8 Years Ago

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I cannot believe that my heart was broken so badly eight years ago. She had fought cancer for only a year and she was gone. There are no words I can further share for the grief I have known since my twin sister, Denise, passed away June 27, 2014. It was 10:07 pm when she breathed her last breath. I walked into her room at 10:08 pm, a number that for many years seemed to follow me.

Every night before I would go to bed, I would always look at the clock on my nightstand and see that it was 10:08 pm. For some reason, this went on for over twenty years: 10:08 pm; 10:08 pm; 10:08 pm. Since Denise died, I rarely see 10:08 pm any more. It’s not known to me if God was preparing me for June 27, 2014 at 10:08 pm to see that she had died, but I do find it coincidental, or as a friend of mine used to say, “God-cidental!”

Denise had dwindled physically. She withered away from cancer and chemotherapy. Sometimes I think I’m not sure which is worse: the cancer or the “cure.” She was a beautiful woman inside and out. She had her moments, of course, as we all do. She could be equally as moody as I, but she was loved by so many people as was seen at her memorial service. There were over 400 present for her service. I shall never forget this fourth grader who wanted to meet me at the end of the service. She remembered that I had come to Denise’s second grade class to read two years before on our birthday as was my custom for many years. She said, “In all my life, Ms. Yambra was my favorite teacher and I just had to come today to say goodbye to her one last time.” I hugged her and she thanked me for reading to her class on our birthday. Her dad told me that when she read Denise’s obituary she cried and cried and told him that she had to come to the service for her favorite teacher.

I have pictures from my sister. One of the pictures is of two students who were graduating from Baylor University–Denise’s alma mater. They both went through her second grade class one of those years she taught. They invited her to their graduation and there’s Ms. Yambra standing with university graduates who were in one of her second grade classes.

A couple of weeks before Denise died, her principal and the administrative staff came to see her and to bring her personal effects from her classroom to her. After they left, Denise said to me, “Twenty-five years of teaching wrapped up in three boxes.” I was shocked to hear those words and they broke my heart to see her so saddened that she was no longer able to teach second graders. I retorted, “Denise, it’s twenty-five years wrapped up in over 500 students that you’ve taught and to whom you’ve ministered!” She smiled at me and simply said, “Thank you, Den.”

June is always a difficult month for me, especially as June 27th comes around. I just have so many memories running through my head of growing up with my twin sister. She was so creative and she was musical. She loved to sing and to dance and to play. She spent a lot of time alone because she was dreaming of things and creating drawings and singing to the radio. She knew so many songs when I cannot even remember the names of songs or lyrics at all!

She certainly is not forgotten by me or by many others. I receive text messages or phone calls every June 27th but I generally don’t answer them. It’s just too difficult still–even after eight years.

At first I felt like half of me was gone. People would ask how I was doing and I would ask them, “How do you think you’d feel if half of you was gone?” That’s how I felt then and that’s still how I feel at times today. There’s so much more that I wish we could have done together. I wish Denise could see her nephews and how grown up they are. I’m sure she would spoil them. The first time she met them they were six and two years old. She loved my two Sons and was ever so proud when we adopted them ten years ago this year. I’m so glad she was able to see them for at least two years and to love on them as she did. Always the teacher, always answering their questions, always showing them new things through art, nature, science, math, etc. The consummate second grade teacher she was. Our sister Dina still does the same thing with them and it brings back so many memories of Denise as they are both teachers.

My heart still is broken over her death, but I know it is inevitable that all of us will face the same fate. All of us will eventually die and others will mourn and weep our deaths. And some of us know that although those whom we love are gone from this earth, we will see them again. This is our hope. This is why we do not grieve like others. I miss her. I miss hearing her voice. For some reason, I just cannot hear her voice even in my memories and that bothers me, but I know I will hear her voice again. I know that while I do not see her now, I will see her in glory–in heaven.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13)

But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in vicotry. O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)

I know that Denise died physically on June 27, 2014 at 10:07 pm, but I know she lives today. And this is what gives me hope of seeing her again. She won the battle because she believed in Jesus Christ who conquered death for us. Yes, her body died, but her soul lives on in heaven. She is there! She’s alive! Half of me is not truly gone! I have hope! I grieve not as those who have no hope! I have hope because Jesus Christ conquered death and gave Denise victory and if He gives her victory then He gives me and any who believe in Him victory!

So June 27th will most likely still be a hard day, but it will not be a day like it was in 2014. It will be a day to rejoice–but I still won’t answer my phone or texts that day. I have to maintain my own soul care on difficult days like June 27th. I have hope because Denise is fully alive!

The Weight of the World

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The last couple of years, during the pandemic that we have all come through, so many people feel as if they have the weight of the world upon their shoulders. It has affected people in ways that I believe we are yet to fully realize. There are some indications of mental disorders now that are popping up everywhere. From depression to anxiety, from angst to fear, people are really suffering with the way things have been.

But today is a new day. It seems that many have been coming out of their homes in freedom and have decided that even though this has been a rough couple of years, they’re going to live life again. And we should. Life never stopped; people stopped. Life continued; people didn’t. However, the question remains: How do we get back to “normal?” In this post I’d like to offer a few suggestions for our consideration. Of course from my vantage point, I believe that the answers are founded and rooted in the Bible.

First, we need to learn to thank God for what we’ve been through over the last couple of years. Paul the apostle writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Now I know some are thinking that God’s will is not for you if this is the way things are going to be. But it is God’s will for us. We have all sorts of things that happen because of “life” but it’s ultimately God’s will for you to experience what you do. Sometimes things go the way we desire for them to go while at other times they are hard and we don’t want to go through them. But God sees us through both the good and the hard times! Notice I didn’t say the good and “the bad.” I believe we need to change our perspective and see that both the good and the hard things in life will work out for our good. Again, Paul the apostle writes in Romans 8:28:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Wow! If “all things work together for good,” this means both the good and the hard “work together for good.” It’s not God being mean to us, or God zapping us, but it is God “causing all things to work together for good to those who love Him.” It is God who has purposed “life” to happen so we can see His handiwork through this journey.

Secondly, Paul writes that we are to pray without ceasing. In order for us to give thanks continually for both the good and the hard, we need to be praying. Prayer is communication with God. However, it is not a one-way street. It takes us learning to listen to His side of things. His perspective is what we need and He sees all things in perfection when our eyes are clouded with circumstances because His eyes are never clouded to our situations. He sees the end result of the good and the hard. He knows how we feel and what we think about the circumstances we face. The ramifications of our decisions are known by God before we can even figure out what they are. He is in tune with what’s happening in our lives because He’s not static but dynamic in our lives. God is concerned for us otherwise He would not be “causing all things to work together for good to those who love God.” Even further, Paul writes in Romans 8:32:

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?

God has gone so far as to “deliver His own Son over for us all.” If God did this for us, then how much more “will He not also with Jesus freely give us all things?” It is a resounding “yes!” He gives us all things and works all things together for our good if we love God–both the good and the hard things in life. And what greater thing can we do but to prayerfully give thanks to the Lord for all that He has done, what He is doing, and what He intends to do no matter what is going on around us or in us. It is speaking with Him and then listening for His Word to reach into our psyche and our spirit and our soul. It is giving Him our heart and mind and soul so we can hear Him. And all of this is by faith because of the grace that He has extended to us in Jesus Christ and by His Holy Spirit.

Finally, Paul tells us to “rejoice always.” Paul writes in Philippians 4:4, 5:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.

Incredible! He says to “rejoice always” because the “Lord is near.” When in the midst of the hard times, God is near! God is not only near us in the good times but even in the hard times! He is there where you are. He knows what’s happening around you, near you, and in you! When we rejoice in the Lord we have the opportunity to show others our “gentle spirit” because we are at peace knowing the presence of the Lord. It stands to reason that we will be at peace because as Paul says, “He Himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). Read what else Paul says in Philippians 4:6, 7:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Did you see it? We don’t have to be “anxious for nothing” but through “prayer and supplication with thanksgiving [we can] let our requests be made known to God.” It means that we don’t have to let one thing affect us to the point that we are halted or stunted, not able to do what God has called us to do because “the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.” It’s His peace that “surpasses all comprehension” or all of what we may find in our own minds. His peace is what brings the gentleness and peace into our lives. When we “rejoice always” and when we are “anxious for nothing,” then we begin to see how God “guards our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.” It is this peace from God that protects us from the hard times in life. It is this peace that God uses to show us that when we rejoice in Jesus Christ, and when we pray without ceasing, and when we give thanks in everything, then we have the peace of God guarding our hearts and our minds. It is the work of God in us. His work in us then pours out of us to help others through life whether it is good or hard.

These are ideas to release the weight of the world off of our shoulders. What are some other things you might think we can do to let the weight of the world fall off our shoulders? What do you do for self-care that you can suggest to others? Today, who can you help through a hard time?

I Met the Author of My Story!

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I cannot imagine just how hard it is for authors to write a story. I’ve tried my hand at writing, thus, this little blog with a few followers. True authors are a rare breed because they struggle with a passion for putting thoughts, putting words on paper (or nowadays, on the computer screen). They “muscle” through dictionaries and thesaurus’ finding the exact word that will express what they are trying to tell others. It isn’t an easy task for some because they think about all the possibilities of what others may think about their writing only to be unsatisfied with what they produce ever thinking it could be better.

But there are some authors, that it appears, know exactly what they are doing all of the time. They write books left and right. They do constant research and synthesize the thoughts of other authors into their own works. They work diligently from the moment they wake to the moment they lay their heads down to rest. It seems they think about their topic so thoroughly they can’t escape putting down on paper what they want us to know. For some authors they hit it big with one or two books and for others no matter what they produce they sell a gazillion copies of their works.

But there is a specific Author that I am thinking of this morning. He has thought about everything and everyone in perfection. He is limitless, this Author is. He doesn’t merely think that He knows something. He actually knows the topic so thoroughly that He can quote what these authors are going to write or say before they even write or say it. This Author knows each person so intimately well that He even knows the number of hairs on their heads! Read what one author has written about this Author:

O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, You know it all. You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it. –Psalm 139:1-6

This great Author knows everything about us. Not just me, but all of us. Whether we have ever read this Author’s work or not, whether we know His Person or not, He knows us intimately. Read further what the minor author writes about this great Author:

For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depthts of the arth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them. –Psalm 139:13-16

Wow! This great Author has written the days that He has ordained for me! This means the same thing for you! There is not a one of us who has not been written about by this Author. He has seen you even before you were known by your parents. He has formed you even when you were in your mother’s womb. Not only this, but read what else the lesser author writes about this great Author:

How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand. When I awake, I am still with You. –Psalm 139:17, 18

So as lesser authors attempt to think through their subject as thoroughly as they can, the great Author has thought about us so thoroughly that He knows everything about us before we even experience what He has written on His pages. He knows me; He knows you. He has written our days out for us. Everything we experience in life, whether it is good or hard, the great Author already has thought them through.

Now this Author has done an incredible thing in revealing to us that He knows us intimately well. But even greater, He has made a way for us to know Him intimately well. A lesser author writes this about the great Author:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. — John 3:16

This is how we can know the great Author: by believing Him. This great Author is God and He has given us His Son, Jesus Christ, so that we might know Him. Jesus even said:

If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him. –John 14:7

You can know the great Author of your story by knowing His Son, Jesus Christ! He has given us His Son so we can know Him intimately as He knows us. He desires for any man, woman, boy, or girl to know Him. In knowing Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you know the great Author. The more you read of His works, the more you will see that He truly is who He says He is. The more you read of what He has written about us, the more you will see how you, too, have met the Author of your story.

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