Sunday, December 25, 2011

Hope Is The Thing...

(Sorry about the spacing issues. I've worked and worked on it,
and it just isn't going to cooperate today. - Marti)
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune - without any words
And never stops at all.
- Emily Dickinson
Last evening at the Christmas Eve service at my folk's church here in Charleston, the pastor spoke on the second coming of Jesus. It seemed a bit strange at first, as a Christmas message. But, then as I thought it through, like the most normal message in the world. Why on earth hadn't I heard it before? Why wouldn't we celebrate the hope of our Savior's second coming, as we celebrate the faithfulness of His fulfilled promise by His first coming...as a poor baby in a humble manger?
The hope of His second coming means the end of this way of life...no more pain, no more tears. No more lonely hearts at Chrsitmas, no more orphans or abuse, no more hunger or need.
It's a day I hope for every day of my life, but most especially on days like today, when an empty stocking hangs on the mantle. And you realize, six Christmases later, it's just never going to be what it was. Then you stop yourself, and hope for the day it's a new kind of wonderful, and work to appreciate the blessing of the day you're in...
Hope is a funny little creature, isn't she? She hides out in the strangest places and then jumps out in the oddest of places and smacks you across the face. Then she runs ahead, always just a step ahead...always just out of reach, but always there. A constant and joyful, if not maddening, companion. All those years ago, the Israelites had waited and waited and waited...for generations...for their Savior King. Isaiah and the other prophets had foretold of His birth in...as we look back now...eery detail. They expected that when He came, He would grow up and be the very King to come and deliver their nation from Roman rule.
Wait...deliver them from what?
Roman Rule.
Now, I have heard a lot of things, but never have I heard it said, "Thank goodness Jesus came to earth to die for our sins and allow us eternal life, I just wish while He was on that cross He would have delivered the Jews from Roman rule."
Really.
I mean, I get that this Roman rule issue was a hot topic to the Israelites back in the day...but Jesus came to deliver a whole lot more than Israel from a whole lot more than being ruled by the Romans.
Golf ball. That's all I can think right now. Golf ball. I know you don't get it, just bear with me.
There's a bigger picture. I'm preaching to myself here, by the way. Having to remind myself for the gazillionth time that the world does not revolve around my bottled blond head. There's so much more to the story. Yes, the Savior came...in the strangest and most unexpected of ways, which is a God thing if there ever was one...but He came to deliver a world from ourselves, our selfishness, our flesh, our greed, our own nasty sin and our Enemy.
Not Roman rule.
Do you have something you are hoping for? The Jews had prayed and hoped for the Messiah for generations...and He came. He just didn't come in the way they were looking for, nor do what they assumed He would do.
You know what they say about assuming...
He had bigger fish to fry than Roman rule...like the eternal life of mankind. And yet can't you imagine the old Jewish ladies wailing and lamenting their bondage to the state of Rome, and why doesn't God send a Deliverer...while the lives of all of those around her and to come were being decided by the actions of one holy man...
Born in a stable, sleeping in a cattle trough, wrapped in rags.
What are you hoping for? Could it be that, maybe, it isn't coming in just they way you thought it would? Maybe it doesn't look like you thought. Maybe it isn't doing what you thought. Maybe it just isn't at all what you thought...
Maybe there are bigger fish to fry than our own problems.
Maybe God is asking, as His people, for a little patience and cooperation as He fries some bigger fish.
Maybe there is more at stake than me, myself and what I want.
Hope is a funny little creature.
Because here's the thing: Even when things aren't going my way, even when I'm confused or disenchanted, even when I'm pouting and feeling sorry for myself...there's a little voice inside me that says, "God is up to something. Cooperate, please. This in not all about you, Princess" And, something inside of me, knows I'll be glad that I did. Something inside of me knows, He has a great big plan. And it is good. He...is...good.
I can hope in Him.
There is just something about Jesus. Even in my most tragic moments when I've thought I'll never smile again, He eventually wells up in me with a joy I can't describe, and hope springs up again, and again, and again, and again...
Hope springs eternal. And as it springs, I know...there are bigger fish to fry.
Christmas doesn't look like it once did, and if I'm honest, I spend a good deal of the 24th and 25th of December with a lump in my throat, pushing back tears. This isn't what it should be. This doesn't look at all like it was supposed to look...
What are you hoping for this Christmas? Maybe it won't come in the package you expected, or do just what you thought it needed to do. But, aren't we glad that little tiny Savior King saved more than the Jews from more than just Roman rule?
Yes, there is a bigger picture. But in all that, He remembers me...
and you. ;)
"And we know that God works all things together for good, for those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." -Romans 8:28
Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Oh, the Paradoxy

Paradoxy.

I don't even know if it's a word.

But, it is today. (thank you George W. Bush and all your strategery.)

I guess I could google it real quick, but I'm not into all that.

So, I changed the look of the blog, just to keep you all on your toes. I wish I could be super-savvy and somehow figure out how to customize the website and make it all super-cool and super-personal and you all would be super-impressed. But, alas, I can't find the time to do all the plain old regular things that I NEED to do, much less all the super stuff I WISH I could do.

Can I get a witness?

However, just to make a point, the new outlay IS a map, and the title of the blog IS about a road...

I'll take it. Game, set, match. (Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, I played tennis. And not very well. At all.)

Soooooooooo...I'm sure you're wondering when I'll get to the point, but I absolutely love mindless chatter blogging, and I don't do it nearly enough. I wish I was half as clever in real life as I am over written words.

Do you love that I just called myself a clever writer?

No...what I actually did was say that I was a more clever writer than I am in real-life. But that isn't saying much. I'm exceptionally dull in real life, and have moments when I nearly have stage-fright trying to come up with something interesting to say.

It's ridiculous.

But seriously, thank you for your patience.

"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." -Romans 12:12

So, pray for me...

(Now...wait for it, because I'm about to tie my mindless chatter in with my actual point in a genius, yoda-type fashion.)

Paradoxy.

Look close at the verse again.

"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." -Romans 12:12

It's slam full of the paradoxy.

God laid this verse on my heart after, well, what He would likely call a meltdown/temper tantrum of epic proportions that I had with Him a few months back.

Please tell me I'm not the only one who has the nerve to throw a fit to the Master and Creator of all things. Please tell me. Please. Right now. Tell me.

So, I pitched a fit...and He gave me a word. Which was very kind of Him considering the fit I was in the midst of.

In moments of extreme distress, where I feel little hope and no way out and I am on the verge of full panic, I remind myself (for the THOUSANDTH time) that my feelings DO NOT AND NEVER WILL equal reality.

Let's say it again...

REALITY.

Me and my feelings don't create reality. I don't invent truth. I don't make the rules.

Imagine that.

I know it seems like these things would be obvious, but I seem to have to remind myself of this seemingly basic truth an obnoxious amount.

You all have no idea how much I climb all over my own nerves.

So, anyway, I'm right in the middle of my fit, trying to convince myself that the world doesn't revolve around my head and the sky is actually NOT falling, and I ask God for a word. If I couldn't come up with some TRUTH, I needed (badly) for Him to shed some.

"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." -Romans 12:12

Now, at first glance, I really dig this TRUTH. It talks about hope, for crying out loud.

I can get into some hope. I can get down for some hope. I will GET UP for some HOPE.

Ok, but keep reading.

There's gotta be some patience.

In affliction.

One more time...

Patience.

In affliction.

From me.

Oh, dear.

I'm just going to go ahead and say something here that I have thought for a long, long time. Here I go...

I think Jesus is a little bit sneaky.

Now, this is nothing I haven't said to Him directly, and , of course, I mean He is sneaky in only the most holy and good and perfect of ways.

But, sneaky nonetheless.

For instance. In this moment, He's telling me that I have permission to have HOPE...something that brings a much needed balm to my sore soul...

But, as He does this, He's also telling me, by the way, that there's gonna be some affliction in that hope, and He's expecting my patience.

Really?

Paradoxy.

Am I the only one who just wants something to be easy? I'm just being honest here. I look around and some things seem to come so easy to some people. And I seem to make everything so difficult...

Now, I could write a whole other blog entry about that last statement I made, and all the myriad of things that make it wrong, wrong, all wrong...

I know it's wrong. But I just wanted you to get my point.

Can't something just...be...easy?

So, I lamented the paradoxy for a while.

Hope...in affliction.

Joy...and patience.

And then, I begrudgingly remember that no great man or woman of God, or anything else for that matter, ever became anything without a fight, hard work, discipline, mind over matter, blood, sweat, and tears....

And some affliction and patience.

(Insert sigh.)

"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." -Romans 12:12

So, I stopped my fit, got on my knees, thanked God for the word, straightened up my face, and got busy praying...and thanking, and trusting, and asking....

And, before you know it, I had some hope. Some real live HOPE.

He may be sneaky, but He sure knows what He's doing... ;) (And thank goodness, because I don't have a clue.) So, get joyful and hopeful. Be patient in your affliction...because the sky is NOT actually falling. And y'all be faithful in prayer. (For me. I clearly need it.)

But, seriously...

Ephraim, people. He always brings it home to Ephraim. Fruitful suffering.

Just like my Jesus. ;)

See you back here at Christmas...

Big hugs!

(and spell check just confirmed that paradoxy is, indeed, NOT a real word. There I go, making my own reality again...)


Monday, November 21, 2011

Scared Dogs

My little friend Cheryl told me last Saturday night that I remind her of Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman...which I think is just about the most fabulous thing anyone could ever say to me other than I remind them of Jesus (which has never happened, but I'm working on it, and Ree is a CLOSE second.) She is so quippy and clever and I SO want to BE quippy and clever!

Thanks, Cheryl. ;)

Serious face.

I got my chops busted today for not blogging in a while. I've told you all this before, but when I blog it's really personal and usually sort of emotional for me. Anything I write about you can bet I'm living at that moment....happy, sad, good, or bad. I'm a work in progress for sure, and as hard as writing is sometimes, I have to admit it helps...so here goes...

A wise man once told me (this morning) that a wise man once told him (a long time ago) that a scared dog never gets the bone.

Utter brilliance.

Vulnerable.

Do you know what that word means? It may be one of the scariest words in the English language...


vul·ner·a·ble 
/ˈvʌlnərəbəl/
[vuhl-ner-uh-buhl] adjective
1. capable of or susceptible to being physically or emotionally wounded or hurt
2. open to moral attack, criticism, temptation
3. open to assault; difficult to defend


Mmmm...sounds like a ton of fun, eh?

So many of us have been wounded in our lifetime. And if you haven't yet, it will come. And I'm not talking about losing a dog or even your grandmother passing. I'm talking about the kinds of wounds that alter a soul and change your life. Wounds that cut to the quick and leave you questioning everything you thought you knew...

Wounds that come from a blow.

It could be the untimely loss of someone. It could be the end of a career. It could be a terrible diagnosis. It could be the severing of what was believed to be a forever friendship. It could be years of abuse or neglect. It could be a house burning or a child dying...but it tears you apart in such a way that you truly wonder if you can continue to breathe in and out and put one foot in front of the other.

All these years I have been telling you to choose life in your tragedies. To glean the wisdom and other treasures that can be found ONLY in the darkness. To choose better over bitter when life hands you a blow...

It's a great message. An important message. But it isn't the end of the story...

Vulnerable.

Whether or not we choose better over bitter in our own tragedies, the fact remains that wounds leave scars. They don't just disappear and never affect us again. Those wounds and scars shape us and our decisions and perspectives for a lifetime. So...I have been asking myself some tough questions lately about just that, and one of the first realizations I had in the midst of it was that it has been a very long time since I have allowed myself to be in a position to be hurt. I mean...it has been a loooong time since I have made a direct decision that has placed me in a situation that had the ability to profoundly wound me. And as in long time, I mean since Chad died.

5 years...

It's called self-protection.

It isn't healthy.

Now, maybe that doesn't sound like a big deal to you, but it's really blown me away. If you had asked me a year ago if I was doing this, I would have said no way...but God has revealed to me differently. Ways that I would have thought I had been risking pain or loss, really lost the abilty to hurt me any more a long time ago. And, as always, He's right...I had put myself in a comfortable corner, covering my wounds. And, here's the deal...if you're avoiding the risk of being hurt, you got a trust problem.

A trust in God problem.

So, true to form, God has placed me in a position of vulnerability to show me this trust problem. To remind me that my fate, my future, and my heart, is in no one's hands but His own. Mind you...the only completely trustworthy hands this old world has to offer. And I'm in them! In that place, fear loses it's power over me...


There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.


-1 John 4:8


If I can wrap my pea brain around how much God loves me...that HE IS LOVE...and that His love is complete perfection, never waivers, and is NOT based on my perfection or my good works, then I begin too understand that His plans for me and His thoughts towards me, whatever they may be, are good, and perfect....and lovely.

Even the wounds.

Ephraim.

I want so much to be brave despite my wounds. I do. I want to have courage to do great things for God...if only Marti didn't always seem to be getting in the way. I want to fight to win even when it hurts. I don't want to cower in a corner with my hands over my scars, afraid for the next blow. And I don't want to walk away from a battle. I want to be in the middle of what MATTERS and make a difference. I want to be a warrior...


Warriors get hurt sometimes.

But a scared dog never gets the bone.

Don't you think it's amazing how your heart can actually ache? Let me tell you, when my heart begins to ache, even just a little...I hope someone can relate to this...I start to panic. I'm not saying this to make you feel sorry for me, but my heart ached for the 2 years and 7 months my big brother was sick...constantly. And it ached for a solid 3 years after he died. And now? A little heartache makes it mighty hard to breathe, and takes me to a bad bad place...

It's called self-protection.

It's isn't healthy.

And I want the bone. You know what I'm saying?

Wouldn't I rather be wounded again and it matter for something, than sit on the sidelines and be good for nothing? Wouldn't I rather my heart ache for a reason, than let my heart go numb? Wouldn't I rather go into battle and lose, than never even put up fight? Wouldn't I rather be vulnerable in the battle, than worthless on the sidelines?

Wouldn't I rather fight for that bone, than settle for a lifetime of nothing special?


I sure do hope so.


Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.



-Ephesians 6:10-13




Often times...the greatest battles are on the soil of my mind, my flesh and my fear being my enemy. But let's not forget that we have an enemy that feeds off that flesh and that fear, and he wants our bone...


For God gave us not a spirit of fearfulness; but of power and love and discipline.


-2 Timothy 1:7




The enemy is a liar, and God is in control.

The ultimate victory is already His...and I am His. I will choose to trust Him today, and then again tomorrow and the next day and the next day...vulnerability and fear don't exist there.

Let's do the hard thing.

Let's get a bone.

Ephraim.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Loving Hard

I don't follow many blogs, but I do have a few special ones that I keep up with. I check them all once a month or so, to see what's new, and I did this today. One is the blog of the beautiful Susan Bailey Law, who lost a battle with cancer early this year. I never knew Susan, but I did go to her memorial service, because it was here at the church. I left the church that day, wishing that I had known Susan. I have blogged on her before, back in January of this year. Her husband, Jerel, wrote on her blog for a while, but has since started his own. He's kept her blog up, however, so folks can go back and treasure Susan's words even beyond her earthly life. I love that. He wrote the last of his entries on Susan's blog late last month, and a portion of struck me. It was directed to his kids...

"Bailey, Christopher, and Luke – Your mother led the kind of life that allowed blessing to rain down on our family. Even if you don’t see the things she did now, please know that. A generation of Laws have been impacted because of the way she loved Jesus, you, and me. And remember that what you do, right now, with your lives, matters long after you are gone."

Love. Matters.

The next is the blog of Joanna and Toben. I ran across this blog when Joanna, a Christian writer, suffered a stroke several months ago. A bad one. I began to keep up with the blog, checking in on how Joanna, in her late thirties, was doing. I became intrigued at how Toben, her husband, took over life and kids and caring for Joanna. It was really precious, to see this man rise to his circumstances and honor God in the vows he took to his wife...when it was anything but easy. Toben wrote in his last blog...

"When you get to live in service to the one you love the most, the benefits seem to outweigh the costs."


Wow. Love...


Not sappy "I can't live without you" love. Not "what can you do for me" love. Not "love me and I will love you back" love. Not "I'll love you as long as it feels good" love.


LOVE...agape love...love that goes beyond circumstance and condition. Hard love.


Jesus love.

Sarah Barnes and I were talking the other day and landed on the subject of my personality in the months after we lost Chad. We joke about it a lot...Sarah caught the brunt of my "angry phase" of grief. We'll often laugh over that bottle of Clorox I threw down the stairs at her, or the crack in my bathroom door...that my foot might have left there...after screaming at her over something of such insignificance that I couldn't recall it now to save my own life or anyone elses. I'm so thankful that we can laugh about it now, that God saw in his mercy to salvage that precious friendship despite my ugliness. That, somehow, Sarah found the strength and clarity to view my moods and temper and general disposition of selfishness with eyes of faith and discernment, and not anger and hurt and bitterness. I didn't deserve that kind of love, but she extended it time and again, and even finds the grace to laugh with me about it now.

Then last night, as I talked with my good friend Katie, who met me just as Chad was in his last weeks, it came up again. The Marti she met at that time was not the Marti she knows now. I was quiet and reserved, and not at all open or welcoming. I'm sure I had moments of kindness, but they were often faked. Those I loved the most, saw the worst. I remember viewing events that I had to be around a lot of people, like church, as something I just had to get through. I didn't want to small talk, I didn't want to visit, and I didn't care what you had to say. I just wanted the world to be quiet and still, and let me grieve. I wanted it all to stop. Stop for our loss. Stop to mourn. Stop to justify the pain. Just stop.

STOP. Because I was tapped out. I was running on fumes and I had nothing to give. Just stop.

Friendships were lost. Feelings were hurt. And in it all, most of the time I just couldn't will myself to care. To me, if you couldn't allow me the ability to mourn the way that I needed to mourn, our friendship was not worth salvaging.

How is that for harsh? How is that for selfish? It's all the truth.

My friend Molly called me out on it one day. I remember she said to me...I'm paraphrasing..."I read your emails and they have such hope, and then when you will actually talk to me on the phone all I hear is sadness." Those words still sting. She was right...she was. But, I meant every one of those words in those emails...but I meant the sadness, too...

I pushed Molly away, too. And all she did was get really honest with her good friend. A good friend she was worried about. She didn't deserve that...

Every one of the emails I wrote came from a pure heart. A hurting heart. A heart that couldn't hardly believe the pain, and needed a mighty God to seek. I wanted so much to see my situation with eyes of faith, with a heart of wisdom, with the mind of Christ. I wanted to do anything and everything I could do to save my brother. I meant every word I said. The emails document a walk of faith, an awakening, that I treasure. It was a journey, and I learned with every step...I'm learning still.

However...just because I meant every word that I said in those emails, doesn't mean that my heart didn't ache, and that I didn't have to constantly remind myself to view our situation not though the lens of the world, but through the lens of His Word. You see, as I write, I heal. As I wrote those words, I worked it all out in my head...and my heart. Those words then served a reminder when I needed it. Those words weren't just written in emails, they were written on my heart. And as I wrote them on my heart, the suffering became more bearable, more fruitful, more...well, even joyful at times. Abundant. As I write these words even now, I am working it all out. My journey hasn't ended, I'm beginning to think it's just begun. It's no easier, no less frightening, no less raw, but, oh my, it is rich and it is indeed good...

Ephraim.

Truthfully, I'm not sure I would be any different if it all happened again today. I did what I needed to do, day in and day out, to breathe in and out and put one foot in front of the other after the loss. Yes, I did hurt some people that I do genuinely care about. You know who you are. I know who you are. No one was right, no one was wrong. It was just a tough situation that had to be weathered...

And I'm so thankful for those that chose to love me through the hard. I'm so thankful for those who loved me when I was hard to love. I'm so thankful for those who chose to love me...hard.

You loved me like Jesus does. Thank you. Your love mattered in my life...

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails..." 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

October 4, 2011

Five years ago today, at 11am in the morning, my older brother was laid to rest at the tender age of 32 years old. It still makes me cry to type those words. Five years, and the pain still comes in waves as fresh as that day, in moments that I least expect it.

I have been listening to a lot of Lou Giglio lately. My new friend Jeanne Slocumb turned me on to him in the last few weeks, and he has tons of videos on You Tube, so I've just been playing them through the day the last week or so on my computer in my office. He said one thing this week that has resonated with me. Basically, we live in a time where we deal with 2 different realities, and they can be hard to reconcile. First, we live in a reality of a broken and fallen world. People hurt us, they hurt themsleves, they get sick, we betray and abandon each other...sin has ravaged our world, and the curse of it is inescapable. But at the same time, we live in the reality that Jesus Christ is Lord and victor over death, and our God is in complete control. Why then, if He is in complete control, does He allow these bad things to continue to happen? Why answer some prayers, and not answer others? Why spare one, and take another? I don't know. My finite brain is not big enough to wrap around an infinite God and His ways. But, Lou said, we know that He will not continue to allow the suffering of this world. And once He comes...He will end it all. But, once He comes, life as we know it now ceases to ever exist again.

It pierced me. And I'm not even sure why.

There are days like today when I can't wrap it all up in a neat little Jesus bow. In fact, I don't even want to wrap it up in a bow. The deal is that we have a God, bigger and greater than we could ever even begin to comprehend. He has a plan, and that plan does not revolve around me, or Chad, or our family. He has a plan to save a world and bring glory to Himself. Why? Because in Him and through Him ALL things were created. Through Him, all things came to be. Without Him, we are less than nothing. Our only hope is to bring glory to God. That's it. It has never, nor will it ever, be about me. It's all about Him. And 5 years ago, His plan to save this world and bring glory to Himself involved needing to take my brother home to be with Him. And so He did. And I trust Him. And, truly, I'm honored He used Chad. It doesn't lessen my pain, but it does make my pain matter. It matters. Chad matters. His suffering was a part of the plan.

Ephraim.

So, to my big brother, looking down on us today...I miss you. I long for the day I jump in your arms and see that million dollar smile. I long for the day our family is whole again. I long for the day this ache in my heart and lump in my throat will be gone for good...

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.
They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” -Revelation 21:1-5


And I KNOW that day is coming. And in THAT, I rejoice. I find my joy. Until then...

Ephraim.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Holding Fast...

I'm so distracted.

So.

Distracted.

I am having to fight for every complete thought that I manage. I think it's comical that I'm attempting to write today...I have no plan, really...

I went to a Living Proof Live event this past weekend with a ton of great girlfriends. Man...it was a blessing. Beth Moore speaks my language, and her teaching always leaves me with something to hold onto, something I can apply to my life that day. I went with lots of friends, but one in particular has just fought and scraped and warred to get herself out of the gutter and keep herself out of the gutter, and I found myself just watching her. I was so blessed to be able to stand beside her and enjoy some victory and freedom in the midst of the battle. She has come so far...I could weep over it...love her to pieces.

Alex and Pamela's wedding is just 6 short weeks away. Most everything is done for the actual ceremony, which will be in Charleston so my grandfather can officiate. I can remember clear as day the evening that little boy came into this world. Chad and I fought from the moment Alex was born until Chad left for college, but neither of us ever lacked any love for that little nugget. I can see him growing in my mind's eye...squatting in his diaper behind the catcher at Chad's Little League games, throwing off his tiny little mask and yelling ,"OUT!" as he watched the big boys play...the first day of school in that hideous outfit mom made him wear with the ducks on it...his own small-town baseball career that we treated like the blasted big leagues...his tender heart and sweet spirit...what he told the guidance counselor in 6th grade after Chad and I were both gone off to school, "Like to see them come, like to see them go," he said...throwing ball in Miss Dot's front yard with the Johnsens..high school days full of pick-up trucks and smelly boys...high school graduation, after Senora Harvey busted up graduation practice to inform Alex aka Roderigo that he had indeed passed his Spanish final and could go to college!!! Oh, the days... I'm so thankful for Alex's life. It's been a life of healing. He has been just what we needed time and again. That baby was no accident. He wasn't even a surprise. He was ordained by God...

It's an exciting time in the life of the Sullivans. I know I have told you before that from the time that Chad became really sick until about...mmmm...maybe 18 months ago or so...my memory is a fog. I can't remember a great deal of anything from 2004 - 2010 except that which had to do with Chad. I can remember his road, his treatments, his surgeries, the good news and the bad. I can give you a play by play of his last week, his death and burial. I can look back and pinpoint my stages of grief, the times I lost my mind and the times when he was so close I felt like I could reach out and touch him. I can see my family's mourning together, how we have fought to work through our loss and the tears and awkwardness it brings. I can remember so much about all of that...but not much else...

But sometime in the last year or so, I woke up. It's not as though I have been depressed for 7 years. Not at all! It's just that everything revolved around surviving that loss. I know I have shared with you before...it's been so strange to see my peers celebrating marriages and births...while we buried our beloved and navigated the stages of grief, personally and as a family. But today, after fighting for every moment we chose not to become bitter or angry, for every moment we fought to keep our eyes on God and trust Him that our circumstances should not change His greatness or His love for us, I can honestly say that I am totally convinced...we're going to make it.

We are going to make it.

So...now I'm getting pretty giddy excited about a weekend of family and celebration. A time of joy that feels so long overdue...but I know my Savior's timing is always perfect. I'm just mighty glad this time has come!


"What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful...in it's time." -Ecclesiastes 3:9-11

Ephraim.



My prayer is that I never...ever...forget that in any season, in joy or pain, in death or life, in victory or in defeat, who my Lord is...and I will hold fast to Him all the days of my life.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Only He Can Make Your Bad Stuff Good...

"Take away my capacity for pain and you rob me of the possibility of joy. Take away my ability to fail and I would not know the meaning of success. Let me be immune to rejection and heartbreak and I would not know the glory of living." -Ross W. Marks

I don't know who Ross Marks is, but I love this quote. Especially that first line..."take away my capacity for pain and you rob me of the possibility of joy..."

I've been burdened with the subject of pain the last week or so. I had lunch with a friend on Sunday and, when talking through a bit of a touchy subject...with love, of course...I heard myself say that the potential for pain wasn't a deciding factor for me in this situation, or any, for that matter. Now, I didn't plan to say that. I hadn't thought the words through in any way, but I did mean them. Why? Simply because the most painful events of my life have also, without question, been the most beautiful and fruitful.

And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:2b-5)

Let me be clear. I'm not saying that I loooooove pain. I'm not even saying I'm really a fan of pain. And I'm CERTAINLY not saying that we should wallow in our pain...that's a whole different story. What I am doing, however, is admitting that pain has a very specific place and benefit in our lives...a benefit worth rejoicing over...but we spend our days running from it, like it's the devil himself. And not just running. We plot, we plan, we think ahead and manipulate, we self-protect, we shelter and build walls around ourselves, all in the name of safety from pain.

I believe that pain suppressed, pain ignored, pain avoided, is one of the enemy's greatest weapons of destruction. It can destroy you, and those you love. Pain accomplishes what nothing else can...it brings a specific kind of abundance and joy...


October 16, 2006

"We live in a fallen world. It hurts. Situations and people cause us pain...we disappoint ourselves. One thing I have learned since I lost my big brother, probably the most valuable, is the truth that nothing can ever destroy me as long as I have Jesus, and I choose to look to Him. I am privileged to join the ranks of others who, first-hand, know this truth. We are not destroyed. We are encouraged and hopeful and in love with a God that can take the darkest moment of our lives thus far and shine His light so bright, that it becomes something beautiful and life-changing."


I love that 2 weeks after Chad's death, this is where He had my heart. It was all so beautiful and life-changing that I would go back and live through it again, just to behold that beauty and cherish the moments. I really would. Pain that is acknowledged, felt, embraced in a godly and healthy manner, accomplishes through Christ a beauty that nothing else can fathom.

After all, isn't it pain that accomplished the Cross? Isn't it the profound suffering of our beautiful Savior that accomplished our freedom and eternal life?

"What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race... (Ecc. 3:9-10a)

And it IS work, isn't it? Working through your past, dealing with the baggage, feeling all the hurt, and going back to places you would assume forget? It IS work to begin a journey that frightens you, to choose vulnerability, to take the road less travelled? It IS work to walk by faith, when another way seems to make much more sense. It IS work!

But let Him finish...

"What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end." (Ecc. 3:9-11)

Ephraim.

It all comes back to Ephraim.

Monday, May 23, 2011

"I Have One Request..."

Sometimes when I snuggle between the sheets at night, with the fan blowing perfectly on my face and the thoughts of a just-finished meeting with Jesus seeping into my soul, I think of things to write about...but by morning they're long gone. Well, at least the brilliance that they boasted in the twilight of the night before has faded...

Over the past several years, God has been exercising in me the art of His peace. Time and again I find myself in positions of varying levels of panic over life situations, very private situations where panic could easily be argued as a rational choice, only to be reminded by His sweet Spirit that I have never been destroyed, that He has always proved faithful, and that I am always provided for and taken care of. Time and again. Time and time and time again. I am not going to say I have mastered this peace, but I will say I am much stronger than I was. God's intention for us is never anxiety. Never ever. This has been hard for me to wrap my brain around, because anxiety and the sense of urgency that accompanies it are as second-nature to me as breathing.

As I said, I am hardly a master at the art of His peace. But, I have made sincere progress, and the last several months have been quiet and content ones for me...internally anyway. I am no longer in deep mourning, I think the grief process has run its course, and I have settled in to life as I now know it. There is never ever a day that Chad does not come to me. I can see his expressions in the faces of friends, hear his remarks in conversations I'm in, feel my fingers ache to dial his phone, and see his movements and being in my baby brother and dad. Sometimes, on the best day, I feel him come out in me in some way...a shrug of my shoulders or a turn of my head, or a Sullivan grunt...that noise that escapes us that only those closest to us can discern. I don't cry every day, and I don't ask why every day...I cherish the treasures of Chad Sullivan that are still among us. And I live my life in the here and now with those treasures as a constant companion.

Several weeks ago, I saw a commercial for Oprah about a young mom lost years ago to cancer that had made countless video and audio messages for the young daughter she left behind. I made a point to watch the show and, not surprisingly, this was a family of Christ-followers. I wept quietly through the entire broadcast, as I watched these messages from this young mother, now long gone, and this daughter, all grown-up and in college, and how she has healed and thrived. But there was one statement that stopped me cold, one remark that this young mother made in one of her last messages that haunts me in the most beautiful way. It gave wings and a voice to the desire of my heart to keep my Chad's legacy and name alive, even if his body failed...

"I have one request, and that is to be remembered."

It was so simple, but resonated so strongly the need inside each of us to know that we are heard, that we are cherished...that we matter.


Ephraim.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Dear Chad...

Dear Chad,

Yesterday was the 37th anniversary of your birth. Can you believe it? Thirty-seven years old. It was such a beautiful day, too. It seems like just yesterday I was tagging along behind you in the creek on Bellmeade Drive, and riding out to Mimi and PJ’s with you in the old blue Buick, thinking it was so cool that you could drive, and tasting that independence that "we" had found. We were a team on life's journey...but you always got to "do it first." In everything! Some days, I just can’t believe we grew up. I think that maybe I will wake up in the morning and Mom will be yelling for us to come down for breakfast, we’re late for school. Or maybe just wake up and be the 25 years old that I feel, calling my big brother to see if he wants to grab dinner at P.F. Changs tonight…our favorite. You would order the duck, and I would order the spicy chicken…and all would be right with the world. I would think of that bad dream, and push it from my mind…

I’ve asked myself lately, what would I say to you now…if you were sitting across the table from me? What would I tell you about all that has happened, since you’ve been gone? I heard a song the other day and a line in it made me cry, made me think of you:

I think it’s been around 5 years,
And everything and nothing’s changed.
I just wish that you were here…

That sums it up really…everything and nothing’s changed.

If you were here now, and I could tell you about the meantime, I think the first thing I would say is the obvious. I miss you. I miss you. I miss you. I loved you my whole life, but I’m not sure I cherished you until you were gone. I cherish you. I cherish you, and what your life meant to mine.

I never told you this, but I have had a feeling…for many years now… that your life would be meaningful, would change people. I sensed that you had a high calling. I had no idea exactly what that would mean, but I want you to know it was true. I can speak for no one else but myself, but I need you to know that your life’s journey has made mine richer, and deeper, and more abundant. I see now that suffering produces wonderful things, if the focus is on God. Just as Christ’s suffering on the Cross gave me eternal life, your suffering gave me perspective and depth and hope and perseverance and…I pray…more character and wisdom than I ever would have had otherwise. It gave me patience and courage and peace…taught me to find joy in the hard times and the silver linings of all the dark clouds that pass my way.

I hope I make you proud. I can see that smile…the smile that I pray you smile over me, pleased with the way life has moved forward. Chad, I must tell you, moving on without you was harder than letting you go. Do you remember what you said to me? “Marti, you need to understand something. God and I have an agreement. If he wants me to live, then I am ready to live. But if he is ready for me to die, then I am ready to die.” Thank you for that gift. Your peace then gives me peace now.

If you were here now I would tell you that you were right…Alex will beat us both to the altar! If you were here now, I would tell his bride makes him shine…and her sweet and loving spirit has gone a long way in healing the Sullivans that were left behind.

If you were here now, I would tell you all the secrets and desires of my heart, and ask you to hold them safe for me. If you were here now, I would cry an ocean of tears, and wash your feet to honor the road you have walked. If you were here now, I would insist you tell me everything from start to finish. What have you seen? Who was there? Did Rupp go to heaven? I sure hope so. Did you meet our other sibling…is it a brother or a sister? I have hoped they were there, to keep you company. As if you could be lonely in Heaven…silly, I know. If you were here now, I wouldn’t know where to begin, but…I think you might already know…

If you were here now, I would tell you that I know…you got the very best ending. It’s hard for us to hold onto that sometimes, but I know it. I wouldn’t bring you back here for the world…who would ever trade this old world for heaven? You live what I now look forward to…Eternity. I don’t have to be afraid...

My big brother did it first.

I love you to heaven and back…

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Believe

This walk of faith is a challenging one, all of us understand that on one level or another. Whether we choose to take the walk is our own decision. I suppose sometimes it's easier to give up. But, my God has been so gracious and generous in His promises and comfort to me not only throughout this ordeal, but throughout my life thus far...how can I not believe in Him and His best for me? I want all of you to hear me say this...What do you suppose could happen if we all chose to look up and confidently expect huge things from God for Chad? What do you suppose He would be willing to do for His great name? I believe He's willing to heal Chad totally and fully, and how pleased He will be with our faith in Him! Please hear me, I'm not advocating asking our dear Lord for blessings like He's a magician. Never. No matter what He is God and I am man. I will not question His authority and His plan. But, guys, it's on my heart that He's hurting for our faith, our hopeful expectation, our excitement over Him and His power and love for us! I told my cousin yesterday that since I was a small child I can remember having thoughts that Chad was somehow special, that in some way his story would change people and their lives. I'm not making that up...I mean it. Let's work together by utter faith and make Chad's life, as well as our own, a powerful testimony of the strength and love of Christ. Let's stop looking at God as a Sunday morning date and ask him to give us a glimpse of the abundant life we hear about in Scripture, but have never really grasped or understood. Step out! Allow no room for doubt. To some of you all this may sound ridiculous and unrealistic, so I'll ask you...What do we have to lose? But there is so so much to gain in and through all of us. I'm telling you, the tiniest glimpse of His face will change us all through and through forever.

Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being praise his Holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not his benefits - who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's. Psalm 103: 1-5

On Tuesday, September 26th, our church home and some dear friends have worked hard to put together a day of prayer for Chad. First Baptist Church Albemarle will be open all day for those of you willing to take some time out of your day to kneel at the altar and pray in faith for Chad's healing and recovery in the name of Jesus. So many of you have asked us, "What can we do?". This is what you can do for us, you can get on that altar and pray. Tell everyone you know who may not be on this email list, we're asking our community to kneel before Him and tell Him we love Him, we believe in His power to heal Chad, trust Him and expect Him to do so, and thank Him for showing us His face through this struggle. I continue to stand awestruck at all the beauty and glory we have seen thus far come out of such pain and struggle, I can't wait to see what else He has in store.

"Let Him ask in faith, nothing wavering" James 1:6

3 1/2 years ago, after Chad's initial surgery for his melanoma, I came to work one day and had a voicemail from a friend. She had been somewhat of a spiritual mentor to me, I could tell she had been watching me and praying over me for some time. She had a sincere interest in me and my walk, or toddle, with God, and I trusted her. Her message to me, she said, had come from God in the middle of the night, and that He had simply asked her to tell me to Believe. She told me she felt that this message had to do with Chad. Since that day, my sweet Lord has been reminding me gently, but profoundly, over and over. Believe. Please join me.

Marti



This email is "the one." The one that I stare at and read again and again, and still have trouble reconciling. Week after week, people come to me, or I read another blog, or see on Facebook..."Please pray for so and so...they have cancer and...". I tell them I will, and I say a little prayer right there, but a little voice inside of me wonders...will it change anything? Will it help?

I think of THIS email.

In this email more than any other, I do something that I have been known to do before, and will do again at times...still...when the importance of something takes me over in such a way that shame isn't even in my vocabulary. My desperation takes over, and I lay all my cards out one by one and say all that I know to say...just praying it will be enough...

When is it ENOUGH?

My degree is in Finance. I like word problems. I like to pull something apart and find the missing pieces and, based on that knowledge, figure out what those missing pieces are until everything adds up. I like equations. I like variable and unknowns. I like to take those variables and make magic with them until the unknowns appear before me! I love when both sides of the equals sign come together perfectly...and for a moment all is right with the world.

God doesn't work that way.

God isn't a piece of a word problem, or a variable in an equation. He cannot be "solved." No one will ever say, "I've got it!!!" about God and His ways. This has been a hard lesson for me to learn, and I really have to relearn it almost every day. I ask Him, when I want something so so badly, "What can I do for you to make this happen?! What else do you want?!"

God doesn't work that way.

I have seen that even when God gives me glimpses of His will, when I see Him molding me and fashioning me in circumstances that I see His hand in, and I wonder when a Victory will come...I cannot buy that Victory. Victory is His alone to bestow. He doesn't give me a list of requirements, and then He will...

God doesn't work that way.

When I wrote this email, I believed with every piece of my being that Chad would live. Here on earth. I went to the end of myself and my faith, and thought that would surely be enough.

So, the point of my the story is that I still struggle with that at times. If I can literally go to the end of myself...and find heartbreak beyond what I ever imagined...why ever go to the end of myself again?

A few days after I wrote this, the prayer service for Chad was held. It was actually moved up, because he began to decline very quickly after I wrote this email. We didn't know why...the docs told us he had 3 months or more left. So, I called the church and asked them to move the service up, that we needed the prayer badly, and they graciously agreed to do so. I came late in the day, with Alex, and we cried and prayed together on the altar...it was a sweet moment, and I had done all that I knew to do.

The very next day, a Friday, Chad's pain was so bad he told my mom he needed to go to the hospital. We knew at the hospital, he could get meds that they couldn't give him over-the-counter. We loaded up the cars and headed for Charlotte. At this point, there was no position he could find relief for the cancer in his spine. I have some pictures in my mind of that day I wish I could forget. I was helpless.

Chad entered CMC that Friday, and in just over a week, he would be gone...home to be with Jesus. It took folks by surprise. It took me by surprise. I had sent out no emails preparing folks for that. I just didn't know...they said we had a few months...

I believe that God, after that prayer service, decided to be merciful and go ahead and heal Chad...in His way. Families of cancer patients don't want to hear that...I know this. I've been there. Over the last few years I have struggled with that very question. To be honest, at times I have felt a bit tricked. He TOLD me that Chad would live...and Heaven wasn't the "live" I had in mind. It sounds so selfish to say out loud. I know...I KNOW...that if I saw Chad's reality today, there is no way I would call him back here. I know this...

But this really isn't about Chad at all.

This is about me and God...and if I really do trust Him at all.

Believe.

After all this time, Believe does not mean what I thought it meant. Not at all...

After much weeping and searching and praying, this is my conclusion...if only a piece...

I believe God loves me, and that when I weep, He weeps.

I believe that God is in control of the events that occur in my life, and if He chooses to bring it upon me, if is for my good, and will bring glory to Himself and growth to His Kingdom.

I believe that God is FOR ME, and never ever ever ever against me.

I believe God sees the whole picture, and I just see a piece of it.

I believe God's timing is absolute perfection.

I believe that God wants my life to be a beautiful thing.

I believe God wants to make me a beautiful woman, full of light, joy, peace...and character and wisdom.

I believe my heartache matters to God.

I believe I cannot and will not ever figure God and all His mysteries out out...and I believe that is a GOOD thing.

I believe that God is good. Only good. I believe there is nothing bad in Him at all.

I believe that through His strength, I can "do hard."

I believe that even in pain, God is in control, and working it all for good...for those who love Him, and are called according to His purpose.

I believe that God's redemption is real, and it's beauty is beyond words. He really does make our bad things so good. Only God can do that...

I believe only God can save me, and He did through His Son...and I believe that is the bottom line.

I believe I can trust God. No...

I know that I can trust God. I know that in full submission to Him, He will make a beautiful story out of my life. I know there is joy to be had. I know that Victory is assured.

I now know God cannot be "figured out," but the pursuit of Him is where peace and joy are found...

"Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart." -Psalm 37:4

My brother's death taught me all those things, and that is the place where healing lives.

Ephraim.






Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Susan Bailey Law


Christmas was quiet this year, mercifully, and the New Year was brought in with my dad's family at a small mountain lake in Tennessee we all convened upon. We had a great time playing and being together, but I am so glad to be home. I have had this feeling for some time that the season of my life where quiet came so easily may be drawing to a close in some way. I see now how God has crowded my private life, made my home the home of others and the stomping ground of my family, made "alone time" a commodity, when there was a time that it was a plentiful given. It has tested my patience and my grace, and I've failed many times. I'm thankful for a patient and faithful God.


“The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness..." -Exodus 34:6


Today is my second day back at work after nearly 2 weeks off. It's nice to be back, but it was nice to be off! I attended a memorial service of the beloved daughter of long-time FBC Charlotte members, a woman who had grown up in this very church. I did not know her, but my greatest friend Sarah Barnes grew up in FBC with Susan, so I went to the service, knowing how badly Sarah wanted to go, and couldn't due to distance. Hundreds descended upon the church to honor this woman, this wife, this mom, daughter, sister and friend, taken by cancer in her young family's Wonder Years. I entered the service not even knowing Susan Bailey Law, having never met her. I left the service loving her, and wanting to be more like her in the life I still have to live.


When I see grieving families, as I did today, it inspires me to look back over the last 4 years...3 months... and 3 days...and see how the journey has evolved, how it has changed me, changed us. I remember the days between Chad's death and his burial, the very season the Law family is currently in. For me, in many ways, it was almost a high. Everyone acknowledged our grief and the loss, told stories and shared about our beloved, honored him in all the ways I felt he deserved after such a trial and tragedy. It was just as I felt it should be...selfish, really, I suppose. Every day since then has been a further and further departure from those days. Time has marched on, and with it the broad assumption by circles of friends and acquaintances that with this ticking of the clock everything should be fine and back to normal. I even adhere to that to a degree. I don't want to have difficult conversations about Chad...only joyful ones. I don't like to see the tears...only the laughter. I save my personal tears for myself mostly, and dry them as quickly as possible. They don't come as often as they once did, but I don't believe that Chad would support my tears now. He wanted joy for us. I prefer joy as well, but have learned that true and appreciated joy comes on the other side of searing pain. It's true.


But, somehow, even though I savor life as normal, I want the world to continue to acknowledge Chad in the way they did those precious few days we took to honor his life. Even though the world would like me to get over it, I just never will. Don't want to. Because even though life has moved on and I find such joy and depth at every turn in my blessed life, I still miss my brother most days so much I almost can't breathe at moments, and live for the moment when my family is all together with Jesus...


I thought of that as I saw a young Jerel Law and his three gorgeous, but very small, children sit today and grieve publicly the loss of their beautiful wife and mother. I thought of how, in about 3 months, the loss would start to sink in...the first Christmas will be almost too painful to sit through, but so beautiful at the same time they won't dare look away, and savor every moment, every tear, every heartache to honor and remember her, to have her there...I thought how the second year would be the hardest...and by this point in my own grief I am convinced we will all make it and even thrive, still I'm not quite sure how it's done. Only God knows those miracles. I thought of all this today as I watched Jerel Law stand and honor his wife, his bride, so clearly cherished, who "made him want to be a better man." What a tribute. What more does any woman want than to inspire that very thing in a man, and to be a better woman for him? Jerel saw Christ in Susan, even until the end. It was what attracted him to her, and what held them all together in the shadow of death. Christ. Susan was, she is, the daughter of the King. Jesus was her first love, he said. Jerel came in second. He was cool with that...it was just as it ought to be.
I thought about how I can't even begin to understand the grief those children will bear for the rest of their lives, and how thankful I am for the mercy and wisdom of my God. I pray they will thrive not in spite of their tragedy, but because of it. Only God can do that...


I listened today as testimony after testimony was shared of Susan Bailey Law. "Beloved friend, beautiful spirit, loving mom, cherished wife, sparkling eyes, beautiful smile, goldy wisdom, made life fun, loved to laugh, unwavering in joy, never bitter, never questioning, steadfast in trust and faith, full of patience, grace, kindness, sweetness and goodness...always thinking of other, others, others, others...even in her own pain."

Just like Jesus.

When I left the service today, I wanted to be like Susan. But not Susan, I understood...Christ in her. We could all open our eyes to see, it isn't those people we love so dearly, admire so deeply, are attracted to and respect, it's the Jesus we see in them. Really and truly, we all just want more Jesus. The sparkle, the glow, the light shining from those whom His Spirit rests. Do you see the light in Susan's eyes?


I am the light of the world; he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. -John 8:12


Welcome home, Susan Bailey Law. Well done, good and faithful servant. I look forward to meeting you one day. Until then, tell him that I love him...and tell Him that I love Him...