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Monthly Archives: October 2016

Spared for Salvation

Sunday morning, I opened my Facebook app and began to scroll through the posts that appeared overnight. My eye caught on two photos that included O’rane Williams, the young Jamaican international student who was with us the day of the accident that took Bethany and Katie’s lives.

O’rane spent his Christmas break with our family that year. He had had surgery in September, just a few months prior, for a fungus that had grown inside his brain. I understood his parents preferred he stayed in the states over his break due to the proximity to quality medical care should he need it. He was Alex’s roommate and best friend at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. Alex was Bethany’s boyfriend of two years. So when Alex returned to Sweden to spend his Christmas break with his family, O’rane was invited to spend the holiday with our family.

While O’rane had been to our home before it was generally for a quick in and out visit with Bethany and Alex. He was a tall, slim, and quiet young man (at least around us) with a blindingly beautiful shy smile. He spent several days with us prior to traveling to the Kansas City area to celebrate Christmas with our extended family. David spent those days teasing O’rane and trying to draw him out.

O’rane missed the spicy food of his homeland and David set out to make him an authentic Jamaican dinner. The scales were tipped against David being successful in his endeavors as O’rane has a relative that works as a chef. The meal David prepared was not spicy enough for O’rane’s more desensitized and refined palette so David and O’rane ventured out to Slim Chicken’s for some super spicy hot wings the next day. David had so much fun visiting with O’rane and learning about his culture—we all did.

Prior to leaving for Kansas City, we had a small family Christmas celebration. It has become a bit of a tradition, not because we feel a need to have our own intimate time to open gifts together, but instead because we used it to open the bulkier gifts so that we didn’t have to make room for them in the car. (We are nothing if not practical)! O’rane received flannel lounge pants, a scarf and gloves that night. He seemed surprised that there were gifts for him at all and equally surprised Christmas morning to find that a Christmas stocking had been prepared for him as well.

I remember being crowded in at my sister-in-laws home on Christmas Day and seeing a O’rane at the outer edges of the crowd of young adults just after the extended family exchanged gifts. He looked a bit overwhelmed which wasn’t a big surprise since he was a virtual stranger amid a large, loud, family group, in spite of the fact that Bethany’s cousins made every effort to make him feel welcome.

And then came December 26th. We ate breakfast and packed up and left my in-laws house around noon that day. Since we’d had a late breakfast we opted to stop in Lamar, Missouri, (the halfway point of our trip) to get lunch, which we picked up and ate on the road. During our stop and for awhile after we got back on the road, Bethany, O’rane, David and I discussed evolution and creation theory. At the time, I thought O’rane was a fellow believer-but he was in fact a seeker. We also participated in a side conversation as we left the fast food restaurant about seatbelt use. O’rane had opted not to wear his seatbelt. I recall Bethany telling him that statistically, rear seated passengers who failed to wear seat belts injured belted front seat passengers in accidents because they were propelled forward. I was tempted to ask O’rane to buckle up but decided against it reasoning that he was an adult and I needed to treat him as such. I never would have guessed how important and ironic those two concurrent conversations would prove to be just an hour further down the road.

When our van came to a stop that day, battered, broken and torn, I found myself in a state of shock. As I made my way around the back of the van and turned to find my daughters, I didn’t immediately see Katie. She had a brown hoodie on that day and blended into the shadows cast over the van’s third row seat. I began turning around searching the waist high weeds next to the highway’s gravel shoulder looking for Katie thinking she might have been thrown from the vehicle like her older sister Bethany had been and as I turned O’rane popped up from the weed strewn hill. I remember thinking, “Oh yeah, O’rane is with us” before asking him to stay seated where he was so I knew where to find him. But O’rane, who had sunk back to the ground, stood back up and began moving. I’m sure he was in a state of shock just like I was and I turned back to check on Gracen and then found Katie still securely strapped into her seat.

The next time I saw O’rane, he was stretched out on a back board, neck collar in place, surrounded by a bevy of first responders. I helped a bystander locate O’rane’s suitcase so he would have his medications and that was the last I saw of him that day.

My husband, David, found himself loaded into the same ambulance as O’rane and related to me a humorous account of the experience. Apparently, the paramedic who was caring for O’rane had a thick southern accent. O’rane, himself, understandably had a thick Jamaican accent. David found himself serving as an interpreter to two English speaking individuals that day in the back of that ambulance. O’rane couldn’t understand the paramedics English due to accent and the paramedic was unable to understand O’rane for the same reason. Eventually O’rane was flown to Mercy Hospital in Springfield primarily due to concerns over his recent brain surgery.

As a myriad of concerns spun through my mind for my family, I was also deeply worried about O’rane’s physical well-being and anxious as I had no idea how to contact his parents. At that time I didn’t know exactly where he’d been taken to check on him and I didn’t even know who to ask.

Eventually I learned that the campus police department (yes, the campus has a full-fledged police department, not just a campus security department) had been contacted by the Missouri Highway Patrol and they contacted O’rane’s host family. It was with profound gratitude that I learned that Kim Hubbard immediately drove to Springfield, Missouri, to be with O’rane. Kim knew how to contact O’rane’s parents and she took O’rane back to Conway after he was released from the hospital.

I saw O’rane just a handful of times following the accident. He came to the hospital in Joplin with Alex, the hospital in Little Rock with his mother (who flew in from Jamaica) and Heather Hoyt) who became a very important person in O’rane’s life), and to the funeral. My niece, Christi, befriended O’rane, and he visited her in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, and we saw him as we came through town that particular weekend.

 

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David and I were at a loss for how to handle, for lack of a better word, the young men and women who were so important in Bethany’s life. We cared about them but at the same time we didn’t want them to feel any obligation to us. And for O’rane in particular, we did not want him to experience survivor’s guilt. As a result we didn’t reach out to them much, but would “like” posts on Facebook and such.

So Sunday morning, October 30, 2016, I paused when I saw O’rane’s smiling face and read Heather Hoyts post with a sinking and shocked heart. Less than three years after the accident O’rane survived, he lost his life to the fungus that invaded his brain. He endured and survived six brain surgeries since September of 2013—each an attempt to eradicate that fungus.

My heart is broken.

The world has lost such a bright light!

Last year, on December 26, 2013, the second anniversary of Bethany and Katie’s deaths, I received the following message from Heather Hoyt. It is my consolation; my only hope in sorrow. The note begins with Heather’s initial efforts to minister to O’rane following our collision in December 2013:

“2 years ago…

I was sitting in front of my (then) boyfriend’s house on the phone with students with whom I had volunteered at UCA. I was in shock and silent. My mouth hung open and all I could say was, “Oh God no, Oh God, No…” I had just seen Bethany at a Saudi student celebration Day on campus and had recently met O’rane.

I had to do something, I could not sit and not help in some way…

I called UCA campus police, as I had a friend who was a UCA officer, and I was aware of protocol of notification of school officials in the event of serious happenings with students. All I could think was, “the Boxx family shouldn’t have to do this, and they don’t know me, but I have to try and serve them in any way I can.” I spoke with the police and the next day with a Dean.

Days after, I received a message, from Kim Hubbard, that a student needed a ride to NWA and I heard God speak to me and tell me to take him. It was O’rane and he needed to come back to your family. As I drove him I talked with him about the accident, I talked with him about his feelings and emotions. I told him that God had spoken to me and told me to take him to NWA. He looked at me and got silent. I asked what he was thinking and he told me how he had been angry with God for years. He told me that he tried to speak to God all the time but God never spoke back. He wanted to know what it was like to hear God speak. I told him what it’s like for me but it may be very different for different people, but communication is based on relationship. We began a friendship that day. I had no idea all that God had in store….

Days later I drove a car load of internationals to NWA for the funeral.

5 brain surgeries and 2 years later, O’rane is my little brother and I would give my life for him. I love he and his family so dearly. We had many many talks about Jesus, science, afterlife…etc.

In September, his host mom Kim had been diagnosed with aggressive cancer and in October O’rane was found to have another fungus growth in his brain. Surgery was needed immediately. Kim could not be there as she was undergoing chemo and so I took care of him in the hospital.

The night before surgery my family came to the hospital to bring us dinner and pray over O’rane. One of my sisters stayed late and asked O’rane if we could talk about his soul. He agreed and she proceeded to ask about his hesitations with Jesus. He laid out a myriad of thoughts, most very well thought out, and a few excuses. But he was taking all of the conversation in. He was not ready to make any decisions and went to take a shower. Upon returning from the shower he had a strange look on his face. I inquired and he said, “God spoke to me in the shower.” Just he and God having a powwow in the shower and on his own with no ones leading but the Holy Spirit, O’rane chose Jesus and gave his life to Him. He officially became my legitimate brother, in Christ!

Recently he told me how much he misses Bethany and all they had dreamed about and planned, she, him, and Alex. The best news ever is that he will, in fact, now see her again.

He deeply misses her and dreams about her a lot. He is just now becoming very verbal about it. The dearest thought to my heart about Beth and Katie is that their lives taken has resulted in life being given to O’rane. It’s not how anyone would want salvation to come but Jesus the merciful turned evil for good once again and redeemed our boy, saving his life. Your daughters helped save his life. He was very lost and now he is found.

The good work God began will continue on to the day Jesus returns and there will be a great harvest reaped, in the name of your family. I know where Beth’s head was landing regarding God before the accident and even O’rane had told me how Katie stood up to Beth when she spoke of atheism. He said Beth even made him mad when she did that, but in this I am confident… She was inscribed on the palm of His hand, her soul kept safe and protected having been made perfect by the blood of the Lamb. Her spirit, “mind, will and emotions,” was still being sanctified and in that place she suffered confusion but confusion and rejection even are no match for the unfailing love of the beautiful Savior who held her in his palm declaring, “there is none who can snatch you out of my hand”….not even yourself. She saw in part but now sees in full, praise the name of the forever gracious God- He is wonderful!

On Christmas Eve this year, O’ranes host Mom, Kim Hubbard, met Jesus face to face and celebrated her first Christmas in heaven. O’rane is aware and will be returning for school Jan 5. He spoke with her one last time a few days before he left for Christmas. He had just been given the results of his 3 month MRI, my text from him read, “there’s no more crap in my head” (best text I’ve ever received). He spoke with Kim for the last time. He has seen so much loss in the past 2 years, Beth and Katie, sheffy (best friend at UCA- car accident), cousin (committed suicide), and now Kim. He is wondering why not him…God is going to do something amazing with his life…we will watch and see!
So 2 years later and amidst the incredible sorrow and loss, life has been born. If O’ranes friendship with Beth, vacay with your family, the accident and Kim being his host mom, had not happened, things might look very different in his world- I know they would in mine.

My heart aches with your family. My heart rejoices in Salvation sweet and sure. It’s bittersweet and beautiful and I don’t mind saying so. You are so brave. I hear the words of Jesus to your girls,

“Arise my darling, my beautiful one, and come along. For winter is past and the rain is gone.”

-Song of Solomon

May these words bring some joy in the night season.

Much love,

Heather”

 

My heart aches for O’rane’s family. It crushes me to think about what they are suffering today.

It is too painful.

I know too much.

I wish I could shield them from it, and yet that deep, dark well of grief is filled in proportion to the love and joy they have for their son and brother. (By the way, I know I used the present tense in that last sentence. It was not an error or oversight).

Love doesn’t die . . . It doesn’t diminish or fade away . . . It is a gift that resides in the heart forever.

O’rane has a legacy that lives on in the lives of friends and family and acquaintances. His smile, his laughter, his thoughts, his actions touched and changed those around him every single day of his life without conscious intent. His very existence changed the world in immeasurable ways. And while he is separate from us here and now, that won’t always be the case. O’rane went to the house of mourning, too many times in my opinion. However, he took it to heart and pondered its meaning and learned from it.

“A good name is better than precious perfume,
And the day of one’s death better than the day of one’s birth.
It is better to go to the house of mourning

Than to go to the house of feasting,
For that [day of death] is the end of every man,
And the living will take it to heart and solemnly ponder its meaning.

Sorrow is better than laughter,
For when a face is sad (deep in thought) the heart may be happy [because it is growing in wisdom].

The heart of the wise [learns when it] is in the house
of mourning,
But the heart of fools is [senseless] in the house of
pleasure.”

~ Ecclesiastes 7:1-4

I will probably never understand why young people die—why children proceed their parents in death. It overwhelms my heart with sadness and sorrow. I will never be able to explain it to another, and frankly, no explanation would ever be adequate to justify such a loss. A fellow bereaved parent shared these verses from Isaiah 57:1-2 at a recent support group meeting. I like how they are rendered in the NIV and NLT translations, so I am sharing both here and hope you will ponder the significance when you wonder why . . .

“The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.” ~ New International Version

“Good people pass away; the godly often die before their time. But no one seems to care or wonder why. No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come. For those who follow godly paths will rest in peace when they die.”~ New Living Translation

And from the Matthew Henry Commentary on Isaiah 57:1-2

“The righteous are delivered from the sting of death, not from the stroke of it. The careless world disregards this. Few lament it as a public loss, and very few notice it as a public warning. They are taken away in compassion, that they may not see the evil, nor share in it, nor be tempted by it. The righteous man, when he dies, enters into peace and rest.”

I’m praying that God will bless, comfort and strengthen the Williams family in the difficult days, weeks, months and honestly, the years ahead. Praying they will be aware of His presence and love especially when they feel weary and worn; broken and lost, alone and lonely as they miss their son and brother.

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2016 in Faith, Grief

 

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What Does it Mean to Suffer?

vodoodollI was recently shocked to hear a fellow grieving mother express that she had to explain to someone that the pain she was suffering was not treatable by the ingestion of a Tylenol or Advil. And that one comment flipped a switch in my mind.

You see, although my daughter, Gracen, has Muscular Dystrophy and suffers from migraine headaches, I don’t think of her as sick. I guess I define sickness as a temporary condition. One that prevents an individual from going to school or work. A bacterial or viral infection that results in fever, requires bed rest, leads to weakness, pain and digestive distress. A condition that requires hospitalization or chemotherapy and radiation. That’s how I’ve always defined illness.

But in truth, my daughter is sick. She’s been diagnosed with a degenerative disease. It is silently and destructively at work within her body while she attends school, goes to therapy appointments, hangs out with friends, etc. Just because her condition doesn’t keep her in bed 24 hours a day or require hospitalization doesn’t mean she is healthy. She is in fact very sick.

Our culture appears to live under the same misconception in regards to the way it defines suffering. We seem to  believe that suffering is not suffering unless it includes physical pain. Pain can be treated with medication, surgery, different forms of therapy and a myriad of other medical interventions. And although mental and emotional pain can be treated with pharmaceuticals, those interventions don’t eliminate the pain, they just enable the individual to better cope with the anxiety and depression that often stem from the heart and mind. Therefore, mental and emotional pain (and let’s not forget spiritual pain) is not perceived by society as pain at all and as such is excluded from the definition of suffering. Mental, emotional and spiritual pain have basically been redefined and reduced to nothing more than the practice of wallowing in self-pity.

From my personal perspective, mental, emotional and spiritual pain are better described as the bombardment of multiple feelings that coalesce into anguish and torment. Grief is definitely intense mental torment and emotional anguish. A lot of situations result in that kind of pain alone. Does the lack of physical pain mean an individual isn’t suffering? Does the Bible say that suffering is only physical in nature?

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We need only consider the example of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to His arrest to understand that biblical suffering includes mental, emotional and spiritual pain. In the garden, when Christ separated Himself from the disciples to pray, He literally sweat blood as He beseeched God to let the cup of His upcoming, arrest, betrayal, rejection, humiliation and fear of His impending beatings, crucifixion and separation from God to pass from Him. He was not in any physical pain at that point in time, but He was definitely suffering that dark night.

 

01afc9407cce38dbd431b2f53c8f6ba2It’s not unreasonable or hard to imagine that God the Father is also no stranger to suffering. Can you imagine the mental and emotional anguish God suffered as He denied His son’s request to have the cup of suffering pass from Him? How must He have felt knowing that His sinless, perfect son would take on the sins of the world and be separated from their intimate fellowship for the first time ever? How must He have felt knowing the excruciating pain that awaited His beloved son? He surely suffered as He watched as His son was arrested then abandoned and betrayed by His closest friends. It must have hurt to watch His son hit, spit on, taunted and mocked as He was passed from trial to trial throughout that long night.

christbeatenCan you imagine the torment as He watched as His son was whipped and struggle to carry His cross to Golgotha-His anguish as He looked on in horror as nails were driven through His son’s hands and feet, as He struggled to breathe hanging on that cross for hours and finally-finally hearing His one and only son cry out begging to know why He’d been forsaken by His father? Can you imagine the suffering? Could you willingly go through any of that with your child? God the Father was not Himself experiencing physical pain, but He was surely overwhelmed and tormented by suffocating anguish.

three-crossesNeither God the Father, nor Jesus Christ discount or belittle the anguish and torment that results from mental and emotional pain. They both experienced it. They both understand it at the most intimate level possible.

Feel free to gently remind the naysayers of that.

The sufferings of Christ included agony and torment far beyond physical pain and when we forget that, we minimize the extent of His suffering for our souls. We devalue His sacrifice. We make Him less instead of exalting Him to the extent He deserves. And we repeat that slight over and over again when we refuse to acknowledge that mental, emotional and spiritual distress is in fact suffering.

I would not wish for any bereaved parent to remain in that raw state of agony forever or even that bone deep ache that lingers as time marches on but your heart stands still in the quagmire of grief. And I don’t think we have to either. I believe we will always live with the awareness that someone of great value is missing from our presence. Their absence will always linger in our conscious and subconscious minds. Yet I also believe that God binds up and heals our wounds. His word tells us that is so. We live with the scars, but the intense minute by minute pain recedes like waves hitting the shoreline. The tide continues to rush in with birthdays, loss anniversaries, family gatherings and celebrations and other unanticipated events that trigger intense feelings of sorrow and loss. But the tide will then recede allowing us to catch our breath, to relish memories of living life together, to rest in the hope of reunion, and to enjoy the good things and people that still surround us. I experienced it after the death of my son 24 years ago. I know it can happen for me again as the Holy Spirit does His work in my heart. He can work that miracle (could any loss parent describe it as anything else?) in the hearts of every broken believer too.

wrestling-with-god-intimacy-webI think healthy grieving involves wrestling with God. As much as it is in your power to do so, ignore those who are blessedly ignorant and foolishly judgmental. Wrestle well with God. Don’t exclude Him from the process. Contend with Him! He is strong and loving and faithful and He grieves with us and for our broken hearts. He doesn’t condemn us for our anger and sorrow, instead He pulls up a chair and sits with us through it longing to draw us into His arms to comfort us. One day, I hope every broken believer finds themselves there, in His waiting arms, sobbing out their anguish and frustration and when the tears and shuddering gasps of sorrow release then I hope they will find their hearts to be safe in His care. That’s my hope for myself, for every bereaved parent, for every hurting Christian, for every lost soul struggling to put one foot in front of the other day in and day out after their cherished plans have been swept away.

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2016 in Faith, Grief

 

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The Ultimate Decision

it-is-in-your-momentsI have found in recent times that I have begun speaking of Bethany and Katie, in the present tense.

It just feels right.

And the Bible tells us that we are all eternal creatures.

One day, sitting in the sanctuary of our home church, Pastor Wes George said something that has stuck with me ever since. He said, “We all spend eternity somewhere.”

This was before Bethany and Katie died.

And you know, he didn’t say anything I didn’t already know, but the way he framed it, just seemed to boil it down to a profoundly powerful succinct message of truth.

We all spend eternity somewhere.

And let me tell you—that somewhere—that somewhere is absolutely the most important thing to a bereaved parent—spouse—child—friend.

All the things—every deed—goal—hope—expectation—ideal—every single thing that draws our attention in this life is reduced to one primary concern when you stare death in the face. Where will eternity be spent?

The body dies but life goes on; even for the deceased.

And what the bereaved believes about the afterlife is all of the sudden of utmost importance.

And frankly, it’s all about the bereaved at this point in time.

The deceased has lost the opportunity to figure out and act upon what they believe about eternity. The choice they made, or chose not to make, in this life is now their eternal destiny.

notmakingadecisionBut for the bereaved those beliefs have the power to extend hope or destroy the heart.
And that’s why the cultural belief that all roads lead to Heaven, that we all worship the same God regardless of what name by which we call Him, is so deceptively destructive.

It allows us to make light of the most vital question and decision every human must address. And the failure to make a decision is a decision in and of itself. The decision to postpone making a choice, and the decision not to choose, result in eternal consequences, just as making a conscious choice does. And that is why the Bible says in Ecclesiastes 7:2,

“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting (or in some translations, the house of mirth): for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.”

The loss of a loved one—the natural end of all men—forces those with hearts not already harden to seriously consider exactly what they believe about the afterlife and hopefully leads them to make a conscious choice—for the sake of their own eternal future.

Everyone spends eternity somewhere.

I have made my choice.

I have no question and no fear about where I will spent all of eternity.

It’s not a decision I’ve made lightly.

I didn’t just drink the Kool-aid, so to speak.

Twenty-four years ago, I took my first real trip to the house of mourning. As a result, I reexamined everything I believed about eternity—who got to Heaven and how. Then I reaffirmed the choice I made many years before when the need to make a decision seemed far less critical.

I couldn’t have been more wrong about the priority of that choice, and that fact was never more evident than when I knelt by the side of the road frantically trying to determine if my oldest daughter was alive or dead. She was 20. Twenty years old, far younger than the average lifespan in our current day. And then I repeated that same assessment, dead or alive, for my 18 and 16 year old daughters.

That day, my 20 and 16 year old daughters lost the opportunity to make a decision regarding their eternal futures. The choices they made, or failed to make, prior to that day had already begun to be played out for the entirety of their days without end.

Consequences good or bad . . .

On that day, I wasn’t confident that my 20 year old had chosen the way I desperately desired for her to choose. Even in a state of shock, I knew . . . I knew the time for deciding was lost. My opportunity to influence—over. And ironically, just an hour before the accident that stole her life, we’d debated the issue of evolution and creation theory.

One short hour before her death.

And as I knelt at her side in stunned disbelief, my heart fractured in a way it had never done before. In my shock, during which I’ve been told my mind entered a state of disassociation, I stumble from her side in order to find my two other children. Now, when I rewind the tape of that moment, I literally see myself sitting back on my heals and keening out a desperate and despairing cry of, ‘Noooooooo!’ to the heavens, and collapsing on her still form. ‘Noooooooo, Noooooooo!, Please, God, Noooooo! There is no more disturbing and heartbreaking sound on earth than that of a mother keening out her sorrow over the body of her dead child. And there is no greater fear than being unsure of your loved one’s eternal destiny—unless you feel assured that their eternity will be spent in Hell instead of Heaven—and that’s nothing short of terrifying.

It was three long months later when I discovered a journal with only two entries that had been written four years prior to her death, that gave me any hope, any peace, that she might be spending her days dining with the Savior of her soul in paradise forevermore.

Three utterly agonizing months.

And, I won’t really rest easy until I see her again; face to face.

If you’ve not decided what you believe about the afterlife; I urge you not to delay.

My greatest frustration in regards to the topic of the existence of God and the afterlife is that our culture seems to endorse the concept that every resource, aside from the Bible itself, is a legitimate source with which to make such an all-important decision.

lifeisshortThose who encourage you to disregard the Bible are doing you a grave disservice along with manipulating you toward the decision they want you to make. I encourage you to choose the Bible in addition to any other resources you desire. And frankly, I can say that because God is not at all concerned with how His word stands up against any other source.

By encouraging you to research other sources including the Bible, it should be plainly evident that I’m not trying to manipulate your decision. Instead, I want you to compare and contrast what God’s self-proclaimed word says with what any other source you choose has to say. You will probably discover that every other source tells you what the Bible says. You may think that means reading the Bible yourself is unnecessary but that’s not the case because verses will be quoted, but taken out of context, and thereby the true meaning is warped or lost altogether. The Bible is the only inspired source revealing God’s character and His own declaration on every moral choice presented to man. So it’s important that you include the Bible in your choice of resources in order to make a non-biased decision.

Research and choose.

Don’t forfeit your chance to consciously decide where you will spend all of eternity; because . . .

Everybody spends eternity somewhere.

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2016 in Faith, Grief

 

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How to Help a Breaking Heart Because You Have One & So Does Everyone Else

This post was written by Ann Voskamp. I copied it from her blog, A Holy Experience, as it seems readers don’t like following links within a blog post and I really want you to read this – to soak it in. The formatting is a bit different here. My blog doesn’t have as many bells and whistles. You can click on the link in red above if you’d like to read the post with its original formatting.

Ann Voskamp has mastered the art of capturing important truths in a single sentence and this article is chock full of them. It’s not an easy read for the deeply wounded — primarily because your heart might chafe at the hard truths it reveals. But those truths, when the time is right, might help a broken believer get back on their feet again. I hope you will read it, and maybe save it and return to it on occasion, in order that it might take root in your heart and ground you in truths that will sustain you when you need someone to get the saw. So buckle up; here goes. . .

 

Someday,

they say this is true like coming taxes and the grave —

Your heart will break.

You may not feel the the crack of it, but you may feel the bleed.

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Your chest may pain to the touch and you may want someone to break your chest wall down, to get to you, to not leave you alone in the ache pressing, the way it’s hard to breathe.

So, this is hard but true: you will need someone to get a saw.

You will need a fine, sharp blade and an oscillating saw and you will need to let them saw through the sternum of you, crack open your chest wall.

Sit with that a moment: Your skeletal armour will have to break if anyone is ever to get to your heart.

This is a hard thing:

You must surrender to a breaking that must happen if you want any of your brokenness to heal.

I hadn’t known this or felt this — but I have now and I cannot forget. 

You may need to let your right pulmonary artery be cut away and sutured directly to your superior vena cava. At least, that’s what the surgeon told us, told us what would have to happen to her little broken heart.

And this is a harder thing —  You have to trust that the breaking of your heart will heal you into a kind of stronger. 

The greatest strength can grow straight out of the greatest weakness. The universe is a beautiful place, made in the strangest ways. I AM knows who we are and what we need.

And the people who love you, right in the midst of the aching? They will need to be brave. (Sometimes the greatest courage is to trust enough to let go.)

They will need to hope that miracles can make a home right inside of broken peopleThey will need to believe that broken things can become new things.

(Sometimes your people may have to pace in waiting rooms, 8 hours, more, because broken hearts need time. When you’re busted and bruised… people around you may have to kill the clock. Because — broken hearts don’t heal on anyone’s timelines.)

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Please be gentle with yourself; grant yourself grace and time. Any kind of heart break will land you in a kind of ICU. It’s true: A heart has to be monitored if you’re ever going to survive. This too will take patient time, a quiet suffering of its own.

Listen to the beat of your own heart. Listen to what it’s telling you, to the rhythm it wants you to keep. Listen to the bravery of your beats — believe that your heart is pounding together something new. This is how He made a heart to work. Listen to this and rest.The way to recover is to cover everything with grace.

Take all the time you need to find out for yourself how this is the most proven kind of true:  

The best kind of intensive care for a broken heart is to let the words of Christ intensively care for you. 

This can be hard to swallow—- when we want easy serum for our veins, cheap comfort bought with plastic, quick fixes that cost little and let us be fine without refining anything. But if you let His Word wash your wounds, let His grace caress your pain, let His Truth touch your bruises, let His hope heal your ache, you can feel a kind of resurrection on earth. His promises are more than true — they are your resuscitation. 

Turn to the window and wait for the sun to rise, to keep always rising. Never stop being surprised that it does, never get over the miracle that you get to see it. 

It’s okay to let the tears come, to weep over all this pain, all this love, all this beauty, all this brokenness and the hard roads that we somehow find ourselves walking, forcing one step in front of the other.

It’s okay to let someone trace the scar down the middle of you and to touch your holy brave and bear witness that your fight is hard and sacred.

It’s okay for you to feel along your wounds wired closed and wonder why you have had to warrior through all of this.

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And it can happen that they find out in recovery, that when they broke open your chest walls to get to you, when they broke your broken heart in different ways so healing could happen in new ways, that somehow your lung’s collapsed —- and that’s why each breath hurts.

Even though you’re in recovery, you’re still in pain.This can happen. And somehow you still have to keep breathing through the ache. 

Sometimes you can’t experience full recovery until you let your pain be fully uncovered.

You have to be a willing brave, if you want more. 

And when you don’t know how? 

When you don’t feel brave? 

When it all feels too hard?

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Turn and look up into someone eye’s and let yourself be seen and touched and known.

Let yourself hear it, and let it reverberate through the hurting chambers of you and let yourself never forget:

Pieces of your broken heart mend when you make peace with what He gives. 

The healing has begun.

 
6 Comments

Posted by on October 19, 2016 in Faith, Links

 

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It’s Personal!

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When my son, Cole, died . . .

When Gracen and Katie were diagnosed. . . and every fear filled moment prior to that . . .

When Bethany and Katie died . . . and Gracen was in surgery, then the ICU . . .

When David and I sat in courtrooms. . .

Every loss, every painful moment. . .

Was deeply personal . . .

Between God and I.

Between me and Jesus.

Between us—the Holy Spirit who resides within and the old and new man (the human and the holy) battling within.

If I believe that God has plans for me—that everything that happens to me is filtered through His hands first—that He allows and disallows things in my life—that none of it surprises Him—if I truly believe that then . . .

It’s personal.

So, so very personal.

And that’s the hard part, you know, because I do believe all those things.

And while I immediately recognized those events as personal disappointments or tragedies, and I also recognized them as personal on a spiritual level, that truth (losses being spiritually personal) was a bit overshadowed by some well known scriptural references.

When we find ourselves in deeply personal situations we often try to step back so that we can see the big picture. Isn’t that our goal when we think about verses like Romans 8:28 and Jeremiah 29:11?

These are forward thinking verses. Verses that lead us to think far down the road; past pain and suffering. Let’s consider Romans 8:28 first:

“And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” ~ Romans 8:28

A common interpretation of Romans 8:28 is that tragedy will be redeemed by testimony. You don’t testify to yourself. You testify to others. And as such Romans 8:28 becomes a call to ministry. And all of the sudden my personal tragedy is no longer personal as a corporate expectation forms in the minds of men.

The first Sunday I returned to church I heard how my testimony was already at work in the lives of others. A number of people have mentioned ministry opportunities to me. And really, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I want to give back or I wouldn’t write a blog; among other things. It’s not a complaint. I’m just trying to use these examples as a means of helping you understand that the personal nature of my spiritual issues?, obstacles?, concerns?, frustrations? . . . whatever you want to call them, was lost and overshadowed to a degree as I considered God’s overall purpose for my disappointments and losses.

God’s purposes always seem to reach beyond a single individual. They are often His means of reaching the lost, conforming the saved into the image of Christ, gaining the glory He so richly deserves, and the culmination of all of those things in a multitude of believer’s lives leads us to the fulfillment of end times prophecy.

God’s purposes may be personal, but they are also corporate.

And Jeremiah 29:11:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~ Jeremiah 29:11

Despite the individualized nature of Jeremiah 29:11, it somehow serves to depersonalize the events of life. Maybe it’s because I am fully aware that that verse was written to a group of people not any specific individual such as the biblical examples of God speaking directly to Moses or Joshua or the prophets. Jeremiah 29:11 was written to the Babylonian exiles promising the return to their homeland—after 70 years.

70 long years.

Every single exile suffered individual and personal tragedies. But the message was for a group. . . all those plans for God’s people . . . plans for prosperity, for hope and a future . . . plans that weren’t harmful . . . were plans for the overall group of exiles—and very few, if any of those exiles, would survive to see the fulfillment of God’s promise. The message would have been passed down from parent to child to grandchild as the 70 year exile played out.

We apply Jeremiah 29:11 to individual circumstances, but I wonder if, like the Babylonian exiles, those promises for prosperity, hope and a future—for plans that do no harm, won’t be realized by the individuals we try to encourage in dark days. Maybe the New Covenant audience for that verse is for the Bride of Christ as a whole, more than it is for believers individually.

And that is why I was shocked to find myself telling my grief counselor so emphatically that every issue I am struggling to overcome can be categorized as personal spiritual angst.

It’s not corporate.

The body of Christ may benefit from the tragedies of my life but they don’t share my tragedies. They don’t experience my suffering.

Those standing on the outside looking in . . .

Are not standing in the crumbling ruins of their lives.

And talk (biblical or not) is cheap—it’s easy—when you are on the outside looking in precisely because it’s not personal.

That’s not to imply that others don’t sincerely care.

It’s just so much easier to offer advice—to take advice—when it’s not personal.

But it’s devastatingly personal for me.

dominosIt’s devastatingly personal for the young father whose wife succumbed to breast cancer. . .

For the parent whose child has committed suicide. . .

For the family whose home has been destroyed by a fire.

And each of those things are a bit deceiving because each one is merely a domino in a line of dominoes. Financial strain, mental health issues, etc., always follow.

Adding insult to injury, the believer often finds that God is silent. It may be that we are so desperately grasping for answers that we are unable to hear His voice, but sometimes He just holds His peace. Job knew something about that.

God’s taken what you knew or had and seemingly abandoned you.

And beneath the layers of grief and sorrow and loss lies the apparent betrayal of your closest friend and ally.

It is so very, very personal.

And you are left to chose to take His hand believing that He has something good for you ahead. . .

While fearing more of what experience has taught you . . .

Or choosing to stumble around in the dark at your own risk.

What is more frightening to a broken believer? To a believer who has experienced great loss not everyday hardships?

And while outsiders look in from the safety of their own relatively stable lives expounding upon God’s goodness, His plans, His working all things out for good, we, the walking wounded, are reminded of John the Baptist and John the Revelator and of Stephen. Not every saint is set free from the prison they’ve been cast into. Some die there after they have been exiled and tortured mercilessly.

Is it any wonder that some choose to sit still in the darkness instead of stumbling forward on their own—instead of taking the hand that led them to destruction before?

It’s personal.

It’s not just about the circumstances or the situation you find yourself in, it’s about the personal nature of those circumstances—of that situation. It’s about knowing God allowed them, or didn’t prevent them from happening to you individually.

Talk to me when your world has collapsed around you. Talk to me when you are afraid. Talk to me when you can name your fears and when they are a vague Specter looming threateningly over your shoulder, unnamed but real nonetheless. Talk to me when you are afraid to take your Savior’s hand and when you are equally afraid not to. Talk to me when the ability to project a positive outlook has been striped from your arsenal of weapons. Talk to me when it becomes desperately and intimately personal. Then I will think you understand. . .

Because the fact that it’s personal . . .

That it feels like you’ve been blindsided by a betrayal of trust. . .

Makes all the difference in the world.

“God is good all the time” is not a flip statement you rattle off to project confidence in your Savior. It’s not a mantra you repeat hoping to convince yourself of its truth. Those six words are a sacrifice of praise that are torn from the depths of despair and lifted in defiance from the ashes of a life burned down around you.

They are costly and precious.

They are the widow’s mites.

They are absolutely all she has left.

“And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.”” ~ Luke 21:1-4

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” ~ Psalm 51:17

 
27 Comments

Posted by on October 17, 2016 in Faith, Grief

 

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How Much Does God Intervene In the Lives of Men?

devineinterventionNow that’s a weighty question, isn’t it?

There are many who believe that God creates us and then stands back and lets life happen. I don’t currently count myself among those. I may later in life but I fear that might be because new wounds have been inflicted and I really don’t want to go there . . . But today, today, I think the Bible supports the conclusion that God is very active in the lives of His creation.

Hagar, a pagan (not to be mean-spirited here, just a factual description) declared God to be, the God who sees me, after her desert encounter with what many believe to be the pre-incarnate Christ in the wilderness when she fled from Sarah. In fact, Hagar had two separate encounters with God and He intervened in her life twice but also in Ishmael’s future promising in Genesis 17:20 that he would have a great number of descendants of which would come 12 princes. Take a look at Hagar’s first meeting with the Lord – I love the meaning of Ishmael- that was a new discovery for me!

Genesis 16:7-14

Now the angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from and where are you going?” And she said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.” Then the angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority.” 10 Moreover, the angel of the Lord said to her, “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.” 11 The angel of the Lord said to her further,

“Behold, you are with child,
And you will bear a son;
And you shall call his name Ishmael [I.e. God hears]
Because the Lord has given heed to your affliction.
12 “He will be a wild donkey of a man,
His hand will be against everyone,
And everyone’s hand will be against him;
And he will live to the east of [Lit before the face of; or in defiance ofall his brothers.”

13 Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees” [Or You, God, see me] for she said, “Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?” 14 Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi [I.e. the well of the living one who sees me]; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered.

redseaAdditional examples of God’s intervention into the lives of men include:

A poor shepherd boy, David, who was elevated to warrior, hero and eventually king.

Let’s not forget Joseph, who, by most accounts was a spoiled brat before he was elevated to Pharaoh’s right hand man.

And for goodness sakes, the poor prophets. God intervened repeatedly in their lives in order to fulfill His purposes.

It should be noted God’s plans for Ishmael, David, Joseph and the prophets didn’t rescue them from difficult circumstances. In fact, His intervention resulted in a host of problems in every instance. Ishmael and his descendants fought with everyone and everyone with him. David may have been anointed King, but his path to the throne included being hunted by King Saul who sought to kill him. David was forced to run for his life! Joseph, prior to stepping into his pre-ordained role to save the people from starvation, was cast into a pit, sold into slavery, escaped a lecherous queen only to be falsely accused and thrown in prison, all before he was elevated to Pharaoh’s right hand man. And the prophets were sent hither and yon to issue verbal slap downs to kings and communities, and for their trouble they were hated and killed.

emptytombNeed a New Testament example?

God intervened in the life of a young Jewish girl making her the mother of His son, Jesus Christ.

Paul a zealous pursuer of Christians was met on the road to Damascus, made blind, later had his sight restored, and then became an evangelist.

Jesus intervened and changed a bunch of fishermen into church leaders.

And all suffered for their service. Every single one. Mary watched as her son was hung on a cross. Paul was beaten, chased out of town, imprisoned, and shipwreck in service to the Lord.

timesandseasonsAnd those fishermen who established the Christian church were martyred often dying horrifying deaths.

I can’t tell you exactly how often God intervenes in the lives of common men, but I do think the Bible clearly shows that he doesn’t simply create humans and cut them loose to fend for themselves in this world. He also doesn’t hide the fact that following Him doesn’t ensure easy passage through this life either. Keep in mind that, like those named in the faith hall of fame found in the book of Hebrews, many will die without seeing the fulfillment of God’s promises.

2014_08-god-intervenes-to-keep-israel-safeI’m pretty sure that since the Bible says that God is the same yesterday, today and always, that He continues to intercede in the lives of men today. We should take that to heart as the presidential election bears down upon us. We should keep that in mind as we see more and more signs of the end of the age revealed. God is God. Always has been. Always will be. His word will not return void.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on October 12, 2016 in Faith

 

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Impulsive Decisions

dsc_0078I did something I probably shouldn’t have today.

It was impulsive.

I certainly didn’t consult the Lord before I acted. People rarely do when they make impulsive decisions . . . But maybe, maybe, I just wanted what I wanted and didn’t want to be told no—even if it was in my best interest.

 

I’ve seen a lot of doors closed in my lifetime and sometimes I just want to bust in, take what I want and live with the consequences. It’s not as if I deceive myself into believing I won’t suffer any consequences. Oh no, my eyes are wide open.

What’s one more set of consequences in this life of mine? At least the consequences I face will be of my own making instead of suffering consequences for the choices of others.

My impulsive actions weren’t sinful, but just because something is lawful doesn’t mean you should do it.

I thought I made peace with this last year, but today it just rose up and I executed a short internal debate then bit the bullet and placed the call.

Right from the get go things didn’t go smoothly. I encountered a determined gatekeeper. I should have just hung up but by this point, I was all in.

And there was no getting past this gatekeeper without explaining the full nature of my call.

And so I spilled it. . .

In frustration I rambled off something that went like this: ‘I want to talk to Roger Wilson because he was involved in a car accident on December 26, 2013, in which two of my daughters were killed. I’m not calling to place blame, I just want him to answer a question or two.”

And there it was . . .

And the gatekeeper?

His wife—who was also in the truck that day.

So I asked her my question.

‘At what point on the road that day did you realize the red truck had moved into your lane? It’s a hill. Did you see the truck before or after you topped the hill?’

I’m not really sure I got the answer I wanted because I’m still not sure I know exactly where they were.

dsc_0062What I got instead was a recitation of the driver of the red truck’s actions. I gather they had been aware, even concerned, about the other drivers actions before he pulled in front of their vehicle, into the passing or fast lane if you will, moving at a rate of speed significantly below the speed limit and slowing further has he applied the brakes to gain access to the turn lane he was so hellbent on getting to.

She told me she hated what happened.

Hated what happened to us.

Had prayed for us.

dsc_0079After I reiterated the question, I was told that there was no possible way they could have stopped, could have avoided the collision. That the officer who took their statement had said as much. She said the other driver was traveling about 35 miles and hour and people were passing him and that there was no way to stop when you are traveling at “65 miles an hour or whatever” and someone pulls in front of you going 35 miles per hour and braking.

She went on to say that the accident turned their lives upside down and more so for us.

She kept saying I hate it. What exactly does she hate? That it happened. That they were involved. That my daughters were killed.

I thanked her for speaking with me. Even thanked her for her prayers. Told her I appreciated it and said a hasty and awkward goodbye.

During the course of the call, a few things became apparent to me. Things that bothered me. Things which precipitated that awkward ending to the call.

She never acknowledged the fact that her husband was speeding at the time of the accident. It’s right there in the accident report and verified by the vehicle’s computer chip. In effect, she refused to accept any responsibility whatsoever, on her husband’s behalf, for the collision.

I’m not sure why.

There is no possibility of any further legal action against her husband, so it can’t be excused as an action to protect her husband or their assets.

Is she living in denial?

Maybe she’s actively trying to convince herself that her husband is in no way responsible for the deaths of my daughters. Maybe that allows her to sleep at night.

And because there was no admission of wrong doing, and because it became apparent that her goal was to advocate for her husband’s innocence, there was no offer of condolences. I never heard the words, “I’m sorry for your loss” let alone “I’m sorry for the role my husband played in the accident.”

Instead what I heard loud and clear was, ‘We were not at fault.’ That’s pretty much what I got out of her comments, but the unspoken message was, ‘We were victims too.’

dsc_0056All I really wanted was to know when the driver of the red truck pulled into the fast lane. The best I could hope for was an apology for the law he broke that inadvertently put him in the path of the reckless driver who cut into his lane. An acknowledgment of his wrongdoing. Remorse over the consequences his individual choice made in our lives. An expression of sympathy. I guess it’s just too much to ask to have people take responsibility for their actions in this day and age.

One of the things that bothers me most about the collision is that because both drivers were at fault to varying degrees, they can each point a finger at the other and excuse their own behavior. The driver most at fault (95% at least) points his finger at the other driver and says, ‘I would not have hit that van, those girls would not have died, if the other driver wasn’t speeding which caused him to rear-end my truck’. And the driver least at fault says, ‘This accident wouldn’t have happened if the other guy wasn’t on the road because he had no legal right to be since he didn’t have a drivers license. It wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t pulled out in front of my truck.’ And neither one has to look themselves in the mirror and admit that their actions contributed to the deaths of my daughters.

And that’s precisely why I probably shouldn’t have made that call.

I’m a floor mat.

I wanted so badly to say, ‘Your husband is not blameless. He was breaking the law too. He made fewer mistakes, but he is not innocent of the deaths of my daughters.’

But what would be the point?

Aside from saying it out loud, confronting her with the truth, I would have just initiated a defensive and defiant response further abdicating her husband’s responsibility and guilt.

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The Honorable Judge John LePage – McDonald County Missouri Circuit Court

I wonder if she realizes that because her husband was speeding there was no way to prosecute the other driver for the crime he was clearly guilty of: vehicular manslaughter.

I wonder if she realizes the rate of speed at which their vehicle was traveling determined the force and speed at which the red truck was pushed into oncoming traffic. Less speed equals less force.

I wonder if she realizes that because he was speeding justice was denied my daughters.

I wonder if she realizes that even the maximum sentence for the misdemeanor offense of careless driving was cut in half by the judge who excused the paltry $500 fine and six month suspended jail sentence because “the other driver was speeding”?

That in and of itself is all kinds of wrong as the defendant was being prosecuted for reckless driving. He should have been sentenced based upon his actions alone.

Her husband is responsible for much more than exceeding the speed limit. His actions resulted in the perversion of justice. His actions served to excuse everyone at fault.

Had he not been speeding the impact of the two trucks would have taken place seconds later and our van would have passed by that point of intersection unscathed. But no, this was the result of one unlicensed and reckless driver meeting up with one speeding driver . . .

 

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My daughters died but in spite of the fact that two drivers broke multiple laws that day, no one, not one person is held responsible? Say it isn’t so! But it is . . . because it’s the other guys fault.

And Wow, just wow! Am I suppose to feel badly because the speeding driver’s life was upended? Am I suppose to consider him an innocent victim? Did his wife expect me to pardon his behavior?

Before I made that call I could have convinced myself that at least this one driver accepted responsibility for his actions, but now, I will pay the piper. I will have to live with the knowledge that both drivers consider themselves guilt free.

Is anyone else nauseated by that fact?

We sing about the day the music died, but who really cares? The day integrity died is far more disturbing. The drivers, the prosecutor and the judge each demonstrated an appalling lack of integrity.

And because I so desperately wanted every single piece of the accident puzzle, I will have to cycle through the process of forgiveness one more time. I will have to make peace with more anger. I will have swallow another serving of resignation. I will have to surrender my right to see justice meted out yet again. And that’s all on me. I didn’t consult the Lord. I didn’t want Him to tell me to let it lie, that He’d take care of it, that knowing would only hurt me more. I just wanted answers in spite of the fact that it would change nothing. Nothing. So I’ll suck it up and shoulder the consequences my insatiable need to know demanded. I’ll suck it up because those pictured below are worth it.

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But this I know—of this I am confident—denial and excuses will not protect the guilty from the wrath of God. Grace is their only escape if their hearts aren’t already too hardened to receive it. Justice will be served; in God’s time, but it will be served.

And what I heard today can only be described as a deceptive half-truth. A sin of omission. It’s just one more sin to add to the cup of iniquity. One more sin adding to the cup of the wrath of God. One sin filling those cups drawing us ever closer to Christ’s return when God will proclaim the cup of iniquity full and the cup of the wrath of God will be poured out upon the wicked. It will be judgement day.

I’m in no way saying that the two drivers, the wife of this driver, the prosecutor or the judge are not saved. Only God knows the heart of man, but woe to the man who knows to do good and does it not, for that is sin. (James 4:17 paraphrased

 
15 Comments

Posted by on October 6, 2016 in Adversity, Faith, Grief

 

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