For all of my brothers and sisters out there, don’t compromise your foundation. Be a Desmond Doss in a world of uncertainty…
It’s never easy to say goodbye to a dear friend, to a loving sister in Christ, and yet there are times when we must do just that. Like so many of you, I was shocked by the news that our sister and friend Susan Irene Fox passed away earlier this week; what does one say at such a time?
Susan’s writings here on WordPress were a blessing to all of us, both on her blog and on Church Set Free, and when you read those posts of hers it’s almost impossible to miss the love that fills each and every line. I recall when a group of us came together via Skype to discuss the establishment of the site, back in 2015. Susan was part of that group and more than anything else, she wanted it to be a place where anyone could go and experience the love of Christ without judgment or condemnation from any of us who participated. She wanted it to be a place where anyone could ask a question or post a comment without feeling out of place or inadequate; she wanted it to become a place where any Christian as well as any seeker could feel safe and secure.
In the months that followed, a bunch of us got together regularly on Skype to discuss not only the site, but life in general, and while I never met Susan face-to-face, I felt as though I got to know her. I’ll never forget her smile and her sense of humor, and her ability to treat everyone as an equal as a loved brother or sister.
It seems to me that Susan in so many ways personified what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
Many who read this may have known her longer than I did; many may have known her better than I. Yet I will be eternally grateful for the time I had for her to touch my life. In the final analysis, I know only one thing: Heaven is a much richer place today because Susan Irene Fox has come to stay for all eternity, and one day we will all be reunited there in the loving arms of Lord.
I have lived my life in a great struggle against something I cannot see. It has been a burden to me since I was a little girl, a dark monster, an unforeseen force that haunted my days. I could never readily identify it, associated it mostly with some tragic experiences I had in my life. But even after I finished recovery for my sexual abuse, there were some things that simply lingered…
Becoming a Catholic became the single greatest event of my life. It was a true conversion of mind, body and soul, a true understanding of obedience and sacrifice, and a coming home party as big and as wide and as deep as heaven could offer. It was immediately apparent to me that it was the right decision, as “Christian” friends left my life and disappeared…
I’ve never been one to hold myself out as a theologian, that’s never been my purpose. God has plans and purposes for everything, and our calls and individual walks are as personal as the maker has made us. When I became a Catholic, I thought my days of darkness may be far behind me, but I did not recognize them for what they were…
As I often do, I began to scroll through my new favorite app “Flipboard” which I have found to be a great mix of so many of the topics I enjoy. If you haven’t used it, it’s like the tabernacle opening for information junkies, news aggregated in one place, and the ability to receive information based upon your specified areas of interest.
So I happen upon a story of a man whose greatest fear was death, so as he explains it, makes himself busy to distract himself from the thought of it, although this was not a conscious fear. He began to understand this fear after meeting with a “life” coach as he recounted the busyness of his lifestyle, his hyper competitiveness and his drive to “squeeze” in as much as possible in one day. After coming to the realization of this fear, he began reading numerous books related to people who lived life to its fullest on finding out they were terminally ill. This in turn led him to face his fear and realize that he needed to do something about it. Once he identified the monster, he was set free…
The story intrigued me in a unique way, I didn’t understand at the time why. He had related to Buddhist theories, hired a life coach and fear of death was not my problem. But as the story stirred in my soul, it was making its mark. What was I afraid of? What was my monster?
It was a verse in Sirach this morning that drew my attention, although I had no idea why.
Do not appear before the Lord empty handed, for all that you offer is in fulfillment of the precepts. Sirach 35:6
The question that came to mind after reading that passage was,
What do I have to offer God?
I meditated on it, researched it and could not get away from it. But it had a familiar darkness, a familiar fear. The question and the passage scared me.
And in the midst of my ruminations and emptiness before the Lord, I asked Him that same question. And then the story of the man who was scared of death entered my mind. And that’s when I realized who and what my monster was.
I was deathly afraid I had no purpose…I had met my monster.
The thing that had haunted me, even chased me, the thing I just could not shake. The reason behind my faltering and depression. I wasn’t afraid to die, I was afraid to die without having a purpose.
There was no human force who could have told me that, no sermon, no book. It was a cry from so deep inside my soul that I could not contain it. The hurt, the anguish of knowing that I had or maybe never would make a deep and lasting impression on this earth.
I didn’t consider the thousands of cases I handled on behalf of foster kids or indigent defendants or even my work as a police attorney. I didn’t consider the love I had for the homeless or the prostitute. It just wasn’t enough of a mark for me. And I paused to consider that although I know my purpose in Jesus, I still felt an overwhelming sense that I had not come into what God had for me, or maybe He had nothing at all…
I am sure that many of you will comment about how our purpose is in Jesus and that my wanting “more” and fearing there may be none is a sign that I don’t understand my purpose. I have read and considered all of the scriptures and have lived and continued to live a Christian life. I don’t believe this is a lack of trust in Jesus, it is a fear I have to face that I believe many of you have but have not yet identified.
I am not talking about being a missionary or call to the priesthood or some other very distinctive call. I am talking about a knowing that God has a specific place and purpose for your life that you know you have just not come into yet. I have been on the search all my life, I continue to be a pilgrim waiting for my Master…
Identifying the fear made my heart feel in a way that I never had before. Like slaughtering the beast, I understood David’s victory against Goliath. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. PRESENT darkness…
I pray that in identifying the fear, God will reassure me that He has a purpose for me. That at some stage in my life I am blessed to enter it and know that the struggle was not some figment of my imagination, but a very real one in the unseen spiritual realm. And I hope for the sake of this truth that has been exposed, that my experience and honesty can help someone overcome their fear too. That God made us for a purpose, that we are loved and that He will not let us leave this world without allowing us to leave our mark on it, for Him.
My son Collin, a gifted student in the 2nd grade, won the county-wide haiku contest, beating out all students in the county up to 5th grade. Collin has been diagnosed with ADHD, a daily struggle for him. We have overcome, by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony.
For the life that I was not supposed to live
For the days I spent doubting my existence
For the pain and suffering I could not explain
For the God I loved, and the God I let go of
For the many books I read about why bad things happen to good people
For the day I quit life, and the day I found out it again
For the God who just wouldn’t let me go
For the child he gave me who was never supposed to be
For the child that couldn’t walk, and lagged far behind
For the child that they told me would never be… anything
For the child they told me wouldn’t make it
For the one to which they said, give up… now
For all the days I chose to believe God over them
For the many nights I stayed up crying
For the days where I was slowly dying
For the pain to return in the form of my son
For the struggle I relived as if we were one
For the times God called me to move him
For the times I was afraid
For the face to the floor praying, and nights of waiting
For the child they told me would be, was … nothing
For the life I believed he would have
For the Christ child to which he was bound
For the savior who he had
For the one that held me up
For the seven years of life
For the moment I’ve only dreamed of
For the disability that has been his greatest ability
For the thorn in his side that has been made strong in his weakness
For the God who loved me
For the God who made Him
For the God that just refuses to let go
For all of these things, He is, I AM
There are times in life when we simply don’t know what to say. Suppose the phone rings in the wee hours of the morning, waking you from a deep sleep. If you are anything like me, your first thought, upon the comprehension that the phone is actually ringing, might be something like, “Uh oh, this can’t be good”.
You answer, and the person on the other end is your best friend who tells you that his or her spouse just died of a heart attack; your friend is simply overwhelmed… what are you going to say?
They ask you to come over… what will you say?
You arrive, and your friend is still overwhelmed by what has happened: what will you say?
What can you say? There are no magic words that will make the situation any better, and in all likelihood, your friend doesn’t really want you to say anything, he or she just doesn’t want to be alone right then.
At such a time, few are in the mood for speeches, fewer still are in the mood for condescension: “I told him he should exercise more and lose some weight”.
No, they just don’t want to be alone; it is a basic human need. This is sometimes called “The Ministry of Presence”. Presence is all about a person finding comfort in the fact that there is someone who cares enough about them to be present when they are at their lowest point, even though they might feel awkward or uneasy. It is more about a caring face, than golden phrases; it is more about connection and less about reason.
The Christian presence is powerful, it is more than merely the presence of another body in the room, for as Christians we are a royal priesthood, every one of us (1 Peter 2:9) and as a royal priesthood, each one of us mediates God’s presence to others by the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit within us. If that sounds a little too theoretical to you, don’t worry, for I doubt that any mere human comprehends it fully, just know that when you are present with a person in need of your presence, there is more going on than we might be conscious of, for we are bringing the love of Jesus Christ to the situation.
Jesus needed the ministry of presence too. Do you recall the story of His praying in the Garden of Gethsemane? Jesus was “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Mark 14:34), and He asked Peter, James and John to stay close by and keep watch; He needed their presence. As a Kingdom of priests, our presence is an active service to God, one of the most powerful acts of service in God’s arsenal, a service that God has clearly modeled for us.
As you know the Temple in Jerusalem is one of the most powerfully significant symbols in all of Scripture, for it represents God’s dwelling place in the midst of his people. It served as the center of Jewish life, their pride, their joy and their great comfort, for when they gazed upon the Temple, they knew that God was present with them. In the fullness of time, God moved His presence beyond the symbol of the Temple, taking on the flesh and blood for of a man, in Jesus Christ. Jesus could walk and talk in the midst of God’s people; He could literally reach out and touch them, share a meal with them and bring hope and comfort to them. Yet He knew that His time was short; preparations were made to keep God’s presence among His people worldwide, and when the time, His people received the indwelling Holy Spirit. I think it is safe to say that God has gone to great lengths to make His presence available to humanity, and part of His effort is for us to make ourselves available to one another in the ministry of presence.
So, what will we say?
Not a whole lot, so don’t worry about it. Maybe a brief prayer, or a longer silent one. Maybe a hug, a shoulder to lean on or to cry on, maybe the holding of a hand. Perhaps an ear to listen… or maybe just being there.
It has been almost three months for me that it has been dark. Not just dim or lights out, but an all-consuming darkness. I have asked God to lift it, take it away, but the shadows have endured. I can see the sun outside, but on the inside there is no light.
In the midst of all of this, God asked me to make some of the biggest decisions I have ever made in my life. Actually, He didn’t ask me, He told me. It wasn’t in the usual way He spoke to me either. It was soft, subtle, barely a whisper, so much so that I felt myself putting my spiritual ears to the wall saying, God I can barely hear you!
I chased after the whispers like a wild, hungry animal desperate for food, but the whispers only became softer. The prayers I was praying were not in desperation but were now in full belief that God would answer, even when the timing seemed way off. But God said He would, and He did, and now I just want to run away…
The darkness has not lifted, the enemy is fierce. As my soul lifts up and magnifies the Lord, the devil denies Him and his plans for me. Not that I believe him. But Like Job, my spiritual outsides seem to be collapsing, even though I know they are not. When the walls come tumbling down, where then do you run?
It was in my prayers this morning after Morning Lauds that the sky started to open. It is amazing what singing God’s praises can do for your spiritual life, even when you don’t feel like doing it. But today was different. Today I felt a glimpse of joy return to me, call my name, beckoning, we are almost there. It was that small slither of hope that I hung onto like a precious medallion from God, an inch of rope, an anchor. And I followed that into my prayer closet and in praying this prayer: Why now God? Why now in the midst of all of this are you answering this big prayer of mine? I sat back and closed my eyes, soaking in the warmth of the silence, a gift. And He said back to me with a smile on His face, “Yes the timing is very important. What day is it today on the Jewish calendar. This is your answer.”
With the Holy Spirit still vibrant and burning within me, I quickly rushed to check today’s calendar in Israel. It is the 17th day of Tammuz, a dark month for the Jews, a reminder of their unbelief.
Tammuz was supposed to be a time of blessing for the Jewish people. Moses had received the 10 commandments and was ready to bring it to God’s people. But when He was delayed (of course divinely so), the Israelites were inpatient and their unbelief became prominent. Instead of waiting, they decided to make for themselves a golden calf. And we know the rest of the story, the tablets that God had given us were broken and destroyed and we missed this divine miracle. It was a short delay that Moses had in coming down the mountain, but it was enough to turn the Jewish people to worship a man-made idol. It was enough to turn them away from God.
So the month of Tammuz is known for our fall. It exposes our sin and our falling away from God. But it also provides for us great insight into how we can repent, especially in the midst of darkness.
Today, the 17th of Tammuz marks the beginning of the “Three weeks of sorrow.” Today also is a day of fasting, to instill a sense of repentance in God’s people; to remember the darkness, the tragedy, the idolatry- to instill in us a time of reflection. As Christians, we refer to this spiritual exercise as an examination of conscience, something we should strive to accomplish daily. A time to repent, to ask God to help us in the areas we need help, a daily spiritual housecleaning, a learning to see in the dark.
God’s answer to me was this, How can I be glorified if you do not learn to see me in the dark? If you don’t repent of your unbelief and glorify me in this very time, how will you lead others to me? It is easy to see me in the light, but in the darkness requires a special kind of faith. It requires you to believe me.
So I say to you my brothers and sisters, let us repent of our unbelief for the world is a liar! We have the hope of Christ within us, yearning to be set free! Do not believe the lies of the darkness but instead lift up your hands in glory to our King! Christ has risen my friends, we are free! I pray that you will open your eyes and come out of your slumber and see Him in the darkness. This of course requires you to believe Him.
I was sitting in the first meeting of my prayer group, anxious to get right into it. Another check off of another task of another thing I am doing in my string of things for God. Ok God you win, I quit my job, even though that’s what I’ve been asking for; I’m free-falling, I’m doing this crazy God thing and I am terrified. I need structure, I need walls. How can I exist without walls?
So I sit on the couch full well knowing that there is no agenda planned, just the three of us getting together to start this group, to pray, to be together. I moved myself onto the couch and felt myself just pouring out. I don’t know where I’m going, how I will survive, I’m struggling, I am afraid. There were so many days and years of no’s that I had resigned myself to the fact that the answer would always be no. I would live this way-forever. But not really live. Instead, I’ll just exist.
And so I start talking to my friend who was laid off and who recently found a job. We are talking about our journeys and our struggles and there was no agenda. We didn’t start out with prayer or a rosary. We did not read from a meditation. We just let the Holy Spirit guide us through the conversation which was laced with a lot of wanting to just simply let go. And the next words she spoke changed things for me.
One night I was speaking to God. I felt so rejected. All of the interviews were a no, I wasn’t getting any yes’s. Why is everything NO God? And then He said to me-
What about all the times I said yes?
So my friend starts recounting her yes’s, so many of them. And in my mind I started to recount my own. Even now I am sitting on a mountain of yes’s. Yes you can quit your job. Yes I have something else for you. Yes I am going to let you write. Yes and most importantly I am going to let you be a mom. In all those yes’s I couldn’t accept what He had done for me. Didn’t feel worthy, didn’t think He loved me that much.
And I imagine there are so many of us out there like that. Prayers being answered and things falling into place yet we still can’t believe it. Or maybe like my friend you are focusing on the no’s not believing God for the yes, not remembering all the times He said YES.
So we sat and talked about all the yes’s. All of the wonderful things that God had done in our lives and continues to do. And the yes’s filled up the room and the no’s just moved aside. And the biggest yes of all, he said yes to us.
I read a lot about the no’s. A lot about struggle. A lot about the bad things that are going on in this world. But I never take the time to reflect on God’s yes’s. They are stepping stones. They are blessings. They are road markers which lead me back to Him.
If you can’t count your blessings, count your Yes’s.