All Loves Excelling (book review)

All Loves Excelling by John Bunyan

This lovely little book concentrates on just two verses, Ephesians 3:18-19 (although I’ll add 17 for context):
“so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the *breadth* and *length* and *height* and *depth*, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. ”

I was most impacted by understanding the intention of those four key words: the breadth of Christ’s love means a covering or remedy, “when we see our sin spread like leprosy”, the breadth is the spreading of his grace that spreads further… “Blessed is he whose sin is covered” (Psalm 32:1)

This brings me to a reason I really enjoyed this book- Bunyan has all these great verse references from Psalms, Job and Ezekiel especially, relating to Ephesians!

And the Length- “What a reach there is in the mercy of God, how *far* it can extend itself.” John says, ” i pray thee hear me, O the length of the saving arm of God! As yet thou art within the reach thereof; do not thou go about to measure arms with God…”

This is another reason I loved this book- the old English, poetic form of writing! Simply lovely!

“Here is in this word Length matter of encouragement for us thus to pray; for if the length of mercy is *so great* and if also this length is for the benefit of those that may be gone far from God, then improve this advantage at the throne of grace for such, that they may come to God again.”

I give this book 5 stars and highly recommend it!

Andrew Freund: In the Arms of Jesus

https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-met-aj-freund-crystal-lake-abuse-20190426-story.html

This story has been absolutely heartbreaking. I feel an actual physical pain when I think about him.

I want to take a moment and share my thoughts: my grief and my hope for this beautiful, sweet, precious little boy that I just wish I could hold and kiss and rock in my arms like I rock Judah to sleep every day.

We just celebrated Easter last weekend. I feel like this is where we are put to the test: do we actually believe in the resurrection that we celebrated?

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”~ 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

I believe that the resurrection of Jesus is *real*… He truly was God in the flesh who came and defeated, sin, death, and the grave. Therefore, I believe that resurrection is real for my own daughter, and I believe it’s real for sweet Andrew. He is now experiencing the fullness of love that he never had in part on this earth. I picture him now in the arms of Jesus, held tightly and safely.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” ~ Matthew 19:14

On Easter Sunday, we sang Phil Wickham’s song, “Living Hope” and I began to cry as I sang these words, thinking of Tirzah’s buried body rising to breathe for the very first time, the breath she didn’t get to take on earth… and now I think of Andrew too:

“Then came the morning that sealed the promise

Your buried body began to breathe

Out of the silence, the Roaring Lion

Declared the grave has no claim on me

Then came the morning that sealed the promise

Your buried body began to breathe

Out of the silence, the Roaring Lion

Declared the grave has no claim on me

Jesus, Yours is the victory!!”

How it feels to spend three days in a teen psych ward. Guest post by Luke Maxwell

Click.

I half-opened my eyes to the sound of the heavy door opening, a faint light shining through. A diminutive figure shuffled into my room, slumped onto the only other bed, and sat in silence.

Blinking myself more awake, I whispered to the small boy who I guess was my new roommate, “Don’t be afraid, I’m cool.”

He didn’t say much, but instead made a vague sound of affirmation and lay down. I did the same and wondered how this turn would affect my stay in this dismal place.

I was woken up the next morning by a middle-aged woman opening the door and yelling that it was time to wake up. Pleasant. That’s when I got my real first look at the newcomer. He was just a kid. Heck, who I was to talk? I was barely 16 myself. But he was a real kid. Maybe 13 at most. He stayed silent, as if still in shock from whatever event brought him into this place. In him, I could almost see myself just a few years prior if I hadn’t survived for so long. But like all emotion I had felt for the past four years, I locked those feelings down and tried to proceed along my day as if he wasn’t even there. Loneliness was a curse, yes, but also a comfort to my broken mind.

Nobody said much as the rest of the kids filed out of their rooms and sat to an almost inedible microwaved breakfast. It was just another day in the facility. I almost caught myself laughing at the scene of us trying to eat this mess. We’d have to be crazy to be here. Oh right. Supposedly we are.

I was told to take a pill after breakfast, and after seeing there was no option, I took it. My sci-fi enthralled mind was waiting for a sudden change to come over me, but I was left disappointed. To go along with the pill, I was sent into a room of very professional looking people. You know. The kind of people you can tell have several letters after their name, letters that don’t include jr or sr. The asked me questions which I tried to answer as best as I could, but no matter how hard I tried to be honest, they never seemed to believe me.

After some “school”, exercise, and “lunch”, we were given some quiet time. Sounds nice, right? Well, when your mind is plagued with thoughts of recent events, not such a great idea. I could still taste the powder from the airbag mixing with the dirt and dust. I could feel the panic that set in as I made the decision that would forever change my life. I could see the disgust in the paramedics’ eyes as they tied me to a gurney. I stopped myself before I went down that road again. How about a book? Yeah, that’s much better.

But for some reason I’ve never understood, good things can never last. Right as I was finally gathering some peace in this massively uncomfortable place, a nurse popped her head in and informed me and my silent roommate that it was visiting time…and that my parents were here.

Oh no.

I had no idea what was about to happen. We’ve barely spoken since…it happened. Every shred of peace I had was gone. Shaking and trying to control my breathing, I stepped out of my room to see them sitting at a table on the opposite end of the room. My body and my surroundings felt trapped in slow motion while my mind raced uncontrollably. Guilt and fear flooded my emotions, adding to the chaos of my thoughts. I somehow made my way over to them, and will never forget what they said to me. They told me that they now knew that I was suffering from a disease called Major Depressive Disorder. That they loved me and were there to help me get better. This was not at all what I was expecting. Though, to be honest, I didn’t know what I actually expected. My world was spinning in a tornado of emotion and new information, and I had no idea how to absorb it. When our time was up, they handed me some cards that my siblings had written for me and left with an awkward hug. After the brief interaction, I barely remember what just happened. I had so many emotions, yet so little feelings rushing through me. I was experiencing an overload of senses, yet was completely numb. Only a broken mind, could possible create a situation like this.

One more attempt at a meal and day one was over. Only two more days left to go. But something had now changed. I wasn’t just doing stuff to survive, I now had a goal. Somewhere to be. I now saw that I was sick, and I didn’t want to be sick anymore.

Day two passed mostly like day one had. Eat disgusting food, take a pill, answer strangers’ questions, do some stuff that I believe they thought was school, eat more “food”, exercise, quiet time, parents visit, and dinner. Just another normal day. Haha. Normal. That’s funny. But something interrupted the routine that day. It was right after lunch. One of the boys (let’s call him Mike) was super annoying. This kid obviously had issues unlike the rest of us who were trying to maintain our cool and pretend we weren’t in a psych ward. They let us watch TV after lunch, and we were sitting quietly when we heard yelling behind us. If you’ve never been in a place that’s essentially a prison for teens with severe psychiatric disorders, trust me when I say yelling and conflict do not go over very well.

We all turn around to see Mike arguing with a nurse about probably nothing, and he was not backing down. Immediately we’re forced into our rooms while they deal with this. Oh, and you should know something about me. I hate conflict. Just writing about this half-an-hour long confrontation gives me anxiety. Next thing you know, I hear a thump on the wall followed by what could only be Mike punching the wall over and over again. Alarms are ringing, people are yelling, but finally it all goes silent. I gave a small look at my shaking roommate. He was not doing well.

Finally, our door cracked open, and we were told to come out. To this day, I don’t know what set him off or how they calmed him down. But at the moment, that wasn’t my concern, I wanted to get out of there even more so now. When we finally saw Mike again sometimes later, he played it off like he was a bad boy who just got in trouble. Looking back, I can see how much pain he was in, and I wish I had the compassion that I have now.

I had made it through the second day. Finally. Dinner was over and everyone had left the table except for me and a young nurse who was sitting just a few feet from me. She looked at me is if confused, visibly thought for a few seconds, then leaned closer to me and asked me something that changed the course of my life.

“What’s a good kid like you doing in a place like this?”

I was shocked. I had thought of myself in any way positive in more than four straight years of crippling depression and definitely not attached the adjective “good” to myself or anything I did.

I mumbled some kind of answer along the lines of “I just made a bad decision”, but that question still follows me around. The fact that someone I didn’t know looked at me and told me I was good was unbelievable. I thought everyone hated me. I thought I was a burden who wouldn’t amount to anything. I wasn’t able to focus on the movie or anything else for the rest of the night. The next day was spent seemingly out of my body, not really focused on what was going on around me. I saw the sadness and pain in each of the children around me. We were just kids. Children in horrible circumstances. My roommate was 13 years old. I couldn’t stop thinking about why each of the others were in here, what they had gone through to have this extreme measure of imprisonment taken, and if something could have been done to prevent this.

I was informed that I’d be released the next morning since my three days of assessment were up. They had concluded that I was no longer a threat to myself or anyone else, but they mandated medication and regular therapy appointments.

My parents stood in the hallway that morning and without hesitation, I gave them a hug, collecting my things, and walked out with them. I said one final goodbye to my peers who had known so briefly, but had such a profound impact on me. I was taken immediately to a therapist my parents had found, and as I shook his hand and settled into the couch. I began to share my story.

“I’m Luke, and on December 3rd, 2012, after four years of suffering from undiagnosed major depression, I attempted suicide by driving a 12-seater van at 60 mph head-on into an oncoming vehicle. I want to feel better, and I want to help my peers who are suffering like I am.”

My therapist smiled understandingly and replied, “Luke, I’m so glad you’re still here.”

 

More about Luke:

Hi, I’m Luke! …and when I was little, I wanted more than anything to be an astronaut. Now, I’ve left such childish dreams behind…for much bigger ones. After suffering from undiagnosed Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) for four years as a teen, I survived a serious suicide attempt (watch my story video for more details). Once I was told I was suffering from a medical disease that I could overcome and that more than 1 in 4 of my peers were suffering like I was, I made it my mission to heal not only myself, but support others along the way. And so on September 7th, 2013, with the simple tagline of “Unashamed. (Period)”, U Can’t B Erased was born.

Check out his website here!  https://www.ucantberased.com/

A video of Luke sharing his story on You Tube: https://youtu.be/yM3ayaNaehs

 

Motherhood: A Journey of Surprise

Motherhood is a journey of surprise.

This is my seasoned wisdom to pass along: You must learn to listen for the surprise or you might miss it. You must learn to love surprise or you might waste it.

Each of my three children have brought their own unique surprises. Each surprise has changed the core of who I am.

Jeremiah Ryan Knight brought the first wonder on May 5th, 2012: the sensation that LIFE truly begins with motherhood. The moment I held his little 8 lb body I had the distinct sensation that nothing before him truly mattered. His birth birthed me as “Mom”. Motherhood transformed me into new and different person. That was a surprise and a gift I hadn’t imagined.

I was also surprised by the joy of seeing my face in his face. But I was truly astonished at how this Little Mirror caused me to see myself with greater clarity. Over time, as he continued to grow, these moments of reflection were quite comical. When he was around 18 months old he began blinking dramatically and forcefully with a full face scrunch when he was mad. After months of puzzling over why he was doing this and where he got this odd behavior, my husband noticed that I did a “blink” in a moment of pain! It was an “ah moment” when we realized he was mimicking me! I never knew until that moment that I “blink” when I’m unhappy!

Looking back, that was the first time my Little Prophet revealed something of myself to me.

Throughout his six years on this earth, God has spoken to me through him again and again. In the sweetest of childish ways, he opens my eyes to my own imperfections and areas of unrest in my heart. Jeremiah’s evening prayers are sometimes startling indications of my own need to experience the Lord’s grace afresh: “I pray that Mommy wouldn’t feel guilty;” “I pray that Mommy would know that she’s a good Mommy;” “I pray that Mommy would learn to pray as good as I pray.”  His observations continually reveal something of myself to me.

My second child, Tirzah Catherine Knight was a surprise that changed me just as dramatically as her older brother, Jeremiah. Her stillbirth at 40 weeks was the birthing of me as a “Bereaved Mother.” Time stopped on August 20, 2014 and life was forever divided into “Before” and “After,” in the same way that Jesus divided history. While Jeremiah is my Little Prophet revealing my face and exposing my heart, Tirzah has been my Little Priestess guiding my eyes heavenward to Jesus.

I believe that when I’m old, and my body is worn, and I’m on my deathbed, I’ll say, “I’ve waited so long, Tirzah. My whole life I’ve longed for you, every moment of every day, and NOW it’s time.”

The Spirit spoke to me, “THIS is what it means to long for Jesus. Long for Him and wait for Him just like this.”

My daughter, Tirzah is ever-present in my mind and she has become a lens through which I interpret and experience all of life. We, as humans, tend to hold a worldview that experiences reality backward; as if this life on earth is the more true reality because we feel it with all of our physical senses. We tend to think of eternity and heaven distantly, abstractly, and probably not very often. The surprise my daughter gave to me is freedom from that worldview. Now I see that Tirzah is more alive than we are; our bodies are in a state of decay, awaiting death. She has the more true reality in the Kingdom of God that is indestructible, incorruptible and endures forever.

She has awakened me to these truths: Eternity is more real than this world that is passing away; Resurrection is our only genuine hope; God is passionate about LIFE, and He is a god of purer love and mercy than our fallen hearts can take in at this time.

My third child was born on August 25, 2016: Judah Hudson Knight. His birth came with a surprise too: The cry of LIFE. After the silence and pain of Tirzah’s birth, Judah’s life-cry caused my whole being to shake and moan with a primeval depth that I couldn’t control or stop. Perhaps it was a release of the hold that death had on my heart. It was a cry of healing and of new life: for both of us. “Enjoy him,” was the mantra a good friend said to me over and over. I can truly say that new joy was birthed in me when Judah was born and his life has brought a season of praise.

Judah is my Little Kingly Prophet, bringing a taste of the goodness and beauty of God’s Kingdom to earth.

Each of my children came with surprises that I learned how to listen to and see.

You must learn to listen for the surprise or you might miss it. You must learn to love surprise or you might waste it.

The astonishing surprise of motherhood has been how my children were given to me truly to shape my own soul. God brought me a Little Prophet into my life to reveal my face and expose my heart; followed by my Little Priestess orienting me toward eternity and true life, and finally sweet Kingly Judah bringing a taste of what shall be made full in eternity: “Shalom Restored.” 

A Father’s Grief

The winter in Northern California has been filled with mild temperatures this year instead of the usual blistery weather.  The cold rain would feel more appropriate and yet the sunny blue skies seem to mock us as Death knocks on our door.

Marjorie, my mother-in-law, is in the process of dying and most likely only has a few days to live.

Death is not a stranger in my home; he is well-known Adversary and the threat of his return brings to mind thoughts of hard battles, long fought and scars remaining.

One thing I’ve learned, is that Death is a Thief. And he has different methods. Sometimes slow. Sometimes swift.

Marjorie was a woman who drank in life through her physical senses. She enjoyed birding, star gazing and playing the piano. As she loses the ability to do these things it is like seeing the light of life slowly dim as Death hovers overhead with a slowly consuming darkness.

This has been a slow process of dying, not like the death of my daughter, Melinda.

We called her “Mindy.”

Mindy was born with hydrocephalus because of a cyst in her brain. The grief of her birth prepared me, in part, for her death, because part of grief is to bear great emotional and physical pain. After Mindy’s death, my body felt physical pain every morning for months.

Early on in Mindy’s life, I learned a great lesson: Mindy’s challenges were about HER, not me. My grief was stored away in a compartment of my soul in order for me to focus on supporting her development.

I was surprised and proud of how well she overcame her challenges as she grew. She would say, “I am enthusiastic!” I would describe her as intense. She would talk with anyone and was blossoming as a writer. I can’t help smiling as I remember one 5th grade writing assignment. She wrote matter-of-factly: “I am thankful for clothing because if we had no clothes we would be naked and could not go anywhere.”

I cherish the notes that she wrote to me. Each one is still a blessing. The week before she died, she ended a note with, “You are the BEST, big Daddy in the WHOLE world. Love, The Best Daughter in the Whole World.”

We had moved when Mindy was in 4th grade so very few people at school or church knew of her birth and the challenges she was overcoming.

It was the season of Thanksgiving when our lives changed forever.

Mindy had a headache for a couple of days and was feeling ill. I thought she was getting the flu. Now, looking back, I think she was going into shock.

My memory of the day plays in my head with eerie detail, and I lose my sense of time as the present and past seem to meld together.

We were planning on taking her to the doctors the next day. Our family of four was crowded into a two bedroom apartment and she was allowed to go to sleep on the Master bed. I was in the room doing some work on the computer. I had printed something out and I think the noise bothered her because she asked if I had to do anymore printing. I told her I did not. She made a strange sound and when I checked in, her lips were blue and she was not breathing.

Time stopped. My heart seemed to stopped. I felt numb and frozen, unable to take in a scene that could be anything but real.

I felt a jolt and the thought came to me I had to take action. I snapped out of my frozen state and called to my wife to call 911. I started CPR and then the paramedics arrived.

I had great desire for Mindy to live. I prayed. I saw my Heavenly Father standing by Jesus seated on the throne in Heaven. I knew He was watching over us and a supernatural peace settled upon me, even though I knew there was no guarantee of a good outcome.

Mindy was pronounced dead 3 hours later.

The nurse said we could stay with Mindy as long as we wanted.  I thought, “How do I decide when to leave my daughter forever?”  I don’t think I ever really made a decision.

In the aftermath, my wife described feeling unsettled, lost and having poor concentration.  Later I thought: “Whether slow or fast death is disruptive.”

In the book, Body Sense: The science and practice of embodied self-awareness, by Alan Fogal, he shared brain research showing an actual physical co-regulation that develops between people through relationship.  This explains the utter shock to our spirit, soul and body at the death of someone close.  We lose the presence of a co-regulating power in our lives.

Our Creator never meant for this to happen. He didn’t design relationships to be severed.

Death is an enemy.  It is a defeated enemy but it is not yet destroyed.

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death” ~ 1 Corinthians 15:58.

Now I feel its sting.

With Marjorie, my mother-in-law, it is hard to find words to describe the sting.  I sense a haunting, hollowness in me sensing I will be missing something but unable to describe what it is I will be missing.

With Mindy the sting is similar.  Mindy died when she was 11 years old. Now she would be 28 years old.  What am I missing now?  What would she be like now?  I do not know the loss I have experienced because I have not experienced an enthusiastic, intense 28 year old Melinda.

And yet I have hope. My hope is in a mystery. Here is a paradox: the older I am, the younger I am because I am able to return to the thrill and enjoyment of mystery.

The solution to death is one of the greatest mysteries of life:

“Listen, I tell you a mystery; We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable and we will be changed.  For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.  When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’”  ~1 Corinthian 15: 51-54

May we all be faithful because Jesus is faithful until this day comes.

Even so come Lord Jesus. 

Marjorie Jane Dawson Woodruff: September 27, 1926 – January 11, 2018

Melinda Jean Pierson: August 4, 1989 – November 27, 2000

Easter Greetings

 

Easter has always been a special celebration for our family. It has become even more meaningful and taken on another layer of significance since our daughter, Tirzah Catherine, passed from this earth into the arms of Jesus (4 years ago this August). On Easter we celebrate the Resurrection, and it is because of our certain hope in the resurrection of Jesus that we know we will see Tirzah again. I have always prayed that her life would have significance on this earth, and that her life would share a message of LIFE.

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Her tombstone has the verse 11:25 on the front: “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”

This Easter, I want to share that LIFE is IN Jesus! His life, death, and resurrection were all to give us LIFE.

This past Christmas I had a really sweet time sharing with Jeremiah about Jesus’s birth and why he came to be born.

On Christmas Eve, we were making cookies for Santa and watching Rudolph when Jeremiah said to me, “There are some people on the naughty list that won’t get presents.” (I think he was a little worried that he might be in that category!) Here’s how our conversation went:

Me: “Jeremiah, who is on the naughty list?”

Jeremiah: “Everyone?”

Me: Yes, we’re ALL on the naughty list; but we don’t earn gifts, especially the gift of Jesus that Christmas is all about.

Me: “Who is on the nice list?” Jeremiah: “Jesus.”

Me: “that’s right! ONLY Jesus! But the miracle of Jesus is that he took all the punishment of the WHOLE naughty list on himself when he died on the cross… AND he gave us the rewards of the Nice list, even though we don’t deserve it: and those are the gifts of adoption as God’s son and the gift of eternal life. It’s called “The Great Exchange.”

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Me: “Jesus and Santa are on the same team. It’s all by grace, and the gifts from Santa are just a celebration of the greatest gifts of Jesus!”

On Christmas Day evening after we had our Jesus Birthday Cake, Jeremiah prayed: “Dear Jesus, Thank you for this time of Christmas, and Jesus, thank you for saving us for our sins. Amen.”

So this Easter, as I think of the resurrection of Jesus, and think of Tirzah, and how she’s already enjoying the gift of eternal life, I hope that you will join me in coming eagerly to the gift of Jesus:

But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing… He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree… By his wounds you have been healed. ~ Galations 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24

Spiritual Warfare Prayer for Marriage

[from Spiritual Warfare Prayers by Mark I. Bubeck]

Loving Heavenly Father, I thank you for Your perfect plan for our marriage. I know that a marriage functioning in Your will is fulfilling and beautiful. I bring our marriage before You that You might make it all You desire it to be.

Please forgive me for my sins of failure in our marriage. [Specify and enlarge confession.] In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I tear down all of Satan’s strongholds designed to destroy our marriage. In His name, I break all negative relationships between us that have been established by Satan and his evil spirits. I will accept only the relationships established by You and the blessed Holy Spirit. I invite the Holy Spirit to enable me to relate to [Your spouse’s name] in a manner that will meet his/her needs.

I submit our conversations to You, that they may please You. I submit our physical relationship to You, that it may enjoy Your blessing. I submit our love to You, that you may cause it to grow and mature.

Open my eyes to see all areas where I am deceived. Open [Spouse’s name] to see any of Satan’s deceptions upon him/her. Make our union to be the Christ-centered relationship You have designed in Your perfect will. I ask this in Jesus’ name with thanksgiving. Amen.