Missing Grace

The+Offering.Michael+O'Brien.jpg

My heart is so heavy this morning from the culminating events yesterday in the courtroom of Judge Sarkisian.

I understand the pain of losing a child. I really do. I am so sorry for the family of sweet Ella Joy.

But what truly makes my heart ache is the opportunity which was lost time and time again in that Fresno Superior Courtroom, and in the court of public opinion. What could have been demonstrated by those who stood in judgment? What could have been expressed by those who took sides through their posts on social media sites? What could have given the world a truer glimpse of His grace?

Yes, I grieve for what might have been ~ that the world would know the power of grace to forgive even the heinous of deeds. It really isn't about what the D.A. believed happened that dreadful day four years ago. What truly matters with eternity in view is for the faith community to show the world a truly amazing grace; a grace that sees the person as full of worth and precious, regardless of any wrongdoing. A grace that can redeem the future in spite of the past.

Oh how the Holy Spirit must grieve this lost occasion to demonstrate that while we were yet in our sin, Christ took the penalty for us all – and we.all.walked.away.free.of.sin. Penalty paid. End of story.

There is no loophole in the gospel story. Either the cross of Christ covers a multitude of sin, any sin, our sin ~ or we are all at risk of one day falling short of His grace. 

* Painting, The Offering, by Michael D. O'Brien

Clinging to Hope

calendar+page.2.5.jpg

Bye Scott. I love you. See you at the game.

Bye Mom. Love you too.

I woke this morning with these words echoing in my head. Little did I know on that rushed morning in February 1996 that these words would be our last conversation. Just a little over four hours later,  Scott was airlifted to the regional trauma center, and sixteen short years became the length of his days.

Today begins a hallowed time for our family. Although sixteen years have passed, we remember every detail of these dark days with great clarity ~ as if it were yesterday.

Today I feel my grief in every cell of my body.

Today I long to hear Scott say just.one.more.time – Love you too.

Today I am reminded that no matter how dark and difficult the journey, the God of all Comfort has been my faithful companion. It is He who draws near to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in spirit. It is He who replaces ashes with garlands and clothes me with a garment of praise. It is He who has placed eternity in my heart so I have a hope.

Today I cling to hope ~ hope that made it possible for me to take my first steps along this journey of grief. Hope that is rooted in the confidence that God will use my deep pain to glorify Himself and draw others to His Kingdom. Hope that promises to redeem the future.

Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out. –Vaclav Havel

The Last Thing We Talked About

I vividly remember the last day of my mother's life. As a family, we sat vigil around her hospital bed. Although she experienced few moments of consciousness ~ when we were aware she was really with us ~ we shared precious words of love and gratitude for her life well-lived. We knew it was her last day and these would be the last things we talked about with her, as her body finally could no longer support life. It was a precious time ~ a holy time ~ to be present as she left her broken earthly tent and enter her eternal rest.

I also remember the final twenty-four hours of my son's life. Scott wanted to hang out and talk about something he had on his mind. We never in our wildest dreams would have thought that it would be the last thing we talked about.

Scott sat in the oversized chair in the living room, his long legs swung over one armrest, and his hands cradled behind his head. He asked a most profound question ~ So, where was Jesus between Good Friday and Easter?  I know his body was in the tomb ~ but where was HE?

resurrection+icon.JPG

We spent time looking at Scripture. We talked about the Apostles' Creed and the hope that is in us. We talked about Holy Saturday, those hours between His Death and Resurrection. We talked about the Harrowing of Hades when many believe Christ descended to break down the gates of Hell.

Little did we know that it would be the last thing we talked about ~ for the next day, Scott himself would enter his own eternal rest.

Today is Holy Saturday ~ it is the day between the grief of Good Friday and the hope of Easter. And I find myself reflecting upon that final conversation with Scott. Did Scott somehow sense his own mortality? Did the Spirit place these thoughts on his heart, knowing that in God's sovereign plan, Scott's life would soon hang in the balance?

Whatever the reason for that conversation that night, the last thing we talked about now brings a smile to my face and joy to my heart. For it was during these hours, when Christ's body lie in a cold, stone tomb, that Scott's future, my future, indeed, the future of the world, was truly redeemed.

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him ... For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words. –I Thessalonians 4:13-18

Redeem : Repair : Restore : Renew

re·deem

verb \ri-‘dēm\

  1. ato buy back. b: to get or win back
  2. to free from what distresses or harms: as ato free from captivity by payment of ransom, b:to extricate from or help to overcome something detrimental, cto release from blame or debt clear, dto free from the consequences of sin
  3. to change for the better: reform
  4. repair, restore
  5. ato free from a lien by payment of an amount secured thereby, b(1)to remove the obligation of by payment, (2)to exchange for something of value, cto make good fulfill
  6. ato atone for expiate, b(1)to offset the bad effect of, (2)to make worthwhile retrieve

Source: Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

What comes to mind when you hear the word, redeem?

One childhood memory immediately comes to my mind. Back in the day, I would redeem my soda bottle for a nickel at the store. I returned the bottle to be reusedrecycled, and refilled again.

 

 

Another image is my mother used to redeem S and H Green Stamps. She redeemed her booklets filled with stamps for free merchandise from their catalog.

Many thoughts come to mind from my faith tradition ~ from the verses in scripture and words of hymns that tell of being redeemed ~ a price paid to free me from the wages of sin and death.

When I started this blog almost three years ago, I knew I would call it, Redeeming the Future. As I looked at the events of my life, I did not want the lean years to devour the rich years. I realized that, like me, there were others who may one day find themselves on a similar journey ~ on a difficult path filled with obstacles that obscured their hope of ever experiencing peace.

What truly comes to mind when I hear the word redeem are two powerful words that are signposts along my journey:

  • HOPE: a strong belief that there is a pathway through difficult times that can bring us to a healing place; a place where we can once again know the joy of experiencing peace
  • TRANSFORMATION: the decision to not be destroyed, but to be transformed by those things that seem to be quite literally more than I can bear

I am not just another Pollyanna ~ an excessively or blindly optimistic person. The message of Redeeming the Future is not a pie-in-the-sky kind of gospel. Redeeming the future does not take away the reality of the pain, loss, and disappointments of the past or the present. But that simple six-letter word ~ redeem ~ provides a new lens through which I can look back at the difficult times with hope, knowing that I can be transformed; I can become stronger in the broken places.

I love the following quote by author Maria Robinson:

Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.

And that, my friend, is all about Redeeming the Future.

So, what comes to mind when YOU hear the word, redeem?

The Lens of Lent

Toward%2BCalvary.Michael%2BO%2527Brien.jpg

I was raised in a faith tradition which did not observe the season of Lent, a Christian tradition celebrated in the forty days leading up to Easter.

I find myself lamenting that many aspects of this tradition had been part of my upbringing ~ to make time in life's hectic pace to dwell on the passion of Christ and all that He established; to rejoice in the blessed hope of His resurrection.

To be honest, I often allow the circumstances of life to rob me of the peace and joy that was established through the death and resurrection of Christ. These temporary struggles seem to lay claim to much of my concentration. With the Lenten season beginning on Ash Wednesday this week, I savor this place of mindfulness. I look forward to entering this season; to rest in the reality that the redemption so freely given on the cross, continues to redeem the future.

I want to focus my thoughts, my desires, and even the events of each day upon the promise of Colossians 1:20, 21 ~

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

I find that a verse in The Lorica of Saint Patrick truly expresses this place of rest for me during this season as I recognize the fullness of His being, the depth of His love, and the truth of His promise to redeem all things to Himself. 

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye of every one who sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

May the passion of Christ and the reality of the resurrection illuminate for each of us the hope of redeeming the future.

_

Art work entitled, Toward Calvary by Michael O'Brien

It Is Never Too Late

It is never too late ... to redeem the future. This is one of my personal tenets. I love when I have the chance to witness a redeeming moment. Let me share my recent experience ~

Kathy+%2526+Bonnie+Goodrell+-+circa+1957%255B1%255D.jpg

This photograph of my sister and I from the mid-1950s pretty much illustrates my childhood. I grew up in a home filled with love and joy. Life was good growing up in southern California!

Part of the story of my childhood includes how our family came to be. I honestly can't remember a time when I didn't know that my sister, Kathy, was adopted. It simply is part of our loving story ~ that God gave my parents a precious daughter when it appeared they would never have a child.

And I never tired of hearing our mother tell the story. How our father's cousin, Stewart Hiatt, was a doctor in California's central valley. How "Uncle Stewart" ~ as we called him ~ telephoned my parents in the spring of 1950 to see if they wanted to adopt the baby of one of his patients. How much joy they felt as they brought Kathy home from a Modesto hospital at the age of three days old.

Then ~ wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles ~ almost two years after adopting Kathy, my parents discovered they were expecting me! Bill and Adele Goodrell, who thought they would never have children, were soon to have two daughters to call their own. And, as they say, the rest is history!

Then last fall Kathy came for a weekend visit to our home. I showed her the family trees I created on Ancestry.comIf you have worked on this website or watched NBC's Who Do You Think You Are?, you know that Ancestry is a vast database of genealogical information. When the information you enter into your family tree matches something or someone in that database, a small, green, spinning leaf appears next to that name on your tree to tell you that there is information in the database about this individual.

As Kathy and I talked together there in my home office, she expressed her longing to find her birth mother. I decided to start another tree ~ one that contained what little bit of information we knew about her birth family from the certificate from the hospital, past conversations with Mom and non-identifying information which Kathy had received from the state. Then we sat there talking and waiting and watching the computer screen for a spinning leaf to pop up. Quite a while passed before we accepted the fact that there was not a match for her birth mother's name. For the next three months, each time I logged into my account on Ancestry, there was nothing new to help me find Kathy's birth family. That is until about three weeks ago.

After months of trying various spellings of the only names we knew, and researching leads that led nowhere, I decided to try a different search; to compare the names I knew with names that were part of other public trees stored on the website. Within a couple of minutes, I noticed a match. One particular tree contained a name that was on Kathy's unamended* birth certificate, although a subsequent marriage had changed the surname.

A public tree on Ancestry is exactly that ~ public, for any and all to see. Additionally, through the website, it is possible to message anonymously the creator of the public tree with questions regarding individuals or dates which are listed. I was quite nervous as I typed a well-thought-out question into the message box of someone I had never metI even changed my User name to something less obvious and more obscure so if I was about to disturb a hornet's nest, I could not be easily identified. I thought to myself, What's the worst that could happen?

Over the next 48 hours, the owner of this tree and I exchanged messages; each message I sent asking more questions that might provide proof that I had found the woman who gave birth to my sister sixty years ago. It was late on Sunday night when I received a message giving me the confirmation that I needed. I had indeed found Kathy's birth family. I stayed up till almost 3 a.m., just connecting the dots between all the facts that I now knew.

The following morning I shared all my findings with my husband to check the accuracy of my information before calling my sister with the news. I was blessed to make the initial telephone call to the birth sister who was four years old when Kathy was born. What an experience to know that, although her birth mother is no longer living, Kathy's birth family now includes five siblings.

The past three weeks have been an adventure as I dig through boxes of our family photos and compare pictures of Kathy with pictures of her birth mother and siblings. The resemblance is truly remarkable! There is so much to share from my perspective of watching this precious, long overdue reunion. I find great joy in the reality that the very process of redeeming the future is taking place before my very eyes.

Note: Since my wonderful experience with Kathy, I have had the opportunity to help two of our friends, also adoptees, begin the work of  redeeming the future. 

*Amended Birth Certificate: A term used to refer to the new birth certificate that is issued for an adopted child after an adoption becomes final, which shows the new name of the adopted child and the adoptive parents as the parents of the child, as though they are the biological parents. This new birth certificate is placed in the public records in place of the child's original birth certificate. The original birth certificate is then stored in a separate secure location that is not accessible to the public, and may be viewed only by court order. (From http://glossary.adoption.com)

***UPDATEKathy's sister, Connie, flew out from Texas this past week to meet all of the family.  We had a wonderful time welcoming her into the clan, and looking at pictures she brought along.  It was absolutely amazing to see the family resemblance even into the third generation!

The photo shows three generations of Redfern~Goodrell~Briggs~Robinson families, including the Hardwick~Doolittle~Warner families!

Top row: Tony, niece Kelly and her son, Tyler 
Middle row: the sisters ~ Kathy, Connie and Bonnie
Front row: our daughter, Amy, and her daughter, Kaitlyn; Niece Kara, and her daughters, Cameron and Brooklyn

Valentine's Day 2011

His%2Bslot%2Bis%2Bfull.jpg

While we were dating in college, Tony made me a beautiful wooden clock. Beside the fact that it was handmade ~ for me, by him ~ what melted my heart was the poem he decoupaged on the face of the clock.

It was then I knew I had found a safe place to love and be loved. The words of that poem are just as meaningful on this Valentine's Day as they were some 40 years ago ~

A friend is one to whom
you can pour out the contents of your heart ~
chaff and grain alike.
Knowing that the gentlest of hands
will take and sift it, keep what is worth keeping,
and with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away.

So today, I celebrate love:

  • A love that embraces and forgives.
  • A love that sacrifices for the highest good of the one loved.
  • A love that knows the past and chooses to stay around to redeem the future.

Happy Valentine's Day to all who know this transforming love!

Acceptable Sins

I find it interesting when I hear individuals in the faith community discuss sin. It is usually not every sin that is discussed. Just certain ones. Case in point ...

We have a dear friend who recently married. He lives quite far from here so we were not able to attend the wedding. I mention that because if we had been present at the wedding, we most likely would have noticed the baby bump under the bride's wedding attire. Last week, we received a message from him, confessing his sin of having sex with his fiance before marriage, and announcing that he would soon be a father. He noted that he withheld this information from us because he was ashamed to share it with us, that we may think less of him.

Did he sin? Definitely ~ and I can give you chapter and verse ~ Galatians 5:19. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, ...

Is he forgiven? Absolutely ~ by God and by us. And our love for him is not diminished by his sin. Quite honestly, in our eyes, our friend is not defined by his sin of immorality but by his heart of contrition.

Here is what I find interesting. There is a comma at the end of the verse I quoted above. The comma says that the list keeps going into verses 20 and 21. Here is the complete list of sins noted in Galatians 5:19-21 ~ works of the flesh, as Paul calls them.

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.

In Christ, there is no hierarchy of sin. Whether it is babies conceived out of wedlock, angry words spoken at a spouse, an unwillingness to forgive that leads to divisions and estrangement, a heart of jealousy, or materialism (ie, idolatry). These are all works of the flesh. Missing the mark. Unholy behaviors. Sin.

Paul adds to that list in 2 Cor. 12:20 ~ quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.

Why are we so biased toward one sin and not the others? Is it any less sinful to talk about the young couple who obviously had to get married than it is to conceive a child out of wedlock?

In the eyes of a holy God, there are no acceptable sins. Even our biases increase the strife and division among us. Jesus tells us in Matthew 7 ~

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, Let me take the speck out of your eye, when there is the log in your own eye ... first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
Logging.jpg

Living in a redemptive community means we are not deceived into thinking that there are acceptable sins. Redeeming the future begins with the humbling and hard work of logging ~ getting my own heart and life in line with what God desires.

We are All in the Same Boat

I began this New Year's Eve morning by reading a wonderful note from my cousin. Looking ahead to the coming year, Janey shared a few lines from the inspirational writing of Sue Monk Kidd. As I looked up the quote and read the entire piece by Kidd, I found her words convicting and compelling as I contemplate the coming new year.

On a bitter night in January, I sit on a train that rumbles away from the airport in Atlanta ... I'm supposed to be flying home to South Carolina, but minutes before my departure, the entire airport closed because of an impending ice storm ...
It's a long ride ... Soon there are only three of us. A middle-aged woman sits across from me. I look at her for the first time and notice that she's crying. As she wipes tears with the back of her hand, her gaze lingers on my face ... She's asking for my attention.
... I feel sad for her, but what can I do? She's carrying her own troubles and I can't fix them ... I look away from her, retreating into the murmur of the train. Quietly, uncomfortably unavailable.
... The second night she comes powerfully into my dreams. She sits across from me, this time in a rowboat. Her tears gush over the tiny precipice of her eyelids like waterfalls. The boat is filling up with this sad water, and I realize that if I don't do something, we're going to sink. Both of us ...
The dream cracks my heart, and I wake with solemn wonder, reunited with an old truth:
bailing+out+life+boat.jpg
People with profound human needs and suffering do not, as I have half-imagined and half-wished, travel in a boat separate than mine. In ways I have scarcely appreciated, we are all in the same boat, and I can't be unavailable to their suffering without jeopardizing my own soul. We will sink together or we will float together.

Excerpted from Firstlight: The Early Inspirational Writings of Sue Monk Kidd, Guideposts Books, 2006

Similarly, Jesus spoke of the opportunity to share in the sufferings of others in Luke 10:30-34 ~

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he say him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 

I am moved by the words Martin Luther King, Jr., in response to Jesus' Parable of the Good Samaritan ~

The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But ... the good Samaritan reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"

Convicting. There have been times when I did not stop when those around me were asking for my attention; times when I may have stopped and merely watched as they strained at the oars. There have been times when I could have, no should have climbed in the boat to bail water or simple sit still to balance the boat against the storms of life. I admit, it is so much easier to rejoice with those who rejoice than to weep with those who weep. But that is the essence of living in community.

Compelling. My prayer and hope for the new year is that I would be willing to be fully present in the lives of those around me; to recognize that we are all in the same boat, and I can't be unavailable to their suffering without jeopardizing my own soul. We will sink together or we will float together.

May these thoughts be more than New Year's Eve sentiment, but truly motivate me to redeem the future that lies ahead in the coming year.

Irresistible Invitation

s-OBAMA-STATE-DINNER-large.jpg

I am often amazed at how much news coverage there is when a state dinner takes place at the White House. The limos. The tuxedos and gowns. The pomp and circumstance.

Everyone seems to want the details ~ from the design of the place settings to the details of the menu; who's in and who's out.

Now we even have White House party crashers who somehow get in under the radar to see for themselves what is going on, even though they never received an invitation!

Truthfully, I really do not find the thought of attending a state dinner very exciting ~not that I would ever expect to be invited. Seriously ... How many pieces of silverware does one person need to enjoy a meal? How much does a dress need to cost to be acceptable ? Everything about the event seems to revolve around outward appearances.

I am reminded of an invitation of a different sort.  One where there are no expectations. No need to put on airs ~ just come as you are. In fact, the invitation states for those who accept, to put away all pretense, forget about outward appearance, and become real

.

Incredible!  

Irresistible!

Nourishment for your body and soul, absolutely free!

This invitation truly embodies the spirit of this blog.  For I am firmly convinced that it is possible to redeem the future, transform those things that seek to destroy me, and find a healing place for my heart and soul. This invitation offers me a place to come just as I am ~ with all my baggage, sorrows, disappointments and fears.

This invitation beckons me to that healing place of transformation described in Psalm 85, where ~

“Mercy and Truth have met each other: 
Justice and Peace have kissed.”

The invitations have been sent.  The question remains ~ am I willing to accept this Irresistible Invitation?  To look at my life through the lens of TRUTH and receive His MERCY?  To accept is JUSTICE which ushers in PEACE? He invites me to come to this healing place, to attend His banquet, to allow Him to bring restoration and transformation.

It really is an irresistible invitation!

Footnote: The original copy of this invitation is in Old Testament writings, believed to be written sometime around the Babylonian captivity, near 580 BC. The invitation is no less irresistible today.

Come, all you who are thirsty,come to the waters;
and you who have no money,come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;hear me, that your soul may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
and nations that do not know you will hasten to you,
because of the LORD your God,the Holy One of Israel,
for he has endowed you with splendor."
Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
Isaiah 55:1-11