Comfort for Those Who Mourn

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” – Matthew 5:4

It has been seventeen years since the terrible day of 9/11. It is a day I will never forget.

There was nothing special about the day of 9/11 initially. In fact, I would consider it an extraordinarily ordinary

day. I was in the third month of my new career and busy sorting through stacks of printed manuals. I had the monotonous job of separating and rubber banding the manuals by hand. It wasn’t the most exciting task, but I did it with the enthusiasm of a college kid entering the workforce for the first time (because I was).

On the way to my desk that morning, I visited three of my coworkers in the second floor conference room. They were preparing a plan for coordinating communications with South Florida offices for a tropical storm that was projected to hit Cape Coral, Florida. A small, old television on a cart was displaying the latest news cast, as they hoped to get an update on the storm.

A little over an hour later, David, one of the three coworkers from the conference room, peeked around my cubicle wall. “Would you like to take a breakfast break and watch some news with us? We have some donuts and juice in the conference room.”

I shook my head, “No, thanks. I have twenty more of these manuals to go.”

David nodded and disappeared back into the upstairs conference room.

A few minutes passed, and I suddenly heard the hallway along my cubicle become strangely silent. There had been plenty of the usual busyness and movement just a few moments ago. The stillness caused me to get up from my chair and walk the length of the empty hall.

Where did everyone go? I wondered, peering into the empty offices.

Sensing it had something to do with the TV, I ran up the stairs to the conference room where my coworkers were watching the news. To my surprise, several coworkers from my floor were crammed into the relatively small conference room. When I approached the doorway, I was met with stares of shock and disbelief.

“A plane just hit the World Trade Center,” one of my coworkers said, trembling. For a moment, I had trouble comprehending what she said. The words seemed off. Something didn’t feel right.

Everyone in the room was now facing the television, and I suddenly began to understand. Heavy smoke billowed from the side of the North Tower where a commercial plane had hit it only moments before. The news reporters were scrambling to figure out what had happened — was it an accident? It must have been an accident.

As the live camera feed on the World Trade Center towers was focused on the damage done to the first tower, another commercial plane struck the South Tower. A collective gasp and sudden stunned silence filled the room. It was suddenly painfully obvious: this was no accident.

Without warning, the towers began collapsing. People were jumping to their deaths. It was the most horrific event unfolding before my eyes that I’ve ever witnessed. My shock and terror only deepened as I heard later that morning a third plane crashed into the Pentagon, partially destroying the building. And I felt those emotions again as I heard about the courageous lives lost when a fourth commercial plane was hijacked. The passengers on that plane refused to allow the evil men to reach the destination of Washington D.C. and crashed the plane in a field in Pennsylvania.

I don’t remember much else from that particular day. I cried off and on. Offices and businesses closed. Schools and colleges shut down for the day. For a few days, it seemed the world stood still. My young, barely 18-year-old mind could hardly comprehend what happened.

A few days later, school resumed; and I was in a math class. But it was no ordinary school day. It felt like no day would be normal ever again as a young woman sat beside me, sobbing uncontrollably. She kept apologizing for the inability to control her tears and explained that she was a stewardess who was assigned to one of the flights that was hijacked. She wasn’t feeling well that day and switched shifts with another stewardess who ended up dying on one of the planes. Other students tried to comfort her, as another student talked about a missing uncle for whom first responders were still looking under the piles of rubble at the site of the World Trade Center.

My family was spared. No one close to me was impacted, but as I learned in the days and weeks that followed, many other people in my social circles had people dear to them or close to their families who lost their lives. As a result, I was thankful, but also felt guilt. I felt numb. I felt anger. I felt helplessness. I was traumatized. But I’m sure the grief and trauma I experienced paled in comparison to those whom were affected that day. I can’t even imagine what they must have felt and still feel.

Every year is a reminder of those who were lost, and the lives they touched that day. My heart mourns for those who still experience painful memories and for those who lost friends and family close to them. However, I am also reminded God reigns and is sovereign during terrible events like 9/11 (Romans 8:28), and I can be a light to others in the midst of tragedy as I allow Him to fill the broken and confused parts of me and heal and, in turn, help others through the healing process.

We cannot change the past, but we are not helpless as lovers of Jesus. We can encourage those are struggling. We can pray for them and over them for peace. We can hold their hands as they go to counseling and therapy sessions. For

those who are tormented by memories, we can speak to the spirit of trauma and cast it out in the name of Jesus (yes, Child of God, you can pray for deliverance for the oppressed). We can intercede and agree for the Lord to bring strength and inner healing to the suffering. We can lead others to an encounter with the Lord by asking them to pray and ask Jesus where He was in the middle of the painful event. The peace and comfort people experience through this sort of encounter is often transformational by understanding that He experienced the event with them. They were never alone (Joshua 1:9).

And, heaven forbid, should another event like 9/11 come in the future, we can and must be the hands and feet of Christ. We must not be paralyzed.

“He heals the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” – Psalm 34:18

Giants in the Promised Land

She stared at the monumental task before her. Its completion seemed impossible. She understood how David must have felt with only a sling and a stone to take down a giant. Her mind raced. Her heart jumped. How would she get through this moment? Wasn’t she in the center of God’s Will? Didn’t she go where the Lord had called? Why was each step such an enormous effort? Did the Lord intend for her to fail?

I can think of countless times I’ve experienced that exact distressing scenario, wondering if maybe I heard God incorrectly or somehow removed myself from His Will and protection over my life. It’s not a fun place to be. Sometimes, we further confuse ourselves when we agree

Arriving

with well-meaning but uninformed clichés, suggesting God will always remove every obstacle and open every door when we’re on the right path.

It can feel distressing when you reach a new chapter, a momentary “promised land” in life and quickly discover it’s not going to be easy due to “giants” (obstacles, challenges, struggles, problems or seemingly impossible situations) in the land before you, threatening to spoil your victory and ruin you at every turn.

One evening a few months ago during my prayer time with God, I was particularly upset and confused about a giant in my life. I complained to my Abba Father for thirty minutes, asking Him why my mission field was enormously difficult and expressing how discontent it made me feel. I can almost imagine as I whined that God was calmly listening with an “are-you-done-throwing-your-pity-party-yet-so-I-can-talk” type of look on His face.

“Please speak to me through your Scripture, Lord,” I asked piously after concluding my rant (I understand if you’re snickering at me, dear reader). Little did I know how much God would use that request to teach me about how He felt my journey was going.

Soon after I voiced my request, the reference Acts 20:19-21 came to mind. As I wrote it down, another reference, Zechariah 4:10, popped in my head. I quickly wrote it below the first reference.

I was curious to know what the verses said as they were not immediately familiar references to me. I opened my Amplified Bible and leafed through until I found the first passage from Acts:

“Serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and trials which came on me because of the plots of the Jews [against me]; [you know] how I did not shrink back in fear from telling you anything that was for your benefit, or from teaching you in public meetings, and from house to house, solemnly [and wholeheartedly] testifying to both Jews and Greeks, urging them to turn in repentance to God and [to have] faith in our Lord Jesus Christ [for salvation].”

The verse and section in context was Paul explaining that his ministry was difficult from the first day he entered his mission field in Asia and often accompanied by tears and trials. However, he concluded the end result was worth the struggle because it furthered the Gospel and glorified God.

I was floored. Did I just read that right? Did I not just complain to God about the giants in my mission field being too tall and the road too hard and too long from the first day I began this journey?

“Okay,” I mused aloud. “You’ve got my attention.”

I flipped eagerly to the other verse, now acutely aware the Lord was speaking clearly about that which I was groaning:

“Who [with reason] despises the day of small things (beginnings)? For these seven [eyes] shall rejoice when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. They are the eyes of the Lord which roam throughout the earth.”

The second piece of Scripture was a bit more difficult to figure out because of the metaphors, but with some simple research, I eventually understood. The passage was about the construction of the Temple and God’s pleasure as He oversaw the building process. Maybe I’m just seeing what I want to see, but the message was clear in my mind: The Father saw the construction within me, His Temple, growing pains and all, and was pleased.

I sat in my chair for several minutes, staring at the verses I just read. I was speechless. The words were not easy to read. God was delighted with how my journey was going. But was I? Not so much.

I wanted God to simplify my mission and agree with me to take away the obstacles, but He didn’t. Instead, I found myself having to face my giant head on. But I never fought the battle alone.

God often shows up in the most incredible ways in those dark moments when we find ourselves in Goliath’s shadow. Defeating such a giant requires faith and trust, even when the current circumstances look a lot like failure. It often means we keep fighting until we’ve reached the end. Only then do we realize God is always for us (Romans 8:28) and He’s always with us (Deuteronomy 31:6). He uses our weaknesses as His strength. Our victories over the giants in our lives grow us and prepare us to fight bigger battles. It witnesses to those who don’t know our loving God about His reality. Our testimonies of overcoming adversity teach others and build their faith to believe that they can do the same with God by their side.

Wandering in the Wilderness

“Everyone wants the promise, but no one wants to be pruned.” – Kris Vallotton

The journey of life is full of new beginnings, unexpected turns and course resetting. Often times, when we feel like we’ve arrived, a new change shakes us or grows us. Many times, this process is painful, but necessary for maturity.sand_sm

I have experienced many of my own twists and turns throughout my life journey; but through it all, God has been with me, guiding my steps and whispering reassurance to my heart along the way. You can read about my testimony and God’s goodness through my life struggles on my About Me page.

Earlier this year, I found myself at an unexpected crossroad in my career and life in general. I call it “unexpected” because I had known for years that God’s will for my life was to remain within my place of employment where I had been for the last 15 years in different positions. He confirmed His will for me to remain where I was many times by providing opportunities for me to minister to others through love and encouragement. He gave me moments to share His love and His nature with the lost, hurting and broken. He gave me lifelong friendships for encouragement, correction and growth. He even used my workplace to bless me with a husband who is the love of my life.

Amid the blessings were also job struggles and pains associated with maturing and disappointments along the way. In many ways, I believed my place of employment was my long-term “Promised Land” because it was where God had sent me. But then it happened — change.

Sometimes, the change in course is obvious, but sometimes it isn’t. In many previous crossroad situations, the choice was often not obvious; but in this particular case, there was no mistaking it.

Months earlier, I began to feel a deep stirring of the Spirit, nudging me and telling me it was a season of change. It was time to move. To be honest, I wasn’t excited. I know I should say I was giddy with anticipation about the prospect of moving on to a new adventure, but I wasn’t. I was finally feeling settled and comfortable in the position which I had been placed. It certainly had its challenges and issues. In fact, there was a storm going on in that area of my life; however, I assumed it was one of those issues that would eventually get better. Plus, I knew I would give up many blessings to change careers — daily interactions with amazing friends, a position that gave me direct access to the organization’s decision makers and knowing how my role fit into the organization. But my heart became restless and many nights were sleepless.

I realized the first day I felt tug of the Spirit on my soul that God was also giving me a choice. Although He told me it was time to change course, I also felt Him telling me I could remain where I was and He would bless me and others for His Kingdom’s purposes. However, I knew if I moved, it was the best choice that He had for my life. Even so it was not an easy decision.

I asked God, “Where will you move me? Where do you want me to go?” When I didn’t receive an answer, I prayed and waited.

Although I really hate change and my stomach was quite unsettled, I answered one morning, “I am willing to go wherever you called me.” In that moment of submission, I felt like God was saying to me through unspoken words to my heart, “Understand there will be a sacrifice; but if you lean on me and relinquish control, I will give you new coordinates for your life and career. I know you’ve dreamed for many years about a specific type of job. If you go where I’m asking you to go, your dream will be realized. But it won’t be without a cost. Spiritual growth and trust in me will be necessary to see it through to the end.”

When I asked God what the path ahead would look like, desperately wanting a roadmap to make the process less intimidating, I felt like He was telling me it would look nothing like what I could anticipate, and I wouldn’t know all the answers until the end. But He knew. I just had to trust Him. As I considered the terms, I took a deep breath and watched as my season of change was set in motion.

The trust aspect became my greatest trial I faced. There were plenty of twists and turns and lots of confusion like a complex maze, just as God had warned. The process of moving took much longer than I thought it would. Patience is still an area in which God is constantly teaching and correcting me. Several days, weeks and months passed before the process was complete. Also, there were multiple interviews at different places. When something appeared to be working out, it suddenly fell through, and I really didn’t know what or where to go until the last minute. Even after I arrived in my new workplace, I was in constant transition and helping in a couple different areas for several weeks. Although I struggled and change was hard, God was faithful and kept His promises, and I suddenly found myself with options to go into the field I love.

“Almost there! Just keep going!” I would tell myself. Some days, I said it to myself through tears. Did I mention change is hard? Sometimes, I wondered if I’d be in the Wilderness forever. For a restless heart, sometimes the waiting period can feel that way. It can be easy to lose your way and lose hope if you take your eyes off of Christ and focus on all the uncertainties. But God kept every word of the promises He gave me.

People often think of the Wilderness as punishment. They think of the Israelites wandering in the desolation for 40 years. Instead, it is usually a time of testing and trials intended to grow and strengthen us. It is a time of preparation for our next life chapter which requires more than previous situations had demanded. Wilderness moments, although sometimes extremely lonely and discouraging, is never without God’s grace (Mark 1:13). For me, the greatest experiences and often the closest I have felt to God occurred during my Wilderness moments. It makes the life struggles worth the perseverance when we see God move miraculous ways.

If you find yourself in your own Wilderness experience, take heart! You are not forgotten. God is preparing you for your next adventure. He’s giving you an opportunity to see Him move and to mature spiritually. You will see He is faithful, and you will eventually reach the end and discover your Promised Land.

May God’s peace, love and joy accompany you along your life’s journey.

An Encounter with God through Prophetic Ministry

I hear His voice again — it’s the familiar, gentle nudge to speak a specific word of encouragement into a person’s life. The word fills my ears, although my natural ears never hear it. It becomes my breath, permeating the air around me. It floods my mind and soul. The word He gives is specific and deep yet simple.

friends

I glance over to the woman for whom the word will be given. My introverted, shy heart races; and doubt suddenly clouds my mind. What if I heard wrong? What if she isn’t receptive? What if she rejects me?

“Faith requires risk,” I remind myself.

A second gentle nudge shakes away the confusion. His tender voice repeats the same word. Peace accompanies it and anchors within my heart. As new courage builds within me, I walk over to deliver the word. Now, it’s time to speak.

The person before me stares for a long moment with curiosity as the word flows from my mouth like a living spring. As it touches the woman, her eyes well with tears. The word ministers to her in ways I can only imagine.

“How did you know?” she asks. “I’ve prayed about that issue for months.” It takes her mind a moment to realize God just encountered her for something her heart was desperately seeking. Her shocked expression shifts to a broad smile.

For a moment, I see through His eyes, staring upon her with unfathomable love, grace, and mercy. I feel His immense compassion; my heart is full of uncontainable joy. The emotions are overwhelming. My eyes also fill with tears.

Recent strangers quickly become sisters. The woman hugs me. The Presence of God always carries relationship from which life and love flow. We celebrate God’s revelation for her, and we pray together. The woman is forever changed by her God encounter. Honestly, I won’t be the same either.

This story is from another “ordinary” day as a follower of our amazingly loving and personal God. Like you, I am a simple conduit of His love. The story above is true and an illustration of how God can use anyone to minister to people. We just have to be willing to wait, listen, and respond when He calls to us.

Love and peace to you, friends. I pray this story encourages you to seek His Presence and share His love boldly when the opportunity arises. It’s time to be His hands and feet to this broken world.

Why Won’t God Answer My Prayers?

I’ve spent countless hours praying for God to answer my requests. I remember the tearsorrow-bw stains on my pillow over the figurative “closed doors” and the heartbreak over not receiving the answer I wanted or expected. And although I have seen God miraculously heal the sick in a moment of prayer, I’ve watched others die of cancer, suffer from pain or experience immense hardship. Why does it seem like God is occasionally silent to our prayers?

As I think about how our Father receives and answers our prayers, I am reminded about four key absolutes: 1. God is good all the time (Psalm 100:5). 2. God works all things for the good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28). 3. The Father loves to give His children good gifts (Matthew 7:11). 4. When we ask Him for a desire that aligns with His desires, His answers are always “yes” and “amen” (2 Corinthians 1:20). You may be thinking if you’re a fellow believer, “Yeah, yeah. I’ve heard all of that before. So what?” Let’s paraphrase to find applicable meaning within these absolutes — we have a loving, all-knowing Father (Matthew 6:27-30) who adores us (Isaiah 43:5) and wants the best things for us, and He promises to give us whatever good and righteous thing we ask of Him because He’s a good daddy.

He’s a good daddy.

“But what about all those closed doors? What about my heartbreak? What about the failure to come to my rescue? Where was God?” you may ask. If we think about what a good parent might do since God is our Father, the answers to these questions become a bit easier to understand. Good parents don’t say “yes” to every request just to make the child happy. Good parents look at the situation and determine if responding “yes” to a request would be hurtful, helpful or if waiting for a better solution is actually the best option. Many times, God answers our prayers and sets things in motion behind the scenes, but we don’t understand it or see the answer right away, if at all (Proverbs 3:5-6). Dependency deepens trust. Hardships aren’t meant to crush us; they are meant to make us stronger (Romans 8:35-39). We learn to rely on God for answers instead of ourselves, especially if we have little or no control over the situation; and our victories glorify Him. If we instantly received what we want all the time, we would become ungrateful and settle for less than the abundance God has planned for our lives. Essentially, we’d miss out on the better blessing.

Dependency deepens trust.

As we lift requests up to God, He expects obedience and partnership as part of our relationship and communications with Him. Just as our natural parents often set boundaries and expectations with our requests through them, so does our Heavenly Father. When we pray, we must believe He will provide (Matthew 21:22, James 1:6-8). We must confess and remove anything that separates us from God: sins, idols, wrong motives, ignoring the plight of others around us, or a heart that is not Christ-centered (Isaiah 59:1-2John 15:7). If you’re like me, I look at the list of God’s expectations and feel somewhat overwhelmed at times; but God knows the intentions of our hearts. He knows our needs, and many times in spite of our failures, He mercifully answers prayer requests anyway!

I remember when I got out of high school. I was planning to become a graphic designer in Japan. I studied the language and immersed myself in the culture. I practiced designing, writing and drawing almost every day. Becoming a graphic designer was everything to me at the time. Then life took several unexpected twists, and circumstances occurred that kept me from fulfilling that dream. Many years later, I can see the journey that brought me to where I am today. I would not have the same blessings today if I had gone to Japan. Would I have settled for less? Maybe whatever waited for me in Japan was the lesser blessing, or it could have just ended up as an alternate route. Either way, it was obvious at the time that the doorway to Japan slammed shut, and a different life awaited me. I could be bitter or angry at the death of that dream, but it’s hard to regret something that never occurred. After all, I would have missed out on my husband, valuable time with my grandfathers who have since passed away, the friends I’ve made along the way and my personal and spiritual growth. I can honestly say that my spiritual walk and personal growth as a person have grown exponentially out of the dependence and deepening trust in God through many hardships, changes and miracles over the last several years. Also, I’ve had the amazing privilege of watching God transform lives through close friendships. If I could do it all again, I think I’d want to do it the same way.

Silence doesn’t mean there’s no answer.

My short answer to the complex questions above is this — if you’re praying to God for an answer, keep praying. He loves you and has your best interest in mind. He will never forsake you. Sometimes, “no” or “wait” are the wiser alternatives to “yes.” Silence doesn’t mean there’s no answer. Hardship may occur, but our sovereign God goes before us, walks with us and carries us through to the other side (Psalm 139:5, Jeremiah 29:11).

In the words of Paulo Coelho, “Don’t give up. Normally it is the last key on the ring which opens the door.”

Today is a Good Day

Have you ever had “one of those days”? I’m talking one of thosesmiles can’t do anything right, your car dies, you’re sick and nothing is going right kind of days? Sometimes, it’s hard to feel thankful when the day seems to exist just cause pain and misery. Today has been one of those days — um — weeks for me. The transmission died on my car. My health has been poor. Fire ants invaded my house by the hundreds (counted by the number I saw/squished as they crawled across the floor). The electricity inside my house went bonkers and has already knocked out a panel in my television, ruined one telephone and drained my smoke detectors. And to add to all of those things, the electrician forgot to show up this morning. I spilled scalding, hot soup all over myself. It seems everything I have touched has gone terribly lately! Sigh…yeah, it’s been one of those kinds of weeks.

On days like these, how do we find joy, peace and grace? As I ponder this question today, I am reminded the blessings in my life far outweigh the bad things. Even if I lost everything tomorrow, I am still the richest woman alive. I have wonderful family and friends. I have a good, stable job. I can pay my bills, and I have food to eat. My health issues, although annoying, are few and temporary. I was born in a country where I can worship how I like and write blogs like this one without fear. I have the love of my God, and He calls me “highly favored.” I have carpet and tile under my feet, a big squishy chair to sit upon as I type this blog entry, heating and air conditioning and fresh, clean running water. Yeah, life is pretty good.

So instead of feeling sorry for myself for the cruddy day/week I’ve experienced, I’m determined to say, “It has been a good day. I’m a daughter of the King, and I’m highly favored.” I choose joy. I think the day is looking up already. 🙂

Why Does God Allow the Innocent to Suffer?

Introduction

When I watch the news and read persecution stories, I’m bombarded with images of injustice and pain around the world. I likely don’t have to convince you evil exists because we see it all around us, but why? If God is real and He is always good, why do bad things happen? Why does God allow the innocent to suffer and injustice to reign?Staring out the window

As I thought about this topic, I was reminded it is deeply personal and based on experiences. I want to be sensitive to your experiences and not be flippant or over simplify this discussion. I don’t have all of the answers, but here are some thoughts I hope will bring you comfort.

The Debate

If God exists, did He create evil? After all, He created everything, right? This question frequently surfaces in discussions about God and why some people believe a basic flaw exists in the Christian faith. Although this question seems to bring attention to a paradox, I believe it can be answered. My thoughts: God didn’t create evil. Evil and our imperfect world result from our poor choices and a fallen world. I realize this is a highly controversial statement, but let me explain.

In the story of Adam and Eve, we learn God created mankind in His image and gave them the option to maintain a perfect existence without suffering or death; however, He also gave mankind free will. Free will means we have the ability to choose between right and wrong. Just as we can choose love, peace, joy, patience, kindness and other good things, we can choose the opposite. We can choose to reject. We can choose to hate. We can choose to do the unspeakable: destroy, murder and hurt others. Free will exists in full range of good and bad choices from the seemingly insignificant to the most extreme; and there are consequences that result from every decision we make.

In discussions I’ve had with others, I’ve been asked the question, “Why would God even give us the ability to do bad things? Why not just make us perfect?” This idea sounds great on the surface, but would we really be free to be who we are? Would God truly have created us to have a loving relationship with Him if we were forced to love Him back or to make the right choice? Would we be robots? It seems our free will is deeply interwoven with our humanity and who we are individually.
One of my friends likes to use a wonderful analogy about free will. When you choose to have a relationship with another person; but they don’t want to love you back, it is his or her choice to leave. No matter how painful it is to let the person go, if you really love your significant other, you let them go — even if that means your beloved ends up with someone else. You wouldn’t force him or her to stay because you want that person to love you. If you imagine why God gave us free will in this analogy, it seems we were created out of absolute love: given the ability to completely reject the One who created us even as He knew it would cause Him tremendous pain to watch us walk away.

Life and Our Freedom to Choose

Yes, terror and tragedy at the hands of another are terrible things. We are never promised life will be easy; many times it isn’t. We are only promised He will walk alongside us, sharing our burdens and our sorrows; and we know this life isn’t the end of the story. Evil reigns temporarily, but it doesn’t have the final say. Also, we may have no ability to change what others have done to hurt us; but we have free will to make our own decisions about how we will affect others. If you feel paralyzed by the immensity of suffering in this world, remember Jesus’s example. Be the difference. Do what is right. Show mercy and love even when it is hard. Pray. Always do your best to choose to what is right.