Wednesday, May 28, 2014

JOURNAL FOUND!!!:How to Eat Humble Pie

So, exactly thirteen days ago, at around 1am in the morning, after a whirlwind of a house-hunting trip in California, I went to finally turn the light out on my nightstand after a day of unpacking, laundering and re-packing for our much needed lake getaway in just a few more hours.  In that moment, I realized my journal was not in its normal bedside location.  In that moment, I had a terrifying, paralyzing realization that I had left my journal in the seat pocket in front of me on our flight to California the previous Saturday.

Mind you, I saw the journal in the seat back pocket in front of me.  The picture was there in my mind. Right there in seat 23B on flight 1251, sandwiched between a pile of magazines and other reading entertainment for the five hour flight from Atlanta.  That is visually, in my mind's eye, the last place I remembered seeing my journal, the last place I remembered touching it to put it in the seat-back pocket.

The next 96 hours of house-hunting are a blur.  So many tough decisions in such a short period of time. But at 1am, five days later, I knew I had left my journal on that airplane, and the gasp of realizing I had just absent-mindedly forgotten seven years of letters to my children almost took the oxygen out of the room and scared my husband to death.  I was nauseated thinking that journal might be lost.  I wanted to call everyone, someone, anyone on that plane!  But it was 1am, and so I had to file my first lost and found claim #243324, and try to sleep.  All I could think was, "Dear God please give me back my journal." Over and over and over, over the next three days, this is the only prayer I could think to pray.

I was desperate. Frantic, fearful, and yet oddly hopeful all at the same time.

I wrote a letter that I not only posted on Facebook for the whole world to see and share, but I then mailed and faxed hard copies of that letter to every person and entity within Delta and local news stations as well.  I contacted cleaning crew companies with which Delta contracts.  I Facebook messaged with over 30 strangers in regards to accessing information about my flight and where it had been and gone.  I emailed with probably 30 additional strangers over the past 13 days, piecing together the puzzle of the path my journal must have taken.

I was a VERY squeaky wheel, and I made quite an online ruckus.  I even had a reporter in Australia publish the story in an online news magazine!  Australia of all places!!  That published article prompted a personal phone call from a Delta higher-up assuring me that Delta was doing everything in their power to find my journal.

Well, I found my journal.  I should say the Holy Spirit found my journal.

About four days ago, I had this nudging in my spirit, "Why don't you call the hotel where you stayed?"

What?  Why don't I call the hotel where I stayed?  That's silly.  I vividly remember seeing that journal in the back seat pocket of the plane.  I have a visual memory of it.  I have no memories whatsoever of ever putting my hands on that journal after that moment.

"But it was a very emotional, very busy, very in-and-out-on-the-go trip.  You even switched rooms after the first night in the hotel." The Voice in my spirit wouldn't let up.

No way.  There's no way that journal is in the hotel.  But what if it is?  What if I just made a giant fool of myself in front of the entire Delta community?  What if I just caused a big, gigantic hoopla for Delta over nothing?  All those wonderful people who helped.  All those employees who have felt bad for not seeing it or not knowing, who I hope didn't, but may have caught some flack for this?  If it's at that hotel, how do I eat crow in front of what I've been told is THOUSANDS of people at this point in time?

My pride almost never made the call.  I was almost willing to lose my journal over a matter of pride.  If the hotel had my journal, I didn't want to humble myself in front of thousands of people and apologize for making your lives more difficult, more frustrating, more annoying in any way.

But I wanted to find my journal more.

So I texted my husband, who was on a business trip in California this week, and told him, just on a whim to check with the hotel we stayed at.  It was a whim.  NOT.  I should have known.  You'd think after almost 30 years of walking with the Lord I'd recognize His voice by now.  Nope.  Silly me, blinded by pride and fear, it took me four days of hearing His still small voice to finally ask my husband to just check with the hotel to be sure.

And there it was.  My journal!!!!!  Safe and sound and in the hands of my husband, heading back home to me in just a few short days!

And in a space in time when I should have felt ecstatic, relieved, over-the-top happy, I suddenly felt very, very ashamed and stupid and impetuous for involving the whole, wide world before thinking to check everywhere I'd been and not just the airplane.  All feelings that I very rarely feel because I'm not typically this frantic, bothered, panicked or thoughtless.  Not typically brave enough to ask for help or draw this much attention to myself either. (So many lessons learned....)

Why did we never check with the hotel to begin with?  Because I faultily, vividly remembered leaving it on the plane.

I checked with everyone else on the face of the planet, why not the hotel just to be sure?  I don't have an answer for that one.  Other than I thought I was right.  I thought my memory was right.  Turns out I was very, VERY wrong. (And my husband is now doing a little happy jig somewhere because that is something I hardly never admit to--being wrong.)

But this time I was wrong.  VERY wrong.  And in being wrong, because of social media, I effected more lives in probably a negative way than I intended.  I tried to stay gracious and understanding and grateful to everyone, so I pray that no one was offended, and when you read this, I pray you try not to roll your eyes too hard into the back of your heads.  But let's be honest, if it was me, I'd be shaking my head and saying, "Geez. This lady is out of it."  A good ole' southern "bless her heart" is definitely appropriate here.

I hope that none of you think, 'Well that's the last time I ever take something like this seriously again!' Please don't!  It was an honest mistake on my part, and people, your encouraging words and all the help all of you provided in every way is what kept me from sinking into a bigger pit than I was already starting to dig for myself.

I would be about to cry and a complete stranger would send a Facebook message to me saying they were still praying my journal would be found.  I would be about to throw in the towel and give up hope, when I'd get a follow up email from someone I don't even know who cared enough to check in because they were still hoping I'd find the journal.  And it was strangers who kept reminding me that my hope is rooted in a big God who loves ALL of us, who died for ALL of us, who has the power to return that journal to me.

Just your encouraging words and willingness to do the little things you could to help made a HUGE impact in my life.  It left an impression.

So the next time a desperate cry for anything comes across your Facebook page, please don't look the other way.  Please don't become cynical and uncaring because this Mama made a horribly annoying mistake.  Just clicking the 'Share' button is enough to pay it forward, to have a small ripple effect in the life of one person who feels a little lost in that particular moment of their life.

If social media is ironically beginning to isolate us from each other, this is one way to use it to try and truly connect in a meaningful way.

So here I am, eating a giant slice of humble pie, asking for your forgiveness for any bother I've caused in your lives, and hoping you'll agree we all do stupid things sometimes.

So a BIG THANK YOU goes out to the Delta airlines community.  A HUGE, GIGANTIC round of applause.  Once my message broke the automated wall, the people inside were understanding, considerate, empathetic, helpful, and proactive.  Every email was professional.  Every person was encouraging and spoke very highly of their colleagues.  Different employees throughout the company assured me that the cleaners, airline attendants, and gate agents were all very capable and more than willing to do a thorough job of trying to find my journal.  They all spoke so highly of each other, never bad mouthing anyone from within the company, never being discouraging in any way.  They all truly thought they could help me find the journal in their own ways.  Even Roger Salz, a higher-up from within the Atlanta Delta system, was very kind to call me personally and assure me that they had found all kinds of items for passengers in the past, and he would notify everyone he could to make sure this item was found as well.

Delta, thank you.  Thank you for your time and energy.  Forgive me for being what has turned out to be a nuisance with my online plea.  It's safe to say, you have a customer for life, and I will throw as much grace your way in my future travels as you have thrown at me over this whole journal debacle.  I really can't say thank you enough.

Thank you to everyone.  To each of you that prayed.  To each of you that encouraged.  To each of you that spared a moment to help a little.  Thank you.

Ultimately, it was God who found my journal.  Who prompted me to swallow my pride and make the call to the hotel.  Why He didn't give me that idea 13 days ago I cannot answer, but it was definitely His voice that made that thought take root.  Not one person had ever suggested I try calling the hotel we stayed in.  Not one.  Only Him.  Only my Jesus who knew exactly where it was the whole time, Who just needed me to experience some massive online humbling for some reason He has in His plan and His purpose for my life.  Time will tell.

But for now, I am grateful for many people I do not know.  Grateful for people who still pray for strangers.  Grateful that not all big, monster corporations are uncaring, inefficient, and unresponsive. Grateful for a God who saw fit to let me see all these people--the crowd of the unknown--in a different light. Grateful He used His presence, His Word (Micah 7:7), and the people in this world He created to never let me give up hope, even when I was tempted the most to do so.

Grateful to have my journal back, home safe--with a new label of my contact information freshly printed on the inside cover.

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Where Does Your Hope Come From?

One year ago yesterday, a beautiful life left this world.  She took some spunk and spark and joy out with her that God has been faithful to show still blooms in the midst of the void left behind.  But it has been a long, slow, grueling year of choosing to look for joy and holding fast to what I found.

And somewhere in the midst of the void left behind, I have found blooming joy is full of the fragrance of hope.

Hope.  Hope anew.  Hope rising.  Fragile and virile and fragrant.  Hope. Hope in a God that makes all things new (Revelation 21:5). Hope that there truly is life after death, death of any kind (2 Corinthians 1:10).  Hope that one day things will get better, be brighter.  Hope.  It fills the soul and lightens the weight of the world.  Joy blooms and Hope fills life with sweetness and desire and the aroma of what's to come.

So I ask you, where does your hope come from?  In what do you place your hope?  When you make a statement like, ‘I hope everything turns out all right,’ or ‘I hope things will be different,’ or ‘I hope he/she makes a different choice,’ what exactly are you hoping in when you make those statements?

Is it just a flippant desire you throw out into the universe?  Is it a dependence on positive thinking will result in positive outcomes?  Is your hope grounded in fate, destiny, good karma?  What is hope to you?  And where do you believe it originates?

Because hope is a powerful, powerful thing.  Hope raises the phoenix from the ashes.  Hope is the life preserver for the sinking soul.  Hope makes another day worth living. Hope is the difference between a life lived anew and a life wasted.  Hope is power. 1 Corinthians 13:13a lists, "But now faith, hope, love, abide these three." Abide in these three is our command.  Maybe because the power to change life as we know it abides in these three?

So if hope is this powerful, it begs the question from where does it originate its power?  Some would argue hope comes from within.  It is the gumption, the force of the will to press on and be better, do better.  But then, if this is true, then hope originates within myself, and goodness me, I am nothing.  I am flawed.  I am mistaken. I am weak.  I am powerless.  Heaven help me if hope comes from within me!  I am only human. If anyone’s hope is based on me or anyone else from the human race, we are lost already.  Doomed to be disappointed and left hopeless because everyone will fail us at some point in time, including ourselves.

Some would argue hope comes from a higher source, a spiritual essence, a fated destiny of the universe, but this is so ethereal, so slippery and uneasy and fleeting.  It is a faith in something unseen and unproven and unsubstantiated. (My faith may be unseen, but it is not unproven or unsubstantiated, an important difference to note.)  This kind of hope is seated in the mind of the believer, not the heart, and my friends, I have proven that my mind is a throne room for the lies of the Deceiver at times. It can too easily be led astray by the latest cultural line of thought, the latest fad that creates an emotional connection.  Emotions can be just as deceiving.

No, truth lies in one Person.  I have found joy to bloom in the presence of one Person (Psalm 16:11).  And in my study of the resurrection of Christ this past Easter, I have found hope to be embodied and originated in one Person.  The Person of Jesus Christ, the Creator Son of God who lives.  

Did you hear me?  My Jesus lives!  And the reality of that truth is the origin of hope.  As my BSF leader pointed out, for every other religion that revolves around a single person, there is a grave with a body laying in it.  Not mine.  Not my Jesus.  His grave is empty (Matthew 28:5-6).  The linens that wrapped His body were neatly folded to the side (John 20:7). The stone in front of his tomb was rolled away.  It was being guarded by Roman soldiers who would have given their lives to do their duty, and instead they were left paralyzed in fear by an earthquake and angels come to proclaim the good news that Jesus was alive!  He was alive and seen in the days after His resurrection by more than 500 different people (1 Corinthians 15:6) over a period of 40 days (Acts 1:3).  He was touched.  He ate food.  He was/He is alive!!!

Do you understand what that means?  In Him alone is Hope of life after death.  His resurrection required a power no one else in the history of mankind can claim.  He raised Himself from the dead.  Now that is real power.  Ultimate power.  True power over life and death.  And in that power, His believers can truly hope.  The origin of my hope can be the power of Christ Himself, the power of a God who can raise not just others, but Himself from the dead.  In Him alone, my hope is real and true and powerful.  It is based on a perfect Person, the Big Creator God, not a thought or emotion or idea or the good intentions of others.

When I say to someone, “I hope it works out for you,” I can honestly mean, “I believe the God who raised Himself from the dead is capable of working things out for you,” because that’s truth, and that’s where my hope comes from.  Where does yours?

Because at the end of the day, when life sucks and is hard and the ones you love are suffering or have died and left this earth, is belief in yourself really powerful enough to get you through the day, to keep you from falling into despair? Job 8:13b states matter-of-factly, 'The hope of the godless will perish.'  It seems the one sure way to have no hope is to have no God, no risen Savior.

Is it really your family and friends that give you hope? Or is it the God of your family and friends that is secretly, silently leaking hope into your life through them? 

Is the universe, your destiny, your fate where your hope originates?  Or is it the God who created this universe and determines your days from the moment of conception that instills hope into your life? (Psalm 139)

We are only human.  We need to be careful to stop attributing what is God’s alone to our own thoughts and innovations.  We have nothing that He has not chosen to give or entrust us with.  We are nothing without Him.  I am nothing, and He is everything, and that is more than enough to bring joy and let hope rise.

I once stated that as a believer and follower of Christ we are the only real Joy people will experience in this life, everything else is a fake.  I come to you proposing the same is true of Hope.  Without a risen Savior, a God who has power over life AND death, people have no real hope because their hope has no real power. 

Their positive thoughts can change nothing, but a God who raises Himself from the dead can change everything.

So to all the skeptics, I write here to offer a true source of Hope, of Joy, of Love, of Life.  I ask you to consider who Jesus Christ really is, who He might really be to you because if you are looking for Hope in your life, you need look no further.

And if you truly believe Him to be who He says He is, then why aren’t we more willing to throw off the sins of all that entangles us and hold fast to the feet of Jesus and just let Him live through us?  I need to stop over-thinking and over-analyzing, and just be His child.  Be at His feet like the women at the feet of their risen Lord, clinging in worship, waiting for His instruction to go and tell (Matthew 28:9).

Because Love should be our driving purpose.  Joy should fuel the vehicle of our love, and Hope is the power, the energy created in the process that keeps a body in motion, keeps us able to move forward and onward, always pressing toward the finish line.

Hope is powerful.

And the hope of seeing my Savannah Veale again one day (and all those I love who have gone on before me, for that matter), spurs me on deeper into the heart of a God I can’t live without.

"And in His name the Gentiles will hope" (Matthew 12:21)---Yes, yes they will.  Yes, I do.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

For Those Who Suffer

One set of parents woke up one day to find their 5 year old has an inoperable brain tumor.

One family has lost one husband/father, and now their new husband/dad faces stage four lymphoma.

Another husband/father faces the hard truth of chemo treatments every week for the rest of his life just to keep the cancer at bay with no hope of a cure.

Still another friend just lost her third round battle with breast cancer after being in remission twice.

And these are just the people I know that come to mind in this moment. There are countless others.

It seems like cancer is everywhere.  It seems like it is encompassing the lives of so many.  It seems to surround and cloud and choke at the heart and lives of so many I love and care about.  It can appear hopeless at times.

And in the midst of that lie from the devil, I hear the small whisper of my Big God say, "But I have been there, I am there, I will be there.  I have already been there.  I go before you, before them, I AM before you, and I AM before them.  They will not take one step in a place in time where I have not already been, where I AM not already present."

And somehow in those words, there is great comfort and great hope.

I cannot tell any of my friends that their loved one will not die.  I cannot tell them definitively that God's will is healing in their lives.  I will not remind them that God works all things for their good because right now, reality is life may not be good for them, God may not feel good to them, and those words are of no comfort.  I will not preach that God knows best to them because even when I tell that to myself, it feels flat and lifeless and cold.

But my friends, fleshly feelings deceive. And truth is truth whether I feel it or not.

My God is not cold (Psalm 86:15).  He is not distant (Psalm 34:18).  He is not a puppet master pulling the strings of our lives for His own cosmic entertainment (Isaiah 55:9).  No.  No matter how it may feel, the Truth is my God is Love (1 John 4:8).  The truth is He embodies Hope (Romans 15:13).  The truth is He is Creator God that always has been and always will be (Revelation 22:13). So for all my friends who are struggling deeply with the paths He has asked them to walk, with the difficulties He has entrusted you to endure, I pray my words can point you to Who God is, not what He can do for you, but simply to Who He is.

Because in the moments when we don't understand His will, His purposes, His actions, His choices for our lives, in those moments we must lean hard into who He actually is.  And He said, "I AM."  He promises that you, my friends, will not walk anywhere He hasn't already actually been because His presence knows no boundary of time and is limitless and beyond comprehension.

So when life seems beyond hard, and God seems unfair, know that I will be lifting you in prayer, and I won't be praying that God's will will be done, and I won't pray that He works all things for your good; I will be praying that you never lose sight of who He is--your Refuge, your Strength, your Banner, your Protector, your Provider, your Hope, your Love, your Light, your Life, your Truth.  I will be praying that His ever-present Presence is tangible even in the moments when you might give up on Him, you will know He NEVER gives up on you.  He never lets you go.

There is comfort and hope in Him alone.  Just the knowledge that He IS and always will be is comfort and hope alone.  I pray you know and cling to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob--the God of the living, not the dead (Matthew 22:32).

He is present, and He is enough.

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