Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Back Up

God sometimes uses people to speak to people. He’ll give someone a word to say to someone, something that may not make any sense to the person He gives it to, but that makes perfect sense to the person it’s for. He’ll do this sometimes to confirm something He’s said to someone – that’s happened to me sometimes, especially when I’m having trouble trusting in something that I’ve heard Him say to me. Out of the blue someone will say something to me, a scripture sometimes or a word of encouragement, or sometimes they'll say they don't know why they're saying something, but they have to say it to me. Sometimes He’ll do this to help both people - the person speaking and the person receiving the message - understand that He is real and that He’s really there, listening to the thoughts of our hearts. He uses me in this way sometimes. He’ll tell me I have to call someone or that the next time I see someone I have to tell them something, and He’ll arrange it in such a way that I see them the minute I walk into some place where I’m going, or when I call them to talk to them, they tell me they needed to hear what I have said.

There was one time that I had asked Him for encouragement when I was having a really hard time. Everything was coming at me all at once and I just wanted to quit and run somewhere far away. I asked Him for encouragement, and I said that I didn’t want to call anyone for it – that I wanted someone to call me with a word of encouragement that could only have come from Him. It was on a Friday evening when I said that to Him, and the next day I had to work. When I was on my way home and I checked my messages, there was a message from my Freshman year of college roommate, the one who I’ve written about before, who was always praying for me and at the time I rejected her and her message of the love of Jesus. God says that when we reject the messenger He sends we are rejecting Him and that’s exactly what I was doing all those years ago. But He didn't take it personally and neither did she. After I was born again I got in touch with her and let her know she was right all along and how sorry I was for being such a jerk, but she didn't see it as being a jerk - she was overjoyed, and thanked God for His faithfulness. It turned out that my calling her with  my message was a message that helped encourage her. That's God all over.

She travels all over the world as a missionary, helping to bring food and support to people in need, so we don’t have a chance to talk much, at most maybe once a year, and at that point I can't remember the last time we'd spoken. That day she was the one who God used to call me with a word of encouragement. She said that she didn’t know why but that He had said she needed to call me. She was the perfect person in answer to that request I had made to Him – it was so out of the blue to hear from her, and hearing her voice reminded me that if He could save me, He could do anything.

Sometimes God will give someone a prophetic word – a vision of something that is to come. There are many reasons He does this – sometimes it’s to warn people, sometimes it's to encourage a person or a group of people, but it can also be something that shows people who His messengers are and that He's still talking to us if we would only listen. Isaiah 44:26 says He, “carries out the words of His servants and fulfills the predictions of His messengers,” and He will sometimes use prophecy in that way. 1 Thessalonians tells us to, “Test all things; hold fast to what is good.” One test we have is whether the words of someone who claims to prophesy come to pass. Another test we have is whether the words that someone says to us sink our spirit or lift it. People sometimes think they have the right to speak words of destruction over someone else’s life. They call it correction, and there is a place for real correction in a spiritual and Biblical sense, but sometimes what it really is, is someone having a power trip over someone else.  We have to be very careful with what we say, especially if God has used us in the past to give a prophetic word. We can think that everything that comes out of our mouths is gold when sometimes it’s really just a rusty heap of junk. Ephesians 4:15 tells us, "by speaking the truth with love, let's grow in every way into Christ." There are ways that we can speak the truth to someone, a truth that is difficult to say and to hear, but when it is done with love, when we check with God first before we speak and ask Him to help us speak, we will find our words come out in a way that the person hearing them can receive. It's when we don't check with Him that our words become hurtful. When we think that because we think or feel something that we have to say what's on our mind.
There are times when God will tell us something that He doesn’t want us to speak about. He’ll just tell it to us for our knowledge, so we can watch what He has said come to pass. That can be very difficult, especially when you want to help people who are walking down a treacherous road. He’ll show you what the end result will be and say they need to discover it for themselves. At those times all we can do is pray, and that’s hard for someone like me who likes to help people. But people have to go through their own process, or else it’s not their own process. And when we start getting in the way of someone else’s journey, even if it’s to try to help them, we’re trying to be God in their lives which can keep them from finding Him themselves.

I like it best when the prophecies God gives to me are beautiful ones, and I like it even more when they come to pass. I love the feeling of having Him speak something to me, and then telling the person the word is meant for and having them confirm that it was something they really needed to hear. Sometimes it’s something very simple. I once contacted a Pastor whose sermons I had been listening to online had moved me a great deal and had given me encouragement that could only have come from God. I emailed him, because the Lord told me to, although I assumed that my little message would not really make a difference in his life. He was so obviously being used by God in such a powerful way and was so obviously such a powerful man of God. I assumed that His life was one full of the blessing of knowing that God was with him. He responded with thanks to my email because he had been going through a very dry season in his life and one that was giving him feelings of despair. My little message reminded him that even though he was feeling weak, the Lord was still powerfully with him and that God was still able to powerfully speak to others through him.
Prophecy can be something really small too – those times when we feel we must call someone to see how they are, those times when we buy a gift in the middle of the summer and send it to someone even though their birthday is long past. My grandmother used to call it intuition, some people call it a sixth sense. My father, who was always very distant and absent, once called me out of the blue to tell me he’d had a dream about me that I was in danger, and he was so worried that he had to call, even though that was back in the days before cell phones and he had to pay long distance which he hated to do. At the time I was on the verge of being homeless, and was trying to end a relationship with someone who was threatening me. I was scared and didn’t know where to turn, and there my father was one day on the phone. This was before I was born again, and my father would not have even known what that term meant as far as I know. But the Spirit of God moved through him to bring me the love and support I needed at a time I needed it most.

I’ve learned by now that when the Lord tells me to tell someone something that I need to do it. I sometimes have to ask Him over and over again if that’s what He’s really saying because sometimes it really doesn’t make sense to me, but once I get the go ahead, I go ahead. I’ve learned to be careful with my words, too, to make sure that they are the words He wants me to use and that I’m saying what He wants me to say. I ask Him to do what he said He would do for Ezekiel in chapter 3:26-27, “I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be silent . . . but when I speak to you I will open your mouth.” There are times to be silent and times to speak, and I want to make sure I’m doing what it is that is right for that time.
I wasn’t always like this. I used to say things that I regretted later, to speak without thinking about it, to say whatever came into my head. To speak out of anger or frustration or when I was tired or wasn't thinking straight. Now, even if something I say someone else tells me was wrong to say, I know it wasn’t, because I know that I’ve checked with the boss first. That is prophecy too – being able to say the things that other people would rather not hear, when everyone wants to brush something under the carpet and the Lord says, no, you have to speak. But as with everything else, it’s important to check the Master – He created language and He knows the end from the beginning. If there’s something you feel a burning desire to say, whether it’s good or bad news, a compliment or something that may cause distress, check with God first, and He’ll let you know when, how and if to say it. If you go ahead on your own, you're on your own, but if you check with Him, He'll help you say what needs to be said, to be silent when you need to be silent, and He'll back you up every time.

Blessings,

Jannie Susan

Monday, April 29, 2013

Let It Rain

Bishop Andrew Dietsche, the new Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, was visiting a church I attended yesterday. The message he gave confirmed something that I had written here a few days ago in my message titled "A Friend In Need." I asked him if I could quote him here because I thought it was important that people who are reading my words know that it’s not just crazy Jannie who is writing about God’s love and forgiveness, but that it’s coming from the leader of the Episcopal Church here in New York as well. He spoke on John 13 and the last supper, when Jesus washes the disciples' feet, and about God’s commandments to us. When he started to speak, I started to thank God, because through Bishop Dietsche's message He confirmed what I had said here and added more to it for me to share now. It's not only other people who I worry might think I'm crazy -  sometimes I wonder myself if I am really hearing from God. He speaks so clearly, but in my weak moments I think maybe it's just something I want to believe, and then the confirmation comes, and in such powerful way that I know it's His voice and His alone, and that I'm sharing an important message that He wants me to share.

I had been speaking about obedience, and the words that we use in church and Christian circles that sometimes people have a hard time accepting because they sound like something authority figures have said to us that we might not necessarily want to follow because of our experiences with people who have been in authority over us. Bishop Dietsche spoke about commandments in the same way – that when we hear the word "Commandment," we think of someone in authority telling us what to do, and it makes it something that we don’t want to do. He also said that he was bothered by the way that the commandments are written – that they are written in the negative, “Thou shalt not . . .” over and over again. It is a list of things we shouldn’t do, and so in a very human rebellion against authority, we could feel somehow that we want to do them, even though they are all things that it would be healthier for us not to do.

He then started to talk about Jesus at the last supper, and set the scene for us about the moment when Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment, John 13:34, "A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." He connected this to the message Jesus gives about the greatest commandments of all from Luke 10:27, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself," and how these two commandments, if we fulfill them, will fulfill all the others. In Bishop Dietsche’s words, "If you love your neighbor, you won’t steal from them, if you love your neighbor, you won’t lie to them." He also spoke about the context of Jesus giving us the commandment to love – that it was just after Judas left to betray him to the Roman soldiers. Jesus sent him away to do what he knew Judas was going to do, and yet still He loved him. At the same time, Jesus was talking about how Peter would betray Him, and yet He still loved Peter, even in that moment. And then the following day while He was on the Cross, He forgave and loved the world that had sent Him to the Cross. It was a powerful message from such a sweet heart of a man. Bishop Dietsche has a heart for the earth and for creation, for the people he serves in the communities who are in need in many ways. This message was given so simply and easily, it was from the heart and went straight to my heart.

There are people in my life who are easy to love. Friends and people I meet who I connect with, people who “speak my language, “ even if their language is not my own, even if we have difficulty translating words, there is an unspoken language that connects us in love. But there are always people who it is difficult to love, people who have caused pain or harm, or have done things that have caused trouble in my life or threaten to. It is at those times when I am asking God for vengeance that He says to forgive and pray for, and I have to ask for His help because in my own strength I can’t do it. There have been times that I have felt hatred in my heart, a desire for harm to come to a person who has harmed me or someone I love. I know at those times I have to go before God – He knows what I am thinking, so there is no way that I can hide those feelings from Him. I have to bring them before Him and in all honesty I tell Him that though I know those feelings are not of Him, I still have them and I don’t know how to change that. How do I pray for someone who is cursing me? How do I find it in my heart to love someone who treats me with contempt? How can I be kind when someone is being cruel? How can I open my heart to someone who is being heartless?
Bishop Dietsche talked about this with a similar message that I had shared here, and in His wonderfully kind and beautifully simple way he added something deeper. He said that when we follow Jesus and accept His commandment to love, we start to understand that it is not the easy love of romance or of liking a friend that He is asking us for. He is asking us for a more difficult kind of love to feel, the love that He felt for Judas, for Peter, and that He feels for all of us even at those times when we are walking the furthest away from Him. When we are able to love in the way that God loves, when we allow Him to work in our hearts, Jesus tells us in John 13:35, "By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another." And it is that love that is the light that can light up the world and bring heaven closer here on earth. It is that love that can help us to wash each other's feet and that connects us in a profound way to people who we might otherwise exclude.

Yesterday I wrote about watching the flood gates of Heaven open and pour down a blessing, and I ended my message with the words, “let it rain.” I almost titled the message after that same Eric Clapton song, and all the way home today I had it in my head.
The rain is falling through the mist of sorrow that surrounded me
The sun could never thaw away the bliss that lays around me
Let it rain, let it rain, let your love rain down on me

I know Eric Clapton’s music so well. One of my older brothers was a rock guitarist, and I grew up with some of the best rock music of all time. There are lyrics we can find to everything now, but it used to be a challenge to learn them just by listening, and my brother used to tease me if I got something wrong so I got into a thing of always getting them right. He used to have all kinds of nicknames for me, but the one I loved the best was little rock and roll. I was certain that the next line was: "My life was like a desert flower burning in the sun," but I looked it up and found out that it was “Her life.” I felt when I saw that word "her," that it really was about me. The Holy Spirit was telling me it was for me. It wasn’t about Eric Clapton, he had written it with several other people. And just as the words I write here can be for anyone, that song can be for us all.

The next line I knew: "Until I found the way to love, it’s harder said than done," but I hadn’t ever thought about that line before, as much as I have loved and sung that song for years. It’s harder said than done – I had never really heard that before the way I did when I looked it up and read those words. It’s not hard, God was telling me – it only seems that way. We can love as He loves, because He’ll help us every step of the way.

In the next line I saw a promise:

Now I know the secret there is nothing that I lack
If I give my love to you, you’ll surely give it back.

There is a popular book called The Secret, and while I don’t have any problem with the idea of a book that encourages people to think positive thoughts, I have a problem with that book because it takes away the idea of a loving God. There is no God to be found in that book because it is all about self-actualization and self-manifestation. Knowing what I know and having had the experiences I have had, taking a loving God out of the picture, taking a Christ who loves us away from us, takes love out of a world that is in desperate need of more love. The secret that I read about when I read those lyrics with the eyes that God gave me to read them said that if I give my love to Him – the you is God. If I give the love that I have in His service and to those He asks me to love, I am giving it to Him. He tells us in Matthew 25:40, “whatever you did for the least of these, so you did for me.” If I do what He asks and am obedient to His commandments, those two top priority commandments to love Him and love my neighbor, there is a promise in those words of that song that He will surely give it back. And when He gives back to us what we have poured out to others, He always multiplies it, pressed down and overflowing, and then we can say, let it rain, let it rain, let it rain, rain, rain.

Blessings,

Jannie Susan

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Cuidado

I went thrift store shopping over the past two days. There are some great thrift stores where I live, and two of them were having bag sales – all you can fit in a bag for $6 at one place and $10 at another. The $10 dollar bag is a huge bag, and I now have more cashmere sweaters than I know what to do with, some great clothes for work, and a beautiful evening dress that I never would have bought for myself if it hadn’t fit so easily in that bag. At the place with the $6 bag, the bag was much smaller, but I still managed to fit in lots of beautiful shirts and a linen sweater, and then one of the men who works there took a look at the bag and said, “No good, you can fit more,” and took it away from me and folded everything so neatly and perfectly that I was able to fit a suede jacket in there.

I shop at these thrift stores all the time – even without the bag sales their prices are amazing. And the people who work there are so nice! I always tell them how much I enjoy shopping there and that I get so many compliments on my clothes. They’re so appreciative that I am appreciative. For some reason not everyone tells them how wonderful they are, but I always tell them because it’s one of the ways that God has provided for me in His miraculous way of providing not just any old thing, but something beautiful and special and that makes me feel good about the way I look.

The saying is that “Clothes make the man,” and while you can be dressed to the nines and you might still be a rotter underneath it, people do respond to you differently if you’re dressed well. And there’s a feeling that I get when I am wearing something that I know is pretty – it brings out the little girl in me that likes to dress up. I grew up wearing hand-me-downs from my brothers and my sister, and we didn’t have much extra for anything special so the clothing was utilitarian most of the time, but my mother used to take us to the old Filene’s Basement, the original one in the basement of Filene’s in Boston, and to other places too where we would sometimes find really great things for a dollar or two. I had thought those old days were gone forever until God showed me these thrift stores. It was His way of letting me know that He knows how much I longed for something special to wear, His way of letting me know that I was His daughter and He was going to take care of me in the way a King takes care of His little princess.

If I hadn’t been open to the idea of shopping at a thrift store I’d never have this blessing He’s been pouring on me. I have so many clothes now that I joke with my friends at the thrift stores that I’m going to have to move just to find space for my clothes. For a girl who grew up feeling like Cinderella, rarely having the clothing to wear to school that would make me feel like I fit in or that I looked attractive to anyone, the clothes I have now are above and beyond what I could ever have even dreamed of. Ephesians 3:20 says, “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than we all we ask or imagine, according to His work within us” and He’s certainly done that with my clothing. Philippians 4:19 says, "And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus." He has supplied not only my needs, but my wants too. And above and beyond what I could ever have asked for.

When I get compliments on my clothes, which I always do these days, I always tell people the price. One dollar, two dollars, maybe four if I’ve really splurged. I’ve had two women tell me I shouldn’t tell anyone, and I say why? Why would I hide that God is blessing me? If I pretend that I can afford these beautiful clothes, in what way does that show what God can do? By telling people the truth, and being honest about what He has done, I can let other people know He can do it for them too. Even so, there are still some people who wouldn’t shop at a thrift store. One woman I know complimented me on something I was wearing, and when I told her where I got it and invited her to go with me, she went on to say that she was waiting for something she liked to go on sale and that she’d buy it if it got to around $150. Why spend $150 when you could buy it for so much less? That’s the way I feel, though, and I know not everyone is like me. I love my thrift stores, and I love the people who work there. They’re volunteers at the smaller ones, people who want to help the community, people who love to see other people be blessed.

There’s a human connection that’s part of the transaction too. Maybe that’s what the woman who wanted to spend $150 was trying to avoid. And shopping at thrift stores means you have to accept that other people may have worn those clothes, though in some cases they are donated from retailers with the original tags still on, but there has to be some acceptance that someone else could pay that top price that you can’t. But I say, who cares? Back in the day when I used to do things my own way, I used to sometimes buy really expensive clothes. I couldn’t afford them, but I’d put them on my credit card or pay for them with money that should have been paying for something else like the health insurance that I didn’t have. I have so much beautiful clothing now that I didn’t pay a fraction of the cost for, and I get that chance to joke and laugh and talk to people who work at the stores too. But there’s that human interaction again, and maybe that’s the thing that keeps some people from going there. I have to be honest with the people who work at those stores – I can’t hide from them what a blessing they are to me and I don’t want to. I love telling them about the compliments I get and the places I wear their beautiful clothes. That connection is part of what I love about shopping there.

Sometimes when we’re looking for God’s blessings, they come in very strange ways. We might be praying for something, and if we expect it to come in one way and it comes in another, we might not recognize it as the answer to our prayer. We might miss out on the blessing that God has for us if we don’t see it because it’s not packaged in the way we thought it should be. All of my life I’ve longed for beautiful clothes, sometimes spending too much money just to have one nice thing. Now I have more than I could ever ask for or imagine, but it came in a very different way than I ever expected.

There's a song that I hear when I'm at one of the thrift stores. "Colgano En Tus Manos," by Carlos Baute. It's a great song he sings with Marta Sanchez. It's a song about the desire for love that seems unattainable, something that is out of reach because it's not yours. But when you hear the song, and watch the video, Carlos Baute and Marta Sanchez are having so much fun! In the chorus they keep singing "Cuidado, mi corazon esta colgano en tus manos," which translates roughly to "Be careful, my heart is in your hands," but they don't look like they're worried about having their hearts broken. They're joyful, and enjoying the feeling of being in love. We can have that feeling of wanting something that we don't know if we can have, something that is on our hearts that we can't forget. And so we pray about it, and ask God to help us with it, but if we are not careful we may not recognize when those prayers have been answered. We might lose out on the joy of feeling the feeling of love because we are afraid that our hearts might be broken.

God holds our hearts in His hands if we let Him. And He's always careful to take care of what we trust Him with. For years I was running after things I thought I couldn't have, when sometimes they were things I didn't need or that weren't good for me. Expensive clothing will wear out - I'm good with keeping clothes and other things I've bought over the years, but they still, eventually, wear out. People I thought were one way have turned out to be another, things I thought I needed turned out to be dust collectors I couldn't get rid of. God tells us not to focus on the things of this world, but to focus on Him and that He will provide for all of our needs. 1 John 2:16 says, "All the things the world can offer you - the allure of pleasure, the passion to have things, and the pompous sense of superiority do not come from the Father. These are the rotten fruits of this world." That is from The Voice translation, one I've started to get devotions from online, and I like the way they use language.

God knows that we need things, and He knows how to provide the best things for us, to meet our needs in the best way possible. It is the desire for those things that this passage is warning us of, the negative feelings that can come when we want something that we can't have, when we are willing to do anything to get what we want, even if it means hurting someone else or ourselves. If we look at it in combination with other scriptures, we can see that the message is not saying that we can't ever have what we want. Time and time again, God promises us that He will supply all of our needs, and I've experienced that over and over again, not just the needs but the wants too. And when we are able to be patient, when we are able to let God do the supplying, when we are able to recognize that He is the best provider of all, and that He wants us to have the things that are the best for us, that is when He can really pour out a blessing that we cannot contain. When we trust in His timing, and trust that He is willing and able to do more than we can ever ask for or think of, when we trust Him at His word to provide for all of our needs, and when we don't tie Him down to one way of providing, just watch Him open the windows of Heaven and let it rain.

Blessings,

Jannie Susan

 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Friend In Need

I was looking for something in my emails and I found the one that I’d written to a friend after I was born again. I titled the email “Saved,” and the first line reads, “I wanted you to know that I have found God.” When I read that now, it makes me laugh – I didn’t find God, He found me. My friend, God bless her, was overjoyed. She didn’t correct what I’d written, even though she had been a Christian for years and could have been condescending. Some Christians can be like that – they act all Holy Holy Holy and then a newly saved person, or someone searching and seeking says something and they smile that “Oh, aren’t you cute,” smile and shake their head with a little shake and say, “That’s not the way we say it, dear.” A woman I know said something to me once about someone who was having a hard time leaving the past behind and stepping out in faith. It was someone who was new to the idea of a God who does miracles, and who hadn’t seen any of God’s miracles yet. All of our walks are different, and this person was having a very big battle right from the start. That happens sometimes when there is a really huge calling on someone’s life – someone who is going to reach out with God’s love in a big way to many people – someone who is a healer and an evangelist.

I was saying how I knew that God would win and that it was just a matter of time, and this woman said, “Yes, He will, but there will be a price to pay. We always have to pay a price when we are not obedient to what God is calling us to do.” That’s just not the God I know. God has been so patient with me – before I was born again and every day of my life since then – He already paid the price on Calvary, because He knew me before I was ever born and knew that I was stubborn and fearful and would mess things up. He paid the price so I wouldn’t have to. It doesn’t mean I can do whatever I want with no consequences – being saved doesn’t give me the right to do things I know are wrong. But being afraid to step out in faith has never made God angry – that’s not the kind of God He is. He knows we’re human and we’re afraid and faith doesn’t make sense to us. He knows it’s hard to believe some of the things He says because we need to see in order to believe, and He says some things sometimes that sound just plain crazy if you’re looking at what you see. What He says can be the exact opposite of our current reality. Let the weak say I am strong and the poor say I am rich? How the heck is that supposed to happen? But it does, when we can step out in faith and trust and believe that His word is greater than what we see, and greater than anything or anyone. When we trust that He truly is the Lord of all. But that takes time, and sometimes for some of us, it takes longer. It all depends on our own experiences in life, the things that have shaped our belief system before we recognize that His is the best belief system. His is based on love and truth and joy and peace, but many times our experiences have been exactly the opposite. God knows that, and He knows it's a learning process. When we are born again, we are like children again. We have to go through the same learning process that children do, to learn how to live our lives in a new way.

When I wrote to my friend in my newly born again excitement, she wrote back, “I am in a library and trying not to scream because God is so good! I’m about to dance for joy!!!!!  Just trust God Jannie in every little situation. You just made my year.” I love her response – it is so much from the heart – from a beautiful heart. She had been praying for me through those dark days before I was born again, never once saying the kind of things that other woman had to say about another person in the early stages of faith. According to God, we are supposed to lift each other up, to intercede in prayer, to speak life. And that's exactly what she did. This same friend sent me an email a little while after that with an encouraging story about Rahab, the prostitute who God used to help the Children of Israel win the battle at Jericho, and who is part of the lineage of Christ. There’s a great message in the email my friend forwarded to me, “God saw potential in Rahab and called her out of her past, and into a great adventure and a life filled with promise. God sees the same potential in you.”
When you look through the Bible, God uses so many people who other people would say were unworthy, people who had lived lives that were anything but the picture of clean living, people who were cowards, people who didn’t always do the right thing, people who that other woman might call disobedient because they didn’t do exactly what God said to do when He said to do it because they doubted and were afraid. But in each case, it was their heart that God was looking at. He knows what He’s capable of and He know everything about us. He knows our fears and doubts, and He knows what we've been through in our lives, the secret things that no one else knows. He also knows He doesn’t need us to do what He wants to do. But He loves us, every single one of us, and loves to be in relationship with us, and because He loves us, He’ll patiently wait and help us grow into the place that He’s prepared for us so that we can learn how to trust Him and learn that obedience to God is not a terrible thing.

There are words that we use when we talk about our relationship with God that because of bad experiences with people in our lives have taken on a meaning that is negative. Obedience is one of those words. When I think of obedience, I think of a child being punished, a child that is under an authority that says and does things just to show who is in power, and that is not the kind of obedience that reflects our relationship with God. When God tells us to do something, it is not an arbitrary order, just to show us who's boss. He knows all things and sees all things, the whole picture that we can't see. When He tells us to do something, it is because He knows the future, and even though what He is asking us to do right now may not make sense, there is a really wonderful and important reason He is asking us to do it. That is the kind of obedience He asks of us, and even then we still have a choice. But when we make the choice to do things His way, we find the place of greatest joy and can live in the blessings that come with that kind of obedience that is built out of our trust in Him.

Another thing my friend wrote is, “I knew you would find your way right where you are.” She had been praying, and she trusted that God would do what He promises to do. Hebrews 7:25 tells us that Jesus, “can completely save those who are approaching God through Him, because He always lives to speak with God for them.” Jesus is our model. As we trust Him for salvation and answered prayer for ourselves, if we are obedient to Him, we are supposed to lift each other up, to intercede in prayer, to speak life. Around the same time, another friend sent me an email with a story about two high school students, one who is new in town, a geek, and the other who is more popular, but who reaches out in friendship one day, and in the story we later find out the importance of his simple act of kindness. On their graduation day, the former geek who is now a swan is giving the valedictory speech, and he says thank you to his friend who it turns out saved his life by being kind to him. He had been so miserable and alone that he was planning to kill himself. It’s a beautiful story, and there are some beautiful words in the email message that surrounds the story, “Never underestimate the power of your actions. With one small gesture you can change a person’s life - for better or for worse. God puts us all in each other’s lives to impact one another in some way. Look for God in others.”

If we are so busy looking for fault, finding a reason why someone will have to pay a price, trying to make God’s plans fit our own personal view of how things should work, trying to make an equation that makes sense to our way of thinking, we won’t see the miracle of the love of God, and how His plans for us are the best plans of all. We’ll miss out on the one thing that matters, that He is Lord of all, and yet He still loves to call us His friends. We'll miss out on the fact that when we are at our place of deepest need, when we don't know where to turn or who to turn to, He is always there, ready, willing and able to help. And we will miss out on the blessing of being obedient in the way He calls us to be obedient, the blessing of loving others just as He loves.
Blessings,
Jannie Susan

Friday, April 26, 2013

Hearing Something New

A friend of mine who is part of the deaf community has been learning the song Amazing Grace for a special event, and we were having a conversation about the song and the way that she will be signing. The other people who were part of the conversation are all very knowledgeable in things that are spiritual and also with language and translating and communicating. I was very moved by our conversation because there were so many things that came up about that song and how difficult –or maybe impossible – it is for someone who has not had the experience of salvation to understand that song completely. Signing is a very beautiful language that is a language all its own. There is nothing that I can really compare it to. My friend is very knowledgeable about the history of signing and is very particular in how she decides to express herself. She is also very deeply spiritual, and watching her sing the song is a rare and beautiful experience. When she spoke about the meaning of the words for her, the emotion shone in her eyes and there was a glow over her face that can only come from the Spirit of God.

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.” Those words are easy in any language I think, at least on the surface. It’s when we get to the part about saving a wretch like me that we get caught up in something that may or may not sit well with us. When we discussed the song, I shared how it was only after I was born again that I understood the song and loved it – before that I had never liked it at all. The idea of calling myself a wretch – the idea that anyone would sing a song and call themselves a wretch – that was something weird and strange and not at all appealing. But after I was born again, when I knew what a wretch I had been and could easily be again, that was when I really understood the amazing grace that had saved me from myself.
“I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” Those words, too, seem easy, but after I was saved, they became glorious and miraculous. In our conversation, my friends were talking about how they had decided on the sign for blind – they had not chosen the usual sign for blind, but one that shows that before she was blind in the way that she couldn’t see God, but now she can see Him and all things reflected in His glory. Another friend of mine who is an Episcopal Priest has said to me that there are people who can see but who are blind, and who can hear but who can’t hear. I was like that before I was born again – I have 20/20 vision and what is considered perfect hearing, but without the amazing grace of God, I could not see or hear anything really. All of my sensory experiences were covered over by a mask or a film, a haze that was dark enough to hide anything that was truly joyful or filled with love. After I was born again, when God first sent me to work in an after school program in the Projects on the lower east side of NYC, the first day I arrived, I said, "Lord, what are you doing?" All I could see around me was dirt and filth and garbage and poverty and misery. How could I in my broken and needy state bring anything positive to a place like that? But He answered, "Don't look with your eyes, look with mine," and as I walked with Him in that place, I experienced love and joy and beauty in a way I had never known before.

When my friends began talking about the sign for being lost and found – that was when I had to get into the conversation. Before that I had just been listening, but there are times when the Spirit will say you have to say something, and you do. The conversation was around the idea of what was the meaning of being lost. My friend was signing searching and lost, and someone suggested that there needed to be something else because it was a concept that even in the spoken word was difficult to understand. What are we lost from, where are we lost, how are we lost? What if we don’t know that we’re lost? Before I was born again, the idea of being lost meant only that I didn’t know where I was going on a map when I was driving or walking in a place I didn’t know. When I was a very young child, a toddler, just old enough to walk, I remember getting lost once in a hospital – my family was there, and somehow I got disconnected from them and ran screaming until somebody picked me up and I was found again. It seemed like an eternity, but it may have lasted only an instant. That is the closest I can come to the feeling of salvation, that moment when you are found and those arms are around you and the fear is gone. The difference is in the moment before – when I was a child I knew I was lost, when I was an adult, I didn’t know until I was found.
“T’was grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace that fear relieved.” How can that make sense to someone who has not known that grace? It seems a paradox – how can we learn fear and be relieved of fear by the same power that taught it to us? It doesn’t make any sense in the natural world. But God’s ways do not make sense to us sometimes if we look with our natural eyes – seeing we do not see until we begin to look with new eyes. To know the fear of God is to truly know the love of God. When I realized His power and His might and I realized how far I was living away from the way that He wanted me to live, I realized what a wretch I was, and in that realization, I knew a greater love than any I had ever known or could ever know. I was a misbehaving child, not a good and loving one, but a willful and stubborn and troublesome one, and yet He still lifted me up in His arms and shut all the fear away.

“How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.” How precious and lovely and loving. In an instant my eyes were opened, and I understood. There is no way to explain that moment to anyone, it is something so deeply personal and unique to each of us. One moment we’re running scared, not even aware of how we got to where we are, not knowing how to get back to where we want to be, then the arms scoop us up and we’re safe. And the best news of all is that those arms are big enough to hold the world. They are big enough to hold each one of us in the way we need to be held, and they are loving enough to hold us even when we haven’t known how to love ourselves.
Blessings,

Jannie Susan

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Integral

I was thinking about the word integrity last night, and I looked it up. The first definition I found was “1. adherence to moral and eithical principles, soundness of moral character, honesty, 2.the state of being whole, entire, and undiminished: to preserve the integrity of the empire, 3. a sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition: the integrity of a ship’s hull.” The origin is listed in the years 1400-50, from Late Middle English, integrite. Latin integritas, see integer, ity.  I like to look up words. I like words because they often mean different things than we think they mean or they have layers and levels of meaning that we didn’t know they had until we look them up. I could have looked up integrity all night, but it was getting late and I had to get up early. Integrity is a great sounding word too – that’s another thing I like about words – the way different words sound. American English is my first language, so I know it well and love it, but I love other languages too. Language is something that can have integrity.

They gave sample sentences in the definition, and one I particularly liked was, “He had the courage and integrity to openly state his beliefs and the guts to . . .” it trailed off, and when I tried to click on it, thinking there would be more, that the sentence would end somewhere, I couldn’t get rest of the sentence, just definitions of the different words in the sentence fragment. I wondered about the "he" of the sentence – what were his beliefs? What did he have the guts to do? There are things that we might state openly as beliefs that aren’t necessarily signs of integrity. I could say something obnoxious that was a belief I held and offend someone and that wouldn’t be an example of integrity, that would just be offensive and boorish. Ah, boorish, another word I love, though I think that one is more English English than American English. I hope I don’t have any obnoxious beliefs, but you never know until you’ve been boorish and have offended someone.

Sometimes people do things that they call one thing when they’re really another. The person who points a finger at someone else to blame them instead of accepting their own responsibility could say they were acting out of integrity. It all depends on what side of the finger you’re standing on. There’s always more than one side to a story – sometimes there are more than two. If we really have integrity, we try to figure out what our responsibility is, then we can try to help the other person figure out what we can do together to make it better. Jesus puts it this way, “How do you say to your brother, let me take the speck out of your eye when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3-5) If we have integrity, we never assume that we don’t have a plank in our eye, we assume that we do.
I teach nutrition and wellness, and part of what I do is talk about the nutrient value of whole grains. There’s a Spanish word for whole grain that a lovely woman taught me one day at a community lunch. They always have big bags of bread at that place that are donated from a really great bakery, and she would ask me if there was any “integral.” I used to speak Spanish really well – I took it for six years in junior high and high school, and I had really great teachers. They’d do things like take us out on field trips to restaurants and we could only speak Spanish, and I learned how to read and write and speak it really well. They taught us slang, too, and differences in pronunciation and countries. But then years went by and I didn’t use it, and if you don’t use it you lose it. I can still understand it pretty well, but it takes me a little time to translate things. But when that lovely lady said “integral,” I knew what she was talking about. It's in the very word itself. Whole wheat, whole grain, the complete grain in sound, unimpaired, and perfect condition.

I don’t know if we as humans can ever be that way. We can try, but there’s always that little side to us that isn’t perfect, and that doesn’t want anyone to know it. I can’t really speak for anyone else, but I know that side’s in me. It’s when that imperfectness is in danger of being seen that integrity can go out the window. Something goes wrong, there’s a question of who’s to blame, and the fingers start pointing anywhere, as long as they’re away from you. I used to be the director of an after school program, and I taught some of the students and youth leaders I worked with the expression “The buck stops here.” I’d like to believe I was always the type of person who doesn’t pass the buck, but am I really?
One of the reassuring messages of the Good News of Jesus Christ is that He doesn’t expect us to be perfect. He’s perfect, but He doesn’t expect us to be. All He asks for is that we listen, that we pay attention to what we know is right or wrong. But ah, that’s the challenge, how do we know? What if our moral compass is so off kilter that we can’t tell the difference? That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in, thank God, though sometimes we get so off track we can’t even hear Him either. But eventually, over time, as God first knocks softly on the door, then a bit harder, then a bit harder, we get it. In my experience He had to knock the whole door down and nearly collapsed the house I was living in too, but that’s another story for another time. I’m still standing, by His grace, with His grace and because of His grace. I’m not perfect, but He doesn’t ask me to be. He just asks me to keep listening and learning and trusting until one day I’ll see Him face to face.

It's such a relief to know that I don't have to be perfect, that as long as I try my best, He'll help me get the rest of the way. It's part of the process of His saving grace, the Holy Spirit living within you and that powerful help all around you. Sometimes the changes are easier to make than others, taking the step of faith to do something a new way can be really hard sometimes. But when we take that step, He meets us more than halfway, and brings us all the way home, whole, entire and undiminished.

Blessings,

Jannie Susan

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Honesty

In reading about the bombing suspect in Boston, I'm amazed by the fact that there are so many people, not just his family and friends, but so many other people who believe that he was framed, that he won’t get a fair trial, that this is some kind of conspiracy or set up. Even when the news was released that he had confessed, there are still many people who believe it’s a lie.

What kind of a world do we live in when people are so ready to believe that people would lie about something as important as this? It seems like it must be a world where lying is so commonplace – where people lie so much that we’re all used to it as a way of life. I've seen the damage lies can do, and to me, it's one of the worst things people can do. I won’t say “I’ve never lied,” because I’m sure I have, and actually I can remember a time, when I was hungover from a big party night and I called in sick to work. This was years ago, before I was born again, probably about 20 years ago now, but even then, I felt such guilt about lying that it was almost worse than going into work with a hangover. I was temping at the time, so I didn’t make any money if I called in sick, but I was really feeling sick so I had to call in. But I still felt like I was lying and I felt really bad about it. That’s the only time I remember consciously lying about something, though I know I’m no saint, God knows, so there were probably other times I’ve forgotten.
Why do people lie? To protect ourselves, to make ourselves look better than we feel we are at that moment, to get away with something that we shouldn’t be doing, to impress people – those are just some reasons that come to mind, but they’re not really worth it in the long or the short run. God says lying is a sin – with God no sin is bigger or smaller than any other, so lying is just as big as murder, and if we lie about someone else, that’s slander and He looks at that as murder too. Sometimes we lie to ourselves – that I know I’ve definitely done. Times when I wanted to feel better about something I was doing, times when I wanted to feel better about my life, my job, my relationship, the way I was treating someone else. We call it justifying, or denial, but it’s really just living a lie.

When God identifies something as a sin, it’s because it brings death into our lives. Living His way brings life, not just eternal life, but abundant life now. Sin eats away at us, and that’s what lies do. It gets to a point that we have no peace because there is nothing that we can rely on, not even ourselves. Now that I am walking with Him, I can sleep at night in a way I never could before. When I make a mistake, He gently shows me – that’s one of the blessings of having His Holy Spirit with you all the time. The minute you mess something up, you know it and you can go back and make it right. He tells me about the littlest things too, because they all add up, and why not live your life right in every place? If I go through the check-out line at the supermarket and they don’t charge me enough, I go back. They think I’m crazy, because I’ll go back to give them back 50 cents. I always tell them, I’d be here in a hot minute if you overcharged me. Why shouldn’t I come back if you don’t charge me enough? It’s amazing how it amazes people. I had someone tell me once I was too honest. How can you be too honest? Either you’re honest or you’re not.
I’m trying to imagine a world where everyone was honest all the time. Not in the way of being insulting to people. Wasn’t there a movie like that, where some man couldn’t tell a lie so he kept insulting people? I’m not talking about that kind of I don’t know what it is – insulting people isn’t honesty, it’s something else – tactlessness is more the word for that. I’ve had women ask me in stores “What do you think of this dress?” and it was a dress I wouldn’t buy, but it suited them and they obviously liked it or they wouldn't have been asking me. If I’m honest and kind I can say it suits you or it’s nice, and if you like it, you should buy it. If I’m tactless I could say, I wouldn’t buy it - it’s not my style at all. But that’s not what the woman asked me about. She doesn’t care if I would buy it or if I would wear it, she wants to know if she should. We can answer questions thinking about ourselves, or we can answer them thinking about someone else and what it is that would most help them. When we think about the other person instead of just saying the first thing that comes into our mind, we won't say anything that is hurtful. A woman I know once told me I should get my hair cut in layers - she said I would look "slammin." My hair is long and straight and I rarely cut it - if I wanted it in layers I'd have it in layers. She was thinking about what she likes, and because she wasn't thinking about me at all, all she did in saying that was to make me feel like I didn't look good the way I was. That's not honesty - that's something entirely different that has nothing to do with telling the truth. Our personal opinions are not necessarily useful to anyone else - even when people ask us for our opinion, sometimes they really just want us to listen to what they have to say, really listen, and reply with something that means something to them personally, that shows that we're paying attention to who they are.

Honesty is not always easy, but it’s worth it. Just seeing those people in the stores when I come back to say “I think you undercharged me” is a treat. It brightens their day. “There that crazy woman goes again,” they must be thinking, and they smile, and say thank you, and tell me “you’re so honest.”  I’m not honest in and of myself, but I have the power of God living inside me and walking around with me every day. He keeps me on the right track, because I know what life was like before I started walking with Him and I never want to go back that way again.
Blessings,

Jannie Susan

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Grace

I was thinking about salvation, how it is by grace alone that we are saved. When I joined the choir at the church I started attending after I was born again, the choir director had a questionnaire for us to fill out, and one of the questions was “What is your favorite scripture?” At that point I had been saved for more than six months, but much less than a year, and had only started going to church and reading the Bible the friend who had invited me to the church had given me, but I knew the answer right away. Ephesians 2:8, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” I thought that maybe that favorite would change over the years, that as I learned more and grew more with God that I would have different scriptures that would become favorites, but although there are many that are precious to me because of the way God has used them to speak to me at particular times in my life, and although I share many different passages with people depending on their need and what God is speaking to me and asking me to speak to them at any given moment and for many different needs, my favorite scripture has never changed. It is my foundation, the thing I go back to again and again and again, at every point - the highs, the lows, the challenges, the trials, the temptations, the places of weakness and doubt, and the places of strength and victory. It is in that scripture that I find the fullness of God’s grace and mercy and love and power. It is faith that saves us, only faith, not the things we do or the things we say or even the things other people say about us – it is what is inside of us, deep in our hearts, that thing that no matter what still cries out to God like the father in Mark 9:24 and says, “I do believe, help me with my unbelief!” And it is God who gives us that faith. Ephesians 2:9 goes on to explain that it is, “not by works so that no one can boast.” At the time that I was born again, I was not living any kind of life that had anything to do with God. I was living the exact opposite of a life that would be pleasing to Him, and yet He still reached down and grabbed hold of my hand and poured rivers of living water into a life gone dry in the desert. He breathed new life into me, gave me a new heart and a new mind, and a new spirit filled with His own Holy one. It was a gift, and not because of anything of myself, it was simply a gift given for no earthly reason at all.

As I hear the news from Boston about a 19 year young man lying in a hospital bed in critical condition, I think about that grace that was given to me so freely, and I have no choice but to pray for him too. I read the charges brought against him, and if he is indeed guilty as all the evidence seems to prove, to have committed so heinous a crime a person cannot know the value and worth of others, and this often means they do not know their own value either. To have committed such a crime, there is something that has gone terribly wrong in that young man’s life, and whether or not we ever hear the truth of what happened, we may never really know or understand the deeper reasons of why. God tells us always that we are not to judge, but to pray, that knowing our own faults and failings and that we have been given grace, we are to pour that grace back to others as freely as it has been given to us. I did not ask for God’s grace in my life, He gave it as a gift, and my prayer for others is always that they would receive His gift and know the same blessing that I have received.
Ephesians 2:9-10 continues so beautifully, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Another translation describes us as God’s workmanship and the good works as things that He planned for us to walk in. He knows everything in advance. Before things happen, He knows about them, and He has already planned an outcome that may be very different from what we see at the time. He is the Alpha and the Omega, and He knows the end from the beginning. He knows everything about each and every one of us, our thoughts and our hearts and our deepest hidden secrets. And yet, in spite of ourselves, in spite of the things we hide even from ourselves, He has made great plans for us to walk in. Jeremiah 29:11 tells us, “For I know the plans I have for you says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” He says this not to a group of people who are walking in His ways, but to people who had gone astray and had been walking far away from Him, so far that they were now in captivity in Babylon. He tells them this so that they know that in spite of everything, His plans and promises will still stand. There is nothing that we can do that can take us so far away from God that He can't bring us back again.

As I think about my life and how He walked into it with love at a time when I had done nothing to deserve it, Ephesians 2:8 reminds me that it is not anything that I have done or not done that matters. It is what God has planned that will continue to stand even as my own strength sometimes wavers. There’s a beautiful song He showed me one early morning last summer when I was having trouble standing on His promises. The title is "You Raise Me Up," and it goes like this, “When I am down and oh my soul so weary, when trouble comes and my heart burdened be, then I will stay and wait here in the silence, until you come and sit a while with me. You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains. You raise me up to walk on stormy seas. I am strong when I am on your shoulders. You raise me up to more than I can be.” He gives us faith as a gift, to raise us up from where we have been brought down to, sometimes by ourselves, sometimes by a life of pain and suffering and grief. Whatever it is that we have done or that has been done to us will not change His plans for us, and we will walk in them with His grace.
Blessings,

Jannie Susan

Monday, April 22, 2013

When God Cleans House

There are times when God will clean your house. I don’t mean that He comes and does the laundry and vacuums and scrubs the tub, though it would be really great to have someone else do that so I don’t have to do it. When God cleans house, it can be in a combination of ways, the physical, in that He’ll have you get rid of stuff that you don’t need any more, things you’ve been holding onto that are holding you back, things from the past that have no purpose now, things that are broken that you hang onto because you liked them once or loved someone who gave them to you or they have a connection to a time and place that you want to stay close to in your memory. He’ll have you do that stuff sometimes, that kind of house cleaning, but there’s another kind of house cleaning, the deep cleaning, that comes sometimes during and sometimes after that physical removal of the old stuff,  and both happen often before you’re about to go through a passage to a new place in your life. This other kind of house cleaning is a cleansing of the mind, the spirit and the heart, and when God comes in to clean those places out, it can be really painful because those things that have to go are so deeply lodged in there that it sometimes feels like they’re things we need when they really are things that have to go. They’re dead things that still have deep roots that are intertwined with everything else that is still alive, but those roots are choking the living things and keeping new things from growing.

I love to garden and I love plants, and God often talks to me through those places. I was cleaning up some of my house plants yesterday – I’ve been slowly beginning to take some of them outside – the weather is still chilly here at night and even on some days, so I’ve been taking them out later than I usually do. But yesterday seemed a good day to take my geranium outside and to plant a miniature rose I had on my window sill that really needs the fresh air to thrive. When I take the plants inside in the winter, there is always a bit of a crunch on the window sills for space. One of the things I lost during the time when I was found - the time when I was born again – were many of my house plants. During those darkest hours before the dawn of Christ in my life I had been living in a place where the heat had been shut off. It was deep midwinter, and the building was old and drafty.  I was miserably cold, but I could bundle up in layers and survive. The plants didn’t do as well. The ones that did survive the freezing cold, didn’t survive the next two years of moving three times. Each time I moved I lost more plants until I moved into my current apartment and I was almost down to nothing. But God restores all things above and beyond what we have lost – this is true in every area, and He did it with the plants, too. I visited a green house when I was at a conference on a college campus, and when I asked if I could have some of the pieces of some cutttings they were throwing away, the woman who worked there gave me cuttings of almost everything in the place and some full plants. That was another amazing way that God showed me how He shows up when we do things His way. In the past I would have just taken the cuttings - they were throwing them away, right? But because I was polite and respectful and asked instead of just taking, I was blessed above and beyond what I could have taken on my own.

One of those plants was a type of cactus, and it had been thriving for several years, but this past winter, something happened at some point and it shriveled up to very hard, dry stalks where it had once been succulent and green. I decided to clean it out of its pot yesterday, but when I tried to pull it out by the roots, they were deep in the soil. It was definitely dead, there was no life in the plant at all, but the roots had grown so deep and strong that they were still hanging onto everything they could under the earth. I realized then that this is what God has been doing in my life lately – He’s been helping me see where things are dead and gone and where they need to be taken out so that new life can grow. Just as those roots hung on, there are things that have been hanging on or that I have been hanging onto that need to go before the new things He's planted can grow.
It gets confusing sometimes because there are things that have been good things to have that now aren’t good for me any more. People who have changed, or I have changed, or something has been lost in the connection. Memories, love letters, old clothing. Things that seem to have no negative impact, but that are taking up space that needs to be free to be filled with something new. The process is intense and healing as it unfolds over time. A few months ago I deleted all of the emails from the relationship I was in during the two years before I was born again. I had already recycled most of the gifts I’d been given – I didn’t want to throw them away, so I gave them to friends or donated them – but the emails I’d been saving, I don’t know why, for the same reason I had been saving love letters from years ago I guess. A memory of something that had once been beautiful, “It seems such a shame, we start out so kind but end so heartlessly,” as the Joni Mitchell song goes. I tore up the old love letters, not angrily or in any way with a feeling of wanting to burn them and destroy them the way we do when we are still angry or hurt, I just tore them up to keep the words private before I thew them away. And then I went to the emails, and in a moment they were gone. I felt such a relief, such a weight was taken off. I didn’t realize that I’d been carrying the pain of the heartless ends of those relationships when I thought I had been carrying the kindness and the love.

Last night when I was making dinner, a thought came to me that was another amazing God moment. I was singing that Joni Mitchell song, and out of nowhere I had the thought that I didn’t regret any of my old relationships, or anything in my past. After I was born again, I spent the first year at the altar of the church I started attending, weeping with remorse for the life that I’d lived and the mistakes I’d made, so desperately sorry that I had made such a mess of things and that I'd wasted so much time and so many gifts and resources that God had given me, so desperately sorry that I had wasted His love and His time. There was one day when I was talking to Him and saying how sorry I was, and He answered, “About what?” And I said, oh, come on, you know exactly what I’m talking about, and I started to list all of the things, and He replied, “I forgot about that, remember?” One of His promises is that when we come to Him with a heart of repentance, He forgives us and gives us a new life, and He also washes our sins away and forgets them (Micah 7:18-19). He takes our transgressions as far away as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:10-12). Once He forgives us, they’re gone, and that forgiveness  happens immediately, the moment we turn to Him. But even knowing that intellectually, I didn’t take it in fully, into my spirit and heart and soul. Those things from the past were still in my mind, as reminders every day, those roots had grown so deep they were choking the new life and growth.

Little by little, over time, God has been weeding in the garden and cleaning up the dead roots hidden underground. It’s not that I want to go back and live that old life again, but I have no regrets. I am able to allow those things and those people to just be what they were, and to know that they are not that same thing now, just as I am not the same now. I am also finally fully able to forgive – myself and those people and those situations. I’m able to let them go.

If there’s something in your past that you’ve been hanging onto, I encourage you to let it go. Let God wash it in the River of Forgetfulness. It could be something that seems small and even could be something that was a positive thing. But it’s past and it’s gone and it’s time to move forward, into the new place of life that God has for you.
Blessings,

Jannie Susan

 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

He Makes All Things New

I checked my credit score last night. It was something that I’ve been knowing that I needed to do, but I’ve been dreading it. At the time that I was born again, everything in my life went into the trash heap. I lost everything then, but I gained Christ, so I have never been sorry. I had been living in the Valley of Shittim, but the River of Living Water came flowing through. The fact of Christ in my life is something that keeps me going even when I don’t have any other reason to keep going. I gained everything in the sense of salvation, but I did lose everything in a worldly material sense, and was deeply in debt, so checking my credit score was not anything that I wanted to do. But I live in the world as much as I sometimes would rather not, and it's important to take care of our worldly responsibilities and business. I had the opportunity to check my credit score for free and easily, so I decided what the heck. I was amazed. It’s not perfect, but it’s above average, which isn’t really saying much because America as a whole is in a bad place financially, but still, it’s definitely not bad which is a miracle.

God promises us that He makes all things new. That when we come to Him with all of our mess, He’ll turn it into something beautiful. I’ve seen Him do this over and over again in my life, and He just did it again. I know the life I lived, and I know the credit score I deserve. And that’s not what He gave me. He gave me something that is looking pretty shiny and new and will just continue to get better.
A little over a year ago I was looking online for my own name – I was doing a search for something, I don’t remember what, and I found a listing for an Elton John song. The title of the song is“Little Jeannie,” but someone had written it as “Little Jannie,” on a YouTube video. I went ahead and listened to it – I’m really fond of Elton John. I learned about him for the first time from a really cool girl who moved to my hometown when we were 13. She was the coolest! And she loved Elton John, so even though I’ve never been a big fan, I’ve always had a soft spot for him. Part of the lyrics go like this: “You stepped into my life from a bad dream, making the life that I had seem suddenly shiny and new.” That’s what God did for me, and He keeps doing it, day after day after day.  I still don’t understand why, but He does. It’s like that other song, “You didn’t have to love me like you did, but you did and I thank you.”

I heard from a friend that he's been reading the Bible and has all kinds of translations now. I loved what he wrote, "What I'm really loving about the Bible is that I'm constantly getting understanding, understanding, understanding, insight and understanding, insight, insight, understanding on many things, and that feels extremely satisfying. It's like if life came with an instruction manual on how to navigate this world and live life then this book would be it and even if you didn't find an answer in the Bible, you could pray about it and then get the answer from the author himself---GOD." When I read that it made my day. It reminds me of when I was first born again. I never thought I’d be reading a Bible, and now I read every day and have several translations too. I listen to sermons online, I quote scripture to people. I was working with a group at a Baptist church in the Bronx, and when the Pastor gave the prayer afterward, she said, “And I also want to thank Sister Jannie for sharing her time with us today, and I call her Sister because she knows The Word.” I wanted to laugh out loud for joy. If someone had told me on December 11, 2005 that my life would be like the one I live now, that a strong Pastor, a real woman of God would say I was her Sister in Christ, I wouldn’t have known what they were talking about and might have even thought they were crazy. I remember my first roommate in college, Freshman year, who used to pray over me when I came home and was passed out from partying the night before. I thought she was a nut, and now we’re friends and sisters.
God has a way of taking impossible situations and showing us who He is by making them not only possible, but by also making the miraculous seem like an inevitable chain of events. I don’t even remember what it felt like to be the person I was before. It’s not that I’m perfect – I’m definitely not – but I’m definitely different than the person who used to get upset because someone was praying over them. Now I’m praying for people. I’ll pray for anyone any time the Holy Spirit says to pray. When people ask me how I can believe in a God of miracles, all I need to do is point to myself. One thing led to another which led to another and so on and so forth and on again into now. If you asked me to show you A to B to C, it would take a lifetime of stories, with each one linked to the next, inextricably, inevitably and beautifully and perfectly. Like a rainbow, maybe, only one that lasts much longer. A bridge from Heaven that God makes for us in spite of who we are and what we have done or not done in our lives. “You stepped into my life from a bad dream, making the life that I had seem suddenly shiny and new.” He makes all things new, shiny and new, and somehow like nothing that you have ever seen before, but that you have wanted all along. And what He makes lasts forever, because it's built with a foundation of His love.

Blessings,
Jannie Susan

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Life Without Fear

The live news coverage from Boston last night was – I don’t even know how to describe what it was. My Dad lived in Watertown for a little while. He loved boats and I inherited that from him. Watching and listening to these people talking about the suspect in the boat – it seemed surreal. When you grow up somewhere, when you spend time with a certain group of people, living a certain way of life, it’s really disorienting to have those same people be eyewitnesses to a scene with bomb squads and special forces – it could be anyone I know. There’s something about the place where you grow up that becomes a part of who you are. I moved to New York in 1987, but somehow Boston’s still my home. I hear those voices, the voices of people I’ve known my whole life – there’s something so comforting in those voices even when they’re talking about blood and bullets.

It’s hard to believe that all this has happened in just a few days. Monday started out like any other day, and then we get to the stand-off and SWAT teams and lockdowns. Someone wrote in on the online comments last night after the suspect was caught, “WOW!! WHAT A DAY!” I’ll add to that - what a week.
Things can change in an instant, for good or for bad. We’re not promised tomorrow as the saying goes. For many years I lived in fear – I don’t even know what I was afraid of really, it was just a general feeling of fear that covered over everything like a thick and heavy wet wool. Have you ever had those nightmares when you couldn’t wake up and you were trying to scream and couldn’t do that either? I used to have them all the time and my waking life was like that I think, only I had gotten so used to it I didn’t notice after a while. About a year ago when I was eating breakfast one early morning when it was still dark outside, a man came to my door and knocked. The windows of my apartment open onto the street, and I have my own door that is half window too. When he knocked he said, “Remember me?” I had never seen him before in my life, and all I kept thinking was, he means, "Remember fear?" I told him if he didn’t get away from my door I’d call the police and he left. I remembered the fear, but I didn't have it any more. A few years before I was born again I met a woman who is a shaman. She did a healing for me that involved a guided meditation, and one of the biggest images I remember is that at one point in the meditation I was on a horse, galloping away from something, and I felt complete terror. When she asked me to turn and look at what it was that I was running away from, at first I was too terrified, but as she coaxed me to look and I finally did, I burst out laughing and said, “It’s just fear.” From time to time since then I’ve had my moments of fear, but since I’ve been born again, God has been taking me through each one to show me that I never have to fear again. Whenever I feel fear rising, He reminds me about Zephaniah 3:14-17. In my little Bible, verse 15 reads, “You shall see disaster no more,” and there is a note at the bottom of the page that says that in some translations, the word "see" is translated to "fear" - “You shall fear disaster no more,” and you won’t see it either – you won’t see it because it’s not there and you won’t see it the way you always used to see it even when it wasn’t there. The fear is completely gone.

Fear is the absence of faith another well known saying goes, though sometimes we still will have fear even when we have faith because faith is hard to keep going. It’s only when we start to doubt that the fear creeps in. When that man came by my door and said, "Remember me?" I remembered all right – I remembered what it felt like to be afraid all the time, but I wasn’t going to give in to the past. When the Lord started giving me a really big and crazy sounding promise last year, He gave me a prayer that was a warfare prayer. I found it on a tract at a church I often visit. It’s a long one, and it takes you through scriptural claims of God’s power in your life, but part of it talks about not giving in to emotions and not allowing emotions to take away from the power of God in your life. We can give in to the past easily. I can go right back to where I was when I was a child, frightened and alone, in a nightmare that I can’t wake up from, with screams that can’t be heard. But God says no to that nightmare, and He stops it with His voice. The few times I’ve had that nightmare in recent years, I’ve found myself waking up saying “In the name of Jesus.” There is no other name that has the power of that name, no other name that can free us from the nightmares of the past.
Here's the poem I said I would share here one day soon – today’s the day. I wrote it before I was born again and at the time I thought I was writing it for someone I loved. It's funny how God works. It was that person's betrayal that led me to know God, and to know that He was the one who I was really writing about:


What is there to say
To someone who has changed my life in every way
For the better?
Was lost but now am found
Was blind but now I see
Am learning to hear
To listen with my heart for the first time in years, if ever
It is as if nothing can hurt me now
Nightmares have been replaced by dreams
All my fears laid to rest
In your house
There is no place for dark spirits here
No room for those woes we bring on ourselves
Jealousy, anger, greed and avarice
Those addictions we think we need to get by
Cannot live here
Or rather we learn to live without them
Here in this house that turns darkness to light
I am learning for the first time what love is

Blessings,

Jannie Susan

Friday, April 19, 2013

Kindness

I was teaching at a school in the Bronx yesterday, way up near Woodlawn on the number 4 train. I’ve been feeling really tired this week, wondering why I am not in a different place in my life, wondering where the promises of God have gone. Then I go to the news and there's so much bad news everywhere that I can't feel sorry for myself because at least I'm alive, at least my health is good, at least I have food on my table and a place to live that is comfortable and safe. When I’m not so tired I’m able to look at the day and look at what I have in my life and be thankful and know that God's promises are here and more are on the way, but sometimes things just start to get to me – there was an old Rosanne Rosanna Danna skit on Saturday night live when she would say, "If it’s not one thing, it’s another," and that’s how I’ve been feeling. One thing after another, and it feels sometimes when I am feeling like this that it’s been like that for a long, long time. But then I go to work with these high school students, and something in me comes alive when I am with them. Something in me is so excited that these kids want to learn about nutrition. They’re asking questions and are fully engaged in the class. It’s a long class too, two hours – that’s a long time for anyone to focus, nevermind high school students, but here they are giving me that kind of time. I was exhausted by the time I got home, and didn’t have time for a real dinner, but it didn’t matter. Even with a headache and a body that just wanted to crawl into bed, I knew it was worth it just to have these kids learning things they didn’t know, things that they can share with their families and friends, things that can help save lives and improve quality of life.

It’s a well known way of thinking in Christian circles that it’s when you’re doing God’s work, everything comes against you full force to try to stop you. God’s work is really anything that helps people in any real and lasting way. Giving them love, respect, a sense of self worth – that is enough to get all the powers of hell rising against you. Sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ is not only sharing scripture, it’s helping people know that they are worth something, that they are valuable, that they have value just because of who they are. When God stepped into my life I wasn’t doing anything of worth or value, but He saw me as worth something, worth His love and His time and His care and His sacrifice. When we treat others with the care and love and respect that helps them know that they are worth something, worth our time and love and care, it’s amazing what can happen.
Recognizing that someone is worth something, recognizing the Spirit of God in them and letting them know that they have value, that they are precious, can open up gifts and talents that can change the world. We all have something of value to give, but sometimes that something gets hidden behind walls that were made by disappointments and betrayals or just someone saying too many times that you aren’t going to amount to much. The other day I heard a mother saying to her child, “What is wrong with you?!” over and over again. I don’t know what she was upset about, but I wanted to stop and tell her to find another way to deal with it. When we hear those words over and over again, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, when they are added to with a shake or a shove or a push or a slap, we grow up thinking there is something really wrong with us, that maybe everything is wrong with us, and nothing can ever be right.

The Bible tells us that we have the power of life or death in our tongue. We can use our words to help and to heal, or we can use them to tear down and destroy. We have the choice every day all day. We can find something kind to say, something encouraging, something life-giving, or we can do the opposite. Life is hard, and we get frustrated sometimes – we’re human and that’s understandable – but if we take a moment before we speak, our words may not be perfect, but at least they might not cause harm. I read a quote that was supposedly said by the Dalai Lama. It’s hard to know if he actually said all the things  people quote him as saying, but it’s a great quote whoever said it, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” Kindness is always possible, whether we want to take the time to be kind is our choice. It takes time sometimes, and it may have been a long hard day in a long hard week, but if we remember it’s possible, even when we don’t feel like it is, then anything is possible, even those promises of God that we still can’t see.
Blessings,

Jannie Susan

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Bochinche

I don’t own a tv – I gave mine away years ago – and I’ve never missed it. Whenever there's something that I really want to know about, I can always find out what I need to know on the internet or the radio or a news headline somewhere. Don’t get me wrong, I’m from Massachusetts, but I’m no Puritan. I used to love watching tv and I was an actress when I first came to New York, so being media savvy was something I thought was important. I work a lot with youth these days, and you’ve either got to be media savvy or admit that you’re not. They’ll respect you if you’re honest either way, but don’t try to front or they’ll call you on it.

I got my first tv from the set of a play I was working backstage on when I was an intern at the old Circle Repertory Company. When I saw the tv on the stage, I knew they’d be selling it after the show closed, and I put in my bid for it. I think I bought it for ten dollars. It was a good one too, and I had it for years, but then I moved into a new apartment that was really old, one of the old tenement buildings that barely exist anymore in their original form. Everything about it was original, and they would have had to drill through the brick walls to give me cable, and I didn’t want them to do that because it would ruin the look of the walls, and cable was expensive by then, so I gave my tv away - out with the new, in with the old. I love old things, I grew up in a house that was built in 1723, and old feels like home to me. It was a small price to pay to give up tv and have my old brick walls intact.

The media frenzy during times of tragedy is always astonishing to me. I’m glad I don’t have a tv so I can’t watch the footage of carnage over and over and over, and hear the endless updates with information that isn’t really information because it’s only speculation. It’s important to have real news, to know what is happening in the world, but media is money, so there has to be a story even when there isn’t anything new to tell, and there have to be graphic images even though those images are heart and gut wrenching and should not be shown just for the sake of selling a story. I know I’m probably sounding like an old crotchet, but grief is a private thing, tragedy is something that we need to face in the way we can face it and deal with it in our own personal way. It’s not fair to the families and the people who were bereaved and traumatized by the bombing in Boston to have themselves splashed all over the news. If they want to post their own photos and stories, that’s their choice and it’s fine if they want to do that - for some people that is a way of dealing with grief - but to use them to tell a story for your own profit or self promotion isn’t kind and seems rather cold.
I have a thing about not sharing other people’s stories. God says it’s gossip, and that it’s a sin. Even before I was born again it never felt right to be talking about someone else when they weren’t there unless I was giving them a compliment, and even then I’d go right back to them as soon as I could and let them know they were being complimented. I found out the hard way that not everyone is like that. I have no problem sharing my own stories with people – I’m a writer and a story teller, and I write my stories often, or at least  parts of them, into the plays and stories and poems I write. It gets people confused sometimes because I mix fact with fiction - for years one of my brothers thought I had lived for a while sleeping on a bar and had been a bar tender – neither thing I’ve ever done, except by accident maybe. But I wrote about that in a play, and he thought it was a truth from my own life. I used to share my own stories with people all the time, until I found out that some people like to gossip, and some people like to judge people, and some people like to throw things in your face at a time when you’re at your weakest point because somehow that makes them feel better. I’ve learned that I need to keep my stories between me and God, that there are things that no one needs to be a part of because they’re such a deep part of me. When God is taking me through something, or when I’m waiting on a promise He’s made, it’s between us, and anyone else who gets involved is a third wheel.

It’s not that I have anything to hide, “My life’s an open book, you read it on the radio,” as the Neil Young song goes. It’s just that somehow when people start to give their opinions or talk their talk, things get messy and unclear. There’s a word I learned from my Puerto Rican friends on the lower east side, bochinche, and to me that word sounds exactly what it is. There's almost an ugly sound to it, rubbish talk, garbage talk, gossip, a waste of time and energy. Between me and God there’s no bochinche, only rivers of flowing water, fresh air, wisdom, and vision for the future.
I’ll still tell my stories – I’m writing this blog, so you’ll still be hearing from me. I’m just more careful now, and it’s better that way. If I talk in general terms it can be more universal – my stories can be all of our stories – I could be anyone, and the story could be anything you want it to be. The promises I’m waiting on can be your promises, the challenges I have can be your challenges. Fill in the blank, put yourself on the page. Keep your own secrets, and share them with God. He’ll keep them between you, and answer them better than anyone can.

Blessings,
Jannie Susan