Broken Heart, Hang on

Traci Jahnke

Grief’s journey is probably different for everyone. I thought my path was going okay, even if not smoothly, at least as normally expected.  When June came, I felt some cracks in my ‘armor’. But July broke my hurt wide open. It was unexpected and I couldn’t figure out what to do with it.

I know and love Jesus. I read the Bible, love singing worship songs to Him, and talk to Him daily. I cried out to God when I first found out my mom had cancer and I continued to pray. I know that God is in control and that He is GOOD – He cannot NOT be good. I thought my faith was strong and that I could walk through it, with God, whatever He decided, including her passing away in January.

In July, instead of me just talking TO God, He got my attention. He got me out of town to a women’s conference led by Beth Moore and I sat still and quiet enough to listen. God talked TO me.

First, I want to just refresh your memory on Mary and Martha, Lazarus’ sisters, because God spoke to me in the context of a Bible passage. In Luke 10:38-42, Martha was upset because Mary was not helping in the kitchen, when in fact, Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus listening as He taught. Jesus said that Mary had chosen wisely. It seems that Mary was a serious follower of Jesus and probably grew very close to Jesus. Fast forward to John 11:17-44 when Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days when Jesus arrives (after word had been sent to ask Jesus to come and heal Lazarus). In John 11:20, amazingly it isn’t Mary running to meet Jesus when they are notified that Jesus is coming; Martha ran to meet Jesus and Mary stayed home. Now we don’t know for sure WHY Mary stayed home, but Beth Moore taught from the following vantage point.

When you are super close to someone and they don’t come through for you, how do you feel? Let down? Hurt? Betrayed? In Mary’s case, in John 11:32, later when she finally saw Jesus, a fair paraphrase of her words would be, “WHERE WERE YOU?” You could have come and healed (for I believe you have the ability), but you didn’t. True intimacy with God is being able to cry out to Him, “WHERE WERE YOU?”

Then God spoke through this women’s Bible teacher and put a finger directly on my wound and opened it wide. The words spoken were MY words inside but I had never acknowledged it to myself or to God. The words were: My heart is broken and I feel like YOU BROKE IT! I wasn’t angry at God for my mom’s death. But I felt betrayed by my best friend. Please understand: God is the God of the universe and though He loves me, He does not become my ‘genie in a bottle’ and give me whatever I ask for. But as I was finding out, sometimes what we KNOW to be true, doesn’t change what our heart feels. I KNEW that God loved me even though it didn’t feel like it in the grief.  As Jesus said in John 15:9, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” So, I took the message home that weekend of being real and honest with God, to pour out my grief to Him.

So, summer carried on with my open wound; everything and nothing made me cry. Sometimes I worried that there was something mentally wrong with me, as well as spiritually wrong with me.

But God wasn’t done tending to me. Through a variety of circumstances, He brought me out of town again in September for another conference with Beth Moore. The teaching was good and insightful, but did not relate to my specific ‘condition’. And then near the end of the conference, God spoke to my heart. When I look back, I think what God had to say to me, actually didn’t even fit in with the rest of the main topic of the conference. But this is God, so He can do what He wants.

The Bible verse God spoke through was Song of Solomon 8:5. Yes, I know the context of this chapter and book are a completely different story for another time. Yet, God used His words and imagery in that verse to speak to my weary, broken heart.  “Who is this coming up from the wilderness, leaning on her beloved?” Yep, I could relate to the wilderness. Dry, barren, lacking joy. I was struck by the teacher’s explanation on ‘leaning on her beloved’. Perhaps, after her long sojourn in the wilderness, she no longer had the ability or the will to walk. She had to limp along leaning on her beloved. Yep, that sounded like me. But possibly not even limping; maybe crawling. But the message to my heart was: even if I am crawling on the journey – hang on to the beloved.

In the beginning of my grief, I thought I would walk through it with God’s help. My reality is crawling BUT I will not let go of my beloved. I will hang on for all He is worth, because there is NO ONE else worth holding on to.

I am still in the ‘open wound’ season of grief and quite honestly, I don’t know what comes next. I suspect my heart will not be totally healed until heaven, when I see and understand more fully. One other thing I am clinging to in that Song of Solomon verse, “Who is this coming up from the wilderness…?” COMING. UP. FROM.

Jesus, my beloved, I long to come up from the wilderness and I believe there is hope that I WILL one day come up from the wilderness. And I know that though my heart is broken, only You can bring me up and out.

 

My Greatest Fear

by Traci Jahnke

Jeff and I have attended a marriage conference almost every year of our 15 year marriage. We made a commitment to take time away each year to focus on God, each other, and the areas we need to work on in our marriage. Over the years, there was one couple that taught at our conferences that we both seemed to connect with. God has used them to speak truth to our hearts that we needed to hear.

One year, they mentioned: “If you want to know your spouse’s greatest need, you have to know their greatest fear.” You have to get to a place in your relationship, where you trust the other person ENOUGH to be completely vulnerable and share your greatest fear. To completely hand your heart over to another is scary. How will they care for it? Will they be gentle with it? Will I ever regret what I share?

I pondered this topic off and on for several years. I kept wanting to determine my greatest fear so that I could share it with Jeff, so that he could know my greatest need and fulfill it! I think I incorrectly added that last part myself; I don’t think our mentors MEANT that my spouse could fulfill my greatest need and fear. They meant if Jeff could KNOW it, he could love me and support me in my greatest fear and need.

Losing my mom has been a heartbreaking journey so far; I miss her so much and somehow I don’t think I will get over that. Life has lost its fullness and sparkle without her. But her death has exposed cracks in me. Along the way, I have discovered my greatest fear: being alone. Looking back over my life, I believe it has always been my fear. I tried to alleviate that fear during my teen years by choosing any boyfriend that might fill that need. After my divorce, I was terrified of being alone and being a single mom. Since Mom has been gone, I have struggled with the fear of losing Jeff in the future. It would be very easy for me to make Jeff an idol in my life, because it wouldn’t take much for me to have an anxiety attack thinking about living life without him. In some ways, at 50 years old, I haven’t come very far in dealing with my greatest fear.

Through my circumstances, Bible study, and prayer, God has been trying to show me and teach me that though I may lose everything in this life, I will not lose Him and HE IS ALL I NEED. Though I prayed and got the best doctors and hospitals for Mom, she still died. There is a lack of control in my fear in being alone. God is sovereign; I am not. Is my faith real? If all is taken away, will I still love and trust God? For that is when faith is proved real.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?” Psalm 27:1-2

“Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” Psalm 62:8

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned.” Isaiah 43:2

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

“For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” Zephaniah 3:17

So, now that I have acknowledged my greatest fear, I am a work-in-progress on surrendering this fear to God. For Jeff cannot alleviate this fear, fix this fear, or be the fulfillment in this fear. Only God can bring me full peace from this fear. But though I have a way to go, I KNOW that God is real, that He is the one true God, that I belong to Him, that those He saves will live forever with Him in paradise, and His love for me is unfathomable and unchangeable. As I continue to meditate on these PROMISES from Him, I know He will transform my fear into more faith.

What is your greatest fear? Spend some time pondering it. Fear can hold us back from being fully known in our marriage relationship or close friendships. It can stand between us and a real, intimate relationship with Jesus. Fear can even cripple us from obedience to God, that thing that we KNOW God wants us to do or the addiction He wants to release us from or the person He wants us to BE for His kingdom and glory. Join me in surrendering your greatest fear to God; in believing that He alone can be fully trusted, and let us experience the love and freedom that comes with it!

Who I Am Now

                                                                                                               Olivia Brinker

I’ve had quite a few changes happen throughout my life that have altered how my relationships grow or fade. Choosing to follow Christ has been both the most rewarding and challenging so far. While getting married and having children has definitely changed my character and how I act, being a Christian has changed my soul, my thinking and process for decision making, the way I talk and dress, my priorities, and my desire to seek eternal assurance rather than worldly. My goal today is to help those who knew me before these changes understand who I am now, and as result, move forward rather than backward.

I know who I was before Christ may seem more fun, more interesting, and maybe more easygoing than before. I can’t say things to reassure you like: “I’m still that girl”, or “our relationship doesn’t have to change”. I can’t and I don’t want to. I AM different. My whole world is different and that’s a good thing! You can still talk to me about your life without judgment from me. You can still ask my opinion about things; my answer will just be different from what you may want to hear. Our relationship WILL thrive if you are willing to open your heart and mind to loving the new me as much as you did the old.

There are aspects of my life that are important to me, that you may not agree with, that may cause you to walk away. In my journey of knowing and following Jesus, He has started a transformation in me that has changed my desires for how to live.

  • I don’t drink anymore. Not because I think having a drink in itself is wrong, but because I know if I do, it is for the wrong reason.
  • I try really hard not to swear. This is a huge one for me and I hope you can respect it. Just like when we try and shelter a child from hearing those words because chances are they will repeat them, I want to shelter myself. This means I really enjoy time spent together that doesn’t involve a cuss word in every sentence. Trust me though, I understand how hard it is to filter what we say!
  • What I just mentioned kind of flows into this point. The music I listen to and the movies I watch are going to be different too. If you want to see a movie together and it is rated-r or even some pg-13, chances are I will say no. What I fill my mind with is extremely important to who I am now.
  • I am this way for good. My lifestyle and choices won’t be pushed to the side just because I want you to have a good time with me. This one is big for me, mostly because my opinions and interests before Christ were constantly swayed based on who I was with. I was focused on pleasing the world around me, rather than God. Now, my identity is found in Jesus, and He never sways or changes.

I know this is a lot to take in and I really hope it doesn’t make you run the other way.

  • My love for you is even greater now. You’ve heard me say it before: “I love you”, and I probably meant it, but love has a totally new meaning for me now. Before, I loved because I wanted love in return. I was honestly the most incredibly selfish human being. Now when I say I love you, this is what I mean: my heart desires for you to be well, for you to find the joy I have, I ache when I know you are aching, and I really do love you despite any flaws you may have. Jesus loves me just as I am and even as I was before. I want to love you the same way.
  • I’m not going to push you into converting or judge you for not being like me. Do I want you to find the hope, joy and assurance that I have? Absolutely! But, God gave each of us free will for a reason; He wants that decision to come from our own heart not someone else’s.
  • I don’t want to lose you. Whether we are close or simply acquaintances, this life change does not mean I want less of you. I want more! Now that I know who I am, I want to know more of you. This is something I never cared much about before, but I do now.

Following Jesus may make us different, but it doesn’t make us strangers. It doesn’t make me better than you and it definitely doesn’t make me like you less. I hope you will give the “new me” a chance. God has started a work in me, and He is not done with me yet. And I am not done with you!

Who is my neighbor? Maybe not who I thought…..

Traci Jahnke

                                                                     Luke 10:25-37

           The parable of the Good Samaritan is probably familiar to you. You may know the basics of the story by heart. But a parable was a tool that Jesus utilized to teach an important biblical truth, bound up in a story with people, places, and situations that were immediately understandable and relevant to the audience He was speaking to.

In the preface to the parable in verses 25-29, Jesus was asked how to inherit eternal life by an expert in the religious law, probably a Pharisee. Jesus’ response was the two greatest commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself”. You can almost hear the Pharisee’s mind and motivation as he asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Through the series of questions the expert was asking Jesus, it doesn’t seem that he was pursuing who his neighbor was with a sincere heart. More likely, he was self-righteously trying to prove that he already kept the letter of the law. To most Jewish teachers, “neighbor” meant fellow Israelite; a person who was just like him ethnically and religiously.  So, as an expert law-keeper, this man loved God and also loved his neighbor. He met the requirements; or did he?

How easy it is to love those who are just like us! It is easy to love the person who looks like me, dresses like me, is in the same social class as me, acts like me, and goes to church just like me. No wonder the expert thought his eternal life inheritance was secure! BUT Jesus describes “neighbor” through the parable of the robbery victim left for dead in the road. Which of those passing by stopped and helped the victim?

The priest and Levite not only did NOT help, but walked to the other side of the road to avoid being near the victim. We may think that is just awful, but the law expert would not have. For per Old Testament law, a priest becomes unclean if he touches a dead body. So, the priest and Levite needed to guard themselves in case the victim was dead, and stay far away from breaking the ceremonial law.

But the Samaritan (person from Samaria) went above and beyond to care for the victim. He stopped, he bandaged him, and he transported him to an inn, paid for his lodging and care until he had recovered. We far underestimate what the Samaritan in the story meant to the Jews. Samaritans were not just outcasts. Their shock at Jesus’ choice of hero, would be akin to an enemy of this country; a betrayer of their nation. Possible examples might be how the United States viewed the Japanese during World War II or al-Qaeda after the September 11, 2001 terrorists attacks. Samaritans were despised by the Jews.

So, why did Jesus choose a Samaritan to be the hero, the good “neighbor”? If the Jewish law expert’s neighbor was a Samaritan, who is God saying is MY neighbor? The family I met at the grocery store on food stamps? The homeless person that talked to me in the street? The unemployed father who came to church and asked for help? The homosexual woman that I know at work? The new person in town who is a minority race and no one welcomes?

My neighbor may not be someone easy to love or maybe even to be around. My neighbor may not look or smell nice. My neighbor may have a lifestyle of alcohol and drug abuse or sexual immorality.

Jesus tells us to love them. Through the gospels we know that Jesus ministered to the poor, sinful, downtrodden, little-valued, and ugly of his day. It is what He expects of us. “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).

 

 

Not intense knowledge, but intense dependence

Olivia Brinker

I don’t want my kids to be smart. I want them to be invested.

I’ve noticed a lot since having toddlers that parents are crazy about having the smartest kid. We see so many educational toys, games, shows, and tools everywhere around us and desire to have them all to ensure a smart kid. We want to make sure every situation is an educational one, including eating. It’s as if our 2 year old should experience a science lesson at the dinner table or they won’t appreciate learning in every circumstance.

That is just not me. Maybe it’s a little bit of laziness, but at the end of the day if my toddler even tried to do something new or different just once, I would be happy. Even if the result wasn’t successful, they tried!

Instead of placing dozens of learning options in front of my kids, I want them to find it themselves. Kids study everything. They don’t need any fancy tool, they have the world.

Think about it. Not only are they learning new ideas, colors, words, and experiences; they are learning about challenges, failures, and how to work towards a goal in their own way and at their own pace.

They will experience disappointment and want to give up, but here is my plan.

  • Show them that it’s okay to mess up, to get things wrong.
  • Use learning as a way to teach the reality of not being able to do things on our own. That in all of life’s struggle, God is the only one who can help us through.
  • Never be afraid to ask for help.
  • You will be good at things and bad at things. Train yourself in every area. Eventually the things you are good at may turn out to be a God-given talent or spiritual gift and used for a greater purpose.
  • When you are frustrated and just want to give up, God will be your resting place and will give you the strength to start again.

If my kids don’t end up being “smart” or bring home amazing report cards, I’ll still be proud of my kids.

My goal is not intense knowledge of the world, but intense dependence on the Lord.

I want them to desire to do His will, no matter how challenging.

 

The Lie of Divorce

Traci Jahnke

As my daughter shared some of her hurt and loss due to my divorce from her dad, I thought I would give some insight from my perspective. Please know that my perspective does NOT relate to spouses and children that are in harm’s way and need safety.

I don’t need to share all the details that led to the separation and divorce between me and my first husband. Simply put, both of us treated each other in ways that were not loving, respectful, or encouraging. While there were issues that definitely needed counseling, God could have saved our marriage if I had been willing to surrender it to Him. Friends and co-workers gave the advice I longed to hear: “God wants you to be happy!”  It was far easier to believe them than to listen and obey the voice of the Holy Spirit.

So, my daughters had to live “two” lives growing up. Suitcases, homework, friends, school and church activities between two households. As an adult, try packing and going on a trip once a week and every other weekend and then process doing that to children. Try living and pleasing parents in two different households, with different rules and environments. Kids and teens just want to live their life with friends, school activities, and family events. But in divorced families, all those parties and events, even just wanting to spend the night at a friend’s house, becomes complicated because it is “dad weekend” or “mom weekend”.  Calls have to be made, compromises have to be bartered, and a trade of equal value is usually involved. The parents don’t want to lose their sacred time with the kids (since they have lost so much) and the kids just want to be “normal”.  It was hard, confusing, and honestly – unfair.

After attending a Divorce Recovery group bible study 2.5 times (the Holy Spirit did pursue me in my accountability), I knew that I had to keep my girls involved in church and with spiritually mature Christians as examples. Unfortunately, I may have been trying to raise my daughters in a Christian moral, manner, but all I ended up being was a legalist. Trust me, by the time, my girls headed to college, they knew exactly how a good Christian girl dressed and acted.  But I had missed the most important thing: showing them the intimacy of knowing Jesus and the joy of loving Him.

I have learned in the years since my divorce that no one comes out unscathed: not children, not the husband or wife, not the families involved. The idea of divorce resulting in a better life for all involved IS A LIE.

I had always heard the quote from Malachi 2:16 that God hates divorce. That is true, but the context of the passage in verses 13-16 is even broader. God’s Spirit was a part of the marriage covenant, joining them together as one flesh, and intended to be a lifetime commitment to each other and their children. “For the Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garment with violence” (Malachi 2:16 NKJV).

Violence may seem like a harsh word to describe divorce, and only physical violence may come to mind at first. But I say that divorce is emotional violence that lives on long after the actual dissolution date. God designed lifetime marriage for man and woman and He is serious about covenant.

God forgave me for the sin of divorce; of not fighting for and keeping that covenant.  God gave me moments with Him when His overwhelming mercy for me was very real, I felt it wrapped around me, if that makes sense. But the hurt and consequences still live on. Even as my girls are grown, married and have children of their own, the hurt and separation of their mom and dad will always be a part of life: Christmas, birthdays, weddings, grandchildren. My daughters will never have shared family moments with “mom and dad”. That is the lifetime emotional violence that my divorce caused in my family.

God’s warnings are for our good. Yes, marriage is hard work; getting counseling is uncomfortable.  But divorce is destructive. Don’t believe THE LIE.

Divorce from the new view of being married

Olivia Brinker

This topic is hard. It is hard to write about and it will be hard to read about. The “D” word. Divorce. Among many other issues in the world today, this is a big one. To those who are reading this, if you are married and don’t know if you can do it any longer, I urge you to wait. If you grew up in a broken home, you aren’t alone. As a woman now married with children of my own, I feel I can give even more insight as to why this choice should be put out of your mind. While it may be hard, the reward is much greater.

Let me begin with a summary of my own experience with divorce. I was 4 when my parents split. If you are thinking I was spared the memory because I was so young, I’m sorry but that’s not how it works. I am the youngest of three girls so I’m blessed to have not gone through this alone. My childhood was a whirlwind of emotions and pain; I know my sisters felt it too. “Which house is our home?”, “Will we ever be a family again?”, “Do I like mom more or dad more?”, “Why can I do one thing here but it is not allowed there?”, “I don’t want this family anymore.” No matter what age I was, these thoughts never went away.

I could give a never ending list of the pain, struggle, and confusion that took place and still does take place in my life because of my parents’ divorce. I won’t, simply because it is everything you may have heard before. Even so, it is real, it is scary, and it can be prevented.

Divorce does not cause temporary pain. It infects the years and generations following it. I still struggle with who I am. I carry feelings of abandonment, confusion, anger, and heartache. I had and still have to change my character based on which parent I am around. No wonder I don’t know who I am. My kids will have to experience the tension between families because of their grandparents’ split. I aim to soften that blow when it becomes so much more real for them, because I’m sure that day will come.

I used to get so angry, wondering how my parents could just give up on us. Then, I got married. It all became very clear. Marriage is hard. I’ve thought a few times about wanting my husband to just leave. Marriage brings so many new feelings into a relationship that may have never been felt before. I always told myself that divorce would never be an option for me because of my experience with it. In reality though, it crosses my mind way more than I would like to admit. The only thing that gets me through is prayer and reflection. I’m always so willing to point a finger at my husband, and rarely willing to look inside my own heart. Women, let’s start doing that today!

A marriage can be turned around for the better. Marriage can last a lifetime. Be still and trust the Lord; seek the Lord and His help. Divorce can’t make life better. While marriage can give fulfillment and joy, divorce can only bring pain. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that it is better to divorce than live unhappily. You WILL STILL BE UNHAPPY.

No one, and I mean no one, has an easy marriage. Get help, talk to a counselor. Pray. Pray. Pray. You will eventually have the pleasure of truly loving your spouse even when it is hard, because isn’t that what you would want from them?

My plan? or God’s plan?

Olivia Brinker

When you realize that your plans may not be the Lord’s plans…

My husband and I have had a whirlwind of a marriage. We barely knew each other and jumped right into having little babes. We are coming up on 3 years of marriage and not a single second of it was spent without a little one in the mix. In those 3 years, we have had 2 beautiful kids and just found out we are expecting another. Our timing hasn’t been impeccable, but we are doing everything we can to enjoy our journey as parents and spouses.

After finding out about baby number 3, we both decided that we wanted this to be our last. We really do have our hands full and the thought of more kids is really kind of scary. I’m not really upset. I actually feel pretty excited about it all. After this baby, I can start focusing on things other than pregnancy and infants. I can finally give myself time to find a balance and really enjoy each kid I have, remembering every moment that goes by.

Is it really that simple though? As a Christian, I have to be very careful not to rely completely on myself and my decisions. While my plan might look pretty good, God’s plan is always better and most of the time, completely different.

When we made the decision to stop having children, my husband and I never really discussed our plan. As a married couple, abstinence isn’t exactly the best route for a healthy marriage. Birth control would be easiest, but I’ve thought a lot about it and don’t really want to put my body through that again. I mean, I’m only 23 years old, almost 24, and that’s a lot of years of popping pills. The only other option is surgical intervention for either me or my husband and let’s face it, no one likes the thought of that, much less the permanence of that type of decision.

I guess what I’m getting at is this: God isn’t going to have to jump through very many hoops to bless us with another child. Is that scary? Absolutely. Other than my own fear and terrible patience, there really is no reason I shouldn’t have more children. All of my pregnancies were smooth and enjoyable. My labors were quick and left my body with barely any traces of growing human beings, inside or out.

Maybe we are on the same page as God here and He is good with us having only 3 children.  I wish I could say I was sure, but I’m not. I trust Him though. I trust that if we are done, He will give me peace as they grow. I trust that if He creates another life in me, He will grow my patience and maybe even bless our finances…or not. Whatever may come, I know that He’s got us right in the palm of His hand.

Gracious in the Midst of Suffering

Traci Jahnke

My mom became sick with pneumonia, spent 26 days in the hospital, back and forth in and out of the ICU, and passed away on the morning of the 27th day. But I had the joy, honor, and privilege of spending days 1 through 26 with her.

My mom was one of the most loving people that I know; full of compassion and mercy.  I can picture that sweet look on her face when she was worried about someone.  She kept a long list of people and situations that she prayed for.  When Mom and I would talk each night, she usually asked about my friends, co-workers, or students that were going through difficult times.  She had a true concern for others, and when the update I shared was good news, there was such a relief in her voice and spirit.  I am not here to tell you that my mom was perfect, though.

Mom had deep losses that she never quite recovered from: especially losing her sister and her mother (they were her best friends). There was a loneliness and emptiness in her that could not be filled.  She had other bitterness and regret that built up over her life as well.  Mom bravely fought stage 4 colon cancer for over 6 years.  The last couple of years were harder on her physically, which understandably, took a toll on her emotionally and mentally and sometimes caused a critical spirit.

But my mom BLEW ME AWAY with her grace for 26 days. She was in A LOT of pain for laying so long; sores on her bottom, rash on her back. Even the nurses said they had not seen much worse than Mom.  She told us, her family, when she was in pain and communicated what she needed.  And we loved being her primary caregivers at the hospital, whether it was rubbing her feet, scratching her back, helping her change positions in bed, or just holding her hand.

But I watched her facial expressions and her interaction with the nurses and doctors.  EVERY SINGLE TIME she had that sweet look of appreciation on her face and she always expressed her thankfulness for their care of her.  It really took me by surprise and started to overwhelm me.  If I had been in her place, after years of fighting cancer, now in almost constant pain in the hospital (for what must have felt like days with no end in sight), I don’t think I would have been the gracious, grateful patient that Mom was.  Of course, because of her sweet disposition, all the staff loved her.  I was so proud of my mom, and so proud to be called her daughter.

What an example she was to me in her last days! To treat others with such kindness, when she was in the midst of her own suffering, is just another testimony of who my mom was. I hope on my toughest days, filled with frustration, tension, conflict, and pain, that I will extend grace to others, just like my mom did.

“Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.” Romans 12:10 NLT

An Unexpected Story

                                                               Olivia Brinker

     I want to point out something that may sound crazy to some. I am proud to be a mommy to two beautiful girls, but they are not who make me proud. Actually, proud isn’t even the word I should be using. Blessed, privileged, but not proud. (Being proud just gets me into trouble.)
Real talk- the first little life I was blessed with was a message from God that I didn’t even comprehend until very recently: I am a sinner, but the Lord loves me anyway.
That precious girl with golden curls and bright blue eyes, she was planned. What most don’t know, however, is that she was planned out of my own selfish desire to feel unconditional love. What’s even more selfish, I wasn’t married. I didn’t even know if I loved the father at that point. I just wanted a little bundle of my own, someone who would love me no matter what.
I got that alright, but what I didn’t realize is that little baby isn’t who I received that love from. In fact, I received that love way before she existed, way before I existed.
That little gift wrapped in pink was a message:
“My child,
You are so loved. So loved that, even in your sin, I have created something beautiful.  Take care of her and raise her to know me.
Love, Your Heavenly Father”
That’s right, I am loved. This girl. The one who can’t even count her own screw ups. How awesome is that?
Fast forward a bit. I am married to that man, the father of my gift, the one I didn’t even know if I loved. Rest easy, I definitely love that man. I don’t love him because of him or anything he does in particular. I love him because he too is loved by God, because loving someone for their human abilities or character is near impossible. No one is that awesome. Everyone makes mistakes. God doesn’t. I love my husband because God gave him to me, because he is a sinner just like me who is loved by God. So, I love him too. Simple as that. Not really, because loving a man is never simple. I can only love him because of the power of God. While some aren’t okay with that, I most certainly am. I don’t want someone’s love for me to be based on earthly things. Those things fade and so will that love. God’s love won’t.
Now, we are shifting again to baby number two. One year into a marriage you need a five point harness for, I was pregnant with another incredible girl. (Don’t try this at home people. One year of marriage + two babies = spouses who barely know each other or what sleep is.) Since I hadn’t really comprehended what the message of baby #1 was, I hadn’t given her or my marriage to the Lord. I should have trusted Him and leaned on Him as my rock. As a result of this, baby #2 was a cry for more love. And, surprise- she isn’t who I got it from.
“Dear child,
It’s me again. Can you feel me now? I have all the love you need. Look at how beautiful these babies are. That beauty is nothing compared to the beauty of my love for you. Please let me love you.
Your Heavenly Father”
I am so dense. How did I miss it? When Baby #2 turned ten months old, I FINALLY got it. As they slept next to me, I realized something. Why in the world am I making two tiny humans responsible for making me feel loved? Right now, their purpose is to be loved by God. And, hallelujah, that’s part of my purpose too!
My girls are beautiful and smart, but not because of me. That is all God’s doing. You want to know what they got from me? Sin. Nasty, ugly sin.
Someday they too will have the responsibility of choosing to rely on the love of humans or the love of God. I pray they choose Him. So many blessings come from the love of God. My girls and even my husband (which he would never believe) are examples of those blessings. So thankful the Lord loves my sinful self!
So, I am a mom. Not a proud mom. A humbled, blessed mom. I am a mom because God allowed me to be. While being a mom is a luxury to some or simply reproduction to others, being a mom is a job or a purpose for me. I was chosen by God to raise children who know Him and His Word, who love like Him and follow His will. This is a really hard job. I struggle to keep myself on the narrow road, let alone two other sinful people. But, it is a job I take seriously and in the end, if I have done well, He will get the glory because if it wasn’t for Him and His unconditional love, none of it would have been possible.