“I feel like I’m going to die”

Concentrating on the conversation was increasingly difficult.  Though I was interested in what Marta was saying, my attention was divided.  Out of the corner of my eye, I was watching Pamela.

Earlier Pamela had approached some of the Bible school students at the end of the worship meeting, asking for prayer.

“I feel like I’m going to die,” she told us in desperation, eyes full of fear.  “It feels like Satan is trying to kill me.”   We prayed with boldness, speaking life over her and rebuking the spirit of death.

With profuse thanks, Pamela said that she felt better.  But a few minutes later, she was scanning the room, searching for another sympathetic listener.  Soon she had pulled another one of the students outside to pray with her.  Then she sought out one of the staff.  By the end of the night, about seven different students and staff had prayed for Pamela.  And now she was approaching me again as I chatted with my friend Marta.

Not a Victim

“Would you pray for me again?  I still feel like I’m going to die.”   The helplessness in her voice begged for our compassion.

Before I could agree, however, something stopped me.  It was clear to me that Pamela was stuck in a victim mentality.  “No, we don’t need to pray for you anymore,” I found myself saying firmly.  “YOU need to pray.”

Pamela looked distressed.  “But I can’t do anything to stop these thoughts!” she protested.

Taking out a worn sheet of paper from her Bible, Marta shared with Pamela the Scriptures that show her identity in Christ.  “You’ve told us you believe in Jesus, so you’re a child of God.  The thought that you can’t do anything is a lie.  The truth is that you have the victory through Jesus’ death on the cross.  And you have the authority in Christ to pray against these thoughts of death.”

Uncertain at first, Pamela agreed to pray.  But as she claimed the authority through Christ against the enemy, she slowly become more confident.  And as she spoke the truth of God’s Word about her true identity in Him, she became more joyful!  By the time she said “Amen,” Pamela was grinning from ear to ear.  She was starting to claim her rights as a daughter of the King.

Are You Struggling?

Do you struggle with feelings of helplessness?  Do you feel like a victim of your circumstances or experiences?  If you are a child of God, you have the authority in Christ to command evil spirits to flee!  Take captive every thought that does not align itself with God’s Word.  Confront the lies of the enemy and claim the VICTORY in Christ Jesus!

“What then are we to say about these things?  If God is for us, who is against us?  He who did not withhold His own Son, but gave Him up for all of us, will He not with Him also give us everything else?  …In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”  Romans 8:31-32, 37

Going vertical!

“There’s a song at church that I just can’t sing,” Jennifer confessed as she took a sip of tea.  The sunshine warmed our backs at our outdoor table at Starbucks, and I relished this opportunity to sit and chat with my dear friend.

“The song says, ‘I will thank You for the pain,’ and I can’t honestly say that right now,” she continued.  On a recent Sunday morning, Jennifer said she had to leave the sanctuary during worship, overcome with conflicting emotions.  Her five-year-old son Samuel has been bravely battling chemotherapy and radiation treatments for the cancer that’s wreaking havoc on his little body.  “How can I be thankful that Samuel is nauseated and vomiting and screaming in pain?  How can I thank God for my little boy’s suffering?”

Jennifer reflected that suffering is not God’s desire for His children.  Cancer is a result of sin in this world, and God hates sin. “I choose to give thanks in the midst of Samuel’s cancer,” Jennifer said. “But right now I’m not thankful FOR his cancer.”

When the Israelites were suffering as slaves under the cruelty of Pharoah in Egypt, God’s heart was grieved.  Exodus 3:7-8 tells us of His response.  “The Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them.’”

God sees our suffering, and it breaks His heart.  Giving thanks in the midst of suffering doesn’t mean we have to be happy that it happened.  It doesn’t mean we are jumping up and down saying, “Yippee! I get to suffer and be in pain!  I’m so thankful!”  But we’re told in I Thessalonians 5:18 to give thanks in the midst of our suffering.  “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  

Giving Thanks Isn’t a Feeling

Giving thanks is a choice.  It’s not based on a feeling.  Instead, it’s a sacrifice.  It’s a statement of faith in God’s sovereignty, when we don’t see any good in the situation.  It’s choosing to believe that God is good, God is with us, and God will use our pain for His glory.  Can you choose to give a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Lord today?

“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High. Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me.”  Psalm 50:14-15

 Going Vertical!


“He gives and takes away.  He gives and takes away.  My heart will choose to say, ‘Lord, blessed be Your name!”

Under a grove of palm trees, accompanied by the sound of the crashing waves, a small congregation gathers in one of the opening scenes of the new film, Soul Surfer.  Paddling to shore after an early morning surf along the beautiful Hawaiian coast, thirteen-year-old Bethany Hamilton (played in the film by Anna Sophia Robb) joins her family in the outdoor worship service.  With a joyful smile, the teenager sings along, “Blessed be Your name, on the road marked with suffering.  When there’s pain in the offering, blessed be Your name…”

But when a sudden shark attack in November 2003 takes Bethany’s left arm and almost takes her life, her faith is stretched in a way she never could have imagined.  When it seems there is no hope for the professional surfing career she had always dreamed of, and before she can see any glimpse of good in this tragedy, Bethany chooses to put her hope and confidence in the Lord’s goodness and sovereignty.  She clings to the promise that He has a “future and a hope” for her life (Jeremiah 29:11).

“I don’t pretend to have all the answers to why bad things happen to good people,” the real-life Bethany Hamilton says, “but I do know that God knows all those answers, and sometimes He lets you know in this life… God did have something bigger planned for me. What we all needed to do was trust… and believe.”*

“Lord, blessed be Your Name!”

Rather than let herself be swallowed up by the threatening waves of depression, self-pity, and bitterness, this amazing young woman pushes herself to learn to surf again – with one arm.  Bethany doesn’t stop until she is a top professional surfer, competing with and surpassing some of the best female surfers in the world!

“I have this thought every second of my life – ‘Why me?’” Bethany confesses.  “Not negatively, like ‘Why did this terrible thing happen to me?’ But more like ‘Why did God choose me and what does He have in mind for me?'”*

At the end of the film Soul Surfer, after Bethany has just finished an amazing performance in a regional surfing competition, a reporter asks what she would do if she could go back to that day of the shark attack.  A confident Bethany smiles and says she wouldn’t change a thing. The ability to impact so many people with her story makes it worth losing her arm. “I’ve had the chance to embrace more people with one arm,” she says, “than I ever could with two.”**

“He gives and takes away.  He gives and takes away.  My heart will choose to say, ‘Lord, blessed be Your name!”

Going Vertical!

*Soul Surfer, www.soulsurferwave.com, April 19, 2011.
**Religion News Service, www.religionnews.com,  April 19, 2011.

What is in Your Heart?

“We’re going to pretend that this empty glass is Christopher’s heart,” I told the cluster of kids sitting around the table in Children’s Church.  “One morning, Christopher wakes up and sees that his older sister has eaten the last bit of his favorite Cocoa Puffs cereal.  How will that make him feel?”

“He’ll feel sad,” offered Hannah sympathetically.  “He’ll be mad!” added Mercer.

Pouring a foul-smelling concoction of soy sauce, vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce into Christopher’s glass, I explained that this represented his sadness and anger. Then, we continued to talk about the events of his day, adding more dark liquid each time he was hurt or offended.  Christopher had to hold his full glass with both hands now.

“What if someone makes Christopher mad now?  What’s going to come out?”  I bumped the glass and the dirty liquid spilled out.  “Ewwww! Gross!” chorused the kids.

“So what is Christopher going to do with all this stuff in his heart?” I asked the class.  Wide-eyed, the kids waited on the edge of their seats in anticipation.  “What if we try to cover it up or make it smell better?”  I added perfume to the liquid and tied a ribbon around the glass.

“That’s not going to work!” shouted Mercer.  “It’s still there!”

Pour Out Your Heart

As I slowly emptied the contents of the glass into a bucket, I explained that the way for Christopher to begin getting rid of his heart pollution is to pour out his heart to Jesus – telling Him all about what has hurt or offended him. Then, I poured clean water into Christopher’s empty glass and continued, “As Christopher forgives his older sister and each and every person who has hurt or offended him,  Jesus will fill his heart with His love, joy, peace, and patience and more!”

What about you?  What’s your heart full of? If someone “bumps” you today, what will spill out?  Don’t let the poison of bitterness or unforgiveness accumulate until it explodes in destructive words and behavior.

Pour out your heart to the Lord – get the poison out, give thanks to the Lord and forgive each and every person who has hurt or offended you. Then, YOUR heart will overflow from a life-giving wellspring to those around you!

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Proverbs 4:23 NIV

Going vertical!


With a fixed smile that matched her starched green apron, the hostess at the hotel restaurant informed me that I couldn’t have breakfast without a meal ticket from the front desk.  Thanks to jet lag, I’d been up since 5:00am on this first morning of the Fresh Start East Asia trip, and by 8:00am I was more than ready for something to fill my stomach.  I turned back towards the front desk to inquire about the meal ticket. But I didn’t notice the slight step down from the restaurant into the lobby area– until I felt a sudden searing pain in my right ankle. “Aarrgh!” I groaned inwardly as I rubbed the tender ankle, “I’m so tired of this!”

Slow Healing

It’s been four long weeks since I fell down cement steps in Germany, spraining my right foot.  The swelling has gone down, and the ugly purple and blue bruising has faded to a light yellowish-green.  Now my doctor tells me I need to start moving my foot. I should be walking a bit so that it doesn’t get stiff and weak from lack of use.  I put gentle pressure on it and carefully do the exercises I learned from a physical therapist. (Like writing the alphabet in the air with my toes.) But the strained muscles and tendons resist the effort.

And as soon as it feels like one area is starting to heal, I discover another area that is still weak.  As was revealed by today’s miss-step in the hotel lobby.  Yet I know this is all part of the healing process.  It’s often painful, but if I want to be able to walk normally again I need to press on through each stage of recovery.

A friend of mine who’s been going through counseling says that God’s been working on her heart one layer at a time.  The Holy Spirit has been revealing deep-rooted bitterness, anger, and unforgiveness toward her mother that has been buried for years.  “As soon as I’ve dealt with one issue, another issue is revealed that I need to work on,” she confided in me recently.  “I’ve been tempted to quit many times. But I know I have to keep going if I really want to move past this.”

Issues of the Heart

It’s God’s grace that we don’t have to deal with all the issues of the heart at once.  He never gives us more than we can handle.  The process may be slow and painful, and at times it may seem we’re not making any progress.  But as we cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s work, the Father will lead us, step by step, on the path to complete healing and wholeness in Christ.

“Our steps are made firm by the Lord, when He delights in our way.  Though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong, for the Lord holds us by the hand.”  Psalm 37:23-24, NRSV

Going vertical!


941284_plug_3I had seen the airline safety demonstration countless times: “Fasten your seat belt by inserting the metal tip into the buckle…”  But something made me pay attention this time as the flight attendant pulled down the oxygen masks.

The recorded voice over the intercom continued, “Secure your own oxygen mask before assisting small children or others around you.”

That phrase really bothered me.  It seemed so selfish and counter-intuitive.  Take care of myself before helping others, even an infant or an elderly person?

I was reminded of a conversation with my brother during my fourth year of teaching English in Asia.  The stress and isolation of living in a culture very different from my own, far from the support of family and friends, left me physically, spiritually, and emotionally depleted.  For months I dragged myself out of bed every day, pushing on through my depression.  I would snap at my co-workers, blow up at my students, and burst into tears at the slightest provocation.  I was a wreck.

Several co-workers and friends were concerned and gently encouraged me to take a break, but I kept insisting I was fine.  Finally my brother sat me down and told me firmly, “We don’t need you here.  You’re no good to anyone else if you’re a mess yourself.  Go home.”

His words came as a shock, but they were exactly what I needed to hear.  I took my brother’s advice and returned to the U.S. for a season of rest.  My stubbornness in forcing myself to continue when I had nothing left to give was causing more harm than good to myself and those I was trying to serve.  In trying to put on everyone else’s oxygen masks before I had secured my own, we were all suffocating!

Are you struggling to help everyone secure their oxygen mask before your own?  Did you know that even Jesus took time away from the crowds to be with His Father?  “While it was still night, way before dawn, He got up and went out to a secluded spot and prayed” (Mark 1:35, the Message).

Just like Jesus, we need to first get plugged into the Source.  THEN, He will give us the grace to serve those around us.

Going vertical!


worshipRecently I attended a high school graduation and ran into friends I hadn’t seen in many years.  I had to answer the dreaded question, “What are you doing these days?” at least fifteen times in the space of an hour.  Each time I gave a slightly different answer.

“I’m a freelance writer.”
“I’m a private English tutor.”
“I’m doing Spanish translation work.”
“I’m caring for my grandmother.”

All of those things are true.  But none of them would qualify as consistent, nine-to-five, full-time employment.  The fact is that I haven’t had what most people would call a “real job” for the past two years.

In those moments of uncomfortable silence when I don’t have a ready response for people’s questions, I struggle with feelings of insecurity and worthlessness.  I feel like I need to justify my life, proving my value by the things I produce, or by the dollar amounts on my paycheck.

We are a culture that categorizes individuals by their occupation.  But when I met people in Asia, they would identify themselves not by their jobs, but by their connections to others. “I’m Jenny’s mother.”  “I’m Teacher Wang’s grandson.”  “I’m your landlord’s nephew.”  Their occupations were not as important as their “guanxi,” or relationships.

My Heavenly Father tells me that my value lies not in what I do, but in whose I am.  “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Romans 8:15, NAS).

Ultimately, I am a daughter of the King.  My identity lies in my relationship to Him. He says I am precious and loved (Isaiah 43:4), and that He has a wonderful future in store for me (Jeremiah 29:11).  And He’s the only One I have to answer to.

Going Vertical!


Insistent ringing woke me from a deep sleep.  Stumbling out of bed, I answered the phone and heard my friend Jennifer’s voice, calling from the U.S.  Shaking my head to clear the grogginess, I tried to take in what she was telling me.  There had been a car accident.  Her sister’s husband had been driving.  The family was called to the hospital in the middle of the night.  Her sister, who had been seven months pregnant with her first baby, was killed instantly.

This must be a bad dream, I thought.  I kept praying that I would wake up and it would be over.

Less than a month earlier, I had packed up everything and moved to East Asia as an English teacher.  My roommate and I were just starting to find our way around town, getting to know our students, and beginning friendships with the local teachers at our school.  Our little northeastern town was starting to feel like home.

But after Jennifer’s phone call, I was ready to jump on the first plane back to the U.S.  My heart ached for Jennifer and her family, who seemed a million miles away.  In that moment, I doubted God’s  plan for me. I wondered if I’d made a mistake in coming to Asia.

Soon after, I received an email from a friend that addressed exactly what I was dealing with.  He described how his family had moved from Australia to Hong Kong when he was young to begin a new ministry.  Almost immediately after they arrived, however, news came of a family emergency in Australia, tempting his parents to give up their calling and move back home.

“The enemy loves to end things before they’ve even begun,” he wrote.  Though it was difficult, his family decided to stay in Hong Kong, and God greatly blessed their work in the years to come.  “It’s not a coincidence that this tragedy occurred right at the beginning of your time in Asia,” he continued, “but I’m praying for you to persevere.”

With God’s grace sustaining me, I stayed in Asia.
I talked and cried with Jennifer, my family prayed with me over the phone, and my roommate covered classes for me when I needed a break.  As I shared openly about my own loss, a local co-worker confided in me the pain of her father’s death in a car accident many years ago, and I had the opportunity to share with her the hope I have in Jesus.

That was just the beginning!  If I had left that first year, I would have allowed the enemy to rob me of all God had in store in the following four years in Asia.  Even in pain and loss, Jesus brings life and hope!

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble (pressure).   But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Emphasis mine)

John 16:33 (NIV)

Going Vertical!


directionsGuilt took me on a walk around the block the other night.  It was a perfect summer evening.  The sun was setting, and there was a light breeze, a welcome relief from the intense heat of the day.  Taking a deep breath, I tried to relax.  But my route was dictated by my internal G.P.S. – Guilt Positioning System.

Taking an immediate left out of my driveway led me in the opposite direction of our 97-year-old neighbor of more than twenty years.  I tried not to think of how long it had been since I had seen her.  She must get lonely, at home all day with her cat.  I really should visit her…

Crossing over the street, I chose to avoid the block where my Chinese friends with the adorable baby girl lived.  Months ago, I had promised to invite them over for dinner with my family, but my schedule always seemed too full.  Passing their street reminded me of my unfulfilled promise, and I felt the nagging shame of not being a faithful friend.

At the end of the street, I turned towards the lake, carefully steering away from the house of my childhood friend from India.  We had been best friends in 5th grade, but we lost touch when I moved out of the country for a year.  When I got back, I tried to contact her, but she was hurt and angry, and didn’t want to talk to me.  More than 20 years later, I’m still flooded with painful regrets whenever I pass her house.

My shoulders weighed down with condemning thoughts, I didn’t even notice the ducks on the lake or the pink crepe myrtles as I passed them.  Guilt and shame threatened to overwhelm me, and I had to remind myself of the promise in Romans 8:1-2“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” (N.A.S.)

I began to breathe the truths deeply, taking big gulps of the fresh air of freedom.  I don’t have to believe the lies of the enemy that I am responsible for others’ feelings or reactions.  My neighbors have probably forgiven me and moved on, so why do I keep beating myself up about these things?  But even if others still hold onto grudges against me, if I repent for my part and surrender these concerns to God, He forgives me and gives me His peace.

Once again I was aware of the beauty around me – the sparkling lake in the fading sunlight, the geese flying in a V overhead.  There is no condemnation.  I can really be free of guilt and shame!

The next time guilt starts to lead me on a walk around the block, I’ll choose to walk in the truths of God’s Word instead!



1129126_preacher_of_clothesOn a warm afternoon last week, I took advantage of the bright summer sunshine to dry a load of laundry on the clothesline in our backyard.  Working on my computer in the living room, I didn’t pay attention to the sound of our next-door neighbors power-washing the back of their house, until the smell of chlorine alerted me to a looming disaster.

Unbeknown by the neighbors, chemicals from their power-washing had sprayed over the fence and onto my clothes on the line.  To my horror, I discovered huge ugly bleach stains on several articles of clothing, including my favorite blue flowered sundress, a staple of my summer wardrobe.

“They’re just clothes, they’re just clothes”,  I reminded myself over and over, struggling to compose the rising feelings of indignation. And it didn’t help matters that our neighbor was not very sympathetic.

“Well, it’s not really my fault,” she quickly defended herself when confronted with the ruined clothing.  “Your clothesline is too close to the fence.  Maybe you should move it.”

I stewed inwardly the rest of the day.  She’s not even sorry about it!  She could at least apologize!  It can’t undo the damage, but she at least owes me that much!

As I was feeling sorry for myself, I remembered stories from my Italian grandma’s years as a missionary in Mexico.  Their small house was always crowded with lively teenagers from the church, or extra guests around the table, sharing plentiful dishes of lasagna and home-made meatballs.  My grandparents’ hospitality and generosity was often put to the test, as when one of the teens broke a valuable vase, or when a friend borrowed their car and accidentally drove it off a cliff! (The friend survived, miraculously, but the car did not.)

I can still see the twinkle in my grandma’s eyes as she told me, “Well, doll, all the things we have belong to the Lord, anyway.  He’s just letting us borrow them!”

And then she would quote Hebrews 10:34, “You joyfully accepted the spoiling of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven.”

Remembering my grandma’s words, I realized I needed to release my neighbors from any claim I felt I had for an apology or restitution. Asking the Lord to change my heart, I prayed for the grace to forgive.  And the next time I saw my neighbors, I was able to greet them with a smile, without any lingering resentment!

As an added blessing, my mother was able to work a miracle with dye and permanent markers to restore my blue flowered dress!  I wore it the very next day, and unless you knew what had happened, you couldn’t tell where the bleach spots had been!  Now every time I wear that dress, I’m reminded to forgive in the little things, and to “accept the spoiling of my goods with joy!”