Five years. Healing. Hurt. Love. Faith.

Five years ago today I lost my only sibling and someone I loved and admired very much. During those first weeks and months the tears flowed endlessly and still today, the pain is just as intense, but it comes less frequently (although still too frequently). I once read someone’s account of losing a loved one and it was spot on. Grief is like a tsunami that pours over you with enormous pain. In the beginning, the waves come regularly and frequently. Over time, the waves come less often but the intensity of pain when they hit is still as strong as those first hours and days.

Much has happened since that awful day. I wonder what Greg’s life would be like if he had lived, and as much as I would wish him back in my life, I wrestle with knowing he is healed and where he ultimately  intended to be—with our Lord in Heaven.

Recently a friend from my small group in church passed away. She was a mighty athlete competing in iron man challenges, but unfortunately was diagnosed with a somewhat rare and terminal disease that took away her abilities to live in the manner she was used to. We prayed for several years for a cure so she could be healed but in the end she went to the Lord too soon. Later, my wise small group leader said our prayers were answered because when she went to Heaven she was healed. She now has a glorious new body and feels no pain.

I remember many prayers I asked God for concerning my brother.  I wanted his relationships to heal, his body to heal, and for him to find peace and happiness. And while he left us too soon, God healed him. He now feels no pain, he is with our Savior, and is awaiting us all in the Kingdom.

My parents, his children, and I miss him every single day. He was a glue and stable force in our lives. He was an amazing role model and I really wish he was still around to be an example of God’s love in his children’s lives. The way he lived his life and accepted me for who I was and his love led me to seek Jesus as an adult. God was in my heart but I was wandering lost for many years until my adult relationship with Greg took off and I saw how God could bring peace, a feeling of content, fun, and love in my life.

He affected many people in a positive way through his mission trips, work with Campus Crusade for Christ, volunteering at church, and being a solid base of support for friends, family, and others who just happened to cross his path.

Greg’s kids and our family and his close friends meant the world to him. He struggled those last years of his life, but was giving his all for his family regardless of how life was hitting him. I will never forget God giving us that last day. Greg called to ask me to come up to visit for no reason—just hey let’s get together. That was a week before he died. I really felt like God gave me that last day to see him and have fun before we would be separated for the decades I would have to live without him before God called me home.

I still spend nights crying because he is gone and because of the fall out of being separated from some of my family members, and for the kids and my parents missing their father and son. But, I will always be grateful to God for giving me the best big brother a girl could ask for.

In Greg’s memory, our family created a charity called the Masterpiece Fund. We are honoring the character and principles my brother stood for by giving funds to people throughtout the world who need love and support. Greg’s last bible study included a scripture reading from Ephesians 2:10 which inspired the charity.

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for long ago.”

The pain of loss we feel when loved ones die is why we must remember to respect all life. Whether friends or strangers. If death of loved ones didn’t hurt so much we would not respect life at all. I think we need to remember that the death of strangers is as much of a pain to someone else as our loved one’s passing means to us. In honor of Greg, let’s remember what Jesus asked us to do.

“I give you a new command. Love one another. You must love one another, just as I have loved you.”

John 13:34

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What do you get for doing good? Nothing. Or Everything.

I was thinking this morning about why we call today Good Friday. Every time I think about what Jesus endured for us, I admittedly feel ashamed and sad. I’m very grateful and love Him for his sacrifice but it’s a little hard to think about how ugly we are and how brutal we can be to each other. It’s hard to think how that is good.

Christians know why it’s good. Because He saved us. He showed us mercy. He began a new day, a new covenant, and now we can have a direct relationship with God and hope for eternal peace and love. That’s not good, that is AWESOME!

After pondering that some, I began to move along in my day and saw this video online (see it below) about a guy who spends his day giving of himself, his time, and his money and doesn’t get any tangible rewards in return. What he does get is love and gratitude from those he helps. He also gets to see how his actions positively affect the world around him. I know it’s some kind of Thai insurance commercial but it was touching and it made me think about Philippians 4: 8-9.

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

It’s a great way to live and an attitude like that will help bring you peace and contentment. We can’t save the world the way Jesus did, but we can do a little bit each day to help those around us. All Jesus asked us to do was to love God and love each other.

May you all be blessed on this Good Friday and know the love of Jesus and accept the gift He gave us on that Easter Sunday so long ago.

Isaiah53: 5
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.  

Do you have junk in your trunk?

Sometimes when sitting in church, I wander a bit during the sermon. My mind goes to all sorts of places—some spiritual and some secular. And sometimes during those moments  I get brought back with a proverbial slap and think, “WHAT?” The pastor said something huge that convicted me or recalled a memory that elicits an emotional response. And sometimes he says something that I never thought would come from the mouth of a spiritual leader.

Today our pastor was talking about how it’s okay not to be okay. That church should be a place where you feel God’s grace. Not a place for saints to pat each other on the back, but an emergency room of sorts for sinners. He then says, “Everyone’s got junk in their trunk.”

My immediate reaction was, “Did he just say that? I wonder if he even knows what that means.” He’s a pretty savvy guy who is very connected and aware of trends and current events and knows how to communicate with both young and mature audiences. Hmmm. After a minute (of what I’m sure was some silence after some awkward laughing) he said to take that literally. Okay, yes, if that’s the case, I have an enormous amount of trash, laundry, dog food, bags, soda, wood, and empty bags of chick-fil-a all strewn about my car. A little like my life, so okay, I’ll use that analogy and not take it personally that my pastor thinks I have a huge backside. Which I do, but that’s irrelevant. God loves all of me.

Anyway, fun aside, the message is clear and comforting to those of us who don’t quite make the grade of perfection. But that’s the point. Jesus was perfect and he gave himself up for us. That is what makes the gift worthy. We are not perfect. And no matter what your sin, don’t give up. God forgives everyone. Even Cain, the first murderer, got a break. God forgave him and protected him from the angry mobs, and Cain went on to have a productive life—a family, career, and a life worth living.

Do yourself a favor. Don’t compare your life to anyone else’s. It’s a losing battle. There are 7 billion people on this planet. Almost all of them are much poorer than you are. And there are people who seem better off. But you don’t know what is going on in their life, in their hearts, in their heads, or in their relationships. The only thing you should be concerned with is your relationship with God. He really doesn’t ask much of us if you think about it. Accept His gift and love Him. Then just try to be good. You can’t be perfect so don’t condemn yourself or give up. Just clean some of the junk out of your trunk and keep moving.

John Crowe on a road trip circa 1960s. John went on to lead a monastic life, with very few possessions and a strong commitment to God.

John Crowe on a road trip circa 1960s. John went on to lead a monastic life, with very few possessions and a strong commitment to God.

Render unto God your heart.

The theme of National Community Church’s recent sermon series is I Like Giving. One of my favorite guest pastors, Dick Foth, gave a sermon last week about giving. It wasn’t the typical speech about the importance of tithing; this was something so much greater. It reflected the greatness of giving in the way God wants us to give.

Foth read a familiar scripture to us, but the way he read it—with non-verbal communication that included in a new reflection of how I’ve heard this scripture before—gave it completely new meaning to me. Foth was describing how Jesus most likely delivered the words He said in Mathew 21-21. When the scholars were trying to trick Jesus by asking Him if they should pay Roman taxes, Foth said he imagined Jesus saying, “Let me see one of those coins… then after looking at it and holding it out to the scholars, Jesus said, “Whose is this image and superscription? 21 They say unto him, Caesar’s.” Then Foth imagines Jesus tossing the penny on to the ground as if it didn’t mean anything, saying, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s,” and Foth then imagines Jesus pointing to each person and saying slowly and deliberately as if looking into their hearts, “and unto God the things that are God’s.”

You see, that coin was made in the image of Caesar—just a coin, nothing that really means anything—and it was all Caesar could claim. But God—He made you and me in His image. We and the universe are all God’s and He loves us. God wants us—our hearts—not money that we collect.

When I truly thought about that it was very powerful. I write checks to help people but God wants more of us. He wants our hearts to be in it. It’s easy to give what you have extra of. It’s harder to give what you really value and don’t have as much of. To me, that is my time. Lately I’ve been living in a situation where I’ve been giving up more of my private free time to help family, friends, foster dogs, and those who need some comfort and help of others. It doesn’t come easy to me. I’m used to owning my time and loving my privacy, but giving more of me is what God wants. And the more I give up my tight hold on my time for myself, the more I get out of myself and become a better person. A more loving and caring person. Someone that would make Jesus smile. Someone who brightens other people’s lives instead of sucking the light in for me. I’m still working on it (one small step at a time), but God has been blessing me lately with opportunities to help loved ones and friends.

Jesus gave us a gift not to be surpassed. He gave us His life. We cannot out give God but we can strive to give more of ourselves.

John 15:13
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

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