September 29: Open Letters – Dear Grief

Read Matthew 7:24-28

Dear Storms of Grief,

What a broad spectrum of life you cover! You’ve touched many, if not all, lives. Sometimes you sweep over me like a flash flood. Sometimes you creep in slowly like a thunderstorm… low rumbles bearing witness of what is to come. Yet, even the foreknowing of your coming does not lessen your impact. You take on many forms… the death of a loved one… a circumstance beyond our control. Different forms, yet, you remind us that life is beyond us, BUT NOT beyond GOD. I am actually (only a little) thankful for you. Because, when you enter the life of a believer, you remind them of the goodness of God. Just as the darkness makes the light’s glow much more apparent, you make God shine even more.

Matthew 7:24-28 talks about storms. There’s even a childhood song written about it, that I can so easily recall!

The wise man built his house upon the rock… and the rains came tumbling down… the rains came down as the floods came up… but the house on the rock stood firm! …So build your house on the Lord Jesus Christ… the blessings will come down as your prayers go up… so build your house on the Lord!”

Thank you, Storms, for teaching me that, even though you may seem to knock me down, in my heart, I can stand strong on the rock of my Lord! And, Matthew 8:23-27 reminds me that Jesus Christ has power over the storms! AND, that He walks on stormy waters, in Matthew 14:22-32!

Thank you for reminding me of the power of God.

Thank you for reminding me to cling to Him.

Though some days I might wish I could control certain circumstances, thank you for bringing me to rest in the arms of God… tears, anger, confusion, exhaustion and all.

Thank you for reminding me of HIM.

Though losing someone dearly loved OR feeling life spin out of control are real feelings, the Truth of God’s stability is even MORE real. I can rest in TRUTH. I can rest in the knowledge that God’s “got the whole world in His hands,” yet He knows the tears I cry and will hold me through them. (Psalm 56:8) In the end, to Him to be the glory always!

Beth Starkey

 

September 28: Open Letters – Dear Miscarriage & Stillborn Loss

Dear Miscarriage and Stillborn Loss,

You have entered the lives of many, taking from them a deeply wanted and precious life. You are most unwelcome. Yet, you come. I never expected you’d come knocking on my door. But you did. Twice. You came and left my arms empty and my heart broken. And, now, the very mention of you makes me cringe. Miscarriage. As if somehow I dropped the ball and it was all my fault. It wasn’t! And, Stillborn? Perhaps an accurate name, but it, in no way, comforts or articulates all. So many people make assumptions about me, since you came into my life. I’ve fought the black-hole of feeling like a “statistic.” You impacted all my future pregnancies… my eyes now opened to life and death. Though my body is made to grow life, life does not belong to me. I may desperately want a baby of mine to hold, but know that that life could fade in one unexpected instant. Like the shattering of precious china.

But, you see, our Heavenly Father uses even you. (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6) Our GOD IS so much greater. Even in this hard and broken world, His sovereign plan is at work, and He fights for our eternal souls. Because of Christ’s victory, death has lost its sting! (1 Corinthians 15:55-57) And, even in the depth of hurt, there is beauty… because, MY GOD IS THERE. Oh, how very near He comes. (Psalm 34:18) Because of the brokenness you brought, I have experienced a very clear glimpse of God. (Psalm 34:8-10) I learned I can trust Him unconditionally, because ALL is already in His hands. He is life. (Colossians 1:15-17) Our days on the earth are numbered. And He gifted every single baby to us for just the right amount of days on earth. Their deaths were not unexpected to Him, and came at the time allotted… just as all do. (Psalm 139:13-18) And, I will see them again. I now live with expectant eyes fixed on the unseen. And, I will NOT give up. God is good. Always. No matter the outcome of any pregnancy… whether they come or not… I will live for His glory. What else could I do!? (2 Corinthians 4:5-18) He is LORD of all. And, one day, He will return and right all that is wrong, and we will all be together again. (John 14:1-6) PRAISE GOD!!!

Beth Starkey

September 27: Open Letters – Dear Rejection

Read 1 Peter 2:4-8

Dear Rejection,

You managed to steal some time in my life, that I will never get back.  You ruled my heart in middle school when I didn’t get invited to ‘that party’.  You tore at my identity, when I heard adults talking about how bad my parents were.  You even entice me daily when I open social media to a photo of close friends doing things together, knowing I wasn’t invited.  You almost took me to the point of no return, when I experienced the ultimate rejection in the most sacred of relationships.

You will never again have the last say in my life.

Before becoming a Christ follower, I held on tightly to how you saw me.  If I’m honest, you ruled my life.  Surrendering my life to Jesus changed all of that.  Not immediately, but over time, as I spent more and more time with Him.  God’s Word teaches me in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that I am made new in Him.  When I look to Him first, He never fails me.  Where I have failed is, each time I resort back to my old ways instead of turning to the promises in God’s Word, I allow you to have a foothold in my life.

Rejection, you reveal – you clearly show me what is most important in my life.  Is it more important to allow you to steal my joy or to show the world the love I have in Jesus?

Rejection, you refine – God allows you to happen to refine me into something much, much more for His future plans.

Rejection, you can lead to revelation – God knows my future, He holds it in the palm of His beautifully scarred hand.  I believe His plan for me is perfect.  He may take me through some of your darkness to make my light shine even brighter for Him.

Rejection, you are going to happen, as this is a very fallen world.  However, 1 Peter 2:4-8 beautifully explains to me how my reaction to you changes everything.  Peter said it is often the stone that the builders reject that becomes the very thing God builds up.  I’m clinging to that.  What you meant to harm me, God will use for my good.

Rejection, you do not have the last say in my life.

Jesus does.

In Him, through Him and for Him,

Rayonna Miller

 

September 26: Open Letters – Dear Solitude (Part 2)

Read 1 Peter 5:8

Dear Solitude,

In yesterday’s letter, I wrote about the good side of your coin – the heads side – spending time alone with Jesus. Today I’m writing you about the dark side of your coin – those times when I approach you, Solitude, as if I was entirely alone with no one to hear my thoughts. Tails! Solitude, on this side, you are bad.

The words of a song by Paul Simon came to mind as I pondered writing this letter to you.

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

Acting as if I am spiritually alone always ends in destruction.  On this dark side of you, Solitude, the Evil One comes masquerading like an old friend.  When I “talk with darkness,” his lies are veiled as a lovely vision. A vision that softly creeps up on me in ways so insidiously believable it leaves seeds of deception, where I am most likely to be misled.  Next, when I’m “asleep at the wheel”, those seeds sprout and bloom into more visions in my brain. Then slowly, quietly and steadily, I am overtaken. Unless, that is, I recognize these deceptions by holding the visions up to what I see in the truths of the Scriptures.

The other part I’ve learned of your bad side, Solitude, is that I am most vulnerable when I am not in community with other Christ followers. Why do I say that? Because 1 Peter 5:8 tells me that the Enemy is a prowling lion: “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” I don’t watch a lot of Animal Planet, but this much I’ve seen: predators look for those animals away from the protection of the herd. A little sheep is having a good time wandering by itself, munching on some tasty grass. The next instant, a lion springs out of nowhere and that poor little lamb is now dinner. That lamb gets devoured, much like I can be, if I wander from the protection of the Body of Christ. When I believe the lie that I can live successfully in spiritual isolation, it gets ugly.

What have I learned about your bad side, Solitude? I must always be wary of any feeling that I am altogether alone; wary of any voice that would whisper to me in the “darkness.” And lastly, I am most protected when I stay close to The Good Shepherd and the rest of the Flock.  That’s one of the reasons why we, at Grace, say “Life is Better Together!”

Wade Karhan

 

September 25: Open Letters – Dear Solitude

Read Luke 5: 15-16

Dear Solitude,

I like you and I don’t. You are good and you are evil. Like a coin with two sides.

Heads! Solitude, on one side, you are good:

“Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

In this passage I read that Christ often spent time alone, apart from everyone, including His disciples. Away from the clamor, the questions, and the attention; no distractions like the sound of a cell phone buzzing with text messages or email notifications.  Oh, there might have been the sound of a bird singing or a donkey in the distance.  But, for the most part, just silence. And in that wonderful side of you, Solitude, I imagine there were no voices, aside from the conversation in his head with His Dad.

Was Jesus just tired of being around people?  No.

I’m reminded, Solitude, of John 13:18b – “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” Christ doesn’t just LIKE us. He doesn’t read our Facebook status, hit the “like” button, and move on.  He loves us deeply. And he stays by our side because it is where He wants to be. Unlike two small siblings strapped into car seats and forced to ride together in the back seat of a car on an eternally long road trip, our Savior will never leave us nor forsake us – not because he is stuck with us, but because he thoroughly desires to be next to us for the entire ride.

Did Jesus grow weary of healing the multitude of folks whose bodies and spirits were broken? No, again.

God’s only Son, in whom all power and authority had been placed (Ephesians 1:20-23), allowed himself to be confined within the physical limitations of a human body. Surely, there were times when he became “bone weary.”  Yet Jesus understood well his mission and the power he had been given to complete it. That same incredible power made available to us. (Ephesians 1:19-21)

Your “Heads” side, Solitude? Solitude with God can be empowering, comforting, soothing.

I’ll have more to say to you tomorrow, Solitude, when I talk to you about your other side – the bad side of your coin.

Wade Karhan

September 24: Open Letters – Dear Abandonment

Read Deuteronomy 31:6

Dear Abandonment,

We first met when I was very young, too young in my opinion. You left me feeling alone, scared about the future, and, in many ways, hopeless. How else is one supposed to feel growing up without a father?

My dad left my life for a variety of circumstances when I was in the first grade. Like so many across the world, I grew up without a father. The pain of typing those words today is still as real as it was throughout my childhood. Seeing my friends with their dads was always a challenge for me. Oh, what it would have been like to have a dad to help teach me how to ride a bike, or to fish, or drive, or be a God-honoring man. These were the thoughts that used to plague my mind.

Unfortunately, this story isn’t all that uncommon in the world we live in today. The Washington Times estimates that one in three American children grow up in a household without a father. Yet, despite the common nature of my circumstances, folks will often ask me after sharing my story, “Do you wish it was different?” My simple response is, “No.”

For many years, I thought I had been abandoned. Left behind, without any hope for rescue. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. My eyes were focused on what was in front of me, instead of what was above me. On January 21st of 2013, I realized I had never been abandoned. Jesus met me that quiet winter morning with a promise of,  “I will never leave you.” Even in a situation that looked eternally broken, God reminded me His faithfulness is eternally fulfilling. Our text today from Deuteronomy reminds us of God’s unwavering promise to never leave. While the people around us might forsake us, our God never fails.

It wasn’t until after I met Jesus I realized I had never been forsaken. He never left me, and He made sure I was never alone. Despite my feelings of abandonment, God had blessed me with some amazing people in my life whose sacrifice I had not truly appreciated. My mother who gave up so much to raise my brother and me by herself, my Grandparents who are like a second set of parents, and my great-grandparents who, despite their age, sacrificially gave of their time to be with Peyton and me.

Abandonment, I can’t help but be thankful you came into my life. God used your mess to create a great masterpiece. Without you, I would never have been able to have such a great relationship with my Grandpa, the opportunity to learn from such great godly men that I have in my pastors and mentors, and a story of hope that I can now offer to those going through similar situations.

Abandonment, you might be something we feel, but the reality is you are something that simply doesn’t exist.

God. Never. Lets. Go.

Taylor Bennington

September 23: Open Letters – Dear Emotions

Read Jeremiah 1 and Lamentations 3

To all of the emotions,

I should start by proclaiming powerful words from a friend as a declaration to begin this letter;

”We are friends. Not because I longed for you or loved you, but because I love a Lover so great that He would not allow me to be named by anything other than His Love. We are friends because I am at peace with the state of my brokenness in this broken world, because I know the One who was broken for me and it is His brokenness that sets me free to be whole…”

This isn’t where our story began. I used to be so confused at how powerful you were within me. I used to believe, that,  because you were so strong, something was wrong with me. Like the first time my therapist told me that I make something that is dime-sized into a train wreck within my mind. The deep overthinking that resulted in so many of you coming to the surface. I didn’t know how to contain you, suppress or even express you. All I knew was to hold you in, until you bubbled over and I turned into someone who belonged in a white room with pads everywhere (Here I go again… dramatic at best).

My heart was not to allow you to take up more space in my life, but, the harder I tried to work on that, the worse it became. Then I read the Psalms and Lamentations, and I realized I wasn’t the first created with this deepness of emotion. I looked at David’s and Jeremiah’s lives and, what I saw, was a realness I never suspected I would have and therefore a path to work through them WITH my God. I learned that my emotions will never dictate who or whose I am.

I didn’t see this deep feeling or deep thinking as a gift. However, that is what my Creator calls it. He gave me the ability to feel so deeply and think so heavily, that I was able to see Him differently. It was only then, that I understood you were good, created with a purpose within me, and we became friends.

As Jeremiah once said “Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope, The Lord’s lovingkindness indeed never cease.  For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your Faithfulness. The Lord is my portion…” Lamentations 3:19-24a.

Kelly Lawson

 

September 22: Open Letters – Dear Expectations

Read Ecclesiastes 2:1-26

Dear Expectations,

We all have them! Expectations are a part of our existence. Fulfilled expectations bring great joy! We receive the college of choice, job of choice, spouse of choice, the family, the house…you get the picture!  What about the experiences that finish the sentence…”I didn’t expect that…!”?

I am overjoyed with the parents I had, the spouse I have, the children I am blessed with, grandchildren. On the flip side, I didn’t expect to see my mom pass away when I was 25, I didn’t expect my children to have such struggles in life, and I didn’t expect to lose a grandson before I could kiss his cheek. You can finish the same statements with your own lists of joys and unexpected sorrows. This is life “under the sun.”

For a little more than two years, a friend and I studied and talked about the book of Ecclesiastes. King Solomon is on a quest for meaning in life and is passionate in his pursuits to experience purpose and joy. He builds parks and houses and “denies himself nothing that his eyes desire; and refuses his heart no pleasure.”  He says “that his heart takes delight in his labor and that is the reward.” He expected this satisfaction.  It just didn’t last long enough. He surveys all that his hands had done and all he achieved and then admits that it has no meaning. He was looking for eternal fulfillment in a temporary earthly existence. We are like Solomon.

Do you remember who Solomon’s father was?  David.  He was, as a boy, a shepherd. I’m sure he didn’t expect to be a warrior for his nation and then a king.  As a shepherd, he writes a beautiful poem that refers to God as his shepherd. (Ps.23)

He is my Good Shepherd and His sovereignty is a quality no human has.  I praise Him because He was behind my existence and He is with me each moment of my existence and He goes before me and knows how many days my existence on earth will be.

King Solomon admits that “everything is meaningless.” The Good Shepherd says, “I come so they may have life and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) Will my expectations rule me or will I let the Good Shepherd lead me?

Through this song, be reminded of His goodness regardless of the fulfillment of our earthly expectations. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EpqSbKYxd9Y

Celeste Kern

September 21: Open Letters – Dear Depression

Read Habakkuk 3:16-19

(It would be beneficial to read the entire book to get the full understanding of depression and the deliverance we experience through Christ)

Dear Depression,

It is safe to say that you and I have an on-again off-again relationship. When you come back into my life, you hit me like a ton of bricks. It’s like a tug of war in my head; you’re on one side and Truth from God’s Word is on the other side…pulling, back and forth, while I sit in the middle as the dust from the struggle fills my mind, and I wait for clarity.

You are a part of my story, my history; however, when you come for a visit, I am not me. I forget who I am and whose I am.

We met when I was a young child, and I trained myself to depend on you through tough times. Yet, here I am, almost 30 years old, a believer and follower of Christ and someone who walks in the Truth that His Word is authoritative. I believe He IS good but, when you are here, you come when life hits, and it’s hard to get out of the hole that is you.

BUT…

That authoritative Truth, the words that are proclaimed by a powerful God, are mine too; verses that were a result of hard lessons learned alongside you and Him.

And so… when you come to visit, I will repeat them more to myself. Every time I need to step out of the hole or get up from between the tug of war, I will walk to His side and depend on His clarity. You may have won this battle before, but the war has already been won, and I am no longer enslaved to the words that come along with your presence.

So I will say…

“There is no one holy like the Lord, Indeed, there is no one besides You.  Nor is there any rock like our God” 1 Samual 2:2

“Blessed be the Lord, Because He has heard the voice of my supplication. The Lord is my strength and my shield; My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped. Therefore my heart exults, and with my song I shall thank Him.” Pslam 28:6-7

“The steadfast of mind You will  keep in perfect peace, Because he trusts in You” Isaiah 26:3

You may come for a visit, you may come to fill the space around me with lies, but my God is good and He is my rock.

Kelly Lawson

September 20: Open Letters – Dear Human Approval

Read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12

Dear Human Approval,

You are a hard task master. In our desire for your applause, we have pushed ourselves to the limits and then listened for your response:

  • … At times, you seemed to offer only criticism rather than compliments. The only thing people seemed to notice was how we could have done better. Don’t you know how important your “thumbs up” is to us?
  • …Sometimes, you said nothing. There was only silence instead of recognition. No one voiced anything, good or bad. Didn’t you see how hard we worked and how noteworthy the outcome was?
  • …Yes, there were times when you acknowledged our efforts and praised our efforts. Still, we often yearned for more than you delivered. And even what approval you offered felt like pressure from you that we had to deliver even more and better next time.

You have exhausted and disappointed us!

So, we are trading you in. Like the apostle Paul in today’s reading, we are choosing God’s approval rather than yours (v. 4). We have so often found that our motives get all messed up when we perform for the wrong audience (v. 3). So, we are intentionally deciding to pursue His praise and not that of people (v. 6). Even when the human opposition and criticism seem most threatening, we refuse to change our message or our response (v. 2).

Instead, today and from this day forward, we are playing to an audience of one – the God of heaven. Although we don’t always sense His immediate response, we know that it is ultimately before Him and before Him alone that we will one day stand (2 Cor. 5:10). It is His approval we seek. It is His “Well done, good and faithful servant!” we long to hear. He is the One who calls us to give our best while also recognizing that our inherent abilities may differ from those with whom we have so often compared ourselves (Matt. 25:14-30).

My prayer: Father, forgive me of my insecurity that has caused me to pursue the applause of people. I give myself from this day forward to pleasing you and you alone.

Steve Kern