Tuesday, November 17, 2015

In the Words of Willie Nelson--"On the Road Again"

We have come so far in almost 3 years! Tomorrow, November 18, 2015, Rodney and I will leave for Houston for tests at MD Anderson. I was scrolling through my blog and was reminded of a BIG trip to Houston when we went for surgery. God is so amazing and has done SO much since May 2013. This week we will see the same doctors from the story below. Pray for us as we travel and pray for our doctors as they guide us. Pray for our boys as they are in the loving care of family!

You all have been, and continue to be, such a blessing to our family! Thank you for your prayers and encouragement! We expect miracles! LIVING AS IF!!

May 2013

This is a big week for the Jackson crew.  We have checked off our final round of Power Aide (hear the angels sing?!?) and now we move to the next phase of attack---surgery. Wow! By the time I am done I am going to have more scars on my body than a road map of Texas, but if that is what it takes to kick this nuisance, then so be it. I will be a personally monogrammed map of triumph!

Your prayers and encouragement have sustained us on this rocky road. It is an amazing thing to look back over the past 6 months of struggle with this and honestly be able to say that I have cried more tears of amazement than tears of sadness. You have loved us, fed us, covered for us, supported us, and prayed for us. If it isn't too much to ask, we'd love to solicit your prayers for the needs that lie ahead.

Wednesday morning I will leave for MD Anderson. Rodney is giving his Chemistry End-Of-Course exam (big state test) and doesn't want run out on his kids who have worked so hard, so he will fly in later that day to catch up with me. I will have labs and CT scans done on Wednesday to see where we are standing with things.  Please pray that my blood counts are all good and that the CT scans show that the little boogers (tumors) got blown to bits by my Power Aide and are no longer existent! Pray that everything is in order so that surgery can be performed.

Thursday morning I will meet with my MD Anderson oncologist. His name is Dr. Blumenschein. He will review the labs and scan with us and give any input on treatment that he sees necessary. We saw Dr. Blumenschein on our initial visit, but he has been out on leave for our last two. That means he will have a little catching up to do on my progress.  Pray that he gains a thorough understanding of where we are in my recovery. Pray he has wisdom in his decision making regarding my case. Pray that God blesses him for his willingness to be a healer.

Friday we will meet with the surgeon, Dr. Vaporciyan. I LOVE THIS MAN! Each time we have met with him he has given us valuable information about our situation. If you remember my earlier blog, In the Details, I talked about the miracle we had our first time at MD Anderson when we realized that Dr. Vaporciyan, whom we were squeezed in with at the last moment as an afterthought, trained the surgeon who did my initial surgery in Lubbock. He is a miracle and we are glad for him! He will make final surgery plans with us and answer any remaining questions. Pray that he is able to remove any remaining cells of the nuisance--each little one. Pray that the margins of the tumors are clear and that the pathology is good so it never regroups and attacks. Pray for Dr. Vaporciyan's hands, his eyes, his mind and his judgement as he performs surgery on me. Pray that God uses him to perform a miracle!

After we meet with Dr. Vaporciyan, I will meet with the anesthesiologist. I do not know who that will be yet, but he has a very important job! The greatest obstacle I faced with the last surgery was nausea from the anesthesia. It lasted for days. Pray that they will find the perfect balance of medication to control the pain and avoid the nausea.

Then the waiting begins. Rodney and I will stay in Houston over the weekend. My mom, dad, and two sisters will join us on Monday. Then Tuesday is the big day. I will have surgery on the 14th. The surgery will involve an incision between my ribs on my back (a few will be broken to get in there). It is a pretty tough little surgery. The goal of the surgery is to remove any remainders of tumors. There are two that have been seen on scans that have already shown improvement, but during my first surgery more were felt on my diaghram. These have not shown up on any scans so we don't know exactly what we're dealing with there. Hopefully, they are no longer there or by some strange chance, were never tumors, but some kind of scarring or other medical mystery! One of the greatest risks is to my lungs. Since they have already been beaten up a little by the first surgery, there is a chance they will have small punctures when they begin to manipulate them. This is one of the greatest risks. Please pray that my lungs hold strong. Pray for success in the surgery- clean margins and easy removal. Pray that my recovery is smooth and that we are able to get home without any bad side effects.

That brings me to the biggest prayer of all. Our total time away from home is probably going to be around 15-16 days. That is a long time to be away from my babies. Pray for our family as we are apart. Pray that the days goes swiftly and that all our needs are met while we are apart. Pray that my boys are confident and courageous (and us too!) Please pray for my family members as they take care of my kids and for their teachers as they take care of them at school. And if you see them, give them a big hug!!!!!

Finally, please pray for the next phases.  After surgery, my medical team will have to make some decisions about what is next. It could involve more Power Aide, radiation, or by the grace of God a miracle. Radiation would involve 4-6 weeks in Houston (PLEASE NO!!!!!!!!). Power Aide would involve more of what we've endured. Neither sound very fun. PRAY FOR A MIRACLE! Pray that we don't require any more treatment to have this thing totally beat. But most of all, pray for God's will. He knows what is best for me. That is what I want.

Thank you again for loving us. Thank you for sharing these requests with your prayer groups. Thank you for being a part of our healing team and our lives! Now, let's get ready for the miracles!!!!!!!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Prayer for the Persecutioner

This post is very different from anything I have shared before, but I cannot get it out of my mind. I actually wrote it months ago and hesitated to post it, but each new event brings it back to my mind. I know that we all have a variety of opinions on war and politics, my intent is not to fuel a feud, but to share a different perspective. You do not have to agree with me. I do not have to agree with you. We each answer only to one. This is what that one has been laying on my heart. 
..."But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you.

Persecuted. Women. Men. Children. Persecuted.
My mind has struggled to make sense of it. I have felt anger. I have felt despair. I have felt fear. I have wondered how to pray. I have seen responses calling for hell fire and damnation, and sometimes that is how God disciplines, but my mind could not find rest with that prayer. I keep thinking of a particular persecutioner. Worse than the rest, he feels totally justified in his killing. He prides himself on his crimes and feels no repentance for his violence. He marches across the country slaying those who do not believe like him, leading others in the crusade. He breeds fear. He breeds anger. He breeds despair. And then one day, this murderer of believers, is traveling on his mission of destruction. Like a predator he stalks his prey when suddenly he is blinded by a light. Lifting his hands to shield his eyes he hears a voice, and in a moment his life is changed, and so are ours. Not hell fire, not damnation, but a question. "Why are you persecuting me?" He had an encounter with Jesus Christ. On that day it was the persecutor that died--- to a life of murder. He began a new life as a passionate servant of a God he could not deny.

That man, Saul of Tarsus,  went on to write two-thirds of the New Testament. He was himself persecuted, imprisoned, beaten, abandoned, for his dedication to a Savior he had once denied. His messages to the churches of his day continue to speak to churches of ours. I am left wondering if in our fear, despair, and anger we are praying the wrong prayers. Instead of justice and vindication, what if we pray that today's persecutioners meet a Savior who will change their hearts, a God who will show them love. What if we pray that they are blinded by a truth that is too brilliant to be denied? What if the tide of hate is changed because we pray for the persecutor's salvation rather than their destruction? What if?

Things can change. People can change. Even those most committed to a mission can be changed by an encounter with a loving God.
Pray for the persecuted, oh please pray for them and their protection, and then pray for the persecutioner as well. It may very well be the greatest of all weapons in this war!

ACTS 9:9-22
9 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Off to Houston Again (God Has A Plan For That!)

This week has been one of ups and downs. My kids have had some victories in their lives and some sadness. I celebrated the life of a great man with his family and friends as we sadly said our final earthly goodbyes. I watched with sadness as our world was once again attacked by terrorists and I had to click off the news page as I read of mothers who have killed their children. Our world can be a really broken place. Meanwhile, life moves on and as mine does I face another trip to Houston for tests and doctor visits at MD Anderson. Normally as I gear up for that trip the verse, "They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the LORD." Psalm 112:7 is running through my mind, but this week there is another I have been reflecting on. I  found myself saying it as I talked to our youth group on Sunday. I referenced it as I talk to my son about a loss he experienced that brought heartache. This morning it popped up on my phone as the verse of the day. I have quoted it to myself for assurance all week. "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

As I read my Twitter feed this morning I saw a world asking how a good God can allow bad to happen. If He is so loving, why did people die? If He is so powerful, why do families fall apart? If He is so great, why do people get sick?  

"You know God, they actually have some pretty good questions there. If the plans you have for us are good, why does the world seem so bad?"

And then the verse ran through my head again, but this time it was if he placed the emphasis on the words a little differently. "For I know the plans I have for you are good." GOD'S plans for our lives are good, but there are other forces in the world. You see, free choice in the world led to sin. Sin in the world led to death, darkness, sickness. Yes, He could have kept that from happening, but to do so would have meant creating man to have no choice. He could have kept us from choosing sin and we'd all be living happily ever after in the Garden of Eden, but to do so would have required that we also didn't get to choose whether we loved him or not. He wanted us to choose Him, and because of that free choice bad things began. That doesn't change the fact that the plans HE has for us are good. God didn't sit down with a calendar and say that in November of 2012 Anna Jackson should be given cancer, but when that plot twist entered into my life he DID sit down and say, "Satan is planning an attack on my beloved, Anna. In that evil plan Anna will face cancer so MY plan is that in it she will find amazing joy. While Satan is trying to bring harm, I will show her peace. When Satan attacks with pain and nausea, when he takes her hair, her health, her energy, when he scares her children and husband and saddens her parents and sisters, I will show them things about me they never could have imagined. During the attack Satan thinks he has so wisely planned, they will be blessed by friends, family and strangers and they will see love. When they fear for the future, I will comfort them with provision. When the healing comes, but the tests continue, I will send remembrances of our journey together and remind them that my plan for them is good. In the end their memories of my presence will overshadow their memories of the pain. Through this trial, MY plan is to show them I am God. I am good."

Our world is broken. Man is mean. Satan is real. Pain exists. Bad things happen that should never, ever happen. But GOD, is good and his plan is to take the bad and use it to prosper us and not to harm us. Even if Satan takes our very lives, God has a plan for that.

This week people in Paris will have chances to see God in ways they couldn't have before. My prayer is that it brings revival and renewal to their hearts. This week my friends will begin learning to live without a man they dearly loved. I pray that as they do God brings comfort they could never have dreamed of. This week my son will begin to walk a different path than what he had planned. I pray that God will use it to show him opportunities he would have missed otherwise. This week I will travel to Houston for more tests. I pray that God will once again take my breath away with his love for me. The world is bad, but God has a plan for that!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

My To Be List

I have a confession. I am a list maker. For me there is great satisfaction in creating my daily to-do list and marking things off. I have to admit, there are times I have already completed a task but go ahead and put it on my list just to reinforce the feeling of accomplishment when I can mark it off. Sick mind, right? I will own that one.

This week I was challenged with a new thought about lists. I was participating in a training in which I was encouraged to create a life purpose statement. This statement was to be a summary of my mission--a phrase that should guide my decisions about all the various areas of my life. Whatever I chose as my mission guides how I live, how I love, how I work, and how I invest my time, money, and efforts.

 I thought about it, wrote a few things on my list, scratched those off and thought a little more. I finally settled on one--one I have known since I was a little girl. My life purpose is to love the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my strength and with all my mind; and to love my neighbor as myself (Luke 10:27). That is my mission. It is what must drive every word that comes from my mouth, every action that I take, every thought that I have. Once I settled on my statement, it was time to reflect on how that statement impacts my family, my work, my friends, my budget, my service. It was then that my view on lists took a shift. I busily create To-Do lists each day, but what really deserves my time and attention is a To-BE list. What do I aspire To-BE each day? If I love God, how must I BE in my family, at my work, with my investments and gifts? If I love my neighbor, how must I BE when I see needs, how must I BE in how I interact with others?

Here is the a-ha for me. My TO-BE list is much more important than a To-do list. True joy comes from being able to mark off that list. So I am developing a new habit. My TO-BE list has to drive my to-do list. That is the way to accomplish my purpose.

So what is your mission? Do you have a to-do list driving you today? How about adding one more thing to it? To-Do:  Create a TO-BE list.  Let's check that box off together!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Two Directions

This week I was reminded once again that life is really about the way you choose to look at things. I woke up early to head to work.  I rushed to my car juggling coffee and my smoothie, threw the vehicle into gear, and headed out. I dashed to the corner, braked at the stop sign, and quickly looked first to the left, then to the right. It was then, when I was forced to slow down and look around me, that I saw it. To the left the sky was dark and dreary. Rain clouds hung heavy in the air, host to thunder and bolts of lightning. The clouds held the threat of what might be, the potential storm ahead, the foreboding of rough weather. To the right was a stunning sunrise. Beams burst from their hiding place among the clouds. It truly was breathtaking. It held hope for a new day, beauty of fresh starts, promise of warmth and sunshine.

As a stop sign forced me to be still, I suddenly was reminded that  life is truly about what you choose to focus on. The day held two possibilities and the direction I turned would choose how I saw it. Turn left and keep my eye on the storm or turn right and keep myeyes on the sun. The direction I turned wouldn't change the day, but it could certainly change the way I viewed it.

I drew a breath, thanked God for the stop sign that made me pause long enough for the lesson, and happily turned my car towards the sun. The clouds still existed it my rear view mirror, we don't control the storms, but my eyes stayed focused on the sunrise. Joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Happy To Be Here Day!!

I love the word August. Makes me think of fall, football, and the excitement of back-to-school. I love the number 30. It is a nice even number. I like the sound of it. You put them together and they create a special date--my birthday. I always liked my birthday. It has marked many fists for me.  My first day of school fell on August 30th. My first day of teaching was August 30th. My first day of life was August 30th. But not too long ago I wondered if I would live to see my next August 30th. Cancer makes you reevaluate a lot of things. Birthdays take on new meaning. 

The candles on my birthday cake used to represent a passing year. Now they represent hope for another one.  The sweetness of the cake is no longer just a justified treat, it now reminds me of the sweetness of living and to savor every bite of life. The Happy Birthday song is not just a traditional melody, it is a reminder of how the voices of those I love come together to create the soundtrack of my life. When I open a present I am reminded that life is a gift and it shouldn't be taken for granted.  The birthday greetings of my family and friends bring a lump to my throat as I am reminded how they prayed for me, cheered for me, cried for me, hoped for me, fought for me. My birthday is no longer a marker of an anniversary of the day I was born, it is now a marker of the miracles God performed in answer to our prayers. I am a very blessed girl.

I get to celebrate another day. I get to live a little more, love a little longer, learn another lesson. God is so good! Happy birthday to me! Happy to be here!!!

Blessed is she who has believed that The Lord would fulfill his promises to her. 
Luke 1:45

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Just Extend the Boundaries

As school is about to begin I can't help but remember some of my own school starts as a kid. I had many good teachers, a few that I could have done without, and one that taught me lessons that changed my whole life. Mrs. Etta Mae Mann was my first introduction to school and boy did I love her!

I attended kindergarten in Garland, Texas. I turned 5 years old on the first day of school. For my kindergarten teacher friends you know what that means. I was the baby of the babies. You could only be one day younger than me and be allowed in that grade. While I felt quite grown and ready for school, there were definitely some things that weren't quite matured yet. I have vivid memories of things I did that year to compensate for any gaps. When I'd forget how to spell my last name I would pretend to have to go sharpen my pencil. On the sharpener shelf was a yellow egg carton that contained seashells I had brought for show-and-tell. In my mother's neat handwriting my name was written on a tiny label. I would slowly sharpen my pencil as I memorized the order of the letters I would need to write on my paper and then return to my seat. I learned that you don't have to know it all, you just have to know where to find the answers.

I have other great memories of lessons I learned that year.  I remember a green construction paper kite made as we learned our letters. It won't fly we were told, but it was pretty to look at. I took it home from school and as I got out of my car the kite was grabbed by the wind. It CAN fly!!! I was ecstatic and couldn't wait to tell Mrs. Mann. I learned that the impossible is possible after all.

I LOVED Mrs. Mann. I did everything in my power to impress her. I would tell tall tales about where I lived, the exotic foods I liked (you know, exotic like fish sticks, which I hated, but apparently thought would be impressive). Maybe the reason I loved Mrs. Mann so much was because she loved me. One evening she invited my family to her home for dinner. She served the foods I had told her were my favorite. You guessed it, fish sticks. I had to choke down those fish sticks with a smile on my face! I learned a pretty valuable lesson that day- don't pretend to be someone you're not and always tell the truth!

But the lesson I learned that may have had the most impact came from Mrs. Mann and a coloring page of a tomato soup can. I assume we were learning about the letter T, that wasn't the part of the lesson that mattered that day. You see one of the things that hadn't matured in me very well yet was my coloring. My fine motor skills were a work in progress. When I colored I pressed very hard which would make a big mess on the paper. I struggled to stay in lines. More than ANYTHING I wanted to be the best artist in the class. I wanted to color the most beautiful tomato soup can in the whole wide world for Mrs. Mann. She deserved a picture that could stand up to the quality of the Mona Lisa. The harder I tried the worse it got. I still remember my little heart beating inside my chest as I began to get frustrated and feel like a failure. I can see my knuckles beginning to get white as I gripped the crayon tighter trying to control it. The more I tried to control it, the harder I gripped, the worse it got. I was out of the lines. It was a mess! My red crayon drawing began to look like someone had smashed a tomato on the page. As my frustration grew, a shadow fell across the page and Mrs. Mann leaned down and quietly said words that have forever changed my life. "Anna, just extend the boundaries." She put her hand over mine and showed me how to make new borders for my tomato soup can. By the time I finished my drawing it had a one inch border all the way around, BUT I WAS IN THE LINES! It wasn't perfect by most standards, but it was a Mona Lisa! I cannot even begin to tell you how those words, "Anna, just extend the boundaries" have impacted my life. When I run into obstacles that I don't know how to address I don't give up in frustration, I just extend the boundaries. When I have made a mess of things, I hear Mrs. Mann whisper in my ear and I just extend the boundaries. When solutions are no where to be found, I look outside the boundaries. The lesson learned from Mrs. Mann and a tomato soup can have served me well. I learned to think outside the boundaries which opened a whole new world of possibilities.

At the end of kindergarten my family moved to Shallowater. I only saw Mrs. Mann one other time in my life, but when I graduated from high school I received a card from her in the mail. Inside the card was a red rose that I had colored long ago. My picture was in the center. I remember that it had hung on a bulletin board in our classroom in her "Kinder-garden". And the coloring was quite nice for a kid who had made such a mess of things. I turned it over and found a message written in Mrs. Mann's script-  "My all time favorite pupil Anna Masten". It was the best graduation present of all.

Now that I am older and maybe a little wiser, I see all sorts of spiritual lessons in the way Mrs. Mann lived her life and the lessons she taught me.

"With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26. (Just extend the boundaries.)

"Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool." Proverbs 19:1. (Don't try to be bigger than you are. It is okay not to like fish sticks.)

Today Mrs. Mann is not around to whisper in my ear when things get hard, but the Holy Spirit is and he gently whispers encouragement and advice when I am still enough to listen.

Sometimes the harder I try to control things, the worse I make them. Rather than gripping harder to try to manage things, sometimes the power comes in letting go. Don't cling tighter to problems, lighten your grip! Let the Father place his hands over yours and show you how to navigate through the problem.

It is back to school time, but not just for kids. Maybe my lessons learned in kindergarten apply to you today. Are you having a hard time staying in the lines? Has your life become a mess? Does it seem impossible? Hear the soft whisper?

 Just extend the boundaries!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

She Believed She Could...

Today I spent the day in a hospital waiting room as a sweet friend of mine had surgery. As I passed the time I read a little, surfed the web a little, and prayed a lot. The mixture of those things brought me to an a-ha moment. I guess I was finally still enough for one!

Have you ever heard the phrase, "She believed she could so she did"? I noticed it in several places today. I saw it on jewelry, on a plaque and on Pinterest. I think I have even posted it somewhere before.  At first glance I didn't think much about it, but the more I saw it the more I got to thinking about it. SHE believed SHE could so SHE did. How sad that SHE was in it alone. I get it, you have to believe in yourself to accomplish things. I agree. But the more I thought about the phrase the more a little thought started to turn in my head. I am SHE, but there have been ALOT of things in my life that I couldn't do, even though I wanted to. Among them, I couldn't cure myself of cancer. I remember when I was first diagnosed scrambling in my mind to come up with a solution. Something I could do to cure myself. I read every book I could find. I scoured websites for ideas. I thought that if I found just the right thing I could bring a cure, but believing in myself to come up with a solution just wasn't enough. As I remembered those days, the phrase begin to shift. You see it wasn't believing in me that brought healing in my life. I found myself thinking, "She believed HE could so HE did." That was the secret. We have been sold a pack of lies that if we believe in ourselves we can do anything. That if we set our minds to things we can achieve, but that is a lonely, defeating, disappointing way to approach life. We have a Father who is bigger and stronger that is the one who truly impacts change in our lives. We don't have to believe in OURSELVES, we have to believe in HIM!
God's power in our lives is amazing when we believe. Mathew 9:29 says, "According to your faith will it be done to you."  She believed HE could so HE did. The bigger our belief, the bigger the response. We have to believe in HIM. Then, and only then, can we count on the promise of Matthew 17:20, "Nothing will be impossible for you."
But what about when our faith tank is low? What about times we struggle with unbelief?   I love Mark 9:24, "Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" God let's us ask for him to help us believe. (I can't even begin to tell you how many times I have cried that out in the last three years!)

I don't know about you, but I get tired of struggling sometimes. I get tired of trying to work things out on my own. I think the quiet whispers of the waiting room were coming through loud and clear, "She believed HE could so HE did." I am grateful it isn't dependent on me, because I CAN'T DO IT!  But I am so grateful for a God who can. My prayer? I believe, help me overcome by belief so that the impossible can be done!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

A Wise Man's Words

Happy Birthday, America! Today we will celebrate our independence. People across our nation will barbeque, enjoy their family and friends, and end the day by lighting the sky with fireworks. We celebrate our independence, our freedom, our nation. But the very things we celebrate today are some of the things that also separate us at times. Our independence. Our freedom. Our government. The past few weeks have been filled with controversy in our country to say the very least. Governmental decisions regarding gay marriage, confederate flags, posting of the ten commandments have created a tsunami of comments on the social media shorelines. One man's freedom and independence imposes on another's. It would seem our government is failing and our nation if filling with hate. As I have tried to keep my head above the flood of responses and opinions, I have searched for direction to safety. I came across the words of a very wise man. They were written long ago in a language that might not seem relevant to all readers of this day and age. I decided see how they might sound if they were translated into modern language. Would they still have meaning today for our struggling nation? You decide.

"The struggles we have with one another over events we disagree on seems proof to me that there is a lot lacking in human understanding. We each desire to live in a country where there is political wisdom and freedom. We look on the news and see countries all around us who have different forms of government that have failed and are failing. We find no others that have guiding systems suitable to our circumstances, yet we complain about the functioning of our own government. In this situation, searching in the dark for political truth and a strong government, how has it happened that we have not once thought of humbly praying to God to guide our understandings? Do you remember 9-11, when we were a nation with a heightened sense of vulnerability? We had churches packed with people praying for divine protection. Strangers who disagreed on race, religion, sexual orientation all came together and our prayers were heard. They were graciously answered and our nation, for a brief moment, seemed stronger in our weakness. All of us who engaged in that time can testify to the power of a God who is in our favor. Our country if full of examples of God's answers to prayer. Because of his past blessings on our people, we live in a place where we can today ask for his guidance for our nation. Our forefathers assured us of that religious freedom. Have we forgotten the God on whom this nation was built? Have we ignored that powerful friend? The longer I live, the more evidence I can see of this truth --- that God cares about the concerns of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his attention, then how is it possible that a nation can stay strong without his aid? The bible is clear that "except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain." I believe this; and I also believe that without his blessing and help, we shall fail as a country just like the great empires before us. We will be divided by our personal interests and agendas; we will be unable to accomplish things and eventually America will go down in the history books as a failed country, victim of that which has ruined so many others. We give way to human wisdom which will eventually lead to war and conquest.
On this 4th of July, I am begging you, my brothers and sisters, to seek the heavenly father's blessings. Start your days in prayer for our country. Pray for our government leaders as they make decisions about our country. Do not forget the guidance of the one who gives us strength."

It still seems like sage advice to me. How about you? The original words were pinned by Benjamin Franklin in 1787. It was written during the Constitutional Convention when they had seemed to reach a deadlock on our government. Mr. Franklin seemed to recognize that without divine intervention our country would fail. There were people then, as their are people now, who believe there is no need for prayer or God. I would suggest that a nation without God truly is a nation without a prayer.

As you celebrate Independence day, don't forget to pray to the father of heavenly lights. Ask God to once again bless our nation. Remember the days after 9-11 when we were a united nation; a nation not separated by hate and political viewpoints. My constant prayer in my own life is that I don't have to be in a crisis like cancer to be close to God. I pray the same for our country. I pray we we will gladly, willingly, eagerly take a knee rather than falling to them in fear and despair.

God Bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Thru the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home.

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The original Benjamin Franklin speech:

The small progress we have made after 4 or five weeks close attendance & continual reasonings with each other,”our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes and ays, is methinks a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the Human Understanding. We indeed seem to feel our own want of political wisdom, some we have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of Government, and examined the different forms of those Republics which having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution now no longer exist. And we have viewed Modern States all round Europe, but find none of their Constitutions suitable to our circumstances.
In this situation of this Assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the Contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection. ”Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth- that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that "except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it." I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments be Human Wisdom and leave it to chance, war and conquest.
I therefore beg leave to move, that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of the City be requested to officiate in that service.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

In the Silence

There are moments in life that take your breath away. Moments when all you hear is the pounding of your heart, the drawing of your breath. In those moments there are no words to speak, no way to communicate the aching of your soul. You search for answers. You look for words of comfort. You seek explanations and solutions, but sometimes there is just silence. Painfully loud, silence.

Most of us are not comfortable in the silence. We frantically seek to fill it. Words, motion, busyness. Surely there is something we can do. We wrestle to escape it. We struggle to dissolve it. Somehow we must break it. We cannot stand the silence.

But it is in the silence that we begin to hear the whisper. We hear the voice that holds our hope for tomorrow. We hear the only sound in the whole wide world that can truly comfort our soul. We become acutely aware of the one that truly knows the depth of our pain. When we do not have the words, he "himself intercedes for us through wordless groans." (Romans 8:26).  We hear the one "who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God." (2 Corinthians 1:4).  We find relief in one who promises, "Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning." (Psalm 30:5)In the silence we find God. Waiting. We have busily rushed past him the the noisiness of daily life. We did not notice him quietly waiting to be with us. Watching us. Loving us. Wishing he could talk with us. Yet there he is, in the silence. Whispering, ""Be still, and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10)

God is waiting....in the silence.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Bars on Windows

I drove past a beautiful home recently. The yard was neatly mowed and edged, the bushes crisply pruned. Flowers of many colors filled the beds and lined the walkway. The paint on the eaves was fresh and bright. By all accounts it was a lovely home. The owners obviously cared for it and kept it tidy. As I took a second look, I noticed another detail. Each of the sparkling clean windows were covered with intricate bars; bars designed to protect whatever was inside. The bars probably made the homeowners feel safe and secure at night knowing that they, and all their possessions, were protected from the outside world. To penetrate and reach them would be nearly impossible. What sweet rest they must get at night.

But then I began to think how those same bars create a prison. How do you get out in case of a fire? How do firefighters get in? If for some reason you need to evacuate your home, how do you flee when the doors and windows are covered with bars? And while the bars may protect from burglars and bad guys, they cannot protect from some of life's other intruders. They serve as no protection from tornado or flood. They do not protect from fire and smoke. They bring the illusion of protecting from fear, but it is only an illusion. In all reality there is still much danger.

I began to think about how we like to do that. We like to put up bars and build walls to protect our hearts. We like to believe that we can block out harm and trouble; to feel as though we have some power to keep ourselves from getting hurt. But each wall we build, each bar we put in place, is an illusion of protection. The walls and the bars do not keep danger out; they lock us in. They separate us from others. They isolate us. They prevent others from reaching us when the fires of life are raging. We think that they are keeping us from dangerous people who mean us harm, and maybe sometimes they do, but they also build prisons of loneliness. Places that others cannot reach us when our lives are burning around us. In the meantime, they do not protect us from the strong winds of trial or the flood waters of pain.

Do you have bars on your heart and walls around your life? The bars that keep others out may become the prison that keeps you in. Tear them down. Life is not safe, with or without the walls. There are some bad people and situations that may harm you. But prisons of loneliness keep you from being helped by the "firefighters" of life--the people who would love to reach out to you and love you. And God, who loves you even more, makes promises to encourage us to trust him and not our own protective devices.  John 16:33 says, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."  Your bars will not protect you from trouble, but there is peace that God take care of you through the troubles--he has overcome the world. Jeremiah 29:11 says, "For I know the plans I have for you," says the LORD. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope."  God has plans for you and they are for good, but you cannot enjoy all the beauty from behind high walls.

My prayer for you is that you do not let the illusion of safety become your prison. I pray you will take down the bars and tear down the walls. Life is beautiful beyond them.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Life Is Like a Cup of Coffee...

I rushed out the door, coffee in hand, trying to beat the traffic and make it to work. I don't know about you, but mornings in our house can be a little frantic. Papers to sign, breakfast to grab, last minute school needs, and a bad hair day can have my heart pounding by the time I reach my car. I drove carefully down the road, okay, let's be honest, I flew down the road glancing down at my coffee just as I approached the railroad tracks. Having spilled my coffee many times in this very situation I grabbed my cup to cushion the impact. Hand in the air, I went over the tracks. The coffee sloshed, it came dangerously close to spilling over, but being held in my hand diverted the disaster. Onward, ho!

As I continued my commute, the adrenalin from the morning settled and the lesson of the sloshing coffee began to occur to me. I realized that I am like that cup of coffee, bouncing through life in a vehicle that hits bumps, faces sharp turns, and sometimes comes to abrupt stops. With nothing to help absorb those shocks, I become a mess. Pain, worry, anger, and frustration, spill over and have the potential to damage the things around me. It is only when I place my life firmly in the hand of my Father that I am able to take the bumps.  Isaiah 64:8 says, "But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand."  I thought about the ceramic mug in my hand. It was made of clay. Formed by the hand of a potter and fired in a kiln to perfection. God formed me. I am the work of his hand. How appropriate that he would continue to hold me to absorb the impact of life's daily hazards. Being in his hand does not mean I don't hit obstacles, but it does mean I am protected from life spilling over out of control. I love the idea of my life being held high in his hand as he serves as a shock absorber for life's great ups and downs.

That may have been one of the best cups of coffee I have ever had.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Spring Forward

It is no secret, tomorrow is one of my favorite times of the year!!! I LOVE Daylight Saving Time!!! Losing an hour of sleep to gain back all that sunshine at the end of the day is worth a million dollars to me! I love having a few hours of sunlight at the end of the day!!!! It rejuvenates me, empowers me, satisfies my soul!! (Okay, I'm will try not to use so many exclamation marks through the rest of this post, but man I love my sunshine!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Now I know there is an opposing camp. Some really hate the change. I cannot understand why-- what's the problem with losing one hour when you get so much back in return? So I did a little research and here is what I learned. According to Dr. Alfred Lewy of the Oregon Health and Science University's Sleep and Mood Disorder Laboratory, the new light-dark cycle works against the body clock. We all have a circadian rhythm, our sleep/wake cycle. It is based on 24 hour rhythms and is adjusted based on light.  When our bodies absorb light in the morning it resets our clock and we stay in synch. When the sun comes up later it throws our bodies off kilter for a few days until our bodies adjust. Don't worry haters, your body will adjust and you will be so happy for those long summer evenings!! Getting into the light for a few days helps get you back on track.

I got to thinking about that on a grander scale. You know me, I figure there is a life lesson in everything. I got to thinking about the Heart. It was created to love The Light. Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." John 18:12. The grand design was that we would let The Light set our life rhythms, that He would keep our hearts in synch. But darkness entered the world in the form of sin. Our spiritual bodies were thrown of kilter. The world became a grumpy place. The night became long and the Light now sometimes seems to be in short supply. Don't you feel it when you watch the news? It makes you want to stay in bed and hide your head under the covers. Even good people people, people who love The Light, are tempted by the darkness. We need some Daylight Saving Time people! Just as getting into the light resets our physical body clock, getting into The Light resets our spiritual body clock. Feeling gloomy because of the darkness? Get into The Light. Overwhelmed and out-of-synch? Get into The Light.
"This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." 1 John 1:5

Time to Spring Forward, friends!!! 

"You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness."
1 Thessalonians 5:5.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Power in Surrender

"Surrender - to agree to stop fighting, hiding, resisting, etc. because you know you will not win or succeed." (Meriam Dictionary) UGH!! That last part made me shiver. I am a competitive, stubborn girl. Tell me I can't, I'll show you I can. My motto is, "I will find a way or make one." It has been my greatest strength and it has been my greatest weakness. How does one who hates losing surrender? That's when it all became clear. I can surrender because doing so ensures victory, not loss.

Matthew 16:24-27, "Whoever loses his life will find it" -- WInning! Psalm 37:7-9 "Surrender yourself to the Lord...those that wait with hope for the Lord will inherit the land." Can it get any better? I only stand to lose that which I am afraid to let go. Sometimes life is a great game of opposite day.

My life echoes with examples of God stepping in when I stop fighting, hiding and resisting; times when I struggle so hard to make things work and all I  do is tangle things up more. And yet when I let go, God  steps in and easily undoes my knots. I want him to undo my knots every day.

Some of you, like me, may struggle with the idea of surrender. It doesn't feel safe. It feels like weakness. I will be the first to tell you not to give up your power and control to people or things. Don't surrender to defeat. Never let another person control your thoughts and actions. The surrender we are considering is not one of becoming a doormat. Surrendering your thoughts and actions to another person is unwise, but God is not just the boy next door. He is the creator, the beginning and the end. He knew you before you were born. He knows your likes, dislikes, passions and desires. He knows what you were made to do and be and if you let him, he will help you do more than you ever imagined. Look back at the verses from Psalm 37."Surrender yourself to the Lord...those that wait with hope for the Lord will inherit the land." That, my friends, is a sweet surrender.

Last week I wrote about how surrender was my word of the year. I left out an interesting part of the story. Over the Christmas holidays I searched for my word. I looked at all the pieces of my life. I am a very blessed girl. God has brought me through so much and each day continues to amaze me, but there are parts and pieces of my life that bring me stress and worry. As I looked at those parts and questioned how I could improve them (perfect example of my "find a way or make one" mentality) I realized that the areas that bring "knots" to my neck and shoulders are the areas that I struggle most to control. The word surrender began to roll around in my mind. I began to doodle it as I thought about it. I started to google it. I couldn't get it out of my mind. I began to recognize the power of surrender. I chose it as my word. As I went to church the first Sunday of the New Year low and behold the theme was surrender. Imagine that. Sometimes God just tickles me. I surrender.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

White Flags

Each year I search for a word or message that I really want to focus on. It represents an area of my life that I wish to improve. My word for this year is surrender. Not in a "surrender in defeat" kind of way, but in a letting go for victory kind of way. That is going to be a tough one! "Hi, I'm Anna and I'm a control freak". I don't give up. My personality likes to have a firm grasp on the  pieces of my life. I like owning my work, my plans, my family, my health, my finances, my future... you get the point. In that lies a major source of my stress. That which drives me is also that which can destroy me. In dealing with "The Nuisance" I have become fully aware that I cannot control much in life and yet there is a part of me that fiercely continues to try. That is the reason for my word surrender. In the struggle for control I actually have a negative impact on the things I hold most dear. Need for control brings worry, doubt and fear. I have no time for that. There is no room for that in a joy filled life. So here is one of my first writings about surrender.

White Flags

Since 25 A.D. the white flag has been waved as a sign of surrender. It sends an international message of truce or ceasefire. The negotiator that carries the white flag sends a firm message that they are unarmed and either wish to surrender or communicate. The bearer of the flag is under protection. They cannot be attacked or fired upon according to the rules of war. The white flag ultimately serves as a sign of a desire for peace.
Other flags by comparison are covered with markings to represent nations or people. We use them to mark territory, show pride, promote things. We wave them in victory. We use them to taunt opponents. They signify anything but surrender. They represent pride and ownership. Images flash through my mind of the flag on the moon, the famous image of the raising the flag in Iwo Jima, the flag that first responders raised over Ground Zero. I picture flags at the ceremonies of the Olympics, at ballgames, in parades. People are willing to compete for, even die for, the colors of their flags. No surrender.

My life is often marked by a vibrant colored flag waving fiercely over a life of pride and ownership. It is splashed with all the colors that represent things I hold dear -- my family, my friends, my job, my home, my health, my finances and on and on. And there, down in the corner, do you see it? A teeny-tiny patch of white - a small part of me that I have surrendered. But there is no protection under my flag. No peace. The struggle for control of the things represented on my flag leads to a war of worry, a battle of stress. Communication and truce do not take place under my flag. I want peace. So here I am. I am trading in my tie-dyed flag of control for a white one. I am going to surrender my flag and wave one white as snow. Even as I type that phrase, my body bristles a little. Surrender goes against my nature, but this is what I know. In battle when one surrenders, they are giving over authority to one who is an enemy. Someone they don't like, don't trust, don't agree with, will now hold control. That is not the case in my fight. The one that I surrender to has proven time and again that he loves me. He has shown me that I can put my full trust in him. He has taken the most terrible experiences that life can throw at me and shown me joy, hope and peace. He has proven his word to be true time and again. In the moments that I had no control, he showed me not to worry because he did. This surrender is not in defeat, it is in victory. So I pick up my white flag. I surrender my marriage, my children, my health, my home, my job, my finances, my everything to the giver of peace. I call for a ceasefire of worry and stress and under the protection of this white flag, washed in the blood of the lamb, I find joy and peace.

What about your flag? Want to trade it for a white one? Come on, you know you want to! The promise is sweet my friend! Peace! Let's have a white flag parade!!