July 4, 2020 … The Last Birthday?

My basic training picture from the summer of 1989. I was 17 years old.

I was an oddly patriotic kid. Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, under the continual threat of the Soviet Union launching a nuclear attack or invading our land. Movies like Red Dawn and The Day After made a strong impression on me, and I wondered if someday we would face an attempted totalitarian takeover or a nuclear holocaust.

During my senior year of high school, my oddly patriotic spirit was intrigued by the opportunity to serve my country. While I was still in high school, I raised my right hand and vowed to defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I began going to weekend drills in January 1989, and left for basic training at Fort Dix, NJ, in June. The following February, I graduated from Defense Information School as a photojournalist. I returned to my reserve unit, the 100th Division, in Louisville, KY, and started college, only to be activated for Operation Desert Storm a few weeks into the semester. When my service was up in 1995, I didn’t leave my patriotism behind.

Though I grew up during the Cold War and served my country during an era governed by a different threat, I never actually feared that America would cease to be a nation. In the past few years, though, I started to wonder if the sun was getting ready to set on the American era. It seemed plausible, given that we have, in so many ways, descended headlong into depravity.

Yet there was always hope. I was never truly concerned that I’d live to see the end of the United States of America …

until now.

Tomorrow we “celebrate” our 244th birthday as a nation, and I wonder if it will be our last. We are fighting an unseen microscopic organism, with threats of other micro-enemies almost surely promised. We are witnessing our leaders trampling the Constitution, that same almost sacred document I swore to protect from all enemies, foreign and domestic. And, I believe worst of all, we are living through an undeclared civil war. We are literally destroying ourselves from within.

How do you celebrate a birthday under these conditions?

There’s a part of me that wants to petition the Lord of the universe to spare our nation, but I’m going to be honest: I don’t think He will. I think we’re getting what we deserve, as we have spent our entire history stained with the blood of innocent lives, whether through slavery, prejudice, senseless violence, or abortion. Whenever people decide that some human lives are worth less than others, God is not pleased.

I also believe the world is gearing up for the Great Tribulation, and that our days are numbered.

Recently I read Daniel 5. King Belshazzar received a supernatural message, directly from the hand of God:

MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN

Daniel 5:25

What did this mean? Perhaps America is being given the same message now:

MENE: God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it; TEKEL: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting; PERES: Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.

Daniel 5:26-28 NKJV

God has numbered the days of every kingdom and every person in that kingdom. Though we began, in many ways, as a God-honoring nation, we had some fatal foundational flaws. For the past 150 years, we have been on a downward moral slide in many other areas, and that has accelerated exponentially since the Bible and prayer were removed from schools and public life. Our days may be drawing to a close.

Is the handwriting on America’s proverbial wall?

We have been weighed in the balance. We have not practiced justice. We have not acted rightly. We deserve to be judged.

And we have been divided across most any imaginable or man-made division. We now have no idea who we are, or who the real enemy is.

Those of us who follow Christ know that Satan came to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). He is a deceiver, a murderer, and a liar (Genesis 3:4-5; John 8:44; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 2:11; 2 Corinthians 4:4; 2 Timothy 2:26; 1 Peter 5:8). Right now he is getting us to destroy ourselves from within.

If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.

Mark 3:24-25 ESV

We are likely more divided than ever, because we are divided over every conceivable issue. We are not divided on geographical lines and in danger of splitting the country in two parts; instead, we are divided in every state, in every city, and perhaps in every church and every family, and therefore in danger of destroying ourselves in our quest for justice and peace.

If we do celebrate another Independence Day, the likelihood that we will celebrate the birth of the country that our founding fathers fought for, that our grandparents fought for, or even that my generation fought for, is very unlikely. As an oddly patriotic American, I mourn that.

Yet there is cause to celebrate, though in a bittersweet way. As a Christian, I have put my trust in Christ alone, not in this country or this world. All of this will pass away, and maybe it will be sooner than any of us can imagine. Perhaps, for those of us who follow Christ, we will soon celebrate a true Independence Day in heaven, where we will be free from sin and death, where our mourning will be turned to dancing, where there is no more fear, no more deception, and no more unrest. The more I see what’s going on today, the more I long for my heavenly home, because my true citizenship is in heaven.

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Phillippians 3:17-21 ESV

If you don’t yet know Christ, I urge you to repent, to put your trust in Christ alone, that you may have assurance of salvation through a relationship with the Living God. If you have never accepted Jesus as Lord, you can do that right now. This takes an honest and genuine acknowledgement that you are a sinner, that you can’t do enough good deeds to be right with God because He is holy and we are unholy, that you need Him to save you, and that you are willing to follow Him and allow Him to govern your life. Baptism is the outward expression of this inward decision and should be done publicly and by immersion, in an act of obedience, submission, and testimonial to others. You also should read the Bible, pray, gather with other believers, and obey God’s commands, not to be saved, but out of gratitude for salvation, a desire to grow in your relationship with God, and in hopes of winning others to the Lord. Taking this step will provide a freedom that cannot ever be taken from you, no matter how bad things get in this world.

Weeping at night, joy in the morning

by Heather Walton

May 20 passed without me realizing it. How did it happen? I did think about it that day, but I didn’t make the connection that it was an anniversary.

Three years ago, on May 20, I had life-saving surgery for me, and life-ending surgery for my precious little one. I had an ectopic pregnancy, and was hemorrhaging. It was such a difficult thing to go through, such a loss. The grief that followed was thick, intense, pervasive, and destructive.

Yet here I am. Life has gone on. Life has been good, fruitful, purposeful, and even joyful. A big part of that is that God granted us our rainbow baby, Emma Noelle, who is 17 months old now.

On May 20 this year, I shared a story during a special song service at church. One of the songs was Because He Lives. I related how that song had been sung in church the week after we lost our baby. The second verse goes like this:

How sweet to hold our newborn baby
And feel the pride and joy he gives
But greater still the calm assurance
This child can face uncertain day, because He lives

For many months to follow, I could not sing that song without crying tears of sadness and loss. But now, by God’s grace, I can sing that song. I still cry at times, but the tears are different. As I sing, “How sweet to hold our newborn baby and feel the pride and joy she gives,” I feel bittersweet tears of loss overpowered by tears of gratitude that the Creator has given us a second chance at parenting.

“Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5 NLT)

The Scar is Almost Gone

broken heart with bandaidToday I realized that the scar is almost gone. I hadn’t paid attention in awhile, and the fact that my memory has faded surprised me even more than the fact that the physical reminder has diminished. I’m thankful to God that He heals all kinds of pain — physical, emotional, and spiritual.

Almost exactly three years ago, I got pregnant. I wasn’t expecting to have any more children, because I thought I was too old. I was newly remarried, and though I love children, it wasn’t in my plan to have another child at that time. I had a demanding career and was in the midst of blending a family. I remember looking at the two pink lines on the test in absolute disbelief. This was the only time I had ever not been thrilled to see a positive reaction on a pregnancy test.

My husband, however, was ecstatic. And it didn’t take long for me to catch his enthusiasm. We started discussing names and making plans. On Mother’s Day, we shared the news. A couple weeks later, though, I started bleeding. I called the doctor’s office and they reassured me that this could be perfectly normal, and they advised me to wait till my first appointment, which was still a couple weeks away. I knew in my gut that something wasn’t right, so they set up an appointment for me to come in that day.

I’ll never forget seeing the ultrasound. The tech was looking around, saying she didn’t see anything in my uterus. But I saw something, something I knew was a baby, and I asked her about it.

“Where is that?” I asked, expectantly.

“In you right tube,” she responded.

I had an ectopic pregnancy. A precious little one, nestled in my womb, just in the wrong location. I was advised that I would have to terminate the pregnancy, because this was a life-threatening situation. They planned to give me a substance that would expel the fertilized egg from my body.

I had worked for several years in the pro-life movement and this did not sit well with me. My husband and I, along with family, friends, and church members, prayed that God would move the baby to the uterus. Our miracle did not take place. The day was approaching for the procedure, and I knew I couldn’t do it. I prayed I wouldn’t have to.

On May 20, 2015, two days after I got the dreadful news, I started having terrible cramping. We went to the ER and found out that I was in danger of having the tube rupture, and that it was too late for the planned procedure because my baby had a heartbeat. I would have to have surgery. As the hours progressed, I began to have worse symptoms and was rushed into surgery to potentially save my life, while at the same time ending the life of my unborn child.

The grief that followed was more powerful than any I have experienced before or since. It impacted every area of my life. To escape, I poured myself into my work, which distanced me from my family and friends. Grief can be consuming, destructive, and relentless, especially if you keep God and your support system at a distance.

What pulled me out of my grief? About a year later, I took another pregnancy test and saw a second faint line. I’ll never forget the euphoria and thankfulness I felt, and the assurance that God was granting me a second chance. I knew deep down that this baby would be healthy.

Finding out I was pregnant and experiencing the joys of each new milestone did not completely alleviate the grief. And there was some sadness attached to this pregnancy, as during the pregnancy, I miscarried Emma’s twin.

Our little rainbow baby could not replace her older sibling whom we had lost, but she sure has brought us so much joy! Having lost a child before having her has made us appreciate her even more than we would have otherwise. Every once in awhile, I still have the twinges of grief, as Emma could have had a sibling a year older and a twin. But it has greatly diminished, just as the ugly physical scar that used to greet me regularly in the mirror, has also faded.

If you’re grieving, please give yourself permission to be real, and please draw close to the Lord, instead of holding Him at a distance or pushing Him away. And remember that the scars of grief never go away, because you have lost someone or something of great value. However, one day you may just wake up and realize that the pain has diminished and that the scars have faded, serving as a gentle memorial to something precious.

Empty Places

18519930_1375503069197376_5749210635434995505_n-e1502742680730.jpgThis is a very different first day of school.

That’s because there are a couple empty places in my heart. Big empty places.

For the first time in 18 years, I woke up without my second-born daughter under my roof. Of course she has spent the night away from home before. But for the first time, this is not a sleepover. We said our goodbyes yesterday as she began her college career. What a bittersweet time. There is sadness of knowing there will be an empty place at the table, but an even greater joy at knowing that she has a foundation in Christ and that she is working toward her dreams.

And then there’s another empty place.

For the first time in eight years, I’m not decorating a classroom, planning first-week-of-school activities, outlining classroom expectations, working and reworking seating charts and floor plans, and preparing for open house. For the first time in four years, I’m not in charge of the school I founded. I’m not coordinating opening programs and answering last minute emails.

These are wide-open empty places. Give-me-a-home-where-the-buffalo-roam kind of empty places.

Places where God is preparing to write new stories, to draw new pictures, to create new masterpieces, to compose new melodies. But right now, those places seem a little stark, a little bare, a little bland, a little … well … a little empty.

In the next few weeks, I’ll begin the homeschool journey with my boys, and I’ll get baby Emma into a routine (hopefully), and I’ll find my place God’s place for me, and those empty places will become beautiful, abundant, joyful places in His time and in His way. You see, empty places aren’t void of life and goodness, and if you look hard enough, you’ll see that they aren’t actually empty. They’re full of possibilities and grace, just waiting to blossom, if we’re still enough to wait.

18557240_1375499445864405_6810764773242020700_n

What Does it Mean to Be Like Christ?

By Heather Walton

is53
Have you ever prayed to be like Christ? Have you ever prayed to know Christ? Then what have you prayed for? Can you relate to any of these? (According to Isaiah 53 and many other Scriptures)
 To be unattractive
 To be despised and rejected
 To suffer
 To endure pain
 To have others hide their faces
 To be despised
 To be looked down on
 To be betrayed by those closest to you
 To have those close to you think you’re crazy
 To have those who know you lose heart and abandon you in your hour of need
 To bear great responsibility
 To teach people who won’t listen to you
 To have one of your closest friends betray you, then refuse to accept forgiveness
 To not receive the glory due you in this life
 To completely trust the Father when it doesn’t look good
 To have Satan gloat over your “defeat”
 To be alone
 To not indulge in things you have a right to
 To not claim your rights
 To go up against the religious authorities
 To hang out with people the church looks down on
 To be considered radical
 To have even your family think you’re crazy and abandon you
 To have no place to lay your head
 To have to put up with people who think they’re great, when they’re so clueless
 To be so afraid and grieved that your body has intense physical symptoms
 To not make a move without praying and listening to the Father’s voice
 To have to fight off the greatest temptation, which is to do something you’d be completely justified to do and are completely entitled to
 To have those who should be singing your praises actually mocking you and calling for your death
 To be humiliated and embarrassed publicly
 To be falsely accused
 To be punished for doing the right thing or being right
 To be beaten within an inch of your life
 To be poor
 To be hungry and thirsty
 To be misunderstood
 To be without honor
Think of the opposite of each of these points. Isn’t that what we normally pray for? For example, don’t we normally pray for things like being loved, not suffering, being understood by those close to us, and having our needs met? There is nothing wrong with praying that way, because God tells us to bring our needs to Him. However, how many of us have prayed to be like Christ, but then we protest when God allows difficulties to come into our lives? I know I have. Instead, we need to appreciate the opportunities we have to be be conformed into our Savior’s image. So the next time we go through something tough, let’s try to remember to thank God for giving us an opportunity to be more like Christ. It will likely change our perspective, and help us to grow more in our Christian walk than we would have otherwise. I know this is counter-intuitive, but it is the truth.

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