Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What Lies in the Manger...



“...And then, just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that all our ideas are wrong, and that what we take to be evil and dark is really good and light because it comes from God. Our eyes are at fault, that is all. God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas 

I heard it on the radio.  A couple of days ago.  While I was driving down a busy street with cars whipping by and angry hands flying high.  Wreaths hanging from the retail doors and red ribbons wrapping light posts.  A grey sky hovered while a howling wind was nipping at skin not hiding in warm fleece covering.  The oversized Christmas trees with jewels dripping holiday cheer didn’t drown out the contrast that was all around.

I don’t remember the exact statistics.  But the gist of it was this…the holidays are the most stressful time of the year for some…depression swells… lonely hearts hear the echoes of crowds…those who have lost loved ones ache empty in their absence…the financial steaming pile of mess rises with guilt taunting…dreams crushed… failures frustrate…and all that one had hoped for cannot be.

What I’m about to say may ignite a tender chord in some…but it is not meant to inflame…it’s just part of our choices and our story.

We don’t do Santa in our house.  I mean…we tell the story of the generous St. Nicolas who was a devout follower of Christ…and we carry on the tradition of leaving presents for our kids out when they wake on Christmas morning and those are their “Santa” gifts.  And the movies and stories are all watched and enjoyed, just like The Wizard of Oz.  But we don’t pretend it’s real.

I love the fun of Santa and the fantasy of Santa and the story of Santa.  Because, after all, I am one of the biggest fairy tale fans of all time.  Especially a good one.  Because the good ones are closer to reality…the real reality that we can’t even see.  And that’s why I love them.

But I found that I just couldn’t lie to my kids.  I tried it in the beginning with my first…and I was wrought with guilt and confusion and as a person who is passionate about Truth…it did not give me peace.  

It’s already confusing enough when you look around at the broken busted up world.  When in your own life there is war and deserts and floods and chaos.  And some people are just struggling to hang on to their last straw of hope to survive.  

I didn’t want them to think that Santa was something to hope in and believe in when there is something so much greater and more beautiful and more wondrous than Santa could EVER be.   

And so Advent…which means “coming”…the coming of the long awaited promise of God for a Savior…became a new tradition that began with my sweet family.  And it has pleasantly surprised me how excited about it the kids get and how they don’t want to miss one day.  25 days anticipating each night that we open our advent calendar door and read our new Ann Voskamp advent book with a different ornament to hang every night filled with what Christ is about and who He is and why He came to save us.  And that we are waiting for His second coming.  It has brought on more conversations about real life and real Grace and real Hope. 

And their hope isn’t in their behavior…whether their naughty or nice…it’s in what lies in the manger...a Savior who came to give the biggest gift to all because we are ALL naughty.  And His mercy and love and life are greater gifts than any earthly possession could ever offer them. 

And as these last years and years and it seems years have been so very challenging for our family, there is no greater gift than I can give them but Hope in Christ.  And when all the bells are ringing and those carolers are singing…my hope is that their hearts swell love for Jesus.

The last year since Rick came home hasn’t been all that I hoped it would be.  I thought that we had been through all the hard stuff and that it was going to be a time of easy sailing.  Or at least not as hard.  And I’m a Santa kinda believer by default.  I just keep hoping that if I’m “good”…if I do everything “right” and I pay my dues in the suffering area…than I’m gonna get what I want.  I’m gonna get all I’ve been dreaming and hoping for that this world has been selling.  And then when it doesn’t come…I’m confused…and crushed…and down right angry sometimes. 

I find myself turning away from the Truth that is the very woven fabric of what my heart was made for…and seeking solace and comfort in things or people or even my dreams to take me away from the pain.

That’s been a lifelong struggle for me.  I love dreaming.  I love creating.  But my heart’s passion is Truth.  And that’s why I love fairy tales so much.  Because they are both there in the most epic of forms.  Colossal adversity met with suffering .  And a fight to end it all…with glorious redemption.   The matrix of the story is what our heart longs for.  It all points to Christ.

Our struggle has been so long in so many various forms and fashions and stages.  And I’ve been weary to the bone.  Not depressed…not hopeless…but weary.  And I’m learning and finding that it’s okay.  Because sometimes…we really just need to rest.  Rest in Him.  His promises his Grace and His Peace that passes all understanding.

And so my favorite part of Christmas…is Advent.  Coming to the end of the year…to the end of our dreams…to the end of our rope.  And laying it all down at the foot of a baby.  Who humbly came into the world through an unknown untouched teen in a dirty barn wrapped with holy rags of Grace.  The contrast is startling.  

My world belongs in His hands.  My future and my hopes and my disappointments and my dreams.  They’re all safely held in a promise of Hope.

Reflecting on who He really is.  How He came to this world.  Not like a hero’s glory with big guns and shiny armor.  But a poor boy who had nothing yet He had everything to offer.  

And so…at the end of the year…when the waiting feels like it’s stretching you thin.  When you’ve lost someone or something precious to you.  When your failures and mistakes seem unredeemable.  When you feel like it’s never gonna change or get better…and you feel weary and deplete. 

Grieve.   Let the tears flow.  Let the dreams go.  And embrace what the Lord has for you …as dark as it may seem…He will not leave you in the dark.  He came for you.  He left everything for you.  This is the real Christmas miracle.

Take a quiet moment and look where you’re hope lies.  Look around at what’s stealing your joy. 
And come to the Tree of Life…the Cross… and lay your weary heart down…all the broken pieces…and let His promises put them back together.  In a way that you’ve never dreamed.  

Open up the places that have been burning bitterness and let the Lord scrape the residue from the soot that has blackened your view.  

Kneel to forgiveness.   For it will unlock the bars that have held you captive.  

Accept that He has you right where He wants you.  May it be in the wilderness…in the desert…in a war raging fierce…in a flood overwhelming…or empty from all the loss. 

And KNOW that He loves you.  Every naughty broken fallen busted up angry piece of you.  You have not fallen so far that you are out of His reach.  His love is greater than your deepest darkest pit. 
 
All of these things require a humble heart.  God cannot work with the proud.  His very essence is one of humility.  This is our greatest challenge.  

When I start to feel sorry for myself…I fix my eyes on that manger bed…and look at my bed.  When I start to feel like I have suffered enough…I fix my eyes on that bloodied tree where He hung condemned as a criminal.  When I start to feel lost and alone…I run to Him and let Him cradle my heart with His promises and truth.

May our gaze fall away from ourselves and beam strait into the heart of our Savior’s love.  For here is where true joy will fill those wounded places and transform our hearts.  

And may our tears flow…for “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.  ” –Psalm 126:5-6

This Christmas I am so thankful to have my whole family together.  Each precious smile and hug and giggle and warm snuggle are gifts that bring me so much joy.  God is good.  And worthy to be praised.  

“ For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” -2 Corinthians 4:17

***update on ministry will be posted in the next couple of weeks.  things are slow during the holidays but will be back in swing come the new year.***
http://www.soulsurvivorstories.com/

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Can We Survive Life's Tragedies?



Dear Friends and Family,

I am so excited to share with you that we are almost finished with our first production of Soul Survivor Stories!!!!  It has been over a year since the Lord first laid this ministry on my heavy heart.
 
At that time Rick had been in prison for a year, my neighbor’s beautiful 12 year old daughter had just passed away from a heartbreaking battle with a brain tumor, my grandmother took her last breath after a brave fight with melanoma, and it seemed like tragedy after tragedy was affecting so many people I love.
 
And more than anything in the world, I wanted to share the good news of Christ and the hope that we have in Him, and that our suffering is not meaningless.

Soul Survivor Stories will be a video featuring 3 different stories of people who have walked through a life-changing event or circumstance.  Who have experienced the “I don’t know what I’d ever do if _____happened to me.”   And then how the Lord redeemed their pain and restored joy to their lives…a beautiful story of Hope giving all the Glory to God.

These videos will be posted on the internet as an outreach to people all over the world who have experienced a tragedy and need the Gospel message of Christ.

Soul Survivor Stories has come under an umbrella nonprofit until we have the resources to obtain our own 501(c)3.  They are called Proven Way Ministries.  They allow us to accept donations for our ministry that are tax deductible and they provide training and networking as our ministry begins to grow.

Our website is now live online.  We have the promotional video up so you can see what it’s all about.


Our next steps are fundraising and getting the message out.
 
We need sponsors who have a heart for our ministry to host a dinners or informal gatherings where we can screen new films and share what the ministry is about.   This can be very small and intimate, or large. 

We are tentatively planning a premiere and screening of the first film before we post it online which will be mid October.  These tentative dates for the premiere and screening would be September 28th and October 5th.   We have a couple of locations that we are looking into. 

You may contact me at rachpayne@verizon.net if you would be interested in helping out with these events, or if you would like to attend so I can be sure to send you an invite. 
 
Our website accepts donations that will be processed through Proven Way Ministries.  Every dollar will go to filming the next series of stories.  We have some amazing stories of God’s goodness that are waiting to be told and shared with others who are walking through similar heartbreaks.  Help us bring Christ into the homes of those hurting.

We have a Facebook page and Twitter page up that we will be posting on.  We would love your likes and shares!!

And most importantly we covet the prayers of the saints - that God would use this ministry for His purposes and His glory and that more and more and more and more would come to be true Soul Survivors.

And one last HUGE Thank You!!!!  To all of you who have taken the time to meet with me and share all your wisdom and experience and connect me to other people who have continued to pave the way for this to happen.  And especially those who have donated their time and resources in filming our first Soul Survivor Stories!! 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Breaking Bad...the way it had to be


“The Moral Law isn't any one instinct or any set of instincts: it is something which makes a kind of tune (the tune we call goodness or right conduct) by directing the instincts. The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs. There's not one of them which won't make us into devils if we set it up as an absolute guide. You might think love of humanity in general was safe, but it isn't. If you leave out justice you'll find yourself breaking agreements and faking evidence in trials 'for the sake of humanity,' and become in the end a cruel and treacherous man.”



I remember when I first met him.  He had one of those slouchy beanies on.  The ones that look like you put it on and then pull it back.  So it’s not right up against your scalp.   Kinda like the 12 dwarves from Snow White.  

The wind was screaming cold and he shivered as he walked to the train.   He seemed lost.  Fresh out of a 10 year prison stint.  His clothes hung lose from all the weight he had lost and I could tell that freedom stung a little.

I had heard some of his story.  I knew he was very young and sort of stumbled into a drug empire and was making crazy money.  He was shot and left for dead which put him in a coma for a few months and when he woke up he walked right out of the hospital and back into his drug business.  The one that almost just killed him.  

He had two small children and had been married at the age that I was first getting my driver’s license and hadn’t even had a real boyfriend.

His smile was endearing.  Warm and childlike. I would have never pictured this man to have slogged through the gritty trenches of that life.  To witness the abominations that he had.  Surely prison saved his life.  What will he do with it now?  

I asked him if he was a believer.  I asked him if he knew Jesus.  He said no.  His mom was a Christian and he had heard about it his whole life…but he just didn’t believe it.  Plain and simple. 

I immediately wanted to start preaching the Gospel right there and then.  Not because I was trying to “convert” him over to my own “belief system”.  Because you can have a whole system of beliefs that really are dead.  They don’t move or stir any part of your heart or influence your life.  They’re just a black plaque edged with shiny gold hanging like an emblem of proclamation that when held up against the backdrop of a life…melt into a sludge of hypocrisy.  

No.  I wanted to share the sweet Person who has changed my life.  Who has mended weeping wounds.  Who has redeemed the sorrows and brokenness.  My messed up relationships.  My self-seeking propensity.  Who has unmasked the lies that I believed and trusted for the destructive weapons they are.  Who has walked me out of darkness and shadow into the warm light of Truth.  From the cave to the Source.  

I wanted to share the only Hope that can save.  It is all I had to offer. 



There are some things you hear about that you just gotta check out for yourself.  All the hype and chatter got me curious.  And when all my favorite shows ended and Rick ordered Netflix…my curiosity turned to none other than…Breaking Bad.  I’ll just watch the first one, I thought.

High School chemistry teacher turned meth maker to provide for his family as he was dying of cancer who went bad.  The concept seemed really uninteresting to me.  Maybe because I didn’t like school…especially chemistry.  Or maybe the idea of a man self-destructing seemed mainstream in every media outlet as well as people that I know and love…and I just didn’t want to go along for another ride.

Well…I couldn’t stop.  It got in my head.  Walt got in my heart.  A seemingly simple man.  A brilliant chemist.  A nerdy down to earth middle aged guy who was out to make a buck.  To be a hero.  To save his family from desolation.  And then it all goes horribly wrong and he doesn’t abandon ship.  He keeps pressing on. While darkness billows beneath his kind eyes and warm smile.   Killing his relationships.  Souring all that was sweet and likable.

I kept thinking to myself why am I compelled to watch the demise of this man?  His life?  His relationships?  It’s gut wrenching.  But I had really grown to like him.  I could relate to him.  I felt compassion for this monster in the making.  Hoping beyond hope for him to walk away.  For him to realize the destruction he’s causing by his choices.  Waiting for a resolution…a revelation…and most of all his redemption.  

Jesse is the only character in the thick of horror not jaded by it all.  I love his character.  Messed up junkie kid that everyone dismisses and belittles and he is mortified by the atrocities.  But his laziness and lack of self-value keep driving him back to an easy way of doing something (making money) in spite of all the pain it is causing him.  Don’t we all do that to some capacity?  I can relate to him too.  But I just hurt so much for him. 

This show brilliantly debunked so many twisted ways of thinking by playing them out.  Such as money is the answer to all things.

To make money to “provide” for your family at all costs.  Even if it costs you your family.   

And the real motivations that are the driving force surface in the tragic mishaps and another layer of the character is revealed.  

Now I say that knowing that these are fictional characters…but the reason their story is so powerful…the number one rated show of all time in the Guinness book of world records…is because their story rings true to hearts that are watching.  They can relate.  Good stories reveal hidden places in each one of us and we love to watch it play out in someone else’s life. 

One of my favorite moments is when Jesse goes to his support group with people who are struggling with drug addiction and confesses he murdered a “dog”.  It was really a person and he was devastated by it but he couldn’t share his secret.


When the leader preaches self-acceptance Jesse unleashes.  Calling out the lie that it is.  Exposing more of his own real motives.  He knows it doesn’t work.  He knows self-acceptance is just another mask of duplicity concealing his tormented soul.

I love that about the show.  It’s raw and real and doesn’t sugar coat the actions of the characters and doesn’t glorify them.  It cleverly portrays a life degenerating

After I watched the last episode I was wrecked.  Yes, wrecked.  I couldn’t talk about it without crying. (yes...I was invested :) )  The brilliant chemist turned monster’s empire crashes and he has been outwitted and he flees to a secluded cabin where he lives for awhile.  Alone…dying of cancer...with a barrel full of worthless money.  And it was all for not. 

And then his “Walt quest” once again drives him back to his town and family where you are hoping for a come to Jesus moment.  There is half of one.  A revelation of truth.  He confesses to his wife that he really hadn’t been doing all this “for his family”, as he had preached over and over again hammering them over the head with it.  It had been for him.  His pride.  Making millions and proving he was a brilliant chemist with the perfect meth and taking out those that got in his way and he liked it.   

But the heartbreaking part for me is that although he finally took responsibility and realized the truth…there was no sorrow.  No apologies.  And that just broke my heart for him and his family.  I wanted reconciliation.  I wanted forgiveness.  I wanted the Moment.

He kissed his baby daughter goodbye one last time…he watched his son come home from school from afar because he wouldn’t speak to him…and you knew he was going to confront the guys who had “beaten” him, so to speak.   

And so the end was revenge.  Not redemption.  And it was such a tragedy.  Walt didn’t win in the end.  He died.  And there was hope for him in those few moments when he realized what he was really about…but he didn’t live long enough to make it right…in the way that really matters…in the matters of eternity.  He was still on his “Walt quest” out to bring judgment on those who had betrayed him. 

In some ways I’m thankful that they didn’t let him live in the act of vengeance, because they’d be glorifying it...him….   

I really appreciate this show.  It made me examine my own life.  My own heart.  My own motives.  Where I think I’m doing something good and right but really am doing it for myself.  And where pride’s fetters graft deceit right into the very desire that began with good intention.  The ending never goes well.   

Cancer didn’t kill Walt and neither did a bullet…pride did. 

So what’s the alternative?  The opposite end of this tragedy? 

Humility.  Laying down arms.  Laying down expectations and dreams.  Laying down the shards of disappointment that have ripped apart reality.  Right at the foot of the Cross.  

And praising God.  In the storm in the desert in the wilderness.  Because He’s there and He has not brought you out there to harm you.  He is the Creator and we are the created…He is all knowing and we are clueless…He is loving and good and our only love and goodness come from His Grace.  


I really hope that guy…the one with the beanie and charming grin…the one who guards his heart from all that he’s been hurt by and experienced…I hope he doesn’t end up like Walt.  He’s been given a second chance that so many other people don’t get.  I hope he makes something out of his life.  I hope he finds meaning in all that he’s suffered and redemption in those places that seem forlorn.  I hope he pursues goodness.  I hope he pursues grace.  And most of all…I hope he finds the One True Healer that can turn his life right-side-up.  It’s never too late as long as we have air in our lungs.  For a new story…a better one.  One that pushes back the darkness by giving it all up…to serve the One who gave it all up…to save His lost people. 





Rick has been officially off home confinement and on probation as of May 1.  I feel at this point that his story is his to share on the terms that he feels led.  

I can tell you that the ministry the Lord has had me working on for the last year is “in production” and hopefully the first video of it will be completed in the next few months.  He will be sharing his story there.  I'll keep you posted.

Please keep our family in your prayers.  For provision...direction...healing...strength...and as your heart feels led.  This desert season still lingers and sometimes we get weary.  And for all that the Lord has us working on to be fruitful and bless others and glorify Him.