Saying Good-bye to Amber

This is the eulogy I wrote the day Amber died. Unfortunately, due to time issues, I wasn’t able to share it at the funeral, but since I promised her I’d do a eulogy, here it is.

The truth is I never wanted to have to give this eulogy. Amber asked me several times after she went into rejection to speak at her funeral, but I was hoping this day wouldn’t come for a very long time.

But, as Amber would say, it is what it is so I better own it.

I wish I could tell you why God allows things like this to happen – why He would take a young mother and wife. But I can’t.

In fact, if I’m perfectly honest (and we all know if Amber was here she’d tell me I should be), God and I have had a few words over the past few days about the unfairness of cutting short a life that meant so much to so many.

But here’s the thing, Amber would be the first person to tell me about God’s sovereignty in the midst of human suffering. It was her life’s message, and one she didn’t just pay lip service to. But one she had learned by walking one hard step after the other.

IF she was here today – after she told me to quit being stupid – she would want you to trust in that sovereignty. She would want you to know that God is good no matter the circumstances or how unfair or hard things seem.

Because she knew a secret that people who suffer know – God’s presence and His goodness and His grace can make even the ugliest of things beautiful just because He is there walking with us.

So, today, I want to do what Amber has asked me to do – remember her and celebrate her life because she is truly someone who should be celebrated.

There are 13 years between Amber and I (as she would often say – we were from different generations), and while I knew who she was when she was a teen in a periphery sort of way, we didn’t get to be friends until she was in her 20s.

The truth is the very first time Amber and I had a conversation, I remember coming home and thinking, “Man, that girl is SO pushy!”

We interacted periodically, and then, a few years later, I asked if she wanted to go out to dinner. We bonded over pasta at Fazolis. That was probably almost 12 years ago now.

The thing I will always remember about Amber and why I am having such a hard time believing she is really gone is she was one of the most alive people I have ever met. Probably because death was her constant companion for so long, it made her more aware of time than most people. Sure, we all know we could die at any time. I could walk outside and get hit with a truck tomorrow, but we don’t really LIVE that way.

Psalms 90:12 says, “So, teach us to number our days, that we may present to you a heart of wisdom.”  She was someone who always knew her days were numbered, and so she wisely lived the ones she had fully. She met each morning with a joy and fearlessness that was kind of amazing.

As someone who tends to be rather wimpy, I was always in awe of the way she just plowed through life even though the next infection could mean she was done. Instead of letting her circumstances make her bitter or allowing her precarious health to paralyze her with fear, she took each day as it came and as the gift it was.

You could see this most clearly in her relationships. I have been doing this word study on love in I, II and III John, and I came across the verse in I John 3:18 the day after Amber died. It seemed so appropriate. ‘Little children, let us love not with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.”

Amber didn’t just talk about loving people. She demonstrated that in numerous ways. You could see her living out this verse in her love for Jesus, her love for John, her love for Noah, and her love for her friends and family.

Her first love was Jesus – always. She was someone who was rooted and grounded in her faith. It wasn’t just lip service for her. It was the rock on which she built her life. If she was here today, she would tell you it’s the rock you should build your life on too, not the shifting sands of feelings or feel-good theology that tells you God just wants you to be happy. I think Amber’s life makes it clear that He is more interested in your holiness than your happiness, and ultimately that holiness is what brings you true joy.

Her second love was for John. She was passionate about being a good wife to John. She looked for ways to serve and love him every day because she knew their time would probably be short. Amber was never someone who did anything halfway. When she was in, she was all in. This was never more evident to me than when she started to date John. She knew, without a doubt, this was who she was supposed to marry – and heaven help anyone who stood in the way of that!

Her third most important love was Noah, and she was also passionate was being a good mom to Noah. Even though the road to motherhood was difficult and there were potholes of heartache along the way, she kept walking, never taking her eyes off the goal. In fact, the one thing that makes me smile in all this is the fact that Amber will finally meet that baby she miscarried over 6 years ago. The one she held in her heart.

And when she got Noah, the joy she had – it just radiated. I know it made her sad that her time with him was probably limited, that unless the Lord performed a miracle she wouldn’t see him graduate or get married. I know there were days she struggled with the fact that her health limited what she could do and where she could go with Noah. But even on days when she could barely breathe, she didn’t check out. She was there with everything she was able to bring, and trust me, chasing a toddler around with 30% lung function and small airways that had only 15% capacity was no joke. She was always exhausted, especially the last 6 months or so.

Finally, Amber loved her friends and her family. I was able to watch Amber as she worked at being a good wife and mom. I was inspired by her love and dedication to Jesus. But I was a recipient of her friendship. As I said, when Amber was in, she was all in. She was fiercely loyal and heaven help the person who messed with one of her people.

True friends are difficult to come by. You might only have a handful in your entire life. I counted Amber as one of those true friends. Although we had very different personalities, we both agreed that being real was important.

That was very true in our friendship and I’m sure it was in her other friendships as well. What I loved about Amber – well, most of the time – was that she would call you on your crap but at the same time, I could say anything to her and knew she wouldn’t be silently judging me. In Proverbs it says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” We both believed that. Sometimes, she would say the hard stuff, and sometimes, I would say the hard stuff, but we always spoke the truth to each other. Love is not always warm and fuzzy. Love sometimes says the things you don’t want to hear, but if it is silent, then it isn’t really love. It’s just enabling with a nice face.

Amber only lived a few streets over from me, and I would often drop by for short visits. We would message each other back and forth most days. I still find myself wanting to turn my car down her street or wanting to shoot her a message and see how her day is going. I still expect to see my private message to ding with, “Are you still alive over there?”

As I said, Amber and I had different personalities but we also had quite a few things in common. We were both writers, for one thing, and had a love of both words and good grammar (and yes, we were both silently correcting your grammar). We could count on each other to say whether something worked or it didn’t. Trust me, that is a gift because most people won’t tell you the truth.

Another thing Amber and I shared was our love of Scripture and the correct teaching of said Scripture. We had many long talks about different points of theology, and why we believed what we did. We questioned each other’s points of view on things. We were iron sharpening iron.

The simple truth is I will miss Amber every day.  I KNOW Amber is in a better place. She is whole and restored and perfectly at peace in all fullness of joy in the presence of her Savior.

As I Thessalonians 4:13 says, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as the rest who have no hope.”

But while I grieve with great hope, it doesn’t change the fact that, for me, the world is an emptier place without her.

I have walked the road of grief before though, and I know in some measure what Amber did about pain and suffering – God never leaves us and He never forsakes us. He has this miraculous way of taking our ashes and turning them into garlands of beauty. I have no doubt that He will use Amber’s death as He has used her life – to remind us who HE is and to bring Him glory which let’s face it, is really the entire point.

The Amber Payne Challenge

The Phone Call

When the phone rang at almost 11 p.m., I knew it wasn’t good news. My dear friend’s husband was on the phone, and I could hear the upset in his voice.

“Amber stopped breathing on me,” he said.

He went on to explain that there was a team of doctors in the ICU room where she had been moved the previous day, and they were intubating her as he was talking to me.

Even then, even when I knew things didn’t look good for one of my very best friends, I kind of thought she’d pull through. Because she always defied the odds.

A Walking Miracle

See, Amber was born with cystic fibrosis, and at 19 she received a double lung transplant. Before I met Amber I knew little about transplants. I just kind of thought the person got a new whatever and moved on with life. But it’s a whole lot more complicated than that. (Below is a picture of her the summer before her transplant).

Most transplant recipients struggle. They face the daily possibility of rejection and the myriad health issues that accompany that.

Amber was different. For 11 years, she did extremely well. Yes, she had to take a pharmacy full of pills. Yes, her cystic fibrosis attacked other parts of her body since it could no longer get at her lungs. Yes, she had to be careful of infections and other things that don’t even cross most people’s minds.

But overall, for 11 years she was a walking miracle.

Not Giving Up

And then came the day, just after her son’s first birthday, that she got the news that all transplant patients dread to hear – she was in rejection. Nobody knew why, but for several scary months, her lung function which had been at an astonishing 95% for these past 11 years, fell to 50% and then 45%  and then 35% and then 29%. Finally, they were able to stabilize her at 30%.

Instead of the weekly treatments over 90 minutes away, she was able to go down to monthly treatments.

But she still only had 30% lung function, and her small airways continued to deteriorate. I could see her struggling on a daily basis. She had a hard time keeping weight on and the circles under her eyes got darker. And she was always tired, but still, she pressed on. She had a little boy to take care of (he’s 3 1/2), and a husband she loved. And, of course, there was the tribe of people she called friends.

This summer, it became obvious that something was changing – and not for the better. Although she had been stable for about 2 years, something wasn’t right.

Because she had always fought back and overcome the odds, it seemed normal for everyone to expect her to do it again.

But this time was different.

The Last Stand

When she finally told her husband a week ago that she just couldn’t breathe, he drove her to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus where she had had the transplant almost 14 years before. The doctor saw something in her lung scan and went in for a closer look.

It was an infection – something all lung transplant patients dread hearing.

Still, this was Amber. She beat the odds. She was still living when she should have been dead 10 times over. But this was one time too many. The infection was too strong, her body too worn out.

This morning, she drew her last labored breath and went to meet Jesus.

Fierce – Determined – Fighter

I wish I could tell you why something like this happens to a young mom and wife, but I can’t. What I can tell you is that for as long as I’ve known Amber, her life message has been “God’s goodness and sovereignty in the midst of suffering.”

And she didn’t just say that; she lived it. She fought every day to live out her life and to love her people well. So, as I did several years ago when my friend Carla Dysert passed away, I’d like to offer you a challenge because I believe every hard thing, every loss can be redeemed if we allow God to do that – if we work to find the meaning in the sorrow.

I want to challenge you to fight like Amber Payne fought. To not give up on that dream, on that relationship, on that difficult diagnosis.

Because she didn’t.

There were so many times I saw her tired and worn out, but still, she got up the next day and put one foot in front of the other and kept fighting for her health and for the people she loved.

Take the Amber Payne Challenge

What is it in your life that feels overwhelming right now? What relationship seems too far gone to save? What dream feels too far out of reach? What diagnosis seems too big to bear?

Can I challenge you to do what Amber Payne did all of her life? Can I challenge you to push just a little harder, to fight just a little longer, to hang in there one more day?

Will you take the Amber Payne Challenge today?

 

 

 

A Brand New Season

Old Habits Die Hard

I pushed my cart through Aldi today, and I stopped – as I always do – at the end of aisle three where all the gluten-free items are kept. I reached for a box of granola bars and my hand froze mid-air.

I don’t need gluten-free granola bars anymore because the person who eats them is about 100 miles west of here.

When Life Changes

Yesterday, we dropped our youngest son off at college. I didn’t cry when I hugged him good-bye. Instead, my smile was so big it bordered on cheesy.

But today, the reality crept up on me.

The thing is, I’m not sure exactly how to feel. I LOVED college. Every new quarter was like a gift waiting to be unwrapped (and yes, I realize I am the world’s biggest nerd). I loved being with other creatives and learning from each other. I loved talking to my professors. I loved all the what-ifs after college.

And I’m excited and grateful and giddy that my son gets to experience those same things.

Life is Always Changing

I’ve had quite a few people come up and get that soft, sympathetic look and then ask me in a low voice, “How are you doing, Mom?”

And I feel a teensy bit guilty that I’m not falling apart because if I really loved my kid, shouldn’t I be a melted mess now that he’s gone?

It’s not that I don’t miss Brody because I do, but I’m not sad he’s gone. 

This is the Goal

Instead, I feel excited for him, for all the possibilities and opportunities that lay before him. And I don’t feel any less his mother because he is away at college.

Instead, I feel kind of like I’ve graduated too. I remember when I brought each of my boys home from the hospital, and the absolute terror I felt when it hit me that it was all up to me (and the Coach, of course), to keep these small people alive and help them to grow and thrive and become functioning adults.

 

And it kind of seemed impossible that I was capable of all that. 

Yet, here I am with two young men who are good guys, who love the Lord, and who I enjoy spending time with.

I wish I could take the credit, but I can’t. Instead, my boys are a testament to the fact that God is strongest where we are weakest. He equips us to do what we don’t feel capable to do, and He fills in the gaps that we can’t.

So, for me, seeing my youngest head off to college to study something he loves and is gifted in, it feels like I’ve graduated, too.

We’ve come to the bend in the road, as Anne Shirley would say, and I am excited to see what lies beyond it.

 

 

 

The Importance of Moving Forward

2019 Promised to Be a Year of Change.

It is now over halfway through 2019. I knew at the start of this year a lot of fairly big things would be happening. Things like my youngest son graduating from high school and my older son going back to college. Things like entering a new season of parenting and life.

But I had NO idea what 2019 would really entail.

As I thought about my word for 2019, I tossed around quite a few before settling on EQUIPPED. (I always know I’ve hit on the right word because I start crying- and I’m not really much of a crier).

More Change Than I Realized

I was barely into 2019 when I broke my leg. I’ve never broken a limb before, and I have to say, I could go the rest of my life without experiencing it again. While I am thankful I had the best-case scenario if you are going to break a leg, it was also a huge inconvenience.

It made everything take longer, become more complicated and difficult.

But, I got past it. I managed to not miss any of my son’s games during his last season of basketball, and I navigated the many college visits (and their innumerable stairs; WHY do colleges have SO. MANY. STAIRS???)

And I kept writing.

In fact, I wrote the majority of book 2 in my middle-grade fantasy adventure series, Pan’s Secret, on my couch with my crutches propped up next to me.

In some ways, having limited movement with fewer expectations made writing easier. I mean, what else did I have to do? I certainly wasn’t going to go take a walk or anything.

The End of One Chapter

This spring was something of a marathon as we headed into the homestretch of Brody’s senior year. Each big event was part of the countdown to graduation: the last basketball game, the last sports banquet, the last musical, the junior/senior banquet. Each of those things were the winding down of one chapter in the anticipation of the start of another.

I enjoyed those events, and had my moments of nostalgia. I did all the< “how did time go so fast?” and “didn’t he just start middle-school?” type of musings.

When Change Isn’t So Pleasant

And when he had graduated and the big party was over, I went in to see my doctor for a check-up.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really wasn’t expecting anything to be truly wrong.

Sure, I had also had a few times that spring when I felt abnormally out of breath and my heart seemed to pound, but I’d also just spent a couple of months not moving much. If it wasn’t for these weird creases in my earlobes (and studies prove they can indicate a problem), I might even have pushed that check-up to the fall.

Until my EKG was abnormal.

And the echo was really abnormal.

I remember listening to the nurse talking and saying all these words that were completely foreign to me: global hypokinesis, ejection fraction, and cardiomyopathy.

When I looked them up, I felt like I was entering a new world – one that I definitely didn’t want to visit. The world of heart failure.

 

Coming to Grips With Reality

I know, they always tell you not to google anything, but I have a very active imagination. I am also the type of person who gathers information and knowledge when I’m facing something scary. It makes me feel prepared.

But what I read sounded dire and more than scary. It sounded, well, terminal.

And suddenly the idea of a five-year plan seemed dumb, mostly because I wasn’t sure I’d be around in 5 years.

Instead of wondering what I was going to do in this new chapter of my life, I found myself wondering what I would be doing in what was probably my last chapter of life.

What Do I Really Believe?

I found myself looking straight at the question of whether I really believed that to live was Christ and to die was gain.

The truth is, we all know in our heads that technically we could die at any time, but the reality of that – not so much.

God and I had to wrestle it out, piece by piece.

That looked like spending time in prayer and memorizing Psalms 91:1-10 and reviewing Ephesians 1.

And one of the first pieces I had to click into place was whether I would still obey what God called me to do which is to write? Or would I let fear freeze me into place?

So, I sat down and I wrote.

Obeying Even When You Don’t Know the Outcome

It wasn’t easy. The first few days, my writing felt stiff, and the voices of my characters sounded far away and tinny.

There were times I wondered why I was doing this anyway, and the temptation to while away my time worrying called to me.

I kept pushing forward, though, and eventually, I found my groove. And I wrote the first draft of my third book between the visit with the cardiologist and my very first heart catheterization which happened yesterday.

A New Chapter

The good news is that my heart is clear. There are no blockages, and its function has improved since that echo back in June. My dilated cardiomyopathy was probably caused by either a virus or stress, and my doctor said my condition should improve over time, especially if I take good care of myself.

When I chose my word for this year, I’m not sure what I thought I’d learn. I certainly didn’t think it would involve one scenario after another where I was basically in a position of helplessness and I couldn’t fix it.

I do know that what God HAS shown me.

HE is the one who is equipped to help us get through anything that we face.

HE is the one that will go with us if we continue to push forward – even if that seems hard or difficult or impossible.

HE is the one that does the equipping, and the best place to be thus equipped is when we are at His complete mercy.

Don’t Let Fear Keep You From Moving Forward

I don’t know what you are facing today. I don’t know which mountain you are standing at the foot of, whose summit seems unattainable for whatever reason. What I do know is that God is always faithful and true and that He always keeps HIs promises. He never leaves us or forsakes us, and HE DOES equip us for every good work He created us to do, even if that seems impossible.

 

He will hide you under His pinions;

Under his wings, you may seek refuge.

His faithfulness is a shield and a bulwark.

Psalms 91:3

Every Beginning Comes With an Ending

Everything Can Change In an Instant

I was on my way out the door yesterday to my last day of teaching for the year (and don’t let anyone tell you that the teachers aren’t as excited about this as their students!) when I looked down at my phone and saw a message from my husband.

When I read it, I stopped in my tracks, stunned.

A dear friend had died suddenly in her sleep. Sandy Rufener started out as my high school English teacher, but over the years had grown into a mentor and a friend.

And she was gone – just like that. 

Yesterday, was also the day my youngest son graduated from high school.

Life Is a Neverending Cycle

Two such different events, but both endings that signal a beginning. As I moved through my day yesterday, trying to process two such big things, I was reminded that life is a continual cycle of endings and beginnings.  Before one thing begins, something else has to end, no matter how small or big. 

Mrs. Rufener (no matter how many times she told me to call her Sandy and no matter how many times I managed to do it, she will always be Mrs. Rufener in my head), ended her life here on earth but started a whole new one in heaven.

In recent years, funerals have started to be called celebrations or homegoings, and I really love that concept – especially for believers. Yes, losing someone you love is hard and sad and difficult. I don’t want to diminish anyone’s grief, having walked the path of loss twice myself in recent years, but if that person is a believer, there is also so much hope. This world is not all there is. Death is not the end of a stand-alone story. It is just the ending of the first book in the series.

For Brody, even though graduating high school is truly a celebration, it also signals an ending, a change. He has to leave behind what he knows, the friends he has spent his days with for the past 14 years, the security of family, and move into the unknown. In order to move on to the next chapter in his life, he has to close this one. You can’t find out what happens in the next chapter if you linger in the previous one. You have to turn the page.

The Future – Whatever It Is – Takes Courage

So, yesterday wasn’t exactly the day I thought it would be. Instead of simply walking through this milestone with my youngest child, I found myself slapped in the face with the reality that we just don’t know what tomorrow will bring – or even that it will come. But I was also comforted that every ending – no matter how final it might seem – also signals a beginning, too.

Yesterday highlighted a strange but beautiful paradox. As Mrs. Rufener’s life came to an end, my son’s life is just beginning. But at the same time, my son was also experiencing an ending, while Mrs. Rufener was entering into a glorious new beginning in heaven.

Both of them, Brody and Mrs. Rufener, are stepping into the unknown, but that’s okay because God’s promise is that He will never leave us or forsake us no matter if that next step is onto a college campus for the first time or onto heaven’s shores where God waits with outstretched arms.

I’ll leave you with the lyrics to one of my favorite songs, a hymn redone by Chris Tomlin.

All The Way My Savior Leads Me

All the way my Savior leads me
Who have I to ask beside
How could I doubt His tender mercy
Who through life has been my guide

All the way my Savior leads me
Cheers each winding path I tread
Gives me grace for every trial
Feeds me with the living Bread

[Chorus:] You lead me and keep me from falling
You carry me close to Your heart
And surely Your goodness and mercy will follow me

All the way my Savior leads me
O, the fullness of His love
O, the sureness of His promise
In the triumph of His blood
And when my spirit clothed immortal
Wings its flight to realms of day
This my song through endless ages
Jesus led me all the way
Jesus led me all the way

All the way my Savior leads me
All the way my Savior leads me
© 2008 Sixstepsrecords

Christian lyrics – ALL THE WAY MY SAVIOR LEADS ME LYRICS – CHRIS TOMLIN

 

Don’t Let Regret Slow You Down

It’s Been An Eventful Year or So

In the past 18 months, I’ve written two novels, published one (soon to be two in about a week), and have started plotting the third. This may seem like a big achievement, but I turned 46 this year.

I’ve been wanting to write books since I was about 11 years old.

That means it took me 35 years to realize my dream.

35 YEARS!

3 1/2 DECADES!

3/4ths OF MY LIFE!

I have to be honest. There are days when this really bothers me.

When I am in writing groups and the 20-somethings are talking about the series of five books they’ve just finished, and the new series they have planned, I feel like a failure.

Regret has a taste, and it’s bitter.

I ask myself why in the world I waited so long to start doing what I love.

I’m tempted to wallow in regret, and as strange as it sounds, to quit. I’m tempted to believe that I started too late, and I’ve missed my chance.

But here’s the thing, if I spend my time looking behind me, I’ll never see all the opportunity in front of me.

One of my favorite verses is in Isaiah 43:17, 18 “Do not call to mind the former things, Or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, Rivers in the desert.”

Regret is one of those things that can keep you mired in the past, stuck gazing at the path behind you and all the things you’ve missed. The problem with that is that you’ll end up missing all the new things that God is doing up ahead.

I could spend a lot of time beating myself up for all the “wasted time.” I could bemoan the fact that if I had gotten started 10 years ago, I’d be way further down the author path by now.

But I didn’t, and I can’t go back and change that.

The truth is, even if I had written books, they wouldn’t be the books I’m writing now because I’m different at 46 than I was at 36.

The very last book of the Bible I taught to my Sunday school class was Philippians. This book contains a lot of very well-known verses and one of them is found in chapter 3.

“Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.” Philippians 3:13

And if anyone had a reason for regret, it was Paul. It’s easy to forget that before Paul had his encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road, he was Saul. And Saul’s main goal in life was to go after Christians. He didn’t just go after believers in Jerusalem. No, he asked for permission to pursue them into other neighboring cities, too. If Saul and Paul shared one trait, it was zealousness.

Paul was responsible for men and women being dragged out of their beds, put in prison, and even losing their lives. He could have spent his life sunk deeply in the mire of regret.

But instead, he made the conscious decision to let that go and press forward. He turned his mental energy toward the task before him, not the regrets behind him.

Obviously, I realize that writing fiction books isn’t quite on par with Paul spreading the Gospel to the known Gentile world. At the same time, it’s what God has created and called me to do. And not doing it would still be disobedience.

So, on those days when I feel like I am way behind everyone else, when it feels like I will never catch up, I take a page from Paul’s book (literally!).

Instead of letting regret get the better of me, I purposefully pull my thoughts from what might have been, and instead, turn my attention and focus to the path before me.

And then, I take the next step.

What’s holding you back from moving forward?

 

 

 

 

Jesus Chose Women to Witness His Resurrection First

Women in the Bible have so many things to teach us.

In recent weeks, I’ve been doing a deep dive into women’s roles in the Bible. This isn’t the first time that I’ve studied women in the Bible.

I’ve taught on various women, and there is a whole series on this blog about 25 women in the Bible. You can check that out HERE.

We Live At the Best Time To Be a Woman

The truth is, women are currently living in a time where they have more freedom, autonomy, and power than probably at any time in history.

I remember being flabbergasted when my grandmother told me she couldn’t get a credit card in her own name. It had to be in her husband’s – and that was in the 60s which really isn’t that long ago.

Women in the Gospels

This week I just happened to be focusing on women in the Gospels. Of course, that is never really a coincidence. God always has this very cool way of leading me to Scriptures at just the right time. I love that!

And even though I’ve heard the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection many times  —after all, I started attending church when I was about a month old, went to a Christian school AND a Christian college—with my lens fixed on women, I saw these events in a whole new way.

That’s another thing I LOVE about the Bible and why I believe it’s called the LIVING Word. No matter how many times I read a story or familiar passage, the Holy Spirit shows me something new almost every time.

Jesus Was a Rebel WITH a Cause

The thing is, Jesus was a revolutionary. Now, we might not see that as much now. We’ve heard the story about Him, and familiarity softens the edges of just how much Jesus turned everything the Jewish people knew (or thought they knew) on its head.

One of the big areas that Jesus did this was in HIs interactions with women. As a rabbi and teacher, nobody expected Jesus to even take notice of women, never mind talk to them or allow them to be His disciples.

A Different Look at Mary and Martha

The fact that Mary was not only allowed but commended for sitting at Jesus’ feet (a typical posture of a disciple, btw) would have been mindblowing to those around Him. It was why Martha was so shocked when Jesus didn’t take her side.

You see, rabbis believed that women couldn’t study and understand the Scriptures. In fact, they were told they couldn’t learn the Scriptures – listen yes, but not actually learn.

But Jesus was different.

He had the 12, but He also had a larger group of people who followed Him as disciples.  And women were included in that number.

It’s no wonder the Jewish leaders of the time were perplexed. This man who claimed to be the Messiah was NOT acting the way He was supposed to.

He actually TALKED to a Samaritan woman who would have been considered unclean from the moment of her birth, nevermind her 5 ex-husbands plus the guy she was living with.

But women had a special place in the ministry of Jesus. In all of His interactions, He not only showed incredible compassion and love, but He raised them up. This stood in stark contrast to the society around them which definitely did not!

Women at the Cross

That day, when Jesus was led to Golgotha – His body bruised and battered and broken – it was the women who were there. The only disciple present was John. All the rest had fled, afraid of being identified with a man marked for death.

It was the women who kept watch as He suffered and died.

And it was the women that He talked to first after His resurrection.

Women at the Resurrection

It’s interesting to note that the women who went to His grave that first Easter morning were going to do a very basic task. They were going to bind spices in the linen in which His body was wrapped.

It was considered women’s work.

But it was in the midst of going to do this mundane task that Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James had an encounter with the risen Savior.

I love that Jesus chose to first appear to women while they were engaged in doing “women’s work” which would have been considered lowly and unimportant.

I love that Jesus chose to first appear to women even though, at that time, in a court of law they would not have even been considered qualified witnesses.

I certainly do not mean for this post to in any way denigrate men. I do have two sons, after all, and my husband is one of the good guys.

But, in a society where one rabbi’s opinion (Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus) about women and spirituality was, “The words of the Torah should be burned rather than entrusted to a woman,” Jesus was different.

The religious elite at the time were expecting a Messiah that was wholly different than the One that actually came. And so they missed Him.

But those whom society dismissed as lowly or unimportant or insignificant—they were the ones that truly saw Jesus as who He really was—the Savior who came to seek and save those who are lost.

As a woman, it touches a deep place in my heart that Jesus chose women as the first witnesses to His resurrection.

When God invites you to be His daughter with all the privileges that entails, it isn’t an empty promise. Jesus’s life and death and resurrection prove that. If you are interested in taking Him up on that promise, visit HERE.

Happy Easter!

The Joy of the Unexpected

I have a confession to make.

Every time I get the mail, I feel a small fizz of excitement. There always seems to be such possibility in that small metal box.

Oh, I know in my head that all I will find will probably be bills or junk mail or, on a particularly good day, one of my favorite magazines or something I’ve ordered online. Once in a while, a card or letter will pop up that I wasn’t expecting.

Today, I went to the mailbox and found, not one but two, surprises waiting for me.

One was a small packet of pictures from my Aunt Kitty (well, she’s actually my mom’s cousin, but I’ve always called her aunt).

I was tickled to see pictures of my grandparents and a host of other relatives when they were young. Almost all of them have passed on, so it was particularly sweet to see them again, smiling and young. (This was more poignant than usual as three people have died this past week). There was even this picture of my grandma, great-aunt and great -uncle at the pool in their bathing suits. I didn’t even know they ever owned bathing suits.

The other package was from one of my best and oldest friends (years we’ve known each other, not her actual age). It held a magazine and a clipped article, along with a note explaining both. My friend’s notes are always the best – quirky and interesting with a dash of humor.

The thing is, finding a fun surprise (or two) in my mailbox isn’t something that happens too often. The last one I remember came back in February. My chiropractor sent an article he had cut out and laminated of my son and husband reaching basketball milestones during the same game. I was so touched by his thoughtfulness.

But before that, it had been a long time. Snail mail isn’t really something people do too much of these days.

And I kind of think that is a shame.

It’s interesting that today I plan on sitting down to look at the second quarter of the year – April, May and June – and kind of plan out what I want to get accomplished. I am not a naturally organized person. However, I’ve learned that as a natural fritterer (I can seriously waste hours and whole days very easily), I need a kind of map for my days and weeks and months. If I’m not sure what to do next, I tend to do nothing.

This is one of those serendipitous moments that God is so good at orchestrating. One thing I wanted to do this year was to intentionally encourage others. While I’ve sent out a few cards, I really haven’t done that great of a job this first quarter of the year. Life has been a bit crazy (as in I’ve been out of town more in the past couple months than I have in the past couple years!!).

Today, God reminded me of that intention in a very tangible way – with my own encouragement in my mailbox.

So, here goes Operation Mailbox Surprise! I’m still mulling over what this looks like because realistically, the next few months will be extremely busy. But, I still think I can figure out a way to make people smile when they open their mailboxes!

Stay tuned (maybe I’ll record it on Instagram since I’m trying to learn that social media platform).

Reflecting on the Lessons This Winter

Today I am joining up with Emily P. Freeman to reflect on what I’ve learned during this past season. Reflection is something that I’ve been learning to do the past few years. It’s easy to forget because we get busy, and the frenetic pace of life tends to push us forward without much time to look backward. But I am learning that slowing down and reflecting and remembering the time just past has a lot to teach me. So, without further ado, here is what I learned during this winter season.

It’s Hard to Ask for Help

If you read this blog at all, you know that I broke my leg in January. To be honest, that still sounds ridiculous to me – that I actually broke my leg. But I did. The result was hopping around on crutches and needing a lot of help – which I found surprisingly difficult to ask for. I dipped into why that was in this post.

I Don’t Have to Do Everything

Riding on the coattails of the previous thing I learned is the fact that I don’t actually have to do everything around my home. I guess I kind of fell into the pattern of doing everything for everyone because they were busy and I wanted to be helpful and doesn’t a good mom serve her family? Since I have zero serving gifts, that never comes naturally. And when something doesn’t come naturally to me, I tend to sometimes go overboard in the opposite direction. In January and February, I had to ask for a lot of help. As I went down to one crutch and then no crutches, I realized I didn’t actually have to take back ALL those responsibilities. My family could pitch in too since they, you know, live here too.

I Still Want to Put God in a Box When it Comes to Answers

My youngest son is a senior this year, and he wants to major in film and art. Because of that interest, we have all decided – him included – that he needs to go to a Christian college for a variety of reasons. The thing is Christian colleges are expensive, and I had no idea HOW we were going to afford this. I started praying last year that God would provide. During the intervening time, I’ve thought I knew how God was going to do that. I would see what seemed like a very obvious way, and then when it didn’t work out, feel deeply disappointed. LIke God had somehow not lived up to expectation. The thing is, while I know God will provide, His answers never are what I’m expecting. You’d think I would have learned to just enjoy the ride by now.

A Gym Can Be More Than a Gym

My husband is a basketball coach. My kids have both played sports since they were very young. My youngest son played his last basketball game in the gym at their school (the gym I cheered in as a high schooler) in February. It was a surprisingly difficult moment for me. That gym had seen some of our most exciting moments and some of our most difficult as a family. I will miss watching my boys play there, and I was surprised by that.

Fellowship is Important

This winter I started an online Bible study with some women from my church. We all had one friend in common and knew each other, but didn’t really KNOW each other. That has been such a huge blessing in my life. For years, I’ve taught a Sunday school class, and while I loved the women in it and loved to teach, it’s different to be the teacher rather than just part of the group. It had been a long time since I’d just been a part of the group. I realized how much I had missed that. Not to mention, I feel I’ve deepened some friendships and found some true fellowship.

 

So how about you? What has this winter taught you? I’d love to hear about it!

 

 

 

 

Favorite Books From 2018

I meant to do this earlier, but I’ve been busy writing book 2 in my middle-grade fantasy trilogy, The Pirate Princess Chronicles. But before January gets away from me, I wanted to share my favorite books from 2018. I read 93 books in 2018 and these were my favorites.

 

Non-Fiction

The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings On Discipleship by Dallas Willard

My main thought after finishing this book was, “Where has Dallas Willard been all my life?” Seriously, this book was transforming for me. He articulated things I’d been feeling about the Church (in a general sense) in America and Western Christianity for a long time. What I love about this book is that it doesn’t just point out the problem; it gives some practical answers. He also has a series of short chapters at the end about spiritual books that made a big difference in his own life and how. I now have a list of books to read this year. I will say, this is dense reading. It took me a YEAR to read this book, and I tend to be a very fast reader. Each chapter is quite long and I took notes, but it was totally worth it!

Moving Mountains: Praying with Passion, Power, and Authority by Jon Eldredge

This was another book that I found completely transforming. This book on prayer discusses what it means to mature in our prayer life and the importance authority has in the Kingdom of God. While there were times I felt Eldredge was making things a bit more complicated than they needed to be, I also found his words convicting. He talked a lot about the authority we have as children of God – not orphans or slaves, but children and the rights inherent in that. He also talks a lot about the importance of being in alignment with God and how when we aren’t, it hinders our prayers’ effectiveness. Eldredge also uses a lot of references from books like The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings which I always appreciate. 🙂 And he reminds us that we are at war. I think this is something a lot of Christians – especially in the Western world – forget. One of my favorite quotes from the book talks about how we are all called to the battle whether we want to or not, and how incredible that is. “It looks like a hobbit with a handkerchief going to slay a dragon.” If you are looking to deepen your prayer life, this a great book to add to your shelf. I read it twice!

Fledge: Launching Your Kids Without Losing Your Mind by Brenda Yoder

This was a very timely book for me. With a 20-year-old son living at home and working and another son who is a senior this year, I was definitely the target audience for this book. Yoder, who has four children of her own, talks about the unique challenges of parenting teens and young adults. There are A LOT of books about parenting younger children, but not so many about this strange transitional stage. It can be hard to know the line of support/guidance and hovering. Yoder also talks about the bittersweet feelings that come along with this stage, including nostalgia, regret, loneliness, and the loss that can come with role changes. She also touches on parenting kids in multiple stages of life. With four children, she had a child in college all the way down to elementary school.  If you have children in the tween or older stage, check this book out!

Girl At the Edge of the World by Elizabeth Esther

This book deeply affected me. It is a memoir of a woman who grew up in a fundamentalist sect called The Assembly. Growing up, she suffered deep anxiety from being taught she would be martyred at a young age. She also endured daily punishing spankings for minor infractions and things no child should be punished for like not using the restroom fast enough. The Assembly, founded by her grandfather, exerted control over her and everyone involved in every area of their lives. These things had a devastating effect on her life. Her story was a heartbreaking one of spiritual abuse. She and her husband did break free, and her parents did seek her forgiveness, somewhat restoring the relationship. This was a riveting book and I highly recommend it as it addresses some key issues like accountability in leadership and how we can leave the leave the harm inflicted in the name of God without losing God Himself.

 

Fiction

On the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

This is an author I really enjoy. She wrote Water for Elephants and The Ape House, both of which I also enjoyed. In On Water’s Edge, I was sucked into Maddie’s story and stayed up way too late reading this. The story starts with a trio – Maddie, her husband Ellis and his friend Hank. The trio seems carefree and exuberant, reminding me of the roaring 20s, a Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald type of couple. But Ellis is not what he seems, and Maddie’s difficult upbringing with a distant, unloving father and a mentally ill, narcissistic mother is slowly revealed. When Ellis drags her to the Scottish Highlands to find the Lochness Monster, Maddie gradually realizes the real monster is her husband. Set in World War 2, this is both a moving love story and a coming of age story.

Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce

Hands down, this was one of my favorite fiction books of 2018. Set in World War 2 (see a common thread here?), it is the story of Emmaline “Emmy” Lake and her best friend Bunty, who are doing their bit for the war effort and trying to stay cheerful despite the planes making their nightly raids. Emmy dreams of becoming a war correspondent and when she spots an ad in the newspaper thinks this will be her chance. Unfortunately, there is a misunderstanding and she ends up typing letters for the formidable Henrietta Bird. Bird is very clear – any letters containing any Unpleasantness are to be thrown away. Unfortunately, her definition of Unpleasantness includes just about everything but housekeeping questions and cooking. Emmy, reading the heartrending letters from girls and women in difficult predicaments because of the war, can’t bring herself to throw those letters away so, she starts to secretly write them back. You will love Emmaline Lake and her cheerful, plucky persistence in the face of sometimes overwhelming challenges.

The Invisible Library Series by Genevieve Cogman

There are currently five books with more to come in the series. Irene Winters is a professional spy for the mysterious and shadowy Library which “collects” literary works from alternate realities to help keep the balance between chaos (represented by the Fae) and order (represented by the dragons) in all the alternative worlds. Each book has its own mystery/problem to solve, but there is also the overarching story of the Library and Irene’s own story. This is compulsive reading at its best!

The Stoker and Holmes series by Colleen Gleason

As a steampunk fan, I had a hard time putting down. This series features Mina Holmes, Sherlock Holmes’ equally intelligent niece, and Evelyn Stoker, Bram Stoker’s vampire hunting sister. Each book has its own mystery to solve and plenty of adventure and hair raising adventures, but there is an arch villainess behind them all. There are currently four books in the series and I am eagerly awaiting number five!

The Road to Here by Robert Kugler

This is the second book the Avery and Angela series. In the first book, The Last Good Day, we are introduced to Avery and Angela, two recently graduated teenagers who have been best friends throughout high school. They are spending one last good day before Avery heads off to a music conservatory. At the end of that book, the two have gotten together as a couple, and Angela has revealed that the cancer she beat in her childhood has come back. The Road to Here picks up several months later. Avery has spent his first semester at college while Angela has endured chemo treatments. They reconnect at Christmas break. This is not my usual genre, but I really love the story of Avery and Angela. Maybe it is because I have sons this age myself, but I loved the way Avery grew as a person – learning to really listen and nurture Angela. I also loved the cast of characters that came alongside the couple. The book ends in a twist I did not see coming, and I am waiting impatiently for book 3.

Hook’s Daughter: The Untold Tale of a Pirate Princess by R.V. Bowman

Yes, I know it might seem strange to include a book I wrote, but I spent an entire year with this story, and I still like it. When Andromeda “Rommy” Cavendish’s father doesn’t show up for one of his twice yearly visits, Rommy becomes worried and sneaks out of her exclusive boarding school to find him. Dressed as a boy, she travels through 19th century London only to find more questions than answers. To find her father, she’ll have to travel to the magical island of Neverland where heroes are villains and her father might just be the biggest villain of them all. (On a sidenote, I just finished the first draft of book 2).

If one of your goals this year is to read more, I hope this gives you a great place to start.

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