Sunday, March 29, 2009

In Plain View

Twelve years ago today I walked into a little church in the middle of a farmer’s field and was changed. The church was surrounded by fields of grain and was ten miles drive from town. Driving out to the church was an intentional act, people rarely happened by the church and stopped in. The path that I had taken to get to that church was much longer than those ten miles.

I grew up in a Christian family. We did all the things many other families do – go to church every Sunday, celebrate Easter and Christmas, attend Sunday school. Still, somewhere in the midst of this Christianity I was lost. I really didn’t understand and when I turned 18 and was given the choice I chose not to attend church. Don’t get me wrong, I believed in God and believed that He was real. I just didn’t feel any real need for structured religion. I was a good person and that should be enough. But something was missing.

For years I had felt like God was pursuing me. I could pinpoint people in my life that seemed to be there for a purpose. First there was Dallas, my fourth grade friend, who took me to her church for Bible Crusades. Then Laurie who lived across the hall from me at Colorado State University; she invited me to join her for dinner my first night on campus. She, too, took me to church, a David Meece concert, and she told me “Let Jesus be your boyfriend.” Honestly, as an 18 year old that had no experience with boys I didn’t want Jesus as my boyfriend, I wanted the real thing. And later Jennifer, my coworker at Kay-Bee Toys would speak to me of Jesus and His love.

By 1997 I had been living in Oregon for 3 years because I felt like I needed a change. It was a change for sure. I went from Colorado where it is said that people can enjoy 360 days a year of sunshine to Oregon where it is said that people can enjoy 360 days of rain. The big change I anticipated didn’t happen all at once. It was only years later that I began to see most of the change. Life at the time was a full time job during the week, a part time job evenings and weekends, and full time school work as I pursued my bachelor’s degree. I was exhausted and pretty miserable much of the time.

I had a friend at work, though, who was bubbling over with enthusiasm for a church she and her husband had begun attending. I was lost and was questioning and Jan patiently answered my questions. One morning over coffee at work she invited me to join her at church sometime and almost fell out of her chair when I said, “How about this Sunday?” I wanted to see what this church was all about.

That Sunday she and her husband picked me up and we drove ten miles out in the country. There was Plainview. It was a little white church building surrounded by fields that were just beginning to explode with their summer crops. I enjoyed the service and was enthralled by the simple statement from the pastor that our relationship with Jesus needed to be vertical, we needed to keep our eyes on him. Two weeks later when Jan asked me to attend the church’s Easter Program I agreed.

It was a Saturday night around 8pm. The church was dark and the program started with Jesus in the manger. “Hah, wrong holiday,” was all I could think. But that program started with His birth and ended with the actor being crucified on the cross. As I watched I began to see the Bible stories in a new light. When they hung Jesus on the cross I could feel the heat of the day on that dusty hill. I could taste the dust in my mouth as I watched in agony while Jesus died. In my mind’s eye I was transported back in time and fully understood that this act was done for me.
For the first time in my life I shed tears for the man who sacrificed so much 2,000 years ago.

Later that night during prayer I raised my hand when the pastor asked if anyone needed Jesus in their life. It wasn’t until later that weekend that I realized my life had been changed. My life had changed, but I am still changing. I am still learning and growing. Twelve years have passed since I saw with new eyes what had been in plain view all my life.

I still have struggles; the Bible never promised that I wouldn’t. But for the past twelve years I have had a strength that does not come from within me. It comes from God. I have weathered many storms over these years and have clung tight to my faith through them all. I think of that little church sometimes and know that it has weathered storms also, both physical and spiritual. Still it stands strong because the people of that church love and trust God. I want to be like that church, standing strong because of my love and trust in God.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Fireflies in December by Jennifer Erin Valent

The year was 1932 when Jessilyn Lassiter turned thirteen years old. For Jessilyn that summer was a time of growing up and changing. For the country it was a time of hatred and distrust toward people who were different. That summer Jessilyn found just how strong hatred and distrust could be when her best friend Gemma came to live with the Lassiters after her parents died in a house fire.

Having a black child live with them made the Lassiters a mark for the Ku Klux Klan. Despite the threats Jessilyn stands strong in her belief that Gemma should be treated like any other. Even when faced with danger she and her family fought against the injustice and strove to be lights in a dark world.

Fireflies in December is the first novel written by Jennifer Erin Valent. It is a beautifully written, poignant story that won the 2007 Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writer’s Guild First Novel Contest. I had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer at the 2009 Writing for the Soul Conference and hearing how she came to be a published author motivated me to move forward with my book. She pursued writing this book despite the trials and times she wanted to quit and turned out an award winning story. Jennifer is currently working on Cottonwood Whispers the sequel to Fireflies. It is due out in September 2009 and there will be a third book in the series.

You can visit Jennifer's website to learn more about her and her book. And, I highly recommend you go to your local bookstore and buy her book.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Cherish Life

In my friend’s office is a great picture taken on her wedding day. She and her new husband are in a beautiful old car. On one side her head and upper body are through the window and she has her arm outstretched and a magnificent smile on her face. On the other is her husband looking handsome and happy with a smile to match hers. That day they joined their lives together and faced the future.

Two days later her new husband became very ill; he had cancer and was given only six months to live. Nine years later her husband is still here although he has been very sick much of the time. There have been times over the years she thought she would lose him. There have been times when he has been unable to talk or move his hands. Nine years they have been married and for nine years they have faced his possible death each and every day. Thankfully at this time he is doing pretty well.

She revealed their story to me recently during a dinner out. I was surprised to say the least. As we talked she said to me, “I am so grateful that I have found someone like my husband to share my life with. And I have learned to cherish every day because I never know if it will be his last.”

Cherish every day, what awesome advice. Not all of us face such a vivid daily reminder of how fragile and fleeting life is and so we forget to cherish. I know I do. I forget to cherish the moments with my dad and with my siblings. I forget to cherish the amazing world God has surrounded me with. I forget that each day could be mine or my loved one’s last.

Today I am looking at life differently. I want to challenge you to join me in that. Don’t wait until something so terrible reminds you; cherish what God has given you.