November 21, 2017

An Encounter of Peace and Joy – The Simple Christmas Message

In 2013, I faced more twists and turns in the plot of my own life journey than I ever foresaw or expected the previous year. I guess that is how God works to build our faith…surprise challenges that often turn into blessings.

Before my recent move to Corpus Christi, Texas to change career paths with a health conscious nonprofit, I lived in Atlanta, Georgia for a year. I participated in many small group Bible studies with different formats, agendas, and communal activities. I felt that one group overcomplicated a relationship with Jesus, constantly preaching to “go deeper” with each other.

The leaders of this outreach group hired a supposed guru to come teach twenty and thirty something working professionals how to encounter the Holy Spirit with different avenues of personality strengths and preferences. It was deep, philosophical, and exploratory for those who participated in the every-other-week exercise.

That tends to become the focus of many church ministries: to perplex something so simple. I do not interpret God to be a secret formula. Personally I tend to encounter God in many ways and many levels with the simple approach to try. My remedy remains simple: I simply ask God to arrive with the blessing of His Presence in Spirit.

When you come to God on humble bended knee, I think that act of visual servitude invites God into our hearts and into our lives.

I grew weary in this specific past Bible study environment of writing essays, taking assessments, and answering short questionnaires that would “bring me closer to God.” God simply wants us. He does not need mathematical formulas for a life-changing encounter. Just come to Him. Just invite Him in. And God will do the rest.

In past times, I have spent countless hours in search of peace and joy, reading books, memorizing quotes, and researching professional academic opinions. At a Christmas service Monday night while home in Birmingham, Alabama, an old friend and pastor reminded me that God brings those gifts into our lives when we live in step and in Spirit with Him.

An encounter with the Holy Spirit no longer remains perplexing because God sent his son in the form of a manger. Jesus paid the price on the crucifix when he died for our sins. From that point in history forward, all we need to do is request his arrival into our lives, at any moment or any time. With the belief that our salvation remains secure, God shows up in an encounter with joy and peace that can only become experienced in His Precious Presence.

Through the delivery of a divine birth, we are saved. And that miracle makes for a very Merry Christmas with a Savior of uncomplicated proportions.

In the midst of a sometimes hectic holiday, this video reminds us to simply smile and enjoy Christmas moments. Church should be fun….a place we laugh….a place we want to go….somewhere we can build relationships without chemical equations. Perhaps we should sing Christmas carols depicted like this. We do not care what others think because we have a peace and joy that surpasses earthly understanding.

Can I Get a Break, God? A inspired reminder through a friend’s story of heartache….

I met Fredric Gray at The Florida Christian Writers Conference in March of this year at 2:15 am EST in the morning when he woke me up in the criminal offense of breaking down my conference center hotel room door. Mark Hancock, director of the conference, forgot to instruct me that my con roommate would wonderfully disrupt my dream of meeting Tinker Bell in a fantasized REM slumber that I, James Cartee, would soon change the world. While surrounded in the Floridian swamp lands, I thought a serial killer banged on my door. After an unexpected wake up call so early in the morning, I thought I might soon kill Mr. Fredric Gray that early morning.

I soon realized that Fredric was no felony offender with a belly laugh that would do God proud. He profusely apologized, and when I finally awoke, I came back to my senses that his encouragement would further boost my writing career forward for higher heights.

Fredric’s example in Christ would further illustrate the peacemaker resemblance of Christ to rejoice in tragedy. His natural inclination keeps me motivated in down times when I seem to hourly ask God, “Can you please give me a break already?” People like Fredric remind me that in times of good and bad we bring Glory to God, even if we do not want to. That should innately become the response of any believer. His message posted on Facebook below still resonates with me even 10 days later.

So, our fifth child went to be with God. Heather called me on Wednesday night on my way to our church Bible study and told me she was bleeding a little bit, kind of like the spotting that so many pregnant women experience, but a little worse. She convinced me not to come home, and things got better. When it continued Thursday, we called our midwife and she came over Thursday night with concerns of her own. She scheduled us for an ultrasound for Friday. At this point the bleeding really wasn’t that bad.

But Heather woke me up at 4am telling me she felt like she was giving birth. It all was so surreal. I was part in empathy mode, and part denial. She kept telling me, “this is it. we are losing our baby.” I just didn’t want to believe it, even though I knew it could happen.

About 5am, she labored the baby, along with a whole lot of blood out. It was very hard for us. Well, it was hard for me. I think she was having a harder time before, and I had a much harder time afterward.

She continued to bleed for short time, and we prayed and went to bed. She said the most encouraging thing to me. She casually, and warmly, said “this is our first baby that is with God.” I never thought of it until she said it, but I found it SUPER-ENCOURAGING!

As that thought guided me while going to sleep, all I could think about were people that lost their children, either through miscarriage or after they were born.

While working, Heather called me on my cell phone around 9am telling me that she was bleeding badly. I came home and helped her, and almost ended up taking her to the ER.

Noelani and Maleia just kept bawling their eyes out, in ways I have never seem them do so. Malachi and Amairah were oblivious. In the midst of crying, Maleia, cute as can be, held up both of her hands and said, “we don’t even know if it’s a boy or a girl!”

Because of that, Heather and I had already named our baby a gender neutral name. When Maleia said that, we were happy to tell her the baby’s name–Noah Christian.

Noah means rest, or repose (often with God), and Christian is a reminder of how we get to be with our baby again one day.

So, I have tons of work to do, and many messages to respond to, and we have kind of let discipline go out the window for now. But we have been praying a lot, and having unforgettable conversations with our children. Heather has needed to be on bedrest, just like a woman who gave birth and is at risk of losing more blood.

So, I just wanted to share this. If you read this far, thanks for reading.

Noah Christian Gray.

Yeah, a gift from God.

Fredric Gray, 4/6/13

I wrote the following poem in response to Fredric’s testimony in the midst of tragic events. This poem will more than likely become published in my next poetry book with thirty-three poems and photographs.

Noah Christian, The Journey Home

Our loved one
Our lost son
That nothing remains undone
For Noah Christian
Traveled the journey home
Solace knowing
He passed not alone
Settled into the arms
With our Loving Sheppard
He sleeps well
As our gift from God
Surreal in the state
Felt as a prevailing reality
We live to worship
In the tragedy of loss
To know better yet to come
Children cry
To never forget
Always miss
The sibling never known
But always remembered
Noah at the meaning of rest
Another challenge
Another test to faith
Grace present in a bled state
Loss pours into grief
Perhaps with some relief
In the heart of the matter
To know our loved one
Our lost son
That nothing remains undone
For Noah Christian
Traveled the journey home

JLC iii, 4/9/13

While inspired with words of my own from the life of Noah Christian, through Fredric Gray, this song by Jason Mraz further motivates believers in Christ why we cannot give up on the dreams before us. Like Fredric’s example to glorify God no matter the circumstances, we press forward to inspire those around us in our examples.