A National Debt of Gratitude

This is a phenomenal post by Melinda K. 

Have we become ashamed to show patriotism?

It may depend on where one lives and whether or not one was raised to appreciate our military and our freedom they protect. I wonder, however, if most of the holidays established to celebrate our heroes and our country have not been reduced to nothing more than picnics and parties. Have burgers and hot dogs replaced flags and memorials? Do we now ignore their sacrifices and hold “sacred” the three-day weekend?

While we enjoyed the freedom to gather with family and friends for cookouts, did we soberly consider the sacrifices that were made to give us our freedom?

Please read this whole article at The Bottom Line … 

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When Faith Isn’t Enough

flag-813543-mAt 18-years-old, I stepped onto the sandy, Arizona soil in the driveway of an inpatient treatment center for the second time. Even after numerous counselors and previous inpatient treatment for anorexia, I still struggled with an addiction to exercise and food restriction. “Shipped off” to get well, I felt completely alone, unloved and abandoned by God and my family. My life didn’t appear to be “working out for good”. Circumstances seemed to belie the promises of a good God.

Many years later, my husband walked the sandy soil of Afghanistan, leading a company of infantry soldiers. Back home, I received one of the calls that every family member of a solider dreads. “We lost some.”

Patrick was the commander of Bravo Company 4/23. They had only been in theater a little over two months, when one of their strykers hit an IED (improvised explosive device) killing three men and maiming another. Hell broke loose on earth.

I watched my husband grapple with the agony and guilt of knowing he had been responsible for the men’s lives as their leader in combat. I felt like a mindless mist, moving through the motions of coordinating phone calls to the families, assisting to arrange the memorials and comforting the widows. Nothing looked like what I would expect from a good God. A few people voiced this.

“How can a good God let this happen? If God is in charge and powerful and loves us, why would He let these children lose their fathers?”

I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now. I don’t know how all this “works together for good”. I don’t know how this matches up with God’s Word, “I am the God who heals you.” I don’t know how lingering illness and addiction connects with, “It is for freedom that Christ set you free,” and “I have given you the power to tread upon snakes and scorpions and nothing shall by any means hurt you.”

God, how does this work?

If anyone ever had a right to pray that prayer, it was the apostle Paul. He spent almost six years of his ministry in a jail cell, he was whipped, shamed, ship wrecked and abandoned (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). Finally, near the end of his life, he sat again on the cold damp concrete of a cell and wrote to the man dearest to his heart—Timothy. How desperately he wanted Timothy to be able to hang on to what Paul had taught him. He agonized over how to impress upon this young pastor:

Do not give up! Do not be dismayed by what appears to be. It may look like God has lost control, that perhaps He isn’t all that good—but Timothy—don’t give up. I haven’t. (paraphrase)

This kind of tenacious faith is exemplified in an Old Testament story:

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stared into the fire as flames leaped higher and higher.

“You have one more chance,” the Babylonian King told them. “You must bow down and worship my statue, or I will have you thrown into the fire.”

I wonder what raced through their minds. They had been faithful to God; they had not worshipped the idol. Surely God would rescue them! Surely, God wouldn’t allow them to be killed!

Their words in Daniel 3:16-18, teach us something amazing about faith, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.’”

The three men believed that God could save them! But even if He didn’t…

How do we have faith when the things we believe for aren’t happening? How do we have faith that God is good when bad things happen?

Hebrews 11 is often called the Faith Chapter. It lists many heroes of the faith, men and women who believed God against all odds, who had faith in God even when it looked like God wasn’t faithful.

Verse 39 says this, “All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised.”

Have you ever felt like that—like God hasn’t fulfilled His promises?
Have you had faith that God would do something, and then He didn’t?
Maybe you prayed that a loved one would survive cancer, but they didn’t.
Maybe you were sure it was God’s will that you find a job, or keep your job—but you didn’t.
Maybe you don’t understand what’s going on, or why God allows some things to happen.

When I feel this way, I am comforted by 2 Timothy 1:12, “That is why I am suffering here in prison. But I am not ashamed of it, for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return.” (emphasis added)

One weekend, my husband and I were driving through downtown Washington D.C. We were supposed to meet some friends for a baseball game, but as we wound through construction and down one-way streets, we got hopelessly lost—at least I did. I had no idea where we were going and I could see the lights of the stadium behind us. But I know my husband. He’s an incredible navigator. I knew he would get us there safely even if it looked for all the world like he was going the wrong direction. And sure enough, he got us to the baseball game on time!

You see, the secret is not what we believe. The power of our faith is not that we simply have faith, or even that we have hope. There will always be things we don’t understand and things that don’t seem to match up with what we believe about God. We may not understand what God is doing, but we have faith in who God is. We, like Paul, know who we believe, and that He is faithful.

Most world religions require faith. Most world religions have morality as their hallmark and eternal life as their goal. But, as Christians we do not merely have faith—faith in a reward for good behavior or faith in life after death. It is not mere faith that gets us through our troubles, sustains us in prison, or allows us to stand in the flames. The good news is not that you and I have faith, but that the One in whom we believe is faithful.

A Place Called Home, For Now…

“Father, I’ve found a church I like here. They have a women’s group that meets at the perfect time on Wednesday nights. Other doors to get involved are opening right and left. I get so excited, God, and then I panic. What about when we move?”

As a nomadic, military spouse, I hate one question: “What church do you belong to?”

I can handle, “What church do you go to?”, but the concept of belonging…somehow that doesn’t seem possible for me anymore. 

In our nearly eleven year military career, my husband and I haven’t moved as much as some. I’ve lived in four states; my husband has lived in four states and three countries. At our first two duty stations, I dug in quickly. I grew up like a good, church girl, having a church membership with my family at the same building for years at a time. My parents taught Sunday school classes, I went on trips with the youth group, sang in the choir, attended and then helped to lead vacation Bible school. 

It felt like the right thing to do as a married adult, to carry on those traditions in a new church home. But that’s just it, it didn’t feel like home. As if uprooting my irises, un-hanging all our pictures and garage selling the least sentimental gifts from last Christmas isn’t enough; as if bidding farewell to my biological mother and father and sisters isn’t enough, now ever few years I am supposed to say farewell to brothers and sisters in Christ that I have sat with, served with, eaten with, laughed with, confided in and studied with. 

No, I’m not sure I want to belong anywhere. But then, not belonging feels terribly lonely. 

I lifted my pen from the journal page, flipped the notebook closed and stood. My petition and fears now lay at the foot of Abba’s throne. It was up to Him to show me what to do about this inviting church. 

Later that day, I listened to a sermon by Paul White as I cleaned the bathrooms. 

“We have a lot of transience here, and it’s tempting to wonder why our church numbers aren’t constantly growing. To many, that would signal that we’re doing something wrong. Why are people leaving?”

It was almost an aside to the message, but he believed the words were for someone. That someone was me. 

“But I believe Christians are sent out. People are supposed to leave. The point is not to build a big church, but to equip and encourage people in the love and grace of Christ and send them out to share that with others, even within other churches.”*

I love how God often hammers a point home by repeating it through many sources. The next sermon on my iPod was by Ed Young, so I let it continue to play in the background. 

Ed spoke on evangelism, the urgent need for believers to be all consumed with sharing the love and rescue of Jesus Christ. He quoted from Matt 28:19, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,”.

In the original language, Jesus said to the disciples, “As you are going…”. This going out to the nations (and states) is an ongoing thing. I am not called to establish a home in one location, but to be a tent-dweller (2 Corinthians 5:1), uprooting my tent pegs every time the Spirit leads, just like Moses and the Israelites followed the cloud by day and fire by night. (Num. 9:21)

The Holy Spirit tapped my shoulder one more time, to reinforce His point. That evening, as I poured over this new church’s website, reading their mission statement and distinctives, my eyes snagged on this phrase:

“We don’t want you to ‘join the church’ so your name can be on a list or in a database somewhere. We want you to experience the awesome adventure of finding real life in Christ and helping others find it too. Our end goal is not for you to become a member; we want you to partner with us by choosing to Live Big, Love Big and Give Big.”

That was it. I can hammer in a tent peg here and get busy serving with a diligent, nomadic, enthusiastic, committed body of Christ. I may not be here long. Within a year or two, I’ll likely be pulling up stake, uprooting my irises and giving the remaining contents of the fridge to my neighbor. But for now, until it’s time to get going again, I belong.

Outside the fence

Thank you for being a listening ear when I just have to explode with the goodness and truth about my Savior Jesus Christ. He has more than saved my soul, He has more than removed the dread of death, He has more than rescued me from the pit of hell – Jesus daily saves me from my personal hell.

Everyone has it. A personal hell. A circular thought pattern of anxiety on an endless loop. Like a hamster on a wheel, the cogs churn all night in your mind, working, twisting, writhing to find some answer you missed before.

A personal hell. A habit you hate that nips at your heels like a rabid dog. It’s breath is death. If you’re lucky, for now, you’re one step ahead of it.

A personal hell. A never fading memory. Faces or words that lurk in your quiet moments, feasting on your peace.

A personal hell. Impending possibilities of unemployment, illness, danger, financial collapse. Everyone has a personal hell.

As most of you know, my hell was born in the form of anorexia. But the habit of starving and compulsive exercise fed on my peace and grew into anxious, relentless thoughts of calories and laziness and bulging body parts. Then, anxiety swelled until it infected my mind with fear of poverty, fear of loneliness, fear of change and of course an every growing fear of food. And finally, even when recovery began blinking sporadically on the horizon, and I began plunging toward it in blind, uncoordinated desperation; then my hell bloomed like licking flames behind me. Memories.

Bless the Lord Oh My Soul! Who becomes my vision and my only thought!

Two weeks ago, I learned that I now weigh as much as I did before I ever dueled with anorexia. That in itself is enough of a change to fan the flames of fear. Then, this weekend, my husband and I attended a marriage retreat in Staunton, VA. It was a chaplain’s event called Strong Bonds. 

[Side note, if you have an opportunity to go on one of these retreats – take it! Especially, if for some reason Chaplain Denning is leading it!]

Back to Jesus’ valiant rescue…I always fret over these types of “fun” events. They are anything but fun for me. My regular workouts are threatened by pathetic hotel gyms and no space outside to go running; not to mention early morning obligations. And, nice as everyone seems to think free food is, for an anorexic, the idea of a prepared plate being set in front of you is terrifying.

Who knows how much butter some careless caterer used on the mashed potatoes? What if they serve dessert? How do I say no when everyone is watching and moaning over how sublime the cheesecake is? How am I going to find safe food to eat if these are my only options? On top of all that, a retreat is supposed to be relaxing and fun. For most people that means lingering over good conversation and dark beer. Or, swirling red wine while debating the merits of a restaurant’s barbecue ribs. For me, that means sustained agony in a place of temptation while bound by a bunch of self-woven rules.

The first night there, we went down to dinner. I had told them that I am a vegetarian so the caterer brought me a plate of pasta, drizzled with olive oil and flecked with onions, mushrooms and green pepper. Yikes! Patrick was served chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans.

My darling hubby looked at my plate and asked, “Do you want my potatoes and green beans? I’ll eat your pasta.”

“Okay.”

So we traded partial plates and I ate. I ate every delicious creamy swirl of potato and every green bean dripping with golden butter. And it was good! But the best part is that fear did not rise up in my throat. Anorexia did not loom behind me all night with a tightening grip on my neck. We finished the evening over  beers by the fireplace in the hotel bar.

But Day 2 was even more spectacular! At breakfast, I did not eat the special, safe food I had thrown into my duffle bag “just in case.” Instead, I enjoyed fried potatoes and scrambled eggs! Then, I sat on my derrière for a three hour lecture! After the lecture, lunch was served. I tried to refuse it and Patrick agreed to take me to Subway later.

But when the waitress delivered a veggie wrap the size of a small torpedo, my tummy growled. The thin flour tortilla was crammed with broccoli, mushrooms, sprouts, full-fat cheese… and dressing. Some saucy, delicious, doubtlessly not-light dressing.

OK, OK. I’ll eat half. Oh well, I’ll eat all of it – it’s so good!

I could go on and on about the excitement rumbling against residual fear in my belly. But the tantalizing hope of a different future – holidays not spent skulking in the kitchen to monitor the usage of oil. Date nights not wasted at Subway restaurant so that I can get a  50 calorie salad. What if…. it doesn’t have to be that way forever?

Tiny Staunton is quaint, to be nice it’s historic, but there’s not much to do. So, we found ourselves sitting in a little bar a couple hours later, sampling beers with friends. So much for a low calorie afternoon! Then, of course, dinner time arrived. That merciless hour when every American is supposed to eat…again.

We landed at the Mill Street Grill. (Highly recommended by everyone, if you’re in the area.) Just a salad, I told myself. Just the side salad.

Oh, but I love shrimp. I had lived through Friday night. I had lived through most of Saturday. What if, simply enjoying Saturday night too, isn’t a crime? So I had shrimp and salad. And hot chocolate when we got back to our room.

If you have never argued with yourself about the merits of a certain food, or the innate evil of an extra calorie. If you have never run an extra mile to compensate for a delightful dessert or celebrating your own birthday, then maybe you don’t have any idea the freedom that I enjoyed this weekend.

But, if you have ever skipped a meal so that you could go out to eat later. If you have ever run an extra mile (or two, or three) because you ate four extra crackers. If you have ever stayed awake counting calories instead of sheep – then you know exactly what I mean. You know exactly the type of freedom that we have not danced in for so many years. 

The truth is you may not be there yet. The truth is, I didn’t think I was there. But Jesus knew I was. And Jesus is the one who saved me. And Jesus is the one who surprised me by throwing open the gates I have long hidden behind.

Oh the beauty of the view as I stand here in His arms surveying the landscape of blessing He has in store for me – and you. 

But now, this is what the Lord says, He who created you Oh Jacob, He who formed you Oh Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have summoned you by name and you are mine.’ Is. 43:1

Fear Not: 31 Days to Freedom from Fear

She Loves Magazine

One of my greatest pleasures and honors is writing for SheLovesMagazine.

Regardless of individual issues, anorexia keeps all relationships at arm’s length. My heart screamed for my husband to love me, call me beautiful and scare away all my self-loathing. At the same time, my sharp hip bones, malnourished mood swings and amenorrhea told him I was unapproachable.


You can read more of this post here… Jesus Never Gave Up On Me

Broken Hallelujah: SheLovesMagazine

Broken Hallelujah. For a while now, I’ve been whole, or healing. Sure, I have a long list of cracks, dents and crevices. I fought with anorexia for a good 14 years. That left my body broken. Even after I had recovered mostly once, some of the weak spots began to leak again, letting in fear and old habits. The ache of brokenness came back. Many, many days I found myself dissolving on the floor in tears. The agony was fissures of helplessness, starting rivulets in downward spiral. I was sliding down the mouth of death’s cavern. My soul hurt even more than my body.

And I cried out in brokenness.

Hallelujah means “Praise Yahweh.” And I recently learned that “praise” actually means “to project” which is one way that it differs from worship. Worship can be silent, internal song, wonder and fellowship with God. But praise is vocal. It declares the glories and sufficiencies of God for others to hear.

Goodness knows, I cried out. Sometimes I screamed at God. Sometimes, on a lonely walk I sang an off-tune song of prayer. My praise came in waves of despair, but that despair was matched and surpassed by knowing Yahweh Rophe, the God who Heals. When my voice broke and my heart broke and my will broke, my praise might not have passed the litmus test for a church chorus, but it was my broken hallelujah.

Thankfully, those days are slipping farther and farther behind me. Their shadows finally don’t stretch long enough to darken today. But then, I break in other places. For sure, I know that I am not independent.

Ragged relationships have cut and scarred me. My husband’s own brokenness and sharp edges have wounded me, much as I have wounded him sometimes. Love is like that, you share your wounds and bleed on each other – and bear their burdens and salve their scars. But mostly, I’m healing from those wounds. He and I are closer than we’ve been before. A bone heals stronger where it was broken, that’s us: stronger now.

So, when the put the question: Broken Hallelujah, I thought – not now. Oh but it only takes a moment for a storm to strike and wreak havoc on a well-ordered heart. The lightening strikes fast and touches flame to old hurts. Dark clouds press down, nearly suffocating the tender ground. In one afternoon, my heart succumbed to storm surge and I found myself dissolving on the floor again, in tears.

We’re moving. My husband is an Army officer, so after 10 years of this, you’d think I’d be used to it. I thought I was. I thought I had puttied the cracks from past moves. All the severed relationships, the quick goodbyes. All the special places, kissed so-long and overnight, they’ll never be seen again.

I didn’t really want to bring God in on this hurt. This was something normal, just a circumstance, a career path. Moving with the military is simply my life, not a problem to be solved or anything that requires a solution. It shouldn’t break me, in fact, it’s a good sign that my husband is progressing in his job. We only crack under bad things, right?

Last night, a very broken me sprawled face first on the floor beside my bed. And a broken hallelujah, a broken declaration, an agonized announcement of my need for my very Good God, came out in a whisper.

God, it hurts to start the goodbyes. Weeks and months out, I start minimizing my impact on my community. I convince myself that I’m not needed here in this city, this church, this small group of friends will all go on without me. And soon, I’ll be in a new place with no one, so I might as well begin adjusting now to loneliness.

And I fear the moments I am alone, that they mean I’m getting too comfortable by myself and will lose connection with… And God I know you’re enough, but you didn’t intend man to be alone. But…

And there my hallelujah stops. It breaks off without closure or final seem. Instead, the hallelujah still leaks from my brokenness onto the floor. And I’m still murmuring this broken hallelujah.

‘Cause all that I can sing is a broken Hallelujah

And my only offering is shattered praise

Still a song of adoration will rise up from these ruins

And I will worship You and give you thanks

Even when my only praise is a broken Hallelujah

What Will I Do If I Ever Grow Up?

Kylie trudges along on her back, scooting her bald spot across the carpet, rubbing away the downy baby fuzz. Her mom watches carefully, shielding the corner of the hearth with her body.

For six months, every day has been a new beginning. From the first breach of the womb, to the first explosive diaper, the first bath, the first trip to the nursery. What will she be when she grows up? Glimpses backwards at photos of Mom and Dad spur expectations for the future.

But I make no plans. I’m still wondering what I will be when I grow up. What will I do with the rest of my life?

My husband is in the Army. When I pledged myself to him, ten years ago, I could only see two years down our timeline. Those same two years have traced a loop five times. And I still wonder, what will I be when I grow up?

I have unpacked a new home in four states. Each time it felt like getting my own room for the very first time; childhood swept over me from behind.

Barely tall enough to ride a roller coaster, I wanted to be brave. Four plain walls to paint any color I wished. The first night in my new room, I woke up fumbling for the bathroom and walked straight into the closet. I lay awake for hours, keenly aware of new creaks and groans exhaled by the walls. I am still that way, grown up.

In state number three, unpacking felt like Christmas. Excitement buzzed between my husband and me as we pulled brown paper packages from crudely labeled boxes. With each subsequent move, there was even a “first Christmas” ornament.

Pulling out of my driveway and yielding at an unfamiliar intersection was learning to walk all over again. Round-abouts posed threats similar to trying to roller skate the day after my first baby step. I got lost and confused, cars buzzed by me at grownup speeds. Every landmark looked the same, like being surrounded by dozens of adult knees, all clad in denim.

My heart cringes with sympathy for those poor families sent overseas. I struggle to simply learn my new city’s slang. Once, I ventured a comment about the civil war in a coffee shop in southern Georgia. I was nearly run out of town on a rail, unaware that it was really “the war of northern aggression.” I do my best to mimic the vernacular of the natives; I am often rewarded by chuckles and a lesson in diction.

Crossing the stage at my alma mater, I believed I was done with new school jitters. Now, bi-annually, I subject myself to that same drama as I search for a new church and gym. I try to walk confidently down crowded halls, pretending I know where I’m going. I don’t want to be singled out as the new girl and introduced to the women’s ministry leader or the locally famous personal trainer.

I stalk bulletin boards, scanning them for post-its about groups, clubs and classes where I can show up anonymously and make friends on my own terms. I wonder how I should dress for the worship service? Is this a casual khaki environment or your mother’s Sunday best?

Perhaps the greatest challenge of each new home, is finding a new hairdresser. That decision alone has the power to effect every first impression. A highlighting mistake or failed permanent out weighs the worst “baby’s first haircut.” Even a bowl cut or months of unexplained baldness pale in comparison to green hair. The effects of my worst experience lingered through the next move.

My life feels like a broken record. No steady career lengthens my resume. Few accolades for community service can be garnered in 24 months. By the time I’ve mastered these rudimentary skills it’s time to leave again.

Kylie is almost walking now. Things that were once experiments are now old habits. Soon she will say, “Momma,” and then graduate to big-girl words like, “dog,” and, “Mississippi.” That is the way life is supposed to be: you scale the step ladder, climb the tree, and one day the corporate ladder.

Me? I am still wondering what I will do when I grow up.

Do Something… or die

I grew up with the understanding that evangelism is important – people need to know that Jesus is not only the assurance of eternal life, but that He makes this life worth living. In the throes of my eating disorder, I was absolutely ready and willing to kill myself, check out, be done with it all. If not for Jesus, who gave me an underlying assurance of hope and peace, I would have died. If starving had not stopped my heart, I would have done it intentionally.

It wasn’t so much that Christians are always saying, “suicide is a sin,” I mean once I’m dead, what do I care? But it was something about this Jesus, something about His companionship in my pain, that made me want to try life one more day, one more day at a time.

Then I married a soldier. My personal soldier isn’t very vulnerable, and it’s been rare when he let me in his private fears. I did notice a heightened sense of mortality and sobering responsibility when he was deployed and in command. He felt the burden of not only his soldiers’ lives but their eternity. He places a great burden on the Army chaplains to do their job boldly and with an acute awareness of the personalities and needs of their audience.

His most recent assignment has been at Arlington Cemetery. Again, a place and situation where he is daily faced with death and often looks into faces of people who clearly have no hope. What then? Can we allow the very men and women who are willing to die for our freedoms – can we allow them to enter the battlefield without having done everything possible to offer them the assurance of salvation through Jesus Christ?

I am an avid reader of Table Talk Magazine. As a subscriber, I was recently made aware of an opportunity to arm our military chaplains with unique resources to share the gospel during deployments and in garrison. Given the recent assaults  on religious freedom in the military, fully arming chaplains with useful resources is both helpful to their efforts and encouraging to them personally.

Here is an opportunity, presented by Ligonier Ministries through their chaplain support program, to care for the souls of soldiers. It’s time we did more than verbally espouse our support for the military, fasten yellow magnets to our cars, or shake a soldier’s hand at church. Care more. Do more. Do something!

GIVE HERE.