Grateful for Chains?

Philippians 1:12-14 NIV

Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.

Sitting in my hotel room, alone in Montana, this morning, Sunday, June 25, 2017, while waiting for Gary to arrive, I was contemplating working on my book, but just can’t seem to get my brain or my spirit around it. Doubting if I should even finish this book or just focus on other things and people in life, I struggle to think then pray.

Jesus, would you please direct me and show me how you want me to spend my time this morning?

Receiving word, very early today, that the sister of Taylor’s high school girlfriend was killed in a car wreck, leaving two small daughters, I wasn’t sure I could write. Tragedy hits again in the wake of the loss of my friends, Travis and Debbie, all within one month. Overwhelming chains weighing on my friends’ families.

Praying. Phone calls with just love and mourning together. Text messages of love. More tears for all.

Knowing I just need Jesus, I open my Bible, and can’t see to read, so missing a few sermons from church, I log on to my church’s website sermon audio files and try to pick one I missed. If I can’t read the Word of God, I can listen to it. Wanting to choose the most recent, instead logic (God) tells me I should pick the first one I missed, even though the title, Gospel Chains didn’t sound interesting or pertinent, since I’m not in prison. (Yes, I am dense sometimes).

Listening to Rodd Ritchie speak on our chains in life and how God uses painful situations to share his love with the world, I begin to reflect on my circumstances and was strengthened in my resolve to write to encourage others who have gone through the same things I have. While I am at peace with losing a child, and learning to have peace with a hurting grieving family, I spend tons of time in doubt about my purpose in all this pain.

Why my story; so many others have gone through the same thing? I’m not a trained journalist! Do I have what it takes? Why do I want to share this story? Are my motives right? Am I sufficiently pointing people to God? Why am I doubting Christ in me?

So, as I’m listening to this sermon, encouraging strength returns as I hear of other stories of pain where God has used tragedies to share his love – Dr. Kim from South Korea, Paul in prison, among others, friends and family my pastor knows. These people didn’t plan to share their stories elaborately, nor was it them who caused the seeds of their stories to grow in the hearts of others. They just loved and shared – period!

Each time, someone loses a loved one, my heart breaks again for them with the same pain I felt when Taylor died. While it can exhaust me at times, it is not a bad pain, but a blessing of love that I know only comes from God as his compassion must pour out of my heart into theirs. God, personally, and many others poured this same love and hope into me to prepare me for loss as I grew up and others after Taylor went to heaven, so it is a totally natural thing to pass it onto others.

Listening to this sermon, I reflected on my hope shared in the current losses of others and I also realized, how God did this again with someone who wasn’t currently hurting. Last night, I walked into the hotel restaurant alone. While I am pretty comfortable eating alone with my phone, it is usually an awkward situation for many, especially those watching us who dine solo, thankful it is not them. Another lone woman cautiously asked me if I’d like to join her. Always up for an adventure, I thanked her and moved to her table as others in the restaurant smiled watching a stranger showing kindness towards me.

We shared our vastly polar reasons for being in Montana; me attending a motorcycle club convention with my husband and she, a keynote speaker at a convention. As we talked, I could see she was an intelligent highly educated veterinary professor with logical analyses of life. I didn’t sense we shared the same faith or interests, yet we found interesting conversation as I listened, fascinated with her line of work. She calmly, yet passionately explained how her job works, caring for students working with large and small animals at her university. We discussed all my last five crazy dogs, their temperaments and maladies with humor and laughter. My potentially lonely evening turned into a fun learning experience for me with a new friend, despite our differences.

Near the end of our meal, we exhausted the animal world and moved on to our families which always leads to the passing of our son. When giving a picture our beloved children, I brought Taylor up lightly but she asked for a bit more information. Within about five minutes, I shared Taylor’s passion and hope, thus my hope and some of the good that has come out of our loss. Surprisingly, this seemingly emotionally guarded woman teared up. I was touched by her compassion, but felt I needed to stop talking about me. After a bit of silence, I asked about her family. She shared and then it was time to part ways.

Who knows how much of a seed of hope for now or in the future will take root in this woman’s life from my brief story. Throughout my life, others shared their hope in the midst of their chains and thus gave me hope, courage and strength when I needed it most. So, today, my confidence was strengthened that sharing love and hope from the chains of life with this woman, I planted a seed of hope in God in her life. God is the one who will make it grow, I just share God’s story in my life.

So, what chains in life are holding you down? Have you found purpose in your pain in sharing with others? It doesn’t have to be written in a book. Like this morning, just crying with a friend who lost her granddaughter. Like last night just mentioning a short story of hope from your life with a random stranger. For my precious friends in deep loss right now, don’t try to process what you need to do, just rest in Jesus and he will open doors for you to share as you walk this journey.

That voiced, onto writing a book about hope to share with others. I won’t worry about it being well done today, my editor and God will help with that. All this from asking Jesus to direct my day. He is so faithful…

 

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Putting on My Eyes of Faith Rather than My Eyes of Fear

slide1After hearing teaching from someone, I take in God’s truths deeper when I can process them through writing or re-communicate them through art. I planned to create this scripture picture on Sunday after Josh’s sermon and his point to put on eyes of faith rather than fear. For some reason, didn’t feel led to do it then. My meditations would have probably been life giving and would have most likely looked the same in this picture. However, since Monday, there have been things in my life, not to mention the news, that make this scripture and line of thought even more meaningful and healing in my meditations now.

Four years ago, I lost my voice from a paralyzed vocal cord, never thinking I would ever speak or sing again. I even jumped the gun and left my job, “retiring” thinking my teaching days were over.  Monday the same problems began again in my voice from over working them. To protect my re-calling to teach, I felt the Lord ask me to back off singing in choir at church, my favorite and most natural way to serve and worship God. I have been through this before and have a healthy plan for caring for my voice but, nevertheless, grief with fear creeps in.

Will I ever get my full voice back again? Will I be able to keep teaching? Can I sit in church without crying because I can’t sing? Who am I without my voice?

I asked those questions for a year back in 2012. At first, my “eyes of fear” gripped me and I wasn’t able to see God’s purpose in losing the most treasured talent He had given me. When I intentionally trusted Him, put on my “eyes of faith” and thanked him for what I had, the light dawned on His purpose – to draw me closer to Him.

God eventually restored my voice, despite a continued paralyzed vocal cord, but during my “somewhat” time of silence, God taught me to be still and listen for a deeper healing that I needed from Him. Again, this year, He has tried to help me be silent and listen to His voice and to those around me. (Exodus 14:14 and Zephaniah 3:17). With God, I tend to do more talking than listening and with people, I tend to want to put in the last word of knowledge and have an answer for everyone’s problems.

My time of silence four years ago, taught me that resting in him is my greatest calling and was a light in the darkness of what I felt I was losing. Again, life has become so busy for me that my brain has not been able to settle long enough to hear His voice. My chattering has increased again. Time to re-set!

As I have pondered silence again, this seemingly dark vocal issue is another gift of light that draws me closer to my Creator. I know the worst could happen, I may struggle the rest of my life with my voice or lose it completely. However, I also know I am not my voice, I am a child of God. “Eyes of faith” and His voice are what I need.

As of now, I rejoice that, carefully, I can still teach and help the next generation worship and appreciate music. Yesterday, at our school Veteran’s Day program, I was unable to sing. Because I stepped back, my students rose up and sang the best I have ever heart them sing. Christ shined through them as I hung back. The best and greatest hope I have is that I will be able to sing in eternity forever, without strained vocal muscles.

If you are struggling in fear, whether personal or global, be encouraged! Get rid of “eyes of fear” and put on your “eyes of faith” to see The Light, God’s Son, God with Us, who will not let us drown in the darkness of our fears our trials.

Thankful for Surprised Amazement

Thankful 2013-Day 21: After reading my new One Thousand Gifts Devotional today I am thankful for surprised amazement that God gives me in the midst of my grief in the loss of our son, Taylor. In this Ann Voskamp reminds us that “expectations kill relationships – especially with God” and she repented from “entitlement that steals joy.”

I expected all my children to live long lives and outlive me, but as I sit back and keep my eyes open, waiting for faithful kisses from God without expectations or entitlement, He consistently surprises me with moments of joy.

A moment last Friday where a young student gave me a stuffed Snoopy dog as a gift she had been holding onto for me for over two years. She knew Peanuts is a favorite of mine, but she didn’t know they were Taylor’s favorites too. In the last two weeks, I had been praying about having something for us to hold in all our family pictures to remember Taylor.

Snoopy was the answer to my prayer and if this little girl had remembered to bring Snoopy a few years ago, it would not have meant so much to me. God’s reminder to her last week was a kiss of joy for me that I needed this week. Once again, I’m surprised and amazed at His desire to touch me in a special way in His perfect timing.

Eucharisteo always precedes a miracle!” (Voskamp)Image

My Tribute to Taylor, Our Second Born Son, Our Adventurer

Carla Wood – July 25, 2013Image

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Hebrews 11:1 NLT

Psalm 20

In times of trouble, may the Lord answer your cry.
May the name of the God of Jacob keep you safe from all harm.
May he send you help from his sanctuary
and strengthen you from Jerusalem.
May he grant your heart’s desires
and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory
and raise a victory banner in the name of our God.
May the Lord answer all your prayers.

Now I know that the Lord rescues his anointed king.
He will answer him from his holy heaven
and rescue him by his great power.
Some nations boast of their chariots and horses,
but we boast in the name of the Lord our God.
Those nations will fall down and collapse,
but we will rise up and stand firm.

That last part of that verse was one of Taylor’s favorite verses. He loved anything to do with cowboys and horses. As you listened to me read this passage from Psalm you might have asked, “How were your prayers answered?” As a follower of Jesus Christ, our greatest prayer is that each family member and friend gives their whole heart and life to Jesus so we can be in Heaven together forever. We know beyond any doubt that although Taylor was not perfect, just like we are not perfect, he is in Heaven with Jesus living ecstatically in awe and wonder of all the amazing things God had promised him if he would trust Jesus with his whole heart.

When Taylor was 4, he asked Jesus into his heart. He wanted to be a good boy and he knew he couldn’t do it on his own. After he asked Jesus into his heart I told him about how I needed to spend time with Jesus every day, reading my Bible and talking with Jesus to help me to be a good Mommy. Shortly after this, I had an impatient moment with Taylor and he tugged at my shirt and said with his little Bostonian accent, “Mama, did yo have yo Jesus time? I think yo need yo Jesus time.”

From the age of 4-6, we homeschooled in Oxbow, OR. Each morning after breakfast, Taylor would get all of us in the living room. He would grab his cowboy hat and his stick horse, and the kids and I would run around singing with Steven Curtis Chapman, “The Great Adventure” or as Taylor would say “Saddle up Your Horses”. He wouldn’t let us do our Bible time until that song was sung and danced to. It is the first song on his life video J.

Taylor really knew what was important in life.

When he didn’t dress or keep his hair the way I thought was best for him in high school, I love how he gently gave me a scriptural reminder, “Mama, man looks to the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” Taylor always saw beyond the outside of people and saw what God saw in their hearts and could recognize what they were created to be. He would often make a quick call and say, “Mama, pray for so-and-so. They really need prayer this week.” He would never tell me what the problem was, keeping his friends’ personal lives confidential, but he knew the power of prayer could change lives and wanted all his friends to have the same peace and relationship with Jesus that he had.

Taylor didn’t just have a free ticket to Heaven when he asked Jesus into his heart; he saw life as an adventure to learn more about God in nature and an adventure to see who God wanted him to reach out to next. He didn’t preach a lot, he loved people where they were and expected the best out of them while having a lot of fun along the way.

Taylor felt closest to God in the Idaho outdoors. It started first in our family campouts. I saw his relationship with Jesus first grow in our garden. Raspberries, my favorite food, were abundant in our back yard in July. In grade school and junior high, Taylor was always the first one up summer mornings and would say, “Hey Mama, let’s go have breakfast!” Out to the garden the two of us would go to pick raspberries and eat them as we talked noticing cool things about God from the garden. He loved to be close to God in nature so when I went to the river to see where he took his last breath I had a deep sense of peace knowing he flew to heaven from a place he would go  to hear God speak. It was a safe place, not dangerous, but beautiful and we all realized why he was so excited to play there.

During my back surgeries over the last few years, Taylor always slept on our sectional couch while I reclined in my sleep. His hand was always stretched out to touch my hand or leg. For 2-3 weeks for each surgery, he would do this and make sure I had whatever I need and prayed to ease my pain even on days he worked his 10 hour shifts.

Taylor was very creative in a mechanical way and in business, art and music. He loved to paint. If you ever saw his bedroom, he and his friends were allowed to draw on the walls. Although he loved his mechanic work, he longed to use his art and entrepreneur gifts more. His self- portrait is in the foyer that he made at a summer art school near my sister, his Aunt Carolyn’s in Annapolis. We hope you each will take a magnet copy of this which his aunt has made as a gift for all of you.

As the Lord has ministered to me this week he keeps showing me a vision of Taylor painting his heart out in worship of God with the outdoors in Heaven. Some of his favorite past times were playing and singing with Michael Pease, Stephen and the gang. Michael and Stephen are doing a concert thinking of us today. A big favorite was going with Trevor Powers in high school, downtown, playing on the street corner on Taylor’s snare drum with Trevor on the guitar making more money than they expected. He was never quite sure his voice was good enough to follow the path his two friends had found, but Michelle said his voice was improving so much and he loved to sing this past month even more. His new singing genre was reggae in Hawaii but making up his own new words to it. I’m anxious to hear what he has written in Heaven for the Lord. I think we should expand the Christian reggae genre on earth. Hmmm…

One of my sweetest memories was when he was in junior high at that typical junior high stage with an “I-don’t’need-my-parents” attitude. However, he would ask at the end of a tiring day, “Mama, could we lay on your bed, cuddle, and watch “Little House on the Prairie?”  This went on for about a month until we had watched every episode of Little House and moved onto The Walton’s.  J

Taylor was the only one of our 4 kids that called me mama. I will forever hear his frequent phrases, “Mama, guess what God did for me today?” “Mama, please pray…” “Mama I found the greatest place.” Especially missed will be his random phone calls or texts that simply said, “I love you Mama!” My favorite Mama moment was in January 2012 when he asked, “Mama, would you please pray that God will give me a wife who is perfect for me?”

“Well sure Taylor, I have done that since you were little but I will be intentional about it now. What’s the deal with Michelle True? Why aren’t you dating her?” I replied.

“I can’t do that, she is my best friend. I wouldn’t want to ruin our friendship.”

“Well Taylor, best friends usually make the best spouses. At your age, maybe you should rethink that.”

Shortly after that, Michelle started spending every day at our house and we all fell in love with her, along with Taylor J. God knew that we would need Michelle and her amazing family to help us get through this. Treasures they are in our lives forever.

To Taylor, yo Mama loves you, and she will always have her Jesus time sending messages to you through Him. I hold Jesus hand knowing he will pass on the information to you holding his other. Thank you for daring us to dream, loving people the way Jesus does, and preparing us to carry on your adventures. Dad and I always told you, with your strong will and spirit, God would do great things through you. Thanks for cheering us on up there encouraging us to continue to pass on the love you have given to others and make the world a more loving and fun place. We promise to make your domino affect change the world into a better place as you did.

To our Lord Creator, thank you for giving us 23 amazing years with our son. For using his gifts to love others and make his life an amazing adventure. Thank you for giving him the happiest year of his life with friends, the completely perfect wedding to the absolutely perfect woman for him. Thank you for the assurance that we know he is with you and for all the little kisses you have sent to us this week to confidently remind us he flew into your arms. Thank you for showing him the good things that happen down here and let him know how deeply we love him.

To those adults in this room, teachers at Cole Valley, Borah, Sunday school teachers and youth pastors, and parents and family, thank you for being a part of the plan God had to impart love and truth into our son’s heart that made him a man after God’s heart. Taylor, Michelle, and our other children are living proof that seeds planted in our young people will grow to serve our Living God.

To all of you, in this room, and those who were not able to be here, thank you for being such an amazing support to us. The miracle of the Body of Christ praying and reaching out is glorious and has given us strength that was supernatural this week. Despite times of crying, none of us are hopeless we have constant reassurance that Taylor is surfing in Heaven in between painting, singing and using these gifts to just completely worship his Awesome God in the fullness of His glory. He is cheering us on to persevere and reach the prize of our ultimate calling to also be with Christ.

To Gary, my sweet blessed man, thank you for raising a godly man to love and serve us and others. He has your servant’s heart and I’m deeply humbled by that. I am so glad I married you and have shared this amazing son with you. I am excited to continue close to you in this journey we are on to see what amazing things God is going to do next.

Michelle, my new amazing daughter, thank you for seeing Taylor as God saw him and for bringing out the best in him. You completed him, now we have the other part of Taylor to cherish for life.  You were the answer to a lifelong prayer for Gary and me. You and God gave him the best year of his life and no one could ever ask for more at a time like this. You are the greatest treasure Taylor has brought to our family and we are so glad to have you for our forever daughter. Gary and I vow to take care of you as Taylor would.

Shawn, Angela, Drew, and Bethany, our precious children we are so grateful for on earth, thank you for loving and supporting Taylor and each other, especially during the last two months of celebration of his life and marriage. A student at Cole Valley told Shawn his senior year that our family was weird. When Shawn asked why, the reply was, “You all love each other and don’t fight.” I’m so proud that you all understand love so deeply.

To the True Family, the Wood Family, the Barkley and Clark families, as always you have been faithfully by our side. We are so blessed to have all of you and look forward to having many more adventures together making new memories with joy as Taylor would want.

To Jamison, you are technically a friend, but truly a brother. When Taylor chose you to be his best man in the wedding, it was a no brainer to Shawn and Drew and the rest of us. There is a friend that is closer than a brother and that is you. Thank you for being there with Taylor through thick and thin. We are here for you through thick and thin too.

And to all his friends new and old, especially you honored pall bearers, we started to list all of you and the list was going to be so long; we know you are grieving in some ways more deeply than we are. I wish I had time to list each and every name of Taylor’s friends. You spent more time with Taylor than we have lately and will have a bigger hole in your lives right now. Our home is open 24/7 for any of you to hang out. We want you to gather whenever you need a place in our home to play, talk, laugh, share, pray, whatever you need. I always wanted a huge family, God gave us a start with 4 and Taylor gave you to us to adopt. You will always be our kids just like Michelle. Be watching for his Birthday Party in September to join with us and celebrate our relationships with all of you!

My prayer for all my children throughout their lives is from Ephesian 3 and I want to pray this for everyone here and all whose lives have been touched by Taylor:

 When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, 15 the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. 16 Father God, I pray that from your glorious, unlimited resources you will empower these beloved friends and family with inner strength through your Spirit. 17 Then Jesus will make his home in their hearts as they trust in you. That their roots will grow down into your love and keep them strong. 18 And may they have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep your love is. 19 May they experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then they will be made complete as Taylor is now, with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to him in the Body and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

One Thousand Gifts – by Ann Voskamp: My Healing Through Gratitude

I have had losses in my life like anyone my age. Some of this was from pain of losing a loved one, a child going through pain, but the most life altering was from having three surgeries in a year with one that brought damage to my voice.

My passion in life is singing and leading worship. I’m a singer and a teacher, plus I love to talk, A LOT! After my third spinal surgery, I woke to find my right vocal cord nerve was paralyzed bringing my voice to a whisper at best. This completely put my life to a stop of reflection asking God what my new purpose was to be in His journey for me. As a person with deep faith, this was still a challenge as I processed, questioning, waiting…

In June 2012, I had surgery to allow me to talk, but I still could not sing well. In August, God was gracious and allowed me to help with church worship and, in October, go back to teaching and leading worship at my school part time.  Yet, I still grieved that I could not sing the way I wanted to. Although I understood that worship is a way of life and not a song, musical worship had for so long come from my heart through my larynx that I wasn’t sure how to deeply worship anymore.

In November, preparing for Thanksgiving, God challenged me to be thankful in everything. I thought I had been living a grateful life, but was still drifting towards complaining and discontentment in many areas, especially in my verbal life.

As the temptation to grumble approached, the Lord would reveal the parts of my problems to be thankful for:

Wandering Loved Ones: “Thank you, Lord, that they are alive. Thank you that they love me and want your blessing in their lives. Thank you for other loved ones close by and students that are seeking your face. Thank you for the husband who seeks your face and loves our family…”

A Broken Voice: “Thank you, Lord for the opportunities to touch lives for you in the health world because of this and help others in the same situation I’m in. Thank you that I can at least teach part time and help others to sing at school and at church. Lord, what? You don’t need perfection? Okay, I will sing, even if my cord doesn’t make the kind of sound I think it should make. I can still lift up my joyful noise to you for true worship comes from my heart and not my larynx. “

Positive growth, yet, I kept expecting, believing, waiting for a complete spectacular healing.

December 1st: Friends commented, “You are sounding better.”  I could tell there was a difference too.

December 21st: A visit to the voice surgeon, absolutely expecting him to say I was completely healed. He scopes my throat then matter-of-factly states, “No, Carla, your cord is still completely paralyzed. I’ll see you in March, you probably won’t have a voice then, and we will discuss a permanent surgery.”

More surgery??? “No, Lord! I will not have another surgery. I’m going to trust you with this one. I would rather not talk than have a 5th surgery.”

January: A precious loved one makes an attempt to reconnect. Gratitude begins to show its fruit. People stopping, saying, “Carla, your voice is back! You can sing! Wow! You sang great in chapel today! You are healed! When did that happen?”…

My Eyore response: “Thank you, but I’m not healed. In fact, in March I won’t have a voice at all again…” (I read this now and think how stupid I was!)

February 1st: I was sharing my heart with our school nurse regarding all this and she jumped up and said, “You have to read this book, One Thousand Gifts!” The next week she bought the book by Ann Voskamp as a gift for me.

Ann Voskamp is what I describe as an honest and down to real life author with an incredible gift for writing in a lyrical way that is beautiful and rare. This is a book you will want to sit with for a half hour, then meditate and savor in small bites twice a day.  Ann describes losses in her life – minor to major – and how gratitude opened up a whole new world as she saw God’s face in the midst of all stages of life.

What God starts, He always finishes. From November to now, through His Holy Spirit and this book, He plopped me in Gratitude Boot Camp! I had been doing the thanksgiving dance but failed to see the work He was doing, believing what the doctor said instead of seeing my Creator’s unique craftsmanship.

As I jumped deeper into gratitude, I had a bottomless sense of peace and began to think less about my voice and more about God’s purpose for my gifts, letting Him take care of my voice.

During this time, another doctor friend asked if he could refer me to a surgeon in Los Angeles who repairs voices of famous singers. The California doctor called me and said I sounded way too good for him to do surgery on me. He and my doctor friend explained that, although my nerve was still paralyzed, my vocal cord had fallen back to the middle of my larynx and was in the perfect position for vibration. With a singing specialist, they said I could very likely build endurance and range again.

I suddenly realized that God was using my voice in a wonderfully functioning capacity without a nerve to help it! I like the spectacular and had been looking for a lightning bolt to come down and strike me with healing power creating fireworks around me. Instead, he healed me with a gentle surprise patiently waiting for me to stop denying His work and realize that my gratitude broke open the doors to see the healing He had already accomplished in me.

It is now March 7th and, other than range and stamina, my voice feels almost normal again. I’ve cancelled the doctor appointment!

I truly believe that ungratefulness clouds the truth and blessings God wants to reveal to us. I’m so grateful for the difficult times and wouldn’t trade one treasure of wisdom I’ve received from the past two years for anything.

Read One Thousand Gifts and see what miracles God is already doing in your life.