing by myself. I throw myself at His mercy, where I am promised His strength and am reminded that His compassions never fail, and His lovingkindnesses never stop. They are new every morning. Every morning. (Lam. 3:22-23) I don’t have to worry about July 29th, wondering how I (or my family) will make it through yet another anniversary. I am promised enough grace for each day, as much grace as that particular day will need.

He is a compassionate and faithful God…for every day, every circumstance, every need.

Blessings,

Angie signature

An Open Letter to Thank My Pastor

I was a young college student when I attended Bethel for the first time. My experience with church growing up was, well, quite honestly, dry. Boring. A list of rules, most of which translated for me into “Be a good girl. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. Do this and you’ll go to heaven.” No one told me about Jesus Christ (except that he died on a cross for our sins). But I wasn’t aware of his sacrifice for me. It was all very disconnected.

In college, I tried to continue being the good girl, but I was empty, searching for fulfillment. I thought I found it in a relationship with a guy, but I instead was consumed by insecurity and fear. Rejection soon ensued, and I found myself alone and afraid. My life fell apart, and my grades in college reinforced what I had always feared: that I was dumb, stupid. I wasn’t prepared for higher education, and I was lost. My health suffered, my job was at risk, and my future unstable.

In desperation, I tried church. But the familiar denominational church I attended left me feeling even more alone. I was seemingly invisible as no one greeted me, neither as I entered the church nor left after the service. The feeling as if something were missing was palpable, the ache in my heart unfulfilled.

My roommate at the time, however, attended Bethel. I asked if I could catch a ride with her one Sunday, and so the following week, I nervously entered the doors of Bethel Baptist Church. I hadn’t a clue what Baptists were like, the stereotype completely foreign to me. All I knew for sure was that when I walked in through those doors, I was greeted warmly. I was seen. As I left after the service, I was invited to stay for coffee and donuts. A couple people asked me about myself. Their genuine interest in my life took me by surprise.

I continued to attend Bethel for several weeks, all the while hearing stories about Jesus Christ and listening with amazement that God seemed so alive here. Pastor Dave preached with confidence, transparency, and vulnerability. It was a far cry from my previous experience with church where authority rang loud, but love lacked, and Jesus still hung on the cross. I will never forget the day Pastor Dave preached about the Word, saying, “Don’t believe me. Look it up for yourself. Make sure what I’m saying is what the Word says.” I’m not sure a Bible has ever been flipped open faster than I did the one sitting there on the chair.

Many weeks later, Pastor Dave preached about the need for Christ, the emptiness and longing that many who don’t know Jesus as Lord and Savior feel. He went on to explain what it meant by knowing Jesus as LORD. He spoke of what salvation was and what it meant. And then he extended the invitation to accept Christ, to ask Jesus to be Lord and Savior for anyone who desired. I needed saving. I knew 100% that I could not control my life, that I needed Christ to lead. I accepted the invitation that day, and my life has never been the same.

My life and the lives of my family have been forever changed because of Pastor Dave. He spoke truth, he challenged me to discover what God said and to explore God’s character. By being vulnerable in the pulpit, he showed me that a man in a position of authority wasn’t perfect, but only relying on God and as needy as the rest of us.

Pastor Dave has served our church for 30 years. 30 years. That is faithfulness. That is commitment to the hard, hard task of shepherding some very stubborn and stupid sheep over those 30 years. He continues to speak truth and challenge our church to dig deeper, reminding us that we can never plumb the depths of God’s word to completion. He speaks scripture with clarity and manages to preach it succinctly, somehow tying it seamlessly in to our everyday lives, making it relevant and applicable to our lives now. (And he does it with his trademark 3-point sermon!) He serves with enthusiasm even after 30 years. It chokes me up that he still gets choked up over communion.

Pastor Dave, I know the job of leading this church has been difficult and, at times, downright heartbreaking. I want you to know how appreciated you are. I want you to know that you, and the years you (and Suanne) have served, have not gone unnoticed. I want you to know we recognize the thankless job you do, but that you have done it well. Pastor Dave, I am indebted to you. It is because of you that I came to know Jesus. And because I came to know Jesus, my children know Jesus. Each of our kids have heard the good news of Jesus Christ and responded. (That’s quite a harvest!)

Thank you, Pastor Dave, for serving us 30 years! You are a blessing, and we are blessed.

Friends, if you haven’t thanked your pastor recently, I encourage you to do so. The task and responsibility he assumes is enormous. He faces tremendous challenges daily, but perseveres. He hears criticism often and doubts his abilities occasionally, yet leads courageously. Despite fear and opposition, he does what God calls him to do: speak God’s word and lead His people. Like Moses, pastors are men who are not perfect, but only obedient to what God has called him to do. And while I realize there are many pastors who are not these things (teachable, obedient, humble, etc.) our church is blessed with a pastor who is.

With a grateful heart,

Angie signature (and family)

Grief doesn’t play by the rules

The thing about grief is that we wish we could pack it up into a little box and shove it under the bed, keep it out of sight. But grief is a vicious beast. He doesn’t play by the rules, he is a wild animal. And wild animals are unpredictable. Just when you think you have a handle on him, have him tamed just a tad, he lunges at you. He fastens his teeth and refuses to let go. This is the beast of the bereaved.

lion and a box Phoenix Zoo image
Grief takes a nasty bite and leaves an indelible mark. However, every animal has its enemy, and grief’s enemy is truth and joy. Truth tackles grief to the ground, subduing his power. Grief may have taken a bite, but truth is the Lion of Judah, the undefeated King over all.

Grief knocks the wind out of the bereaved, but the answer doesn’t lie in fighting back (for we all know we’re overpowered). Our power comes when we choose to believe truth. Truth leaps in, overpowering our adversary. Truth secures the victory.
In your grief, have you grabbed hold of the truth? The truth is that our loved ones (and us) are never out of reach of God’s love. The truth is that God redeems ALL things. He redeems what grief destroys. He has a plan, a good plan, that we will someday see fulfilled. He wastes nothing. There is no sorrow so deep that He cannot touch. His power is greater than the enemy’s.

While grief leaves you scarred, truth binds you up, stems the bleeding. The scar remains, but joy is the courage to remove the bandage, to look the enemy in the face and acknowledge that God’s final word is not grief and despair, but joy and peace. He purposes redemption. Joy is possible because grief doesn’t have the final word. You can slide the box out from under the bed because grief doesn’t need to stay there. Grief may occupy the space, but there’s room in the box for truth and joy.

Blessings,

Angie signature

This MN girl may be moving

After a solid week of rain and gray skies I seriously contemplated moving.

And then the sun broke out, and I recovered my sanity.

In all seriousness, however, it’s not funny. The gray skies, rain, and cooler temperatures did something to my brain. The only blue color to the week was my mood. I battled a heavy load of dark thoughts and struggled to find light. Although I knew what the problem was, the struggle was real. It’s why I invested in this a few years ago.

There are those who would say Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) isn’t real. To that I say come visit me when it’s cloudy and stay until the sun comes out. You’ll witness a real “Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde” moment!

Anyway, I’m not sure what my point is except to say that when darkness presses in, one has to press harder to find the light. Find any and every available means that will help you glean a sliver of light. For me, this has meant taking my vitamins, exercising regularly, writing, playing praise and worship music continually, and participating actively in church ministries and Bible study. And buying a therapy light.

Additionally, I’m intentional in giving thanks. Though I don’t keep a “One Thousand Gifts” list, I mentally record seemingly small and insignificant things for which I am thankful. (Of course, the “big” things are noted, as well.) Hearing the breeze through the trees, smelling the strong scent of lavender from the lilac bushes, and watching a dragonfly flit across the yard are just a few of the simple things I mentally scribble down.

It should go without saying, too, that keeping a bit of margin in the calendar and getting enough sleep are instrumental in finding the light. But it’s always easier said than done, right? (Trust me, I know this. Lord willing, I will have four teenagers in the house next month, two of which are actively obtaining their Driver’s permit hours. If you want to find me, look for me in our van.)

There are necessary things (like sleep), but how often do we acknowledge light as a necessary thing? Yes, we know that light, as in the sun, is necessary. But so is the light of God’s word. His word is what sustains us, giving us hope and truth. The Word is what pierces the darkness. Friends, when dark days come, His word becomes the flashlight we wield to extinguish the black that surrounds us.

We know how easy it is to sing in the light, but when was the last time you sang in the dark? We thank Him in the light, but have you praised Him in the dark? I know the difficulty of this, the sacrifice of praise when the heart is shattered. But I also know the closeness of His presence that sometimes only comes in the dark. For sometimes, the dark blots out the things of this world so that we can witness the light that’s there all along, the light we fail to see until darkness falls. Our praise, our thanksgiving, each whispered word, every broken hallelujah punctures the night, becomes a pinprick of light showcasing God’s presence and glory. Do we shine like stars in the night? Do we reflect His light? Darkness is a given. Perhaps our praise should be, as well.

Blessings,

Angie signature