It Will Never Be “Okay”

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I sat in a room filled with deeply shattered people, and though their stories were different, their grief was the same: one loud cry of “Injustice!” Our facilitator brought up the topic of helpful and toxic people when you’re dealing with traumatic, tragic loss. Sadly, it’s the people in closest relationship  with you who can be the most toxic. They mean well, but what they have to say that sounds  encouraging and sympathetic to them rings very differently in the cavity of a needlessly emptied heart.

People look with sympathetic eyes and tell you, “It will be okay. Just move on.God has something better for you.” What those of us who’ve tragically lost someone we love  want to say – but generally are too “nice” to reply, is  the loud anguished cry I heard at the meeting last week through all the pain in the room. “NO! It  will NEVER be ‘okay’!”

Really? Have those of you offering your helpful advice ever had the dearest, most beloved,  cherished person or relationship ripped out of your life by the callous indifference, thoughtless carelessness, complete selfishness, or brutal anger or malice of another person? Would it be okay if a sniper’s bullet just took out the spouse, child, friend sitting next you in your secure home? How about your cherished dog or cat? If the blood of your child spilled across your floor, would it still be “okay” and would you simply wipe up the floor and “move on”?

No, what we  want to say in that moment –  and now I know it’s much the same whether  the loss comes from an unwanted and cruel divorce brutally ending  your marriage or through the homicide or manslaughter death of a loved one – is this: “STOP! STOP THE WORLD! Everyone,pay attention;something horrible just happened! This treasure has been taken,this life  cut short, this family shattered! Bow your head,cry out, weep with me, because this is INJUSTICE!” Frankly, the survivors feel like  the earth should stop turning, everyone in the world should drop their  “to do” lists filled with mundane, routine urgencies, and weep for at least a few minutes over the loss of somebody or someone precious and wonderful, someone whose life held potential and goodness and joy for  themselves and for others,whose absence now means  tragedy, loss, pain,and emptiness for those left behind. Stop,weep,and say, “YES,  it matters! YES, it hurts you terribly!” and allow for the very present and very real continuing sorrow. THAT is what is okay: to grieve,  to feel the hurt, to acknowledge the loss,to allow yourself to care and love  and feel the loss of love.

Trust me, survivors feel guilt and re-run  the tapes of  what could have happened to prevent the loss. Someone should have seen this coming, told me or  told someone who could intervene what he/she was saying, someone should have paid attention, stepped in,  done something, said something, intervened somehow to prevent or circumvent this tragedy.

Sadly everyone seems think it’s someone else’s job, it would be too hurtful to tell you the truth, somehow that person will turn around or get the help they need. After the fact, after it was years too late to change anything or help anything, people told me what “he” had told them or had done ten years earlier. “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings  – I didn’t want to get involved – I didn’t want to upset you” was the common reasoning I heard for  the silence of my neighbors and my family and friends. Last  week we  all listened to each others’   unreported red flags  in  one horrible tragedy after another:  teachers who overlooked a student’s  sudden plummeting grades and changed behavior  but never looked into the reason, bartenders and bar patrons who watched someone drinking excessively and never asked who would be driving them home, bosses and people who looked the other  way when they should have spoken into an addicted life, no one taking seriously the mental illness or emotional dysfunction they saw in a person.

I vividly remember sitting decades ago in  a room with my elderly aunt, who had undiagnosed Alzheimer’s that her neighbors  thought was some form of mental illness. Due to “privacy”rules, she had to be the one to commit herself for observation. Really? The mental health system expects a mentally ill person to have the  sanity and presence of mind to see they need psychiatry?   Isn’t  that  like expecting a bank robber to suddenly realize,”Oops,  I shouldn’t be stealing other people’s money”? My father and I had to, gently and lovingly as we  could, tell her firmly that something was wrong with her. That confrontation was one of the most horrible experiences of my life, but after the fact, we realized she might have seriously hurt herself  or someone else if we hadn’t intervened,and more than that, she wouldn’t have received the diagnosis and care she genuinely needed. We did the right thing.

I  attempted the same intervention many years later  with another loved one, but sadly, that person needed to see the dysfunction, but because of  dysfunction, refused to see or admit it. That story had a tragic ending, a deeply hurtful injustice. God  himself spoke that to me,and though I’m glad God knows it, still that doesn’t diminish the pain. So weep with me,  hold me, rage with me at the injustice, tell me you’ll be here for me tomorrow, but be courageous enough to be here for me three months or  three years from now if that’s how long my  grief lasts.Walk with me. Take me on a picnic, BE  with me in real life if you truly want to help my healing, but  don’t ever judge me for feeling, for crying, or tell me  to cover my scars in your presence so I don’t upset  anyone. Don’t tell me I need to be the nice and thoughtful person mindful of the feelings of others  when someone has dealt me a malignantly ugly harmful, unkind blow. Rather, look into the ugliness of  genuine, tragic loss and marvel that I’m brave enough to  still be alive.

Angry? In my own  situation, when two psychologists and a  psychiatrist didn’t  see his disorder, despite me telling the truth of what  I’d live in, angry? When a pastor saw disorder in the man and simply labeled it ”demons” and gave no direction to help or counseling resources? In a lesser injustice,was I angry when teachers passed on my neighbor’s daughter, struggling pitifully in math, because they “thought” her Hispanic last name meant she had issues understanding English, yet she only spoke English and I saw in one ten-minute session with her that she had no idea of the number line in her head?  You bet I feel angry! You bet survivors  feel angry, but friends and society expect us to be the “nice”  people who “suck it up” and act like  we’re okay when we are anything BUT okay  with the injustice we’ve suffered.

WHY MUST  WE KEEP SILENT? WHY MUST WE HAVE NO VOICE? Does hurting someone else’s feelings matter more than the wrong of taking someone’s life? The wrong of destroying a family and shattering lives?

We know we  have to forgive. Forgiveness is a gift I give myself, to set my own heart and mind  free from, and see I’m not the one to bring, the justice I want and need to right the wrong, but don’t ever think  it comes cheaply or easily. Forgiveness  costs me,  big time, but it’s the price of my freedom from bitterness.  For me as a Christian, forgiveness is the example  Jesus gave, the command – not just the suggestion – to forgive seven times seven IF the one who wronged me repents and asks for my forgiveness.

“If your brother sins,  rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”  Luke 17:3-4

And if the one who wronged me doesn’t repent? I’ve felt the sting of no remorse. The disciples replied to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” I still have to find a way to forgive, to give the anger and hurt over to Jesus, handing him the broken glass to turn into “sea glass” in the ocean of his love, for him to redeem somehow,  to bring beauty from ashes and  meaning from senseless tragedy.  I have to pay the costly price of giving up my right to true justice. For those going through an ugly, unwanted divorce, the only true justice would be true heart-felt reconciliation. For homicide survivors, the only real justice would be their loved one back alive and whole again.

“Just move on”? YOU try it after tragedy, and only then do you have the right to tell me and others  to. Till then, look me, or look your friend or family member,  square in the eye and  tell me/them you can’t imagine how much it hurts.Tell me/them  you’ll be there. Tell me/them  you won’t walk away even when I/they spurt some ugly tears.

No, I can’t “just move on.” Neither could any of the people in the room last week, and the counselors  recognized that hard truth. For us,the survivors, it would have been less painful if we had died; there would have been a welcome end to our grief and agony. No,we don’t need to be committed to an institution: we need to  be understood, heard, wept with, our feelings of loss validated by the people who care about us. We need “the system”  to work quickly  and justly. We will always carry the scars the wounds, and no, my friends, don’t tell me to put on a happy face as “makeup”to cover my scars so YOU don’t have to look at something “ugly.”  In truth, it isn’t “ugly” – it’s the beauty mark of genuine love.

When my father died after a five-year battle with Alzheimer’s, we knew he was free from a terrible disease and, because he loved Jesus as Lord and Savior, Dad was with his Creator, God, King, Lord, Savior, and truest Friend. Same thing when my other passed away 14 years later. She was free from pain of arthritis and vascular dementia, home with Dad and her parents and siblings at that big reunion potluck, and enjoying the blessings and bliss of eternal life with Christ in Heaven. Closure. But truthfully there is no closure with sudden, tragic or traumatic death. There is no real closure with divorce, no “acceptance” except the hard reality that we will have to learn to live with the injustice and the pain and loss. Christians have the certain hope of God’s eventual redemptive justice, though it may well not be the kind of justice, the wrong-righting that we wanted to see. Still, we hold our hands up to receive our ongoing healing and blessings from a good, good Father. Till then, allow us to feel, walk with us, and help us  go forward into  the life we have yet to live, the purposes we can yet find, with our beautiful scars of love.

Then Moses called to Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land which the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall give it to them as an inheritance. “The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” Deuteronomy 31: 7-8 RSV

Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.
Teach me your way, Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors.
Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me,  spouting malicious accusations. I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:10-14 NIV

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me. Isaiah 49: 15-16 NIV

I remember singing the song “Lonesome Valley” at church camp. We changed the lyrics a bit to reflect a better truth than the song originally speaks, a truth that the verses above proclaim.

“Lonesome Valley”

You gotta walk that lonesome valley
And you gotta walk, walk it by yourself
Nobody else can walk it for you
You gotta walk, walk it by yourself.

Jesus walked this lonesome valley
And he had to walk it by Himself
Nobody else could walk it for Him
He had to walk, walk it by Himself.

Oh, you gotta walk that lonesome valley
You don’t go there by yourself
For now there is One who walks beside you
You needn’t  walk it by yourself.

You must go and stand your trials
You needn’t stand it by yourself
For now there is One to stand beside you
You needn’t stand it by yourself.

 

Amen, Lord Jesus, walk beside me,  stand with me, carry me  when I can’t go another step, be my light on  the dark path  ahead of me, be  the voice of comfort in my days of pain, be redeeming love in my life, put my broken pieces back together and bring me out into a new, beautiful hope and victory that only YOU can bring.

 

Fire burns in the ashes

Rose Jackson © 8/3/2009

Fire in the AshesSome journeys take you to unexpected discoveries in familiar places. Walking through the most difficult time of my life through the smoking ruins of a destroyed relationship, I find Jesus waiting to meet me. . Recently my friend Sharon’s daughter, Charity, told me she wanted to take me on a journey through “the Father’s house,” a spiritual journey into Jesus that had given her a breakthrough in a challenging time in her own life. The idea was to “walk” through God’s house to find Jesus. Hungry to experience God’s presence more deeply, I sat with her in Sharon’s bedroom and lifted my sanctified imagination to the Holy Spirit’s voice.

“Please, God, I don’t want to conjure this out of my own imagination,” I silently cried out.

Long ago I had sat beside a boyfriend in a “spiritual” Sunday evening church service, the hair standing up on my arms, my spirit filled with the suspicion that the “spirit guide” the pastor was listening to absolutely was NOT Jesus. I wanted nothing to do with that kind of experience ever again! But I know Sharon’s and Charity’s heart and faith, and my own as well, so this day I could sit in confidence believing that Jesus guarded my thoughts and nothing of the Enemy could enter. I set off in my mind’s eye up a long driveway. We talked about what we were “seeing,” and my friend Sharon described a beautiful mansion in vivid detail. I was having some trouble, my analytical brain questioning whether what I was sensing was me or the Lord, but I pressed on in faith, believing God truly did want to speak something to my heart.

Crossing imagined polished hardwood floors, walking into large rooms whose vague details disappeared as I tried to focus on them, I just wasn’t getting anything. Sharon’s words were awash in love and amazement as she narrated her journey.

Hmmm . . . . No such experience for me. Why was I getting nowhere? After much mental wandering through an empty mansion, I decided to follow the tug on my heart to go “out back,” and as I pushed open a worn, green wooden screen door, I smelled my Grandmother’s apple tree. As my friend saw glorious flowers and a beautiful river filled with gems, I sat on the old wooden swing hanging from the tree and felt someone pushing me. Oh, could I dare to believe this was Jesus? So natural, so common, so familiar, so ordinary . . . so wonderful! What I was experiencing wasn’t at all like the things Charity had seen in her own walk, wasn’t like the things her friend who’d first shared the journey with her had seen on her own walk, wasn’t like the splendor Sharon was seeing now. Simply so simple. So free. So familiar in family love.

Now Jesus and I sat in the grass on the edge of my Grandmother’s garden, and I smelled dill and rich, warm earth. “What does Jesus want to give you?” Charity asked.

“That’s a good question!” I thought. Nothing was coming into my vision as my hands dug beside Jesus’ hands in Grandma’s deep brown, moist soil. Ha! My hand playfully put a smudge of black dirt on Jesus’ left cheek, and I sensed -or maybe dared to believe – it pleased him. This wasn’t the grand spiritual adventure, the overwhelming breaking in of the Holy Spirit that I had hoped to receive. This wasn’t Acts 2 in the upper room. This was sitting on the grass with my hands in dirt, my hands beside another set of hands, feeling completely at peace and joyfully loved. This was awfully ordinary for a powerful spiritual encounter.

“Jesus wants to give you something. What is it? Ask him,” Charity gently encouraged.

Vaguely I sensed something like a gold brooch in an extended hand, sensed rather than saw, and I got the impression the gold setting held an opal. He was holding it against my chest. “Ask him what it means,” Charity offered.

“Uumm . . . . ,” I was determined NOT to attach any meaning that wasn’t absolutely of God onto this experience. The still small voice of God was so quiet, more a trickle of understanding seeping into my mind. I know many precious stones are mentioned in Revelation 21 where John describes the foundations of the walls of the New Jerusalem, but I wasn’t at all sure opals were among those stones. “Opals – really pure, beautiful opals – are fiery,” I recounted. “Maybe – maybe Jesus is saying, ‘Don’t let the fire go out in your heart.’ Or maybe, ‘I won’t let the fire go out.’”

Tears erupted from my eyes. My heart is under siege – has been for the past six years. This wasn’t the encounter I wanted with the splendor of God, but a sweet communion with the passionately loving heart of Jesus, and if he wanted to run under me on my Grandma’s swing and wear a smudge of dirt from my hand, that was more than fine by me. He was telling me there was no place he’d rather be than here in my heart.

Wow! Sharon and Charity may have been a bit puzzled and underwhelmed, but I was overcome. I remembered I have a small opal pin at home. I checked both my jewelry box and my concordance as soon as I got home. Yep, there was the pin with four small opals, though the tiny white stones in it aren’t very fiery, and nope, opals aren’t mentioned in the Bible. Did that mean my experience had come solely out of my own imagination? I left a message asking about the significance of opals with a friend who’d spoken a year or so ago about gems in scripture to ask her about opals. When she returned my call, Amy said nope, it was a mystery to her, too. The Bible doesn’t mention opals. Amy explained some information she’d found on opals, and my heart soared as God’s assurance settled deeply in. This information wasn’t in any of the geology books we had at home: Opals are semiprecious stones treasured for their fire and light. Very fragile, opals deteriorate in heat and cold. They contain water, but lose water easily in dry air and become brittle, so opals need to be worn next to flesh so the oils from the body can seal in their moisture. To clean an opal, you must wash it in pure water. Left to dry, an opal will crack and lose its brilliance and beauty.

There it was, God’s word to me: my heart is like an opal, and just as fragile. He washed and cleansed my heart in pure water, the Living Water of Jesus, and seals it daily – if I let Him – with the oil of the Holy spirit. My heart is meant to be – God WANTS me to be – filled with Jesus, my heart pressed close to his so it doesn’t dry out and lose its fire, brilliance, and beauty. There is absolutely nothing common or ordinary in that truth!

In this dry, hope-sucking valley of the shadow of death that I walked through where the Enemy is working to destroy my heart (are you walking that valley too?), God wants above all else for my heart (yours, too!) to be whole, beautiful, and filled with his fire, pressed against his chest in a place of safety, sustaining, and love.

Your experience of the love of Jesus doesn’t need to look like anyone else’s. He loves you too much to let you be less than the unique person He created you to be. Yes, Jesus is the only way to eternal life, the only one whose blood was costly enough to buy you back from the hand of Satan, but the road He has to lead you to himself may be more like the screen door out to green grass than a superhighway to ivory columns and marble floors. Don’t let anyone impose the counterfeit forms of empty tradition on you when what God wants to do with all of the you that you are and in all the you He created you to be is conform YOU to a reflection of the likeness and love of Jesus.

I clasped my opal pin on the chain of a necklace I hadn’t worn in many years, hanging beside a gold-colored, jagged-edged half circle inscribed with these words from Song of Songs 2:16: “I am my Beloved’s.”  Hanging on the chain, the opal pin looks like a cross . . . .

A ” . . . BUT . . . ” to pray: Oh, Abba Father God, my heart feels crushed, ground into the dust, broken, BUT your word says, “All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you.” (SOS 4:7) and you promise I can count on your love and power as “(I) wait in hope for the LORD; he is (my) help and (my) shield. In him (my) heart rejoices, for (I) trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon (me), O LORD, even as (I) put my hope in you.” (Psalm 33:20-22) Restore the lustre, beauty, fire, and water to my heart even in the driest place with the Living Water of your love, Jesus. Thank you that my heart is precious to you and you hold my heart close to yours! You created me with all of this in me ________________________________________________, the good and the flawed, the simple and the complex, the humble and the royal reflection of you in my talents to ________________________________________________________ and my desires to ________________________________________________________, my limitations of ________________________________________ that are the possibilities for you to ___________________________________________ out of your strengthened power to bless _______________________’s life and to bless the world by you doing ___________________________________________ in me and out of me anyway! Open the screen door for me,Jesus, to hear you say ____________________________________________________________________________ to me today. ” . . . BUT . . . ” Abba, Father, Beloved, my heart is weighed down with ________________________ BUT I know you desire to restore my heart, so I give you ______________________________________________ and I receive your _________________________________________________. Take me to that place where your heart resides in me. Amen!

Conformity? Really? Really!Sitting on the front steps of Grandma’s  house. My mother Helen, her sister Bonnie who died tragically in her early 20’s,  and my Grandma Ruth, whose garden was the place of this  wonderful encounter with Jesus

Armor-Bearer, Heart and Soul

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Friday my Bible fell open to 1 Samuel 14, and in an odd place I  read some of the best relationship advice I’ve ever found. The set-up is during Philistine domination of Israel at the time of King Saul. There wasn’t a weapon in Israel and not a single blacksmith to even sharpen their plows and sickles; the only weapons were the swords of Saul and Jonathan. One day Jonathan decided to go after a detachment of Philistine soldiers who had gone to a pass at Micmash. Saul had six hundred men, but Jonathan secretly went out alone with his armor-bearer.

Jonathan said, “Perhaps the LORD will act on our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.”

What faith and courage! His armor-bearer answered with words that, to me, should be in the heart of every one of us and every woman in particular , because I sense from the way God created us that our original design was to be the “ezer kenegdo,” the one who comes alongside. “Do all you have in mind,” his armor-bearer said, “Go ahead, I am with you heart and soul.”

Honestly I have known a handful of “modern American” women who feel that way. I am not saying that women shouldn’t work if they want to or if they need to, nor am I saying we were meant to be simply “barefoot and pregnant.” What I do see in this story, though,  is the heart attitude of Jonathan’s armor bearer.  Brenda, Patty,  Eva, Sharon, Sara, Karen, Viola, my “God’s Chicks” buddies from my church in Mesa are armor bearers. My dear friend Debbie feel and think this way, too. The Lord literally brought Debbie and me together as kindred spirits in trial and sorrow in very similar situations in our marriages, though Debbie was further down the road than I when God connected us. We prayed together and praised God together in the early stages, crying out for God to make himself real to our guys who’d gone down the slippery slope of infidelity. Debbie has a sweet, gentle spirit and we share a deep, passionate love for Jesus that I think perhaps only comes when you’ve shared in his sorrow. At any rate, she and I think alike, counter-culturally it seems, that the coolest thing to be is an “armor bearer” beside a Jonathan.

I’ve never heard a pastor preach on the faithfulness, humility, God-honoring and loyalty in Jonathan. All the “press” has been on David, his like-a-brother friend. Jonathan was in line to be the next king, but he knew God had anointed his friend David. What humility as the son of a king to bow to and consider equal to himself the son of a sheep farmer! And what courage Jonathan showed in 1 Samuel 14!

“One day Jonathan son of Saul said to his armor-bearer, ‘Come, let’s go over to the Philistine outpost on the other side.’ But he did not tell his father ….’Do all you have in mind,’ his armor-bearer said, ‘Go ahead, I am with you heart and soul.’ … Jonathan  climbed up, using his hands and feet, with his armor-bearer right behind him. The Philistines fell before Jonathan and his armor-bearer followed and killed behind him. In that first attack Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre.”

Men are called to be Jonathans beside Jesus, and that’s an incredible commission handed to you. You guys need more than a pretty face, sweet words, hot body and healthy bank account in a woman: you need an armor-bearer, because when the heat is on and you have to go alone to take down the “Philistines” marauding the people and causes you love, you need a woman with the heart to carry your armor, be with you heart and soul, go beside you and take down a few behind you.

And yes, women are called to champion causes as well. In truth we all should have the attitude of Jonathan’s armor bearer toward each other, the attitude Jonathan had toward David.  Climbing over, getting ahead of, and standing on top of other people, particularly our family, friends, and colleagues,  will never give us the deep reward found in standing beside each other “with all my heart and soul.”

It takes two people and four hands to play “Heart and Soul” on the piano. It sometimes only takes two people and four hands, two hearts and souls, to bring down twenty of the “enemies” like offense, division in families, oppression,  you fill in the list.

Who needs you to go with them and put your hands, heart and soul beside theirs today?

Ginny’s Balloon

In my email this morning was a notification I’ve never received before: an orange balloon with the message “April 16th is Ginny M______’s 58th birthday.” A wave of shock and sorrow crashed over me, with wondering like seaweed wrapping around my mind. I never even knew the date of Ginny’s birthday! Who sent this? How and why did this reminder come to me?

The last time I spoke with Ginny was in November, 1996, when, moved by a nudge inside me from God’s Spirit, I told the prayer team at our women’s retreat that I didn’t think I could lead the team the following year. Ginny stepped up and said, “I know God has been calling me to do something, but I didn’t know what. Sure, I’ll take over!” Sure enough, my husband took a new job and moved us across the country in September of 1997. For several years after that Ginny led the prayer team, a group of amazing, fun, passionately praying, ordinary, extraordinarily loving women

But why did I get this “Birthday Alarm” email? I don’t even know about a website called Birthday Alarm!

These questions swirled as, oh, God, I broke down in tears for Ginny, remembering the sweet spirit she showed, her compassionate heart, the prayer warrior she was, her struggle to understand and to survive on a small income from a non-profit job after her husband’s betrayal and their divorce. I prayed for Ginny’s family for comfort today and on her birthday, because Ginny took her life over ten years ago.

She never saw the baby her daughter was carrying at the time when Ginny’s pain and grief outweighed her hope. Why, then, this strange email – a shocking reminder of her grief and yet a memory of her warmth and love?

In the middle of my tears, doubled over on the floor in grief, I asked, “This is from you. It must be something deeper than Ginny, isn’t it, Jesus?”  Immediately I “saw” other women on their own floor in tears, and I began praying for others who may today be on the brink of suicide as Ginny was, needing a real hand of love and hope outstretched to them, someone somehow breaking into their life with real, tangible hope, a message of love from someone that can keep them going one more day and believing that God has good ahead for their lives. In all honesty, I know what Ginny felt, because deep love loves deeply forever, grief and despair overwhelmed me two summers ago and I almost went the way Ginny chose to end the pain of her loss. Sweet friend Ginny, I know what you felt, because you and I love with the heart we asked Jesus to give us.

“This is something deeper than Ginny, isn’t it, Jesus?”

It’s a call to all of us to do two things: first, to let the incredible love and compassion of God push out the walls of our hearts, open and expand our prayers beyond our own immediate concerns, beyond our own families and jobs and wants, to make our hearts big enough to contain the cares and hopes and sorrows and desires and urgencies of our Father’s heart. Secondly, it’s the call to listen and act on prompts God gives us to pray for others, not to shrug them off as our own ideas, but take them as a call to come alongside Jesus as “priests” beside him as he prays for those unknown to us but intimately loved and known by him.

Thirty years ago I felt a nudge to make an appointment with my hairdresser David to get a haircut. He was going through a divorce at the time, but we had never talked about how it was impacting him. I had errands to run that day, so I pushed aside the thought and didn’t come back to it for two weeks. I called the salon at last and asked it I could make an appointment with David. “Oh …. ,” the receptionist paused, “haven’t you heard? David drove his car off the road in North Mountain Park last week. David is dead.”

Could a conversation with him, a prayer with David have given him hope enough to hang on? I’ll never know.

But I know I will never again ignore a nudge to call, to stop and speak to someone, to pray.

A friend asked me to speak at her church’s World Day of Prayer service in 2007. I wondered what message God wanted me to bring to them and waited for inspiration. A few days later I was looking in the bathroom mirror, concerned for all the wrinkles starting to show on my face, and  I began praying, ”Oh God, please increase the collagen production in my skin …” when God interrupted me with the memory of a local police officer who’d been burned over much of his body when his police car crashed into a vehicle he was chasing. His car was engulfed in flames. I’d seen a story about him on television, how he was still trying to be a positive husband and father to his family, even though he had no nose and no ears and his face was horribly disfigured. My words changed in mid-stream, and I prayed instead, “God, please restore healthy skin to Jason’s face and body. Bring him a miracle of new skin. And Jesus, others are struggling with burns and scars …. Jesus, heal THEIR skin!”

I glanced at the small artificial “bonsai” tree sitting on the bathroom counter, and the Spirit gave me the message he wanted to deliver: “I need a bigger pot.” I need, we all need, to stop living in tiny containers, pruning our “roots” and stunting the growth of our prayers to only reach as high as our own immediate concerns. God calls us to let him grow our “roots” to take in the needs and concerns and urgencies of people all over our world. We’re meant to be 50-foot tall Oaks of  Righteousness, not dwarfed bonsai imitations, whose roots reach out to others near and far.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

Isaiah 61:1-3 NIV

Oh, sweet prayer warrior Ginny, you did it. Your memory moved me beyond my own sense of loss to take in the loss someone else is feeling out there today, to pray and, I truly believe, to activate God’s plan to send angels or his people – maybe YOU, my reader friend – with hearts full of love, encouragement, hope, and real physical help where that’s the pressing, vital need today for some hurting, grieving, barely hoping heart.

We need pure hearts, big hearts, hearts refined by the relentless love and compassion of God. Someone, somewhere, needs your prayers today! Needs your phone call today! Needs your text message or email, but most of all, your physical presence beside them today! I wept on the floor and sang this song as a cry to God to enlarge my heart again:

Purify my heart, let me be as gold, and precious silver. Refiner’s Fire ….

I was almost in Ginny’s spot not so very long ago, and miraculously, Praise God, I’m still here. Thank God if you don’t know the bitter heartbreak of betrayal, but Jesus does, and I think He sent me this reminder today to flatten me on the floor in awareness to pray for women I’ll never meet, men I’ll never know, but who need Jesus’ power and presence released in their lives in tangible, mighty, loving, powerful ways today.

I’d love to send up a thousand prayer balloons for Ginny!

Can I ask you to join me, to ask God who in the world needs your prayers, and to pray today to honor our Father’s precious daughter Ginny?

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Fragrance? Free!

Has someone you passionately love ever treated you like an enemy? Ever sat across a courtroom facing someone you longed to give your life for, who was set on destroying yours for the sake of his or her own perceived happiness? My heart has cried out, “God, do you have any idea how much this hurts? Do you have any idea how I feel?” And then I remember in a certainty that stills my cries that yes, he does, because in answer to my first questions, he both was, still is, and did.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past three years, it’s how broken God’s heart is precisely because he ferociously loves us, we who are bent on doing things our way for our own ends and would be quite happy if he’d look the other way, or better yet, go away, and let us. As much as I love Jesus, more often that I’d like to admit I ask him (without realizing I’m doing it) to vacate his throne as Lord of Life and let me call the shots.

That’s why Jesus had to come, why there is this event called Christmas, and why it is inextricably tied to the crucifixion and the resurrection and Jesus as our King and high priest of a new covenant. In short, yes he knows exactly how I feel because he felt it.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4: 14-16.

I need to remember that truth. One year after Christmas I asked my husband to split a piece of the trunk of the aromatic fir-tree we’d admired for weeks and turn that log into a cross-shaped candle holder for us to use on our table at both Christmas and Easter, looking forward and looking backward to see both as one astonishingly loving whole, offered by a heart of wholeness who wants that wholeness for each of us.

Can a heart be both broken and whole? When it’s God’s, yes, and here is my disclaimer: in no way do I measure or explain God by my experience. Rather, I understand or at least try to make sense of my experience through who he is.

Thirty-nine years of loving someone who would turn against and reject me makes no sense. Yes, interject the concepts of co dependence and misunderstanding motives and differing love languages, and the destruction can be explained, but it still makes no sense. There is no victory, no glorifying God, no ”happily ever after” that ends any truly satisfying story – and we all want out stories to end well. I will not dishonor anyone by verbally patting you on the head and tritely mouthing, “Well, if you learned something, it was worth it.”

“Better luck next time” still sounds like second place or a limp consolation prize, and all of us want desperately to be winners. The only thing that makes this make any sense for me is if I’ve somehow come to know and experience more deeply the immeasurable love of the Heart who was rejected so I truly and eternally never would be. A friend recently told me – and yes, I did know this, though I wish I didn’t first-hand – that a rose gives off its greatest aroma when it’s crushed. From my vantage point stuck here in this time, honestly, that stinks.

This only makes sense and I only bear it if what comes from my crushing is the pure fragrance of Jesus’ love that can somehow linger as the scent of truth and validation in other people’s lives. For that I’ll taste the tears; for that I’ll be “hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed and hang on to the promise that “God, who said,’ Let light shine out of darkness,’ WILL MAKE his light shine in (my) heart to give (me) the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”  2 Corinthians 4:7-9, 6

Did God do this? Did he destroy our marriage? No, all that junk that people write so many self-help books about did. Selfishness did. Thinking of a lover like an enemy did. Can God make anything good come from it? I still fervently hope for much better than I can ask or imagine, but for starters I gladly take this essence and oil and fragrance of how relentlessly God loves me and desires relationship with me. He did, still does, and always will. Now that’s validation and deep reward, a “happily ever after” that does come true for me and for you if you let Jesus take his throne and welcome you to sit in arms that felt what you feel for the sake of  forever with you.   That’s the ending I long for: to be a winner just by letting Jesus love give me deep wholeness! 

 

With a smile I hear him say,”You want a piece of me?” and I shout ,”Yes!”

 

Your  “…BUT …” to move: Jesus, this _______________________ really stinks. You know it; you felt it yourself, BUT you felt it so that I can know _____________________________________________. Truly, make my life a Designer fragrance, and you can call it ________________________________________________________!

Fire in the Ashes

Rose Jackson © 8/3/2009

Some journeys take you to unexpected discoveries in familiar places. Walking through the most difficult time of my life through the smoking ruins of a destroyed relationship, I find Jesus waiting to meet me. . Recently my friend Sharon’s daughter, Charity, told me she wanted to take me on a journey through “the Father’s house,” a spiritual journey into Jesus that had given her a breakthrough in a challenging time in her own life. Hungry to experience God’s presence more deeply, I sat with her in Sharon’s bedroom and lifted my sanctified imagination to the Holy Spirit’s voice.

“Please, God, I don’t want to conjure this out of my own imagination,” I silently cried out. Long ago I had sat beside my then boyfriend in a “spiritual” Sunday evening church service, the hair standing up on my arms, my spirit filled with the suspicion that the “spirit guide” the pastor was listening to absolutely was NOT Jesus. I wanted nothing to do with that kind of experience ever again! But I know Sharon’s and Charity’s heart and faith, and my own as well, so this day I could sit in confidence believing that Jesus guarded my thoughts and nothing of the Enemy could enter. So I set off in my mind’s eye up a long driveway. We talked about what we were “seeing,” and my friend described a beautiful mansion in vivid detail. I was having some trouble, my analytical brain questioning whether what I was sensing was me or the Lord, but I pressed on in faith, believing God truly did want to speak something to my heart. Crossing polished hardwood floors, walking into large rooms whose vague details disappeared as I tried to focus on them, I just wasn’t getting anything. The idea is to “walk” through God’s house to find Jesus. My friend’s words were awash in love and amazement as she narrated her journey.

Hmmm . . . . No such experience for me. Why was I getting nowhere? After much mental wandering, I decided to follow the tug on my heart to go “out back,” and I pushed open a worn screen door and smelled my Grandmother’s apple tree. As my friend saw glorious flowers and a beautiful river filled with gems, I sat on the old wooden tree swing and felt someone pushing me. Ah, could I dare to believe this was Jesus? So natural, so common, so familiar, so ordinary . . . so wonderful! What I was experiencing wasn’t at all like the things Charity had seen in her own walk, wasn’t like the things her friend who’d first shared the journey with her had seen on her own walk, wasn’t like the splendor my friend was seeing now. So simple. So free.

Now Jesus and I sat in the grass on the edge of my Grandmother’s garden, and I smelled dill and rich, warm earth. “What does Jesus want to give you?” Charity asked.

“That’s a good question!” I thought. Nothing was coming into my vision as my hands dug beside Jesus’ hands in Grandma’s deep brown, moist soil. Ha! My hand playfully put a smudge of black dirt on Jesus’ left cheek, and I sensed -or maybe dared to believe – it pleased him. This wasn’t the grand spiritual adventure, the overwhelming breaking in of the Holy Spirit that I had hoped to receive. This wasn’t Acts 2 in the upper room. This was sitting on the grass with my hands in dirt, my hands beside another set of hands, feeling completely at peace and joyfully loved. This was awfully ordinary for a powerful spiritual encounter.

“Jesus wants to give you something. What is it? Ask him,” Charity gently encouraged. Vaguely I sensed something like a gold brooch in an extended hand, sensed rather than saw, and I got the impression the gold setting held an opal. He was holding it against my chest. “Ask him what it means,” Charity offered.

“Uumm . . . . ,” I was determined NOT to attach any meaning that wasn’t absolutely of God onto this experience. The still small voice of God was so quiet, more a trickle of understanding seeping into my mind. Sharon wasn’t sure what opals looked like. I know many precious stones are mentioned in Revelation 21 where John describes the foundations of the walls of the New Jerusalem, but I wasn’t at all sure opals were among those stones. “Opals – really pure, beautiful opals – are fiery,” I recounted. “Maybe – maybe Jesus is saying, ‘Don’t let the fire go out in your heart.’ Or maybe, ‘I won’t let the fire go out.’”

Tears erupted from my eyes. My heart is under siege – has been for the past six years. This wasn’t the encounter I wanted with the splendor of God, but a sweet communion with the passionately loving heart of Jesus, and if he wanted to run under me on my Grandma’s swing and wear a smudge of dirt from my hand, that was more than fine by me. He was telling me there was no place he’d rather be than here in my heart.

Wow! Sharon and Charity may have been a bit puzzled and underwhelmed, but I was overcome. I remembered I have a small opal pin at home. I checked both my jewelry box and my concordance as soon as I got home. Yep, there was the pin with four small opals, though the tiny white stones in it aren’t very fiery, and nope, opals aren’t mentioned in the Bible. Did that mean my experience had come solely out of my own imagination? I left a message asking about the significance of opals with a friend who’d spoken a year or so ago about gems in scripture to ask her about opals. When she returned my call, Amy said nope, it was a mystery to her, too. The Bible doesn’t mention opals. She did go on to explain some information she’d found on opals, and my heart soared as God’s assurance settled deeply in. This information wasn’t in any of the geology books we had at home:

Opals are semiprecious stones treasured for their fire and light. Very fragile, opals deteriorate in heat and cold. They contain water, but lose water easily in dry air and become brittle, so opals need to be worn next to flesh so the oils from the body can seal in their moisture. To clean an opal, you must wash it in pure water. Left to dry, an opal will crack and lose its brilliance and beauty.

There it was, God’s word to me: my heart is like an opal, and just as fragile. He washed and cleansed my heart in pure water, the Living Water of Jesus. My heart is meant to be – God WANTS me to be – filled with Jesus, my heart pressed close to his so it doesn’t dry out and lose its fire, brilliance, and beauty. There is absolutely nothing common or ordinary in that truth!

In this dry, hope-sucking valley of the shadow of death that I walked through where the Enemy is working to destroy my heart (are you walking that valley too?), God wants above all else for my heart (yours, too!) to be whole, beautiful, and filled with his fire, pressed against his chest in a place of safety, sustaining, and love. No one els’ed experience of the love of Jesus needs to be yours. he loves you too much to let you be less than the person He created you to be. Yes, Jesus is the only way to
eternal life, the only one whose blood was costly enough to buy you back from the hand of Satan, but the road He has to lead you to himself may be more like the screen door out to green grass than ivory columns and marble floors. Don’t let anyone impose the counterfeit forms of religious obligation on you when what God wants to do with all the you you are and in all the you He created is conform YOU to a reflection of the  likeness and love of Jesus.

I clasped my opal pin on the chain of a necklace I haven’t worn in over 30 years. The pendant on the chain is a gold-colored, jagged-edged half circle inscribed with these words from Song of Songs 2:16: “I am my Beloved’s.” Surprisingly, when the opal pin hangs on the chain, it looks like a cross . . . .

A ” . . . BUT . . . ” to pray: Oh, Abba Father God, my heart feels crushed, ground into the dust, broken, BUT your word says, “All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you.” (SOS 4:7) and you promise I can count on your love and power as “(I) wait in hope for the LORD; he is (my) help and (my) shield. In him (my) heart rejoices, for (I) trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon (me), O LORD, even as (I) put my hope in you.” (Psalm 33:20-22) Restore the lustre, beauty, fire, and water to my heart even in the driest place with the Living Water of your love, Jesus. Thank you that my heart is precious to you and you hold my heart close to yours! You created me with all of this in me ________________________________________________, the good and the flawed, the simple and the complex, the  humble and the royal reflection of you in my talents to ________________________________________________________  and my desires to ________________________________________________________, my limitations of ________________________________________ that are the possibilities for you to ___________________________________________ out of your strengthened power to bless _______________________’s life and to bless the world by you doing ___________________________________________ in me and out of me anyway!  Open the screen door for me,Jesus, to hear you say ____________________________________________________________________________ to me today. ” . . . BUT . . . ” Abba, Father, Beloved, my heart is weighed down with ________________________ BUT I know you desire to restore my heart, so I give you ______________________________________________ and I receive your _________________________________________________. Take me to that place where your heart resides in me. Amen!