Saturday, August 26, 2006

Live Every Moment - Seize the Day

While I was away visiting Rae in Athens today, I received a phone call from my roommate, Cynthia. Through her hysterical sobs, I finally deciphered that she had lost someone dear to her today. One of her friends at work was killed in a car accident last night. I know no details, only that in an instant, lives where ended and others changed. That quickly...everything changed.

It reminds me that life here is short. We are but grass that is here today and gone tomorrow. And that is exciting...because I know that Jesus has gone to prepare a place for me in Our Father's House! But, it also reminds me that my time here is short and I need to make the most of it. I need to seize each day and live each moment. Stop being afraid. Stop being passive. Love those I love with a fierceness that shows them the truth. Forgive those who've hurt me and move past it. Seek reconciliation in relationships that are broken. This life is short. But, eternity waits.

It reminded me of a song by Carolyn Arrends that resonates deep within me.

I know a girl who was schooled in Manhattan
She reads dusty books and learns phrases in Latin
She is an author, or maybe a poet
A genius but it's just this world doesn't know it
She works on her novel most everyday
If you laugh she will say

Seize the day
Seize whatever you can
'Cause life slips away just like hour glass sand
Seize the day
Pray for grace from God's hand
And nothin' will stand in your way
Seize the day

I know a doctor, a fine young physician
Left a six figure job for a mission position
He's healin' the sick in an African clinic
He works, in the daytime writes home to the cynics
He says we work through the night almost everyday
As we watch the sunrise we can say

Seize the day
Seize whatever you can
Life slips away just like hourglass sand
Seize the day
Pray for grace from God's hand
And nothin' will stand in your way
Seize the day

Now I'm singing my songs off of any old stage
You can laugh all you want I'll still say

Seize the day...



I don't want people to wonder about me when I'm gone. Did I love them? Had I forgiven them? Did I love the Lord? I want them to know. And, more importantly, I want Him to say...Well done, my good and faithful servant, enter into Your Father's rest.

Friday, August 25, 2006

What Forgiveness Isn't


What Forgiveness Isn't
6 myths that may be keeping you from letting go.
by Denise George



I listened quietly as my friend Jamie told me the frank details of the sexual abuse she'd suffered as a child.

"I hate my father!" she blurted out. "He abused me for more than a decade!" Jamie cried. "But my pastor said if I want to heal from my childhood pain, I have to forgive."

"What did you tell your pastor?" I asked.

"I told him I could never forgive my father, that I didn't want to forgive him, that no one—not even God—would expect me to forgive him!"

Jamie told me all the reasons that kept her from forgiving her abusive father. I'd heard many of them before. In fact, I'd used some of them two years earlier, when a friend I'd trusted to keep a confidence told several women in my Sunday school class about a painful circumstance I was going through. I felt betrayed by my friend—as I should have. But forgive her? That was the last thing I wanted to do! I dropped out of the Sunday school class and avoided her at church. But a year later, when I reread what the apostle Paul said about forgiveness, his familiar words touched my heart in a special way: "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32, my emphasis).

As I meditated on that verse, I knew I'd been forgiven much. I needed to forgive my friend, even if I didn't feel like it. I decided to do so. Later, when I met her and told her I'd forgiven her, she apologized, and we both cried. I wish I could say she and I became good friends again—but I can't. Her betrayal deeply hurt our friendship, and I was careful never to share another confidence with her. But God's Word and my decision to forgive set me free from bitterness.

Facing the Challenge
Jamie and I are just two of a legion of Christian women who've struggled with forgiveness because it's difficult—almost impossible—to do. Yet in Luke 6:37, Jesus says, "Forgive, and you will be forgiven." He elaborates in Matthew 6:14-15: "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." The apostle Paul repeats Jesus' command: "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Colossians 3:13). Surely Paul's "whatever grievances" covers any kind of hurt, betrayal, or injury another person could inflict!

In talking with hundreds of women about forgiveness, I've discovered six myths that keep us from the healing and freedom God desires for you and me.

Myth 1: Forgiving means the offender didn't really hurt you. Jamie thought if she forgave her father, it lessened the severity of his abuse. Yet Jamie's forgiveness doesn't deny her father hurt her. In fact, it clearly recognizes the enormity of his evil—if Jamie's dad hadn't deliberately caused her pain, she'd have no reason to forgive him.

"Forgiveness is a redemptive response to having been wronged and wounded," wrote author Lewis B. Smedes. "Only those who have wronged and wounded us are candidates for forgiveness. If they injure us accidentally, we excuse them. We only forgive the ones we blame." Choosing to forgive her father acknowledges the pain Jamie endured at his hands. It also begins her healing.

Myth 2: Forgiving means you excuse the offender's hurtful act. When I chose to forgive my friend, I didn't condone her cruel behavior. Forgiveness, I've discovered, is a response that seeks to redeem the hurt, not brush it off. An accidental "slip of the tongue" needs no forgiveness because it isn't deliberately caused. Intentional hurts—like my friend's betrayal—need forgiveness. When I forgave my friend, my forgiveness didn't lessen the impact of her painful action. But forgiveness unlocked my own "prison" of bitterness.

Myth 3: Before forgiving, you must first understand why the offender hurt you. On December 1, 1997, Missy Jenkins, a sophomore at Heath High School in Paducah, Kentucky, stood with her classmates and prayed before school started. Before they said their final "amen," 14-year-old Michael Carneal pulled out a pistol and fired 11 shots into the student prayer group. One bullet severely damaged Missy's spinal cord. Paralyzed from the waist down, Missy will spend her life in a wheelchair.

Missy doesn't know the reason her classmate deliberately hurt her. Michael may not understand his reasons. But that didn't keep Missy from choosing to forgive him.

"I believe hating him is wasted emotion," Missy says. "Hating Michael won't make me walk again. Besides, I know it isn't what Jesus would do."

Our human mind yearns to make all the confusing puzzle pieces fit together neatly before we forgive. However, the truth is we can forgive an offender even if we never discover the reasons for the inflicted pain. Author Philip Yancey writes in What's So Amazing About Grace, "Not to forgive imprisons me in the past and locks out all potential for change. I thus yield control to another, my enemy, and doom myself to suffer the consequences of the wrong."

Myth 4: Before forgiving the offender, you must feel forgiving. Forgiveness has nothing to do with how you feel. You can feel hurt, betrayed, and angry, and still completely forgive the one who wounded you. Biblical forgiveness is an act of the will. It's a choice you make.

Can you still feel angry after you forgive? Yes! Anger means you're in touch with reality—it's part of being human. But be careful to aim that anger at what your offender did, not at the offender herself. Then let your anger push you toward justice.

Myth 5: Forgiving means the offender will face no consequences. When we choose to forgive someone, our forgiveness doesn't "let him off the hook." Forgiveness also doesn't mean justice shouldn't be served.

In December 1983, Pope John Paul II visited a prisoner, Mehmet Ali Agca, at the Rebibbia prison in Rome. In May 1981, Agca had aimed a pistol at the pope and shot him in the chest. After much pain and agony, John Paul recovered, and now he looked Agca in the eye, extended his hand, and said, "I forgive you."

Even though the pope forgave him, Agca still faced the consequences of his crime. He served a lengthy prison sentence until he finally was released last January.

Myth 6: When your offender is punished, you'll find closure. On June 13, 1990, Linda Purnhagen saw her two daughters, Gracie, 16, and Tiffany, 9, for the last time. Dennis Dowthitt, a dangerously sick psychopath, strangled Tiffany to death, then raped Gracie and slit her throat. When authorities discovered the girls' bodies, they arrested and convicted Dowthitt, and scheduled his execution.

A decade later, as executioners strapped him to his death gurney, Dowthitt apologized for the savage killings. But not even his confession, apology, and execution brought closure for Linda. She was disappointed after the execution, not relieved.

We think we can more easily forgive others if they confess the crime and apologize for the pain they caused. But don't look to justice, imprisonment, or execution to bring needed closure and healing. Only forgiveness will do that.

The Choice to Forgive
The decision to forgive an offender is probably the hardest choice we can ever make. Some crimes seem too horrible to forgive. Our instincts tell us to avenge the person who caused us pain, not to release him from the debt he owes us. But as Christians, we can't afford to have unforgiving hearts, for we have been greatly forgiven by God in Christ (Ephesians 4:32).

Only forgiveness can release us from a life of hatred and bitterness. "Forgiving is a journey, sometimes a long one," wrote Lewis B. Smedes in Shame and Grace. "We may need some time before we get to the station of complete healing, but the nice thing is that we are being healed en route. When we genuinely forgive, we set a prisoner free and then discover the prisoner we set free was us."

Denise George, www.authordenisegeorge.com, is the author of 20 books, including Cultivating a Forgiving Heart—Forgiveness Frees You to Flourish (Zondervan).

Forgiveness ABCs

Acknowledge the hurt. When someone deliberately hurts you, don't try to diminish the pain and its effect on you. Acknowledge your suffering—and express it aloud to God. Scripture promises: "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18), and "He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds" (Psalm 147:3).

Blame the offender. If a person hurts you by mistake, she didn't mean to inflict pain, so she needs no forgiveness. But if a person intentionally hurts you, then the pain she caused was deliberate. Say aloud: "I personally blame you, (name of offender), because you hurt me on purpose." Correctly placing the blame readies you to begin the forgiveness process.

Cancel the debt. You've acknowledged the hurt and rightly blamed the offender. Now you're ready to make the willful decision to "cancel the debt" your offender owes you. Find a quiet place to be alone and ask the Lord's help in forgiving the person who hurt you. You might pray the "Lord's Prayer" (Matthew 6:9-13) and meditate on verse 12: "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." After you've prayed and while you're still alone, speak aloud your decision to forgive: "(Name of offender), I've chosen to forgive you for hurting me; I've decided to cancel the debt you owe me." You've now embarked on the process of forgiving the person who hurt you. —D.G.


Copyright © 2006 by the author or Christianity Today International/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Thoughts on Sarcasm

About a month ago, I was teaching the Middle Schoolers at church how to have a quiet time. We were reading through the Proverb of the day and it contained so much that is pertinent to their lives. But, one part of the chapter struck me. Verses 17-28


New American Standard Version
17Like one who takes a dog by the ears Is he who passes by and meddles with strife not belonging to him.
18Like a madman who throws Firebrands, arrows and death,
19So is the man who deceives his neighbor, And says, "Was I not joking?"
20For lack of wood the fire goes out, And where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down.
21Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, So is a contentious man to kindle strife.
22The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, And they go down into the innermost parts of the body.
23Like an earthen vessel overlaid with silver dross Are burning lips and a wicked heart.
24He who hates disguises it with his lips, But he lays up deceit in his heart.
25When he speaks graciously, do not believe him, For there are seven abominations in his heart.
26Though his hatred covers itself with guile, His wickedness will be revealed before the assembly.
27He who digs a pit will fall into it, And he who rolls a stone, it will come back on him.
28A lying tongue hates those it crushes, And a flattering mouth works ruin.

The Message Version
17 You grab a mad dog by the ears when you butt into a quarrel that's none of your business.
18-19 People who shrug off deliberate deceptions, saying, "I didn't mean it, I was only joking," Are worse than careless campers who walk away from smoldering campfires.
20 When you run out of wood, the fire goes out; when the gossip ends, the quarrel dies down.
21 A quarrelsome person in a dispute is like kerosene thrown on a fire.
22 Listening to gossip is like eating cheap candy; do you want junk like that in your belly?
23 Smooth talk from an evil heart is like glaze on cracked pottery.
24-26 Your enemy shakes hands and greets you like an old friend,
all the while conniving against you. When he speaks warmly to you, don't believe him for a minute; he's just waiting for the chance to rip you off. No matter how cunningly he conceals his malice, eventually his evil will be exposed in public.
27 Malice backfires; spite boomerangs.
28 Liars hate their victims; flatterers sabotage trust.


The first part of that passage is what struck me the hardest (Although the rest about gossip and insincere friends is fantastic advice as well) . “Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows and death, so is the man who deceives his neighbor, and says, “was I not joking?”. In the last year, I had to deal with someone who epitomized this passage. I had never come across such a stark example of it until then. This person would say something really hurtful, but then say they were only joking when they realized it wasn’t received well. The problem was that it was clear that they weren’t joking, but had intended to hurt.

The first word I thought of when I read that verse was “sarcasm”. It has proliferated our society to the point where it’s hard to distinguish it as something undesirable. But, sarcasm, in it’s pure form is hurtful and should not be pervasive in the life of a Christian. I struggle with that statement a little bit, because I’ve always considered myself and my family to be sarcastic. We banter back and forth and pick on each other from time to time. I’ve loved it! And, today I think I discovered the difference. The bantering and picking in my family has never been intentionally hurtful. Sometimes feelings have gotten hurt, or people are more harsh than they intend. But, for the most part, the dialogue is always in the spirit of love and fun. So, how does this fit with the idea of sarcasm?

Well, I decided that the best place to start would be to look at the definition of the word. So, I headed over to www.dictionary.com and looked it up.

Dictionary.com Unabridged
sarcasm  –noun
1. harsh or bitter derision or irony.
2. a sharply ironical taunt; sneering or cutting remark: a review full of sarcasms.
________________________________________


—Synonyms 1. sardonicism, bitterness, ridicule. See IRONY1. 2. jeer.
Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.0.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.
American Heritage Dictionary - Cite This Source new!
sar•casm (sär k z m) Pronunciation Key
n.
1. A cutting, often ironic remark intended to wound.
2. A form of wit that is marked by the use of sarcastic language and is intended to make its victim the butt of contempt or ridicule.
3. The use of sarcasm. See Synonyms at wit1.



I quickly decided that those definitions did not fit the experience I have had with my family. And I felt a sharp reaction to those words. Sarcasm is intentional meanness. “A cutting, often ironic remark, intended to wound”. It is something painful and harmful. I know that there have been times where I have been sarcastic and intentionally wounded people. That grieves me. I hate that there is that part of my nature. I can be extremely critical and sardonic if I am not careful and watch myself.

What I don’t understand is people who are sarcastic and are proud of it. I know people who enjoy sarcasm as though it were a fine art. They take pride in it. They tell others “this is just who I am…deal with it”. Yet, these same people call themselves Christians. No wonder the world is so confused. We say we’re the messengers of light in the world, yet we walk around intentionally wounding those around us. We are to be the Body of Christ, yet we take pride in the slaying of someone’s spirit through harsh words and cut downs.

I looked even deeper into the word by looking up it’s synonyms.

Roget's New Millennium™ Thesaurus -

Main Entry: sarcasm
Part of Speech: noun
Definition: mock
Synonyms: acrimony, aspersion, banter, bitterness, burlesque, causticness, censure, comeback, contempt, corrosiveness, criticism, cut*, cynicism, derision, dig*, disparagement, flouting, invective, irony, lampooning, mockery, mordancy, put-down*, raillery, rancor, ridicule, satire, scoffing, scorn, sharpness, sneering, superciliousness, wisecrack

Source:
Roget's New Millennium™ Thesaurus, First Edition (v 1.3.1)
Copyright © 2006 by Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. All rights reserved.
* = informal or slang


So, it would seem that sarcasm is born out of bitterness. It is harsh like acid and just as corrosive. It is intended to shame, mock, humiliate, and harm it’s victim. These are not things that I want to mark my life. I have a long way to go, but I hope that each day brings new fruit of the Spirit to show that I am pursuing Him and weeding out the garbage.

My challenge to myself today is to be aware of my words. To know that they carry weight and can harm the hearer. So often I speak without thinking. And, sadly, I have wounded those I love. I am resolving to speak lovingly to those around me and not allow the shift from wittiness and playful banter to sarcasm to occur. I want my words and actions to be further proof that the Lord is sanctifying and refining my heart. And I do not want to add to the woundedness of another in an already fallen world.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Forgiveness

Forgiveness. I've been thinking alot about that word lately. We've been talking about it at church alot and I've batted it around with my friends some. I'm not sure how settled I am on what God expects from me in the arena of forgiveness. So, here are some of my random thoughts. Maybe writing them down and requesting feedback will help me find the answer. Below are some of the verses that I have been looking at and pondering in my quest.

Nehemiah 9:17
"They refused to listen, and did not remember Your wondrous deeds which You had performed among them; So they became stubborn and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But You are a God of forgiveness, Gracious and Compassionate, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness; And you did not forsake them"

Matthew 18:21-22
"Then Peter came and said to Him, 'Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?' Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven'."

Colossians 3:1-17
"So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful"

Romans 12:18
"If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men"

Thinking first of God as a God of forgiveness (Neh 9:17), I am in awe of One who can continually and completely forgive me. I feel so stupid sometimes when I commit the same sins over and over. When I grieve the heart of the One who loves me so completely I am struck dumb at the thought that He continually forgives and removes my sins away from me as far as the East is from the West (Psalm 103:12). As I think of all of the times the Israelites chose tangible gods over the One True God, I am amazed at the fact that He still calls them His chosen people. What a God we serve. I believe He has set the standard for how we should treat one another. As He says in Colossians 3, we are to forgive as He forgave us. Tall order.

But, does that mean that there are no consequences to the sin committed? We are to forgive...yes. But, does that mean that we are to just move forward and trust again blindly? I don't believe so. God is a God of forgiveness, but He is also a God of justice. I think on the story of David and Bathsheba (II Samuel 11-12). King David was a man after God's own heart, yet he failed miserably. He committed adultery with Bathsheba and then had her husband murdered when they discovered she was pregnant. David grieved the Lord. He sought forgiveness and it was granted. But, David still had to pay the penalty for the sin he committed. God told him that because of His sin, the sword would never depart from his house and he was going to bring calamity upon him from within his own household. All of that came to pass. David had monstrous problems with his children...rape, incest, murder, mutiny. And the child that had been conceived was taken by death. David was forgiven and he was restored to a right relationship with the Lord. However, he paid the penalty for his sin. I think the same is true in our relationships. When a trust is broken, it can be forgiven, but not immediately restored. There are consequences to sin. I believe if there is forgiveness, reconciliation and restored relationships and trust are the next steps, but they do not happen over night. We are to be cautious and wise (Matt. 10:16). We are also instructed to be careful not to throw what is holy before swine so as not to be torn to pieces (Matt. 7:2). And the Proverbs are full of verses about not being a fool or trusting one. I think that it is required of us to forgive, but it's ok if we're cautious in the beginning. I think total reconciliation should be the goal, but it may not be immediate.

And finally...what do you do when you have sought reconciliation and forgiveness, and you have not been received? This one is the hardest for me. I have found that I can more easily forgive a wrong done to me than not be forgiven or to have to live in broken relationship with someone. Years ago, this prospect would have absolutely devastated me. I would have taken responsibility for every part of the problem if that meant there could be peace. I would have beaten myself up and done whatever I could to restore the relationship. However, I have learned that that is not the appropriate or loving response. By making everything "my fault", I deny the other person an opportunity for growth and responsibility. I am not loving them by just making the problem go away. I read recently that "Peace making is not 'peace faking'. Often the peacemaker is the one who says, 'Let's stop covering up. Let's deal with it" (Sande, Leadership Journal http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2004/004/). I have realized that I've done no good for anyone by just making things better. I've not made the problem go away (as evidenced by the continually arising conflict). And, I have not loved the person into repentance by requiring that they deal with what they own in the situation. I have failed us both by trying to "patch things up".

So, what do you do when someone can't or won't forgive you? What I have learned to do is practice Romans 12:18 and be certain that I am doing all I can to seek reconciliation and live at peace with that person. I continue to love them and pray for reconciliation. I continue to seek opportunities to repair the relationship. But, If my heart is clear before the Lord on all of those things, I no longer have to carry the guilt of a broken relationship. I can be as the father of the Prodigal Son who waits with open arms for the day in which the relationship can be restored. I do not enjoy broken relationship. But, I no longer let them destroy who I am and what God has called me to do. Before, I would have drown in a situation like this. I would have been unable to breathe for the burden of brokenness. But, now I can see that I can only be responsible for what I am called to own. If others have issues that I can't control, I can not carry them. I can only pray and wait, which I will continue to do.

Does anyone have any thoughts on all of this? Am I way off? I welcome correction as well as agreement on this subject. It's an area where I am beginning to dig deep and would welcome a challenge to any of these thoughts.

The Story Behind "Praise You in the Storm"

I read this article today and it touched my heart. It's a long read, but definitely worth it. Oh, Lord...to be able to say Blessed Be Your Name...even when everything has been taken away!

He Gives, and Takes Away
by Mark Hall
posted 08/14/06

You're probably familiar with the Casting Crowns hit single "Praise You in This Storm." In this excerpt from his new book Lifestories, frontman Mark Hall tells the story behind the song.

Great songs don't just come out of nowhere, and there's quite a story behind the Casting Crowns hit, "Praise You in This Storm." In a new book called Lifestories (available August 29), Mark Hall, the band's frontman and chief songwriter, tells the stories behind the songs—including this one about a little girl dying of cancer who never gave up her trust in Jesus . . . and her mother who literally stood on the promises of God through the whole ordeal. The following story has been adapted and condensed from the book.

Laurie Edwards watched her little girl gasping for air and wanted to breathe for her. She wanted the Maker of breaths to swoop in and fill her child's lungs and dissolve every tumor with His mere glance. She wanted another miracle.

It was the early morning of Saturday, October 30, 2004. Ten-year-old Erin Browning lay in a hospice bed in her home, in such pain and shortness of breath that, in fear and exasperation, she could manage only one request of her mother.

"Just read the Scriptures!" she said.

So Laurie began reading the Scriptures. She included Erin's favorite passage, Proverbs 3:5-6. From 1 a.m. until 5 a.m., loved ones took turns reading aloud the Word of God over a child in the last, cruelest stages of cancer's grip. Little Erin had battled for more than three years.

And now the end was near. Laurie tried to refuse to believe it, but her trust in the Lord remained steadfast. She was frightened and faithful all at once. She prayed for an eleventh-hour miracle. And she kept reading the Scriptures, as Erin had asked.

At one point, Laurie placed her Bible on the floor and stood on it, literally standing on the Word of God as she read over her child. Finally, after the long night of reading Scripture followed by another long night of hopeful prayer, Laurie consented for a hospice nurse to administer an IV with medicine that essentially placed Erin in a painless coma on Sunday afternoon. There would be no more gasping for breath.

*****

I met Erin Browning on Valentine's Day, 2004 at Westover Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. Erin loved Casting Crowns, and, after six years of dance lessons, had choreographed a dance to our song "Here I Go Again." When Laurie initially contacted us, we made arrangements to meet their family before that concert. Three months later, Erin danced for the last time as her mother and two sisters joined her for a performance of "Here I Go Again" at The Carolina Theatre.

I was gripped by the imagery of Laurie's standing on her Bible and quoting Scripture over her sick little girl. After all the e-mail updates and prayers, that moment melted my heart and sparked the lyrics to this song.

I kept up with Erin's condition through Laurie's e-mails detailing the family's wrenching ordeal. Every e-mail described a change in Erin's condition. One e-mail would offer hope: "There is a new treatment, so please be praying." So we'd pray, and then the next e-mail would report, "It's not working."

Sometimes Laurie had questions: "What's going on? I feel like I'm all alone in this." But her love of Jesus remained fervent even though she questioned what was going on and didn't really understand the reasons. It was raw, rare faith, and it was inspiring.

On June 21, 2004, I e-mailed Laurie to tell her that I was writing a song for Erin entitled "Praise You in This Storm." Upon the news, Erin screamed so loud that it hurt Laurie's ears. Erin never got to hear the song, but Laurie heard it for the first time when her mother bought the CD on the day it was released and took it to the school where Laurie works. The two women sat in the car, listened to the song, and "cried and cried and cried."

"Erin would be so happy to know that other people were being touched by something written for her, because she was never about herself. She was about other people," Laurie said. "Other kids at school would say 'I want to be like Erin.' And she would say, 'No, you don't. You want to be like Jesus.'"

I was impressed with Laurie's faith, but Laurie will tell you how much she was impressed with Erin's faith. Erin was six years old when she prayed to receive Christ. She was diagnosed with cancer when she was seven, and by the time she was eight she was visiting area churches to give her testimony.

Four months after Erin was first diagnosed, a second bone scan revealed that the cancer was gone. Doctors called the results remarkable. Laurie and Erin called it a miracle. Emboldened by the Lord's clear hand in her life, she began regularly sharing her faith and giving her testimony.

"She had a desire to reach people to let them know there is no hope or joy without God. And even though she had reason in her life not to be happy, she was joyful because she had Jesus in her heart," Laurie said. "She wasn't afraid. She let the Lord speak through her, and when she would get up and speak it was like I wasn't listening to my own daughter. He would put words in her mouth, and it was just awesome."

But the cancer eventually returned, and this time, it didn't go away. The tumors grew so large that they displaced organs and created a visible bulge in Erin's chest. They pressed down on her spleen, pushed her heart to the right, and deviated her trachea, straining her breathing.

Near the end, Laurie's e-mail updates were desperate. Her last one before Erin's death was a simple request in all caps: "PLEASE PRAY FOR ERIN!" It was the night in which Laurie stood on her Bible during the four hours of Scripture reading. The weekend crept into Saturday, when at 1:15 a.m. the hospice nurse told Laurie that Erin's vital signs and statistics suggested she had only approximately 20 minutes to live.

Fifty-one hours later, [she] finally gave up her fight. Erin Browning went home at 4:24 a.m. on November 1, 2004.

Laurie still doesn't fully understand what happened next. She remembers only a tremendous peace and describes it as being under the shower of the Holy Spirit. She held Erin's body for 90 minutes while her daughter played in heaven.

"It was not like how I expected her last minutes to be. I thought I'd be hysterical, but I wasn't," Laurie said. "But she was where she always wanted to be. She told me when she was six years old that she couldn't wait to get to heaven. She said she had felt an emptiness in her heart, but when she asked Jesus into her heart she never felt it again because Jesus had filled her and would never leave her. For the 10 years she was on this earth, God used her in a remarkable, powerful way.

"I've learned that He can use an average, ordinary family to do extraordinary things and that He continues to use us despite ourselves," Laurie said. "How He has done that is beyond me. But He has a plan and purpose. A lot of times I may not like His plan, but I accept it. I'm just honored that He chose to use Erin and this family as He has."

Through it all, I was captured not just by Laurie's faith but also by her worship. She had the worship of Job:

The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.
Job 1:21

I have a son and two daughters, and I was amazed at how Laurie faced a parent's greatest fear. It doesn't mean that she wasn't angry. It doesn't mean that she wasn't sad or doubtful, but at the base of it she was leaning on God even if she was angry, sad, or doubtful. I was reminded once again that just because we cannot see God's purpose does not mean He doesn't have one. I was reminded that God is faithful, regardless of the circumstances. I was reminded that God is sovereign, and we're not.

Finally, I was reminded that we cannot control how long our lifesongs last. We only can control how loud we sing them. Little Erin lived out loud for Jesus.

*****

Were I to designate a "Godline" for this song—a lyric or message that seems to come directly from God—I would have to write every lyric. The whole song is a Godline. When it comes to writing, I wasn't there for this one. I can't think of anything for which I should ever take credit. There are so many lines that gripped me as this came together. The first one was:

For You are who You are, no matter where I am.

And the first line that came to me concerning Erin's battle with cancer was the first verse:

I was sure by now, God, You would have reached down,
And wiped our tears away, stepped in and saved the day.
But once again, I say "Amen," and it's still raining.

It took me a while to be able to sing that verse aloud. I was too emotional over Erin and Laurie. The bridge also is special to me. In remembering Laurie's update about reading Scripture verses over Erin, I added Psalm 121:1-2 as the bridge to try to capture the cry of a desperate mother:

I lift my eyes unto the hills; where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

I remember when the second verse came to me:

I remember when … I stumbled in the wind;
You heard my cry to You, and raised me up again.
My strength is almost gone; how can I carry on,
If I can't find You?

I'm saying, "God, I remember when this happened before and You pulled me out of it. But right now, my strength is almost gone and I don't know how I'm going to make it through this when I feel so alone and can't seem to find You."

What is so remarkable about this song is how God already has used it. His reach extends beyond just those struggling with long-term or terminal illness. Somehow, God's providence made this song also apply to Hurricane Katrina.

The second verse especially fits the circumstances perfectly. Obviously, that wasn't me. That was the Lord. Now read the channel:

As the thunder rolls, I barely hear You whisper through the rain,
"I'm with you."
And as Your mercy falls, I raise my hands and praise the God who gives,
And takes away.

Now consider that this album was released the day after Katrina devastated New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast. Amazing, huh?

While I wrote the song from my exposure to one family's battle with cancer, I realized it would apply to many people who are dealing with tragedy and heartbreak. We've all been there, so I figured it would touch a nerve. But how could I have known it would have anything to do with a national disaster?

Unbelievable. You think you know what God is up to, and then He takes a song you wrote four or five months before and unveils an entirely new purpose for it.

Behold, He indeed makes all things new. That's what He did for this song. And that's what He did for little Erin.