A Tribute to God’s Grace – Sept 11, 2011

When I said that I’d be willing to give this testimony, I had no idea how very difficult it would be.  Though I know the Lord’s been preparing and placing the desire to share on my heart, there are so many stories I could share with you about how He’s changed my life, I didn’t even know where to begin.    I can honestly tell you that I never thought it would be in relationship to today…September 11.   Though now I recognize that really, it’s the only way to share how huge of an amazing Father we have and the incredible 2nd chance he’s given me.

What do you think of when you first remember September 11, 2001?  It’s one of those moments in time that no matter where you were or what you were doing, you remember it vividly, as if it were yesterday.

I was getting ready for another day student teaching- a super exciting time in my life because I was almost done with school and could finally put what I’d been learning in classes to real-life use.  I’d moved back in with my parents to save money and was working on lesson plans when the phone rang.  It was rather early for a call and I was even more surprised to pick it up and hear my boyfriend’s sister on the other line.

She was crying…sobbing so hard I could barely understand her.   Finally, I realized she was telling me to turn on the TV.   As I did, the image of the second plane crashing into the Towers unfolded before my eyes.   I couldn’t even comprehend what was happening as she gushed forth the details she knew and I tried to hear the TV announcer.   I thanked her for calling and yelled for my parents.   Together we sat blindly in front of the screen, unable to look away, silent and still.

Once my brain began to process what was happening, my heart immediately leapt out of my chest.   Not only was I filled with horror for the possibilities that plane crash meant for those involved, but because it was being called “an attack,” I wondered what this meant for Joe, my boyfriend who was a soldier in the ARMY.   He had recently been sent to his permanent duty station of Fort Hood, Texas.   He didn’t have a phone set up yet, so I couldn’t contact him.

As my parents and I continued to watch the TV screen be filled with horror after horror, I decided that I would go early into school to help.   I realized that there would probably be panic there, too, and wanted to help with my little people.  I had given my Mom strict orders to call the school immediately if she heard from Joe.   (Yes, this was before I carried a cell phone all the time, believe it or not!)

Once I walked in the door of the school, it was apparent things were so very mixed up.   Cars were starting to line up outside as parents heard the news and wanted to take children to the safety of their own homes.    Teachers were in the hallways trying to decide what to tell students.     Everyone wanted to know how I was and if I knew anything about what this meant for Joe.     He’d recently been home on leave and visited the school to meet my kids.

It wasn’t long before I was paged out of my classroom.   I ran down to the office, knowing without a doubt it was about Joe.   The school secretary looked at me blankly and said my Mom had called.     Joe had phoned.   The whole Fort was in lockdown and he was preparing to ship out.    He’d be leaving immediately, most likely for Afghanistan.

My heart dropped.   I stood there frozen, not knowing what to do.   I couldn’t take in all that was happening.    My principal told me to just go home, she appreciated me being there but really, I needed to go home.    What if Joe called again?  I needed to be there.

I don’t remember driving home.   I just remember crying.     Lots and lots of crying, followed by lots and lots of fear, worry, and confusion.

I didn’t hear anything for a while from Joe and knew I wouldn’t.  But, the day finally came.   Since he was in Communications, Joe was quite handy at rigging things up to make contact with me.   Neither of us knew then that this nerdy knowledge would come in handy the year and half to come that he would spend in Iraq.    To this day, I can remember standing in my Mom’s kitchen, hearing his voice on the other end of the phone.

And it was that day we decided that when he returned back to the States and could get leave, he come home.  We’d get married.    Life was so short and you never knew what was around the corner.   All you need is love, right?  Just him and me- together we’d take the world by storm.

That’s what we did.   Three months later.    He was home for 10 days and we were married.   We were on top of the world and convinced that we were unstoppable.    We didn’t care what anyone else said or thought….we only needed each other.

We were wrong…so very wrong.

Matthew 7: 24-27 says “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.   And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.   Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.   The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”

We built our house on sand, the Lord was nowhere around as far as we were concerned.   I had walked away from the little I knew of God and Joe was an atheist.   I can even remember offending an Aunt who lovingly told me she would pray for us.   I actually told her to save her prayers for I didn’t need them.

Oh, was I wrong…so very wrong.

The story continues with me finishing my degree and moving to Texas to join Joe.  I was so filled with hope and excitement.   I’d been waiting years for my Prince to come and he had finally done so.   Or so I thought.    I’d heard the message for years in movies and on TV that if you worked hard enough and did things well, happily ever after would come.    I thought I was finally there…no more pain, no more feeling insecure, no more troubles.     Love had found me and I had given into it.   What more could there be?

The answer for me became 5 years of sadness, confusion, fear, and pain.   That which had been the catalyst for my decision to wed had now become my marriage.

Joe had always been a daredevil.   I’d known him since 2nd grade and had stories upon stories of his crazy antics.   Growing up in an abusive family, I knew he’d sought comfort in drugs, alcohol, and some crazy scenes.  But, then again, who didn’t?   Fortunately, I’d come through the pain of rape and the confusion of a sister severely mentally ill with what I thought were minor detours off the “right path.”  But, I’m much too much of a perfectionist to drift too far, you know.

What I didn’t realize is that we carry what we learn.    It impacts us and what we think are small scars, can really be huge, gaping wounds we can’t see until something pulls just hard enough to rip the skin off.

For Joe and I, this was Iraq.    We were about 3 years into our marriage when he was sent.     Things were already rocky between us…too much time apart because of his occupation, we had so many differences, and I was very depressed living in Texas.     I decided to come home when he was deployed so I’d be with family and friends, in a place where I loved to be- Cleveland.   The deployment was originally supposed to be for 8 months, but because the ARMY was short on his occupation, he was involuntarily extended.

This time was awful.  I spent most of it seeming to function to those around me, but really I was walking around in a haze induced by Xanax.     I couldn’t read the paper or watch the news…didn’t want to know what was happening because I couldn’t fathom that Joe was a part of it.

The best and worst part was he could figure out ways to contact me.    But, when you can hear the bombs exploding on the other end of the line and your husband thinks nothing of it because it’s become a daily noise…it’s horrific.     Or when you receive emails expressing what your husband thinks might be his final moments… it’s beyond words awful.

Finally, this nightmare was to be over for us.   In my very self absorbed world, I didn’t care that it was still going on over there.  I wanted him here and couldn’t wait for him to be home.   The best part was his time of service was over and we were going to be done with the military.  I was once again on top of the world, thinking that now things would change.   Everything was once again going to finally be better.

Isaiah 2:22 says “Don’t put your trust in mere humans. They are as frail as breath. What good are they?”  Yet, I had all my hope in trust in this man.  He was my idol.

When my hope returned home, he was not right, not well.    He seemed to be a shadow of whom he was when he left.   The part that remained behind was that which I’d been trying to change or ignore.     This was the part that drank way too much, too often.  This was the part that said many more horrible things than good.   This was the part that could cut me down to the core while he was smiling.   Yes, this part is the part that returned home.

And I tried.   Oh- did I try.  If one could possibly do it in her own power, I would’ve succeeded.     Joe thought working a job similar to what he was used to might help him.    I would have gave him the world if I could….no sacrifice was too big.    So with tears, but still hopeful, I left behind my cherished teaching position, as well as, full-paid scholarship to library school, to move to Columbus.

But things didn’t change, though.  If anything, they got worse.   We were so isolated and Joe wouldn’t or couldn’t seek help.    Daily it seemed he became more introverted, drinking, pacing, screaming, passing out.    My stomach was constantly in knots; never knowing which side of him would show.    It didn’t matter, really, for it could change in an instant anyhow.  Nothing I did was right.   I was in a constant state of panic.

I landed a job in Columbus that appeared to me to be a fluke, amazing accident- working for a publishing company writing elementary curriculum.     What I didn’t know is God would use this short period- only 5 months- to catch my attention in ways I couldn’t ignore.

Her name was Kathy and she radiated with a glow that struck me from day one.   Standing next to the coffee counter with her whole face smiling, she took me under her wing.   We’d share the lunch hour and she’d laugh and laugh at my attempts to understand life in a cubicle.

One day, I finally asked her what was different.   Why was it that no matter what, she seemed to bubble over with light?    In only the way Kathy can smile, she looked at me and said, “Well, its Jesus!”    I remember thinking, “You got to be kidding me.”  But before I could say anything, she told me about her “Daddy” and how he just lights up her day.   I also learned that before I came, she’d spend her lunch hour out in the car with Him, but really thought she was now supposed to be spending time with me.

I smiled and politely thanked her thinking, “Well, maybe she’s a bit of a whack job, but man, she really does light up my life.”   I liked her, she made me smile, and not a whole lot was doing that those days.

As time progressed, Kathy would tell me bits and pieces about things she was praying through and how she felt God talking to her.  It intrigued me for I really knew she believed this to be happening, but I couldn’t understand how it could be so.    And, once again, she always seemed to have such a peace and light about her.   I wanted to understand because I wanted that, too.

At the same time, things got worse and worse at home.   Joe would disappear for hours on end, sometimes never returning home at night.    I’d drive all over the city to places I thought he might be, imagining the worst in my head.    When he’d return, he’d be so intoxicated he’d pass out wherever, only to wake up screaming.   Sometimes from his nightmares, sometimes at me…just depended on the day.

He began to tell me to leave.   I wouldn’t listen.   I’d tell him patiently that I loved him and I took the vows till death do us part.   He’d tell me I didn’t understand.  It was in my best interest to leave.  I’d ignore him.

Until the day of the cell phone.   I don’t even remember what day, just that it was a bit after Christmas time, near our anniversary.   I was walking down the steps in the morning, wondering what he would be like that day.   I patted my jeans pocket as I routinely did to make sure my cell phone was there.    That way, if I had to call 911, I knew that it was there.

For whatever reason (I’m sure God had something to do with it.) I realized this was not an O.K. thought to have.   It was not O.K. that I was taking precautions to be able to call for help if Joe beat me.    At this point he’d only laid hands on me a few times before telling me to get out of the house.    Yet, I knew that it was only a matter of time until it got worse.   I could not stay.   This also became the morning that he shared with me he’d been with someone else.

And, Ladies, of all things I thought not possible in the world, it was this.

But it did.

Again, my reaction to 9/11, the fear, horror, disbelief, confusion, pain…they had all followed me.   I had placed all my hope in myself, this man, our love…and it had crumbled.

So I left.   He didn’t want me, it wasn’t safe to try to stay, and I was so mentally fatigued that I didn’t know up from down.     It had all ended, a series of troubled events started by reaction to the most troubling of all- 9/11.

I was defeated, discouraged, uncertain, hurt, and angry.

Why God?  Why?

Yes, I cried out.   Why is it that you cry out to God in times of deep pain but forget him when things are well?  I mean, I had spent all this time- 5 years to be exact- not even acknowledging Him.   But, now, I was pissed.

And you know what?  God answered.   Boy, did he answer.   And it wasn’t with anger at me, for God could’ve been.  I’d not walked with God, not sought God, been anything but Godly with my life.    Yet, God wrapped Himself around me, covered me with His love, wiped my tears, patiently listened to my cries, and allowed me to see that I was the one who made my path, not Him.   Yes, God allowed it, but it was my choice.    Eventually, I came to see how sad God was with me and for me in my times of pain.  I understood that in those times, God was with me, despite me not even knowing it.   God had never abandoned me, nor would He.   Instead, God loved me and was waiting for me to come to Him.

Do you know this?  Do you know that God will not, nor has ever abandoned you?  Deuteronomy 31:6 tells us, “The Lord your God goes with you, he will never leave you or forsake you.”

Do you know that God loves you and wants you to come to Him?  Do you know that He desires a relationship with you?   Proverbs 8:17 says, “  “I love all who love me.
 Those who search will surely find me.”  Are you searching?  Have you found Him?

Some of you know the rest of the story up till now.  It’s an amazing adventure jam packed with many twists and turns as only God can unravel. But, to summarize (if this is at all possible), God has given me what I like to call my “do-over.”

Since I’ve come to God through Christ, my life is no longer ruled by worry, fear, or anxiety.   Philippians 4:6-7 tells me, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.  His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

Do you know this peace?   Is Jesus guarding your heart and mind?

God also tells us that if we delight in Him, he will give us the desires of our heart.  (Psalm 37:4)  Our Lord knew that one of my deepest desires was to love and be loved by my own earthly Prince Charming.   Though Jesus will always be my first and foremost, our Lord gave me the man He intended for me to marry, my Timo (TJ to the rest of you.)  I read in a book once that sometimes we have to get out of our own way so that God can do for us what He intended.  This was the case with T.J.   God meant him for me…I had to get out of my own way and let God work his plan.  Imagine that? J

Even still, many of you know that TJ and I faced huge challenges in the beginning of our relationship in regards to physical intimacy.   I became pregnant before we were married.    Though this may not seem like a big deal because of what society says in today’s day and age, it is a big deal to the Lord.   A marriage relationship between a man and woman, and their physical intimacy together, is a portrait of how deeply Christ loves his church.   It is a sacred, special bond meant only for a husband and wife to share.

Yet, still, our God is one of amazing grace and redemption.   Though TJ and I had sinned, because of our genuine repentance, God not only forgave our sin, but also redeemed that sin and gave us our Isaac, then Ethan, and now Esther.  God’s given me this incredible family to raise up to know Him and do His will.   He has a purpose and plan for all of us, and had this plan even before we were even born.    Through Christ, we have the power to change the legacy of generational sin that has plagued both our families for years.      I already have 2 kiddos that speak of God with love and familiarity- who are learning His truths and their worth in Christ.

Did you know God as your redeemer?  Do you know He will forgive you of your sin, any sin, if you ask Him?   The Bible says, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.  And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.”   (Romans 8:1)  Not only can you be free, but our Lord can take sin, whatever it may be, and use it for His glory ‘cause  “we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28).

Oh, and God’s is a provider!!!!! Man, I never grow tired of telling about how God makes what doesn’t make sense somehow work for us in the world of money.     Our budget doesn’t make sense in people world.  For real.   But, it makes sense in God’s economy.   TJ has a steady job where he works hard to bring honor to God, but it doesn’t bring in a huge salary.   It doesn’t even a good salary for that matter- we actually qualify for public assistance.   But, God always provides, whether it’s through government insurance, a surprise gift of money, or the food in our garden that He helped grow.    And, though we should not have enough money based on TJ’s salary to make it, we own our home (which, btw, we got for almost $30,000 less than the asking price), have a wonderful van with no car payment, healthy food to eat (and y’all know it’s way more expensive to eat healthy), and God even throws in some luxuries here and there just to show us He cares about the details and little things, too.     It’s often a life by faith, not by the sight of the amount in our bank account, but when the day is said and done, we try to do our best to be good stewards of what He gives us and God always provides what we need.

I found this poem about who God is.  I want to share it with you:

HE IS!

Author unknown

When you are the neediest, He is the most sufficient.

When you are completely helpless, He is the most helpful.

When you feel totally dependent, He is absolutely dependable.

When you are the weakest, He is the most able.

When you are the most alone, He is intimately present.

When you feel you are the least, He is the greatest!

When you feel the most useless, He is preparing you.

When it is darkest, He is the only Light you need.

When you feel the least secure, He is your Rock and Fortress.

When you are the most humble, He is most gracious.

                            When you say that you cannot, remember that He can!

Do you know that He is?  If you want to experience this for yourself, you can have it right now.  Seriously.   The Bible says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)   Believe.  Believe in the truth that Jesus Christ died, defeating sin and death, and then rose from the dead to sit in Heaven with his Daddy…all for you.   Admit that you need God.  Admit your sin.   Get right by God and commit your life to Him.

I did.   I am a new person, with a new life, all thanks to the gift Jesus has given me.

And do you know what is the coolest part?  Now, when people ask me, “What is about you that is different?   Why are you always able to find something to smile about?”, praise Jesus, I now have the answer.   It’s not always easy, usually not at all, but with Christ, I can do all things as He wills.    And it is good.  For He is good.

So, as we get ready to go out today, on this day of remembrance, instead of remembering the tragedy, I challenge you to ask,” How has God been able to work all things for His glory, including 9/11?  How do you see Christ’s light shining today?  What is God trying to say to you?”

Be blessed for if you are in Him, you are blessed.

— Mrs. G

Do you realize that you do not have to be afraid or discouraged?   Isaiah 41:10 tells us, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.

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