Monday, August 28, 2017

My Beautiful Aunt Linda

Today, we laid my Aunt Linda's earthly body to rest after a beautiful memorial service. As grieved as we all are, I know we all have peace. Just as the angels had declared that Jesus wasn't in the tomb, but had risen, we know that Linda has been raised to life. It's a beautiful comfort to know that she is with our risen Savior!
I snapped this at our Christmas get-together in 2009. 

The following words are the things that the Holy Spirit put on my heart to share at the service today. It was my honor and joy to be able to minister these words to others just as they were ministered to me when He had me typing and crying up a storm: 

As I have attempted to recall to mind the memories of my Aunt Linda, I realized that I didn't have the kind of memories everyone else would be sharing. Many of us who are gathered here have lived with her or near her while most of my interactions with her has been through family get-togethers and social media. I don't really recall many moments of one-on-one quality time. However, there are two prominent memories that stick out in my mind that I believe can speak for anyone who knew her no matter how much or how little they got to interact with her.

My first memory is of when I was a young child and I was told that she was going to have a baby. I remember that there was a strong emphasis on what a big deal this was. Every baby is a miracle, but her baby was that much more of a miracle child. If anyone ever had a mother's glow, it was her. The mere mention of her son, Zach, would immediately put the biggest smile on her face. She had once told me about how her co-workers had gotten her a doll that was made to look just like him. She adored that gift because it reminded her of her most precious real-life gift; her living "doll" with his Daddy's bright blue eyes. She truly treasured her husband, son, and family. Sometimes, people don't cherish their loved ones enough or as deeply as they should; but she did.

My other memory is about my necklace. It's a cheap two dollar necklace that I bought at a souvenir place while on vacation many years ago. It became a favorite of mine that I wore quite a bit. One day, it accidentally got broken. There were beads everywhere and I reacted with the kind of shock and sadness that Pocahontas did in that Disney movie scene where her mother's necklace was broken to bits. I hoped that maybe I would figure out how to fix it...if I ever had the time and know-how to do it. Realistically speaking, I knew I would probably never get around to fixing it myself. I can't remember how the subject came up (or if someone had just mentioned that Aunt Linda had the jewelry making skills to repair it) but she was more than happy to take a look at it and see what she could do with it. I don't recall how long she had it, but just like her mom (my Grandma) she was able to eventually get it done and get it back to me. Like Grandma, she apologized that she didn't get it finished sooner and tried to explain how it probably wasn't "quite right" or good enough. Again, just like with Grandma, I could never quite figure out what the supposed flaw was because it looked like new to me. I didn't care about any so-called imperfections or how long it took. All I knew is that I was loved because time was taken out for me and my problem. Aunt Linda was just like Grandma (and even looked so much like her too). They both had such willing hearts to love and serve others; always making sure things got done. They happily invested in their family and friends. Love, laughter, service, faith, and joy was a natural part of who they were and is why they are both so beloved and missed. 

I feel that these two memories summarize the Linda we all knew. We all love and miss her because she poured so much life into everyone around her. Since the day she gave back to me my remade necklace, I've never seen it as the cheap two dollar souvenir that it started out as. Every time I have put it on, it's felt like that Disney moment where Pocahontas also got her necklace back. What was so precious had been made precious and new once more, but it was more than that. Immeasurable new value had been added to it because someone cared enough to put the time into re-making it. That's what love does; it rebuilds, restores, renews, and heals. What was once broken is restored and what once was shattered is I made whole and new again. That's what I think of when I wear my necklace: "My Aunt Linda fixed this for me." That's
My re-made necklace
who she was. She modeled the healing grace of our Savior, Jesus Christ. She walked in love and poured it into everyone and everything around her. It pained us all to see life being drained and robbed from her after everything she did to pour life into everyone else. Our comfort is this; she has been remade! In heaven, she has been healed and made new. The body that had been broken is now restored, and what cancer had shattered is made whole and new again. Jesus fixed everything; right on time (His time) and without any flaws. She, her mom, grandma, Sherryl, and all of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who have gone before us are eternally healed and whole. We will also experience this same joy if Christ is the Lord and Savior of our hearts. Until then, we must continue the legacy of faith and love the way they did. In this way, we will truly celebrate and honor their lives by paying forward all that they have poured into our lives.

Grace and peace to you, my friends! I'm including her memorial video at the bottom. Also, here's a link to one of Aunt Linda's favorite songs: I Can Only Imagine (I can't wait for the movie!!). The one thing I'm imagining right now is Aunt Linda and Grandma being with Jesus in heaven. In three days, it will be the 5th anniversary of Grandma's passing. It's so strange and beautiful that they both went to heaven during the same month, at around the same time, and because of the same reason. I hope and pray that everyone who reads this will get to experience this eternal paradise. The only way is through Jesus. If you haven't accepted Him as your Lord and Savior yet, don't wait another day! You never know when it will be your last! 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Being a Force for Good

Today is the National Day of Prayer. It's also Star Wars Day (may the fourth be with you!). At first, it felt odd and awkward that these two days are sharing the spotlight. After thinking about it, however, I see how it's very fitting.

Every day, we need Jesus more than yesterday. His mercy, grace, joy, and peace are all things that we desperately need; even more than the air we breathe. Without Him, we have no hope...because He IS hope....our "only hope." Ponder these verses from Lamentations 3:22-24:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

Let that sink in. Because of His unfailing love and compassion, we are not consumed. The dark side of this world can't eat us alive or rob us of the victory that was accomplished on the cross. Every new day is a fresh new display of His faithfulness and goodness. He renews and restores our souls and gives us our portion of grace for the day; whatever that daily bread looks like, He provides it like He did the manna for the Israelites.

We live in a time where it's easy to become discouraged and depressed. We look at the sith lords in power and feel like we'll forever be dominated by greed, power, and war. Yes, tyranny and injustice is hard to witness; but we do not have to be consumed by it. The previous verses remind us of where our hope and joy is found and Psalm 23 tells us who takes care of us. The government doesn't have our backs (and probably never will) but the Lord, our Good Shepherd, always does!

If we truly want to see change, we have to go to the source: our hearts. In 2 Chronicles 7:14, the ever popular verse for this day, we see how to do that: 
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves 
and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, 
then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
Don't just glaze over the words here. There is some HEAVY stuff in it and we won't see change until we're truly putting these commands into practice. We need to HUMBLE ourselves; that means surrendering and laying down our pride. We need to pray; opening our hearts listen and obey as we earnestly seek His face. That means, pursuing Him, knowing Him, and obeying Him and His commands. That's where the next part comes in; turning away from our wicked ways (repentance). Only then can He heal our land when we confess and repent of our sins and ask for forgiveness. It doesn't matter what the government makes legal or illegal. What matters is that WE obey God and repent from our own wickedness. If we SEEK Him in prayer and in His Word, we will KNOW what is right and wrong. We will see things change because people will be living according to God's commands even if they're not the "law of the land."

If there's anything that we can learn from Star Wars, it's that there is always going to be evil and conflict in this fallen world. We should keep fighting the good fight until our dying breath (1 Timothy 6:12, 2 Timothy 4:7). Jesus already gave us the victory and we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). Keep your armor on (Ephesians 6:10-18) and stay connected with other believers; no one is meant to fight alone! To battle the darkness around us, and within us, remember 1 John 4:4: 
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, 
because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
This One that is in you, friends, is the Holy Spirit! He's always with you and never leaves you. He is supreme, sovereign, perfect, and REAL! He's beyond anything "the Force" could ever be....and He's living in YOU! Isn't that amazing?! Or, if you have yet to know Him (and would like to invite Him into your heart) please don't wait any longer! Confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead. Accept and believe in Him as your Savior and you will be saved (Romans 10:9-10)! Confess your sins to Him; He is faithful and just to forgive you and cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Your name will be recorded in the Book of Life and the Holy Spirit will come to live in your heart right away! He's the deposit guaranteeing what is to come!! You will belong to Jesus and His family! Be sure you contact me (or another strong Christian friend that you know) and tell them about your decision for Christ so that you will have someone to walk with you on your journey and help you take your next steps of faith!
Grace and peace to you, my friends! We are a "force" for good in this world when we are living according to the Spirit (Romans 8:3-5). Let's pray hard today, and every day; surrendering ourselves to the will of God as we repent and seek His face! Amen!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Treasured In the Heart and in Heaven!

Have you ever watched "Inside Out"? It's that animated movie where you get an inside look into a little girl's head and you see how her thoughts and feelings work. You even get to see how some moments get turned into special "core memories"; a glowing, radiant ball that is nestled forever into the heart of who she is and shapes who she's going to be. It's an interesting movie because it makes you think about how a person perceives and processes things. 
Last Thursday, I was honored and privileged to get to witness this beautiful process when Paige showcased it to us at her student-led conference at school. In her language arts class, she showed us the memoir she was supposed to write. Chris, Casey, Gianna, Julie (Paige's biological mother), and I all gathered around her and her computer so she could show us her memoir and read it to us. When I saw the title, I was a little bit nervous and thought it might be a bit of an awkward moment. However, it wasn't awkward at all (at least not for me). I was very amazed and moved to the point of choking back tears when I read/heard these words:

My memoir is about getting new siblings.
My life lesson is: Not all change is bad.

“Get up, Paige!” called my dad. “We are meeting my girlfriend and her kids today, remember?” Now, those are some words of instant terror. I had already been worrying ALL NIGHT about what I was doing in the morning. I was afraid to see what she was like, what the kids were like, and how nice they were.

When we got to martin’s, we stopped at Starbucks and got some snacks. Then we did some brief shopping. I could see that her kids were very excited to meet me and the girl was very happy that she might have a new sister. They seemed very nice, but H-Y-P-E-R!

Months passed, and my dad finally decided that he was going to ask his girlfriend to marry him. First, he asked me if I would like having her as a stepmom. I said yes. So he asked her to marry him, and she said yes.

On the day of the wedding everything went as planned, and they said their loooong vows. (Let’s just say there were some VERY profound words!) I had gotten to know Gianna and Casey, my step siblings, pretty well now. Sometimes we would get in fights, which left me feeling languor. Sometimes everything was calm and serene.

In the years after my parents divorced, I definitely had a pessimistic attitude. I had it set in my mind that no matter what, all change was bad. I thought change could never make things better, that life was only going to get worse. I realize now that I was wrong. My siblings have been a blessing in my life. I no longer am alone with nobody to turn to, like reaching out into the darkness to find that I have no hope. My siblings know how it feels to go through a divorce. They are always there when I need them, and I will always be there when they need me.

I was absolutely BURSTING with joy inside! It added a whole new dimension of perspective and emotions to my own core memories of those moments that she described. Not only that, but it created a completely new core memory inside of me that I will never forget and will treasure forever! The whole moment was so affirming and encouraging! It was a tremendous gift from God that I quickly realized was something that could only be described as the treasure in heaven that Jesus describes
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." - Matthew 6:19-21.
Their first photo together!
The reason Paige's story meant so much to me was because (as anyone from or in a blended family knows well) adjustments are hard and unpredictable. You hope and pray that when your families merge together, everyone will love each other and live happily ever after. You hope that you won't have the complications that came up in the blended family that you grew up in yourself. I won't go into details about all of that, but let's just say it is a relief to know that Paige's perception of our blended family is a good one. I absolutely love the fact that she has Casey and Gianna for her siblings. My favorite part is getting to watch her and Gianna grow up together and be best friends and sisters. I don't have any biological sisters; and the one step-sister I once had was never around. I've always had my brother Ryan, but I've never gotten to experience the sisterhood that others have. It is truly a priceless gift that God has given me with Paige and Gianna; I get to experience sisterhood by observing theirs. I get to witness their games, their fights, their laughter, and their bond every day. It truly thrills me and their connection has been there since day one!

From our "MeliPaige" Day!
The other thing that I adore about this moment is the assurance that Paige loves and accepts me; that she is happy that Chris and I are together and we're her new family. In my heart, I've always loved her as my own, but I've always been concerned that it wouldn't be reciprocated. Everyone knows that things can be tough when it comes to the relationship aspects. In my own experience growing up, I was always afraid that in my effort to love and bond with a new step-parent or step-sibling, it would be upsetting to the other biological parent. I won't go into details, but I'll just say that when a parent or step-parent makes it difficult or confusing for a child to bond with someone (whether intentionally or unintentionally) it causes a lot of problems and takes years to sort out. Sometimes, it leaves a lot of unnecessary wounds and scars to deal with and makes healing very hard; creating other "core memories" that you wish you didn't have. That's why I've always hoped that the family that we have won't have the kind of pain and problems that Chris and I had in the families we grew up in. I've always felt that WE have done a good job. I don't worry about our bonds in this family (as far as what we can personally control in our household). It's what happens when the kids aren't IN this household that can be troubling. I don't want any of the kids to feel the way I did; that they have to hide their life or their emotions from the other parents because the other parent is too uncomfortable. I don't want them to ever feel stuck in the middle, but I know that it happens. I hate it. It hurts me and it hurts them, but we can't can't change or control the feelings and actions of the other parents involved. We can only keep doing our best and assure them that no matter what, there is always going to be safety, love, acceptance, and kindness reigning in our household. We want them to love the other parent and create beautiful memories with them just like they do with us! Our greatest hope is that the other parents encourage the kids to do the same with us so that they have the best childhoods possible and that they have no hurt relationships and rifts with anyone in the future. Doing the opposite is actually pretty self-sabotaging because you end up poisoning the child against yourself in an effort to poison them against someone else. It's really hard on the kids and causes them a lot of confusion and sadness. I hope that there will be a day where parents everywhere will make a better effort to have peace; for the kids' sake. 

Our Family; Est. July 5, 2014
Grace and peace to you, my friends! I have greatly enjoyed sharing this moment with you because this is what life is truly made of! NO ONE can take away this core memory from her (or from me). It cannot be changed. It cannot be bought. It cannot be stolen. It's forever sealed in our hearts and in heaven where no one can alter, taint, sabotage, or take it from us! It's priceless! All the money in the world cannot create the memories and emotions that it gives us; which is great because most of us aren't rich and would have nothing good if these things were dependent on affordability. Thankfully, true riches are definitely made up of the stuff that money can't buy! These treasures are created with love and character. Each and every day, we invest those things in our children and it's obviously having great returns!! :) When our children are old and gray, this will be the stuff that means the most to them; the things that they'll tell their children and grandchildren about. The older I get, the more I hold onto these real treasures. I don't have much of the "stuff" that was bought for me; the clothes, toys, and whatever. All those things were fun at the time, but they're gone. They've been sold in a garage sale, packed away in storage, or thrown away. What I have is, "Remember that one time where Dad said...." or "remember when Ryan did ______ and it was so funny?" It's the quality time, wise words, hugs, kind gestures, and laughter that lasts forever! Doing life together (just as God intended) will give you the kind of hope and joy that Paige so rightly identified as a blessing in her life. May your own lives be overflowing with memories that touch you to your core!! God bless you!