Friday, May 31, 2013

Volver a Empezar

When I was first born again, I met a young man who had a powerful anointing to be a Pastor. He was a street tough, a drug user and maybe even a dealer. He had chosen to leave home rather than clean up, and he told his mother that he wasn’t going to be a hypocrite. I have respect for people like that – I pray from the bottom of my heart that they will clean up because I know that after I cleaned up, my life was so much more beautiful and amazing and fulfilling, but I respect a person who says they’re not ready to clean up and won’t pretend to be all holy and righteous when they’re not.

When we’re really honest with ourselves, none of us is truly holy and righteous. We need the power of Christ every day of our lives to keep walking the talk. All someone needs to do is bump into me on the street and I’m ready to curse them out, never mind just simply calling them an idiot. Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:22, “Anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca’(or idiot) is answerable to the court. And anyone who says ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” On my own, I’m saying that under my breath all day long, and worse.
The Pharisees kept judging Jesus because He spent His time with sinners. People who were obviously not living all high and holy, people who did things openly that were known to be sin. In Matthew 9:10-12, we read, “While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came to eat with Him and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked His disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners.” In Luke 7:46-50, we read the story of the woman who pours expensive oil from an alabaster jar on Jesus, and weeping, kisses His feet and dries them with her hair. It is one of the most astonishingly beautiful images, and yet there are the Pharisees again, making a judgment about the woman and about Jesus because He allows her to touch Him. We never hear what the woman’s sins are, she is just described as a sinful woman, and Simon the Pharisee says, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is.” But Jesus knows exactly who she is, and He shares a story with Simon about a two men who are forgiven debts, one who owes a great deal and another much less, and asks Simon which one would love the one who has forgiven the debt more. Simon answers that it would be the one with the greater debt, and Jesus tells him he is correct, and then goes on to describe how Simon has not shown Jesus, as a guest in his home, the most basic common courtesies of the time, but that the woman has done extravagantly more for Him out of love.

God is love, and the most important thing to Him is that we show love. Not just a show as a hypocrite puts on a show, but really show love out of really feeling love. He also wants us to know that we are loved, because He knows that unless we feel loved, we cannot feel love for others, and that when we do feel love, we can love others to overflowing. If we know that we are loved with a love that can always forgive, we can be forgiving of others and not judge them. We have to be careful that we are not just sinning because we know that we’ll be forgiven. Paul tells us in Romans 6:1, “Shall we continue in sin so that grace may abound? God forbid!” But the promise of forgiveness and mercy is there for all of us and it is important that we always remember that.
I know people who are so much like the Pharisees. Sometimes they’re people who have been Christians all their lives, or at least for a very long time, and sometimes they’re people who once were really big sinners who were not walking with God at all. There are some people who treat church like a club and God like a business contact who you don’t want to share with anyone else because you might lose out on a deal yourself. But God isn’t like that. He loves all of us in an equally extravagant way, and His love is big enough cover and surround and heal each and every one of us in the way that we most need it. And just as with everything else, the more we give of His love, the more we receive it back again. Proverbs 11:25 tells us, “whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” That is from the New International Version, and the International Standard Version goes even further, “anyone who gives water will receive a flood in return.” And we read in Luke 6:38,“Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will be poured into your lap.” That is the way that God operates. When we give, we receive even more in return.

I know that I need mercy every day. I am like that woman who was forgiven so much, and He continues to forgive me every day and help me live my life in a better way. There are times when people really do terrible things, things that it seems impossible to forgive. It’s bad enough when it’s people who don’t know the Lord, but at least then I can pray for their salvation – that is after He has helped me get past the anger and hurt. But when it’s someone who calls themselves a Christian? Someone who talks all the talk? That’s a place of very deep pain for me, a place where it is hard for me to forgive and easy to want God to punish them, because they don’t even realize what they are doing and so they just keep doing it and causing more pain because they think they’re right in doing what they’re doing.
It’s at times like that when I need mercy the most. When I am feeling justified in being angry and wanting vengeance, when I call out to God and ask for justice, forgetting that if He had given me what I deserved, I would have been dead a long time ago. Instead I am alive and full of His vibrant life. Instead of being cursed, I received blessing. How can I think that I have the right to judge anyone else or ask for Him to bring His judgment on them, how can I believe that I can be the judge of their heart? We can’t ever know what another person is feeling, or what their life is like unless we can somehow be that person. There were so many things I did in my life that I did out of ignorance and fear and desperation. There were other things I did out of foolishness and others that I did out of blindness. God knows that, because He knows all hearts, but if someone else had been doing the judging, I’d be toast.

In Psalm 59:16, David writes “But I will sing of your power; yes I will sing aloud of Your mercy in the morning; for You have been my defense, and refuge in the day of my trouble. To You O My Strength, I will sing praises; for God is my defense, My God of mercy.” There are times when we all need mercy, and when we give it we will receive it when we need it. David was human like all of us, and he had his moments of rage and anger against his enemies and those who were trying to kill him, those who were trying to keep him from the blessing of God that had been promised to him. But after he had poured out his heart, honestly, before God, he was always able to say as he does in Psalm 56:4, “in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” It is when we are able to be honest with God that we can receive His mercy. It is when we know that we are human, that we do sin, and that without Him we cannot do anything, but with Him we can do all things, that He can work miraculously in our lives. It is in that place of humility, of going before Him with all of who we are, the good, the bad and the ugly, that we can find the mercy that we need to be free from everything that is holding us back from walking in the blessings He has for us.
Jesus did not choose to walk on the earth to visit with people who thought they were righteous. Matthew 9:13 in the New Living Translation puts it this way, “I have come not to call those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” When we can admit who we are in all honesty, then we can begin to walk in His truth and His light, and we can begin to begin again and finally be restored to all that He has in store for us.

Blessings,
Jannie Susan

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Abundance

Sometimes when God answers prayer, He will do it in a way that we are not expecting. Sometimes He will answer a prayer before we even known we needed to pray it. Sometimes we’ve been praying for something and then something happens and we think it’s completely unrelated – or we can even think that whatever happens is in opposition to our prayer, that something is blocking our blessing, that there is some darker power that has risen against us to keep us from what God has planned for us. There are angels and there are devils, there are things that will happen that are coming straight from the pit of hell. There are people who practice witchcraft and people who practice good old fashioned malice and manipulation to put other people down and put themselves ahead. But through all things that happen, there is one thing that we can know for sure. Nothing that happens ever surprises God because He knows all things and is in control of all things. No matter what anyone or anything tries to do, there is nothing that can stop God’s plans in our lives except for ourselves – our own fear and doubt and the things we do in reaction to events rather than trusting in God and doing things His way - and even that He has a way of getting around and turning things that we’ve messed up into something beautiful and healing.

For all of my life I’ve known financial poverty. For years I had spiritual and emotional poverty as well. But since I was born again I’ve been spiritually and emotionally filled to over flowing with the love of God in such a way that I have enough left over to pour back out to others. I still have a bank account that is basically non-existent – more debt than anything else and what little comes in goes right back out again. But a strange thing happened when I started to trust God with my finances. All of my bills are paid, even when I look at the amount coming in and it doesn’t match the amount going out. I have delicious food in my refrigerator, delicious things in the freezer, delicious meals of every kind imaginable that I make for myself all the time. When I first moved to New York I learned to cook and it came very naturally to me. I can go into any kitchen and cook gourmet meals, and my own kitchen is so well stocked all the time that it’s easy to whip up something divine. I have champagne taste on a non-existent budget, but somehow I’m eating five star meals. The other day I bought something like 22 mangos for three dollars – I lost count of how many there were when I was putting them away. That kind of thing happens all the time. Where I live now there are stores that have manager specials and discount produce racks and a farmer’s market that sells boxes and baskets and bags of food for one, two or three dollars, depending on how big the box, basket or bag is. I’ll get bags of avocados and bags of apples, boxes of zucchini and mushrooms – I just got three containers of the most delicious strawberries I’ve had in years, three one-pound packages for  two dollars, and a basket of I don’t know how many pounds of escarole for $1.99. I work in Soup Kitchens and Food Pantries, teaching nutrition and wellness classes, and they give me food too. And then there’s my wardrobe – the thrift stores near where I live are amazing, and even the sales at some of the regular stores make me think I’m living in another time. I’m eating and dressing better than I ever did in my life, and I’m not spending much money at all.
Jesus says in John 10:10, “I came so that they may have life and have it abundantly.” He also says at the beginning of that verse, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” So yes, the devil, or the enemy as we call him when we don’t want to even say that “d” word, does exist, and he is trying to steal and kill and destroy. But Jesus has given us His word that He came so that we could have life abundantly and His word is the only thing that matters. I remember a time when I was in church, and I was praying about my finances. It was a particularly difficult time for me in the early days of being born again and I wasn’t used to this new life of trusting in God as my provider. I was used to having money and credit cards and being able to spend what I wanted when I wanted to. Suddenly I was in this situation of being deeply in debt and not knowing how I could pay my bills and my rent and not knowing sometimes even how I could buy food or take the subway. It was during a time in the service when the Pastor asked people to pray for each other, and a woman asked me what my need was. I told her it was finances, and she said, “You’re not claiming God’s blessing over your life.” She then proceeded to pray in a very fiery way, “breaking the bonds of satan” over my finances and "claiming" a financial blessing for me. It was very impressive, but I kept feeling that something was wrong with what she was saying. There are times that we do need to go into warfare prayers – I’ve done it for myself and friends and family often enough, but for some reason I kept feeling that this was not a time that warfare was needed. I didn’t feel like I wasn’t receiving God’s blessing or that anything was blocking my finances in the spiritual realm. I didn’t know what was wrong, but it wasn’t that. And then slowly over time, as I continued to talk to God about it, He showed me that all of my life I had been in bondage to the idea of money. That it was so important to my family and the lack of it had caused so much stress in my own life, that I saw everything in terms of dollars and cents. I even saw God’s love in those terms – if He was really blessing me, He would make me financially successful, right? But money has nothing to do with security and stability with God. He invented everything and He owns everything and He’s in control of everything. As soon as I started to understand that fact, the things that I needed started to come out of nowhere. Sometimes in the form of actual money, but sometimes in the form of a box of mangos for three dollars or a chic white wool suit for a dollar.

When Jesus talks about the Kingdom of Heaven, He gives lots of examples in parables. The mustard seed that grows into a huge tree for birds to nest in, the yeast that makes a huge amount of dough rise, the man who finds a great treasure in a field or the merchant who finds a pearl of great value and then they sell everything they have to buy these things they have found. Everything is described in ways that are abundant, but there really isn’t any money involved except for the man and the merchant who sell everything to buy the field and the pearl – the treasure could be anything, and it’s not described as money, and a pearl is a pearl – unless you sell it, it doesn’t mean anything financially.
In Isaiah 65:17, God speaks about something new He will create, “See I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” This speaks of a time in the future for everyone, but it also speaks to us individually about what He can do in our lives right now. In verse 23 He says, “They will not labor in vain, nor will their children be doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.” This makes me think of that woman in the church that day, claiming God’s promises over my life. He was already willing and able to give them to me, I just hadn’t figured out how to let Him provide for me in the way He wanted to. I was still trying to live my life in the old way when it came to money, and I was not allowing Him to show me that money doesn’t really matter at all.

I’m not going to say that we don’t need money – God has provided that when I need it. Jesus knows we need money to live on this earth. In Mark 12:17, when He is asked about paying taxes, He says “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God.” He may be mystical and spiritual, but He’s also practical. He advocates feeding and clothing people, and paying your taxes. He’s realistic about the world we live in. But He also doesn’t want us to be focused on money in the way that we can become. When money defines us, or makes us scared to stand up for the truth, when we feel like we’re nothing if we don’t have it, or that we are something if we do, that’s when He gets worried for our souls because He knows that we can’t live our lives in the abundance He has to offer because we’re so busy trying to store our riches here on earth. We may be so focused on money that we lose our focus on God. We may lose our soul trying to gain the world.
In Matthew Chapter 13, Jesus tells the parable of the sower and the seeds. He talks about the different kinds of soil that the seed falls on and how it grows or doesn’t grow. If we have so much that is on our mind all the time, so many “cares of the world” that weigh us down, if we can’t take that leap of faith to trust that God will provide for our needs, then we run the risk of being choked like the thorns choke the plants before they can grow. In verse 22, He says, “The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life, and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.” In Isaiah 65, He is promising that we will have abundance, but we might miss it if we are so caught up in how we think abundance should look.

In Luke Chapter 13, He tells the parable of the fig tree, a story about a man who wants to cut down a fig tree in his vineyard because it is not bearing fruit and has not in three years. But the man who takes care of the vineyard says, “leave it alone for one more year and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine, if not then cut it down.” This is the kind of patience God has for each one of us. He is not looking at us as a profit/loss measure of deliverables. Why then can’t we let Him provide for us what we need, allowing Him to show us the places where we can let go of those things that are holding us back from living our lives in abundance, those things that keep us focused on the world so that we cannot bear fruit.
Later on in Luke 13, He talks about entering the Kingdom of Heaven through the “narrow door.” He talks about how there are people who think they are living righteous lives, but that when they expect to enter Heaven, He will say He never knew them. The Message translation has something interesting in verses 23-27, “A bystander said, ‘Master will only a few be saved?’ He said, ‘Whether a few or many is none of your business. Put your mind on your life with God. The way to life – to God!- is vigorous and requires your total attention. A lot of you are going to assume that you’ll sit down to God’s salvation banquet just because you’re been hanging around the neighborhood all your lives. Well, one day, you’re going to be banging on the door, wanting to get in, but you’ll find the door locked and the Master saying, ‘Sorry, you’re not on my guest list.’ You’ll protest, ‘But we’ve known you all our lives,’ only to be interrupted with His abrupt, ‘Your kind of knowing can hardly be called knowing. You don’t know the first thing about me.’

It is scary to me to think that I could walk around my whole life thinking that I knew the Lord, only to find out that I’d been deceiving myself the whole time. But it’s easy enough to do. Something happens to our income, we lose money or a job, there is a calamity, a natural disaster, an illness. We make a decision to do something that is not quite ethical, or we try to manipulate a situation, maybe lying about someone or something to help us get ahead. Or maybe we’ve never had any money, maybe it’s something very simple that comes from our feeling of lack. We decide that we deserve more than we have, so we make a choice that is a choice that God has told us not to choose. I’ve done that in my life, taken jobs that were suspect, worked for people who were unethical, had relationships with people who were not free to have a relationship with me. Each and every time I knew in a deep part of myself that I was doing something wrong, but I deceived myself into believing that it was all right. I justified the decisions I had made very easily - I need a job, I need money, I need love and I deserve these things. God doesn't say that we don't need or deserve these things, but He does tell us to be careful about how we go about getting them.
In Matthew 6:33 Jesus tells us, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.” That is how we hear it most often, from The King James Bible and it resonates, but I think The New Living Translation says it even more beautifully because of its simplicity, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.” It’s an equation that doesn’t make sense to us when we think about the way that the world operates. It seems that we need to be seeking the money, following our bliss, looking for Mr. or Ms. Right, trying to get ahead, trying to get one over, but God says to seek Him, and He will give us everything we need, and give it to us in abundance. It may not appear in the form that we expect it, it may appear before you even know you need it, it may appear as something that you are not feeling ready for, it may come walking into your life in a way that makes you wonder if it’s from God. But as long as you remember that God is the one who is in control, as long as you are seeking Him and are open to receiving His provision, whatever it is, if it is from Him, He will show you how it fits beautifully into the abundant life He has promised you.

Blessings,
Jannie Susan

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Latter Rain

For the past few days God has been giving me a word that He has given me before at different times. The first time I heard it, a man I know from church said it to me. I had just met him, and he said he had been given a word that he knew was for me too. He’d been given the word by the Bishop of the church, the former Senior Pastor who we both loved and admired as a great and humble and loving man of God. The word he’d been given that he shared with me was, “The latter rain will be greater than the former.” As with all words that come to us, it may not mean anything to anyone else, but when it is a rhema word for us, a word from God, it means the world.

Not long after he gave me that word, I came across it in my Bible. That’s always the way that God confirms things with me – He’ll give me a word, either in my own Bible reading or in a sermon or someone will say it to me or I’ll read it somewhere, and then He’ll confirm it over and over again, either in my own reading, or in a sermon or someone will say it to me or I’ll read it somewhere. It keeps going until another word comes, and then He’ll do the same thing with that one, and then He’ll start to combine them and loop them around each other and build on the message, showing me how they reflect each other and how each one deepens the meaning of what He is trying to tell me. And then for a time maybe I won’t hear that word for a while, and then it will come back again, just when I need to hear it the most.
There are two passages that the Lord used to speak to me about the latter and former rain. Hosea 6:3, “Let us know, let us pursue knowledge of the Lord. His going forth is established as the morning; He will come to us like the rain, like the latter and former rain to the earth,” and Zechariah 10:1, “Ask the Lord for rain in the time of the latter rain. The Lord will make flashing clouds, He will give them showers of rain, grass in the field for everyone.”

When I did a quick search on latter and former rain, once again I found that there are all kinds of prophetic writings and philosophies about the latter and former rain.  Sometimes even those things will be places where God will continue to speak and explain His message, but we do have to be careful because even people with strong Christian and theological training can steer us away from what God is speaking to us personally. I've shared things that God has said to me with other people who I trust to have wisdom, and have had them express things that were not part of what God was speaking to me. But He tells us that "My sheep hear my voice, I know them and they follow me" (John 10:27) and we can know if it's from Him or not by keeping the ears of our heart and spirit open to what it is that He is saying to us. In my research, I found two more lovely passages of scripture that I knew were part of His message to me, James 5:7, “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain, ” and Deuteronomy 11:13, “And it shall be that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today, to love the Lord your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, then I will give you the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, your new wine, and your oil.” As always with God, He is trying to teach me more than I had expected when He first gave me that word several years ago.

When the word came back this time, it came first in Hosea 6:3 in my little Bible, which is the New King James translation. But the New International Version has this, “Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge Him. As surely as the sun rises, He will appear; He will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” There is something about that translation that adds something important to me – there is an encouragement to continue to press on and to acknowledge Him because we can count on Him, “As surely as the sun rises He will appear.” He is reliable. He will come just like the seasons come, like the rains come, like the sun rises every day.
When I was working with a youth group last year, one of the teenaged boys said something to me one day that just about says it all. It was a particularly tough group to work with, and they challenged me every step of the way. They were great kids, but tough as only city kids can be. They’d seen it all and done it all already. I wasn’t going to teach them anything new. But somehow, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I was able to reach them and they did learn something, about nutrition and wellness, yes, but also something much deeper that happened when they started to understand that I really cared about them and respected them. They’d never had that experience before. They had done a project, and one of the students had given his memory stick from his video camera to someone who was helping out on the project. He asked me if I knew where it was, and I didn’t know anything about it, but I said I’d try to find out and I did, and I got it to him. When I gave it back to him, one of the other students said, “I like you, you’re reliable.” It was the biggest compliment I’ve ever been given. I realized then that with all the experiences these kids had, they had never known anyone who they could rely on. That’s the way I felt when I was born again, and over the years, God has shown me that though others may fail us, He never will.

The passages about rain have meant so much to me when He has given them to me. I love gardening and nature, and as someone who grew up in the Northeast, I watch the seasons by the change in weather, by the rains that come and the crops and plants that grow. I have never minded the rain. I love a beautiful sunny day, but the rain is beautiful to me too. I remember once years ago when I was working in an office, I arrived at work on a very rainy day, and someone who I knew arrived for a meeting. He was in the office often, and we knew each other well. He looked terrible, drenched and dripping, even though he had on a sleek raincoat and all the wet weather gear money could buy. He looked at me and said, “How do you manage to look good even in weather like this?” I didn’t know what to tell him except that I like the rain. I didn’t have any really great wet weather clothes – I was wearing my usual things and at the time my only rain coat was one that I’d bought in high school at the Army and Navy surplus store along with a rain hat I’d bought a few years later at Banana Republic after someone stole the Army and Navy store one that I had. I used to get teased a lot in school about the way I dressed, and someone had stolen the hat out of my locker as a joke, but I loved that rain coat and hat. I still have them both, though just recently the Lord has been upgrading my wardrobe substantially courtesy of the thrift stores in my area. The latter rain is greater than the former.

Right after He gave me the passage from Hosea, He gave me the passage in Zechariah. There is something so beautiful about the passage from Zechariah, “Ask the Lord for rain in the time of latter rain.” He is telling us to ask Him, and we know that if we ask Him, He is faithful to provide for what we need because He is reliable. This passage comes right after Chapter 9 when the Lord has said in verses 11-12, “I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to the stronghold you prisoners of hope. Even today I declare that I will restore double to you.” The latter rain will be greater than the former. In verse 9, He says, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem. Behold your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.” This is a prophetic vision that looks forward to the entrance of Jesus to Jerusalem. It also echoes one of the most beautiful passages that the Lord has given to me at other times, a message that He has for all of us, Zephaniah 3:14-15, “Sing, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away your judgments, He has cast out your enemy. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst. You shall see disaster no more.” It’s a beautiful promise, and one that we can count on, because we can rely on Him.

It was raining yesterday, the rain of spring and new growth. The rain the seeds I planted in my little garden area need in order to begin to sprout. I’d planted some seeds a few weeks ago when it was still too cold. The spring has come so late this year, and it has been colder than usual for much longer a time. But in the warmer days over the weekend, I could feel that something had shifted. With my Northeastern farmer’s bones I could tell it was spring at last. I planted more seeds, some basil and radishes, and pulled up the weeds that had started to try to choke my lavender plant and wild flowers. Jesus talks in a parable about not pulling up the weeds because we may pull up the more tender plants along with them, but there are times when the earth is soft enough and the plants are strong enough that we can pull the weeds without doing harm to the plants we want to thrive. As I prepared the soil for the seeds and cleaned up the weeds, I let the sun sink into my skin and warm my bones. People keep telling me I look like I’ve been on a vacation because I’m so tan already, but it’s just my face and arms and hands from being outside as much as I can and letting the sun do what it does best. When the rain came yesterday, my plants and seeds were ready for it and needed it, and I was glad for it too. The latter rain will be greater than the former, and that is good news.
Blessings,

Jannie Susan

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Prodigal Daughter

Yesterday was such a beautiful day! There’s an area that I can go to near where I live that’s right by the water – it’s not water like a beach you can swim in though some people do, but it’s the Hudson River which is one of the most beautiful rivers in the world – at least in my opinion. I’ve been on that river as a sailor, in little boats and in pretty big ones, historic ships and small racers out of the cove. The place where I walked yesterday has an expansive view of the entire span of the river, from past the George Washington Bridge to the north all the way down to the Verrazano Narrows. The Verrazano is my favorite bridge in New York. It’s a suspension bridge, which means that it has a particular sweep to it. It doesn’t look like it’s being held up by anything. It’s very graceful and it soars.

There was a time when I was very much in love and I sailed on the Hudson River often. After the end of that relationship, it was really hard for me to see boats on the river or to see the bridges, or even to walk by the river, something I loved to do before that relationship ever started. When I moved out to where I live now, they were expanding the park area and were just starting to complete a longer walkway along the Hudson. There were some high rises that had gone up and more on the way. It was becoming a very chic area to live.
I love to walk and I don’t own a car, so I walk everywhere. When I first moved out here I was so angry at God – I’d lived in New York City for more than 20 years, and then I was born again and I started to have so many apartment problems and finally I couldn’t find a place I could afford. I felt like God was punishing me for something from my past by making me move out of the city, but when I’d ask Him why and complain and moan, He’d just say, "Look around you." At first I thought He meant that the area was in need of ministry, so I started looking around to see who I could help. But as I walked around and let Him lead me to new places, I started to understand that He had blessed me by bringing me out here. Everything is so much nicer here – the prices are cheaper, the quality of food is better, the air is cleaner, it’s quieter, the people are nicer, and even the Hudson River is more beautiful from here. There are some good walking areas in Manhattan now that they’ve finally been finishing the paths along the Hudson on that side, but there’s always so much traffic on the West Side Highway, and so much traffic with bikers and joggers that it’s hard to take a walk and just enjoy the view. It’s definitely not quiet, and it’s not meditative. It might be pretty in places, but it’s so much prettier here, and we’ve got peace and quiet even when it’s more crowded like it was yesterday. Yesterday was a holiday, and it was a pleasant walk, but there are days that I can walk and it’s even more peaceful.

It’s good for my head to walk like that. I walk every day to the train station that takes me into the city when I have to go there for work, almost two miles each way. Some people think I’m nuts to do it, but my head is so much clearer. On days when I am worried or stressed, I can talk to God and pray. On other days I can praise and worship, singing as I walk. On days when the weather is bad I can still get my exercise. I get restless if I don’t exercise and I don’t sleep well without it, so even if it’s raining or snowing I’ll still walk. The other thing that happened with my walking is that my physical health is the best it’s been in years – maybe the best ever. I had to have a physical a few years ago when I was the director of an after school program. It is a requirement from the Board of Health, and I didn’t have insurance at the time. A woman I knew from church was working in a doctor’s office as a medical assistant, and she did the physical for me for something crazy like $25. When she checked my blood pressure and my heart beat, she said, “What are you doing? You’re like a teenager!” I’m adding years to my life and quality to my life, and all because the Lord moved me out here against my will, kicking and screaming and complaining. Why I don’t trust Him to do what’s best for me I’ll never know.
There’s a boat that is docked in the area where I walked yesterday that I know from many years past. I heard some men talking about it, one of them was pointing it out to the other and telling him that people lived on it. I know that because I know the owner. I used to know everyone on the waterfront who was anyone. It’s a small community, and everyone knows everyone else. I talked to that owner about living on his boat once when it was docked on the other side of the river, but I didn’t do it. I was still working in corporate America then, and it seemed a bit of a stretch to live on a boat in the Hudson River and cross the Westside Highway every day to go to work. Back in those days they were just starting to build the walkways so it wasn’t very easy to cross the highway. It’s much easier now, but I still don’t know if I would have done it if it had been easier then. It was only after I left the finance industry that I started to spend more time on boats. I never lived in one yet, but I lived in a house that was like one, and I call the apartment I live in now my ark.

It took me a while to get used to the idea of the River again in my new life. After the relationship I was in had ended and I was born again, the Lord did something really beautiful. He arranged it so that the children and teenagers in the after school program I was working with could go sailing for free through a program that was financed by the city. He put it on my heart to take them sailing, and I called everyone I knew from the waterfront, but none of them had a clue as to how to make it happen. Pretty much they all said it was impossible because of rental costs and insurance and all those other things that make sailing one of the most expensive sports there is. Then one day I was reading the New Yorker and I saw an article about a group of people who were doing a fund raiser to help inner city school kids go sailing. I called the company that was mentioned in the article and asked for the person who was named and he connected me with the City Council Member who was handling it. It was as easy as that. When God puts something on your heart, He always gives you the way to do it if you just keep your heart and mind open and believe it’s possible, no matter what anybody else says.
But even with that beautiful experience of seeing those kids having the time of their lives, sailing out of the yacht club at North Cove, sailing on the most beautiful historic ships, there was still a part of me that was so despondent because I was looking back toward my old life and wishing I could still have some of the things I had then. The feeling would come and go because I knew that what I had now was so much better than what I had then, and I wasn’t in love with the man I had been in love with any more. But there was something like sadness that was underlying everything and I couldn’t quite get at the root of it. There was one day when I was taking a longer walk than usual, after I had been living where I live now for a while, and I found myself near a marina on this side of the River that I had been through when I had been sailing back then.  As I walked around and took in the sights and sounds and smells and emotions, as all of my senses filled to overflowing with the past, I said to God, “I forgive him for what happened. Why can’t I let these feelings go?” And the answer came back, very gently as always, “Yes, but have you forgiven me?” There had been so much pain and sorrow and devastation. I had lost everything that was dear to me during that time. I had been betrayed and abandoned and left for practically dead by just about everyone I knew. My life as I had known it had ended, and I had wanted it to end entirely. And now that I was born again and was walking and talking with God, I knew that He could have stopped it.

There are times when we are walking so far away from God that we don’t even recognize how far away we are. I had started to live my life in a way that had nothing redeeming about it. God had tried to get my attention over and over again, and I’d look up once in a while from my own self-centered pursuits, but never fully recognized who it was that was calling me. By the time my house of cards had tumbled all around me, I was so lost that it is a miracle that I was found. There are times when the only way that God can bring us back again is to allow us to lose everything so we have nothing left but to call out to Him.
In Luke 15:11-32, Jesus tells the story of the Prodigal Son. It’s one that many of us know, a son tells his father he wants his inheritance now and goes off and squanders it on “wild living,” as the New International Version translation tells us, or in modern day language, on drugs and alcohol and partying, etc., and we can fill in that etc. from our own personal experience. After he has lost everything, he ends up working in a pig sty, feeding pigs, and there is a famine in the land so he can’t even get anything to eat. The pigs are eating better than he is. So he decides to go back to his father and beg him to take him in as a hired hand. And this is where it starts to get really interesting. Verse 20 says, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son and threw his arms around him and kissed him.” The son apologizes for what he has done and says he’s no longer worthy to be called his son, but the father says, “Quick, bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” I don’t know any parents who would do that. They might take someone back again, and I say might because sometimes they won’t even do that, but to celebrate? To give him the best clothes and a ring? There is only one father I know of who is crazy enough to do that, and that is our Father in Heaven.

And that is exactly what He does do. That is exactly what He did for me. Verse 20 begins, “But while he was still a long way off.” I was so far away from God, and yet he came running when I finally turned back. It’s an amazing thing that happens in the parable, and it mirrors what happened to me. The son doesn’t repent until the father has run to him. When the son is in the pig sty, all he is thinking about is how he might be able to get out of the pig sty and get something to eat. Anything would be better than where he is, so he decides to see if maybe he can find some place with his father. He doesn’t say that he has sinned until the father has run to him and thrown his arms around him and kissed him. It is when he is welcomed with open arms that he realizes his own sin and that is where he begins to repent. Repentance means a turning away from sin and a turning toward God, but although the son turns towards God, he doesn’t begin to repent until God meets him where he is.
As I walked by the River yesterday and took in all the sights and smells and sounds, I thought about my times on the River, and the things of the past that I am so glad that are gone. There is a peacefulness in my life that I have never known before, a knowledge that God is always with me, an understanding of His love that fills the places that I once tried to fill with other people and things that could not satisfy the longing and the yearning of my heart. There are still things that I want in my life, there are still things that He has put on my heart that I am still waiting for. I would say that I am waiting patiently, but I’ve never been one who is good at patience. I will say that I know I can trust Him at His word because He has always proved Himself faithful.

As I sat for a while and enjoyed one of the most beautiful days I have had in a long, long time, I opened my Bible and this is what He gave me, “Surely the Lord God does nothing unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7) The chapter begins with the words, “Authority of the Prophet’s Message,” and those were the first words I saw when I opened my Bible. For whatever His reasons He has chosen to speak His word to me, to let me in on His secrets. I am not anyone who is anyone, and I am the least of my house which is the least of any house anywhere. I have never used my gifts and talents wisely until He opened my eyes to how I had squandered everything. And yet He still chooses to bless me by giving me His word, by sharing His secrets, and then showing me that He is faithful to do as He has promised. He chooses to do this because that's the kind of father He is, and He will do it for you too. Just turn your head a little in His direction, and He'll come running straight to you.
Blessings,

Jannie Susan

Monday, May 27, 2013

Emmanuel

In 2004 I met Kevin Kraft online through a film professionals' website. He was casting a film and I emailed him my resume, headshot and bio. If I remember correctly he was also looking for film scripts to develop with his production company – I’ll have to check this with him because I’m not sure of all the details, but there was some connection to writing, although it may have just been that when we talked on the phone after our initial emails we talked about our writing too, and he read a screenplay of mine and gave me some great feedback. I didn’t end up doing the film, but that wasn’t the reason I met him. It was just before I was born again and God had another plan.

God will do that sometimes – we’ll be meeting someone and we think it’s about something and it turns out to be about something else and sometimes even several things over time. God has a way of unfolding His plans as we go along. I always tell people I’m on a need to know basis with Him. He only tells me what I need to know as I take each next step. I often don’t know the outcome – I usually don’t – and on the rare occasions when He gives me a glimpse of the vision, I have no idea how I’m going to get there. I just have to trust Him and believe in faith as I keep walking the next step and the next, often in complete darkness of any human understanding. But He is always faithful, and when I start to falter and have to ask Him for a confirmation that I’m really doing what He wants me to do and that I really heard what I thought I heard Him say, He’ll always give it.
I had some great conversations with Kevin by phone and email before I was born again. I was in a relationship that I thought was happy when I met him and he is happily married, so it was never about anything except film and writing and acting and art. I’ve never met him in person, but we’ve kept in touch over the years, and after I was born again I told him what had happened. He told me then that he’d been praying for me all along – that when he first met me he’d started praying. He is a very strong Christian who loves the Lord, and God had put it on his heart to pray for me. That’s the kind of thing God does – we’ll meet someone and think it’s about something and maybe it is, but it’s always about much more than we think it is when it’s from Him.

I just had the pleasure of reading Kevin’s book “S.” You can find it online at www.lulu.com and on Amazon.com. I don’t want to give away the story, but let’s just say that it’s a great book and a fun read, and it touches your heart too. I ordered it a few weeks ago with some other things from Amazon – I’d been wanting to read it since he told me about it, but I’d been waiting for a gift card I knew I’d be receiving and I wanted to order enough to get the free shipping. I finally made the order, but it was taking a while for one other book to be in stock, so they finally sent me a partial order – nice of them, and God’s perfect timing for the holiday weekend. I was lucky it came when it did because I was enjoying reading it so much I literally did not want to put it down. I stayed up way past my bedtime on Saturday night reading and almost finished it Sunday morning. I had to go out and almost didn’t want to, that’s how good the book is. I finally finished it on Sunday afternoon when I got home.
I hope I’m not giving too much of the plot away when I say that one of the things that Kevin talks about in his book is the idea that Christians, people who are believers in Jesus and who profess that they have been saved or born again by the power of faith in Christ, have the ability to live lives free from sin. He debunks the idea of the devil having power over believers, and that’s something that is so basic to Biblical truth, but it’s something that many times you don’t hear in churches or from Christians, and very often you can hear the exact opposite. I just wrote here the other day about the idea of choice, and about how we can say “the devil made me do it,” but he doesn’t make us do anything – we can always choose. We do sometimes choose the wrong choice, and God is merciful to forgive us, but what we do is always our choice. It’s not always easy to choose to do the right thing, and the devil does make things difficult for us – sometimes seemingly impossible – he knows how to put the pressure on and he knows our weak spots better we do sometimes, better than anyone but God, but as believers, we have scriptural truth that backs up our faith and we can call on the name of Jesus, the name above all names, to help us in times of trial and struggle. It’s not easy sometimes, but it is possible.

Last summer the Lord had made a promise to me that was very difficult to keep believing. I kept having to ask Him to confirm it and He did over and over and over again. At one point He started giving me songs. I’d get something in my head, a song I’d heard somewhere and couldn’t remember exactly what it was, so I’d go online and search for it, and He’d give me not only that song, but in the searching process I’d find so many more. One song He gave me one early morning was Hillsong’s “Emmanuel.” I didn’t only find the song, I found a video of a worship service. Hillsong is an anointed ministry, and I can’t even describe what the video and that song did for me. On that early week day morning – it must have been sometime around 3am or 4am - I have to get up early sometimes like that to get to some of the places where I teach my nutrition and wellness classes – on that morning when it was still dark outside, and I didn’t know how to believe the promise the Lord was making to me, I heard these words, “Holy, Holy, I will bow before my Lord and King. Hallelujiah you have come to us, you make all things new. Emmanuel, Jesus Christ, you’ll never let me go. My Shepherd King, you’re watching over me, Emmanuel. So amazing, you have made the stars in the deepest night. Still you love me, you have called my name, I will follow you. Emmanuel, Jesus Christ, you’ll never let me go. My Shepherd King, you’re watching over me. Emmanuel.”
The promise that God had made to me meant that I needed to open my heart in a way that I had not opened it in a long, long time. He was asking me to love someone, and to love them without reservation, to trust someone without worrying about being betrayed, to give my whole heart without holding anything back. When I heard that song, I knew that He was telling me that in opening my heart, I was being obedient to what He was asking me to do. It was an act of worship and a sacrifice, and in doing it I was bowing before Him and saying that yes, He is really Lord over my life, over every part of it, even that part that I had been trying to keep hidden away. Scripturally He had already given me Isaiah Isaiah 43:18-19, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See I am doing a new thing; do you not perceive it?” and here it was again, “Hallelujiah, you have come to us, you make all things new.” And then the pure sweetness of the chorus, “Emmanuel, Jesus Christ, you’ll never let me go. My Shepherd King, you’re watching over me. Emmanuel.” Isaiah 43:1-2 says, “Do not fear for I have redeemed you. I have summoned you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;  and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy one of Israel, your Savior.” Emmanuel, Jesus Christ, you’ll never let me go. My Shepherd King, you’re watching over me. Emmanuel.

Emmanuel in Hebrew means God is with us. The first time the name appears is in Isaiah 7:14. The prophet Isaiah, speaking for the Lord, tells King Ahaz to ask for a sign from God that what He has said will come to pass, and King Ahaz says that he will not test the Lord by asking for a sign. The Lord replies through Isaiah, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Emmanuel.” One of the times that I asked for a confirmation, I was apologizing to the Lord for asking again and again for a sign, for a confirmation, for help in believing, for help in trusting, and this is the scripture that He gave me. Emmanuel, Jesus Christ, you’ll never let me go. My Shepherd King, you’re watching over me.  Emmanuel.
When I had first met Kevin, I was in a relationship that was one of the happiest I’d had in my life. I was living in a house that I loved with someone who I loved, I was doing things I loved to do every day, my artistic and creative life was at the fullest it had ever been. When that all went sour, it was as if the floor had dropped away beneath me and I was in freefall. Only I wasn’t free, I was still trying to hang onto the life I’d been living. A musician I was working with at the time connected me with a psychic healer she knew, and I found out that people were doing Santeria against me. Isaiah 8:19-20 tells us, “When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.” If I had known then what I know now! Thank God for His mercy. I ended up spending a lot of money that I didn’t have going to see a Santero, and paying this psychic healer, to have them tell me what was going on and to do cleansings and healings for me. It was an adventure all right, and I do love a good story, but if I had known then what I know now, I would have never gotten into the mess I was in to begin with, and if I had for some reason, I would have known that I didn’t need a person to cleanse and heal me. All I needed was to call on the name that is above all names, Jesus, Emmanuel, the God who is always with us.

And that is true for any time, for anything we face in our lives as believers. When we call on Him, He will answer us, and He will show us the right way to go. We will sometimes make mistakes - in our human weakness we don't always take the time to call on Him and ask for His advice and help. I wrote yesterday about the pride that kept me from calling on Him before I was born again, and that pride still comes into place even afterwards. We want sometimes to think we can handle things on our own, that we do have the answers and that we are in control. That is a real struggle that we have as humans, but it is not an excuse to sin. When I am honest with myself, when I hold myself accountable for my actions, when I don't try to blame anyone else or anything else for the choice I made to do things my own way, the choice to choose the old way of doing things rather than to walk in a new way in the light of faith, that is when I can learn from my mistakes, and experience the mercy and love of God in all its fullness. That is when I can grow in my faith and learn to walk in victory.

Kevin talks about so much that is important in his book, so much that everyone needs to hear. Christians and non Christians, believers and non believers. He talks about faith and the love and mercy of God in a way that we can all benefit from, and shows what it means to be a real Christian, and to have faith and trust in God. And he does it in a way that is fun and full of life and love and hope – there are a lot of laughs in that book, and that’s important too. Being a Christian can be tough sometimes, but it can also be fun and full of joy. That’s the way God wants us to live our lives, full of the joy and hope that comes with knowing Him and trusting that he is always with us, watching over us, and that He will never let us go.
In Isaiah 7:9, the Lord says to King Ahaz, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” King Ahaz was looking at two armies that had banded together against him, and he was afraid. But God was telling Him not to look at the armies as something frightening, but to trust in Him that He would do what He had promised. The word that the Lord spoke to King Ahaz through Isaiah was the exact opposite of what the situation looked like, and this is where faith starts to live or when it dies. It doesn’t matter what things look like, it matters if we trust God. When we can trust Him beyond what we see and forget about the past, knowing that He makes all things new, including us, when we can stand firm in our faith, we will see His glory, and we will know the true power that is available to us in Christ, the power of Emmanuel, God with us.

Blessings,
Jannie Susan

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Restoration

On November 3, 2012 at 9:01pm, I sent an email to a friend because I had a word for him. He’s someone that I care very deeply about, and I knew that he was going through a tough time. He’s not a complainer, and he hadn’t told me that he was having a tough time; he hadn’t asked for my help, but there are times when God will tell you to look out for someone, to reach out with His love, and let them know they’ve got a strong arm to hold onto. We can ignore what God is asking us to do and we can say no to Him, but it doesn’t really matter if we do because He’ll just find someone else to do what He’s asked us to do. If we say yes, and keep praying and lifting that person up, we’re doing what God has asked us to do, and that’s all He ever asks of us – to be obedient is to do what He asks us to do. God is not a crazy task-master – although I do call Him crazy sometimes between the two of us because he is always doing things that blow my mind – and the things He asks us to do are always things that He helps us with, so reaching out with love and giving someone a word from Him is something I can do. It’s hard sometimes because you don’t know how people are going to receive what you have to say - they may ignore you or think you're crazy or think you have some other hidden motive - but He says that’s ok and all we have to do is be obedient and give the word and the rest is between Him and that person.

I know I sent the email on that day and time because I keep all of my emails in my email files. It comes in handy for work when you think you sent something to be able to check if you did or not when someone asks for it. Rather than saying, “I sent that to you!” and getting angry, I can check and see if I did or not. If I did I can forward it along, without the anger, and just say I hope they receive it this time. It also comes in handy so I don’t repeat myself. I write a lot of emails to people for work and in my personal life, so it’s good to know what I’ve said so I can build on it or refer back to it rather than just saying, “I don’t know if I told you this, but. . .” It also comes in handy when the Lord gives me another word for someone, based on a word I’ve given them in the past, so I can say, hey, remember that word I sent you? It just came back again and this time it’s even better.

The word I sent to my friend on November 3, 2012 at 9:01pm was from Joel Chapter 2. I titled the email “A Promise Of Restoration,” or rather I should say that’s what the Lord told me to title it. When I looked it up when I started writing this post, I didn’t remember what I’d called it or when I had sent it, so I just did a search for “Joel 2” because I knew the Lord had given me that message at some point for this friend. When I found the email, it came up with a note that the message was starred, meaning that the star icon had been highlighted next to the email. That was really great to see because I hadn’t done that, so it was just another confirmation that this message was definitely from God and not from me.

November 3 was a Saturday, and yesterday was a Saturday too. We’re coming close to June, so if we look at the days, June 3 will be seven months away from the time that I got the first message. Seven is a number of completion for God, so that does mean something. He doesn’t play games and He’s always doing things with timing just to let us know there is a Master Plan. I play with numbers a lot in my head and He knows that. My father was an engineer and I grew up with the idea that you could make sense out of the world with numbers if you could figure out the pattern. I add them together and look at days and times, and the patterns are there. God knows I love to do that, so He’ll show me where they are. If you look at the days purely from a number point of view, November 3 is 11/3 and May 25 is 5/25. If you take 11 and add 3 you get 14, add the 4 and the 1 and you get 5. Or you could add all the numbers individually, 1 plus 1 plus 3 equals 5. 5/25 is all fives – there’s the 5 for May and then the 25 is 5 times 5. Then go to 5/25 and do the same thing. 5 plus 25 is 30 – that’s the 3 for November 3. Try it a different way and add 5 plus 2 plus 5 and you get 12, add the 1 plus 2 and you have 3 again. No matter how you do the math, they reflect each other. Welcome to my world.

It may sound crazy to you that I go through all of this, but there’s a reason for the craziness. It seems crazy sometimes to be hearing a word from God – who am I kidding, it seems crazy all the time when I really think about it, especially for someone like me who spent most of my life thinking that anyone who prayed or talked to God was as crazy as a loon – that is until I was in a bind and then I’d be on my knees just as fast as I was able. The amount of times that God answered prayer in my life before I was born again is staggering considering that I never really bothered to pray. I’d get to a certain point in a mess I’d made and I’d cry out, “Please help me!” and He always did. Now that’s crazy – why would He bother to help someone as clueless and stubborn as that? But as I said before, He is crazy, but in a really wonderful and miraculous way. Because He does bother, and because He knows I’m listening now, in addition to giving me a word for myself, He’ll give me a word for someone else sometimes, and because it’s hard for me to believe sometimes that He would bother to do that, I need all the confirmation I can get.

So almost seven months ago He gave me a word from Joel 2:25-27, “So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the crawling locust, the consuming locust, and the chewing locust, my great army which I sent among you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you; and My people shall never be put to shame. Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel: I am the Lord your God And there is no other. My people shall never be put to shame." That was from the New King James Version (NKJV), but He also had me include the Contemporary English Version (CEV) because the message was worded more specifically for my friend. The Lord had given me other messages for him, and in the first one He gave me He had shown me that He was referring to my friend as Israel, and the CEV does just that: "I, the Lord your God, will make up for the losses caused by those swarms and swarms of locusts I sent to attack you. My people, you will eat until you are satisfied. Then you will praise me for the wonderful things I have done. Never again will you be put to shame. Israel, you will know that I stand at your side. I am the Lord your God—there are no other gods. Never again will you be put to shame."

In the email I sent to my friend, I wrote about my experiences when I was first born again because that’s what the Lord had said to talk about. Parts of that message are things that I’ve written about in different ways in this blog, and they’re messages that God knows it’s important for people to hear:

"I was remembering today that in the first few months of my being born again, I felt as if things weren't moving fast enough in a positive direction. It seemed as if I had lost everything and that there was nothing good to replace it. There were good things, but I had lost so much and was still in such an emotional place of despair from that loss, that it was difficult to see the good around me. Negative things were happening also. I had moved into a new apartment and suddenly lost the last few small pieces of income I had so I was unable to pay my bills or my rent. That was something that had never happened to me before, and I could not understand why God was allowing this to happen now - wasn't I walking with Him? Wasn't I doing the things He wanted me to do? I was going to church and volunteering with the ministry. It didn't make sense that things were not immediately getting better and instead seemed worse.

There were some things that God needed to show me during that time that were important for the building of who He wanted me to be and for the taking away of parts of the old self that were holding me back from my best self. Pride was a big one that needed to be taken away, but not in the way that we normally think of pride as being a positive thing. The pride that I had came from thinking that I had to rely on myself and that I could not admit that I needed God's help. I also learned that the pride I had came from a place of fear - fear of looking weak, fear of being foolish - that was rooted in low self esteem. I had put a mask on for so long to prove to everyone that I was ok, when in reality I was shy and stressed and scared and deeply needed approval. Going through the challenges I had in those early months and the years since then have helped me learn how much God loves and approves of me for who I am, not for who I pretend to be, and that if I allow Him to help me, and ask for His help in all things, I am stronger and wiser and no longer in need of pretending to have it all together because He has it all together, and with His help I can do all things."

After I included the passage from Joel 2:25-27, I continued on with this:

"The next section begins in the NKJV with 'God's Spirit Poured Out,' which is a wonderful promise, but the CEV is a very different wonderful promise: 'The Lord will work wonders.' These promises follow a call from the Lord in verses 12-13: “Now, therefore,” says the Lord, “Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm." (NKJV) The CEV has this: "The Lord said: "It isn’t too late. You can still return to me with all your heart. Start crying and mourning! Go without eating. Don’t rip your clothes to show your sorrow. Instead, turn back to me with broken hearts. I am merciful, kind, and caring. I don’t easily lose my temper, and I don’t like to punish."

And then I wrote something to my friend that the Lord wanted him to understand fully: “You have already turned back to Him, so these promises are for you.”

There are times when we will go through some very rough times. It is the nature of life. After I was born again it was so tough that it made me think that maybe I hadn’t really been born again, or maybe God had not accepted me and had left me to the locusts to devour. But that is not how God works, and that is what He needed me to share with my friend, and what He wants me to share with you as you read this. When we turn to Him, He accepts us fully, just as we are, and He begins the restoration process from there. He's not like the person who buys a house and then starts complaining that there are problems and so the deal is off. When He went to the Cross, He knew the whole story of each one of our lives, and He went anyway, knowing a time would come when we'd turn back to Him and He'd have to help clean us up and start rebuilding our lives anew. There may still be tough times, but that doesn’t mean that He doesn’t love us or that He has decided we weren’t worth saving. He already went to the Cross for us, knowing that we would do just what we did in our lives, and all He asks is that we turn to Him and ask for His help from our heart.
 
Yesterday when I was at one of my favorite thrift stores, I found a men’s t-shirt with these words: “Turn to me now, give me your heart. Joel 2:12” I have a photographic memory for things that were said and done - something else the Lord restored to me after I had almost ruined my mind with years of partying - and I knew that I had sent that same message to my friend. The scripture was written differently than I had ever heard it before, and when I got home and looked it up I could not find a translation that phrased it that way, but I like it so much. The t-shirt is very artsy – I have some graffiti artist friends from church who work in the fashion industry, and it looks like something one of them would have designed. It’s not your run-of-the-mill t-shirt – it’s something special for someone who God wants to know is special to Him. There was no price tag on it, but the man who works there always gives me things for ridiculous prices, even when there are price tags, and he gave me the t-shirt for a dollar. It was hand screened and hand made - unique and one of a kind. I know from my friends that t-shirts like that can cost at least $50, and depending on who did it they can be much more. It is something special for someone who is special to God. We are all special to Him, and He tells us things that are specifically for us and gives us gifts that are specially designed for us to show us how much He loves us and is thinking about us as the unique individuals He made us to be.
 
I wrote something else to my friend in that email I sent him on November 3: “ I spent the first year of being born again weeping at the altar, broken hearted, recognizing His great love and mercy, and weeping for my lost past and the waste of those years the locusts devoured. Deuteronomy 10:16 describes it this way, "Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer." I was always very stubborn, and when I allowed Him to work deeply in my heart and to uncover what was hidden there, He took away the hardened places and He taught me to be stubborn for Him.”

When we turn to Him, He takes the things that are part of us, the parts of our personality that make us unique, and He makes them into something beautiful that can help us to keep turning to Him and reaching out with His love to others.

The Cicadas are returning again this year after a 17 year absence, and some people call them locusts, but they’re very different than locusts because they don’t devour everything. I read an article from the New York Times from May 22 that was titled, “Finding Love At 17,” a play on words for the 17 year time period it takes them to come out from underground. The article described them as being “love bugs” that hatch and start courting immediately. Their distinctive sound is a mating call, and the article described them as being very romantic. The difference between a locust and a cicada is as far away as anything could ever be from anything else. In the passages of Joel, the image of locusts is used to describe a marching army that devours and destroys everything in its path. The cicadas are coming to bring love and that’s a message for my friend and for us all too. The years that the locust have eaten are being restored, and it’s time to receive love and blessings again.

Blessings,

Jannie Susan

 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Choices

When my brother was a teenager, he was a big fan of “A Clockwork Orange.” He was the type of person who would always read the book and not just watch the movie, and he said that the book was nothing like the movie, but he liked the movie too. He wanted to buy a bowler hat, and he may have even bought one, but he was 6’2” so that look wasn’t really suited to him. He also worked out all the time, and the actor who played the lead in the movie, Malcolm McDowell, was 5’8” and wiry. He had a little bulk on him, but not like my brother.

I don’t really understand what he liked about the film or the novel. I know that some people think the movie is just terrific, and I do think Malcolm McDowell did a great job in it, but aside from the bowler hats, I don’t really get the appeal. I’m not into violence at all – I don’t care if it’s just a movie, violence really makes me sick. My brother was a tough guy on the outside and he got into his share of fights, but he wasn’t really into violence either, so I don’t understand what he liked so much to make him want to buy a bowler hat.
Anthony Burgess who wrote the novel described it as “a jeu d’esprit knocked off for money in three weeks.” He also said that the American publishers, by not including the last chapter, and Stanley Kubrik who directed the film version, changed the story from what it was meant to be and focused instead on the graphic violence of the main character and not his transformation. I can’t really say one way or another – I’ve never read the book in any version and only saw the movie once and even then I kept having to check out and leave the room because it was too much to take. But in reading about what Anthony Burgess says, it seems that it was a story about the importance of people’s ability to choose – whether we can and should be able to choose good or evil. The title refers to that, and usually writers choose titles that have to do with their themes. There has been so much speculation on that title, but Anthony Burgess says it is based on slang he overheard and is basically the idea of a person who has had the ability to choose taken away – to paraphrase what he says in his British slang, they’re still fleshy and sweet and juicy, but they are running like a wind-up toy.

I am ten years younger than my brother, and so I was very young when the movie came out and my brother started carrying that book around. I asked him what it was about, and he never really explained it. I think he thought I was too young to understand and maybe I was. But the idea of people having the right to choose, and needing that right in order to be people, is a basic idea that we all can understand on some level no matter how young and inexperienced we are. It’s an important thing to be thinking about at any age, and one of those messages that God wants us to be thinking about, but of course in my house growing up we didn’t talk about God at all. My brother died in 2003, and the year before he died he said to me that the one thing that he wished he had known about was faith in God. He said that with everything else that he had suffered, and he’d suffered a lot in his life, being kept away from God and faith was the worst. I didn’t understand what he meant at the time, but it made me start thinking that there must be something that I had been missing too. Two years after that I was born again, and then I finally understood.
When I started to think about “A Clockwork Orange” and my brother, I started to think that maybe he liked it so much because he didn’t know God. There was a darkness in my own life before I was born again, not as dark as my brother’s darkness, but a darkness still the same. I didn’t like violence then, but I could accept it, and now I reject it completely. Even saying certain things and some words bother me now that wouldn’t have bothered me before. I cringe at the sound of some things, and stay far away from anything that is not full of light. Ephesians 5:8 says, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible – and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said, ‘Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’”

In the last few years of his life, my brother started to go to church. Some friends of his started taking him, and he found great peace and joy there. He also spent time in the country, in the mountains, fly fishing in rivers, something that I know is a place where he would have been able to meet with God. God is always visible to us in nature, and His presence can be felt and understood there sometimes much more easily than anywhere else. He also loves fishermen, and it is no accident that my brother was going fishing at that time of his life. He had been a rock musician for as long as I could remember, and some of the music he played in his various bands was really hard, bordering on punk. But before he died he started recording music that was so sweet and lovely, cover songs and instrumentals and songs that he wrote that are so beautiful that they lift your spirit with their light. I had always felt that the other music he played and the bowler hat and “A Clockwork Orange” were things he was putting on like someone else’s clothes. They didn’t fit him at all and they always seemed like underneath it all they made him feel uncomfortable. These songs he recorded at the end of his life suited who he really was. They fit him in a way that nothing else ever had.
God tells us always that we have the right to choose. He also tells us that when we choose the path of life we are blessed and when we choose the other we are cursed (Deuteronomy 30:15-19). But we always have the choice. The difficulty is that sometimes we don’t realize we have made a choice until it’s made and we find ourselves on a path we didn’t want to be on. Anthony Burgess writes in “A Clockwork Orange,” “Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man.” But what if we are just doing what it is that we know how to do and we haven’t been given any guidance otherwise? What if we were lacking in guidance from childhood and we get involved with people who don’t seem so bad at first? Even children who grow up in homes with people who believe in going to church can be left in the dark when it comes to knowing about love and compassion and kindness. We learn by example, and going to church is something that can be just a show of religion, but that has nothing to do with living our lives by faith. Jeremiah 10:23 says, “I know O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.” Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a person, but eventually it ends in death.” God knows that we are easily led astray, and His grace can bring us back again always from wherever it is that we have ended up.

One of the songs my brother recorded was "Amazing Grace," another was "Silent Night." Another was Ennio Morricone’s "Touch the Sky," and another was one he wrote that I wrote about in another post, “Noodle Salad,” that came from a quote from the movie “As Good As It Gets,” a movie very different from “A Clockwork Orange.” My brother was so different in the last years of his life, and in a wonderful way he was much more comfortable. The Holy Spirit is known as The Comforter, because he brings comfort to us when we can receive it. My brother spent a lot of years with walls all around him, not letting in the comfort that he so much needed. It was not because he rejected God, it was because he didn’t know Him. It was very much the same for me. When our eyes are finally opened after so many years of walking around in darkness, when we finally see the light and understand that we have the choice to choose to walk in the way of life, when we finally understand that we have been walking around in darkness and that we made choices that were leading to death, God is always ready and waiting with His arms wide open, as wide open as they were on the Cross. That is why He took that road that day, all the way up to Calvary. He knew each one of us before we were ever born, and knew the paths we would walk before we ever walked them. He knew the end from the beginning, and so He kept on walking, knowing that some day we would understand.
For the past few days He has been giving me Isaiah 9, “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those were in distress. . .the people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in a land of deep darkness, a light has dawned . . . they rejoice before You as people rejoice at the harvest . . . You have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor . . . For to us a son is born, to us a son is given . . . and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (verses 1-6) Amazing Grace and Silent Night rolled into one, with a little bit of Touch the Sky and Noodle Salad for a garnish.

We do have the right to choose, and God wants us to have that right, but He also wants us to know and understand what choices we are making. He’s not the father or mother or grandmother or whoever who says to us, “You made your bed, now lie in it,” without ever having really taught us and supported us in making the choices that would lead us on the road to life. Just saying things to people and telling them what to do is not teaching them. God was very clear with the children of Israel when He gave them the 10 Commandments and He will be very clear with us too, but first He needs to get our attention, and sometimes that takes a while. But He’s patient with us because He knows that we don’t understand sometimes, and that sometimes we have been so blinded by things and people we thought were harmless fun that we can’t see that they are really not fun at all. He knows that things happen that drive us further away from Him, terrible things that hurt us and make our world seem dark. And so He waits and watches like the father of the prodigal son, until we wake from the sleep of death we’ve been in and decide to come home.
Blessings,

Jannie Susan

Friday, May 24, 2013

Courage

In my Freshman year of college I went to a school in Pittsburgh that gave me such a big scholarship that I couldn’t say no. I had applied on a whim, not really thinking that I’d ever go to Pittsburgh – it was too far away in my mind from New York City where I was planning to move. I had applied to Yale and Harvard and Sarah Lawrence and the University of Puget Sound – another one that was far away, but I loved the thought of going there - it looked so beautiful and they had a marine biology major that was really interesting to me. I didn’t really want to go there and didn’t really want to do marine biology, but it sounded really great so I applied. Then Yale and Harvard said no – they had an unwritten policy that they only accepted a certain amount of students from my school district every few years – scholarship students that is - if we could pay the full price, they’d take us - and one of them had just accepted a student who had dropped out the year before, and the other a student who had declined, so they said they couldn’t take a risk on me. They accepted me at Sarah Lawrence, but with no scholarship help, and in Puget Sound with some scholarship and it was not very expensive anyway, and the college in Pittsburgh did too. The scholarship in the Pittsburgh package was so big that it was almost complete, and Pittsburgh was closer than Washington State - it was a long drive but you could do it in less than a day - so that’s where I went.

It was a really beautiful school and a small one – a little women’s college on a hill, the kind that you don’t find any more. Even that one has expanded and started accepting men and has become a university now. When I arrived there it was like a place from another time, and Pittsburgh had a nice feeling too – not quite a city, but still a city, not snobby in the way the East Coast can be – much warmer and more homey. Because it was such a small school, I was able to get lead roles in the plays from the beginning, something that wouldn’t normally happen for a freshman acting student anywhere else. I had wanted to be an actress from earliest time I can remember. My family used to go away every summer to a little town in Rhode Island, and there was a woman there, the mother of my summertime beach friend, who was an actress. She was so glamorous and elegant, with a melodious voice - I never saw her act, but that didn’t matter to me – I thought she was wonderful and I wanted to be just like her.
When I was about nine years old I read a book called Tall and Proud, about a girl who has polio and learns how to walk again through learning how to ride a horse. I’ve loved horses all my life, and always had a strong connection to them. In our summer place I used to go riding at a crazy barn called Jerry’s. Jerry let the older kids hang out and party, and the younger kids could always ride horses for cheap. I don’t know what he did for a living, but that didn’t matter to me – Jerry’s place was like another kind of world where horses and kids and teenagers could run amok. We had neighbors in my home town who had a horse farm. Those were racing horses, and the husband was a trainer. I couldn’t ride them because they were all thoroughbreds and high strung and high priced, but he let me visit with them whenever I wanted to and taught me how to feed them apples and carrots out of my hand.

When I read the book Tall and Proud, I got it into my head to write to the publisher of the book – or maybe it was the authors, I don’t remember now – but I wrote to someone – ah, yes, I do remember, I wrote to a movie studio – MGM I think – to tell them how much I loved the book and that I thought it would make a great movie, and I wanted to star in it if they ever made it. I got a stamp from my mother and did it all on the sly – I didn’t want her to know what I was doing because I didn’t want to feel silly if nothing ever came of it. Besides, it was my secret dream and I didn’t want to let anyone in on it. Nothing ever came of it, but I did do plays in my home town community theater and in a boys’ school the next town over. But when I told my mother I wanted to be an actress she was really surprised I think. I went off to a liberal arts college and maybe she thought it was going to blow over, and we never really discussed it much except for the usual stuff about her not thinking it was a good idea to go into a field where I couldn’t have a “real” job. And she was probably right, but I’ve honestly never regretted that choice. I had a lot of good years in the theater in New York, and if I’d never done it, I always would have regretted it. Some of the best friends I’ve ever had came from that world, and some of the best times too.
When I was in Pittsburgh that first year, a man came to the first play I was in that first semester and I met him at the cast party. He was a local Pittsburgh actor who they brought in to do plays from time to time when they needed a man. He knew some of the other students and they always invited him to their shows. He was such a kind and fun and loving person, and he took me seriously as an actor, something that was very important to me then. He talked about my role in the play which had not been anything very serious – it was a parody of Bible stories of all things – God really is funny that way - before I ever knew Him, there He was, showing up in the thing I loved to do most of all. I had played the snake in the Garden of Eden and if I remember correctly I came out in a jogging suit. Not the most high brow of plays to be sure, yet here was this kind man, a professional actor, who took the time to talk to me about the role as if it was Shakespeare.

After that play I was in several more with roles that were much bigger and richer. My new friend talked me through them all, giving me acting tips and notes after rehearsals and performances, sharing the wisdom of one actor to another. Acting is a very strange art form in that we create the art with ourselves and other people. We start with a play that was written by a playwright, who we sometimes can know, but often we don’t. The play is a blueprint for the roles we’ll create, but we often can't ask the playwright what things mean and how he or she meant them to look and to sound, and so we work on it together with other actors, a director, and the props and lighting and sound designers and try to figure it out. What we develop can never be repeated again. I’ve been part of long running shows when people left and others came in, and it’s always different, even though the new people learn the role from the person before and even when the stage manager is keeping strong notes. People are people are people – we’re all different and unique and we bring ourselves into those roles and nothing can make our performance the same as anyone else’s. Even the same actor can change in a role over time, and different nights can be different, a matinee can be different from the afternoon performance because the audience is a part of the performance too. How they respond, whether they laugh or cry or walk out or sit as if they're in a stupor - everything affects a performance, even the time of the year and the weather. Having a friend who has experience and an eye and ear for the theater is a priceless gift. We learn acting by doing – we can study it and we should if we’re serious about it – but those times we spend with a good actor friend can mean the difference between a good performance and a great one.
I remember one play in particular that I was having a really hard time with. There was an actor that had been brought in because we needed a man, and it wasn’t my friend. This other actor was a good actor, but for some reason I felt like he was acting outside of me. It was like we were in two different plays and there was no connection. It was a two character play – a one act by J.M. Barrie, an English drawing room comedy called “The Twelve Pound Look,” about a woman who goes to work for a man as a hired secretary and it turns out that she is his former wife. She left him because she felt stifled in their life together, even though he was a wealthy man and she had everything financially and socially that she could ever want, and she chose to go out to work for herself to have her freedom. The twelve pounds refers to the typewriter she buys - the cost of it in English pounds at the time, and probably also the weight of it, though I don't remember now. I love the play, and I didn’t know why I couldn’t get my grounding in that role. Something wasn’t working and I couldn’t figure out what. My friend got it when he came to see a rehearsal. He said I wasn’t standing up to the actor because he was taking the stage. He was a professional and I was letting my knowledge of his professional status overpower me. The woman in the play has the upper hand, and I wasn’t taking it. I remember talking to him about how I felt like I couldn't take the upper hand, that I couldn't take the stage because of my youth and inexperience, but my friend said that none of that mattered. What mattered was whether I chose to take the stage or not, what mattered was the way I felt about myself on that stage in that role. I had a role and I could fulfill it or not, it had nothing to do with anything else except my own choice. My friend saved my performance with his words of wisdom. I got my ground and took it and kept it, and never forgot that lesson.

There are people who come along in our lives who help us through a certain time and give advice for a certain thing, but it’s advice we carry with us forever. The lessons they teach us go deeper than the activity of the moment – the play we’re in or the thing we’re doing is really incidental, and it reflects a larger lesson we need to learn about life. The story “Tall and Proud,” is not just about a girl and her horse, it is about learning how to live again, how to overcome pain and disappointment and the judgments that others make about us that threaten to hold us back from the deepest dreams we have for our lives. The horse in the story is a racehorse that was crippled from a fall. I know from my years of horse talk and riding that a crippled race horse is considered useless. Sometimes they kill them when they fall after a race – they say it’s to put them out of their agony, but I don’t think that’s true. I think they just don’t want to have the expense of the care and feeding of a horse that can’t make them money any more. But it’s that horse that helps this girl who is expected never to walk again to walk again. It is their bond that helps her to heal.
When my friend helped me with my play that time – and all the other plays and all the other times he helped me with his wisdom and love and support over the years – he wasn’t just helping me stand up to an actor who was intimidating me, he was letting me know that I didn’t need to let myself be intimidated by anyone. It didn’t matter who the other person was – whether they were older or more experienced, a man or a woman, a teacher, a star, the director, my boss – my friend helped me see that who I am is important too, and that I am just as strong as anyone else if I can believe in my own heart that I am.

In Joshua chapter 1, God speaks to Joshua and tells him several times to be strong and of courage because He will be with him wherever he goes. In Jeremiah chapter 1, He does the same thing for Jeremiah. Jeremiah says that he is too young to play the role of a prophet, but God says that He is sending him and He will be with him, so he does not need to be afraid. Sometimes those words are so important for us to hear – that we don’t need to be afraid – that we have strength that we do not see. Sometimes we let ourselves be overtaken by our own fears of failure and low self worth, and the words of a good friend can help us stand tall and proud, and face the giants we see in front of us.
After I left that little women’s college and transferred to one in New York, my friend kept in touch with me. I’d visit sometimes and when he came to New York he’d invite me to dinner and a Broadway play. I had one of the most memorable evenings of my life one summer when he invited me to come see him in the city. He was staying at the Omni Berkshire Hotel, and he let me stay in his room on a fold out bed they brought in that was more comfortable than any bed I’ve ever slept in before or since. He took me to the Four Seasons, the best restaurant I know of, and one that is still my favorite, even after having had the opportunity to try others in that league over the years, many times with that same friend. At the time I’d never been to such an elegant and beautiful place, and it was and still is a highlight of my life. They made me hollandaise sauce at the table! I’ve made it myself, but I’d never seen that done before. And the tray of deserts was divine – so many wonderful things it was difficult to choose. I’m sure I had something chocolate because that's always my favorite, but if my friend did what he usually does, he may have ordered something else just so I could try it too. After that exquisite dinner he took me to see Guys and Dolls, a wonderful musical anywhere, but that cast was astounding. I’d never been in a Broadway theater before and we had orchestra seats, the best in the house.

My friend was always doing things like that when I was still in Pittsburgh – he took me to the ballet and out to dinner all the time. And he is funny and makes me laugh so much, even when we are on the phone - his company is very special, and he is very special to me. He doesn’t travel so much any more, and I haven’t been back to Pittsburgh in years, but when I call him I’m always blessed because he is someone I can always talk to about theater and art and movies and life and always get a good word, a good laugh, and know that someone out there loves me - that I'm worth someone taking time out of their busy life for.
It’s a rare gift when someone can make you feel like you’re special, like you deserve the best in life. It’s a rare gift when someone gives of their time and their gifts to help you grow and learn to live your life in a way that is full of life. Without my friend, I never would have dreamed of going to The Four Seasons – I never would have known what it was. And if I had ever heard of it one day, I never would have thought I could go there. I took my mother there once, years after my friend had taken me, and the only reason she was able to have that experience was because my friend had given it to me and let me know it was possible. Because of my friend, I learned that all things are possible. I learned that I don’t have to be afraid or feel less than or not good enough. Because of my friend I can stand tall and proud wherever I am, and I thank him for that gift from the bottom of my heart.

Blessings,
Jannie Susan