Category Archives: Encouragement

The light that shines….

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It was dark the morning the doctor called in January, 2001.  I was 38, had 6 sons–ages 9 down to 1.5, home schooled, and my husband had been in his new job, in our new city, only 2 years.  Life was busy.  But that morning life stopped.

” sad to tell you.” “unusual cells.”  “mammogram, ultra sound, biopsy.”  the boys clattered around me, breakfast buzzing, diapers changing, charles putting on his tie.  i was in another time zone, inwardly screaming to be released back into the chaos of the day.

the destruction of my body and spirit has left deep scars even to this day.  i have never felt that i have been restored to the person before the scars and i know that is part of the plan.  scarred people, aware of the deep pain of this world, often see the scars of others more quickly and possibly bend the knee more readily.

Today I came across this story.  Another “Jill’s” story and how she is using it for good.  She calls her video “The light that shines,” and as I thought about that I thought of the verse in John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.”  Today, if there is a shadow of darkness in your life, remember that it can never, ever extinguish the light of Christ in your soul.  If you feel fearful, different, ashamed, tired, imperfect, unimportant, unappreciated…turn to the light.  Do not walk any deeper into that cave.  Turn to the light.

This is the testimony of one lady who is shining light through and out of her darkness.  One thing I love is that this woman’s friend speaks not just of the struggles of the scars of breast cancer, but also about the scars of being “different” as a woman in any way. Watch the video:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/01/jill-brzezinski-conley-sue-bryce-breast-cancer-photos_n_2599843.html?ir=Women

The fine print…

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Charles and I can’t help but laugh.  Every time an advertisement comes on the tv about some medicine that will help one problem, and then goes on to describe the 20 other problems it may cause, we laugh.  Of course, most everyone probably knows the most famous ad….It claims to help with marital relations, but  it may cause “sudden vision loss, hearing loss, chest pains, shortness of breath….”  So, a man might be blind, deaf, having a heart attack and lack oxygen, but he can accomplish one thing (that is if he can find his woman and get to her before he dies!)  There are many other commercials with the same “fine print.”

One day, as I heard one of these commercials, I thought, “What if we could hear the truths about sin like that?”  Satan would come to us and say, “Do this and you can do one thing….Cheat and you’ll have more money, lie and you can keep your pride, drink and you can relax, defend yourself and you’ll be protected, don’t try to work things out with your spouse or you will lose your rights.”  In the moment, we may take it hook, line and sinker.  But as we continue in Satan’s plan we begin to experience the fine print.  We too, become blind to truth, fearful of being found out, our hearing for God’s whispers diminishes, our marriage seems to be less and less redeemable, our health fails.  The list is almost inexhaustible of the horrible plans Satan has for us.  He only comes to steal, kill, and destroy.

On the other hand, what Jesus offers may often seem less desirable right at first. “Die to yourself, let go of your pride, tell the truth and trust, give control over to Him and see what He does.”  Yet, when we read His fine print we find grace, abundant life, everlasting life, joy, hope and unconditional love.  

Life is a process, moment by moment we have to choose which “pill” we are going to swallow.  Will it be for short term comfort or control, trying to escape pain, but ultimately leading to it?  Or will it be the pill that may be toughest to swallow at the moment, but most healing and life-giving in the long run?

God’s way will include some valleys, struggles and pain, but it is the way to know true, lasting love, as described in one of my favorite books, The Velveteen Rabbit:

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit. 

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’ 

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’ 

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” 


― Margery WilliamsThe Velveteen Rabbit

Like a child…

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Definitely one of my most amazing, humbling “mommy” moments….Our 12 year old had been asking questions about God:  “How do people know God is answering their prayers?,” “How does someone know if their friend is really a Christian?” “How do you know all these verses in the Bible?”  On this particular afternoon, I sat on our den rug with the Big Book I love and many others that help me understand it.  He sat down beside me and began with his beautiful, honest inquiries of the mystery.  We talked…often my answer was, “You probably need to ask your dad (the most dear believer I know) that.”  There was a pause and with tears in his eyes, he said, “I want to know God like you and dad do.”

As I put this dear one to bed months later, I noticed his devotional on his bedside table, bookmarked to the day.  Picking it up, I asked if he read it every night.  He answered yes.  We read that day’s devotional together.  Then he said, “I usually read the devotional of the day as well as the one I read the day before…can we do that?”  After we read the previous day’s devotional, he said, “Want to know my favorite day?  It’s February 12.”   I turned to Feb. 12 and saw he had underlined a quote from God, “Let Me become the desire of your heart.” I told him I wished I knew God like he did.

“Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.  Mark 10:15-16

Today…take your complicated problems to God with simple faith and He will bless you too. He is able to do even more than you ask.  Ask Him to cause you to desire Him above all else.

It’s o.k…..

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Sometimes you just have to laugh and tell yourself it’s ok.  This morning, as we ate cold cereal (the same kind we had for dinner last night), we couldn’t find clean towels, and the boys dressed for school, I had to laugh about life.

You see, today is “Circus Day” at our middle school.  Our youngest two sons, of 6, attend there and had to dress up for this special day.  As we opened the door to leave, I realized there was no fanfare, no pictures, no “oohing” and “ahhing” about their costumes. Honestly, there wasn’t much to brag about! Perhaps because through 22 years, 6 sons, homeschool, private school, public school, cancer, moves, “terrible twos and troublesome teens,” loss of parents, lots of victories and many mistakes, we have become minimalists (a nice word for busy, old, and weary!!) by default.

I paused at the door as I smiled at the situation, and snapped a picture of the youngest, 12, in his “costume:”

I know, so cute, right?  But the mark of

“minimalist” is loud and clear.  #6 son

has known this all his life-look–he’s still happy!

What a love!  They all are, actually.  They have

put up with so much, and yet they still love us!

While clicking the camera on that dear one, I remembered a different day in our lives. I look back and think I was “better” then.    This photo is from Halloween, 1994, we had 3 sons and one on the way.  That year I actually sewed their Halloween costumes myself.

I look at this and feel proud, then I think, “Yeah, the costumes were great, but was my heart?  Maybe, honestly I don’t recall…but today as I patiently pinned the “Circus Crew” sign on Cole’s old t-shirt and told him how proud I was of his idea, I felt thankful.  Yes, through the journey of life things have changed and many times these days as a parent I feel like a “loser,” especially as we eat cold cereal and wear t-shirts with signs pinned to the front as costumes.  However, when I step back and view the big picture, I realize that the beauty of this life is not in the things I can look at and feel proud of, but in the love that transcends all of my pride.  We’re still walking, one foot in front of the other, like everyone else, and there’s a lot, a whole lot of love in this home…just like yours.  So, today, if you look at your mothering, your fathering, and you think, “Boy, I really come up short,” just put an arm around your child, look them in the eyes, and tell them you love them…and then laugh together as you sit down for a dinner of cold cereal and give thanks to God.  It’s ok.

Love is Unstoppable:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=alncB4_CKrQ&feature=related

“All you have to do is stand up…”

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It hit me like lightening in my heart when he said it.

Sweet beginnings...Our first, Daniel, was 1

My hubby and I had just picked up Daniel, our oldest (22).  He was coming home from Georgia Tech for the weekend.  As we drove home, I shared a funny story of how my husband and I communicate (or don’t really communicate!!) :>). The more I talked, the more animated I became and the more we all laughed.  At one point during the laughter, Daniel looked back and me and said, “Mom, all you have to do is stand up.”  Somehow in my spirit I was encouraged immediately, but cognitively I wasn’t sure I understood.  “What do you mean?” I asked.

“Mom,” he answered, “You tell the best stories, and you are so funny when you tell them, all you have to do is stand up!”  “Yeah,” I said, knowing he was right, “that’s what I used to do…retreats, conferences, teaching…that’s what I love to do…I love to tell stories about God and life and laugh all the while doing it. I call it my ‘creation gift.’  I was just made like this!” I paused and he said, “Well, Mom, you’ve got an audience of 7 right there in the house…just stand up.”  I realized, somehow, along the way, I’ve lost the beauty of just enjoying the way I was made.  And from the conversations I have with women every day, I know I’m not the only one.

Satan has stolen from us all…telling us we are less and that we have nothing to offer, causing us to focus on our weaknesses. The truth is we were wonderfully created by a God who thinks about us all the time and sings over us.  He wants us to live a blaringly beautiful life, being all He created us to be.  My son, so much younger and yet so wise, was restoring me, reminding me, urging me to remember who I uniquely am.

Now a man, telling his mom the truth

Eric Liddell, missionary to China and Olympic medalist knew the joy of using his gifts as he lived life for God.  “I believe that God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast.  I feel His pleasure when I run.”

What did God give you that brings you His pleasure?  It may not be something you can spend the majority of your   time doing.  As a matter of fact, most of us probably can’t make a living using our special “creation gift.”  The question is, Are you using your creation gift at all?”  Are you experiencing those moments of God’s pleasure when, as you live unto Him, you just “stand up” or run fast, whether it’s for an audience of 7 or for the 1924 Olympics?  I bet Liddell felt God’s pleasure even when He ran on narrow dirt roads.  You can too, at the kitchen counter, in the carpool line, at your desk, or on a Saturday morning when you have time to paint, dream, plant, laugh, talk, think, read, photograph, love, cook, strum, dance, plan, write, encourage, exercise, listen, climb, play, design, sing….being true to your design, if even only for an audience of One. All you have to do is stand up….

God’s “No”

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Apparent silence from heaven can seem so loud and painful at times.  When the marriage continues to be difficult, finances fail, health lacks, or childlessness continues, we wonder if God even hears our pleas.  Because of the sacrifice of Christ, we know He always hears us and has a plan for us, even when His answer is ‘no’ to our present prayer.  

                       God’s “NO”

He whispers sweetly, “Yes,” when I kneel to pray.                  

Happy and at peace, I go along my way.

 

But when He says, “No, my dear, My answer’s for your best,”

I wonder, ‘Did He really hear?’ and I weep without His rest.

 

A loving God saying, “No” to me sounds cruel and unfair,

Why such a strange dichotomy, He seems truly not to care.

 

Fear, an unpleasant companion, becomes a consuming fire,

My eyes stray from my Champion, my situation grows more dire.

 

Increasingly desperate, emotions tighten their grasp,

My demand has made us “seperate,” His hand I long to clasp.

 

A little comprehension dawns–why His “no” was hard and fast,

The truth speaks from eternity, “It is for treasures that will last.”

 

His “no” is indeed a megaphone:  “This ‘bad’ I won’t make untrue,

Light on it I have shone, it’s out of love for you.”

 

So even though the “thorn” has stayed, He swears His glory to lift,

For a “no” to the very thing I prayed, has been the greatest gift.

 

Google Search: How to Worry…

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Well, I finally found one question to which Google has no answer:  How does one worry?  It’s just not in there….every answer given, all the pithy techniques suggested, all the medications mentioned are to help one STOP worrying.  For some reason an instructional site on “worry” doesn’t exist.  There isn’t a professional making tons of money telling us to repeatedly think unproductive thoughts, imagining the worst outcome possible.

Do you know how to worry?  I do.  My husband and I joke that as soon as the umbilical cord is cut, parents’ begin their life-long job of worrying.  The truth is, I was an expert at worry way before the first baby arrived, before the “I dos,” before the Friday night dates, the first rental, the final exams, and the freshman 15.  I never read it in a book and no one tutored me in worrying.  I just had what seemed to be an “inevitable knack for sustaining wearisome, anxious thoughts about things I may or may not be able to change.”  Let’s say it’s just one of my many talents.  Unfortunately, I often find the “what-if” and “if-only” thoughts sapping me physically, taxing me mentally, and dragging me down emotionally.  How about you?

Here’s the GREAT news…If you know how to worry, you already know the cure!   The Bible says, “Don’t fret or worry.  Instead of worrying, pray.  Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.  Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.  It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”  (Phil. 4:6-7, The Message)

If we know how to worry, we know how to pray continually.  Worry becomes a habit, just as does anything we repeat over and over.  Instead of  trying to figure out what should happen, how things should go, what the timing should be, why not shape these worries into prayers by replacing them with petitions and praises based on all the promises that are “yes” in Jesus Christ.

Sometimes I’ll remind one of the boys about things he needs to take care of and he inspires my confidence when he responds, “Mom, I got this.”  When I’m trying to remind God what He should be doing through my worrying, I remember on the cross He said, “Jill, I got this.”

Wounds more than Words…

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I told her I had dealt with depression before too.  Or rather, it had dealt with me.  Unfolding crossed arms, she leaned closer and asked about the hands that had carried me through.  I told her they were scarred.  Our God, I shared, is the only God–among all those who claim to be–to point to His scars.

For Jesus said to Thomas, “Reach here your finger and see my hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing.” (Jn. 20:27)     It was His resurrected body, yet He still had wounds.  Rather than hide them, He revealed them to His doubting friend as proof of who He really was.

“Doubting” friends often approach Jesus as Thomas did. They long to see the wounds in those of us who are resurrected with Christ. Perfect people and places are entertaining, but offer little in the way of new life Frequently, it is the very limp in our walk, the tremor in our voice, the path of pain which leads others to declare, as Thomas did, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn. 20:28)

My friend hasn’t yet made that declaration. Our mutual brokenness has been a bridge for me to begin to show her the Way. When some believe upon hearing the Word, others have to touch our wounds.

Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio

Real Hope in the Shadows…

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I’m sitting by the fire.  The house is quiet.  All the boys just grabbed up lunches, backpacks, projects and reports and headed out the door.  Sweet pastor-husband gave a peck on the cheek and a squeeze of the hand as he stepped out into the cold.  I clean eggs out of bowls, gather piles of laundry and start up all the ‘machines’ (I’m so thankful for the machines!)  I light the fire, collect my books, including the big one I love so much.  Just before I settle down to talk to God, I pour coffee into my “hope” mug, given me by a dear friend.

I love this mug.  Every morning I fill it and, with varying degrees of intensity, I think about the word on the front. It always brings encouragement.  Pastor-husband often fills it for me and whispers, “Start your day with hope.”

I think about my day: the plumber coming, school supplies to purchase, the three things I forgot at the grocery store yesterday to be remembered today, bills to pay, dinner, and hope.  “We are merely moving among shadows, and all our busy rushing ends in nothing. We heap up wealth, not knowing who will spend it.  And, so Lord, where do I put my hope?  My only hope is in you.” (Psalm 39:6-7, New Living Translation).

I walk among the shadows and they clamor for my attention, my devotion, my hope.  They promise happiness and joy…the shadows of wealth, pride, beauty, health, control, & pleasures promise and promise and promise.  I’ve often believed them, striving, reaching, working to accomplish that which offers “the promised land,” only to find a shriveling soul and the echoing question, “Am I happy yet?”  I long for the garden without the fall, and in the end, “hope deferred makes the heart sick.” (Prov. 13:12)  The self-deception and the sick soul remind me that the True Hope is calling me.

And the mystery comes alive.  “Christ, in me…Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col. 1:27)  As His kindness leads me to repentance, His presence brings me the fulness of joy I had turned from. His light casts out all the shadows.

I sit by the fire, His word in my hands, my “hope” mug beside me.  I think about the things we frequently “talk” about together.  I keep asking Him to give me women to share the real hope with, and He is answering in amazing ways.  I sit and wonder, will I be able to explain it to them?  Will I be able to answer their questions, build a relationship, draw them with love?  I’m nervous, I want to shy away, to make an excuse, to be devoted some other way…. ANY other way.  I want it, but I don’t.  And He shows me false hopes again…hopes in myself to “share the Gospel right,” to avoid embarrassment and to skirt failure.  His word reminds me again that it’s HIM in me, NOT me in me and I say with Paul:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,            

who according to His great mercy has caused us to be

born again to a living hope through the resurrection

of Jesus Christ from the dead…” I Pet. 1:3

I’m filled with true pleasure, great excitement, thrilling anticipation as I wait to see just what He’ll do!

Beginning to sink….

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Sinking.  It’s a bad feeling.  On the way down we feel ourselves begin to suffocate!  Sinking can only happen if we have stepped out onto the water, like Peter.  It is only experienced after one has actually been afloat…and then something happens.  The wind, pelting rain, isolation– everyone else stays in the boat, like ‘reasonable’ people, and we begin to falter.  We’ve all experienced it one way or another.  Income decreases, healing is delayed, relationships are difficult, pain continues, the way is lost in the midst of life, the storm stirs and sinking ensues…

Circumstances definitely rock the boat, but in the story of Peter’s sinking, it wasn’t the outside influence of the wind which caused him to begin to sink.  It was his response to the wind: Fear.  It could be any number of responses other than faith which tie a rock to our ankle and cause us to begin to sink: discouragement, self-righteous anger, resolve to take control, humiliation, apathy, pride.  The bottom line is that Peter doubted the One who called him to step out onto the liquid floor. I can definitely relate to Peter; even this morning as I sat at God’s feet, I laid my fears there, only to snatch them up again with the next breath. Experiencing the winds of life often brings some form of mis-trust of the Savior and I, like Peter, deny Christ.  There is a lot to learn from Peter.  But, the One to really observe in this story is Jesus.

Look at Jesus.  Look at His response to Peter.

The passage tells us, “And beginning to sink, [Peter] cries out, ‘Lord, save me!’  Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and took hold of him.”  Amy Carmichael, missionary to China, wrote on this passage, “How many seconds lie between a man’s beginning to sink, and his actual sinking?  A single second or less, I suppose.  How swift, then, was the movement of love!  And as He was, so He is.” 

Jesus saved Peter.  He called Peter to experience the height of the joy of faith and obedience.  He also let Peter experience the fierce wind, the severe rain, the rocking waves. Jesus had not changed between Peter’s joy and fear, Peter’s focus had.  So it is with me, and maybe you.  When I choose to focus on the wind instead of Jesus, I begin to sink.  As my ankles begin to get wet, I am reminded I have only one sure life boat.  Jesus.

David, King of Israel, tells us over and over about times he felt he was sinking.  Every time David doubts, he, like Peter, cries out to God.  One particular time is recorded in Psalm 60.  David’s people are experiencing defeat– ‘the wind,’ so to speak.  David cries out to God, “Save with Thy right hand and hear me.”  Charles Spurgeon comments on this prayer saying that God begins the business of saving even before the prayer is finished.  Immediately.

A bit earlier in the Bible, a short story in 2 Kings tells of a borrowed axehead dropping into the river and sinking.  The servant who had borrowed the axehead is distressed.  He asks for help from God’s man, the prophet Elisha.  Elisha threw a stick into the water and God caused the axehead to float so that it could be recovered.

If God is so concerned with a borrowed axehead sinking and causes it to float, just think what He can and will do for His own who begin to sink.  An axehead, David’s army, Peter, a man, a woman, me, you.  He reaches out His hand to save.  Saving is His business. He is not too slow and nothing is too small.

There is hope in His outstretched hand and His loving heart.