Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Blessing In Suffering

     Dear God, please let my mother die.”  This was the title of a blog I recently read on the Internet. The author was a woman who wasn’t certain if there even was a God and was struggling with the day to day care of her mother battling dementia.

     I work with families who are caregivers for their parents and the sentiment expressed in this blog is quite common.  Let me say by the limited experience I have, dementia may be the most complicated and emotionally draining disease while families try to maintain peace of mind. There are so many facets to this disease that even the most brilliant medical minds don’t know how to cure it.

   So how does one respond to the cries of this daughter? Her blog took me back to those moments when I too was a caregiver for my mom. Several years ago, my mom was diagnosed with cirrhosis and emphysema , two horrific conditions leaving one in constant pain and discomfort. Needless to say, my mother was completely coherent and aware of her condition and that made it more difficult for our family.  I too had my moments with God, yet the difference between me and this woman was I am a firm believer in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Truthfully I also prayed God would end my mother’s suffering simply because I couldn’t stand to see her in such pain and depression. However in those moments, God revealed to me that I could only see her suffering from a physical perspective. My mother’s suffering was actually much deeper.

    My mom never attended church regularly and for years I wasn’t even sure if she believed in Jesus. We never talked about faith growing up and at times I must have seemed so foreign to her. One night just before putting her to bed, I became fearful for my mom’s salvation. Would God be loving and merciful enough to save someone who lived seventy-three years without a personal relationship with Him?  It suddenly dawned on me that my mother’s condition was not just physical, it was also spiritual. Her soul was dying from a spiritual death as a result of her lukewarm faith.  I became overwhelmed by fear over the possibility of never seeing my mom in heaven. And that’s when I realized I’d been praying for the wrong thing. I wanted my mom’s suffering to end when actually it would be her suffering that would bring her to Christ.

   One night, mom was so weak she couldn’t even lift a Dixie cup. I had to lift the cup and gently place it on her lips to take a small sip of water. After I placed the cup back on the table, I noticed my mom looking at me, smiling. She reached for my hand and squeezed it so tight that my wedding ring actually left an indentation in my finger. That wasn’t my mom. That was God’s strength in her, showing me that even when we abandon Him, He never abandons us. I was so deeply moved by His mercy and love. I knew at that moment my mom would be spiritually saved.

     My mother’s pain and suffering are what brought her to Christ. Had I not been a part of her suffering, I would have missed seeing God in a way that still today leaves me deeply humbled.  I’m praying for this daughter that in the midst of those long and agonizing days, she too would discover God.  Perhaps her mother’s suffering will also be the vessel God uses to reveal His mercy and grace. Wouldn’t that be an amazing story to read!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

God, Why am I Here?

A week ago, one of our closest and dearest friends died unexpectedly in a plane crash. Throughout the week, the family has been surrounded by love as we reflected on the frailty of life. Tom, who died at the age of 53, received one of the most memorable and beautiful services I’ve ever attended. But it wasn’t because of the beautiful flowers or the music that brought us comfort and peace at a time of such devastating loss. In fact, it wasn’t even the surprised appearance of the University of Texas mascot, Bevo, who showed up at the church; yes, this really happened! What left such an impression on my life as well as others was to hear how Tom witnessed to many his great love for Jesus Christ.

A young man stood at the podium and shared amongst the thousands in attendance about how Tom testified his faith in Jesus Christ and how it changed this man’s heart. You could have heard a pin drop as we listened in awe to every word this man shared, professing how Tom had planted the seed of faith. Many of us were humbled upon hearing this story and learning firsthand Tom’s deepest commitment in life was sharing the Good News about Christ. As I sat quietly in the pew, I couldn’t help but shake my head as I wondered how much time have I wasted NOT sharing my faith with others?

Every day is a gift. Every day is a day to be cherished because truthfully we don’t know how many days God has ordained for us to be on the earth. But if we are not living a life centered upon growing God’s Kingdom, then we have to ask ourselves, what are we doing here? What purpose do we have if we’re not sharing the Good News? Do we honestly think attending church is enough? Do we even spend time reading the Bible, or are we too busy checking our updates on Facebook and Twitter?

Every one of us is going to come face to face with our risen Lord. When He asks this simple question, “Why didn’t you bother to tell others about Me?” How are we going to respond? I come across so many individuals who never read the Bible and only attend church for special occasions. Why does spending time in this world seem more significant than spending time with God?

All I know is this. Tom’s legacy has had a profound impact on me and for that I’m truly grateful. Although I am deeply saddened for his passing, I am blown away by his authentic faith. If you’re still wondering what your purpose is in this life, I can sum it up in three words: Further the Kingdom. If you don’t know how to do it, begin by praying for guidance and spending time reading the Bible. Everyone can be used by God. All He's looking for is one who has a gentle, humble heart and a spirit of obedience. Let’s not waste another day without allowing God to use us as His divine vessel.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of us were remembered like Tom as a person who proclaimed publically and proudly their faith in Christ? I can’t think of any other way I would want to be remembered.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you and know I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ever So Beautiful

“Ever So Beautiful”

Those were the last words Ms. Betty spoke to me just before leaving this earth. Ms. Betty was 84 years old and had been recently diagnosed with stage four lung cancer that had spread throughout her body. When one receives this kind of news, it is devastating and overwhelming. And although Ms. Betty had lived a full life of many years, eighty-four can seem too young to die.
I have the honor of working with the elderly. And often my job allows me to be with them just before their passing. When I was much younger in both my years and my faith, I used to fear being around someone who was dying. I first experienced this with my grandmother. I remember visiting her while passing through Dallas on a business trip. My mom asked me to check on her because my grandmother had become very ill. When I arrived, my grandmother was bed-ridden with a nurse by her side twenty-four hours a day. I remember being so fearful of sitting beside her. What if she died while I was there? As I quietly said my good-byes, I must confess feeling relieved as I walked out the door.
Looking back, I never knew how special that moment could have been had I only known God and His Word. A pastor once described his experience of being with the dying as standing on Holy ground. I will never forget the words from His sermon, “This is the closest you’ll ever get to the physical presence of Christ while here on earth.”

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me
so that you also may be where I am.”
John 14:1-3

Twenty years later with a deeper understanding of God, I can attest the words of that pastor were true. The Bible tells us Jesus goes before His children to prepare a place for them. And we also know Jesus comes back for each of us so that we can be where He is.
While I was praying with Ms. Betty, she listened contently and seemed at peace despite the circumstances surrounding her. For a moment it felt like we were in another world, separated from cancer and death. At one point, she looked over my shoulder and I will never forget the expression on her face. Ms. Betty’s face reflected the image of peace and tranquility. I knew at that moment God had revealed something, filling her with such comfort in the midst of her final moments.
I quietly asked, “What are looking at Ms. Betty?
She responded, “Jesus.”
I was so deeply moved by that one word, I could barely speak. I was afraid to turn around because I didn’t want His presence to leave her sight. So holding back my tears, I asked, “Is He as beautiful as we think He is?”
She looked at me with eyes filled with compassion and softly said, “Ever so beautiful.”
May those who profess their faith in Jesus Christ begin today by embracing both life and death as events that lead us to a place already prepared for our homecoming. And may we all be comforted knowing that we never leave this earth alone. Our “ever so beautiful” Savior comes for each one of us so that we can be where He is. Death doesn’t exist for the Christian believer. It’s simply the passageway God uses to bring us home to His Heavenly Kingdom.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Have You Ever Seen the Face of God?

The Bible tells us no one can see God and live. But I recently experienced a moment where God revealed Himself to me in the face of a woman with Alzheimer’s.

I have the privilege of working with the elderly. Once a week I do a Bible study at a facility where many of the residents have Alzheimer's. For the most part, the memories of their past have been lost. One day, I prayed that if God was going to allow this disease into my life, then He would make sure I would never forget Him. I may forget my husband and even my own children. But I asked God to promise me that I would never forget the name of Jesus Christ.

When I arrived at this facility, I was overwhelmed to see a room full of people waiting to participate in the Bible study. Every seat was filled ready to hear what God had to say. As I looked into the faces of each of the residents, I noticed one woman off to the side who gave me little or no eye contact. She appeared very tired and worn down from life.

Suddenly in the midst of my study, I heard a quiet soft voice speak out. “Excuse me.” I looked over and noticed it was this same woman. I asked if she had something to share, and she quietly said three words that were barely audible for me to hear.

“I love you.”

I was moved by her comment and thanked her for such kind words. I started the study again when shortly after, I heard the familiar voice speak out, “Excuse me.” I smiled as I looked over at her and asked if she had something to say. She replied,

“I love you.”

I thanked her and once again began teaching where I’d left off. Moments later, this same woman spoke out, “Excuse me.”However this time her comment struck me differently. This wasn’t just a complete stranger saying “I love you.” I believe this was God Himself.

I walked over to her wheel chair and knelt down beside her. When I looked into her eyes, I no longer saw a woman with Alzheimer's, but a beautiful child of the Most High God. I knew at that moment she held every memory of Jesus Christ close to her heart. This woman may have lost memories of her earthly life, but she was fully aware of the eternal life awaiting her. God had answered my prayer showing me it was impossible to forget Him. As I reached for her hand, my heart overflowed with love and compassion. Her eyes sparkled and I could clearly see God’s Spirit living within her. I wasn’t just looking at an old woman; I believe I was looking into the face of God. I was so moved by His presence in her. With tears in my eyes, I replied,

“I love you too.”

It is impossible for us to forget God. Alzheimer’s may impair our brains, but it cannot impair His Spirit that lives in each of us. Ironically, I found myself somewhat envious of this woman whose earthly past was a blur, but her eternal life was crystal clear. We may not be able to see God face to face, but we certainly can experience facets of His love and compassion throughout all of His creation.

“Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom
in the inmost place.”
Psalm 51:6

Praise God that His Wisdom resides in our inner most parts where no disease can ever deter our memories and relationship with Him. And for those of us who have loved ones living with Alzheimer’s, may you also be comforted knowing that God remains in each of them, revealing His light and love to those who Seek His presence.

Friday, December 2, 2011

What Do You Want For Christmas?

The Christmas season is a wonderful time of year. We find ourselves busy with preparations in hopes that our celebration will be both memorable and joyful. Yesterday, I found myself wandering through stores trying to stir up ideas for gifts. However, I must confess as I submerge myself into this season, my wants tend to outweigh my needs. What do I really want for Christmas?
What if we were given the opportunity to have the ultimate Christmas gift? What if anything on our list could be ours for the asking? Would it be a new car? How about new shoes or a 40 inch flat screen TV? What if someone would just simply write us a check for any amount that we desire? Would you receive peace knowing all of your bills were paid with a little extra cash to enjoy on the side? Would your heart be filled with happiness knowing that whatever you wanted to buy could be yours? Would this kind of gift fill the desires of our hearts?
What if I told you there is a gift available that could fill every void in your life? What if all of your worries could be removed simply by receiving this gift? Would you believe me? The challenge is, this gift cannot be purchased or earned. It cannot be found in a store or obtained by cashing in a check.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives.”
John 14:27

This is a simple quote from Jesus found in the Bible that perhaps you’ve read or heard in a sermon. But have you really meditated on the impact God’s gift of peace could have on our lives? After my life was transformed by faith, God’s gift of peace brought me a new perspective. It’s not to say I don’t want nice things or that God doesn’t want to give them to us. But now, my eyes have been opened to what it means to have a Sovereign Lord. Anything I face in this life, no matter how difficult, I have a God who will get me through it. Do you believe me? Better yet, do you believe Him?

Perhaps you’re facing financial troubles, a struggling marriage or battling a terminal illness. Can one have peace in the midst of trials? If I told you yes, would you believe me? Better yet, do you believe God?

“Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
John 14:27

We can call ourselves Christians, but if we don’t read the Bible and study His Word, how does one truly have faith? Every day we need a Savior. Not just at the moment of our death, but every minute of our remaining days on earth. The moment we wake up, we face new circumstances; some good and some bad. Temptation through the evil one is always crouching at our door. And yet despite what is in front of us, our Lord Jesus Christ is beside us. Do you have peace knowing God can deliver you from your circumstances? Do you believe His Word is the greatest gift you’ll ever receive?

Begin today reading His Word and meditating on His promises. The greatest gift we can give someone is a Bible. But if you don’t read it and become actively involved in studying it at some level, God’s peace is left sitting on a shelf. My prayer this Christmas season is for our desires not to be for things of this world, but for the gifts that come through faith in knowing Jesus Christ. God does not give as the world gives, but what He does give is life changing and everlasting. Merry Christmas!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Abandoned and Forsaken

That’s what happened to a young dog over the weekend, tied to a handicap parking sign at our church. I can’t help but wonder what went through the mind of someone as they were tying this precious dog to a pole in the middle of a rain storm. To be honest, my first reaction was, “How could anyone be so cruel?” I was so quick to judge the character of another human being as I stared into the eyes of an innocent dog that had no idea how his life had come to this point.
But isn’t this character true of many Christians today? So often, we become so wrapped up into our own lives that we abandon what Christ calls us to do; take care of the poor, the needy and the sick. As I was judging that individual, God revealed to me the many years my heart had turned the other way from helping others simply because I felt I was too busy.
Thanks be to God that He doesn’t think like we do. For three years, Jesus walked mile after mile healing thousands and feeding even more along the way. He never said I’m too busy, or too tired to deal with you. No, in fact what Jesus did say was, “I will never abandon you nor forsaken you.”
Whatever the motive was inside the person who left this dog, God intervened by stirring the heart of this individual and prompting them to leave the dog at a church. That’s the beauty about God. Despite our fallen state, God’s love for His creation always prevails.
You should see the love inside this dog. Forty eight hours ago, he was abandoned. Yet this morning he was actively looking for his owner and studying each home to see if it might be his. I know if the owner had pulled up in a car, this dog would have run to him with complete joy. He had already forgiven his owner for abandoning him even if the owner hadn’t forgiven himself. This is the kind of love Christ has for us even if we choose to abandon Him. As I write this, I can see how much a small little dog has taught me about unconditional love and forgiveness, two areas in my life that are constantly seeking divine change.
This sweet small dog needs a permanent home where he can count on a family to always be there and never leave him out in the rain. I pray for God to bring a special family to me but in the meantime, we will continue to provide for his needs.
If you know of someone who would like a small sweet dog, this one is special. God placed it on the heart of the owner to give it back to His church, a place where he won’t ever again be abandoned or forsaken.
“I will never abandon you as orphans-I will come to you.”
John 14:18

Email me if you or someone you know is interested: jenniferj63@gmail.com

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Finding Fullness in Christ

"People Helping People Find Fullness in Christ"

This is our mission statement at our church. We as Christians are supposed to help others find fullness in Christ. But what exactly does it mean to find fullness in Christ? Before Jesus was crucified, He told His disciples He would never leave them as orphans. He also said to His disciples that if they loved Him and obeyed His commands, Jesus would ask the Father to give another Counselor to be with them and in them. What this means is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Almighty God will be with us and in us at all times.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)

When we experience fullness in Christ, we experience a power beyond our comprehension, a joy beyond our understanding and wisdom that takes us outside our limited human intellect. Our lives truly become transformed.

Has this happened to you? The Bible tells us that God has no favorites. Therefore, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can do all things through Christ. So what is preventing this transformation from happening in many Christian lives today? We attend church and read the Bible, yet nothing happens. Why is this? How does one experience the fullness of Christ through the power of God’s Holy Spirit?

Be a part of a new four week Bible study this fall beginning October 5th (Wednesday evenings). The study is free beginning at 7pm to 8pm at Christ United Methodist Church in Sugar Land, Texas. Over these four weeks, we will examine the workings of the Holy Spirit and learn to overcome obstacles that hinder God’s Spirit in our lives. God delights in having His children experience His Holy Spirit. The question is, are you ready, willing and able?