All is Well

IMG_4994-0.JPGAs we drove to look at Christmas lights an old familiar song, All is Well by Michael W. Smith, came on the radio. It’s familiar, because I heard Brendan practice it over and over as he prepared for his solo, where he was to sing it in the children’s production at our church when he was in the second grade. As my mind wandered back to that memory I realized it took place seven years ago. At the time, he was a tow-headed little blond boy with an angelic boys choir voice — a far cry from the nearly six-foot tall manly voiced high school freshman he is now. As treasured a moment as that was for our family that Christmas season, his solo hit a special note in many hearts far beyond our own.

It was a year that stands out to us – one of those defining years you just know you will always look back on and remember. It was the year David and I saw one of our heroes fight for his life and then go to be with Jesus. He relocated to Heaven just days before we saw our son sing All is Well.

Our heart’s ached for the loss of a man who loved people more like Jesus than anyone we’d ever met before in our lives. Truth be told, I’m not sure we’ve seen anyone who loves like him since. Wherever he was, people flocked to him and felt loved by him. His life touched many lives. It touched ours. He is the man who invited us into to ministry at Shoreline, introducing us to what is now our greatest passion. We are so thankful. And for all the lives he impacted, we knew we were special. It was an honor for us to be so loved by Melvin Lee.

When he passed away, our lives felt the shock of it. As we helped prepare a warm arrival for his family from out-of-town at the hotel where they were staying, we got a call from my mother-in-law, who was at our home watching our kids. She called to tell us Brendan had fallen out of the neighbor’s window while playing, and his arm appeared to be broken. We took him to Dell children’s hospital to find out it was the worst break in that location of the elbow they’d seen in years. He needed surgery. Pins were put in. The doctors cautioned us about watching his growth plate to make sure it continued to grow correctly, and we stayed in the hospital for days so the doctors could keep an eye on him. We had family stay at the hospital with Brendan while we went to the funeral. A friend picked me up to take me to the service, as David had to go early to be a pallbearer. I felt numb. The shock of my son’s injury – the shock of a dear friend passing – it all felt like so much. Too much.

We weren’t even sure our son would be able to perform the solo he’d practiced so hard for months to sing. Everything was up in the air while we waited to hear when he’d be released. When we heard the news he’d get out the day of the first performance we knew a decision had to be made. Would we take him still slightly groggy from his meds, or would we let a stand in take the place he so treasured? My husband, Brendan and I decided – he would sing.

We left the hospital and went straight to rehearsal before the show. We prayed he’d be med free enough to sing with energy and joy. And our sweet boy got up there on stage and he brought tears to women and grown men alike as they listened to him belt out:

All is well, all is well

Angels and men rejoice

For tonight darkness fell

Into the dawn of love’s light…

All is well, all is well

Lift up your voice and sing

Born is now Emmanuel

Born is our Lord and Savior

Sing Alleluia, sing Alleluia, all is well

It brings me to tears even now as I remember my brave boy telling all within ear shot that though he had fallen out a window just a few days prior; though he’d just had surgery and a casted arm up to his shoulder; though someone our family loved was no longer with us….

ALL IS WELL.

I don’t know what your year has been like. I don’t know what you are walking through this Christmas season. I do know that same message my sweet son belted out to all within ear shot all those years ago is still true today. All is well, for ‘to us a child is born, to us a son is given… And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace(Isaiah 9:6).’ All is well because love came down to heal us, restore us, and make everything that’s gone wrong in our world right again.

Let’s pray: Father God thank you for loving us. Thank you for sending your son into this world to display your love to us until his very last breath. Thank you for the peace and calm you speak to our hearts even in the most trying of seasons. And thank you for the ways you remind us of your presence with us always. You are God with us. We praise you. In Jesus name, amen

Click Here to Watch Michael W. Smith sing All is Well

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The Greatest Gift (As Published on www.pastorlaura.com)

greatestI keep a Christmas wish list on my phone. I start it months before Christmas. Each time someone in my family says they want something — I pull out my phone, open my notes, and type it in. I keep track so when I’m out shopping I can look at the list and remember. With four kids and others to shop for beyond my immediate family, there’s no way I’d recall every heart’s desire without my list!

Yet with all my planning ahead attempts to track my family’s requests, it’s rare I get much, if any Christmas shopping done before Thanksgiving. As that beloved day comes to a close, I begin switching gears to thoughts of decking our halls – and trees, and banisters and mantle; as well as getting going on that list.

I am the kind of shopper that wants to get in, find what I’m looking for at a reasonable price, and leave. I don’t like lines, crowded parking lots, or the stress the holidays tend to bring out in shoppers around me! I recognize quick, in-and-out, stress-free shopping is less likely to happen when I wait until after Thanksgiving to get started. However, since my schedule before turkey day doesn’t typically allow me time to shop ahead, I try to make the best of it. And the bottom line is, no matter how much time it takes and how many lines I have to stand in or grumpy people I may encounter, I really do want to get gifts for my family they will “ooh” and “aah” over. I want to see their smiles and squeals of delight on Christmas morning. So I brave the shopping, and the lines, and the stress given off by others, to get it done.

As I headed out the door to go Christmas shopping recently, on a Saturday no less — because my daughter’s stomach bug had foiled my plans to shop on Thursday and Friday, I was less than excited. Saturday’s promise bigger crowds, more traffic, and more time. As I drove to the outlets I thought of the people I would come across, but this time from a different perspective. I thought about how for some, Christmas is a time of sadness. I thought of those who’d lost loved ones, of those who might feel alone, as well as of those who don’t know Jesus is the reason for the season. I made up my mind as I pondered these things, to see the shopping frenzy as an opportunity to shine His light and share His love. Lines became tools for conversation. People around me became targets for smiles and small talk. Instead of looking at my lists as things to knock out, I saw them as opportunities to be placed in situations where I could be fully present and tuned in to the people around me. I had great conversations and moments with people around me that day because my mindset was different.

When Jesus came into the world, an angel visited a ragtag group of lowly shepherds to share the good news. The angel said, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people (Luke 2:10).” Those shepherds were some of the first to visit the new born Messiah. From there they went to spread the word concerning what had been told to them about the child, and all who heard it were amazed. Their eyes were some of the first to gaze upon the greatest gift ever given to mankind. Their message transformed lives and hearts.

We are still carriers of that message today. This Christmas, let’s go out remembering every encounter with those around us in an opportunity to share the good news of great joy. In the midst of all the gifts that will be exchanged this Christmas, there is none that can measure up to the gift of life we have to offer; the gift of Jesus – The Savior born for all mankind.

Oh, to be like YOU! (Guest Post by Alex Shimanek)

Jesus - To be like youI majored in Psychology in college. I loved it!  Why people think and behave the way they do, it’s always intrigued me. I find human beings to be fascinating, complicated, and beautiful. To know one ’s self and be truly honest about your thoughts, feelings and actions sounds simple enough, but as we all know, it can be a tricky, sometimes painful, thing.

 Funny how two people can go through the exact same situation and have two totally different perceptions of it.  We each bring our own past, experiences and beliefs into how we interpret and perceive the situations we are in. I use to think I had mastered the art of self-reflection. I really thought I was so self-aware that nothing could get past me. Until that one night in the kitchen (isn’t it always in the kitchen !) when I was having a conversation with my husband and the phrase “be truly honest with yourself” was being repeated over and over again. But, every time those words came out of my mouth I felt a check in my spirit, like God was saying, “Stop worrying about who is or isn’t being honest with themselves-YOU be honest!”

Well that can’t be right! Excuse me, God? I majored in Psychology! I know things! I am in tune with my thoughts and my feelings. If I’m wrong, I’ll say, “I’m wrong”. If I need to apologize, I’ll  say, “I’m sorry”.  (Now…if I can just pause for a sec here and impart some wisdom…if you ever find yourself arguing with God, chances are, you- my sweet and beautiful friend- are wrong! I write this in love, of course)

The next morning, on my run, the lyrics of the very first song that played were, “Jesus, Jesus, all I want is to be like you.” I kept repeating it, “Jesus, Jesus all I want is to be like you”.  As I prayed and worshiped and ran, God flooded my mind with images of people, situations and times I wasn’t being like him. There were far too many than I’d like to admit.

Now, I know God loves me. I know God didn’t do this to make me feel bad. I know he did it to HELP me. To help the relationships in my life be more Christ-like. And, in order to be a better wife, mom and friends,  I’d have to go back to those times where I had behaved poorly, so I could do better in the future.

Images of my sweet friend -who I should have been kinder to, encouraged more and showed more love, respect and loyalty to, came to mind. I felt ashamed.

My children, the very same children I prayed fervently for 10 years ago… I was dismissive of my daughter when she was asking me to re-tell her the story of how I met daddy, my sons too- I yelled at them for making a fort-in of all places…the PLAYROOM!

My sweet husband, the man who everyday tells me how much he loves me, I was downright hostile towards because he bought 2% milk instead of 1%!

Man, I needed to get to work! ASAP. I needed to apologize. Make some changes. Pray.

“Jesus, Jesus All I want is to be like you”.  What a goal!  Don’t be afraid to tell God you want to be more like him. Ask him to show you where in your life you have fallen short. Make amends. Seek forgiveness and do better. None of us are there yet, but if we all desire to be more like Jesus, what a world this will be!

Alex Alex Shimanek is the Shoreline Church Sisterhood North Coordinator, a mother of four children (three of which are triplets!!), and an amazing writer and communicator of the gospel. Thanks for writing for me Alex. Love you, dearly!

Spring Is In The Air!

20140404-085707.jpgI love spring. I always have. I hadn’t put much thought into it, really, other than I just admire the fresh air and vibrant colors. That is, until a few weeks ago when the calendar marked the official beginning of spring and the people around me seemed more excited and enthusiastic about it than ever before. Perhaps the unseasonably cold Texas winter made us all a little more eager for a change. All through out that first week of Spring it seemed everywhere I went people were talking about it and asking me what I like about spring. And to my answer revealing it as my favorite season, I was asked why again and again.

Why do I love spring? With each question I pondered it a little more. And finally, to one who asked, I replied, “I love seeing everything come back to life. Green grass, flowers, tree buds… all of it just makes my heart sing!!”

And with that answer, the reason I love spring so much hit me – it really does make my heart sing. There is something about it that speaks to the depths of who I am. I love seeing things brought back to life. The world goes from gray to full on Technicolor. From frozen dormancy life emerges anew! It makes me think of Jesus – what He does in our lives. Jesus comes into our dormant, cold, dismal lives and makes us new, just as it says in 2 Corinthians 5:17(NIV):

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

I suppose for the same reason I love spring, I love the book of Isaiah. I read it all the time. It is one of my secret Bible nerdy areas. It resonates with me. It has the same message. It makes my heart sing the same way. In it I find verses like Isaiah 35:1, which says,

“The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.”

Isn’t that beautiful! It speaks of spring – the new life that God brings into our lives when He moves in and makes everything that has gone wrong in our worlds right again. In Him, every dormant dream is brought back to life, every gray area is re-colored, and new life emerges from dead, barren places.

This is what Jesus does in us, and He gave us the amazing responsibility of partnering with Him to see new life brought to the lives of those around us. Not only do we get to enjoy the beauty of it in ourselves, we are His agents, Christ’s ambassadors, here to share a smile, a kind word, a helping hand — and in so doing, we help call forth new life as He works through our acts of love.

Don’t you just love spring! There’s just something about seeing the world around us come back to life.

Amy O’Donnell © Copyright April 4th, 2014

 

My Issue with Valentines

BeMyValentine_TAF-421We are in a series in Sisterhood right now on our issues. We call it ‘The Dirty-Dirty’. It’s a great theme that gives us a chance to be real about the hurts, habits and hang-ups that can hold us back or have held us back in life. Last night, I had a chance to share in the two-minute pre-segment we call ‘Take Two’.

In light of the theme, and Valentines week, I thought it’d be fitting to talk about my issue with Valentines Day. Surprisingly, when I mentioned I had had an issue with the infamous day of love, many other girls raised their hands in agreement. I thought I’d be in the minority, but found that at least half the room did currently, or had at some point, agree with me.

Our reasons behind our issue with the day probably vary as much as all of us. For me, mine wasn’t so much with the holiday, but what it represented…. LOVE. I grew up in a home where love wasn’t really celebrated, and I didn’t really feel celebrated. On top of that, I experienced a lot of inconsistency, instability, un-availability, abuse, and other issues from those around me in my formative years. Those who should have loved me well, really weren’t able to in that season. And so, I grew up walled off from love. It didn’t have a high value to me, and I didn’t cognitively realize or think about it how much I needed it or how dysfunctional I was in it. I set out in college to conquer the world, with little thought on family, or warm fuzzy friendships… I thought I was good with my goals and all I could do.

My junior year, the most amazing men swept me off my feet and arrested my heart; my husband David, and Jesus. I wish I could say change happened completely over night. I did experience a sudden transformation, but heart healing takes time. So as David and I set out dating and then after we were married, I trained him not to celebrate me on Valentines Day. As soon as it would roll around, I’d be on my soapbox calling it a racket. I’d say it was just a holiday invented by Hallmark and Florists to make money off the people.

Fast forward about ten years later – the love of my husband, who loves me like Jesus, and the love of Jesus and His people in my most amazing church, really changed me. I began to love, LOVE. I got good at celebrating it, and when Valentines Day rolled around, I wanted to be celebrated. Poor David, he had to play catch up… He was pretty OK not making a big deal out of it, and then had to feel out, how big of a deal does Amy want me to make of it. 🙂 The things we put our men through! LOL!

In light of that, and in having an opportunity to share last night at Sisterhood, I decided to set the tone this year by writing David a Dirty-Dirty (w/ some of our issues) Valentines poem to read aloud to him in front of the girls… It was a hit! He loved it. It’s not often I render him speechless. I am not really a poet, but thought I’d share it here as well, just for fun in celebrating today.

David,

You are the yin to my yang;

The bread to my butter.

I am thankful we didn’t come from the same mother…

Well, because that would make you, my brother.

You are the salt to my pepper;

the cookie to my cream.

You are neat and tidy, And I am not so clean…

Thanks for the grace for our home not having to be pristeen.

You are the light to my darkness;

The rhythm to my song.

We get along well except when we fight, for…

I am always right and you are never wrong.

You are the milk to my cereal;

The icing on my cake.

Speaking of food – I love you…

Despite the eating sounds you make.. scrape, scrape, scrape.

In the famous words of Jerry Maguire;

Next to Jesus, You complete me.

Thanks for loving me despite myself…

And buying me things on Valentines Day now, ever so freely.

Love big today! It’s worth it. Praying you feel celebrated in every way. And remember, the God of the Universe is head over heals in love with you. He is your forever Valentine! xo Amy

Happily Ever After

Recently, Kylie and I had a chance to watch a movie together, just the two of us. We don’t get these opportunities very often. Typically at least one of the guys are with us and of course, when they are, we aren’t often able to watch a full-out girly girl movie, at least without a battle. So on this rarest of days, we seized the moment and picked the movie “Enchanted”.

If you aren’t familiar with Enchanted, it’s a super cute movie about a princess from an animated fairy tale land, where there are no troubles or worries; that is, until her soon to be mother in law fears losing the throne after her son marries. To protect it, she banishes the princess to real live New York City, where she has to quickly find support in simply surviving. She stumbles across a man (surprise 🙂 ) who feels compassion for her and takes her in. Over time, they fall  in love and she realizes he is her one true love, and they marry and live – ‘Happily Ever After.’ Her prince charming from fairy tale land, who had followed her to New York City, also met the girl of his dreams, and she followed him back to animated world where they also marry and live ‘Happily Ever After’. So for all, it was a happy ending!

As it wrapped, I was reminded how much I still love happily ever after endings. I think it’s because, I’m a girly – girl and a hopeless romantic. As I pondered it, I couldn’t help but feel joy in thinking my story would end with a happily ever after ending, as would anyone else’s in Christ. We know we will go to Heaven one day and live for all eternity with our one true love!

As comforting as that is to me, and as much as I treasure that thought. I still can lose sight of it in the day-to-day realities of life. For example, David and I have been through a lot this past year. As I talked with my mother in law about it all recently, who is by the way, much nicer than the one in Enchanted, I told her how I feel sometimes we are living an amazing God story, and I just want to be able to turn the page and read what happens next. I know the end is good, but I just wish I could glance ahead a page, or even a chapter or two and see what God has in store in the time between now and then.

It’s that not knowing, that makes faith so important. We have to trust God with the unseen future and difficult trials. While we can’t know each season before it unfolds, and even what life holds for us on any given day; we do know the one who holds every day and every season of our life, and with Him we know that no matter what comes our way He promises to work all things out for good for those who love Him.. (Romans 8:28).

So as we wait for our happily ever after ending to come, we live this amazing God adventure with faith, surrendered hearts and hope, knowing that ultimately God has the final say in all things. He is faithful to complete everything He begins, to bring beauty for ashes, to never give up on us and to love us with out end. For me, knowing how faithful God is makes each day a joyous God adventure.

I hope the same is true for you. As you look ahead to new chapters, new seasons, and even to what this day holds, I hope you will trust God with each moment and allow Him to lead you step by step. When unexpected twists and turns pop up, when a chapter ends, when the plot changes, keep your eyes on Jesus and remember God will work all things out for your good! Now, go!

Copyright © 2012 by Amy O’Donnell. All Rights Reserved.

Jesus Understands You

I love the way each Christmas Season we focus on and celebrate Jesus’ birth and gift of life and all it means to us. That the son of God came down from heaven, to live and dwell among us – fully God and fully man, to die for us, and to be raised back again, so that we could have forgiveness of sin and access to God, is a beautiful thing.

Jesus humbling himself by coming to earth as a man, made him able to relate to us, and almost all of us would probably agree, feeling someone can relate to us, that they understand us, is important.

For example, when my sweet little seventeen year old dog died, I was flooded with messages from people – most could relate at some level and offered words of encouragement from their own experiences and love for their pets. Many of them understood.

With our kids, the root of most of the arguments and talking back is a deep desire to be understood (doesn’t make it right, but it does make it understandable 🙂 ). For husbands and wives, most disagreements happen for the same reason – we all value feeling heard and understood.

Jesus, came. In love he came in the form of a baby. He grew, walked and talked just like us. He has been there, gone through that – He felt the pain of betrayal, of friends turning their backs on Him, of being misrepresented, of being judged, abused, mistreated, and misunderstood. He knows what it is to cry when a loved one is lost and to feel joy at life’s celebration moments.

Yes, this Christmas we celebrate the gift of Jesus to the world. We also celebrate that with that gift came the ability for us to know our God understands us.

When we go to him in prayer, when we need to talk, need comfort or when we are hurting, we can boldly lift those needs up in prayer, just as it says in Hebrews 4:15, 16 – For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Whatever you are in need of today… Jesus understands! Take it boldly to him.