In loving memory of Alexis Chatham-Teel and the life and teaching of Billy Graham.
"When we all reach the end of our earthly journey, we will have only just begun." – Billy Graham
In a world that seems to spin faster and faster with each and every passing day, it’s so shocking and unexpected in those rare moments when time appears to stop in its tracks, frozen solid… by grief. And that’s just what happened to me today, my friends, when I learned about the sudden and unexpected death of my beautiful cousin, Alexis. My cousin… who was only thirty-two years old and who was thirty-seven weeks pregnant with baby number two. A baby named Colsen, who is currently in NICU, fighting for his life…
Just last week, the world celebrated the life (and glorious after-life) of one of God’s great servants, Billy Graham. And I was right there with them. What’s not to celebrate, right? He lived nearly one hundred years on this planet… and no doubt, each day to its fullest potential by winning countless hearts and lives over to the Lord. All those who loved him and his teaching found peace in knowing that his life hadn’t ended… it had only begun, just as he had said. He had also been quoted as saying this related to the imminence of his own future death: "Some day you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don't you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God." – Billy Graham
And while I know this is true for him and all of us… this time, with my vibrant and young cousin, who was on the brink of giving birth (and actively participate alongside God in the miracle of life), it feels so different. It feels hard. Really hard. I want to rejoice in the fact that she is now in a much better place and accept with a heart full of peace that God’s ways are (thankfully) not our ways; they are far greater, capable of rendering beauty even out of ashes and the frequent devastation we experience in this world. But right now, it just seems too difficult to do myself. Tragedy like this is impossible for you and me to endure… but nothing is impossible for God.
But Jesus looked at them and said, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." – Matthew 19:26
That’s why it’s so very important for us to always (but especially when we find ourselves in these moments) cast all our trust, hope, and faith on God… and let Him and His word carry us through the difficult times.
“Though the fig tree does not bud
and there is no fruit on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though the flocks disappear from the pen
and there are no herds in the stalls,
yet I will celebrate in the Lord;
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation!
The Lord my Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like those of a deer
and enables me to walk on mountain heights!” – Habakkuk 3:17-19
So, with a heavy heart I am calling out to God today, to be with Alexis’s family and friends… especially her husband, Chad, and son Camden (age 5). I am calling out to God for His peace that passes all understanding… and for His glory that is known to transform loss into the brilliant and unexpected gain of the masses.
"Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy.” – John 16:20
I’m also calling out to God to thank Him for Alexis’s life and the unfathomable impact she had during her short time on earth. I know she touched the lives of so many around her, in many ways many of us will never know. But I thank God that He knows. And I thank Him that He celebrated each and every one of her victories, which through Him, have made an everlasting mark on humanity. And… I thank God that once she fulfilled each and every one of His tasks and purposes for her life, He called her Home. And her reward… looking into the eyes of the God, Who I know welcomed her with an enormous hug not possible on this side of eternity, and a joyous musical serenade of a trillion angels, far too beautiful for us mortals to even imagine.
"Do I fear death? No. I look forward to death with great anticipation. I am looking forward to seeing God face to face. And that could happen any day." – Billy Graham
What I know Billy Graham meant to say here was, “any marvelous day”.
"Death for the Christian is the doorway to heaven's glory. Because of Christ's resurrection we can joyously say with Paul, 'Where, O death, is your victory?'" (1 Corinthians 15:55) – Billy Graham
At this very instant, I am thankful to God (and to Jesus, who paid the ultimate price to abolish death) Who made it possible that we don’t have to wonder. I’m thankful that we know with great certainty, that Alexis has been given an eternally glorified body (and quite possibly, her very own set of wings). She is happy and smiling through a grand celebration above all earthly celebrations… with her awesome heavenly father on one side of her… and her loving (late) earthly father, Mark Chatham, on the other. And I thank God that she is finally alive… so much more than all of us who mourn her earthy presence today.
“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 13:14
So goodbye, for now, Alexis. Until I see you again… give Uncle Mark a great big hug for me, Billy Graham a high-five, and sweet Jesus… all my love.
And to all you prayer warriors out there… I’m asking for your help! Baby Colsen needs prayers for health and healing… and lots of them! The Bible tells us that when God’s children come together in prayer asking according to His might and will, miracles happen!!! So I’m inviting you to join me in praying for the almost impossible… for a God-sized miracle… for baby Colsen to live and serve as a living testimony of God’s unfailing goodness. And if you’re so inclined, please SHARE and spread the word so as many brothers and sisters as possible can join in on our prayer crusade.
“Again, truly I tell you, if two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.” – Matthew 18 19-10
Lastly, for those of you who have been journeying through the life and times of Gideon with me… thank you. And, I invite you to join me back here next week, where I will resume that study.
Until then, I want to leave you with this… this week and every day, may being available be at the top of your to-do list. May you strive to be interruptible. May you intentionally work toward being present. Because life… it is fleeting, and the present moment is the only gift we can really count on. So, close down your laptop and leave work early. Turn off your TV. And open your eyes and arms and hearts to the ones you love. And cherish them. Really and truly… cherish them. But above all else, my friends, take the time each and every day to cherish Him.
“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” - 1 John 4:9-11
It is so very common in our modern-day world for looks to deceive. In my first two posts, I shared the details of my family’s experience with buying a home that was on the brink of collapse. We bought the home with the realization that it was in need of a major overhaul of systems (such as heating, electrical, and plumbing), as well as total kitchen and bathroom updates, and new lighting, floors refinished and paint both inside and out. Trust me when I say our to-do list was a long one! But interestingly enough, it was only after we had sunk all our cash into accomplishing these planned renovations and it appeared near perfect, that we learned we were not even close to being finished with the renovation because the home, at its core, was still structurally devastated.
Now, backing up a little bit. I will never forget the meeting we had with our contractor prior to construction, (which of all places) took place in the basement (where the monstrous problems were hiding). Our contractor talked Dave and me through every stage of his proposed plans for making our house the home of our dreams. And when he finished, we were sold. But before we all shook hands I interjected a thought, “I’d really like to start with taking down this wood paneling and taking a peek behind the drywall,” I said, “just to be safe.” It was a great idea, and everyone, including the contractor, agreed. But somehow, this divinely inspired lightening bolt of an idea fell through the cracks. So alas, it ended up being one of the last steps of our renovation instead of the first… at the point where our already limited options had officially dropped to zero.
No doubt, if we had learned of the true hidden condition of the house prior to our investment, it would have changed everything for us. With the home’s tragic condition, we were informed we could have taken legal action to have our purchase contract voided and returned to the Sellers. Or, at the very least, we could have reprioritized our budget, and chosen instead to make the required repairs first, while we still could. But it didn’t happen that way. And, I came to realize over time, it didn’t for a very wonderfully specific and intentional reason: to allow us to see the miraculous hand of God.
The Old Testament is busting at the seams with stories about the impossible situations God’s people have gotten themselves into, as well as one miraculous wonder after another as God Himself literally made the impossible possible to save and redeem them.
The story of Gideon is one of those stories (and one of my top-three stories in the Old Testament). In my post last week I told the first part of his story… Gideon had been visited by an angel of the Lord who told him that he had been chosen by God to save the children of Israel. But he wasn’t so sure that this angel was in fact authentically sent from God.
So, what did he do? He asked the angel for a sign of confirmation, and he was shocked and amazed when he saw a miracle of the Lord performed before his very eyes. “When Gideon realized that He was in fact encountering the angel of the Lord he said, ‘Oh no, Lord God! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!” –Judges 6:22
While this should have been enough to convince Gideon that he had the supernatural protection and power of God surrounding him and his mission, it wasn’t. While he performed the task that the angel of the Lord had sent him to do, the Bible tells us, “So Gideon took 10 of his male servants and did as the Lord had told him. But because he was too afraid of his father’s household and the men of the city to do it in the daytime, he did it at night.” –Judges 6:27 For more on this part of Gideon’s story, stay tuned for my future blog post entitled Do It Afraid.
Just as He still does with His people everyday, God had called Gideon to do something that scared him. Let me rephrase that, God had called Gideon to do something that scared the ba-geezus out of him. See, God had asked him to tear down a Baal alter, to destroy a temple all of the people had chosen to worship instead of the one true God. So even before Gideon had snuck out that night to do so, he knew the people would be so p.o.'d with him, they’d probably come after him to kill him.
But still, he followed the angel of the Lord’s orders anyway. And that’s when (what I imagine to be debilitating) fear crept its way inside Gideon’s heart. He had only done a small part of what God had asked him to do and already he was sinking in doubt… because on top of destroying the alter (which was already terrifying enough), he, a man without any battle experience or knowledge, was also supposed to defeat an army of 135,000 skilled warriors. Say what???
What Gideon did next was the best thing he could have done; he went to God and asked Him for reassurance in the form of a sign. Which God quickly bestowed upon him, not once… but twice. For more on this part of Gideon’s story stay tuned for next week’s blog called, What’s Your Sign?
After God had performed two wonders to assure Gideon of His presence and power, He proceeded to advise him on selecting an army of men. Gideon had 32,000 men at his disposal. However, God told Gideon, “You have too many people for Me to hand the Midianites over to you, or else Israel might brag: ‘I did it myself.’ Now announce in the presence of the people: ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’ So 22,000 of the people turned back, but 10,000 remanded.” -Judges 7:2-3
Then the Lord said to Gideon, “There are still too many people. Take them down to the water and I will test them for you there. If I say to you, ‘This one can go with you,’ he can go. But if I say about anyone, ‘This one cannot go with you, he cannot go.’”
The test was simple; go to the water and drink. In the end, those who brought the water up to their mouths to drink were chosen to stay and fight. Those who instead lapped up the water like a dog, were asked to go. Any guesses on what God’s plan for the size of Gideon’s army might have been? 5,000? 3,000? Seriously. He must have left Gideon at least 1000 men to help him conquer a massive army of 135,000… Wouldn’t you think?
In the end, the actual number of men chosen by God for Gideon’s army was 300, but the grand truth of the matter is he would have been victorious even if God had chosen to leave behind only three. Because when Gideon’s men blew their 300 trumpets, and the Lord set the swords of the men of the Midianite army against one another (meaning in their miraculous confusion, they started annihilating themselves), their doom was certain and inevitable.
By breaking down the statics behind Gideon’s circumstances, we can really see the true impossibility of a human conquest and the magnitude of the miracle all of Israel was able to experience as a result of Gideon’s mission.
Gideon’s Army Size Number each man would have to kill out of 135,000
32,000 5 men
10,000 14 men
300 450 men
The thing that fascinates me most about this story is the part where God, in all His knowledge and wisdom, knows that if He had given Gideon and the men of Israel even 10,000 men, they would have totally taken the glory for themselves, believing they had won the battle through their own might and power. And while that seems ridiculous that their egos would have allowed themselves to believe they were tough enough to win straight-up with 10,000 men against 135,000, most of us are guilty of doing the same type of thing every day. “I won the court case.” “I saved the girl from drowning.” “I tripled my net worth… or social media following.” But God’s number one desire for all of us is that we know Him through His works, so that we will come to Him and live abundantly within His perfect grace and love. “He is the one you praise; He is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes” –Deuteronomy 10:21
So in case you, like Gideon, have been wondering if anything good can come out of all the bad stuff that keeps happening in our world at massive rates everyday, I hope you remember this…
Where there’s an impossible situation… God is near. And He is saying, “I am your God. I never change. I love you and I want you to know me. Stand back, while I show you what only I can do for you… and the limitless ways what I’ve done for you can change the hearts and lives of others.
Hear me when I say this friends… the battle between Gideon and the Midianites was already won before it ever began. It won’t be easy, but no matter what kind of battle you are fighting this week, I hope you remember to call out to God and then stand back and wait for His invisible fingerprints to transform you and your situation.
I hope you will join me back here next week where we will explore my absolute favorite part of Gideon’s story. It was a game-changer for me, and I think it will be for you too. In the meantime, I leave you with this: Ask not what you can do, but what the Creator of the Universe can do through you.
In my last blog post I shared about an experience my family had with God after realizing the home we had purchased and extensively renovated was (despite its deceivingly fully-updated aesthetic) uninhabitable. Up to that point, we had spent months and countless dollars replacing old systems and investing in improvements that could largely be considered cosmetic. So, when some wood paneling was removed in the basement (a last step, weeks before we were scheduled to move-in), followed by some mold-encrusted drywall, we were floored to discover there was nothing holding the house up at all. The wood frame had been completely eaten away due to water the house had been taking on since the very day it was built.
After emergency steel beams had successfully been installed to secure the house from falling down and we had a chance to catch our breath, we asked the contractors, “Why? Why would such a relatively young house (that had otherwise been built like Fort Knox) be in jeopardy of effing falling down?” And the answer was simple. “Because the wooden frame had been built below grade.”
After a considerable amount of education on the “rights” and “wrongs” of construction practices, I came to learn that a home (especially one with a finished basement) must be constructed of concrete past the point where it rises above soil level… or else, no matter how well-built it was otherwise, it would sink as heart-breakingly and unexpectedly as the Titanic. For those of you who don’t know the kind of havoc taking on water can wreak on a home beyond the expected slow rot… it also creates the ideal environment for termites to feed and breed, and a playground the likes of Magic Kingdom for black and other deadly molds.
Those who know me best know that for as far back as I can remember, God has had a unique way of speaking to me through numbers. Three’s to be exact… and, the more of them, the better. So when I originally saw this house online prior to purchasing it, and saw that the square footage was listed 3,333 SF it was as if the heavens opened up and God spoke directly and joyously to me “This, my daughter, is the home I have chosen for you. Go forth quickly and buy it!” So when I happened to do the math and discover the house was also 33 years old, I was not surprised in the least. It was confirmed and I was thankful we had finally found a home after many months of looking… one that was specially chosen for us by God. And, since God was leading the way, no doubt we would have a perfect renovation that cost half of what we budgeted and half the time to boot. Right?
Wrong. Throughout the Bible, God gives His people many wonderful and astounding promises. Salvation. Hope. Peace. Eternal Life. I could go on and on. But never-the-less, God’s word is clear: along the way we will all experience suffering and pain resulting from our inevitable rendezvous with a little thing called trouble. Or more accurately stated… blessings in disguise. Jesus tells us, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have come to overcome the world.” –John 16:33
While I admit I was initially shocked and confused when I learned of our predicament, I quickly learned that “easy” is not always the way God works. But over time I realized, an “easy” journey would have missed the point entirely by diminishing God’s perfect plan for us of seeking Him intimately and witnessing His amazing (read: mind-blowingly supernatural) way of delivering us out of our wonderfully impossible situation. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9
This experience brings to mind another one of my favorite stories from the Bible about Gideon. Gideon and his fellow Israelites were given into the hand of the Midianites and therefore living an excruciatingly hard life that was devoid of God and His ability to abundantly provide for them simply because they had abandoned Him and His teachings. It wasn’t until Israel had nothing left that they finally remembered Him and called out to Him for help. And you want to know something cool? Even after years and years of their rebellion, which even included the worship of false gods, God immediately heard their cries and came up with a plan to save them.
God sent an angel of the Lord to Gideon saying, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” But Gideon, who was interestingly enough born out of the weakest clan of Israel, quickly questioned Him asking why, then, had all the bad stuff happening to them. Gideon said to Him, “Please sir, if the Lord is with us why has all this happened? And where are all His wonders that our fathers told us about? They said, ‘Hasn’t the Lord brought us out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to Midian.”
God responded simply by telling Gideon that He had chosen him, the smallest and youngest in his family, to save Israel. “But Lord, how can I save Israel?” Gideon asked. And God gave him and all of humanity the golden-ticket answer wrapped again, in love and lots of Biblical promise: “I will be with you,” the Lord said to him. And with My help, “You will strike Midian down as if it were one man.” -Judges 6:11-16
The Bible says so much about the power that is readily available to us and within us, if we only call out to God and pour out all of our love, hope, and most importantly… trust into Him.
In closing, I want to leave you some verses to consider this week about God’s immediate availability to all His children, especially in times of trouble. And I challenge you to never forget that at His core, God is many (read: beyond infinite) wonderful and miraculous things. It brings me so much awe-filled gratitude when I ponder the unbelievable fact that the mastermind Artist and Scientist and Engineer and Doctor… (this list could go on indefinitely) behind the Creation of the universe and every living thing within it, is also at His heart a fierce and powerful Mother Hen, who will fight any enemy (even to the death), who jeopardizes the welfare of His beloved (and cherished even beyond our wildest dreams) baby chicks. Even though they, just like us, are fully incapable of achieving even an ounce of flight without Him.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” -Psalm 46:1
“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” –Exodus 14:14
“For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed: for I know who I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.” -2 Timothy 1:12
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord had anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.”-Isaiah 61:1-3
I invite you to join me back here next week where I will talk more about Gideon’s story, while exploring every small child’s favorite question… the illustrious and elusive “why”. In the meantime, if you find yourself in an impossible situation this week… the cancer came back, a foreclosure letter came in the mail, or you fear the child is past the point of saving… for whatever reason you find yourself without a drop of heavenly water to make lemonade, in the spirit of Achsah herself I urge you: Keep Calm my brothers and sisters, and Go Saddle Your Donkey! “To Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us.” –Ephesians 3:20
My husband Dave and I, along with our 2 year old daughter Aaris, were led to relocate to Lexington KY from Nashville TN in 2014, and to purchase a house that (we learned only after we bought it and invested our entire life savings into it), had such severe structural issues it was on the brink of falling down. Seriously. And, for the very first time in my life it was crystal clear to me that there was nothing humanly possible (read: nothing my controlling efforts could have done) to save us from our undeniably morose checkmate of a situation.
It is said that the impossible is where God begins, and in our experience, those words couldn't be more accurate. Through one hell of a challenging journey that was mostly uphill, I learned to not only lean on God each and every day, but also, to let Him carry me when I felt I couldn't press on. And, I grew to believe a little more each day, that when I couldn't, He could, if I would only surrender it all and let Him. As a result, we experienced more miracles than we could count in those trying but invaluable times as we watched God single-handedly fix a home we were incapable of fixing, while simultaneously fixing faith we didn't even know was broken.
For over a year and a half, nearly every thing we owned remained in storage. We rode it out one short-term lease at a time, in a small empty apartment containing not much more than our beds, a futon, and a table with four chairs. Our kitchen drawers (that were once so filled with kitchen gadgets and utensils I could barely close them) held four forks, four spoons, four knives and one spatula. I stirred my soup, scrambled my eggs, and prepared every single thing we ate with that one endlessly versatile tool that I still cherish to this day. Talk about one real-life lesson of want verses need. And surprisingly, I was still happy… and in many ways, I was undoubtedly happier than I was before.
I spent a lot of time studying God’s word during those times, specifically the Old Testament, and one day (in a moment I’ll never forget) the story of Achsah shone out like a beacon of light into darkness to me. Not amounting to more than a few lines in the first chapter of Judges, Achsah’s story was so relatively small it could have been easily missed. But instead, those three God-breathed paragraphs changed everything for me.
In a nutshell, Achsah was a woman who had been offered up for marriage by her father, Calab, to the man who could reclaim the city of Debir, which was a land seething with giants and enemies. In walks Othniel, who I imagine to be one handsome hunk of a burly man and quite the catch for Achsah, who ultimately did just that. The two of them wed and were given a plot of land by her father to build their new life on immediately. Sounds peachy, right? Well, not so fast… because the land had one fatal flaw (much like our house). It had no water (while our house had too much, leading to black mold, termites and extensive rot). And no water for them meant no life (too much for us, no livable house).
So what did Achsah do? Scripture tells us she got on her donkey, rode that thing right up to her father and asked to be blessed… once again. She asked for a single spring of water, the one thing she so desperately needed to sustain her families future. But Calab, the loving and capable father he was, abundantly gave her two springs. –Judges 1:12-15
In much the same way I quickly realized our heavenly father gives to us far beyond what is actually needed. He wants to satisfy our wants too (and does so daily whether we acknowledge it or not). Because, as we already know… His gifts are as endless as His capabilities. Jesus said it best when He said, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him.” –Matthew 7:11. And, even further when He said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” –Matthew 19:26.
So what did all this mean to me? It meant boldly asking. It meant fiercely believing. And it meant waiting with a heart full of thankful expectation. And then one day something miraculous happened. We actually moved out of our apartment, and into a home that takes my breath away every time I cross under its threshold. Not because it’s a beautiful home, far grander than I deserve (although both are true). But because I know it was specifically restored for my family and I, by no one other than God himself (not to take-way from the revolving door of what felt like about a ba-zillion contractors). That day, and every day since His miraculous restoration of our home, it is almost as if I can actually hear the Lord speaking to my heart, “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” -Jeremiah 32:27
In the end, just like Achsah, it turned out we received twice the blessings we asked for while in the midst of our most desperate time of need. We pleaded before God, asking for a home we could live in, but our biggest gain came from the rare opportunity to be standing in the shadows while God turned the Red Sea up on end for us, letting us pass through into a land simply dripping with milk and honey, just as He did for the children of Israel. No doubt they felt fortunate in that situation that their lives were saved. But the most valuable blessing that miracle lent them was an experience with God that left them (as well as all those who have read about it throughout the generations), filled with awe, hope and faith. So, how lucky are we then that scripture tells us that God never changes, therefore these divine encounters are possible for all of us. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” –James 1:17
While I sit in my office and write these words, the early morning sunlight streaming through a window filled with barren dogwood branches, into the home we fondly refer to as “Villa Achsah,” I am filled with thanks to be the daughter of such a loving and capable heavenly Father. And, my greatest hope comes from the amazing opportunity of living each day in the fullness of His grace and provision. And that, my friends, is what Achsah Living is all about.
I look forward to sharing my life with you and others who seek Him, as well as every good and perfect gift He has to offer all of us, both in this life, and beyond. In the meantime, I’d like to encourage you. Whoever you are, and whatever you need (or even want)… get on your donkey (or in your car, or on your knees), go boldly my brothers and sisters… and ask our Father. He is all ears and all smiles… waiting for the opportunity to bless you too… once again.
Written by J.C.