1700 Frowny Faces

A few decades ago, I sat there looking at my beautiful children, deep in thought.

I didn’t want to go. I asked myself, “Do I really have the heart to do this?” I had all the excuses. “Anyone would say they were valid, right?”

I am a busy mom.

I have babies who will miss me.

I have teenagers who need me.

I don’t know what difference I will make there.

Can’t someone else do this?

Look at all the people who don’t carry near the load I do!

Why, oh why, did I say ‘Yes’ to volunteer today?

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Thoughts put aside, I arose from tying my shoes. I kissed my husband, saying ‘thank you’ for taking care of the kids. Off I went to an unknown, to do a task I was woefully unprepared to do.

Later that day “She” sat there. I was on the other side of the desk facing her. Her face had a determined look.

Diving in, I thankfully remembered my training for this situation. I took a deep breath and out came the life-giving words.

“I know you want to do this, but do you realize this decision will change the course of your life forever?” Now I had her attention. She looked at me intently. I took another breath and continued.

“Does this seem too hard for you?” She nodded. The words settled in as I noticed her sea of emotion against my voice of godly reason.

“Here’s something for you to think about. Your way seems EASY because you are at the beginning, but I promise you, your way will be hard in the end.

“I’m here to show you a different way – God’s way. But I have to tell you His way seems HARD in the beginning, but it is much easier in the end. You DO have a choice. And God will be with you when you choose for him.

“Here’s a scripture from the Word of God that you can hang on to for help. We call it an anchor passage.”

I gave her the hand-written passage:

“Now choose life, so that you and your children may live…”

Deuteronomy 30:19

Her face softened. I’d like to think she made a good decision after that day. She was just one of many women who have faced the same life and death issue of “unplanned” pregnancy.

Looking back, I am so glad I didn’t say ‘no’ to counseling women in desperate need. My own resolve to honor God was deepened. I was blessed while trying to serve them.

One day, ten years later, I arrived at work to find one of my employees having an emotional day. She had been unsettled since morning. At the end of the day I found out that she had attended a rally for life over the weekend.

She hadn’t been able to process some of the statistics she learned. She couldn’t put away the horror of knowing the sheer number of babies who were disposed each day. The little faces were haunting her mind.

Then and there, we decided to make a poster for our workspace to honor these lives cut short. It took three and a half pages of size 12-font! The sea of frowny faces represented the little souls who would never see the light of day.

Every morning all 1700 of them – the number of babies aborted each day back then – greeted us as we arrived at work. Over time, her tears subsided as our resolve grew. We both got into the habit of lifting up 1700 women a day in prayer. Our silent cries asked God if He would lead them to see another alternative during their crucial decision today.

It was the least we could do. We rose to the occasion as we thought best during that time. While the stats seem to be going down as of today, even one is still too many.

All over America, women are choosing the opposite of what Joshua proposed to the Israelites in Deuteronomy – to choose life. But there is so much more. What women do not realize is that the frowny faces they have chosen to hide in abortion will never, ever, leave them alone without the healing rain of forgiveness and new life Jesus won for us on the cross.

Like my employee, my heart is broken as I think of what these women are choosing and what could be in Christ.

Lest you think I am standing in judgement, please consider the many decisions we make each day. Were it not for God’s amazing grace, we would not be able to honor him with even one decision. We cannot change many minds, but He can. And there IS something important we can do.

We need to join with Jesus in his cry to the Father:

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Luke 23:34

And then arise to stop the madness. I believe our culture has so blinded women by pro-choice logic, that indeed, many women do not know they are choosing death until it’s too late.

That’s where we come in.

Just today a friend invited me to attend the movie Unplanned. As I decided whether to go or not, my old self resurfaced.

I didn’t want to go. I asked myself, “Do I really have the heart to do this?” I had all the excuses. “Anyone would say they were valid, right?”

I am a busy woman.

I know what this movie is about.

I am pro-life. Isn’t that enough?

I already worked at a pregnancy counseling center years ago.

Aren’t other people getting the word out?

What, oh what, can just one person do?

I am so glad I didn’t say ‘no’ to going to this movie. Yes, it was hard to see. And yes, my heart was once again broken.  BUT, my resolve to do what I can has been resurrected.

I have recommitted to praying for women who are facing the biggest decision of their lives. I pray the Lord awakens their hearts to recognize the lie of abortion. I pray for God to send them to places where godly people can share his Word with them.

I pray God gives women courage, after the fact, to confess to any believer, who then can offer God’s forgiveness and love. I pray for healing through the Word.

All women desperately need to hear God’s messages of truth and love. Then, like Abby Johnson in the movie’s true story, we can face the reality and arise to serve God in unimaginable ways, His ways.

1700 frowny faces deserve more. Don’t you agree? Why not start praying this very moment?

If we don’t arise, and pray for God’s mercy, “for such a time as this”, who will?

Dearest Father, you have created us for life. Each and every child is a gift from you. Our country is guilty of horrific actions that snuff out this gift. Lead us to repentance, Lord. Draw us to confess our lethargy toward those who are suffering the repercussions of abortion. Strengthen our resolve to do whatever we can to shine brightly as the world around us grows ever dim. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Jesus Delivers Us From the Abyss

In James Cameron’s 1989 film “The Abyss,” a group of petroleum engineers is enlisted to help search for a lost nuclear submarine that was ambushed in some of the deepest waters on Earth. This team of civilians is already far underwater, cozily inhabiting their submerged oil drilling platform, the DeepCore. To recover the nuclear warheads from the sunken submarine, however, they’d have to go deeper.

I’ll try to avoid spoilers—though, come on, it’s been thirty years—but at the end of the film, after a whole lot of action and danger and at a point when the engineers themselves thought they would perish underwater, the DeepCore suddenly rises to the surface within a matter of a few minutes.

 I’m no scuba expert, but I know this feat to be quite impossible. Unlike raising the pressure, which can be done as quickly as your ears can adjust, decompression must be done very slowly. After a prolonged stay at 1,750 feet, the crew’s decompression time should have taken weeks.

 And yet, against all odds and after being stuck in the cold, dismal darkness of the deep sea, where it seemed no light or hope could ever shine, the DeepCore and its crew are raised to safety. Upon opening the rig door to the warm light of the sun, one survivor makes a baffled observation:

 “We should be dead. We didn't decompress.”

 This was a group of people who had lost all hope. They were stuck at the bottom of the ocean, surrounded by thick and unwavering darkness – feeling alone, afraid and forgotten by the world. Their mission had all but failed, their rig had been damaged, and they were literally running out of air. Here was a team of brilliant minds, yet even they couldn’t engineer a way out of this whale of a situation.

 The engulfing waters threatened me, 
    the deep surrounded me;
    seaweed was wrapped around my head.
To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
    the earth beneath barred me in forever. (Jonah 2:5-6)

 We should be dead. But they weren’t. Only something greater than they could save them; something which commanded not only the DeepCore’s fate, but all reaches of the ocean itself. It was only by this otherworldly force that the crew was brought to surface and given new breath of life – and it was only by this miracle that they were able to survive the journey to the surface in the first place.

 Now, “The Abyss” is one of my all-time favorite movies. The drama, the high stakes, young Ed Harris, the mystery and excitement of unfamiliar, underwater territory – I have long since been fascinated by this film. It was only after watching it again recently, though, that I began to see the plot and its struggling characters in a new light.

 Truth is… I began to relate to them.

 No, I’ve never been stuck at the bottom of the ocean on a stranded oil rig (and I don’t plan to be, that sounds terrifying). But I have walked through valleys in my life. I’ve had moments in the darkness of the bottom of the ocean – one filled with doubt so thick, I had all but convinced myself that no light could possibly reach me. And even on the days when I did manage to see a faint glimmer of the sun through squinted eyes, I would think: the surface is so far and I am so weak. How can I ever reach it on my own?

 Here’s the thing: I can’t. But Jesus? He already did.

 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Corinthians 5:15)

 Jesus Christ faced the ultimate sorrow as he carried his own cross up the hill and allowed himself to be crucified amid hurls of insults and abuse. He felt the greatest abandonment as he cried out in a loud voice from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:33). And finally, after hours of excruciating pain and sadness, our Savior experienced the deepest darkness as he took his last breath, gave up his spirit, and died. For us.

 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:22-23)

 But you and I know this death wouldn’t last. God raised Jesus from the dead, “freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:24). By rising from the dead and emerging from his tomb, Jesus fulfilled the sign of Jonah, providing a testimony to all future generations that he – and only he – is the Messiah.

 “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.” (Matthew 12:39-41)

 We should be dead. The DeepCore crew should have been corpses, and Jonah should have perished in the belly of the water beast. But they didn’t, he didn’t – because now something greater than Jonah is here.

 By his death, Jesus brings us into the light and out of the darkness. He raises us to new hope and new life from the depths of earthly sin and blackened hearts, encouraging us through his word and sacraments. And, though the journey is arduous, our Lord is with us every step of the way as we tread through these earthly waters and follow his light to the surface of his heavenly kingdom.

 But you, Lord my God,
    brought my life up from the pit.

In my distress I called to the Lord,
    and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
    and you listened to my cry. (Jonah 2:6,2)

 The way I see it, without the hope of the Lord’s resurrection and the promise of his second coming, we are doomed to darkness akin to the bottom of the ocean – afraid, alone, blindly reaching for anything or anyone to help us as our air supply dwindles. There’s no physical, human way for us to fix our sinful souls ourselves, and we can’t possibly swim to the surface without the One who has already descended into the depths of hell and triumphantly arisen into his Father’s kingdom on our behalf. We’re too weak. Our inadequate hearts and muscles could not withstand the waves of Satan’s attacks. We just can’t do it on our own.

 But we are not alone. We have certain salvation through the grace, mercy, love and power of one greater than Jonah, and greater than us.

 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. (Hebrews 6:19-20)

 After realizing they should be dead, another survivor emerges from the rig alongside the first and mumbles, “they must’ve done something to us.” (Ok, you made it this far: it’s aliens. The force that saved the DeepCore crew is a race of underwater aliens who have been watching over humans from the dawn of time. I mean, it’s James Cameron, what did you expect?)

 Just as the aliens did “something” to the DeepCore team, enabling them to survive the only journey that could save their lives, so too does our heavenly Father do something to us. He loves us, and he equips us with the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. No matter where you are at in your journey to the surface, may this truth give you spiritual buoyancy as we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord!

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

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Increase Your Spiritual Quotient

That’s the goal I set for myself this year. I heard the phrase in a sermon near the end of the year and it struck a chord. I decided to focus on it in 2019 and see where things went.

 I downloaded the YouVersion Bible App, started a few “plans” including a whole Bible in 3 years plan. (I’ve failed the whole Bible in a year so many times I decided to give myself a little grace). If you’ve never read the whole Bible (and I still, obviously, haven’t finished), stop reading this post, download the free app if you need to and sign up for the reading plan. If the one year plan sounds like too much, join me in the 3 year plan.

 When you are truly and consistently in the Word and prioritizing your faith, I have to tell you, God speaks. More accurately, God always speaks, but when you’re in the Word consistently, it’s a lot easier to hear Him.

 In Genesis alone, all together, start to finish, you see struggles and blessings, anger and resolution, despair and overcoming again and again in a way that speaks to our lives now.

 There’s this amazing line in a Diver’s song that says “redundancy sedates you” and I’m a little bit obsessed with it. It’s so right! How often do we fall into our routines, get tired and lazy,  and look at our life in the narrow scope of time on earth? There is a great big God, and a great big plan, and great big purpose and a great big eternal salvation in heaven won by Jesus Christ crucified that we grow comfortable leaving to simmer on the back burner while we succumb to the fog of the more pressing and immediate day to day stuff.

 When we’re able to break free from the chains of our obsession with this earthly life, we’re able to feel that spark He intends for us.

 So where are you stuck? Where are you sedated? Where would the spark and passion of that shift to eternal focus cause you to get up and change something in your life? Who would you forgive? Where would you volunteer? What would you change? I shouldn’t have to tell you that we don’t have all that much time here.

Psalm 90:12

Teach us to number our days,

that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Prioritizing our faith, growing it, and focusing on it allows God to present us with some incredible opportunities that we miss when we’re focused on ourselves and our earthly lives. Is there something in your life that has you feeling stuck, disappointed, damaged, defeated? Are you still making decisions based on that amount of financial security they provide? Do you feel like you’ve already tried and failed? Maybe you have, but God never tries and fails.

Matthew 17:20

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

He can make your impossible possible or help you understand the failure better, trusting that it’s within His plan for you.

Maybe you’ve read the bible already, maybe a hundred times. Whatever your spiritual quotient, it can always be increased. Don’t be sedated by the same earthly busyness that lulls us away from that desire to grow in our relationship with our Savior, actively seek him, and focus on His plan for our lives instead of our own.

The closer we draw to Him, the better we see His will and the incredible possibilities he has waiting for us.

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The Never Ending Winter

It was the winter that never seemed to end. Seriously, it felt like the winter of ten thousand years. As the temperatures dropped, so did my spirit. As the snow piled up, so did my struggles. In those long, dark weeks of winter, we felt like we hadn’t seen the sun all winter, but honestly, I felt like I hadn’t seen the Son all winter, either. As everyone around me begged for the spring of melting snow and blooming flowers, my soul craved a spring of it’s own.

Winter had become a series of unfortunate events that had piled up and weighed on my heart heavier than if an elephant had been sitting on my chest. I remember sitting in my parked car as the snowflakes of another winter storm landed on the windshield with gentle thuds. I wish I could say that I folded my hands and said a nice little prayer and everything was better, but that would be a lie. In reality, I sobbed like a big baby. The cracks in my heart had finally given way and released all the pain they had been feeling, the exhaustion of sleepless nights, the failure of friendships that had fallen apart, the worry of my uncertain future, and the weight of the day to day struggles that just kept piling up. Did I turn to the Great Physician of body and soul? No. I just sat there and cried.

I wish I could have said that I turned to God and everything turned into sunshine and rainbows, but in those moments of vulnerability, my heart couldn’t hold onto the fact that God was writing my story and that this was only a page in it. I knew that it was true, but my days weren’t getting any brighter. Trusting him and his plan was a task harder than parallel parking in downtown Chicago in the middle of a blizzard. I kept thinking, “How can I fix this? I can’t handle these things anymore. I’m not strong enough to do this.”

Then in the depths of my winter, I felt the warm spring breeze of promise. As I thought about what I was saying, I realized that over and over I kept saying “I”.  This whole time, Satan was whispering lies into my ear that I had to be the one to fix things, that I needed to overcome it, that I needed to be strong enough. The worst part of it all... was that I believed it. In these long weeks of winter, I had been trying to shovel my snow storm of problems with a plastic spoon, when I knew someone who had a heavy duty snow plow. No wonder I had felt overwhelmed!

I remember laying in bed that night begging God to remember me as his dear daughter, the one that prayed, read her Bible, and loved everyone with a smile on her face instead of the girl with overwhelmed mind, complaining attitude, and discontent heart. I tossed and turned while my mind rambled up to heaven, I finally got up to grab my Bible. On a whim, I opened up to 1 Peter 5. It was God’s eloquent answer to my late night prayer,

“The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered a little while.“ (1 Peter 5:10 CVB)

Right there in his Holy Word, God told me that I was going to suffer. He told me that he was sending me a cold, snowy, miserable winter. Immediately, I thought back to painful moments that had left me feeling not good enough, worthless, rejected, and unlovable. Those dark memories flashed through my head as hazy memories that burned like the icy winter wind, but the gospel words warmed my heart like a hot spiced chai latte on a cold day. “Restore, Establish, Strengthen, and Support,” Promises straight from God that felt like a much overdue sunny day with beginning signs of spring.

As my prayers echoes from that deep and dark valley, he lifted me out, dusted me off, and set me back on my feet. I could hear my Savior’s message whispered in my ear that felt as refreshing as the first blooms of spring, “Sam, you won’t fix this, I will. You can’t handle this, I can. You’re not strong enough. I am. You do not need to have your life together, I will put it back together for you. I will restore, establish, strengthen, and support you, no matter what.”   

He never promised that there would be no winters in life, even tropical places have little cold spells every once in a while. He says right there in 1 Peter that you will have sufferings, but we can hold tight to the promise that he will restore, establish, strengthen, and support us through it all. (Even if we think we don’t need it.)

Winters will come and go. Sometimes you get a half inch of snow and it melts two days later, and sometimes you get two feet of snow and it is fifty degrees below zero. No matter what winter you find yourself in, cling to the gospel promise of spring. Let God lead you to those patches of green grass, sunny days with light breezes, and the tulips and daffodils that always seem to pop out of the ground first. In the meantime, don’t believe lies the Tempter whispers in your ear. The traps of worry, comparison, busyness, discontentment, or insecurities may always be in our lives this side of heaven, but we have a Savior who will give us strength and help us dress in a warm jacket, insulated boots, and a matching hat and mitten set to get us through our own personal winter.

Now don’t forget. Those dark days will end and spring is coming. Just like the snow will melt and the green grass will make its grand reappearance, renewal is coming for you too. Set the burdens of your overwhelmed heart in the hands that were nailed to a cross for you. Give your struggles, troubles, and worries to the one is who commands the universe, because yes, he really does want to hear about how you think orange washes you out or how you struggle to live a life that shines for Christ, and everything else in between that weighs on your mind. Let him shovel through the snow, melt through the ice, and warm you up, for he is sending that long awaited, promised spring of blessings no matter how rough the winter may have been.

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