A Last Time in Oregon

We just celebrated our last Christmas in Oregon. We’ve been doing a lot of that lately—not celebrating Christmas, but doing last time in Oregon things. I’ve always been a person who loved change. I thought of it as an adventure and had the attitude, “Why keep things the same when there are new things to see and do?” At this time of my life, however, changes have overwhelmed me as they’ve poured into my life until I feel like Highway 42 between here and the coast—overcome by a landslide and buckling and folding un12391130_10153993204502448_2673845915001310211_nder the pressure.

This morning, however, I woke with an excitement I haven’t felt in a long time. I remembered that over twenty years ago as I was trying to adjust my active, overly busy life to the fact that I had developed fibromyalgia and had to slow way down I came across a saying: “To get where you want to go, you have to let go of where you are.” I also remembered a conversation I had with God about twelve years ago when He asked me to let go of the invisible wagon I was pulling around with me. It was full of the things that I thought made me, me. He reminded me then that He is enough and as long as I held on to a wagon load of stuff I couldn’t approach Him with my hands open toward Him, ready to receive the gifts of life He wanted to give me. It hasn’t been bad things I’ve clung, to but my wagon lately has been full of things like justice, fairness, and security. I woke this morning realizing I have to let go of those things as well to lift my hands to Him and let Him fill them with the new adventures coming my way.

At the same time, I was filled with a huge sense of gratitude and thanksgiving for my life. It was amazing to me that the first song I heard coming from my husband’s computer as I joined him in the family room was one by Dennis Jernigan. The lyrics go like this:
“For all that You’ve done, I will thank You.
For all that You’re going to do.
For all that You promised and all that You are,
Is all that has carried me through
Thank You for loving and setting me free,
Thank You for giving Your life just for me.
How I thank You.
Jesus I thank You,
Gratefully thank You. Thank You.”

My life has overflowed with things for which I can say “Thank you.” We have incredible friends who we love dearly and who love us back. Some of the best people on earth have been part of our church family. We have been able to host hundreds of people in our home over the past twenty-one years here. In fact, this week we had two days when David and I were the only two people in our house and it has been about eight years since that has happened.

I have been able to share weekly with Douglas County in this newspaper for over eight years. How I have enjoyed the motivation to get to my computer and share my heart each week. It has been such a delight to get to know Becky Holm and have her as my editor. I’m sorry that not only my column, but the entire newspaper is coming to an end. (Another last for our time in Oregon.) I am so grateful for all the people who have encouraged me along the way.

So as I step out with empty hands to reach for whatever God has ahead of us, I feel grateful and have a growing sense of excitement to see what is next.

(As a commercial message, please check out my blog at: https://breathingbygraceblog.wordpress.com/ and keep in touch. I love the interaction.)

5 Things I’m Learning About Forgiveness During this Season

20141215_174307We are going through a whole lot of changes right now. We are moving away from people we dearly love to start over across the continent. Beside the emotions of loss a move of this magnitude brings, and we are facing some other side issues that leave us feeling abused, betrayed and stomped on. Although that is very difficult experience, it is not without some positive things. I’m learning about forgiveness. Here are the top five things I’m learning.

The first thing I’ve learned about forgiveness is that I can’t forgive. There is a tape in my head that plays the hurt, betrayal and ache over and over. It happens in the strangest moments, prompted by things totally unconnected to the pain. I’m going along, doing normal everyday stuff, and it blindsides me. All the emotions run over me as if the event is happening again in this very moment. Just when I think I have a handle on life, it swings out of control.

It reminds me of when Jesus told His disciples in Mark 10 that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a person holding on to status or security to get into heaven. He continues by saying with people it is impossible. Every day, I live with impossibility. Fortunately, the verse does not end there, for Jesus concludes that it is not impossible with God. He says with God, all things are possible.

The second thing I’ve learned about forgiveness is that God can forgive. Psalm 130:3-5 says, “If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope.” This Christmas I am realizing anew the wonder of Immanuel, God with us. When I came to Christ, He placed His Holy Spirit in me, it was not just to get me to heaven when I die, but to indwell, empower, and live through me. He is all of God, the God, who as the prophet Micah declared, pardons iniquity, passes over rebellious acts and does not retain His anger forever because He delights in unchanging love. And being all of God, He wants to live out through all of me. That means that since God forgives, He can forgive through me. As God loves in spite of wrong doing, He can love through me under those circumstances as well.

Third, I’ve learned that forgiveness isn’t a once and it’s done proposition. The writer of Lamentations tells us in chapter 3 that “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.” When I spent time with a friend in Austria a few years ago, we did a study of the word grace in the Scriptures. I discovered that the translation of the word lovingkindness in German is grace. Grace is unmerited favor, a gift of something you don’t deserve. God is always giving, always compassionate, not just now, but at the start of each day more grace and compassion is poured out. This means that every morning God pours out a new ability for me to give the gift of forgiveness, no matter what blindsides me. Every day He pours out His ability to love in and through me. It doesn’t run out, but keeps flowing, no matter how often the offense rises up to sting all over again.

Fourth, forgiveness isn’t about me or those who hurt me, but about God and His faithfulness. Those same verses in Lamentations conclude with, “Great is Your faithfulness.” God is always faithful. He is not always faithful to what I think is fair or right for me or convenient. He is always fair to Himself, always doing exactly what He says He will do. He is always loving, always knows the big picture and always sees beyond today to what is for my good and His glory. He never leaves me alone but comforts, teaches, purifies or grows me to be more like Jesus.

Last, forgiveness is the only viable option. If you’ve ever prayed the Lord’s Prayer, you remember the phrase “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” As if that phrase is not drastic enough, Jesus continued after that prayer to tell His disciples that if we forgive others their willful sins against us, God will forgive us, but if we don’t forgive, God will not forgive us. Paul carries this through in Colossians three when he tells us to put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience—all things that are tested when others abuse us. He goes on to say we are to bear graciously with each other and to willingly forgive—and here’s the clincher—just as the Lord has forgiven us.

How did God forgive me? It cost Jesus Christ His life. He shed His blood on the cross so I could be forgiven. I must be willing to go that far in forgiving others.

I’ve always loved the story of Joseph and how after his brothers mocked him, threw him in a pit, sold him as a slave, he still forgave them. Not only did he forgive them but he told them “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present outcome, that many people would be kept alive.” Joseph recognized that God saw the big picture and never once took his hand off of him. Was it comfortable? No. Did stress ever fill his life? Probably. Did he ever have to fight for peace? Probably. Did things ever seem out of control? Often. But Joseph knew God. Joseph didn’t make this statement the day after his brothers sold him into slavery. He didn’t make it the day he was thrown in prison under a trumped up charge by Potiphar’s wife. But at the time his brothers feared for his revenge, Joseph was at peace. By then he more than knew God was with him, he had experienced His presence and understood some of God’s plan.

This Christmas, my prayer is that Immanuel may pour His life through me in freshness each day, and that at the end of the battle, I will be able to marvel at the outcome as Joseph did, knowing that God’s purpose and plan was larger than my own.

Gratitude List

This has been a very difficult week for me, but yesterday, as I was packing the things on my desk for our move to New York, I found my Gratitude Journal which I began last year when I taught a class based on the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. It reminded me that I need to be looking for things for which I am grateful, for things that bring joy to my heart. A few weeks ago I made a list of things I learned in October. Here is my list of things for which I am thankful.
1. I am thankful that we have so many wonderful friends. We have heard from people all over the world this week who encouraged us, hugged us, and prayed for us.
2. I am thankful for sturdy boxes. We have so many books and other heavy things that right now boxes that will not fall apart under a heavy load are fantastic.
3. When I broke half of my molar off one night this week, Dr. Benjamin Driver was able to get me in the next morning and pull it without causing me pain. He’s great! (If it had happened a day later they would not have been able to get me in so quickly or if it had happened at the end of January while driving across the country I wouldn’t have been able to get to a dentist I knew.)
4. Even with the newly empty spot on my gum, the bridge in the back of my mouth still works, so I don’t need to get another partial.
5. My friend Jen sends me an encouraging card every other week. I have never been much of a card or note sender, but I have found her thoughtfulness gives such a boost to my day that I may have to become a card sender as well.
6. Our Shih-Tzu is so adorable. He keeps us laughing.
7. The red-pepper tomato soup from Costco, added to their Italian meat balls makes a great soup, especially if you add a bit of garlic, a chopped red pepper and left over green beans. It also comes together really fast so if mealtime sneaks up on you, you can still pull it off and people will think you’re a gourmet cook.
8. I am thankful for the many wonderful praise songs that are out there to lift our spirits and focus our hearts on what is really important. Pulling up praise music on Youtube and having not only the songs, but the beautiful images fill our television screen puts so much into perspective.
9. Facebook can be a pain, but more often it is a blessing. This week I watched my cousin’s great-granddaughters—eight month old twin girls—giggle as they took turns touching each others faces. It was so darling that I couldn’t help giggling too.
10. My nephew Ian was able to help me set up a blog at https://breathingbygraceblog.wordpress.com which is something I’ve wanted to do for a while. (And here you are!)fireplacee
11. Our fireplace has been such a blessing during this cold, rainy weather. I love the cheer it brings as the flames dance across the logs.
12. The patio that World Changers put in our back yard has been wonderful during this rainy weather as well. When I take the dog out to do his business I no longer have to wade through mud or wet grass. Only Winston does. (We named our dog Winston so when we move to New York we can take Winston with us!) And he is small enough that I can pick him up and dry him off when he’s ready to come inside.
13. We went to the Winston Middle School on Tuesday to watch our neighbor play basketball. He’s on the seventh grade team. The JoLane White team beat them, but he and several others on our team show great potential. I think they will be terrific players as they get older.
14. I am coming to the point where I can be grateful for the huge trials before us at the moment, for they are giving me an opportunity to live out what I’ve always said I believed—that God is good all the time and only does things in my life for my good and His glory. He IS in total control of my life AND I can trust Him completely.
15. I’m thankful for the opportunity I’ve had over the past nine years to share my life with the readers of Douglas County News. I’m not sure how long I’ll keep writing for the paper after we move, but you can follow me at my web blog at https://breathingbygraceblog.wordpress.com and there you can leave comments so we can interact about what I’ve written (or about life in general). Thank you for reading me all these years.


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Winston Who helped teach me about Rest

Yesterday was one of the lowest days of my life. My poor husband! Not only did I cry on his shoulder, I sobbed. No, even that is putting it mildly. I howled. For the first time I understand what it is for sobs to wrack a body. It wasn’t because I am ill, although that played a part. It was because we are in the process of losing our house, our equity, and our ability to purchase a home in New York and there seems to be nothing we can do about it. I wailed because my life is so out of control and the only thing I can do about it is scream.

During the night God reminded me of Winston, our Shih Tzu. The first time we put him in a harness and on a leash, he got caught between a grapevine and the wood holding up the arbor. He totally panicked, his entire body shaking violently and crying like I’ve never hear a dog cry. The experience left him terrified of the harness and leash and when we’d put them on him, he would stay in the same pose as when we put them on, all the time shaking uncontrollably.

We decided to acclimate the dog to the harness and lead before we tried it again, so we placed them into his kennel so they would absorb his smell and become familiar. After a week we could put on the harness without him shaking, but Winston still refused to walk with it on.

One day we went to the ocean and took Winston along for his first experience with the beach. We got the harness on him, but he assumed the same statue pose, until he spotted a child having a picnic with his parents nearby. Off he went like a shot to make a new friend! David followed him, giving the boy some treats to feed to the dog. As Winston’s attention was full of the boy and the treats, David clipped on the leash. Neither the harness nor the leash have bothered him ever since!

God didn’t leave me with just this story. He went on to remind me of the disciple Peter and the time Peter got out of the boat in the storm to walk on the water toward Jesus. As long as he kept his eyes on the Master, he walked above the waves. However, when he began to notice the waves and see them, he started to sink. It was only when he put his eyes on Jesus, could he once again walk on the waves.

Last night Jesus showed me that my eyes need to be on Him and not on the waves of my life. I am not to focus on my illness, the loss of our house, the uncertainty of our future. I am to focus on Him. In fact, He reminded me on a verse that contains one of my favorite words—well at least it’s a word I like to hear come off my tongue. It is found in Job 42:2: “I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” Thwarted. That means nothing, no one, no scheme of evil man, not even the devil himself can do anything to stop God from doing what He plans to do.

I was also reminded last night that God loves me unconditionally and plans nothing except for my good, therefore I can trust Him. I can rest that He knows what He’s doing and that He knows what is best for He absolutely knows the future. I can rest in him. No one can take advantage of us unless it is part of God’s plan for His glory and our good. I can keep my eyes on Him and rest at peace.

Stories–from February, 2011

I love telling stories. I think you could give me any subject or even just a word and I could weave a tale about something we or some friends have experienced. After I’d called a friend to tell her the latest thing that had occurred in my life, she commented, “Julia, I think God has things happen to you just so you’ll have more stories to tell.” While that may be true, I am a person who expects things to happen in my day that will be humorous or from which I can draw a lesson. In other words, I expect stories to emerge from my day to day experiences.

This weekend I taught a seminar for the Winston-Green community on storytelling. This was the main point in session one. In order to tell a story, you must see a story.

Yesterday was a wonderful day. In the middle of singing a worship song at church, someone tapped us on the shoulder. It was a couple we’d met in 1976 when we were living in Long Grove, Illinois while David attended grad school. We lived with an elderly man who had Parkinson’s Disease, Agate Martin, and this couple, Ray and Nancy, lived with his friend, Freddie.

Ray was in the same graduate program as David, and when it came time to do the class on marriage counseling, Ray decided to use us as his “test case.” That’s my first memory of him. He gave us all the personality tests and finally the day came for Ray to give us his analysis of our marriage. He sat us down, studied us silently for a few moments, and then said, “Tell me, why did you two ever get married?” As the tests showed, David and I are totally opposite in every possible way. The one thing that holds us together is the fact that at the core of who we are we have the same purpose and motivation for our lives. We just express that core in vastly different ways.

After graduation Ray and Nancy moved to Nebraska and planted a church in Norfolk, a church that my parents joined. They were so excited yesterday to realize that my father was in church with us. Ray found my dad sitting in the congregation and knelt beside him. It took a moment for Dad to recognize Ray, but immediately he threw his arms around Ray and gave him a huge hug. Everyone around Dad had tears in their eyes as they saw Daddy weeping with joy at seeing his friend.

We spent the entire day together, going over old stories, catching up on our lives after years of separation, and talking about Mom, who has recently passed away, and what a blessing she had been in our lives.

The most interesting thing about the day was that Ray and Nancy had not planned to come to our church. In fact, although they knew we had lived in this area at one time, they weren’t sure we were still here. After looking up churches in the phone book Saturday night, they checked out a church in Roseburg that they decided to attend. On Sunday morning they had a bit of time before that church started and decided to drive around and see the area. By the time they left the Interstate at exit 119, they realized they had driven too far and would be late for the service they’d planned on attending on the north side of Roseburg. At that moment, they noticed our church and decided to stop there rather than turn back. It wasn’t until they picked up a bulletin and saw our name did they realize where they were.

Was it a chance meeting? Not for one second do I think it was a mere coincidence. Their visit with my Dad was the best thing that has happened to him since my mother became ill. It was a God ordained event from start to finish.

Every day is like that. Good things happen unexpectedly or troubles hit you until you feel like a grape being squeezed dry. You always have a choice. You can see things as a coincidence or as a burden, or you can look at each event and see God’s hand in bringing it into your life. The great things become “Look what joy God planned for me today” and the burdens become “Look at the opportunity God has given me to exercise forgiveness, learn a lesson or begin to trust in Him instead of myself for answers.”Sometimes the trial just serves to let you see that that you have more strength than you thought you had to get through a tough problem or to help you begin to empathize with people around you. Whatever happens, there is a story. How it turns out depends on your attitude.

The benefit of viewing life this way is that it is never boring. Stories began to jump out at you from everywhere. As some people at the seminar saw, in just recounting an event, things can suddenly fall into perspective and suddenly a trivial thing can become a story that adds insight and meaning to your life. Seeing a story is easy if you live with your eyes wide open.