Sunday, June 30, 2013

Resting In The Lord

Something happened on Friday that really made it difficult for me to sleep. It was something that was stressful, but also something that made me angry. Ephesians 4:26 says, “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,” and I understand why because I could not sleep. I finally got up at 1am and made myself a cup of chamomile tea and looked through supermarket flyers and coupons, and I finally got a little bit of sleep, maybe two hours. I woke up sometime before 5am and had to do laundry before going to work at a health fair in Brooklyn. The train was all messed up and I had to transfer to a bus – it was a crazy night and morning and one I didn’t need.

But maybe in a way I did need it so that I can decide once and for all that I’m not going to let people who try to stress me out stress me out. It’s almost like they see your peace and they want to destroy it, but we have the choice to let them destroy it or not. It was an attack that hit me by surprise in many of my most vulnerable and soft spots, but if I really trust God, and I do, I’ll ask Him how to handle it, handle it the way He says, and then go about my business. But that is sometimes easier said than done, and now I definitely understand why being angry can be a sinful thing – if we lose our temper that can mess things up worse, and if we don’t lose our temper, it eats us up inside and keeps us from the rest we need to do our work for God with a joyful heart.
I had been asking the Lord to help me with the anger – to help me not wish harm to the person who has been trying to do harm to me. She hasn’t really harmed me, but she’s been trying, and even though I see God’s faithfulness over and over again and He keeps showing me that I can be still and know that He is God, I still have a problem with the anger. It’s hard to bless someone who’s out to get you every day in every way that they can, and it’s hard to bless someone who is trying to oppress you. But that’s what the Lord wants us to do, so I had to ask Him for help.

He kept telling me to just get some rest on Friday night and trust Him, which I didn’t do, but when I finally arrived at the church on Saturday morning, the health fair was so nice! It was in the area where I first lived when I was born again – there are no coincidences with God – and so I was reminded of His faithfulness at that time and over the years, over and over again. That place is one of my altars, a place where I stopped to rest for three very strange months when I was newly aware of this God who was talking to me every day and helping me to get on a new path. So on my roundabout way to the church, He had already started talking to me, and then at the church when one of the speakers started talking, he said a word that started speaking even more to my heart. He talked about four balls that we can carry with us: our work, which is a rubber ball and if we drop it, it can bounce, another ball that is our family and another that is our health and another that is our integrity, and that those are glass balls and if one of them should drop, it would easily break and might even shatter and not be able to be repaired. The person who has been making me crazy always talks about their integrity, and one of the things that had been making me so angry is that what I see is the absolute opposite of integrity, and it’s making me angry to have someone be so self-righteous, when they’re not really acting righteous at all. But she is the one who has dropped that glass ball and shattered it, and I don't have to get cut on the shards of glass or let my own glass ball drop.
Another speaker started talking about dementia and Alzheimer’s, and there were some things that really started opening my heart up, the place where my compassion and forgiveness are. I started to understand that the person who is treating me so badly may be suffering from early onset dementia, and that the erratic behavior and actions she is displaying against me are something that, whatever the cause, are a disease of the brain. I felt like I was let off the hook somehow – I don’t know how to explain it except to say that I really don’t have to take it personally any more. It’s still a rotten situation, but as with everything else, there will be an end to it sometime. After that presentation, I spoke with the woman who had given it about the situation I was dealing with and she said that the signs are there. She said that unfortunately it will most probably get really bad, that this person will eventually “reveal themselves,” that right now they are trying to pretend that what they are doing is fine and that they are fine, but it’s really not and they know on some level that something has gone wrong in their mind.

When I started to think about that, the compassion came immediately. What must it feel like to think that everyone around you is out to get you or that you have to attack people to be in control?  What must it be to live inside this woman’s head – it’s so scary to think about that I knew I had to start to pray for her. I’d been praying all along, but my prayers had been mixed with the anger. Now I could just pray.
When God tells us not to do something, He is doing it for our own good. When He says to not let the sun go down on your anger, it’s because He knows that you won’t get a good night’s sleep. When He tells you to bless those who curse you, He’s letting us know we can release the anger and everything and anything else we want to, and that we can give it right to Him. When we release the anger we can rest easy, we can be still and rest in Him, and watch and wait and let Him guide us on the path that He knows is best for us.

Blessings,
Jannie Susan

Saturday, June 29, 2013

What Do You See?

I was just reading an article on Yahoo! Shine about stress and how our perception of it and how it affects us can make a difference in our health. It’s an article by Beth Greenfield of the Shine staff, titled “Why You Should Take Stress More Seriously.” I talk about stress with people in the health and wellness workshops I teach, and I give them stress reduction techniques and discuss how the foods we eat and the amount of sleep and physical activity we get has an effect on our mood as well. But I’ve never thought about what this article is talking about which is our perception of stress and how that can affect us in different ways.

In the article, Dr. Paul Rosch, founder and board chairman of the American Institute of Stress, is quoted as saying, “We’ve known for a long time, to quote the Greek philosopher Epictetus, that men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them. You can show definitively that people have a higher rate of heart attack if they feel they have too many demands on them at work or in life, whether it’s true or not. So if you perceive something, it’s as good as the real thing.”
That got me thinking about faith, and how faith can be an antidote for stress. If we believe that there is a God who loves us, who cares for us and watches over us, if we believe that He is there to fight our battles for us, that He is on our side, that we don’t have to worry because He told us we don’t have to, that those who rise against us unfairly will fall, that vengeance belongs to Him so we just need to pray and bless those who curse us, that love covers all – if we really believe that, if that is our perception of every situation, it doesn’t really matter what the situation is because we make a difference in it by what we believe is true.

I’m not saying we should walk in front of traffic because we believe that God will save us from harm. When Jesus is tempted by the devil in the wilderness, and the devil tells him, “If you be the son of God, cast yourself down: for it is written, 'He shall give his angels charge concerning you: and in their hands they shall bear you up, lest at any time you dash your foot against a stone,” Jesus replies, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” There was a movie like that once, when a man survives an airplane crash and suddenly afterward for a period of time he is able to do things that he used to be afraid of, even eating strawberries which he’s allergic to. At one point he walks in front of traffic on the highway and cars swerve around him, but that’s not the kind of perception of reality I’m talking about. The name of the movie is “Fearless,” and that’s not what I’m really talking about either. We might still have fear but know that the Lord says to “fear not,” and so we hang in there and keep talking to Him about what’s going on until we can get through it to the other side. We might not walk in front of cars on the highway or eat something we’re allergic to, but we might just be able to stand in the face of our enemies and keep on standing, even if we are feeling stress.
I’ve gotten to have a kind of, I don’t know what to call it, a “stress sense” maybe. I can tell now when the enemy is going to attack, though sometimes I don’t recognize the feeling for what it is until after the attack comes. I was having a really hard time sleeping on Thursday night – I doubt if I slept much at all really – and I woke up a little earlier than I needed to and felt so tired that I tried to get back into bed and did sleep about 45 minutes more. But it was a very restless night, a very stressful one, and I wasn’t really sure why. I had to deal with someone on Friday who has been stressing me out, but I wasn’t really stressed about that at the time. I couldn’t figure out why, but I just couldn’t sleep. Then I saw this person and they started in on their same old stuff, and I was all right through it, and then they hit me with something completely unexpected and underhanded. It was only afterward that I put the lack of sleep together with this extra attack. In some weird way I could tell that the enemy was gearing up for another hit, and that’s something I’ve gotten to have a good sense of if I only can pay attention to it so I won’t be surprised.

That’s really when stress seems to hit me – when the rug is pulled out from under me, when someone I trusted starts acting awful, when something that seemed secure suddenly isn’t, when I don’t know where the next punch is coming from. But at times that’s what the Christian walk is like. “Your enemy prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8). I heard that passage preached on once when the Pastor said that it’s important to look at the word “like,” because the enemy doesn’t really have the power of a roaring lion, he just acts like one. He tries to frighten and intimidate us, but if we have our faith together and we’ve put our armor on, we won’t be scared of him at all because we’ll know who our God is and that He’s much bigger than anything that the enemy can throw at us.

But that’s really the key. We have to know who our God is and know how much He loves us. We have to know that no matter what the person who is after you is doing, if they’re not doing the right thing, God will take care of it. Ecclesiastes 10:4 tells us, “If a ruler’s anger rises against you, do not leave your post; calmness can lay great offenses to rest.” It is how we respond to situations, how we feel and show our feelings, that is the key to how the situation can play out. We can fly up in anger, we can respond in the same way we are being treated, we can tell people off, walk off in a huff. We can be stressed or angry or bitter or disappointed. Or, and I know this is a big or, we can choose to listen to what the Lord tells us and be still and know that He is God. (Psalm 46:10)
I don’t know how the situation I am dealing with will turn out, and it can be stressful when we’re dealing with people we can’t trust. But God tells us not to trust in people but to trust in Him. All the way home on Friday night I kept talking to Him saying, “I just don’t know what to do!” and He kept saying, “Do you trust me?” something that He says to me from time to time when He knows that I’m getting stressed out. And I do trust Him and I answer that I do, but that I don’t trust the person I’m dealing with. But that’s ok because He tells us that we don’t have to worry about what people do, all we have to do is put our focus on Him and do what it is that He is asking us to do. If we can do that, if we can keep on walking in His way no matter what anyone tries to do to push us in another way, we’ll make it through and past and far beyond the situation we thought was hopeless. God has a way of making a way where there is no way, and if we can remember that, we’ll make it through the Red Sea and be able to walk on dry land.
Blessings,
Jannie Susan
 

 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Redeemer

A very creative and talented woman I know sent me an email yesterday to thank me for leaving a comment on an online slideshow she’d put together. She said that out of 61 page views, I was the only person who wrote a comment. I can understand if people didn’t want to leave their real name – I have a thing about privacy myself, and I don’t belong to any social media sites because of it, but even if they didn’t want to leave their name, at least leave a comment and let the person know in private it was you. I did leave my first name – even though it’s an odd name, I’ve discovered that there are other people out there with it, and I knew my friend would know it was me so I didn’t leave my last name. What really surprised me about people not leaving comments is that it's a really great slide show about an interesting topic – it's about people who forage for food that is being thrown away in New York City, and the way she put it together it was almost like a movie with captions. I even like the title of it, “Freegan Trash Tour 101,” and If you’re interested in looking at it, the website where you can find it is:

If you go there, leave a comment – a  nice one!

I guess the thing that I really don’t understand is why people can’t just be nicer to each other. What does it take to leave a comment online about someone’s creative work? Right now I owe my friend Kevin Kraft two reviews of his book “S” that I wrote about here in my post titled, “Emmanuel,” but my excuse is that work has been crazy busy and stressful and I’ve been working a lot of late nights and weekends, and I want to take the time to write a real review that has some depth to it. I’m planning on getting to his reviews over the July 4th holiday, and even though I haven’t done it yet, I am planning on it and it’s been on my mind as something that I need to do. I’m not that nice a person – Jesus makes me much better than I am, but on my own I’m very lazy and I like to do what I like to do, like read a lot and take long walks. I guess what I’m trying to say is that if I can do these small and simple but supportive things as lazy and selfish as I am with my personal time, why can’t everyone?
Yesterday morning the Lord gave me the Book of Ruth when I was on the train into work. More specifically He gave me chapters one and two, and I found myself weeping like I always do when I read that part of that story. It’s such a beautiful story, and those chapters are for me some of the most beautiful in all scripture. They’re very simple, almost like a fairy tale in the telling. “Now it came to pass, in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land . . . .” The Book of Ruth comes right after the Book of Judges, and that’s actually where the Lord started me. At the end of Judges there is a very un fairy tale like story, unless you think of Grimm’s Fairy Tales in some of the more gruesome parts. After chapter after chapter of needless killing and mayhem, the very end of Judges says this, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25) There was total mayhem, with everyone doing their own selfish thing, and then we come to Ruth.

When I looked up the name “Ruth,” I found a very interesting website that discusses the story of Ruth and the origins of the name in Hebrew. The link for that website is: http://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/Ruth.html#.Uczdqp7D8cA, and some of the things I read gave so much more meaning to a story I already love. The website tells us that “there is no such word in Hebrew as Ruth,” and it goes on to say that scholars have decided that it comes from a “rich root group,” and then the article goes on to describe what that root group is. The first one is from a verb to pasture, tend or graze – of course Jesus is our Shepherd, and Ruth is the grandmother of David, directly in the line of Jesus. And Ruth gleans in the field of Boaz, her kinsman redeemer, a type of grazing for humans. Because she finds favor with Boaz, and he is truly her kinsman redeemer, the story also echoes the redemption story of Christ with us.
The second part of the root group means “to be a friend of” or a female companion or a neighbor, but the description goes on to draw a parallel with the use of the same word in Leviticus 19:18 where we read the command of God to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” and also in Isaiah 34:15-16 where it is used to mean “mate”: “The owl will nest there and lay eggs, she will hatch them, and care for her young under the shadow of her wings; there also the falcons will gather, each with its mate. Look in the scroll of the Lord and read: None of these will be missing, not one will lack her mate. For it is His mouth that has given the order, and His Spirit will gather them together.”
I had to take a pause there because the Lord is speaking something very deep to my heart. There is a promise that he has made to me that I have been waiting on, a promise about someone I love, and when He gave me Ruth this morning, He started speaking to my heart then, and now He is confirming it again. Thank you Father, thank you Lord. Thank you.

The third root means “purpose or aim,” and the reference is given to Psalm 139:2, “You alone know when I sit down and when I get up. You read my thoughts from far away,” and it also mentions that it is identical to the word meaning “friend.” There is another derivation of the word that means “longing,” and the reference is given to Ecclesiastes 1:14, “I have seen everything that is done under the sun. Look at it! It’s all pointless. (It’s like) trying to catch the wind.”
The book of Ruth, coming as it does right after all the murder and mayhem and pointless misery of the end of Judges, shows kindness in such depth between people that it brings light and hope into the world again. Ruth chooses to stay with her mother-in-law after her husband, her mother-in-law’s son, has died. They travel from the land of Moab where they have been living, and where Ruth was born, to go back to Bethelehem where Naomi came from. Ruth leaves everything behind her because she chooses to follow her mother-in-law Naomi, saying, “Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.” (Ruth 1:16) Ruth chooses to stay with Naomi, though Naomi has nothing left to offer her. In fact, Naomi says of herself, “Do not call me Naomi (meaning pleasant), call me Mara (which means bitter), for the Lord Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full and the Lord has brought me home again empty.” (Ruth 1:20-21)

The first thing that Ruth does when they are in Bethlehem is offer to go out gleaning to get some food for them of some kind. She happens to end up in a field owned by Boaz, who is a relative of Naomi’s, though Ruth does not know that. Boaz looks kindly on her and not only allows her to glean in his field, but he also protects her by ordering the men not to harm her or touch her in any way. He also tells them to leave extra behind so that her gleaning is an abundant one. His kindness is simply kindness. He has no other motive. She has found favor in his eyes because he has heard how kind she was to Naomi. He says to Ruth, “It has been fully reported to me all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your  mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know before. The Lord repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.”
When I read that passage on the train, I heard the Lord speaking to my heart. My family is not born again, they are not even religious at all in any way. In a way, when I was born again, I made a choice to leave them. Although I am still a part of the family and I stay in touch with them, the way we see life is so vastly different. When I was born again, I was sent to a people I did not know – people who follow a God that my family never told me about. When I read that passage I felt that the Lord was telling me that He knows how difficult it has been for me to walk this walk with Him, and He is telling me that He will not let me down because I have come under His wings for refuge.

And this message is not just for me. That is the beauty of the Holy Spirit and how the Lord will speak to many through one passage. Whoever is reading this post, this message is for you too. That is how the Holy Spirit works. You need to know that the Lord has seen your struggle, and He has also seen what you have done for others. He has seen the tragedy and loss in your life, and He knows the longing in your heart. Job says in chapter 19 verse 25, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand on the earth.” Your Redeemer lives, He lives, He lives.
Blessings,

Jannie Susan

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Adventures With Jesus

I went to work with a group at a women’s shelter yesterday, one that I’ve worked with before and where I am always blessed to work. The women are coming from backgrounds that are very difficult, and though the health and wellness coordinator is terrific, he can’t be there all the time because he has several other sites he works with. They appreciate the workshops so much, and they know so much and have so much to share. They’re really wonderful women, and it’s a great joy for me to work with them.

It continues to amaze me how the Holy Spirit works through us. When I work in a site like that, I can’t preach or talk about my faith. I work for an organization that is not a Christian organization or faith based in any way, though we do work within the faith community all the time. When I am working in a church, I can be my Christian self, but when I am in a non-faith based organization, I have to be non-faith based. It’s not hard for me to do – I worked in corporations and the professional non-faith based world for many years before I was born again and I know what those environments are like and I’m comfortable there even now that I am so very much different in my own faith beliefs. But the thing that never ceases to amaze me is that the Holy Spirit is with us wherever we go, and His power works through us to let others know that we are authentic and genuine and that we really care about them, even when we're not talking about God at all.
The other day I was working at a health fair in the Bronx, and the Minister of Health at the church I was working with sent me a thank you note afterward, saying how evident it was how much I cared about the people I worked with and how much of myself I put into my work. All I can do when people say things like that is to say, “Praise God,” and thank Him for His work through me because I know that on my own I can do nothing. I don’t say that because that’s what we’re supposed to say as Christians, I say that because it’s true. God gives His gifts to us without repentence (Romans 11:29), but it is the work of the Holy Spirit within us that brings those gifts to another level. On the day of that health fair it was hot and I was tired – it had been a long week and I was working on a Saturday. Because of the day of the week, the subway ride took about two hours, and it takes me an hour to get into the city from where I live. I kept thinking that I could have been in Massachusetts by now as I stood on the subway platform and waited for another train. But something happens when we “let go and let God” – that is a phrase that people use so often to express the need to release attachment to an outcome in a situation, but when it came to me just now it seems to mean much more than that. To me right now, it is about knowing the goodness of God, of trusting in Him completely, so that when we’re standing on a platform in the Bronx, waiting for yet another train, we can be at peace and know that what we are doing is something that pleases Him, because we are doing it with as much of ourselves and our strength as we can.

God doesn’t ask us to be perfect – He knows we’re not and He doesn’t expect us to be. He also doesn’t condemn or accuse us for making mistakes or for not being perfect or for anything else that we may be accused or condemned of by people around us. It is the devil that is the “accuser of the brethren” (Revelation 12:10), and though some people may think they have the right to tell you that you’re doing something wrong or that they’re “ashamed of you,” or “disappointed in you,” or any of the other many devastating things that people say when they think they have the right to say them, we always have to remember that God is never ashamed of or disappointed in us. He may want us to change something we’re doing, or to do something in a new way, but He will never come to us with a word to bring us shame or to make us feel condemned or accused. The Holy Spirit will always help us to know what is right to do, what is the right way to go, what it is that would please God. I have to admit that there have been times that I’ve messed up, but it wasn’t because I was listening to God, it was because I wasn’t – I was listening to people instead.
I was talking to a man the other day, a strong Christian who it was a joy to meet and spend time with in the Lord. He was sharing with me his story of how he came to work in ministry after being a professional man with a high paying job for many years. When he heard the call of God on his life, he said that a Christian friend of his tried to discourage him, but then he asked someone else, someone who seemed as far away from God as anyone could be, and that person told him to do what he felt was the right thing to do. After he shared his story, I told him that I had come to understand that I can’t go to anyone for advice any more, and he finished my sentence and said, “We can only go to God.” It is hard sometimes because people are meant to be sociable, and it feels good to share our questions and troubles and challenges, our joys and our successes and blessings, but if we are not careful, a chance word from someone who we think we can trust could cast doubt into what we know we have heard from God. Even something as simple as saying, “Wow, that must be really stressful for you,” can make us feel like we ought to feel stressed when God has said that we should be at peace. Or the person who keeps asking you about a promise from God that you shared that has not come to pass yet. I had a situation like that over the winter, and I finally said, “I’ll tell you when there’s anything to report.” This person was calling me and calling me and asking about updates – it was infuriating. Because every time they asked me and I had to say there was nothing new, a little piece of my hope was chipped away.

My family is a family that always kept secrets. Sometimes that was because they were hiding some things they didn’t want to share with anyone because “you don’t talk about your business with the neighbors,” but sometimes it was good stuff, things about our heritage, things about people’s businesses and lives that are things to be proud of. I’m starting to understand that there is value in keeping secrets – as long as God knows what’s on your heart and you share it with Him openly, everyone else can find out when they hear it in the news.
I went to a sale in a private house on Saturday. The woman who was holding it has a business in my area that she buys and sells antiques and vintage clothing and furniture and other things from people’s homes. I bought some wonderful books from her that day, several Modern Library classics, something that I always look for when I see books for sale. I’m one of those people who still loves to read books – not on a Kindle or any other tablet, but real books, and I really love them when they’re old. I learned about the Modern Library editions from my mother, but what I had forgotten until I opened them up when I got them home, is that my great uncle Howard was the book binder for them. His name was right on the fly leaf, along with the publishers. It was something I knew but had forgotten. I never knew him, but I’ve heard the stories about that side of my father’s family, and I’ve seen photographs with images of very glamorous looking people doing very glamorous things. They were Jewish, but I don’t think they were practicing, at least I never heard that they were. But maybe that was another secret, and it very well could be because at the time when they were alive it was during the first and second world wars, and it wasn’t popular to be Jewish then. My father’s father married an Irish Catholic woman, a real beauty when you see her photographs when she was young. It wasn’t popular to be Catholic then either, and Irish Catholics were considered to be low class. So they pretended to be Episcopalian in their posh Westchester town and in their summer home on Long Island, and my own parents kept their secret from us until one of my brothers found out somehow and the cat was out of the bag.

I didn’t know what to think at the time when my brother told me about it – we hadn’t been brought up with any religion at all in my house, so I didn’t know what it meant. Over the years people had asked me if I was Jewish and had told me that my name was and that I looked like I was, but I didn’t know what that meant either. But then after I was born again, I was so glad. Somewhere back in the very distant past, someone in my family walked through the wilderness with the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud and the glory of the Lord all around them. (Numbers 9:17-23)
When I started to look up the Holy Spirit as I wrote this, I found a commentary on http://christianbookshelf.org by R. A. Torrey titled, “The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit.” He used that passage from Numbers to describe how God will lead us, often one step at a time, to the place where He wants us to go. In the article, he talks about the importance of listening, and of allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to us in the way that He wishes to guide us. Sometimes we want to hear only what we want to hear, in the way we want to hear it, at the time that we want it. But “God’s word is not chained.” (2 Timothy 2:9)  When we allow the Holy Spirit to move freely, we can experience a freedom and a joy and a sense of adventure that at times can seem like a movie.

There was something in R.A. Torrey’s article at the very end that to me was simply beautiful, “The Holy Spirit is willing and eagerly desirous of doing for each one of us His whole work, and He will do in each one of us all that we will let Him do.” I love to read and I love stories, and I wanted to be an actress for years, but the greatest story I’ve ever been part of is the ongoing eternal one that the King of Kings wrote before time began. When I let Him do the writing and directing and I follow His lead, it becomes something bigger and more wonderful than I could ever have thought of. I call it Adventures With Jesus, and it’s the greatest adventure I’ve ever known.
Blessings,

Jannie Susan

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Front Line

I was on my way downtown from the Bronx yesterday and as I walked down the stairs into the subway, a man who was walking up the stairs said, “Hello Luscious!” I don’t know why it hit me so funny but it did. I think it's partly because I wasn’t feeling very luscious to begin with - I’d been teaching a workshop on health and wellness at a harm reduction center, and if you know what that is, you’d know why. If you don’t know what that is, you can look it up – Ask.com has a pretty good list of definitions – but even so you probably won’t get the full picture of what it is until you’ve been there. Basically it’s a method of trying to reduce the possible harm caused by drug users – to themselves and to others – through sharing needles and not taking medications they may need for things they already have. The centers provide clean needles and condoms and medication through pharmacies, but the centers also have classes to help people make healthier choices in their lives in spite of – or along with – their possible ongoing drug use. People from all walks of life go there – drugs don’t discriminate and neither do AIDs and HIV and Hepatitis C.

I’m what’s called a front line educator – I go out into the community all over the five boroughs of NYC teaching health and wellness and nutrition education to people of all ages and backgrounds. When they call us front line, they’re not talking about a chorus line – they’re talking about a battle field. And the calling and the anointing that the Lord has put over my life is to work in the toughest areas with the most difficult to reach people. It wasn’t my choice – and I still argue with him all the time about it – I was arguing on the way home yesterday. But because it was His choice, He’s given me the ability, white girl from the suburbs of Massachusetts that I am, to go into a harm reduction center in the Bronx and be received with love by the people there.
It’s a strange thing when the Lord gives His anointing, because the people you are anointed to work with will accept you with open arms while the people who should be supporting you at your office or in your church or your family or friends or wherever you would usually go for support are usually not. Those people will sometimes seem like they’re doing everything in their power to keep you from doing what the Lord has called and anointed you to do. Strangely enough the battle isn’t on the front lines, it’s behind the scenes. It’s when you go back to your office and check your emails and there’s too much to do and no one seems to understand that it’s not humanly possible and there are even more demands for things for you to do, or you talk to a friend and they tell you that you should just leave that job because they don’t pay you enough and they don’t appreciate all the hard work you’re doing. It’s when you get home and you’re exhausted and the promises of God don’t seem real to you any more. When even though things are so much better than they were before you were born again, you don’t see it that way because there’s so much more that you want.

Joyce Meyer is a writer whose work I admire so much. She wrote a book called Battlefield of the Mind that the Pastors of my first church gave to me as a gift and that I gave to a friend last year because it had meant so much to me. There is so much to her writing that helps us in our Christian walk, and that can help us even if we are not born again to understand how to unlock the mysteries of faith and scripture and bring them in a very real way into our lives. The basic premise of Battlefield of the Mind is that the real battle is fought in our minds. Ephesians 6:12 tells us, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” That is from the New International Version, but some translations use the words wrestle or fight or battle, and the Weymouth New Testament describes it in even more powerful terms, “For ours is not a conflict with mere flesh and blood, but with the despotisms, the empires, the forces that control and govern this dark world – the spiritual hosts of evil arrayed against us in the heavenly warfare.” If we know that the battle is against dark spiritual forces, and we know that Jesus already won the battle when He went to the Cross out of His great love for us and that He died and rose on the third day, overcoming sin and death, then there is no reason to think anything else except that the battle is already won. Except for the fact that the enemy we face is not a weak or stupid one, the enemy knows our weaknesses and is very intelligent, and knows how to make an unseen and already won battle seem like it’s very physically real and very much lost.
When I was on my way home last night, I was just telling the Lord that I’d had it. I was exhausted, it’s been in the 90’s the past few days and seems even hotter when you’re in places like the Bronx. I carry all kinds of supplies with me when I teach and my bags are very heavy and bulky, and even though the people I work with at the sites appreciate me so much, there’s so little in any other part of my life that is giving me any support. It’s been like this from the beginning of my being born again. Some people talk about having a kind of honeymoon period with the Lord right after they are saved, a time of peace and tranquility before all hell starts breaking loose. But I haven’t had that time except for small patches here and there. I have to admit that last year was a good one for many months at a stretch, but then when hell broke loose again it came with a vengeance and on days like yesterday I really want to say I’ve had it.

I use different references when I want to look up texts, and one of them is www.biblehub.com. When you look up a scripture in a search engine, it will come up in biblehub.com with many different translation versions and with commentaries at the end. When I looked up “we are not at war against flesh and blood,” and found the scripture on biblehub.com, I read the commentary by Matthew Henry at the bottom of the page. There are always great commentaries there, and this one had something really important for me to read in it – they always do, and this was what I needed to hear right now – “If we distrust either our cause, or our Leader, or our armour, we give him (satan or the enemy) advantage.” I have added the parentheses because Matthew Henry is talking about a battle against satan, but sometimes I prefer to just call him the enemy. When Matthew Henry writes about armor, he is referring to Ephesians 6:10-18, the text around verse 12, where the full armor of God is listed, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” Then we have verse 12, and then this, “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and having done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert, and always keep on praying for all of the Lord’s people.”
I’ve heard sermons on that passage and a Pastor friend once gave me a ring that had been his that has the full armor of God etched on it. But every time I read it or hear it preached or read about it, no matter how familiar it is, there is always something new to be learned and something more to help strengthen me. In Matthew Henry’s commentary, there were many things that I needed to hear and be reminded of.  I have put one above, and here is another, “A good hope of salvation, a Scriptural expectation of victory, will purify the soul, and keep it from being defiled by satan. To the Christian armed for defense in battle, the apostle recommends only one weapon of attack; but it is enough, the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. It subdues and mortifies evil desire and blasphemous thoughts as they rise within, and answers unbelief and error as they assault from without. A single text, well understood, and rightly applied, at once destroys a temptation or an objection, and subdues the most formidable adversary.” I think what Matthew Henry wrote is right on, but I would add something even simpler – if you know your Bible through and through, when those thoughts rise up, when the battle is raging, when doubt and fear and exhaustion, and just plain wanting to give up and give in set in, God will speak to you through His word by the Spirit that lives in you, and will give you that word that you need to get enough strength to not only keep on going, but to walk in victory even as the battle rages all around you.

At the end of Matthew Henry’s commentary, he says something that gave me another little ouch moment – but a good one, and one that was very much needed. When he writes about the importance of praying, he adds this, “We must preserve in particular requests, notwithstanding discouragements. We must pray, not for ourselves only, but for all saints. Our enemies are mighty and we are without strength, but our Redeemer is almighty, and in the power of His might, we may overcome. Wherefore we must stir up ourselves. Have not we, when God has called, often neglected to answer? Let us think upon these things, and continue our prayers with patience.”
I know full well that there have been many times that God has called that I have not only neglected to answer but I have refused. If He has been so patient with me, and I know that He has been, then the least I can do is be patient with Him because now that I know Him I know that His timing is perfect. There was an old joke we used to make back in the day, when we’d say, “I’m not looking for Mr. Right, I’m looking for Mr. Right Now.” It’s a very childish thing to want something right now instead of being able to wait. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.” As we grow in the Lord and He brings us to new levels of faith, we can know at each step that whatever He is doing is good, and that if we can continue walking as we trust in His goodness, we will receive all that we need all along the way. The battles we face have already been won, and all we need to do is just keep right on walking into the answer to our prayers that He has prepared for us.

Blessings,
Jannie Susan

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Peace

I had the opportunity to do something nice for someone yesterday who has been causing me a lot of grief. I have to be honest and say I didn’t want to do it, but if I’m really going to walk my talk, I had to. The interesting thing to me is that it was easy to do once I’d set my mind to do it. I had a momentary wrestle with God, and then it was done with. Afterward I told Him, “You know I didn’t want to do that,” because I know there’s no need to lie to Him. He knows what goes on in our hearts and in our minds, so there’s no point in trying to pretend.

Jesus tells us to bless those who curse us, and though He’d probably like it much more if I could have done it with a heart full of love, He also knows what this person has been doing to me. I’m not going to go into details because we all have our own stories, and yours may even be worse than mine. Let’s just say that it was someone I trusted who completely betrayed that trust and has been treating me so badly and has caused so much trouble in my life that it seems as if they’re trying to destroy me. And all because they are trying to put themselves in a position of security and power. And it’s a person who says they’re a Christian too. It has taken all of the strength that the Lord can give me to not tell them off.
When Jesus tells us to bless when we’re cursed, He’s not saying that we should be a doormat. But what He is saying is that we need to know Him and know and trust His word enough so that we can just keep living our lives in peace and love and joy no matter what comes our way. If I allow this person to get to me, they’ve stolen my joy. If I allow them to make me lose my temper and tell them off, I’ve lost love and peace.

In John 14:27, Jesus says to His disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” That’s the New International Version, and the New Living Translation adds something nice too, “I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” The NET Bible and God’s Word Translation do something very interesting with the end of the verse. “Do not let your hearts be distressed or lacking in courage,” and “So don’t be troubled or cowardly.”
I had never seen a translation of that verse that used the words courage and cowardly before I looked it up just now as I wrote this. We so often think of courage as something that attacks other people, or at least defends your own ground. But Jesus is talking about something much more powerful here. He is talking about the courage to do the right thing that comes from knowing that He’s got your back. It doesn’t matter if someone else is trying to stab you. As long as you trust in Him and His way, “He will bring forth your righteousness as a light and your justice as the noon day.” (Psalm 37:6)

Psalm 37 is an an amazing Psalm. They all are when they’re the word that you need. But the Lord has given me Psalm 37 for myself and for other people I know many times. “Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord. Trust in Him and He will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret, it leads only to evil. For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.” (Psalm 37:1-9)
In verse 11, there is a promise of peace – His peace once again – and then in verses 14-15, we read this, “The wicked draw the sword and bend the bow to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are upright. But their swords will pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken.” It’s amazing to me how God works, how He speaks to us and through us. As I was writing this, just before I looked up “righteousness as the noonday,” I was thinking about a verse that had to do with weapons being turned back against the person who was using them. I looked up “their weapons will be turned against them,” and couldn’t find it, and then the phrase, “righteousness as the noonday,” came into my mind and when I looked it up, there was the other verse, right in the middle of the same Psalm. One of the ways that God reveals Himself is as Jehovah Nissi, the Lord Our Banner (Exodus 17:8-16). When I saw that verse, I saw Him waving His banner.

We can have His peace – He has already given it to us. All we need to do is accept it. His promise to us is that when we trust in Him, He will fight our battles for us. The courage He is talking about is the courage to stand on His word, to not fold when fear starts to rise. When He talks about the righteous, He’s not talking about people who are perfect. Romans 3:23 tells us, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But verse 22 tells us, “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Faith and trust lead to hope, peace, joy and love. It is the absence of faith that bring fear, but “perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18).
So here we are back to courage again, the courage to have faith, to do things God’s way and not buckle under pressure. It is very interesting to me the way that the Lord is speaking to me now about all of this, because I am seeing so clearly that the person who has been treating me so badly is simply caught up in fear. The reason for all the things that are being done to me are based in a lack of faith. It doesn’t make the behavior right – in fact it makes it evil. When we act out of fear and not out of love, we are very easily led to do things to harm other people because we think we need to harm them in order to protect ourselves.

But God tells us something completely different. He tells us to bless others, no matter what they are doing to us and no matter what is going on around us. He tells us to trust in Him and to do good, and His promise to us is no small promise. He promises to give us the desires of our heart. He promises that our righteous reward will shine as a light and our justice as the noon day. He doesn’t say it’s all right if people are hurting us, but He does say to let Him fight the battle and to wait patiently in the place of His peace.
Blessings,

Jannie Susan

Monday, June 24, 2013

Freedom

I had a dream on Saturday night that I didn’t remember until I was walking around on Sunday. When I woke up I had a feeling that I’d had a dream about someone I know, but I couldn’t remember the dream at all and I wasn’t sure if I’d just been thinking about him. Later in the morning when I’d left my apartment I stopped off at the bank and a man came in after me. There was something about him that seemed a bit off as if he’d been partying the night before, and then the dream came back to me.

I used to be a big party girl. Let me go back a bit and say that when I was young and all the way through high school I’d been a real geek. I had a brother ten years older who partied a lot and another one 15 years older who had gone to college in the 60’s so he had his own stories to tell. But I was a geek who loved school and I ran track, indoor and outdoor and cross country, and I loved the out of doors and reading. The only time I had an alcoholic drink at all was on Christmas Eve when my mother would let us taste a small sip of port or sherry, and on New Year’s Eve when we could have a sip of champagne. Other than that, the first real drink I had was at a college party I went to when I was a junior in high school, and I got so sick I never wanted to drink again. But eventually I did drink again, and when I went to college I decided I’d remake myself into the cool party girl I’d always envied. I didn’t want to be a geek any more, and the first cool girls I found I made friends with and pretended I’d done everything they were doing and they were doing a lot.
In my dream on Saturday night I was with a group of people I didn’t know very well. In some strange way the way that dreams can be I was not just myself, I was a friend of mine too, a man I know and care about a lot who has a past very similar to mine. His drug of choice back in the day was cocaine, something that never really stuck with me, but that was the drug in my dream. The group of people I was with in the dream were people I was trying to impress with how cool I was. I had a big pile of cocaine that they’d given to me. I hadn’t bought it, they had just given it to me. I think they were dealers. They were people I genuinely liked – I’ve had friends over the years who were dealers who I have really genuinely liked. Drug users and drug dealers can be very nice people, but the drugs not only can kill you but they also cause all kinds of problems in your life and that’s why God doesn’t want us doing drugs. He loves drug users and drug dealers as much as He loves everyone else, and He wants them to be healed of their need to do drugs so they can live their lives in the fullness and abundance that He has for them.

In my dream, I was who I am now, meaning I was born again and hadn’t done any partying in years, and here I was with this group of nice drug dealers and partiers, and I wanted to impress them with how cool I was. That’s why I know I was my friend too, because it hasn’t been as long for him. I was both who I am now and who he is and who I was before. At some point I started to think that maybe I’d just have to start doing some lines because I didn’t want these people to think I wasn’t cool. I had such a huge pile of my own and I didn’t know how to get rid of it without it being obvious that I was throwing it away.
Finally it occurred to me that I could break it up into lines and then pretend to snort it while throwing it away on the sly. Everyone else was so messed up anyway they wouldn’t notice – they had their own piles to do. So that’s what I started to do, and then all of a sudden it occurred to me that I didn’t have to pretend at all. It came to me all of a sudden like that –  I could just tell these people that I didn’t do drugs and I could still be friendly with them. If they didn’t like me because I wouldn’t party with them, then that was their problem. I got up in front of the group and took the big pile and started to brush it off into a sink, running the water to wash it down the drain. They asked me what I was doing, and I told them I was born again, and that I didn’t need drugs to have a good time. I could hang out with them, but I wasn’t going to join them, and if they wanted to they could join me. They were shocked, but they didn’t stop me, they didn’t even argue. And then the dream ended and I woke up.
Cocaine is one of the most highly addictive drugs there is. And it destroys people’s lives every day. People think they can control it and just do it once in a while, but it affects every aspect of your life. It makes relationships impossible and your life becomes a lie. You’re hiding behind the drug all the time even when you’re not doing it. I was very lucky that it was never something I enjoyed, but I had my own addictions. I thought I was functioning too, but I wasn’t really. People get into addictions for all kinds of reasons. Abuse from childhood, lack of love in their lives, a sense of not being cool enough or smart enough or of wanting to be liked and to fit in. One Pastor I know had a perfectly normal and seemingly happy life, and then a friend gave him some heroin to try and he said it was the greatest high he had ever known. He thought he could do it just once in a while "for fun" but it started doing him and it wasn't fun at all. This was before he was a Pastor, and he lost everything because of his addiction, but then was completely restored through the power and grace and love of God. We laugh now that the greatest high we've both ever had was knowing the love and power of God in our lives. And it's true. There are times when you're walking in the Spirit and the power of God is working through you that you can feel like you're flying. At other times it's a more peaceful joy, a feeling of purpose and direction and fulfillment that only God can bring.

There is only one way that I know of for sure that anyone can be healed of an addiction and that is through the power of Jesus Christ. It is only through the miracle of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives that we can change any behavior that is negative. Cigarettes and alcohol and drugs are things that we think of as addictions that are bad, but what about anger? What about gossiping? What about negativity? What about cutting people down? Those things are all addictive behaviors. We don’t call them that, and sometimes the very people who are doing those things are calling the drug addicts bad names. I’d rather spend time with some of the drug users I know than with people who cut people down and gossip. But more than anything else I’d rather tell them who I am in Christ and what He’s done for me so they can know the freedom I have.
Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery.” And James 4:7 tells us, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you.” In my dream, all I had to do was stand firm and draw near to God, and the power of the enemy was completely broken in my life. I had started acting in ways that were not part of who I was all those years ago because I wanted to be liked by the girls I thought were cool, and I wanted to be as cool as I thought they were. But that was not the person that I am – it was not the person that God made me to be. I did a good job of pretending for a lot of years, but I’m really just a geek at heart who loves God and now I’m not afraid to tell people.

The idea of submission to God is something that people sometimes have trouble with. Even in that chapter of James, it can sound pretty harsh. He talks about grieving, mourning and wailing and changing your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. (James 4:9)  But that is exactly what happened to me naturally when I accepted Jesus into my life. I spent the first year that I was born again weeping at the altar of the first church I went to. I thank God for that church because they let anyone who wanted to lie face down at the altar and I did every Sunday and sometimes on Tuesday and Thursday nights too. It was not something that I had to be forced to do. When I understood the way I had wasted my life and when I realized the sacrifice of love that Christ had made for someone like me, all I wanted to do was grieve and mourn. There were joyful times too – God promises to turn our mourning into dancing and our sorrow into joy (Psalm 30:11). But first we have to go through the process of recognizing our sin and asking His forgiveness. That is the submission part, and it’s not hard because He makes it easy. The whole time I was weeping I had the feeling of His arms around me and of His healing grace removing the heavy yoke of bondage that I had been carrying so long.
I’m looking forward to hearing from my friend that he has gotten to a place in his life where he can do what happened in my dream. He is in my prayers always, that he would have that freedom, and if there is anyone reading this who is in a place where they want to break free of, know that you can have that freedom in Christ and that He will not judge you when you come to Him to ask for His help. You will need to submit to His will for your life, but His will is a beautiful one. It’s one that will bring you peace, joy and love, and one that will give you the power you’ve always wished for, the power to be yourself and to be happy with who you are.

Blessings,
Jannie Susan

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Transformation

I’ve been having an email conversation with a friend of mine over the past few days, and the Lord has really been speaking to me in new ways about hypocrisy. My friend mentioned the story where "a sinful woman" pours expensive oil on Jesus’ feet and people think it's a waste of money. I had written about that story in my post “Volver a Empezar,” but I don't think my friend had read that post. It came up in our conversation because my friend was specifically noting that one of the messages of the Gospels is that this woman, though a sinner, is complimented by Jesus for being generous, and she was commenting on something that we’d been talking about, that there is someone in my life who has been judging me harshly and falsely, perhaps based on my old life. My friend was saying that if Jesus could hold this woman up as an example of generosity in spite of her past, why then would anyone think they had the right to judge me?

I love my friend because she will always be on my side. She’s fair and honest, but she’s loyal too, so if I tell her a story, she believes what I say. Her loyalty is not blind or na├»ve – she’s known me for a lot of years and she probably knows more about me than anyone does except for God, and I can’t think of anything that He knows that she doesn’t. But she knows that even with my faults and flaws and mistakes I’m not a dishonest person, and she doesn’t judge me for those faults and flaws and mistakes but accepts them as part of my being human.
In our conversation I’ve started to understand that it is a rare person who can look at another person who they know personal things about and detach from the act of judging. I know I do it myself – I sometimes work with people now who are drug addicts or former addicts, and because I know people from that world from my own life, I make assumptions sometimes about what they’re doing now that is based on what I know about their present or even their past life. If someone starts getting erratic or forgetful or has outbursts of anger, I sometimes assume that they’ve had a relapse or they’re still using. Sometimes that’s the case, but not always, and it’s doing a person a disservice to make the assumption based on what they have shared with me about themselves. If we talk about what’s going on and they share with me that they’ve relapsed, then we can talk about it, but to make that assumption is unfair to them and to the situation. There’s that old expression that we should never assume because you make a you know what out of u and me. Fill in the blank, please, because one thing that the Holy Spirit has changed in me is that I don’t curse any more – or very rarely anyway.

I’m not joking when I say that – I know Jesus is real because I’ve had a transformation experience in my life. There are things that I used to do that were second nature to me that now I can’t believe I ever did. There are some things that I used to do all the time that don’t come naturally to me now – I don’t know exactly how or when the change occurred, but it did without my noticing until one day I noticed that I just didn’t want to do them any more. And there are other things that do come naturally that I never would have done before. I saw a man with a walker trying to cross a busy street in midtown Manhattan the other day and the light was changing so I offered to help him. Even though he said he was fine, I stood in the way of the oncoming traffic until he got safely onto the sidewalk. Things like that I would never have done in the past – I would have thought, what an idiot he is to think he can make the light, as I lightly skipped on over on my own two strong legs. Now I’ll stand in the middle of oncoming traffic and offer my help in any way I can. That’s not normal behavior for me – it’s Holy Spirit behavior – and that’s why I know Jesus is real.
What I’ve been starting to understand through my conversations with my friend is that if people don’t have that transformation experience, it doesn’t matter how much they shout Hallelujah and raise holy hands in church. If they haven’t truly had a transformation, they don’t know that it’s possible. I was writing to my friend that it’s easy for people to fall in love with the idea of Jesus – who wouldn’t love the idea of a kind and loving shepherd who takes care of us and loves us in spite of all our faults and weaknesses  and mistakes? Who wouldn’t love the idea of a Savior who went to the Cross so we wouldn’t have to? It’s understandable that some faith beliefs think it’s blasphemous – sin needs to be paid for and we need to be accountable for our actions. Whoever heard of a God who said our sins were forgiven and we didn’t have to pay a price? But that’s exactly what Jesus says to us. But there is something more that He says to us too, and sometimes people are so excited about the first part that they don’t wait around and listen to the second.

The message of salvation through Jesus Christ is very simple. All we have to do is believe that He died for our sins and that He rose from the dead and that He is the son of God. But that sentence is packed with important points and sometimes people don’t get all of them. The fact that He died for our sins means that we have sin that was so bad that someone had to die for it – that not only did He have to die for it, but He had to go through a long horrible day of torture and humiliation because of it. And because He is the son of God, He could have stopped at any moment, but He chose not to. It wasn’t because of anything that we did that was so wonderful that He chose to do what He did, and it wasn’t because of anything that we are that gave Him the ability to die for our sins. He chose to do it because of His great love and mercy, and our sin was so bad that it was only His sacrifice that could atone for it.
In Jeremiah 30:12, we read, “This is what the  Lord says: “Your wound is incurable, your injury beyond healing.” In Lamentations 2:13, the prophet Jeremiah says, “What can I say for you? With what can I compare you, Daughter Jerusalem? To what can I liken you, that I may comfort you, Virgin Daughter Zion? Your wound is as deep as the sea. Who can heal you?” But in verse 17 of Jeremiah 30, we read this, “But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds, declares the Lord.” And then in Lamentations 3:21 after verse after verse of descriptions of suffering, Jeremiah says,  “Yet this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion, therefore I will wait for Him.’ The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him. It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

In the story about the woman who pours anointing oil on Jesus’ feet and washes them with her tears and dries them with her hair, the striking thing to me has always been that she knows that she has been a sinner and that she is forgiven. Jesus doesn’t judge her and tell her that she is a sinner and needs forgiveness, but everyone else in the room does judge her, and they don’t seem to understand that they are also sinners who need forgiveness. There is such tenderness in that image of the woman at His feet. In spite of what everyone around her is saying, she just keeps right on washing His feet because she knows that He is good to those who seek Him. She knows His great faithfulness. The other people in the room who are so busy judging her that they don't see their own need for forgiveness are missing out on all that He has to offer. When we understand our own sinfulness and our need for His healing, His love can know no bounds in our life.
When I looked up the verse from Jeremiah, I found a sermon from a man named Ben Edgington who lives in Woodley, near Reading, UK. The sermon is titled "God Cures The Incurable," and it was preached on February 8, 2009 at Woodley Baptist Church for the evening service. Here is what I read:

I loved reading his sermon, because it was a confirmation of the message that the Lord had given to me to write for today, but it was written in such a different way than I write and it added so much to what the Lord has been speaking to me.  He starts off with doctor jokes and he carries the metaphor of God as the physician throughout the sermon. He also ends with an encouragement to tell people about what God has done for you, something that I always do and that I’ve found can sometimes get me into trouble. In my conversation with my friend over the past few days, she suggested that it was my honesty about my past and the transformation that Christ has made in my life that has caused this other woman I know to start judging me and condemning me based on that past. I started to think that maybe I shouldn’t be so honest with people, and reading Ben Edgington’s sermon helped remind me that I have to be honest. I can’t walk around acting like I’ve always been the person I am now because I know that’s not true. It would be hypocritical and false and it would be a lie, and none of those things would honor the God who went to the Cross so that I could live my life in peace and love and joy.
There will always be people who look at us without the love of Jesus in their eyes. There will always be those who don’t understand that He has triumphed over sin in a way that can transform a life, in a way that makes all things new. In Ben Edgington’s sermon, he used two verses that speak directly about what is available to us by the power of the sacrifice Jesus made, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5) “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24). It doesn’t matter if there are people who think that people can’t change, because there’s a God who says that by the power of His blood we can.

Blessings,
Jannie Susan

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Bulldog

The other day on the subway I saw a couple who were tourists. The man was wearing a t-shirt that said, “The Bulldog, Amsterdam.” Because I lived a very different kind of life before I was born again, I know that the Bulldog is one of the most famous hash and pot smoking bars in the world. My brother went to Amsterdam in the 70’s or 80’s – it was so long ago I don’t remember now. But he told me all about it, and then when I went there in the 90’s, I thought I’d go there too, but I didn’t make it. I was staying with a friend who had gotten married – I was friendly with his wife too, but she had just had a baby and she had never been a partier at all. My friend had been a professional water polo player, and doesn't smoke anything of any kind, but he loved to drink beer, but we didn’t even have a chance to do that because his wife didn’t want to do much of anything. They lived in a lovely little town a train-ride away from Amsterdam, so I went in myself to wander around by myself. Not what I had planned, but hey, I was there, and I didn’t want to stay in their house all day. It was beautiful weather and I never mind doing things by myself if I have to. I was the youngest in my family, and my closest sibling is my sister who is six years older than I am. I spent most of my life in solitude, so it wasn’t anything new.

I didn’t make it to the Bulldog, but I found lots of other fun places, and I did make it to the Van Gogh Museum, another stop that my brother had made. I had been thinking when I saw the couple in the subway that you can’t judge people just by the t-shirts they wear. My brother was a rock musician and he dressed like one. He smoked everything like a chimney so he always smelled like an Amsterdam bar, and he had Fiorucci Girl stickers on his guitar cases and all kinds of rocker gear that he wore, including a diamond earring and a thick gold chain before men were wearing those as much as they do now. If you looked at his clothing you’d think he was a hood and a drug dealer, but he was really one of the sweetest men you could ever meet. Women used to fall over themselves he was so handsome – I fixed him up with a friend of mine for a date once and she said she almost fainted when he came to the door. He was always the perfect gentleman, too, and very gentle and kind and loving. You really can’t judge people by what you see on the outside.
My brother said that the Van Gogh Museum was the highlight of his visit to Amsterdam. He had gone there to party, but he was an artist too. He showed me a photo of The Flowering Almond branch, and I didn’t understand why he liked it so much. It was pretty, a beautiful turquoise color that our grandmother, Nana, always loved and that my brother and I love too, but I didn’t understand what hit him about it until I saw it for myself.

I saw it for myself first in 1986 or 1987, I don’t remember exactly when, but I have the poster from the Metropolitan Museum exhibit and those are the dates that are on it. Then I went to Amsterdam in May of 1996 – I have the ticket stub from the Van Gogh Museum to tell me that. So about ten years later I saw the image that my brother had seen exactly where he saw it, and maybe even roughly in the same state of mind that he’d been in when he saw it. He was a loner too for most of his life.
It’s the brush strokes I think that hit me the most – I don’t know what it was for my brother. For me it was the thick paint that looked like it had been carved out of the canvas with Van Gogh’s bare hands. The turquoise was so vibrant and the pink blossoms so striking. The darker colors of the bark were graphic – like an apocalyptic reckoning against a prophetic dream of a sky. The whole image was primal in a way that I’d never thought of a flowering tree before. It looked like the branches could talk.

In Jeremiah chapter one, the Lord calls Jeremiah to be a prophet. It’s a passage the Lord has given to me many times when I have been in situations where I needed to have the courage to speak the truth when in my weakness I was trying to brush things under the carpet. He’s also given it to me at times when I have spoken the truth and have suffered for it, when I have listened to His leading and said something, with His words of truth with love, but still the message has been rejected and has led me into a time of struggle. It’s at those times when I ask Him what I did wrong that He tells me that it was because I was doing the right thing I am suffering. He never promised us it would be easy, but He does promise us that He will be with us through it all.

The words of the Lord to Jeremiah are some of the most powerful words of encouragement we can read to help us stand for what is right: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.’ ‘Alas Sovereign Lord, ‘I said, ‘I do not know how to speak; I am too young.’ But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say ‘I am too young,’ You must go to everyone I send you to, and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you declares the Lord.’ Then the Lord reached out His hand and touched my mouth and said to me, ‘I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.’ The word of the Lord came to me, ‘What do you see, Jeremiah?’ ‘I see the branch of an almond tree,’ I replied. The Lord said to me, ‘You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.” (Jeremiah 1:4-12) Verses 17-19 continue, “Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified of them or I will terrify you before them. Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand before the whole land – against the Kings of Judah, its officials, its Priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.”

In the Message Translation, verses 12 and 19 are translated this way, “I’ll make every word I give you come true,” “They’ll fight you but they won’t even scratch you. I’ll back you up every inch of the way.” It is an amazing promise that God makes to Jeremiah – He is saying that if Jeremiah backs down, He’ll give him a reason to be afraid - he will not have the Lord's protection - but if Jeremiah does what the Lord is asking him to do, He’ll have a supernatural back-up so that he will not have any reason to fear. He will be so strong in the power of God that everything he says will come true.
After I saw the real painting of the flowering almond branch I looked at the poster I bought at the Met’s exhibit in a new way. But over time I forgot the visceral impact the painting had until I was facing it once again at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. When I was born again and I started to read my Bible, it took me a while to get to the Book of Jeremiah. A friend had suggested that I start in the New Testament at the Book of John, reading a chapter a day in the study Bible he’d given me, then when I finished that to go back to the beginning of the New Testament and read through it the same way, and then go to the beginning of the Old Testament and Genesis. I have no idea when it was that I first read about Jeremiah and the flowering almond branch, but I remember vividly the impact that call of the prophet had in my life, and I remember how vividly the image of the real painting came into my mind, not the poster image, but the real painting. “What do you see, Jeremiah?” Do you see a pretty poster to hang on your wall or do you see an apocalyptic vision against a prophetic dream of a sky?

While the couple in the subway were sitting down, a man next to them got up and dropped his MetroCard on the seat by accident. The man of the couple got up to give it to him before he walked out of the train. They were obviously on vacation together and obviously a couple, but I saw no wedding rings on their fingers. And there was that Bulldog t-shirt that told its own story if that’s what I was looking for. But the real story of who they were was in that gesture of making the extra effort to give that MetroCard back. Someone else might have taken it, or if they didn’t need it would have just left it there and ignored the fact that someone had dropped it. Even a church goer might not have bothered – he was almost out of the door, anyway, so it would be too much trouble to catch him. What do you see, Jeremiah?
From the time that I was born again, the Lord has been showing me that we live in a world where people judge each other all the time based on how we dress and where we go, whether we’re married or single or what our “relationship status” is. You see it all over, in questionnaires, in the social media, when you’re answering questions to get a discount club card at the supermarket. I’m going to say something that might shock some Christians I know, but I don’t think God cares as much whether that couple was married as he cares that they gave a man back his MetroCard. I think it’s more important to Him that they were aware of someone else’s need and were honest than that they might have gone to the Bulldog when they were in Amsterdam. Don’t get me wrong – God cares whether we get married, it’s in His word that He wants us to be married, and there are very important reasons why He wants that for us, reasons that have to do with our best good. He also doesn’t want us to be doing drugs because He wants the best for us in our mind and body and spiritual health. But as clean-living as I am these days and as much as I have come to believe in getting married, if I had judged that couple for doing things that I have done, the Lord would have frowned on me as He smiled on them. What do you see Jeremiah?

When we are called by God to walk in His ways, when He has redeemed us and given us a new life, we have an obligation to stand up for what is right, to be the light of God to the world. God’s promise to us when we do what He’s asked is not that it will be easy – He has never promised us that – but He promises that He will back us up every inch of the way, and that everything we say will happen if what we say is coming from Him. Jeremiah was called not just to tear down and destroy, but to build and to plant. We can help build up or we can tear down, we can plant or we can destroy. The most important thing for us is to make sure that we know who is speaking when we open our mouths. If it’s not coming from God, we won’t have the right words, and the image can become distorted. What do you see Jeremiah? What do you see? If you only see what you see, then look again and ask God to help you see with His eyes.
Blessings,

Jannie Susan

Friday, June 21, 2013

Just Because

Years ago when I lived in an apartment in SoHo, I had a very funny situation where I was a member of the Co-Op Board. I wasn’t an owner, I was renting my apartment, but they needed someone who lived in the building to interview buyers and renters, and none of the owners lived in the building. I’m not really sure why they asked me to be that person – I hadn’t lived in the building the longest, but I was friends with the owner who was the President of the Board, so maybe that had something to do with it. For some reason they thought I was a respectable person and a good judge of people, both things I definitely wasn’t and where I still waver on the edge. But for whatever reason they asked me, and I thought it might be a good thing to do, so I was in.

Mostly my duties consisted of going to Board meetings, which were very congenial and martini-laden affairs held in some of the chicest hotspots in SoHo which at that time was just beginning to be the trendiest place anyone could possibly live. It was a miracle when I found that apartment, a miracle that only God could do, even though I wasn’t even paying attention to Him then. I had left a relationship of five years, and the man I left had done everything in his power to make me homeless. By the grace of God who I didn’t even know enough to thank at the time I was able to stay in friends' apartments for two or three months. One couple let me stay in their gorgeous loft in Greenwich Village, a few streets away from where I’d been living. I stayed with them for a few weeks, and then they went on vacation and let me have the place to myself for a month. Then I stayed with another friend for a few weeks, and then another. Thank you Jesus for providing me with such good friends, and thank you friends for being the friends you are to the likes of me.
I found the apartment by a pure chance. I know now that it was the Holy Spirit talking to me, someone I didn’t even know existed at the time, but it could only have been Him. It’s amazing how God will talk to us in whatever way He can. I was walking by a building one day in the West Village, and I saw a sign for a psychic in a big picture window. It was a very lavish set-up they had, and at the time I thought, gee I could use that, but I didn’t have the money. But then I saw a small sign on the second floor, above where the sumptuous-looking psychic was, and the small sign said, “Village Brokers.” A voice said to go up and ask if they had any available apartments, and so I did. Amazing how God would use a psychic to catch my heathen eye, and lead me to a place where I wouldn’t have even noticed otherwise.

When I walked in, it was a very small and disheveled looking room, with papers everywhere. A very New York Broker type of woman asked me what I wanted, and I asked if they had any apartments available. She looked at me kind of funny, and then her face softened somehow – the favor of God I know now – and she said that they did have something in SoHo, a seventh floor walk-up studio for $750 a month. Anyone who knows anything about real estate in New York – heck anyone who knows anything about real estate anywhere – knows that’s an impossible amount of money for anyone to be asking. Even back then studios were going for twice that much in really awful parts of town. SoHo?! You couldn’t even find a room there for that much even back then. When I told a friend of mine about it after I applied for it, he said there was no way it was going to happen because it was just too good to be true. But it was real, and I was accepted, which was a miracle in itself because I didn’t have any money in the bank, I had lots of debt, and I was temping at a place that was a short term job. There is no way any of that could have happened without the grace and mercy and love of God.

And then I ended up on the Co-Op Board, going to monthly meetings at posh restaurants, living a life that was the envy of so many people. The place where I did my laundry was on Broome Street right near where the entrance to the Holland Tunnel is, so I always had people gawking at me as I carried my basket of clothes back and forth – look, there she goes, she lives here! Tour buses would go by – after I’d lived there about a year it really kicked in as THE place to go, and so many trendy restaurants and shops opened up that it was almost overwhelming. On some summer days I didn’t even like to leave the building because the tourist traffic was so heavy. I’d drop down onto the street and get as far away as fast as I could, but secretly I loved being able to unlock the front door in front of all the people ogling my building, and brush past them on my way out to wherever they thought I was going. I’ve always worn Vuarnet sunglasses, ever since a boyfriend let me borrow his in college, their big oversized black frames cover my light sensitive eyes even on days when it’s overcast but bright. But in those days only movie stars and models and people from exotic sun-filled places wore sunglasses like that, and though I was wearing them because my eyes are really light sensitive, no one needed to know why I was wearing them to think that I must be somebody, especially as I sauntered out of my SoHo apartment.
One day I got a call from the Co-Op Board President that a man wanted to buy an apartment. He’d been approved, and all they needed was my interview to let him move in. He called me and set up an appointment, and came by one afternoon. My apartment was really tiny, and so he offered to take me next door for a drink. In those days I’d drink any time anywhere with anyone that asked me to, so of course I said yes. We had martinis – I don’t know how many, at least two, maybe more – I always drank Beefeater straight up with olives. We laughed about it later, after we became friends – he had thought this was going to be a serious interview, and it was just a good time.

I always have a good time with that friend. He’s from Germany, and my background is German, and there is something so comforting about Germans to me. It makes me feel like I’m home wherever I am if they’re around. He didn’t move to New York, but he stayed in that apartment for a few days every few months for a few years. Every time he came for a visit he’d always take me out to a beautiful dinner, and he'd buy lobsters that we'd make together because that was a favorite of both of ours and I know a great place to buy them in Chinatown. He’s married now and has several children, and so I don’t see him much at all anymore. But those days still last in my memory long after so much of that time has faded because his heart is such a warm one. I went to visit him once in Germany, and it was such a beautiful time. It was the first time I’d ever been there, and it couldn’t have been more perfect. That was a word he used all the time, “Perfect.” We’d be doing something or eating something or something would be happening, and he’d say, “Everything is perfect.” There was one night when things got a little haywire in the building with someone who was living there, and even then, he still said, “Everything is perfect,” after things had calmed down. I wrote a short story about that night once, and the day we’d spent together before it, traveling out to Ikea to buy things for his new apartment. It was a crazy time in my life, but he was like a rock. Someone I could cling to while the world went crazy around me. Someone I could trust when there was no one else I could.
The year that I was first born again, when everything really had gone crazy in my life and I had nothing and no one to hold onto but God, I had a crisis with money that was completely unexpected. I had several jobs that had all dried up at the same time, and then someone who owed me money for a job I’d done didn’t pay me for it, and then her boyfriend who I was working for didn’t want to pay me either. They were buying a house together and they said they needed the money for that. But where did that leave me? When I looked at my bank account to try to figure out how much I could squeak out of it, I noticed that somehow or other I’d made a mistake of several hundred dollars in my math so there was nothing that I could squeak out of anywhere. My credit card bills were sky high and I couldn’t take any more cash advances – I didn’t know what to do. In desperation I called my friend in Germany, and he lent me a thousand dollars, money he knew I probably could not pay him back. I did eventually, but it took a few years, and he was patient that whole time.

There are things that happen in our lives that are not mere coincidence or luck or chance. There are people we meet who do things for us that go beyond the ordinary. There are blessings that come into our lives through people we know and people who become friends in ways that we can never forget. My friend in Germany doesn’t really know what I mean when I say I am born again. I’ve tried to explain it to him, but it’s not part of his experience and understanding. But that doesn’t matter. There are plenty of people who talk about God and being born again with all kinds of supposed experience behind it, but do they lend a desperate person a thousand dollars just because they’re desperate? There was nothing good I needed that money for except to keep on living my life. It wasn’t like I was going to give him any return on it. It was an investment in me – in helping me to keep going, but who ever sees the worth in something like that?
Proverbs 19:17 tells us, “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will reward them for what they have done.” In Luke 6:38 Jesus says, “Give and you will receive, your gift will return to you in full - pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.” My friend didn’t just give me money when he lent me money. He gave me his hand, stretched across the Atlantic Ocean, letting me know at a time when I didn’t have anyone in the world I could count on, that I could count on him. He wasn't thinking about the blessing he'd receive in return when he did it, he did it just because I needed it.

There are times in our lives when, even if we know the Lord, we still feel the need for a hand to hold. God tells us that we should not fear because He holds us by the hand (Isaiah 41:10), but there are times when it’s hard to feel His hand even when we know it’s there. It’s at those times when He sends someone to help us, someone who may not even know they are doing His work, someone who just feels a tug in their heart and says yes when they could easily say no. It’s at those times when we can see God a little more clearly, because we’re looking at Him in a face we know.
Blessings,

Jannie Susan