In The Garden

“Many will say to me [Jesus] on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” Matthew 7:22-23

This particular passage has always confounded me. If people are doing all those miracles in the name of Jesus, clearly they would know Him and be operating in His authority. Why, then, would He send them away? That has bothered me for years. I’ve grown up hearing stories that have focused on the love and mercy of God. But this verse seems to be angry and far from merciful.

However, this morning I had a revelation. As I woke (before my kids), in the stillness of the morning, I could feel God whispering to my heart, “Come spend time with me.” As I rolled out of bed, I started thinking of all the things on my to-do list for the day. In that moment I started considering which chapters I would read in the Bible and how much time I would have to do that before I needed to get going on my tasks. Then I felt Him say, “Stop! This is not another thing to check off your list. Just come sit with Me.”

Have you ever been in a relationship when it seemed like you were two ships passing in the night? Each running in their own direction, but never stopping to just be together. That’s usually when the relationship feels distant and cold. Or how about “friendships” on social media? So often we observe and know others by what they put on the inter web, but we don’t truly know them. We know of them, but our knowledge is very superficial at best.

So often, this is how we treat our relationship with Jesus. We read the Books, we attend gatherings in His Name, and we may even use His Name to perform miracles. But that’s not why He came to the earth and sacrificed himself. He came so we could have a real relationship with Him. Not a “fakebook” relationship. He desires a real, everyday, closer than a best friend relationship. He wants to get messy with you. He does not want to be another item to check off our task lists.

As I  processed through this with King Jesus this morning, I could hear my grandfather’s deep baritone voice belting a familiar hymn: “And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own. And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”

Today, take the time to develop a deep and private relationship with Savior and walk in the garden with Him. There is so much peace and joy there.

Redemption, Pt. 2

The next day, I called the nurse’s station for an update on my ex-husband’s status. She politely informed me that I had been removed from the “family” list and could no longer receive information about my ex-husband. “Who made that decision?! I may not be family, but our son IS!” I retorted. “I’m sorry ma’am. The patient’s brother has requested that you be excluded from any communication.” Initially, I was angry. Hurt. Offended. Who did he think he was?! This is my son’s father we’re talking about! We may have had our differences in the past, but my ex-husband had recently said repeatedly, “You’re family, Susan. I don’t care what anyone says. You’re the mother of my son. You will always be family.” And now his brother says otherwise. With a simple word, I’m cut out.

But then I realized something. My ex-brother-in-law was in the midst of the most terrifying and unmanageable situation. His little brother was on life support, fighting for survival. There was nothing he could do to control what was happening. But the one little thing he could control was who had access to the information. It was an exercise in futility. But it was something.

I only had this realization because I was simultaneously up to my eyeballs in a Step Study with Celebrate Recovery. It was through that study and the amazing support I found through Celebrate Recovery that I was able to process any of what was happening. Celebrate Recovery taught me how to understand the human reaction to an unmanageable situation: grasping at control. Most of all, I was ready to make amends and able to hear God’s voice throughout the coming days.

Six days passed with no word. No updates from my ex-husband’s family. No phone calls to my son. Nothing. I was talking to a dear friend and mentor when I voiced my concern. I needed to know what was going on for my son’s sake. She encouraged me to be a “mama bear.” She said to call and don’t take “no” for an answer. So I did.

I called the nurse’s station and said, “I know I’m not on the list and you can’t give me any specifics. But can you tell me if I should prepare his son for the worst or can we look forward to seeing him in a regular hospital room soon?” The nurse whispered into the receiver, “Don’t break any laws, but get here as soon as you possibly can. They are taking him off life support right now.

I obeyed all traffic laws and quickly drove to the hospital. I marched my son straight to the ICU room where his father lay with immediate family around the bed. No tubes. No IVs. No machines.

I stood in the doorway and looked to my ex-mother-in-law for permission to enter. She nodded and gestured for my son to enter the room. My seven year old son bravely, but hesitantly approached the bed where his father laid, gasping for air and still in a coma. He held his dad’s hand and said, “I love you, Daddy. I’ll see you in heaven someday. I’ll miss you.” There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. My son literally said goodbye as his father breathed his last breaths. I am so grateful that he will always have that moment to look back on and know that he was able to have closure.

Late that night, when we got home, my son asked if he could sleep in my bed with me. Of course! How could I refuse? I held him tightly as we wept together. When he finally spoke, he said, “I’m so afraid I’ll forget my dad! I’m so young. What if I lose all my memories of him?” I assured him that I would help him remember and we could talk about his dad any time he wanted. We hugged and cried together. I mourned for my son’s loss. I am so proud of how very brave he was that evening.

Several days later at the funeral, I had prepared a little eulogy. I knew I needed to get up in front of all the former family and friends. These were the people who had primarily only heard his side of the story over the years. I was nervous as walked to the podium. I could feel their eyes boring into me. I trembled as I took out the notes I’d prepared. Then I looked at my son’s big, brown eyes. This was why I was standing in front of a room full of people who were not my supporters. For my boy. He needed to hear these words. He needed to hear me honor his father’s memory.

The journey since that day has not been easy. Parenting a child through the loss of their other parent is the most difficult challenge I’ve ever faced. Knowing that my son will not have his father at his graduations, his wedding, or his children’s births is heartbreaking. Not having his father as he approaches adolescence is confusing. Walking my son through the stages of grief when I cannot possibly comprehend what he’s going through is overwhelming at times.

However, through it all, we have a faithful heavenly Father. We have had many opportunities to discuss the steadfast and immeasurable love of God. And while statements like, “God will be your Father,” feel less than helpful now, I hope that one day my son will comprehend how deep our Abba Father’s love is. Someday, he will look back and see that God’s love held him up through the most difficult and trying time of his young life.

As I reflect on that last week of my ex-husband’s life, I am overwhelmed by how clearly God was in control. From allowing me the opportunity to be alone in that hospital room to pray and make amends with my him, to pushing me to call and arrive at the hospital just in time for my son to say goodbye without traumatic machines present. In the midst of an unmanageable situation, God was in complete control. A moment which is filled with pain; God redeemed for hope, peace, and mercy. My son now lives without his earthly father, but he has comfort in the knowledge that his daddy is in heaven with God the Father.

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” 1 John 3:1a

Redemption, Pt. 1

It was mid-November when I received the frantic call from my former step daughter, “Daddy had a heart attack and he’s in ICU,” she said panicked. “You need to come to the hospital right away.”

Her father and I had been divorced for nearly 7 years. But we have a son together and had already walked through the years of divorce and custody related animosity to finally reach a point of mutual respect and co-parenting.

When I arrived at the hospital, I got a clearer picture of his health situation. My ex-husband had been sick for several weeks with some kind of flu virus, running a fever spiking to at least 105 degrees. No one knew exactly what it was because he had been too stubborn to go to the doctor.

A buddy of his had stopped by his home to check on him the evening before and discovered him in bed, unresponsive. The friend began CPR and called 911. The EMT’s were able to resuscitate him and transport him to the hospital where he was admitted to ICU. He was on life support, in a medically-induced coma. The nurses gave me a very grim prognosis. They had no way of knowing how long his brain had been without oxygen before the friend discovered him. So if he pulled through, he could be a vegetable for the remainder of his life. Moreover, they had no idea what his original illness was because they couldn’t ask him what symptoms he’d been experiencing. What they did know was that whatever infection had made him ill had gone systemic. It was attacking his blood and because of years of unhealthy choices and alcoholism, his liver and kidneys were not filtering the infection on their own.

I left our 8 year old son in the waiting room with his extended family so I could assess the situation for myself. I entered the room where the father of my son laid in a coma with tubes going in and out of his body, connected to machines that were breathing for him, feeding him, and medicating him. His mother stood at the foot of his bed in shock, tears streaming down her face. She kept touching his feet, hoping for a miracle as she helplessly watched machines breathe for her son. After a few moments, she said I needed some time alone with him and left me there with my ex-husband.

In those moments, I held his hand and spoke to him as though he was napping and could hear me just fine. I made amends for the years of hurt between us. I apologized for my part in the failure of our marriage. I knew this may be the last time I would get to speak my heart to him.

At that moment I felt an urgency in my heart to pray for him. He had never really believed in God and at times even poked fun at my faith, calling me a “Bible Thumper.” But I knew if ever there was a moment he needed Jesus, it was now. I spoke to him and said, “I know you can hear me and even though you can’t respond with words, I know your spirit can agree…”  Then I prayed the prayer of salvation and told him that if he confessed with his mouth and believed with his heart, he’d be saved. “The Bible says that even the rocks will cry out to praise God. So I know you can, too…”

Then he nodded.

He slowly nodded his comatose head right off the pillow!

I held his hand and wept tears of joy. That was the confirmation I needed to be assured that he had accepted Christ as his Savior. Through my tears, I reminisced with him about our son. I reminded him of the day our baby boy was born; and all the proud moments we shared as parents to our son.

Then I released him. I told him that if his body just couldn’t fight, that we would be okay. I would raise our son in a way that would make him proud. I would keep alive the happy memories for our boy. I assured him that we would see him in heaven one day if he chose to leave.

But if he wanted to stay on this planet, he better fight and fight hard. I let him know that being an invalid just to appease everyone else’s request for him to hang on would be unacceptable.  That’s not what he would’ve wanted either. It would be a complete recovery or none at all.

That may seem like an extreme ultimatum to make to a man in a coma. But I knew my ex-husband. In fact, I recall several conversations he and I had about his wishes should a situation like this arise. But he didn’t have a will. He was young. He thought he had all the time in the world.

I chose not to let my son see his father in this state. If this was his end, I didn’t want our boy’s last memory of his dad to be clouded by tubes, machines and helplessness.

I went home that night and told my son the beautiful story of how his daddy accepted Jesus into his heart. He was glad, but of course still saddened by the situation. He was confused. We all were. Why was this happening? Why his daddy? Why couldn’t he see him at the hospital?

“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1

I Can’t Do This

The last few weeks, I have been stressed to my gills. I quite literally have been feeling like a rhinoceros is sitting on my chest. The anxiety and pressure have been slowly building until finally, I called one of my dear friends, nearly in tears because I’ve been trying to hold it all together on my own.

I keep thinking that I can come up with a solution to this specific issue I’m having all on my own. I keep telling myself, I can do this. God gave me a brain and certain skills. I can fix this. By myself. And then I inevitably end up panicking, beating my head against the wall and having a mental meltdown. I get overwhelmed and freeze up. The fear and anxiety take over every thought until I’m obssessing over something truly small in the grand scheme of things.

Then, yesterday morning I was helping my 3 year old daughter get dressed for preschool. She was wearing pajamas which are slightly small and really quite due for donation. But she loves them and insists on wearing them anyway. She was struggling to get out of theses pajamas and ultimately tying herself up as though she was in a straight jacket. I offered to help, but she adamantly said she didn’t want help. A few more minutes of fighting and tangling herself up even more went by. Now she was frustrated nearly to the point of tears. Again, I offered to help saying, “You can’t do this by yourself. Let Mommy help you.”

“NO! I do it MYSELF!” she yelled at me. And then continued to struggle and fight the pajamas (which were clearly winning). Finally, she gave up, surrendered to my help and in less than 5 seconds, we had her safely out of the cumbersome pajamas. She had shed tears and sweat for no reason. I was right there and willing to help the whole time. But, dangit if she’s not the most stubborn, independent, and downright infuriating girl EVER!

Later, God whispered to my heart, “That’s what you look like right now.” BURN! All my freaking out, worrying, and attempts to “do it all myself” are as futile as my toddler struggling to take off pj’s that are too tight. I struggle and frustrate myself with worry and worst case scenarios for no reason. There’s an easy solution. But the solution requires me to surrender to God and say, “I can’t do this alone. Will you help me with this?”

The issue I face still exists. I don’t have the “happily ever after” yet. But I do know this: God can take care of it. Knowing that He is in control gives me so much peace. And when the worrying thoughts begin to creep up, I remind myself that I don’t know the answer yet, but God does and He’s working it out on my behalf. Until then, I will trust.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.” Proverbs :5-6

Love Me Tender

I was 6 weeks pregnant with my baby, lying in my bed, weeping. It wasn’t that soft cry you see in the movies with a single tear rolling down my cheek. No. This was a full-bodied, sobbing, ugly cry. The tension release of the years of abuse I’d endured. My 6 year old son slept soundly next to me as I broke down, crying out to God. This was my rock bottom.

We’d just escaped from our abuser a few weeks prior and as the dust settled, I crumbled. My husband at the time had verbally, spiritually, and physically beaten me down to the point that I didn’t think I was worth anything better than his torment. But the terrified look in my son’s eyes and the thought of bringing a daughter into that world was the jolt I needed to flee from his tyranny.

So there I lay in the spare bedroom of my gracious sister’s basement, asking God why. How could I be here? How would I have the strength to pull it together? Where do we go from here? But most of all, how was I so blind?! Who would want me now? I beat myself up with shame and guilt for the abuse that had not only hurt me, but my son and possibly my unborn baby as well. I was spiritually and emotionally broken.

I don’t know how long I shouted in my head and cried out to God. But when I finally quieted down, I felt His peace wash over me. The precious love He says I deserve that I’d never felt in human form before wrapped its arms around me. The most comforting embrace enveloped me. And I heard the faintest whisper: “Let me be your husband.”

That might sound like a strange statement to some. But I’d vaguely remembered hearing a scripture that referred to God as a husband. The next morning, I opened my Bible and found the scripture. As I read, God began to reveal to me that He offers perfect love. Only He could repair the intense damage that had been done. I saw that although He can’t fulfill the physical aspects of a husband like picking the kids up from school or physical intimacy, He could provide all the things I’d been lacking most. He would be my Provider, Comforter and Healer. He promised to be my ever present help in times of need.

For the following months and years, God has taken me on a journey of love and intimacy with Him. He began to awaken my heart. Is it the same as having a flesh and blood husband? Absolutely not! Do I still feel the pangs of singledom from time to time? Of course! It’s a faith journey. But every once in a while, when I need it the most, I can feel His tender love embrace me and I know I am His beloved. And He is mine.

“For your Creator will be your Husband; the LORD of Heaven’s Armies is His name! He is your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the God of all the earth.” -Isaiah 54:5