Monday, December 19, 2011

Courage Like Mary's

Courage comes in many forms. Sometimes it comes in small packages. A young Jewish girl Mary was engaged to Joseph, a Jewish carpenter, when an angel appeared to her. The New Testament gives few details regarding Mary’s life, but the in the book of Luke, the angel greets her with the phrase, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Wow! That phrase may be small, but it packs a mighty message.

The rest of the message is enough to make even the toughest woman quake. Mary would be the mother of the Son of God.

Mary’s reply? “I am the LORD’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.”

Mary tells us much about herself in her reply. In her soul, she had to know Joseph would divorce her, as was the custom even with betrothal in those days. She’d be a single mother. Worse, she could be stoned to death for her “sin.”

Mary was not only obedient in the face of potential persecution—she was courageous.

The book of Luke records Mary’s song:

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, remember to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.” Luke 1:46a-55.

Well, we know the rest of the story. Joseph was also a faithful servant of God and chose to remain with Mary and become Jesus’ earthly father.

Mary’s decision filled her with joy, but it also led her down a path of heartache. The angel never promised Mary that her or Jesus’ life would be easy. Over thirty years later, she watched her son die on a cross. With obedience often comes pain. But God promises to be with us through that pain.

Being courageous facing the unknown, or what your life experiences tell you might happen, is tough. God’s supernatural power which lives in Christians is even tougher. God promises His strength.

When Joshua became the new leader of Israel after Moses’ death, he had the challenge of bringing the culmination of a 40-year journey to an end with a march into the promised land. However, the promised land was fortified by an army prepared to defend it.

Several times, God said to Joshua, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

Again, we know the rest of the story. Joshua and his men succeeded.

What obstacles are you facing that seem insurmountable? If you are living in God’s will, He will give you the tools and strength to get the job done.

All you need is courage.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The True Light of Christmas

I'm excited to welcome guest blogger and award winning writer Jenny L. Cote today, who shares her thoughts on the true light of Christmas. Welcome, Jenny!

What is it about lights and Christmas? Usually we decorate our tree first on Thanksgiving weekend, then finish the rest of the house. This year, we did it backwards. The decorations were up a week before the tree. We got the tree in the house, but it sat undecorated for two days. Until the tree was adorned with lights blazing forth in glory from the fir branches, neither it nor the other decorations had any "power" on their own. Without lights, the house just didn't feel like Christmas. With lights, the house is the epitome of Christmas.

Our love for light is integral to who we are as humans, and it’s where everything began. Light comprised the first day of creation:  And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. (Gen 1:2-3) Light enables us to function and to get things accomplished. It gives life to plants which in turn fuels life on earth with life-giving oxygen and food. It provides the world a 24-hour clock by which to turn from day to day and season to season.

Light reveals things hidden in the dark. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. (Psalm 19:8b) It removes fear, and guides us along the right path. The Lord is my light and my salvation-whom shall I fear? (Psalm 27:1)Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. (Psalm 119:105) Fear thrives on the unknown, and it can no longer thrive when it is exposed by light.

Darkness cannot exist when light is around. Light conquers darkness.

I think the true question is, what is it about THE Light and Christmas? Isaiah penned a beautiful prophecy about Jesus' coming: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. (Isaiah 9:2) When I wrote the scene of Jesus’ birth in my novel, The Prophet, the Shepherd, and the Star, I took the liberty of having God’s voice mightily exclaim, “LET THERE BE LIGHT!” For that’s exactly what happened. Jesus even said it himself: I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. (John 8:12) But John tells us that, In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. (John 1:4-5)

So many people have powerless Christmases because they don’t have the real Light in the home of their hearts. They don’t understand it. Oh, they may have the tree up and lights in the windows, but that gnawing emptiness of going through the motions leaves them, well, in the dark. If that’s you, let me give you the greatest gift I could ever share with you this Christmas: LET THERE BE LIGHT in you. Let Jesus in and you’ll be lit up like a Christmas tree all year long. When you let baby Jesus grow up and do what he came to do for you at Easter, there will be no more fear of the unknown, because light conquers darkness.

This picture is the best depiction of Christmas that I’ve ever seen, because the reason for the light on the tree is revealed. I hope your Christmas is merry and BRIGHT.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Coping With Loss and the Holidays - Part III

Today, I'm thrilled to have guest blogger Kristin Johnson share the story of her father and son. Welcome Kristin!

With God all things are possible. He will never put anything in front of us we cannot endure. It was August 2008, and my dad was having an outpatient procedure done to remove a tumor in his jaw. My husband Chris, myself, and our three children were heading to North Carolina for one last summer vacation before school started. We decided to stop by the Charlotte Medical Center to check on my dad on the way. Mom had expressed some concerns because dad had to be taken back into the operating room due to some complications and he wasn't waking up.

To make a very long story short, my dad did not make it through this and died on August 2nd, 2008. We were all in shock, but my dad had come to visit me the weekend before he died. He told me he was a little scared but knew God would take care of Him. I felt peace and knew I needed to be strong for my family.

We were just getting through with the shock of my dad's death, when our 3-year-old son Samuel had a tricycle accident at my mom's house. We had been staying with her since my dad died so she wouldn’t be alone. Samuel had trouble walking for about two weeks, which seemed odd since the accident wasn't that bad. He began bruising for no reason and spiking high fevers. We took him to the doctor, and they ran some tests which determined Samuel had Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. Samuel was diagnosed of September 4th, 2008, only one month after my dad died.

Okay, God, you promised to never put anything in front of us we cannot handle, right?

This felt like more than we could handle. We prayed God would guide the doctors involved with Samuel's care and that he would sustain us through this trial. I prayed to God, begging it could be me and not Samuel. He was so young and had so much life! God did sustain us, and yes, at times it seemed life could never be the same. The challenge was overwhelming, but God helped us see His mercy and kindness through Samuel's walk with cancer.

We were so blessed with excellent doctors, family, and friends who helped us through Samuel's journey. Katelyn and Paul, Samuel's older sister and brother were a huge support for Samuel and continue to be there for their little brother. Also my mom helped me take care of Samuel, which helped her get through the loss of my dad. She was helping us and that made her feel good. God is good all the time:)

Samuel has completed his leukemia treatment and is all better. He gets his port out this Christmas break 2011!

Not all stories like this end as well as ours has, but I know God never left our side through my dad's death or Samuel's cancer, and for that I am eternally grateful. I pray for those who suffer during the holidays and hope they will feel God's power and strength. May God bless each of you.

~Kristin B. Johnson

Friday, December 9, 2011

Coping With Loss and the Holidays - Part II

Today, I'm happy to introduce my second guest blogger, my dear friend Betty McCarty, who will share about her son Brian. Welcome Betty!

“Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him.” Psalm 127:3

I’m a mother of three—my firstborn, Brian, and two daughters, Shanna & Sarah.

June 10, 2007, was a beautiful Lord’s Day. We had been home about two hours from church services, when one or both of the girls said something about state troopers pulling up on the road next to our house. I went outside to see why they were there. There were three Florida Highway Patrol cars and one unmarked car. I knew something wasn’t right.

One of the officers called out as he walked toward our home, “Are you Brian Gillen’s mother?”

I said, “Yes. Is he ok?”

The officer shook his head no. I then learned that my 24-year-old son had been killed in a motorcycle/car accident. He was on the motorcycle. A car had pulled out in front of him. They tried to make it sound as if it were his fault because he was going too fast. Some of our family and friends were angry at the girl who’d pulled out in front of him. I have learned you don’t have to “blame” anyone. Sometimes things just happen.

Soon afterwards, I made a call to a member of the church I attended. I also called friends from the two previous churches where I’d been a member before. I asked them all to pray for us. In the midst of the grief and turmoil, I knew we would need God’s help to get through this. I will never understand people turning their back on God when they need him the most. God answered the prayers! I can’t tell you that getting through the grief process has been easy, but I can tell you that God has helped make it more bearable.

Brian was a brother my two daughters looked up to, even more after their father died 4½ years earlier of a massive heart attack. Brian was a father, as well, to my beautiful little granddaughter Elizabeth. She is a gift from God. She is Brian with us. We all miss Brian.

One day I thought – what is wrong with me? I haven’t cried that much. I am doing too well. Please understand it is not because I have not grieved my son’s death. I have cried and missed him so much. It’s because my God carried us all through!

Sometimes, we tend to miss those we’ve lost more around the holidays. Their loss makes us sad.  My suggestion is this – pray. Prayer is what got me through the endless hours of grief. Also, find someone whom you can comfort. Helping someone else in need tends to get our minds off our own problems. Seeing Elizabeth at Christmas eases my holiday grief, as well, and my girls help me stay strong.

Remember, tell those you love that you love them every single chance you get. I’m thankful that just two days prior to Brian’s death, I told him I loved him. It brings me much comfort.

Have you ever wondered how Mary must have felt when she saw Jesus upon the cross? As a mother who has loved a son and lost him, I can assure you the pain was enormous but so was God’s grace and mercy in comforting her.

 ~Betty McCarty

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Coping With Loss and the Holidays - Part I

Today, I'm happy to introduce a guest blogger, my sister Teresa Shewey. This is the first of a three-part blog on coping with loss of a loved one and the holidays. Welcome Teresa and thank you for sharing from your heart!

Christmas came four months after my husband Sal died. I believe I was so thankful he was no longer in pain that I did not begin to process his death until then. Christmas was his favorite time of year and those who knew him, knew he was very sentimental, emotional, and had a big heart. He was often referred to as a “Big Teddy Bear.” Sal loved surprises and was like a child on Christmas morning anxious to open the presents.

This is why the grief was so overwhelming that first Christmas. I felt like I was drowning. I couldn’t escape from the pain that had a grip on my heart. I decided one night during the week before Christmas that I would get in my car and just drive away. Then, rational thinking stepped in, and I amended the plan to drive 40 minutes away to O’leno State Park and visit the place that Sal and I had enjoyed so many times in the past. When I arrived I sat in my car for a long time, fearful to go by myself into the woods, but more fearful of what would happen to my state of mind if I did not. I wrestled with the fear and then set off to hike. I savored happy memories on this first of many trips to the woods. My brain stopped racing with the sadness, and I felt rejuvenated when I was through. The pain did not go away, but I began to work through it. I became angry any time I saw an elderly couple holding hands and the realization would come to me again—I would never grow old with this “Big Teddy Bear” of a man. All the dreams we had shared had been wiped away when he was diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer.

Throughout my life, I’ve had a strong faith, knowing that God was with me. There were times I would sit by the water in the woods having serious conversations with Him, asking the same questions over and over. “Why?” “Why does a loving God allow any human to suffer the pain that Sal did?” I had very profound thoughts during that time that scared me; thoughts about the life after. I believe it was part of the healing process and growing in my faith.

Music was another part my healing and I became familiar with YouTube and the availability of Christian Contemporary music. Casting Crowns “Praise You In This Storm” became my daily mantra.

Where was my family during this time? They were right there trying to console me. I appreciated their love and concern. But the pain was too great to share with them. I needed my God, the God who is so good to me, to walk me through it, sometimes holding my hand, sometimes carrying me in His arms.

Now, several years later, the pain has become less; perhaps more tolerable. When the Christmas season arrives with all its sights, sounds, and smells, I may always have those feelings of loss. But now they do not consume me. My faith continues to grow stronger. I know God is in the air I breathe, not just available during loss or crisis, but walking with me, daily.

My advice to others who are grieving during this Christmas season is to find some sort of activity you enjoy and take God with you on your journey. Take it from someone who has been there—He helped me walk through the pain!

~Teresa Lynn Shewey

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


My sister Michelle would have been 49 years old today. No doubt, I would’ve teased her a little about the big 5-0 looming ahead. Instead, I lost her when she was 42, and I cherish the memories of our time together.

In Hebrew, Michelle means “Who is like God?”  It also means warrior and defender and represents the archangel Michael, considered the most powerful angel according to Bible references, and who will play an important role in future world events.

Warrior and defender aptly describe Michelle. As children, she could beat me up, but no one else could. LOL. Most of the time, we got along well, though. I’ve said before, she took me to the brink of trouble more than once with her curfew violations, bending of rules, and her incessant need to try to “set me up” with one guy or another. But let someone so much as threaten to harm one hair on my head, and she was fierce.

We loved to play cowboys and Indians when we were kids (when it was still politically correct). One day, I was on my horse (bike) and shot her. To my horror, she dropped in front of me and I ran over her. I begged her not to tell Dad when he got home. I was convinced I’d get a spanking. Another time, I clunked her in the head with a croquet mallet after I lost the game. I’m pretty sure I received a much-deserved spanking for that.

Michelle was passionate about others battling mental illness. We had many conversations about the state of health care, psychotropic meds, and inpatient health care, none of which were ideal. At times, she suffered with severe depression, and her heart broke for others in the same situation. In one of our last conversations, she said, “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.”

Michelle had a happy, mischievous side. During spells of wellness, I’d be surprised with a letter from her. The paper was usually dotted with her familiar “smile” notations accompanied with a smiley face. Though she often didn’t feel like smiling, she wanted others to smile.

Michelle had a wicked sense of humor. Like the time she accidentally ran over her future husband’s leg as she backed her car. He was leaning in the car window, it was late, she was tired, and she had already said good-bye—more than once. Or the time when she put red pepper flakes on my pizza when I wasn’t looking, which spurred the coughing fit of the century.

Most of all, I remember the quiet conversations we shared. These became more rare as physical distance separated us and her schizophrenia interfered with her rational thoughts. But during the quiet moments, Michelle spoke from her heart. She modeled what I feel Christian behavior should be in its truest form—caring for others more than self and uplifting others to make them feel better about their life situations.

In our conversations, Michelle never once displayed anger toward God for her situation. Instead, she embraced the idea of a better place and life in eternity. She understood what so few grasp—life on earth is temporary. Her temporary life was a minefield. I pray she found peace in eternity.