Journeys of the Heart

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

TRUST YOUR MIRRORS: Reflections of God in Recovery


The rent-a-truck dude handed me the keys to a rather large truck, and my sister hopped in beside me.  I instinctively reached to adjust my rear-view mirror, and oops—there wasn't one. Moving vans don't have rear-view mirrors, because they would be totally useless anyway.




Maybe there is a lesson in there somewhere. I know I have spent way too much time looking back on my life, beating myself up for things that are over and done with. Hmmm, maybe that's why they call them moving vans. You have to move forward.

We were moving furniture for our elderly mother, who is downsizing. Along with the truck I had three nephews with young backs. But I wasn't used to driving a truck with no rear-view mirror.

What the truck did have were really useful side-view mirrors. Each mirror has two images, one tracks more distant objects, and the other affords a closer view at a slightly different angle. The idea is to use both images to navigate safely.

But, when I had to glance behind me to change lanes, I wasn't looking directly at the traffic. I was only looking at a reflection of the traffic. I had to trust these mirrors.




God works a lot like that. We don't get to look directly at Him. We have to look for things that reflect His glory.

The Bible is His best reflection. The inspired words are a how-to manual on life. Everything from how to raise your kids, manage your money, and forgive others is covered. 

The problem is I want to stick my head out the window and see for myself. But if I do that I don't have my eyes on the road, and I might crash.


Jeremiah 17:7 


“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him."

The rooms of recovery are another great reflection of God's glory. When I'm feeling utterly devastated and alone, someone else magically expresses my deepest thoughts. Then, they get me to laugh at myself, as only someone in a similar situation can do. 




Bouncing ideas off of fellow believers is another way to have God's guidance reflect back to me. That is like glancing in the smaller mirror that reflects the tighter, more intimate angle.

This is especially true when I have to back up. My sister, Maureen, had to get out of the truck and signal to me so I didn't ram Mom's garage door. At times we all get to those places where we have to reverse directions. We need a friend or a Bible passage to get us outside of ourselves and provide a new perspective.

Then there are those people or unexpected events that cut us off. I was merging onto a highway and an impatient woman decided she just had to cut in front of me because she might have to reach the adjacent shopping center 5 seconds later than she had hoped. 




Since I literally had nowhere to go, those mirrors became my lifeline. The brakes and the horn were extremely useful as well.

We arrived safely at our destination. Prior to our trip, we had taken a searching and fearless inventory of Mom's furniture so we knew what we were keeping and what we were getting rid of. We had 12 stepped mom's house.

I wouldn't have gotten very far without my mirrors.

James 1: 23-24:  "Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like."

How is God reflected in your mirrors? Comment below, and I will share them in a future blog. 

From the comments, I will randomly select one winner to receive a free copy of one of my books!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

3 REASONS TO TEACH THE BIBLE TO CHILDREN


Eight-year-old Rico sat in a chair with tears running down his cheeks. He had just shared his prayer request at the Vacation Bible School where I am teaching. "My Dad goes to the gas station every day and buys drugs from a man. He promised me he would stop. He even pinky sweared."



Reason #1: Today, more than ever, children need to hear a message of hope.

With the huge family burdens that many children carry, it is not surprising that they act out and have trouble in school. After more than 30 years in the classroom, I have seen the steady decline. They are losing hope, and they feel like they must fend for themselves.

Rico's story is not unusual. But he is more fortunate than many. He is spending his summer learning about God's love, and the power of prayer. 

Jeremiah 29:11

"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Rico has heard the story of Paul, who used to be a bad guy when he was Saul. We studied the story of Zacchaeus who was once a greedy man. He has also learned about the thief on the cross who asked Jesus to forgive him. This summer the children have heard true stories of the saving power of Jesus Christ. Rico is learning to place his hope in the divine.

Reason #2: Children need a sense of identity.

Charity's dad is struggling with drugs, and her mom has disappeared. Currently, Charity lives with her grandmother, but she has been back and forth numerous times. Without a stable home life, Charity struggles with her identity.

 She is intelligent, engaging, and has a wonderful sense of humor. She is one of those kids I can engage in light-hearted banter that goes over the heads of others. This summer I have had the privilege of teaching Charity that she is a child of God. While her family dynamics change, her identity in Christ is unshakable. 

"But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,"

How many Charity's find their identity in social media, gangs, and TV? Without sound, biblical teaching, the kids are going to look elsewhere.




Reason #3: The Bible teaches coping skills.

One day in class we were discussing how the Bible teaches us to be slow to anger. Jacquin, who had been removed from a game earlier for poor sportsmanship, smiled sheepishly, "Yeah, I got to learn to do that."  We were able to discuss his behavior calmly, and I complimented him for his insight.

As Christians, we know that the Bible has a lesson or a story for just about every problem imaginable. But, are we intentionally and purposefully exposing our children to these applications?

It is easier than you might think. There are numerous resources just a few clicks away. Here is one with free materials: Truth for KidsJoin a bible teaching church, and invest in discussion time with your children.

Here is a resource for Christian teens: Christianbook.com.

We plan our meals, our budget, our vacations. We need to plan biblical life lessons for our children as well.


What has worked for you? Share it with us.




Sunday, July 15, 2018

THE REAL VICTIMS IN NICARAGUA ARE THE CHILDREN

Little Ivy lives in Nicaragua. Without money for shoes, supplies, or a uniform, she and her single mom were resigned to the fact that attending school was beyond their reach.


Ivy




That was until Nancy and Unto Me International came along. Unto Me International is a child sponsorship program that helps struggling children and their families in Nicaragua.

In addition to providing school supplies Unto Me International has feeding, construction, and scholarship programs. They repair or build new homes for the children's families who live in crumbling homes with leaky roofs.




As the children age, they have the opportunity to participate in the ministry's Frontline Program. They learn English, study the Bible, and mentor the younger children. If they complete the requirements they are eligible for college scholarships.


Children at Unto Me International's ministry center in San Benito, Nicaragua.


So when John Smoak, the founder of Unto Me International, came to our church one evening our community listened. He brought photos of children who needed sponsors. "When I saw Ivy's picture I fell in love," Nancy says. Nancy has been to Nicaragua twice to visit and to provide missionary support.

During Nancy's last visit, Ivy, who is shy, sweet, and all girl, showed up at the ministry's VBS(Vacation Bible School) dressed in a Cinderella outfit. "She a little fashionista," Nancy smiles. "But her dress-up clothes are very limited. Ivy's room is bare and simple with a bed, a chair, and a dirt floor." 


Nancy hugs Ivy during her mission trip in 2017


Nancy also met Catherine, a Frontline success story who is now in medical school. Samantha, who is studying business administration, also grew up in the program and she hopes to help run the ministry some day. "Unto Me International is sharing the love of Jesus and building a future in Nicaragua." Nancy shares.

For more information click here.

I was supposed to visit Nicaragua this week. Along with Nancy, John, and a small group of missionaries we had planned to bring gifts and do some much-needed construction, painting, and evangelism. But political unrest in the country has postponed our trip for now. As violence rages in the streets, as usual, it is the children who suffer.

When I asked Nancy to share her most vivid impressions she had two: "I'll never forget our visit to the dump. Families were living all around it, and I was shocked by the intensity of the poverty. They were picking through it daily for food and whatever supplies they could find."




Her favorite memory was a salvation moment: "There was this young man who turned his life over to Jesus. His mom was listening in the background while we were speaking to him and to his little girl. First, the girl wanted to follow Jesus, then when he also made the decision, the mom burst into tears. She said that she had been praying for him for years.  It was such a blessing to be part of it."

I wanted so much to be a part of it this week. I was to bring gifts for 3 children who are being sponsored by community groups at our church. I was eager to be part of a program that doesn't merely give gifts and temporary help, but one that empowers the young Christian leaders of tomorrow.

Galatians 6:2 


Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Now, with all of the political unrest in the country, I wonder how Unto Me International will fare. Will the children be okay? Will they get fed and get to school?

All I can do is pray. I hope you do too.

Have you been on a mission trip? I would love to hear about it.





Saturday, June 30, 2018

REMEMBERING JAMAICAN SOCK WARS

Crouching behind the sofa, I was ready with my arsenal of socks piled in front of me. Suddenly, I leaped up, a rolled pair of socks in my hand, and hurled it towards my 12-year old son, Jarrod, yelling in my best Jamaican accent, "I'll get you, mon!" But I was too slow—a sock ball pelted my cheek, and Jarrod laughed, "No mon, Mom, I got you!"


Like the Jamaican bobsledders, we were warm weather residents doing our own version of a winter sport. Ours was a Florida style snowball fight.

Crawling behind furniture and jumping up like giant whack-a-moles we hurled socks furiously at each other, pausing only to catch our breath and collect our spent ammo for the next round. I always managed to come up on the losing end, but I felt like a winning parent when we'd both end up on the floor laughing. A silly mom and an ADHD son make a wonderful match.

 When our family dealt with separation and addiction, it was hard for our youngest, Jarrod. We released our tension with Jamaican sock wars. I think it started one day when we had watched Cool Runnings and I was doing laundry. And it became a thing, just for my son and me.

I miss you, Jarrod.

It was three years ago on the fourth of July when you had your accident.

While everyone else is watching fireworks this week I'll be avoiding them. They remind me of that night I sat by your bedside. I could see the fireworks from your hospital room. While others celebrated we watched a machine breathe for you. You never woke up.


You always made fireworks in my heart, Jarrod. You were full of action, and energy, and colorful comments. I'm so glad that I got to be your mom. And I'm happy that you are with your brother, catching up on the years you lost.

 I can only wonder about the color and the beauty you see before you in heaven.



While everyone else is watching fireworks I'll smile and cry, and I'll remember our Jamaican sock wars. And I'll think about heaven, where every day is the fourth of July.

 10 And ahe carried me away in the Spirit to ba great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 chaving the glory of God, dits radiance elike a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12    Rev: 21:10-12








Sunday, June 10, 2018

RUNNING DOWN MEMORY LANE



Many years have passed; the trees have matured into a canopy, but the houses look much the same. I'm jogging in the neighborhood where I grew up, running down memory lane.




I moved away 40 years ago, but my childhood lives forever inside of me, and now it smiles out towards these familiar streets. 

I'm jogging past the street where I was always dashing for the bus with my brothers. Me, out of breath, and the two of them with their clip-on ties askew. I can still hear our metal lunch boxes banging against our legs, Batman and Robin propelling us forward.

Now I'm running past our friend, Jean's, house where Jean, my sister, and I practiced gymnastics on the lawn. Once when Jean grabbed her ankles and rolled backwards onto her face we laughed until tears streamed down our cheeks. 

Up the hill to the very same spot where my eight-year-old self and my brother, Tim, paused with our red wagon full of lemonade, ready to set up our stand. But Eddie the bully cornered us, hawked and spat, ruining our supply.

I see the house where I picked up the newspapers that I delivered every day after school, braving thunderstorms in the summer, and snowballs in the winter.  Every Friday I'd collect the money—90 cents a week. I was happy when they gave me a dollar and said, "Keep the change."




Then I pause to catch my breath. I'm in front of the house where I grew up. Fresh paint, a few trees cut down, but the face is the same. Colonial and content, embracing its current generation. I've heard that it's remodeled inside, but I'm not sure I want to see.

I want to remember it the way it was— with our dog, Heidi's, toenails tapping the kitchen floor, and the smell of Dad's pipe. Sunday morning brought the aroma of bacon and the sounds of Irish music playing.




We built forts in the basement and crawled in and out of them until our knees were black and blue. A few years later, I retreated back to the basement to talk to my boyfriend on the teen phone. We decorated our rooms with The Beatles and Peter Max.

 My oldest child, Erin, got to unwrap Christmas presents in that house.

Across the street is the Zink's house where we played kick the can, hide and seek, and let's see who can jump off the garage roof and land in the sandbox. I gaze at the driveway where Mark dragged a huge snapping turtle out of the woods. We dashed over to see it, then screamed and ran away when it hissed and snapped.

I jog past my best friend, Betsy's, house. We made magic there. Our dolls became real and they flew around the world, solving crimes and dancing with movie stars. We put on plays in her garage and spied on her big sister and her boyfriend.

 We were gone for hours and our parents didn't have to worry.

When it was time for dinner Dad stood on the front step, pursed his lips, and trilled his sailor whistle. Every kid in the neighborhood knew that call and would tell us if we didn't hear it first.




How blessed we were to be a loving family that grew up in a safe neighborhood, part village, part playground.

When I think of the many twists and turns that my life has taken since then, I am grateful that my tender years were spent on these streets. Here I learned to follow rules, take turns, laugh at myself, make friends, deal with disappointment, and play ball.

I reflect upon this as I finish my run down memory lane. My hope is that the woman whom I have become will be a light for others. 


Matthew 5:14:"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;"

In my teaching career I sometimes dealt with parents or children who were raised on mean and dangerous streets. Abuse and fear lived in their homes. Some of my students grew up much too quickly. I have learned to be patient with wounded souls.

The same is true of some of the women that I have sponsored in the rooms of recovery. They lack the benefit of a joyful youth. They never had a chance to play. Unlike me, their trials were front-loaded into their formative years.

 Does that describe you? If your childhood was a broken and barren place I want you to know that Jesus loves you too. We will never know all of the answers in this life, but it helps to remember that Jesus left his perfect neighborhood to spend 33 years in ours. He did this so our suffering could become temporary.

To read an article about what the bible says about faith and adversity click here: Ernest Angley Ministries

 I have endured great tragedy since those innocent childhood days, but I know that God still loves me and has prepared a place for me. When I visit the old neighborhood a few times a year I can reminisce about gentler days. More importantly, I look ahead to that heavenly neighborhood that we will all share one day—the one with streets paved with gold.

John 16:33 New International Version (NIV)


33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

How about you? What kind of neighborhood did you grow up in? Is it a place that blessed you, or was it something that you've had to overcome? Post below and tell me about it.



Friday, May 25, 2018

3 CHRISTIAN RESPONSES TO THE SCHOOL SHOOTINGS

Last Saturday morning,  like millions of others, I tuned into the royal wedding. The pomp and glitter were like candy for my brain. I fantasized for a few minutes, then commented dryly to my husband in my best British accent, "Well, love, looks like our invitation got lost in the mail."



After satisfying my American curiosity for all things monarchical I returned to the guide, and the Texas School Shooting headline snapped me back into reality. With a flick of the remote I had gone from one extreme to the other.

This time my horror was tempered with weariness, and sadly, less shock than the last school shooting in Parkland. Am I becoming more desensitized to all of the violence in our country? Maybe, but I also feel a growing sense of urgency.

Accepting the fact that America is not longer safe is not the same as condoning the actions of the perpetrators. But what do we as Christians do about it?





1: PRAY


This may sound trite, but first we should not stop praying. Click to read my 3 prayers for Stoneman High.

1 Chronicles 16:11 ESV / "Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!"










Perhaps you are discouraged by all of the violence, and wondering if one person's prayers really matter. I believe they do. First, God tells us throughout the bible( which, by the way, is loaded with violence) to keep praying. Secondly, when our prayers align with God's will they get answered. 

I ask continually that the Lord use my own tragic story to further His kingdom. On a regular basis I hear from people who tell me that my faith has encouraged them. My mess has become my message. My grief over the short lives of my sons is softened by my anticipation of glory.

Does that mean that I think school shootings, disease, and parents outliving their children are all part of God's will? Not at all. Those are by-products of a sin-wracked world, and a topic for another day. Prayer may not end the bloodshed, but it will give us an eternal perspective. It will also help us to see what our role should be.


2: DISCERN THE TIMES


.


The increasing violence is an urgent reminder of the second thing I think Christians should do: Discern the times. 

Ephesians 5:16 "Making the best use of the time, because the days are evil."






 Matthew 24:12: "And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold."



Matthew 24:7 "For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. "

I could cite more passages, but you get the idea. It is becoming increasingly apparent that biblical revelations are unfolding before us. Many believers say that we are here for a reason. I am only beginning to discern mine. How about you?

In our discernment we should also take comfort in the fact that God knew all of this stuff was going to happen, and He will use it for good. In his "End times Ministry" blog Irvin Baxtor says current events are setting the stage for the biggest revival of all time.Click to read the post here.

 I have always been fascinated by the fact that I was birthed into 20th century U.S.A., and not into some other place or time period. I need to stop flicking the channel in my brain and start thinking about why I am here right now.


#3 ACT ON YOUR CONVICTIONS


Esther 4:14 : "...And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

My third suggestion is to act on your convictions. This is the only way to bear fruit. What is the Lord telling you? This will look different for each of us. For me it meant leaving full time teaching to make room for more writing. I'm living on a smaller income, but I'm writing for a greater purpose.

It could mean sharing the gospel, getting involved in that ministry that you've been putting off, getting help for an addiction, forgiving someone, standing up to someone, or political activism. Fill in the blank and do it. Creation is groaning louder than ever.

In the parable of the bags of gold from Matthew 25 (Click here to read.) three servants are given bags of gold. Two invest wisely and get a return on their money. The servant who buries his gold is the loser. The good and faithful servants put their gifts to work.



Colossians 1:10: "So as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God."

Could it be that we Christians are here in this most difficult of times because we have been specially equipped to do certain works?

Recently I had the opportunity to share my faith with the mom of one of the Parkland shooting victims. Because I know what it is like to bury a teenager I can speak to her from a place like no other. 

Who can you speak to?




Now more than ever we need to be the light. I don't know about you, but any world where I can flick instantly from a fairy tale wedding to a massacre needs all the light it can get.



Tuesday, May 8, 2018

THE BIBLICAL BASIS FOR SPONSORSHIP


I chose my first sponsor because she was a snappy dresser. She wore stylish clothes and accessorized well. I envisioned us ensconced in a cozy corner at Starbucks having deep and meaningful conversations, followed immediately by shopping.




After she stopped returning my calls, and a friend informed me that she had relapsed, I determined that my criteria for selecting sponsors was, perhaps, a bit faulty.

AA literature defines a sponsor as "An alcoholic who has made some progress in the recovery program shares that experience on a continuous, individual basis with another alcoholic who is attempting to attain sobriety through AA."

The model is the same for other recovery programs such as Al-Anon, NA, CA, and countless others.

But, did you know that the concept of sponsorship is as old as the bible?

In Titus 2 Paul instructs us to teach one another..."what is appropriate to sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, ...teach the older women... not to be slanderers or addicted to too much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love...Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled..."

In the biblical days it was the older folks of the same gender teaching the younger ones. In our case, it is those who are older in their recovery teaching those who are younger in sobriety. 

This structure of one on one mentorship is all over the bible: Paul and Timothy; Moses and Joshua, Eli and Samuel, Naomi and Ruth, just to name a few.

Ephesians 4:2-3 gives a beautiful description of the sponsor-sponsee relationship. "With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

My own personal definition of a sponsor is "someone who introduces and assists in the maintenance of a sober lifestyle through the 12 steps." Along the way we become bonded in spirit. 

The book Alcoholics Anonymous , Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. states that "We are people who normally would not mix. But there exists among us a fellowship,a friendliness, and an understanding which is indescribably wonderful...The feeling of having shared in a common peril is one element in the powerful cement which binds us..."

I have seen men with advanced degrees being schooled by construction workers. The latter knew how to live a sober lifestyle, and the former wanted what they had. All pretense of income status and lifestyle dissolves when we are fighting for our lives.





It warms my heart when I see big, burly, 'Al' in his grimy work boots, embrace 'Joe' in his Brooks Brothers suit. After all, Jesus chose a bunch of blue collar guys to spread the most important message in history. And he did this intentionally.




1 Samuel 16:7:"But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."

As our sponsor guides us through the recovery process we get a new set of spiritual eyes. Sharing our deepest fears, letting go of our resentments, and learning to forgive enables us to see each other through the eyes of Jesus. We become each others' good Samaritans. 

Being a sponsor is equally important. As we share our spiritual toolkit with a newcomer our own tools are sharpened and we continue to learn more about ourselves. We feel that peace that surpasses all understanding.

I like to think that the spirit of love and tolerance which pervades a successful recovery relationship is similar to how we will all relate to each other when we get to heaven. That is one reason I am a grateful, recovering alcoholic.

What has your sponsorship experience been like? Please leave a comment below.