My latest article written for She Leads Daily is a subject I feel strongly about Abortion. I really prayed over this one. I thought my readers would like to see it, but you have to go over there to She Leads Daily to read it. I’ll make it easy on you just click on the link below…
In 2001, we rented a small house that backed up to a preservation on a lake. My boys, Nicky and Christian were before-the-sun risers, and a routine morning consisted of me brewing a pot of coffee before taking my boys out to the pier. From the gazebo, I drank coffee as the sun came up and shined away the mist floating on the surface. Some mornings I’d pray, while Nick peered over the edge for the turtle we named “Hook,” (a fish hook was caught in his foot.) The mornings we were lucky, we’d see the surface sliced by the resident gator, who nestled into the uninhabited reeds during the day or the pair of bald eagles nested in our trees. It was a quiet little oasis for me in a bustling tourist town.
On the morning of 9/11, we returned from the dock, everyone was dressed, fed and “10,000 Maniacs” was blaring through our home. I was twirling my soon-to-be-one year old Christian in my arms while Nick was shaking his booty on the floor at my feet. Natalie Merchant’s edgy voice sang “These are the days to remember…” as I dipped my heavy Christian over the sofa, and he belly laughed.
Then… the phone rang. It was my husband.
“What are you doing?”Jay said.
“Dancing with the boys.”
“Turn the news on. One of the twin towers in New York was hit by an airplane!” He said.
Music went off.
The news came on.
I nestled Christian in my arm and slid onto the sofa. Nicky plopped by his basket of toys.
On the Today Show, the World Trade Center gaped open while fire and smoke poured out. Katie Couric and Matt Lauer interviewed witnesses via the phone. Control tower problems? Something wrong with the pilot? Engine failure? Were all discussed possibilities, but then…another jet sliced into the second building.
“I think it’s undeniable this is an act of war,” One of them stated.
Nicky jumped up. “Kaboom! Crash!” Flailing his arms in front of the television.
“Nicky, come sit.” I wrapped my arms around them and held tight.
The words of the song still rang in my ears.
Today, I’ve thought about how rapidly our world has changed since that devastating day. Here is a small list of all that’s happened: terrorism, culture of consumerism, social media, political correctness, global awareness, increase in technology, celebrity worship, culture of acceptance and self-love, texting instead of talking, political bullying, Keurig Coffee makers, airport security, Oxycodone addictions, Amazon shopping, cell phones that act like computers, Drones, social protests of every sort, Christian bakers sued for not baking a gay wedding cake, multiple threats against Christianity, and somebody please explain why we had to close Blockbuster Video for goodness sakes? Whew! Depressed yet?
I’m in awe that at a time in history when Christians were staked and burned so Nero’s garden could have light for his dinner parties, Paul sat on the stone floor of a dank, dark prison knowing he was going to die. He penned the following letter to his young friend and co-worker, Timothy.
“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning, but never able to arrive at a knowledge of truth.”
He goes on to say, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (II Timothy 3:1-7 and 12, English Standard Version)
Do you think he was writing about today?
I believe we’ve lost so much more than the lives that perished on 9/11 in this fast paced, approval based, trying to keep up with the Joneses world of ours; and there are times I wish I could push rewind and the buildings would re-erect, and the workers would be leaning over their desks again. I’d be back watching the sunrise, brewing a pot of coffee, and dancing with my kids, instead of drowning in media. What would be different in your life if 9/11 never occurred?
Then again…have you ever noticed it is in darkness that a beam of light shines brighter? It pierces through the dark and creates focus. With focus, we see the lit path we are to take, and ahead the destination, which becomes our vision. It is in our darkest hours with which we feel God’s presence closer. I thought about Elijah standing on that mountain in I Kings.
“…And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.” (I Kings 19:11b-12 ESV)
You see, God is not in the devastations, He is experiencing them right next to us. So, maybe these are the days.
Something to think about…
Prayers for those in the storm.
For those of you who haven’t been following my friend Vanessa Raghubir’s story and you would like to read more, you can find her story at these links: Half-Naked and Picking Weeds,Half-Naked and Picking Weeds part 2,Half -Naked and Picking Weeds Part 3,When Being Still Seems Impossible!,When Too Much Gets to be Too Much!,When God Stretches Your Heart,Today: August 20, 2018,A Funeral…A Birthday…A Calling.
My friend Vanessa Raghubir passed away on August 20, 2018. She was 33 years old, a smidgen from her 34th birthday. Ironically, she died at the same age as Christ her Lord, but her time in the faith was about a year. She didn’t leave behind a surviving mate or children, instead she left behind a great testimony that has already been shared over and over. This was her dream, to share her testimony. She taught us many lessons in faith and love. Lessons I felt we could all benefit from.
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the bet use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:15-16 English Standard Version)
I asked Vanessa if there’s something she’d like everyone to know. She thought for a moment before forcing the words from her slow mouth. “Everyday counts,” she said. “I want them to know everyday counts.”
I couldn’t help, but wonder even this day? You’re bedridden, with a bald, swollen head that aches, it takes all your concentration to utter incomplete jumbled sentences, but before I could ask she went on…
“The doctors told me I had two months… months ago…I still have life. They don’t know. Every day counts.” She answered my question…even that day. I felt convicted. How many hours do I waste away on things that don’t matter when facing eternity.
After being diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer, Steve Jobs stated, “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure-these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trial of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
Make your days, hours, minutes, even seconds count. You don’t know how many you have left.
Love people no matter who they are, what they believe, right where they are.
“The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11-12 English Standard Version.)
Vanessa had an eclectic collection of friends from all races, backgrounds, and beliefs. Too often the gospel is strangled by the snake of self-righteousness. We forget one of the greatest commandments is to love our neighbor. We know how to preach it from the soapbox, but fail to practice it. How many times do we feel we need to stick up for God while beating our neighbor with the club of truth? Meanwhile, we wrap the like-minded in loving care because its easy. God commands us to humble ourselves and become servants to all neighbors.
Allow others to share in your pain.
“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps.” (I Peter 2:21 ESV)
One of Vanessa’s greatest gifts was allowing me a front row seat into her pain and suffering. For this, I was drawn to her bedside. I wanted to hold her hand, because she wanted me there. Her vulnerability was endearing. She was humble and not filled with pride. She scolded us once for not telling her one of her eyes was darting in another direction, but after scolding us busted out laughing.
At one of her consultations the doctor asked, “How are you doing Vanessa?
“Fine,” she said, as she always said when someone asked her.
But the doctor’s office was the place for honesty. I looked across the room. “Be honest,” I said.
“Well, I can’t see, I can’t walk, I can’t lift my right hand, I can’t speak,” she shrugged. “Other than that, I guess I’m fine.” We all laughed. You see she wasn’t a complainer, but she didn’t push people away from her, she pulled them in and held them tighter when she was suffering. She wanted connection, even if it was just a hand to hold. We were not created to be an island, to withstand the storms of life on our own. God created us to share each other’s heartaches, pains, and joys.
Below Video: A little humor break, I know I look like a professional Physical Therapist, but the truth was I had no idea what I was doing, and Vanessa was too kind to say anything. She was just letting me do my thing. LOL!
Minister to others even if you’re suffering more.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2 ESV
On her death bed, Vanessa asked her friends how they were doing. One day a friend named Fiaz Khan who suffers from MS came in. She turned her head and put out her hand and after several tries asked how his appointment with his doctor went. His eyes widened, and he was taken aback that Vanessa who had lost most of the control of her mouth to the point she couldn’t eat or swallow her salvia forced out the words to ask about him. It was a lesson, I’ll never forget.
We choose to be happy.
“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22 ESV)
The day Vanessa received the worst news, she had my husband Jay, her friend Sunita, and I wheel her outside the hospital.
She glanced up at us, “What should I do?” She had the choice to get on hospice and have two months to live or receive chemo to have maybe four.
“If you weren’t a believer, we’d be having a different conversation,” Jay said. “Vanessa, you have somewhere to go. The Father’s waiting for you. What quality of life will you have on chemo, to just stick around and suffer?”
“I’m tired,” she said. “Did I fight hard enough?”
We all assured her she fought very hard and she could let go now.
She stared at the row of cars piling up in the valet lane, before looking back at us. “Okay, I’m ready to go back in now,” she said.
Jay parked her wheelchair by her mother and aunt in the hospital lobby.
Joan, her mother sighed. “Funny, last month we received such good news and left here so happy,” she said.
Vanessa smiled. “I’m still happy,” she said.
You see, It’s our choice to be happy and not allow the disappointments and heartaches in our life to have the last word, and overcome us. Vanessa leaned on God and she had peace. She chose to be happy the day she heard she was going to die. If she can choose happiness, we can too.
God is worthy or our praise no matter what our circumstances.
“I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together! I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalms 24: 1-4 ESV)
This one hits me in the heart every time. It is the most powerful memory I have of my sweet Vanessa. Some of my visits, I’d play Vanessa’s favorite worship songs either on my computer or on a phone. A week before she passed, I told her we were doing worship. At this time, she could do nothing but lie in the bed, she’d lost her sight, the ability to close her jaw, eat, or swallow. I only tell you this, so you will see how she was filled with God’s spirit. I played one of her favorite songs, “What a Beautiful Name.” You can imagine my surprise when I heard her gurgling the song in her throat. She was worshipping in the only way she could. He was still deserving of her praise when everything physically had been stripped away from her. It made me question, what’s my excuse? How dare I complain when I don’t get what I want or my plans are interrupted, or my heart has been broken over and over. I have no excuse. None of us do.
There were many more lessons, but this blog post has become longer than what most people read.
So, I’m closing this article with my goodbye to a girl who came into my life unexpectedly, whom I had the privilege of sharing the gospel with and became a witness to her salvation, but who in the end taught me more about faith and love than I taught her. This will be my last blog about Vanessa, but there will be more about her in the book I’m currently writing. I hope her story touched you as it did me.
Goodbye for now my sweet friend. I love you!
I skipped writing a blog last week. It was a week meant for quiet, sadness, sprinkled with a bit of joy as well. A dear friend named Vanessa Raghubir passed away from brain cancer. If you’ve been following the blog you’ll know all about her. (You can find multiple stories about her by scrolling down)
My husband and I spoke at her funeral. Jay read scripture and shared personal reflection about Vanessa, and called me up to tell her testimony… Vanessa’s story. It wasn’t something I wanted to do, to be honest, the mere thought made me want to puke my guts out and lay on the podium sobbing.
I told the story of Vanessa having three altars in her apartment one for the Hindu god, one for the Muslim god, and one with a cross. Vanessa choose Jesus Christ. I explained He was the one God who knew what it was like to feel abandoned as she did. He was the one God who knew what it was like to be beaten, as she did. He was the one God who knew what it was like to face death, as she did.
He’s the God who knows about all of your heartache too. He knows what it’s like to lose a child. He knows what it’s like to be sad, hungry, rejected, humiliated, poor…the list goes on and on.
I told this story to a room filled with Hindu worshippers, and Muslim men and women wearing burkas -not exactly easy on the nervous system if you know what I mean. A friend in the back told us a few Muslim men moaned when I mentioned the one true God, but everyone was respectful and allowed her wishes. You see, one day Vanessa told me she could see herself telling her testimony from a stage to all her friends and family, but Vanessa lost her voice before she got the chance. I know it was no accident she’d told me her wishes.
God will ask you to step out of the boat during a hurricane, all it takes for the waters to calm is your feet.
God showed up. I survived without puking my guts up, and her testimony was told.
A woman approached me after the funeral, she was co-worker of Vanessa’s at the bank. She told me how happy she was to hear her story.
“I tried to lead Vanessa to the Lord,” she said as her eyes teared. “I kept telling her she needed to choose Jesus Christ, but she brushed me off. She told me she’d think about it. I came here thinking she never made the choice. I’m so glad she found you.”
“I only planted a seed, just as you did,” I said. The truth is this. It was God Vanessa found. God wants us to find Him so badly. He will place people in your path to point the Way.
“for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek Him, He will be found by you…” I Chronicles 28:9b English Standard Version
When I think of Vanessa’s life and my own, Proverbs 16:9 comes to mind: “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”
I shared a somewhat embarrassing story at Vanessa’s funeral. A story I’ve kept close to my chest all this time.
About a month before my sister, Tricia passed, she had her son help her into the kitchen where Mom, Dad, her husband, and children were. She walked over to Momma, kissed her on the mouth and said, “Momma, I want to go home.”
“You are home, sweetheart,” Momma said.
“No! Home Home!”
“You’re ready to go to heaven?” Momma said.
Tricia turned and walked over to Daddy.
“Daddy, I want to go home!” She said.
Realizing by now what she was asking, Daddy nodded. “Okay, you go on now.”
She turned to her husband Thomas and said the same thing. She told everyone individually her intention. She wanted their permission to go.
Of course, we all assumed she would go just like that. So, I stayed awake that night, looking for some sign and praying God would allow her to pass by my room in Orlando. (She lived in Virginia) That night, Jay fell asleep on the sofa, and I kept the tv off for I wanted to be ultra- aware for I just knew I was going to see something in my room change the moment she took her last breath.
Around 2am there was a light in my room. I jumped up in bed. My eyes darted around searching every dark corner for her, but she wasn’t there.
Instead, it was my phone.
I had a private message on Facebook. The words were jumbled, but I’m going to take the liberty in writing them clearly below.
“You don’t know me, but my name is Vanessa. I know Jay from the bank. I’m in the hospital, I had a brain cancer tumor removed. I’ve been reading your sister’s story. Thank you for writing it.”
That was my first contact with Vanessa. You see, God wasn’t going to send me my sister. He was going to send me someone He desired to make my eternal sister.
I’ve spent this week, looking backwards and forwards, wowed by the steps God lit up in our lives and how our paths intertwined, connecting us for eternity. I celebrated my 49th birthday, with Vanessa’s family instead of my own. It was the day she was cremated. Before we left to go to the cremation ceremony, I found a new laptop sitting on my bathroom counter. I’m so thankful God gave me a man who holds my hand through my dreams.
Before Vanessa lost her voice, she asked me to write her story when I finished my sister’s memoir. One day, while sitting at the foot of Vanessa’s bed, I told her. “I know you want me to write your story, but my sister’s story is incomplete without you. You’re her ending.” Vanessa seemed happy to hear that.
Take some time to think about your steps. Has God been trying to get your attention? Lead you to Him? Has He called you onto a stormy sea? Has He put you on a path you didn’t expect? Or is He giving you an assignment?
Next week, I will share what we can all learn from a dying girl from Guyana. I hope you’ll keep a watch out.
Until next time…
Today, at 8:30am, Bella started Pre-K4. She was nervous and had a fluttery stomach, but once we arrived and walked into the classroom, she ran over to the puzzle table and dove in. “Bye Momma!” she said waving me off. Today, she passed a milestone. Today, she seemed to grow a foot…a year… and a whole lot of independence.
Today around noon, I visited my friend Vanessa who’s been suffering from brain cancer. You can find her story “Naked and Picking Weeds 1, 2, and 3 by scrolling below) Today, her breathing was different than the last time I saw her, I held her tiny hand, her princess hand I like to call it, her fingers didn’t curl around mine like they did last week. Today, she didn’t pull me back when I tried to let her go. Today, she didn’t blow kisses at me as I headed out the door.
Today, I leaned over her, “I love you,” I said. “You have a great adventure ahead of you. You’re about to meet your Heavenly Father and He has something amazing in store for you. I just know it!”
Today, I witnessed a mother’s touch, calming the breath of a dying child. It was beautiful.
Today at 4:30 my doorbell rang. I received a surprise package in the mail. My editor at She Leads Daily decided to print last month’s magazine that included an article about my painting. I hollered before texting my family and showing my boys. “My writing and art is in a print magazine!” Today, I crossed milestone.
Today at 4:51pm, just twenty-one minutes later, Vanessa took her last breath. She passed away. Today she crossed over. Today, Vanessa can see, run, talk, laugh, breath, and eat. She is meeting the Father who’s watched over her. She is meeting Jesus whom she gave her life to, not too long ago.
On one of my visits, I laid my head across Vanessa’s chest and she stroked my hair. “I’m going to meet Tricia soon,” she said. (My sister Tricia died of breast cancer.)
Today, Vanessa met her sister.
Today, I’ve swayed between shock, joy, incredible sadness, love, and peace. Today I experienced an abundant life.
Today, I ask anyone reading this to say a prayer for Vanessa’s Momma Joan, and her family and friends as they mourn her passing.
Goodbye my sweet Vanessa. I love you.
Tonight, I know we’ll meet again.
With the boys back in school this week, I’m longing for the smell of fall candles, cooler evenings, and a pot of chili, but we are in our hottest time of the year here in Florida. I wonder if I’m the only woman who gains weight in the summer and loses that weight every fall and winter. I suppose it’s because I tend to hibernate through the hottest months and when that first breeze kisses my cheek, I take a long stretch and become alive again. I’ve told my peoples I’ve decided to become a European. I’ve outfitted my bike with saddle bags, mirrors, head and tail lights, and a cell phone holder. I’ll be the biggest bike nerd in Dr. Phillips. I have a plan to fit exercise into my day, get ready for it… I will bike to the grocery store. Of course, I know this seems a bit counterproductive exercising to get food, but I see it as a way of shooting two chickens with one bullet. Contemplate my brilliance, I can only buy that night’s dinner ingredients, which will keep me from buying anything unnecessary. Save money…loose fat…fetch dinner. I see it as a win-win-win. Make that three chickens. The truth is I’ve been seeing that middle-age monster lurking in the shadows and I know he’s out to get me!
There are times our heart needs to get into shape in a spiritual sense as well. When we’ve had an absence of hurt or joy in our lives, our heart can go into a complacent hibernation. Sometimes, this is caused by protecting our heart too much, by tucking it in a dark cave.
This week, we celebrated my daughter Bella’s fourth birthday. Every year when her birthday rolls in I can’t help but think of my sister Tricia. When I announced I was pregnant with Bella, it didn’t go over so well. We found Tricia an hour later sobbing on her friend’s sofa.
“I’m so sorry Tammy,” she said. “I’m happy for you and Jay, it’s just this… while you are getting ultrasounds, I’m getting PET scans, while your body is creating life, mine is creating cancer, while you are looking forward to the day you meet your baby, I’m dreading the day I say goodbye to mine. You’re looking forward to the future, while I’m holding on to the past.” It was a painful irony.
The next morning, we stood outside our parent’s home riddled with guilt for the pain we caused the other.
“I’m sorry about last night,” she said.
“There’s nothing to be sorry for.” I said. “I would’ve felt the same way. I want you to know I wasn’t trying.”
“I know God is giving you this baby to… ya know… keep you busy so you’ll keep going when I go.” She smiled and placed her hand on my belly. “You’re already showing.”
“My body knows what to do by the fourth one,” I said.
Her eyes met mine. “When she comes, I will go,” she said.
Although she whispered the words, I jumped back as if she’d punched me. “Wait, No, You don’t know everything Tricia Baines. Besides, I know you’re wrong because Jay only makes boys.”
She grabbed my arm. “I know okay.”
The moment Bella propelled herself into my world, my heart stretched between conflicting emotions of incredible joy and wrenching pain. I smiled through tears at my tiny baby before Tricia’s words flooded my memory, and I let out a sob. Tricia happened to be in a Virginia hospital bed as well that day. True to her prophetic statement, she died around the same time my baby was born, exactly nineteen weeks later.
After she passed, I kept having these terrible chest pains. Convinced my pregnancy had put a strain on my heart, I underwent an EKG, and a stress test. When the tests results were in, Jay and I sat in the cardiologist’s office for a consult. I knew he was going to tell me I’d need some sort of heart repair, but instead he looked up from his file and said, “Everything looks good. Your hearts in good shape.”
“No, that doesn’t make sense, my heart hurts.” I said pointing to my chest. “I’m having this sharp stabbing pain.”
“Have you experienced anything traumatic lately? Have you been under any strain or anxiety?”
Jay nodded. “Her sister died.”
“That’s not it!” I said pointing at him. “I’m fine with that. This is physical pain.”
“That’ll do it to you.” The doctor turned around in his chair dismissing further objections. “Looking over your tests, your heart is great. Our bodies have a way of letting us know when we’ve experienced something difficult.”
Every Bella birthday, I celebrate the day my heart stretched and in the looking back, I’ve come to realize a stretched-out heart can only hold more. My larger heart holds more compassion, empathy, and love than it did before, allowing more blood to flow through…more life. I believe sometimes God lets our heart stretch between pain and joy so we can feel a tiny bit of what He felt as He watched His Son die on the cross. He must have mourned watching the pain and suffering of His Son, all the while feeling great joy for the birth of salvation for mankind.
Has there been a time in your life when your heart stretched? See it as a blessing. Or do you feel your heart has been in a complacent hibernation? Stop protecting it. It needs exercise. Pull it out of the cave.
Have a great week everyone!