She Was Brave . . . .

Bravery:  a quality of spirit that enables you to face danger without showing fear.
Synonyms: courage, courageousness
WordNet Dictionary

Over a lifetime I have learned that it takes courage and determination to love others well.  My cousin Janie was one of those brave individuals, who sacrificially gave of herself to bless those God put on her path.

Janie went home to be with her Lord on the morning of July 5th.  I wasn’t there but trust she was in much the same frame of mind as when I saw her two weeks before, concerned more for her family than for herself. Reading her obituary yesterday, I was touched by this very apt description of my dear cousin,

“Jane* was a dedicated and caring family woman and teacher,
full of love, pure goodness, generosity, enthusiasm, and the best advice.” 

There is no question that Janie measured up to those wonderful accolades.  But there is another attribute to add, that was foundational to her ability to love and impact the lives of so many: Janie was brave.  This is not to imply that she was never fearful.  It is simply to say, that Janie set aside her fears because she cared about people.  Here’s an early example:

She was brave . . . .
She was brave . . . .

My first clear memory of Janie was playing together on Grandma and Grandpa’s farm–I must have been about five and she would have been seven.  All the grownups were inside that late afternoon, enjoying the simple pleasure of “visiting”.  Outside I remember an undercurrent of competition between us cousins as we dared one another to climb higher and jump off some hay bales stacked to one side of the yard.  Not wanting to be outdone, I remember making my way up to the highest bale and then jumping off.  I hit the ground so hard that my legs buckled and I landed on my bottom.  Momentarily stunned, it was probably the first time I actually saw stars!

Then we made our way out to the pasture where the cows were.  Continuing to test our bravery, we ran around among the cows–until we saw one mean-looking bull standing off to one side.  Suddenly aware of the danger, we ran for our lives and ducked under the fence just in time . . . or so we thought.  When we turned back and looked, there was Bette Jo–no bigger than a peanut–still in the middle of the pasture!  As I looked on–too scared to move–Janie ducked back under the fence, ran to pick up Bette Jo and brought her to safety!  Embarrassed by my fearfulness,  it was then that I knew without a doubt . . . Janie was brave.

Looking back I see this pattern of living courageously throughout Janie’s life: sacrificially stepping in to help others, facing difficulty head-on as she made what were painful but right decisions, encouraging others with her humor and sense of irony.

When I first heard Janie was sick last fall, I messaged her through Facebook.  Fearing the worst, it was several days before I received this response:

“Kathie, what a prayer warrior you are!  
The doctors are amazed that I’m not experiencing more pain than I am,
but I know you’re praying for me–keep it up!”

That was pure Janie–taking the focus off of herself as she encouraged me to continue doing the one thing I could do living so far away–PRAY!  So that is what I (and many, many others) continued to do.

In May my husband and I (taking advantage of his recent retirement) began an adventure we’d talked about doing most of our married life: going to those “off the beaten path” places we never could go to before.  In the back of my mind I hoped to visit Janie when we got to California, but knowing she was so sick I tried not let my hopes get too high.13442057_10208969039816875_678463191_o

God was gracious in providing us the opportunity to get together one last time. As my husband and I approached the home where Janie was being cared for, I was excited but scared.  Deep down I was afraid of what I was going to see–a frail, weak Janie who needed rest far more than she needed to see me.

When I walked through the door and Janie spoke, it was as if we became those two girls looking through the pasture fence.  This time though, Janie urged me to enter into the safety of the pasture with her–the mean bull was long gone and her Shepherd was there!  She beamed as she told me how God was helping her to look for good in every single day (no matter what had taken place) and to leave the bad behind.  When I started to ask about a bad fall the previous month that put her back in the hospital, her eyes widened as she looked at me saying,

“No Kathie, we’re not even going to go there.  I have learned to trust God daily; to count my blessings and leave what happened in the past behind.  I admit that part of me is a little afraid of what may come tomorrow, but I have given that to Him as I give thanks to Him for the Gift of TODAY.”  

Appreciating her wisdom and courage we entered into the joy of the moment.  Our visit of two and a half hours could be likened to the “wild rumpus” of the children’s classic, Where the Wild Things Are.**  We laughed so hard that tears came and talked about many things.  When I asked her how she wanted me to pray for her, Janie got very serious again as she urged me to pray for those she would be leaving behind–“that their hearts would not harden toward God.”  Pure, wonderful Janie . . . putting her concern for those she loved above all else.

Since then I have thought a lot about Janie’s bravery and our “wild rumpus” celebrating God’s goodness together.  Pure and simple, it was a gift from God to be given a glimpse into Janie’s heart.  Something happened that was so much more than magical as Janie chose to live out the wisdom of I Thessalonians 5:16-22,

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all;
hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.”

Reflecting on the larger passage, I am struck by God’s goodness in providing Janie the courage to enter into His Pasture with an open and trusting heart.

“May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.
May your whole spirit, soul and body
be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The one who calls you is faithful, and HE will do it.”

I Thessalonians 5:23, 24

All to His Glory!

*Most people knew her as Jane, but having grown up together as cousins, she has always been Janie to me and most of our family.
**Where the Wild Things Are, written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak, 1963.

How to Make Joy in Your Journey a Reality . . . .

There is a small sampler hanging in the entryway of my home.  Few people notice it (probably because it is surrounded by pictures of family) but I quite enjoy its depiction of a colonial home with a tree along with a beehive with bees framed by flowers and greenery typical of a colonial sampler.  Yet, as lovely as it is to look at, for me, the best part is the message it proclaims:  “Blessed is the life that finds joy in the journey.”  

Blessed are those who find . . . .
Blessed are those who find . . . .

JOY.  The Bible mentions joy frequently, but in ways that a world focused on itself cannot understand:

“Consider it PURE JOY, my brothers,
whenever you face trials of many kinds . . . .”

 James 1:2

“Do not be grieved,
for the JOY of the LORD is your strength.”
Nehemiah 8:10b

“But REJOICE . . .
as you participate in the sufferings of Christ,
SO THAT YOU MAY BE OVERJOYED
when His glory is revealed.”*

I Peter 4:13

Holding onto joy in the journey can often elude us in our ever-changing, increasingly upside-down world.  For more than twenty years I have been privileged to come alongside people fighting personal battles large and small in the Counseling Room.  As we have looked to the Scriptures for wisdom and perspective, God has faithfully spoken to each hurting, hungry soul. Repeatedly, I have witnessed God’s faithfulness in shepherding the hearts of those faithful to do their Journey Notesas the assurance of His Presence and Purpose being worked our in their lives, provide a quiet JOY that settles in their hearts.

So, how can we receive JOY when life hits hard?
By giving thanks to God IN the hard places.

An even better question to ponder is:

How can we retain JOY throughout our journey?
By give thanks to God FOR the hard places.

I met a young woman recently who, though shattered by infidelity in her marriage, told me about how God had softened her once angry and bitter heart.  She confessed her own failures as she expressed her determination to be reconciled with her husband.  She admitted that she almost canceled our appointment except for one remaining question: “Is there anything else I can do to encourage my husband to want to re-build our marriage?”

I responded with a question that burned brightly in my mind as soon as I heard her question, “Have you given thanks to God for your husband’s life and for your marriage?”  I went on to explain, “You have testified to me about how God has brought about change and spiritual growth in your mind and heart.  GIVE THANKS,  for the blessing of God’s divine purposes being worked out in your heart and life–a maturing, humble faith.”  She nodded with a thoughtful smile as the wisdom of what was said settled in.

What lesson can we learn from this?  While the world touts “happiness”, God calls us to go deeper as we choose JOY as a reflection of our trust in Him.

The Apostle Paul wrote to encourage his friends about the basis of his JOY from a prison cell:

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.
I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation,
whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
I can do all this through Him (Christ) who gives me strength.”
Philippians 4:12, 13

If you are looking for a formula for Joy/contentment in your circumstances, this acronym for JOY will serve you well: put Jesus first, Others second and Yourself, last.  

True Christ-centered JOY, chooses to trust more in His love for us,
as we give thanks that we are never alone.**

 Christ-centered JOY remembers the all-surpassing love of the One who came expressly to save us from ourselves . . . for Himself:

He died for us so that,
whether we are awake or asleep,
we may live together with Him.
Therefore encourage one another. . .
build each other up,
just as in fact you are doing . . . .
Rejoice always, pray continually,
GIVE THANKS IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES*;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
I Thessalonians 5:10, 11, 16-18

ALL to His Glory!

*Large capitalized letters, emphasis mine.
**Psalm 139

On Giving Thanks In All Things . . . .

God has proved Himself faithful through the ages and continues to speak to those who seek Him.  That is why, I encourage every Client I serve to get into the Scriptures for themselves through Journey Notes Praise Journaling.  One of my favorite passages we visit is recorded in Jeremiah 29:11-13, where God offers hope to a generation that had forgotten Him:

“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. Then you will call on Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.Jeremiah 29:11-13

In these weeks and months, as our family has journeyed the cancer trail with our son Luke and then our beautiful Shannon, the challenges have been many.  Certainly, fear has been a constant threat–the thought of losing either (or both) of them have weighed heavily on our hearts.  Yet our faith has been strengthened as we have watched them persevere in trusting God at every juncture.  Since Shannon’s surgery, nearly two-and-a-half weeks ago, we have watched as Luke has gained strength daily but not knowing what was in store for Shannon.

As we have waited for the results of Shannon’s tests, I have thought about the faith of three men who lived long ago, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.   When ordered to bow down to an image of gold or perish in a fiery furnace, they refused to obey the king.  Their response to the kings order, before being thrown into the fiery furnace, bore testimony to a faith in God that saw beyond this world:

“King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and He will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand.  But even if He does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”  
Daniel 3:16-18

Shannon and Luke--in all things giving thanks!
Shannon and Luke–Thanksgiving Day, 2014

Yesterday we rejoiced at the wonderful news from Shannon’s pathology report.  Her cancer has been determined to be at “stage one”, so she will remain under observation, but will not have to receive further treatment.  You can bet that many tears of relief fell as the dread of further treatment was lifted from our shoulders!  We are certainly grateful for God’s gracious answer to all of our prayers and yet . . . I pray that we never lose sight of His continued faithfulness to us throughout this trial.

This season of “walking through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23) has drawn us closer together as a family and to the Shepherd of our hearts.  Many have entered in to bless us with countless prayers, acts of sacrifice and kindness that humbled us all.  Reflecting on all of this, Shannon asked this question a few weeks ago: “If all of this hadn’t happened, what would we be doing?”  The answer chilled us–we would probably be busy and worried about things that really have little significance in the greater scheme of things.

As we move into the New Year, my prayer is that we never lose sight of the lessons learned through this trial.  Certainly, cancer is ugly, horrible stuff.  Yet, in the midst of such ugliness, we have learned to count our many blessings as God has proven Himself to be faithful.  I extend my prayer for those of you who read this.  No matter what you are facing, give thanks to God for the opportunity to deepen your faith; with every breath He grants you, give thanks for His glorious grace!

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
I Thessalonians 5:16-18

All to His Glory!