Friday, April 18, 2014

In the Grip of Grace

As soon as I read my husband's post last week, I knew in my heart what I would be writing today.  My husband never ceases to amaze me, and I love him more and more each day.  Everything he wrote and says comes from the heart of a man who lives out his beliefs daily.  Jeff walks in tremendous grace, taking on roles that would overcome a lesser man...and yet he does it as if is his sole ministry is to care for me and the kids.  He inspires me.  I am a better person because of all the days I have had the privilege of being under his example.

Last week, Jeff wrote about a "Great Grace" being upon one's life, mainly at especially difficult times being faced.  It is grace upon grace- a divine rendering of strength from the Lord when all else seems to wane.  Hand in hand Jeff and I have walked a heart-wrenching road together, and yet never for one moment have we been overtaken.  But rather, we have not only grown closer to one another but also so much closer to the Lord.  It is a beautiful thing.

But today I want to tell you what happens even beyond that.  Beyond grace, beyond prayer, beyond everything we do and experience in our darkest moments there is that second when you just exhale and let go- and that is when you are in what can only be described as "the Grip of Grace".  It is a measure of peace that literally grabs hold of you, and carries you to the end.  You do not have to fear or wonder if you are able to hold on any longer; if you are able to go one more step; if you can face the road ahead...because when you are no longer able to manage those things any more, and your hand falls limp, and your eyes fall into the heavy sleep of the exhausted, you are then gripped with a grace so gentle and so strong that it literally beckons the weary to rest and never worry about holding on a moment longer because His hand will grip with a heavenly grasp that can never be pulled loose.  It sustains, comforts, leads, guides, rests, and carries you without so much as ever faltering.  And so you rest.  You rest in heavenly comfort.  You reside in the shadow of the Almighty.  And He never lets go.

Friends, this is my last post to you all.  I have been honest with you and am continuing that honesty to the end.  It's time.  Time for me to rest and be with my family.  Time for my family and me to rest in the grip of His grace, knowing that He will walk the way with us in His perfect will.  I leave you with the best possible leave I know of- and that is with the reminder that every word I have ever written is true.  Jesus is alive.  He is good.  He is faithful.  And those who put their trust in Him do so without vain- because we will meet Him again.  And until then, He walks and He talks with His faithful, gripping us with a hand so steady as to take us through whatever trials life may bring.

I never expected that my writing would reach so many.  Nor that so many of you would continually tell me what my words have meant to you.  Oh how I will miss writing to you!  Not a single week has gone by in the last year and a half that I haven't taken to my computer and wrote what I felt the Lord laid on my heart.  The fun, the deep, the joys, the pains, the easy, the challenging- I've loved it all.  Before I ever published this blog, it began as my personal account of a 40-day fast that I did...and it only seems fitting that today, exactly 4 years to the day that I finished that fast, I am now composing my last entry.  To you who have walked this road with me and my family, I say THANK YOU.  Thank you for the support, the prayers, and the love.  I have loved every moment I have spent with you, and I know I will frequently read through the pages of this blog as a testament and a reminder to the faithfulness of my God.  My heart and my lips will never cease to give thanks the One who holds my soul, and I leave my family and my very self in His care.

Again, I say thank you.  And I dedicate this blog and all its contends to my husband- the father of my children, the man I respect and admire more than he knows, the best friend I have ever had, the one who changes my life, the one who has taught me how to follow Jesus, the love of my life, my soul mate, and the only one who knows everything I want to say to him.  I love you Jeff, now and always.

I leave you with my favorite Bible verses, and the words to my favorite hymn.  It's time to see what God wants to do with my life.  And whatever He asks of me, I will do with all my heart and soul- because I just don't know how to do anything less.

Well then...Let's Roll.

"One thing I know: I once was blind but now I see!"  John 9:25

"Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him."  Job 13:15

I Have Decided

I have decided to follow Jesus,
I have decided to follow Jesus,
I have decided to follow Jesus--
no turning back, no turning back.
The world behind me, the cross before me,
the world behind me, the cross before me,
the world behind me, the cross before me--
no turning back, no turning back.
Though none go with me, still I will follow,
though none go with me, still I will follow,
though none go with me, still I will follow,
no turning back, no turning back.
Will you decide now to follow Jesus?
Will you decide now to follow Jesus?
Will you decide now to follow Jesus?--
no turning back, no turning back.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Great Grace- A Word from My Husband

**I asked my husband to write this week's blog post.  As much as I have had to say this past year, know that he is the one who not only lives it right along with me, but he is the one who carries the weight of our lives on his shoulders.  Over 10 years ago he stood before God and man and made vows to ME.  Vows I don't think he ever thought he would have to fulfill.  You see, the first 8+ years of our marriage I tried to be the best wife I could be...doing as much as I possibly could for the man I loved.  I remember after kids came along it used to be an amazing treat when Jeff would give me a morning to sleep in, or when he would send me out shopping for a couple of hours.

But now...

I could never, ever describe the things he has taken upon himself since I got sick.  Now, he is up every morning.  Now, he makes all the meals.  Now, he runs the house while putting me in bed so I can rest.  Now, he gives up his own wants, needs, desires, work options, free time, and so, so much more.  And he does it for ME.  And when he gets upset with our situation, he takes it to God- never for one moment has he blamed me, resented me, or demanded anything of me.  In fact, he miraculously seems to have fallen even more in love with me.

I didn't think it was possible to love my husband more today then yesterday, and yet that is how I feel every single morning.  My husband follows the Lord every single moment of his life and it has been an honor for me to follow him as he does that.  God has AMAZING plans for Jeff- things that we have only scratched at the surface of.  But I know my God keeps His promises- and my husband will receive his.  He will be rewarded greatly for his love and sacrifice- and simply because he walks humbly before our God.  Our children will grow with the daily example of a loving father who puts Jesus first.  I have had a hard time- a very, very hard time...but one look at the man I am married to and I realize I am the most blessed woman there ever was.  It's true.

So please- read what he wrote.  Read it and know it comes from the integrity of one who lives what he speaks and what he believes.
Here it is: my husband's perspective on living the hardest year we have ever faced.**

Its been almost exactly one year since I was asked to contribute to my wife's blog.  So much has happened in the last year and my goal here would be to reflect upon the journey and share the perspective that I bring as a husband, father, and pastor.  I would first like to say that I have been an admirer of my wife's blog since the beginning and can say without question that even though it is often very personal and a window into my life, I have on more occasions then I can count been inspired and often brought to tears by the things Ashley writes.  God has gifted her greatly as a writer and I know many have been ministered to here week after week.  I often preview the posts for her and have been challenged and blessed first before she sends it to print.  She is amazing and I am blessed to have her as my wife, best friend, and partner on this journey.  I won't match her way with words but aim to just share openly and honestly from my experience.

I have had many conversations over the last year with family, friends, and even strangers about the things we have faced as a family and how we cope with all that life has brought our way.  I don't want to give the cliche' answers because these things are worth more than a cheap, forced smile and a plastic response, but the answer to that conversation on my end has always been simple.  When people say that they couldn't face a life changing sickness in their marriage or that most people would have quit by now when they have looked at my life, my answer is simple.  What are my options?  Am I supposed to quit?   Am I supposed to give up on God?  Am I supposed to get angry at life?  You see, these don't seem like options, and the truth really is that the presence of God has been more real to me in the last year then any other time in my life.  Thirteen years ago I was still running from God, scared of the call He had placed on my life as a child.  I have run plenty in my life and I guess I have just learned that running from life, even the hard things or the intense parts of a life of faith is just not an option.  In the Bible, the book of Hebrews says that we are "not they who draw back to perdition, but those who believe to the saving of the soul." In fact, the Lord in that passage says that if your draw back, He finds no pleasure in you! That doesn't mean God is unaware of our pain and suffering- quiet the opposite is actually true.  It means that the seed He places in us is eternal, incorruptible, and can't be defiled by the troubles of this world.  There is great joy in drawing close to God when sorrow is drawing close to you.  For 2 1/2 years I worked in a warehouse and part time in a church knowing that God has more for me one day.  I hated my job- it was hard and I just hated it.  Many didn't understand why I was doing it instead of just "taking a pastorate" somewhere that I could live off of.  My only answer was and is that God called me to Amsterdam.  Those are the doors that opened so thats what I did. I didn't "make sense" to me either but it was God's place and time so we obeyed.  Last September, Ashley got too sick for me to continue working the hours I had been working outside the church, so I had to leave my job to care for her and our kids and just keep part time hours at the church.  We lost 2/3 of our income with no real warning or visible options.   Though I have been unable to take on more work since, immediately God began providing for us and though it has not been easy or without stress, I can testify that to this date we have been supplied for, our every need met.  There have been weeks at a time on more than one occasion in the last 7 months that I have wept daily over our circumstances, from Ashley's health to the trials that life and ministry bring.  I have known both a pain and a grace that I had never known before.  These are the things that you cannot predict or control, they are God's arenas of life, and we trust Him.  I know what it feels like to lay your wife, your income, your calling, and your family on the altar, placing them into God's faithful hands.  I cannot say its an easy road, because you do not enter that prayer closet lightly, it comes at a great cost because you actually have to allow part of you to die a death of surrender.  The truth is these things are not ever really ours anyway, it is all of grace.  God gives, God may take away, but just as true is that He remains worthy of all we are throughout it all.  There is a term in the Bible that jumped out at me about 8 years ago, so much so that I preached a few messages on the topic.  It is the term "great grace" and is said to be upon the early church believer in Acts 4.  You see in the Scriptures, the word grace is used many times but in Acts 4 it is called "GREAT GRACE".  It gripped my attention and I preached it with passion and shared with the people that I wanted to walk in that kind of grace.  You see I have always been drawn to those rare people you sometimes are privileged to meet who just seem to carry a weight in the things of God that is uncommon.  They are marked by great grace.  But you will seldom listen to their story without quickly finding out that they have always walked through some fires and floods in their walk with God and have come out the other side. I believe that there are many people in this life, maybe most, who will at one point in their life come to the point where their circumstances will dwarf them and they will call out for a real answer, one that is not produced out of the strength of humanity.  When those moments come they will need to have met someone who has more to offer than a shallow, untested faith.  They will need a Rock to lean on.  The only option will be the Strong Name of Jesus.  I have learned that all those sermons that got me fired up were really true, even when my whole world started shaking.  I found out that the promises of God are as true as I had hoped they would be, even preached to others that they would be.  I found out that the One I really cannot live without is Jesus Christ.  He is the One who holds all things together, even when you think they are falling apart.  Its a great grace.  Undeserved. Unearned.  But not easily forgotten.  The truth is that though I am still relatively young (34), and I have not yet finished my race or fought my last battle, I have gone through moments where I had to face the question: "If all you had was God, would it be enough?"  And I can say that the answer is YES.  He is all that I want, He is all I have ever needed, and He has let me know that He is near.  These are now not just the words of a popular Christian worship song- they matter. Because I found myself singing them all alone in my living room at 3am one agonizing night last fall with tears as I fought to give them up to God as an offering, as a sacrifice of praise.  They might one day become your song in the night.  Just know that in Him there is a greater grace than you may have ever even realized, and you can trust Him with all that you are and all that you have.

Friday, April 4, 2014

It's Just Sleeping

I am so happy to be writing today.  Last week was incredible- both what I went through and then the outpouring of love and support you all shared with me.  I have been very open and brutally honest with you all through my journey, and most of the time I wrote with tears in my eyes.  That's why last week was so special to me- I got to share a triumph with you.  A joy.  And it just felt great.

What powerful freedom I have been walking in!  When God breaks chains, he breaks them- no trace of their hold nor any ability for them to claim you any longer.  My life is the same, but I am not.  Each day I wake up I am greeted with the reminder that God is not only in control, but that He has ordained a destiny for me and my family.  It is a sweet privilege to walk that destiny.

Part of walking with the Lord means learning to hear His voice and follow His leading.  Three weeks ago I wrote a painful post...the week after, I was unable to let go of that post and just felt like I needed to remain still.  So I wrote a post saying just that- that I wasn't ready to write.  That I needed to wait.  It proved to be a crucial move because it was in the waiting that God had planned a divine meeting with me.  Had I rushed- had I written something "just because" then I would have taken my mind out of focus and out of the reverie it was supposed to be waiting in, and perhaps making it that much harder for God to get through to me.  To break my chains.

I want to tell you just how important and crucial the times of waiting really are.  We live in a fast paced, always on the move, on the go, in a rush, running here, running there, catch you in a text kind of culture that is often applied to our walk with God.  I feel that in this culture there is a temptation to just go- to take steps for the sake of taking them.  I think that is a mistake- I think you miss out on a rich depth when you do that.  You see, ever since I started following the Lord I believed that He had a plan and a path for me and I wanted to make sure I lived in it.  I prayed about decisions- not just prayed for God to bless my choice, but rather prayed specifically to find out what GOD's choice was for me.  Its just how Jeff and I live.  And I can say this: I have not taken a single step on my own.  Every decision, every choice, every move, every change was God ordained...and as such, I have developed a depth- a richness in my life.  I don't just "think" things will work out.  I rest on the promises of God- promises which extend to those who follow hard after Him and walk in His ways.

When Jeff and I got married we were in the middle of our junior year at Bible College.  By the time senior year rolled around, everyone was beginning to pray and to look for where they would be going upon graduation.  Jeff and I were doing the same- we prayed about several different options.  Jeff was eligible for a full scholarship to a seminary where he was thinking about getting his Masters of Divinity, so we prayed about that.  We also met with a pastor and his wife in Boston to discuss us coming there and helping with a church plant.   Two very nice options...but as we prayed we knew that neither of those were what the Lord wanted for us.  So we prayed some more.  And we waited.  Then we graduated and said goodbye to our friends, as each went their own separate way...but we still didn't know where we were supposed to go.

So here we are, living in the married dorm on campus saying goodbye to our friends and still not knowing what we were going to do.  Now the campus is very quiet.  And now family and friends are beginning to ask us what exactly we were planning on doing.  We could either just make a decision or we could look very foolish and continue to live on an empty campus after already graduating.  But here's the thing: in our minds, there was no question.  We move when God says move.  We stay when God says stay.  And we wait when God is silent.

So we waited.

Jeff worked in the kitchen on campus and we prayed.  Friends, it wasn't until August that we moved off the campus.  For nearly three months after we graduated we did nothing, or so it appeared to anyone watching.  While everyone was pursuing their next step, Jeff and I had no answer to anyone's question of "where are you going to go?"  God chose to wait- and it was during that summer while we waited that we began revisiting New Hope Church in Albany, NY.  We had met with Pastor Keith before but pursued other we went back to New Hope.  And as we were driving up to the church to go check it out, that is when God spoke.  Jeff and I looked at each other and that is when all the pieces went into place.  We both just knew.  God had finally led us to the specific place He wanted us to go.

We finally knew our next step...and that step changed our lives.  It is still changing our lives.  But it was in that waiting time that I really began to understand just how important it is to be lead by God.  I knew that I did not want to have a life where I was the one making the decisions.  I wanted Jesus to move deliberately and specifically before I ever was to take a step.  And I can say this: I do not always understand why.  I do not always understand how.  And I do not always when.  But I ALWAYS understand that when you walk in full obedience you never have to worry for one moment about any situation, any circumstance, or any attack that may come your way, because you are moving and living under the very hand of God.  And that is a protected place.

But by God, don't do something just to do it.  Don't live your life and just include God in it.  Every single aspect of how you allow God in your life determines what kind of walk you will have with Him.  Everything is important and of eternal value if you have the courage to live that way.  The stays are important, the go's are important, the speaks are important, the silences are important, the runs, the walks, the stands, the falls- it all bears eternal weight.  Trust me.

Trust me.

My God if I have learned anything leading up to this past year of my life it is that there has been a reason- a PURPOSE- for every single moment I have ever lived.

So I urge you to obey.  To wait on God, to seek Him wholeheartedly, to put Him at the center of everything.  I have walked in zealous obedience with my God- many times without a clue.  Sometimes with major decisions, and sometimes with things as small as a blog post.  But there is a fullness- a richness in living in obedience.  It gives you a backbone.  A godly confidence.  It makes you ready in season and out.  It puts you in heavenly places and when you need God you don't have to shout- you are already in His company.

My life has taken many twists and turns- some completely unexpected.  But I am always, always under the protection of God.  And His promises can never be thwarted and the things I may see as a detour are really all a part of His plan, leading me to His promises.  Why am I so sure?  I am sure because God goes before me.  Because my actions and my speech and the very way I live are all done in integrity before God.  I follow his leading and do not take a step without His direction.

Challenge your way of thinking.  Challenge the way you view your life.  Don't get swept up in living your own life- but instead, "present your body as a LIVING sacrifice holy and acceptable to God."  If you give Him your life- every single part of it- then you will be in for the greatest walk you have ever taken.  And you won't fear the things that come, because God will always go before you.

I feel like a change has swept over- like the breaking of winter and the return of spring has ushered in a new season.  I believe the winter has ended.  God has begun a new work and a new season and I am seeing now more than ever that each new work He does is built upon each past season- that is why obedience and walking with the Lord is such a beautiful thing.  Because He ties your life together and the way you obeyed before is what ushers in the fulfillment of things to come now.  The winter kills all things living- or at least it seems to.  But they're NOT dead- they're just sleeping...waiting for spring to come and BREATH LIFE.  Like the promise God gave.  And I am excited.  Excited because I can see Him breathing life into things that seemed dead.  Things that were just sleeping...and now they are waking.  I am excited for what He has next and for what He will fulfill in my life and in yours.  Because promises were made- promises were made and I know I am going to see the fulfillment of those promises and it makes every difficult step of obedience worth it.

Next week you are going to be hearing from my husband.  The man behind everything I do- the love of my life and the man who makes endless sacrifices for me.  The last time he wrote on my blog was a year ago.  You have followed me through hard times this past year and you've heard it all from my perspective- now I want to give him a chance to talk to you from his perspective.  My husband is a true man of God in every sense of the word...he does nothing but by prayer and by seeking the Lord.  I have followed him as he follows the Lord and I rest knowing that my husband is a man who can be trusted and followed wholeheartedly because of his integrity.  He has lead this family.  He has guided me and our children and I am the person I am because of his pure example.  There is nobody I have ever respected more.

Looking forward to next week...and looking forward to what God is doing.  Be blessed and be encouraged today!