For My Sisters Who Are Grieving this Christmas/ How to help Our Grieving Sisters

AmberOBrien"

   My experienced friends warned me that certain days of the year could pull a bereaved person down into a quicksand-like spiral as the memory of the past rubs salt into the still-wounded present. Holidays and anniversaries magnify the loss of a loved one, each event having the potential to drag under the people left behind. As a new Christmas season approached, I hoped that during the second anniversary of my baby girl Megan’s birth and death, I would resist both fighting the pull of grief and trying to speed through this potentially heartbreaking time. For as a victim in quicksand soon learns, both thrashing around and trying to rush through it could result in more loss. Continuing to fight causes the quicksand victim to further sink, just as I could further sink into my grief and self pity. Panicking and trying to speed the process of escape causes the victim to sink faster, just as I could push myself further into the pit of despair by not taking my time to acknowledge and face my grieving.

The Key with both quicksand and with grief is to move slowly, take small steps, and be willing to let others pull you out.

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     Two years before, I gave birth to a premature baby girl on December 23. The most intense forty days of my life followed her emergency birth as my husband and I watched our baby girl go on and off a respirator and survive bowel surgery, only to watch her take her final breath in my arms. Megan weighed just 2 pounds 4 ounces, but she was perfectly formed, a true gift from God. As she struggled for her life, we struggled against two major snowstorms to bring her my breast milk. I felt so torn between visiting the hospital and caring for my other two daughters, Mary Jo and Katie, at home.

As Megan took her final breath, however, I felt God’s complete peace and an awareness of his sovereignty. She shared forty days with us on earth, the number the early church fathers held as “the necessary period of cleansing or testing and strengthening which allows the fullness of wisdom to become a reality.” According to the Bible, Jesus spent forty hours in the tomb between good Friday and Easter morning, as well as forty days in the desert while being tempted. Noah and his family spent forty days on the ark. Moses fasted for forty days before he received the Ten Commandments, and the Israelites wandered for forty years before entering the Promised Land. Megan completed her forty days on earth and was now free from pain, praising God in her own Promised Land – Heaven.

The name Megan means “will achieve might and strength,” and I knew in my innermost depths her life was complete at forty days. While most days I could trust in God’s perfect wisdom for my family and me, as a sensitive and shortsighted human I still felt the loss of a loved one. Grieving is a healthy and necessary process whose emotions and tears should not be buried or ignored. I spent the following year writing in my journal and creating a scrap/photo album to include the photos, cards, and letters sent to commemorate Megan’s short life. A room was dedicated to her at my home church and Mary Jo, Katie, and I made frequent stops to hang bulletin boards and set up supplies. A year and a half later, a baby boy named Jacob blessed our family (Jacob means “the supplanter”). The waves of grief diminished as time and understanding increased. I turned to Jesus and His Holy Word for comfort and I felt my own faith strengthen. At times, I relished in the thought that I had a child in Heaven, for is that not our ultimate goal as parents?

However, as Christmas and Megan’s second birthday approached, my fears of how I would handle the days increased. Christmas was centered on a baby boy who was miraculously born. The absence of a miracle for Megan would seem greater with one less stocking to fill. On the other hand, if I filled a stocking as some bereaved parents do, I have one less child to unpack all the goodies. The sore empty wound that I still carried (and will always carry in a lesser degree until I am reunited with my baby) seemed such a contrast to the cheery hustle and bustle of Christmas. What could I do instead of planning her birthday party? What could I buy instead of party favors, cake and ice cream? Would anyone but me remember Megan’s birthday?

     Christmas surrounded me with its cinnamon smells, jingle bells, glitter and gold tinsel. Could it have been only two years before, alone in my cold sterile hospital room that I spent Christmas morning? I was supposed to be six months pregnant, I thought. Instead, my little baby girl struggled for life in intensive care. My staples stung from the emergency cesarean, a physical reminder of the stinging feeling of sitting alone in a hospital bed trying to imagine the reactions of my girls as they opened their gifts at home. Two years later, especially during anniversary remembrances, the sore emptiness of loss was ever present and I feared I would sink into the quicksand of self-pity and depression. “Lord, I can’t let Megan’s birthday take away the peace and Joy of Christmas from my other children. Help.”

     The Sunday before Christmas, we stopped by Megan’s grave after church. Before I opened the car door, I spotted something lying on her tombstone. I burst into tears of joy as I realized someone had left a tiny Christmas tree in Megan’s memory. Little ornaments of angels, Mary and Joseph, adorned the little tree. Attached was a card inside a plastic bag. Who could have been so kind? Who remembered Megan? With trembling hands, I ripped open the bag. As I read the card, my questions melted into understanding. Of course –  It was from Irene and Rich, friends of ours who had lost their own baby a year before mine to SIDS. “Merry Christmas, Megan,” the card read.  “Keep an extra eye out on your Mommy and Daddy, Mary Jo, Katie and Jacob this Christmas. You are forever in their hearts.”  

     I felt God’s love through the gift of that tree. As I thought about how Rich and Irene were able to comfort me because of their own loss, an idea sprouted. Now I had a plan as to how I was going to celebrate Megan’s birthday. My excitement grew as I planned our birthday surprise, and I no longer felt the quicksand pull of self-pity. On December 23rd, I bundled up my children and stopped first at a florist shop and selected a colorful bouquet with roses.

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Next, we stopped at a local bookstore. I did not know the owners personally, but I had briefly met their preteen daughter before she died in a bicycling accident years before. She had watched my older daughter at church, and so five-year-old Mary Jo handed the father our bouquet. “What’s this?” he asked. I nodded to the picture of his daughter behind the cash register.  The words sputtered out and my eyes blinked back tears. “This is in memory of your daughter.”

     Later that night, as I pulled into our driveway, I noticed a white rose with a note attached lying in our path. I recognized my friend Terry’s handwriting, but the message felt straight from heaven.  “Mommy, Thank you for giving me a ‘birth’ day.  Love, Megan.”

     Tears of gratitude and release flowed. Like a balm for my wound, the tears flowed as I again felt God’s love and understanding through a friend. More ideas began to spring up as if my tears provided the moisture necessary for germination. Many neighbors, relatives and  friends were approaching quicksand pools of their own, and I hoped to help pull some of them out. The strongest pull is love, I will tell them, and the only escape from a pool of quicksand is to receive God’s love and then to love-pull a friend out of their own.

Confessions of a Survivor Addict / For My Sisters Who Just Want to Escape

AmberOBrien"

Locked in our small powder room, I cling to the phone as my three children knock on the door.
“Mom, she hit me!”  They whine.
“Jacob won’t let me use the computer.”
My husband chimes in with “Amber, have you seen my shoes?”
Ignoring the interruptions I ask my friend on the line, “Have you ever wanted to go to an island and just get away?”  

So begins one of the many videos I have submitted to the reality show, Survivor. If you think I am crazy for wanting to go to a remote location for thirty-nine days and live off the land, eat bugs, wear no makeup (yikes!) and put myself in a situation of possible ridicule and failure, I don’t blame you. I have wondered the same thing time and time again.

The producers must have thought the same thing after seeing the second part of the video we submitted.  My ‘director’ husband created a scene in which I suddenly emerge out of blue sparkling water similar to the scene with Bo Derek in the movie 10. After my exaggerated surprise at being in a beautiful tropical scene, I start to walk toward the shore complete with beaded hair. Boom! My three children run into me and try to knock me down.  As I seek to upright myself I laughingly state, “Make that without children” correcting my fantasy wish.

After some reflection, I realize that the contrast between Bo Derek and me was probably too much for the judges to handle.  I still wonder if they laughed out loud or simply moved their fingers like I was crazy.

Yes, I confess to submitting videos and applications to be on the show. The poor video judges must have held their ears as I sang the Gilligan’s Island theme song complete with new words, “Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, the tale of a homeschool mom…” While the words might have been clever, my singing voice has never been one of my assets.  Nevertheless, creating the videos was always great family fun.

In contrast to the light-hearted videos, the application process forced me to dig deep. One question in particular made me stop and ponder more than the others:

“Who is your hero and why?”

Quickly, I realized that my hero was not a former winner of their show or a famous actor on television.  Instead, I thought of all the unrecognized people serving and caring for God’s people.  My heroes included: parents who care for a terminally ill child or parent, an abused woman who allows her anger and hurt to dissolve into forgiveness, a husband who turns away from temptation, a woman who regrets a past decision and now helps others from making the same mistake, a family who says yes to one more child, a couple who seeks counseling to reconcile a dying marriage, an addict who throws away his addiction because it is destroying his family, the single parent who must play the part of both mom and dad…  the list goes on and on. These people give and forgive when no camera crews are watching. These true survivors endure hardship and heartache often lasting much more thirty-nine days. No odds of winning a million dollars or being a guest on The David Letterman Show. They are not ‘models’ but they model for me who I hope to become.

Despite our family’s best efforts, I never received a call to come and audition. As time went on though, my desire to try again continued. I tried to rationalize and justify my desires. Since the sociology of putting such diverse people in this situation appealed to me, I reasoned they needed a Christian homeschooling mom on the show. I mean, how many homeschooling moms have been on Survivor?  Zero! Of Course, it’s questionable how many have actually applied. I also desired justice, and hated to see someone who lied and cheated win.  I thought perhaps I could show them that the best strategy is to be trustworthy. Perhaps my mission field would consist of millions of viewers.

It was then that I recalled Mother Teresa’s famous saying, “Do small things with great love.”  I was grounded once again as I thought of all the unsung heroes listed above.

I would pray “Lord, take this desire away if it is not of you.”  I would also ask, “Is this just me?”  No, this drive seemed not to be a push from within but a pull from beyond.

Then it happened. My desire to get away became a reality when I went on a silent women’s retreat with a friend. During the 48 hours I began to refocus.  

“What is reality?” The priest asked.  

“Reality is the love of Christ.”  

We were reminded that we are on this earth such a short time in relation to eternity, and we are all called to make the most of the time we have to know, love, and serve Him. My silent retreat was away from the busyness of the day, and far from any Hollywood cameras. What a wonderful and refreshing weekend! I felt spoiled as I enjoyed the delicious food (no bugs) and listened in the peace and quiet. I will never forget how the priest began the first meditation.

“You think that you worked hard to scheme and put together this weekend, but Jesus for all of eternity has been planning this time to be with you.”  

Yes, He had been planning the weekend all along and in it I found once again the reality of His love for me.    

After a short time however, I realized that this time away was not all going to be a romantic bed of roses.

Sometimes God loves us so much that He convicts of something that is harming our body or a relationship with others or with God. 

God convicted me of something that culturally most Christians would not consider a sin.   Slowly God had been bringing others in my path who were walking counter-cultural and I started questioning this choice I was making. Out of obedience I finally surrendered this crutch and realized that I needed to trust God more. As a priest said who walked by and saw my many tears. “God is pruning you, to make you stronger.” When I arrived home I still had work to do to fully to free of this sin, but the relief and joy of being releasing from this hindrance was the best gift that God could ever give. As Jesus proclaimed in John 8: 34

“Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.  A slave does not remain in a household forever, but a son always remains.  So if the son frees you, then you will truly be free.”

Jesus Christ is the truth. He came so that we could see the reality of how sin slowly destroys our relationships. Sin poisons our bodies and souls.

The only way we can know Truth is to spend time in the presence of Jesus. For He is the way, the truth and the life.

Randy Alcorn explains, “Jesus is the source of all truth, the embodiment of truth and therefore the reference point of evaluating all truth-claims.”

The more time we spend in His presence and reading His word, the more we can know what “truth is” and to be protected from the lies of the enemy.

How mind blowing is this: The King of Kings wants to sit and chat with you. You don’t need to go to a deserted Island or even a weekend away. I suggest  sitting with a pen and paper and start reading from the Gospel of John.  A  10 minute retreat each morning will change you from the inside out.

You don’t need to escape your life, you need to allow the eyes of your heart to be opened to the Reality of God’s deep love for you. 

 

 

For moms who suffer a bruised heart/ 5 things to do as you wait for your prodigal

AmberOBrien"

He shall feed His flock like a shepherd: He shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in His bosom (close to His heart), and shall gently lead those that are with young.”   Isaiah 40:11 

Maybe you are crippled with fear over a prodigal child’s choices.  Or maybe the anger of a family member is coming out in sarcastic digs and you are the target. Maybe your child is struggling physically in a hospital bed or perhaps with peer pressure and/or dangerous behaviors.  So many of our young sons and daughters struggle with low self-esteem, depression and anxiety.

Being a mother is not for the faint of heart dear sister  and that’s Okay because you. are. Not. made. of. sugar.

First of all, you have the spirit of the living God living in you. The same one that Raised Christ from the dead.  You have the Word of God aka The Bible (which is the sword of the spirit) and you have the power of a mother’s fervent and persistent prayers.  (and the gift of Sweet sisters who will pray with you and for you if you will be honest and let them know your needs)

So many resources that often go unused because we wring our hands with anxiety and fear.  We can even be pulled down by our child’s mood or situation. Which does. not. help. them. at. all. 

Focus on these five truths Sister Mom:

  1. God did Not cause these hurtful situations
  2. However, God is So Big and Powerful that He will work this All out for good and bring some purpose out of the pain
  3. God loves you and your child more than you could ever imagine
  4. He is in control and anything that happens has been allowed to filter through His loving hands
  5. God  is working on our character as His goal is for us Sister Moms to become more like Christ and for our Children to turn back to a close relationship with the Lord.

We know that All things work for good for those that Love God, who are called according to his purpose, For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that he might be the first born of many brothers. (Sisters too:)             Romans 8:28-29

Our Good Shepherd  is allowing this pain for a purpose. Can we trust Him that He is Loving and good and in control and allowing this to enter into our lives and our child’s life for good?  And isn’t the ultimate good that we will become more like Him? That we and ultimately our children cling more tightly to our Lord?

What can you do as you wait for your child to come back?

  1. Praise God! Yes, one of our greatest weapons is praise. Thank God for what He is doing, has done and plans to do to intervene. Look up praise music on utube or turn on the local christian radio station. (Mine is 95.1 shine FM for Baltimore)
  2. Prayer. Talk to the Shepherd. You are SO close to His heart as He is suffering with you and carrying you in His arms.  The best book I have found and my go-to book for any parental concern is Stormie Omartian’s book, The Power of a Praying Parent. (and for your adult Children) find  it, Read it….She has thought of every trial/temptation possible and has written the perfect prayer and the scripture sword to fight back.
  3.  Wake up early to pray and Listen. Write in a journal what is on your heart. Always end your journal time with three things you are thankful for. The best way to not be pulled down into the pit of pity or depression is to write what you are thankful for. If you are already down in the pit?  Climb out of the pit by thanking God and writing out all the good that you see in your child. Write out 10 good things about your child and share it with them.
  4. Find a prayer partner. Find a friend to prayer with. Use the phone if you don’t live close to each other and pick a set time to chat and pray. If you live close by go for a prayer walk.  Chat while exercising and then end with prayer and a drink.
  5. Write out the promises of God. The Word of God is a weapon. Use it! Speak the truth out loud when you have a negative or anxious thought. You can’t have two emotions at the same time so focus on speaking out truth, and listening to truth…….Perhaps start with writing out the verse Isaiah 40:11 at the top of this post. God promises to hold you close to His heart. You are not alone. He is carrying you and He. will. Not. let. you. fall.

I start out my mornings with my time with Jesus: (Date time:)

1. Contrition: I write what I am sorry for that I did or failed to do the day before (do I need to follow-up and apologize or show I am sorry to someone?) Our hearts need to be clean before we worship and ask for help.

2. Adoration: I write out a character/Name  of God (ex. You are the good shepherd, You are love, You are good, You are my provider) and/ or I play a praise song and worship.

3. Thanksgiving: I write out three things I am thankful for.

4. Supplication: I write out 10 people I am praying for. (Be sure to pray not only for your family members but for the friends/significant others of your child)

Keep knocking, Keep trusting, Keep looking forward and expecting God to work this out for His Good and Glory.

I close with a poem I wrote about how the Good Shepherd sometimes allows our child or ourselves to become broken or bruised so that we would realize our need for God.  May we choose to turn to Jesus, His promises and to His people when we suffer. Then too, may we turn to Him in rejoicing when our suffering has turned to joy and our prodigal has returned home and the banquet begins.

 

She Told Me I Was the Reason Her Flight Was Delayed #A Divine Appointment

AmberOBrien"

 

I read the alert in shocked confusion as we scrambled to get ready for a early flight to Las Vegas for a franchise convention. Alert: At least 20 people are dead and more than 100 are injured after a mass shooting during a country music concert in Las Vegas. “What?” I exclaimed as I awoke my husband. There’s been a shooting!!”

I quickly threw some small booklets of the Gospel of John published by the Pocket Testament League into my backpack as we headed out the door for our trip. While I often bring these with me to travel, I had an extra sense of urgency thinking that because of the tragic massacre, God may put in my path someone that is looking for answers.

“Oh Lord,” I prayed. “Help me to be your salt and light at this convention and for those in the Las Vegas area.”

Our convention was held in a hotel in Henderson, NV (just outside of the Las Vegas) and I could see the silhouette of the casinos from my hotel room reminding me to pray throughout the week for all of those involved. The numbers of the victims climbed to 59 and more than 500 injured as the details unfolded and many people at my convention had questions. How could he get away with bringing up so many weapons to the 32nd floor ? What was his motivation? Why didn’t someone stop him earlier?

One colleague expressed how she was feeling the “fragility of Life” and there was a sobering blanket covering our time there.  I didn’t have an opportunity to travel near the Mandalay Bay hotel but during the one night we did venture to the strip we contemplated the windows covered with tarp that the gunman had used to shoot at the music festival attendees. We stayed busy with classes and workshops but often my mind went to the  suffering families who had lost a loved one in the shooting or now cared for an injured family member. “Oh May they know your comfort and peace, Please surround them with Christians who can minister to them”. 

On the flight home, I still had not handed out one of my pocket Testaments but keep my radar on for who God might bring along my path.

The flight was full and so my husband and I waved to a young (20 something) lady to take the window seat. She started off explaining that her first flight was delayed and she missed a flight and finally she was here. Soon she shared that she had been at the music festival where the shooting took place. “I left early as I needed to get home for work…but I left my friend behind.” She felt guilty for leaving her friend. And Her friend who made it out alive, felt guilty with “survivors remorse” for making it out alive and uninjured.

I looked her in the eye (deciding to refrain from reading as I had planned)  and tried my best to be a good listener as she processed the event and the “Why” questions started to flow from her mouth.  Why would someone do something so evil? Why didn’t God stop this? Why were her friend and her spared?

I didn’t know the answer to the Why’s but I knew the answer to the Who question. I also knew that the best way to come to know the “who person” was reading an eyewitness account by one of His earliest followers.

I decided that at the end of the flight I would be handing her the Gospel of John, and throughout the flight sought to be as considerate and caring as I could. I tried to give the gift of a listening ear who truly cared.  I really do care for her and still pray for her weeks later. She is the age of my children who also enjoy music festivals. My maternal instincts kicked in as I asked her questions about her unique name, her best friend who she was visiting, and about how she ended up in Las Vegas. Every so often, I would try to give a little bit of truth when a lull happened in the conversation.

“We have to trust God with those that have been taken. So now ask yourself why you are still here. Realizing our fragility in this Life is a gift.”

As we were about to land, I offered her some gum. I felt for one of the pocket testaments and held it in my hand as we waited for those in front to depart first. Finally I turned to her and handed her the booklet:

I have something to give you that I believe God wants you to have.  This has in it the answers to the questions you have been asking.  The Bible is the greatest book of all and this gospel is the best book to start reading.  And look, there is a picture of a violin and the title says, “Music for the Soul” on front. (as she was just at a music festival)

I waited to see her response. Would she take it politely or worse throw it quickly into her backpack not realizing the treasure she now held?

She grasped the booklet with both hands and held it as if she gratefully realized the immense gift inside.

“I am going to read it” she told me with a smile.

and the next statement she exclaimed blew.me.away.

Now I know why my last flight was delayed.

Yes! I nodded and explained with a knowing smile, “I call this a divine appointment. I believe God brought us together so I could give this to you.”

God knew that during the flight home she would be processing the fragility of life and God knew I was ready with the Gospel of John in my backpack.  I continue to pray for her that she would indeed read the Word of God and come to know The One who came with the cure for death and sin.

So sweet sister.  Be watchful and ready if God brings someone who is thirsty into your path.

Would you like to have some of these pocket Testaments for travel ? To bring on a plane or maybe to your local nursing home? a prison? hairdresser? Just have one in your purse and see what kind of divine appointment our amazing heavenly tour director sets up.

You can go online and receive complimentary copies with a variety of covers. Seasonal covers (thanksgiving and Christmas) to golf (who needs a mulligan?) to ones that have a coloring page cover.

Check out PTL.org (pocket Testament League) and you can pick from a variety of covers that all contain the Gospel of John. Their mission statement is “Mobilizing and equipping Christians to Read, Carry and Share the Word since 1893.”

If you are able to donate something, then the money will help out those who can’t afford to purchase right now but who want to share the answer to the Who question.

Jesus said in the Gospel of John,
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father expect through me.  ( John 14:6) 

I’ve heard others describe Christians as boring. what !?  Well, it is my experience that being a follower of Christ is the most exciting adventure one can have on this earth. Christ followers know personally The Cure for all that ails us in this world. We know the One who can heal souls.  People are walking around with scales on their eyes and do not know that they are blind. Some have the chains of addiction and the past clamped around their legs. What a sobering honor and gift to know the secret that can free the captive of past sin and regret. Finding rest in Him means being free of fear and the future.

Sweet sister, you know personally The Cure. Will you share Him with all who are dying? 

We must wait though until just the right time when the person realizes their need for the medicine. The time when their hearts are soft. So we must be on watch with open ears and hearts to know then the time is right to share.

I pray you have courage my sister to share the cure that someone had the courage to share with you. Sometimes just asking a question will be the seed that will grow into a soft field of a heart ready to accept the lavish gift of redemption. When I was a young teen a man at a strip mall who was passing out tracts asked me, “Do you know why Jesus died on the cross”.  (See my blog testimony, Three Questions that Changed the World)

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So look for the seeker. Ask the real questions. Give them a way to read and find the answers.

I charge you my sweet sister:  Read, carry and share the gospel. Literally…… carry the gospel with you and give it away. 

For Our Life Giving Boss (Jesus is my Boss:) urges us to:

” Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature”.          Mark 16:15

The Day the Drycleaners Held my Clothes Hostage and My claws Came Out

AmberOBrien"

It all started innocently enough. My husband was out of town, so I took over the dry cleaning for him as this normally was something he took care of. We had been using this dry cleaner for over 20 years which is owned and operated by an Asian couple who still struggled with English but have faithfully worked to run their own business year after year.

The female store owner recognized me but she didn’t seem interested in small talk. “Phone number? ” She demanded in broken English.

I gave her my husband’s cell. She seemed irritated when it didn’t work.  Next, I next gave her my cell. It didn’t work either. I then gave her our old home number that we don’t use anymore.

I just wanted to drop off the clothes. I gave her my husband’s cell again.

Then she started to ask me something that I couldn’t make out. She seemed offended that I didn’t understand her and as her frustrated rose  she walked away from the counter. When she came back, I asked if I could pick it all up by Saturday (3 days later) as we both were going out of town on Monday. (I didn’t realize how early at the time) This is the first time I’ve ever asked for a specific day, but I needed the dresses for the convention.

“can’t do that “, she said stubbornly.

“Ok” I said bowing down…” How about early Monday?”

She said 8am. Problem averted I thought. I’ll just pick up the clothes early Monday even though they are closed on Sunday and the clothes would most likely be done on Saturday. It’s fine, I thought. She must have been having a bad day.

Chatting with my husband later that day, he informed me that we were leaving early (like 7am early on Monday).

“No!”  I thought. I need to go back and face this bitter, unhappy women?  I need to ask her for a favor? I started to make a game plan as I drove over. I would ask her nicely after I give her the old phone number that she still has in her computer. I would apologize and take blame for not knowing what number was in her system. And if she wasn’t able to help me? I would ask for the clothes back and have them cleaned at our hotel.

“Hello”, I smiled as I walked in.

“clothes are not ready” she barked out without a smile.

“I know” I said still smiling “I found out from my husband the number you have in your computer . I’m so sorry as it is a 20 year old number.” She put it in as I waited to ask her for my request.

“So I just realized that we are leaving at 7 am on Monday morning. I was wondering if I could please pick up the clothes on Saturday?”

“No..can’t do that”

“Then can I have my clothes back?” I countered.

“No…they all mixed up back there…I no can find them”.

I tried to remain calm but part of me was thinking of calling for backup. Like 911 backup. I could feel the tension rise as my face felt flush and the claws in my hands started coming out.

“Can’t you use the numbers on the receipt to find them?   I inquired. “Those are my property”.

We were at a standstill. My clothes were now held hostage and like two cowboys in a western film we both had our hands on our weapons. And so  I tried a different tactic.

“20 years”.  I said with pleading eyes and a questioning voice.

She just looked at me …we both had our paws out, claws ready.

So I then tried my last resort plan.  I made a threat.  “If you don’t help me, my husband won’t come here anymore.”

She agreed that I could pick them up at 5 pm.

“Not one minute earlier”  she said.

And then she gave an explanation of her frustration in rapid execution, but I could only make out the phrase, “it is smelly back there.” ..then she turned around and with her back to me she put up her right hand in a “never mind you wouldn’t understand” wave.

“You both work very hard,” I said…she didn’t turn around.

Driving  away my heart grew increasingly sad and heavy. I would receive the clothes earlier and I didn’t need to call the police; but I started to put myself in her shoes and the Holy Spirit began to convict me.

Continue reading “The Day the Drycleaners Held my Clothes Hostage and My claws Came Out”

The Best is yet to Be…..really?

AmberOBrien"

Dear Amber,

The world seems to be falling apart and I hear you say often, “the Best is yet to be”.  Really?  I watch the news and I just want to turn it off. A few of my friends have left Facebook because of how vile it has become recently. Things are falling about in my own private world as well. How can you say the Best is yet to be?  ( and why are you stealing Brownings’ line from His poem Rabbi Ben Ezra? He is referring to human love….are you?)

Dear Sweet Sister:

Having a soft heart is a good sign. The hearts of the children of God should break when we watch the news or hear of another’s heartache.  Soft-hearted children know how to run to their heavenly father and ask for help. Often God’s answer is that we are to be the hands and feet and voice for the hurting in this world. Let us ask God everyday how we can share His Love in this place of exile we call our temporary home.

For those who have accepted the gift of being released from the prison of sin, we have the hope of everlasting Life in a perfect place called heaven where there is no heartache.  When I held my 40 day infant old daughter Megan as  he took her final breath on this earth, I received an overwhelming peace.  Later in my grieving, I had an epiphany that my prayers were answered and she was “Healed in Heaven”. She has been spared living in this broken world and how can my arms compare to the perfect arms of Jesus?

Why can I say the Best is yet to be? Because God sent His son Jesus Christ so that we could spend eternity in The. Best. Place. If you give your broken, soft heart to your creator,  He can make it new again.

Our King of Kings makes us a promise in His final Book of Revelation, “And the one sitting on the throne said,  “Look, I making everything  New!”. Revelation 21:5

So my sweet sister.   Love saves the best for Last. If you are saved then truly you can say….. the Best is Yet to Be.

I hope you enjoy the poem I wrote about this….I am praying that God will inspire someone to put this to music.

 

 

In the Midst of Storms, Rainbows are Born

AmberOBrien"

I, the LORD your God, will hold thy right hand, and say to you, “Don’t be afraid, I will help You”.  Isaiah 41:13

Dear Sweet Sister,

I sat with my morning coffee and my bible in hand when I received the text, “please pray for my ______(family member) ….and then she wrote,

“When it rains it pours!”.

This sweet sister has had many tough challenges recently and now she had another family member who needed help.

I wrote her back the first verse of the poem below that I had written years ago:

In the midst of storms rainbows are born, His Love shines through our tears, In the midst of storms rainbows are born, He is here, He is here. 

I wrote this poem after my husband remarked that for a rainbow to appear, rain needs to still be in the air as the sun shines through the droplets.

Before this revelation, I had always stated the often quoted “After the rain, the rainbow”. But this quote isn’t accurate is it?  physically or spiritually? The rain is needed to create the rainbow.

My sweet sister texted me back , “Rain always brings beautiful flowers”.

“Yes!”I replied “and God the gardener prunes those that He loves…So that we become stronger and bear more fruit”.

The idea that God is in the midst of our pain holding our hands brings such peace to me.

A rainbow speaks of God’s promise to provide dry land and a second chance once the storm subsides.

I hope the poem below gives you hope and peace. He is making something beautiful out of this dark stormy time.  He is with you during the storm…for in the midst of storms, rainbows are born.

The 10 Things That All Christians Can Agree On Day #15 The Purpose Driven Life

AmberOBrien"

See how very much our Heavenly Father loves us, for He allows us to be called His children, and we really are!    1 John 3:1

I call you my sweet “sister” because in the family of God we are children of the same father and name you “Sweet” because we should be encouraging each other and sharing in each other’s joys.

So I wanted to share with you the joy of my granddaughter’s baptism. I hesitated before deciding to share this as I know different denominations differ on infant baptism. In fact, my son in law hestitated on having her baptized as an infant as well.  Utimately, all the Christians in my family (Protestants and Catholics) see this as just the beginning as we pray that Megan Elise will continue to say “Yes” to following Jesus all the days of her life.

I started this blog to reach out to ALL my Christian sisters as I have a respect for how God is at work in all denominations that believe that Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life”.  I grew up Methodist, spent my late teens attending a Baptist church and joined the Catholic Church as a young adult.  Through the years God has chipped away at many of my misconceptions and prejudices I had against the Catholic Church. I now know from experience that there are sisters and brothers who have a deep personal relationship with Jesus Christ spread throughout ALL the christian denominations. However, our enemy wants us to argue with our brothers and sisters over doctrinal differences so we have less energy to spread the gospel.

Our pulpits should not be used to speak negatively about different denominations but instead to preach the Good News of love, truth and peace. Our focus and energy should always be on how to work together to spread the gospel message that God has provided a way for us to be set free from the chains of sin and death.

So let us focus on what we all can agree on as sister and brothers in the family of God:

1. We can all agree that our deepest heart prayer is that our children will grow up to know, love and serve Jesus Christ all the days of their lives.   While I am thankful for the sacrament of baptism, my biggest prayer is that my granddaughter Megan will continue to say “Yes” to Jesus throughout her life.

2. We can agree that we are all works in progress and that we all make mistakes.  We all need the Lord.

3. None of us can earn our way to heaven. Jesus paid the price.  His sacrifice is enough.  While I am thankful for the graces I have found in confessing to a priest, I know that my protestant sisters can be forgiven by coming directly to Jesus with a humble heart.   (If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 )

4. The evidence of someone who is in the family of God will be good fruit. They will slowly care more about the things that Jesus cared about: the poor, the sick, the aged, those that are chained by addiction and other sins. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Matthew 7:16

5.  Families share our  joys and divide our sorrows. In the same Church that my granddaughter Megan Elise was baptized in, my daughter Megan Elizabeth was given the sacrament of burial.  My family came to add to our joy for the Baptism.  My family also came to divide our sorrow for burial 22 years before.   I truly felt some of the burden lift through each person who came to the funeral and I received added joy for each family member who came to celebrate our great joy of committing  Megan Elise into the family of God.

So do your best to go to the funerals and to the baptisms, the weddings, the birthdays….While we can’t be everywhere and attend everything, love often requires sacrifice, so prayerfully do your best to be there for each other.

6.  We might not always get along with all of our family members. One of my favorite quotes goes something like this:  Some family members on your life will feel like Velvet and some will feel like sandpaper. God will use the sandpaper family members to make you less rough around the edges, smoother and able to reflect the face of your creator when others look at your life. The velvet ones give us a glimpse into to how much God loves and adores us.  We need both the Sandpaper and Velvet relationships to continue to become more like Jesus…..some people will drive us to our knees in prayer and some in thanksgiving.

7. Forgiveness. My favorite marriage quote is by Ruth Bell Graham “A successful marriage is the union between two good Forgivers”.  Really this is true for all relationships isn’t it? We constantly step (trespass)  on each other’s toes, each other hearts, hopes and dreams with lead feet. Has a family member disappointed you?    Let. It. Go.    Keep saying the quote that Jesus prayed as he slowly died a cruel and violent death. “Forgive them Father…they know not what they do”.  Pray for your sisters and brothers and especially for those who currently share a strained relationship with you.  The enemy’s goal is for division between us sisters and brothers. Don’t give the enemy any ground.  Our Jesus is the Prince of Peace. So let Him rule in your hearts, and in all your earthly and heavenly relationships.

8.  God loves us through our families.  So seek out and make time to be together.  Two of the Commandments are: Honor the Sabbath and Honor your mother and Father. Perhaps seek to spend Sunday with family more? Sunday dinner? Perhaps Pizza so no one needs to work? Play a game after dinner. Chat about the week. God loves us through our families.

9. What if I am really irritated or angry at a particular family member? Write 10 good things about them on a piece of paper. I bet by the time you reach number 10 that you won’t be as irritated. Focusing on the good  brings perspective. Writing things down changes your way of thinking so make sure you don’t just think of the positive things but write. them. down.   Consider giving the family member the list as an encouragement or as a present. (No need to explain the reason why you began the list:)

10.  We may have different Christian brothers and sisters through the many seasons of our lives, but we have one Heavenly Father who gave us his only son, Jesus Christ.  At  each season of your life, seek out Christian sisters and brothers to challenge and encourage you along the way.

So Thank you for sharing in my joy over my Grandbaby’s baptism even if you don’t believe in infant baptism. Thank you for praying with me that she will grow up to know, love and serve Jesus all the days of her life.

We are Family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faith on a Thread

AmberOBrien"


Dear Sweet Sister,

Has there ever been a time when you almost lost Your faith? How did you reconcile your relationship with God?

I was recently approached with these questions and as they intrigued me, I thought I would share my answers with you.

Has there ever been a time when you almost lost Your faith?
I remember vividly the time when I held onto my faith by just a thread. It was about four months after my baby girl Megan had died and I wrestled with this troubling thought, “Why didn’t God heal my baby after I had prayed and begged for the 40 days she struggled to stay alive in the hospital NICU?”

This time of wrestling occurred during my 28th year, but my love relationship with Jesus had begun 12 years before when I was just 16 years old. While attending a summer Young life camp, a talk was given on how Jesus physically suffered on the cross for my sins and I remember asking Jesus in awed gratitude, “You did that for me – what can I do for you?” I heard in my soul the answer, “Give me your life,” and I wholeheartedly did just that. I decided to follow Jesus and seek to know Him and to trust Him with my future. What an exciting time of adventure and growth as I joined a bible study and witnessed firsthand a personal God who took an interest in every detail of my life. I witnessed over the next twelve years a God who intervened in miraculous ways as He moved in my life and in the lives of my Christian friends.

Now, as I sought answers with empty hands and a broken heart, the heavens seemed silent. I felt God’s peace the day she died in my arms and in the first weeks to follow, but as the shock lifted, my questions and emotions started to build, and I tried to push them down.  Finally, feelings of anger, guilt, hurt and sorrow that I had been stuffing down finally erupted one day as I stood at the sink washing dishes. I screamed out loud to God,

“Why did you give her to me only to take her away?”

I felt hurt and rejected as I knew of other premature babies that weighed less or were born earlier who survived and were alive and well.  Each time I heard of another premature baby that survived, it was as if salt were rubbed into a wound. Were my prayers not effective because I did not have enough faith? Had God turned His back on me? My faith, hopes, and dreams crashed when my husband and I helplessly watched as her small white coffin was silently lowered into the cold, hard February ground.

A few months after her funeral, a well-meaning relative gave me the book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People by a Jewish Rabbi named Harold Kushner.  The author’s thesis stated that while God is good and loving and suffers with His people, He has no control over the universe and could not prevent this “bad thing” from happening.

I wrestled with this non-omnipotent thinking as I read this book. At first this sounded as a logical way out from my conundrum, for if God has no power then I could no longer be angry at Him.  However, the more I thought on it, the more I decided that I didn’t want to serve a God who had no power. Who would want to follow a God who did not have power? Didn’t Jesus claim be the Great I Am? Didn’t he conquer death when He rose from the dead? Wasn’t the reason I had peace as I held her and she took her last breath because I knew she was now free of pain in Heaven, and the reason Heaven exists because Jesus broke the chains of sin and death? Yet this book said that He had no control or power.

So my choices were that either God has no control and He wanted to help me but couldn’t, or that He has control and could have healed my baby and he chose not to. Ouch. I didn’t like either choice.

The scripture that seemed to parallel my dilemma was in the Gospel of John when some of the disciples turned away and deserted Jesus. Jesus turned to the Twelve who were left and asked, “Are you also going to leave?”

Simon Peter replied,
“Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe and know you are the Holy One of God.”  John 6: 66-69.

Similar to the twelve disciples in the above passage, I had to decide if I would follow and trust Jesus, even if I didn’t understand what He was doing — even if I didn’t like was He was doing. For what is the definition of Love? Love means commitment. Love is not based on feeling or circumstances.

How did you reconcile your relationship with God?
I thought I had “wholeheartedly” given my life to Him at 16, but now I needed to recommit my life to Him and trust that He who is LOVE and sitting on the throne allowed this for my good. I had a choice between continuing to grip onto to my anger, hurt, and disappointment with clenched hands, or to surrender my daughter with open hands into the loving hands of God.

As I worked on climbing out of the pit of all those negative emotions — self-pity, anger, hurt, disappointment, confusion — I started focusing on what I could be thankful for while I waited to see the good that could come out of this. I slowly came to realize that Jesus was suffering with me and caring for me during this tough time through many people and through His Church. A priest came to the NICU to baptize Megan when she was first born. What a gift to have a priest come and visit the hospital and offer the sacrament of baptism. My home church had a full graveyard but found a small plot so we could bury her and gave her the respect of a full burial and service. What a great comfort to visit her grave through the years and my husband found relief tending the garden around the grave as his way to actively grieve. St. Ignatius Church also gave us a room to dedicate to our daughter since she wouldn’t have a room in our home. We hired a muralist to paint a Noah’s ark themed room with carefully selected bible verses to go with each scene. Noah endured 40 days of rain similar to the 40 days Megan spent in the hospital. The biblical meaning of 40 days as a “time of completion after a period of trial and testing” gave me great comfort, as did the rainbow that God gave as a sign after the storm dissipated.

As an adult converted to the Catholic faith, I came to appreciate the memorized prayers of the Lord’s prayer and the Hail Mary as I fell back on them when I didn’t have the energy to pray conversational prayers while I spent time in the NICU. I also realized the gift of having the Mother Mary advocate for me as she is so close to his throne. Just as I called my best friend Janice to pray for me, I realized that we have so great a cloud of witnesses up in heaven close to Jesus’ throne that we can ask to carry our prayer requests up to God’s Throne.

Yes, God had not rejected me but had been there every step of the way: Grieving with me. Collecting my tears. Assuring me of Megan’s home in Heaven through scripture.   

I realized one momentous day that God did answer my many prayers for Megan’s healing, for she is now “healed in Heaven,” free of all pain, sickness, and sorrow. She is now praying for me and my family as we are still left in this broken, sinful world.

I still do not know all the reasons why our baby only lived 40 precious days. But I have learned that after the 40 days of testing in the Bible, there is always change and growth. My young toddler faith, which expected God to answer all my prayers, slowly changed to a more mature faith, with roots that, especially during this dry period, went deeper down into the ground. My spiritual experience is similar to how in a marriage one must navigate going from the infatuation stage to a deeper long lasting sacrificial love. Love is commitment and, for better or worse, rich or poorer, whether my prayers are answered the way I want, sickness or in health, I have chosen to follow Jesus.

I still believe God can heal and answers our prayers on earth, but I also know that He doesn’t always give us what we want because He is God and knows more than we as to what is best for us long term. As a result, I now always end my prayers with, “Thy will be done,” for I believe that God is good, God is love, and God is in control.

Just this weekend, twenty-one years after Megan Elizabeth’s death, God is still assuring me in miraculous ways of how He is in control. After my granddaughter’s baptism, I was reminded that my husband and I gave an envelope with money in it to the two men who dug Megan’s grave, as it was such a bitter cold day and we were so appreciative of their service. They told us that they could not accept the money but would use it as the first money to be put in a fund for the new larger church to be built near the graveyard — seed money.

On Sunday our granddaughter, who was named after Megan Elizabeth, Megan Elise, was baptized in that new church. She was baptized from death (original sin) into life in the church built with the seed money given to dig her namesake’s grave. Who but God could orchestrate such a beautiful analogy but the God who gave the rainbow after Noah’s 40 days and nights?    My many tears have turned into such overwhelming, goose-bumping Joy.

Psalm 126: 5-6
Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping carrying seed to sow,
Will return with songs of joy carrying sheaves with them.

So my prayer for you, Sweet Sister, is that you will be honest with God through the years and share with Him all of your thoughts and feelings (in your mind, or better yet in a journal). He wants a real relationship with you, and that will include some wrestling.

Most of all, I pray you will always know that anything that happens is always filtered through His loving fingers and He works all things out for those that Love God and are called according to His purpose. (Rom. 8:28)

He is good          He is Love          He is in control.

Ask your Generous abba (daddy) for help, but always end your requests with, “Thy will be done.”

His Forever,

Amber O’Brien

Amber O’Brien Shares Her Eternal Love Story Day #37 Purpose Driven Life

AmberOBrien"

Can I share my eternal love story with you? My testimony part of my life message?  Just 3 minutes and I believe it could change your life. Eternally change your life.

Day #37

Write out your testimony and then memorize the main points.

Divide it into four parts:

  1. What my life was like before I met Jesus
  2. How I realized I needed Jesus
  3. How I committed my life to Jesus
  4. The difference Jesus has made in my life.

I would love to hear your story Sweet Sister. No one else has the story you have.  Your story is as special as you are. This is the most important story you can leave behind for you family.   Please share it with me and your sweet sisters on our facebook community page.