A Thief in the Night

It’s been three years.

I only just met you, but already knew so much about you from my church family. They told me story after story as we painted and cleaned up the home you would be moving into.

God called you all to do ministry with us in Marion, Oh. You sold your home in Virginia, left your job and packed up your little two year old for the long trip towards a new beginning.

The church rejoiced. I’d never seen our pastor and his family so excited (they watched you grow and saw you as their own daughter).

I honestly felt overshadowed by your brilliant light. That you would very quickly replace me in their hearts because of your history, your love, and your faith. But it was a selfish fear and I drove it away by pouring myself into servitude. Helping prepare the way for you to come and settle here.

I wanted to know you. To be your friend.

You were here only a short while. I met and played with your beautiful son. I laughed with your amazing husband. And I hugged you, in passing, as we hurried about one Sunday. I hope to get to know you more—there will be plenty of time for that. I thought as we smiled and went our own ways.

Things were looking up. God was with us and nothing could stop our momentum as a family of believers….until…

I climbed into my car after work, and heard my cell ring. I answered and it was my husband Aaron. With a heavy voice he told me that Rachel Sullivan was gone.

What? Who?

I couldn’t believe it. The world stopped, and I saw Isaac’s precious face and her husband Jared’s smile flash across my conscious.

“There was a car accident…” Aaron didn’t say much more because he had our pastor’s son with him.

I hung up the phone and for the first time in my life I screamed and punched the dash, cursing God. “F**! F**!” I yelled with everything inside of me.

I had to pull myself together, after all…I didn’t lose Rachel…my church family did. Those who knew her since she was a small child, those who laughed with her and spent hours in her company.

Our pastor’s kids wanted us, needed us…

They came over and we hugged for a long time, and we took them for a long walk. And I vowed I would try to fill the bottomless void Rachel left behind.

I never did come close.

The next few days were slow, and shock filled. Isaac didn’t know and didn’t understand.

My mom had him and the pastor’s daughters over to swim and we all smiled and played with him while I balled inside. “THIS IS NOT FAIR!”

God why did you allow this to happen? You called them here!! Are you not our protector? I thought you were good! That I could trust in you!

My resentment and distrust grew. My rage and brokenness remained even as everyone else picked up their lives and tried to move on in faith.

I comforted, I cried, I prayed…and Rachel still remained gone.

We drove all the way to Virginia to attend the funeral. It felt so wrong…Isaac was turning three…and his mommy was going to miss it, and all the birthdays after that.

I remember the happy pictures on the slideshows…I remember Jared. Alone and crying. Living the worst nightmare. And I remember sitting in silence with my church family as they played the song, “Oceans (Where Feet May Fall).”

Rachel always wanted to have a baby and Isaac was a dream come true. She loved being his mommy. She loved coffee and people (working at Starbucks-where she was headed before the car accident).

She was gentle and fun loving. She was faithful and a good friend. I know this because of all those her life touched. She had ministry dreams which her husband is now pursuing.

It was this that put a wedge between me and God. I pulled away from Him and began to doubt He was who He said He was.

I wish I could say that I have fully overcome or that I have the answer as to why this happened to those I love with all my heart. But I haven’t and I don’t.

Honestly, I have to learn to accept that I probably will never know the answer. I have to chose (just like with any tragedy, loss, hardship, and attack of the enemy) to still trust and to still believe regardless of what I see or feel.

The reality of God and His Word have to be more important than my own feelings and this world’s realities. Death is coming for all of us someday…young or old it will find us. This is a temporary plane—and so we must fix our eyes on eternal matters.

We’ll all see Rachel again. And what a glorious reunion that will be for everyone her life touched here.

The devil’s sole purpose is to make us forget who God is, who we are, and our authority to change our lives and those around us. I know that if we were to ask Rachel whom she loves and trusts—her answer would not have changed, even now.

If I don’t trust Him…who will I trust? Who has the power to save? Who is our only hope of salvation and restoration?

I’m beginning to realize how much I need God. Whether I live or die (to live is Christ to die is gain), I choose to believe in Him and trust Him to make all things new.

He is still my protector and shield. His plans for me are good. What happened to Rachel was not His will or His plan for her. But He has brought beauty from ashes…and her legacy lives on (still transforming lives and bringing hope).

Our church is as strong and united as ever! In our pressing onward God has poured out His goodness and blessings.

Life goes on.

I say all this because I know that we share this brokenness. Some hurt dealt us by the enemy. He is the one who robbed you like a thief in the night, he took from you what was not his to take.

Please hold on. Don’t give up on God or fall into the trap that says; “He isn’t good!” What do I know of goodness? What do I know of fairness? Fairness would have been for all of us to die for our sin instead of Jesus.

Doesn’t God deserve the chance to explain and answer your questions in Heaven someday? Hasn’t He done enough for you to deserve at least this?

Rachel may have died, but God blessed her with so much all the years before her death. Look at her son, her husband, the thousands who knew and loved her. I refuse to let her life be summed up into this one accident. Her memory deserves so much more.

I’ve made the decision to keep climbing. Keep pressing. Even if I’m bloodied and broken I am going to finish my race! And the devil can push, torment, and beat me all he wants, I’m not letting go of this ladder! I’m going to stand back up every time! Because I can’t go back to not knowing the truth. I can’t deny who I am and who God is! No one can rip this from me!

If I made a list of all the good things God had done for me, it would go on and on endlessly…and my list of all the bad things that seem to fill my mind so easily would be very very small.

Fight the good fight, run your race. Don’t be afraid of death but of a life/eternity without God. That is the final death the “real” death we can all easily avoid.

Love God and love people, and when it’s time to die—you won’t die. And your legacy of love will live on long after, paving the way to Christ’s return.

You, my brothers and sisters, have a bright future. Don’t ever forget it! Rachel was a window into the brightness of Heaven. Surround yourself with others who share that same Jesus light so you never forget what is waiting in Heaven and what you can release now.

Our time is short…make it count.

God bless each and every one of you. ❤️

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The Lord Builds the House

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As many of you know, a friend of ours lost his wife in a car accident a few months ago. They had moved here from Virginia to help our church, a wonderful God-filled couple, with their 3-year-old son. I never expected God to move like He has through this tragedy, bringing beauty from ashes in ways only He can.

The husband, Jared, has impacted hundreds with his message of hope and healing. He has never lost sight of God or His promises despite this. And I really want to share one of his messages with you so that you too can be impacted by one man’s unshakable Faith.

The Lord Builds the House

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.”  -Psalms 127:1

My first home remodeling memories go back all the way to my toddler years, hammering nails into a board my dad had set up and helping paint the side porch on my childhood home while wearing only a Sherwin Williams hat and a bathing suit. If my father didn’t have tools around, it was shingle samples. Dad was employed in different home repair based industries all growing up and he owned his own kitchen cabinet business. Home repair was the backbone to my family’s wellbeing all of my life. It led me to working full time in the family kitchen cabinet business after graduating college. Customers would ask at what point did my brother and I begin working with our dad, we would respond “full time or just in general?” All of us kids (including my sisters) knew a hammer and a paintbrush from a very early age so the “first day of work” could have been that one trip mom made to the store without us kids.

Having worked in many different homes, you come to appreciate the sanctuary that a house is for so many different types of people. It’s your haven from your job, your safe place for your children and the gathering place for your outside family and friends; home just isn’t four walls and a roof. As Rachel and I put our previous home up for sale last April, the picture she sent me of Isaac (my son) with the realtors sign shook me as I realized what we had just done haha-but in total faith we knew “home” rested well beyond the materials that make up a home, but what we had formed in our hearts as a family. Taking that with us as we packed the house only meant “home” was moving, not being left behind.

How great the difference a few weeks later. As family and loved ones repacked our things back for VA, “home” had been greatly altered from that moment on from that highway accident. It became another structure entirely different. It was a home I couldn’t fix.

The line applies here as much this week, as it does every week. My writing here isn’t to depress you. This is to illustrate to you through my journey the healing deliverance of our Mighty God.

In the months that followed I began to clean the yard of “home.” Picking up pieces, fragments of what was and contemplating the necessary repairs. I needed help. I cried out to God and began to seek Him on moving forward; I asked Him for help.
God began a work in my “home.” 

Weekly I began to see repairs rise up out of me as I dealt with the anger, loss of hope, bitterness, loss of faith, loss of joy, loss of peace, all the while carrying the grief of Rachel’s loss. One day, God got me to hand off that grief to Him…and I was done grieving. Like a freshly repaired plumbing leak, I routinely “checked the pipes” on that repair. As I told loved ones where I was at on my grief and how it was gone, I felt the safety nets come up-ready to catch me in case I was wrong.

I pushed on. 1997-2001 Honda CRV’s became just another car for me.
God put the desire in me to stop at Rachel’s old job last Friday. I hadn’t been able to step foot in a Starbucks and order a drink since her accident…especially that Starbucks.
I approached the cashier and made my order. I got a sideways glance while my order was placed and then a, “are you Jared?” God always times His help. I took my time tasting my drink at the bar and speaking to another customer with small talk and spoke more to the Barista. No impulse to run, no tears. The master plumber had made his repair.

So why does this matter? 

The “house” that gets built in life inevitably faces use, the elements of life, and even storms. Wrecks happen. We lose loved ones. Attacks come. The house becomes damaged and all the while we try to continue to live. 

Where do you stand with your house?

It says in Psalm 127:1 that God builds the house. BuildSSSSSSSSSSS.
This isn’t a one time build. It’s a build and rebuild and rebuild and rebuild…
We are getting additions, remodeling, and changes constantly as we act to do our part and apply the Word of God to our lives.

Unfortunately, some of us haven’t invited God to remodel our homes. Hello, pink walls, dingy carpet, and wallpaper! God wants to rip that stuff out and replace it. Maybe God began a work in you but you didn’t let him finish. Maybe the job is done but you kept the dumpster of debris…the bitterness, the anger, the resentment, and the unforgiveness. Invite Him to complete the work within you. Invite Him back to finish. Let Him take away that dumpster. God’s ready to go to work in your life.

Let your light shine bright, Jesus Bright

 

As Another Year Approaches

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“Here’s to the new year. May she be a darn sight better than the old one and may we all be home before she’s over.” 

-Colonel Sherman T. Potter (M*A*S*H)

I’m an oldie at heart. Every day after school I would come home and watch M*A*S*H, “High” school that is. My mom later went on to tell me that my grandpa had loved that show, he died when I was too young to remember him, I can imagine he loved to have a good time though. There’s just something about an old show like this one, you just come to love and better understand not only the characters with their struggles, laughs, and tears, but life also.

As Christmas approaches, and a new year is zooming to meet us I can’t help thinking about this quote above. It was said after the celebration, after the laughing and cheering, in a moment of pure somber realization of what everyone had gone through that year, and the end of Colonel Potter’s speech doesn’t leave you in that place, but brings you around to a never-dying hope that maybe, just maybe, this year will be different.

“…may we all be home before she’s over.”

Usually, each year I celebrate and clap with the rest as the ball drops. A crowd of about 50 gather in our downtown and shiver together as the cold wind stings our upturned faces. I stand beside my church family, and I kiss my husband just as the applause erupts along with the sound of fireworks and air horns.

This year, I may just pause and allow myself this somber moment of reflection. On those we have lost, of the pain we endured, and the battles we have won. And then despite each new year’s struggles and pain, I will reach out toward that small glimmer of hope and snatch hold of it. Just because this year was full of strife and heartache, doesn’t mean that next year will be the same. Maybe, just maybe this year will be a year of peace, life, and blessings! Maybe this year we will deal satan a deadly blow, instead of the other way around.

I don’t know the future, but I do know that we can speak positive declarations over our futures, and expect to see good things happen! That maybe we can bring something within reach tomorrow that is momentarily out of reach today. With God all things are possible and His Will is always good.

Though we change as each year passes, we must never let God’s truth be twisted within us. The truth remains absolute regardless of how we transform or of what circumstances we find ourselves in. This is how we ground ourselves, how we grow our roots, and how we mature as Christians. No matter what occurs in 2019, my ultimate desire is to finish it a better Christian, a better friend of God. If my roots have grown deeper, if I have brought glory to God, then each year will be worth celebrating.

To those who have had a rough year, my prayers go out to you. I know of many right now who have lost mothers, sons, wives, and best friends. I can’t imagine what Christmas is like for those who are mourning. My heart goes out to them and I know that God is close to the brokenhearted. If I am speaking to you, if you are on this list, I just encourage you to surround yourself with family and friends at this time. Satan wants you to feel alone, and when you are alone you are vulnerable to his attacks. Please don’t allow this to happen, let people cry with you, laugh with you, comfort you, and simply be with you. We are all stronger together.

God bless you all and Merry Christmas.

 

True Hope

Hope

“…O God, our savior, you are the hope of everyone on earth…”

-Psalm 65:5

Throughout everything that has happened lately, despite satan’s attacks, our hope has remained immovable. I have seen what hope can do and it goes beyond comprehension. It can make a man stand strong and give praises to God even amidst the loss of his wife, it can turn a funeral into a celebration of life, it can cause a hurting church to sing loud, full of passion and joy, during worship. It can even open doors to a future full of God’s promises and blessings. Our fight isn’t over yet, in fact, it has barely begun! The truth is, our audience in heaven is getting bigger, and that is all the more reason to do our best down here.

Our pastor spoke last Sunday about the difference between Hope and Optimism. By definition, they seem roughly the same, until you delve deeper. As author and theologian N.T. Wright said in his novel, Paul: A Biography:

‘”Hope” and “optimism” are not the same thing. The optimist looks at the world and feels good about the way that it’s going. Things are looking up! Everything is going to be alright! But hope, at least as conceived within the Jewish and then the early Christian world, was quite different. Hope could be and often was, a dogged and deliberate choice when the world seemed dark. It depended not on a feeling about the way things were or the way they were moving but on faith, faith in the One God. This God had made the world.”

Hope involves faith…it isn’t dependant upon circumstance or worldly outlook, it is a belief. And I would even add that it is a “trust.” Trust in God’s Word and His Goodness that never change with the passing of time because He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

You can lose optimism, but you can’t lose Hope.

God, thank you for this hope. Nothing can take it away! And I won’t stop running, I won’t stop fighting….until I see you face to face. 

This Temporary Home

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“Nothing makes us more vulnerable than when we love someone. We can be hurt very easily, but I’ve always believed that what you get when you love someone is greater than what you can risk.”

-Commander Chakotay: Star Trek Voyager

I don’t believe that you will ever come across someone who isn’t broken in some way. To have never been broken…is to have never loved. As Chakotay said above, we know that love is painful, but we continue loving anyway because it is worth it. Every single moment.

Let’s face it, we live in a temporary plain. It is an unavoidable truth whether you’re a Christian, Jew, Muslim, or Athiest, it doesn’t matter. No one is immune to suffering and pain. God has never promised us that we wouldn’t suffer, in fact, if anything He promised we would, in John 16:33 Jesus says that, “…in this world, you will have trouble.” And yet He promises something else to, “I have told you these things so that you may have peace.” We can have peace amidst our pain for He pours out the peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7).

King Solomon was regarded as the wisest man. He understood the fleetingness of life, the meaningless toiling, and pain. And yet he concludes that despite it all, it is important that we enjoy this life, that we don’t just survive, but truly live. I mention this because eternal beings in a temporary plain can forget the imperishable truths, the insatiable longings for our true home. We can forget this thing called hope.

And that hope is this, though we suffer greatly, though we are but broken vessels…this pain too is temporary. God says that He will personally, “…wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things have passed away.” That is our hope, God never breaks His promises.

What stirred up such a post today? Well, to be honest, our church has recently suffered a terrible loss. A family who gave up everything to move here because they were called by God, suffered a fatal blow by none other than satan himself. A friend, mother, and passionate sister in Christ lost her life in a car accident leaving behind a loving 3-year-old boy and an amazing husband.

So many dreams, a future gone in the blink of an eye. It’s been a very rough week…I’ve cried and screamed, I’ve wanted to write but found that I had no words to say. What can I say?

Today God has sparked some hope within me again. His promises remain, and heaven awaits us all. It’s never “goodbye”, and always a “see you soon!” I can’t imagine the celebration that awaits us, the reunion with friends and family, never to be separated again.

All to Jesus now, no turning back…no turning back.

Until we meet again Rachel Sullivan.