Dealing with Tragic Loss

“All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming”—Helen Keller.

If you’re struggling with betrayal, abuse, or the loss of your spouse for any reason, you may be dreading the holidays rather than looking forward to them. Thanksgiving is just past, but we’re facing a month of holiday cheer that will be choked with tears for many lonely and hurting people, and if your heart is broken right now, I’d like to recommend He Left God Stayed. Annalee’s book records her journey from the devastation of being abandoned after twenty years of marriage to finding her way through the pain to wholeness . . . over the course of nearly twenty years, learning to lean on the everlasting arms of her Lord and God.

At first I read the book on the recommendation of a girlfriend who’s had a similar experience on the theory that it might be inspirational for any of my readers who are living through heartbreak, but I quickly realized this book is full of rich insights for all of us. Each chapter begins with some of her story but ends with “insights to grow by” and a prayer. I am not a fiction reader, but Annalee’s book became as fascinating to me as the page-turner mysteries that so engage my husband!

By the time I finished, I had been challenged in many areas personally, especially in reflecting on my own life, learning more about forgiveness, growing in submission to God, and desiring to be more compassionate as a Church toward those who’ve been abandoned. I’m not charismatic, but I appreciated reading about Annalee’s experiences. Her faith is sincere and her walk with God in many ways very like my own. Besides all that, I’ve ended up with three new books to read, based on insights she’s gleaned from them. It reminds me of the good ole days of grad school when every worthwhile research paper needed to end up providing new leads for further study!

To bless you with some bits of wisdom from her book, and possibly to whet your appetite for more, let me share a few favorite quotes:

“He [God] wanted to heal me and replace the anger with forgiveness, the fear with peace, and the shame with joy.”

“I needed to mature and respond, rather than react, to life’s circumstances. Learning to walk the road to wholeness was scary—it felt so unfamiliar.”

“The Holy Spirit wants to reveal the hidden things in our lives that keep us from being free to love and serve God with our whole being.”

“Praise is more spontaneous when things go right; but it is more precious when things go wrong” (—Author unknown).

“Praise was an important key to finding the life I’d longed for—a life free of fear, anger and shame.”

“When we are broken, we have to make a choice. Our way, or God’s way. We can turn our back on Him, or surrender everything to Him.”

“Brokenness is not the opposite of wholeness; it is the continuing precondition for it” (—Roberta Hestenes, quoted on p. 89).

“Forgiveness is not an option for a follower of Jesus Christ. If we fail to forgive, it affects our relationship with God and interferes with our spiritual growth . . . Forgiveness is for us. It’s to help us move forward and choose to live instead of staying stuck in the past with all of its pain.”

“Don’t be afraid of the future. God is already there” (—Bill Gothard).

“If you do God’s work, God’s way, God will provide” (—James Hudson Taylor).

“You have as much right to believe what you believe, as others have to believe what they believe” (Annalee’s mother).

“It’s everybody’s business if you sin. When you’re tempted to sin, ask yourself what it will cost you. . . It is your family’s business if you sin . . . It’s the church’s business . . . it’s the world’s business” (—Dr. Crabtree, speaking at Annalee’s ordination). He also said, “Allow God to interrupt your agenda with glorious surprises.”

From one of her prayers: “Help us to forgive those who have done evil acts against us and forgive those who weren’t able to protect us. Reveal to us those whom we need to forgive. We release anything from our past that would delay the bright future You have planned for us. Please give us the grace to walk in your ways and the courage to move forward in life.”

“My life was fuller than it would have been without the suffering . . . I had become what God intended for me to become. Instead of merely surviving, I had thrived. And so can you.”

“For your Maker is your Husband—the Lord Almighty is his name—the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth” (—Isaiah 54:5).

P.S. —He Left God Stayed is available on Amazon, but Annalee will send it to you at a discount if you contact here personally between now and December 8 at: rev.annalee.davis@gmail.com

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (59): Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God

Today is December 1—the first day of Advent Season, and as we look forward to celebrating the birth of Christ on December 25th, I couldn’t help but think how perfect it is that this is also the week to meditate on Jesus’s instruction in Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

This has been my son Michael’s life verse, and I think he’s been living it out beautifully, but today I want to share about my dear friend, Sara, who’s been living it out for even many decades longer.

Last Sunday, I flew to Madison, WI to attend a surprise 70th birthday party for Sara. We all parked away from their home so that no cars could be seen.

As we awaited expectantly for her arrival to what she had been told would be a brunch after church with two other couples, we all wondered if she would actually be surprised, since over 60 people were involved. Was it possible that anybody had inadvertently said anything that might tip her off?

In fact, she was completely surprised, and the proof of it was that she’d been very frustrated with her husband, who had hurried her out of church before she’d had a chance to finish meeting the needs she sensed around here there. This is so Sara—always thinking of others and seeking His kingdom before her own pleasure!

Sara wept for joy as she hugged each of her children and grand children, her brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews, cousins and precious friends.

I think there were nearly thirty of us who met her at the door! Talk about overwhelmed with happiness!

The venue was amazing! The hosting family who opened their home for the celebration live in a gorgeous estate that looks like a resort lodge! The decorations were simply beautiful! As I helped lay out the last of the silverware on the linen table cloths (after hours of work by friends the previous day), it occurred to me that everything was as elegant as a wedding!

Sara’s daughter had been the mastermind, working in conjunction with Sara’s husband, assisted by several other family members and several couples who were friends, some for 30 years!

The Mediterranean cuisine and beautiful cakes were provided by fantastic caterers. It was amazing!

And then, after enjoying a sumptuous feast with her family, a second wave of about thirty more friends arrived to surprise her!

It seemed magical, like a happily-ever-after fairy tale. There was even a game to make everybody laugh and learn more about Sara! But, what I loved the very most was the final surprise. Her daughter, Jessica, had invited all of us to share something to bless her. It was like a fireworks of well deserved praises.

So many people had memories of her untold kindnesses to others over the years that the tap gushing gratefulness finally had to be turned off so there would be a little time to watch a video and end with a time of praying blessings over Sara.

I was one of the “lucky” (blessed) out-of-towners who had the privilege of spending the night with Sara and James afterward, and the afterglow lasted well into the night. In fact, Sara had trouble sleeping, she was so happy!

Sara’s life has not been easy. In fact, in some ways it’s been very challenging. But her life has been wonderfully blessed, and I know (because I’ve know her for fifty years) that it’s because she has always sought to love the Lord with all her heart and to love everyone around her with the love of Christ. She has chosen over and over and over again to seek God’s kingdom first and put the needs of others ahead of her own, and God truly has added everything and more than she’s ever needed.

Yes, there were times when their cupboards were pretty empty, but through the lean times, Sara hungered even more for the Bread of Life and thirsted most of all for the Water of Life. She’s spent her three-score and ten years choosing to serve God over material security. Nevertheless, God has supplied all her needs, spiritually and physically.

To me, Sara is a living example of someone who has lived out this command—to seek God first—and has received the promise: God’s abundant provision for her. God loves us, and He will take care of us if we are willing to obey Him!

So, as we begin this first day of Advent and look forward to celebrating the birth of Christ on Christmas, I hope you are inspired and encouraged by the example of Sara (as I am!) to seek God’s kingdom first, knowing He will supply our needs too!

I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread” (Psalm 37:25).

Texts for today’s meditation: Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” This is also repeated in Luke 12:31, “But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

This Is the Day I Became Thankful for Tim Tebow

Speaking of giving up our doubts and letting go of our lives to serve God—I was blown away by the inspiring ideas and example of Tim Tebow, which he shares in his latest book, This is the Day.

Maybe you’ve heard about Tim Tebow for the past 15 years, but I literally knew nothing about him until my son (who’s in Christian publishing) mentioned that he’d written a really popular best seller. Since I love biographies, I was immediately intrigued, and when I discovered it was available on Scribd, I couldn’t resist. So, on a recent trip, I listened to This Is the Day: Reclaim Your Dream. Ignite Your Passion. Live Your Purpose.

Before sharing some inspirational insights from his book, let me tell you a few amazing stories about his birth and childhood. Tim was the youngest of five children, born of American parents but in the Philippines, where his parents were missionaries. Tim’s mother contracted dysentery and fell into a coma before she knew she was pregnant, and the medicines used to help her survive caused a placental abruption. The doctors feared a stillbirth so recommended an abortion, but Tim’s parents refused, and today they have a very unique, superstar-healthy son!

As a Christian mother who home schooled all seven of my kids, I was particularly interested to note that the Tebows home schooled all their children too. Among the many unusual honors Tim has received, Tim was the first home-schooled athlete to be nominated for the Heisman Trophy. He also managed to play the entire second half of a game with a broken fibula, which included one play where he rushed for a 29-yard touchdown! That year, he was named Florida’s Player of the Year! Tim Tebow has a string of athletic honors too long to list. To name a few, he is the only three-time recipient of the Gators’ most valuable player award. By the end of his college career, Tebow held 5 NCAA, 14 SEC, and 28 University of Florida statistical records!

Since then, he’s played five years of professional football, started a career in broadcasting, and is now pursuing a career in professional baseball. Even more astounding than his athletic prowess (at least, to me) is his unflinching faith in God and his incredible life of loving others for the sake of Christ through his Tebow Foundation. Tim seems to have unbounded energy for such ministries as visiting men in prisons and his “Night to Shine” program: “An unforgettable prom night experience, centered on God’s love, for people with special needs ages 14 and older.”

I could go on and on, but you get the picture! What’s not to love about someone with a heart of gold, a body of steel, and a will of iron to love Christ and make His love known by serving others?

At any rate, the book was a total “upper” for me from start to finish. If you need a lift or a little bit of inspiration to “reclaim your dream, ignite your passion, and live your purpose,” think about reading This is the Day!

Bits and Pieces of Wisdom from “Timmy” (which is what his family and close friends call him):

“YODO” You Only Die Once: Motto of Sarah, who was terminally ill and wheel-chair bound but somehow managed to go to the Night to Shine prom and dance on her own two feet before dying the next day!

Don’t just show up for the party; be present during the process.

God can take us from the bottom of the barrel to the top of the sky!

Ask God what he wants and be willing to dream God-sized dreams.

Don’t “numb out” on media all the time, or you’ll miss the real world and all the good God has in store for you.

It’s all in the process: Wake up, work hard, and get better!

Don’t let your past define you, but learn from it.

“Clear your mechanism:” Stop. Breathe. Pray. Focus on the present.

“Only a life lived for others is a life worth living” (quoting Albert Einstein).

Transcend the journey: Choose to believe in God and that God can make even our darkest days into light.

“Flip the Script:” Instead of thinking in terms of negative “what ifs,” turn them around into positives to move forward.

“Confidence is Key:” If you’re feeling disenfranchised, go back to the Well (God and his Word).

Remember your title: “Child of God.” He loves us! This can give us the confidence we need to reach out to others with the hope we have.

Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God; And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:22-24).

(*All photos found on-line via a google search, most from Wiki Commons or official photos of Tim Tebow.)

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (58): Give Up Your Doubts!

This has been a really difficult week. The father-in-law of one of my sons “died”—from our perspective here on earth, although I am confident that he has been safely birthed into heaven. As Tony said before he left, “I know where I’m going, and I know God does all things well. It’s just hard to get from here to there.” He is now there! How do I know? Because he believed: “I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:8-11). Tony found and walked the path of life, and now he is experiencing the fullness of joy and eternal pleasures of heaven.

Do you believe in heaven? Probably the most profound questions every person ponders while battling earth’s final headmaster go something like this: “Is there an afterlife? If there is, what’s it like? What will happen to me after I die?” Each of us has to grapple with these enigmas for ourselves. Atheists say there simply is no afterlife, but I’ve heard there are no atheists in foxholes, and I think the contractions we feel as the womb of death seeks to expel us must be more terrifying than any other experience on earth.

I don’t know what you believe about life after death, but may I share with you what the Bible teaches in case you don’t know or haven’t yet decided what to believe? Jesus taught that there is life after death, and that He, Himself, is the way to get to heaven after we die: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (John 11:25-26).

So simple, but not easy for adults who have spent their lives trying to be good and find their own way, often without even recognizing their need for a Savior. God gave us the Mosaic Law to test us, and without exception, we all fail. We are incapable of being perfect, of always making the right choices, or of always wanting to be good! Jesus came to earth as God incarnate (“in the flesh,” as a man), lived a sinless life, and died in our place as the perfect Lamb-of-God sacrifice. We don’t have to spend our lives trying to be good enough. We’ll never be “good enough,” but Jesus was. All God asks is that we acknowledge our sinfulness and accept Jesus as our Lord (“master”) and Savior, asking Him to make us new (“born again”—reborn spiritually as a child of God).

Where are you on your journey of faith? Do you believe in God? Do you believe in Jesus? Is it possible that you don’t want anybody becoming your “master” or telling you what to do? But, do you want to go to heaven? If so, please don’t doubt the goodness and love of God! Jesus won’t make you miserable if you surrender your heart to Him. He loves you! He wants you to live a holy (which will make you happy) life here on earth and live forever in heaven with Him.

Have you asked Jesus to become your Savior and Lord, and to bring you safely home to heaven when you die? Jesus wants us to stop worrying about this life—even the most basic aspects of how to provide for ourselves, like food and drink. Jesus invites us to accept his invitation and become part of his “bride,” his Church. Just as a man cares for his wife, Jesus will care for us if we’re willing to entrust our lives fully to him.

Are you still doubtful? Afraid? Too proud to open your eyes and see Love staring you in the face? Death will indeed search for and destroy our bodies, but even the final headmaster has a Master. . . the God of Love who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. If you’re not yet a believer, I beg you to give up your doubts and believe! If you are a believer—well, let’s encourage one another. Let’s not “be ye of doubtful mind” about anything. As we keep our hand in His, Jesus will take care of us, even on our deathbeds. He will provide for us, so that even though it’s the hardest thing on earth to get from here to there, we can have every confidence that we’ll be safely birthed from this life to the next!

Text for today’s meditation: Luke 12:23, “And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.”

(Photo credit: “Come Follow Me” was painted by Yongsung and used by permission of http://Havenlight.com)

One Hindu Who Now Worships Just One God

Psalm 40:2 – “He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.”

I have a dear friend from India who was baptized just a few weeks ago at our church. She has changed from heartbroken to radiant and full of joy . . . that remarkable difference that only Jesus can make in us as we surrender our lives to his love and care! I asked if I could share her story with you, and she has kindly given me permission. Thank you, Neha! I know God will continue his work of amazing grace in your life!!

“I was born in India as a Hindu and studied in Catholic School. Being a girl, I was not worthy of my parent’s love and felt rejected. My younger brother used to beat me. Throughout my life, I always felt like a “burden” or “shame” for my parents. My Grand Father was the only person who loved me and showed me how to have relationship with God. When I was 15, I met a boy and I thought I met my Prince Charming. I fell in love and married him at age 25.  But my dreams were crushed during the wedding itself. I was a slave for him and my in-laws. It was a very abusive marriage, and I was not worthy of his love or faithfulness. Over the course of time, we moved to America and God gifted me with two beautiful daughters. However, in fall of 2017, I was rejected again, when he announced our divorce. Since I didn’t have citizenship, this would likely lead me to being forced back to India without my daughters.  I was in a very dark place.

“Through my work, I reached out for help and found a Care Partner, Jay, who provided me with wisdom in my situation. When I met him, I felt, I met the Lord. He gave me the first Bible. He also connected me to a female care partner.  Jesus started his work in me, by first showing light of truth.

“I had to leave my job, I struggled for basic survival, and I had to fight to be with my girls. I was so scared that one morning I woke up and could not get out of my bed. I called so many friends, but no one responded, other than the female care partner. She came to my house and wanted me to start coming to church. I replied, “Yes, I should start going to temple.” It took her three times, and then finally she said, “You cannot find Jesus in the temple, you can find him only in Church.” That Sunday, I went to Calvary Church and was deeply touched with preaching of Pastor Samra. It was then I realized that he is Lisa’ husband, the lady who brought me to Church.  Since that day, I never went back to the Hindu temple and I started coming to Calvary Church on regular basis. For nine months, I sat with Samras. In the beginning, the Bible was difficult to understand. Lisa would even open the page in the Bible and would spend time in explaining the basics. 

“Jesus surrounded me with his army of angels through His Churches and people. Ada Bible Church connected me to Debbie Jo and Henry, who are my spiritual parents now.  Several other families embraced me and my girls with unconditional love and acceptance. My counselor, the divorce care group and Safe Haven Ministries helped me to heal. Calvary Church provided us with food and financially supported us. After three months, Jesus provided me with a perfect job, which sponsored my visa so that I could stay in the country.  Around 100 Christians from various churches came to help us. I even found an Indian Christian group in Grand Rapids.

“In spite of wonderful things Jesus did in my life, I was still holding on to Hindu idols until one day when I went to the prayer room and prayed with one of my friends, Bonnie Jean. That day, I finally gave up all the Hindus idols.

“Jesus continued his work, and gifted us with a beautiful house and sent his people at Calvary to help me move. I could hear the call for baptism.  However, I asked Jesus for one more miracle – to let my girls come to church. Jesus listened to our prayers and He finally made ways that my girls can come to church through my attorney, who is a Christian, and now my girls LOVE Jesus too. So here I am fulfilling my promise to share my story and be baptized in response to Jesus’ love and faithfulness to me.

“Jesus is the truth, He is faithful, and He loves us all unconditionally.”  

A Look into the Life and Legacy of J.R.R.Tolkien

The greatest adventure is what lies ahead.
Today and tomorrow are yet to be said.
The chances, the changes are all yours to make.
The mold of your life is in your hands to break.

“The Father of Modern Fantasy,” John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (BBC News)

Today, nobody stumbles over the name “Tolkien” in the English-speaking world, but back in 1962, when I was in junior high, it was all news to me! The Lord of the Rings was just becoming popular in America, and one of my closest friends, Danny Green, kept me fascinated as he reported day by day what he’d read about the little Hobbit who had to leave his cozy home and go adventuring to save Middle Earth. Since those days, Tolkien’s series has ranked as one of the most popular fiction works of the twentieth century!

Fifty-five years later, I’ve still not read Tolkien’s fantasy books for myself, but I was delighted to watch the recently released movie, Tolkien, based on the youth and formative years of this brilliant and dedicated scholar!

There is so much I didn’t know about Tolkien, and almost everything I learned has made me admire him more than ever! Tolkien lived in Britain and was orphaned at a young age. He was among those who had to make his way in the world through sheer grit . . . for Tolkien—hard work, wisdom, and unending, passionate drive.

At a young age, he fell in love with another orphan, and the movie records their very sweet relationship. (Although, as in all good romances, there were many challenges, twists, and uncertainties.)

Because of his brilliance as a student and the care of the Catholic priest who was his guardian, Tolkien was eventually allowed to attend Oxford, where he succeeded in becoming fast friends with several of his classmates. (This was no easy feat, either! My father, who attended Harvard for graduate school—also in philology—as a young man during the Great Depression, found it very difficult trying to fit in with the wealthy elite without the trappings of material privilege.)

Perhaps the most difficult part of Tolkien’s journey was his military service during World War 1. The movie is PG-13, so the war scenes—though terrifying and disheartening—are not about the gore but rather to give us a feel for the intense suffering and emotional trauma that all soldiers experienced.

Did he survive the war? Did he get to marry the girl of his dreams? Did he get to finish his studies? When and how did he become so famous? All great questions, and most of them were answered in this wonderful depiction of his life!

The very best aspect of the movie (for me) was the goodness of Tolkien’s character throughout (in stark contrast to most stories you hear about the “bright young things” of his era). Sometimes people are so bright and shiny with goodness that it just makes you wonder why, so I studied more of his life from Wikipedia. There I discovered the reason: He had a “deeply religious spirit.” As Tolkien explained: “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.”

Sign in the Eagle and Child Restaurant, Oxford

Ah, ha! Yes, I did know of the connection between Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, and the good spiritual influence Tolkien had been on Lewis, helping him come to faith. It was C.S. Lewis who later wrote Mere Christianity . . . the book that influenced both my mother and my dear aunt, “Lant Henna,” to believe in Christ many years hence!

Alan and I even made a bit of a “pilgrimage” to Oxford’s Eagle and Child (pub/restaurant where their literary group, The Inklings, met) with two of our sons (one of whom is now an editor and aspiring writer himself). So, we have a very personal experience of being inspired and edified by the works of both J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

So, thank you Tolkien, and thank you to those of you who gifted us with this great movie! I hope many people see it and find the story uplifting and encouraging!

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works,
and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Until Forever

“Live Until You Die!”

That’s the message of this incredibly inspiring true love story called Until Forever (2016 version), which is based on the lives of Michael and Michelle Boyum and their enduring love as teenagers and young adults dealing with Michael’s diagnosis of leukemia.

If I didn’t know someone with a similarly buoyant spirit, it would be hard to imagine anybody as sweet, faith-filled, and steady as this young man, but in reality, I know Tom F., who has also been through the wringer with leukemia and is every bit as kind and outreaching, so I know a few of these treasures exist!

Like my friend Tom, Michael always had the needs of others at the forefront of his thinking, and even during his hospital stays, he was busy reaching out to others with encouragement and the love of Jesus!

Jamie Anderson as Matt Boyum

Until Forever doesn’t shy away from the painful realities of how a cancer diagnosis effects everyone who loves the patient. In Michael’s case, his younger brother was severely effected,

Joel Jacobsen as Ben

as were many friends from his church family. (I loved the inclusion of this sweet young man!)

Madison Lawlor as Michelle Larson

Equally miraculous to Michael’s radiant spirit was the response of Michael’s girlfriend, Michelle, who refused to give up and stood by his side despite all the pain, insecurities, and sufferings that Michael endured. (Tom’s wife, Lynnie, is actually just as beautiful and wonderful as Michelle is, as depicted in the movie, so I have no trouble believing such devotion and faith exist!)

Here is a photo of the “real” Michael and Michelle (shown in the final credits of the movie). I truly believe only God can produce a love like theirs!

Well, I don’t want to ruin the story by telling you everything, but it’s one of the most moving movies I’ve seen in a long time, full of faith in the midst of fear

and triumph in the midst of tragedy.

If you are struggling with fear and tragedy, please take the time to watch this movie! It is possible to experience hope and peace in the midst of any illness.

For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4).

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:1-5, ESV).