A NEW BEGINNING

I’ve been studying and memorizing my way through the book of Isaiah—not all of the book, but verses here and there. I’m almost done, memorizing from Isaiah 58. The words jumped out at me:

I will always show you where to go.
I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
firm muscles, strong bones.
You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again.

Isaiah 58:11-12

I can’t think of a much emptier place than a nursing homes, and I have plenty of rubble from my past to use for building something new.

This isn’t meant to be a devotional. . .but that’s my big news for this month. This year. God is doing something magnificent in my life. I’m excited about prayer, spending more and more time in prayer—something I’ve always wanted but never experienced before except as drudgery.

The verses above blew me away – what does God want to do with my fix-me-upper life?

As I mentioned on January 4, I feel called to write devotions from Genesis to Revelation, from all sixty-six books. For five days, I made the first book, Beginnings: 30 Days in Genesis – Exodus, free, hoping people hoping to read through the Bible this year would pick it up. I prayed for a tremendous blessing.

137 people took advantage of the offer. And not a one has paid for it yet.

So, a small beginning. As I’m editing the devotionals I wrote on Leviticus, I’m thinking to myself, these are dry and hard compared to Genesis. I find them exciting, but will anyone else? Who’ll buy a devotional that begins with Leviticus, anyhow? I suspect it stands high on the list of people’s least favorite book of the Bible.

And yet—wanting to ask God for a blessing. Will it be like the talents, where the master gave the tenant five more talents in addition to the five they already had? In that case, I’d be asking for 274.

Or should I ask God for the seed sown in good soil—30 times (4110)? 60 times (8220)? 100 times (13,700)?

Or should I ask God for the hundredfold blessing for those who forsake mother and father—that 13,700?

And as I write this, I am listening to Joel Olsteen talking about a “second touch,” the best part of my life still in my future. . .

None of my planning or promoting or praying (or writing) can make any of that happen. I’ll have to trust God to bring it to the right readers.

On a happier note, I just finished listening to the audio recording of my first mystery, Gunfight at Grace Gulch, and I loved it! Two of my books—Gifts of Christmas and Jacob’s Dream—are already available in audio.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

For this blog, I tried to think of a wonderful Christmas message that doesn’t start with a Bible verse and become a devotional.

But the truth is, Christmas is a ho-hum day for me. The last special Christmas memory I have wasn’t all that happy. The Christmas after my daughter’s death, my mother treated us to a special weekend at a swanky hotel with all the trimmings. She was right. We needed a quiet, but memorable, place to survive that first empty feeling. Of course, it was also my granddaughter Jordan’s first Christmas.

I didn’t and couldn’t know that would be my last Christmas with my mother, either. A year later, she was in a nursing home and I was homebound by a blizzard. A year later, she was gone. Now I have no family left that celebrates Christmas. Jaran and his family enjoy Hanukkah—and I got to take part this year.

The nursing homes hold great Christmas parties, wonderful food, lots of presents—a week or even two before Christmas. We’ll be lucky to get ham or turkey on Christmas day. And the abundance of presents goes down when they’re things like a family-sized tube of toothpaste for someone with dentures! It did include a few lovely items, such as a round-the-neck cream scarf and a Monet calendar and sweet-smelling body lotion.

So I don’t expect much on Christmas day itself but to hold onto the feeling of Christmas. As I continue my study/devotional/memorization of Isaiah, I keep finding reference after reference to the coming Messiah. This week I reached the holy of holies, chapter 53: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:5-6)

It’s powerful whatever version you read it in, but the first verse from The Message hit me like a ton of bricks.

“Who believes what we’ve heard and seen? Who would have ever expected God’s saving power would look like this?”

I felt like I was looking at the manger, seeing that tiny, helpless, adorable baby—under the shadow of the cross.

Once again, Christmas is in my heart. God is now here, where He can be seen and heard and touched.

365 days a year.

THANKSGIVING FOR THE UNWANTED BLESSING

My daughter Jolene died at the age of twenty-three.

She didn’t die of disease or accident. I guess you could call it murder. She committed suicide.

I know grief on a first name, call-in-the-middle-of-the-night basis.

The first time I read the beatitudes after Jolene’s death, the words slapped me in the face. “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Oh, I understood the comfort part. God comforted me, in spades, giving me strength to carry on and using me as a testimony to the people around me.

Losing a daughter in the prime of her life didn’t feel like a blessing. Today, almost nine years later, it still feels wrong, unnatural, unnecessary, heart-rending, life-changing. All of that, and more.

I wrestle with the idea of grief as a blessing. Mourning and grief are feelings, and I didn’t “feel” happy, no matter what word Jesus used in preaching the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus didn’t deny my feelings, discredit them, or tell me to be happy when my heart had been ripped from my chest. Instead, He blessed me with His actions, with facts that took on a new reality. Facing my first Christmas after Jolene’s death, I took stock of the rock-bottom truths which had gained a new depth.

Jesus died to give us eternal life; Jolene has eternal life because she placed her trust in Jesus. I had witnessed her decision to follow Christ, heard her testimony from her own lips, and read her words. She is alive.

Jolene is in heaven, where tears and pain are a thing of the past.

Even if Jolene could return, I would never ask her to. She is healed of the Borderline Personality Disorder that made her so uncertain and unhappy.

Jolene is watching me as I continue to run the race before me.

Jolene wants my happiness. She is cheering me on. I am the missing generation—she is there with her great-grandmother and her grandmother.

I will see Jolene again.

The more of my loved ones go ahead, the more I want to join them. What a reunion awaits.

Jolene wrote about Jesus hugging her in His arms. As life ebbed from her body, He cradled her in His lap.

I knew Jesus had experienced grief—look at Lazarus. He might have also known the pain of losing someone to suicide. He cried along with me.

Jesus welcomed Jolene home.

 

I have always accepted these facts as part of my belief system. With the blessing of grief, facts traveled from my head to my heart and etched themselves on the raw nerve endings, seeking to scab over as I healed.

As if all those biblical truths weren’t enough of a blessing, God added another to enrich the life-from-death truth of the gospel: my first grandchild was born nine months after Jolene’s death. Jordan Elizabeth Franklin will never meet her aunt this side of heaven, but her smile, her bouncing brown curls and bright brown eyes, her giggles—she is God’s gift, here and now. She also honors her aunt. Recently, she brought a rock home for her “friend” Jolene, “because I know my Aunt Jolene loved rocks.”

Holidays have come and gone. Each Resurrection Day reminds me of my loss—we learned of Jolene’s death on the Monday of Passion Week. With Christmas came a different kind of celebration. The trappings of Christmas, presents, lights, and trees, seemed hollow without Jolene. I went through most of that first advent praying, Lord, just let me survive.

How could I decorate the tree without crying over the memories? Baby’s 1st Christmas 1984. A tree-top angel made out of a lace doily. A blue delft disc from the Dutch Festival. The golden boot from the Salt Lake City Olympics.

Yet, as I struggled, Christmas became more real than ever. Emmanuel, the incarnation—God becoming man—that is the blessing of grief for me.

(P.S.S.) Many of you have heard this story before, but I felt led to share it again this year.

MY PRAYER CLOSET

This might sound like a devotional, but it’s not meant to be. It’s about a change of attitude, a way that changed a problem into an asset.

One of my faithful Facebook friends (waving hi, Chris!) sent me a copy of the book The War Room. Without giving away the story, I’ll just say that both the mentor (Clara) and the mentee (Elizabeth) transform their closets into prayer rooms. You know, like the verse that says “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” (Matthew 6:6)

I share a closet with my roommate. It’s covered by a curtain, not a door. Our stuff fills it to overflowing. But even if I had a spare closet, I don’t know if I would use it as a prayer room. I once spent a half hour in a closed closet, imagining I was trapped in a train wreck. I couldn’t take it.

But then . . .

On the last couple of weekends, I’ve been left unattended in the bathroom for an hour numerous times. I have completed one word search book after another while waiting. I have complained about it. I’ve agonized over the lost time I could have spent writing or resting.

One day I looked up from the word search I had just finished and saw the dimensions of the small room. I thought about all the hours I spent there.

That’s when I realized, This is my prayer closet.

Now getting stuck on the toilet is an adventure. Will the aide come quickly? Or will I have time to my prayer journal, fashioned after The War Room?

Thinking of the bathroom as my prayer closet has changed me in other ways. Who else can I pray for? Whom do I know who isn’t saved, except for my young grandchildren? Oh, how about him . . .and her. . .I never even asked. . .and her brother is struggling with alcoholism? Add it to the list.

As an added bonus, I have rediscovered joy.

Oh, and I haven’t had to wait for an hour since that discovery. Don’t worry. I still have half hours to pray.

An Advent Journey matthewP.S. Speaking of prayer time . . .I just released my new devotional, An Advent Journey through Matthew: Check it out at http://www.amazon.com/ADVENT-JOURNEY-THROUGH-MATTHEW-2015-ebook/dp/B016NIEJLI/

 

 

DID JESUS EAT PORK?

My “have to” share story this month centers on my granddaughter and my son. I suspect they’ll show up in my blog fairly often.

My son calls himself “a son of the Living God,” who devotes himself to studying the Torah to deepen his relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, his Savior Jesus Christ, and to apply God’s revealed rules for daily living. Among other things, that means he observes the Sabbath from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday. Another family joins his on Friday evenings for dinner and Torah study.

This month I was able to join them for the first time. What a blessing! My son read three chapters from Deuteronomy with all the enthusiasm and talent that his drama training had ingrained in him. Every word rang with meaning. I love to see my son so in love with God and His Word, even if we don’t always agree on in its interpretation.

Jordan

Jordan, my six-year-old granddaughter, decided to grill Grandma on her faith. “Grandma, do you know what a Shabbat service is?”

I’ve been asking God for an opportunity to share my faith with her, so I was delighted. Boy, was she surprised when I said yes and explained it to her.

Her mother piped in. “She asks total strangers, ‘Do you eat pork?’”

(I think it’s extremely unfortunate that so many focus on the issue of pork instead of all the positive aspects of following the law. A rabbit trail.)

I went in a different direction. “Jordan, if God was right here with us right now, do you know what question He would ask you? Your Mom and Dad will agree with me.”

Silence. Was I going to say something they disagreed with? “God would ask you, ‘What have you done with my son Jesus? Have you asked Him to save you from your sins?’”

That stumped Jordan for a minute. Then she asked, “Is Jesus dead?”

Okay. “He died, but He’s not dead. He came back to life, and everyone who believes in Him will go to heaven to be with Him.”

“So He’s with Mimi and Omi and Papi and Bella.” She listed the long list of family members and pets she’s lost in her short life.

Beautiful—perfect—she understands!

Then she circled back to her original question. “Did Jesus eat pork?”

“No, He didn’t.” End of discussion.

I thank God for opening the door to share the plan of salvation with my precious girl.

I could care less if she ever eats a bite of pork or not