For My Father-In-Law

For My Father-In-Law

It was a cold, bright, Saturday morning, early spring of 2015. The sun shone through the bare windows of the dusty guest room. He had picked me up in his Tahoe an hour ago, tires bumping along the packed ice on the roads, just to get me out of the house for a little while. After pulling all the nails out of the old hardwood floor, we had begun cutting the trim for the windows with the miter saw right there in the room. It was only the second time I had used that saw. I was nervous that I would make a mistake, and then I did! I cut a piece too short, but he just shrugged it off: “You’re doing good. I make mistakes ALL the TIME.” He flipped the piece of wood around and somehow made it work.

A little while later, looking at me with that sparkle in his eye, he placed the nail gun in my hand. He had already nailed the trim up around the windows while I observed, and now we just had to finish the door. I was so excited! I had been hoping he would let me try. “I don’t want to screw it up,” I worried, but his face beamed with pride as only a dad’s can. “You won’t,” he said with a nod. “Just make sure you line it up as you go down.” Then he stood back and watched as I used the nail gun for the very first time.

I could fill the pages of a book with stories of the things he has taught me in the past eight years I have lived in Montana. I could describe the warm summer evenings we have spent in the garage, his steady hands demonstrating how to use power tools. I could share about the spring of 2014 when he and Mom renovated their bathroom. He was my guide as I learned to cut and hang drywall, wire an outlet, and put down underlayment. Or I could recount the day he took off work to construct his very first fish tank stand. And so on a hot summer morning, while the kids tumbled around the yard and baby William tiptoed on his hands and feet in the grass nearby, I had my very first experience with woodworking. That stand is now retired, replaced with a better version (which I helped to sand and paint), and has been relegated to the garage until I have a house large enough to accommodate a fishtank.

I could go on to share about the nights spent in the kitchen, how he taught me to make a killer pork roast in the crock pot, and let me help season and smoke his famous ribs. Baked mac and cheese, lemon chicken, spaghetti sauce, and french fries; how to roast a turkey for the best broth, and how to make the most amazing pizza crust from scratch – oh and how to properly hold and use knives. I remember that like it was yesterday. My sisters were visiting, and he caught me using my finger to stabilize the top of my knife as I chopped veggies for chicken noodle soup. Amid the usual teasing and sharing of his own experiences, he corrected me. Everything he has taught me, about cooking and so many more important things, melds together with everything I already know, leaving nothing untouched.

Among my favorite memories was the late summer and fall of 2013, after we had all moved into the new house and I was enormously pregnant with William. The week of my 27th birthday he and I decided on a whim to make tortillas from scratch, and they were hands down the best we’d ever tasted. Imagining what else we could create, we embarked on a cooking spree. Friday nights were our night, and we alternated choosing new recipes to try: Beef stew, mini cheesecakes with fruit topping, apple fritters, hamburger buns, bread sticks with beer cheese sauce, and bread and butter pickles. The cooking was great but the company was where it was at – the inside jokes and trial by error, the companionship of learning together, all of it was perfect.

But my story could never be complete unless I shared about my favorite nights of all, the nights we sit across from each other in the living room and talk, so engrossed in our conversation that hours pass effortlessly. Stretching all the way back to when Audrey was one, when Ryan worked nights, Mom was in school, and we were all squeezed into one little house, these talks have lit up my life like stars in a country sky. He tells me about his childhood, Ryan’s childhood, his travels for work, and his and Mom’s adventures over the years. When I don’t have anything to say he fills the silence with stories, and when I do have something to say he is the world’s best listener. And as I have been privileged to experience life through his eyes, my heart has been opened to understand the Father’s love for me in a new way.

“Do you believe God gives people signs?” He asked me. It was the winter of 2012/2013, and I had been drifting spiritually for four years. His question, a sharp reminder of the reason for my doubts, was like a whisper in my spirit, drawing me gently from my slumber.

As we began to talk honestly of God more and more often, I found he was a kindred soul, someone who could relate to where I was. The quiet nights at home sharing stories of past experiences evolved slowly over time into intense discussions about God’s love, as it became more and more real to both of us. Growing with him has been an incredible privilege: Knowing that we each played a role in re-igniting the flame of the other, sharing the struggles and tears, the triumph and the growth. And in all of this he taught me the most important lessons of all: That it is OK to forgive yourself, that it is possible to overcome your deepest fears. That God does speak and he does answer prayer. And that there is nothing you can ever, ever do to outrun God’s love.

And if there is one thing I want him to know now it is this: That somewhere among all the stories told on those long nights that we lose track of time talking, somewhere mixed in with the tears while we pray for each other and the laughter about easy cheese and the kids socks, somewhere in between all the lessons learned, the time shared, and the knowing glances, something magical has happened.

It was Father’s day 2013. The day had been perfect: baked jalapeno poppers and homemade burgers on the stove. Everyone was together; Stephanie was home. But that night, I hid my tears, feeling the sting of my fourth father’s day without my dad. And just like always, he was there when it mattered most. He wrapped his arms around me and I discovered that he has the best shoulder to cry on.

And it was in that moment that I knew.
He wasn’t my Father-in-Law anymore.
He wasn’t Paul.

He was Dad.

After all, it is he who took over for this exhausted mama, night after night, when Ryan worked late. It’s his “Grandpa voice” that makes the kids listen, he who prays with them and tells them about Jesus.

It is he who has been beside me in the pew every Sunday, setting the example for his grandkids and providing support and comfort to their mother’s heart. It’s he who has stayed close by after services every week without fail, carrying the heavy car seats and helping me contain the energy of three over-tired kids among the crowds of people.

It is he who put up with me using every dish in the kitchen every single day for the 2 ½ years we lived in his house. He who cancelled his Saturday morning plans and sat in the ER for five hours when I had an MRI. He who carried newborn Audrey down the mountain I decided to hike up at two weeks post-partum. He who chides me for not wearing boots in the winter or gloves when I brush the snow off the car. It’s he who sat on the couch next to me and helped me pick out almost every song on my Amazon playlist, he who watched the whole storm pass with me from inside Starbucks the day it flooded. He who slaved in the kitchen making breakfast pizza from scratch, crust and all, for my 30th birthday. He who jumped my truck when I killed the battery while Ryan was at work, who still brings me a key when I lock myself out of the house.

It’s he who calls me from work just to see how my day is going because he knows I get lonely with Ryan working nights. It’s he who always pays attention to me in a crowd, who knows how to get me to open up when I don’t want to talk, who knows when I just need a hug. It’s he who knows whether I am sad, thoughtful, melancholy, or just tired, with pinpoint accuracy. And it’s he who has never been afraid to engage me in my weakest of moments.

In a word, he is Dad: everything a dad should be. My own dad set an impossibly high bar, so he sure must be something pretty special for me to call him that name and mean it from the bottom of my heart. He may not have raised me but you don’t stop growing when you hit 21. My life has ventured on to half that over again. And it’s his ears that have listened, his smiles that have encouraged me, his advice that has guided me, his patient hands that have taught me for my entire adult life. And I want him know, to truly understand, how much he is needed, loved and treasured.

This man I call Dad is constant, gentle in his strength. He is personable, endearing, intuitive, intelligent, honest, ardent, loyal, and resolute. His heart is deep and his love is relentless. He is a good man, a faithful husband, an attentive father. In this broken world, there is no more glorious a living and breathing picture of God than that.

And there’s a reason both of our sons bear his name. If the fact that Audrey has his eyes, William has his dimples, and August has his smile is any indication of who they will grow to become, I just want him to know how much we need him.

And when he slams his palms down on the table next to him and says, “Melissa, I hope this doesn’t offend you, but you’re not my daughter-in-law, You’re. My. Daughter!” I just want him to know how much I love him.

And when he says “Just call me up and say ‘Dad, I’m coming over.’ Any time. We’ll find something to do,” I just want him to know that I always will. I treasure the moments I get to spend with him among my very biggest blessings.

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For My Mother-In-Law

I loved her from the first time I met her. Observing her from across the restaurant table where we were seated, it was obvious where Ryan had gotten his looks. The dark hair, the youthful appearance, the eyes…it’s not every day you see eyes like that, large, gorgeous, dark, down-turned, incandescent. And when she laughed they were full of mischief, especially if she was laughing at herself for an attempted joke, or if Ryan was making fun of her, two things that happen quite frequently I was later to discover.

That first day I spent with her it struck me how different she was from most adults I knew. She was light-hearted, almost girlish, in the best possible way. She had a great sense of humor mostly because she unintentionally did things that made everyone laugh. She had a bright and animated personality, and she was at peace, a quality rarely seen these days and one that instantly made me want what she had.

Before the end of the year, I had followed Ryan and his family on a move across country from Michigan, leaving everything and everyone I knew and loved behind. When I arrived in Montana, it was to an apartment almost fully furnished. She had brought over everything from chairs to towels to a mat for my kitchen floor and then promptly invited me to spend most of my time at her house. Generosity: it is another of her best qualities, and one that has over time left a deep mark on me. She loves to give of what she has to others and to welcome others into her life, which is what she did for me from the moment I set foot on this soil. From the very beginning, even before Ryan and I were engaged, I was family, a part of everything from family discussions to pictures for the grandparents to Christmas traditions. This concept of living life closely together was foreign to me at first as growing up my family kept to themselves, but she has taught me that family is not something to be hoarded, but instead shared. Love doesn’t stretch, it grows.

Recently, my family came to visit from Michigan. It was the first time most of them had been out here for a real visit in the seven years I have lived here, and among all the lovely and very expected things that happen during a visit with family, something very unexpected also occurred.

I realized that I had changed.

This was a result of finally being around the people I had missed for so long, and being reminded of all the ways we did things, all the quirks, big and small, that made my family what it was, but some of which I was surprised to discover, I now did differently. It was a result of getting my whole family together, both sides under one roof, and realizing that this time around, my husband’s family were the ones with all the stories. They entertained my family with all our best memories, from how I secretly ate chocolate ice cream for breakfast to what happened the night we brought August home from the hospital. And as I sat on the couch and listened, I saw clearly how all the moments spent together had added up to years, years spent with people who had shaped me and anchored me here.

But more than all that, the realization came about as a result of watching my parents interact with our kids for the first time ever. It felt like I was in a time capsule as it brought back so many memories from my childhood. And even as I smiled and soaked up every second, I saw each gesture with tears in my eyes as though they were the souvenirs of another life, familiar and cherished, yet so different from who I have become. The realization hit me like a slow but sure awakening that I have as much of my mother-in-law in me now as I do my own mom.

And why shouldn’t I? She is the woman who has been there for my entire journey as wife and mother. She was present for the birth of all three of our children, she was my guiding light as I fought my way through the murky waters of discipline clouded by my past to find peace and confidence in my parenting, and she has been there through all the challenges Ryan and I have faced: the six moves in six years, unemployment twice for eight months each time and both times while I was pregnant, and Ryan’s broken leg.

For every important moment and all those in between she has been there. When our little girl had a fever of 103 and I was scared, it was she that took over and showed me how to cool her safely with a lukewarm bath. When we found out for the second time in three years that we were losing our apartment, it was her calm that anchored me. I have spent half of my married life living in her home and probably another fourth of it visiting. Our two older children have spent more of their lives in her home than elsewhere and one of them was born while we lived there. She has seen me when I am scared, sad, mad (not many people have seen that one), and she is one of a handful of people who knows all my deepest, darkest secrets, and she still loves me.

And although she probably thinks I don’t listen to a word she says, the truth is that she is the woman I have looked to and admired for the past eight years; her positivity, her peace, her confidence, her assertiveness, her emotional stability, her faith, her eye for detail, her generosity, her love of life, her ambition, are all things that have rubbed off on me. And those are just the big things. I also happen to fold my towels in thirds, wipe off my appliances before I put them away, put pajamas on my kids at night, make popcorn with butter and coconut oil for an evening snack, prefer to start my day with a clean kitchen – so many dozens of little things she has taught me, intentionally or unintentionally, that all come together to form my personality. If someone didn’t know any better they might just say I am like her.

And if there is one thing I want it is for her to know. I want her to know that I love her. I love her for who she is, strengths and weakness and all of her quirks. Like how she wants to have a garden but doesn’t like gardening so she buys potted flowers with every intention of transplanting them and then leaves them in the pots till they die. Or how she doesn’t like raisins, not because they taste bad, but because they remind her of bugs. Or how she is so deathly afraid of spiders that she asked me to photocopy pages of her college biology textbook with the pictures of the spiders covered up. Or how she loves books so much that she can’t wait till she’s finished one to start the next, and consequently never has fewer than six going at a time. Or how she sings her heart out to God on stage Sunday mornings as if no-one is watching. I think that is when she is most beautiful.

But most of all I want her to know that it is she more than anyone else who has modeled for me the woman I needed to become. Many of her strengths have been areas of weakness for me, and I fully believe she is an angel sent by God to help me grow. She has shown me how to be at peace, how to keep a clean house, how to enjoy life, how to have healthy relationships, how to be a strong woman, how to be a good wife and a patient and relaxed mother. I hear her in my voice when I talk to my kids and joke with my husband, I see her expressions on my face when I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I feel her in my heart as I remember the things she has taught me while I go about my day. ‘

She may not have raised me but she has become to me, in every sense of the word, Mom.

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For My Dad

My Dad made me who I am. For as long as I can remember, I was always a Daddy’s girl. I remember being told as a young girl that I was just like my dad. I looked like him, I talked like him, and I walked like him, and nothing made me happier.

Even as I grew into adulthood I always wanted to be just like my Dad, and I am in more ways than I can count. But looking back there are a few things that really stand out about the way he raised me, things that have impacted who I am today, things that I would like to thank him for.

~The earliest memory I have of my Dad is of sitting on his lap when I was five years old. Every evening after dinner he would teach me the Hebrew alphabet. He did this because he wanted to teach me the names of God in Hebrew, which unbeknownst to him was probably the most defining event of my life. El Shaddia ~ Almighty God, Elohim ~ God Most High, Yahweh ~ I AM. I always knew who my Dad worshiped and served and I quickly became fascinated with this God. I remember looking up at the night-time sky and thinking about the names my Dad had taught me, feeling like I was going to fall into the stars and longing to know more about this God. These feelings have never left me and are today still the driving force behind everything I do.

~My Dad worked third shift for many years when I was young. And every Sunday morning instead of going to bed when he arrived home, he took his family to church. We sat in the back row because my Dad struggled to stay awake. I remember looking over at my Dad and seeing his eyes opening and closing, face determined to make it through to the end of the service. The impression this made on me, that my Dad would rather go to church and suffer the embarrassment of falling asleep during the service than to skip out and go to bed when he was obviously exhausted, week after week, year after year, spoke louder to me than anything he ever said.

~As a young child I remember my Dad apologizing to me almost every single night when he tucked me into bed for being “short” and “harsh” that day. I remember that I never knew what he was talking about because he was always very patient with us. It made a huge impression on me because my Dad could admit he wasn’t perfect and was humble enough to ask my forgiveness for the tiniest thing that I hadn’t even noticed.

~When I was in high-school, I got up at 6:00 for school. My dad left for work about 6:30, so he was up when I got up. And every morning he was on the couch praying with his Bible in his hands. This made a huge impression on me because it was clear what my Dad’s priorities were. I never doubted where he found his strength.

~My Dad was always patient, the rock of the family, and a safe place when I needed to talk to someone. He was always stable, no matter what was going on around me. My Dad listened to me and understood me. He taught me about commitment, sacrifice, self-control, humility, and dedication. He made me laugh every day when he came home from work, and he was always proud of me. I never wanted to disappoint him.

My Dad will always be perfect to me. He represents everything good, strong and safe about the world. There is no way I could ever adequately thank him for who he is so the best I can do is to try to help him understand and say:

Thank you Dad for everything.

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What I am Learning During a Difficult Time in my Life

Two months ago on December 11, Ryan lost his job. One month prior, after two-and-a-half years of paying down our debts, we had finally moved out of his parents place and into our own apartment. We had also just found out I was pregnant with our third child. You see, things were finally starting to look up for us financially and we wanted another baby. Ryan was scheduled to get a huge raise about the time tax returns would come, and we were going to pay off a significant portion of our debts. We had plans to finish cleaning up our credit and buy a house in about a year. And then everything changed.

We stayed optimistic at first because our unemployment was approved for almost the same amount Ryan had been making. We waited and waited but the checks did not come. Several early job opportunities for Ryan fell through in a way that seemed almost eerie. As I progressed in my pregnancy I began dealing with my usual sickness – extreme nausea and vomiting to the  point that I was couch-ridden most days. As the days stretched into weeks we fell behind on all our bills – our rent, utilities, insurance, medical bills, and the student loans we had worked so hard to get off our credit. It was like we were watching everything we had worked for collapse before our eyes. The stress made me sicker and I couldn’t clean, cook or eat. Our kids lived on crackers, bread and peanut butter and bananas, Ryan didn’t eat much of anything and I ate whatever was left that I could stomach.

I remember the day we hit our lowest point. After a month of waiting, we finally got an unemployment check. Instead of the amount we were approved for plus the month of back-pay we were expecting, we received a check for less than half the expected amount with no back pay. We were informed that because of a mix-up that had occurred with Ryan’s final work check, this lower number was to be our weekly amount. Not 10 minutes later we received a call from our landlord informing us that our kids were making too much noise at night. If they received any more complaints we would have to move. So here I am, pregnant and sicker than a dog, up all night long trying to keep our extremely stubborn and strong-willed son quiet who had decided he didn’t want to sleep anywhere – not in his crib, in bed with me, or on the couch with Ryan. We were so scared that we would get another complaint, that we wouldn’t be able to move due to lack of income, and that we would get evicted. It seemed like everything that could possibly go wrong was going wrong.

There is a part of me that remains objective no matter the situation and that part of me saw the humor in what was happening. And I told myself, “there has to be a reason for this.” I told Ryan that at some point you just have to scream or laugh and I would rather laugh and trust that there is a reason. I don’t know what that reason is, but I do know that we are here on earth to learn and grow spiritually, and the faster we grow the faster we progress. And that is why I am writing about my experiences now, not because I want to bring attention to the hardships we have faced, or because I want sympathy. I am way too proud for that, and so even writing honestly about this is a lesson in humility for me. No, I want to remember the things I have learned so that I don’t have to keep relearning them. I want to remember how I feel now, while we are still waiting for Ryan to find a job. I want to remember the perspective I have gained, the joy and peace I have found, the desire to learn all I can and not waste this opportunity for growth, and the acceptance that this is for a higher purpose.

First I have come to understand that while we may have desires and plans to live a comfortable life, acquire certain things, and reach a certain standard of living, that is not what is most important in life. I have always known this mentally but my experiences lately have helped me to know this tangibly. What is most important is growing spiritually. Growing spiritually can be summed up by the greatest commandment – loving God and loving each other. The truth is that we are so caught up in our own lives and our goals and plans that we forget what it truly means to love. We don’t live a life of intimate union with our creator or harmony with our fellow man and the rest of creation. All of us in developed countries are in some ways spoiled rotten and caught up in the selfish, greedy, materialistic culture we are surrounded by even if we don’t mean to be. Sometimes we need to have our foundations shaken up to help us reconnect with our true purpose which is to love self-sacrificially. Our selfish desires and sinful reactions have to be torn down and replaced with loving thoughts, desires, and responses. And as stressful as the past two months have been, I welcome it all if it helps us to grow.

Above I mentioned the greatest commandment and how loving God and loving others sums up our purpose – that ultimate goal which we are growing toward. I have found that these two things have been tested the most severely in my life. My love for God has been tested. There have been nights I have lain awake stressing and crying. Other nights I have yelled at God wanting him to fix things immediately. Do I really trust him? Do I really believe he will take care of us, and if it’s not in the way I would like will I still trust him? Do I believe that no matter what happens, if we end up losing our apartment or end up thousands of dollars in the hole, if we go hungry, if we don’t get to buy a house till our kids graduate, that it is for our good- even our childrens’? As all of my hopes and dreams for our family’s future have come into question, as we have struggled for the bare necessities of survival, I have learned once again that God is trustworthy. I know that his love, which is far greater than we can begin to imagine, is what holds the universe together and is what gave life to the spirit inside of all of us. It is enough to sustain us. It may not make logical sense, but that is because we live in a three-dimensional physical reality and cannot directly perceive the other dimensions of the spiritual realm. What we cannot see is that our physical world is part of something much bigger and it is all sustained, and therefore part of, God’s love. As the song we sang at church the other day goes “I’m running to your arms, I’m running to your arms. The riches of your love will always be enough. Nothing compares to your embrace.”  This is the truth that has always sustained me and it’s what sustains me now. And it always will.

My love for others has been tested even more severely. The stress put Ryan and I on edge in the early days and we both spent way too much time lashing out-at each other and at our kids. The stress combined with sickness and exhaustion brought me face to face with the worst inside of me. I found it very hard to be gracious and loving. I just wanted everyone to leave me alone so I could rest. I had no patience for my husband’s needs or shortcomings,  for Audrey’s whining and constant questions, or for William’s screaming. Thankfully I did not stay here. I knew deep in my soul that if there was one sure thing I was to learn during these circumstances it was how to love my family selflessly even when it felt impossible. It doesn’t mean anything to be a good wife and mother when times are great if I cannot do so when times are hard. But on the other side of that same coin, I have learned that sometimes the most loving thing you can do for a person is to give them a chance to grow as well. I have a tendency to be way too proud to ask for or accept help and I rob others of a chance to step up to the plate. I have learned through this experience to not only accept and ask for help but to respect my own boundaries and needs. It is OK to be weak and lean on others.

Another lesson I have learned through this experience is how important it is to be involved in the lives of your loved ones and friends. Don’t wait to be asked. Notice what people need and help. Our family and friends were our lifeline and at times the only bright spot we had to hold onto. The worst part of an experience like this is the crushing loneliness of feeling like no one knows what is going on and not wanting to burden anyone with your problems. But thankfully, that was only an illusion that I felt on the worst of days. The truth is that we have family on both sides and friends who were very involved and asked us constantly if we had food, if we could pay our rent, how I was feeling, if we needed anything, ect. We have had family and friends help us pay bills, offer to buy food for us, and direct us to resources that would get us financial aide. Because of this, we are now caught up on all of our bills. Also, some of the most meaningful gifts were the most personal. Like the night my friend Amber showed up on my doorstep with dinner when I was too sick to cook and Ryan was out. Or the times my Mom and Dad C. saw that I needed to get away from it all and invited just me over for a relaxing morning or evening away. My Dad C. told me that anytime I needed to get away I could come over and watch a movie with him. It’s things like that that make you feel seen and loved and make hard times bearable.

Perhaps most importantly, I have again been reminded of the importance of the passion I have in my heart to help those in need. If this experience has taught me anything, it is that no one should ever have to go through hardships alone. And yet, so many people do. They say that one in five children in America go hungry. That’s a big number, and now it is very personal. The only thing separating my children from those 20 percent are the loving family and friends who look out for us. But what about all the people across the world who have no-one to help and no way out? Who is going to help them? All of us who have enough are called to help! It is our job! If we don’t do it, who will??? I prayed the other night again, asking God to provide enough for us to give to those in need. God spoke to me and said that if I don’t give now when I have little I won’t give when I have more. I asked him what else I could possibly give. I have already gone through all of our stuff and given everything we can do without. Our clothes and the kids toys, all of our baby stuff, extra blankets, the junk in our closets, everything. And God told me that if I don’t feel it when I’m giving, it’s not enough. In other words, I need to do what I keep preaching: give even when I feel there’s nothing left to give. There is always something to give. As long as I have more than someone who is on the street starving, I have something to give.

One of my favorite Bible verses is Jeremiah 22:11, “He gave justice and help to the poor and needy, and everything went well for him. Isn’t that what it means to know me?” says the LORD.” How many times have I asked “what does it really mean to know God?” or “how can I really know God?” Here God himself gives us a direct answer. If we do not help those in need, we do not know or understand God. We can’t, because it’s impossible to know God and be filled with his love without feeling his compassion and being driven to act. I fully believe that God has allowed these experiences of financial need to come into my life so that I can better understand his compassion, to better equip me to help those in similar or worse situations as myself.

Right now I do not know how much longer this trial will last. It could be days or years. But this much I know: I can trust God and he uses everything for good. I cannot wait to see what he brings out of these hardships in our lives. Until then, I will continue to learn whatever he has for me, to grow in my weaknesses, and learn to love better.

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Stop Sharing Lists of ‘Things You Shouldn’t Say to So and So’ Already

So this popped up in my news feed today. “17 Things Women Without Children are Tired of Hearing.” I clicked on it, although I shouldn’t have, and honestly, what I read really bothered me. Another list of comments that are apparently offensive to say to a specific people group followed by snarky, arrogant responses intended to make said people group feel justified in their offense, all thinly veiled by humor.

Reading through the list, I can see a few comments that are insensitive, a few more that are ignorant, and even more that are most likely innocent attempts at conversation starters. In my opinion, all the above should be met with grace and an assumption of the person’s best intentions. That’s why I am so against these lists. They resonate with people and they garner a lot of attention and drive traffic to people’s blogs, so they keep getting written. Lists of things not to say to single people, or those who got married young, or those who got married late. Things not to say to parents of autistic children, or parents who don’t have kids, or parents of only one child, or parents of a large family. If these lists were written with an intent of helping people to better understand one another that would be one thing, or even if they were truly meant to be humorous, but most of them are written with an indignant, self-righteous tone that is repulsive to me.

We all have our own story to tell, our own path to walk, and none of our paths are easy, none without heartache. We have all suffered loss and disappointments. Some have lost parents and some children. Some are single and suffer loneliness, some are married and lonelier still. Some are single and love it, while others got married young only to have it fall apart, or get married young to experience the messy process of maturation together. Marriage and children, loss and loneliness are all very personal, emotionally charged subjects, so it is no wonder that people are easily offended. But we as a culture need to get over our offenses already, grow up, and realize that these experiences are meant to be shared, not only for each others’ benefit but for our own. Instead we hole up with our pain and hide behind our computer screens writing (or sharing) snarky articles and avoid the real questions and comments from real life people, pushing them away with our sarcastic responses, telling them our pain, our decisions, our lives are none of their business.

I have been on the receiving end of these so-called “offensive” remarks, the ones you’re not supposed to say to so-and-so (whoever the person may be) more times than I can even remember. Most of the time, the comments happened before I had kids. Once I was sitting in the bookstore next to the hotel I worked at reading while I waited for Ryan to pick me up. A lady I knew only slightly from a church I was attending at the time came up to me and remarked that she wished she had time to sit in a bookstore and read. She said she hadn’t had time for anything like that since before her kids were born. What she didn’t know was that I was in my first trimester of pregnancy and had bad morning sickness. My  husband was out of work and he wasn’t eating at all to ensure that I at least got dinner every day. I hadn’t had breakfast or lunch that day which made the morning sickness a lot worse. We only had one car, and my schedule was flexible so I had to call Ryan to pick me up when I got off. Only that day, my phone was dead. I was sitting in that chair praying to God that Ryan would somehow know I had gotten off early and come get me before I had to make a run for the bathroom. I didn’t say any of this to her of course, but I wish I would have. Her comment made me angry and uncomfortable, but I wish I could have seen it for what it was. She was opening up to me about how she felt, reminiscing about the days before she had kids, sharing how her life had changed and how mine probably would someday too. Instead off letting her in and also sharing how I was feeling at the time, I was offended, shut her out, and ended the conversation, attributing to her the worst of intentions. I had a chance to connect with a real person who had real things to say, albeit things I didn’t want to hear at the time. That could have been the start of a friendship. Who knows, if she had known how miserable I was, maybe she would have given me a ride home.

And that’s the problem right there. As long as we keep telling people to mind their own business, as long as we hide our true selves, our pains and disappointments, as long as we keep assuming the worst about the people we come in contact with, we are going to continue to be lonely, sarcastic, and arrogant as a society. And in my opinion, a good place to start changing is to stop sharing these stupid lists on Facebook. Yes, there are people out there who are nosy/annoying and may not have the best of intentions, but most people are not like that and these lists aren’t going to change the ones who are! For most people, it is scary to open up, and hard to know what to say to someone who may be struggling, and having ten different lists of things that might offend various people for various reasons is enough to shut down the people who actually care.

Bottom line: When most people ask questions it is because they care. When most people make comments, they are trying to share something of their own feelings or experience. If something is too personal to share with someone you barely know, then wait, but don’t be offended simply because they care enough to ask. Stop making it harder for real people to talk to each other about the difficult things in life. Because if the day comes when people are too intimidated to say half the things we wish they wouldn’t, it is going to be a sad, lonely, quiet world.

There! That felt great! I’ve been wanting to get that out for a while!

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These Surreal Moments

I feel the pressures of life melting away as I close the door of my house. I take nothing with me but my baby who is strapped to me, the sounds of happy laughs, and three sets of pattering feet. Not five minutes later, we arrive at the park. The kids immediately spread out, each doing their own thing. One heads for the swings, one bends down to pick flowers, and the third stops to read the letters on the sign.

Finally, we are free. Away from the confines and rules of the house, suddenly they are no longer babies, competing for my attention and squabbling over who pushed who. They are little adults, confident, free-spirited, and strong. They climb trees, hunt for crab apples, observe the woodpecker who is guarding his nest, chase the neighbor’s dogs who have come for a run, and run themselves, like the wind is in their feet.

This park is emptier than most. The space of a city block, there is an old swing-set at one end, an old basketball court at the other, and a pavilion in the middle on the south side. The rest is empty space: yards and yards of wildflowers begging to be picked and mystery waiting to be uncovered. Ancient trees grow along the north edge, their leaves whispering to each other in the wind; Each kind speaks its own language. When the wind kicks up, it blows from the west, which makes this park is the coldest place in our neighborhood. Today though, the sun warms me and birds call to each other high above. The earth is steady and enormous beneath my bare feet, grounding me. I am at peace.

I watch as my daughter shimmies up the sapling tree that was transplanted last spring. As she plays with fallen branches twice her length. As she runs off on her own, picking handfuls of flowers. As she climbs the branches of the wild bushes, searching for whatever adventure may lurk within, testing the limits of her own abilities and courage. She races across the field again, heading for the swings. Her feet kick out in front of her effortlessly and her hair streams behind. She is beautifully fearless, and has been since she was born, but this side of her is seen only by those who step back and allow her confidence to emerge.

I notice that like me, my daughter is barefoot. “Where are your shoes?” I ask. “Way over there,” she replies, pointing to the opposite end of the park where all the good climbing trees are. I round up the boys and we head out to retrieve the shoes. I look at my phone. Almost an hour has passed but none of us are ready to leave. Maybe we will stay an hour longer.


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Occult Invasion of the Church Through the Hyper-Charismatic Movement

In October of 2013, John MacArthur, a prominent Reformed Pastor, held a conference called “Strange Fire,” in which he denounced the Charismatic movement as demonic. I listened in as much as I could, skeptical, but with an open mind. I watched as he showed video clips of scenes from various Charismatic churches where people acted as though demon possessed. Disturbed, I dove headlong into my own research. It has taken several months for me to dig around for facts, work through my thoughts and beliefs, and draw my own conclusions. I have summarized my findings here for my family and friends to read, because this topic is of great importance. What I have discovered is a mass invasion of the occult into what I will call the “Hyper-Charismatic church,” (also sometimes referred to as “Third Wave” or “Vineyard” movement) and it is spreading like wildfire, breaking across denominational barriers. We all need to be aware of what is going on so that we can be on guard against deception.

I tried to trace this movement back to its beginnings – to figure out where the church went wrong, what door was opened to allow satan to enter. The best I can tell things started going wrong with the Word of Faith movement publicized by Kenneth Copeland and his followers. They were getting out there with their hyper-faith prosperity gospel, and perhaps more importantly, they changed the atonement by introducing the idea that Jesus did not die and rise again physically, that he was the first “born again man,” that he was only human on earth and performed his miracles as a human, and that we all are divine “seed.” This theme of humans either being divine, having a “divine seed” inside us, or having the potential to become divine is repeated over and over throughout Paganism, Pantheism, various Christian cults and heresies, the occult, and new age mysticism. Through the Word of Faith movement it found its entry into Christianity. Some time after that, the New Apostolic Prophetic movement gained momentum, and this created breeding grounds for trouble. Now not only did we have wrong doctrine, we also had a group of people seeking new revelations from God and valuing them over what has already been revealed in the Bible. We now had a group of people living for new experiences in the supernatural – something that is never encouraged in the Bible but tends to happen among groups that over-emphasize the gifts of the Spirit.

All of these things have been growing in momentum over the past years, throwing doors wide open for satan to come in with his deception. I am sure there are some wolves out there who knew exactly what they were doing when they ushered “the god of this world” into the Christian church, but my honest belief is that most people are deceived. I have read and listened to first hand accounts of people who were involved in this movement. In the beginning, it would seem that some people at least were sincere and wanted revival in America. I think most people involved in the movement even now are sincere, but because of their focus on the prophetic, they are not discerning the spirits. While God can and does work through any movement, saving those who seek him, I fear that this movement has derailed into occultism because they did not wait for the true move of God and instead opened their arms to the first spirit power that came along.

Rodney Howard Brown was the one that officially brought the supposed new move of God into the church with the “laughing revival.” The story goes that he was deep in prayer, begging God to touch him. He eventually got frustrated that nothing supernatural was happening and he told God “either come down here and touch me or I will come up there and touch you.” Instantly he was knocked backward on the ground in a fit of uncontrollable laughter. He brought this “holy laughter” back to the church where he spread it by the laying on of hands. All the big-name Charismatic tele-evangelists received this “new anointing” on God TV in front of the entire world. You can look it up and watch it online. It is not a pleasant sight. These leaders then took the anointing back to their churches where it has continued to spread.

The spirit behind the “anointing” causes many strange manifestations including the signature laughing, uncontrollable crying, “drunkenness in the spirit,” shaking, all manner of strange involuntary movements and sounds, animal noises, shrieking, trances, physical healings, demonic tongues, ect. Here is some video footage of churches that have received this “anointing”- it is complete pandemonium. People believe the Holy Spirit of God is behind all this, but strangely these same types of physical manifestations happen in the Hindu religion when people receive or attain “kundalini” (a spiritual awakening). These types of physical manifestations have happened throughout time in various Christian cults or heretical groups (the Quakers and Shakers for example). There are also instances recorded of them happening on the outskirts of the Reformation and great revivals, although the leaders of these revivals stood very much in opposition to such manifestations and highly discouraged them. This to me is a huge red flag. The church is not supposed to look like cults and pagan religions. These manifestations sound very much to me like a counterfeit to the Holy Spirit that was once discouraged but now has been welcomed into the church.

In churches that have received this new spirit, there are a wide variety of strange things going on, from the crazy manifestations listed above, to various signs and wonders (the glory cloud appearing during worship, angel feathers, gold dust, gold fillings in teeth, church members finding diamonds in their home, ect), and a variety of new age/occult practices. Many of the leaders behind this movement are high profile, and Christians are getting sucked into listening to their deceptive teachings without realizing what these men actually believe and what is going on in their churches. I normally do not like to point fingers but because of the urgency of this subject, I am going to list below only what I can back up. I certainly do not condemn the thousands of people in this movement, many of whom are probably genuine Christians and are unaware of the extreme things I am about to describe. I also do not deny that people have been saved in this movement, (God works everything for his purposes) but I have serious questions about the direction this movement has been heading since shortly after it’s birth. There is a time and place for calling out false prophets. Keep in mind as you read further that all of these leaders publicly support each other and each others’ practices. They are all working together and believe they are at the forefront of revival and an outpouring of refreshing of the Holy Spirit for the last days.

Pastors Bill and Beni Johnston of Bethel Church in Redding California, and Jesus Culture their worship band

  • Bill and Beni believe they can awaken angels for revival and supernatural signs and wonders by calling “wakey wakey.” Read about it in Beni’s own words here.  (communication with any supernatural being other than God is clearly defined as idol worship and witchcraft in the Bible)
  • Bill and Beni are also heavily into mysticism with their acceptance of “mystics” and “seers” as a gifting of God to the church. See Beni’s casual references and explanations here and here.   (Mystics and seers have always been around in various pagan, eastern, and New Age religions, but since when have they been a part of Christianity?)
  • Many signs and wonders have been reported happening at Bethel church. Here is video footage of the “glory cloud.”
  • Bill Johnston has a school of supernatural ministry where he teaches people to “operate in the supernatural,” which by it’s very definition is occult.
  • Bethel church, as well as Rick Joyner’s Morningstar church in North Carolina it would seem, have “prophetic booths” as part of their services, where people can go to “receive ministry.”  Here is Morningstar’s website with a reference to prophetic booths.  Here is Bethel’s website’s description. People have to make an appointment ahead of time to receive a prophetic word! I would say this is fortune telling in disguise, but it’s not even very well disguised.

John and Lilly Crowder of Sons of Thunder Ministry actually refer to themselves as “the new mystics.” See the title of his website,  and his book.

  • John Crowder’s ministry heads up the Mystical School, where “contemplative, supernatural Christianity” is taught. (The words mystical, and contemplative immediately mark this as occult/new age) As if that were not enough proof, here is the course description taken word for word from his website with the things that concern me the most in bold:

Operating in Trances, Raptures & Ecstatic Prayer; Experiencing Physical Phenomena of Mysticism; Activation in Creative Miracles, Signs & Wonders; Understanding our Access to New Creation Realities; A Historical Grid of Miracle Workers & Mystics; Activation in the Seer Realm, Prophecy; Receiving Open Heavens & Revelatory Understanding; Accessing and Manifest the Glory Realm” (Source)

  • John Crowder is best known for his signature “toking the ghost,” literally getting high on what he believes is “the Holy Ghost.” Here is a compilation of video clips of John Crowder doing some creepy stuff – “ghost toking” is at 2:31
  • John Crowder is also known for “grave sucking,” literally sucking up the air off of a grave to release the “anointing” from the dead person’s bones. Here is a video of him “gravesucking” and releasing the “glory” of a dead man’s anointing, along with him spouting the typical Christianese that he and others like him spout, causing so many to be deceived. I don’t think I need to explain how occult this is.

Todd Bentley, who headed up the Lakeland Revivals, actually used to perform physical healings by the power of an angel he calls Emma. Emma’s story was once posted on his website, but he removed it because of the backlash. It is still floating around the web though, and can be read here. (This website is pro-Todd Bentley but it includes the fullest version of the story I can find.) Since when have we been allowed to heal by the power of an angel? Jesus warned against a focus on supernatural beings when he told his disciples not to rejoice that the demons fled from them, but instead to rejoice that their names were written in the book of life!

Mike Bickle, founder of International House of Prayer (IHOP), has received many accusations of using cult-like manipulation and control over his students at IHOP. A private investigation was conducted against Mike Bikkle and IHOP and it was concluded that IHOP is indeed a cult. I read the entire report where it was posted with my own eyes several months ago. Since then it has been taken down, allegedly due to pressure from IHOP. I found a copy of the report, as far as I can tell word-for-word, preserved here: part 1, part 2, and part 3. (I would rather link to the official report but I’m glad it was preserved somewhere.)

Rick Joyner, of Morningstar Ministries, is a self-proclaimed prophet and is considered by some to be the head prophet of the Charismatic movement. In my opinion he is the most dangerous of the group because he seems so Christian. There are a couple of things about him that I find highly concerning:

  • He is a member of the Order of the Knights of Malta of the Roman Catholic Church as evidenced here. Some have accused him of being a Freemason but as far as I can tell, the Knights of Malta are not masonic. However, with his loyalties to the Pope and connections to the United Nations through his order, he is in a strategic position to have global influence. This along with his visions of a global church bring huge red flags to my mind.
  • His prophecies and writings, both in his books, and on his website, contain a consistent alarming high view of himself as a spokesperson of God, contempt for the traditional (read: non-hypercharismatic) church, and non-Biblical view of the end times. I will go into this more in a moment.

This is a very brief summary – there is a lot more going on that I don’t have the time to include. But let me say this: When pagan religions, the occult, the new age, and the Christian church all look the same, something is very very wrong. There is a reason why so many other belief systems share similarities – it is because in essence they are one and the same. As followers of the true God Jehovah, we are supposed to look different! That’s what the word “holy” means – set apart.

Having said that, I must emphasize that to the average Christian with no knowledge of the occult activities in these churches, especially to those saved straight into the Charismatic church without a more traditional church education or experience, this movement can be very hard to recognize. It has swept into our church culture and seems very Christian. All of its doctrines are built on doctrines introduced by the Word of Faith movement which has become more and more acceptable to mainstream Christianity. All of its positions are backed up with Scripture.

Here are a few key features to help us recognize this movement, whether we are visiting a church, reading a book, or listening to music:

  • A focus on the prophetic- emphasizing the need for new revelations. Accusing Christians who stand by the Bible and traditional Christianity as it’s been believed for 100s of years of “living out of their minds,” not being “Spirit-led,” of putting God in a box, and not accepting the “new wine” he is pouring out in the last days. The only new wine the Bible talks about is in reference to the New Covenant of Jesus Christ – the mystery of God revealed. The new wine these people are referring to is the blessing received by Robert Howard Brown – new manifestations – a new spirit. They even use the phrase “pass the new wine” in reference to the manifestation of being “drunk in the spirit.” In essence what they are saying, whether they realize it or not, is that the sacrifice of Jesus is no longer enough – that we now need signs and wonders, manifestations and experiences.
  • A focus on revival – but with an emphasis on signs and wonders and a heavy focus on living or operating in the supernatural. Sometimes a clear gospel message is given, which makes them hard to spot. However, they will usually emphasize that we are saved to perform signs and wonders and display the power of God to bring others into the kingdom, rather than emphasizing that we are saved so that we can be made HOLY and RIGHTEOUS before God and so bring others into the kingdom. God is a supernatural God and works in supernatural ways apart from us and through us; I am not here to argue that, but the supernatural has never been the point of the Gospel. The point is righteousness! Paul pronounces a curse on anyone who preaches a gospel of Christ  different from the one we originally received – even if it be he himself or an angel from heaven that preaches it to us! (Galatians 1:8)
  • A focus on seeking new supernatural experiences- something that is absolutely forbidden in the Bible under the heading of witchcraft. The draw of the occult is and always has been the hidden things – the secret knowledge – the supernatural experiences – and whether it comes packaged as Gnosticism, New Age Mysticism, or Hyper-Charismatic Christianity, it is still occult. Jesus Christ is the “mystery of God revealed.” There are no more secrets, whether knowledge or experiences. Honestly, at first this was hard for me to wrap my head around because we are so immersed in a Church culture where “going deeper with God” means seeking new experiences in worship. Supernatural experiences, whether prophecies or healings or a sense of closeness in worship, are seen as a mark of spirituality. The Bible, however, teaches that the fruit of righteousness is the mark of spirituality and it consistently warns against seeking a sign. (I should clarify here that I am not against spiritual experiences and definitely don’t believe that everything supernatural is demonic, especially if it something that occurs in the Bible. What I am saying is that seeking out new experiences is dangerous ground, as is viewing spiritual experiences as a mark of spirituality.)
  • A dominionist eschatology – the belief that the kingdom of God is a literal, earthly kingdom and that Jesus needs us, the church, to usher it in – to bring heaven to earth. It’s a heady theology because it makes people feel important, needed by God, and powerful. However it makes the same mistake the Hebrews of Jesus’s day did in thinking that he had come to set up an earthly kingdom. It conveniently ignores the fact that Jesus said “The kingdom of God is here.” Jesus is the king, and the only one who can usher in his kingdom. He already did this when he came to earth and when he comes a second time he will usher in the fullness of its glory. Yes, we have a role to play because the Kingdom of God is within us, and in this sense we do take the Kingdom of God with us wherever we go. But as with everything we need to maintain balance. And we need to remember that  while the Kingdom of God has often been announced with signs and wonders, “The Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”  We are warned over and over again that signs and wonders can and will lie, especially in the last days.

I have a feeling that as we enter the last days the lines between religions are going to become more and more blurred. After what I’ve seen of this hyper-charismatic movement, I believe it is possible that they will be at the forefront of the push for a one-world religion, and that as their doctrine and practice becomes more and more occultic, they will become more and more openly hostile towards traditional Christianity. As noted above, many of these leaders are dominionists with a “kingdom now” philosophy, which means they see themselves at the forefront of a great Spirit-led army, ushering the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. They believe they will literally take over the world including the government in the end times. They have received this information in visions from “God,” but strangely, in the visions “God’s” end times army is not just fighting the forces of darkness or even the world system, but instead more “traditional” members of the church who are viewed as a “cancer” to the whole! Rick Joyner, as mentioned above, is notorious for his prophecies of an end-times civil war in the church. In his popular book “The Final Quest,” in the first section, “The Hoards of Hell are Marching,” he describes the armies of hell as riding on the backs of Christians who are attacking the church with division. (Source) In this way he cleverly sets his movement at odds with those in the church who would criticize it. This theme of accusing anyone who disagrees with his movement as being divisive and “traditional” is common in his writing. In an article on his website he says:

“Just as with the American Civil War, spiritual slavery and oppression will become the primary issue facing the church…Nearly half of the believers in the world today are held under a spiritual “plantation mentality”; leaders are only seeking to build and maintain their own spiritual estates, and they are doing it mostly through spiritual slave labor. Some are benevolent toward their people, unless they try to leave, and others are as spiritually ruthless and cruel as most slave owners truly were… There is a huge portion of the church which is being held bondage to the same religious spirit that manifested itself to the Pharisees, and it will attack any new movement that arises in the church. The more anointed the new movement is, the more these traditionalists will be threatened by it, and the more vehemently they will attack it.… the church [cannot] continue to abide many of the present contradictions in her teachings and practices within the half that is so abusing them. …The longer we continue to compromise with such institutions, which use manipulation or control, for the sake of unity or for any other reason, the more it will ultimately cost us to remove the cancer from our midst….The coming spiritual civil war will be between the Blue’s and the Gray’s. In dreams and visions blue often represents heavenly-mindedness, and gray speaks of those who live by the power of their own minds – which is equivalent to the brain’s gray matter. This will be a conflict between those who may be genuine Christians, but who live mostly according to their natural minds and human wisdom, and those who follow the Holy Spirit.” (Source)

Having come out of a very “traditional” background myself, there is a lot I could say in response to Rick Joyner’s “visions” (maybe he should remove his support from Mike Bickle and IHOP if he’s worried about control and manipulation in the church) but I’ll keep it short. It is nothing short of spiritual pride that makes one group think they are more “spiritual” than another. Spiritual pride tore apart the Reformed Baptist church I grew up in and I have since found that it is just as prevalent in charismatic circles. If there is one thing I have learned over the years of attending and interacting with various denominations (Reformed Baptist, Baptist, Christian Reformed, Southern Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Independent Charismatic, Four-Square, and Assemblies of God) it is that we are all the same. There is no one group that has the corner on walking in the Spirit. When I first entered the Charismatic movement I probably would have agreed with portions of Rick Joyner’s statement. But as the years have passed it has become abundantly clear to me that we are all fleshly humans with the tendency to live out of our flesh and mind, and Christians everywhere understand that we must walk in the Spirit to overcome the works of the flesh. You cannot be a Christian and continue to walk in the flesh. To be a Christian is to be surrendered to the Spirit. This is not some esoteric supernatural experience. It is simply working with the Holy Spirit to renew your mind and change your behavior as day after day you follow him. Rick Joyner, if what is happening in your church (view here) is your interpretation of walking in the Spirit,  I don’t want any part of it. If you were truly standing against dead orthodoxy and legalism as you claim, then I would be right beside you, but you are taking things to the opposite extreme. And yes, you’re right, I will fight against the new age mysticism you encourage. If doing so is enough to make me divisive in your mind, then call me a grey traditionalist.

To be blunt, I personally believe that Rick Joyner received a supernatural dream but I do not believe it came from God. According to my understanding of Biblical end times prophecy, God will do great works in the end times and the gospel will be preached to the ends of the earth. However, lying signs and wonders will be widespread, deceiving many.  Christians will be severely persecuted under the anti-Christ world system. The power that takes over world government and religion in Biblical prophecy is the anti-Christ system, not the church. I fear that this Hyper-Charismatic army may find themselves fighting for the wrong side.

We are clearly warned over and over again that false prophets will arise out of the church, will mislead many who believe they are Christians, that they will perform signs and wonders. I always wondered as a young girl how this could be and now I see it happening right in front of my eyes! It can happen because the move is “Christian!” I have listened to these men talk and read enough of their writings to know how easy it is to be led astray by their Christian-cloaked deception. This is why we are warned to look at the fruit! Occult/new age practices and out-of-control manifestations are bad fruit! It does not matter how loudly this movement boasts of being Spirit-minded and Spirit-led, they are manifesting fruits of a false spirit.

There is so much more I could say on this subject to better support and explain my conclusions, but then this paper will end up being 20 pages long and no one will read it! For further study, I suggest looking at the differences between Christianity and the occult in history and in the Old Testament. I suggest studying the Word of Faith movement and how their now wide-spread teachings compare to the traditional teachings of the church. I suggest studying the way that God has moved and worked throughout the Bible and comparing that to what is happening today As always I suggest looking closer at the atonement of Jesus Christ and asking ourselves the question, “Is that enough?” or are we told to expect something new in the last days? For now I will close with Scriptures that highlight my concerns with the Hyper-Charismatic movement:

“At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ [Anointed one] or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it.  For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.  See, I have told you ahead of time.” Matthew 24:23-25 [note the use of the word “anointed one” – there’s a lot of “anointing” being thrown around today]

“I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News  but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.”
Galatians 1:6

“Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you.  I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed.” Galatians 1:7-9

“The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’  and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Matthew 16:1-4 [signs and wonders, the supernatural, is not the point of Christianity]

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.  By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” Matthew 7:15,16,22,23

“For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ.  And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.  It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.” 2 Corinthians 11: 13-15

“Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen [visions]; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. They have lost connection with the head” Colossians 2:18-19A

“I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.  So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” Acts 20:29-31

“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” 1 John 4:1

The Bible is full of warnings to be sober-minded and self-controlled (as opposed to “drunk on the Spirit”):

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8

“Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach…” 1 Tim 3:2

“So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober.”  Thessalonians 5:6

“Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.” Titus 2:2

“As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:5

“The end of all things is near.  Therefore be “clear minded” and self-controlled so that you can pray,”  1st Peter 4:7

Here are a few Biblical descriptions of what true religion or spirituality looks like

“No, Oh people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.Micah 6:8

“If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” James 1:26-27

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments” John 14:15

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” Galatians 5:22-23

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Of Love and Separation

I had just arrived from the airport with my husband and children. I was home, back in Michigan, in my parents’ house, where I had grown up. And I was depressed. What was wrong with me? I should be happy! My sister, ecstatic to see me, was approaching me, and I tried to will up the emotion I should feel. But all I could think about was what I had left behind. I had only been in Montana one week! Ryan and I had traveled out to visit his family and now my heart was there. Why, after one week, was it so hard?

The panic threatened to swallow me. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night for worrying. What if something happened to them and I could not get back in time? We had no money to buy plane tickets! When would I see them again? Would I ever see them again? I didn’t know how I was going to make it through the long days, weeks, months…years… that were ahead without the people I had come to love, without those who had become family to me when mine was so far away… But wait, it had only been a week. Something didn’t add up.

Suddenly I jerked awake. I opened my eyes to find myself back in Montana, in my own bed. It had all been a dream – a nightmare worse than any I have had since as a child I dreamed that my sister had died. Relief washed over me. I thanked God a million times that I did not have to go through that, the pain of separation, again. Because in reality, it hasn’t been a week. It’s been five years, five years that I have spent building a new life with my husband and his family. Five years since I left home where I still lived with my parents and all five of my siblings.

At the time, I had no comprehension of the full consequences of my choice – to just up and go straight from home – the first time out on my own to just leave – to leave everyone I loved behind forever. I came to terms with this reality slowly, and the grief, as they say, was a process. My first fall away from home I realized I would never play in the leaves with Laura and Landon, ever again. No more pictures on the bridge over the creek. No more raking piles and jumping in them. No more races across the field next to the school park. When the winter hit and we didn’t get much snow, It sunk in that I would never again deliver the Grand Rapids Press, long after dark, the snow on the bushes colored by the Christmas lights beneath and the moon illuminating the streets. This magical world was shared just by me and my siblings and it was an experience that we would never share again. I could go on and on. The realizations sunk in over the span of several years. It took four and a half years for me to fully realize the truth: I was there one moment and here the next, and I would never be there again. That life was but a memory, my best contact with my loved ones now their voices over the phone.

I dealt with it, and still do, in phases, mostly by myself in my car with my music blasting so loud it hurts my ears. I hide it from Ryan mostly, because my life is with him now and he doesn’t need to feel guilty for taking me away.

In some ways, it still gets harder. This year has been rough on my dad, who is a mailman. He is tough, but dealing with long days in extreme weather will wear on anyone. Twelve plus hour days in 100 degree summers alternated with waist-deep snow in the winters is exhausting him. He hasn’t returned my calls in months because all he does is work and sleep. I lay in bed at night and worry about him. It is just now beginning to sink in that my parents are getting older and I do not have the slightest inkling when I will see them again. I haven’t seen them in two years! What if it’s two years more before either of us can afford plane tickets? What if we never do? Or worse, what if something happens to one of them and I am not there? What if the last time I saw them was the last time I will ever see them??? The forbidden words lurk in the back of my mind but never cross my lips, because it seems that speaking them out loud may somehow give them life.

And this is why my dream was such a nightmare. Because now, I understand. I know that I can’t just put steel walls around my heart, toughen up, and get on with my life. Life goes on alright, but people leave their mark and it cuts deep. To love, whatever else it may be, is pain. To go on without someone with whom you once shared your life, but no longer can, someone who is alive but with whom you can no longer be, is it’s own kind of pain. You cherish the memories but wonder if they remember too. You think about the time you spent together, but also count the moments not spent together as they add up and stretch into years. And knowing this now, I do not want to go through it again.

My life is here now. I am happy. My heart has grown to hold each new addition to my family – first my husband, then his family and our children. I get up and live every day for them. For Jesus of course, but for them because he wills us to love others. I make new memories now, with them. Each moment I hold dear and pray that it will stretch into a lifetime.

One day my children will be grown and will follow their own paths. I do not know where Ryan and I will end up, but there are no guarantees that we will always live near his family. Sometimes I wish for the old days, when the world was so much larger and families lived out their days together. But I know that no matter what, my life holds purpose, and I am in the here and now for a reason. And that’s where I intend to live: in the here and now, to make the most of my time with the people I am given, since in the end, there is no higher calling.

Don’t waste time.  Hold your loved ones close and treasure every moment, for this moment is all we have. Soon enough it too will be a memory. Learn to trust in Jesus, for he holds us all and only he will never leave us. 

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For the Ones I Love

For Dad

Quiet, deep, tenacious, and gentle ~ Who made me who I am ~ Who showed me God and led me into his arms ~ Who gave me my passion, my sense of humor, and my emotion ~ My first love and my hero

For Mom

Steadfast, principled, high-minded, loving, devoted ~ Who through her strengths and weaknesses showed me what it is to be human, what it is to be a woman, a wife, and a mother ~ Who supports me unconditionally ~ Who gives me courage when I falter

For Michelle

Brave, reliable, compassionate, and true ~ My better half ~ The calm to my madness ~ The anchor for my waves ~ The missing part of me

For Annette

Inquisitive, ambitious, winsome ~ The one most like me in all the world ~ Who gets me and shares my thoughts ~ My fellow adventurer and knowledge seeker

For Allen

Strong, kind, intellectual, and wise ~ My fellow philosopher ~ My little brother who became my big brother ~ Everything a man should be

For Laura

Captivating, refreshing, passionate, innocent ~ My little girl ~ My pride and joy ~ Everything good and beautiful in the world ~ Who brings out the best in me

For Landon

Respectful, talented, gentle, confident  ~ The music my heart sings to ~ My little boy grown up to be a man ~ Who makes me proud

For Stephanie

Confident, spirited, dedicated, courageous ~ Who welcomed me with open arms and accepted me into her world ~ My sister and my friend

For Tyler

Thoughtful, willful, and kind ~ Who got me from the first time we met ~ My brother and my daughter’s best friend

For Mom C.

Ambitious, positive, confident, honest, wise, youthful ~ Everything I wish to be ~ Who sharpens me like iron on iron ~ My inspiration to be better in every way ~ Who has become my mentor and my mom

For Dad C.

Constant, dependable, intuitive, ardent, loyal ~ Who I connect with, look up to, admire, and laugh with ~ The friend I always wanted ~ Who has become my companion, my rock, my dad

For Audrey

Spirited, stubborn, assertive, talkative, smart ~ The miracle of life unfolding ~ The beauty of a mind and heart unveiling ~ Who teaches and challenges me ~ My baby girl

For William

Who has me wrapped around his little finger ~ Who I fell in love with all over again ~ So tiny and handsome ~ My little man

For Ryan

Lighthearted, dedicated, passionate, real ~ The man who stole my heart ~ Who knows the worst in me and yet loves me ~ Whose strengths complement mine ~ Who makes me laugh, calms me, challenges me, and keeps me balanced ~ My partner in life and the father of my children ~ My husband

Besides Himself, you are the biggest blessings God has given me.
You put the color in my world and the music in my heart.
I thank God for you every day and I treasure every moment I have with you, knowing that you are worth more than anything else I will ever have or attain in life.
I am so privileged to call each one of you family.
I love you, I love you, I love you.

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When I Have to Admit that I was Wrong: Deception in the Church

So, last week I was pretty down on the Strange Fire Conference and I made no attempt to hide it. The way things were handled really turned me off to the point where I began to think I should stop watching the sessions.

Let me be clear, while I have the greatest respect for John MacArthur, I did not appreciate the mocking and laughing at video clips that were played of real people. I did not appreciate the horrible comments about God sending fire from heaven down on “these people.” In fact, these things made me so angry that I had to get up and walk away from it all for a few days. Regardless, I did listen. After I cooled down, I was able to back track and hear what John MacArthur was really trying to say.

The truth is, he is right. There are things going on in the Charismatic church that I was not aware of – things that are very scary. Things that need to be pointed out and stood up to. I admire John MacArthur for being that man. However, I’m afraid that the way he chose to handle things, by lumping all of us as Charismatics together as unbelievers, is going to keep those who need to hear what he is saying – the Charismatic church – from being able to hear it.

During the conference, John MacArthur played some video clips of really strange and scary behavior – people laughing uncontrollably and jerking and twitching, claiming to be under the influence of the “Holy Spirit.” I have been in Charismatic circles for eight years and have only heard references to so-called “Holy Laughter” once or twice, a long time ago. My friend once invited me to a church where I saw people twitch around on stage and I never went back. That was a long time ago too. I had actually forgotten about those experiences until I watched the conference. Afterwards, I messaged my dad, who works security at Res Life in Grandville, to ask him if he had ever heard of “Holy Laughter.” He has to sit in the front and be aware of everything that goes on in the services, ready to intervene at a moment’s notice if anything suspicious takes place. He said he had never seen or heard of such things as “Holy Laughter” or any other abnormal behaviors.

“We must base everything in the christian life upon what the word of God says.” My dad responded. “Paul is very detailed in his instruction of the purpose of speaking in tongues and in organized church order during the times of worship. This much I know, uncontrolled “emotionalism” during the corporate gathering of the local church is not of God.  I must say that I am quite suspicious of the extreme things you have written.”

For the past few days, I have been researching on this topic. Apparently, there have been occurrences of “Holy Laughter” off and on since the early revivals; However the modern-day “Laughing Revival” began with Rodney Howard-Browne back in the early 1990s. The story goes that one night Howard-Browne was desperately seeking God for a supernatural touch. He told God, “Either you come down here and touch me or I will come up there and touch you.” Well, he got a touch alright. He fell backwards, overcome with uncontrollable laughter. He then took this new “Anointing” to Toronto Canada, where it spread like wildfire and became known as the “Toronto Blessing.”

This “blessing” is spread by the laying on of hands, or sometimes just simply being in the presence of someone who has this “new anointing.” Many of the big-name Charismatic leaders received it and then took it back to their churches, where pandemonium began breaking out during services. Along with the laughter, common manifestations include drunken behavior (some churches have designated drivers available because people get so “drunk on the Spirit”), people making animal noises (lions, dogs, chickens, wolves), paralysis, muteness, the appearance of “gold dust” on the hands, “ghost toking” (literally getting high on the “holy ghost”) visions (such as angel visitations), and all manner of jerking, twitching, shaking, and screaming.

According to my understanding, the people behind this movement think they are part of a revival. They believe they have received a “new anointing” and a “new revelation.” “Fill up on the ‘new wine,’” they say, and around the world they go, bringing this madness to church after church. I’ve watched some videos of these “church services,” where people are just running around acting like wild animals, completely out of control, shrieking and shaking and howling and cackling. It’s obvious that whatever spirit is behind this movement is demonic. I mean, come on! Haven’t any of them read the New Testament accounts of demonic possession? But then again, many of these big-name Charismatics have been teaching a false Gospel for years. II Thessalonians 2:9-12, speaking of the end times, says that God will send a powerful delusion of signs and wonders to those who refuse to accept the truth.

This video does a good job of going through the history of the movement and calling out the leaders, churches, and organizations that are pushing this “revival.” It’s good to be aware, especially when raising kids in this culture. This revival movement can be hard to spot. The lies are often buried under an emphasis on passion for the presence of God – which is huge in youth outreach today. When you dig deeper, however, you often find that the passion is not first and foremost for the Gospel, the passion is for an encounter of God’s presence and/or on getting people saved so that they can be filled with the Spirit and power of God to perform signs and wonders.

Here’s a few things that come to mind in light of all of this:

  • The Bible clearly teaches that God is a “God of order.” In I Corinthians 12-14 there are very clear instructions for the use of spiritual gifts during church services. People must prophesy or speak in tongues one at a time. If anyone speaks in tongues to the congregation, someone else must interpret. If anyone prophesys, everyone else must judge the prophecy. Only two or three at most may prophesy or speak in tongues.
  • I Corinthians says “the spirit of the prophet is subject to the prophet,” implying that prophecy, a gift of the Spirit, is given to be used at will. This implies it can be misused, hence the instructions for appropriate use. The gifts of the Spirit are not so much a supernatural encounter with God as they are gifts or abilities to be used by the people who possesses them. They are not something that comes over a person and takes control. The person controls the gift, not the other way around.
  • We are warned over and over in the New Testament to be “sober” and “self-controlled.” In fact, one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control. Getting “drunk” or “high in the Spirit” has no place in the Christian church, and the Holy Spirit would not cause such phenomena, nor any other out-of-control experience or behavior. We have to look to the Bible to see how God’s Spirit has worked throughout time, and anything that does not line up should be immediately suspect. Remember, even speaking in tongues is done in control. It’s ironic now, I remember that whenever Pastor Duane taught on speaking in tongues, he always emphasized that it was you who moved your mouth and spoke in tongues – that the Holy Spirit did not force you to do it.
  • Jesus warns us that there will be many who will perform signs and wonders in his name, but will not truly know him. He also says there will be those who will tell us “here is the Christ,” or “there is the Christ.” He says do not listen! It’s interesting that he uses the word “Christ” instead of his name “Jesus.” Christ means “the anointed one.” Today we have people flocking to leaders who claim to be anointed so that they can receive the anointing.
  • Along those same lines, I John 2:27 says “As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you.” The only place we receive an anointing is from Jesus himself. The Bible nowhere tells us that we need a “new anointing.” It doesn’t even tell us to seek God for more “anointing.” If we are saved, we have the anointing that he chooses to give us to accomplish his purpose for our lives
  • In the New Testament, the “new wine” is a symbol of Jesus’s blood, which signifies the New Covenant. Whatever “new wine” these revivalists think they are passing around is something very sinister – because in effect, whether they realize it or not, what they are saying is that Jesus’s blood is no longer enough.

And this is exactly what these people seem to be saying. They are chasing after experiences, a “new touch,” and “new revelation,” and focusing on these things as an end to themselves. Many of the leaders who have received this “new anointing” seemed to receive it when they were desperately seeking a touch or encounter with God, and it obviously was not God who responded. Today, more than ever in the church, we emphasize a very individual, personalized Gospel with a focus on growing ever deeper in our “intimate walk with God.” For the first time, I am being forced to honestly look at this idea. What exactly does the Bible have to say about our relationship with God? These are things I’m going to be studying for myself in the coming weeks.

For the time being, I will just say that going to the opposite extreme, to a cold, legalistic, purely intellectual Christianity is not the answer. Denying the gifts of the Spirit and the true power of God manifested in his servants is also not the answer. Both of these extremes leave the door wide open for evil spirits to have their way.

Regardless, I take this as a warning to myself, as should the entire Charismatic movement. Being an emotional/relational person, I’ve always sought for a deeper, closer experience of God’s presence. That’s why I’m drawn to Charismatic churches and doctrines. But all things need to be kept in balance. And as a church, we need to wake up and use some discernment. We need to be reading our Bibles consistently so that we can recognize truth from lies. There is deception in the church. There are deceptive, demonic spirits working through false prophets, and many are being deceived, including unsuspecting Christians simply seeking more of the presence of God. At the end of the day, the point of the Gospel is not an experiential encounter with God, and it is not about power and gifts of the Spirit. The point of the Gospel is a right relationship with God through forgiveness of sins, and it is about developing the fruit of the Spirit and righteousness.

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