“One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Luke 17:15-18
In this story from the bible, ten lepers cried out to Jesus for healing. They stood at a safe distance away from him because lepers were considered contagious and they were forbidden, by law, to come near the population as they were considered “unclean”. Jesus looked at the lepers, saw their need and told them to go and show themselves to the priests – as was the custom – to verify their cleansing. The lepers obeyed Jesus and they were soon healed of their disease along the way. But one man, when he saw that he was healed, returned to Jesus to thank him. One out of ten. Maybe the other nine were so consumed with thoughts of being returned to the general populace, regaining their lives or just giddiness over being healed. Jesus’ reaction to the one man who returned is significant. It shows that Jesus appreciated that this one man took the time to stop, acknowledge his blessing and give God praise.
You would think that we shouldn’t have to be reminded to say thank you. In a perfect world, I suppose that would be true. But we forget about it all the time – how many times have you had to remind your children: “Don’t forget to say thank you!” In our present day, we often get caught up in the pursuit of things, taking care of families and earning an income. Sometimes, we get so busy that we take our blessings for granted or we don’t even see them. Thanksgiving is the one day of the year when we are all reminded to be thankful for what we have, whatever it may be. God wants us to appreciate all that he does for us. I’ve found that the more grateful I am for his blessings, the more he does for me. He keeps me constantly in awe, thinking – “Wow! God did you just do that?” Or maybe it’s not that he’s doing more. Maybe I just finally see what he’s been doing all along and acknowledge his blessings.
Today I want to thank God for the many people in my life who support and encourage me. Thank you to the men in my life who stepped up to the plate – you have been father figures, mentors and good role models for my children. Thank you to the women who loved and cherished them and even chastened them, when needed. I know I did not raise them alone. Thank you to my children – you encouraged me and gave me strength. The seed I planted in you has returned to me multiplied many times over. Thank you to my friends and cronies who have been privy to the details of my most private pain and also witnessed my victories. You all have been my greatest cheerleaders – you helped me to believe in myself. Thank all of you for ministering to me. Most of all, I want to thank God for help. Sometimes, it comes in the form of miracles. And sometimes, he sends people.
“For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.”
Matthew 25:14 KJV
I was known in one of my previous occupations as the “what if?” girl – the one who always had a question. I earned that title during a CSR training session because I asked the instructors endless questions, trying to understand what my proper response should be during any given situation. My instructors were ok with my countless questions because they understood that was how I learned.
One day I was sitting at work, reflecting on the 25th chapter of Matthew and the Parable of the Talents. Something about it disturbed me; it was gnawing at me, bothering me. The story goes like this:
A man went to a far away country and entrusted three of his servants with talents of money. The first, he gave five talents; the second, two talents and the last he gave one talent. The first two men immediately took the money and invested it, eventually doubling their master’s money. The last man took his talent and buried it. Some time passed and eventually the master returned and required an accounting of the funds he had entrusted to his servants. The first two gave their reports with this result:
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21 NIV)
Good news for them! The master was understandably pleased with their efforts. Then, the time came for the third servant’s reckoning. He had no profit to show because he had buried the money. The master was not pleased:
“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.”
(Matthew 25:26 NIV)
Whoa! Wait a minute! I was lost – what had this man done to be considered “wicked and lazy”? As far as I could tell, he hadn’t done anything wrong. He just didn’t do anything. So I asked God the question. And the answer came back as a question, “Why would he bury the money?” Well, yeah – that was strange compared to the others. It is their actions that make him look bad. If they knew enough to invest the money for a return, why didn’t he? To bury the money was to blow off the responsibility and potential for growth that he had been given. What would make a person do that?
I thought back to my days of handling small children and their squabbles. When you give a child something (a toy, a drink, a cookie), they are fine with it until they look and see what you have given another child. They see what they don’t have. “He has more juice than me! Her toy is bigger than mine! They cry, they fight and they sulk. It occurred to me that burying the talent was the third servant’s version of sulking. After all, he got the least. Surely, there had to be some resentment about his portion. It equaled his master’s assessment of his abilities. That must have bothered him. So he showed the master just how he felt about the responsibility assigned to him. He did nothing with it.
But the day of reckoning came for him – as it must for all of us. And God, the master, will require an accounting of the talents (or gifts and responsibilities) that he has entrusted to us. He will say, “What have you done with what I have given you?” The greatest respect we can show for his gift is to be able to respond, “I have increased it.” Whatever our gifts may be, wherever our talent lies, it is our responsibility to give it back to God, multiplied. It is expected. This is how we honor his gifts. And this is how we grow.
This lesson translates to my daily life like this: every year I give an accounting for my life (as I must one day to Him!) and I expect to see growth in some area. I look back and see what goals I have set, whether I’ve reached them and measure my progress. It may be in the area of finances or my career, in my personal life, in my health, in my relationship with my children, in my ministries – every year it differs. I set goals and I expect to see growth. I expect to have bettered my situation. I expect to see change. Increase is work! I pursue it because I know one day he will hold me accountable. When we are responsible with what he has given shows him he can trust us with more.
“I’ve given up trying to figure it out why he loves me like that. I just know that he does and I accept it now.” Me, November 6th, 2009
“Yes, Jesus loves me, for the Bible tells me so.” Christian Children’s Hymn
Once, while reading the Gospel of John, I was struck by a phrase that was repeated several times: “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. This statement seemed strange to me because I was always told that God is not a “respecter” of person or station – he loves us all equally. So how could this guy be referred to as the one Jesus loved, as if he had a special place, a superior relationship and privileges above the other disciples? At least, that’s what it implied to me. It didn’t seem right that this disciple had more love than the others and, by extension, potentially more than me. So, I asked God why – how could this be? As a friend of mine always says, “Ask God a question and you’ll get an answer.” Sure enough, the clue came at the end of the book of John:
“This is that disciple who saw these events and recorded them here. And we all know that his account of these things is accurate.” (John 21:24)
The disciple whom Jesus loved and the writer of the book are one and the same. This is his personal testimony of his relationship with Jesus. He couldn’t speak for the other disciples but he knew that Jesus loved HIM! He claimed that love as his own, basked in it, reveled in it. Yes, Jesus loves me!
At the time of that revelation, I was just beginning to understand how much he loved me. I was going through yet another crisis – I won’t go into details (some things are too personal to share in a public forum) but I can tell you the experience left me a zombie. I was devastated, beyond comfort. I was numb. My very worst fear had been realized. I was in the valley, y’all – deep, way deep in the pit of despair. The pain was so great that I had suicidal thoughts but I wouldn’t give in. I couldn’t – my children needed me and self preservation had me clinging to the only hope I had. It was like Jesus threw me a life preserver and said “Hold on” – which I did, for all I was worth. I was unable to do much more than that but I knew, I hoped (I was too numb to pray) that if I just held on I could ride it out. I didn’t dare dream about what would be on the other side of the storm. I was just trying to make it there where things would just be better.
A voice came to me during my zombie state one day and said, “Do you know I love you?” And I, thinking I was talking to myself, replied “Yeah, yeah – I know. You love everybody. You love the whoooole world. For God so loved the world – blah, blah, blah.” And the voice said again, “I love you. I died for you.” The voice ceased after that and I really didn’t think any more of it. Daily life continued, more of just barely hanging on, more of merely existing. Until Sunday as I was on my way to church (that was part of hanging on, y’all!) I almost had a car accident. And then another one – two near misses in one morning! I went on to church and went through the motions, acting like everything was normal. My (then) husband stayed at church for the afternoon service while I took the kids to visit his mother. Before I knew it, time had flown and I was supposed to be back at church to pick up my husband. In a hurry now, I flew down the expressway trying to make up time.
It was drizzling. My tires were bad. I lost control of the car and hit the metal barrier. Hit my head –bleeding. Kids were crying. We’re all shook up and the front of my car is ruined. I don’t even have time to be dazed because there’s smoke coming out of my engine! In a panic, I grab the kids and get us all out of the car. Good Samaritans have pulled over to offer assistance (God bless you all!), a clean towel for my bleeding head and a cell phone to call my family and let them know what’s happened. The cars are roaring by – so much noise! I looked over at the mangled car and back to us huddled together on the shoulder of the expressway. Back over to the mangled mess, back over to me and my children – until I realized just how badly this could have ended. But there we were, virtually undamaged (except for my head) and whole. As the shock set in, the Voice returned to me, speaking quietly but heard above the roar: “I love you. I died for you.” I grabbed my mouth, gasping, crying as I tried to grasp the enormity of what God had just shown me. He loves me. Me. And he spoke to me! People populate the earth like grains of sand – I am a mere drop in a bucket but he loves me. Individually. Great BIG God – itty bitty me. WOW. That blew my mind and I was humbled beyond belief.
From that point on, I was able to claim his love just like that beloved disciple for I know he loves me. When I told my children that story, they said “Mama, he don’t just love you! He loves us, too!” I think they thought I was being kind of greedy to keep it all, claim it all for myself – something close to how I felt when I read about “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. But then they figured it out just like I did … and claimed it, too.
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)
After reading my first article, my daughter said, “I’m mad that you didn’t tell them how your life is better and how it’s changed.” I told her there would be plenty of time to cover that but then I thought – hey, that’s a good point. How do I measure how much my life has changed? Have you ever heard the song, “God has done so much, I cannot tell it all”? I don’t think I could make a list long enough to contain all the things that he’s done for me. It’s been a journey filled with laughter and tears (cliché, I know) and along the way, I’ve discovered the ability to overcome every obstacle within me. I have become my own hero. Pre-divorce, I didn’t know that about myself. To see the difference and measure the gap between Loria then and Loria now is to understand how much he has blessed me.
I guess the main difference between me then and me now is that I know that no matter what happens in life, even if it shakes my very foundations – I will not be destroyed. I can take it – whatever life dishes out. Of this, I am now certain. I feel sure I can’t fail now because I know He won’t let me. That’s a real confidence booster! God has shown me repeatedly that I can count on him. He is more than the whole world against me. (2 Kings 6:16) I don’t know why he loves me like that. I’ve given up trying to figure it out. I just know that he does and I accept it. I used to spend a lot of time worrying because I didn’t know the outcome of a situation. My A.D. incarnation (After Divorce) worries a lot less. I realized I already know the outcome of any given situation. God has promised to work things out for my good, no matter what it looks like right now. I trust in that.
Another difference is in how I know Him now. Loria PD (Pre-Divorce) used to pray to a God who seemed sometimes far removed from the concerns of my life. I had yet to know him as the one who would get right down there in the mud with me and help me to claw my way out. Now, I know what He will do because of what He has already done. He has shown himself to be dependable, so I trust Him. But don’t get me wrong – we (God and me, that is) had to go a few rounds before we got to where we are today.
Once, while I was talking to my girlfriend and feeling frustrated and fed up with the state of my life – I had one of those fist-shaking, rage-at-the-heavens moments. I mean, I was so tired of it all. I was like, “What is going on?” You know, having a real tantrum that was more child-like and not at all Christ-like. My girlfriend sat there in silence and finally said, “You notice I’m letting you say all that and I’m not adding anything to it.” She wanted to state for the record, just in case God was listening, that she had nothing bad to say about Him. We both laughed at her attempt to distance herself from what many view as blasphemy. She was understandably uncomfortable with the idea of me venting my anger and questioning God. But I gave her this example:
“Then David was angry because the LORD’s wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah.” 1 Chronicles 13:11
This incident occurred as David was bringing the recently liberated Ark of the Covenant to his headquarters in Jerusalem. Uzzah paid the supreme price with his life when he put out his hand to steady the ark. He touched what none but the priests had been authorized to touch. I’m not going there with the why of if right now, but you can imagine this bought the festivities to a screeching halt. God did WHAT? And David dared to be angry with God? God didn’t strike him down? Yet, despite this (and some other really notable sins) he is reckoned as “a man after God’s own heart”! No one could doubt that David’s relationship with God was real.
What child hasn’t questioned their parent? I say, it is a measure of our relationship that we feel we can question Him, talk to Him, even rage at Him sometimes as we seek to understand what is going on – just as you would your earthly parent. And that’s just fine by Him because Father is how He wants us to know Him. It restores us to our rightful place in the scheme of things, as His children. David’s anger was even followed by a question: “How then can I bring the ark of God home to me?” So I think it’s ok to ask God what’s going on. Questions generate answers. Sometimes these answers come from people, media, scripture and sometimes a voice inside. Each answer gives me another glimpse of him, so I question him less during troubling periods in my life. Over time, I’ve noticed that the fist-shaking sessions are getting fewer and far between – a sign (I feel) of maturing spiritually. I have fewer tantrums brought on by my need for attention and reassurance that he is watching and that he’s concerned about what’s going on in my life. I know he is. He has become more real to me. Not sitting on a throne far away but right here where I need Him to be.
Can anyone know God, truly? I’d like to think I do on a practical level. I don’t claim to have a deep, theological, seminary-trained bead on God. For me, that complicates matters when knowing him can actually be pretty simple. For instance, math is not my strongest area – I mean, I do ok when I have to but equations don’t hold much interest for me. They don’t make sense until I come across a need to use said equation and apply it to my everyday life. Then it has a practical use. My knowledge of God comes from real life applications, watching him come to my rescue and bail me out time and again. Once, when faced with yet another challenge, I just threw it up in the air and said to my daughter “God will just have to help us, like he always does.” My daughter laughed and replied, “And you know he will.” Even my children know that God will keep us. And you can know this, too.
“Casting all your cares upon him, for he careth for you.” 1 Peter 5:7
It’s been years since the Lord gave me that scripture to lean on. At the time, I really needed it, for then I only thought I was miserable. I was working as a CSR for a major utility making great money but I hated it. It kept me from spending time with my children and attending Sunday worship services. On the other hand, I wasn’t really feeling church lately – I went through the motions but I had some major problems with their doctrine. My husband seemed to be going through the motions, too – in our marriage, I mean. He had all but checked out mentally, leaving me to struggle with raising our children pretty much alone.
Years later, I realized that although this seemed like the beginning of my struggles, it was actually the beginning of my enlightenment. As I began to lean more on God and trust his good plan for my life, I found it harder to tolerate untruth in my life. I had some hard choices to make. My job had to go – making great money was not everything.
My children would only be small and dependent on me for so long. I hated coming home crabby to them at the end of the day. So I left the call center and then the company altogether. I bear them no ill will – I still have great memories and many wonderful friends there. It just wasn’t working for my life at the time.
Around that time I also left my church home of twelve years. Leaving was not an easy decision – change is hard. Left up to me, I would have blissfully hidden my head in the sand and stayed there until I died. But as awareness crept over me, I could not help but see the far reaching consequences of keeping my children in that environment much longer. I wanted them to love church and flourish and grow in their God-given talents. I wanted to foster in them a spirit of excellence, something I felt was lacking in our current environment. Everything seemed to be so slipshod and thrown together. I felt like that was an insult to God – to give him our leftovers: Present your diseased animals to your governor and see if he will like it! (To paraphrase Malachi 1:8) Simply put, God wants our best.
Last of all, I ended my marriage of 15 years. Of all the things I foresaw, that was the one that completely blindsided me. Leaving him was never an option I even considered. Job had to go – check! Church had to go – check! But husband? I mean, my marriage was flawed but wasn’t everyone’s? Wasn’t this marriage and how it was supposed to be? Apparently not, as I watched it unravel, too. This could not be happening.
You know how you get so mad at God sometimes, you stop praying? You just stop talking to him because you aint trying to hear it. “For God so loved the world …” (John 3:16) and all that feel good mess. You think – how does that help me? Well, maybe I’m the only one who thinks like that but I’m just keeping it real! I needed real help. I needed a real God. I needed “a very present help” (Psalm 46:1). Though I confess to shaking my fist at God in the past and railing against him, this was not one of those times.
Hurt beyond belief, mentally curled up in a fetal position, I went to Him – the only one who could save me. Did I blame Him? Not really. My life had been built on lies that had finally been uncovered. Only truth existed now, as painful as it was to behold. There was a measure of peace in that. Did I blame my husband? Most definitely.
But in the end, I had to accept my own portion of blame as I poured out my grief to God. Night after long night, saturated in my own tears, I lay prostrate before him. Not because I am just that spiritual but because, interestingly enough, it was the only position that eased my pain. He was with me during those long nights. He held me and comforted me. He shielded me from the harsh blows that the devil rained down on my head. Then he encouraged and let me know that cream always rises to the top. Always!
Yes, my life was in a pile of ashes all around me but I determined I would emerge from those ashes and be a better person for the experience. And I did. And I am. To quote my mother-in-law, “God holped me to do it!” I could not have done it without Him. He also gave me a great support system and a wealth of friends and family to see me through. He has shown me that He truly cares for me.