Changed Lives: Dennis

Changed Lives (final)

Homosexuality. This word brings up strong feelings in almost all of us. It is most certainly not a neutral word. And, with all of the changes over the past twenty or so years, this word–this subject–now affects almost all of us in one way or another.

Years ago, I had a youth group leader named Dennis. He was a wonderful, super-talented guy that everybody loved. Little did I know of his secret struggle with homosexuality. A few months ago, I found out not only about this struggle but about his victory over it through the Lord Jesus Christ.

As I listened to his testimony, I was compelled to ask him if I could share his story here and he kindly said yes! I believe this is the perfect time to share it. What better way is there to contemplate the Lord’s sacrifice and victory over death than to hear the victorious story of what God has done, through the cross and resurrection, in a man who had little hope for ever experiencing victory? Because of God’s gift of salvation, Denny has experienced victory over sin in an incredible and powerful way. I am so thankful that he is willing to share his story at a time when it is increasingly unpopular to do so. Please pray for Denny as he strives to bring hope to others caught up in this sin.

Here is his story–

It’s one of the more familiar scenes in scripture. A crowd gathered around a tomb as Jesus calls out –

LAZARUS COME OUT! You can almost feel the crowd holding their breath watching. Some are excited.  Some are fearful. Many are skeptical. Many of the religious leaders were frankly angry. They were already plotting to kill Jesus, so the last thing they needed was a major miracle. Jesus’s words echo off the stone.

We don’t know how long they waited in silence, but you can bet that when Lazarus appeared from the darkness of his tomb, there was noise. First a collective gasp. Screams of shock turning to cries of joy.  This was one major party. There was such a commotion that Jesus had to remind them to unwrap the man. Let him loose! Unwrap the grave cloths. Jesus had given Lazarus new life….but the remnants of death were making it difficult for him to move. He needed help.

Hang on to that image of Lazarus stumbling out of his tomb wrapped in grave cloths, and jump ahead to the Church in Corinth where there was a major problem. There were lots of walking dead folk. Lawsuits, incest, gossip, you name it. Things were a mess.

So the Apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 6:8-10–

No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren! Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals,[a] nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.

There were LOTS of problems with the Church in Corinth.  And smack in the middle of Paul’s letter of warning is the word: Homosexuals. (Okay, there I’ve said THE WORD, let’s all take a deep breath!)

Same Sex Attraction. GAY.

It seems you can’t pick up a newspaper or listen to a news report these days without getting bombarded with that particular word?

Let me continue reading from First Corinthians 6:9-11 because I didn’t finish Paul’s thought.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

I love that past tense: WERE.

My journey begins mid-way through the last Century. My parents were extremely young when I was born, the first of six kids. I was raised in a devoutly Christian home that included Sunday school, church, and mid-week prayer meetings. At the feet of my grandmother, I heard stories about my great-Uncle’s missionary work in China. She’d also tell me about her prayers for me. She firmly believed that God had a ministry for me. In high school, my friends were all part of Youth for Christ. I worshipped frequently at my girlfriend’s church as well as my own. Following graduation from high school, I attended the ultra-conservative Bob Jones University. The course of my life was set. Nice Christian family. Check. High school diploma. Check. College degree–then marry my high school sweetheart—then have two kids– and a dog.

Let’s back up. That’s only part of the story. While I may have been called to new life in Christ, I was still wearing grave cloths.

During my early formative years with Dad away at work, I was primarily raised by my grandma, my mom, and my female aunts. I don’t remember EVER having a male friend prior to entering first grade. Simple fact, there were no boys my age living nearby. (Hey, this was the 1950’s where, for entertainment, my cousins and I used to spend summer evenings counting cars going back and forth from Lititz to Lancaster! True story. We are talking way rural.)

But, as a young boy, my battle with homosexuality began. As I grew into a young teenager, things worsened as I discovered gay porn magazines and from there it went downhill. At one point I went to a youth pastor and told him about my sexuality. (I think it is safe to say that most Bible colleges weren’t teaching students how to counsel homosexuals at that time.) He blanched, blushed, and suggested prayer. I went to the Billy Graham exhibit at the New York World’s Fair in 1965 and talked to a counselor. His advice? That I take a nice girl to the prom and all would work itself out!

My sexual encounters continued even in the heart of the Bible Belt, Greenville, South Carolina, while I was in college. Indeed, they escalated.

The winter of my senior year I left Bob Jones – disillusioned–and returned to Lancaster. I felt lost. I didn’t know what to do next. The little game plan that I thought I had was clearly not happening.

If you grew up in this era (late 60s and 70s), you probably weren’t aware that any of this was going on. Did you know that in the 1970s homosexuals were persecuted just for being homosexuals? They were called names, attacked on the streets, and even arrested just by having this label. But in 1969, that all started to change with the riot of homosexual men and women against the NYC police at Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. Times were changing and I realized that I was not the only disillusioned young man in America.

This movement eventually made its way to Lancaster county and made me more comfortable with my label of “homosexual”. Fueled by alcohol and any number of drugs, anonymous sex became routine.  I was running around with Lancaster’s movers and shakers.

By the time I was 21, I was totally disenchanted with anything that had to do with the Church. I was designing interiors and window displays for Watt & Shand and other major department stores. I was running around with the theater crowd from a local college. If you were part of the cool straight crowd, you had to have token black and/or gay friends. For nearly seven years, my life was one long party waking up next to nameless people, sometimes wondering how I’d even gotten there.

One night one of my best friends asked me: “Do you think we’ll ever be able to forget the things we were taught from the Bible when we were kids?” His family were pioneers at Calvary Church and I can tell you point blank, that even then–while high on drugs and alcohol — I KNEW without a doubt that God was still there. I can also tell you that I knew my parents and grandparents were praying for me regularly – even if they didn’t know the depths to which I had fallen.

One Memorial Day after a day of drinking and drugs, I fell apart–mentally, physically, and spiritually.  Late that night I called my Dad. It’s the first time in my life I ever remember asking him for help. He told me that he was coming to get me. He picked me up at my apartment on West King Street, but instead of taking me home, I discovered that he was taking me to the hospital. When we got to the parking lot, I got out of the car and started running. My dad took after me. Grabbed me, knocking me to the ground.  I remember his words as vividly as if he were standing here now:  “YOU ARE MY SON, AND I’M NOT LETTING GO.”

He wasn’t the only FATHER not letting me go.

During my few weeks in the psych ward, I met Jerry Young, a young pastor who had just started a church in Lititz. He gave me an invitation to visit his church and left. Nothing came of it until two years later, the last Sunday evening, October 1974, while I was on my way to work. I had been serving drinks part-time at a mixed gay/straight private club and I simply pulled my car to the side of the road.

“Jesus, I am so tired of this. You know my life is a mess. Please change my life.”

If repent means to turn around, in this case, it was quite literal. I turned my car around and went to that little church in Lititz.

If this were Bethany, the crowd would start roaring because Foreman was stumbling out of the grave much like Lazarus! Stumbling being the key word. There were years and years of addictive grave clothes in the way.

Slowly I began to see God at work in my life. Through the ministry of that church I began to grow. God also provided a way for me to return to college and get my degree. Thank you, Grace College!

Unfortunately, it was around this time that I received some of the worst counsel I’ve ever had. A trusted leader told me: “Do NOT share your same-sex struggles with anyone in the church because they won’t understand.” (And, you should know that when word got out that I was starting to share my life story at various churches, I’ve had similar counsel!) Week after week I would hear testimonies from men healed from alcoholism and/or drug addiction. I’d hear about a marriage that was healed after major infidelity. I heard testimonies from men who had spent time in prison. All the while white-knuckling my temptations and usually failing, all the while hearing the prevailing message of the time: ONCE GAY, ALWAYS GAY. Gay is different. It is abhorrent to God. It’s the end of the downward spiral. You cannot change.

This is important: Jesus had breathed NEW life into me, but I was deeply entangled in grave clothes, and I didn’t know how to extricate myself. I wanted freedom to dance. I believed God’s Word–I just wasn’t sure of how to get free from my addictive lifestyle! And – remember – I had been told I shouldn’t ask anyone for help.

I finally decided to try a Christian counselor. After 6 months, he confessed that he didn’t know anything about homosexuality. What?!!! It took 6 months to figure that out?! I went to another Christian counselor and after several months realized that he was hitting on me!!!!

How do you handle that?

You know, it’s fairly easy for someone to say, “Just stop what you are doing!” But when we think about other struggles and addictions—whether they be food, gossip, or shopping; alcohol, cigarettes, or prescription drugs—we know it just isn’t that simple.

Here was the dilemma: I had asked Jesus to save me. And He had! But I still had very strong sexual urges and I didn’t know what to do with them. Plus, I’d been told not to discuss my sexuality with anyone in the Church. And So I opted to live two very distinct lifestyles. One in complete secrecy.

So take a deep breath, everyone….here we go….

In my mid-30’s I began working at a local church and became a licensed pastor. In 1993, I received a Youth Sponsor of the Year Award. At the same time, I was living completely in sin in my secret life. In August 1999, I was one of two individuals nominated for National Youth Pastor of the Year by my denomination. I am NOT saying this to brag, but because, less than 4 months later, on December 9 of the same year, I was arrested in a sting operation for trying to pick up an undercover policeman.

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. Galatians 6:7

I came face to face with the fact that what I had sowed, I was now reaping.

In a moment, I lost everything. My career. My friends. My church family. My NAME. My integrity.

Breathing was difficult. I didn’t want to live. One evening while driving home, I began to see each telephone pole as a target. I wanted to die and yet something—the Holy Spirit?–urged me to pull the car over. Storm clouds were gathering as I pulled into a parking lot along the road. Slowly as I got out of my car, I saw a rainbow and God’s Word wrapped around my heart, “I will NEVER leave you or forsake you.”

Call it what you will– you are entitled to be skeptical– but I don’t think I’d be here were it not for that experience.

Under Church Discipline and given oversight by a three-man ‘restoration’ team, I was reminded from Hebrews 12:5 and 6–

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?

I went into hiding mode.

It took one little girl from my former youth group named Ashley to help me begin again. She placed a tape of Christian music in my mailbox. “Jesus, Lamb of God, worthy is Your Name…bearing my sin, my cross, my shame…Jesus, YOU are my all in all.” I played that tape written by Dennis Jernigan constantly as I drove to the only job I could find– working the 3-11 shift at a local mini-market. For nearly two years, I just existed.

Earlier I stated that on December 9, I lost everything. Not true. I discovered just how incredibly much God loves me. Even though I was a hot mess of raw nerves, God’s Spirit was there. Jesus was so near, He was palpable. While I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone, I wouldn’t trade that dark time for anything because I was beginning to understand how deeply God loves His fallen children.

Another job opened at a bank about a thirty minute drive from my home. One Sunday afternoon, one of the clients stopped by and said, “Denny, I don’t know you other than from banking here, but I just sense that you need prayer. Would you mind if I prayed for you?” Yeah. Right in the middle of a grocery store! Candid Camera time?! It wasn’t too much longer before he began to disciple/mentor me. Jesus was beginning to use people I barely knew to start unwrapping the grave clothes.

Steve admitted that he never struggled with homosexuality, but he pointed me to a counseling ministry, DaySeven, in Lancaster. Through that organization, I was encouraged to attend a conference for men and women coming out of the gay lifestyle. I went kicking and screaming to that conference.

The very first night, the worship leader opened with “Jesus, Lamb of God, Worthy is Your Name….bearing my sin…”  Would you believe it? Dennis Jernigan, the writer of many of the most popular worship songs of the time, had come out of the gay lifestyle! (His testimony is available online and I highly recommend it!)

Jesus said I AM the resurrection and life. It is one thing to trust God for our salvation. I’d done that, but I was still struggling with this huge addictive sin nature.

About five years ago, I realized that it was essential that I become part of a church family again. I’d stayed at my former church thinking that it was important for those from my former youth group to witness God’s restoration. But after a while it became quite clear that if I stayed I would be a spectator.  And so I began to search for a new church. God faithfully led me to a church where I can serve Him.

So, here I am: One who identified as being gay for most of my life. There is something ironic about the fact that I ‘came out’ as a gay man at a time when you could get beat up, arrested, or killed if anyone thought you were a homosexual and at a time when you didn’t mention homosexuality in churches.  Now here I am ‘coming out as EX-gay’ at a time when the tide has turned. It is now politically incorrect to even hint that the gay lifestyle is wrong. Counselors who teach that homosexuality is a sin and point to the way out can lose their credentials. Church after church is using terms like “affirming” when discussing same-sex relationships. The gay community has flexed its muscle and they would not be happy to see me here. Within the past month, I was the target of a Facebook/Twitter hate campaign because of my stance. Some would say that my testimony can be equated with hate crimes.

But guess what? The religious leaders in Jesus’ day didn’t just want to see Jesus dead, they also wanted Lazarus silenced. In John 12:9 we read—

Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.

Two years ago, I was asked by a young pastor (one of the men from my former youth group) to come speak at his church. At that time, I stated:

“I’m not here this morning to get into the politics of gay marriage. I’m afraid that ship has sailed. Little did any of us realize how quickly the Supreme Court would move to legalize same sex weddings.

And so I am here to offer HOPE to anyone here who is struggling with same-sex feelings. To offer hope to men or women who may be involved in same-sex relationships or to those of you who have friends or family members caught up in the lifestyle. And it is a lifestyle. It is a community.”

So, now you know my story. Dead in sin, and when finally recognizing Jesus voice calling, “FOREMAN, COME OUT of that tomb,” struggling with the remnants of the grave, entangled in grave cloths and told to be silent. BUT here I stand, not the FACE of Gay men…but the face of ONE sinner saved by God’s Grace and still in the process of untangling.

So what have I learned in the journey that has led to sharing my story in churches? I have one simple premise:  GOD’S WORD IS TRUE.

The Bible is a love story.

A loving Father God creates man and woman in his image according to Genesis 1. A loving Father God creates man and woman uniquely designed to complement each other and form a perfect union.

You know the story. A perfect garden and a horrific fall. SIN enters the picture and we are left with the heart-wrenching picture of Father God calling out: “Where are you, Adam?!”

The proponents of Homosexual Rights would like ME to believe I was born gay. Okay, I’ll go this far. I was born into a fallen world. Hey, gang, I have some news for you: We are ALL born with sin NATURES.  David reminds us in Psalm 51:5: Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

How many of you had to teach your kids how to be disobedient? After learning the words Mama and DaDa, isn’t one of their first words NO? Their disobedience usually followed by the word “MINE,” as they discover the sin of being self-centered!

So, yeah, we are all born with sin-natures. We are also born with the need to be LOVED.  Andy Comisky writes:  “Our longings for love become sinful when we take them into our own hands and say, ‘this is how I’m going to meet my own needs; they are mine and I am going to meet them any way that I can and want.”

When I was growing up, there was a popular song that stated: “Silence is Golden.” But I beg to differ! Silence is a prison that can cripple. The church that is appalled over what is happening with the Gay Movement was completely silent about it when it mattered and, because of this, I—and many like me—were led to believe we were hopeless and beyond redemption.

We need to re-look at ROMANS 1:16a

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…

I needed to know that I could be saved, too! That my sins had not taken me beyond salvation! The irony in all of this is that many of these same churches were using the Book of Romans or the Romans Road in reaching the lost. Hey, I was one of the LOST! I needed to hear the rest of that book. Romans is priceless because it offers HOPE! I needed to hear that God’s kindness leads to repentance!

I want to share two important things to consider if this subject is one you, a family member, or a friend are battling–

1. The Bible is God’s Word. It is TRUTH. I grew up believing that. I still believe that. That belief, that FAITH – sometimes buried in the darkness of my tomb-like existence – was still there. I couldn’t shake it.

Listen carefully, because I believe this is absolutely necessary for healing from ANY sin: God’s Word is True. When I hear gay activists say, “The Bible doesn’t really mean that loving relationships between two men or two women is a sin,” I get very nervous. It sounds remarkably similar to the line the serpent gave to Eve when he was tempting her to eat the fruit: “Did God really say you can’t eat…”  Does God really say that homosexuality is a sin? YES. So, for me, the first step toward healing was that I BELIEVED WHAT GOD SAYS. For the sake of the souls of men and women bound by the sin of homosexuality, we dare not let go of the truth of God’s Word.

2. Coming Out is a BIG deal for gays. For those of you who don’t know what that term means, Coming Out means that I’m basically announcing to the world and my family that I am a homosexual. Every gay organization encourages men and women to come out. The feeling is that when people recognize their brothers, sisters, and friends are gay and NORMAL, it will open up other doors. And if you think this hasn’t worked, you haven’t been paying attention during the past 50 years. Good grief, if you think this hasn’t worked, you haven’t been paying attention the past Two YEARS! I have lived long enough to see a world where homosexuality wasn’t discussed in polite society, to a world where you can rarely see a newspaper or TV show where gay issues are not presented on a regular basis. On a recent Today show, the cast of Will and Grace were interviewed and they stated bluntly that they were proud that they had introduced gay men to American households, making homosexuality acceptable to millions. And even within the past year those that believe that homosexuality is a sin are not only in the minority but are ostracized and called names.

You are witnessing a continuation of my healing. There was a time when being OUT was important to me. As a Believer, I’m NOT going back in the closet, I AM COMING OUT of the bondage of homosexuality. And being separate. I am coming out of sin and living in the Light of Truth. I can no longer be silent! Returning to the Book of Romans I’m learning the importance of speaking out! Scripture says—

that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)

For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified. IT IS WITH YOUR MOUTH THAT YOU CONFESS AND ARE SAVED!

As I started to heal, I also came face to face with the truth that my sin had affected others. My sins – and your sins – are never without impact upon the greater body around us. No sin is only personal.

I have been forgiven by a loving, merciful Heavenly Father, but the fact remains that when my homosexuality was exposed in a very public way in 1999, my sin was no longer personal. It had a HUGE negative effect on a congregation.

From that moment, it was absolutely clear to me that my repentance and restoration had to be played out in full view of that congregation, particularly the kids in my youth group. I had to take responsibility for the God-designed boundaries I had broken. It is one of the reasons I am eager to share my story whenever I can.

CS Lewis makes a strong statement when he says: “We have a strange illusion that mere time cancels sins. Mere time does nothing either to the fact or to the guilt of sin. The guilt is washed out not by time but by repentance and the blood of Christ.”

Brothers and Sisters, we desperately need each other. James reminds us—

Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5:16a)

And now I’m going to let you in on the ‘secret’ of my healing.

I’ve always loved the stories of the Exodus and God’s dealing with the Nation of Israel. I remember reading and scratching my head, baffled by the way Israel would see God do monumentally amazing things–like parting the Red Sea, for example, and then watch as the people built a golden calf to worship! What?! Id’ read that God would provide manna, and then, after a few days, the people would complain, “It was better in Egypt. At least there we had onions and garlic.”  And time after time, there was the issue of IDOLATRY.

It’s a term we rarely use today. We don’t use it, because for most of us, when we say ‘IDOL’ we immediately think of statues made of stone or wood. Objects. But the reality is that IDOLATRY is divinizing what is not God. And here is where I must return to Romans 1:25—

…who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.

And as a result: perversion and death–the due penalty for our idolatry.

In I Samuel 15:23 we read, “Rebellion is like the sin of witchcraft and arrogance (pride) like the evil of idolatry.”

When I identified myself as gay, my life was devoted to sensuality. It had become my idol.

Let me re-read that I Samuel passage: Rebellion is like the sin of witchcraft and ARROGANCE like the evil of idolatry.

I was worshipping the wrong thing. While at the same time growing more and more frustrated with God because He didn’t seem to be healing me. And then one day it dawned on me! The greatest idol in my life wasn’t sensuality or homosexuality—it was ME!

I had spent so much time focusing on the sin of homosexuality, that it had become the end all be all.  Subconsciously I had started to believe that if I could stop being a homosexual, I would be perfect. Did you get that? I was so focused on homosexuality, I truly thought that if that were gone, everything else would be resolved. Saying that out loud only underscores how ludicrous that is!

In essence, I was saying, if it weren’t for the homosexuality and pornography, I wouldn’t need God. I had forgotten other areas of my life like negativity, gossip, over-eating and not taking care of my physical body, lying, cheating, coveting the latest car, driving through an upscale local development and wishing one of those homes would be mine, and the list goes on.

In other words, without homosexuality in my life, I thought I didn’t need JESUS.

And that leads me to my conclusion and my salvation. JESUS.

Don’t be deceived by all the hype out there. We ALL need Jesus.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. (I Corinthians 6:9-10)

And that is what some of you WERE.

That is what I WAS.

 But I was washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

One of my favorite worship songs puts it this way:

There is love that came for us, humbled to a sinner’s cross.
You broke my shame and sinfulness.  You rose again victorious
Faithfulness none can deny!
Through the storm and through the fire,
there is truth that sets me free: Jesus Christ who lives in me!
Jesus, You are stronger, You are stronger. 
Sin is broken, You have saved me. 
It is written, Christ is risen! 
Jesus You are Lord of all
No beginning and no end – You are my hope and my defense.
You came to seek and save the lost. 
You paid it all upon the cross
You are stronger, You are stronger,
Sin is broken! You have saved me!!
So let Your name be lifted higher, JESUS, YOU are Lord of all!

 

DForemanDennis L. Foreman (chaplain, teacher) is available to share his story.

 

 

 

 

 

A Flimsy Gospel

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I stared at my closet. I needed a shirt to go with a cardigan I had already picked out. As I searched, I finally found the perfect shirt. I pulled it out and slipped it over my head and then donned my sweater. I looked in the mirror. The two pieces looked pretty good together. I was just about to walk away from the mirror when my eye caught a little something. I turned my eyes away from the reflection and looked down at the actual shirt. No! Not again!

A couple of holes.

Right in the middle of the perfect shirt.

I took it off and started my search all over again.

As I searched, I thought about that shirt. It was made of that real thin material that is in style right now. It’s the kind of fabric that tends to get those tiny, inexplicable holes in after some wear. But I had only worn this shirt once. During that one time, I had not done anything arduous or taxing. There should not have been holes in that shirt.

This shirt reminds of a false gospel that is being pandered today. The one that says just follow Jesus and everything will be alright. The one that assures us that He will fulfill our dreams, keep us from getting sick, supply us with material wealth, and fill our lives with sunshine and happiness. In fact, we are told that He will be like our own personal genie, making all our wishes come true.

But this flimsy gospel just doesn’t hold up at all when the storms come. It quickly weakens beneath even the mildest of storms because one of its primary teachings is that we should never experience anything negative. And so when hard times come (and they always do!)–when jobs are lost, bankruptcy looms, divorce is imminent, a loved one dies, or dreams die a slow painful death– those who have followed this flimsy gospel become disillusioned and broken.

And, sadly, many of those who are disillusioned end up blaming themselves because they believe the chicanery that places the blame on them for all that is wrong in their lives. They are told that their faith isn’t strong enough. Or they didn’t pray the right way. Or they aren’t filled with enough of the Holy Spirit.

This is an empty, rickety gospel that is devoid of sound doctrine and biblical faith.

And, eventually, many will find a hole. A small one at first, but it grows larger and larger as the false, flimsy gospel becomes more glaringly irreconcilable with life experiences.

I sincerely hope that if you have been tempted to follow this flimsy gospel (otherwise known as the prosperity gospel) you will turn away from it today! And turn your heart instead to the Word of God, in its entirety and in all its fullness. Find a good solid church and start listening to godly men exposit the Word. If you don’t know where to start, visit Grace to You or Answers in Genesis.

A flimsy gospel is like my shirt. Both will eventually become useless bits of nothing in the hands of those who hold them.

 

Beyond the Clouds

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No matter what weather is going on down on earth, when a giant, silver-winged plane soars beyond the clouds, the sun soon appears. Have you noticed that, too, when you have had the opportunity to fly? Above all of the black clouds or fuzzy gray fog, we always–without fail–will find the sun.

I have often thought that there is a very similar spiritual parallel to this. As you may already know, I am a Bible Study leader. Currently, we are studying Philippians and I have been struck–as I usually am in this epistle–by Paul’s focus on joy. When you really think about all of the pain and suffering Paul endured (much of it because he was standing for truth), it seems almost incongruous, doesn’t it?

How in the world could Paul have been content and joyful through all of these hardships? And yet, we read in Philippians 4:11-12

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

And he wrote this in 2 Corinthians 7:4

Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my boasting on your behalf. I am filled with comfort. I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation.

So just how did Paul learn to be content in all circumstances? What was the source of his joy?

It is generally agreed that the key word for Philippians is the word joy. And that is most definitely the main theme throughout the book.  The Greek noun or verb form of the word “joy” is found over a dozen times. But I would like to draw your attention to the fact that Paul mentions Christ 50 times in this short epistle. John MacArthur puts it this way in his introductory sermon on Philippians

The theme of these chapters is joy; Paul mentions it at least 16 times in these four chapters.  He also mentions Christ 50 times.  And that is because his joy is found in Christ, and so is our joy.

I think that last sentence is worth repeating–

Because his joy is found in Christ, and so is our joy.

Now think about this with me for a moment. Is your joy found in Christ? Because I can tell you right now that this is a huge struggle for me. Instead, I spend an inordinate amount of time looking for happy circumstances and personal comfort and convenience. And when all is lined up just perfectly, then I claim to be joyful. But is this really joy? Or is it rather just a temporary state of well-being that I am calling “joy”?

You may be wondering by now what all this has to do with an airplane and clouds and the sun…

Well, I am glad you asked!

I wonder if we are so desperate for sunny skies and carefree living that we forget that Christ is always there–working through all of our circumstances–whether we can see Him clearly or not. And I wonder if our finite and temporal view of things makes us distracted and forgetful? Are we so focused on the here and now that we lose sight of the big picture?

If we can only see the clouds and forget what is beyond them, we can become embroiled in grief and depression and despair. Without proper perspective, we become unhappy, thankless, selfish people who live just like the rest of the world.

But if we, like Paul, can remember that our joy and, in fact, our very lives, are wrapped up in the Person of Christ, then we become a joyful and peaceful person that not only stands through the storms of life, but who can also boldly testify to the strength and power and faithfulness of Christ’s love through those storms.

For He is always there.

The winds may blow, the skies grow dark, and the rains pour down but Christ will not move. He is the constant that our whole world revolves around.  And He is always there, working in and through the shadows and storms for His glory and our good.

Paul says it best in Romans 8:28-29

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

I guess joy and contentment will always be a battle for most of us. It will be something that eludes us as we focus on ourselves and on our temporal situations. But when we turn our focus to the Lord Jesus, the temporal will fade a bit. Oh, it never fades completely, of course, but it fades a bit. And as we become more and more mature in the faith, we become more and more content. And contentment yields greater joy and peace. Isn’t this a most wonderful thought?

Seeing Clearly

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A few years ago, things started to get fuzzy. Books, menus, texts on my iPhone, nutrition information on the back of a food container–they all became difficult to read and I found myself squinting or holding the item way out in front of me so that I could decipher what it said. I finally gave in and bought the weakest reading glasses available. Suddenly, reading became an easy thing again.

I knew what that meant. My eyes were doing what most eyes do as they get older–namely, to lose their ability to see things close up. I remember going into the library with my young children years ago, seeing the shelf of “large print” books, and thinking just how old people must be if they need books with large print.  And here I was. Already. I didn’t even feel that old.

As the years went by, my eyes grew steadily worse and I would have to buy the next “number” on the reading glasses scale. Until, finally, the other day it dawned on me that, sadly, I can hardly make out even a word without them anymore. I may as well be blind when I hold a book or menu in front of me but–magically–things grow super clear as soon as I put those glasses in front of my eyes.

As I was thinking about this, I realized that the Word of God is rather like a pair of glasses that helps us to see truth and to view the world from God’s perspective. When we are saved, we suddenly walk into the marvelous light (I Peter 2:9), where we can finally see again! Life is never the same again and as we read the Word, God uses it to open our eyes and make clear what once was utterly inexplicable to us as an unbeliever.

For all of us were blinded before we were saved. We could not see because the god of this age had blinded us. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 puts it this way–

But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.

But when the gospel of the glory of Christ shined brightly on our lives, it changed us. And God’s Word went from being an old, irrelevant book to being the instrument God uses to change us, filling us with truth about who God is, building our faith, offering encouragement for us in our trials, and convicting us of our sin. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that–

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

How grateful I am for the Word of God that takes away my blindness! How wondrous it is to see things clearly. To walk in truth instead of stumbling in murky darkness. To rely on God’s wisdom instead of my own short-sighted and vain philosophies.

If we are saved, the Word helps us see! The Bible is the Book that God has given us to know Him. It is this Book that helps us to understand the purposes and plan of our enemy. And the Book that clears our vision so that we can see our sin in all its dark ugliness. But this Book also shares the Gospel story and is full of wonderfully encouraging, uplifting words for us in our trials and struggles. It is an amazing, incredible Book that God, in His infinite wisdom, gave to us.

And yet, many of us treat the Bible like any other book on our shelf. It sits side by side with our novels and our non-fiction self-help books and holds no dearer place in our lives than that of any other book. In a lot of ways how we live with our Bible is like me living the rest of my life without putting on my glasses–walking around not being able to read a thing simply because I am too proud, too lazy, or too apathetic to put on my glasses.

If you are younger (in years or in the Lord) you may be thinking right now that you don’t feel that way about the Word of God. You want to but you just don’t. Well, don’t be discouraged! The more you study the Word, the more you will see. Cast aside your feelings, your laziness, your too-busy schedule and just get in the Word and your love for it will deepen and grow. And you, too, will start to treasure the Word of God.

And to my young friends who can’t comprehend ever needing reading glasses…well, I just have to say it is coming sooner rather than later. Life goes by so fast and we dare not waste a day. Even though we all do! That’s just life, I guess.

Why Are We So Afraid?

Macy

Have you ever wondered why we are so afraid of what people think of us? Many of us actually let this fear control what we will wear or what we will buy. We let it control what we will listen to, read, or watch because we are deathly afraid of being labeled uncool. We will let this control what we share on social media (after all, we don’t want to sound too religious) and what we will say to friends and co-workers about God and His Word, being oh-so careful never to be too controversial but to instead stick with very generic phrases like “I’ll pray for you” or “Isn’t God good?”

We have a Chocolate Lab named Macy. She is a fairly big dog whose deep bark can scare almost anybody. I feel much safer when she is around, as she will be quick to courageously face the unknown if she hears noises or sees something that is unfamiliar, always desiring to protect me.

And so it is quite funny to see this strong and powerful dog grow so scared when she sees a vacuum.

This strong and brave dog literally cowers when she sees the vacuum. It doesn’t matter if it’s our little stick vac or our large vacuum, as soon as I hit the “on” button she gets this look of desperation and fear in her eyes and leaves the area as soon as possible!

And yet the vacuum could never hurt her. While a spider or a beetle would have a reasonable fear of a vacuum, a dog would not. And yet she is scared to death of the thing.

I think we can be a lot like that as people. We are terrified of what people will think of us. Oftentimes, we allow this fear to shape our lives, quietly living for Jesus without ever mentioning a word. And yet…

What can they do to us?

Actually, they can do a lot. But they can never take away our assurance of salvation. They can never change the course of our eternal destiny. And they can never, ever take us out from under the loving and faithful care of our heavenly Father.

Of course, they can call us names, they can whisper behind our backs, they can make our lives miserable, they can ostracize us. This is what we face most often and it can be quite unpleasant.

But John the Baptist was actually beheaded for speaking the truth (Mark 6:14-29). Herodias became John’s great enemy simply because he spoke the truth. Eventually she figured out a way to make sure he died.

As believers, it is possible to develop great enemies in this world because we speak the truth. Hopefully, none of them will ever be so wicked and devious as Herodias.

I Peter 4 also makes it clear that we should expect trials for sharing the truth–

 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.

Beloved, do not think it strange.

Do not think it strange.

Christians in this culture have been sold the lie that they must always rise up to unify– no matter what heresy is being preached. This is simply not true (Jude 3-4). We are called to speak the truth even if–especially if–it is in opposition to false (and very popular!) teachings. And we will most likely suffer because of it.

Perhaps this is why we are so scared of what others will think of us when we speak the truth of God’s Word. Like Macy, whose eyes fill with fear at the sight of the vacuum, so do our hearts and minds fill with fear when we sense even a little bit of disapproval from men. And yet there is no lasting, eternal damage that they can do to us (Matthew 10:28).

I guess there are some of you who are not affected by the approval of men. I would not be one of them. Blogging here continues to be a tremendous test for me, continually begging me to ask the question to myself: Do I care more about God and His Word or about what people think of me? This all-important question needs to be answered almost every time I post because I struggle so much with worrying about what people will think.

But many of you don’t blog. Perhaps you don’t even post a lot on social media. You may be one who hates confrontations and so you remain in the background. It is fairly easy to just quietly live out your Christian faith without ever speaking about it. But this brings us to another question: Can we please the Savior who died for us by living a good life and yet never mentioning a word about Him?

Let’s see what scripture has to say–

Psalm 96:2-4 Sing to the Lord, bless His name;
Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.
Declare His glory among the nations,
His wonders among all peoples.

I Corinthians 9:16 For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!

Mark 16:15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.

These verses make it pretty clear that we should be sharing the Gospel and declaring the glory of the Lord as we live our daily lives. When we become believers, we are transformed from being spiritually dead to spiritually alive! This, alone, should give us a desire to share our faith. What a wonderful and incredible thing! And, yet, so often, we are so frightened by the opinions of those around us that we keep quiet.

So I want to encourage you today to speak up! Don’t be afraid. And I want you to know that I face this battle on a daily basis, too! But we know from the verses in Peter (above) that suffering for Christ is a trial we should expect. It is a trial that should produce no shame for us as believers. This verse in Matthew sums it all up rather nicely–

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

Let us live bravely and boldly, declaring the Word of the Lord as He gives us opportunities. Let us fear God and never men as we live in a culture that grows increasingly hostile to biblical Christianity. We need not fear, for the Lord is on our side.

The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?
Psalm 118:6

 

Being Molded to Look Like Christ

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Suffering. Something that happens to all of us. When we think of suffering, we often think of the obvious things that we can see. We know someone is suffering when they are fighting cancer or when a loved one dies. We know they are suffering if their child is arrested or when they lose their job. Physical disabilities, car accidents, a child with Down’s Syndrome, a house fire–these things fill us with deep compassion.

But there is so much suffering we never see–a family’s daily struggle to stay financially afloat; being married to a selfish, difficult spouse; a chronic disease or physical injury that isn’t outwardly visible; debilitating anxiety; persecution in all its various forms as we stand for God and His Word in an increasingly hostile world and apostate church; the betrayal of a trusted friend or family member; pornography, drug, and alcohol addictions; sexual or verbal abuse; a neighbor or co-worker who has made it their goal to make your life miserable for whatever reason; church issues; rebellious children…

This list could go on and on and on…and on. In fact, it is probably far longer than the list of troubles we can see in the lives of others.

This came to mind yesterday as I was reading in *Romans 5. Verses 3-5 tell us this–

And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

So what is my point? I have two, actually.

First, I just wonder how much more grace we would have for others if we would remember that they may be struggling through something we can’t even see. We are so quick to judge and yet all of us, in one way or another, is struggling. And if we aren’t suffering now, it will come. So often we think we are so spiritually mature and yet none of us knows how we’d act if we were handed the same circumstances as that fellow Christian. This doesn’t mean we let a beloved Christian sister or brother wallow in sinful reactions and choices. But remembering this does fill us with so much more love and grace as we help them.

And, second, let’s remember that God uses all of our suffering–the visible trials and the secret torments– to grow us in endurance, character, and hope. But this can only happen when we are turning to the Lord on a daily basis. Trying to endure on our own strength is exhausting and pointless. It is like being on a hamster wheel–we end up using all of our energy to turn in circles.

And, I guess I do have one final thought on this subject of suffering. I have found in my own life that many times God uses the little irritations and frustrations of life to draw me to Himself and to grow me in endurance. A disobedient toddler or a challenging situation at work can be used to mold us into the image of Christ.

Our whole lives are made up of moments that give us a choice:

Will we grow? Or will we respond with our selfish, human nature?

As believers, God is using everything to shape us and to work things out for His glory. We are all familiar with Romans 8:28–

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

But we need to continue reading verse 29–

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

One of God’s purposes–perhaps His main purpose for us–is to conform us into the image of His Son. May we not forget this as we suffer through trials seen and unseen. May we keep the eternal purpose in mind as we face inconsequential frustrations and overwhelming tribulations.

And may we remember that, through it all, God will not give up on us! Paul let us know this in Philippians 1:6–

being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;

And so we must keep fighting our sinful flesh through the trials. We must submit to God’s sculpting hand as He molds us into the image of His Son. And as we do so may we rely on the help and comfort of the Holy Spirit. We can’t give up. Thankfully, God will be right by our side, never leaving or forsaking us. What a glorious encouragement!

Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”  Deuteronomy 31:6

(By the way, I feel slightly hypocritical even writing this, since many of you know I continue to work through all of the changes in my life over these past few years, but I guess at least you know that a) I am writing to myself as much as I am writing for you and b) I am not giving up!)

 

* I was reading Romans 5 for our 2017 Bible Challenge. If you haven’t started a Bible Reading plan yet for this year, it is not too late to join us! And if you are doing the Bible Challenge, please feel free to join the Growing4Life Facebook group especially dedicated to the challenge. There you will find encouragement and resources regarding our Bible Readings.

 

 

 

Changed Lives: Jan

Changed Lives (final)

Last year I started a series called Changed Lives. The goal of this series is to show how Jesus Christ is changing lives one life at a time. He is radically saving us and then transforming us into His likeness and using our trials for His glory and to further His kingdom. It is my greatest hope that this series will remind you that Jesus is still changing people! Several months have gone by since I brought you the last testimony but today I finally have another one to share. This one is by my dear friend, Jan. This story is a bit different than the others, as you will see. You may want to grab a tissue.

I met Jan around ten years ago when her oldest daughter and my youngest daughter were on a travel soccer team together. We quickly connected due to our like-minded faith in Christ. A year or so later, they started coming to our church and we became friends with the whole family. A few years ago, the unthinkable happened to this family. I have watched Jan face this unforeseen and unexpected hardship with strength and fortitude that could only come from God. I remember having a conversation with her sometime in the middle of all of this. She told me how she was continuing to listen to John MacArthur sermons on rides to and from work. She kept feeding herself good spiritual food through it all. This made an impact on me. So often our human tendency is to withdraw from solid spiritual food when bad things happen.

Even though, in many ways, Jan continues to travel in dark, unknown territory, I see her continue to trust God through it all. Please pray for Jan and her daughters as they continue their journey of getting used to a new normal. I believe her story will not only inspire you but will also challenge your faith. I know it is her greatest desire that God use this for His glory and I believe that He will do so.

Here is Jan’s story–

July 2016

The morning sky is a beautiful blue and the air is crisp and refreshing. It is a joy to experience such a day in the middle of July. We look up from where we are standing to see a peaceful field, swaying trees in the horizon, and orange lilies in full bloom. But the tears blur our vision and as we stand there with our arms around each other, we wonder if we will ever heal. I recall Michael W. Smith’s lyrics “There is strength within the sorrow, there is beauty in the tears, and You meet us in our mourning, with a love that casts out fear…You’re teaching us to trust”.  I wonder if Lydia, 17, and Naomi, 13, are trusting more. Or do they, like me, only feel the pain? I’m not sure. There is only a grave marker there; the tombstone is not in yet. Some things are just not that important and I figure it can wait.

November 2011

Family Photo from 2013

Walt Disney World. The “vacation of a lifetime” so we have been told. My husband, Doug, and I had never experienced Disney but, for some reason, we wanted to make sure our family would experience it at least one time. We were in a transition period in our lives and it felt like a vacation to Disney would complete one item we had on our bucket list.

I had worked at The Hershey Company for 20 years and had resigned just nine months earlier.  Doug had completed his training and certification in Massage Therapy and was starting a business with another massage therapist while also working for a Chiropractor. Since Lydia, our oldest, was born Doug had been the stay-at-home dad and I was the working mom. (Maybe a better explanation is that I was the bread-winner, since all moms work). It was a good plan for us as Doug was a wonderful dad. He was a typical Type B personality and nothing seemed to bother him. He enjoyed his time with the girls at home, even home-schooling both girls (which was my preference, not his). We had an easy marriage, always supporting each other’s goals and dreams.

Our transition period was the plan for me to stay at home with the girls in their junior high and senior high school years while Doug went back into the workforce. We were all set for that change. Hershey had eliminated my position so I took advantage of a severance package. I felt like God had given me the gift of an extra and early year at home! Honestly, this was a huge step of faith for me as Doug had not yet graduated from massage school at that time. But I truly believed that this was what God was calling me to do. “Do you trust me?” seemed to be what He was asking. There were three specific happenings that led us to make the confident decision that it was time to come home. I would even classify them as “miracles”.

Miracle #1 At a 48th birthday dinner for Doug he announced that he knows what he wants to do in life. I am stunned. After being together for a little over 30 years, Doug finally knows what he wants to do? To give you a little more insight into this, you should know that we started dating when I was in 10th grade and Doug was a senior. He never went to school beyond 12th grade because he didn’t know what he wanted to do. The topic came up no less than 50 times in our years together but the answer was always the same: “I don’t know.” So this truly was a miracle.

Miracle #2 As we explored several schools for him to attend, it didn’t occur to me until later that Doug had not been in school for 30 years. He would need to take an entrance exam to get into the school. Since he was a quarterback and point guard and not an academic scholar, this would prove to be a challenge. He took the test and came close to passing, but, unfortunately, he didn’t pass. But since the economy was tight, admissions were low, and he was studying to be a massage therapist, they told us that they would “wave the entrance exam and see how he does”.  Miracle #2 complete.

Miracle #3 If this is not a miracle then I will classify it as a strong sign from God that this was the direction we were to take. After working for Hershey for almost 20 years, there was only one position that I had interviewed for. Every other move, promotion, or change was a tap on the shoulder. If they asked me to do something, I said yes. That included a move half-way across the country to Arkansas for 3 years. And then another yes when they wanted me to head up a project in the home office and another move 1,200 miles back. I always said yes and there was always a position ahead. But this time was different. As I walked into my boss’s office the human resources person was present. He began to tell me that the position I was in was being eliminated but that they created another job that I could apply for. Actually, the job description was what I was already doing. It was a simple choice, really: Just interview for the other job and continue with my Hershey career. Or was it a gift from God to trust where He was leading me? After all, I was planning to resign in one year, anyway, when Doug was done with school and had started his business.

Again, God seemed to be asking me: “Do you trust Me?”  I responded to this by resigning with a one-year severance package, trusting that Doug would graduate and begin his career. For just a short while, life was perfect. We were both so excited! Doug was thrilled about pursuing his newfound passion in life and I was thrilled to finally be home with our girls. We couldn’t wait to get started with this new plan for our lives.

Shortly after our Disney vacation I received a phone call from Doug’s sister. Doug had recently been in his hometown for a wedding and had stayed with his sister. While there, he had confided in her that something wasn’t right but he didn’t know how to explain it. I also was starting to feel uneasy about our situation but I brushed it off to a newness for all of us. Me being home and Doug being out in the working world was a really big change for us.

Doug’s sister insisted that I set up a doctor’s appointment just to make sure things were okay with him. I immediately agreed and we went in to see the doctor right before Christmas. The doctor explained that his slowness or sluggishness was probably caused by depression. But this didn’t explain another puzzling symptom: He was not able to write his name. He couldn’t connect the cursive letters together. Printing was fine.

We were in the midst of one of the most exciting times in our lives and the doctor was diagnosing Doug with depression? Neither of us believed him and so we proceeded with blood work and a follow-up appointment. Over the holidays I received a call from the doctor and he genuinely seemed giddy. He said he had found out what was making Doug feel different: His thyroid levels were very high and the appropriate medication should ease the symptoms. Of course, that was the answer! Since I had quit work we were in the process of switching insurances and had neglected to get his thyroid medication filled. It was as simple as that.

But three months later, Doug was still not better and his thyroid tested fine. This was definitely one of the lowest points in my life. No jobs, no idea what was happening with Doug’s health, and the girls were being home-schooled. What would we do with them? What did this mean for my dream to be at home? My plan to stay home with the girls was disappearing. I felt sick to my stomach.

At the time, I was teaching an evening class at a local college as an adjunct professor. I began to realize that I needed to find another job very quickly. Just the thought of having to do this was tearing me up inside. “But God”, I cried, “I trusted you!”  My dream of staying home with the girls was being taken away while, at the same time, my husband of 26 years was so different. At this point I would have described him as mentally retarded. He was acting so odd. For example, he’d walk through a door and let it close on us. Or he’d lean over the girls in church to shake someone’s hand and make them almost fall without even reacting. It was definitely a strange place to be.

I was able to get a better-paying job with benefits in April of that year. But it meant a commute of 45 minutes to work (compared to the 5 minutes that I had previously) and I was making $40k less and also had fewer holidays and vacation days than my original job at Hershey. And this new job gave me even less time with my girls. Around this time, my trust in God was wavering. I questioned Him many times; I really did not understand.

Through the rest of that summer and fall, Doug progressively got worse and we still didn’t have any diagnosis from doctors. The girls started at a Christian school and I kept working. It just didn’t make sense to me. I thought I was doing everything right. I thought I was giving up my career to allow my husband to be the one bringing home the paycheck. I thought God was clearing the way for me to homeschool and enjoy my girls. I had trusted that this was what God was calling me to do. Nothing made sense to me. But I had no choice but to keep working and taking care of my husband and the girls. It wasn’t easy. Did I trust God? I said I did. Again, I didn’t understand. God had provided a job for me that allowed us to send the girls to a Christian school and, for that, I was grateful.

In early winter we got a diagnosis of Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. I had to research it since I had no idea what it was. We found out that it was a terminal disease with a life expectancy of anywhere from two to twenty years. I didn’t find that helpful. What would I do with a 49-year- old husband who has two to twenty years left to live? How do two young girls walk that journey along with me? I didn’t know how to navigate it myself, much less help them.

Of course, with this diagnosis it meant that we had some financial decisions to make. Again, the unknowns made this so difficult to make decisions and the experts in the industries were not really “expert” regarding our specific situation. I felt so very alone. I cried out to God to direct my decisions – it was only me making these huge decisions as Doug wasn’t able to really help me by this time. I needed to trust that God was guiding my decisions and looking over us.

As the disease progressed, life became more of “just getting through each day”. There was no time to really consider what this meant to our family or to consider what we would have done differently once he was gone. Would there be any regrets? Who knew? God had me in a place that was very unfamiliar. Caring for a husband who could no longer communicate, the majority of my time was spent cleaning up pee from accidents, waiting on him, arranging rides for the girls, trying to make their lives as normal as possible while the unthinkable was happening to our family, working full time, all the time trying to pretend that nothing was going on. Who was I kidding? Life for us would never be normal again – at least it wouldn’t be what we had once considered normal.

About this time, Doug started to take a huge decline every three months. We would adjust to the current condition and then he would make a huge decline again. We were never ready for each step downward. After he suffered a stroke on his 50th birthday, his needs increased dramatically.  He needed help to get dressed, to eat meals, to go to the bathroom, and checked on multiple times during the day.

The next decline scared me more than the first. The disease was characterized by a backward fall. One day when I was home with him I watched him get out of a chair, take one step forward, and then four backwards before falling. He was bruised more than I would like to admit from all the falls he had sustained over the prior months. I had a new goal: No more bruises. He needed someone to walk him everywhere, since he could no longer navigate on his own. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. How were we possibly going to do that?  I had to arrange for someone to walk him everywhere, help him in the bathroom, and feed him while I was working and the girls were in school.

While we were dealing with all of this, we had another hurdle around that time. Doug had a condition that made him go to the bathroom every 1-2 hours, including the night time hours. I told my oldest daughter that between us, we could alternate nights staying up with him. She was off school for the summer, and for me, I figured how much different could this possibly be than having a newborn? I could do this. I took the first night and didn’t sleep at all. My daughter had the next night. I told her she could sleep as long as she wanted the next day, after his caretaker came at 7 am. I took the next night, and again, didn’t sleep at all. I obviously would not be able to do this and work full time. I was exhausted. After we talked, she agreed to take the night shift every night. What a blessing she was during that time. There was no way that I could do this by myself.

My oldest daughter went to two different week-long camps that summer. This meant that I had to care for Doug during the nights. I remember being at work on a Thursday during one of those weeks. I was sitting in a meeting when it hit me– I hadn’t slept since Saturday. How was I surviving this? God must have been sustaining me. We were continuing to trust Him in everything. We certainly didn’t know why He was allowing this, but we chose to trust in Him and what He was doing.

When the girls started back to school in late August, I was forced to get help. I hired a college student to take the night shift. Free room and board and a wage, too – seemed like a pretty good deal to me. I remember the day she moved in. I went for a walk and felt like I was walking on air. Just the thought of having another adult to take on some of the load and responsibility was freeing to me! This turned out to be only somewhat helpful. She often needed help with him during the night and I’d hear her quietly tiptoe into my room to wake me. We had given Doug a bell to ring when he need help but, unfortunately, once we passed the 3am time frame she wouldn’t even hear it go off. I would hear it, get up to help him, and let her sleep.

The next milestone came in October of 2013. I was getting him ready on a Saturday morning and could no longer get him up the steps. We were in the middle of the stairway when he fell backwards onto me. I’m not even sure how I got out of that dilemma. I do remember getting him upstairs and crying out to God for help. I truly did not know what to do at that moment. I came face to face with the fact that I could no longer take care of him in our home the way it was. I needed two people to assist him at all times and it was difficult enough getting one person. There weren’t any care facilities that would take him because of his age. I was not sure what the next steps would be and found myself completely and totally at God’s will. There was nothing I could do on my own. I was lost and saw no way out.

I cannot recall how we navigated those two desperate weeks. But what I do remember is God putting a name in my mind near the end of those weeks: A neighbor who worked for hospice.  I had no idea what her role was at hospice or if Doug would qualify for hospice or even if the insurance would cover it. In fact, I really had no idea what hospice was. But I had nowhere else to turn. At the end of my rope, I called Amy.

I clearly remember sitting at the kitchen table with my sister when I called Amy. Within three hours, I had a hospital bed, a lift for Doug, other equipment, and a hospice nurse coming in five days a week. I was overwhelmed. I went from one of the deepest pits of despair to having a solution in place in three hours. God had answered my prayers. I also clearly remember a return phone call I received from Amy an hour later. She said that they had a bed at their hospice facility in Harrisburg and that I qualified for a week of respite care for Doug. They would come and get him in an ambulance, transport him to the facility, and take care of him for a week. I was overwhelmed with relief, grief, and confusion. I said no, thinking how could I send him away?  It didn’t seem right. I hung up from Amy and looked at my sister. She had been there for several days, if not weeks, trying to help me. I was sobbing when I looked at her. My next thought was I need to do this not only for me, but for her. I had so many thoughts going through my head.  Amy called back. “Yes”, I said, “that would be a blessing”. I desperately needed some respite and my sister needed to go home.

I talked to Doug about this. As much as I could understand him, he seemed ok with the idea. I would follow the ambulance to the facility, make sure everything was fine, and then go home without him. That was on a Saturday. On Sunday, the girls and I headed to the hospice home to see him after church. I wanted them to know that he was being taken care of – probably better than we could care for him here. We went to lunch afterwards and tears once again stained our cheeks.

Doug came home a week later and he was confined to his bed. Hospice would come every day and give him a bed-bath and his daytime caregiver would prepare meals and feed him. It was easier to care for him at this point. No more getting up in the middle of the night to help him to the bathroom. He was bedbound and would be until he went to be with his Savior.

He had a palliative care doctor who came to the house every month. She was a blessing to us. In October, she said that Doug probably had until ‘summer’. Another month she said the beginning of the summer, and at another point she said the end of the summer. I know it was a guess but that put a timeline on his remaining time with us. This was a difficult discussion with the girls.  When it was ‘two to twenty’ years or six months, it doesn’t seem as final. It’s almost like the ‘tomorrow’ statement – tomorrow never comes. But the summer of 2014 does come, and it was painful to hear. At that point, we knew that Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2013 would most likely be his last. We also realized that his birthday in February would also probably be his last.  But what should we do differently? I didn’t know.

When my youngest turned 11 that January, it was extremely difficult for me. Instead of rejoicing with her for turning 11, my mind only went to one thought: For the rest of her life, when she talks about her dad or about her life, she will say that she was 11 when her dad died. That’s all I could think about. I knew this because my mother’s father died when she was 12 and I remember her many stories over the years– “I was 12 when…”

We continued to watch Doug deteriorate. He was getting thinner and thinner. It was very difficult to watch the changes. Bed sores didn’t come until near the end. He didn’t have many as we cared for him as best we could. He was also becoming very stiff and his hands and feet were starting to look like they had severe arthritis. The hands that had so gently massaged other people’s muscles were now deformed and motionless. What he loved most were the foot and hand massages that many of his caretakers would give him.

It was on May 19 that the hospice worker recognized that fluids and food were going into his lungs. He was now unable to swallow correctly. We had known to expect this as it was a symptom of the disease. So it was on this day that the decision was made to stop all fluids and food, since he would asphyxiate which, I was told, would be worse than starving to death. And those were our choices at this point. We “celebrated” our 28th wedding anniversary on May 17th. I knew it would be our last.

For anyone who has watched a loved one slowly pass on my heart goes out to you. Difficult does not describe what that is like. Morphine becomes a gift. Each day you think is the last and then it turns into tomorrow. There is no quality time– only waiting and tears. But God sustains and helps you get from one day to the next. And as you kiss your loved one on the gurney as he is being taken out of your home for the last time, you know you will miss him, but that you also know that –if they were saved through faith in Jesus Christ—you have the hope that someday you will see him again in Heaven.

December 2016

As I look back and reflect on the past five years, I can see God in every decision. I know that He was with me. He didn’t take away the pain, but He let me know He was always there. On May 30, 2014 I said good-bye to my husband of 28 years. At this point, two and a half years later, I still have no idea what God wants me to do with this. But I still trust in His leading. He has never left me.

“The worldly things have become a little dimmer, and the things of Heaven have become a little brighter”.  I heard that from a pastor’s wife who lost her husband in a terrible car accident after church one Sunday as they were traveling back to their home. She did not seem bitter but, instead, said it with a sweetness that could only come from God. I now know what she meant.

John 14:2

In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

As James 4:14 says

Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.

God has been faithful to us throughout the past five years. Although we don’t understand, we trust that He knows what is best for us. The girls and I prayed faithfully that God be glorified through our trial. Whatever happened, we wanted God’s glory to shine through us. This was our verse:

I Thessalonians 5:18

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

One of Doug’s care-takers responded to a gift and note that I left for her one morning:

Jan:

For some reason I just now turned the page in Doug’s book. I opened your card and tears just poured from my eyes. Not out of sorrow or pain but because I am so thankful for everything I had to go thru that has led me to be with you and your family.

 I learned the true Grace of God thru you. Though I love Doug as though he were my child it is your actions that I saw day to day that renewed my faith in God. To love someone is to love someone like Jesus loved us. Sick, poor, meek ….

 I know you are grateful for my care of Doug without you ever saying a word. God brought you and your family to me so I could see. It is I who is most grateful. I have recently had an experience with God that is indescribable. It has made me committed to do His will and taught me that without him I have no life. You and Doug and your family contributed greatly to my salvation. I love you and I love Doug.

 Thank you for the birthday present. But mostly thank you for allowing me to be a part of your life.

 When I asked her if I could use this text at his memorial service, this was her response: “Oh I would love that….I am going to be glorifying God for sending him and your family into my life…  For I came into a home where my Father was the center so that I would come to see the Light of Christ Jesus, My savior, family-fall-2016-v2through a family that witnessed the love my Lord has for all His children without uttering a single word. Doug was sent to me as a silent messenger and a righteous man. At my baptism you will all be mentioned for the selfless love you have shown me as Jesus asked you to do. Words aren’t enough”.

If all of this was for one soul to spend eternity in Heaven, it was worth it.

 


 

Behind Enemy Lines

enemylines

Last night at the presidential debates we heard Hilary describe her dream for America. She communicates well so I have no doubt that she swayed a few voters but did you catch what she said?

She wants a world where the government can’t interfere if a mother wants to abort her baby that is due in a day or two (but the government can interfere when a Christian chooses not to bake a cake for a gay couple). She wants a world where marriage is between any two people who choose to love each other. She wants a country that takes from those who work hard and gives it to those who will not work.

Almost every policy she has goes against scripture and, while she talks about how she wants to make sure every special group has their rights, she has made it very clear that the right to religious freedom for Christians isn’t something she is interested in.

If she wins, we are going to become the enemy more than ever. But that’s nothing new. We already are living behind enemy lines if we are a believer. For we are not of this world (John 17:14).

And we were never meant to be friends with the world. When you start trying to please the world, you are headed down a very slippery slope from which there is no return. In fact, James makes it as clear as it could possibly be and yet we Christians can’t seem to understand–

Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

For many years now, there has been an enormous crowd of Christian “fence-sitters”. One foot in the world and one foot in the church. Now that the tide is turning against us and what we stand for, that option is disappearing rapidly.

But should it have ever even been an option for Christians at all?

If we are born again and are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), then we have become an enemy of the world (John 15:19). The Bible could not be any clearer on this.

And, yet, most Christians are trying desperately to fit in. We have adopted the ways, the music, the language, the entertainment, and the clothing of our enemy. We have decided that to reach the enemy we need to be like them–that our God is not strong enough to draw people to Himself without some help from us (even though He has been doing so since the beginning of time). And so most Christians look just like the world in which they are living. Their radio stations, their movies, their books are all written and promoted by the enemy. In fact, the “church” has become so impassioned with being like and pleasing the world that now even well-known speakers are caving on big issues like homosexuality and important doctrines such as hell.

I mean, in this day and age, how do you become popular or please the world if don’t change your position on certain issues? How do you become popular and viewed as “normal”  if you turn your back on the world’s entertainment? Plain and simple: You don’t.

I believe we have totally forgotten that it is God who draws men to Himself (John 6:44). It is God who changes a person’s heart. He uses us and we get to plant seeds and even sometimes help explain the Gospel, but it isn’t because we are like the world. It is in spite of the fact that we are like the world.

We are the enemy. We are living in enemy territory. We shouldn’t look like, talk like, dress like, or be like the world. Yet, most of us–including myself–have made ourselves pretty comfortable here in this world and feel pretty much at home. We are living a status quo reality that I believe is going to change.

So if you are a fence-sitter, you are going to very soon be faced with a dilemma. Which side of the fence will you land on? Are you more afraid of the world’s condemnation or God’s condemnation? Which will it be?

I leave you with these words from Jesus, clear words that cannot be misinterpreted. Words that have been ignored for a long time now in this American culture. I hope that we will consider them carefully as we become less and less liked in a society that is growing more immoral each day–

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily,[a] and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. 25 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? 26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:23-26)

 

Every Promise Kept

foggy-woods

I woke up on Saturday morning to some really bad news. It had nothing to do with me or even anyone close to me, but, instead was about a family that is related to a friend of mine. My heart cried out, “WHY GOD? WHY? I don’t understand. This doesn’t make sense.” Honestly, it rocked my world a bit. How can such terrible, terrible things happen to people that love the Lord? Why do they happen?

This is an age old question, isn’t it? We know sin exists. We know that we all will die. We see bad stuff happening around us everyday. Every. Day. The stories are heart-breaking and overwhelming sometimes. They are especially heart-rending when they happen to fellow believers.

Wouldn’t you know–this past Sunday’s sermon happened to be just about this very thing. We had a former missionary by the name of Larry Gray visiting our church and his message for us was centered around the fact that God always keeps His promises. He then gave us three different ways in which He does so. I’d like to pass along his outline and examples, elaborated with a few of my own thoughts and a few extra examples from scripture between points.

He started off with a quote by our church’s retired pastor, Pastor James Ober–

A disappointed heart is one of the most fertile places for Satan to do his work.

What a succinct way to say such a profound truth. Disappointment is often what yields bitterness, an unforgiving heart, depression, a downcast spirit, a lack of joy. If Satan can get us to focus on our disappointment we become like super-fertilized soil for many bad things.

As I was listening to the sermon, my mind wandered for a second. What causes us to be so disappointed, anyway? Why are we so disappointed when things don’t go our way? Is it because we have been taught to expect a perfect, carefree life? Or perhaps because we believe that God isn’t working unless He is working out things the way we want them to work out? Hold that thought. We will get back to it.

The speaker went on to describe three ways in which God keeps His promises to His people–

1. Intervention. This is when God intervenes by changing our circumstances or removing us from the circumstances. This is the way we like the best, isn’t it? It is, by far, the easiest from our human vantage point.

Two examples he mentioned from scripture were the Israelites crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 14) and the blind man who was healed by Jesus (John 9). But there are so many more, aren’t there? How about Daniel in the Lion’s Den (Daniel 6) and the perfectly timed earthquake that opened the jail cells of Paul and Silas at Philippi (Acts 16:25-34)?

If we have followed Jesus Christ for any amount of time at all, we have had some of this intervention in our own lives, as well. “Coincidental” meetings, miraculous timing, disappearing tumors, a much needed check in the mailbox or a bag of groceries on the doorstep. Just the right thing at exactly the right time. God is still working in this way. And, of course, we love it when He does!

2. Interaction. This is where we work, God works, and, together, we accomplish God’s purposes and plan. This requires a bit more from us than the first way, doesn’t it? We actually have to do something. We may have to sacrifice our time as well as our selfish will and desires. We will probably have to work very hard in order to experience victory.

The speaker gave the example of Elijah outrunning the chariot (I Kings 18:45-46). I also thought of Moses having to hold his arms up to win the battle (Exodus 17:11) and Esther putting her own life in peril to approach the King in order to save the Jews (Esther 4:11). The Great Commission is also a proof that this is sometimes how God works (Matthew 28:19-20). These passages show us that oftentimes God uses man (He doesn’t need us but chooses to use us) to accomplish His purposes.

This is often the way in which we experience victory over things like obesity, debt, and addictions. We step up and give our best efforts and God is there strengthening, supporting, and guiding us all the way.

3. Inner Action. This is where nothing changes but our hearts. This is the one that we probably find the most difficult. We want things to change. We want relief! And we want it now! But sometimes God says Wait. And sometimes He says No. But in the process of it all– if we don’t let disappointment and disillusionment grab hold of our heart–spiritual fruit grows. We develop a deeper walk that eventually spills out over on to the lives of others, encouraging them, blessing them, perhaps even leading them to the precious Savior.

The speaker gave the example of Paul’s thorn in the flesh for this point (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). I would also add John the Baptist–beheaded by the orders of a vengeful, evil woman (Matthew 14:1-12) and Jeremiah, the prophet who was hated, mocked, and abused for declaring the Word of the Lord, with little relief (Jeremiah 11:21; 12:6; 20:1-2 –to name a few!)

He also gave the modern-day example of Joni Eareckson Tada. Most of you are probably familiar with this woman, now in her mid 60s, that was in a diving accident as a 17 year old, leaving her a quadriplegic. If you haven’t ever read her story, you have missed one of the best biographies of these modern times (If you’d like to read it, you can find it here). The speaker went on to talk about just how much Joni has done for the Lord in her wheelchair.

Think about that for a moment. If God would have answered the desperate appeals and cries for healing for this young woman, would she have been able to be used by God in the same way she is used today? Would she have been able to have the same incredible impact among the disabled that she has had today without healing? She has had an incredible ministry with the disabled because she is disabled. She is a wonderful example of not giving in to the disappointment of unanswered prayer, isn’t she? By the way, her reach goes far beyond the disabled. She has written many wonderful books, draws and paints beautiful works with her mouth, and has also quite a speaking career. God took her pain and turned it into something magnificent for His glory! Isn’t it amazing what a heart that yields to God’s will–instead of caving in to disappointment– can accomplish for the Lord?

So that’s the sermon in a nutshell. Isn’t that profound? But before I conclude, let’s go back to our expectations for a moment. One of the statements our speaker made was this–

If this {intervention} is your only expectation, you will have a disappointed, damaged faith.

This is so true! I had never thought about it quite like that before. You see, we so badly want to be removed from our circumstances. We don’t want to do any work at all. We certainly don’t want to stay in our bad circumstances. And, so, we basically tell God “answer my prayers the way I want them answered or else.” Instead of submitting and yielding to our Most High God, we want Him to bow to us and our desires. Instead of desiring to serve an Almighty, Holy God, we want Him to serve us! Think about that for a moment! This is a big deal.

What is our purpose? What are we here for?

To have our every whim and desire fulfilled? No.

To live worry-free, without cares? No.

To have everything go just as we want? No.

To never experience pain, death, or persecution? No.

To bring God glory and to make Him known? YES! A thousand times YES!

If we remember this, it completely changes our paradigm for life. Instead of trying to manipulate circumstances and fixing situations, we rest quietly and wait on the Lord. Instead of always wanting to get our own way, we think of others first. Instead of living in a state of panic, fear, and disappointment, we trust in the Lord, knowing that He loves us deeply, fully, and forever.

Living in a fallen, sinful world is hard. It is painful. Oftentimes it is downright unpleasant. But if we know God and trust in Him He will uphold us. If He is the rock we build our life upon (Matthew 7:24-29), no disappointment or trial will destroy us. Instead, they will make us stronger.

I hope this has helped you as much as it helped me. I hope that you will continue to trust the Lord today, no matter what trial or deep disappointment you are facing. God has not deserted you. Instead, He is fulfilling His purposes in you. Don’t turn away from Him during this time–turn towards Him.

Small Mercies

sunflowers

Where to begin. It’s been a rough few weeks around here. On many different levels and in many different ways. I have felt completely uninspired and, honestly, pretty hypocritical as I wrote posts here. Most of you seemed to agree with me, if the response (or lack thereof) to recent posts was any indication.

At this point, I am saying to myself–What am I doing? Who do I think I am? I have no right to be writing. No right to be telling people how to live godly lives. Not while I still struggle so much myself.

It all started with a prayer. We were talking in our home about how so many people have blind spots. Areas of their life where they just can’t see the truth about themselves. This was bothering me. And so I asked the Lord to show me any blind spots I have. He has been busy doing so ever since.

I didn’t really realize it until, at one of my lowest points, it hit me. God was answering my prayer. And it wasn’t pretty. And it was so painful. But my eyes were opened. And I saw myself as I really am.

Through all of this, God has been extending small–but infinitely encouraging–mercies to me. A kind word about the blog passed along through a mutual friend. A scripture passage that almost seems like it was written just for me. An excerpt from a book I am reading that challenges and encourages me just where I am at. A friend who is praying for me during this spiritually dry time.

And I am being reminded that even when we are chastised or going through trials, that God is there. He doesn’t leave us to wallow in our pit of despair, but, oh so gently, meets us there and walks with us. He picks us up and gives us His strength.

Paul puts it this way–

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)

While I can’t really say I have gotten to the point of taking pleasure in these things, I can see the benefit of them. I can see how they mold me and shape me and sanctify me. I am starting to see how they force me to rely on Christ’s strength instead of my own. And, most importantly, they humble me and fill me with awareness of just how weak and sinful I am. God’s amazing grace and endless mercy become even more precious to me with each infirmity. With each reproach. With each need and persecution and distress.

And so it is so important to me that you realize I am just a person. I am not some perfect role model. I have so many areas which I still need to grow. In fact, the further along I get the more I realize this. I never want to appear arrogant or judgmental in any post. I only desire to point people to God and His Word. I want to glorify Him and Him alone. I want to point people to the Savior–Jesus–the only way we can be reconciled to God. I want to show that the Word of God is the only anchor we truly have in the storms of life. And I want to encourage Christians to shake the status quo Christianity that has become acceptable–and even expected– in the church today.

I do this as a weak and lowly sinner. As an imperfect vessel. And I do thank God for showing me my weaknesses so that His strength can shine through. So that I, too, can say “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

If you are still reading Growing 4 Life posts, I thank you. I hope that you are encouraged to grow and to encourage those around you to shake the status quo Christianity. If you are struggling today, if God is showing you your weaknesses, I hope that you, too, will experience His small mercies and unending love.

(Now go and have a wonderful Labor Day weekend! :) Can you believe summer is over already?)