Tears to Joy

Tears to Joy: February 2013

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Top Ten Favorite Books

So call me a nerd. I love, love, love to read! I love all books -- fiction, nonfiction -- it doesn't matter to me. I read for pleasure and I read to learn. I just love reading!

While there are many classics I enjoy (Jane Austen, St. Augustine, Plato...), I've compiled a list of some of my more recent favorites. The Bible is an obvious choice that trumps all the others on my list, so I didn't even include it below. If you're looking for a good read, here are my recommendations.
Top 10 Favorite Books
(In no particular order)

1.      Heaven by Randy Alcorn

2.      Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers

3.      Putting Amazing Back into Grace by Michael Horton and J. Packer

4.      Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot

5.      Kisses from Katie by Beth Clark and Katie J. Davis

6.      One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp

7.      Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

8.      Prodigal God by Tim Keller

9.      Just Enough Light for the Step I’m On by Stormie Omartian

10.  The Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas

If you've read any good stuff lately and have any recommendations, I'd love to hear from you!


Monday, February 25, 2013

Once was blind

When I think of being blind, I see darkness. Pitch blackness.
Last week I was teaching high school students about Paul’s conversion in the book of Acts. Paul was blinded by a bright light from heaven. I’m not sure why, but I always pictured that light causing him to see blackness.

Driving down to work last week, I was instantly blinded by the sun’s rays. I couldn’t see anything whatsoever. The light was so incredibly brilliant that it physically hurt. I wasn’t blinded by the darkness, but by the light. In the immediate aftermath of the sun’s radiance, I saw black spots.

I think this must be similar to God’s holiness. When we are in the presence of God, truly basking in his holiness, we cannot help but see the darkness inside of us. When we are confronted by holiness, we are overwhelmed by our sinfulness. In that moment driving down the road, I was overcome with God’s mercy. He could confront us with all of our sin at once, but he is gracious and deals with our sin in small chunks as we can handle it. Ultimately, he wants to purify us so that we can boldly stand in his presence.

So, as I prepare to drive to the office this morning, I am also preparing my spirit. I’m asking God to purify me from all unrighteousness so that his light might shine through me.

Happy Monday!


Friday, February 22, 2013

What I Learned from Brownies

It had been a great day! Lots of laughter! Fun with friends. I was practically floating as I pull into my driveway. I unlocked the door, tossed my keys on the cabinet, and hugged Jorjanne. After I stopped to speak to my friend who stayed with Jorjanne and one of her friends while I was gone, I walked into the kitchen to set my purse down on the table.

I gasped! What happened to my clean kitchen? Chocolate was everywhere and dishes were piled on every inch of counter space. The sink was also overflowing with dishes. My friend who had been with the girls said, "I told them to clean it up, but Jorjanne said that you would rather do it yourself."

What? Seriously? There is no earthly way Jorjanne could have honestly believed that I'd want to clean up her mess from making brownies -- much less clean it up by myself! It only took me seconds to get the girls in there cleaning.

Again, I was astonished to see them rinsing the dishes and setting them aside to drain. They weren't even using soap! I realized that both of the girls had always used a dishwasher and didn't even know how to wash dishes by hand. Now I had to intervene; a lesson in dishwashing ensued.

This is how we must look before God. We work hard to do good things (make our own brownies), but all our good works are like a dirty kitchen (ok, I'm taking some liberty here...the Bible says filthy rags). All the while, God wants to actively work in our lives to clean us up, but it takes effort on our part. We have to be willing to acknowledge the sin in our lives, and then we have to actively take steps to change. Sanctification happens through a partnership of the Holy Spirit with us, gradually cleaning us and making us more holy. On my own, I'm like the girls rinsing the dishes, cleaning the surface but not really killing any germs. The Holy Spirit not only makes me look clean on the outside, but he wants to transform me and make all of me spotless and pure.

The next time we are under conviction, we have a choice. We can ignore the mess and hope it will go away on its own. We can "rinse" it off, hoping no one will notice or we can allow God to purify us and strengthen us to repent and turn away from our sin.

(I wish I had taken a picture of my kitchen that day -- you would not believe the mess!)


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Lethal Injection

It was just like any other morning. I was getting dressed for work, listening to the news when Bam! I was “teleported” back 18 years – ok, I was taken back emotionally, but not physically. I heard the name “Andrew Cook” and the words lethal injection and the tears began welling up in my eyes.

You see, as a junior in college, I was excited about returning to campus to see all my friends. My anticipation was short-lived. Once I arrived on campus, I knew that something was horribly wrong. I learned that two of my friends had been brutally murdered the night before. In that moment, all my idealism about the world flew out the window.

For months, I was consumed with anger. How could someone so ruthlessly slaughter my friends? Andrew confessed, and said that he did not know my friends. He said that it was like something snapped inside of him. Well, in the days after their murders, something snapped in me! My grades dropped; I cried A LOT! Rage seethed inside of me.

It took me years to get to a place where I could forgive this man I’ve never met. While I abhor what he did, I have forgiven him. I realized that my unforgiveness didn’t bother him one bit – he doesn’t even know me. Holding on to my bitterness was only hurting me. It was like I had drunk poison, expecting him to die.

Poison. Death. The morning news. It was announced today that this man who took the lives of my precious friends will die by lethal injection this Thursday. Eighteen years he’s had to live with himself, and now he will die for his crime. My heart stirs with mixed emotions at this news. I pray for the families of Michele and Grant who seek justice. I pray for Andrew’s family who are losing a son. The merciless killings left behind a stream of broken hearts and pain.

Unfortunately, there are times when life just doesn’t make sense. Times when the pain threatens to suffocate us. I have learned that in all things, God is a good God, in a world that is not. During times of intense pain and confusion, we have to cling to him!  

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Will the Pain Ever Go Away?

Grief is a strange thing. It’s crazy how a song or a memory can toss you back into the throws of heartache and pain. Many teach Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) to people who have recently experienced the death of a loved one. Unfortunately, few people move through these stages in the way you climb a ladder, moving from one rung up to the next. For most of us, it’s more like we are moving up and down a slinky. We make progress and something happens to throw us back into a previous stage.

Last Sunday was that kind of day for me. God has brought tremendous healing into my heart since Michael’s death seven years ago. He has not only brought me to a point of acceptance, but to a place of transformation. I was sitting in church last Sunday when our choir began to sing Laura Story’s song, Blessings. As I heard them sing, the tears began to fall.

Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise”

These words reminded me of the tremendous grace and mercy God has given me in the wake of my grief. I was doing ok until the congregation was asked to sing “It is Well.”

You see, we sang this at Michael’s funeral. A few days earlier, a dear friend lost a family member to suicide and walking through the pain and hurt with her family and hearing this song seemed to drag me back to the horrendous day of Michael’s death.

Even though I have come a long way, in that moment, the pain was very raw.

People ask me, when do you stop hurting? When does the pain go away? The truth is, you never stop grieving. In time, the pain becomes less intense and appears less often, but it never goes completely away.

Another misnomer is that grief only affects those who have lost someone to death. Loss is loss. It doesn’t matter if the loss is due to divorce, loss of dreams, loss of hopes, or loss of job. Grief happens when we experience loss that causes suffering or distress.

If you are hurting from a loss, take heart. The only way to find healing is to walk through the pain. It takes courage and stamina, but you will survive. For me, the joy came when I moved from surviving to thriving. Hang in there!

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Suicide Prevention Begins with Us

I would love to be able to report that the number of people dying by suicide has declined, but I can’t. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that someone completes suicide every 13.7 seconds. That statistic once again became much more real for me last week. One of my dearest friends lost a family member to suicide. The dying are husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons. They have names. They leave behind a myriad of hurting loved ones.  

I wanted to take this opportunity to remind you of who is most at risk for suicide. While more women make attempts, men are more likely to complete suicide. Native Americans and White American men are the most susceptible. Suicide rates are highest for people between the ages of 40 and 59. Ninety percent of people who die by suicide have a treatable mental illness.   

In this economy, so many people are unemployed and struggling financially. This added burden is often too much for many men who place their value on their ability to provide for their families. Sometimes circumstances such as losing a loved one can lead to desperation and suicidal ideation.  The depressed are more likely to contemplate suicide. Someone who has an increase in self-destructive behaviors such as increased drinking, flying into rages, or cutting may also be at risk. 

If you know anyone who is facing tremendous stress and expresses any of these risk factors, give them a little extra TLC. Don’t be afraid to ask them if they’ve ever thought of hurting themselves. This will not put the thought in their minds. It might just save a life! If they are thinking about suicide, ask them if they have a plan. If they do, take them to a hospital or doctor immediately.  

Being reminded of the gut-wrenching hurt that suicide brings to friends and family was a wakeup call to me not to become complacent in the battle to save lives. People need to know that there is hope.  

For more information on suicide, check out the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s webpage by clicking here.

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Under Pressure

They were arrested and taken in for questioning. “Is it true that you’ve been teaching crazy things about a man who rose from the dead?” They could not deny it; they had been telling all who would listen about their risen Savior. What they couldn’t understand is why the rulers got mad over a crippled man. The day before they met a homeless man who was crippled. He had asked them for money, but overcome with compassion, they gave him a much better gift. They healed his body so that he could walk. With boldness, Peter told the rulers that it was because of the risen Jesus that the crippled man had been healed.

Confused, the rulers continued to interrogate them. What they realized astounded them! These were just ordinary, unschooled men and yet the people listened to them. Acts 4:13 tells us that “they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” Wow! Let that sink in. The more pressure they put on Peter and John, the more Jesus they saw in them.

When you squeeze a tube of toothpaste, what’s on the inside comes out. When we are under pressure, what is in our hearts comes out as well. Peter and John “oozed” with Jesus. When others spend time with you, do they know that you have been with Jesus? Are you spending time with Jesus, asking him to daily fill you with himself?

Too often, when I am squeezed, yuck falls out. I pray that we will be more like Peter and John, and that we will die to ourselves daily so that Christ might live in us.


Monday, February 4, 2013

Life's Little Surprises

Saturday night I received a message telling me that church would be delayed due to icy roads. Translation - Extra Sleep! After a long night's sleep (which is pretty rare for me), I woke up Sunday morning, smiling inside because of the extra rest. Just as I started to climb out of bed, my bedroom door burst open with my favorite teenager standing there grinning ear to ear. She woke up early and made me breakfast in bed (oatmeal and blueberry muffins). What a sweetheart!

Still feeling incredibly grateful for my morning surprise, I decided to let Jorjanne have a friend over after church. We went to lunch, and when I went to pay my meal, I was shocked to learn that someone else had already paid for it.

Too often we only hear the negative things that are happening in the world around us. I believe that even though we live in a very fallen world, God gives us glimpses of his goodness through the kindness of others. Motivated by my daughter's love and the generosity of friends, I plan to look for opportunities this week to bring joy into the lives of others around me. Will you join me on this venture?