Friday, February 28, 2014

February Love Letters- Love Is A Wonderful Thing by Julie Meikle

The saying by Forrest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get,” resonates with so many in our society.  For the most part, I would agree with this statement. So many times our circumstance take us on paths we never expected and/or imagined. Yet, through each walk, each moment, we are defined and refined and hopefully, it is for the better of others, and ourselves, but mostly for the glory of God.

Our lives and our paths are most often determined by our choices, we actually can choose the type of chocolate, the type of mate, the type of marriage we want…..we don’t need to aimlessly and carelessly hope for the best piece…..then hope we are satisfied.

Today, we are bombarded with the idea that “anything goes,” do what makes us happy, and if things get too hard, then quit and move on to something else….to greener pastures…something that fulfills our immediate needs and desires.” 

Thus, words such as marriage and love become words of convenience and compromise, lacking in faith and commitment.

I must confess, when asked to share my experience and thoughts regarding my marriage, I humbly laughed because I will be the first to tell you that I for sure do not have nor do I claim to have the perfect marriage or life. I also will tell anyone and everyone that marriages should be based on I Corinthians 13, that marriage is hard and requires work and commitment, and that your mate and others will always fail you, but it is our wonderful Father who will never fail us, leave us, or stop loving us.  It is in Him we need to put our trust.

My “love story” may seem odd and unlikely, especially in today’s norm. You, see I fell in love when I was in high school and married my husband shortly after graduation. Everyone (teachers, mentors, close friends and even family) discouraged me from getting married so young.  I was told to live it up and experience life and settle down when I got older.  

Yet, for me I never desired to go out and “live it up” for I believed “living it up” was sharing life with the man I loved.   I had been raised in the church my entire life and was blessed to have a heritage of long marriages in my family from my great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents. 

I knew that my husband, Mark, had all the traits I desired: Christian, country boy, good Christian family, funny, smart, ambitious, and he loved kids. I was just blessed to have found him so early. 

Thus, we vowed on June 20, 1987 before God and our family and friends to love and cherish each other till death do we part. We were going to live happily ever after.

Then life truly began.  

Two bachelor degrees, two master’s degrees and other certifications between the two of us (which equated to almost 10 years of school), two kids, six job changes and nine moves has equated to quite a roller coaster ride. 

People may look at us now and think, “Their lives are so easy…they have all these things.” Yet, they have not seen the sacrifices and/or traveled the long road with us. 

There were many days I didn’t like my husband very much and I know he felt the same towards me. There were days when the kids were sick and we were physically exhausted and wanted to just “get away,” days when he was stressed from work and came home in a mood, days when we were just selfish and ugly, and days when we had to once again tell our children that we were moving because of dad’s work, but one thing was for certain, we had each other and God would take care of us.

We knew our marriage was an investment and that love was not built on “raw physical” (though that is how most of our relationships begin) or just a moment of elation, but rather it’s a commitment, a choice we make to love this person (flaws and all) and grow old with them. Mark and I made time for each other and always tried to share many of the same interests and activities. My needs were different than his needs and we each needed to be in tune to each other’s feelings and desires. It’s a choice we make every day, just as we choose to serve God. It’s a mindset that “I love you just as you are and I’m not going to keep trying to change you, but love you unconditionally like Christ loves his church.”

This past year has been one like no other.  My daughter became engaged in June and married in November. The wedding ring she selected was one with three bands based on the scripture from Ecclesiastes 4:12, “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” My daughter and son-in-law know that a strong and happy marriage has God as the center, holding it all together.  My husband and I have prayed for her and the man she would someday marry since she the day she was born and I love that God is faithful and that we are witnessing His goodness.

Today, we are empty-nesters and I am struggling like never before. Twenty years of having a houseful of kids with laughter, noise, fights, and tears…..just seems like it went away……in the blink of an eye. Now, my husband and I are alone again and trying to work through this next chapter in our lives.

While having the “woe is me” attitude last week, my dear friend who just lost her husband of 27 years to cancer called.  She was sad and lonely and needed a shoulder.  The one thing she said has helped me reevaluate and appreciate all those “little things” we all so take for granted: “you know, I have no one to come home and vent to, I have no one to sit with me in church, I have no one to help resolve issues with my kids, I have no one to call to say I made it or I am on my way home.  I have no one to hold me.

Love is a wonderful thing. 

Marriage is a gift….an opportunity to “do life” with the one we love. Now through much prayer and gratitude, I am focusing my attention back to my husband and to our marriage (though I am still in transition…not going to lie). God has richly blessed me with health, a loving family, wonderful friends, and most importantly a spouse who loves me and shares this life on earth with me. “For every good and perfect gift comes from the Father.” James 1:17 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

February Love Letters- Love Will Bring Us Comfort by Marla McDonald

My mother told me she was diagnosed with leukemia right after my second daughter was born.  She told me while sitting around the kitchen table. 

I can’t imagine how hard that was for her.  Here she was, celebrating a joyous occasion, yet she had to break the terrible news. 

But she was a believer in God Almighty.  From the beginning she told me, “I will be okay”. She constantly told me how she knew the Lord was using this for his glory and she had just decided to surrender to that.  She had many ups and downs.  She would think she was cured, then a few months would go by and her blood work would say otherwise. 

About 4 years later, she called me one day, crying and said she was tired of fighting and she wanted a quality of life over quantity.  That was extremely difficult to deal with…..your mother, who you think will just be around forever, is telling you her time is nearing.  After two more years of very hard battles, we gathered together as a family in my mother’s hospital room.   It was time to say good-bye.

I’m going to back track now to two nights before we let Mother go be with the Lord.  Mother was pretty much out of it in the hospital….hooked up to tubes, being supported totally by medicine and a breathing machine.  We knew what we had to do, but oh was I dreading that drive down to North Carolina.  I really did not want to go, but I knew of course I had to. 

I was very afraid.  

The night before I left, I got up to go to the bathroom.  I looked into the mirror and stood there amazed at how I looked.  I looked really tired, awful, thin and just stared at myself for a minute.  I couldn’t believe how much I looked like my mom.  It’s hard to explain, but I just saw myself in a different light.  It made me think, if I’m this tired, then imagine how tired of fighting mother must feel.  I went back to bed. 

Fast forward to the long drive down to NC.  I got to the hotel where my sister and I were staying and we sat down to talk that night.  She told me she had a weird story to tell me.  She told me that she had looked in the mirror last night and her eyes looked just like mother’s eyes.  It was amazing and that she just kind of looked at herself taking it all in.  I broke down crying and she thought I was crazy; then I told her about MY story of seeing “mother in my face”.  We both could not get over how we had the same strange experience on the same night. (although it didn’t surprise us THAT much because MANY things had been happening, and continued to happen after she passed). 

 I tell you this story is because God gives us comfort, signs, people, songs etc. at the exactly the RIGHT time, when we need them.  We feel this was God’s way of saying mother will continue to live on through us, she will always be with us, and she will be okay.

 We spoke to mom a lot in the hospital.  We have no idea if she heard us, but a tear did roll down her cheek.  After she died, my sister and I left and immediately went shopping to find her something to wear for the funeral.  As soon as we walked in Dress Barn, “In the Arms of the Angels” started playing on the store sound system.  Again….we feel that was a sign from God letting us know everything was okay. 

We saw many things like this when mother was sick.  My sister witnessed my mom, who was still out from anesthesia, speak in tongues while she prayed over her.  This was something none of us had ever been exposed to in our lives, but it happened right before our eyes!  

A few weeks after my mom died, I was crying pretty bad in the shower one day; just depressed from everything.  I remember telling God I felt like I was in darkness and asked “where is the light Lord”? There has to be a light at the end of the tunnel.  That night while we were all sleeping, I was awakened by my husband.  He poked me and sort of scolded me for not turning the lamp off (the one next to my bed).  I told him I never even turned it on and I always turn the lights out before bed.   I had no idea how this lamp got turned on in the middle of the night; but I knew what it meant.  I feel that light coming on in darkness, was again, God’s way of saying, Yes!  There is light and it will all be okay.  My husband had a hard time believing my story but I think in the end he got it. 

I know these may seem farfetched to some, but it is real and this isn’t even everything that has happened.  But I wanted to tell a few stories to illustrate that God will let Himself be seen if we are open to it.  

My sister was so moved by these events that she got up at the funeral and basically preached salvation to a packed sanctuary; something she would have NEVER done before.  She said the Holy Spirit just moved her to do it. 

How do we feel the comfort?  We have to be quiet, humble and just have an open heart.  And of course we can ask God for it, because he tells us he will give us the desires of our heart.  God can comfort us after loss.  We have to ask him to change our perspective and let us see what he sees.  He sees eternally and we can’t really see past the next 20 years or so.  

Our definition of time is not His.  

Our definition of healing is not his. 

I feel God prefers internal, spiritual healing over physical, because our bodies are not with us forever.  Our souls are what live on in Heaven, but we cannot get there unless we commit to Him and his son Jesus Christ.

God did heal my mother…..just not on this Earth.  

Although I miss her so bad, she was really sick.  I wouldn’t have her back if it meant she had to live with that awful cancer.  I know she is TRULY LIVING right now.  I hope if you have experienced a loss, you will find comfort in these words.  God knows our pain; he gave us our emotions and is the ultimate comforter.  I will leave you with one of my mom’s favorite verses.  It is very simple but says a lot: “Be still and know that I am God.”

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Love Is Loyal

There are loyalty rewards programs in almost every business I go to.  My wallet is full of them, and when I go to pay and they ask “Do you have our card?”, it takes me a minute to find the correct one.  Businesses want our loyalty and they are willing to reward us for it.  

How does this work in our relationships? 

Loyalty can be hard to find. The word means “unswerving in allegiance”.  UNSWERVING?  That didn’t say ran off the road, it says that it never even swerves.  It stays straight.  I wonder how many relationships could be saved if all parties chose to stay straight and just decided not to swerve? 

When you find someone who is loyal to you, treasure it and nurture that relationship.  When you see loyalty in action, it’s always refreshing and inspiring. It might have been created through your birth/bloodlines, or it might have been earned by friends.  We choose to be loyal to people by our hearts and minds.

When you love someone, you are loyal to them.  I love God, so I am loyal to Him.  Even when He is allowing me to be in the desert for a while I am loyal to Him, because I love Him and I trust Him.  God never makes me question His loyalty.  His love is unconditional and endless.

I choose to be loyal to God and I show Him this by obeying Him.  That might not be my initial reaction.  Sometimes, I have to remind myself to obey first and to do what is right and honorable.  The Lord will bring about the heart change, if necessary, and honor my decision to follow His ways.

Jodi shares the following testimony of seeing loyalty in action:
Being a friend who loves at all times takes loyalty.  That is something the Lord has blessed me with greatly.  I have been blessed with loyalty through great trials.  When family and friends could not fathom our daily battle, they still gave endless support.  This support came without hesitation, judgment, or even understanding.  The result of that lifted my spirits, encouraged my walk, and caused me to give thanks knowing it was the Lord who gifted me with these relationships.  Once you experience this, hold tight and strive to do the same.  May we nurture these relationships and not take them for granted.”

Our greatest example of loyalty is that of Christ.  I hope, we as women, can always be loyal to those we love and have been entrusted to us.  Above all, may we be loyal to Him and our boldness in standing up for His truth.  The rewards are awesome!

Passages to Ponder:

Ruth 1:16-17 But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back.  Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live.  Your people will be my people and your God will be my God.  Wherever you die, I will die and there I will be buried.  May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us.

Proverbs 3:3- Never let loyalty and kindness leave you!  Tie them around your neck as a reminder.  Write them deep on your heart.

Hebrews 10:35- So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you!

Contributors:  Karen Bromby, Monica Brown, Jodi Dunbar, and Kim McClure

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

February Love Letters- Love Transcends All Boundaries by Brittany Ketter

I thought and I prayed long and hard about these words that I write to you.  After a few weeks the question that I felt God was prompting my heart with was this, "What is the greatest outpouring of love you have ever received?" And, "What is the greatest outpouring of love that you have given?"

 The gift of salvation through Jesus Christ is the greatest outpouring of love I have ever received. I am not meaning to sound cliche here - He really is. Aside from Jesus, memories of the people I was so privileged to minister to in El Salvador, Phoenix, and New York City flood my mind. 3 mission trips, 3 different years, each one life-changing in a unique way. New York City was my first trip. I thought I was going to bless some people and witness on the streets. I was not prepared for the tsunami that swept over my heart when I met these kids at a day camp that my group and I put on a Vacation Bible School for. There was one girl in particular who really captured my heart, Brianna. To this day I'm not sure how she captured me so, but even after 4 years, she still remains in my prayers.

In El Salvador I learned that love transcends all boundaries. It is a language all on its own. If you are fluent in love, you can reach anyone.

Phoenix was a whole new group of people - and a lot of young kids in far less than wholesome situations. One of the neighborhoods that our team worked during the trip was the location of an axe murder that took place the day before we got there. To think that these children live surrounded by that kind of violence - it is heart breaking. Those children touched my life in a deep way through their hunger for love. Everyone needs it. 

During these trips my love for people has deepened, and through these experiences, God has re-shaped my view. Growing up, I had the mindset that life really begins when I get married and begin a family. I couldn't have been more wrong. That is just a part of life - just like singleness is a part of my life right now. What I've found through these mission trips is that a life truly lived is one that is lived in love.

It is not always easy being a single Christian woman. At times I find myself in a state of longing - I do so desire to marry and have a family one day. Beyond that, I long to see the glory of God made manifest in my life and in the lives of those who I come into contact with.

Love is not just for couples. I want to encourage you if you are a single Christian woman - embrace this season of singleness and press into the heart of God. These are the days that He is shaping you for what is to come.  If you want to truly live and experience life, you need to love radically. How better can you love radically than to know Love Himself?

The greatest outpouring of love that you can give is the knowledge of salvation to a lost soul who needs Jesus. Is there really a higher privilege than being able to introduce someone to Jesus Christ and eternal life? I'm not so sure there is.

I want to challenge you - think about the greatest outpouring of love you have ever received and then give out that same kind of love. You will never be the same.

 Brittany Lee Ketter
Twitter: @Brittany_Lee22

Monday, February 24, 2014

February Love Letters- Love Overcomes Hate by Karen Bromby

Love my family?  Will do, Lord, even though we get one each other’s nerves. 

Love my neighbor?  No problem, even when we disagree on how to handle road maintenance.  

Love my friends?  They are MY friends, after all!  Easy!  

But love my enemy?  How, Lord, am I to love my enemy? 

I want to!  I really, really do.  

Because you command it in Matthew 5:44, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” And in Luke 6:27, “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…”

Seriously, though?  Am I not justified in my rage for my one true enemy?  She hates me so fervently that she plots and pursues ways to tear me down with my peers and cast doubt with my boss.

And then again in Luke 6:15:  “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

The only words that jump out at me are “ungrateful” and “wicked”! This woman sets out each day to uproot my relationships and destroy my career. How, oh Lord, am I am to love this enemy?

This scenario was real for me several years ago.  One of the darkest years of my life was fraught with the struggle between the damage done by a coworker and knowing God’s command to love her.  Before, I would have been able to honestly say that I had no known enemies. That year God showed me what a real enemy is while showing me what true love is.

Every day that I went into the office I would find some way that this woman had undermined my authority or wreaked havoc on a relationship.  And every day that I went home I would weep while asking God to replace my anger, rage, and confusion with love.

His answer came about three quarters of the way into that terrible year. 

He had me turn to 1 Corinthians 13.  It may seem like an obvious answer, but I had only really considered the “love” chapter in terms of romance.  At the bottom of the page in my NIV study bible were the words that broke open the mystery for me: “…love.  

The Greek for this word indicates a selfless concern for the welfare of others that is not called forth by any quality of lovableness in the person loved, but is the product of a will to love in obedience to God’s command.  It is like Christ’s love manifested on the cross.”

God used that study note to bring forth a love larger than I ever imagined...  For my enemy.  

He revealed my own unlovableness and how deeply he intended for us to love another.  The remainder of that dark year, I was empowered to show her love in spite of her continued vendetta. I was equipped to be merciful as my father is merciful.  I was surprised that she ultimately quit the organization.  Many years passed, but recently, we reconciled.  I am certain it happened only because God’s love overcame hate.

Is God calling you to love someone despite no quality of lovableness on their part?

Karen Bromby
Karen is a Christian wife and mother who blogs to encourage others by sharing how God's son, Spirit, and Word have transformed her life.  Her work and ministry experience includes freelance writing, production for newspapers and magazines,  church volunteer management, curriculum and training development and serving as a staff member and volunteer with Operation Christmas Child.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

February Love Letters- Love Can Lift and Heal Your Heart by Bettina Gigliello

It’s a running joke among my friends and family that I possess the unique ability to simply forget negative events in my life.  On many occasions I’ve had conversations with my mom or with friends about a particularly difficult time in my life, and they’ve brought up an event of which I will simply have no recollection.  I consider this a blessing because it allows me to forgive easily.  My father calls this “forgiving to a fault” because I have a tendency to permit someone to hurt me repeatedly before I protect my own heart. 

Needless to say, because of this trait, sharing my story of divorce and finding love again  is difficult because it requires me to open old wounds and delve into a time I simply chose to forget.  It does, however, remind me of the sovereignty of our God, and his deep desire to bless us despite our flaws and failures.  

I hope that this story gives you the hope that true love does exist, that God is incredibly good, and that you do, indeed, deserve to be loved “as Christ loved the Church.”

My first marriage was over about eight years before it was truly over. 

I was married for eleven years.  Seven of those years were spent in counseling, both Christian and secular.  I gave it all I had, and then I hit rock bottom.  The details of how I got there are of little circumstance.  How God lifted me out of the deepest, darkest hole and healed my broken heart is one of the greatest miracles I’ve witnessed. 

I carried the stigma of divorce like some carry the stigma of drug addict, thief, or murderer.  

To me, it was simply not an option.  But as I lay face down on my bedroom floor sobbing and beating my fists into a pillow, I remember simply begging God to help me.  I do not pray out loud, but on that day, I cried out to Jesus.  

My heart was utterly broken. 

I begged for forgiveness for giving up on my marriage.  I remember that prayer as if it were yesterday. 

The peace and calm that came over me was immediate.  God spoke softly in my ear these simple words, “I forgive you.”  

The next months are a blur of memories, both good and bad.  God laid a path before me that was clearly marked.  I leaned completely on him.  I can honestly tell you, the biggest hurdle I faced was the way many of my Christian friends responded. 

The divorce came as a shock to most.  We were young with two small children.  We came to church every Sunday.  Aside from my pastor, my parents, and my best friend, no one knew what went on behind closed doors.  I was not only trying to get out of an abusive marriage, I had lost my home and had to file for bankruptcy.  

The shame was overwhelming. 

One Sunday, a woman in church came up to me and told me that I better reconsider my decision or I would be “damned to hell”.  It cut like a knife.  On the contrary, the support and love I received from most of the congregation was overwhelming.   I focused on that love and my faith to keep moving forward.

Start to finish, my divorce was finalized in less than four months.  I focused on work and my children.  I continued to draw closer to God.  I prayed for him to bring people into my life that would support and love me.  I did not expect him to bless me with the greatest love I’ve known on earth.

The summer before my divorce I had gone on a whitewater rafting trip down the New River in West Virginia with my best friend.  It was a group she had been going with for years.  She invited me knowing how much I had been struggling and thought it would cheer me up.

My husband, Ro, shares the story of us meeting on that trip, and it overwhelms me how intricately God weaves our lives together.   He’d been fervently praying for God to bring him a wife, and shared at our life group a few weeks ago that in truth, he realized, he had been praying for a relationship with his Lord and Savior.  God blessed him with that relationship by bringing me into his life.  He would just have to wait patiently.  No wife has ever heard sweeter words.

We wouldn’t speak again for over a year. 

It was a casual email send out to the entire group that had gone rafting.  That simple group message sparked a series of email conversations and a budding friendship.  He shared that his father had died when he was a baby, and that he had been raised by a single mother.  He reassured me that I, too, was equipped to do the same.  He prayed for me and quickly became the person I could confide in.  

He didn’t know me.  He didn’t have to choose sides.

What happened with time was unexpected but somehow felt completely natural.  Our friendship slowly grew into love. I remembered my prayer of protection.  That wall was still heavily constructed around my heart, but he was beginning to dismantle it brick by brick. 

I didn’t date and turned down anyone who asked.  I was content being a single parent.  I was discovering myself and allowing God to reconstruct me at will.  It was a time of growth and change.  

Ro never demanded anything of me.  He didn’t push his way into my life.  He just seemed to fit, very naturally.  Communication was effortless.  He gradually introduced himself to the children.  They grew to love him as I did.

Three years later we were married.  Next to the birth of my children, it was the happiest day of my life.  Five years later, I’m thanking God for every struggle and heartache that led me to him.  God prepared my heart to receive his love.  Had I not been through all the heartache, I’m not sure I’d have the humility to appreciate a man of his caliber.

I’m astounded when I look at the trials we’ve faced together and how it hasn’t phased our marriage.  He puts his faith before me, and it has made all the difference. 

I used to get so frustrated reading Colossians 3:18, but I finally understand what Paul was saying.  It is easy to submit when you are being loved completely.  I have a husband who doesn’t expect me to control every situation.  He leads our family by seeking God’s will first.  He puts me ahead of himself.  He allows me to be weak, to break, to falter, to get mad, to fail.  He is quick to forgive me when I wrong him.  He is a patient and loving father to two children, who don’t know the love of a biological father.  They are proud to know that he chose them. 

One of the most selfless things he ever said to me was shortly after we were married.  We were discussing the idea of having a child together.  He shared that he didn’t want Sam or Elena to ever worry that he loved his biological child more than he loved them.  We prayed and decided not to have a child together.  The way he loves my children reaffirms on a daily basis that he was brought to me by God himself.  I am blessed.

We aren’t sad we didn’t have one another for the first 33 years of our lives.  We know that God prepared us for one another.  He shaped us perfectly to love one another.  He continues to grow that love more deeply by the day, and we are comforted knowing that we have the rest of this life and the next together.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

February Love Letters- Love Makes Beauty From Ashes by Rebecca Davis

God has the ability to make beauty from ashes, and that’s just what He did for me and for my sisters and brother, and it is most certainly what He did for my beautiful mother when she walked into His presence…

When I was a teenager I chose to pursue the world, rather than a relationship with my Lord and Savior, though I had been saved, and baptized, I made a conscious decision to walk away. In doing so, there was a very defined rift in my relationship with my family.

My sister Anna is 18 months younger and only one grade below me. We basically avoided each other in high school. I only talked to her when I had to and I was unkind to her a fair amount. She didn't deserve it, she was selfless, and sweet to her core, and I abused her.

My brother annoyed me at every chance he could and he was a pest, but I loved him.

My baby sister I adored, and she adored me. She would try to protect me and I did everything in my power to protect her. She was 7 years younger than me, but she was my sweet girl, and I mothered her. I still do.

My mom and I had a good relationship. She was patient and kind, she trusted me to her Heavenly father, and she knew there was nothing she could do other than pray for me. Pray for me she did. I still have people come to me and tell me how they used to pray with my mom for me during Bible study, it makes me smile that her prayers have been answered.

My relationship with my dad was bad from the time I was 13, until I was 21 years old. A lot of ugly, ungodly things were said and done on both sides, then it was a gradual change for the better… only by Gods grace and my mom’s prayers. Mom was our protector from our dad when things were bad, she was the rock of our family.

 She was our everything. All of us kids felt the same and and all of us looked to our mom for encouragement and love, the thought that she wouldn't’ be there someday never crossed our minds.

During my senior year of high school, we got some pretty devastating news about Mom. She had gone to the doctor with some weakness on her right side, and her vision was changing and a few other symptoms. Hoping for a pinched nerve, she found out that she had a brain tumor. It was benign, but it was behind her optic nerve on her brain stem, it was inoperable, and it was growing.

Her original prognosis was bad, we were told she had 6 months to live, but within a few months and after surgery and radiation, we were given a much more hopeful, but vague, amount of time.  She suffered a stroke during her surgery, which limited some of her ability to talk and walk and she had no use of her right arm, but she was alive and we were thankful to have her with us.

Her disability did give us more to do for her. For a time she couldn't shower or shave, dress herself, or go to the bathroom alone, so my sister Anna and I really were given the hard but wonderful job of helping her with all of that while we lived at home. She did regain the ability to care for herself, with only a little bit of help needed, so Dad was able to be her caregiver without the help of nurses.

When my mom had her stroke a part of her was lost forever. She was not the same mom I called every day from work to tell about my day. She wasn't the mom that made us dinner, and took us shopping. She changed and because of that so did we.

The relationship between my dad, my sisters and my brother changed because it had to. We needed each other. We needed to stop fighting and  being selfish and we needed Jesus more than ever.

I started calling my sister every day while she was in college and we talked about everything from boys, to classes, to friends to food, I knew she needed someone to talk to while she was 6 hours away at college, and I needed her too. Our relationship started and it has only continued to grow since then.

I stopped fighting with my dad, and I eventually went to him and apologized for my part in our issues. There was healing and I know now, that when my mom got sick God had a plan, not that she would be sick but that in her sickness we would as a family be restored.

 My brother was tough, he was wounded by some things that happened at home, and he was angry that mom was sick, we all were but he might have been the most angry. He withdrew. It was sad and hard but I loved him and prayed for him every day. Our relationship drastically improved when he saw me being a part of his life, going to hockey games and working in the youth group to be a part of his life.

My baby sister was shielded from a lot. We did our best to protect her. She had/has a strong relationship with the Lord, and she had faith that my mom would be healed, and that everything was going to be ok. She is the baby of the family but she was the source of strength a lot of the time. She always knew what to say and how to encourage us. As much as I wanted to encourage her, she encouraged me more.

The year my sister Sarah Graduated from High school, was the year after I had my first son Taylor. I had found out we were expecting again, and so I quit my job as a nanny to stay home, and decided we may just have to live on love for a while. Just after Sarah’s graduation my moms health started to decline rapidly.

After about 6 year of no changes, she was declining and it was scary. She had seizures all day, she started wetting herself, she could no longer care for herself in even the smallest ways, and the doctors told us there was very little they could do, but that surgery one more time could help and maybe give her a few more months. My mom wept, she was ready to go home, she didn’t want the surgery. She wanted us to let her go home. It was one of the worst things I’ve ever experienced.

She was placed in Hospice on my 25th birthday.  When she died, I was 7 months pregnant with our second son Jacob, She was surrounded by her husband, 4 children and her sister. It was hard but we had each other. We held each other up, we wept with each other, and we laughed with each other. We worshiped together and we prayed together. How thankful I am for that day, that time that we could all be there with her, together. Beauty for ashes... remember that verse? The love we have for each other is the beauty.. and it is beautiful.

What I love about my sister Anna- She is steady, she is calm. She is patient and kind. She is Good and she loves the Lord. She is a better wife than most, she is tolerant and loving all the time. She is stronger than she thinks and humble. She amazes me all the time. She is one of my best friends, and I am beyond thankful for her example in my life. She is beautiful inside and out, she is a fantastic mother and a faithful friend.

Stephen- This guy is so funny, He makes me laugh all the time. He is still a pain in the butt sometimes, but I wouldn't’ have it any other way. He is steady and calm, (I didn't get that gene so it amazes me) He is strong, patient, and I love his quiet spirit. He is the most Loyal person I have ever met, He is handsome and way past humble. He is always there for me, and I’m thankful to God for giving him to me and my boys. BEST UNCLE EVER!!

Sarah Beth- I cry when I talk about her. I adore her just as I always have. God gave her to me as a friend, and a sister and I don’t deserve her. She is my closest friend, she is trustworthy and secure in her faith and in who God has made her to be. She does not budge no matter what unless it is by the Lord's leading. She is faithful and loyal, she is honest and loving. She knows what she needs to work on and does it.

My relationship with my dad is very good now. I love him and am able to see the past as the past and focus on today and God used losing my mom to help to show him where he needed to change. There have been countless healing conversations and apologies and I am happy to say that he is very much a part of all of our lives and is the best dad and Pop-pop that we could have. God is good.

I know a lot of people don’t have great relationships with their parents and  siblings. Not everyone gets a happy ending, but I did. God made us into a beautiful family, that LOVE each other so much and so unconditionally.

My siblings are my best friends, they are a part of my mom, and seeing her in each one of them, and myself is so incredible. God made our family,  covered in ashes, beautiful. He took broken relationships, and he made them better than new. When my mom died, it hurt, it still hurts, but God gave me a wonderful gift in my sisters, and my brother. I am thankful and can't wait to all be reunited with Momma someday. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

February Love Letters- Love is Relentless by Michelle Warner

One particular time, four years ago, stands out to me when I internalized the truth of God’s relentless love for me. After being married for little over a year, I found out I had to have surgery to remove a large ovarian cyst. The doctor did not seem to be overly concerned about it since I was young and healthy but she said since it wasn’t shrinking, I should just get it removed. After the surgery, I had a long recovery due to some complications but the good news was that they sent the cyst to pathology, and the initial report was that everything looked fine.

After that long week of waiting and recovering, I drove downtown to meet my husband for the follow-up appointment. I was praying as I drove, asking God to prepare us for the appointment and calm my heart. I can vividly remember driving down the highway with the Chicago skyline in my view and listening to the radio. At that moment, the song “How He Loves Us” by David Crowder came on the radio.  

How He loves us, oh how He loves us, How he loves us, how He loves us,” over and over.

 How powerful to hear those words repeatedly!

 I obviously had a lot on my mind and as I was singing along, I got really choked up.

If I was honest, I was scared about going to my appointment and what I would hear. But God met me in a very tangible way through giving me that song and comforted me by reminding me that He loved me so intimately, He was walking every step of this journey with me, and He knew exactly what I needed. I was beginning to trust that whatever I found out, God loved me deeply, and that would be enough. Although I knew that truth in my head, this time it was making its way to my heart.

Unfortunately, I found out that the cyst was actually a rare, cancerous tumor.

 I can’t tell you how many times I have thought back to that drive down to the doctor’s office belting out “oh how He loves us” over and over. It was absolutely God’s way of preparing my heart as well as bringing me on a journey with Him to know His love in a much deeper way.

I will never forget realizing in my heart of hearts—maybe for the first time—that God deeply loved me even when my life was falling apart.

It can seem easier to sense God’s love when life is going just like I envision, but I learned that even though it wasn’t, it didn’t mean He didn’t love me or He was withholding His love from me. His expression of love wasn’t just when all was right with the world, but He loved me just as much even when my circumstances felt like He didn’t.

Soon after, we found out the tumor was cancerous.  I had another surgery to remove my ovary and then I had to begin chemo.

You can imagine I was scared. I was fearful of the unknown, fearful of the future, fearful I wouldn’t be attractive without hair, fearful I wouldn’t be able to have a baby after all this, and on and on.

But everywhere I turned, the theme of God’s love kept coming up—whether it be through Scripture, songs, or a friend’s timely word. His love sustained me.

As I closed the chapter of enduring chemo and opened a new chapter where my hair started growing back, my life began to normalize and I could tell God had much more to teach me about experiencing and trusting His love.  Actually, I think it was more that He wanted to help me live out the lessons He had taught me about His love.

A few months after I finished chemo, I visited the doctor for a routine check-up. Later that day, I received a call that one of my blood count numbers was very high. I tried not to panic because the number was known to fluctuate but there was still that nagging feeling of what if? What if the cancer’s back? What if I have to lose my hair again? What if I’ll never have kids?

Although I knew intellectually that God was fully in control, internally I was freaking out—which showed me that at the core, I didn’t trust Him or His love for me to give me what I needed.  Again, God brought another song into my life, this one again about God’s love to reinforce what He had been teaching me.

This song was called “Your Love Never Fails” by Jesus Culture. The chorus says, “You make all things work together for my good…Your love never fails, there may be pain in the night but joy comes in the morning.” I played that song over and over and over until the lyrics were ingrained in my head and I could say back to God, “You makes all things work together for my good and so I will trust You love me and will give me the courage I need to get through this” even if it meant the worst case scenario.

Thankfully it was just a scare, but I will never forget that time because it added another chapter of experiencing and trusting God’s love to my story and deepened my confidence that no matter what, I could trust Him.

I took those lessons about God’s love to heart and they bolstered me as I trusted God with the desires of my heart, specifically to start a family. My oncologist told us we had to wait a year after the chemo before beginning a family, and that wait was excruciatingly difficult.

It felt like everywhere I turned a friend was pregnant or a stranger was holding a baby in my view. But then as long as the wait felt, when the time was right, we quickly got pregnant. I was so overwhelmed with God’s tender love for me and providing in such a meaningful way.

As my 20-week ultrasound approached, all those feelings and fears of my cancer check-ups came flooding back, and fear about the health of our baby almost overtook me.

As I struggled through my fear, so many times I would think to myself, “I thought I already learned this lesson! And yet I am back here again!” But God helped me see that I had learned some lessons about His love but He wanted to take me to a deeper place with them. In those moments, I had to rehearse all of the things that God had taught me in the past several years about His love and His good character all over again. As I prepared for the appointment, I knew I wasn’t guaranteed a healthy baby, but I knew I could trust God to give us what we needed. And so I poured out my heart to Him about all of my concerns and fears and hopes.

Let me also confess that as much as I was praying for a healthy baby, I was asking God for a little girl. I was so thrilled to be pregnant that I really was perfectly happy with a girl or a boy but if I could be honest, my deepest desire was to have a girl first.

To my delight, the doctor told us our baby was not only perfectly healthy but a girl! On the way home, I was driving by myself, thanking God for His wonderful gift and you’ll never believe what song came on the radio: “How He Loves Us.” 

I burst into tears and felt God say to my heart very clearly,
 “I love you on your worst days (when I found out about the cancer) and I love you on your best days (when I found out I was having a girl, the desire of my heart).” I will never forget that moment when the lesson about God’s love came full circle.

Whether you are in a season of waiting, trial, or routine, God has an intimate love that is personal just for you that He wants you to experience. I encourage you to ask God, will you show me how much You love me? And then open your ears and eyes to hear and see the answer. I can attest to several times where I have asked God to give me tangible evidence of His love and have been blown away by how personal He has answered me. He longs to show you His love for you personally.

 “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are.” (1 John 3:1)

You can connect with Michelle at her blog

Thursday, February 20, 2014

February Love Letters- Love Is Selfless by Jodi Dunbar

I married my college sweetheart 20 years ago. We have 4 wonderful children ranging from ages 9-17.  

17 years ago, I came to the full knowledge that I was a sinner and in need of a Savior. After hearing that Jesus, perfect and blameless, willingly died on the cross for my sins so that I could have eternal life with Him, I repented of my sins. 

At 27, already a wife and a mother, I was now a new creation in Christ. Praise God!  

For 15 of those years, intense pain had become my companion. Years went by before any answers or healing came. I went from being an active, energetic wife and mom to being bed ridden and isolated.

I battled extreme exhaustion in every way, falling asleep at stoplights and even forgetting where I was going. My symptoms continued to worsen.  

After ten years I was finally diagnosed with Chronic Lyme Disease. 

This disease stole my health and I had no idea the fight I had ahead of me.  I was told that it was time for a wheel chair, that complete healing would never come.

I didn’t have anything to smile about.

Needless to say, we were in our fiercest battle. I had to leave home for 6 weeks for intensive treatment, learn how to give myself shots daily, change how I did nearly everything and accept where God had placed me.

Because of my fear and pride, I didn’t share my suffering with many at first. I was facing vulnerability in my marriage and close friendships, but the Lord provided.

God met me in the valley, fully equipping me. If not through this trial, I would have never experienced such selfless love from my family.

Michael never once treated me as a burden or complained of our circumstance. He vowed to love me in sickness and in health every day. It is a picture of 1 Corinthians chapter 13. Together we understood better what it meant to be one.

Through it all our faith grew as a family. We had to communicate more and think outside the box. Our norm took on a whole new meaning. Michael could not do it all alone and the time had come for us to humbly admit that we needed help.

We have been on the receiving end of sacrificial love. A friend loves at all times. This kind of friendship is a gift from God that is to be treasured. Even though they do not understand your illness or course of treatment these friends remain. They remain not just for weeks or months but for years, taking time out of their busy schedules to hold our family in higher regard. 

I share this because I KNOW that it is not easy to persevere through the storms of life, not knowing if there is an end in sight BUT, take heart dear sisters because I can tell you that God is in fact always good, always faithful and has never forsaken me. Not at my lowest point, not at my worst.  

Chronic illnesses do not just go away so you have to choose to have joy and peace. Striving daily to be thankful and live the highest quality of life you possibly can.

The difficulty of these years and trial does not outweigh the out-pouring of God’s abundant love. Thankfully, I never had to use that wheel chair and I have always had plenty to smile about. Today, the pain and fatigue have both lessened. My memory has greatly improved.

Limitations remain and I continue to strive to continue to regain my health. My quality of life with my family is wonderful and I am even homeschooling our youngest daughter.  

I hold tight to His promises. Romans 8:28, God works all things out for good, to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

It may seem strange to hear but I’m thankful for the valleys I have walked. If it weren’t for these moments, I wouldn’t have learned that we never walk in the valley alone, or known the victory of no  longer being gripped in fear, but instead knowing the overwhelming joy of standing on the Peaks!