Monday, April 24, 2017

When a Hero Dies

I was a very small girl when my parents began taking me to a country church in rural Tennessee.  I don't remember too much from the very first years, but then again all the years start to blend together into a lifetime of golden memory.

I do remember meeting Preacher.  Preacher is what I called him.  Sometimes, I called him Preacher Cutshall, but mostly he was just "Preacher" to me.  He was tall and had a large smile that took up his face when he allowed it to.  He stood behind the pulpit on Sundays, he often scrubbed the bathrooms on Mondays, and he stayed on bended knee on Wednesday nights at prayer meeting.  He went to the nursing homes, he grew a garden, he worked a job in the community, he was always there.

I remember chuckling at times when he would preach and his words would get faster and more full of passion.  I remember finding him often in the basement of the church, scrubbing a stain out of the carpet.  He came to every Bible school, church camp, and youth event at the Rec center.  He was "Preacher" to us all.

He traveled over the mountains to be with me as a nine year old girl having major surgery.  His face was one of the first I saw when I woke up after the procedure.  His big smile was there welcoming me back to the world.  He made sure I could be at church when I was recovering.  Through the efforts and gifts of the people of the church, he let me lay on a hospital bed wheeled at the front of the church for every service.

He let me play clumsy piano for the congregational singing, allowed my brother as a young boy to stand on a chair and deliver his first sermon on a Sunday morning.  He loved us, prayed over us, shepherded us.  He was so much more than a preacher.

As a girl, I did not know what truths and qualities he was teaching me just by being there.  I did not understand the treasure in the character of that man then, but I surely do now.  I came to expect his support, his energy, his love.  He was as much a part of my life as my own family.

When I grew and made it to high school, he helped launch my dreams to international ministry.  He prompted the church to support me, and he paved a way for me to be used by God.  Our church sent me to 4 different countries, endured my endless slide shows, and listened to me pour my heart out about God's love for the nations.

And when I found myself in questionable situations or difficult choices through those teen years, often my parents would ask me if I would invite my Preacher to whatever activity was in question.  I knew if I could not feel proud to have him there, I did not need to be doing it.

He lived in the power of the Holy Spirit.  He was the first to give up the pulpit and spend an hour with us in prayer.  He encouraged us all to share our stories, our testimonies of faith.  He never stopped the moving of the Spirit for the sake of preaching.

He was humble and a hard worker.  He checked on every light, mopped the floors, and kept the Lord's house immaculate.  He was the first to work and the last to leave.  He had no pride in titles, but rather he served in all the little ways that poured value into every facet of ministry.

But more than all of these...he prayed.  Oh, that I could hear that man pray again today!  He would call us to the alter, and the whole of our 200 plus member church would bend our knees and bow before God,  and he would speak to God.  I remember so many times just listening to his words.  When I got older, I would say my own prayers, and then I would say, "Lord, let my words be like his.  Teach me to pray as he does."

People's lives changed because He was a praying man.  My life changed because of his prayers.  He taught us all, young and old, to seek the Lord.  Our church became my family.  This family loved me, cried for me, carried me, washed my feet, and prayed over my life.  And no doubt, many of them still do today.

I would not be the woman I am today were it not for the influence of that man in my life.  I have served the Lord all over the world,  graduated from Bible College, and now serve in full-time ministry in large part because He helped me sense the call to follow Christ.  His simple, country ways reached far more than just me, It reached the very hearts of an entire community and beyond.  We all saw God work through him.  We all worked harder because he did.  We all loved more because he did.  We all gave more because he gave to us.

I know his family sacrificed so that he could love us all and shepherd us so well.  I am sure he was missed at times when he was pouring into our lives.  I am sure that there was never enough of him to go around, but I am also sure that God multiplied his efforts, and there is lasting, eternal value for all that he sacrificed.

But now, he is gone.  I want to cry and run home and remember all those wonderful years of golden memories.  But, it is impossible for me to be sad for long.  You see,  he had this little plaque on his pulpit that said, "Sirs,  we would see Jesus."  And it was there as a reminder for him and all of us that one day, we would all see Jesus if we gave Him our lives.  And how can I be sad now that he has made it to this place he spent his life inviting us all to?

And I ached to make the trip over the mountains to be there to say my goodbyes.  I could not make the journey because I was serving at my church.  You see, I am now in full-time ministry with over 200 little children that I shepherd.  And not a day goes by that I don't remember the lessons that man taught me.  He lived Jesus to me and taught me what it meant to love people.  And I know that he would be pleased to know that the only thing that kept me from saying goodbye was the people God has given me to serve.

His influence forever lives on.  The way I love and serve my people is the way he taught me.  My brother, who is now a pastor, leads his people from that same example.  My parents serve as missionaries and they too live out their service because of how they were served.  And we are just one family, one of many, that grew in our faith in large part because of his leadership and commitment to shepherd his flock in a way that pointed straight to Jesus.

So, when a hero of the faith dies, we weep for our loss.  But we know that it is a gain beyond description.  And--heroes leave bits of themselves in all the people they poured their life into.  So, "Preacher" keeps living through the hands that he served, through my hands, and countless others. He will always be a part of my story and hundreds of others.

Until the day I can hug his neck again....

We would see Jesus!

Alfred Cutshall




Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Sacred Suffering

I want so much to write words of warmth and comfort to so many that I know that are trudging in the heavy weight of unexplainable pain.  What is this mess we call life, and why in the name of all that is good, does it have to hurt so much sometimes just to live?  If you've ever truly been broken, you know exactly the pit from which these questions rise.  

It feels right to want to run away from pain.  We want to push and shove against all things hard while seeking to live in the gentle, breezy places of life.  But what if those places of most difficulty are really just sacred invitations to know the Savior in ways the gentle breeze could never reach?

There is nothing like brokenness to bring the frailty of life right into the spotlight.  Many things can break a person, but shattered hearts always land in the sea of broken.  We feel irreparably altered.  When your life is broken, it never goes back to the way it was before.  There now exists a line in the sand defining the person you once were and the person you have now had to become.

And broken always forces a choice.

There is the choice to lie down and die in the broken or to fight against it with every fiber of your being.  It never seems right to lie down and die.  But maybe, that is where brokenness is meant to lead us? Please wait dear friend, don't misunderstand my words.  The death that comes in brokenness surrendered to God will always lead back to life.

Will you walk with me for a minute into a bit of my own brokenness, into a page from a very hard day in the middle of many hard and broken years?


March 8, 2014
My world is not made of the same things it used to be.  I decided I need to write, even if were just the honest truth of life these days.  The journey that we have been on has been hard to describe. For some reason, I find a measure of closeness with words.  This story needs to be written because it is a very sacred part of our life.

There lies my best friend, my husband, the father of my sons.  He is so very sick.  Each week, I watch him suffer more and be able to do less.  Each week I see him get smaller and frailer.  I bring him soup.  I rub his head.  I hold his hand.  I cry.  We talk and laugh some.  Sometimes, there is just not much to say.  It gets very quiet.  We get frustrated.  We hug and and I tuck him back in bed.  I call the doctors.  The doctors call me.  Appointments are set. We wonder about options.  We wonder about the bills that will surely come. 

Then, it gets very bad.  This is beyond my rubbed-off nursing training from rooming with my nurse friend for a few years.  I have read the books and googled the symptoms.  I have called the doctors and given the medicines.  I have prayed the prayers and shed all the tears.  I need help.  He needs more than me.  They all agree, and we are back into the quiet hum of hospital security. It is quiet.  A needed quiet.  As the little drops make their way into his IV, I think many thoughts that I haven't had time to think.  I think about this story that God is writing into our life.   I think about all the people that have crossed our path during these difficult years. I think about the strength it takes for us to not get overly discouraged or feel utterly defeated.  It is tempting to be terrified. As I eat yet another cafeteria baked fish, I think about the brevity of life.  How quickly we can go from youthful strength to weakened vessels.  Our days are short, but somehow I know our lives don't have to be small. Even in the hum of the hospital we must have purpose.  This story I am living was written by my Creator, and it is up to me to live out the parts.  Do I cower in fear and worry, or do I step into the plot trusting the Author?  The thing is, I do trust Him, but I have never had to trust like this.  I know He is the one that parted waters for terrified and fleeing Israelite slaves.   And, just as those fearful Israelites stepped into the unknown floor of a suddenly barren sea, I will keep stepping in the unknown sea of this great challenge. 

The honest truth is that I don't know what is next.  I don't have any positive updates or great breakthroughs to post about his progress.  But what I do have is hope and trust.  I hope in the Lord, and I trust that this is part of His plan.  I trust Him with the care of my dearest love.  I honestly don't know when or if things will get better.  But I do believe that He loves us. He keeps showing me that truth, no matter what. I will keep waiting here trying to trust.


We were so fragile, desperate, and quietly treading water in the sea of broken.  All that we knew was shaken.  We watched so many of our dreams and hopes for our lives fade.  We died a death of sorts in the sea of brokenness.

But it was in that sacred sea, that God began to tangibly bind us in His healing grasp.  He was so close, so intimate, and so very gentle.  He invited us into the quiet place of the soul where He met with us and showed us His own brokenness he brought forth on our behalf. That dark sea began to shimmer with the Sacred.  And as time progressed, it felt as though this once lonely place was transforming into an invitation to know and be known in ways we had never been.  His brokenness became givenness, and it poured out over our trembling souls.   

And then, He led us to others that had been given the same invitation.  Through weary eyes and wrinkled foreheads, I began to see the soft glow of life shining from the precious people that knew the calling into that Sacred Sea.  I heard their stories, and they echoed my own.  Though the journey was different for each one that came, they all stated the wonder of life that arises from the darkest pit.  Those that know Jesus and know suffering, they know the Sacred.

There are so many ways to break.  Death breaks us when it robs us of those we love.  Love breaks us when it is betrayed and trampled upon.  Dreams break us when they are left unlived.  People break us when they beat our hearts up with their own brokenness.  And disease, it tramples the life right out of your veins. But when you find yourself drowning deeply in that sea of broken, there is hope.  If you know the Savior, He will stretch out His own broken hands and show you His own broken side from which His own blood ran.  He will take that darkest broken and offer an invitation to know Him, to know the Sacred.  He will lift your chin to life and offer you entrance into His presence.  

This invitation does not erase the scars. It doesn't eliminate the hurt or replace the tragedy.  It will not always bring earthly healing or restoration of the damaged.  But, this invitation to the Sacred allows the broken to see the Savior and to understand in depths indescribable the love of a broken Savior.  And when you see the Savior, new life begins and every moment becomes Sacred thereafter.  And then, your brokenness becomes givenness, and that givenness offers hope poured out to the broken that are still sinking in the Sacred Sea of Suffering.

And in the Broken Sea, life emerges with a sense of gratitude for seeing the Savior in a way that can only be found by way of the Broken Sea.  Gratitude that does not logically coexist with our understanding of pain emerges. It is a rare gratitude for the intimacy and givenness of Jesus.

May you know Him, may you trust Him, and may He bring forth life from your broken heart.

 



Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Undeserved

Sometimes, I get knocked over, blown away, and left utterly speechless by the vastness of God's grace. I think the most humbling part is that I am keenly aware that I am so undeserving.  I bring nothing good of my own to this equation, yet He lavishes me none-the-less.  He bears my burdens, hears my complaints, dries my tears, handles my anger, ushers peace over my anxiety, and He tends the very garden of my heart.

And, if that were not enough, He chooses to use me.  And oh, the love and weight of that knowledge sometimes knocks me to my very knees.  I am but a girl with a scarred heart and my own bent towards disobedience.  I can be the one waving the palms at Jesus and then a week later be the one holding a hammer.  But he takes it, and loves it, and uses it all.

God's grace to me is undeserved but extravagant.   I gave him a crown of thorns, and He gave me a crown of life.  I gave Him a cross, and He gave me grace.









Friday, April 7, 2017

A Letter to My Future Grandchildren

In memory of my own grandparents that showed me life and love, I write a letter of sorts far into the future that might find my own yet-to-be born grandchildren some distant day, so that they too could know from whence they came. May my own little boys grow to be men and fathers that continue to carry onward these torches.   

My Dear Ones,

I write this letter to you in hopes to inspire courage and strength in your lives.  I cannot imagine the world in which you are living, but I can tell you of the world from which you came.  

I can tell you that there was a time when people thought more highly of others than they did of themselves.  There was an age where men were valiant, strong, and tender.  They knew how to treasure the people in their lives.  They were keenly aware of the task of leading and providing for a family.  They worked with dignity and honor.  They gave of their time selflessly, and sought to bring dignity to the world in which they lived.  They were movers, shakers, fixers, fighters, and farmers.  They wore their marriage ring proudly, they honored their parents, and they were willing to put themselves in the way of danger to protect the ones they loved.  They knew hard work.  They didn't back down from a challenge, and they didn't break a vow. They did not need the approval of any crowd.  They only looked for the twinkle in the eyes of the hearts they loved.  That was enough.  They were faithful men; faithful to their God and to their families.  They were loyal and could be trusted and counted upon to finish what they began.  These men were tender with their children, and they sought to instill the deep sense of value into their hearts.

There was a time when women were lovely from the inside out.  They were strong and mighty, but gentle in spirit.  Wisdom flowed from their hearts.  Their touch was healing, and their reach was wide.  They were the backbone of every strong family.  Their Bibles were worn, and their knees were calloused.  They poured their hearts into whatever their hands set forth to do.  Their loved flowed over in things like Sunday biscuits, intricate needlework, beautiful poetry, and bountiful harvests.  They had joy and beauty.  It was the kind of beauty that created soft wrinkles at the edges of their eyes and corners of their smiles.  They were treasured, honored, and respected.  They were beloved. They could roll up their sleeves and work harder than you can imagine.  Their calloused hands could cup a child's face and bind the wounds of a broken heart.   They were beautiful women of faith and they lived freely in their identity.  

You see, dear ones, these people were authentic.  They lived fully and heartily.  They worked, they loved, they worshiped, and they knew how to be a friend.  They were not perfect, but they were genuine.  I knew them by their first names.  I ate at their tables and heard their stories.  I watched them carve out a legacy.  I felt the weight on my shoulders to follow behind them in the paths they blazed for my life.  I bore their names with my own.  I had the shape of their lips, the curls of their hair, and the same love of growing things.   I knew them, I loved them, and I treasured them.

And...I have tried to pour their goodness all the way down to you. It hasn't been easy.  The world keeps pressing and fighting for souls.  The crowd calls for the allegiance of the masses and makes a soul feel stranded when it tries to withstand the current of trend.   But, it isn't stranded.  In the midst of a chaotic time, the steadfast love of God always shines.  

I tell you now Dear Ones that I have read to my sons, your fathers, and sang them many songs.  I have prayed over them and with them every night.  Your fathers, my beautiful boys, were made to seek patience and look for the good in the heart of others.  They were boys that were not allowed to be cruel.  They were kissed and hugged every day.  They ate at my table and read from my Bible.  Your grandfather walked them through woodlands, taught them of nature, and sang over them songs of faith.  We sat with them in church pews and shared countless milestones.  We taught them to treasure the people in their lives, work hard at whatever tasks they were given, seek humility, and always offer friendship. We failed some days to do our job well, but we never stopped trying.  

This, Dear Ones,  is from which you come.  This blood flows through your veins even now.  This courage and conviction is deeply rooted into your fibers, and this DNA is intertwined with your very own.  Do not be afraid to walk in the ways that were laid before you.  Do not fear the challenge of hard work, authentic relationships, and trusted character.  Trust in the way that God made you.  

Your world may scoff at your efforts, but your soul will grow in countless ways.  The words of your enemies might seem cruel and destructive, but it is at your doorstep where they will land in the time of trouble.  Your God will lead you.  You can trust Him.  You can count on my words to be true.  I have lived and loved, and now Dear Ones, into your hands I pass this torch. May you bravely carry it to the generations to come.

Your Loving Grandmother- Leah



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