Tag Archives: Jesus

The Encounter

This article was originally written as a letter to the congregation of Saint Aloysius church in Detroit, by my brother, Brother Ed Gura, OFM. Ed has been serving the Lord as a Fransiscan for over 30 years in various capacities, including as a nurse in the Appalachian country of Kentucky, running a free medical center, and most recently, as a street minister in Detroit, daily serving the homeless out on the streets. He is a great inspiration of sacrifice, humility, compassion, and love, and I am proud to call him brother. I hope you will enjoy his story.

THE ENCOUNTER

On a cold winter day in March, I gathered with volunteers in the alleyway of Saint Aloysius Church to prepare for morning street ministry.  We then headed over to the Rosa Parks Bus Terminal where we served sandwiches and hot beverages and passed out hand-warmers and warm winter clothing for our guests. Upon our return to Saint Aloysius Church I ended up staying longer than planned as the remainder of my morning took on a new direction. When I was finally on my way, I thought I knew where I was going next until a surprise encounter with a homeless man caused me to turn off my car engine and get out of my car to see if he needed anything.

To my surprise, though, the man had already disappeared so I ran to the end of the alley to see if he might be heading down State Street, but he was nowhere to be seen. When I turned around to head back to my car, it was then that I caught sight of him sifting through a dumpster. When I asked this aged man if he was hungry, he was quick to say that he was. I then invited him to come in out of the cold to warm-up. We talked for awhile and then I headed downstairs to gather up some food and warm clothing. When I gave them to him, he smiled through his tired, worn and weather-beaten face. He then thanked me as he headed back out into the cold. Our encounter humbled me and reminded me, once again, of the plight of some of our brothers and sisters on the streets of Detroit.

Later I thought about my encounter with this homeless brother of mine and how it never would have occurred if I had not been open to a change of plans that morning, which then kept me longer at St. Aloysius Church. Often we begin our day with a plan, but let us also pray for guidance in case our plan is not what the Lord has planned for us, for only then can we hope to welcome, serve, bless and be blessed by those whom God wishes to send our way.

I remain ever thankful to all who support our downtown ministries so that we can continue to feed the hungry, quench the thirsty and clothe the naked.

May our Lenten journeys continue to draw us ever closer to the Foot of the Cross where all becomes clearer as we see more clearly that it is the merciful who know the way for it is the way of the Lord and the way home.

Thank you for taking the time to read my article. The Lord continues to bless me with an ever growing family, now including the people we serve in Detroit. Sometimes when our guests ask me if they could have two hot chocolates or two hot coffees or one of each, I humor them by saying:  “We are having a sale today — by the first one at no cost, and get the second one free”.  It always brings a laugh and a response that makes me laugh. They remain a blessing in my life just as you remain a blessing in my life.

A Lesson from Star Trek

A few months ago, we ventured out of the land of Hulu and back into DirecTV. With our newly found plethora of channels, the family sat on the couch and rifled through the endless list of shows. I happened upon an old Star Trek: The Next Generation, one of my favorites from back then, and was quickly drawn into the story. When a commercial hit, reality set in and I quickly changed the channel thinking my kids must be about to lynch me for subjecting them to such torture. But to my surprise, they hollered, “What are you doing? Put it back!” Hence dawned our new family “tradition” of watching the series from beginning to end, compliments of Amazon Prime.

As you may or may not know, most of the show’s storylines are founded around a current cultural topic which is extrapolated into an extreme or futuristic version of that situation. Entire species of “humanoids” are fabricated from inflated versions of cultural no-no’s, making for some interesting and conflicted plots. In the episode we watched last night, a woman’s fundamental genetic make-up and sole purpose in life was to morph her entire person into the perfect companion for her mate. She was a biologically natural but rare form of their species who had a specific purpose in life, to prepare for an arranged marriage with the leader of a rival faction to begin the restoration process. Until she was married to this person, her life was a constant morphing of personality traits and characteristics that aligned to whomever happened to be in the room with her at that time. She effectively had no definition of self. Once married, she would bond with her spouse and be permanently created as the person who is her mate’s perfect companion.

As the show progressed, this woman found herself, for the first time, finding a version of her self which she realized made her a better person. This happened when she was in contact with one particular person, in this case the captain of the ship, Jean Luc Picard.

She had a found person that made her a better person.

The night before she was to be married to the rival faction leader, she chose to bond with Captain Picard. Meaning, she chose to create a permanent version of herself which was better than any she had known previously, and in doing so, accepted the sacrifice of having to work to be the perfect mate to her soon-to-be-spouse.

The story was quite dramatic in watching the evolution of her awakening and the dawning of realization that two people can work together to build each other up into something better.

As the showed replayed itself in my mind, I started to experience a sense of loss, a longing for a partner in which the other person made me a better person.

Then the reality hit me. I do have this. His name is Jesus.

There is a song by Britt Nicole, All This Time, whose lyrics come to mind now:

I hear these people asking me
How do I know what I believe?
Well I’m not the same me
And that’s all the proof I need

I started thinking of all the ways in which Jesus has made me a better person since I started following Him. When the first couple came to mind, I pulled out a sheet of paper from the scrap drawer and actually thought to myself, “Oh, I’m going to waste this whole sheet of paper on two thoughts.” But I wrote them down anyway. Fifteen minutes later, I had filled the entire page with all the ways He has changed me. Here’s my list:

More compassionate, less controlling, less judgmental, more value in myself, more humble, better at shutting my mouth, more patient, more aware, less destructive, more perceiving, less easily influenced by negative things, more conviction, less greedy, less materialistic, less close-minded, less shameful, less living by guilt, more tolerant, more friendly to strangers, more co-operative, less rigid where unnecessary and more firm where needed, less complaining, more protective where needed, less fearful about: money, jobs/unemployment, rejecting cultural norms, my “reputation”, speaking the truth, speaking about Jesus, artificial dependencies (my home, money in the bank, etc); more ability to dream in what’s possible, more creative, less of a chameleon, better understanding of community, more likely to donate money / more open-handed, less likely to follow old behavior patterns, more loving and appreciative and understanding toward my mom, a better parent, a better co-worker, a better wife, a better sister, better at smiling at people, more health conscious, better listener, more competent in my job.

And lastly, after all that, I realized the one that surprised me the most. I realized that during the show, I did not relate to or align with this woman’s chameleon nature, when in fact, this is exactly what I used to be – a shape-shifter morphing the definition of myself to others’ needs for the purpose of receiving love. A painful and terrifying way to go through life. He relieved me of that burden and gave me a new heart about myself.

If you are looking for someone to walk with you, to build you up into a better person, to remain beside you during your slips and failures, and to stay by your side for the lifetime of getting better while never expecting perfection, then Jesus is your answer. Give yourself to Him today so He can help you become a better you.

Gorging’s Gotta Go

I’m recently struggling with a problem I’ve not had in the past… FOOD! I just can’t quite seem to get enough of it. I’m gorging myself at meals, over-packing my lunch for work, eating those explosion-of-sugar kids’ birthday cakes that once I never would have dreamed of ingesting, thinking about which restaurant we’re going to after church… you get the idea. This is strange for me – this is not something that has haunted and taunted me before. I’ve been praying about it a lot, trying to break the habit, trying to force myself to stop and… nothing.

But today at church, I had a “Doh!” moment. A revelation that in hindsight, seems absurdly obvious. It’s amazing how the enemy can blind us to awareness and insight and how that can keep us trapped in cyclical behavior. Last January, after my church community ended their annual beginning-of-the-year-fast, I decided I wanted to keep it up through the year instead of doing it just once. So I joined hands with my sister and we’ve fasted and prayed together each Wednesday through the year. It’s turned out to be a profound experience for me in growing closer to God.

So why on earth was I struggling to understand why I’ve been having a FOOD problem? I’ve been FASTING which has helped me grow CLOSER to God! Where else would the enemy try to attack me? Well, he can attack, but he can’t win with Jesus on my side. Today at lunch after church, I stopped with a third of my meal still on the plate, comfortably full, not stuffed. Victory!

Is there something that has been nagging you or chronically derailing you? Is there something you feel as though you just can’t break free from? If so, I encourage you to look for ways that it’s related to something you have recently made a commitment to change in your life. When you make the connection, recognize it as a sign that you are moving forward and making progress and the darkness of this world is trying to shut it down. So press in and don’t give up! Identify it, call it out by name, and reject it in your life by Jesus’ saving hand. Then step forward into the victory that’s waiting for you!

What Does Answered Prayer Look Like?

My daughter attends a charter school downtown that I drive her to and pick her up from every day. Yesterday, I did some grocery shopping, then headed straight to the school to pick her up even though I was going to be forty minutes early. Since I was so early, I shut the car off after getting into the carpool line and kicked on my Kindle. Forty minutes later, as kids starting pouring out of the school, I cranked the car and… nothing. Not even a flicker of power, other than the orange CHECK ENGINE light glaring at me… the “your car is so dead” light.

As I searched for the roadside assistance card, started making phone calls, and texted my husband who was just about to board a flight to Texas, the chaos of kids running down the sidewalk and cars careening around me died off. My daughter and I were suddenly surrounded by the eeriness of a quiet school ground… in downtown… with boarded up houses across the street. It was going to take an hour and 15 minutes for the tow truck to arrive.

Empty School

“Dear Jesus, please keep up safe…” the prayers went up.

Within 5 minutes a police officer pulled up in the carpool line right behind me, followed by a second and a third patrol car. Within ten minutes, four officers had apprehended and handcuffed a man, put him in the third patrol car and drove him away. The first and second patrol cars however, remained onsite, right behind me, in the carpool line… for the next hour. The first patrol car pulled away from the line directly behind the tow truck as it pulled into the line – quite literally, he followed the tow truck through the line and passed him by as the truck pulled over to help me.

This is amazing grace.

But let’s be real about this. This is clearly amazing grace by the way I told the story. How many of us, when we see a police officer roll up behind us, say to ourselves, “Praise God. Help is here!” Possibly my first reaction to the scene was not to see God’s grace at all? But to say, “Oh crap,”? To start plotting what I would say to the officer when s/he knocked on my window? To start explaining why I was loitering on a school ground? I actually almost completely missed the grace. Once I had the relief that the officer was not there for me, I put the whole thing behind me. But then it struck me; this WAS God’s answer to my prayer.

Are there places in your life where you have missed God’s answer to your prayer?

I invite you today to take stock of your prayers and the recent events of your life. See if you can map them together; see if you can identify something that felt like a problem, annoyance, frustration, as actually an answer to a prayer. I’m learning more and more how to let go of my vision of what answered prayer looks like and see the ways that Jesus is actually answering them. I hope you will find yourself shocked, as I was, that the answer is right in front of you.

It doesn’t have to be that way

I’m absolutely heartbroken by the news of Robin William’s death. Not because I claim to have a personal relationship to him, or that we had some special bond, or even because I enjoyed him immeasurably as an actor. But because of my renewed awareness for the thousands, millions, of people who have not tapped into the source that provides peace beyond all circumstances. Jesus.

Jesus is the source that brings peace beyond all circumstances.

I don’t make this claim because I’ve had some easy foofy life that allows me to walk around with blinders on saying, “peace man”. I grew up with 8 siblings and one union workers’ income – not exactly the lap of luxury. I was a victim of sexual abuse. I had some pretty messed up world views as a teenager and young adult. I had a marriage that was frayed to a single thread, ready to snap for good. I sought, and acquired, all the wrong things trying to find happiness – partying, career, money, houses, cars, boats, vacations. But depression, fear, anxiety, inferiority, and unworthiness still subverted the peace in my life. It was only when I heard the gospel of Jesus and accepted Him into my life that my heart was filled with peace. A peace beyond circumstances – none of those situations have changed about my life – I still was poor, abused, and broken. But today I walk in peace every day, calling on Jesus when any one of those old emotions tries to drag me down again. He has never failed me.

Jesus is calling out, screaming out, to each of us every day. On billboards, in churches, through miraculous events large and small, in the longest running book in print in the history of the world – the bible, in opportunities to meet him – like this blog post, on bumper stickers, through friends, in dreams, even on t-shirts in Walmart now. But so many people, millions, turn away from Him. They can’t possibly believe it could be true. But what does not believing cost? Robin Williams. It costs a life where depression and fear and anxiety and unworthiness control us, sometimes to the point of no return.

Don’t let another day go by where you turn your back on His call. Find Jesus today, and find peace.

John 14:27 – Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Take One More Step

Jesus knows exactly what it takes to get a response from this world. He knows that things have to hit rock bottom crisis mode to get someone to listen and respond to your needs. And He will use it to maneuver your life for His purpose and your benefit.

If you’ve not read my previous posts about my adopted son, you can check them here, http://bit.ly/17HYhoc http://bit.ly/1mIL86X In short, 3 months ago I found a homicidal note in his room about me. This was the final blow I could bear after years of being subject to the behavioral manifestations of a child with abandonment trauma, kidnap trauma, neglect trauma, and starvation trauma. This was rock bottom, crisis mode. We started researching residential programs and re-adoption options to move him out of the house. But amidst the confusion and disorientation and strife of living in crisis mode, I clung to a biblical truth that everyday fought for a minutia of my attention. That breaking up a family could not possibly be the Lord’s will. After living through the destruction that the breakup of a marriage causes, I knew somewhere in a lighted corner of my then very darkened world that breaking up a family in any way would be just as catastrophic. So although I could go no further, the Lord asked me to take one more step, and I did.

Stepping through that darkness brought me into a light that only He could orchestrate. A homicidal note is a crisis situation that gets attention from the world, including a massive response from an otherwise untapped wealth of therapeutic resources available through our county health system. Following one phone call to the Department of Health and Services explaining this note, we have received an avalanche of support that I so desperately needed. A team of therapists comes to my home 2-3 times/week to give Tadi intensive therapy at my kitchen table while I cook dinner for the family. The Lord arranged it such that the team lead for this group is a woman with 4 children adopted from the Ukraine (Tadi x 4, nightmare!!!). She understands him through the depths of her own suffering. After 40 intensive in-home visits, they will then transfer us to outpatient therapy for some unspecified period of time (as long as we need it). The cost to me for these services is $0.00 and will continue to be $0.00. Services that even when employed, I would have been unable to pay for due to the intensive nature of them. Tadi’s progress toward healing has skyrocketed and my knowledge of his traumas has exploded. All of this because of a crisis situation that I chose to step through with faith in our Lord Jesus.

Jesus knows exactly what He’s doing. When you are in your darkest hour just remember that the Lord’s hand is at work. He knows exactly what it takes to get a response from this world and He will use it to maneuver your life. So when you’ve hit rock bottom and you can’t possibly go any further, remember in your darkest hour awaits your greatest glory. Take one more step.

“Christianity is a Crutch”

A friend of mine once told me that Christianity is a crutch. He believes that it is a religion for weak people to lean on to make it through life. At the time, my Jesus muscles weren’t big enough to rebut him eloquently and influentially, so I snickered under my breath and let the comment pass. But I’ve thought about it often. I’ve thought about it as I’ve walked through the fires of trauma, addiction, marital strain, financial pressure, job stress, broken friendships, and more. Not wallowing over the fact that these things have happened to me, but that I’ve chosen to walk into the fire of refinement to overcome them because Jesus was leading me and pushing me there. Walking through the scorching pain of having my pride torn down and my world view radically altered and being stripped of the need to control my environment which felt literally like I was going to die and having my hands pried open to release my money into His kingdom, has felt like anything but a crutch.

I was reminded of this “crutch” comment again during my morning bible reading. “The Cost of Being a Disciple”, Luke 14:25-35

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+14%3A25-35&version=NIV

Here is the explanation of these verses (taken from the Life Application Study Bible by Tyndale and Zondervan):

“When a builder doesn’t count the cost or estimates (the cost of a building) inaccurately, the building may be left uncompleted. Will you abandon the Christian life after a little while because you did not count the cost of commitment to Jesus? What are those costs? Christians may face loss of social status or wealth. They have to give up control over their money, their time, or their career. They may be hated, separated from their family, and even put to death. Following Christ does not mean a trouble-free life. We must carefully count the cost of becoming Christ’s disciples so that we will know what we are getting into and won’t be tempted later to turn back.”

And here is an excerpt of the definition of “crutch” on dictionary.com:

1. a staff or support to assist a lame or infirm person in walking

3. anything that serves as a temporary and often inappropriate support, supplement, or substitute; prop: He uses liquor as a psychological crutch.

Thinking these aren’t the same… just sayin’.

There is no crutch about Christianity, only the promise of a peace that transcends all understanding when you step out the backside of the furnace. Freedom from fear and oppression and addiction and brokenness. If your walk with Jesus is painful right now because He is tearing down who you thought you were, march on soldier, you’re headed in the right direction. If your walk with the Lord is not now or has never been painful, it’s time to throw away your crutch and step into the fire with Him. Hand Him your life today.

Speak Life

I woke up to a great TobyMac song in my mind this morning, Speak Life, which prompts this post.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeBv9r92VQ0&feature=kp

One of the *great* manifestations of my having been abused as a child is to have lived with a perpetual expectation of impending death. This was such a facet of life for me, that up until just a few years ago, I didn’t even understand that it’s NOT NORMAL! That not everyone walks around thinking everyday life events spell sudden death.

Now, to reset the garish perception that I run around with a blanket over my head checking my locks 47 times, refuse to leave the house because the sidewalk might freakishly rupture and swallow me whole, or believe an alien abduction awaits me at every turn of the corner, it looks more like this. A bracing of my muscles as I drive into an intersection waiting to get fatally t-boned in the driver side door (particularly if I’m the first, last, or an isolated car). Turning a string of headaches into an inoperable tumor in my brain. Thinking that ongoing stiffness in my back means cancer leaching up my spine. When in reality they are, unlikely, job stress, and an old mattress, respectively.

So, praise God, I’m free from the emotions associated with the thoughts of impending death, even though it’s pretty much impossible to stop them from coming into my brain. But as I’ve taken that ridiculous outer layer off the death onion, I’m now privy to recognizing the more subtle ways that impending death invades my life.

At one time, waiting for my marriage to die

Waiting for the innocence of my children to die

Waiting for my son to die emotionally, spiritually

Waiting for friendships, relationships to die

Waiting for dreams to die

And the list goes on…

I was just waiting for all these things to die because I wasn’t doing the opposite, fighting for LIFE! That’s not to say I wasn’t working hard on them, on the contrary, I was working ridiculously hard, and then waiting for them to die.

Check out the first words of every verse of the story of creation:

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+1&version=NIV

They all start with, “And God said…”  He SPOKE life into everything. Not planned, not executed, not met with 14 other people, not strived, worked, developed, designed, counseled, read, discussed…

I’ve done ALL these things to an excruciating, painful, exhausting end, and they are all absolutely necessary, BUT, they can only be effective AFTER the life of God’s word has been breathed into the situation. Otherwise, the effort is spent while waiting to die.

Breathing God’s life into a situation is just as simple as speaking it; speaking aloud that you receive the life of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’s name into a situation and you reject death. The spoken words alone are powerful enough to alter your perspective on the spot. God is the giver of life, and that doesn’t mean just at our conception and birth. It means, perpetually and unfailingly every single day. Seize this great opportunity by Speaking Life today.

Claiming Victory for Tadi

This is the end of the silence. This is the end of the isolation. This is the end of the enemy’s reign in our lives to keep us trapped from victory. This is the end of fear. Today is the day I take hold of the multitude of prayers that have been sent up to the heavens in my son’s name and claim victory over his life in Jesus’ mighty name.

My son is suicidal.

My son is homicidal.

And this is over in Jesus name today.

My son is a beautiful boy who has been dealt a raw hand. In his 8 years of life he has born more trauma and suffering and hurt and pain than most of us will ever know in a lifetime. And today I don’t wait to the end until it’s over to tell you the story of the glory of God. Today I invite you into the fire of our lives to expose the presence behind the lie that my son is broken. Today I expose the weakness and untruth in the lie. Today I invite you in to partake in the glory of God in action, unfolding in a little boy’s life.

In my prayer this morning, the Lord gave me a sword and told me to fight. I said “Yes!”. Today I am wielding that sword and taking action to fight for my son’s life instead of sitting by waiting for death to overcome us – death of family and death of relationships and death of hope. I claim victory over it all right now in Jesus name.

Today is the day for Tadi. I invite you to stand with me.

Our King

My 4th grade daughter was given an assignment at school to write a poem that started with “Lift every voice and sing” and ends with “Let us march on till victory is won”.  This is what she wrote:

Lift every voice and sing

Till earth and heaven ring

Christ the Lord has risen

To our cries of hope he listened

We lay dead in our sin

But we are His earthly kin

So he gave us His only Son

He gave us His Holy One

He leads us down the path of light

He leads us down the path that’s right

The Lord our King is mighty

We are his holy army

He prepares us for the battle that comes

He prepares us for the battle that will be won

Satan will have a taste of his medicine

And will be thrown in his own pit of fire

Let us march on till victory is won