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.

One Year Anniversary Reflections: He Bore Our Griefs As We Identify With His Sufferings

He Bore Our Griefs

Isaiah 53:4 (NASB)
Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.

This scripture, “He bore our griefs…” has been coming to my mind ever since Easter this year. The realization that he literally understands my pain from losing our son is so precious and real. It’s overwhelming to think that Jesus carried all that pain on the cross for all of us.

 I relate to this so much now when I meet a person who has suffered any kind of loss, especially the loss of a child or someone close. I look at their teary eyes and I know it’s the Holy Spirit grieving with me as I cry for them and feel that knife stabbing pain in my heart again, only it’s for their loss this time and yet so real in my own heart as it flows from Christ’s.

I also felt Christ’s grief for me many times in unexplained ways before Taylor died. One of the many moments was in April 2013, two months before his and Michelle’s wedding. Taylor had asked me to find a song to dance to for the “Mother-Son” dance. His favorite song as a little boy was Steven Curtis Chapman’s The Great Adventure, or “Saddle up Your Horses” as four year-old Taylor called it. I wanted to do a swing dance with him to this song since he danced to it every morning with his siblings and me on his stick horse for about three years after our morning Bible time.

Last spring, as I turned on the song for my husband to hear, I tried to choreograph the wedding dance in my mind. Gary and I both simultaneously began to cry with deep unexplained sorrow over this song. We had not felt that kind of pain with our first son’s wedding song, even though our love is just as deep for all our children. I couldn’t understand it then, but now I do. Taylor decided he didn’t want that song for the wedding and we chose another special song, but as soon as he passed away, we knew that song was the story of his life, a “Great Adventure”, and had to be the main song in his life video.

Also around this time, Taylor came home wearing a beautiful full chest tattoo that was on his bucket list to do before his wedding. He had planned another tattoo for a long time; however he suddenly decided to change it to a full-winged owl with a compass pointing true north in its claws. When he explained to me that true north was for following Christ in his marriage and his choice for owls was because they mate for life, I suddenly felt that same stabbing in my heart. I now understand how God, the God of all time, grieved for us in those moments in spring 2013, knowing what was ahead for us on July 20, 2013.

Identifying With the Sufferings of Jesus

Knowing he understands my grief better than anyone else, going to the feet of Jesus is truly the only thing that satisfies me and comforts me. As a result, I pulled away from people quite a bit last year. The only way for me to find true joy is in worshiping my Creator and thanking him for what I do have and that my son is in Heaven. Turning my focus toward Heaven, reading about Heaven, and visualizing all the joy Taylor is experiencing now has given me the big picture perspective of the truth of our brief time here in the whole landscape of eternity. Yet not everyone is in the same place as me and I can’t expect them to be exactly where I am as unique individuals and we are all suffering the loss of Taylor in a different way because we each have a unique relationship with him.

Grieving has been the most humanly lonely experience I have ever had in my whole life. Even though there are 7 people in my own home, each person grieves differently and generally separately. We don’t want to bring the others down, so we cry in private or not at all. Still we want to spend most of our time with family and God, but then I am afraid our friends feel like they’ve lost us too.

There have been instances where friends and extended family think I’m so strong I don’t need them, which I don’t, but I want them and for some reason, they don’t get that. When I get my eyes off of Christ, and in my weakness, I have the tendency to feel abandoned by these people. Then my husband and I don’t find our needs met by each other on this parallel walk we are on towards God, so emotions we have not dealt with before suddenly arise. I’ve never been an angry person, but I find myself angry, not at Taylor for dying or at God, but at those around me for not being happy and not what I want them to be for me. I’ve said it many times, “I didn’t just lose a son, I feel like I’ve lost my family.” I’m sure I sound bi-polar at this point, but it’s the reality of grief.

As I shared this with my friend, Ann, who also has suffered loss, she reminded me of this verse:

1 Peter 4:13 (ESV)
But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings,
that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

Ann and I discussed that the beauty and gift of going through grief alone and individually is that we are forced to dig in more intimately with our Savior to be able to survive and we therefore learn more about all he suffered on the cross and grow closer to him as we recognize what he truly did for us, thus realizing the truly deep love he has for us individually. We then can rejoice and see his glory revealed in our lives in a way that can only be supernatural!!

At this one year anniversary point, I am beginning to take time for friendships again. I have so many wonderful friends God has given me! Our family is still together because we allow each other to grieve at their own pace, knowing they are holding the hand of Jesus too. I’m not ever going to be the same Carla again. I will hopefully be a more thoughtful Carla who appreciates each moment with those I have here, a more compassionate Carla who understands the grief of others and can hold out an empathizing hand, a more passionate Carla who appreciates the Savior and his ultimate eternal plan for all of us, looking forward to the day I see my Savior’s and my son’s face daily for all eternity.

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

Learning to Listen

As an extroverted teacher, worship leader, and singer, the word quiet has not been in my vocabulary often over the years, unless it was to ask my students or children to lower their voices. I love to be with people, sharing all God is doing in my life. And no doubt He can definitely use “conversationalists” like me to share His message. Beth Moore says you know you’re a teacher if you can’t stop sharing what you’ve learned (A Woman’s Heart: God’s Dwelling Place – video). And that is me 24-7.

Until now. Due to my recent neck surgery, my voice is – at best – just above a whisper. But the Lord, in His perfect mercy, has begun to teach me the value of quiet – the increased focus on listening. Listening to Him, listening to my family, and listening, especially, to my husband :). Silence has allowed me to pay attention without interrupting so I can hear the whole of my sweet man’s heart. My children and even my friends have opened up even more, knowing that I’m listening closely.

In listening to God, I’ve looked up scripture on quietness to see what else He has to teach me on this subject… and Psalm 131 spoke directly to my heart.

Psalm 131
New International Version (NIV)


A song of ascents. Of David.

 1 My heart is not proud, LORD,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.

 3 Israel, put your hope in the LORD
both now and forevermore.

This passage spoke to me in many ways. “I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.” Silence has taken me away from lofty dreams and brought me to foundational truths and simple acts of worship in my walk with Jesus. I have spent a lot of time planning great chapels and big musical programs for my students, and these things have all been good. But I see how Jesus wants to bring my focus back to seeing Him and His love for me purely and personally. Big plans can sometimes become a distraction to personal adoration of my King.

Singing is integral to worship for me, but now I can barely warble one note. In the past, it was difficult to listen to music without singing. When directing my students, it took a great deal of self-control not to join in during their performances. And I have caused real embarrassment to my husband when I’m in an audience singing in a situation where we have not been invited to participate.

Learning to listen to others worship in song is redirecting my focus to Jesus, and what the words really say to Him or about Him. I have been freed to just lift my arms to Him, opening up a tunnel directly to His Presence. My voice is not distracting my heart, and this has allowed me to be filled in a way I’ve never experienced before.

Psalm 131 also illustrates David’s deliberate choice to rest in the Lord – “I have calmed and quieted myself.” This involved David’s will. In my case, God has forced me into silence, but I still need to trust and make the choice to rest in my spirit, allowing Him to calm my heart.

“Like a weaned child I am content.” We are to be content in all circumstances. Even when I can’t use my talents, Lord? Yes, even then. I know His purpose is to use me. If that is in silence, so be it. But if this stillness is a time to teach me new truths without my voice distracting my spirit, then praise Him for this “silent learning” opportunity!

“Put your hope in the Lord, both now and forevermore.” Trust always leads to hope. My hope for the “now” is to absorb from Him truths never learned with my voice. Hope is also in the “forevermore.” Should He restore my voice tomorrow to continue my ministry, then Hallelujah! This is what I believe He is doing. However, even if no clear word should ever again go forth from my mortal mouth, I will continue to worship my King in spirit and through other believers singing praises to His Name.

Worshiping in silence has brought my heart to a place of deep focus on Jesus. Learning to do this with a quiet spirit and a calm heart, I am content to learn and meditate as I wait for Him to heal me now or later, with the full hope I will rejoice with all the saints, with shouts of joyful singing in Heaven, forever.