My life has been a journey full of twists & turns, highs & lows. Honestly, I'm not sure I could really define where I'm headed. But one thing I'm learning, the journey isn't all about the final destination but more about how we travel. And fulfillment is found in all that we learn & experience as we journey, not just getting to the end of it. I can't even imagine making mine without Christ before me, behind me, and beside me...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


   "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through Him who gives me strength." - Philippians 4:12-13

 This week Chad asked the staff if there was one thing in the whole world we could change, what would it be? I could think of numerous things that I would like to see changed...World peace, elimination of child abuse and domestic violence, no more poverty...all kinds of worthwhile things. But, realistically, we can wish and we can work on change but somehow it all seems futile because it never stops. We are still left wanting more...seeing more that needs to be changed. Renovating the world is like renovating our houses. We get new carpet and we realize how dingy the walls are. So we paint the walls and we realize we need to paint the trim too...which then casts light on the saggy old couch or the battered old coffeetable. So we get a new couch and/or coffee table...and the list goes on. We can't stop with "one thing." To me, there's not a real or effective answer to that question outside of myself because nothing really changes...not permanently anyway. Seasons go round and round. They go away and come back again as sure as the sun rises and sets. Seasons of war, seasons of peace. Seasons of sorrow, seasons of joy. Seasons of pain, seasons of healing. Seasons of hatred, seasons of love. Seasons of despair, seasons of hope.  That's the circle we call life.
     Quite a few years ago, there was a book that really impacted me and the title statement still invades my thoughts and being every so often. And I realize that if there was one thing I could change, this would be it...It's the only thing that I CAN do. I don't have the strength or the influence to change the world or even to change my circumstances, but there is one thing I can change and it begins with a simple prayer: "Lord, change me." If there is one thing in the whole world I can change, I'm it. Lord, change me...Change my mind, change my unforgiving and sinful heart, change my graceless attitude, change my stubborn will...For this moment, don't change my family or my friends and enemies or my circumstances-- CHANGE ME! 
    To borrow Tom's words, I'm not the president of all those other things--world peace or war, or child abuse, domestic violence, sickness, or poverty, or any malady that plagues our world. The truth is I'm not the president of anything at all. On my own, I can't change the world or even my own little corner of it. All too often, I can't even change my own circumstances. In reality, I can't change anything at all...BUT GOD CAN! And it begins with me. In asking God to change me, I can change the world...

"Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me,
 and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones You have crushed rejoice.  Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me." - Psalm 51:7-12


"THEN I will teach transgressors Your ways, so that sinners will turn back to You...Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare Your praise...My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart  You, God, will not despise.: - Psalm 51: 13, 15, 17


I made a commitment a long time ago to discover and intentionally list the multitudes of God's blessings. Obviously, I let "stuff" get in the way. This week,however, I have some worries and concerns heavy on my heart and it would be easy to get so caught up in fear that I forget God's goodness...So maybe this is the perfect time to turn my focus on Him rather than getting caught up in worry and anxiety. Besides, this week blessings have been evident. There are so many good things to be thankful for...So to continue my list...

81.  Slain dragons.
82.  Anticipating answers to prayer.
83. Spending thanksgiving with a very special family. Good meal, good fellowship and AWESOME friends.
85. A place for all my HOPE chics to nest for Thanksgiving.
86. Unexpected letters from England--another mother's blessing.
87. British chocolate!!!
88. Our book in Portuguese...God at work in Brazil.
89. Anticipating Andy's graduation! So happy for him!
90. HOPE fun and fellowship.
91. Decorating Christmas trees.
92. Christmas lights.
93. ART STAR's paintings.
94. Seeing Brittany find her niche in teaching art and creativity with those kids.
95. Bones that rattle and bruise but don't break!
96. Spike and Zoe--they make me smile!
97. Cooking with Andy.
98. White chocolate coffee!
99. Dreams that don't come true...
100. Sudafed--the original kind.
101. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE these bright autumn colors!
102. Windless days.
103. Psalm 91.
104. Faith. I can't imagine how people get thru life without it.
105. Birthdays...Seems like my kids' birthdays get more precious every year.
106. Friends that pray faithfully.
107. Power tools!  My scroll saw, belt sander, and drill press and a little paint and wood open up a whole new world sometimes...
108. Warm places.
109. Jesus loves me no matter what.
110. Strangers in the laundromat who become friends during the dry cycle. It's amazing how people open up over a load of laundry!
111. Words that give life.

Speaking of words....What better way to focus on the positive than to find it in His Word!...
112. REST - "Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty." - Psalm 91:1
113. BATTLE - "All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s..." - 1 Samuel 17:47 (I'm holding tight to this one...whether it be battles in Afghanistan or battles of the mind--they are all HIS.)
114. UNFAILING - "Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in you alone." - Psalm 33:22  (What a gift that we can trust that His love never fails!)
115. HOPE - "He commanded our ancestors to teach them to their children, so the next generation might know them—even the children not yet born—and they in turn will teach their own children. So each generation should set its hope anew on God, not forgetting his glorious miracles and obeying his commands." - Psalm 78:5-7 (I love how hope goes on and on from generation to generation. All else of this world may fail, but He always gives us hope.)

holy experience

Friday, November 26, 2010


"Words kill, words give life: they're either poison or fruit--you choose." -- Proverbs 18:21 The Message

     Eyes cast down as others come in prayer, thinking of those words that have slain and those that have raised up. And though raised up, those first words have left tender scars...reminders from whence we came. I look up as a young boy walks to his father to pray. I know the rocky road they've traveled and tears fill my eyes wishing for what I don't have and praying for these two so fragile and vulnerable...The boy talks quietly to dad and Dad replies gently in the boy's ear as if no one else is in the room. A scene not played out often enough but has begun rehearsal in the privacy of home...Practice makes perfect, you know. Dad wraps an arm around the boy's shoulder, heads bow, and Dad prays over the son he loves so deeply. As he prays, he grips the boy tighter...Soulful God-words begin to lift up a boy that doesn't trust enough to believe...Words give life...Dad wipes away his own tears and holds the boy even tighter. Those prayer words raise up both man and boy. The boy begins to trust just a little and the father embraces--cords that bind both together in the places where wounds made weak. Now cords of prayer and embracing arms make strong as both of them learn more and hold on to those words that raise up. This beautiful picture of father and son...a work in progress and a masterpiece of grace. I was blessed in seeing it--recognizing the reflection of my Abba and me, knowing that His words and His embrace made me stronger in those scarred and weak places.
     Then this week, I heard a story of a boy lost in the tide of horrendous abuse and brokenness of family--his own mom guilty for not saving him, though she fought to protect. She stood between the killing dragon and her boy, but she lost the battle as she herself was "involved in the story"--not a reluctant witness, but a slain victim. And we think, "but a mother should fight to the death" and some brag what grander feats they would have achieved if they had been in her place. But those of us who've been there understand those killing words the mom lived herself and we see her hidden mortal wounds that bled out slowly, stealing life away. 
     She was locked away for failing to be a dragon slayer--convicting words that drove a knife deeper in her hidden wounds. Even when chains were loosed and locks undone, those same old words and new ones defeated her. Once again, she was taken away. This time, the bars weren't the instruments that confined her. She was bound by killing words she couldn't outrun or outfight. Today, the boy tells his story and has every right to hate or resent--she tells hers in the midst of it. Some wonder, "Did she really love the boy or herself more?" But they aren't part of the story...Only she and the boy knows. After all was said and done, the boy found hope in the resurrecting words of a coach and with leather ball and cheering fans, the boy was made strong in the places where words made weak. He rises up a dragon slayer and fights with all his might and has become the hero in the story. Now, with his own battle fought and won, he fights for her. His words--he still loves her, forgives her..."She'll always be my mom...."  Those words strike against those that inflicted mortal wounds made by another so long ago--making mother strong in those places where killing words have made weak. And once again, locks are undone and the prisoner is set free. This time, they fight together--this mother and son--striking down those killing words and raising each other up with words that give life. It's the story in reverse or maybe it's just this circle we call life...and forgiveness. And like the other story of father and son, they are a work in progress, an unfinished masterpiece designed by Grace.
     The power of forgiveness is a mystery to me as my own scenes flash before me...As I think of those killing words...both given and received across generations. And I realize that forgiveness is the sword that overcomes...With pain and sorrow, I remember when dragons weren't slain for me and when I failed to slay dragons for my own no matter how hard I tried...Those wounds and scars go deep. But a wise one reminds me that some of those dragons have already been slain. I remember and cherish words that come randomly by text, "I love you, Mom." Or late one night from another son, "Mom, I just want you to know I really love you." Or the call, "Mom, I made Sergeant..." Or when I was ready to give up, Daughter wrote a cherished letter..."Just breathe, Mom..." And now the excitement in her voice when she calls, "I have an idea about my class...What do you think?" And she and I share ideas and thoughts in teaching, seeking life-giving words and colors for very young ones. Or when son or daughter calls, "Mom, will you pray for...?" Or "Mom, come have lunch with me..." And some words come much more easily for me now than they used to somehow, "I love you, Son...God has a plan for you, Daughter...I'm proud of you...You can do this...I'm praying for you...I'm sorry." 
      Even when we don't realize it, we're slaying dragons. The scars are still there--yes, they are still tender and sometimes painful but they serve as reminders of how far we've come. But with each life-giving word and each dragon slain, we are making each other stronger in the weak places. Dragon slayers--my children and me, though I'm not sure they always see it yet. We are a work in progress and, though unfinished, a masterpiece of Grace...And, for that, I am thankful.

"But now, this is what the Lord says—He who created you, Jacob, He who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I HAVE REDEEMED YOU; I have summoned you by name; 
When you pass through the waters, I WILL BE WITH YOU, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.  FOR I AM THE LORD YOUR GOD, 
 the Holy One of Israel, YOUR SAVIOR... 
Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east, and gather you from the west.  I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ 
BRING MY SONS FROM AFAR AND MY DAUGHTERS FROM THE ENDS OF THE EARTH—everyone who is called by My name, whom I created for My glory, whom I formed and made...” 
 Isaiah 43:1-3, 5-7 NIV

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


    Family traditions...We all seem to have them even if we don't recognize them. It's kinda funny...Some of the holiday traditions my kids (now grown) still cherish are those we never really intended--they just evolved. When we are all together, they often talk about the odd little things they remember but never so much about the presents except the more practical sentimental ones...Honestly, we never were able to give them much of value but they remember the artsy fartsy stuff that I always made sure was under the tree to encourage their creative spirits--art pads and pencils, guitar picks and musical accessories, journals and books. (A tradition worth its price--they are all uniquely gifted now.) They can buy those things themselves now but it's still an expected "tradition" for mom to include them... We remember church Christmas plays, cantatas, and band concerts...Stockings with all their funny little pint-size treasures...Green bean casserole, pumpkin pie, and broccoli-rice casserole...The cooking chaos and mad rush to Granny's house. 
     They especially remember the extra unplanned guests we always seemed to have--kids, family members, or even a couple of strangers who had nowhere to go, no families, or whose families didn't celebrate Christmas. But it's more than the annual ritual--our stories center around memorable events, laughable disasters and special graces of each Christmas...Those stories that are once in a lifetime and unrepeatable...
     ...Like Pepaw's last Christmas with us--he was so weak. Even the kids somehow sensed it would be his last...That last picture of him confined to a wheelchair, the kids in his lap and surrounding him...and my belly carrying unborn Zachary. He insisted that Zachary be in the picture too! That was a sadly sweet and precious Christmas...Like the beaming face of an incorrigible neighbor boy who brought us gifts he had gathered around his house and obviously personally wrapped for our family. "Taking" was his usual nature but he and his sister often found shelter at our house on scary stormy nights when their dad was working. Jacob wanted somehow to show us he loved us. His gifts were hilarious and totally impractical but even the youngest understood Jacob's "giving" was a special uncharacteristic joy for him although we were quite speechless! (I still have my lime green carnival prize dog somewhere!)...Like the year  a young man, 17 years old, spent Christmas morning with us. He was almost in tears when he discovered "Santa" had filled a stocking for him too. His family had never celebrated Christmas or even birthdays. It felt good to share our family and our Jesus with him on his very first real Christmas. 
      The holidays changed somewhat when my husband and I separated and finally divorced. Two years ago, I wanted to forget Christmas altogether--my depression was so deep. I prayed for a way out and begged my kids to do Christmas without me but nothing doing for Brittany. I didn't look forward to holidays anymore. But last year I just couldn't muster the same old Christmas. Too many years, I determined to "make" Christmas happen. I just couldn't do it anymore. So my kids and I decided to make drastic changes--to lessen the chaos, runabout, and busyness. We set the day apart just to be together at my house without running from house to house to make all the busy rounds.
     No big fancy meal--just Christmas brunch (cooked mostly by the kids and their dad) and a newer tradition with two bartenders in the family now--mimosas, and most important--lots of laughter and love. Again, we had additional welcome guests. The kids now invite their special romantic interests and friends who have no family. I used to be the one telling them who was coming to Christmas. Our usual family of seven was 11 this time. Without all the hustle and bustle of cooking, cleaning, making everything just so and rushing off to other obligations, I was able for the first time to actually sit and enjoy the time with them. It's a rare occasion when all of my children can gather in one place anymore, and when they do, I'm always so busy. Not this time. So much laughter, lots of sharing, and limitless love. Tension of recent years melted away for the day. We went to the movies together, and then out to eat Chinese...No cooking, no dishes, no fuss! Our best Christmas ever! A lot of the fluff was gone but the spirit of our most precious tradition remained. We not only shared our Christmas, we shared our family. Just as Christ so lovingly draws us to Himself, we embraced each other as well as our guests and drew them in as our children...and brothers. We were all equally blessed, I think. 
     When divorce fractures a family, when extended family discord strains relationships, when growing up strips away visions of sugarplums and merry old men, the Bennett family can still find it in ourselves to seek and share the Love that came down that star-filled night more than 2000 years ago. I wasn't sure my ex-husband and I had really instilled anything positive--life had gotten so twisted...But my kids remember the best of Christmas past. It was good and we committed as a family to make this unconventional Christmas our tradition. At least for one day a year in our family of however many, all is calm, all is bright...

"Silent night (though not so silent)...Holy nIght.
Son of God, Love's pure light...Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace.
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth...Jesus, Lord at Thy birth."
"Silent Night" written in 1816 by Priest Joseph Mohr

“I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they will be my people.”
 This is what the Lord says: “The people who survive the sword 
will find favor in the wilderness;  I will come to give rest to Israel."
The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: 
“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
 I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. I will build you up again..."

Jeremiah 31:1-4

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


      I saw a church sign this week: "What we do now echoes in eternity." It stuck in my head as I thought how one thing we might do--one choice--could reverberate across time and even generations. Chad told us to think about a moment in time that changed our lives forever. James Emery White wrote of these kairos moments--a whole book in fact: "Kairos is time filled with opportunity, a moment pregnant with eternal significance and possibility. It is a point of time that demands action, a space of time in which life-determining decisions are made."
     Os Guinness wrote, "Nothing is more critical than to recognize and respond to such a moment. Before will hardens into fate and choice into 'might have been,' the kairos hour is the moment when the present is at its greatest intensity and the future is uniquely open to our decision and action." 
     That's quite a loaded moment! We'd like to think our future depends on serious thought and well-laid plans. Sometimes (probably more often than not), our kairos moments are not planned or thought out. They burst in on us uninvited and even unwelcome. They just kind of happen in the urgency of a moment. 
     I like to be in control. I like to think--and for others to think--that I've got it all together and that I'm unfazed by much of what life throws at me. But the truth is that sometimes the most seemingly insignificant thing can trigger an unreasonable reaction and I come completely undone. Through most of my life, I was able to keep my "undoing" private. As much as I hate to admit it, sights, words, certain people, and especially smells can trigger PTSD flashbacks. For a long time, pride and self-preservation enabled me to keep a lid on my secrets. The fear of appearing crazy sometimes exceeded the fear of my past and kept me in check...publicly at least. 
     Then one day, I came so unraveled and so lost in traumatic flashback, I knew I was in danger and was desperate for a safe place. It's hard to explain living with PTSD. It rears up when I least expect it and turns my life and my thinking upside down. I could usually slip in the church unnoticed and busy myself or stay somewhere quiet until the episode ran its course. It has often been my safe zone. That day--no such luck. The pastor and his friend saw me come in. I went on to my classroom without stopping to talk, hoping they would just think I had things to do and go about their own business. I wanted--I needed to hide out alone until I could get my head and my heart back together. I knew what was coming. I would get so entrenched in a memory, as if the past became present--the sounds, the sights, and the smells seem so very real. I knew I couldn't escape it or bring myself back to reality without drastic measures. I locked the door in hopes of being left alone. But minutes later: knock, knock.I didn't answer. Knock, knock again. "Sheri..." I sat in the corner out of sight, hoping they would go away. I heard keys jingle as the door was opened. "Someone's here to see you."
     I thought, "Not now! I can't handle this now." Before I could protest, the visitor was led in. Normally I would jump to respond to someone's need and even that day, I really tried to listen. I could hear her words but they weren't registering. The other images were invading my thoughts. C evidently felt the need to step in to check on things. The visitor was still oblivious but thankfully he realized "things" were not so okay--I was injured. He quickly made excuses and ushered her out. I locked the door again, not quite sure what I was afraid of but I didn't want anyone to see me that way. I was uncooperative to say the least, but he must have had an idea what was happening and insisted I get help. I didn't want that kind of help. Basically, he forced me to go willingly or with escort. Finally, I hesitantly agreed to go. Honestly, I couldn't have hated him more yet appreciate him at the same time. He was firm though he didn't pry or humiliate. He made good on his promise to walk with me through my mess. I don't remember much that followed except the waiting. I was overwhelmed, terrified,and so vulnerable--at the mercy of people I didn't know and memories I couldn't escape or understand. I remember this much though--C knew somehow that my ultimate healing depended on that vulnerability. Shame always prevented me from talking about my "stuff" or opening up about some of these memories that haunted me. Only one other person--a counselor--had even an inkling. In the waiting that day, I paced and climbed the walls, wishing I could escape and run far away from anyone I ever knew or who knew me. Far away from pain, memories, and shame. The waiting seemed forever--I was half here but flashbacks still plagued the other half. I don't know why or how but I started talking--the whole memory that had me in its grip spilled out. I can only wonder what must have been going through his mind. He sat and listened without word, comment, or judgment. I was a mess but I needed that quiet time to talk without detour--to pour out the poison. 
     It was a life-defining kairos moment and it turned the tide on my healing I think. Time stood still as, for the first time, I spoke the ugly out loud without so much shame and fear of judgment or consequence, even if it was only for a few moments..or hours. Honestly, I'm not sure which...I remember little else about the rest of that day. I know I went backward before I went forward. I know that coming back to the church was a very hard thing to do but I did and there were caring friends who helped me through it. 
     That was a long time ago. Healing has been in the making for several years and I'm still healing. I still don't like being vulnerable. And even as far as I've come, I still don't always walk this path perfectly but something in me changed that unpleasant day. God was given permission to begin prying the fingers of shame's grip loose from me--a long and difficult process. The waiting that day was a timeless moment that--for me--will echo in eternity. I didn't realize it then, but I made a choice that day and that choice is still making me. Church is still my "safe" place--the Spirit's dwelling place--and I can say with certainty that I never want to leave the safety of His presence.

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord  all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple. 
For in the day of trouble He will keep me safe in His dwelling; He will hide me in the shelter of His sacred tent and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at His sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Psalm 27:4-6


Thursday, November 4, 2010


     "I can see clearly now, the rain is gone. I can see all the obstacles in my way..." This song has bumped around in my head for more than a week since I had the privilege to witness a miracle: a friend's eye surgery. Now don't get me wrong--I'm not a blood, guts, and body parts junkie by any means! Watching people get cut open on TV or in life is nowhere on my bucket list, but Anne wanted or needed to know someone was there for her...watching. And once I got past the thoughts of "Ugh! Ouch!" and I began to realize the miracle that was taking place, it was downright amazing!
     Only a glass wall separated me from the operating room. The doctor, anesthesiologist, and two nurses were clad in blue scrubs and Anne was draped in blue sheets. A small television hung in the corner showing a screen-size view of an eye--Anne's eye. The undertones of surgery seemed louder than life--the whir and hiss of unidentified machines, and the clink of tools—I still wasn’t confident that I wanted to witness this. The anesthesiologist looked my way and nodded, eye crinkling, a smile hidden behind his mask. His nod was somehow an odd assurance. Not only could I see them but they could see me, and I suddenly felt less like an intruder and more like a welcome observer. 
     The doctor bent over Anne's face, tools in hand. On the screen, the scalpel gently cut into the eye and another wand slid in under the cornea I think,flushing the iris and pupil with water. She cut again and suddenly, a film began to break up. The whir suddenly became a roar as the second nurse took instrument in hand and went toward Anne's face. On the screen, the tip of the tool moved toward the fractured film and inhaled it. Without a word, the surgical team worked together like a well-oiled machine. The doctor cut again, one nurse flushed, the other suctioned the remants from the eye. I couldn't tell you the medical details of all that was taking place. I didn't know that much about cataracts or the surgery. When I was a child, people lived out the rest of their days in darkness because of cataracts. Surgery then was rare--more for the wealthy or insured--and at best, only a temporary solution. Cataracts often grew back. As I watched, I realized cataract surgery has become so commonplace today that we don't often recognize the miracle that is taking place. We don’t stop to think how it brings clarity, color, and life to those whose vision have become faded, dim, and unclear.
     Layer upon layer, this "film" was broken up and inhaled. I was stunned that Anne's cataract was that dense. No wonder that she couldn’t see--I hadn't realized how limited her vision really was. The last layer proved to be a little tougher but it too was torn and inhaled. The doctor had removed the old diseased lens. Suddenly, light filled the center of Anne’s eyes and it gleamed with a golden glow. It was beautiful. The magnitude of this moment touched me to the core. The doctor replaced the old lens with a brand new lens created especially for Anne. She would no longer even need glasses. I could see the clearness of her eye now, every line in the iris distinct and the pupil was defined. Her eye wasn’t so jaded anymore. The doctor patched the eye, offered Anne some assurances, and the surgery was over.
    I went back to the waiting room in awe. This surgery would offer Anne a new life and new confidence. Her world wouldn’t be quite so small anymore. She would be able to see—to read, to watch television, and to “hear.” You see, Anne is almost deaf and also depended on her eyes to read lips. She had lost much more than her sight.
     My heart was pounding as I waited to see Anne, thanking God that He would give her such a blessing. Unexpectedly, He gently whispered to me, “But do you understand now why YOU are here? Take hold of it. Do you recognize that you’ve had “cataract surgery” of another kind? It has taken six long years but light has finally dawned in your eyes too..."
     I took Anne back the next morning. She was anxious and excited. She insisted I go in with her. The doctor carefully removed the patch and Anne almost fell out of the chair! The doctor was reassuring her, "I know...the light is bright." But Anne was exclaiming with her heavy Scottish lilt, "I can see! I can see! Oh my God, I can see! It's so clear! I never would have believed it! I've never had eyes like this before!" The doctor could do nothing else but sit back and wait. I think she was holding back tears as much as I was. I don't think any of us expected Anne's strong reaction. I have no doubt the doctor must have been blessed, knowing in that moment why she had chosen this specialty in medicine. I thought, "God, You must feel like that when we finally say, 'I can see! I can see!'"
    I felt His whisper again, "Do you get it now? Layer by layer, I broke through the darkness. I have given you new eyes, new sight...a whole new life. You are not the person you were..." 
     I’ve lived with shadows most of my life...I don't really know when they became permanent tag-alongs but their presence has dimmed my vision and outlook on life. My faith became distorted and out of focus--harsh and legalistic. For years, I didn’t understand it. I was trying to doing everything I was supposed to do but I was still hurting...still lost. I knew Scripture and yes, I had faith. I clung to it for dear life...literally. But I had lost hope. It was only in recent years that it was defined for me. You see, I live with major depressive disorder (severe depression in layman’s terms) and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Layer upon layer, it formed unchecked. Hurtful events, mortal wounds, hateful life-defining words, secrets, impossible standards, rejection, fear, deadly choices, self-loathing, shame, so many babies, religion, cancer, death, grief, rape, more secrets, a destructive marriage, pain, divorce, scars, suicide, and still more shame--each one adding to the density of the “cataracts” on my life. Blinded and overwhelmed, I could no longer see life, love, or faith clearly. My vision had become so distorted and fractured that it didn't make a Picasso painting.
     Finally, life as I knew it--the facade--fell apart, my mind and heart were shattered. I wanted to die. Pride gave way and I got in counseling and life began again as we cut through the mess of my life. I was encouraged to go to a non-traditional church. I swore I'd never be a part of a church again...God had His way instead. I went to a little warehouse church called The Mission. "There's a reason you're here..." Those words were the first hints of hope and incentive to keep on working. Healing didn't come easily. I can't tell you how many times I had setbacks, how many times I tried to give up, how many times the old life sought to draw me back in, and how many more times God put someone in my path here to pull me back and push me onward. So many wounds buried deep so that I didn't have to face them but now each one was exposed to His Light. "He reveals deep and hidden things; He knows what lies in darkness, and Light dwells with Him." (Daniel 2:22 NIV)
     Layer by layer, counselors and these new Mission friends faced the shadows with me. They were His surgical team; and with Him, they worked in unison like that well-oiled machine, even though they may not have realized their role. The only "truth" I had known was my enemy and my downfall--but that "truth" was an imposter, piling on layers of legalism, lies, and pretense. A new truth--God's Truth--tore away the old and inhaled it. Grace washed my eyes, clearing any remnant left behind. Acceptance cut through another layer as these people showed me what Christ sees in me Those life-defining words and recordings were cleared away and I began to feel again, though feeling wasn't always pleasant. Just as Anne's doctor had to scrape the scum from her eye, all the finally-loosed grief and tears that had long been held painfully chipped away at the callousness of my heart and self-hatred. Tears and brokenness were needed as the old lens of my life was shredded and removed...New light gleamed as I began to learn a new way to live--new coping skills,new boundaries, new thoughts, new hope. A brand new lens replaced my old diseased one--TRUTH. And because of it, I've finally learned to accept and receive His grace. 
     Yesterday, after over six years, I had my final counseling session (more than three with this counselor) It was a time of bittersweet reflection laced with hope and grace. To be honest, the road ahead is frightening to me without that safe assurance. But I'm stronger--I can see more clearly--and I'm looking forward to what lies before me. The patch has come off and I can see today like I've never seen before. I can't say that all my circumstances have changed or all the bad memories have vanished. They are part of my story and I'm still a work in progress. But I cope with difficulties differently now. I can see all the obstacles in my way and those memories in a different light. I can be real today--no more pretending. And when I'm afraid, I'm not alone in my darkness. His light filters through my dim sight and becomes bright and new each day. I'm truly not the person I used to be--that old "sheri" is just a shadow of the past. Today I am loved, I am accepted, and I am forgiven. Those who have walked with me these last six years know those words don't come lightly or easily but "surgery" has been worth the price I paid...the price Jesus paid. He IS my miracle.
    And borrowing Anne's own words, "I can see! I can see! Oh my God, I can see! It's so clear! I never would have believed it! I've never had eyes like this before!"
   "But me He caught—reached all the way from sky to sea; He pulled me out of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos, the void in which I was drowning. They hit me when I was down, but God stuck by me. He stood me up on a wide-open field; I stood there saved—surprised to be loved! 

   God made my life complete when I placed all the pieces before Him. When I got my act together, He gave me a fresh start. Now I'm alert to God's ways; I don't take God for granted. Every day I review the ways He works; I try not to miss a trick. I feel put back together, and I'm watching my step.
 God rewrote the text of my life when I opened the book of my heart to His eyes." - 
Psalm 18:16-24 The Message


Sunday, October 31, 2010


    There's been a lot of talk about heroes lately...I know what it takes for a Marine to live out "Duty, Honor, and Country" in another war-torn country--for anyone in the military who willingly risks or even gives his or her life so that people in any land can live in freedom--and not just in the US...I have three Marine sons who have served in Iraq, one of them is now in Afghanistan, and another one will be the first of next year. I've been the loved one left at home watching and waiting for soldiers to return, praying that they come home in one piece--both physically and mentally. I've received that phone call that told me my son had been injured when a bomb exploded...And the blessed second call when he called personally and said, "Mom, I'm okay..." My prayers were answered. Except for a few scars inside and out, my son was safe that time...Many moms and wives don't get that second call.
     I know well the sacrifice and the selflessness of those who serve so devotedly right here in our own community--law enforcement, firefighters, and emergency personnel. They put their lives on the line every day to make our home a safe place to live. I thank God for their willingness, their courage, and their perseverance. I am very blessed to know some of them as my friends.
     I know some people who have risen up with courage in the face of tragedy, uncontrollable circumstances, and insurmountable odds. They've looked disaster, catastrophic illness, devastating loss, and great injustices in the eye and they've won--if not in this life, in the next. They fight, they overcome, they take back lost ground, and they don't back down no matter what life throws at them. They've done what others can't even imagine doing for the sake of their families and others, and for their own testimonies. No matter what the consequences are, their stories remain as testament and inspiration for those who share similar struggles. They leave a lasting legacy of faith, perseverance, and courage so that we may have hope.
     Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) When I think about my sons, other military men and women, policemen, firemen, and emergency personnel--all of those who daily put themselves in the line of fire...those who risk their lives for the sake of us--their friends. When I think of those who have battled tragedy, illness, and circumstance with faith so strong that their stories reflect Christ Himself, I know that I have come in the presence of rare courage. All of these people are, without a doubt, heroes.
     I know who the heroes are--I can list many of them by name. I know the stories that make them heroes but I can't help but ponder what goes into the making of a hero. What sets a hero apart from the "un-heroes" (if there is such)? I think about my own personal heroes--those who have impacted my life so greatly that I have been changed because of them. And as I realize why they are so important to me, their qualities stand out as the same characteristics that make up any true hero. God used four certain people to bring me from darkness into light and I will ever be grateful. The one main characteristic that stands out in all of them is that they are ordinary people living extraordinary lives...Just normal people serving an awesome God, yet they are heroes nonetheless. They do what they do because God has put that purpose in their hearts and they live it out with faith, personal sacrifice, determination, and perseverance.
     The first time I went to the Mission, Chad said, "There's a reason you're here." I thought it was pastoral rhetoric--I barely knew him and he didn't know me--but when I came back a few weeks later, he said, "I told Cope you'd be back. There's a reason you're here." I was stunned that I had even been a subject of conversation. Honestly, it was a little unnerving; I didnt' think I mattered...When I went on Nightstrikes the first time, he said again, "There's a reason you're here"...and I met "Blossom" in a homeless camp, a story for another time. Every time I wanted to give up on myself, on life, and on God, he said, "There's a reason you're here." Just something he says to everybody, I thought for a while, but he never gave up and his stubbornness won out over my own. He meant what he said. That was seven years ago and to this day, I still hear him say those words... You see, heroes can see beyond what most eyes can see. Heroes see in us what others don't see and more important, what we can't see in ourselves, and they fight against the odds to uncage the impossible. "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11) My heroes taught me that God had a purpose for my life. 
     Tom was my counselor before he became my friend. The first time I met him, I really didn't like what he had to say. As I left his office that day, I thought, "Who the hell does he think he is?!" You see, heroes speak truth even when we don't want to hear it but I was desperate enough to go back. I learned his harsh truths had a purpose: "Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won't be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ..." (Ephesians 4:14-15) God used him to open doors in my heart that I fought long and hard to keep closed. Tom pushed me to look at some ugly truths in my life, not to hurt me but to help me grow. He made me realize that things that happened in the past mattered--that sometimes it's okay to be angry...and to be broken. That truth became a catalyst that would change my life...
      I've been in "church" my whole life but what I knew in my head, my heart hadn't yet captured. Tom showed me that there is an ever-loving Jesus who shed His blood for my sake so that I don't have to, revealing a Savior who loved mercy more than making me pay for my mistakes, shortcomings, and shame. Tom was also the first to say, "I'm sorry" (though it wasn't warranted) and mean it. You see, I believe heroes are real people--not perfect but using what God has taught them through their own life experience to be life-saving beacon to others. He shed light on my hidden darkness and set me on a journey of healing. 
     Lori befriended me even before I realized who she really was. She offered acceptance and friendship in a away I had never known--and was probably the first woman I ever trusted. She and Tom gave me a car--a gift of great monetary value (in my world anyway) but worth so much more than can be measured by dollars and cents. I offered several excuses why they shouldn't--no drivers license as the main one. But Lori knocked each one down and took me to get that license. More than once, she helped me do what I couldn't do on my own. And she didn't stop with a car or even a license. She encouraged me to reach out to other women (something I never thought I would ever do) and she walked the first mile with me. We started a journaling class that later evolved into H.O.P.E. Their gift began with a car but became much more than something tangible. By their words, their actions, and their love, it became evident. They sought no acclaim or glory for their own sake--Lori and Tom simply believed in me. That alone was the most precious treasure I could have ever been given. They believed that my broken pieces could become something beautiful. They became grace to me and showed me that there was so much more to this life than I believed possible and because they believed in me, I began to believe in myself. And just as Jesus taught the motley crew how to be disciples, Lori taught me how to be one. Because she sacrificed her time and her love for me, I learned how to do the same for others, using my weaknesses to evidence His strength. And in the process of it, He began putting my broken pieces back together again. 
     Lori often quotes 2 Corinthians 12:9--"But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." You see, heroes are also teachers, empowering us rather than enabling us. All of my heroes reached out to me with the intent that I would not dependent on them or their own heroic acts but rather to be dependent on Christ. I'm amazed when I realize how far I've come since I met them. Back then, I built thick walls to keep people at a distance and I was coming undone. Life teaches us that we must be connected to people to be whole, but a true hero enables us to be whole so that we can truly be connected with people.
     And finally, there's "The Syndrome"...Paul. Taking up where Tom left off, he walked with me on the path Tom had set me on. I've been asked if I've ever called him "The Syndrome" to his face--and yes, I actually have. It's not a slam--it's a compliment and I say it with utmost respect. The first time I was in his office, he tried to put me at ease by telling me a little about himself, including his favorite Scripture passage, Romans 7--you know, what I call the Paul syndrome (after the apostle, not the counselor). "For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing." (vs. 19) Kind of an interesting way for a counselor to introduce himself, eh? But it was a "God-thing" because at the time, that particular passage was heavy on my heart. He seemed to have a sense already how shame had defined my life. It's been quite a journey since then--a rocky road, to say the least! But step by step, he has literally taught me how to live again as he sorted through my mess and madness. He allowed me no excuses or self-pity (he's a pretty tough cookie!) but he has given me life-long coping skills and helped me face my worst fears and shame. I wonder if he wanted to give up as often as I did. Armed with a firm but compassionate truth, he pushed me to get back in the race every time I fell down. With painstaking effort, he taught me to view my life in a different way--to see myself as Christ sees me rather than by images and memories of my past. Paul taught me that it's okay to stand up for myself and to set safe boundaries. God has used him to teach me HOW to live--another favorite in Romans 12:2--"Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect." You see, I believe heroes are warriors who defeat our "demons"--our enemies, our fears, insecurities, and stinkin' thinkin'--and teach us to fight too--maybe not with weapons but with truth. They help us to become stronger, healthy people. 
     Not one of these people would define him or herself as a hero. They seek no prize or praise--a hero's most unlikely trait may actually be his humility. Do they have "super powers"? No, not of their own making anyway, but rather that of the Christ in them. HE is who and what empowers them to BE heroes. Each one truly knows and lives Philippians 4:13. "I have learned the secret of living in every situation...I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength." You see, I think real heroes seek no glory of their own, nor boast of what they can do themselves. Instead, their lives and deeds point directly to Jesus Christ. They are living, breathing reflections of Him. When I think of them, I don't see men and women--I see Christ Himself.
     Yes, my heroes--Chad, Tom, Lori, and Paul--are those who have impacted my life so much that I am changed because of them...They are those people who could have become icons in my life. But instead of making me wish to become more like them, by their words and actions--even their very nature--they make me want to become more like Christ. I am changed because of the love and grace they have shown me--the same love and grace they have also received...

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord..." - Philippians 2:6-11

Yes, I am changed because of Christ living in them. I am changed because of Christ....So I guess you could say, Jesus is my ULTIMATE hero...

Thursday, October 7, 2010


     She laid her head against my shoulder so sweetly. Somehow without words or evidence, she trusted me to care for her while her mom and dad were away...Tim said she'd been awake since 5 am. Her breathing came heavy--her tiny nose congested and her body so warm to the touch--a little feverish yet so sleepy. Her tiny delicate fingers wrapped around one of mine and suddenly it all became so natural again and my tension melted. 
     It seemed like years fell away in the sweetness of this tender moment...remembering similar moments with my own children. Still a little fussy, Emma whimpered and I suddenly remembered the words I used to sing when mine were so small..."I'll walk in the rain by your side; I'll cling to the warmth of your tiny hand. I'll do anything to help you understand that I love you more than anybody can..." (Yes! I am not ashamed-- I was once a diehard John Denver fan...)
     She quieted with the sound and vibration of my voice as she leaned against my chest. Her breathing became rhythm and I gently went from words to a hum to which little Emma in her half-sleep began to sing herself and pushed against me until I began to sing again with her. Such a familiar routine though it has been many years now and I had forgotten the blessedness of these moments with my own precious ones whom God had placed into my care. As she relaxed into a deeper sleep and my words became a hum again, my mind drifted back to those days past so many years ago...
    I remember how tense and frightened I was with Brittany--my first--and she knew it. But when we rocked and sang in the dead of night, she lay so still and my fears and tension melted. This part of motherhood I knew--I may not have been good at so many other aspects of motherhood but I could do this. Through the years in the rocking chair with little independent Mikey, bright and blue-eyed Andy, soulful Elias, and finally joyful Zachary--my baby boy now 21 years old. 
     He was born five days after my father-in-law Arnett passed away. The three years before were a whirlwind caring for my four little ones as well as this dear man--he had an incurable brain tumor. The last few months of my pregnancy became gray as Arnett's care became all-consuming. There was so little time to anticipate this new life in my belly beginning as I witnessed this man's precious life ending and tried to meet his needs. As Arnett's life faded into glory, Zachary's new life filled the void and soothed my grief. Even as I sang at Arnett's service, I was having contractions--Zachary letting me know it would soon be HIS time.
     In losing Arnett, I became more aware how quickly time passes as my precious ones grew right before my eyes each day. From day one, our children seek independence, pushing away from mama's tight grasp. I knew Zachary would be my last so I anticipated these late night and early morning rocker moments with him in my arms. I remember praying over him as I did over the four that came before him..."Lord, please keep him safe and protect him from harm. You gave him to me and I give Him back to you. Help him to go out from here and become the man You want him to be--strong, courageous, and wise. To know how very much I love him even though I'm not the mother he deserves. Give him the courage to reach for his dreams and the potential to go far beyond where I could ever lead him. Teach him to never let go of hope no matter what happens..." And I would sing him the same lullaby just as I had sung with the four babies before him and now with Emma.. "And the wind will whisper your name to me..."                                                                         
     And then today, I looked down on Emma's long lashes as she slept and my own heart was wrenched with God-tears just as it did back then at the awe and beauty of this precious little child with her whole life in front of her but also with the mother-sadness of that last precious moment at the airport with my own "baby" just a few days before. He is no longer a fragile infant--he is now a man, strong enough and broad enough to wrap his arms around me and hold me tight as we say goodbye one more time--my Marine son leaving us again and soon on his way to Afghanistan. This day I sang no lullabyes--instead I tried desperately though unsuccessfully to hold my tears--to be brave and strong. And this time, he comforted me before he walked through the gate, picked up his guitar (he sings his own songs now) and looked back at us one more time. As his face turned away from us and toward his journey, I couldn't help but realize that though he is a head taller than me...He is strong and courageous and wise (most of the time)...He is a Marine trained well for the task that lays ahead of him...And I believe he is becoming the man God wants him to be...Yet somehow, he still seems tender and vulnerable as he was in those days I held him in the rocking chair. I wished I could protect him now as I did back then.
     This is the fifth time I've sent one of my sons off to war in a foreign land. Four times, they have come home safe--though Mikey came home the second time whole but with scars from an exploded IED. Four times, I sent them off with an inner peace knowing God holds them in the palm of His hand and four times, I have welcomed them back home with an unspeakable joy. You would think it should get easier...that my heart peace would hold steady and unwavering. I can't explain why it's so hard this time but my heart breaks a little in letting him go, knowing I can't protect him like I did so many years ago. And I can't help but question, "Lord, will You bring him home again?"
     I tried to make conversation with Andy in the waiting--to push away this consuming fear. I turned away to hide my tears but they fell again as my Lord gently reminded me there in the airport, "Trust Me no matter what. He's not yours to hold but you can still pray as you did before."
     I waited and watched as Zachary's plane took to the sky and I prayed that same old  prayer, "Lord, please keep him safe and protect him from harm. You gave him to me and I give him back to You. Help him to go out from here and become the man You want him to be--strong, courageous, and wise...To know how very much I love him even though I'm not the mother he deserves. Give him the courage to reach for his dreams and the potential to go far beyond where I could ever lead him. Teach him to never let go of hope no matter what happens...And Lord, if it be Your will, let that hope be so strong that it brings him back home to us." 
     Today, I am so blessed by the tenderness of these rocking chair moments with Emma. She's not mine but God used her to remind me that even though I don't hold my children in my arms or sing them lullabies anymore, I can still hold them in my heart and know the joy and awe only a parent can experience in surrendering her child to Him every day, trusting that God can and will do for them what we can't--no matter what their age or where their steps may lead-- in a foreign war-torn land or here at home. And as I did before, I can still surrender them into His care. I can love them the best that I can and wait with hope for any opportunity to let them know, "I'll share with you all the happiness I've found, a reflection of the love in your eyes. And I'll sing you the song of the rainbow and whisper of the joy that is mine...I'll do anything to help you understand that I love you more than anybody can. And the wind will whisper your name to me...."
Song is "For Baby (For Bobbie)" written and recorded by John Denver

"...They brought the boy to Eli.
      'Sir, do you remember me?' Hannah asked. 'I am the woman who stood here several years ago praying to the Lord. I asked the Lord to give me this boy, and He has granted my request. Now I am giving him to the Lord, and he will belong to the Lord his whole life.'
     And they worshiped the Lord there" 
                                        --- 1 Samuel 1:25-28 NLT

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us..." - 2 Corinthians 4:7 

     Someone asked me what I thought his greatest accomplishment has been...He joked that it must be that he had survived this many years. But being of humble spirit, he honestly couldn't come up with an accomplishment that he considered worthy of greatness, so his question to me was serious. I had to think about it. I could make a list of many of his particular accomplishments by worldly standards--good husband, good father, amazing friend and Christian, writer and author, a truly good man, degreed and pedigreed, any number of achievements and accomplishments. But could I surely say what his greatest feat has been? 
     I think sometimes we toss around those words carelessly--"greatest" and "worst," "success" and "failure"--because they are not universal--at least not in God's eyes. They are relative terms measured according to personal perspective. I look at my friend and, in truth, his greatest deeds are probably those that most people never see or know about. And in him, what seems mountainous to me may not seem like much at all in his eyes... For me, my friend's greatest accomplishments are those things I struggle with most or maybe that which I'm most afraid of....Two qualities stand out: his determination to stand up for justice no matter what the cost and his willingness to forgive. He doesn't give up the fight God has called him to--he is bold and courageous in word and action. He has discovered the assurance of being forgiven and the ability to forgive those who seem most unforgivable--even those who fought hardest to destroy or take away that which he most cherishes. I don't mean that he just claims the words, "I forgive"--he doesn't take them lightly. Though not an easy process, his heart and his actions follow. He has truly forgiven and let go of bitterness and resentment. I've witnessed the changes in him. He has been able to forgive what I would conceive as unforgivable and unforgettable because he has fully received and owned Christ's forgiveness and mercy himself.
     Chances are he wouldn't even see forgiveness as an accomplishment at all. In fact, he wouldn't even view it as a quality to boast about but rather a hard-fought, blood-stained, failure-scarred battle he has endured. So how DO we measure accomplishment in ourselves? I mean, think about it. Do we really only want to "BE" what we "DO"? So if I were president--I could say that ruling the nation was a great accomplishment even though I may completely fail at being a good wife and mother or all-around good person...But what if I were a garbage collector or a toilet scrubber? My accomplishment couldn't even compare to being president so would my life be of less worth? Would my greatest deed be that I pick up trash or wield a toilet brush? Would it be noticed that in spite of what I "do," my worth should be measured by purity of heart, faith in action, and devotion to do my best in any task God calla me to? Would they realize that though I may stink of garbage and toilet cleanser, I still carry the aroma of Christ? 
     The world measures success by titles and degrees and dollars and deeds--name, fame, and acclaim.  But you know, I'm not so sure success or accomplishment should be measured in any human terms or that it really matters in the end. In God's perspective, would He define our successes in the same way the world does or would His list be different? Something to ponder, isn't it?...
     I began to wonder what my greatest accomplishment might be. It's a short list by any standard--not my greatest but rather any accomplishments at all. I think if I were to ask Christ what my greatest accomplishment was, he'd throw back questions as He was so prone to do, "Do you not remember what I've taught you? What are My greatest commandments? Are you doing what I asked you to do? The first shall be last..."
      I can't help but think about James and John as they fought over who would sit on the right side of Jesus. They wanted that place of honor. We work so hard to gain recognition or accomplishment yet it's so contrary with Jesus' paradoxical teaching. I get hung up on those haunting words from yesterday's sermon and I wonder what we really are striving for:

"If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?" - Matthew 16:24-26

 When it comes right down to it, the world's measure of success doesn't really matter in light of eternity. The old adage, "you can't take it with you" seems all too appropriate here.  I may be "good" at certain things or have a list of deeds or accomplishments, but what does it really mean? When I stand face to face with Jesus, will all those things matter?
    When I think about my friend, what is most meaningful? What stands out? And I realize that anything I would list would probably not be on his own personal list... And I have to consider why...He remembers His own journey as a battle won in spite of anger, fear, pain, failure, pride, and only he and God knows what else. Sheer survival was wrought with tears, anguish, frustration, sweat, sacrifice, and finally surrender. I see his ability to stand up against all odds, to live forgiven and to forgive the worst of enemies as a great accomplishment because it is a mountain I have yet to climb. I'm in awe that he has fought and won that battle and, in that regard, I want to be where he is--on the other side of that particular battle.
     Suddenly, it all clicks in place. That which I admire most in the people I respect--my own "cloud of witnesses"--is not what each individual has done in his/her own strength but rather what God has done in them and that which I still strive for.  My friend could not have possibly forgiven wrongs done to him if he depended only on his will or strength. It was Christ in him that enabled him to reach that mark...but not until the moment he gave up his fight and surrendered the battle to Christ. 
      And I suddenly realize that the things in my life which matter most are not the feats I have achieved--not the certificates on a wall or trophies or claim to fame or letters of recognition. Instead, the victories I treasure most are His alone--what Christ has done in me...And those life changes that have been etched by heartbreak, struggle, open wounds, rugged scars, and perseverance. Those "achievements" are certainly not things I've done well but rather the things that--after having tried and failed time and again in my own strength, I finally said, "I can't do this anymore" and I gave up...then gave the battle over to the One and Only who can do ALL things. And even at that, I'm still a work in progress. I haven't "arrived" or accomplished anything on my own though Christ continues to work in me and through me to accomplish HIS will, HIS work--not mine. So maybe our greatest accomplishment is better defined by what we have surrendered to Christ and what He has accomplished in us...I haven't really "achieved" anything but Christ has accomplished so much in me. If I were to list His greatest accomplishment, it would be that I am not the same person I used to be. Oh, if there is any accomplishment I would strive for, I think it would be to surrender those struggles in my life that I hold on to so forgiveness. My greatest desire would be that I be totally surrendered to Christ lock, stock, and barrel--all that I've been, all that I am, and all that I will ever be. And then to receive and fully accept His grace and His victory in me.

"We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that His life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.... Therefore WE DO NOT LOSE heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." - 2 Corinthians 4:8-12, 16-18