Practice What You Preach

A couple weekends ago I had the privilege of giving my testimony about Jenny’s death and forgiveness at church.  I already had a short version written so all I had to do was lengthen it a bit.  After some practicing and tweaks, I was ready to go.

My church has services on Saturday night and Sunday morning so I did the testimony during both services.  I was allowed to have a small table set up with pictures of Jenny and copies of my book, for those who were interested.

The Lord blessed me with visits from numerous people at my table.  Some had leftover tears in their eyes.  Others had big grins on their face and others were noticeably sad.  Whatever the look was on their face, I knew the Lord had touched them.  I was thankful for that small glimpse into what He’s doing with this book.  The message of forgiveness had an impact on many.

Later that week, I did my usual volunteer work.  This volunteer work consists of teaming up with other women who love the Lord and want to serve Him by helping others. 

The enemy doesn’t like what we are doing so he regularly attacks us at this ministry.  This week it was my turn.  What started out as a misunderstanding, quickly and unintentionally turned into a meltdown, my meltdown.

A co-volunteer said something that I misunderstood.  As I tried to correct her, more misunderstandings occurred and things got out of hand.  Soon voices were raised, personal space invaded, feelings were hurt and tears flowed.  I gathered my things and started to walk out the door.

A battle raged inside of me the whole time.  My flesh wanted me to leave and never come back while the Spirit calmly told me to slow down and think this through.  The ‘left out’ and ‘poor me’ attitude the enemy fooled me into adopting earlier in the day, soon escalated into a full blown pity party.  Every time God reminded me that He expected more and better from me, I quickly ignored His voice and continued to indulge my flesh. 

Our God is a faithful God and He will not give up on us, just because we push Him away in sin.  After I met with the other woman, said I was sorry and also said I forgave her, my heart still wasn’t in agreement with my mouth, so I continued to be hurt and upset.  Even as I listened to the full plate my friend was experiencing, all I could do was focus on my hurt, my pain. I didn’t want to care about what she was going through.  It was all about me and my hurt, so I thought.

Because of His great love for His children, Jesus, our Great Shepherd, gathered me back into His flock by continually bringing the words of my testimony back to me.   He pointed out that I should ‘practice what I preached’ the weekend before.  I needed to forgive and let it go.  The ‘let it go’ part was hanging me up.

I was hurt.  I was still dealing with the emotions of the anniversary of Jenny’s death. I was battling a cold.  All those excuses were laid before the Lord.  He looked at them, comforted me but told me again that I need to let it go.

Boy, I hate it when people use my own words against me.  It’s even worse when God uses them against me.  I have tried, but there really is no winning an argument with God.  There isn’t ever a compromise, either.  It is God’s way or no way and through the years I’ve learned that God’s way is undeniably the best way.  Do I still test that at times?  Of course, but I always go back to surrendering to Him.

What am I getting at here?  A couple things, I guess.  First is that no matter what testimony a person may have, they are still a sinner.  Just because they speak on a subject doesn’t mean they have mastered it.  Practicing what they preach will be a daily but doable challenge with the Spirit’s help.

Second, God is amazing.  His love for us is indescribable.  I cannot fathom why He loves me so much but I am thankful He does.  He’s always there when I slip and fall.  He picks me up, brushes me off, comforts me, forgives me, asks me what I’ve learned and helps me on my way. 

No matter how we mess up, the Lord practices what He preaches.  His love and forgiveness are always there, no matter how much we hurt Him.  This is an example I want to follow every day of my life.  No matter what my testimony, whether spoken in church or just in living my life – Lord, may I always practice what I preach!

 

Perfect Storm

After numerous failed attempts to complete a blog, I am bound and determined to finish this one.  What hindered my writing?  Any number of reasons can be referenced but the main one is emotion.  I know, “emotion” can be a vague term, or a loaded term, but I was experiencing a wide variety of emotions so it’s difficult to pin point just one.

For example, in an earlier blog I wrote about the anxiety that plagues me from time to time.  Besides a heart that pounds so hard and fast I think it’s going to pop out of my chest, one of the symptoms of anxiety is fatigue.  Add a head cold to that fatigue and you get a head fog that is thicker than normal.  Those two factors combined made it nearly impossible for me to concentrate, read or write, so completing a blog was just not going to happen.

The head cold is better and the fog has somewhat lifted so what other emotions could there be?  As much as I hate to admit it – fear.  What am I afraid of?  Well, it’s actually not a matter of being afraid of it. I just want to avoid it.  The “it” I’m talking about is conflict.

When I wrote the book and looked ahead to what God’s plan may be for it, I knew that not everyone would agree with or understand why I wrote it.  As He warns all of us about persecution for our faith, the Lord warned me that there would be opposition to me and the book.  He gave me the ability to get past the harsh, condemning words but that doesn’t mean the words don’t sting.

Part of me wants stand up, raise my voice, shake my fist and defend myself.  The other part of me knows that my job is to pray for those who condemn me and let God do the rest.  That’s not always easy but with His help, I can do it. 

As I sit here, fingers poised over my keyboard, my mind sways back and forth over what to type next.  I have to continue asking the Lord what HE wants me to do, what HE wants me to say. 

Three verses in Colossians (NIV) come to mind; 3:17 & 24, along with 4:6.  Col 3:17 goes like this: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”  Verse 24 b says, “It is the Lord Christ you are serving”.  Chapter 4, verse 6 expands on that thought, “Let your conversations be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

My writings, whether blogs or a book, are written for an audience of One.  It’s up to Him what He does with the words and who He touches with them.  It doesn’t matter what people think or say about my motives for writing the book.  It doesn’t matter if people agree or disagree with what I say or write.  What matters is if God is pleased with it.  I’ve had to remind myself of that a lot lately.  With the strength He gives me, I can handle any conflict that results from peoples’ opinions.  Even as I type these words, I find myself asking for more of that strength as opposition is everywhere.

The last obstacle is timing.  In less than 3 weeks, the 5th anniversary of Jenny’s death will be here.  Hard to believe it’s been that long.  I don’t remember last year being as difficult but then last year I hadn’t written the book yet. 

This perfect storm of emotions plus timing has been difficult to overcome but just the fact that I’m this far with the blog is progress.  I CAN do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil 4:13).  I can get through this fog, this perfect storm, no matter how often it tries to slow me down. 

I am doing it for the Lord and that’s all that counts. 

 

Emotional Rollercoaster

For several months I’ve wondered what this moment would feel like.  A vast array of possible emotions paraded through my mind.  The time is finally here and the words continue to stumble off my tongue as I try to describe how I feel right now, at this moment.

It’s been an emotional few months, first writing the book, then rereading it to tweak this or that. The first taste of excitement came when the book cover was sent for my approval.  WOW  My name on the front of an actual book!  The smile on my face seemed determined to stay right where it was.  Excitement, humility and amazement flowed through my body all at once .

The waiting began when I sent the manuscript to my publisher so the editing could begin.  Countless times I checked my inbox to see if the editing was complete.  The emotions from before were exchanged for patience.  After what felt like forever, the edited version was returned.

Not wanting to approve it too quickly, I forced myself to wait until the next day to read it over.  My job was fairly simple, see what corrections were suggested and either approve or not approve them.  Piece of cake, right? 

Again, not wanting to approve the editing too quickly I delayed the approval a few days, giving myself time to digest what was really happening.  I don’t know how many times I looked over the whole thing.  Finally I felt that I hadn’t rushed and I was pleased, so I sent the manuscript back with my approval.  Part of me felt that I’d be pleased no matter what, but I trusted that the Lord had the words exactly the way He wanted them.

Another eternity passed as I waited to hear from my publisher once again.  What was the holdup?  Did they forget about me?  No, there is just more to this publishing business than I realized.  In due time the layout was complete and the online version, with pictures was sent via email.

One more time I forced myself to not rush into approval.  This work will be a part of my life now and even after I die.  I didn’t want to overlook something in my haste.  By this time, though, I really didn’t want to read the story yet another time so I scrolled through the pages and concentrated on the pictures.  After a few changes I gave it my approval.

Another step closer and soon the doorbell rang.  By the time I got there, a small package had appeared.  I had actually forgotten that the first hard copy was coming my way but then I had it in my hands.  WOW once again!  As a mother gently caresses her newborn baby, I ran my fingers over the words on the front cover.  As that mother lovingly unwraps her newborn baby, I slowly opened the cover of the book, taking in everything I saw.  I examined it from cover to cover, still in awe as to how my name got on the cover of a book.

Before I approved the printed copy, I placed it in a plastic bag to protect it.  Not even my husband can remove it without making sure his hands are clean first.  Only a handful of special people have been able to touch that book without the protection of the plastic bag.

Today all that waiting paid off.  I can now add the word “published” to the description of “author”.  My first book, “The Man Who Killed My Daughter” is available to purchase online.  I still have trouble believing it.  A few of the emotions I experienced today are excitement, humility, gratitude, amazement and others I can’t put into words.

I am truly blessed.  This journey was not easy at times but with the Lord’s help I made it this far.  I look forward to seeing where He takes it from here.  I’m sure another set of emotions are waiting just around the corner.  I wonder if I’ll be able to find words for them.

 

Christmas Cookies

I just finished decorating my first batch of Christmas cookies this morning.  I have more to bake but at least my first batch is done.

As I decorated and listened to Christmas music I couldn’t help but realize that I’ve been baking those cookies for a very long time.  It’s my mom’s recipe and she trained me well.  As a kid I remember sitting at the kitchen table helping her cut out all the different shapes.  I had my favorites so I’d do more of those than the others.  If she noticed, she didn’t say anything.

The next step was making the frosting, adding the food coloring and gathering the sprinkles.  My siblings and I would sit for what seemed like hours decorating those cookies.  We’d start out very meticulous, taking our time and showing our artistic side with each cookie.  The gingerbread men would have a face and clothing.  The trees would be decked out in colorful sprinkles in an effort to make them look as much like a real Christmas tree as possible.

To my recollection, the patience we had and the time we took with each cookie diminished rather quickly and soon we were just slapping on the frosting and sprinkles just to be done with it all.  We’d even “break” a few just so we had an excuse to eat them, but don’t tell my mom.

I continued this tradition and included my kids in the process as soon as they were old enough to “help”.  They, too, spent the first half hour or so carefully adorning each cookie in their own style and uniqueness.  Then they fell victim to the boredom of the repetition and found themselves slapping on the frosting and decorations just to be done.  I guess that part of the tradition didn’t have to be taught.

Anyway, as those memories consumed my thoughts this morning I couldn’t help but think of Jenny and my brother.  Jenny is no longer here to help me decorate or even sample the cookies and my brother is no longer here to participate in his family’s traditions.  My heart aches as I think of the loss of my daughter.  It also aches for my sister-in-law and nephews as their first Christmas without Tom draws near. 

What gets me through the holidays is the fact that Jenny is celebrating Jesus’ birth in heaven with all the saints who’ve gone before.  Tom has joined her and my parents.  I smile as I think of them sitting together at the kitchen table inside their mansion in heaven, decorating and snitching those cookies.  I can imagine the smiles, laughter and love they exchange as they continue this family tradition. 

One day I’ll be with them, too.  Until then, I’ll do my best to make mom proud by using her recipes and cutters, while I continue my favorite family tradition here on earth.

What Lesson This Time?

The Lord continues to challenge me to become stronger.  With my brother-in-law’s funeral behind us we look at tomorrow and our trip to Milwaukee for my brother’s funeral.  In the midst of grieving I am still plagued by health and financial issues. 

What am I to learn from this?  How can I become stronger? The first thought that comes to mind is God’s promise to make good come from all things (Rom 8:28). What good can come from all this heartache and pain is the next question.

Let’s go back to Jenny’s death over four years ago.  What good came from that?  First I had peace knowing she went to be with Jesus and I will see her again.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t mourn her or miss her now.  That just means that I believe what God’s Word says about everlasting life.

Another good that came from this was that many lives have been touched through Jenny’s story.  Not only have they been touched, but many of them have come to know the Lord since then.  Now, that is GOOD! 

What positive can I see now in the loss of family this time?  Again, I rest in the promise of salvation to all who believe so I know I will see my loved ones again in heaven.  The other blessing for me is that as with just about every wedding or funeral, family from all across the nation come together to mourn and support each other.  Not only will my children and grandchildren be with me on this day but my brother, sister and nephew, all from out of state, are making the trip.  We will celebrate Tom’s life together.

So I’m back to the questions what can I learn and how can I become stronger?  Well, once again I go back to His Word.  My belief in Rom 8:28 has been reinforced.  I see good and positive blessings all around me despite my situation.  Seeing that truth in action strengthens me.

Trials are like exercise for our “spiritual muscles”.  As we work out in the gym of life, just when we get comfortable and confident dealing with the lifting the current load God gave us, He challenges us by adding more weight to our barbell, so to speak.  We look at Him like He’s crazy, that there’s no possible way we can do this. We may even argue with Him in attempt to convince Him to remove some of the weight and make things easier.  He usually ignores those pleas and continues with our ‘personal training’.

As He puts His hand on our shoulder, He nods His head as if to say – go ahead, give it a try. He gives a comforting and encouraging smile and stands right next to us, assuring us that He’s not leaving.  If we trust Him, the next thing we know is we are lifting all the weight, even the extra He added.  The more we practice, the more trials we endure, the better and stronger we get. 

So, I’ve learned that even though I don’t always like “working out” in the gym of life, it is necessary.  With persistence, patience, determination and mostly God’s help, I can lift and endure any load God asks me to.  My body and spirit get stronger.  Does that answer the question?  Hope so.

Never Tire

            Every day this world seems to fall deeper and deeper into sin.  As a Christian I get frustrated and discouraged by that at times.  The world says we don’t have to forgive those who hurt us.  We are encouraged to carry resentment, grudges and even pursue revenge. 

            When I decided to forgive Jesse, the drunk driver who killed my daughter, not everyone around me supported me in that decision.  The fake smiles and questioning eyes revealed their heart.  How could I forgive that man and betray my daughter’s memory?

            For months, even years I defended my decision with God’s Word.  God commands us to forgive, period.  We are forgiven and we are to forgive others.  The concordance in my bible contains a vast array of passages pertaining to forgiveness.  I’m sure your bible contains the same thing.

            I won’t attempt to speculate why or judge them for their reaction.  Each of us has our own story, our own issues, our own struggles with sin.  What I will do is continue to pray for them and encourage them in any way I can. 

            I will also cling to Scripture to help me when Satan uses them to attack me.  The book of Joshua is filled with encouragement.  The command to “be strong and courageous” is spoken four times in the first chapter alone.  That command along with God’s promise to be with us, fill the same pages.  In Jeremiah, God tells the prophet “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” (Jer 1:8)

 In Jeremiah 17 verse 10, the Lord tells us that He ‘searches the heart and examines the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct and according to what his deeds deserve’.  While that verse serves as a promise, it also serves as a warning.  God knows our hearts and our motives.  We can’t hide anything from Him and He rewards us accordingly so even though I get discouraged by resistance to my forgiveness, I know what I’m doing is pleasing God and that’s all that matters.

I ran across this verse and it sums it all up for me at this moment. 2 Thessalonians 3:13 b encourages us to never tire of doing what it right.  No matter who the enemy uses to come against me, I will continue to do what is right, knowing I am obeying the Sovereign God of all creation.  Put that verse together with the others ones listed and I know that no matter who comes against me, God is always with me.  

Court System

             If you are like me, you try to avoid anything to do with going to court.  That means obeying the law and staying out of trouble.  On the other hand, there are times when you have no choice but to make an appearance in the courtroom.  For example: going through a divorce, child custody, being a character witness, a law suit for something and my least favorite, a felony case.

            During the time between Jenny’s death and Jesse’s sentencing, I got an education in the court system.  Legal paper after legal paper was delivered to my mailbox.  Most of that paperwork was informing me on what was going on, which needed no response but some of it I did have to respond to.

            As the “family of the victim” I was entitled to as much information as I wanted and I wanted to know everything.  That meant whenever Jesse did something, like appear in court, I was notified and given the choice as to whether to attend or not.  My status also enabled me to have direct contact with the “Victim/Witness Specialist”.  She kept me informed on everything that was going on.  Not only did she warn me on what to expect and what not to expect, she was my go-to person if I had any questions.

            I greatly appreciated all she did for me.  Not only was she informative but she was kind, considerate and patient.  With all the cases she had to handle, I was still treated like I was her only concern.

            Then came the sentencing date and emotions were high.  As I listened to the ADA, she did her best to convince the judge why Jesse should receive the maximum sentence.  He needed to be made an example so others would be deterred from drinking and driving.  At the time I agreed with her and prayed that the judge would, too.

            When the sentence was handed down, it wasn’t exactly what the ADA asked for but it was good enough for me.  I was thankful that Jesse would be held accountable for his actions. I wanted others to think twice before they drove drunk.  I went home pleased with what transpired that day, thankful it was over.

            A few months later, reality hit.  Time after time DUI offenders were given a slap on the wrist instead of jail time.  Time after time, third, fourth and even five time offenders were able to go on their merry little way with little or no consequences.  I even read of a few cases where there was a death caused by a drunk driver but they only got a year or two of prison time.  Where is the justice in that?

            Wisconsin has a drinking problem and a slap on the wrist isn’t going to solve it.  Neither is giving a sentence of a year or two.  For the record, I’m not against drinking.  I’m against drinking and driving.  I’ve always been that way, even before Jenny was killed. 

            How do we solve this problem?  I really have no idea but something needs to be done.  I don’t want other mothers to go through the same pain I have.