Eulogies

So it’s been just over 6 weeks since my dad died and just over 4 weeks since his funeral.  (We had to pause in the middle of our mourning to celebrate my oldest daughter’s wedding on the weekend between the 2 events.)  I’m not going to talk about his death here because, quite frankly, it was one of the most horrific experiences I’ve ever had.  It was a roller coaster of emotions, deep pain and an awful mash-up of bad behavior.  And I am still having trouble accepting that he is gone, that I will never see him again (in this world). 

I miss my Jeffrey.  I’m sure my mother misses him even more.  They were married for 30 years last July.  (Okay, yes, I’m 56, so I’ll come clean here, Jeffrey was my step-dad, or as I like to call him, “my dad by choice.”)  He was a wonderful, loving man.  My mother can only remember him getting angry twice in all the years she knew him, which is twice more than I remember.  I deserved his anger more than once, my ex-husband probably even more.  That doesn’t mean he never got angry, it means he never acted in anger, he never spoke in anger and he never let anger dictate his actions.  He did, however, let love dictate his words and his actions.

He wasn’t a saint, he had his faults.  Just ask my mother.  But the point here is, he loved better than anyone I know.

My son wrote a beautiful eulogy for his grandfather’s funeral.  So it got me thinking, what do I want people to say at my funeral?  And what changes do I need to make in my life to ensure those things?

What do I want people to say about me?  I want them to say I was loving.  That I loved my family and friends deeply and unconditionally, even the ones I didn’t like.  I want them to say I followed Jesus to the best of my ability.  I want them to say I was a good friend, daughter and mother.  I want them to say that they could see Jesus shining through my words and actions. 

What changes in my life do I need to make to ensure these things?  I need to get a better rein on my temper and a better rein on my tongue.  I need to diffuse my anger and think before I speak.  I need to entrust my emotions and actions to Him.  In other words, I need to surrender my life more fully to Jesus.  I need to remember that He loves me, completely and unconditionally, that He has my best interests in mind and I need to trust him completely.  I have a lot of work to do but I do trust that if I continue to pursue Him that it is possible.  After all, He is a loving and forgiving God and He loves me.  He is the only one worthy of all my worship and praise.  He went to the cross for me, for my salvation.  I am not worthy of that sacrifice but He did it for me anyway. 

How am I going to make these changes?  I am going to place my trust in Him and return to reading and studying my Bible.  I am also going to continue practicing daily gratitude.  I look forward to spending more and more time with Jesus.

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Remodeling

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here. It’s been a rather tough few months.  My girl kitten turned out to be a boy kitten, fun times.  My car was stolen, really tough times.  It was recovered 9 days later, a mixed blessing.   It took more than 30 days to get it repaired and returned to me, interesting times.  I traveled to Las Vegas with my youngest daughter to attend a bridal fair with her, really fun times.  We had major family squabbles over my son’s wedding and there was some fallout from that, really tough times.  My youngest daughter changed her wedding date and uninvited most of the family, tough times.  I made my oldest daughter’s wedding gown, interesting times as she was in Portland, OR and I was in Sacramento, CA as I did it.  My uncle died the day after Christmas, tough times.  My step dad spent most of December, January and February in and out the hospital, really tough times.  My small group and I did an Andy Stanley Bible study and committed ourselves to being disciples of Jesus rather than just mere Christians, a real challenge but totally worth it.

My step dad died on February 10, 2014.  Devastating times.

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Forgiveness

Here’s a story that should be familiar to most Christians:

Jesus annointed by a sinful woman

“Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. 

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is–that she is a sinner.” 

Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said. 

“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 

Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. 

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” 

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 

Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” “

–Luke 7:36-50 NIV

Extravagent, loving forgiveness.  Who among us has not craved that at one time or another?  I know of very few people, including me, who don’t have a skeleton tucked away in their closet somewhere who feel that they can never, ever be forgiven for that very same skeleton.  Yet, that’s what they desire most, absolution and forgiveness.  How do we achieve it?  The gospels are very clear on this.  Let’s take a look at another familiar story…

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.  As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him.  Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.” 

“The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’  The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.” 

“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.” 

“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ “

“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.”

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’  In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.” 

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

–Matthew 18:21-35

What was the first servant’s problem?  Having been forgiven a debt so large he could never have expected to pay it back in his lifetime he then refused to extend a smaller amount of mercy to a fellow servant.  Where was his relief? his gratitude? 

 

Consider this C.S. Lewis quote, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” 

 

Who of us feels that we don’t deserve forgiveness?  Who of us refuses to forgive ourselves, certain that we don’t deserve it?  Is that out of a misplaced sense of humilty?  I believe refusing to forgive ourselves is a supreme act of arrogance.  My Christian faith is based upon Jesus’ sacrifice for the forgiveness of my sins.  If Jesus went to the cross and died for my sins why do I refuse to forgive myself?  Why do you refuse to forgive yourself? 

There’s a song playing on Christian radio these days, one of the lines is, “You refuse forgiveness like it’s something to be earned.” (Unspoken – Who You Are)  How many of us can relate to that?  We feel we are undeserving of forgiveness and push it away, refuse to accept it.  Why do we do that?  If God forgives us why don’t we forgive ourselves?  And what’s up with refusing to forgive others?  How many times have you heard (or worse yet, said) “I will never forgive him/her for that”?  But here’s the thing…  forgiveness is not all about the other person.  Forgiveness is all about you, you and what takes up residence in your heart.  I don’t know about you but I do not want unforgiveness taking up residence in my heart.

 

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Images

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” –John 10:10

I had a conversation over the weekend with someone I love and care for deeply.  The conversation lasted over 90 minutes and at the end of it I was deeply saddened and depressed.  I don’t speak with this person very often, probably less than once a year, for that very reason.  No matter how much I love him, no matter how much I care for him, there is really nothing I can do for him other than pray, fervently.  And ask everyone I know to pray for him also.

A little bit of an explanation here… I have known this man, who shall remain nameless, all his life.  I know his dysfunctional family.  I know his childhood pain.  I know the obstacles and challenges he had while growing up, I shared many of them.  I completely understand why, at 10 years old, this man turned to drugs and alcohol in an attempt to alleviate the pain of his life.  I do not agree with many of his choices and he does not agree with many of mine.  Despite all that, I love him, deeply and unconditionally.  However, I do not let him into my life very often.  He tends to wreak havoc and destruction wherever he goes.  After an interaction with him I am left saddened and depressed for many days.  However, I will never completely cut him out of my life and if he ever needs me, I will do anything within my power to help him.

Right now, more than anything in the world, he needs my prayers.  He needs the prayers of anyone who will pick up the challenge to pray for him.  I will be honest, he is difficult to pray for.  Although he has not been drinking and/or using for about 7 years now he is still addicted to drugs and alcohol.  He doesn’t use because his employer performs random testing and to fail the testing means he loses his job.  However, since he has never sought or received help his addictions still have him by the throat.  He is rude.  He is crude.  He swears up a blue streak.  He lies, or, as my mother says, he has a very vivid imagination.  His imagination is so vivid that he believes everything he makes up.  But here is where he needs prayer the most…  He is very mixed up about his faith.  In a 90 minute telephone conversation his statements regarding his faith changed several times.  He is lost.  The enemy has burrowed talons deep into this man’s heart and has a stranglehold.  I believe the only way to free him from Satan’s grasp is to pray him out. 

I want to address several of the statements he made Sunday evening here.  I want to do this for a couple of reasons, primarily because when he made these statements I was unable to refute them.  Familiar with the nature of our relationship I know they will come up again and if I address them here I will be more prepared next time they come up.  There are several statements so this will likely be a series of posts.  I have started with the one he quotes to me the most often.

Statement #1: We were made in the image of God and therefore, when we die, we will become gods ourselves.

Argh! How many times have I heard this?  Not just from him but from other people who do not understand Genesis 1:27 — So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  God does not have a body so we were not created in His physical image, rather, we were created in His nature, we have a soul and a spirit.  We have been given dominion over the things of the earth, but we do not have dominion over heavenly things.  We were made in His image in that we were given free will, we are not unintelligent automatons. We do have intelligence and choice.  We are not gods and we never will be.  The best analogy I can think of is this: I can make an image of a $100 bill.  It will share some characteristics with the real thing but you cannot spend it because it is not the real thing.  The image of the $100 bill is counterfeit.  Believing that man can become God is believing in a counterfeit god.  This is not saving faith.  The Bible says over and over again that there is one God.  If we become gods ourselves when we die then the Bible is not reliable.  If the Bible is not reliable, then we have no hope of salvation.

Fortunately, I believe the Bible is utterly reliable.  I know in my heart that there is ONE God.  Yes, there are three beings in one entity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  That is the topic I hope to address in my next post.

Oh, and why my opening quote?  I believe the thief is the one clouding the mind of my loved one.  And we all know who that thief is, don’t we?

 

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A Crisis of Faith

I have a confession to make.  If you read my gratitude blog you are aware that my best friend died yesterday morning.  She had a mercifully short battle with pancreatic cancer.  Sunday evening as I was leaving the hospital I was having a crisis of faith.  Not faith in God, faith in myself.  Leaving the hospital Sunday night I was confused and struggling.  I was afraid.  I doubted myself.  Let me explain…

Deb had been having some pains in her back late last year.  She went to her doctor and she ordered tests.  Meanwhile Deb also went to a healing service with her daughter and had a vision of Christ touching and healing her.  Now before you write my friend (and me) off as kooks please know that Deb has had visions before, completely accurate visions.  For example, Deb and her husband felt God leading them to buy a new, larger home so that they could host Bible Studies.  Deb and her husband dreamed independent dreams of the house for weeks before even telling each other about them.  After realizing how perfectly their visions matched, right down to floor plans and colors, they spent week after week searching for the house.  Finally they found a new development with the floor plan they had seen.  The problem was, the floor plan was reversed and the colors didn’t match.  Deb and her husband stepped out in faith and entered the lottery for the house.  They lost.  However, the developer told them they could have an as yet unbuilt house.  You guessed it, the floor plan was correct and the colors were exactly the colors she had told me about weeks before.  So you understand why I was reassured after Deb had her vision and the symptoms went away.  Like her I believed she had been healed.

However, her doctor wasn’t satisfied.  She had Deb come in for tests on her kidneys.  The tests proved inconclusive.  The doctor kept searching.

I’m not sure when Deb’s pain returned.  I do remember her telling me that she had more tests scheduled and she was asking for prayer.  I remember that afternoon clearly because I was walking my dog, around the corner from my apartment.  In that moment I knew my friend was dying.  I also knew that what God wanted me to do was just love on my friend, not reveal what I knew. 

On March 28th Deb called me, once again I was walking my dog in almost the identical spot, and she told me the diagnosis was pancreatic cancer.  I was devastated but remained upbeat because she was.  She was confident the Lord had told her He would be healing her.  I hung up the phone believing the healing that was coming was not her cancer, the cancer would only be healed as she stood before His throne.

How to describe the next few weeks?  They weren’t easy.  Deb’s husband didn’t take the news very well.  He didn’t understand why Deb was so tired and he didn’t appear to understand that she was in pain.  He only seemed to understand that Deb’s diet had to change and was worried how that would affect his diet.  He yelled when she didn’t feel well enough to go to church and one Sunday morning I raced to her home to comfort her, my always upbeat friend had been reduced to tears by a raging husband. 

After some counseling by the pastor and elders in his church Deb’s husband grew more understanding of Deb’s limitations.  However, never once did he lose his confidence that God was going to completely heal Deb, even as she was in and out of the hospital multiple times.  He described to me in great detail the vision he had regarding Deb’s complete healing.  Even as he described it to me I knew that Deb’s complete healing would only come as she stood before the Throne.

Two weeks ago Deb went back into the hospital.  Her husband told his daughters the doctors gave her three days to live, he told me one week.  Either way, when I got to the hospital on Wednesday evening she looked horrible.  My dear friend was emaciated and yellow.  The cancer had grown to the point it was blocking her bile ducts and even a drainage bag directly in her liver was not helping.  The good news was that Deb’s youngest daughter, the one she had estranged from for 7 years, had come to the hospital and reconciled with her mother. 

I can’t describe the weirdness of the next two weeks.  Deb’s husband got it into his mind that no one could spend the night with Deb in her room.  He said that Jesus always sent everyone away when He healed, therefore Deb had to be alone in her room for God to come to her and heal her.  He wasn’t concerned that Deb had told several people she didn’t want to be alone.  And he wasn’t concerned that several people told him he was mistaken about Jesus sending people away.  That Friday evening he announced to everyone present that God was visiting Deb alone in her room that night and miraculously healing her.  Deb was going to be dancing out of the hospital on Saturday morning.  This was done in front of about 15 – 20 people, believers and non-believers alike.

Saturday morning I was the first one to the hospital.  I walked into Deb’s room and she looked less yellow and was more alert than I’d seen her in a long time.  However, she was not ready to dance out of the hospital.  She looked at me and said, “I don’t know what George expected to happen last night.”  All I could do was tell her that I didn’t either.

Since that day Deb’s husband had all sorts of people come to the hospital to lay hands on and pray over Deb.  He stuck fast to his belief she would be completely healed.  He refused to hear anything different.  Sunday evening when I left the hospital he told me how someone had prayed over Deb the previous day and told him that the cancer was healed, the only healing Deb needed was from the hips down (she had terrible edema in her legs and feet) and the shoulders up.  They were going to return to pray for her on Monday afternoon.

I left the hospital confused.  I knew God had told me Deb was dying.  But George was so certain that God had told him Deb would be healed.  And what about the people who told George that Deb’s cancer was healed?  Could I be wrong?  I don’t really have a history of listening very well and maybe I was mistaken.  I knew that George was desperately afraid of losing Deb, they had been together 40 years after all.  I knew he was grasping at any straw he could to heal her.  George told me the nurses told him Deb was getting better.  Were they telling him the truth or just placating him?  I went home and asked God.  My heart was troubled and I was sad.

Well, I now know I was right.  I take no joy in it.  I would rather have been wrong.  However, I need to remember to trust what God tells me.  Circumstances can be misleading.  Grief causes people to do strange things.  George has apparently accepted Deb’s death.  Deb is finally at peace, dancing with the angels as they praise and worship the Lord.  I will see her again.

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Ash Wednesday

I started this post on Wednesday but it took a few days for my thoughts to gel…

I grew up Roman Catholic and attended their schools for 10 years.  That means that on this day every year from childhood well into adulthood I went to church and had the priest rub ashes on my forehead.  It also meant that I had to choose something to give up for the 40 some-odd days of Lent.  I say some-odd because of the screwy way they count the days, I think Sundays are not included or something.  Anyway, I digress.  As a child, and even as a young adult, I did not understand the two spiritual disciplines most often associated with Lent, fasting and giving something up.  As a more mature adult I am beginning to learn more about them, how they really are the same thing and how to apply them to my life.  It was all a mystery to me.

I started attending Protestant churches when I met my ex-husband.  I was attracted to the little church his family attended because the pastor stood up in front of the congregation and used the Bible as his reference when giving his message.  I learned more about the Bible in 6 months of attending church with my ex-husband’s family than I did in 10 years of Parochial schools.  Making the switch permanent was not a difficult decision.

About seven years ago I began attending a local non-denominational church.  I like this church a lot because, once again, the pastor stands up in front of the congregation and preaches from the Bible he holds in his hand.  I don’t always find Pastor Brad’s messages to be pleasant, more often I find them to be convicting, they often make me squirm in my seat in recognition of the life I should be living but so often fail to.  I have learned a lot from Brad and my walk towards spiritual maturity has been facilitated by him. 

A few years ago we were approaching the Lenten season.  As a church Lakeside doesn’t really practice Lent.  Brad really doesn’t encourage the whole giving up something for Lent thing.  Although he does give something up and he usually speaks of it during his messages.  He approaches it as a Spiritual Discipline, one that will help us grow in our faith but not one that is required of us.  He speaks of it not as giving something up but of fasting.  Brad himself has been known to fast from sweets, or ice cream, or one particularly difficult year for him – television.  The idea here is to take something in our lives that is in danger of becoming an idol for us and set it aside in favor of spending time with the Lord, take a habit or addiction that we want to transform and place it in God’s hands.  If you can give up television or smoking or sweets or internet porn for 40 days, maybe, just maybe, with God’s help, you can give it up for forever. 

This is a different concept for me.  When I was a kid fasting meant eating fish on Ash Wednesday and all Lenten Fridays.  It meant that on those days we were fasting that what we ate for breakfast and lunch combined was less than we ate for dinner.  It meant spending Friday afternoons in church for the Stations of the Cross.  It meant the smell of incense and those hard things we knelt on in the pews.  I’m not saying any of those things are bad.  I am saying that I did not understand the purpose and motives behind the practices.  I do understand Pastor Brad’s explanation of the Lenten season.  I do understand the practices he recommends.  It’s all about repentance and preparing my heart to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection in about 6 weeks.  It’s all about Jesus and not about me. 

That said I am not entirely sure how I am observing the Lenten season this year.  I guess I’m off to a bad start.  Good thing God allows do-overs, isn’t it?  I’m going to get offline and talk with Him about it.  I’m positive He’ll lead me in the direction He wants me to go.

Posted in Faith, Love, mystery, Praise, prayer, Spiritual Discipline, Spiritual maturity | 2 Comments

Living As Though We Are Dying

As my Monday night small group works its way through Crazy Love, I am amazed at the parallel of my life to the things we are reading about.  I shouldn’t be, I know God is amazing, but it catches me every time.  I know God is using this study to help me become the woman I really want to be, to help me turn my back on the woman I have been, the one who will do anything to please the people in her life, seeking their approval because of my feelings of low self-worth.  There is the root cause of my current depression.  The cure for that, God’s unconditional love.  God is faithful, He knows exactly what I need and ensures it is within my reach.

The question posed in our Crazy Love study last night was to think of someone I know who died abruptly.  What were the achievements in their life and what were their regrets?  Since there has been a bit of death amongst my acquaintances in the past couple of years it wasn’t too difficult to come up with an answer. 

As we discussed this answer my mind drifted off.  Once I am gone how will people perceive me and my life?  What have I achieved?  What are my regrets and will others know of them?  Francis Chan asks “If today was the day you died, what would you regret and why?  What can you change about your life today to avoid those regrets?” 

This blog post by Michael Hyatt appeared in my mailbox Monday morning but I didn’t read it until yesterday.  I know God planned it that way, He does stuff like that to get my attention.  I just love the way it tied into Monday evening’s lesson and the questions I have been asking myself.

What have I achieved with my life?  There are many things.  Looking at my life from a secular perspective I accomplished being the best mother I was capable of being at the time, a good employee, a great cook and a watercolor artist with a modest talent.  But it’s not secular accomplishments I want to be known for.  Do people know the depth and breadth of my faith?  Do they know my heart for the poor and hurting?  Do they know that I, just like them, struggle in my daily walk?  Do they know I hunger and thirst to know more of God, to build a closer relationship with Him?  I’m not discussing the people in my small group, I know their view of me, I am discussing the other people in my life, my parents, my children, the people who sit around me in church.  I am discussing my neighbors, my co-workers and my friends.  Do they know me?

The best way to ensure this is to let my faith speak for itself.  How do I do that?  James speaks to this very topic in the first chapter of his book: “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.  Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.  Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.  But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.  If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.  Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”  –James 1:19 – 27 

Ay! That was a long passage, but it has one very important message:  Do not be fooled into thinking that just because you say you have accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior you are saved.  If you truly have accepted Jesus as Lord of your life than your actions will reflect that.  Accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior means you have surrendered your life to Him.  It means that your greatest desire is to walk in obedience to Him.  Does my life reflect that?  Will people look at my actions and my behavior and know that I am a sold-out for the Lord Christian?  It is my opinion that you are not saved if you go to church every weekend and warm a seat in your favorite pew and then return home and live a secular life.  I believe that saving faith means you become a bond servant to Christ.

Monday evening my friends and I spoke of people whose lives reflected Christ.  I spoke of how I believe my life falls far short of what Christ asks of me.  My life, even though it is a life of service to Christ, has reflected anger and self-centeredness.  I have complained and moaned and griped my way through some of the toughest times in my life.  I have been angry with those who treated me in a manner I felt was unfair.  I blamed other people for the set-backs and failures in my life.  Recently I have begun to change that by taking responsibility for my actions and by looking for things in my life which I am grateful for.  My next step will be to stop complaining, as Michael Hyatt suggests in the post I mentioned earlier.  No matter what pain I am going through it is between me and Jesus.  I want my life to be one that reflects God’s love and grace and mercy.  I want my life to be one that brings praise and glory to my Savior’s name. 

My plan is to live my life as if every day could be my last.  I believe that will help me to live the rest of my life with no regrets.  I want to live as if I am dying, for I truly am, I am dying to Christ every day for the rest of my life.

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